Category: News and Events

Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, August 21, 2008
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Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism, a political biography published in February, crafts a narrative that largely reinforces popular public images of the late Jesse Helms as a demonizing figure. The author, William A. Link, is a history professor at the University of Florida who notes several times in the preface of his book that Helms represented everything he opposes. Link also says his intention was to write a fair biography of the former Senator from the Tar Heel state. While Link’s biography largely fails this test, his depiction is less hostile and more respectable than many modern liberal academics may have been able to attempt. The author does include significant portions of his biography to depicting the impeccable manners, personal morality, and genteel personality that characterized Jesse Helms.

Probably the most controversial position of Jesse Helms was his opposition to the land mark federal Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 while he was a journalist and television commentator for WRAL radio and television in Raleigh, North Carolina. While not a lawmaker at the time, the controversy is further fueled because Helms never renounced his opposition to the legislation, like some Southern politicians would later do because of a genuine change of heart or perhaps for political survival. Helms always insisted he was not a racist and Link notes that Helms tried to tie his opposition to integration to larger anti-statist arguments against federal intervention. Helms kept his distance from the more radical segregationist groups who opposed integration. At the same time, he attacked the alleged communist influences in Civil Rights groups, and even the personal moral failings of its leaders. Helms felt that good people from both races could come together to solve racial problems without federal intervention. He would take further flak for opposing the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and this political ad against quotas.

Link also discusses many commentaries written and read by Helms at WRAL about the dangers of the growing federal government. Helms declared “government could either be man’s servant or master: it could not be both.” Helms also attacked appeasers of communism and would soon emerge as perhaps the most notable elected anti-communist, with the exception of Ronald Reagan.

Trying to decide to run for the United States Senate, a supporter urged Helms to run by saying, “We need you Jesse in order to save the country from liberalism.” In his first Senate campaign Link declares:

Repeating the familiar Viewpoints message, he told voters in 1972 about an expanding and intrusive federal government, the threat of socialism, the excesses of the welfare state, rising crime, deteriorating moral standards – all problems related, he said, to an out of control liberal state. The welfare system, he explained to an audience in the eastern North Carolina tobacco town of Smithfield, was a “mess,” beset by “loafers and parasites.” Helms fashioned a populist appeal that was targeted toward ordinary people and toward the frustrations of white, rural, and small town North Carolinians. His message, Helms said, was directed toward “the person who pulls on his clothes in the morning and grabs his dinner pail and goes off to work.”

In fact, Link notes that Helms was running as a Republican in the 1972 Senate campaign and had recently switched parties. The Republican Party offered little help or resources to Helms. Most of his supporters were Democrats, who had long dominated state politics in North Carolina during this era. Those supporters were admirably dubbed “Jessecrats.” Helms would however benefit greatly from Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern’s unpopularity in North Carolina, and a last minute campaign stop by incumbent President Richard Nixon, when it appeared Helms had a chance to win. Helms did win, and while all of his senate races were relatively close, he was always able to hold together a strong and loyal coalition of religious conservatives, white males, and rural and small town voters. Always the underdog, he played up his anti-establishment and anti-liberal crusades, and his political obituary was prematurely written on a number of occasions. (more…)

Linked on the left-hand side today under the PowerBlog Food For Thought is an item from the Wall Street Journal, “College Presidents Debate Drinking Age.”

At issue is concern over the drinking age in the United States (currently 21) and the binge-drinking phenomenon among under-age college students. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) oppose the movement among many college and university presidents to lower the drinking age to 18.

Here’s a popular version of how the school presidents’ argument goes:

Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore from Singapore, where the drinking age is lower, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful.

“There isn’t that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18,” she said. “If the age is younger, you’re getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don’t freak out when you get to campus.”

What is true about these sorts of observations is that culture has a lot to do with how people respond to newfound freedoms or possibilities. When children are raised in a household where responsible gun ownership is taught, for instance, it makes sense that gun accidents due to irresponsible gun handling are less likely to occur (compared with homes with guns that don’t teach responsible gun handling). Where the use of alcohol is not a taboo that can become part and parcel of a young-adult “rebellion” experience, it seems less likely that binge drinking will function as a gateway to adulthood.

To address the concerns of MADD, perhaps if the drinking age is lowered, the driving age should be raised. But one thing we should not be afraid of is substantive debate on the prudence of a particular policy like the national drinking age. As the administrators’ and presidents’ movement states, “The Amethyst Initiative supports informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old drinking age.” This is a law that is a perfect example of the government administration of a positive law put in place in a particular time and context.

Thomas Aquinas’ words about the principle of prudence have special bearing on this question, given the biblical allusion he chooses to employ:

The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils: thus it is written (Pr. 30:33): ‘He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood’; and (Mt. 9:17) that if ‘new wine,’ i.e. precepts of a perfect life, ‘is put into old bottles,’ i.e. into imperfect men, ‘the bottles break, and the wine runneth out,’ i.e. the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still.

