So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One Nation Under God, Indivisible: From Whence?

          OK, I’ve made my case against the Confederacy as best I can. If after these postings you still believe that the South had a legal right to secede, that the Civil War was actually the “Northern War of Aggression” over tariffs, and that Lincoln was the most tyrannical president we’ve ever had, well then . . . I don’t think there’s much more I can do to persuade you.
            Starting with this posting, I’m going to leave behind Krannawitter and really venture out on my own understanding and logic. I’m going to indulge in a little amateur psychology. I know, I know, Leftists love to indulge in this as basically ad hominems and “begging the question” attacks: “You only reject Affirmative Action because deep down you’re a racist!” and “You only believe in the Free Market because you’re stingy and don’t want to give up your comfortable life in order to help those in need.” A few years ago I listened to Michael Medved’s interview with a clinical psychoanalyst who’d actually written a book entitled Bush on the Couch, in which he —never having ever met the man—felt free to professionally diagnose the former president (supposedly going back to his parents) in order to explain his policies while in office. That’s one of the Left’s favorite games: A) Leftist positions are obviously true and noble and right, and B) The only possible way anyone could disagree with them is if the dissenter is evil or stupid, and therefore C) If you sincerely disagree with Leftists, the only possible reason is that you’re literally crazy and need some psychological help.
            That’s not what I’m doing here, not at all. The people who disagree with me—whom I’ve known—aren’t bad people or crazy or racist. I just think they’re struggling with some cognitive dissonance. I just want to speculate a little bit on their (sincere) reasons for taking this stance.
            My basic point—which I’ve tried to make over and over and over in this series—is that the Confederacy stood against nearly everything we as conservatives stand for. They weren’t for limited government except insofar as that stance aided the institution of slavery or salved their consciences. They were not for economic freedom, except insofar as this supposed economic freedom was their freedom to keep slaves. They certainly weren’t in favor of economic freedom—or any other freedom, for that matter—for the over one-third of their population held in slavery. They were in favor of big government on the issue of drafting unwilling people as slave catchers, overriding a free state’s wishes in favor of a traveling slave owner, and in using the power of the state to stifle free speech which condemned their beloved institution. One of the main reasons they walked out of the Democratic national convention in 1860 was because of their demand that the federal government provide a national police force to help them keep their slaves in line in the new territories.
            You see, just like Leftists tend to do, they believed in freedom for themselves while expressly denying it for others. The difference between a conservative and a liberal is that the conservative believes in rights for other people whom he doesn't happen to personally like.
            OK, OK, I get it. Lincoln was in favor of protective tariffs. The CSA’s Constitution forbade protective tariffs. On this one lone point I happen to agree with the Confederates and strongly disagree with Lincoln. Yes, that’s right, I happen to disagree with Lincoln on one point of his economic policy. He said some things in favor of a tariff, especially in his early political career, which betray some economic ignorance. Protective tariffs aren’t really consistent with a Free Market economy.
            However, although I'm not a fan of protective tariffs (or really any tariffs, for that matter), I fully recognize that tariffs are under the purview of our government. If our federal government wants to install a 5000% tariff on foreign-made cars, I'd oppose that with every (legal) means available. I'd do everything within my (legal) power to get that tariff's supporters thrown out of office in order to replace them with people who are sane. But I'd readily acknowledge that they have every legal right to do what they did. I wouldn't take up arms against my fellow Americans. It would take a lot of egregious violations of my natural and legal rights for me to consider taking up arms against my own government, especially as long as I have a voice in it, a way to vote for people who agree with me and a judicial system which is available to hear my grievances.
            On this issue I stand with James Madison. Here's what Robert Hayne of North American Review said about it:

Madison was sure that tariffs to support manufacturers were constitutional. As he told Joseph Cabell, a Virginia state senator, protective tariffs had been proposed and passed in the First Congress, and many congresses since—an “unbroken current” of “prolonged and universal practice.” ...He never imagined that a state acting alone could void a federal law. ...In the worst case—repeated abuses and no possibility of political relief—there remained the right of revolution. But that was “an extra- and ultraconstitutional right.” It could not be smuggled into the Constitution by halves in the form of nullification.

