Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Open Letter to Congressman McCaul, 10th District, Texas

I doubt you remember me, Congressman, but we did meet a few months ago when you came down to [my employer] with Congressman Smith. I tell you this so hopefully you'll realize that I'm a serious observer and I have been paying attention to what you've been doing up there on our behalf. I've reviewed your record, looking into past action. Congressman, you are a good and honorable public servant. And this coming from a man generally suspicious of government and politicians.
And let me just say that your recent action against the bailout bill was right. You did the right thing in voting it down. It's not just the price tag involved, although that is a major factor. If our Congress wishes to spend 700 billion dollars it does not have, let it send it to the people. Seriously, break it down for every American over 18 and send it out. That will solve the problems with solvency as much as giving it people who have proved their incompetence. More importantly, our government is not empowered by the constitution to take this action. No economic situation grants the Congress a power not enumerated in that document. Any bailout action is wrong, no matter the reasons or the fail-safes or guards. Let those institutions that have pushed themselves over the limit fail. It will hurt a lot of people, but all of us are on the line in this bailout and if the government goes insolvent, then it all comes crashing down. Not only that, but any bailout will only encourage further inappropriate and stupid action on the behalf of those institutions you are trying to help. And that will cost this country further pain.
Now is not the time for rash action. Now is not the time for extraordinary measures but extraordinary courage. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a man tied to public opinion to vote against a measure that so many call our only chance. But you must stay the course and show the leadership I know you are capable of showing and bring as many of your colleagues along with you as you can. We, the American People, need you and your colleagues to show courage in the face of hard times. We need you to be willing to risk your positions and vote down this bill once again. Keep it down. Kill it. Make it clear that government will not be stepping in and doing what it always does, throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away. We need real solutions, Congressman, not pretty promises and more debt to foreign countries. Or hadn't you noticed that bad debt is what got us into this situation in the first place?
Once you have killed this bill, we need more courage. We need someone, anyone, to stand up and start talking about what really caused this problem. You and those of your colleagues who have the courage need to talk about the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and its effects. Especially in how it was utilized by certain organizations and how it was enforced by regulatory agencies. We need people to stand up and talk about the actions of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae with their implicit government backing and control. We need to looking into the origins of the subprime mortgage market, how it was used, and why it was created. We need our leaders to talk about the effect of the mark-to-market rule which is causing banks to write down perfectly good loans as losses. We need our leadership to lead and admit the failings of Sarbanes-Oxley and how that piece of over-regulation has contributed to the current crises. These are the cause of our problems. We need brave Congressman and others willing to stand up and explain why this is not a failing of the free market and why this is the failing of the government to execute its powers correctly.
I am asking you, Congressman, please show some leadership this week. Don't follow an hysterical mass into more failure. Lead an intelligent and capable people out of this darkness. Have the courage to uncover and talk about the truth on this issue. Have the courage to lead your colleagues into making better decisions based around the facts and the truth. Have the courage to take hard truths to the American people. We can handle it. We can accept it. All you need to do is give us the chance.
I certainly hope that this reaches you, Congressman. I hope that you personally read this message and you consider what it says. I also wish to inform you that I have a personal site at where I will be posting this as an open letter.
My e-mail should be included on this message.
I remain your friend and supporter,
Charles Campbell

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Please, trouble me with too much freedom.

Here's another nice little quote from Franklin. He was asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention what had been wrought. “A republic, if you can keep it.”
I'm also going to borrow from Jefferson real quick. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences of too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it
Keep in mind also the quote from Franklin on liberty and security.
All three of these quotes can be seen as warnings from the two men most responsible for the philosophy and arguments that lead to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was advocating more freedom and liberty from a very young age, and Thomas Jefferson was the foremost legal mind of his time. It was his arguments on the nature of Law and the British government that provided the Colonies with their philosophical and legal legitimacy.
Mike tells us to consider the Constitution in full. The purpose of the Constitution was to bring the many States of America together into a stronger Federation to ease trade and provide for the common defense. It was not a philosophical document, as was the Declaration, it was a legal one. It gave the enumerated order under which the States would be United into a true Federation. This is one of the major reasons that when speaking philosophically on the nature and purpose of Government, I'm likely to fall back on the Declaration or other works by Jefferson (and sometimes John Locke, Jefferson's inspiration) and not the Constitution.
Now, here a few questions that should probably be answered. Just what do we mean by 'republic?' A republic, in it's most basic form, is a form of government where the deciding body is meant to provide representation of the society as a whole, and the individuals of that body are representing particular sections of that society. I'm sure that most people, right here, are wondering just how that might differ from democracy. In a democracy, all governmental decisions are done through the whole of the population of citizens. In ancient Athens (the only known pure democracy I can remember right now) this was done by calling a meeting of the Senate, in which the group was the first people there up to a certain number. Day to day functions were carried out by offices chosen by lottery. The other major difference between democracy and a republic is that in a republican government, the government provides a check against the passing desires of the people to help ensure that all laws passed are good for the current and future society. This necessitates that the government itself is controlled through some action so as to not aggregate power to a particular person or body, or to the government in general. A country can call itself a 'Republic' very easy. But only when the government is in constant check against power aggregation can it be said to be an accurate statement (I'm looking at you, China).
So, what then does Franklin mean when he says that a republic has been wrought if we can only hold on to it? Franklin's meaning is quite clear: do not trust the government to keep itself in check. Don't give it an inch, for it will take a hundred miles (and desire a light-year). Yes, I mean that even the smallest power given to the government for the sake of 'order' (or 'the good' or 'the children') will lead to an ever increasing aggregation of power at the expense of our freedoms.
This leads me to the quote from Franklin on freedom and security. Mike calls it 'one of the most foolish things he ever said', and argues that because an amount of security is necessary to provide for freedom (true) it only follows to reason that some freedom be 'trimmed' such that security can be provided. However, he misses Franklin's warning. The trading of essential freedom for security provides the government that inch it needs, and so the taking begins. I'll use an example to express my meaning: the registration of sex offenders.
Seems like a good idea, right? Let people know that there is a serial pedophile in the neighborhood so that the people can protect themselves and their children from his perverted ways. I'm going to ignore for the time being the illogic of releasing a person that is still such a danger to society and others that his freedoms must be restricted in such a fashion. This is about government expansion, not about government incompetence. It started with serial pedophiles. Then serial rapists (okay, still good...) had to register. Then came those convicted of a single rape (uh...). And now? Now we're threatening twelve year olds with being put on the lists without trial or conviction because they swatted a female classmate's butt in play.
Want another one? Let's talk taxes. The Sixteenth Amendment confirmed that Congress could tax income at it's discretion (Congress had already attempted to do so and got struck down by the Supreme Court) in 1913. Originally, it was a set, flat tax of 4% on all earnings over $4,000. I don't know all the steps involved, but by the 1970s we had top tax rates at over 80%, and even today we have a single volume of law that counts over 66,000 pages and is enforced by the largest single agency of the United States government. This agency is so powerful that it can operate completely separate from judicial oversight, needs provide no evidence to charge, investigate, and begin prosecution for tax evasion. Not only that, but if an agent of the IRS provides you with incorrect tax advice, you, the citizen, are held accountable and can still be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
How about welfare? The first welfare program (still in effect, anyway) was the Families with Dependent Children program. It was designed to provide extra money to widows of World War II servicemen who had children. Today? Entitlement speeding totals over 1.7 trillion dollars, or about 62% of the Federal budget of approximately 2.9 trillion dollars. (That figure includes Medicare and Social Security, which total around 1 trillion and make up the bulk. This wouldn't be nearly so bad if we actually had a SS trust fund the way we were promised back in the '30s.)
This is exactly what Franklin's dual warnings are all about. We're loosing our republic because we allow power aggregation for the 'good' and for 'order'. And as we loose the republic, or freedoms go with it.
And with our freedoms, our security.
Please, trouble me with too much freedom.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Freedom, Justice, and Order

