Here is my Creators Syndicate column for the week on the public employee unions and their enormous influence in the Democratic Party. I decided to write it because I think this influence is not widely understood and is certainly not much commented on. But the public employee unions exert enormous upward pressure on state and local government spending and enormous downward pressure on the accountability of public employees. Over time this will tend to increase the share of the economy devoted to state and local government spending, with significant macroeconomic effects. Nearly half of American union members are public employees—a vivid contrast with mid-century America, when only a small percentage, perhaps on the order of 10 percent (I haven't looked it up lately), of union members were public employees. And of course public employee unions are financed by the taxpayer: Their income comes from members' dues, which come from their salaries, which come from the public purse.
Friday, November 16, 2007
...the most frequent solution to income inequality, and the one advocated by [Paul] Krugman in nearly every interview about his book, is higher taxes on those at the top of the income scale. While this may give the appearance of lessening inequality, in actuality it does very little. Essentially, it is equivalent to twisting the ankle of the fastest runner in the world in an attempt to make other runners faster. In no way does this make other runners faster.
...income inequality is a static measure of well-being. Looking at an individual's or group's share of income at a given point in time tells us very little. In fact, even looking at the trends in income inequality is futile. The fact that individual's rarely remain in the same income group throughout their lives suggests that looking that a group defined as "poor" or "middle class" or "rich" is irrelevant...income inequality is a poor measure of prosperity. In reality, economic growth and innovation will do more to help the poor and the middle class than any conceivable government policy.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
But if we didn't go to war, then we probably would have kept up the containment policy.
The Democratic study on the "real costs" of the wars in Iraq ($1.3 trillion) and Afghanistan ($300 billion) from 2002 through 2008 will almost assuredly lead to a common perceptual pitfall. An explanation: Let's assume that the numbers on Iraq are more or less accurate. And let's stipulate for a moment that when you take into account "hidden costs" such as interest payments on new debt to pay for the war, the expense of long-term healthcare for our injured warriors, and the impact of higher oil prices, the total cost of Iraq is indeed twice what the White House has requested from Congress.Should we then assume that by not waging the war, Uncle Sam would be a trillion dollars to the better? That would be a questionable assumption, a product of a sort of "static analysis" that assumes if you change one critical factor, all the rest stay pretty much the same.
... a containment policy would cost anywhere from $350 billion to $700 billon. Now when you further factor in that 1) a containment policy might also have led to a higher risk premium in the oil markets if Iraq was seen to be gaining in military power despite our efforts to box it in, and 2) money not borrowed and spent on Iraq might well have been spent on something else given the White House's free-spending ways...
Monday, October 29, 2007
Anti-Americanism is in its psychology more like a religion than an ideology. By this I mean that it has more to do with emotional needs than with objective reasoning. Those needs it satisfies, in particular in Lutheran cultures with a surviving doctrine of hell in its cultural baggage, are for a superior evil principle; an all-round explanation of everything, from the highest to the lowest. There are scarcely any boundaries any longer to what believers are prepared to put down to the USA’s account: from large and small events in global politics to global climate, the drugs trade and African civil wars, world trade, terrorism, the prices of raw materials, interest rates and the inherent contradictions of the Middle East.
There is at last the historical fact that unlike most countries the United States has been founded on ideals and aspirations which are difficult to realise. Thus both abroad and at home it is judged not only by its actual policies and characteristics, failures and accomplishments, but against the background of the high expectations it has generated. In the light of these expectations its missteps and flaws are magnified and evoke far greater hostility and anger than those of other social systems of more modest aspirations. Given the widespread ambivalence about modernity, the universality of the scapegoating impulse as well as the actual mistakes of US foreign policy and the widely publicised flaws of American society, anti-Americanism will be with us in the foreseeable future.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Like his intellectual mentor Alexis de Tocqueville, and unlike so many of today’s red-meat, red-state right-wingers, Anderson is no triumphalist tub-thumper for capitalism or democracy. Both, he recognizes, are far better than the alternatives; but both, unchecked, can set in motion cultural forces — anomie, dependency, ruthless egalitarianism — that corrode soul and society alike. Like Jouvenel, Anderson holds with a worldly-wise anti-utopianism whose lineage goes back to the very origins of conservative thought. If more of today’s conservatives had heeded its cautions, they might not have been so surprised to see Iraq’s unstructured liberation turn sour.
Karl Popper once wrote, “The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.” For Anderson, conservatism’s stewardship of that truth is the source of both the movement’s indispensable strength and its intrinsic weakness. Conservatism can keep us out of trouble by warning against the fanciful idealisms of the left (communism), the right (fascism) and the ultrareligious (bin Ladenism), but it cannot scratch humanity’s perpetual itch for a Promised Land free of hunger, pain, conflict and grubby politics. “There is no ultimate solution in politics, only temporary ‘settlements,’ ” Anderson writes, affirming Jouvenel, who affirmed Aristotle (“Man is by nature a political animal”). To read Anderson at his luminous best is to be reminded of conservatism at its wisest — not least in its understanding of its own limitations.
Friday, September 07, 2007
The natural state of America, in my theory, is decentralized toleration: We stand together because we can live apart. We are, most of the time, the nation described by Alexis de Tocqueville, made up of various ethnic, religious, and racial strands who believe fervently that we can live and triumph together if we allow one another to observe our local mores. We can embody David Hackett Fischer's "four British folkways" and at the same time be a united people. There's a tension in that, which threatens to come apart. In the midcentury America of the 1850s, the threat was that we would come apart: We had an explosive political conflagration over the issue of slavery in the territories and an explosive ethnic conflagration in the decade that had the largest immigrant influx, in percentage of pre-existing population, of any decade in our history. Citations: Kenneth Stampp's America in 1857; the opening chapters in James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. And in fact, we produced a civil war.
We had the opposite situation in the midcentury America of the 1950s. After the shared experiences of the Depression and World War II, with universal institutions like the comprehensive high school, the military draft, and the big factory workforces represented by giant industrial unions, we were a culturally more uniform country than we have been before or since. We were a nation of conformism, of the regular guy, of the average guy who gets along with his peers. Citations: David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd; William H. Whyte's The Organization Man. It was a society, to take one example, far more hostile to homosexuality: The midcentury society of the 1850s could evidently tolerate Ishmael and Queequeeg sleeping together in Moby Dick and the poems of Walt Whitman, while the midcentury society of the 1950s cast its eyes away from the obvious gayness of the early Gore Vidal and Truman Capote and Roy Cohn.
