Monday, July 4, 2022

Quote of the Day (John McCain, on America, ‘The Land That Repairs and Reinvents Itself’)

“We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible. The land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future. The land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal. The land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.”—John McCain (1936-2018), U.S. Senator (R-AZ) and Vietnam veteran, POW and war hero, speech accepting the Liberty Medal, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Oct. 16, 2017

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Edmund Burke, on the Religious Dissenting Spirit Behind the American Revolution)

“Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it. I do not think, Sir, that the reason of this averseness in the dissenting churches, from all that looks like absolute government, is so much to be sought in their religious tenets, as in their history. Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.”—Anglo-Irish statesman and father of conservatism Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, delivered March 22, 1775

The separation of church and state was one of the most tangled subjects in contemporary debates about government—a fact underscored by the explosion of commentary from both the left and right, much of it unhelpful, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

It would be a stretch to say, as many on the right would have it, that America was founded as an explicitly “Christian nation.”

But habits of mind formed in Americans’ religious practice—principally, those related to resistance to “all implicit submission of mind and opinion”—lay at the heart of American colonists’ increasing alienation from England, and those instincts would make it impossible for the Mother Country to continue to impose punitive legislation on the colonists, warned Edmund Burke.

One month before British troops clashed with the Americans at Lexington and Concord, this father of modern conservatism cautioned the House of Commons about the futility of coercion. A key part of his argument against force was the temperament of the colonists in their environment. British North America, he noted, was disproportionately composed of "dissenters from the establishments of their several countries."

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Quote of the Day (John Stuart Mill, on the Responsibility of Good Men Who Do Nothing)

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject. It depends on the habit of attending to and looking into public transactions, and on the degree of information and solid judgment respecting them that exists in the community, whether the conduct of the nation as a nation, both within itself and towards others, shall be selfish, corrupt, and tyrannical, or rational and enlightened, just and noble.”—English political philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews (Feb. 1, 1867)

More than a century and a half after its original publication, Mill’s On Liberty remains relevant as the best defense of free speech and, indeed, the foundation of modern notions of toleration and liberalism.

His views on what citizenship entails—and the need for information-based judgment on the part of anyone who hopes to have a voice in the governance of a country—in the above quote should be weighed and pondered all the more.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Quote of the Day (Joe Queenan, on How Men and Women View Cloning)

“According to the British survey [conducted by two think tanks and Cambridge University], while one in 10 men would like to be cloned, the rate among women is only one in 25. This could be because so many women dread the thought of running into clones of their first husbands. That said, even a 4% self-replication response holds out the daunting possibility of a Lady Gaga clone, another entire cast of the View and even more innumerable Kardashians. And for those who would welcome such a development, it would mean Cher would live forever."—Joe Queenan, “Moving Targets: Send in the Clones—No, Wait, Maybe Don’t,” The Wall Street Journal, June 18-19, 2022

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Quote of the Day (Richard Hofstadter, on Americans’ Long-Time Acceptance of Violence)

“Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence. Any American who has lived for a time in England, for example, can hardly fail to notice there a gentleness and a repugnance to violence that underlines our own contrasting qualities. Americans, however they may deplore and fear violence, are not so deeply shocked by it as the English are. Our entertainment and our serious writing are suffused with violence to a notorious degree; it is endemic in our history. Americans, apparently taking it as a part of the stream of life’s events, do not as a rule very promptly rise up in large numbers and in lawful ways to protest, oppose, or control it. They are legendary for their refusal to accept the reality of death, but violence they endure as part of the nature of things, and as one of those evils to be expected from life.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970), introduction to American Violence: A Documentary History, edited by Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace (1970)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Quote of the Day (Celeste Headlee, on the Need to Talk and Listen to One Another)

“We must learn how to talk to one another and, more important, listen to one other. We must learn to talk to people we disagree with, because you can’t unfriend everyone in real life.”— Public radio journalist Celeste Headlee, We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter (2017)

The accompanying image of Celeste Headlee was taken Apr. 4, 2012, by Sheryl Victor Levy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Quote of the Day (The Editors of ‘Commonweal,’ On the Supreme Court’s Reversal of ‘Roe v. Wade’)

“Now that Roe is finally overturned, the [Roman Catholic] Church must think through the implications of its success. An issue that has dominated public discourse and reshaped American society over half a century remains far from settled—morally, politically, legally, culturally. Catholics ambivalent about abortion and discouraged by the Church’s alliance with the right will continue to tune out the bishops or even disaffiliate. Meanwhile, the left’s often cavalier dismissal of the moral status of the unborn makes productive debate on this issue increasingly difficult. With lawmaking on abortion returned to the state level, partisan divides and regional differences will deepen. Women will continue to seek out abortions, through legal and extralegal means, including medications delivered by mail. Abortion is likely to remain the subject of protests, sloganeering, and demagoguery. As we have seen across the decades—from the murders of abortion doctors and the bombing of clinics to recent attacks on pregnancy-counselling centers and a death threat against Justice Brett Kavanaugh—some people on both sides of this issue are willing to resort to violence. Such violence is likely to increase in this moment of uncertainty.”—"The End of Roe: A Test for American Democracy” (editorial), Commonweal, June 25, 2022

As I thought of the changed landscape in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a line from the prophet Isaiah came to mind: “Come, let us reason together.”

My fear is that this fervent hope will fall on deaf ears. 

The wounds from the past half-century—the vitriol and hypocrisy of this opening salvo of the culture wars—have already infected the body politic, in the form of a Democratic Party ready to accept not only some of the most liberal abortion laws in the industrialized world but also among the highest rates of abortion in that sphere, while the Republicans jiggered their own self-imposed rule for Supreme Court confirmations in election years and aligned itself with a would-be authoritarian peddling conspiracy theories like a snake-oil salesman.

And that does not even take into account, as the editors of the Catholic opinion journal Commonweal note, the damage to religious institutions like the Church.

Now, I fear, what may be about to ensue will only further divide families and friends. None of this had to happen had each side only engaged in mutual respect and a willingness to compromise.