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Topic: Political Philosophy

Gore Vidal on Ayn Rand: God is "I"
12/14/2016 5:50:27 PM

Ayn Rand is the Russian atheist who wrote novels which have become a kind of religious political philosophy for Republicans, right wing talk show hosts, and now the president-elect of the United States, who is choosing for his cabinet people who also subscribe to such thinking. No society can long exist without a belief system which serves to some degree to unite the people. But libertarianism is a belief system which can only help destroy society, for it believes and teaches that there is no God, no God except for what what Ayn Rand calls the "I". No family, no groups, no society, no communities, no nation, no "we",

Think of how completely unscientific this is too. Anyone who studies even a little bit of sociology knows the significance of social influences on the development of the human personality. We don't drop from the sky as fully formed, independent individuals. A political philosophy built upon individuality can only be completely false, an illusion, leading to social and political disaster. It is a philosophy amenable to powerful individuals to justify their lack of concern for anybody other than themselves. It is a perversion.

Gore Vidal has long ago in 1961 in Esquire commented on Ayn Rand this way:
[L]et me try to show what I think is morally important. Ayn Rand is a rhetorician who writes novels I have never been able to read. She has just published a book, For the New Intellectual, subtitled The Philosophy of Ayn Rand; it is a collection of pensées and arias from her novels and it must be read to be believed. Herewith, a few excerpts from the Rand collection.

• "It was the morality of altruism that undercut American and is now destroying her."

• "Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom…or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc."

• Then from one of her arias for heldentenor: "I am done with the monster of 'we,' the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I.'"

• "The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man's first duty is to himself."

• "To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men."

• "The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral…."

This odd little woman is attempting to give a moral sanction to greed and self interest, and to pull it off she must at times indulge in purest Orwellian newspeak of the "freedom is slavery" sort. What interests me most about her is not the absurdity of her "philosophy," but the size of her audience (in my campaign for the House she was the one writer people knew and talked about). She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the "welfare" state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you're dumb or incompetent that's your lookout.

She is fighting two battles: the first, against the idea of the State being anything more than a police force and a judiciary to restrain people from stealing each other's money openly. She is in legitimate company here. There is a reactionary position which has many valid attractions, among them lean, sinewy, regular-guy Barry Goldwater. But it is Miss Rand's second battle that is the moral one. She has declared war not only on Marx but on Christ. Now, although my own enthusiasm for the various systems evolved in the names of those two figures is limited, I doubt if even the most anti-Christian free-thinker would want to deny the ethical value of Christ in the Gospels. To reject that Christ is to embark on dangerous waters indeed. For to justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. For one thing, it is gratuitous to advise any human being to look out for himself. You can be sure that he will. It is far more difficult to persuade him to help his neighbor to build a dam or to defend a town or to give food he has accumulated to the victims of a famine. But since we must live together, dependent upon one another for many things and services, altruism is necessary to survival. To get people to do needed things is the perennial hard task of government, not to mention of religion and philosophy. That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea which ahs figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. We often fail. That predatory demon "I" is difficult to contain but until now we have all agreed that to help others is a right action. Now the dictionary definition of "moral" is: "concerned with the distinction between right and wrong" as in "moral law, the requirements to which right action must conform." Though Miss Rand's grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.

Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead. But to counter trolls and Caesars, we have such men as Lewis Mumford whose new book, The City in History, inspires. He traces the growth of communities from Neolithic to present times. He is wise. He is moral: that is, he favors right action and he believes it possible for us to make things better for us (not "me"!). He belongs to the currently unfashionable line of makers who believe that if something is wrong it can be made right, whether a faulty water main or a faulty idea. May he flourish!

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Russian Atheistic Ideas Now Dominate the American Political System
12/14/2016 4:40:16 PM

Sometimes when you write something you surprise even yourself. I wrote the paragraph below on Facebook and was rather shocked to realize the implications of what I had written. The thinking of a Russian atheist is now used to justify the actions and behavior of the most important political and economic actors in this country. Most Americans can remember the Cold War when we were told we had to fight against the terrible Communist atheists in Russia. Now over eighty percent of so-called "evangelical Christians" have voted for a man devoted to the ideas of a Russian atheist.

Most Americans say they believe in "god as they define god." Historically, this has been the God preached in Protestantism, and business people in small towns and cities across the country went to church and heard the preacher talk about being fair to others, being honest in business dealings, and so forth. There was something called "Christian ethics" and human beings lived their lives before a God who knew their thoughts and motivations and wanted them to behave in a way helpful to other people.

These beliefs are for the most part long gone. You don't hear any of this kind of talk anymore in the public media, or little of it. If you do hear about faith issues, it is always about the wedge issues of abortion or gay rights, the issues preferred by Republican politicians because they so easily can manipulate the so-called "evangelical" religious community, which itself is no longer "Protestant" but has sold its soul to the commercialism of American business and the white nationalism of this country.

No, the Trump election now demonstrates there is a new public philosophy which has come to dominate the public actors in this country. It is the philosophy which has been preached for decades now in the right wing media and right wing talk shows. It is easy to attack government without having to think seriously about how society should be better organized.

