Sunday, June 08, 2008

Random religion roundup -- anti-Catholic Church edition

An offhand remark I made about the Catholic Church tossed off in the last thread led me to some thinking on religion. It's a pretty useless pursuit, and no great conclusions have been reached, but I want to flush my buffers into a blog post.

I did a hit-and-run comment on Daniel Larison's blog, in response to this, which apparently got censored, so I'm repeating it here:
Actually, it doesn’t surprise me that much that it undermines faith in people who lived through those horrors, but it is a bit odd that those who were not there or not even alive when it was happening will cite such events as their “evidence” that either God does not exist or if He does then God is not good.

Let me get this straight -- the Holocaust, ie, can legitmately undermine faith if you happened to be a victim of it, but the rest of us should just ignore it because it happened to somebody else. That is a surprising argument to come from someone arguing in favor of faith. If there's one element of religion I can admire, it's the emphasis on compassion. Apparently you believe that only our own suffering should be significant to us.

God is nothing like the caricatured martinet dictator that the sad New Atheists portray Him to be.

The "sad New Atheists" do not portray God as anything, because they do not believe he exists. Duh. They believe the entire concept is incoherent, and the disconnect betweeen God's alleged benevolence and the reality of suffering is merely one of the very many obvious things wrong with it.
I supposed I should have left out the "duh", or perhaps the whole second paragraph, since the first one seemed to make a legitimate and interesting point. There is a big contrast between religions of compassion (Buddhism, early Christianity) and religions of authority and regulation (Catholicism). I'm drastically oversimplifying; any real religion combines both elements, but those two functions seem to be drastically at odds with each other. It raises the question, not if religion is true, but what is it for? It seems to be an institutionalized way of settling unanswerable questions, such as "who is in charge of the universe?" and "how should we reconcile our own interests with our sense of obligation to others?", as well as others.

Larison's blog (and its surrounding site, the American Conservative) is an interesting source of what I'm looking for, which is reasonablly intelligent and sane people who I am in fundamental disagreement with. It's only by arguing with people like that that I can hope to change or improve the underpinnings of my own thought. Unfortunately that ideal seems hard to realize on the internets, where people seem to prefer coalescing around shared preconceived notions.

Browsing his blogroll led me to Orthodoxy Today, which contains a piece by GK Chesteron on materialism. Chesteron is an engaging writer and has a knack for making himself appear to be wonderfully sane, and his opponents as crazed. Then there is Robert Bork, who is just the opposite. If I was seriously interested in taking on religious ideas, I would feel obligated to get them in their best, most persuasive form, rather than taking cheap shots at fundamentalists like most of the "sad New Atheists" do. Chesterton would probably be a good start. His main line of argument appears to be a pragmatic one -- namely, if you don't have an institutional answer to all those unanswerable questions, people will get very confused, society will be chaotic, and people will invent religion substitutes (such as Marxism) that are worse than what they replace.

Here's a story about a prominent Catholic denied communion for the sin of supporting Barack Obama's condidacy. Can we revoke the Church's tax exemption, to be followed shortly by a RICO prosecution for running a pedophile ring?

On a rather different spiritual vector, it appears that Obama is a "lightworker":
"Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment.
Ohh..kay (backs away slowly). This is from Mark Morford, an SF Chronicle columnist who I have actually admired in the past. I find the mainstreaming of this kind of thought rather terrifying, because I can see it generating a mutual death vortex between those who see Obama as the messiah and those who see him as the antichrist. I believe Obama himself to be relatively sane and levelheaded, but I don't know if he can tame the irrational energies he is stirring up.

51 comments:

Michael said...

When, pray tell, did "early Christianity," which you identify as a "religion of compassion," cease, and when did Catholicism, which you describe as a "religion of authority and regulation," begin? Would you classify Paul as an "early Christian" or as a Catholic? There is a lot of authority and regulation in his epistles. Furthermore, the Church he is addressing is obviously Catholic in polity: I Timothy iii sets forth the qualifications of bishops and deacons, so those orders of the clergy must already have existed at the time it was written. Were Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, or Augustine "early Christians" or Catholics?

Your crack about the Catholic Church "running a pedophile ring" deserves further examination. The unfortunate cases of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church were almost all the consequence of a liberal hierarchy (e.g., Weakland in Milwaukee, the most egregious example - he was a $3 bill himself) in the U.S. neglecting to do their duty to exclude men of abnormal sexuality from the clergy. One of the worst cases of priestly pedophilia on record was that of the Revd. Paul Shanley in Boston. He had been lionized in the local liberal press as a "hip" young priest ministering to "street kids." He was also a serial molester. When his behavior came to the attention of the Vatican, and it instructed his diocesan to discipline him, the diocesan's response was to transfer him to another job instead. A good analysis of the problem may be found in Michael Rose's book "Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church." The title says it all.

Now, I think it is an interesting inconsistency that when an organization like the Boy Scouts exercises the due diligence in selecting scoutmasters that the Roman Catholic Church should have done but didn't in selecting clergy, the left condemns the Boy Scouts for "discrimination." Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Of course, the left would like there to be no Catholic Church, and no Boy Scouts, and will use whatever stick is handy to beat these institutions that it can, regardless of the inconsistency.

The pedophilia issue has another curious facet which shows again how bias is often more evident in the non-coverage of stories than in those that are covered. There are probably more pedophiles amongst public school teachers than there are amongst Catholic clergy. In fact, most of the court cases involving clerical pedophilia refer to events that took place years ago; all indications are that the Church has cleaned up its problems in recent years. By contrast, relatively little has been done to clean up the pedophilia problem amongst public school teachers. I think there have been half a dozen highly publicised cases of pedophilia in my state in the past year, and all have involved teachers or coaches - not one has involved a priest. Charol Shakeshaft, a researcher at Hofstra University, maintains that "the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests." Her report "Educator Sexual Misconduct" was published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2004. Most people have never heard of it.

The contrast in news reporting of priestly vs. public-school pedophilia cases is remarkable. Pedophilia in the Catholic church is treated as an institutional problem. Pedophilia cases in the public schools rarely are reported beyond the locality in which they take place. Despite the complicity of teachers' unions and school administrations in covering for pedophiles - not unlike that of the archdiocese of Boston's covering for Paul Shanley and others of his ilk - pedophilia is not reported as an institutional problem in public schools. It should be.

Why isn't it? Simply put, the journalistic media have no axe to grind with public education. It is not an adversary, but an ally in promoting the goals of the left. Thus it is left alone.

mtraven said...

I'll back off the remark about "early Christianity", about which I know little. But it seems to me there is a strain within christianity that emphasizes universal compassion, pacifism, and anti-authoritarianism, exemplified in the modern era by Tolstoy and his successors. These values seem antithetical to the values of the Catholic Church. Which of these traditions better represents early, original, or authentic Christianity is not for me to say. But you can guess which side appeals to me more.

I'm glad to hear the Catholic Church's problems with pedophilia can be blamed on liberals, along with everything else troubling the world.

...neglecting to do their duty to exclude men of abnormal sexuality from the clergy.
I thought that was a basic qualification.

Now, I think it is an interesting inconsistency that when an organization like the Boy Scouts exercises the due diligence in selecting scoutmasters that the Roman Catholic Church should have done but didn't in selecting clergy, the left condemns the Boy Scouts for "discrimination." Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Pedophila is not the same thing as homesexuality. Duh. The Boy scouts discriminates not only against gay scoutmasters, but gay scouts and atheists, which goes rather beyond "due diligence". Of course like other all-male hierarchical organizations, the repressed homosexuality at the core of it all is pretty obvious.

Of course, the left would like there to be no Catholic Church, and no Boy Scouts, and will use whatever stick is handy to beat these institutions that it can, regardless of the inconsistency.

Actually, as a former scout myself and father of boys, I regret that the organization has been captured by wingnuts. Of course it always had a somewhat creepy quasi-militaristic flavor to it, but when I was young that was more in the background and didn't seem to be central to the mission of getting sons and fathers out of the house on the weekends. When I hit adolescence I left them for a Socialist-Zionist youth group which had some shared roots with the scouting movement, but was considerably more fun. Their ideology didn't stick with me either.

Michael said...

Pedophilia may not be the same as homosexuality, but there is a lot of overlap between homosexuality and what is popularly called pedophilia. Almost all the priestly pedophilia cases involved adolescent boys - more correctly they would be called instances of ephebophilia, which was (if you recall Plato's Symposium, the twelfth volume of the Palatine anthology, Vergil's second eclogue, etc.) the socially-approved variety of homosexual conduct in the ancient world. Autres temps, autres mœurs - but still, homosexuality, then as now.

Any notion that homosexuals are not interested in adolescent boys is belied by the fact that in some countries, "gay activists" have been in the forefront of efforts to reduce the legal age of consent, e.g., from 18 to 16, as in Britain. Then there is a vast profusion of "barely legal" pornography, both homo- and heterosexual, featuring persons of legal age who appear to be younger. This stuff wouldn't exist if it didn't have a wide and eager audience in its targeted market.

As for Scouting, note that one of its precursors, the German Wandervogel movement, was shot through with homosexuals. Wilhelm Jansen, co-founder of the early "gay liberation" group the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, was a substantial financial supporter and leader of the Wandervogel. It doubtless afforded him and those like him a convenient supply of potential erómenoi. I suspect this history is all too well known to the leadership of the Boy Scouts and they rightly wish to avoid such unsavory associations.

I note that you, like the national mass media, have taken no cognizance of the pedophilia cases I mentioned amongst public school teachers and coaches. This, too, mostly involves adolescents rather than pre-pubertal children, and while some of it is homosexual in nature, more of it is heterosexual. Based on the frequency of local cases I see reported, compared to that of current clerical pedophilia cases, I'd agree with Prof. Shakeshaft that it is likely more common. The general absence of media attention beyond this level, and especially of any suggestion that the public schools are institutionally responsible for the behavior of the guilty teachers and coaches in the same way that the Catholic Church is asserted to be institutionally responsible for the behavior of the guilty clergy, seems worthy of remark.

I should note that I'm not a Roman Catholic, although I have great sympathy for that Church and believe it has, on balance, done more good than it has harm. The insistence on clerical celibacy amongst Latin Rite priests is certainly part of the Church's problem. It originated in the desire of feudal magnates in western Europe to retain the patronage of ecclesiastical benefices, which necessitated that they not become hereditary in the families of priests - hence the requirement that priests not marry and beget legitimate heirs. This was not a concern in eastern Europe where the feudal economy did not develop in the same way. Many people do not know that there are married Roman Catholic priests of the Eastern Rite. Shortly after the deposition of Ceausescu I heard a lecture about events in Roumania given by a Roumanian priest of the Roman Catholic Church. After the lecture there was a brief reception, and next to him in the receiving line stood his wife!

The best thing the R.C. church could do is to admit married clergy of the Anglican persuasion to form a uniate English-rite church, and to grant it autonomous status like the Eastern rites. I am told by a friend who is a canon lawyer that the last pope almost did this, but met too much resistance from the "Irish mafiia" in the American hierarchy.

TGGP said...

I think Vox Day found some stats showing that sex abuse was more common among public school teachers than Catholic priests. As a Baptist fundamentalist I suppose it's good of him to stick up for Papists, but I think he hates public schools a lot more than the Bishop of Rome.

Your dichotomy of "compassion" religions vs "authority" religions is pretty funny. Buddhism can be quite authoritarian and violent. Tibet was once quite warlike under Buddhism, their military just happened to have lost out to the Chinese communists.

I'm tired of people harking back to some hippy "real Jesus". Check out Koenraad Elst on that.

mtraven said...

TGGP -- I already backed off from the "early Christianity" remark. It's also true that Buddhism has, on occasion, been linked with authoritarian regimes. I think it's probably the case that all religious traditions have both an authoritarian component and a more inward, soulful, mystical, compassionate side. That is a drastically oversimplified view, but it beats trying to analyze a religion as unified whole. Even Islam has the Sufis. You may consider all that stuff a pile of new-agey hoo-hah (I do myself most of the time) but it seems quite distinct from the authoritarian, sectarian, and fundamentalist wings.

That being said, Buddhist authoritarianism and violence is, I believe, relatively rare, while Christianity linked up with Rome early in its history and took on all the worst characteristics of the Roman Empire.

"Compassion" is an interesting term for me, because it seems to encapsulate a whole bunch of different issues in politics, psychology, and spirituality. What determines who we care about, and how? Buddhism (and Universalism) exhorts us to care about all beings, laudible but not very plausible. Michael S. is proud that he has no compassion for Iraqis and other foreigners. You seem to be toying with radical individualism, which tries to dodge the whole issue by denying it exists, a doomed effort since it is to some extent built into our mental machinery by evolution. I don't really have an answer -- I am just drawn to the question.

