Return of the potpourri

1

Yet another unanswerable survey:

Do you think voting by mail is more or less likely to be accurate than in-person?

Axios-SurveyMonkey poll

What do they mean by “accurate”? E.g., reflecting (1) each actual voter’s choice, or (2) aggregate registered voters’ overall preference?

2

Are we really going to waste time listening to theme and variations on whether Kamala Harris is “really an African American“?

3

  • [T]here’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels.
  • In the 1970s, the old Mainline Protestantism starts to break down. A question of what might replace its centrality in American culture emerges. There is a period in the 1990s and 2000s when it seems that Catholicism might provide the moral language that Mainline Protestantism no longer did. In the event, that project failed, primarily because liberal Protestantism did not disappear – it just shifted into post-Protestantism.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.
  • It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
  • The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
  • The line that I use is that, if you believe that your ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but are evil, you have ceased to do politics and begun to do religion.
  • [T]he young members of the Elect are winning against the old elite. Young staffers at the New York Times forced James Bennett, the editorial page editor, to resign. And that’s incredible. Every old newspaper editor I knew – in generations before mine – would have looked at a letter signed by hundreds of junior staffers criticising an editorial decision, and said ‘I’m sorry that you’re quitting’.

Collins: You refer to the post-Protestants who promote these ideas as the ‘Elect’. From a sociological perspective, why do you prefer to use the term ‘Elect’ rather than say the ‘elite’ or another designation?

Bottum: Ross Douthat, in a column in the New York Times, said that one of the things we need to take from An Anxious Age is the distinction between the elite and the Elect. I chose the term Elect because those people who are part of it are not elite in the sense of having a hundred billion dollars. They are not the elite in the sense of being political figures with lengthy careers, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden for that matter. They are not elite in the sense they control things in terms of ownership. So we need another term for them. They certainly have elite educations, but that elite education is not translated into the enormous wealth and power that the true elite has. I could have gone with a class analysis, and I do talk about Milovan Djilas’ analysis in The New Class, which is a fundamental book from the 1950s. There’s also the managerial class analysis that dominated American sociology for many years, and is still really informative. But I wanted to push in a slightly different direction.

Race is the problem that we have never solved in this country. After the Reconstruction era, in the aftermath of the Civil War, we lost the national will for solving the problem of race. Segregation was evil, second only to slavery, but not by much. And the Great Society welfare state of the 1960s has manifestly proven a failure. So, we have never solved this problem.

What I object to is the idea that deep feeling is going to solve the race problem. Or that absurdly utopian ideas like abolishing the police are going to solve the problem. We don’t live in a utopia, and those ideas are only going to cause more problems. The Elect has not been called upon to be responsible. Its members are simply objecting, and they are objecting for reasons that are at least half, and probably more, emotional. Which is to say, they are only objecting to feel good about themselves. To look at that in any objective way, it’s so irresponsible. All it does is create more unhappiness in the name of your own self-righteousness. This is what I call the self-love of self-hatred. It’s ‘I’m such a sinner and aren’t I wonderful for knowing that I’m a sinner’. The irresponsibility comes because they aren’t governing.

Collins: I’ve also noticed a tendency to avoid detailed analysis of economic and social conditions, or concrete policy reforms. Instead, the issue of race after George Floyd is a simple moral denunciation, or a vague reference to ‘systemic racism’. You hear ‘Why do I have to keep explaining this?’, ‘I’m so exhausted’, and so on, as if the issue was beyond debate.

Bottum: Right. But also it’s defining the Church. It’s a way of saying you either have this feeling or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re evil, and if you do, you’re good. Christian theology, and Christian spiritual practice, has dealt with this for millennia. This is the distinction Calvin would make between justification and sanctification. The idea here is that we no longer need to argue it, because any argument of it is engaging with people beyond the pale. They are outside the Church, they are the profane. They are just wrong. What are they wrong about? They are wrong in the central feeling of moral goodness. This is the attempt to get others to shut up.

We are living in the age of the ad hominem. The fundamental way to answer a claim is to say something about the person who said it. Whether it’s a tu quoque, or an abusive ad hominem, or poisoning the well – the ad hominem is a whole genus of different species of fallacy. How do we know others are wrong? They are wrong because some bad people have said it too. Bari Weiss [the former New York Times op-ed editor] must be wrong [about the illiberal environment at the Times], because Ted Cruz forwarded her tweet. That’s a wonderful ad hominem – guilt by association. It’s not about the content of what is said, it’s about the people who said it.

