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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Blacks and Republicans: Revisiting George S. Schuyler

posted by Jack Kerwick

All too predictably, the left has been busy at work trying to convince Americans that opposition to President Obama is motivated by the “racist” machinations of his Republican opponents.

Last Thursday, for example, while addressing the Democratic National Convention, Congressman John Lewis informed audiences that a victory for Mitt Romney promised to turn back the hands of time to the Jim Crow era of his youth.

Recalling his days as a civil rights activist, Lewis proclaimed that “we have come to far together to ever turn back.”

We have indeed come too far. We have come so far that we have forgotten—or have been made to forget—that there was a time when the Republican Party was the home of American’s blacks.

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And we have forgotten—or have been made to forget—such staunch black conservatives as George S. Schuyler.

Born in 1895 in upstate New York, Schuyler was still a young man when he became one of the most insightful—and prolific—essayists that twentieth century America had ever produced.  This, at any rate, was the judgment of many, including his one-time mentor, the iconoclastic H.L. Mencken.  Schuyler was part of “the Harlem Renaissance,” and from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, he wrote and edited The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest black newspaper publications in the country.

Besides being an ardent anti-communist, Schuyler also had little good to say about those of his contemporaries who lead the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Although he had been a tireless champion of racial equality for all of his life, he regarded the plans of the civil rights activists as inimical to liberty.

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For instance, while it was still a bill in Congress, Schuyler argued powerfully against what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Schuyler readily concedes that the white majority’s attitude toward the black minority is “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust.” Still, because “it remains the majority attitude,” the federal Civil Rights law would be but “another typically American attempt to use the force of law to compel the public to drastically change [.]”

Although race relations weren’t where Schuyler wanted for them to be at this time, he was quick to point out that they had improved markedly since slavery had ended.  He was equally quick to observe that “civil rights laws, state or federal, have had little to do with” such changes.

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Speaking as a true conservative, Schuyler declared that it is “custom” that “has dictated the pace of compliance” with those civil rights laws that otherwise remained “dormant in the law books.”

The “principal case” that Schuyler makes against this proposed legislation pertains to “the dangerous purpose it may serve.”  Such a law “is still another encroachment by the central government on the federalized structure of our society.”

Schuyler is blunt:

“Armed with this law enacted to improve the lot of a tenth of the population, the way will be opened to enslave the rest of the populace.” 

In short, a federal civil rights law of the sort that was passed in 1964 strikes “a blow at the very basis of American society which is founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.”

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Schuyler was critical of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and, especially, Malcolm X. 

He lauded King’s objectives but deplored his motives.  When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Schuyler was outraged. He wrote that King deserved, not this prize, but “the Lenin Prize,” for “it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire sixty Communist-front citations [.]” 

Furthermore, King’s “incitement packed jails with Negroes and some whites, getting them beaten, bitten and firehosed, thereby bankrupting communities, raising bail and fines, to the vast enrichment of Southern Law and order.”

Schuyler debated Malcolm X on more than one occasion.  He had little regard for Malcolm, who he referred to as “one of the high priests of Black Power [.]”  Schuyler says of Malcolm that he “was a bold, outspoken, ignorant man of no occupation,” just one of the many “mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs” that had come to fill the ranks of this “past generation” of “black ‘leaders [.]’”

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Some years after his death the movement to memorialize Malcolm was well under way.  Schuyler said that “we might as well call out the school children to celebrate the birthday of Benedict Arnold.”  

Schuyler added: “It is not hard to imagine the ultimate fate of a society in which a pixilated criminal like Malcolm X is almost universally praised, and has hospitals, schools, and highways named in his memory!”

There is much more that George Schuyler has said, and much more that can be said about him.  But knowing just this little bit that this distinguished black conservative of yesteryear did say, it is hard not to suspect that, sadly, we have indeed been made to forget the existence of this conservative champion of constitutional government and genuine equality.             

 

 

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The Problems with “Gay Marriage”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Most right-leaning commentators oppose so-called “gay marriage.”  If we become the first society in all of human history to reshape marriage so as to accommodate homosexuals, the argument goes, we will weaken this most indispensable and venerable of institutions. 

It is hard not to have at least some sympathy for this reasoning.  After all, when we get right down to it, the partisan weighing in on this debate has but two alternatives from which to choose. 

On the one hand, he can choose to either side with the overwhelming majority of human beings who have ever populated the planet by doing his best to preserve the exclusively heterosexual character of marriage.  On the other hand, he can decide to cast his vote in favor of the preferences of a minority of his contemporaries by opening marriage to homosexuals.

