At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

My Debate Over ObamaCare with the Son of Man

posted by Jack Kerwick

On Friday July 5, for about 90 minutes, I debated with “the Son of Man”—the leader of the New Nation of Islam—on his Detroit radio and television broadcasts.  The issue was the Affordable Health Care Act, i.e. ObamaCare.

Never before having heard of “the Son of Man,” and knowing only that he considers himself the successor of Elijah Muhammad—the deceased Nation of Islam head responsible for both inspiring and, eventually, murdering Malcolm X—and that he calls himself “the Son of Man,” I was reluctant to accept his invitation.  Yet given the graciousness with which he extended it, his assurances that I would be treated with respect and courtesy and, last but not least, his willingness to give a prospective opponent as much air time as needed to express an alternative point of view, I found it hard to refuse. 

The experience was an interesting one.  To my host’s credit, he proved himself to be a man of his word.  Not only did he give me as much time as I needed, he gave me more than enough time.  In fact, he actually wanted for me to stay on for the full two-and-a-half hours with him.  And not once did he try to shout over me.  On the one occasion when one of his congregants jumped on the line to express his displeasure with my position—it happened so quickly, I didn’t hear a word that this malcontent mumbled—“the Son of Man” wasted not a second in smacking him down.  He excoriated his disciple for “disrespecting” his guest and cautioned him in no uncertain terms against attempting a move like that again.

All of this aside, it became painfully clear that my thoughtful host wasn’t so thoughtful on this issue of ObamaCare.  It isn’t that he was necessarily any less thoughtful—or any more thoughtless—than anyone else who favors this monstrosity.  He was, to put it charitably, confused.  And he was confused for the same reasons that all proponents of ObamaCare are confused.  Gently, but firmly, I drew the attention of “the Son of Man” to the error of his ways.

 

First, I remarked, the plethora of cost-benefit analyses of ObamaCare that both its friends and foes supply are, in the final resort, of no relevance.  Utilitarian considerations of the kind that these studies invoke are not germane to the ultimate question: Does it amplify or diminish liberty? 

Even if ObamaCare promises to solve every material challenge that we face, even if it will drastically reduce health care costs for all, it should be resoundingly rejected if it violates our liberty.   But to determine whether this is the case, we need to be as clear as possible as to what liberty—our liberty—is.

The liberty that Americans have traditionally prized is not some abstraction.  It is a concrete manner of living to which earlier generations of Americans had become habituated.  This way of life is both cause and effect of the decentralization of authority and power of which our institutional arrangements have historically consisted. 

Thus, ObamaCare is indeed a violation of liberty, for it requires and assigns an allocation of authority and power to the federal government that is unprecedented in both size and scope.

This, I believe, is the decisive point against ObamaCare.  Yet “the Son of Man” essentially ignored it and, instead, insisted upon citing all of the good—all of the substantive satisfactions—that ObamaCare will allegedly yield.  So, I changed tactics by availing myself of a particularly powerful—actually, an unanswerable—argument from analogy: if the federal government is justified in demanding of all citizens that they purchase medical insurance for their own good and that of their fellows, I said, then the federal government would be no less justified in demanding of all citizens that they purchase memberships to fitness clubs for the very same reasons. 

My interlocutor replied that this would be “unreasonable.”  This, though, is no response at all. 

What is “reasonable” or not,” I informed him, is for the most part a function of habit.  The federal government under which we live todayAmerica’s founders would have found wildly “unreasonable.”  There isn’t a single state in the Union that would have remotely conceived of ratifying a written constitution that envisioned a national government like that under which we currently labor.  

When “the Son of Man” noted that only those people “at the bottom” who don’t already have heath insurance will be burdened by ObamCare’s “individual mandate,” I tried to hammer home the point that even if this was true—and it is not—it would still be utterly immaterial.  Many of us belong to gyms and regularly exercise.  That is, we would not be burdened by the government’s efforts to mandate that every citizen—or any citizen—purchase a gym membership.  Still, there is scarcely a soul who wouldn’t be outraged over any such attempt.

