The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: January 2008

The Fork in the Road from Political Limbo

“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson, draft of the Kentucky Resolutions, October 1798

“Confidence” is nearly all we have heard now from the candidates for the presidency of both parties this year, coupled with vapid assertions of “experience,” “vision,” and the need for “change.” And the Constitution has been so adulterated with statist amendments and skewed by non-objective interpretations that its chains have less power to bind men from mischief than Styrofoam. To the statists whose ambitions compel them to “lead” and to mold America into a nation of sacrificing toilers and tax cows, the Constitution is a paper dragon.

The “mischief” Thomas Jefferson unequivocally condemned was the passage by Congress in the summer of that year of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Reading the Kentucky Resolutions in protest of those Acts, together with the more mildly worded Virginia Resolutions, penned by James Madison (and revised by Jefferson) and passed in the same year, one will be struck by intriguingly eerie parallels between their time and ours.

Let us examine these parallels.

In 1798, the United States was on the brink of war with its former ally, France. This was not the same France that had aided the nation in its struggle for independence from Great Britain. Gone was the monarchy whose principal motive for an alliance with the new nation was vengeance against Britain for having evicted France from North America in the French and Indian War. The French Revolution had replaced it with a “republic” that was more dictatorship than republic, sustaining itself in a welter of blood during the Reign of Terror and proving itself to be as belligerent as any Continental monarchy. At war with Britain, France, stung by the admittedly pro-British Jay Treaty of 1794 and treating it as a repudiation of the French-American treaty of 1778, refused to recognize the new American ambassador and began seizing American merchant ships thought to be trading with her enemies.

These seizures so outraged the reigning Federalists and other political elements that President John Adams sent a delegation to France to negotiate a new treaty that would obviate the possibility of war. Instead of being cordially received by the French government, the delegation was accosted by three anonymous agents (X, Y, and Z) who demanded a $240,000 bribe and the guarantee of a $10 million loan to France for the chance to speak with the foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Tallyrand.

The diplomatic dispatches that detailed the insult were published in the U.S. and ignited popular anger against France. In May of 1797 President John Adams called a special session of Congress, cited the refusal to recognize the American ambassador and the XYZ affair, and not quite asked Congress for a declaration of war with France. Congress voted funds to enlarge the Navy in anticipation of hostilities with France.

In the meantime, anti-French public anger rose to fever pitch, so much so that in 1798, the largely Federalist Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. There were four of them.

• The Alien Enemies Act empowered the government to deport aliens who came from a nation with which the U.S. was at war. At the time, there were approximately 20,000 French immigrants in the country, presumed to be pro-France and perceived by the Federalists as a potential source of armed rebellion. Also, there were thousands of Irish immigrants whom the Federalists presumed to be naturally anti-British and not happy about the Jay Treaty.
• The Alien Friends Act empowered the president, either on evidence or on mere suspicion, to deport any alien he deemed dangerous.
• The Naturalization Act changed the residency requirement for citizenship from five to fourteen years.
• The Sedition Act troubled then vice president Jefferson, Madison and others the most, for it virtually nullified the First Amendment to the Constitution, which established that Congress was prohibited from passing laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble.” This Act drew the especial attention of Jefferson and Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. In the interests of clarification, Section 2 of the Sedition Act is cited below:

“And be it further enacted, that if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.”

“I may not write what I think,” wrote Jefferson. The Sedition Act was chiefly intended to silence the Republicans, whose party head was Jefferson himself, and most of whom had expressed sympathy with the French Revolution. Jefferson applauded the wars of “liberation” initiated by France. (Later in life he expressed reserved regret and disappointment that the French Revolution ended the way it did.) Until the crisis of 1798, Jefferson and Adams were close friends and political allies, but the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Jefferson’s principled opposition to them, worked to drive the men apart. For his part, Adams neither asked for nor encouraged the passage of the Acts, nor even initiated any action under them as the Acts gave him the power to do. But, as president, he signed them. Communication between him and Jefferson virtually ceased, not to be renewed for over a decade when both had retired from politics.

Some twenty-five men, mostly private citizens, editors and journalists, and even a Congressional representative, Matthew Lyon of Vermont, were charged and convicted under the Sedition Act. Lyon, a Republican, publicly excoriated Adams and the Federalists, and in October 1798 was indicted by a federal grand jury for encouraging sedition and bringing “the President and government of the United States into contempt.” He ran for reelection from his jail cell, and won.

All four Acts were allowed to expire in 1801 and 1802 under Jefferson’s first administration. Jefferson granted pardons to all persons convicted under the Acts, while Congress reimbursed them their fines with interest.

The undeclared war with France resulted in a few naval engagements between American and French vessels in 1798 and 1799, and even a rebellion in Pennsylvania against the federal property tax imposed by Congress to help pay for the undeclared war with France. Adams succeeded in ending hostilities with France in September 1800 when his envoys signed the Treaty of Mortontaine.

Jefferson’s draft of the Kentucky Resolutions is a document for freedom second only to his Declaration of Independence. Not as eloquent as the Declaration, its power lies in its hammering logic. It argues against the Alien and Sedition Acts from two distinct perspectives: general Constitutional principles, and states’ rights. Since Congress “being not a party, but merely the creature of the compact,” it had no leave to assume powers not expressly delegated to it by either the Constitution or the states that had ratified it. Therefore, the Acts were null and void. More importantly, Jefferson stressed the moral aspects of his opposition and projected the consequences of allowing the Acts to stand. Anyone, he wrote,

“…who may venture to reclaim the constitutional rights and liberties of the States and people, or who for other causes, good or bad, may be obnoxious to the views, or marked by the suspicions of the President, or be thought dangerous to his or their election, or other interests, public or personal; that the friendless alien has indeed been selected as the safest subject of a first experiment, but the citizen will follow, or rather has followed…”

Jefferson urged Americans and state legislatures to make their opposition to the Acts known before the people resorted to violence, claiming that government indifference to the claims of redress would

“…necessarily drive these States into revolution and blood, and will furnish new calumnies against republican government, and new pretexts for those who wish it to be believed that man cannot be governed but by a rod of iron: that it would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism…it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions….”

In all eight Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson adumbrates the relationship between the states and the federal government, and reasons that since the Acts encroach upon the right of the states to self-government, “a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.”

“…Therefore this commonwealth is determined, as it doubts not its co-States are, to submit to undelegated, and consequently unlimited powers in no man, or body of men on earth: that in cases of an abuse of the delegated powers, the members of the General Government, being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the constitutional remedy….”

No other states adopted similar resolutions, as Jefferson and Madison had hoped. But the authorship and publication of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions served to brand the Federalists and so enlighten most Americans that the Federalists (political ancestors of the Democrats), already divided over policy issues, were swept from office in the 1800 general election, resulting in Jefferson’s presidency. (Unfortunately, half a century later the Kentucky Resolutions were employed by secessionists to rationalize their states’ “rights” to perpetuate slavery; Jefferson, who opposed slavery, predicted that this unresolved issue would ultimately result in civil war.)

Now let us examine our own dilemma.

Our embassies and diplomatic personnel have been attacked for decades by Islamic jihadists who do not approve of our treaties or arrangements with Mideast governments. (Whether or not the U.S. ought to have amicable relations with those governments is a separate issue.)

On September 11, 2001, the U.S. was attacked on its own soil by agents of Islamic jihad supported, funded and encouraged by governments demonstrably hostile to the U.S.

President Bush, although identifying the “Axis of Evil” purportedly responsible for the attack, did not ask Congress for a declaration of war. Congress, however, has ever since voted funds to prosecute an undeclared war not against the responsible governments, but instead against their agents (Al Qada, the Taliban). (Can you imagine John Adams asking Congress for funds to retaliate, not against the French Directory, but exclusively against French naval vessels and their officers, and X, Y and Z? No? Then you have there a measure of the gulf between the epistemologies of the Founders and modern political leaders.)

The president and Congress instituted “defensive” measures as a means to prevent further attacks by the enemy in this undeclared war, such as Homeland Security, the Patriot and Protect America Acts, mandatory searches and seizures at airports and cargo ports, calls for national identification cards and a government database of records on all U.S citizens. There are more controls and invasions of rights now, when we are in a state of undeclared war, than when we were actually in a state of declared war in the 1940’s.

The Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold), a creature of Congress, and the Federal Election Commission, a creature of the Executive branch, are empowered to regulate freedom of speech as expressed in federal campaign contributions, and to punish infractions or violations of their own regulations, thus abridging the First Amendment.

