Sunday, July 25, 2004

Faith: Bulwark Against Power

As I daydreamed a bit this morning, pondering our current battle against Islamist ideological terror and the presidential race, it struck me that two concepts more than any others clearly identify the inherent incorrectness of the Islamist (not Islamic) ideology and simultaneously counsel the reelection of the President. These two ideas or forces are, on a certain level, why we have governments in the first place -- one because we must erect bulwarks against our own flawed nature with respect to it, the other because we must organize society to encourage and facilitate it, for it leads to human flourshing. Respectively, they are Power (or more precisely, corrupting human greed for it) and Faith.

Both of these concepts also concern the hierarchy of being in this world we know, and in the world of the divine of which our knowledge is not direct. In accordance with Plato's Forms, that hierarchy we establish here amongst ourselves and between ourselves, animals, and God, is a mere shadow, or an imperfect reflection. Faith is our bridge to the divine. We can have a participation in that more eternal knowledge of the inherent rightness of God's ordering and its relation to our imperfect orderings in this world through faith -- and thus faith is the best and perhaps only possible weapon man has against the corruption and tempation of Power in this world, as Power is a corrupt human desire to become something 'higher' than human and therefore to alter the hierarchy of being. The temptation of Power apparently extends beyond this world -- for Christians, Lucifer fell prey to it. Thus, perhaps true salvation belongs to the souls which, when faced with the light of ultimate and final truth after walking over man's final threshold, can know and fully participate in the proper divine order, whatever it may be. Faith in life is indicative of that ability, knowing Truth and God when revealed. But returning to the more mundane, these thoughts counsel that our structural bulwarks against the rise of Power and its corruption may only slow the inevitable, act as a brake on the decline of Democracy into Tyranny that both Plato and Aristotle predicted and that history has proven.

Applying these ideas to the issues of the day, we can see that Islamism (not necessarily Islam) is not a true faith. True faith is a bulwark against Power, not a tool to achieve it. True faith lifts ones sight to higher things, transplants higher values into the places material, earthly values fill. True faith is confidence that God's ordering will come, that seeking Power on earth for one's self is futile silliness in light of the more perfect, divine order of being. Islamism, on the other hand, is nothing but a tool for power. It expressly aims to destroy human goods and usurp all earthly power for itself and its dogma. Its belief does not conform to reason, but flies against it, asking men to do things reasonable people know from the natural law written on their hearts are wrong. And the promised reward, even its purportedly divine component, is inherently selfish -- virgins in heaven, pleasure and power. We must stridently oppose such a corrupt 'faith' (or more properly, dogma).

Second, men of faith being our best bulwark against Power and corruption, they can best lead the charge against corrupt Islamist ideology. While we can never trust ourselves to a rule of men, placing such faithful men in our positions of power reinforces the structures of our government and assists them in their central task, preventing the decline of democracy into tyranny. Men of faith, however, are men that both have faith and act in conformity with it. They are men whose faith supplements reason and leads to fuller knowledge and a more complete morality. These leaders must follow the guidance of their conscience when crafting and executing our laws.

John Kerry refuses to apply his faith to his consideration of laws, and in so doing he renders whatever faith he has impotent, unable to translate higher values into our societal structure, and ineffectual against the corruption of Power. Demonstrating that he is not a man of faith in the way our President is, Mr. Kerry invokes his faith for political gain -- he claims to be against abortion because of his Catholic faith (trying to keep Catholics on his side), but then refuses to act on his conviction for fear of 'imposing' his beliefs on others (such that his pro-choice base is not threatened by his statement to appeal to the Catholic vote). If Kerry is not above using his faith as a political tool, we must question whether his initiatives and policies are primarily aimed at the public good, or his own good -- his own quest for Power. That is not true leadership. And it is certainly not what we need when we face an enemy convinced that the faiths and values of the West must be wiped from the earth.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Why This Election Matters: Demagoguery, Tyranny, and Integrity

"Whether it is a matter of art, music or politics, it is only the ‘best men’ who are capable of true judgement. The true judge must not allow himself to be influenced by the gallery nor intimidated by the clamour of the multitude. Nothing must compel him to hand down a verdict that belies his own convictions." Plato, The Laws 659a

Plato understood that some men are more fit to judge and to lead than are others. Some, in their integrity, their commitment to the virtues, and their philosophic nature (i.e., their access to the true form of the Good), will make more just judgments in the role of judge, and will better guide the polis in the role of politician. Although this may sound slightly elitist, America, in its shared democratic values, agrees with Plato -- we have selected the vehicle of elections as the best way to choose those who are more fit to govern and entrust them with positions of power. Elected officials are not just conduits for the views of the people -- they are also filters, chosen because of their integrity and conscientiousness to apply those qualities to their own judgments.

