Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Dustbin of History


Categories > History

Political Philosophy

Jaffa on a new translation of Aristotle's Ethics

In the NY Times Book Review, no less!  The old man continues to amaze and teach us.  His conclusion:

It is an assumption of Aristotle's philosophy of nature that the highest good of each species is accessible to all, or nearly all, its members. For man the highest good is wisdom. But since few if any human beings attain it, Aristotle's nature requires a supernatural correlate: the afterlife. Whatever one thinks of this argument, it points to a dialectical friendship between Athens and Jerusalem. All the more reason for them to join forces in the desperate struggle, still going on, between civilization and barbarism.


Progressivism and Fascism

In a breathtaking essay Joshua Lerner uses the concept of the political from Carl Schmitt to illustrate the radicalism of Progressivism.  Schmitt was the German legal theorist whom Leo Strauss critiqued in an essay central to his return to the ancients.  See his early work and Strauss's here.  Schmitt became a supporter of the Nazis. 

Lerner does not engage in drive-by slander of the Progressives as Nazis.  Rather, he paints a compelling portrait of the perilous parallels between the two radical movements:

In many ways, seeking redemption via politics is the quintessence of the primacy of the political. But once we have established that politics is of at least some primacy and provides a meaningful source of ethical values--again, think of any number of liberals or leftists who feel the need to politicize even the most mundane of consumer activities--we must move on to another very powerful conclusion: political primacy means the irrelevancy of the practice of politics.

       It is rather well known that Progressives were rather contemptuous of common politics; they hoped to replace it with scientific administration of essential tasks....

Lerner is the co-editor of Counterpoint, the undergraduate University of Chicago conservative journal, where his essay appears.  The current issue features a symposium on conservative films, including Diana Schaub on Shane, Abe Shulsky on Casablanca, and Thomas Pavel on Bladerunner.  

Categories > Progressivism


Apocalypto II

I can't compete with William Voegeli's erudition or work ethic, but let us also remember this example of "us-and-them campaign rhetoric that, turned to the proper angle, reveal a seething hatred of the nation's enemies."

You'll determine whether this America will be unified, or, if I lose this election, Americans might be separated black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban.

             Jimmy Carter Chicago 1980

Sounds kind of "light on facts and heavy on Apocalypticism [also on the cheap partisanship]" right Mr. Cassidy?  My takeaway isn't that Republicans or Democrats are the greater sinners on this kind of thing.  It is that: 

1.  A lot of the criticism of Bachmann will be lazy, mean-spirited, cynical, and hypocritical and will come from people who (like Cassidy) think of themselves as too smart and too wonderful to be bothered to make a cogent and consistent argument against her.

2.  Bad arguments against Bachmann's suitability to be President should not be used as an excuse to ignore good arguments against her (though it is up to her critics and opponents to make those arguments.)

Categories > Politics

Health Care

The Secret Word is Groucho

Or that other guy named Marx: "Those who worry about socialized medicine won't be happy to learn that according to Lulzsec the password for flag@ was 'karlmarx.'"

Categories > Health Care

The Founding

Coolidge and the 4th of July

Leon Kass reflects on Coolidge and the 4th, and so does Steve Hayward at Powerline.  Read the whole thing, of course, but here is the pregnant paragraph from Silent Cal's 150th anniversary of the Declaration speech, in case someone you know isn't clear on the connection between natural rights and natural right:

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.  It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter.  If all men are created equal, that is final.  If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final.  If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.  No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.  If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.  Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.  They are reactionary.  Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."
Categories > The Founding

Refine & Enlarge

Ohio Farmer Letters

I think I have not brought to your attention the last two Letters from an Ohio Farmer ("American Leadership"? and City Upon a Hill, moving toward the next two, both on themes related to the Fourth; one will appear next Monday, and one the following Tuesday.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge



The New Yorker's John Cassidy sets out to sneer at Michelle Bachmann in the course of taking her seriously.  At one point, elucidating the similarities between her campaign and Nazi Germany, he writes, "Bachmann's America has its own values . . . and its own version of history--one light on facts and heavy on Apocalypticism. 'Americans agree that our country is in peril today and we must act with urgency to save it,' Bachmann said in Waterloo, Iowa, the town of her birth. And she went on: 'My voice is part of a movement to take back our country, and now I want to take that voice to the White House.' From National Socialism to Poujadism to the Tea Party, the suggestion that the motherland needs reclaiming from alien forces has been central to populist right-wing movements."

