America First does not mean that that the USA ought to be first over other countries, dominating them. It means that every country has the right to prefer itself and its own interests over the interests of other countries. This is compatible with respecting other countries' interests and right to self-determination.
So America First has nothing to do with chauvinism which could be characterized as a blind and intemperate patriotism, a belligerent and unjustified belief in the superiority of one's own country. America First expresses an enlightened nationalism which is obviously compatible with a sober recognition of national failings.
An enlightened nationalism is distinct from nativism inasmuch as the former does not rule out immigration. By definition, an immigrant is not a native; but an enlightened American nationalism accepts legal immigrants who accept American values, which of course are not the values of the Left or the values of political Islam.
An enlightened nationalism is not isolationist. What it eschews is a fruitless meddling and over-eager interventionism. It does not rule out certain necessary interventions when they are in our interests and in the interests of our allies.
So America First is not to be confused with chauvinism or nativism or isolationism.
It is also not to be confused with xenophobia. The America Firster has no irrational fear of persons or things foreign. The same holds for every enlightened nationalist.
An enlightened nationalism is not a form of idolatry. 'America First' is not in competition with 'God First.' The principles belong to different orders. The first is a 'horizontal' principle defined over countries; the second is a 'vertical' principle having to do with countries and God. Obviously the following two propositions are logically consistent:
1) Every country has the right to prefer itself and its own interests over the interests of other countries.
2) No country is an appropriate object of worship; only God is worthy of worship.
Finally, an enlightened nationalism is not white-supremacist. I will now quote Rabbi Aryeh Spero, not only because he makes good points, but to distance myself from those Alt-Rightists who are anti-semitic and white-supremacist:
It is not “white supremacism” when people with self-respect display love and admiration for their background and history, wish to defend it, and are proud of it. It is normal and healthy. The opposite is rootlessness. Nor are sincere calls for the maintenance of Western civilization and the Judeo-Christian ethos, as liberals today accuse, “code words for racism”.
The purpose of the shaming we now see coming from liberals against fellow Americans is to muzzle us, so that what we believe is no longer able to be heard or transmitted. It is an enforcement of our political impotence. Longer term, the never-ending demonization is designed to end our civic and religious heritage. Through left-wing bullying and scorn, our heritages are being replaced by the new theologies of progressivism and non-distinctiveness.
That's right; I quibble only with the good rabbi's misuse of 'theology.' Just as progressivism is not a religion, as I have lately argued ad nauseam, it is also not a theology. 'Theology' refers either to God's knowledge of himself, which lies beyond our ken, or to our attempted knowledge of God. But progressivism has no truck with God, being secularist and atheist in its core forms.
A March 15 WAPO piece begins like this: "States’ rights is making a comeback, but this time it’s progressives, not slaveholders or white supremacists, raising the cry."
This implies that those who for years have been speaking out for federalism and Tenth Amendment rights are either slave holders or white supremacists.
I'd call that left-wing bias, wouldn't you?
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people."
What is Federalism?
Federalism, roughly, is (i) a form of political organization in which governmental power is divided among a central government and various constituent governing entities such as states, counties, and cities; (ii) subject to the proviso that both the central and the constituent governments retain their separate identities and assigned duties. A government that is not a federation would allow for the central government to create and reorganize constituent governments at will and meddle in their affairs. Federalism is implied by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Federalism would make for less contention, because people who support high taxes and liberal schemes could head for states like Massachusetts or California, while the conservatively inclined who support gun rights and capital punishment could gravitate toward states like Texas.
We see the world differently. Worldview differences in turn reflect differences in values. Now values are not like tastes. Tastes cannot be reasonably discussed and disputed while values can. (De gustibus non est disputandum.) But value differences, though they can be fruitfully discussed, cannot be objectively resolved because any attempted resolution will end up relying on higher-order value judgments. There is no exit from the axiological circle. We can articulate and defend our values and clarify our value differences. What we cannot do is resolve our value differences to the satisfaction of all sincere, intelligent, and informed discussants.
A return to federalism, I suggest, is the sanest and best way to overcome this difficulty. If we are lucky we will be able to bring unity and diversity together in a dialectical unity thereby avoiding the extremes of totalitarianism and secessionism.
It is the ancient problem of the One and the Many in one of its political forms. E pluribus unum: out of many, one. But a One worth wanting is a One not suppressive of, but respectful of, the many in their manifold modes of manyness.
Trump is doing well despite obstructionist Dems, deep-state saboteurs, and the nay-saying nimrods of Never Trumpism. The stock market is way up, illegal immigration is way down, and a solid conservative, Neil Gorsuch, is a SCOTUS shoo in.
Add to the list an incitement of interest among lefties in federalism.
Calexit, Bluexit and other secessionisms are just silly and won't happen. United we stand; divided we fall. We can keep the Union together if we practice some enlightened segregation. I have been arguing for federalism for years. We need the political equivalent of divorce. Members of a divorced couple can remain on amicable terms if they severely restrict their contact to what is patently in their common interest, such as the care of children. You get the analogy. It limps, but no analogy is perfect. A perfect analogy is an identity and you can't (fruitfully) compare a thing to itself.
For both historical and philosophical reasons, federalism runs counter to the progressive instinct. Those on the left like government, and their preferred legislature is the Supreme Court. On top of this, the South’s invocation of states’ rights to resist the civil rights movement has tainted the phrase, which many regard as code for “Jim Crow.”
But Mr. Trump’s election may be occasioning a welcome rethink, especially among Democrats who understand they have lost far more than the White House. For all the attention to Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory, Democratic influence over state legislatures is now reduced to Civil War levels. In this environment, some progressives appreciate that they might have more to gain from a federalism that empowers minorities—sexual, racial, political, whatever—in locales where their views dominate.
One concern is whether lefties can learn to control their totalitarian instinct. I am not particularly sanguine about that. So keep your powder dry.
Federalism is what I recommend to ease tensions and preserve the Union. Patrick J. Buchanan explains it well. His piece concludes:
A new federalism—a devolution of power and resources away from Washington and back to states, cities, towns and citizens, to let them resolve their problems their own way and according to their own principles—may be the price of retention of the American Union.
Let California be California; let red state America be red state America.
The spark that ignites populist movements is not so much disparities in wealth and status (they are not always French Revolution or Bolshevik-like class-driven attempts to grab power) as rank hypocrisies: Elites condescendingly prescribe nostrums to hoi polloi, but always on the dual premise that those who are dictating will be immune from the ramifications of their own sometimes burdensome edicts, and those who are dictated to are supposedly too dense to know what is good for them. (Think Steven Chu, the former energy secretary, who either did not commute by car or had a short drive to work, while he hoped that gas prices for the nation’s clueless drivers might climb to European levels of $9–$10 a gallon.)
We’ve already seen Trump’s anti-doctrinaire approach to jobs, trade, and the economy: his notion that the free-market in reality can often became a rhetorical construct, not a two-way street when it comes to trading blocs. Free-market purists might see the outsourcing of jobs and unbridled importation of foreign subsidized products as a way to toughen up the competitiveness of American companies and trim off their fat; but people who take this view are usually the ones who benefit from globalism and who are in little danger of having their own job downsized, eliminated, or shipped overseas. Few of us often ask whether full professors are very productive, whether op-ed writers are industrious and cogent, whether Hollywood actors are worth millions per picture, whether politicians are improving the nation’s lot, or whether journalists are disinterested and competent. Instead, we assume that because they all have well-compensated jobs, they are qualified, essential, and invaluable to the economy.
President Donald Trump exudes an ideology of "America first." There's only one problem for orthodox Christians, however -- the nation may never come first, because in first place must always be Jesus Christ and his Gospel. In that sense, "Trumpism" is actually a heresy.
Exudes? Does the author know what this word means? Misuse of language is a tell-tale sign of a 'liberal.'
I hope to say more later, but for the nonce, the following must suffice.
America First has as as little to do with national idolatry as it does with chauvinism or nativism or isolationism or racism. The basic idea is that the main obligation of a government is to protect and serve the citizens of the country of which it is the government. It is a further question whether it has obligations to protect and benefit the citizens of other countries. That is debatable. But if it does, those obligations are trumped by the main obligation just mentioned. I should think that a great nation such as the USA does well to engage in purely humanitarian efforts such as famine relief. Such efforts, however, are secondary and arguably supererogatory.
See my America First for the fuller statement of which the foregoing is a slightly redacted excerpt.
Many Democrats use 'unconstitutional' rather broadly to refer to anything they don't like. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) apparently favors this broad (mis)use of the term. He claimed -- wait for it -- that President Donald Trump's temporary ban on Muslim immigration from seven Muslim countries is "unconstitutional" because it applies a religious test.
But of course it isn't. In Article VI, paragraph three of the United States Constitution we read that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This has nothing to do with immigrants; it pertains to citizens who seek public office. (It is also worth noting that the clause says nothing about the states; it pertains to seekers of Federal offices. See here.)
So it is clear that Schumer made a false statement. Did he lie? Did he knowingly make a false statement? It is a good bet that he did given his leftist agenda. And he thought he could fool us, too.
It is plain, then, that there is nothing unconstitutional about applying a religious test to immigrants. It might nevertheless be argued that a religious test is being applied, unconstitutional or not, and that there is something dubious about this. "It is not who we are," some bien-pensant liberal will gush. But is the test religious?
Bear in mind that Islam is a hybrid worldview: it is as much a political ideology as a religion. The reason Muslims are singled out and subjected to a test for immigration-worthiness and found wanting is not because of their specifically religious views but because of their political views. As ought to be clear by now, Islamic law or Sharia is incompatible with the values of the United States. The state needn't care about anyone's views about abstruse theological questions such as the Trinity, the divinity or non-divinity of Christ, the exact mechanism of divine revelation, etc. But every state has a right to defend itself against subversive elements.
"Is every Muslim a subversive element?" Don't be stupid.
For new readers of this blog, my starting point is the understanding that human brains did not evolve to show us reality. We aren’t that smart. Instead, our brains create little movies in our heads, and yours can be completely different from mine. We see that situation now. Half the country thinks President Trump is well on his way to becoming a Hitler-like dictator. But many other Americans think Trump is an effective business person with good intentions. They can’t both be right.
"They can't both be right." True, but how could Adams possibly know this if the human brain does not "show us reality"? According to the "little movie" in Adams' head, Trump cannot be both Hitlerian and non-Hitlerian. But there is this other guy, Shmadams, in whose head a "completely different little movie" plays according to which Trump can be both Hitlerian and non-Hitlerian.
So I tax Adams with the following dilemma. If he is justified in his claim that "They can't both be right," then our brains sometimes "show us reality" and Adams' theory refutes itself. If, on the other hand, Adams' theory is true, then he is not justified in his assertion that "They can't both be right." Nor is he justified in believing that his theory is true.
But I hasten to add that Adams' silly speculation about the brain and reality in no way detracts from his insights into Trump's modus operandi.
He understands that Trump is a negotiator who opens the bidding with an extreme offer so as to be in a position to dial it back to something reasonable. In this way he manages to mollify, to some extent at least, the extremists on his Right and those on his Left.
Every reasonable person must grant that there must be some restrictions placed on whom to allow to immigrate. Trump will alienate Muslims and leftists but he will also insure that what has already happened in Europe won't happen here.
You lefties need to cool your jets, to use an old '70s expression, and give the man a chance. The stroke you prevent may be your own. The more extreme and thuggish your protests, the more asinine your Hitler comparisons, the more you will discredit yourselves in the eyes of the sane.
Contrary to what Kristol seems to think, America First is a notion sound and defensible and in no way depressing although it is vulgar in the root sense of the word as I will explain at the end of this entry. Herewith, some notes on what America First means, or rather, what I think it ought to mean. I fancy that I am not far from the meaning Trump would articulate if he were an articulate man.
It does not mean that that the USA ought to be first over other countries, dominating them. It means that every country has the right to prefer itself and its own interests over the interests of other countries. We say 'America first' because we are Americans; the Czechs say or ought to say 'Czech Republic first.' The general principle is that every country has a right to grant preference to itself and its interests over the interests of other countries while respecting their interests and right to self-determination. America First is but an instance of the general principle. The principle, then, is Country First. If I revert to America First, that is to be understand as an instance of Country First.
So America First has nothing to do with chauvinism which could be characterized as a blind and intemperate patriotism, a belligerent and unjustified belief in the superiority of one's own country. America First expresses an enlightened nationalism which is obviously compatible with a sober recognition of national failings. Germany has a rather sordid history; but Germany First is compatible with a recognition of the wrong turn that great nation took during a well-known twelve-year period (1933-1945) in her history.
An enlightened nationalism is distinct from nativism inasmuch as the former does not rule out immigration. By definition, an immigrant is not a native; but an enlightened American nationalism accepts immigrants who accept American values, which of course are not the values of the Left.
An enlightened nationalism is not isolationist. What it eschews is a fruitless meddling and over-eager interventionism. It does not rule out certain necessary interventions when they are in our interests and in the interests of our allies.
So America First is not to be confused with chauvinism or nativism or isolationism.
America First is as sound an idea as that each family has the right to prefer its interests over the interests of other families. If my wife becomes ill, then my obligation is to care for her and expend such financial resources as are necessary to see to her welfare. If this means reducing my charitable contributions to the local food bank, then so be it. Whatever obligations I have to help others 'ripple out' from myself as center, losing claim to my attention the farther out they go, much like the amplitude of waves caused by a rock's falling into a pond diminishes the farther from the point of impact. Spouse and/or children first, then other family members, then old friends, then new friends, then neighbors, and so on.
The details are disputable, but not the general principle. The general principle is that we are justified in looking to our own first.
The main obligation of a government is to protect and serve the citizens of the country of which it is the government. It is a further question whether it has obligations to protect and benefit the citizens of other countries. That is debatable. But if it does, those obligations are trumped by the main obligation just mentioned. I should think that a great nation such as the USA does well to engage in purely humanitarian efforts such as famine relief. Such efforts are arguably supererogatory.
One implication of Country First is that an immigration policy must be to the benefit of the host country. The interests of the members of the host country trump the interests of the immigrants. Obviously, there is no blanket right to immigrate. Obviously, potential immigrants must be vetted and must meet certain standards. Obviously, no country is under any obligation to accept subversive elements or elements who would work to undermine the nation's culture.
