Archive for the 'Politics' Category

(More) Chesterton on Birth Control

… If [the Birth-Controller] can prevent his servants from having families, he need not support those families. Why the devil should he?

If anybody doubts that this is the very simple motive, let him test it by the very simple statements made by various Birth-Controllers like the Dean of St. Paul’s. They never do say that we suffer from a too bountiful supply of bankers or that cosmopolitan financiers must not have such large families. They do not say that the fashionable throng at Ascot wants thinning, or that it is desirable to decimate the people dining at the Ritz or the Savoy…

But the Birth-Controllers have not the smallest desire to control that jungle. It is much too dangerous a jungle to touch. It contains tigers. They never do talk about a danger from the comfortable classes. The Gloomy Dean is not gloomy about there being too many Dukes; and naturally not about there being too many Deans. He is not primarily annoyed with a politician for having a whole population of poor relations, though places and public salaries have to found for all relations. Political Economy means that everybody except politicians must be economical.

The Birth-Controller does not bother about all these things, for the perfectly simple reason that it is not such people that he wants to control. What he wants to control is the populace, and he practically says so. He always insists that a workman has no right to have so many children, or that a slum is perilous because it produces so many children. The question he dreads is “Why has not the workman a better wage? Why has not the slum family a better house?” His way of escaping from it is to suggest, not a larger house, but a smaller family. The landlord or the employer says in his hearty and handsome fashion: “You really cannot expect me to deprive myself of my money. But I will make a sacrifice. I will deprive myself of your children.”

— G. K. Chesterton, quoted from Gilbert Magazine, Volume 12 Number 8 (July/August 2009)


Obama and the Establishment

R. R. Reno from the pages of First Things (February 2009):

The election is over and the inauguration is upon us. There has been and will be a great deal of talk about the historic signifigance of Barak Obama – our first black president. The symbolism is powerful. America may be flawed, it may be arrogant in its power and sated with its wealth, but it is in an extraordinary, unprecendented place.

So yes, a dramatic moment in American history. But the larger significance of the incoming administration is not racial at all. Obama’s electoral success shows, in fact, that race is an old and now passing fixation in American politics. Instead, what is striking about Obama is something deeper. Not since John F. Kennedy have we elected a man so closely identified with Northern, urban, educated elites.

His inner circle shares a similar profile. Their resumes shine with degrees from the old establishment colleges and universities: the Ivy League, University of Chicago, and so forth. There are no DePaul or Purdue grads to be found, no ward politicians, no in-laws with dubious credentials, clamoring for civil-service jobs, no thick-necked labor leaders.

With all its credentials and stellar achievements, the Obama administration recalls Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust and the Whiz Kids who revitalized the Ford Motor Company after the Second World War. Obama and his pals are the new experts whom Kennedy promised would bring new ideas to government. Their progressive views, trim physiques, and well-disciplined lives remove all doubt: We’re witnessing the restoration of the Establishment.

FIRST THINGS Moments of 2008

Moving on from the previous post into the current Year of Our Lord, 2008, here are few of the moments that stood out to me from the pages of FIRST THINGS this past year. Feel free to add any of your own fond memories.

Regarding FT in 2008, there are three things that stand out to me – Joseph Pearce, N. T. Wright, and the death of the Oldline Mainline Protestants here in America.

ft_2008-08First, my dear Joseph Pearce. Back in July I did a post on the shellacking Joseph Pearce took in the pages of the August/September issue of FT. What made this so surprising is FT is a journal that would otherwise be friendly to someone like Pearce. So what did Pearce do to get such sour treatment from a friendly source? It has to do with that all too entangled question of Shakespeare’s religion. I personally don’t think Shakespeare’s religion matters, but there are many (apparently) who do.

In his much publicized book, The Quest for Shakespeare, Pearce clearly wanting to discredit himself right from the start, begins by touting his “Bellocian bellicosity” and distancing himself from the “asses of academe.” Translation: Pearce thinks all those scholars in their ivory towers are arrogant nitwits. Unlike himself, of course.

