History restarts, as American brand fails

I enjoy reading scholars defending their theories after they have been proven wrong. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote a provocative essay entitled “The End of History.” Written at a time when communism was collapsing, Fukuyama argued that democracy and free market economics have won. There are no alternatives. That means that the conflicts that have defined history are over. We will now live happily ever after.

In this column, Fukuyama (who is a real scholar with a conservative bent) revisits his thesis in light of the new Russian aggression, the persistance of anti-democratic rule in places like China, and the new host of international conflicts. He insists that his point is still valid in that there are no IDEOLOGICAL competitors to democracy and capitalism.

He does mention Islam and nationalism, but I think he underestimates the former as an all-encompassing totalitarian ideology. And I think he misses what China may be creating: A synthesis of totalitarianism and capitalism that may well crystalize into a new ideology. (It will be similar to National Socialism, which we have seen before.)

But in his latest column, Fukuyama goes further and perhaps changes his tune. Writing after the meltdown and the bailout in the financial market, he says that the “American brand” is damaged. The financial crisis has made American-style capitalism look bad. And American-style democracy has taken a hit because of the way it is being used to justify the war in Iraq. As an alternative, he says, nations around the world might consider the “Russian model” or the “Chinese model.”

Obama on absolute truth, continued

Here is the review of Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” by my former student, Caleb Jones (a.k.a. “The Jones”). Obama’s rejection of absolute truth goes beyond the passage we discussed yesterday, and in fact seems to be a theme of the whole book. I’ll just post the entire review for our consideration. Other people who have read the book, please weigh in. Notice that the issue here is the presidential candidate’s underlying philosophy, worldview, and political theory:

Well, it happened. I was sitting in BWI airport, 2 hours before my flight left, with nothing to do or read. So I went to the mini-bookstore, a collection of New York Times bestsellers and paperback novels, and tried to pick something out. After deciding that I didn’t want to solve Sudoku until my head exploded, read a Steven King novel about a mysterious evil force coming to town, or read another Steven King novel about another mysterious evil force coming BACK to town, I decided to go with…. ….oh man, this hurts…. …The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama.

Now Obama’s book was being sold in a Literary Fluff Bookstore, and honestly, he delivered for a while. He talked a lot about the difficulties of running for office, how we shouldn’t have to hate people while we disagree with them (which I agree with, and why ironically, I really like John McCain), and a good bit of other heartwarming stuff. I was actually enjoying myself. He starts talking about our Constitution, however, and it got on my nerves where he explicitly agrees with Justice Breyer’s “Living Constitution” theory. But then, on page 93, he really ticks me off. He is talking about the views of the Founders and the writing of the Constitution when he says:

“It’s not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or “ism,” any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad. The Founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them. They were suspicious of abstraction and liked asking questions, which is why at every turn in our early history theory yielded to fact and necessity.”

This is very odd to me. Especially since just a few dozen pages before this, Obama sees it very important to quote the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (and although not in the book, this next phrase is important, too.) “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Now let’s seriously look at these two statements, Obama says that the Founders said and according to our American system of government, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have absolute truth and ordered liberty. But look at the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident,” which means that anyone, through reason, logic, and truth, can know this stuff. It says that we are endowed by our Creator, not any government or majority or human authority, with certain UNALIENABLE rights. Unalienable, it means that you can’t take them away. You can pretend they don’t exist. No matter what kind of authority you set up on earth, no matter how powerful your nation or your empire or your totalitarian state, regardless if you have brainwashed the entire population into believing that they do not have these rights and silenced every opposing voice through force, a government is still WRONG for taking these rights away. No matter what anybody says, no matter what anybody else thinks, this universal maxim holds true. “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men,” meaning the only reason government has ANY legitimacy, is because it affirms (not creates) these rights which were given by God. If a government does anything else, they are silly tyrants, moving men and armies about for selfish gain and vanity, which has no just authority under heaven.
That is the foundation of our Republic, and it is a strong absolute belief. Sorry, Obama. You’re wrong.

