09 April 2017

The Call of Abraham

After the story of the Tower of Babel, the author of Genesis introduces another book of generations--the generations of Seth. This small section is a mere genealogy focused on the most important of Noah's three sons--important because he was the one from whose descendants God would call out his chosen people. Shem allegedly is the progenitor of the Semites--including the Hebrews.


This is followed by another book of generations--the book of Terah. Again, this section is nothing more than an alleged genealogy. This takes their story to Abraham.


For about 500 years following the flood account of Genesis, God remained in silence. The writer of Genesis followed the flood story with an account of the origins of the peoples with who the Hebrews interacted for so many centuries.


Then in Genesis 12, God allegedly speaks. God initiated contact with the people who claimed to be his special, chosen nation.


Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3 

The Bible does not say exactly how God supposedly communicated to Abraham. Did he appear to Abraham? Or did he only communicate verbally? Neither is the Bible clear on where this communication occurred.


Abraham lived with his father Terah and two brothers, Nahor and Haran, in the city of Ur, located in southern Mesopotamia. Haran died, so the brothers assumed responsibilty for the family. Abraham brought Haran's son Lot into his household. Nahor took Haran's daughter as his wife. Abraham at some time married a woman named Sarah. The father took the family to a trading center called Haran near the western edge of Mesopotamia, where he died. The immediate text suggests God's call came in Haran. But other biblical texts (Acts 7) suggest it occurred back in Ur).


At any rate, God in that initial call to Abraham gave a three part promise: a land in which to dwell, a great nation of descendants, and a source of blessing to all nations of the earth. These promises, and their disputed meanings, serve as the foundations for the three historic monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.






08 April 2017

Aristotle and Democracies

After classifying all governments into monarchy, aristocracy, and polity (and of course, their deviations tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy), Aristotle made some interesting observations about democracies. As implied in the plural use of this political concept, there were many versions of democracies in Aristotle's day. The reader at his point is reminded of Aristotle's definition of democracy:  "a democracy exists whenever those who are free are not well-off, being in the majority, are in sovereign control of government."


This includes all parts of the government. According to Aristotle, there are three elements: "The three are, first, the deliberative, which discusses everything of common importance; second, the officials; and third, the judicial element." A democracy exists when the mass of people control all three elements.


The deliberative element is the assembly of the citizens of the city-state. The tasks of assemblies differ between the city-states. In general, they enact laws, decide the question of war and peace, and elect officials from among themselves to administer the city-state between meetings of the assembly.


These officials, what we might today call the executive, generally assume office through selection by drawing lots. In Aristotle's democracy, where all citizens possess equality, selection to the assembly is not by election but by lot. The citizens take turns ruling and being ruled.


The judicial element, which settles disputes about law, consists of citizens selected by lot. Again, the democratic principle requires that equal citizens take turns in office.


Not all democracies are  alike, however, according to Aristotle. Practices differed among the democracies of his day. He divided them into two general types.


The first rests on the principle of complete equality among all the citizens, “when all alike share most fully in the constitution.” By equality, he meant no property or other qualifications for voting in the assembly of the city-state or serving in its offices. In a second type, a modest property qualification is required. When a person does not meet the property requirement or once having met it subsequently loses it, he can no longer participate in the Assembly, offices, or law courts.


Aristotle added that in some of these constitutions the majority exercises sovereignty over all public questions, “when the multitude is sovereign and not the law."  The democratic assembly gathers and simply votes, much like a jury. Aristotle observed that it is “the demagogues who bring about this state of affairs.” They do this when “they bring every question before the people, and make its decrees sovereign instead of the laws . . . and the multitude follows their lead.” When demagogues bring questions before the people, most often the audience is the poor: “the mass of the poor take they most time off; they have no encumbrances, while the wealthy, who have private affairs to look after, often do not take part in the Assembly and courts of law.” This is especially true of the urban poor. Less affluent farmers sometimes experienced difficulty taking time out from labors in the surrounding countryside to travel into the city for assembly meetings. The urban poor already were there.


When demagogues bring every question before an assembly meeting consisting primarily of the urban poor, this gives rise to factions, pitting the poor and rich against each other. The poor will seek to confiscate the wealth of the rich; the rich will seek to disenfranchise to poor. According to Aristotle, "when those in office ill-treat others and get larger shared for themselves, men form factions both against each other and against the constitution to which they owe their power to act." These factions between poor and rich plagued all city-states in the ancient world.


He noted, however, that in other democracies established laws govern all decisions instead of majority vote. Officials apply the established laws like judges. In fact, Aristotle asserted that where “laws do not rule, there is no constitution.” He argued that “the laws ought to rule over all, in general terms, and the officials ought to make rulings in individual cases.” He suggested that when most of the people are farmers or possess a moderate amount of property, they work in the Assembly to “puts the law in charge” so that the Assembly is not deciding every question and repeatedly requiring them to leave the countryside for assembly meetings. In this way, even a democracy can be a government of laws and not of men.


In describing this last type of democracy, Aristotle began his transition to what he believed to be the best possible government: a mixed regime in which both the wealthy and the poor shared sovereignty. Only this mixed government in which the wealthy and poor shared offices would rule for the common good .


He called it a polity. It later became known as a republic.








07 April 2017

McConnell's Mushroom Cloud

As Mitch McConnell's mushroom cloud dissipates into the atmosphere, the Republican controlled Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch as the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.




The much anticipated scenario played out pretty much as expected. The Democrats threatened to filibuster his nomination--a first in the history of Supreme Court nominations. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell elected to go with the so-called "nuclear option"--bring the Senate rule about Supreme Court nominations into conformity with the Constitution itself. Now Republicans needed only a simple majority to confirm Gorsuch.

Some pundits suggest that the promised filibuster was an attempt at "payback" for the Republican refusal to hold hearings on then President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. This conclusion is questionable. The filibuster seems to be the next escalation of  the ruthlessness that the Democratic Party has demonstrated for several decades now concerning the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.

The Democrats and their progressive supporters depend upon the federal courts to push an agenda--especially on so-called social issues--that the majority of Americans do not support. In addition, they depend upon the court to crush resistance emanating from the states. The Republicans control most state legislatures and governorships. And voters in many states have made their policy preferences on controversial questions known through their state governments or by means of initiatives and referendums. Yet the Republican success in state elections and conservative triumphs through initiatives and referendum have been  undermined by  progressive federal courts that "nationalize" every disputed question and subvert the federalism inherent in our Constitution.

The Democrats success in enacting their agenda depends upon control of the Supreme Court. Because of this, what use to be a routine and uneventful constitutional procedure transmogrified into the shameful spectacle that it is today--when party seems of more import than  principle.

Conservatives should be wary of celebration and gloating. Republican presidents, despite the vociferous opposition of Democrats, have nominated most Supreme Court justices in recent decades. And these so-called conservative jurists have delivered the votes for the decisions that affront the sensibilities of conservatives and violate the text of the Constitution--Warren, Blackmun, Souter, Kennedy, etc.  There is no guarantee that Gorsuch will show more fealty to the Constitution than to precedent.