Captured enemy combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan during this undeclared war have been incarcerated indefinitely. In times of declared war, such persons, if incarcerated on U.S. soil, have no right to the protection of civil law (such as legal counsel, trial by jury) since it is such law they were making war against. The U.S. did not try and convict every captured rank-and-file Japanese and German soldier in its POW camps here. They were sent home after the war. It was their military and political leaders who found themselves in the dock at the Nuremberg Trials.

José Padilla, an American citizen and convert to Islam, spent six years in civilian and military prisons before recently receiving a seventeen-year prison sentence for a mongrel collection of offenses, both national and civilian. Given the evidence against him (and John Walker Lynd, as well), he ought to have been tried for treason, but was not.

The nature of his conviction and sentencing was lost in the fog of an undeclared war. If we are not at war, after all, how could he be charged with treason, and working to destroy or cripple the government, and for an enemy that does and does not exist?

Immigration policies play as much a role now vis-à-vis national security as they did in 1798, when the Federalists feared the unregulated immigration of people they considered dangerous and susceptible to mob rule, while the Republicans welcomed open immigration and saw no jeopardy in it. Now it is the Democrats who favor unregulated immigration while the Republicans wish to control it.

Race also plays a role in the immigration issue, just as it did in 1798. This time the Democrats favor Mexicans, because as illiterate or semi-literate and unschooled as most of them are, they can be exploited as a massive voting block for politicians who favor the implementation of “free” health care and other “social services.” (The taxpayer-supported public healthcare infrastructure is as burdened with “free” care for uncounted Mexican illegals as Britain’s welfare state is burdened with subsidizing anti-British illegal or semi-legal Muslims.)

Curiously, neither Congress nor the free-immigration advocates have ever said a word about revising immigration policies to allow, for example, the unlimited entry of educated, literate, productive Europeans desperate to escape the spreading, omnivorous tyranny of the European Union. Is this a policy of selective racism?

What does this surreal march of events demonstrate?

That the U.S. is in a state of moral and political limbo.

We are at war, but not at war. At the cost of lives and billions of dollars, our troops are fighting individuals and gangs of armed thugs, not armies of the enemy. Not a finger has been lifted to punish or destroy the governments that sponsor terrorism or that were responsible for 9/11. Iran, Syria, North Korea, and even Pakistan remain intact. In the meantime, and not unrelated to foreign policy issues, our remaining liberties are being whittled away in a costly and futile effort to foil future attacks, forcing searched and frisked traveling Americans to pay the price for a dubious “defense” while the guilty parties overseas are left unmolested to continue their anti-American policies.

Censorship is sneaking in through the back door in the name of national security and multiculturalism. Congress quibbles over the terms of the Protect America Act, which at least would allow the intelligence agencies, providing they are run competently, to gain knowledge from overseas of further plots against the U.S. It is more than hypocritical that Congress postures as guardian of Americans’ privacy, but is always ready to stick it to them in taxes, earmarks, and entitlement programs.

All the candidates for the presidency, Republican and Democrat, repeatedly express their self-confidence to do a “good” job in “managing” the country’s economy and foreign policy, and ask voters to have confidence in them. Most of them, excepting Barack Obama, claim that their political experience is an asset. What experience is it that they are boasting of? Being adept in the behind-the-scenes machinations to turn the country socialist? Of being able to successfully promote the ends of special interests? Of pandering to venal segments of the electorate, such as assuring the baby boomer generation of their government “entitlements”?

9/11, which was Islam’s declaration of war on the U.S., may as well have never happened, to judge by the priorities of the presidential candidates, not to mention the behavior of politicians of both parties over the last seven years. The Democrats don’t wish it to have happened; ergo, it never happened, and we must pull our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and pretend there is no enemy. And the Republicans don’t know how to fight an enemy they acknowledge exists, except to muck up their obligation to defeat him by lowering the standard of victory, which is a working commode in every Iraqi home.

People are falling for Senator Obama, who to date has said absolutely nothing substantive about his White House policies. But his endorsement by Senator Ted Kennedy should be a tip-off about what policies he would adopt. Kennedy wants to establish universal, mandatory, comprehensive health care, and for all Americans to “do something for their country.” If Obama is as fresh and hopeful as he and his supporters claim he is, the last thing he would want is an endorsement from the embodiment of malicious evil, that aging, older generation icon of complacent corruption, Ted Kennedy. That he welcomed the endorsement, revealed that Kennedy has been his Senate mentor, and did not deny that Kennedy’s goals are his own, ought to warn people about Obama’s character and intentions.

His unstated goals are also the goals of power-hungry Hillary Clinton, for whom touchy-feely collectivism “takes a village,” and also a nightstick-happy cop. All she, Obama and their rival candidates are asking for is one’s “confidence.” What all of them deserve is a vote of “no confidence.”

What can explain the unreality of the American political scene is that it is the climax of decades-old pragmatism, ingrained moral relativism that allows a policy of evasion and obfuscation on principle, and the mutual altruist/collectivist ends of the major political parties. What Ayn Rand called the “cult of moral grayness” is the ideal ambience of statists, in which things can be A and non-A, either simultaneously or by switching back and forth, depending on the expediency of the moment.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines limbo as a condition of neglect or oblivion. In a religious sense, it is also a transit point between heaven and hell. A political leadership that adopts such a policy leaves the country in a moral limbo, in which nothing is resolved or can be resolved. But a nation cannot remain in stasis for long. It must move.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others of their time refused to allow the nation to inure itself to the limbo of semi-tyranny sired by the Alien and Sedition Acts, and took action. Jefferson wrote what he thought. It made a difference. Ideas matter.

Hard as one might search today, one cannot see a Jefferson towering above the Lilliputians who pass for the nation’s moral and political leadership. But there are only two directions for the nation to take now: to the heaven on earth of freedom, or to the hell on earth of tyranny. Will Americans demand that their political leadership be bound by the Constitution, or will they allow themselves to be bound by collectivism? Will they place their confidence in the efficacy of the principles of freedom on which this country was founded, or in the despot who promises them thoughtless security?

The Left-Wing “Conspiracy” of the Right

If one wanted an instance of how political power or the pursuit of it can, first, corrupt one’s epistemology, and then one’s moral judgment, consider this story from the British Daily Mail of January 17, “Government renames Islamic terrorism as ‘anti-Islamic activity’ to woo Muslims.”

“Terrorism by Muslim fanatics was yesterday re-named ‘anti-Islamic activity’ by Jacqui Smith.

“The Home Secretary said that rather than acting in the name of Islam they were behaving contrary to their faith.

“Her words were chosen carefully to reflect new Government strategy on the language used to describe fanatics….Security officials believe that directly linking terrorism to Islam is inflammatory, and risks alienating mainstream Muslim opinion.”

A more thoroughly cowardly and covinous capitulation to the irrational would be hard to match. Change the terminology, or invert the identity of a thing, and, like magic, the thing changes into what one wishes it to be. (This is symptomatic of what Ayn Rand called the “primacy of consciousness,” or the mind creating reality.)

Thus Islam, a barbaric political and theocratic creed whose fundamental nature requires complete domination of the individual and society by a theocratic state – and whose murderous record in Britain itself is ongoing, with its insular population of Muslims, its “no-go” areas in major British cities and towns, its home-grown, self-alienated Muslim youth ready to declare war on the country in which they were raised, the seditious, inflammatory preaching imams and the plethora of Muslim councils seeking to censor any criticism of Islam – becomes what its propagandists wish non-Muslims to perceive it to be, a “peaceful” religion ready and willing to coexist with other faiths.

Blanked out by government officials who do not wish to rock a leaky boat of their own making is the sorry record of Islam wherever it has taken root in the West, with its vociferous anti-reason tirades and threats, and its totalitarian nature and ends.

The “radicals” – also deemed “fanatics” or “militants” by the government and by Western apologists who do not wish to “offend” rank-and-file Muslim manqués – are what they are. Contrary to the notion that Islam is at root a “peaceful” religion, Muslims who practice their creed according to its fundamental dictates are the most consistent adherents to the creed. They are not acting “contrary” to the nature and content of Islam; they are implementing its nature and content. They cannot be “wooed” or persuaded to “integrate” into a secular society their creed and clerics tell them must be conquered and converted into a purely Islamic society, even at the cost of their own lives and the lives of others.

