Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement

Not every NLT reader is a subscriber to the Claremont Review of Books, baffling as that may seem. For those of you who don’t receive CRB in your mailbox, you can read some of the pieces from the new Summer 2008 issue at claremont.org. You can also read my CRB essay on "Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement" at Real Clear Politics today. Try not to start reading it, however, if you have a bus to catch. The editors allowed me to go on at Tolstoyan length on the topic, so be prepared to hunker down.

Discussions - 10 Comments

I was browsing the Spring Issue to the CRB while on a plan a couple weeks ago (stuck on the aisle seat-i'd much rather look out the window). Anyway I read Harvey C. Mansfield's little "5 minute sermon."

What do NLT readers think that the Bible means by "Blessed be the poor?" Now the orthodox Christian probably thinks that the poor are virtuous and more trusting in God becasue they rely less on their sinful selves. Hence they are blessed with greater faith. Oh yea of little reason. According to Mansfield the poor are blessed because their wrongs (poverty) is forgiven by great and rich men who step down from their magnanimity to offer blessings to these poor undeserving souls. The poor is blessed because he receives the great charity of the truly virtuous man.

I suppose ole Harv missed the story of the Widow and her two mites. Perhaps this little CRB antidote explains why a few readers don't subscribe.

Clint, I gave my copy of CRB to my son and can't refer to that sermon, although I read it. Surely the verse is "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." That is Luke 6:20, which says Jesus addresses this to his disciples, not to the crowd.

I think I am orthodox, but do not think the poor are blessed because of some particular virtue imposed by poverty. I think Jesus is promising blessing in the face of affliction, since he continues with, Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. and Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Jesus is promising future grace and assured current suffering.

Wasn't Mansfield talking about charity as a kind of love? It was a personal love as opposed to something imposed by government, too, I think. Government cannot force charity was part of the point, wasn't it?

Your orthodox Christian rich man had better love his poor neighbor and give to him, personally. The promises given here in the scripture are to the poor. Look, the rich are stuck in the "woe to you" lines that follow. Then Jesus goes on to tell everyone to love their enemies and all those other people we encounter who are not especially lovable. This is charity as much as giving wealth away. Charity is a virtue because it is the giving away of ourselves and of our substance; both gifts from God. So we and our stuff can rightly be seen as only being on loan from our Creator. In the expression of charity you are virtuous, whether you are rich or poor. I don't remember exactly what Mansfield said, but it was a very short piece - blog-like - and I remember thinking he was right, but wondered if his audience got it. I think you did not.

Are you saying this sermon was an antidote to the rest of CRB, which you otherwise like? Why would you step down from
magnanimity? I think you are being unreasonable.

Kate-wow lets start from the beginning.

I think I am orthodox, but do not think the poor are blessed because of some particular virtue imposed by poverty. I think Jesus is promising blessing in the face of affliction, since he continues with, Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. and Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Jesus is promising future grace and assured current suffering.

You could make this argument, but the blessing isn't coming from the magnanimous man. The blessing is from Jesus. But the poor are not really blessed unless they know it and believe it by faith. The Bible is rife with examples of the poor trusting Jesus more because He is all they have. (The man with the biggest debt loves most, last will be first, telling rich man to give away all that he has to be saved, hard as camel through eye of needle for rich to be saved). Basically these are all saying that where your treasure is, so is your heart. For the wealthy, the treasure is likely to be in money. For the poor, poverty is a blessing, because their treasure is not in their wallet and their reliance on their own abilities. Therefore, their treasure is more likely to be in God. Poverty, even as you put it, is a state that lends itself to receiving future grace which is obtained by some combination of faith and works. To get future grace you speak of, some quality in the present must be superior.

Mansfield says that the poor are blessed because they receive forgiveness of their faults (poverty) from greater men. They receive charity or love more. But Mansfield's focus isn't so much on the poor. He is interested in the wealthy, for it is better to give than to receive. For Mansfield the rich gives love and the poor is blessed by receiving. This would make the wealthy magnanimous man the most blessed/virtuous/faithful/Christian.

It is here that I hope you see the direct conflict with Christianity. If the blessing is receiving a good, the giver is always superior. When God is the giver, fine. Mansfield twists the story so that the wealthy man is the giver of love to the poor. The poor man to Mansfield is just an accessory to the rich man's virtue.

