At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Why We Must Combat the Evil of Crime

posted by Jack Kerwick

In promoting the nation-building enterprises upon which President George W. Bush embarked the U.S. military, the most visible and loudest voices of the conventional right are forever reminding the rest of us of the need for interminable war against the dreaded “Islamo-Fascist.”  Anyone who doesn’t endorse the neoconservative vision of “the War on Terror,” or anyone, like President Obama, who doesn’t prosecute it with the neoconservative’s zeal, is deemed weak.  As neoconservative radio and television personality Sean Hannity typically says of his political opponents, they simply do not grasp “the nature of evil in our time.”

Let us note, firstly, that inasmuch as the Islamic terrorist deliberately targets for death innocent human beings—not just men, but women and children—the neoconservative is correct that such a creature is indeed evil.  Yet few people in the non-Islamic world, and doubtless not even all Muslims, fail to recognize this at least at some level of consciousness. And yes, the neoconservative is further correct that Islamic terrorism poses a threat to our way of life against which we must remain forever vigilant.

Ironically, though, because of his singular focus on—some would say obsession with—Islamic terrorism, and his relative silence with respect to the crime with which America is plagued, it is actually the neoconservative who fails to reckon with “the nature of evil in our time.”  This is no exaggeration, for America’s criminals pose a far greater threat to her than do Islamic terrorists.

There are a couple of reasons for this verdict.

First, a modern state is a legal association.  The members of a state—its associates—are citizens related to one another through the laws that constitute the association.  This, I believe, is what Americans mean when they describe their beloved country as “a nation of laws, not of men,” or when they say that “no one is above the law.” 

Since, then, as citizens we are held together by law, every instance of outlawry, every crime, is an assault against our association.  And because the Criminal is as much an associate as the rest of us, he imperils his fellow citizens to an extent the likes of which the Islamic terrorist can only dream.

The second argument for my thesis is really a variant of the first. Another respect in which criminals undercut the thread—the law—that makes us citizens and binds us together pertains to the power that they assume over their prey. 

The early modern philosopher Thomas Hobbes contrasted civil society—life under government—with what he called “the state of nature,” a pre-political condition from which government was absent.  In Hobbes’ vision, life in the state of nature is most unpleasant, a “war of all against all,” for in a state of nature there is no “common power” (authority) to which all individuals are bound, no law to which they can appeal in adjudicating their conflicts.  And because there is no settled law, there are no obligations: each individual has an absolute right to appropriate whatever means he deems fit for the sake of preserving his always precarious existence.

It is precisely because of life’s wretchedness in a state of nature that individuals agree to abandon it by creating government, an office of rule whose jurisdiction extends over all who consent to exchange their unconditional right to self-preservation for the peace that government’s establishment and enforcement of law promises to secure.

Now, there is much to quarrel with in Hobbes’ classic statement of the rise and justification of government, but it is not without more than its share of insights. The idea on which we should focus here is the idea that as long as individuals refuse to submit to one and the same system of law, as long as they remain determined to seek their own advancement regardless of the costs it imposes on others, they in effect repudiate the civil condition and, thus, reignite the war of all against all that characterized the state of nature. 

This is what the Criminal has done.  In throwing all constraints to the wind, he becomes the predator to the law abiding citizen’s prey. 

Indeed, this isn’t just a point of abstract theory. The Criminal has been exploiting and intimidating the law abiding for as long as he has existed. But when he joins himself to those who think as he does—when he becomes a mobster or a gangster—it is then that his power over others becomes truly invidious.  To the old familiar objection that mobsters, especially Mafiosi, only bother one another, two replies are in the coming. 

First, insofar as it those victims specifically targeted for attack of whom we are concerned, this statement is generally—but only generally—true.  For example, former head of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti, had a neighbor who accidentally killed Gotti’s twelve year-old son with his car.  The ever merciful Gotti had the poor man murdered. 

Second, momentarily putting to one side the main point of my argument—which is that every law abiding member of our legal association is the Criminal’s victim—we can turn to the bulk of the residents of the Criminal’s stomping grounds to see the immense power that he is able to wield over them.  After all, how many law abiding blacks and Hispanics in the ‘hoods and barrios of America have shown the will to cooperate with law enforcement officers in bringing the Bloods, the Crips, the Latino Kings, and other gang members to justice?  And the fear that black and brown criminals have inspired in the law abiding members of their communities white criminals have been inspiring in the law abiding members of theirs, whether it is in America’s “Little Italy’s” or anywhere else.

Neoconservative Republicans have been critical of “moderate Muslims” for their alleged failure to speak out against the evil of the Islamic terrorist.  Yet neither the neoconservatives nor, for all of that, most of us been outspoken when it comes to combating the evil of the Criminal right here at home.