Edmund Burke, in his Speech to the Electors of Bristol discusses the nature of representation. The representative’s
unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you [constituents], to any man, or any man living...They are a trust from Providence. ... [G]overnment and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion...?

Burke echoes Plato, that it is the natural conscience of a man that ought guide him in governance, for he has been selected by his fellow citizens because his conscience is particularly 'enlightened.' To ignore that God-given conscience for political considerations or in deference to a realization that others may not agree with you is a violation of the trust of the people governed and the trust of our Creator. When a political leader rejects his conscience and instead applies political judgments alone, he moves from true political leader to demagogue.

Plato's analysis of the natural decline of democracy into tyranny reflects the conversion of the politician into the demagogue. Plato feared not the demos itself, but the demagogue. It is the demagogue who, in a situation where the state faces unrest due to perceived unfairness and enmity between haves and have-nots, uses that unrest as a vehicle to emerge as a popular hero, promising redistribution of wealth or cancellation of debts to the poor. See The Republic at 564c-66d. The demagogue puts the political above conscience, rallies support by appealing to humanity's natural greed. The tyrant emerges as a champion of the people, much like Hitler, but is soon revealed to be something else entirely, something evil.

In a modern democracy, something Plato could not have envisioned but to which his principles are equally applicable (for as Madison asked in Federalist 51, "What is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"), elections and representative government are a principle check designed to prevent Plato's feared decline to tyranny. The rise of demagoguery, however, distorts the policy behind holding election. Elections move from being a means of selecting the 'best' men of integrity and conscience to lead, and rather become a means of discovering which candidate's promises of entitlements, gifts, and redistribution are more substantial and appealing to the wants of the people. The more such demagoguery continues unquestioned, the more it is entrenched, and the less useful elections become. With demagogues in position of power, citizens' ideas about government become more and more distorted and the proper ideal of government is lost, destroying the power of representation to act as a bulwark against the decline of democracy into tyranny.

Thus, the current election is absolutely crucial. John Kerry and John Edwards' demagoguery is unabashed. While Edwards intentionally employs class warfare rhetoric to drive a wedge between rich and poor, appealing to human greed and superficial notions of fairness, John Kerry admits that he refuses to apply the convictions of his conscience as regards abortion to the law of abortion in deference to the beliefs of others (but truly in deference to political considerations). George Bush, on the other hand, is unapologetic about his beliefs and everyone knows precisely where he stands. His leadership, which always follows the dictates of his conscience, embodies integrity. In a time where an external evil attempts to overwhelm our culture and kill as many innocents associated with it as possible, we need true leadership and real integrity. That Kerry and Edwards resort to demagoguery in such a time, that they seem unable to explain a principled reason for the virtue of their plans for government other than hatred of the other electoral choice, demonstrates convincingly their lack of the integrity our times demand, that they care only for their own power. At this critical juncture, will America choose demagoguery or integrity? Will our system remain a bulwark against the rise of tyranny? Or will greed overpower reason? Only time will tell. I believe in America, and I believe we will make the right choice -- despite the appeal of the demagogue, Americans can sense virtue when it confronts them. In George W. Bush we have a powerful and unique example of true integrity. Thankful for strong leadership in difficult times, America will reelect the President.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Platonic Conservatism and the War