The anti-concept of “anti-Islamic activity” is as irrational a concept as would have been, for example, “anti-Nazi activity” or “anti-communist activity” to describe the actions of the Gestapo or KGB, serving to segregate so-called “moderate” Nazis or communists from the “fanatics” and “militants.”

What can match that kind of perilous evasion is the wish of the Democratic Party of the U.S. to discard the term “liberal” and replace it with the term “progressive.” It is a reverse form of epistemological corruption its advocates wish to foist on the American electorate. “The liberal brand is tarnished,” said Rob Glaser, a member of the Democracy Alliance, an organization of wealthy Americans that funds and provides ideological direction to a multitude of other organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party, in a January 16 article in Human Events, “Billionaires for Big Government.”

Why is the label “liberal” tarnished? Why is the label so disreputable? It is chiefly because of the failure of astronomically costly social legislation that has never fulfilled and cannot deliver on its promise of “social justice” and a prosperous socialist society. The liberals wish to change the name but keep the collectivist philosophy that identifies it. It is as ludicrous a ploy as dubbing a gangster an “entrepreneur,” or a Nazi storm trooper a “militant social worker.” In this instance, it is statists advocating “anti-statist activity” by… statists.

What they are counting on is Americans not discovering that “progressivism” is just socialism by another name. They may get away with it. After all, who is there in politics, the news media, or the intellectual establishment to tell them?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once complained of a Republican “right-wing conspiracy” dedicated to foiling her political ambitions and to perpetuating a “conservative” political hegemony that did not fit her vision of a completely regimented country. (She recently charged that bout of paranoia to her “inexperience.”) Similarly, conservatives accuse most Democrats with being party to a “left-wing conspiracy” to transform the U.S. into a socialist country. Although the conservative charge is more credible – the U.S. is burdened with a variety of socialist and semi-socialist programs ranging from health care to employment to education – there is something flawed in the notion of a conspiracy.

In truth, though the Republican Party has been characterized as “conservative” (of what, I have never been able to determine) and nominally pro-capitalist, pro-freedom, pro-limited government, and so on, as I have remarked in another commentary, the Republicans have more or less partnered with the Democrats to expand government into virtually every realm of American life. It is chiefly because, ideologically, the party shares the fundamental altruist premises held by the “progressives”: to “manage” the country for the “greater good,” even if it means violating individual rights and rendering the Bill of Rights meaningless in practice, the “greater good” being any collectivist program, and it not meaning the preservation of individual rights, private property, and unregulated liberty, all of which would truly be a “greater” good.

Historically, it is the Republican Party that gave impetus to the Democrats and enabled them to acquire so much political influence and to advocate “social justice” legislation as the federal government’s moral imperative. To trace the ideological roots of progressivism one would need to go back to at least the Populism of the 19th century; its philosophical roots can be traced back even further, to Immanuel Kant, and ultimately, to Plato. But the watershed event in American history that can illustrate the connections between conservatism and progressivism is the 1912 Republican national convention.

William McKinley, a Republican who defeated the “Great Commoner” and Democratic candidate for the presidency, William Jennings Bryan, first in 1896 and again in 1900, advocated high import tariffs, increased customs duties, and greater regulation and control of business trusts. His vice president in 1901, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, assumed the office of president when McKinley was assassinated in September 1901.

Roosevelt, in a zealous enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, beginning with J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, initiated over forty actions against “big business” during his first administration, including against Swift and Company, Standard Oil, and the American Tobacco Company. These were prosecuted by Attorney General Philander Chase Knox (who “flirted” with advocacy of a federal income tax, and, who, as Secretary of State under Taft in 1912, declared it established after some states ratified the Amendment).

In 1904 Roosevelt ran for election and defeated the Democratic candidate Alton Parker, who campaigned for the “rights” of “big labor.” During his second administration he oversaw the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration, and expanded the regulation of railroads, signed “consumer protection” legislation, and sired the conservation movement for forests, parks, oil and coal lands.

Declining to run for reelection in 1908, he promoted and was succeeded in office by his Secretary of War, Republican William Howard Taft, who was no less zealous in his prosecution and persecution of “big business,” instituting over eighty antitrust suits, including one against U.S. Steel. (Ironically, trust-busting Philander Knox’s early career was as corporate lawyer for Carnegie Steel, which was bought by J.P. Morgan and absorbed into the U.S. Steel Company). Taft also defeated the Democratic candidate, Bryan. Taft empowered the Interstate Commerce Commission (created in 1887), expanded the civil service, and endorsed the direct election of senators (the 17th Amendment), a move that suborned the Constitution and opened the Senate to influence by populist or democratic movements, when it was intended to be a check on House legislation (as the House of Lords once served as a check on the House of Commons in Britain).

Most importantly, he supported a federal income tax on limited liability corporations as a solution to the tariff question. High tariffs were imposed on imported food and manufactures and were intended to protect the competitiveness of American businesses and farmers. “Social justice” reformers considered this an inequitable government policy that favored “rich” stockholders at the purported expense of less-wealthy Americans, who were “forced” to pay higher prices. Taft agreed with this thinking, and campaigned for the removal of the apportionment requirement on income taxes from property such as dividends, interest and rents. A personal income tax was enacted in 1862 and lasted until 1872, and was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1894 because it was interpreted as a direct tax that ignored “apportioned” population representation in Congress.

Taft and Roosevelt, both Republicans, wished to see that requirement removed and a tax imposed on such income regardless of Congressional representation. In 1909, the proposed amendment to remove the apportionment requirement was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and House, and sent to the states for ratification.

In 1912, Roosevelt opposed Taft’s nomination for the presidency because of Taft’s campaign for the independence of the judiciary. The Republicans nominated Taft. Roosevelt defected from the party and founded the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party. As a result, the Republican vote was split between “conservatives” and “progressives.”

Consequently, Taft lost the election to Democrat Thomas Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt the spoiler, and Taft, the losing incumbent, did not really “lose” in terms of their political philosophy. Shortly after Wilson took office, the 16th Amendment that legalized the income tax was declared ratified by Philander Knox, outgoing Secretary of State, which cabinet position was taken by Bible-thumping William Jennings Bryan.

So, Woodrow Wilson, the ultra-progressive, cannot be blamed for the income tax, though he certainly endorsed it. We can credit him, however, with the creation of the Federal Reserve banking system, the virtual nationalization of the railroads, laws governing working hours and conditions, the Federal Trade Commission, and a host of other socialist legislation, not to mention instituting ninety-two antitrust suits, and for endorsing the 18th Amendment, which gave the country Prohibition, the incubator of organized crime (aided and abetted by legislation that empowered the FDA to “police” the manufacture and consumption of food and drugs).

The questions to ask are: If Roosevelt had not broken with Taft, and if Taft had won the 1912 election, would it have mattered much to the general trend in American politics in the direction of government controls over the economy and personal lives? The same can be asked had Roosevelt out-maneuvered Taft within the Republican Party and won the election. Would the general drift towards the “socialization” of the U.S. have been arrested, but not stopped, or would it have been accelerated, as it was during Wilson’s administration? One cannot deny that Taft and Roosevelt were ardent and active statists. Theirs was an incremental move in the direction of total government control of the economy, while Wilson’s was a wholesale move.

No one in politics or the intellectual establishment has seriously questioned the trend or the direction or the fundamental premises of statism, not even succeeding presidents.

The questions are moot, but not irrelevant. From the advantage of hindsight, the Republicans would probably have won the 1912 election. Thanks to Roosevelt’s “spoiler” tactics, Wilson garnered the most votes in the Electoral College, which is based on Congressional apportionment, the very system condemned by Taft and Roosevelt in tax policy. He won by default as a consequence of policy conflicts within the Republican Party.

The conclusion to draw is: There were no conspiracies to vanquish the country, neither by the right or the left. From the end of the eighteenth century, shortly after ratification of the Constitution, the collectivists and “progressives” have steadily gained ground only by default of the defenders of individual rights and private property not grasping the value of their causes and defending them on proper grounds. For example, the Supreme Court declared an income tax unconstitutional on the specious grounds of apportionment, and not on the fact that it violated the right of a person to keep his property.

To illustrate how endemic is the idea even in academia that the “progressives” advanced in politics by virtue of their “superior” moral stance (as opposed to the greedy, selfish, avaricious, “immoral” stance of big business and private interests), Professor David C. Hanson, of Virginia Western Community College, wrote that the progressives “saw government not as only a protector of private property and individual freedom, but as an agent for social justice….Many progressives, like Theodore Roosevelt, possessed a fundamental conservatism, fearing that the consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of private interests threatened the morality and stability of the nation. Roosevelt’s [and Taft’s, and Wilson’s] aim was not to restructure American capitalism but to protect it from its own excesses through prudent government intervention….”

