Wise Men Built A Nation Upon A Rock Then Foolish Men Replaced The Rock With Sand

by Savannah Eccles

At the end of a long conversation regarding Texas politics, my neighbor, a native Texan, leaned back in frustration and said, “Americans no longer have any idea of what we are supposed to look like. Every issue is taken at face value without any consideration of long term implications. Gay marriage and abortion? Sure, I guess. Why not? Freedom is good.” This lack of direction referenced by my neighbor seems to be a symptom of the progressive infestation in the political arena.

Confused

But what was America supposed to look like? At the very basis of American government lies the premise of natural rights. All men are endowed with certain inalienable rights that come not from government but from God.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (Declaration of Independence)

In a more modern terminology, man does not derive his worth from participation in society but from simply existing. No man, regardless of perceived superiority or social class, can take from, or give, a man his rights. However, he can infringe upon those rights. Thus governments are created to protect mans natural rights to life, liberty, and estate. As such, governments derive all authority from the consent of the governed and lose authority once the public consent is retracted. Moreover, the extent and capacity of government should never exceed beyond that which is required in fulfilling the purpose for which it was initially created: the securing of the lives, liberties, and estates of its people. The constitution is the designated safeguard that ensures that the power of government is only exercised in pursuit of the common welfare (an unfortunately mutilated phrase at the hands of progressives) and protection of rights.

Life Liberty Property

With this philosophical depiction of what America was intended to look like in mind, we can return to the question of progressive infestation. More than 120 years after the introduction of the American progressive era, the foundation of Progressivism has almost entirely replaced the natural rights foundation championed in 1776. Indeed, progressive theory has so deeply encroached upon the original foundation that it has even hijacked the ideals of liberty, equality, and freedom from, and thereby partially assumed the identity of, the original author- natural rights theory. Yet, instead of highlighting the pre and post existence of man to the state, this progressive foundation limits a mans existence to the time between his entrance and exit from the society. Consequently, liberty, equality, and freedom are quite removed from their original meaning.

Unfortunately, the modern foundation of Progressive Historicism, unlike Americas original foundation, cannot provide long term stability. This foundational deficiency is due, in part, to the lack of determined destination. Simply put, progressives do not know what the ideal society will entail, but demand that society must continue experimenting until the solution is found. Yet, society cannot look back to the past, or the Constitution, for guidance in this journey because society has already progressed past that point. Thus it seems that our progressive foundation has, ironically, rid us of our bearings. We cant look back, but we have nothing concrete to look forward to either.

Consequently, Americans live in the political short term- equating banter between pundits to political philosophy and focusing on the goal oriented social issues that produce the sensation that we are progressing somewhere. For example, in such a political atmosphere, gay rights are societal proof of freedom, equality, and, most importantly, progress. Similarly, a womans rights no longer mean the political recognition of her inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. Instead, a womans rights mean the social approbation of her right to abort a pregnancy and receive all expense paid birth control. These rights would prove progress, and all progress is good in an ever improving society with an ever progressing morality. Essentially, society lacks the sight necessary to determine its distance from the destination, so it gauges progress through reaching its own selected, invented landmarks. In other words, we are the blindfolded, dizzy kid exhausted by his attempts to pin a tail on a donkey that hes never actually seen and may not even exist.

Donkey

Eventually, the blindfolded, dizzy kid becomes disillusioned by his pursuit of the donkey. Though he has been told countless times that he is getting warmer, or growing closer to his target, the boys patience runs out, and he leaves the party. Like the blindfolded boy, Americans are running out of patience in the quest for a perfected state. Even as equality gains victories, the promised results of such progress are nowhere to be found. Rather, the pursuit of equality becomes even more demanding as the definition expands past basic political rights. Naturally, such a lack of results tries patience and leads to partial political disillusionment. The implications of this partial disillusionment are two fold. First, the moderate majority of Americans lose faith in the political system, and they stop participating. Second, political parties are pulled to the extremes and drastic solutions are demanded by the loud minority. Unfortunately, the proposed solutions are unwittingly aimed at the symptoms instead of the actual disease.

