Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Conservatives and the Common Good of Women and Men

Progressives, then, see society consisting of autonomous rights-bearing individuals which they group together under various rubrics of “common interest” such as gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and a host of others. Progressives believe—or at least say they believe—that such groups or “communities” live under siege by those who would take way their rights. Progressives pit every “community” against every other “community.” This way of thinking almost dispenses with “society” at all.

In contrast, most conservatives tend to overlook differences among individual Americans. Conservatives recognize that difference exist; they just believe that they was dwarfed in importance by the common interests that all individual or groups share.

We will take a look at several examples in separate short posts.

The recent example that stands out most is the supposed “war on women.” Progressives charge that conservatives not only oppose access to abortions, but also oppose access to birth control. “Opposing access” in this instance means refusing to require insurance companies or even tax payers to subsidize birth control. Sometimes Progressives spin the opposition as based upon religion. Other times they attribute it to sexism. Why any institution dominated by men—whether an insurance company, Congress, or the Supreme Court determine any individual woman's choices regarding birth control.

First, birth control and abortion are hardly issues that divide on the grounds of sex. Men find modern methods of birth control, including abortion, as almost as liberating for them as for women. No more unwanted pregnancies. No more financial support for an unplanned child. No more “shotgun weddings.”

Second, the progressive focus on birth control and abortion serves to narrow and minimize women. The horizons of most women extend beyond the narrow confines of reproduction services. Family budgets, national budgets, education policy, war and peace—all concern women as well as men.

Finally, this whole narrative ignores the greater common interest that men and women share. Men and women work together both as teams in the workplace and as partners in marriage. And there is nothing like the institution of marriage to demonstrate the shared common interest between men and women.

This perhaps explains why liberals attract more voter loyalty among single women while conservatives attract more electoral support from married women. Single women perhaps are less apt to recognize the interests that men and women share. Married women, engaged in the cooperative enterprise of marriage and family formation, seem less susceptible to rhetoric about the “war on women.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Cancer Returns

Like a cancer that will not go into remission, the Clintons keep coming back.

As a malady debilitating the  body politic, this particular disease is a strain of the oral variety--they just cannot stop lying and obfuscating.

After delaying for several days to get her talking points in order, Hillary! Clinton finally answered--and dodged--questions about her use of a private email account on a private server for government business.

During the press conference, she claimed that she "opted for convenience" by using one device for both personal and government business. The "inconvenient truth," however, is that two weeks earlier at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, she admitted to being a hoarder of sorts with electronic devices. According to Hillary!, she uses an iPad, iPhone, a mini-iPad, and a Blackberry.

If you can endure her phony cackling, you can watch the exchange here.

Hillary! explained that she and her staff went through 60,000 emails. About 30,000 consisted of personal emails, including those of her husband and another 30,000 government emails. The personal emails were deleted and the government emails were  turned over to the government.

A spokesman for Bill Clinton, however, says that the former president has sent only two emails in his life. Story here.

And although the personal emails allegedly have been deleted, she insisted that the server on which the emails were stored will remain private and off limits to any independent investigator.

 Hillary! assured the members of the press that the server is safely guarded by secret service agents. Of course, it is not through "breaking and entering" that  electronic data is stolen; it is through hacking.

 Hillary! asks that American trust her that she kept her personal and government email accounts separate--trust  her that she sent government business only to government based websites--trust her that she never sent classified documents by email at all.

Maybe there is nothing to this.

After Whitewater, Cattlegate, the so-called bimbo eruptions, and the preposterous claim that they were broke when they left the White House, however, it is difficult to believe anything they say anymore.

Theodore White once described Richard Nixon as a man who had told so many lies that eventually he found it easier to lie than to tell the truth--even when it did not matter.

It seems an apt description of that metastasizing malignancy from Little Rock--the Clintons.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Divided We Stand

Aristotle notes that “a state is a plurality, which must depend upon education to bring about its common unity.”

Although most conservatives see a natural unity in society, especially at the smaller segments of family and neighborhood, they acknowledge the plurality of individuals and their desires and interests. Conservatives believe, however, that the government, and its institutions such as schools and universities, should encourage unity among the citizens.

As seen in the last post, however, even in Aristotle's time demagogues attempted to stir up the poor against the rich. A cursory look at the headlines during the Obama administration shows how little has changed.

Class divisions are not the only ones, however, exploited by progressives in politics and the media.

In the progressive mind, most differences about public policy are cast in terms of capital vs. labor, men vs. women, natives vs. foreigners, and straights vs. LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamourous, Bondage/Disciple, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism).

There is always some kind of war going on against women, minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, unions, etc.

How much they really believe this and how much of it is simply political rhetoric is anyone's guess. Perhaps progressives themselves do not even know.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Makers and Takers in 350 BC

Aristotle observes that various kinds of inequalities can lead to factions. Both rich and poor exploit these kinds of inequalities for their own benefit.

“For those who are bent on equality resort to faction if they believe that though having less, they are the equals of those who have more. And too do those who aim at inequality and excess if they think that though unequal, they do not have more, but equal or less.”