Has it ever occurred to Hanson, or to anyone else, that government cannot both protect private property and individual freedom and also act as an “agent for social justice,” in the course of which it must violate private property and individual freedom? (And we are now hearing the Democrats claim to be active “change agents.”) Has any establishment academic, historian, commentator or pundit asked: Why would the consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians be a less fearsome threat to the morality and stability of the nation than in the hands of the producers?

Someone might ask: Would the nation have fared any better if such power and wealth were retained without apology by the “barons” of capitalism? Possibly – had those barons a rational moral philosophy that would have completed the American Revolution. To my knowledge, they did not bother to seek one, either. To a man, they were infected by the viral moral code of altruism, which purportedly sanctioned their actions. For example, and without deprecating his achievements in productivity and in the accumulation of wealth, Andrew Carnegie explicitly subscribed to the policy of “giving back” to society. He was the original and the most prominent advocate of that policy, which has been emulated ad nauseam ever since by successful businessmen (undoubtedly motivated in his time and in his successors’ as a tax dodge; recall the tax and tariff issues of the 19th century).

Successful businessmen today are far more corrupted by that moral code – for example, George Soros, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates – most of whom unabashedly advocate the dissolution of private fortunes and the redistribution of everyone’s wealth and who ally themselves with the worst elements of collectivism and statism in especially the Democratic Party.

On the subject of the impotency of evil, Ayn Rand wrote in 1966, in her essay, “Altruism as Appeasement,” that

“The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser’s intellectual abdication that invites them to take over. When a culture’s dominant trend is geared to irrationality, the thugs win over the appeasers. When intellectual leaders fail to foster the best in the mixed, unformed, vacillating character of people at large, the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. The ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.”

Her hero John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, told a collapsed nation that

“When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by the scoundrels – and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.”

A better description of the current presidential contest cannot be written.

Evil, by its anti-life nature, is impotent. To credit the collectivists, the statists, and the nascent totalitarians in this country with a “conspiracy” is to concede that evil is powerful and can out-maneuver and out-think the advocates of reason. This is the principle crime of the Republicans and the conservatives, when one remembers that they have disagreed with the progressives and “liberals” only on the means to reach the same end. Is there any fundamental difference between the policies of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, except in the speed with which they wish them implemented? Have the Republicans acted contrary to their political principles, just as Islamic terrorists are claimed to act contrary to their religious beliefs?

If there ever was a left-wing “conspiracy,” it was one of opportunism to exploit the weaknesses, oversights, loopholes, but most importantly the moral cowardice of the conservatives in politics. And the notion of a right-wing “conspiracy” is too fantastic: men who claim to stand for something do not conspire or plot to lose their causes, which is what the conservatives have done for the last century or so.

So, in the campaign for the presidency that is famously noted for the absence of any substantive issues, all the Democrats can think of doing is to relabel their platform from “liberal” to “progressive” in an attempt to deceive the electorate with a lot of rhetoric about the need for “change.” And all the Republicans can think of doing is to split their appeal to the electorate between a semi-secular and a semi-religionist image, much as they did in 1912 over the judiciary.

And we know what happened as a consequence of that conflict. If Americans see any “change” come November of this year, it will be a promise of the worst kind of change: a few steps closer to totalitarianism.

Will Americans fall for the “anti-big-government” line of the advocates of bigger government? The November election will tell. The best justice Americans can give the party that wins is to not give it a sizable mandate to further destroy the country.

A Few Smoldering Embers of Liberty

My letter about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s renewed effort to ban smoking on private property was published in the Newport News Daily Press January 17. Except for the term “imbecilic” and the Patrick Henry reference, which was an inexplicable but regrettable excision by the letters editor, the letter was run without further editing:


The imbecilic grin of Governor Timothy Kaine, as he announced on January 7 his intention to endorse legislation that would arbitrarily ban smoking in all Virginia bars and restaurants, belies a malice for more than smokers and smoking. He represents a Leviathan that recognizes its own passion, which in this instance is currying favor with the vague forces of “social change,” most of which are anti-freedom and anti-reason. In the state in which Patrick Henry raised high the torch of liberty in 1765 and 1775, he wishes to extinguish the few smoldering coals of liberty left in the birthplace of American freedom. He seeks stale conformity and blind obedience. He wishes to bring Virginia into line with the dousing of freedom in Britain, France, Canada and other countries that have banned smoking in “public” (read private) places.

You see, it isn’t just about smokers vs. nonsmokers. The entire anti-smoking campaign is merely symptomatic of a more serious, national political phenomenon, which is collectivism. And one of the premises of collectivism is that we are all wards of the Leviathan state.


Edward Cline

Fiat Theocracy: House Resolution 888

Too often bad news swirls into one’s consciousness as abruptly as thousands of sparrows descending on an open field. Over the last week several newsworthy events occurred that demanded my attention, and at first it was difficult to decide which subject to address.

Should I dwell on Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, who announced the need for national identification cards to combat illegal immigration and terrorism? The cards would be the capstone of a “security” system that is largely a sham and an outrageous and costly public relations ploy that dishonestly “assures” traveling Americans that their government is on the alert for terrorists. Giddy with the power of punishment he and his agency have over ordinary American citizens, who are presumed guilty until proven innocent by a privacy-violating frisk at airport checkpoints, he warned in the staccato tones of a drill sergeant at a news conference that residents of states that do not “cooperate” in the federal program would no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses at airports as valid ID.

Why is Chertoff insisting now on creating a federal database to keep track of everyone? It is probably because he does not expect to be head of Homeland Security much longer, and wants to stick it to the country before a new president dismisses him.

Should I focus on Hillary Clinton, whose “teary moment” in New Hampshire last week was transparently calculated and orchestrated to win sympathy votes to jump-start her sputtering campaign for the White House, and who has just proposed a $70 billion federal “stimulus” package to rescue the housing market? Her political ambitions discount the fact that Federal “stimulus” packages of any nature are about as life saving for the economy as an injection of diluted arsenic is for a stroke victim. This is aside from her obsession with imprisoning everyone in a national health care plan, which would cost many more billions, and which maybe, just maybe, might be as efficient and efficacious as that of Great Britain, Canada, and of other semi-socialist countries.

Daniel Pipes, in his January 10 Jerusalem Post review of a new book that corrects the standard political spectrum and puts fascism where it actually belongs, as a necessary and inevitable partner or socialism, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by Jonah Goldberg, cites the author’s chronology of that secret history. It begins with Woodrow Wilson’s Progressivism policies (which gave us the Federal Reserve system and the income tax) and ends with Clinton hoping “to insert the state deep into family life,” which Pipes correctly interprets as an essential step of totalitarianism. State involvement in family or personal life was standard policy in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperialist Japan, and Soviet Russia. It is still so in Communist China and all Muslim countries.

Pipes writes of Goldberg’s book:

“To sum up a near-century of history, if the American political system traditionally encouraged the pursuit of happiness, ‘more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered.’” True enough.

Or do I then fault Pipes for his interpretation of “conservatism”? He writes in the same review that in contrast to fascism, “conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone.” Perhaps that characterization of conservatism might have been accurate over a century ago. The “conservatism” practiced by Republicans in Congress, however, has been, ever since Wilson’s time, more or less in partnership with progressivism’s social legislation, which has never been seriously challenged either in Congress or by the Supreme Court.

Looking around at our culture, where can one find that “limited government,” or the “liberty,” or the government “leaving citizens alone”? Republican conservatives are as much to blame for the creeping totalitarian socialism in our lives as are the Democrats. They have consistently refused to discard the altruist element in their political philosophy, and consequently can only second any proposals to fit the nation into the straightjacket of statism. One must ask: What is it that “conservatives” wish to “conserve,” if not the status quo, which, ever since at least Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, has been anything but?

And while Pipes is perceptive enough to appreciate Goldberg’s thesis, his perspicuity does not extend to distinguishing between “democracy,” which is mob rule (debates or not), and the principles of individual rights, which our now much-emasculated republican form of government was supposed to protect against the populist assaults of democracy without any debate on the matter.

(But then, Pipes, a leading authority on the Islamic jihad against the West, unfortunately believes that our salvation lies in “moderate” or “reformed” Islam, which is much like believing that Andy Hardy could single-handedly repel a Nazi Tiger tank offensive during the Battle of the Bulge.)

