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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Myth of Equality and the Forgotten Man: Remembering W.G. Sumner

posted by Jack Kerwick

I recently just found a nearly four year-old essay in Slate that caught my interest for three reasons.

First, though it was written during the last presidential election, it is as succinct a statement of the left’s perspective on the GOP’s attitude toward “income inequality” as any available: Republicans like “income inequality.”

Secondly, it references William Graham Sumner, a brilliant, tough-as-nails 19th century conservative sociologist who the essay credits with having “invented the GOP’s defense of the wealthy [.]”

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Thirdly, unsurprisingly, the essay gives Sumner a raw deal.

For starters, the term “income inequality,” while politically useful, is ontologically meaningless: it refers to nothing other than the left’s own preferences.

Considered as a moral ideal, the concept of equality has always been ambiguous. Ideologues have exploited this ambiguity in order to consolidate the power of the few, political office-holders, at the expense of the many—who Sumner refers to as “the Forgotten Man”—whose resources in time, energy, property, and person they would commandeer for the sake of benefitting “the poor.”

Enter the contemporary idiom of “income inequality.”

In reality, “inequalities” are nothing more or less than those instances of “diversity” that the left doesn’t like. Conversely, “diversity” consists of nothing other than those instances of “inequality” that the left likes.

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Beverly Gage is correct when she notes that Sumner’s chief object of concern is “the Forgotten Man,” the law-abiding, working-class taxpayer. Yet she not so subtly insinuates that such a figure, thanks to Sumner, has become “a staple of American political rhetoric” behind the guise of which Sumner (and by implication, contemporary Republicans) actually advocate on behalf of “the rich.”

“As a political thinker, Sumner’s chief contribution lay neither in his praise for the rich, nor his lament for the Forgotten Man, but in his attempt to combine the two.” Gage concludes: “For better or worse, he offered a model for resolving the great conundrum of modern Republican politics: how to champion the wealthy while claiming to speak for the unsung middle class.”

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Sumner and Republicans are hypocrites and phonies.

In truth, Sumner did indeed speak for “the unsung middle class.”

“The Forgotten Man” is the person whose resources are taken by the “social doctors”—those who are “always under the dominion of the superstition of government”—and redistributed to those classes of which, appealing to “the sympathies and the imagination,” they transform into “social pets.”

Gage, not unlike any other leftist who reduces the virtue of charity to government activism, accuses Sumner of not caring for those upon whom the left would like to spend the resources of others. But what he says is that the Forgotten Man, “the real sufferer” of the “kind of benevolence” for which “the friends of humanity”—i.e. the foes of “income inequality”—are noted, being “worthy, industrious, independent, and self-supporting,” could’ve benefitted himself and in turn benefit society if the resources that government expends on “‘the poor,’” and “‘the weak’” would have instead remained in his pocket in the form of an increase in wages.

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Sumner refers to the virtually “invincible prejudice that a man who gives a dollar to a beggar is generous and kind-hearted, but that a man who refuses the beggar and puts the dollar in a savings-bank is stingy and mean.” This isn’t just a prejudice; it is an invidious prejudice.

 

The man who gives to a beggar “is putting capital where it is very sure to be wasted, and where it will be a kind of seed for a long succession of future dollars” that are just as likely to be wasted. But the man who invests his dollar turns it into capital, specifically capital that will be “given to a laborer who, while earning it, would have reproduced it [.]”

 

However, the Forgotten Man, “passes by and is never noticed, because he has behaved himself, fulfilled his contracts, and asked for nothing [.]”

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The doctrine of equality that is the pretext for creating greater inequalities of power between government coercers and those who are coerced Sumner describes as a “dogma,” a “superstition,” “the most flagrant falsehood and the most immoral doctrine which men have ever believed[.]”

 

 

Unless it was false, then we must believe that “the man who has not done his duty is as good as the one who has done his duty,” that the “the teachings of the moralists” from throughout the ages is nonsense, for moralists have always taught “youth that men who pursue one line of action will go down to loss and shame, and those who pursue another course will go up to honor and success.”

 

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It is inequality that is self-evident. Virtues and rewards in life “are so hard” to come by that they require much “study” and “striving.” Thus, only a relatively few achieve them.

