Sunday, October 31, 2010

Obama as Roosevelt: Is the Great Recession Being Needlessly Prolonged?

Two economists from UCLA, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian, have argued that the Great Depression lasted seven years longer than it had to because of the misguided, experimental and anti-market policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The article, "FDR's policies prolonged Depression by 7 years, UCLA economists calculate" presents this conclusion as a great surprise. They seem to think that no one has ever suggested before that it might have been FDR's fault. I suspect that it might come as an even bigger surprise to the article's author that this conclusion comes as no surprise whatsoever to conservatives. Progressivism can be such a narrow cocoon in some ways.

Here is a bit from the article:

Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After scrutinizing Roosevelt's record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.

"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics. "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."

He thought that "excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages." What an unbelievable thing to believe. If Roosevelt actually believed that, he was utterly incapable of thinking clearly about the situation. This smacks of a know-nothing, blame the rich, class-warfare approach.

The article discusses the National Recovery Administration's role in preventing the market's natural functioning:

Using data collected in 1929 by the Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cole and Ohanian were able to establish average wages and prices across a range of industries just prior to the Depression. By adjusting for annual increases in productivity, they were able to use the 1929 benchmark to figure out what prices and wages would have been during every year of the Depression had Roosevelt's policies not gone into effect. They then compared those figures with actual prices and wages as reflected in the Conference Board data.

In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt's policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

"High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns," Ohanian said. "As we've seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market's self-correcting forces."

The policies were contained in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industries from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to enter into collective bargaining agreements that significantly raised wages. Because protection from antitrust prosecution all but ensured higher prices for goods and services, a wide range of industries took the bait, Cole and Ohanian found. By 1934 more than 500 industries, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of private, non-agricultural employment, had entered into the collective bargaining agreements called for under NIRA.

Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943.

The parallels to today are stunning and frightening. Obama's artificial, ad hoc, arbitrary pattern of government intervention into various sectors of the economy are based on political calculations rather than economic theory (eg. the need to save the auto workers' pensions and preserve an important voting block and source of campaign contributions as the motivation for "saving" GM and Chrysler at the expense of bondholders).

If Cole and Ohanian are right, we can expect the recession to end right after the 2012 presidential election on one condition: that a Republican is elected to replace Obama.

__________

PS - It ought to be borne in mind that the longer the Great Recession goes on, the more the poorest people in North America will be hurt. Anyone concerned about the poor should be extremely concerned to determine for themselves if in fact Obama's progressive policies are actually extending the economic downturn, causing high unemployment and ultimately leading to government spending cuts in welfare programs.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thomas Sowell: America at the Crossroads

The great Thomas Sowell, one of the best writers and clearest thinkers in America today, thinks that Nov. 2 is a crossroads election for America and that nothing less than freedom itself is at stake. He gives specific examples of what he means. First, on health care:

For all its sweeping and scary provisions, ObamaCare is not nearly as important as the way it was passed. If legislation can become laws passed without either the public or the Congress knowing what is in those laws, then the fundamental principle of a free, self-governing people is completely undermined.

Some members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare, and who are now telling us that they realize this legislation has flaws which they intend to correct, are missing the point.

The very reason for holding hearings on pending legislation, listening to witnesses on all sides of the issue, and having Congressional debates that will be reported and commented on in the media, is so that problems can be explored and alternatives considered before the legislation is voted into law.

Rushing ObamaCare into law too fast for anyone to have read it served no other purpose than to prevent this very process from taking place. The rush to pass this law that would not take effect until after the next two elections simply cut the voters out of the loop-- and that is painfully close to ruling by decree.

Did you catch that? "Ruling by decree" - yes, that is what he said and he is not kidding. A vote for the Democrats in this election is literally a vote against democracy.

A second example is the Obama administration's attack on free speech. There are many examples Sowell could have pointed to such as the administration's attack on Fox News or its attempt to regulate the Internet. But he uses this one:

Other actions and proposals by this administration likewise represent moves in the direction of arbitrary rule, worthy of a banana republic, with only a mocking facade of freedom.

These include threats against people who simply choose to express opinions counter to administration policy, such as a warning to an insurance company that there would be "zero tolerance" for "misinformation" when the insurance company said that ObamaCare would create costs that force up premiums.

Zero tolerance for the right of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution?

A third example is the way the Obama administration has tried to muzzle business opposition to its policies:

Those who are constantly telling us that our economic problems are caused by not enough "regulation" never distinguish between regulation which simply enforces known rules, as contrasted with regulation that gives arbitrary powers to the government to force others to knuckle under to demands that have nothing to do with the ostensible purposes of the regulation.

As more businesses reveal that they are considering no longer buying health insurance for their employees, as a result of higher costs resulting from ObamaCare legislation, the administration has announced that it can grant waivers that reduce these costs.

But the power to grant waivers is the power to withhold waivers-- an arbitrary power that can impose millions of dollars in costs on businesses that the administration doesn't like.

Recent proposals from the Obama administration to force disclosure of the names of people who sponsor election ads would likewise open all who disagree with Obama to retaliation by the government itself, as well as by community activists and others.

Regulation which seeks to hold businesses accountable to general rules that are known in advance and applicable to all are fine. But regulations that are open-ended, impossible to predict and flexible enough to enable bureaucrats to act arbitrarily violate the rule of law.

Read it all here. There is a time and place for hyperbole and exaggeration. If only Sowell were engaging in such things today. The problem is that he is not.

The Best and Worst Political Ads of 2010

As election day in the US draws near and the American people prepare to render a verdict on Obama's agenda to make the US into a European style social democracy, it is appropriate to reflect a bit on one of the concrete blessings of liberty: free speech. This particular freedom is under severe attack in Europe and Canada, where I live. With creeping socialism comes limits on the speech of citizens according to the class prejudices of the bureaucratic, ruling class.

But election ads reveal a vibrant, loud, decentralized, free democracy at its rollicking best - and worst. Human nature is not always pretty; where there is liberty there is bound to be overstatement, insults, pettiness, stupidity and impoliteness. So be it; let the people separate the wheat from the chaff for the only alternative is to let tyrants do it for them.

Toby Harnden, a Brit, has two posts listing the top 20 best and worst political ads of the 2010 campaign with part 1 here and part 2 here. I have selected my top five plus one extra with a twist.

First, the ad that sealed the election for Jack Conway's opponent, his now famous "Aqua Buddha Ad" attacking the faith of Rand Paul. Lesson: Don't mess with Aqua Buddha!



Second, the Taliban Dan ad that backfired on Alan Grayson, quite possibly the most obnoxious and offensive member of the House of Representatives. He literally cut and pasted from a speech by his opponent, Dan Webster, to make Webster appear to be saying the exact opposite of what he actually said. But there was no need for a politically appointed body to stop Grayson; the people of Florida's 8th congressional district appear poised to take care of Grayson themselves on Tuesday.



This ad from a Democratic candidate who knows he is losing is a fitting symbol of the whole Democratic campaign this year. He is like a wayward husband pleading with his wife to take him back and give him just one more chance. But I think she has had enough and he knows it.