I swore to myself that I had finished discussing God and religion, but something perilous has come to my attention: a subtle but sleazy attempt to make Christianity the official state religion of this country.

One of the most enduring but pernicious myths about the United States is that it was founded as a specifically and exclusively Christian nation. The fallacy is not the monopoly of evangelicals, or of politicians such as Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama. It is an unquestioned and undigested fallacy that is simply passed on to the average American without any thought, qualification or insight, much as was the assertion of divine right of kings to rule in Europe, most of whom presumed to act as “God’s stewards” (now it is unelected European Union bureaucrats).

Few politicians and establishment pundits challenge the fallacy, or dare to. It ignores the fact that when America declared its independence from Britain, it was solely on the grounds of political freedom, whose philosophical, intellectual roots were fundamentally secular in nature. That political freedom was established in the real world, and had nothing to do with God.

If God was mentioned at all in the course of the country’s founding, it was a God that the founders understood did not interfere in human affairs and played no part in their political endeavors. Many of the founders were tactfully agnostic or were discreet atheists. The concept of God and the morality of altruism, which is the basis of Christian faith, to the most intellectually active of them, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were not compelling issues, neither to refute nor to impose as dogma on the American people. Religion was a private matter.

House of Representatives Resolution 888, sponsored by Virginia conservative Republican J. Randy Forbes (Chesapeake) is in effect an attempt to repudiate the Enlightenment and the secular political principles championed by the Founders and incorporated into the country’s original political documents. It is an endorsement of medieval morality and intends a de facto establishment of one of the things that the Founders feared and fought a war to prevent from coming about: a state church or state religion.

The resolution, cosponsored by thirty-one other representatives, including two others from Virginia, was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on December 18, 2007. Its preamble reads:

“Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as “American Religious History Week” for the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.”

One would need to be a fulltime scholar with a hefty advance from a publisher or a foundation grant to take the time to answer each historical “whereas” in the resolution. Each of the seventy-four conjunctions requires setting a context, which the resolution glibly neglects to do.

The conjunctions comprise a tossed salad of citations of historical events, such as inaugural ceremonies, of engravings or images on public buildings, or of quotations from some of the Founders, past presidents, and Supreme Court opinions about God and the Christian faith, God’s presence in mottos and coinage, and so on, which are all somehow supposed to add up to: a Christian nation!

A few of the more ludicrous ones should be mentioned here. Number sixty-six points to “the top of the walls in the House Chamber,” on which “appear images of 23 great lawgivers…but Moses (the lawgiver, who – according to the Bible – originally received the law from God,) is the only lawgiver honored with a full face view, looking down on the proceedings of the House.” Doubtless looking down with approval, as that Chamber betrays, sells out, and whittles away American freedoms.

Number seventy-two states that “in the Library of Congress, The Giant Bible of Mainz, and The Gutenberg Bible are on prominent permanent display and etched on the walls are Bible verses….” Well, I have a Bible in my reference library, together with some prayer books. The presence of these in my home do not make me a Christian, anymore than my owning a copy of Das Kapital or Mein Kampf makes me a communist or a Nazi.

Number three claims that “political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible.” Not true. The most frequently cited sources in that period by political theorists and philosophers were ancient Greek and Roman political tracts, together with Enlightenment political thinkers.

Number seven cites the Declaration of Independence and its four references to God. Of course, Forbes and his cosponsors would never explain that the chief reason for that is that British political philosopher John Locke, in whose language the Declaration was written, ascribed political rights in men to the work of a “retiring” God. He was wrong about that one thing, and right about just about everything else. But, that was the spirit of the times. Men were focused on elucidating the ideal conditions for living on earth, not on refuting a hand-me-down mythology with its promise of an afterlife.

Perhaps the most offensive in its implication to me was Number twenty-eight, which states that “…in 1853 the United States Senate declared that the Founding Fathers ‘had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people…they did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistical apathy.’” Anyone who has read my commentaries here knows that I am neither dead, nor revolting, nor apathetic.

Forbes’s resolution has met with voluble opposition. According to a Daily Press (Newport News, VA) article of January 13, “Forbes seeks official nod to religion,”

“…[C]ritics – ranging from atheists and Wiccans to mainstream civil rights groups – have accused Forbes of offering a distorted historical record and trying to use government authority where it isn’t needed.”

“’We don’t need the government to tell us that religion is important,’ said Jeremy Gunn, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s program on freedom of religion and belief.”

“’I don’t think Congress should embrace false history,’ said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.”

Gunn and Lynn are missing the point on two counts. Forbes’s resolution is intended to establish religion as official federal policy – what else could it be if it were approved by an elective body? And “false history” – or fabricated “facts” or contextless assertions about facts (see “Hoary Old Chestnuts”)—never checked or overruled a religionist’s emotional fervor.

Forbes, smarting from criticisms he obviously did not expect, according to the Daily Press article, countered, “The essence of what they believe is that God is a myth. Why is it that these people become so venomous when you talk about God?”

They wouldn’t, if he refrained from trying to force religion and that myth down their throats, and in the bargain make such critics political outcasts. “No legitimate person can say faith and religion haven’t played an enormous role in the history of this country,” said Forbes. Legitimate persons? Is he implying that a person who did not believe in God or acknowledged the over-emphasized role of religion in American history or who objected to rewritten history is illegitimate? That is, a non-person in the spirit of Michael Chertoff’s national ID standard? And the venom is in his imagination, to judge by the few calmly worded criticisms that were reported in the press.

One of the Founders’ objections to the British Crown’s policies was the plan to establish in the colonies an episcopate or bishopric of the state Church of England, which, as it did in Great Britain, would have had all authority over religious matters, and have been supported by taxes levied directly on the colonists, regardless of their religion. The state church in America, as it did in Britain, would have “tolerated” faiths other than the Anglican, but not permitted them their own churches – only chapels – and have probably required, as it did in Britain, that all political and military offices be filled with men who were of the Anglican faith and who took the “test oath,” subscribing to the rites and articles of the Anglican Church. The political implications of “packing the court” with Crown appointees, judges, legislators and functionaries all amenable to all oppressive Crown policies, should be obvious.

It was obvious to the Founders, and also to many American, non-conformist, non-Anglican ministers, most of whose Sunday sermons throughout the pre-Revolutionary period up to the Declaration of Independence were actually political disquisitions against the Crown and eloquent appeals for political liberty. In lieu of a 100,000-word book on the political stance of these clerics in answer to the allegations in Forbes’s resolution, I offer a few excerpts from their sermons, which can be found in Franklin P. Cole’s They Preached Liberty, a collection of statements by New England ministers, chiefly of Massachusetts, published by Liberty Press in Indianapolis.

“Those nations which are now groaning under the iron scepter of tyranny were once free; so they might probably have remained, by a seasonable precaution against despotic measures. Civil tyranny is usually small in its beginning, like ‘the drop of a bucket,’ till at length like a mighty torrent or the raging waves of the sea, it bears down all before it, and deluges whole countries and empires. Thus it is as to ecclesiastical tyranny also – the most cruel, intolerable, and impious of any….” Jonathan Mayhew of Boston, 1750.

“Arrogant pretenses to infallibility in matters of state and religion, represent human nature in the most contemptible light.” Samuel Cooke of Cambridge, 1770.

“The great and wise Author of our being has so formed us that the love of liberty is natural.” John Tucker of Newbury, 1771.

“Our danger is not visionary, but real. Our contention is not about trifles, but about liberty and property.” Gad Hitchcock of Pembroke, 1774.

“The God of nature has taught us by the situation and uncommon advantages of this place, that it was designed for extensive business: and here our fathers planted themselves, that they and their posterity might prosecute those branches of trade and merchandise which give riches and strength to nations and states.” John Lathrop of Boston, 1774.

“No man denies but that originally all were equally free. Men did not purchase their freedom, nor was it the grant of kings, nor from charter, covenant, or compact, nor in any proper sense from man: But from God. They were born free.” Samuel Webster of Salisbury, 1777.

The focus, as one can see in these examples and in numerous quotations throughout They Preached Liberty, was on political liberty, not on God. If a God existed, these men were of the position that he left it to men to achieve their freedom and happiness on earth. Observable nature, they thought, commanded men to contrive the best way to live with one another, not an unobservable supreme being. Their political thinking was as distant from the crude, barbaric dictates of the Ten Commandments as Pluto is from the Sun.