05 April 2017

The Unmasker Unmasked

For the past couple of months, The New York Times has reported on contacts between officials connected or once connected with the Donald Trump presidential campaign and Russians government officials. These reports alluded to "anonymous" intelligence officials and "former Obama administration officials as the sources of these stories. No one should be surprised that government officials selectively lead information. What is disturbing about these leaks is that they reveal to the Russians that whatever methods they used to elude eavesdropping by the United States are not working. Moreover, they reveal not only that intelligence was at least incidentally gathered on American citizens, but also that the identities of these Americans have been "unmasked." Usually names of citizens are redacted or simply covered with the expression "U. S. person." In these cases, the intelligence reports revealed the names and then were subsequently leaked to the New York Times. 

Now there has been another leak of sorts. Someone (probably House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes or someone connected with his staff) has revealed the source of the unmasking--former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice. (The mainstream media, continuing to serve as fluffers for the Obama administration but completely ignoring this leak.)


Rice first addressed the leak by denying it. In an interview with PBS on March 22, she claims that she does not "know nothing about that."








This week, however, she backtracked. Now she reveals that she DID know something about that and she all must explicitly admits that she unmasked the names of Trump officials. She denies, however, that she unmasked the names FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES or that she leaked the names to the press.







This progressive prevaricator, once largely unknown to most Americans, earned her first 15 minutes of fame, during her tours of the new talk shows as she spread "fake news" about the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Now she is on another "fake news" tour of friendly news outlets.

She probably will not be so chatty before a congressional committee.








02 April 2017

Some Words About Words

Last Sunday's post explored that mythological Tower of Babel. God thwarted the attempt to build a tower up to the dome of heaven by "confusing" everyone's language. Because they could no longer communicate, they left off building the tower. The account of the confusion of languages at Babel not only reveals a primitive understanding of cosmology, but also suggests a lack of understanding about the basics  of human language.


 Although not explicitly stated, the passages seems to suggest the the ancient Hebrews believed that each language is natural and intrinsic to its speakers and that languages are fixed attributes of those speakers. (I supposed the Hebrews kept the original human tongue--although the Bible does not say that either.) The passages contain no hint that languages adapt and change over time. This conflicts with our modern understanding of language.


Words are not natural or intrinsic at all. Words are arbitrary sounds we articulate to symbolize the objects of our thought. These objects of thought may be concrete objects that constitute external reality such as rocks, bodies of water, clouds, and animals. The objects of thought might include abstract concepts such as love, liberty, and God, or products of our imagination. Languages do share some structural similarities in propositions that describe the relationships between an actor, and object, and changes of some kind that an actor imposes on an object. But little else. Moreover, languages evolve. In the Western world, this is most obvious in the case of Latin, which evolved into Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.






01 April 2017

Aristotle's Three Governments

At the close of is essay Ethics, Aristotle anticipates what will follow in the continuation of that work which came be known as The Politics. Aristotle declared his intention to be the analyze various constitutions, evaluate assessments made by earlier thinkers, and consider “what influences are conservative and what are destructive of a state.” This statement serves as the most fundamental of conservative ideas; preservation of the fundamental political order. Aristotle's classifications of constitutions for the most part have defined the terms of political debate for the next 2,300 years.


He begins with one of his tentative and partial definitions of what constitutes the state. He defines it as a voluntary association to achieve a greater good than can be achieved by individuals alone. According to Aristotle, “Observation tells us that every state is an association, and that every association is formed a view to some good purpose. I say good, because in all their actions all men do in fact aim at that they think good.” Moreover, “the association which is the most sovereign among them all and embraces all others will aim highest, i.e. at the most sovereign of all goods,This is the association which we call the state, the association which is political.”


In contrast to the early modern theorists of the state like Hobbes and Locke, he sees the state in general as something natural rather than artificial. He bases this conclusion on his historical understanding of the origin of states. He suggests that to understand the state, “We shall, I think, in this as in other subject, get the best view of the matter if we look at the natural growth of things from the beginning.”


The state begins with family:


“The first point is that those which are incapable of existing without each other must be united as a pair. For example, the union of male and female is essential for reproduction; and this is not a matter of choice, but is due to the natural urge, which exist in the other animals too . . . To propagate one’s kind.”



This is the beginning of the household.


As families grow and establish kinship networks through marriage with other branches of the family or with others outside the family. These new households eventually develop into a village.


“The next stage is the village, the first association of at number of houses of the satisfaction of something more than daily needs. It comes into being through the processes of nature in the fullest sense, as offshoots of a household are set up by sons and grandsons.”


Finally, after establishment of several villages, comes the state.


“The final association, formed of several villages, is the state. For all practical purposes, the process is now complete: self-sufficiency has been reached and while the state came about as a means of securing life itself, it continues in being to secure the good life.  Therefore, every state exists by nature as the earlier associations too were natural”


Through this inquiry into the origin of the state, Aristotle concludes that it is natural.


“It follows that the state belong to the class of object which exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.”


And what is the chief good brought about by the state? Justice.


“Among all men, then there is a natural impulse toward this kind of association; and the first man to construct a state deserves credit for conferring very great benefits.”


Aristotle sees justice as related to the exercise of the human virtues or excellencies that he delineated in Ethics. He writes that human beings have many excellencies that can be used for practical wisdom and virtue. Men too often lack virtues or use them for injustice. Aristotle sees the role of the state to inculcate virtue in its citizens so they will seek justice. In addition, the state seeks justice by awarding honor or roles based upon the virtue of individual citizens.


“For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorces from law and justice. Hence man without virtue is the most savage, the most unrighteous, and the worst in regard to sexual license and gluttony. The virtue of justice is a feature of a state.”



He turns to different ways that men have organized, or constituted the state.


Aristotle defined a constitution as “the organization of the offices, and in particular of the one that is sovereign over all the others.” This differs from the concept of constitution that we have today. Modern Americans think of a written document which specifically creates the arrangement of offices and describes the powers invested in each office. Aristotle defined constitution as the arrangement of the offices themselves, whether or not any written document created them.


In addition, Aristotle distinguished between correct and deviant constitutions. He wrote:


“It is clear then that those constitutions which aim at the common good are right, as being in accord with absolute justice; while those which aim only at the good of the rulers are wrong. They are all deviations from the right constitutions.”



Aristotle identified three general types of correct constitutions with operate for the common good:


--Rule by one, called monarchy, that aims at the common good.


--Rule by the few, called aristocracy, in which the best men, or most virtuous, men rule for what is best for the state.The most virtuous are those who have developed the human virtues or excellencies described in his earlier work Ethics.  Aristotle's virtues included such moral virtues as courage, temperance, generosity, and amiability. They included such intellectual virtues as knowledge, intuition, skill, prudence, and wisdom.  As might be expected, Aristotle believed that an aristocracy was the best government. It is, after all, government by the best, or most virtuous.


--Rule by the many, called polity, in which the mass of the populace exercise power in the common interest. In contrast to the many virtues of the aristocrats, the only virtue possessed by the masses is military virtue. That is why, according to Aristotle, the “defensive element is the most sovereign body, and those who share in the constitution are those who bear arms.”


Aristotle observed that different city-states developed many variations of these three basic types of governments. Much of his text explored the different varieties of democracies and aristocracies.



Aristotle noted, however, that these correct constitutions degenerate into deviant forms in which those with the sovereign power no longer exercise it for the common good or justice, but for the private good of the rulers. He defined three deviant constitutions:



--Rule by the one, called tyranny, or monarchy for the benefit of the monarch.


