Not Exceptional, But Not Abysmal

David French thinks American conservatives have a race problem (but, of course, he is not one of those conservatives):

In powerful right-wing populist circles—talk radio, Fox prime time, etc.—the absolute last thing you can argue is that right-wing populism has a race problem. The last thing you can say is that the big white populist tent includes too many racists, and is cozy with too many racists. No sir. The last thing you can say is that some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is motivated by racial animus against Latino immigrants. Nope. Can’t say that. Then you’re being politically correct. You’re giving in to the left.

Is it a problem for the populist right that an immense right-wing platform like Breitbart engaged in race-baiting with a “black crime” tag and its flattering coverage of the alt-right? Is it a problem that the head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, told a reporter that he wanted to make the site the “platform” for the alt-right? Is it a problem that Tucker Carlson declares the threat of white supremacy a “hoax,” accuses immigrants of littering too much based on his fishing trips to the Potomac, and invites an actual alt-right congressional candidate on his show to discuss a moratorium on immigration? This candidate is a man who declared that white Americans were “being replaced by third world peasants who share neither their ethnicity nor their culture.”

I understand the word ethnocentrism doesn’t carry the force of the epithet racism, but why is opposition to Mexican-American immigrants racist? Doesn’t that cheapen the racial divide between descendants of African slaves and European-Americans? But I digress.

Imagine what French would write about politics in Northern Ireland where a candidate refused to condemn a terrorist act:

Sinn Fein’s North Belfast General Election candidate John Finucane has refused to condemn the IRA’s attempted assassination of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

In December 1996, an RUC officer was injured when IRA gunmen opened fire on police officers guarding Mr Dodds when he was visiting his seriously ill son at the Royal Children’s Hospital in west Belfast.

Gunmen fired four shots at officers in a hospital corridor as children were being treated close by. One bullet struck an officer in the foot, while another hit an empty incubator in the intensive care unit.

Incumbent North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds is running against John Finucane for the Westminster seat, in what is expected to be one of the closest contests of election.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Mr Finucane, whose father Pat was murdered by the UDA in 1989, was asked if he would condemn 1996 IRA attack.

He said: “I have an issue with selective condemnation. I think it cheapens our past. I think it is a barrier to reconciliation… I know that the pain of the Troubles visited everybody, regardless of where they came from. I want that to be dealt with.”

That is a serious problem if representatives of established parties cannot condemn non-state acts of violence against members of the opposing political party. It might be like a former POTUS praising a paramilitary leader the way Teddy Roosevelt spoke favorably of John Brown in his famous speech, The New Nationalism:

Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will forever be associated; and Kansas was the theatre upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the great experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail.

The United States is not as close to that kind of violence as Northern Ireland is. Sure, we are only four decades from the last of the Weather Underground’s violence against police and twenty-five years from Timothy McVeigh’s bomb. Some even think violence be in the United States’ future.

But we have not had political parties that were arms of terrorist organizations. Shouldn’t David French know the difference between being in denial about violence and opposition to immigration?

45 thoughts on “Not Exceptional, But Not Abysmal

  1. TR was a demagogue of the same stripe as our POTUS. I can’t imagine any sensible politician praising John Brown; not even Lincoln did so.

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  2. This is red meat, Darryl.

    “And, oh, by the way, you can’t define victory as the exclusion of your enemies from the public square. There are going to be Drag Queen Story Hours. They’re going to happen. And, by the way, the fact that a person can get a room in a library and hold a Drag Queen Story Hour and get people to come? That’s one of the blessings of liberty.” – David French, brave conservative and Twitter warrior.

    If you want to read some epic pwnings of French your search terms are “David French” site:thezman.com.

    Official Conservatism Inc is really a caricature.

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  3. SDB,

    It’s a blessing of liberty that children can be exposed to perversion? It might be a consequence of the “kind” of liberty postmodern Westerners have embraced. But a blessing?

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  4. “Blessings of liberty” is a phrase taken from the preamble of the constitution. I take it from the context of French’s comments that the “blessings of liberty” entails viewpoint neutrality from the state. So yes, the same freedom that keeps secular humanists (who hold all of the cultural power in our nation) from stopping us from indoctrinating our kids with “abusive” ideas also allows other parents to expose their kids to a Drag Queen reading gay-positive children’s stories.

    We can’t convince fellow presbyterians to follow the WCF (and have been on the losing side for 100yrs), what makes you think that giving up on viewpoint neutrality is going to result in anything other than the state quashing religious freedom of traditional Christians? Unless you have a lot of power that we don’t have (and frankly have never had), you can’t insist on freedom for me, but not for thee. So one of the “blessings of liberty” is that people get to worship Mary, blaspheme God, and expose their kids to drag queens.

    As far as David French being a “brave conservative and Twitter warrior”, the fact of the matter is that he has indeed been on the front line of religious liberty litigation and has been quite successful at making the case in our course that the “blessings of liberty” means that religious conservatives get to do things that the majority think are harmful. Ahmari’s view and those ready to toss aside classical liberalism are just stupid.

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  5. SDB,

    I’m actually not mocking you. I’ve got some other stuff going on and I was laughing at the absurdity of it all.

    Your/French’s definition of liberty is the exact opposite of what the Reformers and Founding Fathers meant by the word. Your definition of liberty is actually the definition of “license.” What French should’ve said is, “Drag queen story hours are just one of the curses of license.” You don’t listen to podcasts, but to anyone else, this is explained in The Theology Pugcast called “Liberty or License: what does it mean to be free?”

    We can’t convince fellow presbyterians to follow the WCF (and have been on the losing side for 100yrs), what makes you think that giving up on viewpoint neutrality is going to result in anything other than the state quashing religious freedom of traditional Christians?

    The state is using homosexuality to crush religious freedom. Broken Beto made the State’s intentions very clear. It’s absurd to say that granting homosexuals more license to corrupt even our children will result in more religious freedom for us. The exact opposite is true.