Representative Forbes, however, wishes to fabricate American history in the spirit of the Bible, which itself was woven from whole cloth. To paraphrase Jonathan Mayhew, perhaps the most “worldly” and consistent of the Massachusetts ministers, Forbes’s resolution is a “drop of the bucket” which, if not opposed by Americans, might portend the establishment of ecclesiastical tyranny.

Hoary Old Chestnuts II

“All ‘scriptural’ pseudo-scholarship is a strenuous attempt to make things come out right and to square a circle,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in his introduction to another essay in The Portable Atheist, Martin Gardner’s “The Wandering Jew and the Second Coming.”

In light of the recent release by the National Academy of Sciences of its “final” word on creationism and “intelligent design,” Science, Evolution and Creationism, I thought it apropos to add some notes of my own that I made in the course of composing my January 3 commentary. This is not an exercise in beating a dead horse, as I denied wishing to do in “Hoary Old Chestnuts,” but rather a brief anatomical examination of some of the corpse that is religion – or, as Hitchens might put it, the shedding of some light on why a circle cannot be squared.

For the longest time, when the news media reports on the latest clash over the teaching of evolution and creationism or “intelligent design,” the reportage, especially in TV news, is usually accompanied by pictures or footage of various animals and natural phenomena, that is, by strictly benign images of things God purportedly “created” or “designed.” These as a rule include zebras, polar bears, tigers, and other photogenic wildlife, together with vistas of the Rockies, of rivers, forests, and the like. Never in my experience have I seen in such coverage pictures of things like flies, locusts, mosquitoes, plague bacilli, rats, boll weevils, hornworms, and other destructive life forms, or the devastation caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, volcanic eruptions, droughts, and forest fires. Nor have I ever seen God credited with a pack of lions feasting on a downed wildebeest, or a polar bear ripping apart a seal, or a jaguar pouncing on a deer.

Nor have I ever seen God associated with living human skeletons, whether they are in Nazi death camps or in present day, famine-reduced Africa, nor the faces of emaciated children covered with flies or the deformed bodies of the inmates of state-run institutions in Eastern Europe.

All this is God’s doing – or so the priests and mystics claim.

If all these images were employed in TV reportage – particularly images of plague bacilli, rats, locusts, mosquitoes and any other parasite that can destroy but play no other role in their destructiveness or in the preservation of anything but their own parasitical existence – the question might be asked: Why did God create them? An advocate of “intelligent” design or creationism cannot credibly defend their existence, except to assert they are all part of God’s “plan.” And what is that “plan”? The advocate can only answer one of two ways: that they are a punishment for man’s disobedience or the like, or that the “plan” is inscrutable and beyond human comprehension. We do not even have the assurance that God will reveal the purpose of his “plan” when he stages his “Second Coming.”

But either answer sends the argument beyond reason and beyond debate into the spinning wheels of circular argumentation. Reason and debate, however, are not the favorite means of communication of the mystics, but rather preaching and appeals to emotion and an insistence on belief in defiance of human epistemology and a way to sanctimoniously “flip off” metaphysics.

All those non-benign things and more presumably adhere to God’s “plan,” and are products of his “creativity” and “intelligent” designing. One might be tempted to ask: What’s so “intelligent” about disease-carrying flies and mosquitoes? When man creates a new software program or vaccine, does he also concoct viruses or bacilli that would cripple the program or compromise the vaccine? No. But, God does, which is why I would characterize him as a psychopathic fruitcake.

Intelligence, however, is not a synonym for rationality. A villain can exercise intelligence. The key distinction between the terms is whether the intelligence is rational and pro-life, or irrational and anti-life. God, Allah, and all the other monotheistic supreme beings are in the same ward as Hannibal Lector.

When the theological notions of God’s plan, his omniscience, and the notion of man’s predestination encounter the concept of free will or volition, a multiple vehicle collision occurs from which only the concept of volition emerges unscathed.

If one possesses genuine volition, not only in regards to moral issues, but to everyday thinking and action, it would conflict with a supernatural “plan.” However, if every one of those attributes is claimed to be God’s “plan,” then it cannot be free will or volition that one possesses.

If God is omniscient, it presupposes that he knows in advance everything one will think and do. Again, this cannot be free will.

The same logic applies to the notion of predestination. If one is predestined from birth in all one’s thoughts and actions, then the concept of free will is superfluous. If one’s life, actions and end are predetermined by God, then the concept of free will is meaningless and a sham. Further, on the premise of predestination, if one commits a sin or a crime, why would God hold one accountable, if the sin or crime were predetermined? And if one performed a good action, or had no immoral thoughts, how could one be given credit for it by God, and rewarded? The notion of predestination obviates the concepts of reward and punishment.

The concept of free will or volition cannot be reconciled with any divine power or attribute. Nor can reality “square” with the idea of a supreme being. Moreover, it is fruitless to claim that God created man and the universe, and then retired from the scene as an impartial observer. On that premise, what would have been the point of creating anything?

The National Academy of Sciences report, however, asserts that science and religion – that is, reality and faith, or facts and wishful thinking – are not necessarily natural antagonists. It claims that “attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.” The presumably stellar panel that produced the NAS book, which concedes a place for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools, has reduced itself to the intellectual level of Rodney King. It effectively pleads, “Can’t science and religion just get along?”

No. One must destroy the other. Reason, the foundation of science, must dislodge faith, whose foundation is the unreal, from its role as a moral or “spiritual” guide.

The same book, reports the Times, “also denounces the arguments for a form of creationism called intelligent design, calling them devoid of evidence, ‘disproven’ or ‘simply false.’” “Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world,” states the book.

One step forward, two steps back. That is a retreat borne of compromise. It is also an instance of what Ayn Rand called the “soul/body dichotomy.” The panel members could not conceive of a metaphysics that did not admit the “disproven” and the “false,” nor of a limitless, reason-governed epistemology that rejects the unprovable and the fanciful and maintains a recognition of and loyalty to reality.

“In 1984 and again in 1999,” reported the Los Angeles Times on January 4 in an article, “Evolution Book Sees No Science-Religion Gap,” “the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s most eminent scientific organization, produced books on the evidence supporting the theory of evolution and arguing against the introduction of creationism or other religious alternatives in public school science classes.” The 2008 report makes a fatal concession to religion, doubtless from political pressure from religious groups and perhaps also from a fear of “offending” those groups and consequently risking the Academy being embroiled a controversy it is reluctant to ignite, or more crucially, lacks the confidence it could argue and win.

But any concession by science to faith and mysticism means, ultimately, an abandonment of truth and reality. Faith and mysticism acquire the attribute of being “real,” while the truths discovered by science are shunted to the realm of subjectivism, allowing, for example, million year old fossils to be offered by religionists as proof of God’s “handiwork,” and not of evolution.

In her January 6 review of Lee Harris’s The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the Enlightenment in The New York Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali applauds the book but has this reservation:

“Harris…fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.”

Romanticism or the Romantic movement was a cultural phenomenon spanning the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th. The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia aptly describes it as a movement which “emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental….Among its attitudes…was a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect….”

“Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism),” observes Ali, “are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.”

She could just as well be speaking about Christianity and its votaries when she remarks,

“Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and its moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism.”

Western leaders – and I am thinking of intellectual leaders as well as political ones – writes Ali, “must allow reason to prevail over sentiment.”

And that is not what the National Academy of Sciences has done. Although Science, Evolution and Creationism faults creationism – and by implication any species of mysticism, anti-reality, or anti-reason – within the same document it claims that science and religion can work together as partners.

Speaking of political leaders not allowing reason to prevail over sentiment, not many readers may be aware of Congressional House Resolution No. 888, referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on December 18, 2007, whose full title is: Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as “American Religious History Week” for the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith. I will shred this presumptuous and wholly erroneous nonsense in a future commentary. Thanks to Mel McGuire, who was responding to “Hoary Old Chestnuts,” for bringing this perilous proposal to our attention.

In The Portable Atheist, one will read of numerous attempts by Christian and Islamic scholars and religious authorities to square their pet circles. It is thanks to the efficacy of reason that they have been found out.

Ibn Warraq’s “The Koran” discusses not only the invention of the Koran and the development of Islam, but also the invention of Christianity, as well, for the two are intimately linked to each other and to Judaism. One thing that might be noted is that the fabricators of Christianity and Islam were dishonest. As Warraq demonstrates in his essay, they invented biographical accounts of the lives of Christ and Mohammed in order to patch over holes in their separate dogmas. These in turn over time became unverifiable myths rife with miracles, and the myths in turn were seized upon by believers who wished them to be true.

