Jan 6, 2012

Ron Paul to the Constitution: Friend or Foe?

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ron Paul's opinion of Abraham Lincoln. At that time, I was puzzled not only by the unbridled hatred shown by Paul and his supporters toward our first Republican President, but by the conflict between Paul's statements on this subject and his supposed unwavering dedication to the Constitution. I found a video last night that answers the questions I had at that time, while simultaneously raising a host of new ones.

At the time of my last writing, I was perplexed by Paul's statements, which claimed that Lincoln could a) have just "gotten rid" of slavery, though he had no Constitutional authority to do so and b) that Lincoln did not have to "kill so many people and run a civil war," when it was the South that attempted to destroy the Union through secession and started the war by firing on a Federal Fort. I wondered how a great Constitutional scholar such as Paul could say things that indicate such disregard for the Constitution and the more perfect Union it was intended to create.

The answer is far more simple than I could ever have guessed it to be. Ron Paul believes that the secession of the Southern states from the Union was lawful and Constitutional. Had Ron Paul been president in 1861, he would have waved goodbye to the Southern states, the Union, the Republic, the experiment begun by the Founders, and then, by necessity, the Constitution.

I really cannot believe that no one has been talking about this, because it is actually really important and it calls into question everything Paul's supporters say about his unique fidelity to the Constitution. Below is the video and its transcript, in part. Discussion follows.

RON PAUL: The revolutionary spirit we have today, actually, is rather delightful. We're actually talking about nullification and the 10th amendment once again. But you know, you hear, you hear often on TV if you happen to listen to a liberal commentator, they come down real hard on you if you believe in nullification, that's some right-wing wild conspiracy theory, but just nullifying laws, what do you mean, yeah, yeah like California would like to nullify the laws against smoking marijuana, huhuhu. So the, the nullification principle I think is a good one. You know, it was also intended by the Founders, actually the principle of secession was based in the Constitution and the Northeast always threatened to secede from the terrible South. And, uh, that was there. But you know you can believe in the principle of secession and nullification without undermining our whole system. It's the idea that if we're mistreated or overtaxed and overregulated and fight too many wars that we have that option, that would put so much brakes on the federal government if they understood that.
Nullification is the idea that states are justified in refusing to recognize or enforce acts of Congress that they find unconstitutional or contrary to their own interests, a practice which James Madison, Father of the Constitution, maintained "would overturn the first principle of free government, and in practice necessarily overturn government itself.” Such practice not only upends the rule of law and tips the balance toward the rule of some men over other men, it also weakens the Constitutional system of checks and balances our Framers worked so carefully on. While the theory of nullification as it was originally articulated was not inherently disunionist, each of our nation's several nullification crises resulted in instability, uncertainty, the sentiment of disunion, and the forlorn threat of violence.

Naturally, nullification is the baby sister of secession, not only paving the way for the latter intellectually, but assuring the eventual escalation of ill will and noncooperation into full scale conflict. For a man so anti-war, so dedicated to peace as Congressman Paul to say that the principle of nullification is a good thing is quite perplexing to me. This, coupled with his delight over the "revolutionary spirit," conjures up images of violence that don't seem to jive with his public portrait.

Paul argues that secession does not undermine our whole system, but actually proves a positive good because it would put "so much brakes on the federal government," in his way of speaking. To determine the truth of that statement, how can we do better than to refer to the application of secession theory used by the Southern States at the dawn of the Civil War? In Paul's mind, secession would be appropriate at times when "we're mistreated or overtaxed and overregulated and fight too many wars." Ironically, however, the South's use of secession in 1860 was in response to, not an act of Congress or a war (they were about to start one), but an election, the results of which they did not like. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who, naturally, resisted the expansion of slavery into the territories, was so repugnant to the Southern institution of slavery that South Carolina seceded immediately following his election to the presidency, before he had even been sworn into office and the new administration installed. Such were the words of the people convened in the South Carolina convention of 1860:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. ... they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace of and eloin the property of citizens of other States... A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to Slavery. - South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession, 1860
As you can see, arguments such as the one made by Paul (addressed in my last post) that the war was fought over the economy, are disingenuous at best. The Southern States made clear, both at the time and in the decades leading up to the Civil War, that they would tolerate nothing less than the total acceptance and sanction of slavery among all the states in the Union. The South attempted to dissolve the Union on the grounds that Northern States had not been implicit in nurturing an institution that was contrary to the founding principles in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself. In so doing, they made an extra-Constitutional argument that the Union of States was nothing more than a legal arrangement, a compact that could be exited by any party on the perception that any other part had failed in its duties.

Both this and the theory of nullification advance an idea contradictory to that on which the Constitution was founded, the rule of the majority. Secession and nullification both grant an absolute power to the minority to alter or dismantle the Union and the Constitution without respect to the opinions of the rest of the states. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, rejected this idea on its face as "the essence of anarchy." His idea was in agreement with Madison, who had said himself that the Constitution “was formed by the states, that is, by the people in each of the states, acting in their highest sovereign capacity… It cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the states individually.”

In this opinion Madison and Lincoln were joined by fellow presidents Jackson and Washington. Jackson, responding to S. Carolina's attempt at nullification some years before their attempt at secession (1832) referred to nullification as "a course of conduct...contrary to the laws of their country, subversive of its Constitution, and having for its object the destruction of the Union." Washington, speaking long before any kind of nullification or secession crisis became an issue, told his countrymen that "your union ought to be considered the main prop of your liberty, and that the love of one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other."

