At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Tips for the Republican Voter

posted by Jack Kerwick

As the presidential campaign for 2012 gets under way, conservatives, libertarians, and others typically disposed to vote for Republican candidates would do themselves a good turn to bear a few things in mind as we enter the next election cycle.

Every candidate in the Republican primaries is going to exhaust themselves trying to convince voters of the impeccability of their “conservative” credentials.  And in the run up to the general election, the GOP nominee will continue to insist upon his or her unqualified commitment to “limited government,” “the Constitution,” “individualism,” “the free market,” and the like. 

All of this, of course, is to be expected.  Just as expected, though, is that during neither the primaries nor any time prior to election day will we hear a peep from any of the candidates on the need for, say, “compromise” or “bi-partisanship.”  We will not be treated to lectures of the kind to which condescending Republicans have been subjecting us since this last November when Republicans reacquired control of the House.  Since then, we have been “reminded” endlessly of the need to recognize that Republicans still only occupy “one half of one-third” of the government.  But worry not: no more cautionary notes of this sort will be issued from this point forward—until after the election, of course.

This is one consideration to which the voter should attend, for perhaps he can spend this time both recalling for the candidates the excuses that House Republicans have given for failing to execute their pledges since they took office in November and pressing them to specify details as to how they will follow through with their promises in the event that they meet formidable Democratic resistance.     

There is another consideration that deserves the voter’s focus.

Talk radio and FOX News personalities styling themselves the guardians of “conservative” orthodoxy will debate amongst themselves as to which of the candidates within the field are and are not truly “conservative.”  As the voter beholds these discussions, he should pay meticulous attention to the criteria by which the pundits evaluate the “conservatism” of the candidates.  What he discovers may surprise him.

By the lights of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and most of their colleagues in the so-called “alternative media,” a genuine “conservative” is, first and foremost, a proponent of “strong national defense.”  Now, if you are wondering what is distinctively, much less uniquely, “conservative” about such a position, you should be, for this is a bumper sticker slogan plain and simple, a pep rally expression just as vapid as the plethora of such expressions that Republicans routinely bandy about to distinguish their party from that of their opponents. 

Outside of anarchists, and maybe not even then, no one disfavors a “strong national defense.”  But the “national defense” of which the pundits on the right speak, it is crucial to realize, isn’t the same thing that the average person has in mind when he hears this phrase.  For the average person, national defense consists simply in the government’s pursuing the one engagement that everyone expects for it to pursue: the protection of the citizens of the United States.  For the average person, this in turn means that the government must defend the country from those who would seek to undermine it. 

This, though, is not what “the conservative” means when he talks of “national defense.”  Ironically, his episodic explosions of indignation over our porous southern border—which only seem to occur when the government’s agents begin their push for amnesty—put into question whether he is even all that concerned about border patrol. No, when the guardian of “conservative values” demands a “strong national defense,” what he demands is an ever larger military to involve itself in an ever greater number of countries throughout the world.

Although one wouldn’t know it given all of his criticism of the pro-lifer for allegedly being a “one issue” voter, it is the establishment Republican “conservative” who judges candidates on the basis of whether they endorse his foreign policy vision.  A real conservative, as far as he is concerned, believes that it is America’s mission to export “Democratic” values to the world—even if this means, as it usually means, deploying the United States military to do so.

Two comments are in order here, the one an observation, the other its implication. 

First, with the sole exception of Ron Paul, it appears that every Republican presidential candidate, actual and potential, is committed to promoting a “Democratic Revolution” the globe over.  Their affirmation of “American Exceptionalism,” “Human Rights,” “the War on Terror,” and so forth, is exactly an affirmation of this commitment.

Second, because the punditry class defines “conservatism” primarily in terms of this foreign policy position, and because all of the candidates—again, with the exception of Ron Paul—endorse this position, it follows that the “debates” that will ensue between Republicans over the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis “conservatism” are, in a word, contrived. 

That the debates are, for the most part, scripted, is seen by the manner in which Ron Paul’s rejection of the script is treated.  Paul, the voter will note, is never, ever characterized as a “conservative” by Republican pundits and office holders.  Granted, it isn’t that he is necessarily always derided and mocked; but the “conservative” commentator will be sure to call him a “libertarian.” The idea here is that anyone who rejects the GOP’s robust, militaristic foreign policy, however devout a Christian he may be, or however resolved he may be to honoring—and restoring—the Constitution, such a person might be any number of things, but he is no conservative.          

