Making Sense of It

To many of us the outcome of Tuesday’s election is incomprehensible. In multiple ways, it doesn’t make any sense. But if forty six years of life’s puzzles have taught me anything, it’s that when you’re inundated by the incomprehensible, it’s time to focus for a while on what is clear and certain.

Often enough the incomprehensible starts to make sense somewhere in that process.

Maybe you don’t need what follows, but I did. Just passing it along.

Four things that are still true after Tuesday

1. God is perfect and unchanging.

For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Mal 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (Jas 1:17)

2. God’s plan is on schedule and unaltered.

In the days of Hezekiah and Isaiah, Sennacherib imagined that his seemingly unstoppable sequence of victories was due to his own genius and might. God set the record straight.

Did you not hear long ago How I made it,
From ancient times that I formed it?
Now I have brought it to pass,
That you should be
For crushing fortified cities into heaps of ruins.
Therefore their inhabitants had little power;
They were dismayed and confounded;
They were as the grass of the field
And the green herb,
As the grass on the housetops
And grain blighted before it is grown.
But I know your dwelling place,
Your going out and your coming in,
And your rage against Me. (Is 37:26–28)

Tuesday’s outcome really surprised and disturbed a lot of us. It didn’t surprise or disturb God at all.

3. The human race is weak and wicked.

I really am a believer in American exceptionalism, though what follows may not seem to fit the mold.

If you take all the societies and civilizations that have risen and fallen over the centuries and imagine looking at them from thirty thousand feet, they all look a lot alike. If you imagine how they look from, say, the Moon, they’re even more alike. And if we observe them through God’s lens, so to speak, the range of quality between the lowest of nations and the best of nations—or between any nation at its best and that same nation at its worst—isn’t very dramatic.

Of course, here on the ground the differences between the best and worst societies are pretty huge—and they do matter. It’s just that even when a society reaches the best point any human society can reach, God is not going to be impressed, and for good reason.

I keep going back to Genesis 11 these days. Human society got all high on itself, declared it would do what had never been done before (Gen. 11:4), and eventually convinced itself. Then they started saying they could do absolutely anything and convinced themselves of that, too (Gen. 11:6).

For the benefit of all societies thereafter—as well as their own—God gave them a lesson in humility (and in the folly of dreamy-eyed collectivism, frankly). By confusing the languages, He exposed to the ages the true foolishness and weakness of all human societies—even the best of them.

Consider a very different context, but the same principle:

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Re 3:17–18)

If a church of Jesus Christ could be in that condition, we have to conclude that every human being and every human society that has ever existed has been wretched, poor, miserable, blind and naked—or worse.

This reality doesn’t call for abandoning the “culture war” or abandoning efforts to improve the morality of our society—but that’s a topic for another day. What this truth does demand of us is that we step back, take a deep breath, and realize that if we could snap the USA back to whatever idealized age we like tomorrow morning, we’d still discover that the country is full of bad policy, full of stubborn social problems, and—not coincidentally—full of sinners.

Individual sinners or nations—it doesn’t matter; they both utterly fail to bring about the redemption and transformation they truly need. They require rescue by the Redeemer who is “not of the world” (John 17:16).

4. The end of the story is glorious.

Here’s the end of the story—or at least, an especially sweet part of it:

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
And those who fear Your name, small and great,
And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev. 11:15-18)

The rise and fall of rulers and civilizations—even our own eventually—has zero impact on how the story of life on Earth ends, beyond this: all the weak and foolish and clumsy (and sometimes evil) empires that came before it make the final Kingdom look that much better by contrast.

To some, this is an argument for ignoring policy and public morality entirely. Others of us say, not so fast. But as important as it is to draw the right conclusions from these four truths, this might be a good time to set aside inferences and implications and just revel in the certainty of the premises.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Charlie's picture

I find it strange, even disturbing, that someone would call the results of a popular election "incomprehensible." How does someone get to the point that the choice of roughly 51% of his or her fellow citizens "doesn't make any sense"? I'm afraid it speaks to an unhealthy insularity that contributes to the political polarization we're experience. The first step toward a solution might be finding people who are not so different from you in many ways, but who made a different choice, and hearing what they have to say. A second step might be making friends with people with very different views and having honest conversations with them. 