Suppose you disagree with the enlightened nationalism I am sketching. What will you put in its place? If you are not a nationalist, what are you? Some sort of internationalist or cosmopolitan. But the notion of being a citizen of the world is empty since there is no world government and never will be. What could hold it together except the hegemony of one of the nations or a coalition of nations ganging up on the others?
The neocons tried to press America and it values and ways upon the world or upon the Middle Eastern portion thereof. The neocon mistake was to imagine that our superior system of government could be imposed on benighted and backward peoples riven by tribal hatreds and depressed by an inferior religion. The folly of that should now be evident. One cannot bomb the benighted into Enlightenment.
Leftist internationalists want to bring the world to America thereby diluting and ultimately destroying our values. The mistake of the multi-culti cultural Marxists is to imagine that comity is possible without commonality, that wildly diverse sorts of people can live together in peace and harmony. Or at least that is one mistake of the politically correct multi-cultis.
So the way forward is enlightened nationalism. Trump understands this in his intuitive and inarticulate way.
As for Bill Kristol, his use of 'vulgar' betrays him. His brand of yap-and-scribble, inside-the-Beltway, bow-tied, pseudo-conservatism puts a premium on courtly behavior and gentlemanly debate that is an end in itself and rarely issues in ameliorative action. The people, however, demand action. Kristol is not a man of the people. Trump the billionaire is, paradoxical as that sounds. He is 'vulgar' in a way that Kristol can never be.
[Samuel] Huntington is most famous for arguing in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that the post-Cold War world would not be defined by the universalization of liberal values but by ethnic frictions within nations and civilizational clashes between them (the most volatile fault lines, he said, were between the West and Islam and the West and China). Even more prescient, at least as far as the United States is concerned, was Huntington’s 2004 book, Who Are We?, which described “nationalism versus cosmopolitanism” as the central dividing line in American politics, with immigration as its focal point.
Huntington identified two forms of cosmopolitanism—neoconservatism, popular on the right, which promised to bring America’s values to the world, and multiculturalism, popular on the left, which promised to bring the world’s values to America—both of which he attacked as destructive and unsustainable. The 2016 election campaign was one long demonstration of how right Huntington was, and how blind were his liberal and neoconservative critics who had no idea of the forces building in American politics.
The neocon mistake was to imagine that our superior system of government could be imposed on benighted and backward peoples riven by tribal hatreds and depressed by an inferior religion. The folly of that should now be evident. One cannot bomb the benighted into Enlightenment.
The mistake of the multi-culti cultural Marxists is to imagine that comity is possible without commonality, that wildly diverse sorts of people can live together in peace and harmony. Or at least that is one mistake of the politically correct multi-cultis.
Along comes Trump. Whatever you think of the man and his ostentation, self-absorption, slovenly speech, occasional feel-ups of members of the distaff contingent, and all the rest, he is a powerful vehicle of a necessary correction away from both forms of cosmopolitanism/globalism toward a saner view.
Donald J. Trump, the somewhat unlikely vehicle of a necessary correction. Without course correction the cliff is up ahead to be approached either by Donkey Express (Hillary) or more slowly but just as surely by Elephant (Jeb! and colleagues).
So how does the Left respond? In their usual vile and thoughtless way by the hurling of such epithets as sexist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, racist, fascist . . . you know the litany. According to Chris Mathews of MSNBC, Trump's inaugural speech was "Hitlerian."
The alacrity with which these leftist bums reach for the Hitler comparison shows the poverty of their 'thought.'
Addendum. Tony Bevin writes:
In your post you write:
The neocon mistake was to imagine that our superior system of government could be imposed on benighted and backward peoples riven by tribal hatreds and depressed by an inferior religion. The folly of that should now be evident. One cannot bomb the benighted into Enlightenment.
This is of a mind with Milton Friedman's observation about the Euro. He noted that one cannot impose a common currency that is not supported by a common political will [emphasis added by BV]and gave the Euro 10 years before it became extinct.
I think he (and you above) are correct. Friedman may have only been wrong about the timeline. By the way, the Euro, which consistently traded at about $1.33 is now down to the $1.02-$1.05 range and Deutsche Wealth management expects it to be about $0.85 toward the end of this year. With Brexit, Italexit and other countries beginning to discuss the possibility of leaving the EU, is the beginning of the end near? We shall see.
Oikophobia is an irrational fear of household items, surroundings, and the like. Political oikophobia is an irrational aversion to one's own country, culture, traditions, and countrymen. I suggest we call the opposite political oikophilia, an irrational love of one's own country, culture, traditions, and countrymen. This distinction 'cuts perpendicular' to the xenophobia-xenophilia distinction. Thus,
Political oikophobia: irrational aversion to one's own country, etc. Political oikophilia: irrational love of one's own country, etc. Xenophobia: an irrational fear of foreigners and the foreign. Xenophilia: an irrational love of foeigners and the foreign.
Clearly, one can be an oikophobe without being a xenophile, and an oikophile without being a xenophobe.
Trump Derangment Syndrome takes the form of political oikophobia in many. Glenn Reynolds supplies examples. Here is one:
Ned Resnikoff, a “senior editor” at the liberal website ThinkProgress, wrote on Facebook that he’d called a plumber to fix a clogged drain. The plumber showed up, did the job and left, but Resnikoff was left shaken, though with a functioning drain. Wrote Resnikoff, “He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.”
This created fear: “While I had him in the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that knowledge might change the interaction we were having inside my own home.”
When it was all over, Resnikoff reported that he was “rattled” at the thought that a Trump supporter might have been in his home. “I couldn’t shake the sense of potential danger.”
Here is a second example:
In fact, another piece on reacting to the election, by Tim Kreider in The Week, is titled "I love America. It's Americans I hate." Writes Kreider, “The public is a swarm of hostile morons, I told her. You don't need to make them understand you; you just need to defeat them, or wait for them die. . . . A few of us are talking, after a couple drinks, about buying guns; if it comes to a fascist state or civil war, we figure, we don't want the red states to be the only ones armed.”
“A vote for Trump,” Kreider continues, “is kind of like a murder.” Though his piece concludes on a (slightly) more hopeful note, the point is clear: Americans, at least Trump-voting Americans, are “pathetically dumb and gullible, uncritical consumers of any disinformation that confirms their biases.”
And a third:
And in a notorious Yale Law Journal article, feminist law professor Wendy Brown wrote about an experience in which, after a wilderness hike, she returned to her car to find it wouldn’t start. A man in an NRA hat spent a couple of hours helping her get it going, but rather than display appreciation for this act of unselfishness, Brown wrote that she was lucky she had friends along, as a guy like that was probably a rapist.
Clearly, these three people are topically deranged: they lose their mental balance and the boat of brain capsizes into irrationality when the topic of Trump obtrudes. This is not to say that they cannot negotiate the world sensibly in other ways: they are not globally deranged. Nor is it to say that everyone with objections to Trump the man or Trump's policies and appointments is deranged topically or globally.
The phrase 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' refers to a real phenomenon and is justified by this fact.
Trump admires people who make money. He doesn’t buy that those, to take one example, with Ph.D.s and academic titles could have made money if only they had wished—but for lots of reasons (most of them supposedly noble) chose not to. For Trump, credentialed academic expertise in anything is in no way comparable to achievement in the jungle of business.
Instead, in Trump’s dog-eat-dog world, only a few bruisers make it to the top and the real, big money — the ultimate barometer of competence. He sees the “winners” as knights to be enlisted in behalf of the weaker others. He might not quite say that a Greek professor [a professor of Greek] is inherently useless, and he might not worry much about preserving the ancient strands of Western civilization. But he might remind us that such pursuits are esoteric and depend on stronger, more cunning and instinctual sorts, whose success alone can pay for such indulgences. Without Greek professors, the world can still find shelter and fuel; without builders and drillers, there can be no Greek professors. Brain surgery and guided missiles both require lots of money without which decline is inevitable.
There is an important truth here. The life of the mind is a noble and magnificent thing, and philosophy is the noblest pursuit of them all. The vita contemplativa is an end in itself and the vita activa its handmaiden.
But the spaces of serenity and contemplative repose must be secured by "cunning and instinctual sorts," the rude men who enforce the law and defend us from the barbarians within and the warriors who defend us from the barbarians without. And none of this is possible without the "builders and the drillers."
We intellectuals have a certain amount of justified contempt for the businessmen who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We are disgusted by the vulgarity, ostentation, and ignorance of types like Trump. And they return the 'compliment.' The truth is that we need each other's virtues.
We need a man like Trump in the White House now after the disasters both foreign and domestic perpetrated by an adjunct law professor and community organizer with no experience of the real world whose only credentials are a gift of gab and a dark skin pigmentation.
A good distinction. The Dems used to be pragmatic, but now are ideological. David Carlin makes the distinction and then sketches the ideology of the contemporary Democrat Party:
(1) They [the intellectual leaders of the party] preach a metaphysics: There is no God, at least no God like the God of the Bible; no Supreme Being who created the universe and governs it. And if they sometimes say that they are agnostics, not atheists, their agnosticism is virtually identical with atheism; the two differ in name only.
(2) They preach a theory of knowledge: There is no knowledge other than sense-based knowledge, the kind of empirical knowledge upon which natural science is based. (They pride themselves on their respect for science even though very few of them are actual scientists or philosophers or historians of science.) Thus there is no such thing as Divine Revelation. And there is no such thing as trans-empirical intuitive knowledge – for example, intuitive knowledge of the existence of God, of the immortality of the soul, of the fundamental laws of morality.
Comment: The Dems promote scientism, the epistemology of metaphysical naturalism. The latter, roughly, is the thesis that reality is exhausted by the space-time system and its contents. Scientism is the philosophical (not scientific!) doctrine that all genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge. It is a philosophical doctrine that entails the noncognitive status of all philosophy including itself!
Typically, the proponents of scientism don't see the problems with it; their ideological commitment is dogmatic and uncritical. A particularly offensive example is provided by Senator Barbara Boxer in this brief YouTube video in which she derides philosophy and a philosopher who dares to dissent from the party line on fossil fuels.
(3) They preach a theory of morality, a morality of maximum personal liberty. We should be free to do as we like, and we should tolerate a like freedom in others. Of course certain practical limits must be placed on this freedom if we are to avoid a war of all against all: we should not be free to inflict direct and tangible harm on non-consenting others.
(4) Sexual freedom: While there are many other kinds of freedom, sexual freedom is, so to speak, the keystone of the arch. If sexual intolerance is permitted, many other kinds of intolerance will follow.
Comment: The tendency is to give free rein to concupiscence in all of its forms, without of course admitting that this is what one is doing. Concupiscence? What's that? Do you think that our deep natural concupiscence, excited and maintained by the blandishments of a sex-saturated society, might help explain why the many strong arguments against abortion are simply dismissed unexamined by the 'pro choice' crowd? The existence of a moral issue is not admitted. It is just assumed that the right to an abortion is a woman's reproductive right.
(5) Anti-Christianity: The most influential opponent of the above beliefs and values is Christianity, more especially old-fashioned Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Therefore old-fashioned Christianity must be marginalized, must be driven into a social corner where it can do little or no harm.
Comment: But at the same time, Islam is touted as the religion of peace, and its dangers denied.
(6) Omnicompetent government. There is no problem, not even the problem of controlling the terrestrial climate for the next 10,000 years, that cannot be solved, at least in the long run, by the action of the U.S. federal government. Do we have problems of poverty or crime or education or health or drug addiction or global warming? There must be solution that Washington can find for it – a law, an agency, a spending program, a global treaty, etc.
That the deliberate targeting of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and cannot be justified under any circumstances is one of the entailments of Catholic just war doctrine. I am sensitive to its moral force. I am strongly inclined to say that certain actions are intrinsically wrong, wrong by their very nature as the types of actions they are, wrong regardless of consequences and circumstances. But what would have been the likely upshot had the Allies not used unspeakably brutal methods against the Germans and the Japanese in World War II? Leery as one ought to be of counterfactual history, I think the Axis Powers would have acquired nukes first and used them against us. But we don't have to speculate about might-have-beens.
If I understand the Catholic doctrine, it implies that if Harry Truman had a crystal ball and knew the future with certainty and saw that the Allies would have lost had they not used the methods they used, and that the whole world would have been been plunged into a Dark Age for two centuries -- he still would not have been justified in ordering the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, if the deliberate targeting of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and unjustifiable under any circumstances and regardless of any consequences, then it is better that the earth be blown to pieces than that evil be done. This, I suppose, is one reading of fiat iustitia pereat mundus, "Let justice be done though the world perish." Although I invoked an historical example, nothing hinges on it since a matter of principle is at stake.
This extreme anti-consequentialism troubles me if it is thought to be relevant to how states ought to conduct themselves. Suppose that there is no God and no soul and no post-mortem existence, and thus that this life is all there is. Suppose the political authorities let the entire world be destroyed out of a refusal to target and kill innocent civilians of a rogue state. This would amount to the sacrificing of humanity to an abstract absolutist moral principle. This would be moral insanity.
On the other hand, extreme anti-consequentialism would make sense if the metaphysics of the Catholic Church or even the metaphysics of Kant were true. If God is real then this world is relatively unreal and relatively unimportant. If the soul is real, then its salvation is our paramount concern, and every worldly concern is relatively insignificant. For the soul to be saved, it must be kept free from, or absolved of, every moral stain in which case it can never be right to do evil in pursuit of good. Now the deliberate killing of innocent human beings is evil and so must never be done -- regardless of consequences. On a Christian moral scheme, morality is not in the service of our animal life here below; we stand under an absolute moral demand that calls us from beyond this earthly life and speaks to our immortal souls, not to our mortal bodies. Christianity is here consonant with the great Socratic thought that it is better to suffer evil, wrong, injustice than to to do them. (Plato, Gorgias, 469a)
But then a moral doctrine that is supposed to govern our behavior in this world rests on an other-worldly metaphysics. No problem with that -- if the metaphysics is true. For then one's flourishing in this world cannot amount to much as compared to one's flourishing in the next. But how do we know that the metaphysics is true? Classical theistic metaphysics is reasonably believed, but then so are certain versions of naturalism.