Wokeness: old religion in a new bottle – spiked (Joseph Bottum interview)

My old friend Jody Bottum thinks that the various Woke movements amount to a kind of post-Protestantism. I think this is wholly wrong. Wokeness is aspirationally Roman Catholic in its structure. It already has:

  • magisterial teaching that one must hold de fide in order to belong
  • the pronouncing of anathemas upon those who dissent from that magisterial teaching
  • a distributed Inquisition devoted to unearthing and prosecuting heresy
  • an ever-growing Index of Prohibited Books

Wokeness despises the fissiparousness of Protestantism and wants to replace it with Real, Substantial, and Visible Unity under its banner. It’s basically a secularized Counter-Reformation.

Alan Jacobs, wokeness as Counter-Reformation – Snakes and Ladders

On wokeness as religion, see also Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice – Areo (long read – I skimmed)

4

The trouble with Evangelicals is that too often we’ve been wise as doves and innocent as serpents.

Alan Jacobs, paraphrasing Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll’s book is 25 years old, but somehow this aphorism seems truer than ever.

5

Are these trustworthy people to think with?

Alan Jacobs, suggesting a key life question (shortly after reflecting on C.S. Lewis’s Mark Studdock and his wife, Jane). If you know That Hideous Strength, that should resonate.

6

Incompetent narcissist is a really hard sell.

The Remnant, on the 2020 election as a referendum on President Trump, who is neither a competent narcissist nor a lovable bumbler.

7

Nobody wants to be on Team Lesser Evil. You want to feel like you’re on Team Good. (David French, guest-hosting on The Remnant. When you vote Lesser Evil, you’re emotionally joining the team.

8

[O]n June 22nd, the president suspended the arrival of new au pairs … Wealthier families … have begun poaching au pairs from households with lower incomes.

Au-pair wars – America’s au-pair programme is under assault from Donald Trump and the left | United States | The Economist

9

Recommended: The end of secularism is nigh – UnHerd. I thought the Atlantic’s article on the topic (or should I say on the same two foreign developments?) was inferior.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

Those are stunning contrasts. So why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?

A superficial answer would be that for a conservative, I rate shocking low on loyalty in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. But I’m almost positive there’s something more important than that.

First, a distinction.

Dissatisfied with my superficial reading habits, I am currently reading Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (revised and updated 1972). Chapter 8 is titled “Coming to Terms with an Author”:

[I]n the analytical reading of a book, coming to terms is the first step beyond the outline. Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.

A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications … [A] word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.

Second, a story, which may be apocryphal, but I did not make it up.

A conservative returned to his alma mater for a commencement address and opened thusly:

By a strange coincidence, I am a graduate of a vastly different institution which occupied this very site 40 years ago and even bore the same name …

For some 23 years now, I’ve been an adherent of a religion called “Christianity,” based on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. It was once, under the necessity of distinguishing it from a particular heresy, partially summarized in a Creed. To distinguish it from other versions, it’s called “Orthodox,” with a capital-O.

Meanwhile, my country is breathing the last few whiffs of an empty bottle labeled, by a strange coincidence, “Christianity,” which apparently is based on the intuition that God wants us to be nice and happy or, in its robust “Evangelical” versions, that Jesus Christ was very special and died a horrible death so that God would get over his anger issues with us and we could get on with being nice and happy.

Its proper name is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Although we share a mostly-overlapping vocabulary of words, I cannot come to terms with it, except in relatively brief and exhausting bursts of attempted empathy.

I remember from some 55 years ago an even more rigorous version, to which I then and for several more decades adhered, but it lives on today mostly notionally, in the scribblings of über-fissiparous “discernment bloggers.” I stay as far from them (and it) as I can, because I’m recovering from a mild-to-moderate case of that mindset and I’ve seen the harm it can cause, including when someone brings that mindset into Orthodox Christianity.

There were and are some other versions of “Christianity,” with some of which I have more or less come to terms, but they are not all that easily pigeon-holed politically.

So back to the question:  “why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?”

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief …

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declared as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

(Conscientious Objector to the Culture Wars | War Correspondence ن)

Second, I have no confidence that was a blip, a lapse. In fact, the ensuing years have confirmed that endless war truly is the position of the party insiders (even though party voters chose a putatively antiwar mad, toxic and incompetent man for President in 2016).

