Three Political Principles

by Mark T. Mitchell on November 18, 2009 · 46 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

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Kearneysville, WV. This is a crucial moment in our nation’s history. People of all political stripes recognize that something is deeply amiss. Obama ran a successful campaign championing the idea of change even though the particulars were rather vague. And now, nearly a year into his administration, Obama’s favorable numbers are falling. The change he promised has, so far, turned out to be more of the same: More government intrusion. A continuation of a multi-faceted war with no end in sight. More attempts to spend our way out of debt, despair, and general fatigue.

The dissatisfaction is real, and if it is properly directed, this may, indeed, be a window of opportunity for a restoration of the republic that has, over the last century, drifted steadily toward empire and the decadence to which empire gives birth. Yet, in this moment of possibility, it is good to recall certain basic political principles that can guide reforms and help avoid pitfalls.

First, power always tends toward consolidation. Try to remember the last time you heard of government power shrinking, or of government officials voluntarily limiting their own power, or of power devolving to states, local jurisdictions, and to the people. Of course, Cincinnatus famously walked away from the seat of power, and our own Cincinnatus, George Washington, did the same. But even while individual leaders can set a powerful example by resisting the temptation of power, the apparatus of government continues apace, gathering power to itself.

The only means of resisting this continual accumulation of power is by cultivating vigorous alternative centers of power. Bertrand de Jouvenel called these “make-weights.” A make-weight may appear in the form of a church, a labor union, or strong state and local governments. Without make-weights to push back against the expansive pressure of the central state, centralization of power will continue to the detriment of all.

Second, war invariably facilitates the centralization of power. This is an historical fact and it is intuitively easy to grasp. War, or the threat thereof, forces the state to mobilize its resources to meet the enemy. The efficient mobilization of resources is best realized when the central command is strengthened. There cannot be competing centers of power when a war is being waged. Make-weights will invariably be forced to bow to the necessity of the survival of the state.

The centralizing dynamic of war should concern every American. The twentieth-century saw more war than peace, and even those few moments when the dogs of war were not tearing each other to bits, a cold war and an arms race provided a compelling justification for granting increased powers to the federal government. It is no coincidence that this same century witnessed a breath-taking expansion of centralized political power.

The fall of the Soviet Union provided a brief respite from the fear of communist expansion, but 9-11 inaugurated a new age: a war on terror. This war that, according to Dick Cheney, could last for a century. This war, President Bush once suggested, would rid the world of evil-doers. Such rhetoric should have made every right-thinking American shudder with fear. A war against evil is an endless war and an endless war is ideally suited to the consolidation of power even if the men and women presiding over that war do not intend that inauspicious outcome.

Third, there is an inverse relationship between the number of laws necessary to maintain order and the willingness of citizens to regulate themselves. People require order above all else. That order will either be self-imposed or imposed from the outside. When a people are self-regulated, less laws will be needed to achieve the order needed for a society to exist. When individuals refuse to regulate themselves, laws will be imposed to fill in for this failure.

The grand liberal experiment of the last two centuries is predicated on idea of liberation from all natural and imposed constraints. The internal checks on actions—call them mores, habits, virtues—have suffered a continual buffeting by the forces of liberalism intent on crushing every constraint and obligation that is not the product of individual will. Even the virtue of self-control chafes against the logic of this religion of absolute liberation. But self-control, as well as the other virtues, are necessary, for they acknowledge limits and train us to be content within the limits imposed by nature, by moral truth, and ultimately by God. These virtues are the very elements needed to limit the flights of libertine fancy to which the unencumbered will is susceptible.

Yes, an important moment of opportunity may be upon us. Yet the impediments to a constructive and beneficial change are many. In light of these three political axioms, it seems that three general imperatives can be derived, imperatives that may not be sufficiently specific to form a political platform, but nevertheless are necessary for the success of any program championing a robust freedom of individuals and their communities:

Bolster make-weights. End the war. Cultivate virtue.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Justin Isaac November 18, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Prof Mark,

I like your comments, and agree. But a question: in your opinion, is it possible to cultivate virtue outside of the ecclesia – that is, the Christian church and community? I tend to believe that it is not, and when it is attempted, the question ultimately becomes in the mind of those outside of their ecclesiastic community “Why should I?” If they are not self-regulating because they believe in the authority of God’s Word and the Church, then from where would that self-regulation come from if not from the outside? There are perhaps theological implications here that we do not have time for, but I’m just wondering what cultivating virtue looks like, if indeed it is outside of the Church.

Thanks,

Justin

avatar ASKlein November 18, 2009 at 3:31 pm

“The dissatisfaction is real, and if it is properly directed, this may, indeed, be a window of opportunity for a restoration of the republic that has, over the last century, drifted steadily toward empire and the decadence to which empire gives birth.”

I’m confused as to your use of empire. The past century has certainly seen a massive growth of American bases, battleships and whatnot the world over, “soft empire” if you will, as opposed to “hard empire,” the claiming of physical geography, as in, the vast expansion of the United States in the 1800s, not the past century. If I’m quibbling I apologize, but do you mean to imply that the physical expansion of the US in the 19th century is preferable to the expansion of military power in the 20th? Are not the two impossible to consider separately?

avatar Howard Merrell November 18, 2009 at 3:35 pm

“Bolster make-weights. End the war. Cultivate virtue.”

AMEN! At least 2 out of 3, maybe all 3.

I’ve been looking over the banister for a few weeks now. You folk leaned back in the chairs drinking coffee on these brick fall days have been good enough to even let me get in the conversation.

