Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

When, on March 13, a caller to Bill Bennett’s radio show charged the host with being unduly supportive of “establishment Republicans” over Tea Partiers, Bennett admitted that while he’s an admirer of the Tea Party, he would not endorse those of its candidates who, even if they won, would hurt the party.

Even if they won, they would hurt the party.

Bennett’s justification for not voting for Tea Party candidates—let’s call it the “No Harm” principle—is the justification to which all establishment Republicans resort for doing the same.  And, as far as I can determine, it seems cogent enough.  But here is the rub: what’s good for the establishment is just as good for the Tea Party.

In other words, it is rank hypocrisy for the Bill Bennetts of the GOP to castigate Tea Partiers (and libertarians) for being “purists,” say, when the latter invoke the No Harm principle against those establishment Republicans who they believe have been harming the party, and the conservative movement, for decades.

It is rank hypocrisy for establishment types to charge their brethren to their right—and make no mistakes, so-called Tea Partiers and libertarians are indeed more to the right than their accusers—of aiding and abetting Democrats.

You can bet the bank that Bennett, Bill Kristol, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, and legions of others wouldn’t spare a moment to forfeit an election, any election, to a Democrat, any Democrat, if the only alternative was, say, Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan.  This isn’t just a hypothetical: It’s a matter of record that Bill Kristol once explicitly stated that he would vote for John Kerry over Buchanan.

A more telling example of this inconsistency on the part of establishment Republicans is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Though he implored the attendees at the most recent Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) to set aside their differences and vote Republican, when Christie had an opportunity to advance Mitt Romney during the last presidential election cycle, he did nothing of the kind.  He formally endorsed Romney, it is true.  Yet, in effect, he pushed President Obama over the finish line by heaping endless praise upon him in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and insinuating that his prior endorsement of Romney was just a matter of “playing politics.”

There is yet more hypocrisy to be exposed.

The establishment types label their opponents “purists”—the implication being that they are reasonable and realistic while the Tea Partier types are unreasonable and naïve.  With one word, establishment apologists debase their rivals while elevating themselves.  But it is actually establishment Republicans, not Tea Partiers, who are the true purists.

To an incalculable extent, the GOP’s foreign policy under President Bush II damaged the Republican brand.  Poll after poll continues to show that the vast majority of Americans prefer, in the words of none other than presidential candidate Bush II, “a more humble foreign policy.”  Still, such establishment figures as John McCain and Lindsay Graham continue to feed into the worst caricatures of the war mongering Republican.  It is establishment Republicans who fuel the perception that they’re zealous purists, “extremists” and “one issue voters,” when they wax hysterical over just talk of reducing by a single red cent our tremendous defense budget.

Establishment Republicans are doubtless sincere when they claim to desire intraparty unity and, thus, a presidential candidate in 2016 that can bring this about.  However, the only “unity” for which establishment Republicans will settle is unity on their terms.

In practice what this means is that any candidate like, say, a Senator Rand Paul, who exhibits anything less than unadulterated enthusiasm for the foreign policy agenda for which Republicans have, to their great detriment, become known, will most definitely not receive support by the GOP machine.   Beyond this, much like Paul the Elder, they will be branded an “isolationist” and subjected to every conceivable smear.

When establishment Republicans acquiesce in the left’s agenda and Tea Party types complain, the reply with which they are invariably met is something like: “Remember, Republicans control only ‘one-half’ of ‘one-third’ of the government.”  The tone is clear: these pesky, naïve purists just can’t grasp political reality!  Well, maybe it is high time that establishment Republicans be forced to face a counter-reply.

Tea Partiers should remind the establishment that during past election cycles none of the candidates who they’ve catapulted to office ever instructed them on the nit and grit of the political realities on which they are now being lectured.  Furthermore, Tea Party voters should insist now, before the next election cycle, that every Republican running for office repeatedly caution voters against entertaining unrealistically high expectations, for regardless of what happens this November, a Democratic president promises to remain in the White House for at least the next two years.

Intra-party unity there will never be.  Intra-party clarity,  however, is less unattainable.

