At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Republican Contradictions and Ron Paul

posted by Jack Kerwick

There is something afoot within the Republican Party specifically and American politics generally.  Something is happening, something that will make it increasingly difficult for the GOP of today to return to its previous way of doing things.

This “something” is a keenly felt incoherence within the GOP, a tension that is on its way to boiling over.  This tension has been brought about in part by the presidency of Barack Obama, it is true.  But the contribution of the latter consists in simply forcing to the forefront inconsistencies within the GOP that long predate the rise of Obama, inconsistencies that are the offspring of the tumultuous marriage between the party’s rhetoric and its practice.

Republicans loudly and proudly affirm “limited government” and the “individual liberty” to which the former is supposed to give rise. Yet their talk is one thing.  Their walk is something else altogether.  In practice, the differences between Republicans and Democrats are differences of degree—fractions of a degree, at that.


We need not recapitulate the many respects in which our two national parties are for all intents and purposes indistinguishable.  One need only reflect upon the presidency of George W. Bush to recognize that while our 43rd President was many things, a proponent of “limited government” he most certainly was not.

However, regardless of Republican media spin, the base of the party has long recognized that its leadership has failed miserably to advance the agenda that it claims to support.  This explains why with every primary season, voters insist on the need to nominate a “real conservative.”  That the majority of the GOP’s base remains mired in confusion on this matter is beside the point.  The very fact that the base routinely reveals itself to be at odds with “the establishment” proves that even Republicans perceive a conflict between what Republican politicians, strategists, and commentators say and what they do.     


I contend that it is the candidacy of Ron Paul that has at once illuminated and remedied this conflict. Because of his visibility as a national figure, to say nothing of his earthy charm, Paul has made it impossible for Republicans to any longer deny the glaring incongruity between their utterances and their actions. 

Paul explodes onto the national scene espousing just those ideas to which Republicans have claimed to be committed for decades.  His fellow Republicans in the presidential primary contests of 2008 and today are no less reserved than is Paul in expressing their support of “limited government” and “individual liberty.”  Yet it is Paul, and Paul alone, who is regularly treated by both his colleagues and their supporters in the so-called “conservative” media as persona non grata.  Why?


The question is rhetorical: Paul is clearly the only one who truly believes in that of which Republicans speak. 

At a minimum, he is the only one who recognizes that certain kinds of policies—like those suited for waging an interminable war against a vague enemy—are radically incompatible with Republican Party ideals.

Just by virtue of his presence, Paul simultaneously identifies the contradiction at the core of GOP politics and points the way toward its resolution. 

Paul calls out his fellow partisans while hurling them on the horns of a dilemma.  If Republicans really believe in the ideals to which they pay lip service, then they have no logical or moral option but to adopt the policies that Paul prescribes.  If, though, they refuse to adopt these prescriptions by continuing along the path that they have been traveling for far too long, then we have no logical option but to conclude that their ideals are nothing more than rhetorical devices for procuring votes.   


There is no slipping between these two horns: the dilemma is inescapable.

Republicans know this.  This is why they have reacted to Paul as hysterically as they have.  Paul is a whistle blower.  The affable Texas Congressman and stalwart constitutionalist has aired the GOP’s dirty laundry for all of the country to see. 

However, Paul is generous.  Yes, he has shown that the Emperor has no clothes. But he has offered to provide clothing—and more. Paul seeks to adorn the GOP with those jewels—our Constitutional liberties—that its rhetoric would have us think it prizes. And he seeks to do this by charting a new course for his party and his country, a course that is in keeping with the spirit of liberty in which Americans have traditionally delighted. 


Paul’s support among voters not only indicates no signs of diminishing; it continues to swell.  As much as Republicans in the media would love to have us believe that the Paul phenomenon is negligible or vanishing, that Paul continues, and will continue, to accumulate delegates all of the way to the Republican National Convention exposes this line for the falsehood that it is.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 





Conversation vs. Talkativeness

posted by Jack Kerwick

We are a talkative people.  In this era of mass communication, human beings have never talked more: “social media,” cell phones, texting, email—it is increasingly difficult, almost impossible, to spend much time without communicating to someone or other.

However, in the midst of this avalanche of loquacity, a paradox is afoot: the more talkative we have become, the less conversable we have become.

We talk and we talk and we talk—but we do not converse.

It has long been noted (but not noted enough) that conversation is an art.  Sadly, though, it is a lost art.

There is doubtless a sense in which it can be said that every generation falls in love with itself.  But our generation is obsessed with itself.