The Civil War, the imposition of New England Yankee mores in the way described by Morton Keller, and the creation of national business and professional organizations described by Robert Wiebe in The Search for Order 1877-1910 reversed the extreme decentralization of the 1850s. The cultural rebellions, to the left and the right, described recently in neat form by Brink Lindsey's The Age of Abundance reversed the extreme centralization of the 1950s.
For those of us who grew up in the backwash of the 1950s, this decentralization seemed like an abandonment of American tradition. In the long line of history, I think it is more like a reversion to norm. The seeming inconsistency of currently prevailing attitudes on marriage and divorce, gambling and drinking, cigarette smoking and marijuana smoking, is part of the continuing turmoil of a decentralized society. The results don't cohere, but perhaps that is to be expected in a society like ours.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I was away from the news all day yesterday. But one narrow political point seems worth making about all of the hullabaloo of Bush's Vietnam comparison (I haven't read/heard the speech yet and forgive me if ten others have already made it). The mainstream media and a lot of liberal-leaning analysts seem to think it's politically foolish or reckless for Bush to compare Vietnam to Iraq because they have one very specific narrative in mind when it comes to that war: America shouldn't have gotten in, couldn't have won, and then lost. What they have long failed to grasp is that's not the moral of the story in the hearts of millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost (whether we should have gone in is a murkier question for many, I think). This is a point the Democrats fail to grasp: being on the side of surrender in a war is popular enough during the war, but if you succeed lots of Americans will later get buyer's remorse and feel like it was a mistake and the next generation will see things very differently than their anti-war activist parents. Karl Rove made this point in his exit-interview with Gigot, I think, and he's right. Pulling out of Vietnam was an enormous short term victory for the Democrats and a long term curse.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Scott Beauchamp was the last straw. I realized that I need a scorecard to keep track of all the fallen journalists, journalistic mistakes and major and minor screw-ups in the media. I couldn't find one already made, although Wikipedia came close, so I started my own. I apologize if there is a good list already out there, but I looked and could not find.Offenses include lying and fabricating, doctoring photos, plagiarism, conflicts of interest, falling for hoaxes, and overt bias. Some are hilarious, such as an action figure doll being mistaken for a real soldier. Some are silly, such as reporting on a baseball game watched on TV. Some are more serious.
John Edwards leads an all-star cast of liberal politicians and intellectuals (Edwards is decidedly not the latter) who worship at the altar of Invidia, praying that she will exact penance from the undeserving half of our “two Americas.”
Like the “scientific socialism” that concealed envy behind a slide rule, today’s liberals invoke social science as justification for their covetousness. In one famous study, a majority of people said they would
rather make $50,000 if others earned $25,000 than earn $100,000 if others were making $200,000.
Such studies are deeply flawed. For starters, as Arthur Brooks notes in the current edition of City Journal, they don’t address the question of whether people would be happier in a world of total equality. Rather,
they ask whether people would be happier in a world of inequality so long as they could be richer than everybody else.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
In his eye-opening new book "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution," Jim Piereson argues The Fall was the assassination of President Kennedy. It represented more than the tragic death of a young president, but the descent of liberalism from an optimistic creed focused on pragmatic improvements in the American condition to a darker philosophy obsessed with America's sins. Echoes of the assassination -- and the meaning attributed to it by JFK's admirers -- can still be heard in the querulous tones of contemporary liberalism.
The real John F. Kennedy wasn't the paladin of liberal purity of myth. He was friends with Joseph McCarthy. In his 1952 campaign for Senate and his 1960 presidential campaign, he got to the right of his Republican opponents on key issues. "Kennedy did not want anyone to tag him as a liberal, which he regarded as the kiss of death in electoral politics," Piereson writes. As president, he was vigorously anti-communist, a tax-cutter and a cautious supporter of civil rights.
His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. In a crucial and counterintuitive interpretive act, the nation's opinion elite made JFK a martyr to civil rights instead of the Cold War. Kennedy had been killed by a communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, who a few years before had tried to defect to the Soviet Union. Liberals nonetheless blamed the assassination on, in the characteristic words of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, "the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots."
Thus, the assassination curdled into an indictment of American society: "Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation," read a New York Times headline. Until this point, 20th-century liberalism had tended to see history as a steady march of progress. Now, the march had been interrupted by the country's own pathologies. "Kennedy was mourned in a spirit of frustrated possibility and dashed hopes," Piereson argues, and that sense of loss came to define the new liberalism.
Monday, June 25, 2007
For all the criticism leveled against it, the United States -- and its alliance with Europe -- stands as the single most important hope for the future of liberal democracy. Despite its problems and weaknesses, the United States still commands a global position of strength and is likely to retain it even as the authoritarian capitalist powers grow. Not only are its GDP and productivity growth rate the highest in the developed world, but as an immigrant country with about one-fourth the population density of both the European Union and China and one-tenth of that of Japan and India, the United States still has considerable potential to grow -- both economically and in terms of population -- whereas those others are all experiencing aging and, ultimately, shrinking populations. China's economic growth rate is among the highest in the world, and given the country's huge population and still low levels of development, such growth harbors the most radical potential for change in global power relations. But even if China's superior growth rate persists and its GDP surpasses that of the United States by the 2020s, as is often forecast, China will still have just over one-third of the United States' wealth per capita and, hence, considerably less economic and military power. Closing that far more challenging gap with the developed world would take several more decades. Furthermore, GDP alone is known to be a poor measure of a country's power, and evoking it to celebrate China's ascendency is highly misleading. As it was during the twentieth century, the U.S. factor remains the greatest guarantee that liberal democracy will not be thrown on the defensive and relegated to a vulnerable position on the periphery of the international system.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Fathers can have a distinct impact on children beyond that of mothers, and in many cases without regard to the fact that they often spend less time with their kids, researchers say. Specifically, dads' early play and the way they talk to their toddlers are emerging as special "father functions" that have a particular and lasting effect.
The findings aren't just about a parent's gender per se. Mothers and fathers stimulate children through the same psychological processes, researchers say. But mothers can only do so much; fathers have an additional impact, over and above that of mothers. Also, men have a tendency to behave differently with children. After defining good parenting for decades as what warm, nurturing mothers typically do, researchers now are also beginning to see how behaviors characteristic of fathers can shape children too.
Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play, for example. Researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises....A 2004 study...found a link between fathers' warm, stimulating play with their 2-year-olds and better language and cognitive skills in the children a year later, independent of mothers' behavior. The effect endures into adolescence. Dads who play with toddlers in stimulating and encouraging ways tend to have children with healthier relationships at age 16, surpassing mothers' effect, says a 2002 study in the journal Social Development.
Fathers also tend to shape language development. Fathers typically don't "talk down to their children as much as mothers," using larger words, says Kyle Pruett, an author and clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University.A study last year at the University of North Carolina found a link between fathers who used varied vocabulary with their 2-year-olds, and more advanced speech at age 3, even though the fathers spoke less often to the children. Mothers' vocabulary didn't have a significant impact, perhaps because there weren't enough differences in the high verbal skills of mothers in this middle-class sample, researchers found. It was talkative dads who gave the kids an edge.
Dads also tend to handle misbehavior differently, stressing real-world consequences. Where moms might say, "If you misbehave you're in trouble with me," dads more typically say, "Knock it off...nobody will like you, you'll never get a job" if you behave that way, Dr. Pruett says. Such fathering may reduce teen delinquency. In a 2006 study led by Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew of Child Trends in Washington, D.C., close, supportive fathering was linked to less teen risk-taking and delinquency.
Monday, June 04, 2007
What I discovered is that the Modern Liberal looks back on 50,000 years, 100,000 years of human civilization, and knows only one thing for sure: that none of the ideas that mankind has come up with--none of the religions, none of the philosophies, none of the ideologies, none of the forms of government--have succeeded in creating a world devoid of war, poverty, crime, and injustice. So they're convinced that since all of these ideas of man have proved to be wrong, the real cause of war, poverty, crime, and injustice must be found--can only be found--in the attempt to be right.
If nobody ever thought they were right, what would we disagree about? If we didn't disagree, surely we wouldn't fight. If we didn't fight, of course we wouldn't go to war. Without war, there would be no poverty; without poverty, there would be no crime; without crime, there would be no injustice. It's a utopian vision, and all that's required to usher in this utopia is the rejection of all fact, reason, evidence, logic, truth, morality, and decency--all the tools that you and I use in our attempts to be better people, to make the world more right by trying to be right, by siding with right, by recognizing what is right and moving toward it.
What you have is people who think that the best way to eliminate rational thought, the best way to eliminate the attempt to be right, is to work always to prove that right isn't right and to prove that wrong isn't wrong. You see this in John Lennon's song "Imagine": "Imagine there's no countries." Not imagine great countries, not imagine defeat the Nazis, but imagine no religions, and the key line is imagine a time when anything and everything that mankind values is devalued to the point where there's nothing left to kill or die for.
Berger had access to Archives documents that could be critical to understanding what information the Clinton Administration had, what options it considered, and what decisions it took on these sensitive subjects. In addition to primary documents, Berger had access to copies, and the only plausible reason for taking five copies of a single memo is that some had original notes on them from key officials, maybe from Berger or President Clinton.
For Berger to risk jail and disgrace, to then give up the right to practice his profession merely in order to avoid having to answer questions, he must be hiding something important. And if it is that important to him, it is also important to us.
The most likely explanation is that the material Berger destroyed points to a terrible mistake by Berger himself, by President Clinton, or by both. In dealing with al-Qaeda, did they overlook a critical piece of information or miss a chance to stop 9/11? Did the Administration's failure to take a more aggressive posture encourage al-Qaeda's later attacks?
When Fox News' Chris Wallace raised the possibility that Clinton's Administration might have done something more to prevent 9/11, Bill Clinton went into an inexplicable rage on national television. Wallace touched a nerve. So did the DC Bar.
Knowing what information Berger destroyed also might alter views of the current Bush Administration. Was the early support from both Bill and Hillary Clinton for going to war against Saddam based on something we don't know yet that was available to insiders in the Clinton Administration? Was it something that could come back to haunt Hillary and ruin her chances of winning Bill's third term?
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Steadily enlarging dependence on government accords with liberalism's ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party's interest in pleasing its most powerful faction -- public employees and their unions. Conservatism's rejoinder should be that the argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over. Today's proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered. Modalities matter, because some encourage and others discourage attributes and attitudes -- a future orientation, self-reliance, individual responsibility for healthy living -- that are essential for dignified living in an economically vibrant society that a welfare state, ravenous for revenue in an aging society, requires.
This reasoning is congruent with conservatism's argument that excessively benevolent government is not a benefactor, and that capitalism does not merely make people better off, it makes them better. Liberalism once argued that large corporate entities of industrial capitalism degraded individuals by breeding dependence, passivity and servility. Conservatism challenges liberalism's blindness about the comparable dangers from the biggest social entity, government.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Two decades ago, the sociologist Daniel Bell wrote about "the cultural contradictions of capitalism" to express this worry: Capitalism flourishes because of virtues that its flourishing undermines. Its success requires thrift, industriousness and deferral of gratifications, but that success produces abundance, expanding leisure and the emancipation of appetites, all of which weaken capitalism's moral prerequisites.
The cultural contradictions of welfare states are comparable. Such states presuppose economic dynamism sufficient to generate investments, job creation, corporate profits and individuals' incomes from which comes tax revenue needed to fund entitlements.
But welfare states produce in citizens an entitlement mentality and a low pain threshold. That mentality inflames appetites for more entitlements, broadly construed to include all government benefits and protections that contribute to welfare understood as material well-being, enhanced security and enlarged leisure.
The low pain threshold causes a ruinous flinch from the rigors, insecurities, uncertainties and dislocations inherent in the creative destruction of dynamic capitalism. The flinch takes the form of protectionism, regulations and other government-imposed inefficiencies that impede the economic growth that the welfare state requires.
So welfare states are, paradoxically, both enervating and energizing -- and infantilizing. They are enervating because they foster dependency; they are energizing because they aggravate an aggressive (think of burning Peugeots) sense of entitlement; they are infantilizing because it is infantile to will an end without willing the means to that end, and people who desire welfare states increasingly desire relief from the rigors necessary to finance them.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Human greatness is the height of human importance, where the best that humans can do is tested, and it is the work of great individuals. The great Tocqueville—and I refuse to give a lecture on politics without mentioning his name—alluded to himself and his favorite readers as “the true friends of liberty and human greatness.” Somehow liberty and human greatness go together, a hint that nature cares only for the human species and leaves its greatness to be revealed by free human action, by our assertiveness prompted by thumos. To be great one must become great, requiring an effort of ambition. Not everyone has that ambition; most of us are content with modest careers in safe niches, like tenured professors. But we all feel ambition in our small ways, and, moreover, we know something of great ambition when admiring it. Now it may be hard to believe, but I must tell you that the political science of our day almost entirely ignores ambition. It is, for example, anxious over the problem of how to recover our spirit of civil engagement, but it looks mostly at what moves most people to vote, which it calls by the vague term “participation.” The trouble is that ambition smacks of greatness; it is not average enough to be the object of a science that knows nothing of individuality, hence nothing of greatness. Even the word “great” is unscientific because it is pretentious. But we human beings are animals with pretensions.