 

It’s correct that “men are very unequal in what they get out of life,” but “they are” even “more unequal in what they put into it.” Sumner adds: “The most unequal bargain has always been made by the men who have done the world’s thinking for it.”

 

As for the idea that “the disadvantaged” have been deprived of the benefits of society, Sumner calls this the product of “monstrous ignorance.”

 

“There is not a person in a civilized state,” Sumner asserts, “who does not share in the inheritance of institutions, knowledge, ideas, doctrines, etc., which come down as fruits of civilization [.]” We tend not to realize this, though, because such fruits are imbibed “by habit and routine [.]” Instead, we “suppose that they come of themselves, or are innate [.]”

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From the time of the cradle we are taking advantage of “facts, knowledge, skill and the like which it cost the human race thousands of years to accumulate.” And even long after we have become adults, we just “as unconsciously as children” continue to “use the products of civilization [.]”

 

The daily goods that we take for granted are the fruits of the “prodigious struggles” of earlier generations.

 

This election cycle and ever after, those on the receiving end of the left’s lambasting would do well to visit the work of William Graham Sumner.

 

 

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Politics and Vice

posted by Jack Kerwick

Perhaps more so than any other activity, politics has a way of begetting astonishing levels of dishonesty—and not just in politicians. Some recent examples:

(1)It has now been disclosed that Ted Cruz, a self-avowed Christian, has “tithed” only one percent of his income. Some in the media are insinuating that the Texas senator is a hypocrite.

Tithing, however, is a concept from what Christians regard as the Old Testament. It’s not that the Old Testament isn’t the Word of God. It is. But to correctly interpret the Old Testament Christians must read it in light of the New, in light of Christ.

And the fact of the matter is that Christ nowhere calls upon His disciples to “tithe.” Furthermore, 1 Corinthians states that believers should give “in keeping with [their] income” (16:2). The second book of Corinthians reads: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).

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A legalistic misreading of the Hebrew injunction to tithe that is now being exploited to convict Cruz of insincerity not only clashes with the spirit of the Christian law of charity; it isn’t even sufficiently legalistic!

The Old Testament commands multiple tithes: one for the Levites, one for the Temple and holidays, and one for the poor. So, what this means is that, if we insist upon adhering strictly to the letter of the law, Christians are required to give almost one-quarter—23.3 percent—of their earnings to charity.

(2)National Review recently held a symposium in which 22 self-declared “conservatives” criticized Donald Trump for his lack of conservative bona fides. This was intellectually dishonest for a variety of reasons. Yet since I already addressed these reasons at length here and here, for now I will note only two.

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For starters, unlike every other GOP politician who runs for the presidency, Trump doesn’t tirelessly proclaim himself a “consistent conservative,” a “severe conservative,” or any other kind of conservative. NR doesn’t have the gotcha’ moment that it thinks it does.

Secondly, not only has NR never launched the kind of blitzkrieg against any other “moderate” or “socially liberal” Republicans that it now levels against Trump. For years—decades, actually—NR has actually endorsed one “conservative” pretender after the other, from Bush II to McCain to Romney.

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(3).Trump has decided not to attend the GOP debate on January 28. Trump cites as his reason his distrust of Megyn Kelly. Whether this is a wise move or not, the response on the part of Trump’s critics—and make no mistakes about it, it is only either those who have been trying to sack Trump from the time he ascended to the head of the pack or those who are committed to Fox News who respond this way—has been patently disingenuous.

First, no one can seriously think that Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly.

Secondly, no one can seriously think that Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly.

Thirdly, no one can seriously think that Trump—Trump!—is afraid.

It’s precisely because Trump has shown more guts challenging the Politically Correct orthodoxy, the Republican/Democrat Axis, than that shown by all of his competitors and critics combined that he has managed to leave his competitors—all of his competitors, including whomever it is that is said to be in second place—in the dust.

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For them to accuse him of being afraid, and afraid, of all people, of Kelly, is dishonest to the point of being offensive. Whatever else can be said of Trump, no one can accuse him of being gutless.

(4).And while we’re on the topic, the Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump brouhaha is another occasion to see the ugliness that politics can unleash.

