This is an unpredictably interesting review of an unpredictably interesting book. One snippet:
Luker traces the debate about sex education back to its invention by the “social hygienists” of the Progressive era, but she locates the source of present-day hostilities in the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, which she calls as “disorienting and historically important” as the French, American and Russian Revolutions. “Like them,” she writes, “it will continue to reshape human life in profound ways for many, many years to come.”
The advent of contraception and abortion may have allowed some women to pursue their dreams, but “by loosening men’s ties to marriage and family” it made those more interested in marriage than careers more likely to wind up as poor, single mothers. Luker also thinks that marriage is under stress, although, being a sociologist, she ascribes that stress to socioeconomic forces — the impoverishment of the working class, which makes the poor less able to afford marriage; the rise of a wealthy elite free not to worry about the vicissitudes of single parenthood — rather than to declining American morals. Luker even sees merit in abstinence education. While researching her book, she was stunned to learn how much pressure teenagers now put on one another to have sex. By making it a virtue to refrain, she says, “abstinence programs may in fact provide valuable social support for the idea that young people (young women in particular) don’t have to be sexually active if they don’t want to be.” They could create a “zone of sexual autonomy.”
Fred Barnes offers this advice to the president on how to help his party keep control of Congress. He’s surely right that the battle is uphill at this point, but defeat is far from certain. He’s also right that the president’s strength is following his instincts and doing what he thinks is right, although I might add that some might say that most strengths are weaknesses too. Almost all of Fred’s advice amounts to looking and getting tougher on both Iraq and Iran. He does add, near the end, a quick paragraph on also becoming tougher on judicial confirmations and perhaps the repeal of "the death tax." Abstracting for the moment from foreign policy and military strategy, is it really true that what Fred recommends will be enough to produce electoral victory? If not, what else needs to be done? If I knew the answers, I would be happy to tell them to you.
It was unusually early for my ride. The darkness was trying to lift off the sleeping earth, but no sunlight touched ground. As light slowly revealed itself as fog, we were many miles from home. Isabel seemed to like the moist world. Fog had settled on her mirrors and on her once shining chrome. Enveloped, her purring seemed deeper, more throaty, maybe even dulled. Even our speed slowed. Everything became a languid and muffled thumping potato-potato-potato and we never wanted to go faster than forty five or fifty. And we didnt. A nice slow clip showed us sixty miles of woods and fields, interrupted by only a handful of men, rising early and moving at our pace. Soft and peaceful. The mighty sun eventually intruded on the scene but by then we were home and clean. And now I am prepared to greet the twenty-five fresh Ashbrooks and their parents for lunch. A new day for the new year.
I like chewing over Pew polls, which provide some of the most thorough documentation of public opinion at the intersection of religion and politics. The latest one, released Thursday, is no different.
The most politically interesting finding is this:
The survey finds that the Republican Party is viewed less positively in its approach to religion by a
constituency that has played a pivotal role in electoral politics in recent years: white evangelical Protestants. Currently just under half of evangelicals (49%) say the GOP is friendly to religion, a decline of 14 points in the past year. Catholics also are far less likely to view the Republican Party as friendly to religion; just 41% say that today, compared with 55% about a year ago.
More broadly, the decline in the proportion of Americans who view the Republican Party as being friendly to religion occurred uniformly across the parties. The proportion of Republicans who say
the Republican Party is friendly to religion dropped by eight percentage points, while falling nine points among both Democrats and political independents.
As the ubiquitous John Green told the NYT:
“It’s unclear how directly this will translate into voting behavior,” Mr. Green said, “but this is a baseline indicator that religious conservatives see the party they’ve chosen to support as less friendly to religion than they used to.”
He speculated that religious conservatives could feel betrayed that some Republican politicians recently voted to back stem cell research, and that a Republican-dominated Congress failed to pass an amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
“At the minimum, there will be less good will toward the Republican Party by these conservative religious groups, and a disenchantment that the party will be able to deliver on its promises,” Mr. Green said.
