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The Demise of Congressional Deliberation: Willmoore Kendall by John Alvis

The Demise of Congressional Deliberation: Willmoore Kendall

by John Alvis 79-john-alvis

John Alvis

The one teaching of Willmoore Kendall’s toward which all his early thought tended and from which radiated all his later thought was this: America’s vindication of the capacity of men for self-government rests upon its devotion to the idea of a virtuous people, under God, determining national policy by the deliberations of a supreme legislature composed of representatives who should reflect the moral beliefs of the people and should deliberate under conditions free, open, rational, and accountable. How does that teaching fare today, and how might it serve to guide us in our present predicament? The time is seasonable for a reassessment of the grounds of our trust in representative democracy for we have cause to feel concern that recent alterations in the way Congress conducts its business have corrupted its ability to deliberate and threaten to erode the very foundations of rule of law.

A Pre-Lockean Tradition

Kendall undertook to examine the founding documents of the nation—The Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights—in the light of political developments native to America. This native tradition for the most part antedated John Locke or could be considered apart from Lockean influence. Kendall went back to the Mayflower Compact, The General Orders of Connecticut and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties in order to locate the ideas—he called them “symbols”—which would carry forward to the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.[1] Kendall constantly emphasized the non-Lockean character of this tradition insisting against the prevailing contemporary view that America’s first principles derive not from European contractarian theory but from the country’s indigenous experience because he had concluded that the form of government developed out of this experience rectified what was faulty in contract theory.

In his earliest book, John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority RuleKendall identified the problem which in various forms would occupy him throughout his career: how can one reconcile majority rule with justice, especially justice conceived as the rights of the minority? Not by the doctrine taught in the Two Treatises, for Kendall detected two incompatible concerns in Locke’s thought: an affirmation of the right of the majority to rule yet an insistence upon the inviolability of individual rights. Locke, he thought, provided no reasonable assurance that government founded upon majority rule would secure the rights of individuals, or of the minority.[2] Yet Kendall believed that America had been uniquely successful in reconciling democracy with liberty, that it had achieved simultaneously majoritarian government and protection of rights proper to human nature. He was interested therefore in the question what in the American experience enabled this people to solve the problem Locke had left unanswered. Continue reading

Philosophy Lost by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Philosophy Lost Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!” C.S. Lewis’ character Professor Digory Kirke calls to light an increasingly detrimental error concerning education in the modern era. The Great Western Tradition and the permanent ideas about education that flow out of it are grounded in a proper understanding of philosophy that seeks to order and reveal the natural law and the divine law for a proper understanding of reality. The modern schools and those who design them have abandoned real philosophy in a fool’s bargain to gain a moment in exchange for posterity.

Alfred North Whitehead would agree with Professor Kirke’s implied corrective, a return to Plato and a true sense of philosophy. He boldly proclaimed “the European philosophical tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” The declaration is arguably hyperbolic, but perhaps what has passed for philosophy in the universities for the last few centuries trends more towards self-conscious sophistry than the delight of encountering Lady Wisdom, revealing herself most clearly in the integrated whole of truth, goodness, and beauty. Continue reading

The Road to Same-Sex Marriage was Paved by Rousseau by Robert R. Reilly

The Road to Same-Sex Marriage was Paved by Rousseau

highway-rainbow_zpsf64e3967by Robert R. Reilly

There is more to same-sex marriage than politics. It only becomes plausible if you accept certain assumptions about how to distinguish what is natural from what is unnatural and what is right from what is wrong. The intellectual origins of the debate stretch all the way back to the Greeks, but radical changes in philosophy over the past couple of hundred years accelerated the process. In the essay below, Robert R. Reilly gives some deep background.

At the heart of the debate over same-sex marriage are fundamental questions about who men are and how we decide what makes us flourish.

Ineluctably, the issue of “gay” rights is about far more than sexual practices. It is, as lesbian advocate Paula Ettelbrick proclaimed, about “transforming the very fabric of society … [and] radically reordering society’s views of reality”.

