Monday, August 19, 2019

Prudence--Let's find that virtue again!

Prudence

Well, we can’t (and shouldn’t) change the constitutional order anytime soon. That order produced a Donald Trump presidency, a moderately conservative Senate, and a liberal House of Representatives. None of them can or should act alone. Our only hope in the immediate future is to adjust our expectations along the lines once considered a virtue in politics, particularly conservative politics—prudence. 

Prudence means that we see the political order for what it is and what is actually possible. We look to the long-term health of the nation and the common good of our people, and seek to promote it within the actual possibilities of the moment within which we live and act. Our political leaders would benefit from a healthy dose of prudence that would allow them to work together, both sides willing to listen and compromise for the common good. 

Read my full article on government shutdowns, political divisions, deliberation, compromise, prudence here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Yes Ideas DO Have Consequences--Read it!

Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences is a classic worth reading in the 21st century. Read my full essay on the book here, but below are some of his solutions--you know the problems!

 

Solutions

Weaver’s book is broken into two parts—the first tracing the history of the decline of the West due to the ideas spun off from the original attack on universal truths, and the second providing some idea of a means toward the restoration of order. 

How might we begin to undo the damage? First, by defending the individual’s right to private property, because in holding to his or her own property, a person may find some means of defending his or her privacy, fighting for truth, and may find some refuge from an encroaching state. In other words, property gives us a place from which we may take a stand.  

Second, he argues, we must reclaim language from those who have reduced it to sentiments, twisted it for political usage, and scrubbed it of common meaning with which we can seek truth and discuss our differences. 

Third, to counter the selfish egoism of modern man, we must return to a state of piety—piety toward nature, toward our neighbors, and toward the past. There is much wisdom for modern America to be found in Weaver’s diagnosis and in his prescriptions. 

Beyond the specifics of this important and challenging work, Weaver’s title reminds us that ideas can be powerful things to toy with—as likely to bring great damage as to serve progress. 

Whether or not we read Weaver’s great work again in the 21st century (and we would profit from it), we should at least use it to encourage us all to think—seriously think—about the potential consequences of new ideas, and to think about them, not only through the lens of temporary politics and our own emotions, but in terms of the long-term health of civilization itself. 

The events of the 20th century should ever remind us all of how close to the edge civilization resides and how consequential bad ideas can be.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Martin Luther King and Natural Law

Our educators and much of society have fallen into a subjectivism, where each culture, each group, each individual is to decide for themselves what they “feel” to be right and what is wrong, and is free to act accordingly. This subjectivism, King’s lessons would teach us, leaves us relatively powerless to fight truly immoral laws. If all is subjective, then no laws are truly unjust. Or, perhaps it’s better said that, if all is subjective, all laws are unjust to someone. Neither formula would support true freedom under the rule of law.

Read my full article on Martin Luther King and Natural Law

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Re-reading Independence for July 4

Here are some thoughts on my article today on the Declaration of Independence. See full article here

First, we should remember what a bold and decisive stroke the Continental Congress executed by declaring our independence. They were committing treason. They were seceding from the country that had birthed them, protected them, and to whom they were pledged. We celebrate the document, but no matter what the document ended up saying, it was the act of declaring their independence that could get them hanged, and their homes confiscated or destroyed, leaving their families desperate. Still, they boldly declared they were independent.
Second, we should remember that these men weren’t actually “revolutionaries” in any modern sense; their “revolution” was really a secession. They were declaring themselves independent of the mother country, they weren’t attempting to overthrow the social institutions, economy, or religious establishment. They simply wanted to be free to govern themselves and let England govern itself as it pleased.
These men were conservative secessionists, in other words, not radical social reformers. Prudence, as political theorist Russell Kirk often said, is the great conservative virtue, and they demonstrated it: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. … But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them, under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” It would be hard to put the conservative vision for prudential change much better.
Third, there is much more to the Declaration than the famed second sentence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Monday, June 17, 2019

Remembering the evils of socialism/ communism

The Cold War came to an end more than a quarter-century ago. When the winds of change started to blow in the eastern bloc, and then the Berlin Wall finally came down, many of us wondered what the future would bring.

I remember in the summer of 1990 driving through the Shenandoah River Valley of Virginia with a veteran leader of the anti-communist movement and talking about what life would be like without the Soviet menace dominating our foreign policy.

“Will we forget what they were like, and will it be easier to bring socialism to America after the Soviet Union is gone because we have forgotten?” I asked. He agreed that this would be a great danger—America might forget the horrors of socialism when it was no longer an armed doctrine threatening our very existence.

Evidence that much of America has forgotten the horrors of socialism in the 20th century seems to be emerging on college campuses and among the citizenry. While those of us who grew up during the Cold War will find it shockingly hard to believe, socialism is growing as an approved political/economic system in America.

Read my full article on re-reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Abraham Lincoln on our Internal Divisions

On this July 4th, Revisit Lincoln's Lyceum Address

This is Lincoln as a 20-something with the wisdom of the ancients and profound messages for us today!

Lincoln began by expressing gratitude to our ancestors who founded and built our nation. Demonstrating conservatism at its very best, he connected the generations of the living, dead, and yet unborn in a community of mutual obligation. It is our task, Lincoln said of the living, to protect and then pass on to posterity what we have inherited.

Where, Lincoln asked, will the threat to our inheritance and our survival as a nation come from? Will it come from an army overseas? Profoundly not, Lincoln asserted. No military force could “take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.” The great danger to the United States will come from inside America, he said. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

What are the dangers Lincoln saw that may come to undermine the United States? He warned first of the “mobocratic spirit”—“the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of the Courts.”
When I recently discussed this text with students, many of them immediately saw parallels with today’s “social media mobs” passionately denouncing those with whom they disagree or sentencing people for perceived crimes of political incorrectness. To counter this spirit of the mob, Lincoln taught a strict dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law, going so far as to say that everyone must remember that “to violate the law, is to trample the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.”

Second, he warned in very stark terms of the dangers of political leadership. Rather than celebrating great leaders who would come in the United States, he feared that men would arise with grand ambitions to be satisfied. Where our founders were able to satisfy their ambitions by founding the United States, he feared future leaders, having inherited America already built, would seek to gain their own fame in destruction and rebuilding. Those who scorn “to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious,” he said, belonged to “the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle.”

Read my full article here.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Yes, George Washington warned us of the politics surrounding the Mueller Report more than two centuries ago!

Read the full story here.

He warned us against permanent alliances and the need for impartial commercial relationships with foreign nations. And, as if speaking directly to the daily headlines of 2019, warned that against “the insidious wiles of foreign influence … the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Those most actively supporting the Mueller investigation might find support in that warning. But, he added a caveat that we all should pay close attention to: “But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial,” he instructed, “else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.”

Washington predicted that foreign governments would use the political party system that might develop in the United States as a means of sowing division and gaining favor. But he also understood that there was an equally bad tendency of people to use such concerns for their own partisan agenda rather than for the good of the whole.

How prescient Washington’s Farewell Address seems to still be today, more than two centuries after it was offered to the American people. If we would return to it again on the day of his birth and meditate on his many lessons for the United States, we might end up being a better nation able to manage our journey together through the choppy waters of the 21st century.