America shows good taste on “Idol”

America got it right, in my opinion, in the first round of voting for the first 12-person group on American Idol. I agree with the choice of all three who are advancing to the final twelve: Alexis Grace (but wash the Kool-Aid out of your hair!); oil-rig worker Michael Sarver; and Danny Gokey, my favorite in this group, who is a church music director (!) from Milwaukee (!).

More from de Tocqueville on the end of liberty

Yesterday we contemplated a quotation from the 19th century French observer of America Alexis de Tocqueville on how democracies can self-destruct. Michael Ledeen, author of Tocqueville on American Character gives us some more quotations on how democracies can fritter away their liberty. Read the essay. Here are some of his de Tocqueville quotes:

Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated…

The nature of despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel, but minute and meddling. . .It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. . . .

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? . . .

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. . . .

Servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind…might be combined with some of the outward forms of freedom, and…might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.. . . They devise a sole, tutelary and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people…this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians.

Are we there yet?

Happy Luther Day!

Today is the commemoration of Martin Luther, Doctor and Reformer, who died on February 18, 1546.

You don’t have to be a Lutheran to appreciate Luther. In addition to his theological impact (reforming the church in ways even today’s Catholics are acknowledging was needed; translating the Bible and making it central; recovering the Gospel of Christ and making that central) and his cultural impact (education for the masses; rehabilitating the family; the rise of the middle class; vocation), Luther surely had the most, well, personality than any other theologian I can think of. He was Rabelaisian, humorous, tender-hearted yet plagued with a horrible temper, a lover of life’s pleasures though prone to titanic depressions, relentlessly honest with himself, desperately holding on to Christ, the Cross, the Word. If you read virtually any of his theological tracts, you will find yourself marveling, laughing, moved to tears, stunned by the insight.

So, in light of our earlier discussion of holidays, what would be some good ways of celebrating Martin Luther Day?

Civil unions instead of marriage

Legal unions for homosexual couples won’t have any impact on traditional marriage, or so the argument goes. But consider what is happening in France, which has had “civil unions” for a decade. From Straight Couples in France Are Choosing Civil Unions Meant for Gays –

The PACS [French acronym for the civil union law] broadened into an increasingly popular third option for heterosexual couples, who readily cite its appeal: It has the air of social independence associated with the time-honored arrangement that the French call the “free union” but with major financial and other advantages. It is also far easier to get out of than marriage.

The number of PACS celebrated in France, both gay and heterosexual unions, has grown from 6,000 in its first year of operation in 1999 to more than 140,000 in 2008, according to official statistics. For every two marriages in France, a PACS is celebrated, the statistics show, making a total of half a million PACSed couples, and the number is rising steadily. . . .

Perhaps more important as an indication of how French people live, the number of heterosexual men and women entering into a PACS agreement has grown from 42 percent of the total initially to 92 percent last year.

New word alert: “Free unions” instead of “living together.” I’ll bet that catches on.

Heterosexuals have all but completely taken over the civil union option (92%, leaving just 8% for gays!). The civil unions give heterosexual couples financial advantages, but when one of them wants to leave, it is easy: “If one or both of the partners declares in writing to the court that he or she wants out, the PACS is ended, with neither partner having claim to the other’s property or to alimony.” So much for family permanence.

The new features of despotism

William over at the Liberal Morality blog linked to us here (so thanks for that), whereupon I found his post of a remarkable quotation from Alexis de Toqueville:

I am trying to imagine what new features despotism might have in today’s world: I see an innumerable host of men, all alike and equal, endlessly hastening after petty and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others. For him, his children and personal friends comprise the entire human race. As for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he lives alongside them but does not see them. He touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in himself and for himself, and if he still has a family, he no longer has a country.

Over these men stands an immense tutelary power, which assumes sole responsibility for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate. It is absolute, meticulous, regular, provident, and mild. It would resemble paternal authority if only its purpose were the same, namely, to prepare men for manhood. But on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them in childhood irrevocably. It likes citizens to rejoice, provided they think only of rejoicing. It works willingly for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and only arbiter of that happiness. It provides for their security, foresees and takes care of their needs, facilitates their pleasures, manages their most important affairs, directs their industry, regulates their successions, and divides their inheritances. Why not relieve them entirely of the trouble of thinking and the difficulty of living?

from Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America

This was written in 1835! The world would see a lot more of the old style of despotism after de Toqueville’s day. But his book was prescient in many ways, looking as it did deep into the heart of the democratic system and the American spirit. Notice that this is not just a political despotism, it’s a cultural despotism, made possible by our loss of community and character, our preoccupation with security and “vulgar pleasures.” Isn’t this kinder, gentler form of despotism what we have to worry about? And isn’t our country ready and eager for it? Aren’t we already there?

Throwing money out of an airplane

John Maynard Keynes, the New Deal era economist whose theories that the government can and should control the economy are back in vogue, said that to combat an economic slowdown, the government should put more money into the system. Even, he said, if that meant dropping money from an airplane.

In Keynesian thinking, if I am understanding him right, it doesn’t matter what the government spends the money on. In the current stimulus plan, road construction, buildup of government agencies, and even pork barrel projects are all equally valid. They inject money into the economy.

Furthermore, the fact that this is all deficit spending does not matter either. In fact, the government HAS to spend money that it does not have and that does not currently exist. If the government spent what it had, that would do no good for a weak economy, anymore than any other normal circulation of buying and spending. For the government measures to work, by this way of thinking, it’s precisely the money supply that has to increase.

But wouldn’t this be inflationary? Yes! This is part of the remedy. Don’t we need housing prices to go up? Don’t we need the value of assets to increase to meet and eventually surpass the amount of the loans for which they were securities?

I believe this is the theoretical justification for what is happening with the stimulus plan. Is this it? (Help us out, EconJeff.) If so, do you think it has a chance of working? If not, how would you critique this theory?