That Trump is an egomaniac is obvious enough. But while his critics readily attest to this, what they fail to acknowledge is that it is only because of his egomania that Trump has set his sights on the presidency of the United States. In other words, Trump is an egomaniac among egomaniacs. The only difference between Trump and the rest is that he doesn’t try to hide it.

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However, those in the media, particularly those with access to our egomaniacal politicians, are also egomaniacs.

Megyn Kelly is an egomaniac. In the first debate that opened the riff between her and Trump, Kelly had more speaking time than anyone else. Think about that: A moderator spoke more than any of the candidates (including Trump).

And though Kelly’s defenders credited her with asking “tough questions,” the problem that many of us had with that debate was that the moderators did not ask tough question. Instead, they asked questions worthy of a tabloid rag, sensationalistic, ratings-grabbing, gotcha’ questions. Kelly excelled at this. Without meaning to do so, even her colleague, Bill O’Reilly, inadvertently conceded this point during his “exclusive” interview with Trump on January 27.

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On The O’Reilly Factor, the host—another egomaniac—admitted that while he would’ve asked Trump the same question regarding Trump’s past comments concerning some women, he would’ve framed the question differently than in the terms and manner in which Kelly cast it.

But that’s exactly what Trump and his legions of supporters had been griping about from day one!

Kelly, for her part, has been less candid than Trump has been about his feelings toward her, though it is painfully obvious that she disdains Trump.

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Perhaps Trump should’ve let things go. Yet the point is that given their relationship, it makes perfectly good sense that he should want her gone from this next debate. If Trump’s uneasiness about Kelly indicates (and this is ludicrous) that he won’t be able to stand up to Putin, ISIS, etc. then the refusal of all of the candidates to debate on NBC indicates their inability to be president.

Let’s be honest.

 

 

 

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National Review vs Trump II: What Exactly is “Conservatism?”

posted by Jack Kerwick

That Donald Trump is no conservative is a proposition of which this conservative needs no convincing.

On this score, the self-styled “conservative” contributors to the recent National Review symposium against Trump are correct. It is their conservative bona fides that I challenge.

For example, Glenn Beck suggests that Trump is no conservative because along with Barack Obama, Trump supported “the stimulus, the auto bailouts, and the bank bailouts.”

Yet Trump had neither authority nor power to make these ideas materialize. That distinction is enjoyed by just those politicians who Beck supported.

For years, Beck ran cover for George W. Bush, the 43rd president who, along with such members of Congress as John McCain, who Beck also endorsed for President in 2008, brought us the bank bailouts. McCain also signed onto the auto bailouts and while he didn’t back Obama’s stimulus, he announced his own stimulus in 2008—months before the election in which he lost to Obama.

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But Beck still endorsed him.

Michael Medved was an even more enthusiastic champion of McCain than was McCain himself. And in his critique of Trump he refers to Bush II as one of the two most “popular” of “conservative” presidents (the other being Ronald Reagan).

Of course, Medved is not alone in his estimation of Bush II: NR and, by implication, the 22 “conservative” pundits who it invited to warn conservative voters about Trump agree wholeheartedly.

NR, along with The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and several other Republican-friendly outfits regularly supported both the domestic and, especially, the foreign policies of Bush II—regardless of how wildly un-conservative these policies were.

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Though Beck has since come to see the Iraq War for the calamitous event that it is, he didn’t always think this way. In 2006, Beck remarked that while the Bush administration was sincere when it insisted that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” this was “just gravy.” The “real reason” that “we went into Iraq was Iran. We were going there to stop Iran by planting the seeds of democracy all around Iran” so as to “change the face of the Middle East.”

The invasion of Iraq was necessary, Beck insisted, in order to avoid World War III.

Bush didn’t tell us his real reasons for invading Iraq, Beck said, “because he felt, you know, [that] we just wouldn’t understand that we were in the early stages of World War III.”

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Let that register. According to Beck, not only was the invasion of Iraq a good idea; it was the only move necessary to prevent a third world war.

And we were already in the early stages of this war.

Of course, Beck was correct that it was indeed the agenda all along of Bush and his party to make the world—or, in this case, the Middle East—“safe for Democracy.” Beck, Medved, NR, and all of those in the better known “conservative” media outlets always knew that this was the objective.

The “progressive” of all progressives, Woodrow Wilson, would’ve been proud.