For step 1, here are a few I found. The second one is written by an Orthodox priest:

http://scholarsandrogues.com/2012/11/08/mystery-unraveled-how-a-white-mo...

http://lifebearingwilderness.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/the-real-reason-ba...

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The polarization is a good thing. What we're seeing is profoundly different views of humanity, society and government work themselves out in increasingly different ways of looking at issues.

What is incomprehensible, to cite a few quick examples:

  • Believing that government borrowing and spending + redistributive taxation policies are the way to fix an economy when those policies have already failed for four years.
  • Using Wisconsin as as example: electing a state legislature, governorship and one senator that are among the most conservative in the nation then turning around an electing one senator who is quite possibly the least conservative in the nation... and a President who is our most liberal ever.
  • Reelecting a President with a foreign policy scandal hanging over his head (Benghazi)
  • The nation electing many conservatives to the Congress in '10 then turning around and re-electing a President with the opposite political philosophy in '12.
  • A candidate winning strong majorities of independents and still not winning the White House.

It goes on. A whole lot of the metrics don't make any sense. What we have on our hands is a great deal of ignorance of the substantive differences in political philosophy that are at issue. Many conservatives have only themselves to blame for that.

One thing that makes the whole event more comprehensible to me now that it was at the time: Romney lost the Hispanic vote and that turned out to be huge.

The gist of the incomprehensibility part is that some things ought to be obvious to just about everybody by now but still aren't. I'm not sure the country has ever elected a President with sort of record he had in '08 much less re-elected one with the sort of record he has in '12.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jim's picture

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/10/rising-number-of-states-...

 

In a little-noticed footnote to the elections, votes to fill legislative seats produced the highest number of states with one-party rule in 60 years. Democrats or Republicans now have sole control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 37 state capitals.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks party representation in the country’s 50 state governments, Democrats now control all three bases of power — the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — in 14 states and Republicans in 23, with only 12 states sharing power. Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is considered nonpartisan.

...

Bill Bishop, author of the book “The Big Sort” about the growing polarization of American politics, said, “There are more states that have tipped either increasingly Republican or Democratic over time. Even in close elections you have a majority of voters who live in counties where the election wasn’t close at all. The world they see at their doorstep is different than the rest of the country.”

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Jim wrote:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/10/rising-number-of-states-...

 

In a little-noticed footnote to the elections, votes to fill legislative seats produced the highest number of states with one-party rule in 60 years. Democrats or Republicans now have sole control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 37 state capitals.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks party representation in the country’s 50 state governments, Democrats now control all three bases of power — the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — in 14 states and Republicans in 23, with only 12 states sharing power. Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is considered nonpartisan.

...

Bill Bishop, author of the book “The Big Sort” about the growing polarization of American politics, said, “There are more states that have tipped either increasingly Republican or Democratic over time. Even in close elections you have a majority of voters who live in counties where the election wasn’t close at all. The world they see at their doorstep is different than the rest of the country.”

 

At least that should make it easier to figure out which states will be red and which states will blue in 2016.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Charlie's picture

Aaron, doubling down on incomprehensibility isn't helping. Either you're interested in understanding the point of view of those who disagree with you, thus rendering their choices comprehensible, or you just want to call them ignorant and retrench yourself in your insularity. No matter how much you might disagree with an opposing view, you ought at least to understand the appeal it has for those who hold it. All meaningful discussion proceeds from that kind of trust, the supposition that the other person is not just a blockhead.

Now, given that half of your fellow Americans just made a choice that you disagree with, I think that it's your moral responsibility to understand that choice, at least if you want to be heard yourself. One of my guiding precepts, as both a scholar and a Christian, is Proverbs 18:17 - "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." That's what has led me to be a Reformed evangelical in a mainline church, who works at a Catholic university and still checks in from time to time on what the fundamentalists have to say. I could just write you off as an idiot, but that would say more about my lack of character than your lack of intelligence.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie wrote:
The first step toward a solution might be finding people who are not so different from you in many ways, but who made a different choice, and hearing what they have to say. A second step might be making friends with people with very different views and having honest conversations with them. 

For step 1, here are a few I found. The second one is written by an Orthodox priest:

http://scholarsandrogues.com/2012/11/08/mystery-unraveled-how-a-white-mo...

http://lifebearingwilderness.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/the-real-reason-ba...