Libertarianism now dominates. It teaches to act only according to your own self interests, it is right and good always to only make as much money for yourself as possible, it is you and your individual pleasures that is always most important, not other people, not the larger community, not the common good. It's just me and my own little pleasures that are most important. In the article below it's called "rationale egotism" and it is often misunderstood as referring to freedom of the individual promoted in Reformation Protestantism. Yes, Martin Luther taught personal freedom, but freedom to love the neighbor not freedom to do as one pleases.

Here is what I said on Facebook:

Russia is in the news these days because of its effort to engage in cyber warfare to aid the election of Trump. But what many people don't know is that Trump and many of his cabinet appointments, along with other major Republicans and corporate leaders, have been seriously influenced by the novels of a Russian atheist, Ayn Rand. Her ideas provide the foundation of the whole movement called "libertarianism" in this country (believed by most of the right wing talk radio hosts) and are fundamentally opposed to Christian ethics, the idea of responsibility before God, or love of neighbor. It used to be this was a "Protestant" country in terms of a primary religious belief system. No more. Russian atheistic ideas now dominate the American political system. Read this article:
Leading Republicans Love Ayn Rand: She was a Russian Atheist

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David Brooks on the Authoritarian Anti-Politics of Trump
11/10/2016 5:12:29 PM

On February 26, 2016, David Brooks wrote the following in the New York Times. A friend of mine put it on his Facebook page and I agree it is worthy of being remembered right now after the election.
People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser. The implied promise of his campaign is that he will come to Washington and bully his way through.

Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams found, the one trait that best predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter is how high you score on tests that measure authoritarianism.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements. As Harold Laski put it, “We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony.”

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The Crisis of Conservative Intellectuals
11/1/2016 6:22:06 PM

Matthew Continetti, Editor in Chief of the Washington Free Beacon, has written an article on how populism has displaced conservatism in the Republican Party as a result of the candidacy of Donald Trump. He calls it a crisis for conservative intellectuals:
The triumph of populism has left conservatism marooned, confused, uncertain, depressed, anxious, searching for a tradition, for a program, for viability. We might have to return to the beginning to understand where we have ended up. We might have to reject adversarianism, to accept the welfare state as an objective fact, to rehabilitate Burnham’s vision of a conservative-tinged Establishment capable of permeating the managerial society and gradually directing it in a prudential, reflective, virtuous manner respectful of both freedom and tradition. This is the challenge of the moment. This is the crisis of the conservative intellectual. What makes that crisis acute is the knowledge that he and his predecessors may have helped to bring it on themselves.
Jeet Heer at The New Republic picks up on the reference to James Burnham, a Marxist-turned-conservative who was a founding editor of National Review, and who Heer claims is a person not worth remembering.

Both Ross Douthat and David Brooks in the New York Times have recently written columns about the quandaries of conservative political philosophy and both reject Trump.

"Conservatism" used to mean a desire to conserve the best of the past. But Trump populism means simply a desire to destroy everything. His primary followers appear to be anarchists. Notice that Trump himself says almost nothing specifically about what he will do. He just attacks nearly everyone and everything, including leaders and thinkers in and around the Republican Party.

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The Death of Tom Hayden
10/24/2016 4:50:11 PM

One of the intellectual leaders of the 1960s movement died today, Tom Hayden. He was seventy-six. He was a principle author of the important document, The Port Huron Statement, which expressed key beliefs of the student generation of the time. Richard Eskow has said: "Hayden’s life was a test of character. He saw his colleagues and heroes gunned down, assassinated, or shunned. He endured the privations of jail and the boredom of political life with something that seemed like equanimity. He weathered storms of vitriol and public condemnation that make today’s Twitter wars look like child’s play."

In 1982 his father died and here is what Hayden said at the funeral:
“Tonight marks the passing of generations in my family. I grew up in my father’s image but in a new and very different America from the thirties …

“There was little authority to respect. The few who could inspire us were assassinated, and with their deaths came the death of hope itself. Millions of families were divided across a generation gap of non-communicating …

“Then came a thaw in the political ice age, a democratic spring-time in America. The Vietnam War ended … The rebels and radicals of the sixties were vindicated on most counts. But years of confrontation had taken a toll on us, creating negativity, burnout, the excesses of self-destructive extremism.

“I survived. In time, I won the inner peace that comes from realizing that patience and commitment, love and struggle are not opposites but are the foundation of balance. I learned to be a better human being through love, marriage, fatherhood.

“So I come here tonight from my father’s funeral with a heavy heart, but a full one, with a greater sense of family responsibility than before, humbly mindful that there are more important things in life than political power, and knowing that this victory will only be meaningful if it helps improve the quality of existence of human beings as they pass through the briefness of their lives …”

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The Republican Party has become an Agent of Southern Religion, Racism and Anti-Unionism
7/20/2015 2:29:59 PM

Many people tend to think that political views are based on one's philosophy or one's theoretical commitments such as whether the individual or the collective should be considered primary in political decisions. While this is certainly an important issue, I have found it much more helpful to focus more on actual history to understand what various political organizations or politicians really stand for. And the fact is that the Republican Party, which began as an expression radically against slavery and the South, has become the primary agent of a continuing Southern resentment against notions of tolerance and equality historically prevalent in the North. Liberals generally do not like to attribute grand interpretive conclusions upon regions of the country, and so they fail to see the continuing reality of Southern racism in politics and are confronted with it only when it manifests itself concretely in events impossible to ignore such as the killing of black church members by a young white man motivated by Southern confederate racism.

