At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

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be a tax is more likely than not to render it even more detestable in the eyes of the majority of Americans who want it repealed.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.”      

 

Of Rats and Heroes

posted by Jack Kerwick

Last week, one ofAmerica’s most notorious rats departed from the Earth.  Perhaps with the exception of that of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, there was no other snitch with whose name Americans were more familiar than that of “Henry Hill.”

Unlike Gravano—who, being the right-hand henchman of the now deceased mafia star, John Gotti, achieved a place of distinction in the annals of organized thugdom—Hill was never more than a low-ranking mob “associate.” But although during his life in organized crime the latter never achieved either the power or the recognition attained by the former, Hollywoodassured Hill a post-mob existence ridden with the awe that he failed to elicit from other vermin.

Martin Scorcese’s film Good Fellas catapulted Hill into the national limelight.  He became a sought after guest for a number of tabloid television programs and a frequent quest on Howard Stern’s radio show. In the years immediately prior to his death, he even authored a cook book.

Had Hill genuinely repented of his past transgressions; had he exploited his newly found popularity to wage a campaign against the underworld of which he had once been a member; had he tirelessly spoken out against the moral and aesthetic shallowness that informs Hollywood’s efforts to romanticize the wastes of sperm in whose image he spent much of his life shaping his own identity—then he would have been a worthy candidate for forgiveness. 

But Hill, like Gravano and the legions of other rats that turned state witnesses for no other reason than to save their own asses, failed abysmally to make amends with God and the society that they undercut at every turn.

The same narcissism that animated Hill’s conduct while in the mob accounts for his decision to cooperate with the authorities in sending his friends to prison for the remainder of their natural existences.  It is also this narcissism that explains the crass opportunism that Hill exhibited during his post-mob days.

The Godly and the good are obliged to renounce evil.  They have no option but to call it out for what it is regardless of where it rears its hideous head.  Men like Hill—gangsters and criminals—we must be willing to recognize for the specimens of villainy that they are.  At the same time, we should be just as willing—just as eager—to draw attention to the exemplars of virtue in our midst. 

One such exemplar is Guardian Angel founder and radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa. 

For over thirty years, Sliwa has helped untold numbers of people from across the country and throughout the planet combat crime in their communities by organizing themselves into citizen patrol squads.  He has not only been remarkably successful; in start contrast to the Henry Hills of the world, Sliwa has used his fame for the purpose of identifying—and stopping—the wicked amongst us.

The man is as courageous as his campaign against evil doers is indefatigable. 

During the summer of 1992, in response to the relentless criticism that Sliwa would heap upon the organized criminal network of his nativeNew York City, and the Gambino family particularly, Gottis father and son arranged to have him beaten by several men with baseball bats. 

Sliwa took the beating.  But he also returned promptly to his job on the radio where he returned fire with a vengeance. 

A few months later, the Gottis struck again.  This time, though, they went in for the kill.

One night Sliwa hailed a cab.  Unbeknownst to him, the driver was a hit man.  At nearly point-blank range, he shot Sliwa five times.  During the mayhem, the latter managed to wiggle his way out of the passenger’s window as the car was moving.  

Sliwa not only survived this attempt on his life.  The very next day, from his hospital bed, Sliwa was back on the airwaves going at the Gottis with everything he had. 

Years later, when Junior Gotti was on trial for all manner of criminal wrongdoing, including attempted murder vis-à-vis Sliwa, the crime buster reassured the media and his listeners of his plan to “get in his [Gotti’s] face” as much as possible.

The fight against evil requires not only that we repudiate the treacherous.  It requires as well that we affirm the heroic. 

Sadly, we should not expectHollywoodto follow this lead anytime soon.  Hundreds of more films will be made lionizing rats and other parasites before anyone will dare to propose, let alone produce, a big budget film depicting the exploits of real men like Curtis Sliwa.

 

A Problem with “Natural Rights”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Many distinguished, even brilliant thinkers, both past and present, have championed the doctrine of “natural rights” (more commonly referred to nowadays as “human rights).”   Without doubt, largely thanks to its enshrinement in America’s Declaration of Independence, it remains our public political philosophy.

According to the creed, all human beings, simply by virtue of their humanity, possess the very same “rights.”  While these “rights” have been variously described, traditionally they have been held to consist of claims to such basic goods as life, liberty, property, and maybe “the pursuit of happiness.” 

Since these “rights” are “natural” or “human,” they transcend all individuating circumstances.  “Rights” owe nothing to culture, say, or history—an idea at one time conveyed through the fictive concept of “the state of nature.”  The latter refers to life prior to the formation of political society. 

Although rights theorists disagreed with one another over what life was supposedly like in it, they all agreed that it was for the sake of relieving themselves of the unqualified character of human conduct in the state of nature that individuals leave it and join together to form a state.   

That is, according to the classical rights theorists, the state comes into being as a means of qualifying conduct.  Two of the most salient characteristics of a state are, first, an office in which all authority is thought to reside and, secondly, a mechanism of power attached to this authority. 

A common authority—one to which all members of the state are bound—is responsible for both establishing the terms in which the conduct of citizens is to be qualified as well as enforcing these terms. It is for the sake of fulfilling these functions that individuals give rise to government.

This is crucial, for even by the lights of the great rights theorists their own theories cannot be sustained.  There is no incompatibility between the idea of “natural rights” and the idea of life beyond the state of nature.  However, there is indeed radical incompatibility between the idea that the state exists for the sake of protecting “natural rights” and the nature of political life. 

To put it more simply, natural rights are unqualified in character.  Yet it is precisely for the purpose of qualifying this unqualified situation—the state of nature—that the state was brought into being.  Life under government is the antithesis of life in a state of nature, in other words, because in the former, citizens’ conduct is conditioned by laws. In the latter, without a common authority (or, what amounts to the same thing, a commonly recognized authority), there is no law.