And FWIW, here is story about how Obama is using Jesus' parables in service of his political goals. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Michael said...

Mtraven, you have again either ignorantly or maliciously distorted what I have written in representing me as "proud that [I have} no compassion for Iraqis and other foreigners." What I have said is that compassion and sympathy are scarce commodities. I prefer to reserve most of mine, in order of decreasing priority, for my family first, then friends, then neighbors, then my other countrymen, and last for the rest of the world. By the time I get to people half-way round the globe, who are alien to every belief or custom I hold dear, my supply of compassion has run rather thin. It seems better to me to love individuals of my choice, and to regard the human race in general, to borrow Gilbert's phrase, "with an equanimity bordering on indifference" - neither with a naive trust in their goodness nor with hostility in the absence of provocation. The human race at large has very few redeeming characteristics, so this seems to me to be a charitable and tolerant approach. I believe I'm fairly representative of the general run of humanity in this respect.

I find that those who profess their boundless love for humanity in the abstract - citizens of the world, and friends of every country but their own - usually do so at the expense of a bundle of hatreds of specific people: as in your case, of the "rich" (whomever they may be, except of course for Obama's billionaire backers), those who believe that private property is the fons et origo of liberty, those who believe in the basic inequality of men, who like Randolph of Roanoke, "love liberty but hate equality," etc. You would not use such an imprecatory style towards those who differ with you, if you did not have vast reservoirs of hatred on which to draw.

TGGP, the phenomenon you have observed in the case of Vox Day (the statistics to which he referred were undoubtedly drawn from the Shakeshaft report)) is what I have identified as ecumenism breaking out where you least expect it. Who'd have thought, for example, that fundamentalist Protestants would give such an enthusiastic reception to a film made by a sedevacantist Catholic based on the visions of a nineteenth-century German nun (Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ")? Hard-shell Christians of all denominations are finally realizing that there are people - aggressive Muslims, for example, or militant Epicureans of the Dawkins/Harris/Mtraven stripe - who are worse enemies to their whole lot than they have historically been to each other.

I suppose if anything I'm of the school of Erasmus, Cherbury or Falkland, who could not believe with certainty in any of its tenets, but who see traditional Christianity, viewed as an entirety, as being basically more beneficial than not. I find this new ecumenism both amusing and encouraging.

mtraven said...

What I have said is that compassion and sympathy are scarce commodities. I prefer to reserve most of mine, in order of decreasing priority, for my family first, then friends, then neighbors, then my other countrymen, and last for the rest of the world.

This is not an unreasonable position in general, although it doesn't really apply to Iraq where we invited ourselves in and are directly responsible for much of the suffering there.

I am not saying, btw, that everyone is obligated to care for everybody equally (in fact I explictly disavowed that, but I might was well say it again). I am just noting that this radical and wholly impractical notion is at the core of a good dea of religious teaching. It is not surprising, I guess, that the actual institutionalized versions of these religions do not live up to this ideal.

It seems to me that our native ethical systems are perfectly suited for living in bands of 100-200 individuals, which is the condition under which they evolved. Ever since the development of agriculture and civilization has been an attempt to adapt our instincts to a situation where we come into contact with many more people, many of whom are strangers. Being able to watch people cope with earthquakes and tsunamis half a world away, in real time, is just the latest step in this progression.

....hatreds of specific people: as in your case, of the "rich"...

Where have I ever indicated a general hatred for the rich? Part of the reason this conversation is so unproductive is that you seem to be having a dialog with some figure of your own imagination, rather than responding to what I actually have to say.

Hard-shell Christians of all denominations are finally realizing that there are people - aggressive Muslims, for example, or militant Epicureans of the Dawkins/Harris/Mtraven stripe - who are worse enemies to their whole lot than they have historically been to each other.

See, we are doing God's work by helping to heal the schisms that have divided the faithful.

But you don't seem to go as far as Dinesh D'Souza, who apparently hates liberals so much that he wants to make common cause with fundamentalist Islam, given that both they and our homegrown god-botherers are "people of faith".

Michael said...

Don't be too proud of yourself. All that folk of your ilk have done is to cause a reaction.

The origins of the contemporary "religious right" deserve some consideration. In the 1950s, prominent religious figures were anodyne types like the Revd. Norman Vincent Peale and Bishop Sheen. In the 1960s, all the notable clergy were men of the left: the Revds. William Sloane Coffin, Martin Luther King, Adam Clayton Powell, and Ralph Abernathy, Frs. James Groppi, Philip and Daniel Berrigan, come to mind. Fundamentalist Christians were largely apolitical, according to Micklethwaite and Wooldridge ("The Right Nation"), until the 'seventies. By their reckoning, evangelical involvement in politics began with a Democrat, the born-again Jimmy Carter, but turned increasingly towards Republicans after the Carter administration took an unfavorable action on the tax status of religious schools. This may have been a proximate cause, but certainly the breakdown of traditional standards of sexual morality during the 'sixties had to be a large factor as well.

Where have you ever indicated a hatred of "the rich"? I recall your claiming, in another forum, that "the rich" (whoever they are) did not pay their "fair share" (whatever that is) of taxes. I asked you how much was their fair share; I don't recall that you responded. I pointed out that according to IRS data, the top 1% of personal income tax filers pay something like 38% of all personal income taxes, whereas the bottom 50% pay only about 3% of them.

What is more, it is known that the percentage of personal income taxes paid by the top 1% of filers has increased even as the top rate has been lowered. This group of taxpayers now pay a larger portion of the total income tax burden than they did when the top bracket was at 90%, or at 70%. It is a simple illustration of the law of diminishing marginal returns, which is as applicable to taxation as it is to many other economic circumstances. High marginal rates serve only to shrink the number of taxapayers to whom they are applicable, and diminish the total wealth of the populace.

I must therefore conclude that your repetition of a commonplace demagogic leftist falsehood is either an instance of ignorance or of malice. Since the incidence of the personal income tax, and its dynamic effect, are widely acknowledged, and are unlikely to have escaped your attention, malice - hatefulness - is the more probable explanation.

A further instance of your hatreds is the remark you made about how the Roman Catholic Church has supposedly held back "human progress" (again, whatever that is) for 1000 years. How can you ignore the Church's foundation of the great medieval universities and their libraries (e.g., Oxford, Cambridge, Paris); its patronage of architecture (Chartres, Notre-Dame, Brunelleschi's dome at S. Maria del Fiore, Bernini's bladachin, piazza and colonnade of S. Peter; polpyhonic music from Perotin to Mozart; the paintings of Cimabue, Leonardo, Titian, El Greco, and many more; the sculpture of Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini? What other institution could have yielded such intellectual, monumental, and artistic accomplishments? Judaism did not. Islam did not. Protestantism has not come close, though Laudian Anglicanism preserved some architectural and musical beauties, and German Lutheranism gave us J.S. Bach.

On the point of "god-botherers" - I seem to recall that some posts ago you mentioned that your synagogue was raising money for the relief of people in Burma. It was my impression that synagogues were houses of worship for the Jewish faith. If you object to religions of "authority and regulation," how can you be a practising Jew? Judaism is the grand-daddy of all authoritarian and regulatory religions. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are all about authority and regulation. Christianity largely repudiates Judaic legalism, whereas the legalism of Islam imitates it.

It seems to me that to censure Catholicism for being authoritarian whilst neglecting to mention Judaism removes your objection from the plane of abstract principle to that of old-fashioned sectarian hatred. The only aspect in which it differs from the cruder varieties is in the manner of its expression.

mtraven said...

Where have you ever indicated a hatred of "the rich"? I recall your claiming, in another forum, that "the rich" (whoever they are) did not pay their "fair share" (whatever that is) of taxes.

If you think wanting to increase taxes on the rich is synonymous wiht hating them, you have some severe conceptual issues to work out.

I pointed out that according to IRS data, the top 1% of personal income tax filers pay something like 38% of all personal income taxes, whereas the bottom 50% pay only about 3% of them.

And I think I pointed out that this statistic was utterly meaningless unless you also had wealth or income distribution information. If the top 1% of filers have 38% of the income, for instance (I believe the actual figure is something like 20%). The US distribution of wealth is highy skewed compared to other industrialized countries. Maybe that's what makes us so great, or maybe that's why we act like a banana republic much of the time.

What is more, it is known that the percentage of personal income taxes paid by the top 1% of filers has increased even as the top rate has been lowered.

This implies that their share of income is growing by a greater amount. Or do you have some other explanation?

A further instance of your hatreds is the remark you made about how the Roman Catholic Church has supposedly held back "human progress" (again, whatever that is) for 1000 years.

You tried to equate criticism of an instituion with the sort of anti-Catholic hatred displayed by the Ku Klux Klan. The inspidness of such an argument speaks for itself.

How can you ignore the Church's foundation of the great medieval universities and their libraries...

Well, I don't. Obviously the Church was such a dominating presence for such a long time that it can't really be dismissed in a sentence. Critcizing the Church is sort of like criticizing violence -- the critique may be valid, but in both cases the thing being critiqued is such a pervasive part of humanity that it is hard to imagine an existence without it.

What other institution could have yielded such intellectual, monumental, and artistic accomplishments?

The artisitic accomplishments are real enough; the intellectual accomplishments are mostly nonexistant, or negative.

It was my impression that synagogues were houses of worship for the Jewish faith. If you object to religions of "authority and regulation," how can you be a practising Jew?

With difficulty!

Judaism is the grand-daddy of all authoritarian and regulatory religions.

It's evolved a bit since Leviticus. My synagogue is of a very liberal denomination in the very liberal city of San Francisco. Nobody worries too much about mixing wool and linen. Actually, I often find myself the most conservative person in a group there, believe it or not.

It seems to me that to censure Catholicism for being authoritarian whilst neglecting to mention Judaism removes your objection from the plane of abstract principle to that of old-fashioned sectarian hatred.

I didn't censure Catholicism, I censured the Catholic Church, a powerful institution. There is no analgous institution in Judaism, except perhaps in Israel where rabbis exert a good deal of legal authority. If I lived in Israel I'd be critcizing them, you may be sure.

I suppose, since we are speaking historically, the power of Jewish religious authorities could be said to have back progess, even if it wasn't exerted in as centralized a fashion as in the Catholic church. All those shtetl scholars could have been doing something more useful than parsing the Talmud. However, that was good training for practicing law, business, and science once Judaism was more assimillated to the mainstream culture, so who knows? Like the Catholic Church, it's part history and hence part of our being.

Michael said...

An economy is not a zero-sum game; an increase in the wealth of the top 1% does not have to come at the expense of the other 99%. It can be, and has been, a consequence of real economic growth.

Moreover, the increase in the proportion of personal income taxes paid by the top 1% has not necessarily come about from an increase in their absolute wealth, but rather from an increase in their taxable activity. Consider the capital gains tax. Since a capital gain is not taxable until realized, there's a very simple way to avoid it - by holding rather than selling appreciated assets. The point of diminishing marginal return to government from taxation of capital gains is that at which the rate is so high as to discourage enough trades in appreciated assets that revenues fall below what they would be at a lower rate. An excessively high capital gains tax rate does no good for government revenues, and no good for the economy, because it inhibits the flow of capital to its best and highest uses. Everyone loses.

Another instance in which reduction in tax rates has resulted in more taxable activity is in the treatment of dividends. When dividends were treated as ordinary income, taxable at marginal rates of up to 39.6%, there were many publicly traded corporations (e.g., Microsoft) that simply did not pay dividends. They were not an efficient way of enhancing shareholder value. Once the tax was cut to 15%, some corporations that historically paid no dividends began paying them (again, Microsoft is an example) while other corporations raised the dividends they had historically paid (many commercial banks did this). The consequence is that more revenues have been realized by government at the lower rate than were heretofore.

A well observed phenomenon is that over the long term, regardless of what marginal tax rates are, Federal tax revenues have amounted to a very nearly constant percentage of GDP. Taken together with the observation that higher marginal rates of taxation actually have yielded less revenue from persons in the top bracket, the conclusion can only be that those who desire higher marginal rates would prefer to have fewer rich people, those same less rich than otherwise, and an economy generally less prosperous, than to have a more prosperous economy and higher government revenues with lower marginal rates! That seems to me to epitomize an irrational prejudice - preferring to sate envy at the expense of general prosperity.

mtraven said...

