Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Flashback: From the Hospital Bed--More on the Genesis of Liberalism.

[Memories from well over fifty years for my kids and grandchildren].

When I joined Father one day, to my pleasure he was shaving, with soap, bowl and his old Rolls razor which he would sharpen himself by running it back and forth in its case: the blade was permanent. He had given me one and unfortunately I gave it up for an electric; now that I am back to the blade I wished I had it.

Like old times, me listening to your thoughts as you shave, I said.

“Well, I was thinking the other day as I lay here that we never played a lot of baseball but all I did was talk politics and public affairs to you. Did you miss a lot of fun having to hear me bend your ear??”

Not in the slightest. As you understood, I was never an athlete anyhow. But now’s a good time to reexamine your own brand of conservatism. You’re a conservative but are you convinced the Republican party is one? (It was 1966; Lyndon Johnson had won the presidency by a landslide two years earlier and the GOP was in the minority in both houses).

“Well, I’ve never been one to say that there should be a theory to which all conservatives should repair. But my kind of conservative would have to begin to recognize a transcendent moral order and recognize that a kind of divine law is at work in society although we may not fully realize it. That would be the first principle. Belief in God and natural law.”

And the second?

“Well, it would be familiarity not undue experimentation. By which I mean we should prefer the devil we know to the one we don’t. There is a tug between order and freedom and to go overboard for one to the detriment of the other is no good. Hamilton was big or order as you know—but carrying order to the uttermost would mean a kind of fascism. Jefferson was big on freedom—but moving freedom to the end of its tether would mean anarchy. So the tension must be kept between order and freedom.”

Any more?

“Yes. Conservatives should recognize how indebted we are to past generations and rely on them. Without having learned from Hamilton we would have to reinvent the whole concept of order in a democracy; and without grasping essentials from Jefferson we would have to do the same. The next would be prudence which Plato said was chief among virtues.”

That’s a total of four.

“The next would be to understand what is meant by both diversity and equality. This chase after equality is a vile canard. All men and women come with different talents and it is fair to say that none of them are equal: an outrageous proposition by Jefferson’s dictum but then he was a poet. He wrote that all men are created equal although he was a slave-owner at the time. The only time men are equal is when they will stand before the bar of God at the Last Judgment. This country has succeeded not because it pushed equality so much as it promoted diversity. And in an interesting way—by perpetuating all sorts of inequities: wealth, property, rewards for innovation. Our liberal friends have seized the concept of equality and tried to promote a leveling which results in social stagnation. This is because liberals today—not those of yesterday—have substituted this for belief in God. They do not realize that if natural inequities between people are destroyed there will come a tyrant to establish a new form of inequity.”

What else do conservatives believe in?

“Conservatives believe in the doctrine of fallibility, imperfectability. Liberals seek a perfect social order but none has ever been created and if it were, men—liberals among them—would become tired of it and foment a rebellion, or fade away out of boredom. Conservatives understand the imperfectability of the human race; liberals do not: they look for the perfect case of social justice on earth. But because conservatives believe in God, they know that such cannot happen on earth—only in heaven. Since liberals chafe at the idea of heaven…which they call disparagingly pie in the sky when you die…they strive to build perfect social justice on earth. I think it is fair to say that they shall bring down this country—not in mine, possibly in yours or probably in your children’s.”

I expect you realize that the hospitalization and medical expenses you are incurring are being paid by Medicare which became law not long before you grew ill. Without this wouldn’t you be impoverished?

“No. No one who died in our family was impoverished because of medical care. My mother died in the twinkling of an eye—heart attack: boom. My father lingered with cancer but not long. Medical care wasn’t as good as it is now. But the payout is always death. The worry that we may run out of money to take care of us is the same worry that wants to forestall death in perpetuity. And it is not just being frightened but is unrealistic.

