August 30, 2013

"Setting national goals" is totalitarian malarky...

Space Experts: NASA Is Dangerously Adrift - Popular Mechanics:

In a call with reporters today, the founder and the current head of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., painted a bleak picture for the future of NASA's manned spaceflight program based on its current direction. Their comments came on the eve of Congressional authorization for the space agency's budget.

"The sense of drift or the sense of lack of consensus is still fairly serious" Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute, said of the political debate over NASA's course. Pace, who previously served as NASA's Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation, was joined in a press conference today by John Logsdon, professor emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and founder of the Space Policy Institute.

"I think what you're seeing in the current debate over priorities really is the residual of 40 years of a failure to reach consensus on what the U.S. should be doing in space and particularly in human spaceflight," says Logsdon, who also served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003.

NASA's manned spaceflight program arguably has been without a clear mission since Apollo 17 returned from the moon in 1972, carrying the last crew to leave low-Earth orbit. The space shuttle, conceived during the Nixon administration, "did not have a larger strategic purpose," Pace says. "It was merely a capability." He argues that this build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy still holds sway today. Now, as before, NASA's focus is on building capabilities such as a new spacecraft and launchers and then figuring out that to do with them afterwards. "I feel like I'm listening to an echo from the Nixon administration," he says...

I think the Space Policy Institute is basically making the same underlying mistake NASA is making. They share the assumption that he US should have a space policy, and a "space program." That "space" is something done by government is never questioned.

I think the whole concept of "setting national goals" is totalitarian malarky. Industrial Age thinking. A ponderous idea that does not work any more. Our country's only broad goal should be to bring down the cost of getting into orbit, so that lots of people will be able to afford to get out of Earth's gravity well, and live in space. Then they will figure out what space is, and what it's good for.

And bringing down the cost of getting to orbit itself requires that government get out of the way. Especially NASA, which is lost in a dream of "programs," to be done by experts while all us little people watch on television. Pfooey. We should kill NASA and use the savings to help jump-start private space flight.

. Posted by John Weidner at August 30, 2013 8:24 PM

Good luck with that. How cleanly the shackles go on, how eagerly they are welded shut. If NASA was to shut down, then what about the pensions? "I've only got four years to go before it vests!". I have a friend doing that to himself right now. His life is going to begin, once he has his fifteen years, of course. Once he has his guaranteed pension and health care, then he can do something he likes. While, of course Detroit goes down in flames. "They Have to" is a hard dream to kill.....

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at August 31, 2013 9:35 AM

John, I've probably posted this link before. Apropos of NASA, the collectivist dream dies hard:

The Croly Ghost

Say what you will about us libertarians, but I think Virginia Postrel his this one out of the park.

Posted by: Hale Adams at August 31, 2013 10:36 AM

Gah, I need to proofread my posts.

.... hits this one out of the park."

Posted by: Hale Adams at August 31, 2013 10:39 AM

I give up.


Posted by: Hale Adams at August 31, 2013 10:40 AM

Robert and Hale, you are both right on!

And this time I'm saving the Croly piece in Evernote...

Posted by: John Weidner at August 31, 2013 4:12 PM

"Croly's central message was that the government's job is to solve social problems and to actively shape the future, not to be a neutral referee."

Is the limited government a neutral referee?.
Neutral between what or whom?
Isn't the purpose of a State to advance or realize its Constitution? That is, the Constitution itself defines or sets the goal for a political community.
Eg liberty was American goal, thus the war of 1861 to achieve liberty for all.

Posted by: Bisaal at September 1, 2013 4:51 AM

Our constitution is a framework designed to let the people live together with minimal friction. To let the people try to reach their own goals. It has no purpose or goal in itself. It is not something to be "realized." Nor does it create a state which has a goal, though people have all along been proposing goals. Such as "Manifest Destiny," which was labeled "manifest" to paper-over the fact that it was just a proposal.

Liberty is not a goal. It is a self-evident right, given to everyone by God. Our constitution creates a government that interferes as little as possible with our free enjoyment of our rights. To say that liberty is our goal implies that our rights derive from government, not from God.

The problem with this or any constitution is that it is possible for people to have unreconcilable differences. That's what slavery was. Both sides believed they were acting in accordance with the Constitution. Both sides were acting extra-constitutionally.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 1, 2013 6:55 AM

Actually NASA's "build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy" is correct. The problem is that government simply can't create low-cost ways of getting into orbit. So the only ones who can afford to come are giant institutions and corporations who are already set in their thinking. Every space initiative is so expensive that it has to be planned ahead in painstaking detail, so no one can be "experimental" in space. There's no room for dreamers and tinkerers.

Does anyone else remember Skylab? Astronauts spent months at a time living in space. An amazing thing. But the prodigious cost meant that almost every moment was necessarily filled with planned activities and experiments, to the point where one of the crews actually went on a short strike.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 1, 2013 7:08 AM


John beat me to the punch, but I'll add my two cents' worth, anyway.

