Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Don’t just do something, stand there?

The more I ponder the current economic troubles, the more I am growing to think that it is quite possible that we understand the problem so poorly, and that we are so bad at guessing what the likely consequences of our actions will be, that it is entirely possible that there is nothing that the government can do that will make it better. Sometimes life is difficult. Sometimes the efforts to minimize the difficulty make it more difficult, and sometimes they don’t. The trouble is, we often don’t know which is the case until we’ve guessed at an answer, and perhaps not even then. In short, it might be that he root of some of our disquiet is a reluctance to admit that human intelligence cannot solve all of our problems. Politicians don’t like to admit that--it makes their job less important. But we’re all guilty, or, at least, most of us are.

Shirking of Clarity

That’s the just accusation of THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Wieseltier against our president. He should trumpet the grandeur of liberalism, which is the grandeur of big government, including the stimulus package as social policy. Obama might respond that if he were to admit he were a liberal in the grand tradition of his party, then conservatives, whatever their American differences (and including even Dr. Pat Deneen), might summon the courage to unite against him, in the name of the free market (libertarians) or subsidiarity (traditionalists, observant biblical believers, natalists, localists, and agrarians) or the truth about human greatness (Tocquevillians). Lots of conservatives, of course, would embrace more than one of these causes (true Lincolnians and American Thomists, for example). (I just noticed that Steve H posted the same article, but I’m on a roll and am not de-posting. My apologies to Steve.)

The Lost Art of Liberal Argument?

Leon Wieseltier lays out in this week’s New Republic much the same point I was suggesting last week in the Wall Street Journal, namely that liberals have forgotten or lost the ability to argue from first principles.

Jindal GOP Pick to Respond to Obama’s Big Speech

This story is almost as revealing about the Democrat strategy to be deployed against Jindal as it is about GOP strategy in deploying him. Politics isn’t going to be boring in the next few years. We know that much.

Housing fix

Larry Lindsey’s solution. Rather different than the latest plan from Washington.

Po-Mo Seditious Libel

Eugene Volokh sheds light on the doings of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center:

Types of Hate Speech

We identified four types of speech that, through negative statements, create a climate of hate and prejudice: (1) false facts [including "simple falsehoods, exaggerated statements, or decontextualized facts [that] rendered the statements misleading"], (2) flawed argumentation, (3) divisive language, and (4) dehumanizing metaphors.

For those who have not studied 1798 in a while.

Seditious Libel:

a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel. A statement is seditious if it "brings into hatred or contempt" the Queen or her heirs, or the government and constitution, or either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice, or if it incites people to attempt to change any matter of Church or State established by law (except by lawful means), or if it promotes discontent among or hostility between British subjects. A person is only guilty of the offence if they intend any of the above outcomes. Proving that the statement is true is not a defence. It is punishable with life imprisonment.

Hayward on Obama’s first month

I talked with Steve yesterday about President Obama’s first month in office. Just what you would expect: a good, whirlwind conversation, broad-ranging, even amusing. Thanks Steve!   

Liberal Condescension and "Conservative Populism" that Isn’t Really Populism

Our own William Voegeli has a very thoughtful and compelling essay in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he examines the roots of the inclination on the left to always consider themselves to be on the inside of the joke their making on the rest of the country. It fits nicely with the theme discussed below on the question of anti-intellectualism on the right. It’s not so much that conservatives disdain intellectual activity or intellectual arguments or even that they disdain the so-called intellectuals themselves--argues Voegeli. It’s that we live in a time where intellectual arguments have a promiscuous sort of grounding beneath them or, worse yet, they have no grounding at all. In other words, we do not trust the common premises of their arguments because they do not share common premises. In speaking of William Buckley’s famously half quoted notion that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty at Harvard, Voegeli notes that people rarely give Buckley’s explanation for this provocative point. It is not, Voegeli notes, because he thinks there is something inherently more intelligent or virtuous about those random people. It is not because of something that their nature makes them more likely to possess but, rather, because of something in their circumstances that makes them NOT likely to possess impiety.

