Monday, June 30, 2014

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis

I really love American history, especially the Revolutionary period. I have read tons of books and articles highlighting this period, but even with all that, I was pleasantly surprised to find Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis, fresh and insightful.

He begins by stating that he will interpret “summer” rather broadly and incorporate May - September of 1776. His general thesis is that the story of the military during this time as well as the political story going on simultaneously both contrast and provide for a fuller understanding of the times. It was the summer that America became America. Therefore, he switches back and forth throughout the book between the military campaign, led by George Washington, and the political situation mostly led by John Adams, with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

He points out what should have been obvious to me, but I missed it. Before we ever signed the Declaration of Independence, America had been fiercely battling British troops for over a year. This struck me as unbelievably odd. We had a General, and an army, and were already going toe-to-toe with the Red Coats, yet were actually still part of Britain. Imagine the Tea Party today creating an army, with a General, soldiers, officers, munitions, hospitals, supply lines, and battle plans, and then actually daring to fight the American military. Unthinkable. Yet that is what the colonists were doing by the summer of 1776. The politicians debated, and ostensibly remained loyal subjects of the King, while the military acted and slaughtered the King’s men. It’s almost as if the military side and the political didn’t know the other existed.

Despite the doubts of Congress, Washington knew independence was a foregone conclusion. How could he send young men to die for any less a cause? Reconciliation and compromise were out of the question. King George III, in sending all of his forces as well as hired mercenaries, actually became the staunchest advocate for war. The politicians could quibble and pretend it mattered, but war was already declared by both sides. Adams was one politician who saw this clearly and knew declaring independence was the only outcome possible.

Yet even as Adams embraced a call for independence, with the beginning of actual military hostilities, he feared the move to separate might actually be going too fast. He worried America did not yet have the institutions and mentality to support independence.  He worried that treading down that path too soon could unleash forces leading to “Discontent and perhaps Convulsions.” He rightfully feared tyranny or anarchy as potential outcomes of a hurried realignment. Fighting for rights thought to be inalienable plausibly opened the door for other groups to fight for their rights. The infant nation might be suddenly killed in the crib if chaos resulted from the logical extension of revolutionary principles. Therefore, he was forced to tread a narrow line between advocating for the move and slowing it down at the same time. This helps explain some of the schizophrenia apparent in the military/political divide.

But the debate on independence and its ramifications would not wait. The colonies had already begun drafting new constitutions and the federal congress needed to begin discussing exactly what kind of a nation America would be. The genie was out of the bottle and Adams could not stop it. The conversation had started, yet he recognized that  this new nation “could easily fall victim to different notions about the future character of an independent American republic.”

That the military still had to defeat the greatest force on the planet did not dissuade congress from spending their time deciding what to do after the “inevitable” victory. They believed deep down, that free men, fighting for a Cause they believed in, would inevitably triumph. No matter how improbable, they believed it to be our destiny. Meanwhile, Washington had to convince a congress, who believed, and represented a people ,who believed, in eschewing a standing regular arm, that the only way to defeat the British was with a regular army. It quickly became apparent that, despite our romantic version of the tale, militia were simply insufficient to the task. Yet the congress held fast to the notion of The Cause, not a regular army, would ensure victory. 

Knowing the King was sending the Howe brothers to try to end the rebellion in New York City, and knowing that without some “Grand Plan” given him by an up and running government, he would have to allow the British strategy to dictate his moves, Washington moved his army to New York. “The multiple toasts to Washington in the towns and villages through which he and the army passed echoed the patriotic chords of a hymn to ‘The Cause,’ which was simultaneously glorious and invincible. A more detached assessment would have produced a more ominous tune, with lyrics about a quasi-army of marginal misfits, led by a team of overconfident amateurs, marching to defend a strategically significant city that, truth be known, was indefensible.” Washington was counting on a miracle to occur because of the rightness of “The Cause.”