And the outrage over such a law would stem, not from any consideration regarding who would or would not be most put out by it, but from the fact that it would be a blunt affront to liberty.

ObamaCare sparks—or should spark—outrage for the same reason.

Thirdly, “the Son of Man” asserted that ObamaCare is necessary if we are to care properly for our fellow men and women. To put it another way, those of us who oppose ObamaCare are negligent of those in need.  

My answer to this line was straightforward. 

The peoples of the Earth, I replied, have never encountered such compassion and charity as they witness on display in the Christian world.  Yet these moral excellences, as well as all such excellences, are distinguished on account of the fact that they are freely chosen. There is no virtue that redounds to the credit of the citizen whose government conscripts his resources into the service of others.  Moreover, more good is done—more people actually helped—when individuals are at liberty to give to those whose circumstances they know best.

Fourth, “the Son of Man” made an appeal to the requirements of patriotism. The patriot, he argued, is devoted to his government. 

I wasted no time in correcting him on this: the patriot is devoted, most definitely not to the federal government, I declared, but to his country.  Certainly he wishes to preserve the integrity of his government; there is no question regarding his loyalty to it. But it is to the preservation of the historical identity of his country that he devotes his energies first and foremost.

Finally, discourse partner for the evening not infrequently appropriated the imagery of a benevolent parent when referencing the federal government.  He confusedly oscillated between this image and that of an umpire. 

I brought to his attention the stone cold fact that these two images were radically incompatible.  I further informed him that the idea of government-as-parent is just as incompatible with the idea of citizen as self-governing agent.  If the government is like a parent, then the citizen is like a child.  But the Founders envisaged a government that was more like an umpire, a government that is the custodian of rules that all citizens were obligated to observe, but rules that simply stated how they were to conduct themselves—not what they were to do.

I left this radio show being that much more convinced that ObamaCare is an unmitigated disaster for liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independence Day: Mother of all Politically Incorrect Holidays

posted by Jack Kerwick

Most of the holidays that Americans celebrate stand in tension with the prevailing leftist orthodoxy.  That is, with few exceptions—most notably Martin Luther King Day and, perhaps, Labor Day—our holidays, from Easter and Christmas to Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and Memorial Day, are “politically incorrect.”

Of course, from fear of being labeled an anti-American, the leftist would vehemently deny this.  However, when we consider these holidays in light of his worldview, his act of denial reduces to an exercise in futility.

The leftist, after all, is not a figure that is notable for his fondness of Christianity—at least not inasmuch as it has traditionally found expression.  Christianity is and has been the dominant faith of Western or European (read: white) civilization for the last two millennia.  Since its advent, its superstitious bigotry and claims to exclusivity have forced the world to reckon with racial and other sorts of oppression.  Or so the leftist believes. 

Yet Christmas and Easter are the Christian world’s two premier holidays.  Severally and collectively they serve to remind the planet that one-third of its population—over two billion people—continue to believe in miracles, particularly the miracle that the one and only God of the universe became aMan. 

How can the (clear thinking, consistent) leftist not despise Christmas and Easter?

Thanksgiving also has religious significance, albeit of a more subtle degree.  This is enough to make the leftist distrustful of it.  But more to the point, Thanksgiving is a holiday that forever reminds the leftist of “the genocide” that the European settlers perpetrated against “Native Americans.”

This renders it detestable in his eyes.

Obviously, the primary reason informing his detestation of Thanksgiving is the sole reason accounting for his hatred of Columbus Day.  For however murderous, and murderously “racist,” the American pioneers were, they were a bunch of little rascals compared to the Father of all “racist” oppressors: Christopher Columbus.

Memorial Day is a painful signifier of the nationalist chauvinism, the “jingoism,” for which the leftist has nothing but contempt. Nor does it help matters that the overwhelming majority of veterans who we memorialize on this day were white men whom we credit with changing—and saving—the world. Ditto for Veterans’ Day. 

