At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Open Letter to a Tea Partier

posted by Jack Kerwick

Dear Tea Partier,

These are indeed exciting times.  Not much more than two-and-a-half years ago, the movement to which you have given life was nonexistent.  Since its birth, you have succeeded in arresting the attention of the entire country while acquiring a well deserved reputation for being the most formidable grassroots entity in contemporary politics.  At this juncture, at any rate, everyone—Republicans and Democrats; conservatives, libertarians, and “liberals”; “independents” and “moderates”; rightists and leftists—knows that you are a force with which they will have to reckon.

In the summer of 2009, you bombarded the establishment with shock and awe with your “town hall meetings” and massive demonstrations.  Considering the ecstatic reception with which Barack Obama’s substantial victory over John McCain was greeted by over half ofAmerica, no one, least of all the president and his fellow partisans in congress, could have had any inkling that they would have to contend with such relentless opposition to his gargantuan socialistic schemes.  

Unfortunately, there simply were not enough office holders in congress to block the passage of Obamacare and other pieces of the Democrats’ redistributive plans.  Yet refusing to be disheartened, you availed yourselves of the momentum accumulated by your earlier efforts to resist the Leviathan that your elected representatives sought to impose upon you: on Election Day 2010, in exchange for their pledge to repeal Obamacare and revoke much of the Democrats’ agenda, you succeeded in affecting a historically unprecedented victory for Republicans.

Many Americans have loudly and passionately articulated their concern for the well being of their country.  To your eternal credit, you distinguish yourself from them inasmuch as you have seen to it that your passion does not degenerate into zealotry. To this end, you have insured that the greatness of your love for country be matched only by the greatness of your civility toward your opponents.  In so doing, you have supplied an emblem of fine citizenship for all to witness.

However, your virtues promise to bring out the worst of vices in your foes.  Of this, I am sure, you are well aware.  But you may not always be so well aware of who these foes are. 

The Democrats, clearly, are your adversaries.  They despise you and everything for which you stand.  Given the many attempts on the life of your character that they have been making for as long as you have existed, you know that this isn’t mere hyperbole on my part.  They have charged you with being an “extremist,” an “anarchist,” and even a “terrorist”—a description that they refuse to apply to Islamic fundamentalists who routinely murder innocent men, women, and children (including Americans).  Yet as bad as it is to be accused of “terrorism,” even this epithet doesn’t compare with the charge of “racism” that they have made against you.  This is the most dangerous of contemporary slurs, the nuclear bomb of all ad hominem attacks.

I would like to make a suggestion as to how you might consider going about meeting this accusation in the future—for you know that it will be made ever more as we enter into the next election cycle.  Point out the obvious: if the Tea Party movement is “racist” because it consists mostly of whites, then the “movement” that brought about the composition of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution must also be “racist” because it consisted exclusively of whites.  Granted, academic leftists—or, what amounts to the same thing, academic Democrats—already believe that the founding of America was incorrigibly “racist”; but mainstream Democrats in Washington and the media are too fearful of saying such things aloud.  Push them on this.  While I can’t see them forgoing their weapon of choice, the “r” word, altogether, they just might be more reluctant to use it if they know that it will lead to the exposure of their real views ofAmerica’s origins and its founders.

The real danger to you, though, doesn’t come from the Democrats, for they are wolves for all to see. Much more perilous to your well being are those wolves wearing sheep’s clothing.  Of course, I refer to those Republicans who are as much obsessed with enlarging the federal government as are any Democrats, but who realize that lest they lose your support, they must conceal their true designs.

Guard yourself vigilantly against the manipulative machinations of Republicans who would have you think that they genuinely believe their own rhetoric of “limited government.”  Sadly, this means that you must guard yourself against most Republicans, both career politicians as well as, I hate to say it, their supporters in the so-called “conservative” media.  You have every reason to be skeptical regarding their sincerity.

For one, these Republicans are painfully cognizant of the fact that if you choose to erect a third party rather than seek your goals by revamping theirs, then you will all but guarantee that the GOP forever remains the minority in power.  That is, you know that these Republicans need you. 

