Month: April 2008

Election 2008: Ninth Forecast

The Presidency – Method 1

Intrade posts State-by-State odds odds on the outcome of the presidential election in November. I assign all of a State’s electoral votes to the party whose nominee that is expected to win that State. Where the odds are 50-50, I split the State’s electoral votes between the two parties.

As of today, the odds point to this result:

Democrat — 309 electoral votes (EVs)

Republican — 229 EVs

The Presidency – Method 2 (UPDATED, 05/09/08)

I have devised a “secret formula” for estimating the share of electoral votes cast for the winner of the presidential election. (The formula’s historical accuracy is described in my second forecast.) The formula currently yields these estimates of the outcome of this year’s presidential election:

Democrat — 241 to 288 EVs 241 to 357 EVs

Republican — 250 to 297 EVs 181 to 297 EVs

I have revised my “secret formula.” One result of the revision is that the margin of error is greater than before, thus the broad span of estimates. But the estimate produced by method 1 is almost exactly same as the mean estimate by method 2 (239 EVs), which gives me more confidence in method 2.

U.S. Senate

Democrats will gain five Senate seats: picking up one each in Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia. The balance in the Senate will change from 51 Democrats (including Lieberman and Sanders, both nominally independent) and 49 Republicans to 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans.

Even if John McCain wins the election, he will face a Senate that could filibuster his nominations, given the several RINOs among the 44 GOP members.

Almost Too Absurd for Words

From SCOTUSblog:

Lawyers for Virginia death-row inmate Christopher Scott Emmett told the Supreme Court on Monday that the state follows a “unique and uniquely dangerous” method of execution by lethal injection.

A synonym of “dangerous” is “life-threatening.” An execution is meant to be life-threatening. In fact, a successful execution is life-taking.

Thats the real issue, isn’t it? Mustn’t threaten a condemned convict with execution. (Tsk, tsk.) It might kill him.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?” (04 Oct 2004)
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty” (13 Oct 2004)
Crime and Punishment” (23 Mar 2005)
Abortion and Crime” (15 May 2005)
Saving the Innocent?” (23 Jul 2005)
Saving the Innocent?: Part II” (27 Jul 2005)
More on Abortion and Crime” (28 Nov 2005)
More Punishment Means Less Crime” (03 Jan 2006)
More about Crime and Punishment” (06 Jan 2006)
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote” (17 Jan 2006)
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty” (23 Jan 2006)
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” (14 Apr 2006)
Another Argument for the Death Penalty” (07 Jun 2006)
Less Punishment Means More Crime” (25 Aug 2007)
Crime, Explained” (09 Nov 2007)

Yankee Sensibility

I have lived among Northerners all of my life. I grew up and went to college in Michigan. I spent the worse part of four decades in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., a bastion of Northern “charm.” A village in a rural, western part of New York State claimed another three years of my life. I have now lived in Austin — another bastion of Northern “charm” (i.e., rudeness, crudeness, and lewdness) — for almost five years.

I am here to tell you that Michael Hirsh is wringing wet when he writes in Newsweek that

a substantial portion of the new nation [the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest] developed, over many generations, a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores. Traditionally, it has been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest. But that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers — and cultural weight. The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. (Quotation via Eugene Volokh)

The manners and mores of Northerners, as a “race,” are inferior to those of true Southerners. (True Southerners are persons who can claim the South as the home of their ancestors, going back to at least the early 1800s. True Southerners are not to be confused with the merely geographic Southerners — carpetbaggers — who dominate the D.C. and Austin areas, among other so-called Southern locales.) The denizens of the village in New York (some of them) came close to exhibiting the manners and mores of true Southerners. As for the other Northerners in my life’s experience: “fuggedaboutit.”

