Forward to the past 10

What does a conservative in the US most want to conserve? We would say: A commitment to liberty, the founding principle of his country. American conservatives may differ from each other on questions of religion, foreign affairs, entitlements and the economic “safety-net”, homosexual marriage and abortion, even on defense, but if they are not loyal to the Constitution and the idea of individual freedom that it enshrines, they are not true conservatives.

In Britain too, conservatives are dedicated to the defense of the traditional and hard-won liberties of the people.

In Russia, being a conservative means something different. The very opposite. What Russian conservatives want to conserve is their long and almost completely unbroken tradition of tyranny. The quarrel within their ranks would now, in post-Soviet times, be chiefly over whether they want a return to the Red Tyranny of Bolshevism, or the older tradition of Tsarist oppression, where cause for national pride may more confidently be found.

Owen Matthews, author of  Stalin’s Children, writes in the Spectator (UK) about a conservative Russian military leader:

Strange times throw up strange heroes — and in Russia’s proxy war with Ukraine, none is more enigmatic than the Donetsk rebel leader Igor Girkin, better known by his nom de guerre of Igor Strelkov.

In a few short months, Strelkov has gone from being an obscure military re-enactor to the highest-profile rebel leader in eastern Ukraine. But at the same time Strelkov’s fame and outspoken criticism of Vladimir Putin for failing to sufficiently support the rebels has earned him the enmity of the Kremlin. Moreover, Strelkov’s brand of sentimental ultra-nationalism, extreme Orthodoxy and Russian Imperial nostalgia offer a frightening glimpse into one of Russia’s possible futures.

In the West, we are used to seeing Putin cast as a dangerous adventurer and nationalist. But to Strelkov, and to the millions of Russians who have come to admire him, Putin isn’t nearly nationalist enough.

Within weeks of his arrival in eastern Ukraine in May this year, apparently on his own initiative, Strelkov quickly became the highest-profile rebel leader thanks to his discipline and military bearing. A veteran of wars in Bosnia, Transnistria and Chechnya, Strelkov is a reserve colonel in the Russian army and a former (and possibly current) officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. With his clipped moustache, pressed fatigues and careful charm, Strelkov styles himself on a pre–revolutionary Tsarist officer. In May he mustered a 2,000-strong local defence force in Slavyansk, banned his troops from swearing and ordered two of his own men to be summarily executed for looting.

He wrote a manifesto calling his troops “an Orthodox army who are proud that we serve not the golden calf but our Lord Jesus Christ” and declared that “swearing is blasphemy, and a Russian warrior cannot use the language of the enemy. It demeans us spiritually, and will lead the army to defeat”.

Russian state television built Strelkov up as a hero. The nationalist writer Egor Prosvirnin praised him as the “Russian God of War” who “rinks the blood of foreign mercenaries to the last drop, and then asks for more”. …

And then, in mid-August, Strelkov mysteriously resigned his post as “defence minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic — along with two other Russian citizens who had been the civilian heads of the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. All three rebel leaders were replaced by Ukrainian citizens.

The most obvious explanation for the reshuffle is that Moscow is preparing a negotiated settlement where the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine — or Novo-Rossiya, “New Russia”, in Russian nationalist parlance — will be given some degree of autonomy within Ukraine. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — from young soldiers’ Instagram selfies tagged to locations inside Ukraine to the Russian regular soldiers taken prisoners of war on Monday by Kiev’s troops — Moscow has also continued to insist that it is not a combatant in Ukraine. Clearly, having Russian citizens at the helm of supposedly autonomous rebel republics and their armed forces was a diplomatic inconvenience to the Kremlin which needed to be fixed — and pressure was put on Strelkov and his cronies to quit.

But there’s another, deeper meaning to Strelkov’s fall from favour. Though he’s often portrayed as a stooge of Moscow, Strelkov has in fact been consistently critical of the Kremlin’s failure to act decisively to annex eastern Ukraine as it annexed Crimea in spring. “Having taken Crimea, Putin began a revolution from the top,” Strelkov wrote in June. “But if we do not support [this revolution] now, its failure will sweep aside both him and the country.”

Strelkov’s close associate Igor Ivanov, the head of the rebel army’s political department, has also furiously denounced the “Chekist-oligarchic regime” of Vladimir Putin and has also predicted that Putin will soon fall, leaving only the army and the church to save Russia from chaos.