Christine O'Donnell is probably going to lose in Deleware, but this ad is creative and focuses on the issues. If only she had the political smarts of some of the other Tea Party candidates, this would be a competitive race.



Dale Peterson lost his bid for Ag Commish in Alabama, but his ad is a classic. If I had a million dollars that I didn't know what to do with, I'd be tempted to run this ad in the 25 most liberal districts in America non-stop for the last few days of the campaign just for the spectacle of watching the New York Times and the rest of the liberal media sputter in rage and spit in condescension.



Every election we hear the same old refrain about how this is the nastiest election ever. Well, Reason.tv blows that idea right out of the water with this hilarious ad from the election of 1800. In their own words, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams go at it.



(HT: Joe Carter at First Thoughts)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Ten Commandments - Improved and Updated Socialist Version

1. Thou shalt have no other god beside the great god Equality.

2. Thou shalt not make an idol out of the bourgeois, suburban lifestyle and bow down to it in such a way as to serve it rather than the cause of social justice. For I, the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting iniquity on the upper class, yea shall my wrath reach even down into the middle class, although I show steadfast love unto the working class and especially to the union bosses thereof.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of Karl Marx in vain, although it is permitted to utter curses on the name of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, yet only when in the presence of easily spooked fellow-travelers and useful idiots and not when among party faithful only.

4. Remember Labor Day to keep it holy but do not worry about working on Sunday if the Union negotiates time and a half.

5. Honor your fellow socialists in the party but don't worry about the old man and old woman for verily the family is a bourgeois institution that is passing away.

6. Thou shalt not commit murder except when absolutely necessary for the good of the cause.

7. Thou shalt commit adultery, although you must call it "engaging in alternative lifestyles" for lo, the traditional family is a structure of oppression. In other words, "Smash Monogamy!"

8. Thous shalt not steal - confiscatory taxation must be duly legalized by the democratic process even if ballot boxes must be stuffed to do so.

9. Thou shalt not lie except when justifiable in terms of how it benefits the cause of Social Justice.

10. Thou shalt covet and teach the working man to do so as well for is this not the engine of the Revolution?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is My Rejection of Marx "Extreme"?

I had a nice email from a friend who wrote:

Your comment on Marx in the Mere Orthodoxy interview puzzles me because it seems so extreme. Shouldn't we avoid the simplistic postures of acceptance or rejection? Shouldn't we try to discern whether there are Christian uses of Marx's critique of religion?

I wonder if you'd change your mind if you read Merold Westphal's section on Marx in Suspicion & Faith, most of which can be read on Google Books. Click below.

Part III Marx and the Critique of Religion as Ideology

Here is my reply:

Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your willingness to engage in dialogue.

I find your comment that you find my rejection of Marxism "extreme" to be difficult to understand. Marx's critique of religion is extreme in my view and to reject it seems like modesty itself. Marx is attacking your religion as evil and you as a culpable dupe.

I read Westphal's chapter and I still find it impossible to see anything profitable or true in Marx's critique of religion. It merely confirmed via a sympathetic reading of Marx what I already thought Marx was saying.

Marx is not really critiquing something abstract called "religion" that we can define in whichever way suits us. He is attacking the state church of Prussia and by extension all countries in which Christianity exercises any public role - as Westphal makes clear by his reference to Marx's comments on America. The problem is not the specifics of church-state relations; it is the influence of Christianity on public attitudes at all. And it is not any particular ideology or philosophy advocated by the church - as if the church could just get a better one - but rather the nature of the Gospel itself that offends. Marx is offended by the teaching that humans are sinners who cannot build Utopia themselves but must seek salvation by the hand of the Lord in God's own good time. This injures his pride and constitutes a barrier to his acceptance of Christianity.

As Westphal rightly points out, Marx's critique is not only metaphysical but primarily moral in nature. His comment that the moral critique would still stand even if the metaphysical claims of Christianity were true shows that Marx is not interested in submitting his will to God even if God exists. What Marx hates is that Christianity encourages patient endurance in the face of suffering and discourages the revolutionary roll of the dice. The comment on p. 152 is instructive: "Marx is telling the story of the ways in which religion not only endures but eventually embraces evil." This shows that Marx's real problem with religion is not that it causes oppression by doing evil (manifestly it does not always do that), but that it encourages patience with the world.

Christianity (especially in its Augustinian forms) is pessimistic about Utopia in this fallen world and counsels caution when zealots want to launch the revolution. The sword granted to the state is for the maintenance of justice but Christians know that even when there is injustice, it could be worse. How? If there was no longer any state, but rather a revolutionary vanguard liberated from law and functioning with no limits on their power, which is what we see in 20th century Marxist states.

Marx is a gnostic dreamer - like the Anabaptists of Meunster - who believes that to tear down the state, the family and the church will permit the goodness of human nature to surge to the fore in the classless society. He is right to view the Church as a bulwark against his dreams of revolution and in performing this function the Church is not oppressive or evil but rather a bulwark of freedom and the protector of humanity. I love the church for doing precisely what Marx condemns it for doing.

The 19th century, which Marx found so oppressive and evil, was the Victorian age of social reform led by Christians. It was an era of peace - in stark contrast to the bloody, dark 20th century in which the "bourgeois oppression" so scorned by Marx was replaced by the socialist revolution in many countries of the world. The result was the famines in the Ukraine, the Gulag, the cultural revolution and the killing fields of Cambodia - 100 million people murdered by their own governments all of which were the vanguard of the revolution.

Men released from the limits of law paying no heed to the "fairy tales of religion" felt free to impose their will on society without restraint and the result was worse than all the evils of 1500 years of Christendom all packed into one miserable century.

Religion is an obstacle to socialism. Amen to that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mere Orthodoxy Interview

Over at Mere Orthodoxy they are running an interview with your's truly. Andrew Walker asks the questions; I give the answers. Check it out here.

For those who are interested, part two of the interview at Mere Orthodoxy is now up here.

And now the third and final part is here.

Why Evolution Cannot Explain a Man Capable of Grasping the Theory of Evolution

Denish D'Souza's book, What's So Great About Christianity (Tyndale, 2007), is an excellent refutation of the "New Atheism." Here, in this passage, D'Souza popularizes skillfully a point made by many others including Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensburg Address.

First D'Souza quotes Stephen Hawking, who articulates the atheist dilemma.
Now if you beleive that the universe is not arbitrary, but is governed by definite laws, you ultimately have to combine the partial theories in science into a complete unified theory that will describe everything in the universe. But there is a fundamental paradox in the search for such a complete unified theory. Our ideas about scientific theories . . . assume we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress every closer to the the laws that govern our universe. Yet is there really is a complete unified theory, it would also presumably determine our actions. And so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it! And why should it determine that we come to the right conclusions from the evidence? Might it not equally well determine that we draw the wrong conclusion?" (as quoted by D'Souza, pp. 249-50)
Hawking really cannot give any explanation for why a universe based on chance and natural selection should throw up creatures who are rational and able to see order and structure in nature. Where did the order and structure come from? Why should we be able to grasp it? How does natural selection produce the order and the rational knower?