1) "Is the limited government a neutral referee?"

Yes, that's its intended purpose. A government that "picks winners and losers" (to use a recent phrase) or that (in Croly's vision) "solve[s] social problems and ..... actively shape[s] the future" is not neutral, nor is it limited. It is taking sides, and using its power to impose its own version of the good upon society. As a government can't really be said to have a will of its own -- it can only express the will of those who control it -- this is the same outcome as a rule by an aristocracy. Yes, it's true that we don't have a class of nobles in this country, but we do have a class of technocrats who believe that they know how to run our lives better than we the common people do. They are determined to impose their vision of the good on us. And they seek unlimited power, the better to bend us to their will.

They mean to saddle and ride us, Bisaal. I'm not having any of it, nor should you.

2) "Neutral between what or whom?"

People naturally form factions-- social, economic, political, religious, etc. The idea of a limited government being a neutral referee is, of course, an ideal. But the general idea is that the government, being neutral, should not give out special favors to one faction or another. Also, being limited, if it should become captive to one faction or another, it can't do much damage. Also, the fact of it being limited also leads to cleaner (that is, less corrupt) governance-- what's the point of buying politicians if they can't do much to help you with your particular agenda?

3) "Isn't the purpose of a State to advance or realize its Constitution? That is, the Constitution itself defines or sets the goal for a political community."

It depends on what purpose the framers of a country's constitution had in mind as the purpose of the government whose constitution they framed. In the case of the United States, the purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government to carry out functions (such as national defense, foreign relations, trade between the states and with foreign countries, etc.) that the states could not effectively do for themselves as individual states. Yes, the language of the Preamble to the Constitution is a sort of a purpose-statement, but it really only specifies the bare minimum of what any national government would do. Nowhere in it does one find anything about "solving problems" or "shaping futures", a la Croly. Still less does one find Crolyist nonsense in the various Articles-- they merely set out the rules for how the various parts of the federal government are supposed to operate.

The Framers were wise enough to let the People (you and me, Bisaal) retain the power to set our own goals in life, and figure out how to achieve them, with or without help from any local or central government. (See also the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, the Rodney Dangerfields of the Bill of Rights.)

4) "Eg liberty was American goal, thus the war of 1861 to achieve liberty for all."

That is something of an oversimplification, Bisaal.

Liberty is not so much a goal of the operation of the federal government, as it is something that the federal government was supposed to help safeguard, by its war-making powers against hostile foreign powers, for example. The federal and state governments don't grant us liberty, Bisaal. We the People created those governments-- how dare they (or, rather, the authoritarian/collectivist cliques that infest them) even imagine that liberty is something within their power to grant us? Liberty is something that is inherent in us, the People, by virtue of our mere existence as the children of God (see the Declaration of Independence). That is why collectivists of whatever stripe-- communist, national-socialist, "communitarian", etc.-- are so anxious to remove God from the public realm: If they can "kill" God-- make belief in Him socially unacceptable, so that no one will speak up against the collectivists for fear of being seen as "un-cool"-- then there is nothing between the collectivists and absolute power. People will render unto Caesar everything, because they will have forgotten what they owe to God.

And I see I've gone off on a tangent....... Back to the point I was going to make.......

The Civil War was not in the beginning about bringing liberty to all. It was, in the beginning, a war to preserve the Union. It was only after a year and a half of stalemate that President Lincoln was able to use the Union's kinda-sorta victory at Antietam (or Sharpsburg) in September, 1862, to transform the war into a crusade against slavery, and only a limited one at that. (If the South had surrendered at that point, slavery would have been left intact in any re-admitted Southern state.) It seems to me that the South's defeat (for which we should be thankful-- see Harry Turtledove's books about a dystopian alternate reality in which the South won the war) gave our great-grandparents ideas about what "good things" could be accomplished if only the force of federal power could be brought to bear on them. We're living in a world that flows from that logic of the federal government as a sort of "savior" of national life, as opposed to the perceived waywardness of the states. Or, as former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton once put it, ".... the states lost too much after 1865."

We've lost our wariness of political power, Bisaal. We need to regain that wariness, understand that a political entity, however well-intentioned, can still bring about a Hell on earth. We need to regain the wisdom of the Founders and the Framers, who understood that our liberties can only be secure when the political powers-that-be are kept weak and put in opposition to each other (the states versus the federal government, in particular).

As I said, my two cents' worth.

Posted by: Hale Adams at September 1, 2013 3:47 PM

Is the Govt to be neutral between Communist agitators and anti-Communists?

I claim that this sort of thinking led to the takeover of the country by exactly the people and ideology you deplore.

While, your opponents are clear. They will not allow opposing ideologies to flourish e.g. religious freedom will be threatened.

Posted by: Bisaal at September 2, 2013 8:54 PM

If barbarians invade from outside, it is the job of government to defend us.

