At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Mitt Romney and American Exceptionalism

posted by Jack Kerwick

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney just addressed the 113th gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The former governor of Massachusetts endeavored mightily to draw a sharp contrast between himself and his rival, Barack Obama.

Establishing an inextricable link between the economy and national defense, Romney contended that the President’s poor handling of the former has been coupled with a weakening of the latter.

“The President’s policies have made it harder to recover from the deepest recession in seventy years,” Romney said. As a result, he has “exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify [.]” 

What is worst of all, according to Romney, is that Obama has “given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.”  Translation: Obama has not embraced the doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” (AE).

Of course, exactly what Obama or anyone else is expected to affirm—or deny—when they endorse AE is anything but axiomatic.  However, to listen carefully to its self-avowed champions—like Governor Romney himself—is to become at least a little clearer as to what AE is intended to signify.

Let us attend to Romney’s words.

For starters, Romney identifies himself as “an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country.” 

Ah. Taken alone, this remark is not only uncontroversial; it is virtually meaningless.  What could it mean to be “an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country?” Does such a person mean to deny that other countries are “great?”  What does it mean to say that any country is “great?”  Would Romney ever think to deny that Americans are susceptible to the same imperfections that have plagued the human race from time immemorial? 

It is only when we look at this comment within the context of Romney’s speech, though, that it begins to assume meaning.

Immediately following Romney’s self-identification as an unabashed defender of AE, he says:

“I am not ashamed of American power.  I take pride that throughout our history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair” [emphasis added].

Now we are getting somewhere.

You see, AE is the doctrine that Americashould seek to deploy its military forces—its power—to remake the world in its own image. It is the doctrine that America is and should always be “the leader of the free world.” 

If there are any doubts about this, Romney proceeds to dispel them. He is unequivocal:

“I do not view Americaas just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known and that our influence is needed as much now as ever” [emphases added].

Romney claims that he is “guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century” [emphasis added].

Romney’s insinuations to the contrary notwithstanding, one who rejects the doctrine of AE need not, like our beloved President, regard America as a nation in need of redemption.  In other words, the only other alternative to the notion that America is uniquely great is not the idea that she is uniquely wicked.

There are plenty of us—most of us, I suspect—who will readily acknowledge the greatness of our country while just as readily rejecting Romney’s concept of AE.  The reason for this should be clear enough: we look upon our country in terms, not of “the power” of our government, but the goodness of its people and its institutions.

Republicans and other proponents of AE seem to either forget or ignore the fact that the United States military is a part of the United States—i.e. the federal—government.  Hence, demands for an ever larger military—a military with the capability to “fundamentally transform” the planet into a bastion of “justice,” “peace,” and “hope,” as Romney says in his speech—are nothing more or less than demands for a national government more expansive and powerful than any that the world has ever seen.

The logic of this reasoning is inescapable: the bigger the military, the bigger the government.

What this in turn means is that calls for “limited government” are incompatible—radically incompatible—with calls for a military of the sort for which the advocates of AE wish.

There is another consideration against AE.

Some of us reject AE precisely because we love our country so.

The interminable enterprise of deploying American military personnel to lands around the globe to imperil their lives for the ostensible well being of non-Americans is neither virtuous nor, at least in spirit, constitutional.  Think about this for a moment: American public servants confiscate the hard earned resources of American taxpayers so that they can send American soldiers to fight and die for non-Americans.

This is what the doctrine of American Exceptionalism entails.  This is supposed to arouse our enthusiasm and fuel our most patriotic of feelings.

No thanks.  

 

 

 

 

Why Would Anyone Choose This Batman Film to Murder?

posted by Jack Kerwick

As I write this, the news is a buzz with the massacre that occurred in Colorado during the midnight opening show of The Dark Knight Rises—the third and (allegedly) final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Reportedly, approximately twenty minutes into the film, a man who, donned as he was with a gas mask, was eerily reminiscent of the film’s arch villain, entered the theatre and began to wreak unimaginable havoc with explosives and a gun.

When it was all said and done, twelve innocent people had been murdered and dozens more injured.

Already, just hours after this chaos erupted, “experts” of one sort or the other were making their rounds on the television circuit offering their insights into how and why the mass murderer did what he did.  The usual suspects on the political left wasted not a second to exploit this horror to advance their agenda of erasing out ofAmerica’s DNA the Second Amendment as well as to discredit the Tea Party. 

