At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Real Reason Republicans Dislike Ron Paul

posted by Jack Kerwick

Although his commitment to “limited government” is unsurpassed, establishment Republicans in both politics and the so-called “conservative media” labor incessantly to discredit Texan Congressman and GOP presidential contender, Ron Paul.  On its face, who couldn’t judge this phenomenon, the phenomenon of the most vocal champions of liberty ridiculing and trivializing the most vocal champion of liberty, as anything other than bizarre?  Any remotely curious observer couldn’t resist the impulse to inquire into the roots of this enigma.

We needn’t dig too deeply to discover that the establishment Republican’s apparently irrational conduct toward Paul stems from his angst regarding Paul’s foreign policy vision.  Paul, you see, rejects in no uncertain terms the notion that Big Government is not only permissible, but desirable, as long as it is non-American citizens abroad upon whom our government’s designs would be brought to bear.  Loudly and unapologetically, he rejects the idea that “social engineering” is a good thing as long as it is other societies that our government seeks to “engineer.”  Paul makes no secret of his utter contempt, a contempt born of his passion for liberty and individuality, for the belief that policies rooted in utopian fantasy are worthy of pursuit as long as it is not America, but the world, that our government seeks to perfect. 

Ron Paul is persona non grata as far as “the leadership” as well as much of the rank and file of the Republican Party is concerned.  How could he not be?  After all, this shameless defender of the United States Constitution is relentless in his quest to expose the assumptions underlying their foreign policy prescriptions as members of the same species of folly as those informing the left’s vision of domestic policy.

To put it more specifically, Paul strives to remind Americans of the legacy bequeathed to them by their ancestors, an invaluable inheritance of individual liberty that those of past generations, through incalculable quantities of their blood, sweat, and tears, forged for their posterity.  Our Fathers and Mothers, like our fathers and mothers, Paul beckons us to remember, worked long and hard so that we, their children, would eventually be able to stand on our own two feet.  They longed for us to not just appreciate their gift of liberty, but to enthusiastically embrace it.  Paul urges us to be forever mindful that it is this enthusiasm, and only this enthusiasm, that stands between our liberty and the totalitarianism that always threatens to consume it.

Big Government, whether it is invoked for purposes of imposing designs upon foreign countries or our own, is intrinsically antithetical to the liberty for which our Fathers lived and died.  This any disciple of liberty knows.  This Ron Paul knows.  And it is the forgotten knowledge of this truth of which he tirelessly seeks to arouse within his countrymen and women. 

I still believe that it is Paul’s position on American foreign policy that elicits most of the disdain with which his fellow Republicans greet him.  But I am starting to believe that there is more to the matter than just this.      

It isn’t just Paul’s approach to foreign policy with which Republicans take issue; they are displeased as well with his disposition toward domestic policy. 

Note, it isn’t just Paul’s position on this or that domestic issue to which they object.  It is his entire understanding of which these positions are a function that they find unpalatable. More precisely, Republicans, for all of their talk of liberty, find repugnant Paul’s view on the proper relationship between the government and the citizen, politics and culture. 

Ron Paul is an apostle of traditional American liberty.  The vast majority of us are our Founding Fathers’ prodigal sons (and daughters) who, at 76 years old, Paul continues to call home.  From early on in Christian history, some of its brightest minds have sought to address “the problem of evil,” the problem of reconciling belief in an omnipotent and all loving God with the presence of evil in the world.  Usually, a resolution has been found in some variation or other of “the free will defense.”  According to this line of reasoning, God could have created human beings so that they never did evil, but He preferred a creation in which humans were free, for only with free agents could He have a genuine relationship.  However, the freedom to accept God’s offer of friendship inescapably entails the freedom to reject that offer.  To put it another way, the freedom to do good is also the freedom to do evil. 

God recognizes that there can be no virtue without freedom.  Ron Paul does too.

It is precisely because of his recognition of this fact that Paul opposes all attempts to diminish individuals’ liberty for the sake of some amorphous “common good,” some supposedly moral state that the government is entrusted with bringing to fruition.  More simply put, he staunchly opposes attempts to impute to the federal government the role of a parent, for if the government is a parent, then the citizen is its child. 

While it isn’t obvious to many, the plain fact of the matter is that most of Paul’s fellow Republicans are no less committed to what we may, for purposes of convenience, refer to as “the Welfare State.”  The “compassionate conservatism” championed by President George W. Bush and legions of other self-described “conservative” politicians and media personalities in the previous decade was just another term for “welfarism.”  And though “compassionate conservatism” has fallen on hard times—no current Republican presidential aspirant would dare to characterize him or herself in these terms—there is no denying that Republicans have and continue to abet the growth of government vis-à-vis their approach to domestic policy.