Of course, the Democrats remain in much worse shape on this dimension, with only 26% of respondents regarding them as religion-friendly, this in a country where 71% of the repondents want more religious influence on the country and 51% want more religious influence on government (and 67% regard the U.S. as a Christian nation, whatever that means [and I’m not sure it means much]).
The report also attempts to explore the religious left, and discovers that it’s for the most part more religious than left. Stated another way, "On many matters of politics and policy, the views of progressive Christians are not much
more liberal than those of the general public." There’s a gap, in other words, between the left and the religious left, not to mention between the rank-and-file of the religious left and its so-called leadership, which has, I think, positioned itself closer to the secular left. How many divisions does Jim Wallis have?
If you want more, read this piece by the estimable Julia Duin.
And Steve, you’ll want to look at the stuff on religion and the environment, where I found this conclusion interesting but unsurprising:
people say that their religious views are the most important influence on their thinking about environmental regulations.
Asked to choose among a list of five possible influences – what they have seen in the news, a personal experience, their
education, their religious beliefs, or their friends and family – just 8% said religion was the most important influence.
And the number who chose religion was basically the same for those who said environmental regulations are worth the
cost as for those who said regulations hurt the economy.
Last weekend, we had a profound, subtle, and well informed--not to mention "cool"--discussion of the politics and culture of what became precisely defined as "rock." This weekend’s topic is the place of television in American political and even liberal education. Arguably the most profound form of culture we actually share with at least our more ordinary students is television. There’s more there there than in popular music. Learned professor Paul Cantor (in his book GILLIGAN UNBOUND) has found theological depth in the X-FILES, complex moral psychology with a libertarian spin the in THE SIMPSONS, and the display of the Socratic conception of the soul in GILLLIGAN’S ISLAND.
And Cantor and the brilliant Diana Schaub have disagreed over whether STAR TREK is about life at the end of history described by Kojeve and Fukuyama or a defense of the noble meritocratic principles of the American founding.
In teaching the Tocquevillian view of the way individualism creeps in a democracy, what better resources do we have than Larry David’s wonderfully ironic SEINFELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM? Philosophic pop culture expert Thomas Hibbs’ criticizes SEINFELD as a nihilistic "show about nothing," but others disagree, reminding Hibbs that the show gets us to laugh at more than with pathetically self-absorbed human beings.
I could go on to say a lot about the conservative wisdom--even praised by the humor-challenged Crunchy Cons--of KING OF THE HILL and patriarchy night on HBO--which featured both THE SOPRANOS and the riveting, excellently performed and directed BIG LOVE. But mostly I’m out of touch and have little to say about, for example, the use of philosophers’ names on LOST (about which my students have asked me fairly often).
Can we conservative liberal educators afford not to be conversant about the most popular and accessible form of popular culture--a medium that is mostly, of course, but far from completely a wasteland?
David Forte asks some very good questions of Islam. How did such a noble start come a cropper? "How did tolerance become intolerance? How did protection become persecution? How did the dignity of women turn into indignity? How did limited war become massacre? It is not enough of an answer to say that there have always been bad Muslims and bad Christians and bad Jews. For the problem in Islam is that intolerance and indignity and the murder of a person because of his changed religious belief have gained authoritative sanction from some quarters.
In contrast to his sometimes-flamboyant predecessors, Hein is a "very orderly and businesslike person" who is well-suited to run the faith-based effort for the remaining 18 months of the Bush administration, said William A. Schambra, an expert on philanthropy at the Hudson Institute, a think tank where Hein once worked.
Because the faith-based office "has a very poor track record when it comes to getting legislation passed," Schambra said, Heins task will be "to pull out of the wreckage of the faith-based initiative the pieces of it that really should be preserved as a legacy for the next Republican administration."