    Unless you have a lot of power that we don’t have (and frankly have never had), you can’t insist on freedom for me, but not for thee. So one of the “blessings of liberty” is that people get to worship Mary, blaspheme God, and expose their kids to drag queens.

    There can’t be any liberty for anyone when the voting populace thinks “Liberty” is actually “License.” The Constitution is for a moral and religious (Christian) people that can self-regulate. People that act like Sodomites have to have the boot of a tyrant on their necks to restrain their evil. Calvin explains this very clearly in The Institutes chapter on civil government. I think this is self-evidently true.

    Just out of curiosity, are you in the PCA? I’m taking data for a side-project.

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  6. SDB,

    Ahmari is wrong to think he’s going to be able to get someone in power to enforce whatever Christendom idea he wants to enact. So I don’t disagree there.

    The problem with French is twofold. The first one Walt identifies, namely, that the Founders did not in any way conceive of the blessings of liberty entailing sexual perverts reading to kids at the public library. That’s not freedom. Let’s just admit it. It’s license.

    Second, there’s no such thing as viewpoint neutrality. So, while I appreciate David’s efforts for religious liberty, he’s naive if he really thinks viewpoint neutrality on the part of the state is possible. Heck, the state already is against certain viewpoints, it just happens to be the case that most of the viewpoints it actively prosecutes are those that the majority of the people still believe to be wrong (e.g., incest). Just wait until the next few decades of the sexual revolution, and that’s going to change as well.

    The state is going to enforce a view. Religious freedom somehow survived for 200 years without it also necessitating that community libraries allow for drag queens to snuggle up to the local children. The problem is that there is no common moral ethos binding our nation together any longer. If my freedom as a Christian depends also on the freedom of the local drag queen to do his thing at the library or the Seattle local government coalition against homelessness to have the freedom to hire a transgender stripper (true story, see Rod Dreher), then our freedom ain’t going to last because that freedom is going to become the freedom to never be offended, as we see things are going and as Walt noted with Beto’s honest statement of what the left actually wants to do once it regains power.

    Now what to do about this, I don’t know or have the answer except some kind of moral awakening. But we should at least be honest enough to admit that total viewpoint neutrality is not possible or even desirable. And we should be honest that we’ve already lost the battle for freedom if we really believe our freedom to preach the gospel in the public square depends also on letting the transgender movement have its say in public spaces.

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  7. What’s the old life without some good old fashioned Romanist styled moralizing? Total depravity isn’t what it use to be if drag queens are the bar. Its totalitarianism or bust from either side so the depravity meter should spike if that’s any consolation.

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  8. I’m aware that there is a strain of thought that asserts that liberty is the freedom to be virtuous while license is the unconstrained pursuit of one’s appetites. I don’t find that distinction compelling. A moment’s notice shows that this construction is equivalent to “error has no rights”, and this stance is directly opposed to the classical conception of liberty. While Locke may not have ended his life reformed and he wasn’t exactly a founder, he was certainly influential in the development of classical liberalism.

    In his treatise on Civil Government, Locke draws the line between liberty and license on the principle that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions”. Further, we are obligated to do our best to preserve the life, liberty, healths, limb, and goods of another. Of course, Locke also thought the state should not tolerate atheism as he thought it would undercut the foundations for morality (he was a thoroughgoing foundationalist). This of course is mistaken. Even some animals have taboos, hierarchies, and a “code” – clearly we are not blank slates that need rationality to have any sense of morality. But whatever the case, Locke’s bound on liberty is a far cry from the stance that it is simply the freedom to pursue virtue.

    A more modern way to describe Locke’s stance is that the state should ameliorate negative externalities and the state should use public reason (ala Rawls) to adjudicate what counts as a negative externality and balance competing interests. I don’t see how to get around this in a pluralistic society. For better or worse, we are not a reformed nation, Christian nation, Judeo-Christian nation, or even theistic nation. So in a very real sense, one of the blessings of liberty is insistence on view-point neutrality. On the one hand, this means that we don’t get to stop drag queens from reserving space at libraries and inviting kids to hear their stories and parents can’t be stopped from taking their kids to have gay positive stories read to them by those drag queens. On the other hand, Christians cannot be stopped from reserving space at the library and inviting kids to hear bible stories and parents can’t be stopped from taking their kids to hear biblical stories read to them by Christian evangelists.

    Viewpoint neutrality is not natural, but I don’t think that means it is undesirable or impossible to achieve. What it means is that state actors have to be pushed to set aside their viewpoint about the wholesomeness or morality of behavior in establishing laws and policies. So we don’t get to say that pornography should be banned because it is sinful, rather we can work towards banning pornography because of its negative externalities (spread of disease among actors, mental problems it causes, etc…).

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  9. “If my freedom as a Christian depends also on the freedom of the local drag queen to do his thing at the library or the Seattle local government coalition against homelessness to have the freedom to hire a transgender stripper (true story, see Rod Dreher), then our freedom ain’t going to last because that freedom is going to become the freedom to never be offended, as we see things are going and as Walt noted with Beto’s honest statement of what the left actually wants to do once it regains power.”

    Well the person who hired the transgender stripper was fired. It is not clear to me that the strain of the left defined by Beto supports classical liberalism – indeed, they are pointed critics of classical liberalism…the flip side of the Christian Right. Viewpoint neutrality does not entail not having a viewpoint about anything. It is setting aside sectarian concerns in adjudicating state policy. Perhaps sectarian neutrality is a better phrase to use. I do find it curious that the most extreme view espoused by a minor ideologue that confirms one’s fears is taken as the “true” view of the left. It is the same rhetorical game that the left plays when they assert that some theonomist is showing the “true” view of the right. Did Pat Robertson reflect what the right really wanted when he ran for president? I don’t think so…

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  10. sdb,

    Thanks for expanding on this. I think Locke’s ideas are only possible in a society with heavy Protestant intellectual capital. The very idea of “nature” is not a common ground to reason with anyone in the modern “pluralistic” West. My Darwinist friends see nothing wrong with abortion nor the behavior of tribes of monkeys who eat other tribes as needed. In a recent discussion, they said, “We’re just apes.” The fittest among us are those with the will to power and might makes right.

