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Conservatism: True & False by Mike Church

Conservatism: True & False

conservatismHere is my interview with Dr. Claes G. Ryn. On this show we discussed numerous topics including modern “conservatism” (or “Neo-Conservatism”) and traditional conservatism.

Mike: So let me start by asking you to flesh the question out a little bit, so maybe those that didn’t hear me talking about it and haven’t read your essay will understand, there is a difference between, I guess we would call it, or I’ll let you define it, traditional conservatism and what passes asconservatism today, which is filled with admiration, it seems, and acceptance of a very large state, and certainly a very large state abroad that wishes to have its way with the world, that’s willing to use military force in order to gain it. That’s not the kind of conservative or conservatism that is traditional, though, is it?

Claes Ryn: If a conservative is interviewed on television, it’s likely to not be a conservative of the kind you’re talking about, but a neoconservative. As you indicated, the neoconservatives make some assumptions that are radically different from those of traditional conservatives. To give you an example, one very famous political theorist who has contributed to the thinking of American neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, is a very sharp critic of Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke, of course, was the great favorite of Russell Kirk and many other leaders of the post-war American intellectual conservative movement. Continue reading

Why our Constitution Can’t “Live” by Bruce Frohnen

Why our Constitution Can’t “Live”

by Bruce Frohnen


For more than a half century, now, we have heard that we have a “living” constitution. And it has always been difficult to argue with this position. After all, the opposite of a “living” constitution is a dead one.  And who wants to be seen defending the dead hand of the past? Wouldn’t we all want to be defenders of life, breath, progress, and all good things?

But the question we have to come to grips with in considering our Constitution is not “do you like living, breathing, and other good things?” It is, rather, “do Constitutions breathe?” Or, if you prefer, “do we have to treat our constitution as a living, breathing being in order to support the good things we want to have come out of our political system?”

After all, we all have people, and even pets, we want to make certain breath so that they can live. We love our families, and even our pets. And most of us are rather fond of our Constitution as well. But a constitution does not live or breath, nor should be made to jump around as if it did.

But, if a constitution can’t breathe, then why is the metaphor so prevalent, and seemingly powerful? Because it is useful. It presents us with a stark choice, between standing on the side of old, bad things like slavery or segregation, or insisting that the government ought to act in a fashion that is, in essence, moral. Continue reading

Plato’s Big Mistake by Louis Markos


Plato’s Big Mistake

Plato never cared much for the sophists, viewing them as amoral peddlers of a relativistic kind of wisdom with the potential to corrupt the souls of those who hired them. It is therefore not surprising that when they appear in his dialogues, they are generally treated in a negative or at least suspect manner. InProtagoras, however, Plato treats the sophist of the title with considerable respect. He even has Socrates debate with Protagoras—on fairly equal terms!—a two-part question that Plato considered vital: what is the nature of virtue and can it be taught to others? Although the more elitist Socrates begins the dialogue by asserting that virtue cannot be taught, as the dialogue proceeds, he slowly adopts a position concerning the nature of virtue that drives him—almost against his will—toward the necessary conclusion that virtue can be taught.

In striking contrast to the Christian doctrine of original sin, Plato argues in Protagoras—and elsewhere—that human evil is not the result of rebellion or disobedience. Although G. K. Chesterton was certainly right when he claimed that original sin was “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” Plato seems to have overlooked this proof in favor of a different cause for vicious behavior. “For myself,” says Socrates, “I am fairly certain that no wise man believes anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any evil or base act. They know very well that all evil or base action is involuntary” (345e). Later in the dialogue, Socrates explains more clearly what the cause is of this involuntary evil:

…when people make a wrong choice of pleasures and pains—that is, of good and evil—the cause of their mistake is lack of knowledge….no one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course when he might choose the better. To “act beneath yourself” is the result of pure ignorance, to “be your own master” is wisdom. (357e, 358c)

Evil actions, that is to say, are caused not by sin but by ignorance. If we knew of another, better course of action, we would take it. Continue reading

Controlled Burn, Alinskyian organizing, and Common Core by Stephanie Block

(Book Review)
Controlled Burn Alinskyian organizing and Common Core: A Book Review of A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform By Mark R. Warren, Karen L. Mapp, and the Community Organizing and School Reform Project, Oxford University Press (2011)


The title of this book, A Match on Dry Grass, is a metaphor. The education system is desiccated; parents are frustrated and angry. In such an environment, all it takes is a small push for reform, supplied by professional organizers around the country, and a wild prairie-fire of a movement against the “’savage inequalities’ of American public education” will be ignited. (p. 5) At least, that’s the plan.

Continue reading

Night of the “Living” Constitution by Bruce Frohnen

living_constitution_by_kiwiNight of the “Living” Constitution

by Bruce Frohnen

Senator Ted Cruz’s 2013 fillibuster didn’t do much to change the dynamic of politics in Washington or to stop Obamacare from becoming the last brick in the wall of social democracy separating Americans from their traditions of self-reliance and local community control. But, to someone interested in the constitutional basis of such things (there are a few of us left), it serves as of a reminder of how we got to this point.

