At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Parallel Universe of the Paulophobe

posted by Jack Kerwick

With practically each passing day, we are becoming ever more familiar with the recently identified PDS—Paul Derangement Syndrome.  Also known as “Paulophobia,” PDS, it has now been determined, compels its victims to create for themselves an alternative reality, a parallel universe that is, in some critical respects, quite literally the mirror image of our own.

In the real world, those who are looking for a tireless, consistent champion of “limited government,” “individual rights,” “states’ rights,” and the like—i.e. “conservatives” and Republicans—know that there is but one person in the field of GOP presidential candidates to whom they can turn.  That person, of course, is Congressman Ron Paul.  In the real world, of this field of candidates, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has a record that exposes him as the least likely of such candidates to advance these principles.

But in the parallel universe that the Paulophobe labors incessantly to create, Mitt Romney is the GOP’s “front runner” while Ron Paul is treated as if he is marginal at best, non-existent at worst.

In the real world, Ron Paul has proven himself second to none in eliciting as devoted and enthused a following as any politician of our generation—including Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.  This is no mean feat at a time when the electorate seems to have become as disenchanted with politicians as it has ever been.  At least as impressive is that this following is as substantial in size and diverse in quality as it is loyal to their candidate. 

In the Paulophobe’s alternative reality, however, Paul supporters are somehow less than real voters, maybe even less than real people.   At a minimum, they are neither respectable voters nor respectable people.  Those who endorse Ron Paul are depicted as constituting a marginal group of cultists.  Paulophobe extraordinaire, nationally syndicated neoconservative Republican talk show host Michael Medved, as purely as any PDS patient illustrates this tendency to reduce Paul backers to intellectual and/or moral paupers.  That Medved routinely refers to Paul’s supporters as “Paulistinians” is, to put it mildly, telling.

In the real world, most national polls had steadily assigned Ron Paul third place for months, and theTexascongressman defeats all competitors in one straw poll after the other.  A candidate’s straw poll performance, though certainly not determinative of how a race will end, is still a not insignificant indicator of the strength or weakness of his or her candidacy.

In the world of the Paulophobe, either Ron Paul doesn’t participate in straw polls or, if he does, his ranking in them—not necessarily the straw polls themselves—are dismissed as meaningless.  When Paul’s supporters protest that their candidate is being treated unfairly, the Paulophobe is as dismissive of their complaint as he is dismissive of Ron Paul himself: the “Paul people” are “paranoid” and “conspiratorial,” he insists.  At the same time, though, to explain away Paul’s fortunes, the Paulophobe conjures up conspiracy theories of his own.  “The Paul people” rigged this poll or that, etc.

In the real world, Ron Paul argues for redeploying our troops from overseas lands to our own porous borders.  That Paul receives more contributions from active military personnel than our current president and all of the other Republican presidential candidates combined that his message resonates with legions of those men and women who, presumably, know best when it comes to matters of national security.

In the parallel universe of the Paulophobe, in glaring contrast, Ron Paul is an appeaser, a virtual pacifist, “nuts on parade,” as Paulophobe Rush Limbaugh described him not too long ago.  No, a President Paul would beAmerica’s last president, because it wouldn’t be long after his inauguration thatAmericawould meet her demise and the entire planet would come under “Islamist” rule. 

In the real world, Ron Paul has pointed out what the bi-partisan “9/11 Commission,” the Central Intelligence Agency, and Islamic terrorists themselves have long noted: anti-American Islamic hostilities, from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 through 9/11 to the present are primarily designed as responses, not to our beliefs regarding ourselves, but to our conduct toward the Islamic world.  In drawing our attention to what is obvious to all who have thought about this issue, Paul, of course, never meant to excuse or justify the heinous acts of those horrible men who are determined to murder Americans.  After all, shortly following 9/11, Paul spared no time in casting his vote in favor of invading Afghanistan.  And he most certainly never meant to suggest that it is the American citizenry who deserve blame for the terrorist attacks that they have suffered.  Rather, it is precisely because Paul cares so deeply about the well being of his country, because he so highly values peace and a strong national defense, that he seeks to analyze our situation in ideologically-neutral, even if politically risky, terms.

