INCOMPATIBLE VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT — PART 1

James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816 (from here)

Introducing The Subject

It is very difficult to understand another person’s point of view. It is actually difficult to comprehend our own point of view. Yet to live a satisfactory life we must try.

Consider the words of Socrates. For speaking his mind, the citizens of Athens  condemned him to death. What did Socrates desire for the citizens of Athens. He wanted them to be virtuous. He wanted them to think about what it means to be virtuous, but the citizens of Athens did not want to examine virtue too carefully. So they condemned Socrates. Here is how Socrates replied.

Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to persuade you. (from APOLOGY By Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett)

James Madison, like Socrates, was a philosopher of sorts. Instead of balking at the prospect, he and many of his countrymen carefully examined the role of virtue in government. Instead of abhorring the prospect, he and his countrymen rebelled and tried something new. Instead of continuing to regard government as something God imposed upon the People through divinely appointed kings, Madison made the following observation.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. (from here)

In a world dominated by authoritarian monarchs, Madison observed that angels did not governed men, that because men lacked the virtue of angels the power of government had to be limited. And so in The Federalist Papers Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay promoted the ratification of the United States Constitution.

In our era, we have nearly discarded the Constitution that Madison, Hamilton, and Jay promoted in The Federalist Papers. Therefore, the Federal Government has become a leviathan, an immense beast of fantastic proportions, totally unlike the limited government the founders envisioned. The realization that our rulers have nearly undone the Constitution has engendered a political war in this nation, but the nature of the war is mysterious to most of us. How so? We don’t actually understand the thinking of the other side. Conservatives don’t understand Democrat Liberals, and Democrat Liberals don’t understand Conservatives.

Would understanding the view point of other side help Conservatives to resolve the conflict? No and yes. It would seem that Conservatives have been trying to compromise with Democrat Liberals for years. What happens with each compromise? Democrat Liberals just start working on the next compromise to further enlarge their blessed leviathan. So what should we expect to gain by trying to understand the other side? We may understand something about the assumptions that Democrat Liberals make about government and the nature of man. We may understand why Democrats Liberals do not seem to have any intention of limiting the size and the power of government.

What Is To Come?

    • Questions For Democrat Liberals — PART 2A (May 21, 2017) and Questions For Democrat Liberals — PART 2B (May 23, 2017): The subject of this post is four questions. The first question is covered in PART 2A.
      1. Why is it moral for the government to tax us?
      2. When does it become immoral for the government to tax us? That is, where do you draw the line and say no more?
      3. How do we ensure that a government that runs our lives will exercise its power for our benefit and not someone else’s benefit?
      4. How big and powerful does the government have to be before the people have lost the ability to refuse it anything it wants?

      If Conservatives want to understand Conservatism, we need to answer those four questions, and we need to understand why Democrat Liberals think those questions are just dumb.

    • A Democrat Liberal’s Reply— PART 3A (June 12, 2017) and A Democrat Liberal’s Reply— PART 3B (June 25, 2017): The subject of this post is how Democrat Liberals defines virtue with respect to government. Do Democrat Liberals answer those four questions? No.
    • An Aside = GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS OR GOVERNMENT-GIVEN RIGHTS? (June 30, 2017):

      Here we have an extended debate on the nature of human rights. One commenter observed the following: This is a great post which goes right to core of the greatest problem that confronts a free people. (from here)

      Please consider reading the comments as well as the post.

    • Restoring Our Constitutional Republic — PART 4: Is there a way to resolve the conflict? No. However, if we are prepared to fight for it, we can slowly restore our constitutional republic.

58 thoughts on “INCOMPATIBLE VIEWS ON GOVERNMENT — PART 1

  1. Tom, it’s obvious here and from our past back-and-forth that you seem to be searching for something. You looking for justification of your own positions or are you looking for some black & white (not racial) political balance? In other words, you seem conflicted in the frustration that makes up compromise.

    I am neither a solid liberal or conservative and I could answer your questions as they relate to me… but they would be far different from someone else. Frankly, I’m not sure why conservatism, as you suggest here, is all about some level of taxation.

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    1. Searching? When we stop contemplating why we exist and what we are supposed to be doing, then we are just going through the motions.

      Nobody is a solid liberal or conservative. We are each unique. Nevertheless, there are certain absolute truths, and Conservatives and Democrat Liberals tend to stand on opposite sides of those truths.

      Does my post suggest that conservatism is all about some level of taxation? The focus is on virtue, the morality of taxation.

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  2. Maybe it’s less about constantly asking why we exist but rather to just exist on the plane we are at. Otherwise we don’t enjoy life. And who exactly defines what we are supposed to be doing?

    Why does taxation have to have moral implications to it? It’s generally a requirement for government to operate. How it’s levied is a matter of the form of government. Why stop at taxes.. what about the morality of government at all?

    Is moral character important to you, Tom?

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      1. I’ve heard that expression as well… a guy by the name of Rothbard, if I recall.. from the 80’s. In that context the argument is not the levying of taxes itself but the enforced collection of taxes by the government; having to provide information on a tax return for purposes of taxpaying enforcement. I’m afraid I don’t support that context because I accept taxation as a requirement of being an American citizen; that taxation itself is a result of how our elected officials represent us in government. This is not to suggest that I will not do my best to avoid paying as much taxes as possible, but I am still contributing within the framework allowed by the tax code. If our original argument with the British Crown was taxation without representation.. well, we do have representation now. This by NO means suggests I think it is economically fair across the spectrum or doesn’t need some revision.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m just curious Doug why you are so fixated on taxation when Tom barely mentions it? Regardless I would say that contemplating oneself, morality and the overall relationship of a government to its people does indeed have a lot to do with taxation by probably not in the way you would think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps I was jumping the gun.. Tom mentions it in “What’s Is To Come”.