Second, even as I write this, an opinion piece appears on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal recounting George W. Bush’s fiscal recklessness—a phenomenon on which far too many of his supporters remain, to this day, deafeningly silent.  Our last Republican president did indeed contribute to an exponential expansion of the federal government by way of his foreign and domestic policies alike.  And all along, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their colleagues not only lent him their enthusiastic support; they were particularly friendly with his administration.

Today, though, in spite of having singularly failed to specify any of their prior mistakes in these regards, these same Republicans claim to share your objectives.  Maybe they really have, at long last, realized the need to reconcile their rhetoric of “limited government” with the kinds of policies that they endorse. Or maybe, as I have already suggested, they just know that they need you if they are to prevent their party from disintegrating.

So that you may get a better idea as to their intentions, consider posing to them questions of the following sort:

Was George W. Bush a proponent of “limited government?”  If you believe that he was, please explain how this could be?  If you acknowledge that he was not a real champion of “limited government” or, in other words, conservatism, then why did you insist upon supporting him so staunchly?

How is the declaration of “war” on an abstraction like “terror,” the democratization of the Islamic world of which this war consists, and the ever expanding military necessary to wage it compatible with “limited government?” 

As even leftist television personality Jon Stewart recently observed, Congressman Ron Paul is the only “ideologically consistent” GOP presidential candidate, the only politician in both national parties to consistently conduct himself in accordance with the Republican Party’s stated theme of “limited government.”  Paul virtually tied Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for first place in the Iowa Ames Straw poll (the latter beat him by but 200 something votes), engages in fundraising with a prowess comparable to that of multi-millionaire Mitt Romney, invariably provokes explosive applause in the primary debates, and appeals to those much sought after voters, “independents” and “moderates.”  Yet when he isn’t being ridiculed by them, both “mainstream” and “conservative” media personalities ignore him.

Even if you do not think that Paul is electable for cosmetic reasons—age, style, image, etc.—why, you may want to ask Republicans, do you persist in treating this full throated champion of “limited government” with such disrespect?  Do you not really believe in “limited government” yourself?

These questions are not intended to be exhaustive, obviously.  But those Republicans who are now suddenly Tea Partiers need to have questions of this kind put to them.

Keep up the good work.  Do not relent.

Sincerely,

Jack Kerwick  

 

To All Logophobes

posted by Jack Kerwick

Since I began this blog of mine at Beliefnet.com, “At the Intersection of Faith and Culture,” it hasn’t taken me long to elicit a not insignificant number of visitors.  And even though the overwhelming majority of comments that some of these visitors have taken the time to leave have been negative in nature, I am nevertheless as thankful as I can be, and for two reasons. 

First, the more traffic that my blog attracts, the better it is for me.

Second, for however adverse to my thoughts my detractors undoubtedly are, that they have seen to it to expend energy in responding to my writings, in many cases over and over again, proves that they find it worthwhile to respond.  

The satisfaction I’ve received from all of this is not, however, unqualified.  It is, in fact, accompanied by some measure of disappointment. You see, it has only been in a minority of instances that any of my respondents have challenged the substance of my arguments, and even then, the challenges have been delivered as part of a package that consists of ad hominem attacks. 

To sum this up, my disappointment stems from the realization that the people from whom I have heard lack either the intellect or the will to articulate their disagreements with others in a manner that is at once intelligent and civil.  Perhaps many of them lack both capacities.  But judging from the quality of some of their comments, I am more inclined to think that, for the most part, it is the will that is lacking.

In order to argue well, you must first understand your opponent. It is clear to me, though, that my interlocutors have taken little time to actually read what I have written.  Instead, they recognize from early on—possibly as early as the title of the post—that I approach the issue from a perspective that they do not share.  As a result, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, they rush in—not really to critique, for a critique is supposed to be aimed at the content of the position to which it is directed—but, well, to have to their say.  And like the bull for which the sight of the matador’s red cloth induces in it a furious, irrational rage, my respondents appear similarly incapable of resisting the raw emotions that my postings ignite in them.