After reading this section, I think I figured out a lot of other things in the books. Obama says throughout the book that he “respects” opposing views. The view of original intent. The view of limited government and independence, etc, even though he disagrees with them. No, Obama. You don’t respect these views. If you respected them, you would have deference to them. You would include them in your policies and your legislation. Obviously, you respect the PEOPLE giving these views. That’s why you have deference to them. You try not to demon-ize them as you disagree. But you disagree. You totally reject the view after (hopefully) you have taken those views in and put them through an honest and thoughtful reasoning process. Once you see that they do not logically have any grounding, you reject them. That’s what disagreeing is.

But Obama has a problem with absolutes: Absolutes that derive from religion or even logic, hence the “respecting views.” You see, the non relativistic way of going about this is to appeal to something which everybody shares: logic and reason. These things exist outside of ourselves, because even if we trick ourselves into believing something that is absurd, it doesn’t mean we’re right. We just need a more logical, more reasonable, or more rightly-oriented person to correct us from our fallible human natures. An appeal to logic is an appeal to God and his order, to immutable laws that are written in the foundations of the universe and that exist outside of human thought, emotion, or inclination.

At one point in the book, Obama even says he can’t even bring himself to the absolute rejection of absolutes! (page 97) He can’t bring himself to call some someone else wrong. He has totally rejected reason based on truth. If Obama can’t appeal to that, what does he appeal to? Well, himself, for what else does he have? And that is audacious. Before, this whole thing was silly; now its getting scary. And it once again begs the question, “Who does this guy think he is?”

Barack Obama on absolute truth

From Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope:

“It’s not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or “ism,” any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad. The Founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them. They were suspicious of abstraction and liked asking questions, which is why at every turn in our early history theory yielded to fact and necessity.”

Now this is just historically wrong. The Founders did believe in absolute truth and further believed that having a free society required it. (See, for example, the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.) The notion that belief in absolute truth is the foundation instead of tyranny is wrong historically, philosophically, politically. It is, however, postmodernist cant. It is how postmodernist professors sell relativism to ignorant and want-to-please college Freshmen. But it is demonstrably wrong (though showing something is wrong is hard to do to someone who has swallowed the relativist bait).

Relativism comes from the anti-Enlightenment philosopher Hegel, whose dialectical materialism is the foundation of Communism! Relativism’s highest expression is surely to be found in Nietzsche, whose constructionism (there are no absolute truths or morality, so the superman can create his own truths and morals) is the foundation of Fascism! [As well as of postmodernism itself, as I show in my book Modern Fascism: The Threat to the Judeo-Christian Worldview (Concordia Scholarship Today)]

HT: Caleb Jones. Tomorrow I will post what he says about this point.

A classicist take on Obama

Victor Davis Hansen, riffing on Obama’s prop of a classical temple for his big speech, shows how a knowledge of ancient literature and history can help us understand contemporary politics:

Why and how did McCain catch up? Let us count the ways: the disastrous European victory lap of Obama’s; the uninspired professorial pontificating to Rick Warren; the deer-in-the-headlights serial responses to the Georgia crisis; and the McCain ads that were as cleverly effective as they were derided as childish by outraged liberals.

But perhaps the greatest consideration is Obama’s Hellenic hubris, which is different than simple arrogance. Hubris is a sort of fit, a haughtiness steeped in delusions of grandeur and divinity that takes over a weak individual, and soon encourages recklessness and overreaching (atê), all culminating in ruin and divine retribution (nemesis).

Go figure: Obama/Oedipus goes to Berlin. There he speaks in front of a grandiose Victory Column commemorating Prussian arrogance (after begging in vain to have a JFK/Reagan presidential moment at the grander Brandenburg Gate). He reviews American sins, revises the history of the Berlin Airlift, and claims (falsely) he’s the first black high official Germany has dealt with before. Then to hysterical applause from 200,000 Berliners, eager for subsequent free music and beer, he prances home, convinced that this was a success rather than an Apollonian trap.

Meanwhile an Ethel in Tulare turns on the TV and sees thousands of Europeans (who habitually make fun of her country) applaud Obama—and makes the logical assumption that they apparently think he is one of them, rather than one of us.