When factions grow strong enough to dominate the government, they shape the constitution in their class interests. Aristotle studies dozens of constitutions of the Greek city-states of his era. He notes how some are dominated by the many—the poor, and others are dominated by the few—the rich.

“Democracy arose from the ideal that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are absolutely alike free, therefore they claim that they are equal absolutely. Oligarchy arose from the assumption that those who are unequal in one respect are completely unequal. Being unequal in wealth they assume themselves to be unequal absolutely.”

Both conclusions are wrong, according to Aristotle. This does not stop the emergence of factions and even civil war and revolution.

Aristotle observes that in democracies, the government attempts to harass the wealthy and take their money. Leaders in a democracy stir up popular passions against the wealthy. This in turn moved the wealthy to unite against the multitude.
In order to win favor of the multitude, they treat the notables unjustly and cause them to unite. Sometimes they make them split up their possessions or income in order to finance their public duties. Sometimes they bring slanderous accusations against the rich with a view to confiscating their money.”

This is the origins of the demagogue.

Sometimes in democratic Greek city-states, the demagogues would go beyond slander of the property owning classes. They attempted to persuade the citizens to prosecute the wealthy in order to seize their money. This in turn moves the wealthy to unite and conspire against the democracy.

Sometimes the democracies resort to trumped up charges against wealthy individuals to seize their money.

“In democracies the most potent cause of revolution is the unprincipled character of popular leaders. Sometimes they bring malicious prosecution against he owners of possessions one by one and so cause them to join forces."

 Again, this forces the wealthy to unite against the democracy, overthrow it, and establish an oligarchy—a constitution devote to the class interests of the rich.

Aristotle suggests the path to civil peace:

“In democracies, the rich ought to be treated with restraint, there should be no redistribution of property nor of income, such as goes unnoticed in some constitutions.”

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Equality for Equals

The conflict over whether a government should promote virtue in its citizens or only protect their liberty stands as the most fundamental difference between conservatism and all varieties of liberalism. A similar controversy exists on the related question of equality.

As in other posts, Aristotle serves as the best starting point for exploring the question of equality.

In contrast to other posts, Aristotle on this question made a bit of a false start.

As Greeks looked about at other peoples around the Mediterranean, they developed sense of their own superiority. (This should not be surprising. Almost all groups believe they are superior to others.) One particular contrast they noted, however, was the apparent docility of the peoples of the near east living under tyrannies. The situation was so widespread that it seemed natural, i.e., as part of their nature. This led Aristotle to reach false conclusions regarding human equality.

In the opening chapter of The Politics, when addressing the question if slavery violated nature, Aristotle writes, “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

Aristotle's ancient error persisted until modern times.

As suggested already in an earlier post, human beings are equal in their humanity. They possess the same human nature and have the same human needs. We know this from modern biological science.

One aspect of human nature—a free will, or the ability to deliberate over different desires and to choose different courses of action-- accounts for the distinctiveness of individual personalities and differences in cultural practices. More importantly, when humans exercise their wills in pursuit of the desires and courses of action, all kinds of inequalities emerge.

So although all humans possess natural equality, over the course of their lives people come to have acquired inequalities. We see people manifest different degrees of achievement in education, business, politics, and sports-- just to name a few. When these inequalities emerge from circumstances free from artificial enhancements that benefit some person's thriving and obstructs that of others, conservatives see those inequalities as just. Under such circumstances, everyone's varying degrees of educational honor, socio-economic status, and athletic achievement are their due—what is owed them. This is where Aristotle is correct: justice is rewarding people according to their due.

In Aristotle's words,

“It is thought that justice is equality, and so it is. But not for all persons; only for those who are equal. Inequality also is thought be be just. And so it is. But not for all; only for the unequal.”

Aristotle—and most conservatives today—see reward as something that should be explicitly tied to virtue or merit.

In contrast, liberals seem to seek some other reasons for inequality than the relative merits of persons. They blame the capitalist economic structure, the wealthy, overt racism, institutional racism, or some ill-defined “forces of history.” Rather than apply some standard of justice to individuals and their accumulated decisions, liberals find injustice in external circumstances beyond the control of individuals.

Consequently, liberals attempt to erect artificial enhancements such as seniority, affirmative action, quotas, minimum wage hikes against virtue or merit--all designed to burden the thriving for the benefit of the languishing.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to Be Right on Rights

Traditional conservatives deny the liberal claim that government cannot enforce any particular notions of virtue because that would violate the rights of the citizens. Every citizen, so the argument goes, has the right to choose his own vision of the good life. For a government to deny a citizen's right to choose how he will live violates this fundamental right. Conservatives generally disagree.

Does this mean conservatives reject the idea of natural or human rights?


The Right, however, demands a little more thorough thinking about rights.

Liberals over the last several decades have inflated rights claim faster than the federal reserve has inflated the currency. Sometimes the rights claims resemble those television evangelists exhortation about praying the promises of God—just “name it and claim it.” And rights claims also serve as the purported end of many political discussions. “It's my right!” somehow trumps any and all other considerations in political debate. Little efforts is made to establish any philosophical or political basis for such rights claims.

