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Obama's Speech at the End of the Universe

by Christopher Chantrill
September 11, 2012 at 12:00 am

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IN HIS ACCEPTANCE speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, President Obama came across like a preacher. Of course. When real preachers prayed at this year’s party conventions, the Republicans lowered their heads. But the Democrats had already left the building. Someone had to fill the gap.

We all have a religion, whether we admit it or not. Robert Bellah defined religion as “a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence.” For liberals, politics and religion are rolled into one; it is the political symbol and the political act that relate the liberal to the meaning of life.

But here is the scandal. Before the modern secular religions that collapsed religion and politics into totalitarianism, you have to go back to primitive religion to find a society where “church and society are one.” You have to go back to a time before the historic religions like Judaism and Buddhism, for it was the great religions of the Axial Age that differentiated the religious and the political and developed the “conception of a responsible self... deeper than the flux of everyday experience”. But Democrats say that responsible people want to condemn others to life “on their own.”

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Democrats know they are in trouble. They know that they are sitting like Arthur Dent and his chums in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe wondering how to set the Improbability Drive to get them back to the good old days when everything worked, from Keynes to jobs to the Golden Gate bridge.

So the preacher president tried to fire up the DNC delegates by appealing to their faith in more government:

Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job.

Here’s a new sign to mount up in campaign war rooms everywhere: “It’s the bureaucracy, stupid.” More bureaucratic education isn’t going to help, Mr. President, any more than more educational bureaucracy.

The president and his handlers tell us that government is the one thing we all do together, while Republicans leave Americans “on your own.” The reality is that the liberal welfare state reduces everyone into a atomized individual, living a Life of Julia, because it kills the spark of life in the little platoons, the molecules and cells between government and individual in which ordinary people can find meaning and experience themselves as social beings.

Is it “all together” when activist Barack Obama sues the banks in Chicago to lower their lending standards in the 1990s so that millions of sub-prime borrowers end up “on their own” 15 years later in a maelstrom of bankruptcy and foreclosure?

Our liberal friends like to sneer at the American celebration of individualism. But they miss the point, because they cannot think beyond their own selfish individualism: its cult of creativity and its sexual license. Real American individualism is different; it is a discovery and a working out of personal responsibility, the kind that ordinary Americans discovered in the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. According to the revivalist preachers of the time, “when we began to teach these things people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings”. The idea of the responsible self had come down at last from the Hebrew prophets to the ordinary artisan rising into the middle class.

In Barack’s America, it is always “they” who are responsible. “They,” the greedy bankers, caused the Crash of 2008. “They” didn’t provide free contraception for Sandra Fluke at Georgetown. “They” didn’t save Joe Soptic’s overpaid union job.

You can understand the great cringe away from responsibility in our modern era. Responsibility and its social web of responsible association is a bridge too far for many workers and peasants quivering fearfully on the cusp of the middle class. Surrender your kids to the government’s child custodial facility instead. Tell your girl-friend to get an abortion instead of marrying her.

But the present will always be waiting for you when you pluck up enough courage to peek out at the world from behind the sofa, and wonder if maybe you could reach out for just the teeniest bit of responsibility. Perhaps you can start with a trip to Walmart to buy their $9 contraceptives.

But what do you do in the collapse of your primitive secular religion at the end of the universe? You shout “Forward” to your followers with arm outstretched, and then mutter “after you Alphonse” as they tumble into the Beyond.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Action

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


Chappies

“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


Churches

[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

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


Conversion

“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


Education

“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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