D'Souza suggests that there is no explanation for Hawkings' dilemma unless you posit the existence of God.
Based on evolution, our ideas may be considered useful to us, but there are no grounds for presuming that they correspond with truth. Indeed a useful lie is preferable to a truth that plays no role in genetic self-perpetuation. In reducing everything to the laws of nature we risk denying that there is any rationality or truth behind nature's laws. (pp. 251-2)
We see contemporary late-modernity (aka "postmodernity") making this exact move; our culture is losing it faith in the existence of truth. And it is a matter of faith. Early modern scientists did not know that there were laws governing the world: they believed there were because they believed in a God who created the world by his Wisdom and Word - in other words by reason.

Augustinian Christianity says that Hawkings' unified theory of everything exists in the mind of God and that we have been created in his image with free will to make moral choices and reason to discern the hand of God in nature.

Christianity allows us to escape both: (1) the deterministic fatalism of Hawkings' unified theory (which is the reduction of human nature to the laws of physics) and (2) the loss of faith in reason that leads to relativism, nihilism and the will to power in post-Nietzschean philosophy.

Pope Benedict makes a similar point about science itself pointing beyond itself to God in his Regensburg Address:
. . . modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element [i.e. the mathematical structure of reality discussed earlier in the lecture] bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structure of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.

Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, an one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, abeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religions traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. . .

The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. (#59-62)
We must believe in God if we want to preserve human dignity, free will and science. This is our urgent message to our culture today.

Marco Rubio on Judges and the Constitution

Most people do not seem to understand what is wrong with President Obama's judicial appointments, including his two Supreme Court appointments, or the problem with Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade. They do not understand that modern progressivism is undermining the freedom of the people and the principles of the American Founding. The very survival of constitutional, representative democracy is at stake in the debate between those who respect the US constitution and those who invent clever myths and dreamy theories of how it can be twisted to mean anything those in power want it to mean.

When Marco Rubio speaks on any subject, it is easy to understand what he means to say. This is not because he is simplistic, but because he is clear and has principles that are coherent. Here he is explaining the role of judges in the US political system.



The issue at stake here actually is similar to the problem of biblical interpretation. In both cases a party of people who are over-impressed by modernity and its naive, superstitious faith in the power of human reason want to hang on to the founding document of our culture without letting it place limits on the Utopian aspirations of human reason. So they create ingenious theories of how to make it (the US constitution or the Bible as the case may be) say whatever the elites of today wish it to say.

In both cases those who use elementary logic and who are motivated by a healthy skepticism about the infallibility of human reason are routinely mocked as out-of-date and unsophisticated. They are told that they are not "modern" enough and that there is no going back to the past. And then they undo the great Western experiment with limited government and proceed to race back to the past totalitarian, statist forms of government which preceded the rise of the West on the world stage.

Rob Ford is the New Mayor of Toronto

Well, well . . . the conservative Rob Ford is the new mayor of Toronto. Apparently miracles still happen even in leftist enclaves.

I don't know if he will be a better mayor than David Miller, but apparently a plurality of voters thought he couldn't be worse. The very best thing about Ford winning is watching The Toronto Star having to admit that he won - and the Star lost - on the front page this morning.

Why do so many kooky conservative candidates win elections? Maybe it is because the conservatives who try to portray themselves as moderates turn off the conservative voters they need to win while the liberals realize what they are and vote for real liberals. Its something to think about. Let's revisit this theory after Nov. 2. How will the Millers, Angles, Pauls, Bucks, Rubio and Johnsons do in their improbable runs for the US Senate? My hunch is very well.

Marco Rubio versus Barack Obama on America Exceptionalism

Barack Obama, when asked if he believed in American Exceptionalism, famously replied that he "believe[d] in American exceptionalism, just as I imagine that Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism and the British believe in British exceptionalism." As Michael Barone put it: "In other words, not at all."

Marco Rubio, on the other hand, not only believes in American Exceptionalism but lives it every day. The son of poor (legal) immigrants, he is a week away from becoming a US Senator.



The irony is that America is the kind of country in which a black man like Barack Obama can become president, yet he fails utterly to appreciate what is good about America. On the contrary, Obama wants to "fundamentally transform the United States of America."



Obama's fellow Americans do not wish to become like European socialists like he does. They want to remain free Americans. Good for them. No wonder they will vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and, I venture to predict, someday across America for election to an even higher office.

The issues could not be more stark in this election: socialist ideology versus American exceptionalism. Today it is Republican candidates for congress running against the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. But in 24 months it will be someone like Marco Rubio running against Obama himself. Obama should watch what happens on Nov. 2 if he wants to see a preview of his own fate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Simple Facts That Explain Why the Democrats are Going to Be Trounced on Nov. 2

It might be a good idea to call off the liberal party in honor of the death of conservativism. It might be a good idea to cancel the funeral too. Somebody tell the undertaker to stand down; the New York Times concedes that America is becoming more conservative. (Must be a bitter pill to swallow for the fishwrap of record!)

In a story entitled: "The State of Conservatism," written by the estimable Christopher Caldwell, we read:
It is vital to understand where this steamroller is coming from. According to Gallup, support for Obama has fallen only slightly among Democrats, from 90 percent to 81 percent, and only slightly among Republicans, from 20 percent to 12 percent. It is independents who have abandoned him: 56 percent approved of him when he came into office, versus 38 percent now. The reason the country is getting more conservative is not that conservatives are getting louder. It is that people in the dead center of the electorate are turning into conservatives at an astonishing rate.
Anybody can read the falling presidential approval polls; but it takes a liberal who is not in denial to admit that the reason is not racism or stupidity on the part of the electorate, but rather that the country is becoming more conservative at a rapid rate.

But as if that were not enough, the NYT also recognizes something that the Democrats have yet to face up to: the Democratic Party represents the elites of America not the country as a whole. And as for the ordinary working people - forget about it.
"Some wish the president had governed more to the left, insisting on a public option in the health care bill and pushing for a larger stimulus. But those people make up only a small fraction even of the 18 percent of voters who call themselves liberal. In a time of growing populism and distrust, Republicans enjoy the advantage of running against the party of the elite. This seems to be a controversial proposition, but it should not be. It is not the same as saying that Democrats are the party of elitism. One can define elitism as, say, resistance to progressive taxation, and make a case that Republicans better merit that description. But, broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is the party to which elites belong. It is the party of Harvard (and most of the Ivy League), of Microsoft and Apple (and most of Silicon Valley), of Hollywood and Manhattan (and most of the media) and, although there is some evidence that numbers are evening out in this election cycle, of Goldman Sachs (and most of the investment banking profession). That the billionaire David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation supports the Tea Party has recently been much in the news. But the Democrats have the support of more, and more active, billionaires. Of the 20 richest ZIP codes in America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 gave the bulk of their money to Democrats in the last election, in most cases the vast bulk — 86 percent in 10024 on the Upper West Side. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of non-high-school educated white males are happy with the direction the country is going in. The Democrats’ overlap with elites leaves each party with a distinctive liability. The Democrats appear sincerely deluded about whom they actually represent. Democrats — who would have no trouble discerning elite solidarity in the datum that, say, in the 1930s the upper ranks of Britain’s media, church, business and political institutions were dominated by Tories — somehow think their own predominance in similar precincts is . . . what? Coincidence? Irony?"
My favorite line is: "The Democrats appear sincerely deluded about whom they actually represent." And "sincerely deluded" - what a superb turn of phrase! This would be ironic if irony was not dead.

