Monday, 8/7/17

  1. Habits of alienation and loneliness
  2. What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 1)?
  3. What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 2)?
  4. What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 3)?
  5. What’s wrong with Evangelical voters?
  6. What’s wrong with the Establishment Hegemons?


Nothing could be more “cozy” than Tolkien’s description of the Shire … Tolkien’s love of England (and Hobbits), however, went far beyond pleasant gardens and good neighbors. The warmth he felt for such things colored his political thoughts as well (such as they were). And it’s difficult to describe a man’s “political” thoughts when those thoughts were about as anti-political as possible …

I have been struck through the years by something of the same phenomenon in the thought of Solzhenitsyn … He wrote and spoke … about the need to return to the model of the Zemtsvos, … a modest form of self-government with local councils and elected groups made up of landowners (both large and small), clergy, urban classes and peasants. These small, local ruling councils were to determine the economic needs of any area. Part of the goal was an “economy of permanence,” rather than an economy of runaway consumption. His principles are strikingly similar to the Distributism favored by a number of Catholic thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton.

What they particularly have in common is the philosophical principle of subsidiarity, which elevates the local and the small …

I am neither a political philosopher nor an economist. But it is very much in my mind that three or four of the Christians whom I most admire in our contemporary age held similar views …

Note this passage [a moment of rare insight and clarity] from the recent [Orthodox] Council in Crete:

In opposition to the levelling and impersonal standardization promoted by globalization, and also to the extremes of nationalism, the Orthodox Church proposes the protection of the identities of peoples and the strengthening of local identity …

The habits of modern cultures have become attuned to the generalizations of distant bureaucracies. Our loyalties are attached to distant sounds rather than local reality. Neighbors are the most likely strangers in our lives, while true strangers become our “friends.” These are the habits of alienation and loneliness: friends whom one only sees in digitalized form, but never touches.

… The Council in Crete observed:

The contemporary ideology of globalization, which is being imposed imperceptibly and expanding rapidly, is already provoking powerful shocks to the economy and to society on a world-wide scale. Its imposition has created new forms of systematic exploitation and social injustice; it has planned the gradual neutralization of the impediments from opposing national, religious, ideological and other traditions and has already led to the weakening or complete reversal of social acquisitions on the pretext of the allegedly necessary readjustment of the global economy, widening thus the gap between rich and poor, undermining the social cohesion of peoples and fanning new fires of global tensions.

Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton and Solzhenitsyn (and others) gave great attention to the “littleness” of our lives. Our spiritual lives are surely no less specific. Our salvation is found in the little things, as is the truth of our existence.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Greatness of a Lesser World) I think the American Solidarity Party is the only party in America that consciously supports subsidiarity and the sanctity of human life.

What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 1)?

Winners, when they reach the end zone, are supposed to act like they’ve been there before. So why is President Trump still waging war on Hillary Clinton? Why tweet about missing emails and ties to Ukraine when he’s the one inside the White House? Why send press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders before the cameras — nearly nine months after the election — to read what amounted to a multi-count indictment of Trump’s defeated foe?

In this, as he does so often, Trump serves as a magic decoder ring for our seemingly incomprehensible 21st-century politics. With reptilian clarity — hopeless on strategy, but instinctively keen — he seizes on the binary basics of our endless combat: To survive, one must have a foe.

Down deep, Trump surely knows he owes his presidency to Clinton. His vulnerabilities as a candidate were precisely the spots where Clinton was too weak to land a blow. The murkiness of his finances was offset by the shadiness of the Clinton Foundation. Her outrage at Trump’s boorish behavior rang false given her infinite tolerance for her husband’s. If Trump’s first impulse was always to dodge the truth, well, where had we seen that before? Clinton had to collapse in public before she was willing to admit to a mild case of pneumonia. Her story about her emails had more holes than Trump National Golf Club. As for the empty slogans of his campaign (“Build that wall”), they were hardly less substantial than hers (“Stronger together”). His ignorance of policy and history demanded a campaign about nothing. She gave it to him.

Democrats looking ahead to 2018 might want to keep this history in mind. Approval ratings are a mirage. They ask the public to compare the president to some theoretical standard or ideal. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the president is doing his job? Compared to what? Lost in a desert of ballot-box ineptitude, the Democrats are crawling toward the false oasis of Trump’s low ratings — as though blind to the fact that Trump was never popular to begin with, and still he won.

(David Von Drehle, emphasis added) I don’t recall reading Von Drehle (or is it just Drehle?) before. I like his style in this column.

What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 2)?

Analyzing the increasingly grotesque GOP through the vignette of the GOP primary to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat:

“Anything that comes out of the South,” said writer Flannery O’Connor, a sometime exemplar of Southern Gothic, “is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” But, realistically, Alabama’s primary says more about Republicans than about this region. A Michigan poll shows rocker-cum-rapper Kid Rock a strong potential Republican Senate candidate against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. Rock says Democrats are “shattin’ in their pantaloons” because if he runs it will be “game on mthrfkers.”

Is this Northern Gothic? No, it is Republican Gothic, the grotesque becoming normal ….

(George Will)

What’s wrong with the GOP (Part 3)?