Mansfield's wealthy man will never give enough to truly trust God. Did you ever know a wealthy man who gave away so much that he became poor. Yet the Widow with her 2 mites gave away all that she had. Who loves more?

For Jesus the Widow revealed that she loved God and trusted him fully while the rich man kept some of his money to trust in himself.

For Mansfield the widow only gave 2 mites, so she offered little good to society and by giving little, she gains little virtue. The rich man gave a lot of money so he gave the most.

Mansfield subtly turns Christianity on its head to make it practical to his world view. I hope this makes sense to you. If not, please ask specific questions because this is a huge issue that the secular "conservative" movement is attempting to subvert.

Mansfield is antidotal in that his story is representational of the CRB-a secular twisting of Christianity. Its goal is a Machiavellian attempt to turn Christians eyes from God to man.

I am not sure you are right about the character of the plot Clint. It seems much more likely that it is a Machiavellian attempt to turn secular eyes towards God, or at the very least towards a very large reading list...Consider briefly that the very name of Machiavelli on a MBA book is enough to boosts sales considerably. Business folks are always looking for Chiron, and since they are not in general MIT mathmaticians and are pleased to think that what they do is some variation an art(thus rendering them indenspensible), they are always looking for that special deeper insight that makes them more artistic in war or business. And so, perhaps at the end of a long day the executive pulls from his desk a cigar with a good single malt scotch and sits back to enjoy his copy of CRB or First Things.

What then is the result? Perhaps he then manages to read the Voegeli article...

I do not argue about the source of blessing for the poor. I thought I was making that point. I am sorry to have been unclear.


Grace is not something we can “get,” as in you cannot earn it either with faith or works. Grace is, by its nature, undeserved. It is a gift and beyond a gift. It is God’s charity. We can only approximate it. Faith is a kind of grace. Some of us are blessed with faith; it is undeserved and a gift beyond gifts.


Wealth is a form of grace. I have never been rich, but have been considerably poorer than I am now and I consider this state I have to be gracious comfort. Any rich man who doesn’t know he walking in a state of grace is missing something big. Which is why that kind of rich man will have a hard time getting into Heaven if he doesn’t know grace when he lives it.


God lets us understand spiritual things by using physical things, because that’s how we humans understand the world. If there were not wealth and poverty in the physical, wealth and poverty in the spiritual would have no meaning. If there had never been slaves, people being enslaved to sin would not be clear. If there had not been kings, the kingship of God would not be clear. Jesus used parables like that of that widow to illustrate, but he uses the whole world to illustrate, as well. He will use any of us, at any time, whether we think we are his or not, to illustrate and illuminate to the world we see and the world we don’t see. The whole world is made of stories, little and big, and our failings might be more instructive than our successes, which is maybe why we make can mess things up so badly and so frequently and the world graciously goes on.


I found the Mansfield piece we are arguing about, here


I do not what you say is there. I see a discussion of different political viewpoints about charity and what charity means. He seems to be being critical of both the “conservative“ and the “liberal” modes of charitable giving, or rather “C” and “L” understanding of how to relate to the poor. He suggests love, true charity, is lacking on both sides. Maybe missing to your understanding is this statement, “The blessed poor stand in for imperfect humans, for all of us are needy,” You should look at that section again.

He also seems to be suggesting that we, American conservatives and liberals, (and probably he was looking at a mostly very liberal Harvard congregation before him, who) can be quite uncharitable towards one another and especially the way we relate politically to the poor. Yet, he is clear that both sides could examine the way they relate to the poor and the way they relate to one another.

We could all be more charitable to one another and this would make life more gracious. Mansfield is borrowing Jesus' mode of comparing the physical and the spritual and using the one to illustrate and illuminate the other. I don't know if he has God's perspective on it. I don't know Mansfield at all and might not even know God well enough to be the best judge. You may know both better than I, but I do not see from this sermon how either Mr. Mansfield or CRB are anti-Christian.

Mansfield and the CRB use all the rhetoric, but they twist the spirit.
"Are the poor blessed for some such virtue as endurance of suffering, or because they are needy? It seems the latter. We often use the word "charitable" to refer to the act of overlooking a defect, rather than of rewarding virtue: a charitable grader, for example." If you don't see the twist, so much the worse for your eyesite (TR). Kate-what you say on grace is extremely confusing. From what I can make out, your idea of grace is a contradiction of Mansfield's belief in the virtues of great men. But here is the problem: Mansfield can speak with your Christian rhetoric and hide poison pills within that rhetoric that subconsciously appeal to sinful human nature.

