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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 american

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 man’s 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 man’s 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 America’s 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 can’t 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 woman’s rights no longer mean the political recognition of her inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. Instead, a woman’s 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 he’s 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 boy’s 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

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 civilization’s 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.Number 2

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

Say No to GMOs

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.

Number 4

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 world’s 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.


 

1 http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/penguins-graphic-sex-acts-shocked-antarctic-explorer-ashamed-reveal-article-1.1093723

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.

010_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_Court_-_correctedInterestingly 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.

Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg_official_SCOTUS_portrait

Nothing 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).

Getting it Right: The Court Lets RFRA Do it’s Job

Those who have read today’s Hobby Lobby decision may find it hard not to be amused by the hysterical reactions it has sparked across the internet and even in the Court’s principal dissent. To be sure, these voices are arguing against something important, but this “something” is not Justice Alito’s majority opinion. Call it a product of blinding polarization, corrupted education or a calculated misrepresentation to fuel the fire of the so-called war on women. Whatever it’s source, it is unhelpful in understanding today’s case. It’s also wrong.

So, let’s be clear at the outset, this decision did absolutely nothing to bar women from receiving birth control or even the abortion-inducing drugs (abortifacients) to which Hobby Lobby’s owners objected. The issue was never on the table. 

This doesn’t mean that critics on the Left are altogether wrong in their fears, namely those that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause might still have some bite. The beauty of today’s opinion is that it is limited in its scope while deliberately leaving open (sometimes even hinting at) several avenues by which similar government overreach could be limited and religious freedom expanded.

The official holding of the Court is that the Health and Human Services agency (NOT the federal government and not Congress) cannot force or coerce the owners of “closely held corporations” to provide abortion-inducing drugs for their employees if doing so violates these owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.” What are closely held corporations? The Court doesn’t precisely say, but argues that whatever they are, this label certainly describes a company such as Hobby Lobby that is true to its Christian mission statement and biblically-rooted policies at each of its locations.

There are a few qualifications attached to the holding that seem to have escaped Justice Ginsburg’s dissent and many of those now voicing their displeasure. To be clear, the Court only bars regulations that pose a significant burden on religious exercise AND also fail to represent least restrictive means (of religious liberty that is) that the government could have employed to achieve a compelling objective, in this case insurance coverage for abortifacients. 

This is RFRA doing what it was intended to do. The government had several ways to provide women abortifacients that would have also preserved Hobby Lobby’s owners’ religious freedom, including supplying the drugs directly. There should be no surprises here, only dismay and hopefully the bracing reawakening that comes with our now annual reminder that at least  four justices show little pause in mangling the law in the name of advancing the sexual revolution.

The Court does nothing radical here. Rather, it obliges the federal government to treat religious objecting owners of for-profit corporations the same way it treats objectors from non-profit organizations and the millions of non-abortifacient-providing plans that were grandfathered under the bill. Indeed at one point Alito hints that the exemption of such a large segment of the population from the regulation’s demands suggests that even the federal government doesn’t view this coverage as a truly compelling interest. Indeed, Congress and even President Obama did not view the providing these drugs important enough to include in the original bill.

True to form, the Roberts Court uses the smallest gun available that still gets the job done, here striking down the regulation under a federal statute rather than the Constitution’s Religious Free Exercise Clause. This can be frustrating for some conservatives who want to see the home run vindication of religious liberty and the Constitution, but this is responsible jurisprudence.

While the Court today uses a smaller gun, it suggests that it would lend a sympathetic ear to future cases’ arguments that might require the use of the larger one, e.g., in a similar case at the state level. After all, the argument that any level of government has a compelling interest in ensuring that all employers provide their employees abortion-inducing drugs is vulnerable to say the least.

Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: A Preview of the Hobby Lobby Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide Monday a dispute between two private companies, owned and operated by people of faith, and the national government over the federal mandate that employers offer coverage for certain contraceptives that could act as abortifacients. The mandate creates a terrible quandary for the business owners in the case. Hobby Lobby, one of the family businesses involved in the case, is well known for making business decisions guided by accountability to God—Sunday closing, higher wages for full-time employees, limited hours of operation to allow for family time, etc. Here, the decision is not to subsidize drugs that could end an unborn life. Under the mandate, that decision would result in the company paying large fines to the IRS.

To illuminate the novelty of the Health and Human Services mandate let’s take as a baseline, George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. President Washington noted of the United States: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” As regards the national government, that principle was codified with the ratification of the First Amendment just over a year after Washington’s letter.

GW

With the mandate, and similar exactions, national, state and local governments are now doing precisely what Washington disclaimed—granting to businesses and individuals the ability to act on their beliefs (as in “free exercise”) in the public square only at the indulgence of the government and only sparingly when it appears a religious exemption would not interfere with a state purpose deemed essential—such as ensuring that every individual can get all forms of contraception paid for by their employers or taxpayers.

What is particularly galling is that the government has been reasonably free in indulging secular businesses by exempting them from the coverage of the law but exasperatingly stingy in doing the same for religious entities other than churches.

Indeed, the current system appears closer to Revolutionary France’s approach to religious liberty than the ideal George Washington endorsed for the new United States. From the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man: “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” This will sound familiar to those following the current debate over the contraceptive mandate or over the requirement of bakers or photographers to facilitate same-sex relationship celebrations. In the latter instance, one justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court explicitly announced:

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

French

 It is hard to see much difference between saying the “price of citizenship” is to “channel” the exercise (“conduct”) of religious liberty (though, you are free to believe what you want) and saying that the law will not “disquiet” you for your beliefs as long as they are not manifested in a way that interferes with government objectives—in these instances, the objective of codifying the sexual revolution. It is cold comfort that, for now, these exactions appear to apply only in the highly regulated business setting since the sphere of what is regulated seems only to expand.

How did we get from the ideal (though not always the practice) of robust free exercise announced by President Washington and given official sanction in federal and State constitutional guarantees to a place where even religious sectors of civil society are conscripted to carry out the state’s ideological purposes?

There seem to be four converging streams that threaten to permanently alter the landscape of religious liberty.

The first is the increased role of government. Increasing portions of everyday life—nearly all of employment relationships, the provision of charity, membership lists, etc.—are now subject to direct regulation. Federal and state governments now “occupy the field” in performing functions previously served by family or other mediating institutions.

Second, the legal understanding of what constitutes protected free exercise has been constricted so that any government policy that applies to both secular and religious conduct is approved even if it has the effect of burdening a religious practice.

supreme_court_building

Third, taking a cue from the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause doctrines which characterize religion as a potentially contaminating influence on public life that must be cabined by federal court oversight (lest, perchance, a crèche appear on public property unaccompanied by neutralizing secular displays), the law and elite opinion have grown more hostile to, or at least embarrassed by, religious expression.

Perhaps most importantly, is the triumph of the ideology of sexual revolution. The idea that our most important rights are “rights” to engage in nonmarital and non-procreative sexual relations gives direct rise to the “right” championed by the HHS mandate—the right to free contraceptives.

As these streams converge, it is hardly surprising that the government has now taken on the role of guarantor not only of a basic order and safety or even minimal standard of living but of abstractions like dignity or equal satisfaction of desires supposedly threatened by the government’s failure to facilitate and give legal status to adult sexual preferences.* Increasingly, the government has positioned itself as the defender of sexual rights against the moral scruples of citizens, requiring them to endorse, or even fund, the sexual freedom that has become a paramount preoccupation.

Defending religious liberty will thus require responding to each of these developments. It would be very helpful if the Supreme Court at least precludes a government requirement that owners abandon commitments of faith in order to do business. The conflicts can be expected to continue, however, as long as an expansive state, suspicious or hostile to religious exercise, continues to endorse the “relentless cult” of sexual novelty and codify its precepts.

