At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Anachronism called the United States Constitution

posted by Jack Kerwick

From the time Barack Obama received the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, his detractors to his right have repeatedly lambasted him for his disdain for the Constitution.  From FOX News personalities to talk radio hosts, many are the self-professed champions of the Constitution who spare no occasion to warn the rest of us of the “radical” designs that Obama and his minions seek to impose upon the Republic bequeathed to us by the Founders.  

Lest there be any confusion over what follows, let the record note that President Obama most definitely is contemptuous toward the Constitutional Republic that our Founders sacrificed all to establish.  I will go even further: even though he wouldn’t dare say as much, given what is known of his ideology—an ideology notable not only for its unmistakably leftist ideals, but for its racialism—Obama, I am afraid, is probably quite contemptuous toward the Founders themselves (the Constitutional convention was, after all, whiter than a Tea Party rally!).    

What his opponents say about him, in other words, is true and then some.

But while his Republican opponents may be truthful as far they go, they don’t go nearly far enough, for in calling attention to the speck in Obama’s eye, they fail to recognize the beam in their own. 

The Constitution that such establishment “conservatives” tirelessly invoke has been rendered largely irrelevant by both Republican and Democrat alike.  And this has been the case for a long, long time.  In fact, ironically, the case can and has been made, and with far more eloquence and force than I am capable of mustering at this juncture, that if we could identify one person who could be said to have hammered the first nail in the coffin of the Constitutional Republic of our Founders, it was a Republican: Abraham Lincoln. 

From the time of the War Between the States, America has assumed a shape that the Founding generation would have found abhorrent, for from that moment, the individual states—sovereign entities all of them—were essentially reduced to agents of the national government that they created.  Thanks to the labors of “Honest Abe”—who Republicans and “conservatives” still regard as America’s best president—the father became the son and the son the father as the creature overcame its creators and the federal government broke loose of the fetters that the states had thrown upon it.

The kind of association delineated by the United States Constitution is what has been called a civil association. Political philosophers from throughout the centuries have invested much energy and imagination into distinguishing a civil association from other understandings of a state.  Whether it is Hobbes or Montesquieu, Hume or Kant, Burke or Oakeshott, a study of such portraits brings some common features into focus—features embodied by our Constitution.

First of all, the civil association to which our Constitution gives expression is indeed a moral association.  What this means, however, is that the terms of which it consists and with respect to which associates are related to one another are not devices for achieving substantive results; they are formal conditions—laws—that the associates are obligated to satisfy regardless of the results on which they set their sights.  Like any morality, the morality of civil association prescribes general principles that are indifferent to the many possible ways in which those principles can be lived out.  Or the laws of a civil association are like the rules of a game: they are impartial with respect to the players—who, in this case, are the associates (or citizens). 

Second, although we don’t literally misspeak when we speak of “Constitutional rights,” the predominance of such talk among Americans has blinded us to the fact that it is really obligations that the Constitution specifies, obligations that are equally distributed among the associates that compose the civil association that the Constitution defines.  For example, “freedom of speech” is nothing more or less than the obligation of each associate to refrain from impeding the liberty of every other associate to express himself.

In short, the Constitution consists of formal obligations to be fulfilled, not substantive plans to be executed.  That is, it tells us not what we have to do, but how we must act while doing whatever it is we choose to do. Today’s “conservatives,” though, like their leftist opponents, are ok with the government violating the Constitution, as long as the “what” that it pursues is to their liking.

The government delineated by our Constitution is basically a government divided against itself with the federal government assigned an exceptionally limited role.  Today’s “conservatives,” however, in spite of all of their rhetoric regarding “limited government,” to as great and quite possibly greater an extent than anyone else, have actually encouraged the homogenization of our once diverse government.  That is, through their endorsement of the criminalization of drugs and prostitution, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, public education, an income tax, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, No Child Left Behind, and “faith-based initiatives,” to say nothing of their support of an ever larger military and an elaborate “Homeland Security” apparatus—i.e. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”—these “conservatives” have actually strengthened the hold of the federal government over the states. 