I'm not real interested in debating the details of tax policy, especially on a post which is about something quite different. But it should be obvious that tax law is a political tool which is manipulated in hunderds of different ways by different interests, which is one reason it is so complex. Revenue maximization is not the sole criterion, nor should it be.

The US is an extreme outlier among developed nations in the degree to which its wealth distribution is skeweed towards the rich, as shown here. That links to an earlier discussion about equality on UR, so why don't you just read that rather than cycling though the same arguments again?

Michael said...

Have you ever considered that inequality might be lessened by discouraging behavior that causes poverty? Most poverty is behaviorally-related. The correlation, for example, between bastardy and poverty is well established. Children who grow up in families where no father is present have a greater likelihood of becoming involved with chemical dependency and crime, as well as of begetting illegitimate offspring themselves.

The success of the Marcusian war on the patriarchal family is shown by the vast increase in bastardy over the past forty years. In the 'sixties, when Moynihan expressed alarm over the high rate of bastardy amongst blacks and the deterioration of the black family, the rate amongst blacks was about 30%, as compared to 2% amongst whites. Today over 70% of new births amongst blacks are illegitimate, and whites are catching up, with over 25%. The rate amongst Hispanics lies between.

Perverse incentives created by AFDC and Title IV-D of the Social Security Act encourage this growth of households headed by single mothers. Those incentives should be eliminated. The stigma and shame of unwed motherhood that formerly existed needs to be restored, and men need to be pressed to take responsibility for their children - not merely monetarily, but by being present in their households as husbands and fathers.

Drug addiction is responsible for much poverty and crime. The American method of responding to it is singularly ineffective, criminalizing drug use but then enforcing the laws ineffectively if at all. If drug prohibition is to be maintained. I suggest that Singapore has much to teach this country about how to structure drug laws and how to enforce them. The only real alternative is to legalize recreational drugs and allow them to be sold like liquor and tobacco, while strictly excluding from eligibility for social welfare benefits any person whose economic distress is the result of chemical dependency.

Crime impoverishes whole neighborhoods, lowering property values and diminishing the standard of living in areas where it is rampant. Again, Singapore illustrates a successful approach to crime, and the result is shown both in its low crime rate and its high prosperity.

Finally, this country might lessen the extent of poverty by discouraging poor, ignorant, and unskilled people from immigrating, as they do now. There are enough poor people here already; more are not needed. The United States should instead, like Australia and New Zealand, welcome the skilled, educated, and enterprising, particularly those who bring with them cash to invest. Emma Lazarus's poem was not written for a frontierless social welfare state.

mtraven said...

Have you ever considered that inequality might be lessened by discouraging behavior that causes poverty?
Yes.

But, while I don't have the figures behind the Gini numbers handy, I believe the relatively high inequity of the US is caused not so much by rampant poverty as by the extreme concentration of wealth at the top.

Here are some figures.

Singapore has much to teach this country about how to structure drug laws and how to enforce them.

Singapore has the highest execution rate of any country on earth. Fortunately, even though Americans are pretty willing to sacrifice their liberty in the face of drug hysteria, they aren't quite willing to go as far as the authoritarian governments you admire so much.

...while strictly excluding from eligibility for social welfare benefits any person whose economic distress is the result of chemical dependency.

Why? People with chemical dependencies, by definition, can't help themselves and if they are ineligible for social benefits they will steal, starve, and spread disease. You don't seem to have thought your positions through. And, I might add, you have diverged completely from the topic of the post in order to ride a tired hobbyhorse.

Michael said...

If you want less of something, don't pay for it. I don't believe that drug addicts 'can't help themselves.' We should put aside all the cant about how it is a 'disease' - drug addiction is simply a moral failing, a subdivision of the cardinal sin of gluttony, and can be avoided through self-discipline. If this country wants less chemical dependency it should make clear to would-be drug abusers that there will be no 'safety net' for them - should they ruin themselves, they will have to fall back on their own resources. Should they commit crimes to support their habits, they will be severely punished therefor.

Why is sympathy for the criminal so commonplace on the left?

I note, for example, that when Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator, on a vote in the Illinois senate on whether to try teenage gang-bangers as adults when they fire a gun on or near school ground, Obama voted 'present' - which was functionally equivalent to voting no.

In 2001, on a bill which before the Illinois senate to control rampant gang violence by making gang members eligible for the death penalty when they commit murder in the course of gang activity, Obama voted no.

In response to a Chicago Tribune questionnaire, Obama said he believed federal mandatory sentencing laws used to put armed and violent criminals behind bars should be abolished.

When Illinois legislators introduced a bill that would exonerate citizens for violating local gun bans in cases where they used a gun to defend themselves in their own homes, Obama voted no.

The common thread that runs through this series of positions is that Obama wants criminals to face the minimum possible likelihood of imprisonment, execution, or being shot in self-defense by respectable householders. I suppose he doesn't want to lose any members of his natural constituency.

Cities tend to be sinks of crime and vice, which flourish in them because of the anonymity that crowds afford the criminal. Crime control is largely a matter of keeping the lower classes of society under discipline, and it is the failure to do this that makes American cities filthy and dangerous. Singapore, by contrast, is much more orderly and prosperous. I dislike crowds and would rather live, as I do, in the countryside, than in any city; but if I had to live in a city, would prefer the order of Singapore over the disorder of, say, Detroit. If it can be had at the expense of caning or hanging a few miscreants, I should say it is well worth the rattan and the rope.

Self-discipline is far more peaceful and inexpensive than discipline imposed by others. The left, in its approach to the problems of the lower classes, has deliberately ignored the obvious: that "middle class morality," so deprecated by the 'sixties generation, is an essential underpinning of middle class economic status.

The Revds. Wright, Sharpton, and their ilk could do far better by their communities to promote something like "Promise Keepers" amongst young black males than they do by ventilating their inflammatory and paranoid fantasies, e.g., about the U.S. government developing AIDS as a genocidal tool against blacks. The lower classes dig themselves into an ever deeper hole by their own bad habits, and if government is at fault in any aspect, it is in providing perverse incentives for the indulgence of those habits.

mtraven said...

I don't believe that drug addicts 'can't help themselves.' We should put aside all the cant about how it is a 'disease' - drug addiction is simply a moral failing, a subdivision of the cardinal sin of gluttony

You can believe whatever you like, but unless you have some evidence or at least a coherent argument I'm not sure why I should be interested.

I am a scientist before I am of any political stripe, and understanding human behavior requires understanding the causes and mechanisms. Sin is a theological term that is basically useless in this effort. Disease is not a very good model of addiction either, but at least it doesn't destroy thought as religious concepts do.

Why is sympathy for the criminal so commonplace on the left?

Why is authoritarianism and the urge to punish so prevalent on the right? It's just part of the psychology.

I'll let Eugene Debs tell it:


Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.


If this country wants less chemical dependency it should make clear to would-be drug abusers that there will be no 'safety net' for them...

People who are likely to sample addictive drugs are probably not very good at factoring in the possible long-term costs. So increasing those costs, while it might make you feel righteous, is not going to change behavior much.

Cities tend to be sinks of crime and vice...
Presumably you know the root of the word "civilization" that you like to throw around.

But, feel free to live out in the sticks, if you like to appreciate civilization at a distance. The real split in American political life is between the urban areas which are heavily democratic, and the rural and suburban areas which tilt Republican. Urban dwelling also correlates positively for intelligence and creativity. unsurprisingly.

Michael said...

You may sympathize with Eugene Debs but I do not. Try to sell that point of view to the woman I know whose first husband was killed in a drive-by shooting by black gang-bangers in an initiation ritual that required them to kill a white man. Try to sell it to the family of the stock broker in a city near me, who was killed while taking his lady friend out to dinner at a downtown restaurant, and happened to get in the way of two criminals shooting it out on the street.

There is no right to commit crime and criminals (as such) have no right to exist. They need to be suppressed so that productive people can go about their lawful business without danger to life, limb, or property.

"Urban dwelling... correlates positively for intelligence and creativity..."

Income also correlates positively with intelligence and creativity. So why does my suburban/rural county have greater per-capita income than the urban county it adjoins?

Suburbs exist in good part because of the flight of the better class of people from the disorder and filth of cities. They depart for quieter and more pleasant surroundings and leave the criminal underclass behind. Our nation's capital is a prime example. Its resident population represents a necrotic center surrounded by considerably more affluent suburbs. This pattern is replicated around the country.

Indeed, civilization has something to do with cities; but civilization requires order to exist. Modern U.S. cities are prime examples of what the late Sam Francis called "anarcho-tyranny," in which the criminal flourishes almost unimpaired while the peaceful citizen who is trying to pursue lawful commerce or industry is stymied by the indifference or corruption of municipal government at every turn. It is a pity that our cities simply cannot contract out their law enforcement to the Singaporeans, and pattern their economic life on that of Hong Kong under British administration.

mtraven said...

Debs was just echoing the words of Christ:

For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.


Perhaps neither Jesus nor Debs is much use as a practical guide to running a well-ordered society. Crime is a reality, something has to be done about it. But your question was why do liberals seem to have sympathy for criminals. This post started out with some stray thoughts on compassion and religion which I was taken to task for. But I'm sure you know more about Christianity than I do.

You may also find this interesting. If there is a large black criminal class, that may have something to do with the historical treatment of blacks as a criminal class. I know, I know, they should just get over all that stuff, rather than taking out their aggression on good law-abiding white folk.

Michael said...

Christian charity towards the criminal is concerned with saving his soul, not with saving his body. Christianity offers succour to the condemned in the next world if they will make a good act of contrition. It does not argue that the demonstrably guilty should be spared punishment in this world.

Pope Sixtus V, upon his election to succeed Gregory XIII, found the papal states in great disarray, the principal roads in and out of Rome infested with highwaymen. He proceeded against them with vigor, lining them with gibbets on which the miscreants were hanged. This quickly restored order. Protection of innocent life is a higher moral imperative than is leniency to the malefactor.

If there is a cause/effect relationship between the past treatment of blacks in American society and the present large criminal class amongst blacks, why has criminality increased so amongst blacks even as institutionalized race discrimination has disappeared? Jim Crow has been dead for decades, yet bastardy, drug addiction, and crime have dramatically increased amongst blacks in the past fifty years. The young black criminals active today weren't alive in the Jim Crow era, nor do most of them even live in places where Jim Crow laws were formerly in force. Moreover, indices of social pathology have also increased amongst poor whites, Hispanics, and some groups of Asians who never suffered the effects of Jim Crow laws. Your alleged historical cause and effect is not supported by the facts.

Even if it were, what was done fifty years ago to the grandfather of today's adolescent gang-banger would not justify the crimes he now commits. It is worth noting that many if not most of the victims of black criminals are themselves black. An example of this just took place in Minneapolis, where two teen-aged black gang members stabbed to death a woman whose car they apparently wished to steal, and then bashed in the head of her ten-year-old son to silence him as a potential witness. Both the mother and child were black. How does this redress any supposed historical grievance? Softness towards the perpetrators of such acts is no mercy to the community on which they prey. The good liberals who run most of our big cities and who have tolerated the rise of these gangs bear a great moral burden.

mtraven said...

The point of the verses from Matthew is not about saving either body or soul of the criminal, but about the soul of the giver of charity. He who comforts the afflicted gets into heaven, he who does not is cast into eternal fire. And this is so because to comfort the downtrodden is to comfort Christ himself. That's the plain meaning of the passage.

And it points at the notion of universal compassion that I was talking about earlier. Maybe this is the core of Christianity, maybe not -- it's not really for me to say.

Pope Sixtus may have been doing what was necessary, but it seems like he was playiing a temporal rather than spiritual role. This is what I meant by the Catholic Church seems to partake more of Rome than of the gospels. Wasn't there something in there about keeping Caesar and God separate? I'm not sure what Jesus would say about hanging malefactors from the gibbet, seeing as he was executed himself...on the other hand, his church took as its symbol the torture and execution device used, so it's relationship to punishment is complex, to say the least.

...what was done fifty years ago to the grandfather of today's adolescent gang-banger would not justify the crimes he now commits.
I'm not interested in justifying anything, but I am interested in understanding why people do the things they do. That seems a prerequisite to trying to change their behavior, aside from the intellectual and spiritual challenges it poses. I believe we started this long conversation around the book Gang Leader for a Day, which was a sociological study of a segment of the Chicago underclass world. For some reason, you and MM thought this was just awful (I have since read the book and thought it was pretty good). Perhaps you are confusing understanding with excusing, but that's a crucial distinction. The fact that behavior has causes does not exempt it from being judged.