In the Paulophobe’s universe, Ron Paul is exceedingly naïve when it comes to confronting “the Evil of our time”—i.e. “Islamofascism.”  Paul fails to grasp that “Islamists” want to ruin America because of her “exceptionalism,” her unrivaled freedoms and liberties.  Americais the only nation in all of human history to have been founded upon a universal “proposition” or “idea,” the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal. It is this—the “exceptional” character ofAmerica—that makes her the target of the “Islamist’s” animus.  Not only, though, is Ron Paul naïve; he is as well dangerously close to being an anti-American himself, for Paul never spares an occasion to “blame America” for 9/11 and other acts of terrorism. 

While it is understandably exasperating for the inhabitants of the real world to abide by his delusions, they should consider taking pity upon the Paulophobe, for in the imaginary world of the latter, “Ron Paul people” constitute a dispensable—indeed, even an irritating—ragtag band of misfits who he would just as soon see disappear.

In the real world, however, assuming Paul doesn’t get his party’s nomination, if his supporter’s oblige the Paulophobe and disappear come Election Day 2012, Barack Obama will sail to a second term.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American

Burke vs. Neoconservatives over “Natural Rights”

posted by Jack Kerwick

I must confess to being more than a bit amazed at the ease with which so many of my fellow Americans, including and especially those in the media and politics, unabashedly identify themselves as “conservative.”  That this many people should declare themselves subscribers to this particular political orientation is in and of itself unremarkable; but when this phenomenon is coupled with the fact that few of these “conservatives” appear to know little if anything about the intellectual roots of their self-declared vision, it is hard not to be bewildered. 

However, while we can’t but find shocking the ubiquity and depth of both this ignorance and apparent lack of desire to ameliorate this ignorance, both phenomena do shed some much needed illumination upon an otherwise enigmatic reality, namely, the stone cold fact that most of what passes for “conservatism” in America today is nothing of the kind. 

With rare exceptions, what is today considered “conservatism” is actually neoconservatism.  This is no criticism; it is just an honest observation.  In order to know a thing or two about genuine conservatism, we would be well served to revisit Edmund Burke, widely regarded as its “patron saint.”

Burke, an Irishman, was an eighteenth century member of the English Parliament.  Primarily in response to the metaphysical and other excesses of the French Revolution, he articulated what remains to this day the most provocative, impassioned, and imaginatively rich statement of what subsequent generations came to call “conservatism.”

The conservatism of which Burke is a progenitor, on the one hand, and the neoconservatism that dominates the contemporary American right, on the other, are not just distinct from one another; they are mutually incompatible.  But more than this, they differ in kind from one another.  I have written at length about these differences in the past.  I will here focus only upon one critical respect in which neoconservatism departs radically from Burkean conservatism, namely, its stance on the issue of “natural” or “human rights.”  

While he never actually repudiated the concepts of “human nature” and “natural rights”—in fact, he actually affirmed them—Burke nonetheless was keenly aware that as far as the art of politics is concerned, such concepts were irrelevant.  Politics, rather, is concerned with “the civil social man, and no other.”  This means that political decisions are not to be settled according to some abstract, universal conception of “human nature”; indeed, they cannot be settled according to any such rule.  Instead, politics “is a thing to be settled by convention” (emphasis original).

Burke is direct: “Government,” he asserts, “is not made in virtue of natural rights,” for natural rights “may and do exist in total independence of it; and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection[.]”  But Burke is quick to point out that “their abstract perfection is their practical defect.”  Their strength is also their weakness, for it is precisely because of their “abstract perfection” that “natural rights” are incapable of supplying guidance for navigating our way through the endless maze of concrete details that constitute the stuff of everyday life.

Human beings do have rights.  But these rights consist of both “the liberties” as well as “the restraints” upon appetites and “passions” for the sake of which “civil society” came into being in the first place.  Since “government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants,” human beings living under it “have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.”  However, because “the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule”—like, say, the proposition or principle that there are natural or “human” rights to life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness or anything else.

