Monday, January 31, 2005

Myths that won't go away:

[Forgive me if I seem to be picking only on certain conservative notions, but, as any of my readers know, the Founding & Religion is one thing that currently interests me. Certainly that Left has posited as much phoniness on various other issues (Rigoberta Menchu, etc.). Being a libertarian and owing no allegiance to the Right or the Left, I think I am less biased on some of these hot-button issues; but of course, even I have my libertarian biases and even we probably have been guilty of peddling false stuff as well. That being said....]

Ed Brayton again refutes a post based on an email/letter that is just riddled with outright falsehoods about our Founders & Religion. It's like reinventing the wheel (or maybe the story of Sisyphus is more apropos). It's like Paul Cameron and his phony social-science data on homosexual lifespans; it gets refuted again and again, only to have some new ignoramus (or even sadder, smart people who should know better) cite it again.

A while ago Ed did a line-by-line refutation of this email only to have someone throw this piece back in his face again. It's full of false quotes from our founding fathers, or outright misleading facts like 52 out of the 55 singers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox Christians (M.E. Bradford, who first argued this, categorized Jefferson as an "orthodox Christian." That's all we need to know about how misleading such a statement is: If someone belonged to a Christian Church, as Jefferson did -- he was a vestryman in the Anglican Church -- they got put into the "orthodox Christian" box. These people really don't want to know what Jefferson, or Adams for that matter, had to say about their kind of Calvinistic-Trinitarian-Revealed Christianity).

Speaking of someone peddling this ignorance, D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Hour has a program entitled, Building a Christian Nation, which I had the pleasure of watching this weekend.

In the program Kennedy features the false quote, attributed to, but never uttered by John Quincy Adams:

"The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: "It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

He also mentioned how George Washington kissed his Bible after being inaugurated, not realizing that he did this because it was a Masonic ritual, and Washington was intimately involved with the Freemasons (he was a Master Mason, after all), a group which Calvinistic Christians consider to be occultic. Kennedy also posits the George Washington Prayer Journal myth.

Kennedy also mentions, as if he had discovered the immutable Truth, the Holy Trinity decision of the Supreme Court where Justice Brewer in its dicta declared the US to be a "Christian Nation." Since when has Supreme Court dicta been understood to be inerrant? I guess the dicta in Lawrence v. Texas is now part of the Gospel. Furthermore, he claims that the Supreme Court spent 10 years researching that case?!?

Finally, when it came to who or what "founded America" Kennedy mistakenly (and many people make this mistake) argued that the Pilgrims founded America (he even bizarrely harkens back to Leif Erikson, and noted him as the first Christian founder of America). The notion is that the Pilgrims or the Puritans founded America on a covenant with the Christian God, etc. etc.

America, the nation, not the continent, was founded in 1776 and again in 1787. From the time the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock to 1776, what we now call the United States was simply a collection of British Colonies. And as such, they operated under the old order. When we Declared our Independence in 1776, we appealed to a modern political theory that radically broke with the traditions of the old order, which the Pilgrims and the Puritans represented.

For instance, let's examine the Mayflower Compact. That document does indeed make a covenant with the Christian God for the advancement of the Christian faith. But it also declares that they are, "the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James" and "in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth and of Scotland...." You see, we are dealing with Divine Rule of Kings here. This is what we rebelled against in 1776.

In 1776 we were founded on a modern political theory whose primary formulators were Hobbes & Locke. Hobbes started his intellectual work around the time that the Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth. And Locke wasn't even born until 1632. Thus, the ideals upon which we were founded weren't even known to the early settlors on the American continent.

Walter Berns's passage from Making Patriots is instructive:

Here it is appropriate to say a few words about the newness of "our case," or, to recall the motto inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States (and reproduced on every dollar bill), what it is that made for a novus ordo seclorum, which is to say, a new order of the ages. We were the first nation to declare its independence by appealing not to the past but to the newly discovered "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God...." Whereas the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob imposed duties on all men (see Exodus 20:1-17), "Nature's God" endowed all men with rights....p. 18

Kennedy in fact has cited such Straussians (in particular, Allan Bloom & The Closing of the American Mind) in his sermons; after all, they are social conservatives who support religious conservatives like him. Kennedy is not stupid; I think he has discussed politics with some of these conservatives. In fact, one of them accurately supplied Kennedy with the answer regarding what American was truly founded as. In the program, Kennedy mentioned how he was told that "the business of America is business," which is 100% accurate. We were founded as a commerical Republic; Hobbes & Locke took the state's focus off of the soul or the world to come and put it squarely on man's own comfortable self-preservation, or the things of this world. See Chapter 3, Commerce and Country, in Making Patriots. Dinesh D'souza also writes eloquently about this in What's So Great About America. Again, these sources aren't PC lefties; they are some of the most well-respected conservative thinkers.

But Kennedy disregards the truth and instead claims that American politics is all about God, meaning his Calvinistic-Trinitarian notion of God. He couldn't be more wrong. Sad. Oh well, I guess some people need myths by which to live.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Election:

Glad to see things are going nicely with the election in Iraq. I'm conflicted on the War -- and I think history ultimately will be the judge of this one -- but I think we need to keep two things in mind:

1) We are not the bad guys; the Islamofascists are the bad guys. The insurgents are the bad guys. They wouldn't purposefully target innocents and non-military targets -- something that they do and we do not -- and chop non-combatants (or even combatants) heads off if they were just.

2) We are trying to spread liberal democracy to illiberal lands, not to occupy or exploit and this is a noble goal. Liberal democracy is a superior system to Islamo-Sharia or corrupt dictatorships. The rights of the Declaration of Independence are not American per se; they are universally applicable.

The fact that we so nobly endeavored to pull this election off demonstrates our goal of attempting to transform Iraq into a modern liberal state, which if it could be done successfully, is better for Iraq and better for the world. Whether it successfully can be done and thus whether it was a wise move to attempt to do this remains to be seen.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Life imitates art:

Amazing. Couldn't you just imagine Homer Simpson (or Peter Griffin) getting himself into this predicament and getting himself out if using this method.
Why Rap is a Lamentable Social Phenomenon:

Because what they are rapping about is all too real.

Look, I like The Sopranos; it's a very well made show. And some of the characters on the show are likeable. Yet, they are also portrayed as very morally flawed individuals and were they real persons, would rightly belong in jail.

However, they are not real people; they are actors. But many of the rappers are the real deal. And, relatively few young Italian Americans are lured into the Mafia. The same thing cannot be said of young African Americans and the "Gangsta" subculture.

If the two circumstances were the same -- if The Sopranos glorified a social phenomenon that was seducing and destroying the lives of more than a nominal number of Italian Americans, and if such young Italians took their cues from that show -- I wouldn't support it.

I know a lot of white kids from middle class homes listen to rap as well. And to them, listening to rap music is exactly like watching The Sopranos. That's not what concerns me.

To compare The Sopranos with The Godfather, I do think that The Godfather sends a more dangerous message to society. If we compare and contrast the characters, they are like night and day. The cast of The Godfather are regal and classy, The Sopranos, crude and vulgar. The Sopranos, like Goodfellas, shows these characters "warts and all" and in doing so exposes the true (probably somewhat exaggerated) degeneracy of real life mobsters like John Gotti and Henry Hill.

I remember watching Camille Paglia on C-SPAN where she noted that she, like a lot of other Italian Americans, hated The Sopranos because of the way that it portrayed Italians as low-class ignoramuses and that a lot of middle-class, educated non-Italian whites like to watch that show and look down on its characters. She also noted how she loved The Godfather, with its classy characters.

I'm sorry, but what Mafia families do is not classy and regal; it's criminal and wrong. The Godfather glorified such criminality in ways that Goodfellas and The Sopranos do not. Therefore, the latter are the more socially responsible productions, even if all three are great works of art.

What I don't get about rap is, in their productions, these characters are shown "warts and all" as well. And I think a lot of middle-class fans who listen to rap do look down on the thuggery and don't take it seriously (like watching a violent movie). But insofar as rap influences real lives in certain social circles, such productions do glorify this lamentable lifestyle. One would think that the crudeness and reprehensibility of such rap characters alone would turn people away from the lifestyle.
Illinois Law:

Thanks to Tim Husley for the discussion of my blog and past post on the Illinois law which added "sexual orientation" to its official civil rights list of non-discrimination categories.

