October 31, 2010

A quote for Election Day...

Jennifer Rubin:

...There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama's self-image as the "smartest man in the room" prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:07 PM

October 30, 2010

"Orgulous infidels"

David B. Hart, ...of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves...

...As far as Patrick was concerned, the matter had been settled; [his young son had been "taught," absurdly, that science had proved there were no "spirits of the trees and streams."] but I have to admit that the episode continues to trouble me. It is not that I expect my son never to be exposed to any of the conceptual confusion or magical claptrap of his age; and I trust to his native intelligence to disabuse him of the worst of it. But it is still depressing to think how much conceited gibberish has become simply part of the received wisdom of our time.

It puts me in mind of a particularly annoying witticism that one occasionally encounters in the current popular debates between atheists and theists: the orgulous infidel waves his hand contemptuously and announces that he believes neither that there is a God nor that there are fairies at the bottom of his garden—or (a slight variation on the theme) observes that everyone in the room is an unbeliever when it comes to Thor or Baal, and that the atheist is simply an unbeliever in one god more.

There are two reasons for treating such remarks with indignant disdain: the obvious one and mine. The obvious one, of course, is that only a simpleton could mistake these two orders of conviction for specimens of the same kind of belief.

A person who believes in fairies or in Thor may or may not be mistaken about certain finite objects within the cosmos; a person who believes in God may or may not be mistaken about being, the nature of existence itself, the logical possibility of any world, the moral meaning of the universe, and so on. The former kind of belief concerns facts of experience, the latter truths of reason, and to suggest that they occupy the same conceptual or existential space is either to confess one's own stupidity or willfully to engage in cheap rhetorical thuggery.

That though, as I say, is obvious. My reason for taking exception to such remarks is perhaps somewhat more precious, but still quite sincere. Simply enough, what if there are fairies at the bottom of one's garden? Or, more precisely, what the hell is so irrational in believing there are or might be?

One may be in error on the matter, naturally—one may just have misread the signs—but one cannot justly be accused of having committed any trespass against logic. Nothing gives us warrant to imagine that, on account of our grasp of various organic processes, we have succeeded in lifting the veil of Isis....

I've just started a very witty and interesting book by Mr Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, so it was a treat to enjoy this article, and then belatedly realize that they were by the same person. I think the book is going to be one I'll recommend.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 PM

October 29, 2010

Reptiles in sheep's clothing...

Jim Geraghty, So the DCCC Is Effectively Endorsing the Tea Party Movement, Huh?:

I had to shrink it down a bit to get it to fit on the page, but I think you can see the disclosure information on this mailer that appears to tout little-known "Tea Party" candidate Roly Arrojo in Florida's 25th congressional district: "Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. . . . Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."...

You can see the mailer at the link. It's pretty funny. A steaming teacup, teabags, and it says, "Roly Arrojo fits the conservative small-government movement to a tea."

Posted by John Weidner at 12:20 PM

October 28, 2010

Going after Leviathan...

By Andy McCarthy - The Corner - National Review Online:

... I've said similar things in several other contexts, but the basic gist is this: Obamacare is a good bet for the Dems because, even if they lose the next two or three election cycles (which I think their hard Left base has factored in), they figure the GOP is more interested in controlling big government than in rolling it back; therefore, Obama's gains will be consolidated and, eventually, the Dems will be back in control of the hyper-intrusive, central-planning state of their dreams.

I desperately want the Republicans to prove me wrong. I certainly don't want a campaign against NPR. What is that snide shot Obama took at Clinton? "I didn't come here to do school uniforms." That's how I want the GOP to think. I don't want them to go after NPR/CPB as a target. I want them to go after Leviathan such that cutting off NPR/CPB — and about a zillion other things the government shouldn't be doing — is the inevitable fall-out. I'm on the Goldwater plan: "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden."