Buckley’s position, then, is not really populist. The ism of populism is the idea that the people are inherently more sound and virtuous than the elites. Buckley is saying, less categorically, that we live in an age when the people happen to possess better judgment than the professors. If the reverse were true, if the professors had more respect than the people for God’s laws and tradition’s wisdom, Buckley’s argument would have favored entrusting government pari passu (as he would have said) to scholars instead of citizens.
Another choice quote is this:
Thus, if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major.

And this:

Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.

But read the whole thing.    

Dr. Pat Deneen on the New New Right

It’s pessimistic (=realistic), non-triumphalist, and identifies patriotism with traditionalism and localism. So it’s not patriotic in the senses of Reagan or Lee Greenwood

The models of virtue for these American conservatives can be found on THE WALTONS. I admit that I enjoy the Waltons (except for that annoying John-boy) in a romantic and selectively nostalgic way. I find LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE more realistic, though. And for a contemporary model of American virtue, I’m more likely to turn to KING OF THE HILL. Let me add, though, is that one fine thing about the Waltons is that the virtue it displays is southern, and so Pat is acknowledging that there’s something good about the South.

Is Conservative Intellectual an Oxymoron?

This author says that conservatives are naturally repulsed by the idea of a public intellectual. That’s not because they’re dumb, but because there’s something too fancy and citified about the intellectual’s vain concern with status. Intellectuals are those we can trust to have something important and INTERESTING to say. Still, we can’t help but notice that New York and DC do seem to have a good number of well known figures who think conservative and act intellectual. Are their souls torn apart by some inauthentic internal contradiction? Or have they just found a cool niche market as conservative intellectuals? (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

"In Stunning Act of Delayed Retribution, First Black President Enslaves All Americans"

A color-blind act, to be sure, from the grace-ful Wheat&Weeds .

Teleprompting Our President

It turns out that most of Obama’s seemingly cool ad libbing at his campaign events was teleprompted. Not only that, the experts think that the allegedly unscripted remarks at his press conference actually seemed too scripted. The proposed remedy: Put a small teleprompter in the podium in the press conference room to allow the experts to perfect the appearance of spontaneity.

A Mountain of Cash, Ready to be Invested?

As the Stock Market dropped almost 300 points today (circa 3.7%), you might want to note that there is more cash "available to buy shares than at any time in almost two decades, a sign to some of the most successful investors that equities will rebound after the worst year for U.S. stocks since the Great Depression.

The $8.85 trillion held in cash, bank deposits and money- market funds is equal to 74 percent of the market value of U.S. companies, the highest ratio since 1990, according to Federal Reserve data compiled by Leuthold Group and Bloomberg." What does this mean? Some smart guys think that it may be "a sign the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will rise after $1 trillion in credit losses sent the benchmark index for American equities to the biggest annual drop since 1931. The eight previous times that cash peaked compared with the market’s capitalization the S&P 500 rose an average 24 percent in six months, data compiled by Bloomberg show." You’re in the weeds now, so might as well read the whole thing. It may be time to invest.

Are the Roots of Wall Street’s Woes to be found at Harvard?

Kevin Hassett writes a provocative piece today for Bloomberg in which he asks whether we can’t pin some of the blame for Wall Street’s troubles on the so-called "education" received in American universities by the majority of folks making up the workforce there. It’s an interesting argument to ponder, even if it doesn’t explain everything. I’m willing to believe that a good deal of the problem we’re facing today can be traced back to the entitlement mentality fostered on the majority of American college campuses but I’d extend the scope of that infection pretty far beyond Wall Street. And if I were running an American university today and faced with a looming recession, declining enrollment, and so on . . . I’d probably start thinking about what my university could do to start bucking this tired old trend and start selling it. People are going to be looking for something more solid and sensible and worthy of their investment in the coming years.

Walter Berns on Lincoln

In today’s WSJ Walter Berns explains why America celebrates Mr. Lincoln.  

