Problems Of The Minority-Cross Your Heart

Via Althouse on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

‘That’s the line up in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the case about the 32-foot cross on public land that honors soldiers who died in WWI. The American Legion won — the case is reversed and remanded. It will take me a little time to find my way through those opinions. The precedents in this area of the Establishment Clause have been very confused, and (as someone who taught those cases for many years) I want to know how the Court puzzled through them this time.’

As posted many years ago now:

Strausberg Observers post here

Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notes.  All parties involved didn’t think it’s a good idea to strip the cross from it’s religious meaning in law.

Aside from an interesting comparison on a specific legal question, perhaps there are underlying currents as well.

Full post here.

‘The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered by 15:2 in Lautsi v Italy (App. No.: 30814/06) on the 18th March 2011 that it is justifiable for public funded schools in Italy to continue displaying crucifixes on the classroom walls.’

Here’s a quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

“The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights (for example, that they are universal, or that they exist independently of legal enactment as justified moral norms) frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defences.”

And further on down the line, some humanists are pretty ‘aspirational’ as well as having a logo and a revised manifesto.

Martha Nussbaum argues profoundly for more equality but also removing religion as a source for the laws:  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’

Low European Birth Rates In The NY Times: No Babies?

I’ll repost the below again because, in America,  I believe we’ve likely tipped from a majority religious civic fabric and culture to something more like a majority secular culture.   This likely brings a lot of European problems over (people searching for meaning, membership, group belonging).  We’ve got less frontier and more hierarchy and more reactions to inequality and the same old socialism gaining deeper representation in our politics.

Ack, mutter, so much German theory and deep, metaphysical maps:

I’m sure some will be eager to note that this took place in Budapest, Hungary, a country currently under politically right leadership, out from under tradition and institution-destroying Communist bureaucracy, in the news these days for refusing many Middle-Eastern refugees.

I recommend the video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:


A quote that stuck out:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions. It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle? Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?


As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Some Tuesday Modernist Links-Empire State Plaza Again

Full post here (from Althouse, with photos).

It looks like the ‘International Power Style’ of the 50’s and 60’s landed its mothership in downtown Albany.  I appreciate Robert Hughes’ near hyperbole in describing the Empire State Plaza:


What if there was a Wisconsin motor court/supper club with global ambitions?  What if you fused a local motel with the U.N. internationalist style, you ask?

Click here to experience ‘The Gobbler.

After taking the photo tour, I remain convinced that ‘The Gobbler’ exists in its own realm of awesome badness.  Such a shag-covered, abandoned love-child of the late 60′s and early 70′s is challenging just what I thought I knew about American culture.


Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism.  From the banner of his blog:

The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

Check out the ‘Socialist Cybernetics‘ of Salvador Allende.

In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage.  Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos.  You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

Repost-From Thirty Two Via Althouse: ‘The Fall Of The Creative Class’

Full piece here.

Thirty Two is a Minneapolis based publication, where our author ended up after looking for “the creative class,” which has to do with Richard Florida’s economic theory:

‘When I asked if he could show me a city that had had mea­sur­able eco­nomic growth as a result of an influx of cre­ative indi­vid­u­als, Florida said there was “wide con­sen­sus” that migra­tion of cre­ative indi­vid­u­als had taken place, and named some places like Wash­ing­ton DC, greater Boston, greater NY, and greater San Francisco.’

Putting the cart before the horse?  Here’s a previous quote from Florida:

“I grew up in that culture. My father worked his entire life in a factory. I spent my high-school summers doing factory work. Sexism and racism ran rampant. Fights were almost every day occurrences: Working class disagreements almost always end in them.”

A creative, non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist future awaits.  Be liberated!  There will be lots of community gardens and bike paths, I imagine.  Williamsburg doesn’t need Wall Street!

Many artist-types, the bookish, the literary, the ‘creative class’ post-moderns and hipsters, along with the increasingly tech/science-inspired cultural influencers, naturally want certain cultural amenities and opportunities.  Naturally, they’re going  to pay for these amenities, and they’re going to find their ideas have limitations when it comes to economic scarcity, human nature, politics, and life in the city.  It’s about trade-offs.

