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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

To All Logophobes

posted by Jack Kerwick

Since I began this blog of mine at Beliefnet.com, “At the Intersection of Faith and Culture,” it hasn’t taken me long to elicit a not insignificant number of visitors.  And even though the overwhelming majority of comments that some of these visitors have taken the time to leave have been negative in nature, I am nevertheless as thankful as I can be, and for two reasons. 

First, the more traffic that my blog attracts, the better it is for me.

Second, for however adverse to my thoughts my detractors undoubtedly are, that they have seen to it to expend energy in responding to my writings, in many cases over and over again, proves that they find it worthwhile to respond.  

The satisfaction I’ve received from all of this is not, however, unqualified.  It is, in fact, accompanied by some measure of disappointment. You see, it has only been in a minority of instances that any of my respondents have challenged the substance of my arguments, and even then, the challenges have been delivered as part of a package that consists of ad hominem attacks. 

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To sum this up, my disappointment stems from the realization that the people from whom I have heard lack either the intellect or the will to articulate their disagreements with others in a manner that is at once intelligent and civil.  Perhaps many of them lack both capacities.  But judging from the quality of some of their comments, I am more inclined to think that, for the most part, it is the will that is lacking.

In order to argue well, you must first understand your opponent. It is clear to me, though, that my interlocutors have taken little time to actually read what I have written.  Instead, they recognize from early on—possibly as early as the title of the post—that I approach the issue from a perspective that they do not share.  As a result, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, they rush in—not really to critique, for a critique is supposed to be aimed at the content of the position to which it is directed—but, well, to have to their say.  And like the bull for which the sight of the matador’s red cloth induces in it a furious, irrational rage, my respondents appear similarly incapable of resisting the raw emotions that my postings ignite in them.

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I find myself in something of a dilemma.  On the one hand, for however downright ugly and foolish some of these commentators can be, it is my blog posts upon which they are commenting.  That is, while there can be no question that this is the last thing that they intended when they indulged their obsession with the ad hominem fallacy, in doing so they are helping me, and in ways that they haven’t been able to imagine.  So, I confess, I feel almost obliged to at least answer them. 

On the other hand, not being the best tempered person myself, I am well aware of the temptation I face to reply in like fashion to every smug, confused, arrogant, hate-filled comment that I receive.  This, I do not want to do, for my religion—Christianity—identifies arrogance, cruelty, and hatred as vices, sins, and, thus, demands of its adherents that they repent of them.  God counsels as well against folly.  But by responding to folly, I become the fool.

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What’s a guy to do?

I think I have found something of a way out of this troubling situation. My solution is two-prong.

First, unless I find a comment to be totally beyond the pale, I will, all things being equal, approve of it.  This way, the person who composed it can at least enjoy that small satisfaction for which he yearns, the satisfaction of having others be able to read his “thoughts.”  This will be my way of repaying him for reminding me that my articles are being read.  With this token of my appreciation, I should think, my logophobic respondents should be well pleased, for it is a foregone conclusion that except for at my blog, no one will ever read his thoughts again. This goes without saying.  Those who do nothing but hurl insults at those who dare to assert and defend their views are too fearful to do the same.

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Second, with all of the writing I do (not to mention my other responsibilities), I simply have neither the time nor the patience to reply to many of the comments I receive.  Even if some of them warranted a response—clearly, I do not think that most of them do—I wouldn’t have the time to supply it.  So, I will try to address some of the points—when they are discernible—in future articles, not comment threads.

One more thing.  To show how grateful I truly am for those who take the time to comment, I will happily link to or otherwise mention their blogs.  For some reason, however, for as brilliant as many of these people presumably think they are, I just don’t see them being nearly as eager to state their blogs as they are to state their insults. 

The reason for this should be obvious.

Jack Kerwick

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Intellectual Dishonesty and Republican Pundits

posted by Jack Kerwick

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t a vice peculiar to any one group of people or another; it is a human problem.  But nowhere is it more salient than in the field of politics. 