I find myself in something of a dilemma.  On the one hand, for however downright ugly and foolish some of these commentators can be, it is my blog posts upon which they are commenting.  That is, while there can be no question that this is the last thing that they intended when they indulged their obsession with the ad hominem fallacy, in doing so they are helping me, and in ways that they haven’t been able to imagine.  So, I confess, I feel almost obliged to at least answer them. 

On the other hand, not being the best tempered person myself, I am well aware of the temptation I face to reply in like fashion to every smug, confused, arrogant, hate-filled comment that I receive.  This, I do not want to do, for my religion—Christianity—identifies arrogance, cruelty, and hatred as vices, sins, and, thus, demands of its adherents that they repent of them.  God counsels as well against folly.  But by responding to folly, I become the fool.

What’s a guy to do?

I think I have found something of a way out of this troubling situation. My solution is two-prong.

First, unless I find a comment to be totally beyond the pale, I will, all things being equal, approve of it.  This way, the person who composed it can at least enjoy that small satisfaction for which he yearns, the satisfaction of having others be able to read his “thoughts.”  This will be my way of repaying him for reminding me that my articles are being read.  With this token of my appreciation, I should think, my logophobic respondents should be well pleased, for it is a foregone conclusion that except for at my blog, no one will ever read his thoughts again. This goes without saying.  Those who do nothing but hurl insults at those who dare to assert and defend their views are too fearful to do the same.

Second, with all of the writing I do (not to mention my other responsibilities), I simply have neither the time nor the patience to reply to many of the comments I receive.  Even if some of them warranted a response—clearly, I do not think that most of them do—I wouldn’t have the time to supply it.  So, I will try to address some of the points—when they are discernible—in future articles, not comment threads.

One more thing.  To show how grateful I truly am for those who take the time to comment, I will happily link to or otherwise mention their blogs.  For some reason, however, for as brilliant as many of these people presumably think they are, I just don’t see them being nearly as eager to state their blogs as they are to state their insults. 

The reason for this should be obvious.

Jack Kerwick

Intellectual Dishonesty and Republican Pundits

posted by Jack Kerwick

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t a vice peculiar to any one group of people or another; it is a human problem.  But nowhere is it more salient than in the field of politics. 

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t identical with dishonesty proper.  It is not altogether accurate, then, to characterize the intellectually dishonest person as a liar.  Liars set out to deceive others.  In contrast, it is doubtful that the intellectually dishonest person sets out in advance to deceive anyone, save perhaps himself, and even then, this act of sabotaging truth is not likely to be inspired by any conscious strivings. 

The intellectually dishonest individual refuses to pursue, not those lines of inquiry that appear intellectually unpromising, but those that have the potential to make his life more difficult.  He is constrained by extra-rational considerations, whether of a psychological, emotional, or social character.  Neither the tension between the ideas he holds nor the cogency of the arguments that exist for positions that he rejects move him to consider new possibilities, for he is unaware of both the tensions and the considerations that militate against his vantage point.  Yet this obliviousness is the product of his own choice, a choice that, in turn, is the offspring of his desire to preserve the benefits that he’s reaped from the worldview that these new candidates for belief threaten to unravel.

Another difference between the intellectually dishonest person and the liar is that the former is a more sympathetic figure than the latter.  This, I think, is because the more we think about him the harder it is to escape the impression that, at bottom, he is afraid.  In no small measure, intellectual dishonesty is a function of fear.  The fear that the world may be more unpleasant than he would like for it to be lurks in the heart of every intellectually dishonest individual.  Indeed, it isn’t hard to understand why: who cares to think of himself as cowardly or, for that matter, driven by fear to any extent?  If the world isn’t free of the uncomfortable truths that he heretofore resolved to ignore, then, conceiving himself, as he does, as being a champion of truth, the intellectually dishonest person knows that he will now have no option but to address these truths. 