This mix of militarism, religion and a mystical faith in Holy Russia’s imperial destiny to rule over lesser nations has deep roots. Ivanov was until recently head of the Russian All-Military Union, or ROVS, an organisation originally founded by the White Russian General Baron Pyotr Wrangel in 1924 after the victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war. Its guiding motive was to preserve the Tsarist ideals of God, Tsar and Fatherland. For much of the 20th century, ROVS was the preserve of elderly emigré fantasists — before a new generation of post-Soviet nationalists like Ivanov breathed new life into the organisation as a home for Russian ultra-nationalists who hate Putin’s brand of crony capitalism.

A similar outfit is the Narodny Sobor, or People’s Assembly, which describes itself as an “Orthodox-Patriotic organisation devoted to fighting ‘liberasts’ and western values, to promoting Orthodoxy, and to preserving the traditional family”, according to a recent study by Professor Paul Robinson of the University of Ottawa. In Russia, the Narodny Sobor has, along with the Russian Orthodox church, successfully campaigned for a tsunami of conservative legislation to be passed by the Duma, from banning swearing on television and in films to prohibiting the spreading of “homosexual propaganda”. The head of the Narodny Sobor’s Ukrainian branch is Igor Druz — a senior political advisor to Strelkov who has denounced the Kiev government as “pederasts and drug addicts”.

On the face of it, Strelkov and his ilk and Putin should be on the same side. They share a nostalgia for a lost Russian greatness — indeed Strelkov has a degree in history and was until recently an enthusiastic military re-enactor, playing White Guard and second world war officers. And this year, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin has abandoned years of hard-edged pragmatism and economic prudence and moved towards the kind of mystical, Orthodox nationalism so beloved of the ROVS and Narodny Sobor crowd.

Yet as Putin prepares to sign off on some kind of compromise peace deal with the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, there will be millions of Russians brainwashed by months of state television’s patriotic propaganda who will agree with Strelkov that Moscow is selling the rebels down the river.

Strelkov himself has little chance of becoming a serious opposition figure to Putin; he is too stiff and too weird for public politics. But Putin’s main challenger, when he comes, will be someone of Strelkov’s stamp.

We tend to think of Vladimir Putin as being most politically vulnerable from the left — from the liberal, western-orientated professionals who came out in their hundreds of thousands on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg three years ago to protest at Putin’s third term. But in truth Putin’s real vulnerability is from the right — from the racist football fans who rioted unchecked through central Moscow in 2010; from prophets of a Russian-led Eurasian empire such as Alexander Dugin, who was in the radical nationalist opposition to Putin before falling temporarily into step with the Kremlin in the wake of the Crimea campaign; and from militaristic ultra-conservatives on the Russian religious right.

So for the countries of Eastern Europe emancipated from Russian servitude barely a quarter of a century ago, there is not only the growing threat of re-subjugation, but the probability that it will be applied according to the whims of a madman, a religious fanatic living out fantasies of Tsardom and limitless imperial expansion by military means.

Left down, right up 1

A video made by conservative Rod Shelton in strong attack mode. (“God” is mentioned in passing, but is moved along briskly.)

 

(Hat-tip to our Facebook commenter Ramon Homan)

Good thinking 6

Daniel Hannan speaks as intelligently as always in this interview. We are somewhat less favorably impressed by the present Conservative government of Britain than he is, but  we fully agree with everything he says about America – how great it was, how wrong it’s going. And we also like what he says about the EU. Asked by the interviewer if he see the Euro in danger of collapsing, Hannan replies, “No, I see the Euro in danger of surviving.”

 

(Hat-tip Don L.)

Libertarian conservatism 4

From time to time visitors to this website or our Facebook page query the idea – even the possibility – of there being such a thing as atheist conservatism. They are – almost always, as far as we can make out – Americans whose understanding is that the word “conservative” denotes Christian conservatism. To them, therefore, to speak of  “atheist conservatism” is to commit a contradiction in terms. Some have called it an oxymoron.

In Europe too, conservatism has a Christian coloration. Conservative political parties usually declare themselves to be Christian –  for example, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of Germany. But their support does not come only from Christians. And in Britain the established Church of England has been called “the Conservative Party at prayer”, but the party does not exclude members of other Christian denominations or other religions, or the non-religious.

Yet it is an American conservatism that we embrace. It is faithfulness to the Constitution, to the essential idea that the United States was intended to embody as a nation: the idea of individual liberty protected by the rule of law.

The shortest answer we give to those who accuse us of being self-contradictory is to tell them what our prime principles are:

  • individual freedom
  • a free market economy
  • small government
  • low taxes
  • strong defense

And we point out that those are core principles of American conservatism. The Constitution – southern state critics please be reminded – does not require citizens to be Christian, or religious at all.

