Remember when “conservatives” believed in small government?

Yahoo! News reports “Obama courts conservatives with new program”:

Taking a page from President Bush, Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he wants to expand White House efforts to steer social service dollars to religious groups, risking protests in his own party with his latest aggressive reach for voters who usually vote Republican.

I recall coming across a speech by Scalia (incredibly erudite, doubtless; troublesome, nonetheless) in which the justice exhorted conservatives to embrace a Hamiltonian big-government conservatism; for every point about which I agree with the esteemed magistrate, a matter arises regarding which he and I (granted, far less intelligent than he) find ourselves holding differing opinions. (I seem to conceive of civil liberties more broadly than he.) Our perspectives on conservatism, it seems, mark one place of such disagreement.

Now, no thorough, quotable scholar, wish as I may, of the Fathers, I, nevertheless, recognize that the Federalists played an influential role in developing what eventually would emerge as American conservatism; so, too, however, did the Anti-Federalists and Jeffersonians. In fact, assertions of a “Jeffersonians became libertarians, and Federalists, conservatives” nature and Jefferson’s own profoundly radical liberalism (classical) notwithstanding, I believe that the Anti-Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, with their distrust of centralization, espousal of a small-is-beautiful philosophy, and opposition to “entangling alliances” (with concomitant opposition to a standing military actually provide a much more appropriate, legitimate inspiration for conservatism (libertarianism, too, save for the willingness of libertarians, all too often, to embrace a big-is-beautiful perspective, so long as government intervention, as it frequently does, hasn’t aided corporations in their gaining increased power and control) than does Hamiltonian Federalism, so much so that, I believe, Scalia was in the wrong even to suggest that Hamilton offers a model for conservatism, rather than some sort of right-wing statism (which, I’ve come to believe, is the political ideology that Scalia embraces).

If Scalia is wrong, then, George W. Bush, too, surely is wrong — dead wrong — with his “compassionate conservatism”. Time was, conservatives sought to protect our rights, our liberties, and our beliefs from government, to work toward improving our society, toward aiding those in need, through voluntary and non-coercive means, rather than through the Leviathan, the same monster whose policies, as I note about, include, say, subsidizing, often astronomically, national chains who alter permanently our communities, hardly a conservative ideal.

Now, if Dubya is wrong on this one, then, as he so often is, Senator Obama is. Granted, he’s no conservative, not by any stretch. (He’s a poorly educated Wilsonian on foreign policy who offers no change, choruses notwithstanding, with respect to how we shall present ourselves on the world front. Just ask AIPAC or the Pakistanis. On domestic policy, he’s, quite ostensibly, far to the left socially, not very good on civil liberties, and not interested in undoing the damages of NAFTA and similar abominations. Yikes.) He is, however, quite undeniably, political savvy, cognizant of the great duping Bush & co. played on so many Americans, convincing them that trusting the Federal government with more power and more money could possibly be a good idea — and something behind which conservatives can stand, and using this as a means by which to attempt to lure the many of use wholly dissatisfied with the GOP’s nominee. I hope that, after the USA PATRIOT Act, endless war, and a wretchedly bloated budget, American conservatives will realize that their leaders have led them astray and that Obama seeks to do little more than to continue these policies. Furthermore, I hope that American progressives recognize that the Cult of Obama will, eventually, ask them to drink the Kool-Aid of continued involvement abroad and persistent violation of our sacred liberties at home. I remain pessimistic on both counts.

Superheroes need not apply

I feel as if, generally speaking, the world would be much better off if fewer people sought to save it, and more attempted simply to save their own locales.

I’d like to get me a five-pointed-star badge.

Thanks to Will Wilson, co-substituting for James at PoMoCo, for linking to this fantastic post about a Wyoming sheriff’s victory on behalf of the Tenth Amendment. I’m localist (or decentralist?) enough, no doubt about it.

“The Economy”

Sunday morning, I stopped in to Ray’s Super Foods, a long-time source of employment for yours truly and a place with a special place in my heart, and caught up for a short while with my (“former”) boss. Having inquired about the present successes (or lack thereof) of the store, I received the following reply

“I hate to say it, but these gas prices, they’re bad for the economy, but they’re good for Ray’s.”

A seasoned businessmen, and something of a community leader (We haven’t much community, as it were, to lead, but he’s a reliable contributor to causes seeking aid, and has been exceedingly active in the local Little (now Cal Ripken) League.), Ray is no dummy. He’s not an intellectual, either, so I avoided trying to take the conversation to too deep a level, merely quipping something to the effect of, “Well, I don’t know that I care too much about how the economy is doing as long as our economy is benefitting,” to which he rather simply, but astutely, replied, “I guess that depends on what you mean by “the economy”.” This remark resonated deeply with me, and has stuck with me since Sunday morning.

Of late, courtesy of a housing market disaster (except, of course, for those who hitherto could not afford to buy a home, maybe), distressingly high gas prices, and a dollar sinking more quickly than the Titanticlatched on to the Hindenburg, we’ve suffered much pundit-speak about the troubles of the “economy”, that is, the expansive, aggregate national economy.