This strikes me as in the neighborhood of being correct:
[Sen. Johnny]Isakson [R-GA], who had sat silent throughout the conversation with Frist, spoke up. ” I’m sorry, I can’t keep quiet on this,” he said. “The terrorists and those that are trying their best to attack us – and a lot of that is coming out of Iran – are concentrated on Baghdad. It’s a reflection of the success we’ve had in the majority of the country. If you confront that concentration now with the appropriate force and in conjunction with the Iraqi army and you can break its back, it has the chance to be a very optimistic result. If you turn the other way and say you’re failing, then you’ve handed them a victory. You have to remember the terrorists don’t have to beat us to win. All they have to have us do is quit and go home and they declare victory. You saw what Hezbollah did in South Lebanon.”
There are a couple of other hot spots, I think, but even Fallujah, as I recall, is peaceful now. One explanation for this may be that the religiously and/or ethnically relatively homogeneous places are relatively peaceful. And others may--fortunately or unfortunately, you be the judge--be sorting themselves out in that way, with some internal refugee flow.
But strategically it makes sense for all those who want the U.S. out and who want the Iraq experiment to fail to concentrate their efforts on Baghdad. Thats where the international press is. Thats the most target-rich environment. It cant be isolated or circumvented that way other enclaves can be. And a Baghdadi "failure" can relatively easily be billed as a general (U.S. and Iraqi) governmental "failure."
Dr. Leon Kass, former chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, said, "I do not think that this is the sought-for, morally unproblematic and practically useful approach we need."
Dr. Kass said the long-term risk of preimplantation genetic diagnosis was unknown and that the present technique was inefficient, requiring blastomeres from many embryos to generate each new cell line. It would be better to derive human stem cell lines from the body's mature cells, he said, a method researchers are still working on.
Wesley J. Smith is also unimpressed. What about Peter L.?
Update: Wesley J. Smith reads the article in Nature, not just the press release, and discovers, first of all, that the embryos from which the cells (yes, plural) were extracted were all in fact destroyed. So m-a-y-b-e at some time in the future (but not yet) we might be able to do what the articles suggested. A case of press boosterism, in other words. Smith also reminds us that the company (ACT) has profited from press boosterism in the past. Public opinion is trending in the direction of increasing support or stem cell research because of credulity among reporters, who rarely probe beyond the surface when claims of scientific advances of this sort are made.
Maybe the most genuinely nonpartisan political analyst we have is Larry Sabato. If anything, he has a microscopic Republican tilt. His careful analysis of all the House races points to a Democratic takeover, and thats based on a very cautious interpretation of the data he presents. He suggests the possibility of a genuinely "macro" movement in the Democratic direction. Nothing is inevitable about such results of course, and the Republican situation is far from hopeless (Paul!). Larry shows its POSSIBLE that Republican losses could be kept to a dozen seats or so. But unfortunately everything has been moving in one direction lately.
Not only are there Darwinian conservatives, there are postmodern conservatives! The earnest young man who presides over this fancy blog may need to lighten up just a bit, but, under the influence of the brilliantly dissident sociologist Phillip Rieff, he posts some pretty provocative commentary on everything cultural and political under the sun. Previous postmodern conservatives include some of the most able and courageous commentators on the 20th century, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Walker Percy, and John Courtney Murray. Postmodernism rightly (get it, rightly?) understood is based on reflection on both the great successes and monstrous failures of the so-called modern project to transform the world. It points toward a recovery of genuinely realistic understanding of human nature that incorporates what’s true and good about the premodern (including "classical" AND Christian) and modern understandings of human purposes, hopes (Paul!), possibilities, and limitations. Some Straussians--such as Thomas Pangle and Catherine Zuckert--have even called, with some good reasons, Leo Strauss’s thought postmodern. I realize there are lots of books and authors I should have linked here, but it’s 9 a.m. and I’m off to a meeting.
It turns out that President Bush reads books, and plenty of them (along with Rove). Of course, this could be a ploy, a kind of "gravitas campaign" to reveal to a sceptical MSM and academics (i.e., liberals) that the pres is a serious person. I talked with an academic (liberal, famous) recently who spent three hours with Bush (he was to be there for only one hour) talking about everything (including books). It turned out Bush did--according to the prof--about ninety percent of the gabbing! He was duly impressed (and surprised) by his intelligence and seriousness. Let’s see, Reagan didn’t read any books, or do any writing....so they said at the time. We now know different. Related, is this by Kathleen Parker.