--Rule by the few, called oligarchy, for the benefit of men of means


--Rule by the many, called democracy, for the benefit of men without means.


Aristotle distinguished these constitutions by the ends that they serve, but Aristotle noted something in common when he elaborated on these constitutions from an economic perspective. Aristocracy is rule by "the best," but this usually means the rich. In this way it resembles an oligarchy. Polity is rule by the many, but  this usually means the poor. In this way, polity resembles a democracy. Correct and deviant constitutions resemble each other when compared economically. They differ dramatically when compared teleologically--what end or purpose do they serve.


What seems to be missing from his account?


A republic.



30 March 2017

From Russia With Love

During the recent presidential election campaign, Clinton campaign officials and supporters fretted--and rightly so--about hacking of John Podesta's emails and their subsequent publication by Wikileaks. The consensus is that Russian intelligence was behind the hacking. Every American, of whatever party, should be disturbed that a foreign power interfered in any way with our election. (Not withstanding the fact Democrats in the past welcomed Russian assistance to their cause.) This laid the foundation for the much more vague post-election narrative that the Russians "hacked" the election.


This Democratic Party narrative received reinforcement after the inauguration as stories began appearing the the New York Times and elsewhere about pre-inauguration meetings between persons affiliated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials. The articles regularly cite "current" or "former" Obama administration officials. It appears that during routine surveillance of Russian officials, American intelligence agencies became aware of those contacts. Democratic Party supporters have demonstrated that they can leak with the best of them.

This is "troubling" as they say in the media. First, it lets the Russians know (if they do not already) that whatever methods they use to secure their own private communications have failed.  Second, it is a felony to release intelligence information.

If we did not know with certitude by such allusions in the news media to "former" and "current" Obama administration officials that bureaucrats leaked intelligence on persons associated with the Trump campaign--we do now. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under the Obama Administration  Evelyn Farkus confirmed what the New York Times reported: that government officials from the Obama Administration have been leaking secret intelligence to the media.


The Democrats claim that Russia cost them the election. But they apparently have made  up for it by providing plenty of "troubling" talking points to undermine the Trump administration.




26 March 2017

Tower of Power

Genesis claims that the descendants of Noah's three sons spread out and repopulated the earth according to their families, tongues, lands, and nations.


The passage Genesis 10, sometimes called the "table of nations, lays out this history.


The descendants of Japheth, or "coastland peoples," settled along the Mediterranean coast, Asia Minor, and northern Mesopotamia. From them emerged the Europeans and Iranians.


The descendants of Ham settled in Canaan, Africa, and across the fertile crescent. Again, the bible attributes the establishment of cities to individuals. According to this account, the descendants of Ham built the ancient cities of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Nineveh. From them emerged the Africans and some Middle Eastern peoples.


Finally, the descendants of Seth settled through out the Mesopotamia and the Arabian peninsula. From them emerged most Middle Eastern peoples, including those fightin' cousins--the Hebrews and the Arabs.


Each account of the descendants of Noah's sons is said to be "after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations."


Only in the next chapter does the bible attempt to explain the origin of the families, tongues, countries, and nations. And as one might suspect, the account differs from reality.


The people, according to this addition, spoke one language. Their migrations after the flood brought them to Shiner or Babylonia. Once there, the embarked on an ambitious project.


"And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Genesis 11:3-4


In accordance with the primitive biblical belief in a flat earth covered with a dome, the inhabitants believed that they could build a tower to reach the dome. And God thought so, too.


"And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." Genesis 11:5-6


Alarmed at the progress, God decided to confound their speech so that they could no longer cooperate with each other.


"Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth". Genesis 11:7-9


Without the ability to communicate, the people stopped building their tower and resumed their migrations. (And it might be added, instead of cooperation, mankind became subject to misunderstanding, division, and warfare.) Consequently, they allegedly settled themselves according to the pattern described in the previous chapter. In this way, the ancient Hebrews came to explain the origins and presence of the surrounding peoples.









25 March 2017

Republicanism and The Politics of Aristotle

Over the last several months, Saturday posts consisted of "weblog" entries of my exploration of  the meaning of conservatism--specifically a non-religious variety of conservatism. I made some observations from a conservative perspective on some core concepts of political ideologies such as ethics, liberty, rights, and equality, as well as institutions such as the family and governments.

The next few Saturdays will be devoted to exploring how these concepts have played out in the struggle of peoples to free themselves from the arbitrary rule of monarchs and their hereditary aristocratic substratum and to establish republics. I will also explore a historigraphical controversy about the relative influence of liberalism and republicanism on the founding of my country--the United States. Most historians contrast liberalism with republicanism and dispute about the relative impact of each on the origins of the United States. I will later argue that they are not contrary to one and other. Instead, I will assert that republicanism is contrary to monarchy and challenges its philosophical assumptions. Not all advocates of republicanism have agreed, however, about the details of how to organize a republic and establish its public philosophy. They divide into liberals and conservatives. I will suggest that conservative republicans tend to embrace the classical republicanism exemplified in Rome (Cicero and Polybius) and Greece (Aristotle) and that liberal republicans embrace more modern theorists such as John Locke. In other words, republicanism is the genus; conservatism and liberalism are the species.

Modern Progressive might be a different animal altogether.


Any examination of the history of governments, especially republicanism,  must begin with Aristotle's The Politics. This examination will not be a systematic, chapter by chapter analysis. Rather, it will focus on those ideas of Aristotle that influenced the Founding Fathers. Aristotle established the framework in which all discussions of governments have taken place. Moreover, Aristotle's insights have influenced the many different streams of both conservative and liberal ideas about society and government.


First, a little review.


Readers are reminded that The Politics is actually a continuation of his work, Ethics. In that essay, Aristotle asserted that the primary motivation for human behavior is happiness. He made this conclusion because happiness is the only good that is sought for itself and not sought for the sake of something else.


Aristotle used the term in a different sense than we do today. The modern definition of happiness held by most people is that happiness is the psychological or emotional state that comes from getting what one wants. The Greek word Aristotle used for happiness is better translated, thriving or flourishing. So the question Aristotle tried to answer in Ethics was how do men thrive or how do we create thriving men? It was his way of asking the more modern inquiry, What is the good life?


Aristotle based his answers on man’s nature. He conceived man as “the rational animal.” Consequently, he argued that the pursuit of happiness will be a rational activity. In addition, Aristotle recognized that human beings by nature possess certain species specific excellencies or , as modern translations have it, virtues. Aristotle believed that human beings should cultivate these virtues. Aristotle thus defined happiness as “the rational activity of the soul in accordance with virtue or excellence. In other words, happiness means excelling at being human or becoming an excellent human being.


But Aristotle also recognized man as “a political animal,” or as we might call it today, a social animal. By nature human beings live in organized societies. Without society, man cannot fully thrive or achieve happiness. So in The Politics, Aristotle explores the different ways people have organized their societies and which ones are most conducive for human thriving or happiness. He examines some idealistic speculative constitutions created by philosophers. He examines actual constitutions of various Mediterranean communities. And, finally, he offers his own ideal constitution.


