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At last, my new project, The New American Perspective, is up and running. We will cover politics, policy, culture, history, and theory.

Virtually all of my blog posts will be published at NAP’s website from now on.

See you there!

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It is commonly argued that our Founders, though devoted Lockeans, were not especially influenced by Thomas Hobbes. This is false — for Lockeanism is a variant of Hobbesianism:

Thucydides teaches us in the Melian Dialogue that legalistic justice originates between competitors of approximately equal strength; that when there is inequality between competing forces, there is only domination by the strong and submission on the part of the weak. Greco-Roman politics was defined by a relatively rigid — though not ironclad — social hierarchy, held in place by an understanding that certain types of people are by nature fit to rule over others. Democracy came into being in Greece when the myth of the ‘great chain of being’ became unbelievable — the ancient parallel to the ‘death of God’ — which untethered ‘eros’ and eventually led to the dissolution of antiquity.

Modern philosophers, starting with Machiavelli, sought to conceive of a new, more stable vision of justice — one to replace the chain-of-being/hierarchy myth — based on that which is common to all men. If we can conceive of a new vision and spin a ‘rational mythology,’ then we can reboot Western civilization, ‘liberate it from the barbarians [Christians],’ and avoid a repeat of the collapse of antiquity and the tragic thousand-year-reign of Christendom, which ‘turned Europe into another appendage of Asia.’ Hobbes knew his Thucydides — as Nietzsche says: to be untimely is to know the Greeks — and recognized that In order for there to be enduring justice among all people, they must be convinced of their essential equality. Anything else will result in another unstable hierarchy. In Hobbes we find the rational mythology called for (to those who had ears to hear) by Machiavelli — the roots of materialism, egalitarianism, secularism, and natural rights doctrines, based on what Hobbes insisted was a purely technical account sufficient to cover the sweep of human experience. These planks of the liberal doctrine are designed to neutralize that which makes men distinct from one another — especially religious belief, but also physical (and yes, even mental) strength, and ancestry. But most of all, what unites us is our common fear of death and our craving for security and safety. If we are all equal, then none of us stands any better chance than anyone else of surviving against the other — so let’s agree to pursue justice together rather than attempt to dominate one another. Hobbes was much-persecuted in his native Britain, though, and had to cloak his brutal attack against Christendom as a defense of monarchy.

When a little more time had passed and attitudes toward the Church continued to soften, Locke came along: Lockeanism is practical, humane Hobbesianism — democratic Hobbesianism. But Hobbes himself knew his face-value doctrine was inhumane — he simply had no choice but to cater to those in power if he wanted to avoid persecution. Hobbes would have undoubtedly approved of Locke — and would have fully recognized himself in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

See also: My outline of the essential arguments of the Leviathan.

Thanks to Jon Rowe for re-blogging this at American Creation!

 

From a Facebook post

The window of opportunity for reasonable European leaders to address the cultural cancer of Islamism before there’s a major right-wing backlash — is getting smaller and smaller. Islamist ideology isn’t new, and it isn’t going anywhere — once again, we’re dealing with the same worldview that was behind the ’93 WTC bombings, the embassy bombings of the 90s, the attack on the USS Cole, 9/11, the London and Madrid attacks, the execution of Theo van Gogh, the Fort Hood massacre, the attack in Benghazi, the Charlie Hebdo executions, the rise of ISIS, and on and on and on —

What’s particularly frightening about the ongoing situation in Europe is how many of the attacks there have been home-brewed. And the problem is not limited to acts of terrorism: in Muslim ghettos in countries once thought to be bastions of tolerance, like Holland, sharia law has as much or more sway than the true laws of the government. Gay-bashings are happening again in cities that once thought they’d done away with them. Anti-Semitism is on the rise again. A recent poll showed 16% of Frenchmen call themselves supporters of ISIS, and you can bet they aren’t named ‘Francois.’ Another poll showed 98% of British Muslims morally disapproving of homosexuality. Can there be any debate any longer that multiculturalism and cultural relativism have failed Europe?

The middle way is always to take in a moderate number of newcomers from foreign cultures and to insist on assimilation. There is no reason why Europe can’t take in a number of Muslim immigrants and turn them into successful Europeans. As President Obama has pointed out, America’s Muslim community is well-assimilated and should serve as an example to the world. But if the choice facing Europe boils down to voting in more high priests of multiculturalism and open-borders — and voting in right-wingers who want to totally seal national borders and keep them all of ‘them’ out — well, it’s not going to take very many more attacks like this before the post-Cold War dream of a unified, open, multicultural Europe goes up in flames.