Since you are one of pillars of the porch, I figure this might be a good time to ask a couple of questions, and make a couple of observations that might encourage the giving of more information. You being a pillar, and all, you can ignore me. It is your porch.

What are you folk doing? I have read the “About” section, and I’ve read a good many posts and comments. I think I get the gist of localism–though I also notice that not everyone even agrees with that name–but I’m still not sure what you are doing.

Are you just providing a place, for folk who agree enough to show up, to bounce ideas around, hoping that a usable agenda bubbles up? Then someone who has the ability and resources can mount the appropriate political campaign, revolution, or whatever.
If this is the case, I wonder if the forum works very well. Often ideas hurtle past one another at great speed. Should there be a “We agree on” list?

Are you content to be a group of very smart, well-read people who talk to each other? If so, I would say in many ways this blog is a success. The frequent pattern I have observed is:
Excellent article,
Followed by several Kudos,
Sometimes followed by other comments of an “in the club” nature.
I intend no judgment, here. There is nothing wrong with people getting together to talk about matters concerning which they agree and share a passion. Is that what you want to do? It sometimes appears it is.

Are you seeking to recruit, persuade, or, in any way, build a movement? In addition to the observations above . . .
There are likely people who haven’t had the privilege of going to a first rate college, who would be allies if they were able enter the conversation. Far be it from me to suggest any restraint on those who may be intoxicated with the exhilaration of their own verbosity, but would it be possible to have a Porch 101?

Directly, related to your post today, Mark:

There are a great many of us who have been involved in the make-weight business, all our lives. He wasn’t the only one to have said it, but Colson’s thought about letting the church be the church is relevant, here. Jesus spoke of salt and light. There are other entities in our culture that help fill this need, I’m just most familiar with the church.
Hey, it’s just me, and I’m still standing in the yard, but perhaps it would be more profitable see if other “make-weighter”s are co-belligerents rather than ranting about, the quality of their religious art, the kind of cars they drive, what kind of coffee they drink on Sunday morning, or what the building in which they meet for worship used to be.
Again I ask, “What are you trying to do?”

Concerning your second point:
Is there a just war?
Maybe it is a prejudice that I have brought to this yard, but I sometimes think I hear a background conversation coming from this porch that goes something like, “This world is a mess. I figure it is always darkest just before the lights go totally out. I’m going to make sure that me and mine (using that word in a most restrictive way) are OK. I don’t much care about the rest.”
If the FPR agenda is “there is never a war worth fighting,” that is fine. Just say so. Maybe you have and I missed it. If that is the case, though, I’m not sure it is consistent with Principle #3. See Jesus’ post on the Good Samaritan.

#3, What virtue?
Some of the posts on this blog make light of what a good many folk call virtue. Is it possible to pick the virtues, cafeteria style, that will lead to the outcome one would want? Or, in order to have a virtue that will True-Grit style charge into the face of the opposition, is necessary that one must submit to an ethical system given by One mightier than we?

avatar Tom November 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Bolster make-weights. End the war. Cultivate virtue.

These are certainly laudable goals, and would fit in well with other facets of a Front Porch Agenda. There have been other ideas announced on the Porch, too, some more realistic than others. And it is all good and fine to discuss what a Front Porch Agenda would consist of. But I think there is a more fundamental issue that Porchers would do well to resolve before worrying about the specific agenda items.

What is needed is an articulated strategy for productively combating what Gene Healy at Reason phrased as The Cult of the Presidency. I would expand this problem to include what Mr. Mitchell has identified as the unwillingness of “the people” to “govern themselves,” so to speak.

Put another way, it will do no good to come up with a Front Porch Agenda, even a comprehensive and internally consistent one, if those pushing the agenda do not have a plan for dealing with the realities in our politics and culture which make acceptance of such an agenda all but impossible for most people. Until we find a way of making the agenda items palatable to voters largely uncomfortable with the emphases that would necessarily permeate a Front Porch Agenda (such as self governance, etc.), such an agenda is bound to fail.

As an humble observer of the Porch with a crappy education and really no ability to formulate solutions myself, I have no real recommendation on how Porchers should go about this task. Certainly adopting effective rhetoric would be apart of it. My point here is merely to point out what I think is a more fundamental problem than the development of a Front Porch Agenda.

avatar Tom November 18, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Hmm… that second link didn’t work. Let’s try that again.
The Cult of the Presidency

In case that still doesn’t work, the url is: http://reason.com/archives/2008/05/12/the-cult-of-the-presidency

avatar John Médaille November 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm

I wish I could be a sanguine as you are about there being a “window.” I think the battle is lost. Which means, paradoxically, that the battle is won. The only thing holding up the Republic has been the residue of virtue that kept in check the meaner passions. But we have burned all that moral capital, which means we will shortly burn through our financial capital, if we haven’t already done so.

The future of the Republic? Look to the past, to Europe of the 20′s and 30′s. Figure out what we should do in such circumstances. “History doesn’t repeat itself,” as Mark Twain noted, “but it rhymes.”

avatar Mark T. Mitchell November 18, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Here are a few brief responses to some very good questions (in fact, several of these questions deserve, and hopefully will receive, full treatment in future pieces).

