Ordered Liberty Requires Religion

Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com, has accused Donald Trump of ushering in an age of tribalism in American politics. His supporters, goaded on by President Obama’s willingness to subordinate his constitutional obligations to the demands of sundry members of the Democratic coalition, hanker for a Leviathan state capable of enforcing their grievances. Both sides, Shapiro writes, have abandoned the Lockean social contract, under which government is instituted in order to protect life, liberty, and property rather than to champion the rights of one class of citizens against another.

The decline of Christianity’s influence in the United States facilitated this process. With the disappearance of a moral code that transcended racial, ethnic, class, and family barriers and of deference to America’s constitutional heritage, government became a mechanism by which various groups could rectify perceived wrongs. “White anger,” Patrick Buchanan claims in a sterling example of this phenomenon, “is a legitimate response to racial injustices done to white people.” Trump’s opposition to free trade and the free movement of people is one manifestation of this resentment.

Shapiro’s analysis may be exaggerated. Noah Rothman of Commentary notes that incumbency rates in Congress have remained staggeringly high. In 2010, for instance, 87 percent of House incumbents retained their seats, the lowest rate since 1970. Voters, Rothman suggests, aren’t as angry as the commentariat makes them out to be.

Rod Dreher, the resident medievalist at Buchanan’s American Conservative, shares Shapiro’s outlook on the epochal events currently roiling the American political landscape. So, too, does Josiah Leinbach of the Federalist. Dreher sees the rise of liberal democracy and its insistence that freedom and prosperity are the highest human goods as psychological as well as social and political threats. Western civilization, he writes, has been deprived of meaning. For Dreher this partially explains the rise of radical Islam. Leinbach, for his part, thinks the decline of the Republican Party occurred because it abandoned conservative principles. Both authors share a sense that the discontent currently transfixing commentators is not ephemeral.

Matthew McCaffrey, an assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester, offers a vision of public policy that counterbalances the grievance politics of Trump and President Obama. All laws, McCaffrey writes, involve some element of coercion and, ultimately, the threat of organized violence. If voters were to internalize this fact, he continues, they would prove more reluctant to turn to government as a way to solve problems.

I share James Madison’s views as they were expressed in Federalist 51. The first duty of government is to prevent one citizen from encroaching on the life or property of another citizen. Its second duty is to implement safeguards that it does not go beyond its prescribed boundaries. I am for a conservatism that balances a respect for order with an intuitive understanding that burdensome and prejudicial regulations diminish respect for the law. This is why Tocqueville’s observations on American democracy are so important. Religion, without freedom, begets despotism. Freedom, without religion, begets anarchy.

Advertisements

The Fight for A Better Conservatism Continues

David French, the National Review contributor and former JAG attorney whose third-party candidacy I championed in a previous post, has announced that he will not run for president. French believes he is neither wealthy nor politically adept enough to lead the #NeverTrump charge in the general election. However, his confidence that like-minded Americans have the temperament and resources to resist Trump has not diminished.

Daniel R. DePetris, an associate analyst at the Raddington Group, has ridiculed William Kristol’s drumbeat for an independent candidate. Donald Trump, he insists, is the Republican nominee. At the same time, DePetris refers to data that strongly supports a third-party run. Data Targeting finds that 55 percent of Americans want an alternative to Trump and Hillary Clinton. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Mitt Romney, who has been encouraged to make a third consecutive attempt at the White House, enjoys a favorability rating of 22 percent.

In an article dated May 18, Kristol outlined a dream scenario for #NeverTrumpers. The Donald is wildly unpopular in Utah. (Mormons, like Wisconsinites, really are as decent as they purport to be.) By contrast, Romney is well-liked by his coreligionists. If Trump were to take Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, he and Clinton would likely stand even at 266 Electoral College votes, with Utah’s 6 delegates playing a decisive role in the contest. (A candidate must win 270 Electoral College votes to become president.) Were Romney to run in Utah, he could claim those delegates and throw the race into the House of Representatives, where he stands a good chance of wooing Republicans under the leadership of his former running mate Paul Ryan.

This scenario is unlikely. However, Romney’s 22-percent favorability rating does suggest he has the wherewithal to prevent both Clinton and Trump, who are the most unpopular presidential candidates in American history, from reaching the requisite majority in the general election. You don’t have to vote for Trump to keep Clinton out of the White House.

In other news, Federalist senior correspondent John Daniel Davidson has criticized President Obama’s recent performance at a town hall meeting in Indiana. He was asked about the increase in gun violence in heavily regulated Chicago. The president responded by complaining that people accuse him of wanting to take law-abiding citizens’ guns. He does (after the Charleston and Oregon shootings he complimented Australia’s confiscatory regime and after the San Bernardino shooting he suggested depriving people on the FBI’s latitudinarian no-fly list from exercising their 2nd Amendment rights), but that’s not the point. He was confronted with data that suggests regulation doesn’t diminish gun violence and side-stepped it completely.