Just as often, perhaps even more often, we are told that we cannot be both conservative and libertarian: that the two traditions are separate and even inimical to each other, to the point of being mutually exclusive. Even if that were  true (and we don’t think it is), we consider it unnecessary to take tradition into account. The issue needs to be looked at philosophically, not historically. Our conservatism, holding the firmly conservative principles we have listed, is manifestly a conservatism of liberty.

And we think it is now, more than ever before, that the libertarian view should direct the political agenda of conservatism. A heavy counterweight is needed to bring America back from its tipping over into collectivism by the Left. Individual freedom urgently needs to be saved.

What is stopping conservatives from accepting libertarianism as its future? The libertarians themselves. Frequently, their public statements reveal them to be inexcusably ignorant of world affairs. They often advocate naive isolationism. They seem to lack a sense of what matters. The legalization of drugs could be wise and necessary, but it is not worth making a hullabaloo about  when jihad is being waged against us. A person should arguably be able to marry any other person or persons – or things – that they choose, but it is much more important that America should remain the world’s sole superpower.

John Hinderaker also thinks that this should be “the libertarian moment”. And he too reproaches libertarians with an underdeveloped sense of what matters to the existence, liberty, safety, and prosperity of the nation. 

He writes at PowerLine:

Every major strand of American conservatism includes a strong libertarian streak, because the value of liberty is fundamental to just about all conservative thought. But today, especially, is said to be the libertarians’ moment. What once was a fringe movement, politically speaking, has moved front and center in our political life.

And yet, in my view, libertarians of both the capital L and small l varieties punch below their weight. They have not contributed as much as they should to the conservative movement. This is partly because libertarians tend to founder on foreign policy, where many are merely modern-day isolationists. But it is also because they have tended to focus on secondary, or tertiary, issues of domestic policy.

A couple of years ago I was invited to a gathering on behalf of Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who then was a libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I was well disposed toward him, but when he started talking, his first subject was legalization of drugs. Now he is the CEO of a marijuana company. Rand Paul is probably the leading libertarian at the moment; he purports to take seriously the threat that someone drinking coffee in an American cafe will be struck by a drone-fired missile.

American liberty is indeed under attack, and a libertarian movement is needed more than ever. But the threat to freedom is not drug laws or drone attacks.

The principal threat is the administrative state, which increasingly hems in everything we do and depends hardly at all on the will of voters. …

Calvin Coolidge, who knew the Progressives well and understood how antithetical their vision of government is to America’s founding principles [said]:

It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter [the Constitution]. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Today we labor under an administrative state that has metastasized far beyond anything Coolidge could have imagined. It constrains our freedoms, it lays waste to our economy, it has largely rendered Congress irrelevant, and it threatens to make just about anyone a criminal, since no one can possibly keep track of all of the myriad regulations with which we are encumbered. And let’s not forget that the administrative state is run by liberals, for liberals.

Despite the fact that it is antithetical to the Constitution and to American traditions, there is little opposition to the administrative state as such. Conventional politicians suggest that regulations can be made less irrational and less burdensome – a good idea, certainly – but hardly anyone questions the fundamental concept of Congress delegating its powers to unelected and mostly unaccountable agencies that are charged with managing just about every aspect of our lives. Nearly everyone considers the administrative state, as such, to be inevitable.

Why don’t libertarians stake out a “radical” position on domestic policy? Why not argue, not just for a moderation in the inevitable drift toward a more and more powerful administrative state, but for a return to the Constitution’s central principle – the very first words of Article I – that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”, a Congress that is accountable to the people.

A battle is being fought for the liberties of the American people and, frankly, it isn’t going well. The fight has little or nothing to do with drugs and drones. If libertarians are serious about preserving and expanding liberty, they should join the fight that matters. A libertarian movement that focuses on a rollback of the administrative state would be “radical,” but it also would put libertarians in the vanguard, not on the fringe, of American conservatism.

The transformation of America into a communist state … can it be stopped? 5

David Horowitz was a “red-diaper baby”. In his own words:

I was a leftist as early as I can remember. Raised in a Communist family and surrounded by radicals my entire childhood, I could hardly be anything else”.

- Until

A  friend of mine named Betty Van Platter was murdered by the Black Panthers in 1974. … I  was forced to question my most basic beliefs, and that began my long and difficult journey to sanity.”  

