Friday, May 25, 2012

The Tyranny of Cliches by Jonah Goldberg

The Tyranny of Cliches by Jonah Goldberg is an easy, quick, eminently entertaining book. He makes the case that "Liberals cheat in the war of ideas" by using cliches and thereby avoiding any serious argument. A bumper sticker response becomes all that is required to shut down the opposition. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." "The centrist/independent voter" "Hindsight is 20/20." The first is easy to destroy. What if a man is JUST a terrorist and isn't fighting for anyone's freedom? What if a man is fighting for freedom but isn't a terrorist? Are they really as interchangeable as the cliche supposes? The highly valued centrist/independent voter is simply someone who hasn't put any thought into the issues. Besides, where is the assumed "golden" center in many of the issues that we face? Suppose the issue is gay marriage. One wants no gay marriage and the other wants to allow it. Is the holy, morally correct centrist position that we should allow gay marriage every other day, in half the states, in only every other application? "Hindsight is 20/20" usually implies that history has a trajectory and had we been able to see it at the time, we would have been on "the right side." But history has no "right side" or inevitable progression. Only progressives, by their very nature see history this way. The rest of us see history as a set of facts, none of which were inevitable. Goldberg goes on, chapter by chapter, demolishing cliche after cliche.

But first he clarifies a few things. Number 1 - Ideology exists. It's existence is neither good or bad. Everyone with a brain has an ideology, but will not cop to it. Ideology is simply a worldview, a lens through you see the world. We all have certain ideas that we believe to be true and therefore use these ideas to keep from rethinking an issue every time it presents itself. If I believe that life is sacred, I don't have to spend a lot of time rethinking my position on abortion or the death penalty for the most heinous acts of murder every time it comes up. Ideologies help us make sense of the world. Without one, we float in a random morass making decisions with no logical connections  resulting in contradictory outcomes. Generally when someone is criticized for being too ideological, the actual complaint is that the person does not agree with the critic's ideology. Better to admit you have an ideology, know what it is, and recognize that it informs your decisions. Honesty. Imagine that!

Now for the cliches:
1. No Labels. People say, "Don't label me." and "Let's move beyond labels to what works." The problem is that "labels" is another name for "words." Are we really to move beyond words and still be able to have a discussion. Of course we have to label things. If I don't label my spoon a "spoon" will you know what I mean when I point and grunt and make an "eating" pantomime? What people mean really mean is don't acknowledge the truth about my ideas by telling me the truth about my ideas. Let me continue doing what I want to do unimpeded by the knowledge that you know what I'm doing.

2. Dogma. Dogma is treated as an evil that gets in the way of true progress. People are said to cling to their beliefs because their dogma will not allow them to move beyond their stated position. But dogma is simply another word for ideology. We all have beliefs that we cling to... dogmatically! I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. I believe it dogmatically and you will not dissuade me from my belief. That's dogma. It's simply a way we categorize the world into ideas we absolutely believe to be true. If we didn't believe it to be true... we'd stop believing it... right? Without dogma, we sink into moral chaos. I believe that dogmatically, too.

3. Separation of Church and State. This cliche reverberates over and over by the liberal types when anything resembling Christianity makes itself known in the public square. A tiny cross on the seal of LA to commemorate the founding of the city by Spanish monks drives the ACLU to threaten lawsuits, but the HUGE central image of a Roman goddess is not even remarked upon. However, the left is given a pass when pushing for tax increases on the rich in the name Jesus! We are told repeatedly that the welfare state is simply doing what the Bible says, taking care of "the least of these." Social justice was and is a religious crusade begun by those desiring to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Where's the ACLU? Clearly a national state-sponsored Church is a bad idea, but religion is inseparable from life and therefore politics.

4. Power Corrupts. Lord Acton's famous quote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" works as a great cliche to throw at an enemy. No one uses it on themselves or their side. Even when the cliche manifests itself and someone is corrupted absolutely, the fact is overlooked by the supporters of said man. See: Ted Kennedy.