Alas, the problem is we have become our own barbarians. The Comintern is gone, but the problem remains, internalized in a significant minority of the population. People who have little Lenin's or Che's at the controls, deep inside. And, unfortunately, to an ever-increasing extant, they are the government.

And they are crazy. In the sense that nothing they do is guided by conscious rational thought. Their unconscious minds labor tirelessly for a collectivist world, and any expressed thoughts are just improvisations to give cover to decisions already made.

That's the main reason I've sort of lost heart for conservative blogging. I'm fighting against.... nothing. I've never once had an honest debate with a leftist. Which is pretty strange, considering I've been blogging since November of 2001!

The popularity of zombie movies is a profound artistic depiction of our times...

Posted by: John Weidner at September 3, 2013 5:13 PM


Yes, the government should be neutral between the Communists and the anti-Communists (not all of whom are very admirable, by the way).

The answer to speech one doesn't like is not suppression of that speech, but rather more speech. Suppression of speech one doesn't like merely gives it the cachet of "forbidden fruit", giving it a credibility it doesn't deserve: "Hey, the government is silencing those nasty Communists/Nazis/Democrats/Republicans/Antidisestablishmentarians. Maybe those guys are right!"

As for "un-American" factions like the authoritarian Leftists gaining power in this country, they're increasingly the object of mockery and their day is passing. And if they try to hold on to power by force, I think they're going to get a nasty surprise. There's a reason they are so hot to disarm us, Bisaal-- they know quite well that a few well-aimed rifle shots can derail their plans.

Posted by: Hale Adams at September 3, 2013 7:11 PM

Hale Adams,
They are not going to disarm you. The only act of tyranny Americans are going to oppose by arms is to disarm them. But all other tyrannical impositions Americans are going to accept, going by the current record.

"The answer to speech one doesn't like is not suppression of that speech, but rather more speech."
It is not the subjective "I don't like this" but objective "this is anti-American speech".
You don't think it is possible to make this determination?

If "limited government" is the American Way and the meaning of American constitution, then all agitation for big government is subversive. And the State has duty to suppress subversion, or else it won't be the State for long.

"their day is passing."
Perhaps, but they will make sure to take others down with them.

Posted by: Bisaal at September 3, 2013 11:16 PM

"unfortunately, to an ever-increasing extant, they are the government."

A State must be informed by the Church i.e. the Church must form the soul of the State or the State would be hostile to the Church.

Neutrality is not possible, esp when the Church is concerned.

A limited, constitutional republican State implicitly depends upon an ideologically homogeneous population that means greater social trust. The State is limited because in a great many things people are agreed among themselves so the State does not need to settle for them. That is why, heresy is fatal to such a State.

A diverse population, on the contrary, needs to be ruled in an imperial fashion.

The politics of a limited Govt requires consensus on fundamental matters and the normal politics can only deal with slight things, e.g tariff.

Posted by: Bisaal at September 3, 2013 11:30 PM

One may wish for limited Govt as an escape from politics. A kind of algorithm that does not depend upon the character of citizens, whether they be pacifist Buddhists or devil-worshipers.

But it is precisely the character of the citizens that is reflected in the State. The vision that animates the State emerges out of the jostling of individual visions. The limited constitutional Govt was created by a specific people having a specific character. It is not a "neutral" or content-free thing but has a very positive character of its own.

Posted by: Bisaal at September 3, 2013 11:42 PM

Bisaal, you are posing here problems that have pretty much stumped me.

American democracy is the only system that has ever "worked." (We are in fact the oldest government on the planet--all others have changed substantially since our constitution was adopted.) To fail to fight to preserve this is pure insanity.

But our system depends on sharing some common ideas, and those are melting away. Ideas that came from the Church Catholic. Even though our founders were Protestants, they were drawing on something that arose mysteriously in the "dark ages" through the fusion of Catholic Christianity and the Germanic tribes. We called this something "the rights of Englishmen."

But now we are becoming an empire. (Effectively we already are. That's why you in distant India are worried about this stuff.) And no one has ever solved the problem of ruling "in an imperial fashion." The Roman Republic had the best government of the ancient world, but their imperial government was gravely lacking.

But on the other hand, it was still better than any other ancient government. One of the strangest things about the death of Jesus was the difficulty of getting even a second-rate Roman governor to approve an extra-legal execution. The rule of law was deeply embedded in Roman culture, and lasted for many centuries after that culture had become decadent. Therefore a Roman Hale Adams fighting to preserve Republican virtue even as Rome was becoming an empire was not doing something completely futile.

Posted by: John Weidner at September 4, 2013 9:20 AM

Actually, my main intellectual effort right now is in renewing the Church. Efforts centering on the thinking of Sherry Weddell. Which is something I don't think can be fit into this blog, so they are invisible to you. (Nor have I had any success going the other way--trying to make people see that conservative thoughts such as I indulge in here are actually the same questions people in the Church are wrestling with. )

Posted by: John Weidner at September 4, 2013 9:33 AM

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