The blurred line where the arts, humanities, and the ‘creative class’ are meeting conservative/libertarian traditions and political philosophy in contemporary American life has become a strongly recurring theme on this blog. 

Related On This Site:  Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

It’s the 60’s, don’t you know.  The Arts can also be united with a Left-of-Center political philosophy as they are at NPR for popular consumption…after going mainstream.  On this site, see: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Well, art doesn’t need to be in service of a socialist vision, but it can:  Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

What if you’re economy’s already depressed?  Don’t make a maze of laws and build stadiums and museums on the public dime…get new industry: From Reason: ‘Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey’…Reason also suggests that if such creative/entrepenurial spirit gets off the ground, it will have to get around the public sector in Detroit.  From Reason Via Youtube: ‘Is Harrisburg’s Nightmare America’s Future?’

Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?
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From Eli Lake At The Daily Beast: ‘Exclusive: Libya Cable Detailed Threats’

Full post here.

‘Just two days before the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, two leaders of the Libyan militias responsible for keeping order in the city threatened to withdraw their men.’

Why is this important?  There appears to be a large gap between what our President is saying, and some of what he is doing through policy.   Here is a summation of what I posted at Althouse’s blog, and I think it’s worth repeating:

‘Admitting Al-Qaida is still active and gaining ground in Afpak is admitting the reasons we went there are still valid, and will require continued military presence. We are, in Bush’s words, in a war on terror.  Admitting that this attack was perpetrated by Al-Qaida in Libya means we’re still in a war on terror. It’s global and ongoing. 

Hence the drone strikes, the surge in Afghanistan, and the continuation of most of Bush’s policies, including all kinds of abridgement of liberties here at home.  

Let’s talk about the War On Terror. Let’s talk about the drone strikes. Let’s talk about Al-Qaida. Let’s talk about where America is in this war, and what policies the President has put in place and what we’re actually doing about it.’

Libya was supposed to have been billed as a success for Obama.  We toppled a tyrant in the name of freedom (albeit a different definition that Bush envisioned) but let the Libyans do it themselves.  It cost much less than Iraq, tried to appeal to international institutions as we did work with Britain and France, and there was less risk involved.  We now have kind of a client state in Libya, and there was genuine support to get Ansar Al Sharia out after Stevens was killed.  In the administration’s defense, this was just the kind of flower he promised to grow with his vision.

So how does Obama’s foreign policy vision line up with the policies he’s kept in place from the Bush administration?  Just what are the threats facing America?  How are Obama’s liberal internationalist policies working out there in the real world?

I’d like to think I would do the same for any other President.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.


Addition: After the VP debate, I came away with the following:

1.  Ryan correctly pointed out that Obama’s policy in Syria is not peace through strength.  We ended up  hemming and hawing through the U.N. and ceding too much of our interests to Russia, Iran, and other bad actors, who do not share our interests and actively work against our interests (though it’s not clear what to be done in Syria).  We’ve changed ideals guiding our foreign policy, and these are clearly some downsides which can always possibly cause more conflict in the future.  I believe that if we don’t stand up for our interests, no one will, and our interests don’t necessarily align with European interests either (and we’ve had limited, but much appreciated, support from allies).  We don’t necessarily need to guide our foreign policy with these ideals to be successful.

2.  The reason we went to Afghanistan, and the reason we’re still there is not to avenge 9/11 (though there’s some truth to that), but to secure our national interest.  There are groups of Islamic terrorists and sympathizers who will actively plan and carry out attacks against us, and they will hole up in this area.  There’s more and more Al Qaida on the ground as we speak.  As hopeless as it looks (Pakistan actively working against us and supporting terrorism, the COIN results, the seemingly impossible task of nation building, the ungovernable FATA region, the very untrustworthy Afghan Army, Karzai’s weakness, the fact that the Taliban can probably wait us out and the over 2,000 Americans who’ve sacrificed their lives for our safety), our objective has always been to prevent more attacks on our soil.  A timeline and withdrawal may please the base at home, but may not meet this objective.  I don’t think any sitting U.S. President can allow this to happen, hence the drone strikes, Obama’s surge, and the continued war on terror.  We’re still at war.