I am not claiming that classical theism false. I myself believe it to be true. My point is that we know that this world is no illusion and is at least relatively real, together with its goods, but we merely believe that God and the soul are real.
If the buck stops with you and the fate of civilization itself depends on your decision, will you act according to a moral doctrine that rests on a questionable metaphysics or will you act in accordance with worldly wisdom, a wisdom that dictates that in certain circumstances the deliberate targeting of the innocent is justified?
An isolated individual, responsible for no one but himself, is free to allow himself to be slaughtered. But a leader of a nation is in a much different position. Even if the leader qua private citizen holds to an absolutist position according to which some actions are intrinsically wrong, wrong regardless of consequences, he would not be justified in acting in his official capacity as head of state from this absolutist position. The reason is that he cannot reasonably claim that the metaphysics on which his moral absolutism rests is correct. God may or may not exist -- we don't know. But that this world exists we do know. And in this world no action is such that consequences are irrelevant to its moral evaluation. By 'in this world' I mean: according to the prudential wisdom of this world. Is adultery, for example, intrinsically wrong such that no conceivable circumstances or consequences could justify it? A worldly wise person who is in general opposed to adultery will say that there are conceivable situations in which a married woman seduces a man to discover military secrets that could save thousands of lives, and is justified in so doing.
Anscombe's case against Truman does not convince me. Let the philosophy professor change places with the head of state and then see if her moral rigorism remains tenable.
We confront a moral dilemma. On the one hand, a head of state may sometimes justifiably act in the interests of the citizens of the state of which he is the head by commanding actions which are intrinsically wrong. On the other hand, no one may ever justifiably do or command anything that is intrinsically wrong.
Of course the dilemma or aporetic dyad can be 'solved' by denying one of the limbs; but there is no solution which is a good solution. Or so say I. On my metaphilosophy, the problems of philosophy are almost all of them genuine, some of them humanly important, but none of them soluble. The above dilemma is an example of a problem that is genuine, important, and insoluble.
Patrick Toner holds that waterboarding is torture. I incline to say that it isn't. But let's assume I am wrong. Presumably, most who hold that waterboarding is torture will also hold that torture is intrinsically wrong. But how could it be wrong for the political authorities to torture a jihadi who knows the locations and detonation times of suitcase nukes planted in Manhattan? Here again is our moral dilemma. I suspect Toner would not 'solve' it by adopting consequentialism. I suspect he holds that torture is wrong always and everywhere and under any conceivable circumstances. But then he is prepared to sacrifice thousands of human lives to an abstract moral principle, or else is invoking a theological metaphysics that is far less grounded than the prudence of worldly wisdom. I would like to hear Toner's response to this.
Some have tried to solve the dilemma by invoking the Doctrine of Double Effect. But I am pretty sure Patrick will not go that route.
A correspondent has just emailed me, completely out of the blue, to tell me that you're a “racist, islamophobe, bigot”. Thought you would like that. 😀
I like it very much except that he leaves out the remaining SIXHIRB epithets: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, and homophobic. But three out of seven ain't bad.
To understand the Left, you must understand that they see politics as war. Von Clausewitz held that war is politics pursued by other means. But what I call the Converse Clausewitz Principle holds equally: politics is war pursued by other means. I wish it weren't so, and for a long time I couldn't bring myself to believe it is so; but now I know it is so.
David Horowitz, commenting on "Politics is war conducted by other means," writes:
In political warfare you do not just fight to prevail in an argument, but rather to destroy the enemy's fighting ability. Republicans often seem to regard political combats as they would a debate before the Oxford Political Union, as though winning depended on rational arguments and carefully articulated principles. But the audience of politics is not made up of Oxford dons, and the rules are entirely different.
You have only thirty seconds to make your point. Even if you had time to develop an argument, the audience you need to reach (the undecided and those in the middle who are not paying much attention) would not get it. Your words would go over some of their heads and the rest would not even hear them (or quickly forget) amidst the bustle and pressure of everyday life. Worse, while you are making your argument the other side has already painted you as a mean-spirited, borderline racist controlled by religious zealots, securely in the pockets of the rich. Nobody who sees you in this way is going to listen to you in any case. You are politically dead.
Politics is war. Don't forget it. ("The Art of Political War" in Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey Spence 2003, pp. 349-350)
As the old saying has it, "All's fair in love and war." And so it is no surprise that leftists routinely proceed by the hurling of the SIXHIRB epithets.
One soon learns that it does no good patiently to explain that a phobia is by definition an irrational fear, that fear of radical Islam is entirely rational, and that therefore it is a misuse of 'phobia' to call one who sounds the alarm an Islamophobe. Nor does it do any good to point out to those who use these '-phobe' coinages that they are thereby refusing to show their interlocutors respect as persons, as rational beings, but are instead ascribing mental dysfunction to them. Our enemies will just ignore our explanations and go right back to labeling us sexists, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic . . . deplorable, etc.
Again, it is because they see politics as a war to the death.
Leftists that they are, they believe that the end justifies the means. They see themselves as good people, as their 'virtue-signaling' indicates, and their opponents as evil people. So why to their minds should they show us any respect?
To ask Lenin's question, What is to be done? One has to punch right back at them and turn their Alinskyite tactics against them.
"But aren't we then no better than them? We are hen doing the same things they do!"
Suppose A threatens to kill B, shoots at him but misses. B shoots back and kills A. Suppose the weapons are of the same type. Both A and B instantiate the same act-type: shooting at a man with the intention of hitting him using a 1911 model .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.
While A and B 'do the same thing,' B is morally and legally justified in doing it while A is not. So there's the difference.
We are defending ourselves against leftist assault, and this fact justifies our using the same tactics that our enemies use.
This helps explain the appeal of Donald Trump. He knows how to punch back, unlike Mitt Romney, Jeb! Bush, and so many other clueless gentlemen who "seem to regard political combats as they would a debate before the Oxford Political Union . . . ."
Excellent background to current developments. I may be missing something, but the subtitle seems poorly chosen. 'Toward X,' like the German Zur X,' signals that the author is for X, that he advocates it. But I take it that Gottfried is against secular theocracy. Call me a quibbler and a pedant if you like. A couple of quotations to whet your appetite:
European nation-states have become "feminized" bureaucracies, heavily staffed by women engaged in feminist politics. States no longer talk about heroic pasts nor evoke the kind of national loyalties that had marked them well into the last century. (128)
No doubt, which is why the defeat of Hillary the Feminizer, she who is so concerned for 'the children,' except for the not yet born ones, is such a theme for rejoicing and thanksgiving this Thanksgiving.
The following passage strikes me as prescient by 14 years:
The by now feared populist movements also feature leaders who claim to speak both to and for historical nations or besieged regionalists, against media-administrative elites. A cult of the leader seems inevitably attached to all such movements, partly related to the emphasis they place on circumventing ordinary party politics and enacting plebiscitary democracy. [. . .] Depicting the opponents of populism as "liberal' and the populists as unreconstructed Nazis or fascists is dishonest and misleading. [. . .] the confrontation that has erupted is not between liberals and antiliberals bur between two postliberal concepts of democracy, one, managerial-multicultueal, and the other, plebiscitary national or regional. (122)
It is as if Gottfried saw the face of Donald J. Trump in his crystal ball back in 2002.
Here is an invited essay of mine at Rightly Considered. I am told that RC is snagging around 2,000 page views per day, which is very good for such a young weblog. It is infuriating all the usual suspects.
My contribution is the first in a series of reflections on the presidential election.
Yesterday, I wrote, ". . . a vote for Trump is not an endorsement of his character, but of the ideas and policies he stands for." To generalize and precisify: A vote for a political candidate need not be an endorsement of his character as a whole; it can be mainly an endorsement of the ideas and policies he stands for.
But then I came across some comments at Rightly Considered that seem to contradict my thesis. There I read something to the effect that on a ballot there is no circle to fill in labelled 'Trump's ideas and policies.' I read that voting is for people, not for ideas and policies.
I beg to differ. Obviously, if you are voting for a candidate as opposed to a proposition, you are voting for a person. But a wise voter does not vote for a person in abstraction from what he stands for, like the conservative grandmother who votes for Lenny the Leftist because Lenny is her beloved grandson, but precisely because of what the candidate stands for.
Thus when I vote for Trump, I will vote for a particular deeply flawed man because of the policies (some of which) he can be expected to promote, policies which are salutary, as opposed to the policies of Hillary which are almost all of them deleterious. I will vote for him despite his character flaws just as, if I were a benighted lefty, I would vote for Hillary despite her even worse character flaws. I would not vote for Hillary because she is a woman, even if I were a woman who agreed with her ideas. The record will show that I am neither.
But you don't have to agree with me that Hillary is worse than Trump character-wise. We should be able to agree that both are on a fairly low moral level. The point is that my wise vote for Trump will not be an endorsement of his character as a whole. I will be voting for the Orange Man as a vehicle for the implementation of policies that will serve the greater good.
So that's the first mistake about voting. It is the mistake of thinking that to vote for candidate X is to endorse the character of candidate X in the main or as a whole. Of course, character comes into it. If I thought that Trump's mendacity extended to his lying about all of what he has promised to do, such as appoint conservative justices for the Supreme Court, then I would probably abstain from the presidential decision.
The second mistake is to think that a vote for Hillary is not also a vote for Huma, and indeed for all of Hillary's ilk and entourage. (Do you want Bill, and Huma, and possibly the texting, sexting Anthony Weiner in the White House?) The mistake is to think that a vote for a candidate is not also, indirectly a vote for all of the people the candidate, if elected, will bring into the government or appoint. Indeed, and even more indirectly, to vote for a candidate is to vote for an entire governing culture which, even if the candidate is in office for only four years, might continue on for decades .
The Hillary Stench could haunt the halls of the People's House for a long time to come.
The more I read Publius Decius Mus, the more impressed I become.
Who is this man? Why does he write under a pseudonym? And what does it say about the so-called 'liberal,' 'progressive' scum who have created a climate in which a person cannot speak his mind under his own name seriously and thoughtfully without fear of reprisal?
Of course, I am making a couple of assumptions. One is that Decius is male. The other is that fear of reprisal explains the pseudonym. Although the assumptions are reasonable, I don't know them to be true.
If anyone has any inside dope, shoot me an e-mail. If you tell me not to post it, I won't.
In general, though, Schopenhauer's advice is excellent: If there is something you don't want known, tell absolutely no one.
This is not an election fought over competing policies but a struggle for legitimacy. A very large portion of the electorate (how large a portion we will discover next month) believes that its government is no longer legitimate, and that it has become the instrument of an entrenched rent-seeking oligarchy.
By and large, I agree with this reading. "America's economy is corrupt, cartelized and anti-competitive," I wrote in August. It is typical of rent-seeking that Lockheed Martin's stock price has tripled during the past three years, and payment to its top management team has risen from $12 million a year to over $60 million a year, while Lockheed Martin's F-35 languishes in cost overruns and deployment delays. Produce a lemon and get rich: that's Washington. It is not a trivial matter, or unrepresentative of our national condition, that the FBI director who declined to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for mishandling of classified material just returned to government from a stint at Lockheed Martin, where he was paid $6 million for a single year's service. I don't know whether FBI Director Comey is corrupt. But it looks and smells terrible.
That's why it was so important for Trump to talk about jail time for his opponent. If things had not gotten to the point where former top officials well might belong in jail, Trump wouldn't be there in the first place. The Republican voters chose a reckless, independently wealthy, vulgar, rough-edged outsider precisely because they believe that the system is corrupt. They are right to so believe; if the voters knew a tenth of what I know about it, they would march on Washington with pitchforks.
"Rent seeking” is one of the most important insights in the last fifty years of economics and, unfortunately, one of the most inappropriately labeled. Gordon Tullock originated the idea in 1967, and Anne Krueger introduced the label in 1974. The idea is simple but powerful. People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by getting a subsidy for a good they produce or for being in a particular class of people, by getting a tariff on a good they produce, or by getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors. Elderly people, for example, often seek higher Social Security payments; steel producers often seek restrictions on imports of steel; and licensed electricians and doctors often lobby to keep regulations in place that restrict competition from unlicensed electricians or doctors.
For the record, I cop to being a “nativist.” I prefer policies that explicitly favor the existing American citizenry, the people born here, i.e., the natives. I’m somewhat impressed that Pethokoukis and his ilk have managed to redefine this age-old, bedrock political principle as radical and “racist.” It’s like forcing people to say the sky is green—a real propaganda feat, at which hats must be tipped in awe. But acknowledging leftist success as blunt force propagandists doesn’t require accepting the underlying lie.
By etymology, a native to a place is a person born in that place. Should immigration and other policies of a nation favor those born there? Of course. That is just common sense. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people must of course be FOR the people, and these people are not people in general but the people of the nation in question. The United States government, for example, exists to benefit the people of the United States. That is its main task regardless of any subsidiary tasks it may take on such as foreign disaster relief.
So there is an innocuous and defensible sense of 'nativism.' It has nothing to do with xenophobia. 'Liberals' know this, of course, but for their ideological purposes they ride roughshod over the distinction.
And of course it has nothing to do with 'racism.'
Some 'liberals' accuse opponents of illegal immigration of being racists; but this betrays a failure to grasp a simple point, namely, that illegal immigrants do not form a race. Is this difficult to understand?
And while we are on the delightful topic of race, let me point out to our liberal pals that Muslims are not a race either. Muslims are adherents of the religion, Islam, and these adherents are of different races and ethnicities. Got that?
So if a conservative objects to the immigration of Sharia-supporting Muslims, his objection has nothing to do with race.
I apologize to the intelligent for making points so obvious; but given willfull 'liberal' self-enstupidation, these things cannot be repeated too often.
Hence my political burden of proof:
As contemporary 'liberals' become ever more extreme, they increasingly assume what I will call the political burden of proof. The onus is now on them to defeat the presumption that they are so morally and intellectually obtuse as not to be worth talking to.