So, the fact that blacks have historically been treated as a criminal class does not excuse any particular individual bit of bad behavior, but it might go some way towards explaining it.

mtraven said...

BTW, here is an excerpt from Slavery by Another Name>, the book that describes the virtual re-enslavement of Southern blacks between the Civil War and WWII. The author is the Atlanta bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Michael said...

Again, the comfort given to the afflicted by the Christian is spiritual, not bodily. Consider Luke xxiij:39-43 -

"And when one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

"But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

"And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.

"And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

"And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."

You remark that you are "interested in understanding why people do the things they do," and observe that this "seems a prerequisite to trying to change their behavior." These are valid points with which I agree.

I suggest that a very important reason why people commit crimes is that the perceived reward is significantly greater than the perceived risk. Trying to change their behavior is largely a matter of giving proper incentives by raising the ratio of risk to reward.

A comparison of crime rates in major cities may be found at:

www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/papers/people/crimeinspore.html

We note from the data presented there that Philadelphia in 1991 had 23,245 total reported crimes per 100,000 population. Detroit had 16,142. Singapore had 1,934. Data are also presented for selected violent offenses. Washington, D.C., had 60 murders per 100,000 population. Detroit had 58. Singapore had 2.1. Atlanta had 162 rapes. Detroit had 133. Singapore had 1.3. Comparisons reveal that, proportionate to population, the rates of all types of crimes are markedly lower in Singapore than in all the major U.S. cities listed.

There is, of course, a much higher risk of being punished severely for committing crime in Singapore than there is in places like Atlanta, Detroit, or Washington. This is quite sufficient to help us understand why people do the things they do in Atlanta, Detroit, or Washington, and why they do not do the same things in Singapore. It also suggests a successful method of inducing people in cities with high crime rates to change their behavior. It is only the lack of will to do so on the part of those in authority that stands in the way.

Michael said...

For some reason the letters "html" following the period after "crimeinspore" were dropped from the URL in the preceding comment when I posted it, even though they were there when I wrote it. With this addition the referenced site should work.

mtraven said...

Again, the comfort given to the afflicted by the Christian is spiritual, not bodily.
That's not what the passage from Matthew says. You seem to be willfully misunderstanding the point. But, it's your religion, not mine, I don't think I have the standing to explain it to you.

I am truly mystified by how the impossibly radical message of the New Testament somehow morphed into the doctrine of an authoritarian state. Although, come to think of it, the trajectory of the communist movement was quite similar. Jesus seems more radical than Lenin though, since as far as I know the latter never demanded that his followers hate their families and give up all their possessions (Luke 14:26-33).

You remark that you are "interested in understanding why people do the things they do," and observe that this "seems a prerequisite to trying to change their behavior." These are valid points with which I agree.
Amazing, we agree on someting.

I suggest that a very important reason why people commit crimes is that the perceived reward is significantly greater than the perceived risk. Trying to change their behavior is largely a matter of giving proper incentives by raising the ratio of risk to reward.
I'm surprised to hear you make this sort of argument. When I made a similar one about the behavior of drug gangs, you were indignant, insisting that they were evil sociopaths rather than pursuing their rational perceived self-interest.

The US has the world's highest incarceration rate. Incredibly, the number of people imprisoned in the US has quintupled since 1980. It's a little hard to see how we could be more punitive than we are now, unless we start executing people for drug crimes (like Singapore does).

At any rate, I'm getting bored with this topic. Violent crime is a bad thing, but it's not a major problem unless you live in certain neighborhoods. Given all the major issues facing this country, it would have difficulty making the top 10. The incarceration rate seems like a bigger problem than the crime it is supposed to be preventing, especially in my state of California where there is an entrenched prison lobby.

Michael said...

Did not Jesus say "My kingdom is not of this world"? His concern was assuredly not to bring about heaven on earth - to "immanentize the eschaton" in the way utopians past and present have striven to do. It was to save souls for the life hereafter. Cromwell's roundheads mistakenly read Christianity as a political radicalism for the physical world. That made them "gnostics," as Eric Voegelin observed. You, also, fall into this trap.

Sociopaths are not irrational - they may not believe the rules of society ought to apply to them, but they still can calculate risk and reward. As I noted in those previous exchanges, sociopaths know they are violating the law because they take steps to conceal their crimes - a classic proof of mens rea. Sociopathy is thus not the same as legal insanity, which is the lack of awareness that what one is doing is forbidden. The madman will not be deterred by the prospect of hanging from carving up his wife if he is really under the impression that she is the Christmas goose. The sociopathic criminal may well be deterred from slitting your weasand and lifting your wallet if he knows that punishment is both sufficiently severe and sufficiently likely.

The U.S. may have the highest incarceration rate in the world; yet, when combined with such lax enforcement of the law that many crimes go completely unpunished, incarceration, including as it does, government-provided food, clothing, shelter, a gym, a law library, etc., is simply not a severe enough consequence to deter much crime. You complained earlier that Singapore has the highest execution rate in the world. The logical conclusion from a comparison of the two countries is that the U.S. imprisons too many but flogs and hangs too few.

mtraven said...

Re the true meaning of Christianity, I guess we will have to wait until Christ's promised return and ask him what he meant. My own feeling is that he wouldn't think too highly of those who profess to follow him, yet are enthusiastic about torture, imprisonment, and execution; while at the same time being reluctant to feed the hungry and invite the stranger. But who knows? Divine or not, he had some unusual opinions and I wouldn't presume to know his mind.

As for his kingdom being not of this world, fine, but then what is the Catholic Church doing exercising temporal authority in this world, from the hanging of bandits that you are so proud of to its current illegal attempts to influence US elections? If religions would confine themselves to ministering to the soul, they wouldn't piss people off like they do.

Michael said...

You write,

"I am truly mystified by how the impossibly radical message of the New Testament somehow morphed into the doctrine of an authoritarian state."

I am truly mystified by how you can describe any historically Christian state (with the exception of Cromwell's puritan dictatorship in Britain, and its offshoot in New England) as "authoritarian," as compared to the secular authoritarianism of twentieth-century socialism - not only the hard variety practised in the former Soviet Union and its satellites, but also the softer type imposed under Roosevelt or Attlee.

During the nineteenth century, all of continental Europe (apart from the French third republic), the British isles, and their respective colonial dependencies, were ruled by overtly Christian monarchies. Even the U.S. Supreme Court stated, in Holy Trinity Church v. U.S. (143 US 457, 1892) that the United States was a "Christian nation." None of these Christian states approached, in its intrusiveness into private life and arbitrary assertion of authority, that of such tacitly or aggressively secular governments as the post-WWII British Labour ministry and the American New Deal or Great Society, much less of Russian Bolshevism.

A.J.P. Taylor, in his "English History 1914-1945" observed:

"Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country forever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in the country without permit and without informing the police... Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so... It left the adult citizen alone..."

Such was life in Britain under Victoria Regina, Defender of the Faith - an observantly Christian country with an established church. It was not "authoritarian" at all. But, as Taylor goes on to tell us -

"All this [the freedom of the English people] was changed by the impact of the Great War... The state established a hold over its citizens which, though relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed and which the Second World War was again to increase. The historty of the English people and of the English state merged for the first time."

Parallel deprivations of liberty took place under Wilson in the U.S., were accelerated under FDR, and culminated in the Johnsonian Great Society. All these events coincided with ongoing secularization of society and the developing interpretation of the First Amendment's non-establishment clause as requiring the purging of even the most innocuous acknowledgment of popular religious sentiment from the actions of government. The world today is both far more secular and far more authoritarian than it was a century ago.

What doctrine of traditional Christianity - be it the Trinity, the Real Presence, the existence of Hell - is more obviously contradicted by the evidence of the senses than that cynosure of secular progressivism, "All men are created equal"?

The dear old Church of England more realistically appraised human nature in one of its famous hymns:

"The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate."

What orthodoxy, what puritanism or pharasaism, is more odious or oppressive than "political correctness"? People today laugh at the prudery of the Victorians, and their euphemisms about anything remotely sexual - but surpass these in refusing even to acknowledge a whole range of facts about human nature and the unequal distribution of innate traits of intelligence and character, though they be surrounded by the evidence of their existence.

mtraven said...

The fact that some 20th-century secular governments have been authoritarian does not affect the authoritarian nature of earlier religious governments. As for the benevolence of Christian government, tell it to Galileo, or the victims of the 30 years war, or the Inquisition, or the Crusades, or the Hugenots, or the Jews, or countless other victims of the fusion of religion and the state.

The Victorian era was a fine time if you were of the prosperous classes; not so much otherwise. The 19th century workhouse and factory were not pleasant places. And the people in them found themselves there largely through state action, in the form of the Enclosure Acts that expropriated the rural peasantry of their traditional rights. The state, as is usually the case, was in the service of the powerful against the powerless. It's only the odd times when it acts the other way that gets people like you squealing.

"The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate."


It's sentiments like that that encourage the lowly to abandon God, seize power, and send the rich off to forced labor camps. And it's hard to see how the godly rich can complain, since the successful revolution is necessarily just as much part of God's will as was the prior existing order.

Michael said...

The Inquisition claimed far fewer victims than did the secular totalitarianisms of the twentieth century. Further it is plain wrong to represent the Thirty Years' War as a consequence of religious differences. They may have provided a pretext, but as with most so-called wars of religion, the purely temporal interests of the warring powers were the real causes. Richelieu, though a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, subsidized the entry of the Lutheran Gustavus Adolphus into that war, against the Catholic Habsburgs. Clearly he acted in this fashion for the secular advantage of France rather than for any religious motivation. The other major powers in the conflict can be shown to have acted similarly in pursuit of territorial or dynastic ambition, rather than out of anything so impractical as theological convictions.

Claims of altruistic motivations to conceal baser ambitions are nothing new in politics and still continue. Consider, for example, the way in which leftist politicians wear their hearts on their sleeves for "the poor," but cynically promote a welfare state that buys their votes with taxpayers' money and perpetuates their dependency on it rather than encouraging them to improve themselves. All of this serves the personal ambition of the politicians in question far more effectively than it does any real good for their clientèle.

To represent the treatment of Galileo as a battle between religious obscurantism and scientific rationalism is Whig history of the most crude variety. You ought to read Pietro Redondi's book "Galileo eretico" before revisiting this issue. Redondi has examined numerous original documents of the legal process against Galileo and discovered numerous illuminating points. Galileo never had trouble with the Florentine inquisitorial authorities, who were Franciscans. The Roman Jesuits, however, plotted his downfall for reasons that had nothing to do with his astronomical work. Copernicanism, according to Redondi, was a "red herring" to distract attention from the much more serious accusation of heresy regarding the Eucharist. This could conceivably have touched even Galileo's most important patron, Pope Urban VIII. To summarize, "interservice rivalry" between Franciscans and Jesuits, troubled relations between Medicean Florence and papal Rome, and political intrigue surrounding the papacy, had much more to do with Galileo's predicament than did his actual science.

Lynn Thorndike, in his monumental "History of Magic and Experimental Science," says of Galileo and another purported hero of Whig history (Roger Bacon) the following:

"Then the inquisition bug-a-boo is negligible. Has any one ever shown that the inquisition punished a practical invention? It was not for having invented the telescope that Galileo was persecuted. Moreover, Galileo's was an exceptional case, and it can not be shown that... [historically] the church persecuted men of science. Rather, popes and prelates were their patrons."

As for the Victorian era, perhaps you ought to rely less on novelistic descriptions like those of Dickens and more on the actual economic data which indicate a steadily increasing standard of living for the laboring class - particularly skilled workers - during the last half of the nineteenth century. This is well documented and in line with the increase in the marginal product of labor during this period, brought about by the introduction of new technology. Weepy fictions like "Oliver Twist" need to be balanced against real accounts of the period, e.g., of skilled laborers such as barrel-makers and action-filers in the Birmingham gun trade carousing in pubs and lighting their cigars with five-pound notes during the prosperity of the 1860s.

mtraven said...

The Inquisition claimed far fewer victims than did the secular totalitarianism of the twentieth century.

Great advertisement -- "The Catholic Church -- not as bad as Stalin!" And you are simply ignoring my previous comment, in which this was already answered.

To represent the treatment of Galileo as a battle between religious obscurantism and scientific rationalism is Whig history of the most crude variety.

