Colson and me

Chuck Colson has died.  The ruthless political operative for Richard Nixon was imprisoned for Watergate-related offenses.  Crushed by the law, literally, he read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and became a Christian.  When he got out of prison, Colson started Prison Fellowship, a ministry to prisoners and their families that has chapters worldwide and that has changed the lives of untold numbers of men and women that society–and the church–had usually rejected.

I myself owe Colson quite a bit, not as I was a prisoner but as a writer.  Colson got interested in “Christian worldview” issues and started a radio program, Breakpoint, that looked at current events and cultural developments through the lens of a Christian analysis.  I had done some writing on Christianity and the arts, and for some reason Breakpoint producer Nancy Pearcey asked me if I would join the stable of writers she was putting together.  That was in 1991, pretty early in my career.   This got me paying attention to the news and keeping up with contemporary culture, whereupon, if I could find an angle, I would write up a brief commentary that Nancy would turn into a radio script.   (By the way, Breakpoint is now in good hands with Eric Metaxis doing the broadcasting.)  This would lead to my doing the same thing as a columnist for World.  And then as a blogger for World.  And then to this blog.   This work also led to longer form studies of Christianity and culture that I published into books.

As one of his writers, I was sometimes invited to meet with Colson, along with  others  in his brain trust to help him think through various issues, and sometimes he would call me over the phone.

So, for better or worse, if it weren’t for Colson, I would probably have just stuck as an English professor to writing about 17th century poetry and never would have gotten into cultural analysis, let alone punditry.   And this blog would almost certainly not exist.  So your reading this post at this very moment is something of a tribute to Chuck Colson.

 

See Charles Colson, Watergate felon and prison reformer, dies at 80 – Obituaries – MiamiHerald.com.

The founders’ individual mandates

It is unconstitutional to force individuals to buy health insurance, according to critics of Obamacare.  Not so, says Einer Elhauge of The New Republic, who points out that the founders who wrote the Constitution were not above passing individual mandates forcing citizens to buy things:

The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate.

That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it.

Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams.

Not only did most framers support these federal mandates to buy firearms and health insurance, but there is no evidence that any of the few framers who voted against these mandates ever objected on constitutional grounds. Presumably one would have done so if there was some unstated original understanding that such federal mandates were unconstitutional. Moreover, no one thought these past purchase mandates were problematic enough to challenge legally.

via Einer Elhauge: If Health Insurance Mandates Are Unconstitutional, Why Did The Founding Fathers Back Them? | The New Republic.

Wait a minute:  A mandate for everyone to possess firearms?  What does that  do to the liberal argument that the Second Amendment only allows for collective gun ownership in militias rather than personal possession?

I’m also curious about the status of these old laws.  Were they ever repealed?  Why, how, and when?  Would conservatives accept the insurance mandate in return for  Congress  re-instating the firearms mandate?

Anyway, back on topic, that the Washington and Adams administrations passed commerce mandates in no way proves they are Constitutional.

An ancient teenager and her Cross

Archaeologists have discovered the grave of a 16-year-old girl dating from just 50 years or so after the first Christian missionaries came to “Angle-land.”  She was wearing a magnificent golden and bejeweled cross.  From Medievalists.net:

One of the earliest Anglo-Saxon Christian burial sites in Britain has been discovered in a village outside Cambridge. The grave of a teenage girl from the mid 7th century AD has an extraordinary combination of two extremely rare finds: a ‘bed burial’ and an early Christian artefact in the form of a stunning gold and garnet cross.

The girl, aged around 16, was buried on an ornamental bed – a very limited Anglo-Saxon practice of the mid to later 7th century – with a pectoral Christian cross on her chest, that had probably been sewn onto her clothing. Fashioned from gold and intricately set with cut garnets, only the fifth of its kind ever to be found, the artefact dates this grave to the very early years of the English Church, probably between 650 and 680 AD.

In 597 AD, the pope dispatched St Augustine to England on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings; a process that was not completed for many decades. Using the latest scientific techniques to analyse this exceptional find could result in a greater understanding of this pivotal period in British history, and the spread of Christianity in eastern England in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Was this teenage girl an early Christian convert, a standard-bearer for the new God? “Christian conversion began at the top and percolated down,” says Dr Sam Lucy, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon burial from Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

“To be buried in this elaborate way with such a valuable artefact tells us that this girl was undoubtedly high status, probably nobility or even royalty. This cross is the kind of material culture that was in circulation at the highest level of society. The best known example of the pectoral cross was that found in the coffin of St Cuthbert now in Durham Cathedral.”

“That this is a bed burial is remarkable in itself – the fifteenth ever uncovered in the UK, and only the fourth in the last twenty years – add to that a beautifully made Christian cross and you have a truly astonishing discovery,” says Alison Dickens, who led the excavation for the University’s Archaeological Unit.

via Archaeologists discover 7th-century Anglo-Saxon teenager with golden cross.

HT:  James Kushiner

The etiquette of dueling

David Mills has come across a fascinating text online,  The Code of Honor;, by John Lyde Wilson.  It’s a booklet from 1837 giving the proper etiquette for dueling.