In light of these reflections, contemporary appeals to the Constitution and the Founders on the part of “conservatives,” leftists, and almost everyone in between are, at the very best, anachronistic, for the vision of the Founders has long been a thing of the past.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published in The New American

Playing Politics with Islamic Terrorism

posted by Jack Kerwick

If ever we needed proof that politics is a land of make believe, the recent killing of Osama bin Laden is it.

The world is certainly a better place without this terrorist in it.  But to judge from the orgasmic eruptions of everyone from journalists and pundits to politicians and students, an impartial spectator could be forgiven for thinking that the reign of Islamic terror or jihad had finally been brought to a close.

In truth, the reign of Al Qaeda hasn’t even been ended.  In fact, this terrorist organization just received new life from the martyrdom of the one man whose face has come to symbolize for untold numbers of Muslims unwavering resistance to the Infidel.  It is critical to remember this.

Interestingly, had George W. Bush still been president when the events that his administration set in motion reached their culmination this past weekend, Democrats would be among the first people to remind us of this.  After all, it was the Democrats who during the better part of the last decade tirelessly cautioned Bush against supplying Al Qaeda with a recruitment tool via his aggressive foreign policy.  Yet while they were right then, that they now fail to recognize that the killing of bin Laden promises to be a much greater incentive than anything that Bush had done shows that their warnings were insincerely motivated.

They were, in a word, playing politics.

If the Democrats weren’t playing politics, then they would also be lamenting the unapologetic displays of American chauvinism that chanting crowds of students and others have arranged on college campuses and other locations—including out front of the White House.  For sure, bin Laden’s death is something from which to derive satisfaction, but chanting “USA!” in response to it can’t but strike Muslims similarly to the way that the chanting crowds of Muslims who rejoiced over the collapse of the World Trade Center struck us.

But Democrats not only refrain from criticizing these “arrogant Americans;” they have essentially chimed in right along with them.

If Democrats weren’t just playing politics with Bush’s prosecution of “the War on Terror,” then rather than sing hosannas to President Obama, they would now be talking about bringing him up on criminal charges.  The killing of bin Laden, for as richly deserved as it undeniably was, was nothing more or less than an assassination.  Furthermore, it was an assassination that ensued upon the invasion of a sovereign nation.   That this is so is borne out by the Pakistani government’s claim that it was not informed of this American “kill mission” before it transpired.

If Democrats weren’t just playing politics during the Bush years, then they would now draw our attention to the fact that President Obama deserves no more, and arguably significantly less, credit for finding bin Laden than his predecessor, for the trail that lead to bin Laden was pieced together over a period of at least five years, long before Obama was elected to the presidency.  And if Democrats weren’t just playing politics, they would as well acknowledge that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, as well as the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were there applied and that they so blatantly deplored, proved indispensable to assembling that trail.

If Democrats weren’t playing politics against Bush, they would now warn us against confusing symbol for substance.  The real “mastermind” behind 9/11, Khalid Sheik Muhammad, has been in our custody for years—i.e. long before the Obama administration was so much as a thought; bin Laden was for the most part a figure head. 

Some friends of mine, along with many others no doubt, fear that this most recent episode will guarantee President Obama’s reelection.  Equally doubtless is that Democrats plan on exploiting this episode toward just that end.  However, neither the nightmares of Republicans nor the dreams of Democrats are likely to materialize because of the killing of bin Laden. 

Obama may very well get re-elected or he may very well not; but with November of 2012 a year-and-a-half off, and with everything else that composes Obama’s track record, it would be as foolish to place all of one’s eggs in the bin Laden basket as it is foolish to think that the killing of bin Laden went any distance in harming Al Qaeda, much less Islamic jihadists the world over. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

The Killing of bin Laden and the Hypocrisy of Democrats

posted by Jack Kerwick

Some readers of this column will no doubt remember the popular 80’s television series DallasAlthough the show ran for 14 seasons, due to what may have amounted to one of the biggest blunders in television history—the exiting of a pivotal character—one of these seasons was written off as a dream!  To the dismay of many a viewer, the opening episode of the tenth season revealed that all of the events from the last segment of the eighth season through the entire ninth season never happened.  Watching the collective response of leftists to the killing of Osama bin Laden, I am reminded of this chapter of Dallas, for it is difficult not to think that the happenings of the better part of the last decade are as well the contents of a dream.