Justin and Howard,
When I speak of virtue I’m thinking in terms of the traditional cardinal virtues that have been held up by Christians and pagans alike. They are four: justice, courage (fortitude), temperance (self-control), and prudence (good judgment). Justin, since these were first articulated by Plato and Aristotle, I don’t think they are completely dependent on the existence of a church. What the church adds is a clearer understanding of human nature, human destiny, and furthermore the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which the ancient pagans did not imagine. Howard, it is my conviction that churches today would benefit greatly from a careful study of these virtues and, more broadly, from a study of the idea of virtue itself. It means, after all, “excellence.” So when we are talking about virtue we are speaking of excellences of character.

ASKlein,
Empire is, as you indicate, a word with shades of meaning. What I mean is that the US has over-extended itself in terms of foreign policy. Our military presence extends around the world. We seek to exert influence wherever we are. You are right that we are not seeking land but we are surely involved in entangling alliances that would make George Washington blanch. Our aspirations to democratize the Middle East is only the latest example of the hubris that is entailed in this empire of global democracy or what ever it is called.

Howard,
Yes, I do think there is such a thing as a just war. That’s why I did not end by saying “end all war” but “end the war.” Sometimes war, despite the centralizing effects, is unavoidable. An open-ended war against “terror” is a justification for endless militarism and consolidation of power. There will always be evil in the world. Terror will always exist. Declaring war on such abstractions is an ill-fated project that can never be successful.

Howard,
FPR 101? Well, I hope that most of what is written here is accessible to the non-specialist; although, there will be some pieces that treat subjects in a way that is pitched fairly high. Academics sometimes do that you know. But if something is not clear, by all means ask in the com. boxes. Teachers want to be understood, so raise you hand if something is confusing.

Howard and Tom,
You both ask variations on the same question: what is FPR trying to do? Very good question. It’s one of the things we are discussing behind the scenes. Mind you FPR is less that 9 months old, so please don’t be impatient. One thing we are doing and must do is articulate the kinds of core principles that draw us together. In so doing, we hope to reach other like-minded folks who share an affinity with what we are saying. This is essential. It forces us to think through the ideas we are advancing and with time it is attracting more fellow travelers. At the same time, you are right that this is not enough. We are, as I said, discussing next steps. We are not planning on simply sitting on the porch and jawing; although, I hope that will always be an important part of what we do. There is other work to be done. In recent weeks you may have noticed pieces discussing possible political agendas. This is an important step. More to come.

John,
If I thought the day was lost, I wouldn’t be spending so much time working this site.

avatar John Médaille November 18, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Mark, I’m extremely optimistic, more so than I have ever been at any time in my life. I’m just not optimistic about saving the Republic, which in any case disappeared some time ago and is only now discovering the fact. We won’t elect a president, but we may be able to build some local structures capable of surviving anything. We could actually build a Front Porch Republic, just not with the Republican party. Or the other one.

avatar Stewart K. Lundy November 19, 2009 at 1:10 am

Howard (and Tom),

You make a valid point about “FPR 101.” Much of the language of FPR is plain English, but clearly means more than our idle talk grants such vocabulary. Much of FPR refers to other ideas fleshed out elsewhere on FPR, which is appropriate. The difficulty is entering a 9-month conversation. It’s not that the vocabulary is difficult, it’s just that one doesn’t know the context of the conversation.

A newcomer to FPR is like a student after his first Physics class entering a conversation with professional physicists. He might be able to grasp some of the ideas, and after enough time, many things are brought to light… but at first, it’s largely incomprehensible. FPR has special meanings for words, and there is no glossary for any of them. The problem people encounter here is entering a conversation after 9 months of discussion. For a discussion to advance (hopefully), a discussion builds on past discussions.

Many statements on FPR appear undefended within isolated articles. They are often perfectly defended elsewhere, but what would a sincere liberal do if he were reading FPR? Would he even be able to engage with the vocabulary of FPR without going through flash cards? Even the words “place” or “limits” and certainly “liberty” are loaded with very particular definitions.

A glossary or an “FPR 101″ would probably be helpful for converting minds to FPR. FPR for the most part preaches to the choir, which isn’t a bad thing. Choir members need to hear the gospel too. The tendency of any movement which seeks to find “like minds” is to become hermetically sealed and self-referential. A closed conversation, though, is not what FPR is going for. The more FPR engages outside sources directly and attempts to appeal directly to “non-believers” the more accessible it will become. Rather than attracting closet believers, it might help to reconsider the audience of FPR’s articles: liberals and heathens. How can more people be convinced of FPR’s convictions?

For example, concepts like centralization, big government, big business, empire, capitalism, distributism, limits, place, liberty, etc. should probably each be defined thoroughly with an explanation as to why each is good or bad with appropriate arguments. Centralization? I’m completely opposed to it, but this article doesn’t say why it’s a bad thing. What does this do for the average everyday reader who wants to know why centralization is bad? I almost think a document defining each of these specialized concepts would help make the FPR conversation more accessible. It certainly isn’t that concepts like “place” or “limits” are anything but general in general, but here they certainly are.

Kudos are not needed. Questions are needed. Many of the comments on FPR to a new post are precisely along the lines Howard describes: “Excellent post!” or “Kudos!” followed by a one-liner. I would implement a zero-tolerance policy for such comments–they do not contribute to the conversation. In fact, comments here should be critical, not (as many seem) sycophantic. I consider all short comments supporting or opposing an article as abuse. Such comments turn an authentic conversation into a feelgood festival.

FPR’s move towards concise principles and agendas provides a direct basis for interaction without those outside the FPR “faith”, even with the weaknesses I mentioned above.

