Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

07/04/2011 (11:03 am)

The Assumption of Governmental Holiness

A Christian friend on an Internet-based public discussion board made the following statement in passing. It illustrates a very common, modern mindset that needs very badly to be addressed.

The history since Christ’s first advent shows that many nations of the world have moved closer to what seems to be a Christian ethic while others still remain behind and the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

The partial truth of this masks a less obvious but far more dangerous error. I’ll call the error the “Assumption of Governmental Holiness.” Modern thought is trending in the direction of this error, and it may be the death of many of us.

I saw the same error in a different form on a blog by a very effective writer named Seth Godin. His blog article discussed the unethical representation of sunblock in modern advertising, observing that 95% of the harmful solar rays are not affected at all by the SPF level of these products. (They do, however, prevent painful sunburn, for which reason they’re still useful products.) After explaining, he piously declared this:

How can consumers look at this example and not believe that the regulation of marketing claims is the only way to insulate consumers from short-term selfish marketers in search of market share, marketers who will shade the truth, even if it kills some customers?

Meet the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. Seth somehow misses the fact, discussed openly in his own blog post, that both sunblock and advertising are already regulated. Worse: he actually states the reason, unwittingly, why regulation cannot work:

New regulations were recently announced, though it’s not surprising that many think the regs were watered down as a result of lobbying.

The truth is, millions, and possibly billions, of dollars have been wasted on regulation that had no impact, and millions more have been wasted on lobbying to ensure that that’s the case. But lobbying only works when the government is involved. Lobbying did not prevent me from learning about the scam. I learned about it by reading Seth’s blog. Seth’s freely-provided blog did more to protect me from being scammed than any regulation, or a billion regulations, ever could.

That, Seth Godin, is how a consumer can look at this example and not believe that regulation is the only answer.

How did Seth miss the answer? Somewhere in his unexamined assumptions is this one, utterly false notion:

The government represents pure good, or at the very least represents the best we have to offer.

No other presupposition could lead logically from “false advertising happens” to “regulation is the only answer.” But the error is obvious when we drag it out into the open. The government does not represent our best; it represents political power brokers, people who want control. We’re closer to the truth if we presuppose their corruption. They can only represent our best if they are tightly, closely monitored by ourselves, and if their power to control is severely limited. The less we count on government to enforce decency, and the more we count on ourselves directly to do it, the better.

Moreover, Seth’s blog demonstrates that while regulation does not work, there is something that does. The proper corrective to “false advertising happens” is “somebody needs to broadcast the truth.”

With that in mind, let’s revisit the quotation that introduced this thread, and see where the Assumption of Governmental Holiness leads us wrong.

Separate the statement into two parts. Part I:

…many nations of the world have moved close to … a Christian ethic while others remain behind…

This is partly true. The historically Christian nations of the West have had an enormous influence on both conduct and productivity throughout the world, and some of that influence comes from a godly source. There was no notion of individual rights, for example, before the Christian West produced it. The notion that one human being ought not to traffic in the flesh of another is another example. The near-universal disapproval of child labor is a third.

Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that because a notion has its origin in Christ, that every modern mention of that notion is equally Christian. Take individual rights, for example. In ordinary, human, pendulum fashion, many wicked humans abandoned the old way of domination based on heredity or station, and swung way past Christ’s standard into a sort of egalitarian hell in which every evil thing is allowed and no moral absolutes are acknowledged. They’ve even gone farther than that, using individual rights to ennoble and venerate women leaving their families to pursue “dreams,” and women murdering their children to protect “their rights.” These are just two of a myriad of ways that the godly idea of individual rights has been made extremely unholy. The other godly notions that Christ introduced to the world have not fared better, and have been likewise distorted and overshot.

Wherein lies the error of the Part II of the sentence we’re analyzing:

…the world, represented by the UN, judges the nations accordingly.

Even if it were the case that the UN actually represents the world — it does not — the real, egregious error here is the unstated but controlling supposition that the UN represents the Christian ethic he mentioned in the first part of the sentence, and not the backwardness. He makes the Assumption of Governmental Holiness. The UN has no Christian sanction. Even if the current enactment of the UN were the ideal, it would represent only the current position of the error pendulum.

Worse, the current UN does not come within 3 light years of enacting that ideal, nor can it. It does not represent good; it does not even represent the best of humanity. The UN represents the interests of the corrupt power-brokers who have usurped the power of leadership in their nations.

As such, the UN represents, not the Christ-influenced progress of the world, but the fulfillment of the rebellion Nimrod began way back at Babel, and which the Psalmist describes in opposition to God’s Messiah:

1 “Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.

To assert, without stating it or even really thinking it clearly, that the UN represents the Christianized ethics of the world, is as wrong as wrong can be, and arguably endorses antichrist.

We need also to understand that the Assumption of Governmental Holiness, itself, arises from an even more insidious assumption: the Assumption of Personal Godhood. Ultimately, those who assert the holiness of the government invariably do so by assuming that the government represents ME. The deeper, more evil assertion is that the individual knows what is good for others so well that he or she has earned the right to control their decisions.

We may make ourselves unwelcome, but the Assumption of Governmental Holiness is the central error of the current era, and we need to confront it and dispute it whenever we hear it. But beware the even deeper Assumption of Personal Godhood that is always lurking nearby. And that one actually has a formal name: meet the sin of Pride.