Even Saints Valentine and Patrick Days must be anathema to the leftist.  For one, they are “saints’” days.  Secondly, the latter is the one day when a white ethnic group gives unadulterated, robust expression to ethnic pride.  It can be—and is—read all too easily by the leftist as an affirmation of a distinctively European tradition.

Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days are celebrations of the family, the one institution that protects the naked individual citizen from the totalizing governmental designs that the leftist wishes to impose upon him.

As for Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, it should go without saying that the leftist regards them as of a piece with all great, dead white men: they were “racist” bigots whose achievements must be diminished or denied and failings amplified.

Yet the Mother of all Politically InCorrect holidays, the one with which the leftist is most uncomfortable, the one that he disdains more so than any other, is Independence Day. Since it is his twofold conviction that “racism” is both ubiquitous and uniquely awful that lies at the heart of his ideology, it should be expected that this is the one holiday that he should disdain the most.

If the Tea Party movement; the Republican Party; “the right;” the conservative movement and every other predominantly white organization, business, and institution are “racist” simply and solely because they are predominantly white, then those men who gathered to pledge their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to declare their independence from England over 200 years ago were that much more “racist,” for they were all white men.

And it isn’t just that the men who founded this country were white that gives the contemporary leftist night sweats.  That they were white men who were resolved to shed blood—their own and that of those who would deprive them of their liberty—if this was the price to be had for living as free men that accounts as well for the leftist’s angst.

From the spirit of liberty that animated the patriots who forged of these former colonies a new nation springs all manner of evil, as far as the leftist is concerned.  It is the ultimate stumbling block in his quest to “fundamentally transform” the country into the egalitarian utopia of his imaginings.

On this Fourth of July, let us call all of this to mind.  In doing so, let us make ourselves into worthy inheritors of our Fathers’ legacy as we too resolve to fight to the end to live freely.

 

 

 

 

 

George S. Schuyler: Black and Conservative

posted by Jack Kerwick

George Schuyler was quite possibly among the greatest editorialists that America ever produced. 

Born in 1895 in Rhode Island, Schuyler lived in Syracuse, New York with his family until he was old enough to enlist in the United States Army.  Upon the completion of World War I, he returned to civilian life, taking up residence in Harlem, where he remained until his death in 1977.  It was during the decade of the 1920’s when, from a thirst for intellectual stimulation rather than the appeal of its ideas, Schuyler joined the Socialist Party and began to travel within circles that would subsequently be identified with “the Harlem Renaissance.”  It was also during this decade that he began establishing for himself quite the reputation as a writer.  Throughout his life, in addition to authoring what has been called the first black science fiction novel, Black No More, Schuyler wrote as well for a plethora of other publications, black and white, including American Mercury, founded and edited by H.L. Mencken, the largest of literary giants of that time.  Schuyler was a tireless champion for racial equality and a vehement opponent of communism.  From 1922 until 1964, he was the editor for The Pittsburg Courier, the largest black newspaper publication in the country.  In 1966, Schuyler composed his autobiography, Black and Conservative.

In spite of the distinction that he enjoyed during his time—even the black leftist academic, Cornel West, acknowledges that Schuyler’s autobiography is a “minor classic” in “African-American letters”—Schuyler has been all but forgotten.  This, though, is a phenomenon that has been brought about by design. Schuyler, you see, is ideologically inconvenient, for with the greatest of ease, and with equally great frequency, he routinely shattered the ideas that have by now become integral components of the zeitgeist.

In other words, Schuyler is as Politically Incorrect a figure as any.

And he is Politically Incorrect because he was a black conservative who routinely took to task those of his contemporaries who our generation has long since deemed unassailable.

Though Schuyler never spared an occasion to decry the injustices to which whites subjected his fellow blacks, he was equally unsparing in his criticism of the immoral conduct of the latter.   