FWIW, I think that's the plan the Tea Party movement is on, too. Consequently, I think Republicans are in for a rude awakening. So far, other than the handful of RINOs who've been taken out in primaries, the GOP has gotten to ride a wave that is not of their own making. Democrats have been the primary target, and they've had no choice but to come to grips with the Tea Party movement. But while D-Day for the Dems is November 2, D-Day for the GOP is November 3. The dynamic movement in the country couldn't care less about who is running what committee. They want this monstrosity stripped down. They understand that this is a long-term project, it's not going to be accomplished in a single election, and Obama is going to veto all efforts at roll-back. But the movement wants the efforts made, and it is not going to want to hear about how it wasn't worth fighting this or that battle because we didn't have the numbers to override, etc....

The underlying structural political problem for conservatives in America is that we want to shrink government, but the process requires electing (and appointing) people to government. And somehow—is is very mysterious—people who spend their lives trying to get into government for some reason lack the keen desire to shrink government that we desire.

It has seemed all my life to be an impossible dream. but the opportunity be here now, because government has, since roughly the 1980's, not just grown, but grown cancerously. It's become a cancer that is killing the body. Lots of places, including my California, are truly bankrupt. So maybe we will be forced to take a knife to the problem of government...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:37 PM

October 27, 2010

Mitt's giving finger-to-the-wind politicians a bad name...

Almost certain presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives nod to Allen West:

Like every other potential candidate for high office, Mitt Romney is trying to accumulate chits for his next campaign.

On Monday, Romney's Free & Strong America PAC added Republican candidate Allen West to its list of 30 critical House races to watch (and donate to) in the coming midterm election....

Wow, so risky, Mitt! So bold, so decisive. So presidential.

Somebody, somebody..... endorsed Allen West six months ago, before it was cool...

Somebody, somebody, who could it be?

small b-w image of Sara Palin
Posted by John Weidner at 5:11 PM

October 26, 2010

Friction and intelligence...

Michael Gerson - What Election Day will bring:

...Some, Cook says, "are told all their lives that they are the most brilliant people on the planet. They don't get less bright, but hubris kicks in. [They DO get less bright. Literally.] [Obama] just assumed that he was going to be a success, as he had always been in life." [Liberals did to Obama the worst thing they could do. They deprived him of the friction that everyone needs, in order to grow and mature.]

According to Cook, this reflects a lack of experience. "Experience is not an end, it is a means to an end: judgment." Cook said that a few years in the Senate "don't give an understanding of institutions and their dynamics. If [Obama] had been in the Senate six or eight years, he might have accumulated the wisdom to match the intelligence." [Actually, being in the Senate also makes you less bright. Most Senators are surrounded by staffers who tell them they are wonderful. That destroys intelligence.]...

It's much better to run something than to be a Senator. Governors and Mayors tend to be much wiser than Senators and Congressmen. It's like Newman wrote somewhere, "it's the whole man that thinks." Not just the brain. Not just the logical facilities.

Probably the best preparation for leadership any of our current crop of leaders has had is Sarah Palin being mayor of a smallish town. People used to call her up in the middle of the night because they had a complaint, or because there was a pothole in their street. Priceless experience.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:03 PM

October 24, 2010

United in futility..

Jes' talking back to silly stuff... Boot the Blue Dog Democrats - NYTimes.com:

...Ms. Johnson is right: Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It's a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. "Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done," he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. [You'd never guess from reading this that we are a democracy, and that the wishes of voters ultimately decide.] Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits. [Ignoring the fact that this is not "benign" at all, but is a job-killer, especially for the young]

A smaller majority, minus the intraparty feuding, could benefit Democrats in two ways: first, it could enable them to devise cleaner pieces of legislation, without blatantly trading pork for votes as they did with the deals that helped sour the public on the health care bill. [Please do. I'm sure if you make your collectivism more overt you will win LOTS of support. In Ann Arbor.] (As a corollary, the narrative of "Democratic infighting" would also diminish.)

Second, in the Senate, having a majority of 52 rather than 59 or 60 would force Democrats to confront the Republicans' incessant misuse of the filibuster to require that any piece of legislation garner a minimum of 60 votes to become law. [why, precisely, is this "misuse?"] Since President Obama's election, more than 420 bills have cleared the House but have sat dormant in the Senate. It's easy to forget that George W. Bush passed his controversial 2003 tax cut legislation with only 50 votes, plus Vice President Dick Cheney's. Eternal gridlock is not inevitable unless Democrats allow it to be. [If Republicans are blocking things, why is gridlock something Dems are "allowing?"]

