Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whither Conservatism?

Robert Bidinotto’s article, “Up from Conservatism” has been nominated for an Eddie for best single article in a publication of a non-profit organization. Bidinotto explains why conservatism can’t or won’t stop the growth of government and steady loss of individual liberty. And why it never could.

Among the problems are hostility to explicit principles, an admission that reason can’t support its moral percepts, and a confession that man isn’t good enough to practice God’s moral imperatives. This leaves nothing but expediency and compromise. The result is timidity and retreat.

The ultimate surrender, however, is moral. Conservatives cave in the face of charges that individualism isn’t altruistic and compassionate. Scrambling to justify individualism on socialist ethics has left conservatives with nothing to do when in power but to move to the left. Bidinotto explains the moral surrender and what should be done instead. Judge for yourself and see if he’s gotten to the essence of the problem: “Up from Conservatism.”

Update: And the winner is ... Robert Bidinotto ... proving that recognition doesn't require compromising one's principles. Congrats, Robert.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Knowledge Isn't the Point?

The New York Sun reports that: "Students at many of the country's most prestigious colleges and universities are graduating with less knowledge of American history, government, and economics than they had as incoming freshmen, with Harvard University seniors scoring a 'D+' average on a 60-question multiple-choice exam about civic literacy. ..."

Prof Eric Foner is unperturbed. "'History has a pragmatic value,' Mr. Foner said. 'You are acquiring skills that are desired by employers — an ability to write, analyze material, and produce your own point of view.'" Mr. Foner is a Columbia University professor, past president of American Historical Association, and a member of the editorial board of The Nation.

Update! Amusing but interesting thought: given the above, might one be more successful by dropping out of Harvard? Or from my alma mater! This looks like a pattern! But these days you have to drop out of a PhD program (exhibit A & B). Quite different from the old days when dropping out of 8th grade did the trick. Still, the tradition continues!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sowell Reviews Agresto

One of the themes of this blog is that cultural change is a painstakingly slow process. As my masthead notes liberty – individual rights – was the result of a tradition going back millennia. This is why I questioned nations-building. In an early post, back in 2005, I noted that “the generosity of the American people is praiseworthy and the mission is honorable” but in nations-building “we are attempting a bold and radical change – one which is a long shot.” I argued that establishing an electoral process won’t change the culture. The problem is much deeper.

Last year I reviewed an article by John Agresto who learned the above lesson the hard way. Thomas Sowell reviews Agresto’s book, “Mugged by Reality,” on the same topic as the earlier article. Sowell distinguishes a proper criticism of “the mistakes of honorable people” with the vicious attacks from the left. Although this excessively defines ‘honorable’ in terms of a focus on ‘the other’, his point concerning the absurd criticism from the left is justified.

Here is the heart of the book review:

"However, as Agresto points out in Mugged by Reality, democracy has prerequisites — and those prerequisites are not universal, especially not in Iraq. … President Bush has rejected the idea that some peoples and cultures are not ready for democracy. He points to the large Iraqi turnout at the elections, despite the threats of terrorists. Everyone wants more freedom, he and his supporters say.

Wanting freedom, however, is not the same as wanting others to have the same freedom you have. Such tolerance is not the norm in Iraq. Nor was it the norm in Western civilization until after Protestants and Catholics fought each other for centuries before finally realizing that neither could exterminate the other. Sunnis and Shi’ites have yet to reach a similar accommodation in Iraq. …

What recent progress has been made in Iraq has apparently been made by mobilizing traditional local and regional Iraqi leaders and coalitions, not by relying on the democratically elected central government. There may be a lesson there."

It’s a start. Sowell has written on the importance of culture in the past. It’s surprising that it has taken him this long to address the topic with reference to Iraq. If Sowell can miss this until now, it is a symptom of a vast void in contemporary intellectual thought.