Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Party of Immigrants

Although "Ladies Night" seemed to be the theme of the first session of the Republican National Convention, another theme played quietly as background music: a party of immigrants.

Most speakers on that first night consisted of first, second, or third generation immigrants who made the most of the opportunities found in America. For most of them, their parents arrived with little or nothing. (And they arrived legally. A couple of these children of immigrants denounced the Obama administration for its failure to secure our borders from those who disregard our laws and come here illegally.)

Through hard work they achieved success for themselves and laid the foundation for their children's success. And now these children of immigrants work for public policies that will laid the groundwork for the success of others besides Obama campaign donors.

Chris Christie, who delivered the keynote speech, is a fourth generation American. Christie's great grand father arrived in Newark, NJ sometime in the second half of the nineteenth-century. Christie graduated from University of Delaware and earned a law degree at Seton Hall.

Rick Santorum's father arrived in the United States as a child in 1930 from Riva del Garda, Italy. His father became a clinical psychologist and his mother a nurse and administrator. Santorum attended Penn State University. He subsequently earned a MBA at University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from Dickinson Law School.

Ludmya "Mia" Love was born in Brooklyn, NY to parents who immigrated from Haiti in 1972 with ten dollars in their pockets. She graduate the University of Hartford. She worked in several private sector jobs before her foray into politics.

Ted Cruz was born in Canada to parents who immigrated from to the United States. His father fled the Castro regime with a small amount of money sewn into his underwear. The elder Cruz worked as a dishwasher while attending the University of Texas. The mother became the first member in her family to earn a degree after graduating from Rice University. Ted Cruz himself went to Princeton and later earned a law degree from Harvard.

Nikki Haley was born to immigrant parents from Punjab, India. They started a small family run business out of their home that is now a multi-million dollar company. She earned a degree in accounting from Clemson. She, too, worked in several private sector jobs before embarking on a political career.

(Thanks, legal immigrants, who contributed to Wikipedia!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ladies Night

Although Chris Christie's keynote speech was the most anticipated event of last night's Republican National Convention,  it proved to be ladies night.

Ann Romney, of course, was the most high profile woman on stage. She gave a good speech that did a much better job at introducing viewers to her  than to her husband. But even liberal analysts Brokaw and Mitchell gave her a "9."

Preceding Ann Romey on stage were Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, Governors Nikki Haley, Mary Fallin, Puerto Rican First Lady Luce Fortuna, and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayote. These professional women represent a new broadbased conservative feminism for whom fiscal responsiblity, taxes, and budgets appear more important than who pays for their contraception.

Meanwhile, traditional liberal feminists grow bitter, clinging to their contraception, their curettes, and their worn out copies of The Feminine Mystique.

Party here, party there, Republican Party everywhere!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Abortive Thoughts . . . Or Ones That Should Be

Missouri U.S. Congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin has provided what his fellow Christians call a “double blessing” to the Social Democrats. Recent comments he made about abortion have not only cost him a comfortable lead in his race against incumbent Claire McCaskill, but also have provided ammunition to the Obama campaign to shift the campaign conversation from Obama's ineptitude regarding the economy to the Republican War on Women.

In a interview last week on KTVI, Akin answered questions soliciting him to expand on his pro-life stance. He implied that he opposed abortion even in cases of rape, and then tossed in this medical assessment:

If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.”

This is not the first time he attempted to buttress a moral argument with science. In an August 8 interview on KCMO radio, he expressed his opposition to the so-called “morning after pill.”

As far as I am concerned, the morning after bill is a form of abortion and I think we just shouldn't have abortion in this country.”

Akin's political advisers definitely should have applied a little dilation and evacuation immediately after the conception of these thoughts. Instead, they allowed Akin to give birth to some deformed ideas that have no viability outside of his own mind.

Regarding the August 8 claim about the “morning-after pill, he is flat wrong. He apparently confused it with the abortion pill.

Regarding the most recent and more publicized claim, Akin at least had some scientific basis. A medical doctor made such claims in the early 1970s. The claims have been discredited. Akin subsequently admitted his error. In addition, he had to clarify that his expression “legitimate” rape referred to “forcible” rape.

The consequences?

First, Akin lost his ten point lead over Senator McCaskill. Now the race is a dead heat; some polls even put Akin behind. This has led to another sideshow as various Republicans called on him to withdraw from the race and National Senatorial Campaign Committee withdrew its financial support.