In arguing that the country is in peril, and requires a movement to reclaim it, Bachmann joins an impressive list of other apocalyptic neo-Nazis:

We meet at ... a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more...

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

We believe in the value of doing what's right for everyone in the American family.

And that is the choice in this election.

We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us. Family and faith. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all - so that every child, every parent, every worker has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.

The thing that makes me angriest about what has gone wrong in the last 12 years is that our government has lost touch with our values, while our politicians continue to shout about them. I'm tired of it!

I was raised to believe the American Dream was built on rewarding hard work. But we have seen the folks of Washington turn the American ethic on its head....

Our people are pleading for change, but government is in the way. It has been hijacked by privileged private interests. It has forgotten who really pays the bills around here. It has taken more of your money and given you less in return.

We have been a nation adrift too long. We have been without leadership too long. We have had divided and deadlocked government too long. We have been governed by veto too long. We have suffered enough at the hands of a tired and worn-out administration without new ideas, without youth or vitality, without vision and without the confidence of the American people. There is a fear that our best years are behind us. But I say to you that our nation's best is still ahead.

Our country has lived through a time of torment. It is now a time for healing. We want to have faith again. We want to be proud again. We just want the truth again.

The destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people then in the conference rooms of any elite.

So let us give our ... country the chance to elect a Government that will seek and speak the truth, for this is the time for the truth in the life of this country.

George McGovern 1972 acceptance speech

I encourage readers to find other examples of routine, us-and-them campaign rhetoric that, turned to the proper angle, reveal a seething hatred of the nation's enemies.

Categories > Progressivism


And the award for creepiest campaign image goes to....

Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Give War a Chance?

John Lennon, the right-wing, reagonite war-hawk? So say's Lennon's last personal assistant:

John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.


I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who's an old-time communist... He enjoyed really provoking my uncle... Maybe he was being provocative... but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he'd been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy's naivete.

I don't know if Lennon's alleged conservative conversion is genuine, but it would make listening to Come Together all the sweeter.  

Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Paper Dragon Catching Fire

As the world watches the Greek crisis continue to unfold and threaten the entirety of that poorly-implemented experiment that is the European Union, and as forecasters proclaim that hitting the debt ceiling in August will spell the beginning of the end for American dominance in this world, all seem to be turning a blind eye from the problems rumbling deep within the belly of the dragon in the Far East. Indeed, the potential clout many talk of in regards to the People's Republic of China is far too exaggerated, and the chance of its powerful economy being but a house of cards entirely underestimated. Like the states of the West, China has been unable to spend its way out of the global economic crisis, only prolonging the inevitable.

Liu Jiayi, China's top auditor, revealed this week that the debt of local governments in China has reached a reported $1.7 trillion, equivalent to 27% of China's entire gross domestic product. These numbers are considered to be conservative as it is widely believed that many local governments did not fully report how much money they have been borrowing. By comparison, the total debt of state and municipal governments in the United States is considered to be $2.4 trillion, just over 15% of our GDP. Earlier this year, the Chinese Central Bank declared that the total local government debt was 30% percent of GDP, or $2.2 trillion, which people believe to be closer to the truth-- the auditor only surveyed 6,500 of the 10,000 local governments in China, while the central bank looked at more.

Like the United States, China's rapid growth has largely been the result of loose credit and easy money that have created a huge property bubble waiting to burst and massive inflation. Like the United States, the Communists pumped a stimulus of hundreds of billions of dollars that did nothing but increase the national debt and give a temporary reprieve to the local governments. Most of what these governments spent money on was infrastructure-related and thus have not yielded a profit-- roads, railways, bridges, buildings, many of which remained unused. A lot of these local governments also used loans to play with the property and stock markets, leading to great losses.