Now, I don’t proclaim to be an expert on anything, much less psychology. And, frankly, I don’t care in the least to know the causes that may or may not have lurked in the deep, dark recesses of this killer’s psyche. For that matter, I don’t even care to know the reasons that he may give for his actions.

I am, however, interested in supplying an account of why anyone may think to unleash an orgy of violence at the opening of this film.

Anyone who pays any attention to contemporary politics knows that this movie has assumed some measure of political significance this past week as some, like Rush Limbaugh, have contended that inasmuch as the main villain is named Bane, it is an instrument that President Obama and his supporters will use to further demonize Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—i.e. former director of Bain Capital.

Rush is mistaken.

First, it isn’t just that Bane is a fiend with whom Batman has had to contend for nearly twenty years; Bane is arguably the most fearsome of such fiends. Though he hasn’t been around for nearly as long as some other villains have been, Bane is the one—and only—evil doer in Batman’s universe that can claim credit for having forced the Dark Knight into sabbatical when the former broke the latter’s back. 

That is to say, he is an especially distinguished bad guy. 

Second, most of the stock of Batman villains, unfortunately, simply would not have been a good fit with the darker and more somber tone of Nolan’s reboot of the Dark Knight.  The last franchise of the ‘90’s could afford to have its Batman battle “the Riddler,” “Mr. Freeze,” “The Penguin,” etc.  Not this Batman. Bane is the perfect choice for the climactic finale of this series.

There is yet another reason why Rush is wrong about his assessment of the political significance of this film.

Other Republicans have retorted that, if anything, The Dark Knight Rises can be read as legitimizing—not demonizing—Romney.  After all, the reasoning went, insofar as Batman’s alter ego is multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne, it is the hero, not the villain, who is not all that different, in this respect, from Romney.  Rush read these remarks on the air but, apparently, remained unconvinced.

This line of reasoning misses the point.  What is crucial to recognize is not which politician may or may not be portrayed in the characters of the villains and heroes. Rather, as far as understanding why someone would choose the occasion of the grand opening of this particular film to go on a killing spree, we should bear in mind that Bane represents, and is intended to represent, “the 99 percent.” 

More accurately, Bane is symbolic of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  He gives expression to the rage that ostensibly motivated the “occupiers” as well as the destruction to which the logic of that rage can all too easily lead.

This is why the film cannot credibly be used to the advantage of Obama and his ilk.

It was during the OWS demonstrations, recall, that the class envy rhetoric of “the one percent” and “the 99 percent” reached a fever pitch and become the stuff of bumper sticker slogans.  It was during these events that violence in the form of physical confrontations with police and blatant violations of private property were on full display.

May not this killer in Colorado who, like Bane, unleashed terror upon crowds of innocents, had been influenced by the constant barrage of class envy rhetoric with which this President and his party constantly bombard us?  Is it possible that he believes, as do “the occupiers” of Wall Street and cities throughout the country—and, of course, President Obama himself—that “the one percent” is exploitative, oppressive, greedy, and, thus, deserving of harsh treatment?

Is this hypothesis of mine all that hard to buy?

A correspondent of mine remarked that in writing this, I render myself vulnerable to “politicizing” this tragedy.  An otherwise reasonably intelligent individual, not unlike most of us, he has fallen into the trap of speaking nonsense just because it has become enshrined as the conventional wisdom.

In other words, he is guilty of sloppy thinking—or, rather, refusing to think.

There is nothing in the least bit illegitimate or morally dubious about the enterprise of exploring local events—particularly exceptional events, like this shooting—against a larger—i.e. less local—political or cultural backdrop.  This is a matter of striving to avoid missing the proverbial forest for the trees.  It is the mark of an inquisitive mind, a mind aching for understanding and, hence, some measure of consolation, to search for a framework or “bigger picture” within which to situate an apparently anomalous phenomenon.

The typical—and all too predictable—left-wing framework of “gun control” isn’t objectionable because it is “political;” it is objectionable because it is stupid: criminals like this mass murderer, terrorist in Colorado are not going to be deterred by even more restrictions on the Second Amendment.  If we weren’t already so habituated to hearing this line about so-called “gun control” and if we didn’t know that so many seemingly otherwise intelligent people subscribe to it, we would be shocked to learn that anyone with an IQ over two could possibly believe this drivel.