Next, drunk with pride, Obama thinks that such a losing paradigm (again, really a warning from the gods) apparently was not only successful, but will work again in Denver. So he transfers his speech to an outdoor forum, where tens of thousands of raving fans can watch him apotheosize in front of a faux Doric temple and accept nomination.

Isn’t there one sane person on his staff who can stop this divine madness, a single henchman who can whisper in his ear as puts on his golden crown not Vero possumus (”Yes! We can!”), but as was true of returning heroes during  Roman Triumphs—”Respica te, hominem te memento” (”Watch behind you; remember you’re just a man!”)?

Fasco-Islamism

Keith Pavlischek at the First Things blog notes that the affinities between Islam and Fascism have been noted a long time ago. Borrowing from some other writers, he offers a quotation from a prominent theological anti-fascist:

Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian who was the principal author (with Bonhoffer) of the Barmen Declaration against the Nazis, had this to say:

Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.

(Church and the Political Problem of Our Day, 1939, p. 43)

The Gospel of Judas hoax

Remember the recent furor over the discovery of the ancient manuscript entitled “The Gospel of Judas”? The media reported that the document presented Judas as a good guy, implying that the church had gotten it wrong over all these centuries and that we would now have to re-evaluate our knowledge of Jesus. Some accounts made it sound like the manuscript was written by Judas. The translation became a bestseller and National Geographic, which was behind the publication of the text, made a TV documentary on the subject. But now read the rest of the story from the authoritative Chronicle of Higher Education on how genuine scholarship got high-jacked by media sensationalism, pop culture superficiality, and commercial temptations. An excerpt:

One of the seven million people who watched the National Geographic documentary was April D. DeConick. Admittedly, DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, was not your average viewer. As a Coptologist, she had long been aware of the existence of the Gospel of Judas and was friends with several of those who had worked on the so-called dream team. It’s fair to say she watched the documentary with special interest.

As soon as the show ended, she went to her computer and downloaded the English translation from the National Geographic Web site. Almost immediately she began to have concerns. From her reading, even in translation, it seemed obvious that Judas was not turning in Jesus as a friendly gesture, but rather sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas. This alone would suggest, strongly, that Judas was not acting with Jesus’ best interests in mind — which would undercut the thesis of the National Geographic team. She turned to her husband, Wade, and said: “Oh no. Something is really wrong.”

She started the next day on her own translation of the Coptic transcription, also posted on the National Geographic Web site. That’s when she came across what she considered a major, almost unbelievable error. It had to do with the translation of the word “daimon,” which Jesus uses to address Judas. The National Geographic team translates this as “spirit,” an unusual choice and inconsistent with translations of other early Christian texts, where it is usually rendered as “demon.” In this passage, however, Jesus’ calling Judas a demon would completely alter the meaning. “O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?” becomes “O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?” A gentle inquiry turns into a vicious rebuke.

Then there’s the number 13. The Gospel of Judas is thought to have been written by a sect of Gnostics known as Sethians, for whom the number 13 would indicate a realm ruled by the demon Ialdabaoth. Calling someone a demon from the 13th realm would not be a compliment. In another passage, the National Geographic translation says that Judas “would ascend to the holy generation.” But DeConick says it’s clear from the transcription that a negative has been left out and that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation (this error has been corrected in the second edition). DeConick also objected to a phrase that says Judas has been “set apart for the holy generation.” She argues it should be translated “set apart from the holy generation” — again, the opposite meaning. In the later critical edition, the National Geographic translators offer both as legitimate possibilities.

These discoveries filled her with dread. “I was like, this is bad, and these are my friends,” she says. It’s worth noting that it didn’t take DeConick months of painstaking research to reach her conclusions. Within minutes, she thought something was wrong. Within a day, she was convinced that significant mistakes had been made. Why, if it was so obvious to her, had these other scholars missed it? Why had they seen a good Judas where, according to DeConick, none exists?

There is much more about this case of scholarly “malpractice.”


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