It gives the different kinds of insults that require satisfaction, the note the insulted party sends demanding an explanation, the way to issue challenges, the quite considerable role of seconds, and more.  Here is the section on proper conduct on the field of honor:

1. The principals are to be respectful in meeting, and neither by look or expression irritate each other. They are to be wholly passive, being entirely under the guidance of their seconds.

2. When once posted, they are not to quit their positions under any circumstances, without leave or direction of their seconds.

3. When the principals are posted, the second giving the word, must tell them to stand firm until he repeats the giving of the word, in the manner it will be given when the parties are at liberty to fire.

4. Each second has a loaded pistol, in order to enforce a fair combat according to the rules agreed on; and if a principal fires before the word or time agreed on, he is at liberty to fire at him, and if such second’s principal fall, it is his duty to do so.

5. If after a fire, either party be touched, the duel is to end; and no second is excusable who permits a wounded friend to fight; and no second who knows his duty, will permit his friend to fight a man already hit. I am aware there have been many instances where a contest has continued, not only after slight, but severe wounds, had been received. In all such cases, I think the seconds are blamable.

6. If after an exchange of shots, neither party be hit, it is the duty of the second of the challengee, to approach the second of the challenger and say: “Our friends have exchanged shots, are you satisfied, or is there any cause why the contest should be continued?” If the meeting be of no serious cause of complaint, where the party complaining had in no way been deeply injured, or grossly insulted, the second of the party challenging should reply: “The point of honor being settled, there can, I conceive, be no objection to a reconciliation, and I propose that our principals meet on middle ground, shake hands, and be friends.” If this be acceded to by the second of the challengee, the second of the party challenging, says: “We have agreed that the present duel shall cease, the honor of each of you is preserved, and you will meet on middle ground, shake hands and be reconciled.”

7. If the insult be of a serious character, it will be the duty of the second of the challenger, to say, in reply to the second of the challengee: “We have been deeply wronged, and if you are not disposed to repair the injury, the contest must continue.” And if the challengee offers nothing by way of reparation, the fight continues until one or the other of the principals is hit.

8. If in cases where the contest is ended by the seconds, as mentioned in the sixth rule of this chapter, the parties refuse to meet and be reconciled, it is the duty of the seconds to withdraw from the field, informing their principals, that the contest must be continued under the superintendence of other friends. But if one agrees to this arrangement of the seconds, and the other does not, the second of the disagreeing principal only withdraws.

9. If either principal on the ground refuses to fight or continue the fight when required, it is the duty of his second to say to the other second: “I have come upon the ground with a coward, and do tender you my apology for an ignorance of his character; you are at liberty to post him.” The second, by such conduct, stands excused to the opposite party.

10. When the duel is ended by a party being hit, it is the duty of the second to the party so hit, to announce the fact to the second of the party hitting, who will forthwith tender any assistance he can command to the disabled principal. If the party challenging, hit the challengee, it is his duty to say he is satisfied, and will leave the ground. If the challenger be hit, upon the challengee being informed of it, he should ask through his second, whether he is at liberty to leave the ground which should be assented to.

The violence is ritualized, thus held under a strange control.

Which reminds me, the daughter of my cousin has become a noted Civil War historian.  She has written an award-winning book on the codes of honor–followed not just in dueling but on the field of battle–followed by the “officers and gentlemen” who fought in the Civil War.  It’s a fascinating read, shedding great light on the ideals of manhood, the nature of a “gentleman,” and the strong sense of honor that animated our recent ancestors.  She shows the nobility of it all, but also how it can go terribly wrong, as in dueling.

The author, a young professor (at the University of Central Arkansas) of whom I am very proud, is Lorien Foote and her book is The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army.

Happy Presidents’ Day

Today is Presidents’ Day, which began as an amalgamation of George Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but now is nobody’s birthday but just honors our chief executives.  So let’s take a pause from the current presidential campaign to discuss the institution itself.

Is it wise to have the same person be head of state and the  head of the executive branch?

Most democracies today have a Prime Minister as chief executive, who is the head of the party that has the majority in the legislature.  Is that better than our elected Presidents?  If not, why are Prime Ministers more common in modern governments?

Do our presidents have too much power or not enough?

What does it mean to be “presidential”?

Who do you think was our greatest president? The top five?

 

Calls for an American dictator

George Will notes progressivism’s impatience–”We can’t wait!” in the words of President Obama’s campaign–which manifests itself in an impatience with constitutional checks and balances and a willingness to get around them.

His column, which I also posted about yesterday, includes some interesting quotations from journalists during the depression of the 1930s who were actually calling for a dictatorship:

Commonweal, a magazine for liberal Catholics, said that Roosevelt should have “the powers of a virtual dictatorship to reorganize the government.” Walter Lippmann, then America’s preeminent columnist, said: “A mild species of dictatorship will help us over the roughest spots in the road ahead.” The New York Daily News, then the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper, cheerfully editorialized: “A lot of us have been asking for a dictator. Now we have one. . . . It is Roosevelt. . . . Dictatorship in crises was ancient Rome’s best era.” The New York Herald Tribune titled an editorial “For Dictatorship if Necessary.”

via Obama follows the progressive president’s model of martial language – The Washington Post.

As we face our national problems, economic and otherwise, we must take care not to jettison our liberties in a panicked  desire for the government to “do something.”


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