For the past few years many have marveled at how Chinese central planning has led to economic prosperity (if you can call a nation where only 8% of its population does not live in feudal poverty "prosperity"). Many thought that the foreign debt owned by the Communists would keep them safe from the worst of the economic crisis. However, just as economic central planning destroyed the American economy and government overspending destroyed the Europeans, so too will they bring China's economy tumbling down. The potential ramifications are numerous; it should be pointed out that many successful revolutions, the Arab Spring among them, occur in the midst of economic crisis, when the educated middle class is suddenly no longer content. Will this bring down the Communist Party? Probably not. But, given the stranglehold that repression places on economic ingenuity, and given the fact that this economic crisis is proving time and time again that governments cannot spend their way back to prosperity, it is likely that China will be far slower to recover after its fall than the Europeans and the United States. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Put Not Your Faith In Anthony Kennedy

or even John Roberts.  A federal appeals court panel upholds the constitutionality of Obamacare's federal individual health insurance purchase mandate.  All is not lost, even in the judicial arena, but this article is looking prescient.

Categories > Politics


His Ur-Grandfather's Son

Justice Clarence Thomas has authored one of the Court's most unusual and as usual most instructive court opinions, dissenting in the violent video case (look about 40% of the way down, after the majority opinion).  In voting to uphold California's restrictions on sales of violent video games to minors, Justice Thomas surveys the Founders' views of child rearing, noting among other items Jefferson's education instructions to his wife, the contrasting views of Locke and Rousseau, and children's reading of the time.  The upshot:

"The freedom of speech," as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors' parents or guardians. Therefore, I cannot agree that the statute at issue is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The Court's version of the first amendment appears to have little to do with the original purpose of that element of self-government--the protection of political speech.

Categories > Courts



should be listening to Henry Olsen.  I would only add that Republicans are so dependent on winning over such large margins among white voters in order to be competitive because of the country's changing demographics.  A lot of what Olsen says would also help in crafting strategies to win over more nonwhite working-class and middle-class voters (though it would not suffice.)
Categories > Politics


Obama Taps Oil Reserves

The Obama Administration has decided to tap into the nation's Strategic Oil Reserves to help reduce gas prices, which I complain about in a recent letter to the Los Angeles Times. The decision to release oil from our reserves is a very bad one that serves no purpose other than making it look like President Obama is doing something about America's energy woes. Initially the White House argued that the reserves were being tapped to offset a shortage caused by the Libyan Civil War-- this is a silly notion as Libya only produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a day and the vast majority of it goes to Europe.

The Strategic Oil Reserves are only supposed to be released in the event of a severe disruption in our oil supply-- events like Hurricane Katrina and the 1973 Oil Crisis are examples of appropriate times to release oil from the reserves. Rather than being a response to any real emergency, the Obama Administration's release of the reserves is just a ploy to gain some political goodwill. If they really cared about ending our woes at the gas stations, then President Obama and his allies in Congress would fix the problem they created with a moratorium on offshore drilling, end costly EPA regulations on refiners, and stop paying countries like Brazil billions of dollars to build up their oil resources as we just let our own sit unused. If they really cared about solving our energy problems they would get out of the way of market forces in order to allow entrepreneurs to figure out alternative energies and end subsidies giving an unfair market advantage to certain types of energy like ethanol. Rather than addressing the problem, President Obama seems intent on just punting it down the road like most of his predecessors, giving the appearance of hope for change but not actually delivering it.

Opening our strategic reserves does not help us at all; it only endangers us. Let us hope that a major supply of our oil does not fall prey to instability, terrorism, or nature in the near future.
Categories > Economy


Rick Perry?

George Will seems high on Rick Perry (h/t to Peter Schramm for the link.) I dunno.  Perry is, in one sense perfectly positioned for the Republican primary race.  He is much more of a small government guy than George W. Bush and he is a social conservative with long executive experience in a state with strong recent job creation.  That is pretty much the sweet spot. 

But I don't have strong feelings either pro or anti-Perry.  It isn't just that Texas has a higher unemployment rate than the supposedly Obamneycare-afflicted state of Massachusetts or Tim Pawlenty's Minnesota.  Assigning praise and blame according to state by state unemployment and job creation statistics is difficult.  Perry is having budget issues.   Depending on how he and the Texas state legislature solve them, he might have a strong case to run as a candidate of fiscal consolidation. 

I hope he runs, but I'm keeping my expectations modest.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Americans on Trial in Iran

Almost two years ago, three young grads went on a hiking trip in the beautiful hills of Iraqi Kurdistan. During their trip, they allegedly crossed into Iranian territory and were subsequently arrested and charged with espionage (yes, the same regime that accuses unfavored cabinet ministers of witchcraft also believes that UC Berkeley is a hotbed of CIA recruits). One of the three, Sarah Shourd, was released last September on $500,000 bail, with the official report citing medical concerns as the reason for her release. Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer are still being head in a prison known to hold mostly political dissidents somewhere outside of Tehran. They will be standing trial for charges of espionage on July 31st, exactly two years after they were first captured.

