Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stoic Thanksgiving

     The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius counseled himself to be brave in misfortune. Indeed, even to give thanks:
“Oh, wretched I, to whom this mischance is happened! nay, happy I, to whom this thing being happened, I can continue without grief; neither wounded by that which is present, nor in fear of that which is to come. For as for this, it might have happened unto any man, but any man having such a thing befallen him, could not have continued without grief. Why then should that rather be an unhappiness, than this a happiness?”
     Though the trajectory of American civilization seems to have turned sharply downward, it is worth remembering how fortunate we still are. People of my generation have parents who grew up in the Great Depression and World War II. Very few Americans my age or younger have known comparable difficulties. Our problems are more subtle, more of decaying morality amid plenty than of existential military threat, more of obesity than of starvation. For a time at least, life can be rich in learning and friendship and service. For now, we have leisure to live the life of the mind. If we discern a need to prepare for worse times, at least we can be thankful for the chance to get ready. And then, like the Stoic emperor, we can be thankful again if we prove equal to the task that ultimately confronts us.

About the Kids

     The passage in Maryland and Maine of new laws allowing same-sex marriage (SSM) provides the latest data point in the long, predictable erosion of marriage as a socially useful institution.  This process will continue, along with drug legalization and similar efforts, as long as the Left owns the schools, universities, movies, and the courts.  Another data point, perhaps more alarming, is the erosion of opposition even among religious people.  The following comment appeared at Thinking Christian:

Phil's comment is depressing enough, but worse than that is the level of support he finds on a Christian blog. As a secularist, I had hoped to find more nuanced thinking about SSM among Christians than among my fellow secularists. Sadly, even here the rhetoric of the relativists has made converts.
Tom's original post is beautifully done. The point that easy rhetoric does not always equate to sensible thinking is valid. Having started as a Left-liberal myself, I have arrived at conservative and traditionalist values after a lifetime of experience and reflection. Not that instrumental evaluations are dispositive, but I have seen too many of my contemporaries, whose lives were devoted to free love of all kinds, wind up miserable. The path from noble-sounding endorsements of freedom to hedonistic narcissism is short.
Society’s institutions must take stock of human nature. Usually that means some portion of the population will feel disadvantaged. SSM, which has no precedents in western history, redefines marriage. Under SSM, the new marriage is now wholly about the satisfaction of the partners. (Here I imagine many readers will say, “Of course!”) But, marriage historically has served many more purposes than that. While mutual satisfaction is part of the reason for marriage, far more important is the utility to society of a traditional marriage in raising children. We have taken “pursuit of happiness” to extremes, and now many of us cannot imagine that concepts like obligation or duty have moral value.
Still too long for a bumper sticker: “Marriage--it's about the kids.”

So long as a majority in the country believes in radical individualism, the social fabric will continue to unravel. Thomas Jefferson was, by his own assessment, an Epicurean. When he summed up the trinity of natural rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he surely understood the distinction Epicurus had made between a thoughtful happiness and mere hedonism. If his contemporaries ever shared that understanding, too many Americans now have lost it entirely. But hedonism is the child of peace and prosperity. It unfits a people for adversity. Ineluctably, adversity is coming, enormous adversity, and it remains to be seen whether we have sufficient dormant Stoicism to encounter it successfully.  Turning over one more institution, the wheezing, dying institution of marriage, to unenlightened self-interest just makes the Stoic argument all the harder at the very point we need it most.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Long Campaign

As posted over at The Heathen Republican:

You're an honest man, Heathen. I was as optimistic as you and I'm probably equally disappointed. On the other hand, look how tough the job was for Romney: A career moderate, he tried to run as a conservative at a time when conservative values are in decline among the population. Conservatives will continue losing elections until we change the culture. If we move to the middle to attract more votes, we will become second-rate Leftists. The growing Leftist consensus in the country will always pick the real thing over a Republican moderate. Rather than move ourselves to the center (which has shifted Left), we have to move the center back to us. To do that, we have to take back the education establishment and the entertainment industry. We have to help the Leftist news organs along the way to obsolescence. We have to neuter the unions. Eventually, once we regain the power to do so, we will have to take back the judiciary. Such a campaign will take probably two generations to accomplish. Time to begin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Way Ahead

     Charles Krauthammer just commented on Fox News that the Republicans do not have a structural problem, that the Obama victory was because of a few tactical blunders by the Romney campaign in the last few weeks. I can only disagree. If he were right, the Republicans would have gained seats in the Senate instead of losing them. Also, the presidential race would not have been close at all. The Republicans really do face a crisis, and the way they choose to resolve it will profoundly affect the future of the United States.

     The basic problem for Republicans is that most of the country is no longer in any meaningful way conservative. Throughout the past fifty years the country has moved consistently Leftward, with only two short opposite swings of the pendulum in the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Neither swing did much more than stall the overall movement for a short time. In dress, speech, and manners; in music and morals; and most spectacularly in religion, the country has shifted so far to the Left that today’s liberals routinely repudiate positions taken by their counterparts just two decades ago. A few traditionalists remain, but they hardly speak for the modern, fiscal conservative.