So I was very happy to see an outstanding article by Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect on how the Republican Party has been "Southernized" and has become an agent in northern states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio of historic Southern views supporting slavery-type working conditions, low pay, and anti-unionism.

In Wisconsin the current governor, Scott Walker, is a the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and not at all representative of the Lutheran Protestants and Roman Catholics who make up the majority of the religious believers in that state. Walker's political views represent those of the deep South not the North. But despite the fact that the North won the Civil War the South is now winning the continuing cultural war, aided greatly by Southern forms of religious expression which have been adopted by the Republican Party, especially in issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

I encourage everyone to read the Meyerson article for more background on this. A couple new books have been written documenting the role of slave labor in the early development of capitalism. The white South has opposed schools and welfare programs because it didn't want to support anything that might help black people. Such attitudes have never been part of the dominate views of the West and North, but now that is what the Republican Party stands for. It is against both tolerance and any notion of equality, basic values in the primary tradition of this country.

Meyerson does not discuss the role of Southern religion in supporting particular political views but just the mention of Billy Graham should help us understand how substantial has been the influence of Southern religion in the political process. Graham was, of course, a Southern Baptist, and though he himself moderated his own rhetoric the entire religious right movement in this country has followed in his wake, including the emphasis on big box churches and large gatherings of people where persons can more easily be emotionally manipulated. White religion in the South, of course, sought to justify slavery and the historically conservative view that everyone should "obey authority" especially the authority of the slave master. That is not the religion emerging from the Protestant Reformation but it is the distorted form of Chrisitanity that was formed from the slave culture of the South. No one should further that form of religion by supporting the current Republican Party which uses false religion to promote anti-union, low pay jobs which don't provide enough income for fathers and mothers to feed, house and clothe their families.

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When Fascism Comes to America; What Love of Country Really Means
3/1/2015 2:33:03 AM

The summer before last my wife and I traveled to Minnesota to attend the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from college. We happened to drive by Sauk Centre, a small town in Minnesota where Sinclair Lewis was the third son born to a country doctor there in 1885. We stopped and visited the home in which he was raised and a small museum dedicated to him.

Perhaps his most famous book is Main Street about life in a small town. He received the Nobel Prize in 1930 and died in 1951. He knew about war and fascism and the attitudes of people in small towns.

The words in the image to the right are said to be those of Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." If there are any words worthy of memorizing and remembering forever these words are especially important right now. Because there are many who are so terrorized by the media build-up of militant threats from the Middle East and from Russia. The wars drums are being loudly beaten these days by nearly the entire media and leaders in both political parties.

And from the Republican right wing war rhetoric is becoming extreme. At a conservative political conference I heard Ben Carson, a possible presidential candidate and a rather soft-spoken fellow, say that if he were president he would simply tell the military to seek out and "destroy them", referring to "radical Islamist terrorists", as if it is so simple to even identify where and who such people are.

John Boehner invites a candidate for president in Israel to speak to Congress because he wants this country to go to war against Iran rather than allow Obama to make a deal on limitation of its nuclear weapons. Hatred of Iran is so extreme these people want another war. This has now long passed the point of rationality. But it makes great news so the media can't help but report irrational rants as if they are legitimate policy choices. It's as if everyone in this country is in a big electronic war game without realizing that at some point lots of buttons are being pushed that are killing lots and lots of people. The more killing the United States does of others the more desperate the world becomes and the more the security of the people of the United States is undermined. The United States destroyed Iraqi society and now that act is coming back to haunt us in the form of ISIS which is beheading our citizens on television to terrorize our hearts and minds and force us to kill even more people in the Middle East. The more we kill the worse the world gets but the political leaders in both parties are telling us we need to kill more, kill more, kill more of those terrible terrorists. It has all become absolutely irrational.

Then the other day Rudy Giuliani at a fund raiser for Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor running for president, said to some sixty wealthy dinner guests that President Obama did not love the country. He wasn't raised like us, Giuliani said. He said Obama sometimes criticizes the country. Incredible. Giuliani knows what he is saying and he knows he is making racist comments, as if he comes out of the deep South rather than New York City, trying to make the first black president into someone who is "other" than a real American, which is, indeed, how large numbers of Republicans do, in fact, believe. The Republican Party has become the party of the South, of white people in Southern states, the former Confederacy, those states where white people to this day are angry not only about losing the Civil War but about having the federal government force them to change their ways of racial segregation in the 1960s.

People in the Midwest and West, as well as the East, in both small towns and cities, have no business participating anymore in the Republican Party. Those states have never been so completely racist and violent as white people in Southern states have been. Even though a great deal of change has occurred in the South, it is still characterized by an anger and willingness to engage in violence that is especially not helpful in a highly technological age which requires rational management of our common life to the greatest benefit of all. Love of country should not be associated with racist and violent attitudes as Giuliani proposed. Real love of country is the exact opposite of such attitudes.