Meanwhile, Adams convened a committee on June 11 to draft a Declaration of Independence. At the time, with events quickly coalescing in the colonies, it did not seem that momentous. All the action was focused in the state legislatures as they convened and decided what to direct their representatives to do on the question of independence. But Adams, being Adams, wanted a document ready to sign once the votes were in place. Jefferson was selected to do the drafting of it because of his previous work on American documents relating to similar subjects. As such, he claims he didn’t look to any other sources in the writing of it. Actually, he didn’t need to. Much of the Declaration was a restatement of his previous writings. It seems odd to us now with the benefit of hindsight, but neither Jefferson nor the other members of the congress recognized the revered place the document would hold in American history. They opening phrases, the ones we hold so dear today, “We hold these truths to be self-evident...” evinced nary a comment. Most of the controversy took place over the wording and specifics of the charges against the King. Jefferson stewed silently as his carefully thought out denunciations fell under the knife of the committee. (So perturbed was he, that he ordered multiple copies of his original made for posterity's sake.)

The day the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Continental Congress, June 28th, General William Howe arrived in Long Island with 113 ships and 9,000 troops. “The ideals that Jefferson had so eloquently articulated were designed to be universal and eternal. But whether they would endure forever or die an early death over the next few weeks was a question soon to be decided by soldiers on the battlefield and not by an inspired young statesman in his study.”

The Howe’s actually considered themselves ambassadors for peace, although equipped with the entire British military. After easily clearing any American defenses, they offered peace terms to Washington. Tellingly, they would not and could not address Washington by his official title. To do so would have given legitimacy to a rebellious people. Without the official recognition, Washington refused to meet with them. Therefore, they needed either a crushing defeat to bring him to the table or to convince the people to abandon the effort. Howe’s peace treaty offered pardons to the citizens if they bowed to the King and relinquished their aims. Once this condescending offer was published in the newspapers, Howe lost any chance to appeal to the moderates. 

Ellis goes on to state, “Any historical reconstruction of the crowded political agenda of the continental congress in midsummer 1776 inevitably imposes an ex post facto sense of coherence that the delegates at the time, doing their best to manage events that were coming at them from multiple angles and at very high velocity, did not share. They were trying to orchestrate a revolution, which almost by definition generated a sense of collective trauma that defied any semblance of coherence and control. If we wish to recover the psychological context of the major players in Philadelphia, we need to abandon our hindsight omniscience and capture their mentality as they negotiated the unknown.” Into this chaos rose Adams, trying to juggle both military and political responsibilities, in what Ellis calls, “his finest hour.” Meanwhile, Franklin played the part of the sagacious statesman insisting that “the cause of American independence had providential winds at its back.”

Meanwhile, back on the military front, the British flanked the American army and incited a panicked retreat. “Beyond the sheer calculus of casualties and captured, however, the will of the Continental Army had been broken and any semblance of military discipline destroyed. Thoroughly discouraged, Washington was able to evacuate his troops in a miraculous retreat from Long Island to Manhattan in what Ellis calls, “one of the most brilliant tactical withdrawals in the annals of military history.”

The faith of the congress in their cause could have suffered a fatal blow at this point, except that Lord Howe stepped into snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He wined and dined one of the captured American generals, Sterling and then sent him back with his renewed peace proposal. He reiterated again that they were subjects of King George III in rebellion and absolute submission would potentially earn them pardons. Their outrage at the King's lack of understanding at the plight of the colonies so outraged even the recalcitrant members that their revolutionary fervor was renewed. 

Washington, seeing the military defeat for what it was, did not share their enthusiasm, saying, “Our situation is truly distressing. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts... are dismayed, Intractable, and Impatient to return [home]. Great numbers of them have gone off, in some cases by whole Regiments.” Finally the decision was made not to try to defend New York, and Washington was given the green light to retreat from Manhattan. Fortunately at this time, the newspapers, acting on patriotic fervor refused to print the truth of the desperation the Americans were facing. So the people continued in their support of the Revolution. Only New Yorkers knew how bad it was, and they fled to the British in droves!

Once again, the Howe brothers helped out Washington. They took their time pursuing the patriots up Manhattan and captured New York without a fight. But Washington, thinking the British sought to crush them once and for all battled a small force sent to push the rebels farther north. Although it was not a major battle, the Americans performed well and renewed Washington’s confidence that perhaps his forces could muster a defense. From his position at Harlem Heights, Washington finally got the Congress to understand the need for a regular army with longer enlistments, officer training academies, and regular systems in place. Yet even though they supported his reforms, with no power over the states to make it happen, the Congress would not be able to implement them until after the war was won. 