04/03/2010 (9:20 am)

Strategic Plan

Those who read this blog regularly know that I believe the United States to be hopelessly divided between two incompatible philosophical/religious/moral systems, and that continuing to attempt to cooperate in this fashion will result in civil war or oppression. I have committed to partition as the only means to rescue some part of the experiment in human liberty that the American Constitution represents, without fighting a devastating civil war. And I’ve said repeatedly that there is absolutely no point in continuing to cooperate in a political system with an opponent that’s completely committed to breaking the system as soon as they gain enough control.

However, my point of view is a tiny minority view. The mainstream of conservative thought is still trying to produce sanity within the current system with the current participants. The most incisive of these, Newt Gingrich, has what I consider the soundest strategy to bury progressivism permanently without breaking up the nation. He observes correctly that what the progressives actually believe is believed by fewer than 20% of the people in this nation; the only reason they ever win an election anywhere is that they lie like carpets about what they intend.

Yes, I know, Gingrich at times cooperates with moderates in a way that infuriates and confuses conservatives. I didn’t get his agreement with the global warming alarmists, either. But that does not change the fact that there has been no strategist in the Republican party that has produced anywhere near the sort of success Gingrich has been producing for 3 decades, and that includes Karl Rove. If you want to win, listen to Gingrich.

Gingrich gave the following speech at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend back in November 2009. I recommend that you listen to the whole thing. If we’re going to crush the neo-fascist threat of progressivism without dividing the nation, this is how it will be done. I still think there’s little point in leaving the traitors inside the system, but I’m willing to go along with this if we commit to it for the long haul.

I found the speech on Kitman TV, http://kitmantv.blogspot.com. Watch it here, or watch it there. The whole thing is around 45 minutes.

01/16/2010 (1:02 pm)

Excitement Over Another RINO

MassDebate20100112

At the urging of the editor of a locally-produced magazine called Vitality, I hunted down a video showing the one-hour debate between the candidates for US Senator in the up-coming Massachusetts special election. The three participants were Scott Brown (Republican), Martha Coakley (Democrat), and Joe Kennedy (Libertarian). Kennedy is no relation to Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose recent death is the reason for the special election.

I don’t know anything about Joe Kennedy, but if he believes what he’s saying, then he’s one of the White Hats, and he Gets It. I don’t know much about Scott Brown, but if he believes what he’s saying, then he’s a Republican of the Olympia Snowe variety, and he Does Not Get It.

Kennedy does not expect to win. He appears to be in the race to convey a message, and that message is this: the road to fiscal survival requires that we cut government spending, and cut it dramatically. It’s also the road to the survival of liberty. Cutting taxes produces nothing useful unless we also cut spending. Cutting spending requires that we reduce the reach and power of government. If Mr. Kennedy goes to Washington, he intends to propose legislation to undo whatever the Democrats do to health care, and then to eliminate the Department of Education, among other things.

I’m going to vote for Scott Brown just to throw a wrench into Harry Reid’s health care tyranny plans; that’s a short-term, tactical consideration. Voting for Kennedy instead promises to hand a close election to the Democrats, who will use it to impose tyranny.

But let’s state the matter plainly — unless we elect, not one, but a massive plurality of Joe Kennedys to the US Senate and House of Representatives, the nation is finished. We do not need Republican control; what we need is control by representatives who aim at rolling back most of the progressive legislation of the 20th century, and reducing the size and scope of national government to a tiny fraction of its current reach.

Brown favors national health care reform, just not this particular version. He may be a temporary thumb in the Democrats’ eyes, but he’s George Bush and John McCain, and his influence will be to effect a slower slide into full socialism, rather than a faster one.

So, let’s get out there and work for the next three days to give the Tyrant Democrats a blow to the noggin that will make their ears ring for a year. But then, let’s not imagine that we’ve accomplished even the first step toward our goal of restoring the republic, because Scott Brown is not the answer. Joe Kennedy is the answer; and unless we who Get It take control of enough state Republican organizations to make sure that our winning candidates are Joe Kennedys rather than Scott Browns, the end of the nation’s trajectory will be socialism, along with poverty, obscurity, and social chaos.

(PS: Kennedy is flat-out, dead wrong on foreign policy, as most Ron Paulers are.)

01/13/2010 (9:44 pm)

Why Rick Moran is Disconnected From Reality

I was cruising “The Moderate Voice” yesterday, a blog site dedicated to serving the illusion of mainstream Democrats that they’re “moderates,” when I was shocked and a little dismayed to see Rick Moran, proprietor of Right Wing Nuthouse and at one time editor for Pajamas Media, posting an opinion piece explaining why he believes conservatism is disconnected from reality. He cross-posted the piece at Right Wing Nuthouse.

It’s tough to say exactly what has Rick in such a twist, since the piece launches a deluge of generalities without many specifics. Here are some examples of his general agita:

In the end, I think it is more important to look at how conservatism as a philosophy has closed itself off so thoroughly from uncomfortable and inconvenient truths about America.

In this case, it is conservatism losing its ability to question itself in a rigorous and punishing manner, preferring to maintain a comfort zone in which certain shibboleths of the past rest easily on the mind and prevent the kind of examination of underlying assumptions that any set of philosophical principles needs to maintain touch with the real world.