In the course of his exhaustive but excellent essay, Warraq makes a number of interesting observations.

“Despite the fact that there were approximately sixty historians active during the first century of the Roman world, there is remarkably little corroboration of the Christian story of Jesus outside the Christian traditions. What there is, is very inconclusive and unhelpful – Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, the Younger Pliny.”

“The letters of [St.] Paul were written before Mark’s Gospel, and yet rather surprisingly they do not mention many of the details of Jesus’s life that we find in the Gospels; no allusions to Jesus’s parents, or to the Virgin Birth, or to Jesus’s place of birth; there is no mention of John the Baptist, Judas, nor to Peter’s denial of his master. As G.A. Wells points out, ‘they never refer to his trial before a Roman official [Pontius Pilate] nor to Jerusalem as the place of his execution. They mention none of the miracles he is supposed to have worked….’”

Warraq comments,

“Just as we find that the early Christians fabricated details of the life of Jesus in order to answer doctrinal points, so we find that Arab storytellers invented biographical material about Muhammad in order to explain difficult passages in the Koran.” Later, he writes, “Where Christianity arose from a fusion of Judaic and Greco-Roman ideas, Islam arose from Talmudic Judaic, Syriac Christian, and indirectly, Greco-Roman ideas.”

One will not hear that stated in any Sunday morning sermon or any Friday evening exhortation in a mosque.

I do not wish to make a career of arguing against God, religionists, creationism, and other supernatural fantasies. But, aside from The Portable Atheist and all the similar works cited in it, other books have been written that might be of interest to anyone fascinated by the subject. Dr. John A. Henderson alerted Rule of Reason to books he has written on God and religion and how they have had a deleterious effect on just about everyone, including politicians: A Deity for the New Millennium, Fear, Faith, Fact, Fancy, and the co-authored Judging God. His website is: Mr. McGuire, cited above, also recommended Chris Rodda’s Liars for Jesus, the first title of a projected trilogy on religion, excerpts of which can be read at I have not read these latter books, and so cannot endorse them, but if Dr. Henderson and Mr. McGuire were encouraged by my last commentary on the subject of religion, I cannot imagine there would be any serious objection to recommending them.

And that is as much as I plan to discuss religion for a long while.

Hoary Old Chestnuts

“Ever tried going into St. Paul’s and offering to re-write the Bible?” – Lily Pepper to George Pepper, married vaudevillians, on his refusal to drop their act’s stale joke material, in “Red Peppers, an Interlude with Music,” from Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8:30 (1935)

I rarely bother to beat dead horses. God is a dead horse, although religion is not quite as dead as most atheists believe, because it is alive and snorting and being harnessed to contemporary American politics. That is religion’s special danger; churches of all stripes and sects are enlisting their congregations in the army for various welfare state, environmentalist, and collectivist crusades. Their primary object is to resurrect the country’s alleged “Christian” values and rid that “Holy Land” of the infidel, the atheist, and incidentally clean up the earth, stop global warming, and herd everyone into a welfare state corral. It is God’s will, they say, to take care of the lame, halt and poor by impoverishing the healthy, the independent, and the industrious.

At least two presidential candidates earnestly want to recapture the land in the name of God: Mike Huckabee, uncharismatic Baptist preacher, and Mitt Romney, practicing Mormon, who said he wishes to banish atheists from the country. Neither questions the morality of the secular application of his altruist creed in any fundamental way: the welfare state. The other presidential candidates bring God into their rhetoric only when they think it prudent. Each wishes to subdue the kind of atheist who does not believe in the mystical benefits of collectivism and involuntary servitude, to indenture him to them against his will for the sake of “giving back” to the national community, and thereby create a legacy for the candidate of being the “savior” of the “public good” and promoter of “social justice.”

In the book I discuss below, I encountered one unattributed statement that aptly sums up the character and mentality of each of the current crop of presidential hopefuls. In a revealing description of the many fantasies of Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS and Gestapo, the author remarks: “But one of his characteristics was much more widely shared – his mind had not been encouraged to grow. Filled with information and opinion, he had no critical powers.”

And he certainly harbored an animus for them, did not welcome them in others, and counted on their absence in others – from Hitler down to the German populace – to sustain his totalitarian powers of life and death. To exercise one’s critical powers in Nazi Germany was to risk a death sentence. For all their blather about the need for undefined “change” and the value of dubiously boasted “experience,” each of the presidential candidates wears that double stigma on his forehead – an absence of critical powers and the insidious hope that no one else possesses them, either.

But, I digress. A friend gave me a Christmas present, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, selected and introduced throughout by Christopher Hitchens (Philadelphia: De Capo Press, 2007, 499 pp.), author of the notoriously successful bestseller, God is Not Great, which exhaustively recounts the evil of religion and the imbecility of the idea of God under his various aliases.

I should state here that I became an atheist at a very early age, when I questioned the credibility and existence of Santa Claus. That is, I could not accept as a truth or even as the remotest likelihood a being who could somehow fly through the air from the North Pole, pulled in a sleigh by eight tiny reindeer, the rumble seat top heavy with presents for every child on earth, circumnavigate the globe in one evening, and return to the Arctic undetected even by Norad. I was aware that there were millions of children like myself around the world, and that not all of them could boast of working chimneys in their houses for Santa to squeeze into and shimmy down into what should have been roaring fires on cold winter nights. Also, I had observed that the roofs of most houses were too small to accommodate eight reindeer, regardless of their size. Further, most of the brightly wrapped presents it was claimed he hauled in his sleigh came in manufacturers’ packaging.

Had I been able to intelligibly formulate them then, questions lurked in my mind that I could have asked my nominally Catholic foster parents: “Did the companies give these toys to Santa Claus to pass out to children? Or did they outsource their manufacture to his own shop, where his elfin helpers assembled them? Did his sleigh have retractable wheels that allowed him to land on roofs in places where it didn’t snow? How would he know I had been naughty or nice in the year, unless you told him?”

You see where this was leading me: ultimately to comprehensive disbeliefs in not only Santa, but in tooth fairies, the Easter Bunny, Heaven (especially when I first saw a photograph of the Andromeda galaxy), Hell, Limbo, Purgatory, angels, Satan, saints, ghosts, goblins, and every other kind of supernatural entity. One by one, the spirits, idols, and otherworldly realms fell victim to my loyalty to reality. Logic, according to the OED, is “the science of reasoning, proof, thinking, or inference.” More fundamentally, logic, wrote Ayn Rand, is “the art of non-contradictory identification,” and “rests on the axiom that existence exists.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon) The purported, magical attributes of the beings and realms contradicted the evidence of my senses and abused my logical mind. End of argument.

Until I applied logic to religion itself, I innocently subscribed to the delusion that my “soul” was a kind of ectoplasmatic representation of my torso, and that my two tummy freckles were the marks of indelible sins, one of them presumably “original.”

So, God, the master wizard cum bogeyman of them all, had ceased to be a moral adviser and a vengeful threat long before I entered high school, simply because I knew he was not and could not be real, no more real to me than the volitional brooms unleashed by Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. (For many of the same reasons, I never developed a liking for the device of talking animals, either, animated or otherwise.)

And, while I refuse to argue with anyone about the existence or non-existence of God, Jahveh, Allah or any of the other one hundred and ninety late gods and deities listed in H.L. Mencken’s “Memorial Service” (one of the shorter essays in The Portable Atheist, and anything but funereal in sentiment), and have always been reluctant to waste time composing a rebuttal to such an absurd idea (that is, anyone who still needed convincing that there was no God, may as well still believe in Santa Claus), it was a breath of fresh air to read forty-seven essays and chapter excerpts penned by writers endowed with critical powers and bedeviled enough by the issue to perform the task.

For an incorrigible atheist like myself, these essays are both edifying and amusing. They begin with Lucretius’s (96-55 BC) “On the Nature of Things,” a poem that scuttles belief in gods – and pre-Christian gods, no less – and ends with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “How (and Why) I Became an Infidel,” an account of how she left Islam, which she damns in its entirety, seeing nothing in it that lends itself to “reform” or “moderation,” and refused to accept a substitute religion, as Christians apparently pressed her to do.