This one is still grating on me a bit . . . a bit more coffee and I'll be past it, though--that and getting a little more off my chest.

Charlie, the two links there represent visions/ways of thinking I'm quite familiar with. It's often assumed that when someone strongly disagrees they just aren't exposed enough to people on the other side. But sometimes the disagreement is fueled by that sort of exposure, or at least some measure of the passion is.

As for the first link, the word for it is insular.

  • Insular is believing that all--or even most--conservatives acquired their views from talk radio. (Doesn't take much reflection to see how silly that is. Cons. talk radio found an existing market... and has not been persuasive at all in winning over people who were not already conservative. Many days I'm conservative despite talk radio.)
  • Insular is thinking that most conservatives opposed Obama because they think he's a Muslim.
  • Insular is believing that Romney et. al. went out of their way to misunderstand their opponents.

The rest of that post is just the all too common evangelical-left disconnect between affirming the Bible and simultaneously affirming ideas not compatible with it.

The second link... I'm not sure what the point is supposed to be. Are we to believe that non-white Americans should be expected to prefer non-white candidates without regard for the merits of their ideas? (Ask Thomas Sowell if he voted for Romney because he was white!) 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Andrew K.'s picture

I have a number of people I have talked to who were very pro-Obama (although, interestingly, not American), and I don't find it that incomprehensible that Obama won, given what they told me.

For most of them, it came down to the evident fact that Mitt Romney and the GOP are predominantly racist, anti-women, and pro big-business. When pressed on the particulars they had little to nothing to say, but stubbornly held on to their perception.

Now might there be a grain of truth to these assertions? Perhaps, but hardly enough to establish the characterization as much more than a caricature. Certainly not enough to send me on an introspective, existential crisis.

I'm sorry if anyone were expecting something of more depth and significance, but I think the election really came down to marketing. The Left won by controlling the popular perception of the Romney and the Republican party.

神是爱

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

If that analysis is correct, we have cause for great concern that the Left's degree of influence over public perception has reached a record high. In 1980 they were not able to make Jimmy Carter look like a good bet. Now they can apparently make anyone look like one.

If the Right will wake up and try some things it hasn't tried before, there is some hope. But right now Leftist assumptions have a stranglehold on the nation. ... and ideas have consequences.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I am amazed at how many anti-Oboma emails I have received over the last four years that concluded with some kind of racial slur.  It is clear that a portion of white conservatives are entrenched racists.  This reality has been more clearly manifested by the election of a black president in 2008.  Until then, such racism was not so obvious.  Should we therefore be surprised that minorities voted for Obama in record numbers?  If "people of color" (blacks, hispanics, asians) watch the Democratic convention, they observe a sea of color.  At the Republican convention, they observe a sea of white, with a few exceptions, mainly on the platform.  Since every minority individual has experienced various forms of racism in their daily lives, can they be blamed for concluding that they are unwelcome in the Republican Party, but warmly welcomed among Democrats?  No matter how the majority of Republicans feel, this perception is likely to persist until significant numbers of minority individuals are active and visibly present in Republican politics,  including as convention delegates.  No easy task. 

G. N. Barkman

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

G. N.

 

Makes me wonder who you're spending time with (said tongue in cheek). I haven't received a single racial slur from anyone about Obama (or anyone else for that matter). I have received a barrage of angry contact  regarding his policies.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Warwick's picture

Dear Aaron,

I am replying to this message because you briefly commented on an article I wrote for my blog, which was the second link provided by Charlie above. I feel it is necessary to write because your conclusion about my main point is completely off base.

I am sorry my writing was not more clear, but I need to clarify I said absolutely nothing about non-white Americans preferring to vote for non-white candidates without regard for the merits of their ideas. In fact, what I said was quite the opposite.

The main point of my article is this: many young Christians and minorities sympathized with President Obama's message of the sum being greater than the individual parts and the idea we as members of the US all have obligations and responsibilities to our fellow citizens in addition to the rights and freedoms we enjoy. This point clearly has nothing to do with the color of the candidate; rather, it has everything to do with the merits of his ideas. I said young Christians and minorities tend to sympathize with this message because they reject the anti-biblical ideas of "rugged individualism" and "American exceptionalism." Moreover, minorities understand individualism is not the way their culture works--and for that matter, it does not work well with whites either, but that is beside the point.