            But the debate over tariffs wasn’t the main issue of the late 1850’s. Look at every one of Lincoln’s speeches once he came back on the national scene in the mid-1850’s. See how many times he references slavery versus how often he makes a point in favor of a higher tariff.
            Lincoln believed in the Free Market. I know I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating, because it capsulizes so well how he viewed the American Dream. Please read these words and tell me they were spoken by someone who didn’t believe in the Free Market System:

The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor--the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune.     

            He also had some rather stern warnings against class warfare and its attendant disregard for property rights: “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”
            OK, so why then are so many conservatives—who aren’t racist—standing up for and defending the Confederacy, which pretty much stood against everything we stand for?
            I think it comes down to confusion. Remember, one thing that marks a conservative is an ability and willingness to make correct distinctions.
            First and foremost, we need to have a good definition of conservatism. Some people basically take it as a synonym for traditionalism, an overriding love for “how we’ve always done it.” Traditions can be good or bad. I’ll grant you that conservatives tend to value the accumulated wisdom of centuries of human history over what’s the latest fad. There’s an innate suspicion of new philosophical ideas which claim to be better than anything we’ve come up with over the last 3000 years or so. We’re sympathetic to C. S. Lewis’s statement that

Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that.... The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.

            But we need to be careful here. The Liberal Media, either purposefully or not, added to the fog when they used the term “conservatives” for the Mullahs in Iran and the Communist Party leaders in the Soviet Union. Perhaps they were conservative in the sense of wanting to keep the status quo, but they certainly were directly opposed to every philosophical point of American political conservatives like President Reagan.
            The question all goes back to etymology. A conservative, in its most basic form, is someone who wants to conserve something. In the case of political conservatives in America, we want to conserve political and economic liberty. In the case of the Soviet Communists and Iranian Mullahs, they want(ed) to conserve an unjust system of political oppression. So to use the term conservative for both President Reagan and the Ayatollah Khomeini reflects verbal sloppiness at best and dishonest sleight of hand at worst, attempting to smear one's political opponents. 
            That’s why some conservatives bristle at the label: Not because they want to obfuscate what we believe but because we want to make it clearer. Some much prefer to be called “Classical liberals.” Wikipedia defines “Classical Liberalism” as “a political philosophy and ideology belonging to liberalism in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government. The philosophy emerged as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. It advocates civil liberties with a limited government under the rule of law, private property rights, and belief in laissez-faire economic liberalism.” Sounds exactly like what I believe as far as my political leanings go, and this is completely antithetical to what the Confederacy upheld. Of course, I don’t recommend us claiming to be “Classical liberals” because most people would have no idea what we were talking about.
            I think some of the confusion comes from conflating conservatism (in the “classical liberal” sense) with a basic loyalty to one’s homeland and a misplaced nostalgia for “the way things used to be.” No one likes to hear anything bad about their home. But traditionalism isn’t synonymous with conservatism, at least in the way that I and most others use it. Traditionalism, at least in the way I'm using it here, is a blanket approval of one's traditions, while conservatism (as I'm using it here) is a desire to conserve liberty: religious, economic, political, etc. 
            Another factor--as a corollary to loyalty to one's homeland--is loyalty to one's ancestors. Some Neo-Confederates (whether they accept that term or not) have ancestors who fought (valiantly) in the Civil War on the Southern side. For me to say that the Confederacy was wrong and that I'm glad it lost is to insult their great-great-great-great-great grandfather who proudly marched beneath the Stars and Bars, maybe even giving up his life in that cause.
             Look, I feel for you. I really do. Maybe your ancestor really did fight the fight for the noblest or reasons, and--like General Lee--hated slavery. Every indication seems to be that he too despised slavery and had a fairly enlightened (i.e. biblical) view on race. Maybe your ancestor was like that. But none of that is directly relevant to the questions we've been asking, such as the reasons why the Southern leadership called upon its people to take up arms against their fellow Americans. People might be better than the cause for which they fight. Honor your ancestor's more noble attributes such as bravery and self-sacrifice, but please don't let your loyalty to your ancestor color your understanding of the cause for which he fought. I'll sum up my response by repeating General Grant:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.