This gets us into the prickly question of freedom. With the sole exception of anarchic libertarians, Conservative and Libertarians do agree on this premise. The primary function of government is to keep the peace, defend against foreign enemies and powers and maintaining justice. When the State goes beyond these, it falls into quickly difficulty, because not only it was not “designed” to cover the many facets of life, it is incompetent when it tries to do so. In fact, the more the State tries to shepherd, the less well it performs in its primary functions. So far, so good. Yet even here, our agreement is only on the surface.
History shows that Libertarians and Conservatives mean different things when speaking of peace, defense and justice. This is no small thing in itself—worth a book or two at least. It goes, however, even deeper than that. Toward what end are these tasks aimed? Assume our hypothetical government did its duty in keeping the peace, defending the realm, and upholding justice, exactly what is this State doing these for?
The Libertarian has no doubts what the answer is. The chief function of government should be to defend and protect his liberty. In fact, this is pretty much what the Libertarian believes is what the Constitution’s aim is all about.1
But, if one optimistically follows this notion to its logical ends, does it produce for a good and humane society? To put it somewhat sentimentally, what kind of world does it leave for our children and those who come after us?
Libertarian literature is paradoxical on this point. Many will respond to effect that it is not their burden to worry and be concerned for a good society nor should it be. Freedom is its own blessing and inheritance to our descendents. As we have flourished, our children will follow to their own maturity and harvest of their endeavors. A country of free men will in turn produce its own “good society” secured by the superior virtue of liberty.
This is certainly attractive; but it has something uneasy about it. At least to a Conservatives ears, to say that a good society strictly speaking is not a Libertarian’s obligation strikes of ingratitude at its worst or gullibility its at best. To ingratitude, what is it to depend of the blessings of one’s society or one’s government and then turn to say you owe it nothing? To gullibility, where in human history do we see this transmission of “Libertarian” liberty into a good, humane culture?
Libertarians typically return that this is where Conservatives misunderstand the Founding. What Conservatives consider abuse in fact is the very liberty the founders risked their lives and treasure. It is freedom’s privilege that the only morally valid obligations are those one choose’s for himself and by no other. The Libertarian believes the Constitution and the Founders were Libertarian in heart and soul—and to the extent their original intentions were carried out demonstrates liberty’s “invisible hand” in building “that most excellent empire”.
To say the least, Conservatives could not disagree more.
The assertion that the “Constitution and the Founders were Libertarian in heart and soul” is one Conservatives dismiss out of hand. If the Founders singular concern was liberty, the Articles of Confederation would have served quite well. Under its terms, America would indeed have a weak central government. But the Founders found the Articles deficient and the Philadelphia Convention (constitutional convention) was called. More was needed. In addition, Conservatives maintain that every individual is born with obligations and that the Founders could scarcely be thought to believe otherwise.
As one might expect, Conservatives object and counter that the Constitution was written and born of Conservative2 structure. It is not that Libertarians are totally wrong. It is that they do not see the Constitution and its conventions in full.
The first item to consider is the Preamble. The Preamble, the Constitution's r'aison d'etre, holds in its words the hopes and dreams of the delegates to the convention, a justification for what they had done:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility3, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare4, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity5, do ordain6 and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Founders had much more in mind that the single pursuit of liberty. The Constitution was written by several committees over the summer of 1787, but the committee most responsible for the final form we know today is the "Committee of Stile and Arrangement". This Committee was tasked with getting all of the articles and clauses agreed to by the Convention and putting them into a logical order. On September 10, 1787, the Committee of Style set to work, and two days later, it presented the Convention with its final draft. The members were Alexander Hamilton, William Johnson, Rufus King, James Madison, and Gouverneur Morris—men who had fundamental differences. The actual text of the Preamble and of much of the rest of this final draft is usually attributed to Gouverneur Morris.
Of these James Madison is commonly claimed to be a Libertarian. Even if for the sake of argument we stipulate this were true, Madison’s role as the “Father of the Constitution” is somewhat exaggerated7. Thomas Jefferson is also one claimed to be one of Libertarian’s own. Again, if for the sake of argument we stipulate this were true, Jefferson was not a Framer. He was not there at the Philadelphia Convention. Instead, he was out of the country serving as minister to France. While both Jefferson and Madison had a great affinity with one another, in must be noted that they worked in opposition to Hamilton and Washington—two men who were also prominent at the Philadelphia Convention.
But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. We will have more to say about the Founding later. But here I wish to return to our main subject of freedom, justice and order.
Be that as it may, a society must have three elements to be good, humane, and a nourishing of life. Those constituents are justice, order and freedom. Without each, no home can be called good. But among these three, order is the most important. This is so because without an endurable order justice and freedom soon will not exist. Without order, it can be said one can have the freedom of a fugitive or a savage can be said to have freedom. The fugitive always lives with the threat of discovery and the savage, while he hunts, always fears being the hunted. In either case, nothing is predictable or secure. To some, this is the epitome of adventure, but it counts as no freedom to those who wish to live in the open. Such “freedom” would truly be reduced to the Hobbesian “all against all” making life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
It is reliability certain that Benjamin Franklin is to have said “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. We can quibble about what the modifiers “essential” and “temporary” mean, but in the limited sense Franklin was quite correct. But in the main, it was one of the more foolish things he ever said. To make “freedom” the solitary absolute principle in our lives together undermines both justice and order. If we make “freedom” the whole end of our civil social order events will undo freedom itself. Indeed, to maintain such a “neat” “organizing” principle that determines all else does not describe men as they are and certainly is too inept to govern them.
Libertarians answer in kind stating that the Conservative insistence on “order” in fact opens the door for all sorts of mischief by the State. It may even serve as an open door for governmental sponsorship of Conservative mischief. Such a notion has been expressed to me in several ways without bringing Conservative nuisances into it. Some Libertarians have stated:
“By making freedom, justice and order important in deliberations it makes it so that none of them will determine anything.”8
It my limited experience, nothing will drive a libertarian to ire or drink (and sometimes both) as when it is said that the need for order may necessarily trim freedom’s sails in many instances. Part of the problem is with the word “order”. As it often appears, the word has a vaguely “Nazi” odor. In any event, for Libertarians, “order” doesn’t sound anything like minimal government.
It is not that there isn’t something to the Libertarians’ concern. “Order” without justice and freedom isn’t anything that recommends anything to anybody9. The Conservative answer is that it is by the collected wisdom, experience, and moral imagination that we keep order, justice and freedom in balance. Order, justice and freedom provide a three-point contact to which they may be balanced. Catholicism maintains that, in the realm of Christianity, three elements called revealed truth, reason and tradition form the basis for the rule of faith such as the three legs of a level and steady stool. Each in their measure supports the other. Don’t get caught up the citation from Catholic theology involved in the illustration. It is a mere example of the form of thought of what makes for a humane society. In balancing order, justice and freedom, freedom can be exercised at its fullest.
-Written by Crabby Apple Mike Lee
1 Although, it must be pointed out, nowhere in the actual text of the Constitution does it make any such claim.
2 The word “conservative” itself did not come into use until well into the 19th century.
3 One of the concerns of the Framers was that the government prior to that under the Constitution was unable, by force or persuasion, to quell rebellion or quarrels amongst the states. The government watched in horror as Shay's Rebellion transpired just before the Convention, and some states had very nearly gone to war with each other over territory (such as between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over Wilkes-Barre). One of the main goals of the Convention, then, was to ensure the federal government had powers to squash rebellion and to smooth tensions between states. The Anti-Federalists opposed the adoption of the Constitution precisely because they had sympathy for such revolts as the Whiskey Rebellion for which Washington would crush with disproportionate force with the army.
4 Welfare in today's context also means organized efforts on the part of public or private organizations to benefit the poor, or simply public assistance. Despite Liberal insistence, this is not the meaning of the word as used in the Constitution. By “general welfare” the Constitution was referring to the “commonweal”—the common good of all. Indeed, the “general welfare” was the culmination of everything that came before it - the whole point of having tranquility, justice, and defense was to promote the general welfare - to allow every state and every citizen of those states to benefit from what the government could provide. The framers looked forward to the expansion of land holdings, industry, and investment, and they knew that a strong national government would be the beginning of that.
5 By this, the Founders meant future generations.
6 To order by or as if by decree, from the Latin; ordinaire, to organize
7 Even the “Bill of Rights” owes more to George Mason’s “Virginia Declaration of Rights” as well as the original “English Bill of Rights” than to James Madison. No small part is owed to Patrick Henry and his insistence that he would not sign the Constitution unless a “bill of right” was included.
8 From personal correspondence with self-identified libertarian
9 According to C.S.Lewis, in the human world of “masters” and “slaves”, some men are indeed only fit to be slaves. But no man is fit to be a master to another.
See for a Constitutional directory.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A little more on inherent rights

“A bill of rights is what the people need against every government.” Three guess who said that. Yeah, I know you'll get the answer in two lines, but stop reading and take a guess or three.
It was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Deceleration of independence and original Republican (Those who we would now call Federalist, but opposed the Constitution until amended, and thus labeled by their opponents and history as Anti-Federalists. This only proves that historians do not appreciate irony.).
Two quick points. Jefferson's state, Virgina, was the first State to ever publish a bill of rights, and the first State to ever adopt a written constitution. And when I say first State, I mean exactly that. In the whole of human history, no government had ever before adopted a written constitution nor a bill of rights.
Second, doesn't that statement just scream inherent rights for you? Does a 'bill of rights' grant you rights, or does it protect them?
I think that Jefferson's position is clear.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Political Alignment