My profession needs to open its eyes and admit to its curriculum the help of literature and history. It should be unafraid to risk considering what is ignored by science and may lack the approval of science. The humanities too, whose professors often suffer from a faint heart, need to recover their faith in what is individual and their courage to defend it. Thumos is not merely theoretical. To learn of it will improve your life as well as your thinking. It is up to you to improve your life by behaving as if it were important, but let me provide a summary of the things that you will know better after reflecting on the nature of thumos: the contrast between anger and gain; the insistence on victory; the function of protectiveness; the stubbornness of partisanship; the role of assertiveness; the ever-presence of one’s own; the task of religion; the result of individuality; the ambition of greatness. Altogether thumos is one basis for a human science aware of the body but not bound to it, a science with soul and taught by poetry well interpreted.
Friday, May 04, 2007
I join Mayor Tom Stevens for coffee in Cup a Joe, his “morning office.” The Wooden Nickel bar is his afternoon office. Everybody seems to like Tom, a longtime resident who ran for office because he “had a sense that this town was on the verge,” and he wanted Hillsborough to “be successful in a way that is good for human beings.”
He touts Hillsborough’s “authenticity,” deriving from its small-town character and its strong heritage — from Occaneechi Native American roots to its Revolutionary and Civil War history, to the jazz singers, mill workers and farmers of the last century. “We’re in good shape, with a 40 percent business base and 3.3 percent unemployment rate,” and he touts our vitality, with a newly vibrant street life epitomized by the monthly “Last Friday” festival featuring barbecue, bluegrass and blues.
But the mayor wonders how to “create a sense of belongingness for everybody,” especially everybody in the big new suburbs outside town. Bulldozers are rumbling in every direction. “We are under huge development pressure,” says the mayor. “Now we have to choose our future, and we have to do it right.”
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Charles Chaput at First Things refers to The Last Essays of Georges Bernanos:
As Bernanos explains it, big ideological systems “mechanize” history with high-sounding language like progress and dialectics. But in doing so, they wipe out the importance of both the past—which they describe as primitive, unenlightened, or counterrevolutionary—and the present, which is not yet the paradise of tomorrow. The future is where salvation is to be found for every ideology that tries to eliminate God, whether it’s explicitly atheistic or pays lip service to religious values. Of course, this future never arrives, because progress never stops and the dialectic never ends.Further, "Time and freedom are the raw material of life because time is the realm of human choice." And Chaput--referring to Bernanos' thoughts on the atomic bomb--looks at technology's role:
Christianity and Judaism see life very differently. For both of them, history is a place of human decision. At every moment of our lives, we’re asked to choose for good or for evil. Therefore, time has weight. It has meaning. The present is vitally important as the instant that will never come again; the moment where we are not determined by outside forces but self-determined by our free will. Our past actions make us who we are today. But each “today” also offers us another chance to change our developing history. The future is the fruit of our past and present choices, but it’s always unknown, because each successive moment presents us with a new possibility.
The tidal wave of our toys, from iPods to the Internet, is equally effective in getting us to ignore history and ignore our own emptiness. The struggle for real human freedom depends upon the struggle for human history. Unlike the ideologies that deny the importance of the past and the present and focus on the illusions of a perfect future, Christianity sees the most important moments of the human story to be the past event of the Incarnation and the present moment of my individual opportunity to love.
The Christian faith is grounded in what God has done. Our love is what we choose to do now, and our hope is founded in God’s past acts of love and our present ones. Without history, there is no Christianity. So the fundamental question, for Bernanos, is “whether history is the story of mankind or merely of technology.” Modern man must be convinced again that he is free, that he can really choose in this moment of time between very different paths to very different futures. In the act of choosing, we regain history as our own.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The vast right wing conspiracy at some point seems to have decided that we'll command, if not dominate, the following:
- Think tanks
- Talk radio
This strategy seems to depend on persuading opinion leaders of the merits of our case, preferably using 10,000+ words to do so. The opinion leaders then hold court at family barbecues, dazzling friends and family with facts and logic and slowly converting them to our side.
That's a perfectly legitimate approach, but it has three problems that make it less than sufficient as a marketing strategy: (1) political junkies aren't necessarily opinion leaders; (2) the arguments are usually too complex to be easily distilled into something that could lead to opinion leadership; and, (3) it assumes that people's views are shaped by facts and logic, when things like the aforementioned group identity are at least as important among many people.
In other words, we need counterparts to MoveOn and its ilk that can succinctly and persuasively communicate meaningful information to largely disinterested voters, and do so using the tools and tones appropriate for our target audiences. Some of its vehicles are Web-related, but most are still traditional: TV, billboards, posters, etc.
And I firmly believe our positions can be distilled into some essential, topic-specific messages, having done this sort of commercial/political undertaking before. But that, too, is another discussion.
Friday, April 20, 2007
There seems to me a sort of broad national diminution of common sense in our country that we don't notice in the day-to-day but that become obvious after a story like this. Common sense says a person like Cho Sheng-hui, who was obviously dangerous and unstable, should have been separated from the college population. Common sense says someone should have stepped in like an adult, like a person in authority, and taken him away. It is only common sense that if a person like Cho leaves a self-aggrandizing, self-celebrating, self-pitying video diary of himself to be played by the mass media, the mass media should not play it and not publicize it, not make it famous. Common sense says that won't help.
And all those big cops, scores of them, hundreds, with the latest, heaviest, most sophisticated gear, all the weapons and helmets and safety vests and belts. It looked like the brute force of the state coming up against uncontrollable human will.
But it also looked muscle bound. And the schools themselves more and more look muscle bound, weighed down with laws and legal assumptions and strange prohibitions.