In his classic statement The Idea of the University, John Henry Newman argues that liberal education can be justified only if "knowledge is capable of being its own end." Although Newman defended professional training, he argued forcefully that universities ought to develop in students a philosophical habit of mind, a habit of wonder and an ability to trace the relationships among different parts of knowledge. One of the reasons for the inclusion of all branches of knowledge in the university curriculum is that even though students "cannot pursue every subject, they will still gain from living among those who represent the whole circle."
There are manifold obstacles to realizing Newmans idea in todays university. Given the increasing emphasis on specialization in faculty research, few if any faculty can be said even to approximate representing the "whole circle." And of course students do not "live among" the faculty anyhow. The shared libertarianism of faculty and students results in a diminishing number of contact hours between students and faculty, and even between faculty, who rarely know colleagues outside their departments.
Specialization breeds an inevitable individualism and elevates narrow expertise over breadth of learning. Clearly a university cannot do without rigorous, specialized knowledge in its faculty. The challenge Mr. Lewis and others pose is whether universities can create incentives to balance focus with breadth.
This would entail another sense of liberalism. Such a liberality or generosity of spirit would revive a proper appreciation of amateurism – not in the sense of an absence of serious training but in the etymological meaning of the word "amateur," from the French for "lover."
In an academic context, an amateur would be one who has a passionate enthusiasm for knowledge, an infectious joy at human inquiry itself and a commitment to transforming students from dependent absorbers of information into colleagues in a shared pursuit of knowledge. This spirit of wonder is the most compelling embodiment of Newmans claim that knowledge is an end in itself. Such a spirit knows no bounds – it can be equally present in an English poetry class, a chemistry lab, a music tutorial or a philosophy seminar.
The modern university seems to offer an excellent example of "the joyless quest for joy," for which genuine liberal education may be something of an antidote.
Read the whole thing.
Hat tip: Rick Garnett.
In a weird sort of way, Bill McClay agrees with Mac Donald:
[T]he most important intellectual and institutional expressions of the Christian faith, including Rome and Canterbury, have found almost nothing of value to say about the current Middle East crises, and more generally about the West’s struggle against militant Islam and terrorism, and the terrifying possibilities now facing the entire civilized world. The patent inadequacy (to put it mildly) of the current cease-fire in Lebanon, which was precisely what the world’s most vocal Christian leaders had sought, is but the latest indication of all the reasons why no one in his right mind would go to them for counsel in these matters.
Someone in search of political and moral understanding would, in my opinion, be far better off giving close attention to the most recent of Norman Podhoretz’s series of superb analyses of the post–September 11 situation. Or the books and articles of Victor Davis Hanson, or Mark Steyn, or Christopher Hitchens. In other words, to non-Christian or secular writers. Even those who gravitate toward harsh criticism of the Iraq War and of Bush-era American foreign policy do not avail themselves, except in the occasional rhetorical flourish, of the pronouncements of religious authorities. Such authorities are pretty much regarded as irrelevant either way, and their views add little of value to the positions of secular authorities.
Read the whole thing.
I’ll just note a couple of things in passing. The bulk of her response has to do with God’s apparent justice or injustice, evidence for which is, she assumes, exhausted by empirical data. An unjust God, she assumes, would not let an innocent person die, or, for that matter, come to any harm. Well...I know plenty of Christians who don’t believe that anyone is, strictly speaking, innocent (see Genesis 3), not to mention plenty who don’t look for God’s justice in this world, but rather in the next. The assumption that this world can, or ought to, or might, be perfectly just is, I should say, Promethean (which is to say modern--shared by Marxism and some strands of classical liberalism). An alternative is to look for perfect justice only in the City of God, which is not of this world.