Phil Magness, a policy historian at the Institute for Humane Studies, has reminded us that John Maynard Keynes, like many Progressive economists, supported eugenics as a way to mitigate Malthusian population growth. Many previous posts on this blog (such as this one) document the Progressive inclination to raise the minimum wage in order to exclude immigrants and other undesirables from the labor market. Magness reiterates the Foundation for Economic Education’s message that in many cases progressivism was and is as much about control as equality.

We’re Insulated from The Costs of Prosperity

Adam Smith, a pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment and the father of modern economic theory, observed that in industrialized societies warfare demands the same level of specialization as other occupations. Since civilians cannot be enticed to pursue the art of war profitably during a time of peace, Smith speculated that the state would have to assume the costs of standing armies.

The War on Terror offers a case study of the consequences such specialization entails. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and a regular contributor to the isolationist American Conservativehas reflected on the human costs of American intervention overseas. Citing a report by the Nobel Prize-winning group Physicians for Social Responsibility, Giraldi notes that 1.3 million Afghans, Pakistanis, and Iraqis were killed in the decade following 9/11. The Obama administration’s forthcoming report on drone warfare, Giraldi writes, will likely minimize the toll covert operations have taken by excluding deaths that were caused indirectly by American strikes.

Giraldi could have been more even-handed in his analysis. In his book Sherman’s Ghosts, journalist Matthew Carr credits American service members with scrupulously attempting to minimize collateral damage resulting from the War on Terror. It is also true, however, that the vast majority of American civilians do not have to confront the physical, moral, and psychological danger inherent in America’s recent military actions. Films like Restrepo, which documents the experience of an advanced fire team in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, attempt to bring the reality of combat to American living rooms. But the truth of the matter is that most Americans–myself included–can ignore the gritty side of upholding American interests and securing American prosperity.

Michael Peck, a contributing writer for the National Interesthas documented one threat U.S. sailors currently confront: anti-ship missiles in the South China Sea and other hotspots around the globe. Peck assimilates the threat these arsenals pose to kamikaze pilots in the Pacific Theater of World War II. I met a recent ROTC grad in Oxford last Christmas who aspired to become a surface warfare officer. That is the extent of my exposure to this threat.

This knowledge makes me chary of neoconservative attempts to remake the world in our image. Ted Cruz, who by no stretch of the imagination is a paradigmatic neoconservative (he joined with the ACLU to oppose the NSA’s collection of metadata), recently called for the United States to hold the Chinese regime accountable for its suppression of dissidents. When I read this I immediately thought of Jon Meacham’s biography of George H.W. Bush. Meacham credits Bush for limiting the American response to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Such realism, Meacham writes, stabilized global politics. I am predisposed to accept this line of argumentation.

At the same time, I believe the United States has a responsibility to protect freedom of navigation and global commerce. As Brian Hawkins, a policy coordinator at the American Legislative Exchange Council and a former U.S. Army officer who deployed to Afghanistan, writes, post-World War II global prosperity and the trade undergirding it rest on American military preeminence. This is the reality that libertarians and isolationists like Patrick Buchanan must acknowledge, and it must be a plank in the platform of any independent conservative party.

Intellectuals Overestimate The Power of Reason

David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale University and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standardhas faulted conservative commentators for misunderstanding Donald Trump’s appeal. Gelernter insists that emotion, not reason, governs the human mind. Consequently, the commentariat’s attempt to anathematize Trump on the basis of his deviations from conservative orthodoxy is doomed to failure.

President Obama, Gelernter writes, has elicited such vociferous opposition not because of his myriad failures, but because of a vague sense that he is arrogant. Wonks at the Society for Defense of Democracies can bemoan the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but vast swaths of America will fixate on the president’s smug disdain for plebes who “cling to their guns and their religion.” However admirable President Obama’s intentions, people tend to dislike those who disrespect and misunderstand them, and they have every right to.

I am as guilty of the oversight that Gelernter condemns as any staff writer at the Weekly Standard. Just this morning, I posted this article by Alan Jacobs to my Facebook page alongside the following excerpt: “There are no–zero–positions held by conservatives of any stripe, from the neo to the paleo to the social, that Trump could be counted on to implememt or support.”

But, counters Gelernter, “[i]t is…the Republican party and not the conservative party, for a reason.” The vast majority of Republican voters can’t articulate the difference between a neo- and a paleoconservative, and it’s not because they’re stupid, uneducated, or indifferent to the direction of their country. It’s cause they’re busy working jobs and raising families rather than binge reading print editions of the Weekly Standard.