First, what point exactly? The point at which a significant number of members of Congress feel compelled by angry “activist” constituents to oppose a program they may or may not like, but generally see as the natural, inevitable extension of decades of government expansion. The point at which “responsible” members of Congress openly criticize and threaten their colleagues for “obstructing democracy” by putting constituents’ demands above the demands of the mainstream media and academe to “make Washington work.” The point many of us recognize as the point of no return, at which we cease to be the Constitutional republic we once were. Continue reading

Football: Bastion of the Republic by John Wilson

Football: Bastion of the Republic

footballI came across this the other day, from theWashington TimesKids flee football in light of NFL violence, Pop Warner participationplummeting.

The author is Nathan Fenno, and I hasten to say that I am the last man in the world to wish to kill the messenger. His article is on the whole fair, although the subject itself leans to the feminization of our culture. The gist is this:  Football is violent and dangerous, lots of boys and men get concussions which have bad consequences, and therefore many parents, including those who have come from a football culture, want to protect their sons from football’s consequences, at least until they are in high school.

The latest round of anti-football picks up again on the original complaint. Young men get killed being gladiators. John J. Miller’s wonderful book, The Big Scrum, tells the first part of this story, how Teddy Roosevelt saved football just over a hundred years ago, the subtext saying,how football was saved from itself. It is true that people, mostly young men, die from doing dangerous things. Thank God.

Please allow me to regress for a moment. It is reported that 243 young men died from football injuries in the years 1990-2010. That’s not good. But the last time I looked at another statistic, there had been 292 murders in south Chicago this year alone. Are people fleeing Chicago, or is the population plummeting? About the same number of young men play football as live in south Chicago. Have we seen calls for reform comparable to the number of concerns expressed about football’s concussions?

Mr. Fenno rightly points out that many people who understand football are concerned that very young boys are not being taught to play the game very well, that they are taught only to turn themselves into human torpedoes that strike from the head. When I was a boy there was noPop Warner football, thank the Lord, and therefore we played without pads and helmets and learned early how not to be stupid. When William Wallace returned to his home town inBraveheart, he and his old pal threw stones at each other’s heads, but knew very well what the limits were. They had more serious things to do later, and would not lead with their helmets.

Young men must learn war. When they do is a matter of culture, and how they do it is part of the quality of that culture. Joe Paterno, one of my great heroes, knew that football and Virgil’s epic poem built civilizations. A true republic cannot survive without football, or something very much like it.

Let us take one larger step. The ancient Greeks praised their athletes, and the Olympics defined their culture as much as their theater, poetry, and philosophy. In fact, as their games declined, so did the rest of the culture. Is it an accident that the United States achieved their greatest prosperity and happiness as their sports began to define them? Zane Grey is well known as a writer of the American west, a creator of tales that help us to remember our shared qualities of self-government and courage and loyalty. His best books, I submit, are about baseball, which add to the western novels the virtues of community, of humility, of being willing to be obedient to a larger purpose than mere individualism, or mere democracy.

Mr. Fenno’s proper concern should not be about safety, but about character. Men protect their families because they learn in various ways (especially in Genesis) that there is something more important than themselves. The Romans, of course, took their games too far, and their gladiatorial slaughters became a sign of their decline rather than their robust health. Mr. Fenno and others are probably correct to warn us about that same tendency. We must remember, however, that sports in general, and football in particular, in how they grew and what they mean, are bastions of the republic.

Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler

300px-Ignatius-2Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler 

January 26, 2014

Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus from 111 to 113, had a problem. Growing numbers of Christians were unsettling the pagan establishment. He wrote to the emperor Trajan: “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.” He deemed them superstitious because “they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Superstition was not a crime, as it was rife in the Empire, but these Christians refused to worship the gods of the land and would rather die than worship the Emperor himself. Trajan replied that the “spirit of our age” required that the governor should persecute only those who refused to cease being Christians.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared on a radio program in Albany that those who refuse to go along with state legislation on such matters as abortion and the redefinition of marriage, have “no place in the State of New York.” He did not threaten to throw Christians to wild beasts, but the tone of the governor of the Empire State was decidedly imperious. Attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but more probably the words of Joseph de Maistre, is the warning: “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” Catholics fragile in spirit who symbolically offered incense to Caesar by voting for such present leaders, were either ignorant (and ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be cured) or selfish in placing material considerations above moral standards. But they certainly have got the government they deserve.

According to tradition, when Trajan was en route to Armenia, he stopped in Antioch where the bishop Ignatius was brought before him. The emperor was perplexed that such a gentle man would not water down his faith in order to cooperate with the state. Before arriving in Rome where he was tossed to the lions, Ignatius wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: “Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becoming defiled {in this way}, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.”

St. Ignatius was second in succession to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch. He was a student of Christ’s most beloved apostle John. So what Ignatius wrote pulses with the authority Christ gave to Peter and the heart John could hear beating at the Last Supper.

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