Friday, April 13, 2007
The Imus saga is another sign of how we’ve degraded the importance of politeness and decorum, and how we try to make up for the loss with political correctness. Imus’ show was always boorish, but that was OK until he offended the wrong people at the wrong time with the wrong term. We shouldn’t want our public conversation to be limited to the dulcet tones of public radio — some shouting and barbs are healthy — but it should have a grounding in civility. On that score, Imus struck out long ago.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
It was the Conservative politician David Willetts who drew my attention to the "progressive dilemma". Speaking at a roundtable on welfare reform, he said: "The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves could face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask: 'Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn't do?' This is America versus Sweden. You can have a Swedish welfare state provided that you are a homogeneous society with intensely shared values. In the United States you have a very diverse, individualistic society where people feel fewer obligations to fellow citizens. Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests."
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
What I find interesting about the liberal defense of European welfare states (They really work! No Really!) is how they leave culture out of the equation almost entirely. Conservatives, particularly free market types of the Kempian variety, have a similar myopia...Maybe, just maybe, France and Denmark can handle the systems they have because they have long traditions of sucking-up to the state and throne? Marty Lipset wrote stacks of books on how Canadians and Americans have different forms of government because the Royalist, throne-kissing, swine left America for Canada during the Revolutionary War and that's why they don't mind big government, switched to the metric system when ordered and will wait on line like good little subjects. Liberals constantly invoke Sweden as a governmental model without paying much heed to the fact that Sweden's government succeeds as much as it does because it governs Swedes. And maybe, just maybe, the reason America doesn't have a sprawling European welfare state is that America isn't Europe. And, unlike some of our liberal friends, Americans don't want to be Europeans. Indeed, that's why so many Europeans move to America, so they can be Americans.
If government systems are the only variable, or even the most important and decisive one, then how come it's so damn hard bringing third world countries into the first world? There are plenty of African and Latin American welfare states that are indistinguishable on paper from their European cousins and yet we don't see Swedens and Denmarks all over the place. And of course no one can deny the salience of this point when it comes to poor benighted Iraq. What a happier place the world would be if fixing Iraq merely meant installing the most fashionable system from Europe these days, whatever that is.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
More here from Spiked.
Bird flu was called the No. 1 threat to the world. But bird flu has killed no one in America, while regular flu -- the boring kind -- kills tens of thousands. New York City internist Marc Siegel says that after the media hype, his patients didn't want to hear that. "I say, 'You need a flu shot.' You know the regular flu is killing 36,000 per year. They say, 'Don't talk to me about regular flu. What about bird flu?'"
Here's another example. What do you think is more dangerous, a house with a pool or a house with a gun? When, for "20/20," I asked some kids, all said the house with the gun is more dangerous. I'm sure their parents would agree. Yet a child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool than in a gun accident.
Parents don't know that partly because the media hate guns and gun accidents make bigger headlines. Ask yourself which incident would be more likely to be covered on TV.
Media exposure clouds our judgment about real-life odds. Of course, it doesn't help that viewers are as ignorant about probability as reporters are.
The assault on freedom in Britain in the name of social welfare is an illustration of something that the American founding fathers understood, but that is not very congenial to the temper of our times: that in the long run, only a population that strives for virtue (with at least a degree of success) will be able to maintain its freedom. A nation whose individuals choose vice rather than virtue as the guiding principle of their lives will not long remain free, because it will need rescuing from the consequences of its own vices.
One of the destructive consequences of the spread of sociological modes of thought is that it has transferred the notion of virtue from individuals to social structures, and in so doing has made personal striving for virtue (as against happiness) not merely unnecessary but ridiculous and even bad, insofar as it diverted attention from the real task at hand, that of creating the perfect society: the society so perfect, as T S Eliot put it, that no one will have to be good.
Today, we take the importance of adolescence and teenagehood for granted. What's new these days, it seems to me, is the all-pervasiveness of teen taste and teen culture. The Boomers are probably responsible for this. The people who were once the very first generation of adolescents in all history to be a target-market -- who were made to feel special and catered-to culturally, whose narcissism ran rampant, and who learned to identify themselves as adolescent and proud of it -- are now running the country's cultural life. The culture is now being guided (to the extent it can be said to be guided at all) by people who know what it's like to be a ravished-by-commerce teen. They know what a teen wants, and how to sell to him or her.
After all, the adults who rode the teen-market wave in the '50s hadn't themselves had the experience of being a teenaged target-market. These culture entrepreneurs were pioneers, blundering their way in the dark. The people now in charge of popular culture, on the other hand, aren't pioneers. They're settlers, cultivators of an already-plowed field. Scary to think that today's teens will be even more expert at exploiting, er, serving the next generation of teens, isn't it?
These days -- what with our sentimentality about children, the PC educations we subject kids to, and the inescapability of media culture -- kids are stretching their adolescence out ever longer. Many move home to the parents' place after school; others enter into slumber-party-type living arrangments with other people their age. Few of them seem to know that there might be another phase of life (ie., "adulthood") to grow into. I find it a matter of cultural interest that many of these eternal-adolescents also have no interest in anything cultural that isn't based in the electronic media. Coincidence...?
Another consequence of these developments, it seems to me, is what's become of adulthood. Adulthood now looks sad. Having been crowded off the stage, adulthood mills about disconsolate and lost. Given that we now live in a country whose central values are adolescent, we've lost track of even the best adult values -- wit, grace, perspective, depth, suaveness, conviction, knowledge. In any sane civilization, these would all be regarded as virtues. In our country these days, such virtues often seem the marks of losers and failures. They seem kinda ... sad. Boring. Square. Adulthood? Get outta the way. Go sit quietly in the corner with your copy of Modern Maturity.
HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad. After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria...Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message....As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting Republican president. Two weeks ago Ms. Pelosi rammed legislation through the House of Representatives that would strip Mr. Bush of his authority as commander in chief to manage troop movements in Iraq. Now she is attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president. We have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush's military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Vermont was once an independent republic, and it can be one again. We think the time to make that happen is now. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. government has grown too big, too corrupt and too aggressive toward the world, toward its own citizens and toward local democratic institutions. It has abandoned the democratic vision of its founders and eroded Americans' fundamental freedoms.Actually, their call to the founders is interesting. At first, many didn't think that a Republic could be effective in anything other than a small state. Machiavelli and Montesquieu come to mind as two thinkers who held this view. Maybe they were right?