Thomas’ warnings about imprudent laws are echoed in the arguments of the presidents’ association. John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the Amethyst Initiative, has said that “college students will drink no matter what, but do so more dangerously when it’s illegal.”

I just got a chance to catch part of the Saddleback Civil Forum. I’ll have to go back and watch a replay of Sen. Obama’s appearance.

I’ll just say a couple things right now.

First, I have had a hard time understanding a lot of the criticism of Rick Warren, through the lead-up to this event especially. There are a lot of conservatives who want to cast Rick Warren as Jim Wallis-lite, a politically progressive Christian who stealthily is trying to undermine the conservative movement.

Warren, to me, acquitted himself very well tonight. He’s not a professional journo, and shouldn’t be judged by those standards. He asked tough questions but let the candidates speak for themselves, something that has value even if it isn’t what journalists typically do.

The great thing that Rick Warren has been able to do is position himself as an honest broker that can get both candidates to the table in a forum like this. That’s something that somebody like Jim Wallis, for all the bi-partisan touting of his Sojourners compassion events, is unable to do (not least of which because he’s probably unwilling to do anything more than give lip service to being non-partisan). Perhaps Warren has had to upset the margins on both sides of the political aisle to get himself into a position that could command the kind of respect from both candidates that would get them to this platform. But for the reason I state below, I’m glad he’s around and willing to pay that price.

Second, for all the wanna-be pundits who hate the fact that a forum like this was held in a church, I see it as a perfect example of how a vibrant civil society ought to function. As a nation we are all better off for having had a forum like this. It’s a great service to the public square, I think, to see the candidates’ reaction to questions that many people want to have asked and are interested in hearing, but so many of the media and political gatekeepers aren’t interested in communicating.

There’s a great deal of talk about this event all over the blogosphere. Let me recommend the insights over at Mere Orthodoxy for particular attention.

Earlier this week the Detroit News reported (HT: Pew Forum) that supporters of Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and Republican candidate for this election’s presidential nomination, would be meeting with representatives of John McCain in the key swing state of Michigan. Among the “battleground” states, Obama holds his largest lead in the polls here in Michigan (RCP average of +3.2).

The purpose of yesterday’s meetings was ostensibly to urge McCain to pass over Mitt Romney as a possible running mate, in the interests of courting social conservatives. Debra Matney, a Huckabee supporter from Fairgrove who helped organize the meetings, said of McCain, “Who he chooses will speak volumes to us.”

It’s unclear, however, what effect meetings of this kind might have, as an interview with McCain published yesterday in the Weekly Standard has McCain saying that he would not rule out a pro-choice running mate like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge.

That fact alone ought to speak volumes to social conservatives.

Meanwhile, since his withdrawal from the presidential race, Mike Huckabee has done his best to remain in the national conversation. In a recent interview with Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Huckabee had this to say about the tension in the GOP between social and fiscal conservatism:

Wallis: You’ve talked about public responsibility alongside personal responsibility to overcome poverty. What’s a proper role for government?

Huckabee: One of the things I’m frustrated about is that Republicans have been infiltrated by hardcore libertarians. Traditional Republicans don’t hate all forms of government. They just want it to be efficient and effective. They recognize that it has a place and a role.

Growing numbers of people in the Republican Party are just short of anarchists in the sense that they basically say, “Just cut government and cut taxes.” They don’t understand that if you do that, there are certain consequences that do not help problems. It exacerbates them.

Every law and every government program we have is a direct indictment and reflection that somewhere we’ve failed at the personal level to self-govern. The ideal world is where everybody self-governs and lives by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” If we all abided by that, we would need no other law. No one would hurt anybody. Nobody would get drunk. Nobody would abuse the speed limits. Nobody would drop out of school. It would be a great world. Unfortunately it doesn’t work quite like that.

I go to a church that feeds a whole lot of people. Some kids still slip through the cracks that my church or somebody else’s isn’t getting to. I could be an ideological purist and say, “That’s not government’s responsibility.” But I’m also a realist, and when all of the other social structures fail—whether family, neighborhood, community, or charity organizations—then we have by default created a demand for government to step in.

I get beat up for this terribly by the libertarians in the party. I call them libertarians and not conservatives, because I think I’m a conservative but I’m not a nut! They ask me if I want government to engage in all these social programs. No, it’s not my preference. But if my choice is that government has a program or a kid goes hungry, then give me the government program. I prefer that over a hungry child. I prefer that over a child that’s wheezing through untreated asthma.