In my introduction, I talked about the fact that I feel the left versus right meta concept that pervades current political discussion is inadequate. And the main focus is on left versus right, even though these terms are generally undefined and don't provide for a good, solid understanding of someone's general political stance. I think a new system is in order, and it will be one I will be using in the future. First though, let me be clear about something. I am not making this alignment system up out of whole cloth. It is very similar to the political compass found at The Advocates for Self Government. A quick plug, take their test and see where you show up. It will be close to the system I'm about to outline below.
The other influence on this system comes from the original fantasy role playing game, none other than Dungeon and Dragons. In D&D characters have a moral/social alignment system that runs on two axises, Good versus Evil, and Lawful versus Chaotic. I'm not going to outline their system here, suffice to say that each axis has three 'settings'. These are 'Good, Neutral, and Evil' and 'Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic'. This makes for nine possible alignments, and gives any player a good, if rough, idea of how their character approaches moral choices.
Therefore, I suggest a similar approach to determine a person's political alignment. In this system, we're actually going to separate social views from governmental views, allowing us to closely examine someones over-all political ideals. Again, I'm going to use two axises, one for social views and one for governmental. Each axis will have three settings. The social axis is 'Conservative, Moderate, and Liberal' while the governmental axis will be 'Libertarian, Moderate, and Progressive'. For maximum precision, we should define these terms.
Libertarians are those who believe in small government, under correct Federalist structure. They will be strong supports of individual and state's rights. They will believe that the maximum amount of freedom comes when the state is as uninvolved as possible, and will general look to private action to handle most, if not all, of society's needs.
Progressives are those who believe that correct government policy can create for a better society. They will support large, intrusive government which makes many decisions. They will be strong supports of the federal over state and local government, and will generally believe that government is the only reasonable way to provide for society's needs.
Conservatives will believe in maintaining traditional values and institutions. They will tend towards being religious, and believe in strong religious institutions to provide for a stable society. They will also take the view of Man as a flawed creature, born into imperfection and thus needing strong social structure to curb man's greater tendencies to harm each other.
Liberals will support the use of reason and thought over traditional values and institutions. They will tend towards the secular, and will generally view religious organizations as suspect if not down-right dangerous. They will view Man as being born perfect, and that it is social values being impressed upon this otherwise perfect being being the source of man's troubles.
Moderates along either axis will have attributes of both in some mix. For purposes of ease, I will always put moderate first if someone falls along those lines, and refer to someone who is moderate on both axises as 'total moderate'. Otherwise, I will put the social alignment before the governmental.
As I have said before, I would self identify on this system as a conservative-libertarian. Though not particularly religious, I do believe that strong social structure provides for a better society, that Man is inherently flawed, and that religious institutions have a place in society. I also believe that our government should be primarily in the realm of the individual, and in a proper Federalist structure with strict adherence of the enumerated powers as listed in the Constitution.
So, what about some famous politicians? I'll do the presidential candidates:
John McCain – Moderate-Conservative. Sen. McCain has always spoken as a religious, if not particularly devout, man. He's generally supported conservative social positions and has a consistent voting record to support that. He's often spoken as being a Federalist, and has often supported positions and actions that would confirm this. He usually suggests that some things belong with States, and that the Federal government shouldn't get involved. However, he has also supported laws and actions that increase the influence and power of the government, and tends to speak and act as though government can create for a better society. While I think he does lean towards the Libertarian stance, he's still a little too Progressive to really count.
Barak Obama – Liberal-Progressive. Sen. Obama also tends to speak as a man of faith, but his record and actions suggest that he doesn't allow his faith to influence his political views. With support of increased abortion freedom, same sex marriage, and many other similar positions he demonstrates a weak, if non-existent, support for traditional social structure. As a supporter of greater welfare, Medicade, Medicare, and Social Security spending, coupled with an increase involvement of government in energy production and over-all higher taxes (especially on business and capital), he is clearly a Progressive.

If you disagree with these, let me know. I know the system has its flaws. For one, the terms could be unwieldy, especially in spoken conversation. However, it is precise, and precision is my goal here. So, tell me, do you think my identification of the presidential candidates is wrong? If so, please tell me why, and tell me where you think they would fall on this two-axis system.

The Politics of Marriage

Last night's forum asked both candidates for President to define 'marriage'. A good question, and the definition of such has been a major contention of debate here in the United States for some years now. It mostly centers around the question of the 'right' to get married, and why such a 'right' is denied to those of homosexual persuasion. Some have claimed homosexuality to be a life-style choice, and use this as a justification to argue against same-sex marriage. I'm not going to be discussing homosexuality at all, so I'm not going to go into any further depth. For the purpose of this post, sexual attraction as being preset or a choice is irrelevant.
The simple fact is, you do not have an inherent right to get 'married'. By the same token, the State has no business granting or denying marriage licenses. This whole argument is going to be about semantics, but I will also tell you that the whole political debate on marriage is about semantics. And dealing with the specific question of marriage in America is nearly impossible to make an easy determination about what constitutes a 'traditional' marriage because the institution of marriage throughout history has gone through many permutations and changes. And it's impossible to pin down what exactly might be the best way to determine how we should approach this issue, at least with a low-level research of the subject. History is so filled with conflicts and changes on the subject, that one can simply pick and choose the facts one wants to support their arguments. So I say, toss history, or at very least, remember the traditions and use some proper reason.
Here are some things we can know. Christian tradition and doctrine has a great deal to say about marriage, including the definition of such as being a union between man and woman before the eyes of God. I've stated before that inherent rights are the gift of our Creator and it would stand to reason that if Christian doctrine defines marriage as a union between man and women before God, then we should have the inherent right to marriage. Well, yes, but only if one assumes the Christian tradition as the final word on all things Divine. I do not confuse the Church with the Divine. The church is still man-made organization (even if it is divinely inspired, it is not divinely run). Along with the traditions found in most religions supporting marriage, we can safely put marriage as a mostly religious institution. This is not to deny the tradition and evidence of it being a social and civil institution in the past, but it is important to realize past influence of religion on civil society, and to understand that it is only after the Enlightenment that civil government and religious influence began to truly separate. Indeed, it appears that most of the earliest marriage laws in America, passed in the 19th century, were primarily designed to prevent interracial marriage, and not to sanctify the practice.
At this point, let me be clear what inherent right you do have. You do have the inherent right to form a union of mutual commitment with whomever you choose. The government has the responsibility to recognize this union. This also includes the right to enter into polygamous or polyandrous committed unions. And yes, I'm using committed unions in place of the term civil unions. A civil union is recognized by the government, the ruling civil authority. Where the real question comes in is what interest the government might have in such things. The answer is very little. Government has no role of society, let alone determining the relationships of the individual. It's only question comes in taxation, and it can set its rules as it desires there.
Now, I said this was going to be all about semantics. And it has been. Marriage is the holy union of a man and a woman before God, and thus the realm of the Church and not the government. Civil unions are the place of the government. It is not up to the government to determine with whom you can or cannot form such a union. That determination is your right, and the government's job is to protect that right, not regulate it. And as long as the government continues to push itself in where it shouldn't be, namely in granting marriage licenses, then it will continue to either destroy a traditional institution or create a dual level of citizenship, where on group (homosexuals, in this case) will not be have the same rights as another group. And we do have a word for this, it's called discrimination.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency: First Impressions

Okay, so it's another current events post. But this is important. This article assumes that you have watched the forum or have read a transcript. I think it's understandable without having done so, but having watched the forum will provide a better understanding.

First, some general observations on the format. I loved this format. It provided clear contrast between Sens Obama and McCain, and the extra time provided to each candidate really gave us a clear insight into each one. We need more forums like this. Not necessarily before religious congregations, but in a plethora of venues. Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with questions that were over-all neutral. Maybe not in the particulars, some questions were better for one than the other, but over-all, it was a fair and honest attempt to provide the candidates with time and space to express themselves.
Second, who did better? Over-all, I think that Sen. McCain did a great deal better. If we want to talk about a winner as in a normal debate, Sen. McCain would be it. This will be clear as I move into the direct contrast in answers.