Republicans have become obsessed with ideological purity, [Not true; you're projecting] and as a consequence they will likely squander a few winnable races in places like Delaware. But Democrats aren't ideological enough. Their conservative contingent has so blurred what it means to be a Democrat that the party itself can barely find its way. [So what, precisely, does it "mean" to be a Democrat?] Polls show that, despite their best efforts to distance themselves from Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, a number of Blue Dog Democrats are likely to be defeated this November. Their conservative voting records have deflated Democratic activists but have done nothing to win Republican support. [Republican support of WHAT, precisely? Blue Dogs are not writing legislation or leading in anything. What's to support?]

Far from hastening the dawn of a post-partisan utopia, President Obama's election has led to near-absolute polarization. If Democrats alter their political strategy accordingly, they'll be more united and more productive. [United does not imply productive. You will be no more likely to get votes for boondoggles that the American people hate. And your brief period of power has exposed your statist agenda totally.]...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:39 PM

"If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you?"

With the Holy Father just now naming new cardinals, it is fitting to quote from the Biglietto speech of John Henry Newman. (A Biglietto is the letter appointing a Cardinal of the Church.)

...This is what he had the kindness to say to me, and what could I want more? In a long course of years I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, viz., that error cannot be found in them; but what I trust that I may claim all through what I have written, is this,—an honest intention, an absence of private ends, a temper of obedience, a willingness to be corrected, a dread of error, a desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine mercy, a fair measure of success. And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society...

Word Note logo Word Note. Like most Catholic terms, biglietto sounds mysterious to English speakers, but is actually very informal and slangy. It just means "ticket." And "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo, "hinge," meaning "principal" or "chief".


Posted by John Weidner at 4:20 PM

October 23, 2010

"He would be better off putting faith in his dog"

More Stuff I See On the Way to Work - Light On Dark Water:

This morning I saw a car that had a big sticker saying "Dog Is Love," and some other dog-fanatic message that I can't remember now. Well, fine, I like dogs, too, but I wondered if this person really meant the implicit putdown of Christianity ("God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him"). Then I noticed that the car also had one of those Darwin-fish emblems. You know what I mean if you drive in this country: it's a parody of the Christian icthus symbol, with Darwin's name in place of the Greek letters (also little feet--fish evolving into amphibian).

The Darwin fish seems to be pretty popular, which means a lot of people consider it a pretty good jibe, but it's always struck me as a massively ineffective one, because it's so asymmetrical. It's like an envious person saying "Well, you may be rich, but I have a coupon for a free order of fries at McDonald's." It suggests that the person displaying it puts in Darwin or Darwinism the same sort of faith that a Christian puts in God, which is just sort of sad. He would be better off putting faith in his dog—at least the dog knows who he is, and loves him. In the case of the owner of this car, the dog might be a better philosopher than the master.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:25 PM

October 22, 2010

Good one...

It's hard to blog this close to the election. D-Day is at hand; the troops are moving; there's not much more to do but wait and pray.

But this is good for a laugh...



Posted by John Weidner at 7:13 AM

October 20, 2010

Good question, on why few Anglophones enjoy language...

Word Note logo

Thanks to my logophilic daughter for this...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:22 AM

October 19, 2010

Mornings are dark, and evenings come apace...

    OCTOBER

Look, how those steep woods on the mountain's face
Burn, burn against the sunset; now the cold
Invades our very noon: the year's grown old,
Mornings are dark, and evenings come apace.
The vines below have lost their purple grace,
And in Forreze the white wrack backward rolled,
Hangs to the hills tempestuous, fold on fold,
And moaning gusts make desolate all the place.

Mine host the month, at thy good hostelry,
Tired limbs I'll stretch and steaming beast I'll tether;
Pile on great logs with Gascon hand and free,
And pour the Gascon stuff that laughs at weather;
Swell your tough lungs, north wind, no whit care we,
Singing old songs and drinking wine together.