Robert Miola, professor of English at Loyola College (Maryland), is the culprit behind the aforementioned shellacking. Actually, a careful reading of Miola’s writings in FT regarding the issue of Shakespeare’s religion (see the May 2008 issue of FT) shows that he is somewhat sympathetic to the view that the great Bard of Avon may have been a Catholic (Pearce’s thesis). But if there is one thing Miola can’t stand, it’s arrogant grandstanding by an unproven scholar, such as Pearce, who clearly has no idea what he is talking about. And the way I word it is much nicer than the way Miola does. No kidding. The book review by Miola is really quite stunning – I had my mouth open almost the entire time I was reading it. If you have not read the review, do yourself a favor and read it: Thy Canonized Bones.

And as is the way with peer review journals, Pearce was given the opportunity to defend himself, which he did on the FT blog, On The Square. The rebuttal by Pearce with a response by Miola was included in the latest issue of FT (December 2008). Unfortunately, I can’t link to it since it hasn’t been made public online. However, you can still read Pearce’s rebuttal here.

Second is the “out of nowhere” N. T. Wright / Fr. Neuhaus skirmish that began in April. From what I understand Fr. Neuhaus and N. T. Wright are fairly acquainted with each other and even consider the other to be a friend. So when Neuhaus took to taking cheap shots at Wright in his featured Public Square essay of April 2008, I was taken aback. Now, I say cheap shots, but I am quite sure Fr. Neuhaus doesn’t see it that way. However that may be, I thought the attacks were unfair and so did Wright, understandably.

I call this a skirmish because it didn’t last but for a single follow up exchange in subsequent issue of FT. Thankfully, the whole nasty – and very odd – exchange was quickly dropped, and I can only assume/hope Neuhaus and Wright have since made nice and will continue their good work for the Church, each in their own way.

You can read the original essay by Fr. Neuhaus here: The Possibilities and Perils in Being a Really Smart Bishop. As much as I say Fr. Neuhuas’ attacks were unfair, he does, not surprisingly, make some good points; but the whole seems to be tainted by the way in which he treats Wright. Wright’s rebuttal and Neuhaus’ response can be found in the June/July 2008 Correspondence section.

And last, but not least, is Joseph Bottum’s lengthy essay entitled The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline – also from the August/September issue of FT. The article generated much discussion with the great majority of the correspondence agreeing with general outline Bottum presents of the death of the Mainline Protestant Churches in America.

You can read this interesting essay by Bottum, here: The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline. The follow up correspondence letters are in the December 2008 issue of FT. As I noted earlier, this issue is not publically available online yet. Give it a couple of months.

So that does it for FT in 2008. I eagerly await the memorable moments that are sure to be in store for 2009.

In the meantime, have a happy Advent!

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

President Barack Obama

As of 9:42 PM EST, the other networks are too chicken to call it, so I will. Barack Obama will be our next President of the United States.


At this point McCain would have to win all the usual red states plus Iowa, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, all of which he is polling behind in or too close to call; and on top of this he would need to win one of the West Coast states (CA, OR, WA) to even get to 270 electoral votes. To say this would take a miracle would be quite the understatement. McCain has already lost Pennsylvania and Ohio; two states he pretty much had to win.

I didn’t vote for him, but congratulations nonetheless to Senator Obama. Cheers to our next President!

Chesterton’s Critique of Socialism

In his 1926 work, The Outline of Sanity, vaunted English journalist and author, G.K. Chesterton put forth his arguments against both Capitalism and Socialism. Chesterton essentially argues that the problem with Capitalism is that it leads to Socialism. Now there’s a thought. All too briefly put, the tendency of both Capitalism and Socialism is to centralize power. Capitalism places power in the hands of the few rich who actually own capital, while the vast majority work as (wage) slaves for the rich who own the factories and shops. The result is a de facto plutocracy. Socialism places complete power in the hands of the government, which leads to individual freedom being subordinated to the will of the State. The result is a de facto totalitarian state. Both the plutocracy of the Capitalist state and totalitarianism of the Socialist state are particular manifestations of an oligarchy. The rich are always the privileged few, just as it is the few who hold real power in a totalitarian state. The common man, which is the mass of men, lose in either case, even if Capitalism is to be preferred to Socialism.