I know whereof I speak, having been blessed in the course of my years with the love, friendship, and collegiality of many true Southerners. Their charm, hospitality, and kindness shine as a beacon in the darkness of Northern crudity, which (on the evidence of popular “entertainment”) has engulfed most of the land. Whereas a Southerner says “please” and “thank you” and keeps his word, a typical Yankee’s approach to social and business transactions can be summed up in “gimme that, shut up, and get outta my way, you creep.” (There are glaring exceptions, of course. My father was one of them. He was an Anglo-Canadian-American with the soul of a true Southerner, even though he never ventured south of northern Ohio.)

“Sophisticated … Yankee sensibility,” indeed. “Communitarian”? Only in the sense that the coarsened sensibility of (most) Northerners finds expression through the coercive power of the state (i.e., socialism).

P.S. Whereas I am a Northerner who sees Northerners for what they (mostly) are, Hirsh (Tufts, Columbia) seems to be a Northerner who is blind to the foibles of his ilk. To change the metaphor, he is a fish in water.

"The Politics of Personal Destruction"

Barack Obama and his Obama-maniacs like to complain about “gotcha” politics and “distractions,” as if Obama’s relationships with whitey-hating Rev. Jeremiah Wright and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers have nothing to do with Obama’s fitness for the presidency. What Obama and his idolizers fear, of course, is the revelation of Obama’s political agenda, which he has succeeded in masking behind his “nice guy” persona, — in spite of his wife’s over-explained, anti-American slur, and his having (in 2007) the Left-most voting record among U.S. Senators.

Wolf Howling does an excellent job of piercing Obama’s defenses. WH also points to a similar analysis by the estimable Charles Krauthammer. I will not try to redo what WH and Krauthammer have done so well. My aim here is to address a charge that lurks in the background, if it hasn’t yet been raised by Obama, his camp, and his camp followers.

That charge? Raising the issue of Obama’s associations with Wright and Ayers is the kind of gutter politics that is sometimes called the politics of personal destruction, if it isn’t plain old racism. (My rule of thumb: The charge of racism in twenty-first century America is a first and last refuge of any politician or public figure who wants to shift the focus of debate from his own views, accomplishments, or agenda.)

It ain’t “personal destruction” if (a) it’s true and (b) it’s relevant to a person’s fitness to hold office (whether elected or appointed). Bill Clinton wasn’t a “victim” of the politics of personal destruction when he was impeached by the House of Representatives; he was a “victim” of his own perjury and deliberate failure to honor his oath of office.

As Wolf Howling and Charles Krauthammer explain so well, Barack Obama’s associations with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers are a legitimate focus of attention. And those associations will remain a legitimate focus of attention for as long as Obama feeds at the public trough or seeks to do so.

Income Inequality: Myths vs. Facts

Cross-temporal comparisons of incomes by percentile are meaningless, as Arnold Kling and Russell Roberts explain. The bottom line: the persons included in a particular income range (e.g., bottom decile or quintile) in one year are not the same persons who were included in that income range five, ten, twenty, or thirty years earlier. Moreover, real (inflation-adjusted) income has grown steadily across the board: at the bottom and all the way to the top.

Those persons who are (temporarily) at the top do not take away anything from those who are at the bottom or in between. Those at the top earn because more they produce things of commensurate value. (I exclude politicians, lobbyists, and the beneficiaries of economically restrictive regulation.) Those in the middle and at the bottom earn what they earn because they produce things of less value. (Teachers, for example, earn less than baseball players because there are so many more persons who are able to be teachers than there are persons who are able to be major league ballplayers. It’s that fact — not “social injustice” — which accounts for the fact that teachers, firemen, policemen, etc., don’t make as much as ballplayers.) There’s no other way for an economic system to generate more for all than to allow it to reward producers according to the market value of what they produce.

Income inequality is a bogus issue. It is exploited by economic illiterates, do-gooders, and politicians to advance various forms of welfare, which necessarily involves income redistribution. The result, of course, is to make almost everyone worse off. The only beneficiaries of income redistribution are the welfare bureaucracy, vote-grabbing politicians, and perennial parasites. The rest of us pay via higher taxes and slower economic growth.