Congratulations to the NYT; it has explained the outcome of next week's election in two simply but very much related facts:

1. The Democratic Party has completed its transformation into the party of liberal elites.
2. The American voting public is more conservative than ever.

1 + 2 = Election wipe out for the elitists.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Islam as a Mirror to the West

Here is a perspective on Islam in Europe from Alexandr Vondra, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, who is unusually blunt in his assessment of the potential danger to Europe from militant Islam. He does not mouth the usual platitudes about how Islam is a religion of peace and only a few marginal, insane terrorists distort the good reputation of Islam. He argues that the West has an important role to play in the internal struggle within Islam between radicals and moderates for the soul of Islam and for power.

His article in the Middle East Quarterly is entitled: "Radical Islam Poses a Major Challenge to Europe." Here is an excerpt:
"The role of Islam in Europe is crucial for Europe's future security and prosperity. On one hand, there are millions of Muslims who have become an integral part of European societies and who contribute to the continent's social and cultural diversity, but, on the other hand, there is a growing sentiment in the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in Europe, that is generally hostile to Western interests and values. I think we all find it most disturbing that, in recent years, these radical trends seem to be gaining strength.

The activities of radical Islam's followers and sympathizers in Europe pose a major challenge to our continent today. The challenge is not only the obvious physical threat these fundamentalist groups represent but rather the fact that the radical currents within Islam question virtually every single tenet of European society today and Western society in general.

At this point, you probably expect a common political disclaimer that is almost obligatory whenever anybody says anything about Islam these days—perhaps a few words about a great and generally peaceful religion that has little to do with a small number of thugs and terrorists. Well, I will not avoid such words completely, but allow me to rephrase it a little bit: I still believe that the majority of Muslims prefer peaceful means to terrorism and coexistence to war. But, unfortunately, the facts supporting these views are increasingly hard to find, not only with every new attack against values and interests that are perceived to be Western, but also increasingly with every new anti-Western statement from major Muslim opinion leaders, both within and outside Europe, many of whom have so far been viewed as moderate."

So what happens if the radicals win control of Islam?
If the militants in the end crush the moderate forces in the Muslim world, the West must be ready.

First of all, we should abandon the self-destructive debates about whether the West's policies in the Middle East are a legitimate raison d'ĂȘtre for radical Islam. Such debates are simply wrong. Radical Islamists challenge practically everything that our society claims to stand for, no matter what the Western policies were or are. These challenges include the concept of universal human rights and freedom of speech. That, however, does not discourage radical Muslims from using these basic principles against the West whenever they find it suitable.

The radicals, for instance, do not even theoretically admit that non-Muslims are entitled to the same rights as Muslims. Yet, simultaneously, they ferociously argue for human rights whenever the authorities might apply any pressure against them. In such a way, they corrupt the whole system and blur the difference between victim and perpetrator.

The same applies to freedom of speech: Everyone here remembers the upheaval surrounding the Danish cartoons. It seemed that virtually everybody in the Islamic universe who held any imaginable grudge against the West hopped on the bandwagon and joined often violent protests. Does it not surprise that the cartoons insulted those who have themselves depicted and drawn far worse attacks against our own values?

These days, the West does not seem quite ready to face the threat of radical Islam. The self-criticism and the tendency to blame ourselves for evil deeds of others are weakening us. The unity of the West we saw after the cowardly murder of some three thousand civilians on 9-11 has disintegrated.

What is the answer? How can the West get ready to face the threat of Islam?

The same could be said about our traditional system of values, our Western spirit, and our Western identity. Some have attempted to replace our original set of Judeo-Christian values with a fuzzy and amorphous moral mixture that would have all of humanity join in some kind of a brave new world as one global happy family. Theoretically, this could work nicely if everybody truly joined in, but, in practice, such a plan seems to be failing. Our partners in other parts of the world cherry-pick some of the benefits of the Western system while at the same time criticizing it for corruption and hypocrisy. As we became more open, other forces in the world began to identify themselves in opposition to us.

And then he writes an arresting sentence containing this striking image:

From this point of view, the threat represented by radical Islam provides us with a useful mirror. It might, after all, help us grasp the seriousness of our situation and the challenges we face.
Perhaps what he means is something like this: Islam is a threat to Europe but the more serious threat is the moral rot and the secularism that corrupts and weakens us. The threat from Islam forces us to behold our own visage in the mirror and what we see ought to frighten us far more than terrorists ever could.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Overbearing, Insufferable and Irritating Nanny State

There is a feeling that many Americans - and many people in all Western countries as well - that government is too big, too intrusive, too interfering, too heavy handed and too expensive. The over-bloated welfare state is part of the problem, but the omnipresent administrative state is also an issue. Does every aspect of our lives need to be regulated, watched, vetted and corrected by Big Brother? Are individuals so infantile that they cannot be left alone as long as they don't break the law? Is the nanny state really necessary? Is it good? Is it tolerable?

Under Barack Obama, the US has reached a tipping point and is now turning its back on the welfare-administrative state. Conservatives are now about 40% of the population, moderates are 35% and only 20% self-identify as liberals. Probably most of those who are liberals are really some sort of socialist with most favoring European-style social democracy. But the majority want smaller, less intrusive government and many are counting on the next Congress to roll back the scope and reach of the bureaucratic, welfare, administrative state and push the pendulum back toward limited government.

This story is a perfect example of what irritates most of us about government. Who gives these bureaucrats the right to tell a woman who she can have and not have as a roommate? What business is it of the state to tell me who I'm allowed to room with? This is just beyond ridiculous and it is time to change some laws, defund some government agencies and send the former employees out into the private sector to do some productive work. Fox News reports on the Nanny State in Michigan:

A civil rights complaint has been filed against a woman in Grand Rapids, Mich., who posted an advertisement at her church last July seeking a Christian roommate.

The ad "expresses an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths,” according to the complaint filed by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.

"It's a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement," Executive Director Nancy Haynes told Fox News. "There are no exemptions to that."

Haynes said the unnamed 31-year-old woman’s case was turned over to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Depending on the outcome of the case, she said, the woman could face several hundreds of dollars in fines and “fair housing training so it doesn’t happen again.”

The people who are charged with enforcing this law are not behaving with common sense and wisdom. If they really are concerned about racism, they are shooting their own cause in the foot because if the average person is asked if there should be this type of law if it is going to be carried out to this ridiculous extreme any sensible person would say no.

I have six words of advice for the next Congress: defund, repeal, fire and close down. And there is a lot more government that all of us would be better off without. If the government cannot stay out of religion, it ought to face the wrath of the voting public.

Global Warming Alarmism as an Anti-Human Ideology

Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, has a piece in the Financial Post on global warming entitled "An Anti-Human Ideology." He explains the philosophy behind the recent rush to accept the global warming scam on the basis of flimsy evidence. It is not about the empirical evidence, but rather it is about clothing an old philosophy in scientific garb.

