Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I learned so much about Progressivism from the book I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism by Charles Kesler and didn’t even realize it. I just kept referring to parts of the book and the history of Progressivism and forgot it came from here. That’s why I keep this book blog! I want to be able to remember where I read this stuff now in my head!
First, a definition: “This trust in ‘fundamental’ but never final transformations, in continual progress toward an unspecified but ever egalitarian condition of social justice and political wholeness, inspired and guided by visionary and compassionate leaders, themselves inspired and guided by history with a capital H and the entire cosmic process culminating in the growth of the State with its master class of expert administrators -- this is modern liberalism in a nutshell.”
So how did we get to this place? It starts with Woodrow Wilson, our first Progressive president. He became fascinated with Progressivism and the idea of a utopian future while in college. He saw the birth of the modern sciences and the thought that we were capable of applying scientific principles to everyday life proved a large temptation. He began to believe, that with the right leadership and run by the right experts, government could meet the all the needs of the citizens and lead to perfect self-actualization of every individual. Although this sounds creepy to our post-1984 ears, it sounded not only possible, but inevitable to Progressives like Wilson.
He based his thinking on the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel preached the idea of “the end of History.” He believed all of History was propelling mankind forward toward a time which “culminated in wisdom and true morality.” Each successive epoch of History passed on the essential truths it had gleaned which were then incorporated and improved upon in subsequent epochs. “Change” therefore is always beneficial because it is always propelling us onward towards the final destination. Moderation becomes the coward’s way out. Why not push for bigger and more radical changes? They would only get us to our destination that much faster.
Therefore, Wilson pushed the idea of a living and evolving Constitution. After all, if History was pushing us forward, why should we stayed anchored to a document written over a hundred years before his time? In fact, Wilson felt that politiciand owed it to History to, if not rule as an overlord, at least exercise strong leadership to steer History in the right direction. Little noted today, is that Wilson also believed only certain races has the requisite History behind them which enabled them to lead. Oddly enough, it was the Germanic (after all, Hegel was German) race, or whites who thought like Germans who were the best equipped in the Progressives’ minds to lead. Clearly History had left Africa and South America behind.
Even though Wilson lived to see the horrors unleashed by the 20th century, he believed these to be momentary blips in the great march forward. “He clung to his faith that the antagonisms in human nature were being overcome, that selfishness would eventually, inevitably yield to the love of justice.” He believed right would always win and if you won, you must have been right. “Deeply wrought in Progressivism, this confusion of morality with history and this blindness to human nature and natural right would haunt the subsequent waves of American liberalism.”
FDR ushered in new wave of Progressivism. He dropped the Germanic influence, and clothed the vision in solidly American religious language. He “expressed the higher ethical life to which liberalism pointed... in relatively unassuming, vaguely Protestant and vaguely Progressivism terms that could appeal to almost everyone.” He even changed the label from Progressivism to liberal so as to connect back to the founding rather than seek to disassociate from it as Wilson tried to do. FDR was a political genius at selling revolutionary Progressive ideas wrapped in mantle of traditionalism. Wilson completely rewrote the description of the Executive and FDR put it into practice claiming, “We are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.”
At the end of his long tenure in office, (he eschewed the precedent set by Washington to limit himself to two terms in office to avoid the whiff of monarchy) FDR boldly proclaimed a “Second Bill of Rights”. Once again availing himself of familiar language and insisting these new “rights” were self-evident, Roosevelt promoted the right to a “useful and remunerative job”, “adequate food and clothing”, the rights of farmers to sell and raise crops at a guaranteed profit, the right of businessmen to profit as well, the right to a home and medical care. Despite the internal contradictions and the not-quite-self-evident part of who will guarantee these rights and where do they come from, they have found their way into our language and laws today. Unlike our original Bill of Rights, these “rights” come with an extremely high price tag. They eat up the lion’s share of our Federal budget today and are toppling nations around the world.
When the liberal agenda began to crack up in the sixties, LBJ entered with a whole new wave of liberalism which he called “The Great Society.” “The Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.” Government would finally give ordinary citizen’s lives meaning. How creepy and totalitarian. But he set out to do just that. Knowing the work would never be completed, but with liberals in charge he knew we would move ever closer to heaven on earth.