Adams, in voraciously studying military history to prepare him for his role as congress’ military advisor, realized that history had provided him an answer. Because of their faith in The Cause, the Americans did not need to defeat the British, per se, but like the Thebans, had only not to lose. It took a herculean effort on Washington’s part to see the wisdom of this strategy. The faith in The Cause espoused by the Americans meant the British could never win and the patriots must not lose. In order to “not lose,” Washington evacuated his troops again off of Manhattan and into White Plains. The Howes gave Washington ample time to escape and prepare his defenses. 

“It was the end of the beginning for the American side, meaning that its army had managed to survive what proved to be their most vulnerable moment of the war. Washington, from lessons learned at New York would never again allow the survival of the continental Army to be put at risk. Though it ran counter to all his instincts, he now realized that his goal was not to win the war but rather not to lose it. 

It was the beginning of the end for the British side, meaning that the Howe brothers, despite their tactical brilliance, had failed to deliver the decisive blow that would have killed the rebellion at its moment of birth. Indeed, they had deliberately decided not to do so.” The summer of 1776 did not end the war, but it put in motion the events and mentality that would.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Liberty Amendments by Mark Levin

I looked forward to reading The Liberty Amendments by Mark R. Levin as soon as I heard about it. Mark Levin is a much better writer than ranter and I always enjoy his insight and historical knowledge. The Liberty Amendments did not disappoint.

Although each subsequent chapter details one or more of Constitutional amendments he proposes, the first chapter discusses the “why?” He opens with, “I undertook this project not because I believe the Constitution, as originally structured, is outdated and outmoded, thereby requiring modernization through amendments, but because of the opposite -- that is, the necessity and urgency of restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.” Our country is at a crossroads. Do we continue down the statists’ desired path of “post-Constitutional soft tyranny”, or do we return our country to its liberty-loving root?

Our federal government currently controls, bans or regulates almost everything we come in contact with on a daily basis. It is hard to think of any area that its tentacles do not breach. Which is why our Founders gave us Article V. We the people have the ability to stop the federal government in its tracks if we will but exercise our power. Article V gives states the right to propose and vote on Constitutional amendments, thereby passing over Congress in order to enact the true will of the people. We have never used this process, but Mark Levin thinks it’s time!

Number One: Term Limits for Members of Congress
We have an “increasingly insulated class of governing masterminds who use lawmaking and the public purse to empower themselves.” Time for them to go, by force if necessary. 

Number Two: Repeal the 17th Amendment
The purpose of the Senate, as originally envisioned, was to provide the states with a co-equal status with each other in the national government. This was clearly understood at the time and no one questioned the wisdom of having state legislatures choose their own representative. It would give the United States a truly Federal composition. As such, the Senators were to represent state interests and keep the national government from intruding into the spheres properly reserved to the states. No longer. States now have no representation and the results have been disastrous. No one is there to defend the 10th Amendment and by extension, those rights reserved to the people. That is why the national government can touch everything. Who will stop it?

Number Three: Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices and Super-Majority Legislative Override
This is an idea whose time has truly come! Since Marbury vs. Madison, the Supreme Court has usurped authority never granted to it by the Constitution. And who decides what power the Supreme Court has? The Supreme Court. Nice. It has become a wholly totalitarian entity exercising judicial, legislative and executive authority. Jefferson, himself recognized the danger inherent in letting the Supreme Court decide Constitutionality, because it destroyed the checks and balances written into the Constitution. This innovative amendment would at least give the Legislature an opportunity to override the most egregious decisions. 

Number Four and Five: Limits to Federal Spending and Taxing
The amendment on spending is in effect a balanced budget amendment, with some sharp enforcement mechanisms as well providing a ceiling of 17.5% GDP for all outlays. YES! (I’d lower it to 10%. It’s good enough for God. But I’ll take 17.5%.) The taxing amendment limits all taxes to a total of 15% of income and forbids any other form of taxation. This is problematic if a national sales tax is ever desired rather than the destructive income tax. That said, it is a step in the right direction. Together these amendments severely limit the ability of Congress to tax and spend our country into oblivion. Jefferson understood that a Legislative body that could tax and spend at will could do anything they wanted and run roughshod over the Constitution. 