The global warming dispute starts with a doctrine which claims that the rough coexistence of climate changes, of growing temperatures and of man-made increments of CO2 in the atmosphere — and what is more, only in a relatively short period of time — is a proof of a causal relationship between these phenomena. To the best of my knowledge there is no such relationship between them. It is, nevertheless, this claim that forms the basis for the doctrine of environmentalism.

It is not a new doctrine. It has existed under various headings and in various forms and manifestations for centuries, always based on the idea that the starting point of our thinking should be the Earth, the planet or nature, not man or mankind. It has always been accompanied by the plan that we have to come back to the original state of the Earth, unspoiled by us, humans. The adherents of this doctrine have always considered us, the people, a foreign element. They forget that it doesn’t make sense to speak about the world without people because there would be no one to speak. If we take the reasoning of the environmentalists seriously, we find that theirs is an anti-human ideology.

Global Warming Alarmism is not rooted in empirical science, as many leading scientists have pointed out and as Klaus explains with admirable clarity.

To reduce the interpretation of the causality of all kinds of climate changes and of global warming to one variable, CO2, or to a small proportion of one variable — human-induced CO2 — is impossible to accept. Elementary rationality and my decades-long experience with econometric modelling and statistical testing of scientific hypotheses tell me that it is impossible to make strong conclusions based on mere correlation of two (or more) time series.

In addition to this, it is relevant that in this case such a simple correlation does not exist. The rise of global temperature started approximately 150 years ago, but man-made CO2 emissions did not start to grow visibly before the 1940s. Temperature changes also repeatedly moved in the opposite direction than the CO2 emissions trend suggests.

Klaus asks why so many people are so wedded to the cause of Global Warming even though the science is far from settled. He writes:

How is it possible that so many politicians, their huge bureaucracies, important groups in the scientific establishment, an important segment of business people and almost all journalists see it differently? The only reasonable explanation is that — without having paid sufficient attention to the arguments — they have already invested too much into global warming alarmism. Some of them are afraid that by losing this doctrine their political and professional pride would suffer. Others are earning a lot of money on it and are afraid of losing that source of income. Business people hope they will make a fortune out of it and are not ready to write it off. They all have a very tangible vested interest in it. We should say loudly: This coalition of powerful special interests is endangering us.

Our interest is, or should be, a free, democratic and prosperous society. That is the reason why we have to stand up against all attempts to undermine it. We should be prepared to adapt to all kinds of future climate changes (including cooling), but we should never accept losing our freedom.

Follow the money. And remember that environmentalists are like watermelons: green on the outside but red on the inside. It is remarkable that the "solutions" to the global warming "crisis" turn out to be exactly what socialists want to see happen on other grounds: global governance, higher taxes, and the transfer of wealth from the first to third worlds. Like socialism, environmentalism is an anti-human ideology and must be opposed in the name of human freedom and dignity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR is Not Liberal: It is in the Grip of Hard Core Leftists Who are Determined to Stamp Out Free Speech

The firing of journalist Juan Williams by National Public Radio in the US has unleashed a firestorm of protest that has untied conservatives and many actual liberals (as opposed to socialists in liberal clothing) in protest against this unjust and disgraceful action.

If you are unfamiliar with the basic facts of the story, you can go here or here to get them.

In a column in the Washington Post entitled "Juan Williams, truthful dissident," Reuel Marc Gerecht writes:
Did journalist Juan Williams, who was fired Wednesday by NPR, show unacceptable insensitivity or unforgiveable stupidity when he expressed anxiety about Muslim airplane passengers during an interview with conservative TV host Bill O'Reilly? Free speech shouldn't guarantee immunity from the standards of basic decency, but Williams's comments were hardly a firing offense. We would all be better off -- Muslim Americans first and foremost -- if we could have a more open discussion about Islam, Islamic militancy and what Muslims, here and abroad, think it means to be Muslim.
I wonder if it ever occurs to the deep thinkers on the Left that their supposed "defence" of Muslims as a certified victim group actually hurts Muslims? If they ever did realize the damage they were doing, would they care? Gerecht again:
This friendly approach is probably, unfortunately, counterproductive. So far, it's unlikely that Muslim self-criticism -- our ultimate salvation from Islamic holy warriors -- has improved under Obama. Judging by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, a vibrant hodgepodge of all things Arab, the opposite current, fed by Western self-doubt, appears to be gaining force. By being nice, we suggest that nothing within "Islam" -- by which I mean the 1,400-year-old evolving marriage of faith, culture and politics -- is terribly wrong. By being kind, we fail to provoke controversy among Muslims about why so many Muslims from so many lands have called suicide bombers against Western targets "martyrs" and not monsters. Worst of all, by being considerate we fail to echo the great Muslim dissidents, deeply religious men such as the Iranians Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, who see that something has gone very wrong within their country and their civilization. The president would do well to be more nuanced in his outreach to the Muslim world, giving more sustenance to those who see its systemic problems.
Gerecht is right to suggest that the liberal approach - embodied by the Obama administration and the EU - is not working to get Muslims to be more self-critical. It is only empowering and emboldening radicals. Gerecht is also right in pointing out that we are not doing anything to empower or support the Muslim dissidents who bravely speak out against Jihad. Look at the totally passive and servile approach taken by the Obama administration to the unrest in Iran. The message was clear: you try to overthrow the mullahs and you are on your own. They might as well take the Statue of Liberty down, crate it up and ship it back to France. Even France is showing more spunk these days than the US

Juan Williams has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist for the Washington Post, as a news analyst at NPR and as the author of several best-selling books on the African-American civil rights movement. The attempt to silence him by the powers that be at NPR appears to arise from NPR's hatred of Fox News. Even Williams, a liberal, has been astonished that it has been liberals who have tried to silence and smear him while conservatives have stood up for him and defended his right to speak freely. And so another liberal is mugged by reality.

The last word goes to Juan Williams, who explains how he feels about the whole situation on the Fox News Network.

Church and State: How They Should Relate

The fundamental point here is that the Church and State each have a Divinely-appointed role to play in this fallen world between the first and second comings of Christ. The Church's main role is to fulfill the Great Commission and disciple people into a life of growing sanctification and increasing obedience to all that Christ commands. This has tremendously important public and political implications because Christian citizens in a Christian majority country - as voters, as elected office holders and as police officers, judges, and other agents of the government - will have a lot to say about what government does and does not do.

Christians function, as Jesus taught, as salt and light in the world. They uphold public morality, respect the natural law, promote community and care for neighbors and generally preserve standards of decency. They constitute a force for good in the world and it is through these Christian people that the Church exerts her influence on the State.

When the clergy lead a political movement to take over the power of the State and seek to become the power behind the throne, they discredit the Gospel and embarrass themselves by diverting their focus from their higher calling of preaching the Gospel and shepherding the flock of God. Note, however, that it separation of Church and State, not separation of Christians and State. Nor is it separation of objective, moral truth and State or separation of God and State.