General contrast:

Both candidates seemed very relaxed, got several laugh and applause lines, had a good chemistry with the moderating pastor, and gave good answers most of the time. It should be obvious by now that McCain is very comfortable in forums where he is being surprised by questions and is more free-form. It should also be just as obvious that Sen. Obama is not as comfortable in these forums as he is with more set-piece engagements. At no point has this contrast between the two candidates been more clear. Sen. Obama gave 'filler words' on almost every question, lots of 'uh' and 'um' as he was thinking about how to answer the question. Sen. McCain gave a few of these as well, but not nearly as many. And while Sen. Obama paused after almost every question, Sen. McCain answered quickly, occasionally even before Pastor Warren had finished his question. And I also think that Sen. McCain's answers were, generally, far more direct and straight forward than Sen. Obama's. Sen. Obama seemed to want to answer with a great deal of straddling, trying to express a desire to hear or consider 'both' sides of an issue. Sen. McCain, on the other hand, often answered with direct 'yes' or 'no' answers, then backed those up with reasoning and anecdotes.

I think that we can draw some important conclusions from this general contrast. These statements are my observations on thinking based off of observing the behavior in this forum; I do not claim to speak for, or know the actual thinking of, either of the Senators. What I see is one Senator, McCain, who knows what he believes in and will govern from that philosophy, and one Senator, Obama, who isn't so assured of what he believes and will rely more on advice and reason than on centered ideals.

Now for some specific contrasts:

First, on the question of the definition of marriage. Both senators gave the same definition, between a man and a woman, and also made it clear that rights shouldn't be denied to homosexuals. Neither candidate specifically mentioned this group, but we all know that it was to whom they referred. They were speaking, of course, about the right to form civil unions or legal contracts. However, the major contrast to me is in their choice of words. Sen. Obama said that he is secure enough in his faith and marriage to 'afford those rights' to others. Sen. McCain, on the other hand, said that they have these rights and shouldn't be denied. I cannot stress how important this difference is. While it might seem that the difference is simply semantic, or choice of words, it does make for a serious look into the thinking of the candidates. Both of these men are politicians, they are the deciding force in our government. Which would you rather have? A politician who recognizes your rights as existent, or one who is 'willing' to provide them?
When it came to the question on the existence of evil and what should be done, I think both candidates provided solid, well reasoned, and well spoken answers. I also think that both candidates could learn a little from the answer of the other. Sen. Obama gave some good specific examples, such as referencing the current genocide in Darfur, but he also talked about the evil occurring right here in the United States. I think this was a good answer overall, especially considering the evil committed here in the US. However, McCain did make a transcendent moment. Again, with a straight forward answer he said 'Defeat it.' and paused for the applause. He then followed this up with a discussion of Al Qaeda and Islamic Fundamentalism. While not quite an Evil Empire statement a la President Reagen, it was still more than President Bush has really done and defined the Islamic Fundamentalist movement overall as an evil movement. We need more politicians in this country and internationally willing to do this.
Both candidates gave some pretty standard answers about taxes and the rich from an ideology/party stand point. Sen. Obama did define rich as anyone making over $250,000, and stated that he feels the tax code should be used to create a fair, balanced income status. This is standard Democrat fare. Sen. McCain refused to actually define 'rich' from an income standpoint. He made a good point about small businessmen and women working 16 hours a day and some (probably a reference to Sen. Obama) would consider rich. He also said that he doesn't want to raise anyones taxes, and what's really important is lowering government spending. While as Sen. Obama tried to justify higher taxes by talking about schools and roads and other such things, Sen. McCain made clear that spending is the problem by talking about a couple of pork-barrel spending items. Also, while I don't think Sen. Obama gave any 'gaffes' in his answer here, I do think Sen. McCain made a gaff when said 'five million' would be a good number. He clarified his remark well, by first saying that we cannot really give an income value to the term 'rich'. But this answer will be used against him.
When Pastor Warren asked about Supreme Court justices was a defining moment in the forum. Obama talked about Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts. He claimed that Thomas was not sufficiently experienced for the position, not a strong enough thinker and jurist at the time of his nomination. He might be right here as I am not aware enough of Justice Thomas to argue against it, but I think Charles Krauthammer of Fox News gave a good point when he said Sen. Obama should not be talking about experience needed for high office. However, his objections to Justices Scalia and Roberts were specifically political, and in their view of the role of government. Sen. McCain spoke specifically against all four of the Justices generally called 'Liberal' and the current court. However, he backed this up with good reasoning. He stated that the Justices should be nominated and confirmed based on their Constitutional views, and specifically on the strict interpretation of the Constitution. Here, he is absolutely correct. An odd statement from Obama was when he said that the Court's primary function is to protect the Courts and Legislator from Executive encroachment. He's kind of correct here, but misses the point. What about the Court protecting the people from Government encroachment of individual rights?
Finally, I want to talk about their answer to their great moral failures and America's. Sen. Obama provided, for himself, a fairly 'light' answer about drug and alcohol use. He justified this answer talking about selfishness and how it lead him astray for a true moral path. I call this a light answer because, while honest, I think that he could find a better answer and provided a more introspective, and less well reported, failing. Perhaps even a couple of things he should admit to be failings, but hasn't as yet? Sen. McCain stated the failing of his first marriage was his greatest moral failure. Considering that this man has admitting to providing the North Vietnamese at least some American secrets while being tortured, this was such an honest and wonderful answer that I almost cried. I myself am a divorcée and can agree with him here. He also didn't provide any excuses for his actions. The answers on America's moral failings were even more illuminating. Sen. Obama talked about a failure to support those who are in lower incomes, and called this a failure because he suggested that equal opportunity isn't there. Facts do not support this conclusion, as most people and families in this country move quickly from the lower income levels to at least middle, if not upper, incomes over time. Sen. McCain talked about a failure to engage in issues greater than our own self-interest. I think we was talking both about us as individuals (a common theme with Sen. McCain) as well as the United States taking action in some cases where the government felt our national interest was involved while not taking action in other, similar situations where the government did not feel our national interest was at stake.

Defining Moments, and not necessarily good ones:

Actually, it was talking on the same issue, if not the same question, where I felt both candidates had their defining moments of this forum. I think that for Sen. McCain, his moment was positive, but for Sen. Obama it was negative. The issue was energy, but again, it was at different questions.

For Sen. McCain, it came when asked about a position held ten years ago but now abandoned. For McCain, he immediately said 'Off-shore Drilling'. His total answer was why it was defining, but it was using this question to provide it that makes it so positive. Because he both admits to it being a change, and because he makes it clear that it's a change of understanding rather than being a political move. And his follow-up, expanding on off-shore drilling and general energy policy. Explore every option, move forward on all fronts, and provide the United States with more energy, and cleaner energy. He also made a good point that off-shore drilling is a national security issue. Replacing possible domestic sources with foreign sources causes a large amount of American capitol to be moved off-shore, and often to countries that are ideologically, politically, or morally dangerous to the United States. Sen. McCain's statements here were spot on, well delivered, and had evident passion.

For Sen. Obama, it came with his very last question. He was asked what he would say if there were no repercussions. Sen. Obama gave a long winded answer, talking about getting everyone together and making sacrifices to create a more energy-efficient economy. This man really just doesn't get how dangerous these kinds of statements can be. America is about freedom. I'm not opposed to sacrificing for others, for the greater good, or for freedom. But government mandated energy conservation is an attack on freedom. Every American individual and business has the self-interest in conserving as much energy as possible for simple economic reasons. We don't need our government coming in and rationing energy use, which is precisely what any government mandated attempts to greater conservation. However, I do think that Sen. Obama's statements to the previous question about what to tell people opposed to the venue (a religious congregation) were pretty good. Especially when he talked about the forum being necessary to provide better insight into the candidates, and his knock against negative politics was brilliant.