Tom is absolutely correct that FPR needs to adjust its rhetoric properly. Speaker, subject, and audience must be considered if FPR is to attract not only “like minded” people, but to create “like minded” people. For the most part, FPR reads as a Calvinist preacher to a Calvinist congregation. The rhetoric needs to be more… evangelical?–at least in the sense of taking the good news to others.

avatar Caleb Stegall November 19, 2009 at 8:54 am

Lundy, you’re the man!

avatar D.W. Sabin November 19, 2009 at 10:24 am

Farmer Stegall Esq.,
Stop Complimenting Lundy dammit, yer supposed to be critical.

Nice outburst Lundy.
Your comments on the extended conversation here and an FPR 101 are illuminating and remind me of the philosophers of the French Enlightenment and their encyclopedia. Perhaps we could find a few encyclopedists to come forward. However, I’m not sure cultivating “like-mindedness” is quite a virtue.
Some of the best comment threads here stem from not just unlike-mindedness but downright carnivorous disagreement and in that cloudy discussion, bits of light are forced through and a bit of crow must be eaten. A few attaboys here and there tend to lighten the fight club. If it were all that, I would agree with you fully but I don’t think it is to an abusive degree.

Mitchell,
Interestingly enough, your “make-weights” are embedded deeply into the machinery of the Republic we already have…or once had. The Separation of Powers, another of those “charming conceits” ridiculed of late remains the best rigging to set the sails right and capture the most air.

As to this notion that stating opposition to the current war theaters and strategy makes one a moon-eyed pacifist…, bollocks. This tired old charge has had the media flummoxed roundly and the ham-handed prosecution….by the Civilians, not the military….of this ongoing effort remains substantially unexplored. We have here a non-state enemy that has the advantage of asymmetric warfare and the powers that be in this country think they can run a State-Centered war on several fronts, designed by a Madison Avenue, like it was an advertising campaign. While they do this, they pull out the biggest rubber check book in history AND enthusiastically export …or more aptly put it…”surrender” domestic industry under the rubric of Free Trade. In this context, opposing the current conduct of the war hardly appears pacifist, it seems downright survival-oriented.

Medaille,
As a fellow cynic, I tend to agree but I also have to raise the old issue of the vicarious agora and how there are two Americas…the faux one our media projects and the other of the individual citizens. The media, of course, pulls the the latter around by a nose ring but, call me a pollyanna , it seems to me that the citizenry is better than it seems, despite all manner of dysfunctions. How then, do we grab the nose ring for a while as Lundy and Merrell suggest? Seems a vain question but maybe it aint.

avatar John Willson November 19, 2009 at 10:43 am

With all due respect to Howard, if what we are trying to do were quite so clear, there would be little reason for FPR to exist. What was Buckley trying to do in the middle 50s? He and his little band knew that they wanted to slow history down a little, but there was much to talk about, and lots of times argue about. I’m not even sure that the people who started The New Republic in 1914 had all that clear an idea of what they wanted to do, although they knew it was somehow to take hold of history and channel it into Progress. I’m agin’ an FPR 101. Just keep talkin’.

While I’m at it (talkin’, that is) perhaps it is useful to remind ourselves as many times as we have to that the most important “make-weight” (after the cult, that is) in any society is family. Allan Carlson has been a hero for many years in his persistence and gentlemanly good humor, showing what is at stake here. In many ways the most successful of the progressive wars against “Place, Limits, and Liberty” has been against the family. Progressives know instinctively that if you can separate the generations and keep alive nature’s tensions between the sexes and make marriage into serial polygamy (whatever the gender arrangements), a whole lot else falls into place.

avatar Howard Merrell November 19, 2009 at 11:39 am

It’s nice to be respected, though I don’t see why it is due to me.
Big Amen on the family, John.
As an illustration: I just, in the last 10 minutes, had a conversation with my sister, related to our mom’s care. She lives with my sister. That used to be the norm. Now it is, far too often, one of the functions of family that has been out-sourced to a government service/program/right. At the same time the “what-we-will-do-for-you” grew, the “what-we-will-take-from-you” grew a little faster. Not only has the culture changed, encouraging that shift, the resources that could have been used for family-care have been taken, thus making the accceptance of the shift almost a necessity. That is true, more-so, with children. Until the “It’s-the-government’s-job,” and the “we-need-more-money-to-do-the-job,” combine can be reversed. There is often a double price that must be paid by those who do it right. Just ask home-schoolers.
One of the virtues that must be upheld is the special place–I would say “sanctity” of the family. It is God’s basic unit of human organization–predating both government and the church.

Thanks for the reminder.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 19, 2009 at 11:45 am

Sabinski,
You’re going to have to ramp up your screed against the previous regime, the old canards are losing their appeal. Please remember we now have a commie-Dem elected primarily because he, serendipitously, is the product of miscegenation (and wasn’t George Bush). And now we suffer the effects of having commie-Dems controlling the White House and both houses of the legislature, resulting in unemployment reaching Depression era levels, a collapsing economy, and commie-Dems about to seize the medical bidness (which here at FPR we’ve hardly even talked about…and I don’t hear jack-squat from you!!!!!!). Now think about it, your about to surrender your health care to the gummint, THE GUMMINT for cryin’ out loud, and I don’t hear a word..no blogs..no comments!

And, while I’ve been giving brother Sabin the cudgel, the truth is none of our illustrious bloggers has spent much time on any critique of the current regime whose only expertise seems to be in aborting American children and spending money for their own political gain.

So what is it? ARE WE NUTS! Do we just not give a damn? Is any criticism of His Enlightenness verboten? Are we fearful? Help me out here!

