Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chaput on Bernanos and Reclaiming History

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.

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.

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:
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

Conservative Political Organization for the 21st Century

Jonah Goldberg discounts the theory that liberals have mastered "Web 2.0" (or even what the hell it is, for that matter) and posts a comment from an emailer that is worthy of deeper consideration:
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
- Blogs

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

Noonan on Cultural Culpability After VaTech Shooting

Peggy Noonan:
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

Lowry: Imus Latest was Nothing New

Rich Lowry
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

Goodhart: Progressive Dilemma

Jonah Goldberg, building on some earlier thoughts, calls attention to this by David Goodhart (2004):
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

Goldberg: Culture Counts in Society

Jonah Goldberg:
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

Stossel: The Fear Industrial Complex

John Stossel:

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.

More here from Spiked.

Dalrymple On Virtue

(Via Dale Light) Theodore Dalrymple:

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.

Privileging Perpetual Adolescence

This is an older post (by Michael at "twoblowhards") that I just stumbled on that addresses how the U.S. seems to privilege teen culture over all else.

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.

WashPost: Pelosi Pratfall

Washington Post Editorial:
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

A New Vermont Republic?

A couple Vermonters--one an original Green Mountain Boy-type and the other a "flatlander"--recently plead their case for the secession of Vermont:
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?

Meacham: Is God Real?

John Meacham in NEWSWEEK:
"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?

Herman: Losing Iraq at Home

Arthur Herman in Commentary:
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.

Sinclair: The Political Right's Separation Anxiety

Mathew Sinclair at TCS:
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.