Readers are reminded, too, of the context of Aristotle’s The Politics. When Aristotle wrote, the form of social organization most familiar was the Greek city-state or polis (hence the word politics.) Dozens of them dotted the Mediterranean. The Greek city-states emerged in the 800s BC following the disappearance of Mycenaean civilization and its kings. The Dorian Invasions,about which ancient history scholars disagree, swept way Mycenaean civilization and brought about the subsequent Greek “dark ages.” The new city-states that emerged began as self-sufficient societies based upon kinship networks. Perhaps to prevent another catastrophe like the Dorian invasion, they grew into fiercely independent armed camps based upon citizen soldiers (the hoplites.)


The city-states consisted of a small urban center and the surrounding countryside. Athens, the adopted home of Aristotle, grew into one of the largest. It contained around 1,000 square miles, making it slightly smaller than Rhode Island. Most other city-states spread only between 30 and 500 square miles and had only 2,000 to 10,000 people. Athenians numbered about 350,000 people. Only about half of these possessed citizenship--the right to hold office and participate in juries. The rest were dependents-- women, children, and slaves-- or resident aliens.


This small size, both geographically and demographically, of the Greek city-state must be remembered as one reads The Politics. In addition, one must note the impulse to unity and conformity. The notion of individual natural or political rights was largely alien to the ancient Greeks. The main liberty they embraced was liberty under the law--the idea that they lived under laws of their own making. This is one reason they contrasted themselves with the surrounding barbarians of other nations. Because the foreigners lived under the arbitrary power of  kings and tyrants, they were the equivalent of slaves. This conception of "republican liberty" as freedom from arbitrary power endured as the most commonly held view of liberty before the advent of modern liberalism.


These two facts--the small size of the polis and the impulse for uniformity--present difficulties for application of Aristotle’s ideas to modern megalopolis or the expansive modern nation state.


But Aristotle's ideas, the good and the bad, possess a longevity enjoyed by those of few other thinkers.


And some of Aristotle’s ideas may provide insight into the challenges facing our own societies. They may also suggest common sense conservative approaches to overcome those challenges.


Comment below.





19 March 2017

Noah's Nakedness

 After the story of the flood, the Bible relates this strange episode:


"And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.  These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.  And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:  And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.  And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.  And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.  And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.  And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.  God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.  And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.  And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died." Genesis 9:18-29  


The text does not indicate exactly the nature of the wrongdoing. Did Canaan do something to Noah? Did Canaan tell his brothers about their drunken and naked father in a dishonorable, contemptuous  way? Who knows. At any rate God punishes Canaan by ordaining that his descendants will be servants to slaves to Shem. 

Perhaps this serves to justify the Hebrew conquests of the Canaanites and the seizing of their lands that came in the future. While the Hebrews slaughtered some branches of the Canaanites, they subjected others to slavery or tribute. In any case, this is another example of that strange notion of biblical justice about collective guilt. According to this notion, all members of some people group, whether contemporaries or later descendants, bear the guilt and receive the punishment of wrong doing. Readers already have encountered it in the account of mankind's fall. Because Adam and Eve sinned, not only to they experience death as a punishment, but also so do all their descendants. And now once again, the bible depicts God punishing multitudes of a person's descendants for the actions of that one person.

This ancient Middle Eastern notion of justice is alien to the Western idea that justice mean each man receiving his due--or what is owed to him. While no one can deny the immeasurable influence of the Bible on Western civilization, it is fortunate the the biblical notion of collective guilt and punishment was not one of those enduring ones.


18 March 2017

A Saturday Review: The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945

Over the last several Saturdays, I've attempted to delineate the core concepts of a rational,  non-religious conservatism. I am sure that some day I will go back an revise and reconsider some of these thoughts as I think more about them. In the mean time a short break. I want to introduce a series of reflections about how others delineate the conservative ideology and its core concepts. First up--a look at George Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945.


In 1976, the two hundredth anniversary of America's independence, liberalism maintained the ascendance it had enjoyed since the era of the New Deal. Although liberalism experienced some bitter divisions that manifested themselves at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, conservatism seemed even more in disarray. Conservatives had failed to takeover the Republican Party through the Goldwater movement of the 1960s. Neither had conservative ideas found much of a home in the GOP. Moreover, the Republican Party itself suffered from the disgrace of the Watergate burglary and the resignation of Richard Nixon. It was an inauspicious time to publish a book about conservatism. That year, however, George Nash published the definitive history of the conservative movement up to that time entitled In The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. Began as a doctoral dissertation, the book comprehensively chronicles the contributions of post-WWII movement conservative intellectuals in clear, engaging prose. It turned out to be a portent of sorts as the following decade conservatives finally witnessed the election of one of their own--Ronald Reagan--to the White House in 1980. Reagan's election revived the prospects of the Republican Party itself, which finally captured control of the Congress in 1994.


In the introduction, Nash describes the scope of his book. "This book is about conservative intellectuals--those engaged in study, reflection, and speculation; purveyors of ideas; scholars  and journalists."  He explains that the topic of conservatism as a political movement is beyond the scope of his work. He touches on political events most frequently when discussing conservative criticisms of the policies of the liberals (and moderate Republicans) who dominated post-war politics or discussing the conservative search for a presidential candidate as a conservative standard bearer. Nash offers little else on conservatism as a political movement.


Nash's introduction also contains a disappointing note. Readers might anticipate encountering a working definition of conservatism as a philosophy or ideology in a book dedicated to ideas. Instead, he deflects readers with the observation that defining conservatism is a "perennial question." He notes the difficulty of crafting a definition of conservatism that transcends place and time. (Nash pointedly avoids the terms "philosophy" and "ideology" in favor of "intellectual movement" in order to escape the difficulties of definition.) Does conservatism contain any "eternal verities" embraced by self-described conservatives of every era? Or does conservatism merely appear as reactionary sentiments to the social and political changes occurring in any given era? He settles more or less on the later. Consequently, in a refined description of his theme, Nash defines his project as limited to  "conservatism as an an intellectual movement, in America, in a particular period."


This challenge of even defining conservatism within those narrow limits appears most obvious in the opening chapter in which Nash discusses the first of several "streams" of conservative thought which formed the confluence of the  modern conservative intellectual movement. He introduces readers to Friedrich Hayek--who explicitly denied that he was a conservative at all. In 1944, Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, an economic examination of planned economies. Hayek's charge was that "planning leads to dictatorship." The book became a best seller both in the United Kingdom and the United States. It even attracted the attention of those who disagreed with its conclusions. The "Old Right" criticisms of government planning under the New Deal had been largely dismissed because Republicans were perceived simply as spokesmen for business interests.  In spite of the provocative title, a critique by an economist was something else altogether.


Hayek's book proved to be the first of many libertarian books and magazines to challenge the economic presuppositions supporting the New Deal. While "fellow travelers" rather than movement conservatives, the libertarians generated ideas that came to be embraced by the post-war conservative intellectuals-- at least on economic matters.


A a second stream of more philosophical and less accessible conservative writers included  Richard Weaver, Eric Voegelin, and Leo Strauss. In different ways they rejected both modernism in political philosophy and modern mass man. They traced the origins of what they described as the modern malaise to errors in thought made decades before by philosophers in Europe starting with Niccolo Machiavelli. What seemed to unite these eclectic writers is the eclipse of the ancient notions of virtue by the modern embrace of moral relativity. In Nash's view, they found it easier to fight ideas rather than more or less irresistible social and economic changes of modernity such such as industrialization or urbanization.