It is hard to choose the most illuminating essays in this collection. One thing a reader is sure to come away with after reading, for example, Elizabeth Anderson’s “If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” and Ibn Warraq’s “The Koran: The Totalitarian Nature of Islam” and Sam Harris’s “In the Shadow of God” is the knowledge that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all religions that were knocked together from various pre-history pagan and tribal lores and barbarisms, sewn into their separate textual quilts over millennia by plagiarists, monks, scholars, imaginative tongue-in-cheek scribes and anyone else who derived sanctimonious pleasure from putting one over on the ignorant and credulous, which, beginning with the collapse of the Roman Empire and ending with the Enlightenment, was just about everyone. (It was news to me, for example, that one could be burned at the stake for owning a Bible that was in one’s local language; one was supposed to rely on clerical authority about what the Bible actually said, and not commit the sin of seeing it for oneself.)

The reader will also learn, if he did not already suspect it, that the Bible and Koran especially were works-in-progress for about 1,500 years, and underwent constant emendations, corrections, excisions, deletions, revisions, additions, fraudulent attributions, and mistranslations in order to make them conform to preferred dogma or to make them “relevant” to the angst of the era. Neither the Bible nor the Koran of a millennium ago would be recognizable by modern day Christians or Muslims.

Neither religion can claim to be original even as “revelation,” that is, as a direct communication from God or Allah, for both cadged the practice of Bronze Age shamans, witch doctors and holy men, that the not-to-be-doubted-or-questioned “Word” was ideally received by persons eminently lacking in critical powers, such as the bandit Mohammed and that ambitious camp-follower and prototype anti-Semite, St. Paul, both of whom laid the groundwork for the future and ongoing prejudice against and persecution of Jews.

Speaking of Jews, Sam Harris, in his chapter “In the Shadow of God,” from his book, The End of Faith, devotes many pages to their demonization by Christian doctrine and superstition (not that there is much of a difference between them).

“But for sheer gothic absurdity nothing surpasses the medieval concern over host desecration, the punishment of which preoccupied pious Christians for centuries. The doctrine of transubstantiation was formally established in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council…and thereafter became the centerpiece of the Christian (now Catholic) faith….Henceforth, it was an indisputable fact of this world that the communion host is actually transformed at the Mass into the living body of Jesus Christ. After this incredible dogma had been established, by mere recitation, to the satisfaction of everyone, Christians began to worry that these living wafers might be subjected to all manner of mistreatment, and even physical torture, at the hands of heretics and Jews. (One might wonder why eating the body of Jesus would be any less of a torment to him.) Could there be any doubt that the Jews would seek to harm the Son of God again [Christian dogma alleges that the Jews betrayed him because they did not believe he was the Messiah], knowing that his body was now readily accessible in the form of defenseless crackers? Historical accounts suggest that as many as three thousand Jews were murdered in response to a single allegation of this imaginary crime.”

I laughed out loud when I reached “defenseless crackers.” I recall kneeling at the communion railing and having that tasteless, cardboard-like wafer plopped onto my tongue, and then nearly choking on it while trying to swallow it (we were cautioned not to chew it; that would have been “disrespectful”!). It was shortly after my “first communion” that I began to associate the whole ritual with cannibalism by proxy. It made no sense and the idea and ritual of the Eucharist became repugnant to me.

(I also laughed out loud when I read a December 30th column by Jeremy Clarkson, “Unhand my patio heater, archbishop,” in The Sunday Times (London), which ought to be included in a second volume of The Portable Atheist, in which he upbraids Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, for being a daft, yeah-saying hypocrite.

“Then we must ask how much old Rowan really understands about the implications and causes of global warming. He thinks that taking a holiday in Florida and driving a Range Rover caused the flooding in Tewkesbury this summer. But then he also believes it’s possible for a man to walk on water and feed a crowd of 5,000 with nothing more than a couple of sardines.”)

Elizabeth Anderson’s “If God is Dead” essay is one of the best indictments of the Bible that I have ever read. Posing the conundrum of why God (or Allah, or whomever) is considered to be the be-all and end-all of morality – originating morality and rewarding it and punishing its delinquency – she writes:

“Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets his creation, and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.)”

I am willing to bet that somewhere, at some time, some preacher or priest has latched onto the tale of the Great Flood and charged that it was God’s punishment for the prehistorical episode of anthropogenic global warming, doubtless ascribing the phenomenon to all those atmosphere polluting, pre-industrial age fires that baked men’s bread and kept them warm and allowed them to live. That, of course, would cast Al Gore in the role of prophet, a role to which he has proven to be amenable.

Anderson similarly exposes just about every book of the Bible and the enormity of its absurdity and of its obscenity as a handbook for ethical guidance, particularly because she demonstrates that God, as he is represented anywhere in the Bible, is a certified, psychopathic fruitcake. One cannot help but conclude that it is God who ought to be punished for his callous brutality, inhuman crimes, and blatantly irrational behavior.

Ibn Warraq’s essay on the pitfalls, fabrications, contradictions, and immorality of Islam is long but absolutely priceless. On the subject of miracles, which Mohammed was not supposed to be able to perform because he was a mortal, for example, she relates how he miraculously fed thousands from a single lamb kid. Doubtless this tale was snitched from the one of Christ’s feeding 5,000 people with his miracle of the loaves and fishes (“a couple of sardines”) and adapted to inflate the Prophet’s importance.

Unless I am mistaken, one point that none of the contributors to The Portable Atheist dwelt on was the fact that the three religions that have tortured the West for millennia – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – share a common geographical origin: the Mideast. There might be some significance to that fact. That is where each creed’s initial population of believers first appeared, grew in number, and spread to Europe and North Africa. Perhaps the climate contributed to the phenomena, or perhaps it was that combined with the nature of the region’s topography, flora and fauna.

Another subject I would like to have seen discussed in greater depth was God’s ostentation, coupled with his apparent shyness. He has appeared to no one but Moses, and that was as a burning bush. Both Christianity and Islam predict that he will make a Second Coming, announcing himself, or Christ announcing himself, with a “shout” (shouting what?). For a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and frankly narcistic, he curiously finds it necessary to put on a big show of his Second Coming with blaring trumpets and resurrecting the dead and making everyone who ever existed (including Cro-Magnon men?) stand in line to hear his sentencing to heaven or hell – according to what is recorded in a big book. Well, why would this omniscient being need a written record? Would he not know who has been naughty or nice, and just be able to snap his fingers and send one on his predestined way without all the show-offy pageantry?

A few contributors only touched on the subject of what I would call God’s self-esteem deficiency. Why does he need to be worshipped? Does he derive some joy in having people grovel before him in a quivering funk? Is he a sadist? Does he not feel complete unless someone is sweating bullets over the nature of his eternal reward or punishment? This nasty character and psychological profile of God differs in no fundamental from that of a common neighborhood bully or dictator, or even from that of any of the current presidential candidates.

These and other questions about God’s psychological and moral makeup apparently have never occurred to theologians, priests, rabbis, mullahs and their ilk. But then again, these creatures have a vested interest in keeping God’s profile and his purposes inscrutable and exempt from rational scrutiny. That makes these mortals accomplices to an unprecedented scam.

I end this foray into atheism and religion with a memorable quotation from an equally refreshing article in the April/May issue of Free Inquiry, Gerd Lüdemann’s “What Really Happened? The Rise of Primitive Christianity, 30-70 C.E.” In summing up the reasons why Christianity was able to spread through the untiring machinations of St. Paul of Tarsus, he concludes:

“…[T]he success of Pauline Christianity reflected its accord with the spirit of the time. The world had become weary of thought. People wanted a convenient way to secure their immortality, and one of the most popular was by initiation into mysteries, two examples of which were baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Let us be blunt: Paul’s brand of Christianity – which became the movement’s normative form – constituted a spiritual reaction against the Greek Enlightenment at the same time when state law, customs, and even forms of greeting came to be dominated by authoritarianism. The quintessential freedom of ancient Greece was throttled along with the constitutional spirit of the Roman state. Prerogative replaced research; faith substituted for knowledge; independence of the human spirit gave way to humble subordination to an all-powerful deity in the sky; and slavish observance of divine commandments supplanted natural human morality. When Paul’s work was done, the downfall of the vibrant, ancient culture that had grown up out of Hellenism was complete.”

Substitute a few of the subjects in Lüdemann’s lament, and it could very well be a description of our own time. And comical Lily and George Pepper, bickering and washed-up hoofers and purveyors of “hoary old chestnuts,” might have been surprised had they gone into St. Paul’s and offered to re-write the Bible.

It had been done many, many times before. Why not again? They would have been as qualified as anyone else to undertake the task. All they would have needed to come up with was new material, keeping it clean, fresh and fragrant.

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