The collapse of health-care legislation has shown that, despite his boasts, the president is hardly a master-dealmaker who can help Republicans get bills through Congress. The defenestration of Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and the short-lived Anthony Scaramucci shows that he also has a habit of rewarding even his most loyal defenders with public humiliation. This pact is indeed like Faust’s—but without the enjoyable moments of omnipotence before the reckoning falls due. It is past time for Republicans in Congress to strike a new one.

(The Economist)

What’s wrong with Evangelical Voters?

After the speech, I was speaking to a small group of younger Christians when an older man walked up, glared at me, and said, “You just wanted Hillary.” (I did not.) Conversations like this have happened time and again. It’s the answer to all critiques. Worried that Trump’s team has lied about the extent of their contacts with Russia? “Hillary.” Concerned about chaos in the West Wing? “Hillary.” Alarmed at the failure of Obamacare repeal and the obvious lack of presidential leadership? “Hillary.”

Oddly enough, this ongoing older-generation Hillary obsession makes me less pessimistic about the long-term future of Evangelical political engagement. When committed support for Trump is both generational and situational, there’s less chance that we’re looking at a permanent Evangelical shift towards “by any means necessary” political combat. There’s a better chance that we’re looking at the sad by-product of the worst presidential choice in living American memory.

Younger Evangelicals (and younger conservatives more generally) saw Hillary as a corrupt choice for president. She was no more honest than Trump, but unlike Trump she was actively hostile to religious liberty and increasingly radical in her support for abortion. That’s bad enough, of course, but older Evangelicals were carrying a full quarter-century of baggage into the fight. Beginning in 1991, she wasn’t just at the center of scandal after scandal, she was on the wrong end of the culture wars, and she was an icon of the brand of arrogant, condescending feminism that most Christian conservatives openly despise. And she was in our face for decades.

In other words, if the Democratic party wanted to nominate the one person in the entire United States most calculated to get Evangelicals to hold their noses and walk to the polls for a man like Donald Trump, then congratulations. Mission accomplished.

But now, six months into a dysfunctional presidency, it’s time for Evangelicals to come to their senses. It’s time to fully understand that Hillary is actually vanquished. There is absolutely no criticism of Trump that will cause her to parachute into the White House. Indeed, if the political crises grow increasingly grave, then the choice wouldn’t be Trump or Hillary but rather Trump or Pence. Moreover, withholding criticism of Trump’s bad acts enables his worst behavior. Holding firm behind him no matter his actions reinforces his own view that “his people” support him unconditionally. Given his erratic behavior, that’s dangerous for him to believe. He should understand his political limits.

(David French, The Ghost of Hillary Still Haunts Evangelicals)

What’s wrong with the Establishment Hegemons?

“There’s No Such Thing as an ‘Illiberal’,” argues Yoram Hazony in the Wall Street Journal:

The American and British media have been inundated lately with denunciations of “illiberalism.” That word was once used to describe a private shortcoming such as a person who was narrow-minded or ungenerous. But in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, “illiberalism” is being treated as a key political concept. In the writings of Fareed Zakaria, David Brooks, James Kirchick, the Economist and the Atlantic, among others, it is now assumed that the line dividing “liberal” from “illiberal” is the most important in politics.

Who are these “illiberals” everyone is talking about? Respected analysts have ascribed illiberalism to the Nazis and the Soviets; to Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un ; to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdel Fattah Al Sisi ; to the Shiite regime in Iran and the military regime in Myanmar; to the democratic governments of India, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; to Donald Trump, Theresa May and Brexit; to the nationalist parties in Scotland and Catalonia; to Marine Le Pen, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and the lefty activists demanding political correctness on campus; to Venezuela, Pakistan, Kenya and Thailand.

A battalion of our best-known journalists and intellectuals are straining to persuade readers that there exists some real-world phenomenon called “illiberalism,” and that it is, moreover, a grave threat. This isn’t routine political partisanship. They really feel as if they are living through a nightmare in which battling “illiberalism” has taken on a staggering significance.

It’s vital to understand this phenomenon, not because “illiberalism” really identifies a coherent idea—it doesn’t—but because the new politics these writers are urging, the politics of liberalism vs. illiberalism, is itself an important, troubling development.

“[L]iberalism” was understood as the belief that it was possible and desirable to establish a world-wide regime of law, enforced by American power, to ensure human rights and individual liberties. “Illiberalism” became a catchall term that lumped together anyone opposed to the project—as Marxists used the word “reactionary” to describe anyone opposed to the coming communist world order.

“Illiberalism” doesn’t objectively describe any natural grouping of political phenomena. It’s a synonym for opposition to—and now, perhaps, the impending failure of—the regime of universal individual rights that American power was supposed to establish. Anyone whose goals are counter to this particular aim—whether socialist, conservative, nationalist, tribalist, Islamic fundamentalist, or whatever else—contributes to what one headline calls “Illiberalism: The Worldwide Crisis.”

Except that there is no crisis. People are simply much less interested in becoming liberals than liberals had supposed ….

There’s something paradoxical, is there not, about the United States’ desire to establish and oversee “liberal” hegemony in the world? Given our expansive and ever-expanding notion of “human rights and individual liberties,” it is both unsurprising and heartening that there’s pushback.

* * * * *

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.