Friday, July 25, 2014

The summer air

On recent walks through Edgewood Park here in New Haven I became aware of the incredible superhighway of the outdoor air--the astonishing profusion of living organisms coursing through the atmosphere all around us. At the most macro level are the birds, each species, and each social unit within each species, engaged in travel from tree to tree, or continent to continent, or careening through the sky after gnats and mosquitos. Then the larger insects: butterflies, bumblebees, biplane-like dragonflies, sleek, shark-like wasps. Then the smaller moths, an infinitude of flies, beetles, darters, termites, thrips. At still smaller depths of field, great rivers of tiny seeds, pollen, microorganisms, passing undetected among, and even through, the larger creatures, ourselves included. If the lighting is right, and you let your vision go slack, you can catch a glimpse of the myriad layers of swirling, pulsating creaturehood passing through the landscape, like the famous flying-car traffic jams of The Fifth Element but on an almost infinitely greater scale.

I'm happy to report that we have many and various bees!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book review: Harry V. Jaffa, The Doughface Dilemma

This slim volume, by the legendary Straussian scholar at Claremont, is a masterpiece of political invective, particularly noteworthy since it comes from one conservative exposing the noxious and antidemocratic underpinnings of another--or in this case, of a whole movement.

Although this pamphlet may appear to be nothing more than a salvo in an obscure internecine battle among conservative thinkers--and it is that--it is something more than that.  Jaffa meticulously lays out the case that the American Enterprise Institute strain of neoconservatism takes its philosophy, intentionally or not, from the thought of John C. Calhoun, and is essentially that of the Confederate States of America.  It would be well for progressives to pay close attention to Jaffa, because he outlines the fundamental principles on which liberalism is based.  They may not like the specific policy choices he derives from this examination, but they will find no more pointed dissection of the dominant brand of modern conservatism--and they may find, unsettlingly, that some of their own ideas stem from the same flawed principles.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Lincoln's Thomist argument for the permanence of the Union

Was Lincoln a student of Thomas Aquinas? He offers powerful evidence for it in his First Inaugural Address. 

Here is Aquinas's first proof for the existence of God:

"Further, those things are said to be self-evident which are known as soon as the terms are known, which the Philosopher (1 Poster. iii) says is true of the first principles of demonstration. Thus, when the nature of a whole and of a part is known, it is at once recognized that every whole is greater than its part. But as soon as the signification of the word "God" is understood, it is at once seen that God exists. For by this word is signified that thing than which nothing greater can be conceived. But that which exists actually and mentally is greater than that which exists only mentally. Therefore, since as soon as the word "God" is understood it exists mentally, it also follows that it exists actually. Therefore the proposition "God exists" is self-evident." (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 2, Objection 2)

Here is Lincoln's argument for the permanence of the Union:

"...one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."
  But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity." (First Inaugural Address, Paras. 14-15)

Q.E.D.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Corporate Personhood

Since "corporations are people too, my friend," at what point does a corporation become a person? Is it when it begins doing business? When it is registered? When it is incorporated? Or does it date from the moment of conception--when a group of individuals come together with the idea of forming a company? Why doesn't the pro-life movement weigh in on this crucial question?

Are Cliven Bundy's politics intrinsically racist?

SEAN HANNITY: So now you have a case where Cliven Bundy in an interview that first broke in The New York Times. It is -- his comments are beyond repugnant to me. They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me. And my level of anger is about -- you know, go back and listen to Democrats every election year. They want to say Republicans what, or conservatives what? That conservatives are racist, conservatives hate women, conservatives want old people to die, granny over the cliff. They want young people to fend for themselves. They want, you know, to poison the air, poison the water.
So people that for the right reason saw this case as government overreach now are like branded because of the ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments of Cliven Bundy.

This raises an interesting question. Is there an indissoluble link between Cliven Bundy-style hostility toward government and extreme racism? Is there such a thing as pro-civil rights posse comitatus and militia groups? Naturally, Bundy says he is advancing the work of "Rosa Park" and Martin Luther King; but seriously, are his anti-government ideas intrinsically incompatible with an anti-racist outlook?

Here's a blog that argues the negative.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Four score and nine years ago..."

First Continental Congress
Did the Declaration of Independence make the United States a nation? According to the Constitution, it had already been one for two years.

Article II, Secttion 1 of the Constitution states:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

Washington was elected in 1788. The United States declared its independence in 1776. Fourteen years before that was 1774. Does that mean that Washington was ineligible to be president?


We must assume that Washington was duly qualified to become president. In which case, the Constitution is declaring that the United States came into existence in 1774, with the formation of the first Continental Congress.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John McCain=James Buchanan? Mitt Romney=Stephen A. Douglas?

The lament that the extremist party in American politics failed not because of its extremism, but because it wasn't extreme enough, is an old one. The classic statement of it comes from Charles Chauncey Burr, editor of the rabid Copperhead organ The Old Guard, reviewing "How the Democratic Party Fell to Pieces" in August, 1866:

     "Like the old Whig party, the Democratic party split and went to pieces upon the negro. It was held together by the cohesive power of official plunder for one or two presidential terms, after it had ceased to be a great national party united upon the basis of common principles, although its principles were not so various as its policy. The southern section of the party, under the masterly leadership of Mr. Calhoun, was firmly and tenaciously grounded upon the principles of Jefferson and the Revolutionary fathers, in relation tot he vital principles of State sovereignty and self-government. In theory the northern Democracy adhered to these sacred principles, but practically, it abandoned them in almost every campaign. While its public profession of principle was adverse to the Free-soil and every other type of Abolition heresy, its policy was directed in a manner that was intended to catch Free-soil and Abolition votes. Its campaigns were no longer conducted to vindicate a great principle, but to palliate a growing Abolition sedition. Instead of meeting this sedition boldly and refuting its monstrous delusions, it set about to wheedle and to cheat it. The Democratic stump speakers of the North, were almost invariably in the habit of beginning their harrangues by assuring the crowd, that they 'were as much opposed to slavery as any man.' And in this way the Democratic party itself, gradually became rotten with the sin of Abolitionism. There was occasionally a Democratic speaker, who had the wisdom to foresee that this cowardly and lying policy would, in the end, destroy the Democratic party. But his voice was less than one crying in the wilderness. Thus gradually the Democratic organization of the North ceased to be a great defense of the vital principles of a free government, and became a mere machine to catch votes, by going half-way over to the abominations of Abolitionism itself. And thus while the shallow leaders of the Democracy imagined that they were cunningly absorbing the Abolitionists, the Abolitionists were all the time absorbing them. And in this way a heresy, which was at first despised by every body, except a handful of such wretches as Garrison and Phillips, was gradually made great and powerful, even by the connivance of the northern Democracy itself. Instead of honestly standing up to battle for the truth, it went meanly about fishing for Abolition votes. Those of hte party who had the intelligence and virtue to fall out against the invidious Abolitinizing process, were denounced as 'impractical' and 'indiscreet.' Knavery alone was 'practical,' and cheatery and falsehood 'discretion.'"--The Old Guard, August, 1866, pp. 449-450.