Giuliani has praised Vladimir Putin as a strong and decisive leader, apparently the kind of person he thinks we should have as president. Yes, and Putin is basically a dictator. I have placed an article on this website entitled The Link between Terrorism and Fascism: Scared People Readily Accept Dictators. Fascism comes about when people are whipped up by fear, hatred, hostility, by a dictator who knows how to manipulate the minds and hearts of people. Read the article for more understanding of fascism.

As you participate in public life keep some of this in your mind, and when you can, help people understand how dangerous it is for everyone everywhere when we allow our leaders to engage in blatant belligerent talk. In fact, such talk ought to disqualify anyone trying to put themselves forward as a political leader today.

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Rand Paul Disqualifies Himself
2/4/2015 4:03:26 PM

Due to false media reports about vaccinations over the last years some parents have been refusing to have their kids vaccinated against basic childhood diseases. Now, enough children are not vaccinated to create a large enough population where an outbreak of measles has occurred across the country, started from Disneyland.

The question is, should parents be allowed to not vaccinate children when that action puts at risk other children in their school or community. The so-called "libertarian" answer is, of course, that the individual parent should decide, not the community. And that is the way Rand Paul answered the question when asked at CNBC. He said there were thousands of cases where vaccines led to "profound mental disorders".

With that statement Rand Paul disqualifies himself for the office of the president of the United States. He is a physician, but in this case he did not speak as any physician would speak, any physician who knows the facts about vaccines.

The claim that bad things have happened to some children after being vaccinated is based on faulty logic. If you have a traffic accident after stopping for a cup of coffee, it doesn't necessarily mean the cup of coffee caused the accident. Correlation is not causation. There is no reputable science that links vaccinations with profound mental disorders. Science itself is greatly misused by people whose ideological commitments are so absolute they cannot see anything beyond those commitments.

Nia-Malika Henderson at the Washington Post has written that "The lamestream media’s fascination with Rand Paul might be coming to an end." That is, Rand Paul has enjoyed the interest of media writers and that is why he is a contender as a presidential candidate. But what these media leaders give can be taken away. And when a candidate speaks in such a totally non-factual manner and in a way that can cause great harm to the larger community, in this case its children, then he puts himself out of field of possibility for national leadership.

And, I'm hopeful that this case will also show how bankrupt is the libertarian philosophy. It sounds fine, "let each individual be free," until you start talking about specific, real cases. One parent should not be free to put all other children at risk. One factory owner should not be free to pollute the air for everyone. One coal company should not be free to help destroy the planet.

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Iowa Lutherans: Don't Vote for Joni Ernst
10/27/2014 6:18:10 PM

I have been watching the Senate race in Iowa with particular interest because the Republican candidate this year is a Lutheran, Joni Ernst. She is the one who engaged in uncharacteristic talk, for a Lutheran, and gained national attention about how much experience she has castrating hogs so she can go to Washington D.C. and castrate the hogs there. She wants to cut and slash the federal budget. But castration, you know, makes the future impossible for the offspring of the castrated animal. And that is what would happen to the country if more people like Joni Ernst are elected.

It is loose talk about taxes and the "bloated federal government" (a phrase she used in a debate a few days ago) that gets politicians like Ernst elected. Unfortunately, those taxes pay for programs that, if taken away, would hurt very large numbers of people in Iowa and around the country. Conservatives like Ernst don't tell people that their views will result in huge cuts in the Medicare and Medicaid programs so that older people and poor people will be suffering and dying much more than they are now.

Many older folks may vote for Ernst and then when their Medicare program goes away they will wonder what happened. Well, they voted for the wrong person. If you take away the federal money that goes into west Iowa, where Ernst is from, the whole area would wither and collapse. Just think of the federal farm subsidies; massive amounts of money goes to farmers like the Ernst family. But Joni Ernst isn't telling you about that. She wants to cut taxes but won't admit how much good federal programs do for all farmers, the middle-class, and small town folks across the country.

This is a kind of lying, of course, public lying. Joni Ernst doesn't tell the truth about taxes and budgets. I listened to her debate her opponent and whenever she was asked a question getting to more specifics she became flustered and floundered. She is a politician who has internalized the Tea Party rhetoric, but when asked to give examples of what she really means she can't do it. It is fine to be opposed to the federal government, but then you should also be very clear about what would be lost in local services.

Take the Post Office. You can oppose the federal government for high taxes, but then when the Post Office then closes down expensive small rural mail services you can't really complain. But this is what conservatives are doing all the time. They talk generally about how bad government is. But they won't admit what is totally obvious: government also does a whole lot of good in local communities.

A reporter followed Ernst around as she traveled through Iowa and tells the story here. If you read this, notice how there is almost nothing there in the whole story about any specific programs Ernst is for or against. She speaks only in generalities.