As it turns out, (see also Ed Brayton's post noting this), Peter LaBarbera et al. got it wrong; the law does not apply to religious entities (it's simply an amendment to an already existing law, which already provides a very generous exemption to religious organizations).

Thursday, January 27, 2005


As you can see, I'm experimenting with new Templates. Feel free to give me your feedback. For instance, someone wrote that the one with the black background and white letters was hard to read. Once I settle for the new one, I don't plan on changing it, because when you do change Templates (as far as I know) you lose your customized changes.

Thanks to Marriagedebate for the link to and reproduction of my post on Gay Adoption.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

New to the Blogsphere:

I'd like to personally welcome Karen McLauchlan to the blogsphere. She is blogging with Len and Brock over at Dark Bilious Vapors. Karen reads my blog and has often emailed me thoughtful feedback. Be sure to check out her posts!

It's always nice to get a link from Andrew Sullivan, as I did on my post on Daniel Lapin's article on how his fellow Jews and affect Western Culture. Thanks Andrew. Because of the link, I got a lot more traffic and mail. Here are some of the comments I received:

1) One point about the “Our Worst Enemy” piece… You write:

But he then uses that pose as a jumping off point to engage in some of the grossest ethnic stereotyping himself: He essentially accuses his fellow Jews of conspiring to subvert society with their filth.

He accuses secularist Jews of this, not observant Jews: it’s not ethnic stereotyping, it’s ideological (or perhaps spiritual). Secularist Jews that denigrate or profane sacred Judaica, as was done in the Fockers film, are engaging in anti-Semitism.

2) The problem with your piece on Lapin is that you assume that because Hitler and others had an extreme anti-Jewish paranoia, that Jews, as a definable (and self-defined) group should therefore be beyond criticism until the end of time. This is silly. Groups cannot benefit from their group identity but then cry foul when a massive over-representation is noticed.

3) I think it would help to see the movie. I only saw the first installment of "Meet the Parents," and I couldn't stand it. The sequel, from what I've heard, sounds even worse. I'll wait for it to appear on TV.

What Lapin is doing is something that, speaking VERY broadly, distinguishes the Right from the Left. The Right tries to maintain standards, decency, and is more than willing to criticize one of its own. The Left is somewhat more lax. Look at the difference between how Republicans treated Nixon and the Democrats Clinton, or Trent Lott's comments about race and Robert Byrd's.

One of the great problems in American discourse today is that if you criticize someone for behaving badly, the criticized person frequently shouts "[Insert racism or sexism or homophobia here]." Thus, it takes someone Jewish to criticise Jews behaving badly, or someone gay to criticize tacky behavior amongst gays. Or, for a more specific example, it took Bill Cosby to criticize Blacks in roughly the same terms as white Harvard researchers Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom.

Lapin brings up the sordid history of antisemitism because it would be very hard for a gentile to do so without bringing up the familiar charges. Lapin notes that Jews are playing into the terrible stereotypes developed over centuries, and asks why they're doing so and if they feel any shame. It's not a pleasant task, but I think it's one that needs to be done.

4) That [this piece] was written by a Jewish Rabbi makes it all the more interesting––and valid. It is in fact a great deal like Bernard Goldberg breaking ranks with the media moguls and exposing their prejudices and dishonest manipulations in his books Bias and Arrogance. Les Moonves and Dan Rather and the others may want to see Bernie Goldberg as a traitorous son-of-a-bitch and try to brand him as some sort of verminous species of pond scum, but I regard him as having performed a valuable public service. Like anything else, it all depends on your point of view.

[Lapin's citation of Hitler] sounds terrible––and we KNOW where it led––but has anyone ever bothered to find out EXACTLY what Hitler was talking about?

What WAS it that provided the RATIONALE for anything so hideous as the Holocaust? This should NOT be a taboo subject. Taboos have a long history of attracting lots of unwelcome attention to themselves––the lure of forbidden fruit.

Wy he didn't mention Norman Lear in there while he was at it I can't imagine. If you disagree that most of these influences have in fact coarsened our culture, I can't help you. I have already stated that I am a Streisand fan and have a lot of respect for Hoffman's great skill as an actor. That does not enhance my respect for Streisand's politics, however, or excuse the enthusiasm for socially destructive leftist, anti-American, anti-Capitalist causes these people advocate.
New Template:

As you can see, I have a new Template. I'm experimenting. The last one was real classy, but, when I decided I wanted to tweak my website, making changes to it was a real pain in the butt.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Strange article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin:

Daniel Lapin, if you do not know is a Jewish theocon, and has allied himself with the religious right, particularly those pre-millenial Protestant fundamentalists who support Israel. And like them he is a cultural critic.

Now, not every orthodox Christian is such a devout supporter of Israel, and in the past certain numbers of such Christians have been guilty of terrible anti-Semitism (as have individuals from many, many other groups). While I am NOT against constructive criticism of any social group or those within the group being constructively critical of their own, this article left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. While done under the auspices of Jewish constructive self-critiquing, it reads like an anti-Semitic screed, something that Joe Sobran would write. And this piece certainly could give fodder to those elements of anti-Semitism that have yet to be socially cleansed from society in general, and from orthodox Christian circles in particular.

He begins with a bizarre critique of a smash hit movie which, although I haven't seen, my parents tell me is hilarious. He can't even bring himself to name the title of the movie because of its innuendo: Meet the Fockers.

I was sorry to see Barbara Streisand involved in the flagrant defamation of Judaism found in this, her latest movie hit....In the new film to which I refer, she plays not a role, but a heinous caricature of a Jewess.

I am reluctant to name the movie on account of the implied vulgarity of its title. If you are reluctant to part with good money for the privilege of seeing the Jewish people being defamed, you should abstain from this movie. In spite of having several Jewish producers and several Jewish stars, this film's vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

But who is being the propagandist here? The thesis of the article is that Jews are playing a serious role in debasing American (and Western) culture. Isn't that what Hitler and Goebbles claimed? It sounds like Lapin is saying that Hitler was partially right re: the Jews malign influence on German culture.

Lapin cites Mein Kampf:

This excerpt from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf shows how that evil megalomaniac roused his nation to hurl an avalanche of destruction at the Jewish people:

Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? What had to be reckoned heavily against the Jews in my eyes was when I became acquainted with their activity in the press, art, literature, and the theater….It sufficed to look at a billboard, to study the names behind the horrible trash they advertised….Is this why the Jews are called the “chosen people”? The fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the country’s inhabitants, could simply not be talked away; it was the plain truth. (Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, Chapter II)

But here is Lapin, in his own words:

The sad fact is that through Jewish actors, playwrights, and producers, the Berlin stage of Weimar Germany linked Jews and deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations just as surely as Broadway does today. Much of the filth in American entertainment today parallels that of Germany between the wars.


You'd have to be a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia not to know of the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture. Almost every American knows this. It is just that most gentiles are too polite to mention it.

Lapin's list of prominent Jews who are "coarsening our culture" include, besides Streisand and Hoffman, Howard Stern, Jerry Springer, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Woody Allen and Ron Jeremy (yes, that Ron Jeremy; he is relevant because of the supposed disproportionate Jewish influence in the porn industry, particularly Jewish male actors, like Jeremy).

In this article Lapin casts a stone at the Jews in the media for ethnically stereotyping other Jews. And in doing so portrays himself as a Jew victimized by the anti-Semitism of other Jews, like Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand. (For instance, he claims that Woody Allen "portray[s] Jews, not to mention rabbis, as loathsome liars, desperate psychotics, pathetic perverts, and ridiculously lecherous losers. If Woody Allen were not Jewish, surely every Jewish organization would have roundly denounced him.")

But he then uses that pose as a jumping off point to engage in some of the grossest ethnic stereotyping himself: He essentially accuses his fellow Jews of conspiring to subvert society with their filth.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Richard Epstein was right:

Illinois has just become the 15th state to add "sexual orientation" to its official list of civil rights "non-discrimination" categories. Of course, the religious right is hysterical. Peter LaBarbera notes that unlike similar laws in other states and municipalities, Illinois provides no exemptions for religious organizations. This could lead to Churches being forced to hire homosexuals.