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      2. But see, Tricia… I view our government as we (the people) relate to IT, not how government relates to US. If there’s a morality with government, it exists to the point we make it exist. Government doesn’t dictate our morality. This does not mean that some laws will not be contrary to our own personal morality, but a representative government doesn’t exist for personal morality.. it exists for a collective morality.

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        1. @ Doug…..” it (government) exists for a collective morality.” It’s true you can’t separate a people’s morality from the government they end up with but the moral instinct comes from what God installs in people, not from Government. It exists in my view to protect the nation, provide security for its people and structure/enforce ground rules as pertains to how we live in a society; i.e, natural rights, private property, contract law, etc…but this must be structured as much as possible with the freedom of individuals to live, work and thrive as they please as the focal point.

          Collective morality leads people to look at man for moral reasoning and purpose and not God. The road to every good dictatorship begins this way.

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        2. One of the things that is happening in this country is that the government is trying to set itself up as the arbiter of morality. To some extent, this is unavoidable. If we join the military, for example, then we have to be willing to accept what military leaders regard as necessary for proper order and discipline. Hence, for example, we have the controversy over homosexual and transgender people joining the military. Nevertheless, so long as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, private organizations and individuals should be able decide for themselves what is moral and immoral. Unfortunately, we have so broadly define the definitions of rights and inappropriate discrimination that government officials and civil rights lawyers won’t leave anyone in peace.

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        3. Your example about morality when joining the military… we can’t forget “Thou shalt not kill.” yet that is the reason for having a military. And they wonder why PTSD on returning GI’s… we are raised on religious doctrine yet we may be required to kill… and we are simply supposed to go back to normal life after that. There is someone’s morality (that collective morality in government?) in killing someone but not in Christian morality. Who defines and who draws the lines?

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        4. Also, one must consider that Thou Shall Not Kill is rendered Thou Shall Not Murder in some Christian doctrines. For example, Just War Doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, as The Catholic Church values tradition/magisterium as much as teaching authority as scripture, according to any Catholic, the Church draws the lines.

          In accord with PTSD, I think naturally in the scope of Good and Evil, whether a man is justified in an action of defense, man is not made to witness such evil.

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        5. Good point! Most Christian churches subscribe to some sort of just war doctrine.

          What PTSD seems to involve is an overload of stress. Killing another human being would certainly cause most people stress.

          One of the reasons military combat units train together has to do with the difficulty many soldiers have with killing. Even when it is necessary to protect their own lives, some will not pull the trigger. However, when they see it as necessary to defending their buddies, most soldiers will overcome their inhibitions and destroy the enemy.

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    2. @Doug

      Maybe it’s less about constantly asking why we exist but rather to just exist on the plane we are at. Otherwise we don’t enjoy life. And who exactly defines what we are supposed to be doing?

      That is a series of questions that grows increasingly broad. The answer, I think, involves the Christian definition of wisdom.

      Why does taxation have moral implications? When someone takes money away from another person, you don’t think there are moral implications?

      As a Christian, I am supposed to treat my neighbor as I myself would like to be treated. So yes, I try to follow the correct moral rules, and I would presume you do too.

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      1. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that government imposes no taxes. How does a representative government operate?

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  3. Tom, what is your take on the 14th amendment and why it reads like a restructuring of the relationship between the federal government and the states? From servant to master… it would be interesting to here your opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @KIA

      Good question, I suppose, but I wonder if it is germane to this post. To the extent it relates to the growth of government, I suppose it is.

      Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution reads as follows.

      The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

      What I think the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment helped to do is define a Republican Form of Government. All those amendments do is prohibit state governments from abusing people’s rights. They empower the Federal Government to take action to stop the state from infringing upon the rights of the people, but that is about it. The Federal Government did not use these amendments to seize an inordinate amount of power until the 1960’s, almost a hundred years latter.

      Anyway, I may write a post on this, but I don’t pretend to be either a legal scholar or a historian. So please don’t expect me to rush into it.

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      1. The 14th amendment is relevant to your post on incompatible view on government. It changed the government relationship between the states and the federal government, and all of our citizenship statuses from the original founder’s intent written into the body of the constitution and the 10th and 11th amendments.
        Instead of the free and independant states being the members of the union, and we being citizens of our respective states, the 14th amendment changed our status to citizens of the collectivist State now called ‘the United States’.
        Instead of the federal government being set up to serve the states and accommodate cooperation and trade and common defense, now the states are subservient to and dominated over by the federal government.
        The present view or form of government is jjot what the founders intended, and it’s precisely why they wrote the constitution and the 10th and 11th amendments the way they did.
        We are literally not the same country as we were before the 14th amendment. And our citizenship as individuals was never originally intended to be to a collectivist, socialist State called ‘ the United states’ but to our individual Free and Independant states… those were the member States of the republic.
        Big difference, Tom. You may want to read the 14th amendment by itself again.

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      2. It reads like a reorganization of government because it was a reorganization of constitutional government, incompatible with the original founders intent

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        1. How so?