In one of your later posts in this thread, you mentioned the Right should perhaps try some new things. I agree with that. Unless the Right wants the Republican Party to never again occupy the White House, it would be a good idea for them to work on their image. Rather than speaking of minorities, the poor, and anyone else who receives government assistance as "lazy" or "mooches," perhaps they should do a better job explaining why their policies will actually help them. This is what GWB did in 2000 that helped him get elected with strong minority support. But, because the Right now has the reputation they have, you are correct the Left can practically get anyone elected.

As to your examples of what you find incomprehensible, I would respond as follows:

(1) What sunk our economy and ran up the national deficit was not the Obama policies, but rather the policies of conservatives--unbridled capitalism on Wall Street and war-mongering. GWB inherited a great economy and a surplus from Slick Willy. He left office with an enormous deficit and an economy in tatters, with the entire world besides the UK looking upon us as a nation negatively. The Republican grandstanding in 2011/2012 to try to make Obama look bad and not get re-elected is the prime reason we are now approaching a fiscal cliff. The Republican answer of cutting taxes and leaving Wall Street alone simply does not work long-term, no matter how you spin it.

(2) I cannot explain Wisconsin's decisions.

(3) We re-elected GWB with a foreign policy scandal of two unnecessary wars in 2004. I bet you were supportive of him, so maybe you can explain why people might do that. My guess: because they agree with many of his other policies and overlook the things they don't like in a two-party system.

(4) You compare apples and oranges when talking about Congressional and Presidential elections. People make way too big a deal of this, in my opinion. Each state elects its own representatives in Congress whereas the nation/electoral college elects the President. Look at the number of red states and you can figure out how this happens. States with much lower populations still get two senators, but they do not get as many electoral votes. More states are red than blue, so that explains the House elections.

(5) Don't know about independents.

Blessings.

Aaron W

Jim's picture

Reply to Aaron Warwick. 

Aaron Warwick said:

What sunk our economy and ran up the national deficit was not the Obama policies, but rather the policies of conservatives—unbridled capitalism on Wall Street and war-mongering. GWB inherited a great economy and a surplus from Slick Willy. He left office with an enormous deficit and an economy in tatters

Reply:

  • What sunk the economy was the housing crisis
  • And behind the housing crisis is the “everyone should own a home not matter whether they can afford it” policies of the administration before Bush: “[Barney Frank’s] most successful effort was to impose what were called “affordable housing” requirements on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 1992. Before that time, these two government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) had been required to buy only mortgages that institutional investors would buy—in other words, prime mortgages—but Frank and others thought these standards made it too difficult for low income borrowers to buy homes. The affordable housing law required Fannie and Freddie to meet government quotas when they bought loans from banks and other mortgage originators.”
  • Summary: There is bipartisan blame for the 2008 fiscal crisis!
  • On: “[Bush] left office with an enormous deficit”. Response: True (end of Bush term = $ 12 Trillion) but Obama compounded it (Currently $ 16 Trillion)! Chart. Summary. There is bipartisan blame for the Federal Budget deficit!

Aaron Warwick said:

We re-elected GWB with a foreign policy scandal of two unnecessary wars in 2004.

Response

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron,

I appreciate your taking the time post here and for clarifying your views.

I'm still not clear on what race has to do with it, but I understand the rest well enough. I'll have to try to free up some time comment more systematically later, but for now, a bit from one of my favorite political thinkers...

If non-white voters can only be gotten by pandering to them with goodies earmarked for them, then Republicans are doomed, even if they choose to go that route. Why should anyone who wants racially earmarked goodies vote for Republicans, when the Democrats already have a track record of delivering such goodies?

Sowell. The rest is in one of his 11/13 posts . . .  Is Demography Destiny?

What conservatives need to do is not figure out how to win minority voters on the Left's terms, but how to win them on conservative ideas. This is a mighty tall order because job one is getting folks with Left assumptions to listen and give conservative ideas a fair hearing.