Third, the Churches these Republicans so assiduously attend engage in worship that’s pure glucose and teach religion(s) with which I cannot come to terms sufficiently to form any kind of alliance. That Republicans are so much likelier to attend Church weekly is not all that interesting considering the Churches they attend.

I knew that 10 years ago (if not earlier, but I drove a stake in the ground then — a blog that’s held up surprisingly well) and they drove a stake though whatever remained of “Republican” in my heart on November 8, 2016.

That’s why.

* * *

Perhaps some day I’ll post a more nuanced version of why it’s difficult for a former-Evangelical, former-Calvinist, now-Orthodox, to “come to terms” with typical versions of contemporary American “Christianity.” I acknowledge painting here with a broad brush, but if there’s no glimmer of recognition, then you may to inattentive, gentle reader.

* * * * *

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

Psalm 146:3

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Truth-tellers not welcome

Trump Berated Intelligence Chief Over Report Russia Wants Him Re-Elected

President chastised official after staffer informed bipartisan House panel that Moscow might again seek to boost his campaign

WASHINGTON—President Trump lashed out at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, earlier this month after learning that one of his subordinates had briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s apparent preference for Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential contest, people familiar with the matter said.

The Oval Office confrontation occurred after Mr. Trump learned that Shelby Pierson, the top election-security official in Mr. Maguire’s office, delivered information on election interference in a classified hearing before bipartisan members of the House panel, alongside national security officials from other federal agencies, three of the people said.

During that hearing, Ms. Pierson said Russia appeared to favor Mr. Trump over Democratic challengers and might seek to act on that preference, two of the people said, in a move that would reprise Moscow’s efforts during the 2016 election to boost his candidacy.

… The president … expressed his agitation over the substance of what Ms. Pierson told lawmakers about Russia’s possible interest in interfering on his behalf, these people said, with one person describing it as a prolonged and pointed interrogation of Mr. Maguire. Officials from other agencies were also present in the room, these people said.

Mr. Trump on Wednesday said he was replacing Mr. Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral, as acting director of national intelligence with Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany. Mr. Grenell has scant experience with intelligence matters and is viewed by Democrats as an ardent loyalist to the president. Mr. Maguire had been rumored to be in the running to be nominated to the position full-time, and Mr. Trump had praised him publicly during his tenure ….

Dustin Volz, Wall Street Journal (emphasis added)

Firing the acting head of an agency whose sole raison d’être is careful analysis to discern the unvarnished truth for the protection of the country from hostile foreign powers.

This is why it’s — ahem! — scary to have a prickly narcissist (see below for more) living in the White House.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Presumption of Regularity

Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast (Episode 146. I cannot find a direct link except to this download file) recently hosted Adam White of the American Enterprise Institute on a sort of “Impeachment 101” episode.

Some attention was given, of course, to the White House transcript of the infamous Ukraine phone conversation (which did have a quid pro quo, just for the record) and specifically to the deeply corrupt and impeachable request that Ukraine interfere in the 2020 Election by digging up dirt on Joe Biden. I am not going to digress to defend “quid pro quo” or “impeachable.” Listen to the whole podcast if you want to hear them defended.

Less remarked than the effort to involve Ukraine in smearing Biden was a reflection of Trump’s bat-guano crazy theory that the DNC mail server is in Kiev. That apparently is an actual extant delusion of the rightmost fringe, so of course our very stable genius is totally into it — enough so to debase his office by asking about it on a diplomatic call.

Then there was the booing at the World Series game 5, which some thought demeaned “the office of the Presidency.” That is not an argument that I find unsympathetic normally, but something is so abnormal about the present moment that it seems disingenuous.

White nails the present abnormality (interjections and “throat-clearing” omitted):

Goldberg: People are slipping Trump garbage from like GatewayPundit and Breitbart. The reason why the President of the United States said it was okay to betray the Kurds because they weren’t at Normandy — that came from like a Kurt Schlichter column.

White: … One thing about the President and this quid pro quo — I do think we need to step back and remind people: all this — … things that for a normal President would be kind of pushing the boundaries — President Trump doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt because of “Lock her up!” Right? He made this part of his campaign that he was going to go after, he was going to threaten his political enemies. And all his fans sort of rose up and loved that line, and they liked the President because he was so outside the box.

