Death of a conservative

M. Stanton Evans, one of the founders of modern conservatism, died at age 80 in Leesburg, Virginia.  Read about his importance after the jump.

I urge you to read his book  The Theme Is Freedom, on the historical rise of political liberty.  He takes what he calls “the liberal history lesson”–that the world was in darkness and slavery until the humanists and the Enlightenment cast off the religious shackles to bring freedom into the world–and utterly refutes it.  In fact, he shows that the humanists and the Enlightenment gave us the absolute despots.  In contrast, the kings of the Middle Ages were greatly limited in their power under a rule of law, which he shows derives from Christianity.  Mr. Evans also showed the influence of Luther and the Protestant Reformation on the rise of liberty.  There is much more in this surprising and paradigm-shifting book.

I actually met Mr. Evans a number of years ago.  He had read my book on fascism, which he praised highly, saying that he wished he had read it while he was working on The Theme Is Freedom because he would have liked to have incorporated it into his argument.  That made me feel good, needless to say. [Read more...]

Accept gay marriage or lose your job

You have probably heard about the CEO of Mozilla (makers of the open source Firefox browser) losing his job when it was learned that he had given some money to support that referendum in California a few years ago that would block gay marriage in that state.  Since the contribution records have been made public, lots of other people could conceivably lose their livelihoods in this new activist climate. Peter Wehner has some good observations about this whole mindset of punishing people for their beliefs. [Read more...]

“Erotic liberty” vs. “Religious liberty”

Al Mohler gives us some useful language in thinking about the conflicts of the day:  “Erotic liberty” vs. “Religious liberty.”  And when those two clash, you know which one will prevail. [Read more...]

The blessings of liberty

We want to do things that we can’t do, for one reason or another, and we complain about every restriction.  And yet, we really do have an incredible measure of liberty in this country.  Let us count some of the ways. . . . [Read more...]

Liberty vs. equality

Robert Samuelson loves this country and everything it stands for, to the point of saying “America is my religion.”  Most Americans also love America.  But he notes how love of country is dividing us instead of bringing us together, mainly because of a conflict between the ideals of liberty and equality:

This intense love of country defines Americans and, compared to many, sets us apart. A 2004 study of 33 countries by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago ranked the United States first in national pride. You might think that this powerful allegiance — what I and no doubt millions of others call a religion — would bring us together. Often it does. But on this July Fourth, we face a disturbing paradox: Our love of country increasingly divides us.

Our national debates now transcend disputes over this or that spending program or tax and have become — in the minds of the combatants — a climactic struggle for the nature and soul of America. One side is allegedly bent on inserting government into every aspect of our lives and suffocating individual responsibility and effort. The other is supposedly beholden to the rich, committed to “survival of the fittest” and indifferent to everyone else.

If you believe these are the stakes — and that defeat would extinguish America’s most valuable and virtuous aspects — then the other side is to be despised and demolished. Your very love of country impels you to extremes of rhetoric and belief. It nudges you, increasingly, to hate the other side.

The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country’s core beliefs.

In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.

There’s plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” and the “state guarantees nobody is in need.” Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany’s 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that “success in life” is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.

The inconsistencies and contradictions won’t soon vanish. But in today’s politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.

via Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? – The Washington Post.

The American ideal has always been BOTH liberty and equality.  I don’t think that equality ever was construed to mean equality of income.  Rather, it had to do with social equality.  Social classes existed, but they were not supposed to bring special privileges or a sense of superiority.  Both sides of these debates today are arguably falling short here, with the cult of wealth on the one hand and the cult of the cultural elites on the other (which are not the same thing).  But what do you think of Samuelson’s analysis?

How John Stuart Mill changed the culture

Roger Kimball on the legacy of John Stuart Mill:

In 1859, two revolutionary books were published. One was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The other was John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet On Liberty. Darwin’s book revolutionized biology and fundamentally altered the debate between science and religion. Mill’s book revolutionized the way we think about innovation in social and moral life.

What is your opinion of innovation? Do you think it is a good thing? Of course you do. You may or may not have read Mill on the subject, but you have absorbed his lessons. What about established opinion, customary ways of doing things? Do you suspect that they should be challenged and probably changed? Odds are that you do. Mill has taught you that, too, even if you have never read a line of On Liberty.

Mill’s essay was ostensibly about the relation between individual freedom and society. Mill famously argued that the only grounds on which society was justified in exercising control over its members, whether that control be in the form of “legal penalties” or simply “the moral coercion of public opinion,” was to “prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

This part of Mill’s argument quickly attracted searching criticism. The British judge James Fitzjames Stephen, for example, went to the heart of the problem when he observed that Mill assumed that “some acts regard the agent only, and that some regard other people. In fact, by far the most important part of our conduct regards both ourselves and others.” As for withholding “the moral coercion of public opinion,” Stephen observed that “the custom of looking upon certain courses of conduct with aversion is the essence of morality.”

Stephen’s criticisms of Mill were published in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, which appeared about a decade after On Liberty. Many of the criticisms are devastating. Intellectually, Stephen made mincemeat of Mill. But that has hardly mattered. Mill’s doctrines have taken the world by storm, while Stephen has receded to become a footnote in intellectual history.

Why? One reason is that Mill said things that people wanted to hear. Mill seemed to be giving people a permanent vacation from the moral dictates of society. How often have you heard the argument “It’s not hurting anyone else” put forward as a justification for self-indulgence?

But it was not simply what he said about the relation between individual freedom and social control that made On Liberty such an influential tract. Much more important was the attitude, the emotional weather, of the book.

On Liberty is only incidentally a defense of individual freedom. Its deeper purpose is to transform the way we regard established morality and conventional behavior as such. In brief, Mill taught us to be suspicious of established morality not because what it says is wrong (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) but simply because it is established.

Think about that. The tradition that Mill opposed celebrated custom and established morality precisely because they had prevailed and given good service through the vicissitudes of time and change; their longevity was an important token of their worthiness.

Mill overturned this traditional view. Henceforth, the customary, the conventional was suspect not because it had failed but simply because if was customary and conventional. . . .

Granted that every change for the better has depended on someone embarking on a new departure. Well, so too has every change for the worse. And surely, [David] Stove observes, there have been at least as many proposed innovations which “were or would have been for the worse as ones which were or would have been for the better.” Which means that we have at least as much reason to discourage innovators as to encourage them, especially when their innovations bear on things as immensely complex as the organization of society.

The triumph of Mill’s teaching shows that such objections have fallen on deaf ears. But why? Why have “innovation,” “originality,” etc., become mesmerizing charms that neutralize criticism before it even gets started when so much that is produced in the name of innovation is obviously a change for the worse? An inventory of the fearsome social, political, and moral innovations made in this century alone should have made every thinking person wary of unchaperoned innovation.

One reason that innovation has survived with its reputation intact, Stove notes, is that Mill and his heirs have been careful to supply a “one-sided diet of examples.” It is a technique as simple as it is effective:

Mention no past innovators except those who were innovators-for-the-better. Harp away endlessly on the examples of Columbus and Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno, Socrates and (if you think the traffic will bear it) Jesus. Conceal the fact that there must have been at least one innovator-for-the-worse for every one of these (very overworked) good guys. Never mention Lenin or Pol Pot, Marx or Hegel, Robespierre or the Marquis de Sade.

via Roger’s Rules » Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

 


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