The right-leaning voter should be mindful of these truths so that he may avoid being taken for the same sucker for which the Republican Party has taken him for far too long.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

The Neoconservative Philosophy

posted by Jack Kerwick

Although it had been in circulation for decades, it was only during the tenure of our last president that the term “neoconservatism” really gained traction.  It is a funny thing, this word, for while it was a Jewish intellectual, Irving Kristol, who first coined it, those to whom it was ascribed would alternately embrace it or, which was more frequently the case, eschew it as “anti-Semitic.”

Whether “anti-Semitism” is or ever was a meaningful concept is a matter with which we needn’t concern ourselves.  What we know is that it is commonly equated with anti-Jewish animus.  The point I wish to make here is that not only is it illegitimate to view the word “neoconservatism” as the function of this sort of animus, but it is wrong to think that it is a pejorative term of any sort.    

Neoconservatism is a distinctive political orientation.  In fact, not only is it distinct from what I will call the classical conservative tradition, it is fundamentally different in kind from the latter. 

We have a tendency to define political orientations in terms of the specific policy positions typically associated with them.  For example, a “liberal” is someone who supports “abortion rights,” “labor unions,” expansive “welfare” entitlements, etc. while a “conservative” opposes abortion and favors “limited government” and a “strong national defense.”  But the identity of any political orientation really comes into focus once we look beyond the substance of the policy prescriptions to the formal philosophical suppositions that inform them.

Epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy are three branches of philosophy.  The first is the study of knowledge.  Those who specialize in epistemology concern themselves with such questions as: What is knowledge? Is it attainable and, if so, how do we attain it?  Ethics is the study of morality.  Ethicists analyze such basic moral concepts as obligation, right, good, evil, virtue, and a host of other topics constitutive of the moral life.  Political philosophy, as the name suggests, is the exploration of politics.  Characteristic political philosophical questions are: What kind of entity is the state?  What is or should be the relationship between the government and the citizen?

Upon analyzing neoconservatism, what we discover is that epistemologically, ethically, and political philosophically, it is much more akin to what is commonly called “liberalism” than it is the classical conservatism of which Edmund Burke is said to be the “patron saint.”

Epistemology

From the neoconservative’s conception of America as a “propositional” or “creedal” nation—a nation erected upon an idea—we can derive his conception of reason.  For the neoconservative, Reason stands over and above culture and tradition.  It is owes nothing to contingency.  There is one and the same Intellect for all rational beings, regardless of time and place. This, of course, doesn’t mean that all people possess equal intellectual facility; what it means is that if there was such equality, then all rational minds would converge seamlessly upon the same ideas.    

The neoconservative is, in other words, a Rationalist.  As such, he is of a piece with leftist Rationalists of various sorts who for the last couple centuries or so have insisted upon the competence of unaided Reason to supply “solutions” to all of life’s problems.

However, this Rationalism of which neoconservatism is the most recent expression is exactly that intellectual fashion against which classical conservatism originally emerged as the distinctive tradition that it is.  It was the Rationalist’s substitution of an omniscient, omnipotent Reason for an omniscient, omnipotent God that inspired Burke and the like to formulate what has since been known as conservatism.  

Ethics

The neoconservative’s idea of Reason is inseparable from his ethics and his political philosophy.  Let’s look at the former first.

The abstract, universal, omnipotent Reason at the center of the neoconservative’s epistemological scheme provides access to moral principles that are equally abstract and universal.  That is, morality, for the neoconservative, is comprised first and foremost of principles, whether they are called “Human Rights,” “Liberty,” “Equality,” “Freedom,” or whatever. These are principles that, because they are held to be accessible to all rational beings, are self-evident. 

Now, principles are indispensable to any morality; there is nothing distinctive, much less controversial, about a moral vision allotting room for principles.  But the rationalist morality of the neoconservative both assigns principles a central position as well as regards them as timeless.  Since that which is timeless by definition transcends time, what this implies is that the moral principles of the neoconservative transcend tradition, habit, and custom. 

In short, these moral principles owe nothing to just those things that classical conservatives have regarded as the sources of moral inspiration and character formation.  Principles, as I said, are important.  Yet to concede this much is most certainly not endorse the neoconservative’s understanding of principles.  Rather, for the classical conservative, far from subsisting in advance of tradition, moral principles are abstracted from it.  That is, moral principles stand in relation to traditions of conduct the way that grammatical principles stand in relation to living languages: before there are principles there must first be a tradition to give them life.

