November 26, 2015 4 Comments
I’ve a fairly serious Thanksgiving post up at AATW, so here let’s just relax. You know these guys, we’ve loved them most of our lives.
The view from the Prairie, with an emphasis on Energy
November 18, 2015 7 Comments
This is really well thought through, and it highlights something that is important. Conservatism, especially the American kind, is based on doing things that work. It is a supremely practical matter, informed by history, which is perhaps why the progressives do their best to pervert and suppress history itself.
I’m going to extract the main points, but their justification and the reasoning is in the linked article
Ultimately, if one is to understand conservatism, one must begin with its essential element: not the mind, the heart, nor the soul, but experience.
Yet, also unlike so many of its competitors in the world of political ideas, American conservatism remains a philosophy, not an ideology—a way of looking at the world and making decisions in it, rather than a rigid set of prescriptive commands. While American conservatism draws from a variety of sources, it is ultimately about drawing on the wisdom of the human experience of the largest possible number of people over the longest possible period of time.
In many ways, that informs not only our politics, but how we do our jobs, our lifestyle, 9our religious beliefs (if any), everything we believe and do, in fact.
Some argue that the core of conservatism is the intellect, the use of reason. These tend, by and large, to be the economic conservatives, doing constant battle with the Left’s efforts to repeal the laws of economic reality in the name of “equality” or “fairness.” Or the legal conservatives, struggling to hold the line for the consistent application of the rule of law in the face of appeals to “progress,” “empathy,” or a “living Constitution.” (The economic-analysis-of-law movement sits neatly at the intersection of both). Or, at times, the national security hawks, arguing for more cold-eyed realism and fewer appeals to the self-abnegating moral vanities of the moment.
Reason is critically important, but reason alone will indeed lead one far astray, as can be seen from many examples in the world around us.
The failings of intellectuals give rise to the opposite argument: that the weakness of liberal-progressivism, which conservatives must remedy, is precisely that it is a sterile intellectual creed, reducing man to his wants and his biological imperatives and neglecting what really animates the human animal: pride, anger, fear, and love of family and country and all that is dear and familiar.
[…] Students of patriotism know that men will fight for their homes in ways that they would never fight for international abstractions. Students of culture will tell you that all the studies and programs in the world are no substitute for what a man will do for his family if government stops trying to substitute itself for his role. Critics of abortion will tell you that the cold utilitarianism of the “pro-choice” movement and its clinical approach to the most powerful emotional force known to humanity—a mother’s love for her child—leaves women who make that fatal choice with an emotional wound they may never entirely salve. Critics of big government argue that central planning and the rule of experts is doomed to grief because it passes the point where a man is willing to be nagged.
You know all this instinctively, you will fight much harder to defend your family than for much of anything else, but most of us also know that this can lead us even farther astray than overreliance on reason.
A further school of thought is that the core dividing line between conservatives and liberals is faith. Mind and heart alike may be powerful tools, but they can only be properly guided by an informed conscience, which is a gift from God.
For me, this is simply a given, although some others see it differently
Reason, emotion, and faith are all important. But the crucial and distinctive element of conservatism is experience. There’s a reason why people in general tend to grow more conservative as they age: partly because they have more responsibilities and pay more taxes, yes, but also because they have seen more of life. That process is only a microcosm of the broader conservative belief in tradition: not tradition as nostalgia or fear of the unknown, but rather tradition as the proving ground of human experience, the ultimate laboratory of humanity. Experience, as the saying goes, is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.
Translating Experience Into Policy
The conservative preference for reliance on life experience manifests itself, procedurally, in four major ways: a preference for democracy and the rule of written law over rule by judges and other “experts”; a preference for free markets over centralized planning; a preference for federalism and deliberative democracy over one-size-fits-all centralized government, direct democracy and pure majoritarianism; and respect for tradition in all things.
In many ways, it comes down to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
When coupled with the separation of powers, democratic governments are also, whatever their periodic failings in this regard, less likely to make dramatic changes generally and specifically less apt to toss away long-recognized rights of the citizen and long-established forms of common sense. As George Orwell wrote in explaining the deficiency of government by so-called experts:
The immediate cause of the German defeat was the unheard-of folly of attacking the U.S.S.R. while Britain was still undefeated and America was manifestly getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to be made, in countries where public opinion has no power. So long as the common man can get a hearing, such elementary rules as not fighting all your enemies simultaneously are less likely to be violated.
[…] Thus conservatives prefer the opposite dictum, as famously explained by G.K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’ […]
At the end of the day, what makes conservatism both distinct and viable is not the castles it builds in the air, but the roots that hold it deep in the ground. The essential element of conservatism is that by learning from experience and tradition, it reflects the world as it really is.
