Monday, April 25, 2011

Conservative Keynesianism?

Lord Keynes has an excellent article on the lost tradition of anti-laissez-faire conservatism and the potential for a conservative-Keynesian alliance. Highly recommended.

The Dark Heart of Objectivism

Due to the very interesting responses to my April 23, 2011 post on Ayn Rand, I would like to recommend this 2010 article on Rand and her philosophy by Corey Robin. It is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ?

Isaiah J. Poole has an excellent piece on the total conflict between the thought of Ayn Rand and the teachings of Christ. I cannot think of a better article for this year’s Easter, as a new film adaptation of the first third of Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is currently in theaters. The film and its philosophy are being promoted by Tea Party organizations such as FreedomWorks and can be seen as part of the revival of the libertarian Right. This is a very important development because it should make religious conservatives think twice about the movements and ideologies they are currently allied with. For example, Rand was a virulent atheist, a supporter of abortion, and an advocate of sexual hedonism, as Megan Gibson points out in her article at Cif America. For these and other reasons, more traditional American conservatives such as William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk were dismissive of Rand and Objectivism. Rand's ideas simply could not fit into the fusion of laissez-faire economics and traditional Christian morality that Buckley and his allies were developing at the National Review.

Unfortunately for Buckleyite conservatives, fusionism largely needed the threat of atheistic communism in order to give the movement a reason for existence. With liberal capitalism's victory over communism, the fusionists are now in the sticky position of having to explain to the average American why their cultural, social, and economic life has stagnated or declined over the past thirty years, despite the fact that conservatives have gotten much of what they wanted in the economic sphere while scoring few recognizable victories in the Culture War. Indeed, many of the major political victories in the Culture War have been won by members of the Democratic base, primarily African-American and Hispanic voters. It is becoming clear that while many Republicans campaign on Christianity, family values, and other popular manifestations of social conservatism, they are primarily concerned with endless wars, privatization, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the annihilation of organized labor. With this in mind, Christian conservatives must choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jakob Kaiser: The Forgotten Christian Democrat

In the wake of the current global economic recession, observers have written many articles praising the durability of the German social market economy. While the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism is increasingly dominated by asset bubbles and the speculation-prone finance, insurance, and real estate industries, Germany continues to be a major exporter of manufactured goods, having maintained its industrial base and highly-skilled workforce. Of course, the German economy is not perfect. It is arguable that Germany’s neo-mercantilist economy has benefited from the profligacy of the debtor nations that are usually compared unfavorably to the frugal Germans and that an extreme emphasis on exports requires this unhealthy and imbalanced system to continue. 

However, from an American perspective, the German model does have many attractive features. Germany does not suffer from the enormous bubbles that have plagued the American economy and German citizens have done a better job avoiding the pitfalls of personal debt. Of course, unlike the United States, where labor unions have been decimated by deliberate government policies favoring outsourcing, lax immigration control, and now, naked attempts to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, Germany has made unions and works councils an important part of a collaborative system between workers, employers, and the State.

Also, unlike in the United States, where vocational training has been languishing as a result of the extreme emphasis placed on higher education, Germany has retained a strong system of vocational education that benefits those who choose not to go to university. While Germany is certainly not a worker’s paradise, German workers are clearly more powerful than their overworked, stressed out, debt-burdened counterparts in America and elsewhere, and they owe much of their power to a man who embodied pro-labor Christian Democracy, the forgotten Christian Democrat, Jakob Kaiser.

Jakob Kaiser was born on February 08, 1888 in the Lower Franconian town of Hammelburg, one of ten children in his large Roman Catholic family. The son of a bookbinder, young Jakob also pursued a career in bookbinding following his early schooling. Kaiser’s work as a journeyman bookbinder eventually brought him into the world of labor activism, starting with the Catholic journeyman’s movement founded by Blessed Adolph Kolping. After serving in the Imperial military during World War I, Kaiser rejoined the Christian labor movement and spent much of the interwar period calling for cooperation between Catholics and Protestants through the transformation of the Catholic Centre Party into a general, non-denominational Christian party. Kaiser was elected to the Reichstag as a member of the Centre Party in 1933. 

Kaiser’s career in politics and labor union activism would be changed forever with the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party to power in 1933. The Nazi government abolished all independent labor unions other than the Nazi German Labor Front. This caused Kaiser and many other union leaders to join the anti-Nazi resistance. In 1938, Kaiser was jailed for treason for several months and on his release he joined the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, making contacts with such figures as the famous Claus von Stauffenberg. When the 1944 plot to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime failed, Kaiser was forced to go into hiding.