I realize that many ordinary folk respond (inconsistently) to horrible events in the way Mac Donald describes--thanking God for saving them and not thinking about others who were lost. But again, Christians are supposed to pray to God that His will be done and aren’t supposed to assume that that will is transparent and fully available to us here and now. This is no easy task. It’s impossible not to be thankful, for example, when you don’t lose or aren’t lost to a loved one after a close call. And it’s hard to find comfort after losing a loved one. We’re so constructed as both to love this world and to look beyond it. (I’m giving a paper that touches on this subject at the upcoming APSA meeting, drawing my inspiration, such as it is, from Tolkien.)
Let me now treat Mac Donald on the anthropological grounds she clearly prefers. Here are two statements she makes. First:
An elementary definition of justice is treating like cases alike and treating unlike cases differently. If a judge has two plaintiffs before him who are each suing for restitution under a contract, and each has met the conditions for restitution, we expect that he would award each plaintiff the remedy that he seeks.
Religious institutions and beliefs are, however, human creations. They grow out of man’s instinct for system and order, as well as out of the desire for life beyond death and a divine intervener in human affairs. Our striving for justice is one of the great human attributes. Far from imitating a divine model, man’s every effort to dispense justice is a battle against the randomness that rules the natural world.
I’ll go along with the rough-and-ready definition of justice (with certain caveats regarding what the relevant considerations are), but I nevertheless regard it as hard, if not altogether impossible, to achieve in this world. Perfect justice requires philosopher-kings whose vision is never clouded by the partiality born of love.
But I’m not sure how she can hold even this definition of justice if she seriously believes that "randomness rules the natural world." In a random natural world, "justice" is a human construct and is humanly imposed. If justice is altogether conventional (not guided by nature, which is, after all, random), then why should it necessarily be proportional in the way she suggests earlier? Why couldn’t "justice" be defined in any way we please--above all, preferring my good to anyone else’s? And in a random world, how would we single out "striving for justice" as "one of the great human attributes," rather than, say, "looking out for number one"? Does Mac Donald really not believe that nature is random? Or is her emphasis on justice evidence of a certain kind of "will to power"? Or of a certain kind of faith?
If DelSol, Manent, and even Bill McClay are too wacky and way existential for you, you may be a Darwinian conservative. Out of vanity, I’ve linked the place where Mr. Darwinian conservative, Larry Arnhart, straightens me (not to mention Harry Jaffa) out. But you if you surf through his blog, you can see he does the same for a lot of our favorites here at NLT.
All in all, pretty thoughtful and serious efforts...
One interesting difference is that the Pew respondents want to see candidates focus on domestic concerns in 2006 (see p. 13 of the pdf), while the top two issues for NYT/CBS respondents are terrorism and the war in iraq (see p. 10 of the pdf).
Jay Mathews argues that "our real national problem is not that we ask most teens to do too much, but too little." A few are taking too many AP courses and not engaging in classically "leisurely" pursuits; most are watching too doggone much TV and playing too doggone many videogames.
The “progressive” view may seem coolly rational and unsentimental, the very picture of enlightened science. But its instrumental rationality actually operates in service to madness, to the most gaudily romantic and fantastical ideas of human selfhood. It regards the abstraction of the liberated individual, of homo invictus, as the benchmark reality, the only true source of moral standing. By grounding moral judgment in the self’s ability to stand alone and radically independent, it must try to deny history—and even deny time itself, seeking to freeze the present and then utopianize it, preserving the youth and beauty and strength that are one’s own, or that one can acquire for oneself, whatever the cost to the future (or to the past). But that state of independence is all-important. The minute one’s ability to be independent falters and fails … well, then the game is up, and all one’s entitlements are revoked, rendered null and void.
Juan Williams comes to Bill Cosbys support. Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It is his new book and Im betting it is related.
Loneliness grows. Studies show that Americans have fewer friends and are spending more time alone. I’m not posting this to embrace communitarianism (which I dislike as a word and as a movement) or anything else, but just to say this is evidence of the downside of understanding rights in too unmediated a way--or too detached from the truth about our social, political, and religious natures. Thanks to Paul Seaton for originally calling this article to my attention.
