Posts tagged with: politics

Visiting San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1968, Tom Wolfe was struck by the way hippies there “sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero.” In his essay “The Great Relearning,” Wolfe connects this to Ken Kesey’s pilgrimage to Stonehenge, inspired by “the idea of returning to civilization’s point zero” and trying to start all over from scratch and do it better. Wolfe predicted that history will record that Haight-Ashbury period as “one of the most extraordinary religious experiments of all time.”

The desire to sweep everything away wasn’t just limited to hippies. Wolfe writes:

In politics the twentieth century’s great start from zero was one-party socialism, also known as Communism or Marxism-Leninism. Given that system’s bad reputation in the West today (even among the French intelligentsia) it is instructive to read John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World – before turning to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The old strike hall poster of a Promethean worker in a blue shirt breaking his chains across his mighty chest was in truth the vision of ultimate human freedom the movement believed in at the outset.

For intellectuals in the West the painful dawn began with the publication of the Gulag Archipelago in 1973. (more…)

Is spartan austerity driving us over the fiscal cliff?

The latest step in the budget dance between House Republicans and the White House has to do with where tax increases (or revenue increases in general, depending on what is called what) fit with a deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” As Napp Nazworth reports, President Obama has apparently delivered an ultimatum: “there would be no agreement to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ unless tax rates are increased on those making more than $250,000 per year.”

On one level it seems reasonable to talk about addressing a deficit from both directions: cutting spending and raising revenue. But as Ray Nothstine put it so well earlier this week, without some structural (and cultural) changes to the way Congress works, it would be insane to think that giving politicians more money is going to change how they spend it. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Historically “politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in – and a little bit more.” Without some kind of balanced budget agreement, something with real teeth, why should we think things will be any different this time around? (I’ve talked about a more promising “both/and” budget solution before.) As Ray and I have concluded elsewhere, “In the case of the federal spending, the government has proved to be untrustworthy with very much. It’s time to see if the politicians in Washington can learn to be trustworthy with less.”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I remember when I was a kid and would ask why we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. What about Children’s Day? To which I would receive the inevitable response, “Every day is Children’s Day.” I use the same response now when some smart-alecky kid pipes up with this kind of question.

That may be true, in a sense, but today (Nov. 20) is also “Universal Children’s Day.” This event is a vehicle in part for UN advocacy on behalf of the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the last issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Johan van der Vyver examined the convention, with an eye particularly toward the complications of ratification and implementation in the United States in comparison with that of South Africa, in his piece, “Children’s Rights, Family Values, and Federal Constraints.”

Van der Vyver argues, “There is strong opposition against ratification of the convention from within the ranks of evangelical Christians, based essentially on a perception that the convention undermines family values. However, this article argues that the main obstacle confronting the United States in this regard derives from the constitutional dispensation of federalism.” The basic point, says van der Vyver, is that the autonomy of the family unit is not essentially undermined by the convention, but that the particular polity of the U.S. government and the nature of the process of treaty ratification is what stands in the way of American participation.

As to a classical expression of the place of children within the family and the significance of the family as a social institution, it’s worth noting the recent translation of the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s treatise, The Christian Family. This is a wonderful book, full of insights into the nature of social relationships, the divine institution of the family, and the importance of the family to a free and virtuous society.

Peter Lawler, Dana Professor of Government at Berry College, has written a piece at Ethika Politika urging those upset by last week’s election results to be calm and take a deep breath. First, Lawler says we have to understand that there are small political parties and great ones.

Great parties are parties of high principle.  Their dominance on the political stage has the advantage of bringing great men into political life.  They have the disadvantage of rousing up animosity that readily leads to war.  So great parties make great men happy and most men miserable…

Democracies, however, hardly ever have great parties.  Most of the time our parties are coalitions of diverse interests and short on clear and divisive principle.  Politicians make petty appeals to ordinary selfishness, and people vote their interests.  The bad news is that great men are repulsed by the small stakes and contemptible motives of political life, and so they stay away from it.  The good news is that the outcomes of elections aren’t so important, and people aren’t roused up to take to the streets or grab their weapons.  The winning candidate and party is the one that most effectively builds a majority coalition of diverse interests, and the losing candidate and party end up acknowledging that, most of all, it got outhustled.

The problem, as Lawler sees it through Tocquevillian glasses, isn’t one party winning over another or one candidate leading by shining example. No, the problem is that America is now obsessed with individualism. We don’t care much any more what is best for all, but merely what is best for me. I want what I want, damn the consequences.

