Friday, April 13, 2007

More Thoughts

Regarding Andrew Sullivan's debate with Sam Harris over religion, I thought this was interesting. From one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:

Sometimes, instead of finding answers, we just have to live the questions. And we do. We all do. Every day. This is the real world and our experience of it: no matter how much we know, most of the important stuff is steeped in mystery. Strange that some athiests [sic], who fashion themselves realists, cannot accept that simple reality.

Andrew's response was:

This reality is, in my view, the core basis of all true religious faith and the only solid philosophical foundation for political conservatism. It's also why I find agnosticism far more persuasive than atheism.

So we are not to find answers? What does "live the questions" mean, and how is it that "we all do"? "[M]ost of the important stuff is steeped in mystery"?

Religion is about more than mystery. Religion demands social responsibility. There's nothing mysterious about -- say -- the Ten Commandments.

Andrew Sullivan puts a lot of stock in political conservatism. He's staked his career on it. He's written a book about it. That's his agenda. He believes that political conservatism is the only way to go. We are not to seek answers. We are to accept the status quo. We are to gaze in awe as things happen around us. We're just supposed to sit back and watch. I think not.

Life in a democracy, in which the people rule by way of laws, requires constant vigilance on the part of all citizens lest our laws and institutions be subverted by the enemies of democracy, such as the theocrats and the plutocrats, or we get dragged into some disastrous, unnecessary war on the basis of lies.

I don't think Andrew Sullivan is a bad person, and he's certainly not stupid. (He's coming around, after all.) The motto on his blog reads -- a quote from George Orwell: "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Maybe he doesn't struggle quite enough. He's just now beginning to see what the conservative movement in this country is all about -- and he doesn't like it -- and he's been in the U.S. how long? (Since 1984?)

I'll leave it to others to keep after Andrew Sullivan in his constant struggle. There's one blogger who does it 24/7. See Bootstrapping Andrew Sullivan. He's also gay, by the way.

I've not read Sullivan's book "The Conservative Soul (How We Lost It; How to Get It Back)" nor do I have any desire to. I've read some of the customers' reviews on Amazon, however, and they are quite elucidating. From E. David Swan, South Euclid, Ohio:

The point where Mr. Sullivan lost me was in his distinction between true Conservatives and radicalized Conservatives. He writes, `It [conservativism] never seeks to return to a golden age or a distant past[.]' Really? Returning to the past is generally one of, if not THE defining feature of Conservativism. The author might want to read `The Conservative Mind' by Russell Kirk or `The Conservative Intellectual Movement' by George H. Nash to see an endless parade of Conservative intellectuals pining for some bygone era. Later, the author states that, "...Conservativism's great philosophical advantage over liberalism [is that] it can be more flexible." William F. Buckley famously stated that Conservatives [sic] `stands athwart history, yelling Stop'. Conservatives have stood in the way of civil rights, woman's suffrage and now gay rights. To a Conservative the American family is mom, dad and 2.2 children. Understanding of right and wrong can only be derived from Judeo-Christians teachings and moral relativity is the bane of an ethical society. Sounds about as flexible as a brick. One final jaw dropper is Mr. Sullivan's claim that `Conservatives, after all, hate war.' Somehow I think that the modern Conservative movement has completely left Andrew Sullivan behind. He considers neither religious fundamentalist nor libertarians to be true Conservatives when in fact they are the base.

Another argument that the author uses is that George W. Bush isn't a true conservative but this leads back to the question of what a true Conservative is. John Dean and Bruce Bartlett both used this same tactic. My opinion is that George W. Bush is the reductio ad absurdum of Conservativism. Bush is anti-intellectual, pro defense spending and singularly obsessed with lowering taxes. He also shares the paleo-conservatives love of religion as a panacea for society's moral failings. No man could possibly meet all definitions of a Conservative because many are mutually exclusive. The problem with Bush is that he is a classic ideologue who surrounds himself with like minded ideologues. Even Reagan who was the prototypical Conservative was pragmatic enough to raise taxes when it needed to be done. Bush on the other hand would stick to his agenda until the world came crashing down in a smoldering heap. This doesn't make him non-Conservative[;] it just makes him inflexible.

E. Gow, of Seattle, Washington, writes:

Sullivan's definition of conservatism is the defense of all the things that make Andrew Sullivan happy, such as gay marriage, worshipping Reagan and Thatcher, and most of all, having everybody defend his property rights while expecting nothing in return. Perhaps when he finally understands Hobbes[*] he'll recognize that he's not really a conservative and that all those things he so thoroughly derides in this book are the essence of American conservatism.


[*] [H]e fails to understand Hobbes' central point, that property rights are the result of government[,] not the basis for it. Hobbes' message is that without the cooperation of your society, "your" property is only that which you can physically defend.

And these comments are from readers who rated the book highly.

I have one last thought, something God says in the "Prologue in Heaven" to Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust I: "Ein guter Mensch in seinem dunklen Drange/ist sich des rechten Weges wohl bewuƟt." "A good man in his mysterious yearning/is well aware of the right way." Or, perhaps more poetically rendered (by Walter Kaufmann): "A good man in his darkling aspiration/ Remembers the right road throughout his quest."

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