          The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment were intended to end slavery. The framers of the Constitution clearly did not like slavery, but putting up with slavery was required to get some of the Southern states to join up. So they compromised.

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  4. This is a good post Tom and I look forward to reading more in your series. Indeed Liberals and Conservatives are operating from very different standpoints which I would argue comes from each sides understanding of individual liberty and the importance it plays in man’s overall morality. Unfortunately this is something both Democrats and many Republicans fail miserably at.

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    1. Not to sure we should totally disavow the Republican/Democrat relationship. After all, we are the country we are… the world power we are… because of just that relationship, painful as it is at times. But I would buy into your argument that the polarity arises from each side’s understanding of liberty and the importance it plays in man’s overall morality.
      The interesting paradox is that our respective morality is largely defined by religion, hence there is no true separation of politics and religion, in spite of the attempted separation of church and state with our laws.

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      1. @Doug

        There is a place for respectful disagreement. However, hasn’t what passes for political discourse started to look a little too much like bear baiting?

        It one thing to vehemently disagree with the leader of the opposition. It is entirely different matter to set out to personally destroy him or her. Yet each side has begun to view the personal destruction of other side’s leaders as its first objective.

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        1. On this we can agree. We definitely should not worry about the splinter of vice in someone else’s eye while we have a log in our own. We also should not assume the immorality of the someone’s motivations just because we disagree with them on methodology. But don’t you think that there is a difference between judging someone because they have sinned and criticizing them for promoting sin? Don’t you think that there is a difference between our criticizing a remorseful man who slept with a prostitute, and vehemently disagreeing with a pimp who is proud of what he does, and tells you that it is a good and moral thing? For example, it may not be for us to judge Donald Trump for if he secretly gambles now and then, but don’t you think it goes to his moral qualifications to be President if he actually and proudly runs casinos?

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        2. While I openly profess to my complete objection to Trump serving as President I certainly do not stand in judgement over him regarding anything relating to his morality. If he hustles prostitutes, promotes gambling, grabs female parts unconsentually, or whatever else the religious right wants to assign as a sin.. I don’t really care. If his conduct breaks the common law he should be punished according to the law.
          My only concern is in his ill-experience and complete inability to govern given he was never part of an environment where he had to value compromise toward others and retains a huge narcissistic approach that overrides any common sense in politics to the point that he displays the behavioral problems of a spoiled child that thrives in chaos. He would make a great CEO of a one dimensional real estate empire… but not my president.

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        3. @Tony

          I think we should primarily worry whether we are voting for the right thing for the right reasons. That would eliminate most dishonest and immoral candidates at the get-go.

          Frankly, i don’t think Conservatives have made nearly as much effort to destroy Democrat Liberal leaders as Democrat Liberals have made to destroy Conservative leaders. Even if we had the same degree of desire, we do not have anything approaching the capacities that Democrat Liberals can and have brought to the task. To start with 90 percent of journalists are Democrats.

          Question. Are you finally admitting the Democratic Party promotes sin? Are you suggesting that Obama and H. Clinton are remorseful? Or are you just admiring my bipartisanship and using it as an opportunity to attack Trump again?

          If you actually do admire the tone of this post, please stick to the issues.

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    2. Thank you. Glad to have you reading it.

      We get a considerable amount of emotional flack in the news media. Instead calming their readers, most journalists want to stir them up.

      What the story of Socrates shows and the story of Jesus, in particular, is that we are all sinful, and we don’t like to have our failings shown to us.

      To become virtuous, we have examine ourselves. Socrates had discovered that, and he learned the joy of doing it. Through such humility, he grew closer to God.

      What I hope to do is define the differences between Conservatism and Democrat Liberalism so we can clearly focus on solutions. Perhaps I will help a few people separate rationalizations (maybe even me) from the truth.

      I admit I am partisan about this. However, I also admit I am human. I have failings of my own. So I don’t think it does much good to accuse, condemn, shame, or humiliate anyone. As I think Socrates learned, we each have to humble our self before God. No one else can do it for us.

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      1. @ Tom…I appreciate your humbleness on this Tom. I too am partisan as we all are and struggle balancing my own desire to be right with objective truth.

        @ Doug….I wouldn’t say at all that we need to disavow the relationship between Republicans and Democrats, but it’s important to realize that the labels we place on ourselves and others are frequently not accurate.

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  5. I really like the tone of this post Tom. Sorry, I can’t give you any good answer to your questions, however, for a number of reasons:

    1. I would not presume to speak for Democratic Liberals, nor do I think that Democratic liberals always speak for me. While I think current Democratic liberalism is correct on many issues, I agree with you that they often lack the moral religious philosophical foundation that should set the direction of their progressivism. On the other hand, many conservative Republicans believe they have so ideologically closed the loop on an infinite God that they have become bounded by dogmatic rules instead of selfless virtuousness and love. One side wants to go the right way but they are without a compass, and the other side endlessly circles with a stuck rudder.