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When we consider the issue from this perspective, most people, I should think, will recognize that the universal experience of the human species is apt to be the most reliable of guides. 

Of course, that a guide is reliable does not mean that it is infallible.  It is possible that the proponents of “gay marriage” may be correct.  Yet this is precisely the point: the mere possibility that they are in the right implies the possibility that they are wrong.   

In our personal lives, it is not infrequently necessary—and desirable—that we should take risks in order to advance our interests.  Only by moving beyond our comfort zones can we hope to grow.  But the proponents of “gay marriage” are gambling, not with their personal lives alone, but with the future well being of a civilization.

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Civilization consists of a complex chain of institutions of which marriage is a critical link.  Thus, three implications follow from this.

First, marriage does not exist to satisfy the preferences or desires of individuals.  It is, then, most decidedly not a “human right.”  Rather, marriage exists in order to create and sustain civilization.  This has been the consensus of the human race.  

Second, while the conditions of marriage have indeed varied according to place and time, it has always been understood as a heterosexual union.  That is, the species has determined that civilization hinges upon children being produced, raised, and nurtured by fathers and mothers.   

Finally, because marriage is part of a seamless whole of civilization-defining institutions, changes to marriage promise to induce changes in every other institution. Or, to put it more simply, a change in marriage is nothing less than a change in civilization.

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That we don’t know for certain what these changes will be is neither here nor there.  All that matters is that we can indeed be certain that changes there will be.

The burden, then, is upon the shoulders of the proponent of “gay marriage.” Considering that there isn’t a culture or society in the annals of history that has so much as dreamt, let alone promoted, the idea of homosexuals marrying, it is up to the champion of “gay marriage” to convince the rest of us that the wisdom of the species has in fact been folly—and, to hear him tell it, much worse than this.

This is an enormous task. Actually, it is impossible.  Although the defender of “gay marriage” may be stunned to hear it, he is simply not capable of forecasting all of the ramifications that a change as radical as the proposal he favors promises to entail. 

Again, it isn’t just the changes in the institution of marriage to which he must speak. It is the changes in civilization as a whole that he must address.

 

 

 

 

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Who Really Believes in the Founders?

posted by Jack Kerwick

Partisans from across the political divide routinely pay lip service to America’s founders. It is impossible to go very long—particularly during an election year—without hearing politicians and their supporters of all stripes enlist “the Founders” in the service of their causes.

Sometimes such invocations are justified.  More often—much more often—than not, however, they are nothing more or less than window dressing for positions of which the Patriots of 1776 could have scarcely conceived.  And if they could have conceived these ideas, they would have recoiled in horror from them.

Contrary to what “the Founders” suggests, the men and women who gave birth to America composed anything but a monolithic group. Granted, racially, ethnically, and religiously, they were overwhelmingly of the same stock. Intellectually, on the other hand, they composed quite a diverse bunch.  As historians as disparate as Bernard Bailyn and Paul Johnson have shown, the eighteenth century American mind was a river with many tributaries flowing into it.

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Still, its intellectual variety, though dramatic, was held together by a consensus of a sort.  The minds of ’76, for all of their differences, ultimately converged around the idea that liberty is something to be prized.

Furthermore, coming out of the English tradition as they did, they agreed that the term “government,” for all of its grammatical unity, should no more refer to a single entity than the terms “world” or “weather.”  That is, those who declared and achieved American independence knew that in the absence of a self-divided government, a government comprised of many sovereigns, there could be no liberty.  They knew that liberty, as they understood it, demanded as wide a diffusion of power and authority as the government could survive.

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This is why the Founders decided upon the Constitution, a system of federalized arrangements that relegate the federal government to a standing of secondary importance vis-à-vis the states.

In navigating their way around the challenges of everyday life, Christians ask themselves one very straightforward question: what would Jesus do?  To determine who really is and is not committed to preserving the legacy of the Founders, I suggest we ask ourselves a similarly direct question: what would the Founders do?

Let us be bold.  Let us be honest.  Let us consider the following issues in light of how the Founders would have approached them.

Would the Founders have supported “universal heath care?”

Would they have supported any national income tax, regardless of the rate at which it is was set?

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Can we imagine the Founders thinking it desirable, much less permissible, for any politician, let alone the President, to redistribute the wealth and incomes of citizens?

Would the Founders have looked upon a federal government that confiscated and expended the resources of its citizens for “humanitarian” purposes as anything other than an enemy of humanity?

Would the Founders have endorsed limitless waves of immigration from any part of the planet, but particularly the likes of which have been stemming to our country from the non-European countries of the Third World for the last nearly 50 years?

Would they have promoted the exportation to the rest of the globe, via the military, of something called “American values?”

