At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Two Things to Think About This Thanksgiving Day

posted by Jack Kerwick

With the exception of the usual suspects on the hard left, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  Like Independence Day, Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday.

Thanksgiving Day is a golden opportunity for celebrants to accomplish a couple of things.

First, we should bear in mind that in the absence of a lively religious sensibility, the notion of a national day of thanks couldn’t so much as have been imagined, let alone put into practice.  Atheists and agnostics may wish to deny this.  Reason, to say nothing of history, refuses to accommodate them: It’s something other than lunacy to thank someone for having given us our lives only if we believe that there really is someone who gave us our lives.  

Now, the belief in God may be mistaken.  The point, though, is that in a nation of atheists, a day reserved for expressing gratitude for our very existence and all that we have would never have even been a thought.

Remembering this, we remember both that ours was a nation founded by Christians, and that this belief in a loving God has given rise to a number of practices—like Thanksgiving—to which we attach much value.

Secondly, Thanksgiving is an occasion to foster a character excellence that, in this age of endless government entitlements and the glamorization of victimhood that they entail, has to be among the rarest of virtues: gratitude. 

Americans, with their almost singular focus on rights, are always in danger of forgetting that it is their obligations that, first and foremost, make them the moral beings that they are.  Human beings, unlike animals, have duties.  A duty is a debt owed to others.

On Thanksgiving, we should call to mind the debt of gratitude that we owe to others, and the eternal debt of gratitude that we owe to the Being who is the Source of all goodness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Neocon Leftists, “American Exceptionalism,” and Immigration

posted by Jack Kerwick

Paul Greenberg’s last article proves what many of us have long known: neoconservatives are leftists by another name.

Greenberg waxes orgasmic over President Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.  However, like every other champion of amnesty, he unequivocally denies both that he favors amnesty and that Obama has granted any such thing.  In fact, he enthusiastically seconds Obama’s line that “the real amnesty” is our current system, a system “that hasn’t stopped illegal immigration but just abandoned those who managed to sneak across the border, sentencing them to a vague limbo somewhere beyond the reach of law, offering them neither justice nor mercy” (italics added).  Greenberg is adamant that such a system is radically incompatible with “the America we know and still want to believe in.”

The excessive, but all too predictable, use of bumper sticker sloganeering and emotional appeals aside, Greenberg’s argument is shockingly bad.

First things first: Our immigration system is not “broken.”  The chief problem with the system lay in the fact that those who are entrusted with its enforcement refuse to discharge their duties.  Talk of a “broken system” serves both Republicans and Democrats, for it deflects all responsibility from derelict politicians to some abstract, impersonal entity.

Secondly, Greenberg is no doubt correct that there are “good hard working people” who will benefit from Obama’s and Greenberg’s amnesty.  However, judging from the fact that roughly one-third of the federal prison population consists of illegal aliens, there is also a fair share of very bad beneficiaries of their “mercy.”

Thirdly, the fact remains—even if he and his amnesty-loving ilk prefer that we ignore it—that even these “good” people to whom Greenberg refers are criminals.  Not only did they violate the law in entering this country; of necessity, they’ve broken a host of other laws—tax laws, driving laws, etc.—once they arrived here.

Fourthly, Greenberg’s and Obama’s (and most other Democrats’ and Republicans’) description of the present situation as “the real amnesty” is profoundly disingenuous for two reasons:

(1)As I said before, there are as many illegal immigrants as there are precisely because the amnesty lovers—those who, for economic, political, and/or racial reasons, wish to throw open the floodgates to Hispanics and others from the Third World—have adamantly refused to enforce America’s immigration laws.

(2)If we have a de facto amnesty because illegal aliens are “in the shadows,” then we have a de facto amnesty vis-à-vis drug users and drug dealers, rapists, murderers, child molesters, and every other sort of criminal.  If a de facto amnesty regarding illegal immigrants is intolerable, something that needs to be rectified by legalizing them, then, presumably, a de facto amnesty concerning all other criminals is intolerable and should be solved by legalizing them.

Finally, like all supporters of amnesty, Greenberg insists that no amnesty has taken place, for there are various “standards” that illegal immigrants must meet before their status can change.

