Leaving religion for good 6

We dearly love an article we can enjoy examining critically. Best of all we like an opinion that we partly agree with and partly do not.

This article is by Star Parker, whose columns at Townhall on political issues we generally like. And here  again we have no quarrel with her political views. It is her conviction that religion is necessary and good that sparks our opposition.

A new Pew Research Center survey of opinion about the importance of religion in American life shows an interesting picture.

Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically. In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence. In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence.

To us, of course, that’s good news.

However, while increasing numbers of Americans feel religion is losing influence, most feel this is a bad thing.

Fifty-six percent say that the waning influence of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing.

In a survey done by Pew in 2012, 58 percent of Americans said religion is “very important” and only 18 percent said it is not “too important” or “not important at all”.

This raises some interesting questions.

One clear one is why, when Americans think religion is very important, has the percentage of Americans who think religion is losing influence in American life increased almost 40 percent over the last 14 years?

Another one is what are the political implications? Certainly, in the Republican Party, there is an increasingly vocal libertarian leaning faction that sees religion as costly political baggage.

Yes – and that is one of the libertarian views with which we are in strong sympathy.

I attribute why almost three fourths of Americans feel that religion is losing influence in American life, while most feel this is a bad thing, to the law of unintended consequences.

She goes on to describe the disaster of welfare policies. We too think they have been – and continue to be – disastrous.

Many Americans have been unwittingly supporting policies for more than a half-century that they thought were good ideas and consistent with their values which have been neither. Now more Americans are beginning to appreciate the damage that has been done and how far the nation has strayed from their own sense of right and wrong.

Take the example of welfare.

When Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was dramatically expanded in the 1960s, it seemed morally correct for government to get more aggressive in the lives of the poor, particularly poor black women. … Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty.

Right. Those have been and are the causes of “intergenerational poverty”.

But we omitted a sentence. It was this:

Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out poverty?

It may well have been the case that Church-taught values contributed to a belief that children should be born to married parents. Many held that belief also because it is plainly best for children to be raised by a mother and a father. The principle is good whether endorsed or not by a religion.

We contend that it is because the state took over the responsibility of providing for children that men could so easily opt out of the traditional role of bread-winner to their families. It was government incursion into private life that did the damage to believers and non-believers alike. Their religion or lack of it had nothing to do with the “unintended consequences” of welfarism.

Now it’s happening in the whole country. As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced family.

Right.

Some say today we have competing views about the role of government.

Conservatives and progressives do have different views about the role of government. That is not a matter of opinion, but a fact.

I would say we have competing views about what life is about.

Yes. We think life can be “about” anything that free individuals want to make it. Star Parker thinks that life was created, and the creator had a purpose, and that purpose, though impossible to define, is somehow helped along by this or that set of religious doctrines. About which set of doctrines in particular, there are “competing views” among the multitude of religions, each of which claims to teach “the truth”.

One view – a decidedly secular, materialistic view – sees no mystery in life.

We have a decidedly secular view – materialistic too in that we see the need to sustain our physical existence as well and as pleasantly as we possibly can. But we do not think there is no mystery.  On the contrary, we are aware that humankind knows very little. To learn more, to explore what we do not know about our universe and ourselves is the most exciting adventure of our conscious lives, and discovery is the engine of all progress.

Pretending to know that there is a purpose to life known only to a supernatural being who created it but chooses to keep his purpose secret, is to opt out of the great adventure.

The left wing version, which dominates the Democratic Party, says government can solve all of life’s problems.

Or most of them. And it’s a wrong and dangerous belief.

The hard-core libertarian version, found among some Republicans — says just leave everybody alone — you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you — and everything will work out for the best.

That is an absurd encapsulation of the libertarian view. No intelligent libertarian thinks that if people are left to make their own choices, if they are self-reliant, “everything will work out for the best”. Every individual will make his own successes and failures – and take responsibility for them. He knows that government cannot solve “all life’s problems” – and, what’s more, does a pretty poor job of solving the one problem it exists to solve: how best to protect liberty.

The other view maintains that you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society.

A free society starts off with the virtue of being a free society. Freedom needs to be protected by law, and, if it is, crime will be punished, foreign enemies will be kept away, and the people can prosper. How good they are in their private lives remains forever dependent on individual character and choice.

It was what George Washington meant when he said in his farewell address that “of all the dispensations and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.

We are sorry we can only partially agree with George Washington on this. Morality, yes. Religion? What religion has a history that can withstand moral criticism? Some – Christianity and Islam in particular – have a history of carnage and cruelty. That Christianity preaches against both make its actual record all the worse.

It is my sense that more Americans are beginning to wake up to the unintended, damaging consequences of the often well-intended government policies they have been supporting for many years.