How different Burke sounds from today’s self-proclaimed “conservatives.”  In order to justify one war after the other, neoconservatives routinely invoke the notions of “human rights” and “Democracy.”  Burke, in sharp contrast, draws our attention to the fact that such “abstract perfection[s]” are wholly out of place as far as the governance of civil society is concerned.  “If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law,” he tells us.  What this in turn implies is that “convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitution which are formed under it.” More specifically, “every sort of legislative, judicial, or executory [sic] power are its creatures,” for “they can have no being in any other state of things[.]”

There are no “rights” to any particular kind of government, set of institutional arrangements or, for that matter, any goods that “do not as so much as suppose” the “existence” of civil society and that “are absolutely repugnant to it.”  Appeals to “human nature” and “natural rights” are misplaced, Burke says, because, in short, the civil condition is not our natural condition.  In fact, insofar as it is exactly in order to relieve ourselves of the inconveniences with which brute nature is replete that civil society arises, there is a real sense in which the natural and civil “states” can be said to be contraries.  “Men cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together.” 

Natural rights are “metaphysic rights,” “primitive rights” that, “in the gross and complicated mass of human passions and concerns,” endure “such a variety of refractions and reflections” that “it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original direction.”  But this is exactly what proponents of natural rights do.  The trouble with this way of speaking is that it conflicts with reality.  In the real world, “no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs,” for “the nature of man is intricate” and “the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity[.]”

It is no wonder that the neoconservative speaks little of Burke.  This “father” of the conservative intellectual tradition finds his cherished concept of “natural rights” to be not just a fiction, but among the most treacherous of fictions to have come out of the modern world.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.  


The Legend of “White Racism”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Human beings, regardless of time or place, share in common a perennial fascination with tales of enigmatic creatures, beings that, in spite of the numerous testimonials that have been offered on their behalf, remain questionable.  Sasquatch; the Lochness Monster; and the Abominable Snowman, are just some of these who immediately come to mind.  While some really believe in the existence of such entities, others are unsure, and still others just don’t care, there is a fourth class of people that never fails to crop up wherever tales of this sort prevail.  This class is composed of those who may be either indifferent to or even incredulous regarding such legends, but who, nevertheless—through sales of souvenirs, the production of documentaries, or what have you—stoke the flames of belief in order to turn a profit.

I suggest that to this list of mythic beings we add White Racism. 

Just a moment’s worth of sober reflection in no time reveals that there is more than sufficient warrant for treating White Racism of a piece with Bigfoot and the rest of similarly mythic beings.

Actually, there is a sense in which reports of Bigfoot sightings are more credible than similar reports of White Racism.  Bigfoot sightings from across time, though they tend to differ in degree as far as relatively trivial specifics are concerned—e.g. height, weight, etc.—nonetheless neatly coincide.  Reports of White Racism, on the other hand, diverge wildly from one another.  White Racism is the ugliest of creatures; upon this all who claim to have spotted it agree.  But beyond this, so varied are the accounts, it is impossible not to think that witnesses are talking about different things altogether.

White Racism is seen rearing his horrific head at a Ku Klux Klan meeting in the Deep Southof yesteryear as well as in the shop owner who keeps a suspicious eye on the group of rowdy black teenagers who wander the aisles of his store.  It is spotted in Adolph Hitler’s genocidal regime just as easily as in a Tea Party movement demonstration or a Republican Party convention.  In fact, even in the case of Hitler’s Nazism, for as awful as it was, it remains doubtful whether it is actually White Racism that we witness, for biologically or racially speaking, both the Nazis and their Jewish victims are indistinguishable: both are white.

The point is that if Bigfoot exists, we at least have some idea as to what we would see if we were to encounter him.  White Racism, on the other hand, is a far different matter.

By some accounts, White Racism sounds as if it may even be something like a god, for it is said to exist independently of individual whites.  When it is described as such, it is given the name “institutional racism.”  White Racism is at once pervasive and just as destructive as it has ever been, according to this perspective.  Indeed, it is much more destructive than it has been in the past.  White Racism is embedded in the very “structures” that constitute American society.  As such, it informs the worldview of the best intentioned, most magnanimous of whites. 