In this article, I hoped to show why our domestic crime is the greatest evil with which we have to contend. In the next, I hope to show how each of us may do our best to combat it.             

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

Alienation and Obama

posted by Jack Kerwick

Within no time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, his honeymoon was met with a backlash of epic proportions, an uprising against “Big Government” of which the newly created Tea Party was an emblem.  Many of Obama’s left-leaning supporters, both in Washington as well as in the media, identified this phenomenon as a “racist” reaction to the election of our “first black president.”

Those on the right, forever ready to prove their color-blindness, insist that Obama’s color or race hasn’t anything to do with their frustrations; rather, it is his determination to grow the government well beyond anything that it has ever been—and even further beyond anything that it was originally intended to be—that is the source of their angst.  In a word, it is Obama’s “socialism” that unleashed the beast typified by the Tea Party movement.  Had he been any other color and still been a socialist, his conduct would have been greeted by exactly the same response.

So, does Obama’s race factor into the grassroots rebellion that his election invited?

It may interest readers of this column to discover that I find the left’s account of events to contain some truth.  Of course, the idea that the overwhelming majority of whites that constitute the Tea Party and “conservative” movements, to say nothing of the Republican Party, are driven by an irrational and malevolent pathology called “racism” is absurd.  However, that Obama’s race informs, to some extent, the great awakening that appears to have transpired over the last couple of years is a proposition that isn’t so easy to circumvent.

The aggressiveness with which Obama and his Democrats pursued his socialist agenda isn’t itself what gave rise to the resistance with which it has been met.  I have no doubts that had John McCain or some other Republican been president, and had this Republican moved just as speedily and ambitiously as Obama in advancing the same exact program as the latter, the town hall meetings, massive Tea Party demonstrations, and the like would never have occurred.  Moreover, while there would have been some measure of outrage, I suspect that even had any other Democrat been president and moved with the swiftness that Obama moved, chances are that this outrage would not have been as intense as that which Obama faces.

Conservative students of modernity have long noted the sense of “alienation” experienced by citizens of the modern state.  The modern state—what is commonly (but not always correctly) called “the nation-state”—is unprecedented for its largeness of size and scope.  Thus, the national governments of such entities, of necessity, are far removed from the everyday lives of the citizens over which they preside.  Due to this, citizens tend to feel as if their government is something over and above them.  That is, they feel alienated from it.

Much to the chagrin of many a leftist, from its inception to the present day, the vast majority of America’s citizens have been white.  The segment of the population with ancestral roots in Europe has diminished some in recent decades, it is true, but the country remains predominantly white.  Given this fact, for as racially enlightened as 21st whites undoubtedly are relative to other peoples around the world and throughout history, this tacit sense on the part of Tea Partiers and scores of others that their federal government is among them, not of them, intensified with the election of our 44th president. 

However, as Obama’s opponents have repeatedly insisted, the color of his skin alone isn’t relevant to their feelings toward him and their government. After all, contrary to popular opinion, no one, white, black, or other, ever sees just color.  Race is never thought of as a just a matter of biology.  In every person’s mind, race encompasses certain cultural, and even ideological, characteristics.  Blacks more so than anyone recognize this, a fact that explains such otherwise puzzling phenomena as their description of Bill Clinton as “the first black president” and the insistence of left-leaning blacks that their more conservative minded brethren aren’t really black. 

No, that our president has more melanin than the majority of Americans is by itself neither here nor there.  His color isn’t at issue.  But Obama is a “race man.”  This much has always been abundantly clear to anyone who was willing to read his first memoir—Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance—or consider his selection of allies.  Whites chose to ignore all of this. Blacks, in stark contrast, are well aware of it.       

By some estimates, Obama received as much as 96% of the black vote.  Thus, blacks have no doubts regarding his racial authenticity. Yet Obama is considered authentically black precisely because of both his alliances—let us never forget the colorful cast of far left racial ideologues with whom Obama surrounded himself for most of his life, beginning with his pastor and “spiritual mentor” of over two decades, Jeremiah Wright—as well as his unapologetic endorsement of a robust redistributive scheme designed to transfer resources from whites to non-whites.  

Though they won’t admit this, even to themselves, I maintain that since his election, it has dawned on an ever growing number of whites that this black president may regard himself as black before he regards himself as the president.    

It is this realization, I contend, that has exacerbated their sense that their government is as alien to them as is Obama’s name.   

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

The Real Ron Paul on Foreign Policy

posted by Jack Kerwick

Ron Paul’s fellow Republicans haven’t just castigated him for his foreign policy positions; they have routinely and resoundingly mocked him.  What has the Texas congressman said that is so rationally and morally indefensible?  When we move beyond the universe of sound bites that is our contemporary politics and look at Paul’s actual arguments for the views that he holds, the answer to this question hits us like a ton of bricks: nothing.