What does it mean to “politicize” anything?  Is there something intrinsically unseemly about political life?  Is it is more noble, more in keeping with good taste, to talk about events of the sort under discussion in the light of “culture” rather than politics?  If so, why is it so?  Is there a hard and fast distinction between culture and politics and, if so, in what does that distinction consist? 

Thinking people will address questions of this kind before rule out of hand that it is immoral to “politicize” tragedies.        

*This article was published at The New American.  Some of it was changed by the editor.  This is the original–and uncensored–version. 

 

 

Thy Myth of Equality Shattered: A Conservative’s Critique

posted by Jack Kerwick

“Egalitarianism” is a word with many different meanings.  There certainly is a sense in which every ideology or system of belief within which equality plays a dominant role can be said to be egalitarian. Classical and modern varieties of liberalism, Christianity, socialism, and communism can all, in this respect, be said to be expressions of egalitarianism.

But, usually, the label is reserved for only those ideologies that call for a more equal distribution of material resources.  

That is, in the popular imagination, as well as that of those who loudly and proudly proclaim their commitment to Equality, the egalitarian is invariably a leftist.  For example, when Barack Obama informed “Joe the plumber” that he wanted to “spread the wealth around,” he revealed himself to be a champion of egalitarianism.

Those of us who love liberty, regardless of whether we call ourselves libertarians or conservatives, know all too well the depths of intellectual and moral squalor in which egalitarian ideology is mired.  Still, we would be well served to familiarize or perhaps reacquaint ourselves with some theorists of yesteryear who fought the same battles that engage our energies today.

One such theorist is the nineteenth century American conservative sociologist, William Graham Sumner. 

Sumner subjected the ideology of those who we call “egalitarians”—and he called “the friends of humanity”—to withering criticism.

Sumner stated emphatically that “the dogma that all men are equal” is not only a “superstition,” but “the most flagrant falsehood and the most immoral doctrine which men have ever believed [.]”  This becomes evident once we give it a second’s thought.

If men are all equal, then “the man who has not done his duty is as good as the one who has done his duty [.]”  But if this in turn is true, then “the teachings of the moralists” is deprived of “all sense,” for moralists from throughout the ages and a rich variety of traditions “instruct youth that men who pursue one line of action will go down to loss and shame, and those who pursue another course will go up to honor and success.”

In reality, “truth, wisdom, and righteousness” are purchased at the expense of much “study” and “striving.”  As such, they are goods that “are so hard” to come by “that it is only the few who attain to them.”  And “these few” are those who “carry on human society,” both “now” and “as they always have done.”

Put another way, it is inequality—most certainly not equality—that is well “established as a positive fact.”  To substantiate his contention, Sumner alludes to a phenomenon with which we are all familiar.  He observes that “so soon as the exigencies of life are felt, men are differentiated according to their power to cope with them into ‘better’ or ‘worse,’” a fact of life that renders undeniable the claim that while “men are very unequal in what they get out of life,” still “they are…more unequal in what they put into it.”  To drive home his point, Sumner bluntly states: “The most unequal bargain has always been made by the men who have done the world’s thinking for it.”

Inseparable from the egalitarian fantasy is the idea that “the disadvantaged” have somehow been deprived of the benefits of civilization.  A contemporary American egalitarian is likely to put the matter by saying that some have been “shut out of the American dream,” or some such nonsense.  Sumner is having none of it, and says of this fiction that it is the function of “monstrous ignorance.”

“There is not a person in a civilized state,” Sumner asserts, “who does not share in the inheritance of institutions, knowledge, ideas, doctrines, etc., which come down as fruits of civilization [.]”  We tend not to realize this, though, because such fruits are imbibed “by habit and routine [.]”  Instead, we “suppose that they come of themselves, or are innate [.]”

From the time we are children, we begin availing ourselves of the inventory of “facts, knowledge, skill and the like which it cost the human race thousands of years to accumulate.”  And even long after we have become adults, we just “as unconsciously as children” continue to “use the products of civilization [.]”

The daily goods that we take for granted are the fruits of the “prodigious struggles” of earlier generations. 