Political Philosophy

The neoconservative views the state—or what is more customarily referred to as “the nation-state”—as a certain kind of association, what the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott called an “enterprise association.”  An association of this kind is determined by its end or goal, a substantive state of affairs toward the realization of which all of the associates are expected to contribute.  In the case of the state, this goal has been variously defined: Equality, Freedom, Security, Piety, Prosperity, and Virtue are just some of the candidates that have been submitted. 

When the neoconservative erroneously speaks of it in terms of a system of “free enterprise,” he reveals his bias in favor of this reading of the state.  If this is what the state is, then its end is Prosperity or Affluence.  More telling, however, is the neoconservative’s penchant for conceiving the state, or at least the American state, as a Democracy. 

In one sense, of course, the United States is a democracy.  The neoconservative’s assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, “democracy” refers to nothing more or less than the terms in which authority is constituted; it does not refer to the engagements that a state will or should pursue.  “Democracy,” in other words, is a certain kind of procedure.  It has nothing to do with the results that a government will seek to produce.  Democracy could give us Ron Paul or Barack Obama, the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas.  So, those who think that only a faux democratic system could catapult a terrorist into office are sorely mistaken as to what democracy is.

An enterprise association is incompatible with the freedom and liberty that our Constitution was designed to supply and secure, for the members of an enterprise association are not free to pursue their own ends but, rather, are required to part with some of their resources in order to pursue the end of the collective enterprise. 

The classical conservative knows this.  This is why he sees in the Constitution, at least as it was originally conceived, the terms, not of an enterprise association, but of a civil association. 

Neoconservatism is a distinctive way of attending to politics, but it is eons apart from classical conservatism.    

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

Caution: Misology-Free Zone

posted by Jack Kerwick

If, as the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant had noted, the hatred of reason is “misology,” then he who is guilty of misology is a misologist.   While this language is no longer in vogue (if it ever was), there can be no question that the misologist remains as salient a figure in our day as he was in Kant’s.  Upon reading some of the comments made to my postings on this blog, anyone with any doubts on this score would have them decisively, irrevocably, put out to pasture.

Due either to the lack of ability or will, some people are indisposed to reason.  Argumentation gives way to misrepresentations and, especially, insults.  Because, to my great shame, I am not above repaying harm with harm, I am going to remove the temptation to do so.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new month.  Beginning tomorrow, I will not permit ad hominem attacks against either myself or any other contributor to the discussions that unfold on this blog.  What this means is that in addition to banning ordinary apolitical insults—“idiot,” “moron,” etc.—such choice terms of abuse as “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “fascist,” “Nazi,” “Islamophobia,” “anti-Semitism,” and all such standard Politically Correct weapons of mass character destruction will also be proscribed.  We can discuss these conversation-stoppers, these spoilers of the well of discourse; indeed I have every intention of so doing.  But in the interest of clear thought and constructive and civil discourse, I will not allow them to any longer be enlisted in the service of intimidating and bullying those with whom the bullies—i.e. the misologists—disagree.    

Those lacking in intellectual prowess will doubtless find this ban on name-calling intolerably restrictive.  Fortunately, for their sakes, they are free to start their own blogs where misology can run wild. But as for At the Intersection of Faith and Culture, it is a misology-free zone.    

Jack

“Anti-Semitism” and Anti-Christian Bigotry

posted by Jack Kerwick

I recently received a very disturbing response to an article of mine.  In “The Catholic Church and the Left,” I had argued that in spite of its infiltration of the Church in which I have spent my life, the radically egalitarian notion of “Social Justice” has no foundation in the Gospel of Christ.  Unlike the contemporary leftist, the Christian most certainly does not value equality as an end in itself, for there is nothing in either his Sacred Scriptures—the Old and New Testaments—or his millennia-old tradition that warrants this.

There is, however, ample justification in these sources for his affirmation of charity.  That the Christian has an obligation to help the needy no one would dare deny.  Yet there is all of the difference in the world between, on the one hand, a believer’s fulfilling his obligation to help those of his acquaintances who happen to be worse off in whatever respects from himself and, on the other hand, a person’s coercing others via law in order to realize a distribution of material goods that more closely approximates his ideal of Equality. 

In reply to this position, a Jewish reader charged me with “anti-Semitism” and concluded his brilliant response by telling me to send his regards to my “good friend” Mel Gibson. 

I suppose that, being a Jew, my interlocutor is capable of detecting “anti-Semitism” even when it proves to be impenetrable to the naked eyes of non-Jews.  Being a Christian, then, I am reduced to speculating as to how he discovered these dark feelings lurking in the depths of my subconscious. 