 

*In an indication of what is likely to follow, some states are actively working to facilitate (by assigning legal parent status to non-parents) adult acquisition of children through surrogacy and other forms of assisted reproduction to accessorize their relationships.

Ordain Women: Let’s Call a Spade a Spade

By Kristen Doe 

On June 11 Kate Kelly posted the formal letter from her bishop notifying her of the June 22 disciplinary council to evaluate her church membership. Unsurprisingly, in the ten days since her posting there have been a number of news articles clamoring to comment on the meaning and reaction to “dissent” in the LDS Church. The New York Times describes the LDS Church’s actions as being, “the first time since 1993, when the church ejected a handful of intellectuals known as the ‘September Six’, that it has moved so forcefully to quash such prominent and critical voices.” The Huffington Post quotes Kelly saying, “Disciplining arbitrarily and unfairly one person is not going to stop this movement.” The blogosphere too has started to ripple and Kelly has wasted no time including those reactions of support in her absentee letter to her bishopric. Kelly’s letter to her bishopric sounded off in a similar tune to Joanna Brooks’ memoir The Book of Mormon Girl, describing her lifelong membership in the LDS Church and framing her narrative as one of deep, intellectual questions amidst a backward church closed to ‘modern’ revelation that, if truly asked, would most certainly align itself with the goals of the group with which she presides, Ordain Women.

Ordain

Kelly’s letter to her bishopric is a snapshot of her perception of the LDS church and her relationship to it. She describes herself in the ward where her disciplinary council took place as unacknowledged by the bishopric and then goes on to relate pieces of the history of her membership in the church. She describes understanding gendered inequalities as a child when she was baptized in a ‘male’ jumpsuit; she describes herself as a questioner, inspired by the Young Women value integrity; she describes her mission and her marriage in the temple, and she urges the council to consider not only her role in this organization but the some thousand people their decision will affect. The history of her membership, much like Brooks’ memoir, claims normalcy in the church by emphasizing a laundry list of good behavior check marks much like a resume or college application. I have no doubt that the feelings related to these life events are deep and that many of the women who participate in Ordain Women, or even empathize with the cause have true deep feelings and questions about a number of facets of church doctrine, and I do not want to minimize those questions or the feelings associated with them. However, Kate Kelly did not have a disciplinary council for asking questions; she did not have a disciplinary council for discussing questions with local and area leadership, and she certainly did not have a disciplinary council because questions are prohibited in the LDS church.

Kate+Kelly+Mormon+Church+Holds+General+Conference+Oldao8Jg_YQlKate Kelly had a disciplinary council because “of her activities relating to Ordain Women, for openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the Church and its leaders after having been counseled not to do so, for continuing to teach as doctrine information that is not doctrine after having been counseled regarding the doctrine of the priesthood, and for leading others to do the same.” This informal probation letter was given to her on May 22, 2014 and can be seen here. Kelly’s narrative as presented on her blog, comments to the media, and in her letter to her bishopric is one in which her questions are being taken as subversive, and therefore need to be either ignored or extinguished. She describes the disciplinary council as a reaction to her questions and her excommunication as a punishment to “thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.” Despite the informal letter from Kelly’s local leaders listing the actions she has taken that warrant probation and now a disciplinary council, she continues to frame the narrative as one in which her questions are the reason for reactions from local leadership. This is not only misleading but pandering for a headline by liberal media willing to paint the church as removing critical voices from its membership. The New York Times and others readily obliged.

The juxtaposition between Kelly’s local leader’s description of her relationship to church membership, and Kelly’s description of her local leader’s reactions are not the same. In fact, Kelly’s narrative is one in which members should fear asking questions because of the silent threat of church discipline under mysteriously vague circumstances. The LDS church released to two statements this week, the first described how members’ actions (not questions) can cause concern from local leaders: “Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs.” This phraseology, “choose to take themselves out of the Church,” is incredibly clear when read with the definitions of how church discipline works. Although the individual actions of members that illicit church discipline vary, there is a process, and it is not vague; it is not decided by a singular person, and it is certainly not done without attempting to counsel with the individual. Additionally, the responses of church leadership are not determined by a laundry list of actions that require specific responses. Local church leadership counsels together and prayerfully determines consequences that will aid members in returning to full fellowship.