One story about the "Iowa way" describes how people help one another when something bad happens; Ernst broke down and cried in telling this. Now, this woman is running to become a United States senator. But apparently she wants to return to the pioneer days when one farmer helped another. And this is, of course, what we are all called to do, to love the neighbor. But to tell this story, and use it as a way to claim that there should be no federal programs to provide support for folks in a now complex technological society is to close one's eyes to the reality of life today. Ernst has adopted the Tea Party rhetoric, but that rhetoric has almost nothing to do with reality. No one wants high taxes but leaders have some responsibility to try to understand the facts about complex modern urban societies.

In her debate Joni Ernst said she has taught Sunday School and Confirmation in her church, a local Lutheran church. There are lots of Lutherans in Iowa. In fact, in materials I have read she likes to say religion is an important factor in her decision to become involved in politics. She refers to her faith, however, as if it is the same as the religious right, Southern Baptists and Pentecostals, which provides so much active support for the Republican Party. But Ernst's Lutheran faith (she is a member of a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my own denomination, Mamrelund Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Stanton, Iowa) is not at all like the religious right. Ernst supported a bill in the Iowa legislature, for example, which defined an embryo as a "person" which would have outlawed all abortion and most contraceptive methods. But that is not the official view of the ELCA in its statement on abortion. So Ernst is not following her own church's teaching on this question.

In fact, on a whole host of issues, from economic justice to role of government, climate change and care of creation, health care and support services for the poor, Ernst is not representing the views of her church as expressed in official statements and teachings. For Martin Luther government was very important. He believed strongly that government should curtail bad business practices, for example. Just read the Large Catechism on the commandment not to steal from others.

So Joni Ernst is not being entirely honest when she talks about the importance of her religion. She pretends to be an advocate of the religious right when her own church opposes the extremes of those religious zealots.

If any Iowa Lutherans ask my opinion about who to vote for in the Senate race this year I would say, for sure, do not vote for Joni Ernst.

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Pastors Create Public Consciousness
5/26/2013 5:42:09 PM

Before the age of television pastors played a large role in helping to create what may be called "public consciousness." Just as a person has a consciousness of himself or herself over time as a particular person with particular experiences and habits of thought and action, so does any group of human beings who experience themselves together over time, such as a nation. This public consciousness is created by persons who serve as interpreters of history, persons who reflect on historical events and experiences and tell stories as to their meanings. This in turn creates an identity for the people as a whole and points to certain habits of thought and action deemed as right and proper for the character of people with this identity. The bible itself is an example, in the Hebrew bible the prophets helped create the identity of the people of Israel. The New Testament writings helped create a "public consciousness" for those understanding themselves as the church of Jesus Christ. I say this was a "public" consciousness because the early church viewed itself as an alternative way to understand the world and history to that which dominated at that time, the view of the Roman Empire.

It was thus only obvious that as pastors in this country's earlier history read the bible they interpreted that history with categories coming from the bible. Before large numbers of people lived in cities, the gatherings in the local rural church were often a primary location for thinking in grand terms about one's self, one's relation to the country, and the country's relation with other countries in the world. Pastors helped create the public consciousness.

With television and mass communications this has changed. Only those pastors willing to use television became the primary interpreters of the nation's history, persons such as Billy Graham and all those television preachers who have followed in his wake, including now those who create huge congregations in big box churches. This whole movement, what we might call "revivalist," has defined this country in a particular way, that it is God's chosen nation. Right wing politicians don't use that term, but they mean the same thing by claiming the United States is an "exceptional nation." Today, conservative politicians attack liberals for not believing in "American Exceptionalism." And all this has to do with very specific public policy, especially in the promotion of a huge military ready to go to holy war with anyone or everybody who challenges the power of the nation. This is in the revivalist history of a "God and country" theology which has characterized both the Pentecostal and Southern Baptist traditions. This theology lies beneath the entire religious right and greatly informs the so-called "Tea Party" movement. This theology has now become very dangerous for the country.

Pastors of the ecumenical church, or the Reformation Protestants, or the "mainline church" as some call them, must now speak out clearly against such a narrow view of the realm of God. Nowhere in the bible is the United States presented as God's chosen nation, of course, it is an invention following a similar claim for the English nation, which has had such great influence in this country. The bible clearly understands God as a God of all nations; it is a great heresy to make the claim that God favors the United States over other nations.

As a help to such preaching I have placed on this website an outstanding article by Patrick Smith called Moving Beyond the Dangerous Tea Party Myths. If you are a pastor I encourage you to read this carefully and then think about it from the perspective of biblical categories and prophetic writings. I think pastors have a particular responsibility to help create an alternative public consciousness today. If you are a layperson I encourage you to do the same, and then also print the article and hand it to your pastor.

Right now there is an amazing number of outstanding writings appearing from the left side of the political spectrum. Some great thinking and writing is being done. I think it is because so many people see the complete brokenness of the current political system. They see the danger of the illusions being perpetrated in the rhetoric of the right. They also see the ineffectiveness of the current thinking and strategies of the Democratic Party and its leaders including President Obama, who is merely continuing the failed public attitudes of the Clinton years and the narrow political thinking of professional consultants. We are probably not going to get a new way of thinking from the corporate media. The ecumenical church includes responsible pastors who are able to take the article by Patrick Smith as stimulation to offer their people a new public consciousness.