For example, a repeal of Obama-care proposed solely on the platform of fiscal responsibility will not prevent a similar universal health care bill from cropping up again in the near future. The progressive basis of universal healthcare will remain even after the bill is repealed. The solution then proves to be no solution at all. How can a people maintain faith in a system that is constantly needing repair just to keep afloat? Without a solution, the system will be thrown out with the progressive foundation in tow. Thankfully, this total political collapse is avoidable if the solutions aims at, and are based on, pulling out progressive roots. In the case of Obama-care, a repeal must be proposed on the platform that the role of the state is to protect basic natural rights not to provide for the total temporal salvation of each citizen. Charity and morality are individual acts of agency not mandates. Individuals compelled to be charitable are not necessarily charitable individuals. In short, the enlightened state does not improve the natural man, the enlightened man improves the state.

In concluding with the pin the tail on the donkey analogy, the blindfolded boy does not need to leave the party. Instead, the boy can simply remove the blindfold, recognize that the purpose of the party is not the donkey getting its tail back, and go eat ice cream.

Red In Tooth Claw On Modernity, Morality The Struggle For Human Nature

by Ian A. Sundwall-Byers

Penguins

While on his British Antarctic Expedition in 1910, explorer Dr. George Levick observed the behavior of an unusual species of penguin. What he discovered shocked him so much that he wrote an entire pamphlet on his discoveries, but did so in Greek so that only a select few within the British scientific community would understand what he had found. Published with little fanfare in 1915, the pamphlet was recently rediscovered and finally translated into English – revealing that the Adélie Penguins’ Levick observed engaged in everything from rape to pedophilia, from homosexuality to necrophilia.1

And Levick is not alone in noting the brutality and perversity at play in the natural world. Despite our civilizations best efforts to sanitize the way it understands “Mother Nature,” discoveries abound which reveal the natural world to be a place utterly devoid of the constructs we call “morality” and “virtue.” Dolphins are well-known rapists; male lions murder the cubs sired by other males; ant colonies frequently launch wars against one another; and chimpanzees routinely cannibalize the young of neighboring chimp-tribes. Even casual observation of the natural world moves one to consider it a thing “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson mused.100 Percent Natural

One of the most perplexing assertions native to modern discourse, therefore, is the claim that because something exists within nature, it is inherently moral and good. Everything from masturbation to snack foods, from homosexuality to shampoos, is now lauded for being “natural.”2 Natural ingredients. Natural diets. Natural remedies. Natural behaviours. In each case, “natural” is intended to describe something which is whole, hale and good. If one can simply find precedent for one’s actions in the natural world, then nearly 80% of the work is done in justifying those actions to secular society

By the same token that which is “unnatural” is written off as inherently immoral. Hence the hue and cry over foodstuffs which contain GMOs, and hence the ill-informed panic surrounding vaccines. Though they would never dream of calling a termite mound or a rabbit warren “unnatural,” many now consider any impact humans have upon the planet to be profoundly and inherently unnatural. Even monogamy among humans has come to be counted a perversion and dismissed as contrary to the best interests of humanity simply because some philosophers, scientists or pundits have taken to calling it “unnatural.”3

Born seemingly of the Romantic Movement’s desperate attempts to counteract science’s disenchantment of the natural world in the 18th & 19th centuries, this conviction that Nature is purely good, beneficent and beautiful is an innovation native to our particular epoch. Those past civilizations which actually worshipped natural phenomena in their mad variety also frankly and openly acknowledged the savagery and perversity inherent in the natural world. They worshipped natural phenomena not because they believed them to be inherently good or just, but because they saw Nature as a force which could not be countered, a thing which needed to be placated lest it turn against them. The same Gaia who was grandmother to the gods was also the mother of titans and monsters.

Depression

The implications of our thoroughly-modern form of nature-worship are immediately troubling. Depression, as well as suicidality, is often the result of natural processes within the human body and brain. Should the depressed or suicidal therefore be allowed to follow their “natural” inclinations? Should cancer patients be forced to endure the ravages of their disease, simply because cancer is a natural affliction? Should those genetically-susceptible to alcoholism or other chemical addictions be allowed to indulge those natural addictions to their natural conclusions?