LaBarbera's comments illustrate the ridiculousness of the religious right's mantra of unelected judges undemocratically imposing "the gay agenda" on the will on the people. In fact, arguably the gay movement has won more battles in the legislatures than in the courts. And more importantly the aspects of the "gay agenda" that are most likely to interfere with the FREEDOM of anti-gay folks like LaBarbera come from such legislative, not judicial victories.

The concerns of gay rights roughly can be broken down into three categories of laws:

1) Sodomy Laws;

2) Gay Marriage & Civil Unions;

3) Anti-discrimination & "hate-crimes" codes.

Lawrence v. Texas ended the sodomy law battle. But keep in mind Lawrence struck down laws that were on the books in only 13 states, laws which were never enforced, arguably some of most stupid and unimportant (if you aren't gay) laws ever known to man. Moreover, after that decision, the freedom of anti-gay folks was not diminished one iota.

The gay marriage victory has been won in one court decision only-- in Massachusetts. In Vermont, a similar civil union battle was won in court. That's two out of 50 states where this issue was resolved undemocratically by courts (to be fair, Alaska & Hawaii both had similar court decisions in favor of gay unions, but were later overturned by the democratic process). Some other states, for instance, California and New Jersey, grant some sort of civil union status to gay couples. But those instances were done in the LEGISLATURES, not the courts.

And arguably gay marriage & civil unions do not diminish the freedom of opponents of such laws. From Richard Epstein's article on the subject:

When President Bush, for example, talks about the need to "protect" the sanctity of marriage, his plea is a giant non sequitur because he does not explain what, precisely, he is protecting marriage against. No proponent of gay marriage wants to ban traditional marriage, or to burden couples who want to marry with endless tests, taxes and delays. All gay-marriage advocates want to do is to enjoy the same rights of association that are held by other people.

Now to the third category of gay rights laws -- anti-discrimination codes (that apply in the private sector) and hate-crimes laws. 15-states and countless municipalities have anti-discrimination codes. Last I checked, around 30 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes laws that protect on the basis of sexual orientation.

They are far more widespread than gay marriage-civil union laws. And ALL of these laws were passed by democratically elected legislatures. More importantly, these are the laws -- these democratically enacted laws -- that are most likely to interfere with the freedom of anti-gay folks.

Epstein aptly notes this:

The case against state prohibition of same-sex marriages becomes clearer when we ask how much further we are prepared to take the principle of democratic domination. Where is the limiting principle on majority power? Suppose that the proponents of gay rights get strong enough politically to require traditional churches to perform gay marriages, or to admit gay individuals into their clergy. Or to demand that people accept gay couples as tenants in their homes, even if they regard their relationship as sinful. Now the shoe is on the other foot. I think that the paramount claims of individual liberty should not have to yield to democratic decisions intended to impose an alternative enlightened view of public morals.

So what about the respect that folks like LaBarbera commonly claim that we all should have for the democratic law-making process, when deciding hot button cultural issues? LaBarbera notes "There is no societal consensus for homosexuality, bisexuality or transsexuality as the basis for civil rights...." Okay fine, then lobby the legislators and governors to repeal these laws. And if they don't do so, vote them out. Is that what LaBarbera plans on doing? No. LaBarbera answers, "we hope ultimately it will be struck down in court...."

If this Illinois law is applied to demand Churches hire gay ministers or perform gay marriages, there indeed will be a federal court case, and that decision will rightly strike down such an application of this law, citing Boy Scouts v. Dale as precedent (and keep in mind Dale was a case where a court struck down the application of a democratically enacted statute, vetted by the highest court in a sovereign state).

Yes, now that the shoe is on the other foot, LaBarbera -- like the proponents of gay marriage -- will run to undemocratically appointed judges to strike down democratically enacted laws. So much for "the will of the people, as expressed through the legislatures."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Read this blog; read this post:

Any of my readers interested in the Straussians ought to be reading this blog, by novelist Douglas Anthony Cooper (who kindly permalinks to me).

He appears to have studied with the Straussians (including Bloom and Pangle) at University of Toronto, and was enamored with their philosophy. Although now critical of them, he's constructively, not hysterically critical, like so many of Strauss's critics seem to be these days.

Therefore, you'll get a lot of insights into that philosophy (insights that those in the group aren't always so up front about -- like their esoteric nihilism) without the distortionist garbage that typifies critics of Strauss like Shadia Drury and Anne Norton.

Here's a taste from this post:

On the other hand, the conservative political theorists who dominated life at the University of Toronto were among the most beguiling figures I have ever met. I have since come to realize that he was a perilous demagogue, but Alan Bloom --who was in exile in Toronto at the time -- was hypnotic. He had not yet written The Closing of the American Mind, but on campus he was already much much larger than life, either reviled or adored.

It's easy to see the attraction. Before encountering Bloom, I don't think I had really encountered thought. Most of my friends in high school imagined themselves intellectuals, and spent their stoned hours finding profundity in the lyrics of (Christ!) Peter Gabriel and Gentle Giant; whereas suddenly I was confronted with a man who was capable of presenting philosophy as a worldhistorical drama, as a terrifying battle whose stakes were immeasurable. Things mattered. Later I read Hannah Arendt's letters, in which she spoke with awe about her first encounters with Heidegger, about her astonishment that such a man could even exist: "There is a teacher!" Bloom was not Heidegger, but he was a superb rhetorician, and he effectively channeled far more intelligent men (including his own teacher, Leo Strauss.)

Perhaps we'll get some juicy gossip out of this blog:

While I never became a Straussian (I have come to suspect that you had to sleep with Bloom to enter the inner circle), I was very much a fellow traveler. Bloom -- and Emil Fackenheim, and Thomas Pangle -- rescued me from the banal.

And here is what I was referring to re: his fair criticisms of that group:

Many aspects of Straussian thought bothered me from the start. It required an approach to texts which was very much like an atheist brand of Christian fundamentalism: an exegetical insistence upon The One True Reading. Nothing is multivalent. Single words are always philosophical terms. "Virtu" in Machiavelli means virtue, even if it is translated as "cunning" or "wiliness." (In fact, I agree with this particular instance, because the other translations are simply euphemistic, but in many cases the Straussian way involves making a text into a textbook.)

Even more disturbing was the insistence that all metaphysical reasoning was simply a smoke-screen, set up to hide the inner meaning of the text, which was always political. Some smoke screen! You had to suppose that entire books were written simply to lead lesser readers down the wrong path... and some of those books were rather large and impressive. Are we really meant to believe that Aristotle's Metaphysics was a calculated red herring? It's kind of ludicrous, when contemplated from a distance, but I was hardly distant. In fact, from my brush with the Straussians, I've begun to see how radical Marxists, for instance, are capable of feverish loyalty to the most patent absurdities. It's the cult dynamic. It's the excitement of belonging to a select group, the only ones who have access to the narrative.

The final break with the Straussians came when I recognized how inept they were when operating in the actual political sphere. A crucial tenet of Strauss's doctrine is that the philosophers must ally themselves with the gentleman class, in order to preserve and safeguard their own subversive activity. This involves subtle manipulation: the philosopher is an atheist, but he must suck up to dominant politicians, however pious. The philosopher is intelligent, but he must ingratiate himself with the powerful, however ignorant. In short, Wolfowitz must manipulate Bush. Unfortunately, the first pol that the Straussians prominently identified as a crucial figure, the linchpin to the gentleman class, was Dan Quayle. Oops.

Repeatedly, when the Straussians step down from the ivory tower, they just get it wrong. Wolfowitz is certainly doing an effective job as the Machiavellian advisor to princes, but Jesus: look at his advice! Everything he has done has simply served to cause America terrible grief abroad, or to undermine the foundations of democracy at home. Hannah Arendt has pointed out that philosophers almost always get it wrong when they enter the real world -- and in fact generally end up in support of tyranny. She wrote this in defense of Heidegger's flirtation with Hitler, and she referred back to Plato's embarrassing attempt to become math teacher to the tyrant of Syracuse.

The walking disaster that is George W. Bush is responsible for my final break with ideological conservatism. It is impossible to support this man, much less admire him. He proudly flaunts the worst of human attributes: avarice, numbing piety, slack-jawed stupidity wedded to absolute certainty. To remain a conservative, with this dangerous buffoon stalking the planet, is to be a traitor to the human species.