The Constitution does not mention nullification or secession explicitly. Proponents of these measures, therefore, are forced to focus their arguments on the nature of the Union and the Constitution in the abstract. Lincoln met this argument head on in his First Inaugural Address:

I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.
and also challenged the idea of the Union as a contract:
Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?
Building from Lincoln's observation that the Constitution provides no means for its own termination, it would be a great wrong to not go to the document itself. Article I Section X of the Constitution, following the enumerated powers of Congress and specifications for absolute limitations on its powers, reads:
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation... No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement of Compact with Another State...or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
Secessionists argue that states, having seceded, are no longer states and have suddenly become independent nations. But does it seem even a little strange to you that a document designed to protect the rights of the people, and ratified by the people in all of the states, would not have contained an exit clause if such a thing were implied?

The Framers of the Constitution gave no such way out because they knew that such a provision would have been adverse to the cause of liberty rather than helpful to it. They built a system of checks and balances and separation of powers that was designed to be effective by its very inclusiveness, by an entrapment of government, state and federal, that required those governments to work within its system. To advance the idea that any state may bring itself outside of that system is to endanger the liberty of all who live within it. To do such a thing most certainly does "undermine our whole system." 

Free elections are our exit clause. Representation, under the right of the people to be governed by their own consent, is our exit clause. Majority rule by law is our exit clause.

Nor do the principles asserted in the Declaration apply to the idea of secession. "Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." The People as a whole may "throw off such Government," not for "light or transient causes" but for those a majority and an onlooking world would agree to be "a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations." This reference to the People, and not the States, is an important one, emphasized by Madison's statement above. The Founders recognized the People of the Nation, not any combination of Governments, to be the ultimate repository of political authority. For any state to nullify an act of the Representatives of the People gathered in Congress, is an abuse of that authority. For any state to withdraw itself from the Union composed of the People is a tyrannical act of usurpation.

We have heard a lot about Ron Paul being the only candidate who stands up for liberty. I've been told that anyone who claims to support freedom and individual rights, peace, and limited government, but does not support Ron Paul, is a hypocrite, a liar, or an incompetent. I've heard a lot about Ron Paul being the only one who knows and adheres to the Constitution. I don't know about that, but I do know that he is the only one who advances the ideas of nullification and secession.  Those being unconstitutional ideas destructive of the Union, the rule of law, the principles of our Founding, and the success of our experiment in self-government, I would like to know from Paul supporters: will you pause and reflect on these things, or will you continue to indiscriminately assert that your man is the one and only friend of the Constitution?

"Union, the last anchor of our hope, and that alone which is to prevent this heavenly country from becoming an arena of gladiators." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Elbridge Gerry, May 13, 1797

"Whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim, in the words of the poet: "FAREWELL! A LONG FAREWELL TO ALL MY GREATNESS." John Jay, Federalist #2

"If there be any any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

"Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty ought to have it ever before his eyes that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it." James Madison, Federalist #41

Dec 17, 2011

Ron Paul on the Question of Abraham Lincoln

NOTE: Please note that this is the link to the video interview my essay is based on: Ron Paul on the Morning Joe. I tried to embed the video, but technical difficulties prevent that. Please watch the video before coming to any conclusions about the faithfulness of my transcriptions. Thank you.

I am going to come right out and say it. I do not support Ron Paul for President. This is either a great puzzlement, or frustration, or affront, or abomination to many of my friends and acquaintances, but I am sure it is not a surprise. For months, as they relentlessly and enthusiastically campaigned for their man, I stood on the sidelines observing, listening to their reasoning and arguments, and wondering if I would eventually become a casualty in one of the all-out conflicts that so frequently characterize their run-ins with the supporters of other candidates.

It wasn’t until very recently that I was able to finally put my finger on the exact reason that Ron Paul’s ideas make me uncomfortable. My research, observations, and preponderance of the evidence have led me to a realization that I am compelled to share at length, as a more in-depth explanation of the hints I have already given. I hope that this exposition will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered: humbly, without malice, and for clarity’s sake.

There are quite a lot of objections to Ron Paul that my Paul enthusiast friends are used to hearing and rejecting on a daily basis. Probably the most of these is foreign policy. For many Americans, particularly traditional conservative Republicans, the Congressman’s non-interventionist ideas are too hard to swallow. But besides a few points on which I disagree, they don’t bother me that much. I am open to new ideas and trying new things. Others are turned off by the Congressman’s ideas for ending the Federal Reserve and drastically altering our economic policy. I have no problems there that couldn’t be surmounted by a little more specific discussion. Some point to the Congressman’s vast array of kooky or downright scary (depending on who you ask) connections and supporters. I have pointed to that myself as reason to pause, but I realize that after thirty years in politics, it is conceivable that one may develop connections that are not actually indicative of one’s own character. On none of these points do I have a strong enough objection to Paul’s ideas to single him out as someone I would absolutely not support.

My major objection to Dr. Paul, one that is serious enough to discount him as a candidate that I would consider supporting, is that he is unequivocally, dangerously, inexcusably wrong about Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. I have ventured to state this to a few of the less dogmatic Paul supporters I know, and the reaction has always been basically the same: okay, but I couldn’t care less what he thinks of Lincoln. How on earth is that relevant? This reaction is understandable, which is why I am making this concerted effort to explain exactly why it is of the utmost importance. To quote myself from an earlier post:

Lincoln's politics, rhetoric, and presidency dealt with Constitutional issues of vast and far-reaching import. To misunderstand the Civil War is to misunderstand the most crucial period in Constitutional history after the framing of the document. To misunderstand the president who effectively re-founded the country from two rent pieces is to misunderstand the heritage of republican ideals the Founders espoused and the principles this country is built on.
Far more than any other man of his time, Abraham Lincoln understood, defended, and reasserted the character, principles, and intent of our Founding Fathers, Founding Documents, and fine Republic. A demonization of him and his politics is effectively a demonization of all of those things, and for Ron Paul, a candidate who is lauded as the last, lonely, great champion of liberty and the Constitution, to botch with appalling thoroughness many of these constitutional issues, is a cannon-volley of alarm-blasts.