November 3, 2015 3 Comments
The GOP needs more than cosmetic surgery. It’s either showing signs of great health or is in crisis, or perhaps a little of both. The party controls both houses of Congress and is hitting historic highs in governorships and state legislatures. An array of bright, young, plausible Republican Presidents campaigns for the Oval Office—a far cry. Read More
It’s important to note that the party would be in much worse shape than it otherwise would be without the Tea Party. And that’s even taking into account that the disgruntled insurgents have cost the GOP some winnable elections, most notably by blocking the Senate candidacy of former Representative and Governor Michael Castle in Delaware. (GOP insiders also conveniently blame non-Tea Party losses on the Tea Party—Todd Aiken, for example, was not a Tea Party guy.) Establishment figures don’t have the greatest record, otherwise we would have Senator Tommy Thompson, and a re-elected Connie Mack and George Allen.
Meanwhile, as Ben Domenech notes, the Tea Party has, in fact, begun to redirect the GOP, even if most Tea Party people express frustration at not accomplishing more. (Granted, his comments on the budget deal might qualify that judgment.) The most recent debate might indicate that a majority of Republicans are starting to understand that our elite media are, as Glenn Reynolds says, “Democratic operatives with bylines,” and Republicans should treat them as such.
That great quote from James Madison is also in there. You know: this one
This disproportionate increase of prerogative and patronage must, evidently . . . [foster] the transformation of the republican system of the United States into a monarchy, . . .whether it would be into a mixed or an absolute monarchy might depend on too many contingencies to admit of any certain foresight.
August 17, 2015 13 Comments
Article 39 of Magna Charta, dictated to King John 800 years ago says this:
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
A few weeks ago, David Cameron said this.
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’
Which is, of course, the very sort of knavery that led to the Barons standing under arms, under the leadership of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the field at Runnymede, in the first place.
It is a feature of Administrative Law, or ‘The Prerogative’ gone awry. There are other instances, one of them was 239 years ago. it led a famous Briton to write this:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
And in making it so, Thomas Jefferson and others ceased to be Britons and became Americans.
This is our common heritage, and the reason underlying the modern world. For more than 800 years, because it was the law of the land long before the Barons wrote it, indeed before ‘1066 and all that’ as well. It is the one cause our people have always felt worth dying, and therefore, worth living, for.
In England and in America
July 4, 2015 16 Comments
Perhaps the parallel goes beyond just the early pilgrims? America is either a vision of what can be, or it is nothing.
That is the choice we face, and it’s a stark one. Either we are who we have always said we are, or we are just another slave state like Europe.The question must be answered by the American people, we already know what the government thinks, don’t we?
Churchill said, in the Grand Alliance
But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before—that the United States is like “a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is ignited under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.
That is true, we are Americans, we can do anything, if we choose to. Is the fire under the boiler lighted? If it is not, the dream is over. If it is, anything is possible for us.
This is one of Jessica’s first posts here, I was looking through our records and it struck me that we often become bogged down in detail, in theory, in the mundane day-to-day stuff that we deal with. We tend to forget what it’s all about, and we shouldn’t. Almost from the beginning America has been a dream; a dream of freedom above all, but also of material prosperity.
It was such a potent dream that Italian peasants told each other that the streets were paved with gold, although they knew what really awaited them was hard work, and bias against them because of their language and religion but, they came anyway, and if they didn’t have much but hard work and cramped tenements, their children did. And that’s really what the dream has always been: for our children to have a better life than we did. In the nineteenth century, Russian immigrants who had never had anything but black bread, except maybe on holidays, wrote home ecstatically that “in America, we eat wheaten bread every day.” And that too was part of the saga of America.
That’s what we have built over the last 400 years, a dream of freedom, of individual liberty, yes, but also of freedom from material want by virtue of hard work. And you know, as Jess is going to tell you again here, that is really pretty damned heroic as well. Neo]
When I was ten, I lived in America for a year – in the mid-West. I remember when we got to O’Hare airport looking at its size and marvelling; it seemed bigger than the town in which we lived in Wales. I recall going to St. Louis and seeing the Arch, and going up it and looking across the vastness of the city and asking my mother: ‘What is America for mummy?’ I can’t remember what she answered – she probably thought it was me trying to be clever; but it was a real question, and one I came to ask a few times whilst I was there.
I think I asked it for the reason many foreigners ask – there is something different about America. I remember going with my mother to a Kiwanis Club and being struck by the way everyone put their fist on their breast as they swore the oath of allegiance to the flag. Indeed, I was so impressed that I memorised it so that the second time we went, I could do it too. I remember a nice man smiling but saying that I couldn’t do it because I was not an American citizen. ‘How do you get to be one of those’, I asked? ‘Well, little lady, you could always marry an all-American boy’, was the answer. I think I said something about ‘smelly boys’ and never wanting to get married because I wanted to be a nun. But a bit later I recall thinking that maybe the kind man had a point. America, the very idea, seemed Romantic.
My father was fifty when I was born, and his tastes in movies became mine. When other teenage girls were swooning about Kevin Costner (really???), I was dismissive. John Wayne was my hero – and remains so. He summed up America for me. Strong, but never boastful about it. I remember crying when I saw ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’ – it was so unfair – it was Tom Donovan, not Ransom Stoddard who shot Liberty Valance, so why did the latter end up with the girl? Huh, I remember thinking, if I had been ‘the girl’ there was no way I’d have chosen Jimmy Stewart over John Wayne – what was she thinking? But, as Tom Donovan might have said: “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim”.
