Tending Towards Totalitarianism

On January 19, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

In honor of the most important by-election in the history of the Unites States of America, I picked up Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom once again.  As usual with this book, I almost immediately ran across a passage worth quoting:

The Road To Serfdom

The Road To Serfdom

No doubt an American or English “Fascist” system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leader.  And, if I had to live under a Fascist system, I have no doubt that I would rather live under one run by Englishmen or Americans than under one run by anybody else.  Yet all this does not mean that, judged on our present standards, our Fascist system would in the end prove so very different or much less intolerable than its prototypes. There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of the existing totalitarian systems are not accidental by-products but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce. Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism.  Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from a liberal regime, the utter difference between the whole moral atmosphere under collectivism and the essentially individualist Western civilization.

Emphasis mine.  We are currently ruled by a collection of miniature tyrants who believe that they can plan our economic life and have little concern for individual liberty.  Today’s election in Massachusetts is an opportunity to discipline said tyrants and send the message that the citizens may be ready to reassume control over their own lives.  I’m hoping and praying for a Scott Brown win, and ultimately a resurgence of individual liberty in the country that did more to bring that concept to the world than any other.

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The New Year’s Update

On January 11, 2010, in Culture, General, History, Politics, Religion, Theology, by marc

So of late, I’ve been noodling around with a bunch of different books, as usual.  My primary concentration has been on Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, which was one of my Christmas gifts, and has been a great read so far.  I’d say I’m just over 1/3 of the way in, and North Korea is as utterly screwed up as I’d imagined it to be.  Aside from which, who would have thought that a guy like Kim Il-Sung (or Kim Jong-Il, for that matter) would be able to build a cult of personality so powerful that young women would consider it an honor to strip naked and be a component of a “living bed” for said totalitarian monsters.

Yeah, that’s… just wrong.  But it apparently happens.  (I long for some nutjob apologist for the regime to come along and leave a DPRK-style denunciation of me in the comments.)

In other news, I managed to snag a relatively cheap copy of Volume III of James Montgomery Boice’s commentaries on Romans (in the hardcover to match my copies of Volumes I, II, and IV).  Thank you, Amazon Marketplace.  I also picked up a copy of RC Sproul’s 1 volume commentary on Romans, and I’m hoping to get his commentary on John ASAP.  And I’ve made a goal of reading through the Bible from cover to cover this year, and I’m doing so using my new pseudo-leatherbound copy of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible from Zondervan, which was edited by a friend of mine.  As of now, I’m just past the giving of the law in Exodus.

After some wheeling and dealing, I managed to scrape together the cash for a copy of NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, which is – according to reviews – 700+ pages of glorious apologetics in defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That should also keep me occupied for a while.

So happy new year to all; I’ll keep you posted as I make progress.

A Warning of the End

On December 28, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

This passage from Witness gave me the chills, mostly from recognition of our current state in the U.S. today:

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.  It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him.  It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

It seems to me that one could replace “Alger Hiss” with any number of leftist social causes and issues (not the least of which would be “health care reform”) and you’ve got America circa 2009.  Frightening.

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The Child

On December 13, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

According to Whittaker Chambers (writing in Witness), in the 1930s committed American Communists were opposed to the notion of having children, seeing them as a distraction from the important work of fomenting revolution within the United States.  Chambers himself said that he”…took it for granted that children were out of the question.”

Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers

In early 1933, his wife informed him that she was pregnant.  After first assuming that an abortion would occur in order to avoid the inconvenience to the cause that a child would cause, it became clear that his wife intended to keep the baby.  Chambers goes on a bit later to describe the experience of meeting his daughter for the first time:

[my wife] was scarcely out of the anesthetic, and reeking of ether, when I sat beside her bed.  As I looked at her white, hollowed face and the deep, leaden circles under her eyes, and felt her feverish fingers, I thought: “What have I done to her?”  At that moment, I cared only for my wife and nothing at all for the child.