"If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning," said Saint Augustine, "this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly. It is not the meaning of Scripture which is opposed to the truth but the meaning which he has wanted to give to it." Augustine's point allows Christians to take advantage of scientific and social advances without surrendering the ultimate authority of revelation. The Christian intellectual tradition, in other words, enables believers to negotiate just about anything short of the critical contention of the faith, that Jesus is Lord and salvation is on offer through belief in him. Still, there are many Christians who hew to a literal interpretation of Scripture, and say with sincerity and conviction that any one who does not accept Jesus as his personal savior will be cast into the fires of hell.
Ah, say the atheists, see, we told you exclusivist faiths like Christianity are forces for evil. So let's get rid of faith, replace it with rationality and science, and all shall be well, or at least vastly better. But the atheist solution has its own problems. In "Letter to a Christian Nation," Harris likens himself to an abolitionist and religion to slavery, but who is to say that a wholly scientific world would not itself soon produce dogma and strife over the findings, interpretations and applications of experiments and research? It is possible, even probable, that science would become a kind of religion, with creeds and convictions and arguments over the nature of reality. Labs would replace cathedrals, brain scans holy books. It would be different, but would it necessarily be better?
Unlike the French in Algeria, the United States is in Iraq not in order to retain a colony but to help create a free, open, and liberal society in a part of the world still mired in autocracy and fanaticism. Will we stay long enough to defeat the jihadists, to engage Iraqis in the process of modern nation-building, and to ease the transition to a free society? Or will we quit before the hard work is done, leaving this vital part of the world to become an al-Qaeda sanctuary, bathed in chaos, anarchy, and blood? As the polls suggest, a large constituency at home is waiting to learn the answer to this question, and so is a much larger constituency abroad. But time is running short.
“Act quickly,” Petraeus wrote in January 2006, “because every army of liberation has a half-life.” This is true not only in the field but at home. James Thurber once said that the saddest two words in the English language are “too late.” Terrible as it is to think that our surge may have come too late, it is much more terrible to think that feckless politicians, out of whatever calculation, may pull the plug before the new approach is fully tested.
Thus conservatism can strengthen liberalism by defending its gains in times of plenty. In return, classical liberals can give direction to conservatism and offer it prescriptions in hard times. For this co-operation to work the right-wing movement needs to do two things. First, libertarians and conservatives need to recognise that their movements are quite compatible and be understanding when we frustrate each other. When libertarians cry "faster" or conservatives "slow down" we should understand that sometimes it is necessary that we not get what we want. Second, they need to get better at shifting the emphasis between the two movements as conditions change.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Everybody knows how to snigger when you mention Jeffersonian democracy and Iraq in the same breath; try sniggering when you meet someone who is trying to express these ideas in an atmosphere that only a few years ago was heavy with miasmic decay and the reek of poison gas.And most of that has to do with the Kurds themselves:
While I am confessing, I may as well make a clean breast of it. Thanks to the reluctant decision of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, those fresh princes of "realism," the United States and Britain placed an aerial umbrella over Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and detached it from the death grip of Saddam Hussein. Under the protective canopy of the no-fly zone—actually it was also called the "you-fly-you-die zone"—an embryonic free Iraq had a chance to grow. I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening. Yet Kurdistan continues to demonstrate how things could have been different, and it isn't a place from which the West can simply walk away.
Within recent memory, the Kurdish population of Iraq was being subjected to genocidal cleansing. Given the chance to leave the failed state altogether, why would they not take it? Yet today, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd: a former guerrilla leader so genial and humane that he personally opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein. Of the very few successful or effective ministries in Baghdad, such as the Foreign Ministry, it is usually true that a Kurd, such as Hoshyar Zebari, is at the head of it. The much-respected deputy prime minister (and moving spirit of the American University in Sulaimaniya), Dr. Barham Salih, is a Kurd. He put it to me very movingly when I flew down to Baghdad to talk to him: "We are willing to fight and sacrifice for a democratic Iraq. And we were the ones to suffer the most from the opposite case. If Iraq fails, it will not be our fault."
The natural human yearning for spirituality has produced in many people educated in secular-minded universities and enveloped in an atmosphere of contempt for traditional religion a faith that we vulgar human beings have a sacred obligation not to inflict damage on Mother Earth. But science tells us that the Earth and its climate have been constantly changing.
Gore and his followers seem to assume that the ideal climate was the one they got used to when they were growing up. When temperatures dropped in the 1970s, there were warnings of an impending ice age. When they rose in the 1990s, there were predictions of disastrous global warming. This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby-boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.
We’re told in effect that the climate of the late 1950s and early 1960s was, of all those that have ever existed, the best of all possible climates. Not by science. But as a matter of faith.
Isn’t it interesting how the same people who think “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” when it comes to the war think that dissent when it comes to global warming is evil and troglodytic?
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
MercatorNet: Do you sense a danger of people accepting the ideas of leading Enlightenment figures as having quasi-Scriptural authority? Should students be taught a more critical and detached view of Enlightenment values, do you think?Trower also explains:
Trower: Again my answer is a double Yes -- if by quasi-Scriptural authority you mean treating the leading figures as if they had been recipients of a divine revelation. Since they were not, and to be fair did not claim to be, it is of the highest importance that those ideas should be looked at critically, which is what I have tried to do in the first seven chapters of my recent book. Looking at them critically does not mean denying the elements of truth but freeing the elements of truth from distortions, exaggerations, or downright errors.
Let me give some examples. If there is no God, where do human rights come from? The State? But a State which gives them can withdraw them. How do we know what is right and wrong? By majority vote? Who would seriously maintain that? Through conscience? Yes, but what is conscience and how does it fit into a materialistic or crudely Darwinian picture of world history? Why do many people, even if only implicitly, believe in perpetual progress? There is no evidence for it. That history is going to come to a climax in a kingdom of justice, love and peace is simply a Judaeo-Christian idea removed from the other side of the Last Day into this.
However it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that these ideas have not come down to us with a single meaning about which everyone agrees. Collectively, they are more like a religion with different denominations. Right from the start, which we can place in the second half of the 17th century, we can see a difference between what I will call the Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment and the French or Continental Enlightenment.
The former has always had a looser more pragmatic approach to ideas and situations, resembling an ethos or attitude of mind more than a creed. The chief emphasis has been on individual liberty and freedom of expression with room being made for the incorporation of Christian and other beliefs.
The French or Continental variety on the other hand, has invariably been highly dogmatic and anti-religious, with Christianity as its main target. What makes the situation particularly confusing is that since the end of the Napoleonic wars the adherents of both forms have usually referred to themselves as liberals.