Too bad it's what nearly everybody believes, historians included. That you've found one historian with a diverging opinion really proves nothing. Redondi's account not well accepted, to put it mildly. Of course, history is complicated and the picture of it we have is distorted by time and the limits of available knowledge and documentation, so who knows? Not being an expert in the area, I have to accept the consensus of the experts, and reject your feeble apologetics. That Galileo was persecuted and suppressed by the Church is unquestionable. That organization didn't get around to acknowledging the heliocentric theory of the solar system until 1992.

As for the Victorian era, perhaps you ought to rely less on novelistic descriptions like those of Dickens...

And you follow that with some absurd story of laborers lighting their cigars with five-pound notes...Which, for all I know, might have happened. But unless you have actual quantitative data on wealth and poverty in Victorian England, your anecdote is not worth a farthing more than Dickens...rather less in fact, since the condition of the workhouses is very well documented, for instance here and here.

Michael said...

At one time, Giordano Bruno was regarded as a proto-martyr of modern science. Gradually, with the researches of Dorothea W. Singer and Dame Frances Yates showed him to be nothing of the kind. There may be some diehard anti-clericals in Italy who still like to view Galileo through the lens of Whig history, but I have no doubt that Redondi will be followed by other researchers who will discover still more about Galileo's trial. The Giovannini review to which you linked was not (by the way) an unfavorable one, as you implied. He writes: "...even the firecest critics have praised the originality of Mr. Redondi's book, his unquestionable contribution to widening the scope of the history of science, his convincing advocacy for a better understanding of the close links between the birth of modern science and contemporary theological, political, and philosophical issues."

I find Redondi's account persuasive, among other reasons, because the concern it describes over Galileo's atomism and its theological implications is entirely typical of early 17th-century thought. The theological implications of atomism were, for example, what got the Honble. Robert Boyle - who began his intellectual career as a writer on morals and divinity - interested in chemistry. See Antonio Clericuzio, "Gassendi, Charleton abnd Boyle on Matter and Motion"; Peter Anstey, "Boyle against Thinking Matter" [both in "Late Medieval and Ealry Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories," ed. Lüthy, Murdoch and Newman (Leyden, 2001: E.J. Brill)]; and Lawrence Principe, "The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest" (Princeton, 1998: Princeton University Press).

I certainly don't deny that the Inquisition was an authoritarian institutution, but simply point out that its authoritarianism was much more limited in scope than that of twentieth-century secular states. It was an evil, but certainly a lesser one than they. Politics is always about the choice of the lesser of evils. You, on the other hand, when you write that the Anglican hymn verse I quoted would "encourage the lowly to abandon God, seize power, and send the rich off to forced labor camps" seem to be expressing a preference for the murderous rule of Pol Pot over the benignity of Queen Victoria's. I suppose I should not be surprised.

In any event, the lyric is simply a statement of fact. All men are NOT created equal, and it is a destructive pretense to hold that they are. The classical precept of justice is not to treat all equally, but "suum cuique tribuere" - to render each his due. Each will not always be the same, nor, consequently, will be what is his due.

There are plenty of statistics to show that wage levels rose markedly during the latter half of the nineteenth century, both in Britain and in the United States. For example, Chris Cook in "The Routledge Companion to Britain in the Nineteenth Century 1815-1914", page 204, writes:

"It is clear that up to the mid-nineteenth century there were marked flutuations in prices, with which wages might not have kept pace, leading to deterioration of living standards. During the latter part of the century, however, falling prices and rising wages combined to raise living standards."

His table on p. 206 headed "Money wages and real wages in the United Kingdom, 1850 - 1906" taking 1850 as 100 in both cases shows a steady rise in both, to a money wage of 181 and a real wage of 194 in 1906. In other words, real wages almost doubled, and this in a mildly deflationary environment. This is as we might expect, given the increase in productivity and the economic principle that the wage of labor is the marginal product of labor. Cook writes, loc. cit.:

"'Real' wage levels were determined in this period by three main factors: 'money' wages or wage rates, price levels, and regularity of employment... Towards the end of the nineteenth century, falling prices created a rise in real incomes for almost all groups in regular employment."

We are here, of course, talking about the proletariat - the working class - as opposed to the lumpenproletariat, those too dumb or lazy to get any kind of employment. The latter may have ended up in workhouses, which were indeed not pleasant places. They were, however, preferable to today's public housing projects in which bastardy, drug abuse, and criminality are allowed to flourish with impunity, subsidized by the taxpayers' money.

Your citation of "Slavery by Another Name" provoked in me a similar thought. Suppose some new authority, MM's "Receiver" perhaps, were to sweep through the projects and press-gang into labor battalions all the able-bodied idlers now sponging off welfare, pimping, and dealing dope. They could then be put to some productive and useful work such as mending roads. Would that be better or worse than the status quo? The affected persons might well think it worse, but the society at large would doubtless benefit considerably.

mtraven said...

Huh? Just because Bruno's theories were not all that scientific by modern standards, how does that make him any less of a martyr? Are you suggesting the Church was justified in executing him because of his Hermetic and Neoplatonist views, but wouldn't if he had been (ahistorically) practicing the strict scientific method? Probably not, but what are you saying?

You keep spouting off about "whig history" as if that is some sort of an argument. You don't have to believe in the whig theory of history to hold that the Catholic Church has been a demonstrable deadweight on human knowledge.

I certainly don't deny that the Inquisition was an authoritarian institutution, but simply point out that its authoritarianism was much more limited in scope than that of twentieth-century secular states.

So what? The 20th century was radically different in all sorts of ways from the preindustrial 17th century. To attempt to directly compare the evils of the two periods is mindnumbingly stupid.

Politics is always about the choice of the lesser of evils.

Indeed, but our choice is not limited to either the Inquisition or the Gulag.

You, on the other hand, when you write that the Anglican hymn verse I quoted would "encourage the lowly to abandon God, seize power, and send the rich off to forced labor camps" seem to be expressing a preference for the murderous rule of Pol Pot over the benignity of Queen Victoria's. I suppose I should not be surprised.

You seem to have reading comprension difficulties. I expressed no preference; I stated a perceived cause and effect relationship.

In any event, the lyric is simply a statement of fact.

Of course, it isn't. It is an attempt to justify the current social order as somehow ordained by god, or at least, that is how you are deploying it. But as I already pointed out, if god is responsible for social stratification then he is equally responsible for the violent eruptions that overturn the social order.

The Victorian era did indeed see the rise of a large middle class and an increase in productivity, and at the same time had grinding, horrific poverty, which is extremely well documented and acknolwedged by all honest observers of the period. Less well-known, but just as true, is that the state actively created this impoverished class by means of the enclosure acts. This also enabled the industrial revolution, but to pretend that the state was not actively involved in this massive restructuring of the economy is just plain stupid.

The only reason we are talking about Victorian England is because you claimed that government was largely absent from the lives of the English people before WWI. I demonstrated that this is complete crap, and you respond with an increasingly irrelevant series of tangents. You can't seem to follow a coherent train of thought to save your life, and I'm getting exceedingly bored with your hobbyhorses. Every thread of conversation with you gets back to the disorder of the lower classes and inequality, which appears to be an obsession of yours. Please try to understand that it is not one that I share. If you really want to rant at length about this topic, why not start your own blog?

Michael said...

Let us not say that God, but that Nature makes men unequal. One of the major problems of society is what to do with the people on the left hand side of the bell curve. Former social orders had room for these people as domestic servants and agricultural laborers. Today, a fraction of the élite (MM's "Brahmins") have conspired to use the large numbers of these people to install themselves in power. In return they reward their lumpen supporters by subsidizing them in idleness and tolerating their criminality. Without patronage and leadership from a renegade faction of the élite the lower classes could never have accomplished this.

That is the correct reading of your "cause-effect relationship." The result is that we live in the epoch of the shudra, the "kali yuga" described by the ancient Hindus. That is, in sum, the history of egalitarianism as a political philosophy. It is a result of human evil. As the earl of Clarendon observed of the English civil war, divine providence had nothing to do with it.

I did not claim that government was largely absent from the lives of the English people in the pre-1914 era; A.J.P. Taylor, a respected English historian (and to my knowledge a Labourite) did. He is echoed by many other students of the same period. I simply agreed with them. You demanded statistics, and I provided them. Now you are back to weeping about the treatment of the dregs of that society in spite of the evidence that there was a "rise in real income for almost all groups in regular employment."

What Singer and Yates showed of Bruno was that he was a black magician of the deepest dye, and very far from a scientist. Later authors have suggested that he was also a mole in the French embassy at London, and betrayed to Walsingham the Catholic conspirators who planned to depose Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. If this were the case, the papacy, acting in its capacity as a temporal sovereign, and having all the geopolitical concerns implied by that status, had as much reason to execute him as (for example) the Bolshevists did to execute Sidney Reilly or the U.S. did six of the appellants in Ex parte Quirin, or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The possibility of being executed if caught by enemy forces has always been an occupational hazard of spying. Whatever it may have been it is no evidence of intellectual oppression. As Thorndike, whose expertise as an historian of science (all eight volumes of it!) I prefer to yours, observed: "Galileo's was an exceptional case...it can not be shown that... [historically] the church persecuted men of science. Rather, popes and prelates were their patrons."

As for the Roman Catholic Church being a 'dead weight' on human knowledge, we return to the prejudicial remark that began this dialogue. The Church is the one institution that demonstrably preserved literacy and the knowledge of Latin in western Europe through the dark ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west; founded the great mediæval universities, some of which still exist, and which formed the model for every other university since; developed the concepts of formal logic and disputational dialogue that underlie both modern jurisprudence and the scientific method; developed the concepts of the taxonomy of knowledge and its encyclopedic organization; as well as providing architectural, literary, artistic, and musical accomplishments that remain unequalled, and central to western civilization.

If the Church were the 'dead weight' you claim it was, why did not modern science develop somewhere outside of Christendom, where that supposed dead weight was absent? Why was the urge to explore the world, to conquer and settle new territories, a particular characteristic of Christendom, rather than of some society outside of it, where that supposed dead weight was not present? Why did technologies like printing and gunpowder (both of which were known to the Chinese) not alter Chinese society in the direction of modernity, whereas they did in Europe? Why did the industrial revolution take place in Christian countries but not in Mahommedan or heathen ones?

If Catholicism had been the dead weight you claim, one would have expected Europe to be backward, and other places to have prospered and flourished beyond it. Yet this did not happen. The Islamic golden age under the Abbasid caliphs, which you praised (a friend of every civilization but your own, as you are of every country but your own), eventually foundered - this in spite of the Arabs having got the more civilized half of the old Roman empire. China looked outward, briefly, but then turned inward, and never developed as Christian Europe did. Joseph Needham devoted many volumes of his "Science and Civilisation in China" to the question of why this happened, without arriving at a firm conclusion.

The importance of Christianity, and particularly Catholicism (the only Christianity in western Europe for 1500 years) to the development of western civilization is certainly one part, and I'd argue, a crucial part, of the reason why it developed as it did and left other parts of the world behind. See, for example, Thomas Woods's "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization."

I have read of the habit, in bygone days, of Jews in eastern Europe who habitually spat on the ground when passing a church. Your anti-Catholicism appears to me (and, as I noted, I'm not a Roman Catholic) to differ from this only in the manner of its expression. The ignorant prejudice behind it is identical.

mtraven said...

You don't take a hint, do you? Oh well, if you're going to keep ranting, at least you are being entertainingly insane about it. Kali Yuga! It's supposed to last 432,000 years, so if it got started around the time egalitarian ideas took hold (1700, say) that means there's only 431,700 years to go.

I still don't understand what point you think you are making with Bruno, who you brought up. Yes he practiced various forms of magic, but so did Newton. He was burned for heresy, not for spying. Are you trying to deny that the Church forcefully repressed heterodox opinions, and thus greatly inhibited the growth of knowledge?

The bit about the Church being a dead weight on knowledge was too strong, of course. As I said earlier, it's too central an institution to be dismissed so easily. And it is quite true that whatever its faults, it (or its surrounding culture) did manage to spawn the scientific and industrial revolutions. It's not clear to me why that was. The urge to conquer and settle new territories was not unique to Christendom, of course, nor was it the only culture with highly developed systems of logic and philosophy. It also isn't clear why, if the Church was responsible for modern science, why it took 1500 years to give birth to it, and perhaps something else might have done the job faster. But history is what it is.

As for Jews spitting when passing a church, I can't imagine why you would call this an ignorant prejudice. Jews in eastern Europpe had plenty of good reasons to despise the Church, no matter what its contributions to western civilization might have been.

Michael said...