But over the decades, conservatism lost its flexibility in delineating a coarse ideology from this philosophy. By this I mean that conservatism has eschewed thoughtfulness for conformity.

Whaaaaa?

The central idea seems to be that Rick thinks conservatives have stopped thinking, and are reacting in a mindless ideological manner. But what does he mean by this?

I see two examples in the piece, and they’re not very specific. In the first, he says conservatives are no longer merely trying to preserve American tradition, but instead are trying to roll back the New Deal and the Great Society, and replace them with something like the “Articles of Confederation on steriods.” In the second, he says conservatives have developed a hatred of government of any kind. This, says Moran, prevents “conservative ideas from being brought to bear on national issues like health care, immigration, loss of industry, globalization, and adequate, sensible regulation of everything from finanicial institutions to the environment.”

He ends this second example this way:

For it is not necessarily people who have become hostile to government but rather conservatism as a governing philosophy that has walled itself into a corner, refusing to confront a modern America that is less white, less agrarian, more urbanized, more technical, and developing a growing tolerance for government solutions to prickly, systemic problems experienced by ordinary Americans.

Finally we get a clue what Rick is really talking about. He seems to be saying that the real America, the pragmatic America in which we actually live, has accepted government as the solution to major social problems — and that conservatism needs to adjust to this reality.

He reinforced this in response to a comment I placed at The Moderate Voice. He had objected that conservatives offer nothing at all in response to the Democrats’ health care initiative. I mentioned that there have been at least four Republican proposals, and that a number authors, including me, have suggested alternative approaches. Rick agreed, but wondered where were the solutions to dealing with Medicare, S-CHIP, and Medicaid? And then he added:

The reality of America in the 21st century is that government is massively involved in health care. Unless you are proposing that we scrap these programs – or radically reform them – you have no “conservative alternative” to health care reform. You work with the world as it is and forget the world you dream should be. That means reforming health care in the context of a government that spends 40 cents of every health care dollar. You can nibble at the edges of that but anything more and you put millions of people at risk.

The “reality” to which he points is the reality in which government pays $.40 of each health dollar. He understates it; I believe it’s closer to $.55 of each health dollar. That’s Medicare and Medicaid. These are the largest of several unfunded liabilities that threaten to swamp the American economy starting this decade, requiring of us more than $50 trillion, and probably more like $80 trillion, in promised payments that have to come from the American taxpayer because there is no savings from which to pay them. (The other parts are Social Security and various federal pension plans, now including the United Auto Workers’ pension plans.) To this, Moran says that any proposal that threatens the hearts of these plans “put(s) millions of people at risk.”

We’re at even greater risk if we do not threaten these plans, frankly. But what Moran seems to be saying is that big government is an irrevocable part of the modern landscape, and it constitutes a flight from reality to deny it.

Nonsense.

Conservatives have not stopped thinking. Quite the contrary; we’ve stopped not thinking, and are starting to see the condition of the nation more clearly. And we are starting to recognize that to accept any part of the claim that government is the solution to social problems is ultimately to accept all parts of it. You can’t make limited partnership deals with the devil.

Progressives announced their agenda for America as early as 1900, arguing that the notion of inherent individual liberty was quaint and admirable, but must give way to the more modern recognition that through the systematic application of the sciences, man could become master of his environment and solve all the stubborn social problems that plague him. They claimed that in order to accomplish this, citizens must surrender their liberty for the good of the collective. The progressive agenda has been marching forward ever since, gradually increasing the size and scope of government and reducing our liberties until citizens of many European socialist nations have greater liberty than Americans.

Progressives also systematically sought positions in education, news, entertainment, law, and government. Wherever progressives gained a position with hiring authority, they prevented anyone besides other progressives from entering that field — with the result that now, roughly a century later, they dominate those fields. And using those positions of information and power, they have bent the thinking of the culture on every topic from sexual mores to music to consumerism to business to law. And yes, the impact of progressives dominating those fields has produced a populace that is much more ready to accept dominant government as the norm.

To accept this as a “reality” about which serious attempts to change it constitute “inflexibility” is to concede Western civilization to the progressives.

I am not willing to do that. The 20th century has shown us with astonishing clarity what happens when progressives get their hands on governments. The very same policies, produced by the very same philosophies, governed Italy, Germany, Cuba, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, East Germany, and Poland at some point during the 20th century. We are all painfully familiar with the misery, the economic stagnation, the oppressive atmosphere stifling creativity and political innovation, the murders… murders in the hundreds of millions, by governments against their own citizens, invariably for the crime of holding and expressing ideas contrary to their progressive masters who knew better. If progressives did not control the writing of history, “holocaust” would refer to progressivism — much more correctly than its current meaning.

What has happend, Mr. Moran, is that far more conservatives have recognized that the progressive agenda rejects the core claim of the American experiment in self-government: namely, that all people are created equal, and that they owe their first allegiance to God by way of their own conscience. Progressives deny this, claiming instead that they, themselves, are superior in intellect, and that those who are superior have the right to tell others how to live their lives. This is the central conflict of our time. Progressives have understood it from the start. Conservatives are just beginning to grasp it.

Modern conservatives are also beginning to recognize that it makes no sense at all to continue to cooperate in the American experiment with adversaries who do not believe its core principles.