The rise of “Reality Television” has done much to fuel this self-obsession, it is true; yet it is more a function of our excessive self-love than its cause.  Facebook, twitter, MySpace, Youtube, the blogosphere, etc., have given anyone and everyone platforms for self-expression.  In so doing, though, they have inflated our sense of self-importance.

I think that it is this self-importance that has sounded the death knell for the art of conversation. 

Like any art, the art of conversation requires practice.  And like any art, mastery of the art of conversation entails the perfection of virtues that are peculiar to it. 

One of these virtues—recognized by the ancients as one of the four cardinal human excellences—is the virtue of temperance.  “Temperance” is what we today are more inclined to call “self-control” or “self-discipline.”  The temperate person has mastered his desires by bringing them under the governance of reason.


Temperance is a virtue in exceedingly short supply today.  This can be seen most readily in our exchanges with others. 

Most people ache to be heard.  So, they seek out anyone from whom they can gain a hearing.  Yet hearing and listening are two entirely distinct activities.  To hear someone is nothing less than to have one’s ear drums bombarded by noise. The hearer is passive. The listener, on the other hand, engages in an activity.  The listener, in contrast to the hearer, is mindful of his interlocutor.  To put it another way, the listener is temperate, for he has restrained his desire to speak.

Of course, a virtuous conversationalist isn’t just a good listener.  There are other excellences—civility, articulateness, generosity, equanimity, hospitality, etc.—that he needs to possess. But unless he listens to what his partner in conversation has to say, conversation is impossible.


Conversation is a civilizing activity.  In conversation, two personalities meet in an act of mutual self-disclosure.  Moreover, each personality invites the other to unveil itself.  Genuine conversation has no place for the conventional altruism/selfishness distinction, for the hospitality of fellow conversationalists is motivated as much by a desire to forge their own identities as it is motivated by a desire to advance the interests of one another. 

Sheer talkativeness, in contrast, retards the civilizing mission of conversation. Talkativeness reflects and feeds narcissism.  Those who are talkative relish in their own talk—regardless of what they are prone to say.  They care not a lick about permitting others the same self-indulgence.  Sheer talkativeness relates to conversation as rape relates to love making.  Sheer talkativeness approximates violence as the exceedingly chatty leave their victims feeling brutalized.  While there are only subjects in conversation, the person exploited by the chatty is an object: the chatty reduces him to nothing more or less than a sounding board or, at best, an echo chamber. Talkativeness reflects and feeds narcissism. 

Perhaps it is high time that we had a conversation about the (lost) art of conversation.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.


Problems with the Morality of Human Rights

posted by Jack Kerwick

It is commonplace for most contemporary commentators to think of the Declaration of Independence as embodying our “national creed.”  This in turn explains the equally commonplace description ofAmericaas a “creedal” or “propositional nation.”

The idea is this: the Declaration, with its affirmation of “rights” that are “unalienable” and “self-evident,” expresses a universal morality, a morality unencumbered by the contingencies and relativities of place and time, culture and history.  America, the Declaration makes clear, is committed to the advancement, not of this or that person or group of persons, but of “the rights” of all mankind.

America was founded by white Christians from a specific place in Europeand at a particular juncture in their history.  And American life, up until the present day, has been informed overwhelmingly by European or Western ideas and traditions.  Still, it is emphatically “un-American”—maybe even “anti-American”—to think of our country in ethnic or racial terms.  Put another way, it is immoral—“racist,” “bigoted,” etc.—to recognize in America anything other than the first nation ever to have been erected upon a “timeless principle” or “ideal”: the principle that all human beings everywhere and always possess (pre-political) rights.


Not everyone today endorses this vision of America’s founding.  But more people than not, including people with clashing political visions, endorse the morality of “natural” or “human rights” embodied by the Declaration.  This is unfortunate, for only its ubiquity prevents its champions from recognizing the burdens with which their morality saddles them.

For one, if everybody has equal rights, and if Americais supposed to be committed to advancing these rights, then it is only upon practical or strategic grounds that objections can be raised against the American enterprises of welcoming massive Third World immigration, on the one hand, and launching equally massive military interventions abroad, on the other.  As Ilana Mercer noted some time ago, “Inviting an invasion by foreigners and instigating one against them” are inseparable engagements (emphases original).  She also observed, correctly, that the glue that holds them together is the notion of America as a “proposition nation.”


Yet, interestingly, the “proposition” responsible for this madness is just that proposition to which Ilana and many other sensible folks (like Pat Buchanan, for instance) subscribe: it is the proposition that all human beings have “unalienable” natural rights.