In his most recently published, Liberty Defined, Paul elaborates at some length on his controversial view.  Contra the Republican neoconservative establishment, he thinks the current course of waging an interminable War on Terror for the sake of establishing “democratic” governments throughout the Middle East (and beyond?) is most unwise. America’s crusade to transform the world in its image—what else could it be given that we have “troops in 135 countries” and “900 [military] bases” around the world?—has had the effect of transforming America from a republic into an empire.  But empire and liberty are incompatible.  Paul is swift and decisive: “The American Empire is the enemy of American freedom.  It is every bit as much the enemy of American citizens as it is of its victims around the world.” 

This isn’t hyperbole.  As Paul correctly states, an empire “is incompatible with a free society,” for the former “requires perpetual war and preparation for war [.]” As many an observer—students of the classical conservative tradition in particular—have long noted, a “free society” is at no time more unrecognizable to itself than during times of war.  And when this “war” is undeclared, as is our current War on Terror—that is, when the Constitution’s demand for a declaration of war is ignored—American style liberty is dealt a blow of incalculable proportions.    

War is the quintessential crisis, and as Rahm Emmanuel once succinctly put it, it is imprudent for government to ever “let a good crisis go to waste.”  The point is that during a crisis, especially a crisis like war when the governed are threatened by an enemy resolved to destroy them, a free people, in order to satiate its desire for safety and victory, will be more disposed to relinquish its liberties than it otherwise would be.  At the same time that citizens become less free, the government becomes less constrained.  Paul writes: “War feeds the growth of the state.  The state is nourished on the liberties of the people.”

A second reason that Paul supplies for his opposition to “our foreign policy of interventionism” pertains to the extent to which it debases its supporters.  President George W. Bush himself provided a vintage example of this back in 2004 at the Annual Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner.  Some may recall that at this event, the president presented a slide show of himself searching the White House for the weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq.  “To treat with such levity such a serious blunder (some would call it a lie) that has caused so much death and destruction,” Paul asserts, “is beyond the pale.”  Worse, “those present at the dinner all had a good laugh over it.” 

Another illustration of this “callous disregard for decency relating to foreign policy” transpired during Democratic Senator Max Cleland’s reelection race in 2002.  Cleland lost both of his legs and an arm while serving in the Vietnam War, yet because he opposed the impending invasion of Iraq, his Republican rivals ran ads depicting Cleland as weak on issues of national defense.  Paul explains: “The ad had Senator Cleland’s face morphed into Saddam Hussein’s while it implied that Cleland didn’t’ care about the security of the American people because he didn’t always vote with President Bush.”  Moreover, there were Republicans who “even insisted that Max Cleland not be referred to as a war hero though he had been awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action.”

Paul concludes that all of this “was about as low as one can get in politics.” 

The third reason Paul resists with every fiber of his being “our foreign policy of interventionism” is its exorbitant monetary costs.  “When empires are rich…the people grow dependent, work and produce less, and enjoy the ‘bread and circuses’ or their ‘guns and butter’ while drowning in consumer excesses, encouraged by moral decay and financed by debt.”  But this only “hastens the day of reckoning when the bills come due and the empire collapses.” 

As Paul points out, “Tea Party activists” who “often claim to oppose the system of tax and spend, bailouts and socialism,” fail to realize that “to the extent that they uncritically defend U.S. foreign policy, they are supporting all the policies they claim to be against.” 

The fourth and final reason Paul gives for his position is, quite simply, that it doesn’t work.  Our invasions and occupations of Islamic lands, far from rendering us more secure, have made an already dangerous world that much more dangerous, for our aggression only emboldens those against whom our policies are aimed.  No amount of   “lying, or denying the…blowback” from our actions in “other nations, especially Arab and Muslim countries,” can nullify it.  And all such lying or denying actually “presents the greatest danger to our security, freedom, and prosperity.”

In summary, Ron Paul, like the George W. Bush of 2000, favors a more “humble” foreign policy. He opposes the “foreign adventurism,” as he characterizes it, of his neoconservative Republican detractors for essentially four reasons.  This militaristic enterprise: undermines our liberties; corrupts the characters of those who endorse it; depletes our resources; and makes us less secure.

The reader is now left with a thought or two to ponder:  Is there anything in Congressman Paul’s case against the Republican establishment’s foreign policy vision that warrants the treatment to which it has subjected him?  In fact is Paul’s position not eminently sensible?

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

The Real Ron Paul on Marriage and Drugs

posted by Jack Kerwick

As of late, Ron Paul has once again been the subject of relentless criticism courtesy of Republican Party pundits. 

