Monday, May 10, 2010

An admixture of ignorance and venom II

This is the second post on Katherine Kersten’s scribblings yesterday. In the first one, I described her wildly inaccurate understanding of the concept of Social Darwinism. It is apparent that Katie based what she wrote (I won’t call it a column out of deference to journalists who actually write columns) on a book.

The book is We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding, and it has to be out in paperback. It explains why Kersten has apparently gotten a hold of a copy and did her little book report on it.

The premise of what she wrote is — unsurprisingly — the same as the book’s, namely that Progressivism is bad, in fact, it is downright un-American. Although, Kersten really didn’t even need a copy of the book to write what she wrote.

For example.


The Progressives viewed government's goal much more ambitiously than the Founders did. Instead of a limited government to protect individual freedom, they saw government's role as actually to achieve progress -- to constantly improve citizens' lives through scientifically planned reforms.

An Amazon “reviewer”:

The book focuses on ten principles: Liberty, Equality, Natural Rights, Consent of the Governed, Religious Freedom, Private Property, the Rule of Law, Constitutionalism, Self-Government, and Independence. It concludes with two chapters -- The New Republic, which describes the ideas of the Progressive movement, and American Renewal, which makes the case for a return to the ideas of the American Revolution.

* * *

You will gain from reading about the Founders' idea of natural rights, and the Progressives' very different idea of rights that should be guaranteed by government. These different ideas are at the basis of many political debates and conflicts. You may or may not change your mind, but you will better understand the "other side”.

Kersten writes that our liberties derive from “Nature and ‘Nature’s God.’” You can be sure this phrase is in Spalding’s book, too. According to one of the Amazon “reviewers,” Spalding says that human liberties derive, in fact, from natural laws — from a supreme being, and not the temporal laws of men and women (including the Constitution), although he probably just says “men.”

That would be an interesting proposition to discuss with Iranians or with women in, say, Kandahar. Some of them are undoubtedly unhappy with the “natural law” hand they’ve been dealt.

That’s the trouble with natural law: it’s entirely in the eye of the beholder. There were a handful of people who got hanged in Iran this past weekend for “waging war against God”: against somebody’s idea of natural law, in other words.

There was a sign at the Tea Party rally at the Minnesota Capitol on April 15th that I wish I had taken a picture of. It said, “We trust in God, not the government.” Same principle.

Discussing the rights of man is great for getting out from under the monarchy, divine right of kings dogma, but it doesn’t get you very far down to road to actual governance in a temporal world. No one has divined a natural law Uniform Commercial Code. (Although interestingly, the one we’ve got is rather Talmudic in the way it is laid out, with code and then commentary by the drafters, who apparently recognized they had some explaining to do.)

The framers of the Constitution wrote a thoroughly “positive law,” as opposed to “natural law,” document. It begins “We the people . . .  .” Not “As God hath ordained . . .  .” I can read the Constitution — and often do, really — and I don’t need the priestly class — which, after all, takes it pants off like everyone else: one leg at a time — to tell me what it means. The word “God,” appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution.

I do need Supreme Court Justices to tell me what the Constitution means sometimes, but they don’t purport to speak for God. Thank God.

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