Hugh Hewitt had Mike Huckabee on his show recently. I missed it, but read the transcript and found this gem:
HH: Governor, here’s a contradiction in the book, and I read it very closely. On some places like Page 70, you denounce “yuppie greedheads”. Another place, you’re assaulting the management of Halliburton and Home Depot and Pfizer. And then in another place, you’re palling around at the ranch of Chuck Norris, whose done very well in life, and it’s a very funny chapter, by the way. I wish I’d been there when you were filming this commercial. But when is accumulated wealth okay, and when do you find it a reason to denounce someone like a yuppie greedhead? I mean, what’s the difference between a yuppie greedhead and Chuck Norris?
MH: A couple of fists. That’s the big difference.
MH: Now look…
HH: Oh, you’re good, Governor.
The latest issue of Religion & Liberty contains an essay I wrote for Acton about whether the relationship between social conservatives and libertarians can be saved. A student at my university (Houston Baptist University) read the essay and formulated a number of thoughts on his own. I was so affected by what this undergraduate sent me, I had to pass it along:
I have strong beliefs about limited government, states rights, individual liberty, free-markets, etc. But these beliefs come under fire when I see how one person’s pornography addiction leads to rape after years of unsatisfiable self-gratification, or when innocent children are born fatherless to promiscuous mothers.
There are 2 things I’ve come to realize. First, that every law is a removal of liberty. Second, that every system of law is either based upon the will of man, or based on that which we perceive to be Natural Law. Given this reality, the latter necessitates a belief in higher power, while the former holds no basis for the concept of “inalienable rights” whatsoever.
Without a giver of freedom the only “freedom” is that which is given by he who is stronger to he who is weaker.
Libertarian belief in liberty is founded in the idea that we have a God-given right to such liberty, and in that sense they share commonality with social conservatives.
But Liberty without order is chaos. There’s no doubt, law in our land is based on Natural Law. So the question is not whether we should legislate morality, but to what extent it should be done.
This is a question I still struggle to answer.
The young man’s name is Wesley Gant. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see a young person thinking things through this clearly.
The Acton Institute asked me for an essay for their publication Religion and Liberty a few months back. Here is an excerpt from the piece I gave them:
As the standard bearer for American conservatism for two decades, Ronald Reagan effortlessly embodied fusionism by uniting Mont Pelerin style libertarians, populist Christians, Burkean conservatives, and national security voters into a devastatingly successful electoral bloc. Today, it is nearly impossible to imagine a candidate winning both New York and Texas, but Reagan and that group of fellow travelers did.
In the meantime, the coalition has begun to show strain as the forces pushing outward exceed those holding it together. The Soviet Union, once so great a threat that Whittaker Chambers felt certain he was switching to the losing side when he began to inform on fellow Communist agents working within the United States, evaporated in what seemed like a period of days in the early 1990s. Suddenly, the ultimate threat of despotic big government eased and companions in arms had the occasion to re-assess their relationship. The review of competing priorities has left former friends moving apart. Perhaps nowhere is the tension greater and more consequential than between the socially conservative elements of the group and devotees of libertarianism.
The two groups have little natural tendency to trust each other when not confronted by a common enemy as in the case of the Cold War. Libertarians simply want to minimize the role of government as much as possible. For them, questions of maintaining strong traditional family units and preserving sexual and/or bioethical mores fall into an unessential realm as far as government is concerned. The government, echoing the thought of John Locke, should primarily occupy itself with providing for physical safety of the person while allowing for the maximum freedom possible for pursuit of self-interest.
Social conservatives similarly view the government as having a primary mission of providing safety, but they also look to the law as a source of moral authority. Man-made law, for them, should seek to be in accord to some degree with divine and natural law. Rifts open wide when social conservatives pursue a public policy agenda designed to prevent divorce, encourage marriage over cohabitation, prevent new understandings of marriage from emerging (e.g. gay marriage or polygamous marriage), prevent avant garde developments in biological experimentation, and a variety of other issues outside (from the libertarian perspective) the true mandate of government that cannot seek to define the good, the right, and the beautiful for a community of individuals. To the degree social conservatives seek to achieve some kind of collective excellence along the lines suggested by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, libertarians see a mirror image of the threat posed by big-government leftists.
I teach political science courses at Houston Baptist University in addition to my work as an administrator for the school. I also occasionally speak to young people in other venues. Something that I see now, which was nearly non-existent when I first gained teaching responsibilities as a grad student years ago, is the backside of a bunch of laptops facing me while I lecture.