Unfortunately, heaven did not materialize exactly how LBJ envisioned it. With the War on Poverty ramping up, agitation began for more and more benefits. After passing the Voting Rights Act, and officially ending the struggle for civil rights, the ante was upped to include not only equal opportunities, but equal outcomes. The cultural wars soon followed with the abolishment of prayer in schools and the legalization of abortion. Self-government became passé and poverty got worse. With the failure of The New Deal and now The Great Society to fundamentally change society and human nature for the better, liberals began to become more radical, trusting government less, but at the same time insisting on a larger and larger government to solve societies ill with no limits on where it could intrude. After all, this generation adopted the slogan, “If it feels good, do it.” They became unmoored from any philosophical underpinnings but rather resorted to their feelings as justification for more programs.
Enter Obama, channeling the three great Progressives before him, Wilson, FDR, and LBJ. Obama promised the old Progressive hope of change, and hope in change. He dangled dreams ofa bright future so close we could almost taste it, if we only had the vision and courage to dream along with him. He left nothing to refute for he promised to magically convert the obstacles into stepping stones and lead all the world into a beautiful tomorrow.
Herein lies the crisis mentioned in the subtitle. Progressivism has failed to deliver. Despite all the Progressive reforms and programs most Americans believe we are clearly on the wrong track. Most Americans look back to a time of true community and basic civility. We are farther away from the envisioned utopia than anyone can remember. Liberalism is looking old and tired and discredited. The modern welfare state is imploding. “If communism, armed with millions of troops and thousands of megatons of nuclear weapons could collapse of its own deadweight and implausibility, why not American liberalism?”
“Liberals’ confidence in being on the right, the winning side of history could crumble, perhaps has already begun to crumble. Thrust in government, which really means the State, is at all-time lows.” We may soon begin to see the danger of following the Great Leader into a never-quite-attained future utopia. Maybe.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
George Gilder may be the most brilliant man I have ever read. Even though I struggled with “Speaking of George Gilder,” which was a book quoting him, this book by him is absolutely brilliant. I may have to buy it.
Gilder has written “a revised and expanded edition of Sexual Suicide” which he wrote in 1973. The revised version of the book now titled, “Men and Marriage” was written in 1986. It may as well have been written yesterday. It’s insights are so relevant and apropos of today’s issues, I couldn’t put it down.
The preface begins with this stunning declaration, “the differences between the sexes are the single most important fact of human society. The drive to deny them -- in the name of women’s liberation, marital openness, sexual equality, erotic consumption, or homosexual romanticism -- must be one of the most quixotic crusades in the history of the species.” The rest of the book strives to support such a powerful and politically incorrect thesis.
It starts with the basics of biology. “Male sexuality remains a paramount fact of life and the chief challenge to civilized society and democratic politics.” Men, left alone, are the naked nomads Guilder previously wrote about. We deny this fact at our own peril. The essential truth is that all of civilization exists to bring male impulsivity under the subordination of the female long-term horizons. Because women bear the children and are responsible for the well-being of the child for many years thereafter, she demands that a man commit to her, take care of her, and provide for her. If he wants legitimate children of his own, he must subdue his barbarian nature and begin thinking of the long-term future. He discovers love. Love, in turn, offers depth, companionship, and loyalty.
Human civilization began as a group of hunters and gatherers. This pattern fit most naturally with males from every society. Yet it appears that women helped in the push towards a more agriculture society which better fit their biology and long-term thinking. However, this led to the central question every people group now faces, what to do with the men?
For the least civilized groups, men participated in ritual, hunting parties, or warfare to live out their masculine impetuousness. But the industrial revolution changed that and demanded men prove they could support a family based on economic worth. Men’s energy became channeled into “work, initiative, love, and responsibility for a wife and children.” Modern society therefore became highly dependent on the institution of marriage to both civilize and properly focus the male nature, to “tame the barbarians.”