    People from other religious traditions are similarly “Natural” towards one-another in a way that their religion defines nature. In India, those born to lower castes sinned in a past life and should be treated accordingly. In Islamdom, dhimmies and kuffar have been treated brutally.

    Even the idea of “negative externalities” is very much dependent on one’s definition of nature and religion.

    A moment’s notice shows that this construction is equivalent to “error has no rights”, and this stance is directly opposed to the classical conception of liberty.

    This is a false dichotomy. Obviously, their has to be an agreed-upon set of norms – a “Sacred Canopy” – or you can’t have laws. There are degrees of license that will and will-not be punished. You can’t legislate morality or religion but that doesn’t mean you allow everything for the sake of religious liberty.

    On the one hand, this means that we don’t get to stop drag queens from reserving space at libraries and inviting kids to hear their stories and parents can’t be stopped from taking their kids to have gay positive stories read to them by those drag queens.

    Let’s see how far you’re willing to take this. Cartel members who worship Santa Muerte are now practicing cannibalism and forcing their subordinates to do the same. Cannibalism was often practiced as a means of getting the spirit power of conquered enemies. THe Japanese were eating some of our captured airmen in WWII for this reason (read “Flyboys”). Should this religious practice be allowed? What about ancient Aztec religion or lesser Jihad? This is now a non-academic discussion in the modern “pluralistic” West. What rights should these errors have? Don’t dismiss this as “reductio ad absurdum” because the elite are currently flying the Lolita Express as a form of spiritual journey. They’re also practicing mock cannibalism at their parties at the J. Paul Getty museum

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  11. Scottish Common Sense Realism did have a major part in the founding of this nation to the chagrin of our Van Tillian friends. Sanity and insanity are two different states of being. If I proclaim to be Napoleon Bonaparte tomorrow, I should be analyzed for health concerns. If not then we all should just sit around a campfire at Spahn Ranch and sing Always is Always Forever (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bosZabtMxw) . There has not been any philosopher major or minor that I am aware of that held to choosing your sex was an option. While you have the right to be Sandemanian instead of Reformed in this country you should not be able choose your sex. Although if we all chose to be black women tomorrow maybe Critical Race Theory would go away and die!

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  12. SDB,

    So we don’t get to say that pornography should be banned because it is sinful, rather we can work towards banning pornography because of its negative externalities (spread of disease among actors, mental problems it causes, etc…).

    Who adjudicates what diseases are? Whether something is actually a mental health problem? Etc. The same professional classes and societies that are now telling us that there is no such thing as male or female. And by the way, the government won’t give you a license to practice medicine unless you are accredited by said programs.

    And of course, the pro-pornography side is going to say the problem here with the mental health problems isn’t the stuff itself but of society’s failure to recognize the nobility of sex work. So, it’s now government’s job to make sure we understand how noble sex work is, and there are lots of people pushing for that.

    The kind of pluralism you suggest simply isn’t possible. There will be a moral code that will bind society together. There’s no such thing as a society that has ever not legislated things based on morality. It’s the job of law to legislate morality.

    You’re also assuming that there are people on the other side besides perhaps Andrew Sullivan who actually want the kind of pluralism you suggest. But you can’t even get the LGBTQEIEIO+AZ77XY community to sign off on laws that will add sexual orientation to anti-discrimination federal law with relatively innocuous exceptions for religious workers and institutions. There is no compromise with these people. They’re totalitarians.

    People want to equate the mainstream religious right with totalitarianism, but I don’t see Franklin Graham calling for the shutting down of synagogues. Meanwhile, the mainstream sexual deviant coalition including GLAAD and the HRC want to give the state power to take my children and pump them full of hormones if they were to express the barest hint of gender confusion.

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  13. @Walt

    My Darwinist friends see nothing wrong with abortion nor the behavior of tribes of monkeys who eat other tribes as needed. In a recent discussion, they said, “We’re just apes.” The fittest among us are those with the will to power and might makes right.

    None of my colleagues who work in the field of evolution, anthropology, etc… argue that we should simply coopt the moral structure of other species. Their argument is more subtle – these species have adopted a form of morality that enables them to survive. It is not something that they have arrived at by a rational process. Given that, it should not be surprising that humans have adopted a moral code that allows them to survive – it makes them more fit.

    Regarding abortion, while it is popular among non-theists, there are notable exceptions (perhaps the best known is Christopher Hitchens). The question is whether the rights of the unborn to live trump the right of the mother to decide what she does with her body. One can make a case against the legality of abortion without appeal to sectarian belief. Indeed, Locke does exactly that.

    You can’t legislate morality or religion but that doesn’t mean you allow everything for the sake of religious liberty.

    Right. I’m not an anarchist. If there is a negative externality arguable on non-sectarian grounds, then under classical liberalism, the behavior can be curtailed by the state – even if the behavior is religious. What you can’t do is say that cannibalism should be outlawed because the Bible says so.

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  14. “The same professional classes and societies that are now telling us that there is no such thing as male or female”
    What professional society is saying that there is no such thing as male and female? I’ve heard some say that one’s self-conception of whether one’s gender identity is male or female is more fundamental than one’s reproductive organs. These same people also point out that not everyone’s reproductive organs are strictly male or female – intersex people exist. Alice Dreger is a prominent advocate for this position. Given that this idea is out there, what should we do about it? Appealing to Genesis won’t get you very far.

    “So, it’s now government’s job to make sure we understand how noble sex work is, and there are lots of people pushing for that.”
    You’re flailing here. There are some who argue for the nobility of sex work, but I don’t think anyone thinks the crisis of ED among young people is positive.