A conservative view of natural rights considers the following.

All human beings possess the same basic human nature. We also have the same basic species-specific needs. Some examples include food, clothing, shelter, knowledge, and friendship. Because these goods are basic to meeting our natural needs—physical and psychological, we claim the right to secure them for ourselves. Natural needs serve the basis for natural rights. Conservatives maintain that human beings possess the natural right to secure what they need. Conservatives deny that which liberals claim for human beings—the natural right to what they want. As stated in the previous post, governments can and do make provision for securing the needs of their citizens because they are the same. Owing to the diversity of human wants, however, governments cannot even begin to satisfy them.

Because rights derive from human nature, conservatives deny the historical validity or philosophical need for John Locke's “state of nature” to explain natural rights and the origins of the state. That idea resulted from a wrong turn taken by Christians in the disputes within the Catholic Church over vows of poverty and the right to property. Theological discussions about property rights both in Eden and after the fall take on a life of their own. Hobbes and Locke sound like a faint and distance echo of those theological arguments.

Conservatives also deny the contemporary liberal replacement of John Locke's man living in a “state of nature” with John Rawls' unencumbered rights-bearing self with no duties but those to which he explicitly consents. No one comes into this world as an autonomous rights-bearing liberal—or anything else. All of us arrive dependent on parents. And we grow older we accept by custom duties to our family, community, and nation. And it is that family, that community, and that nation that enables us to successfully live out our rights to live, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Challenge of Liberalism

Liberals, both egalitarian liberals (progressives) and classical liberals (libertarians) object to the conservative claim that the task of government is to make citizens good. 

They base this on several arguments.

Older liberals claimed that for virtuous decisions to be meaningfully moral they must be free. When someone makes the right moral decisions under compulsion, they really are not morally virtuous.

Contemporary liberals reject the idea that government should develop virtue in its citizens as a matter of individual rights. All citizens, they say, possess the right to choose their own version of “the good life.” The government should be neutral on these questions. The government—and society as a whole—should tolerate the moral choices of others.

Finally, as a consequence of the above view, other liberals reject the idea of virtue altogether. Who's to say, they ask, what is right and wrong? John Stossel asks this question repeatedly on television. What's wrong with recreational drugs? What's wrong with prostitution? Who cares what I do so long as I do not hurt anyone else?

All of these claims pose serious questions to conservatism that every conservative must consider; but they contain serious problems of their own.

The first claim—that moral decisions made under compulsion are not really virtuous--is correct. The conclusion—that governments therefore should not promote virtue in their citizens--is not.

The argument fails to appreciate Aristotle's conception of the morally virtuous person. According to Aristotle, a morally virtuous person habitually chooses virtuous acts for their own sake and with a feeling a pleasure for having done so. For such a person, the laws are irrelevant. They do not restrict freedom. The morally virtuous person freely chooses to do the right thing. Moreover, Aristotle argues that the person who makes a morally virtuous decision and is pained by it is not morally virtuous at all. A person who resents obeying the law and follows it only through fear of punishment is morally vicious. The whole point of education and laws, is to habituate such a person in moral virtue, so that he freely acts in a virtuous manner. Laws are not for the virtuous but those in need of virtue.

The second claim contains several problems. First, those who make the argument that people have the right to follow their own version of “the good life” make the fundamental mistake of choosing the right over the good. Choosing the right to live as one pleases often implies the right to my wants. Choosing the good means desiring those things that are really good--that meet my needsLiberty is a means of securing the good, not a substitute for it. 

Moreover, the right, or liberty if you will, to live as one pleases, imposes burdens on society and the government that cannot be met. Any given populace has an almost endless variety of desires or wants. To claim these wants as rights that the government must protect demands more than the government can give. It cannot provide for every one's wants. Moreover, the claim misconstrues the nature of rights. People can make rights claims for their needs, not their wants. Mankind's natural needs are the same for all, for we all have the same species-specific properties. Government can make provision for citizens securing their needs, because these are the same for every citizen. And it is the acquisition of our needs that partly constitutes human thriving or the good. 

And to claim that the government should tolerate every person's conception of the good life seems a self-refuting argument. Virtue, or values, so it goes, are relative. Government and society should not judge. Toleration should be the rule.

But toleration itself is a value. One cannot argue that values should be dismissed and base that argument on values. One cannot defend the value of toleration once one argues that values cannot be defended.

Finally, John Stossel seems to dismiss ethical questions and public policy controversies regarding them. He simply replaces them with the “harm principle.” Who cares what another citizen does so long as it does not hurt someone else? And who cares if I harm myself?

Well, your fellow citizens do, John. At least they should care. We do not live in John Locke's “state of nature.” We live in an organized society. And part of living in an organized society means caring for the well-being of our fellow citizens and attention to the common good. 

Such a libertarian lifestyle sets low expectations for human potentiality and fulfillment.

Listening the Grateful Dead and smoking a blunt while the wife brings home big bucks as a sex worker may constitute an appealing lifestyle for a libertarian. 

Not for a conservative.