We’ve just received a booklet from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, titled Rush Limbaugh’s Conversation with David Horowitz. (The whole of the conversation, which took place six months ago in November, 2013, can be read here.)

The following  are extracts from it:  

Horowitz: … According to a Pew poll, 49% percent of young Americans have a favorable view of socialism. What is socialism? It is a system that leads to mass misery, mass impoverization, and human slaughter. That’s what it means. Yet almost half of the young think it’s benign …

RUSH: … I look at so-called conservative commentators in Washington who seem to be content to commentate, but they don’t have any interest in beating this back. I don’t want to mention names, but most of them are that way. Same thing with the Republican Party. You come from the left. You’re one of the founders of the New Left. You’ve emerged; you were in the inner circle. You’ve spent much of your career trying to explain who these people are, the destructive, vicious malice that they have.

HOROWITZ: Yes.

RUSH: And you don’t think — this is astounding to me — you don’t think that the Republicans or conservatives really yet comprehend the seriousness of the threat.

HOROWITZ: No.

RUSH: Wow.

HOROWITZ: No. Otherwise they wouldn’t be squabbling among themselves so much. There’s another thing going on, and that is that the left controls the language. Our universities, our schools, our mainstream media are gone [into the hands of the left] — so if you pick a real fight with the left, you get tarred and feathered, as you know all too well. Conservatives are brought up in a healthy way; they mind their reputations, they don’t want to be bloodied, they don’t want to be looked at as kooks and extremists, which are the terms of abuse that are used.

RUSH: That’s true.

HOROWITZ: Obama is a compulsive, habitual liar. He makes Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout. Clinton spun things and he did lie about something very personal and embarrassing to him, but Obama lies about everything, and all the time. And yet it’s taken five years for people to start saying this. Including conservatives. Take so-called single payer health care. Why do we use phrases like “single payer?” It’s communism! If the state controls your access to health care, which is what this is about, they control you.This is a fundamental battle for individual freedom, which is what conservatives are about, or should be. But who’s saying this about Obama’s plan to organize health care along communist lines?

RUSH: Let’s talk about persuasion a second. I’ve got true believers in my audience, and I’ve also got elements of the low-information or the swing-voter segment, and then a few leftists who listen. One thing I have discovered over the course of my career is that whenever I’ve used the word “communism” to describe, say, typical modern-day liberals, people say, “Oh, come on, Rush! They’re not communists!” It ends up being counterproductive, because I have found people don’t want to believe that about somebody like Obama. How do we go about persuading people that it is what it is?

HOROWITZ: That’s a very good question. … I think the language problem is a very serious one. I once tried to launch the word “neo-communist.” We talk about neo-fascists, so how about neo-communists? But that doesn’t work. People look at you as a relic if you use the term. But you have to at least say what their agenda is, and their agenda is controlling, is destroying individual freedom. That’s the way I would do it. By continually reminding people of what their agenda is. It’s anti-individual freedom. You can’t talk about the national debt just as an accounting problem. It’s taking away the freedom of future generations. It means that you have to work for the government instead of yourself. Currently we work something like half our lives for the state. Every other day we’re working for the government instead of for ourselves. What Obama is doing is diminishing the realm of freedom. Conservatives need to keep bringing that up all the time. …

RUSH: You pointed out that Democrats are always in lockstep, in contrast to Republicans, who are all over the place rhetorically and strategically. You said, and I’m quoting here, “The result is that a morally bankrupt, politically tyrannical, economically destructive [Democrat] Party is able to set the course of an entire nation and put it on the road to disaster.” David, people always ask, my callers ask me, “Why don’t the Republicans do ‘x’? Why don’t they do this? Why don’t they do that?” So let me ask you why. Aside from what you’ve said, that there’s a fear of being castigated by the media, mischaracterized. … Republicans simply don’t want to have mean things said about them. They want to be liked by the people who run Washington, D.C. But I don’t even see any pushback from the Republican Party. They’ll go after Ted Cruz and they’ll go after Sarah Palin and they’ll go after Mike Lee, but they won’t go after Obama.

HOROWITZ: Exactly. I have never seen Republicans conduct such bloody warfare as they do against conservatives. They don’t do that to Democrats, ever. And I think it’s great that all the people that you mentioned, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, are people, finally, who don’t care what The Washington Post says, don’t care what The New York Times says, and don’t care what the Republican establishment says. That’s the way it has to be done. I will tell you that the big difference between the left and the right that I saw when I came into the conservative movement 30 years ago was that the right had no ground army. I watched as the Democratic Party was pushed to the left by the activists in the streets — the MoveOn.org people, the Netroots — until it’s now just a left-wing Party. It was Howard Dean, a 60s leftover, who launched the anti-Iraq war campaign that shifted the whole Democratic Party. But on the Republican side, there was nobody pushing from the right. There was no ground war, no force pushing on Republicans from the grassroots. Now we have the Tea Party.