Many liberals are 'threatening' to leave the country should Trump become president. They have their 'escape countries' all lined up: Canada, Australia, France and others. But to where can a conservative American escape if and when his country becomes a culturally Marxist craphole? Chances are good that the destructive Hillary will weasel her way into the White House. Is there some country we can flee to?
You see, we conservatives have nowhere to go. The USA is the last bastion of liberty, limited government, and free speech, not to mention freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Shouldn't there be at least one country on the face of the earth that champions and promotes traditional American values?
Liberals are big on diversity, but only so long as it is politically correct diversity. They have no interest in a diversity of ideas or of types of government.
To all the “conservatives” yammering about my supposed opposition to Constitutional principle (more on that below) and who hate Trump, I say: Trump is mounting the first serious national-political defense of the Constitution in a generation. He may not see himself in those terms. I believe he sees himself as a straightforward patriot who just wants to do what is best for his country and its people. Whatever the case, he is asserting the right of the sovereign people to make their government do what they want it to do, and not do things they don’t want it to do, in the teeth of determined opposition from a managerial class and administrative state that want not merely different policies but above all to perpetuate their own rule.
If the Constitution has any force or meaning, then “We the People” get to decide not merely who gets to run the administrative state—which, whatever the outcome, will always continue on the same path—more fundamentally, we get to decide what policies we want and which we don’t. Apparently, to the whole Left and much of the Right, this stance is immoderate and dangerous. The people who make that charge claim to do so in defense of Constitutional principle. I can’t square that circle. Can you?
James Cambell, a professor of political science, writes,
Thinking Republicans should NOT SUPPORT Donald Trump, but they should reluctantly VOTE for him. On what matters most, and that is public policy, Trump is not nearly as bad as Clinton. Shout that Donald Trump is an idiot from the roof tops and into any microphone thrown in front of you–but then declare a vote for him.
The distinction between supporting and voting for a candidate is not a gimmick. There is a real difference. Support implies a positive assessment. A vote is a choice.
This is close to the view I have been maintaining over a series of posts. But I don't think Campbell gets it exactly right. Here is the way I see it.
Hillary must be stopped. She is utterly corrupt as a person, as is becoming increasingly evident with every passing day, and she is in bad health to boot. And her foreign and domestic policies are disastrous. I cannot in good conscience abstain thereby aiding her. So I must vote for Trump. In doing so, I don't merely mark a ballot; I 'make a statement' and 'issue a recommendation.' The 'statement' is not that Trump is a good candidate, but that he is better than Hillary, all things considered. The 'recommendation' is that you ought to do as I do if you are a conservative.
So in one sense of 'support,' I do not support Trump by voting for him: I do not unreservedly endorse him. I agree with Campbell that there is a real distinction we need to make. The words in which we couch the distinction don't matter. You don't like 'support'? Fine. Wise men do not quibble over words. The distinction can be put like this: to vote for a candidate is not unreservedly to endorse said candidate.
A vote is of course a choice, asCampbell says, but it is not merely a choice inasmuch as it has a certain 'content' as I have already indicated. Marking my ballot for Trump, I express my belief that he is better than his opponent, and not merely better for me, but for the country. I am also tacitly recommending that others do the same.
Trump's recent speeches have been outstanding. The Phoenix immigration speech was just perfect, exactly what a conservative ought to maintain (and not all that different from what Bill Clinton maintained in '95!). So it not as if "Trump is not nearly as bad as Clinton" on policy. He is vastly superior. The trouble with Trump is his self-absorbed and mercurial character. But as events are showing, it is becoming less and less clear that Trump is as bad as Hillary character-wise. He is shaping up, and she is being exposed for what she is.
So far only two posts have appeared, but the effort looks very promising, and I wish them every success. In the premier post they introduce themselves as follows:
We are academics—graduate students, professors, and independent scholars, mostly in, or closely associated with, the profession of philosophy—who are on the political right. Obviously, we won’t always agree with each other on the finer points. We have no specific checklist of positions or statement of faith. But we all generally identify with the tradition of philosophical conservatism that began with ancient sages like Plato and Aristotle, carried on by Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas, continued through Enlightenment-inspired geniuses like Burke, Tocqueville, and the American Founders, up to economic theorists like Belloc and von Hayek and contemporary authors like Kirk, Buckley, and Sowell. At the heart of this tradition is a family resemblance-related set of beliefs that we think uniquely promotes human flourishing. Whatever contradicts or subverts those beliefs not only inhibits human flourishing, but often promotes evil and suffering.
Such beliefs include, but are not limited to, the belief that all human life is intrinsically valuable, and in virtue of that all humans have natural rights, chiefly the right to live and have their life protected, the responsible exercise of individual liberty, and private ownership and management of justly acquired goods. Those natural rights are grounded in objective reality—human nature, among other things—not government. That reality entails a proper order to family and societal structures, as well as gender and sexuality norms. Maximal respect for those rights will almost always involve minimal intrusion, and most matters should be handled at the level of the closest appropriate authoritative body. These beliefs about ordered liberty and decentralization of power, when extended to the market, generate an economic system that creates more wealth and destroys more poverty than any other.
There is little doubt that the overwhelming majority of academics today are leftists, if not militantly anti-right. We are convinced that they, in some form or another, contradict or subvert the aforementioned beliefs (among others), and so, wittingly or not, inhibit human flourishing and promote evil and suffering. But the fact is that leftists are the power brokers of academia today, and so have the luxury of taking their leftist dogma for granted. Publicly questioning leftist dogma often leads to ostracism and discrimination. We’re tired of being pressured to remain closeted conservatives out of fear of ideological persecution and even more tired of seeing countless students influenced by only one side—a side we find highly unconscionable, to say the least.
We, as academics on the right, created this blog to share perspectives on politically related topics and current events that are rarely represented in other academic blogs, or anywhere else in academia for that matter. Some of our posts will be research oriented. Some of our posts will be critical replies and rebuttals. Some will be satirical and comical. Some will be expository and info-sharing. Some will be philosophically exploratory. But all will be rightly considered.
There follow entertaining biographical sketches of the contributors, one of whom is of the distaff persuasion. One cannot fault them for their pseudonyms given how vicious and vindictive leftists are. The proprietor of a certain philosophy gossip site will be tearing out what little hair he has left trying to determine their identities. My favorite bio is this one:
Conservatrarian Conservatrarian has degrees in philosophy from the US and UK. His present interests include politics and topics in applied ethics. He has published papers in academic philosophy journals on topics that anger leftists.Conservatrarian carries a Glock 19 with a 15 round magazine on his hip at all times, so mess with [him] at your own peril.
Attributed to Voltaire. "The best is the enemy of the good." The idea is that one should not allow the pursuit of an unattainable perfection to impede progress toward an attainable goal which, while not perfect, is better than the outcome that is likely to result if one seeks the unattainable.
Here is another formulation, not as accurate, but pithier and replete with trademark MavPhil alliteration: Permit not the pursuit of the perfect to preempt the possible.
Meditation on this truth may help conservatives contain their revulsion at their lousy choices. Barack Obama, who has proven to be a disaster for the country and for the world, was elected in 2008 in part because of conservatives who could not abide John McCain. And he was re-elected in 2012 in part because of disgusted conservatives who fail to heed Voltaire's principle and refused to vote for the milquetoast conservative, Mitt Romney. But surely it is obvious in hindsight that the milquetoast would have been preferable to the radical?
And now we face another ugly choice, this time between the vulgarian Trump and the hard-leftist Hillary. Some will vote for neither or throw away their vote on a third-party candidate. If you are a liberal, I warmly recommend that you vote for Jill Stein.
But if you are a conservative, you must vote for Trump. What is the force of the 'must'? It is at least prudential, if not moral. It is surely not legal. You are not legally obliged to vote in these United States. This is the way it should be.
Politics is a practical business conducted in a far from perfect world. While it is not always about the lesser of evils, in most situations it is, including the one before us. But perhaps we should avoid the word 'evil,' which I have found confuses people. Let's just say that in the real world political choices are not between the good and the bad, but between the better and the worse. Real-world politics is not about being ideologically pure. It is about accomplishing something in a concrete situation in which holding out for the best is tantamount to acquiescing in the bad. Political choices are forced options in roughly William James' sense: he who abstains chooses nolens volens, willy-nilly. Not choosing the better amounts to a choice of the worse.
Now maybe that is too strong a way of putting it if precision is at a premium. After all, if you refuse to vote for Trump, that is not a vote for Hillary since you may vote for neither. But by not voting for Trump, you aid Hillary inasmuch as you fail to do something that you can very easily do that will have the admittedly tiny effect of impeding her in her Obaminable quest to "fundamentally transform America."
I am of course assuming that Trump is better than Hillary. That is easily shown by the SCOTUS argument which has been elaborated by any number of distiguished commentators including William J. Bennett, Dennis Prager, and Hugh Hewitt, not to mention your humble correspondent. The responses to the SCOTUS argument that I have seen are breathtakingly lame. I am not in the mood to go over this ground again. In any case it is time for lunch.
Don't be a fool. Don't let the best or the better become the enemy of the good. Try to achieve something achievable. Don't pine after the unattainable. Impossible dreams are for liberals, not reality-anchored conservatives. It did not surprise me when I learned that Ted Kennedy's favorite song was The Impossible Dream. Figures!
One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.
I agree that it is a bad argument, and for the reason Professor Anderson gives, namely, that if the choice is between A and B, one might vote for neither. Note that Anderson doesn't name any conservative who gives the really bad argument, but if there is such a conservative, wouldn't charity require us to construe 'A non-vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary' as a loose way of saying that not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary?
Surely the latter -- not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary -- is true. Or if not 'surely,' then 'arguably.' I will now try to argue it out.
There are of course candidates other than Trump and Hillary, but they have no practical chance of winning. I guarantee you that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian/'Losertarian' candidate will not be the next president of the USA. So, practically speaking, it will be either Trump or Hillary. Not both and not neither. Now suppose you are a conservative who votes for neither: you refuse to vote for Hillary because she is a leftist, and you refuse to vote for Trump because he is an obnoxious vulgarian and 'no true conservative' or for some other similar reason or reasons. By not voting for Trump you aid Hillary. You are not thereby voting for her, of course, but you are aiding her because you are failing to do something that would harm her in however slight and insignificant a way.
Anderson speaks of the "neutrality of a non-vote." But are non-votes politically neutral?
Consider a simple voting situation. Socrates Jones is up for tenure. He receives five votes against and three votes for, with three abstentions. He's out like Stout. Were the non-votes -- the abstentions -- neutral? Not at all. If the three abstainers had voted for, then Jones would have been in like Flynn. So while it would be absurd to say that the abstainers voted against Jones, it remains true that their abstentions were not neutral. You could say that the abstainers were complicit in the denial of tenure to Jones. They failed to do something which is such that, if they had done it, then Jones would have received tenure.
Or consider a hiring decision, which is a better analogy. It is down to a choice between A and B. A receives five votes, B three, with three abstentions. A gets the job. Clearly, the abstentions are not neutral. If the three abstainers had voted for B, then B would have got the job.
I suppose the neutrality question is the nub of the issue.
My thesis is that IF (i) one is a conservative and wants to see the conservative agenda advanced and/or the leftist agenda impeded, AND (ii) one believes that Trump, as awful as he is, will advance the conservative agenda somewhat and/or impede the infiltration of leftist totalitarianism into every aspect of our lives and institutions, while Hillary will go full-steam ahead in implementation of the leftist agenda, THEN to abstain from the choice between Trump and Hillary is to aid the leftist agenda and to work against one's interests as a conservative, which implies that one's non-voting is NOT politically neutral.
The thesis I am opposing is the negation of the foregoing. If you deny the first conjunct of the protasis of my conditional thesis, then I show you the door, or rather, I don't let you in the door in the first place. If you accept (i) but deny (ii), then we have an entirely different discussion which I am not interested in having at the moment. The precise question in this post is not whether (i) and (ii) are both true -- I assume they are both true -- but whether, given (i) and (ii), one aids Hillary by abstaining. I say yes.
Certain conservatives want to be able rationally to resist the following sort of 'bullying' speech from someone like me:
If Hillary gets in, then we can expect all or most of the following: four more years of illegal immigration from the south; four more years of largely unvetted Muslim immigration, including Syrian refugees; four more years of erosion of First and Second Amendment rights; four years in which Hillary can make 2-5 Supreme Court appointments that will change the complexion of SCOTUS for years to come; four more years of attacks on civil society, the buffer space between the individual and the state apparatus; four more years of sanctuary cities and the flouting of the rule of law; four more years of assaults on the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who stand in the way of the pro-abortion agenda; four more years of exploding national debt; four more years of leftist infiltration of our institutions, four more years of Obama's "fundamental transformation of America," and more.
Now Trump, as awful as he is, is all we have to stop or impede all or some of the foregoing, and there is a good chance he will do some impeding while there is NO chance that Hillary will do any impeding, quite the contrary.
Therefore, if you are a conservative, then you ought to do what you can to stop Hillary; at a bare minimum you ought to vote for Trump. If you do not, you are aiding Hillary contrary to your interests as a conservative.
What is the force of the 'ought' in my conclusion? For present purposes it suffices to take it as a merely prudential ought. It would be imprudent of you, even if not immoral, to abstain given your acceptance of (i) and (ii) above.
But have I really shown that your abstention, given your acceptance of (i) and (ii) above is not politically neutral? It seems to me that I have. By depriving Trump of your vote, and persuading others to deprive him of their votes, you are lessening the number of votes he receives. How can that be politically neutral?
To paint a massive brushstroke, I assume the difference between Europe and America is that in the former the government is seen as a facilitator and provider of peace and security, whereas in the US it seems the individual and the government are at loggerheads, hence the right to bear arms in the Constitution.
Here is the way I see it.
We too think of government as a provider of peace and security. It exists primarily, but not solely, to secure the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property. Government is necessary to do certain jobs that we cannot do by ourselves either individually or in small groups. National defense from foreign aggressors is one such job of the central government as is the securing of the nation's borders. Government at federal, state, and local levels is also legitimately tasked with the domestic defense of the citizenry against the criminal element. And of course there are other legitimate functions of government.