There was so much to this forum, that I couldn't hope to cover all of it. I seriously hope that we see more of these both in this election, and in future ones.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Children Of The Enlightenment

To set all this in a larger context a few words about Conservatism might be useful. It is often said that Conservatism is about maintaining the status quo or even a return to the past. This can be true but it misses the point. We are all children of the Enlightenment and all but the very few wish to erase the Enlightenment and forgo its benefits. Nevertheless, Conservatism arose as a response to what it saw as the excesses of the Enlightenment1. This sometimes results in it being saddled that unfortunate title “The Counter-Enlightenment”—something on the model of The Reformation and The Counter-Reformation.
Conservatism sees Libertarianism as a direct descendant of some of those excesses. While we often agree on a host of challenges from the Left, much of the time it for different reasons. In the last century, we generally have had friendly relations but sometimes we get impatient with each other.
It is said Conservatism has a “tragic” view of the human condition. That is to say that human nature is not malleable. The Left has a quasi-utopian impulse in which under the right “conditions” they believe man can and will change and a more perfect society will emerge. They believe that these visions of a more perfect society by themselves give them the mandate to command change—often in spite of the wishes of their own countrymen. This is highly dangerous and ultimately inhumane. As the 20th century well shows, the road to the “perfect society” is paved with the skulls of millions. As cruel as these “reformers” were, all believed reason and history were on their side.
It is said Conservatism is the politics of reflection, experience and prudence. Society simply doesn’t just happen as Liberals assume. They grow organically often taking considerable time. The Conservative “project” is not a perfect society but a more humane one. It is a task of preserving the hard won wisdom, nourish that in which men and women can flourish without destroying the “glue” that holds society together. Liberty, as great as it is, is simply not enough to bind a people to together. Seen in another way, Conservatives depend on the experience built across generations to preserve what has worked and discourage what has damaged actual human beings. This calls for judgment and caution. Men of good will may disagree. But we must remind ourselves that we are only fallible people. Like Jesus’ parable of the man contemplating the costs of building a tower, we must ask ourselves just how much “justice” we can afford.
Tradition is a much sounder foundation than 'metaphysical abstractions.' Tradition draws on the wisdom of many generations and the tests of time, while "reason" may be a mask for the preferences of one man, and at best represents only the untested wisdom of one generation. Any existing value or institution that has undergone the correcting influence of past experience and ought to be respected. Man is unable to understand the many ways in which inherited behaviors influence their thinking, so trying to judge society “objectively” is futile and potentially treacherous.
However, Conservatives do not reject change. As Burke wrote, "A State without the means of change is without the means of its Conservation2." But they insist that further change be organic, rather than revolutionary. An attempt to modify the complex web of human interactions that form human society, for the sake of some doctrine or theory, runs the risk of running afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences. Burke advocates vigilance against the possibility of moral hazards. For Conservatives, human society is something rooted and organic; to try to prune and shape it according to the plans of an ideologue is to invite unforeseen disaster.
-Written by Crabby Apple Mike Lee
1 This is important to note. Conservatism—especially Anglo-American Conservatism—arose out of the Enlightenment rather than existing prior to the Enlightenment
2 Often quoted as saying “A government unable to change will soon be a government unable to govern.”
-A quick note from Charles: As I cannot disagree with most of what Mike say's here, I will not be posting a response. Stay tuned, Debators. And join in!

Political Morality

After asserting that we should not attempt to legislate morality, it probably seems odd that I would speak about anything which I would define as 'political morality'. Perhaps I would do better to state that we should not attempt to legislate personal morality. And the reason that I say this is because the attempt to legislate personal morality creates heavy restrictions upon the individual in the name of the State (or the people, take your pick).
Political morality, on the other hand, takes into consideration the actions under which a government can still be considered a good, liberal government.1 I submit for consideration a simple means by which we can make this determination. A good, liberal government passes laws and enforces them in such a way as to provide for the greatest level of individual freedom while still protecting the individual's inherent rights.
It is under this consideration that I make the following statement:
“[I] would stand between the rapist and his victim ready to fight, kill, or die as needed. Our willingness to accept this action as right and just is what makes the laws against rape moral in the political sense. This same argument can be used to justify the laws against murder, theft, fraud, and many others. We cannot give onto the State the power to do things that we will not do as individuals and call ourselves a just society.”
To make clear the reasoning here I will go from a to d. A: The rapist has no inherent right to commit his action, but the victim has the right not to be violated. B: Defending a rapist against his victim protects the individual's inherent right against violent attack. C: Therefore, defending the victim is a just act. D: Because the individual has the inherent right not to be violated, the laws against rape are also just.
Now, lets talk about vigilantism versus policing power. As I stated in Rights in Conflict, one of the primary functions of government is to provide a neutral arbitrator when rights come into conflict. This naturally assumes that policing power of government is generally preferable over vigilantism as mediator of justice. This only works, however, as long as that government continues to work in such a way that protects the inherent rights of all. The very danger of vigilantism is as Mike has put it, that it will bring innocents into the conflict and become a matter of revenge versus a matter of justice. It is protecting 'kith and kin', as Mike puts it, that allows for a government to provide for a free and secure society and insure that individuals, and only those individuals, are held responsible for individual action.
And again, I will say that none of these arguments work well against the availability of abortion. Let me try and sum up my whole problem with the abortion debate. First, I find abortion morally indefensible. There can be no more innocent or defenseless life than that of the unborn. My problem with legislating against abortion, however, is when it comes with the State trying to assert itself as de-facto decider of the unborn. A blanket law against abortion provides the State with the power to determine if a particular woman will bring her child to term. Considering the general tendency for government to expand its powers (more on this later) then how long before the government decides it can order life to be created? When the ability becomes available, what is to stop the government from deciding that the life created must follow particular ideals? Our government already states we must buckle our seat-belts to protect ourselves. What's to stop them, once in conjunction with right to determine the fate of possible future citizens, to tell all parents that they must remove all genetic markers for the tendency towards obesity? Or homosexuality? Or aggressiveness? All of these would be 'good' things and would protects us, wouldn't they? Yes, all of these traits are influenced, though not completely controlled, by genetics.
While this argument may seem fantastical or paranoid, consider this: government power rarely decreases. Our government already attempts multiple laws for 'our own good'. The technology already exists to change the genome of a eucaryotic cell. The human genome has been mapped and new genes are being identified at a quick pace. The US court system has already provided mixed results on your rights over your own tissues and genetics (see Really, how paranoid am I to worry about the government asserting its power over the unborn?
1. Liberal government here is used as a government that supports basic freedom and expression, this is not a reference to the Liberal political ideology.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

“Authority Exchange?”

You make a curious, related Statement (forgive me for saying so) I find nearly opaque:
“To return to my example, I have no doubts Mike that you, as I, would stand between the rapist and his victim ready to fight, kill, or die as needed. Our willingness to accept this action as right and just is what makes the laws against rape moral in the political sense. This same argument can be used to justify the laws against murder, theft, fraud, and many others. We cannot give onto the State the power to do things that we will not do as individuals and call ourselves a just society.”
By this I take it that if presumably we would not stand in the way of the unfortunately raped girl, then we should not ask the State to do what we would not do ourselves. Where does this notion come from? It is not at all established that the State must follow one individual’s example. Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept this principle, which individual or hosts of individuals is the State to take its dictates? Even in relatively small populations this is unworkable. Plus, if I were you, I wouldn’t be so sure to think what I or someone else would do. But more importantly, I believe Libertarians may be misconceiving the dynamics on the ground.
In fact, we demand the State to do all sorts of things we cannot or will not for a variety of reasons do ourselves. We often charge the State with police powers to act as the presumed authority to impose due process in place of vigilantism. Vigilantism is a real hazard and destructive to society; yet citizens often resort to acting outside the law when the State cannot or will not impose order during grave frictions among fellow citizens.
Well, the police can’t be everywhere, so absent the gendarmes, would I assert my brute strength and stand in the way of our hypothetical rape victim? No, but not for the reasons you might imagine.

Societies of Law and Societies of Vendetta

I would not do so for the respect of the “rule of law”. The rule of law is an inheritance from the days of the Roman Republic. It is largely true Rome’s observance of this principle was spotty at best. Yet the idea comes down to us. Before, justice was a matter of vendetta and blood feud. Insults and injuries to a family were settled by vengeance—an act which may come immediately or (worse) plotted to take place in the open future. Of course, this often meant weaker individuals and families (it has to be remembered crimes against one person also meant a crime against kith and kin.) could not take even this justice. This also meant that vendettas jeopardized peaceful transactions and community trust for one another as both friends and associates may find themselves unintentionally under the umbrella of vengeance.
The rule of law meant the transfer of seeking justice and vindication to the State in a variety of judgeships. This held individuals responsible rather than kith and kin. It provided for the exoneration of the innocent. It also put in safeguards that punishment was meted out so that the guilty are punished no more than they deserved. The key is that the actions of all parties were placed under restraint in submission to civil authority.
Under our system of the rule of law, the young woman may proceed to her transgression under the protections of the State under our current liberalized circumstances. As the Pro-Life community presses on to persuade and convince the majority of its case, someday this may not be the case. Until that time, the Pro-life community is bound to the societal moral duty of restraint.1 Under the regime of vendetta, on the other hand, this same young woman will be bound to honor the customs of her fellow tribal members. Should she fail to honor those expectations she may be held captive. But if she indeed was allowed to walk the path leading to the “Satanic Mill”, in vendetta she could well find her abortionist swinging hanged at the nearest tall tree.
-Written by Crabby Apple Mike Lee
1 This is a hard devil’s bargain for the Pro-Life community. Restraint from civil violence sometimes leads to slurs from the Pro-Choice folk to the effect that if abortion really is the equivalent to the Holocaust then how come Pro-Lifers don’t do something decisive about it? This, of course, is a rude accusation of hypocrisy. But it is the judgment of the Pro-Life movement that failing to preserve a civil society poses a much greater threat. In edition, no forum will emerge out of chaos and disorder to make their case. “Decisive” action simply isn’t on the table.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So, now I'm steamed