It is his positions on marriage, “recreational” drugs, and current American foreign policy that invite, not just his detractors’ objections, but their ridicule and even their wrath.  In all fairness, it is Paul’s statements in the Republican presidential primary debates—a venue, it must be admitted, that is not readily accommodating of the impassioned Texas congressman’s rather unorthodox beliefs—to which his critics speak.  However, given that Paul has authored several reader-friendly books in which he elaborates on his views, if the GOP talking heads were really interested in what he thought, it is reasonable to expect that they would turn to these works.

So, what does Paul think about the aforementioned topics?

Let’s take marriage first. 

When asked during the New Hampshire debate whether he would support a Constitutional amendment explicitly defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, Paul replied in the negative.  He then followed up by insisting that “government” shouldn’t have anything at all to do with this institution.  For this claim, he was excoriated by the likes of Ann Coulter and Michael Medved who exclaimed that Paul’s position would result in an anarchic situation in which property settlements, benefits claims, and the like would be rendered impossible.

The hysteria with which Coulter and Medved responded to Paul is in keeping with the hysteria that we have come to expect from his Republican opponents.  Still, so defective is their reasoning on this score that it is hard to shake the suspicion that it is, at least in part, a function of bad faith.  

Paul is not alone among his colleagues and competitors in the primaries in speaking of “government” interchangeably with the federal government.  In fact, all of the candidates have a tendency to do this.  And considering that they are all running for the presidency, it is to be expected that this should be so.  That it is the federal government’s relationship to the institution of marriage with which Paul is principally concerned is born out by the following considerations.

First, it is the office of the presidency on which he sets his sights.

Second, being the constitutionalist that he is, there can be no doubt that if Paul were president, he would discharge only that narrow set of obligations that the Constitution specifies for holders of office at the federal level.  How the individual states decided to treat marriage or any other issue that falls beyond the federal government’s constitutionally delineated jurisdiction is a matter respecting which a President Paul would be indifferent.

Third, again, the issue under question is an amendment to the Constitution that would supply a formal definition of marriage.  Since it was immediately upon informing us that he would not endorse this amendment that Paul asserted his wish to see government remove itself from the marriage business altogether, anyone with any sensitivity to the context of this exchange should be able to recognize that “the government” to which he refers is the federal government.

In his newly published Liberty Defined, Paul is clear: “Under our system, the federal government was granted no authority over this issue [of marriage].”  As for Coulter’s and Medved’s charge that Paul’s reasoning promises to result in chaos, the much maligned maverick has a reply ready at hand.  He says that not unlike parties to all other “voluntary and consensual agreements,” when marital “disputes” arise, spouses will have recourse to “the courts.”   In other words, whether consenting adults want to call their arrangement “marriage” or not should be beside the point, from the government’s standpoint; when disputes occur, government—its judiciary branch—will adjudicate them. 

As for drugs, while Paul thinks that governments should never coerce citizens when it comes to such self-regarding conduct as drug use, it is the federal government’s “War on Drugs” with which he is primarily interested.  Here, once more, we turn to Paul in his own words as they appear in Liberty Defined.  

First of all, Paul draws heavily from the example of alcohol prohibition and the ill-fated Eighteenth Amendment.  That is, he relies upon the federal government’s utterly disastrous efforts to proscribe a “personal activity.”   Paul writes: “Alcohol prohibition was destined to wreak havoc on the American people.  It bred lawlessness and underworld criminal syndicates,” and because the alcohol, due to its criminalization, was now less safe, it “led to blindness and death.”  When these casualties are added to “the many” whose lives were extinguished in “the violence that occurred in” the alcohol’s “delivery,” the Prohibition Era reveals itself to be a bloody era indeed. 

But for as big of a failure as the “War on Booze” undoubtedly was, the War on Drugs is that much worse.  The War on Drugs has cost us “hundreds of billions of dollars,” to say nothing of the costs in “the loss of civil liberties” and a crime rate that “far surpasses the crime related to the fifteen years of alcohol prohibition.” 

Paul anticipates the day when “the country will wake up and suddenly decide, as we did in 1933, that prohibition to improve personal behavior is a lost cause [.]”  He thinks that this day may come sooner rather than later “because of the growing perception that the federal government is inept and that individual states must reassert themselves in order to provide more sensible government to their citizens.”

Paul, you see, has never said that if here were president, he would see to it that drugs are everywhere legalized.  He clarifies this in the very first paragraph his chapter on “Prohibition.”  He writes: “If there are to be any regulations on the use of certain substances in the United States, it was intended that this should be done by the individual states, not by the federal government.”

Because it is Ron Paul’s position on foreign policy that lies at the core of his Republican opponents’ disdain for him, I will address this issue in full in my next article.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

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