Number Six: Limits on the Federal Bureaucracy
This one may be my favorite. “All federal departments and agencies shall expire if said departments and agencies are not individually reauthorized in stand-alone reauthorization bills every three years...” It makes me happy just to think about the opportunity every three years to shut down the EPA or HHS or Department of Education. They are also required to justify any regulation which creates a burden over $100 million, which a panel within the Legislature can vote to pass. Without their vote, it falls! Wow! Can you imagine?!? Personally, I would add that any economic damage caused by a regulation must be paid for out of the budget of the regulating agency. If our betters believe we need to add straps to hold down our water heaters in case of an earth quake, let them pay for it. I definitely think it would make them think very hard about what regulations are absolutely necessary! Once again, we have a tyrant in the form of these agencies because they encompass judicial, executive and legislative functions. Death to tyrants!

Number Seven: Promote Free Enterprise
The federal government has far exceeded its authority to regulate interstate commerce. This amendment would restore that limitation in definitive terms. The federal government would ONLY have the power to prevent states from not engaging in commerce with each other. It cannot regulate it or manipulate it or coerce it - only encourage it. The commerce clause was NEVER intended to impede free trade. That would be an anathema to a young country desperately in need of a robust economy.

Number Eight: Protection of Private Property
Too much value in our property is stolen by the federal government. Not through outright taking, but through regulating. This amendment would reimburse any time of market devaluation exceeding $10,000. I think that’s too high, I think EVERY expense due to regulation should be reimbursed, but I’ll take it. Our Founders recognized that only strong property rights would prevent the poor from stealing from the rich, legislatively. That is exactly what we have today.

Number Nine: Granting States Authority to Directly Amend the Constitution
This would rework Article V to make it easier for states to reassert their authority within the federal government. Currently the amendment process has proven so difficult, we’ve only done it 27 times, including the Bill of Rights. Therefore, courts and legislators have just jumped over the Constitution and done whatever they wanted to. If the amendment process were a little easier, perhaps the people would demand an amendment when an unConstitution matter is proposed. And Congress would be bypassed all together.

Number Ten: States Have the Authority to Check Congress
This innovative amendment would give state legislatures (with a 3/5 majority) the ability to veto federal statues and regulations. Great! This puts our legislative and regulatory bills back in the hands of the people. We could put pressure on our state legislatures to veto something the people are radically against but which an untouchable Congress or unelected bureaucrat will not agree to stop. What a wonderful way to localize national issues.

Number Eleven: Protect the Vote
Voter ID. Why not? 

It’s time to take back our country from the politicians and regulators. The statists have built a nation of oligarchs who are largely unaffected by elections. This is not the system our Founders gave us. It is our inheritance from the presidency of FDR who altered the very character of our Constitutional system. It’s time to stop being governed by the whims of dead people and return to the solid PRINCIPLES of our Founders. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Is College Worth it? by William Bennett

As a mom with two girls about to enter college, when Bill Bennett writes a book called Is College Worth It?, I HAVE to read that!

The short answer is, “No.” At least, most of the time, for most of the people, college is not a worthy investment. 

This breaks my education-minded heart, but I have to recognized the days of college offering a real education are long-gone. Bennett states what the original purpose of a college education was in the past, “The universities produced individuals who usually appeared something like William James’s ‘good man,’ conversant in the principles of thought that shape our identities as human beings, citizens, men, and women. Through the dissection of the Great Books, symphonies, paintings, and historical accounts, students learned how to think critically about abstract topics and express those thoughts in writing. Further, the lessons learned from the material itself could be applied to daily situations and serve as reference points for moral and intellectual conduct.”

So if the question is, “Is an education worth it?” I would say a resounding, “YES!” But is paying for a college degree worth it? It depends. Definitely read this book if you want to go with your eyes wide open.

The first consideration is debt. Fifty-three percent of all full-time students took out loans in 2007-2008. The average debt at graduation runs $23,300. College has simply become unaffordable to too many students. 

The first cause of this is, ironically, financial aid. As government poured more money into helping students pay for college, colleges raised their tuitions. More financial aid = less affordability. Another unintended consequence of increased financial aid has led to fewer low-income students going to colleges. Even with the help, the sharp increase in costs has driven low-income students out. 

In addition, colleges have no accountability for how they spend money. This has led to cost raising factors such as over-paid faculty, premier facilities, redundant or worthless classes, and high administration costs.

So why do we send our students to college in the first place? There is a perception that a degree leads to higher wages, there is a social status conferred on those with degrees, and the ease of obtaining loans leads many to at least try college out. 