Following the end of the Second World War, Kaiser rejoined the labor movement and became one of the founders of the Berlin branch of the Christlich-Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union or CDU). Kaiser served as head of the CDU in Berlin and the entire Soviet occupation zone from 1945 to 1947. Kaiser’s vision for the CDU was inspired by the contemporary British Labour Party, which served as a model of non-Marxist socialism. Indeed, Kaiser forthrightly called his program “Christian Socialism“ and included measures for public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance, and a greater role for labor in the form of works councils and cooperatives. Kaiser’s program for a more wholesale reorganization of a united Germany governed by Christian social principles met with opposition from the more liberal Konrad Adenauer, who supported a more capitalist, market-oriented economy. 

Eventually, Kaiser’s strong criticism of repressive Soviet policies in the Soviet occupation zone would result in his ouster as leader of the East German CDU by the Soviets, forcing Kaiser to head West. While West German politics was now increasingly dominated by Adenauer, Kaiser continued to have a great deal of influence in left-wing and trade union circles. At the 1947 Ahlen conference, Kaiser was even able to get his plan to nationalize key industries and other left-wing economic ideas put into the official West CDU programme, although not all of Kaiser’s reforms were actually adopted. 

While Kaiser continued to butt heads with Adenauer over economics, it was the issue of German reunification and Cold War foreign policy where the two would perhaps have their greatest differences. While Adenauer was committed to the Atlantic Alliance and a much closer relationship with the United States, even at the cost of a divided Germany, the more nationalistic Kaiser continued to champion the cause of a unified Germany independent of the two superpowers and acting as a peaceful  “bridge“ between East and West. Kaiser’s dedication to the cause of German unification would eventually see his elevation to the office of Minster of All-German Affairs, which he held from 1949 to 1957 when ill-health forced his resignation. Jakob Kaiser passed away on May 07, 1961, having become a symbol of German unity and Christian social justice.

While Konrad Adenauer is perhaps justly considered the father of modern Germany and its astonishingly successful economic revival in the post-war era, Jakob Kaiser is often dismissed as a dreamer or forgotten altogether. However, Kaiser’s influence was crucial in securing many of the more populist aspects of the German social market economy, including extensive rights and powers for labor unions in economic coordination and decision making and a robust social insurance system. Furthermore, Kaiser’s vision of a unified Germany and principled opposition to Soviet oppression in the East made him a great German patriot. Perhaps most importantly, Kaiser’s championing of a Christian socialism based not upon Marxism but upon the Gospel of Christ can certainly provide inspiration to future generations of Christians who see in materialism and the economic degradation of humanity a critical threat to the sacredness of the human person.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bedroom and Boardroom

Dale Ahlquist has a great article over at the Distributist Review about the problems many people have with Catholic Social Teaching, specifically, the failure to acknowledge the Church's teachings on sex/family life and economics (many people are inclined to support one while opposing the other). Please, also check out John C. M├ędaille's comment, it is really spot on, as always.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The True Left

On April 17, 2011, the nationalist True Finns party made impressive gains in the Finnish Parliament. The 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections should be an important wake up call to the Left. After years of supporting anti-worker policies in the social, environmental and economic spheres, there is a growing backlash against the trendy Left and a resurgence of populist nationalism in Europe and elsewhere. While I understand the fear that dangerous ultra-nationalist and even fascist parties may benefit from the global economic meltdown, this is no reason for the Left to turn its back on the legitimate demands of common folk.

For decades, the mainstream Left has largely abandoned populist economics, embracing globalization and the entire panoply of neoliberal economics. Trendy social issues such as environmentalism and gay rights replaced the older left-wing emphasis on improving the material, social, and cultural position of the common people. In many cases, the liberal social policies favored by center-left parties drove millions of voters into the arms of ostensibly socially conservative center-right parties. In the age of the Washington Consensus, it looked as if cultural issues would replace economic issues as the major points of political contention between parties as most mainstream political parties converged on economic matters.

Unfortunately for the champions of the End of History narrative, liberal capitalism is now facing clear challenges from many different directions. The media often lumps these opposition movements into the category of “fascism.” Even if the f-word is not directly used, the images conjured up are undeniable. But while fascists do make up part of the opposition to liberal capitalism, it is unfair to judge all populist or nationalist movements as being fascistic. 