The world is ridden with bad ideas, but I can’t think of any that more unequivocally convicts its holder of either scandalous gullibility or blatant dishonesty than this one.  Think about it: The government can’t fulfill its most basic Constitutional obligation by preventing millions of people from entering the country, but now that they’re here, it expects for us to believe that it will be able to make them comply with a bewildering battery of other laws!  This is like a lame person who, while admitting that he can’t walk, assures you that if you just give him the chance, he will become a marathon runner.

Also, if these illegal immigrants who are all “good hard working people” deserve “justice and mercy,” then isn’t it unjust and unmerciful to impose any standards at all upon them?

There is one last point that shouldn’t be lost upon us: Greenberg argues his case—and that of Obama’s—by way of the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” (AE).

Obama’s speech last Thursday night, he says, “was…a tribute to American exceptionalism, for this is a nation bound together not like others, by blood or class or party, but by shared belief and hope [.]”

To be sure, AE is a quintessential egalitarian doctrine.  And like all such doctrines, it denies the variety of human existence by reducing human beings to a bunch of interchangeable rights-bearers.  This is why it is ready made for leftist ideologues of both the neoconservative and the more recognizable varieties, universalists who want to remake the country—and the world—in the image of their ideology. After all, when ethnic, racial, religious, and every other kind of consideration that has ever distinguished people from one another are treated as if they don’t really exist, then the human species is regarded as a blank slate upon which the champions of Equality can scribble out their fantasies—fantasies like Democracy, say.

The prevailing vision of immigration policy shared by neoconservatives, like Greenberg, and other leftists, like Obama, reflects this same bloodless, lifeless, egalitarianism.

 

 

 

 

Against “Saving People From Themselves”: Thomas Szasz vs. the Drug Prohibitionists

posted by Jack Kerwick

Few things are as effective in eliciting the ire of neoconservative Republicans as is talk of decriminalizing recreational drug use.

Given that the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of personal responsibility and “limited government,” this is indeed a tragic commentary on the times.

Well over 40 years ago, the psychoanalyst Thomas Szasz showed that in a society dedicated to individual liberty, drug criminalization can have no place.  Szasz wrote that he favored a free market in drugs for the same reason that the Founders favored a free market of ideas: Just as it is none of the government’s business what ideas a person puts into his head, so it is none of the government’s business what agents a person puts into his body.

While Szasz noted the economic benefits that drug decriminalization promised to deliver—tax revenues; dramatic reductions in the price of drugs as well as in the number of fatalities from drug overdoses; a precipitous decline in all drug-related crimes—his argument was primarily a moral one.

And this is because Szasz recognized that while the prevailing discourse over drugs is carried on in the idiom of health—drug users are said to be “addicts” who are “sick” and, thus, in “need” of “treatment”—this is but a smokescreen designed to conceal what amounts to nothing more or less than moral judgments.

Just a casual perusal of the prohibitionist literature readily bears this out.  Take, for instance, James Q. Wilson, about as staunch a prohibitionist as they come.  The drug prohibitionists, he fully acknowledges, aim to “save people from themselves.”  Furthermore, Wilson’s rationale for maintaining the legality of some “highly addictive” substances, like nicotine, while criminalizing others, like cocaine, is unmistakably moral in nature.  The latter, he asserts, “destroy[s] the user’s essential humanity” (emphasis added).

Wilson writes: “Tobacco shortens one’s life, cocaine debases it.  Nicotine alters one’s habits.  Cocaine alters one’s soul” (emphases added).  Cocaine use, unlike tobacco use, “corrodes those natural sentiments of sympathy and duty that constitute our human nature and make possible our social life.”

Wilson’s analysis of drugs is instructive in another respect to which Szasz spoke: drug prohibitionists invariably accentuate the “dangerousness” of drugs.

More specifically, as Szasz observed, they must exaggerate the dangerousness of drugs.  There are two reasons for this.  First, in a society, like the United State, that has traditionally valued freedom, dangerousness alone is no justification for criminalization.  Secondly, each day we encounter a myriad of perfectly legal things—like automobiles, household cleaning agents, tall buildings, knives, etc.—whose potential for dangerousness is at least as great as that of drugs.

So, it can’t be the case that drugs are just dangerous.  It must be the case that drugs are really, really dangerous!

That people can and do harm and kill themselves via drug use is a brute fact, Szasz readily admitted; but it is a brute fact precisely because people can and do harm and kill themselves by all sorts of means.  This capacity for self-destruction is “a fundamental expression of human freedom.”

Respect for the liberty of individuals is radically incompatible with laws designed to “save them from themselves.”

