God as merely an explanation

The “low voltage atheist” George Will defends public prayer, and in doing so offers an interesting definition of Deism, one that might apply to many people who consider themselves Christians.  He says that for the Deist, God is just an explanation, on the order of believing in the Big Bang, which is not the same as being truly religious. [Read more...]

Two conservative atheists

Being a Christian is not the same as being a conservative, and being a conservative is not the same as being a Christian.  Two prominent conservative columnist, George Will and Charles Krauthammer, have come out as atheists, though of the sort that “respect religion and religious people.” [Read more...]

Good quotations

George Will is among the most learned of today’s pundits, and he has the habit of lacing his columns with big words, arcane references, and scholarly quotations.  I urge you to read his latest column, a trenchant criticism of President Barack Obama, linked below.  But what I’d like to draw your attention to are some really good, widely-applicable quotations that the column contains.  I will cherry pick them for your edification:

“It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.”— Calvin Coolidge

“To remain silent is the most useful service that a mediocre speaker can render to the public good.”–Alexis de Tocqueville:

’Tis said two things not worth running after are a bus or an economic panacea, because another will come along soon.

“For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake.”–Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman  [Actually, this was a character commenting about Willy Loman, not Willy Loman himself, but we'll give Mr. Will a pass out of gratitude for the Calvin Coolidge quote.]

via George Will: Obama’s empty, strident campaign – The Washington Post.

 

Individualism vs. collectivism

Here is how George Will answers Elizabeth Warren’s statement that we posted yesterday:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds. . . .

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

The choices are individualism or collectivism.  Or is there something in between?

Limited government in foreign policy

George Will defends President Obama against those who criticize him for not being able to control what is happening in Egypt:

In 1949, when communists came to power there [in China], America bestrode both hemispheres shattered from war. Americans thought that their nation was at the wheel of the world and that whatever happened, wherever, happened at America’s instigation, or at least its sufferance, or was evidence of American negligence.

It is a sign of national maturity – the product of hard learning, from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – that fewer American complainers are today faulting the Obama administration for not anticipating and shaping events in Egypt. Israel, which lives next door to Egypt and has an excellent intelligence service, did not see this coming. So, a modest proposal:

Those Americans who know which Republican will win next year’s Iowa caucuses can complain about those who did not know that when a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire, he would set a region afire. From all other Americans, forbearance would be seemly.

It also would be amazing, because there is a cottage industry of Barack Obama critics who, not content with monitoring his myriad mistakes in domestic policies, insist that there must be a seamless connection of those with his foreign policy. Strangely, these critics, who correctly doubt the propriety and capacity of the U.S. government controlling our complex society, simultaneously fault the government for not having vast competence to shape the destinies of other societies.

via George F. Will – Egypt’s revolution to win or lose.

The Gadarene rush

I quote George Will here  not to vaunt over liberals, as he does, but to relish his language, especially his Biblical allusion in the last of these sentences. Will first quotes the president, who said of the health care legislation, “We are on the precipice of an achievement that’s eluded Congresses and presidents for generations,” and then riffs on the metaphor:

The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously. The protracted health-care debacle has highlighted this fact: Some liberals consider the legislation's unpopularity a reason to redouble their efforts to inflict it on Americans who, such liberals think, are too benighted to understand that their betters know best. The essence of contemporary liberalism is the illiberal conviction that Americans, in their comprehensive incompetence, need minute supervision by government, which liberals believe exists to spare citizens the torture of thinking and choosing. . . .

If the Democrats' congressional leaders are determined to continue their kamikaze flight to incineration, they will ignore Massachusetts's redundant evidence of public disgust. They will leaven their strategy of briberies with procedural cynicism — delaying certification of Massachusetts's Senate choice, or misusing “reconciliation” to evade Senate rules, or forcing the House to swallow its last shred of pride in order to rush the Senate bill to the president's desk. Surely any such trickery would be one brick over a load for some hitherto servile members of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses, giving them an excuse to halt their party’s Gadarene rush toward the precipice.

via George F. Will – Democrats on the precipice of failure – washingtonpost.com.

That last, of course, is a reference to what happened after our Lord cast out the demons from a Gadarene man, whereupon they entered a herd of pigs that then ran off a cliff.  Can you think of other examples of a “Gadarene rush”?


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