All throughout the Bush years, leftists relentlessly took our last president to task for his prosecution of “the War on Terror.”  From “wire tapping” to the war in Iraq, from the establishment of secret CIA prisons—so called “black sites”—to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, from the employment of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to his insensitivity to Muslims and disregard of “world opinion,” there wasn’t a single step taken by George W. Bush’s administration to which leftists didn’t fiercely object. 

Yet now all of that has apparently been forgotten. 

President Obama’s supporters in the media and elsewhere are positively giddy over the killing of bin Laden.  That Americans should relish in the death of this terrorist is a proposition with which I wholeheartedly agree, mind you; what is worth marveling at, what is more than just a bit hypocritical, is that leftist Democrats should relish in it.

After all, in order to locate bin Laden, this president had to rely upon a trail of information that his predecessor assembled by way of the very strategies and tactics that he and his fellow partisans staunchly resisted.  The details of all this are still a bit murky, but at the very least what appears to be increasingly indisputable is that had it not been for the implementation of the very “enhanced interrogation techniques”—what during the Bush years was called “torture”—we never would have found bin Laden. 

But this isn’t all.

When Bush launched the Iraq War, Democrats complained that Bush had (1) “unilaterally” (2) invaded a sovereign nation (3) that never attacked us.  For these reasons, this war was deemed at once “immoral” and “illegal.”  Now, Pakistan is also a sovereign nation.  Yet this past week, Obama undercut its sovereignty by invading it, and he did so unilaterally.  Moreover, from latest accounts, he did so in order to assassinate an unarmed man. 

Again, the point here isn’t that I necessarily think that Obama acted wrongly.  The point is that by the standards according to which the left judged George W. Bush, there isn’t a leftist alive who shouldn’t be demanding, not Osama’s head, but Obama’s.

It isn’t just the Democrat’s hypocrisy to be disclosed by this latest news cycle, though.  The Republican’s ignorance is also now on full display. 

The notion that Democrats are “appeasers” or “pacifists” is now seen for the fiction that it is.  Anyone remotely familiar with the nature of leftism would have already known this. 

In his quest to “fundamentally transform” his society by deploying his brethren’s resources in the service of his own plans, the leftist has always known that, as Rahm Emmanuel once famously remarked, he can never allow “a good crisis” go to waste.  In times of crisis, the resistance to the government’s imposition upon the citizenry of “the solution” to the latest epic challenge with which that new acquisition of power would ordinarily be met is rendered negligible. 

The liberties to which Americans have grown attached and that were bequeathed to them by their English forbears are located in the interstices of the multiple “checks and balances” on power that our Constitution delineates. Since it is this wide dispersion of power and authority that remains the most formidable obstacle to the realization of the leftist’s utopian dreams, his disdain toward it is inseparable from his disdain toward the liberties that it makes possible. 

What this in turn means is that, far from being dovish about war, the leftist can’t but love it, for nothing so epitomizes a crisis as war. 

War is not just a pretext for those in government to amass ever greater concentrations of power and authority over the lives of citizens; it is the ultimate pretext for this purpose.  In the name of protecting the liberty of the individual, the fact or just the belief that there is a war permits the government to actually erode that liberty.  Indeed, it is impossible that it should avoid doing so during war.

And when the war in question is being waged, not against a determinate, concrete enemy—i.e. a nation-state—but an abstraction like Drugs, Crime, Poverty, Racism, or—as in the present case—Islamic Terror, it is inescapably a war in perpetuity, and inescapably the largest threat to a people’s freedom.  

War is sometimes necessary, but it is crucial for all lovers of our liberties to be forever mindful that any one who calls for potentially endless war, though he may be among us, is most certainly not of us.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

What Does Obama Really want for America?

posted by Jack Kerwick

Among pundits on the right, there has been disagreement for quite some time over the fundamental motives informing President Obama’s agenda.  Essentially two schools of thought on the matter have emerged.