Related posts:
Why Class Warfare Is Bad for Everyone” (21 Sep 2004)
Fighting Myths with Facts” (27 Sep 2004)
Debunking More Myths of Income Inequality” (13 Oct 2004)
The Destruction of Wealth and Income by the State” (01 Jan 2005)
Ten Commandments of Economics” (02 Dec 2005)
More Commandments of Economics” (06 Dec 2005)
Zero-Sum Thinking” (29 Dec 2005)
On Income Inequality” (09 Mar 2006)
The Causes of Economic Growth” (08 Apr 2006)
The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality” (21 Jul 2006)
Your Labor Day Reading” (04 Sep 2006)
Status, Spite, Envy, and Income Redistribution” (04 Sep 2006)
“Things to Come” (27 Jun 2007)
The Poor Get Richer” (06 Feb 2008)

The "Good Old Days" of the Fourth Amendment?

Orin Kerr tries to identify the “good old days” of the Fourth Amendment, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

According to Kerr:

If you had to identify a “high point” of Fourth Amendment protection, I suppose you might pick the window from December 1967 to May 1968, or maybe the six years from December 1967 until some of the pro-law enforcement decisions of the Court in 1973. But if that’s right, it seems to me that the “good old days” of the Fourth Amendment were actually a pretty narrow window of time: anywhere from a few months to five or six years, around forty years ago, out of a 217-year history of the Fourth Amendment.

Kerr’s high point should be called a low point. The six years from 1967 to 1973 were “good old days” when law enforcement was hamstrung in its efforts to protect us from predators. One result was to reinforce the upward trend in the rate of violent and property crimes.

In any event, the Fourth Amendment has been distorted out of all recognition, as I explained in writing about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hudson v. Michigan:

[T]he majority … believed that the case did not involve a “knock-and-announce” violation. But the majority could not change the fact of Michigan’s concession that there was such a violation. So the majority did the next best thing; it prevented Hudson from getting off scot-free, in spite of the supposed violation. How? The majority found the “exclusionary rule” inapplicable and allowed the evidence found in Booker Hudson’s home to be used against him.

By its action the majority also forestalled claims similar to Hudson’s. The second-guessing by prosecutors and judges of reasonable judgments made by the police in the execution of their duties — especially in the execution of lawful warrants — is not a defense of liberty. Rather, it undermines liberty by making it easier for predators like Booker Hudson to elude justice, on the questionable theory that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

I contend, further, that a proper reading of the Constitution would require either “knock-and-announce” or a warrant, not both. At the time of the framing, when “knock-and-announce” was accepted law, warrants were not accepted law. As William J. Stuntz writes in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (pp. 326-9):

. . . When the Fourth Amendment was written, the sole remedy for an illegal search or seizure was a lawsuit for money damages. Government officials used warrants as a defense against such lawsuits. Today a warrant seems the police officer’s foe — one more hoop to jump through — but at the time of the Founding it was the constable’s friend, a legal defense against any subsequent claim. Thus it was perfectly reasonable to specify limits on warrants (probable cause, particular description of the places to be search and the things to be seized) but never to require their use.

Hudson served justice, while remaining true to the original meaning of the Constitution.

Hudson may not have been the high point of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but it was among the higher points.

Root Causes

No matter how much money is spent to combat poverty, crime, sloth, slovenliness, rudeness, obesity, poor grades, and all other “social ills,” those “ills” cannot and will not be cured unless three things change:

1. The state quits discouraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and capital investment through taxation and regulation.

2. The state quits subsidizing the less capable at the expense of the more capable, which subsidization (a) helps to ensure the reproduction of the less capable at a faster rate that of the more capable, and (b) traps the less capable in a cycle of dependency which prevents them from taking ownership of their lives and striving to escape the ills of poverty, crime, sloth, etc.

3. The state quits discouraging heterosexual marriage, family formation, and the inculcation of traditional values. The state discourages those things through its bureaucracies, public schools, and public universities, which (altogether) celebrate “diversity” and “alternative lifestyles,” belittle religion, denigrate traditional marriage, foster teen sex through contraception, elevate abortion to a secular sacrament, underwrite single motherhood, encourage mothers to work outside the household, and enable couples to divorce at the drop of a hat rather than work out their differences.