    2. I took a year of tax law in law school about 20 years ago so I have probably forgotten more about our tax system than you have ever known. I guess that probably makes us equally ignorant at this point. I know, however, enough to know that I also question much of our current tax system’s morality, but probably for different reasons than you. I certainly would not want to defend it. We all enjoy the benefits of public goods and services (military, police, fire departments, roads, airports, etc.). It would seem to be immoral not to make those who prosper from those public goods the most pay their share somehow. If we made it voluntary, then those of us who paid our share would being being robbed by those who did not. Even your vision of a limited government has to be paid for somehow. I don’t believe morality on such a complex and ambiguous issue is as absolute as your question implies. Just calling all taxation a “stealing” is like calling every surgery that does not have perfect results a “stabbing”. Any system is really just going to more or less moral than any other. Any system is going to have negative and positive moral and practical unintended economic consequences. Like you, I know what I don’t like, but I don’t pretend to be smart enough to propose anything better. Others are, however, and so I recommend again the book “The Darwin Economy”.

    3. As for your third question, I think that this is where the checks and balances that Madison referred to in Federalist 51 as well as other checks come into play. None of those checks are perfect, and a free press is one of those imperfect checks. In a way, the Founders and Framers used the chaos of selfish competition as a check on that very selfishness. They regulated our own lack of virtue to make us more virtuous. That is the paradox of our government, and that is why our Republic is such a messy business. However, if you think you know where perfect lines should be drawn in this creative frenzy, then you are fooling yourself. I sure don’t claim to know. The checks are to prevent corruption, but no amount of checks can stop corruption if the all checkers themselves are not honorable, if they are not seeking after virtue and opposing vice.

    4. Similarly, I don’t know the answer to your fourth question either, nor do I think it has a simple moral or practical answer. Perhaps an exploration of the moral implications could be found in the thought problem that I proposed in an earlier post which examines a version of Madison’s hypothetical by imagining what a government of finite human angels governing finite human angels in an imperfect world might really look like. What kind government would it be? Would it be bigger or smaller than it is now? If the necessity of government remains in perfectly moral world, then how can government be inherently immoral regardless of its size? I hope you plan to explore this further.

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    1. @Tony

      My latest post, https://citizentom.com/2017/05/21/incompatible-views-on-government-part-2a/, addressed the first question. Will try to tackle the last three in the next. Thanks for your comment. I suppose you won’t agree with my answers, but I do have answers and a philosophical basis for those answers. Am I correct in my answers. Well, philosophy is something like a battle plan for life. Our philosophy has to adjust to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Nevertheless, if we never figure out what we believe — which beliefs and values we hold dear — our adaptations simply devolve situational ethics. That is, we do whatever seems proper and convenient at the time.

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  6. Doug wrote:

    “If he hustles prostitutes, promotes gambling, grabs female parts unconsentually, or whatever else the religious right wants to assign as a sin.. I don’t really care. If his conduct breaks the common law he should be punished according to the law.”

    About thirty years ago, they gave an ethics survey to the MBA students at the best business schools. One of the questions that they asked the students was essentially, if they could take a given action that they knew was morally wrong, but also that would make them a tremendous amount of money, and that they would never be caught or prosecuted for doing, then would they still take that action? Nearly, all of the students said they would take the morally wrong action.

    This is perhaps an area where Tom and I would agree, in principle, if not always in the details. Virtue, honor and integrity matter.

    Unfortunately, concepts like virtue, honor and integrity have become old fashion, particularly since the 1970’s. People think that these words denote religious self righteousness and arcane Puritanism. And yet I speak from experience when I say that, unlike much of the rest of society, the military branchs have returned to the promotion of these concepts with greater intensity that ever. Why? Because our military realized that, at its heart, integrity is the essence of leadership. If a soldier or a sailor cannot trust his leader’s honesty, loyalty, and courage, then the soldier will only pretend to follow. On the other hand, if the soldier or sailor shares that common bound with his leaders, then he will follow that leader to the end. Unfortunately, the military is the only area of our democracy that has figured this out.

    In business and in government we have managers who are often only in it for selfish ambitions. Honor is considered passé. Leadership is therefore in short supply. Material goods are always valued over moral goods. As long as it is legal and it feels good, anything goes.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make every vice illegal. No one is perfect. We all have flaws. We all stray from honor and integrity in some things and at sometimes. However, everyone of any religion or no religion at all and at all times in history knows the difference between someone who tries to have basic integrity and someone who thinks integrity is for suckers. Which one would you trust as Commander in Chief?

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    1. Good remarks, Tony. I certainly do agree in that integrity, virtue, and honor in general have suffered over the years. Being a bit of the humanist that I am and having been in management as a profession, I think we can agree on some level that the trials and tribulations (code words for ‘stress’) of life have given us cause to accept deficiencies in those three elements in degrees of severity. In other words… just because a president engages in oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern outside of his marriage.. and got caught… absolutely does NOT obligate the conclusion that he’s obviously a “bad” president. On the other hand, denying it to the public that it occurred, or flat out unlawfully denying it in legal testimony, could indeed send some doubt as to his future credibility as president… and ability to make crisis judgments.
      For me, moral transgressions are, generally speaking, personal choices in life either made following logical thought, pure emotion, or the proverbial “moment of weakness” to which we generally assign sexual impropriety. Most people respect and even worship President Kennedy yet the guy had some real sexual impulses to satisfy during his tenure as President. Do you simply “throw out the baby with the bathwater”… remove a president who has made respectable accomplishments simply because he answers to his sexual urges in a way moralists would find objectionable? I’ve often said in the past.. if the president is doing a damn good job then I don’t care how many sexual partners he’s had.. in or outside his marriage.