The reference to the kali yuga was of course in the sense that Julius Evola used it - as denoting a shudra or lumpenproletarian ascendancy - rather than in the literal sense of Hindu doctrine. And who can argue that we are in such an epoch? We have only had true universal suffrage in the U.S. for about 40 years. In that time we have seen what one man/one vote has done in other countries. It will happen more slowly here, since there is more substance to waste. If elected, Obama won't do to this country what Mugabe did to Rhodesia, but he is likely to do to it what Harold Washington did to Chicago, or what David Dinkins did to New York. That will be bad enough.

Of course the church repressed heterodox opinions. So did the Islam of the Abbasids, Almohads, and Buwayhids, which you praised. Both Avicenna and Averroes suffered persecution. Most rulers at most periods of history have suppressed opinion that contradicted whatever was the reigning orthodoxy, and continue to do. In its evils the church of Rome has not been unique, but in its virtues, among which the nurturing of western civilization ranks high, it is unique. Perhaps something else might have given rise to modern science faster, but nothing did.

The point of bringing up Bruno was to show that it was not 'science' that the church regarded as heresy, but either his sorcery or his spying. We don't know which, since the documents relating to his legal process cannot be found and may well be for ever lost. Similarly, as Thorndike points out, Galileo's was not a typical case, and he was not in any event persecuted for a practical invention.

I believe Redondi is correct that Galileo's persecution was political in nature, centered on a rivalry between Franciscans and Jesuits in the middle of which he became entangled because of his atomism. There is a large body of recent publication on the development of matter theory in the 16th and 17th century, independent of Redondi's work, that makes clear the great importance this was assigned in the theological argument of the time. Franciscans had been favorable to atomism in the middle ages and saw nothing wrong with Galileo's. The Jesuits, on the other hand, were champions of hylomorphism, and this, combined with their position on papal politics, made Galileo a sacrificial pawn in their game. Another interesting paper, in addition to those already cited, is Margaret Garber's "Transitioning from Transsubstantiation to Transmutation: Catholic Anxieties over Chymical Matter Theory at the University of Prague" (in "Chymists and Chymistry," 2007: Science History Publications), in which the Jesuits again appear as rather sinister enforcers.

Of course, the actions of the Jesuits should no more be identified with those of the Roman church as a whole than those of Democrats or Republicans should be with those of the United States as a whole. Recall that Harlai, the archbishop of Paris in the time of Louis XIV, was so frustrated with them that he ordered his diocesan priests to say masses for the conversion of the Jesuits to Christianity. Recall also that the Jesuits attempted to murder the emperor Leopold I by supplying him with "consecrated" candles for use in the imperial apartments , the wicks of which were impregnated with arsenic ("Poison Mysteries," C.J.S. Thompson, MBE [Phildelphia, 1924: Lippincott], pp. 178-185). Such was the reputation of the Jesuits for political meddling that they became quite unpopular amongst Catholic sovereigns, as the history of their order's suppressions and restorations makes evident.

As for the alleged good reasons Jews might have to spit when passing a church, one might well say "what goes around comes around." The Jews in antiquity were a bloody-minded and ethnocentric people who stood out as being especially so even when these characteristics were commonplace amongst all peoples. Consider Jephthah, who caused two and forty thousand Ephraimites to be slain at the passages of Jordan (Judges xij:6). This aggressiveness was in no wise dissipated at the time of the New Testament: as John vij:12-13 indicates:

"And there was much murmuring aomng the people concerning him: for some said, He [Christ] is a good man, others said Nay; but he deceiveth the people.

"Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews."

"For fear of the Jews" - a fear well-justified on historical grounds. I certainly harbor no ill will against Jews, but a balanced view of history suggests that over the long term, they have been as much victimizers as victims. It may be that consciousness of historic victimhood is so engrained in Jewish consciousness that it is easy for Jews to forget their role as historic victimizers. Why does no one now bemoan the genocide of the Ephraimites? Could it be that Jephthah was more efficient than Hitler, and thus no Ephraimite community has survived to complain of their maltreatment? Apply your universal sympathy for humanity to those questions.

mtraven said...

Evola sounds like a real sweetheart:

Evola argued that both Italian fascism and National Socialism held hope for a reconstitution of the primordial "celestial race."

I can see a lot of similarity with your own thinking. Oh man, this is great stuff:

On the "demonic" nature of the lower negroid races and their degenerating remnants, Evola relies on an old Aryo-Zoroastrian tradition that teaches negroids belonged to the dark side owing to their alleged origin in the union between a demon and a wicked witch: "Zohak, during his reign, let loose a dev (demon) on a young woman, and let loose a young man on a parik (witch). They performed coition with [the sight] of the apparition; the negro came into being through that [novel] kind of coition..

Not to mention:

in an essay entitled "Jews and Mathematics," Evola characterized Judaism as the antithesis of "Aryan civilation," and broadly attacked a range of what he considered examples of Jewish influences, from Pythagoreanism to mathematics. The article was illustrated with pictures of notable Jews interspersed with classic anti-Semitic representations.

Such fine quality of thought...truly an inspiration to the great minds of our own time.

Oh well, onto more mundane points:

....but he is likely to do to it what Harold Washington did to Chicago, or what David Dinkins did to New York. That will be bad enough.

What is Harold Washington supposed to have done to Chicago that was so horrible? I grew up in Chicago, but I left before the Washington era so must have missed the rampant looting, rape, and cannibalism.

As for the alleged good reasons Jews might have to spit when passing a church, one might well say "what goes around comes around."

One might, but it would be entirely irrelevant to the point under discussion. But if you need an excuse to wax antisemitic, knock yourself out.

It may be that consciousness of historic victimhood is so engrained in Jewish consciousness that it is easy for Jews to forget their role as historic victimizers.

Jews didn't have much chace to fulfill that role in the last few millenia, but the Israelis seem to be reviving it quite nicely.

Michael said...

Because I make reference to one of Evola's ideas does not mean that I believe in or approve of all his others. Fascism is no more to my taste than is communism.

Chicago under Harold Washington and New York under David Dinkins grew dirtier and more disorderly. Crime rose. One can hardly say that "Astræa redux" under their successors but at least there was some improvement.

Obama is a product of the black political establishment in Chicago, with further ties to the academic left. He is the farthest left that any serious presidential candidate has been since McGovern, and possibly since Henry Wallace. Given his background, should he be elected, we can well expect an even more pronounced tendency to turn a blind eye towards crime and vice within the black community than has hitherto been the case. He will further mulct the successful in order to pay off his underclass supporters and dependents. It will be to his advantage to encourage them to remain dependent, as it has been to the advantage of all left-wing politicians, rather than to push them towards self-sufficiency.

Unless you are using "anti-semitism" simply as a pejorative, I challenge you to produce anything I have posted here or elsewhere that any reasonable person could call anti-semitic. The biblical history of the Jews as an intransigent and bellicose people is something that anyone who is literate can discern for himself. Probably no less could be expected from a people who believed themselves to be chosen by God. I suspect it has much to do with their stubborn survival from times of classical antiquity to the present, a cultural continuity no other people of that epoch and milieu achieved.

The left-wing politics favored by most American Jews relates to the eastern European origin of most of their community. These ancestral loyalties have almost no relation to their circumstances in the United States. The only criticism I will venture is that it is a pity that American Jewry does not produce leaders like Benjamin Disraeli or the late Lord Jacobovits, rather than (say) Abe Foxman.

mtraven said...

Because I make reference to one of Evola's ideas does not mean that I believe in or approve of all his others.

Too bad, I was enjoying that stuff. I really want to get ahold of "Jews and Mathematics".

Chicago under Harold Washington and New York under David Dinkins grew dirtier and more disorderly.

Evidence please, and also evidence that if such a change actually happened the blame can be attributed to Washington. I know that Washington's administration was actively undermined by the old-guard Chicago machine.

He is the farthest left that any serious presidential candidate has been since McGovern

Good! Although that's not saying much. Neither he nor McGovern is very far to the left by any reasonable scale.

Unless you are using "anti-semitism" simply as a pejorative, I challenge you to produce anything I have posted here or elsewhere that any reasonable person could call anti-semitic.

You essentially said that European Jews deserved persecution because of some genocides that Jews committed several thousand years before. This is pretty classic stuff.

The left-wing politics favored by most American Jews relates to the eastern European origin of most of their community. These ancestral loyalties have almost no relation to their circumstances in the United States.

Oh well, thank goodness we have people like you to inform us of where our true interests lie.

Michael said...

I did not say that European Jews "deserved" anything. What I said was that the persecution of Christians by Jews in biblical times (see John vij:12-13) resulted in a Christian fear of the Jews that was well founded, given the history of Jewish intolerance so well documented in the Old Testament. What goes around comes around, and when Christianity was in the ascendancy the relationship was reversed. This seems to be a characteristic of Abrahamic monotheism; cf. the troubled relationship between Judaism and Islam, which dates from the time of Mahomet.

The experience of Jews under Russian rule is interestingly documented in Yuri Slezkine's book "The Jewish Century." He points out that while Jews were second-class citizens under the Tsars, they were by no means at the bottom of the social heap. They were often employed by absentee landlords as stewards or factors to collect rents from their agricultural tenants; the methods they employed in so doing often made them more resented than were the landlords to whom the rents were owed. At the same time they chafed under the civil disabilities they suffered, while the resentment of the peasantry was spasmodically unleashed in pogroms. These things did not prevent the growth of a Jewish intelligentsia, which was prominent in the Bolshevik revolution. Many Russian Jews could be called (to invert Goldhagen's phrase) Lenin's willing executioners. It was in the Soviet Union, rather than in Israel, that Jews revived their role from the day of Jephthah to that of Caiaphas as victimizers. Of course this was more grist for the mill of professional anti-Semites like those who formed the core of the German Nazi party. While there were doubtless many who followed this line of thinking enthusiastically, there were also those who saw the fascist parties of western Europe as the only viable alternatives to Bolshevism, which promised to destroy Christianity and the institution of private property.

Certainly we should be able to agree that all this history has, as I previously observed, almost no relation to the circumstances of Jews in the United States, where there never has been a culturally-ingrained anti-Semitism comparable to that in many European countries, let alone the peculiar social arrangements of pre-revolutionary Russia. I suggest that it is the ancestral memory of those arrangements, rather than anything about the treatment of Jews in America, that has dominated the political imagination of all too many American Jews. How else do we explain Julius Rosenberg? Abe Foxman? or, for that matter, you and your disparaging remarks about Catholicism?

I find it very peculiar that when the Muslim president of Iran has said in just about as many words that Hitler should have finished the job on your people, and this man is developing a nuclear arsenal, you should waste so much time on the functional equivalent of spitting when you pass a church. The pope bears you no ill will, and even if he did, he doesn't have the atom bomb.

mtraven said...

I did not say that European Jews "deserved" anything. What I said was that the persecution of Christians by Jews in biblical times (see John vij:12-13) resulted in a Christian fear of the Jews that was well founded, given the history of Jewish intolerance so well documented in the Old Testament. What goes around comes around...

Like I said, this is indistinguishable from the classic antisemitic trope that justifies 19th-century pogroms based on 1st-century events. Like Lenny Bruce said, there ought to be a statute of limitations, even for deicide.

The experience of Jews under Russian rule is interestingly documented in Yuri Slezkine's book "The Jewish Century."

Yes, that one is on my to-read list.

Of course this was more grist for the mill of professional anti-Semites like those who formed the core of the German Nazi party. While there were doubtless many who followed this line of thinking enthusiastically, there were also those who saw the fascist parties of western Europe as the only viable alternatives to Bolshevism, which promised to destroy Christianity and the institution of private property.

Another classical anti-semitic move is holding the Jewish "race" responsible for the actions of some Jews. Certainly some Jews were involved in communism, that does not justify making war on the Jews as a people.

Certainly we should be able to agree that all this history has, as I previously observed, almost no relation to the circumstances of Jews in the United States, where there never has been a culturally-ingrained anti-Semitism comparable to that in many European countries...

There's been plenty of antisemitism in the US, although not in as virulent and murderous a form as is found in Europe. Antisemitic attitudes were quite normal among the US elite until after WWII. TS Eliot and Henry Ford are two prominent exemplars of American anti-semitism, from different social strata.

I suggest that it is the ancestral memory of those arrangements, rather than anything about the treatment of Jews in America, that has dominated the political imagination of all too many American Jews. How else do we explain Julius Rosenberg?

I've never read anything to suggest that anti-semitism had anything to do with Rosenberg's motivations. Except, of course, very indirectly.