Speaking to a colleague in the education department, I expressed my concern that students are too distracted by technology to pay attention and learn. She assured me these young people have different brains and can handle the multi-tasking.
I’m not so sure. I imagine that while I’m lecturing the students are partly listening and are dedicating the rest of their attention to online chat, email, facebook, fantasy football, and wedding planning. There may be some evolution of neural pathways, but I find it hard to believe there is any substitute for actually reading material, listening carefully to a lecture, asking questions, and discussing the subject matter without any other distractions.
And forget the immediate question of education in the classroom. Are these the kind of people who can pay sustained attention to public policy debates so they can participate meaningfully in the democratic process?
When I send my son (now 6 and pretty tech savvy) off to school, I may be looking for one that bucks the trend by promising me that he WON’T have a laptop in class.
My university is in the middle of talking about a reform of the core curriculum. When the school was founded, it began with a knock-out liberal arts core that could not have helped but shaped students in a significant way. Over time, like so many other schools we moved to a cafeteria-style core that mainly serves the majors.
People in the professional schools often seem to hold the view that a liberal arts education is unnecessary. An accountant, they might suggest, is a better accountant the more credit hours he has in his discipline. If that comes at the cost of serious liberal arts courses, then the loss is an acceptable one.
I once wholeheartedly agreed with that type of thinking. I thought the liberal arts were useless. However, I slowly became aware of the lacunae in my own learning. Attempting to make up for what I hadn’t learned earlier, I began to study the liberal arts on my own and then at the Ph.D. level. I became a convert. To me, to know something about history, literature, political theory, art, and other matters is to know something about being human. It is to escape the consumeristic spirit of the age and to gain access to wisdom and beauty. My life has been far richer since I learned to appreciate the things I once believed to be useless hobby-horses.
Will the liberal arts transform a scoundrel into a saint? Will they turn a professional into a super-professional? No to both questions. But the study of the liberal arts through careful reading, consideration, writing, and speaking can turn a philistine with the attention span of a gnat into a more thoughtful and perceptive individual who knows what kinds of things happened in the world before he was born. I suspect that’s enough difference to prove telling.
After church, I drove Andrew (6) and Grace (3) to lunch at our traditional spot, a place called Double Dave’s. On the way, Grace sang a song she made up:
God loves us.
God loves us.
God loves us.
Even when we’re bad.
She continued the song for quite a while until Andrew burst out, “Stop singing that song. It’s not even real. It’s just made up.”
In defense of Grace, I countered, “But Andrew, all the songs we sing were made up by somebody at some point or the other.” I was sure he’d stop with that.
He returned fire immediately. “I don’t care. That could never be a real song. I bet it would never even be recorded!”
That busted me up and finished the argument. Grace and I laughed while Andrew kept up his serious face. Happily, she was unoffended by his criticism.
Then, we ate lunch at the pizza buffet. Grace stayed at the table and mowed through dessert pizza while Andrew pretended to play video games for which he had no money. She dropped a piece of sticky, cherry pizza on the seat of our booth. She started to pick it up. I told her not to because now it was dirty. She kept moving the piece toward her mouth.
I exclaimed, “No, Grace. It’s dirty!”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because that seat is where people put their bottoms,” I said gravely.
She had no words. The piece of cherry pizza stopped moving toward her mouth. She now looked at me with an expression of pure horror.
End of discussion.
When I began my doctoral studies at Baylor University in 2003, I was full of excitement over the 2012 vision cast by the university’s president Robert Sloan. I was also interested to meet Francis Beckwith, who had just joined the program where I’d be studying. In my mind, I was going to a place where a renaissance in Christian higher education would occur. New leadership. New scholars rising. I felt as though I was joining a great historical movement.
About five minutes after I got there, it began falling apart. News vans parked all over the campus. The presidency of Robert Sloan was under siege, as was the vision for a great Christian university. On a smaller scale, similar things were happening in my department. Francis Beckwith came under attack almost immediately from members of an old and distinguished Baylor family. I also became aware of dynamics within our department that would cause trouble for Beckwith when it came time to apply for tenure. To his credit, Beckwith never believed me when I told him there were forces conspiring to deny his tenure. He found out the hard way. He also fought tenaciously to win the tenure he deserved. And he eventually prevailed. You can get Beckwith’s story on the affair (including a few references to yours truly) in his Return to Rome.