Christendom is a group of countries in which Christians have become the strong majority and the influence of the Church through its member is strong and widespread in society. The government is such countries will therefore adhere to the natural law and recognize the priority of the family and the Church. Separation of Church and State is as much about the protection of the Church from the interfering State as it is about the protection of the State from being dominated by the Church. The right of the Church to teach morality and Divine law to its members and for those members to act on this teaching in the public square is fundamental to a free society.

When the State refuses to recognize the natural law and becomes lawless and tyrannical in its usurpation of absolute power unto itself, it needs correction and the Church has a crucial role to play. A Church which does not teach its members to oppose such a tyrannical State and attempt by democratic means to bring correction by electing a government committed to modesty and humility before God and the moral order of the universe is not doing its job.

We cannot allow the shrill, extreme and angry voices of the New Atheism or the Secularists or the Socialists to silence either Christians or their Churches if we wish to be salt and light in the world. We cannot allow modern Sophists to drive those committed to the Truth out of the public square. We should not be intimidated by those who equate any witness to the obvious truth of the objective moral order in the world to theocracy or other such ridiculous charges. Such extremism has gone unchallenged for far too long and the enemies of humanity have been emboldened by Christian reticence. It is time to say enough destruction of the ideals of limited government, the division of powers, individual liberty, free speech, free enterprise, freedom of religion, natural law, equality of opportunity and human dignity. It is time to stand for freedom to do the good in opposition to a watered-down, emaciated, modern idea of freedom as the ability to indulge the fleeting desires of the moment without constraint.

While the State bears the sword and is the supreme authority in the land, it has the responsibility to respect and bow to the law of God. The responsibility of the Church is to make sure that the law of God is never allowed to recede from view or be twisted into the will to power.

Christian Influence in the Secular Realm

As I said in the earlier post, Augustine in effect invented the concept of the secular. The secular realm is the space in which Christ's Lordship is contested during this time between the first and second comings of our Lord. In the realm of the secular, it is possible for Christians of varying degrees of commitment and non-Christians to mingle and find some common ground, engage in some disputes but in the end find a way to live together in peace. This has happened in Christendom and is one of its proudest achievements.

Those who consider historic Christendom to be "exclusive," "violent," "patriarchal," and "racist" often do so because they dream of a socialist Utopia in which the legal-constitutional concept of government has been overthrown and the legacy of the West burned to the ground - as in the 20th century Soviet Union, for example. Their critique - which has been internalized by many in the contemporary West through the cultural Marxism commonly referred to as "political correctness" - is overblown, dishonest and impossible to accept.

Christendom has been a geographical area in which there has existed more freedom than has ever existed in any other society in history. Yet this achievement is scorned and demeaned. To criticize Christendom for not having enough freedom is to operate from a Utopian perspective that is not engaged with reality and therefore extremely dangerous.

The question I want to raise here is how Christians exercise influence in the realm of the secular. This is a pressing question for anyone who become convinced of the necessity of a Christian public witness and feels called to serve as a follower of Christ in the public square.

Oliver O'Donovan, in his The Desire of the Nations, discusses the legacy of Christendom and identifies the essence of this legacy as the legal-constitutional conception of government. (240) He writes:
"Certain key convictions about law became formalised in Christian Europe: all law derives from the will of God; all law is one; all secular rulers are subject to law. . . Christendom in effect refused the classical commonplace that the ruler was a 'living law', his personal authority indistinguishable from the authority of the law he gave. Even those Christians who defended most determinedly the supremacy of the sovereign over earthly courts understood well enough that the sovereign's decree had no legal substance if it ran counter to divine law, natural or revealed." (234) [my bolding]
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis contrasts the situation of the teacher and the pupil with and without the recognition of what he calls the Tao (which is just a fancy name for the natural law). If the existence of natural law is the presupposition of moral education (and public law we could say) then the teacher and the pupil (the ruler and the subject) are both alike under a law that is not of their own making. Each owes obedience to an objective standard that they did not invent and cannot change. So even though one is taught and the other teaches, they are closer to each other than either is to God or the natural law. If the teacher teaches a false doctrine it is not binding on the pupil and will in due course be discovered to the discrediting of the teacher. But if the teacher and pupil assume that there is no such thing as a natural law, then the act of teaching (and we could say the act of governing) becomes essentially tyrannical. It becomes the imposition of the will of the teacher on the pupil.

I believe that the reason why so many Evangelicals are attracted to pacifism today is an inarticulate feeling that to teach objective morality and enforce the natural law is tyrannical; that it is merely a Nietzschean imposition of will. Why do they feel this?

O'Donovan points to a sea-change in 17th century political philosophy in which:
"under the influence of contract-theory, an important shift of emphasis occurred in radical political thought: the ruler's primary responsibility ceased to be thought of as being to divine law, but rather to the people whose supposed act constituted him. This act of popular will came to be thought of as the source of all law and constitutional order." (241)
O'Donovan calls this change "a collapse of the idea of a universal Natural Law, and its replacement by a nationalist positivism." (241) This is a key moment in the rise of modern Secularism and our craven, unreflective acceptance of this turn away from God is the cause of our ambiguous waffling in the fight against socialism and our timid retreat into pacifism in the public square.

The arena of the secular is not a lawless, Nietzschean, war of wills. It is a realm in which Christians, Jews, Muslims and even agnostics can work together on the basis of a common recognition of an objective moral order. Those who reject the natural law or objective moral order are enemies of the common good and must be vigorously opposed. This is precisely what is not happening because of the timidity of Christians and their compromising half-acceptance of atheistic positivism.

The legal-constitutional political order based on a recognition of the unity and inseparability of the natural and Divine law, which is Christendom's legacy to mankind is under attack today as never before. But it is a precious, humanistic and fragile legacy and Christians must defend it in the realm of the secular.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Christendom is Not the Problem: Secularism Is

As a follow-up to my previous post, I want to point out that the eschatological tension that pervades Augustine's thought can be relaxed in two ways, not just one. Readers of my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture, will note that I left the impression that Christendom itself is the problem and that Christendom equals Triumphalism. But Christendom is not the problem, secularism is.

By Secularism, I mean the attempt to disregard, deny or eradicate the future Kingdom of God including the Second Coming, the Day of Judgment and the triumph of Jesus Christ in such a way as to make it all just a symbol of something that actually happens in history. The problem is that this results in pulling the Kingdom back into the present plane of history and cuts the nerve of the eschatological tension between the present Lordship of Christ over the world which is not yet acknowledged by everyone and that future time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Secularism is not a belief in the validity of the secular. Augustine invented the concept of the secular - that which is neither the sacred or the profane - the sphere of life in which Christians rub shoulders with non-Christians in common endeavors. The secular is the space in which religion and morality is not excluded yet not dominant. The secular allows for dissent and difference of opinion and is inherently anti-totalitarian. But appreciating the secular is not the same as secularism.

Secularism is a term that only entered the English language in the 19th century. It is basically the denial of the transcendent, of God and of an objective moral order. To be secular is to be materialistic and human-centered. Secularism is the expansion of the concept of the secular to encompass the totality of life. Secularism is an attack on Christianity and all religion and morality that is grounded in reality rather than in the will of the individual.