It is my full intention to not include a whole lot of discussion about current events and issues in this blog. This blog is a lot more about political and governing philosophy, and how to apply it, than it is about any particular issue or event. But I came across an article, written by John Heilemann, in New York Magazine that just got me so livid I felt I had to say something about it. I'll leave it up to you to read the article, but the basic premise is that Barack Obama has yet to pull forward in the polls due to racism in this country.
Now, I'm not about to say that racism is completely gone from this country. I'm also not about to suggest that Sen. Obama isn't losing some votes to those who simply will not vote for a black man. I will however suggest that this lose is not significant, because the vast majority of this country no longer cares all that much about race.
The simple fact is that even while racism was systemic, many everyday people (those not in charge) were far less concerned about such things. When your primary concern is on making a good living however you can, you'll find a lot less time and energy for worrying about things like a person's color. And in these days, most of us work with people of different races, attend schools and churches, and live in communities which are heterogeneous. These conditions destroy the ignorance of others that breeds racism. Not to mention that we are now half-way through the third generation sense Dr. Kings landmark 'I have a dream' speech. The majority of voters today have grown up in a world where racism is seen for the evil that it is, and thus do not think in this fashion.
Now, Heilemann does provide a few statistics and anecdotal ideas to defend his claims. They ring hollow for a couple of reasons. First, I will postulate (without any evidence being collected, it is impossible for me to provide any) that a significant portion of Sen. Obama's black supporters are going to be voting for him simply because he is a black man. I will also postulate that for every white vote Sen. Obama looses because he is black, he is gaining another for exactly the same reason.
Now, I am not going to delve into the rest of Heilemann's article, where he argues that some Republican advertisements have held coded references to Sen. Obama's race to heighten this effect. However, once again we are seeing a pundit choosing to simply lie about the effect of a non-issue because he is afraid to consider the governing philosophy being espoused.

A quick note on race

As my next post will be dealing with an issue surround race, I wanted to quickly put up a couple of things about how I feel on the whole 'race issue' currently in this country.

Now, I consider myself basically color-blind. White, black, yellow, red, blue, or purple... it really makes no difference to me. And yes, I'm aware that we have yet to discover any people who could be considered blue or purple. I'm using those words to make a point.
What should be important about a person is that quality that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made clear in his now famous speech. It should be about action, content of heart, and how one treats fellow people, not about the color of their skin.
With that being said, I hold no appreciation for the politically correct terms of hyphenated-Americans. Unless someone has personally emigrated to the United States, they are an American. The birth land of their ancestors doesn't change this in any fashion.
I'm also not trying to suggest that one shouldn't be proud of their heritage. I'm rather proud of my Celtic and Native heritage both, but you'll never find me referring to myself as either Celtic-American or Native-American (even though I have enough Chickasaw blood to receive Federal funds). I see no reason to refer to people by one of these terms. Nor do I mean any disrespect to anyone by not using them. Outside of this post and any quotes I may use, don't expect to see those words in my posting.

Freedom and Security

In my last post, I put up a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Actually, it was a slightly paraphrased quote of his. Franklin's original quote goes 'They who give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.' Although the quote I gave before adds to this concept, I don't think it detracts from the original meaning. And indeed, this idea is also central to the American debate.
Safety, or security, is the natural desire of all people. Indeed, every living thing has a desire for safety so that it can feed and reproduce in peace. I even said on many occasions that providing for a safe society is the primary function of government. So then, if safety is necessary for a free society, why would it seem that one would give up any freedom to increase security?
This question becomes very important, especially in times of war. Actions taken by the Bush Administration after the attacks of 9/11, while hardly measuring high against actions taken by previous presidents, pushed this question to the fore front of the American debate. The NSA's wiretapping program, when brought to light, made many people question if an essential liberty, of privacy, had been sacrificed for greater security. But why did it not occur to people to question other essential liberties that have been sacrificed in the name of security?
I'm not going to go into a discussion of the NSA wiretapping program. I'm doing this for two reasons. First, the long-range impact of the program is still being seen and it's best to consider these things after the fact. Second, while I disagree with the action itself, I fully understand the reasons why it was done, and accept them as valid.
No, instead I'm going to discuss other things where essential liberties have been taken from the American public in the name of greater security. Lets take the essential liberty of freedom of movement. While our government currently makes no pretext to try and prevent you from living or working where you choose, it does attempt to limit your freedom of movement. Consider what our government calls your 'driving privileges'. What should be a basic right so that you may practice your freedom of movement, to do your business when, where, and how you choose, has already been co-opted by our government and instead they've managed to convince all of us that this right is instead a privilege simply because our constitution, written long before the invention of the automobile, doesn't recognize it as it does other rights, such as speech.
First, it becomes a privilege. Then arbitrary requirements are set forth so as to control it. This isn't an argument against licensing per se, but rather the requirements of insurance and registration of vehicles. The only valid argument for registration of vehicles is to provide for proof of ownership, and this can be done easily through the dealer. There's no need for government involvement. This is also not to say that government cannot provide for general traffic-control laws, but rather that slavish enforcement and their use for fund raising constitutes an abuse of power.
And I'll be doing a whole post about the abuses that constitute the War on Drugs. For now, take some time to consider how or government is taking more and more liberty with our freedoms. And all in the name of our security. Come to your own conclusions, then remember those conclusions when you here someone talking about doing something for our 'security'.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Operative Principles

While Mike may not have been attempting to do so, he did hit upon the major theme of my blog. This blog is exactly about operative principles. What is the principle under which our government (or more accurately, elected and appointed officials) functions? Is this principle correct? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
As I should have made clear in earlier posts, I contend that there are major ideas present within the political debate that are based on false premise. The major one of these being the idea of constitutional rights. Mike is mostly correct that my first operative principle is that freedom only comes with a lack of restraint from the State. He is close to being correct. Freedom only comes when the State maintains its correct role, in preserving freedom and not attempting to control it. Am I wrong to think this way? Am I misinterpreting Franklin's idea? “Any society which trades a little Freedom, for a little Security, would lose both and deserve neither.” I think, in fact, that this principle is also the very idea upon which this country was founded. And I would like to see some solid evidence to suggest that our Founding Fathers thought otherwise.
Now, Mike also suggests that my second operative principle is an 'almost pacifist response' to the use of violence. Here, he is totally incorrect. I have a moral repulsion against the use of violence, which is not the same thing. I understand the need for violent action. But it is the States responsibility to ensure that it uses this action only to ensure that the maximum number of people are able to practice their inherent rights as is possible. This naturally leads to the idea that the State should be as restricted and limited as possible, because when the state attempts to order the lives of its people, then it becomes detrimental to the practice of inherent rights.
Conservatives often use the 'slippery slope' argument. The idea being that if we accept what seems a small concession, then that concession will be used to justify a larger one, and then a larger one. Do they never stop and see how this in turn can be used against their positions? I ask them, where do we draw the line? What level of government involvement is correct? I know my answer, it is is minimal. I'm not saying this simply as a matter of personal belief. This is based off of the writings of our Founders and the Constitution itself.
Oh, and to Mike's Conservative 'anthropology'. I don't disagree with you. Evil, violence, and war are not aberrations of human behavior. Were we diverge is our understanding of government. The power of government is going to be a natural attractor to those whom would abuse that power and this would result in evil, violence, and war. Most importantly, because these people, attracted to and corrupted by the natural power of government, have the ability to influence the lives of millions of people... should we not want our government as restricted as possible?
To conclude:
This all started around the subject of abortion. And I will be the first person to acknowledge that my arguments can easily be used to further the idea that the law of this country should be anti-abortion. How better to support the idea of inherent rights than to ensure them for the unborn? I cannot argue against this. I'm very ambivalent about abortion. As a practice it abhors me. I cannot imagine a more brutal act of savagery other than perhaps child-rape. And yet, there is my practical side that acknowledges that sometimes it is necessary. Just as I acknowledge the need for violent action by the State, I acknowledge the need for people to make their own choices, even when I think that choice would be morally wrong.
Also, I am currently working on researching the history of anti-abortion laws in this country. I recently came across an article that suggested that they were not what they are sometimes suggested to be. After my research is complete, I will be posting.