However, even though our economy seems to be moving in the direction of more jobs requiring a degree and fewer jobs that don’t require one, actually there are many jobs on the horizon that only require an Associates Degree. Many of these require some form of certification and no previous experience. Yet many students are encouraged to go the four-year route instead of seriously considering a two-year school. In addition to these kinds of jobs, there is a huge need for skilled labor in this country. Plumbers and electricians often make more than the professionals who work in the buildings they service!

Also, Bennett adds that many of the majors our kids sign up for have no realistic chance of leading to a job in the first place. Visual and performing art degrees far outnumber the more lucrative STEM degrees in this country. 

In addition, we send our kids to schools that simply don’t do a good job either educating them or training them for a career. It’s not always easy to calculate ROI for a college degree, but the fact is, some school are a great investment (Georgia Tech is #1) and others are a complete waste of money (Art Institute of Chicago will lose you $103,000). Since we have moved away from actually educating students at most colleges, it’s no longer good enough to just graduate. A degree doesn’t guarantee that you even know how to read and write well or think clearly. Studies are beginning to show that some students actually show no improvement in their cognitive skills at the end of their college career. 

Unfortunately a great education is not necessarily a panacea either. With college costs so high, the student must be assured he is being prepared for a career that will increase the ROI he makes in getting his degree. But too many colleges have made a faustian bargain with the students. You’ll get your piece of paper and we’ll take it easy on you as long as your check clears. Again, no oversight. In fact, many college are now finding, because of K-12 failures, they are having to teach remedial classes all too often. What a waste!

Not only is the academic part generally worthless, the social part is atrocious. Co-ed dorms have led to a direct increase in sex and drinking. Almost half of the students in co-ed dorms now binge drink and “rape” is reported by 1 out of 5 girls. Since “rape” is defined as “sex you now regret,” we can safely assume there is a lot of regretted sex going on. Our students know a lot about partying; history, not so much.

Bennett suggests we open our eyes and examine our assumptions. Get out the the “every child must go to college” rut. There are many other roads to success and college is no way the guarantor of success it once was. Look closely at the data before picking a school. Make sure its graduates see a good ROI. 

Bennett goes onto list some “recommended” schools. These include the Ivy League colleges, elite institutions like Harvey Mudd, private Christian schools like Patrick Henry, Grove City College, New Saint Andrews, University of Dallas, Thomas Aquinas, and my favorite, Hillsdale, to name a few. He also mentions some online schools like Western Governors University and University of Phoenix, as well as the exploding field of MOOCs. Udacity has an interesting model where they offer classes and their own form of credentialing to prove the student has mastered the skills. 

The very gifted should look into starting their career right away. Some exciting programs are being created to help the best and brightest do just that. He mentions Peter Thiel, 20 Under 20 program that gives enterprising young students $100,000 and resources to launch out on their own.

Overall this is a great book for those who have no idea how much college has changed in the last 20 years. Any assumptions from that long ago have to be discarded. 

So is college worth it? Um....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

Since I so enjoy Julian Fellowes, “Downton Abbey,” I’m enjoying reading his books written in a similar vein. 

Snobs is the story of upper middle class social climbers. One is fortunate enough to catch the eye of an Earl and he asks her to marry him. She soon finds that marrying for social status and money is not enough. 

I love the insiders view Fellowes brings to his books. He is not quite part of the snobby highest echelons, but he knows it so well. He brings great insight and understated wit into the rarified air of aristocracy. In the end, no one group is virtuous. Afterall, we are all human, no matter the size of our bank accounts.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski

David Berlinski takes on atheism “and its scientific pretensions” in his book, The Devil’s Delusion. I loved it! The book is a wonder of poetry and prose. No summary by me could ever give it its full due. His logic is unassailable and simple, yet deep and revealing. His use of humor and sarcasm provide a light-hearted, indeed joyful, touch in a book full of somewhat unfamiliar scientific and philosophical concepts. 

Not that he is opposed to science. David Berlinski is an accomplished scientist in his own right. It’s simply that although science can tell us a great deal about the “hows” of the universe, it cannot tell us the “whys.” He states, “While science has nothing of value to say on the great an aching questions of life, death, love, and meaning, what the religious traditions of mankind have said forms a coherent body of thought.” Only religious explanations can satisfy these most deepest of questions. And only recently have militant atheists declared science capable of answering man’s deepest yearnings. 

This book is an answer to that assertion.