5. Diversity. This great cliche shows up in universities most often. Of course them mean diversity in only the narrowest sense. Diverse diversity would work to the detriment of the desired outcome. One hundred leftist professors is not diverse. One hundred leftist professors, each one exhibiting a different shade of skin color is a University President's dream. Elizabeth Warren alleges her 1/32 Cherokee background makes her viewpoint a valuable addition to Harvard's faculty. The fact that it's not true and therefore, she brought nothing more than a plain old female, leftist viewpoint is irrelevant. As long as everyone thought she represented diversity, the campus of Harvard was that much richer. Even so, actual diversity, actually seems to cause more problems than offer solution in many instances. It helps us avoid "groupthink" but is unthinkable in the NBA. Would the addition of a bunch of one-legged midgets really make professional basketball better?

6. Social Darwinism. This "go-to" cliche is magical, "an alchemist trick that transmogrifies the gold of freedom into the lead of Hitlerism." All things bad can be labeled "Social Darwinism." (Except by the people that eschew labels. They just point, grunt and pantomime Hitlerian salutes.) Since leftists worship at the altar of Darwin, dogmatically, anything negative flowing from Darwinism must be a bastardized version of Darwin, i.e. Social Darwinism. When progressives practice actual Social Darwinism and tried to sterilize the undesirables, this is swept under the carpet. When conservatives promote capitalism as the best way to lift people out of poverty, they are accused of pursuing "survival of the fittest" philosophies and not caring about the poor. Dogmatically.

7. Slippery Slope. All kinds of ideas can be demised simply because they will lead to a "slippery slope." The problem is that there is no such thing as a slippery slope. It is metaphorical. A genuine slippery slope would, in fact, be problematic. Once set upon it, slipping downward is inevitable and unavoidable. Yet real life does not work that way. We are humans, not greased up slides left out in the hot sun. We can, at any time, realize the consequences and reverse course. While it is true that some actions make other actions easier to pursue, nothing is always inevitable. Should I steal a few pencils from my employer, I may find it easier to steal a ream of paper the next time. But I will not inevitably steal the paper. I may find the original theft abhorrent and vow to change my thieving ways. Likewise, the cliche of the dominoes indicates an inevitability that simply does not exist. Even real dominoes, when lined up perfectly, do not fall from beginning to end in perfect order. People are not dominoes. We can and do change our opinion and direction. Every fight is worth having. Nothing is set upon the slippery slope never to be stopped.

8. Dissent. We all heard, ad naseum, during the George W. Bush years that, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."Except when it's not. Dissent of a liberal president is not only, not patriotic, it's downright unAmerican! Dissent in and of itself, has no value. It's value lies in what is being dissented from and why. The lone dissenter may be brave, "speaking truth to power," or he may be a kook. Tying dissent to patriotism is a non-sequitor in any case. Patriotism, a true love of country, could lead one to unquestioned agreement or honest, moral dissent.

9. Social Justice. Just as all things bad can be labeled Social Darwinism, all things good can be labeled Social Justice. No one really has a good definition of what social justice is, but it is unquestionably doing what someone considers good and necessary. Any relation to actual justice is purely coincidental. In fact, actual justice is by definition, NOT social justice. Actual justice would demand that a man keeps what he earns. Social justice demands that a man's earning be taken and given to a favored recipient, who by definition, did not earn the reward. Social justice started as a religious movement meant to point out that true justice may not always be defined by the law. The church wanted to remind people to live their lives justly and not simply legally. Today, social justice means goodness. Therefore to be against social justice is to be for... badness...? And who wants to defend badness?

10. Community. This is a euphemism for government. The community simply bond together to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own. It sounds nice and squishy and the left that worships feelings loves it, but the government is the government. Making the government a squishy, feely entity is an invitation to tyranny.

