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The Palin Seminar for Moderate Women Don't Cry for Milton

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And They Said Bush Was Clueless

by Christopher Chantrill
June 03, 2009 at 6:14 pm


THE PRESIDENT mentioned the Rule of Law in a speech last week. At the National Archives about his policies on terrorism, he said:

From Europe to the Pacific, we’ve been the nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law.

But the previous week the administration blew off the Rule of Law in the Chrysler bankruptcy. It stiffed the senior secured creditors in favor of a junior creditor, a labor union. That’s probably unconstitutional, because the US Constitution calls for “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.” You can see why the founding fathers might think uniform bankruptcy laws were a good thing. It would provide protection for creditors, never the most popular people in society, against a politically favored special interest like a labor union.

If you are not going to favor secured creditors over a politically powerful interest, why bother having laws, or a Rule of Law at all? Just let the unpopular people go to the wall. Tell them to hire a politician next time.

There seem to be two ways of looking at the Rule of Law. For liberals the Rule of Law is all about the protection of brave liberals fighting against racism and sexism. But if you read the history of law in the Anglo-Saxon world, you find out that law is mostly about deciding what to do when things go wrong in day-to-day living and commerce. For instance, there is the law of bailments. It’s nothing special, but it covers the case of the restaurant valet that damages your car, and it has existed at least since Babylonian times.

Anyway, it seems that President Obama’s devotion to the Rule of Law is only rhetorical. He is going to keep the Bush policies on terrorism, but will keep making speeches to entrance liberals like James Fallows at The Atlantic with “the quality of [his] thought.”

The neutering of bankruptcy law in the Chrysler case is not rhetorical; it is real. And, to echo Talleyrand, it is worse than a crime, it is a blunder. For consistent bankruptcy law is as important to a smashed-up corporation as a well-run trauma center to an accident victim.

Capitalism is a social technology in the same way that the a trauma center is social technology. You can let the technicians organize and run it, subject to law, or you can stick your political nose in and order the professionals around. Just to show who’s boss, you can mix in a special deal for a powerful interest.

Time and time again in the last century, liberals have insisted that only political power can deliver the right kind of service from business. First we had to have a Federal Reserve System because you couldn’t trust the Money Trust. That worked out well. The dollar is now worth 2.5 cents.

Then they decided that America’s corporations had to have strong unions—in 1935 right in the middle of a Great Depression. That worked out well. It plunged America into a second depression in 1937.

They decided that senior citizens had to have subsidized health care. So now health care for seniors is eating the budget alive, and that’s before the $40 trillion that’s promised but not funded.

They wanted everyone to have “affordable housing.” Well, now they have their wish. Pity they had to blow up the banking system to get there.

And these are the people that called President Bush clueless!

There is another way. We could let capitalism get on with its job of delivering products and services that people are willing to pay for. Then we could start to figure out how to deliver health care that people could afford.

Against the clunking fist of the liberal administrative state we conservatives must call for a conservative sociable state. Social animals, humans are at our best when living in a world of reciprocal sociability; we are at our worst when issuing administrative orders to people that can’t answer back.

Marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher recently showed how reciprocal sociability works. While watching a lesbian and an evangelical in a focus group discussing gay marriage, her associate was appalled at the way that the participants would compromise. They had no principles, he complained.

"No," I said. "They are trying to figure out a way in which everybody can be OK. It’s really great to live in a country where people are like that."

It’s the difference between liberal world and conservative world. In liberal world highly evolved elites get to decide on the issues and force everyone else to get with the program. In the conservative world of families, churches, and associations we are just trying to figure out a way in which everyone can be OK.

Yet conservatives insist that we believe in permanent principles that cannot be changed, and liberals insist that everything they do is based on empathy and compassion for other people. What is going on here?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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