Bear this in mind as you consider that Mona Charen, another contributor to NR and supporter of the Iraq War, assures us that, in contrast with Trump, who “has made a career out of egotism,” conservatism “implies a certain modesty about government.”

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No one who favors using the United States government as an agent by which to spread “democracy” throughout the world has any kind of modesty about government.

This prosecution of this utopian fantasy has come at the cost of trillions of dollars and the incalculable cost of tens of thousands of lives extinguished and even more ruined.

It is not Trump on whose shoulders any of this rests, for he opposed this reckless enterprise.

Medved assures us that Trump’s “brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right.” So, it is Trump’s style that’s bad for conservatism—not the GOP’s launching of a war that the vast majority of Americans now regard as a colossal waste of blood and treasure, a war waged upon false pretenses.

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Besides, Medved should know by now that there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest that if only the Republican politicians, to say nothing of Republican presidential nominees, act nicer that their opponents will stop depicting them in terms of “negative stereotypes.”

He’s also concerned that Trump’s “much-heralded hard line on immigration discards pragmatic reform policies favored by the two most popular conservatives of the last half century, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.”

Reagan’s “pragmatic reform policies” regarding immigration consisted of an amnesty that he granted in 1986—and which he retrospectively judged to be the biggest mistake of his career. Implicitly, Medved at least concedes that all of this talk of “comprehensive immigration reform” really is amnesty by another name.

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As for Bush’s “conservatism,” from No Child Left Behind to the Patriot Act; from federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to Medicare Part D; from his “Home Ownership Society” (which culminated in the recession of 2008) to his nomination to the Supreme Court of John Roberts (the judge who made Obamacare the law of the land); from his efforts to grant amnesty to millions of illegals to his “War on Terror,” G.W. Bush continually proved that he was anything but a conservative.

If Bush is a conservative president, as Medved and NR continue to maintain, then we must conclude that so too are LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama conservative presidents.

Medved and company at NR also endorsed, not just Bush and McCain, but Mitt Romney, a politician whose opportunism and waffling on topics from abortion to gay marriage to gun control and many issues in between are epic. Notorious flip-flopper John Kerry seems as steady as a rock compared to Romney.

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More importantly, Romney’s socialization of healthcare in Massachusetts provided the blueprint for Obamacare.

Given their respective records, as well as the fact that Bush II, McCain, and Romney issued in a series of electoral successes for Democrats, we must ask NR: So, what exactly is conservatism, and why are you so worried about Trump?

 

 

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National Review vs. Trump–And Burke and Kirk!

posted by Jack Kerwick

National Review recently sponsored a symposium of 22 “conservative” commentators who are “against Trump.”

As for the specifics of their remarks, more will be said at a future time. The virtue of this symposium is that it has the potential to generate a conversation over the nature of conservatism.

Of course, NR’s contributors are indeed correct that Trump is not any sort of conservative in the classical or traditional sense of the word. But neither are Trump’s “conservative” critics conservative in the classical or traditional sense of the word.

Undoubtedly, Trump has never read, if he’s even heard of, Edmund Burke, “the patron saint” of conservatism. I would be surprised if he’s even heard of, let alone read, the work of the 20th century’s American reincarnation of Burke, Russell Kirk. Chances are even slimmer yet that he’s familiar with Michael Oakeshott’s classic essay, “On Being Conservative,” or George Nash’s and Paul Gottfried’s seminal studies of the conservative movement in America.

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The one contemporary nationally-renown figure who is more philosophically approximate to Burke and Kirk than anyone else—Pat Buchanan—Trump at one time ridiculed. Nor has Trump been any more generous to either Ron or Rand Paul, both of whom, though widely regarded as “libertarian,” are nevertheless conservative just insofar as they are (or at least seem to be) committed to federalism, our Constitution.

Yet here’s the rub: What’s true of Trump in all of these respects is at least as true of many of his critics in the NR symposium.

Granted, I’m sure that there are many among the latter who have heard of Burke. Since Kirk’s name was at one time on NR’s masthead, some of them have probably heard of him as well. However, Kirk’s name is scarcely ever, if at all, mentioned by any contemporary “conservatives.” And on those rare occasions when Burke’s name is dropped, it is almost always in connection with a single line of his: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

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For Buchanan and the Pauls (especially the Elder), many of the Trump critics at NR have reserved nothing but contempt.

