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Monday, February 13, 2012

We should not nominate Rick Santorum

By Aaron

In 2010, conservative, downstate Senator Bill Brady got the nomination to challenge the incumbent Pat Quinn in the Illinois gubernatorial election.  Pat Quinn was the quintessential “weak incumbent” - he was the Lieutenant Governor of the impeached Rod Blagojevich and had received the office by appointment, the Illinois economy and budget were in a shambles, and Quinn was promising tax hikes and union payoffs to solve the problem.  Illinois is, of course, a heavily Democratic state, but as election night wore on that November, the returns showed Mark Kirk beating Obama crony Alexei Giannoulias to capture Obama’s former Senate seat.

Brady would go on to lose the governor’s mansion by around 5,000 votes.  Why did he fail where Mark Kirk had succeeded?

Being from downstate, Bill Brady held conventionally conservative positions nearly across the board, including on abortion and gay marriage.  Quinn ran campaign ad after campaign ad highlighting Brady’s cultural views, which included footage of him speaking passionately about those subjects in front of conservative groups.  As much as Brady tried to campaign on taxes and unemployment, he seemed unable to move the conversation to the issues on which Quinn was weakest.  On election night, Quinn’s tactics paid off as he ran up his totals in Chicago beyond even where Giannoulias had, and won many suburbs that were breaking for Kirk.

If Rick Santorum is the GOP nominee, we may be headed for similar heartbreak this November.

Let me make it clear - the problem is not Santorum’s positions on abortion or gay marriage per se.  Neither Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrinch has substantially different opinions on the social issues.  The problem is that Santorum is defined by those issues.  This is by his own doing - not only has he written a book on the subject, but he has also recently declared that opposition to birth control and premarital sex are defining issues for his campaign.

It is not that Santorum is wrong about the potential harm being done to women by these things - his opinions are well grounded in Catholic teaching and in some cases affirmed by social science and medicine.  The problem is that the coming election can only be fought on so many grounds, and economics is clearly at the forefront of the American people’s minds.  It is also on the economy that Obama is clearly at his weakest.

Nominating Santorum invites a scorched-earth campaign on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception from the Democrats that will prove enormously damaging to the nation, and not only because it will aid Obama’s chances of victory.  2012 may be our last chance to have a national referendum on the deficit, taxes, entitlements, and the scope of government before we cross the event horizon where the destruction of our currency and of our government becomes inevitable.  Even if that point is further off than we think, every year that Obama is allowed to entrench his vision of patronage government raises the probability that we will not be able to roll back the size of the state before it is too late.  Santorum will not be able to fight the campaign on the grounds we need him to.

That raises the obvious question - should we back down from our principles merely because the other side will criticize them?  Even if we grant the highly questionable claim that opposition to contraception is a key plank of the Republican platform, the tactical problem of how best to advance our interests remains.  It does us no good if we take control in 2016 after 8 years of Obama with the country in a ruin but we can say “at least it was all Obama’s fault.”  It is critical that we get Obama out of office, right now

For now, the polls may show that Rick Santorum is faring better against Obama in a head-to-head matchup.  Do not be fooled - this is an artifact of Santorum’s lack of name recognition and the heavy amounts of negative advertising that have gone between Romney and Gingrich over the last few months.  Romney and Gingrich, then Obama will quickly drive up Santorum’s negatives if he is the nominee.  We simply cannot afford to spend 2012 debating the merits of the pill.



Posted by Aaron on 02/13/12 at 08:27 PM • (8) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Palin Power

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar

Just when Republicans-In-Name-Only think it's safe to go back to their usual, self-preening contempt for us groundlings....here she comes again!

Sarah Heath Palin, formerly the governor of Alaska, demonstrated at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past week that she remains the most powerful single individual in Republican politics. Moreover, the reasons why she wields such immense influence were on open display:

Although [Palin] touched on topics ranging from energy policy, the economy, unemployment, foreign policy, pro-life issues, troops overseas and the GOP presidential primary race, she kept the focus on President Obama's failures during his time in Washington D.C. She pointed out that during his State of the Union Address, Obama hardly mentioned unemployment or out of control entitlement spending.

"We want your administration to end," she said. "We believe real recovery can't get underway until government gets out of the way."

Palin said Obama has a skewed view of America as a politician from Chicago now tucked away in Washington, scratching the backs of his friends through "capitalism of connections" while Americans outside of the beltway suffer. Congressmen become "plutocrats," she said, adding that they don't just benefit off of the government themselves, but spread the wealth around to their friends too. Palin charged that crony capitalism is at the root of America's economic problems.

"This [Washington D.C.] is the playground for the government rich and they're hoping that you work really really hard to keep her going." She said. "Life around here is really good materially, our permanent political class is content. They are immune from the realities the rest of us face."

She painted Washington D.C. as a wetland, rather than a swamp, and said it's time to drain the corruption in order to regain a strong American economy, making it clear government spending will not create jobs.

"They [government] don't mine, they don't drill, they don't harvest, they produce nothing," she said. "The President wants to raise taxes so he can redistribute wealth. We want to cut taxes to create more wealth."

No one in American politics speaks more plainly then Governor Palin. No one has a firmer grasp of what modern American conservatism is about, or what our nation's current perils demand. No Republican exhibits less fear of the disapproval of the GOP's establishment. In consequence, the mandarins of that establishment quake with fear whenever she mounts a podium or approaches a lectern. For a fuller example of that effect, ponder this statement to FOX News:

Despite a hard-charging speech over the weekend that suggested dissatisfaction with the Republican presidential primary frontrunner, Sarah Palin said Sunday that Mitt Romney "is a great candidate."

But the 2008 vice presidential candidate and Tea Party darling isn't yet convinced Romney is "instinctively" a constitutional conservative.

"I am not convinced and I don't think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced," Palin told Fox News Sunday. "And that is why you don't see Romney get over the hump. He's still in the 30-percentile mark when it comes to approval and primary wins and caucus wins. He still hasn't risen above that yet because we are not convinced."

Offering a keynote speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Saturday, Palin said Republicans need a candidate who is instinctively conservative because it's too late to be taught the fundamentals.

Elaborating on Sunday, Palin said she believes Romney is still "evolving" as a conservative after five years on the campaign trail and millions of dollars spent. But, she added, that's a high hurdle for all the candidates to demonstrate.

"He still needs to be able to articulate what his solutions are to the challenges facing America -- but not just Mitt. All four of them," she said.