Nash turns next to the most influential group among the conservatives: the traditionalists. They, too, looked to Europe, not so much for conservative ideas or sources of contemporary philosophical error, but for a traditional  social order. The thinker most responsible for articulating this natural order was Russell Kirk in his The Conservative Mind. By means of biographical sketches, Kirk paint portraits of several American thinkers who attempted to foster an appreciation for the traditional order inherited from Europe. In fact, Kirk cites a European--British writer Edmund Burke--as the father of the American conservative tradition. Unlike Nash, Kirk attempted to distill conservative thought into several canons that included a traditional social order based upon natural law, hierarchy of orders or classes, custom or tradition as against philosophical innovation, appreciation of diversity over conformity, and the inseparable link between freedom and property. Kirk modified these "conservative canons" several times in subsequent editions of his book.


Finally, Nash introduces readers to the anti-communists, whose alarms about the Soviet threat to the Western way of life brought about some measure of convergence of those other streams of conservative thought. In several books, James Burnham articulated an aggressive stance against communism abroad; he urged replacing the policy of containment with one of roll back. Joseph McCarthy, more controversially, for a brief time led  the charge to roll back communism at home. McCarthy's reckless and mostly baseless accusations about communist penetration of the highest levels of government eventually brought him down. Although supported by most conservatives, McCarthy was despised by the man who actually exposed the existence of communist sympathizers in the government--Whittaker Chambers.


These diverse streams of conservatism converged in another sense within the pages of the flagship conservative periodical, The National Review. Started by William F. Buckley in 1955, the magazine's mission was  to stand "athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."


To that end, the magazine published pieces by an assortment of writers from Catholic traditionalists, libertarians, and  ex-Trotskyite anti-communists.   The confluence of different streams of conservative thought was not a smooth one. The National Review also became a venue for philosophical infighting over diverse views about the relationship of conservatism to liberty, equality, and virtue between such antagonists and Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk and between Harry Jaffa and Willmoore Kendall.


Nash summarized the general agreement:

"There was a fascinating heterogeneity in conservative thought, yet most right wing intellectuals readily agreed on certain fundamental "prejudices" which they articulated and refined in many different ways: a presumption (of varying intensity) in favor of private property and a free enterprise economy; opposition to Communism, socialism, and utopian schemes of all kinds; support of strong national defense, belief in Christianity or Judaism (or at least the utility of such belief); acceptance of traditional  morality and the need for an inelastic moral code; hostility to positivism and relativism; a "gut affirmation" of the goodness of America and the West. These were but a few constituent elements of the working conservative consensus."


The National Review, as a biweekly magazine, also became a vehicle for conservative analysis of contemporary politics in a way that book length philosophical treatises could not. Conservative authors weighed in on the cold war, colonial wars abroad, the Viet Nam War, the civil rights movement, and the unrest on college campus. A note on one of these issues that has hurt conservatism politically: the National Review seems in general sympathetic to the civil rights movement and its goals. Because of commitments to the idea of constitutionally limited government, however, conservatives opposed federal action on behalf black Americans. Consequently, Republican share of black vote has fallen from near 40% during the Eisenhower years to less than 10% in the most recent presidential election.


Of course, the point of any political philosophy or ideology is its implementation through the exercise of political power. And in the period examined by Nash, conservatives never earned that opportunity. Conservatives relentlessly criticized the Eisenhower administration and remained lukewarm to the candidacy of Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon. The National Review refused to endorse either candidate in 1960. They rallied around Barry Goldwater in 1964, but he suffered one of the largest electoral defeats in the history of presidential elections. They held their noses as they voted for Nixon in 1968 and 1972. The only glimmer of hope  for conservatives came from the election of Ronald Reagan as the governor of California in 1966.


Nash tells a captivating story about conservative ideas and the (mostly) men behind them covering three decades following World War II. If readers seek a working definition of conservatism as a timeless philosophy, they will suffer disappointment. For those seeking an understanding of those who opposed the post-war liberal consensus in America and their alternative vision, Nash's book is a must read. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 should be on the bookshelf of every American conservative.
























12 March 2017

The New First Family

After God washed away all plant and animal life, Noah, his family, and all those animals emerged from the ark. He built an altar and promptly killed one of those animals that he had so diligently delivered and offered it up as a burnt sacrifice. God smelled the "soothing aroma" that only a sizzling steak on a summer's eve can emit.


Noah and his family thus began their new lives in the world-as-we-know-it.


God commands Noah's sons and wives to replenish the earth.


The animals preserved in the ark began to replenish the earth.


And somehow, all the plant life floating amidst all the other debris took root and soon replenished the earth.

God pronounced some new ordinances for the new age.


He pronounced that from that time on, the fear and dread of mankind will be upon all animals. This is because he now permitted the consumption of animal flesh. Only after this pronouncement do readers recognize that until this time mankind ate only plants. God restricted humans, however, from eating the blood of the animals under penalty of death. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require, " warned God, "at the hand of every beast will I require it." Apparently anyone who even eats animal meat with the blood will himself be killed by animals.


Moreover, he forbids the taking of human life under penalty of death. "At the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso shedeth mans' blood, by man shall his blood be shed. For in the image of God made he man." Until this time, exile served as the consequences of murder.

Finally, God issued a couple of promises. He pledges to never again to "curse the ground from man's sake." It is difficult to know what to make of this. According to the Bible, mankind both before and after the flood toiled a cursed ground for subsistence. Perhaps the pronouncement refers to his covenant never to destroy all life through a flood. Before advances in meteorology determined otherwise, a rainbow in the sky served as a sign of this covenant. But the thought of it has no doubt  provided much comfort and solace through subsequent ages.





11 March 2017

Towards an American Conservatism

Consecutive Saturday posts offered reflections on Aristotle's of the state. Aristotle's historically rooted account of the emergence of family, village, and state seems to be more historically accurate than contractual accounts based upon explicit consent.. Moreover, it provides a framework for the conservative view on the private and public institutions critical to the socialization of individuals and the pursuit of the "good life."


As noted in earlier posts, socialization begins in the home. The most fundamental task of the family is personality formation of its members, particularly the young. The family is where individuals acquire their first beliefs, skills, habits, and customs.


The family receives support from the "village," i.e., the neighborhood.  Who does not remember growing up under the watchful eyes of the neighbors? If mischief was on the menu, we waited until we turned the corner beyond the vision of anyone we knew. And the family expects that other local voluntary associations that constitute society at large--such as churches, clubs, and county park and recreation programs to reinforce--or at least not to subvert--the teachings received from home.


Finally, the ultimate authority enabling "the good life" and inculcating virtue is the state.  Aristotle wrote that training in virtue comes through "education and laws." For Aristotle, the state meant the polis, or Greek city-state. The modern nation-state was probably inconceivable to political theorists of the classical world. We can, however, make some application to the modern age. Our modern city-state--the city, or county, or even state can and in some ways does serve the purposes ascribed to it by Aristotle. Despite the attention of the media on what is going on in Washington D. C., it is the local laws which should--and in fact do--register the greatest impact on individuals and families. Public schools, the local HOA, city and county governments, and state governments play the greatest role in training through education and laws.