Safety Fascists and the New Book Burning

Last week I brought to your attention the concerns of Senator Jim DeMint about the unreasonable nature of legislation intended to reduce the risk of importing and selling goods meant for children with high lead content. Today I bring to your attention a report from Walter Olson in The City Journal wherein he discusses the impact of this law on second-hand bookshops, libraries, and thrift stores. It turns out that books printed before 1985 very often used a lead-based ink. So you can imagine what is happening and, of course, what is being lost as a result. Isn’t it comforting to know that the same geniuses who designed Fannie and Freddie, brought us TARP and now offer us this miraculous stimulus package also have the time to exercise so much concern for our safety and welfare as to ban books that they think will make us sick? I wonder if I’ll be liable for second-hand lead poisoning if I read an old book in the car when my kids are present . . .

The American Vision of the Good Life

...according to David Brooks. People continue to want to move out and move West. They’re not so interested in returning to crowded cities and bicycles. To be more exact, the young are attracted to old cities and the "new urbanism" as a form of extended adolescence, but there’s scant evidence that the future of the American family is in Americanized versions of Amsterdam. And one reason our citizens stubbornly persist in preferring McDonald’s to Starbucks is that the former now clearly has better coffee, even by bourgeois bohemian standards.

Lincoln on campus

I just caught this NRO piece by Allen Guelzo in which he surveys colleges and Lincoln courses therein. He concludes that Lincoln has trouble getting into college; but not at Ashland.

Do note that Guelzo has the cover story, "The Conservative Lincoln," in the current hard-copy issue of National Review (not available on line). It’s first-class. Do get it and read it. The subtitle of the piece is "Obama he was not."    


Happy Presidents' Day

...which is way too VAGUE a holiday to be celebrated here at Berry College. Here's the question of the day on NPR: "If Lincoln had an iPod, what music would he have put on it?" (Hint: He really liked opera.)

UPDATE: Legal scholar Free Frank reminds us in the thread that Presidents' Day was the brainchild of President Nixon. Congress never okayed the change, which means that, technically, we are only celebrating Washington's Birthday. So we should ask: "If Washington had an iPod..." today.

Categories > Congress

The New NEW ATLANTIS out, with an article by ME. It’s not available online yet, which is why you subscribe or pick it up at your newstand. The first five or so of you that send me your complete address in a way that’s easy to forward will receive a free copy.

Lincoln Book Notes

Lincoln Prize winners for 2009 are two books on Lincoln as war president, by James McPherson and Craig Symonds. Shelby Steele reviews Robert Norrell’s new biography of Booker T. Washington. While worthwhile, it merely whets my appetite for Schramm’s forthcoming review. Finally, in case you haven’t seen it already, here’s C-SPAN’s Lincoln archive , including reenactments of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Lincoln Talk and Books

Here is my talk on Mr. Lincoln at the Ashbrook Lunch on the 12th. This is the local paper’s account of the talk.

My friends and neighbors--including students--willing to give me a hearing were gracious and many good private conversations have happened as a result, from taverns to supermarkets. Even though the bias--for which I am grateful--in this Whig area of the country (the town is named after Henry Clay’s estate in Kentucky) is in favor of Lincoln--both his mind and ways--it is fair to say many are surprised by Lincoln’s facility of expression and lucidity of thought. I meant to use his characterization of Douglas’ popular sovereignty, but forgot: "as thin as homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pidgeon that had starved to death."

A number of folks have asked me to list a few history books about Lincoln that are accessible to the general reader. So here are a few:

Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President has to rank as one of the best biographies, along with Charnwood’s Biography, which might be a bit off-putting to some because the prose is less familiar today (originally published in 1916); yet he captures the essence of his statesmanship and character as well as anyone. I think Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is very good for the period of presidency; it is never misleading, and reads like a novel. This very short biography James McPherson is quite good. I didn’t think it possible to be able to do it in under seventy pages! Allen Guelzo’s Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction is almost as short, and is also excellent. Another just published biography, well written and not short, is by Ronald C. White.