Kelly’s changing of the narrative is indicative of how Ordain Women and its affiliates have approached their campaign to change church doctrine: by creating situations where it would appear that asking questions is equivalent with apostasy, where being denied entrance to Priesthood meetings was synonymous with inequality, and recruiting others to have/voice doubts was a matter of strength and intelligence. This is not my narrative, nor is it the narrative of the church with which I am a member.

(1) The LDS church is a church of questions, so much so that we believe in modern revelation—for me, this is the most open-ended question there is (and of any church I know); and we believe in an open canon where prophets and apostles continue to instruct and guide.

(2) The LDS church claims its lineage, like other Christians, through the Abrahamic faith, and (as Valerie Cassler notes) the Old Testament is not known for equality of women. Yet, the LDS church is the only one that I know of where salvation is an individual endeavor and the highest degree of exaltation occurs only as married couples. True to the Faith describes the relationship of the Priesthood to the family as “the most important exercise of the Priesthood” that occurs “with his wife an equal partner” (125). Dallin H. Oaks in the most recent General Conference said, “we are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be?” There is certainly more to be said here but it is a different topic for a different day.

(3) The LDS church is not a government entity with which we campaign for doctrine that we think would be appropriate, or convenient, or enriching. It is not an entity that changes based the number of people that protest at General Conference. It is steadfast in its doctrine and open to questions and revelation all at the same time. This tightrope is one of depth and richness, where there is consistency and change all at once. Our history is rich with examples of this, again another topic perhaps for another day.

Kate Kelly is presenting a misleading facade that is not only teaching false doctrine, but is also presenting a narrative about the LDS church that is a disservice to its members as a whole. This is not about asking questions. This is about aggressively trying to give answers for the church as a whole under the guise of equality. Pretending that actions are innocent questions without an agenda opposing LDS church doctrine is a deception that members should be quick to recognize and quick to dismiss.

Kristen was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She received her bachelors in Political Science at Brigham Young University and her masters in Political Theory at the University of Utah.

 

Violence Passes, Love Remains

By Andrew Michaelson

In recent discussions I’ve seen regarding the recent high-profile disciplinary councils called by the LDS Church, many people appeal to a particular idea of Jesus to make their point. I’ve been introduced to a Jesus who is pure love, whose only concern is to include others and to prevent pain. I’ve also been introduced to another Jesus who is absolutely unbending in his desire for justice, who demands doctrinal and ecclesiastical certainty in his followers. From my most recent reading of the New Testament, both of these Jesuses seems foreign to me. Here’s what I see instead—a Jesus who intentionally creates difficult, awkward, and even painful circumstances to make his followers confront themselves, their ideas, and their deepest desires.

Christ_feeding One excellent example of this is Jesus’ “bread of life” sermon in John 6. Here, he confronts the masses’ expectation of Jesus providing them with food (vv. 26-27) and the Jewish leaders’ expectation of a clear heavenly sign (vv. 41-42). Then things get interesting—Jesus announces that only those who “eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood” will have eternal life (vv. 54-57). He gives no further explanation. Yes, the masses miss the point, and yes, the Jewish leaders are understandably confused, but in this instance, even those closest to Jesus—his disciples—are challenged by this statement: “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (v. 60). The result? “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v. 66). Jesus created an uncomfortable situation that required everyone—the people, the Jewish leadership, and even his own disciples—to rethink their ideas of who he was and what God wanted from them.