This, however, is no option at all, as far as the intellectually dishonest is concerned.  So, the intellectually dishonest person simply follows the lead of the proverbial ostrich and buries his head in the sand. 

There is no topic with respect to which intellectual dishonesty runs more rampant than that of race.  That leftist thought epitomizes this dishonesty goes without saying; at any rate, it goes without saying as far as readers of this column are concerned.  For this reason, it is “conservative” dishonesty on this matter to which I would like to draw the reader’s attention. 

Establishment Republican or “conservative” voices routinely—invariably—affirm “personal” or “individual responsibility.”  To this even the most casual of observers of, say, FOX News and talk radio can readily attest.  When these Republican personalities invoke personal responsibility it is in order to resist the leftist dogma that, whether for good or ill, government is responsible for peoples’ fates.

Now, personal responsibility is a wonderful thing, to be sure, and those who never tire of proclaiming its virtues deserve praise for so doing.  Yet at the very same time that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and, well, virtually all of their colleagues in the so-called “alternative media” are singing hosannas to personal responsibility, they are blaming the pathological dysfunction that is the essence of the black underclass, not on the persons that constitute that class, but on the government.  More specifically, it is at the feet of Democratic politicians and their policies that these champions of personal responsibility lay the blame for the barbarous conduct that has rendered black communities across the nation uninhabitable. 

Of course, government policies are far from irrelevant to human conduct. But the apostles of personal responsibility in “the alternative media” are saying more than this.  At the very least, their refusal to treat the members of the black underclass as agents by refusing to hold them personally responsible for their actions can only be read as an endorsement of the deterministic or fatalistic view of government that, in other contexts, they claim to abhor. 

Notice, these same Republican pundits not only refuse to attribute Islamic terrorism of the sort with which America has had to contend to government policy, whether the governments in question are located in the Middle East or right here at home; they adamantly reject any such notion that Muslim terrorists could be driven by anything other than their own irrational hatred of all things other than themselves, especially American freedoms. And just the suggestion that 9/11 may have had something to do with our policy in the Arabic world promises to be met by a mixture of disdain and ridicule by Republican commentators.

So from whence springs this inconsistency between, on the one hand, the reaction of the prophet of personal responsibility to black pathology and, on the other, his reaction to Islamic pathology? 

At present, the costs of being overtly critical of blacks, whether poor or not, are dramatically higher than the costs of being comparably critical of Middle Eastern Muslims.  In other words, it is a fear of suffering penalties that accounts for the Republican pundit’s intellectual dishonesty on this issue. 

Intellectual dishonesty is obvious to spot in our opponents.  It is those professing to be our friends, and who may very well be our friends—self-proclaimed “conservatives”—in whom we must look hard to recognize it.  But the reward for our efforts promises to be handsome, for in searching out this dishonesty among us, we strengthen ourselves against it. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

 

Neoconservative “Extremism”

posted by Jack Kerwick

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Republican Party establishment—I refer to both politicians as well as the punditry class constituting the so-called “new” or “alternative media”—is not conservative.  It is neoconservative. 

Although this is not something of which readers of this site need to be informed, it is a point worth repeating nonetheless.   

Few and far between are those neoconservatives who refer to themselves as such.  Usually, neoconservatives identify themselves as “conservative.”  But because the neoconservative’s is the face and voice of one of our two national political parties, his refusal to come to terms with his true identity means that in the popular American consciousness, the neoconservative ideology is confused with conservatism proper.  However, traditional or classical conservatism, the conservatism of which Edmund Burke is among the most notable and impassioned representatives, is not only distinct from neoconservatism; it is diametrically opposed to it.

Neoconservatism is but the most recent species of what most students of political philosophy now call “Enlightenment liberal Rationalism.”  That this is so is easily gotten from the causes that the neoconservative is disposed to support, especially the cause of “Global Democracy”—the enterprise of toppling regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond for the sake of establishing “democratic” governments in their wake. 

This project, it is crucial to recognize, presupposes faith in a considerably robust metaphysical scheme, a philosophical vision laden with assumptions regarding reason and morality that are even more controversial today than they were during the Enlightenment when they initially took wing. 