      But here’s the other avenue to all that, Tony… who gets to judge integrity, virtue, and honor in others anyway and not have to look into a mirror themselves? Yet we all fall into that as we instinctively size up a person we meet for the first time; it’s a defensive instinct.

      Let’s use Bill Cosby, for example. Nearly 50 years as a “clean” comedian, his TV show was morally squeaky clean, his own academic achievements went to Phd in education, and he’s promoted black actors. Everyone loved Bill. But now it appears he may have broken the law with a number of women regarding his sexual inclinations. He’s certainly fallen from public grace because we put our trust in him that he was an “upstanding” human being. But in that wake he’s also created female victims to his actions… some appear to be affected forever. So we are left in the quandary… how do we measure his career accomplishments against the lives of his alleged victims who are changed forever by his alleged actions toward them? Maybe the courts can answer that for us down the line.

      Yes, we live in times where the measure of a man is not judged anymore by the firmness of his handshake or even by his outward persona of being church-going or God-fearing (because that can’t be trusted anymore). Life is far more complex than in the “old” days and many of us, along the way, have had to make some hard virtue-honor-integrity compromises, either for self or family. That’s where ‘degree’ comes in. For example, yes, I think I am generally an honorable person but because I am human I am very sure I have done some things in my past that might not be considered honorable. In the end does that make me a “bad” person? Again that begs the question.. who judges?

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      1. There are too many issues of moral philosophy to deal with in any one post. I will try to summarize what I mean by the moral concepts of virtue and vice:

        1. These moral concepts are universal. Courage, honesty, prudence, charity, etc. have been valued as a moral good, just as cowardice, dishonesty, greed,etc. have been recognized as morally bad, by every great religion and every admirable civilization throughout human history.

        2. These moral concepts are also situational in that one’s integrity, or lack thereof, can only be measured with regard to the circumstances in which he or she is found. It is sometimes prudent to retreat and it is sometimes cowardly to run away. It really does depend on the facts of the case.

        3. These moral concepts are often not a binary choice. It’s often a ruler instead of a rule. As I said before, the virtue of courage is often a grey line between being cowardly and being foolhardy. Charity exists somewhere on the margin between being self-defeatingly generous and being compassionlessly greedy. Furthermore, not all acts of virtue and vice are equally good and bad. Being courageous to save oneself is noteworty while courageously sacrificing oneself save many others is highly admirable. Cheating on one’s spouse would not be measured as vice filled as killing hundreds of innocents in a selfish quest for power.

        4. Intent matters. One of the best defenses of Trump’s supporters is that he really does not know any better. He honestly thinks that selfish ambition is a good thing. We can and should forgive him that, but we should not applaud him for it. Kennedy would have been ashamed to have his dalliances exposed; he certainly would not have been proud of them. Despite our admiration for JFK, what he stood for and the things he accomplished, the esteem in which we held his honor and integrity was diminished to some degree by our discovery of those infidelities. And, in a way, that is a good thing in that no mere man should be “worshiped”.

        5. I agree that we all have feet of clay to some degree or another and that none of us have the right to throw stones, but we still need to hold leaders to higher standards. The fact that Trump repents a few marital indiscretions is certainly forgivable and would not in itself hurt his ability to lead, particularly if, like JFK the balance of his life and his statements exemplified service, honor and virtue. On the other hand, the fact that he openly glorifies the demeaning and objectification of women is just one of many things about the man that makes his leadership a corrupting event.

        6. There is a difficult grey line between what is illegal and what is just immoral. Humanists and Christians often fool themselves into thinking they know exactly where that bright line is. In general simplistic terms, something normatively should be illegal if it disturbs the security and peace of society. Something is immoral if it is not virtuous and vice filled. Most things are immoral if they are illegal, but that does not mean that everything that is immoral needs to be illegal. Americans pride themselves on giving people the liberty to even make immoral decisions as long as the moral damage they do is only to consenting adults. This is not an easy scale to balance. Adultery and prostitution usually hurts someone who didn’t consent to it. Selling addictive drugs and promoting gambling hurts many people whose addiction overrides their actual consent, and it also hurts their families and the society as a whole. On balance, I think we should be as liberal as possible in what we call a crime, but I’m not saying that there is an easy place to mark the scales of justice.

        7. Virtue finds its moral universal foundation in unselfish love. Vice is all about selfishness. Because the best of humanist and atheistic moral philosophies also put man at the center, they should not find pursuit if virtue rationally contradictory to their moral beliefs, but instead they should find it complimentary. Because most of the major religions, and especially Christianity at its best, also hold loving one’s neighbor as one of the premises of the highest moral goods, there should be little dispute on this between religions either. Christian philosophy, however, places God at the center. We are commanded to love God and we believe God loves us. God’s very nature is love, and therefore we believe we are following the fundamental nature of the universe to love also, and to try always to act virtuously out of love for God and for each other. This is an important difference between believers and non-believers that goes to philosophical foundation rather than actual moral practice. The morality of virtue remains rational, natural and universal whether one believes in God or just humanity.

        Doug, I hope this helped you to understand where I am coming from on this.

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        1. You sound like a cleric, Tony. Your summations are well-defined as they fit into the struggle to “correct” instinctual behavior. But I sense we agree on at least two things here (not that we are disagreeing at all, actually. Good interaction for a Conservative blog.).. that the goal is to achieve a balance in our moral compass; that we all are not born ‘pointing north’ but that understanding a social equilibrium is necessary.. and second… it seems one way or the other we agree that Trump is NOT the right choice?