From a Facebook post

You cannot reason with leftist identity politics ideologues on campus. They do not want to have a debate or a conversation with you. They are certain you are suffering from some combination of unconscious prejudice and unchecked privilege, and they will not legitimize the oppressor by engaging in ‘dialogue’ with him as if he were their moral equal. In their eyes, the topic at hand is *not* a debate, and you cannot understand them until you grasp the implications of that.

I would certainly know — at American University, while I was a columnist for the school newspaper (I identified as a ‘classical liberal’), I tried repeatedly for over a year to convince representatives from both Women’s Initiative and Students for Justice In Palestine to participate in their choice of one-on-one or multi-person panel debates with me and someone else from the College Republicans. I was the most-read and most-responded-to writer in the paper and I wrote constantly on identity politics and campus matters, so it’s not like I didn’t have standing to propose a student debate. Time after time: No, no, no, no, no — “This is not a debate,” “We won’t treat this issue as if there’s your side and my side.”

In essence, these are the moral assumptions of war. If it’s not a debate, the enemy must be destroyed. Their methods of ‘debate’ against me were always attempts at character assassination: I was a ‘reactionary,’ a ‘sexist,’ an ‘elitist,’ a ‘rape apologist,’ etc., despite the fact that I was an openly gay libertine atheist who publicly bashed social conservatism and bourgeois values. No matter — the nature of the event is that you are either with them or against them.

Consequently, explanations about why they are wrong should only be addressed to fence-sitters. Don’t even try to reason with the campus fanatics. Just pronounce swift, unequivocal judgment. Their attitudes are incompatible with liberal democracy. They are censorious. They are arrogant and dismissive. They are not emotionally or spiritually prepared for human life. And what they stand for absolutely must be stopped, because the state of education in this country is already dire enough.

What precisely is the value of intelligence? — The question intelligent people shy away from. Intelligent people are likely to have spent their lives being flattered for their intelligence and because of this often place it at the center of their identity. Among the intelligent, intelligence is said (or thought) to be the queen of human virtues. Yet we see everywhere intelligence without will, intelligence without self-awareness, intelligence put at the service of some random passion. Intelligent people are better at solving problems, yes — but they are also better at inventing new ones. They are better at communicating, but they are also better at obfuscating. They are better able to deconstruct lies at-will, but they are also better at masking truth at-will. Intelligence is probably a prerequisite for greatness, but when it is unanchored from a worthy and joyful goal, it can be among the most destructive of qualities.

The national heroin epidemic has reached Maryland, where last year there were over 500 overdose-related deaths. Gov. Larry Hogan, who has already declared a state of emergency over this issue, recently announced the creation of a task force to combat the problem:

Heroin use has risen dramatically across the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Maryland, a task force is looking at ways to tackle the problem.

Governor Larry Hogan placed Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford in charge of the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.

Last week, the group concluded a series of six meetings held all around the state.

“The next step is we have an interim report that is due in mid August, and then a final report and recommendations to the Governor in December,” Rutherford tells WTOP.

He says the state wants to take a multifaceted approach: “You have to look at prevention as one of the elements, treatment for those who have become addicted, as well as recovery efforts.”

After half a century of propaganda promoting the Drug War, Americans have been conditioned to fear pleasure-inducing drugs in a manner akin to how people used to fear demons. Drugs like heroin (and methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.) are viewed as quasi-magical substances that rob us of our self-control and sound judgment — and have the potential to transform us into addicts, in spite of ourselves. In short: heroin is said to rob people of their free will. It is of course imperative that Americans address the heroin epidemic before it worsens. But we cannot begin to overcome it until we break open the long-petrified conversation about drugs and addiction. What does it mean to be addicted? Why do some people become addicted where others don’t?

The first — and perhaps the most difficult — step toward healing is to stop blaming the heroin. It is actually possible to use any drug recreationally without becoming an ‘addict’ — even powerful ones like opiates. Anyone who has ever gotten regularly drunk, yet still fulfilled their obligations, knows this — and so do the millions of people who have taken prescription opiates for pain and then successfully tapered off of them under the supervision of a doctor. If opiates were inherently addictive and robbed us of our self-control, it should not be possible to use them for an extended period of time for medical purposes without forcing the patient into addiction. But this isn’t what happens.