The problem is all the conventions of deference that we afford Presidents and the space we give them to use their Presidential power — it’s all contingent on our vision of what a normal President is, and what lawyers sometimes call “the presumption of regularity.” President Trump having smashed that box on his way into the office — he and his supporters can’t really be offended now when the rest of the system doesn’t treat him like a normal President, doesn’t give him those benefits of the doubt.

That’s why we need conventional statesmen in office so that we can trust them that, if they misspeak when they’re talking to Ukraine and they actually are interested in corruption or some far-fetched theory that they just want to ask about — that we can kind of step back and trust that this isn’t the President just wielding these powers to punish his enemies.

The President gave all that up before he was even in office ….

When I refresh my memory on the presumption of regularity, I’m struck by its power in explaining good people’s distrust of Trump. Frankly, I’d distrust him apart from “Lock her up!” because he’s a multi-adulterous, multi-bankrupt, sociopathic and punitive liar, New York real estate developer, Casino operator, pro wrestling promoter and reality TV figure.* But White and Goldberg don’t mention those.

Whether you’re sanely left or sanely right, you likely would enjoy and profit from the whole podcast episode, which agreed with me on some key points (of course we told the Russians we were going in after Abu Bakr al-Baghadi; we didn’t want them shooting down our helicopters) and enlightened me on others (there’s no requirement or even a well-established expectation that an Administration tell Congress about an imminent counter-terrorism operation). On the other hand, many of the pro-Trump talking points are rubbish, as they also note.

Crazy partisans likely wouldn’t enjoy the podcast. And sane people might have higher (in several senses) priorities than wallowing even more than necessary in impeachment news. Let your conscience be your guide, knowing that the podcast won’t agitate you with demagoguery.

* UPDATE: Also a Birther. How could I have forgotten Birtherism?

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Liberal gerrymandering

I may have found a website that’s very relevant to a current preoccupation of mine: Postliberal Thought. For instance, apropos of my particular concern for religious freedom, what if the very definition of “religion” in our liberal order is gerrymandered in favor or the state waxing, religion waning?

To think that the liberal state allows for “freedom of religion” in some sort of metaphysical sense is quaint. In fact, the State is indifferent to particular religions because they operate within the stability of the juridical, public category of “religion,” and such variations are by definition socially irrelevant …

Within late liberalism, then, one has freedom of religion precisely to the extent that the State has defined religious content, per se, as not mattering to its order; as something private and so indifferent, like one’s favorite color. As soon as this is not the case, as soon as an opinion or action is understood to impinge on the rights of other legal personae or to affect their public options, these opinions or actions cease to be considered properly religious and are therefore eligible for regulation by the State, a phenomenon clearly on display in State action against bakers or florists who decline to participate in same-sex weddings …

It is imperative that we recognize the tautological nature of this discourse … “The secular” is really nothing more than a name for societies that use or operate “religion” in this manner – as a kind of holding pen for these private, personal actions that do not yet affect the State.

Within late liberalism, then, religions are simply voluntary associations relevant to particular aspects of their members’ private lives. As soon as a religion verges into non-religious aspects of members’ private lives, it becomes a cult; if it verges into coercion, it becomes a terrorist organization; if it mobilizes for political action it becomes a political party; and if it starts manufacturing and selling goods, it becomes a business. In a liberal order, these actions are generally understood as perversions because within its categorical schema the content of religion doesn’t belong in certain aspects of the private or in the public realms of politics or economics. So, liberal States tend to effectively outlaw such perversions. Or else, they must redefine the public to include them and the religious to exclude them … Hospitals matter socially and so they simply cannot be, in essence, religious – and so they must be eligible for direct state regulation. Such constant redefinition is the ongoing project of liberalism’s discourse on religious liberty which is necessarily as much about defining religion and keeping it in its proper private realm as it is about protecting it from public disturbance. The late liberal notion of religious liberty is ultimately about the maintenance of the irrelevance of the “religion” category itself. Religion is by definition free and can be identified as whatever we are free to do.

Religion is just one type within a whole category of similar phenomena, “morality” being perhaps the most fundamental. For example, for many decades now Christians have attempted to mount an effective opposition to what they have called “moral relativism.” What is meant by this concept? Christians can’t really mean that our late liberal opponents don’t believe in right and wrong. We know that isn’t the case … And yet, many Christians continue to talk about moral relativism. Why?