 

 

When Adam Lanza, the young man who went on a shooting spree, killing about 20 children and a handful of adults at a Connecticut elementary school, was being tried in the court of public opinion, most commentators simultaneously diagnosed and judged the mass murderer: Lanza, we were assured, was both mentally ill and evil.  But as I noted at the time, the language of “illness” and that of “evil,” belonging as they do to entirely separate modes of thought, are mutually incompatible.

We could not, at one and the same time, describe Lanza as both ill and evil. The reason for this is straightforward enough: if Lanza’s actions were the function of an illness, then he could no more be responsible for them than could a chemo patient be held responsible for his reaction to the nausea that it induces.

In fact, if anything, the patient in such circumstances would deserve our pity.  Similarly, if we insist on explaining Lanza’a acts solely in terms of a “sickness,” then he too is entitled to our sympathy.  Had Lanza not killed himself, then, he would no more have deserved punishment, or even blame, than would any other “sick” person deserve condemnation.

Situations of this kind should force us to consider, or reconsider, the nature of the relationship between morality and psychology.

“Psychology” literally means the study of the soul.  The first “psychologists” were such ancient Greek thinkers as Plato and Aristotle who were what today would be called (confusingly) “moral psychologists,” for they were interested in determining how human beings acquired virtue and vice.  Aristotle, for instance, had famously observed that since no one is born either virtuous or vicious, since virtue and vice consist in habits that we imbibe upon emulating those by whom we’re surrounded, a person’s upbringing makes practically all of the difference in the world as far as his character formation is concerned.

Yet modern psychology, seeking to assimilate itself to the natural sciences (which also have their roots in the ancient Greek study of “natural philosophy”), tends to reject the teleological orientation of Greek thought in favor of the resolutely non-purposeful, mechanistic suppositions underwriting the thrust of modern science.

What this means is that the idiom of modern psychology encompasses the very same kinds of terms as those found in all of the sciences.  Human beings, for instance, are fundamentally no different from any other inhabitant of the spatial-temporal world in that their “behavior” is “caused” by “mechanisms” or “processes” that, in turn, are governed by the laws determining all bodies.

Yet psychology also consists in terms that are peculiar to its discipline: mental states, conditions, disorders, impulses, psychoses, maladjustments, health, illness, stimuli, therapy, rehabilitation, etc. are just some of the characteristic concepts composing the universe of psychological discourse.

Whether psychology can legitimately be assimilated to the language of the natural sciences we can leave to one side.  The point here is that as long as psychologists insist upon regarding human beings as, essentially, objects that differ in degree, but not kind, from all other objects, then it supplies us with a vocabulary from which the terms of morality are, and can only be, conspicuously absent.

Human beings considered under the aspect of morality are persons or subjects, not objects.  Persons do not behave; they act.  As the philosopher Michael Oakeshott says, the agents occupying the moral world engage in “conduct.” Conduct, though, isn’t caused; it is chosen by self-governing consciousnesses in accordance with, not conditions, but reasons. The vocabulary of morality is comprised of the terms of right and wrong; good, bad, evil; virtue and vice; duties and rights; free will; responsibility; justice; and so on.

From the perspective of morality, then, we are agents who are determined by nothing save our own decisions, choices for which we are justly praised or blamed, rewarded or punished.

It should be clear that psychology and morality are mutually incommensurable modes of thought: it is impossible for the terms of the one to ever be translated into those of the other.    Yet just because the modes of psychology and morality are incommensurable doesn’t mean that they are mutually antagonistic:  there can be commerce between the two.     

The reason for this isn’t all that difficult to grasp.  Psychology is explanatory while morality is justificatory—and between explanation and justification there is all of the difference.

If psychology is a threat to morality because of its tendency to reduce humans to objects determined by the same universal laws of space and time (like causation) determining all other material objects, then biology, chemistry, and physics must be deemed a threat to morality as well, for they too permit no room within their respective frames of reference for the concepts of morality.  After all, such prominent scientific theories as that propounded by Darwin were, and in some quarters, remain rejected precisely because it had been feared that they imperil morality.

