Category Archives: Politics

Losing our Freedom

Thanks to Patrick Kurp for my introduction to Claire Berlinski, an American journalist in this entry on his blog.  Kurp quoting Berlinski:

“Our shrinking vocabulary is not merely a curious linguistic trend. It signifies that we are losing our capacity for complex thought—and liberal democracy cannot survive this. Liberalism, and the tolerance it demands of citizen, relies upon the public’s sense of, and respect for, the near-infinite complexity of life generally, and human societies, in particular.”

Kurp also linked Berlinski’s newsletter, from which this comes:

That Western academics have become enamored of the idea that nothing is true and only power matters was not an inevitable consequence of our freedom, but a contingent accident of our intellectual history. Nonetheless, academia, and with it our intellectual life and all that is downstream of it, has been degraded by this empty and trivial orthodoxy. This, combined with the revelation that our politicians have lied to us so many times, about so many things, has given rise to widespread cynicism about truth itself. None of this must happen in a free society; there was nothing inevitable about this. It just happened to happen. But this is precisely the climate that allows a New Caesar come to power.

New Caesarism is a regime of lies. Such systematic lying cannot be as effective as it is unless the public believes already that there’s not much of a difference between truth and a lie—that “truth” is a fiction created by power, and that it is natural and legitimate to manufacture facts and arguments to serve a desirable aim or power structure.

Read the rest here.

Not Christian Politics

In 1996 Neuhaus wrote an article titled Against Christian Politics that was published in “First Things.” It is quite lengthy but, I think,  worth thinking about still, 23 years later.  From the piece:
In recent American history, [the religionizing of politics and politicizing of religion]started on the left in the aftermath of the mainline churches’ moral euphoria in having been so very right about the early civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the years that followed, that euphoria inflated the moral certitude of those churches, and their bureaucracies were soon pronouncing God’s definite opinion on almost every question in public dispute.
That could not last very long, and it didn’t. After a while the members of those churches turned a deaf ear to their leaders, and then began drifting away, leaving mainline Protestantism in a spiral of decline that has yet to hit bottom.
Of course the more publicly potent religionizing of politics is today on the right of the ideological spectrum…. The conflation of Christian faith with a specific political agenda inevitably leads to the distortion of faith. The equally inevitable failure to achieve something worthy of being called “Christian politics” produces a crisis in which people will feel forced to choose between their politics and their faith. Devotion to “God and country” is a fine thing, but when the two are given equal standing “country” will always fall far short of what people hope for and they will then find themselves faced with the prospect of “God or country.”

….A very long time ago, when Christians were a persecuted minority of maybe fifty thousand in the great empire of Rome, an anonymous writer explained to a pagan named Diognetus the way it is with this peculiar people. Until Our Lord returns in glory, Christians do well to embrace the second century “Letter to Diognetus” as their vade mecum:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are ‘in the flesh,’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

…Christian political engagement is an endlessly difficult subject. Our Lord said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, but he did not accommodate us by spelling out the details. Over two thousand years, Christians have again and again thought they got the mix just right, only to have it blow up in their faces—and, not so incidentally, in the faces of others. We’re always having to go back to the drawing board, which is to say, to first things. Even when, especially when, we are most intensely engaged in the battle, first things must be kept first in mind. It is not easy but it is imperative. It profits us nothing if we win all the political battles while losing our own souls.
….Christians are commanded to love their neighbors, and politics is one way—by no means the most important way—of doing that. In a democracy, everybody is asked to accept a measure of political responsibility, and most do. For some it is their life’s work, as in “vocation.” Like everything worth doing, it is worth doing well. And, for those who are called to do it, even when they frequently fail, it is also worth doing poorly. Christians engaged in politics, we may hope, will bring to the task the gifts of personal integrity and devotion to the common good. But that does not make their engagement “Christian politics.” It is still just politics. A Christian engineer who builds a really good bridge has not built a “Christian bridge.” The merit of the project depends upon qualities pertinent to the “bridgeness” of the thing, although we may believe that those qualities are well served by the Christian conviction and integrity of the builder.




Vladimir Bukovsky: A Dissadent’s Dissadent

The June 3, 2019 edition of the magazine National Review is all “Against Socialism.”  Jay Nordlinger has an article in it, “Bukovsky’s Judgment”  about Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet dissident, and the book he wrote, Judgement in Moscow.  It is fascinating to me.