Abe Foxman

What about Abe Foxman? Are you asserting that the Anti-Defamation League had or has no reason for existing?

or, for that matter, you and your disparaging remarks about Catholicism?

My disparaging remarks (which were specifically about the institution of the Church, not "Catholicism") had nothing to do with anti-semitism. You dragged that topic in.

I find it very peculiar that when the Muslim president of Iran has said in just about as many words that Hitler should have finished the job on your people, and this man is developing a nuclear arsenal, you should waste so much time on the functional equivalent of spitting when you pass a church.

Dude, you are the one who turned a casual observation into a very long dialog. I don't obsess about the Church, and my criticisms of it have nothing to do with anti-semitism. Anti-clericalism has a long history that is independent of anti-anti-semitism.

Michael said...

Surely you must recognize that there is a difference between trying to explain, as I did, how some people historically have thought, and endorsing that thought or adopting it as one's own. I thought you were the champion of "empathy."

On the Jewish "race" - I believe it is a worthwhile point to distinguish sectarian antipathy, which has existed for centuries between Jews and Christians and Muslims (every which-way), and the attempt, in the late nineteenth century, to impute a separate racial identity to Jews. This was based on "scientific" grounds derived from early nineteenth-century philology and the assumptions it generated about pre-historic movements of "Aryan" peoples. See for an analysis Joscelyn Godwin's "Arktos."

It was from the latter "scientific" source that Nazi anti-semitism was drawn. Whatever may have been the appeal of the latter to residual Christian antipathy to Jews it is important to note that the Nazis were also anti-Christian. Finally I should think in the interests of balance you ought to temper your anti-Catholic church-spitting with a recognition of Pius XI's condemnation of Nazism "Mit brennender sorge," the efforts of Pius XII (who, contra Hochhuth and other defamers, saved tens of thousands of Italian Jews), and Cardinal Count Clemens von Galen, bishop of Munster.

I cited Abe Foxman because his is an example of ancestral prejudice triumphing over concern about real-life threats. How the man can think that American fundamentalist Christians or traditional Catholics are a greater threat to Jews than Arab terrorists is a perfect illustration.

Your attempt to distinguish between Catholicism and the Catholic Church as an institution is sophistry. They are one and the same. As Fr. Aidan Nichols OP has observed, "If you want the communion of Peter, you must have Peter's faith. This is a sine qua non, and needs to be recognized as such."

Anti-clericalism, at least in Catholic countries, has a long history of association with Protestant and Jewish minorities. The history of France in the last two centuries provides many good examples. In its turn this has provoked reactions, one of which is anti-semitism. Far from having nothing to do with each other, the two phenomena are intimately connected.

It seems to me that if responsibility is to be assigned for this long dialogue, at least 50% of it is yours. For my part, I have a great deal of patience and persistence. If you are unhappy with it, why do you continue to pursue it?

mtraven said...

Surely you must recognize that there is a difference between trying to explain, as I did, how some people historically have thought, and endorsing that thought or adopting it as one's own.

It's a tricky distinction, to be sure. To explain is to come close to justifying. Think of your reaction to any effort to explain the actions of black criminals as due to poverty or other external cause. When you want to talk explanations, you have an obligation to be careful and factual. So, while it is true that there is historical enmity between Jews and other cultures they interacted with, with actions and responsibility on both sides, the reasons and history for this are complex and the Jews of the 20th century and not the Jews of the New Testament; so to pin 20th century antisemitism on a line from the Gospels is facile at best and antisemitic at worst.

Finally I should think in the interests of balance you ought to temper your anti-Catholic church-spitting with a recognition of Pius XI's condemnation of Nazism "Mit brennender sorge," the efforts of Pius XII (who, contra Hochhuth and other defamers, saved tens of thousands of Italian Jews), and Cardinal Count Clemens von Galen, bishop of Munster.

Well, for one, I never made a blanket condemnation of the church (at least, not seriously). They've done some good things -- nice cathedrals, etc. The Church's record of collaboration with Nazism and fascism is largely shameful, but there are exceptions.

I cited Abe Foxman because his is an example of ancestral prejudice triumphing over concern about real-life threats. How the man can think that American fundamentalist Christians or traditional Catholics are a greater threat to Jews than Arab terrorists is a perfect illustration.

Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about, not spending much time tracking the opinions of Abe Foxman.

Your attempt to distinguish between Catholicism and the Catholic Church as an institution is sophistry. They are one and the same.

Not really. Any religion or similar institution is a combination of a body of beliefs, a collection of individuals, and an institutional structure. These are obviously deeply intertwined but are not the same things. The fact that some officials of the Church have asserted the identity between these things proves nothing, since it is obviously self-serving. As an outsider, I'm free to take a socialogical viewpoint and pull it apart as I see fit. For instance, there are many self-identified Catholics who disagree with various points of Catholic doctrine, and I'm sure a much larger number who disapprove of the Church's handling of pedophile priests.

It seems to me that if responsibility is to be assigned for this long dialogue, at least 50% of it is yours. For my part, I have a great deal of patience and persistence. If you are unhappy with it, why do you continue to pursue it?

Good question...guess I am desperate for an argument, even an unproductive one. It makes me think, at least. I just wish you could stick to the subject and not continually veer off into diatribes about black criminality. What's up with this obsession, if you don't even live in an urban area?

Michael said...

I am no more obsessed with black criminality than you are - I recall it came up first in the discussion of the Venkatash book. You first compared uniformed soldiers acting lawfully under the command of a sovereign power and businessmen acting lawfully under the norms of commerce with the murderers, drug dealers, and thugs portrayed by Venkatash. I was not the only one subsequently to object to this comparison, nor to decline to see any reason to 'empathize' with the latter.

Perhaps I find it easier to empathize with European aristocrats and bourgeois who saw the collapse of 19th-c. liberalism and the advance of Bolshevism threatening the survival of their class, only because my own background is so much closer to theirs than it is to that of inner-city criminals. I can understand the misjudgments and consequent misdeeds of the former more easily than those of the latter. Why, among other things, do the latter prey on so largely their own kind? Even the cannibals of Africa and Melanesia do not devour members of their own tribes. There seems to me to be a decline even from the primitive here, a fundamental lack of intelligence or even of basic humanity.

The antipathy between Christians and Jews and Muslims was not transplanted from the first century to the nineteenth without any intervening history. The history of it has been continuous and ongoing. Moreover, I have not attempted to pin all "20th century antisemitism on a line from the Gospels." Indeed, had you bothered to read my last post you would have noted that I identified the anti-Semitism of the Nazis as having arisen from much more recent and basically non-Christian sources: a melange of classical philology, nineteenth century racial anthropology, etc.

In any event it seems rather ridiculous for Jewish antipathy towards and fear of Christians, as seen for example in Foxman's fulminations about "The Passion of the Christ," to persist in the United States in the twenty-first century. American fundamentalist Protestants and traditionalist Catholics were never about to watch the film and form up into Black Hundreds as a result. However, Mr. Foxman seemed to think this possibility a more serious concern than (to give only a few examples) Muslim terrorism here (9/11) and abroad (London, Madrid, etc.), the presence of active and virulent anti-semitism amongst American blacks (e.g. Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson) or amongst the large community of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. One must wonder about the sense of proportion exhibited by this prominent leader of American Judaism.

Similarly, it seems to me that you have quite a bee in your bonnet about Catholicism to persist in this dialogue at this length. If anyone is obsessed, it is you. I am, as I have said before, not a Roman Catholic, though on the whole I think that church has done more good than harm. Being a freemason (with membership both under English and American constitutions) I am indeed quite familiar with some of the odd confluences between R.C. theology and politics that have led that church into conflict with my fraternity. They share much with its conflicts with certain elements of the Jewish community.

Most Anglo-American masons are perplexed by Catholicism's antipathy to a fraternity which, from their point of view, has always been staunchly supportive of a traditional moral and social order, and patronized by such pillars of society as royal dukes, presidents of the U.S., and other eminences, including conservatives like the late Illustrious Bro. Jesse Jelms 33º, etc. A view of the activities of the French Grand Orient, which have been quite unlike those of the Anglo-American craft, explains much.

Similarly, it seems to me to be likely that a view of the history of the Jews in Russia (as may be found in Slezkine's book, inter alia) explains much about the history of their attitudes and those of their opponents. The mistake that is made is to transport these conflicts to this time and place, as it seems to me that Foxman did, and you have done in your lengthy attacks on Catholicism here.

As for failing to stick to the subject, this digression about Jewish attitudes all originated from my casual remark that your anti-Catholic views seemed to resemble that of the old Eastern European Jews who, it was said, habitually spat upon passing a Christian church. Your subsequent remarks appear to have justified my observation. As far as I can see, you do obsess about the Catholic Church because it arouses in you an almost instinctual revulsion and hatred. Why else would you persist with this thread? You have certainly not shown it has ever done you any personal harm.

mtraven said...

Oh come on, I mentioned black criminality once, you bend practically every discussion to that topic.

You are free to misinterpret my remarks to your heart's content -- seems like an odd hobby, but who am I to judge -- but it doesn't change the facts. I am not particularly obsessed with the Catholic Church. It's impact on my life is minimal at the moment, but that could easily change with a shift in the poltical balance. They would like nothing better than to ban birth control, for instance.

I'm also not that interested in defending Abe Foxman, but as you didn't give any pointers to his utterances so I can't even begin. If his job is to fight anti-semitism in the US than obviously Christian anti-semitism is more salient than the Islamic variety. And if you think anti-semitism is a dead letter in the US, think again. Just wait until economic hard times hits harder and people cast around for someone to blame it on. This guy (who used to comment on U-R) may have the movement he is looking for. There are already an awful lot of people who think George Soros is the antichrist.

Most Anglo-American masons are perplexed by Catholicism's antipathy to a fraternity which, from their point of view, has always been staunchly supportive of a traditional moral and social order...

Yeah, I was wondering about that... Without knowing much about it, let me guess that your presumption that people who support "traditional moral and social order" should stick together is faulty. The Catholic Church does not support "order", they support an order that they control. Freemasonry is competition.

Michael said...

Every further post you make to this thread - as well as the freshest one you have made to your blog - proves that you do have a bee in your bonnet about Catholicism. You also prove my point that, like lots of leftists, your purported boundless love for humanity in the abstract rests upon a number of hatreds of specific categories of people.

Close to the beginning of this exchange, after you made a crack about the Roman Catholic church being a pedophile ring, I pointed out that if you were really upset about pedophilia, you'd be far more upset about the public school system. To all reports, pedophilia is much more commonplace in public schools than in the Roman Catholic church. Moreover, those cases of priestly pedophilia still in the news, upon investigation, often turn out to be decades old. Those in the public school system are ongoing. The same institutional defensiveness and cover-up of this behavior for which the Church can be faulted exist in considerably greater proportion in the public school system.

Yet you have devoted not one word to condemnation of the public school system. May we not reasonably conclude that pedophilia is merely a convenient stick with which to beat the Church? You don't really care about it as such. It is a mote in the eye of the Church, a beam in the eye of the government schools, yet all your attention is to the mote and none to the beam. Your real problem with the Church is something you'd rather not acknowledge straightforwardly. I have tried to draw it out over this extensive exchange, and as far as I can tell it is simply an old-fashioned religious prejudice against what your ancestral teachings regard as an heresy and falsehood.

As for "black criminality" - I should rather say that I'm interested in underclass criminality. Of course, it is a happenstance that much of the criminal underclass is now black. It wasn't always so, and that is one of the things that is interesting about it. The upsurges in black crime - and in black illegitimate births, and in drug addiction - happened on the left's watch. There was much less of all of them back in the middle 1960s when Moynihan's well-known report came out. I've always wondered why the left, if it really cared about blacks, rejected it. Was it an error in judgment - or was it deliberate?

All the typical left-wing chin-tugging about "root causes" is curiously off-base. Correlation doesn't always imply causation, but there can assuredly be no propter hoc if there is no post hoc. Poverty doesn't lead to increased crime - if it did, there would have been more crime during the 1930s depression than there is now. The opposite is the case. Race discrimination doesn't cause crime - if it did, there would have been more of it in the Jim Crow era than there is now. The opposite is the case. We may regard these arguments either as errors or as purposeful efforts to distract.