More Americans are beginning to appreciate that we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems and that if we want to recapture our freedom and prosperity, we must recapture our virtue.

Certainly. But we won’t do that by returning into the mental darkness of religion. We can do it by limiting the powers of government and recovering the idea of liberty as the highest value. That is political and moral virtue.

Reason as the source of order and morality 11

This video is one of a series – a pleasure to watch in its entirety – in which Charles R. Kesler of the Claremont Institute interviews Heather Mac Donald. She thinks clearly and speaks plainly. Her ideas are genuinely profound.

Very rare, that. Most intellectuals are not very intelligent, and seem to hold to the precept: “I cannot be profound so I’ll be unintelligible – and trust that few who hear me can tell the difference.”

Heather Mac Donald is an atheist and a conservative. We expect most of our readers will be in agreement with what she says here:

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want them to treat you.

Or (better): Don’t treat others as you’d hate to be treated yourself.

It is worth noting that belief in the Golden Rule is not common to all religions. Not even to all the “moral religions”.  There is nothing in the teaching of Islam that approximates to it, even with the most liberal interpretation of Muhammad’s less offensive doctrines.

The Golden Rule is, however, reasonable. Sensible human beings don’t need a message from a mystical sphere to see that it makes good sense.

Posted under Miscellaneous, Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Thursday, August 28, 2014

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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 injustice of “social justice” 5

The Left is intensely immoral, as unabashedly unscrupulous as a wild beast. It will shamelessly blacken the name of anybody it perceives as a danger to it with baseless lies. Example: Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, publicly announced that the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008, Mitt Romney, had not paid his taxes.

The Left will sacrifice any number of people, destroy their hopes, their health, their lives, if in their calculation doing so might give them an advantage. Example: Far-left President Obama is drawing tens of thousands of children over the Mexican border – to become, he hopes, future voters for his Party – by announcing that children who are in the US as illegal aliens will not be deported. All the children suffer. Many are ill. Some die.

The Left will deprive a law-abiding citizen, with armed force, of everything he has striven for in the name of some new oppressive regulation it has suddenly launched with a dim ideological end in view such as “environmental protection”. Example: A man who made a pond is being fined $75,000 a day by the EPA for doing just that, on the absurd grounds that the little stretch of water on his property is contaminating a river miles away.

These are just three examples, picked at random from the top of our composite editorial head, of present-day Leftist immorality in America. (How to choose from among the misdemeanors of the Clintons? An embarrasment of riches!) ) The theme of the Left’s iniquity is so vast that volumes could be written about it, and have been. In other countries, Leftist powers have committed mass-murder on an unimaginable scale by poison-gas, firing-squad, torture, overwork, and deliberate starvation.

And what compounds the evil and swells the monstrousness of it all is that they do it  in the name of compassion. Their aim, they claim, is to better the lot of the the underdog. They will make the poor richer by taking riches from the rich and giving them to the poor until all are materially and socially equal. They do not want the only form of equality that is just – equality before the law. It offends them, they say (even the richest among them, and most of them are rich) to see inequality between the richest and the poorest.

With them, equality  is not a moral principle but an aesthetic one.

They call the ideal of it “social justice“.

Paul Mirengoff writes at PowerLine, in part commenting on an article by Peter Wehner defending “social justice” (though Wehner is not a Leftist):

Justice has always been understood in our tradition as justice for the individual, qua individual. When a person goes to court, either in a criminal or a civil case, our system strives to provide him with a result that is fair given what he has done or failed to do. This is what we understand justice to be. Thus, when we say that justice should be blind, we mean that it should be rendered without regard to a person’s social status and without regard to the demands of this or that social agenda.

If justice is an individual-centric concept, then there is no room for the concept of social justice. The pursuit of social justice may lead to action that is consistent with justice, for example a non-discrimination statute. But the concept of “social justice” isn’t required to justify such a law; nor is it invoked to do so, since arguments for simple justice are always more persuasive (for example, the sponsors of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 took pains to assure the nation, probably disingenuously in some cases, that the law would preclude racial preferences).

The pursuit of social justice may also lead to action that is inconsistent with justice, such as granting racial preferences or expropriating someone’s property for “the greater good”. Such action is not justice, but rather justice’s antithesis. Thus, we should object when it is marketed as “social justice”. 

In sum, the concept of social justice has no value. In the first scenario, it is superfluous; in the second, it is false advertising.

[Peter] Wehner argues that “any society that fails to dispense some measure of sympathy and solicitude to others, particularly those living in the shadows and who are most vulnerable to injustice, cannot really be a good society”.  I agree. But vulnerability to injustice can be countered by the rigorous pursuit of simple justice. And sympathy and solicitude can be dispensed under these labels, rather than as a form of justice.

