Sunday, November 09, 2008

Why I Did Not Vote For Obama

A good friend left the following comment on my previous post, Confusing Obama With God:

“Some good points about the tendency to deify human leaders, and the conflation of religious and political ideals. Though being your brother's keeper isn't the worst of them. If Obama wants to "perfect our union," recall that George Bush set out to defeat evil. Both projects are utopian and naive. Yet neither is to be despised. What's wrong with trying to realize religious values like equality or justice through politics? We evangelicals always tout the abolition movement for doing just that. Well, the awful admission - I voted for Obama, despite his wrongness on abortion. Why? I read his first, and better, book, Dreams from My Father. I sensed a world-class intelligence, a deep moral seriousness, an extraordinary feel for language, and a budding Christian spirit. I think his profession is true, but undeveloped (consider who discipled him for 20 years). I think that, as with Lincoln, the pressures of office my have a converting effect. The Civil War forced Lincoln to a deepened humility and humanity. I hope Obama faces nothing quite that horrific, but at some point he must confront the contradiction of his ideals. There is no basis for racial equality beyond the same one for the sanctity of life - the claim that we are all made in God's image. The Democrats, coming out of the secularist wilderness, can't evade that truth forever.”

I will begin by observing that I had a friend (my boss in fact) who fell out with a girl over Obama. I won’t fall out with you, Old Tom, even though you did vote for the man.

But I will address your concerns because others may have also wondered how I could equate Obama’s views on abortion with his desire to be his brother’s keeper. I did so intentionally, because it is precisely his zealousness to realize religious values through politics that makes him so dangerous. Don’t misunderstand me here: the problem is not that Obama has religious values to impose, for all law-making is an inescapably religious endeavour if ‘religion’ can be used broadly to include a person’s worldview. Rather, the problem is that Obama’s particular religious perspective orients him to view government as a vehicle to proactively transform society for the better, to bring equality, moral consciousness and values back to the American people. In short, Obama wants to make us good. That is what makes Obama and all utopian endeavours appealing, but it is also what makes them so perilous. As C.S. Lewis remarked,

“The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good – anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name ‘leaders’ for those who were once ‘rulers’. We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, ‘Is Progress Possible?’ in The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1933), p. 514.)

For Barack Obama and his utopian aspirations, our whole lives become government’s business. Hence, his words which I have already quoted from his acceptance speech at the democratic national convention:

“[government] should...protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.... Our government should work for us...That’s the promise of America...the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.”

To many, this does not seem a very revolutionary comment to make and it pails into insignificance next to his views on abortions. After all, we already live in a society where the air we breathe, the water we drink, the size of our toilet tank, what medicines we may take, the water pressure in our shower, the words we can speak under oath and in private, how our physician treats our illnesses, what our children study in school, what risks we are permitted to run in our own businesses, how fast we can drive our car, what wealth we may retain are all regulated by federal law. We take it for granted that the government should be working, like a good parent, to direct out every move and meet our every need. Only when a law goes against one of our cherished freedoms do we sit up and cry “tyranny”, while never challenging the basic underlying paraidgm of government. We tend to focus on whether we agree with the actual policies, plans and goals in questions that someone like Obama may be proposing, rather than asking the prior and more fundamental question, "Is it government's job to even be legislating in these areas?"

The model of government that I am challenging is one which I call “the maternal state.” The maternal state is there it nurture us, to train us, to instruct us, to keep our toys safe, to be guardian of our possessions, to be our tutor in the way of virtue and, like a good mother, to make sure we share our belongings with our brothers and sisters.

The confusion between statecraft and motherhood is an ancient one. When Diocletian published his Edict of 301, mandating the persecution of Christians and destroying the few remaining liberties of the old Roman republic, he justified it by referring to himself and his associates as “the watchful parents of the whole human race.” Contemporary governments are increasingly following the pattern of Diocletian by acting, not simply as the guardians of law and order, but as mother to their citizens.

Part of a mother’s vocation involves educating her children in the path of virtue (Proverbs 1:8-9) and nourishing their bodies in growth. When government assumes the role of mother, the state begins to have a constant eye on our education, an eye on our virtue, an eye on our growth and an eye on the all-round development of the human personality. Our lives become their business because, like a good mother, they have assumed responsibility for our growth and training.