RUSH: You come from the belly of the beast. …  You lived this stuff. You were a leader of the left in your youth. Talk about MoveOn.org — these are average Americans. They may make $50,000 a year. The Netroots, they’re a bunch of people in their pajamas, sitting there blogging and posting. What do they think is in it for them? They are not people Obama is prospering.

HOROWITZ: What’s in it for them is the fact that progressivism is a religion, or a crypto-religion. Like religious people, they believe the world is a fallen place. But they also believe that they can be its saviors. Salvation and redemption are … going to come … from the movement they are part of, from the organized left. What they get out of this is the consolation of religion. They get a sense of personal worth; they get a meaning to their lives. That’s what drives them. It’s not money. It’s much more powerful. When Whittaker Chambers left communism, he said, “I’ve left the winning side for the losing side.” Why did he think that? Because communists have ideas they’re willing to die for, and conservatives don’t. Conservatives have to get that idea. They have to understand that their freedom will be lost if we don’t stop the left.

RUSH: About stopping them. …  Can the right triumph ever again?

HOROWITZ: I remain an optimist, which brings me to the second problem with conservatives. In addition to their decency and their not wanting to make enemies and not wanting to turn politics into war, they’re fatalists. If you think you’re going to lose, you can’t win. That’s very basic. I believe there’s a lot of hope. The ideas of the left are bankrupt. They don’t work. We’re seeing this now with Obamacare. Ludwig von Mises wrote a book in 1922, titled: Socialism. He explained that you can’t centrally plan a large economy, and he showed why. 1922. That’s almost 100 years ago, yet the Democratic Party rammed through Obamacare, ignoring what the last 100 years has proved. They’re going to organize the health care of 300 million Americans with their computers. It’s lunacy. Yet it’s the policy of the whole Democratic Party. They’ve staked their political future on this. … To sell Obamacare, they claimed — lied — that it’s to cover the uninsured. But it doesn’t even do that. Everything they said about Obamacare is a lie. Why? Because their real agenda is not health care. It’s to create a socialist state. To do that they need comprehensive control over people’s lives. I never thought I’d be saying this, because I didn’t see it even in a remote future, but we’re on the brink of a one-party state if they were to succeed. If you are ready to use the IRS politically, if you have access to every individual’s financial and health care information, and if your spy agency can monitor all communications, you don’t need a secret police to destroy your opponents. Anybody you want to destroy, you’ve got enough information on them and control to stop them. That’s how close we are to a totalitarian state. They want to control your life — for your own good of course — even to the point of whether you can buy Big Gulps. That’s not incidental.

RUSH: No, it’s not. Now when this kind of thing happens … I wonder about the average American, somebody who’s not an activist like you or me. Do they not see this, and if they don’t, how can they be made to see it?

HOROWITZ: I don’t think they see it. Most people are averse to politics and don’t pay that much attention. However, Obamacare is going to make them pay attention because his plan affects so many people. You have to start using moral language against these people. I want to hear our guys saying, “This is a threat to individual freedom. You are attacking the freedom of every American when you run up the debt like this. You are attacking the freedom of every American when you put them all in a government-controlled program like this. Government should not have this information.”  …  Every time they have a program that hurts individual liberty, we need to stop talking about it as though it was just about money. The money figures are so big, trillions, nobody can even grasp them, unless they’re very involved in the economy and understand it — and then they probably are Republicans. …  

RUSH: … Freedom requires personal responsibility. …

HOROWITZ: … We need to use a moral language. Notice when the left attacks, it’s always using moral language. Racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever. These attacks sting. We don’t use language like that. We need to. It’s they who are racist. …  Why are we letting them get away with their destruction of inner-city minority communities? Detroit, Chicago: why weren’t the disasters Democrats have visited on these cities huge in the Republican campaign last time? Democrats control these cities, they’ve controlled them for half a century and more. They’re ruining, destroying the lives of young black and Hispanic kids in these cities, and poor whites there as well. They’re 100 percent responsible for that, yet we never mention it. It is beyond me. … They don’t want to be at war, and particularly a moral war, with other Americans. But that is the reality. The left has already made it that. Republicans are treated as though they’re of the Party of Satan. That goes with the religious nature of leftist beliefs. Progressives believe that they are creating the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and that people who oppose them are the Party of the Devil. That’s the way they fight. We have to use that kind of language. Fight fire with fire.