If people out of generosity can do this beyond the scope of government, praise the Lord! But when they don’t, then it’s no different than all the nice conservatives in the gated neighborhoods who really don’t want any government until their home is broken into and they call 911. That’s a call to government. And then they want that person in prison for a long time. If we want smaller government and lower taxes, the best way to get there is to create a more civil social structure in which people play by the rules and self-govern.

There’s a lot of wisdom in what Huckabee says here. And that interview is worth reading in its entirety, not only because it’s a pretty candid look at Huckabee’s positions, but also because it shows what many of Jim Wallis’ assumptions are concerning the role of church and government.

I’ve written before about the incompatibility of anarcho-capitalism and the Christian faith, and I think Huckabee is on to something here. The problem, as I see it, has a good deal to do with the adoption of libertarianism as a comprehensive world-and-life view, and not just a political philosophy applicable to limited spheres of human existence. When your political philosophy becomes the be-all and end-all of your worldview, you run into real problems, and that’s what I think Huckabee means by “hardcore libertarians.” Under such ideological illusions you can’t, for instance, deal adequately with the reality of positive social responsibilities that exist between persons. Political liberty becomes an end in itself, and not something, as Lord Acton would have it, that must be oriented towards a higher moral, social, and spiritual good.

That isn’t to say that varieties of libertarianism or classical liberalism that don’t assume the government to be something to be done away with, or that limit themselves to asking questions about the efficiency of political economy, don’t have a good deal to teach us. But Huckabee’s position is worth engaging, I think, if only because it resembles that of Abraham Kuyper, who in the same address could say both that “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior,” and, “It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help. We may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies molding in so many cupboards. And when the state intervenes, it must do so quickly and sufficiently.”

Anthony Bradley has written a thoughtful and challenging commentary titled, “John Edwards is the Real World.” Bradley discusses the moral bankruptcy and sexual infidelity that plagues our culture, and further highlights the seriousness of sin and its consequences. Bradley notes:

In the decades to come, stories like this will be the American social narrative because Americans are not inculcating virtue in children. Are parents today raising children to be women and men of prudence, courage, justice, and self-control? Or are we raising the kinds of children who will be the self-focused, egotistic, and narcissistic, believe they are invincible and are morally accountable to no one? That is, “successful,” but lacking integrity.

This is a refreshing commentary that discusses an important topic that will determine much about the future stability and ethical health of our nation.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I make the case that persecution of Chinese Christians has increased since the government’s preparation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Freedom House is really leading the way in compiling a wealth of information to substantiate China’s recent crack down on freedom and human rights.

Jimmy Lai, who was featured in The Call of the Entrepreneur, has a great quote on the makeup of China’s moral failings and its relation to the Olympics. I included his words in my commentary. Lai says:

When the Olympic Games begin in Beijing, China will show the world its physical strength, but also its moral poverty. This is unavoidable because the Olympics are more than just a sporting event; they are an expression of the human drive for greatness in all pursuits.

I also cited an excellent piece in The Washington Post titled “Beijing Curbs Religious Rights.” This article offers a more detailed perspective on specific crackdowns by the government on house churches in China’s capital city.

The feature interview for the Winter issue of Religion and Liberty was Dr. David W. Miller, who at the time served as the Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. With his permission, Dr. Miller has agreed to let us inform our readers that he is taking a new position at Princeton as the Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative. The Trinity Forum is the only organization with an updated biography mentioning his new position.

No stranger to Princeton, Dr. Miller received his Master of Divinity degree and Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary. He will also be an Associate Research Scholar and teach at Princeton. Dr. Miller will also continue as president of the Avodah Institute, which helps “leaders integrate the claims of their faith with the demands of their work.” The Acton Institute takes great delight in congratulating Dr. Miller on his new academic position.

Blog author: jcouretas
Saturday, August 9, 2008
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In the Wall Street Journal, Edward E. Ericson Jr. asks whether “this week’s evenhanded obituaries signal merely momentary respect for the newly dead or augur better days ahead for Solzhenitsyn’s reputation.” In “Solzhenitsyn, Optimist,” Ericson observes that the writer “had the last laugh” in his struggle against the Soviets.

Solzhenitsyn has described himself as “an unshakable optimist.” On a dark day when one of his helpers had been arrested and interrogated and ended up dead (who knows how?), he could “raise a defiant battle cry: Victory is ours! With God’s aid we shall yet prevail!” Virtually every one of Solzhenitsyn’s works, of whatever type or length, ends on the note of hope. This is not an accident or affectation; it is a revelation of character and statement of faith. In seeing him as he isn’t, we err.

