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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Denver Debate: A Second Look

posted by Jack Kerwick

The first presidential debate of 2012 is now behind us.

And Republican challenger Mitt Romney won it handily. 

No one challenges this verdict.  Even President Obama’s most ardent supporters concede it by way of the truly laughable excuses to which they’ve resorted in accounting for the decisive drubbing that their candidate received.

But while the conventional wisdom concerning the victor is sound enough, the conventional wisdom concerning the debate’s loser is not so much.

Obama, we are told, was “off his game.”  From Denver’s altitude to personal family issues, every conceivable rationale has been offered by the President’s admirers to explain how or why he was “off his game.” 

No explanation is necessary, however, because there is nothing to explain: Obama was not off his game. 

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The Obama who arrived for his showdown with Romney is the same Obama that we have been seeing for the last four to five years, the Obama who clashed with and defeated John McCain in 2008.  He was cool and collected.  He spoke reasonably well.  He smirked and didn’t spare the occasion to look down his nose at his rival a time or two.  He threw out the same sound bites to which the country has had the great misfortune of being subjected for what now seems like an eternity.

Things like the widely accepted notion that Obama’s heart didn’t join the rest of his body in Denver are what happen when illusion and reality clash.

The illusion is what we may call “the Messianic syndrome” (TMS).  Obama suffers from TMS, it is true, but so do his supporters. 

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Jesus’ closest disciples came to recognize Him as the Messiah before He was arrested, tried, and crucified.  Yet upon witnessing His Passion, they lost faith.  From the debris of their shattered messianic expectations doubt and even despair took flight.  It took the Resurrection to resurrect their belief in Jesus’ true identity.

Obama’s disciples have also had messianic expectations for their leader to fulfill.  In part this is because Obama himself has done everything to give rise to those expectations. Yet it is also partially owing to the fact that his followers—particularly his followers in the media—have been just as diligent in creating those expectations as has Obama himself.

The problem, though, is that Obama and his accomplices in the media have been laboring away at this enterprise for so long that they have actually come to believe their own hype.  Obama, they are convinced, truly is the Messiah.  Because of this, he deserves to be recognized as such by everyone—including his opponents.

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Messiahs are supposed to be bottomless fonts of wisdom and virtue.  Messiahs are supposed to be more intelligent than everyone and anyone else.  Messiahs are expected to prevail over all countervailing forces.

And this is all because Messiahs are expected to redeem those to whom they have been sent.

Just as Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed with shock when they saw their Messiah crucified, so too are Obama’s followers still reeling in shock from the sight of the verbal crucifixion that their messiah suffered courtesy of Mitt Romney.

Of course, because Jesus really was the Messiah, His glorious Resurrection was more than enough to vindicate the faith that His disciples had placed in Him.  The reality, as opposed to the illusion, is that Obama, on the other hand, is no kind of messiah at all.  Thus, rather than accept this, he and his followers have no option but to avail themselves of any and every means—however preposterous—that enables them to evade reality.

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And the cold, merciless reality is that their candidate lost, and lost resoundingly, not because he was unprepared or disengaged.  He lost because, for at least the first time since he has been in the national limelight, Obama had to square off with a man who is in every respect his superior.

Whether measured in terms of intelligence, worldliness, articulation, or even physical appearance, Romney outshines Obama by miles. 

This is the ugly reality that Obama and his disciples can’t acknowledge. 

Still, reality is persistent.  It has a way of creeping into the consciousness.  Things are only going to get worse for the One and his followers. 

Obama will be more fired up during the next debate, for certain.  But it will be to no avail.  Romney can no more desist in overshadowing Obama than the Sistine Chapel can desist in eclipsing “piss Christ” as an artwork.

Illusions are beginning to give way to reality.

originally published at Townhall.com        

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Why the Obama Videos Matter

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Daily Caller just released a five-year old video featuring Barack Obama.  But it is at least as relevant today as it was when it was first made.

Actually, it is more relevant today.

In June of 2007, at Hampton University inVirginia, then Senator Obama delivered a speech to a group of black ministers—including his pastor of over two decades, the now notorious Jeremiah Wright.  This last is worth noting, for during his address, Obama sounded less like a politician and more like his old “spiritual mentor,” Reverend Wright.