This includes “the rights” that we are disposed to regard as “natural.”  It is worth quoting Sumner at length on this score.

“Every man in a civilized state inherits a status of rights which form the basis and stay of his civil existence.  These rights are often called ‘natural’; in truth, they are the product of the struggles of thousands of generations…Our inheritance of established rights is the harvested product of the few successful experiments out of thousands which failed.” 

Yet egalitarianism isn’t just immoral in being a lie. It is as well invidious in how it deleteriously impacts “the Forgotten Man.”

“The Forgotten Man” is the person whose resources are taken by the “social doctors”—those who are “always under the dominion of the superstition of government”—and redistributed to those classes of which, appealing to “the sympathies and the imagination,” they transform into “social pets.” 

“The Forgotten Man” is “the real sufferer” of the “kind of benevolence” for which “the friends of humanity” are noted.  Being “worthy, industrious, independent, and self-supporting,” he could benefit and in turn benefit society if the resources that government expends on “‘the poor,’” and “‘the weak’”—i.e. “the good-for-nothing,” as Sumner says—would have instead remained in his pocket in the form of an increase in wages.

Sumner refers to the virtually “invincible prejudice that a man who gives a dollar to a beggar is generous and kind-hearted, but that a man who refuses the beggar and puts the dollar in a savings-bank is stingy and mean.”  This is not just a prejudice; it is folly.

The man who gives to a beggar “is putting capital where it is very sure to be wasted, and where it will be a kind of seed for a long succession of future dollars” that are just as likely to be wasted.  But the man who invests his dollar turns it into capital, specifically capital that will be “given to a laborer who, while earning it, would have reproduced it [.]”

Egalitarians coerce the Forgotten Man to part with his legitimately acquired holdings so that they can then spend the fruits of his labor on “the social pets” of their choice.  They get away with doing this, though, because “he passes by and is never noticed, because he has behaved himself, fulfilled his contracts, and asked for nothing [.]”

The next time we hear egalitarians in either party tell us about how “we” or “society” must help this or that group of people, let’s call to mind the words of William Graham Sumner.   

originally published at The New American 

 

 

Mitt Romney and the Lover of Liberty

posted by Jack Kerwick

Anyone who has read this column knows that during the most recent Republican primary season, I wrote voluminously in support of Texas Congressman Ron Paul.  It isn’t that I thought that Paul was anything at all like the ideal candidate. However, among the race’s contestants, it was a no-brainer to me that Paul came far closer than his rivals to personifying the rhetoric of “limited government” that marks the GOP.

Yet as things stand today, Paul is done. Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee.  And the lovers of liberty have a decision to make.

If they want to make an informed decision, there are several considerations that they need to bear in mind.

First, Romney is neither a conservative nor a libertarian.  He is perhaps a neoconservative or soft liberal.  That is to say, he is but another proponent of Big Government.  Given his record, it is hard to come to any other conclusion—despite the game that he is talking at present.

Second, Romney’s rival is our beloved president, Barack Obama—who is also neither a conservative nor a libertarian.  But neither is he a neoconservative nor a soft liberal.  Obama is a radical leftist whose chief objective is to “fundamentally transform” our country into the bastion of “social justice” for which he and his ideological ilk have always ached.

Third, come Election Day, the lover of liberty will have but one of two choices to make: he can cast his vote for either Romney or Obama.  Repeat: whether he stays home, writes in, say, Ron Paul or Mickey Mouse, or votes for a third party candidate, he will be casting a vote for either Romney or Obama.

Simply put, come the day after Election Day, either a Republican or a Democrat will be the president for the next four years.  No one else will.  To abstain from choosing one or the other is itself a choice.

Fourth, liberty is not an abstraction that has fallen like manna from the sky.  It is not an all or nothing thing. What we refer to as “liberty” is actually a complex system or tradition of specific liberties. 

It is true that both Republicans and Democrats have done much to erode this majestic tradition of English liberties that the Founders sought to bequeath to their posterity.  It is equally true that if the pioneers of the American experiment could see the extent to which the federalized structure of American government has been subverted, they would be horrified.

Still, it would be less than fully accurate to say that our liberties are altogether gone. Thus, the question the lover of liberty must ask himself is this: under whose presidency do our remaining liberties stand the best chance of surviving, Romney’s or Obama’s?