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        2. @Tony
          Just an observation. Charity is an expression of love. We are to love others as we love ourselves. So I don’t think this is correct.

          Charity exists somewhere on the margin between being self-defeatingly generous and being compassionlessly greedy.

          As the Golden Rule suggests we treat others as we would ourselves wish to be treated. Frankly, I cannot imagine you would enjoy excessive, self-destructive generosity from another human being.

          What is virtuous is that which makes us happy. When we love and are loved we are happy.

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  7. You flatter me with the cleric comment. I am not even that good a Catholic, but I’m trying to be. My background is far less aesthetic.

    How the instincts of man fit into a philosophy where virtue is “natural” is an interesting dilemma that has been dealt with by Aristotle and philosophers in all the abrahamic faiths since Aristotle, including St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Even lower level animals know when they are acting according to their nature or not, in other words,if they are acting like a virtuous wolf say.

    Wolves are pack animals who rely heavily upon each other. Although wolves may spar to achieve dominance in the pecking order, it would be unnatural for even the dominant wolf to kill his entire pack, cubs included, just so he would not have to share the latest elk kill, no matter how hungry he may be. He would not be a very virtuous wolf.

    On a scale measuring only reason and sentience, the distance between humans and even the highest animals is quite vast compared to the distance between all the other animals. Humans are both reason and instinct, which is the point of agreementt that I think you are trying to make.

    It is in our nature therefore to overcome instinct and to act rationally within our total natures. Aristotle and Aquinas make convincing arguments that it is both reasonable and natural for men to act virtuously, and that it is actually against human nature to act otherwise. One does not have to be religious to get this far, but the religious point of view goes on to say that man’s “natural” inclination is to know God and to follow His will in this regard. This can, however, be taken to extremes of orthodoxy if one goes on to extrapolate the rational of this natural law into increasingly complex situations and issues, and then presumes to always know God’s answer to what is natural and what is not. This kind of determinism, I think may go too far, and often gives Christians a bad rap for absolutism.

    As I said in my summary, virtues are universal and natural, but they are also exist on a grey and metaphorical continuum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you aren’t a cleric you are certainly educated in philosophy. In fact, those that have replied on this blog to various posts all seem to be above average in literacy… including our host, Tom. There’s not a lot of “You’re just another liberal asshole!” guttural responses. Been interesting, to say the least.

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  8. “Just an observation. Charity is an expression of love. We are to love others as we love ourselves. So I don’t think this is correct.

    Charity exists somewhere on the margin between being self-defeatingly generous and being compassionlessly greedy.

    As the Golden Rule suggests we treat others as we would ourselves wish to be treated. Frankly, I cannot imagine you would enjoy excessive, self-destructive generosity from another human being.

    What is virtuous is that which makes us happy. When we love and are loved we are happy.”

    I agree completey Tom. You misread my statement about charity because it was inartfully worded. I was trying to say exactly that the virtue of charity manifests itself somewhere in the precarious balance between “self destructive generosity” and a selfish greed that lacks any compassion for the poor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Tony

      When I was younger, I played Dungeon & Dragons. It is a role playing game that gets into virtue and ethics. The authors of the game tend to promote what they see as maintaining The Balance. (see => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons)).

      The original version of D&D allowed players to choose among three alignments when creating a character: lawful, implying honor and respect for society’s rules; chaotic, implying rebelliousness and individualism; and neutral, seeking a balance between the extremes.

      The 1977 release of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set introduced a second axis of good, implying altruism and respect for life, vs evil, implying selfishness and no respect for life. As with the law-vs-chaos axis, a neutral position exists between the extremes. Characters and creatures could be lawful and evil at the same time (such as a tyrant), or chaotic but good (such as Robin Hood).

      The idea sounds logical, but true evil is simply the absence of good, a heart so filled with pride that it has no room for the love of another human being.

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  9. Tom wrote:

    “The idea sounds logical, but true evil is simply the absence of good, a heart so filled with pride that it has no room for the love of another human being.”

    I don’t disagree. Defining the extremes (God verses the Devil) is philosophically revealing. However, in this world we humans don’t live at the extremes, and neither do societies.

    People and civilizations are actually virtuous in some ways and vice filled in others. Jefferson and Washington were amazing men of courage and their selfless contributions to the creation of free and democratic government in this cannot be understated, but they were also slave holders who prospered off the cruel bondage of others. As a nation, we started as a freer society but we also began with the stain of the tyranny and oppression of an entire race people. Weighing this balance of virtue verses vice of our Founders and of our nation at the founding can also only be done in the situational context of the time and place in history.

    However, we cannot improve ourselves as either individuals or as a civilization if we are so proud of the exceptionalism of our virtuosity that we ignore our vices. If America really is exceptional in history (and I believe it is), it is not because at the founding we discovered the perfect sweet spot on an arc between virtue and vice. Instead, it is because from our founding until now, with progress and regression, we as individuals and as a government of the people have bent the arc ever more slightly toward virtue and away from vice. In this fallen world, we, as individuals and as a nation, will never completely bend this “arc of justice” toward a perfectly virtuous society, but it is our duty to pray for God’s grace and wisdom and to keep trying.

    If we are indeed to keep trying, (1) covervativism requires that we as individuals and as a society need to rediscover the language of virtue and vice, of honor and integrity that was so often on the lips of our founders and the leaders of our nation up until the last half of the 20th Century when it became passé and began skipping generations, and (2) progressivism requires that we quit pridefully assuming that the founders baked the perfect cake, and keep actually bending that proverbial arc.