What could his mortal foe do about Solzhenitsyn’s great weapon, “The Gulag Archipelago,” first published in the 1970s? Solzhenitsyn was “sure” that “Gulag” “was destined to affect the course of history,” and early reviews reinforced his optimism. A German newspaper editorialized, “The time may come when we date the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet system from the appearance of Gulag.” Diplomat George Kennan said that this “greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime” would stick in “the craw of the Soviet propaganda machine . . . with increasing discomfort, until it has done its work.”

Solzhenitsyn, for his part, instructed us early in the book that if all we expected from it was a political exposé, we should “slam its covers shut right now.” It is more than a history of Lenin’s concentration-camp system; it is a literary investigation, the work of an artist. An “ordinary brave man” could decide “not to participate in lies, not to support false actions.” But “it is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie! For in the struggle with lies art has always triumphed and shall always triumph!” Solzhenitsyn was not the first witness to speak truthfully about the gulag. But because he was an artist, he was the first one able to make us all hear it and believe it. There is no answering “the many-throated groan, the dying whisper of millions” that he transmitted.

In this week’s Acton commentary, Solzhenitsyn and His Critics, I point to the criticism that has been leveled for many years at the writer who turned out to be not exactly the sort of dissident that many in the West were waiting for. I suspect that much of this antipathy to Solzhenitsyn was based on his uncompromising moral vision, which seems to offend some people. I say:

Solzhenitsyn’s critique of modern societies went much deeper than ideology. He drew from a Christian moral tradition, not a political platform. He yearned for a “moral doctrine of the value of the individual as the key to the solution of the social problems.”

I received today a copy of the Spring 2008 Ave Maria Law Review in which is published an article titled “The Enduring Achievement of Alexander Solzhenitsyn” by Edward E. Ericson Jr. Ericson, with co-author Daniel J. Mahoney, edited ISI’s Solzhenitsyn Reader, an outstanding one-volume collection drawn from the author’s prodigious life work.

In Ericson’s article, adapted from a lecture he gave at Ave Maria last year, he says that Solzhenitsyn “never did get the hang of the West’s unspoken rule governing free speech, namely self-censorship.” Then there was his Russian Orthodox faith. Ericson:

In 1972, with all hope lost of his ever being published again in the Soviet Union, [Solzhenitsyn] made public the fact that he was a religious believer, specifically, a Russian Orthodox Christian — how quaint. Following his 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, conventional wisdom crystallized into cliche: Solzhenitsyn was objectionable, wrongheaded, retrograde. Case over. Close the books.

Unless Solzhenitsyn’s many critics, on the left and the right, understand him on his own terms — as an artist working from the moral framework of an ancient Christian tradition — they will never understand him or his work.

Even before Solzhenitsyn publicly identified himself as a Christian, those with eyes to see could discern that his fiction operated within what we may call the moral universe, which, in turn, seemed to posit a religious worldview. In 1970, Father Alexander Schmemann described Solzhenitsyn as “a Christian writer” because his writings exhibit “a deep and all-embracing … perception of the world, man, and life, which, historically, was born a grew from Biblical and Christian revelation, and only from it.” Schmemann described the essence of this perception as “the triune intuition of creation, fall, and redemption.”

Is Solzhenitsyn above criticism? Of course not. But understand him in light of his great achievement — the moral courage he displayed and the power of his ideas. Ericson again:

Someone needed to articulate compellingly what everyone knew deep down. Someone needed to say the emperor had no clothes. Solzhenitsyn, more than anyone else, delegitimized the Soviet experiment at home and discredited it abroad. And he hammered home his case through the concreteness that literary art is singularly suited to provide. It helped to have people pushing against the tottering tower from the outside, but external pressures are of less consequence than demolition charges ignited from the inside.

At Solzhenitsyn’s grave. Donskoy Monastery, Moscow. Aug. 6, 2008.

The Associated Press has published a moving series of photographs from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s funeral here.

Acathistus

By Alexander Solzhenitsyn

When, oh when did I scatter so madly
All the goodness, the God-given grains?
Was my youth not spent with those who gladly
Sang to You in the glow of Your shrines?

Bookish wisdom, though, sparkled and beckoned,
And it rushed through my arrogant mind,
The world’s mysteries seemed within reckon,
My life’s lot like warm wax in the hand.

My blood seethed, and it spilled and it trickled,
Gleamed ahead with a multihued trace,
Without clamor there quietly crumbled
In my breast the great building of faith.

Then I passed betwixt being and dying,
I fell off and now cling to the edge,
And I gaze back with gratitude, trembling,
On the meaningless life I have led.

Not my reason, nor will, nor desire
Blazed the twists and the turns of its road,
It was purpose-from-High’s steady fire
Not made plain to me till afterward.

Now regaining the measure that’s true,
Having drawn with it water of being,
Oh great God! I believe now anew!
Though denied, You were always with me …

From The Solzhenitsyn Reader. New and Essential Writings 1947-2005 (ISI Books, 2006)