Wehner recognizes this when he concludes: “Whether this effort travels under the banner of social justice or some other name, to do justice and to love mercy is what is required of us, as individuals and as a society”. But the banner under which the charitable project travels matters.

When it travels under the banner of social justice, it gains extra moral authority that it does not deserve. The genuine tension between our desire to do justice (as commonly understood) and to be merciful is elided because justice is subsumed under mercy.

The result will be confusion and mischief, such as the aforementioned racial preferences and expropriation of property for “the greater good”. If rationalized as “social justice”, such components of the redistributionist project become entitlements, not favors to be granted, if at all, in small doses and under limited circumstances.

As [Friedrich] Hayek, who (as Wehner notes) deplored the concept of social justice, understood, therein lies the road to serfdom.

Besides, we cannot believe that devotees of the Left (once grown out of the ignorant idealism of adolescence) give a fig for “sympathy”, “solicitude”, or “mercy”. If they did they would take pains to find out what economic system really does better the lot of the poor (namely, the free market); and they wouldn’t repeat as they do that “the end justifies the means” – their excuse for sacrificing any number of their fellow human beings.

In fact many of them have dropped even the pretense of sympathizing with human beings. The victims of their “compassion” were first the proletarians. Then, as the proletarians in the Western world became too prosperous (because they had a degree of freedom) to qualify as pretexts for vast destruction, they focused on the lumpenproletariat. That class also became too well-off to care about. So then they moaned about the lot of  “women” – by which they meant feminists – and people of unconventional sexual preferences. Many of them moved on to animals. But their ever-restless avant-garde did not stop there. They are now working to sacrifice more people than ever before on the grounds that it will be good for the wilderness, for rocks and stones, and even the vast, spinning, molten-cored planet - the ultimate victim of “social injustice”. (See our post, Fresh wild raw uninhabited world, January 2, 2012.)

It would be enormously laughable as a theory, if it wasn’t colossally tragic as historical and contemporary reality.

A birthday to celebrate 9

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the great Austrian economist and political philosopher, F.A.Hayek.

This tribute to him comes from Investor’s Business Daily, by Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr., senior fellow at the Cato Institute:

Hayek’s work, whether on economics, politics or law, focused on the ineluctable problems of uncertainty and incomplete information. In economics articles going back to the 1930s, he analyzed the price system as a mechanism for communicating information to buyers and sellers about the intensity of preferences for goods and their relative scarcity. He concluded that the information does not exist anywhere in its entirety and could not be centralized. … Socialist (really communist) societies relying on centralized planning would be characterized by gross economic inefficiencies.

Hayek was vindicated by subsequent events. The power of this argument is lost today on policymakers engaged in “planning lite,” attempts to allocate credit to favored industries and pick winners.

The Great Recession was in large part the consequence of such a policy. The Fed’s balance sheet is loaded up with housing finance paper. In “Ben Bernanke Versus Milton Friedman,” historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel argues that the Fed has evolved from monetary authority to a credit allocator.

Hayek first began evolving his information argument in his monetary analysis. In 1932, he questioned whether deliberate monetary management could avoid economic fluctuations.

Friedman later developed the argument against discretionary monetary policy in a series of articles that detailed the information problems confronting a central bank. His argument later became encapsulated as the “lags” in monetary policy — i.e., the unpredictability of when the effects of monetary policy actions will be felt. Monetary policymakers give lip service to Friedman’s arguments, but ignore them in practice.

Hayek deftly summed up his argument on information in his 1988 book, The Fatal Conceit:

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

A market economy is a complex order, the outcome of societal evolution that confounds efforts to redesign it. The central tenet of classical liberalism was summed up by George Smith in his brilliant book, The System of Liberty:

Laissez faire in all spheres, personal, social and economic, was the fundamental presumption of liberalism — its default setting, so to speak — and all deviations from this norm stood in need of justification.

In America, by linguistic legerdemain, progressives transformed the meaning of liberalism into nearly the opposite of what it originally meant. Progressives became liberals, and true liberals lost their identity. Hence, we have the peculiar use of conservative to denote in America what had once been liberal thought.

So when Hayek wrote a famous essay on “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” he confabulated some American conservatives. He was not attacking American conservatism. Instead, he was combating the transplantation to America of a “European type of conservatism, which (is) alien to the American tradition.” That European conservatism upheld tradition and status over liberty and innovation.

Hayek argued there, and elsewhere, that liberalism must be the political philosophy of principles. Its central principle is individual liberty.