11. Ten Guilty Men. We've all heard, "Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished." This sounds nice and has a righteous ring to it, making us feel all moral and honorable inside. Unfortunately, it's another cliche used by the left to avoid argument. It is patently false that freeing ten guilty men is better than punishing one innocent man. One innocent man rotting in prison hurts no one. Ten guilty men can unleash a lot of damage on society. Well, it's not meant literally, but as more of a principle. Except is doesn't work in principle either. Innocent men will always be convicted as long as our judicial system relies on humans. If we are to ever punish the guilty, we must acknowledge that the occasional innocent will slip through. The "Ten Guilty Men" philosophy set an impossible standard and therefore makes all punishment out of the question.

12. Living Constitution. One of my favorite cliches to knock down. A "Living Constitution" is nothing more than a "Living Dictator." The reason our laws are written down and not subject to the whims of a living, breathing entity, is because the Founders rightly distrusted living, breathing entities. A Living Constitution is to a real Constitution what Social Justice is to real justice - it's exact opposite. However, the left only uses the idea of a living constitution when it suits their purposes. If the regular, Constitution-as-written supports their side, then the Constitution is no longer living, but set in stone, and they will argue the merits of the wisdom of the Founders to the death.

13. Let Them Eat Cake. Not only does Jonah Goldberg denounce these senseless cliches, he dives into the history and debunks many of the notions surrounding the origins of the cliche. "Let them eat cake" is a case in point. After tracing the history of the statement, it's actual meaning is, "If the common people cannot afford bread, why don't they eat the government mandated sweet cakes?" Of course, mandating that bakers give away food rarely works the way the government envisioned it. There was no cake to be given away. But the phrase is usually attributed to the mentality of the rich, callous, capitalists and their attitude toward the less-fortunate. (The term "less-fortunate" connotes that the rich are fortunate/lucky and the poor, not so much.) Yet if one is looking for the "Let them eat cake" mentality, it is to be found, not within boardrooms that must engage with and please their customers, but in the glitterati and celebrity culture usually found on the left. It is movie stars, not businessmen, that insulate themselves from the little people.

14. Violence Never Solves Anything. Except when it does. All in favor of laws, enforced by police, repeat after me, "Violence may solve something."

15. The Middle Class. This is a fun one. Ninety-eight percent of Americans believe they live squarely in the Middle Class. All politicians appeal to "The Middle Class" because it's an easy way to say "all of you." Actually, to speak of the middle class at all is a Marxian term. Marx divided people into 2 classes, but later revised it into several more. (The term "Middle Class" seems to imply there are at least 3 classes.) But we are not a class-driven society. The reason American all tend to see themselves as the middle class is because we all essentially believe we are all in the same class. That is to say, there are no classes, just Americans. However, in practice, the way the left uses the term "Middle Class" it usually means welfare for the middle class. We must retire this useless term.

16. Science. It's amazing how the invocation of "Science says..." can shut down an argument. Because Conservatives use science for facts and not the interpretation of those facts, they are considered anti-science. But it works both ways. When scientific knowledge points with certainty to the viability of a fetus, it is called an attack on the right to an abortion. When scientific facts seem to claim that stem-cells offer medical breakthroughs, we must go where the science point us. Liberals worship at the altar of science and are just as driven by faith as any radical religious fanatic. They offer "scientific" proof that the earth is warming due to man-made carbon emissions. If a little fudging of the facts is necessary, that's irrelevant. They have overwhelming faith in the global warming thesis and inconvenient facts will not detract them. In addition, liberals are "scientifically" able to prove that conservatives are mentally unstable. Everyone believes that conservative thinking is wrong. Therefore the conservatives who think those thoughts are definitionally irrational. That's not circular logic. That's science!

17. Youth. If the youth are for it, it must be fantastic. Except when they are too young. Then it's just silly. But at some magical point, the youth magically know better than their elders and we are to all stand in amazement at their wisdom. Bottom line: young people are ignorant. It is up to the older generation to pass on the values and wisdom gained through a lifetime of living in the real world. While their enthusiasm is infectious and necessary to continue this American experiment, the youth are not definitionally a force to be worshipped.