I think Tocqueville would conclude his observations by noticing what’s changed the most since the America he wrote about is the breakdown of the religious-based American consensus on the limits of self-obsessive individualism.  His America was all about chastity, marital fidelity, what’s best for children, and common moral duties.  This consensus has broken down, and the resulting devolution of marriage into a contractual entitlement devoid of real duties or even duration is the real cause of the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.  The question posed by gays is roughly this:  Given how little marriage really means under the law these days, you have no right to exclude us from its benefits, which have become mainly symbolic.

Read “Tocquevillian Reflections on the Meaning of the Election” at Ethika Politika here.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, November 9, 2012

Mitt Romney may have lost to Barack Obama but his was not the biggest loss of the election—at least not economically. Despite the millions the GOP spent to elect their candidate, the real economic losers of the 2012 election, as Joel Kotkin explains, are entrepreneurs:

The real losers are small business owners, or what might be called the aspirational middle class. The smaller business — with no galleon full of legal slaves pulling for them — will face more regulation of labor, particularly independent contracting. There will be more financial regulation, which is why Romney’s top contributors were all banks.

Small businesses will also face challenges associated with Obamacare, which now will sail on unchallenged. Health care costs are expected to go up 6.5% per employee. Some 58% of businesses say they will shift the costs to their employees. Many owners will face a higher individual tax bill: couples making $250,000 or more and singles making $200,000 or more will pay a 3.8% Medicare tax starting 2013.

All this is troubling, as American start-up rates are already falling. Much of what happens now occurs not from a great hunger to succeed as a desire to maintain. Outside of the inherently entrepreneurial immigrant classes, the only group of Americans starting business more than before are the fifty somethings and above. Many of these may simply be former employees of larger firms, now doing work sometimes in the same industry and even for the same company.

Read more . . .

Writing for National Review Online, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers three salient points about last night’s election:

1. Americans give signs of moving in a morally and politically more progressive direction, by which I mean that the appeal to the wisdom of past ages and tradition is simply not as compelling as it once was. People today, not all, but many, seem to want the trappings of the tradition (the white gown at the wedding), but not its obligations (chastity before it), thus indicating they would rather live off the legacy of the past than work to create a new and enduring legacy for the future.

2. This tendency applies not merely to moral issues, but to economic and political ones as well. As expressed in the elections results, and confirmed over time in numerous polls, Americans want a prosperous economy with all the “toys” it will produce, but they also demand a wide assortment of political and governmental props to ensure they do not have to sacrifice too much or risk too much in order to attain it. In many respects it is as simple as wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too — writ large.

3. Finally, and with specific application to our religious institutions, now under more governmental threat than at most any other time in the history of the Republic, there must be a recognition of failure on our part to make persuasive, compelling, and authentic the message and identity we bear. The very existence of our social-service institutions is taken for granted at the moment that these have themselves lost their own raison d’être (witness the wholesale sell-out of Catholic Bishops by the Catholic Hospital Association in the face of the HHS mandate, among others). At least with regards to the Catholic bishops in the United States, along with various movements of Evangelical Protestants, there is a growing recognition of a failure in our role in forming a clear, vibrant, winsome, and effective “world view.” The recognition is growing, as I say, but what this election gives evidence of is that we have a great deal more yet to accomplish.

Read more of “One Election Cannot Fix What Ails Us” on National Review Online.

Blog author: pdevous
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It is clear that what President Barack Obama has achieved is historic: Being re-elected when not a single one of his major initiatives has enjoyed broad popular support.

What is also clear is that the moral and spiritual demographics of the United States have changed considerably.  If Gov. Mitt Romney, an honorable man of moderate political preferences and conservative personal convictions, cannot attract a winning coalition we are in deep trouble.  His loss illustrates the change that has occurred in the nation and the challenges it portends.  Politics is about addition and Gov. Romney surely tried to run an “additional” campaign and I can think of no Republican who was more likely to accomplish what was necessary for a center-right victory.

Last night’s election illustrates that Americans have become a people more dependent on the government. The country will continue to trend culturally and politically to the left. This means that conservative causes that take their impetus from the truths and moral rationality offered by the Judeo-Christian political  and philosophical tradition will continue to be marginalized, the Church’s liberty restricted, and the cultural, moral, political and spiritual leftism, hedonism,  and materialism, with its attendant anomie and nihilism, will continue the long march through all of our cultural and governmental institutions. (more…)