Hayek provided a much-needed program for American conservatives today. They must stand for free markets and free people. Free markets and free trade must be seen as the economic core of an opportunity society that provides hope for all. …

Hayek was born in Vienna at the high point of the global liberal economic order comprising free markets, free trade and capital movements, and the classical gold standard. That glorious edifice ended with World War I. So for decades he was arguing against the tide of history. Yet he lived long enough to be vindicated. His words, written over the course of much of the 20th century, constitute a message for today.

On the centenary of Hayek’s birth, May 8, 1999, Barun S. Mitra wrote a tribute to him, published by the Liberty Institute, India.

We quote from it:

Today, a wide range of people has acknowledged his contribution all over the world. From philosophers like Karl Popper, Robert Nozick … to political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Vaclav Klaus, to Nobel laureate economists like Milton Friedman, James Buchanan … and countless others. As the iron curtain was being built in the aftermath of World War II, Ludwig Erhard, the finance minister of West Germany turned to Hayekian ideas to rebuild his country. Half a century later when the iron curtain collapsed, leaders in many countries in Eastern Europe again turned to Hayek in their attempt to rebuild their societies. And Hayek is reportedly available on the bookshelf of even the Chinese Prime Minister.

If today, the world is witnessing a perceptible change in thinking, it is in no small amount due to the legacy of Hayek. …

No wonder commemorative events are being organised in London, Paris, Vienna, Washington, D.C., Montreal, Eastern Europe, and Central America. The Adam Smith Institute in the United Kingdom has named him the man of the century. …

Hayek was more than a Nobel Prize winning academic. He was an intellectual giant, who was also a gentleman to the core. The man, who went on to become one of the greatest champions of liberty, had begun his life as a young soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and sent to the Italian front in 1917. An academic, whose “controversial ideas” were eventually recognised by the Nobel committee in 1974, Hayek was also an activist who was among the founders of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1948. This was an organisation dedicated to pursuing the intellectual battle against all forms of authoritarianism and tyranny at a time when it was fashionable to call oneself socialist. Today, it has hundreds of members, including many Nobel laureates, spread across all the continents. He inspired many to take up intellectual activism like the late Sir Anthony Fisher, the British businessman who founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in London in 1955. Over the years, IEA, an independent think tank, has produced countless policy papers and books on contemporary issues, and is recognised to have contributed to changing the popular perception that made the Thatcher revolution possible in Britain in the 1980s

Hayek was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 8, 1899, to August Edler von Hayek & Felicitas von Hayek. Even as a teenager, he was interested in philosophy, economics and ethics. But his studies were interrupted as he was called for military duty in 1917, and saw action on the Italian front. On his return from service he went back to college. In the 1920s Hayek was part of that heady circle in post-war Vienna, a group which featured some of the greatest minds of the century. He earned two doctorates, one in law and another in political science. He studied economics under Ludwig von Mises, one of the greatest exponents of the Austrian School. He left for England in 1931 worried about the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Hayek mainly taught at the London School of Economics, but had short spells at universities around world including, Cambridge, Chicago, Stanford, Tokyo, and Freiburg.

Hayek was one of those few fortunate people who lived to see the tumultuous events that shook the socialist empire, and be vindicated. In a letter written in 1989, he noted, “the ultimate victory of our side in the long dispute of the principles of the free market.” He must have been saddened at the enormous cost, both human and material, that was paid in pursuit of a doomed experiment.

Hayek died in  Freiburg on 23 March 1992.

Dispersed knowledge

In the 1930s, Hayek was the principal opponent Keynes. In various scholarly publications – Monetary Theory of Trade Cycle (1933), The Pure Theory of Capital (1941) – he had pointed out that business cycles are caused by monetary mismanagement in [government]. This contribution of Hayek was noted by the Nobel committee. Subsequent events have completely vindicated Hayek. Concerned about the stability of value, he wrote a radical essay in the 1976, “The Denationalisation of Money”, where he argued that it was a serious mistake to allow governments to monopolise the legal tender. He called for the freedom of the individuals to trade in whatever media of exchange they thought best.

Hayek emphasized that division of labour and division of knowledge were complimentary. Every individual possessed some specialized and local knowledge that was particular to his situation and preferences. Yet, the market, through the competitive price system, successfully coordinated all these bits of knowledge. Prices provide the incentive to invest in certain areas, and the information regarding the possible opportunities. Hayek explained, “We must look at the price system as such a mechanism for communicating information if we want to understand its real function… … The most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action.” …

Spontaneous order

Hayek also developed the idea of “spontaneous order” to describe the progress of civilizations. Language, customs, traditions, rules of conduct, have all evolved without any conscious design, and without that freedom societies may not have evolved beyond primitive levels, he held. Advancement of society was dependent upon no one overall “plan” being imposed over the actions and plans of the individuals making up the society. Building on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, Hayek showed that planning need not necessarily lead to order and lack of a guiding hand need not degenerate in to chaos.