      —Hilaire Belloc

Hillaire Belloc

Posted by John Weidner at 5:47 PM

October 16, 2010

"poached eggs only exist as a dream exists..."

The philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs.

The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God. Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask.

I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning.

    — GK Chesterton, from St. Thomas Aquinas (1933).

(Thanks to The Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 PM

October 14, 2010

Poor Obama. So far from God, so close to 2012...

Charlene and I heard Sarah Palin speak in San Jose this afternoon. She was awesome!

My impression I've gained of her speaking style from watching videos was not very positive. Sarah's never seemed to be quite my style as an orator. But in person she crackles! Oh my. She has splendid presence and energy and beauty. And a very quick wit; several times riffing on things the audience shouted out.

Charlene says, "She's a natural." I say, "Poor Mitt. And poor Huckabee." Give it up guys; she'll put you in her cabinet...

Here's a little bit about her family stuff, just for fun...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:59 PM

October 13, 2010

the French did so, and look at the scrape it got them into...

From Progressivism: The Snobbery of Chronology:

...Thus chronological snobbery is the identification, or confusion, of "change" with "progress." "Progress" is a value-laden term: it means not just change but change in a certain direction, change for the better. It is like a graph in geometry that charts the movement of some entity (a business, a body's growth, a football player's "forward progress") not only horizontally, from past to future, but also vertically, from worse to better.

But the very notion of a "better" assumes a "best," a standard, a goal. And that standard has to be unchanging, for if the goal line itself changes, it is impossible to make progress toward it. Imagine a runner on first base trying to make progress toward second base while the second baseman is carrying second base with him into the outfield.

The typically modern mind is 1) skeptical of absolute, unchanging standards and 2) in love with the idea of progress. But this is a logical impossibility, a self-contradiction. Without an unchanging standard, there can be no progress, only change. To such people, "progress" means no more than "change," and therefore "change" means the same as "progress."

Only a people both jaded and bored by the past and the present, and also skeptical of any "vertical dimension," any absolute and unchanging standard, could possibly be so moved by the single word "change" that a presidential candidate could win an election by using that single word as his campaign slogan. Why not instead "Rutabagas"?...

Of course 'twas put better by Patrick O'Brian...

..."Then on her quarter, with the patched inner jib, that's the Hope: or maybe she's the Ocean -- they're much of a muchness, out of the same yard and off of the same draught. But any gait, all of 'em you see in this weather line, is what we call twelve-hundred-tonners; though to be sure some gauges thirteen and even fifteen hundred ton, Thames measurement. Wexford, there, with her brass fo'c'sle eight-pounder winking in the sun, she does: but we call her a twelve hundred ton ship."

"Sir, might it not be simpler to call her a fifteen hundred ton ship?"

"Simpler, maybe: but it would never do. You don't want to be upsetting the old ways. Oh dear me, no. God's my life, if the Captain was to hear you carrying on in that reckless Jacobin, democratical line, why, I dare say he would turn you adrift on a three-inch plank, with both your ears nailed down to it, to learn you bashfulness. The way he served three young gentlemen in the Med. No, no: you don't want to go arsing around with the old ways: the French did so, and look at the scrape it got them into....
    -- Patrick O'Brian, HMS Surprise

Posted by John Weidner at 10:47 PM

October 10, 2010

Through the Randian thickets...

Pajamas Media — Values and the Defense of Freedom, by Amit Ghate

I felt the need to respond to this AynRandish screed, because it misreads both Christians and conservatives...
[Note: By "Christian" I will be refering to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. 3,000 years worth of profound thought, all of it clearly expressed and defined, in a way suitable for reasoned discourse. (Link) I am aware of the schismatic and fissiparous Christian sects called "Protestant," but they seem to be capable of believing almost anything, and are therefore not worth trying to discuss.]
In the wake of the recent Values Voter Summit, a worrisome question arises: will the Tea Parties or a reformed GOP be able to champion limited government and fiscal responsibility, without also importing the religious right's so-called "social values"?

