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Tag Archives: Politics

U.S. politics and politics in general

Post-Christian Posing

The following is an excerpt from John Zmirak at The Stream on July 26, 2018, here:

In the 19th century, many Christians were deeply troubled by Darwin. They accepted his theories as facts that disproved the Bible’s claim to be inspired and inerrant. But they weren’t ready to slough off Christian ethics. Or even (in many cases) quit their jobs as prominent pastors and try to make an honest living. They quailed at the ruthless atheist socialism of Marx and Engels, and the harsh “social Darwinist” movement that hoped to speed up the “survival of the fittest.”

So these men of little faith hearkened to the deeply biased methods of “Higher” biblical criticism. Pretending to be a “science,” it weeds out the miraculous and supernatural parts of the Gospel. What it leaves behind is an ethical core, derived from cherry-picking stories of Jesus’ actions and precepts. That core, they could pretend, is really the “essence” of Christianity.

Never mind all those metaphysical claims (Our Lord’s divinity) or so-called miracles (His resurrection). And certainly pay no attention to apostolic traditions, Church doctrinal councils, or historic Christian practice.

The Ten Disenchantments

No, the “real” Christianity is … well not a creed. It’s more of an emotive stance, which distills from the life of Jesus a few simplistic precepts. Since they replace supernatural faith itself, I’ll call them the Ten Disenchantments.

  1. Outsiders are always right.
  2. The underdog deserves to win, every time.
  3. Making judgments about people is evil, and it means you’re a hypocrite.
  4. Religious observance is empty ritual, only valid for building a sense of community among the disadvantaged.
  5. Rebels and dissenters are always prophetic and deserve our attention.
  6. Sexual sins are mild peccadilloes, and those who condemn them are much worse sinners themselves.
  7. Every hierarchy is wicked.
  8. All inequality is the fruit of exploitation.
  9. Suffering has no value whatsoever, and it’s our first duty to stomp it out, whatever the cost.
  10. A neurotic, extreme unselfishness, which no person (much less nation) can really practice, is nonetheless the Christian ideal.

Now this not really a comprehensive ethical system. Nor is it a fair and representative reading of Jesus’ words and actions. If it were, then He would not have been the Messiah, since the above list is utterly incompatible with the Old Testament.

Two kinds of centrism

I’ve written about centrism before, here, here, here and here.

There are two kinds of centrism:

Lagging centrism is a political position comparable to a lagging indicator in economics. This position is characterized by going with the direction of the political winds of the day but lagging behind as if hedging one’s bets or being somewhat cautious. It is a position in the middle of the range of acceptable opinions, which changes as that range changes. Lagging centrists are called moderates in the U.S.

Dialectical centrism is a political position comparable to a contrarian investment strategy. This position is characterized by a dialectical strategy of supporting the opposite of the dominant extreme in order to restore balance to the body politic. It might also be called contrarian centrism, though is it not always contrarian. If the dominant position has been dominant for a long time but the opposite position is growing in influence, then the dialectical centrist will support the opposite position until balance is restored.

For example, in the common political tug-of-war between increasing liberty and decreasing inequality, if the politics of the day is tending toward increased liberty, the lagging centrist will tend in that direction but less than the leading edge. Whereas the dialectical centrist will tend against increased liberty if that has been the dominant side for some time. Yet if the dominant side has been the opposite, decreasing inequality, but increased liberty is growing in influence, then the dialectical centrist will support the latter until balance is restored.

Not a marriage

A marriage is the union of a man and a woman for life. Marriage is recognized by all societies. Marriage is a social institution, and marriage customs differ somewhat from society to society.

Marriage is normally recognized by the government, though some people forgo such recognition. It can happen that the government will recognize relationships as marriage that society as a whole does not recognize. For example, the (Roman) Catholic Church has standards for divorce and annulment of marriage which differ from that of the government.

That is also the situation of society today concerning “same-sex marriages”. The government recognizes these but both the Catholic Church and many non-Catholics do not recognize them as marriages. Society and the government have different definitions of marriage.

We have seen in the 20th century how governments can attempt to redefine language. Totalitarian governments seek to make it impossible to think thoughts they find dangerous. George Orwell satifized this in what he called Newspeak. Forced labor camp was “joycamp”. Compliance to Party orthodoxy was “plusgood”. “Thoughtcrime” was the criminal act of holding politically incorrect beliefs or doubts.

“Compelled speech” is a legal term with wider connotations. It means the state is compelling individuals or corporations to speak, or to speak in a prescribed manner. There are cases in which it is consistent with democratic principles, such as requiring warnings on packages of cigarettes. However, when speech is compelled concerning controversial matters of society, it is coercive and against democratic principles.

For example, the state of California passed a law to force pro-life pregnancy centers centers to speak a message that directly contradicts their beliefs and mission. The Supreme Court struck down this law. Their ruling “makes it clear that no one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates their convictions, especially on deeply divisive subjects such as abortion.” (adflegal.org)

The definition of marriage is another such an issue. The question is to what extent the government can force people to speak a language that re-defines marriage as something other than what they believe it is. Such compelled speech should be forbidden in a democratic society, and people should be allowed to speak a language they understand and that reflects their beliefs about a basic institution of society, marriage.

What conservatives should do

Although I’m a centrist, not a conservative, I desire to see the political factions balanced in order to have a balanced politics. But for some time the political left has had excessive influence: they dominate the media (both mass and elite), education, the arts and sciences, professional associations, NGOs, the judicial branch, and in many cases the executive and legislative branches, too. The only places where conservatives might have an edge are in the military, business, and traditional religious bodies, but even these have drifted leftward. And the younger generation is more left-leaning than their elders.