Attempted interventions by various influential people ranging from President Obama to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to Hollywood actors to Desmond Tutu to Amnesty International have all attempted to convince the regime to release the young Americans, but it is refusing to free the hikers despite holding them for two years. This is but another example of that regime's oppression and disregard for the basic rights of human beings. Hopefully justice will be done and the last two hikers will be able to finally return home by the end of this summer.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Wasted Opportunity Of Herman Cain?

Among his other jobs, Herman Cain has been a radio talk show host.  This is not, in itself, a qualification to be President (though being a talk radio host strikes me as a hard job), but it was an opportunity for preparation to be President.  This is to use Ross Douthat's definition of preparation as "the hard work of scaling up one's understanding from state-level challenges [or in Cain's case the opinions of a politically interested businessman] to national issues that any aspiring candidate needs to do."

As a talk show host, Cain was, in a sense, paid to think about public issues and then talk about them for three hours a day five days a week.  From my limited understanding, talk radio show prep tends to focus on the day-to-day, but Cain could have immersed himself in the best conservative policy thinking.  He could have worked at making this thinking accessible to his audience.  Cain seems not to have done that.  Maybe he did and we just haven't seen it yet, and he is going to surprise us.  

Categories > Politics


The Huggable and Lovable Gov. Christie

In case you ever wonder why Gov. Christie has a bit of a following, see this short report regarding his response about what school his kids attend.  He just doesn't sound like a politician (as that is now understood).
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Chicago Vistas

Chicago has long been a favorite city--not exotic in the way San Francisco and New York are, with less history than comparatively tiny Boston, but even so it has a character that still speaks to us.  This came to sight as I sunned on Ohio Beach, next to the Navy Pier.  From this vantage point the city's vista is spectacular.  Vision, ambition, low politics, greed but above all pride created such a scene.  The skyscrapers are the sensuous products of these noble and base passions.   One cannot look at Chicago without being affirmed that this is a country full of ambition, a great country bent on even greater things.  

But the perspective from the water taxi into Michigan Avenue notes weaknesses in the facade.  The local Trump Tower lacks the seriousness of the older buildings, some with Gothic pretensions. 

I am staying in the "Dick Tracy" house, in the Chicago suburbs, the one in which the young Chester Gould got his family and cartooning career started.   How appropriate that the always proper Dick Tracy was given birth in mob-fascinated Chicago.  Contrast the steady Tracy with our psychically tortured Batman.  Shouldn't virtuous acts be done with pleasure, in order to be virtuous?

All this puts into perspective the strange case of our Chicago-based President, who has brought to the national scene all that is low about Chicago and who seems intent on suppressing all the grand motives that made America a great nation.  His vision of American destiny would rob America of all its distinctiveness.

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln on Dred Scott and Self-government

Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his greatest speeches 154 years ago today, on the Dred Scott decision.  The speech explains the meaning of the Declaration of Independence but also the place of the Supreme Court in a democratic, self-governing society.  The principles of equality and self-government demand the elimination of slavery and the containment of the Supreme Court.  Lincoln's speech clearly indicates that Justice Holmes, not Chief Justice Taney, would be the worst justice the Court has ever known.


Mitt Divided

Mitt Romney's support is being challenged on two separate fronts.

Politically, he is now tied with Michele Bachmann in Iowa. While Romney was always likely to lose a portion of the conservative vote to one of the many candidates to his right, the Minnesota congresswoman is also stealing his spotlight and leaching away his star-powered popularity. Romney is a household name - an advantage he holds over most of his intra-party rivals (now that Trump is out of the race and Gingrich seems to have stalled). But Bachmann is fresh and attractive (politically, I mean) - she has the power to siphon votes founded upon Romney's charm and charisma. She's the only candidate who can compete cosmetically with Romney's "hair factor."

Economically, Romney's critical base of donors among Utah's Mormons is being courted by Jon Huntsman. Romney must be reeling from the statistically improbable appearance of another Mormon in the presidential race. The dueling Mormons have now created a fissure in the Mormon constituency - which is conservative on most issues, but very liberal in campaign donations.