Many of the policies supported by the True Finns and other nationalist parties, such as support for a strong welfare state and the protection and promotion of domestic industry via state intervention, were part of the political and economic landscape of many European, North American, and East Asian countries during their post-World War II boom periods. Even the more controversial issue of immigration control can be seen from an economic as opposed to a racist perspective. Michael Lind, for example, has made compelling economic arguments against open-borders immigration policies, arguing that it undermines the cause of high-wages and social democracy. 

In order to prevent more extreme nationalists from gaining power, left-wingers must embrace populism. This means, at the very least, listening to the complaints of the common people with regard to the collapse of family life, the denigration of religion, traditional culture and patriotism, unfair competition from cheap labor, and other issues that are currently anathema to the trendy Left.

Furthermore, left-wingers should not be frightened of nationalism in the economic sphere. Most of the major supranational organizations such as the European Union, the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank, are extremely undemocratic and are operated in the interests of economically powerful private actors and their allies in the public sector and are being used to weaken the ability of national governments to serve the interests of their people. If anybody needs any evidence of this reality, just look at how many European nations are being sacrificed on the altar of austerity to pay for the latest crisis of capitalism, including the bailouts for the capitalists themselves! If we rightly recoil at the way communist oligarchs subjugated populations in the name of Marxism-Leninism, then why should we tolerate the subjugation of whole nations by neoliberal oligarchs in the name of liberal capitalism?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Save The NHS

Matt Smith at Guild Socialism has an excellent post detailing why Britons should oppose Prime Minster David Cameron's plan to reform the NHS. It is definitely worth a read even if, like me, you are not from the United Kingdom, as Mr. Smith's analysis sheds light on the dangers of neoliberal "reforms," which are being used to reduce the living standards of millions of people across the globe via brutal austerity and privatization programs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Art In Strange Places

I don’t write much about popular culture or art on this blog, but a recent New York Times article about animator Shamus Culhane and his penchant for slipping avant-garde art into Woody Woodpecker cartoons was rather interesting. While most animators seemed happy to inject their work with hidden bawdiness, I would not be surprised if there were more frustrated artists who tried to fulfill their creative drive through their animated work. 

Unfortunately, today’s market is inundated with computer animation that is so boring and joyless that I feel even worse for the modern frustrated artist. I am not sure if it is possible to explore the outer reaches of the human imagination while punching equations into a computer program. Furthermore, I also have my doubts about the ability of artists to express their creativity secretly, without running afoul of their employers. Technology had made employee surveillance much more potent than it has ever been, yet another dark side to the advance of technology. 

Indeed, Western popular culture is becoming increasingly boring even as it becomes more exciting and stimulating in a sort of basic way. Even relatively shallow features, such as MGM’s Tom and Jerry shorts, seem very impressive to me, especially the handsomely drawn early shorts by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. I am still greatly impressed by the sense of weight conveyed in the 1942 short "The Bowling Alley Cat," where the bowling balls look quite heavy and capable of inflicting a lot of pain.  

While I don’t want to push the artistic merits of Tom and Jerry too much, in a world where traditional animation is giving way to headache-inducing computerized movies that are little more than glorified video games, I will continue to have a certain nostalgia for the early days of animation and cinema in general, when I am sure many a frustrated artist gave millions of people pleasure and a taste of art through popular and accessible channels of expression.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tribalism And The Future

Pat Buchanan has a very interesting article on the topic of tribalism, arguing that it is becoming more important in world affairs. Buchanan’s article is sure to be problematic for those on the Right and the Left who assume that tribalism will eventually be submerged by economic ideologies such as liberal capitalism or Marxist socialism. Indeed, much of modern history can be characterized by the interplay between the economic ideologies, most prominently liberalism and Marxism, and ideologies revolving around tribal identities such as race, ethnicity, or religion.  While these various ideologies sometimes overlapped in the past, it can be argued that the line between them is becoming bolder. 

For many in the First World, the ethnic and religious movements of the Third Word seem backward and foolish. Generally speaking, the maintenance of the salve of consumerism is the paramount political issue for First World governments. Consumerism and the mass entertainment culture works to dampen virulent forms of identity politics, such as religious or ethnic nationalism. Liberal capitalists argue that the Third World countries should try to emulate the West’s consumer culture as a strategy for ending tribal strife. 