RUSH: You’re nailing it. You came up with something … that I think is worth repeating, and to me it’s brilliant. I would never have seen it had you not pointed it out. You write that the fall of soviet communism had the unforeseen effect of freeing leftists from the burden of defending failed Marxist states, which in turn allowed them to emerge as a major force in American life. That’s so right on. The failure of communism, ironically, led to a rebirth of it in this country. We wipe it out in the Soviet Union, and a shining example of its atrocities goes away, and it becomes a tougher sell to educate people what it is. 

HOROWITZ: Exactly, and leftists saw that at the time. That’s the first thing they said about it. …  That’s why connecting them to the communists is very important. It’s part of the battle. Republicans, and conservatives as well, have let the foreign policy issue, national security, slip off the political radar. Barack Obama is a supporter of the Islamofascists. He’s supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that wants to … destroy America. Obama and Hillary have supported them. Their Administration is infiltrated by Islamist agents. That’s why Benghazi is so important, and why I’m really encouraged that Republicans haven’t let it totally disappear. …

If conservatives and Republicans do learn at last to “fight fire with fire”, can America’s leftward slide be stopped? Can America be restored to a country that values and protects the freedom of the individual? Rush asks Horowitz if the rule of the left – of the Democratic Party – will “implode”.

HOROWITZ: I think they’re going to go down in flames in the coming election. I’m hoping for that, and I can’t see how that won’t happen.

So David Horowitz, at this point, is optimistic.

We would like to share his optimism. But we have one difference of opinion with him which makes us less sanguine that a Republican victory - even if led by a person such as Ted Cruz who understands the urgency of the need to recover from the leftward slide – is almost certain.

He says, in the same conversation, “we need morality, religion, laws”. Morality and laws, yes, we need them. But religion? He means a religion with a god – to oppose the communist religion which has no god. He observes with wonder the inability of the left to learn from the horrible history of their religion that it only creates widespread misery and sheds lots of blood. Yet he fails to learn from the much longer horrible history of god-worshipping religions that they created widespread misery and shed lots of blood.

We immensely admire the great work David Horowitz has done, and continues to do, teaching Americans the awful truth of the left’s ideology, and actively combating it.

But if the right insists on sticking “God” into its political platform, the left is much less likely to “go down in flames”.

An encomium for us 7

We have been strongly complimented by a comment on our Facebook page by Fidd Chewley.

(Visit his website Atheist Nexus, “The World’s Largest Coalition of Nontheists and Nontheist Communities” here.*)

We like it so much that we are reproducing it here on the front page of our website.

Where’s the button I click to automatically “like” all your future posts?

I follow a handful of conservative atheist pages, and you stand out from the rest as one who posts much more often about the conservative viewpoint than general atheism. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the posts others make regarding atheism, they don’t do much to distinguish themselves from each other. I also enjoy your no-BS, condensed presentation, cutting to the chase, unapologetic, and always sharp. Your posts always hit hard without resorting to cheap kookery. There are no “glancing blows”, and your precision and consistency are metronomic. A+, 10/10!!

This is the type of page that could foster the recognition of atheism into the greater conservative movement, which has been ostensively claimed by theists. There is a great potential for synergy between politically-like theists and atheists demonstrated here that could actually help end the notion that belief in a god is a staple of American patriotism. This is the cutting-edge of the future of the movement in an increasingly atheistic America.

Thank you, Fidd!

 

*We would point out – perhaps unnecessarily –  that we do not share Fidd’s opinions on all issues, but we’re in full agreement with him that we’re doing a good job.

Posted under Atheism, Commentary, Conservatism by Jillian Becker on Sunday, March 30, 2014

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A man, a senator – and president to boot? 42

We think Senator Ted Cruz would be the best GOP candidate for the 2016 presidential election. We like what he says, what he stands for. He is strong, brilliant, confident – and right. And he has the presence, the personality, the manner a president should have. In fact we like everything about him – except of course his religiousness, but that doesn’t seem to be having any adverse effect on his political thinking. Here he is making his principles plain in an interview with Genevieve Wood of The Foundry (part of the Heritage network).  The principles he states are ours too.

We know that not all our regular readers agree with our opinion of Senator Cruz.

We hope those who do not agree will tell us why.