I have written so many related posts that I cannot begin to list all of them. I refer you to “The Best of Liberty Corner.”

"John Adams"

Regarding the HBO mini-series, John Adams, I have two comments:

1. I never got used to the idea of Paul Giamatti as John Adams. Giamatti simply doesn’t look the part, and he never seemed to be comfortable with the hybrid English-Yankee accent chosen for his character.

2. The mini-series was geared to viewers who are largely ignorant of American history. Why else would the script writers have kept injecting trite dialog to “establish” well-known facts? The final episode, for example, included cumbersome reminders that John Quincy Adams (John’s eldest son) also served as president (1825-9), and that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the Fourth of July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Not Really a "Dumbass Idea"

Doug Mataconis accuses an Arizona legislator of “trying to turn schools into propaganda mills.” In fact, according the quotation furnished by Mataconis, the legislator is trying to do just the opposite:

[Arizona Senate Bill] 1108 states, “A primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship. Public tax dollars used in public schools should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization.”

Given that public schools already are government-sponsored propaganda mills — usually for anti-American, anti-market crap — the proposed measure seems reasonable to me. As long as government is in the business of running schools, it ought to run them in ways that don’t spread discord and preach the “social gospel” according to Al Gore, Michael Moore, and their ilk.

I’m a product of public schools whose teachers (probably) were old-time Republicans, and who extolled the virtues of “dead, white males” like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. We need more of that, not less.

Moi Aussi

I agree with everything Tom Smith says about his Weber Grill — I have one just like it. (Though mine isn’t hooked to a 1,000 gallon propane tank.) It does run hot, but when you become accustomed to that, you can reliably produce a steakhouse-quality steak, succulent grilled chicken, and crusty-juicy pork tenderloin. I’ve never had a grill — gas or charcoal — that came close to matching the Weber Spirit for consistently flavorful results.

The Irrational Atheist

I once wrote something along these lines:

[T]he very idea that one’s personal opinion has anything to do with the existence or non-existence of God is fundamentally irrational.

The writer, in this instance, is one “Vox Day,” author of The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. For my dissections of that trinity, and of irrational atheism, see:

Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance” (26 Nov 2004)
Atheism, Religion, and Science ” (03 Jan 2005)
The Limits of Science ” (05 Jan 2005)
Beware of Irrational Atheism” (22 Jan 2005)
Science, Logic, and God” (08 Nov 2005)
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”” (16 Jan 2006)
The Big Bang and Atheism” (04 Nov 2006)
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities” (07 Jan 2007)
Einstein, Science, and God” (06 Apr 2007)
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux” (01 Jul 2007)
A Reminder” (15 Aug 2007)
Collegiate Crap-ola” (28 Sep 2007)
A Non-Believer Defends Religion” (31 Oct 2007)
Evolution as God?” (02 Nov 2007)
The Greatest Mystery” (24 Dec 2007)
A Sensible Atheist Speaks” (16 Jan 2008)
In Search of Consistency” (12 Mar 2008)
Religion in Public Schools: The Wrong and Right of It” (03 Apr 2008)

Paternalism, Yet Again

Bryan Caplan skewers another effort by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein to defend government-mandated, “libertarian” paternalism. As Caplan says, “government long ago took up the burden of helping consumers, and the result is a mess.”

Thaler, Sunstein, and their ilk must not have been paying attention when Ronald Reagan (supposedly) said that the scariest phrase a person can hear is “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.” If you’re not scared by that phrase, you should be. If you badly want government to do something, government will do it badly.