I have written quite a bit in this space regarding the political ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle is generally rational and deliberate, concentrating on politics and government as central the habituation of virtue and the development of opportunities for human flourishing. Man is a political animal, and as such requires a well-ordered community and political setting in order to individually develop into something more akin to what he or she should be. Plato in this respect says something similar: that there is such are such things as Ideas, that Good is real and absolute, and that in our lives we should all individually attempt to become more like that which we should be. However, this superficial analysis hides very deep divergences in the two great philosophers' thought. Plato, as emphasized in his cave analogy in The Republic, sees human goods as mere 'shadows' of what truly matters. Indeed, our competition for human goods, our desire for scientific knowledge, all of this is a degree removed from some true reality the average person does not ever come to know. When the man breaks his shackles and leaves the cave, ascending to the light above, he is blinded by the brightness of the sun, the Good, and cannot at first contemplate it. After his eyes adjust, he returns below to share his new knowledge with his colleagues still living amongst the shadows. They are startled and try to kill him, as he upsets their system of values based on the shadows they see before them on the wall. This discovery of the ultimate Good, which can be likened to the salvation of the soul, or perhaps redemption by faith in the Christian condition, seems unrelated to the skill with which the cave dweller identifies the shadows on the wall. Thus, Plato seems to be telling us that the shadows of this world are only related to the Good insofar as they have the same ultimate source -- light, the symbol for the Good, casts the shadows on the wall. But we all need to 'turn around' away from the shadows to really see the source of the light. Better yet, we need to come out of the cave. In a way, the more successful the shadow-makers are their business of creating a system of shadow-based values, the less people would ever come to know the source of the light of the Good. In order to avoid strife (recall that the person who leaves the cave and returns is threatened with violence), the shadows and that system of living is key. But it should also be the duty of those who run that shadow show to allow somehow for those who are prepared for it to turn around, see the light, and to leave the cave.

Analogizing to a system of government, the government which governs best seems to be the one which maintains an orderly 'shadow-show,' that is, promotes the more mundane human virtue and their practice, i.e., courage, moderation, consideration for others, etc. These lesser virtues are virtues in and of themselves, and they relate to the Good. Ultimate Good, however, salvation, must not be stymied by such a system. It seems that the practicing of the virtues cannot bring one to that salvation, that 'turning around' to see the true source of the light, even though to practice them is a good thing in and of itself. But government cannot be allowed to promote the shadows above what they are -- just shadows of what really is. And thus we must realize that government is a facilitator of something higher. While providing for order and earthly goods, it must facilitate and allow philosophy and revealed truth to bring souls to that higher Good. It must not kill the philosopher, kill Socrates or Christ. And it must not put other things in the place of the philosopher, or of Christ (as an aside, it was perhaps one of the most intelligent statements of a politician of our times when President Bush called Christ his most admired political philosopher). In our democracy, the government, promoting an entitlement mentality amongst the people, has come dangerously close to placing material well-being and an ideology of egalitarianism into that place which ought to be reserved for higher things. In extremist Islamist societies, the dogma of a particular interpretation of the Koran as the ungrounded and never bending will of a not necessarily logical god takes the place of true philosophy. Both are dangerous. While religion is clearly a path to that higher good, dogma cannot be, and the state must leave that arena open for the individual. Freedom of religion and to philosophize is crucial even as our modern first amendment jurisprudence which borders on enforcing a total freedom from religion is precisely the kind of evil I am describing. Thus in the philosophy of Plato we see the roots of those values which modern American conservatism cherishes: freedom to be religious, freedom to philosophize, and the need to combat evil, to combat those at home and, more pertinently now, those abroad who would through their dogma would kill a modern day Socrates and reverse the proper ordering of beings and of the Good.

As a final note, I was struck watching Saddam Hussein being brought before the investigative Iraqi judge yesterday by one of his comments. After asserting that he was still the President of Iraq and chosen by the people, he challenged the law under which he was being brought to trial. After the judge attempted to put Hussein in his proper place, Hussein did something very interesting -- he, as a last resort in an argument he was losing by any measure of logic, appealed to something illogical, to the Koran, specifically making an appeal to it as the only true source of law, a source of law which, Saddam implied, makes the laws of the infidel Coalition and those who cooperate with them not law but rather anathema. This is a fascinating example both of the increasing tendency Saddam had been showing of his willingness to use Islamism as a driving doctrine and tool for his regime of terror, but also now after his defeat, to use it as a battle call to rally insurgents and fundamentalists to his cause. Remember that these are the terrorists and radicals that, according to the press, are not in any way connected to Hussein and never were nor could have been. Thus, as usual, by refusing to be philosophical and failing to look past their own ideology, the American left and the press miss the greater intellectual currents that tie the dictator to the terrorists, and entirely miss the philosophical foundations of the current war. Wolf Blitzer and company should reread their Plato.