HotAir's Allahpundit raises this issue [2], noting that speakers at the summit repeatedly asserted the idea that limited government must ultimately be based on religious beliefs — on the existence of a "Big God." Uncomfortable with these assertions and searching for a better, secular defense of freedom, Allahpundit asks how Objectivists (adherents of Ayn Rand's philosophy) would respond.

It's a perceptive question. Though many recognize Rand as a stalwart defender of freedom, few appreciate how radically her defense differs from that of traditional religionists. Key to her innovative approach is an original conception of values and morality — one which ultimately puts her at odds with much of the religious program.

How then might she respond to the religionists' claims? Though of course no one can speak for her, I imagine that she might begin by challenging a common misconception, one that can be gleaned from listening to speakers at the Values Voter Summit: viz. that religion has a monopoly on values. According to them, either you're religious and have values, or you're non-religious and don't. [I don't think this is the conservative argument normally made. The real argument is that our culture's values COME FROM religion, and therefore the non-religious will tend to lose them. Well, we can see this all around us.] But this, Rand would argue, is a false dichotomy. The choice isn't between Judeo-Christian values and nothing; it's between various conceptions of values, e.g., values derived from faith vs. values grounded in reason. [The "faith vs. reason" contrast is false. ALL Christian values are consistent with reason (though some have depths reason alone cannot attain).]
As an example of the latter, she'd offer her own system of ethics. Its essentials were first presented in a seminal essay [3] where she began by asking: what are values and why does man need them? Her answer is rooted in biological facts. Values — from the most basic ones like food and shelter; to the most sublime, like love, art, and self-esteem — are necessary for man's life on Earth. As autonomous rational living beings, each of us needs a whole host of values to live the fulfilling life appropriate to man.

In effect, Ayn Rand argues, values reflect the objective requirements of life; they're not generated by the commandments and whims of some ineffable being. [This has NEVER been the Christian theory. Our values are Natural Law; they are rooted in the fundamental construction of the cosmos, and apply to all men. They are never God's "whims." In fact they are not really "commandments;" the Hebrew word translated as "commandment" is probably better translated as "statement."] Accordingly, values can — and must — be rationally discovered, evaluated, defined, and defended.

But though values are objective, they're far from obvious or innate. Beyond the simplest ones like the need for food and warmth which we recognize through direct sensory feedback, determining our values takes thought and work. Consider, for example, the process of discovery necessary for each of us to decide what type of person would "complete" us in a romantic relationship, or what type of long-term career to adopt. Likewise, the problem of prioritizing and integrating our values requires serious reflection and identification. (Is the value of watching a football game more or less important than taking time to write this opinion piece? Is purchasing a new car more valuable to me than other things I could do with the money?) [The fatal flaw in this kind of reasoning is that it is self-referential. There is no objective standard, no Pole Star to steer by. What type of person would "complete" me? To answer that I must understand myself. But there is no innate rational way to do so--it's like having the lab rats evaluate the experiment. (More thoughts on this here)]

Given these questions and challenges, we need a science to help provide us with the knowledge and guidance required to identify, codify, and achieve our values. That science is morality.

Rand fleshes out this [4] new conception of morality with a series of detailed [5] arguments and broad historical observations (like the cultural flourishing of ancient Greece and the enormous prosperity engendered by the Industrial Revolution). From these she concludes that, more than anything else, choosing and achieving values requires unswerving rational thought and productive effort. And what conditions are required to exercise these? The absolute freedom to think and act. This, she argues, is the line of reasoning required to defend freedom and individual rights. [True as far as it goes, but freedom-to-think won't get you to a science of morality. It's the same problem as above. Unless there is some objective standard from outside, there can never be a science. None of the sciences, including Natural Science, can proceed unless there are agreed-upon presuppositions and premises, which cannot be deduced from within the science.]

As such, Rand is opposed to many modern libertarians who consider freedom to be an irreducible primary, one which justifies the choice of any "values" whatsoever. To her, it's the other way around: she defends freedom as a consequence of man's need to pursue rational, life-affirming values. [Good!]