"What I want to see is that candidate and I believe that most voters in the GOP and independents, we will want to see that candidate whom we can trust will just inherently, instinctively turn right, always err on the side of conservativism, which means smaller, smarter government, more empowerment for the individual, for the private sector," Palin said.

I mourned when Governor Palin announced that she would not be a candidate for the nomination, but it might turn out better this way after all. The influence she wields with common conservatives is so great that the ultimate nominee will almost certainly need her endorsement to get the GOP's nod. No Republican can win the White House without the conservative "base," and if anything about the current contest is clear, it's that the base has not yet accepted Mitt Romney. Indeed, it's possible that it never will.

But it's clear that Palin will not award her stamp of approval lightly. Her willingness to lay Romney's flaws bare as she did in the snippet above makes that plain. Millions of conservatives will henceforth say to themselves, "Hey, Sarah isn't buying him, so why should I?" Millions more voters, desperate for relief from pie-slicing politics-as-usual in Washington will now say to themselves, "Well, if Palin doesn't care for him, maybe I shouldn't, either." That will leave Romney, whose political resume is anything but a testament to conservatism, with a very steep hill to climb.

Of course, some of what Palin said about Romney applies to the other contenders for the nomination as well. If Republicans are confined to the aspirants already before the public, they might have to select the least of the evils. But the possibility of a brokered convention remains before us -- and should that come about, there's no way to predict whom the party will tap for its highest honor.

Governor Palin, won't you at least consider becoming our standard-bearer? Pretty please?

Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/13/12 at 07:59 AM • (1) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Sunday, February 12, 2012

God’s Will: A Sunday Rumination

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar

There was a rich landowner
Named Shadrach ben Hasdai,
Who thought his riches marked him as
The apple of God’s Eye.

The paupers of his village
Though miserably poor,
Always sang his praises
When he came unto their door.

For he always brought glad tidings,
And alms of many kinds,
But others in the village
Were of another mind.

For it seemed to them his riches
When they must toil and plod
Despite his open-handedness
Offend the Will of God.

So one moonless night in summer
They gathered at his gate,
When Shadrach came to greet them,
They delivered him to fate.

They divided up his holdings,
And went back to their homes,
Leaving their poor neighbors,
Both friendless and alone.

But at least ben Hasdai’s riches,
No longer offend You,
So what else could we do, Lord,
What else could we do?

* * *

There was an aged leper
Named Moses ben Abou.
We shunned and made an outcast
As the Torah tells us to.

Ben Abou’s sores were many;
He hobbled on a crutch;
His misery and darkness
Did not concern us much.

For Leviticus says cleanliness
Is paramount to men;
So unclean ones must live apart
And not corrupt our kin.

Ben Abou might be lonely,
His sufferings most keen,
But we must serve the common need
To keep our children clean.

If one should turn a leper,
He would disgrace his clan;
His parents and his siblings
Would likewise face the ban.

No meaner class of creature
Than the leper do we know;
We dare not let our loved ones
Risk falling quite so low.

So ben Abou must be outcast
And forage in the hills,
Though it tears our consciences,
We know it for God’s Will.

But now ben Abou’s leprosy
Won’t part our kin from You;
So what else could we do, Lord;
What else could we do?

* * *

A man came here last Sabbath,
To teach and preach to us.
He wore no priestly garment,
But much of traveler’s dust.

He came with twelve retainers,
He rode upon an ass;
His acolytes cheered joyfully
And sang as he rode past.

He went unto the Temple,
He saw the commerce plain,
He lashed the vendors from the place,
He let not one remain.

His preachments spoke of justice,
And love for those who fall;
He said his Father’s kingdom
Would welcome one and all;

But we the Chosen People
Could not permit such words.
What use to be God’s Chosen if
The other peoples heard?

So we brought him unto Herod,
Charged with blasphemy,
But Herod would not sentence him,
Unless Pilate should agree.

But Pilate was two-minded,
His wife feared for them both,
He washed his hands of Jesus,
And muttered “What is truth?”

He died affixed to a stout cross,
As hundreds watched and booed;
Above his head the legend,
“Jesus, King of the Jews.”

His blasphemies have ended,
For we know well what’s true.
And what else could we do, Lord?
What else could we do?


[Beware the man who’s too sure he knows God’s Will.]

 

 



Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/12/12 at 10:33 AM • (1) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Assorted

By The Curmudgeon Emeritus

1. Books, Books, Books...

The C.S.O. and your Curmudgeon are the owners of an immense personal library: well over 12,000 volumes, counting hardcovers and paperbacks together. Reading has been our principal pleasure over the years, and inasmuch as the local public library seldom has anything we haven't already read, we tend to buy a lot of books. The Fortress of Crankitude displays the consequences quite vividly: any space not occupied by bookshelves is taken up by computers, cooking gear, or our preferred presidential candidate.

And so, when Barnes & Noble introduced the NOOK Color, we swiftly joined the ranks of the "early adopters." These days, your Curmudgeon does most of his reading from his NOOK, and the C.S.O. is in much the same condition. It regularly grieves us to learn that a book we've been waiting for hasn't been released in the NOOK's .EPUB format.

Nevertheless, your Curmudgeon continues to favor paper books for certain kinds of material: reference books, technicata, histories, and anything he might think to lend to another reader. Other e-reader owners, however enthusiastic they are about their device and its capabilities, usually have similar exclusions. For that reason among others, your Curmudgeon seriously doubts that the e-reader explosion will kill the paper book.

And indeed, it would appear that others with money to invest have reached a similar conclusion.

Sadly, at this time Half Price Books doesn't have a store on Long Island or anywhere near enough to warrant an afternoon excursion. All the same, your Curmudgeon finds the development cheering. This, plus the e-readers' surging popularity, will have salutary effects on American publishing. In particular, as HPB's acquisition and brokering approach becomes more popular, it will put downward pressure on the prices of new paper books, which will be transmitted in part to the prices of new e-books. And of course, American readers will acquire yet another place to fritter away their weekend afternoons, a timely replacement for the late, lamented Borders Books.

***

2. Fracking.

Kevin Williamson has an excellent article in the latest National Review on hydrofracturing -- "fracking" -- its potential, and the pseudo-controversy surrounding it. His survey of the opposition arguments to fracking, which would open access to hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, is particularly important. A snippet:

"Methane migration [i.e., the phenomenon responsible for the presence of unacceptable amounts of volatile organics in certain water wells] is real," says John Hanger, an environmental activist in Pennsylvania who served as head of the state's department of environmental protection under the liberal governorship of Democrat Ed Rendell. "Prior to the Marcellus, there have probably been 50 to 150 private water wells, out of more than a million in the state, that have had methane contamination as a result of mistakes in the drilling process -- but that has nothing to do with fracking. Some in the [gas drilling] industry deny that it ever happens, and that is false. But frack fluids returning from depth, from 5,000 to 8,000 feet under the ground, to contaminate an aquifer? When the industry says that's never happened, that has in fact never happened."