Showcasing the one ability that so enamored him to Senator Harry Reid—his prowess at adopting a “Negro dialect” whenever the occasion called for it—Obama castigated America for neglecting the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The federal government, he said, refused to be as generous with its resources in assisting New Orleans to rebuild as it had been in helping Manhattan in September of 2001 and those who had been harmed by Hurricane Andrew in Florida.

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The reason for this neglect, Obama confidently insinuates, is “racism.” 

“The people down in New Orleans they [the federal government] don’t care about as much!”

However, the black ministers in attendance at this conference needn’t lose any sleep, for Obama assures them that “black folks will survive.  We won’t forget where we came from.  We won’t forget what happened 19 months ago, or 15 years ago, or 300 years ago.”

First of all, Obama’s claims here are simply false: the federal government, along with the white majority of America that he implicitly, and not so implicitly, derides, were enormously generous toward the victims of Katrina. 

So, not only is Obama guilty of dishonesty.  He is equally guilty of acting with bad faith towards the country that he was then aspiring to preside over. 

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Secondly, and more importantly, this video is but another piece of evidence (not as though we needed any more) that Obama is and has always been a racial demagogue. 

In 2008, he styled himself as the one and only figure who could redeem America of her legacy of racial oppression and usher blacks, whites, and everyone else into a “post-racial” millennium.  Yet when Obama had the opportunity to do what he could to assuage the anger and distrust of a group of aggrieved black ministers, he refused to take it. 

Instead, he added fuel to the fire by confirming their hostility toward their fellow white Americans.

The reason why this video is arguably more relevant today than it was five years ago is that it sheds light upon what it is that motivates Obama the president.

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Blacks will not forget where they came from or what has happened to them.  They will not forget the cruel treatment to which the government of their country has subjected them—whether this occurred within the last few years or the last few centuries.  This is what Obama promises in his 2007 speech.

In other words, blacks will get theirs.  Things will be made right.

More specifically, if Obama is elected president, he will make things right.

Is it so implausible, especially within the light of this video and the last four years of Obama’s presidency, that it is this desire to make good on his promise to Wright and company that has been the single greatest force driving his policies?

After all, ostensibly for the purposes of helping “the poor”—among which blacks are disproportionately represented—Obama has seized a gargantuan federal government and grown it exponentially.  In doing so, he has spared no occasion to demonize “millionaires and billionaires”—the vast majority of whom are white.  This makes sense, for in order to give to the poor, the government must first take from the non-poor.

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What is called “class warfare,” though, has an unmistakably racial subtext.  At least in America this is the case.

There are other considerations.

Obama has had other opportunities to ameliorate racial strife.  However, he chose instead to either pass on them or exploit them for the sake of increasing interracial tensions.

When black Harvard professor Henry Gates had an altercation with white police officers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Obama sided with Gates—before he was privy to the facts of the situation, and before it became common knowledge that the police were in the right.

When the captain of a neighborhood watch group in Florida, George Zimmerman, shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin, Obama’s ignorance of the circumstances didn’t stop him from reinforcing the media-contrived narrative that Martin’s life was extinguished for no other reason than that of his race.

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When orgies of black-on-white violence—i.e. “flash mobs”—erupted in cities around the country over the last few years, Obama said nothing.  

In 2008, this video could have been used to forecast the future.  In 2012, it is even more valuable, for we can now rely upon it to make sense of the past—the past four years.

And while we are at it, maybe we can prevent four more years. 

              

 

 

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Ilana Mercer and The Paleolibertarian Ideal

posted by Jack Kerwick

Former National Review contributor John Derbyshire has recently penned a review of Hans Hermann-Hoppe’s latest book.  Doubtless, the latter is a worthwhile read, for the Austrian school economist who authored it is a thinker as original as he is erudite.  But it is not Hermann-Hoppe or his work to which I wish to speak here.    

The point that needs addressing in Derbyshire’s review pertains to, not so much Hermann-Hoppe, but the school of thought—the “paleolibertarianism”—with which the reviewer associates the latter. 