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The Government is Making Us Old
3/11/2013 6:44:31 PM

Yesterday I pulled into a parking space at my bank to use the ATM. As I stepped out of my car door an older man was walking from the ATM. He saw me and apparently thought I was an older fellow like him and said to me: "The government is making us old." I asked what he meant as he walked past me, and he just repeated what he had said, but with a chuckle, as if I would certainly agree. He looked at least a decade older than I so I told him, "You are only alive because of the government," thinking the man received Social Security and Medicare from the federal government.

Then he said to me, "Not at all, when I was on the farm in Idaho we grew everything we needed."

It was then that it was necessary for me to tell the truth to this older fellow so I said, "You are not living on a farm in Idaho, you live in a city with lots of government that makes your life possible."

He walked away.

We often think of the elderly as having wisdom from long years of life experience. But I think there are a lot of older folks who live in a fantasy world. They actually imagine the world as it was when they were children, or as it was in their more robust years. They create imaginary perfect but simplistic images of their previous experience and use this as a standard to evaluate the complexity of the current world. This is not wisdom, it is silliness.

It is especially silly to blame "the government" for everything. Yet that is what so many older people do today, even those who are indeed alive only due to government programs. It is this which makes it possible for the Tea Party leaders and so-called "libertarian" talk show hosts to manipulate the minds of such older folks by blaming everything on government.

If you run into people like this in personal conversation, people who casually blame the government for everything they think is bad in the world, I hope you will try to do what I tried to do, don't just nod in agreement, try to tell the truth. We have far too many people living in fantasy worlds these days and it is making for a very nasty politics which means that government is not able to help solve the very real problems that we do have.
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Obedience, Not Liberty, is Highest Value for Real Conservatives
8/28/2012 2:41:44 PM

It is interesting that the two Republican candidates for president and vice-president this year are both members of highly authoritarian religious organizations. Neither is a Protestant, a strange fact in the history of that party, which is an indication that liberty is no longer actually the highest value for Republicans. What they value most is obedience.

It is the Protestant Reformation with its leaders Martin Luther and John Calvin which focused on religious liberty over against obedience to the Roman Catholic hierarchial authority. Since the 16th century political debate at both theoretical and practical levels has been defined by this basic distinction. The word "liberal" has become associated with those who value individual freedom, the word "conservative" with those who value obedience to current authority.

Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic who does not believe that women should have choices based on knowledge made available by modern science; they should be forced to have babies no matter the "means of conception" as he says, that is, whether pregancy is caused by rape or incest. So Ryan, despite his association with the libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand, actually does not believe in liberty for women. He also does not believe that workers should have the liberty to organize themselves into unions to negotiate the terms of their employment; these workers should just follow the orders of their bosses. When Ryan talks about liberty he means only the freedom of the super-rich to maintain dominance and control over society.

Mitt Romney too is a member of a very highly authoritarian religious organization, the Morman Church, much more so than any Protestant religious body. Romney has not talked much about his Morman faith because its doctrines are, indeed, very strange compared to Roman Catholic or Protestant beliefs. But the authoritarian structure of Mormans is much more like the Roman Catholic than Protestant.

When Roman Catholic bishops talk of "religious freedom" what they mean is the freedom of the church as an authoritarian structure to control the lives and behavior of its members and even its employees in Catholic schools and hospitals, whether or not those individual employees are Catholic or not. This is a far cry from what Protestants mean by religious freedom.

We live in a time when these religious differences are not considered important by the media, so they don't report about them. But it is a significant fact to consider in this election that Republicans are nominating two political leaders both of whom come from religious organizations that prize obedience over liberty.
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Creation is Broken: Against Utopian Conservatives
3/9/2012 4:10:12 PM

I recently wrote an article here on the role of the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at the infamous hearing on religious freedom/birth control which excluded women from speaking. In the responses I have received about that document several persons mentioned as most helpful my short paragraph indicating that biology is broken, that the process of the formation of a human being is not always perfect, lots of stuff can go wrong. Therefore to pick one magic moment when "life" begins and stake everything on that one moment of conception is to assume a kind of biological perfectionism that is unwarranted. There is no compelling logic between the statements "life is sacred" and the conclusion that that life begins absolutely at conception.

Nothing in creation can be lifted up as absolute, as the moment of divine action. There is an important distinction between general revelation, that God has created all, and specific revelation, that God acts in a very specific magic moment. God acts to create all life, but we human beings eat vegetables and animals, forms of life. There is a process of death and destruction also in all of creation. Creation istself is broken, an understanding of the world with a long tradition from the ancients, as the Apostle Paul testifies in the book of Romans. The creation itself groans for redemption.

The specific redemption of Christians is the person and work of Jesus Christ and his suffering on a cross in history. As the gospel of Matthew indicates in its statements about Christ's death this has consequences for the earth itself, but we do not yet live in a state of redeemed nature. The perfectionism and utopianism implied in conservative religious understanding of abortion is false doctrine, a modern construction, not something that warrants the huge place it has taken in Roman Catholic or evangelical theology.

