Dynamist Blog


In defense of Rick Santorum, Hugh Hewitt writes:

Like Santorum most Americans do not want gays persecuted or punished, and they have many gay men and lesbian women as their close friends or within their family. They are concerned not about the legality of these relationships but about the sinfulness of them, and they worry about God's judgment not on the country but on the individuals, and they pray for mercy and the forgiveness of sin. They do so, hopefully, with an awareness of the "log in their own eye" as well as the splinter in their neighbor's.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that neither Santorum's comments nor the current debate concern sin. They concern criminal law, which is to say the capacity of the state to "persecute and punish" certain actions. If you worry about the sinfulness of an action, you seek to persuade people not to commit it; that persuasion may include shunning such sinners in ways gay rights advocates would not approve of (such as refusing to hire them). A liberal society ought not to use criminal sanctions to punish actions merely because a particular religion, or even many religions, may deem them sinful. Eating live animals and shellfish--hence, eating oysters--is a sin in my religion, it's damned gross, and it can kill you. But I don't want to make eating oysters a crime.

Personally tolerant but theologically and politically conservative Christians like Hugh may profess not to be "concerned about the legality of these relationships," but their defense of the laws criminalizing those relationships belies that claim. They are quite concerned about keeping those relationships punishable by jail time. How many of those "logs" are similarly criminal?


After a book-writing hiatus, I've returned to D Magazine, with a column> on the cult cable show, "Trading Spaces." The column necessarily has a Dallas-area angle, but it's really about the show's broader appeal, and it hits many themes I develop in The Substance of Style:

Whether clad in brick, stucco, or clapboard, ...today's standard suburban houses almost never appear on TV. To producers in New York and Los Angeles, where one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom bungalows sell for several times the price of a Texas ping-pong-ball house, a place like Plano is as exotic as a Survivor locale.

Trading Spaces is different. Nearly every home on the show is a large, relatively new box of innocuously off-white rooms, many of them with ceilings that vault up at odd angles. Here, as nowhere else on television, suburban families can see people like them in houses like theirs.

Between 3 million and 6 million viewers watch each episode, making Trading Spaces one of cable's biggest draws. Now in its third season, the show runs every weekday afternoon and several times on weekends. I first tuned in as research for a book I was writing on the increasing importance of aesthetics in economic and cultural life. But, like millions of other Americans, I quickly became addicted.

Read it all here. (I will eventually post it in this site as well, but it's free for now at DMagazine.com, which also has some interesting articles on deadly oysters and what Dallas cops think.)


Now that I've been using Movable Type's permalinks for a few weeks, I realize what's wrong with them. Instead of driving traffic to the full blog, a link from, say, InstaPundit, sends people only to a single item (not that I'm not appreciative, Glenn). That means fewer readers for everything else.


My latest NYT column actually has a decent headline, How Much is That Civic Online? The piece examines economic research into why consumers save about 2 percent when they buy cars through online referral services like Autobytel. On the Internet, it turns out, everybody gets the "white male price," even those of us who hate to bargain.


The news peg, of course, is my new car.


Eugene Volokh and Andrew Sullivan have ably analyzed the legal and policy arguments behind Sen. Rick Santorum's now- infamous comment that "if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." (In the process, and not for the first time, Eugene has let blogging ruin his chances of becoming a federal judge.)

What I don't get is why sophisticated pundits imagine that Rick Santorum might think that the Constitution protects sexual privacy or that the government should stay out of people's sex lives.

Santorum is, first of all, from Pennsylvania, a highly traditional state with an aging population whose don't-make-waves politics is protective of the status quo and not the least suspicious of government power. I wouldn't expect a Pennsylvania politician to push for new sanctions to regulate sexual behavior, but neither would I expect one to push to get current laws overturned.

For a Pennsylvania pol, Santorum is actually quite the intellectual. And he's always been upfront about his political principles. Andrew Sullivan is being disingenuous when he writes, "Has Santorum heard of limited government? It was once a conservative idea, you know, Senator."

As Andrew well knows, limited government is a liberal idea. It only seems conservative in the Anglo-American context because we've had several hundred years of liberal tradition. But there are older, pre-liberal conservative traditions, including a rather prominent one to which Rich Santorum outspokenly adheres--a tradition that honors hierarchy, solidarity, and "natural law" and sees liberal individualism as a source of decay.