It is with good reason that legions of liberty lovers have long ago concluded that there is scarcely a dime’s worth of difference between these candidates and their respective parties. After all, as I have already acknowledged, both parties, time and time again, have revealed themselves to be detriments to liberty.  Once in power, our elected representatives, irrespective of their party affiliations, have sought first and foremost to consolidate that power.

However, while this is a good reason for refraining from lending one’s support to both Republicans and Democrats, it is not good enough. 

For one, even if there is “scarcely a dime’s worth of difference” between our two national parties, a dime is still a dime: the fate of the country could turn on what little difference there is. 

For example, let’s suppose that in November, we had to reckon with two candidates, A and B.  Candidate A wants to require all citizens to purchase medical insurance.  Candidate B, though, wants to go much further than this.  Encouraged by the Supreme Court’s majority opinion on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, candidate B is determined to demand of all citizens that they exercise at least three (or more?) times per week and alter their dietary habits.  To insure that this occurs, Candidate B will not stop until every citizen purchases a gym membership and receives a government-issued debit card that they will use to buy the mandated foods.  

Candidate A objects vehemently to Candidate B’s plan, and swears that as long as he is president, Americans will remain at liberty to eat whatever they want to eat and exercise or not.  If, let’s say, Candidate B is already the president and has already begun to implement his “health care” plan, then we can imagine that Candidate A swears that on day one of assuming the office of the presidency, he will repeal it.

Candidate A is an undesirable candidate for sure.  But if he was our only viable alternative to Candidate B, isn’t it obvious that he would be a far less undesirable choice than the latter?  There is no question that Candidate A would slow down the erosion of what remains of our liberties while Candidate B would accelerate the pace.

And in the real world, as opposed to some utopia, the lover of liberty knows that his choice is never really between a world replete with liberty and one utterly devoid of it. Rather, it is either between a greater and lesser degree of liberty or, more frequently, more and less tolerable infringements upon it. (Of course, theoretically, revolution and secession are options also.  But since no one is calling for them at the moment, we needn’t give them much thought here.)

But for argument’s sake, let’s just say that, substantively, there is no difference between the policy prescriptions of Obama and Romney.

From the perspective of the lover of liberty, Romney would still be a preferable choice.

The reason for this is simple: it is only the mistaken belief, shared by tyrants, visionaries, and utopian dreamers the world over, that politics is only ever a matter of politics that leads us to measure the differences between Republicans and Democrats solely in terms of policies.

In actuality, though, there is much more to it than this.

To begin with, Romney and Obama are men with very different sorts of intentions.  Putting it bluntly, Romney may very well enact policies at which the lover of liberty will look aghast.  But Obama definitely will.  This is because while Romney is not always very clear as to what traditional American liberty entails, Obama is resolutely opposed to it.  Romney is not resolved to “fundamentally transform” the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Obama has already put us on notice that he indeed is.

Another crucial difference between Romney and Obama is that the former needs conservatives and Tea Partiers to win.  These same people, though, have been distrustful of Romney from the outset and still haven’t really warmed up to him.

Translation: Romney has every incentive to walk the line that they have drawn for him. It will not be without paying a grave cost—a cost of the sort that President George H.W. Bush paid back in 1992 when he violated his pledge to refrain from raising taxes—that Romney will cross his base.

Obama, in stark contrast, is not constrained by any such constituency.  In fact, just the opposite is the case: his base promises to continue pulling him leftward (not that he needs anyone to do so).

There is one final reason why the liberty lover should vote for Romney over Obama.

If Obama is re-elected, that will be his last election.  The incentive he has now to appear more moderate than he really is will be forever gone. Among the ways that he can give unimpeded reign to his radicalism is by his selection of justices to the Supreme Court.  A single decision on his part here promises to impact the future of the country for at least the next generation and quite possibly much longer than that.

Matters are otherwise for Romney.  Especially in light of John Roberts’ recent ruling on ObamaCare, the Republican president, whether it is Romney or anyone else, is going to be under incalculable pressure to nominate justices that have unquestioned conservative bona fides—i.e. justices who are staunchly against judicial activism.

When the lover of liberty considers his prospects in light of all of these considerations, he will recognize that his beloved stands a better chance of enduring longer under a President Romney than under our current president.

originally published at American Thinker

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