The difficult truth that addicts and their loved ones often don’t want to face is that it is not all that difficult to taper off of opiates: it takes weeks — not months, not years. The difference between long-standing addicts and those who taper off of them after using them for pain is that the latter group actually wants to be off of them — because they want to resume their daily lives. Contrary to what they will tell you, many long-time ‘addicts’ are not actually interested in getting clean. Once a person really wants to get clean, it doesn’t take very long — and with the proliferation of methadone and suboxone treatment centers and professional rehab programs, it is easier and safer than ever to get off of opiates. But many, if not most, people who pursue this line of treatment are those who have been caught using by horrified friends and family — or the cops — and so they need to make it look like they are making an effort to get clean — even if, secretly, they really just want to get their tolerance down so they can get high again — or perhaps they just want to keep others from getting angry at them. This is an all-too-common scenario, and it is a recipe for relapse after relapse. I know more than one person who has been to rehab more than once — and in each case, the reason for their failure is obvious: they went to rehab for others, not for themselves.

The only way to truly convince someone to get clean and stay clean is to demonstrate to them that there is something waiting for them beyond opiate use that will be better than the high. This is far easier said than done: many addicts turn to constant opiate use because they feel trapped by their circumstances and see no viable way forward in their lives. The heroin epidemic, in this sense, is really an epidemic of meaninglessness and brokenness. We’ll never begin to tackle the problem until we wake up to the fact that heroin itself is not the root of the problem — and resolve to do the difficult work of trying to mend lives that have wandered off-course.

The first question in politics is always what is at stake. The presidency is not awarded by cosmic fiat to the man or woman most fit for the job, but is chosen by the people from among those who choose to present themselves as candidates. Accordingly there can be a number of legitimate criticisms leveled against a candidate without rendering her unworthy of support. If someone were tasked with scouting the nation in pursuit of the most qualified citizen for the presidency, it is unlikely that he would decide that Hillary Clinton is the best person for the job. But the question at hand is not whether Hillary Clinton is the best person for the job, but whether Hillary Clinton is a better person for the job than the other viable candidates — probably Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. What is at stake, therefore, is whether we will be governed by the best among these candidates or by the worst. Excellence in anyone is rare, perhaps no less so among politicians. That there are no absolutely good candidates does not excuse us from the duty of deciding which among them is most suited for the presidency. I will not attempt here to extensively compare Hillary with her rivals, but to explain why she is worthy of support. I will leave the reader to decide whether it is a strong enough case to prefer her to her opponents.

Like most celebrities, Hillary Clinton considers herself misunderstood. The press delights in portraying her as a contemporary Richard Nixon: cold, secretive, and calculating. Perhaps. Her critics assert that since she exhibits these traits, she therefore lacks the character for the job. Of course most of these critics would vote against her even if they did admire her personally. It is certainly the case that character is of paramount importance when selecting a president — but it is difficult enough to communicate our true character even to our closest friends. Surely we cannot judge what sort of president she would be by considering her missteps and gaffes in isolation, or from only observing her on the campaign trail. It may be the case that she is simply less shrewd than most politicians at disguising her contempt for ‘the game.’ Her weaknesses as a ‘retail saleswoman’ are certainly all the more striking when juxtaposed with her husband’s unaffected, boyish charisma. But it seems unlikely that a person’s character radically changes from their early years. It is imperative to examine Hillary’s life in its totality, and to look at the principles that have consistently governed her conduct — how they began, how they matured, and how she wants to apply them to her presidency.

Hillary’s political awakening began as an adolescent, when one of her high school teachers recommended Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. Upon entering Wellesley, she quickly became active in the College Republicans, where she served as president. But she soon found herself at odds with the Republican Party on social issues and the Vietnam War. In the midst of her transformation from Young Republican to committed Democrat, she told her youth minister that she considered herself “a mind conservative and a heart liberal.”

Soon after graduating from Wellesley, she began law school at Yale, where she met Bill Clinton. After graduation, the two of them moved to Arkansas, where she became the first female partner at the highly prestigious Rose Law Firm, served on the board of Wal-Mart, and briefly taught law. She repeatedly turned down Bill’s marriage proposals, fearful of losing her distinct professional identity. It is not out of the question that she decided to marry Bill when she did primarily for political reasons; she only very reluctantly adopted the roles traditionally assigned to women. This was most evident in Bill’s 1992 presidential campaign, during which Hillary (in)famously offended socially conservative voters by declaring that she “could have stayed home and baked cookies” rather than pursuing a career, and that she was not a “little woman standing by her man like Tammy Wynette.” She quickly developed a reputation as a famously “polarizing” and distinctly modern first lady.