The fact is that progressivism and what we’re calling American conservatism (which is actually old-fashioned American liberalism) are mutually exclusive moral systems. The American system of government presupposes a common culture in which all players agree to the same, basic principles of right and wrong, with liberty of conscience as the highest good. The nation was born with such a culture in place. We no longer live in such a culture; there are two, competing and utterly incompatible moral systems at work in America. The nation is schizophrenic, and the outcome will either be tyranny by one side over the other, civil war, or partition.

And by the way, it is not just conservatives who have become “inflexible” about their “core ideology.” We heard plenty of talk during the Bush years about the possibility of civil war — from progressives. And the topic they were threatening violence over was not the rolling back of Great Society programs, it was sensible measures to prevent attacks by violent Muslims. They were threatening rebellion over the West defending itself, for God’s sake. What do you think they’d do if we actually started rolling back New Deal policies… and insisting on a ratchet effect such that they’ll never be unrolled, like the Democrats have been doing with every social change they’ve initiated in the past century? How long do you think it would be before progressives started rioting, and we faced modern versions of the Weathermen?

Rick Moran thinks it is unrealistic to imagine an America that rejects the presuppositions of the progressives. I do not; I think that no matter how difficult, our survival as a nation requires that we not only imagine such an America, but that we produce it. And if we cannot produce it with the progressives among us, I say we have to secure a separate territory in which we are able to produce it, hence my call for secession a few weeks ago.

In short, modern conservatism has not abandoned reality; rather, it has acknowledged a fundamental divergence in world-view that has, in fact, existed for about a century.

03/31/2009 (12:03 pm)

More Musings on Tougher Conservatives and Socialist America

As though he’d been reading my most recent posts (but he’s really just commenting on matters that concern us all,) Patterico today uses David Horowitz’s caution against a growing Obama Derangement as a touchstone to launch his own thoughts about keeping the conservative message sane:

I spent eight years watching a crazy set of people on the left use every trick in the book to attack and tear down President Bush on a personal level. They seized on every maladroit turn of phrase to suggest that he was a moron. They distorted his policy pronouncements, trumped up phony issues, and displayed an unyielding self-righteousness that justified literally any tactic used in service of their political ends. This is why they felt comfortable demonizing Bush to the point where they compared him to Hitler.

Remember how we hated that?

Now that our guy is out of power, we have to decide: did we hate those tactics because they were wrong? Or only because they were used in service of the other guy? (Patterico’s emphasis, not mine)

I do not want to see us becoming the conservative nutroots. It is not, as some suggest, that I am some “country club Republican.” I despise those people. It is because I do not want to become that which I hate. When we make a mountain out of the molehill of Obama’s birth certificate; when we seize on a “Special Olympics” joke as the Height of Outrage and manufacture trumped-up howling rather than dismissing it as a dumb thing to say; when we insist on comparing Obama to mass murderers . . . when these things happen, we are becoming what we hated.

You actually have to read Horowitz’s column at FrontPageMag to grasp the sense of Patterico’s concern. Horowitz’s basic message is, “Stop making such a fuss, Obama is a typical Democrat, not the Antichrist.”

Patterico agrees that we must not engage in the sort of histrionics that the left engaged in, but then disagrees that we’re doing so when it comes to matters of liberty:

And this is where I disagree with Horowitz. Horowitz says:

So what’s the panic? It is true that Obama has shown surprising ineptitude in his first months in office, but he’s not a zero with no accomplishments as many conservatives seem to think – unless you regard beating the Clinton machine and winning the presidency as nothing. But in doing this you fall into the “Bush-is-an-idiot” bag of liberal miasmas.

It is also true Obama has ceded his domestic economic agenda to the House Democrats and spent a lot of money in the process. But what’s the surprise in this?

No, it’s no surprise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. We now have a situation where the CEO of a major American car company is resigning at the behest of the American president, and everyone is nodding their heads as though it makes perfect sense. It doesn’t. This is insanity. (Patterico’s emphasis) Putting the government in charge of our economy is socialism. It represents the end of capitalism, and without capitalism, there is no freedom.

I would go even further than Patterico. The surprise, to answer Mr. Horowitz, is the sheer rapidity and oppressiveness of the wave of statist legislation. It’s as though they listed everything they’ve failed to accomplish in the last 40 years and passed it all in a single day. I don’t recall a similar sea change in my entire adult life; the closest I’d seen was Reagan’s slow, steady roll-back of mindless statist policy from the Nixon, Ford, and Carter years, but that took several years, not a mere two months.

Horowitz provides the evidence that Obama is not merely a typical Democrat in his article, noting that even the House Democrats are beginning to push back against his initiatives, and that the speed and extremity of his measures so far have solidified conservative opposition in a way nothing else could. He also correctly identifies that the US’ liberals have now become typically European socialists:

…while it’s reasonable to be unhappy with a Democratic administration and even concerned because the Democrats are now a socialist party in the European sense, we are not witnessing the coming of the anti-Christ

And the danger goes beyond what Patterico observes, as well. I do believe that liberty is the central need of the human heart, and the greatest loss of the opening months of the Obama administration, but it’s useless even to speak of liberty when there’s no economy, and what we’ve been seeing actually endangers the operation of the nation. I’d been wondering all my life when it might occur that the government actually spent more than the American economy could pay back. It looks plausible that we’ve reached that point a mere 3 months into the Era of Obama. We’re talking about $1 trillion and $2 trillion-dollar annual deficits as though they were no different from the $450 billion deficit that seemed so large during the Bush years — which, I should point out, set the new record high just last year. Foreign investors are noticing and running the other direction.