Related posts:
Libertarian Paternalism” (24 Apr 2005)
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World” (23 May 2005)
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism” (24 Jun 2005)
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice” (13 Jul 2005)
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism” (16 Aug 2005)
Back-Door Paternalism” (20 Jan 2006)
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism” (22 Feb 2006)
The Feds and Libertarian Paternalism” (17 Aug 2006)
A Further Note about Libertarian Paternalism” (15 Sep 2006)
Apropos Paternalism” (04 Oct 2006)

Intellectual Hazards

Guest post:

When reading The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman it is clear why the book has been so highly praised by people from very different viewpoints. It is a work of tremendous discernment. I don’t need to add anything to what Cardinal Newman says other than to put it into context, since the excerpt (from Discourse IV on University Teaching) is a lengthy one.

Newman begins by explaining that all men are “philosophical” to some extent:

One of the first acts of the human mind is to take hold of and appropriate what meets the senses…. It seizes and unites what the senses present to it; it grasps and forms what need not have been seen or heard except in its constituent parts. It discerns in lines and colours, or in tones, what is beautiful and what is not. It gives them a meaning, and invests them with an idea. It gathers up a succession of notes into the expression of a whole, and calls it a melody; it has a keen sensibility towards angles and curves, lights and shadows, tints and contours. It distinguishes between rule and exception, between accident and design. It assigns phenomena to a general law, qualities to a subject, acts to a principle, and effects to a cause. In a word, it philosophizes; for I suppose Science and Philosophy, in their elementary idea, are nothing else but this habit of viewing, as it may be called, the objects which sense conveys to the mind, of throwing them into system, and uniting and stamping them with one form.

Few people are so brutish and sensual so as to avoid intellectualizing completely. Most of us feel the need to take the material world and put it into some sort of mental order. This is invariably seen as a good thing—a noble “idealism” pursued for its own sake. But Newman notes its drawbacks when conducted without the right training and discipline (the emphasis on the key phrase is mine).

This method is so natural to us, as I have said, as to be almost spontaneous; and we are impatient when we cannot exercise it, and in consequence we do not always wait to have the means of exercising it aright, but we often put up with insufficient or absurd views or interpretations of what we meet with, rather than have none at all. We refer the various matters which are brought home to us, material or moral, to causes which we happen to know of, or to such as are simply imaginary, sooner than refer them to nothing; and according to the activity of our intellect do we feel a pain and begin to fret, if we are not able to do so. Here we have an explanation of the multitude of off-hand sayings, flippant judgments, and shallow generalizations, with which the world abounds. Not from self-will only, nor from malevolence, but from the irritation which suspense occasions, is the mind forced on to pronounce, without sufficient data for pronouncing. Who does not form some view or other, for instance, of any public man, or any public event, nay, even so far in some cases as to reach the mental delineation of his appearance or of its scene? yet how few have a right to form any view. Hence the misconceptions of character, hence the false impressions and reports of words or deeds, which are the rule, rather than the exception, in the world at large; hence the extravagances of undisciplined talent, and the narrowness of conceited ignorance; because, though it is no easy matter to view things correctly, nevertheless the busy mind will ever be viewing. We cannot do without a view, and we put up with an illusion when we cannot get a truth.

Part of the problem is the tendency of people, who suffer from a limited education and/or a philosophical bias, of trying to fit the world into their own little box. This is the behavior of intellectual cranks and bullies.

Now, observe how this impatience acts in matters of research and speculation. What happens to the ignorant and hotheaded, will take place in the case of every person whose education or pursuits are contracted, whether they be merely professional, merely scientific, or of whatever other peculiar complexion. Men, whose life lies in the cultivation of one science, or the exercise of one method of thought, have no more right, though they have often more ambition, to generalize upon the basis of their own pursuit but beyond its range, than the schoolboy or the ploughman to judge of a Prime Minister. But they must have something to say on every subject; habit,
fashion, the public require it of them: and, if so, they can only give sentence according to their knowledge. You might think this ought to make such a person modest in his enunciations; not so: too often it happens that, in proportion to the narrowness of his knowledge, is, not his distrust of it, but the deep hold it has upon him, his absolute conviction of his own conclusions, and his positiveness in maintaining them. He has the obstinacy of the bigot, whom he scorns, without the bigot’s apology, that he has been taught, as he thinks, his doctrine from heaven. Thus he becomes, what is commonly called, a man of one idea; which properly means a man of one science, and of the view, partly true, but subordinate, partly false, which is all that can proceed out of any thing so partial. Hence it is that we have the principles of utility, of combination, of progress, of philanthropy, or, in material sciences, comparative anatomy, phrenology, electricity, exalted into leading ideas, and keys, if not of all knowledge, at least of many things more than belong to them,— principles, all of them true to a certain point, yet all degenerating into error and quackery, because they are carried to excess, viz. at the point where they require interpretation and restraint from other quarters, and because they are employed to do what is simply too much for them, inasmuch as a little science is not deep philosophy.