VDARE.com contributor Arthur Pendleton once referred to paleolibertarianism as “the once-promising intellectual movement that stayed true to libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness.”  It is with approval that Derbyshire quotes Pendleton on this score.  Yet immediately afterwards, he laments the virtual extinction of this fine tradition, adding that “even persons knowledgeable about the pond life of dissident conservatism might pause when asked to name a current paleolib.” 

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However, all is not lost, Derbyshire assures us, for there is at least one proponent of paleolibertarianism left standing, and his name is—what else?—Hans Hermann-Hoppe.  As it turns out, this much vaunted tradition “is not dead” after all.  In fact, so “long as Hans Hermann-Hoppe “is with us,” Derbyshire joyfully concludes, paleolibertarianism promises to be “flourishing” and “vigorous [.]”

Fortunately, for Derbyshire—and, for that matter, the rest of us who share his affection for “this once promising intellectual movement”—things are even better than he thinks: there is more than one paleolibertarian left.

In particular, there is one self-avowed “paleolibertarian” who regularly reaches a vastly larger audience than that reached by Hermann-Hoppe or any other academic writer, an audience composed of those who are “knowledgeable about the pond life of dissident conservatism” as well as of those who have no such knowledge.  Interestingly—strangely?—Derbyshire and his colleagues at VDARE are among its members.

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The name that is, if not above every other when it comes to all things paleolibertarian, at least near the top, is that of Ilana Mercer.

For years, Mercer has authored a weekly column—“Return to Reason”—at the very popular World Net Daily website.  The most casual perusal of her archives there readily reveals that she is as ardent a champion as any of that tradition that Derbyshire and Arthur Pendleton applauded for affirming “libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness.”  But if, per impossible, this isn’t sufficient to convince the terminally ignorant, then perhaps the fact that Mercer also pens the “Paleolibertarian Column” at Russia Today (RT) just may do.   

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Of course, these aren’t the only two publications that have supplied Mercer with the opportunity to introduce paleolibertarianism to the world. Her work has appeared in a staggering plethora of places over the 15 years or so that she has been writing.

And she has authored two insightful books: Broadsides: One Woman’s Clash with a Corrupt Culture and Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Peter Brimelow, VDARE.com editor, wrote the Forward to the former.  Derbyshire wrote a sterling review of the latter.

Brimelow and Derbyshire are men whose tastes are as refined as their intellects: both of Mercer’s books, their marked differences in objectives, content, and structure notwithstanding, are exemplary exhibitions of thought that is at once clear and courageous.  As such, they are richly deserving of the praise that Brimelow and Derbyshire bestow upon them.

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But, presumably, there is—indeed, there must be—another reason to account for why Brimelow and Derbyshire—fans of the classical liberal tradition, both of them—were as enthusiastic as they were over Mercer’s works. 

Simply put, for all of their differences in tone and emphasis, Broadsides and Cannibal are equally animated by one and the exact same conviction. 

It is the conviction on the part of their author that a world in which men and women are free to order their lives in accordance with their own moral purposes, not those of the governments under which they live, is an ethical ideal worth aspiring toward.

It is the conviction that America’s founders were correct in perceiving an inseparable relationship between the liberty for which they risked their lives and a government divided—exponentially divided—against itself.

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It is this conviction that explains why everyone who is familiar with Mercer’s thought locates it squarely within the classical liberal or libertarian tradition. Yet to look at it more deeply—though not much more deeply—is to see why it just as solidly compels us to locate it within libertarianism’s paleo strain.

Whether addressing a broad range of issues in an equally broad range of arenas—as she does in Broadsides—or shedding blood, sweat, and tears to draw the Western world’s attention to the systematic injustices to which her native South Africa is daily subjected—as she does in Cannibal—Mercer is forever cautioning readers against succumbing to the contemporary Western temptation to indulge in abstractions.

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To put it another way, she has been laboring tirelessly to remind us of something that this generation of liberty’s defenders are all too ready to forget: liberty is as dependent upon historical and cultural contingencies as is any other artifact.  And it is just as fragile.

It is this insight on Mercer’s part that informs her opposition to America’s foreign policy of “spreading” democracy no less than her equally impassioned opposition to our domestic policy of promoting unfettered immigration from those cultures that know nothing of the habits of liberty.