On this account, reason is a unitary phenomenon whose capacity to supply “solutions” to the world’s problems is potentially unlimited.  To realize this potential, to achieve infallibility, rational agents only have to strictly observe those relatively few fundamental principles of which reason consists.  As for what these principles are, rationalists have differed among themselves.  Descartes, for example, thought that as long as we didn’t grasp for that which we didn’t conceive “clearly and distinctly”—as long as the will didn’t attempt to trespass the limits that reason imposed upon it—we could never go wrong.  Others, like William Godwin, held that beliefs that were the fruits of prejudice, prescription, desire, custom, tradition, and, in short, any and every source that managed to escape the tribunal of the unencumbered Intellect, were species of irrationality to be stamped out.  But what all rationalists seemed to share in common is the conviction that there existed one and the same rational power for all, a single standard by which all peoples in all places and at all times could be judged.

It is this belief, many now recognize, that was enlisted in the service of the colonial and imperial enterprises upon which European peoples embarked during just that period when the conception of omnipotent Reason was at its zenith.  Blind to the culturally-specific character of what he took to be a universal understanding of Reason, European Man assumed that because most of the world’s inhabitants in places like Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas failed to satisfy his canons of rationality, they weren’t rational as such.  In spite of the frequency with which it is repeated, the notion that whites at this time viewed non-whites as non-persons is incorrect.  Rather, failing to see his own image in this socially and historically particular conception of reason that he identified with Reason itself, European or Western man regarded the non-white peoples of the world, not literally as non-persons, but as potential persons who could actualize all of the potentialities of which their circumstances permitted only if their wills were made subservient to his.

Sensibilities have changed dramatically since the nineteenth century, of course, but the neoconservative is located squarely within this imperialist tradition.  Not only does he endorse its metaphysical (rationalist) underpinnings; the neoconservative, like his ancestors, actually aspires to impose a peculiarly Western system of institutional arrangements upon foreign peoples who, as far as he must be concerned, lack either the will or the capability to govern themselves in a manner that is both morally and rationally defensible. 

Long ago the left embarked upon a campaign to depict all non-leftists—namely, conservatives and libertarians—as “kooks,” “racists,” “anti-Semites,” “xenophobes”—in short, extremists.  The neoconservative, always on the hunt for strategies by which to establish his own respectability or, what amounts to the same thing in this day and age, endear himself to the left, decided to reinforce this image of the traditional rightist.  This explains why he never spares an occasion to marginalize and denigrate those to his right (think of the treatment to which Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan are routinely subjected). 

Interestingly, however, real conservatives—those who derive inspiration from (among others) Burke—resolutely reject the grandiose philosophy underwriting the neoconservative’s ambitions for remaking theMiddle East(and the world?) in the image of his view of “Democracy.”  Not coincidentally, they just as emphatically reject his ambitions. 

Reason, conservatives from at least the time of Burke have insisted, is inseparable from tradition.  That is to say, far from being the monolithic power that neoconservatives and other rationalists envision, rationality can and has been conceived in a multiplicity of ways.  And since each conception varies with cultural and historical circumstances—habits and customs—what this in turn means is that rationality is a thing local and concrete—not universal and abstract.    

Due to their tradition-centered understanding of reason and knowledge, conservatives—even during the height of the Enlightenment—have been, at the very least, reluctant to lend their support to enterprises designed to erode the traditions and customs of foreign peoples in order to coerce them into acquiescing in Western or Eurocentric ideals. 

But in spite of these enormous differences between neoconservatives and classical conservatives, two distinct but inseparable injustices persist.  First, neoconservatives are now known as “conservatives” and conservatives, if they are known at all, are known as the “extremists” that neoconservatives continue to characterize them as being.  Second, it is the conservative, not the neoconservative, who is known as the extremist.

Although I think name calling, even when the names are fashionable politically correct buzzwords, is not productive of civil and rational discourse, perhaps it is time for those on the traditional right to begin letting people know who the real extremists are.   

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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