Unfortunately, what the atheists both hope for and fear, is that if God does not exist we have only to answer to science, then everything is permitted. But when everything is permitted, we see the horrors of the 20th Century. After all, neither Stalin or Mao or Hitler or any other secular monster was concerned at all that God was watching. “That is, after all, the meaning of secular society.” Without God, everything is permitted.

Of course militant atheists don’t want to go here. Berlinski says, “But if scientific atheists are disposed to challenge God’s existence -- the party line after all -- they are far less willing to reflect on what His dismissal entails.” No God, no moral absolutes, And a world of no moral absolutes is the world the atheists have given us. 

Unfortunately in denying any theological reasoning, science has pushed itself into a corner of internal contradictions. It cannot even say definitively what science is. It can only say what it is not. Theology and belief are said to be definitely not within the realm of science. Yet, scientist operate on faith all the time. They take the fact that the universe is rational and its laws can be discovered and are eternal on faith. Science excludes direct creation a priori, on faith alone. They try to prove or disprove the supernatural, using the laws of the natural. Science has become philosophical all the while disdaining philosophy as unscientific. By decrying religion as illegitimate, science has left us nowhere else to go with philosophical questions. But science is not supposed to be philosophy.

The most basic question tries to answer concerns the origins of the universe. This is where they most veer into philosophy.

Thomas Aquinas posited that the universe began and as such had a first cause and that it surmised must be God. Scientists have tried to refute this with an illogical infinite regression. Yet it soon became apparent that, as the theologians had argued for thousands of years, the universe did in fact have a beginning. It’s called the Big Bang. In a humbling moment, Nobel laureate Arno Penzais remarked, “The best data we have concerning the big bang are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”

But if the universe is not eternal and therefore did not have to exist, we must ask, then why does it exist? Both the how and the why point to God, but science tries desperately to avoid these obvious conclusions.

The deeper we dive, the harder time the scientists have. Discoveries in quantum mechanics have shaken what we thought we knew to the core. Fundamental physical theories must be questioned and if that is the case, what is actually fundamental? Science finds itself trying answer the impossible question of how did we get something from absolutely nothing? The answer to this question simply does not exist in the natural realm. So atheist scientists, desperate to prove a god was not necessary have resorted to equally unprovable and equally unscientific assertions. The Multiverse.

Scientific pretensions to an unbiased following of the facts have now descended into nothing more than faith-based metaphysics. 

Science is finding itself in the maddening position of having to argue that a universe that appears to be finely-tuned to permit the appearance of living beings is in fact a mirage. A designed-looking universe is not designed at all, but certainly mimics one perfectly. A simple bumpkin could be forgiven for assuming design because of the appearance of design, but our vaunted scientists are not country bumpkins. So they play at incomprehensible theories like multiverses and string theory, constantly searching for their own holy grail. They have faith that one day, a theory will emerge stating that nothing controls the universe rather than God.

And they mock us as believers in the unseen. How awkward for them.

Pretentious atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, reject the simple hypothesis of a creator God as improbable and therefore impossible. But they will accept “infinitely many universes crammed into creation, with laws of nature wriggling indiscreetly and fundamental physical parameters changing as one travels from one corner of the cosmos to the next, the whole entire gargantuan structure scientifically unobservable and devoid of any connections to experience.” So God is improbable and the multiverse is simple and elegant?

Moving from the origins of the universe to the origin of man, Berlinski identifies some fundamental flaws in the theory of evolution. No one knows how or why certain characteristics that make us quintessentially human arose. They cannot be latent in the gene pool. That suggests Someone put them there for future usage. In addition, latent genes give natural selection nothing to work with. Latent genes do not evolve. How could they?

In short, science cannot explain the mind. “If we are unable to explain how the human mind works neither in terms of a series of physical causes nor in terms of a series of infinitely receding mechanical devices, what then is left? There is the ordinary, very rich, infinitely moving account of mental life that without hesitation we apply to ourselves. It is an account frankly magical in its nature.”

Physicist Erich Harth remarked, “It is not just that we don’t know the mechanisms that give rise to [the mind]. We have difficulty in seeing how any mechanism can give rise to it.”

So scientists sputter and prognosticate about their vaunted ability to someday find all the answers to finally kill the “God of the Gaps.” But the more gaps they fill, the more holes they open. They are frustrated that simple, no-nothings appear to get to the answers before the geniuses. “Within the English-speaking world, Darwin’s theory of evolution remains the only scientific theory to be widely championed by the scientific community and widely disbelieved by everyone else.” How maddening.