wrybobI’ve actually made the prediction myself that Obama policy intentions could lead to holocausts. I don’t expect such a thing to occur during a four-year Obama administration, or even really during an eight-year Obama administration. I do expect that if America adopts neo-Marxist ethical conventions, within about 20 years we’ll be endorsing euthanasia among America’s elderly, and that given the demographics of the Boomer generation, that will lead to a huge wave of voluntary euthanasia that is neither truly voluntary nor truly euthanasia. Jonah Goldberg thinks American fascism will never mimic Soviet or German fascism in its murderousness, because the American character is so basically friendly; but Americans have terminated more pregnancies than any nation in history — some 50 million or more — and thus seem susceptible to rationalizing “mercy” killings where they would not condone political ones.

I also believe we are correct to fear suppression and criminalization of conservative views, as progressives have been articulating precisely that already. That was the point of this article of mine, which also invokes the possibility of future holocausts here in America.

If this puts me among the “conservative nutroots,” then so be it; I’m looking at broad trends and drawing conclusions regarding where they lead. I could easily be mistaken; I’ve made mistakes before. Convince me that I’m mistaken about the trends, and I’ll stop predicting the outcomes; but don’t bother telling me that I can’t say something because it’s unthinkable, because that’s unpersuasive. Holocausts are always unthinkable — until they occur. It can happen here.

Certainly, there should be no full-bore demonization of Obama based on nothing but hatred. Yes, we should refuse to engage in the dishonest tactics of our adversaries. However, there’s no shame in crying “Wolf!” if there’s a wolf in the fold. Is Barack Obama the Antichrist? Hardly likely. Is he Josef Stalin? Certainly not yet. But, is he ushering in a regime that seems likely to destroy the things that make America unique and important? Absolutely, yes; not just to destroy them, but to destroy them quickly and decisively. This requires a response.

03/23/2009 (8:01 am)

Why Free Markets Are Best

Newsmax sent me a link to this telling exchange between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue from 1979. Donahue unloads the full arsenal of mindless liberal guilt manipulation against Friedman’s free market capitalism, and Friedman tears it to pieces in less than 3 minutes. Listen and learn. Key portions are transcribed below:

Regarding the inequality between the haves and the have-nots:

In the only cases in which the masses have escaped the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they’ve had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s in exactly the kinds of societies that depart from that, so that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system…

Answering the challenge that capitalism does not reward virtue:

What does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? Excuse me, but do you think American Presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed, or on the basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? Just tell me, where in the world do you find these angels who are going to organize society for us?

This exposes the true heart of socialist, Marxist, and American liberal thinking. The answer to the last question, “Where do you find these angels,” is invariably, in the mind of the liberal, “Me.” They think of themselves as angels, and of all others as fools; this is the always-unspoken, always-unrecognized assumption in all Utopian plans. They all fail at exactly the same point — those who think such thoughts are not only far from angels, but they’re the greatest fools of all. Friedman emphasizes this when he chides Donahue, “I don’t even trust you to do that,” nailing the fact that Donahue is at that very moment thinking “Let me do it.” And Friedman alludes to the problem earlier on: “Of course, none of us are greedy. It’s always the other fellow who is greedy.”

The human systems that work are those which recognize and structurally minimize the inherent weakness in human character, but which recognize and structurally liberate the inherent creativity in the human soul. Systems based on political self-interest and the innate goodness of leaders result in oppression, the only exceptions occurring when there is a truly extraordinary leader (and no, my liberal friends, Barack Obama is not one of those, and neither are you.) The unintended genius of the American system was that political self-interest was stymied by pitting political players against each other in a system structured to maximize political tension, while private, economic self-interest was given a free hand to grow. It was “unintentional” in that the focus lay entirely on creating the political tension, whereas the economic freedom was simply taken for granted.

Opposition to free markets arises from envy. Some people cannot accept the massive improvement in the well-being of the ordinary person because the same system also allows for disproportionate well-being for the exceptional. Because some people envy the exceptional, they aim to cripple them; but in so doing, they remove all possibility for ordinary people to prosper. The same system that permits ordinary people to prosper, permits extraordinary people to prosper extraordinarily; thus, the only way to permit ordinary people to prosper is to restrain one’s envy toward the extraordinary.

One cannot empower the weak by weakening the strong. If it were the strong who were holding the weak down, then weakening the strong might empower the weak. It’s not the strong who hold the weak down; the weak are held down by their own sin, and if one removes the strong, the sin remains in the weak and continues to hold them down. The only way weak people are made strong is by changing themselves.

The correct answer to Friedman’s challenge, “What does reward virtue,” is that God rewards virtue, independent of human systems, though He frequently uses human systems to send the reward. However, the greatest good to the greatest number occurs in a free economic system with severely limited government.