The laws under which we live in political society are duties, first and foremost.  Rights can be read from them, for sure, but it is important to grasp that every individual’s right to such-and-such is simply the duty of each and every other person not to interfere with their exercise of it.  And even then, these “rights” are not “natural” or “human.”  Rather, they are culturally-specific acquisitions that derive their meaning from the complex of duties within which they are found.  (This explains why neither in the Constitution, the common law, nor legislative law is there to be discerned any references to the abstraction of “natural rights.”)  

There may very well be “natural rights.”  Yet talk of them, while rhetorically effective, is philosophically problematic and politically useless.

Jesus: No Radical II: Replies to Critics

posted by Jack Kerwick

Jesus was no “radical.” 

To this claim of mine, several thoughtful responses have been in the coming.  My friend and writer, the always perceptive Ilana Mercer, lead the charge (you can see some of this exchange here: http://barelyablog.com/?p=52564).  Jesus was indeed a “radical,” Mercer asserted.  He was also a man of “genius” and “courage” whose qualities place Him squarely within an extensive, rich prophetic tradition.   Most of Ilana’s fans who contributed to this discussion, by and large, shared her judgment.

Originally, the contention against which I argued is the prevailing consensus among contemporary Biblical scholars that Jesus—the “Historical” Jesus—was a “radical,” “rebel,” or “revolutionary.”  In the hands of these “political-theologians,” as Burke referred to the radicals and revolutionaries inFrance, these terms are loaded with specific connotations. 

The vast majority of those who claim to have excavated from the accretions of Christian theological embellishment a Jesus who sought to subvert “the structures of power” of his society have substituted for the Christ of traditional Christian faith a Jesus made in the image of their own leftist politics.  Against this move, I claimed that Jesus was not a radical social egalitarian who never made any claims to divinity.  And He did not aspire to usher in a utopian age in which the old system of power and property would be razed.

In short, it was always cosmic justice—not social justice—with which Jesus was first and foremost concerned. 

This, in turn, is but another way of saying that unless we read Him in the theological terms in which He described Himself, He will forever elude us.

Some people accused me of constructing a Jesus of my own, a Jesus who I could conscript into the service of “right-wing” or conservative politics.  They couldn’t be more mistaken: my whole point is not that Jesus wasn’t a first century political radical; my point is that He wasn’t political at all—at least not in our sense of that term.

It is, of course, correct that the distinction between politics and theology or religion to which we have grown accustomed was nonexistent in Jesus’ culture.  Yet this is all the more reason to resist the impulse to anachronistically characterize Him in the political terms that define our world.

A political radical is the sort of figure for whom conservatives in the tradition of Burke have utter contempt.  Inasmuch as he suffers from the character defects of impatience and intemperance, the radical is vicious.  These vices in turn lead him to advocate tirelessly on behalf of revolutionary change, change that consists, not of reform, but of destruction.  The radical desires nothing less than to “fundamentally transform” the institutional arrangements of his society. 

Jesus, in stark contrast, looked not to “abolish the [Mosaic] law, but to fulfill it.”  Having mastered the language of His Jewish tradition, He sought to draw the attention of both his contemporaries and opponents to the fact that it was pregnant with a plethora of possibilities of which they were forgetful.  This is particularly illuminating for present purposes: Jesus, unlike the radical, did not disdain the past.  Quite the contrary: He constantly drew on His people’s rich and richly diverse history in order to connect their past with their present and their future. 

In reality, even the most immoderate of radicals is as incapable of emancipating himself from the cultural traditions in which he has been reared as he is incapable of liberating himself from his first language.  But the radical likes to believe otherwise. 

The Black Nationalist is one telling illustration of this self-delusional conceit.  He judges America and the whole Western world to be incorrigibly “racist” to the core, fundamentally beyond the possibility of redemption—as long as the current “system” stands.  The so-called “gender feminist” is another example: the gender feminist thinks that Western civilization is so ridden with “patriarchy” and “sexism” that nothing less than a systemic and systematic dismantling of its institutions is called for if women are ever to gain “equality” with men.

I could continue ad infinitum adding to this list of examples of radical thought.  It would be a superfluous exercise, however, because the radical is a well known character to all of us.

What should be equally clear, by now, is that, as I said initially, Jesus was no radical.     

 

 

 

Previous Posts

Republicans, Democrats, and White Men
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

posted 9:20:56pm Nov. 07, 2014 | read full post »

Why I Did Not Vote this Election Day
As I write this, it’s Election Day. It is the first Election Day in 24 years that I haven’t voted. Every election cycle, Republican operatives in the media—“conservative” talk radio hosts, Fox News pundits, and the like—insist to their audiences that a decision on their part to do

posted 9:47:14pm Nov. 04, 2014 | read full post »

Losing the Language: How the GOP Undermines Itself--and Liberty
As the mid-term elections approach, it’s high time for Republican commentators to walk the walk. Just the other morning, Mark Steyn, busily promoting his new book, made an appearance on Bill Bennett’s radio program. The latter agreed enthusiastically with the former that in order for conserva

posted 10:16:04pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Political Correctness and Ebola
That there is a sensationalistic dimension to the Ebola coverage is something of which I have no doubt. Sensationalizing events is what the media does best. There may even be a sense in which it can be said that sensationalism is intrinsic to mass media.  Sensationalism serves the interests of t

posted 10:26:30pm Oct. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Capital Punishment Revisited
For a discussion of capital punishment, with no thinker is there a better place to begin than Ernest van den Haag. It is with justice that the latter’s seminal analysis of this topic is a staple of textbooks in college ethics courses nationwide: the author addresses the thicket of issues that are

posted 9:11:40am Oct. 14, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.