While the conclusion that values underlie freedom may seem superficially similar to the religious view, [So far it is identical. The actual Christian definition of freedom is the same as that of the great pagan philosophers, such as Aristotle. Freedom is the ability to do the good. This can be shown by reason, though I haven't the energy tonight.] Rand's account of the source and nature of those values sets them diametrically apart. (As an illustration of just how great the difference is, consider that in contrast to the Christian reverence for faith and humility, Rand counts reason [6] and pride [7] among her primary values and virtues.) [Pride is the enemy of reason and science, as reason can show. The problem with any science is that the scientist himself is a distorting lens. No human can ever be completely objective; our presuppositions and psychology shape what we can perceive. The best palliative to this is humility. The humility to welcome criticism, and humility in the face of evidence.]

Yet her fundamental disagreement with the religious approach doesn't end here; it also extends to her view of man. Many traditional religionists see the need for a "Big God" because man, in their view, is fundamentally flawed (see the doctrine of Original Sin). Because of his inherent flaws — be they greed, pride, or what have you — man can't be trusted to do good. [Has there ever been a society of which one could say, "These people can be trusted to do good?" Wake us up when that happens.] He must be kept in place by a supernatural Authority. [NO, that is not what Christians believe. Mr Ghate should know better if he is going to write on this. Christians believe in Original Sin, that is, that we are fundamentally flawed and can't, by our own strength, do the good over the long haul. But if we freely chose to accept it, God will give us the gift (we say "Grace," which means "gift") of the ability to do the good. Which is freedom. (It's beyond this topic, but, far from wishing to "keep us in place," God wants to elevate us to share in his divinity as His adopted sons and daughters. See Romans 8:11-15. A far higher view of human dignity than anything proposed by the "Enlightenment.")]

Rand, on the other hand, sides with the giants of the Enlightenment in considering man to be morally perfectible. [So, Ayn baby, how many centuries has this project been underway? Hmmm? Are we achieving perfection soon? And do we imperfect people have a (perfect?) definition of the perfection we seek?] According to her, man has in his possession the means (free will and a reasoning mind) and the incentive (the betterment of his life) to choose and practice the good. Thus, when left free, men will tend to a life of achievement. (This is borne out on a historical scale, where the freest countries were both the most productive and most moral. Think of America and the UK during the 1800s vs. any theocratic or communist state.) [Uh, yeah. And they were also the most Christian (and Jewish). Whereas the communists were...... Oh right, they were siding with the "giants of the Enlightenment" in considering man to be morally perfectible.]

In her view, freedom is both moral and practical. No top-down authority is necessary to keep man in his place, [Again, that's not the Christian position] and most laws are written primarily to punish the relatively few who would choose to initiate force against others. [One of the ugly problems with inventing your own morality is that you get to define who the "others" are in "initiate force against others." You can just define someone as "not human," and then kill them without a qualm. For instance, 1.3 million unborn children are killed each year in the US. The same logic could declare "Randians" as outside the rules, and kill them off.]

The debate over limited government and fiscal restraint, in Tea Parties and GOP alike, hinges on the grounding and defense of freedom. Does freedom come from the alleged endowments and pronouncements of a Judeo-Christian God, or is its source this-worldly, residing in the nature of man and his faculty of reason?

Ayn Rand offered powerful arguments for the latter view. Moreover, as she once wrote [8]:
[T]o rest one's case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one's enemies — that one has no rational arguments to offer. The "conservatives" claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights …. [As already pointed out, conservatives and Christians say no such thing.]
Thus Rand not only establishes how to champion limited government without appealing to religion — she also shows why we must. Let's heed her advice by giving our values and freedom the rational defense they deserve.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:01 PM

October 9, 2010

But we that sit in a sturdy youth, And still can drink strong ale...

Hillaire Belloc

THE PELAGIAN DRINKING SONG

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Ti-oodly-ow
Especially barley brew!
    -- Hilaire Belloc
Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 PM

When shall we descry this new republic struggling to be born?

Glenn Reynolds just re-linked to this excellent 2009 article by James V. DeLong, The Coming of the Fourth American Republic. I initially noticed this...