Newman concludes with Aristotle’s adage: “they who contemplate a few things have no difficulty in deciding.”

(My thanks to for the online version of The Idea of the University. It saved me a lot of typing!)

Changing Perceptions on Population: Chevron ad

Guest post:

Is Chevron Corporation another example of changing perceptions about “overpopulation.” According to its recent print ad, appearing in many and news magazines:

With our planet’s population continuing to increase, and the quality of life for millions in the developing world improving daily, our demand for energy is also growing. And to meet everyone’s needs 25 years from now may take 50% more energy than we use today.

Finding and developing all the fuel and power we need for our homes, businesses and vehicles, while protecting the environment, could be one of the greatest challenges our generation will face. The key to ensuring success is found in the same place that created this need: humanity itself. When the unique spirit we all possess is allowed to flourish, mankind has proven its ability to take on, and overcome, any issue. It’s a spirit of hard work, ingenuity, drive, courage and no small measure of commitment. To success, to each other, to the planet. The problem…becomes the solution.

This is very much in line with the analysis of Donald Boudreaux (Cafe Hayek) about unduly panicky UN population growth predictions, as cited in an earlier post. The new perception of many people, including Chevron, is that a growing population — with the right political and economic resources — can more than support itself.

Don’t Subscribe to Consumer Reports

A time-wasting experience with a product recommended by Consumer Reports was the last straw. The first straw? It probably landed on my back years ago, but I was too besotted by the idea of an “independent” testing service to pay attention to it.

Over the years, however, I have noticed that CR‘s advice in areas about which I know something (e.g., retirement planning) is pure pablum. That should have been a tip-off. Another tip-off should have been CR‘s embrace of “greenness” and other Left-wing causes. But I kept on subscribing. After all, it costs less than $40 a year to receive CR‘s “wisdom” via print and the web.

Worse, I heeded CR‘s advice from time to time. Thus the second-to-last straw: CR‘s ratings of exterior house paints. I bought, at great expense, the highest-rated paint available in my area. A third of a house later my painting contractor informed me that the “liquid gold” I bought is thin gruel. Thanks to my contractor — and no thanks to CR — I wasted “only” $600 before switching to a different brand of paint. If my contractor hadn’t blown the whistle, I would have wasted about $2,000.

The bottom line: I have canceled my print and web subscriptions to CR. It joins AARP on my long list of phony, worse-than-useless, overrated (pun intended), Left-leaning organizations that enjoy tax-exempt status (at taxpayers’ expense).

CR claims to warn consumers against rip-off schemes. Well, it takes one to know one.

A Case for the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, as the U.S. Supreme Court will decide (I think). That right is predicated on, among other things, the need for private citizens to protect themselves against an overbearing state. The overbearing state, in this instance, is the State of New Mexico — its Human Rights Commission to be precise. Praise the Second Amendment and pass the ammunition.

P.S. Here’s another relevant case, also involving New Mexico. (It occurs to me that the adjective “New” is window-dressing. Mexico is Mexico, even when it’s dressed up as “New.”)

Why I Am/Am Not a Liberal

Guest post:

I am taking the unique stance of simultaneously embracing and rejecting “liberalism.” This is not simply an ironic pose, however. The difficulty lies in the term. Labels stand as convenient representations of abstract concepts. But over-generalization can cause a lot of trouble. Hence, as a “traditional Christian,” I find myself

1) rejecting theological liberalism;
2) partially accepting political liberalism;
3) accepting economic liberalism.