Those individual whites who voted against Barack Obama as well as those who voted for him; Obama’s grandmother, who feared being harassed and molested by a black panhandler who had already harassed and nearly molested her; those who call for an end to “affirmative action” and those who want to preserve it; those who suspect blacks of being inferior and those who think that they are superior; those who believe in a common “human nature” and those who reject it; those who demand race-neutral criteria of evaluation and those who repudiate such criteria; those white employers who provide opportunities to non-whites immigrants and those white citizens who want to diminish the flow of such immigration; Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers; Nazism, Fascism, and “the American Way”; Capitalism and Communism—White Racism allegedly appears in every instance.

There is another respect in which White Racism resembles other legendary figures like Nessie and Bigfoot.  Just as there is no shortage of would-be profiteers ready to cash in on the latter, so an entire industry has emerged to capitalize on the notion of White Racism.  The captains of this industry comprise a diverse lot, it is true: academics, media pundits, politicians, and racial (“civil rights”) activists receive the lion’s share of the spoils.  But it would be a mistake to think that they are the only beneficiaries of the Racism Industrial Complex (RIC).  It would be equally mistaken to suppose that the only benefits to be had are material in nature.

Legions of common folk, white, black, and other, gain also, but they gain much more in the way of psychic rewards than they could ever hope to gain monetarily.  Against all of the evidence that White Racism hasn’t any more substance than a phantom, the members of the various races, whatever their biological differences, ultimately rail against this mother of all monsters for the same reason: doing so elevates their own self-conceptions.

Like Roman Catholics who, in renewing their baptismal promises, unequivocally renounce Satan and all of his works, “the believers” in White Racism can’t resist the temptation to unequivocally renounce it, for doing so enables them to discern virtue in themselves.  This virtue is as much a phantom as the White Racism that fills their imaginations, of course.  It is virtue on the cheap, so to speak.  The “anti-White Racist” can no more be possessed of wisdom, justice, or courage for standing up to the unadulterated evil of White Racism than can the merchant who decides to set up shop selling souvenirs near a Bigfoot sighting be said to have such virtue.

Neither the committed “anti-White Racist” nor the merchant really believes in that of which he speaks. 

In my home state of New Jersey, we have our “Bigfoot.”  His name is “the Jersey Devil.”  The Jersey Devil is said to dwell in the Pine Barrens, thousands and thousands of acres of forestry.  Every year, just about, for several years, my late father, my brother, and I would venture out to the Pine Barrens for camping trips.  We are all born and bred in the city, mind you, three of the least “outdoorsy” guys you could ever meet.  Yet it was always fun to imagine that we were driving into the wilderness to live off of the land and combat all of the challenges that untamed nature would dare to throw our way—including and especially the abomination of the Jersey Devil. 

In reality, we spent the night on a campground with a heated bathroom and showers and a grocery story about a mile or two down the road.

And, obviously, we knew that there was no Jersey Devil.

Likewise, those who rally most ardently to defeat White Racism know, at least at some level, that there is no such thing.  They must know this.  Not only are they eons apart from reaching agreement as to what White Racism is; there is ample proof of the most virulent anti-white animus all around them and yet their silence is deafening.  Worse, the purveyors of the White Racism myth typically seek to deny or even excuse the shocking levels of hatred and violence to which blacks and Hispanics have regularly subjected whites.

If White Racism was really the ubiquitous evil that it is claimed to be, then presumably it is because “racism” is an evil; that it is whites who allegedly promote the “racism” should be neither here nor there.  That those who live and die by the ideology of White Racism, our “anti-White Racists,” those contractors of the Racism Industrial Complex, do not really believe in the windmills with which they do battle is effortlessly grasped once we consider that they care not a lick about combating real racial animus as long as the guilty are non-white and the innocent white.

No, White Racism is indeed the new Bigfoot.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.   