Below is Chesterton’s brief critique of Socialism and why it leads to totalitarianism, although he does not use that word. As I noted earlier, his critique of Socialism is brief because on this score he was preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, his critique is worth noting, even if it is a familiar critique of the Socialist State. From The Outline of Sanity (IHS Press):

Socialism is a system which makes the corporate unity of society responsible for all its economic processes, or all those affecting life and essential living. If anything important is sold, the Government has sold it; if anything important is given, the Government has given it; if anything important is even tolerated, the Government is responsible for tolerating it. This is the very reverse of anarchy; it is an extreme enthusiasm for authority. It is in many ways worthy of the moral dignity of the mind; it is a collective acceptance of very complete responsibility… A Socialist Government is one which in its nature does not tolerate any true and real opposition. For there the Government provides everything; and it is absurd to ask a Government to provide an opposition.

You cannot go to the Sultan and say reproachfully, “You have made no arrangements for your brother dethroning you and seizing the Caliphate.” You cannot go to a medieval king and say, “Kindly lend me two thousand spears and one thousand bowmen, as I wish to raise a rebellion against you.” Still less can you reproach a Government which professes to set up everything, because it has not set up anything to pull down all it has set up. Opposition and rebellion depend on property and liberty… The critic of the State can only exist where a religious sense of right protects his claims to his own bow and spear; or at least, to his own pen or his own printing press. It is absurd to suppose that he could borrow the royal pen to advocate regicide or use the Government printing presses to expose the corruption of the Government. Yet it is the whole point of Socialism, the whole case for Socialism, that unless all printing presses are Government printing presses, printers may be oppressed. Everything is staked on the State’s justice; it is putting all the eggs in one basket. Many of them will be rotten eggs; but even then you will not be allowed to use them at political elections.

As the old saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is certainly true of political power, as we have seen time and time again throughout history. The philosophy of Socialism is flawed in its very nature, but Chesterton thinks Capitalism is too. As was noted in my last post on this topic, and to once again quote Chesterton, “Capitalism is contradictory as soon as it is complete; because it is dealing with the mass of men in opposite ways at once… [the capitalist] is wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time.”

So what is the answer? Chesterton, among others, believed the answer is to distribute property to individuals, so they can be self sufficient and once again know the joy of true ownership and individual responsibility. Chesterton believed small business is better than big business. Chesterton believed being a free man working your own land is to be preferred to being a wage slave. But Chesterton also recognized that this is not the ideal of all. He suggests that while not all will immediately hold to this ideal, many will once they seriously consider their present state of affairs. Of course, a modern society cannot consist of only small farm owners; there must be a balance. However, Chesterton maintains that the common man in a Capitalist society is really worse off than he realizes; once this is recognized, the idea of Distributism will take hold. More on this and what Distributism is in a later post.

Chesterton’s Critique of Capitalism

The upcoming General Election here in the United States coupled with the ongoing economic crisis around the world got me thinking about all things political and economic. In such a mood, I ventured over to one of my book cases and lo and behold there sat on the shelf G.K. Chesterton’s The Outline of Sanity. For those who do not know, The Outline of Sanity is the book in which Chesterton pulls together the arguments for a political-economic theory known as Distributism. On the heels of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Distributist movement was gaining momentum in the early 1900s when Chesterton wrote The Outline of Sanity, particularly in Great Britain but also here in the United States to a lesser extent. Distributism, often described as the alternative to Capitalism and Socialism, is considered by its proponents to be more in line with Rerum Novarum than either Capitalism or Socialism. Distributism, it is said, avoids the erroneous foundation of greed upon which Capitalism rests and the totalitarian principles upon which Socialism rest. On what exactly Distributism is I shall leave for another post.