Women set the parameters. “If [a man] finds work that affirms his manhood and a girl who demands that his sexuality succumb to hers, he is likely to become a valuable and constructive citizen.” If he cannot find these things, he becomes a anathema to civilized society, with a great ability to wreak havoc. However, as women enter the workforce and compete with men for jobs and money, the ability of a man to find a good job and a girl willing to marry him and bear his children diminishes greatly.
Liberation movements today have led to disaster. As women are pushed into the workforce, they often find men higher up the economic ladder to marry. Left behind are those young men just starting out. Women do not marry down. We begin to trade monogamy for serial marriages as older men succumb to the young women in their prime. Older women and younger men are left out. But even these princesses are trapped in a web of their own making. They know they too will be left behind in a few short years. They feel the weight of being used as a trophy. “The removal of restrictions on sexual activity does not bring equality and community. It brings ever more vicious sexual competition.”
We devolve from monogamy, essentially “one to a customer” to a form of polygamy. The beautiful balance of monogamy is destroyed as people are free to act on their covetousness and lusts, trading one partner for another, leaving devastated families in the wake.
Yet those left behind single young men will get their revenge. “Violence and crime join with mental illness, mild neurosis, depression, addiction, AIDS, institutionalization, poverty, unemployment, and nightmares to comprise the specialized culture of single men in America.” Finally, we see the correlation between break down of marriage and homosexuality. Homosexuality provides the ultimate male escape from the drudgery of women and family and responsibility. They are free to live hedonistic, unattached lives of impetuousness. Without the women willing to tame the men and give them long-term horizons, “civilized societies break down in to polygynous and homosexual formations, with related outbreaks of feminism and pornography.” To see what this looks like, we need only look to the ghetto where welfare and poverty programs have driven men out of the home as they become increasingly replaced by a check.
“The national elites remain largely incapable of offering programs of communal affirmation and male socialization that would in any way reduce crime, violence, and narcotic escapism, divorce, abandonment, and sexual disorder... Liberals would make the problems far worse by subsidizing them... But many conservative men are little better. Lacking the guts to rebuff the upper-class feminist ladies, they go along with most of the feminist agenda.”
We make the problem worse the more barriers we destroy between male and female roles. We have made all education coeducational despite it’s noticeable failure to produce better results. We put women in the military, despite thousands of years of received wisdom to protect women as bearers of future generations. Women displace men in the workforce creating a state of suspicion and resentment as women fight imaginary “discrimination” and demand “equal pay for comparative worth.” (who decides which jobs have “comparative worth”?)
“The provider role of men not only gives the society the benefit of a lifetime of hard work oriented toward long-term goals. It also channels and disciplines male energies and aggressions that otherwise turn against that society. By contrast, full-time work by mothers of small children comes at a serious ... cost.”
Today, we have a society run by the social scientists. Anthropologists inform us that patriarchy, religion, and private property are universal to all human societies. The rare tribes that eschew any one of these characteristics fail to thrive over time. Yet one tribe is “so abjectly retarded, or so mystically impervious to its own nature, that it simultaneously rejects and tries to abolish all three of these human characteristics -- sex role, religions, and property rights.” That would be the tribe of social scientists.
From all of this, we can conclude: “The different roles of men and women, the love that arises from them, the allegiance to one’s own family, the worship of God, the possession and improvement of property, the production of wealth, the cultivation of excellence and beauty, the competitive masculine rituals of sport and play, the emergence of loyalty to kin and community, church and country are all among the highest values of human life. Because they spring from human reality, they can be fulfilled in ordered freedom in a democratic society. Achieving economic planning, income equality, bureaucratic rationality, and sexual liberation... requires a totalitarian state.”
The Left, in trying to undo nature itself, is at heart totalitarian. Oh to live life the way God intended, adhering to healthy sex roles, worshiping something outside ourselves, and delighting in honest, value-creating labor! What a different world that would be.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
I may have to buy The Great Partnership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I almost never buy books, but I could have highlighted this whole book.
He states, “I want, in this book, to argue that we need both religion and science; that they are compatible and more than compatible. They are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. The creative tension between the two is what keeps us sane, grounded in physical reality without losing our spiritual sensibility. It keeps us human and humane.”
Throughout the book he repeats his central mantra, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.”
