At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

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

Morgan Freeman on Obama

posted by Jack Kerwick

While on Michel Martin’s NPR show, “Tell Me More,” Hollywood titan Morgan Freeman informed his host that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Barack Hussein Obama is not America’s first black president.

He is the country’s “first mixed-race president.”  The first black president, Freeman continued, has not as yet “arisen.”

So, one wonders, from whence stems the popular misconception that Obama is black?  Freeman has an answer ready at hand: the President’s opponents.

Obama’s rivals want to fuel the flames of racial bigotry by emphasizing his African ancestry while ignoring his white background. Yet they conveniently “forget that Barack had a mama” who “was white—very white American, Kansas, middle of America.”

Some commentators, particularly those on the right, think that Freeman’s remarks should have been met with more outrage.  I personally think that incredulity is a more fitting response.

At the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the black comedian Wanda Sykes quipped that while she was “proud” that she could characterize Obama as “the first black president,” her pride would endure only as long as he didn’t “screw up.”  Once that happened, however, then she would be asking: “What’s up with the half-white guy?”

It is difficult indeed not to think that Freeman—a long-time Democrat and supporter of the President—isn’t animated by the same impulse over which Sykes joked.

Obama, after all, had long ago fallen hard—and fast—from the peaks at which he stood in November of 2008.  His unpopularity continues to increase as more and more Americans realize the disastrous toll that his policies are taking on the nation.  This consideration in and of itself should suffice to legitimize the theory that Freeman is now revising Obama’s racial identity so that “the first black president” isn’t remembered by his contemporaries and history as an abject failure.

But there are other considerations that make this thesis that much more plausible.

First, it stretches credibility to the snapping point to suggest that it is Obama’s opponents who are alone, or even primarily, responsible for accentuating his blackness.  If anything, the President’s critics twist themselves into proverbial pretzels doing their best to avoid invoking race to any extent.  Their dread over being accused of “racism” dictates this as the safest course of action (or so they think).  

Moreover, if they really wanted to play the racial angle, as Freeman claims, then there is an abundant supply of resources in the way of Obama’s own utterances—for one, his own memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance; deeds—his “community organizing,” as well as his intercession in the cases of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Trayvon Martin, to say nothing of his massive redistributive schemes within which blacks and non-whites benefit at the expense of whites; and alliances—Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones, and a host of other notorious anti-Americans. 

Yet Republicans avoid like the plague touching upon these topics.

There are other reasons not to take Freeman seriously.

If anyone can be said to be ultimately responsible for identifying Obama as black, it is the President himself. 

Obama was abandoned at a very young age by his Kenyan father. It is his white family, his mother and his grandparents, particularly his grandmother, who provided him with the life of privilege that he enjoyed.  Obama spent much of his young life in Hawaii surrounded by mostly white friends while attending one prestigious private educational institution after the other.

He lived a life that, as far as safety and material comfort is concerned, would be the envy of most of the world.  If the leftist drivel of “white privilege” had any meaning at all, Obama could be said to have enjoyed it in spades.

And yet he insists upon identifying himself as black.

Shortly before his election, Obama said: “I identify as African-American—that’s how I am treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.”  As recently as 2010, while filling out the census, the President identified himself as “Black, African Am., or Negro”—in spite of the fact that he had other options.

Finally, and most decisively, Morgan Freeman had regarded Obama as the first black president up until this most recent discussion on NPR.

Just last September Freeman told Piers Morgan that Obama’s nemeses, specifically the Tea Party, were motivated by sheer “racism.”

“Their stated policy, publicly stated, is…Screw the country.  We’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man out of here” (emphasis added).

Whether Freeman, Wanda Sykes, or any other one-time Obama admirer secretly wishes to deny his blackness now or not is ultimately irrelevant.  They are stuck with him.  They wanted the first black president and they got him.  Any attempt to wish his racial self-identification away now must be seen for the piece of disingenuousness that it is.

orginally published at American Thinker

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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