Secularism is as bad as Triumphalism because it both relaxes the eschatological tension and also facilitates the unification of the Church and the State. The difference is that this time the State absorbs the function of the Church into itself. The State makes itself into a god which provides for the people, engineers society according to its own choices and values and makes itself into a source of meaning. The Church is first disestablished, then privatized and finally rendered invisible and impotent. All religious influence must be eradicated from society because such influence constitutes a threat to the power of the State.

The belief in a future Kingdom of God (and by future I mean after the Return of Christ and not continuous with the present age) serves as a check on all totalitarian aspirations, whether they emanate from organized religion or from politics. The direct implication of the maintenance of the belief in the Second Coming, Day of Judgment and Kingdom of God is the relativizing of all politics - both ecclesiastical and civil - and the doctrine of the Two. The doctrine of the Two is the Medieval idea that power should not be concentrated in one set of hands but should be divided between Church and State. The Medieval doctrine of the Two draws on the division of powers in the prophet, the priest and the king in ancient Israel and lays the foundation for the modern concept of the division of powers - the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government - and the the idea of a limited government that does not need to control every action and thought of the people because of the influence of Christianity in creating within the population that self-discipline which is the necessary condition for liberty.

What I am saying is that contemporary Secularism is just as dangerous - in fact, at present it is more dangerous to liberty - than is Triumphalism. Triumphalism is not a clear and present danger in the contemporary West, but Secularism is. There are two roads to totalitarianism: a clerical dominated theocracy like Iran and the "dictatorship of relativism" that arises when secularist ideologies like Marxism become dominant. The alternative to both kinds of totalitarianism is a free Church in a free State: Christendom.

Christendom is not the Problem: Triumphalism Is

In my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture, I fell into the trap of practically (not in theory, but for all intents and purposes) equating Christendom with Triumphalism.

Triumphalism is a perversion of Christendom; it is bad politics arising from heretical doctrine.

Triumphalism means the assimilation of the State into the Church in such a way that the authority of the State is wielded by Church officials to the discrediting of the Church and the detriment of society. Triumphalism arises from the fatal relaxation of the eschatological tension between this age and the next age, the age of the Kingdom of God. Triumphalism carried far enough leads to totalitarianism.

The eschatology of the early Augustine, as is shown by Robert Markus in his magisterial Saeculum: History and Society in St. Augustine, was influenced by the Eusebianism of the age of the Theodosian settlement, which fostered Triumphalism. The dominant eschatology saw the current age as "Christian Times," an era in which biblical prophecy was being fulfilled before the very eyes of the astonished world. The conversion of Rome was seen as the beginning of the coming in history of the Kingdom of God.

As Markus shows, Augustine gradually worked himself free of this eschatology in the process of writing biblical commentaries, especially on Genesis, between roughly 395 and 410 AD. Thus, he was prepared to respond to the crisis following the sack of Rome in 410 when many pagan Roman refugees flooded into North Africa blaming the conversion of Rome to Christ for the disaster.

The eschatology of the mature Augustine emphasized that we live "between the times," that is, between the first and second comings of Christ in a kind of suspension of "salvation history." This is the period of the Church evangelizing the world in fulfillment of the Great Commission, but the Kingdom which appeared in the person of the King, Jesus Christ, remains future in terms of its fulfillment. We live in the Kingdom already, yet the Kingdom has not yet fully come. So we journey through this world as pilgrims, citizens of the city of God yet still in search of that city. One day the city of God will come to earth but this will only occur after the return of Christ.

There is thus an eschatological tension in Augustine's thought between the present age and the future age, the age of the inaugurated kingdom and the kingdom come in its fullness, between the already and the not yet. Our situation is that we live after the coming of Christ and during the reign of Christ, yet not every knee bows and not every tongue confesses at this point in history. So we pray as our Lord taught us: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Triumphalism pulls the future kingdom back into the present and supposes falsely that the rule of God is already manifest on earth through the Church. This leads the Church to suppose falsely that it has the authority to abolish the doctrine of the separation of powers between Church and State (between Priest and King) and reunite them in one sacralized entity called the State Church, which is really Leviathan.

Triumphalism is the perennial temptation of Christendom. It has reared its ugly head numerous times in the history of the West, but it represents a deviation, a perversion, a heretical degradation of the true heritage of Christendom, which deserves to be known best not for the Triumphalistic deviation, but for the doctrine of the Two that is the true fruit of Augustinian thought.

Next: Christendom is not the Problem, Secularism Is

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Solzhenitsyn on How the West has Forgotten God

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was right in his famous Harvard Commencement Address, "A World Split Apart." The West is in trouble because it has forgotten God. The speech notes a number of disturbing trends in the West that are all examples of the mis-use of the gift of freedom. Then he asks if socialism might be the answer. Unsurprisingly, the answer is no.

It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the United States.

Then he asks if the West is an example to be imitated and he says no, sadly it is not.

But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.
Why is the West not an example? The hint is in the preceding quote: the problem is spiritual in nature. It is also a moral problem:
Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism's well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.
Then Solzhenitsyn turns to diagnosis. What is the source of the West's moral and spiritual weakness?

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

The West has lost its sense of man's responsibility to God.

Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.
Solzhenitsyn argues that humanism is incoherent and untrue and that the fundamental meaning of life is religious in nature.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.
Man has forgotten or rejected God. That is the root source of the materialism, humanism and naturalism that degrades and demeans mankind today. The West must turn back to God or decline, decay and eventually suffer conquest by some other civilization.

Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Shocking Evil that So Often Goes Unchallenged

This article by Jonathan Kay in The National Post entitled "Jonathan Kay on Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Hate Reaching Back 1,400 Years" discusses the noxious facts about Muslim hatred of Jews - not Israel but Jews - that contemporary liberals/progressives refuse to face up to and take into account when discussing the Middle East situation. Kay writes:

When Israeli planes smashed Egyptian airfields in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, announcers on Radio Cairo took to the airwaves, calling on Arabs in neighbouring countries to attack any Jews they could find. In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, then home to about 5,000 Jews, rioters responded with an orgy of murder, arson and looting that lasted three days. Even after the survivors had fled to Israel and the West, leaving Libya effectively judenrein, the anti-Semitic bloodlust remained unquenched. It was “the unavoidable duty of the city councils,” opined one Libyan newspaper, “to remove [Jewish] cemeteries immediately, and throw the bodies of the dead, which even in their eternal rest soil our country, into the depths of the sea … Only then can the hatred of the Libyan people toward the Jews be satiated.”

Shocking words. Yet they do not come as a shock when one comes upon them in Martin Gilbert’s newly published history of Jews in Muslim lands, recently excerpted on these pages. By that point in the chronology, I had become so numbed by the author’s relentless catalogue of pogroms, executions, expulsions, forced conversions and the generalized terrorizing of Jews that the atrocities had lost their power to appall. It is not that Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of books too numerous to count on Jewish and Israeli themes, is an unimaginative storyteller; this simply is the grim, unchanging nature of the epic hatred he has taken as his subject.

