- The Hollow Republic.
- Prayer for the dead.
- Church and Social Capital.
- “We have met the enemy….”
- Ralph Nader lives (and may “get it”).
Yuval Levin, writing “The Hollow Republic” at NRO, penetrates below the “you didn’t build that” gaff of July 13, which led to endless internet ribaldry:
This remarkable window into the president’s thinking shows us … a man with a staggeringly thin idea of common action in American life.
The president simply equates doing things together with doing things through government. He sees the citizen and the state, and nothing in between — and thus sees every political question as a choice between radical individualism and a federal program.
But most of life is lived somewhere between those two extremes, and American life in particular has given rise to unprecedented human flourishing because we have allowed the institutions that occupy the middle ground — the family, civil society, and the private economy — to thrive in relative freedom. Obama’s remarks in Virginia shed a bright light on his attitude toward that middle ground, and in that light a great deal of what his administration has done in this three and a half years suddenly grows clearer and more coherent, and even more disconcerting.
Turning to the HHS employer-paid contraception mandate, and how it fits into this pattern:
The HHS rule did not assert that people should have the freedom to use contraceptive or abortive drugs — which of course they do have in our country. It did not even say that the government facilitate people’s access to these drugs — which it does today and has done for decades. Rather, the rule required that the Catholic Church and other religious entities should facilitate people’s access to contraceptive and abortive drugs. It aimed to turn the institutions of civil society into active agents of the government’s ends, even in violation of their fundamental religious convictions.
The rule implicitly asserted that our nation will not tolerate an institution that is unwilling to actively ratify the views of those in power — that we will not let it be and find other ways to put those views into effect (even though many other ways exist), but will compel it to participate in the enactment of the ends chosen by our elected officials. This is an extraordinarily radical assertion of government power, and a failure of even basic toleration. It is, again, an attempt to turn private mediating institutions into public utilities contracted to execute government ends.
When pressed to defend its constriction of the rights of religious institutions, the administration recast the basic definition and purpose of such institutions. The final HHS rule defined a religious employer exceedingly narrowly, as an institution that primarily serves and employs people of its own faith and has as its basic purpose the inculcation of the beliefs of that faith. This leaves no room for most religiously based institutions of civil society — no room for hospitals, for schools and universities, for soup kitchens and homeless shelters, for adoption agencies and legal-aid clinics. Religious institutions may preach to the choir, but otherwise they may not play any role in society. Especially when they disagree with those in power, they must be cleared out of the space between the individual and the state.
Indeed, the president and his administration don’t seem to have much use for that space at all. Even the family, which naturally stands between the individual and the community, is not essential. In May, the Obama campaign produced a Web slideshow called “The Life of Julia,” which follows a woman through the different stages of life and shows the many ways in which she benefits from public policies that the president advocates. It was an extraordinarily revealing work of propaganda, and what it revealed was just what the president showed us in Roanoke: a vision of society consisting entirely of the individual and the state.
I think Levin has nailed the Obama extension of a longstanding progressive tendency. I feel it most acutely in areas like the HHS mandate, which surely is bumping up against the constitutional guaranty of free exercise of religion, but it’s probably broader than that. It’s just that religious institutions are so prominent as “in between” entities.
And that, in turn, evokes what used to be a commonplace, but which I don’t hear so much in an age of school vouchers and government “support” of “faith-based organizations”: if you take the government’s money, you’re eventually going to be required to do the government’s bidding.
Maybe we should stop sending the government our money. Maybe the government-coordinated cure is worse that some of our social diseases.
Exactly how does prayer for the dead work? Well, how does prayer for the living work? (Clark Carlton)
People who don’t go to church can be just as morally upright as people who do, but as a group they do not generate the social capital that the churchgoing population generates — it’s not their ‘fault’ that social capital deteriorates, but that doesn’t make the deterioration any less real.
(Review of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America (p. 210), in the September, 2012 Touchstone)
While it is satisfying to bewail the failures of the Republicans and the Democrats, let’s not deceive ourselves. Our problems come not so much because American political parties have lost their way but rather because we, the American people, have lost our way.
(From The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry by Mark Mitchell, Nathan Schlueter)
I listened yesterday afternoon to a podcast of Christopher Lydon interviewing Ralph Nader. Nader has some ideas for lighting a candle that I, a darkness-curser, probably should be mindful of. They’re all nice local things like put your money in a credit union instead of a too-big-to-fail bank.
We are losing not only our community self-reliance but our regional and national self-reliance, and the only countervailing trend is these community economies I mention [credit unions, renewable energy, community health clinics]… The biggest obstacle is the emergence of the global corporations that have no allegiance to nation or to community, other than to control them or to export their jobs and industry to the most labor-repressive dictatorships and oligarchies in the world.
Nader seems to get that the global corporations are a problem beyond progressive regulatory solutions. We the people just have to starve them. He also gets the importance of place, and is quite rooted in his hometown, it seems. I’m not at all sure Lydon gets any of that.
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