This distinction between local authorities and the national government for some reason receives little attention from conservative writers except when discussing so-called "constitutional" issues.  For number of  years conservative writers contended about whether virtue or liberty was the most important core value of conservatism. "Traditionalists" argued that virtue of the citizens should be the chief task of statecraft; "libertarians" argued that virtue has moral value only if  chosen freely and that consequently  liberty should hold primacy in  our county's public philosophy. And in this debate,  the "state" always referred to the national government. The factions in this debate never seemed to distinguish between the national government and local authorities.


This illustrates one reason why the Constitution can be considered a conservative document. It leaves the bulk  of legislative authority, especially morals legislation, to the states.


But recent history shows how an expansive national government slowly erodes the traditional and constitutional role of local authorities. Usually through the usurpation of the United States Supreme Court, the states and other local legal jurisdictions have lost much of the authority to regulate what is often considered morals questions such as sexuality, abortion, marriage, welfare, and narcotics.


The national government has not become a force that threatens the liberties of citizens through enforcing some version of virtue. Instead, it has become one that threatens the liberties of local communities by subverting virtue close at home.


Comment below . . .












10 March 2017

Cretinous Conservatives

During the eight years of the Obama administration, Republicans railed against the Affordable Care Act and vainly passed legislation to repeal it. They denied accusations from opponents that they had no plan in place as a substitute of the ACA. Now after eight years, we learn the truth--they had no plan.


At least not one that they agreed upon.


Republicans had eight long years to craft an alternative to the ACA--one that garnered the support of most of the party. With a plan in place, all that remained was winning back control of the White House while retaining control of the House and Senate. The electoral triumphs of 2016 empowered the Republicans to achieve their goal and fulfill their promises to the electorate. Instead, the Republicans now exhibit disarray over exactly how to replace the ACA.


And this is not the first time this has happened. In 1992, Bill Clinton made health care reform one of the core issues of his election campaign. Once in office, Clinton set up the Task Force on National Health Care Reform headed by First Lady Hillary Clinton. Opposition from conservatives, libertarians, doctors, and insurers resulted in the late term abortion of "Hillarycare." Nevertheless, Republicans were put on notice that health care reform emerged as the top priority of the Democrats.


So when the Republicans gained control of the government in 2001, what did they do?


Nothing.


For the eight years of the Bush administration, Republicans failed to implement a program of health care reform that limited government direction of doctors, insurers, and patients and at the same time preempted contrary plans of the Democrats. With the election of Barack Obama, Republicans suddenly found themselves gagging as the ACA was shoved down their throats as well as the throats of the American people.


They have had it stuck in their craw ever since.


And they cannot even agree on how to disgorge it.



Below, Paul Ryan's power point presentation:







Meanwhile, other conservative denounce the "Ryancare" as "Obamacare Lite."








05 March 2017

God's Fresh Start

In this continuing survey of Genesis, the book of beginnings . . .


The most well-known story in the Bible is that of Noah and the flood. The purpose of the story seems to be to assign meaning to historic floods experienced by people in Mesopotamia and to explain the origin and presence of people living in proximity to the Hebrews. It also is a story of God's mercy and wrath.


The basic account is simple enough. God sees the wickedness of mankind. He decides to destroy not only mankind, but all other animal life as well. He graciously spares Noah and his family by instructing him to build a barge to preserve Noah's family and specimens of the surrounding animal life. Flood waters fall from the sky for 40 days and 40 nights. Fountains from the deep open. Water covers the earth and destroys everything. In the seventh month, the waters began to recede and  Noah's ark eventually come to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The family and all the animals leave the ark and repopulate the earth. God promises never to destroy the earth again with a flood and indicates his faithfulness by the appearance of a rainbow in the sky.


As to its historicity, the story of the flood may preserve the oral traditions about the flooding of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers or even about the Black Sea. It at least superficially resembles the Epic of Gilgamesh. The biblical story may even conflate two different accounts. As in the opening chapters of Genesis describing the creation, the account of the flood uses two different names for God. And the directions given Noah by the two “gods” differ. One directs Noah to collect animals in pairs; the other directs him to gather seven pairs of animals.


The primitive notion of a worldwide flood that persists among bible-believing Christian is, well, primitive. The Genesis account of the flood, like the account of creation, assumes the “earth” is a flat landmass floating on water, not a spherical planet. Moreover, the landmass is covered with a large dome. This dome has windows through which the water poured to destroy the earth. It is a poor hermeneutic to read back into this ancient text the modern understanding of geophysics. And it leads to conclusions more ridiculous than when taking the story at face value. There is simply not enough water above or beneath the earth for a worldwide flood. To overcome modern scientific objections, one must adopt the presupposition behind all myths—that the world “of old” differed fundamentally from the world “as we know it.”


Then there is the problem of all those animals. Just gathering them all in only seven days seems the most fundamental challenge. Since we did not eat animals before the flood (and presumably they did not each each other), Noah could successfully gather them two by two ( or two by two by seven). Again, the world “before” differed from “the world as we know it.”


And why this mission of saving the animals anyway? God's wrath against the wickedness of man. Only man possesses the free will to deliberate and choose between different courses of action. Animal behavior derives from instinct. Moral accountability for them should be a non-issue. Seen in this light, the flood comes across as not so much a divine punishment resting upon a finely honed sense of justice as an intemperate act of rage against circumstances beyond one's control.


Every children's story must have a children's song. The children's song innocently ignores the
millions of bloated, rotting carcasses left after the flood.








04 March 2017

Liberalism's Wrong Turn

Or should it be, the wrong turn that became known as Progressivism.


Aristotle noted the development of factions based upon economic status.


"For one party if they are unequal in one respect, for example in wealth, consider themselves unequal in all; and the other party, if they are equal in one respect, for example free birth, consider themselves to be equal in all."


The previous post noted that European conservatism rested on the first error. It asserted that a person's wealth revealed that person's virtue.  They erroneously asserted that rule by the wealthy meant rule by the virtuous. 


Modern progressives commit the second error.


Progressivism rests upon the ideas of freedom and equality. Citizens are born free and they are born equal. Progressives grow alarmed, however, that in the exercise of their free choices, inequality emerges. Traditional liberals did not find inequality too disturbing, as long as it emerged from the natural and acquired abilities of people and not from the artificial benefits of government. In the mind of traditional liberals, freedom trumped inequality, as long as the opportunity to success was equal--that is, free from artificial rules. Progressives, however, seem to believe the equality trumps freedom. They claim, via John Rawls, that the very system by which we financially reward people for how they excel is an arbitrary and unfair. Or they point to institutional racism or some other non-verifiable invisible force. Progressives argue that wealth must be transferred from the rich to the poor. In other words, because people are equal in the free birth or citizenship, they should enjoy equal more equality in their possessions. Progressives get very vague on this point. They never say how much equality is just.


This idea is not new. 



Aristotle observed that in the democracies of his day, the government attempted to harass the wealthy and take their money. Leaders in a democracy stirred up popular passions against the wealthy. This in turn moved the wealthy to unite against the multitude.
In order to win favor of the multitude, they treat the notables unjustly and cause them to unite. Sometimes they make them split up their possessions or income in order to finance their public duties. Sometimes they bring slanderous accusations against the rich with a view to confiscating their money.”


This is the origins of the demagogue.