...Shift the angle of vision and the continuity is less clear, because we have had two upheavals so sweeping that the institutional arrangements under which we now operate can fairly be classified as the Third American Republic. Furthermore, this Third Republic is teetering (these things seem to run in cycles of about 70 years) and is on the edge of giving way to a revised Fourth Republic with arrangements as yet murky to our present-bound perceptions....[my emphasis]

At one point I was writing about how the dominance of political parties in our country seems to last just about 70 years. (Link.) As I recall most of my readers pooh-poohed the idea, but I still think what I wrote was pretty good.

DeLong's point is broader. The parties become dominant because they embody new institutional arrangements. The Republicans created and were the second republic, after the Civil War...

...The later historians of the New Deal and the Great Society sneered that the idea of "laissez faire" was an abdication of governmental responsibility, but this was propaganda. The best translation of the term is the activist "let us do," not the passive "let us be," and the societal quid pro quo was dynamic economic expansion, not the easy life of the rentier. To a large degree, the ideology of laissez faire was designed to protect interstate commerce from rentiers in the form of government officials extorting payments...

And the third, which we are in now. Begun with the New Deal, and embodied by the Dems...

...It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of "faction" and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

And so the Special Interest State expanded, blessed by the intelligentsia. And it feeds on itself; the larger and more complex the government becomes, the higher the costs of monitoring it. This means that no one without a strong interest in a particular area can afford to keep track, which leaves the turf to the beneficiaries. And as existing interests dig in to defend their turf, new interests require continuing expansions of governmental activity to stake a claim on...
Posted by John Weidner at 9:43 AM

October 8, 2010

"It compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people"

'A Network of Small Complicated Rules, Minute and Uniform' - By Mark Krikorian - The Corner - National Review Online:

The federal government bans the incandescent light bulb. It bans street signs that have all capital letters and mandates what font they need to be in. Now, Congress has seen fit to focus its august attention on the volume of TV commercials.

The problem is not that these things create unnecessary costs or destroy jobs, which they do, or that lawmakers have more important things to do, which is also true. Rather, the federal government has no business doing any of these things. Yes, the entitlements trainwreck is a bigger issue, but if we, as a people, continue to shrug at this sort of thing, our unfitness for self-government will become undeniable.

It still amazes me that Tocqueville foresaw this soft despotism so long ago:
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd., till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:47 AM

October 6, 2010

Biter bit...

Michael Barone, Dems turn on Obama over Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo:

...It was a lot of fun while it lasted, up to election night 2008 and Inauguration Day 2009. But then Obama had to govern. Knowing little of military affairs, he retained Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has loyally served presidents of both parties. Understanding even if not admitting the great headway Americans had made in Iraq, Obama declined to throw it all away.

Appreciating that Afghanistan was critical to protecting Americans, he made a commitment to increase troop levels there in May 2009, reconsidered it from August to November, then restated it Dec. 1, with a commitment to begin withdrawals in July 2011...


...In so doing, Obama implicitly confessed that the view of the world held with quasi-religious fervor by the Democratic left was delusional all along. Bush didn't lie, we didn't go into Afghanistan and Iraq without allies and against their wishes, we didn't carry out policies of torture, etc. The effort to cast Iraq as another Vietnam and America under Bush as an oppressive rogue power were perhaps emotionally satisfying but unconnected to reality

Without saying so, Obama has found himself having to teach this lesson to the Adam Serwers of the world. They don't like hearing it. They're keeping their ears plugged up and their eyes defiantly shut. Their MyObama Web pages are inactive and their checkbooks are closed. They've tuned out of the campaign and many of them won't even vote. The president they helped elect -- and the world -- have turned out not to be what they thought.

Though I hate much of what has Leftists have done since 9/11, at least I get to also savor the dilemma "liberals" have put themselves in by living as liars. Especially the exquisite torment President Bush prepared for them by taking them up on their nasty lies about how they were "anti-fascist." They had to scramble about pretending they'd been "pacifists" all along, and pretend they "hate war," though they like it well enough if America or Israel looks like losing.

And Obama. What mad incoherence he's trapped in. Trapped by his lies really. Like so many Lefties he bashed the Iraq Campaign by claiming that Afghanistan was being neglected--now they are all being justly punished by being given responsibility for... Afghanistan.

