Thursday, May 04, 2017

THE PILLARS OF CONSERVATISM



“Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else.  It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom.  God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom.  He is the only guarantor…. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.”
-          Whittaker Chambers – “Witness”


I didn’t attend the forum on the “common good” a few weeks ago, so the information I’ve gleaned about it has come from media reports. With that said, I did find one of the comments cited in the Gazette from Professor Charles Brown quite interesting

This is what Professor Brown said - “What strikes me is that conservatives don’t have the faith in peoples’ abilities to come together, reason together and make constructive changes for the future. It strikes me that they, too, often say, ‘Well, we’re just better off to just let things alone...’

While I’m sure that Professor Brown’s thoughts are sincerely held, I must say that they don’t represent the Conservatism I explored, studied in depth, and adopted in the late seventies.

I didn’t come by my Conservatism easily. I grew up in Boston, America’s cradle of liberty and one of the country’s Progressive strongholds. Until the 1970’s, I would never have considered voting for a Republican, nor can I recall knowing many Conservatives other than an occasional acquaintance I tolerated for the sake of politeness.

Things began to change when a friend encouraged me to read William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale.” I was surprised to find that Buckley wasn’t the fire breathing lunatic I’d heard about. Once I passed that threshold, I decided that further exploration was in order. I read Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness” next, followed by Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” and “The Fatal Conceit.” Then came Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

My pilgrimage was complete as soon as I read the final page of Russel Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” I knew that I was a Conservative and was proud to be part of the movement.

When Professor Brown said that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together,” he couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s not the Conservatism I have practiced for many years now.

When one looks at the core beliefs of Conservatives, he or she won’t find a shred of evidence that suggests that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together.” At the heart of Conservative belief is the principle that people should live cooperatively with their neighbors and be as free as possible to govern their own lives. Further, they should be governed by people who promote human freedom and virtue.

If Professor Brown believes that we Conservatives don’t have faith in people, he has misread us. We do trust people, but we also understand human nature and recognize, as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton did, that men aren’t angels and limits must be placed on those men and women who govern us.

In his recent book, “Constitutional Conservatism,” Peter Berkowitz described how Conservatism works: “It assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity of and necessity for citizens to rise above it through the exercise of virtue. It welcomes a diverse array of voluntary associations because they are an expression of liberty, to prevent any one from dominating, and because they serve as schools for the virtues of freedom. And it recognizes the special role of families and religious faith in cultivating these virtues.”

Conservatives value liberty. Where the real divide between Conservatives and Progressives comes in to play is the value Conservatives place on what Berkowitz called “traditional understandings of order and virtue.” He says that Progressives see these traditional understandings as obstacles to freedom. Conservatives, on the other hand, see them as pillars of freedom.

We Conservatives aren’t resistant to change, but we are the first ones who would say, to paraphrase English poet/philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t ever tear down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up.” Put another way, Conservatives believe Hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.” (from Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”)

We Conservatives are fully prepared to cooperate with our fellow citizens and leaders. We are willing to compromise when compromise is called for. Above all, we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations of Americans to come. We believe these blessings are best preserved when we preserve them freely and cooperatively. These virtues are nourished, as Berkowitz observed, “by tradition.”  In fact, liberty and tradition are inter-dependent. They’re like love and marriage from the old Sinatra tune - “You can’t have one without the other.”

Thursday, April 06, 2017

"ACT NATURALLY"

“Well, I'll bet you I'm gonna be a big star
 Might win an Oscar you can never tell 
The movies gonna make me a big star 
Cuz I can play the part so well” 

- “Act Naturally” – Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (1963) 




I recently saw a very funny snippet of video about acting. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, himself a recipient of many entertainment industry awards, was about to receive another one when he turned the tables on the Hollywood stars (another name for someone with an inflated sense of self-importance) assembled. A small sampling follows:

“They come to these award shows dressed like senators from Krypton.” “They haven’t got an original thought in their brains.” “He pretends to be ‘Bob Johnson’ on screen and he’s declared a genius.”

Oh, give ‘em hell, Jerry!

I’ve always been grateful that I never dreamed of gracing the silver screen or seeing my name in lights. Acting to me is about as worthless a job as being a professional food critic. I mean, don’t these folks have anything better to do with their time than to sit around restaurants complaining about the amount of saffron in the bouillabaisse. Talk about a useless profession. Film critics and op-ed writers, by comparison, are just a rung below sainthood on the social ladder.

When I was going to college, a faculty member in the arts department asked me to play the part of Jesus in a stage production. I should have felt flattered, but I didn’t. Now, mind you, I have the greatest of respect and admiration for Jesus. After all, he’s the one who opened the door to heaven for me. But, playing the perfect, sinless man was way out of my league. “How about giving me the role  ‘Phil Dillon, chief sinner?’” I replied. “I’ve got that one down pat. In fact, if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus I’d be dead meat right now.”