Sometimes in democratic Greek city-states, the demagogues would go beyond slander of the property owning classes. They attempted to persuade the citizens to prosecute the wealthy in order to seize their money.



Sometimes the democracies resort to trumped up charges against wealthy individuals to seize their money.



“In democracies the most potent cause of revolution is the unprincipled character of popular leaders. Sometimes they bring malicious prosecution against he owners of possess one by one and so cause them to join forces."





26 February 2017

Marriages Made in Heaven

The section of Genesis subtitled the “Generations of Adam” concludes with a very unusual development. Angels, apparently expelled from heaven, began to take human women as wives.


“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Genesis 6:1-2


The phrase sons of God most commonly denotes angelic beings (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Dan 3:25).


The text does not explain how spiritual beings could engage in carnal relations with humans. Medieval Christian philosophers distinguished animals, humans, and angels according to the following scheme: animals were bodies without minds, humans were bodies with minds (or minds with bodies), and angels were minds without bodies. Just how do minds without bodies engage in sexual relations? Perhaps the text assumes angelic or demonic possession; but that seems to be a New Testament phenomenon.


Interwoven with this story is God's disgust with human evil and impending judgment through a worldwide flood.



“And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Genesis 6:3


God warns that in one hundred twenty more years, he will no longer strive against man to restrain his evil ways.

As a result of the trans-dimensional sexual intercourse between angels and women, a race of giants roamed the earth who became men of renown.


“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:4


The phrase giants means “fallen ones,” perhaps derived from the idea of fallen angels.


The text returns to the theme of impending judgment.


“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” Genesis 6:5-7


Although not explicitly stated, the context suggests a relationship between the wickedness that displeased God and the fallen ones.


God impending judgment, however, seems unjust. If the flood intended to destroy this race of fallen ones, it failed. Centuries later, when the Hebrews left Egypt for Canaan, they encounter more of these giants. Apparently another outbreak of trans-dimensional intercourse occurred. (This might be implied by the phrase “and after that” in Gen. 6:4 above).Moreover, it the destruction of non-human animal life appears to be a misdirected expression of divine anger. Finally, it is difficult to believe that the imagination of every human being was of only evil continually. Some humans, however, were spared:


“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8


These supernatural suitors made quite an impression.  Women have been singing about them ever since.









25 February 2017

Conservatism's Wrong Turn

Or, should it be, the wrong turn that became remembered as conservatism.


As individuals seek a life of happiness or thriving by means of virtue, some will thrive to a higher degree than others. This includes material well-being. As Aristotle noted, wealth will often follow virtue. This results in economic inequality.


The connection between virtue and wealth, however, it not a necessary one. Sometimes the wealthy mistakenly claim that it is.


Aristotle noted the development of political factions based upon economic status.


"For one party if they are unequal in one respect, for example in wealth, consider themselves unequal in all; and the other party, if they are equal in one respect, for example free birth, consider themselves to be equal in all."


The faction that came to be known as conservative made the first error.


This party became, at least in Europe, the party of an artificial aristocracy. This aristocracy emerged through historical developments too complex to be detailed in a virtually unknown blog like this one. Suffice it to say, European states and principalities came to be dominated by Kings, Princes, Lords, and high church officials who claimed ruling authority from God Almighty and their own virtue. They encoded their authority in legislation creating hereditary monarchies, a entitled nobility, and legally established churches.


In Aristotle's scheme of things, such governments distorted or perverted the legitimate forms of government. Aristotle recognized a type of government called an aristocracy, in which the virtuous (usually--but not always men of wealth) ruled for the common good. He also noted its perversion--an oligarchy in which the wealthy (who may or may not have possessed virtue) ruled for the benefit of themselves.


These ruling authorities eventually faced a challenge during the European Enlightenment by men who sought to enlarge the influence of men of demonstrated virtue--an aristocracy of talent if you will. The ruling authorities resisted on "conserving" the traditional order.


Those who advocated opening public life to an aristocracy of talent in a sense embodied the spirit of Aristotle's conservatism. Those who defended the traditional order of Kings, nobility, and clergy represented a pseudo-conservatism that denied a role in public life for anyone. For them the political community was a realm of the monarch--and not a "public thing" or republic.












22 February 2017

Genesis and The State of Nature

The two most recent installments of "Blogging the Bible"--a simple quest for any truth or truths it may contain-- looked briefly at the so-called "fall of man." You know the story: God creates mankind in his image, places him in a garden that provides for his nutritional needs, and subjects him to one law: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Through the wiles of a talking serpent, mankind disobeys. God curses mankind, the ground he tilled, and apparently all other species of animals. He casts mankind from the garden. Some years later, Adam and Eve bring forth children. One of them commits the first act of fratricide. God casts him away as well.


Does the philosophical idea of a "state of nature" fit anywhere in this narrative?


Can it fit anywhere in this narrative?


The answer depends on how the state of nature is described.


Thomas Hobbes traditionally receives credit for originating the concept of a state of nature, although I do not recall that he actually uses the term. He entitles the chapter in Leviathan in which he introduces the concept "On the Natural Condition of Man, As Concerning Their Felicity and Misery." He describes individuals as created by nature equal in both mind and body. In addition, every man also possesses equal hope of acquiring his desires. This creates the philosophical problem that Hobbes tries to revolve. Individuals will inevitably desire the same things. And without the means to resolve conflicting claims to the same objects of desire, individuals potentially may  engage in violent conflict. And according to Hobbes, "Hereby it is manifest,that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called WARRE." Hobbes asserts that this is war not because men actually engage in fighting, but that their willingness to fight is known. Under these conditions, as Hobbes famously writes, life is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Consequently, according to Hobbes, men covenant with each other to create a common power, or artificial person, called the sovereign to "overawe" individuals and maintain the peace.


More famous for the concept of the "state of nature" is John Locke. He begins his account by  closely following  Hobbes. Like Hobbes, Locke sees individuals a free and equal. Instead of a state of war, however, Locke quotes Richard Hooker to establish that this state of nature is "that foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men."  In Locke's view, the state of nature is one of "Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation." Locke is hardly a naive optimist. He, too, recognizes the potential for conflict. Instead of calling such a state of affairs a state of  war,  however, he calls it merely one of the "inconveniences" of living in a state of nature. According to Locke, God appointed civil government as "the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature. Because God put mankind "under strong Obligations of Necessity, Convenience, and Inclinations to drive him into Society," individuals eventually unite into  a political or civil society--establishing an authority to enact and enforce law for the common good.


So what about Genesis?


As different as they are, element of both accounts by Hobbes and Locke can be seen in Genesis. As readers follow the Biblical narrative, they see examples of  "Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation." Even under the primitive conditions in the Genesis narrative, agreements between individuals and tribes abound over land, wells, marriages, etc. But readers also encounter encounter marauding bands engaging in war, murder, theft, slaving, and rape. And in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, God's people become the marauding bands


There is one very important difference between Genesis and the state of nature as elucidated by Hobbes and Locke. In the Biblical narrative, a common power already exists to "keep them all in awe;" Almighty God. Throughout Genesis (and even the whole Bible), he is talking, guiding, warning, and even punishing not only the Hebrews, but also foreign peoples as well.


Hobbes and Locke share the goal of  justifying an earthly authority to maintain justice--however much they believe such an authority may be derived from a divine plan.