[Hayek wrote:]

It is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess, and because each individual’s use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends, that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone.

This characteristic of the market where order seemed to develop quite spontaneously, along with dispersed nature of knowledge, raises one of the most fundamental questions on the utility of government intervention in the economy to achieve a particular end. The institutions created by government decree to provide direction to such intervention would under the best of circumstances simply be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of knowledge that they will need to process.

In contrast, the market routinely brings to order millions of evaluations undertaken by each individual participant. Hayek showed that progress arises from a continuous process of “discovery” wherein a variety of producers and consumers experiment with a wide range of possible opportunities to make profit. Most such experiments fail in the marketplace, and the innovators bear the cost taking the risk. But some succeed, and the benefits are enjoyed by all. That is the reason why in a free market, voluntary trade creates a win-win situation for all participants. …

The Road to Freedom

Hayek also published works more accessible to a wider public, which included books such as The Road to Serfdom (1944) and The Constitution of Liberty. The former has been nominated by journals like London’s Time Literary Supplement as one the noteworthy books of this century. Dozens of unauthorised editions of it were known to be in circulation among the underground activists in the Eastern block during the cold war. This book has now been published in many languages across the world. …

Then Mitra, looking at Hayek’s ideas from an Indian perspective, points out that India would have done well to have learnt what he taught:

We are concerned that after fifty years of independence, poverty is so wide spread, and as a measure to speed up the process of redistribution of wealth, we thought it prudent to abolish right to property as a fundamental right. Hayek had cautioned all those years ago that “The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.”

We want “social justice”, while Hayek warned that “There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal”, and to attempt otherwise would only contribute to social collision. “Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict which each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time”, wrote Hayek.

The world has had a bitter experience in the 20th Century. The dreams of a socialist-collectivist utopia were shattered by economic collapse and degenerated into tyrannical police states. According to historian Thomas Sowell, if one was to mark the time when the intellectual tide began to turn against the ideal of socialism then it was with Hayek’s [The Road toSerfdom. …

While the world is marking his centenary now, the next century could well belong to him. And ideas do change the world. Let us hope that the intellectual tide in favour of Hayek will become a tidal wave in the next millenium. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom may actually help pave the road to freedom for all of us.

If only!

The darkness of this world (9) 1

Today we have posted essay number 9, Faust (Two), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)

Here is part of it. We hope you won’t neglect the footnotes (not added here). They are laden with information –  colored by the authors’ personal judgments and prejudices.

Faust (Two)

To understand what happened in Europe in the twentieth century, the wars, the barbaric cruelty, the murder of tens of millions in cold blood; to diagnose the sickness that beset every country on the mainland of the continent, Germany most severely; to know why European man is dying a long slow death on his own heath, it is helpful to read the great German writer Thomas Mann.

In his novel Doctor Faustus, first published in 1947, the Faust figure is a German musician named Adrian Leverkühn. On leaving school in the early 20th century, young Adrian enrolls at the University of Halle as a theology student, but soon abandons his studies to devote himself to composing music.

Fearing that he is not gifted enough to fulfill his ambition, he conceives a terrible plan. He deliberately catches syphilis by insisting on having intercourse with a prostitute who has the disease, in the hope and faith that he will catch it and so become insane – because he believes madness is necessary to genius. This is his conscious bargain with evil, the selling of his soul to the Devil, in exchange for power to compose great music. When in due course the disease does reach his brain, he imagines he has a conversation with the Devil by which the contract is confirmed. The Devil will grant him twenty-four years from the day of their dialogue, years of “great time, mad time”, to create the astonishing works he can produce now that his faculty of reason has become deranged. He will know “the heights and the depths” of life, and so be filled with knowledge of the truth – the “truth” of subjective experience.

Thought and reason, the Devil explains, are impediments to the creation of great Art. Leverkühn’s art will be intuitive, “Dionysian”; springing from the instincts, from feeling, from the heart, not from the rational mind. The Devil assures him that all genius is demonic. “There is no ingenium that has nothing to do with hell,” he says. What makes Art great is “enthusiasm unparalysed by thought or reason”.[5] Art is “made genuine by disease”, and “creative, genius-giving disease [is] a thousand times dearer to life than plodding healthiness”. Art, instinctive art – so the Devil instructs the mind he is corrupting – is anti-bourgeois, anti-civilization. It is a religion – a demonic religion. (What used to be religion, the Prince of Darkness says, “is over except for the Devil. The bourgeoisie dispenses with it.” And elsewhere the fictional narrator of the story – a Catholic – observes: ‘Theology, confronted with that spirit of the philosophy of life which is irrationalism, is in danger, by its very nature, of becoming demonology.”)