18. Ounce of Prevention. Often we will hear that prevention is much cheaper than the cure. This is probably true for an individual, certain to have a particular disease. If I know I am destined to get cancer and spend the thousands necessary to fight it, I would do well to invest in tests and broccoli in order to prevent it from occurring. But, if I will never get cancer, then I am foolhardy to run headlong over the cliff of spending gobs of money on vitamin-rich food. Better to live cancer-free enjoying chocolate. Of course, the problem is, we rarely, if ever, know who is destined to get a particular disease. So we test everyone and make everyone eat their asparagus. But testing everyone can cost more than only treating the few who contract the disease. Sounds cruel and analytical, but the argument being made is an analytical one. The fact is, prevention is better for a number of reasons, most importantly to alleviate unnecessary suffering, but it is not automatically cheaper.

19. The Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is seen as bad on every level and rarely given it's due as a force for good. One particular example is the incessant calling for a Muslim Martin Luther. The thinking goes that the Catholic Church was evil and corrupt to its core. The moderate, reasonable Martin Luther came along and reformed it. A moderate Muslim is required to reform the evil, terrorist entity that Islam has become. The truth is, there are already tons of Muslim Martin Luther's. They, too want to shake up their religion and return it to it's pure roots. They see corruption and defilement rampant within their fellow believers, and are willing to use dramatic means to reform their religion. They are called terrorists. The facts are that Martin Luther was a radical, but the Church was not Islam. The pure religion Luther sought pushed the Church to return to the ideal of love for your neighbor. The Church has been disparaged in other ways as well. The Crusades. The Witch Hunts. Galileo. While the Church has not always lived up to its ideals, "everything we revere about modernity and progress -- education, the rule of law, charity, decency, the notion of the universal rights of man, and reason were advanced by the Church for most of the last two thousand years."

20. Spiritual but Not Religious. A leftist favorite. Religion - bad. Spiritualism - good. Organized religion - a sham and source of evil. Disorganized religion and a hodgepodge of mystical beliefs - highly desirable. Yet, many of the so-called spiritual beliefs which find their way into any good New-Ager's lexicon came right out of the Bible. While the left laments a lack within society of a connection to something larger than themselves, they will fight to the death to prevent a poster of the Ten Commandments from gracing the walls of a courthouse. These people are seriously confused.

21. Understanding. "If we could only just sit and a table and hash things out in a reasonable way, wars would be a thing of the past." The key is UNDERSTANDING! Yet, once again, reality is quite different. The most heinous of wars and killings were between people who understood each other only too well. "Greeks and Turks, North Koreans and South Koreans, Serbs and Croats, Crips and Bloods, Irish and English, Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant, Red Sox fans and Yankees fans; It is almost alway the peoples who understand each other best who have the worst conflicts." Rarely do the Crips execute drive-by shootings in front of the American Society of Engineers. In fact, ignorance seems to play a key role in the love some groups feel for another. We love those starving Africans we see on late-night infomercials. We have no idea whatsoever who they are or how they came to be so impoverished, but we open our checkbooks and the love pours out, but get your brother-in-law, Bob, a little tipsy and the venomous hatred is sure to pour out. Actually, the best way to promote peace is trade. Not understanding. Old-fashioned capitalism. Trading partners do not annihilate each other.

22. Democracy and Unity. Unity only works one way. You be united with me. Why would I be united with you. You're wrong. Not only is unity seen as a cure-all, but the promotion of democracy for the sake of democracy promises to transform the world. Yet pure democracy is mob rule and the Founders rightly feared it. Unity, coupled with democracy inexorably leads to totalitarianism. We vote in our dictators who rid the nation of those who refuse to unify with the rest of us. Minorities have rights. Dissent is patriotic, right? Calls for unity are calls to stifle debate and concentrate power in one group. Unify when a girl falls down a well. Unify when taking an airliner back from a terrorist. The rest of the time - Go Factions! Stand up athwart history and yell, "Stop!"