    All Soviet dissidents are legendary, to one degree or another.  Vladimir Bukovsky is especially so.  He is held in awe by people whom the rest of us hold in awe.  I’m speaking of his fellow dissidents.  He is a dissident’s dissident, so to speak.
    A book of his, which originally appeared in 1995, is now being published in English for the first time.  On his back patio, amid chirping birds, I talk with him about this and many other subjects.
    Bukovsky was born in 1942 and quickly opposed the system: the system into which he had been born.  He was kicked out of Moscow State University when he was 19.  He had criticized the Komsomol, the Young Communist League.
    “Do you think you were just born this way?” I ask him.  Born to take risks, born to land in trouble? “Yeah,” says Bukovsky.  “There’s nothing you can do about it.  I would feel uncomfortable if I tried to hide what I believe.  It’s against my nature.”
…..He spent twelve years in the Gulag: prisons, labor camps, and sadistic psychiatric hospitals.  I ask, “Did you ever think you would not survive?” “Oh, yeah,” he answers.  “It was the dominant idea…..most of my friends were killed.”
Bukovsky was released in 1976, exchanged at the Zurich airport for Luis Corvalan, the head of the Chilean Communist Party.
…But for now: What about this book, newly in English?
    Go back to 1991—when the new Russian president, Yeltsin, banned the Soviet Communist Party.  The Party sued, and Yeltsin’s government asked Bukovsky to serve as an expert witness at trial.  He agreed, on one condition: that he would have access to the archives—the archives of the Central Committee, the beating, black heart of the Party.  He got it.
    Off he went to Russia, armed with a laptop, a scanner, and other equipment.  By day he combed through the archives, finding eye-popping material, and by night he copied this material, surreptitiously.  He knew he had to work fast.  He figured the archives would not be open for long, to him or anybody else.  “I had a very limited window,” he says today.
    The trial turned out to be a dud, not a Nuremberg-like reckoning, which Bukovsky and many others had hoped for.  But Bukovsky had the documents in the West….He put them in a book, along with his comments on them.  He called the book “Judgment in Moscow.”…Its subtitle is “Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity.”
I will read the book.  Most likely I will buy it.

Engaging Politics Constructively

Daniel Strand on the Juicy Ecumenism blog, says that, unlike Catholics, Evangelicals lack a framework for addressing political issues.

If I could state it succinctly: I get the impression they want to say a lot about politics without having to know much about politics, either intellectually or historically. To add a further complicating factor: it’s not clear how the theology that they present should be related to politics, both in term of theory and practice. For a group that usually offers profoundly biblical and well-thought positions on a host of pastoral, doctrinal, or cultural questions, their engagement with politics is woefully underdeveloped.

And this:

Taking a moral stance on an issue is one thing, having a constructive way to think about addressing these issues is another. And while pastors and theologians do not have the complexity of knowledge that policy experts have, they must engage at some level with empirical data and develop a political framework for thinking through these questions, otherwise they are in danger of falling in the trap of so many progressive Christians who combine maximal moral outrage with equally maximal political idealism that paints marvelous and beautiful worlds that are utterly impractical.

That last phrase is a pretty good explanation of shallow politics.

There Are Always Trade-Offs

Alan Jacobs recently wrote about saber metrics, which he enthusiastically supported originally but has decided it negatively affects the game of baseball.  In responding to feedback from readers Jacobs explains that as a conservative, he is not a naysayer to all things new:

This, by the way, is what those of us with a conservative disposition are supposed to do: When everyone else is running to embrace some new exciting opportunity, we warn that there will be unforeseen consequences; and then, when we have been (as we always are) ignored, we help conduct the postmortem and point out what those consequences actually were. (I was, needless to say, not allowing my conservative side to have a voice when I was so absorbed in sabermetrics — but that was because I never for one second imagined that people running professional baseball organizations would pay attention.)

Now, we might actually like the new opportunity. We might think that on balance it’s worthy to be pursued. So we don’t necessarily stand athwart history shouting Stop. We might instead stand judiciously to the side and quietly ask Do you know what you’re getting into? Because there will be trade-offs. There are always trade-offs.

And this is why I am a conservative.

An Inexpiable Offence

Partisan politics is not new.  This comes from Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose’s book about President Jefferson and Meriweather Lewis (of Lewis and Clark).   Remarking on the public reaction to the Louisiana Purchase in 1903 he says:

Angry partisanship was the order of the day.  Senator John Quincy Adams complained in his diary, “The country is so totally given up to the spirit of party, that not to follow blindfold the one or the other is an inexpiable offence.


Politics as religion


“In a garish instance of the Procrustean bed, we cut our religion to suit our preferences instead of working to conform ourselves to the teachings of our faith traditions, a problem equally evident in mainline and evangelical denominations. As a result, the Church has become corrupted by politics. In 1960, only 5 percent of Americans said they would be uncomfortable with their child marrying someone from the opposite political party. By 2010, the number was up to 40 percent, even as interfaith marriages continued to rise. Commenting on this trend, the Institute for Family Studies suggested that politics has “taken the place of religion as a way of expressing our most basic values.” Of course it has. In each individual life, religion must either rule or serve. As a ruler, it can challenge ideas on every side of the spectrum and defend us against becoming blindly ideological. As a servant, it quickly becomes a mewling, conniving sycophant, eager to please its ideological masters.”

Woke Progressivism’s Glaring Religion Gap