It is at this juncture that we must distinguish science from scientism, psychology from psychologism.

Psychologism is a variant of scientism, the transformation of science into an intellectual hegemon, an imperialistic creed assuming a monopoly over all human utterances.  From the standpoint of scientism, no language that is not the language of science is a respectable language at all.   Psychologism, then, is the perspective that all human actions, feelings, thoughts, and words can and should be accounted for in the terms of the psychologist.   Obviously, this is not at all compatible with the moral universe, a “kingdom of ends,” as Kant described it.

Modern psychology, like any other discipline, is a work in progress, and psychology especially remains in very much a confused intellectual state.  For the time being, however, it doesn’t seem that even if its pretensions to science are accepted, that it undermines morality.

Psychologism, like the scientism of which it is a variant, is the danger from which we must guard the moral life.

 

Just days ago, a popular talk radio show host lamented that the attempt on the part of conservatives to fight back against the move to normalize homosexual “marriage” was tantamount to the attempt to fight back the tides of the ocean.

Though he didn’t say it, he may as well have said that it is as impossible to resist most of the left’s whole agenda as it is impossible to resist any force of nature.

And maybe he would have been correct.

Perhaps, then, it is time for those on the right to try a new strategy: continue to fight, but do not fight back. 

Some atheists are painfully aware of the fact that those of their ilk who insist upon combatting theism to the death actually legitimate belief in God, for the concept of God is as essential to their position as it is to that of their opponents: atheism depends upon theism. Similarly, in, let’s say, denying the leftist’s contention that income “inequality” is a pressing problem, those on the right legitimize the concept of income “inequality.”

So, rather than resist the logic of their rivals, those on the right should simply exploit it—that is, give it no more than a shove or two—so that it will be seen for the illogic that it is and, hence, collapse under its own weight.  The subject of income “inequality” supplies a nice illustration as to how this political judo can be implemented in action.

When the left cries about income inequality, those on the right should first note that such “inequality” amounts to inter-personal differences in labor prices.  The price that, say, a janitor can charge an employer for his labor isn’t nearly as much as that which a brain surgeon can charge for his.  Then, rightists should not only agree with their opponents that differences—i.e. “inequalities”—in labor prices should be ameliorated; they should go on to demand that differences—“inequalities”—in all prices should be rectified as well.  After all, if it is “unfair” or “unjust” that the price of a busboy’s labor is unequal, radically unequal, to that of the labor of an astrophysicist, then it is just as unfair and, hence, unjust, that the price of DVD is unequal, radically unequal, to that of, say, a Cadillac.

When the left demands that “we” raise the tax rates of the wealthy, the right should not only agree, but beseech Washington to tax all of the resources of “the wealthiest one percent.”  Why not?  If it is permissible, and even obligatory, for “society” to confiscate any of its citizens’ legally acquired property, to say nothing of the continually increasing portions of it that the government actually does tax, then there is no principled basis for drawing a non-arbitrary limit to what can be taken.  And if the objective is to “help the poor” and/or “the middle class,” then it can’t matter, morally, how much of a citizen’s assets with which he is made to part.

When the left insists upon raising “the minimum wage” to $10.00 an hour, the right should insist upon raising it ten, 100, or 1,000 times that.  Since the left speaks and acts as if there exists a potentially bottomless supply of funds from which to draw in subsidizing their “transformative” agenda, the right simply has to note that neither practically or in principle can there be any justification for placing such an arbitrary cap as $10.00 an hour on the minimum wage.

When the left urges the government to coerce private employers into hiring and serving people, the right should demand of government that it go further and coerce the heads of households to welcome into their homes, or to create new homes with, people with whom they may not wish to associate.  If “social justice” requires that employers use their own property to promote, say, racial diversity, then “social justice” should also require that all citizens use their property to do the same.  What this might very well then mean is that—again, all for the sake of “social justice”—the government will have to “redistribute” children of one race from the homes in which they were born and reared to the homes of members of other races.  What a way to teach them—to teach all of us—of the endless riches of diversity! “Social justice” might also require that the government establish quotas designed to allow only so many intra-racial marriages per year: people would be made to marry members of other races.