Rembrandt_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Commandments_-_Google_Art_Project “Moses with the Ten Commandments” by Rembrandt

The first of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Here, the term “before” has the sense of “in front of,” and this verse might be better expressed as “Thou shalt have no other gods between the two of us.” But what kind of gods? “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). These “gods” approximate things above and below, but don’t quite do them justice. Such images would include isolating only one aspect of Jesus’ character and worshipping that aspect to the exclusion of anything else. Worshiping a Jesus who stresses kindness without firmness or a Jesus who stresses firmness without kindness is worshiping a false idol. These limiting images approximate the nature of God, but are an inadequate replacement for God. The Jesus described above, the one who “came not to send peace, but a sword,” (Matt. 10:34) essentially asks his disciples to confront themselves and these images or ideas that they have created which are getting in the way of an unadulterated relationship with God. Jesus declares that these self-fashioned images need to be broken and discarded. In this sense, Jesus is an iconoclast—literally, an “image breaker”—who leaves the rubble of incorrect assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and unfounded hopes in his wake. He offers, instead, something much more meaningful (seeing God clearly) and authentic (seeing ourselves clearly). This destruction of images that are near and dear to us causes real pain.

Egyptian statue_Broken Egyptian Statue

Maxine Hanks recently offered a fascinating perspective on what these publicized disciplinary councils represent. As one who has seen the effects of a disciplinary council in her own life play out over the past two decades, her voice deserves to be heard. She sees these sorts of meetings as being necessary for the LDS Church to confront itself, and, in a sense, break down its artificially created images in order for members to see God and each other more clearly. Disciplinary councils are initiated by Church leaders to “break” the false images that an individual member has created, but the “breaking” can work in the opposite direction as well; Church leaders must also confront the images they may have created of the individual members whom they meet with, their motivations, their thoughts, and their hearts. In such a setting of mutual humility and willingness for one’s images to be broken by God, all of those involved are able to see each other—and God—more clearly. According to Hanks, rather than being cruel punishments, these disciplinary councils are opportunities for decision-making, iconoclasm, and ultimately, healing. In addition to God’s commitment to heal individuals (e.g. 3 Nephi 9:13), the community’s responsibility to heal others is explicit in the Book of Mormon, and binding upon all Mormons. Speaking to those who wished to enter the community through baptism, the prophet Alma explained that they must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, [be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). Here is a recognition that all will need to be comforted, perhaps due to the painful reverberations from the iconoclasm that Jesus requires. While God is the one who heals individuals at the most fundamental level, it is the community that facilitates this healing (which includes the time before, during, and after disciplinary councils). Thus, the difficult and painful confrontation with the images of our own creation is couched within a covenant community whose responsibility it is to heal one another.

Risen Christ_Cropped

 “The Risen Christ” by Michelangelo

 This idea of Jesus following pain with healing is expressed well by Irving Stone’s Michelangelo. The artist describes his “Risen Christ” sculpture in words fitting of his subject: “Have faith in God’s goodness. I have surmounted my cross. I have conquered it. So can you, yours. Violence passes. Love remains.” If nothing else, this recent public debate about LDS Church discipline has helped me to more clearly recognize a much larger issue at stake: What do we think of Jesus, and how much of that image is of our own making? I’m afraid that, in the midst of the stones being cast by both sides of the issue, a challenging, yet loving Jesus has been caught in the crossfire.

The Conservative Civil War: Morality, Agency, and Self-Government

by Savannah Eccles

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” -Benjamin Franklin

A recent article on The Huffington Post titled Gay Marriage in the US: 5 Reasons why the National Fight for Equality is Winning grabbed my attention. The five reasons laid out by Kevin Eckstrom in the article are sound (though not illuminating enough to reiterate in this article),but the deeper reason behind the growing momentum of the same-sex marriage campaign — and similar social campaigns such as marijuana legalization — was simply overlooked. Beyond the obvious cultural shifts in America (Eckstrom’s Reason #1), a far more fundamentally motivated movement is taking place. This movement can be summed up in the word ‘freedom.’ Free people are free to make whatever choices they want, and the government has no right to interfere. Liberals and Libertarians alike flock to the sounding call of this Freedom Movement. The real power behind the social campaigns of same-sex marriage, marijuana, and abortion is the Freedom Movement, and the five reasons laid out in the Huffington Post article are simply bi-products.GOPVWEED