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t identical with dishonesty proper.  It is not altogether accurate, then, to characterize the intellectually dishonest person as a liar.  Liars set out to deceive others.  In contrast, it is doubtful that the intellectually dishonest person sets out in advance to deceive anyone, save perhaps himself, and even then, this act of sabotaging truth is not likely to be inspired by any conscious strivings. 

The intellectually dishonest individual refuses to pursue, not those lines of inquiry that appear intellectually unpromising, but those that have the potential to make his life more difficult.  He is constrained by extra-rational considerations, whether of a psychological, emotional, or social character.  Neither the tension between the ideas he holds nor the cogency of the arguments that exist for positions that he rejects move him to consider new possibilities, for he is unaware of both the tensions and the considerations that militate against his vantage point.  Yet this obliviousness is the product of his own choice, a choice that, in turn, is the offspring of his desire to preserve the benefits that he’s reaped from the worldview that these new candidates for belief threaten to unravel.

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Another difference between the intellectually dishonest person and the liar is that the former is a more sympathetic figure than the latter.  This, I think, is because the more we think about him the harder it is to escape the impression that, at bottom, he is afraid.  In no small measure, intellectual dishonesty is a function of fear.  The fear that the world may be more unpleasant than he would like for it to be lurks in the heart of every intellectually dishonest individual.  Indeed, it isn’t hard to understand why: who cares to think of himself as cowardly or, for that matter, driven by fear to any extent?  If the world isn’t free of the uncomfortable truths that he heretofore resolved to ignore, then, conceiving himself, as he does, as being a champion of truth, the intellectually dishonest person knows that he will now have no option but to address these truths. 

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This, however, is no option at all, as far as the intellectually dishonest is concerned.  So, the intellectually dishonest person simply follows the lead of the proverbial ostrich and buries his head in the sand. 

There is no topic with respect to which intellectual dishonesty runs more rampant than that of race.  That leftist thought epitomizes this dishonesty goes without saying; at any rate, it goes without saying as far as readers of this column are concerned.  For this reason, it is “conservative” dishonesty on this matter to which I would like to draw the reader’s attention. 

Establishment Republican or “conservative” voices routinely—invariably—affirm “personal” or “individual responsibility.”  To this even the most casual of observers of, say, FOX News and talk radio can readily attest.  When these Republican personalities invoke personal responsibility it is in order to resist the leftist dogma that, whether for good or ill, government is responsible for peoples’ fates.

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Now, personal responsibility is a wonderful thing, to be sure, and those who never tire of proclaiming its virtues deserve praise for so doing.  Yet at the very same time that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and, well, virtually all of their colleagues in the so-called “alternative media” are singing hosannas to personal responsibility, they are blaming the pathological dysfunction that is the essence of the black underclass, not on the persons that constitute that class, but on the government.  More specifically, it is at the feet of Democratic politicians and their policies that these champions of personal responsibility lay the blame for the barbarous conduct that has rendered black communities across the nation uninhabitable. 

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Of course, government policies are far from irrelevant to human conduct. But the apostles of personal responsibility in “the alternative media” are saying more than this.  At the very least, their refusal to treat the members of the black underclass as agents by refusing to hold them personally responsible for their actions can only be read as an endorsement of the deterministic or fatalistic view of government that, in other contexts, they claim to abhor. 

Notice, these same Republican pundits not only refuse to attribute Islamic terrorism of the sort with which America has had to contend to government policy, whether the governments in question are located in the Middle East or right here at home; they adamantly reject any such notion that Muslim terrorists could be driven by anything other than their own irrational hatred of all things other than themselves, especially American freedoms. And just the suggestion that 9/11 may have had something to do with our policy in the Arabic world promises to be met by a mixture of disdain and ridicule by Republican commentators.

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So from whence springs this inconsistency between, on the one hand, the reaction of the prophet of personal responsibility to black pathology and, on the other, his reaction to Islamic pathology? 

At present, the costs of being overtly critical of blacks, whether poor or not, are dramatically higher than the costs of being comparably critical of Middle Eastern Muslims.  In other words, it is a fear of suffering penalties that accounts for the Republican pundit’s intellectual dishonesty on this issue. 