One school insists that while the president’s policy prescriptions are indeed ultimately destructive, he nevertheless genuinely believes that their implementation is what’s best for the country.  This is the position taken by the likes of, say, Bill O’Reilly and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Michael Medved. 

Members of the other school are convinced that Obama is resolved to weaken America.  Only a determination on his part to diminish the country’s military and economic preeminence in the world and traditional liberties at home can account for an agenda that is so obviously destructive of the nation that we have always known.  Among the most illustrious exponents of this view is Rush Limbaugh.

Adherents of the first position think that the adherents of the second line are idiotic, if not “crazy” (although, interestingly, they haven’t dared to call out by name “the King of talk radio” who has been in the vanguard of advancing it); champions of the latter believe that the former are naïve and confused.

This may come as a shock to both sets of apologists, but a synthesis of their perspectives is attainable.

Though there have been more than a few thinkers who have quarreled with it, the thesis that no one ever chooses evil for its own sake has an impressive pedigree stretching back into antiquity.  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Christian theorists up to the present day have affirmed that evil is always done for the sake of some perceived good—pleasure, riches, power, fame, love, and so forth.  It is in light of this principle that we can hope to go some distance in reconciling these two competing positions on Obama’s intentions.

The idea that the president of the United States wakes up each morning scheming over how he may ruin the country over which he presides is, of course, the stuff of fantasy.  Contrary to what the Michael Medveds insinuate, however, I don’t think for a second that either Rush or the legions of people who share his view of Obama entertain this view.  Still, given the baldness with which Rush and others have stated their position, I suppose it lends itself to this caricature.  

But it is similarly foolish to think that it is from nothing other than the union of an ignorance of the most basic economic principles and a comparable ignorance of history that the president’s obviously destructive policies are begotten.  Regrettably, to hear O’Reilly and Medved speak, one could be forgiven for concluding that this is what they really think.

While discussing this issue with a friend of mine recently, he reminded me of C.S Lewis’ argument regarding the Jesus who is presented to us in the pages of the New Testament: either Jesus was the Son of God, as He claimed, or else He was an egomaniac or a mad man.  Given the self-referential remarks that the Biblical authors attribute to Jesus, there is simply no other alternative.  Likewise, my friend continued, Obama’s utterances and deeds are born of either an invincible ignorance of their consequences—in which case he is without question the most incompetent president of all time—or a plan to ruin America—in which case he is indeed guilty of the designs that Rush and others ascribe to him.  There is no third possibility.

Maybe there is. 

Obama knows that his economic policies are productive of neither liberty as traditionally conceived by Americans nor prosperity.  He would have to be, not just the most incompetent president ever, but among the most dense of human beings, for given the extensive exposure that he has had to both Keynesian and neo-Marxian philosophy—anyone who takes the time to read his memoirs, particularly his first, and who considers the worldview of the people around whom he has surrounded himself for most of his life would know this—he could only know by now full well the fruits that these policies promise to reap.

But from this it doesn’t follow that Obama anticipates the ruination of America as such.  There can be no doubt, I don’t think, that he wants to preside over an America that is morally superior and, hence, better, than the country that elected him two years ago.  The problem, though, is that the America of Obama’s imaginings is radically unlike the America to which most of its citizens have an acquired affection and even more unlike the America within which their ancestors made their home.  That is, the “fundamental transformation” that Obama wants to visit upon America demands nothing more or less than the death of America as it is currently constituted; only once America as a living reality is eliminated can America as Obama’s ideal be substituted for it.

The philosopher Ronald Dworkin once said that “a more equal society”—a society the resources of which are equally “distributed”—is better than the contrary, even if its citizens prefer inequality.  Anyone who has paid any attention at all to Obama must know that he couldn’t agree more with this thought. 

So, our president does indeed think that as a people, Americans will be “better” in the wake of the “fundamental transformation” that he wants to impose upon us. So the O’Reillys and Medveds are correct in this respect.  However, neither Rush, myself, nor the large numbers of Americans who love the liberties for which our forefathers labored indefatigably to bequeath to us are likely to receive much consolation from this. After all, the fact remains that his intentions aside, our president is determined to see the historic nation that is the real America go the way of the dinosaur.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.     

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