(As an example, what really caused the economic collapse of '08 . . . it's accurate enough to blame a share on Bush. What is not accurate is blaming it on conservatism. Conservatism is not about unethical and dishonest behavior in the name of capitalism. This is a--sadly, very popular--caricature.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Warwick's picture

Jim,

Thanks for your time. There's basically nothing you said I disagree with completely. I overemphasized my points in my first response to Aaron because he mentioned it was incomprehensible to him how people could vote for Obama. I absolutely agree there is plenty of blame to share. With respect to the housing crisis, it was ONE aspect of the financial crisis, and not insignificant. And you are correct, part of that problem stems back to the Clinton administration as you outlined. However, the problem continued on through the Bush administration.

However, as big or bigger a problem is the problem on Wall Street. And the Republican ideals of not tampering with the 'free market' did not work (and it is true many Democrats were suckered into this position because for a while everyone was making money). And they never will. People are greedy and they require oversight. They sacrifice long-term goals for short-term gain. Many of the Wall Street guys have walked off with a great deal of cash while leaving the rest of us with the burden.

And, of course, I was speaking about the two wars going on during 2004, not as though they were started in 2004. Sorry for the lack of clarity. Of those two, Iraq was clearly the bigger problem/nightmare, and unfortunately most of the country was duped into that war based upon supposed 'weapons of mass destruction.' Because of that, there was wide support in the US. However, the UN was warning us all along there was nothing there--and they were right. Again, generally it is the Republicans who are anti-UN. The Democrats (and most of the country) was duped into the war out of fear and paranoia.

Again, I undoubtedly overstressed my points in response to Aaron. I am not a Democrat and I've got plenty of problems with that party, but I understand why people vote for them when Republicans are the only other viable option for election. Again, thanks for your time.

Aaron Warwick's picture

Aaron,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. However, I still think I have not made my point clearly to you.

Please remove race from the equation for one minute. What I am saying is that some people voted for Obama because they agree with his ideals, expressed best in his election night speech when he mentioned how we as Americans have not only shared rights, but shared obligations and responsibilities. Further, he stated our sum is greater than our individual ambitions. By stating this, Obama is implicitly rejecting the Republican election platform of "rugged individualism." He is saying rugged individualism does not represent the reality he wishes to create in America. Rather, he wishes for people to 'be in this together.' 

Now, some people like that idea and others do not. I pointed out two groups of people who sympathized with Obama's idea. One of those 'groups'--and a very large, growing group in America--happens to be non-whites. They sympathized with Obama's ideals not because they are looking for a handout or to be pandered with 'goodies,' but because they realize they never would have made it in America without help from aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, and others of their same ethnicity who grouped together to help each other out. Furthermore, they understand this because many of them are sending half their paycheck 'home' to mom and dad so they can afford to buy a two room house (not two bedroom--two room) in Mexico. It has absolutely nothing to do with wanting 'goodies,' but everything to do with the reality of their world that "rugged individualism" doesn't get very many people very far in life. We are social beings, which means we are interdependent beings.

With respect to reaching minority voters, I have never suggested winning them over on the Left's terms. Rather, the Right needs to win them over by showing them why their policies and ideas are better than those of the Left. They need to show them their policies will better position them for success. Painting them, as Sowell did (as well as Romney, especially with the 47% comment), as a bunch of moochers clearly is not working well for Republicans. Instead of insulting them, Republicans need to convince them the Right's policies are going to help them succeed. That's what Bush did in 2000 and what many other conservative politicians have done on a more local level. It's time the Republicans start doing that on a national level, unless they don't mind never occupying the White House again.

Finally, I do not think conservatism necessarily means dishonest and unethical behavior in the name of capitalism. However, as you correctly pointed out--and as I would add, for good reason--that has recently become the public perception. A big reason for that is because the Republican Party has swung very far right as a party. Furthermore, over the past decade, they have sounded like a broken record with the answer to every problem being cutting taxes and letting the market do its work. That extreme conservatism simply does not work. The federal government and federal oversight is not always our enemy.

Best wishes.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What does "far right" mean?

I had a conversation recently with a friend who sees the horizontal axis (right-left) as the greed-generosity axis. In another conversation he seemed to see it as the big-business vs. laboring-individual axis.

So to him "far right" = greedier or more corporate and "far left" the opposite.

Both these show no awareness at all that anything happened in the world before the 19th century.

The problem we've got on a large scale is folks not defining terms clearly. In reality, conservatism is completely dependent on the principle (along with others) that people are greedy and need regulating. Where it parts company with Liberalism is in

(a) not believing social institutions/society as a whole cause the greed
(b) believing that the best set of regulations we'll ever devise will fail to adequately prevent greed
(c) rejecting the notion that greed happens among the regulated but somehow not among the regulators.