Well, maybe he got a little unfair towards the end, but you see his point.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


That Stan Lee, one of the guys who built Marvel Comics, is having a falling out with that company. The other guy that built Marvel, the late Jack Kirby, had a falling out with them (and Lee) nearly 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, most of these issues are about money (and the strange quirks in our copyright law that allows big-businesses to make deals with artists, where the artists create characters that make millions, but the corporations get the bulk of the profits -- WORK FOR HIRE!!!!).

The worst horror story was the way DC Comics made millions while the creators of Superman were languishing (DC eventually, but only as a result of bad publicity, gave the two men annual stipends of a modest amount of $). Stan Lee however, was making a cool One-Million a year even before the dispute (now a judge just ruled that he is entitled to a lot more).

Click on this story for to see how Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn got BURNED by NOT acting like the big bad guys and making sure that his company, Image, owned outright the copyright to every character appearing in its books.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My Thoughts on Gay Adoptions:

James Dobson, in arguing against gay adoptions has said,

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and studies in the journals that show that children do best when you have a mother and a father providing role modeling for those kids and who are committed to each other."

Dobson and likeminded folks, when using this data in attempting to demonstrate the child-rearing superiority of heterosexual families to homosexual ones, make an apples to oranges comparison.

The problem: These studies demonstrating the superiority of mother & father households typically compare them to SINGLE PARENT homes, where the children commonly are born to young unwed mothers who do not finish high school.

And no doubt, such births are connected to a whole host of social pathologies, including crime, poverty, and lack of educational achievement.

James Q. Wilson, citing William Galston, demonstrates the connection between out of wedlock births and poverty:

“[Y]ou need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty—finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.”

And those poor families also have higher rates of violent crime and educational dysfunction as well. These -- and not homosexuals raising children -- are the compared families of Dobson's “hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and studies in the journals that show that children do best when you have a mother and a father….”

But, since there is good reason to believe that gay couples raising children eliminate many of the key problems inherent in single mother households, the studies demonstrating married intact families’ superiority over young-unwed single mother families, in and of themselves, prove nothing against the prospects of children being raised by gay couples.

First, studies demonstrate that if you control for wealth & income, many of the gaps in social pathologies between single-parent homes and married ones shrink. (To be fair, Wilson’s above linked article notes a study by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur that shows that although controlling for income shrinks the gaps, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. “The rest of the difference is explained by a mother living without a husband.”)

Given that out-of-wedlock births are such a major cause or contributor to poverty, we might note that that it makes little sense to control for wealth & income (to argue single motherhood is just fine and dandy). It’s like studying smoking’s impact on shortening lifespan but controlling/studying only people who don’t get lung-cancer.

But I think we can all see how an out-of-wedlock birth by a “Murphy Brown” type—where the child will grow up in a 6-figure household, perhaps go to private schools and having his/her own nanny—is not the same as a young unwed urban poor girl having a child. Murphy Brown’s “sin” and its connection to the urban poor is that it made light of a situation, and sent a positive message about a phenomenon that is connected to poverty, crime, and educational failure, even if Ms. Brown’s fictional child, most likely never would face such an environment.

But more importantly, “wealth & income control” is relevant to gay adoption: Some studies already show that gays have higher rates of wealth, income, and education (and the social right loves to trot them out when arguing why gays don’t need anti-discrimination protection). Stereotypical gay neighborhoods, from Dupont Circle, DC, to Provincetown, MA to New Hope, PA, to San Francisco, CA—and on and on—do tend to be affluent, educated, and urbane—the very opposite of places like North Philadelphia, PA, or Camden, NJ—or the many white ghettos like Lowell, MA—where out of wedlock births are the norm. Moreover, adoption procedures very often DO screen (or “control”) for economically stable families.

Therefore, there is good reason to believe that gay adoptors as a class will be economically stable, educated, and middle-class. This is not to say that there will never be any problems that result from two men or two women raising children. But one of the major problems confronting out of wedlock births—urban poverty, and its social environment of high crime and educational dysfunction—is a major concern entirely absent from gay adoptions.

What about those “gaps” that may persist between single parents and intact families, even when controlling for income? Well, evidence shows that those gaps are likely caused by there being only ONE, and not TWO parents present to take on the parental responsibilities.

Therefore, two key problems associated with single parent homes: (1) economic problems and (2) the problems resulting from the lack of a second parent in the home, are not concerns in intact gay households. Gay families may not be ideal—but they are closer to the ideal of two-parent heterosexuals raising children than a typical single mother household.

And any studies used to argue that heterosexual families are superior to homosexual ones MUST be apples to apples comparisons where two-parent gay families are compared to like two-parent heterosexual ones. As far as I am aware, NO such credible studies have been done.

Finally if, as it is being argued, adoption agencies have an obligation to prefer heterosexual couples to homosexual ones, they also should have an obligation to prefer homosexual couples to single parents seeking to adopt.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

John Adams, Man of Reason:

An interesting discussion on the religion of Jefferson and others has emerged. See Jason Kuznicki's post and the links contained therein. Sandefur, in commenting on all of this asserts that John Adams was a devout Christian. I'm not so sure I agree; as these posts have noted, it all depends on what it means to be "Christian."

Gregg Frazer's article at Claremont, on Theistic Rationalism, I think, correctly notes that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, & Franklin had religious views that pretty closely paralleled one another's with some nuances here and there.

I think Washington & Adams had nicer things to say about Christianity, both publicly and privately than did Jefferson & Franklin, with Madison somewhere in the middle.

John Adams was a Unitarian, which as far as I know was quite a liberal (not "orthodox") sect for the day (just as it's quite liberal today, but in a different sense), and he, like Jefferson, denied the Trinity. If you read their letters on the Trinity -- specifically commenting on Britain's 1813 repeal of their law that made it a crime to publicly deny the Trinity -- you'll see that the main difference between the two on that subject was candor, not substantive belief; Jefferson absolutely railed against the concept of the Trinity, while Adams politely remarked that he disbelieved in it.

And in explaining why he didn't believe in the Trinity, Adams lets it be known that he, like Jefferson, was a man of Reason, and did not believe in the inerrancy of Biblical Revelation.

This revelation had made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits, might scare us to death, might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five, but we should not believe it; we should know the contrary.

Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine glory, and there been told that one was three and three one, we might not have had the courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

Adams reminds me a lot of Claremont; they put reason over traditional orthodoxy and Revelation, but they attempt to act as a bridge between the two and stress how more often than not, they complement one another. I think that's where you get statements from Adams, for instance, that the principles of the American government are the same as the general principles of Christianity (properly understood, of course). But if you read his letters carefully, you will see that he was a man of Reason, just like the rest.

A lot of whether someone is properly deemed a "Christian" depends of what it means to be a "Christian." Andrew Sullivan, Howard Dean, Gary Wills, Phil Donahue, Peter Jennings, Clinton & Gore, are all "professing Christians." Even I, a professed religious skeptic (but also a skeptic of dogmatic atheism) am a baptized Catholic and I suppose a "Christian" in some sense. But then ask the fundies what they think about that, and they'll shriek, "they aren't real Christians!" Well, neither was John Adams (their kind of "Christian"). At the end of this letter to Jefferson, Adams writes,

The Calvinist, the Athanasian divines ... will say I am no Christian. I say they are no Christians, and there the account is balanced.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Dr. King Today:

There is no way to know what Dr. King's positions would be were he alive today. Conservatives and libertarians can admire King's appeal to color-blindness and the Declaration of Independence (as a core American principle). If we were to freeze King at that place in time his color-blind ideal seems to be consistent with what conservatives and libertarians now support (although not all of us support forcing color-blindness on the private sector).

However, there is no way to know whether King's position would (or not) have moved with the rest of the Civil Rights establishment into support for affirmative action, race-quotas and preferences and the like.
Throw the book out Bob, you'll end up with less egg on your face!

Robert Knight in an ironically entitled article, militant Secularism Distorts America's Heritage, distorts America's Heritage by offering David Barton's oft. cited phony quotes, attributed to, but never uttered by, our Founding Fathers. In all fairness to Barton, the primary source for many of these quotes is a book, America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations by William Federer, which Knight cites as his primary source. Here are the quotes Knight offers:

"The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His Apostles. ... This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our free constitutions of government." - Noah Webster

"The reason that Christianity is the best friend of Government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart." - Thomas Jefferson

"The highest story of the American Revolution is this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity." - John Adams

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ." - Patrick Henry

Quotes 3 and 4 have been debunked as phony (see the above linked article, by Rob Boston) and I am almost certain that number 2 is phony as well (if not, someone please send the source for the original quotation). I am not sure about the Noah Webster quote, but given the tainted source, we have reason to doubt that one as well.