While no one would dispute the fact that virtue is necessary in a society, when government assumes responsibility for the cultivation of virtue, the result is more likely to be terror. (See Michael Ovey, ‘Beyond scrutiny? Minorities, majorities and post-modern tyranny’)

The French Revolution is one of the prime modern examples of a state assuming responsibility for the private lives of its citizens under the guise of promoting virtue. During the Revolution’s ‘Reign of Terror’, Robespierre justified the use of terror by appealing to the need for both private and public virtue. (See ‘Justification of the Use of Terror’, available online

The incessant eagerness of the law-maker to act as parent to citizens is expressed in Abraham Lincoln’s words that “the legitimate object of government" is only "to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves...." The presupposition behind this idea is that the State, like a good mother, must offer a helping hand wherever the citizens are incapable or in need. Otto von Bismarck, the great German Chancellor of the 19th century, suggested similarly when he asserted that government must act “in fulfilment of the workers' right to look to the State where their own good will can achieve nothing more.”

A good mother will determine what objects her children are allowed to possess and how they are allowed to use them. If a brother is using a stick to hurt his little sister, the mother has the right – indeed the duty - to step in and remove the instrument. This only makes sense because there is a prior understanding that a child’s ownership is provisional and can be overruled at any given time by parental interference. This not only protects the child from potentially harmful objects, but helps them learn to be responsible with their possessions and to share them with other siblings when appropriate. All ownership proceeds from the parent in so far as the child owns nothing that the parent has not given or allowed.

In following the maternal paradigm, the modern state has no scruples exercising ownership over all the land and the fullness thereof. One of the ways the “public welfare” does this is by redistributing wealth and dictating how citizens can utilize their property. A.P. Lerner was typical when he defended governmental interference with the economy on the grounds that it was “a form of guardianship…to prevent foolish spending.” (Abba P. Lerner, The Economics of Control) In following the maternal paradigm, Obama has advocated such redistribution on numerous occasions, not least in his comments on the Warren Court:

"The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it's been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn’t shifted....I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn’t structured that way."
See my friend Russell Mann's comments on this quote here.

Not only does Mother State believe she has a right to plunder the profits of individuals (effectively forcing us to share our toys with our siblings), but she also views herself as possessing ownership of money in the collective. This can be seen in the pervasive assumption that it is government’s job to control and manipulate the economy, interest rates, cash flow, etc, (which I commented on in
my article on the financial crises). At the risk of over simplification, that is the whole point of the American Federal Reserve: to regulate the economy through manipulation of interest rates.

Unconsciously, many in the West are oriented to think that everything belongs to the state by default and what is ours is only that which government has graciously allowed us to keep. However, a citizen population presupposes citizen ownership, seeing that a citizen who cannot engage in free trade and ownership is not properly a citizen at all but bears the same relation to the state that a slave bears to its master or a dependent child to its mother.

Karl Marx was wiser than most when he recognized this relationship between property and family. Marx claimed that because the family is based on capital and private property, a successfully attack on private property would necessarily also involve an attack on the family. The family, he and Engels wrote, “will vanish with the vanishing of capital.”
One of the methods communism used to ensure the vanishing of the family was state control of education. (See chapter 2 of the Communist Manifesto) Marx knew that destroying the family was central to destroying private property, and destroying private property was essential to destroying the family. When the family was destroyed it would be replaced by the family of the state. Communism was as much about a new form of motherhood as it was about economic theory.

Marx ideas about private property were hardly novel. According to many of his Enlightenment predecessors, the advent of private property represented a kind of fall of man. As J.L. Talmon observed,

"Not only avowed Communists…but also Rousseau, Diderot and Helvetius were agreed that ‘all these evils are the first effect of property and of the array of evils inseparable from the inequality to which it gave birth’. Diderot contrasted the ‘esprit de propriété’ with the ‘esprit de communauté’. He admonished the Legislator to combat the former and to foster the latter, if his aim were to make man’s personal will identical with the general will. Rousseau’s eloquent passage on the first man who enclosed a plot of land with a fence, deceived his neighbors into the belief in the legality of his act, and thus became the author of all the wars, rivalries, social evils and demoralization in the world, is not more radical than Morelly’s and Mably’s obsessive insistence that property is the root cause of all that has gone wrong in history." (J.L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy)

A good parent assumes responsibility for fixing problems that exist in the home and the family. Consequently, a child’s problem is never just the child’s problem: it is also the mother’s problem. The similarity between this aspect of motherhood and the contemporary state hardly needs pointing out. We live in an age where the prevailing assumption is that all problems in society are the government’s responsibility to fix. William Buckley described this tendency well.

If there is crime in the street, it is because government does not provide enough day care. If there is unemployment in the steel mills, it is because the government is using too much steel making submarines. If there is a growing number of broken homes, it is because government has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment.”

A state that assumes maternity feels compelled to keep a careful watch over the education, money, speech and even thoughts of its citizens. Political scientist Andrew Hacker defended government’s role in taking responsibility over all the activities of its citizens on the grounds that

"If government is to govern it must be able to tell people they must stop doing things they are now doing; it must be able to curtail private activities and privileges so that society will be more orderly. Leadership is meaningless unless citizens are prepared to follow: to sacrifice individual pleasures and agree to redistributions in which they may be losers. To be a nation, in short, a society must have a citizenry willing to surrender a substantial portion of its freedom to public authority."