My wife kept urging me feebly to go and look at it  She wanted me, of course, to approve and love what had so nearly cost her life (the birth had been terrible).  I went into the hall.  Through a glass panel, I peered into the antiseptic nursery where banks of babies lay in baskets.  A nurse, with a wonderfully personal smile,  considering the miscellaneous fathers to whom she pointed out their babies, pointed out mine.  The child had been born long enough to have lost the puckered, red, natal look.  Her face was pink, and peaceful.  She was sleeping.  her long lashes lay against her cheeks.  She was beautiful.

I went back to my wife who was no longer only my wife but the mother of our child – the child we all yearn for, who, even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.

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“a torturing thought”

On December 2, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

Whittaker Chambers, from Witness, describing the effect of Stalin’s purge on communists like him:

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Since the purge, millions of men, women and children in the world have died violently.  the 20th century has put out of its mind, because it can no longer cope with the enormity of the statistic, the millions it has exterminated in its first fifty years.  Even among those millions the number killed in the Purge makes a formidable figure.  But, on a Communist, not only the numbers, but the revolutionary stature of the purgees, had a shattering impact.  To the Western world, those strange names – Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Piatkov, Rakovsky, Krylenko, Latsis, Tuchachevky, Muralov, Smirnov, Karakhan, Mrachkovsky – were merely tongue twisters.  To a Communist, they were the men who had made one of the greatest transformations in human history – the Russian Revolution.  The charge, on which they were one and all destroyed, the charge that they had betrayed their handiwork, was incredible.  They were the Communist Party.  If the charge was true, then every other Communist had given his life for a fraud.  If the charge was false, then every other Communist was giving his life for a fraud.  This was a torturing thought.  No communist could escape it.

More on Bukharin here, and his death cell letter to Stalin here.

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From Chapter 6 – entitled “Reformed Dogmatics” –  of Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck:

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Reformed theology starts with Zwingli.  In his work the basic ideas are already present – the theological starting point, the absolute dependence of humanity, predestination, the human nature of Christ, the spiritual conception of the church and sacraments, the ethical and political import of the Reformation.  But there are still many lacunae in Zwingli’s theology.  As a result of his humanism, he fails to plumb the depths of sin and the atonement; as a result of his spiritualism, he abstractly and dualistically construes God and man, divine and human justice, the sign and the thing signified in the sacrament, as opposites.  Zwingli’s clarity and lucidity of thought cannot compensate for the lack of depth.  He never arrived at a somewhat well-rounded and coherent system.  Zwingli laid down only the general contours within which various strains in the Reformed churches later unfolded.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

It took Calvin’s organizational genius and systematic mind to give the Swiss Reformation its clearly defined doctrine and stable organization.  Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536).  There is expansion and development but no change.  Calvin differs from Zwingli in that he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture.  Further , more successfully than Zwingli, he maintains the objectivity of the Christian religion, of the covenant of God, of the person and work of Christ, of Scripture, church, and sacrament, and is therefore in a stronger position to resist the Anabaptists.  Moreover, he overcomes Luther’s antithesis between the spiritual and the secular and Zwingli’s antithesis between flesh and spirit and therefore, though rigorist, is in no way an ascetic.  Finally, he introduced unity and system in his thinking – something neither Luther nor Zwingli succeeded in doing – and nevertheless consistently maintained the connection with the Christian life.  In time, Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views – even in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and predestination (Consensus Genev., 1552, Second Helvetic Confession, 1564).  Soon Calvin’s Institutes were studied everywhere.

Books I Really Should Have

On December 1, 2009, in Books I'd Like, General, by marc

Witness

On November 23, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc
Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Digging through the library here at work, I happened to stumble across a 1952 first edition of Whittaker ChambersWitness.

Two faiths were on trial.  Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.  At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.  At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick  beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another.  At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts…

…On a scale personal enough to be felt by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our time – Communism and Freedom – came to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute men.

This is a real gem; I wish there was a way for me to take ownership of this particular book, but that’s unlikely.  I’m looking forward to reading it, though; that much is sure.