This behavior becomes intelligible when we understand that similar to religion, in the everyday liberal vernacular, the word “moral” is restricted in application to things that society is more-or-less relativistic about … It’s not that society has relegated all “lifestyle” choices to the relativistic category of morality. Light up a cigarette in polite company to prove that is not the case. Smoking is not a “moral” issue, it’s a public health issue, like obesity, and so an appropriate object of public disdain and censure. Rather, particular behaviors have become “moral” precisely because they are understood as socially irrelevant. The relativism comes before the morality; relativism is a criterion for the category … The word “morality” comes to mean something like: “things that we all know are relative and socially unimportant but concerning which Christians have historically tried to oppress us and would again if given the chance.” In this way, the late liberal concept of morality includes within it both moral relativism and the story of Christian opposition to moral relativism. And so, when Christians argue against “moral relativism” as if it were a real thing, they reinforce not only the liberal segmenting of human action into moral (i.e. relative) things and amoral (i.e. political) things, but the marginalization of Christianity as an ultimately tyrannical dogma that has been overthrown, but which remains a threat. They are paradoxically profoundly liberal in their illiberality because liberalism requires them for its internal coherence.

… One can “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” as long as one’s determination of that meaning, as D.C. Schindler has put it, amounts to nothing at all– at least nothing social. Liberalism provides a tidy, closed circle. This is what the so-called pluralism of liberalism ultimately amounts to. It is, in fact, a profound homogenization and enforcement of orthodoxies.

Andrew Willard Jones, What if the liberal concept of religion is the real problem?.

This blog was not light reading, but was very worthwhile. As I try to get some handle on American post-liberalism, I think I’ll be spending more time at Postliberal Thought.

* * *

At the end of this blog appeared some utterly unfamiliar Latin, which I though might be fraught with meaning:

Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum. Integer posuere erat a ante venenatis dapibus posuere velit aliquet. Aenean eu leo quam. Pellentesque ornare sem lacinia quam venenatis vestibulum.

So I ran it through Google translate:

Tomorrow a lot of tomato chili carrots fermentation. Whole to lay a previously sterilized protein was put outdoor bananas. Jasmine lion than football. Kids football television skirt and poisonous gas.

So I guess these guys aren’t always hyper-serious.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

1

Holy Smokes! Tucker Carlson lit a long fuse and Michael Brendan Dougherty just ignited!

Carlson pointed to the real molten fissure that is burbling sulfur on the American right. By doing so without ever mentioning the name, the character, or the political fortunes of Donald Trump, he allowed everyone to be more frank than usual. Carlson’s case is that elite-driven economic and social policy has destroyed the material basis for the family life, that our technocratic elite has the wrong measures of national health. Further, he argues, if the American Right doesn’t give up on its absentminded idolatry of “the market,” the country will quickly move toward socialism.

My colleagues David French and David Bahnsen, along with Ben Shapiro, argued forcefully against him. The themes are remarkably similar. Carlson says true things about the state of family life, they admit. But he is encouraging a victim mentality …

While French, Bahnsen, and Shapiro all variously object to Carlson’s jeremiads about elites, and his iconoclasm when it comes to the “free market,” nobody disputed that, as Carlson said, sometimes private-equity outfits do take advantage of our laws to extract value from existing companies for shareholders, charging fees while passing on pension burdens to the public. Also, nobody argued against Carlson’s contention that, absent a dramatic effort to change the conditions for America’s middle and working class, the country will turn to socialism. I found these omissions curious.

Bahnsen writes: “Carlson wrongly chooses to assign blame for the decisions people make to macroeconomic forces, instead of focusing on the decisions people make and the microeconomic consequences people absorb.”

To those who object to Carlson along these lines I would ask: At what point can we actually move on from the subject of personal responsibility and onto governance? Or, to put it another way, are there any political conditions in which the advice to be virtuous and responsible aren’t the best counsel you could give an individual?

It seems that it would be just as true to say these things in Russia during the post-Communist period, which saw soaring substance-abuse problems and plunging life expectancies. Then as now, the best advice you could give an individual Russian man was not to drink until his liver failed and he died. You could advise Russian women not to abort so many of their children. You could advise people to go back to church. All that would be salutary and more practically useful than having them wallow in elite failure. But none of that advice is inconsistent with political reflection and action for building a more flourishing society.