In any event, Jefferson referred to Knight's form of Calvinistic Christianity as "Daemonism." Jefferson despised this kind of Christianity and instead (wrongly) predicted that a much more liberal form of Christianity, Unitarianism, would sweep America and become dominant.

Knight also claims, "George Washington, [was] one of the most devout Christians ever to be President...." If that's true then we haven't yet had a devout Christian to take office because there is no evidence that Washington was "Christian" in anything other than a nominal sense. Washington was, what would then be referred to as a "deist," but now is better understood as a "theistic rationalist," which is a deist who believes in an interventionist God, but still rejects so many of the fundamental tenets of traditional Christianity -- the Divinity of Jesus, the inerrancy of revelation, the doctrine of eternal damnation, and others -- that it hardly qualifies as an "orthodox" version of the faith in any meaningful sense. Indeed, Washington refused to take communion in his Anglican Church (something orthodox Anglicans didn't do), leading his own ministers to conclude that he was a deist!

Knight also writes:

Schoolchildren need to be taught the truth: that America is free and allows the practice of all religions specifically because it was founded by Christians, who understood that man's powers over man should be limited because man is a sinful, fallen creature. Without that Biblical understanding, governments become despotic.


It was because of his Christian beliefs, not in spite of them, that Washington treasured and protected religious freedom.

I have seen this sentiment written over and over again by the theocrats that it prompted me to write an article, soon to be published in Liberty Magazine. In fact, the Calvinistic-Puritan, "Christian Nation" Protestants believed in the antithesis of religious freedom. Their civil law reflected the Biblical passages that prescribed punishment, up to and including the DEATH PENALTY (for instance, those who publicly worshipped false gods got that one), for publicly bucking religious orthodoxy.

The understanding of Christianity that demands religious freedom to which Knight refers was established by Roger Williams, himself an evangelical, who, luckily wasn't killed by the Puritans, but instead was banished to found Rhode Island for daring to question Massachusetts's notion of a "Christian Commonwealth." Williams also famously said, "No civil state or country can truly be called Christian, although the Christians be in it." In short, nations full of Christians concluded that religious freedom was necessary only when they rejected that civil governments are properly founded as "Christian" in a public sense.

[Update: Sandefur addresses the Jefferson quote. It's almost certain to be horseshit.]

Bush & the FMA:

So Bush never really cared much about the FMA to begin with, it now seems. On social issues, I have always seen a marked difference between Bush on the one hand and his religious right supporters on the other. Perhaps it's Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, or perhaps it's because Bush is just a nicer guy, but from the beginning Bush has always seemed a lot more moderate on this particular social issue (and others as well). (Although he is certainly no social libertarian).

We shouldn't forget that early on in his first administration, Bush was criticized, pretty seriously by groups like CWFA and FRC for being too nice to gay people (i.e., appointing openly gay individuals to certain posts, refusing to roll back the pro-gay gains of the Clinton administration, etc.).

He needed to shore up support for his base to win the election; his views on social issues appeared to converge with theirs. But now the election is over, Bush is going back to his more moderate stance. He will compromise on these issues. And ultimately his positions won't satisfy the extremes of either side.

But Bush is not Gary Bauer or James Dobson, thank God.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

James Madison's theory of Separation of Church & State:

Anyone having the time and interest should read this paper by Phillip Munoz on Religion & the Founding. I first saw him present this paper on CSPAN (this was truly a great show; it also had another scholar, from Grove City College, I do believe who discussed the "theistic rationalism" of the Framers). Now I've found Munoz's paper on the Internet.

Madison, accordingly, sought to separate ecclesiastical authority and political power. He sets forth his constitutional understanding of the principle for division in his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance,” an often cited but little understood document.

Article 1 of the “Memorial” states that because religious opinions cannot be coerced and because religious obligations are a duty precedent in time and authority to the claims of civil society, religion is an “unalienable” right. “Unalienable” has a precise and definite meaning for Madison. Unlike other natural rights such as property, which are transformed into civil rights upon entering the social compact (and thereby better secured), individuals cannot give up their natural right to religious freedom. Religion, Madison therefore concludes, is “exempt from the authority of the society at large” and “is wholly exempt from [civil society’s] cognizance.”

By “non-cognizance” Madison means that the state may not recognize or acknowledge the religious affiliation of individual citizens or associations of citizens. Literally, the state may not take religion into its view. To adapt a term from civil rights discourse, the state must remain “religion blind.” The state, therefore, may neither privilege nor penalize [Rowe's emphasis] a citizen or an organization on account of religious affiliation. It may not grant exclusive privileges to one sect or to all religions generally. Ecclesiastical establishments, accordingly, violate the legitimate constitutional authority of any social compact. By definition, they fail to respect the “unalienable” character of man’s natural right to religious liberty.

A majority of scholars and several Supreme Court justices have misinterpreted Madison as demanding a strict “wall of separation” between church and state. They fail to see the social compact framework of the “Memorial and Remonstrance,” and thus fail to see that Madison limits the state’s authority either to favor or disfavor religion. Just as the state may not single out Religious Liberty and the religion or religious citizens for beneficial preference, so the state may not exclude religious entities or religious individuals as such from generally available rights and privileges. To take one currently controverted point, according to Madison’s principle, if the state supports a general social service program, it may not exclude, on account of religion, religious individuals or religious associations from competing for government funds.

Now, Munoz is known for taking a conservative view on the Establishment Clause, but if he endorses this Madisonian interpretation of religion & government, this is a far cry from the conservative view that the Establishment Clause should be understood as a federalism only provision, one that only forbids the national government from erecting a national Church, and that government & religion should be able to intertwine themselves as much as they want after that.

Neutrality, "religion blindness," being able to neither "privilege nor penalize" religion are the standards that the Court should use to determine what degree of separation of Church & State is constitutionally required. Such a standard would explain why vouchers, for instance, do not violate the Constitution.

Conservatives might counter that Madison's & Jefferson's views weren't dominant at the time of the founding. But a natural rights approach to the Constitution would ask whether the Madisonian, Jeffersonian view is necessary to respect the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, someone like Justice Thomas, or the entire bunch at Claremont, for instance, should support the degree of separating Chuch & State that Jefferson and Madison called for in their respective Virginia documents.

[Update: Thanks to Positive Liberty for the discussion.]

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Friday, January 14, 2005

Informative Fisking:

Great fisking by Ed Brayton on an article that horribly misrepresents the arguments of those in favor of separation of Church & State. Ed's discussion of the Treaty of Tripoli is especially informative.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Is this Nature's God?

Someone apparently noticed my interest in the natural theology of the Founding Era and its notion of "Nature's God," which is God insofar as we can understand His attributes through the lens of reason, not revelation, and emailed me his site which purports to reveal some of the "mystery" behind Nature's God.

Check it out and see what you think.

Update: Reader Karen McLauchlan writes:

On more funky thought to stir into the pot of "nature's God" :

Did you ever come across Dr. Steven Wolfram's "A New Kind Of Science" published in 2002? Wolfram created a program "mathematica" of simple mathematical programs which run and mimic complex processes found in nature.

He avoids the "God" implications in either creationsism or Intelligent Design, except by suggestion that if one believes in God as proved by the immeasurable complexity and variety found in nature, the truth may be that if there was a divine "plan" it may have been a "simple plan" after all.

Thanks again. Karen McLauchlan

p.s. I am not a mathematician, so many of the 1197 pages of equations fall outside of my ken, but the basic principles he explains and the models he illustrates are amazing.

See this website as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Do you do drugs Danny?

Be sure to check out Danny Noonan's fine new blog, If I don't like the way he posts, maybe I'll buy Bushwood!
Was Lincoln Gay?

I've heard the rumors for a long time, but dismissed them as pure speculation and gossip. But I never did must investigating.

Now there is a new book out that makes the case that he was. And from what I've heard from respectable sources, in all likelihood, he was. Or at least, in some way, he was.