What a fun and fantastic read this book is! Now I have my antenna up and am ready for all the cliches the left can dish.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The World Turned Upside Down by Melanie Phillips

In The World Turned Upside DownMelanie Phillips self-describes as a non-ideological, agnostic, although traditionally-minded Jew who cares deeply for the survival of Western Civilization. From this somewhat disinterested position, she began noticing that, “Society seems to be in the grip of a mass derangement.” As she saw more and more members of the intelligentsia sharply departing from reality, she sought some kind of connection between the obviously conflicting beliefs held by those in powerful positions. On a first reading, issues such as the war in Iraq, opposition to Israel, manmade global warming, Darwinism, and a host of other “isms” appear to have no commonality, yet Melanie Phillips wrote this book specifically to discover what drives these irrational ideologies.
Her basic thesis is thus: The post-religious Western world is struggling to adjust to a profound loss of moral and philosophical moorings. A consequence of this radical discombobulation is widespread moral, emotional and intellectual chaos, resulting in shattered and lonely lives, emotional incontinence and gullibility to fraud and charlatanry.
She begins by looking in depth at some of these disturbing, disconnected from reality, beliefs, starting with the theory of manmade global warming. After documenting case after case of simply made up “evidence” based on nothing more than wishful thinking, Melanie demonstrates that the theory has now become dogma. The true believers will never be deterred by facts. In fact, the quasi-religious belief system has been sustained only through intimidation and abuse of authority.
She turn next to the opposition to the war in Iraq. What rightfully started with a discussion of legitimate views on the wisdom of invading Iraq devolved quickly into a “Bush lied; people died” inversion of reality. The lie that the Western allies entered into a battle based solely upon the existence of WMD which then failed to materialize in any way, has led to mass hysteria and hatred of those in power. Yet not only did we NOT enter into war for that reason, which Phillips demonstrates time and again with actual facts and quotes, but the components of and the facilities to manufacture WMD were most certainly found. Time and again, the evidence of Saddam’s ability to manufacture and intentions to use WMD made no dent in the irrational belief system.
The next widespread irrational belief involves the history of Israel. Despite it’s historic and continued existence in the land, the conviction that Israel stole the land and has no right to it continues. Not only is the Arab claim to the land of Palestine false, but so is the contention that the Palestinians were expelled. Only when told of the upcoming war against Israel did the Palestinians voluntarily leave. Yet the defeated surrounding nations have kept the people in refugee camps to use a political props rather then incorporate them into their native societies. Israel has subsequently been accused of committing the very crimes of which they, themselves, are the victim. Once again, irrational propaganda flying in the face of facts.
Finally, she looks at the myth of scientific triumphalism, specifically the belief in a universe created, not by a Creator, but by random chance and spontaneous generation. Despite the overwhelming improbability of random chance, or rather because of it, desperate theories like “multi-verses” have been developed in order to avoid a conclusion which includes a metaphysical source. She sums up the irrationality in a quote from George Wald in 1954, “When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved on hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!”
As more and more faith-based, but God-denying, ideas enter society, Western liberals are forces to engage in a secular inquisition towards any dissenters. They do this through social and professional ostracism and legal discrimination. In fact, “progressives on the left believe that their secular, materialistic, individualistic, and utilitarian values represent not a point of view but virtue itself. No decent person can therefore oppose them.” This explains why those on the left do not argue from a position of facts, but rather engage in name-calling.
In the vilification of Israel, Phillips starts to see a common thread. The same people that demonize and ostracize dissenters in the areas of global warming or Darwinism save their most vehement anger for supporters of Israel. “The fact that they were thus allying themselves with Arabs and Muslims who were committed to religious hatred, ethnic cleansing and genocide, and whose whole position rested on demonstrable fabrications and distortions, was dismissed or denied.” All this focus on suppressing dissent or disagreement, Phillips chalks up to psychological projection. When unpleasant realities about oneself exist, they are often projected onto others. For example, real terrorists are never referred to as “terrorists,” that label is reserved for George W. Bush. Projection. Obviously the truth is intolerable and would destroy their whole moral and intellectual identity, thus the mind-bending phenomenon of accusing the victim of the crime.
Phillips then traces the Islamic jihad against Western freedom. These are the people our so-called enlightened ally themselves with. Astonishingly, these are the people, who when called violent terrorists, respond with violence! “Say one more time that I’m violent and I’ll kill you.” Israel is accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing, yet it is demonstrably true that the Muslims engage in these crimes. The Islamists have stated time and again their desire to murder every last Jew, not over land or other pedantic squabbles, but because the very existence of the Jews is an affront to Islam.
Yet it is not only the Muslim world which engages in irrational hatred of Israel and the Jews, rabid anti-semitism can be found openly in Western societies. High ranking officials and intellectuals on the left routinely blame Israel for its woes. In the epitome of incoherency, Israelis have been called “Nazis” and therefore dismissed as pure evil and all of their actions as deriving from this evil foundation. 
