The state state of American intelligence

On tonight’s episode of Jeopardy, only one of three contestants correctly asked “What was the Louisiana Purchase?” to an answer regarding the astronomical increase of the national debt in 1803. One suspected that America’s purchase of Alaska caused this.

Sad.

Not all Texas Republicans are George W. Bush

I’ve made known previously my hesitant support of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) in the race to be the Republican candidate for President in the 2008 general election. Though I still have reservations (regarding, say, environmental issues), I have decided that, in fact, no other candidate has any chance of receiving my support in the primary. I encourage all readers (however many of you actually exist), particularly, but not only, Catholics, to investigate the Catholics for Ron Paul blog.

Eminent domination

In the most recent session of my Planning Process course, our Graduate Studies director offered a guest lecture on planning and land-use law. Central to the presentation, of course, was eminent domain. I’ll spare my readers the details of the discussion, and the prior discussion board messages that led to my forthcoming post, but I thought that I’d share this hypothetical, somewhat extreme scenario to shed some light on what I see wrong with government intervention in the market via subsidies and tax abatements, and with the vexingly broad reading of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

***

I own Nathan’s Hardware and Lumber. Lowe’s has come to town, much to my dismay. Unfortunately, taxes that my business has paid will now go toward subsidizing this obvious boon to the local economy. (After all, why would Lowe’s or any of its peers come somewhere if they’re not sooooo wanted that public officials throw tax dollars in their direction?) Nevertheless, I vow to carry on. I provide expertise, unbeatable service and selection, and fair (if not as cheap as Lowe’s) pricing.

Then I learn that the city wants greatly widen the road that leads to the Lowe’s site in order to alleviate congestion that the new Lowe’s shopping plaza (Barnes and Noble, anyone? Maybe Panera?) will create. My property stands in the way of this. Enter Eminent Domain. Building a Lowe’s in itself might not be a public use, but road improvements constitute Constitutionally viable grounds for Takings. All of a sudden, government intervention in a the market economy has cost me my livelihood and forced me to give up my property essentially so that a company that could hurt my business, anyway, has it a little easier.

One might argue that with the compensation that I receive for forced sale of my property I can rebuild my business elsewhere. But between the possibilities of zoning obstacles and increased property values (New business growth -> higher values) and the taxpayer-supported competition that Lowe’s creates, this seems much less plausible.

Veneration withers upon the pavements.

“The modern spectacle of vanished forests and eroded lands, wasted petroleum and ruthless mining, national debts recklessly increased until they are repudiated, and continual revision of positive law, is evidence of what an age without veneration does to itself and its successors.”- Russell Kirk, whilst discussing Edmund Burke, in The Conservative Mind

In this passage, Kirk laments the rapacity of industrial liberalism. Yet, today’s conservatism take positions that only further the damages Kirk broaches. How have we, in only half of a century, come to reject the fundamentals of our alleged ideology? Despite all the talk amongst conservatives of Christian values and their serving God, veneration remains non-existent. The Right has rejected all that it once held holy for intense urbanization and the industrial and post-industrial societies. God has not abandoned man, but we, it seems, have deserted Him through our treatment of the earth upon which he planted us.

The politics of contradiction

For a time, I described, on Facebook, my political views as “Libertarian Green Traditional Catholic”. In conversation with a classmate at a recent happy hour, I used the same combination of terms. This description seems to mystify others. Apparently, our political culture has reached such a distressing point that to be a Traditional Catholic, in the minds of others, is to be a party-line “conservative”, and to be a “conservative” is to embrace the strange modern combination of “family values” and economic liberalism. As such, I’ve quit using that particular description. Of course, this has made categorizing myself (which, I confess, I prefer not to do, anyway) no easier.

I believe, by now, that I can best call myself (in hardly less-confusing terms) a “left liberal-conservative”. I shall address these terms, as I mean them, now.

With “conservative” I refer not to the current variants, but to a more philosophical form, the modern father of which is Edmund Burke. Society is not an “organism”, but, rather, a sacred communion shared by the dead, the living, and the not-yet-living. The individual matters, but, in a sense, the community stands prior to him. Aristocracy, the collection of well-born, well-educated, virtuous types, virtually non-existent today in any meaningful way, guides society; egalitarian democracy forces unnatural forms of equality on men and creates a middling mediocrity. Government exists as a “visible” manifestation, for the sake of expediency, of the State, something that God has ordained. Fundamental to the success of society is the sacred respect for private property; protectionism, the welfare state, and other socialist notions harm society, but a materialist form of capitalism, with its concomitant proletariat, equals serves to the detriment of mankind. We conservatives look through Burke to Aristotle and Aquinas, amongst others, as the sources of philosophical conservatism.