My goodness, if FPR is going to have any depth than shouldn’t there be some critique of the current regime? I mean I read the constant critiques about the evils capitalism and not a word about our socialist friends…bullcrap!

avatar Justin Isaac November 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Prof Mark,

Thanks, that clears it up for me.

-Justin

avatar Tom November 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I tend to agree with Mr. Willson, though I appreciate Mr. Lundy’s kind response. The Porch isn’t the place for an FPR 101-type effort to “convert the masses.” Here, Porchers refine each other with fire. My original point was merely that as Porchers start to translate their ideas into any sort of political action, they would do well to consider how they are going to approach, outside the Porch, those to whom their ideas are largely foreign.

In another context on the Porch I have defended the idea that this is a place for putting matters in a way that most people would not respond well to. Audiences do differ, and while a minority of people respond well to the current FPR model (a working hypothesis, but go with me), the majority don’t. But this is an important minority to influence in exactly the way you are; they are a sort of second line of offense in the wars you wage. So don’t change that.

avatar Justin Isaac November 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm

To what Mr. Bob said earlier,

I tend to agree…at the risk of implicating myself. But, if the purpose of these discussions is to in fact find a right path through the brambles and death traps of the current situation, it will require some fiery speech. Why leave it up to the Hannitys and Limbaughs and Becks of the world when (I believe) the voice of FPRers around the country is more intelligible (although maybe not as fun). We have a view to history that they don’t have – or talk about – that would be beneficial for all. To me, it seems that there needs to be discussions addressing current situations and the implications of those for us: e.g. what is happening with the current Health Care bill in the Senate – as well as the high view discussions that are also found here. Don’t get me wrong, I love this blog and the authors and the discussions found here. The best place on the web in my opinion, but there’s always room for improvement. Maybe I’m totally off, but this is just the humble opinion of a lowly man tryin’ to find a better way and keep the mind a’movin’ in the right direction.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 12:40 pm

i would add to the idea of war, the idea of health care, and whatever other slew of issues the government uses to support massive spending without end.

i find it ironic that most of the far left liberal supporters of health care don’t realize they’re going to create the medical-industrial complex, the close cousin of the military-industrial complex. the same fears of the titans of capital staging wars for profit will most likely be realized in the new form of people getting government issue prozac in the mail. we’ll go home and hook up to our machines that keep us healthy and watch television (that’s if the government gets there without going broke first). i’m reminded of the line from radiohead: a pig…in a cage…on antibiotics.

so, now i’m game for the fight. while we may have already lost, there is no shame in going down fighting. and in the meantime, we do have the benedictine option if all else goes to hell. hopefully the internet will still be up and running in one form or another.

avatar ASKlein November 19, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Micah, how is there not already a massive medical-industrial complex? Drug companies receive protectionist policies enjoyed by no other industry except the military, and spend billions of dollars on lobbying and the like. I don’t think health care reform as it stands now — dials down the deficit, doesn’t really address core problems — is going to tilt the balance one way or the other.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 1:21 pm

asklein

you’re absolutely right that in many ways, we’re already at the medical-industrial complex. i DO think that it cements the position that drug companies already enjoy for the most part. and that, to me, is one major way that the current “reform” tilts the balance (is balance even the right word?).

i do think what berry said about power and money is important here. paraphrased: those who make the most money in the economy don’t make it by virtue of meeting a market need, but by virtue of power. to bring in a completely different philosopher of power, i think foucault was right to identify health as one means of power (a nebulous, faceless force, in his opinion). there is something more insidious, though, about the current proposals. in madness and civilization, foucault says power controlled essentially through this idea of madness, which itself created an idea of sanity (associated with power structures, of course). i think there’s something much more insidious about the type of power that health exerts now…many people are afraid of their own bodies and are seeking salvation from (who else?) the government (power). they’re afraid their bodies will betray them the same way they’re afraid of another 9/11.

to me the only thing that will change the fundamental tone of the health care debate will be a change in the way we accord power to doctors and medical scientists. at this point, i believe they control us through encouraging a fear of our own bodies. this is not to say we should become stoics, accept the pain, grit our teeth and bear it. at this point, i would look to kohak:

“following the strategy of ordinary pain, humans can try to escape grief, but all the strategies of escape share a common trait: the price is our humanity. humans are beings who can remember and bear responsibility for their acts and enter in shared feelings and understanding into the life of the other. they can escape the burden of pain only by giving up those traits–committing, in effect, a suicide in body, mind, or spirit. even forgetting cannot but be a self-destruction: a human escapes the grief of loss only by surrendering the truth, beauty, and goodness of what is lost. the more intensely he remains human, fully human, the more insistently does the pain go with him.” (the embers and the stars)

kohak does not believe penicillin is evil, but that we cannot understand the good of penicillin unless we remember the pain it saved us from. i would argue that we’ve lost all context for a correct understanding of our own bodies and what is “healthy” and that we’re living in the aftermath of that forgetfulness. if we take kohak to be true, we’re even willing to sacrifice aspects of our humanity to avoid this pain.

a change in the power we accord to doctors and medical scientists, however, cannot come from a centralized power structure like the government. central power is only able to dictate brute models that we must conform ourselves to. on the other hand, instructing virtue, engaging in the great tradition…while the leap might seem grand…i think are the only ways we can begin to understand BOTH our bodies and our souls in a way that is nuanced–adequate for the individual and robust enough for society–and not simply an abstraction.

avatar rex November 19, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Mark:

“…power always tends toward…”

“The only means of resisting…”

“..war invariably facilitates the centralization of power…”

When I read absolute declarations as the snippets above I tend to balk. Always, only, and invariably, are very difficult words to use in political science. For example, war only tends to centralize if the state survives. In Iraq the make-weights of tribalism are destroying the state.