There isn’t a single redistributive scheme that Republicans have sought to revoke, and plenty that they have actually initiated.  But beyond the matter of “economic redistribution,” Republicans want to use the government as an agent of “character formation.”  Rick Santorum is as pure an illustration of this propensity as any.  From this perspective, the government must inculcate virtue in its citizens.   The notion, common to Democrats and Republicans alike, that politicians generally and the president in particular are “leaders” is a function of this belief. 

The pieces of this puzzle of Republicans’ reaction to Ron Paul’s advocacy of liberty and individuality are finally in place.  They support a philosophy of Big Government and he does not.  It is his stances on foreign and domestic policy that renders Ron Paul the object of their scorn.       

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D

originally published at The New American

Liberty from an Intergalactic Perspective

posted by Jack Kerwick

Some readers of this column may very well remember the old ‘70’s sitcom, Mork and Mindy.  Mork, played by Robin Williams, was an alien from the planet “Ork” who had been deployed to Earth in order to discover more about the ways of its inhabitants.  At the end of each week’s episode, audiences would watch as Mork relayed his findings to “Orson,” his superior. 

Now, imagine if a Mork-like being were to visit our planet for the sake of acquiring knowledge regardingAmerica’s politics.  What would he discover?

Well, within minutes of his spacecraft landing he would determine that those beings who call themselves “Americans” have something bordering on an obsession with what they call “liberty.”  At virtually every turn, it is impossible to go for long without hearing the language of “liberty” and “freedom” spring from their lips.  

Being the inquisitive sort that he is, it is only natural that this alien should want to probe more deeply into the character of this “liberty.”  So he does.  Our sociologist from another planet, so as to keep himself from becoming conspicuous, would first try to discern its meaning by listening carefully to the inflection and intonations of the voices of those speaking of liberty.  In doing so, he would become hopeful that he would before long get to the bottom of it all, for what he would detect is that talk of liberty is almost invariably accompanied by excitement and enthusiasm—as sure a sign as any that this “liberty” is something to which these Americans attach no small measure of importance.  Liberty, that is, isn’t just a good, as far as the Americans are concerned; it is quite possibly the greatest of all goods.

Our alien would now really be curious to find out more about liberty.  And though he would hate to admit it to himself, he would find the impulse to jettison his disinterestedness by interjecting himself into his study increasingly difficult to resist.  But no, his self-discipline would prevail and he would continue with his inquiry.

In his quest to find out what it is that makes liberty the greatest of all goods, our alien investigator might resolve to interrogate its apparent devotees.  What exactly is liberty? he would ask them.  And why wouldn’t he?  This is such a straightforward question.  Surely, he would assume, it invites a comparably straightforward answer.

Within no time, though, to his chagrin, he would discover that for all of the assuredness with which these Americans proclaim the blessings of their liberty, they couldn’t come remotely close to achieving a consensus as to what liberty is.  While any given person would waste no time in articulating his definition of liberty, in vain would our alien search for an account of liberty that was to everyone’s satisfaction.    In fact, among a relatively small group of randomly selected Americans, distinct and even conflicting statements of liberty would emerge. 

Lesser spirits would have been tempted at this juncture to throw in the towel.  A less facile inquirer would have seized upon this seemingly bizarre phenomenon as compelling evidence for the futility of the search for the meaning of liberty.  But our alien, being made of steelier stuff than this, would resolve to change tactics.  Rather than approach Americans at random, he would instead devote his attention to only those Americans who sounded most enamored with liberty. 

In his studies, our alien would realize that American politics is, for the most part, a perpetual power contest between two major organizations or “parties,” as Americans call them.  Though the members of both parties tirelessly declare their love for liberty, the members of what is referred to as “the Democratic Party” have a predilection to supplement their invocations of liberty with similarly impassioned allusions to something they’ve labeled “equality.”  In contrast, those who belong to what is called “the Republican Party” speak almost exclusively of liberty.  Thus, our alien would reason, those who speak most confidently and consistently of liberty are those who are likely to know best as to what it entails.  So, it is to these creatures called “Republicans” that he would gravitate. 

Initially, this observer of American politics couldn’t help but to feel encouraged by his decision to narrow his focus.  Finally, it would appear, he is getting somewhere as to determining the nature of this ever elusive thing called “liberty.”  Republicans, though far from being able to supply him with the degree of precision for which he longed, would nevertheless be able to provide him with some idea as to which direction he should turn in furthering his analysis of liberty. 