What can explain the pure projection and illogical thinking on the part of those who pride themselves on rational thinking?
Here Phillips thinks she has found a link. “There is yet another factor linking these various ideologies of Islamism, environmentalism, Darwinism, anti-capitalism and anti-Zionism. In their very different ways and in very different contexts, they are all attempts to address a spiritual emptiness in the human condition -- and that give them a further common characteristic that moves them away from the sphere of reason altogether, into the province of belief.” 
The left is looking for redemption. They believe we live a millennial age wherein the perfectibility of mankind and life on earth is achievable. Only the left-wing intelligentsia possess the secret knowledge that will purge humanity of its sins and so redeem the planet from capitalism, consumerism the West, science, technology, and mankind itself. As they pursue utopia, they believe themselves to be incontrovertibly good and virtuous. As “the good guys” they are inherently incapable of doing anything but good. In contrast, those that oppose their utopian vision are not wrong, but definitionally, bad. The totalitarianism of the left is therefore actually salvation. As true believers in this godless ideology, they nevertheless require a “devil.” Any opposition to the left serves in this role very nicely. 
Interesting that they abrogate the language of Christianity - sin, guilt, redemption. Perhaps the truth is indeed written on the hearts of humanity. 
We can go back to the Enlightenment and the different paths it took to see the roots of the rejection of God. In France, reason and religion opposed each other and so the French Revolution killed God. In America and even in Britain, religion begat reason and so was inextricably linked. Yet when reason failed in the civilized Europe of the 20th century resulting in mass killings and war, the intelligentsia needed a new god. Reason was abandoned and faith mutated into belief in the state or a myriad other false beliefs.
The rejection of reason and God has led to widespread confusion threatening Western Civilization at its very core. In our tolerance and relativism, we cannot even know what it is we are supposed to be defending! We must accept our own obliteration. In addition, the rejection of God has led to a rejection of all moral authority. As Richard Dawkins put on 800 busses in England, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The fact that those who adhere to Biblical precepts are in fact the ones more likely to be enjoying life, holds no relevance to Dawkins. Of course, these “soft-core” atheists will not admit that the rejection of God necessitates the rejection of moral precepts. They’ll keep the morals they like, abandon the ones they don’t and live off the moral capital bequeathed by Christianity and the Bible. 
We come then to the heart of it. “At the very root of all the disparate secular ideologies under discussion throughout this book lies an attack on religion.”
Yet it is the Biblical worldview that places reason and therefore rationality at its center. Atheism holds that the world materialized from completely random forces an is therefore the product of an irrational source. The believer posits that a rational God with a rational mind created a rational world. It is the atheist that is therefore hostile to reason. Reason and rationality cannot exist in what is essentially a random and irrational universe. 
Only the Bible provides the foundation for modern science. “Science could proceed only on the basis that the universe was rational and coherent and thus nature behaved in accordance with unchanging  laws [and not] to the whims and caprices of the spirit world [found in other, non-Biblically based religions]. A universe devoid of the purpose given by a Creator makes progress meaningless. Yet great Christian thinkers have always held that reason and logic are God’s gifts to us in order that we may understand Him, the universe and scripture. Judaism, which has always asserted an orderly universe “can lay claim to being the most rational of all religions.” Thus the biggest target. 
Countries like Britain are at the forefront of the attack on Western values, values deeply imbedded in and twisted up with the fate of the Jews. Unlike America, Britain created an official Church. As such, the government and the church have become inextricably linked, leading to a fragile church unsure of its bedrock beliefs. The Church of England has increasingly rejected its supernatural foundational teaching, favoring instead the more material and therefore acceptable beliefs. Environmentalism, feminism, pantheism, New Age philosophy replaced the core tenets of the Church and turned it into a sacred “free-for-all.”
Finally the bottom line of this book, “Those who believe that Israel is the historic victim of the Arabs.. typically have a rational, nonideological approach to the world, arriving at conclusions on the basis of evidence. Those who believe that Israel is the regional bully hell-bent on oppressing the Palestinians, and who equate it with Nazism or apartheid, are generally moral and cultural relativists who invert truth and lies, right and wrong over a wide range of issues, and are incapable of seeing that their beliefs do not accord with reality.” Liberal Christians fall into the anti-semitism trap as well. Wanting to deny their own guilt when it comes to the holocaust and other atrocities visited on the Jewish people leads to the same kind of projection the atheists engage in. European and liberal Christians will blame the Jews for their own troubles to avoid having to admit the sins that stain their own souls. 
She ends the book quite pessimistic about the West’s ability to survive its own destruction. It may in fact be too late to return to rationality. Our only hope is a return to Biblical principles and the embracing of the Jewish people who introduced us to the eminently rational God.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan

After having read the original The Road to Serfdom, I was interested to read Daniel Hannan’s The New Road to Serfdom. Written from the position of an outsider, who cares deeply about America’s future, Daniel Hannan offers a stark warning to our nation.  We are in danger of losing all that it means to be America. We are about to betray the vision of our founders and forsake the “most successful constitutional model in the world.”

Thomas Jefferson knew our nation possessed an awesome opportunity to build the greatest country in the history of humankind. We had everything we needed to make us a happy and prosperous people, yet one more thing was required: a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another a, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. 

Hannan praises how well democracy works in America by contrasting it with democracy in Europe. Unlike Europe, voter participation actually climbs from election to election. He marvels at the amount of issues and offices put before the voter in America. We vote on everything! This level of citizen participation necessarily forces the government to pay attention to public opinion. Although we on this side of the Atlantic might lament our powerlessness and the “you can’t fight city hall” mentality, Hannan optimistically points to America as a place not jaded into non-participation and effectively locked out of the process like our European counterparts. 

To discover the genius that is America, Hannan goes back to our founding documents, the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, and compares them to the EU Constitution. The major difference concerns the former’s focus on individual liberty and the latter’s focus on the power of the state. Concerning itself with the regulation of every aspect of life imaginable, the EU Constitution runs 10 times as many words as our own revered document. While our founding fathers worked diligently to separate power between the three branches of government as well as the state, the EU is run by a Commission that serves in both the executive and legislative arenas and is impervious to the ballot box. Unlike America, where power rests ultimately in the hands of the people, the intellectuals of Europe feared the masses and so wrested the power from them. Ironically, America only put into practice what it had learned from Europe. Separation, diversity, and freedom led Europe into competition and eventually dominance in the world. They have since turned inward while America continues to practice federalism, constantly experimenting to find what works best. As we become more nationalized, we lose the advantages of the efficient, more responsive to public attitudes, state competition. 