The reality is that this dictum is still only spottily applied. For our part, we in the West have increasingly elevated Nature to a sacred, inviolable position – but then tried to imbue it only with those virtues we presently value and exclude from it all the vices which presently offend us. Homosexuality and masturbation are now regarded as “natural” and therefore seen as above reproach, yet they were previously regarded as “unnatural” and therefore condemned. And while many Americans and Europeans tut and fret over how “natural” their meals are, our cultures also revere such unnatural practices as abortion, chemotherapy, plastic surgery, the consumption of prescription pharmaceuticals, and even the use of birth-control. Despite the fact that all other species begin mating as soon as physical sexual maturity is reached, we have established legal “ages of consent” which rely on external, intellectual conceptions of “maturity.” And we increasingly project our modern understandings of “marriageable years” back into history, somehow simultaneously convincing ourselves that Nature is moral but that when we act as all other species act with regards to mating and child-rearing, we are mere slaves to an externally-imposed barbaric cultural construct.
For Latter-day Saints, there can be no room for these contradictory dicta. There is no room for the torturous double-think of modern Western secular society which at once idolizes instinctual behavior and despises its outcomes. Salvation, liberation and exaltation come solely through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power of our loving Heavenly Father. We as a people need to stop letting ourselves infer morality from the natural world and start realigning ourselves with the morality set down by the natural worlds Creator. After all:

the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

What we need are morals and ethics, godly inspiration and divine guidance; otherwise we simply find ourselves floundering about between the Scylla of our nature-worship and the Charybdis of our moral relativism. Numerous animal species engage in polyamory, pederasty, etc. and that is used to justify such acts among humans; but numerous animal species also engage in rape, incest, necrophilia, cannibalism, war, torture, etc. and all of those activities are rightly condemned by the same people who endorse the others. Modern man now seeks to, as de Tocqueville said, lower humanity to the status of animals all while crowing as though he has made himself as the gods.4 Even the pagan philosophers Plato and Aristotle did not believe that human nature should be determined by the behavior of beasts, or even by the behavior of the lowest of humans. They believed that human nature was best exemplified in the quest to attain to the good through the pursuit of virtuous thoughts and actions. Strength and happiness come through discipline, self-control and a sincere desire to rise above one’s base, animal instincts.

Christians cannot look to the natural world to infer from it morality, for it fell with our first parents when they partook of that which was forbidden. The natural world, violent, uncaring and amoral, is as fallen as humanity. Is there beauty and majesty in it? Without question! But that beauty and majesty will not redeem it any more than will the beauty of a supermodel or the majesty of an emperor. And they do not ameliorate its inherent brutality and cruelty. Though the secular society of our modern Western civilization will mock us for it, we must turn elsewhere for the strength and moral instruction which can help us truly live as the best and happiest people possible. In all Creation, humans alone seem to possess the capacity to fully rise above and subordinate our instincts; we are, as Nikos Kazantzakis noted, torn perennially between our two natures, the one mundane and the other divine. And it is only through embracing the latter than we can truly understand and master the former. For Latter-day Saints the rigors of discipleship will always necessitate choosing, not between the unnatural and the natural, but between the temporal and the eternal.

Ian Sundwall-Byers is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He specializes in the history of Christianity with an emphasis in early Jewish/Christian relations.


 

4 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book II, chapter 15.

Forgetting The First: Hobby Lobby Gets Lost Along The Way

By Guy F. Burnett

There exists a war in American culture between those who take religion seriously and those who see it as the “opiate of the masses” to be regulated and changed at the public’s whim. In fact, the idea that the public, through the almighty hand of the government, should steer religion, is what the majority in Hobby Lobby sought to contest – albeit subtly. By tiptoeing around the Constitution, the majority missed an opportunity to strike a loud blow for both people of faith and the First Amendment.

AlitoWritten by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority ruled that because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed on the heels of Oregon v. Smith (1992) in 1993, the government must prove that anything which can interfere with religious exercise is done by “the least possible restrictive means.” In other words, if the government compels a person (or corporation we’ll get to that in a moment) to violate their religious beliefs, thus violating the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, it must prove that its demands come only after all other reasonable avenues have been exhausted.

As is well known, three corporations (Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel, Inc., and Connestoga Wood Specialties) morally objected to providing insurance that would allow free access to contraceptive devices that would cause abortions. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such businesses would be required to provide such insurance – or face million-dollar penalties from Uncle Sam. The corporations, not wanting blood on their hands or consciences, brought suit and protested their forced collaboration.

