Posts Tagged democracy

Why Being “Pro-Choice” on Abortion and “Anti-Choice” on Light Bulbs is a Consistent Position recently interviewed some folks at the Democratic National Convention, aiming to draw out inconsistencies in the political left’s oft-pronounced “pro-choice” stance.

Watch it here:

Now, if one’s overarching philosophy and political ideology boils down to choice, choice, and more choice—as it certainly does for many of the folks at—being “pro-choice” on abortion and “anti-choice” on light bulbs is a glaring inconsistency. Yet I would hope that the the rest of us are working from different premises and aligning our beliefs to different ultimate standards. Life is, as they say, about so much more.

So what gives?

Why do many progressives believe women should have the “freedom” to kill their own children and homosexuals should have the power to redefine natural institutions, but they don’t believe Plump Little Jimmy should be able to choose between a 16 oz. or 32 oz. soft drink, or Catholic Lucy should be able to choose between a private school and a public one?

Why do many conservatives believe in free choice in education and healthcare, but they’re not so loosey-goosey on opening the flood-gates on infanticide, “family” redefinition, or drug legalization?

There are plenty of ways to explain the disconnect, but one fundamental conflict, as Thomas Sowell thoroughly illuminates in his book, A Conflict of Visions: A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, boils down to how we view the nature of man—“not simply his existing practices,” Sowell writes, “but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations.” Here, we find that as a matter of discerning worldviews, it’s far less helpful to talk about “choice” than it is to talk about our underlying philosophies of life. Here, we find the beginnings of the premises from which we should launch our critiques of any diverging “inconsistencies.”

How do we view the human person? Is he imperfect yet capable of redemption, or, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, is he “born free” but “everywhere in chains”?

How do we view the project of improving mankind? Is it a process of constraining our basest passions and relying on Burkean “prudence,” or must we blindly trust in and submit to what William Godwin called “the magnanimous sentiment of our natures”?

Through what Sowell calls the unconstrained vision (what we might label today as “progressive”), the human person is a Rousseauean blossom, whose (seeming) faults are ultimately tied to imperfections in the systems that surround him rather than fundamental, universal imperfections in the human person himself. Knowing the “right path” and the “right thing to do” is the easy part. It’s overcoming all those pesky institutions that’s tricky (e.g. “Marxism works. It just hasn’t been implemented properly.”). Perfectibility is achievable (the rise of the oceans will begin to slow) if only the right captains are at the helm. Once they’re there, we need only follow the guidance of the Enlightened—buy the “good” light bulbs, drive the “good” car, go to the “good” school—and we shall further the “magnanimous sentiment of our natures” that has thus far been prohibited by systemic oppression. Fundamental to this view, Sowell writes, “is the conviction that foolish or immoral choices explain the evils of the world—and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution.”

For the unconstrained, it’s not about trade-offs or complicated analyses of history, political theory, moral philosophy and the nature of man himself. It’s about “solutions” (“Forward!”). The “good” is a given, and thus, once the wise old sages have subsequently “freed” our benevolent human nature toward collective salvation, everything the State hasn’t already delivered is ours for the taking. Follow the leader, build the tower, and give way to the “general will,” but outside of the carefully constructed Collective Mission, what you do and who you destroy is as noble as your properly pampered noble-savage self.

Now, like most dichotomies, not everyone fits neatly into place—Sowell certainly doesn’t claim as much, pointing specifically to Marx—and even those who fit the category can launch from this framework in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. But one need only look at the DNC, where the freedom to butcher “inconvenient” infants gets Read the rest of this entry »

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Celebrating the Artificial: General Motors and the Skeletons of American Industry

GM is Alive, Government Motors, bailout, subsidy, taxpayerThe Treasury Department is reportedly feeling pressure from General Motors to “sell the government’s entire stake in the auto maker,” a move that, at the moment, would result in an estimated $15 billion loss for U.S. taxpayers. But such are the realities of dysfunctional private-public-private back-rubbery:

GM executives have grown increasingly frustrated with that ownership, and the stigma of being known as “Government Motors.” Executives have said the U.S.’s shadow is a drag on its reputation and hurts the company’s ability to recruit talent because of pay restrictions.

Last week, I explored these tensions over at Values & Capitalism, critiquing the government’s malinvestment in GM as well as the Democratic National Convention’s overt attempt to romanticize such failures:

“GM is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead,” said President Obama in his recent speech at the DNC. The crowd responded with resounding cheers, energetically waving signs bearing the same slogan. Now, just a week later, bumper stickers are already primed for your Prius.

The problem is: Osama bin Laden is actually dead, and GM has resurrected into a zombie of sorts, fumbling and stumbling about under the control of autocrats—licking its lips for another round of taxpayer flesh.

Yet of all of the tall tales of glorious GM resurrection, the Obama’s administration’s underlying attitudes about human potential are made most clear by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, whose DNC speech rails against the “Bain way” (i.e. the profitable way), arguing that “the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits, but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.”