I don’t disagree with your points as trends, and I quite enjoyed the essay, but using absolute terms makes the arguments seem dogmatic.

Stewart K. Lundy:

Kudos are redundant if an audience homogeneous. I do not believe this is the case here. This the only “political” blog I can stomach. The diversity of opinions around a central theme is one of the attractions. (I mean the good kind of diversity, not the “Either you celebrate diversity or you are wrong” kind.) I came to find the FPR through the Ivan Illich article few months back. When E.F. Schumacher was being discussed a few weeks later I stuck around. These authors are being reexamined by people that would completely tune you out if you described yourself as a conservative. Similarly many people dismiss progressive thinkers as wrong about most everything because of a label. Noam Chomsky has been advocating states rights and calling for corporate responsibility for decades, yet how many conservatives have read anything of his?

Please do not create a FPR glossary. Believing you understand an idea based on a wrote definition is one of the reasons we are where we are at. Words like right, left, progressive, liberal, conservative, have lost meaning through casual use and attempts to manipulate public opinion. When a nation has been lied to for as long as we have, this is tough stuff to get your brain around, having crib notes is technology that will lessen the depth of understanding.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell November 19, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Micah,
You’ve read “The Embers and the Stars”! Wonderful book. It deserves a much wider audience.

Rex,
Bertrand de Jouvenel has done a pretty good job of showing the effects of war, if, as you rightly point out, the state survives. See his outstanding book “On Power.”

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 1:37 pm

doctor mitchell, i was actually introduced to the book through travis, who took your modernity class at phc. reading kierkegaard (in your philosophy class) and then kohak later on my own, really helped lift me out of a pretty awful depression at phc.

as far as a wider audience for kohak, i’m working on it…i taught a philosophy class to gifted high schoolers this summer, and i gave them portions of kohak to read. they really dug it.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm

support for kohak from dave ramsey, of all people…though perhaps he wouldn’t understand it that way… he’s got some great comments in here on how failure and pain are actually good things (1 minute in):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMRUBw3NOV8&NR=1

incidentally, i think the front porch should take a few cues from ramsey and promote his ideas as a very practical move that individuals can make toward financial independence. to me that is one of the first steps one should make in the front porch “revolution” (if such a word is appropriate). while he uses phrases like “capitalism” a little loosely, in my opinion, i think essentially he’s getting at some of the same ideas: a moral free market, where virtue is the ultimate judge, not the dollar.

the only thing i’m not sure about is the stock market and investment, which is a large part of ramsey’s financial strategy. i know that i must invest after getting out of debt, or else the money i save today will be worthless 10 or 20 years from now. but i wonder if there are “crunchy investments” that i could make. perhaps this is something for the front porch to tackle? i would love to see a post on “crunchy investment strategies.”

i suppose building up oneself so that one is not dependent upon the whims of abstract market forces that have very real consequences may be the first step: making your house efficient so that energy prices don’t affect you; living close to your food, for the time when food distribution chains may/will break down…

that’s all i can think of so far…ideas?

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

i should qualify that i don’t necessarily agree with everything ramsey says about wal-mart, etc. i believe that ramsey, for all his “oklahoma wisdom” falls into the statistics trap, thinking sometimes in vast abstractions. nonetheless, his principles for getting out of debt can’t be argued with…mostly because they’re common sense.

avatar John Médaille November 19, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Wow, what a great conversation. This is precisely the kind of conversation one comes to FPR to hear. I am surprised that some find an insufficient critique of the current regime; it seems to me that nearly every post is a critique, without indulging the fantasy that the previous ruler was all that much different or that the “alternative” really changes anything. And in the context of this conversation, even the appearance of the term “miscegenation” sounds merely quaint. But then, as a French-German-Jew, I suppose I am the ultimate “miscegenate.” As my half-Jewish father would say of my half-German mother, “She’s half German and half human.” Now THAT’S miscegenation.

“Medical-Industrial Complex.” Great description. Even Eisenhower couldn’t see that coming. What is surprising is that most people can’t see it even though it is right in front of them.

Getting out of debt is certainly an FPR thing to do, although I don’t know that “investing” in the stock market is. The stock market, being a market of “used” shares really isn’t investing at all. Only 5% of the funds go to IPOs, that is, to actually creating new jobs and new goods. Better to invest in your local community. Not that would be FPR finance.

If getting out of debt is FPR, so is getting into debt, so far in that you can’t possibly repay it. That would be immoral if you were borrowing real money from real people. If you are just borrowing credits which the banks create at the stroke of a pen or by pressing a few buttons on a computer, have they really surrendered anything that needs to be repaid?

Wonderful comments on medicine as the fear of our own bodies. Indeed, fear of something dominates all our political discussions; I get a dozen emails a day, from both right and left sources, asking me to be fearful of this and that, and of course to donate, donate, and donate.