Unfortunately for the champions of liberal capitalism, the peoples of the Third World remain “tribal,” as evidenced by the various ethnic and religious conflicts in the developing world today. This harsh reality probably explains why Western journalists are so quick to latch onto any evidence that people like them are really at the helm of the major popular movements in the developing world, hence the obsessive focus on the users of Facebook and Twitter in the Middle East. But when the reality of the “otherness” of the developing world becomes too hard to resist, both conservatives and progressives fall back on the trusty tool of liberal interventionism in order to blast the natives into modernity. Both the Right and the Left are guilty of this violent and arrogant attitude toward the poorer nations, as evidenced by the diversity of the supporters of the war in Iraq. 

To be sure, tribalism itself has often resulted in brutal warfare between different groups. Furthermore, loathsome ideologies have grown out of tribal sentiments. Islamic jihadism really is an evil scourge, as evidenced by the massacres perpetrated against Christians and “apostate” Muslims.  Additionally, while libertarians and Marxists often like to call each other fascists, the truth is that fascism has far less in common with the economic ideologies of liberalism and Marxism than it has with other forms of extreme nationalism. Fascists were generally more interested in the revival and strengthening of organic communities than with economics. This tendency was reflected in the often  muddled and opportunistic economic policies in the actual fascist states such as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. 

However, if Buchanan is correct and we must face a future where tribalism is becoming more important, how should we approach it? I believe that there are three main courses of action. First, there must be a concerted effort to promote the essential humanity of the human race and the sacredness of the human person. Humanists, whether secular or religious, must do their best to prevent the dehumanization of people, something that becomes easier when tribalism becomes extreme. Second, institutions that are neither economic nor tribal must be promoted whenever possible. For example, Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign of people belonging to many different races and religions. She also does not owe her position to an economic “meritocracy” or to some other mechanical process. She is more like the mother of a large and diverse family. Her sovereignty is not the domination of the haughty winners of some Darwinian economic struggle. While monarchy may not be appropriate for every country on the planet, and individual monarchs can definitely have their failings, there are some lessons to be learned from studying the ideas behind monarchism, which are often ignored in the modern world. 

Lastly, there is a tradition of romantic nationalism that, if prevented from becoming too extreme, may be able to satisfy the urge for tribal identity among human beings without sliding into hatred for others. Some romantics sought a community of brother nations working together for peace and even included Christian ideas and themes in their work. Other romantic or neo-romantic figures, such as William Morris, were influential in developing strands of socialism that rejected the tendency toward dictatorship and tyranny found in other schools of socialist thought. A return to the better ideals of the romantic movements may be necessary in the face of globalization and the increasing power of rapacious multinational corporations, unresponsive governments, and faceless, undemocratic transnational institutions such as the IMF, the EU, and others listed by Pat Buchanan in his article. With the forces of Enlightenment rationalism reeling under the weight of their own failures and broken promises, there is a need for a different narrative that harnesses organic and tribal feelings in a positive way so as to avoid the pitfalls of fascism and other forms of ethnic or religious extremism.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Donald Duck and Glenn Beck

CA Constantian has found an excellent YouTube video featuring a down-and-out Donald Duck and everyone's favorite right-wing radio and television host, one Mr. Glenn Beck. Please check out the post and the rest of the great California Constantian blog.

The Microfinance Myth

The Guardian has an interesting podcast on the controversial issue of microfinance. I happen to agree with Cambridge economist Prof. Ha-Joon Chang on this issue and would recommend his paper "The Microfinance Illusion" for a more detailed discussion of this important topic in development economics.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Fight for Black Life

There has been some controversy over the placement of pro-life billboards in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood depicting the likeness of President Obama and reading: "every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted." This is clearly a reference to the unusually high abortion rate among African-American women and the placement of the billboards in the overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood of Englewood is also clear evidence that the billboards were specifically designed to call attention to what some people are now calling the "Black Genocide."

I hope pro-lifers continue to make the case that abortion has a disproportionate impact on poor people and  people of color. Many people today probably do not remember that there once was a very vocal pro-life Left, including many veterans of the Civil Rights movement. However, a number of these activists have either passed away or changed their opinions. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, once penned an interesting article in 1977 that was critical of legalized abortion, but he would later change his position in the 1980s in an attempt to become the Democratic nominee for president.

However, it is clear that there are still plenty of African-American leaders who are willing to take up the cause of the pro-life movement and are now becoming more vocal about the devastating impact abortion has had on the black community. Additionally, more people are becoming aware of the dark heart of the abortion movement and its pioneers, such as the despicable racist and eugenicist Margaret Sanger. Revealing the truth about the ideology behind the abortion movement, either in its statist or libertarian forms, is essential to winning over more converts to the pro-life cause, especially among those on the Left who, if they are truly serious about protecting the weak, should join the crusade against abortion.