Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Wallowing in Osawatomie

Some thoughtful exchanges the other day at the Hudson Institute on Theodore Roosevelt's Osawatomie speech, Obama's deliberate follow-up, and the meaning and future of Progressivism.  Sid Milkis, Jim Ceaser, Matt Spalding, John Halpin, and E.J; Dionne. To get video/audio you need to click on the "View all events" tab off the home page.. Milkis noted that Obama never mentions his health care reform in his speech--it is focused on class.

If you can bear Dionne's self-promotion (does E.J. stand for Egregious Jerk?), you will hear some thoughtful remarks by the various panelists, introduced by Bill Schambra.  And you even get to hear a question from the floor by her royal highness Elizabeth Drew.

Here's a brief historical overview of what is at stake in these speeches.

Categories > Progressivism


Judging Newt Judging

Gingrich went overboard on his attacks on overboard judges. Here's a far more sober account of what can be (and ought to be) done, by Ralph Rossum. Curt Levey and Carrie Severino add some thoughts on reining in a wacky judiciary without undermining judicial independence--both are essential for the rule of law.  Judicial independence is not a license for judiciary supremacy. 

An even better lesson can be found in early American political documents that list the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers among the fundamental rights of a free people.  Consider for example the Massachusetts Constitution and the Essex Result,

Categories > Courts


Is the GOP Field Set?

Ron Paul has surged to first place in Iowa, and will probably maintain his position or at least a strong second by the very nature of the caucuses and Paul's enthusiastic supporters. It is important to note that Iowa is generally unimportant when it comes to setting the final nominee, but it can have an effect on donations and momentum. New Hampshire's libertarian bent, combined with a victory in Iowa, could give Paul a boost there, and Jon Huntsman is finally beginning to see his own numbers rise in the Granite State. A close victory for Romney over Gingrich in New Hampshire with Paul and Huntsman on their heels could do away with any "momentum" candidates hope to achieve going into South Carolina, where Gingrich is trumping Romney, and where Paul and Bachmann are both maintaining steady support that could swing up. Gingrich recently won the Tea Party poll--only barely beating out Bachmann. Florida is still up for grabs, and the latest Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal by its popular former governor are leading some to say the field is not set. Is it possible that someone can jump in to swoop up fresh-faced momentum before the major state primaries and their many delegates are up for grabs? If no one else jumps in, I would add that a Paul surge is probably very good for Mr. Romney.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Caesars are just Men

Caesars throughout history have often argued that the stability they bring proves their necessity in ruling. History, of course, shows that this has been a tremendous lie, for the reign of kings has been the greatest source of war and violence in our world. Though a Caesar may reign over peace and prosperity, mankind has the greatly important aspect of mortality assigned to it, and those Caesars eventually die. Occasionally their deaths can be followed by a peaceful transition of power, but this is very much the exception and not the rule. The promise of the United States, upon which the arguments for the exceptionalism of our Founding rely, is that by trusting in the better nature of men to govern themselves while containing the ambition of men with the rule of law, we can maintain peace and prosperity with both liberty and longevity. Our experiment in this line of thinking has been mostly successful, beginning with the voluntary retirement of George Washington and then the peaceful transfer of power from Adams to Jefferson. Our one failing in this formula has been the Civil War, but that particular conflict was unique in that it was not a fight over just who would rule, but what the principle behind their rule would be: the principle of equality, or the principle of kings--that is, the long-held principle of inequality. In that line, then, our Civil War was, as some have argued, more a continuation of the work of the American Revolution than something like the civil wars that wrack other nations.

During the Cold War, another war rooted, however muddled at times, in principle, new Caesars rose around the globe to fill the void left by the waning empires of Europe in the wake of the Second World War. Most of these men came to power in the poorer corners of the world, promising their citizens peace in exchange for liberty, ruling throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Even after the Soviet Empire collapsed, many of these men maintained their position and were seen by the West as necessary evils to maintain global stability and help advance our own security. Unable to change them, we thought that if we just contained them through the use of both carrots and sticks that peace could be kept, with only occasionally lashing out at those we perceived as crossing the line (and this we did not stick to all the time, as evidenced by Iran getting off free after sacking our embassy and North Korea's petulant acts over the past several years going unchecked). The year 2011, however, has been a forced reminder in why the promise of peace from Caesars is always a lie--for they are but mortal men, and men die.

Moammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule came to an end with him being dragged through the streets and sodomized before choking on his own blood. Hosni Mubarak is at the mercy of an Egyptian court as it determines whether or not to find him guilty of crimes and have him executed. Bashar al-Assad is literally at war with his own people, killing thousands in his frantic quest to maintain power. The House of Saud, the most absolute and stable of monarchies, is trying to do what it can to stem the spread of the Arab Spring into its own borders, but its future is uncertain now that the King's heir apparent has died and been replaced by a conservative hardliner unlikely to embrace reforms. The aged Robert Mugabe has cancer, and will likely be dead within the next two years, and Fidel Castro is reaching the end of the road as well. And now Kim Jong-Il, the mad ruler of North Korea and most cruel dictator of our time, has died of a heart attack, the Korean Peninsula being mired in confusion as the world tries to determine if his son, Kim Jong-Un, or his brother-in-law, Chang Sung-taek, will assume power in the impoverished and oppressed Communist nation.

In some respects, the existence of these strongmen did help contribute to relative stability in the world following the end of the Cold War. Occasionally one tyrant would fall to be replaced by another over the past twenty years, and this could be easily contained, but fate has now seen to it that so many reigns came to an end at the same time. Having relied too much on the false promises of these Caesars to maintain peace over the past few decades, we have been caught unawares by this surge in instability. In the year 2012, the world is bound to suffer in a way unforeseen for some time the pains inflicted when men rule in lieu of laws, and when Caesars reign instead of equality in justice. As evidenced clearly in Syria, and disgustingly in Egypt, the fall of kings is almost always a messy affair. While we must not expend our blood and treasure in the pursuit of peace and justice all over the world, and the urge will be tough to fight given our predisposed love for those two ideas, we ought to use this tumult to pursue some good by encouraging the embrace of law and respect for human rights. We must also seek to ensure that we are protected in this new world as it is formed around us. As we go into an election year, our president and his would-be opponent must be constantly reminded of how dangerous, how important, and how opportune the fast-shifting sand of world politics is right now. We need someone who can articulate the idea of America, think in a truly strategic fashion, and best help us act as an example to others of why our principle is superior to those professed by the Kim Jong-Ils and other Caesars of the world. The world could use a city on a hill to look up to right now.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Havel RIP, the Declaration Lives

Following Justin's entry below, recall Vaclav  Havel's message to Congress: 

"Consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim....

 "[Y]ou Americans should understand this way of thinking.  Wasn't it the best minds of your country, ... who wrote your famous Declaration of Independence...and who, above all, took upon themselves practical responsibility for putting them into practice?" 

A text of the speech can be found here; the links are unhelpful, though.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Can Muslims Name the Animals?

In Genesis, God parades the animals in front of Adam, who then names them, and these names are what they are. In the Qur'an, it is Allah who names the animals, not man. Man does not have this power to name.

So begins Robert Reilly of The Catholic Thing in his review of the second Muslim-Catholic Forum which was held on the east bank of the Jordan River last month. The theme of the forum was "Reason, Faith and Mankind," which Reilly distills to a primary tension of reason.

The essential issue here is the status of reason, which is why this latest forum was so important. Can we reason together? This was an issue Benedict XVI dealt with in the Regensburg Lecture. His answer: this is possible only in so far as we and they are Hellenized, which means that we both recognize reason as capable of apprehending reality.

Reilly contends that the Biblical power to name the animals "is symptomatic of the difference between the two views of man in Genesis and the Qur'an." 

The power to name is, in a way, the power to know. Joseph Pieper once wrote, "Reality becomes intelligible through words. Man speaks so that through naming things what is real may become intelligible."  If you cannot name a thing, can you know it?  Can reality be intelligible to you without this power?

Interesting commentary and worthy of contemplation.

Categories > Religion


RIP: Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel was a man worthy of the Shakespearean eulogy:

He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

It is often noted that Havel was a "mere" playwright before his activism against communism thrust him into the forefront of politics. But Havel existed in the interim of politics, in the revolutionary moment when character is of greater weight than policy. His instincts for politics, understood classically, arose from his understanding of the humanities and served well his fellow citizens.

The Czech Republic now mourns the passing of a national treasure. Their national sorrow is unique because men of Havel's stature do not largely exist elsewhere in the world. May they take solace in the knowledge of their great fortune in having had such a man for so long. He defined an era of hope and the world is poorer for his passing.

Update: For a powerful recitation of Havel's life and times, read Reason's "Velvet President."

Categories > History