Reason, it is important to note, is not inherently superior to emotion, neither in politics nor in life. Jimmy Carter studied nuclear physics at the Naval Academy and is reputed to have read War and Peace at age 11. He floundered as president, however, because of his penchant for micromanagement.

H.W. Brands, an esteemed presidential historian at UT-Austin, once betrayed his suspicion that the presidential candidate with the lower IQ had won every election since the Founding at a Q-and-A session I attended my senior year.

More prosaically, the vast majority of the problems I’ve encountered in my life stem from a predilection for thinking too much and acting too little. One piece of advice I received from my senior thesis adviser–a preternaturally logical man who holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University–was, “Trust your gut.”

People such as myself who fancy themselves of an intellectual bent “often…have the wrong idea that reason is a better, steadier guide than emotion to the average human life.” “[E]motion and reason,” Gelernter concludes, “are parallel routes through the mind to the same destination.”

None of this should be taken as a pitch for Trump or as a disavowal of reason. I think the ancient Greeks had it right. “Moderation in all things.” The “perfection of the moral character,” to quote Jefferson, “is not in a stoical apathy, so hypocritically vaunted, and so untruly, too, because impossible, but in a just equilibrium of all the passions.” The Scotsman David Hume, for his part, esteemed “sociability.” Biographer Stephen Miller comments:

“If Hume disagreed with writers who admired the ancient city-state, he also disagreed with writers who admired the Stoic notion of striving to be ‘above’ passions. When the young Hume tried to live by this ideal, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He soon came to the conclusion that the mind is a swirl of passions–some moderate, others immoderate. Strength of mind or virtue is not the suppression of the passions by reason but ‘the prevalence of the calm passions over the violent.'”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton And Trump Flounder on Foreign Policy

Patrick Buchanan, founding editor of the American Conservative and one of Donald Trump’s most prominent supporters, has welcomed Hillary Clinton’s recent foreign policy address as an invitation to promote Trump’s “America First” strategy. The former secretary of state’s record, Buchanan writes, is abysmal. As a senator from New York, she was in favor of deposing Saddam Hussein. As a cabinet member in the Obama White House, she championed the NATO campaign to remove Muammar Qaddafi from power before developing a feasible plan to replace him. When the resulting power vacuum led to the deaths of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, Clinton lied to the father of a dead Navy Seal in order to solidify a politically convenient narrative about an Islamophobic filmmaker. This is to say nothing about the administration’s clumsy handling of the Syrian crisis or its permissive nuclear deal with Iran.

Indeed, as Kevin Williamson of the National Review writes, the State Department lied about its negotiations with Iran then attempted to erase evidence of its admission. For Clinton, Williamson insists, “deception is an instinct.” The scandal over her private email server affirms this claim. As Shannen W. Coffin of the Weekly Standard reports, the State Department’s inspector general has released a report critical of the Clinton camp’s ever-changing characterization of the former secretary’s behavior. Clinton did not obtain permission to conduct government business on a private server from State’s general counsel, as she originally implied. Nor did federal law or administrative protocals sanction what she was doing. Clinton, in her own words, didn’t want the private server to become accessible, and when a federal archivist turned over the servers’ contents to federal investigators, several emails pertaining to David Petraeus, among others, were missing.

Dov S. Zakheim, Under Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, echoes Buchanan’s criticisms. In spite of Clinton’s claim that she engineered “crippling sanctions” against Iran’s theocracy, Zakheim reminds readers of the National Interest that Congress promoted sanctions in spite of, rather than because of, the Obama administration’s priorities. Clinton made no progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the vaunted “reset” of America’s relations with Russia was an unmitigated failure. Like her boss, she criticized “free-riding” European governments who benefit from NATO’s security commitments and America’s ability to project military power. (Trump is skeptical of the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, too.)

In the realm of foreign policy, Clinton doesn’t have a leg to stand on. As Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist argues, her San Diego address was less a statement about her approach to foreign policy than it was the first salvo of her general election campaign, which will characterize Trump as an unstable custodian of the nuclear launch codes.  Frustratingly, Clinton is right about Trump. As George Mason law professor Ilya Somin writes, the argument that Trump will appoint better justices than Clinton is untenable. His recent mention of several traditional conservatives was non-binding. Somin thinks the Donald will take the federal judiciary in the same direction as the GOP: authoritarian and nativist.

In essence, the Democratic nominee’s record on foreign policy is so bad that she has been reduced to arguing (correctly) that the Republican nominee might start a trade war with China, or worse. Neither candidate deserves to occupy the Oval Office.

Ideology Is Not Morality

Bradley J. Birzer, professor of History at Hillsdale College and a co-founder of the Imaginative Conservativehas listed three crucial mistakes committed by the Founding Fathers. First and most obvious is their willingness to countenance slavery in order to placate Southern states. Secondly, they erred in thinking that each branch of government would zealously guard its prerogatives; the executive, Birzer writes, has in the half-century after FDR usurped legislative authority with little opposition. Finally, the Founders are supposed to have believed–incorrectly–in the perfectability of man.