Since how we perceive reality is at stake in this struggle, the question inevitably rises: what is the nature of this reality? Is it good for us as human beings? Is it according to our Nature? Each side in the debate claims that what they are defending or advancing is according to Nature.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is natural and that, therefore, they have a “right” to it. Yet the realities to which each side points are not just different but opposed: each negates the other. What does the word Nature really mean in this context? The words may be the same, but their meanings are directly contradictory, depending on the context. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand the broader contexts in which they are used and the larger views of reality of which they are a part since the status and meaning of Nature will be decisive in the outcome. Continue reading

Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See by Stephen M. Klugewicz

Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See

lets-go-to-the-movies-sign-in-sepia-carol-groenenby Stephen M. Klugewicz

This is—appropriately for a piece about film—a sort of sequel to my previous piece for The Imaginative Conservative, “Eight Movies That Every Conservative Should See.” As I explained in my preface to that article, these are not “conservative movies,” as I am not sure what a “conservative” movie is. Such a notion has a whiff of the propagandistic, as if the films in question were intended merely as didactic pieces, meant to convey some cheap political viewpoint. The movies listed below, rather, are humane works, which all people, without regard to philosophical leanings, ought to see. They do, however, illustrate certain truths about the nature of man, the nature of the relationship between man and his fellows, and the nature of man’s relationship with God, all of which one must acknowledge if one can be called a conservative. The films are listed in alphabetical order.

The Browning

Albert Finney in The Browning Version

1.     The Browning Version (1994)

Andrew Crocker-Harris (Albert Finney) is an aging teacher of classics at an English boarding school for boys. His life is falling part, as he is being forced into retirement while at the same time dealing with the knowledge that his wife (Greta Scacchi) is having an affair with a young American teacher (Matthew Modine) at the school. A stern, humorless instructor, Crocker-Harris is unpopular with the boys, who nickname him the “Hitler of the Lower Fifth.” The one exception is a boy named Taplow (Ben Silverstone), who surprises Crocker-Harris with a gift—the Robert Browning translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, which Crocker-Harris has been teaching his class. Taplow has inscribed the book with a quotation from the play: “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master.”

This act of kindness by the boy is an emotional watershed for Crocker-Harris, who decides that he has failed in his vocation as a teacher. In the dramatic conclusion, Crocker-Harris makes a public confession to the entire student body and faculty of the school: “I am sorry because I have failed to give you what it is your right to demand of me as a teacher: sympathy, encouragement, humanity. I have degraded the noblest calling that a man can follow: the care and molding of the young.”

Whether Crocker-Harris is too hard on himself is for the viewer to decide. Conservative viewers will relish his character’s commitment to teach classical literature and languages to his charges in the face of the headmaster’s desire to “modernize” the school’s curriculum in favor of more “relevant” modern languages.

“It’s for you, sir.”: Continue reading

High Crimes and the Saints by Fr. George W. Rutler

High Crimes and the Saints

Fr. George W. Rutlersaint1
July 7, 2013

Our parish is blessed with a shrine to Saint Thomas More. The young artist who painted the saint’s image after Holbein was a refugee from communist Eastern Europe. He did such a good job that Cardinal Egan, dedicating it, said that he would not be surprised if this were the original.

We recently celebrated the joint feasts of Saint Thomas More, who was Chancellor of England, and Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Their personalities were different in many ways, and it was almost a miracle that an Oxford man and a Cambridge man got on so well and eventually were canonized together. The Act of Succession and the Act of Supremacy were the challenges that King Henry VIII threw at them, and the saints returned the challenge. The issues were rooted in natural law: the meaning of marriage and the claims of government. These are the same issues that loom large today. Whatever our courts of law may decide about these matters, Saint Thomas says: “I am not bound, my lord, to conform my conscience to the council of one realm against the General Council of Christendom.” In 1919, G. K. Chesterton predicted with powerful precision that, great as More’s witness was then, “he is not quite so important as he will be in a hundred years’ time.”