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What would the Founders have thought about the national government undermining individuals’ freedom of association and assembly by preventing them from discriminating against others (as if this freedom isn’t inherently discriminatory)?

What would the Founders think about Washington D.C. telling employers how little they are permitted to pay their employees and who they can and cannot hire?

What would the Founders think about the national government telling private property owners how much they can charge their tenants?

What would the Founders think about a national government that tells citizens how long them must wait before they can exercise their Second Amendment rights by purchasing a firearm?  What would they think about its limiting their choice of such purchases?

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What would the Founders think about a national government that waged war against half of the country because it dared to assert its sovereignty by attempting to secede from the union?  What would the Founders think about a country that now associates the word “secession” with what it calls “extremists” and “fringe elements?”

These questions are not at all difficult to answer. Whether we agree with the Founders or not isn’t the point.  The point is that we know just how they would reply to these inquiries.

What this in turn means is that if we take exception to the Founders’ vision, we cannot pretend to like them. We cannot continue to invoke them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Philosophy Behind Obama’s Agenda

posted by Jack Kerwick

While addressing the Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama told audiences that, ultimately, her husband’s ambitious agenda is not political, but personal. 

“In the end,” she said, “for Barack, these issues aren’t political—they’re personal.”

Barack, Michelle continued, “knows what it means when a family struggles.  He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it—and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Needless to say, there couldn’t be a more glaring contrast between the Barack Obama who the First Lady described and the Barack Obama who recently informed America’s business owners that they owe their success to others (“You didn’t build that!”). But if it is the real Obama for whom we are searching, we need look no further than the latter.

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Obama’s policies and utterances—like those of his fellow partisans within the Democratic Party—have an intellectual apparatus behind them that has been decades and decades in the making. Chief among its architects is John Rawls, a Harvard philosophy professor who achieved a well deserved reputation for being one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished polemicists for the welfare state.

Referring to their enterprises, Obama informed the country’s entrepreneurs that “you didn’t build that.”  The President didn’t misspeak, as he now claims.  Rather, he expressed a concept that is logically inseparable from the massive redistributive schemes that he favors and for which his intellectual counterparts like Rawls have intelligently—even if wrongly—argued for a long time.

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In his influential tome, A Theory of Justice, Rawls asserts that whether a person is successful or not depends upon whether he has a surplus or deficit of “natural assets.”  It also depends upon whether he is afforded opportunities for cultivating those aptitudes and talents. Obviously, though, no one did anything to deserve or earn either his endowments or his opportunities.  This explains why we tend to refer to both as “gifts,” say, or “blessings.”

This is the concept to which Obama spoke when he now infamously said that business owners didn’t “build” their success.

Now, if no one deserves his success, then, Rawls reasons, no one has a legitimate claim against the government’s plan to “spread it around,” to paraphrase Obama’s words to Joe the Plumber in 2008.  Since no one did anything to earn or deserve his aptitudes and opportunities, a person’s “natural assets” must be treated as a common stock upon which all citizens have an equal right to draw.

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Translation: the government has the right to do with a person’s fruits to confiscate and redistribute them.

Rawls contends that individuals should indeed be at liberty to employ their talents and opportunities for their own purposes—as long as doing so benefits “the least advantaged.”  This is only “fair,” Rawls explains, for just as no one deserves their success, no one deserves their failures.  Both “the advantaged” as well as “the disadvantaged” are alike the products of factors beyond their control.

And whatever is beyond the power of one’s labors can’t possibly be deserved.

What this means, though, is that there are no limits to what the government can do with the fruits of a person’s natural assets.  It also means that there are no limits to what the government can do with a person’s natural assets themselves.

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This is the vision of Obama, Rawls, and the left.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, it is not supported by its own reasoning. 

Rawls conflates that which is not deserved with that which is undeserved.  Think about it: just because you may not have a belief in X, doesn’t mean that you disbelieve in X.  Neither Aristotle nor Bill Maher believes in the divinity of Jesus. The difference between them is that Aristotle didn’t believe because he had never heard of Jesus (who wasn’t born until nearly 500 years after his death).  Maher, on the other hand, knows about Jesus but rejects the notion of his deity.

Similarly, a person who steals $500.00 is undeserving of it.  But one who receives it as a gift is not.  He doesn’t deserve the gift—a deserved gift is a contradiction in terms. Yet he is not undeserving of it either.  Moreover, at that point, it becomes his.  That is, he is then entitled to do with it as he wishes.

Obama’s and Rawls’ reasoning for the welfare state is flawed.  Sadly, however, this will not stop them from trying to grow it ever further.

 

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