The Court, in an understated and timid response, found that the defense of conscience was found in the understanding of corporation in RFRA.

Instead of relying on an examination of the Free Exercise Clause, Alito instead relies on a legal definition of corporation that he finds in a law called the Dictionary Act. In 1871, Congress passed the Dictionary Act, which stated that courts must use the definitions found therein in their court decisions. Completely unbinding, the Court has picked and chosen when it wants to use the Act for more than 140 years. According to the act, a person can be defined as including the term “corporation.” Since citizens exist and have certain rights under law, corporations do as well. One can hardly forget Citizens United, which spent pages detailing this concept.

Corporations are people, or groups of people, and are therefore subject to the same rights and protections under the First Amendment as any individual. RFRA provided religious protection, and according to Alito, this is the linchpin in the decision. RFRA has not been overturned, and therefore stands as law under the Constitution.

US Supreme CourtInterestingly enough, Alito has almost always avoided big Constitutional decisions. Hobby Lobby is par for the course. Instead of any possible controversy about the Free Exercise Clause, he stayed with definitions and RFRA. Alito hopes we understand the larger First Amendment implications through a discussion of corporate relationships to RFRA. Instead of a full-throated defense of the Free Exercise Clause, which in reality is what RFRA is, Alito defers to what hasn’t yet been overturned. He ends the opinion: “The wisdom of Congress’ judgment on this matter is not our concern. Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

John Adams Center Board Member Peter Lawler has a brilliant essay at Liberty Law Blog on the behavioral notions that underlie the Court’s decision. For him, the Court’s decision was understandable and predictable because it seeks to prove that the Court has been consistently minimal in its religious decisions in order to achieve a consensus. I think he is correct on this. He is also relieved that the Court in Hobby Lobby continued to adhere to its minimalism as opposed to the ugly alternative of judicial maximalism. While I agree that restraint is the lesser of two evils, in this case I would disagree. That the Court is a political body is apparent to everyone, but where the issue is so clearly tied to a Constitutional provision, the Court should loudly invoke it. Calling on the First Amendment, which is what Alito should have done, would not have been maximalist – instead it would have been part of judicial duty. As Chief Justice John Marshall declared in Marbury:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is…if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the Court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

 

GinsburgNothing will be gained in the long term by judicial handwringing of Constitutional issues in favor of Congressional legislation. Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed that the Court relied almost entirely on a skewed reading of RFRA (where, in her opinion, it should have been relying on the ACA’s panel of experts (whom she cites)). Both decisions in the case are decidedly lackluster when it comes to the Constitution and instead focus too much on which law the decision should be based on.

Far from a serious appeal to the Constitution, Ginsburg opens her opinion with a number of statistics about the cost of women’s healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), she notes, was amended to allow for women to receive more services to answer for their greater needs during childbearing-eligible years “without cost sharing.” Interestingly, she couches this in health issues, which is, of course, a valid concern, and women do have a disproportionate challenge during their childbearing years. She also notes, “the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children.” If abortions for health problems were the only kind covered by the ACA, most people and religions would likely agree to the coverage. However, as most Americans are aware, there are plenty of other reasons women can get abortions and this is the cause of much of the religious objection.

Ginsburg’s argument does attack the majority opinion with some heavy and relevant firepower when she begins to chip away at the outdated definition of corporation. She explores the potential problems of limiting exemptions based on such a selective definition, and Alito’s direct response, that these exemptions are only limited to the case at hand, leaves much to be desired.

Perhaps the most disturbing facet of Ginsburg’s dissent isn’t that it relies on the idea that free contraception is a right, but that it relies wholly upon the ACA and its panels of experts. For Ginsburg, this is far more important than considerations of religious freedom in the Constitution. Indeed, her argument is really over science vs. religion. In a final flourish, she feigns being a friend to religion by saying she believes courts should stay out of such sticky religious considerations and exemptions. However, her opinion demonstrates how she would keep the Court out of such sticky decisions: let both popular opinion and the government dictate the practices and limits of religion. This is everything the First Amendment was ratified against.