Kohak sounds interesting; I have “The Embers and the Stars” on order.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 3:31 pm

i agree that investing in the stock market is probably indulging the very abstractions that got us into the problems in the first place. it was interesting to see that even a guy like dave ramsey only does business with local banks. it’s a wise man who only does business with those he can strangle, i think. while i disagree with ramsey on some very important points, i think he’s a very wise guy.

i want to engage in a local investment strategy. do local banks/credit unions allow you to buy stock in their local investments? i would do that in a heart beat. i don’t have time to broker a 10,000 dollar loan to the local pizza joint and then monitor it, but i would pay somebody who would! anybody want my business?

in a paper based economy, it seems inevitable that somebody will try to steal my money on paper, so i’d really like to keep my investments real flesh and blood (and earth and stone) ones. i’ve looked into some micro-loan websites (sort of a capitalized version of kiva) but i don’t have confidence in them yet.

any ideas?

avatar John Médaille November 19, 2009 at 3:34 pm

i don’t have time to broker a 10,000 dollar loan to the local pizza joint and then monitor it, but i would pay somebody who would! anybody want my business?

Hmmm. Sounds like a real business opportunity for someone. The First Front Porch Bank and Investment Club.

avatar Matthew Wade November 19, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Ya’ll may be on to something with the idea of the creation of a local credit union. Having worked for one for several years (until they started buying and selling mortgages), I’ll sign up to help. That is, if it’s located in the Dallas area. Tax-free, able to discriminate against all the big businesses you want, and the ability to set your own financing rules, SOUNDS GREAT! I’m firmly of the opinion that local financing is an important inaugural step in bringing about the “re-localization” movement.

As for all of the other stuff that has been said in this article, I love FPR. However, I’m a city boy, always have been, so the concept of sitting on a porch is new to me. Plus I’m not nearly as well-read as some of you, having squandered a free public-school education.

All that being said, keep up the good work!

Sincerely,

Matthew Wade

avatar John Médaille November 19, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Matthew, I’m a city boy as well, New York born and bred. But NY in those days was actually a collection of a thousand villages, ethnic in character and highly defensive of the local turf and customs (boy, could I tell you stories!)We didn’t call it a “porch” but the “stoop,” and a lot of “village life” took place on the stoop. But somehow, “Front Stoop Republic” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 4:19 pm

alas, mr. wade, this is why FPR may not be very successful. i am, myself, in the land of free healthcare just north of america….good luck to me convincing all my neighbors of these ideas. actually, to be fair, canada, for all its centralization, does have some very interesting things set up that really favor local business and even local government over federal.

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 4:22 pm

one other local investment strategy: the church. take care of your family, then give the rest to the church, perhaps the only true social safety net (outside of the family) we have left.

avatar Matthew Wade November 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Actually, where I grew up we did have one house/plot in the neighborhood, an aberration of three acres backed up by a tollway, with a beautiful front porch. The image of that house will never leave my mind as the symbol of what my homeland (Garland, not the U.S. – I haven’t seen enough of the latter to know) was at one time. A few of us are working our way through the Social Encyclicals right now with a critical mind towards how these writings can be implemented in our lives as young managers. Perhaps a consideration: do the Social Encyclicals animate ya’ll here in the same way?

micah, I’m sorry to hear that the Great White North has falled down South. The Land of Hockey is better than that. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. On the issue of the church, I think you have to either be careful about what your church supports, or get into a position within the church to change it. I know my Parish supports some activities that are less than local, if you know what I mean. While I donate just as much as the next guy to keeping the lights on and the pantries full, sometimes I secondguess myself in terms of donating through the church instead of by myself.

avatar Justin Isaac November 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

This is my third attempt at posting, so I apologize if there are multiple of the same comments from me…

Micah: google “Earthships” …for some reason I can’t post a link…sorry. If someone knows how, please tell me.

I toured one in Taos during high desert winter last January…awesome. I would think that off-the-grid living might appeal to certain FPRers. The catch…they are expensive to build, but that is off-set by the fact that you don’t have to pay for power or water, or any utilities for that matter, other than maintenance of the power distribution module. They can be built anywhere, as long as you have the land.

This is my 6th attempt at posting. If it don’t work this time, I’m giving up…course, you’ll never know…

avatar Justin Isaac November 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm

ugh…3rd attempt, 6th attempt, whatever… “Hey Justin, cut the chatter.” …ok…

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Micah,

actually, to be fair, canada, for all its centralization, does have some very interesting things set up that really favor local business and even local government over federal.

I agree with you. In fact, I had a post I was developing at one time about how Canada’s centralized health-care system, among other things, enables more actual localism (in terms of people sticking with their jobs, staying in their home towns, and contributing to their communities rather than embracing the dream of mobility) than we have currently in the United States. But I’m not sure it would have gone over with the majority of FPR’s readers particularly well. Plus, I’d just written a post about how feminist policies were an important aid to building a traditional family, and I figured I’d already had enough heat from Bob for the month already. So I gave it up. Maybe some other time. (Hey, you know I love you, Bob.)

avatar micah November 19, 2009 at 5:11 pm

well, i’ve been a big fan of the fact that they have farmer’s markets everywhere. and generally canadians seem to favor local products. canadians also seem to have a better sense of personal limits. though, i suspect this is because canadians make less and taxes are higher. the same products are availabe as in the states, but people are much more careful about buying. and you still see a lot of the same consumerism, etc., just not at the same fevered pitch. also, canadians tend to be much quieter, so even if it were at the same fevered pitch, nobody would draw attention to themselves through it…

i have to admit i wasn’t looking forward to moving up here, but, the bogeyman is never as scary as you think he is.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 19, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Me too Arben, you’re my favorite leftist! That earlier comment had to do with trying to pick a fight, blow off steam, and generally annoy people…though I don’t feel that I’ve succeeded? Well, try, try, try!
BTW, I’m ordering that sweatshirt I saw on TV that the Chi-Com kids were wearing where the Enlightened One is dressed in Mao garb…r4d star and all. Gotta have that…..!

avatar Ian Stewart November 19, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Regarding FPR 101, can I suggest a technical solution?