The more I research this discrepancy, the more I see that this is an ingrown problem, rooted in the conflict between libertarianism and conservatism, which I cannot and will not even attempt to address here. I have learned from direct experience that any single detail of everything I am going to assert can be debated endlessly between myself and someone more libertarian than myself, to no avail. It is my hope, not to convince everyone of every point I make (I would have to write a book to do that and that book has already pretty much been written: Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President by Thomas Krannawitter) but to be very clear about why I, as a conservative, cannot accept Paul. I also hope it may help any of my open-minded friends who are not aware that this conflict exists and may not be sure of where they themselves stand on the libertarian vs. conservative line. In order to keep this to a manageable length, I will simply respond to the manuscript of one of Dr. Paul’s television appearances in which he addresses the topic explicitly.

In his appearance on the Morning Joe Show December 27, 2007, Ron Paul made the following statements about Abe Lincoln and the War:

You haven’t read the right historians. You ought to read Tom DiLorenzo’s book The Real Lincoln.
Alright, stop right there. Right out of the gate, we already have a serious problem in Paul’s choice of reading. DiLorenzo, as I learned extensively at Hillsdale College, is the poster child for bad Southern apologetic scholarship. Hell-bent on assassinating the character of an assassinated man, the economist DiLorenzo (not a historian) has polluted, colluded, and butchered the history of the Civil War time and again with his ill-accomplished work. If you think I am speaking purely out of bias, consider this book review from the Claremont Institute (and this other):
The book is a compendium of misquotations, out-of-context quotations, and wrongly attributed quotations — one howler after another, yet none of it funny....
Perhaps even more distorting than the false statements and misrepresentations in the book are the omissions. For a book intended to reveal the "real" Lincoln, it is astounding how little of Lincoln's political universe DiLorenzo discusses or seems to understand.
It is not at all surprising, then, that throughout the rest of the interview the Congressman repeats a lot of bad scholarship on the topic. He states,
Lincoln was not that antislavery. He has his famous quote that everybody who has read history knows about. He said, ‘If I can save the Union by keeping slavery, I will.’ And he says, ‘If I can save the Union by getting rid of slavery, I will.’ He was not strong anti-slavery....That makes my whole point.
Paul later chastised the hosts for not reading history, but this statement would indicate that it is Paul who needs to do that very thing. First, Abraham Lincoln strongly opposed slavery throughout his entire political career. There are numerous quotes here, taken from his various speeches and letters, which demonstrate that his position never changed on the evil of slavery. "I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any abolitionist," he said prior to the presidency. If Congressman Paul were not as unfamiliar with Lincoln’s speeches and papers as he appears to be, he would know this.

Second, Paul refers in his statement to the letter Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley in the summer of 1862, after he had informed his cabinet that the Emancipation Proclamation was forthcoming. The letter is a response to the abolitionist Greeley’s published editorial entitled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” which criticized the president for not taking aggressive steps toward abolishing slavery before the war began. In it he says:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution.... If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.... I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
Paul uses his paraphrase as evidence that Lincoln was not strongly antislavery, but as you can see from the context, Lincoln actually reaffirms, in the same short letter, his commitment to the ideal that all men should be free. By the time Lincoln wrote those words, many thousands of American lives had already been lost with no end to the bloodshed in sight. This is evidence that, well into the conflict, Lincoln retained his conviction that his duty as President was simply to save the Union, not to attack that “peculiar institution” of the South.

The Congressman follows this up with a natural transition into asserting that the war was fought for economic reasons alone. “Have you ever heard of the economic reasons for going to war?” he askes the hosts impatiently. Libertarians have argued for some time now that the North waged an economic war on the South by use of high tariffs that put an unfair burden on its export-driven economy. These economists, especially DiLorenzo, use the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations” as their case-in-point example of this economic conflict. This tariff was a 50% tax on imported goods (a boon to the North and bane to the South) and tipped off the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33, which paved the intellectual road to secession. But as a close reading of history reveals, it wasn’t so simple as North vs. South in either economic struggle or the nullification fiasco.

John C. Calhoun, a prominent Southern leader and political theorist, had engineered previous tariffs himself, and he played with the Tariff of Abominations, along with other Democrats, to ensure the election of Democrat Andrew Jackson over the New Englander John Quincy Adams. They expected the tariff to die in Congress from the poison pill they had attached to it, but it passed, quite embarrassingly, and Calhoun scrambled to save his reputation. The result was his “Exposition and Protest,” which condemned the tariff and advanced the idea of nullification, leading to the nullification crisis in South Carolina. Ironically, Andrew Jackson, now president, threatened to deploy federal troops to his home state of South Carolina for unilaterally “nullifying” a federal law. Whatever economic reasons for going to war existed then, they still, as always, pale to the South’s unrelenting determination to maintain and advance its peculiar institution of slavery.

But Congressman Paul continues in his jumbled history, stating:

Do you know who Lysander Spooner is? Lysander Spooner was the greatest abolitionist from Massachusetts, and he supported the South, because he understood this. Read Lysander Spooner on treason. He explains this and he fought Lincoln even before Lincoln became president, making this point.
This is the very same Lysander Spooner, I believe, who, in A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery to the Non-Slaveholders of the South, wrote:
We are unwilling to take the responsibility of advising any general insurrection, or any taking of life, until we of the North go down to take part in it, in such numbers as to insure a certain and easy victory.... Give the Slave-holders, then, a taste of their own whips.
Paul continues:
Lincoln is part of the Hamiltonians, who wanted a strong, strong national government and this was an opportunity.... Why, do you, have you ever, do you know what John Quincy Adams did every time he went to Congress after he was president? He introduced an amendment to the Constitution to make it very clear that slavery would be abolished.
Remember John C. Calhoun, the Southern politician who inspired the secessionists and argued slavery as a “positive good?” He was supposed to be the South’s most tireless protector of the states’ rights tradition (a tradition which, quite ironically, was thoroughly abused in the South by its Confederate Constitution). But he was one of those Hamiltonians too, a firm nationalist and cheerleader for internal improvements and Hamiltonian economics, when it suited him. So it is not really so simple as saying that Lincoln and the Northerners were nationalists who were glad for the arrival of the secession crisis because it “was a tool for him to go at the South.” That’s a lot like saying that there was glee in the Bush Administration at the perpetration of 9/11 because it gave them an excuse to invade Iraq.