Berlinski states categorically, “Suspicions about Darwin’s theory arise for two reasons. The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence.” Yet it serves as their creation myth demanding an “especially ardent form of advocacy.”

To their horror, even scientists within the faith are starting to question. Eugene Koonin detailed the facts that don’t line up with Darwinianism. These include, “the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla.” What’s left?

Scientists have climbed the mount of knowledge and discovered the theologians sitting at the top. 

I love this book!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crisis of the House Divided by Henry Jaffa

I’m a huge fan of Dr. Larry Arne of Hillsdale College. So when he recommended a book on the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, by his mentor, Dr. Harry Jaffa, I had to get it. Crisis of the House Divided was originally published in 1959 and it shows. I think Americans were a lot smarter then. I think they were tremendously smarter than we are today when the original Lincoln/Douglass Debates took place. The book took me weeks to read and it’s only about 400 pages long, but it was a long, tough slog. I’m just not knowledgeable enough about the time of the debates, the issues involved, or the thinking at the time the book was written. Nevertheless, I’m glad I plowed through. It certainly opened my eyes to a part of history I thought I knew pretty well. 

Dr. Jaffa writes, “It is doubtful that any forensic duel, any clash of reasoned argument before a popular audience -- or, for that matter, before any legislative body -- ever held the power of decision over the future of a great people as these debates did.” By opposing Douglas, Lincoln set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to secession, the Civil War and Emancipation.

Douglas believed in “Popular Sovereignty” when it came to slavery in the states. He was pushing for legislation, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that would allow states to vote slavery up or or down as they went from territory to state and effectively abolish the Missouri Compromise line of 1820 (although he claimed he did not was to see the Compromise repealed). This idea tapped into the long-standing American tradition of local self-government. Lincoln, seeing this as absurd, believed free government could not be reconciled to slavery, and that no man was so good at self-governing as to be able to govern over another. The existence of slaver was so repugnant to a free society, it simply could not be put to a vote. By challenging Douglas’ idea of popular sovereignty, Lincoln opened up a debate that would threaten the very existence of America.

Dr. Jaffa begins by presenting Douglas’ case. Stephen Douglas saw himself as the descendent of Andrew Jackson. He desired to spread democracy as far as it would go. He loved the Constitution and would go to remarkable lengths to defend it. His fame and integrity were such that even though he was a Democrat, had not Lincoln challenged him, the Republicans were considering Douglas as their standard-bearer. 

Being a strict Constitutionalist, Douglas, and most everyone else, believed the Constitution did not give the Federal government a say over the legality of slavery. Not only was it unConstitutional to do so, but he rightly feared it would tear the country apart. As a friend to both North and South, he was uniquely positioned to see the passions and positions on both sides. Unlike the abolitionists, who appealed to a “higher law” and were willing to go around the Constitution, Douglas knew his bill would pass Constitutional muster and be approved by the South, even if it hurt them in the end. 

Douglas did not necessarily want slavery to spread, in fact in his lifetime he had seen state after state abolish it within their jurisdiction. He recognized that the line of Missouri Compromise had become a protection of slavery rather than a limitation of it. He firmly believed that in giving states north of the line the power to vote, that would allow states south of the line to enter as free states as well. The current line presupposed all southern states would enter as slave states. Popular Sovereignty made no such preconditions. 

Douglas believed the battle must be fought for hearts and minds. Both Lincoln and Douglas recognized that without public sentiment behind you, laws were meaningless. While proclaiming he didn’t care a whit about whether the vote went for or against slavery, it is clear, he believed time and again the vote would be against. As more states entered the Union “free,” the slave states would see their power diminish and eventually the institution would wither. But as Popular Sovereignty came to embody “free soil” as a goal, Douglas had to work harder to maintain neutrality so as not to lose the South. 

Douglas believed strongly in the theory of Manifest Destiny and actually supported the American takeover of all of North and South America from the European imperialists so that more territories could be admitted and more opportunities for free states to be potentially created. Of course this would have created a very different kind of America than the one Lincoln wished to merely preserve.To that end, he beat the anti-European (and by extension, anti-abolition) drum that pervaded America at this time. As a true statesman, Douglas worked very to find the delicate balance of the possible, the moods of the people, and the good of his country. Not an easy job.