So art is a disease of the artist, and of civilization. As both it is highly valuable, this dark force many times declares or insinuates, speaking either as himself when he chats with the brain-sick Leverkühn, or through the mouths of certain persons among the composer’s teachers, friends and acquaintances. These persons, more devilish than Adrian Leverkühn himself ever becomes, are weak men, erudite sensitive aesthetes, sickly or deformed, one of them “slightly” consumptive. They consciously “elevate culture as a substitute for religion”. Most of them are admirers of Leverkühn’s works – and also of National Socialism, with which they soon become passionately enamored. What they call “the blood and beauty” of brutal mass murder excites them intensely. A poet among them praises “obedience, violence, blood, and world-plunder”. To listen to them is to understand how Hitler’s Reich was made possible and why it quite easily became a reality.  …

Posted under Articles, Ethics, Germany, Gnosticism, History, Literature, Philosophy, Religion general, Theology by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 27, 2014

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Atheism and freedom 25

The right theory of individual freedom came from an understanding of the spontaneous evolution of civil institutions and traditions. A free society no more needed an intelligent designer than did the human species.  

The similarity of process in the development of social and biological life is brilliantly explained by one of the great defenders of freedom:

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. …

[The] development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and Fance. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not. As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit mainly by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley … drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment … : the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. …

[T]he British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the [French] school was simply and completely wrong. …

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented in some ways an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

-From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek , Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

How will it be? 23

Contrary to Marxian dogma, no historical development is inevitable. And all actions have unintended consequences. So prophecy is a risky enterprise.

But we have to calculate the probable outcomes of what we do.

Daniel Greenfield has prophesied – plausibly, we think – what will happen when America ceases to be the predominant power in the world.

International organizations will be good for little except sucking up the last drops of wealth and prestige of the United States. It will be a chaotic place with everyone out for themselves. …

There will be three post-ideological powers, no longer global in scope, and one worldwide ideological alliance.

The United States, Russia and China are post-ideological states. Russia and China have abandoned Communism. The United States is even abandoning nationalism; to say nothing of capitalism, democracy or freedom. Its rulers cling to scraps of global leftist ideology that isolate them from their own people.

Russia and China are run by powerful corrupt elites who emerged from the old Communist order to build economic oligarchies enforced by the ruthless use of force. The United States is increasingly run by an oligarchy of ideological bureaucrats, corrupt technocrats and leftist academics that has a distant resemblance to the USSR and the PRC; but its long march through the institutions hasn’t turned fully totalitarian yet. That may be less than a generation away.

Russia, China and the United States are all demographically unstable. Russia and the United States are both on track to become majority-minority countries. China’s demographic disaster will be the outcome of its one child policies, gender abortion and its war on the countryside. The United States will probably weather its demographic problems better than Russia or China, because the former faces a fatal Muslim demographic takeover and the latter a conflict that will tear its society apart, but like Russia and China, the demographic crisis in the United States will be exacerbated by the lack of common bonds to see it through a period of social stress.

Russia and China will fall back into their own history, collapse and isolationism for China, barbarian rule for Russia. The United States has no such history to fall back on and its elites have abandoned any meaningful national identity that doesn’t rely on pop culture and liberal pieties.

There is little to unify Russia or China … The KGB oligarchs of Russia and the Communist princes of China are as globalist as any Eurocrat. They have few national commitments. Their goals are wealth and power for their families and associates.

Unfortunately there is even less to unify the United States after the left embraced multiculturalism at the expense of exceptionalism. The erosion of everything from free speech to the free market has reduced the American Dream from individual opportunity to vulgar exhibitionism. Uncontrolled immigration has imported masses of hostile populations everywhere from Nashville to Minneapolis radically changing quintessentially American cultures and replacing them with balkanized minority coalitions who have little in common except a mutual hostility against the United States.

In contrast to the cultural vulnerabilities of the three powers, Islam, the defining global ideological alliance, lacks a superstate as the center of its empire, though it has many state bases, but enjoys the allegiance of a worldwide population larger than any of the three powers. Demographic projections continue to favor the growth of Islam over China, Russia and the United States.

It would be a mistake however to think that China, Russia and the United States are in a conflict with Islam. While Islam is in a conflict with them, each of the three powers divides Muslims into three groups; those Muslims that are within the “empire”, part of China, Russia’s Eurasian Union or the United States, those that are outside the “empire” but allied to it, e.g. Syria for Russia, Saudi Arabia for the United States and Pakistan for China, and those that are its separatist or terrorist enemies.