This last criticism confuses me. “If men were angels,” James Madison wrote in Federalist #51, “no government would be necessary.” Birzer quotes this excerpt then proceeds to fault the Founders for believing men were angels. He inexplicably overlooks a famous quote from Federalist #10 in which Madison directly contradicts the testimony Birzer uses from Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention. “Enlightened statesmen,” Madison wrote, “will not always be at the helm.” Jeffersonian optimism notwithstanding, many Founding Fathers–particularly of the Federalist stripe–retained a dim view of human nature.

Charles V. Pena, a senior fellow at the Defense Priorities Foundation, is also incoherent with the evidence he uses to argue that ISIS does not pose a threat to the American homeland. Daesh attacked France and Belgium, Pena writes, because of their involvement in military activities against Islamic extremists. Therefore, he continues, the Paris and Brussels attacks cannot be used as evidence that ISIS might attack the U.S. Later in the piece, however, Pena writes, “as of the end of last year, the U.S. and its allies had conducted 8,500 airstrikes (the majority by the U.S.) against ISIS.” Pena’s argument about the cost effectiveness of this campaign is persuasive, but his insistence that ISIS won’t try to kill Americans if we stop trying to kill them is quixotic.

Speaking of quixotic campaigns, Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul has demonstrated the militancy of progressive ideological commitments. The American College of Pediatricians, D.C. McAllister notes, has issued a report that sex is biologically determined and facilitating a child’s belief that it is not is harmful. This comports with the assumptions of broad swaths of the American public. After a 5-year-old and his parents insisted on the maleability of his gender, however, the school mandated that its teachers, parents, and children conform to consensus among progressive activists regarding open bathrooms and biological determinism.

A noteworthy aspect of the dispute in Minnesota–and a phenomenon that all conservatives have sensed, even if they have not articulated it to the satisfaction of their opponents–is the attempt by progressive activists to narrow and ultimately eliminate the gap between morality and progressive ideology. Previously, it was possible to have a political disagreement without the argument casting aspersions on the morality of either participant. No longer. Nova’s executive director relied on a misreading of Title IX to insist that concerned parents must relent. According to parents, Nova foreclosed the bathroom issue from the get-go and forbid board members from attending a talk by a lawyer from the Minnesota Family Council because that could be “construed as bullying the boy.” “Acceptance and inclusion,” the principal insisted, were paramount.

The conservative concern is that “acceptance and inclusion” are not, in the progressive imagination, principles that should govern individual conduct, but rather a rhetorical carte blanche to impose government-mandated ideologies on dissenters, in this case at the expense of the cardinal American privilege of freedom of association. More concretely, parents who teach their kids to be kind and respectful toward other people can be forgiven for scratching their heads when opposition to an ideology that has been discarded by pediatricians elicits charges of bigotry. Such is commonsense opposition to the march of progressivism in the 21st-century.

David French Deserves To Be A Candidate

Jonah Goldberg has joined the chorus of conservative commentators calling for an independent party for principled conservatives this election cycle. With the GOP kowtowing to a man who professed admiration for the way China handled the Tiananmen Square protests and the Democrats drifting leftward under the influence of Bernie Sanders, Goldberg suggests that conservatives assume the mantle of the Liberty League, a group of conservative Democrats who opposed FDR’s New Deal. Conservatives, Goldberg insists, need a refuge from redshirts and brownshirts alike.

As I discussed in yesterday’s post, Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education has expressed enthusiasm over the Libertarian Party’s prospects this year. Fiscal conservatives and champions of individual freedom are rejoicing over the resurgence of classical liberalism.

David French, a regular contributor to the National Review and William Kristol’s favorite candidate for a third party run, represents a more socially conservative alternative to Donald Trump. As a lawyer and public intellectual he has championed issues that animated Texas senator Ted Cruz during the primary season, religious freedom foremost among them. He served as a JAG attorney during the Iraq War, during which he received the Bronze Star. He has parlayed his military service into a book about the threat that ISIS poses to the United States.

As Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist observes, journalists have cavilled over an arrangement French made with his wife before his deployment whereby she wouldn’t interact with other men over social media. The fact that this was a mutual and coequal compact and that divorce haunts married couples separated by deployment escaped a press corps eager to paint social conservatives as chauvinistic. Moreover, that the private life of a man who is happily married with three children elicits the mainstream media’s opprobrium reflects the degree to which the family has become a  politicized institution.

One can object to French’s views on national security and religious liberty without questioning his integrity. As this valedictory address attests, French is a humble, articulate champion of traditional conservatism whose life reflects the principles he espouses. That is valuable in an election where more Americans question the morality of the two party’s nominees than ever before.