Jeffrey B. Leak, editor of Rac[e]ing to the Right, a collection of Schuyler’s essays, couldn’t be more mistaken in his contention that Schuyler had always longed to be “a race man.”  He was equally critical of the idiocies and immoralities of blacks and whites precisely because he resoundingly eschewed the sort of blind loyalty—or, perhaps, any loyalty—to race that marks the “race men” with whom we are all too familiar. 

More specifically, Schuyler saw himself (as well as others), first and foremost, as an individual.  He was as unabashed an advocate of individuality as any could be found.  His moral vision in turn not only informed his philosophy of race; it is as well inseparable from his politics—the politics of liberty. 

Schuyler, then, was most certainly not the “reactionary” that Leak and other “progressives” would have us think he was.  He was no more a reactionary than any other champion of parliamentarianism or federalism.  If Schuyler was reactionary, then all of the nemeses of socialism, communism, and every other species of collectivism are equally reactionary.

The keys to understanding Schuyler’s positions are the morality of individuality and the politics of liberty on behalf of which he labored inexhaustibly.  It is by virtue of these moral and political-moral commitments that he argued against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   

Take the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  One year before this bill was enacted into law, Schuyler made a compelling case against it. Although he believed that the white majority’s “attitude” toward blacks was “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust,” federal laws designed to coerce it out of existence are at once impracticable, unnecessary, and unacceptable.   

Laws like the Civil Rights Act of ’64 we will be able to add to the voluminous body of “largely unenforceable legislation [that] has everywhere been characteristic of political immaturity” generally and the United States in particular.  Schuyler writes:

“New countries have a passion for novelty, and a country like America, which grew out of conquest, immigration, revolution and civil war, is prone to speed social change by law, or try to do so, on the assumption that by such legerdemain it is possible to make people better by force” (emphasis original). 

However, this belief “has been the cause of much misery and injustice throughout the ages.” 

In reality, “it takes lots of time to change social mores, especially with regard to such hardy perennials as religion, race and nationality, to say nothing of social classes.”

The Civil Rights Act of ’64, like all civil rights laws, is also unnecessary. Encouraging changes in American race relations have been transpiring since the abolition of slavery, Schuyler insists.  They have been slow in coming, but they have been “marked.”  Yet “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with it.”  On those rare occasions when these laws were capable of being enforced and when they appear to have had some effect it is only because “the majority” didn’t resist them.  Otherwise, they “generally lain dormant in the law books.”

“In short,” Schuyler concludes his argument, it is “custom”—not legislative policy—that “has dictated the pace of compliance.” 

Finally, the main consideration against the Civil Rights Act of ’64 is the threat that it poses to liberty.   

Any federal civil rights law is but “another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”  Schuyler knew that the liberty that Americans have traditionally prized is not some universal abstraction.  Rather, it is a concrete, historic achievement located in the wide diffusion of authority and power of which “the federalized structure of our society” consists.  “Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be open to enslave the rest of the population.” 

This last line may sound dramatic, but Schuyler explains himself.  It is worth quoting him at length:

“Under such a law, the individual everywhere is told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community.  This is a blow at the very basis of American society which is founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference. We are fifty separate countries, as it were, joined together for mutual advantage, security, advancement, and protection.  It was never intended that we should be bossed by a monarch, elected or born.” 

Schuyler closes out his case against what was then still the bill that the following year would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  When the latter, along with like legislation, become predominant, “the United States as a free land will cease to exist.”   

When we become reacquainted with Schuyler’s views, it becomes almost axiomatic that it was by design that he has been flushed down the memory hole.

originally published at The New American   

 

 

 

 

 

Obamacare: Some Thoughts for the Sons and Daughters of the Patriots of ’76

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Supreme Court’s ruling on “the Affordable Health Care Act”—i.e. “Obamacare”—has everyone a buzz. 

Here are some of my own thoughts:

First, practically speaking, the decision was a victory for the President and his fellow partisans in that Obamacare, however exactly it is implemented, can now be implemented. Still, although this is widely being regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as legal victory for the former, this piece of conventional wisdom, not unlike virtually all such species, invites further consideration.