It used to be that "conservative" in theology meant to affirm original sin, to reject the secular idea that human beings can redeem themselves by their own actions. It seems that conservatives today have given up that belief; they have become utopian and that means they have become dangerous in their willingness to use the power of the state to implement their false notions.

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Santorum Reveals His Political Philosophy with Comment on French Revolution
2/10/2012 4:02:44 PM

After Rick Santorum won his victories in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado in the presidential race he went down to Plano, Texas to give a speech. He criticized Obama for being so hostile to religion that it will lead to a situation like the French Revolution. When I read this I really raised my eyebrows. Anyone who sits down to read some books on political philosophy will soon become aware that different attitudes toward the French revolution is at the center of philosophical debates on political theory. It furthermore suggests fundamental historical differences between Protestants and Catholics on the role of the state. Santorum is a Catholic and he believes strongly in the absolute hierarchial authority of the Catholic Church.

Shushannah Walshe at the ABC News blog The Note summarizes Santorum's comments as claiming that Obama is:
“trying to weaken them, churches, trying to say that anybody who believes in the values of the Judeo Christian policies,” Santorum said to about 2,000 people in a converted barn, one of his largest audiences of the campaign.

He told the audience at the raucous rally that Obama is restricting religious freedoms in this country, and even that a situation like the French Revolution could happen in America. As he spoke supporters yelled, “We want Rick!” and “We want you!” throughout the speech.

“They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God given rights then what’s left?” Santorum asked and an audience member offered, “Communism!”

“The French Revolution,” Santorum answered. “What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we are a long way from that, but if we do follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.”

The French Revolution is an event which has become the very symbol of the birth of modernity, when the hierarchial authority of both the Roman Catholic Church and the king were overthrown in the name of individual freedom, reason, and enlightenmnet. Those philosophers who opposed that revolution are called "conservaive" which places highest emphasis on the requirment to obey the authority of church and king. Those philosophers who viewed the French Revolution as positive are now understood to be "liberal", to be willing to challenge the authority of church and state. These, then, are the classic definitions of the meanings of these terms, liberal and conservative.

To be a conservative during the times of the American revolution was to be opposed to it in favor of obedience to the English king. To be liberal was to be willing to act against the king in an armed struggle. When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 he made reference to "nature and nature's God" but by the time of the constitution any reference to God was removed so that the constituion begins "we the people"... That's why the constitution must be understood as a secular document with no claim to divine status. The highest sovereign is not God but "the people". It is perhaps because of this that the country has not, at least until now, been thrust into chaos due to religious wars.

But for Sanctorum the highest authority is not the Constitution, it is the Roman Catholic Church. When Santorum attacks Obama for "hostility to faith" he is actually attacking the very foundation of this country and opening a debate which can only destroy the country if he and others who so believe are allowed to gain the power of the state.
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The Instability of the American Political System
7/27/2011 10:02:50 AM

After months of negotiations with escalating demands from House Republicans, in a few days the country will have to default on its contractual obligations unless the debt ceiling is raised. At this moment growing numbers of conseratives are willing to allow this to happen, are willing to allow the financial house of the United States to burn down. It takes a very long time to recover after the house burns down. This whole affair demonstrates the instability of the American political system.

Anyone who knows the history of Germany in the 1930s should be worried right now. After the first world war a democracy was installed in Germany known as the Weimar Republic. For a variety of reasons, many of them economic, that government could not make decisions, leading to greater and greater suffering and instability. People yearned for a strong leader to "save" the country and this was a big factor in creating conditions for the rise of Hitler who was willing to exercise dictatorial power over all segments of economy and society. We know the results.

A political theorist of the time, Carl Schmitt, became convinced by the experience of Weimar that demoncracies cannot finally make decisions, only a sovereign individual can make those decisions necessary to move a country. He developed what he called a "political theology" based on the idea that since God made sovereign decisions it was necessary on earth for an individual sovereign to decide for the state. This way of thinking became a justification for the emerging power of a Hitler.

Conservative Republicans appear to believe that government has no legitimate role in any economic management. Their theory would be sorely tested in a default, leading to economic chaos and widespread death and suffering. They do not seem to care. Many of them are fundamentalist Christians believing that secular government is the source of evils in society. They are using the debt ceiling issue to force their minority views on the rest of the country. Never before in the history of the country has a minority been able and willing to force this amount of change in our system of government. Democrats have allowed this to happen, giving in to extremist positions again and again. Obama has been willing to do more and more what these extremists demand, so they keep pushing him. We are now at the point of real instability in our whole system of government, even if this particular crisis is avoided. The problems of the country are huge and terribly complex and not amenable to solution through ideological rhetoric.