Andrew Sullivan reviews the book and seems to be convinced. One could argue that Sullivan's position shouldn't surprise us because he has a personal bias. Also interesting about Sullivan's review is that, while there is no one "gay stereotype," there certainly are some true "gay stereotypes." And Lincoln's coming of age seems to parallel Sullivan's story as he laid out in his book Virtually Normal. As Sullivan writes, " I don't doubt that my own view that Lincoln was obviously homosexual is affected by my personal recognition of some aspects of the story, especially in his early years." You'll have to read the review for more detail. But Lincoln and Sullivan seem to fit the stereotype of the "gay intellectual," who sublimates his sexual and emotional desires in adolescence into "learning and bookishness" fitting the "best little boy in the world" stereotype.

For me, the oral history of Lincoln's stepmother, recounted in the book, was also enlightening. Not that she thought her stepson was gay; the word and category didn't exist. And I don't mean her assertion that he "was not very fond of girls." Rather, it was her account of his reclusiveness, emotional distance, and resorting to learning and bookishness, that was noteworthy. No, not definitive--many straight kids have similar experiences. But Lincoln was also the classic "best little boy in the world" type in childhood--one of the largest categories of gay male childhood there is.

And the Weekly Standard's trashing of this book is every bit as if not more so biased, on the other side, as Sullivan's. The author of the Standard's article worked with the late author of Lincoln book and had a nasty falling out with him. And what's with the cover? We know the Standard has contempt for gays; but the cover seems to be disrespectful of Lincoln as well. Is the Standard turning into

For a book review that clearly has no axe to grind, and for that reason, this review ultimately convinces the most, is Richard Brookhiser's in the New York Times. Brookhiser is a National Review conservative, and while many of them are homophobic, he is not. Yet, he is a heterosexual conservative writer for the National Review -- meaning that he is not given to "homopropaganda" (a term John Derbyshire used in a personal email to me).

He sums up his position as follows: "In any case, on the evidence before us, Lincoln loved men, at least some of whom loved him back."

Update: Sandefur vehemently disagrees! He knows much more than I about Lincoln. And I don't have the expertise or the interest to defend the "Lincoln is gay" thesis. But let point out two things. First, I was basically appealing to authority: Richard Brookhiser's. And he is an eminent historian, who gets respect from all over the political spectrum but is on the Right, and unlike Sullivan and Nobile, has no axe to grind.

Second: Although I'm not interested in fighting this, Sullivan is. Sandefur might want to check out this multi-part long post of his.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Faith of our founders:

Over at Claremont, Gregg Frazer reviews a book by Alf J. Mapp, investigating the faith of our founders. The book and its review seem to focus, certainly not on the beliefs of all of them, but rather on the central group of framers that includes the first four Presidents and the majority of those on the drafting board of the Declaration of Independence. We are talking about men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and a few others.

While I would make many points clarifying the following passage, I think, Frazer hits pretty close to the "natural religion" of our Framers (this natural religion is important because, its God, Nature's God, ultimately was the one who granted us our natural rights):

Although affiliated with various denominations, the major founders did not typically hold to the beliefs officially espoused by their denominations. Similarly, while Franklin and Jefferson are regularly listed as deists, they did not believe in the fundamental tenets of deism. The key founders shared a common belief which might be called theistic rationalism. Theistic rationalism was a hybrid, mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with rationalism as the predominant element. Accordingly, the founders believed in a benevolent, active, and unitary God who intervenes in human affairs. Consequently, they believed that prayers are heard and effectual. They believed that the key factor in serving God is living a good and moral life, that promotion of morality is central to the value of religion, and that the morality engendered by religion is indispensable to society. Because virtually all religions promote morality, they believed that most religious traditions are valid and lead to the same God.

Though theistic rationalists did not believe that Jesus was God, they considered him a great moral teacher and held a higher view of him than did deists. They believed in a personal after-life in which the wicked will be temporarily punished and the good experience happiness forever. Although they believed that God primarily revealed himself through nature, they believed that some written revelation was legitimate. Finally, while they believed that reason and revelation generally agree with each other, theistic rationalists believed that revelation was designed to complement reason (not vice versa). Reason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God.

First off, when Frazer writes that Franklin and Jefferson rejected "the fundamental tenets of deism" he is referring to the tenet of deism that posits a strictly non-interventionist Deity and that both of these men alluded to a Providence that intervened. Moreover, Frazer notes (before the above passage) that Jefferson never claimed to be a deist. That is wrong. Jefferson did claim to be a deist, and a unitarian, and a Christian.

Regarding deism and interventionism, it depends on how one defines "deism"; yes there was a strand of strict capital D Deism that posited a God that absolutely did not intervene. And very few of our founders fit this definition. However, there is a broader understanding of deism as well. As Russell Kirk wrote in Roots of the American Order:

Deism was neither a Christian schism nor a systematic philosophy, but rather a way of looking at the human condition; the men called Deists differed among themselves on many points. Deism was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific speculation. The Deist professed belief in a single Supreme Being, but rejected a large part of Christian doctrine. Follow Nature, said the Deists (as the Stoics had said before them), not Revelation: all things must be tested by private rational judgment.

This seems to be entirely consistent with what Frazer terms, "theistic rationalism." I'm not sure what to call it: deism, unitarianism, theistic rationalism, but it seems to be the baseline of our founders' natural religion that dovetails with our founding political principles or "the laws of nature and nature's God."

One other thing, about God's interventionism: Jefferson did indeed write about society feeling God's wrath if we didn't respect natural rights. And Washington and others spoke about God's Hand of Providence guiding human affairs. However, as rationalists, they were extremely skeptical about miracles. Jefferson believed most, if not all of the miracles of the Bible to be fiction. So when God did intervene he didn't do so by parting the Red Sea or Walking on Water. He did so by acting in accordance with the rules of science, not by breaking them. For instance, "We miraculously won such and such a battle against the British"; that could be God's work. But what God didn't do was send any magical lighting bolts or do a magic act that contradicts the laws of nature in our favor.
Back in the NE:

Brrrr! Well, it's really not that cold, but far from the mid-80s as it was in FLA.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A very bad article:

I don't have the time or desire to refute all of the inaccuracies in this very long article on the Separation of Church and State by David Kupelian of WorldNetDaily. That could literally swallow the rest of my vacation time.

Instead let me note that the article erroneously claims that "the 10 Commandments [are] the undisputed basis for America's laws," (when in reality only 3 or 4 of the Ten Commandments are in any way appropriately related to the civil laws, and such norms, for instance against killing and stealing, have existed cross-culturally in places never touched by the Ten Commandments). And he sums up his article with one of David Barton's phony quotes, attributed to, but never uttered by James Madison:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

The rest of the article is full of errors or misleading arguments like this.

[Update: I sent Mr. K my post; he didn't write back. However, the phony quote by Madison is now gone from the article. It was there this morning (it concluded the piece). Now it's gone. Should I expect a "thank you"?]

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Walter Williams's Semantics:

Walter Williams correctly notes that the United States is not a "pure democracy," but rather a representative republic. However, I think he makes a semantical error when he claims that the United States is in no sense a "democracy," and in every sense a "republic."

We often hear the claim that our nation is a democracy. That wasn't the vision of the founders. They saw democracy as another form of tyranny. If we've become a democracy, I guarantee you that the founders would be deeply disappointed by our betrayal of their vision. The founders intended, and laid out the ground rules, for our nation to be a republic.

The word democracy appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution -- two most fundamental documents of our nation. Instead of a democracy, the Constitution's Article IV, Section 4, guarantees "to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government."

The United States is a (small l, small d) "liberal democracy"; in fact we were the first true liberal democracy. However, the concept of a representative constitutional republic (a term of which I think Williams would approve), is a specific version of the larger general concept of liberal democracy.

Look, I completely support the notion of a constitutional republic over a pure democracy; in fact, I'm deeply skeptical of majorities and their abilities to enact their whims into legislation and referenda.

However, I have a feeling that when someone generically refers to the US as a "democracy" Williams feels the need to correct them. I think Williams would be wrong to do so. Technically we are a type of democracy, just not a "pure" democracy.
Out of Town:

I'm blogging from a suburb of Orlando, FLA. It's 80 degrees and sunny -- much better than the Northeast!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Natural Rights rationale for Separating Church & State:

[Timothy Sandefur wrote me asking for my thoughts on the originalist rationale for Disestablishment-Separation of Church & State doctrine. The following is based on the email that I sent him in response.]