It was in this boiling cauldron of university politics where I found myself trying to gain the notoriously elusive doctoral credential, the union card for college faculty. I began with Beckwith as my adviser and my future dissertation chair, but as I have noted above, I realized he might be tied up in other difficulties. I had to figure out how to move forward. Who could guide me? Who could I count on to make sure I was treated fairly? The choice was simple: Barry Hankins. Hankins was one of my first professors at Baylor. The simplest thing I can say by way of describing him is that he struck me immediately as an intellectually honest man. He reinforced that impression many times over during the next few years. I was terrifically blessed by his willingness to help me.
Hankins has been a prolific author during the past few years. I had the privilege of serving as a research assistant for him while he was writing Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. Hankins is a scholar studying Schaeffer, while I’m more of a sold-out fan. His treatment of the revolutionary Christian activist preacher and thinker is highly informative. I learned many things I hadn’t known before. The big difference I had with Hankins while he was writing was that I saw more of a continuous Schaeffer while Hankins saw a great voice fall off stride a bit in a detour with the religious right of the late 70′s and early 80′s. Hankins’ point of view is probably the more well-accepted one.
I strongly recommend his book. Working with him on it hardly felt like the usual grad school drudgery. Hankins is an academic with a gift for direct, simple expression. I consume his books. Put his Francis Schaeffer on your shelf next to his masterful Uneasy in Babylon which was written about modern Southern Baptists. Once you buy a book by Hankins, you’ll quickly want another.
Great lines from Francis Beckwith on the conservative movement:
Like many conservatives of my generation (b. 1960), I came of age when there was a vibrancy and excitement for the works of authors such as Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, Frederick Hayek, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Henry Hazlitt, Hadley Arkes, and George Gilder. Our political heroes included Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, Reagan, and Thatcher.
Sadly, this present generation is rarely put in contact with these leading lights and their works. Instead, young conservatives as well as young liberals are tutored almost exclusively by blogs and bombast, by “stars” whose command of the intellectual roots of conservatism is an inch deep and a mile wide. We’ve come from “Don’t immanentize the eschaton” to “Sean, you’re a great American.”
I agree with my former professor fully in this regard.
I was speaking to a group of students (mostly conservatives) yesterday. Like me, they were a little disturbed about losing the election. There are many good reasons to have reservations about Obama. For me, the most notable has been the friendliness of his voting pattern toward abortion.
However, it would be a mistake morally, spiritually, and intellectually to be against him right from the start. We have to hope and pray that he will be a good and successful president. I can think of few things better than for him to be president for several years and for all to agree that he had served wisely and well.
I pray God will be much with him as he makes his first decisions.
I pray President Obama will search his own soul carefully.
I pray for his success to the benefit of the American people.
Something else. It knocked me off kilter to not have a white man be president. I mean that in a good way. I went to Target where a gracious African-American woman opened up a register to allow me to check out more quickly. I looked at her while I paid for my purchases and thought, “For the first time ever, the president of the United States is one of you rather than one of me.” This has to be a very good time for African-Americans. I am glad for them. This should help heal some legitimately sore old wounds.
Let him be a great statesman from this day on.
Back when I was a student of political science, we spent a lot of time discussing the bell curve theory of American politics. The idea was simple. Americans are supposedly arrayed along an ideological spectrum. The vast majority of voters are in the center, while small numbers lurk out at the edges. So, the theory goes, the winning party will be the one that finds a candidate to plausibly occupy the center position.
I think that theory is out the window.
There is no way rational voters could have looked at the choice offered by John McCain and Barack Obama and concluded that Barack was closer to the ideological center than McCain. Obama had no record of cooperation with Republicans. McCain has passed major legislative packages with Democrats. Obama has never broken with his party other than to go left of his party. McCain has regularly broken with his party to move in with centrist coalitions.
Yet, McCain was beaten soundly.
I suspect that voters are not really rational centrists.
I think voters are highly emotional and I think they are often looking for a narrative they can understand. Barack Obama appealed to both of those things. Disgust with Bush as the author of a long, expensive Iraq adventure that even if effective, feels like castor oil going down. Anger at the economic problems that seem to have no bottom of late. And the narrative, of course, is the candidate of hope. The one who can bring us together, heal wounds, and importantly, who is not a Republican like George W. Bush.
Goodbye bell curve. May political consultants and party bosses everywhere cut you loose.