    “It’s the job of law to legislate morality.”
    Well that’s the question isn’t it. Obviously I disagree, but perhaps a more precise framing of this is to say that laws in a pluralistic society should not be sectarian. Being reformed Christians, we agree that no one can act morally if the action is not of faith (any thing not of faith is a sin). You can’t legislate that. Everything a non-believer does is immoral. But how do we live in a society where there are unbelievers? We build laws around shared reasons for ameliorating negative impacts on others. I guess the real question is how pluralistic a society can be and still be liberal. There is a strain of thought that our current level of pluralism is to far for a functioning society so that liberalism is dead. I gather this is your view. Is that a fair reading of your comment? If so, then we are in deep, deep trouble because reining in pluralism and rejecting liberalism of the sort advocated by French is not going to result in a society that has space for conservative Christians to live according to God’s law unmolested.

    “There is no compromise with these people. They’re totalitarians.”
    Right, totalitarianism is a rejection of liberalism. If society rejects liberalism, we are going to get some species of totalitarianism. Given who the power holders are in America, there is no way that it will be a totalitarianism that makes room for the convictions of traditionalist Christians. A liberalism that makes room for the fact of the pluralism that exists is the only path forward that I can see that makes room for us. This is French’s point and the basis of the work he has been doing on the religious liberty front. What is the alternative?

    “I don’t see Franklin Graham calling for the shutting down of synagogues.”
    Well Franklin Graham did say that “true Islam cannot be practiced here in this country” and did call for Duke not to allow public Islamic calls for prayer. Given the wide spread protests against the opening of mosques across the US, it is hard to see how this is a fringe movement or something he wouldn’t support. The Atlantic says, “Pat Robertson warned that they were threatening the religious liberty of Christians, who if the mosque was built might be required to participate in “public prayer five times a day.” They go on to write, “In 2012, Becket came under attack from a Catholic-aligned legal defense organization, The Thomas More Law Center, one of whose staffers tweeted, “Believe Islam a religion, then support the Becket Fund. Believe it will destroy US, then supt thomasmore.org.” When Becket filed an amicus brief last year on behalf of Muslims seeking to build a mosque in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Thomas More announced that it would defend the mosque’s opponents, whose right to protest it claimed was being denied.” Further, “In 2010, Richard Land, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, joined an interfaith coalition to defend the rights of Muslims to build mosques. Within months, a popular cry forced him to withdraw. Land’s successor, Russell Moore, has also come under attack for his defense of American Muslims’ religious liberty. And this January, another Southern Baptist institution, the International Mission Board, rescinded its support for mosque building after several mega-churches threatened to withdraw their funds.” “Cruz himself has called Sharia an “enormous problem” and introduced legislation that could lead to the closure of mosques.” That certainly sounds like opposition to new mosques by the religious right. Now imagine, openings of evangelical and reformed churches were organized by the Christian Left and their secular allies or progressive senators proposed legislation that could lead to closure of churches. I suspect that we would see a strange new respect for the classical liberalism of David French.

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  15. The Achille’s heel of 2K theology is accounting for morality in the public square. The choices seem to be

    * Morality is informed by Scripture
    * Morality is innate to all
    * “Morality” is a social construct

    Weirdly, the first position almost always seems to go hand-in-hand with a felt need for the state to enforce morality, rather than have culture do the heavy moral lifting. And the second seems to go hand-in-hand with a more laissez-faire approach to moral enforcement (which actually seems consistent).

    And the problem is that it is possible to “hack” all three positions in order to gain power, which seems to be what the social-justice crowd has done.

    I don’t know that the solution is to bring Scripture to bear on our law-giving. Seems like if we want our system to be hack-proof, we have to actually win some arguments in the culture. So how? In the near term, the female-athlete issue probably has legs. But on the marriage front, Christians have utterly failed to convince the skeptical that heteronormativity is best. That might have something to do with hitching our wagons to complementarianism, or it might be that the commercial headwinds are too strong (see: Chic-Fil-A), or it might be that Christians did too much retreating from the academy in the 90s.

    What I do know is that the job won’t be accomplished by fussing about “cucks.” If your best target is David French, you need to learn about the well-organized progressive left. They seem to know how to eat people’s lunch.

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  16. None of my colleagues who work in the field of evolution, anthropology, etc… argue that we should simply coopt the moral structure of other species. Their argument is more subtle – these species have adopted a form of morality that enables them to survive. It is not something that they have arrived at by a rational process. Given that, it should not be surprising that humans have adopted a moral code that allows them to survive – it makes them more fit.

    AFAIK “fitness” is just the ability to have more offspring than the other guy. Have you and your colleagues written down this Darwinian ethics for us to read?

    Regarding abortion, while it is popular among non-theists, there are notable exceptions (perhaps the best known is Christopher Hitchens). The question is whether the rights of the unborn to live trump the right of the mother to decide what she does with her body. One can make a case against the legality of abortion without appeal to sectarian belief. Indeed, Locke does exactly that.

    The exceptions prove the rule that non-theists think infanticide is OK if the mother decides. There is no overlap between them and Christians on this basic matter of public morality. We, as a society, have decided that we’ll base our public morality on atheistic principles and Christians can refrain from infanticide as a private matter.

    If there is a negative externality arguable on non-sectarian grounds, then under classical liberalism, the behavior can be curtailed by the state – even if the behavior is religious

    What ethical system does the state use to decide what is a “negative externality?” What if the State decides that Christians must hire practicing homosexuals to work in their schools or that they should provide goods and services that contradict their religious beliefs? Essentially what you’re arguing for is statism.

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  17. Jeff,

    The Achille’s heel of 2K theology is accounting for morality in the public square.

    I think it’s fairer to say the Achille’s heel of postmodern 2K theology is accounting for morality. Calvin and the Reformers just used the Bible as a basis for public morality, as do Christian theologians from the Global South like Vishal Mangalwadi and Chinese like Rev. Wang Yi. Postmodern Western 2Kers reject the Reformers’ use of the Bible as a basis for public morality because pluralism and reasoning in the public square with the Bible as a basis for public policy leads to theocracy. “Calvin was a theocrat.”