In other words, laws designed to criminalize drugs are antithetical to liberty.

Drug prohibitionists, like Wilson, are quick to inform us that drugs harm not just drug users, but families and whole communities.  Szasz, however, speaking on behalf of those of us who value human freedom, is equally quick to remind us that, in reality, if any entity is responsible for any harm to either the user or anyone else, it is the user, a living, breathing person—not some lifeless, inanimate chemical agent with a god-like power to “hook” anyone that comes near it.

This, though, is no grounds for singling out drug use for criminalization.  Human beings are mutually dependent.  Hence, there isn’t a single kind of action that, for good or ill, doesn’t impact others. In a society devoted to preserving the liberty of the individual, the only actions that should be criminalized are those—like murder, violence, rape, burglary, etc.—that are essentially other-directed in their harmful effects.

It isn’t that we undermine liberty just by preventing the individual from partaking of potentially dangerous activities that are essentially self-regarding.  Szasz warned that liberty suffers from depriving individuals of personal responsibility.  Moral maturity is possible only if persons have the freedom to make tough, even scary, choices.  A government that divests human beings of such opportunities by saving them from themselves not only arrests moral growth; it sets in motion a moral regression, a process insuring a permanent class of adult-children.

Szasz was correct when he argued this point over 40 years ago.  He remains correct today.

No people or party committed to liberty can support the cause to save people from themselves by making them into criminals.

 

 

Republicans, Democrats, and White Men

posted by Jack Kerwick

Following their party’s crushing defeat at the polls, some Democratic strategists are now claiming that it is Democrats’ “failure to communicate” with white men that accounts for their dramatic reversal of fortunes.

In contrast, Republican talking heads insist upon either trivializing or entirely neglecting the pivotal role of white men in catapulting the GOP to victory.

Instead, Republicans have been as giddy as schoolgirls over the fact that Democrats received only two-thirds of the Hispanic vote, 90 percent of the black vote, and 51 percent of the Asian vote! Of course, it hasn’t been spun exactly this way, but the point remains the same: Even now, most nonwhites continue to pledge their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Moreover, they continue to do so in numbers that aren’t appreciably higher—if they’re higher at all—from those in which they routinely endorse Democrats.

In the light of this election, the elephants no less than the donkeys need a reality check.

First, without white people generally and white heterosexual men specifically, a Republican politician would have as difficult a time getting elected dogcatcher as he would getting elected to any higher office. The Republican Party’s days as a major national party would come to a grinding halt.

White men make the world of the GOP go round.

While it is true that white men aren’t sufficient, they most certainly are necessary.

Secondly, Republicans should indeed try to make their message (whatever that is) heard as widely and clearly as they possibly can. However, given both the indispensability of whites to their political fortunes and the ease with which they attract these voters, it is wildly irrational for Republicans to spend precious resources reaching out to blacks and Hispanics who aren’t likely to vote for them when a fraction of those same resources could be directed toward achieving the infinitely less ambitious goal of garnering an ever larger share of the white vote. For instance, just a few percentage points worth of white voters would’ve made all of the difference for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Thirdly, those Democrats who lament their “failure” to communicate with white men are self-delusional. The party’s problem is that it has communicated all too well with white men.  For decades, its message to white men has been unmistakably clear: “Drop dead!”

In the leftist imagination of the Democrat Party, white men are the worse of the worst, the only beings in the cosmos capable of “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” and every other “ism” that belongs to our Politically Correct culture’s catalogue of crimes against humanity. Every policy aimed at ostensibly benefitting minorities, every protection and privilege denied to white men while extended to women and the members of every other racial demographic, expresses this view.

For white men, the Democratic Party has unmitigated contempt.

Finally, this being said, Republicans have been only slightly less contemptuous of white men than their counterparts have been.  Actually, in a significant sense, it’s arguable that they’ve been more contemptuous, for Republicans take their white voters for granted, in spite of having regularly advocated on behalf of legislation that has undermined the liberties for which white Americans—beginning with America’s founders—have fought long and hard.

And yet white men continue to vote Republican.

But, as the presidential election of 2012 taught us, when enough of those white men who would otherwise have voted Republican believe that their party is abetting its rival in waging a sort of racial and gender war by other means against them, they stay home.

And when this happens, then it won’t matter if Republicans raise their shares of the black and Hispanic votes by 1 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

When enough white Republican men avoid the polls, the GOP loses.

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