I use the “liberal-” preface because, hesitantly, I accept democracy, though, perhaps, without Tocqueville’s degree of willingness (itself hesitant, based on the belief that God must have ordained it). (However, I reject the notion of equality inherent in liberalism, and believe in a return to such checks as a national Senate not elected directly by the people; this, however, rests on the assumption, possibly ludicrous by now, that men worthy of the Senate anymore exist.) Also, I follow in the footsteps of Catholic democrats Belloc and Chesterton, who echo Burke vis-à-vis the necessity of private property and the wickedness of crass, materialistic capitalism, but go further in advocating widespread distribution of property and means of production.

Perchance the most confusing aspect of my current self-categorization is the use of the word “left”. I mean not to include myself among the the Left, but, rather, to indicate my despair at present. I have, in fact, taken the notion of “Left conservatism” from Norman Mailer. Essentially, I fear that we, as a society, have wandered so far from the correct path that nothing short of revolution might guide us back to our proper course. I suggest, that is, using Marxist means to reach conservative ends. As a conservative, I fundamentally oppose radical change, particularly of a violent nature, but, just as the American Revolution served as a “conservative revolution”, so to could a new attack, whether top-down or bottom-up, on the institutions, architecture, and culture of the new totalitarianism.

I sum up my politics as coherence in contradiction. Puzzled? I am, too.

Chavez Raving? Apparently, the Dodgers are Venezuelan.

Although Kim Jong-il seems to be, at present, more agreeable than in the past, one of his compatriots in the “Axis of Evil”, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, most certainly, remains a plausible threat to any notion of stability and peace in the world. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that the supreme manifestation of evil amongst world leaders remains in the Western Hemisphere.

Granted, he still may perform in a privately owned venue (though, in this increasingly socialistic country, such things may not for much longer exist), Alejandro Sanz, a popular Spanish singer, finds himself to be unwelcome at the state-held Caracas theatre where he had anticipated entertaining some fifteen-thousand fans.

Why? Three years ago, Mr Sanz spoke critically of Mr Chavez’s government. Yet again, Mr Chavez and his henchman have reminded us of the triviality of the freedom of speech in light of the greater good.

My particular variant of conservatism disposes me to question, I concede, just how sacrosanct this particular liberty is. Nevertheless, I by no means reject it, and certainly hold that in the case of questioning and criticizing the government, such a liberty, in fact, becomes a duty.

Ahmadinejad, it seems, is no hated tyrant in his nation; however, the Persian people seem not always to be wholly convinced of the benefits of the Islamic Republican government, to the point that some speculate that, were the United States to avoid such aggressive tactics when dealing with Iran, time might eventually show to the world a revolution of some sort against the current regime. At the very least, because democracy still exists to some degree in Persia, the voters have the opportunity, should they so desire, to replace him. Even the most moderate of replacements, of course, would still have his influence restrained by the Ayatollah, but the possibility of some degree of change, nevertheless, exists. North Koreans, by and large, it seems, loathe (even beneath the veil of the personality cult, which, perhaps, extends no further than the bureaucracy and military) the dictator whose policies have segregated the people from sufficient food and material supplies.

Venezuela presents a more distressing scenario. Mr Chavez continues to change (but not to reform — this distinction is imperative) the government in ways increasingly to centralize power in his hands. Any apparition of democracy serves only as a mask for tyranny here. As such, short of revolution, popular opposition to Mr Chavez has no significance. He remains free to act as he wishes, further strengthening the threat that he poses to what little good remains in this world.

By no means suggest I that the United States continue its policy of interventionism (the criticism of which stands as one of Mr Chavez’s few truly legitimate points worthy of note) by invading Venezuela or by otherwise attempting to remove Chavez by force. However, in retrospect, having tended to concerns within our own hemisphere prior to see conquering an imagined threat on the Tigris and Euphrates might have been a more appropriate action.