Posted under Commentary, Conservatism, government, liberty, United States, Videos by Jillian Becker on Saturday, March 29, 2014

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Neo … what? 19

We had supposed that Neoconservatives were persons who had been on the Left, seen the light, and so become conservatives.

We thought they charmingly but mistakenly considered it possible to spread democracy, love of liberty and Austrian School economics round the world.

But it seems we were largely wrong.

Jack Kerwick explains, at Townhall, what Neoconservatism is all about:

In spite of the ease with which the word “conservatism” is thrown about these days, most people who associate with the “conservative” movement are not really conservative at all. In reality, the so-called “conservative” movement is a predominantly (though not exclusively) neoconservative movement.

Contrary to what some neoconservatives would have us think, “neoconservatism” is not an insult, much less an “anti-Semitic” slur. The word, rather, refers to a distinct intellectual tradition — a point for which some neoconservatives, like its famed “godfather”, Irving Kristol, have argued at length.

To start with then, neoconservatism is not entirely neo; it refers to a tradition. Though not a conservative tradition -

In The Neoconservative Persuasion, Kristol argues for another claim: neoconservatism and traditional or classical conservatism are very different from one another. “Neocons,” he states, “feel at home in today’s America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not.” Unlike conservatism, neoconservatism is “in the American grain”.  And this is because it is “hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic”.

Furthermore: “Its twentieth-century heroes tend to be TR [Teddy Roosevelt], FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], and Ronald Reagan,” while “Republican and conservative worthies” like “Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked.”

FDR a hero of American conservatism! Coolidge and Goldwater overlooked!

Neocons view the United States as “a creedal nation” with a “‘civilizing mission’” to promote “American values” throughout the world, to see to it “that other governments respect our conception of individual rights as the foundation of a just regime and a good society”.

But what creed would that be? What American values? And what individual rights did FDR nurture, protect, and promote?

Kristol is unambiguous in his profession of the American faith: the United States, given its status as a “great power” and its “ideological” nature, does indeed have a responsibility “in those places and at those times where conditions permit it to flourish”, to “‘make the world safe for democracy”.

Democracy, eh? In its “civilizing mission”. So there we go. We weren’t wrong in all our suppositions.

Here, Kristol articulates the foreign policy vision — “Democratic Realism” is what Charles Krauthammer calls it — for which neoconservatism is known. Yet to Kristol’s great credit, he readily concedes what most neoconservatives readily deny: Big Government abroad is, ultimately, inseparable from Big Government right here at home.

Kristol is refreshingly, almost shockingly honest: Neoconservatism, he informs us, endorses “the welfare state”. Its adherents support “social security, unemployment insurance, some form of national health insurance, some kind of family assistance plan, etc.” and will not hesitate “to interfere with the market for overriding social purposes” — even if this requires “‘rigging’” it instead of imposing upon it “direct bureaucratic controls”.

And this is “really conservatism”, and it “predominates in the conservative movement”?

As Kristol says, neoconservatives are “always interested in proposing alternate reforms, alternate legislation (to the Great Society), that would achieve the desired aims”—the eradication of poverty — “more securely, and without the downside effects”.  Neoconservatives don’t want to “destroy the welfare state, but … rather reconstruct it along more economical and humane lines”.

In vain will we search the air waves of “conservative” talk radio, Fox News,National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, or any other number of mainstream “conservative” publications for a negative syllable regarding Irving Kristol. Though Kristol, like his son, Bill, is commonly referred to as a “conservative”,  he himself not only explicitly embraced neoconservatism as his “persuasion” of choice; Kristol happily embraced the distinction of being “the godfather” of this persuasion.

In other words, if anyone can be said to be the intellectual standard bearer of neoconservatism, it is Irving Kristol.

And yet here he is unabashedly conceding what some of us have long noted and for which we’ve been ridiculed: neoconservatism is every bit as wedded to Big Government as other species of leftism — even if its proponents want to use it in other ways and for other purposes.

Because Obamacare is woefully unpopular, neoconservative Republicans, both in politics and the “conservative” media, have nothing to lose and everything to gain from trashing it. But at this time leading up to the midterm elections, more traditional conservatives would be well served to bear in mind that, in principle, neoconservatives do not object to “some form of national health insurance”, as Kristol tells us.

So now we know. Neocons are socialists.

Atheists and conservatives stir up a brouhaha 4

The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.

The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.

That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.

Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …

The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.

Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”

“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …

Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”

Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.

He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …

But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.

The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind. 

When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …

And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.” 