John Quincy Adams did work tirelessly for the demise of slavery in Congress, but to no avail, since, oddly enough, Southerners refused to cooperate. He ended up saying that the end to slavery would only come as the result of a president using his special powers in war time to stomp the institution. “When a country is invaded, and two hostile armies are set in martial array, the commanders of both armies have power to emancipate all the slaves in the invaded territory,” he said to Congress in 1842. But Paul’s history breaks down again here:

Even before the Civil War broke out there was a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery like in 1860, which did not get support from Lincoln. That’s what you’ve got to read, you’ve got to read your history. I think you are absolutely confused on what Lincoln stood for, and that it was necessary to kill all these people. You can get rid of slavery it’s been done many times.
Now, I have been reading my history, and I’ve been looking very hard for any whisper of an amendment introduced in 1860 to abolish slavery. I have only been able to find proposals to protect slavery in the Constitution, a measure that was popular at the time because Northern members of Congress were panicking over the looming secession crisis and were trying to appease the Southern states. There was the Corwin Amendment, which would have prohibited Congress from interfering with slavery; Lincoln indicated that he would not oppose it as president. The South was not interested. There was also the Crittenden Compromise, which packaged a generous number of appeasement-oriented amendments with a few resolutions, but it also failed miserably. As Michael Vorenberg wrote in Final Freedom, “as antislavery northerners devised every method except a constitutional amendment to end slavery, proslavery southerners established the precedent of proposing amendments that preserved slavery forever.” Mr. Vorenberg must be just as “confused” as I am, or perhaps he is simply not “reading [his] history.” There is also a fair amount of naiveté at work in Dr. Paul. I ask you, had Congress, in the absence of the Southern delegates, who had withdrawn, approved an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, would the South have not seceded? Strange argument indeed.

Yet Doctor Paul’s narrative becomes more appalling as he gets further into the interview. This is where all of those who trust in the Congressman as a great champion of the Constitution need to pay careful attention. What is wrong with the following statement?

Well, Abraham Lincoln didn’t need to kill so many people and run a civil war. He could have just, you know, gotten rid of slavery.
I am agog and aghast. For a Congressman who is lauded by his supporters as a great constitutionalist, this is an utter blasphemy. Can it be that Ron Paul understands the Constitution so poorly that he thinks it lawfully within the power of a president to do such a thing? In this statement, and as he hints throughout the interview, Dr. Paul lambasts Abraham Lincoln for respecting the Constitution. He suggests, outright, and with great exasperation, that Abraham Lincoln should have thrown the Constitution into the Potomac and abolished slavery with the wave of his thin, long arm, like a true tyrant and dictator. In fact, to make it all the worse, what we see above is that, at every turn, the Congressman criticizes, slanders, and degrades President Lincoln for the actions he took, and did not take, in accordance with and under submission to the Constitution of the United States. I suppose that if President Lincoln had acted in such a way, the South would have very demurely submitted and given up their slaves without a long and bloody war. This is, quite frankly, a preposterously stupid and shortsighted argument.

To delve farther into this statement, however, is perhaps to come to the heart of Paul’s non-interventionism. His comments reveal, not really a strong commitment to the Constitution, but a pervading disgust for war that prompts him to easily disregard the Constitution in a makeshift prevention of war. Had Ron Paul been inaugurated President Paul in 1860, would he have so flagrantly shunned the Constitution, violated the individual freedom and liberty of millions, and destroyed all of the props on which our limited government and self-governing society stood, all in the name of an ill-gotten, and assuredly farcical peace?

Lincoln repeated in his First Inaugural Address a statement he had made previously in the Debates, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Quite ironically, though Lincoln-haters commonly refer to him as a tyrant, statements like Paul's above suggest that they may be merely frustrated that he was not the tyrant they wish he were. And all of this brings us to the primary question at issue here. Does Dr. Paul’s contempt for the statesman Lincoln give me a legitimate reason to warn against him and question his supposed expertise on the Constitution? Yes, here is why.

We are concerned today, in modern America, that we face possibly insurmountable problems that will determine if we are to have “a new birth of freedom” or the end of our great experiment in self-government. I know of no president other than Abraham Lincoln who faced such a real problem as this. With an enduring understanding of and respect for our Founders and Constitution, Lincoln prudently maneuvered the rapids that would have led to the utter ruin of our Republic. If we are to successfully navigate this new crisis, it must be with a prudent statesman, truly well versed in the Constitution, at the helm of our ship of state. God help us if into this battle we are led by an imprudent leader who is fervently believed to be, when he is not, a great, expert in the Constitution. In this and other television appearances, Dr. Paul indicates that he clearly misunderstands, manipulates, and misrepresents the most important and relevant period of Constitutional history. If you doubt what I am saying, you must read Lincoln for yourself, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in his speeches to Congress, in his response to Dred Scott, and the rest. Was Abe Lincoln perfect? By no means. Did he make mistakes? Certainly. Was he ever wrong? Occasionally. Was he, nonetheless, one of the greatest and perhaps the greatest president we ever had? In my opinion, yes. Regardless of my personal opinion, however, Abraham Lincoln was, and still is, the Father of the Republican Party. This should remain in perspective when looking out over the field of candidates who wish to become the nominee of the Republican Party.