The Koran contains several very specific curses against Jews. And as modern terrorists often like to remind their YouTube audiences, Muhammad himself was a prolific Jew-killer. This passage from In Ishmael’s House, for instance, describes events that took place after the Prophet’s soldiers captured members of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in the year 627: “[All] 700 Jewish men were taken to the market at Medina. Trenches were dug in the market square and the men, tied together in groups, were beheaded. Their headless bodies were then buried in the trenches while Mohammed watched … All Jewish males who had not reached puberty, and all the remaining women and girls, were sold into slavery.” This mass slaughter came to be described in Muslim religious literature as the product of divine revelation. To this day, it is cited as clear proof that Allah permits the most hideous forms of punishment to be meted out against nonbelievers. . . .

Gilbert avoids broad generalizations. As his narrative moves forward from century to century, he shows snapshots from different Muslim lands — emphasizing scattered instances, such as in Cordoba and, later, the Ottoman Empire, where truly humane and enlightened Muslim leaders took pains to protect Jewish subjects. In the courts of such leaders, Jews often rose to positions of wealth and power — typically as doctors, linguists and commercial liaisons. Yet these successes didn’t help Jews win acceptance but rather the opposite: Muslims saw Jews’ good fortune as an insult to the revealed order of the universe.
Gilbert acknowledges Christian anti-Semitism, but highlights a crucial difference between it and Muslim anti-Semitism.
It goes without saying that Muslim civilization has no monopoly on violent and systematic anti-Semitism: Spasms of murderous Jew-hatred were common all across Christendom during the 14 centuries of Islam’s existence. But in recent generations, Western societies at least have tried to come to terms with their history in a morally serious way. Gilbert’s book makes clear that this self-critical approach to history remains foreign to Muslim societies, especially where Jews are concerned. While Israelis have wrung their hands for three generations over the relatively minor (by historical standards) bloodshed incurred in their nation’s creation and the wars that have unfolded since, no equivalent soul-searching has accompanied the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Muslim lands in the middle of the 20th century or the persecution and pillaging of countless Jewish communities throughout the entire history of the Islamic faith.
Israel is being made into a pariah on the world stage, especially at the United Nations. Why does Islam get a free pass? Why don't the nations of the West demand that Islam reform itself if it wishes support for negotiations with Israel to settle the Palestinian dispute? Why are Muslims not held to account for their crude, barbaric and violent anti-Semitism? Do the liberals/progressives who ally themselves with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations understand who they are enabling and standing with?

The Hypocrisy of Liberals/Progressives on Religion

Hunter Baker has a good post on "The Hypocrisy of the Champions of Secular Democracy" in which he points out that the recent attacks on Rand Paul's (Republican candidate for the Senate in Kentucky) faith by his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, is an example of the way that liberals use the "separation of church and state" as a stick with which to beat conservatives. You can't take them seriously, so why try?

Baker writes:
In my book The End of Secularism, I have a chapter which is a case study demonstrating that the high-minded adherence to secularism is easily discarded by leftists whenever they find religion convenient to their agenda. Were I to rewrite the book today, I would include the ad being run against Rand Paul by his opponent in the Kentucky senate race.
Here is the Democratic attack ad:



Here is Rand Paul's response:



If a conservative Christian argued that his opponent should not be elected because he was an atheist and anti-Christian, the liberals would be up in arms. But their silence on this issue shows how hypocritical they are. They just cynically use the religion issue either way as it suits their purposes.

Baker again:

Now, first off, I have to say that the claim against Rand Paul has to do with a stunt from his college years at Baylor. Having read the original story about Rand's classmate's claim, it was clear that he and a friend engaged in a fairly typical fraternity-style prank. I am familiar with the "secret society" he belonged to at Baylor. It is a humorous part of campus-life. A little edgy, but viewed as a real part of the Baylor tradition.

More important, though, the text of the ad shows that liberals are more than ready to use religion as a political issue when it suits their purposes. If the shoe were on the other foot and a conservative were running an ad of this nature, many gray eminences of church-state separation would come forth from the Ivy Leagues, Washington, D.C., and New York City to explain to us how scurrilous and unprincipled it is.

I have yet to hear from Barry Lynn or any of the other great separators of church and state about the Conway ad being run against Rand Paul. And we won't hear from them. Because this story doesn't fit their template of conservatives using religion to engage in holy war.

Well said Mr. Baker.

NOTE: As you can see, however, from this post the other day, there is one member of the liberal media who must be exempted from this hypocrisy charge: Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Even Angela Merkel Knows Multiculturalism is a Failure

Here is a story from the BBC announcing that, finally, the German Chancellor is facing the reality that European multiculturalism is a failure. Remember, this is not a "far-right politician" speaking, but a mainstream pillar of the EU.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel: "lmmigrants should learn to speak German." Attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed", Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

She said the so-called "multikulti" concept - where people would "live side-by-side" happily - did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate - including learning German.

The comments come amid rising anti-immigration feeling in Germany. A recent survey suggested more than 30% of people believed the country was "overrun by foreigners".

The study - by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think-tank - also showed that roughly the same number thought that some 16 million of Germany's immigrants or people with foreign origins had come to the country for its social benefits.

Mrs Merkel told a gathering of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Saturday that at "the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country."

She added: "We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone', but this isn't reality." "And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."

Read the rest here. (The BBC has a video as well as a partial transcript.)

So the geniuses who invented the liberal idea of multiculturalism are finally starting to admit that it is a disaster. Perhaps now one of them will actually come up with a solution. But don't hold your breath.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another Desperate Democratic Attack Backfires, Thanks in Part to the Liberal Media

I smack the mainstream media around on this blog pretty regularly for their obvious, blatant, unprofessional and totally unfair bias toward liberals and progressives and against conservatives. They are biased against Christianity, conservative principles, conservative policies and anybody who dares to take a conservative position. They deserve to be losing the ratings war to Fox News because the majority of Americans are conservative and are fed up with liberal bias.

Having said all that, however, I want to be fair and so from time to time I put up anything I run across that demonstrates balance on the part of the mainstream media. There was a good interview of Alan Grayson a few weeks ago in which the MSNBC interviewer was plainly disgusted by Grayson's distortion of his opponent, Dan Webster's, words in an attack ad. Now we have Chris (I feel a tingle in my leg) Matthews doing a relentless, scornful and passionate take down of Jack Conway's despicable and stupid attack on Rand Paul's Christian faith.



I predict that this tactic will backfire badly on Conway and that Paul will now coast to victory in the Kentucky senate race. Conway looks worse to the conservative Christian voters of Kentucky now than Paul ever could. I hope this is the end of Conway's career in electoral politics. He is an adult and he knew what he was doing. He does not deserve another chance.

By the way, here is Rand Paul's response to Jack Conway in the debate the other night. I suppose Conway thought Paul would just let him get away with this nonsense. If so, he was wrong.



I am not even particularly fond of Rand Paul as far as that goes. He is too libertarian for my tastes and his father is a false conservative - practically an anarchist. Ron Paul's position is where the extreme right meets the extreme left and is not a conservative position at all. I don't know to what extent Rand shares his father's views. It will be interesting to see how that plays out after he is seated in the US Senate.