Despite this and similar testimonials from highly placed figures in the environmentalist community, the great majority of environmentalists oppose fracking and are marshaling their forces to try to stop or prevent it. The effort is point-for-point identical, both in principle and procedure, to their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, to any expansion of coastal oil exploration, and to the issuance or renewal of exploration leases on federally managed lands: Any expansion of the "carbon economy" undermines their drive for a "clean-energy economy."

It's not about "global warming" any more; that chimera has been headless for some years now. It's about not wanting to look like fools for backing insane enterprises such as Solyndra, Lightsquared, and Fisker: undertakings that could only present the appearance of economic rationality while backed by massive federal subsidies and loan guarantees. For there is this about the environmentalist "cause person:" he is less inclined to admit his mistakes than any other life form known to science.

If this isn't yet a conservative cause celebre, it should be.

***

3. The Presidential Campaign.

It sometimes seems that both parties are doing their utmost to lose the November 2012 presidential election. For the Democrats' part, we have Barack Hussein Obama's insistence on ever more closely regulating and controlling every aspect of American life. The recent decree that Catholic hospitals and charities must provide their employees with contraceptive and abortifacient insurance is merely the most conspicuous outcropping. On the Republican side, the remaining candidates for the GOP's presidential nomination have all acted as if their highest priority is to provide voters with a reason to choose anyone else.

In this regard, Mitt Romney is beyond all dispute the biggest offender. The former one-term governor of Massachusetts has acted consistently as if he regards the presidency as his by right, and therefore that no tactic by which he might get closer to it is inadmissible. Speak not to your Curmudgeon of Romney's supposedly stainless character or his unblemished fidelity to his wife; say rather why his slurs and slanders against his competitors should not be held against him. He clearly has no respect for Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment. Add that to his record in power, his unwillingness to admit that Romneycare was a terrible mistake, and his complete lack of any hard and fast principle he's willing to defend a outrance, and he appears to your Curmudgeon to be the worst possible Republican nominee. Yet many commentators continue to style him "inevitable," though their reasons are scattered and open to serious dispute.

So Republicans must choose their champion against the nakedly evil Obama from among the scurrilous Romney, the wild man Gingrich, and the paternalist Santorum. If your Curmudgeon might borrow from David Letterman in one of his more memorable moments, what a pity all these fine candidates can't lose.

The hell of it is that present trends continuing, one of those four will be the president of the United States from January 20, 2013 through January 19, 2017 -- or until the Republic collapses under the weight of accumulated political lunacy and venality. The odds are looking ever more as if Obama will win a second term. At least, the touts in Las Vegas are giving substantial odds that he will be.

Dare we hope for a deadlock in the primaries and a brokered GOP convention that will draft a real conservative for its standard-bearer? Who would that be? What's the pool of potential draftees? Is your Curmudgeon being unreasonably pessimistic about the probable course of events? And what about Naomi?

Sigh. Your Curmudgeon would really like a taste of freedom before he dies. But the prospects are becoming ever bleaker as the days pass.

Posted by The Curmudgeon Emeritus on 02/11/12 at 07:38 AM • (6) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reflections on Virtue

By Scott Angell

The nature of virtue is the subject of a rather large fraction of the dialogues of Plato—probably some of the best parts, if you ask me.  The interesting thing is that for all of this wonderful discussion and argument, as far as I can tell, Plato never seems to have been able to say precisely what virtue is.  Admittedly, I haven’t finished all of the dialogues yet, but from what I can tell he seems to have been running around in circles, like a dog snuffling about the base of a tree where some varmint is holed up.  He’s figured out the general region, but hasn’t quite made the final leap.

I must confess that I don’t know what virtue is either, though I think that I thought I did before I started reading.  But I don’t think I could have defended those opinions against the wily Socrates.

Reading Plato has inspired a few useful ideas on the matter, however, which I thought worthwhile.  Unfortunately, I can’t put them through the Socratic wringer, he being long dead, so I thought I’d share them here.

***

Though I can’t say exactly what virtue is, I do think I can clarify a quality that seems to have thoroughly befuddled the characters of the dialogues.  They seem to have confused and conflated virtuous acts with the inward quality of character which leads a man to act in a virtuous manner.  Temperance, for example, was taken to be the act of abstaining, not the capacity to abstain.  It is the inward quality, I think, which is the virtue, and not the act itself.  This confusion led them to several erroneous conclusions and much further confusion. 

For example, in Laches, Socrates stumps one of the other participants by saying that it might be prudent (wise) to flee a battle in a particular situation, and since the virtues cannot conflict, courage could not be defined as the act of standing to fight in battle if wisdom sometimes advises one to run away.  But if they had taken virtue to be the inward quality—the capacity to stand and fight and not the act itself, or the capacity to clearly see the truth—there is no such conflict.  In a few places, Socrates appears to make just the argument I am making, but later goes back into the habit of arguing as if the virtues are acts again, as if he understood the idea intellectually, but never really internalized it.  I suppose we all do that, to some extent.

This may seem rather an obvious and trivial thing, but I think a significant trace of this error still survives in modern thinking.  Most people, I think, do consider virtues to be qualities and not acts.  But when asked about virtue’s opposite—vice—thought immediately turns to acts and habits, not qualities.  Thus, ‘virtue’ immediately calls to mind honesty or courage, but drinking to excess or biting one’s nails is generally the first thing one thinks of when prompted by the word ‘vice.’   That doesn’t really make sense.

If vice is habit or action rather than quality—like cowardice or injustice—then virtue’s opposite must be a rather nonspecific term, like evil.  I think this is rather unsatisfactory philosophy, or at least terminology or language.  But since it seems that the language is clear for virtue, I am not very sure whence the confusion comes.

Perhaps it is derived from the admonition to ‘hate the sin, not the sinner?’  Perhaps associating vice with the inward person rather than the outward act comes too near to running afoul of this mantra?  Of course, logically, this isn’t sound, but whatever the case, it is a somewhat unhelpful confusion.  To anyone really trying to deal with a vice or otherwise pursue virtue, I should think that thinking clearly about the problem would be an important starting point for finding a solution.