Congressman Paul has said that “to bring about radical and permanent change in any society, our primary focus must be on the conversion of minds through education.” If all of the Congressman’s own education is based on such fallacies as his beliefs about the Civil War, and if all of his political philosophy is colored by the misunderstanding of the Constitution that he reveals in his statements about Lincoln, then I must conclude that Dr. Ron Paul must either be seriously confused, disingenuous, or incompetent in the areas in which he professes to excel. I caution everyone who has unquestioningly accepted an exalted view of the Congressman, because he often mentions the Constitution in his public statements, to pause and consider the previous allegations seriously.


Feb 18, 2011

Why do we need government?

To follow up my short summary of Locke's basic theory of laws, it seems correct to back up a bit and discuss why laws are made, and needed, in the first place. 

To be quite brief, laws are made because we have government, and laws are needed because we need government. The ideas of law and government are dependent upon one another, and I will characterize their relationship in time. For the present it is my task to explain, by Locke's great scholarship, why we need government.

"Man is by nature a social animal." - Aristotle

It has long been the occupation of philosophers and politicians to explain why we find ourselves in a state of association with one another that can be termed "government." Aristotle began with his determination that man is, by nature, a social animal, made to live in association with other men. That philosophy has been revised, built on, and rejected by other philosophers for millennia, but it has endured.  

In modern philosophy (and by modern I mean that emerging from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries) the idea became one of the most substantially dissected topics. Hobbes and Locke, in particular, erected detailed theories of the pre-modern or "theoretical" man and how and why he came to be a part of society living under a government. They termed this man as being in a "state of nature," and attempted to determine and describe his characteristics in this situation. These theories are immensely interesting and all have a direct bearing upon our topic today, so I will give a rough outline of their positions. 

1. Thomas Hobbes: 
Hobbes is probably the best known theorist to address "the state of nature." As he famously wrote in the Leviathan, man's life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." The most fundamental characteristic of man, he claimed, is the intense fear of violent death. Because nothing rules man moreso than this fear, the state of nature is absolutely hellish. Other people are important only because they represent the danger of violent death. Everywhere around the natural man there is war, terror, death, and uncertainty. Without government, he is on his own. He can rely only on his own physical power and cleverness to secure his life, but even a incomparably strong or clever man can have no rest, for what he lacks in brains and brute another most surely has. His moral power is absolute; he is justified in doing whatever necessary and possible to preserve his own life. This power, as absolute, extends to everything and everyone in his environment, including other people. 

When two men meet in the state of nature, both are entitled to kill the other. Whoever is more powerful and/or cunning will succeed and preserve his life, but the uncertainty of what will happen next torments him. Because of the hellishness of it all, man is desparate to escape the state of nature, and is willing to do whatever it takes to secure his life. He gladly enters the social contract by transferring all of his absolute moral power to the executor of the contract (government). Whoever receives the transfer of that absolute power is now entitled to the utmost of tyranny, so long as he preserves the lives of his subjects (for the most part). This is the nature of the social contract under Hobbes: the governed says, "you protect my life from these other people, and in return I will give you absolute power over me." He says to his fellow subjects, "I won't do this unless you do it also." As long as the governor provides stability and safety and the governed obeys, the contract is upheld.

Under this theory, then, man is anti-social, pre-political, and all-powerful in the state of nature. 

2. John Locke:
Locke's interpretation of the state of nature is more complex and positive. The state of nature is one of utter equality and freedom. Each man has the freedom to act and do with his possessions whatever he wants "within the bounds of the law of nature." This last phrase is crucial to Locke's understanding. It is his introduction of the notion of law, which Hobbes does not recognize in the state of nature. Locke holds that Divine Law is eternally present, and that the natural man is not only the "workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker," but that he is equipped with reason sufficient to discover and apply the Divine Law. This, the mixture of Divine Law and man's reason, is natural law. 

The natural man, then, has power only over himself, to order his own actions, but even that power is not absolute. The reason for this is that man does not own himself - he belongs to God. The taking of one's own life, then, is just as unjust as the taking of another's man's life. Violence of this kind is justified only in the case of self-defense. 

The natural man is also not justified in taking or harming another's possessions, for he has power only over his own. He is capable of enjoying and being contented with his environment. Nature offers plenteous fruits and provisions for him, and by the application of his reason, he can make them even more suited to his use. This, the mixing of his creativity and labor with something in his environment, amounts to property. This natural man finds other men not to be inherent enemies, but potential partners. He may interact socially by cooperating, whether through labor or intellect, with other men. Trading is also possible and beneficial to him. 

He may be solitary, but his is not anti-social. He is pre-political, but he is not all-powerful. He differs greatly from Hobbes's natural man.

This may sound a bit like the Garden of Eden, but it does break down. The reason is that men are selfish and have imperfect reason, and though each has power only over himself, he is wont to behave aggressively and wrongly towards other men. The Hobbesian moment, therefore (the moment in which a social contract becomes necessary) is when man fears for either his life or his property. For Locke this appears to happen primarily after the introduction of money or currency into the state of nature. Currency makes it possible for men to accumulate more than they need. It seems to awaken the greed which prompts men to act out against each other. 

So the situation breaks down anytime a man becomes aggressive towards another's life or property. The state of nature is no longer sufficient in this circumstance because, without an impartial judge or authority, the state devolves into one of war in which men have no recourse but violence. Man is willing, at this point, to enter into a social contract. 

When he enters into this contract, he relinquishes some of his power and freedom to a government. Unlike Hobbes's government, this government is limited. The Lockean natural man does not have absolute power, so he cannot transfer absolute power to the government. There is no circumstance under which absolute government is legitimate, therefore, as God is the only being to have absolute power. 

Man has three types of powers in the state of nature: the legislative, the executive, and the federative. 
1. legislative: The legislative authority consists of deciding how to act. When man enters civil society, he concedes his power to do whatever he wants. He has abandoned license, not freedom.
2. executive: This is the authority to act on the legislative power. When man enters civil society, he gives up the right to execute natural law on his own. This is why lynching is wrong. 
3. federative: The federative power is basically an emergency power. It is the authority to act in self-defense in a crisis situation. This power is retained by every man who enters civil society. 