Intellectual dishonesty is obvious to spot in our opponents.  It is those professing to be our friends, and who may very well be our friends—self-proclaimed “conservatives”—in whom we must look hard to recognize it.  But the reward for our efforts promises to be handsome, for in searching out this dishonesty among us, we strengthen ourselves against it. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

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Neoconservative “Extremism”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Republican Party establishment—I refer to both politicians as well as the punditry class constituting the so-called “new” or “alternative media”—is not conservative.  It is neoconservative. 

Although this is not something of which readers of this site need to be informed, it is a point worth repeating nonetheless.   

Few and far between are those neoconservatives who refer to themselves as such.  Usually, neoconservatives identify themselves as “conservative.”  But because the neoconservative’s is the face and voice of one of our two national political parties, his refusal to come to terms with his true identity means that in the popular American consciousness, the neoconservative ideology is confused with conservatism proper.  However, traditional or classical conservatism, the conservatism of which Edmund Burke is among the most notable and impassioned representatives, is not only distinct from neoconservatism; it is diametrically opposed to it.

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Neoconservatism is but the most recent species of what most students of political philosophy now call “Enlightenment liberal Rationalism.”  That this is so is easily gotten from the causes that the neoconservative is disposed to support, especially the cause of “Global Democracy”—the enterprise of toppling regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond for the sake of establishing “democratic” governments in their wake. 

This project, it is crucial to recognize, presupposes faith in a considerably robust metaphysical scheme, a philosophical vision laden with assumptions regarding reason and morality that are even more controversial today than they were during the Enlightenment when they initially took wing. 

On this account, reason is a unitary phenomenon whose capacity to supply “solutions” to the world’s problems is potentially unlimited.  To realize this potential, to achieve infallibility, rational agents only have to strictly observe those relatively few fundamental principles of which reason consists.  As for what these principles are, rationalists have differed among themselves.  Descartes, for example, thought that as long as we didn’t grasp for that which we didn’t conceive “clearly and distinctly”—as long as the will didn’t attempt to trespass the limits that reason imposed upon it—we could never go wrong.  Others, like William Godwin, held that beliefs that were the fruits of prejudice, prescription, desire, custom, tradition, and, in short, any and every source that managed to escape the tribunal of the unencumbered Intellect, were species of irrationality to be stamped out.  But what all rationalists seemed to share in common is the conviction that there existed one and the same rational power for all, a single standard by which all peoples in all places and at all times could be judged.

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It is this belief, many now recognize, that was enlisted in the service of the colonial and imperial enterprises upon which European peoples embarked during just that period when the conception of omnipotent Reason was at its zenith.  Blind to the culturally-specific character of what he took to be a universal understanding of Reason, European Man assumed that because most of the world’s inhabitants in places like Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas failed to satisfy his canons of rationality, they weren’t rational as such.  In spite of the frequency with which it is repeated, the notion that whites at this time viewed non-whites as non-persons is incorrect.  Rather, failing to see his own image in this socially and historically particular conception of reason that he identified with Reason itself, European or Western man regarded the non-white peoples of the world, not literally as non-persons, but as potential persons who could actualize all of the potentialities of which their circumstances permitted only if their wills were made subservient to his.

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Sensibilities have changed dramatically since the nineteenth century, of course, but the neoconservative is located squarely within this imperialist tradition.  Not only does he endorse its metaphysical (rationalist) underpinnings; the neoconservative, like his ancestors, actually aspires to impose a peculiarly Western system of institutional arrangements upon foreign peoples who, as far as he must be concerned, lack either the will or the capability to govern themselves in a manner that is both morally and rationally defensible. 

Long ago the left embarked upon a campaign to depict all non-leftists—namely, conservatives and libertarians—as “kooks,” “racists,” “anti-Semites,” “xenophobes”—in short, extremists.  The neoconservative, always on the hunt for strategies by which to establish his own respectability or, what amounts to the same thing in this day and age, endear himself to the left, decided to reinforce this image of the traditional rightist.  This explains why he never spares an occasion to marginalize and denigrate those to his right (think of the treatment to which Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan are routinely subjected). 