When the left goes on about how the only thing that matters in marriage is love, the right should go on to argue for polygamy, polyandry, and whatever other arrangements of which they can imagine.

Whether such a strategy as I here recommend would be successful, or whether it is even, in all truth, desirable, is questionable. But its appeal lies in two causes. First, it reveals the outrageous absurdities in which leftist thought inevitably has to culminate.  Second, it unveils the ominous truth that, in principle, the left has no reason for not aspiring to control every aspect of human existence.

 

 

 

Sandra Korn is a Harvard University undergraduate student and a writer for The Harvard Crimson.  In a recent edition of the school’s paper, she argues for abandoning the traditional value of “academic freedom” in favor of what she calls, “academic justice.

Korn may still be but a student, but both the lines along which she thinks as well as the ease with which she articulates her thoughts reveals to all with eyes to see the character of the academic environment in which she’s been reared:  those who she wishes to deprive of academic freedom are just those academics who refuse to endorse the leftist ideology of Korn and her professors.

Korn singles out as instances of teacher-scholars who should have been stripped of their academic freedom just and only those figures who are noted for their penchant for smashing the sacred cows of the left.

Richard J. Herrnstein is one such example.  Herrnstein is probably most distinguished for having co-authored along with Charles Murray the now famous, The Bell Curve.  However, the thesis that IQ differences vary with race and that, to at least some extent, these differences are genetic, is one that he defended two decades earlier, back in 1971.  Because of this position of his, militant student activists disrupted Herrnstein’s classes and demanded that, along with sociologist Christopher Jencks (another thought criminal), he be fired.

Quoting Herrnstein, Korn relays that while claiming to have not been “bothered…personally” by the attacks against him, Herrnstein admitted that he was deeply troubled by the fact it was now “hazardous for a professor to teach certain kinds of views” at Harvard.  Korn replies that this was precisely the point of “the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] activists—they wanted to make the ‘certain kinds of views’ they deemed racist and classist unwelcome on Harvard’s campus.”

Harvey Mansfield is another person upon whom Korn sets her sights.  She charges Mansfield with “publishing…sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position” and avows that she “would happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him” from continuing to do so.

Korn admits that while it could very well be the case that student activists are guilty of infringing upon the academic freedom of the Herrnsteins and Mansfields of the world, this “obsession with the doctrine of ‘academic freedom’ often seems to bump against something [that] I think [is] much more important: ‘academic justice.’”

The “obsession” with academic freedom Korn thinks is “misplaced,” for “no academic question is ever ‘free’ from [such] political realities” as “racism, sexism, and heterosexism [.]”  After all, since “our university community opposes” such things, “it should ensure that this research…promoting or justifying oppression…does not continue.”  This is in keeping with the demands of “academic justice.”

So too does the craving for “academic justice” account for the decision of the American Studies Association at Harvard to boycott “Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine.”  The ASA, Korn explains, are interested, not in resorting to “the ‘freedom’ game” of “those on the right,” but in achieving “social justice.” Thus, they “take the moral upper hand.”

Korn concludes by reiterating the central thesis of her essay that our “obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom” prevents us from considering “more thoughtfully what is just.”

In a sane world, a world that hasn’t been subverted by decades of leftism, it would be viewed as nothing less than a scandal that any college student, let alone a student at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, would hold Korn’s views, to say nothing of publishing them. Traditionally, the university had been regarded as among the premiere civilizing institutions, the place where students were educated in just those intellectual and moral habits that would enable them to formulate, articulate, and defend their own convictions while treating those of their opponents with respect and even charity.

The academic world inhabited by the Korns of our world is a radically different kind of place.  Views with which one disagrees are not to be refuted, but condemned, and their proponents demonized.  The university exists not for the sake of acquiring and conveying truth and knowledge, but for the sake of “social justice”—i.e. a totalizing leftist ideology that is to be imposed, “by whichever means necessary,” upon both students and faculty alike.