Government, having been trusted with the legislative and executive powers, is responsible for making Civil Laws that mirror Divine Law and enforcing or executing those laws in a way that protects each man's right to life, liberty, and property. It has the power to do no more and no less. Government does not exist apart from its responsibility to do these things.

As you can see, Locke's explanation heavily influenced the American Founders, for although their political philosophy differed from his on many particulars, his framework was the one on which they built our government. Unfortunately today we have a government that seems determined to undo it all and write the story along Hobbesian lines. It is our duty then to study these things and understand them so that we can protect our heritage as well as our future. 

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary." - James Madison

Recommended reading (and sources of this article): 
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. It is a long, difficult book, so I recommend starting with these excerpts: Part 1, chpts. 6,8,11,12, 13, 14
The Second Treatise of Civil Government by John Locke. A good place to start is with the sections "The State of Nature," "The Social Contract," and "The Legislative Power."

Feb 13, 2011

Locke's Basic Theory of Law

I was looking over some old school notes today and was struck by the genius of John Locke's theories of man, law, and government. It struck me, as I was reviewing his theory of law in particular, that we have destroyed our own fundamental system for modifying and regulating human behavior. First I'll explain his basic theory - which I hold to be correct - and then I'll address how it relates to our situation today.

Locke held that there are three basic laws that influence a human's behavior.
  1. Divine Law. Locke identified this law, which is given by God alone, as "the only true touchstone of moral rectitude."  It is not capable of being amended or altered by men as it is wholly determined by God. As it is from the Creator, therefore, it is the ultimate in law, and the standard to which we should strive to hold ourselves. But it is not sufficient in controlling man, as is evidenced by our constant violation of it. Locke identified several reasons for this: that it is hard to understand, that we fail to properly interpret it, and that the punishments and rewards to be had from it are not immediately apparent.
  2. Civil Law. This law, which is made by man in legislatures, should be a prop of Divine Law. Its advantages are that the evidence and consequences of it are immediately apparent, for there are physical rewards and punishments that follow directly from obedience and criminality. Its disadvantages are that it, being the product of man, is subject to mistakes and errors. Furthermore, not everyone gets the treatment they should under the law; we can and do get away with offenses. 
  3. Law of Opinion. This law functions like peer pressure. It is the most palpable mode by which we as people determine what is vice and what is virtue, and it is the most immediate way in which we receive praise and blame for our behavior. It has a powerful effect on us because we are social creatures and cannot tolerate constant scorn. 
Both Civil Law and the Law of Opinion are made to be anchored in the Divine Law. Locke's idea is that two sources, revelation and reason, make Divine Law available to us. We are to use these sources to enforce the Divine Law through a Civil Law that mirrors the Divine and protects natural law. When we have made it our pursuit to understand and enforce the Divine Law, we become a society that is also capable of supporting the Civil Law through application of the Law of Opinion. 

A good illustration of a robust Law of Opinion can be found in Pride and Prejudice. We see characters whose behavior is strongly influenced by the censure and praise they receive from society. It is uncommon for devious young men such a Wickham to run away with but not marry foolish girls such as Lydia because society issues harsh public censure in response to such things. 

The strong profanity we now hear on middle and elementary school campuses was previously reserved for the mouths of sailors because the Law of Opinion disallowed for the casual use of that language in society. The Law of Opinion that supports Divine and Civil Law, however, has been replaced in our society by a perverse Law of Opinion that encourages lawlessness and breeds Godlessness. There is more censure to be felt from saying that a lifestyle is wrong than there is from doing something immoral and destructive. 

Increasing our distress is our dysfunctional Civil Law, which consists, for the most part, of everything but laws. Thus we have a society that has sabotaged two of its own fundamental pillars of society. Now it is crashing down around us and we wonder why. 

Dec 13, 2010

Where do angels come from?

Now that Christmas is rapidly approaching, it's time for the touchy feely made-for-TV movies about Angels and Christmas Holiday Spirit. The major networks air at least one of them every year, and I have a few on tape that I've popped in recently to enjoy while I did housework or crafts. Except, I found myself not really enjoying them, which I thought was strange because I have enjoyed them many times before.  I'll take this as a sign of spiritual growth and maturation, because I discovered that the vague, diluted spirituality of this programs really grated on me. 

I've watched a made-for-TVer recently that I can use to illustrate my point here: Three Days

Three Days is a sappy flick about a young married couple who have come to a dry spot in their marriage. The husband, Andrew, is totally absorbed in his work and more willing to entertain his "assistant" than his lonely wife, Beth. It's Christmas time, and he blows off the plans Beth made in order to fly to Chicago for a quick business trip. Though he technically doesn't have an affair while on this trip (he gets cold feet and backs out at the last minute) Beth thinks he has because when she called his room the "assistant" answered. When Andrew returns home, Beth confronts him, then storms out of the home into the cold midnight. He goes go after her and finds her just in time to see her hit by a speeding car as she tries to rescue a neighbor's dog. She dies at the hospital. 

When Andrew attempts to return home that night, he can't get in. His key won't fit. Mysteriously, there is a locksmith's shop across the street that was never there before. This is how he meets the angel, Lionel. Don't worry that Lionel has dreadocks, he's actually pretty cool. The gist of the story is that Lionel gives Andrew three more days with Beth - days in which he is supposed to prove to her that he loves her, so that she can die with a peaceful heart. 

Lionel says that Andrew's prayer has been answered. Andrew isn't even aware that he had prayed. So who is it that is ultimately granting Lionel the power to turn the clock back three days and let some goofy guy try again? Must be the Cosmos, because Lionel never says anything about God. 