More:

The deeper meaning of the Soviet underground apparatus, and all the apparatuses that clustered hidden beside it, was not so much their espionage activity.  It was the fact that they were a true Fifth Column, the living evidence that henceforth in the 20th century, all wars are revolutionary wars, and are fought not only between nations, but within them.

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Unwinnable?

On November 20, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

Peter Braestrup’s Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington has been an interesting read so far.  The first chapter is a detailed description of exactly how many people were staffing press offices in Vietnam prior to 1968, and what their resources were.  In chapter two, we go from facts and figures into the story of Tet itself, and Braestrup makes this preliminary observation about reactions to the crisis:

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

Big Story by Peter Breastrup

…as it turned out, very few of the claims bade by “optimists” or “pessimists” concerning “progress” in Vietnam had much immediate relevance to the radically changed situation that followed the January 30-31 Tet attacks.  Perhaps out of shock, the Johnson Administration was to respond with caution and relative candor to the new situation; however, the press and TV, especially in commentary at home, were to hark back immediately to Johnson’s autumn progress campaign and cry, in effect, “Tet proved that you were all wrong and, thus, that the critics were right.”

This reaction lacked discernment.  The onset of the Tet offensive, per se, did not show that the war was winnable or unwinnable, worthwhile or not, moral or immoral.  By February 1968, one did not need Tet to make a judgement on these issues.  Tet showed that the enemy had scored a major surprise, and its ultimate effect was initially obscure.  It did not prove that either optimists or pessimists were right or wrong on the much-debated 1967 “facts,” except on two points.  First, Westmoreland was wrong in publicly underestimating (in November) the enemy.  Second, the media pessimists were wrong to write off South Vietnamese ability to fight and “muddle through with U.S. help.”  Americans did not know enough about Vietnam, North or South.

In a more fundamental, even ethical, sense, of course, the President was wrong both to launch the rose-colored progress campaign and to persist in it without warning the U.S. public of what he knew; that possible heavy fighting lay ahead… Journalists’ memories skipped back to Westmoreland’s star role in the progress campaign, to his promise that “success” was discernible on the horizon.

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Books I’d Like, Vol. IV

On November 20, 2009, in Books I'd Like, Culture, General, War, by marc

I’m currently reading Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1966 in Vietnam and Washington.  It’s an interesting read, but I’m finding that I’m pretty uninformed about the ins and outs of Vietnam in general.  The thesis of Big Story is that press portrayals of the Tet offensive by the communists portrayed the battle as a disaster for the Americans, and the negative image portrayed by the press led to massive political repercussions in the US, and ultimately, probably the eventual collapse of the war effort in Vietnam.  In reading, I’m finding that I really know very little about the history and geography of the war, so I set about looking for a decent account of the conflict with some current perspective.

Here’s what I found: A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. A review:

A Better War by Lewis Sorley

A Better War by Lewis Sorley

There was a moment when the United States had the Vietnam War wrapped up, writes military historian Lewis Sorley (biographer of two Vietnam-era U.S. Army generals, Creighton Abrams and Harold Johnson). “The fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won,” he says in this convention-shaking book. “This achievement can probably best be dated in late 1970.” South Vietnam was ready to carry on the battle without American ground troops and only logistical and financial support. Sorley says that replacing General Westmoreland with Abrams in 1968 was the key. “The tactics changed within fifteen minutes of Abrams’s taking command,” remarked one officer. Abrams switched the war aims from destruction to control; he was less interested in counting enemy body bags than in securing South Vietnam’s villages.A Better War is unique among histories of the Vietnam War in that it focuses on the second half of the conflict, roughly from Abrams’s arrival to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Other volumes, such as Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, tend to give short shrift to this period. Sorley shows how the often-overlooked Abrams strategy nearly succeeded–indeed, Sorley says it did succeed, at least until political leadership in the United States let victory slip away. Sorley cites other problems, too, such as low morale among troops in the field, plus the harmful effects of drug abuse, racial disharmony, and poor discipline. In the end, the mighty willpower of Abrams and diplomatic allies Ellsworth Bunker and William Colby was not enough. But, with its strong case that they came pretty close to winning, A Better War is sure to spark controversy. –John J. Miller

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