Crazy. The anti-American now runs America; the anti-military Leftist is Commander in Chief. Ha ha. Meanwhile we can remember how real Americans act...

Vice President Cheney with troops in Qatar, March 17, 2002

President Bush with soldiers

President Bush serving on chow line

Condi in black...


Posted by John Weidner at 9:24 PM

October 3, 2010

"Israel is the laboratory - the test market."

An excerpt from a sermon delivered on the first day of Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Atlanta, Ehr Kumt. Read, as the saying goes, the whole thing. (Thanks to Bookworm)

...Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. Gog U'Magog. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West Bank. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street. It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater - in every place of innocence and purity.

Israel is the laboratory - the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.

In the Six Day War, Israel was the proxy of Western values and strategy while the Arab alliance was the proxy of Eastern, Soviet values and strategy. Today too, it is a confrontation of proxies, but the stakes are greater than East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel in her struggle represents the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda, Iran, Islamic Jihad, represent the world of psychopathic, loathsome evil.

As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel's galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel's galling plight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew. We are the trial balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from "good guys" then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda.

Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has reached epic proportions in the West; from the Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from university campuses to British teachers unions, from the International Red Cross to Amnesty International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello, from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury....

Of course if you are a regular RJ reader you already know why all this is happening...

IDF paratroopers in training
Israel Defense Forces paratroopers in training. From Israel Insider.


Posted by John Weidner at 5:05 PM

October 2, 2010

"Every virtue except the power of connected thought"

To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. It is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover from palsy is not to leave off moving but to learn how to move. The Catholic convert has for the first time a starting-point for straight and strenuous thinking. He has for the first time a way of testing the truth in any question that he raises.

As the world goes, especially at present, it is the other people, the heathen and the heretics, who seem to have every virtue except the power of connected thought. There was indeed a brief period when a small minority did some hard thinking on the heathen or heretical side. It barely lasted from the time of Voltaire to the time of Huxley. It has now entirely disappeared. What is now called free thought is valued, not because it is free thought, but because it is freedom from thought; because it is free thoughtlessness.
      — G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion



Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 PM

Good point....

Immigration and the Tea Party - By Mark Krikorian - The Corner - National Review Online:

...But her main focus was the rule of law, illegal-bad/legal-good — not surprising, since that's sort of the default position on the right, but it's not going to prove adequate in the long run. I'm speaking at the Tea Party Patriots convention in Richmond next week, and I'm going to make the point I made in my Broadside — large-scale immigration (legal or illegal, permanent or "temporary") into a modern society necessarily translates into larger government, not just because it imports disproportionately statist voters but because it shapes society in ways that make statist solutions more plausible to non-immigrant voters — increasing the ranks of the uninsured and the poor, increasing income inequality, increasing diversity (which Putnam has shown results in the retreat of civil society), even increasing density (since more people in the same space almost by definition will result in more government).

We need to acknowledge, but then move past, illegal-bad/legal-good — because whatever your concern, the level of total immigration is the main issue....

It's probably fruitless to even mention such things, but the focus of any immigration debate should be, "What kind of country are we?" And "What kind of country do we want to become?"

Leftist types hate that kind of thinking (and call it racist) because they hate the thought that there are countries or cultures that are superior to others. Because that implies that members of a superior culture should feel loyalty and duty towards it. Should believe. Believe in something bigger than ones self. And that they hate, because, as I've said too often, most of them are nihilists who believe in nothing higher than themselves. A nihilist hates belief.

"Multiculturalism" is intended for the same purpose; to erase the idea (and existence) of superior cultures. And the obviously unwise European immigration policies that have resulted in large unassimilable Muslim populations are also intended to destroy a superior culture. The culture of Western Christendom. And, by extension, Christianity itself. I've read of British politicians who protested against this folly, and who were pilloried as "racists," and driven out of public life.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:17 AM

October 1, 2010

"San Francisco... still the awesomeest!"

My daughter sent me the link to this video (with the above subject line) about the San Francisco Fire Department's wooden ladders. They are handsome things I've seen a thousand times, and never given any thought to...

Ladder Shop for SFFD from AdamKaplan on Vimeo.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:14 AM