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Interestingly, however, real conservatives—those who derive inspiration from (among others) Burke—resolutely reject the grandiose philosophy underwriting the neoconservative’s ambitions for remaking theMiddle East(and the world?) in the image of his view of “Democracy.”  Not coincidentally, they just as emphatically reject his ambitions. 

Reason, conservatives from at least the time of Burke have insisted, is inseparable from tradition.  That is to say, far from being the monolithic power that neoconservatives and other rationalists envision, rationality can and has been conceived in a multiplicity of ways.  And since each conception varies with cultural and historical circumstances—habits and customs—what this in turn means is that rationality is a thing local and concrete—not universal and abstract.    

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Due to their tradition-centered understanding of reason and knowledge, conservatives—even during the height of the Enlightenment—have been, at the very least, reluctant to lend their support to enterprises designed to erode the traditions and customs of foreign peoples in order to coerce them into acquiescing in Western or Eurocentric ideals. 

But in spite of these enormous differences between neoconservatives and classical conservatives, two distinct but inseparable injustices persist.  First, neoconservatives are now known as “conservatives” and conservatives, if they are known at all, are known as the “extremists” that neoconservatives continue to characterize them as being.  Second, it is the conservative, not the neoconservative, who is known as the extremist.

Although I think name calling, even when the names are fashionable politically correct buzzwords, is not productive of civil and rational discourse, perhaps it is time for those on the traditional right to begin letting people know who the real extremists are.   

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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Mark Levin, Ron Paul, and Conservatism

posted by Jack Kerwick

Mark Levin is a talk radio show host who, like his colleague and friend Sean Hannity, prides himself on being a “Reagan conservative.”  From as far as I can determine, it is with justice that he describes himself as such.  The problem, however, is that a “Reagan conservative” isn’t a real conservative at all; for all practical purposes, “Reagan conservatism” is just another name for neoconservatism. 

This is an attack against neither Ronald Reagan, “Reagan conservatives,” nor neoconservatives.  That Reagan never succeeded in eliminating a single government program, much less an agency, and that federal spending increased exponentially under his watch are just a couple of the considerations that some have invoked to argue, quite persuasively, that Reagan was not a real conservative.  At the very least, if he was a conservative, his presidency didn’t prove to be all that successful as far as his conservatism was concerned. 

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But Reagan aside, judging from the policy prescriptions endorsed by Levin and all self-avowed “Reagan conservatives,” the verdict that “Reagan conservatism” is evidently synonymous with neoconservatism is inescapable.  Levin, for example, expresses zero regrets for having lent his enthusiastic, unqualified support behind George W. Bush’s mission to transform the Middle East into a bastion of “democracy” via the Afghan and Iraq wars—a project that, few people can now seriously deny, was fatally flawed in both conception and design.  For that matter, Levin had been a virtually uncritical supporter of Bush’s agenda generally, an agenda that no one remotely familiar with conservatism could honestly characterize in those terms.

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Why does all of this matter?  Well, Levin, you see, is not too terribly fond of Ron Paul, and he spares no occasion to dismiss the Texan congressman as a crank.  Recently, he reiterated his claim that Paul is neither “a real conservative” of any kind nor “the Father of the Tea Party.”  My objective here is to show that whether Levin’s remarks on Paul’s relationship to conservatism and the Tea Party are sound or not, given his commitment to precisely that vision of the world and concomitant style of governing against which traditional conservatives and Tea Partiers are now railing, he hasn’t the authority to pass these sorts of judgments. 

To put it more simply, Levin is the one who is not a real conservative.  And he certainly is not a Tea Partier.  If Levin was a real conservative or Tea Partier, he would have been outraged over the foreign and domestic policies of George W. Bush and his Republican-controlled congress. In the real world, though, Levin endorsed many of these policies.  If Levin was a real conservative, he would have long ago recognized the irresolvable conflict between simultaneously championing “limited government,” on the one hand and, on the other, an interminable “War on Terror,” for the latter theoretically justifies every conceivable instance of government intervention both here and abroad.