The problem is that liberalism has been applied to many different things by many different people across the political spectrum.

In ancient times, to be liberal meant to be magnanimous. It also implied a liberty of means. A sufficiency of power and goods was needed in order to freely exercise one’s generosity. We see an expansion of this idea with regard to the liberal arts. This term referred to the education appropriate for a freeman (as opposed to a slave or serf).

I am not sure when “liberal” began to take on modern connotations. Certainly by the late 16th century, liberty was a leading theme in European society. Part of this grew out of the Reformation, with the idea of individual “religious liberty” and the rejection of the ancient hierarchy and teaching authority of the Church. For more about theological liberalism, see this article from the old Catholic Encyclopedia. I think a lot of conservatives would favor the critique of liberalism as a kind of substitute faith; however, my main focus here is not on the religious side.

Over time liberalism also referred to the advocacy of political liberty. But there has always been ambiguity about this. Sometimes this was favored by radicals. On the other hand, consider the Italian Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who, in the name of religious conservatism, promoted a degree of political liberalism. In De laicis (“A Treatise on Civil Government”) he opposed the tyrannical theory of the “divine right of kings” and advanced the idea of government by consensus of the governed. By that same token, the absolutism of Henry VIII was actually very progressive for its day, advancing the “benign despot” view of power that was popular up through the Enlightenment.

I am therefore a “classical liberal” in politics, as regards the methods. But I am a conservative in rejecting complete and unrestrained liberty. Liberty is a means to certain ends. It is not an autonomous concept. It must be defined and governed by some higher human purpose. Liberty, after all, implies free will and the ability to do good or evil. Without liberty we would be robots (of the sort proposed by Rousseau and Marx). We need freedom in order to exercise virtue, whether for the benefit of ourselves or others. But the fact remains that we have the ability to act badly.

In classic terms, politics is the prudential achievement of certain social aims. This also involves a degree of pragmatism. If my aim is justice, liberty and stability, then I will seek out whatever form of government can fulfill this. I may find that a moderate, representational republicanism is better than monarchy. By that same token, there are times when a monarchy is preferable to a democracy (e.g., Russia or Germany in the early 20th century). As John Henry Newman said in regard to matters of polity: “It is no principle with sensible men, of whatever cast of opinion, to do always what is abstractedly best.”

Insofar as being “liberal” refers to a way of employing and advancing rational liberty for the individual, I agree with it. That is why I accept the broad concept of economic liberalism, about which there are huge misconceptions. The intellectual conflict of the 18th and 19th centuries suffered from this confusion as well. Traditionalists (rightly) condemned moral liberalism but they sometimes (mistakenly) condemned aspects of political or economic liberty. It didn’t help that there were people advancing both “liberalism” and “anti-liberalism” to promote their own vested interests. A few sagacious thinkers, like Alexis de Tocqueville, hit the right balance and discriminated between good and bad aspects of liberalism.

To mistake labels for realities is a form of unthinking reaction. Concepts should stand or fall on their own merits. To give an example, some conservatives today have become so fixated on combating “Western liberalism” that they have actually allied themselves with leftists and proponents of totalitarianism. As a result their “conservatism” has been surrendered for a mess of pottage. It has ceased to conserve those values which it set out to protect and instead has become their enemy.

To push the paradox to its ultimate conclusion, liberalism needs conservatism in order to work. Certain things must be maintained and even restricted if meaningful liberties are to be exercised. Complete liberty would destroy the security and trust by which normal economic and political freedom is obtained.

In conclusion, it might be better if we treated “liberal” and “conservative” as viewpoints for the sensible individual in given situations, and instead use terms like “radical” and “reactionary” as the improper and extreme expressions of these ideas. I only suggest it of course. In the meantime, we’ll just have to make use of the old labels… while adding the appropriate qualifications.