Second, Akin gave the Obama campaign and its supporters in the liberal mainstream media the issue it needed to change the election coverage. While mocking Akin for his ignorance, the New York Times, ABC News, and other “news” outlets quickly began exploiting Akin's “forcible” rape comments. They linked Akin to Paul Ryan for their support of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. (This is the annual renewal of the old Hyde Amendment.) Several media reports identified Akin and Ryan as “co-sponsors.” I guess they were in the manner of newspeak. They were among dozens of co-sponsors, including some Social Democrats. Once it made this connection, the media turned to controversies about language proposed—but rejected—in that bill. When Republicans added the phrase “forcible” rape to the language of the bill, they were accused of changing the definition of rape.

Not really. Everyone knows the difference between “forcible” rape and “statutory” rape. Everyone, that is, except supporters of abortion rights and their enablers in the mainstream media. They used Akin's comments to resurrect the controversy about how to define rape to tar the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

Moreover, the mainstream press never explores then Illinois State Senator Obama's  “present” on legislation to ban partial birth abortion and to protect the lives of babies born alive during botched abortion procedures. That is as “out of the mainstream” as Akin's positions.

That's why NARAL and Planned Parenthood consistently give Obama a 100% on their scorecards regarding his support for abortion rights.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Romney and Ryan Express

After a week of a history of a conservatism,  let's return to the campaign trail.

Last week, Mitt Romney named Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential candidate.

Now we have two "big government" conservatives on the ticket. In the Reagan tradition, Romney and Ryan embody the view that conservative handle the large, modern, and unwieldy capitalist welfare state more effectively than the Social Democrats.

Now chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has a history of supporting the big government agenda.

He voted for big government abroad in Iraq.

He voted for big government at home with his support of Bush's Medicare Plan D prescription program, Bush's Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), and the current administration's bailout of the automobile companies unions.

Ryan's selection been described as "bold" choice by the Republicans and as "extreme" by Social Democrats.

 Ryan is a bold choice in the eyes of Republicans because he a big government conservative that has experienced an epiphany of sorts. He recognizes that fiscal responsibility must be brought back into the picture and he has expressed regrets about the votes that helped bring on the current mess. If elected, only time will tell if those convictions last.

Ryan is an extreme choice in the eyes of Social Democrats because their candidates, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, have not experience the same insight into reality. In the face of the worst debt and economic crisis since the Great Depression, Team Obama pushed forward with its political agenda as if the financial crisis of 2008 had never occurred.

Only an extremist  could be living in an alternative mental universe than theirs.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Conservative Mind: A Sunday Review


With a brief history of the origins of traditional or classical European conservatism concluded, I wanted to summarize a book that first popularized this kind of conservativism in the United States. I plan to post the first week of each month or perhaps every other month, depending upon time constraints, a book review. These reviews will consider books on conservatism and on history.)

The first conservative book review will start appropriately, where it all began, with Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.

Literary critic Lionel Trilling made the following observation of the American post-war political scene:

In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Russell Kirk, along with William F. Buckley, Frank Meyer, Wilmoore Kendall, and James Burnham, set out to change all that by starting the modern conservative movement. They participated in establishing National Review magazine in 1955 to put conservative ideas into circulation. Although the movement became known as “the new conservatism,” the founders did not want promote conservatism as a movement without a tradition. Russell Kirk attempted to uncover the roots of conservatism in a paean he titled The Conservative Mind.

In his book, Kirk summarizes the views of select conservative thinkers from the 18th century to the 20th. (The book’s subtitle, From Burke to Eliot, suggests that Kirk may have got off on the wrong foot. Later we will see how.) He discusses the ideas of such men as Edmund Burke, John Adams, George Canning, Samuel Coleridge, John Randolph, John Calhoun, Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Adams, and T. S. Eliot. As he surveys these thinkers, Kirk distinguishes them as “the true” conservatives or “the real” conservatives from others who traditionally bear that name. Kirk’s particular selection reflects his decision to follow “thinkers in the line of Burke.” Kirk’s discussion of Burke sets the theme for the remainder of the book. Unfortunately, this means he takes a leisurely stroll along a very small stream of conservative thought. Indeed, as Kirk unfolds his presentation, he gives the impression that he is unpacking his own version of conservatism and buttressing it through quote-mining from particular conservative thinkers.