    I think it’s fairer to say that the Reformers (and everyone outside the West) understand that cultures come from cults (religion). Even the use of natural law is subservient to a culture’s religious views. Looking around the world, we see that Hindustan is based on Hinduism (see Modi’s Hindu supremacism), Islamdom is based of Islam with its own legal system (shari’ah), China is based off of ancestor worship in the private sphere and Confucianism and Emperor worship in the public sphere. The West was traditionally thought of as Christendom. Only very recently have Westerners been arguing for pluralism from – until very recently – the luxury of nonpluralism. As pluralism has increased and the Bible been abandoned as the basis for the West, internal strife over “who we are” has skyrocketed. We have to agree on a public system of morality for pluralism to work, and based on the Roe v. Wade and Obergefell vs. Hodges, it’s pretty clear that the new public system of morality will not be informed by the Bible.

    Weirdly, the first position almost always seems to go hand-in-hand with a felt need for the state to enforce morality, rather than have culture do the heavy moral lifting.

    The Founding Fathers thought that the culture – a moral and religious people – should do the heavy lifting rather than the State. A free state requires people who can self-regulate. Wicked people require tyranny. Don’t argue this with me. Argue it with Calvin.

    I don’t know that the solution is to bring Scripture to bear on our law-giving. Seems like if we want our system to be hack-proof, we have to actually win some arguments in the culture. So how? In the near term, the female-athlete issue probably has legs. But on the marriage front, Christians have utterly failed to convince the skeptical that heteronormativity is best. That might have something to do with hitching our wagons to complementarianism, or it might be that the commercial headwinds are too strong (see: Chic-Fil-A), or it might be that Christians did too much retreating from the academy in the 90s.

    Theologians from the Global South and China argue exclusively from the Bible AFAIK (I’ll have to watch more of Wang Yi’s sermons). They don’t buy into the postmodern Western Christian idea of winning cultural arguments on some non-existent neutral ground with atheists and pagans. I’ve only seen Bible-believing orthodox Protestants retreat on everything even within their own denominations. I don’t know what “winning” looks like, with maybe the exception of the Preus clan in the LCMS. Wilberforce and some of those 18th century Anglo-Protestants had some good ideas. We should probably stop losing in our own churches first though.

    All this is to say, I think we should go back to the Calvinist/Lutheran 2K model and throw out the new one.

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  18. “ AFAIK “fitness” is just the ability to have more offspring than the other guy. Have you and your colleagues written down this Darwinian ethics for us to read?“

    No. Fitness applies to groups. There are certain moral facts that we know innately. What Lewis calls the Tao and what I think Paul has in mind when he talks about the law being written on our hearts. For example, Reciprocity, empathy, fairness, cooperation are not things we reason to, but instead things we know. To borrow from Plantinga, they are properly basic beliefs.

    “ The exceptions prove the rule that non-theists think infanticide is OK if the mother decides. There is no overlap between them and Christians on this basic matter of public morality. We, as a society, have decided that we’ll base our public morality on atheistic principles and Christians can refrain from infanticide as a private matter.“

    Abortion does not have an obvious Christian response as evidenced by the OPC minority report, CTs support for abortion, and Criswell’s support for abortion. It took argumentation to convince evangelicals that abortion was morally reprehensible. Furthermore, there are secular arguments against abortion. These have been effective at convincing the majority of our society that abortion should be curtailed. From what I’ve heard, the most vocal proponents of unlimited abortion on demand come from mainline Christians and the most careful arguments against come from Roman Catholics. Curious isn’t it.

    “ What ethical system does the state use to decide what is a “negative externality?” What if the State decides that Christians must hire practicing homosexuals to work in their schools or that they should provide goods and services that contradict their religious beliefs? Essentially what you’re arguing for is statism.“

    You don’t need an ethical system. That’s the point. We intuit that having your life threatened is a bad thing, so we should have speed limits. Atheists and Christians agree that you shouldn’t be able to take someone else’s stuff, so we outlaw fraud and larceny. Conservative Protestants don’t have such a great track record of solving thorny moral questions. In the 19th century we concluded that you shouldn’t be able to own someone else at the point of a gun. Noll’s work on the Civil War is definitely worth reading on this front.

    Sproul’s article on statism is not convincing…the shift from local control of schools to federal education policy is a step on the path to Mao’s China? Really? The classical liberalism I advocate is in direct opposition to statism. The state is limited to dealing with negative externalities on the basis of public reason. That means the state can’t stop a local library from hosting a tranny to read kiddy stories, but it also can’t stop a local library from inviting an evangelical to read bible stories. There are certainly illiberal (authoritarian) strains on the left. The antidote is liberalism not right wing illiberalism (authoritarianism). Given our minority status, this is especially true.

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  19. “As pluralism has increased and the Bible been abandoned as the basis for the West, internal strife over “who we are” has skyrocketed.“

    Really? 150 years ago Americans killed 100’s of thousands of other Americans to decide who we were. We were an overwhelming Protestant bible-believing country. We are nowhere near that today. Go back another few score, and a bunch of Bible believing brits and colonists killed each other to decide who we were. Go back another century and we have the most violent war in Europe (as measured by the fraction of the population killed) as Bible believing Mennonites, Lutherans, Baptist’s, reformed, and Catholics slaughtered one another to decide who we were. Locke’s call for tolerance didn’t come from nowhere.

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  20. The abortion arguments of the last half century are going to look as quaint as grammas Davenport in the not too distant future considering crispr and cloning and your DNA being sold like a cheap trick on the black market . Think facebook of dna.

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  21. No. Fitness applies to groups.

    Maybe there’s a Darwinian ethical system we can agree on. I haven’t seen one. Hitler and Sanger certainly took Darwinism to its logical conclusion, if you ask me.

    There are certain moral facts that we know innately. What Lewis calls the Tao and what I think Paul has in mind when he talks about the law being written on our hearts. For example, Reciprocity, empathy, fairness, cooperation are not things we reason to, but instead things we know. To borrow from Plantinga, they are properly basic beliefs.

    Sure, but Romans 1 explains that you either worship God or nature. If the latter, you’re given over to lawlessness and a debased mind instead of knowledge of Him and his law. Everyone has a God-given conscience and knowledge of God and His law varies widely depending on the culture. You seem to draw a moral equivalence between cultures, regardless of the Bible’s influence on the West. Read Vishal Mangalwadi.