In conclusion, Hobby Lobby had a chance to make a big noise in defense of religious freedom but instead reined itself in. Whether it was to gain a majority consensus or not, the decision lacked a strong defense of Constitutional religious freedom it could have reestablished. The decision was still a victory, but perhaps a short-lived one. Once RFRA changes or is challenged in Court, the playing field will be changed. Hopefully by then the Court will finally be able to loudly proclaim what the Constitution already says.

Guy F. Burnett writes for the John Adams Center and is an assistant professor at Hampden-Sydney College. He teaches Constitutional Law, American Government, and Political Philosophy. His next book, focusing on Kelo v. New London, will be available soon from Lexington Books.

Conservatism And Foreign Policy

by Daniel J. Mahoney

The newspapers are filled with articles about the lightning fast advances of ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in northern Iraq in recent weeks. Mosul has fallen and vicious Sunni extremists have approached as far as the outskirts of Baghdad. The dream of a Sunni caliphate run by armed extremists is no longer a laughing matter. And Iraq’s future as a unitary state is in question as never before. The discerning observer cannot help but question the wisdom of the American investment of blood and treasure in a country riven by sectarian and ethnic divisions and resistant to anything resembling secular democracy and a rule of law state. Mosul

At a minimum, President George W. Bush’s project for regional transformation, even global democratization, is in shambles. Some of us argued all along that it was based on ‘unconservative’ premises, that it ignored the sheer recalcitrance of culture and religion in parts of the world resistant to the imperatives of what Roger Scruton suggestively calls “territorial democracy.” President Bush, a decent man through and through, certainly exaggerated the love of liberty as the primal impulse of the human soul. Some conservative observers have blamed the Obama administration for not trying harder to work out a status of forces agreement that would have left a small but significant American military presence in Iraq. They are probably right. But Peggy Noonan has rightly suggested in The Wall Street Journal (June 21-22, 2014) that those who were so wrong about the prospects for regional and democratic transformation ought to approach the question with far greater humility. None of this is to suggest that the United States ought to sit back and allow unscrupulous, nihilistic terrorists from coming to dominate a larger part of the Levant. It is to say that conservatives need to have a vigorous debate about foreign policy, one where the alternatives are not exhausted by Senator Rand Paul’s neo-isolationism and Dick Cheney’s version of “peace through strength.” One vision ignores America’s vital interests, the other exaggerates our ability to ‘police’and transform the world.

What is needed is a conservative realism that is willing, when necessary and prudent, to use force against the deadly enemies of civilization. At the same time, the party of prudence does not look for enemies where they do not exist. A classic example is the insistence on the part of some neo-conservatives and foreign policy hawks that nothing has changed in post-Communist Russia, that Russia remains a “KGB state.” This claim does not hold up to critical examination. Russia would like friendly states in its backyard but it does not pursue an ideological foreign policy. It has been a mistake to expand NATO ever further to the east as if that was not a threat to Russian interests. If The American Conservative errs on the side of excessive hostility to the use of American power in the world, it has had a better feel for the realities of post-Communist Russia than The Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Weekly Standard. The latter have succumbed to a Russophobia that knows no bounds. They have confirmed the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s fear that many American anti-Communists hated Russia more than they despised or understood the ravages of Bolshevism.

My advice is: Let the debate begin. The party of conservative prudence needs to break down the prejudices that have crystallized into rigid and untenable conservative polarities. We defend a sovereign United States, are skeptical of European humanitarianism and neo-pacifism, do not look for unnecessary fights with a non-Communist Russia, and are willing when necessary to take on the jihadist enemies of civilization. But we do not aim to remake the world and we know that cultures and civilizations have a remarkable staying power that bombs and marines cannot readily overcome. The party of conservative prudence is also sensitive to the premodern roots of western liberty and thus are acutely aware of the limits of exporting our precious liberty to places that lack its crucial prerequisites. Conservative prudence combines ardor and moderation and wants something between an imperial republic and fortress America. Mostly it wants conservatives to think and not to rely on tired cliches and hoary prejudices that are no substitute for an authentic debate about a foreign policy worthy of a great republic.

Daniel J. Mahoney holds the Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He is the author, most recently, of The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order (ISI Books, 2011) and The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker (St. Augustine’s Press, 2014).