Kirk explores on broad philosophical concepts such as religion and morality, law, liberty, equality, and democracy rather than specific political issues. In this he differs from more modern conservative books that contemporary hot-button issues. Because of his mode of presentation, Kirk provides no systematic analysis of these thinkers.

The superstructure of bulk of these broad conservative concepts rests on a foundation of religion. Christian motifs influence the conservative view of society. Paul in his epistles compared the church to a human body, a living organism with Christ as its head. Similarly, Burke saw society as an organic whole reaching across the generations, not an aggregate of individuals. Society, he wrote, is a “partnership not only between those who living but between those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” And it is the traditions of any society, maintained through prescription, prejudice, and presumption, that preserves both order and the liberties that its members enjoy.

Religion is part of that tradition. Although a supporter of the rights of religious dissenters, he supported a religious establishment. According to Burke, “Religion is so far, in my opinion, from being out of the province of a Christian magistrate that is and ought to be, not only his care, but the principle thing in his care.”

Kirk asserts a belief in natural law, a sense of morality based upon acknowledgment of God and Providence. All civil or positive laws rest upon natural law. According to Kirk, “we know God’s law only through our own laws that attempt to copy His.”

All individual rights derive from natural law. Kirk writes pejoratively of “abstract theories of rights” and “abstract and indefinable natural rights.” When separated from natural law, rights claims are simply “aspirations.” According to Kirk, Burke rejected the Lockean and Jeffersonian view on individual rights.

Burke--and Kirk, also reject their views on equality. They do not recognize the natural equality of all men. The only equality they recognize is the moral equality each human possesses in the eyes of God. They reject “Egalitarian proposals to accomplish the restoration of a pretended natural right of equality.”

Finally, Burke--and Kirk--also hold archaic views of class and democracy. Burke possessed no special affection for the aristocratic classes. His own background kept him from membership. Like our nation’s founders he thought more positively of a natural aristocracy of virtue and talents. But often he seemed to believe that the artificial aristocracy based upon birth and heredity was just as essential as a natural aristocracy of talent. In that he differed from our founders. Moreover, he opposed reforms of Parliament and expansion of the suffrage in Britain. He saw no great value to voting rights because of his long outmoded view of representation. Burke did not consider elected representatives delegates that received instructions on how to vote from their constituents. He saw them a representing the common interests of all Britain and who voted in that common interest regardless of the desires of the constituents. Consequently, all Britons are virtually represented. You may remember that Americans’ fought a war of independence over just that idea.

As Kirk surveys the remaining conservative thinkers, he bring their ideas in as they mirror these views of Burke and himself. Consequently, it is not surprising that his selected conservatives have no politicians among them from the period following the American Civil War. He includes only poets, essayists, and philosophers. No American politician could get elected espousing views resembling those of Burke and Kirk.

And that is when the significance of the book’s subtitle mentioning Burke and Eliot emerges. Burke and Eliot are British. Kirk’s essay really describes a British conservatism rooted in long standing traditions that set down only the shallowest roots in this country. Now tradition is an important idea in any type of conservatism. “The way things are” represents the accumulated wisdom of previous generations. That does not mean conservatism believe in never changing. It simply implies that good reasons must exist for change. British tradition and the conservatism that upholds it have had little meaningful impact on our political culture. Americans hold dear traditions that differ from those in Britain: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Original Conservatism

The French revolutionaries learned that remaking society was a risky undertaking, and always is. The revolution teetered out of control, fell victim to military dictatorship, and perished after a quarter century of war.

The revolution endures in the historical memory as one of the pivotal events in modern European history. It unleashed previously dormant forces of republicanism, liberalism, and nationalism. Even after the defeat of Napoleon, Europe could not completely return to the status quo ante. When the Napoleonic Wars ended, conservative statesmen fashioned a settlement that led to nearly 100 years of peace in Europe. (A century and a half later,  Henry Kissinger saw the experience as a model for containment of the revolutionary Soviet Union). Conservatives restored as best they could the monarchy and the aristocracy dominated social and political order. And conservatives articulated a social and political ideology that supported that order. This became known as classical conservatism.

Classical conservatives saw society not as a collection of autonomous individuals inhabiting the same territory or political jurisdiction. Instead, they saw it as an organic unity. Some have likened society to a living organism. This unity, however, does not imply uniformity. Conservatives recognized that society exhibits a hierarchical structure based upon talent, virtues, inheritance, status, etc.