02/11/2009 (6:20 pm)

Why Socialism Fails

Yesterday’s passage of the Senate version of the stimulus bill moved conservatives to an American writer’s version of seppuku: navel-gazing the demolition of the greatest free economy in history. George Melloa at the Wall Street Journal contemplated stagflation, Rich Lowry at National Review Online contemplated the end of limited government, and James Lewis at The American Thinker contemplated the rapacity of socialists generally. It was one of Lewis’ commenters, however, that pointed me toward the best find of the day: a marvelously lucid discussion regarding why we prefer limited government to socialism from a Cato Institute contributor named Charles Murray back in 1991. His thesis draws heavily on things we commonly understand about human behavior, and concludes that the reason we should prefer limited government has nothing to do with economic performance, and everything to do with the simple pursuit of human contentment.

What follows here are my own thoughts, but heavily influenced by Murray’s paper; I heartily recommend you read his analysis, as it’s one of those papers that helps us clearly understand the stakes of liberty in human terms. None of the religious references I make occur in Murray’s work.

Let me begin with a Marxian fantasy, with goods moving “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Such a system could actually work if God (yes, that God) served as the arbiter of inequities. So long as the participants trusted God to meet their needs properly, and to satisfy justice in the long haul, people might be content with the rewards they received. God would see to it that everybody was working in the role where they were best suited, people would expect their rewards to be according to their input (because God is just, you see,) and what inequalities exist could be explained away as a temporary necessity for God to achieve His inscrutable purposes, to be leveled appropriately later.

The American free market, when it existed and most of the nation was Christian in some form or other (you have to wind the clock back between 150 to 200 years,) actually worked a little like this in the minds of many participants, albeit not perfectly. Participants in the system generally felt that performance would be rewarded with satisfaction, promotion, and financial success, and felt that a just God was the arbiter of what they received. If they were receiving an unjust amount, they trusted that justice would be served eventually. Faith produced contentment, and contentment permitted both a local and a national sense of cooperation and participation. The inequality of the system was regarded as one of it’s better features, as it reflected the judgment of God, and also something that could be overcome with appropriate virtue, labor, and ingenuity. (I’m ignoring obvious social inequalities and the spectrum of human foibles for the moment, to simplify the argument.)

Socialism attempts to produce a system like this artificially, by substituting the State for God. However, if participants will not invest the same confidence in the State that they would invest in God, then two problems arise that will eventually cause the system to fail, and in the interim will produce suffering for all the participants: distrust of the arbiter of abilities and needs, and unwillingness to accept inequalities in provision. People feel their own lack, see inequalities, distrust that the arbiter has permitted those inequalities for some ultimate good, and lose hope that justice will prevail. Universal poverty and dissatisfaction eventually erode the government’s ability to govern.

One of the ironies of real-world socialism is that the proponents of such a system deliberately introduce envy into the system, even though envy inevitably causes it to fail. Socialism in the real world invariably comes to power on the wings of radical egalitarianism, which is nothing but envy inverted into a virtue. Instead of viewing envy as a vice (“Thou shalt not covet,”) radical egalitarianism makes it a vice to own more than the next man, and paints a righteous patina on ordinary envy. We want what the next man has, and radical egalitarianism allows us to call our want “noble suffering,” and to call his plenty “immoral.” Welcome to the Victim Culture.

A couple of caveats here: first, I’ve presented this so far as though the operative element were peoples’ expectations of the arbiter of justice, be it God or the State. It’s important to note that these expectations are sensible; it’s sensible to trust God, and it’s sensible to expect the state to apportion goods imperfectly and corruptly. Second, it’s important to remember that radical egalitarianism is not the same as the earlier, libertarian egalitarianism expressed in the Declaration of Independence. That earlier egalitarian sentiment simply rejected inherited nobility, and posited in its place every man’s right to achieve whatever station he could achieve by his intellect, effort, and virtue. Modern, radical egalitarianism simply says nobody is permitted to have what anybody else lacks, demanding equal outcomes in a manifestly unequal world.

Now, envy always produces lack in an economy because it aims venom at the most productive elements. Once the wealthy have been demonized, who will want to become wealthy? This is the fallacy in Obama’s “equal shares of the pie” analogy; as soon as the government asserts the right to slice up the bigger pieces and give the excess to others less wealthy, there’s no longer any incentive to work for the big pieces. As a result, the whole pie gets smaller. And then, the formerly productive elements get blamed for deliberately shirking production, and get shot or jailed. The entire system becomes coercive, but it never recovers the ability to produce. Once the old villains have been eliminated, the State produces new villains, but persecuting them will never recover productivity. Eventually, the economy collapses, unless the State reintroduces private enterprise and reward for initiative.

In a downward spiral like the one I just described, the only safe place to obtain creature comforts is the government (or the press, which inevitably becomes an arm of the government). One can obtain creature comforts there because the arbiters of “fairness” get to allocate sufficiency to themselves; it’s safe, because the government will never spin itself as the villain. Consequently, all sorts of conniving, climbing, and undermining behavior becomes normal in the government, the government inevitably allocates unfairly to itself (see “Wagyu beef”,) and people lose trust in the State.

Thus socialism rises by fanning discontent, produces need and misery, foments a permanent victim mentality, encourages a vicious struggle for political power as the only means of obtaining sufficiency, and eventually destroys itself.

Where socialism rises by discontent, capitalism succeeds by permitting positive social behavior. Ultimately, inequalities become livable if we are given the opportunity to right them ourselves by working harder or improving ourselves. So long as there is hope of overcoming inequality and obtaining satisfaction, we can be content. That’s why liberty (both economic and political) enables the pursuit of happiness, and permits us to get along.