Today, I would say, it is more accurate and meaningful to describe modern adherents of the French school as secularists, since they are increasingly bent on forcing other people to submit to their principles whether they agree with them or not -- a very illiberal standpoint -- and keep the name liberals for genuine adherents of the Anglo-Saxon form in so far as they survive. A notable feature of the English scene over the last ten years had been the decline of Anglo-Saxon liberalism and the growth of the French secularist form. Today, one can fairly, I believe, describe secularism and political correctness as "liberal fundamentalism".
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Postmodernism is leveling multiple challenges at longstanding interpretations of the Bible and at the sacred text itself. There is nothing wrong with reinterpreting a text. But here are some questions that postmodern practitioners and theorists ask about the Bible. Are there such things as facts, specifically historical ones? Can we distinguish between the historical and the fictional? Are there any objective interpretations? How do we decide? Does that even matter? What would happen to the plain meaning of a passage if a psychoanalytical reading were applied? Would God the Father come out like a tyrannical father of a Freudian nightmare? Is God abusive?
Specifically, she was exposed by a Russian spy in the early 1990s. Thereafter, the CIA itself "inadvertently" compromised Plame by not taking appropriate measures to safeguard classified documents that the Agency routed to the Swiss embassy in Havana. According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, "the documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but [unidentified U.S.] intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them."And, don't forget, Joe Wilson was the real creep in this whole mess.
As I wrote here nearly two years ago, this is not my claim. It is the contention made in a 2005 brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit by the Times along with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, AP, Newsweek, Reuters America, the Washington Post, the Tribune Company (which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other papers), and the White House Correspondents (the organization which represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the executive branch). The mainstream media made the contention in an attempt to quash subpoenas issued to journalists — the argument being that if Mrs. Wilson's cover had already been blown, there could have been no crime when an administration official (who we now know to be Richard Armitage, not Scooter Libby) leaked her identity to journalist Robert Novak, and thus there was no need to compel reporters to reveal their sources.
Amazing how, when its own interests are at stake, the media manages to be very forceful in reporting relevant facts. But now, when those facts are even more relevant because Mrs. Wilson and congressional Democrats are bloviating about ruined intelligence networks and threatened lives, the media won't mention them. How can it be possible that a leak in 2002 "jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents" associated with Mrs. Wilson's covert assignment when, by the media's own account to a federal court, those networks had to have been blown for years?
We might think that Americans are eager to celebrate talented young people who can thumb their noses at the older generation and thus exorcise the lingering resentment so many harbor from being graded and evaluated in the classroom. But what American Idol reveals instead is a veritable hunger for realistic evaluation. Time and time again, contestants in the early episodes of this year's season whine obviously off key and then insist they are highly talented — in spite of the judges' protestations. Most of those kids have not learned how to sing, but they have mastered the self-esteem and "attitude" so valued in our culture. The persistent dynamic of these episodes is expertise putting down untalented braggadocio.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Conservatives opposed to both abortion and homosexuality will have to ask themselves whether the public shame of having a gay child outweighs the private sin of terminating a pregnancy (assuming the stigma on homosexuality survives the scientific refutation of the Right's treasured belief that it's a "lifestyle choice"). Pro-choice activists won't be spared, either. Will liberal moms who love their hairdressers be as tolerant when faced with the prospect of raising a little stylist of their own? And exactly how pro-choice will liberal abortion-rights activists be when thousands of potential parents are choosing to filter homosexuality right out of the gene pool?
Then there's the question of whether some gay parents will use genetic testing or hormonal treatments to intentionally produce gay offspring. It's hard to imagine the conservative culture warriors (who accused PBS of using a cartoon bunny to infect young minds with the gay agenda) sitting idly by as actual gays—even just a handful of them—use science to pass their sexuality on to the next generation. Will the surrogate mom replace the pervy Boy Scout leader as the anti-gay bugbear of choice?
Do intellectuals' attitudes even matter, given their predilection for the abstract over the concrete and for ideas over action? Yes, says Nozick. While wordsmiths cannot dictate the outcome of national discourse, they do set the terms of debate."They shape our ideas and images of society; they state the policy alternatives bureaucracies consider. From treatises to slogans, they give us the sentences to express ourselves. Their opposition matters, especially in a society that depends increasingly on the explicit formulation and dissemination of information."Nozick left his inquiry open-ended, commending it to the study of social scientists, and so will I. Some enterprising social scientist ought to examine these matters in a sustained, rigorous manner. If wordsmith intellectuals indeed frame debates on affairs of state-in particular war and peace-then their views and prejudices must be taken into account in public discourse. Our system of civil-military relations could depend on it.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Printed papers offer something of incalculable value: context. It is easier to see how important something is by its placement on a page, something even a newspaper Web site cannot easily duplicate. Often, by means of turning a page, I stumble onto an important story about some topic I might never have clicked onto, or “called up” on a Web site’s search engine.
The elites will continue to read print, including history and fiction, because intelligence often translates to power and money. Books will survive, as will specialty periodicals. But, if our culture continues in its rapid flight from print to digitized information, many citizens will lose the ability to ponder seriously, to vote intelligently, or to understand the world around them.
Giuliani's enduring image is more conservative than McCain's. At the risk of oversimplifying, it is perhaps fair to say that Giuliani's image is loudly conservative and quietly moderate, whereas McCain's image is loudly moderate and quietly conservative.Michael Barone also examines how Rudy compares favorably to Hillary:
Rudy's electoral vote position against Hillary is much stronger than Bush's against Kerry. Rudy puts almost the whole East into play and is significantly stronger in several target states in the Midwest and West. Hillary puts some states into play in the South but with many fewer electoral votes than Rudy does elsewhere. Even if you assume that Hillary is stronger against Rudy today than she was in July, the pairing does place the Republicans in a stronger position than Bush was in '04.
The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age of reason, where religion would be replaced by science...the Enlightenment...also had a marked materialistic and anti-religious dimension as well. Man became his own savior, able to resolve his own problems, and no longer needful of a transcendent and personal God.
Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment, and came to see progress as a necessary and inexorable phenomenon, an expression of Darwinian evolutionism...Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, whereby society necessarily progresses through conflict -- thesis, antithesis and synthesis -- and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of the 20th century...
....as Paul VI taught in "Populorum Progressio," the Christian idea of progress is not merely material or technological....If a society doesn't advance in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesn't truly advance....Christians do not see human progress as a necessary phenomenon....Moving forward in time doesn't guarantee that we are moving forward in virtue....because progress isn't automatic, all of us must take responsibility for the direction our society takes. We are not simply swept along by the winds of change; each of us also influences the direction our culture takes....As Christians we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfill. In this context, progress means doing our part to bring about the Kingdom of Christ in human society.