The film’s message, which passed me by in my indignation, was about the passing of the old West, and the place of myth in the making of a nation. America is a nation built around myths and legends. That is not to say they are wrong, it is to say that those movies told a bigger story about the making of a great nation and what made it that. All nations need myths, and the point about the American one seemed to be encapsulated in my second favourite John Wayne film – ‘She wore a Yellow ribbon.’ Captain Nathan Brittles was the quintessential quiet American. A man who, having lost his family, was married to the army, and who did his duty, no matter what. My teenage heart went out to him, and I was very sniffy about the heroine going off with those ‘boys’ rather than a ‘real man’.
What John Ford caught in those films – especially the great trilogy which began with ‘Fort Apache’ and ended with ‘Rio Grande’ – was the very idea of America. Call me a Romantic (no, do) – but that idea of America remains with me to this day. God Bless America – the land of the free.
[I think Jess is very right, America is romantic, and yes, you can call me one too. But if we take the romance, and yes the legend and the saga out of our history, we are left with a strip of dirt, and just another group of people. That’s not my America, either. Here’s a piece of the legend. Neo]
June 28, 2015 10 Comments
John Adams famously wrote to his wife, Abigail in 1780, saying, “I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy.” And that is the glory of a civilization, that it makes the time to study.
You, who know me, know that there are few stronger proponents of a liberal education than me. You also know that I think it is nearly impossible to obtain one in the University system. One cannot learn when one is subject only to one side of an issue. There must be (at least) two sides argued effectively of every issue.
Arguing does not consist of personal attacks and telling people to “sit down and shut up”. But invariably that is what is happening today, in our ‘elite’ institutions, and so I submit, they no longer have any utility, whatsoever to someone who wishes to obtain an education. They exist simply to credential those, who mistakenly think themselves fit to rule their betters.
David Patten writing in The Federalist has some things to say recently on this.
Christopher Scalia has a product to sell, and he’s wondering why conservatives aren’t buying it. As an English professor at an elite university, he’s troubled that so many high-profile conservatives have been speaking dismissively about the liberal arts.
His sales pitch is reasonable enough: the liberal arts can make an important contribution to producing the sort of well-informed and critically engaged public that democracies need to thrive. A liberal-arts education exposes students to a wide range of facts, ideas, and experiences, making it harder for the government to control the minds of its citizens. Likewise, the critical-thinking skills students develop from wrestling with complex and sophisticated ideas enable them to ask better questions and challenge authority more effectively.
Actually, he’s right about the liberal arts, but that’s not what they are teaching these days. Continuing:
Perhaps the best example of the problem with how the liberal arts are being taught at today’s universities occurred last year at Marquette University. In an ethics class, a young teacher’s assistant (TA) was confronted by a student who wanted to debate the ethics of gay marriage. The TA told the student this issue was not up for debate. She asked the student to stop talking about the possibility that there could be an ethical argument against gay marriage. This line of thought made him a homophobe, and a gay student in the class might feel hurt if he discovered one of his classmates harbored doubts about the legitimacy of his choices.
Sadly, the consensus in the academy seems to be that this young TA got it right. Meanwhile, her colleague who exposed the incident to the public—thinking people would be horrified by what was going on in Marquette’s classrooms—was stripped of tenure and fired.
This is disheartening, for multiple reasons. The TA seems oblivious to the fact that if everyone else were as closed-minded as she, no one would have questioned the former consensus that homosexuality is a form of deviancy. But someone, quite possibly in an ethics class, challenged the prevailing point of view. This person asked how someone’s rights could be denied on the basis of a moral code he did not subscribe to. This started a debate. The objector was not told to shut up and stop making everyone feel uncomfortable.
Another reason this incident was so ironic is that it occurred in a philosophy classroom. If there is one discipline that cannot survive in an atmosphere of political correctness, it is philosophy. Philosophy critically evaluates ideas. It does not remove some from discussion just because someone might find them offensive.
John Adams also said, “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” When one trains as an electrician, and sometimes alas as an engineer, one doesn’t take many courses in English, let alone philosophy, that is unfortunate, but perhaps necessary. perhaps we do need electricians more than philosophers, but I think it in large part a false dichotomy. A goodly part of philosophy can be understood as simple common sense, and mechanical skills should never be denigrated either,
As a philosopher myself, I too balked when Sen. Marco Rubio discouraged an audience from pursuing a degree in Greek philosophy. While he accurately cited the lousy job market for Greek philosophers, a bad job market is an insufficient reason to discourage the study of philosophy. Ideally, a liberal-arts education would help produce the sort of citizen that can contribute meaningfully to our nation’s political discourse. That is more important in the long run than a steady paycheck straight out of college.
But the price is only worth it if liberal-arts universities remain committed to fostering open-minded, free-thinking individuals. Increasingly, conservatives are coming to doubt this commitment, so they are left wondering whether students might not be better served spending their college years preparing themselves for the job market.
Remember most of us are not attacking the liberal arts, we are attacking the way the are (not) taught any longer. When they are again taught, we will again support them, because we agree with the Adam’s quote that opened this article.