And there she blows:

Profitability, we are told, should no longer be a priority of the American people. Further, we are told, it shouldn’t be a priority of the United States government. And this is what garners cheers from the ruling party of our nation.

We now live in a country where government-appointed know-it-alls waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on failing companies, only to then be hailed as “defenders of industry.” We now live in an era in which viewing government in terms of “balance sheets and write offs” is demonized; in which waste and inefficiency are downplayed; and in which those who pursue economic growth in a traditional sense are viewed as obstacles to human flourishing.

The truth, of course, is that “the Bain way” secures higher profits by discouraging wasteful behavior and drawing on everything that’s good in humanity. It is this—value creation and the reward of earned success—that makes the market much more than a market, empowering us to attain the American Dream.

The market can only be a source for good if it remains a free market: an arena where contributions come before rewards, not after. And the moment Americans forget this—the moment we join this overt celebration of government-subsidized failure—is the moment we start down the road that invariably makes America like every other entitled, vacuous Western democracy, rather than the exceptional nation we’ve always been.

If this is the contrast the Democratic party wishes to draw—a battle between Artificializer Obama vs. Realistic Romney—so be it. Americans will know what they’re buying, and if the pollsters’ current predictions hold true, we’ll get all the skeletons of “industry” and “economic progress” that we ask for.

To read the full post, click here.

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It Takes a Market: Hillary Clinton, Milton Friedman, and the Family

family, market, grocery, shoppingThis week at Common Sense Concept, I use Hillary Clinton’s popular premise as a launching pad for discussion about the role of family and the subsequent role of the market in enabling it.

First, here’s my quick re-cap of Clinton’s view, which is not particularly unique in the scope of human history:

Clinton’s main argument is that we need a society which meets all the needs of all its children (“Just imagine, bro!”). For Clinton, however, such ends are not to be reached by encouraging freedom, instilling dignity, or teaching the importance of self-government and charity. Instead, children are only to reach their ultimate state of nirvana if the State becomes the family itself. After all, much like those other pesky private institutions — churches, schools, businesses…that kind of thing — the private family simply cannot be trusted (fascism alert).

To illuminate the errors within such a view, I lean on economist Milton Friedman, whose widely circulated exchange on the distribution of income vs. wealth provides some good insights.

Here’s Friedman in his own words:

The thing that is amazing that people don’t really recognize is the extent to which the market system has in fact encouraged people and enabled people to work hard and sacrifice — in what I must confess I often regard as an irrational way — for the benefit of their children. One of the most curious things to me in observation is that almost all people value the utility their children will get from consumption higher than their own.

As for where I stand, I take a view quite similar to that I made in my recent post on WALL-E vs. the Jetsons:

When the material needs are met by utilizing the proper socio-political framework, we can then more easily progress as a society toward a proper spiritual orientation. If we take a different path, and attempt to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Age of Moderation: Western Ambivalence and the Moral Life

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, London School of EconomicsToday at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.

The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.

The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?

Here’s another excerpt:

The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.

As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Last Agora: Social Networks, Social Planners, and True Community

social network, Facebook, ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg was recently named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and regardless of whether you agree with the selection (or care!), Michael Knox Beran uses the occasion for some reflection on social networks and the concept of community.

Beran, who is one of my favorite writers on all things agora (see here), begins his commentary with the following quote from the Time piece:

[The] bigger social networks get, the more pressure there is on everybody else to join them…It’s going to get harder and harder to say no to Facebook and to the authentically wonderful things it brings, and the authentically awful things too.

Beran notes that “electronic community has its virtues,” but he laments modern society’s “morbid craving for it.” This craving, Beran argues, “reveals the degree to which actual community has collapsed in much of the West.”

But before you jump on the anti-corporation bandwagon and ridicule Zuckerberg for destroying authentic community, understand that Beran sees this more as a reflection of culture than the cause of its corrosion:

Social planners have gradually eviscerated the agora sanctuaries which once brought people together in face-to-face community: they have replaced the rich artistic culture of the old market square with Le Corbusier–style functionality; they have marginalized its spiritual traditions; they have supplanted its charitable institutions with dehumanizing social bureaucracies; and they have made its schools, the transmitters of its ancient civic culture, ever more morally and culturally vacuous.

In other words, Beran believes that social networks are (unfortunately) the last popular form of community we have. On the whole, we have tried to automate and mechanize virtue by tinkering with the social landscape. (This, of course, is why I had to put the “True” before “Community.”)

Such a reality, Beran argues, mirrors the outcome that Read the rest of this entry »

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Melting Pot (or Not?): Democracy and Cultural Diversity

Melting PotI’m in the middle of reading Kenneth Minogue’s new book, and so far it is all-around brilliant.