Addition:  Al Qaida is on the rise in Afghanistan, and our objective has not been met.  Just ask Lara Logan from 60 minutes who’s been watching the war.

Related On This SiteEli Lake At The Daily Beast: ‘U.S. Officials Knew Libya Attacks Were Work of Al Qaeda Affiliates’ From The BBC Via Michael Totten: ‘Libya: Islamist Militia Bases Stormed In Benghazi’

Via Reuters: ‘U.S. Ambassador To Libya Killed In Benghazi Attack’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanFrom The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

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From Althouse: ‘The Atrocity That Is Empire State Plaza’

Full post here. (with photos)

Of course, it may not be an atrocity in your opinion (and could be quite nice), but it is presented as a top down, anaesthetic, or compromised aesthetic, piece of architecture placed there by the government in the name of the people…regardless of what came before.

It reminded me of Brasilia:  Brasilia: A Planned City

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Le Corbusier’s work here, examples of Modern Architecture here.

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From Althouse: Ann Althouse And Dayo Olopade Discuss Health Insurance

Full post here. (Click on the 2nd video for more.)

Has the moral case been made by the left for a universal plan that would overcome the opposition?  Does such moral reasoning transcend the economic arguments,political talking points, and ideology of those who seek a universal plan…uniting Americans around the problems we have?

So far, I don’t think so.

I’m still willing to grant Obama leeway in overcoming partisanship,  which I think is a worthy moral goal, though it’s a goal with its roots in the day to day, messy realities of politics (pork, personal attacks etc.).  As the discussion above highlights, if it means granting this much leeway to leftism as Olopade represents that it does, then it’s not enough for me.

See Also On This Site: Obama is losing me as an independent:  Barack Obama President Elect: A Few Hopes From An Independent… From The National Journal: Jonathan Rauch’s “Obama’s Fate Depends On Perot’s Voters”

Is Health Care a Right?:  From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”

Locke by stnastopoulos

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Ann Althouse On The Scope Of Frank Rich’s Imagination-From The Comments Section

Full post with comments here.

Here are a couple of quotes from the comments I found myself sympathetic to (the argument is that the media has a center left bias, and looks at politics through this bias)…up to a point.  

“the concept of government officials (presidents in particular) as “leaders,” which chips away at individualism and liberty and promotes the state’s power.”

Well, they are leaders, but in this case I think the reader means a submission to authority which alligns with one’s unchallenged beliefs, as though those beliefs couldn’t be reasonably challenged.  Aside from political concerns, it’s intellectually lazy.  I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Here’s another one:

“…terms such as “the Hispanic vote” or “the black community.” This one is easy, of course: It presents American society as a batch of blocs, rather than as a country of individuals, and again plays into the leftist idea that all relationships are about power, etc.”

Identity politics can potentially reward loyalty to groups and fiefdoms and erode individual, and other deeper, unifying national identities.  But if you’re a strict libertarian, how far do you take individualism?  After all, the schools, the roads, the collection of taxes, the military, even civic life itself rests upon some sort of social contract.   Can you stay reasonable?  Maybe he should look at the work of Robert Nozick,  as opposed to say…John Rawls.

Perhaps one can imagine in the not too distant future the fiefdoms, identity groups and races potentially uniting (if we’re lucky) in a common national cause under a national banner against a common enemy…with say…an unwise war resulting.  

But I’m not so sure, it’s tough to say.

See Also On This Site: From Andrew Sullivan: A Brief Discussion Of John Rawls..From The City Journal: The Roar Of Justice-Philosopher Raymond Geuss, An Idealist In Realist’s Clothing..From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’..From The Hoover Institution: Stanley Kurtz On Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington

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