Joshua Treviño on what left and right are getting wrong about Nelson Mandela

Josh Trevino posted this to Facebook (and gave permission to share it) and I think it is well worth reading. Informed by history and an understanding of the complexity and contingency of life and human beings.  Not simply cold ideology that filters everything through the lens of today’s political battles.

The reactions to Mandela’s passing are generally what one might expect, and, as laudatory as they are, also generally deserved. But two corners are not covering themselves with glory: The first, from the right, being those who denounce him as a Communist (he was) and a friend of tyrants (most definitely) and a terrorist (debatable) and having left a legacy of ruin (not really), and therefore not worthy of the praise given him. The second, from the left, is having a marvelous time dredging up every skeptic of Mandela and his ANC prior to 1990, and getting in one last kick against those who failed to join the liberal consensus at the proper time.

Well. Historical memory is malleable and imperfect. The truth about Nelson Mandela is that one may bring the full bill of charges against him and still find a great man: and that bill exists. The implacable critics on the right, and the post-facto triumphalists on the left, both forget Burke’s admonition:

“I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”

Those who believe Mandela was obviously a reconciliation-minded hero before 1990 willfully ignore the circumstances of nearly every one of his political type before him, from Mugabe to Nkrumah to Nasser to Indira Gandhi and much beyond. The list of left-wing figures who appealed to liberal principles while out of power, and then governed as bloody-minded authoritarians when in it, is long. In fact, it’s most of them. Caution that Mandela would prove yet another of their number, when his background was so drearily common in their ranks, was simply prediction born of empiricism.

Those who believe that Mandela was obviously at bottom a terrorist and Marxist both in and out of power willfully ignore the circumstances of what he actually did when his entire nation — including all his enemies — lay within his grasp. It’s a long list, but let me cite three illustrative things. First, he invited his Robben Island jailers to his inauguration, and even later intervened to see that one of them received a promised civil-service promotion. Second, he wore the Springboks jersey: if you don’t know the story, look it up. Third, and most important, he retired after a single term in office.

It’s the first two that set him apart as a good man. It’s that last, George Washington-style deliberate setting of precedent with the shedding of supreme power — and make no mistake, he could have died as a sitting president had he wished — that sets him apart as a great man. Acquisition of power is common. Exercise of power is too common. Restraint and refusal to use power is uncommon. Relinquishing power entirely, under no compulsion or stricture, is extraordinary. That alone, even in the absence of all else, makes a life worth celebrating — and remembering.

Ben Domenech on Michael Lind’s Revisionist Libertarian Smear

Ben Domenech utterly destroys Michael Lind over at Real Clear Politics today: Michael Lind’s Revisionist Libertarian Smear.

In any case, Lind has now responded by yelling about racism at the top of his lungs through a cardboard tube contraption of his own devising. The bulk of the piece is not worth reading, but I would draw your attention to the very last portion, in which Lind attacks Calvin Coolidge, about whom many libertarians have very positive feelings, cherrypicking a quote to transform Coolidge into an early stage Pat Buchanan.

This goes beyond the offensively stupid, which is Lind’s typical oeuvre, and enters the realm of sheer revisionist fantasy. Considering the world it operated in, the record of the Harding-Coolidge administrations is one of the most racially progressive in the 20th Century. Harding opened his presidency with a clarion call for anti-lynching bills, giving speeches in the Deep South criticizing the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Coolidge continued the practice, again and again raising anti-lynching laws which were repeatedly filibustered by Southern Democrats (in 1922, 1923, and 1924). Both men appointed African Americans to senior positions and ran segregationists left over from the Wilson administration out of power.

Please read the whole thing, but I just love the first sentences of those two paragraphs. Snark and invective is overused these days, but if you can use it with scalpel like precision and back it up with data, as Ben does here, it works.

Interestingly enough, I took on Lind a decade ago over conservatism and his use of history.

Yes, Alan Jacobs is Conservative (just not a political one)

Over at the The American Conservative Alan Jacobs asks a somewhat rhetorical question: is he a conservative?  He makes the claim the he doesn’t know and doesn’t really care but goes on to offer some data so to speak.

I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.

But Jacobs goes on to lay out his “three overarching political commitments” that I believe count for far more that the above caveats:

  1. “The first is that I strive to be a consistently pro-life Christian.”
  2. “My second steady commitment is to the principle of subsidiarity.”
  3. “My third leading political conviction is that the wisdom of our ancestors is both deeply valuable and tragically neglected.”

I will let you read the paragraph descriptions of the above commitments for yourself but I think those three are deeply conservative and still very much relevant to today’s politics.

The problem is that conservatism is less and less defined by philosophical commitments and more and more by short term political and specific policy commitments. The typical triptych for modern conservative Republicans is limited government, “family values”, and a strong national defense.  This usually means low taxes, less regulation and America as the lone super power and an activist one.

Continue reading “Yes, Alan Jacobs is Conservative (just not a political one)”

Mark Sanford’s God

Didn’t get a chance to note this yesterday, but I recommend Ross Douthat’s post on Mark Sanford: Mark Sanford’s God.

If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.