Instead of coming to terms with a global struggle with Islam, each power largely concentrates on fighting Muslim separatist or terrorist groups that destabilize its sphere of influence while arming, funding and supporting those Muslim separatist and terrorist groups that destabilize rival powers.

It is therefore simplistic to act as if America, Russia and China have a common interest in fighting Islam. While that may be true, that is not how the leaders of the three powers see it. Putin fights some Islamists while incorporating others into his allied clergy and helping still others go nuclear. The United States bombs the Taliban, but would never consider bombing their paymasters in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

Muslim terrorists operate in all three powers, but are dismissed as unrepresentative aberrations. That is wishful thinking, but empires are shaped to fight their own kind. Islam, like Communism, is something different. It is an ideology and post-ideological powers … are poorly adapted to fighting it. Instead many of their elites secretly admire its dedication. …

Like a hyena trotting after prey, Islam is a cultural carrion eater consuming the skills and knowledge of superior civilizations to sustain its warlordism …

The collapse of the Pax Americana under Obama has freed up Russia and China to begin their campaigns of territorial expansionism. Obama’s failure to deter Russia in Ukraine will encourage China to use force as a solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea. These events will wake the world from the dream of the Pax Americana in which American power kept the peace in much of the developed world.

The end of the Pax Americana also means the end of international law. Instead of a post-American world ushering in a stable multilateral order … no single power will predominate, but … any country or militia that can seize a piece of land or a natural resource will go ahead and do so. …

The First World may wake up to discover that it is once again living under Third World rules.

Those most immediately affected by the decline of the United States will be the Asian and European countries that outsourced their defense to the United States after WW2. Japan has a limited time in which to turn around its economy, demographics and military to be able to face down China.

Europe was able to turn inward without having to make the hard choices and its elites were even able to drag the United States into implementing their vision internationally. But that is coming to an end. …

The European Union may implode in the coming years, but whether it does or does not, Western Europe will continue to be defined by the quarrels between the UK, France and Germany. The various other players have never been anything other than places to put factories, launder money or import cheap labor from. …

Europe, unlike the United States, has not been known for its altruism, and its nations face a crippling combination of problems. Europe suffers from Japanese birth rates, Russian demographics, Chinese corruption and American economics (though it would be more accurate to say that America suffers from EU economics.) Despite its size and population, Europe does not have an optimistic future. …

Russia will not stop with Ukraine and NATO will dissolve, officially or unofficially. It may stay around and limit itself to providing humanitarian aid internationally while expelling Poland and any countries that Russia is likely to want to add to its collection. …

The budding Russian empire will find that fighting a new wave of Muslim insurgencies in formerly peaceful republics will consume too much of its time and energy. The soldiers who will march on the scattered pieces of the old red empire will be Muslims and the Eurasian Union will become a Muslim empire with a handful of churches. Like Rome, its fall will come at the hands of its own barbarians.

Iraq and Afghanistan will not prove to be as psychologically devastating to Americans as Vietnam, but they will help discourage further deployments overseas. Severe military budget cuts and a campaign against the warrior culture will leave the military in no shape for anything except peacekeeping missions.

The United States will face escalating domestic unrest, less from militias than from gangs, terrorism and the economic collapse of entire cities. It will no longer be in a position to act abroad.

None of this has to happen, but it will if the same bad decisions continue to be made.

If eight years of Obama are topped by eight years of Hillary, this is where we will end up.

The writer points out that if the civilized world fails to resolve its “economic, demographic and military crises … the civilization in which we have grown up and which we have known all our lives will die and a long interregnum of darkness will follow in its wake”.

Yes, that’s all too probable, and profoundly horrible.

But it may be that an entirely different kind of civilization will emerge. That technologies – already in the womb of time – will set the individual freer than he could ever possibly have been before. That governments will lose power. That social elites without technological skills will lose credibility. That law-making will be done by new procedures, and the nature of law and the manner of its enforcement will change to fit new ideas of how liberty may be protected. That religion – so outworn and squalid a thing, a mere relic of an ignorant past – will wither away, perceived at last to be worse than useless.

There now, we ourselves have ventured beyond speculation and touched on prophecy. And because prophecy cannot be accurate, we are not likely to be right. But by the same token, we may not be entirely wrong.

Raising the red flag 12

An Investor’s Business Daily editorial lists some of Obama’s far left appointees, and asks: “Does he have any friends who aren’t crackpots?”

But the question that arises from the list is: Has Obama any friends – has he ever had any friends – who aren’t communists?

America is a country of 320 million people, most of them holding to traditional values. Yet President Obama keeps mining the fringes for his hires. Does he have any friends who aren’t crackpots?