My guess is that it was my use of the term “Old Testament”—“the correct term is the Hebrew Bible,” my reader insists—that disclosed my “anti-Semitism.”  And perhaps my rejection of his account of the reason for the Jubilee recorded in the book of Leviticus could have amplified it further.

Let’s start with the last consideration first. The Jubilee was not designed to promote a condition of “radical equality,” as my critic asserts.  It was designed to render life easier for those living under intolerable burdens.  The idea behind it, in other words, was not to reduce the wealthiest to the level of the poorest or elevate the latter to the level of the former.  The very suggestion that either Christianity or the Judaism from which it grew require their adherents to labor toward insuring that all of the planet’s human inhabitants should have comparable possessions—i.e. radical material equality—is preposterous on its face.

The other reason my critic deems me an “anti-Semite” is dealt with even more easily than its partner.  If one is a Christian, then the Bible does indeed consist of two “testaments,” an old and a new.  If, however, one is a Jew, then, obviously, there is no New Testament and, thus, no “Old Testament.”  That is, this propriety of this term, “Old Testament,” like that of “the Hebrew Bible” and, for that matter, every other term, derives from its context.  To imply otherwise is the height of arrogance, it is true, but it is no less the height of ignorance.

Hopefully, this anti-“anti-Semite” will forgive me for questioning his psychological assessment of a Gentile like myself, but the considerations that inform his verdict no more indict me for “anti-Semitism” than Mel Gibson’s depiction of the Passion of his Lord condemns him for the same. Yet maybe this is the point.

Perhaps my Jewish detractor thinks that I am guilty of “anti-Semitism” for exactly the kind of reason that Gibson is guilty of it.  I take no satisfaction in having come to this conclusion, but the hysteria with which I am charged with “anti-Semitism,” like that with which Gibson’s production of The Passion of the Christ was met, makes it all but impossible to circumvent: the “anti-Semite,” according to the Jewish anti-“anti-Semite,” is, simply, a Christian. 

To put this another way, since those Jews most prone to hurling it around invariably aim exclusively at Christians, the charge of “anti-Semitism” is really nothing more or less than a smoke screen designed to achieve two objectives.  First, because it has acquired in contemporary American society the power to wreck unimaginable havoc upon people’s reputations and livelihoods, the term “anti-Semitism” is wielded to intimidate and silence.  Second, and less obviously, it conceals the anti-Christian animus of those disposed to avail themselves of it.

Gibson’s Passion is a faithful adaptation of the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  When I refer to “the Old Testament,” I employ the same term of reference that has been used by Christians from the earliest Christian centuries until the present day.  If we are “anti-Semites” for these reasons, then the whole of Christianity, from the New Testament on, is inherently “anti-Semitic.” 

I recognize that most people—and no one more so than the anti-“anti-Semite”—is willing to think through the irony of a Christian being accused of “anti-Semitism,” but ironic it is, for as a friend mine once told his Jewish girlfriend’s family, “You may be Jews but I’m a Super Jew!”  Or, as I told my Jewish critic, it makes as much sense to accuse a Christian of being hostile toward Jews as it makes sense to accuse, say, Louis Farrakhan of being hostile toward blacks.  If Louis Farrakhan or his disciples in The Nation of Islam really were hostile toward blacks, they would not conceive God as a black man.  Similarly, since it is Christians, and Christians alone, who identify the God of all creation as a Jewish man—since it is Christians alone who worship a Jew—it is ludicrous to characterize them as hostile to Jews.

Not only aren’t Christians hostile toward Jews; they really can’t even be said to oppose Judaism.  By their lights, Christians are Jews, “perfected” or, as my friend said, “super” Jews, if you will, but Jews all the same.  Christians don’t engage in the same rituals that many Jews do, but that is only because they believe that the advent of Christ rendered them obsolete. 

In stark contrast, Jews do oppose or reject Christianity.  Now, this in itself is fine, but the Jewish anti-“anti-Semite” rejects Christianity not just because he views it as a corruption of his religion, not just because he regards it as false, but because he regards it as a threat.  He regarded it as a threat when Christianity first began to achieve a distinctive identity as a Jewish sect during the first century—this is what lead him to wage a campaign to stamp out “the cult” of Christ by the most brutal of means before it would grow—and he apparently continues to view it as a threat to be neutralized.

What I wish for readers, both Jews and, especially, Christians, to recognize, is that in his quest to marginalize and, eventually, relegate Christianity to the dustbin of history, today’s anti-Christian bigot has set aside the violence and torture of his ancestors in favor of the pejorative “anti-Semitism.”

And what’s sad is that this one little phrase has the potential to do more damage than all of the weaponry of yesteryear.       

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

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