 

***

According to Plato, Socrates believed that ‘the virtues,’ like courage, temperance, prudence, and justice, were not in fact several different things, but really only one thing, with perhaps different faces.  In this, he disagreed with most of his contemporaries.  However, he never really made his case all that well, at least that I have seen so far, but rather cut his opponents to pieces in his usual style for taking the opposite view.

I am not sure whether ‘virtue’ is one thing, or a name which we have devised for a conglomerate of separate things.  I do think that, for example, a man can be both courageous and a fool, which I think Socrates did not.  This may perhaps be only a difference of points of view of the same thing.  A single jewel, after all, might have one polished face and a rough one.  I am not entirely resolved as to what I think.  But since Plato mentions it, I do think I detect a sort of common thread to them, and in that I believe Socrates may have had a point.

If I had to pick only one virtue as representative of the rest (to illustrate my point, anyway) I would choose temperance.  C.S. Lewis may have his druthers about courage being the principle virtue; temperance is my choice for the title, though I do not say it is the most important, just the most fundamental.  The reason is that temperance seems to me the thing that most purely illustrates the commonality which holds the group together—self-control. 

Self-control is the capacity to assert one’s own rationally chosen will over animal instinct.  Without it, one has in a sense lost his power to choose his own behavior and is in a state of reduced liberty and being, a ready victim of evil and of little use for good.  This capacity to assert choice against instinct is evident in all the principle virtues.  Courage is the ability to overcome fear, temperance, bodily appetite.  Justice is the demonstrated ability to resist craven self-interest, pride, favoritism, and the like in dealings with others, and prudence to a large extent is the self-discipline to be willing to see the evident truth of things rather than giving in to wishful thinking that is driven by cravings and emotion, i.e. it is the opposite of folly and foolishness.

It is true that some instincts are naturally good, and that some behaviors of rationally asserted will are evils which override good instincts.  Nevertheless, even if that which is true, beautiful and good is known to a man, it does him no good if he has no capacity to order himself and his life according to their direction.  A man who is widely regarded as virtuous almost always has acquired an unusual capacity to decide the ordering of values in his life because he has overcome the tyrannies of the appetites, of fear, etc., which in others overwhelms them.  And, having acquired wisdom and good reason via this self-control, in the long run he orders them well.

 

***

Socrates was conflicted as to whether virtue could be taught.  As a Greek, and no less as a philosopher, he placed his faith in wisdom, and therefore in education, as the source of virtue in men.  He was, however, somewhat tentative in this assertion, and acknowledged that he might easily be mistaken.  The question was an important one, as it frequently came up with regards to the raising of children.  Many a father wanted to know how best to bring up a virtuous son, and sought out Socrates for help on this question.

It is difficult to know whether or not virtue can be taught if one can’t be sure of just what virtue is.  That was always Socrates’s difficulty.  However, if one accepts that it is a quality rather than an act (or an art), and in general that it springs from the root of of self-control directed by wisdom and right-reason, then a few suggestions come to mind on his topic.

First is that if virtue can be ‘taught,’ or in some way ‘conferred,’ it is not likely to be accomplished in the same way as knowledge is through education.  Rather, virtue is probably more a capacity to be trained in—or disciplined to—through practice.  And as self-control is the common root of virtue, then it stands to reason that the clearest method of ‘teaching virtue,’ at least at its earliest stages, is through simple discipline.  ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child,’ as they say.  In a way, what discipline does is to provide a sort of strength—the strength to assert will over impulse—and it is the developing of this strength which is the beginnings of virtue.

I have a theory about this.  For most people, if the acting out of some impulse results in an immediate negative consequence, this provides an incentive for the person to develop the strength to overcome the impulse whenever it next presents itself.  So, in a way, the world passively provides its own source of discipline by presenting people with fascinating things, like hot coals for them to touch or delicious looking berries to make them sick, which help to develop this strength.

On the other hand, there are many other behaviors one really ought not to do and many other unhealthy appetites and cravings to be tamed which often do not come with immediate negative consequences.  These might include, for example, hurting others, especially the weak, or the use of narcotics.  For these things, it is important that the parent ‘aid’ the child in gaining the strength to overcome these impulses as well—by artificially supplying the negative sanction, until such time as the strength of will and reason is sufficient for the child to begin doing this for himself.  In this way, the child gains the strength to choose the path of virtue when the time comes and the choice presents itself.

It should be immediately made clear, however, that this discipline is for self-control, to give a person the ability to override his impulses when it is necessary and important, and perhaps secondarily to communicate the direction of this path before other, better means of communication become available.  It is not to simply bludgeon him into conformity to some arbitrary mold.  In that case, what is achieved is not a setting on a path to virtue, but merely a breaking of the spirit.  The goal of simple discipline, I think, is not to hobble a person and to attempt to make the path into a furrow from which he cannot escape, but merely to build up the strength to make that path more navigable and to provide hints as to its general course and direction. 

The second rudimentary part of virtue is the use of this strength of self-control to order one’s spirit according to truth and right-reason.  This is wisdom, which is acquired through disciplined reflection on experience.  I think. 

It is the act of reflection, as it seems to me, which begins to reveal the moral order of things and develop a curiosity and a desire to inquire into the eternal and the divine.  These activities elucidate the path of virtue.  Here, I think Socrates was much closer to the mark in his thoughts on education, however, what he missed was again an important aspect of the character of the thing he was after.  Education of itself cannot impart what he was looking for; it can only concern itself directly with knowledge.  What is necessary is an active propensity, a living character, not a static thing like knowledge.  Wisdom, which as a virtue I may not be able to define completely, I can be sure is not the mere possession of knowledge.  It is a quality of character which confers a certain attitude and a propensity towards behaviors like reflection.  It is not merely knowing; it is a strength to find and accept truth.

The second ‘ingredient’ then, after the strengthening of self-control over impulse, is to encourage and develop a habit of reflection.  On this, however, I think I am less able to provide much practical guidance.  How does one help another to become thoughtful and curious?  To be sure, the world itself again provides many wonders to stimulate these faculties, but they only encourage, not demand.  It is easier to stay blind to these things than to a hot coal sizzling in the palm of one’s hand.

I suppose the first thing is to be very cautious not to discourage the very behaviors one is after, for example, by surrounding a child with the most tedious and undemanding material available, such as presently fill the schools, or by removing him from the invitation of objects of curiosity by placing him in a deliberately dull, torpid environment.  Denigrating inquisitiveness and the expression of other such similar attitudes is also obviously not a good idea.  That must surely be the last thing one would want to do.  On the other hand, a child can sniff out phony enthusiasm like a bloodhound, and is not likely to be fooled by overly-digested-and-pedantic-, or ‘self-esteem’-building- type exercises, either.