Part one of the book begins with, "God and the Search for Meaning". We are, definitionally, meaning-seeking animals. Only humans, above all other creatures, driven by curiosity, ask, “Why?” This curiosity leads to science and science “leads to questions unanswerable by science.” These questions lead to God. Without a creator God who stands outside the universe wishing to bring it into being for what can only be because He wanted to and for only one compelling reason, because He loves us, we cannot we find meaning. Without God existence is a cruel, meaningless joke. “The meaning of a system lies outside the system. Therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe.”
Can we prove there is a God scientifically? No. But many fundamental beliefs we hold cannot be proven. In fact, science itself rests on the faith that “God does not play dice with the universe.” For science to exist at all, it must take as a matter of faith that the laws of the universe which it seeks to unveil are unchanging and immutable.
So how do we “find God” if He does not exist in the material realm? Sacks begins with a story of a poor man in India who met another poor soul, yet something about the stranger indicated he had been in the presence of greatness. Sacks began looking for God in people in whom he had seen the imprint of God.
He came to this conclusion, “Everything I have learned about faith in a lifetime tells me that the science of creation -- cosmology -- wondrous though it is, takes second place to the sheer wonder that God could take this risk of creating a creature with the freedom to disobey him and wreck his world. There is no faith humans can have in God equal to the faith God must have had in humankind to place us here as the guardians of the vastness and splendor of the universe. We exist because of God’s faith in us. That is why I see in the faces of those I meet a trace of God’s love that lifts me to try to love a little as God loves... God lives wherever we open our eyes to his radiance, our hearts to his transforming love.”
Part 2 of his book begins, “Why It Matters”. “The absence of God, when consistently upheld and throughly examined, spells the ruin of man in the sense that it demolishes or robs of meaning every we have been used to think of as the essence of being human...” (Leszek Kolakowski) Civilizations end with a whimper and can die so slowly very few notice. But without God, they will surely die.
Sacks states five imperceptible, yet inexorable changes within society with the death of God:
- Loss of belief in human dignity and sanctity of life - people become vulnerable and alone.
- Loss of the societal covenant which believes we have a collective responsibility to each other - replaced by contract with the government as the supplier.
- Loss of morality - words like duty, obligation, honor, integrity, loyalty and trust are lost. Why do the “right” thing if there is no obvious reward?
- Loss of marriage - relationships are no longer holy and consecrated lifelong commitments.
- Loss of the possibility of a meaningful life - no calling or mission or purpose, no reason at all for my existence.
The author goes on to detail each of these five losses further in subsequent chapters.
The third part of the book deals with “Faith and its Challenges”.
The first challenge addressed is that of Darwin. Because Rabbi Sacks believes in the natural intersection of science and religion, he does not see a conflict. Rather, taking evolution as a given, he sees the beauty of a God-ordered and ordained system that led to the final destination of humans made in the image of God. He likens evolution to the free-market capitalist system. Both seemingly function in random ways with no apparent direction, yet both inexorably lead to the best possible outcome. He marvels at a God that could creates such a system.
The next challenge is the problem of evil. The only answer for why does evil exist remains human free will. Without free will, we are not human. Yet God has asked us to not only forsake evil, but to actively protest against it. Those people who have faith in God are called to live in another way that will eventually change the world. God clearly recognizes that evil exists, but challenges us to combat it.
He then asks, “Why God?” and proceeds to offer “proof” and arguments from a scientific position that argue for a belief in God.
- The improbability of the universe
- The improbability of human life
- The improbability of Jewish history
- The improbable strength of believers in God
- The improbability of happiness without God
- The improbability of the refusal of religion to die
Sacks was prompted to write this book by an advertisement stating, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The “probably” stumps him. We do not live in the probable but in the possible. He exerts, “Faith is the defeat of probability by the power of possibility.” God, Himself, defies probability and predictability. We live in an improbable world. Everything about our very existence is improbable. It’s time to stop thinking we can live in the probable and live in the possible. Without God, it is impossible to “stop worrying and enjoy... life.” Only with God does life and therefore science itself have any possible meaning at all. Without God, there is no life to enjoy.