As a good mother shows compassion to her children, especially when they are ailing, so the maternal state offers its own compassion to the masses. As President George Bush once revealingly remarked: “when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

When Mussolini first coined the word “Totalitarianism”, it was not a pejorative slur, nor was it something connoting tyranny. Rather, Mussolini used totalitarianism to refer to a humane society in which everyone was taken care of and looked after by a state which encompassed all of life within its grasp. Because this is not the job of the government, compassion from the state is usually a prelude to tyranny. The beneficent state naturally morphs into a malignant state.

Just as the impulse to be a faithful dog is ennobling in a dog but demeaning when exhibited by a man, so the mothering instinct is nurturing in a mother but tyrannical when assumed by the state.

And that is why I did not vote for Obama. I see in him someone who is honestly, sincerely and wholeheartedly acting from altruistic motives, and that is why I consider him so dangerous. As C.S. Lewis again put it,

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busy-bodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." C.S. Lewis
, ‘The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment’ in God in the Dock (op. cit., p. 499). See also R. Andrew Newman,Stay Out of Our Wardrobe! The libertarian Narnia state’

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Unknown said...

I teach English in the third world (Peru) and my students overwhelmingly rejoiced at Obama´s victory.

Not, as was suggested by Peter Hitchens on his blog, because Obama wants to transform the United States into a developing country, but because to elect anyone else would have meant a continuation of the belicose adventurism which has made America so feared over the last sixty years and especially so hated over the last eight. There is also the perception among many of my students, and the Latin Americans I have spoken with, that a person of color may be more empathetic to the problems of the global south, such as poverty, the environment and immigration. Martin Luther King said before he died that, from Guatamala to Cambodia, the United States seemed on the wrong side of a world revolution. He blamed American policy for maintaining global apartheid, imposing poverty, and preventing development. So Obama may not be perfect, but what is the alternative?

There is much that I respect, agree with and admire in your libertarian anaylsis. I have found it changing my mind on more than one occasion. I wish there were more palioconservative voices out there instead of the fake kind of conservatives that one sometimes associates with the designation. But it seems to me that even many true conservatives, even the ones who have opposed the outgoing administration, don´t think through the implications of where their critques might lead by default. Okay so John McCain was right on abortion, but here is a man who supported George Bush the first´s invasion of Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador and East Timor, and the horrible massacres which followed, as well as supporting Clinton´s depleted uranium carpet bombing of Belgrade, which destroyed some of the oldest sites in Christedom and opened the way for Muslims to follow with more of the same. So a vote against Obama would have been to help McCain continue the violence of American exceptionalism. So what is the implication of taking so strong a stand against Obama.

Libertarians often eulogise an unrestricted free market. This has come up in some of your recent posts. It looks good on paper, but where have these theories actually been tried? As Naomi Klein so lucidly shows in her book The Shock Doctrine, free market capitlaism---so far from being natural, was midwifed onto the entire world after World War II by some of the worse attrocities ever committed in history, the main improvement of torture since the time of the inquisition. The CIA torture centers (in the United States and abroad) dwarfed even the pain of crucifixion, which at the time was thought to be the culmination of the Roman´s ability to inflict pain. The CIA would have people crucify themselves by keeping them awake and in stress positions, their senses blocked out by blindfolds and earmuffs. Everytime their arms would relax the opponants of free-trade would be automatically electrocuted. Then they would find their earmuffs and blindfolds ripped off as deafening heavy-metal music and strobe lights filled the cells. This would continue for days until the patients or prisoners broke their own arms and their minds snapped. Their personalities shrinked and they would accept, the words of the CIA torture manuals, "The father figure ready to make suggestions." This was the Jose Pedia treatment, along with gut-renching route cannals and solitary confinement which happened only a few years ago to an American citizen who's connection to terror was nebulous at best. Obama wants to free the prisoners at Guantanamo who get the Pedia treatment, but now have become so insane they role around on the ground naked, sucking their thumbs and loudly shouting baby songs. Naomi Klein's point is that anywhere free trade has been forced it has been midwifed through blood baths. She shows that the lazzre-faire which was imposed on Bhagdad after Iraqi Freedom was part and parcle of the torture. A phrase she used was ¨Bhagdad Year Zero¨ because the neo-cons wanted to start over and make everything according to business, to really to their free market fantasies for the first time. Iraqi´s who opposed this privitization of their recourses had their ears muffed and their eyes blocked out so that their brains would reach a ¨year zero¨ and return repentent believers in capitalism. In the CIA underground torture hospitals, Naomi Klein documents how the doctors would try to make their patients brains literally fresh, literally blank, forgetting everything and starting over, just like in Bhagdad or Chile or El Salvador. Their way of doing this was to put them in self-imposed stress positions until they literally cracked. The doctors saw this, as many thirld-world dictators did, as necessary for achieving a free market and the theories that went along with it. Much of the time the link was made directly by the tortorers themselves, that is the necessary connection between torture and the market.