The point of this post is to look at Chesterton’s critique of Captialism in The Outline of Sanity. Assuming that most of us in the Western world are card carrying Capitalist to larger or lesser degree, I thought it would be interesting to examine a critique of our preferred economic theory by a writer most of my readers are familiar with and respect. I, for one, think Chesterton makes some very good points even if some of what he is saying is particuar to the time and place in which he lived, and not necessarily analogous to our own situation. However, everything he says is pertinent to our own situation, even if not in the same exact way. In some ways we 21st century subjects of a global economy are worse off than Industrialized England in 1926 when The Outline of Sanity was written. If you think differently, perhaps you have not been reading the newspapers of late. Not that they won’t recover, but the free markets are crashing all over the globe in large part because we are so globalized.

With it becoming more and more apparent with each passing day that our free market economy, built on capitalist principles, is in many ways a house of cards (perhaps I exaggerate – I hope), here is part of Chesterton’s critique of Capitalism. From The Outline of Sanity (IHS Press):

In the Labour disputes of our time, it is not the employees but the employers who declare that business is bad. The successful business man is not pleading success; he is pleading bankruptcy. The case of Capitalists is the case against Capitalism. What is even more extraordinary is that its exponent has to fall back on the rhetoric of Socialism. He merely says that miners or railwaymen must go on working “in the interests of the public.” It will be noted that the capitalists never use the argument of private property. They confine themselves entirely to this sort of sentimental version of general social responsibility. It is amusing to read the capitalist press on Socialists who sentimentally plead for people who are “failures.” It is now the chief argument of almost every capitalist in every strike that he himself is on the brink of failure.

I only have one simple objection to this simple argument in the papers about Strikes and the Socialist peril. My objection is that it leads straight to Socialism. In itself it cannot possibly lead to anything else. If workmen are to go on working because they are the servants of the public, there cannot be any deduction except that they ought to be the servants of the public authority. If the Government ought to act in the interests of the public, and there is no more to be said, then obviously the Government ought to take over the whole business, and there is nothing else to be done. I do not think the matter is so simple as this; but they do. I do not think the argument for Socialism is conclusive. But according to the Anti-Socialist [i.e. Capitalist], the argument for Socialism is quite conclusive…

In the last paragraph it is noted that if we were left to the logic of the leader-writers on the Socialist peril, they could only lead us straight to Socialism. And as some of us most heartily and vigorously refuse to be led to Socialism, we have long adopted the harder alternative called trying to think things out…. Now the capitalist system, good or bad, right or wrong, rests upon two ideas: that the rich will always be rich enough to hire the poor; and the poor will always be poor enough to want to be hired. But it also presumes that each side is bargaining with the other, and that neither is thinking primarily of the public. The owner of the omnibus does not run it for the good of all mankind, despite the universal fraternity blazoned in the Latin name of the vehicle. He runs it to make profit for himself, and the poorer man consents to drive it in order to get wages for himself…. Now the case for capitalism was that through this private bargain the public did really get served. And so for some time it did. But the only original case for capitalism collapses entirely, if we have to ask either party to go on for the good of the public. If capitalism cannot pay what will tempt men to work, capitalism is on capitalist principles simply bankrupt….

Capitalism is contradictory as soon as it is complete; because it is dealing with the mass of men in opposite ways at once. When most men are wage earners, it is more and more difficult for most men to be customers. For the capitalist [i.e. employer] is always trying to cut down what his servant [i.e. employee] demands, and in doing so is cutting down what his customer can spend. As soon as his business is in any difficulties, as at present in the coal business, he tries to reduce what he has to spend on wages, an in doing so reduces what others have to spend on coal. He is wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time.

And not to be worried. Chesterton critiques Socialism as well, albeit not nearly as exhuastively. I’m sure it’s because he knows his readers are, in large part, staunch capitalists in no need of convincing that Socialism is wrong. In a later post, I will provide Chesterton’s critique of Socialism, along with why Chesterton believes the capitaist society in which he lived was remarkably similar to the Socialist utopia.