I think that the rationale behind the doctrine of "separation of Church & State" is that both liberty and equality of conscience are the utmost unalienable of rights. The religion clauses of the Federal Constitution attempt to secure such rights at the federal level, and the 14th Amendment secures them against the states.

I was skimming through Akhil Amar's book on the Bill of Rights and he notes that while he endorses a meaning of the Establishment Clause, where it should properly act as a non-incorporated federalism only provision, he also notes that much of the doctrine of Separation of Church & State is legitimate, but rather should be done through the Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses.

I saw Phillip Hamburger speak at Princeton where he noted "the Establishment Clause is not an equal protection clause," to which a subsequent speaker replied, "but the Equal Protection Clause is an equal protection clause."

I think one of the flaws of Randy Barnett's otherwise excellent book (and Lawrence Solum linked to an article review making this exact point) is that he refers to 9th & 14th's Amendment natural rights, only as "liberty" rights, whereas there are also natural "equality" rights as well.

We libertarians perhaps rightly fear the concept of "natural equality rights" because of the horrors and injustices of radical egalitarianism. Therefore, we need to put equality, liberty, and property together into a coherent, consistent natural rights theory.

But I think the bottom line is respecting the free and equal rights of conscience of all men invariably requires a secular state with a great deal of separation of Church & State.

PS: Check out these past posts as well:

Kameny responds:

Frank Kameny, one of the earliest and most distinguished gay rights activists, responds to my last post on legislating morality:

First, morality AS MORALITY should not be legislated and cannot be.

Matters of morality and immorality are ones of personal opinion and individual religious belief, upon which each person may make up his or her own mind but which government may not properly EXPLICITLY define -- that is, government may not properly say in so many words, that something is moral or immoral. The term and the concept have no place at all in law and public policy.

If public policy is to mandate or proscribe anything, there must be ancillary substantiv reasons, not merely that it is moral or immoral. For example, that it imposes upon others against their will (e.g. theft; murder). That is, there is a nonconsenting victim.

In short, public policy and law should protect citizens from each other, and maintain order. Morality, qua morality, is irrelevant. The word should not even be used in this connection.

The Supreme Court, in discounting Texas' arguments in Lawrence, got it exactly right.

Second. The objectionable essence of adultery is not sexual at all, and, conceptually, it is not a sexual "sin" or even a sexual act. Adultery is a breach of contract, with a victim, unlike actual consensual sexual activity as such.

Third. Who decides who is a false god and who is a true one? The god of the Bible, and of fundamentalist Christians is a false god who is an irrational homophobic bigot and an abomination. In point of fact, there are no true gods because there are no gods at all. There is not a shred of valid, credible, persuasive evidence for the existence of anything supernatural at all, so all gods, being supernatural by nature and by very concept, do not exist, and so ALL claimed gods are false gods.

Frank Kameny

Monday, January 03, 2005

Legislating Morality:

Here is another hot button culture war battle. One side remarks: "You can't legislate morality." The other counters, "every piece of legislation reflects someone's morality." We all agree that we shouldn't steal or kill, or enslave human beings; those are both basic moral sentiments and basic public laws.

My belief is that social libertarians should be cautious before they assert that public policy and morality are two completely separate concepts, because there is a big overlap between the two (even thought there is good reason to reject much of the so called "morals legislation," like now defunct sodomy laws). Rather we need to draw a distinction between public morality and private morality, and which things belong in which sphere.

That is, there are certain (many) things regarded as immoral by many folks; but such sentiments are properly consigned to the private realm, nonetheless (this is similar, I guess, to Rawls's theory of "public reason").

[Note, I use the terms "public policy" and "public morality" interchangeably. I assume that if something qualifies as "public morality" it appropriately belongs to the realm of civil governments' legitimate policy making concerns.]

My main target would be those social conservatives who might argue that all morality properly is public morality or folks who otherwise seem to argue that every word of the Bible or their Church's teachings ought to dominate public policy.

The truth is, some of the most basic and elementary moral tenets of certain religious and philosophical traditions appropriately belong to the private, not the public sphere.

Take the issue of homosexuality, for instance (where we debate which realm anti-gay sentiments properly belong). A religious conservative might argue, "my religion says it's wrong, so wrong that its practicioners should be stoned to death, therefore I'm against it and I'm against any kind of law or government action that might imply that this is okay. In fact, I want the government to reflect that this is wrong."

Would there be a way to convince this person that his or her anti-homosexual sentiments are just fine within the realm of private, but not public morality? I don't know. We could start by demonstrating that there are many other moral tenets, ones even more basic and elementary to their religious traditions than homosexuality, ones that for which the Bible proscribes the death penalty, that we exclude from the realm of public morality.

For instance, while anti-homosexual tenets are nowhere the be found within the Ten Commandments, the First Commandment holds don't worship false Gods. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, God commands his worshippers to immediately execute others for proselytizing the worship of false Gods.

As I noted before, (and will note in a forthcoming publication) some of our Colonies, which saw no distinction between Church & State, had the death penalty on the books for openly worshipping false Gods.

Therefore, when the Hari Krishnas at the airport hand out their literature with those neat and fancy pictures of all those Hindu Gods and encourage you to join, they are doing something that the Bible regards every bit as immoral and serious a transgression against God as homosexuality (if not more so). Yet, although we (ought to, in my opinion) respect as a legitimate private conviction a Christian fundamentalist's belief that the Krishnas worship and encourage others to worship false gods and therefore do something terribly sinful, we also properly exclude such a judgment from the realm of public morality.

And moreover, we grant the most fundamental constitutional and civil rights status to the rights of Hari Krishnas to violate the most basic tenets of Biblical morality.

It could be argued that Hari Krishnas have such rights because religious rights (ala the First Amendment) are special. The rights of conscience were basic according to founding philosophy. Sexual morality was not.

But there are many other basic moral tenets of Biblical morality that we exclude from the realm of public morality as well. In fact, the majority of the Ten Commandments are properly relegated to sphere of private morality, not public policy.

See this excellent post by Ed Brayton, where he notes what I've said about the First Commandment not being a proper basis for public policy, but also the Second (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image), Third (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain), Fourth (Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy), Fifth (Honour thy father and thy mother), and Tenth (Thou shalt not covet).

The Seventh Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery) is about sexual morality; therefore, it is one that, like homosexuality society, we may debate which box -- the private or public -- to place it in.

And the Sixth (Thou shalt not kill), eighth (Thou shalt not steal), and arguably -- insofar as it relates to laws like defamation and perjury -- the Ninth (Thou shalt not bear false witness) are properly put in the "public" box.

Now this isn't to say that there is something wrong with believing that the Ten Commandments represent important moral teachings (although, like Alan Dershowitz, I think we can compile a much better "Top Ten" list). But the bottom line is, a majority of the Ten Commandments, the most basic and elementary tenets of Biblical morality, are properly consigned to the realm of private morality and do not serve as legitimate bases for public laws.

And there are plenty of other moral teachings of orthodox religion as well that properly have nothing to do with public law; for instance, the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Could you imagine attempting to legislate this morality?

Finally, the Bible condemns usury, not just at excessive interest rates, but any interest. And it does so with same seriousness that it condemns homosexuality. See this article by John Corvino:

In the Book of Exodus God says “if you lend money to my people, to the poor among you. you shall not exact interest from them” (22: 25). The fifteenth Psalm says that those who lend at interest may not abide in the Lord's tent or dwell on his holy hill (1-5). Ezekiel compares usury to adultery, robbery, idolatry, and bribery, and asks whether he who “takes advanced or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” (18: 10-13; see also Deut. 23:19, Lev. 25: 35-37, Neh. 5: 7-10, Jer. 15:10, Ezek. 22: 12, and Luke 6:35)


Thanks to Timothy Sandefur at Freespace for the opportunity to guest blog there, once again.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Textualism is Superior to Original Intent:

Although I'm not a gung-ho advocate of the jurisprudence of Justice Scalia, the judicial philosophy of textualism, a variant of which Scalia advocates, as opposed to looking to the collective "original intent" (subjective expectations on how the various provisions of the Constitution would apply at that particular time and place) of the Framers, is better for those of us concerned with protecting individual rights.

This is because many of the "rights" provisions of the constitution are written in very broad, generous terms. And the "original intent" argument is often used to read those broad rights provisions in the narrowest manner, often literally subverting the text of the Constitution and giving the impression that our Framers really didn't mean it.