Interestingly, a counter-movement is also spilling over into the public arena. This secnd movement stems from a deeply religious reaction to the ‘anything goes’ philosophy of modern social politics. Consequently, the religious right has become more vocal and energized as a political base. The clash between these movements is responsible for the deep division between modern conservatives. Indeed, one could say that conservatives are embedded in a fight-to-the-death civil war. How can the libertarian ‘freedom of choice, action, and thought’ mantra be reconciled with the ‘morality or bust’ cry of the religious right? The only possible bridge, or mediator, between the libertarian camp and social conservative camp is also the product of their mutual coexistence; it is both a cancer and a cure for the conservative civil war. The answer is the principle of self-government.

The practice of government by consent is the quintessential political right. The key words from Lincoln’s most famous address “government of the people, by the people, for the people” summarize the philosophy from which a truly free nation was conceived. In government, man is not subject to a king but to himself and, through the democratic practice, his neighbor. Bound by natural laws that regulate man’s ability to act on his will, the democratic man is solely accountable for both action and reaction. Thus the democratic man is master of his action and slave of its consequence.

Agency, or the ability to act upon one’s will, is the most obvious foundational principle of self- government. This agency extends to the selection of religion, philosophy, career, and location. As such, state-mandated religion, political party, occupation, or residence is not permissible in a system of self- government. The democratic man must decide for himself and his neighbor, through the power of the vote, the social institutions and norms he will uphold. Consequently, the responsibility inherent in self-government binds a man to his neighbor as much as to himself. Truly, the democratic collective, or the mass of free individuals, dictates all political life.

Still, the foundational concept of agency does not ensure the success of self-government. For example, questions regarding market regulation, drug legality, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage display serious flaws in the system of self-government as upheld solely by the principle of agency. On the one hand, the claim of agency in a system of self-government liberates the citizen from traditional moral dictates. Free men in a free country have the right to exercise their rights in harmony with the moral code they select. This would lead to the conclusion that same-sex marriage, abortion, and recreational drug use are acceptable actions as they fall within an individual’s moral code.

How then does society reconcile this conclusion with the realities of the free market? If this principle of agency is solely authoritative, regulation of the free market is an illegitimate act of government. Participants in the market are free to make business decisions as their conscience dictates. Unethical and immoral business deals are the right of citizens per the principle of agency.

Yet, financial crashes due largely to unethical business practices have spurned the government into the business of market regulation — thereby undermining the practice of self-government. To provide stability to an anarchical, unregulated market, government has no choice but to intervene. Once a foundation of self-government, unbridled agency inevitably leads to the disruption of self-governance. This relates, in turn, to social issues such as recreational drug use. Government need only institute laws regarding drug use when drug use becomes so prevalent as to disrupt the stability of society. Action is not without consequence in the arena of personal rights. A self-governed people cannot rely upon the government to answer questions of morality without ceasing to be self-governed, but government must fill the void of responsibility vacated by the individual. In other words, law and order will be kept whether by the hand of responsible citizens, or by the hand of government.

If self-government is to be maintained, agency must be regulated by morality. Indeed, self-government requires morality as an imperative, social norm. A democratic system must be based on two coexisting principles: morality and agency. The application of this balance between the two core principles produces a long term, sustainable form of self-government.

Still, present qualms about same-sex marriage, abortion, and recreational drug use remain complex to the political observer. Today, two answers can be found to these questions. Either agency is authoritative and outweighs morality, or morality is authoritative and negates the claim of agency. The two principles are pitted against each other in a winner-takes-all showdown of foundational concepts. One must bow to the other as the bilateral balance of self-government tips completely in the favor of the victorious principle. But, as shown by the free market example, self-government requires that the two principles simultaneously exist as checked and balanced equals.