They also believed that ruling authority should reflect that hierarchy. Perhaps drawing upon Aristotle's conclusion that the best constitution is one in which the best people rule (an aristocracy), classical conservatives maintained that governing authority should be in the hands of people with talents and virtues. The challenge, however, was deciding who will discern these people and what will be the grounds for this discernment. European classical conservatives embraced the idea that only the aristocrats possessed the discernment necessary to decide such questions. Consequently, the aristocrats themselves served as a self- recruiting and self-perpetuating ruling order. A hereditary aristocracy with property in political office displaced Aristotle's aristocracy of virtue. Of course, at the head of his aristocracy is the monarch, “the first among equals.”

This conservative regime reinforced its position through distribution of titles and honors. They even maintained a legal system with distinctions in rights and privileges based upon social status, down to what one could wear.

Classical conservatives believed that the above social and political order should support a state church and should in turn be supported by it. The state supports an officially sanctioned church not so much because it possesses a monopoly on truth, but rather on grounds of social utility. Religious uniformity is crucial for social peace and harmony. In return, a state church supports the existing social and political arrangements. Through required attendance, the church not only teaches morality, but also reinforces every one's place in the social order.

It is no surprise that conservative state sanctioned churches exhibit the same hierarchical structure as society. From local parish priests to archbishops and bishops,the church manifests an ascending order of talent, virtue, and status. Neither is it a surprise that bishops represent the church in the constitutions, whether as part of England's House of Lords Spiritual and Temporal or in France's First Estate.

Some of these conservatives summed up their ideology in the concise phrase of “throne and altar.”

All this seems so distinctly European that it is difficult to imagine such ideas gaining much traction in America. Yet some Americans, in search of an American conservative pedigree and unsatisfied with the results, have crossed the sea and the centuries to embrace this original classical conservatism. (Some residues can be found here, here, here, and  here.)

Only a conservatism rooted in the American social and constitutional order will serve to preserve that order.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Burke on the French Revolution

Burke's conservativism appeared in its most systematic form in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. The work is formally a letter in response to a French correspondent who wrote in 1789 inquiring about Burke's opinion on that summer's revolution in France. In it Burke expressed both his conservative views of change as well as his conservative social and political ideology.

Burke early expressed some reservations about offering an assessment without seeing how the new regime operated:

I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with solidity and property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners.”

Burke followed, however, with a lengthy and hostile condemnation of the Revolution. Burke distinguished the radicalism of the French Revolution from the conservatism of the England's Glorious Revolution of 1688. Burke approached the subject this way because he had recently read a sermon by Rev. Richard Price praising the revolution in France and likening it to England's own revolution. Burke took exception to Price's analysis. He devotes much of the early sections of his essay refuting Price.

First, Burke argued for the conservatism of the England's Glorious Revolution. That revolution, according to Burke, preserved English liberties rather than attempted to introduce new ones.

 “The Revolution was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.”

Second, he rightly argued that a state must be willing to change in order to conserve:
A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risk the loss of that part of the Constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve. The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king.”
The English liberties that the revolution conserved, however, consisted of inherited liberties that differed according to social status:
You will observe, that, from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our Constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity,—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our Constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown, an inheritable peerage, and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors.”
Burke criticised the French for not conserving and improving what they already possessed.

Your Constitution, it is true, whilst you were out of possession, suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations.”

Instead, “You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you” and instead made an “unforced choice, this fond election of evil.”
Then he turned to the social dimensions of the revolution. Read as he fawned over the royal personage of Marie Antoinette and lamented her fall:

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall . . . .Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!”

Burke followed this with expression of contempt for the lawyers, physicians, writers, and lower level “country curates” who filled the National Assembly, especially the “dealers in stocks and funds, who must be eager, at any expense, to change their ideal paper wealth for the more solid substance of land.”