Mercer articulates as systematic an account of paleolibertarianism as any to be found.  Yet she is no mere system-builder.  Rather, it is an intense self-consciousness—of her views, yes, but, just as tellingly, of her life experiences—that accounts for Mercer’s unrelenting pursuit of the logic of the paleolibertarian ideal: an ideal of liberty brought down from the clouds to the nit and the grit of the history and culture from which it emerged.

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John Derbyshire and all lovers of liberty should sleep comfortably.  Yes, paleolibertarianism remains with us. 

And as long as Ilana Mercer continues doing what she has been doing, it promises to remain with us for quite some time to come.

originally published at The New American 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beyond Obama’s Words: The Philosophy Behind Redistribution

posted by Jack Kerwick

Whether he is at a conference of like minded colleagues, speaking to Joe the Plumber, or making campaign stump speeches, Barack Obama has expressed time and time again his preference for “redistribution.”  Every time he calls upon “the rich” to “pay their fair share,” he reveals his desire to confiscate the resources from some in order to transfer it to others.

Though the stuff of sound bites, voters need to realize that words like “redistribution” and “fairness” serve as windows into an entire ideology, a left-wing ideology that has long since become the prevailing orthodoxy of the contemporary academic world.

The demand for “fairness” is the call for equality, it is true.  But equality here is conceived very differently from how Americans have traditionally thought about it.

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In fact, the conception of equality held by Obama and his ilk is not only different from that affirmed by America’s founders and their posterity.  The two understandings are mutually antithetical.

Historically, when Americans have affirmed equality, it has always been equality under the law of which they spoke. As such, equality is inseparable from freedom or liberty as Americans have understood the latter. 

That is, the equality—like the liberty—that they prized was held to consist in a system of formal procedures to which all citizens were equally bound.

But procedural notions of equality, liberty, and justice the Obamas of the world disdainfully dismiss as “mere formalism.” 

True justice, true freedom, true equality, they insist, must be “substantial.”

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The work of superstar academic philosopher Martha Nussbaum provides as unadulterated an illustration of this view as any.  Nussbaum thinks that to determine whether a society is just or not, we need to ask: “What is each person able to do and to be?” 

To put it more bluntly, the justice of a social order is to be measured in terms of the opportunities that it supplies to each of its members to develop their “capabilities.”  Liberty, that is, consists of “substantial freedoms” with which the members of a decent society should be equipped.

Nussbaum sets her sights upon “entrenched social injustice and inequality, especially capability failures that are the result of discrimination or marginalization.”  With an eye toward rectifying these miscarriages of “social justice,” the government, she declares, must aim “to improve the quality of life for all people, as defined by their capabilities.” 

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To no slight extent, the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke influenced many of America’s founders.  Locke was a prominent proponent of the “social contract” theory.  The idea behind the concept of the social contract is that institutional arrangements are just as long as they have the consent of those who are to be governed by them. 

Nussbaum rejects traditional social contract theories.  She maintains that the latter fail to insure “fair treatment” to the citizens of other societies, our own disabled citizens, and (“nonhuman”) animals. 

This is another way of saying that traditional social contract theories fail to guarantee equality—or “social justice.”

Unless the “deep asymmetry of power” that exists between parties to any social contract is corrected, true equality and justice promise to remain forever elusive.  There are asymmetries of power between, on the one hand, the disabled, members of the Third World, and animals and, on the other, the able, Westerners, and humans, respectively.

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These asymmetries of power, in turn, are morally unacceptable inequalities that the proponents of procedural equality—what we have traditionally described as “equality under the law”—not only ignore but perpetuate.

We have, then, no morally defensible option but to treat justice, freedom, and equality as substantive. 

In case there is any confusion over how Nussbaum (and Obama) understands equality and justice, Nussbaum states her account in plain English: Justice depends upon “outcomes”—not, primarily, procedures.

She draws us a picture.

“Suppose we are dividing a pie, and we want to divide it fairly.  One way of thinking about fairness is to look to the outcome of the division: the fair process is the one that gives us equal shares. Another way of thinking about it is to look at procedure: the fair division may be the one in which everyone takes a turn with the knife.”

Nussbaum favors the former.

And so does Obama.

This is what voters must recognize.  

 

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