In short, although conservatives have achieved some political success, they are coming from a position of weakness, not a position of strength. The conservative position on many issues has trended leftward over time since it is under constant pressure from the dominant left.

As a centrist, I would like this imbalanced addressed. Conservatives, or non-leftists, should hold an equal share of influence. Then the factions will balance one another, and they will need to compromise toward the political center.

That said, what can conservatives do to improve their political position?

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Principles of centrism

Previous posts on political centrism are here, here, and here. This post further develops what centrism is.

There are three principles of what centrism is:

(1) Centrism seeks balance in all aspects of the state and its relationship with individuals, society, and other states.

(2) Centrism is non-ideological because ideologies are imbalanced: what distinguishes one ideology from another is how each is imbalanced.

(3) Centrism seeks to ensure that all ideologies are countered by opposite ideologies in order to neutralism them. Because of this, centrism is often contrarian, going against the dominant ideology so that a contrary ideology is strengthened. The goal is to gain or regain balance.

Centrism is the political philosophy of balance.

Equality and hierarchy

The state of nature was invented by Thomas Hobbes to support his idea of a social contract that was (or would have been) entered into by free individuals. In the natural state people would have been totally free but also lacking in security and other goods of society. So they voluntarily entered into a social contract that reduced their rights in exchange for social goods.

This placing of individual rights before social duties is what Harvey Mansfield called the beginning of liberalism. It is an egalitarian liberalism, since everyone is in an equal state of nature and has an equal right to make (or break) a social contract.

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We the people

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This founding document is written in the name of “we the people”. Who are “we the people”?

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George Washington’s warnings

Peter Lillback his article “The United ‘Statists’ of America?” in the book Statism: The Shadows of Another Night, edited by Charlie Rodriguez (2015) lists the following warnings given by George Washington in his 1789 address to Congress (with Lillback’s wording appended):

1. “I pretend to no unusual foresight into futurity, and therefore cannot undertake to decide, with certainty, what may be its ultimate fate.” Washington was not a prophet and could not make a final prediction about the ultimate fate of the Constitution.

2. “If a promised good should terminate in an unexpected evil, it would not be a solitary example of disappointment in this mutable state of existence.” In our uncertain world good things have often ended up as disappointing evils and this could happen with our Constitution too.

3. “If the blessings of Heaven showered thick around us should be spilled on the ground or converted to curses, through the fault of those for whom they were intended, it would not be the first instance of folly or perverseness in short-sighted mortals.” If we lose our Constitution’s blessings of liberty, it would not be the first time that human foolishness has squandered the blessings of heaven.

4. “The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes.” The word of God’s revelation of the Christian religion provides an eternal example of the fact that the best human organizations can be used for evil ends. (Washington is here referring to the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.)

5. “Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity:” America’s future power-hungry leaders could get away with a disregard of the Constitution’s limitations and harm our unalienable rights because the voters have become lazy or selfish.

Three kinds of racism

I believe there is only one race – the human race. Distinctions between people that use the word “race” are really about something else. I think there are three main ways that people use the word “race” and consequently may act in discriminatory ways toward people they believe are of other races.

(1) Racism of ancestry. This is the oldest kind of racism. It is a racism of “blood”. The one-drop rule says that “one drop” of blood from (sub-Sahara) Africa makes a person a member of the Negro or black race. The appearance of the person does not matter. Their culture or mannerisms do not matter. Only their ancestry matters.

This is the purest racism, which is built on feelings and ideas about racial purity, inherited character, and immutable destiny. There is nothing a person of a deprecated race can do to earn the respect or approval of someone who has this kind of racism.

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Centrist virtue

According to Aristotle (as noted here), the nature of virtue is to seek a mean or middle between extremes, which is an intermediate state between them.

These contrary extremes are often called vices, but that implies the operation of evil, which is contradictory to the good, and should be completely rejected. It would be better to call the contrary opposites semi-virtues as we shall see.

The issue concerns two goods that are contraries in some way so that preferring the one reduces the other and vice versa. In order to affirm both one must seek an intermediate state between them that balances their legitimate value. Let’s look at an example often used:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice.

That is to say:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between acting excessively imprudent, which would be rash, and acting excessively prudent, which would be cowardice. Thus courage is a mean between prudence and imprudence in action.

The contraries of prudence and imprudence are not vices, but neither are they virtues to be affirmed in general. In some way they are excessive, or from the opposite perspective, deficient.

Call them semi-virtues, for they are partially virtuous, but are not fully virtuous by themselves. They are imbalanced alternatives to the real virtues.

This is applicable to political life as well. Liberty and equality are both goods that are opposites in some ways. Liberty allows the inequality of abilities and interests to induce inequality in society. Equality stifles these differences, but that entails a loss of liberty.

Thus liberty and equality are semi-virtues in political life. Political virtue is a mean between these contraries. It doesn’t have a name but is a balance between liberty and equality. It is a centrist politics.

One further note concerning virtue ethics and theology: God has no contrary (one might say it’s nonbeing but that’s another way of saying it’s nothing). So in relation to God, there is no middle state. The problem is not contraries but contradictories: good and evil, righteousness and sinfulness, truth and falsehood. The former is to be unreservedly affirmed, and the latter unreservedly rejected.