Legislation and Morality

Okay, so I'm taking to long to respond. I do apologize for this, and will try to do better in the future.
So, on to the response....
While it is true that our governments consistently attempt to legislate moral code, the center point of my statement is not if it is possible to legislate morality, but if we should. Perhaps I would have done better to say we shouldn't legislate morality. One piece of conservative wisdom that I always find particularly amusing is the idea that the bases of our legal code is in the Ten Commandments. This argument is often used to support maintaining a copy of them in some courthouse or other government building. While I have no problems with displaying the commandments, I suggest we take a close look at them and ask... just how many of these commandments are written into our legal code? The first five have entirely to do with ones relationship to God. And of the other five? Only two make it into our legal code, do not kill and do not steal. And while I would not suggest that living by these ideas is a bad thing, it's important to realize that we do not cast them into law for a reason. One, they would be very difficult to enforce. Second, while laws against murder and theft are necessary for a safe society, the rest are only additional. Good ideas for people to get along and to live a good life, but not necessary for a safe society. Insulting your mother may be a sin the in eyes of God, but it does not harm anyones inherent rights.
You claim, Mike, that the separation of political and personal morality is a moral world view. I would disagree, as it is not a moral world view, but rather a philosophical view upon the nature of morality. I choose to live my life based on the morality of Judeo-Christian tradition, I do not believe that our country should attempt to govern on the same set of beliefs. I am a charitable person, but do not think our government should be so charitable. I do not believe in taking a life in revenge, but I also agree with and fully support the death-penalty. The government is not a person, it has additional rights and responsibilities, why should it's morality be the same? Or even similar?
I've written before about inherent rights. And as I said before, the state should not be in the business of legislating morality. The law is not about what is right or what is wrong. Read through our constitution, there is no mention of doing what is morally right. There is only what is right for the government, and what is right by the people. And providing for the most individual freedom is what is right for the people. There is no single ideal that better expresses the American tradition. The whole problem, exactly what is wrong with this country, is this foolish and destructive idea that government is suppose to codify someones idea of how we should live our lives. It doesn't matter where you find yourself on any particular 'issue' of the day. If it doesn't involve the direct violation of someone's inherent rights, it's of no business of the government. The law is there not to tell us how to live. It's there to keep us free and safe. And that includes being safe from an over-active and involved government.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Second 'Operative' Principle

The Power of the Sword

This gets me to the other unspoken, operative principle. You seem to have an almost pacifist repugnance toward the threat of harm—implied or otherwise1.
"We must remember that the power of the State is the power to utilize violence to achieve its ends. Behind every law is the implicit threat of violence. It is this understanding that separates the Libertarian from the Conservative. "
Oh, no. To the contrary. Conservatives are well aware of the coercive menace behind law. I fail to see how you think Conservatives don’t know this. Neither do I see why the “implicit threat of violence” in itself is so dispositive toward the open availability of abortion.

Conservative “Anthropology”

Perhaps part of our differences on this score is Conservative “anthropology” —that is the Conservative observation on human nature2. Men are not just a rational being—not even primarily a rational creature. He is also an emotional and instinctual being. He does not live in two different modes. Instead, he is all of this in one whole in every instant. In surveying actual human historical behavior, Conservatives do not think violence, conflict and war are aberrations. Instead, violence and war are inevitable. The miserable fact is the world is ruled by the aggressive projection of force or threat of same3.
Especially after taking stock of human history, Conservatives believe in the existence of radical evil—a malevolence that cannot be appeased nor reasoned with. Others, while not evil in the extreme, will harm and steal from the weak, defenseless and peaceful if they can extract some advantage for themselves without challengers. Therefore, to preserve civil peace and maintain justice, force and the threat of violence are unexceptionally necessary for self-defense and coming to the aid of another. To protect civil society and punish crime, Conservatives do not mind occasionally showing the bloody axe.
1 Surely this can’t be right. It doesn’t seem all together likely that the Libertarian ranks are filled with pacifists. If a Libertarian society ever were established, how would such political régime be preserved? How would the Constitution be upheld and defended? Something, some qualifier, is missing here.
2 There is no denying that “Conservative Anthropology” is decidedly Augustinian. It should be noted that no Conservative believes this violent world is the way it should be nor should it be the way anyone should want. What we have is a tragic state of affairs. It’ not the way we want it; but there it is.
3 The mistake many of us make is thinking we share the same interests. Nation states rarely do. Even in the hope for “world peace”, such a goal exists in different priorities among countries. That is to say those interests are frequently asymmetrical. Nation States have their own internal logic in seeking and then pursuing their national interests. For “Machiavellian” reasons, international unrest may serve a nation better than stability.

Morality and Legislation

The rest of your post is a well reasoned, cogent, and persuasive defense for a viewpoint I do not share. By my lights, one of the most injudicious pieces of folk wisdom we share is the notion that we can’t legislate morality1. Legislate morality? Admittedly, Conservatives have some ambivalent thoughts on the matter—mostly in the particulars under any consideration. But it inescapable that morality is the thick stuff of public life. Not only can morality find its place in the law, the reality is we do it everyday. Every law and piece of legislation no matter how minimal reflects moral choices our representatives have made. We may employ whatever “legal fiction” we like but there is no such thing a morally neutral or “agnostic” law. It is simply a fact of governance that in ordering our lives together we are discriminating between what is good and what is bad and what we count as justice among us.
In choosing or even in not choosing, somebody’s “idea” is being codified as to how we live our lives. (Ironically, the Libertarian notion to separate “personal morality” from “political morality” is a moral worldview you would oppose on a public not so inclined) We even go so far as to “constitutionalize” particular notions of what arrangements benefit us as a free and self-governing people. And, yes, the State uses the power of the sword to back it up. Argument and reason, yes, by all means. But we are men and not angels. It is a mistake to think we can do all the time what in fact we can only do some of the time. Much of the time we like to think of ourselves as philosopher kings. But reason is only a tool and we can reason our way into some pretty strange conclusions. Thus the law is there as a teaching authority for the thoughtful, the modestly gifted, and willful alike. The power of the sword is there when reason falters and malice prevails.
As to your hypothetical 16 year old rape victim:
“Tell me, Mike, would you stand before a 16-year-old rape victim, gun in hand, and demand that she not abort the child that is the result? Would you demand, on pain of violence, that she allow the child to come to term, even if she in turn gives the child up for adoption?”
Mr. Campbell, I am as close to an absolute abolitionist2 as you could get. I have no trouble using force to stand for justice toward the weakest among us—the unborn—whom I must point out suffer lethal violence in their “termination”3. What the Pro-Life movement advocates is nothing less than a “Copernican” revolution on the entire
question. A revolution that is every bit as political as it is “social”. There is no more public question than who we count as one of us and to whom we extend our protections4.

-Writen by Crabby Apple Mike Lee

1 If you mean that simply passing a law will not make a people virtuous then I agree with you. But it doesn’t appear that that is your point. I agree we have too many laws and the state attempts to regulate our lives way too much. But that is a subject for another day.
2 I am also a political realist. However logically inconsistent it may be, in our time the American people simply will not accept any prohibition against abortion without exceptions for rape, incest and the endangered health of the mother. It is not the “best”; but to climb out of the “worst” we’ll take the “better”. We can continue to make our case from there.
3 A rather cold, analeptic, and clinic term. A more accurate word would butchery.
4I think we should make a clean breast of it and recognize that what is obvious. One can certainly debate this in the abstract; but when, opponents abject to the “social issues” crowd, nine times out of ten what they are really mean is the single issue of abortion. What is often referred to as “blue blood” Republicans claim that economic freedom is the only thing the party should be about. Whatever the merits of being an “economics” party, at least as far as the Republican Party is concern, it is blatantly ahistorical. The Republican Party began as a anti-slavery party. As opposed to the present time, Republicans for at least half is existence was not a “free trade” party.