Burke correctly recognized the challenge faced by the aristocrat in the new aggressive middle-class, which he described as “the moneyed interest:”

In this state of real, though not always perceived, warfare between the noble ancient landed interest and the new moneyed interest, the greatest, because the most applicable, strength was in the hands of the latter. The moneyed interest is in its nature more ready for any adventure, and its possessors more disposed to new enterprises of any kind. Being of a recent acquisition, it falls in more naturally with any novelties. It is therefore the kind of wealth which will be resorted to by all who wish for change.”
It is no surprise that Burke followed his attacks on the overthrow of France's heirarchical social order with attacks on the reform of the heirarchical Catholic Church. These reforms included reduction of number of bishops, the redrawing of church jurisdictions to conform to new civil jurisdictions, seizure of church lands, and abolition of tithes. Burke expressed his resentment the new regime reduced the church to dependence on “alms.”
As he neared his conclusion, Burke offered this summary:
All these considerations leave no doubt on my mind, that, if this monster of a Constitution can continue, France will be wholly governed by the agitators in corporations, by societies in the towns, formed of directors in assignats, and trustees for the sale of Church lands, attorneys, agents, money-jobbers, speculators, and adventurers, composing an ignoble oligarchy, founded on the destruction of the crown, the Church, the nobility, and the people. Here end all the deceitful dreams and visions of the equality and rights of men.”

 Edmund Burke portrait

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Revolution Comes to France

The French Revolution, like the English Civil War, began as a conflict between the monarchy and aristocrats over taxation. The nation was in debt, owing to the Seven Years War (1756-1763) with Britain and intervention in the American War of Independence. Efforts by King Louis XVI to reform taxation law to service the debt led to revolution and world war.

The aristocratic opposition came initially through the dozen and half regional assemblies. (The national assembly, the Estates-General, had not met since 1614). These assemblies , or provincial parlements, acted as local judicial magistrates whose duties included confirming laws promulgated by the monarchy and enforcing them in their courts. Periodically, these provincial parlements resisted the monarchy. In fact, because of this resistance Louis the XV abolished them. At his ascension in 1774, Louis the XVI reinstituted them.

Louis XVI supported several reform efforts to modernize the economy and the revenue system. These included removing exemptions that nobles and clergy enjoyed from certain kinds of taxation, ending internal tariffs, and abolishing craft guilds and trade associations that restricted the production and controlled the prices of certain goods. The most important provincial parlement, the Parlement of Paris, resisted most reforms as an affront to the nobility. As the parlement asserted in one remonstrance, justice requires “guarding rights attached to the person and born of prerogatives of birth and estate.” By 1788 , the king followed the example of his predecessor and reduced the legislative functions of parlements to strictly judicial ones and created a Plenary Court based in Paris to serve the whole nation.

The King's edicts were universally condemned by people from all social backgrounds. Opponents published hundreds of pamphlets rejecting the King's actions. The nobility took initiative through the Parlement of Paris. They met and claimed that the Estates-General, representing the whole nation, could approve such radical reforms. The kings acceded to its demands and called for elections and the first meeting of the Estate-General in over 150 years.

The Estates-General assembled in Versailles on 4 May, 1789. Political maneuvering continued for the next few weeks. The nobility in the First and Second Estates wanted the traditional meeting in three separate chambers in which each voted as a block. This would allow the aristocrats of the first two estates of outvote the third. The Third Estate, composed mostly of lawyers, businessmen, and few land owners, wanted to meet in one body. That way, they could outvote the other two estates. In June, representatives of the Third Estate withdrew and took the revolutionary step of declaring themselves the National Assembly and sole representatives of the French people.

The king sided with the aristocrats and backed the first two estates. He assembled troops at Versailles intending to disperse the National Assembly. In nearby Paris, however, mobs consisting of everyone from laborers to bankers seized control of the city. They formed a national guard under the command of Marquis de Lafayette. Meanwhile, in the countryside a peasant insurrection raged. They quit paying tithes, taxes, manoral payments. They attacked some manors and burned the legal papers that detailed peasant obligations.

To prevent the spread of violence, the King decided to acquiesce and accept the National Assembly.

The assembly then began to make revolutionary reordering of French government and society.

So what was so revolutionary?

So what radical changes did the National Assembly make?

First, on 4 August 1789 the Assembly abolish the vestiges of feudalism, including the relationship between lord and tennant, the distinction between nobles and commoners in taxation, in the penalties provided for under French law, and in qulifications for public office, church tithes, and rights of privileges of the provinces.

Second, on 26 August 1789 the Assembly passed the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. Among other things, the Declaration asserted the belief that men are born free and equal, that they have certain natural rights, including liberty, property, and security, and that laws express the general will of the people.
The document exhibits the influence of the American Declaration of Independence. This might be because Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was living in Paris at this time as United State envoy. During the revolution, Jefferson engaged in regular correspondence with some members of the French National Assembly.

Then the National Assembly began working on a written constitution to remake France.