We are in fact, becoming more European as we hand more and more power and control over to the federal government. While federalism encourages experimentation and economic growth, the real benefit of state power lies in the its ability to prevent the growth of an ever-increasing central state. However, beginning under President Woodrow Wilson the federal government began to expropriate more power to itself. Fashionable thinking held that central planning and nationalization of regulation and standards more efficiently grew the economy. After multiple Constitutional amendments, including one guaranteed to set Thomas Jefferson on edge, the 16th giving Congress the right to tax income, FDR further expanded federal authority. His disciple, Lyndon B. Johnson used his presidency to push the limits of Washington DC well past the boundaries set by the Constitution. The expansion continues today as cries of “DO SOMETHING!” resonate. Unfortunately, once enlarged, the government never shrinks.

Liberals are forever trying to change our society to be more  Europe. They look at the success the welfare state has achieved and assume we can follow the same path. Unfortunately, like Margaret Thatcher said, “Pretty soon you run out of other people’s money.” It has become obvious, that given the conditions after WWII, prosperity was almost unavoidable. But now reality has set in. Europe simply has stopped growing and is in danger of bankruptcy. With Obamacare, America has attempted to follow the European path on healthcare. Yet while many in Europe recognize the massive failure of socialized medicine, it has become entrenched to the point of paralysis. No reforms are allowed for fear of offending the employees of the system. We are moving toward a European model in our welfare. Little noticed was the fact that the Obama stimulus effectively undid the exceptionally successful welfare reform passed under Bill Clinton. Yet the state has created generations of the underclass and destroyed the fabric of society in its attempts to alleviate poverty. Hannan states, “The first generation raised with cradle to grave welfare, to be excused from the traditional responsibilities of adulthood, was also the first to give up on parenthood... church attendance...[and] the social values that traditional morality had encouraged.” We are headed towards Europe in the way we treat immigrants. America was built by and for immigrants and as Reagan said, “Each immigrant makes America more American.” We give newcomers something to believe in. Europe distrusts patriotism and creates schizophrenia in its newcomers as they have nothing to be loyal to in their new land. Hannan urges Americans not to abandon federalism and parrot Europe, for our own good as well as the rest of the world.

Hannan admires America’s position when it comes to our superpower status. He admonishes us to continue to stand apart from the rest of the world and not be a slave to world opinion. America, more than other nations, acts practically and pragmatically, not basing our behavior or fleeting emotions or what sounds and looks good.  As such, we have resisted the siren call of the supra-nationalism that has consumed Europe. We have not signed onto treaties and bodies such as the International Criminal Court which  overturns the precedent set throughout human history of national criminal courts. However, Obama flirted with the idea of giving legitimacy to the ICC when his administration supported the ICC in the pursuit of Sudan’s head, al-Bashir. Since Sudan is not a signatory of the ICC, the implications are staggering. Obama has publicly stated that supra-national bodies have the right to criminally prosecute the heads of any nation in the world! Hannan implores us to retain our sovereignty and eschew the call of international supremacy.

Finally, Daniel Hannan praises Americans for recognizing the danger which face our great nation and rising up in the form of the Tea Party. He commends the conservative think tanks that furnished the conservative movement with a cohesive ideology. Together, these united a substantial number of Americans to act as foot soldiers, bringing the message to their neighborhoods and, most importantly, voting. He follows the history of conservatism from its “blue-blood” past through the rise of modern conservatism cultivating with the Contract With America. When conservatism lost its way under George W. Bush, and was declared dead with the election of Obama, the Tea Party rose and reasserted core conservative values.

Hannan encourages America to revel in our values. Align ourselves with like-minded nations in what he calls the Anglo-sphere. We don’t need to sacrifice our sovereignty, but rather inspire by example, offering our hand to those nations that hold our values. He closes with a “heartfelt imprecation” from a friend, “Honor the genius of your founders. Respect the most sublime constitution devised by human intelligence. Keep faith with the design that has made you independent. Preserve the freedom of the nation which, by good fortune and God’s grace, your are privileged to belong.”