Think of it. Does any actor on the planet actually believe they can portray sinless perfection on the stage or on film and be perceived as believable? Come on, now. It’s not that a few haven’t tried. I saw Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings” and Max von Sydow in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” How believable were they? Hunter was an American and von Sydow was a pasty-faced Swede. Jesus was Jewish. I don’t know much about Hunter’s background, but I believe I can safely assume he committed a sin or two in his life. In terms of belief systems, von Sydow was either agnostic or atheist. How about that – an atheist playing the part of God in the flesh? That’s what I call creative casting.

I don’t go to the movies as often as I used to, but it’s not because I don’t like actors. I just don’t see many actors these days I can find believable. It hasn’t always been that way. One of my favorite actors from the 40’s and 50’s was Jimmy Stewart. I absolutely loved him in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Harvey.” Why? As I watched him, I realized that Jimmy wasn’t playing George Bailey or Elwood P. Dodd, he was playing Jimmy Stewart. He was playing himself. He was so good at it that I can still believe that an invisible, six foot, three inch tall rabbit roaming around is perfectly plausible and that I can also believe I too have a guardian angel named Clarence.

Another of my favorite actors was Jack Palance. He always seemed to play the bad guy and, man, did he do it well. He was at his most vicious in the great western “Shane,” when he played the gunfighter Jack Wilson. His lines were short, but both memorable and blood-curdling. “See ya’ later Shane,” as he hissed through clenched teeth.” “What’s it mean to you Shane?” as the two men faced each other down in Grafton’s saloon. “You mean I’ll kill him if you have to” in response to Rufus Ryker as they discussed killing Joe Starrett. 

Why did I love Jack Palance? For the same reason I loved Jimmy Stewart. Jack Palance played himself in Shane, not Jack Wilson. The more I watched him the more convinced I became that I’d never want to meet him in a dark alley.

There was something else about the two men I admired. Both served in our military dyring wartime, Stewart as a bomber pilot in World War II and Vietnam and Palance served in the Army Air Force during World War II. 

The reason men like Stewart and Palance were so believable was because they were ordinary guys who just couldn’t help being themselves.

I’m not sure that much can be said of our current crop of actors. "Superstars" like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon have never served in the military and Jane Fonda once manned an anti-aircraft gun for the North Vietnamese. How’s that for patriotism?

Like Jimmy Stewart and Jack Palance, I like being just myself. That way, if the doorbell rings or my country calls, I'll know how to answer.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

SURVEILLANCE AND SECURITY: INDUSTRIAL SCALE

“Every single day Every word you say Every game you play Every night you stay I'll be watching you” - Sting and the Police (1983)



I’ve had many friends tell me that I’m too concerned with what some journalists are now calling the “administrative state” or “deep state.” They’re only half right. 

Permit me to explain.

In a recent essay penned for the Mises Institute, Albert Jay Knock made the following observation:

“Every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power. There is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.”

The America I live in now is less free than the America I grew up in. I suppose if one were to dissect the reasons for this shift, he or she could come up with a lot of reasons, but for me the most obvious reason of all was 9-11 and its impact on our collective psyche. Security and safety became the most important American values. Liberty still had some value, but it took a back seat to safety and security. That shift is becoming more and more pronounced as time passes. It’s like the ratchet moving the gears of State slowly but surely in the direction of totalitarianism. 

When I traveled by air prior to 9-11 I rarely had problems with security. That’s not the case anymore. Now, airline travel has become a nightmare. A few years ago I was part of a group from our church that traveled to Mexico to do missionary work in a community that eked out its daily existence in a garbage dump outside of Mexico City. It was a very rewarding adventure.

Coming home almost ruined things. I had no problem with security in Mexico City, but when we got to Dallas I got quite an education. I did everything I was told until a surly T.S.A. agent demanded my wallet. I refused, which irritated him and my friends. “This is all for our safety and security, Phil.” The contest escalated until it got close to the boiling point. I tried to explain the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to him and he didn’t seem to care, nor did my friends. 

After we got through the ordeal I got the lecture in spades. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about, Phil.” I would have reminded them that one our Founders’ grievances was that King George had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,”   but how could I argue with my friends’ compelling logic? I think they may have sided more with Vladimir Lenin, who said “liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed” than they would have with our Founding Fathers.

I got a much fuller understanding of the power of the administrative state when Nancy and I returned from Spain this past December. I knew I was in trouble when the T.S.A. agent at J.F.K. referred to me as “Hey, you” after I’d gone through the metal detector. By the time he was done with his “inspection,” he knew whether I was male or female. Nancy, ever the astute observer, couldn’t resist. “It’s President Trump and the City Commissioners getting even with you for those opinion pieces.” 

We now have an enormous administrative state with almost unimaginable powers. Our security agencies have a facility in Utah that stores data on our phone calls, e-mails, and internet correspondence. They’re able to store zettabytes of our data (that’s 10 to the 21st power), which amounts to the capability to store all human correspondence since the dawn of recorded history. They’re working on yottabyes (10 to the 24th power) as I type.