Their contrasting conceptions of  the law of nature and the different conclusion they make result from the intentions of their writings. Hobbes, writing after the English Civil War, builds a case for the duty of obedience. Locke, writing under the threat of Stuart absolutism, builds a case for the right of revolution.
















19 February 2017

When a Murderer Invented Civilization

Adam and Eve gave birth to two sons. In this strange episode, the two sons of Adam and Eve bring offerings to God. Cain, a tiller of the ground, brought his produce. Abel, a keeper of sheep, brought a sacrifice from his flocks. God accepted Abel's offering (by fire out of heaven?) by not that of Cain. No explanation occurs as to why God accepted one offering and not another. Indeed, no passages provide any information about God communicating the time and place for offerings or their purpose.


God recognized Cain's disappointment. He encourages him that well doing will receive a reward, but that the sin of envy lies at the door. Everyone knows what happened next.


 "And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.  And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.  And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech." Genesis 4:8-18





Interestingly, God banished Cain rather than executing him. Perhaps this passage attempts to explain the ancient practice of exclusion through "hating out," ostracism, or religious excommunication. Because Abel's blood cried up from the ground, God pronounced a curse that the ground will not yield its strength for Cain. (A bit redundant, since God allegedly afflicted all of mankind with that curse after the fall in Eden. Is this yet another story attempting to explain the origin of natural evil, why men must engage in intensive labor to survive?) God also declared that he will live as a fugitive and vagabond. Cain left for the East.


But God's curse came to naught in any meaningful way.


Cain left for the East. Somehow, the East was peopled already. The Bible does not answer that enduring question asked by skeptics about the origins of Cain's wife. He married and had a son named Enoch. Sometime after he settled, the Bible says he built a CITY. This is, of course, the foundation of civilization. (The word civilization comes from the Latin, civilis, which pertains to citizens and cities.) Moreover, in the genealogy of Cain, the bible credits some of Cain's descendants for building on that foundation. In the biblical pattern of attributing the origin of certain skills or practices to a particular individuals, the text explains the role that Cain's tribe played in the development of civilized life. Tubal-cain became an artificer and instructor in working with brass and iron. He invented the manual arts or useful arts. Jubal was “the father of such as handle the hard and organ.” He invented fine arts, or the arts of the beautiful. But then Jabal is described by the Bible as “the father of such that dwell in tents and of such as have cattle.” But this claim is as questionable as the others. For the rest of the first family remained back in Western Mesopotamia dwelling in tents as uncivilized nomadic shepherds.







18 February 2017

Conservatism and Diversity

As noted in last week's post, Aristotle as the original conservative asserted that one of the primary tasks of the state is to inculcate virtue and develop to the fullest extent human potentialities. Human beings are the only creatures than can be said to make themselves. With reason and a free will, they shape their destiny over a lifetime of decisions.This does not occur in a vacuum. Every person is born into a family. And the primary non-economic task of family life is personality formation. Moreover, people are shaped by the broader culture and by the laws of the state.


Does this leave room for diversity? What is a conservative view of culture and of multiculturalism?


Multiculturalism in one sense is simply the recognition of the cultural diversity that exists in nearly any given group of people. This common sense observation transcends  political ideology or political party.


The United States always has been a diverse nation. Even though the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from Great Britain, significant and enduring differences marked those first generations of Americans. These differences included speech patterns, housing, food, marital and child rearing practices, and nuanced differences about the concept of liberty.  You can read about it here. And cultural persistence has preserved some of these differences over the last two centuries. They did share, however, a broader cultural united rooted in language, religion, law, and national identity as free Britons.


Over the decades, the United States has grown even more diverse. Millions of immigrants speaking different languages, worshiping different gods, carrying cultural baggage very different from Great Britain and Europe have come to American for freedom and opportunity. Over several generations most of these immigrants have assimilated to varying degrees--most adopting English as their primary language and conforming to general American cultural norms--even while retaining important elements of their own important cultural practices. This state of affairs is captured by the by the historical metaphor of America as a "Melting Pot."


Our immigration policies helped preserve this state of affairs. Policies based quotas and caps for immigration on existing percentages of the population. In effect, this gave preference to immigrants who largely shared European cultural norms. This helps maintain something of a cultural continuity even in the face of technological and social changes.


Most Americans in general ,and Conservatives in particular, have embraced this vision of society as a unity that also preserves diversity.  It conserves the core of American cultural norms; at the same time it defers to  immigrants the freedom to maintain some of their own traditional cultural norms. Conserving our cultural norms is desirable because, first they are ours, and second, they best maintain the conditions for human thriving. Conservatives recognize that some cultural practices are superior others.

This is where conservatives and liberals part ways.


Moderns Liberals--more accurately described as Progressives-- have challenged these traditional views. They have done so on two general grounds--pluralism and multiculturalism.


Progressives challenge the idea that the state or really government authority at any level should enforce virtue or morality in general on the citizens. They envision a pluralistic nation in which people choose different versions of  "the good life." Moreover, they argue that because all citizens are equal, no version of "the good life" is superior to any other. And more recently, in the renewed "culture wars" over same sex marriage and transgender rights, they seem to think that society needs to embrace and affirm every version of "the good life." They ignore the fact that the basic virtues that families, society, and the state should inculcate in citizens are rooted in human nature and human needs. In that sense they are objective truths about human nature itself and not subjective desires reflecting simply some other vision of "the good life."


Progressives also challenge conservatism on the grounds of multiculturalism. In their view, multiculturalism is more than simply the recognition of diversity. It is the celebration of diversity, Like their idea that all versions of "the good life" should be affirmed by others, the Progressive notion of multiculturalism is that all cultures should be affirmed. Moreover, this view is often accompanied by efforts to increase that diversity. The slogan, "Diversity is Our Strength" captures this perspective. But that is all it does. No one ever offers any evidence or arguments in support of that claim.


Consequently Progressive lawmakers had made concrete efforts to bring this about. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 fundamentally changed our policies. The United States opened its doors to much larger numbers of immigrants from third world countries. Like most earlier immigrants, they, too, have come for freedom and economic opportunity. Unlike most earlier immigrants, however, their cultural norms differ in fundamental ways. Assimilation becomes more difficult as well. When immigrants arrive in massive numbers over a sustained period of time, they tend to ethnicise rather than assimilate. Moreover, the emergence of Telemundo and Univision as sources of entertainment and news for America's Hispanic population additionally acts as a disincentive for assimilation. Finally, American corporations to non-English speakers; walk into any Home Depot or Lowes and look around.


Sometimes assimilation is actually discouraged. Modern liberals have abandoned the earlier consensus on diversity by celebrating cultural diversity and encouraging its persistence. Liberals condemn even the most benign efforts to encourage greater assimilation--for example, English usage for communication--as racist. Some liberals seem to celebrate every culture but their own.


Finally, many liberals even abandon the pretense of immigration laws altogether. They welcome and encourage illegal immigration. When borders and laws do not matter, it is outsiders who determine our immigration policy--not us.


As Conservatives suspect, the results of such policies are not encouraging. Harvard political science professor Robert Putnam published a lengthy study of the relationship between diversity and social trust. Diversity not only erodes trust between ethic groups, it also erodes trust of a community's traditional social institutions.


The money quote:

"The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us."

—Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam


Meanwhile below, the data-driven Heather MacDonald.