If a socialist system could obtain power without stirring envy, and allocated resources fairly and wisely, the spiral I described might not occur. Is that possible, or are there other characteristics of socialism that would cause it to fail even if men were honest?

I think the main problem is that a centralized function never produces the ingenuity that motivated individuals bring to the party, so an enlightened socialism will never be as effective as a comparable system with free markets and limited government. Beyond that, though, insofar as power is given to governments, individual choices become limited. When choices are limited, we have to rely on the government to allocate fairly; and then inequalities become less livable because we lack the power to address them ourselves. In such a system, civility breaks down. Murray explains at length the importance of small, social associations in all our lives, and observes that when government takes over an increasing number of functions, to that extent it replaces community. We lose the reasons that we associate with each other because the government has co-opted them, and we become isolated islands.

I introduced God at the beginning of this discussion because God actually makes a difference in how the system functions. Free markets and limited government work without reference to God, but they tend toward social Darwinism, wherein people tend to compete for power and wealth and ignore those who are less able. Fans of Ayn Rand like to exalt selfishness as a virtue, which, while it won’t destroy the productive capacity of an economy the way socialism will, can produce social malformations that are just as destructive.

The error in Objectivism (Rand’s philosophy) is the notion that selflessness is unproductive. This rests on an incorrect model of selfless behavior. What we call selfless is not really a person who never serves his own needs but always serves the needs of others. We all know people like that; we call them “people-pleasers,” and they’re usually neurotic and unhappy. The people we refer to as selfless always have their own needs met abundantly (sometimes by deliberately lowering their expectations, as do monks and nuns,) and they gladly offer the excess over and above their needs to others. This can be highly productive behavior; it begins with sufficiency, and invites others into it to enjoy it as a community.

As the United States increasingly falls into the downward spiral of envy-driven socialism, it will become vital for those who oppose it to be able to explain rationally why socialism fails. This is why articles like Murray’s are essential reading for the coming Age of Obama.

01/21/2009 (12:13 pm)

A Real Inaugural Address

One of my readers heard Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address on the radio yesterday, courtesy of Mark Levin. In the discussion that ensued, another reader supplied a link to the video, which I’ve embedded below.

Ronald Reagan is dead, and I oppose laying our hopes on the reincarnation of past greatness. We need to be great ourselves, not hope for ancestors to be resurrected; it’s our turn. However, in the wake of yeasterday’s inaugural address that was underwhelming in its content and delivery, and which rested on insulting, partisan denunciations even while alleging a new, non-partisan spirit of hope, I thought it might be worthwhile to reacquaint ourselves with convictions that produced, at the very least, a 20-year respite in the decline of a great nation — not to mention that those same convictions produced the greatness of the nation itself. The video is 20 minutes long, if you can spare it.

Here are some inspirational nuggets for your consideration:

All of us need to remember that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on earth… It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.

If no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

This last bears examination, because it’s the philosophical refutation of liberalism in a single sentence. In the heart of every liberal smolders the conviction that while the average man in the street has no idea how properly to manage his life in order to save himself, the nation, or the planet from disaster, they, the liberals, do possess that special knowledge, both for themselves and for everybody else. Reagan reminds us that if all men are created equal (this is the presupposition underlying this argument,) then no person can claim the unique ability to rule others. The self-evident truth that all men are created equal, drawn from the Declaration of Independence, is the cornerstone of our nation’s philosophical foundation. Modern liberalism thus embodies the rejection of America’s founding philosophy, and a return to the tyranny of elitism, a new, egalitarian-colored resurgence of the Divine Right of Kings. That Reagan could make this argument so succinctly demonstrates the genius of the man.

This was a very different speech from Obama’s address. Inaugural addresses tend toward rhetorical flourishes and deluges of swollen prose. Reagan’s was no exception, but it contained elements of genuine analysis and profound understanding that sadly were missing from yesterday’s oration. Reagan also paid homage to “giants on whose shoulders we stand,” recognizing the greatness of past Presidents, rather than arrogating their greatness to himself before he’d performed even a single act. Where Reagan criticized the direction of the past, it was with reference to specific statements of policy that he intended to change, not with vague and insupportable slurs to the character of his predecessor. This was the speech of a virtuous and brilliant man; yesterday’s oration was a blithe imitation from a shallow narcissist.

It should be noted that President Reagan failed to achieve several of the goals he articulated so well in this statement of intentions. Government did not shrink under his leadership, though several strangling regulations did vanish; it simply grew more slowly. Deficit spending did not vanish, and in fact increased, though that was more House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s doing than Reagan’s. However, these failures neither detract from the greatness of the man nor from the correctness of his thinking. The notion that such a foundational idea as limited government could be relevant in 1981 but not in 2009 is as sensible as the notion that an idea could be correct on Monday, but not on Thursday.

Ronald Reagan is dead. The principles he articulated are still true, and will remain true. Adjust your thinking accordingly.

12/23/2008 (11:46 am)

RIP Compassionate Conservatism

John O’Sullivan’s cover story on National Review’s online magazine attempts to place George W. Bush’s presidency into a political category, and concludes that it can’t be done; rather, O’Sullivan observes, Bush’s presidency was more a reflection of his inner reflexes, for better or for worse.