This leads me to my second point: Obamacare, as it was originally designed, was indeed declared unconstitutional.   Its opponents were vindicated yesterday as SCOTUS asserted that under the commerce clause, where its architects placed it, the infamous “mandate” is illegal.

Third, politically speaking, SCOTUS placed Obama and his ilk at a decided disadvantage when it stated that the so-called “mandate” accords with the Constitution as long as it functions as a tax. 

For most of the history of Western philosophy, it was almost unanimously held that the identity of any individual—whether a person or any other entity—derives from its “final cause”—i.e. its end, purpose, or function.  In varying degrees, this understanding of identity continues to figure today.  Thus, in identifying the mandate as a tax, it is not a stretch to conclude that the Supreme Court made of Obamacare a new thing. 

More exactly, they transformed it into a tax unprecedented in both kind and size.  Obamacare is the largest tax increase in American history, and it taxes all citizens for what they do not purchase.

Obama once said that he “absolutely” rejected the proposition that his mandate was a tax.

Now, the Supreme Court has left him no option but to swallow his words.  This cannot bode well for him in November.

Fourth, that Obamacare is now proclaimed “constitutional” is not likely to change anyone’s mind about it between now and Election Day.  Just because something is constitutional, or is declared constitutional, does not mean that it is a good idea.  And that the despised “mandate” is now said by that same Court to be a tax is more likely than not to render it even more detestable in the eyes of the majority of Americans who want it repealed.

In other words, far from boosting Obama’s credibility, the Supreme Court generally, and the enigmatic Justice Roberts specifically, just invigorated Mitt Romney’s campaign in a way that few other things could at the moment.

Finally, even if Obama and the Democrats are reelected, and even though this Supreme Court held Obamacare to be constitutional, this should change nothing as far as the Sons and Daughters of the Patriots of ’76 are concerned. 

As I have argued time and time again, the sooner we stop thinking of liberty as a “self-evident,” universal abstraction, the better. Liberty is the birthright of every American, a culturally particular affection bequeathed to us from those generations of Americans who first settled and later “founded” the country.  It is a prize for the sake of which they were willing to die—and kill.

America is rooted—not in some timeless proposition—but in blood soaked secession.  Our Fathers sought to secede peacefully from the Mother Country.  When the English government—not remotely as intrusive or oppressive, mind you, as anything that we have ever seen in our own government, to say nothing of the Obama administration—refused to let that happen, the colonists took up arms and defeated the most expansive and powerful of empires that the world had ever known up to that juncture in history. 

Listen to “conservative” talk radio or read mainstream “conservative” pundits in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling.  These are supposed to be our contemporary “Patrick Henrys,” our most vocal advocates of liberty.  However, in spite of the lip service that they routinely pay to “the Founders” and “the Constitution,” could any of them genuinely be mistaken for the offspring of the first “Tea Partiers?” 

As we consider what to do next respecting Obamacare, I suggest we familiarize ourselves with Captain Levi Preston.  In his voluminous Liberty and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer recapitulates an exchange that transpired in 1843 between Preston, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and the scholar Mellen Chamberlain.  The response of the 91 year-old to the latter’s inquiry as to why he fought years earlier at Concord was revealing. 

“Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?” Chamberlain asked.

“I never saw any stamps,”Preston replied, “and I always understood that none were ever sold.”

“Well, what about the tea tax?”

“Tea tax?” Preston asked incredulously.  “I never drank a drop of the stuff.  The boys threw it all overboard.” 

Oh, Chamberlain concluded, so “I suppose you had been reading [James] Harrington, [Algernon] Sidney, and [John] Locke about the eternal principles of liberty?”

“I never heard of these men,”Preston retorted.  “The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism,Watts’ Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.”

Chamberlain gave up.  “Well, then, what was the matter?”

Preston was to the point: “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be free always.  They didn’t mean we should.”      

 

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