As a sample, here's what Santorum writes about the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church:

Like most American Catholics, I have followed the recent sex scandals in the Church with profound sympathy for victims, revulsion over priests who prey on minors and frustration at the absence of hierarchical leadership. Unlike most, I have been visited by the gift of hope; for I see in this fall an opportunity for ecclesial rebirth and a new evangelization of America. This "new evangelization," advocated strenuously by Pope John Paul II, has the potential for restoring confidence in the priesthood while empowering all American Catholics.

The most obvious change must occur within American seminaries, many of which demonstrate the same brand of cultural liberalism plaguing our secular universities. My hope was rekindled last week as our American Cardinals proposed from Rome an "apostolic visitation" of seminaries emphasizing "the need for fidelity to the Church's teaching, especially in the area of morality." It is an arduous task. However, the Pope made it clear last week that he expects the strong appeal of the Cardinals to be followed by decisive Episcopal action.

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm. [Emphasis added.--vp]

The cultural change needed cannot end with our seminaries. Most of the American Cardinals, while strong defenders of the faith , are from a different era with only a few responding to the new demands our decaying culture has place upon them. With God's grace, a new hierarchy must emerge that will be both faithful in thought and courageous in confronting all infidelity within the Church. Such Church leaders have a great example in Pope John Paul II's battle with communism's attempt to destroy the Church and human dignity. A new hierarchy must similarly fight against an array of "isms"--moral relativism, cultural liberalism--inside and outside of the Church.

Any religious tradition as rich and varied as Roman Catholicism obviously has its liberal strands; the history of classical liberalism includes notable Catholic thinkers; and, to the chagrin of much of the Church hierarchy, most American Catholics have thoroughly embraced Anglo-American liberal individualism. But the conservative Catholic tradition to which Rick Santorum owes his primary intellectual allegiance is not liberal. It recognizes no public-private distinction on matters of sexual morality. Stop pretending you're so shocked.


From the front page of the April 15 edition of The Greenville News:

Seventy-eight years after the famous Scopes "monkey trial," Charles Darwin is stirring up trouble again.

Or, depending on your perspective, it's state Sen. Mike Fair who's stirring up the trouble.

The Republican from Greenville, irritated that a study done for the Fordham Foundation gave South Carolina an "A" for how well it teaches evolution, is challenging the premise of Darwin's widely accepted theory. He bases his argument on the fact that no one was there when life began to make a scientific observation about it.

Fair wants science books in South Carolina public schools to have the following statement posted in them: "The cause or causes of life are not scientifically verifiable. Therefore, empirical science cannot provide data about the beginning of life."

His argument is that no one can prove scientifically how life began, which makes the question a matter of faith, or philosophy. Darwin's theory that life evolved slowly over millions of years, he argues, is not science.

The article demonstrates what J-school-style ping-pong objectivity looks like when everybody's viewpoint is truly given equal legitimacy:

"Evolution is a unifying theme throughout science," said Linda Sinclair, state science consultant for the South Carolina Department of Education.

"While there are some scientists who support the idea that it wasn't natural selection and random events that led to humans, it was a creator's design, there's not any evidence to support that," Sinclair said. "And of course all of science rides on evidence."

Even if there's no direct evidence that the complexity of life's inner workings came about by something other than natural selection, a compelling case can be made that some intelligent force was behind it, according to the adherents of Intelligent Design.

Daniel Dix, a math professor at the University of South Carolina, said his studies of the structure of biological molecules lead him to be skeptical that natural selection and random mutation alone can account for the "sophisticated networks" of "complex molecular machines" he sees.

"These just look to me like the kind of things you see when you look in engineering systems," he said.

He is particularly amazed by the molecular "antennas" in the photosynthetic cells of plants, which can be tuned to receive light of different frequencies, and even disassemble and reassemble themselves if they need to be repaired.

Dix said he doesn't see any evidence that such sophisticated systems can "spontaneously arise."

"You start piling implausibility upon implausibility, and after a while the argument gets harder and harder to believe that all this happened without any kind of mind behind it," Dix said.