Obviously, Burke is no more exempt from criticism than is any other thinker. But to self-identify as a conservative while being either ignorant of or dismissive toward Burke is akin to proclaiming oneself a Christian while being either ignorant of or dismissive toward Christ. At the very least, unless the concept has been divested of all meaning, a conservative must acknowledge his political-philosophical debt to Burke.

Burke articulated his famous statement of what subsequently came to be known as “conservatism” while making his case against the conflagration of the French Revolution. Burke attacked the Revolution at its root, the philosophy underwriting it. This philosophy is what has been referred to as “rationalism.”

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The radicals who supported the Revolution lent plausibility to their cause by trading in such abstractions as, say, “the Rights of Men.” Burke knew, as David Hume, another famous 18th century philosopher and political conservative, observed, that the more general are a theory’s ideas and propositions, the more remote it is from the concreteness of everyday life, the more plausible it can appear—regardless of how ridiculous the theory actually is. This is part of the appeal of rationalism: it shields nonsense from the light of day.

Burke, like both his peers and successors in the classical conservative tradition, despised rationalism. They despised ideology.

Conservatism, then, emerged as a response to rationalism, to ideology.

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Yet most of those “conservatives” who participated in the NR symposium are ideologues. Their “conservatism” is not conservative at all but, rather, another species of rationalism.

It is neoconservative.

Anyone who champions “American Exceptionalism,” the radically ahistorical doctrine that America is not a historically and culturally-specific country but an “idea,” an abstract “proposition,” is philosophically no different in temperament from the radicals who Burke reviled.

It is this rationalist fiction that’s been used to justify limitless immigration, both legal and illegal, from societies and cultures that have little to nothing in common with—and, in some instances, no small measure of hostility toward—American institutions and traditions.

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It is this rationalist fiction that has also been used as the pretext for launching endless military-centered missionary efforts—wars—to deliver another rationalist fiction, “liberal democracy,” to foreign lands around the planet.

And as Burke, Kirk, and other genuine conservatives could have predicted—and as some, like Buchanan, actually have predicted—the indulgence of such ideological fantasies has been ruinous for untold millions of actual flesh and blood human beings both at home and abroad.

In fact, given his past opposition to the disastrous invasion of Iraq and his current opposition to more American social engineering in Syria (and the Middle East generally); his diplomatic attitude toward Putin; and his recognition of the horrors and potential horrors visited upon Americans by our American-Last immigration policy, it seems that while Trump is no classical conservative, he sounds more like Burke than do his detractors at the neoconservative National Review.

 

Previous Posts

The Myth of Equality and the Forgotten Man: Remembering W.G. Sumner
I recently just found a nearly four year-old essay in Slate that caught my interest for three reasons. First, though it was written during the last presidential election, it is as succinct a statement of the left’s perspective on the ...

posted 10:20:28am Feb. 05, 2016 | read full post »

Politics and Vice
Perhaps more so than any other activity, politics has a way of begetting astonishing levels of dishonesty—and not just in politicians. Some recent examples: (1)It has now been disclosed that Ted Cruz, a self-avowed Christian, has ...

posted 10:58:57am Jan. 29, 2016 | read full post »

National Review vs Trump II: What Exactly is "Conservatism?"
That Donald Trump is no conservative is a proposition of which this conservative needs no convincing. On this score, the self-styled “conservative” contributors to the recent National Review symposium against Trump are correct. It is ...

posted 6:54:25pm Jan. 23, 2016 | read full post »

National Review vs. Trump--And Burke and Kirk!
National Review recently sponsored a symposium of 22 “conservative” commentators who are “against Trump.” As for the specifics of their remarks, more will be said at a future time. The virtue of this symposium is that it has the ...

posted 2:54:07pm Jan. 22, 2016 | read full post »

The Trump Phenomenon and the "Conservative" Movement's Identity Crisis
One can only hope that the Trump phenomenon will bring into the sunlight several fictions, most, but not all, of which GOP boosters have been promoting for years. The first is that there are two fundamentally opposed forces within the ...

posted 9:20:02am Jan. 21, 2016 | read full post »

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