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    1. In our motives we should seek to be perfectly good. In our conduct we must seek an optimum outcome.

      Earlier you mentioned courage as a virtue. Courage begins in love. Because we love, we seek the good of others. If we ignore our fears and rush into danger, we are foolhardy. We throw away our lives. If we overrate our fears and ignore what good we might do, then we behave as a coward. Courage, then, is not so much a matter of balance as it is the ability to objectively weigh our fears.

      Is it inappropriate then to speak of a balance? That depends upon what we mean by balance. A balance is a type of scale. Should we balance our love with equal degrees of hatred or indifference? Not likely. However, when we choose how to serve those we love, we have to optimize our resources. Because hope, faith, and love are purely spiritual virtues, we can spend these virtues as freely as God permits. Because the things of this world are finite, however, when we speak of other virtues such as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, and kindness we run into physical limitations. Then we must optimize or balance our resources against the material good we desire to do. That is why when people speak of virtue they speak of balancing outcomes.

      When we speak of freedom, what does that mean? Generally, when people understand themselves to be free, each individual can choose for his or herself how to be virtuous. That is, do we serve the dictates of our own conscience or do we exist to implement the moral choices of the state?

      Religious freedom is the core issue. Thus, I think the difference between a free people and a slave people is this: a free people sees itself as the children of God, and a slave people sees itself the property of the state. Children busy themselves by trying to please their parents and growing up to be responsible adults. Work animals just hope for an occasional handout and to avoid beatings.

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  10. “In our era, we have nearly discarded the Constitution that Madison, Hamilton, and Jay promoted in The Federalist Papers.” A matter of opinion. True, the specific political philosophy that guided their interpretation of it is not commonly held, but that is not the same as nearly discarding the Constitution. If that were so, then what parts are actually discarded? The Congress still exists, as does the Executive, and the Judiciary. There are no slaves, no prohibitions on alcohol, and no one voting under the age of 18.

    “Therefore, the Federal Government has become a leviathan, an immense beast of fantastic proportions, totally unlike the limited government the founders envisioned.” Non sequitur, especially in light of the previous paragraph.

    “Conservatives don’t understand Democrat Liberals, and Democrat Liberals don’t understand Conservatives.” You are, of course, speaking for yourself.

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    1. Look at the Federal Budget. When Congress spends money, it is suppose to be able to point to some clause in the Constitution to justify the spending. With respect to over half the budget, you can’t do that, and that is just a start.

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      1. The “general Welfare” bit is rather expansive on what the Congress can spend money on, or so says Justice Story’s commentary and Hamilton’s view in his “Report on Manufactures.”

        In short, there is ample case law and support from Hamilton to argue for each budget line item. I take it you are of Madison’s persuasion i.e. that general welfare must be narrowly defined as extending from one of the subsequent clauses of Section 8? You must be since you assumed that the Constitution requires what only Madison proposes in Federalist No. 41 and his 1817 letter to the House on the federal public works bill.

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        1. No, obviously not. Hamilton and the courts don’t make that argument. Rather, they argue about what each clause means, rendering your reply a petty retort of someone without a real argument.

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        2. Either you are trying to make a point you haven’t made or you don’t know what you are talking about. All federal spending can be justified according to the current interpretation of the General Welfare Clause that follows the Hamilton doctrine i.e. broad scope of whatever is in the interest of the federal government to spend money on.

          There are specific things Congress MUST do as enumerated by subsequent clauses. Furthermore, the final clause in Section 8 is a catch all that does not limit the federal government to the above enumerations only, but also to whatever is necessary to cause those things to be.

          So, contrary to your belief, there is ample grounds for each line item in the federal budget based on General Welfare Clause. If you want to debate that point, file a lawsuit. Otherwise, don’t try to mock people who obviously know more about constitutional case law and interpretation as you do.

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        3. I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Your education is deficient. As a product of government-run schools, I know I had much to unlearn.

          What you are illustrating is why Big Government, Socialism, the Welfare State — whatever you want to call it — doesn’t work.

          Here you have presented the dishonestly required by judges when they read something as plainly stated as the Constitution and find permission to do whatever it is they want.

          The whole point of the Constitution is to limit the powers of Federal Government. The Constitution is a charter that specifically states what the Federal Government can do and must do. That is what they argued about when they wrote it. That is what they argued about when the states ratified it.

          Even so, not trusting men, the people of the 13 colonies wanted a Bill of Rights. So we have the 10th Amendment. Contemplate what the 10th Amendment plainly states.

          Amendment X

          The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

          When judges state the Federal Government can do things that the Constitution does not authorize, they render the 10th Amendment meaningless.

          Does the Constitution have to specifically authorize every cent the Federal Government spends? No. Some things are implied. If the Government is authorized “To establish Post Offices and post Roads”, then it follows Congress is authorized to hire and pay employees to make it happen.

          However, corrupting the General Welfare clause to include a slew of health, education and welfare programs is just plain ridiculous. It is a brazen lie.

          This illustrates why men cannot be trusted with great power over other men. When supposedly honorable men and women cannot even be trusted to admit the fundamental purpose of the Constitution, how are you going to make Socialism work? Where would we find leaders we can trust with that kind of power?