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Ron Paul, though, has steadfastly opposed the very same governmental activism that Levin has always supported—and he did so before opposition to it became popular among Republicans.  Paul was a Tea Party of one before the Tea Party movement emerged. 

As recently as 2008, many may recall the derision with which Ron Paul was met when he warned audiences and his colleagues about the impending economic crisis.  He was roundly ridiculed when he sounded the alarm over the ruinous practices of the Federal Reserve, and mocked just as loudly when he remarked—repeatedly—upon our inability to sustain the stratospheric costs in treasure and blood exacted by our “War on Terror.”

The political tides have turned in just three years, and this is indeed a good thing.  Yet in spite of the fact that time has vindicated Paul, and in spite of the fact that by every objective criteria—fund raising, poll results, influence with “independents” and “moderates”—Paul is a serious presidential candidate, his fellow Republicans and other “Reagan conservatives” like Levin haven’t so much as apologized for the unjust treatment to which they subjected him before circumstances proved that he was right and they were wrong. 

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Far from admitting the error of their ways, they continue to treat Paul disrespectfully by suspending their negligence of his accomplishments just long enough to insult him.  Coverage of this year’s Ames Straw Poll is a classic instance of this tendency. 

Although Congresswoman Michelle Bachman just barely beat Paul for first place, and although Tim Pawlenty came in a distant third, there was scarcely a word mentioned on Fox News or in so-called “conservative” talk radio about Paul’s high showing—or about Paul at all. Bachman, in contrast, has been all of the talk and Pawlenty, who many of the same talking heads had just the previous week described as a “formidable” or “appealing” candidate, performed so poorly that he dropped out of the race altogether!  Even Rick Santorum, who finished in the Amespoll behind Pawlenty, received favorable mention by Chris Wallace the following day for his showing.

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Mark Levin is no conservative.  He is a neoconservative.  Yet his judgment of Paul is not, for this, necessarily incorrect.  Philosophically speaking, Ron Paul is not a conservative; he is a libertarian.  What is interesting, though, is that Walter Williams—the black “conservative” economist who has been guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s radio show for years—is no less a libertarian than Paul. Not only do Williams and Paul subscribe to the same “first principles”—the “natural rights” philosophy of John Locke—Williams has referred to Paul as his “friend,” and he has stated on more than one occasion that if America’s Founding Fathers could visit our time, Ron Paul would be one of a tiny handful of politicians with whom they would be able to identify.    

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This is interesting for Limbaugh, a good friend of Levin’s who is widely recognized as “the King” of “conservative” talk radio, not only is comfortable allowing the libertarian Williams to host his show; he mistakes this libertarian for a “conservative.”  But if Williams’ cause, regardless of its philosophical inspiration, is compatible with Limbaugh’s “conservative” cause, then, because Williams and Paul hold virtually identical views, Paul’s libertarian-inspired cause should be judged compatible with the cause of “limited government” to which neoconservative establishment Republicans like Levin and Limbaugh routinely pay lip service.   

Of course, this is all going to be lost upon Levin. This isn’t because he fails to grasp my logic; it is because he does not care to grasp it.  When Levin says of Paul that he is “no kind of conservative,” he is not drawing fine philosophical distinctions between Paul’s metaphysical suppositions and those of the average Republican candidate; what he is saying is that Paul doesn’t deserve to be a contender in this race, and possibly doesn’t deserve to be a Republican at all.

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Yet if this is true, then Williams doesn’t deserve to host Limbaugh’s show or be affiliated with the GOP in any capacity.  And if this is correct, then Limbaugh doesn’t deserve his reputation as the premiere “conservative” talk radio host, for if he really was a conservative, then he would never think of allowing a faux conservative like Williams within miles of his “golden EIB microphone.”  But if Limbaugh is no conservative, then neither are those—like Levin—who consider themselves ideologically kindred spirits with El Rushbo.

Either by way of this line of reasoning or Levin’s own record of supporting Big Government Republicanism, it is obvious that Levin is wrong about Paul and, truth be told, wrong about his own identity as a conservative.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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