Rather misleading, I say! Reading Berry and Kunstler in particular, I’ve encountered time and again a theme that, as time has passed, I have more and more come to believe is not only an undeniable truth, but an all-too-often denied truth, ignored to the detriment of society, to wit, that economy is community and community, economy. Exceedingly skeptical of the notion of any sort of national (or even regional) community, I conceive easily only of community on the local level, the little platoons of Burke, neighborhoods, small towns, and struggle, thus, to discern any meaningful relevance, beyond for statisticians and “My dad is better than your dad” nationalists, of speak of the national economy.

Yes, I recognize that, particularly in a nation-state wherein the Leviathan has in countless ways interfered with the market perniciously as, if not more, frequently as it has for the greater good (Nebulous concept, I know.), a decision at the top can trickle down in ways that affect community-economies across the map, so that, in a sense, “the economy” does exists. Nevertheless, if neighborhoods, towns, and cities, with their near-by countryside, can develop economically and ecologically, as well as socially, sustainable systems of exchange — that is, if they can free themselves from the moral bankruptcy of neo-classical economics (or worse!) and can begin to rely on themselves, to be (reasonably) self-sufficient, becoming community-economies — then, perhaps, someday, we shall recognize the silliness of speaking of “the economy”. If Ray’s Super Foods, often looked over because the independent grocer seldom can compete on prices with Wal*Mart thirty miles away (and because, since my departure, the store seems to have deteriorated into the sort of store at which Poles in the waning days of Soviet domination might have shopped), can benefit from these distressingly climbing gas prices, maybe other businesses in town can. Maybe the town can, and maybe other communities can follow suit.

Urban planning, the New Urbanism, and (Catholic) Conservatism

Some time ago, I made a hitherto unfulfilled promise to address urban planning, New Urbanism specifically, favorably from a conservative perspective. I still intend to offer my own thoughts on the matter; I believe that the fundamental error of planning today is the narrow-minded attitude permeating the discipline. Almost anything pre-Enlightenment has no place in the field, appreciation for classical architecture and design notwithstanding. Phrased more accurately, although planners (in some instances, at least) take some glance at early design, all too often they fail to appreciate the philosophies and theologies behind the earlier work. They attempt to do what they ought not to do, to wit, separating ideas from their origins, to disastrous ends. Until all planning programs educate their students more fully in classical civilization, and until students in planning more frequently enter such programs from broader liberal educations (such as what I so fortunately received in Notre Dame‘s Program of Liberal Studies), our cities, towns, and open spaces — our civilization — remains threatened by well-intentioned but close-minded planners, mired in the frighteningly pernicious, often surreptitious ideology of political correctness, reckless multiculturalism, and paternalism.

Fortunate for the world, the Urbanism program in the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture educates students in just this manner. (As such, I cannot help regretting not having at least applied to this program, which, additional to providing training in architecture as a foundation for a design education, would have required my studying in Rome for a semester.) The amazing Phil Bess, director of the school’s graduate program, has written a fantastic piece on the matter, found here. A wonderful discussion about the matters discussed in the essay, which is referenced in the course of the debate, took place at Mirror of Justice, a fantastic blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory, in early January. Do read this conversation!


Cornell Law School’s Eduardo M Peñalver’s “The End of Sprawl?”, in the 30 December 2007 issue of the Washington Post, started it all.

Rick Garnett at Notre Dame comments.

Oklahoma’s Mike Scaperlanda joins the conversation.

Greg Sisk of St Thomas MN replies.

Peñalver responds to the comments that his piece has elicited.

Rick Garnett rejoins.

Scaperlanda on “Affluence and the New Urbanism” here.

Sisk again.

Aquinas on urbanism, courtesy of Garnett.

Sisk offers a reply to the Bess essay here.

“Philip Bess responds to Greg Sisk (read this!)

Again from Sisk.

Scaperlanda posts this from his son, now pursuing his J.D., who graduated from Notre Dame with me.

I think that I have listed all relevant posts. It’s a lot, I know, but well worth the read. Enjoy!

Canadian Indian presents a refreshing idea

A Saskatchewan Indian chief says Canadian Indians must stop pointing fingers at the government and take control of their own lives and societies.

I rarely find myself to be in agreement with teachers’ unions . . .

but I share sentiments with them vis-à-vis Britain’s Department for Children, Schools, and Families’ plan to provide access to “at least five hours of high-quality culture per week” to children.

There is to be a particular focus on “those who would otherwise miss out”.Teachers’ unions applauded the aims but said there were practical difficulties and queries over who would pay.There are to be £25m pilot schemes in 10 areas – with local authorities invited to bid to take part – involving visits to top theatre shows, galleries and museums.Other options in the “Find Your Talent” scheme include acting, singing and learning a musical instrument or making a film 

Generally, I’d be more supportive of such measures on a local level; however, I’m far too realistic (cynical?) to expect such things, and, really, in this day when one can, I presume, in some places earn a Bachelor of Arts without reading Aristotle or dedicating some more-than-negligible amount of time to listening to and learning about pre-modern forms of music, anything of this nature can only serve to better our lot.

Perhaps, in time, if this project succeeds, we might see similar attempts here in the States, where exposing our children to high culture amounts to witnessing a stereotypical French character in Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.