On the basis of doing one’s best not to do the above, and guided by the types of materials which have produced and interested virtuous men in times past, probably a good guess for a place to start would be with the so-called ‘classics,’ which I find are really nothing more than really good books.  But if one is not quite up to that, books in general will probably do until one can handle ‘the best.’  What more reasonable place to look for inspiration to kindle one’s own reflections than with another’s?  If nothing else, maybe it will instigate the argumentative instinct. 

On the other hand, as they say, a man can lead a horse to water, but he can’t make it drink.  At a very fundamental level, at least as it seems to me, one of the qualifiers of virtue is that it must be freely chosen.  Coerced virtue is nothing of the sort, so at least at some point in the process, the acquisition of virtue must become a self-starting affair.

That blasted free-will…

 

***

As a final speculation on the nature of virtue, I would like to take a look at what is generally meant by, and what is true of, what one would call an ‘ideal,’ a perfection in virtue.  I will use the example of beauty, for which there is already a great deal of interest and expressed opinion, but I think the idea would apply more broadly.

Many people have come to the conclusion that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ which is to say, that beauty is subjective or a matter of opinion.  Others, whom I think more correct, have disagreed, saying that beauty is an objective thing, which humans instinctively recognize.  It is for this reason that the same sorts of women will cause practically any man’s head to turn quite reliably, rather than in a totally random fashion.

According to this theory, the men are all measuring by the same ‘ruler’ the observed object of beauty according to its degree of conformity to a supposed ideal.  This is how they tend to come up with similar answers, with some allowance made for differences in estimation, quirks of taste, and defects of judgment.  I think that this is generally true, but I would like to take a little bit closer look at the nature of the ideal.

Given this model, the mind instinctively jumps into a mathematical sort of frame of reference, I suppose at the suggestion of the idea of measurement.  While I don’t think this is necessarily a mathematical discussion, the mathematical idiom does seem useful here.  Suppose that this model is true, that the beauty of an object is taken to be its relative proximity to an ideal of perfection measured through space of some number of dimensions.  In fact, let’s go whole hog and make this a vector problem like the one Fran used for human nature.  But remember, it’s just an analogy.

Most people instinctively take this ideal to be a point.  The point corresponds to some defined and absolute set of coordinates, at least for any given category up for consideration.  So, the appearance of a beautiful woman, for example, could be described by a set of vector coordinates corresponding to every conceivable variant of physical appearance, and this vector would point to her position in ‘beauty space.’  Her ‘beauty’ is taken to be the smallness of the distance between the two points, the point given by her position vector and the point corresponding to the ideal.

Now, if one has any sense at all, he’ll immediately see that this is something of an absurd picture, because the various components of the vector would have an impossibly difficult time describing such a thing.  For starters, they would be impossibly complex and interrelated, with various and multitudinous interdependencies.  They would also be dependent on external factors (think—behavior, dress, environment, etc.)   Even their allowable ranges would be limited and tied up with one another, as a fifty foot tall woman might not be proper to consider a woman any longer, especially if her arms are two inches long.  The ‘space’ we are talking about would have to be rather constrained and convoluted to make any sense.

But here I’m starting to get at my point—we understand that the nature and definition of a thing is often tied up in relationships with other things and the relationships between qualities within itself.  Not all things are necessarily definable as absolute quantities in and of themselves, but as absolute relationships between things.  For example, a ‘friend.’  No particular person is ‘a friend’ all on his own, only through his relationship to another person.

Likewise, if we say that large, dark eyes are beautiful, we don’t mean absolutely large eyes, the larger the better, or eyes of some exact measurement.  What we mean is eyes which are somewhat larger in proportion to the rest of the face in comparison to what we find to be normal for most people.  We are not looking for an exact size, a particular set of coordinates in ‘eye-space,’ but a particular proportion relative to other things.

In fact, this type of relationship is rather obvious and has been known for millenia.  Beauty is found in relationships, in proportion, balance, symmetry, and harmony of elements.  If these were to be described mathematically in ‘beauty-space,’ they would be regions and curves of greater than zero dimension—and probably many-dimensional, in most cases.

This leads one to the suggestion that the ideal of beauty for any category object would simply be one which satisfies every one of these proportions—the mathematical intersection of all of these regions and curves.  But it isn’t necessarily the case that the intersection will prove to be a point, and I would suggest that, in fact, for most cases it probably is not a point at all, but a region.  To take a very simple example, consider the ideal circle.  The notion of a circle is given by a particular geometrical definition, and necessarily tied up within this notion and derived from it are a number of geometrical proportions, such as the number pi relating the ratio of the diameter to the circumference.  But, despite the fact that the definition is quite precise and perfectly well understood, there are actually an infinite number of abstract circles of different sizes which do satisfy the ideal, because no absolute size is implicit in the definition.  Within the category of ideal circles, it is the proportions and relationships which define the ideal, while the size is left indeterminate.

With respect to the ideal of beauty, if I return to my vector analogy, is it necessarily the case that every single descriptor will go into the assessment of beauty?  Or are some simply irrelevant, while others may vary together in tandem or in groups without having any impact on the assessment?  For example, if I imagine the perfect, ideal beauty, and then increase or decrease her size perfectly proportionately by 1%, will the assessment change?  Will I have moved the object outside of the ideal, and if so, by what reason?  Size may be said to render something more or less beautiful, but if the object exists in total independence of any other, then who is to say why a larger or a smaller size is less ideal?  Would an ideally beautiful woman become less beautiful because her observer became taller or shorter?  Or is the metric being used not actually an absolute metric as one might like to think, but a relative one?

Beauty—and most other ideals of virtue—I suspect follow this pattern, which is why we may both ‘know it when we see it’ in an objective sense, and why there is still room for ‘taste’ independent of defect in judgment.  A non-ideal object may be judged by its distance separation from the ideal, but as the ideal is likely in most cases to be a rather complex and amorphous shape, the object will be found to depart from the ideal in a somewhat complex and ambiguous way—especially the closer it comes to the ideal.  There will be many possible proximities to refer to, some ‘protrusions’ of ‘ideal-space’ coming closer to this particular proximity than others, and especially if our ‘taste’ already favors some region of the ideal, we may not always be clear how to appraise the distance of separation.  It may be somewhat distant from the ‘center of mass,’ but quite proximate to some particular portion extending out from it, and near or far to a particular region of the ideal which is dear to our heart.