Finally, the progress of the earthly city does not exhaust the human condition. No matter how much human society progresses, our temporal existence will come to an end. We are called to eternal life in Christ. True progress must take into account man's spiritual dimension and transcendent vocation as a child of God destined for heaven.
Economics should be subsumed under the general study of human behavior, not the other way around....I have no sympathy for the economic imperialists who insist that every action must be explained in terms of the rational, self-interested calculator. Instead, I would start with the presumption that every action can be explained in terms of habits, customs, and the like. Making rational economic decisions is just one of many habits. Rational, economic behavior is like a hat. Sometimes we wear the hat, and sometimes we do not.
I also have no sympathy for behavioral economics. All it does is take the rational, individualistic model and extend it to include common biases and mistakes. It generally ignores the larger context of behavioral influences, particularly the social ones...Finally, I should emphasize that I have no sympathy with those who view self-interested economic calculation as a bad habit. On the contrary, I believe it is a very good habit, particularly when it is combined with other habits and ethics for commercial behavior.
Franklin concluded that rationalistic science could never prove the believers wrong. He also concluded that the rationalists were unlikely to admit to this fact. They turned out to believe in their rationalism as fervently as the believers believed in their miracles, especially the miracle of conscience, or of the voice and spirit of God moving within. Moreover, if one were to push this fact in the rationalists’ faces, they could get just as angry as believers about challenges to their faith. Franklin, it turns out, was a freethinking critic of Enlightenment freethinking.
The conventional and current take on Franklin—that he was a pragmatic moralist and serious Enlightenment Deist and eventually an American patriot—is flat wrong...Franklin was no Deist. He was no pragmatic moralist. And he wasn’t really “The First American.” Franklin was, rather, the first American Baconian. He was also a profound philosopher, deeply skeptical of religion (especially the metaphysical conceits of Deists) and of our everyday moral intuitions. He was also profoundly skeptical of the intellectual foundations of rationalism and the Enlightenment. And he was, to put his politics in a nutshell, a political constructivist and libertarian. Franklin was not as American as apple pie, but he was as American as the corndog.
The fact that historiography can be influenced by politics, evidence of which can be found in histories written during the nineteenth century and under totalitarian regimes, is not a foregone conclusion, but due to changes in academic culture this connection has slowly slipped into the practice of history. To understand the place of Fasolt's argument, one must consider the differences between two views of the way politics has influenced history. One view focuses upon a work's perspective, the value judgments it makes and sometimes even the content of historiography that comes across in contract works or historical eulogies. The second, the focus of this book, concerns the principles of historical thought. Here, human actions are no longer considered to be governed by divine providence, and the study or writing of history is thus considered a form of political activity.
[American Solutions] will spend the next seven months developing an entire new generation of solutions, making sure they are understandable to the American people and that they are supportable by the American people.
Then, on September 27, we will use the power of the Internet to start to make these solutions available to every candidate from both parties in every elected office in the country....Our hope is to reach out across the country and create such a wave of change on a nonpartisan basis that anybody of any background who wants to use science, who wants to use the power of productivity, who wants to revitalize American virtues that work, has the tools to do so and to help others realize their potential as well....The liberated energies of 300 million Americans are a dramatically more potent force for good then anyone's force for evil. And I can't think of a more important way to spend the next seven months than helping unleashing that potential. I hope you'll join our effort at where you can make a difference.
The typical libertarian shorthand is that we are with the Democrats on social issues and with the Republicans on economic issues. In recent years, the Republicans betrayed us on economic issues. However, my sense is that many in the conservative movement are anxious to repent. On foreign policy, I think that we can gradually persuade more of them to come to their senses on the challenges of the Natural State.
Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to be completely dug in to hard-left positions on economics. They lack any vision for foreign policy. I think we should stick with our marriage to conservatives, and try to make it work.
But fusionism requires more than a consensus as to goals: It needs a foe common to all conservatives. Militant communism served as a unifying threat from the late 1940s through the late 1980s...Leviathan's lengthening shadow across America did not suffice to bring conservatives together until Newt Gingrich and his merry band of congressional revolutionaries offered America a Contract...The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the jihad proclaimed by Islamic fundamentalists temporarily united the nation and the conservative movement...The impasse can be broken with a renewed fusionism based on limited government, the free market, individual freedom and responsibility, a balance between liberty and law, and a commitment to moral order and to virtue, both private and public. These are the core beliefs, bounded by the Constitution, on which American conservatism rests and by which its leaders have always sought to govern.
The fissures and conflicts within conservatism are getting so much attention now because conservatism is still, intellectually speaking, where the principal action remains. So long as the Democratic party continues down the road it has been following, led by its aging left-wing lions and lionesses, funded and directed by the most extreme and irresponsible elements in its ranks, and finding clarity only in discrediting George W. Bush and regaining office, conservatives will always have plenty to unify around. For their own part, so long as conservatives are able to remember Ronald Reagan as a leader who not only embodied the distinctive characteristics of American conservatism but who finessed its antinomies and persevered against the contempt and condescension of his own era—including among some of his allies—they can yet regain their bearings and prevail.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The desire for distinction in a great man represents a threat to the established institutions of a democratic republic. Yet it is not likely that a democracy is going to express its gratitude to such a person for not overthrowing it--any more than a man will thank his guest for not raping his wife. Thus the great man in a democracy must show his modesty in noble condescension to his fellow citizens, as he must consider them. Lincoln did this, and so did George Washington, whose name Lincoln recommended to be revered "to the last."
Is there any way to restore the prospects of middle- and working-class Americans? A comprehensive program to rebuild the nation's highways and bridges, upgrade its ports, construct and expand its energy lifelines and enlarge its public transportation systems could generate hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. Admittedly, this back-to-basics strategy is not glamorous. But it has helped narrow economic inequality in the past by producing more balanced economic growth.
pseudo-modernism sees the ideology of globalised market economics raised to the level of the sole and over-powering regulator of all social activity" and "the pseudo-modernist communicates constantly with the other side of the planet, yet needs to be told to eat vegetables to be healthy, a fact self-evident in the Bronze Age. He or she can direct the course of national television programmes, but does not know how to make him or herself something to eat – a characteristic fusion of the childish and the advanced, the powerful and the helpless.