So, our attention must turn to the cause of this modern tension between agency and morality. Though the liberalized society places too much emphasis on the individual’s right to agency, it is the lack of emphasis on morality that has allowed the unbalance of foundational principles. Morality can function as a check for agency only so long as a majority of the people uphold the same moral principles. Without a common moral law, such as the ten commandments, morality becomes relative and loses it functional authority in society. A common moral law does not necessitate the existence of only one religion. Rather, a common moral law requires a common moral ground between the several religions within a plural society. So, while plurality can be a contributing characteristic of democracy, polarized plurality, or a system of social institutions without a common moral ground, weakens the second principle of morality to the point that it can no longer function as a check for agency. Unregulated by morality, agency invariably leads to heavy government regulation, and the practice of self- government decays.

gop-splitUnfortunately, this occurrence is too often placed in the middle of the government versus anarchy debate. As society begins to experience the waning of self-government, splinter groups, such as the Tea Party, naturally arise to counter the tide of government intervention. Self-government is placed in a battle in which it is the automatic loser because the issue of self-government is not government versus anarchy but morality versus agency. So, the first step towards remedying the cause of self-government is recognizing the delicate balance between agency and morality on which self-government exists. Then, society can turn its attention towards the far more dangerous hydra that is morality in a polarized plural society.

In summary, self-government relates not only to a man controlled by himself and a government controlled by the people but to a society and economy governed by the individual and collective practices of the people. Naturally, the premise of such an ideal is man’s right to agency. Yet, the prerequisite to the institutionalization of this ideal is morality. So, while the right to agency condones self-government, the law of morality governs its practice. A functioning form of self-government is the result of a balanced social system of morality and agency. Likewise, the unification of conservatism is dependent on this successful balancing. Until the two conservative bases recognize the great unbalance between morality and agency, and act accordingly, the conservative civil war will undoubtedly continue.

Man, Machine, And Troubling Thoughts About Libertarian Futurology

by Peter Augustine Lawler

We continue to see constant progress in reducing human labor to a mechanical routine, like the script followed by workers in chain restaurants or the swiping motion that’s pretty much the only skill left in staffing the Walmart check-out line. If you think about it, the compliant behavior required by the scripted service worker is, if anything, more about degrading mechanism than working on the old-fashioned assembly line. Once those who do the creative labor have reduced a task to a mechanical routine, then it doesn’t require that much more ingenuity to replace the worker by a reasonably “smart” and much more reliable machine, as you see in the self-service check-out line or in the innovative robotics that are mostly responsible for the astounding efficiency of the recently depopulated Amazon warehouses.  Just recently, the formerly proudly personal Panera Bread has announced it’s replacing cashiers with kiosks, and other fast-food chains are following their lead.

Walmart

So the libertarian futurists like Tyler Cowen, Brink Lindsey, and Charles Murray candidly see that our future might well be about a “cognitive elite” of about 15% of our population becoming smarter, hugely more productive, and more astutely creative. That class is composed of people free from personal prejudice and readily capable of flexible and abstract thought. They have what it takes either to comfortably work with “genius machines,” to manage those who do that nerdily creative work on, say, the Google campus, or to creatively market the results of all that creativity.  (Cowen also imagines a small but lucrative place for enlightened economists such as himself who will be cheerleaders for that meritocracy based on productivity.)

That techno-creative class deserves what it’s getting—unprecedented wealth. Money is what is given in exchange for productive labor. Members of that class are given lots of creative freedom and flexible hours in determining how to accomplish their tasks, and they’re proving it’s possible to be wonderfully productive and have stable family lives and be consumers of all the creative, artistic, literary, and culinary accomplishments the great cultures of the world have given us to enjoy. It’s true enough that they’re too free of the repressive illusions that are the downside of being immersed in a particular religious/moral/political culture to actually be incentivized to build Gothic cathedrals, pyramids, or whatever, but they can still reproduce, manipulate, and combine the cultures of the world into creative technological artifacts that make dazzling — if not exactly profound — contributions to what they’ve been given.