    Abortion does not have an obvious Christian response as evidenced by the OPC minority report, CTs support for abortion, and Criswell’s support for abortion. It took argumentation to convince evangelicals that abortion was morally reprehensible. Furthermore, there are secular arguments against abortion. These have been effective at convincing the majority of our society that abortion should be curtailed. From what I’ve heard, the most vocal proponents of unlimited abortion on demand come from mainline Christians and the most careful arguments against come from Roman Catholics. Curious isn’t it.

    Christians have historically been opposed to infanticide back to the first century. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. In raw numbers, the abortion rate has not been curtailed. Reporting is not accurate either. The largest state in the Union – California – does not report abortions to the CDC. That liberal mainline Protestant apostates support abortion is not a strong argument that Christians don’t know what to do about it.

    You don’t need an ethical system. That’s the point. We intuit that having your life threatened is a bad thing, so we should have speed limits. Atheists and Christians agree that you shouldn’t be able to take someone else’s stuff, so we outlaw fraud and larceny.

    The definitions of larceny and murder and the application of law are highly variable depending on a culture and its religious foundations. White graybeard atheists that eat with you in the faculty lounge were raised in a culture with a Christian ethos and (thankfully) are seldom consistent with their own beliefs.

    Conservative Protestants don’t have such a great track record of solving thorny moral questions. In the 19th century we concluded that you shouldn’t be able to own someone else at the point of a gun. Noll’s work on the Civil War is definitely worth reading on this front.

    The difference in the Protestant USA is that we actually thought slavery was something worth fighting over. Everywhere else, it was accepted until the West imposed its Universal Declaration of Human Rights on every other nation-state mostly through military hegemony.

    Sproul’s article on statism is not convincing…the shift from local control of schools to federal education policy is a step on the path to Mao’s China? Really?

    Machen made an argument to the effect that if the federal government created a monopoly in education, it would be the greatest tool of tyranny ever devised. I have yet to see you agree with a Protestant theologian, so your disagreement with Sproul is no surprise either.

    The state is limited to dealing with negative externalities on the basis of public reason.

    What if the public doesn’t know its right hand from its left or male from female? What if the public has exchanged reason for madness?

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  22. Walt: Sure, but Romans 1 explains that you either worship God or nature. If the latter, you’re given over to lawlessness and a debased mind instead of knowledge of Him and his law … You [SDB] seem to draw a moral equivalence between cultures, regardless of the Bible’s influence on the West.

    True. We either worship God or nature. Romans 2 goes on to explain that in fact, we all worship nature but for God’s grace, those who have the law are no better and are judged as those under the law.

    So the moral equivalence to be drawn is not “I’m ok, you’re ok”, but “I’m not ok, and neither are you.”

    Which doesn’t really resolve the question of how we get to wherever we want to go. So two questions:

    (1) Where *do* you want to go? What direction do you want to nudge the culture?
    (2) How do you propose to get there? In particular, if the problem is that we all worship nature rather than God, how does having Scripture as a basis for law help us to solve the problem?

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  23. SDB,

    I’ll try and say more later to your other points, but my basic view is that the elites have already rejected the kind of pluralistic liberalism that French seems to think is functionally possible. Unless something drastically changes, there will be some more relatively good judges appointed by Trump in the near term that might have some temporary success in preserving freedom of religion, but in the longer term the LGBTQ crowd will successfully make it impossible for any conservative religious person, particularly Christians, to have a decent job. Essentially, I think Rod Dreher is exactly right as he looks at what is coming.

    I like French a lot, but you can’t reason with people who have abandoned reason. He seems to think there are a lot of people with power on the left who operate in good faith. I see no evidence of that. One positive is that the left might just eat itself alive, but I don’t bet on it. I’m increasingly of the mind that we’re in store for violence the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetime. There’s no glue holding our society together. We’re running on inertia, and the fumes are almost out.

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  24. (1) Where *do* you want to go? What direction do you want to nudge the culture?

    We can’t have liberty if we don’t know what it is: the freedom to pursue virtue. I think the culture needs a dictatorship to restrain its evil. We are not capable of self-governance anymore. The dictator does not have to be Christian. Like Luther I’d greatly prefer a wise Turk to a foolish Christian. The dictatorship could hopefully nurse institutions like marriage and family back to life by repealing no-fault divorce and infanticide and discouraging feminism, and homosexualism. I doubt this will happen. Usually, when cultures get to this stage, they’re conquered from without. It’s a mathematical certainty ours is gone in a couple generations (the last third of this century) because of our anti-natalism.

    (2) How do you propose to get there?

    The Protestant church has nothing to say to the culture at this point because it cannot get its own house in order. We need some Luthers who will be “mean” and stand up to the liberals. We need what Andy Webb proposed in his letter on why their church is leaving the PCA. Right now, I think the NAPARC is going to follow the PCA down its path to liberalism, probably in 10-15 years. To see why the culture is so bad, we need to look no further than the church.

    In particular, if the problem is that we all worship nature rather than God, how does having Scripture as a basis for law help us to solve the problem?

    Cultures can definitely be more or less informed by Biblical wisdom. Ours was based on much Biblical wisdom, despite what the revisionists say. Some masons and Enlightenment thinkers contributed to our founding documents (and many Protestants) but they were steeped in a Protestant culture apart from which appeals to God and nature would’ve been impossible. Our Bill of Rights, for example, is based on the English Bill of Rights of 1689 won by Protestants. Denying and despising this is denying and despising the gifts and graces of God.

    If we have a Reformation in the West and the church once again becomes salt and light, we’ll need to abandon the modern 2K view that teaches that there’s neutral, common grace ground upon which to base law and culture in favor of 2K Classic which teaches that we all – including our magistrates – should seek wisdom and salvation from the Bible. The modern view is not at all substantiated by the Reformers, the Bible or reality.

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  25. “Maybe there’s a Darwinian ethical system we can agree on. I haven’t seen one. Hitler and Sanger certainly took Darwinism to its logical conclusion, if you ask me.”