So we Americans also think of government as facilitating and providing for peace and security. We are not anti-government. We are not anarchists. We believe in limited government. Patently, to believe in limited government is to believe in government. But we are aware that government is coercive by its very nature and therefore that there cannot fail to be a certain tension between individuals and groups of individuals, on the one hand, and the government on the other. If you want to say that individual and government are "at loggerheads" you can say this as long as you make it clear that this is true for everyone, American or not, who belongs to a state. And who doesn't?
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals need to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is either mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle, a hustle in the service of personal ambition. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government.
My reader suggests that the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms reflects the fact that in the U.S. government and citizens are "at loggerheads." My counter-suggestion is that it reflects the American love of liberty and self-reliance.
By what right does the the government deny me the means of defending myself, my family, my property, my community, against a range of malefactors running from criminals to terrorists to rogue government agents?
Being a conservative, I advocate limited government. Big government leads to big trouble as we fight endlessly, acrimoniously, and fruitlessly over all sorts of issues that we really ought not be fighting over. As one of my slogans has it, "The bigger the government, the more to fight over." The final clause of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution enshrines the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." So the more the government does things that grieve us, by intruding into our lives and limiting our liberties, the more we will petition, lobby, and generally raise hell with the government and with our political opponents.
If you try to tell me how much soda I can buy at a pop, or how capacious or incapacious my ammo mags must be, or how I must speak to assuage the tender sensitivities of the Pee Cee, or if you try to stop me from home-schooling my kids, or force me to buy health insurance, or force me to cater a same-sex 'marriage' ceremony, then you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it. Think of how much time, energy, and money we waste battling our political enemies, working to undo what we take to be their damage, the damage of ObamaCare being a prime example.
So if you want less contention, work for smaller government. The smaller the government, the less to fight over.
Or do you like fighting for the sake of fighting? I'm Italian: a lover, not a fighter. I prefer la dolce vita to bellum omnium contra omnes.
I stated that the reason for carefully vetting Muslims who aim to immigrate into the USA is political rather than religious. I had several points in mind, one of them being that it is the theocratic character of Islam that renders it incompatible with Western values, but not its specifically religious character. Theocracy is a form of political organization whereas there is nothing in the nature of the religious as such that requires that a religion be theocratic. Theocracy is a political concept. Religious character is -- wait for it -- a religious concept. These are different concepts. That should be obvious. If it is not obvious, argument up ahead!
It struck me as important to make the distinction between the political and the religious because the political reasons for vetting or even excluding Muslims or some proper subset thereof, perhaps the 'Medina Muslims,' are consistent with the commitment to religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. According to this amendment, the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion. Now while the First Amendment applies only to citizens, not to would-be citizens, it expresses a value that is universal in scope, that of religious liberty. The value/right comes first; the amendment merely protects it.
Note also that according to the Article VI of the Constitution, there shall be no "religious Test" for would-be holders of public office. So it is not the fact that Muslims have a different religion than most of us that supplies a reason for carefully vetting them; it is because their religion is a hybrid ideology, a political-religious ideology, the political component of which is manifestly incompatible with American political principles. I hope it is obvious that a totalitarian theocracy is incompatible with limited government.
Canadian philosopher Jacques, however, questions my distinction between the political and the religious. He writes,
What are political grounds? I doubt there could be any kind of political theory that isn't ultimately based in some (implicitly) religious attitude. Consider the very idea that religion and politics are different realms, or should be or could be. It's an idea that Protestants find easy enough to accept, because of their peculiar religious beliefs. People in a Protestant-derived society such as the USA find it easy to accept because they have been shaped by Protestantism. But if Islam is true, there is no such distinction.
I am afraid I cannot agree with this. First of all, it is obvious that at the notional level there is distinction between the concept of the political and the concept of the religious. The distinction holds even if one or both concepts are empty. The first concept would be empty or uninstantiated if there were no states, just people organized in non-state or sub-state ways. But there are, we know, states. We don't know, however, if there is anything corresponding to the concept of the religious. Here are some typical religious 'objects': nirguna Brahman, saguna Brahman, Nirvana, The One of Plotinus, Deus qua ipsum esse subsistens (Aquinas), Allah, Yahweh, immortal souls . . . . Suppose that naturalism is true and that there are no religious 'objects' at all, where naturalism is the thesis that reality is exhausted by space-time and its contents. There would still be a distinction between the political and the religious. They are clearly distinct at the conceptual level. I hope Jacques is not denying the distinction at the notional or conceptual level.
Jacques appears to be claiming that every type of political theory is based in some implicitly religious attitude. That would be false for the political theory of a naturalist. I should think it is obvious that one could have a political doctrine that did not entail or presuppose any religious doctrine. A libertarian doctrine of the state as outlined in, say, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, is consistent with the view that religion is a purely private matter.
Jacques tells us that "if Islam is true, then there is no such distinction" as that between the political and the religious. But surely if two concepts are extensionally equivalent, it does not follow that they are the same concept. To borrow a Quinean example, x is a cordate iff x is a renate, but it doesn't follow that being cordate and being renate are the same property or concept. So even if Islam is true -- God forbid! -- there would still be a distinction between the religious and political character of Islam. And that is all I need for the points I am making.
But if we think about this carefully, we see that there is not even an extensional equivalence. Not every religious item in Islam is a political item. For example, take the following doctrinal item: There is no god but God! Call it Radical Monotheism. Consider it and all its entailments. Among the entailments: God/Allah exists, is radically one, is not a trinity, is radically transcendent of the world, etc. None of these metaphysical propositions has, by itself, any political implication. One could, in all logical consistency, accept all of these propositions and also accept American principles of government. Case in point: Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a moderate Muslim who battles what he calls "political Islam" in A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save his Faith, Simon and Shuster, 2012. My tribute to Dr. Jasser here.
A reformed Islam that is consistent with American values is not only possible but also actual in the case of Dr. Jasser and a few others. So, obviously, the political and religious aspects of Islam can be prised apart. They are distinct. I should add that, while there are a few moderate Muslims, the vast majority are not. These are the ones that subscribe to Islamic law (sharia) and have no intention of assimilating to the West and its values. I am afraid that Dr. Jasser's noble attempt at a reform of Islam is bound to fail. But that is a separate issue.
Probably the same goes for Catholicism (on the most honest and coherent interpretation) and Hinduism or lots of Amerindian religions. It makes no sense, on these various religious views, to isolate some particular realm of human affairs as being just 'political' rather than religious. Just as it makes no sense, on most religious views, to isolate an area that is just 'ethical' or 'artistic' without also being religious. Just as it makes no sense for progressives to isolate an area that's just 'personal' and not political.
With respect to Catholicism, Jacques is on very shaky ground. Jesus himself provides the charter for temple/church - state separation with his "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; render unto God the things that are God's." That saying presupposes for its very sense that the political and the religious are not identical. The saying occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is of course subject to different interpretations, but the Catholic reading is something like the following. Although our main obligations are to God, we also have obligations to the political authorities, where 'Caesar' represents the political authorities of whatever time and place. So of course the political and religious spheres are distinguishable.
And surely it is false that the concepts of the ethical and the religious coincide, or that no ethics is possible that does not rest on religious tenets. This would have shocked old Aristotle whose eudaimonistic ethics rests on no religious bases. There is of course a primum mobile in Aristotle's system, but it has no religious meaning. The Prime Mover, just as such, is precisely NOT "what all men call God." (Aquinas, Quinque viae)
Jacques tells us that progressives or as I call them, 'progressives,' do not separate the personal from the political. But of course they have to, at the notional or conceptual level, if there are to be in a position to say something meaningful albeit stupid such as The personal is political. This is an informative identity claim only if the senses of 'personal' and 'political' are different -- he said with side-long glance in the direction of Frege. On the level of reference, however, it is true that the person is political for 'progressives.' But so what? They're wrong. Jacques concludes:
Protestant theology holds up individualism and autonomy as very important values, ultimately for theological reasons. Take away Protestantism, or some similar theology, and it's not clear why we should care so much about these things -- for example, why we should care that society has some tolerance for religious diversity or a non-religious conception of politics. So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory.
Jacques seems to be saying that there are no non-theological reasons for caring about the toleration of religious diversity. Well, try this reason on for size: We tolerate religious diversity because we do not know which religion is true; nor do we know if any extant or possible religion is true. Given deep and intractable disagreement within religions, across religions, and between religion and anti-religion, toleration makes possible comity (social harmony) and prevents foolish, costly, and sometimes bloody conflicts. There is no need for a theology to underpin this commitment to toleration. Atheists and naturalists have no theology, but that does not prevent them from espousing toleration.
"So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory." I can't agree with this either. Islam itself -- not Islam 'lite,' some Jasserian reformed, de-politicized Islam -- is as much a political ideology as a religion. It is very far from being just a religion. But much of American conservatism is mostly free of religious elements. Correct me if I am wrong, but nowhere in the U. S. Constitution or its Amendments is there any reference to God or to any religious doctrine.
Reading Notebooks 1951-1959 of Albert Camus, I cannot help but love and sympathize with this sensitive, self-doubting, and tortured soul.
Stages of healing.
Letting volition sleep. Enough of 'you must.'
Completely depoliticize the mind in order to humanize it.
Write the claustrophobic -- and comedies.
Deal with death, which is to say, accept it.
Accept making a spectacle of yourself. I will not die of this anguish. If I died from it, the end. Otherwise, at worst, shortsighted behavior. It suffices to accept others' judgment. Humility and acceptance: purely medical remedies of anguish. (p. 203)
Like his hero Nietzsche, Camus had the throbbing heart of the homo religiosus but the bladed intellect of the skeptic: he could not bring himself to believe. Trust in the ultimate sense of things was impossible for this argonaut of the Absurd, as was hope. Thus humility and acceptance could only be for him "purely medical remedies."
And how could he completely depoliticize his mind when the only world for him was this miserably political one? If this is all there is, then all of one's hopes and dreams and aspirations for peace and justice have to be trained upon it and its future. There you have the futile delusion of the 'progressive.' Rejecting God, he puts his faith in Man, when it ought to be evident that Man does not exist, only men, at each others' throats, full of ignorance and corruption, incapable of redeeming themselves.
Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959, tr. Ryan Bloom, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010, p. 177:
The Revolution is good. But why? One must have an idea of the civilization one wishes to create. The abolition of property is not an end. It is a means.
This is foolish. Private property is the foundation of individual liberty. The problem is not private property, but too few people owning property, property they have worked for, and thus value and care about. I include among private property the means for the defense of property against assorted malefactors from unorganized criminals to rogue elements in the government.
Briefly stated, moral narcissism is this: What you say you believe or claim you believe — not how you actually behave — defines who you are and makes you “virtuous” in your own eyes and the eyes of others. Almost always, this is without regard to the consequences of those beliefs, because actual real-world results are immaterial and often ignored.
If you have the right opinions and say the right things, people will remember your pronouncements, not your actions or what happened because of them.
That is moral narcissism.
We see this in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, a moral narcissist par excellence who, rarely revising a half-century-old worldview, trumpets the virtues of socialism with scant reference to the cost of its programs or to its often-totalitarian outcome.
I would add that moral narcissism fits nicely with the denial of objective truth, one of the features of contemporary liberalism. If there is no objective way things are, then all that matters is how one postures and what one says. If you say the 'right' things, the politically correct things, the 'sensitive,' 'nonjudgmental,' 'inclusive,' things, then you are good person whether or not any of it can be expected to work out in reality.
For example, it sounds really good and 'caring' to say that the state should provide free college educations at public institutions for all and to call for an expansion of social services generally. And its sounds 'racist' and 'xenophobic' and 'mean-spirited' to insist on the stoppage of illegal immigration. But put the two together, freebies and open borders,and you get an objective absurdity that cannot work out in reality.
Not to confront this contradiction shows a lack of concern for truth.
Obviously, a sustainable welfare state requires strict immigration control. Or, if you prefer open borders, then you need a libertarian clamp-down on entitilements and social services. One or the other. Reality places us before this exclusive 'or.'
Sanders the socialist thinks he can have it both ways: a massive welfare state with open borders. That is objectively unworkable. Reality will not allow it. But if there is no reality and no objective truth, then no problem! One can say all the right things and posture as virtuous.
And when disaster occurs, you can always plead your good intentions.
I am trying to understand the structure of the problem of dirty hands.
A clear example of a dirty hands situation is one in which a political leader authorizes the intentional slaughter of innocent non-combatants to demoralize the enemy and bring about the end of a war which, if it continues, could be reasonably expected to lead to the destruction of the leader's state. The leader must act, but he cannot authorize the actions necessary for the state's survival without authorizing immoral actions. He must act, but he cannot act without dirtying his hands with the blood of innocents. In its sharpest form, the problem arises if we assume that certain actions are absolutely morally wrong, wrong in and of themselves, always and everywhere and regardless of circumstances or (good) consequences. The problem stands out in sharp relief when cast into the mold of an aporetic triad:
A. Moral reasons for action are dominant: they trump every other reason for action such as 'reasons of state.'
B. Some actions are absolutely morally wrong, morally impermissible always and everywhere, regardless of situation, context, circumstances.
C. Among absolutely morally wrong actions, there are some that are (non-morally) permissible, and indeed (non-morally) necessary: they must be done in a situation in which refusing to act would lead to worse consequences such as the destruction of one's nation or culture.
It is easy to see that this triad is inconsistent. The limbs cannot all be true. (B) and (C) could both be true if one allowed moral reasons to be trumped by non-moral reasons. But that is precisely what (A), quite plausibly, rules out.
The threesome, then, is logically inconsistent. And yet each limb makes a strong claim on our acceptance. To solve the problem one of the limbs must be rejected. Which one?
(A)-Rejection. One might take the line that in some extreme circumstances non-moral considerations take precedence over moral ones. Imagine a ticking-bomb scenario in which the bomb-planter must be tortured in order to find the location of the bomb or bombs. (Suppose a number of dirty nukes have been planted in Manhattan, all scheduled to go off at the same time.) Imagine a perfectly gruesome form of torture in which the wife and children of Ali the jihadi have their fingers and limbs sawn off in the presence of the jihadi, and then the same is done to him until he talks. Would the torture not be justified? Not morally justified of course, but justified non-morally to save Manhattan and its millions of residents and to avert the ensuing disaster for the rest of the country? One type of hard liner will say, yes, of course, even while insisting that torture of the sort envisaged is morally wrong, and indeed absolutely morally wrong. I am in some moods such a hard liner.