So when Beth is alive again the next morning, having no memory of dying, Andrew decides to spend every minute with her and shower her with gifts to prove his love. He really just succeeds in creeping her out - to the point that she breaks down in tears. It's ok, Lionel materializes from time to time to give Andrew hints. Usually it ends with an argument in which Andrew states that he is not going to let Beth die on Christmas Eve. Lionel's response? "If Beth skips her date with Destiny the whole cosmic balance is thrown out of whack."

It gets worse:
Lionel: "Life isn't a bunch of marbles bouncing around." 
Andrew: "Where did you learn that?" 
Lionel: "Angel Metaphysics - top of my class." 
He also quotes fortune cookies. Scripture? Not so much. Do you think an angel could have learned anything from God at some point?

What does Beth think about angels and miracles? Well, she "would like to believe that there are angels, that there's another side, a spiritual side." That's it, and that's sad. Andrew doesn't even tell her that there is a spiritual side and that's he's met an angel. She wouldn't believe him. 

It all boils down to Lionel eventually hinting that if Andrew gives Beth the right gift, then she might be able to live beyond Christmas Eve. It takes Andrew a while to figure it out. He tries giving her fancy snow globes and consents to finally starting a family, but the moment still arrives when Beth goes out the door and it supernaturally locks behind her. Lionel tells Andrew that the gift he has been hinting about all along is the gift of life, at which point the door is released and Andrew is able to push Beth out of the way of the car and get hit himself. 

Well, because it's Christmas and Andrew has done the right thing, Lionel makes a grand exception and allows Andrew to come back to life. Now Andrew and Beth can continue on together knowing that some nice angel named Lionel rearranged the Cosmos and Destiny a little for them. They name their baby Lionel. How cute. 

But it does pull at your heartstrings, and that's why these movies are made year after year. If you don't think about it too hard, it's guiltless watching. They are clean, they have positive messages of hope and love, and they have angels in them, so as Christians we somehow feel vindicated in watching them. But are these movies really doing us any favors? Are we doing ourselves any favors by watching them? If we use it as an opportunity to do some critical thinking and sharpen our faith, yes, but otherwise, I say no. 

If we don't challenge the ideas in Three Days, what do we learn from it?

Well, if we're like Beth, we learn nothing at all, because she doesn't even know what happened. If we're like Andrew, we learn that we should love our spouses, and that there are angels roaming around who can give you a second chance. On a positive note, the object lesson of Andrew giving his life for Beth's is very valuable and could have hit a home run for a salvation illustration. Too bad it's not used in that way. 

But as watchers we are learning more than that because our subconscious is involved, and the subconscious is prone to erosion. Eventually we could end up thinking of angels as really cool people who went to college in heaven and show up to grant miracles to faithless people who are so vague they would only like to believe that there is a spiritual side. When the angels quote fortune cookies as their spiritual advice, it is only too clear that we have made angels in our own image, for our own purposes. In cases like this one, the angels are in man's image, and God has no image at all. 

I don't deny that angels work in human lives from time to time, but I don't know how often and to what extent. That is a theological discussion for another day, and only God really knows anyhow. I do think that if we made our angels in the image God gave them, they wouldn't forget to mention God. It seems to me that they might even say something about Christ and salvation while they were at it. I don't expect to ever see that in a movie, though.

At least Lionel ends the film by saying, "Merry Christmas!"

Dec 6, 2010

Happy Holidays! (which ones?)

I watched the Barefoot Contessa with my grandmother today on the Food Network. It was a "holiday" episode with hot chocolate and other Christmas-y recipes. Every time she added cinnamon to a recipe, she smelled it and said gleefully, "this smells so Holiday-ish." After hearing this several times I found myself exasperated. 

"Why don't you just go ahead and say Christmas?" I challenged aloud. "Saying that this smells like the Holidays doesn't really make sense!"

Actually, come to think about it - there isn't much that makes sense about the phrase "Happy Holidays." I understand why people say it. There are a few different cultures observing different holidays at this time of year. The vast majority of the world celebrates Christmas, but there are sizable chunks observing Hannukah and Kwanzaa. Not wanting to offend those celebrating either of the latter, or those bitter few who celebrate nothing, many people say, "Happy Holidays." 

Without getting in to a discussion political correctness, though, I want to address what else is ridiculous about the phrase.

First, why don't we use this phrase year round? There is always some holiday coming up - why don't we go about constantly with "Happy Holidays" on our lips?

The fact that we don't raises an interesting point; isn't it obvious that this season is about Christmas? But, moving right along...

Second, it makes absolutely no sense to say that something "smells like the Holidays." I ask you, Contessa, of which Holiday does it smell? 
Memorial Day?
Columbus Day?
Hopefully not Groundhog's Day! 
How are we to know that this is a good smell she is sucking in?

If she were to say Christmas, then - aha! - I understand the smell and the emotions that come with it. The smell of the Holidays? That's a bit vague for me.

Wouldn't the world make more sense if we said what we meant?

Nov 29, 2010

Who cares if you disagree...

I have here an article, snipped from USA Today's Monday, November 15th edition. It is an article by David Campbell and Robert Putnam in promotion of their new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The book, which is a result of years of study, is  meant to be an exhaustive examination of data that supposedly reveals how religion affects our society. This article is a synopsis, meant to whet your appetite, of what they wrote in that book. 

Results of a study

They say that their "discoveries" provide fodder for both those who defend religion and those who attack it. In defense of religion, they say, is that religious Americans are "better neighbors" than the faithless. The bad news for religion? Religious Americans "are somewhat less tolerant of free speech and dissent." 

Five years of exhaustive study and they get this? 

The article goes on to explain that the religious make better neighbors because they are more involved: they are more likely to volunteer their time and donate their money, both to religious and secular causes. On the "other hand," they are less likely to respond that "someone should be allowed to give a speech defending Osama bin Laden or al-Queda," among other things. They are therefore concluded to be less tolerant.

As you might imagine, we are in no way supposed to believe that this is a good thing. To be less tolerant than the secular American? Goodness, no! We've heard this word thrown around for years, usually aimed at Conservative and religious Americans like a spear. To quote The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." That's because America has long misunderstood what "tolerance" means. 