Liberty, he would find out, requires what is called “limited government.”  What this implies is that neither the authority to rule nor the power by which authority rules can be concentrated in few hands.  Liberty, then, is inseparable—indeed, indistinguishable—from an affirmation of “individuality.  It is individual beings, “citizens,” who should be, well, at liberty to pursue their own purposes; liberty, that is, forbids that individuals should be compelled or coerced to pursue the purposes of others.  This is what our alien would discover as the concept of liberty, through slow and gradual steps, began to emerge from the darkness of ambiguity to assume some measure of distinctness.

But no sooner than his hopes would begin to rise than they would be dashed.  Once he achieved familiarity with the concept of “government,” on the one hand, and that of “the individual” or “the citizen,” on the other, it would take our alien no time to recognize why the liberty of the individual presupposes or entails a diminution in the size and scope of his government. 

Or so our alien would think.

Upon observing the conduct of those called “Republicans,” including and especially their conduct throughout what they refer to as their “presidential primary race,” he would observe a glaring incongruence between what he had heard them say at some times and places and their utterances at other times and places.

Just when he would think that he had taken hold of the crux of liberty, he would become convinced that it had once again eluded his grasp.  After all, the very same people upon whom our alien researcher had chosen to set his sights, those Republicans who indefatigably sang hosannas to “liberty,” “limited government,” and “individualism,” he would witness falling all over themselves giving praise to “leaders” and prospective party “leaders” who were busy trying to outdo one another via their promises to actually expand government.  Of course, he wouldn’t hear anyone ever explicitly make any such promises; but by now, our alien would know his subject well enough to know that the positions of the Republican presidential candidates on the issues beckoned for a consolidation of authority and power—not its dispersal. 

Those individuals who aspired to become the titular head of the party of “liberty” were almost unanimous in their support of their nation’s central bank, what the Americans referred to as “the Federal Reserve.”  Insofar as the Federal Reserve places a virtually unlimited amount of power to manipulate the nation’s currency in just a few hands, our alien would have to judge it to be positively inimical to liberty—if, that is, liberty is what he initially suspected it to be.

The Republican presidential contenders were almost unanimous as well in their support of waging an intrinsically interminable war—what they characterized as “the War on Terror.”  Alternatively, they spoke of this enterprise in more euphemistic terms, as a “Freedom Agenda.”  Either way, our alien would discern the apparent contradiction in simultaneously affirming “limited government” and endless war, for the latter requires the expansion and strengthening of government and—again, assuming that his first glimpse of “liberty” was accurate—a corresponding diminution of liberty.

Domestically, the Republican presidential candidates argue for “privatizing” this or that program, presumably for the sake of maximizing liberty.  Yet such “privatization” is still subject to government oversight, for one, and, secondly, it is a supplement to and not a substitute for the government programs that already exist and that will continue to be financed by taxpayers.

Granted, there was one self-identified Republican presidential contender who always spoke consistently with what our alien had expected to hear given his first impressions of liberty.  This candidate passionately opposed growing the government for the sake of prosecuting wars with other lands.  He called for an end toAmerica’s “Welfare State” and its central bank.  But since this Republican was ignored, ridiculed, mocked, and even demonized by his fellow partisans—just those Americans who he supposed knew best about liberty—the alien would have to judge, even if only provisionally, that they were on to something.  Still, he was at a complete lost to determine what that was.  So, by this juncture, he would have concluded that this “liberty” thing promised to forever escape his understanding. 

As this exhausted explorer from another world sailed out of our orbit, never to look to Earth again, he would be consumed with both disappointment and pity.  He would be disappointed not just by the fact that he had to abort his mission before he could determine the nature of liberty, but by the fact that this phenomenon was more of a mystery to him now than before he launched his operation.  He would as well be filled with pity for Americans, particularly Republicans, for while humility would caution him against equating his ignorance of liberty with their alleged ignorance of the same, it would be hard for him not think that these poor people knew not of what they spoke.  And as long as this suspicion gnawed at him, he couldn’t help to think that the hour was rapidly approaching when these folks would find themselves in far more dire straights than those in which they currently dwelled.  After all, the one person who sounded the most sensible they derided as a “nut.”    

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

     

 

 

 

 

Defining Liberty

posted by Jack Kerwick

The nature of the relationship between “universals”—Humanity, Justice, Goodness, etc.—and “particulars”—this human being, this instance of justice and that instance of goodness—is a matter that philosophers have been busy at work trying to iron out for millennia.  On a reasonably broad spectrum, there are two rival poles: the one is represented by Plato, the other by John Locke.    