For every courageous saint back then, there were many other Catholics who instead took the safe path of complacency. More’s own family begged him to find some loophole, and — after the sudden deaths of eight other bishops — Fisher was the only one left who acted like an apostle. Those who opted for comfort and wove the lies of their world into a simulation of truth had a banal and shallow faith that Pope Francis has called “rose water.” It is a good image, for rose water is not blood and cannot wash away sin.

The “Man for All Seasons” wrote to his beloved Margaret from his cell in the Tower of London: “And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”

The “Fortnight for Freedom” extended from the vigil of the feasts of Fisher and More to July 4th, but its prayers continue, as the Church’s many charitable and evangelical works are threatened by our present government’s disdain for the religious conscience, most immediately evident in the Health and Human Services mandate and the redefinition of marriage. In 1534 Henry VIII’s arrogation of authority over the Church was quickly followed by a Treasons Act which made it a high crime to criticize the King. In contemporary America as in Tudor England, the surest way to let that happen is to say, “It can’t happen here.”

The Wisdom of Aesop by Robert Woods

The Wisdom of Aesop

by Robert Woods


imagesOne of the best courses I had within my doctoral program was a study of Aesop’s fables. We used the Babrius and Phaedrus edition in the Loeb series. Of all of the fables, I was struck recently on the political and moral implications of one in particular. The Ant and The Grasshopper should be carefully studied by all people, especially political leaders that seem to have little sense of the past and absolutely no sense of the future regarding their current actions.

Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow. All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer’s field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see by, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her cupboard, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her cupboard.

The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. ‘Why do you work so hard, dear ant?’ he would say. ‘Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labour and toil?’

The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. ‘What a silly little ant you are!’ he would call after her. ‘Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!’ And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.

The grasshopper didn’t feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer’s field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. ‘Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?’ wailed the grasshopper. Suddenly he remembered the ant. ‘Ah – I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!’ declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked at her door. ‘Hello ant!’ he cried cheerfully. ‘Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that cupboard of yours!’

The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, ‘All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!’ And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.

As we did in that doctoral seminar, I’ll let you provide the best application. There is tremendous wisdom in the fabulist tradition. If you have not read them lately, it would benefit you. Imagine proverbial teachings in short-short story form. Let us rescue these wise teachings from the elementary school and pray our “highly educated” politicians read some fables.

Books mentioned in this essay are available in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreEssays by Robert Woods may be found here.

Robert M. Woods is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and Director of the Great Books Honors College at Faulkner University. He writes for Musings of a Christian Humanist

Ten Reasons I cannot cheer for my country this 4th of July by Marshall Connolly

Ten Reasons I cannot cheer for my country this 4th of July

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

July 3, 2013

My country is no longer what it claims to be

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. As a patriot, I greatly enjoy celebrating my country’s birthday. My ancestors came to this nation to escape religious persecution, fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and have been loyal, happy citizens for centuries. This has always been a great source of pride. Unfortunately, for the first time, I am greatly disappointed in my country and I worry for its future.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – Perhaps I have been naïve as a product of youth, or perhaps I haven’t been paying attention. Whatever the excuse, I sure am awake now. My nation has accrued a laundry list of sins for which it remains unrepentant. How can I celebrate my country when it does evil as a matter of policy and calls it good?Here is what’s ruining my holiday:

1.    Our government has been accused of funneling weapons and supporting the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. This cartel and our weapons are responsible for the mass murder of thousands of human beings. Their drugs are destroying lives in America. Meanwhile, we refuse to intercept these shipments, or to control our borders in any meaningful way.

2.    Our government is about to impose onerous healthcare requirements on employers and taxpayers, compelling everyone to pay towards practices which they find morally objectionable. There is no real way to opt out. Instead, there is punishment.

3.    Our government is spying on citizens, allies, and much of the world by using a broad dragnet ostensibly to stop terrorists. The program answers to a secret court and if not for the heroism (misguided or no) of a single individual, we would remain ignorant of all this. Our government hunts this man, instead of taking steps to inform the public of the program, how it operates, and refuses to open discussion on whether or not such a program is consistent with the U.S. Constitution or the will of the people. Continue reading

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