“When Lincoln in 1858 expressed the conviction that the Union must become all slave or all free, Douglas accused him of advocating a war between the sections. And Lincoln’s persistent retort was that he did not, by theses words, advocate anything at all; he only said what he believed would happen.” This conviction had been percolating in Lincoln’s psyche for many years. In fact, Lincoln seems to have presaged his role when he speaks of a Great Emancipator in his Lyceum Speech of 1838. In fact, those who knew Lincoln best said his “common man” exterior was affected and designed to give the appearance of one who was common but in fact covered up a very deep thinker.

Lincoln saw the country was actually moving in the wrong direction when it came to black civil rights. This was highlighted by the Dredd Scott decision holding that no black person could be a citizen, ever. However, this did not make Lincoln a friend to abolitionists. He saw in them a kind of mob rule and an appeal to lawlessness. He recognized the core of every argument being made came down to whether or not slavery was right or wrong. If right, then it didn’t matter whether it was extended or not. If wrong, then it couldn’t be extended. Since he believed enslaving a black man meant that a white man could be enslaved on the same grounds, he repeatedly made the case that slavery was wrong. But his desire to argue and change minds rather than resort to unConstitutional mob rule angered the abolitionists of his day. And his position certainly didn’t gain him friends in the pro-slavery crowd. 

Lincoln clearly saw the danger of the Popular Sovereignty movement. He believed it was “a base parody of of the principle of popular rights. It implied that whatever the people wanted they had a right to...” And some things, like slavery, were simply not issues that could be put to a vote in a republican form of government. For slavery violated the very spirit and foundation of republican government in the first place. Lincoln saw himself as an Old Testament prophet trying to get the people to follow him to a higher place. He wanted to lead the country into a new era where the words of Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” would become a sacred reality. “For Lincoln, there was nothing more substantially important than whether Americans lived their lives believing that all men are created equal or whether they did not. For Lincoln the material prosperity of America saw chiefly valuable as the external sign of inner spiritual health. And that health -- the qualitative superiority of American life -- was inextricably and inexorably linked to the tenets of the Declaration of Independence.” The true statesman helps create this conviction in the hearts and minds of the people. Lincoln warned the people that if the Declaration was right, then nothing justified the enslavement of the Negro. But if the Negro was a man, then the Declaration was wrong and didn’t include blacks. The pro-slavery crowd could admit neither proposition. Everyone knew that the Founders clearly intended “all men” to mean “all men.” They relied on the future to enforce and secure that right. According to Lincoln, it was time to start enforcing the Declaration.

Dr. Jaffa offers this wonderful summary, “Douglas’s policy with respect to slavery... constituted a kind of agreement to disagree. The desirability of such an agreement was predicated, in turn, upon his belief that ‘we exist as a nation only by virtue of the Constitution’ and that therefore a scrupulous observance of all constitutional duties was all that was really necessary for the states and sections to live amicably together. Citizens of the several states might continue to hold differing opinions on slavery because they would abstain from any attempt to frame a joint policy on slavery, an attempt which would inevitably produce collision. Lincoln, however, categorically denied the whole foundation of this policy because Lincoln denied that we existed as a nation solely, or even mainly, by virtue of the Constitution. This denial he was to make the affirmative faith of the nation at Gettysburg, when ‘fourscore and seven years ago’ carefully placed the birth of the nation in the year 1776, not the year 1787.And the life principle of the nation was then said to be not the compromises of the Constitution -- which Lincoln, as an honest man, always admitted and freely accepted -- but in the dedication and rededication to the equality of all men.”

Today, Lincoln is criticized for not being a purist. He did not call for the end of all slavery.  He did not argue for the rights of black people to vote. He never advocated full interracial equality. Lincoln was a true statesman. He operated in the realm of the possible, know it was his job to nudge the people closer to the perfect position. Had been a purist, his party would have lost and slavery, not freedom, would have been in ascendency. Wisely, Lincoln eschewed aiming for heaven to avoid hell on earth. There is a lesson in there somewhere for purists today. If you are right, make your case incrementally and the people will follow. 

This book was a hard slog for me. The reasoning of both the authors and the subjects was so intricate and nuanced, many times I had trouble following it! I cannot imagine a world in which the debates of Lincoln and Douglas resonated so powerfully with the common people. Our culture today is the lesser for it.