The point is that if America is committed to natural or human rights, then, ideally, she should be embracing as many immigrants and toppling as many oppressive foreign regimes as possible.  The means by which she fulfills this mission may be morally dubious; but the mission itself isn’t just morally permissible—it is obligatory.

The logic of the morality of human rights pushes us even further, though: because it is universal in character, because it makes no distinctions between persons, by its lights it is immoral for both the United States government as well as the American citizen to show partiality toward American citizens over non-Americans—regardless of where the latter are located.  The universality of the doctrine of human rights entails impartiality.  Thus, it is just as immoral for Americans—again, whether political office holders or citizens—to act partially toward Americans over non-Americans as it is immoral for Americans of one race to give preferential treatment to their fellow members over those Americans of other races. 


To put it simply, from this perspective, patriotism is as abhorrent as “racism,” for both are a standing violation of the universality and impartiality of the morality of human rights.

This brings us to a third problem.

If the “racist” is a reprehensible character because he prefers the members of his own race over those of other races, then there is no way to avoid the conclusion that anyone who is partial toward his own in any context must be equally reprehensible.  This would include not only the patriot but, more disturbingly yet, those who are partial toward their families over the families of others.

On the logic of the morality of human rights, “familyism,” then, joins “racism” and patriotism as evils. 


Those who think that this last is a stretch should consider that it has been quite some time since contemporary moral philosophers have branded human beings’ preference for their own species over others as “specieism” and added it to the litany of such abominations as “racism,” “sexism,” “classism,” and the rest.

This is where “the proposition” upon which America was supposedly founded leads us.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 






Obama and the Ideology of Blackism Part II

posted by Jack Kerwick

Recently, I wrote an article in which I contended that Barack Obama is a “Blackist,” an adherent of “Blackism.”  The latter, I explained, is an ideology.  As such, it differs in kind from both biology and what has been called “black culture.” 

Skin pigmentation is an accident of birth.  Culture, consisting as it does of a complex of traditions that are years and years in the making, is an acquisition.  Ideology, though, is the product of choice.  What this in turn means is that the Blackist is a fundamentally different sort of being than the person who happens to be black. 

It would be a mistake, though, to think that there is no relationship between the ideology of Blackism, on the one hand, and black culture and biology, on the other. 


A Blackist must be biologically black.  This is far from a sufficient condition for subscription to Blackism, but it is necessary. 

This is how the ideology in question is related to biology. 

It is related to black culture, however, in the way in which a grammar is related to the language to which it belongs. 

A language’s grammar consists of propositions embodying rules and/or principles.  The grammar is a truncated version—an extremely truncated version—of the language from which it is an abstraction.  What this in turn means is that the intricacies and nuances that distinguish the language as the language that it is, those of its particularities that have been shaped by all manner of contingencies, are inescapably lost in its grammar.


Similarly, Blackism is an abstraction—and a distortion—of black culture.

Now, that a grammar or an ideology distorts the language or culture from which it is derived is not itself a terrible thing—as long as this is recognized.  As long as we refuse to conflate the caricature with the person of whom it is the caricature, no harm is done.  In fact, the caricature may even draw our attention to features to which we may have otherwise remained oblivious. 

But the ideologue is not likely to grasp that it is a caricature with which he is dealing.  He is much more disposed to think that between one end of the ideology and the other, all that is worth knowing can be found.  Moreover, the ideologue is wont to put the cart before the horse: the ideology he will treat as a timeless Truth by which the temporary and topical are to be judged.


Yet it is the tradition, (the language, the culture, etc.) that comes first; the abridgement (the grammar, the ideology) follows.

Just as the rules of a grammar can be sandwiched between the covers of a textbook, accessible to anyone and everyone, a moral ideology too is designed to accommodate those who have not embarked upon the far more time consuming and formidable task of acquiring a genuine education in a moral tradition.  For example, the ideology of “natural rights” or “human rights” or whatever we are calling it these days is a small set of propositions that anyone can easily confine to memory.  Yet it is the distillation of a rich, centuries-old English political-moral tradition into which only a relatively small handful of the Earth’s inhabitants have been educated. 


The ideology of Blackism is a drastically oversimplified distillation of black culture.  The latter is a way of life.  The former consists of a few basic propositions.  Any black person is eligible to endorse Blackism.  Not every black person, though, has immersed him or herself in black culture.  Thus, Blackism provides a fast track for any black person in search of racial validation: all he or she has to do is affirm the tenets of the ideology and, presto, he or she is declared “authentically” Black!