John: A longer reading list is not the same as turning toward God-particularly an unchristian reading list. Execs don't read the CRB. Unless I miss my guess its most typical reader is a professor, followed by a Home-schooler.

the crb does have a secular purpose, and as secularism goes, it is much more sensible than the relativistic sort. I am only saying that Christians should read, but read carefully. The CRB would like to convert relativists to their view, but unfortunately their antidote is more effective at turning Christians into Aristotle--which is bad. So in sum I think since the CRB has greater effect on Christians than relativists, it does more harm than good.

Clint, how many really poor people have you dealt with? Read Mother Theresa (among others) on charity to the poor. My experience has been with American poor, but they need me to be charitable towards them in just the way Mansfield says and if poverty has made them virtuous they do a darn good job of hiding the fact. I am just missing the substance of your judgment of Mansfield and his intentions, but I have only read this, Manliness, and few articles, and if he says great men must be Godless, then I suppose you might be right, if somewhat uncharitable in your characterization, as far as I can tell. But, God made Aristotle, who I cannot see as bad, or even always wrong, though certainly unChristian. Given circumstances, I really can't see that at his fault. Though what I was trying to say about grace, above, includes the idea that we can't help faith or lack of it, since it is a gift from God.

This is all way off tether here . . . and I want to come back later and say a few words of strong praise for Mr. Voegeli's very thoughtful and much needed article . . . but, Kate, you have sucked me in on what may be a small point or may, in fact, be an even larger one. Is faith (or the lack of it) entirely beyond our control because it is a gift from God? If it is, how then is is possible for men to lose it (or gain it again)? Because we see this all the time or, at least, we commonly say that we see it. You seem almost to be saying that men who lack faith are blameless in it. I would very much like for that to be true some days. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is not. Of course, Aristotle had the best of excuses and, considering the gifts he was given and leaving faith (which for him was impossible) aside, he got awful close to the target without it. Most of us probably can't expect to do that well, even with the gift and even if we can keep it. This may be a silly way to explain myself here, but it seems to me that grace is a gift that is rather like "a Republic" as Ben Franklin told it to that woman in Philadelphia after the convention in 1787 . . . we have it, if we can keep it. And, Clint's fears of conversion notwithstanding, it seems to me that a good Christian might learn something important from the great Philosopher about how best to keep both things. And, therefore, the CRB is an exceedingly useful publication for a Christian.

Apologies to Mr. Voegeli, for our having strayed so far from the point of the post.

Julie, I am trying to work it out. Which is not to say the Church has not been trying to sort out matters of God's sovereignty and man's free will nearly as long as there has been a church. My fumbling through the question is nothing unique.

I do not say that once you have faith, it is not yours to responsibly manage. How we manage ourselves is always very important and not just for us, but for all of those around us. Wherein we forget we are manageable beings, we always get into trouble. Faith, once you have it, is yours to control; it belongs to you, as does any gift. (I have just read Jonathan Edwards saying that if you do not take the gift of faith when it is offered, you don't get it. He offers all sorts of truly dire consequences, too. Maybe this is another matter.) You have a choice as to whether to receive a gift or not, but if the gift is not evident to you, how can you make that choice? So, I do say that men who do not have faith might be blameless in it, as in not having been given the gift or not having seen the gift, because of time or circumstances or some other factor over which I can't help but think God must have some control or influence. If you have not apprehended the gift of faith, for whatever reason, someone graced with the gift has no business reviling you for your lack. Back to Franklin: a nation ruled by a monarch or a dictator couldn't be expected to maintain its Republic. It doesn't have one to manage.

If I see this truly, I can't blame Christopher Hitchens for not seeing the Christ anymore than I can blame Aristotle, although the "not seeing" is a bit different. Maybe this is because I came to seeing God as an adult, not having been raised in a home that was anything like Christian, although my milieu was certainly Christian if only in a formal sense. I can't see how to blame myself for not having faith before that gift arrived. Once the gift was mine, to keep or discard as I chose, I had responsibility in the matter.

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