What is tolerance?

The word "tolerance," which once meant that you could live in peace with people different from yourself and respectfully agree to disagree, has been co-opted by those whose agenda is to mislead those who don't know any better. The result is that many Americans, among them hoards of unsuspecting Christians, have been conditioned to believe that having tolerance means accepting every Tom, Dick, and Harry's version of morality as absolute truth (regardless of how contradictory it is to the next guy's) and keeping your mouth shut about it. It has become the spoiled ingredient in our otherwise healthy recipe, an absurdity that trivializes our society, cripples our effectiveness, and negates our faith. 

I look on it as a grand program to re-sculpt and control our national character by applying pressure to free speech here and attacking the notion of absolute truth there. Practice makes perfect, and the brain eventually loses the pathways it doesn't use - when Americans  are no longer used to intellectually defending the ideals of Truth and Morality in absolute terms, they eventually become incapable of doing so, and even unaware that they need to. In short, their minds become perfect sheep to the bludgeoning stick that controls them: the media, the radical leftists, the atheists, the rabidly anti-religious. If given free reign, this bludgeoning stick would thrash into unconsciousness every one of us who looks at another's way of life or statement of belief and says, "that's wrong."  

And isn't that a little oxymoronic? I mean, haven't you ever noticed that those who rant about tolerance and let off curse-ridden tirades about conservatives and religious Americans invariably call them names, taunt them, make fun of them, persecute them, and in all ways spew hate at them - in the name of tolerance? How do they pull that off? 

Who among us is a good example of tolerance?

From the cast of those who endlessly and hyperactively harp on tolerance and the Right's so-called lack of it, I have chosen a few examples of the tolerance we are all expected to put in practice - except not really, because if we did we would all be prosecuted for hate crimes.

Keith Olbermann 
        On Michelle Malkin
"...thanks to the total mindless, morally bankrupt, knee-jerk, fascistic hatred, without which Michelle Malkin would just be a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it."
        On Scott Brown:
"In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States." 
         On the Tea Party:

I wonder if he said those things because these people disagree with him. If only we could learn such tolerance. 

Well, let's try another one.

Bill Maher

No, I don't think we're getting any warmer. 
*Side note - if you are familiar with Maher you know that he is a zealous anti-religion activist, who, among other things, explicitly demands the death of all religion in the name of human good. This is a very good article written in response to his documentary "Religulous," in which Maher ruthlessly ridiculed people of faith. It is an interesting article and has bearing on this discussion.

Whoopi and Joy from The View, or, The View in general

When the argument gets heated, it is Whoopi and Joy who have physical conniption fits and then storm out of the room because they don't like what O'Reilly has to say. The very topic of disagreement involves their demand for ever-greater tolerance.

A conclusion about tolerance

One of the sad notes in this grating song about tolerance is that it robs true tolerance of its rightful respect and beauty. We as Christians need to understand how tolerance works into our Christian faith and our lives as Christ's servants. To do that is to recognize that any Christian who says, in the name of tolerance, "I wouldn't live my life that way because I think it is sinful, but I'm not saying that my faith is right for you. You can do whatever you want," is missing the point and buying into the world's lies. 

Carrie Prejean, the famous Miss California said:
"Well I think its great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you very much.”
She wasn't doing Christianity or religious America any real favors by trying to be nice and inoffensive. To go so far as to say that you think that you believe is bending over backwards to qualify the statement as nothing more than a very personal fancy, almost as inconsequential as a passing whim that shouldn't be taken seriously. And it didn't even save her the fire. They still said she was a bigot.

Had she stood up and strongly advocated Christ's truth, I would have pointed her out as a good example, but the truth is that she more aptly illustrates how Christians go wrong.

Christ set the standard for how we ought to treat people: with love, with humility, with self-sacrifice and generosity. He also set the standard for how to treat lies, deceit, and sin. Christ never persecuted or acted in a hateful manner toward a human being, but he also never tolerated any of these trespasses against his father. Remember, Christ did not come to unite us all under a wishy-washy, touchy-feely standard of tolerance, but to divide us under the righteous standard of his Father. Our duty on Earth is not to seek what he did not desire, but to defend righteousness and work toward its furtherance here. 

To do that will be to have the bludgeoning stick constantly on your back, to be spit on, persecuted and hated. Much like Christ was treated. He told us it was coming. 

In closing I will explain why I called this post what I did. While I was formulating this little essay, it occurred to me that this song, which is currently quite popular, sums up many an individual's attitude toward tolerance. 

On the one hand it stresses that disagreement may not be the big deal it is cracked up to be, and for that I give it kudos. Asserting an opinion strongly is almost always better than to be wishy-washy. My tae kwon do instructor told me that if I made a mistake, I should make it strong. Someone else told us to either be hot or cold, but not lukewarm.

On the other hand, this seems to renew the indictment of Christians or anyone else who would say that people should not live in sin. "How dare you tell me who to be? Who made you...

 ..."King of Anything" by Sara Bareilles

Keep drinking coffee, stare me down across the table
While I look outside
So many things I’d say if only I were able
But I just keep quiet and count the cars that pass by

You’ve got opinions, man
We’re all entitled to ‘em, but I never asked
So let me thank you for your time, and try not to waste anymore of mine
And get out of here fast

I hate to break it to you babe, but I’m not drowning
There’s no one here to save
Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?

You sound so innocent, all full of good intent
Swear you know best
But you expect me to jump up on board with you
And ride off into your delusional sunset

I’m not the one who’s lost with no direction
But you’ll never see
You’re so busy making maps with my name on them in all caps
You got the talking down, just not the listening

And who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?

All my life I’ve tried to make everybody happy
While I just hurt and hide
Waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide

Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?

Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?

Let me hold your crown, babe.

Food for thought.