    Let’s try this again. There is no Darwinian ethical system. Rather, cultures capable of building city states were those that developed characteristics such as empathy, reciprocity, cooperation, some idea of fairness, etc… These are the raw materials that inform ethical systems. You don’t need to argue from first principles that you shouldn’t boil babies alive. We intuit that this is wrong. We don’t need an ethical system to tell us that. This isn’t to say that everyone has that sense any more than everyone is born with five fingers on each hand. But we recognize those who are defective. Even primates have a rudimentary system of taboos, etc… that allow them to function as a group. They certainly didn’t reason to them on the basis of some natural law theory.

    Now as a reformed Christian, I believe that innate sense has been corrupted by the fall and thus we all sin. The non elect sin in everything they do and heap God’s wrath upon themselves with every breath they take. But as Jesus note, even the pagans know to love their friends and family.

    Anyway, Darwinism doesn’t provide an ethical system that you can reason from to derive decisions about right action. Rather, Darwinism is a description (in this context) for how we developed an innate moral compass. And it is from that innate moral compass (as faulty as the rest of our functioning is) that provides the brute facts from which we can reason to build an ethical system.

    You seem to draw a moral equivalence between cultures, regardless of the Bible’s influence on the West.

    Not at all. I’m a western supremacist I guess you could say. The music, art, political theory, philosophy, and literature coming out of the western tradition and enlightenment especially are superior to what has been produced by other cultures. This is why I am such a strong advocate for classical liberalism. It is the Bach of political theory. Bach is better than the Beatles. Rembrandt is better than middle eastern mosaics. Shakespeare is better than Bollywood. And classical liberalism is better than right or left with authoritarianism.

    Christians have historically been opposed to infanticide back to the first century. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Infanticide is not abortion. Here is what the SBC affirmed in 1973:
    A year after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion, the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed its commitment “to work(ing) for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

    Here is W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Dallas had to say about abortion:
    “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

    In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy.

    From the 1971 minority report on abortion:
    It, therefore, appears to the author of this minority report that the Church is on the verge of doing what it refused to do in 1937, on the verge of adding additional sins to the scriptural catalogue. That some instances of abortion are sinful is obvious. That they all are is not. Yet, with one minor possible exception, the report of the committee concludes that they are. This is quite illicit.

    Fast forward 50 years, and the evangelical church has progressed markedly do to the compelling arguments that have been made opposed to abortion. But that stance was not obvious.

    “White graybeard atheists that eat with you in the faculty lounge were raised in a culture with a Christian ethos and (thankfully) are seldom consistent with their own beliefs”
    Well the majority of my colleagues are foreign born (75%). I would estimate that about half of my colleagues come from nations that are (were) officially atheist (China, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria). I’m pretty sure that they act consistently with their own beliefs. You may not think their reasons for moral action are well justified, but as I stated above, it isn’t clear that these moral beliefs need to be justified.

    “The difference in the Protestant USA is that we actually thought slavery was something worth fighting over.”
    Not so sure that was the difference. Noll’s work on why the civil war was a theological crisis is definitely worth reading.

    ” I have yet to see you agree with a Protestant theologian, so your disagreement with Sproul is no surprise either.”
    Right – all works besides the bible are fallible. When theologians extend their commentary into political theory, philosophy, science, etc… they are outside of their realm of expertise. I adhere to the westminster standards and TFU.

    “I think the culture needs a dictatorship to restrain its evil. We are not capable of self-governance anymore. ”
    Put not your trust in princes.

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  26. SDB,

    Who actually wants classical liberalism anymore besides you, David French, me, and a handful of people on the right? That’s Walt’s point. The people who think classical liberalism is a good thing is a shrinking minority.

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  27. @Robert – I would start with FIRE and heterodox academy. There are also the folks at Cato, etc… The majority of the ACLU still supports classical liberal ideals of free speech. I don’t think the advocates for classical liberalism are as rare as you are suggesting. There are worrying developments to be sure, but hoping for a dictator to set things straight is not productive. Advocating for classical liberalism seems like a worthwhile thing to do. I see it as akin to Paul’s use of his Roman citizenship in Acts.

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  28. sdb,

    The emerging civic religion and public reason are determined by the sexual Deep astate. It has no intention of maintaining classical liberalism. Just yesterday the Aquila Report ran a story about a girl in New York who was denied permission to establish a Christian club at her school though while it approved a LGBTQ+ club. In some cities, organizers have been denied “Straight Pride” parade permits to respond to Gay Pride parades.

    The advocates of classical liberalism are a dying breed (literally). They exist but they’re dying out. The new Elite and Deep State are not classic liberals. They are totalitarians.

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  29. Who actually wants classical liberalism anymore besides you, David French, me, and a handful of people on the right? That’s Walt’s point. The people who think classical liberalism is a good thing is a shrinking minority.

    What is “classic liberalism” and who are its formulators? If Locke is the main one, he is a product of the Puritans and his ideas have only found traction in Northern Europe and its descendant nations, mostly in the Anglosphere. AFAIK, Locke is not big in China, India, or anywhere in the Global South. There is zero evidence it will survive a pluralistic culture made up of whoever, especially as we import the rest of the world to the West. Locke himself seems to be over-credited for “liberalism” which seems to be a repackaging of Protestant political theory from jurists such as John Milton (defender free speech), Samuel Rutherford (Lex Rex), Theodore Beza (De Jure Magistratuum), Althusius, Buchanan, and Calvin to name a few. Go over to Constitution.org and read all about them. Locke is getting WAAAAAAYYYY too much credit in this thread for classical liberalism as far as it’s formulated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    My beef with French is that he doesn’t know what liberty is or how the Founding Fathers understood it, therefore he cannot defend it. He is promoting license in a Quixotic attempt to salvage something of the Constitutional order despite all the proofs that it’s actually killing the Constitutional order which is for a “moral and religious people.” French doesn’t seem to know anything about the American system of government and what it depends on. I’ve also watched him and the other scum at National Review retreat on just about every conservative cause of importance over the past 20 years. Now he’s calling people who oppose open borders racist. I get that he can’t be racist because he adopted an Ethiopian daughter and is therefore better than the rest of us, but – come on – you can’t have a nation without borders. What does his conservatism conserve, exactly?