          Spout whatever garbage you want about the founding fathers, but they tried to be honorable, and they admitted the temptations of power.

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        4. “As a product of government-run schools, I know I had much to unlearn.” Homeschooling according to the Great Books Kolbe Academy cirriculum and then attending a very conservative Catholic Liberal Arts college that basically indoctrinated me into the school of Chesterton and Kirk? Yeah, so much to unlearn. What I unlearned was my reverence to liberalism through the understanding of man’s true nature.

          “Here you have presented the dishonestly required by judges when they read something as plainly stated as the Constitution and find permission to do whatever it is they want.”

          You are hardly being fair. The courts follow Hamilton’s interpretation. So are you saying that Hamilton did not know what the General Welfare clause meant? I mean, we can debate between the ideas of Madison and Hamilton and which one the court should use in their interpretation of the law, but you cannot say that the current interpretation is somehow less valid simply because you disagree with it. That is the sort of thinking you accuse me and you liberal enemies of doing.

          “When judges state the Federal Government can do things that the Constitution does not authorize, they render the 10th Amendment meaningless.”

          Except that they do not. There is ample case law that limits federal spending which is again based on Federalists like Madison and Hamilton. I have a feeling you didn’t research this.

          “The whole point of the Constitution is to limit the powers of Federal Government.” No, the point is in the Preamble: “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

          If it was solely to limit the powers of the fed, they should have just kept the Articles of Confederation or remained separate states. The former gave less power to the fed and the latter eliminates it. Rather, the whole point of the Constitution, according to the Constitution, is for those reasons listed in the preamble.

          “Does the Constitution have to specifically authorize every cent the Federal Government spends? No. Some things are implied.” Well this is a complete 180 from what you said before. Observe:

          “When Congress spends money, it is suppose to be able to point to some clause in the Constitution to justify the spending.”

          Are things implied or explicit? If things are implied, then the catch all clause at the end (To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof) would be pointless as it would be manifestly obvious for Congress to have the power to pass laws to execute the preceding powers. But then we have this clause and your statement that every line item in the budget should be squared with the Constitution. So either you didn’t bother to read this clause which would explain your comment about the hiring of post office employees being implied, or you are making up an argument as you go along.

          Which would explain why you seem to contradict yourself. You say that some things are implied, but deny anything is implied by the General Welfare clause when the simple fact that Madison and Hamilton BOTH relate what they think is implied by it disputes that claim.

          “However, corrupting the General Welfare clause to include a slew of health, education and welfare programs is just plain ridiculous. It is a brazen lie.” Don’t blame me; blame Hamilton. He was the first American to propose federal subsidies to industries in his 1791 “Report on Manufacturies.” Is Hamilton a socialist because he believed that the federal government had the power to provide subsidies to American industries in general so as to make them competitive with European ones? If you would like proof, here are Hamilton’s own words.

          “A question has been made concerning the constitutional right of the Government of the United States to apply this species of encouragement; but there is certainty no good foundation for such a question. The National Legislature has express authority “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare,” with no other qualifications than that “all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States; and that no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to numbers, ascertained by a census or enumeration, taken on the principles prescribed in the constitution,” and that “no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any State.”
          These three qualifications excepted, the power to raise money is plenary and indefinite, and the objects to which it may be appropriated, are no less comprehensive thin the payment of the public debts, and the providing for the common defence and general welfare. The terms “general welfare” were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which preceded; otherwise, numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used; because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union to appropriate its revenues should have been restricted within narrower limits than the “general welfare;” and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.
          It is, therefore, of necessity, left to the discretion of the National Legislature to pronounce upon the objects which concern the general welfare, and for which, under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper.
          And there seems to be no room for a doubt, that whatever concerns the general interests of learning, of agriculture, of manufactures, and of commerce, are within the sphere of the national councils, as far as regards an application of money.
          The only qualification of the generality of the phrase in question, which seems to be admissible, is this: That the object, to which an appropriation of money is to be made, be general, and not local; its operation extending, in fact, or by possibility, throughout the Union, and not being confined to a particular spot.
          No objection ought to arise to this construction, from a supposition that it would imply a power to do whatever else should appear to Congress conducive to the general welfare. A power to appropriate money with this latitude, which is granted, too, in express terms, would not carry a power to do any other thing not authorized in the constitution, either expressly or by fair implication.”

          So if you think there is a limit to the general welfare clause, then you are not arguing against socialism; you are arguing against Hamilton and the Congress that accepted the recommendations of his report. So you either have the course to disavow Hamilton and that Congress for establishing this interpretation of the Constitution for Justice Story to later opine upon and the court use as persuasive evidence for current case law, or you can admit that the Madison doctrine from Federalist 41 you espouse is not how the US has interpreted the clause since the First and Second US Congresses though you prefer it. You CANNOT declare me a socialist for adhering to the interpretation of the Constitution that won in 1791 without also calling the Framers and Founders socialists for signing on to Hamilton’s idea.

          The only one who has, so far, spouted garbage about the founding fathers has been you in that you haven’t actually expressed the opinions on the same that they left for posterity. By your own arguments, none of the Founders or Framers in the First and Second Congresses were honorable and were, in fact socialists. You cannot deny it because Hamilton’s own words prove this case.

          So, do you feel like rolling any accusations back yet or are you just going to call me a socialist, say I don’t understand the constitution, and declare, when it is manifestly not so, that you know the Founding Fathers better?

          Like

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