It is also entirely possible that the ideal-space is discontinuous, like perhaps an archipelago of islands in multidimensional space.  This is certainly true if one considers the entirety of ‘beauty space’ containing all category objects, but it may also be true for any particular ideal category object.  Here is a real mind-bender—it is also possible that the various curves and regions which describe the separate ideal proportions and relationships do not even intersect.  In this case, there may be a general region of space which minimizes the distance between these curves and regions, but it is impossible for any single object to actually satisfy them.

Since I have thought of all of this, it all seems rather non-controversial, if possibly completely wrong.  Rather straightforward, really.  But it has made me think of why I may have made the mistake in first place of assuming a ‘zero-dimensional’ ideal when I first thought about things like ‘objective beauty.’  Assuming it was a mistake, of course.

The mistake, if I think about it, is like one of those of ‘thinking about thinking about something’ mistakes, instead of thinking about the thing itself.  I had not thought of the actual ideal which I was trying to construct, as in, what actually makes the thing virtuous and how this might appear in perfection.  In other words, I was not thinking about virtue, but of ideals as abstract things disconnected from the thing they idealize.  I was thinking about how we think about beauty instead of (and inappropriately, before I had actually really considered) thinking about beauty itself and what defines it, especially the form of the ideal.  The ‘zero-dimensional ideal’ is an ‘ideal ideal,’ constructed without much real reflection.  It is zero-dimensional because, in the absence of specific inspection, ideals are taken to be ‘like that,’ presumably because that is how we generally go about finding the ‘best’ thing. 

The ‘best thing’ is usually taken to be one definite thing, perhaps as an artifact from the analogy of a competition.  A beauty pageant wouldn’t be quite the same if there were to be an indeterminate number of winners before the competition began.  But if ideals really are as I am suggesting, then while it is perfectly true that one woman may be objectively more beautiful than another, it is equally true that as the ideal is approached, discrimination becomes increasingly subject to vagaries, especially of taste, and that it is entirely possible for one or more, possibly many, to equally satisfy the ideal, yet look quite different from one another. 

Thus I would conclude that in a real pageant, assuming that the pool of contestants actually represent a selection of what might objectively be called ‘very beautiful women,’ even if they are perfectly differentiable and unique human beings the ‘winner’ is essentially chosen arbitrarily.

But probably everyone already knew that.

 

***

OK, one more reflection on the subject, and then I’m really done.  I was led to this admittedly strange line of thought by what is probably an even stranger line.  I was considering in a sort of mathematical way the possibilities of the form of Heaven.

If I take Heaven to be a place where all things are ideal—ideally virtuous—and if I take ideals to be zero-dimensional points, as I had originally considered, there seems to be only two rather strange possibilities for Heaven.  Either Heaven itself is also ‘zero-dimensional,’—i.e. very small, because its contents are so limited—or, if Heaven is of substantial size, it must be completely uniform.  These two possibilities seemed to follow in a very straightforward fashion from the notion that everything in Heaven must be ideal.  If, for example, there are mountains in Heaven, there can either be only one mountain—the ideal mountain—or many clones of the same mountain, presumably in some ideal arrangement which must itself be repeated over and over if there is more than one such arrangement present.  If there are people there, they must all be clones of one another and have no individuality.  There may be variety in terms of different category objects of Heaven, but within a category object there must be utter uniformity.  Heaven begins to sound like some peculiar sort of fractal image.

To me, this does not really sound like a very ‘heavenly’ place.  It sounds, rather ironically, like a hell.  I think it would drive a person crazy to look around and see the same thing everywhere no matter where he looked, like a Chinese water torture or something like that.  Cannot variety itself be natural to the notion of an ideal?  If Heaven is itself an ideal, Heaven as a completely uniform place does not sound very ideal to me.  So, it occurred to me that perhaps varieties of objects might satisfy the notion of an ideal, and then the C.S. Lewis quote came to mind which goes something to the effect that the tyrants and monsters of history are all the same while it is the saints which are all different and unique.  From there it was off to the races.

But then, maybe it is a bad idea to be speculating about the nature of things on the basis of an idea of what Heaven is like.



Posted by Scott Angell on 02/09/12 at 10:51 PM • (7) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Obama’s Bayonet

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar

A politician of the modern sort -- i.e., one who regards "his" office as really, truly his and will do anything to remain in it -- will be forever alert to the possibility of losses of support from those voters who were instrumental in propelling him into office. That necessity can undermine his policy agenda...assuming he has one.

I don't think there's much doubt that Barack Hussein Obama has a policy agenda, do you? All the same, the man wants a second term -- he wouldn't be campaigning so hard, otherwise -- and it appears that he might be ready to back away from his recent assertion of power over First Amendment freedom-of-religion rights:

The Obama administration is willing to work with Catholic universities, hospitals and other church-affiliated employers to implement a new policy that requires health insurers to offer birth control coverage, a top adviser to the president's re-election campaign said on Tuesday.

David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, said the administration had heard the Church's concerns and never intended to "abridge anyone's religious freedom."

But he gave no sign that the administration would reverse course under intensifying pressure from Church leaders and political heat from Republican presidential candidates.

"This is an important issue. It's important for millions of women across this country. We want to resolve it in an appropriate way, and we're going to do that," he said in remarks on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also sought to diffuse criticism from Church leaders, telling reporters later on Tuesday that the administration would work with religious organizations "to see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns."

Fifty-two percent of American Catholics who cast votes in November 2008 cast those votes for Obama. That's one hell of a lot of votes: probably enough, were he to be deprived of them, to eject him from the White House. It raises some interesting questions about the acumen of his political strategists.

But Obama has been caught in a cleft stick on this issue. His hard-left base has demanded that every employer and every medical-care institution in the country be shackled to their dream of "universal health care." That dream includes free contraception, abortion on demand, and several other items that Catholics have been taught are absolutely, irremediably morally wrong. But objections of conscience be damned: the Left wants socialized medicine, and it knows it can't get there from here without first imposing top-down, one-size-fits-all controls on every person, business, and organization in the country.

The ambiguous qualifications offered by Axelrod and Carney suggest strongly that the original move was a trial balloon -- that Obama and his political handlers wanted to "probe with the bayonet" in authentic Leninist style and thus discover whether there’s any steel beneath the Church's cassock. They had some reason to suspect that the Church would roll over. When it reared up on its hind legs, it probably came as a surprise to them -- and now we'll undoubtedly see a reprise of the old "good czar / evil counsellors" ploy, in an attempt to preserve Obama's portion of the Catholic vote for November.