Seriously. The president keeps saying he champions the middle class and its values. But his choices of people to help him run the country are the most extreme in U.S. history, and his second-term nominations are more radical than the first.

No sooner had even some Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting down a cop killer-coddler for civil rights chief, Debo Adegbile, than Obama sent up a 2nd Amendment-basher for U.S. Surgeon General. Dr. Vivek Murthy advocates doctors asking patients if they keep guns in the home, a shocking invasion of privacy.

Murthy may also have a rocky path ahead of him, but other extreme-left nominees are getting confirmed.

Last year, Obama tapped former Congressional Black Caucus chief Mel Watt as, of all things, head of the federal agency regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together underwrite 90% of all new-home loans. Republicans blocked his confirmation. But thanks to Democrats invoking the “nuclear option” and ending the filibuster, one of the most radical lawmakers in Congress is now effectively running America’s mortgage industry.

Meanwhile, radical racialist Tom Perez runs the Labor Department, where he’s threatening to sue employers who don’t hire minority felons, just like he sued bankers who didn’t make prime loans to un-creditworthy minority borrowers when he was civil rights chief.

You have to be a Kremlinologist to keep track of all the communist-sympathizing cronies orbiting this White House.

Obama’s previous appointees include:

Valerie Jarrett, his closest White House adviser, whose father-in-law worked closely with Obama mentor and Communist Party leader Frank Marshall Davis in a number of front groups during the Cold War.

David Axelrod, Obama’s political aide, whose mother worked for a communist organ in New York and whose mentor was Soviet agent David Canter.

Van Jones, an admitted communist hired by Jarrett as Obama’s green jobs czar.

Anita Dunn, former White House communications director and Obama’s 2012 foreign policy debate coach, who listed communist dictator and mass murderer Mao Zedong as one of her two favorite philosophers whom “I turn to most” when questions arise.

The other was Mother Teresa. The message: Torture, kill, pray.

• Cass Sunstein, Obama’s regulatory czar who wrote a socialist “bill of rights” and who advocates redistributing wealth through climate-change policy.

• Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations, a 9/11 apologist who advised the president to follow a “doctrine of mea culpa” and literally bow down to foreign leaders as atonement for America’s “sins.”

• Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department policy chief, who advised the president to apologize for the War on Terror.

Rashad Hussein, Obama’s Mideast envoy, who once defended a convicted terrorist (then got caught lying about it), and drafted the president’s Cairo speech apologizing for the War on Terror.

Rose Gottemoeller, Obama’s Soviet-sympathizing chief nuclear arms negotiator, who thinks America is a global “bully” and must unilaterally disarm for the sake of world peace.

• John Trasvina, assistant HUD secretary for fair housing who once headed the radical Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, whose co-founder made racist statements about whites.

• Cecilia Munoz, head of White House domestic policy who used to work for La Raza, the militant Latino group that advocates illegal immigrant rights.

Erica Groshen, Bureau of Labor Statistics chief who sends her children to Camp Kinderland, aka “Commie Camp,” a communist-founded institution where kids during the Cold War sang Soviet anthems.

John Holdren, Obama’s science czar, who’s advised surrendering U.S. sovereignty to a “Planetary Regime” that will redistribute the West’s wealth to underdeveloped countries and who once advocated “adding a sterilant to drinking water” to control population.

Harold Koh, former State Department general counsel who believes in “trans-nationalism” and sees nothing wrong with Shariah law in U.S. courts.

• Tony West, associate attorney general who oversees Gitmo policy, even though he defended al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists including John Walker Lindh, who pleaded guilty to aiding the enemy and fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

So what? In Washington, personnel are policy. These people make the rules we have to live by, from health care to home loans to homeland security.

And these radical political appointees hire other radicals at the bureaucratic levels, where they’ll become entrenched as career federal employees.

In 2008, before Obama was nominated, we warned about his radical associations, including his ties to Davis — a hardened communist with a thick FBI file — at his Honolulu home. His defenders wrote off this Marxist indoctrination as youthful experimentation.

When we pointed out Obama spent 20 years in the pews of an America-bashing preacher, his apologists argued he was merely attending Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church to burnish his urban bona fides.

When we noted Obama launched his political career in the living room of an unrepentant communist terrorist, his defenders argued Bill Ayers had blossomed into a respected professor, that his days of cheering on the Vietcong and bombing the Pentagon were behind him.

We were told the parade of anti-American subversives Obama came in contact with throughout his life amounted to ancient history. But now we have this roster of radical appointments, a current record that’s harder to explain away and which raises the indefeasible question of whether they’re a reflection of himself.

Only there can be no question about it. He and they are birds of a feather.

The enemy has gained the commanding heights of power.

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.

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