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  30. I just found this excellent essay on the futility of using natural law as a basis of public morality or persuasion. It addresses most of the points above much better than I could. It also argues that we in the US no longer have a civil society and are already living under majoritarian tyranny and barbarism.

    SDB,
    I wasn’t “hoping for a dictator” – I was suggesting that a dictator is better than barbarism and an extremely fickle majoritarian or Deep State tyranny.

    Ultimately, I’m with Robert upthread:

    I like French a lot, but you can’t reason with people who have abandoned reason. He seems to think there are a lot of people with power on the left who operate in good faith. I see no evidence of that. One positive is that the left might just eat itself alive, but I don’t bet on it. I’m increasingly of the mind that we’re in store for violence the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetime. There’s no glue holding our society together. We’re running on inertia, and the fumes are almost out.

    This is why Bill Lind says you can expect much more 4th Generation War as the nation-state system continues to disintegrate. He said the coming era will be like the 14th century described in Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror.” Time will tell.

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  31. SDB,

    If the ACLU were as interested in classical liberalism as you say, they’d be falling all over themselves to defend the free speech rights of the Colorado Baker and not telling people what some women have penises. Classical liberalism is dependent on people thinking that objective truth exists (even if there is disagreement as to what it is) and that we can arrive at that truth through reasoned debate. When people say with a straight face not “Some males believe themselves to be women” but that “You can actually, truly be a woman AND have a penis,” then we’ve lost all semblance of a belief that objective reality exists.

    As far as such things as intuiting that boiling babies alive, I think you are vastly underestimating the influence of two thousand years of Christian and Protestant thought on the West. Apart from a biblical framework, It is not at all obvious that boiling kids alive is wrong . If it were, the ancient Israelites wouldn’t have to have been told NOT to sacrifice their children to the pagan gods, the Aztecs wouldn’t have embraced human sacrifice, etc. Child abuse and child sacrifice/murder have been disturbingly common throughout human history across cultures. Maybe transformationalists overestimate the impact of Christian thought on the West and our government, but many modern 2K proponents don’t seem to realize that their theory could arise only in a Christianized civilization

    Apart from the Bible, you can get such things as “murder is wrong,” but I’m not sure how without the Bible you can get a coherent understanding of what actually constitutes murder. Classical liberalism depends on at the very least a common moral ethos, and it seems a common Protestant ethos with some strong influence from Ancient Greek thought. Once those things are gone, and they are, I have no confidence that classical liberalism can last. I hope I’m wrong, but when societies fall into decadence and a lack of a common moral framework, as ours seems to be doing increasingly, the end result historically has always been a dictator. I doubt we’ll buck the trend.

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  32. Walt,

    How does this work?

    (1) You a have a pagan civilization that can’t tell that infanticide is wrong
    (2) God’s law comes to town.
    (3) Everyone by nature hates God’s law
    (4) ????
    (5) God’s law becomes the basis for the shared moral view that infanticide is wrong.

    What fills in the blank? If the answer is “evangelism”, then it seems like what you need is protection of the church from the state. In which case the despised Frenchism is exactly your ticket.

    But if the answer is “Christians get into power”, then you want a change of heart without an actual change of heart.

    Is there another option?

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  33. “Classical liberalism depends on at the very least a common moral ethos, and it seems a common Protestant ethos with some strong influence from Ancient Greek thought. “

    Right. Liberalism depends upon society accepting liberalism. But we haven’t had a common Protestant ethos in the US for 150 years. The modernists and fundamentalists have disagreed about pretty basic stuff and the modernists won the day. The question is whether we can convince the broader culture that we should be tolerated. Calls for authoritarians and refusal to extend the same charity we would like in return doesn’t help. If only more conservative Christians took Paul’s admonishon to work quietly and mind your own business rather than transform society.

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  34. SDB,

    I see very few unwilling to extend the same charity. What is being said is that there are limits to charity, and if we can’t draw the line at not letting perverts sexualize the children at the local library, then classical liberalism is gone. It used to be that even the modernists thought that was a bad thing.

    Again, French’s main problem is that he thinks there are people in power with good will on the other side. There aren’t. At least not enough to matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. SDB,

    There was a common Protestant moral ethos that bound the culture together until the 60s or so. The fundamentalists and modernists disagrees about the supernatural. But they shared the same basic ethic until modernism realized it can’t have the ethic without the supernatural. Society can’t want liberalism without that common moral framework. Something has to hold us together, and the Constitution can’t do that heavy lifting. All it can do is provide structure to a society based on shared assumptions. Those assumptions are gone. What to do about it, I don’t know. But we need to at least acknowledge reality.

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  36. All,

    John Locke’s essay on liberty vs. license from “The Second Treatise on Civil Government” is here. It’s an exercise for the reader to determine if he’d agree with French’s statement I quoted above.

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  37. Jeff, SDB,

    It’s safe to say we’re talking past one-another. Our experience forms most of our interpretive lens, so it’s no surprise we don’t understand one-another, especially since generations are so isolated from each-other these days. It’s been real.

    I think I’m going to read Matthew Tuininga’s new book before I invoke Calvin again. I’ve only read his stuff from the Institutes which is apparently not enough.

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  38. SDB,

    Interesting but not surprising entirely. ACLU did do some cases for religious objectors back in the day. Of course, the Amish are easy to defend given their small number. Now let’s see the ACLU stand with Mastepiece Cake Ship and Barronelle the florist. Don’t hold your breath. Where religious liberty apparently conflicts with the LGBTQEIEIO side, we know who the ACLU stands with. They aren’t classic liberals, at least not anymore.

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  39. Right or wrong, David French is why we have Donald Trump. I’ll take none of the above…

    Where’s the next Ron Paul going to come from?

    Like

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