First “Operative” Principle

Mr. Campbell, when faced with your moral dilemma in choosing between allowing an evil such as abortion or using the coercive power of the State to prevent it, it appears to me there are two choices: 1.) Refrain from using the power of the State and permitting abortion or 2.) End abortions by using the law and law enforcement. Your solution is to allow abortion and then use the power of personal persuasion to curtail it—essentially choosing option #1 and then attempt to change our social ”ecology” by changing the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens1 2. But why? How did you get there? In what line of reasoning or criteria is your solution the best resolution of the dilemma?
If I may venture a guess, after reading your entire response, your argument rests on two “axioms” you may believe are obvious but for the most part are unarticulated—at least it appears so among non-Libertarians.. I don’t think you were being deceptive by any means. We all make arguments time to time assuming we share common ground and assumptions when that isn’t necessarily so.
In graduate level mathematics, one has left the realm of ordinary physics calculations into a highly theoretical analysis. The texts are extremely specialized and quite expensive as only a few hundred may sell in any particular year. Both to save money and the expectations that students in graduate school should not need to lead around by the hand, theorems and proofs are presented in an abbreviated form with the expectation that students should be able to work their way from point “A” to point “L”. In much the same way, Libertarians sometimes argue in this fashion. But there is a problem even for those exposed to a fair number of Libertarians during his lifetime. Unlike mathematics, one cannot be certain where to begin. As many Libertarians advise, they are a varied and independent bunch and so it is not safe to non-Libertarians to assume that we necessarily understand each one’s argument. The premises a particular Libertarian may be working from may not be shared by others.
Thinking through your presentation, if I may presume, I would say your first “operative” principle is to preserve and defend as much liberty and independence from the State as possible (“[the] ideal of freedom from the perspective of how little one is constrained by authority”). Libertarians have a prejudice (in the best sense of the word) against the State controlling our choices for us. I believe this in part is how you come out where you do. There seems to be another “operative” principle you involve which I will take up in a later post.
-Written by Crabby Apple Mike Lee.
1 As a side note, it is commonly said that abortion is a private matter between a woman and her physician. I can tell you it is not. I worked as a technician in surgery for fifteen years. I never participated in an abortion although I was in an uncomfortable proximity. The truth is that it takes a great deal of social cooperation and involvement by others so that abortions may take place—especially on the scale abortion takes place in our country. From the manufacture of specialized equipment, the sharing and education of technique, and the use of general medical facilities and medical personnel to support and enable abortions—not to mention the medical documentation that must be done—we are not talking about a matter which takes place between two consenting adults in a hidden cave outside of town. Without this support system, many physicians simply would not risk performing abortions.
2 It should be remembered that in the 1960’s that one of the “promises” assured by those advocating the open availability of contraceptives was that they would virtually eliminate abortions. In fact, the sea change went into the opposite direction. I am not arguing against contraception, mind you. What I am pointing out is that there is already a history of unintended consequences on the subject of abortion.

Opening the Debate

To reiterate (for those of you reading from the top down) this is a continuation of debate started on The American Spectator online. See previous post for outline and links and how to contribute to the debate.
This posting will depart from my usual theme of avoid contrast between Liberal and Conservative ideals as well as focusing on a single issue to provide illustration of the general ideas.

Mike, I must refute your assertion that I do not answer my rhetorical question of how to choose between the immorality of abortion and the immorality of using police power to force our ideals onto another. I clearly state in my original posting that we must legally allow the practice while we teach against it from a moral stance. Yes, this is 'my' suggestion, arrived at through the trying to chart a moral course through two positions I find equally abhorrent.
Tell me, Mike, would you stand before a 16-year-old rape victim, gun in hand, and demand that she not abort the child that is the result? Would you demand, on pain of violence, that she allow the child to come to term, even if she in turn gives the child up for adoption? I apologize for the use of such a crass argument, but it cuts directly to the center of my point. I know that I could not take such an action, and I have my doubts that you would. Would you instead turn such an action over to the state? We must remember that the power of the State is the power to utilize violence to achieve its ends. Behind every law is the implicit threat of violence. It is this understanding that separates the Libertarian from the Conservative. I have no doubt, Mike that you, like me, when faced with this hypothetical young rape victim that you would use every moral and reasoned argument you could find to convince her to bring the child to term, even if only to give to adoption. We can both realize that we should not take vengeance on the unborn for the actions of the immoral father. It is the understanding of this situation which makes me say we must allow the practice. This is not an argument to allow abortion for just rape victims, this is instead to help illustrate that we cannot know the whole of a situation, and therefore we cannot make blanket laws.
Please realize, Mike, the central argument of Libertarianism. It is not that societal rules be abandoned, we leave that to Liberals. We advocate that you cannot legislate morality, which is a very different stance. Because of the implicit threat of violence behind every law, we must be very careful in every law that we pass. We must ensure that the law itself is moral, not in the sense of personal morality, but in the sense of political morality. And here is where the argument of forcing your view point onto others comes into play. Once you realize and understand the power of the state is the power to police, the utilization of violence, then you must realize that some laws cannot be allowed because they are, in effect, the utilization of violence to force your ideas onto another. You may disagree with my reasoning, but I hope you can at least understand how I come to think this way.
To return to my example, I have no doubts Mike that you, as I, would stand between the rapist and his victim ready to fight, kill, or die as needed. Our willingness to accept this action as right and just is what makes the laws against rape moral in the political sense. This same argument can be used to justify the laws against murder, theft, fraud, and many others. We cannot give onto the State the power to do things that we will not do as individuals and call ourselves a just society. We trust in the State to provide for a free and just society, and to ensure that our society remains that way we must in turn carefully examine each and every law with the understanding that we are making an implicit threat of violence.
This in turn provides the reason for saying that our country was founded on Libertarian ideals. Our Founding Fathers were men of rare wisdom, and even rarer morality. They understood the power of government, and sought to limit where the government could act. This idea of limiting government is what makes someone a Libertarian. I've said it in many of my writings to the Spectator; we cannot argue against Liberals utilizing government to advance their agenda only to turn around and have Conservatives utilize government to advance their agenda. Instead, we must choose the harder road, the road of longer work and less reward. We must stand together and defend the moral traditions of our forefathers because they are right, because they represent the collective wisdom of thousands of years of human experience. But we must do this through argument and reason, and not through the implicitly violent threats of the State.Please, Mike, understand that many people claim the title of 'Libertarian.' Most of the time, they do so in error and misunderstanding. Often you have a Liberal trying to make himself look better by calling himself Libertarian. But what separates the Libertarian from both the Conservative and the Liberal is that a Libertarian is talking about the role of government, not the role of morality. It can be easy to misconstrue my arguments as a case of moral relativism. They are not. I am not saying that having an abortion, or not, is the same in moral terms. I unequivocally state that having an abortion is immoral. But I also state unequivocally that using violence to stop someone from having an abortion is also immoral. My suggested solution is the result of my reasoning on how we handle a difficult moral quandary. I also would say that this understanding, the practice is immoral but must be allowed in a legal sense, is but the first step to creating a more just society where we can see the rate of abortion start to drop to include only extreme circumstances. Finally, let me close with my thanks to Mike for both your compliment to the reasonability of my previous arguments and giving me so much practice to further hone my arguments and writing skills. And also, Mike, my apologizes. First, for your apparent dislike of Libertarians. I assure you, good sir, that on deeper reflection you may find that we do not disagree as much as you seem to think, but only on methods and means. Also, I make no claim to having a monopoly on reason, even if some Libertarians do. Most of us will argue for the sake of argument because we enjoy the debate, and it is only through constant questioning of our assumptions can we come to understand if they are correct or not. And second, my apologizes for appearing to equate abortion with lying, adultery, and other such actions. I was not trying to argue a moral equivalence, but rather a legal one. It was a poor choice in presentation and misleading. And in true closing, let me just say this: While some Libertarians may give the impression that we think we have a monopoly on reason, some Conservatives give the impression that they think they have a monopoly on morality. Let us both avoid the Liberal's mistake of painting each other with too broad a stroke, eh?

The First Debate!

I'm very happy to say that I've received a post from a different author. Crabby Apple Mike Lee and I are both readers of the The American Spectator online. After several responses to an article by James M. Thunder, What Happened in Richmond Mike provided a response which challenged the general Libertarian position on abortion and a few other things. As I self-identify as a conservatively minded Libertarian I simply felt the need to respond both to the discussion of abortion at the time and defend Libertarians in general. You can see my first response here and Mike's next response here. I'll post my last response next.
Before I put up Crabby Apple Mike Lee's first post here, let me expand a little on the Libertarian philosophy. Libertarians are a diverse and motley bunch. It's very hard for us to present an unified front because all of us have a different view on things. We're a very individualist bunch, and about the only thing that we can really agree on is that we want the government to stay out of our business. We also work from a philosophy of 'live and let live'. Allow people to make their own way and do the same yourself.
Now, to the debate itself. Warning, this debate covers a very sensitive subject, namely abortion. It will be between self-identifying conservative and libertarian. We do not speak for the whole movement that we represent. If you wish to add to the debate, do so through the comments section or send a full response to for consideration.
Two last quick notes. Any post you would like to send for consideration can be sent to the e-mail above. If you send a post for consideration I will inform you of acceptance before posting, or if it does not meet my (minimal) standards, I will send back suggestions to reach acceptance.