Take the First Amendment's Free Speech clause for instance: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech...." The norm derived from the plain language of that clause is "government can't censor." So let's apply that norm to factual circumstances. Congress wants to pass a law regulating indecency on the airwaves. Can they do this? Well our free speech norm says no, Congress can't censor.

But the Borkian "original intent" types argue that Congress can outlaw indecency under the First Amendment, because the framers didn't expect that clause to protect such speech.

If you look at the Congressional laws passed by the same people who passed the First Amendment, the argument goes, we can conclude that the Framers thought that government could properly censor anything it wanted, after the fact, that government was forbidden only from enacting prior restraints on speech.

In other words, Congress really can make laws that abridge the freedom of speech (even though the text of the Constitution states otherwise).

See what I mean when I argue that "original intent" is often used to subvert the text of the Constitution, giving the impression that our framers didn't really mean it when they wrote, "make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Posner on natural law, and other thoughts on jurisprudence:

This post by Richard Posner is just too interesting to let go without some reflection. As we mentioned before, Posner’s jurisprudence is grounded in postmodern philosophy that rejects the natural law or that there are any objective (i.e., “self-evident”) grounds for making moral distinctions.

But here, Posner lets it be known that he views natural law to be perhaps a “useful fiction” or device in jurisprudence. The reason why Posner would allow natural law to be used in judicial decision making is, because of the nature or our common law system, judges are inevitably left with “gaps” that they, as judges, need to fill when deciding questions of law.

But before I explain how Posner believes natural law might be used to fill the gaps, let me preface my remarks with some background on why there are "gaps" that judges need to fill.

Posner has rightly criticizes “original intent” conservatives like Bork who argue that judges never have to “make the law” but simply “apply it” by magically “channeling the framers” to find their collective original intent (and it would be useful to familiarize ourselves with 18th Century sociology and impute all of those prejudices into this collective original intent as well), and we can answer every specific fact/law question by this method.

Posner responds:

Many provisions of the Constitution, however, are drafted in general terms [note: many statutes are as well]. This creates flexibility in the face of unforeseen changes, but it also creates the possibility of alternative interpretations, and this possibility is an embarrassment for a theory of judicial legitimacy that denies that judges have any right to exercise discretion. A choice among semantically plausible interpretations of a text, in circumstances remote from those contemplated by its drafters, requires the exercise of discretion and the weighing of consequences. Reading is not a form of deduction; understanding requires a consideration of consequences. The broader principle, which applies to the Constitution as much as to a spoken utterance, is that if one possible interpretation of an ambiguous statement would entail absurd or terrible results, that is a good reason to reject it.

Even the decision to read the Constitution narrowly, and thereby to “restrain” judicial interpretation, is not a decision that can be read directly from the text. The Constitution does not say, “Read me broadly,” or “Ready me narrowly.” The decision to do one or the other must be made as a matter of political theory and will depend on such things as one’s view of the springs of judicial legitimacy and the relative competence of courts and legislatures in dealing with particular types of issue.

Posner, Overcoming Law, p. 234.

I think Posner nails the one thing that ticks me off the most about the Graglia, Bork (and Clayton Cramer and Owen Courreges) jurisprudence is that they assume that the framers “intended” their so called “original intent-judicial restraint” jurisprudence, when there is every reason to believe that by writing the Constitution in such broad generalities and leaving behind no specific “book” of “original intent answers to specific questions that might arise under the Constitution in the future” that the Framers intended to create a document that could be interpreted in various ways in the future, depending on changes in circumstances. And they didn’t want to “lock us in” to 18th Century sociology complete with its prejudices.

But that’s not the same as saying that the Constitution means whatever a majority of Justices want it to mean. There are certain objective, timeless, general principles that never change—for instance, what is written in the text of the Constitution (unless amended). For example, as long as we have the First Amendment there must always be a constitutional free speech norm that holds, “government can’t censor.” But in terms of the specific application of that norm, our founders didn’t provide the answer to say whether hard core pornography ought to be protected in the future, and they KNEW THEY DIDN’T have such specific answers, but they also KNEW that until the First Amendment was amended or repealed, the Free Speech norm would be eternal.

So any judicial decision that flouts the text of the Constitution, ipso facto, is a bad result. For instance, reading the 2nd Amendment out of the Constitution; ignoring the doctrine of enumerated federal powers, which is unarguably clear from the text of the Constitution.

One thing that distinguishes Posner from some of the left-wing critics of Borkian jurisprudence, notably the critical legal theorists, is that such Foucault influenced Leftist are so enamored of the notion that there is no objective Truth, that they deny that judges should anchor themselves to any notions of objectivity whatsoever in deciding cases.

From what I understand, the Law & Economics school that Posner speaks for and the Critical Legal Theorists are both offshoots of the school of Legal Realism, ala Holmes; but the major split between them is that although Posner’s Holmesean jurisprudential approach doesn’t believe in objective moral Truths, it still believes that some type of objective decision making ought to guide judges—and they use the objective science of economics in particular (and social science in general) as that anchor.

But it’s clear that the Posners, the Crits (and I) believe that there are gaps (meaning specific answers to Constitutional questions) that were intentionally left open by the framers of the Constitution that later generations would have to answer.

Here is where natural law comes into the picture: Like Justice Thomas, I think that the objective theory of natural right, perfectly encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance, and in other writings of Madison, Jefferson, and Locke and others ought to be used to fill those gaps as well.

And even though Posner doesn’t believe in the objective Truth of natural law, he is not against Judges applying it. From his above linked post:

I have a qualified sympathy for the idea of natural law. If a novel case arises--one that cannot be decided by subsumption under clear statutory or constitutional language or precedent--the judge will have to look elsewhere, and if one wants to call the elsewhere "natural law" I have no strong objection, as long as it is understood not to be Thomas Aquinas's concept of natural law. The vaguer, less consistent, more anachronistic, more gap-ridden, and more absurd the orthodox materials of judicial decision (constitutional and statutory text, precedent, etc.) are, the more the judges will be on their own in deciding cases. And that is the situation in which American judges, especially appellate judges, often find themselves. Whether they draw on economic theory or political principles, or on some inarticulate notion of what is fair or right, to decide cases in the broad open area of American law, they will be going outside the positive law in any useful sense of that term--and, as I say, if you want to call where they are going natural law, that is all right with me.

Yet, I’m disappointed by how Posner would make use of this “useful fiction” of natural law:

Slavery is a good example of a practice believed to be contrary to natural law; and one comment notes the affinity between the concept of natural law and the idea of international legal norms as a source of guidance in interpreting local constitutional law….Yet in the context of pre-Civil War U.S. law, natural-law arguments for the unconstitutionality of slavery would have collapsed in the face of the constitutional text and history and the political balance of power….

Posner also writes,

One commenter asks, wouldn't it have been a good thing if, before the Civil War, the Supreme Court had taken note of the fact that the other nations of what we regarded as the civilized world had outlawed slavery? Could not the Court have used that international consensus to outlaw slavery in the United States? It could not have, because the preservation of slavery was the essence of the compromise that enabled the U.S. Constitution to be ratified, and because a decision outlawing slavery would have precipitated the secession of the southern states even quicker than the election of Lincoln did--he campaigned only to limit the spread of, and not to abolish, slavery. Abolition had to await the Emancipation Proclamation (of uncertain constitutionality) and the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Two important notes: One, it’s legitimate to argue, as Posner seems to, that the Court should not have applied the anti-slavery natural law norm, in order to stave off a civil war and later on attempt to more peacefully end the inhumane institution (that of course, turned out to be impossible). But Posner argues moreover, that slavery was constitutional according to our original (1787 or 1789) Constitution. My problem with this sentiment is that it believes that we were founded not on our ideals (which were fundamentally anti-slavery), but rather on our compromises with our ideals.

Posner is right to reject Aquinas’s notion of the natural law, if for no other reason than such theory saw nothing wrong with slavery. But the later natural law that we were founded on, Lockean-Jeffersonian-Madisonian, was indeed anti-slavery. If you believe that such natural law is the objective Truth, we could say that just as Einstein’s “discovery” of the Truth superseded what Newton knew, our Founders discovered a “Truth” that slavery violated the law of nature, of which Aquinas was not aware.

And we, in building upon the shoulders of our founders, and applying their objective, timeless principles, can similarly discover Truths of which our founders may not have been aware. See Lawrence v. Texas.