Early in Bill’s first term, Hillary suffered her most embarrassing professional setback. Her utter mismanagement of her husband’s attempts at health care reform resigned her to a more traditional role for the rest of his presidency, and helped pave the way for a sweeping Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. She prudently recast her image as a champion of women’s rights. Perhaps the most admirable of her actions as First Lady was her 1995 speech about women’s rights at a UN conference in Beijing. She dispensed with the diplomatic formalities of not directly criticizing foreign leaders on their soil and all but explicitly challenged the social policies of the autocratic Chinese regime on Chinese soil.

Her 2000 Senate campaign was unremarkable, and she triumphed against a rather unremarkable opponent — but she quickly was embraced by a resounding majority of New Yorkers, to such an extent that no serious challenger emerged in her 2006 race for re-election. Her concrete accomplishments as senator are few, but she served for long enough, and in consequential enough times, that we can discern a general sense of her ideology: domestically center-left, and a ‘liberal hawk’ on foreign policy. She certainly never proposed or supported anything patently unreasonable. Perhaps her worst moment was her opposition to the surge in Iraq, which was instrumental in securing the stability we abandoned in 2011. In general, she was a competent but seldom — if ever — exceptional senator.

Some say that Hillary never risks anything when communicating with voters; that she won’t exhibit the ‘courage of her convictions.’ But this is patently and obviously false: if she had recanted her vote for the Iraq War, loudly and repeatedly, early in her 2008 presidential campaign, it would have mitigated the not-insignificant damage it caused her against Barack Obama, who had opposed the war from the beginning. To the very last primary, she would not disavow her vote. Some might say she was simply trying not to appear weak or indecisive — but if that is the case, she decided she would rather project strength than secure more primary votes against a candidate who was deftly able to make her vote for war an issue. Moreover, she rejected Barack Obama’s populist pandering by arguing against a raise in the capital gains tax. Even today, reporters wonder whether she will hold onto this position, which is unquestionably rejected by her party’s base. Is that a woman who will say anything for a vote? I imagine that progressives will read this and wince — when she sticks to her guns, it seems to more often than not stem from conservative impulses. But the truth about Hillary’s convictions is right in front of our eyes.

As Secretary of State, she of course operated under the direction of President Obama. When judging her accomplishments, or lack thereof, we must remember what was her sphere of influence and what was not. There is no ‘Hillary Doctrine,’ but we know what policies she pressed for, behind the scenes. We know that the humiliating parade of errors that was President Obama’s response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons would not happen in a Hillary Clinton administration. We know that she rejects the notion that America should merely respond to events as they happen. We know she believes that a foreign policy that seeks nothing but stability is insufficient and morally base. We know that she does not hold delusional, romantic views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we know that she does not think Benjamin Netanyahu is the reason why there is no Palestinian state. In a word, we know that her sense of moral clarity is vastly superior to President Obama’s. A Hillary Clinton administration would be good for the Democratic Party on this count, and would therefore be good for the country as a whole, since this would see both political parties more sharply focused on what is at stake on the world stage. Her frequently-cited extensive travel — one of her favorite points to make to reporters — is not a policy accomplishment, but it is a practical advantage against someone like Jeb Bush when it comes to making judgments about foreign policy. If a new crisis breaks out in the Middle East, or Eastern Europe, or North Africa in 2017, nobody will doubt that she is familiar with the key players or the details of the issues at hand.

Taking the whole of her life into account, we see a woman who avoids extremes, accepts the reality of the persistence of power politics in both domestic and foreign affairs, and is animated by a sense of purpose — the sort of purpose that we can anticipate will grant her the confidence to advocate as president for American greatness in word and deed. She embraces liberal principles without sliding into progressive dogma; she is no European-style social democrat. She is without a doubt a flawed politician, and perhaps is even more flawed as a campaigner — and there is of course no guarantee that her presidency will be successful — especially considering that Republicans will still own a commanding majority in the House, if not also the Senate. But from among the available options, Clinton seems best-prepared for the duties of the job, and I am happy to support her.