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?


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."