But am I not then falling into contradiction? No. I am not maintaining that in every case it is morally wrong to torture, but in this case it is not. That would be a contradiction. I am maintaining that it is always morally impermissible to torture but that in some circumstances moral considerations are trumped by -- what shall I call them? -- survival considerations. These are external to the moral point of view. So while morality is absolute in its own domain, its domain does not coincide with the domain of human action in general. The torture of the jihadi and his wife and children are justified, not morally, but by non-moral reasons.
(B)-Rejection. A second solution to the triad involves rejecting deontology and embracing consequentialism. Consider the following act-type: torturing a person to extract information from him. A deontologist such as Kant would maintain that the tokening of such an act-type is morally wrong just in virtue of the act-type's being the act-type it is. It would then follow for Kant that every such tokening is morally wrong. A consequentialist would say that it all depends on the outcome. Torturing our jihadi above leads or can be reasonably expected to lead to the greatest good of the greatest number in the specific circumstances in question, and those on-balance good consequences morally justify the act of torture. So, contra Kant, one and the same act-type can be morally acceptable/unacceptable depending on circumstances and consequences. Torturing Ali the jihadi is morally justified, but torturing Sammy the jeweler to get him to open his safe is not.
On this second solution to the triad, we accept (A), we accept that moral considerations reign supreme over the entire sphere of human action and cannot be trumped by any non-moral considerations. But we adopt a consequentialist moral doctrine that allows the moral justification of torture and the targeting of non-combatants in certain circumstances.
Now we must ask: Do the consequentialist torturers of the jihadi and their consequentialist superiors who order the torture have dirty hands? Suppose the hands of the torturers are literally bloody. Are they dirty? I am tempted to say No. They haven't done anything wrong; they have the done the right thing, and let us assume, at great psychological and emotional cost to themselves. Imagine snapping off the digits of a fellow human being with bolt cutters or high-torque pruning shears. Could you do that to a child in the presence of his father and do it efficiently and with equanimity? Could you do your job, your duty, despite your contrary inclination? (I am turning Kant's phraseology against him here.) But you must do it because the orders you have been given are morally correct by the consequentialist theory.
Do the torturers have dirty hands? It depends on what exactly it is to have dirty hands whch, of course, is part of the problem of dirty hands. On a narrow understanding, a dirty hands situation is one in which the agent acts, and must act, while both accepting all three limbs of our inconsistent triad and appreciating that they are inconsistent. A dirty hands situation in the narrow and strict sense is an aporetic bind. You must act and you must act immorally in violation of absolute moral prohibitions, and you cannot justify your actions by any non-moral considerations that trump moral ones. That's one hell of a bind to be in! Some will be tempted to say that there cannot ever occur such a bind. But if so, then there cannot ever occur a dirty hands situation. So maybe talk of 'dirty hands' is incoherent.
If this is what it is to be in a dirty hands situation, then a consequnetialisdt cannot be in a dirty hands situation. He is not in an aporetic bind since he rejects (B). And the same goes for those who reject (A) or (C).
(C)-Rejection. A third solution to the problem involves holding that there is no necessity to act: one can abstain from acting. A political leader faaced with a terrible choice can simply abdicate, or simply refuse to choose. He does not order the torture of the jihadi and and hence does not act to save Manhattan; but by not acting he willy-nilly aids and abets the terrorist.
I have the strong sense that I will be writing a number of posts on this fascinating topic. For now I will conclude that if we leave God and the soul out of it, if we think in purely immanent or secular terms, then we are in a genuine aporetic bind, and the problem of dirty hands, narrowly construed, is a genuine one, but also an insoluble one. For rejecting any of the limbs will get us into grave trouble. That needs to be argued, of course. One entry leads to another, and another . . . .
The Trump phenomenon provides excellent fodder for the study of political reasoning. Herewith, some thoughts on the cogency of the 'Hillary is Worse' defense for voting for Trump. I'll start with some assumptions.
A1. We are conservatives.
A2. It is Trump versus Hillary in the general: Sanders will not get the Democrat Party nod, nor will there be a conservative third-party candidate. (To be be blunt, Bill Kristol's ruminations on the latter possibility strike me as delusional.)
A3. Donald Trump is a deeply-flawed candidate who in more normal circumstances could not be considered fit for the presidency.
A4. Hillary Clinton is at least as deeply-flawed, character-wise, as Trump but also a disaster policy-wise: she will continue and augment the destructive leftist tendencies of Barack Hussein Obama. Hillary, then, is worse than Trump. For while Trump is in some ways not conservative, it is likely he will actually get some conservative things done, unlike the typical Republican who will talk endlessly about illegal immigration, etc., but never actually accomplish anything conservative.
With ordinary Republicans it is always only talk, followed by concession after concession. They lack courage, they love their power and perquisites, and they do not understand that we are in the age of post-consensus politics, an age in which politics is more like war than like gentlemanly debate on the common ground of shared principles.
My Challenge to the NeverTrump Crowd
To quote from an earlier entry:
In this age of post-consensus politics we need fighters not gentlemen. We need people who will use the Left's Alinskyite tactics against them. Civility is for the civil, not for destructive leftists who will employ any means to their end of a "fundamental transformation of America." For 'fundamental transformation' read: destruction.
It's a war, and no war is civil, especially not a civil war. To prosecute a war you need warriors. Trump is all we have. Time to face reality, you so-called conservatives. Time to man up, come clean, and get behind the 'presumptive nominee.'
Don't write another article telling us what a sorry specimen he is. We already know that. We are a nation in decline and our choices are lousy ones. Hillary is worse, far worse.
Consider just three issues: The Supreme Court, gun rights, and the southern border. We know where Hillary stands. We also know where Trump stands. Suppose he accomplishes only one thing: he nominates conservatives for SCOTUS. (You are aware, of course, that he has gone to the trouble of compiling a list of conservative candidates. That is a good indication that he is serious.) The appointment of even one conservative would retroactively justify your support for him over the destructive and crooked Hillary.
[. . .]
The alternative [to voting for Trump] is to aid and abet Hillary.
The False Priests are the columnists, media pundits, public intellectuals, and politicians who have presented themselves as principled conservatives or libertarians but now have announced they will vote for a man who, by multiple measures, represents the opposite of the beliefs they have been espousing throughout their careers. We’ve already heard you say “Hillary is even worse.” Tell us, please, without using the words “Hillary Clinton” even once, your assessment of Donald Trump, using as a template your published or broadcast positions about right policy and requisite character for a president of the United States. Put yourself on the record: Are you voting for a man whom your principles require you to despise, or have you modified your principles? In what ways were you wrong before? We require explanation beyond “Hillary is even worse.”
Now one thing that is unclear is whether Murray would accept (A4), in particular, the bit about Hillary being worse. He doesn't clearly state that they are equally bad. He says, "I am saying that Clinton may be unfit to be president, but she’s unfit within normal parameters. Donald Trump is unfit outside normal parameters." Unfortunately, it is not clear what this comes to; Murray promises a book on the topic.
Well, if you think Trump and Hillary are equally bad, then you reject (A4) and we have a different discussion. So let me now evaluate the above Murray quotation on the assumption that (A4) is true.
The Underlying Issue: Principles Versus Pragmatism
It is good to be principled, but not good to be doctrinaire. At what point do the principled become doctrinaire? It's not clear! Some say that principles are like farts: one holds on to them as long as possible, but 'in the end' one lets them go. The kernel of truth in this crude saying is that in the collision of principles with the data of experience sometimes principles need to be modified or set aside for a time. One must consider changing circumstances and the particularities of the precise situation one is in. In fact, attention to empirical details and conceptually recalcitrant facts is a deeply conservative attitude.
For example, would I support Trump if he were running against Joe Lieberman? No, I would support Lieberman. There are any number of moderate or 'conservative' Democrats that I would support over Trump. But the vile and destructive Hillary is the candidate to beat! And only Trump can do the dirty job. This is the exact situation we are in. If you are a doctrinaire conservative, say a neocon like Bill Kristol, then, holding fast to all of your principles -- and being held fast by them in turn -- you will deduce therefrom the refusal to support either Trump or Hillary. Like Kristol you may sally forth on a quixotic quest for a third conservative candidate. Just as one can be muscle-bound to the detriment of flexible and free movement, one can be principle-bound to the detriment of dealing correctly and flexibly with reality as it presents itself here and now in all its recalcitrant and gnarly details.
Conclusion: The 'Hillary is Worse' Defense is Cogent
Part of being a conservative is being skeptical about high-flying principles. Our system is the best the world has seen and it works for us. It has made us the greatest nation on the face of the earth -- which is why almost everyone wants to come here, and why we need walls to keep them out while commie shit holes like East Germany needed walls to keep them in. (The intelligent, industrious Germans were kept in poverty and misery by a political system when their countrymen to the west prospered and enjoyed the fabled Wirtschaftswunder. Think about that!) But from the fact that our system works for us, it does not follow that it will work for backward Muslims riven by ancient tribal hatreds and infected with a violent, inferior religion. The neocon principle of nation-building collides with gnarly reality and needs adjustment.
Murray's point seems to be that no principled conservative could possibly vote for Trump, and this regardless of how bad Hillary is. His reasoning is based on a false assumption, namely, that blind adherence to principles is to be preferred to the truly conservative attitude of adjusting principles to reality. Murray's view is a foolish one: he is prepared to see the country further led down the path to "fundamental transformation," i.e., destruction, as long as his precious principles remain unsullied.
Our behavior ought to be guided by principles; but that is not to say that it ought to be dictated by them.
Rather than say that principles are like farts as my old colleague Xavier Monasterio used to say, I will try this comparison: principles are like your lunch; keep it down if you can, but if it makes you sick, heave it up.
A large part of the appeal of Donald Trump even to those of us who oppose much of his style and substance is that he and he alone appears prepared to fight the Left and fight to win, which of course means using all their dirty tactics against them. He alone seems to grasp that we are in a war, and that civility has no place in a war, except for a mock civility deployed when it is advantageous to do so. The politics of personal destruction has been a trademark feature of the Left since at least V. I. Lenin, and Trump has shown that he is skilled in this nasty art. Case in point: his swift elimination of the gentlemanly but effete Jeb Bush. Poor Jeb went from Jeb! to Jeb in no time despite all the money behind him. One hopes that Trump can destroy the despicable Hillary in the same way.
But surely the politics of personal destruction is a sub-optimal form of politics, to put it in the form of an understatement.
Given that we agree on very little in this age of rage and polarization, are there any prospects for peaceful coexistence? Peter Wehner:
There’s no easy or quick way out of this. It will require some large number of Americans to re-think how we are to engage in politics in this era of rage and polarization. Toward that end John Inazu, an associate professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis, has written Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference.
Professor Inazu’s book explores, in an honest and realistic way, how we can live together peaceably despite our deep differences. He concedes we lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing. But this is hardly the first time. (To take just one example, America in 1860 was far more riven than it is today.)
What is needed is to reclaim what Inazu calls three “civic aspirations” – tolerance, humility and patience. The goal here isn’t to pretend our deep differences don’t exist; rather, it’s to approach politics in ways that takes [sic] into account our constitutional commitments (including allowing individuals to form and gather in groups of their choosing) and civic practices. It is to give people space to live their lives and think about things in different ways. It means accepting our disagreements without degrading and imbruting those with whom we disagree. It obligates us, in other words, to understand what pluralism requires of others and of us. (The requirements we place on others is the easy part; the requirements we place on ourselves is the more challenging part.)
This all may sound hopelessly high-minded to you, eliciting a dismissive roll of the eyes. It’s so unfashionable, so unrealistic, so out of touch. It’s chic to be cynical. Except for this: Disagreeing with others, even passionately disagreeing with others, without rhetorically vaporizing them is actually part of what it means to live as citizens in a republic. (Once upon a time this was part of civics education.) The choice is co-existence with some degree of mutual respect — or the politics of resentment and disaffection, the politics of hate and de-humanization.
Right now, it appears an awful lot of people are embracing the politics of hate and de-humanization.
I am not as sanguine as Wehner or Inazu. We are told that the goal is "to approach politics in ways that takes [sic] into account our constitutional commitments (including allowing individuals to form and gather in groups of their choosing) and civic practices. It is to give people space to live their lives and think about things in different ways."
But precisely here is the problem. The Left will not allow it! They don't give a rat's ass about the Constitution or its commitments. There are leftist scum who now argue against free speech. There are university administrators who either have no understanding of the traditional values of the university, including open inquiry and free debate, or else are too cowed to enforce them. Not to mention the leftist termites among them out to undermine the West and its institutions. There is nothing liberal about these so-called 'liberals.' Furthermore, leftists have no qualms about using the power of the state to erode the institutions of civil society. Disaster looms if the Left gets its way and manages to eliminate the buffering elements of civil society lying between the naked individual and the state. The state can wear the monstrous aspect of Leviathan or that of the benevolent nanny whose multiple tits are so many spigots supplying panem et circenses to the increasingly less self-reliant masses. Whichever face it wears, it is the enemy of that traditional American value, liberty. To cite just one example, the Obama administration promotes ever-increasing food stamp dependency to citizens and illegal aliens alike under the mendacious SNAP acronym thereby disincentivizing relief and charitable efforts at the local level while further straining an already strapped Federal treasury. A trifecta of stupidity and corruption, if you will: the infantilizing of the populace who now needs federal help in feeding itself; the fiscal irresponsibilty of adding to the national debt; the assault on the institutions of civil society out of naked lust for ever more centralized power in the hands of the Dems, the left wing party. (Not that the Republicans are conservative.)
Wehner fails to grasp that the Left is fundamentally destructive of the spaces in which people "live their lives and think about things in different ways." This is why there can be no peace with them.