Technology has given the world, as John Locke wrote — to the industrious and rational, and their labor or productivity is their title to it. Not only does the challenge of working with technological productivity make that cognitive elite smarter, it becomes smarter still insofar as it successfully isolates itself from the rest of society in real or virtual gated communities, inter-marries, and all that. Members of this elite, we’re told, understand marriage as a kind of contract for investing in the development of children. Their children, of course, are educated to be both productive and creative beings—and so they read classic books, take music and ballet, play soccer, and travel widely, as well as learn all about calculus and operating systems.

So Cowen imagines that our techno-future will soon give us a world in which a brilliantly creative minority of our population is extremely healthy, wealthy, comfortable, and stimulated by all the good things the world has to offer. The middle-class as we have understood it will wither away; “average,” as Cowen writes, “is over.” People without the intelligence or who are unable to acquire the complex skills required to work readily with genius “human capital” and genius machines will, if anything, be worse off economically. Their scripted work, depending, as it does, on the intellectual labor of others, will fall in value.

jp-AMAZON-superJumboMore and more of those who used to be in the middle will languish as marginally productive beings, if they work at all. We can all already see the consequences on family life when the relatively unskilled work of ordinary men is either more contingent and lower paying or disappearing altogether. Even conservatives, we notice, are writing articles about the proletarianization of the middle class, and some are even in agreement on the emerging facts, if not the values.

So at first we seem to see our population dividing into a creative technological elite and mechanized many. But it’s not that simple. For one thing, many increasingly lack the habituation to function as cogs in a machine. We see that at one time in our country mechanized labor—in factories and on assembly lines—was quite compatible, due to unionization, with family and religious life and dignified living in general. It used to be common to take pride in being a reliable cog at work for the sake of a relatively creative and fulfilling life with family, church, and friends—enjoying various goods that technology has made available to us all. Unions, of course, depended on the relatively noncompetitive supremacy of American industry, and unionization is incompatible with the competitive rigor of the 21st global competitive marketplace. Unionization, of course, was also responsible for the disappearance of lots of relatively unskilled or mechanized jobs from our country, jobs that won’t, of course, be coming back as unions fade away. Maybe the most troubling economic fact today is the lack of relatively unskilled or not-all-that-cognitive work available, and so, for one thing, the declining compensation and status for the scarce jobs still available.

Today, due to pathological family life, poor schools, and so forth, an increasingly sizable percentage of the relatively non-cognitive many no longer pick up the discipline even to be reliable cogs, and it’s, after all, not that unreasonable for them to conclude that the jobs still available to them aren’t worth their time and effort. So the middle-class isn’t mainly failing in the direction of mechanization (from locally owned stores or restaurants to Home Depot or Walmart or O’Charleys)—as Marx predicts—but to self-indulgent chaos—including the random enjoyable diversions such as games and Internet porn supplied by screens–facilitated to some extent by government entitlements. When our cheerleaders for our cognitive elite complain that ordinary Americans lack a work ethic these days, they mean they lack the habits and determination and basic skills that are indispensable for relatively mechanized labor. And that’s why our new kind of oligarch is eager to import immigrant guest workers who have those requisite personal qualities, grounded, often, in devout religious faith and strong, resilient families.

HERGuest workers are more efficient for many reasons than permanent new residents and eventually citizens, given that the need for them will decrease over time, as their reliably mechanical behavior is displaced by robots. Care for the elderly — a burgeoning burden on our aging society, for example, might well be gradually transferred from our immigrants to robots that look like us and have been programmed to be cleverly sensitive and responsive to human material and emotional needs. They’re already using such friendly robots big-time in that nursing home we call Japan. And the movie Her reminds us why most people might prefer genius Operating Systems to real girlfriends to open up to and with “whom” to have genuinely intimate sexual lives. When I made fun of the relationships displayed in that film on the Big Think blog, more than one techno-nerd responded that I was dissing real love. That might be one piece of evidence that members of our cognitive elite are less free and creative—less deeply personal—than they think they are.

Peter Lawler is a Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He also serves on the John Adams Center’s Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter @peteralawler.