Liberalism seems to think that instances of greed in government are anomalies while cases of greed in business are inherent in it. 

Conservatives know that greed is everywhere and is at least as much a problem in government as it is among the governed (and that, therefore, good policy harnesses this universal human trait rather than naively and vainly trying to change human nature).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Warwick's picture

I think your friends definition or characterization of far right and far left is grossly oversimplified, and seems to be a stereotype of one who tends to be leftward leaning. In terms of conservatism, there are all sorts of different types of conservatism and I am not really interested in an academic debate about what is or is not conservatism. I am primarily interested, at least in this thread, in the current state of the Republican Party. When I say they have swung very far right as a party, what I mean by that includes a denial of modern science (global warming and evolution to name a few, based primarily on a 'conservative' view of the Bible as completely literal/historical/'factual), a quite negative rhetoric towards social issues such as homosexuality, and a seeming denial that the federal government can do anything good.

I have never heard the term conservatism associated with the idea people are greedy and need regulating. At its core, conservatism is about retaining traditional institutions, values, and concepts.

In terms of your ideas about how conservatism departs from liberalism, I think you are as uncharitable to liberalism as your friend was to conservatism or the "far right." I don't personally know a liberal who thinks social institutions/society as a whole causes greed, except that many of these institutions are run by greedy individuals who tend to be greedy as a group as well. I also don't know any liberal who thinks the best set of regulations will adequately prevent greed. On a practical level, liberals tend to understand the need for regulations because people are greedy and there is inequity in the world. And I'm further unaware of a liberal who thinks greed only happens among the regulated, but not among regulators.

I don't know a single person, to be honest, who thinks instances of greed in government are anomalies. As to your final point, I don't know any liberal who is trying to change human nature through policy. They are, as you said, trying to harness our sinful traits.

Andrew K.'s picture

I have never heard the term conservatism associated with the idea people are greedy and need regulating. At its core, conservatism is about retaining traditional institutions, values, and concepts.

I once heard a Yale history prof. (in a podcast) say that the core distinction between Left and Right is that the Left follows Plato in assuming that man can be educated/civilized into a morally better person. Hence the whole concept of "liberal arts education." The Right tends to take a more cynical perspective on human nature.

True, conservatives in a general sense are about retaining traditional values, but that's why China's "conservatives" are hardcore Maoists who really have more in common with radical Leftists.

I think the Left's focus on education and the strong (not universal, mind you, but strong) utopian strains argue in favor of this distinction.

Thus I personally do see the Right as having a more sophisticated and more Biblical understanding of humanity and human nature.

神是爱

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron,

I’d suggest reading up on the roots of conservatism. Rule of law has always been a central concept. Adam Smith—who is famous as economist but was actually a moral philosopher—saw human beings as being irremediably self-interested and that, therefore, the best path for government is to arrange incentives for moral behavior. Trade offs to mitigate the problems that arise from human nature. Even in his economic theory—though it emphasizes a natural order that emerges in the market—Smith has a high view of law to ensure honest transactions, protect property rights, etc. 

There is actually no free market unless the participants are reasonably confident that they are safe, that they will be able to keep what they trade for, that they will not be cheated, etc. (The reason true conservatives are so anti-regulation today is that they understand no amount of regulation can change human nature or eliminate greed—and that if societies continue to add law beyond a certain point you have diminishing benefit from that and eventually counter-benefit. More becomes a hindrance rather than a help.)

For understanding conservatism, I highly recommend anything written by Thomas Sowell on economics or political philosophy, but A Conflict of Visions is my current favorite. Russel Kirk’s Conservative Mind is great as well. A fun quick read in recent times is Jay Richard’s Money Greed & God. 

If you’re more inclined to go to original sources, I’d start with Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmond Burke, though Hobbe’s work (previous century) has a whole lot of conservative principles in his mix also.

The roads that diverged into today’s Right and Left (in the Western world) really began their routes in the Enlightenment.

The reason there are so many “kinds of conservatives” today is that few have any context going back further than the 1980’s, a few less have some context going back to the 1950s, but fewer yet are aware of the course-setting political thought of the 18th century.