Romney is still a well-funded frontrunner - but that makes him a legitimate target for other Republicans and threatens that his political star may have risen too quickly in electoral time. He's the king of the hill, but Queen Bachmann and the rest of the GOP brood are eager to knock him from his perch. Romney will need to display true political skill if he is to stave off contenders and preserve his elevated stature. 

Categories > Elections


Poor Diodorus

Gladiator battles were to Rome what football is to the United States (and soccer to the rest of the world). Successful gladiators could attract huge fan followings and achieved a certain celebrity status, as athletes do today. If a gladiator was successful long enough, he was usually given his freedom and allowed to go into retirement, resting upon his laurels. So rabid were the Romans about their gladiator fights and loyal to their home teams that, like the example of Vancouver recently, riots could break out if things did not go their way. At a game in Pompeii once, taunting turned to stone-throwing between the Pompeians and the visiting Nucerians, resulting in deaths and injuries during the subsequent riot. It was so bad that Emperor Nero banned gladiator games for Pompeii for ten years (after the ban they would get to enjoy it for another ten years before Vesuvius ended gladiator games in Pompeii permanently). Graffiti and higher-quality wall painting boast of Pompeii's victory over Nuceria Alfaterna, despite the ban.

An ancient Roman tombstone from modern-day Turkey was donated to a museum in Belgium following the Great War, and the epitaph on this remarkable piece of stone has finally been figured out by some classicists. It is unusual because it describes the way that the victim, Diodorus, died. "After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately. Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me."

The summa rudis was the referee in gladiatorial games, often times a former gladiator himself. One rule in combat was that if a defeated gladiator requests submission and it is approved by the owner, he will forfeit the fight and leave the arena unharmed. Another was that if a gladiator fell on accident, he would be permitted to get up and grab his weapons before the fight resumed. It seems that Demetrius had surrendered to Diodorus, who then spared his life and backed off, expecting to have won the fight. However, the summa rudis--through either incompetence or treachery--deemed Demetrius' fall to have been accidental, allowing the defeated gladiator to get back up and kill or mortally wound Diodorus. His family and friends were upset enough to curse the summa rudis in the epitaph. Poor Diodorus.
Categories > History


Liberals and the Liberal Jews

Steve Hayward's new home has received an article from David Harris, the American Jewish Committee executive director, which was declined by Harris' blogging site, The Huffington Post (which recently devoured my former blogging home, to my continuing dismay).

Nearly two years ago, I was invited by The Huffington Post (HuffPo) to become a blogger on their site. I was honored. It is one of the most heavily trafficked news sites anywhere, and it reaches an influential audience. Since September 2009, I have published nearly 50 articles there, and look forward to publishing many more. This week, for the first time, I was told by HuffPo that an article submitted was "not for us." ...

The topic?  "The Hamas - Oops, Gaza - Flotilla."

I mentioned in an earlier post that Democrats and liberals are hostile to religion. With regard to the Jews, that religious hostility translates into overt political hostility toward Israel - culminating in the absurd apologetics and sympathies witnessed among liberals for Arab-Muslim terrorists obsessed with murdering Israeli Jews. And yet, nearly 90% of Jews vote for Democrats. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma....   

Categories > Religion


One Vote for Queen

I posted an article on Michele Bachmann "Queen or Kingmaker?" at my second on-line home last week, and the Weekly Standard's latest edition has followed up with an answer: "Queen of the Tea Party." Matthew Continetti's canvassing bio and assessment of Bachmann's avoids the breathless outrage and (not-so) subtle disdain which often accompanies mainstream accounts of the rising star.

"Energetic, charismatic, intelligent, and attractive, the 55-year-old Bachmann is . . . ." So leads Continetti's dive into her popular perception among voters. The article covers her youth, faith and political style, as well as specific moments which define her strengths, weaknesses and inspirations. Of course, Continetti addresses the obvious comparison to Sarah Palin ("What unites Bachmann and Palin, above all, is the contempt with which they are treated by liberals.") and Bachmann's connection to the Tea Party ("Michele Bachmann was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.").

You'll either read about her now, or you'll play catch-up later when Bachmann's national role can no longer be ignored by scholarly observers. The Standard article is a very good introduction. 

Categories > Elections