It is hopelessly naive to think that we can have comity without commonality. There are certain things we cannot be expected to agree on. We will never agree on the purpose of human life or the nature of human flourishing. This is why the Declaration of Independence speaks not of an unalienable right to happiness, but of an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness which includes a pursuit of the question as to what it would be to be happy. But we have to agree on the purpose of government and a small set of core American values. One of them is liberty, which entails a commitment to limited government. A second is e pluribus unum which expresses the value of assimilation. A third is that rights are not granted by government but have a status antecedent to government and the conventional. Does the Left accept these as values? Of course not. The Left is totalitarian from top to bottom. It is anti-liberty. The Left promotes a mindless and destructive diversity. The Left, being totalitarian, cannot brook any competitors, not the private sphere, not private property which is the foundation of individual liberty, not the family, not religion with its reference to Transcendence, not any realm of values beyond the say-so of rulers.
I am not expressing cynicism, but realism. Inazu and Wehner are engaged in a vaporous feel-good sort of preaching lacking any connection with reality. They fail to grasp that we have reached the point where we agree on almost nothing and that the way forward will be more like war than like civil debate on a common ground of shared principles.
Maybe the alternative is this: we either defeat the Left or we balkanize. To put it oxymoronically I have toyed quite seriously with the idea that what we need is the political analog of divorce, not that this is an optimal solution. See my A Case for Voluntary Segregation. I am speaking, of course, of political segregation, not racial segregation. I have to point out the obvious because some stupid race-baiting liberal may be reading this.
I see you're paying attention to current affairs. Very hard on the nerves. I can't do it. I tried to watch one Rep "debate": the most vulgar public display I've ever seen. Do you remember the saying "he who slings mud loses ground"? I think the "contestants" dug themselves mineshaft-deep holes that night. Shameful. Didn't try to watch the Dems, but I can imagine. I'll ask you a question: as citizens do you think people deeply offended by the mudslinging nevertheless have a duty to attend to the political debate and eventually try to make an educated choice (even if it's another egregiously malum minus choice)? Unlike some countries which legally mandate voting (Australia), US citizens have no statutory obligation to vote, but I'll guess you don't see that as exhausting the duties of a citizen.
That is a wonderful saying, "He who slings mud loses ground." I had never heard it before. I shall remember it. A variant occurs to me, "He who digs up dirt loses ground."
An interesting logico-linguistic point that should interest Slim: Constructions of the form He who Fs Gs, while featuring what is grammatically the third-person singular masculine pronoun, are not logically pronominal at all. The use of 'he' in such constructions is quantificational. Thus "he who slings mud loses ground" is replaceable both salva veritate and salva significatione by
For any x, if x slings mud, then x loses ground.
Now on to to Slim's question:
As citizens do you think people deeply offended by the mudslinging nevertheless have a duty to attend to the political debate and eventually try to make an educated choice (even if it's another egregiously malum minus choice)?
After Trump referred to his phallus, praising its size and efficacy, I turned off the TV. So there is no duty to listen to all the mud slung from side to side. But yes, one does have a civic duty to "attend to the debate" in the sense of informing oneself of both (i) what the candidates represent and (ii) their character as individuals. Why? Well, since we have benefited from civil order, we have a moral responsibility to help maintain it and pass it on. It is a question of gratitude, a good conservative virtue.
One ought to attend to both (i) and (ii). I am puzzled but also appalled at the number of Trump supporters who are blind partisans who are either unaware of or dismissive of the man's obvious negatives. They are so enamored of his populism that they are willing to ignore the man's character as if that has no bearing on his fitness for high office.
There is a reason not to go the way of the Aussies and make voting mandatory. As it is here in the USA, roughly only half of the eligible voters actually vote. This is arguably good inasmuch as voters filter themselves. If I were a liberal, I would say that eligible voters who stay home 'disenfranchise' themselves, and often to the benefit of the rest of us. (But of course I am not a liberal and I don't misuse words like 'disenfranchise.')
What I mean is that, generally speaking, the people who can vote but do not are precisely the people one would not want voting in the first place. To vote takes time, energy, and a bit of commitment. Careless, lazy, and uninformed people are not likely to do it. And that is good. I don't want my thoughtful vote neutralized by the vote of some dolt who is merely at the polling place to avoid a fine. And if you force a man to vote, he may rebel and vote randomly or in other ways that subvert the process.
Of course, many refuse to vote out of disgust at their choices. My advice for them would be to hold their noses and vote for the least or the lesser of the evils. Politics is always about choosing the least or the lesser of evils. The very fact that we need government at all shows that we live in an imperfect world, one in which a perfect candidate is not to be found. Government itself is a necessary evil: it would be better if we didn't need it, but we do need it.
I support the right of those who think the system irremediably corrupt to protest by refusing to vote. Government is coercive by its very nature, and mandatory voting is a form of coercion that belongs in a police state rather than in a free republic.
If you think that a higher voter turnout is a good thing, that is happening anyway as divisions deepen and our politics become more polarized. The nastier our politics, the higher the turnout. And it will get nastier still. So why do we need mandatory voting?
Fact is, we are awash in unnecessary laws. We don't need more laws and more government interference in our lives. And will a mandatory voting law be enforced? How? At what expense? Isn't it perfectly obvious to everyone with commonsense that we need to move toward less government rather than more, toward more liberty rather than less? (You may infer from this that Hillary and Bernie lack common sense.)
If you think about it, 'One man, one vote' is a very dubious principle. I think about it here. Voluntary voting is one way of balancing the ill effects of 'One man, one vote.' But isn't voting a civic duty? I would say that it is. But not every duty should be legally mandated.
Seldom Seen Slim has correctly guessed my position: the duties of a citizen are not exhausted by what is legally mandated. One has a moral obligation to stay politically informed, to do one's best to form correct political opinions, and to vote.
We have neo-barbarians at the gate. [In truth, they are already within the gates.] We have little will to deal with them. We are mocked because we have the finest equipment, but no will to fight. The heart of our civilization has disappeared in a relativism that cannot distinguish friend and foe, truth and falsity. Not only do our people not know who they are, but even what they are. We no longer choose to understand families, truth, or polity.
We think now of Caesar as a single popular leader who rules for his own good. John Paul II spoke of “democratic tyranny” in a people who have no internal principle of rule except for what they want as enforced by their own laws. On the Ides of March, 2016, it is well to take a second look at this most famous Caesar, killed on this day in 44 B.C. What things, we should ask ourselves, ought we never to “render” unto him?
I'm enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.
The penultimate sentence needs some qualification, but otherwise Grandmaster Kasparov is enunciating very important truths with the authority of someone who speaks from experience. Kasparov, ethnically Jewish on his father's side, was world chess champion from 1985-1993. He was born Garik Kimovich Weinstein. Jews dominate chess out of all proportion to their numbers. A liberal dumbass would say they are 'over-represented.'
I feel a rant coming on . . . enough blogging for one day.
As far as I can tell, our thoughts on Trump’s unfitness are pretty close, and the way you’ve laid out the matter in your most recent post (Trumpian Propositions) also mirrors my thinking. This extends to the following sentence, which I’ve uttered almost verbatim to friends and family: “we know what Hillary will do, while we do not know what Trump will do.”
Where we disagree – or rather, where I may disagree with you, but am still working out my thoughts and waiting for further developments – is in evaluating the implications of that statement. You take it as an argument to vote for Trump; after all, you say, “[h]e might actually do something worthwhile.” I agree with that quotation as well. It seems to me that HRC will be a terrible President 100 times out of 100, while DJT may only be terrible 98 or 99 times out of 100.
But here’s the problem: I fear that his worst could be worse, maybe much worse, than Hillary’s. He is a thug, or at least often behaves like one (e.g. in his use of eminent domain both in the U.S. and in Scotland) and expresses admiration for thugs (e.g. Putin, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, the Chinese in cracking down in the Tiananmen Square massacre back in ’89, etc.). Trump, it seems to me, wants to be El Jefe, not merely the commander in chief of a Republic, subject to checks and balances and limitations on executive power. (See for example his incredible statement in the debate that he would give illegal orders to members of the armed forces, and they would follow them.)
BV: If we use 'thug' to refer to someone who habitually engages in thuggish behavior, then perhaps Trump is not fairly called a thug. But he is often thuggish, and he clearly admires thugs and thuggish behavior. This is a disqualifier. Lacking self-knowledge, he cannot see this fact about himself. This is another disqualifier.
It is also important to note that much of the admiration and support for Trump reflects a dark side of human nature, namely, the tendency secretly to admire supposed tough guys and 'winners,' and to have contempt for 'losers' many of whom 'lose' because they are reasonable, civil, conciliatory, and concerned for the common good, Mitt Romney being one example. To admire a winner just in virtue of his winning while ignoring the question of the morality of the means to victory is human-all-too-human. It is rooted in our animal nature. In Trump's moral calculus, the worst sort of human being is the loser. This is why the first thing he said in his response to Mitt Romney was that the latter lost.
To the extent that we can ascribe a moral theory to a shallow-pate like Trump, his is the morality of Thrasymachus, if we take that to be the view that it is right and just that the strong should dominate the weak. Might makes right. Success justifies. If the panzers of the Wehrmacht roll into Poland crushing all resistance, then the fact justifies the deed. My power to kill you confers moral justification on my killing you. On the other hand, failure condemns. If you are too weak to win and you lose, then it is right and just that you lose. When Hitler saw that the fatherland was about to be destroyed, his attitude was that it deserved to be destroyed. So he ordered the scorched earth Nero Decree as much to punish the Germans for losing as to prevent useful infrastructure from falling into the hands of the enemy.
In light of this it is easy to understand Trump's mocking of the man with the palsied hand and his reference to Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle. The cripple is weak and less worthy of life. Women are weaker than men and so their claims can be dismissed as products of their weakness. It also sheds light on Trump's assuring us that his sexual apparatus is large and in good working order. For any weakness in that area would detract from his status as alpha male and argue his lack of value. For a man as crude as Trump the measure of a man is the size and rigidity of his penis and the extent of his net worth. Now many a man is concerned with penis and pelf; but few are so morally vacuous as to have no compunction about tying one's worth as a person to such things.
What matters for our latter-day Thrasymachus is to win, whatever the cost. And or course winning is measured in the crudest quantitative terms imaginable. Trump tweeted to a journalist who criticized him, "I get more pussy than you." What matters is quantity of 'pussy,' size of net worth, height of buildings . . . . It doesn't matter that those buildings are casinos wherein people degrade and impoverish themselves.
And notice that he doesn't care that these damning facts are known about him. He is not ashamed to be the crude vulgarian that he is. He is like Bill Clinton in this regard. Nixon, who was brought up right, could be shamed, but not Bill Clinton. "I did it because I could." And like Bill Clinton, Trump has no compunction about lying. It comes as naturally to him as breathing.
And nothing he says has to make sense since it is not about making sense but about winning. So he can make noises as if he is supportive of Christianity even though, by his own moral calculus, he ought to despise Jesus Christ. For the world has never known a bigger loser and more utter failure than Jesus. Humanly speaking, Jesus was a total loser. If that is not obvious, the case has been made most convincingly by Romano Guardini in Jesus Christus, chapter 3, "Failure."
Like Obama, Trump will say anything if he thinks it will get him what he wants. It doesn't matter whether it is true or even makes sense, or contradicts what he said the day before.
My correspondent is worried that Trump's worst may be worse than Hillary's worst. Could be. We just don't know. But we do know Hillary will do whereas we do not know what Trump will do. So it strikes me as reasonable to roll the dice in his favor should he get the nomination. Meanwhile, we should do our damndest to make sure he doesn't get the nomination.
It isn’t clear to me that he’s better than Hillary Clinton, even leaving aside his Napoleonic complex. Is there anything that you know he stands for? He thinks Planned Parenthood is “great”, he’ll let all the “good ones” (Mexicans) back in, likes H1B visas, imported immigrants to work at his resort while rejecting American labor as recently as last July, was for restrictions on the second amendment until about 30 seconds ago, recommends higher taxes on the rich, has advocated torture, opposes free trade, wants to further limit the first amendment, has been playing footsies with the KKK and the white supremacists (the “bad earpiece” try was a joke, as he himself mentioned David Duke and white supremacists in that CNN interview), has a decades-long track record of engaging in crony “capitalism” – and the list goes on and on. I don’t see where he’s better than she is, except on a very few issues where his “conversion” goes back to the instant he decided to run, and which in every case has been retracted or at least undermined by later statements during the campaign. He’s a bullshitter, a bully, and a blusterer, and if you go by his actions instead of his words he’s just another liberal democrat.
BV: There is one thing I KNOW Trump stands for, namely, his own ego. He is all the awful things you say he is. And I agree that it is not CLEAR that he is better than Hillary.
So I just don’t see it. [. . .]
The only possible and meaningful plus I see for Trump is the possibility that he appoints conservatives to SCOTUS. There is no chance that Hillary will do so, but he might. (I’m not absolutely sure about that, but it’s moderately possible.) Maybe that’s a good enough reason. Given that his sister is a pro-choice judge, and given his social liberalism, and given his seeming ignorance of and disdain for the U.S. Constitution (I especially liked his recent comments about judges signing bills into law), the odds of his nominating an originalist justice are iffy at best. But again, maybe that’s good enough. Still: does one elect a liberal ignoramus who might be Mussolini for a shot at 2-3 (relatively) good Supremes?
BV: Hillary is Obama in a pant suit. She will continue his "fundamental transformation of America." Like Obama, she is a destructive leftist. She must be stopped. Therefore, you must vote for the Republican nominee whoever it is. It will be either Trump or Cruz.
I don't think it is right to say that the only good thing Trump might do is appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court. It is a very good bet that he will put a severe dent in the influx of illegal aliens across the southern border. (Forget his bluster about making Mexico pay for the wall.) But we KNOW that hate-America Hillary will do nothing to stem the illegal tide. If anything she'll encourage it because in her cynical eyes they are undocumented Democrats.
A third thing Trump might very well do is stop the outrage of sanctuary cities. But we KNOW Hillary won't.
A fourth thing Trump can be expected to do enforce civil order in the face of rampaging blacks of the Black Lives Matter ilk. These lying scum have targeted the police and are actively working to undermine the rule of law. Hillary is in bed with them. The evil bitch repeats all the lies about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, 'mass incarceration' and so on. And what is most despicable is that she does it cynically for her own personal advantage.