Although it didnt provoke much of a thread, the quote I posted from DelSols THE UNEARED LESSONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY was the subject of several private emails to me. Dan Mahoney suggests that I didnt post the best quote, which Im going to do now. (And its the one that fits best into my signature ALIENS IN AMERICA theme. Its also an example, I think, of POSTMODERNISM RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD.)
The emergence from dreams of utopia thus signals a return to age-old reflections on the human condition: "But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish." [a quote from Francis Fukuyama] Consequently, the human situation can once again be seen as what it has always been, although we have tried to ignore it as an inadequate situation. We are guests on the earth and will never be completely at home here. Human history has nothing in common with Ulysses voyage; at the end of which the heroes goes home to familiar surroundings and loved ones, who are always there when needed and never disappoint. The hope that we can nurture is not that we might achieve perfection, whether through a classless society or material well-being for all, but that we might manage to live better within our paradoxes.
Ryan Lizza says that Carlie Cook is reporting that George "Allen is no longer a real contender for the nomination." Cook asserts that in this environment McCain, Romney, and Gingrich are looking better. None of such opinions (even Cook’s) are persuading me of anything yet. Just passing along high-political gossip. And consider this opinion on why both McCain and Giuliani may be the real front runners in a post 9/11 world. Of course, Karl Rove is back in the game, to make it more interesting.
Here’s a provocative statement on human liberty and dignity from a book I just got in the mail--Chantal del Sol, THE UNLEARNED LESSONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: AN ESSAY ON LATE MODERNITY (ISI Books, 2006):
I would not hesitate to describe the climate that gives rise to pantheism as a wrong turn in the Enlightenment. "Wrong" as understood with respect to the points of reference we so want to preserve: the value of each human being’s dignity, an idea that in our societies is now hanging by a thread. Human rights will not guarantee the dignity of each human being unless they are grounded in an understanding of man that ensures his uniqueness....If one believes that democracy logically legitimizes an egalitarian individualism governed by common opinion, then pantheism supports and maintains this belief by expressing an egalitarian spirit in immortality--by crowning in death an individual both similar to and undifferentiated from all the others. If, on the other hand, one wants and hopes for democracy to be a society of unique persons endowed with free wills and minds, then the more appropriate religious partner would be a monotheism that preaches personal eternity, one in which each irreducible being survives in his irreducibility.
The idiosyncratic but always well-informed Edward Luttwak offers up "Misreading the Lebanon War" in the Jerusalem Post."
The immediate past moved by too fast. The graduate class with Hayward was fun, but some of the days were short bits of fog that I seemed to move through all-too-fast. I sort-of remember trying to argue that Andrew Jackson had some virtues, but not quite what Sean Wilentz would have, that Lincoln was settled, and that’s all there is to that. I then spent the next two weeks showing the daughter of a Hungarian friend around the vastness of this unexplored country. She is a smart and hard-working sixteen year old who could have contributed with ease to the conversation on rock ’n roll on this blog since she knew every tune of the last fifty years (but, in the end, a true fan of the blues). Also every movie. So it came quite naturally for her to say, first thing, when standing at the Lincoln Memorial--"Oh, this is where Forrest Gump stood"! She was struck by the twists and turns in the freewheeling language that was now liberated from the classroom. Living in it, her good ear noticed how it jumps and shouts and turns and twists; she noticed its jazz-like incomplete vastness, and she liked it. Whether my trips are on Isabella or my VW Jetta (diesel, by the way, 58 miles to the gallon; although Isabella is faster!), I stay impressed by the vastness of the country and by the Americaness of it all, motley and sundry, but undeniably one. She also noticed this mysterious binding force and was sometimes awed by it, sometimes amused, yet always somehow comfortable and at home. The words stranger and guest have been redefined in this fat country.
Steyn explains to the Australians why only the United States and Australia have a mediated enough understanding of rights to avoid self-destruction. He’s really good on connecting the end of "breeding" with other ndividualistic or isolating tendencies. The problem is that sociobiology just aint true for the species that discovered the truth about sociobiology.