The inhabitants of the administrative state tell us not to worry, that they have our best interests at heart. A couple of years ago, for example, James Clapper, the N.S.A’s director, told the U.S. Senate that the N.S.A. wasn’t collecting any data on the average American. When he was later caught in his lie, he told the Senate that he had given them his “least untruthful answer.”

His answer seemed shocking at the time, but why would it? That’s the world our security professionals inhabit – they lie and deceive.

Just yesterday, thanks to Devin Nunes’ press interview, we learned that, despite the repeated use of clever language being used to make it all look quite innocent, someone within our government has been spying on Donald Trump and his campaign team. To many it may seem alright, since the President isn’t well liked, but the last time I checked I believe we still have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights and that those rights aren’t allocated based on popularity. If he doesn’t have the rights of an American citizen, who among us does?

I believe this administrative state and the ability it has to use the law as a cudgel to serve its own ends is becoming dangerous to individual liberty. 

Are we coming to the place where someone like Lavrentiy Berea, Josef Stalin’s security chief, will be ruling our security apparatus? Will we, like the people of Russia, be hearing the ominous words, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”? Will we get to the place where we lose all our rights and liberties?

I hope not, but the signs I see are very ominous.



 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"I AM IRELAND"



 “If you strike us down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion of freedom.”
-          Padraig Pearse – Irish poet/rebel/revolutionary

A few months ago, I had my DNA tested and discovered to my dismay that I may not be as Irish as my mother always led me to believe. 
Tests may reveal some scientific details, but they can’t peer inside a man’s heart.  I maintain that my heart, mind, soul, and sentiments are Irish and always will be!
St. Patrick’s Day is just a couple of weeks away. I’m writing this commemorative essay well in advance of March 17th. My Irish roots just can’t seem to help themselves. Right now I’m listening to composer Patrick Cassidy’s classical work titled “1916: The Irish Rebellion.” It’s a grand piece of music. It expresses the heartfelt Irish love of freedom, the brief moments of victory, and the inevitable pain of defeat that a small band of Irish patriots experienced in the six days of the rebellion that has become known in Irish lore as the “Easter Rising.”
By the end of the 19th century, Irish independence movements had gained considerable popular appeal. They grew until April 24th, 1916, when a band of rebels declared an independent Irish republic. The opening salvo of the rebellion came in the form of a proclamation, penned by Padraig Pearse. The words of the Proclamation are stirring, reminiscent of America’s Declaration of Independence:
“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right …Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State. And we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.”

Pearse and six other rebel leaders – Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diermada, Thomas Macdonagh, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett, signed the proclamation.

After initial successes at the Dublin Post Office and the Four Corners, the British sent thousands of soldiers to quell the rebellion. The overwhelming numbers and a massive artillery barrage proved too much for the rebels. Within six days the rebellion was crushed.

In the aftermath, the British declared martial law, with Sir John Maxwell proclaimed military governor. Retaliation was swift. All seven of the leaders were executed within weeks. Padraig Pearse was executed on May 3rd, holding a crucifix as the firing squad did its deadly work. Joseph Plunkett was executed on May 12th. On the night before his execution, he married his childhood sweetheart, Grace Gifford, in the prison chapel. She never remarried, proof that she must have loved him dearly. James Connolly was executed on the same day as Plunkett. He had been mortally wounded in the rebellion and was on his deathbed. The British, not content to let him die a noble death, strapped him to a stretcher, carried him to the prison courtyard, placed him in a chair and shot him to death.

In all, sixteen Irish rebels were executed. One of them, Michael Mallin, wrote the following words to his wife on the night before his execution on May 8th - “My darling wife, pulse of my heart, this is the end of all things earthly… and so must Irishmen pay for trying to make Ireland a free nation, God’s will be done.” He also encouraged his daughter, Una, to become a nun and his son, Joseph, to become a priest. Both children followed their father’s dying wishes.

Several years ago I visited the Dublin Gaol (jail) where some of the 1916 rebels spent their last days. As I passed from cell to cell, I could almost hear their old ghosts whispering to me, “Never forget…Never forget.”

On the 17th we’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish. Here in America it’s come to mean green beer, leprechauns, shillelaghs, shamrocks, parades, and over-indulgence. Like most Americans, I too will have a pint of the bitters and wear the green. But, I’ll also be remembering there’s much more to being Irish.  Padraig Pearse expressed it best in the Gaelic words “Mise’ Eire” (I Am Ireland), his classic poem that expresses the mixture of pain, shame, glory, and the love of freedom that comes with being Irish.

So, to that end, I’ll pause to remember what it means to be Irish. I’ll celebrate, but I’ll also listen for those voices calling me to “never forget.”

I never will! After all, I am Irish and “I am Ireland.”