Will it work? Unclear, if we interpret "work" to mean "win Obama a second term." After all, there's that hard-left base to consider. They aren't likely to be happy about any exemptions granted on religious grounds. Whether that would be enough to keep any substantial number of them home on November 6 is difficult to predict.

The usual calculation in such a situation proceeds from a key question: Can the voters I've just pissed off go anywhere else? The answer generally arises from the "hardness" of the offended bloc. The more ideologically absolute the voter, the more difficult it is to predict his response. Seldom will he "cross the aisle;" the possibility is unlikely even to occur to him. But he might abstain from voting, which is bad enough if the candidate has been counting on his support.

This is the second cleft stick of recent development. The first was the Keystone XL pipeline: the unions want it badly, but the enviro-Nazis oppose it with all their shriveled anti-human souls. It appears that Obama's strategists are betting that the unions are more solidly behind Obama than the green bigots. We shall see when the votes are tallied, especially the votes from union-power states such as Michigan and Ohio.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, conservatives cannot help but take some cheer from these events. The supposed "master politician" and his Chicago crew of finaglers have become entangled in their own political underwear. It's a possibility permanently inherent in special-interest-coalition politics -- and one conservatives have been hoping would enmesh The Won ever since his inauguration.

Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/08/12 at 07:53 AM • (9) CommentsPrint Vers.Permalink

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

100 Years Ago Today Part 4

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar
Certain features in that original servile state from which we all spring should be carefully noted by way of conclusion.

First, though all nowadays contrast slavery with freedom to the advantage of the latter, yet men then accepted slavery freely as an alternative to indigence.

Secondly (and this is most important for our judgment of the servile institution as a whole, and of the chances of its return), in all those centuries we find no organized effort, nor (What is still more significant) do we find any complaint of conscience against the institution which condemned the bulk of human beings to forced labor.

Slaves may be found in the literary exercises of the time bewailing their lot -- and joking about it; some philosophers will complain that an ideal society should contain no slaves; others will excuse the establishment of slavery upon this plea or that, while granting that it offends the dignity of man. The greater part will argue of the state that it is necessarily servile. But no one, slave or free, dreams of abolishing or even changing the thing. You have no martyrs for the case of freedom as against slavery. The so-called servile wars are the resistance on the part of escaped slaves to any attempt at recapture, but they are not accompanied by an accepted affirmation that servitude is an intolerable thing; nor is that note struck at all from the unknown beginnings to the Catholic endings of the pagan world. Slavery is irksome, undignified, woeful; but it is, to them, of the nature of things.

[Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State. Bold emphasis added.]

The nearly uniform acceptance of the institution of slavery as natural, unavoidable, and therefore ineradicable throughout the first six millennia of Mankind's history is something the modern mind finds hard to accept. Belloc's thesis is that slavery was a response to the general condition of poverty in which by far the greater part of the human population was immured. His response to the seeming resurgence of slavery in industrial England -- though not by that name, of course -- was his economic philosophy of Distributivism, about which more later.

Indeed, becoming a slave, and therefore having a claim on an owner whose responsibility it became to maintain his property, might well have seemed the only acceptable course to men whose lives and families were at the brink of extinction from impoverishment. But it's unwise to stop there. We have other questions to ask:

  1. How did it come about that, while the great mass of men were so grindingly poor, a few were so very rich as to be able to afford to maintain the rest as slaves?
  2. Does the answer to Question 1 above tell us anything useful about why the poor were so desperate -- and why they had no other means of bettering their conditions but to accept enslavement?

Two of the Nineteenth Century's preeminent thinkers, Herbert Spencer and Henry George, submitted an answer: land tenure. A class of men, whom we shall call the gentry, held all right and title to all the arable land, and were maintained in that condition by the use of force. As land is the fundamental resource, from which all other resources but labor are derived, that left the remainder of Mankind, whom we shall call the peasantry, unable to sustain itself by independent effort. The submission of the peasantry to the gentry, and the institutions of slavery, serfdom, villeinage, and all comparable arrangements, followed in due course.

The notion that land tenure was the root of this social evil was George's rationale for the Single Tax: a 100% tax on the value of unimproved land. George saw this as sufficient to relieve social poverty by giving landholders an incentive to release unimproved lands back to the common, so that others might acquire and use them. Spencer found this agreeable as well. Neither man penetrated to the contradiction beneath the idea: that a force of sufficient power to maintain the gentry in their position of privilege would also be sufficiently benevolently inclined toward the peasantry to enforce such a tax on the gentry.

That having been said, there is much justice in George's position that the gentry's maintenance of unchallengeable title over unimproved lands was the lever by which it forced the greater part of Mankind into servility. In the pre-industrial eras, access to arable land was by far the most important factor in human survival. The gentry's grip upon it brought about the "original condition" of mass servility; after it had endured for some centuries, such that even a thinker of the order of Aristotle could write unblushingly that some men are naturally slaves, the mindset required to maintain the institution was firmly established.

Things are different today, of course. But the differences aren't necessarily qualitative. Land in pre-industrial times was the overriding necessity of survival, but today less than 3% of the working-age population feeds the entire nation and quite a few others besides. The peasant of the Twenty-First Century isn't looking for a plot of land to till and sow; indeed, were he given one, he probably wouldn't have the first idea what to do with it. So it falls to us to ask:

Are there critical economic levers of any sort by which men are -- or could be -- compelled to servility in our time? If so, are they being operated to that effect?

More anon.

Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/07/12 at 08:26 AM • Print Vers.Permalink

Monday, February 6, 2012

Noo-YAWK!

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar

I have a reputation for being a contemplative, hypercerebral sort. If you buy into it, you’ll find my jubilation at the New York Giants' incredible Super Bowl win of last night rather discordant. But I must tell you, Gentle Reader: that's your problem.

Heroes? There were a few.

Eli Manning has assumed his rightful place among the game's best quarterbacks. Tom Brady has one more Super Bowl victory than Eli, but he won his rings with Patriots teams that were far more solid, and that accomplished far more during their regular seasons, than Eli's Giants. There will be no more invidious comparisons between them, especially given the Giants' carved-up running game and fractured receiver corps.

Perhaps the funniest highlight ever to be captured by a camera came with 57 seconds to go, as Ahmad Bradshaw struggled not to enter the end zone, while the entire Patriots team prayed that he would, and indeed, parted like theater curtains to admit him. Never before in NFL history has a running back been so chagrined to score a touchdown...and never before has the sight of a player tottering over helplessly, with no one anywhere near him, been an occasion for so much laughter and chagrin.