When the free market is eulogised in libertarian leaning essays, consideration needs to be made of its abuses. I am trying to ask where the implication of some the libertarian ideas you have raised lead by default. Where is a really free-market being tried in a place that isn´t a basket case? While I identify with much of the cultural wisdom in libertarian critiques, often much more than the traditional left or peace-movement, too often I wonder if there is the potential for their reductionism to be harnassed by power and the Republican party (which is very far from the best traditions of American conservatism).

In short, I propose a less reductionist view of Obama´s election than was put forth by Peter Hitchens (¨One of the most absured waves of self-deception ever to sweep an advanced civilization¨) and yourself, and one that takes into consideration American political reality, over 600 concentration camps up and running in the continental US, false-flag terror, extraordinary rendition, and a lame-duck President who declared his view of the constitution when he told a group of Senators that, ¨It´s just a --- damn piece of paper¨ (reported in Capital Hill Blue), sent delegates to Bilderberg meetings and arranged to have Canada and Mexico merge with the United States and start using one currency. Yes, the administration actually proposed that. (Lest people think I'm making this up, it's all documented it Jerome Corsi's book The Late Great USA).

I had a student tell me he thought the dictator General Pinochet was good for Chile´s economy during the 70´s and 80´s but the problem was the human rights violations. He thought the two could be seperated. Can they be seperated, or should they, anymore than the crimes of communism are seperated from its ideology? Pinochets death camps were built on free market principles and applied to people. In such cases, often true believers reply, ¨But those disasters show that the market was not truly free.¨ How is this different from communists saying, ¨Well the Soviet Union wasn´t realy communism.¨ Although, having said that, a truly free market and unmaternal state still might be the best option. If we could ever get there.

By the way, abortion is illegal in Peru.

I leave comments via different gmail accounts because your blogspot doesn't accept yahoo postings. I'd be interested in seeing a response, although I recognize your time is limited.

Patrick Phillips

Unknown said...

In defense of Obama, and to reply to your friend Russ's comments, Obama may be less egalitarian than you guys are making out, especially considering who are his financial advisers. What we have seen over the last 38 years is indeed wealth redistribution, but redistribution from the poor to the rich. That is how Ron Paul has described the recent bailout. Indeed, income inequality is greater in the United States than any country in the world, even surpassing historical Great Britian. Corporate executives live lavash lives out of the public radar and resort to all sorts of illegal activity to finance their royal extravagance. They do not have a right to their wealth since it has been illegally acquired. The very existence of corporations in the first place are illegal and violation of US laws. Starting on Sep 10th 2001 and continuing every year, literlaly trillians of dollars have been disappearing out of the Pentagon budget (is it a coincidence then that it was the office of bookeeping and account management that was bombed on Sep 11th). This is tax payer dollars that is disappearing, but where is the outrage at our taxes being used for fighting wars and belicose adventurism. Probably what Obama was getting at is that spreading the wealth around would help there be the kind of strong middle class there was in the 1950's, where only one parent had to work and children could afford to go to college just working summers. Obama is no more a Robinhood than the President of Bolivia was recently when he ordered his army to go in and "seize the oil fields from the multinational plunderers," since what we are up against are extremes. Getting rid of these extremes, even if it meant spreading the wealth around, would mean that small businesses could compete for a change. There is a psychology at work, though, to keep people from voting in their best interests. University of Berkeley linguist George Lekoff has written about it from the other side of the political spectrum in his books Moral Politics and Don't Think of An Elephant, along with a damning critique of James Dobson. While accepting the maternal/paternal state paradime metaphor, his conclusion is that the Republicans have grasped how this works and now use it in an irrational way to make people vote against their interests, in amongst other things, causing the republican party to be thought of as the party for "the little guy" when in reality it is waiting to slit their throats and bank accounts.

Patrick Phillips

david said...

My only comment is that the Kingdom of God is not affected by who sits in the White House. This is why I do not vote as I do not promote any political agenda. Instead, we are to promote a Kingdom agenda that supercedes whatever is happening on an earthly level.I leave the politics to the politicians and seek that heavenly kingdom that cannot be moved. Presidents will come and go, but "of the increase of HIS government and peace there will be no end."
david letro

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