“Death—and I’ve had a good deal of time to think about it—is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man. We all must die. If only some of us died and others remained immortal, that’d be a bad deal. How would I feel dying, believing I would never you or Mom again? But you will die, too and we will meet again—all of us, if you don’t screw up and fall off the path of virtue, kid. About Medicare, I’ve been paying in to Social Security for a long time—since 1935. I doubt if I am getting back in services the equivalent of what I paid so far. With you, it’ll be somewhat better but not all that much, depending on how you wind up. You’ve paid in since the mid-1940s when you got your first job at Sun Electric as an office-boy. Your kids will be on the short end, having paid in a great deal more than they will collect.”

As long as I’ve known you, you have said that liberals substitute belief in God for belief in government. Have they always done so?

“No. Far from it. You know Humphrey, I don’t. You’ve said he is determined to make lives better for people as he sees it which is expanding government. Ok, he and I don’t agree on government programs all that much but I’ll grant him good intentions. The people of my youth—Bryan and others, even Norman Thomas—believed in the doctrine of improvement and believed in God. I think they were wrong but I grant them they believed. A new group coming into liberaldom—and I call it liberaldom—disagrees with them, however. I think our president, Lyndon Johnson, is one of those. He keeps talking interchangeably about serving God and humanity.”

What’s wrong with that?

Because Jesus never told us to love humanity!. The preachers who say He did—mainly liberal preachers, notably black ones—have their own political ends in mind. Jesus told us to love our neighbor! . I challenge you to find where He said we must love humanity. He didn’t because He knew it’s incredibly harder to love your neighbor than to proclaim that you love all humanity. Jesus told us to love as he did. That means to love and serve the individuals we meet. Liberals project that to love humanity which leads them to espouse huge spending programs to generate supposed benefactions from which they take immense pride. But they’re wrong. Jesus did not come to earth for the sake of humanity. He came for you and for me. Nor did he come to heal all of us; he had the power to heal all but he left many unhealed. Liberals don’t understand that. If they had the power to remold Jesus they’d have him coming here to help all humanity ala Lyndon Johnson at the airport fence, shaking hands and giving people that squint-eyed look of his.”

Would you sketch out the differences in belief between liberals and conservatives of our stripe?

“Yes. Increasingly, the newer liberals coming into their own in this country, believe that traditional dogmatic religions place revelation, creed, God and ritual on a higher level than what they describe as humanity. They’re right about us! We believe the ultimate first cause of existence is God. We believe God is the ultimate source of all authority. We believe God has revealed to us the truths by which we are to live. All men will be judged after death on whether they have lived up to the truths God has revealed. Liberals, particularly the younger secular ones, don’t share this view. They believe moral values derive their source from human experience; that’s what John Dewey propounded at the University of Chicago. He said that ethics is situational, needing no theological sanction.

“They maintain that human life has meaning as we create and develop our futures. See the difference? When old man Bryan inveighed against Wall Street he was at least a firm believer; in the Scopes trial where he tussled with Clarence Darrow he declared he believed in literal creationism. All well and good. Moderns say he lost the argument; not at all. He won the argument and won the case. Bryan was a good liberal—at least one we can deal with. When Norman Thomas talked about a greater welfare state under his Socialist Party, he was nevertheless a believer. The newest crop does not share that view. I don’t know whether Vice President Humphrey does or not; you tell me. I doubt, frankly, that Lyndon Johnson does. He wants to turn on the pump and pump money out for all humanity. That’s the mark of a new liberal. And Nixon who is likely to be our nominee in `68 believes in next to nothing so we are not going to get much of a change there even if he wins.

“That’s why I say modern liberals are destined to cause trouble if they gain the ascendancy because its endemic that they do not believe in anything—including…and this is coming…patriotism. We have seen wars fought where liberals and conservatives stood together. The very last one may well have been the Korean War. I doubt if that unity will exist for any future war, no matter how just.”

Now Mother is here and she says you must go to sleep for your mid-morning nap. We’ll return after lunch.

“And she is the boss.”

They embraced. As we walked down the hospital corridor, she said “I learn more from him every day.”

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