Criticizing Palin and the Republican Party

It seems the homerun that McCain supposedly hit when he picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP, has gone up to the replay booth for further review. The homerun may have to be called back. Such is life in the political game. I was among the many who saw the Palin pick as a homerun with no down side as far as I could tell. Boy was I wrong on there being no down side. I really didn’t see that inexperience thing coming, especially in the light of Obama’s lack thereof. But the difference between Obama and Palin is, because of his oft noted eloquence, Obama doesn’t come off as inexperienced to the casual observer. Palin does. And in this media driven age, image is everything. Fair or unfair (and I think mostly unfair), Palin has been portrayed by many sectors of the media as a dimwit beauty pageant contestant who is more interested in hockey and moose hunting than foreign policy, health care, and economics.

And to be fair, I don’t think this image is created by the major news outlets. It’s really the popular comedic media that has created this image; Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc. I don’t begrudge them of this, it is what they do and they do it well. I laugh. And actually, all politicians get made fun of in this way, so it’s not just a piling on of Sarah Palin. However, it can’t be ignored that this image has hurt Palin and the Republican ticket, mostly because satire is often an exaggeration of the truth, and there is some truth to her image. Her lack luster interviews on the major news networks are the foundation of truth on which this satirical image rests. And on top of this, Palin appears to be not giving anymore interviews to the big three (“liberal elite”) networks (CBS, NBC, ABC), nor is she giving press conferences. It’s as if the McCain camp thinks Palin is an innocent little girl that needs to be protected from any adversarial situations. And thus the negative image is facilitated by her own party.

As if her negative media image were not enough, some prominent conservative voices are questioning her as the VP pick for the Republican party. For the last month and a half, one of those voices has been the much respected conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan. In Friday’s column, Noonan wrote:

Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic. People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S. Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.

But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.

Now, it should be noted that Peggy Noonan is the one time speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, so her conservatism is distinctively Reaganesque, contra the so called neo-conservatism of President George W. Bush and his cronies. The problem that Noonan and other conservative thinkers have with Palin is her seemingly lack of ideas, and her lack of philosophical grounding. Why does lowering taxes stimulate the economy? How does giving tax cuts to businesses create jobs? Or more foundational, what is the role of government? From what we’ve heard from Gov. Palin, we don’t know how she would answer any of these questions. But to be fair, the way politics has degraded so much in our country since Reagan, we don’t know how many of the big name politicians would answer these questions. We could guess based on how they vote or what party they belong to, but it’d be nice to hear the answers spelled out for us.

In the end, however, I don’t think Palin has hurt the McCain ticket as much as is believed. Palin has rallied the conservative base in a way McCain could have never done. And in that Palin may have helped McCain more than she has hurt. Let’s remember that McCain is no darling of mainstream Republicans, especially the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity. The more independently minded conservatives like Neal Boortz and Glenn Beck are no fans of McCain either. In fact, I would argue that McCain would be further behind Obama than he already is if it weren’t for Palin. He has a shot at the White House only because he picked her as VP. And in this, his pick was a good one; not a homerun, but it moved the runners into scoring position, so to speak.

If this election turns out in Obama’s favor, I’m thinking Palin could very well be at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016 or 2020. That is if she hasn’t been completely jaded by politics by then. She just needs to take her time and gain some much needed experience; perhaps serve a term or two as governor, then run for Senate. What makes a Palin run for the White House legitimate is how she rallies the conservative base of her party in a way McCain, Giuliani, and even Mike Huckabee (because of his fiscal policies) never could. If conservatives cannot rally around McCain when faced with the prospect of an Obama Presidency and a Democrat (at least) near majority in the House and Senate, then that says a lot about the current state of the Republican party. And just today, Colin Powell came out in support of Senator Obama. Couple that with negative attacks on Obama that wreak of desperation, and one starts to wonder if the wheels are coming off the McCain train.

As Peggy Noonan and others have asked, what happened to the party of Reagan? By the looks of the current Republican party, the era of strong leadership in the face of adversity are gone. All we are left with are mere politicians spewing shallow, self-serving sound bites at every turn. And this is a shame, because this is the time when America needs strong leadership the most.

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