And our jobs at National Review and the Daily Wire include writing about and reflecting on political conditions. We are, all of us in this debate, dedicated to causes in which political effort and coordination is difficult. Would any of us really conclude that because the Russian state wasn’t forcing men at gunpoint to drink, Russia’s mortality rate had nothing to do with the corruption, venality, and misgovernance of the era? I doubt it.

*     *     *

I agree that a victim mentality isn’t helpful. A victim mentality doesn’t even help most actual victims. It wouldn’t help most political prisoners held unjustly. They, too, benefit spiritually from self-control (and religion)! My fear is that we are now so self-conscious about legitimizing a victim mentality that we have decided that justice is hardly worth pursuing. We trust an invisible hand so thoroughly that we don’t ask whether the laws and policies that govern trade, employment, and markets are prudent. We are becoming as glib as those who say “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t have one.”

(Bold added)

Kudos to Carlson for starting this intra-conservative fight. Kudos to Dougherty for the cojones to point out that his colleagues, most or all of them senior to him, are selling buck-naked, Emperor’s-New-Clothes nostrums that few are still buying. And Kudos to National Review for allowing Dougherty to deviate from the conservative party line.

2

I do think Trump will declare a bogus national emergency because it provides a similacrum of accomplishing something.

So: Which is the worse precedent?

  1. A President declaring a bogus national emergency to gesture at fulfilling a key campaign promise?
  2. Federal Courts ruling that a declaration of national emergency is bogus?

Note that I’ve kept personalities out of it because the question is precedent.

The President claims that his lawyers have given a legal green light to the proposed declaration of national emergency. His oath to uphold the laws and constitution oblige him to satisfy himself of that.

  1. Has the Department of Justice really vetted this proposal for conformity with what the law has in mind by “national emergency” (rather than just “can I get away with it”) and said “Yes. This is a classic national emergency”? Or …
  2. Will there be principled resignations of lawyers whose opinions are being misrepresented?

3

Are there enough millstones left in the world to appropriately bedeck the necks of Fordham faculty, staff and counselors?

4

… I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

… Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia.

It gets worse. In 2016, the Trump State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

… Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Rod Dreher, An Expatriate Of The Heart, initially quoting a reader from Atlanta.

I’m thinking of “the … closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s … After Virtue, in which MacIntyre concludes:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

Patrick J. Deneen

Unlike Rod’s reader in Atlanta, my wife has not left me for another woman. I have a son, his wife, and two grandchildren. I serve my parish as Cantor.

These loyalties, not any attachment to the nation writ large (let alone to the government, a true force for evil in the world), keep me here (along with frank recognition that my language skills aren’t supple enough to make emigration to any Orthodox land feasible).

I’m of a generation and personal temperament that come to such conclusions relatively easily, I suspect. But I was a bit surprised to find myself agreeing so thoroughly with Rod’s reader.

I strongly suspect we’re at such the kind of “crucial turning point” MacIntyre described in the U.S., too. The comments to Dreher’s blog confirm that I’m not alone.

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Potpourri, 12/22/18

1

Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime” says the headline. A photo caption describes the pressing need:

“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”

Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.

That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.

Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …

So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?

“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”

“Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place”? Seriously? That‘s how we connect an evil history to this present virtue signalling? Well, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, I guess. Will we pass a law against the Senate’s own progressive McCarthyism in 2068?

Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.

But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.

2

Jerry Taylor, of the relatively new Niskanen Center:

Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.

That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:

  • Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
  • [A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
  • Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
  • Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

3

Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.

Michael Gerson

4

In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.

In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Kindle locations 750-53.

5

Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees, says the headline.

In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.

In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.

Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.

At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.

And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.

My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.

6

In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.

Caitlin Johnstone

7

 

Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.

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Sunday, 12/2/18

Why boastest thou thyself in thy wickedness, O man of power? the loving-kindness of God endureth daily. Thy tongue imagineth mischief, and is like a sharp razor, that cutteth deceitfully. Thou dost love evil more than good, and lies more than to speak the truth. Selah. Thou lovest all words that may destroy: O deceitful tongue! So shall God destroy thee forever: he shall take thee and pluck thee out of thy tabernacle, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.

Psalm 52:1-5 (1599 Geneva Bible, because I just don’t trust those wishy-washy modern version from 1611)


 

I became restless. I was looking for more depth in my faith, longed for worship not compromised by pop culture, and sought deep roots.

Dave Bugbee, who found it all in Orthodox Christianity.

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