All presidencies are shaped powerfully by the president’s personality. But the Bush presidency seems more personal, even impulsive, and less influenced by either party or ideology than most. In which case the quality of Bush’s personality becomes all-important. And just as compassionate conservatism lacks a guiding “governor,” so the Bush personality seems to lack a similar mechanism of impulse control. Sometimes his impulses are right, notably the surge; sometimes mistaken, notably immigration; almost always they prevail.

Which is why the best description of the Bush presidency was formulated almost 100 years ago by the great Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock: “He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

“Just as compassionate conservatism lacks a guiding ‘governor’” recalls the part of his analysis in which O’Sullivan critiques “compassionate conservatism” and leaves it bleeding and gasping on the floor. O’Sullivan’s criticism of compassionate conservatism suggests that it lacks any standard to limit the activism of government; that without any guiding principle, the inner impulse of the governor translate into unchecked and undisciplined spending on programs of dubious value. This strikes me as characteristic of Boomers, who are long on self-awareness and short on principle. Bill Clinton, our first Boomer President, showed us what happens when the worst of our narcissism gets unleashed on government; Bush completes the condemnation of our generation, showing us how destructive even our best impulses can be when they lack any meaningful discipline.

His critique of compassionate conservatism touched off a pretty interesting discussion in which Michael Gerson, Bush’s first chief speech writer, defends compassionate conservatism against what he regards as an historic wealth of heartless versions of conservatism, and O’Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg reply.

I found Gerson’s defense unpersuasive, but I was struck by the similarity between it and the defense of government intervention by a Christian friend of mine: “What if the people fail to meet the need? Do we just let the poor starve?” Gerson’s version goes like this:

Far from being a vague, weepy tenderness, compassionate conservatism has a rigorous definition. It teaches that the pursuit of the common good is a moral goal. It asserts that this goal is best achieved through strong families, volunteer groups and communities that all deserve legal deference and respect. But it also accepts that when local institutions fail — a child is betrayed by a consistently failing school, a state passes a Jim Crow law, a nation is helpless to tackle a treatable disease — the federal government has a responsibility to intervene. Such interventions generally are most successful when they promote individual and community empowerment instead of centralizing bureaucratic control. But when that is not possible, it is fully appropriate to send in the Army to desegregate the schools of Little Rock.

What Gerson (and my friend) describe as “compassionate conservatism,” I describe as “traditional liberalism with a preamble.” The difference between conservatism and “compassionate” conservatism is not really compassion — I’ll address that in a moment — but rather the assertion of the moral superiority of whoever runs the government, and positing the government as savior of final recourse. This is precisely what makes liberalism “liberalism:” the assertion that they (the liberals) succeed in understanding moral good where the people fail, and the assertion that government solutions produce better results than solutions that arise from the populace.

By contrast, sound conservatism understands that the people are at least as good a source of morality as the government. In the first place, the government is nothing but a reflection of the people; the likelihood that the government will embody better moral reasoning than the people who selected them is near zero, and if it occurs at all, it occurs by accident. In the second place, individuals within government are motivated by things that usually don’t affect popular efforts: lust for power, need to acquire votes and satisfy constituencies, bureaucratic turf and career protection.

This is why Gerson’s examples are bogus. The question of what to do when the people fail to produce enough compassion to meet all needs is contrived. It presupposes that there exists a morally superior elite that is uniformly and permanently capable of assessing moral need that the people are not capable of assessing. It rests entirely on a revival of the archaic notion of noblesse oblige, only instead of nobility residing in those who are born to it, it resides in those who hold the Correct Political Opinions. Should we be surprised that the person formulating this fine-sounding appeal is always a member of that elite?

Lacing Gerson’s defense, and aptly noted in Goldberg’s and O’Sullivan’s pieces, is the assertion that conservatism somehow lacks heart. That’s a libellous conceit on the part of liberals. Liberals assert that the only reason conservatives oppose their governmental programs to reduce poverty is that they hate the poor. In actual fact, conservatives oppose those policies because they love the poor, and understand that what the liberals propose will enslave and dehumanize the poor while enriching the bureaucracy.

I always took Bush’s use of the adjective “compassionate” as merely a rhetorical tactic to regain political high ground; apparently, Gerson either never saw it as that, or came to believe his own carefully-crafted rhetoric. It’s always been the case, and has lately even been established by research, that opponents of governmental charity exercise charity themselves to a greater degree than those who call on the government to do so. We even have larger-than-life public icons showcasing the difference: the last three presidential elections featured comparisons between the personal charities of Republican candidates who donate huge sums, and ponderously wealthy Democratic candidates who can barely be bothered to write a $20 check at Christmastime.

Nonetheless, President Bush apparently responded to his Evangelical impulses to help the poor, realized that he had this huge government at hand with which to do something about it, and produced a wave of government largesse as large as any we could have expected from his liberal opponents. That the Left in America can’t see Bush as anything but a conservative is remarkable; it’s fairly difficult to produce a list of conservative policies pursued by the Bush administration.

The positive achievements of the Bush administration lie in their having recognized the threat of Islamic Wahabist activism and taken strong, international measures to overcome it. Apart from that vital defense of the nation, the Bush presidency will be remembered for overspending on a series of domestic policies that could easily have been the product of a center-left President. Compassionate conservatism, requiescat in pacem. Please.