A fifth thing Trump might do is defend religious liberties. We KNOW that Hillary won't. Never forget that the Left is anti-religion and has been since 1789. Part of the reason for this is that the Left is totalitarian: it can brook no competitors to State power. This is why it must destroy belief in God and in the family. The god of the leftist is the State, the apparatchiks of the latter being the State's 'priesthood.'
A sixth thing Trump might do is defend Second Amendment rights. We KNOW that Hillary won't. She is a mendacious 'stealth ideologue' who won't admit that she is for Aussie-style confiscation, but that is what the liberty-bashing bitch is for. She realizes that guns in the hands of citizens is a check on her leftist totalitarianism.
Here is the situation. If it comes down to Trump versus Hillary, then you face a lousy choice between two awful candidates. So you must vote for the least awful of the two. And that is Trump. Alles klar?
"But why not vote for neither?"
The short answer is that the Left is totalitarian. You can't withdraw from politics, because they won't let you. And again, we know that Hillary is a leftist who will try to extend the reach of government into every aspect of our lives. You must take a stand.
Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist and I have loosely referred to him in the same way, violating my own strictures against loose talk. Mea culpa. But of course Sanders is not a socialist in any reasonably strict sense of the term. Not only does he misuse the term, but he also does so quite foolishly since in American politics 'socialist' remains a dirty word. By so labeling himself he insures that he will never be more than a Vermont senator. He is a decent old coot, unlike the despicable Hillary, but in the end a side show on the way to the main event. Practically, then, my question is moot, but theoretically interesting nonetheless.
Sanders recently claimed that he, like Pope Francis, is a socialist. When asked to clarify his meaning, he said the following: "Well, what it means to be a socialist, in the sense of what the pope is talking about, what I'm talking about, is to say that  we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering,  that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth."
I have intercalated numbers to distinguish the two different claims Sanders makes.  has nothing specifically to do with socialism. After all, I agree with  and I support free enterprise under the rule of law. Capitalism is good because it leads to prosperity and the alleviation of human suffering. Capitalism makes charitable giving possible.  has something to do with socialism but it is based on the foolish notion that there is something wrong with inequality as such.
The main point, however, is that Sanders' definition of 'socialism' is risible. Here is a dictionary definition adequate for present purposes:
Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods;
a system of society or group living in which there is no private property : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.
By this definition, Sanders is not a socialist. For he does not advocate government ownership of the means of production, nor is he out to abolish all private property. He needs capitalism to generate the loot that he wants to confiscate and redistribute.
Here it is argued that Sanders would do better to label himself a social democrat rather than a democratic socialist.
While Sanders is not a socialist strictly speaking you could say he is drifting in the socialist direction toward the omni-competent (omni-incompetent?) and omni-intrusive state. So if you value liberty you must oppose Bernie and Hillary and the whole bunch of gun-grabbing, religion-bashing, race-baiting, tradition-trashing, free speech-despising, liberty-quashing, Constitution-shredding, state-worshipping, hate-America leftists.
So if it comes down to Trump versus Hillary, you must roll the dice and vote for the awful Trump and hope for the best.
Another important step is a better comprehension by communities that government is at best a rude machinery, which can accomplish but very limited good, and which, when strained to accomplish what individuals should do for themselves, is sure to be perverted by selfishness to narrow purposes, or to defeat through ignorance its own ends. Man is too ignorant to govern much, to form vast plans for states and empires. Human policy has almost always been in conflict with the great laws of social well-being, and the less we rely on it the better. The less of power given to man over man the better. I speak, of course, of physical, political force. There is a power which cannot be accumulated to excess, — I mean moral power, that of truth and virtue, the royalty of wisdom and love, of magnanimity and true religion. This is the guardian of all right. It makes those whom it acts on free. (from Discourses on War. HT: Dave Bagwill)
Before one is a conservative or a liberal ideologically, one is a conservative or a liberal temperamentally, or by disposition. Or at least this is a thesis with which I am seriously toying, to put it oxymoronically. The idea is that temperament is a major if not the main determinant of political commitments. First comes the disposition, then come the theoretical articulation, the arguments, and the examination and refutation of the arguments of adversaries. Conservatism and liberalism are bred in the bone before they are born in the brain.
If this is so, it helps explain the bitter and intractable nature of political disagreement, the hatreds that politics excites, the visceral oppositions thinly veiled under a mask of mock civility, the mutual repugnance that goes so deep as to be unlikely to be ascribable to mere differences in thinking. For how does one argue against another's temperament or disposition or sensibility? I can't argue you out of an innate disposition, any more than I can argue you out of being yourself; and if your theoretical framework is little more than a reflection at the level of ideas of an ineradicable temperamental bias, then my arguments cannot be expected to have much influence. A certain skepticism about the role and reach of reason in human affairs may well be the Oakeshottian upshot.
But rather than pursue the question whether temperament is a major if not the main determinant of political commitments, let us address, with the help of Michael Oakeshott, the logically preliminary question of what it is to be conservatively disposed. Here are some passages from his "On Being Conservative" (from Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Basic Books, 1962, pp. 168-196, bolding added):
The general characteristics of this [conservative] disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They centre upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be. Reflection may bring to light an appropriate gratefulness for what is available, and consequently the acknowledgment of a gift or an inheritance from the past; but there is no mere idolizing of what is past and gone. What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schoen, but Stay with me because I am attached to you.
[. . .]
To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances.
[. . .]
The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation: these two inclinations support and elucidate one another. The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas; for him there is no magic in being lost, bewildered, or shipwrecked. If forced to navigate the unknown, he sees virtue in heaving the lead every inch of the way. What others plausibly identify as timidity, he recognizes in himself as rational prudence; what others interpret as inactivity, he recognizes as a disposition to enjoy rather than to exploit. He is cautious, and he is disposed to indicate assent or dissent, not in absolute, but in graduated terms. He eyes the situation in terms of its propensity to disrupt the familiarity of the features of his world.
[. . .]
. . . what makes a conservative disposition in politics intelligible is nothing to do with natural law or a providential order, nothing to do with morals or religion; it is the observation of our current manner of living combined with the belief (which from our point of view need be regarded as no more than an hypothesis) that governing is a specific and limited activity, namely the provision and custody of general rules of conduct, which are understood, not as plans for imposing substantive activities, but as instruments enabling people to pursue the activities of their own choice with the minimum frustration, and therefore something which it is appropriate to be conservative about.
[. . .]
And the office of government is not to impose other beliefs and activities upon its subjects, not to tutor or to educate them, not to make them better or happier in another way, not to direct them, to galvanize them into action, to lead them or to coordinate their activities so that no occasion of conflict shall occur; the office of government is merely to rule. This is a specific and limited activity, easily corrupted when it is combined with any other, and, in the circumstances, indispensable. The image of the ruler is the umpire whose business is to administer the rules of the game, or the chairman who governs the debate according to known rules but does not himself participate in it.
[. . .]
. . . the office he attributes to government is to resolve some of the collisions which this variety of beliefs and activities generates; to preserve peace, not by placing an interdict upon choice and upon the diversity that springs from the exercise of preference, not by imposing substantive uniformity, but by enforcing general rules of procedure upon all subjects alike.
Government, then, as the conservative in this matter understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different, and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other's way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection.
[. . .]
. . . politics is an activity unsuited to the young, not on account of their vices but on account of what I at least consider to be their virtues.
Nobody pretends that it is easy to acquire or to sustain the mood of indifference which this manner of politics calls for. To rein-in one's own beliefs and desires, to acknowledge the current shape of things, to feel the balance of things in one's hand, to tolerate what is abominable, to distinguish between crime and sin, to respect formality even when it appears to be leading to error, these are difficult achievements; and they are achievements not to be looked for in the young. Everybody's young days are a dream, a delightful insanity, a sweet solipsism. Nothing in them has a fixed shape, nothing a fixed price; everything is a possibility, and we live happily on credit. There are no obligations to be observed; there are no accounts to be kept. Nothing is specified in advance; everything is what can be made of it. The world is a mirror in which we seek the reflection of our own desires. The allure of violent emotions is irresistible. When we are young we are not disposed to make concessions to the world; we never feel the balance of a thing in our hands - unless it be a cricket bat. [Jim Morrison: "We wnat the world, and we want it now!"] We are not apt to distinguish between our liking and our esteem; urgency is our criterion of importance; and we do not easily understand that what is humdrum need not be despicable. We are impatient of restraint; and we readily believe, like Shelley, that to have contracted a habit is to have failed. These, in my opinion, are among our virtues when we are young; but how remote they are from the disposition appropriate for participating in the style of government I have been describing. Since life is a dream, we argue (with plausible but erroneous logic) that politics must be an encounter of dreams, in which we hope to impose our own. Some unfortunate people, like Pitt (laughably called "the Younger"), are born old, and are eligible to engage in politics almost in their cradles; others, perhaps more fortunate, belie the saying that one is young only once, they never grow up. But these are exceptions. For most there is what Conrad called the "shadow line" which, when we pass it, discloses a solid world of things, each with its fixed shape, each with its own point of balance, each with its price; a world of fact, not poetic image, in which what we have spent on one thing we cannot spend on another; a world inhabited by others besides ourselves who cannot be reduced to mere reflections of our own emotions. And coming to be at home in this commonplace world qualifies us (as no knowledge of "political science" can ever qualify us), if we are so inclined and have nothing better to think about, to engage in what the man of conservative disposition understands to be political activity.
Despite their name, liberals seem uninterested or insufficiently interested in the 'real' liberties, those pertaining to property, money, and guns, as opposed to the 'ideal' liberties, those pertaining to freedom of expression. A liberal will go to any extreme when it comes to defending the right to express his precious self no matter how inane or obnoxious or socially deleterious the results of his self-expression; but he cannot muster anything like this level of energy when it comes to defending the right to keep what he earns or the right to defend himself and his family from the criminal element from which liberal government fails to protect him. He would do well to reflect that his right to express his vacuous self needs concrete back-up in the form of economic and physical clout. Scribbler that I am, I prize freedom of expression; but I understand what makes possible its retention.
Taxation then is a liberty issue before it is a 'green eye shade' issue: the more the government takes, the less concrete liberty you have. Without money you can't get your kids out of a shitty public school system that liberals have destroyed with their tolerate-anything mentality; without money you cannot live in a decent and secure neighborhood. Without money you can't move out of a state such as California which is 'under water' due to liberal fiscal irresponsibility.
Taxation is a liberty issue. That is one thought as April 15th approaches. Another is that the government must justify its taking; the onus is not on you to justify your keeping.
Government exists to serve us, not the other way around.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 101:
Certain rash people have asserted that, just as there are no mice where there are no cats, so no one is possessed where there are no exorcists.
That puts me in mind of anarchists who say that where there are no laws there are no criminals. That is not much better than saying that where there are no chemists there are no chemicals.
Just as there are chemicals whether or not there are any chemists, there are moral wrongs whether or not there are any positive laws prohibiting them. What makes murder wrong is not that there are positive laws prohibiting it; murder is wrong antecedently of the positive law. It is morally wrong before (logically speaking) it is legally wrong. And it is precisely the moral wrongness of murder that justifies having laws against it.
And yet there is a sense in which criminals are legislated into existence: one cannot be a criminal in the eyes of the law unless there is the law. And it is certainly true that to be a criminal in the eyes of the law does not entail being guilty of any moral wrong-doing. But the anarchist goes off the deep end if he thinks that there is no moral justification for any legal prohibitions, or that the wrongness of every act is but an artifact of the law's prohibiting it.
An excellent article by Walter Russell Meade. Study it, muchachos. Yes, this will be on the final.
A revenant is one who has returned from the dead or from a long absence.
Has Old Hickory come back as Donald Trump?
Though I despise contemporary liberalism and leftism (any difference?), that doesn't quite put me on the Jacksonian right. Meade:
Lynch law and Jim Crow were manifestations of Jacksonian communalism, and there are few examples of race, religious or ethnic prejudice in which Jacksonian America hasn’t indulged.
[. . .]
Jacksonians are neither liberal nor conservative in the ways that political elites use those terms; they are radically egalitarian, radically pro-middle class, radically patriotic, radically pro-Social Security.
I am too much of an intellectual, and too much of an old-time liberal, to be a Jacksonian. At the bottom of the Jacksonian bucket are the rednecks and know-nothings. You know the type. The guy who shoots out the windows of a convenience store because he thinks the proprietor is a Muslim when in fact he is a Sikh. He doesn't know the difference between a Muslim and a Hindu because he doesn't read books. He is too busy swilling Budweiser at NASCAR events and tractor-pulls. (He had hisself a coupla Buds but he was none the wiser.)
At the bottom of that same Jacksonian bucket are the jingoists who confuse jingoism with patriotism. "My country right or wrong." And while I believe that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence sense, and all deserve equal treatment before the law, I am no radical egalitarian. I am an elitist, but in the best possible sense of that word. People are obviously not equal in respect of any empirical attribute. You could put it like this: we are all equal before God, equally wretched, but among one another plainly unequal spiritually, mentally, morally, and physically. But my elitism has nothing to do with inherited privilege or blood lines and the like. It is an elitism grounded in talent and ability and the individual's free development of his talents and abilities. True, you did nothing to deserve your God- or nature-given talent, but you have nonetheless a right to its possession and development. If you develop your talents in accordance with the old virtues and become unequal to others in respect of the three Ps (position, power, and pelf), then so be it. Material equality, as such, is not a value.
But if comes down to a fight with vile and destructive leftists, you can bet I will be on the side of the Jacksonian good old boys, locked and loaded. Meade concludes:
Whatever happens to the Trump candidacy, it now seems clear that Jacksonian America is rousing itself to fight for its identity, its culture and its primacy in a country that it believes it should own. Its cultural values have been traduced, its economic interests disregarded, and its future as the center of gravity of American political life is under attack. Overseas, it sees traditional rivals like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran making headway against a President that it distrusts; more troubling still, in ISIS and jihadi terror it sees the rapid spread of a movement aiming at the mass murder of Americans. Jacksonian America has lost all confidence in the will or the ability of the political establishment to fight the threats it sees abroad and at home. It wants what it has always wanted: to take its future into its own hands.The biggest story in American politics today is this: Andrew Jackson is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.