National Elections and “the Will of the People”

posted by Jack Kerwick

By now, no supporter of Ron Paul’s will find himself surprised by the glaring inconsistencies, outright distortions, and, frankly, boldfaced lies to which Republican-friendly media figures will descend in their efforts to marginalize his presidential candidacy.  Still, so unabashed is their illogic, so overt the dishonesty, it is nevertheless difficult not to be amazed, even mesmerized, by the audaciousness with which Paul’s critics subject him to one injustice after the other.  

For as ugly as it is, though, this phenomenon is not without its value.  That is, it supplies us with a classic textbook illustration of what many of us have always known: it is indeed politicians and their cohorts in the media, and not voters, who select candidates. 

Joseph A. Schumpeter was a conservative theorist who was also among the most distinguished and erudite of social scientists of the first half of the twentieth century.  In his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Schumpeter debunks what he characterizes as “the classical doctrine of democracy.”  According to this doctrine, it is “the people itself” that settle “issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will.”  In reality, though, “the will of the people is the product and not the motive power of the political process” (emphasis mine). 

The problem with this idealized notion of democracy—a notion, mind you, that continues to prevail today, over two centuries after it emerged—is that it ascribes to “the will of the individual an independence and a rational quality that are altogether unrealistic” (emphasis original).  Thomas Sowell, I believe it was, once said that ideology is fairy tales for adults.  Schumpeter would agree.  More specifically, inasmuch as the average democratic voter makes his decisions on the basis of largely “extra-rational and irrational” factors, he would say that the eighteenth century rationalist ideology of “Democracy” is among the grandest “fairy tales” that had ever been invented.

If the “classical doctrine of democracy” was sound, then “everyone would have to know definitely what he wants to stand for,” and this “definite will would have to be implemented by the ability to observe and interpret correctly the facts that are directly accessible to everyone and to sift critically the information about the facts that are not.”  Then, “according to the rules of logical inference,” the citizen should be able to draw “a clear and prompt conclusion as to particular issues” (emphasis original)[.]

This, though, is most certainly not how the average voter thinks. When it comes to politics, his will, far from being “determinate” and “rational,” is actually “an indeterminate bundle of vague impulses loosely playing about given slogans and mistaken impressions” thrust upon him by “pressure groups and propaganda[.]”  For the average voter, “mere assertion, often repeated” is much weightier than “rational argument” could ever hope to be.

It isn’t that the average voter is dumb.  He attends carefully to those matters with which he is intimately bound, those concerning his family, friends, work, current financial condition, church, neighborhood, and town.  When it comes to national politics, in fact, there are some issues that engage him personally.  But even then, voters not infrequently “prove themselves bad judges of their own long-run interests, for it is only the short-run promise that tells politically and only short-run rationality that asserts itself effectively.”

Schumpeter explains that the average voter easily falls prey to the manipulative machinations of politicians, journalists, and pundits because, at bottom, national affairs generally have an air of unreality for him.  “Normally, the great political questions take their place in the psychic economy of the typical citizen with those leisure hour interests that have not attained the rank of hobbies, and with the subjects of irresponsible conversation.”  Issues concerning the nation as a whole “seem so far off; they are not at all like a business proposition; dangers may not materialize at all and if they should they may not prove so very serious[.]”  In short, when it comes to national politics, the average voter “feels” like he is “moving in a fictitious world.”    

“The will” of “the people” of which politicians tirelessly proclaim themselves unqualified champions is, then, an “artifact.”  Along with the issues themselves, it is “manufactured” similarly to the ways in which the desires and wants of consumers are manufactured by “commercial advertising.”  As Schumpeter explains, in politics:

“We find the same attempts to contact the subconscious.  We find the same technique of creating favorable and unfavorable associations which are the more effective the less rational they are.  We find the same evasions and reticences [sic] and the same trick of producing opinion by reiterated assertion that is successful precisely to the extent to which it avoids rational argument and the danger of awakening the critical faculties of the people.”

Schumpeter’s argument resonates more readily with our imagistic generation than it did in 1942 when he first composed it.  While thinking about our national politics generally, and the media coverage of Ron Paul’s candidacy in particular, we would be well served to call it to mind.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 










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