Among the receivers, Hakim Nicks and Mario Manningham, neither of whom was particularly impressive during the regular season, rose impressively to their challenges. Nicks, for once, omitted to grease his hands; Manningham made two critical catches, the second one reminiscent of David Tyree's Super Bowl 2008 miracle catch, without which the game could not have been won. Victor Cruz did unexpected service by drawing coverage away from his two less hyped and respected teammates.

It's impossible to say too much about second-year phenomenon Jason Pierre-Paul. I don't think I've ever seen a better all-around athlete in any team sport. He played the 2011 season and the subsequent playoffs as if he were determined to erase the memory of every other defensive end in NFL history. There hasn't been a defensive "impact player" of his caliber since Lawrence Taylor.

Steve Weatherford has certainly earned his contract renewal, and a big raise, to "boot." The punter's incredible ability to "coffin corner" a kick is unmatched in my experience of NFL football. Indeed, he deserves a far larger share of the credit for the Giants' victory than might be supposed, as, had Tom Brady not been safetied on his first play from scrimmage, the complexion of the game would have been greatly different, especially the final two minutes.

It was hard to believe, given the way the first half ended and the second half began, that a furious and well motivated Patriots team wasn't about to run the Giants out of Lucas Oil Stadium. But however he did it, Tom Coughlin kept his young men's heads in the game, focused and performing. It makes it easy to believe what several Giants players said beforehand about their love and respect for the veteran head coach.

That's it for the 2011-2012 pro football season. And just in time; I'm exhausted. Now let's see if the Rangers can keep it up all the way to the Stanley Cup!

Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/06/12 at 07:14 AM • Print Vers.Permalink

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Missteps: A Sunday Rumination

By Francis W. Porretto
Francis W. Porretto avatar

It isn't often nowadays that I feel compelled to expand on Catholic teachings. We have a fairly large, rather well trained clergy for that. But now and then, political posturings and the clergy's missteps compel me to put my shoulder to that rather heavy wheel.

Missteps I said, and missteps I meant. The Church is peopled by...well, people. People can make mistakes, and often do. Even the pope, whom we are taught to regard as the supreme temporal authority on Christian theology, can be wrong. His infallibility cannot and does not extend beyond the explicit teachings of Christ when He walked among us in human flesh.

Among the worst of the Church's missteps of recent years has been its willingness to endorse political means when they're nominally pointed at Christian ends.

***

I've said it so often that I should hardly have to repeat it: The defining characteristic of government is its privilege of using coercive force without penalty. Indeed, if a government were denied that privilege, it would have no reason to exist, as it could only do what other, completely voluntary institutions can do. So to argue that for government to undertake a particular task is right and necessary is to argue that the proposed end can only be attained through coercion.

The tasks governments have undertaken since the beginning of the Twentieth Century have overwhelmingly been melioristic: attempts to "improve" us, either as individuals or as a society. Such "improvements" have been used as the rationales for every government undertaking, and every exertion of its unique privilege, except for the war-making power.

A religious institution or organization might well find itself in agreement with some of the proposed "improvements." Indeed, Christ Himself exhorted us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, which implies a duty of judicious concern for those around us. When such concern impels us to succor the needy or assist the disadvantaged, it is praiseworthy. When it moves us to appeal to the State to stick a gun into our neighbor's ribs and relieve him involuntarily of his property, on the grounds that it will allow the State to perform our charitable functions for us, it is not. It is imperative that men of good will, whether religious or not, oppose State "benevolence" with all their forces and compel it to cease and desist with its "charities." That State action inevitably produces a worsening of the conditions of the poor and disadvantaged only adds a dollop of irony.

Yet major Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, have repeatedly endorsed political means for the relief of need and suffering. Moreover, they have maintained that position in the face of crushing evidence to the effect that political "charity" actually degrades the condition of its nominal beneficiaries.

Even to have started down that path was wrong. To persist in it is the exact opposite of Christian charity.

The very best example of Christian charity ever composed was provided us by the Redeemer Himself:

    Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
     He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you understand it?" The expert answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
     But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
     Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay when I come back this way.' Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
    The expert in religious law said, "The one who showed mercy to him." So Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." [The Gospel According to Luke, 10:25-36]

Note that the Samaritan didn't look around for someone else to take the job onto his shoulders. Neither did he "dial 911." God had placed him in the proximity of a man who needed help through no fault of his own. He rose to the challenge, not because the revenuers were jabbing him with the barrel of a gun, but because he saw it as the right thing for him to do, personally. That, and that alone, constitutes true Christian charity.

Whenever the Church has allied itself with a political force, the Church and Christians generally have been the losers. That includes the endorsement of political means overtly intended for the alleviation of human suffering. It is no province of the State to do any such thing, no matter how ardently the lazy among us would prefer it.

***

It's been suggested, and by some fairly intelligent people at that, that a Church-State alliance, once forged, can never be unmade. Christians had better hope that that's not the case. If the Church is to retain its sanctity, breaking all such bonds is the most important practical task confronting it in our time. Those of good will but weak understanding, who look back on the old Throne-and-Altar days with approval, have little idea how great was the damage done to the Church by those arrangements.

Given what we know of the perniciousness of political power, the venality of power-seekers, and the State's history of murder and destruction when allowed to run free, a Christian who approves of the use of government's powers for any end other than the security of the borders and the peace of the streets has absolutely no excuse. He is a literal participant in the degradation and destruction of the very faith he claims to hold, and of the institution to which Christ entrusted its conservation.

We don't say "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" merely because it sounds profound. We say it because it's true -- because we're all too prone to forgetting it. No end can justify an evil means. Any means that takes moral judgment out of the hands of individuals is inherently evil. When agencies and instruments of violence are permitted to don a cloak of "compassion" and "mercy" by undertaking charitable duties that properly belong to us as individuals, the evil is compounded beyond all understanding. It's a Christian's duty to resist it to the limit of his powers...if not beyond.

May God bless and keep you all.

Posted by Francis W. Porretto on 02/05/12 at 11:38 AM • Print Vers.Permalink

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Free-riding Europeans.

By Col. B. Bunny

Last year’s Libya war was supposed to prove that the Europeans could take the lead in a smaller conflict closer to their borders. But contrary to the White House spin, the U.S. was the lone indispensable military force in Libya. The Europeans lacked the precision guided munitions, intelligence resources and refueling tankers to finish off Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, which weren’t exactly the Red Army.

Paper Allies.” Wall Street Journal, 2/4/12.



Posted by Col. B. Bunny on 02/04/12 at 01:25 PM • Print Vers.Permalink

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