Yes, politicians are neither angels nor philosophers, and sometimes the political stakes are high enough to warrant voting for a man with Sanford’s baggage and beliefs. There’s no absolute rule for these things; they have to be navigated case by case. But a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party. Unfortunately the voters of South Carolina disagreed.

I have to admit I would struggle with this were I a resident of South Carolina.  I tend to be brutally pragmatic about these things and sending a liberal Democrat to Congress seems clearly a bad choice.

Continue reading “Mark Sanford’s God”

How will United Methodists respond to Gosnell horror?

Matt O’Reilly tackles the important but admittedly difficult question of How will United Methodists respond to Gosnell horror?

First, O’Reilly makes the connection between Roe and Gosnell clear:

We must begin by recognizing that this tragic situation follows from the widespread efforts to normalize abortion in the United States. Not all will agree with that conclusion, but a variety of factors suggest its accuracy. Since abortion was declared a constitutional right in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the pro-choice movement has worked hard to undermine the full personhood of the preborn. We have been told again and again that the child in the womb is a fetus, not a baby. We are told that abortion is not the ending of a life; it is the termination of a pregnancy. This cold and detached terminology is intended to downplay any emotional reaction to abortion.

The problem is that if a preborn child in the eighth or ninth month of gestation does not have the moral status of a person, why should we think a change of geography from inside the womb to outside the womb suddenly establishes personhood? There is no substantive difference between the preborn and the newly born. If we are desensitized to the death of the former, it will lead us to be decreasingly sensitive to the latter. The road from Roe to Gosnell is a downhill slope.

[…]

United Methodists need to recognize that we are where we are because the Roe decision started us on a path of devaluing the sacred worth of human life. That path has led us to the trial of Kermit Gosnell.

Continue reading “How will United Methodists respond to Gosnell horror?”

Failing as a citizen, Republican and friend

I have a humble confession to make tonight: I forgot to vote.  This is something I try very hard not to do. As someone who works in politics and government I believe it is important to vote.  As a person who believes in engaged citizenship as a check against bad and overbearing government I realize it is important.  And as a Republican living in a difficult district I know it is important to support Republican candidates.

For this particular primary election it is a double failure as a friend and former colleague was on the ballot. Ouch.

As is so often the case, I had good intentions.  I remembered it was election day this morning but was late getting my daughter to school and so decided to vote after work. The polling place is just down the street from our house so I was sure to have plenty of time. I even check the Franklin County Republican Party website to make sure I had all the candidates in my head.

Alas, something came up at work and I had to stay a little later than usual. And then my gas light was on and so I had to stop for gas. And traffic was backed up so it took longer than usual.  And as soon as I got home I was inundated with kids wanting to play, helping get dinner on the table, eating dinner, discussing the events of the day with the family, etc.

Continue reading “Failing as a citizen, Republican and friend”

The Left’s statist radical individualism

The problem created by the welfare state is thus not best understood as a problem of dependence but as the illusion of an impossible independence—an individualism so radical it renders all human relationships, including our relationships to the weakest and most needy of those around us, into non-binding optional arrangements, ignoring the realities of human life that make it necessary to guard human beings in their most vulnerable moments through an array of unchosen—or at the very least non-optional—obligations, especially in the family. The Left’s statist radical individualism that masquerades as a kind of communitarian collectivism pretends to offer a way for people to act together, but in practice it offers an escape from all mutual dependence and from the neediness of people who are not well positioned to pretend to be utterly autonomous.

Yuval Levin

Things That Make One Side Freak Out

So yeah. I’m one of those crazy, unhinged right-wingers. Melissa Harris-Perry said something that has a whiff of the totalitarian, and then doubled down on it, and then dismissed as insanity any detection of any whiff. And since she apparently can’t understand why someone would detect a whiff of totalitarianism, and since nothing is better for totalitarianism than people who think totalitarians aren’t totalitarian, I have to assume that the totalitarian threat implicit in her words is real and serious.

Call me crazy if you like. I’ll see you at the barricades.

— Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

What Conservatives are For

We say we are for lower taxes, or less regulation, or spending restraint. But those are just policies we advocate. They’re not what we’re really for. What we’re really for are the good things those policies will yield to the American people.

What we’re really for is the kind of society those policies would allow the American people to create, together.

Together.

If there is one idea too often missing from our debate today that’s it: together.

In the last few years, we conservatives seem to have abandoned words like “together,” “compassion,” and “community”… as if their only possible meanings were as a secret code for statism.

This is a mistake. Collective action doesn’t only – or even usually – mean government action.

Conservatives cannot surrender the idea of community to the Left, when it is the vitality of our communities upon which our entire philosophy depends.

— Mike Lee, United States Senator for Utah.

 

No, We Are Not All the Same

How about this: We are not the same. Some people who go to class and have YouTube accounts believe utterly vile and evil things. They must either be deterred from acting on their evil ideas or met with swift retribution when they do, so that others will be deterred. Some people, who also have YouTube accounts and go to class, believe things that are good and noble, and though they don’t always live up their ideals, they — and their cultures — are substantially different from and better than those dominated by evil.

– David French.