But -

Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …

The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.

American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …

In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.

Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.

The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.

In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.

On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”.  As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.

Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?

But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.

Tha-at’s better!

Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.

Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.

Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?

No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.

What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?

Which is to say that, philosophically speaking,  I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.

We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.

We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:

None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.

Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)

Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.

As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.

Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.

Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …

A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.

And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …

… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.

Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:

“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”

Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.

Against the tyranny of the majority 3

Clark M. Neily III and his colleagues at the libertarian Institute for Justice believe the United States would be more just if judges were less deferential to legislatures. In his book Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government, Neily writes that the United States is not “a fundamentally majoritarian nation in which the ability to impose one’s will on others through law is a sacred right that courts should take great pains not to impede.” America’s defining value is not majority rule but individual liberty.

Democracy may be better than all other systems of government, but it has a serious flaw. It allows a majority of the electorate to exert its will over the rest. A majority does not by virtue of sheer numbers know what’s best for the nation. A majority can be dangerously wrong – as when it elects a Hitler, an Allende, a Putin, a Mugabe, a Chavez, a Carter, an Obama.

Democracy needs to be restrained. Americans look to their courts to preserve them from the tyranny of the majority. Conservatives, whether in power or not, should be firmest in upholding the power of the judicial branch. Knowing this, many conservatives speak out against “judicial activism”, thinking that all activist judges are creatures of the Left. But judicial activism could be a protection against the Left.

Our introductory paragraph comes from an article by George Will, who further writes at the Washington Post where he is one of a very few voices of conservatism and reason:

Many judges …  in practicing what conservatives have unwisely celebrated as “judicial restraint,” have subordinated liberty to majority rule. Today, a perverse conservative populism panders to two dubious notions — that majorities should enjoy a largely untrammeled right to make rules for everyone, and that most things legislatures do reflect the will of a majority.

Conservatives’ advocacy of judicial restraint serves liberalism by leaving government’s growth unrestrained.

This leaves people such as Sandy Meadows at the mercy of government acting as protector of the strong. Meadows was a Baton Rouge widow who had little education and no resources but was skillful at creating flower arrangements, which a grocery store hired her to do. Then Louisiana’s Horticulture Commission pounced. It threatened to close the store as punishment for hiring an unlicensed flower arranger. Meadows failed to get a license, which required a written test and the making of four flower arrangements in four hours, arrangements judged by licensed florists functioning as gatekeepers to their own profession, restricting the entry of competitors. Meadows, denied reentry into the profession from which the government had expelled her, died in poverty, but Louisianans were protected by their government from the menace of unlicensed flower arrangers.

What Louisiana does, and all states do in conferring favors through regulations that violate individuals’ rights, is obviously unjust and would be declared unconstitutional if courts would do their duty. Their duty is to protect individual liberty, including the right to earn a living, against special-interest legislation. Instead, since judicial abdication became normal during the New Deal, courts almost invariably defer to legislatures’ economic regulations, which frequently are rent-seeking by private factions.

Courts justify dereliction of judicial duty as genuflection at the altar of majority rule, as long as the court can discern, or even imagine, a “rational basis” for a regulation — even if the legislature never articulated it. …

Conservatives clamoring for judicial restraint, meaning deference to legislatures, are waving a banner unfurled a century ago by progressives eager to emancipate government, freeing it to pursue whatever collective endeavors it fancies, sacrificing individual rights to a spurious majoritarian ethic.

The beginning of wisdom is recognizing the implications of this fact: Government is almost never disinterested. Today’s administrative state is a congeries of interests, each of which has a metabolic urge to enlarge its dominion and that of the private-sector faction with which it collaborates. …

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit says of “rational basis” jurisprudence: “The judiciary justifies its reluctance to intervene by claiming incompetence — apparently, judges lack the acumen to recognize corruption, self-interest, or arbitrariness in the economic realm — or deferring to the majoritarian imperative,” which means “the absence of any check on the group interests that all too often control the democratic process.”

This process, Neily rightly insists, is not self-legitimizing, which is why judicial passivity is inconsistent with constitutional government. [And he] argues that to say that judicial invalidations of legislative acts should be rare is no more sensible than saying NFL referees should rarely penalize players for holding.

Conservatism’s task, politically hazardous but constitutionally essential, is to urge courts to throw as many flags as there are infractions.

If conservatives never forgive Chief Justice Roberts for validating the anti-American “Affordable Care Act”, they will be exercising better judgment than he did when he disregarded the essential fact that “America’s defining value is not majority rule but individual liberty”. 

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