1. Take your list of archives out of your sidebar and make a dedicated ‘archive’ page

2. Start ‘tagging’ your articles and add a ‘tag cloud’ to your archive page

3. Lastly, add a continually updated ‘New to FPR? Read These Articles’ section to that archives page. Actually, that might be the first thing you’d want to do.

I know these ideas might sound, I don’t know, trivial, but new readers do need a place to orient themselves.

Good luck!

avatar rex November 19, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Darn it Mark, with all these blinking books I should read, I’ll never get to the revolution. (John Médaille told me to get all of these pitch forks sharpened by morning or else.)

I will read de Jouvenel’s “On Power” – thank you. Please let me know if you want any 80′s anarchist ‘zines or ‘libertarian socialist’ thought to fill your reading list;)

avatar Joshua Alexander November 20, 2009 at 12:13 am

It is a testament to the good sense of FPRers, Bob, that they did not bite on your earlier comment. To its credit, FPR inhabits a dimension where the noise of the Hannitys and Huffingtons is so attenuated that it’s frequently mistaken for the sound of something plopping into the murky waters below an outhouse seat.

For all its traffic in the realm of ideas, FPR has been moored to things terrestrial: make-weights, places, laws. Explicit congress with the celestial beings that constitute today’s government (by way of critiquing the current regime) could capsize this/our nascent group. That time will come, but it is not now.

And now this, in response to several other commentators:

In the past two election cycles, now, the term “electability” has been bandied about, at once hesitantly and earnestly. The idea is that the candidate who makes himself sufficiently electable wins. The shrewdest candidate will not let on, though, that he is making himself electable. In fact, he may openly eschew the idea, thus making himself more electable. He understands that, deep down, voters want a leader who will stand up to them. They want someone they can believe in, and they know themselves well enough to look to someone wholly different from, even contrary to, themselves.

Now, I’m not suggesting that FPR take a course in cunning and so fashion its agenda. (Though some fashion–cowboy hat–does appear necessary.) But I am warning that pursuing the naive form of electability will put FPR on the same wavelength as Glenn Beck.

avatar Matthew Wade November 20, 2009 at 8:59 am

How about giving some serious debate time to the candidates (perhaps vicariously through some of the regular contributors to this fnie site) in the upcoming mid-term elections? If you’re not going to nominate your own candidate – I can forward you my phone number otherwise – then a commentary by you polished gentlemen, with the requisite ability for other porch-sitters to rebuke you, about the “porchability” of certain key candidates may provide some momentum to the movement of this site away from edifying bickering to pointless politicking.

avatar D.W. Sabin November 20, 2009 at 9:37 am

A nod to Willson but…..I don’t know……I tend to think the debate over definitions in a Front Porch Encyclopedia might be rather bracing and humorous. Getting down to brass tacks tends to sharpen the canines. As long, of course, that it can include something along the lines of a little Ambrose Bierce….as in these two nougats:

“Washingtonian, n. A Potomac Tribesman who exchanged the privilege of governing himself for the advantage of good government . In justice to him, it should be said that he did not want to”

and, dedicated to the fulminating Mr. Cheeks and his T Shirts:

“Zig-Zag,v.t. To move forward uncertainly, from side to side as one carrying the White Man’s Burden. (from zed, z, and jag, an Icelandic word of unknown meaning).”

Actually Robert, it seems to me the transition from the previous administration to the current one has been relatively seamless. We were hacking away at the Constitution while engaged in Hair-brained Wars and spending money we did not have four years ago and we are still doing the same. Adding this boondoggle “health care” (as if it had much to do with actual care or the cost thereof) to the Black Hole will likely mean little . My own personal Health Care involves what I do with myself up to a point and if the point beyond that gets out of hand, there is always recourse to the old beloved lever action Marlin 30-30…a carbine, so we can reach the trigger whence aiming it at the seat of discomfit.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

Fulminate or not to fulminate…!
Well, I procured a bottle of Buffalo Trace yesterday and following a sumptuous dinner imbibed in two fingers over ice and just mellowed out albeit without the benefit of a decent cigar!
Now this talk of lever-action Marlin’s is silliness gone awry! Remember the words of the immortal John Prine, “Jesus don’t like killin’ no matter what the reason’s for….and your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore!”
Besides we must hold the barricades at all odds..we must make our stand as all good men should. And, I do believe our undocumented president is going to illustrate to you just how important “health care” truly is!

avatar John Ryan November 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm

“The internal checks on actions—call them mores, habits, virtues—have suffered a continual buffeting by the forces of liberalism intent on crushing every constraint and obligation that is not the product of individual will.”

I assent that liberalism taken to its furthest extreme (i.e. social anarchy) would certainly be dangerous to society as a whole. Allowing children the freedom to engage in sexual activities with adults would be ludicrous and destructive to our social fabric. However, liberalism is also the progressive force that propels society forward and evolves our moral understanding. The “constraint and obligation” to the community could easily be used to regress society and as a tool to control certain groups of people. For example, Rousseau argued that women were best suited for work in the home and thus it was their duty to remain there. It is the liberal mindset that fostered more equality of the sexes (I am making the a priori assumption that equality of the sexes is good).

Additionally an Atheistic philosophy such as Secular Humanism provides structure for a society that seeks to find balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the many. A main principle of Secular Humanism reads, “A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.”

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