It puzzles me that the left, which has been so willing in general to use all the compulsory and punitive powers of the state, shrugs off underclass crime with a wink and a smile. Here is a bunch of people who, given political authority, have set up traffic check points to catch and punish people for not wearing automobile seat belts. They earnestly strive to prohibit people from smoking in bars and restaurants, and despatch hordes of OSHA inspectors on warrantless searches into shops and small business offices to track down toilet seats of unauthorized dimensions, or improperly grounded electric coffee urns in their employees' lunch rooms. Yet these same zealous enforcers are content to abandon whole areas of cities to the effective control of roving gangs of murderers, dope dealers, and assorted other thugs. The result is what the late Sam Francis called "anarcho-tyranny" - tyranny for the ordinary fellow trying to go quietly about his business, anarchy for the serious felon. Why? Is it simply physical cowardice? A preference for bullying those unlikely to offer anything more than snivelling compliance over confronting people who would predictably resist with violence?

Or is it more - as MM has suggested, that underclass criminals constitute an effective paramilitary force for terrorizing the formerly dominant classes of society on behalf of their patrons, the Brahmin intelligentsia? I think MM has a point, myself. There is not only a shrinking from the task of confronting the violent underclass but a positive unwillingness to control it that is quite out of character considering the left's general fondness for state compulsion.

You write of Abe Foxman that "if his job is to fight anti-semitism in the US than [sic] obviously Christian anti-semitism is more salient than the Islamic variety." This is scarcely evident. Louis Farrakhan, who is not a Christian but a Muslim, is one of America's most prominent anti-semites. He was able to organize a "Million Man March" on Washington, D.C. some years ago. If not a million, there were certainly a great many there who hung on his every loony word. I doubt that David Duke, or any other latter-day follower of George Lincoln Rockwell, could motivate more than a few hundred losers to come out of their mothers' basements to march on Washington, D.C. Furthermore, there is a large contingent of basically unassimilated Muslims endenizened in the United States. I recall a few years ago one of them went to the Los Angeles airport and ventilated several employees at the El Al Airlines counter with rifle bullets in fulfillment of the Koran's commandment to smite the unbeliever. I do not recall any similar recent incident involving Catholics or Christians of any stripe. Then of course there was the small matter of 9/11. You and Mr. Foxman need to get your emotional preoccupations out of 1908 Odessa and into 2008 America.

As for the Catholic church supporting an order that "they control" - this is paranoia, as well as historical balderdash. The Catholic Church co-existed for centuries as one of a number of traditional, organic instutitions that also included hereditary monarchies, feudal baronies, patrician republics like those of Venice or Genoa, merchants' and craftsmens' guilds, rural villages, and ordinary families, each of which were independent bases of social authority. These were the "little platoons," celebrated by Burke, that were essential to the preservation of traditional social order and liberty. The church never controlled the others, nor they it.

But for two or perhaps three centuries we have seen them all under come attack by synthetic ideologies, weakened, undermined, and scattered. In this condition the power that steps in to bring about an order under its total control is not the church, but the ideological state. As Nock observed, the real conflict is not between atomistic individualism and the state, but between state power and social power - that of the little platoons. What is to be desired is that the state be disentangled from civil society and reduced to its original functions, while social power, based on moral suasion rather than state compulsion, be restored to the extent possible. As someone said on MM's blog - free the gentry, contain the violent criminal, and civilization will return - "restore the Belle Epoque."

mtraven said...

I'm not sure why you think it's worthwhile to try to explain to me what's in my own mind. I obviously feel I know that better than you, and I doubt anybody else is paying attention, so what's the point? Why not respond to what I say, rather than your imaginings of what I believe? Surely that would be a more interesting conversation.

The new blog post is not particularly anti-Catholic or anti-religious, in fact, it's quite a good deal more sympathetic to religious belief than the default for "my side", and spends most of its energy critiquing the New Atheists. But do I get any credit from you? Apparently not.

Your gyrations about pedophila reminds me a child's excuse when caught in some bad act -- "but Billy was doing it too!". If there's comparable crimes taking place in the public schools, it in no way excuses that which takes place in the Church. Furthermore, I have no particular obligation to address every evil in the universe equally. And furthermore, the public school system is not a single unified organization, whereas the Church is.

The real pedophilia scandal, as it pertains to the Church as an insitution, is not the acts themselves, which are reprehensible but can be written off to human weakness. It's the systematic coverup of the acts, and reshuffling the perpetrators to other locales where they can commit further crimes, that makes it an institutional scandal. If there's something comparable in the public schools I haven't heard about it.

As for underclass criminality -- blah blah blah.

It puzzles me that the left, which has been so willing in general to use all the compulsory and punitive powers of the state, shrugs off underclass crime with a wink and a smile.

It puzzles me that the right, which has been so willing in general to use the compulsory and punitive powers of the state, shrugs off upperclass crime with a wink and a smile, particularly the criminality of its leaders, including the last four Republican presidents.

Foxman has spoken out against Farrakhan and the Million Man March so I'm not sure what point you have to make there.

As for the Catholic church supporting an order that "they control" - this is paranoia, as well as historical balderdash.

OK, so what's your theory to explain the hostility of the Catholic Church to Freemasonry? I wasn't claiming that the Catholic Church had total control of society -- but they obviously controlled a large chunk of social space and it seems to me that Freemasonry, with its emphasis on ritual and mystery, could be seen as a threat (and as usual when this topic comes up, I freely confess my knowledge is scanty).

The traditional social relations that you pine for were destroyed by the rise of industry and capitalism; the nationalist and communist movements of the late 19th century were responses to this, not causes. In any case, they aren't coming back. History does not move backwards. Where are the "gentry" that you are going to free, other than in your tired imagination? If they are so fucking superior, why do they need to be "freed"?

Michael said...

Your description of "upper class crime" = Stalinist "economic crime." In other words, the natural concomitants of the ownership and transfer of private property have been arbitrarily criminalized by the central ideological state. Can anyone actually tell us what harm, for example, Martha Stewart did, to warrant being sent to prison? Can anyone tell us what harm is done by non-standard toilet seats or improperly grounded coffee urns, to justify warrantless entries of government agents onto private property - a power they do not enjoy in circumstances where deliberate bodily violence or theft of private property have taken place?

"Freeing the gentry" simply involves repealing the New Deal and replacing the welfare state with bourgeois liberalism. Surely we should be able to see, at this length, that the welfare state has been on a hiding to nothing. The Depression was not caused by "market failure" but by blundering government intervention (the policy of the Federal Reserve), and more government intervention did not cure, but rather protracted it. The social consequences of welfarism have been a substantial increase in state power and the cost of government, accompanied by the deterioration of mediating instutitions - Burke's "little platoons" were in pretty good shape before it, despite the rise of industry and capitalism that you blame for their decline.

The institutional cover-up of pedophilia in public schools is exactly parallel to that in the Church. Read the Shakeshaft report. As for the public schools not being a "single unified organization" - have you not heard of the U.S. Department of Education? It effectively runs the government schools in this country to at least as centralized a degree as the papacy runs the Catholic churches - perhaps more so. Of course, individual states, school districts, and schools have administrative and financial functions at their different levels, just as the archdioceses, dioceses, and parishes of the Church do. These enjoy some autonomy in their operations but are centrally directed in entirely analogous fashions.

As for the hostility of the Catholic church to freemasonry, the Grand Orient of France and similar masonic organizations on the continent of Europe have a long history of anti-clericalism. The church's hostility toward them has been and remains well warranted. Anglo-American masonry considers the Grand Orient irregular and condemns it it as does the Catholic church.

For a long time there was a failure on the part of the Church to distinguish between regular and irregular freemasonry because such a distinction simply did not exist in Catholic countries. Regular freemasonry was a phenomenon of Protestant countries, which the British empire and the U.S. were, and thus to a great extent fell outside the ken of Catholicism. As I am given to understand, even today, the U.S. is considered a "missionary" territory by the Catholic church, which here considers itself, as it were, in partis infidelibus.

In practice American Catholics have tended to be immigrants rather than drawn from the stock of original settlement, and to harbor suspicions about the larger society around them. Theirs is not a patrician church here, as it invariably was in Catholic Europe. This, along with the influence of Jansenism on Irish Catholics, has in good part fostered the harshness and philistinism characteristic of much of the American Catholic hierarchy. It was easy for such people to condemn regular freemasonry equally with the ireegular continental variety simply because they associated the former with the Protestant Sassenach, as they did the latter with the Jacobin and libertine.

Roman Catholic canons actually forbid only membership in those "secret societies" that are hostile to that church. Depending upon the views of local bishops and clergy (again, part of the autonomy that they exercise) there is now some recognition that regular Anglo-American freemasonry offers no hostility to the Church. I have met numerous Roman Catholic members of the Craft over the years. Catholics were often freemasons in the days of de Maistre and of Mozart and may well become so again.

mtraven said...

OSHA regulations on toilet-seat dimensions are equivalent to Stalinism. Dude, you crack me up. I wasn't even talking about economic crimes; the only specific upper-class crime that I mentioned was the criminality of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush I and II administrations. THe lawlessness of these Republican leaders is legendary. Bush and Cheney won't be able to travel out of the country once they leave office for fear of war crimes prosecution. So, bother me about lower-class crime when you are ready to apply the same standards to your own stratum.

have you not heard of the U.S. Department of Education?

I have, and it exerts very little control over the policies of local school boards (at least, until Bush came along with his No Child Left Behind act). If you think they dictate policy on pedophilia you are deranged. It is also the source of the Shakeshaft report, which apparently was so flawed that they had to apologize for it in the process of releasing it.

Your endless imprecations against the New Deal are tiresome. It's been 70 years, maybe it's time to move on. There is no political party today that supports any sort of limited government. The best recent hope against the depradations of the state are the burgeoning alliance between the libertarian-minded on the left and right. This requires having, at minimum, the sense to realize that unlimited executive power to start wars, invade privacy, and torture and imprison without judicial review are just a wee bit more of a threat to liberty than the power to regulate toilet seat standards.

Michael said...

The alleged criminality of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations amounts mostly to the criminalization of policy differences between the executive and legislative branches. This is an old game, going back to the attainders passed by Parliament against the ministers of king Charles I. It was revived by Democrats when Nixon was in the White House and has been used by both parties since that time. So far as I know the only alleged crime of a president that has been resolved in some sort of conclusive judgment was the perjury of President Bill Clinton, which resulted in his disbarment.

Torturing, invading privacy, and imprisoning without judicial review were all part of FDR's stock in trade, indeed of Woodrow Wilson's too, long before George W. Bush was a twinkle in his mother's eye. So perhaps what we do need to do is to go back 70 years, or more, to reverse what was done wrong then. That no political party today believes in limits to government does not mean the idea is wrong. It means that no political party today is right.

mtraven said...

Oh man, you really aren't trying very hard any more. Republican criminality is somehow the fault of Democrats. Peddle that nonsense somewhere else please.

Michael said...

I didn't say that Republican criminality was the fault of the Democrats - any more than that Democrats' criminality was the fault of Republicans.

Rather, what I said was that it became a popular tactic during periods of divided government for Congress to criminalize policy differences - to use its ability to call hearings, subpoena witnesses, and effectively try and convict members of a presidential administration in the court of public opinion, of various supposed crimes.

The remote history of this technique may be found in the attainders passed by the English parliament against the ministers of Charles I, Strafford and Laud. In case you aren't aware of it, the English Civil War was a major formative influence on the development of mixed government and the concept of separation of powers that was so important to the Framers of the Constitution. The abuse of attainders in the seventeenth century is the historical reason why Congress was forbidden to pass them under Article I, section 9, para. 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, the smirch-and-destroy power of Congressional committee hearings has long fulfilled an almost parallel function, simply leaving the carrying-out of punishment to others.

It is probably an historical accident that the mechanism of special prosecutors arose during the struggle between Democrats in Congress and the Nixon administration. Certainly Nixon was not the first president, nor has be been the last, to be involved in activities like those exposed in the Watergate hearings. In any event the experience of the Clinton administration made Democrats realize that they were equally vulnerable to the tactic of criminalizing policy differences that they had previously used so profitably against Republicans, and thus the law authorizing appointment of special prosecutors like Kenneth Starr was one they happily allowed to expire. Use of the criminal law as a bludgeon to settle scores that are essentially political in nature turned out to be a dangerous game, since neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on honesty or character - and they all know it.

klatu said...

A new interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ spreading on the web presumes it is now possible to expose and being down the whole of the Christian tradition as a theological fraud:

"For those individuals who can imagine outside the historical cultural box, who are willing to learn something new and stand against the stream of fashionable thought and spin, an intellectual and moral revolution is already in progress, where the 'impossible' becomes inevitable and with the most potent Non Violent Direct Action any human being can take for peace, justice, change and progress. "

Ceck it out at http://www.energon.org.uk