Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Obama's Post-Modernism Strikes Again, on 9/11

In his 9/11 speech at the Pentagon, the President declares that our enemies 

may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust.  They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice.  For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

(Note the context of the Ephesians 4:31 quotation. Paul goes on to urge slaves and masters not to be angry with one another and that wives should obey their husbands.  Paul's goal here is not submissiveness of men to each other but above all to God.) 

This meekness Obama declares on "a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and -- with God's grace -- a day of unity and renewal."  And what does this unity consist of?

Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world.  Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory.  As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

And what virtues and values make us one?   Evidently the most unAmerican person is an angry one.  It follows that the American should lack this most fundamental passion for politics.  (This said at the Pentagon!)  I suppose we should save our anger for BP executives, Republicans, fanatical pastors, etc.   

Obama appropriately recalls the Declaration: 

Like generations before us, let us come together today and all days to affirm certain inalienable rights, to affirm life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

But contrary to Obama's suggestion, defending rights and being angry are inseparable.  When justice is the goal, anger humanizes.

Moreover, maintaining there is a right to burn a Koran and a right to build a mosque near the 9/11 site reveals utter confusion about rights.  As Lincoln argued in debating with Douglas, there is never a right to do wrong.  In a regime of freedom, we permit willful, stupid, and even immoral actions to occur without punishing them.  And defending such actions as rights diminishes their dignity and what makes virtues of real rights. Freedoms of speech, religion, and property become mere "values," which can be bargained away or accommodated like anything else.  Hence 9/11 becomes a day for anaesthesia.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 13 Comments

Obama attended a Black Liberation Theology Church for 20 years. He was never taught Christion Theology based on Bible scriptures. Like the exceptionalism of American or Constitutional Law, Obama doesn't understand Judeo-Christian values. He just uses scriptures, like some Christians also do, to advance his position - it is not about Biblical morals and values it is about him - Obama. The man is the epitomy of narcissim....

Not sure I follow your logic, Ken. No one has "the right to do wrong" -- what does that mean, exactly? Every day in this country, people do wrong -- to themselves, to their families, to their communities, and to their countries. And every bit of it is protected by either the Constitution or legislation. Examples? 1) alcohol abuse (abuse of self), 2) easy divorce laws (abuse of family), 3) talking on your cell phone while driving (abuse of community), and 4) hating on America (abuse of nation). These are humble examples, but the point is that liberty often creates evil. The problem is, eliminating the liberty creates even MORE evil.

As for Obama, who cares? The guy is an empty suit; I'll be angry AND all-American and there ain't nuthin' he can do about it. Increasingly, he's preaching to a blank teleprompter.

Americans increasingly fail to understand what a right is--they confuse it with the power to do something, and they forget that a right properly understood is a right to do what is good. That makes people uncomfortable because good and bad/evil are, supposedly, according to each person's taste. All your examples go to my point--they aren't rights properly understood, only powers. Some of them can be altered by legislation and are even illegal in places (cell phone use while driving) but go unpunished.

The wrong way to deal with this abuse of rightspromiscuous /use of powers is to crack down on liberty (the Obama solution). The right way is to reemphasize the difference between good and evil.

As I understand the Glen Beck rally, they see the problem, but the solution is more the Declaration than religion, as much as religion must play a role.

Ken, I think you misunderstand the whole notion of "liberty." The whole notion of "rights" amounts to self-sovereignty. It doesn't have much to do with "doing what is right."

I'm not saying we don't need a sense of moral obligation towards others -- we do, absolutely. But our governmental system isn't about that -- it was set up to do a few needful things (e.g., military protection) and stay out of people's lives. Anyone who's read the Federalist Papers knows this was the central animator of the Constitution. In short, methinks your formulation is wrong.

As for Beck, I think he's gone off the rail. This isn' the Great Awakening, and that whole angle of "restoring honor" begs the question of what honor is. I'd like him to shut up about God and get back to political analysis. His "Billy Sunday" act is getting old, fast.

Red--I recognize the point of view, and it is good to keep it in mind. But it doesn't reflect the American political tradition. I would read the Federalist in light of the Declaration and of Lincoln.

I haven't had time to listen to the Beck talk, and I've never seen him on tv, but mere negative liberty does not suffice for creating (or re-creating) a nation, as important as it is.

It was possible to recognize slavery as a wrong because it was a clear violation of the rights delineated in the Declaration of Independence. Whose natual rights are being violated in the construction of a mosque, or the burning of a Quran?

The right of society to take into account considerations of its own safety and happiness. Don't let fear of liberal theorizing about the public good turn the Declaration into a a libertarian document, John.

I don't see how we avoid progressivism--or perhaps even totalitarianism--if we posit an imaginary "right of society to take into account considerations of its own safety and happiness." Sorry, but I'm with Redwald on this.

Republican government requires conceptions of virtue, public happiness, and reason (see Feds. 14 and 49, besides anon's reference to the Declaration). Rights are at the core, but rights generate duties.

Well, Jefferson and the Cont. Congress did not think they were "positing" an "imaginary right" to institute govt or organize its powers according to the people's safety and happiness. This right (and duty) of the people exists, acc. to the Declaration, under God and nature. Where in progressivism is there evidence for such a prudential exercise of the people's right to safety and happiness under the laws of nature?

Almost anything can be justified on the grounds of "safety and happiness." Isn't that precisely the way Chavez justifies all his thuggery in Venezuela? I don't like the mosque thing, but we need to find a non-governmental way to stop it.

And this is precisely why you need to be prudential about things like immigration/citizenship (one of the many areas where I diverge from our libertarian brethren). If we desire true liberty, we must make sure that our cultural integrity remains strong (else we WILL have to rely on government to do all the dirty work). It's a sad fact of social life that "social control" is necessary (this understanding is what makes conservativism distinct from libertarianism). Our civil society needs to be strong enough to provide the control necessary for "safety and happiness." Stretching ourselves in every which way to accommodate increasingly diverse peoples/ways of life is a sure-fire recipe for cultural collapse and totalitarianism.

During the Early Republic (a fairly heterogeneous society for the time), there were those who believed it was wrong to: fight (for any reason); drink alcoholic beverages; swear oaths; gamble; masturbate; loan money at interest; wear fancy clothing; race horses; (in the case of the Shakers) have sexual intercourse of any kind, even with a spouse, etc., etc.. My question to you is, do we or do we not possess the right to do those things?

If you are addressing me, John (and I'm not sure you are), the whole notion of "rights" is socially defined. Nature grants no rights, unless it's the right to be eaten.

Who decides on "rights." Either the government or civil society. Civil society can be evaded and lacks the monopoly on coercion, so for conservatives it is the best agent of social control. Why? Because it takes some level of voluntarism/cooperation to enforce the norms and grant the rights. The needs of MEN (i.e. society) are balanced against the dignity of MAN.

The libertarian notion of unlimited "rights" (so long as you respect the rights of others) is a dodge -- sounds good, and impressionable college students eat it up, but unlimited "rights" inevitably comes up against any given society's civil society and normative order. In short, unlimited "rights" always requires a big, powerful government to enforce the prerogatives of the individual. Civil society must kneel before the imperial rights of the individual.

Ergo, libertarianism is simply another version of progressivism. Ultimately, both leftism and libertarianism result in the collapse of civil society and its replacement by authoritarian government, which explains why I'm not a libertarian. However, in the fight against totalitarianism, libertarians make good short-term allies (rather like the old-style anarchists were useful for the Bolsheviks, although I don't think of we conservatives as "using" libertarians the way Lenin used anarchists).

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