            I think that another part of it is confusing conservatism with basic anti-authoritarianism. As I love to point out, this country started out by saying to the Mother Country “You can’t tell US what to do!!!” There’s always been a streak of rebellion against authority in our DNA. This is, of course, coupled with a healthy skepticism of government’s honesty and competence.
           And a lot of (probably most) Neo-Confederates are (very rightly) concerned with an encroaching federal government which doesn't seem to understand the concept of limits, either legal or fiscal. They hear someone talk about "states rights," and they conflate the modern struggle for classical liberalism with what slave-holders and segregationists were struggling for generations ago. Slave-holding Confederates, segregationists of the 1950's and 1960's, and modern conservatives all use the term "states rights." But the first two groups were fighting for white supremacy--which is the reduction of peoples' liberty, and the third group is fighting for the expansion of peoples' liberty which is inversely proportional to the size and power of the federal government.
            People with Confederate sympathies (mostly Southerners) have been told as far back as they can remember that the South was right (or at least it had a right to secede), that Lincoln was a tyrant, and that his administration was the beginning of a tyrannical federal government that's been growing ever since. They conflate the Confederacy with the modern fight against an all-intrusive federal government. 
            I’m definitely on board for being skeptical of government, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with those who want to roll back its illegitimate power in our lives. But look again at the definition of “Classical Liberalism” we supplied a couple of paragraphs ago. There’s something really missing in the NC movement: A strong value placed on the rule of law. While the rule of law was going their way (such as with the Fugitive Slave Laws embedded in the Constitution), Southern Democrats were all in favor of it. When the Supreme Court handed down Dred Scott, they were big fans of the Supreme Court. But we had a free and fair election in 1860, one in which the Southern states participated. It didn’t go their way, so they tried to pull out of the Union and fired upon their fellow Americans when the rule of law and the Constitution didn’t support them any longer. Once again we see that the value they placed on rule of law was rather. . . selective. 
            And finally, a lot of NC's—and I suspect it's the majority—have conflated defending the South as it is now with defending the South as it was in the 1850’s. Liberals love to pretend that we’re still living in the 1950’s as far as race is concerned. For some reason, they love to pretend that we’re just two steps shy of returning to Jim Crow and separate drinking fountains. They endlessly promote their narrative of the South as a hopelessly bigoted and backwards part of the country, as opposed to “enlightened” New York City or Los Angeles.
            And conservatives—rightly—push back against this. They say—and I completely agree with them—that the Founders’ vision for America is best realized in the South as it is today. We believe that if the rest of the country, actually the rest of the world, became more like the South as it is today, the world would be a better place.
            What do I mean by that? Do I want the rest of the world to like Chicken Fried Steak and grits? Well, maybe the world would be a better place if more people. .  .no, I’m kidding. What I’m referring to are things like:
·                 Economic freedom.
·                 Lower taxes.
·                 A far less intrusive government.
·                 A strong respect for private property rights.
·                 A death penalty that’s actually used on occasion.
·                 Sane environmental regulations.
·                 Protection for the unborn.
·                 A strong respect for the military.
·                 A deep abiding love for the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
·                 A deep respect for the Constitution as written, meaning it says what it means and means what it says.
            To my fellow conservatives who lean towards defending the Confederacy or even wholeheartedly support it, can you do me a huge favor? Please look at the above list and name for me one thing which is dependent upon proving the South was right. Do I need to defend the cause of Southern secession in order to also defend notions like lower taxes or a far less intrusive federal government or a respect for private property rights? If so, could you explain that to me in the comments? 
            The problem begins—as I stated above—when conservatives somehow confuse defending the South as it is today with defending the South as it was in the 1850’s or even the 1950’s. And Liberals love that confusion, since it’s consistent with their narrative.     
            And every time that some conservative stands up and defends the Confederacy or publicly muses about the possibility of a modern secession movement, he’s feeding into that narrative.

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