There is no one for whom the ideology of Blackism is better suited than our President.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it is a contrivance for people just like him.  Black culture is as alien to Obama as it is to any white person.  In fact, Obama was further removed from black culture than many whites (like me) who were raised in predominantly black cities.  Obama, let us not forget, was reared by whites.  The vast majority of his friends growing up were white. Not only did he never attend a public school, he attended nothing but the most prestigious of private educational institutions—all of the way through law school. 


A correspondent leveled two criticisms against my analysis of Blackism and Obama’s allegiance to it. 

First, he thought it curious that I would feel the need to devise a new word—“Blackism”—to reference an old concept—“racial consciousness.”  After all, it is to black racial consciousness that I refer, correct? So why not just say so?

This objection misses the mark.

“Racial consciousness” is a term that means very little because it can mean so much.  In a multiracial world, it is impossible for anyone to literally be devoid of all racial awareness.  We learn about ourselves as much from who we are not as from who we are.  Thus, any black person, like every other person, has some “consciousness” of the race to which he or she belongs. 


Moreover, racial consciousness is one thing; racial absolutism is something else entirely.  The Blackist differs from the black person not in having a greater degree of race consciousness.  The difference between the Blackist and the black person is a difference in kind.  The Blackist is one for whom racial consciousness consumes every other conceivable sort of consciousness, if you will. More clearly, for the Blackist, the creed of Blackism trumps all other considerations. 

The term “racial consciousness” simply fails, and fails quite abysmally, to do justice to a reality that is significantly more complex that it would suggest. “Blackism,” in contrast, accommodates crucial metaphysical and moral distinctions that the vague “racial consciousness” never acknowledges.


My critic also objected to my description of Obama as a man who differs from Jesse Jackson, Louis Farakkhan, Al Sharpton, and Jeremiah Wright only stylistically—not substantively.  While Obama does indeed possess “racial consciousness,” he claimed, it is unfair to lump him into the same class with these other “race men.” 

I admit to being more than a bit stunned by this last.  Let’s think about this.

Like the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson, Obama too worked as a “community organizer” while living inChicago.  And like Sharpton’s and Jackson’s enterprises, Obama’s community organizing consisted of “organizing” blacks.  And like their enterprises, Obama’s required for its execution the routine employment of intimidation tactics that he brought to bear against banks and other businesses.


Obama, like the foregoing Blackists, never fails to affirm the cardinal tenet of Blackism: Every act and every utterance, whether overtly or covertly, must preserve and strengthen the narrative of perpetual White Oppression and Black Suffering.  Subscription to this tenet explains virtually everything that Obama has done since he has been President (to say nothing of what he has done prior to this juncture).  From Obamacare, his treatment of business, and his handling of the economy, to expressing solidarity with blacks regarding those racially-oriented incidences that never should have been national news to begin with, Obama has proven that he is bewitched by an ideology that insists upon rectifying, “by whichever means necessary,” the historic injustices that Whites have been forever inflicting upon Blacks.


But there is much more proof in the pudding for my contention that Obama is a Blackist, substantively indistinguishable from other nationally known Blackists.

Obama—once more, a man with no roots in black culture—entitled his first memoir: Dreams from My Father: A Story of RACE and Inheritance.  Obama’s is a story of a man on a quest for racial authenticity, i.e. Blackness.  From beginning to end, Dreams is chockfull of anecdotes of indignities and injustices that blacks—mostly in the person of Obama—have to live with on a daily basis. 

This in and of itself, I would think, would be sufficient to make my case. 

Yet there is one final consideration not to be overlooked.  Let us never forget that for over two decades, Obama belonged to Jeremiah Wright’s church, a church seeped in Black Liberation Theology.  He donated large sums of money to this church, and he had Wright baptize his children.  Obama referred to Wright as his “spiritual mentor.”  Wright is a man who is good friends with Louis Farakkhan.  He once endowed the latter with his “Lifetime Achievement Award.”  Though Wright considers himself Christian while Farakkhan regards himself as a Muslim, as far as their views on white/black relations are concerned, there are scarcely any differences. 


Now that Obama was as close to Wright—his pastor and “spiritual mentor,” mine you—as he was for all of that time renders inescapable the conclusion that he thinks along the same lines as the latter.  And, for that matter, he thinks not all that differently from Farakkhan when it comes to racially-centered topics. 

The charge that I am guilty of employing a disreputable “guilt-by-association” tactic against our President is easily met. 

Wright is a Blackist extraordinaire.  Obama sought him out and remained under his “spiritual” tutelage until it became politically inexpedient to any longer do so. Still, twenty years is a long time, and there can be no question that Wright—with his Black Liberation Theology—exerted a tremendous influence over Obama’s intellectual development.

Blackism is an ideology distinct from “black biology” and black culture.  And Obama is a Blackist. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 








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