The basic premise is that democracy has wrongly evolved from a mere process to a supreme ideal. More and more, Minogue argues, the West is substituting individual moral responsibility for a superficial form of collective salvation. In short, decisions at the ballot box have subtly become the supreme authority on moral truth.

I’ll be reviewing the book in the near future, but at the moment I wanted to focus on a point Minogue makes in a chapter called “Democratic Ambiguities.” In the chapter, Minogue highlights various elements we need to understand before holistically evaluating democracy. One of Minogue’s many points therein centers around the social conditions necessary for successful democracy. One of those conditions, in Minogue’s view, is cultural homogeneity.

As Minogue writes:

…[T]he ideal of democracy has little purchase on plausibility unless “the whole people” is a relatively homogeneous set of people who “speak the same language” (even if it is only in a metaphorical sense, as in states such as Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium).

But what about the claim that there is no definitive “American culture”? Minogue apparently disagrees:

The United States established its cultural homogeneity as virtually a condition of admission to its shores. A pays politique can hardly exist unless individuals share similar sources of information and talk to each other in mutually comprehensible terms.

To prove his point, Minogue offers several examples where democracy has failed due to competing cultural (or “tribal”) forces. By examining situations in Lebanon, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Africa (no country in particular), Minogue concludes that some degree of cultural Read the rest of this entry »

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Legislating Morality: We Can’t Help It!

Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate (1858)

Whether morality can or should be legislated has been a common topic of this blog, and Micah Watson has some insightful thoughts on the matter over at The Witherspoon Institute.

Here is the opener:

“You can’t legislate morality” has become a common turn of phrase. The truth, however, is that every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral. Those who think such a chimerical understanding is possible could hardly be more wrong. For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality.

When speaking of these matters, I think a certain distinction needs to be made. Many would read Watson’s words and take away an argument about the inevitability of moral entrance in the realm of political decision making. But while such inevitability is indeed a reality, Watson is pointing to something beyond mere inevitability.

What is often missed is that morality is inherent in all legislative decisions. It is not a matter of this or that, but of this and this (and so on). Morality is not confined to matters of gay marriage and torture, but is equally involved in those of taxation and sanitation.

Thus, the distinctions we pursue are not to be found in the moral inherence within particular decisions but in the moral consequences thereof.

As Watson continues:

Not every decision has profound moral consequences. But even drawing the line between morally innocent choices and morally culpable choices demonstrates our Read the rest of this entry »

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James Madison on Proposition 8: Factions, Federalism, and Gay Marriage

No. But you certainly can.

By now, I assume that most of you have heard the news regarding Proposition 8, which was overturned this week by a California judge.

From The New York Times:

Saying that [Proposition 8] discriminates against gay men and women, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing supporters of such unions at least a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

As usual, the media has been buzzing, but it seems that the majority of the arguments (from both sides) have to do with the morality of gay (or straight) marriage, and whether we as a society should “accept” it.

These are necessary arguments to have, but the fundamental issue at the moment has to do with whether this decision holds up on Constitutional grounds. I would argue that it does not.

The decision centers around the last part of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says the following:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Obviously we can’t just interpret the Equal Protection Clause all by itself (it has years of jurisprudence coloring its words and meaning), but rather than dive into a nuanced, methodical discussion of how we should interpret the clause, I will simply say that I don’t believe the clause has anything to do with homosexual marriage, or heterosexual marriage for that matter.

In this particular instance, perhaps one good way to understand what it should apply to is to detach ourselves from thinking of “marriage” as Read the rest of this entry »

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Freedom from Porn: Steve Jobs Shapes Culture

Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs wants to offer "freedom from porn" to his consumers.

Steve Jobs has been making waves by saying that he wants the iPad and other Apple products to be “porn-free.”

Jobs has offered several reasons for this, but all of his statements seem to indicate a general desire to shape the culture of his company, as well as its consumers.

For a glimpse into Jobs’ views on the matter, I recommend reading his e-mail exchange with blogger Ryan Tate, which seems to be getting the most attention from the media.

Tate began the exchange by sending Jobs an e-mail that said the following:

“If [Bob] Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with ‘revolution’? Revolutions are about freedom.”

Surprisingly, Jobs actually responded to Tate’s e-mail, and his response included this jab:

“Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.”

There are plenty of interesting facets to this situation — particularly regarding the recent goings on between Apple and Adobe — but what I want to focus on is Jobs’ statement about “freedom from porn.” What strikes me is that it echoes a Biblical concept that plenty of Christians don’t even grasp. I doubt that Jobs is rooting his worldview in the Bible (he’s a Buddhist), but I think it’s encouraging to see such a prominent figure making these arguments.

Many “liberation” types argue that freedom means the right to do anything you want, which may be true from a purely literal perspective. But holistically speaking, the Bible depicts freedom as something a bit more complex. In the Bible, real freedom isn’t as much about Read the rest of this entry »

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