Plato insisted that not only are universals real, they are ultimately more real than particulars.  Universals are eternal, immutable, and incorruptible while particulars, in contrast, are temporal, mutable, and corruptible.  For example, individual human beings come and go, but the universal of Humanity is always and forever the same.  It is the universal that invests the particular with identity and, thus, renders us capable of recognizing it as the particular that it is.  From this perspective, particulars stand in relation to universals as shadows stand in relation to the objects that cast them: particulars depend upon universals for their being.

Hence, Plato’s position has been branded an especially robust form of “realism.” 

John Locke, on the other hand, didn’t just reject the notion that universals are more real than particulars; he staunchly rejected the very idea that universals are real at all.  Universals have no “ontological” standing.  They have no reality, that is.  They are but general terms that we invent for the sake of rendering our experience of particulars more manageable.  So, for instance, there is no such thing as “humanity”; there are only individual, particular human beings.  From our experience with the latter, we abstract those features that are common to all humans.  To this set of common features we ascribe the label, the name, “humanity.”

Because of his claim that universals are really just names that we reserve for groups of particulars, Locke’s position is known as “nominalism.”

Interestingly, while Plato’s and Locke’s perspectives on the relationship between universals and particulars are mutually incompatible, they both agree that particulars of any given kind must be related by way of some common characteristics.  So, in order for this being and that being to both be human beings, there must be some attributes that they share in common with one another as well as with every other human being so-called.

It is this supposition that we should rethink while contemplating liberty. 

“Liberty” is a general or universal term.  This much no one would think to dispute.  Nor would anyone think to deny that people’s experience(s) with liberty is real. The question, though, is whether there in fact are common ideas upon which people’s experiences with liberty converge.

Given the varied understandings of liberty of which just our own political universe consists, to say nothing of those that inform the political worlds of others, it would appear that if there are any beliefs around which all of these center, they are so abstract as to be virtually meaningless.  Liberty, it may be said by all self-proclaimed partisans of liberty, entails freedom of one sort or another.  This answer, though, is not at all enlightening and, in fact, only compounds our problem, for we are left asking: what does it mean to be free?  As is the case with liberty, there are as many mutually exclusive accounts of freedom as there are statements of liberty, and it appears that there are no other commonalities among them to be found.

Liberty is said to be a “positive” good, the freedom to pursue x, y, or z.  It is also claimed that it is “negative,” the freedom of the individual from external interference vis-à-vis his pursuits. Liberty is supposedly a “power” that, as such, presupposes a distribution of material satisfactions that is far less unequal than that typically found in “capitalist” societies.  On the other hand, far from being inseparable from liberty, many argue that such distributive schemes are radically antithetical to it. Liberty, we are told by some, consists in “rights;” others emphasize the role of “duties” in defining liberty.  Some say that liberty demands a strong federal government, while others regard such a thing as a threat to liberty. Liberty, on one view, requires government, while on another, liberty precludes government. Liberty is rooted in religion and it is undermined by religion.

In short, leftists affirm liberty and freedom just as surely as do libertarians and anarchists, and these ambiguous concepts find their most vocal champions among orthodox Muslims no less than among the most “apple pie” of Americans.

Maybe there is some unchanging, eternal standard of liberty by which we can evaluate particular understandings of liberty.  If so, however, we have as yet proven incapable of discovering what it is.  And maybe there is some set of overlapping features that these conceptions of liberty share in common, but if so, we have been similarly incapable of discerning them.  For this reason, those of us who love our liberty are much better off devoting our energies to nourishing and nurturing our liberty—a particular this rather than an ever elusive universal abstraction. 

Once we grasp what we in some sense have always known, that the liberty to which we have always been committed is as complex and simple, as concrete and particular, as culturally and historically-specific as our own families, then and only then will we be able to recognize the extent to which we have been bedeviled by folly for generations.  Our zeal for liberty impaired our vision as we mistook our abridgment of our tradition of liberty for a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that, we were convinced, all legitimate accounts of liberty must satisfy.  Yet it was this delusion, on our part, this inability to see the forest for the trees, that has encouraged us to indulge in fantasies of government-free “states of nature,” American-style “Democracy” in the Middle East, societies in which equality as a substantive condition of affairs would prevail, and societies in which people from every conceivable culture could come together and join hands around a few simple, “self-evident” propositions. 

It can’t be stressed enough: American liberty is as culturally particular as apple pie itself.  Let us appreciate it for what it is before it is too late.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published in The New American 

 

 

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

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