Dix's conclusion that order implies design goes way beyond biology or theology. You can say the same thing for any other spontaneous order. Perhaps the South Carolina schools should give equal time to conspiracy theories of history and central planning models of the economy. But I wouldn't want to give them any ideas.

Reporter Ron Barnett even conscientiously includes unchallenged "evidence" of the "young earth" belief that the earth is only a few thousand years old, no matter how much evidence to the contrary geology produces:

There's no scientific reason to throw out the biblical account of creation, though, according to Joseph Henson, chairman emeritus of Bob Jones University's division of natural science.

In fact, he points to numerous scientific reasons to doubt Darwin's theory that life evolved over millions of years.

For example, he says pieces of wood that have been dated at 5,000 years old have been found buried under rock that mainstream scientists say is 600 million years old. He says the worldwide flood described in the book of Genesis could have caused in a few months the geological formations that most scientists say took millions of years to form.

That's balance, but I don't know that I'd exactly call it fair.


My South Carolina visit reminded me of two things about my old hometown: Greenville is very beautiful and very weird.

Greenville is the flip side of San Francisco. The political/cultural spectrum is shifted so far right that normal conservatives seem like liberals and local liberals are an embattled minority convinced of their intrinsic righteousness and cultural superiority.

The current major controversy concerns whether county employees should get Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. Greenville County is one of only three counties in the state that don't honor the holiday.

As best I could tell from reading the papers, fiscal considerations are a relatively minor part of the story. Opponents just don't approve of Martin Luther King. (Jesse Jackson hasn't helped matters by sticking his publicity-seeking nose into the local controversy, though at least he's a Greenville native.) A leading moderate on the issue: Bob Jones III, president of the eponymous university. Here's the beginning of the op-ed he wrote backing an unsuccessful compromise:

Living by principle is the only honorable way to live. For a Christian, living by biblical principle is the honorable way. I would hope the "principialists" outnumber the pragmatists in our community. This much I do know, there are many good folks here who would rather die than do wrong. I would hope to be in that company.

For such people, commitment to doing the right thing is non-negotiable, but knowing what is the right thing becomes the problem. The Bible tells us to do what is right in God's eyes. For those who follow it, when the Bible speaks, doing what is right is easy. When it is a matter the Bible does not directly address, making right decisions can be gut-wrenching.

The current Martin Luther King holiday for county workers controversy is such an issue and is charged with emotion on both sides. I have tried to picture myself being in the hot seat of a County Council member. What would I do? I am not a racist, and neither are they.

To vote against a Martin Luther King holiday would cause some to brand me as a racist. Yet, knowing what I do about Martin Luther King the man--his well-known and undisputed marital infidelities, his leftist political philosophies, his theological irregularities--would, as a matter of principle, preclude my voting to honor him with a holiday. His race would have nothing to do with it. For the same reasons, I would be adamantly against a holiday to honor Bill Clinton.

But were I a councilman, I could have voted for the compromise resolution, because it took the focus away from Martin Luther King exclusively and placed it also upon the civil rights movement, which long ago removed the onus of being black and removed the institutionalized discriminations blacks suffered. With a glad heart, I could vote for a holiday that celebrates that.

That's progress, for sure. Bob Jones was no fan of the civil rights movement back in the day.

As an aside, I might note that Greenville County employees don't get Memorial Day as a holiday. It was, after all, established to honor Union soldiers.


A New York magazine profile of Fareed Zakaria contains this explanation of why he's a "conservative":

Zakaria became a conservative, he says, from observing the Indian state. "People often say, 'How could you, living in India, end up a Reaganite?' Well, the answer is, live in India. There are two things that people don't understand. One is the degree to which a highly regulated economy produces masses of corruption because it empowers bureaucrats. It just has to be seen to be believed.

"The second," he continues, "is that you are very quickly inured to the charms of pre-industrial village life. Whenever someone says the word community, I want to reach for an oxygen mask."

Let's see: Zakaria dislikes stifling technocracy and pre-industrial stagnation--categories that will sound awfully familiar to readers of The Future and Its Enemies. Maybe "conservative" isn't exactly the right word.

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