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Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Warwick's picture

Andrew,

One of the greatest faults of the West is overly categorizing and creating false dichotomies. There is no inherent dichotomy between education/civilization and the Bible. There is no reason to assume the opposite of education/civilization--i.e. ignorance, superstition, and anarchy--are biblical. Unfortunately, however, when you create these dichotomies you can understand why many Western-thinking liberals reject the Bible. When the "Right," who claims exclusive ownership of the Bible, tells them we should reject modern scientific discovery, education, etc., they can certainly be pardoned, if they have not been trained outside Western thinking, for rejecting so-called 'biblical' principles.

What I have said is not a rejection of the Bible, but a rejection of your interpretation of the Bible. That said, I am in complete agreement the Bible has a pessimistic outlook on human behavior. But the logical conclusion of that outlook does not mean the Bible rejects education or civilization, which in our own times we can see has had a positive effect with respect to things like racism. While racism still exists, we have progressed far ahead of where we were in this country only decades ago.

Furthermore, with respect to the Bible and cynicism, I would argue the Bible is no more cynical towards any group of people than it is to "God's people." From the very beginning, Israel sins and behaves as bad or worse than the nations. There are countless stories throughout the Bible teaching this important lesson. And then in the New Testament, you have the same thing, which is the reason most of the Epistles need to be written in the first place. We should learn from these things, which were written for our salvation, and be hesitant to be triumphalistic.

Aaron,

Thanks for your comments in the post above. There is not much I would disagree with in that post. However, I would note that when I read Adam Smith I do not hear much of anything the same as what I hear coming from "conservatives" today. You have given some good reasons for why that is the case, and I appreciate your recommendations.

I also would recommend reading this article, from a professor at Boston College: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2012/11/after-romney-republican-soul-s....

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Aaron, you'll find that just about everybody who frequents this site has a view of the Bible that, for convenience, I'll call traditional. For us, the approach commonly (and usually derisively) today termed "literal" is a given.

Not coincidentally, people who approach the Bible this way are usually conservative in political philosophy, though most consistently so on the "social issues." For us, the Bible could not possibly be more clear that homosexual behavior is wrong and self-destructive (both individually and socially), that marriage is man and woman, that killing as-yet-unborn infants is murder (there would be much more variety on how Scripture speaks to economics, immigration, and lots of other issues.)

We simply see no way to take the Bible seriously--and retain continuity with our Christian forbears--without accepting these as givens. Likewise with creation (though a few see room for some kind of creation-evolution synthesis, most of us are young-earth creationists).

Some here might be willing to debate these ideas a little, but they are mostly assumed.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Andrew K.'s picture

Aaron W.

I'm sorry, I don't think you really understood what I was saying. I am hardly opposed to education/civilization. Quite the opposite, I consider education (as a general principle) to be of enormous benefit to society and of great personal enrichment. I am a high school teacher, after all. Smile Civilization, furthermore, is a testament to human creative achievement and a blessing of God which may add greatly to the quality of life.

The distinction I was referring to was the role of education/civilization in the thought of those who lean toward the "Left" and "Right."

Those on the Left tend to view education as a sort of panacea for the world's ills. Hence, I suspect, President Obama's strong emphasis on getting more kids into college (even though that may not necessarily help them find gainful employment). This focus overlaps with the desires of minorities and immigrants who simply want to have a better life for themselves and their children. Education, for many on the Left, is believed to produce better, more enlightened people.

In a similar vein, prisons and jails are at present commonly referred to as "correctional facilities," society having shifted away from a punitive understanding of crime to a more educational paradigm, suggesting that the deviant individual is merely ignorant or ill.

But while education may restrain and even alleviate some of the troubles of society (while often simultaneously increasing a society's destructive potential), the Biblical truth is that the most thorough education by the best institutions in our modern world cannot turn the darkened heart of a sinful man even one shade lighter.

神是爱

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Andrew, interesting you mention education and crime. One of the fascinating things I've been reading about in Sowell's A Conflict of Visions is how views diverged in 18th century regarding what causes the problems we usually term "social problems" - crime, poverty, war, etc. 

The radical new idea at the time was the one we're still seeing expressed on the Left today: human nature is basically good and simply needs to be freed from the ignorance, superstition and irrationality of the past. So there you go... education and rehabilitation.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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