There has never been a more important time than right now for churches to sponsor public forums to provide their members opportunity to learn and think about these matters, and perhaps beginning to pick up the pieces after the breakdown and crisis that may happen in this country.
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Fukuyama on The Origins of Political Order
4/15/2011 4:17:41 PM

This past Wednesday evening I took the street car over to Powell's Books, a well-kinown bookstore where I live in Portland, Oregon. A quite famous political theorist was giving a talk on his new book, The Origins of Political Order. Francis Fukuyama gained his reputation from an earlier book, The End of History and the Last Man, where he lauded the fall of the Soviet Union and claimed that history was coming to a close, liberal democracy was now the only political system widely accepted in the world so wars making history would no longer be waged. He became a darling of the neoconservative movement. But one reason I was interested to read his book and go listen to him is that he has rather starkly separated himself from neoconservative thinking. At the event I even had a chance to ask him a question.

I had been interested in Fukuyama for a couple other reasons. One was that he took seriously the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). Hegel is interesting because his is a philosopher of history, not the eternal forms of Plato nor the rational categories of Aristotle which tend to freeze time in space. Hegel also took ideas seriously, his philosophy is often referred to as "idealism" over against the materialism of Marx and Adam Smith. And Fukuyama himself is of Japanese heritage which means that he may bring a perspective outside that of standard European history; his new book demonstrates that by looking at China's history to find very early examples of the modern state.

The question I asked was to what degree the new book was influenced by Hegel. When I asked the question many nodding heads turned around to see who was asking the question, which I took to mean that it was a good question. He answered that his first book was largely based on Hegel, but not so much this new book. He went on to say that he was taking a very broad historical approach, something not done much by scholars today focused narrowly on their particular disciplines, and that it was only by taking a comparative approach across several different societies that one can know and appreciate the political system in one's own country. I certainly agree with that and am eagerly reading this new book.

And though I am only into it for a few pages it is clear that Hegel is, indeed, an influence not only by the historical approach but in his incorporation of Hegel's notion of "recognition" as a key factor in human relations, that human beings not only interact with one another on the basis of rational calculation of self interest, but also to compete with one another for recognition in the context of community/society. Fukuyama also includes religion as a central aspect of his examination of early political forms, something I will be watching carefully as I read the book.

Religion has often served political power, or to say it in another way, religion is used by those in power to influence or control those under them. In fact, the religious right is today being used by Republican politicians and the wealthy elite to get large numbers of people to vote against their own self interest, to vote in ways helpful to the powerful elite. Right now that is being seen in the proposed Paul Ryan budget which will eviscerate public programs for poor people and the middle class and set up rules by which the wealthy elite will be able to become even more wealthy and pass their wealth on to their children, concentrating the wealth of the country in fewer and fewer hands. To the degree religious right preachers and organizations support such efforts they completely fail to follow the biblical prophets in challenging economic injustice. It will be interesting to see how Fukuyama deals with the question of relations among religion, politics, and economic institutions.
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Equal Freedom: The Obama Doctrine
5/7/2010 4:41:18 PM

The word "freedom" is used by conservatives today again and again to point to the core of their political philosophy, but the type of freedom they are talking about represents a selfish individualism. It is freedom for individuals to not have to think about any of their own responsibilities. We have seen the results of this kind of definition of freedom in the financial crisis, as reflected in a book I just finished called The Big Short. We are now seeing it in the environmental crisis taking place right now in the Gulf of Mexico where an oil rig exploded due to the failure of British Petroleum to install the proper safety valves, and the failure of government to require such.

For conservatives the word "freedom" has become an ideological screen for allowing large corporations to do whatever they want no matter how much their actions damage the lives of real people in civil society, the local community, and the environment. The corporations have been able to buy the minds of intellectuals who will support the ideas of individual freedom, ususally called "libertarians," without thinking about the actual social nature of human beings and their communities, the actual social nature of corporations themselves, and what freedom really means in terms of social responsibility.

Freedom means something more than the idea that I can do anything I want, something more than the Tea Party mantra "Don't tread on me," something more than taking advantage of others in financial dealings and then claiming that the suckers should be "responsible" for themselves, something more than social darwinism ("the strong survive, I am strong so I am entitled to survive, let the weak die").

There is a great discussion going on about a larger concept of "freedom" at The Democratic Strategist: A Journal of Public Opinion and Political Strategy. This is a journal trying to look deeper into political philosophy in a practical manner over a longer time-span than the next election. John Schwarz, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Arizona, and the author, most recently, of Freedom Reclaimed: Rediscovering the American Vision, has written an article entitled: Reclaiming the Ideal of Freedom For Progressivism and the Democratic Party, with several others commenting on the article.

Schwartz says Barack Obama has articulated what Schwartz calls a concept which can be called "equal freedom" with reference to the founders such as Thomas Jefferson (who today's libertarians would call a socialist) and one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. He says:
Ultimately, the Obama Doctrine not only advances the most fundamental political value that has inspired Americans through the ages, including its connection to shared sacrifice for others and the common good. It not only builds upon basic principles that Americans intuitively understand and accept. At the same time, it promotes the most deep-felt economic interests of everyday Americans—crucial to both Democratic and independent swing voters alike, and many Republicans too— that the flawed individualistic conception of freedom has so egregiously abused for nearly two generations now. It is an exceptional political combination.
I have read Schwarz's book, Reclaiming Freedom, and strongly recommend it as well as this article with its responses. If there is one thing that needs more thought today it is practical political philosophy.

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