Reuniting the Right

In his new book, The Conservatarian Manifesto, Charles C. W. Cooke proffers a bright and eloquent vision for the future of the political Right – one that recognizes the mistakes of Bush-era centralization, but that maintains a fierce reliance upon the great tenets of traditional conservatism. Of course, the evolutionary process is not so simple, and if one wishes to follow Cooke’s advice for forging a renewed philosophical groundwork, one has to also reject the typical pundit’s lazy predictions regarding the Right’s great, unassailable divide. Accordingly, in its refreshing and lively way, The Conservatarian Manifesto considers a few powerful reasons for doing so: On the one hand, conservatives and libertarians must recognize the importance of their mutual respect for individual rights and limited government; on the other, they must defend the concept of federalism and convince the public that what California does is not necessarily so confining for Texas or North Carolina. At the end of the day, the Right ought to draw comfort from the fact that the political environment with which it is presented is, after the Obama years, ripe for change.

The book begins, though, by clearing up some of the stickier misconceptions about political ideology within the American system: While modern liberalism effectively boils down to an ardent belief in centralizing power and in government intervention, conservatism takes the classically liberal tradition and reinterprets it in a twenty-first-century context. Many observers consider this to mean that those on the Right want to keep all sorts of traditions, going as far back as you wish; but as Cooke points out, conservatives want to preserve the radical philosophy of the Founders – not tradition for its own sake, but rather the American tradition specifically because the Constitution does a wonderful job of codifying individual rights and preserving liberty.

Inasmuch as it dislikes the slowness of conservative change, however, libertarianism is different, thoroughly rejecting the Burkean, “socially conservative” element of the Right by opposing the Drug War and defending a more secular conception of marriage. According to Cooke, a conservatarian is someone whose opinions are torn between these two philosophies, not quite finding either one of them entirely convincing – whose motivation is “to render the American framework of government as free as possible and to decentralize power, returning the important rights to where they belong.” Cooke concludes, “This way can many of the cracks between the libertarians and the conservatives be mended.”

As such, the importance of federalism cannot be overstated, especially since it may be the key to bringing about a firmer cohesiveness between Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians. With regard to social issues, for example – a conflation that Cooke finds useless because it pretends as if the answers to abortion, gay marriage, and drugs are necessarily the same – federalism means that states can adopt policies that are particularized to the proclivities of their own people, without upsetting too much their friends in adjoining states. It may be true that a conservatarian is most likely to support gay marriage, and to oppose a Drug War that needlessly interferes with the private consumption of goods; but the key is to recognize that if the federal government got out of the way, the states could act as laboratories of democracy in which localism and bifurcation of power are respected. Under such a framework, social issues would not be so divisive, and conservatives and libertarians would be able to unite around a philosophy of returned power to the states. Although a good portion of The Conservatarian Manifesto is dedicated to Cooke’s own views regarding such issues as immigration, foreign policy, gay marriage, and the Drug War, its argument’s ultimate reliance is upon the beautiful notion of federalism.

But perhaps the most inspiring takeaway from Cooke’s writing is the way in which it expresses the utter commonality of the Right: It may be difficult to say for sure whether government should recognize gay marriage, but it is easy to see how conservatives and libertarians, alike, love the Constitution. Instead of harping pessimistically about the supposed “great divide,” the media would do well to understand that Rand Paul and Scott Walker both care deeply about individual rights and free markets. And as long as this remains true, the Left ought to be gravely worried, for its vision of equality of outcome will be the Right’s common enemy – its excessive focus on bureaucratic dominance will be the scourge around which, Cooke is confident, the Right will gladly take a stand.

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Liberals in Indiana

In the face of all this quackery regarding Indiana’s new and controversial RFRA – the one which takes further steps to protect religious freedoms – it is important to stay sane amongst all the leftist hysteria, to ignore the largely ignorant but nevertheless incessant whining emerging from hacks all over the web. In order to do so, however, one needs to understand the actual implications of the law, as divorced from what one might assume the law to entail.

First off, Indiana’s RFRA has been written, as I understand it, in the tradition of the federal RFRA that was signed into law by President Clinton, of all people. A slew of states already have similar laws with comparable aims – and have not received nearly as much backlash as has Indiana, because … well, you know … it wasn’t fashionable at the time to do so – showing in a definitive sense the extent to which the United States relies upon federalism. Many states may not feel that the federal provision goes far enough, or perhaps they think they need more idiosyncratic renderings of the principle in order to more fully protect their religious citizens; but whatever their reasons, the point is that as constitutionally guaranteed institutions of government, they have every right to take initiative in this area.

A second element to consider, of course, is the actual content of the law, which seems to me to have been simply enough explained by experts in the field so as to leave little room for confusion. In short, Indiana’s RFRA – according specifically to an article written for The Federalist by Gabriel Malor, an attorney in the DC area – was designed to provide courts with a framework through which they may better consider cases involving religious freedom. In the main, those who sue entities that make some claim of religious liberty for undertaking – or refusing to undertake – a particular action will have to convince judges and juries that the government has compelling reason to prevent the religious from citing their beliefs as safeguards. So, should a religious person claim that consuming a substance banned by Indiana state law is something necessarily commanded by his or her religion (to take an example from Malor’s piece), this law would force plaintiffs to provide a compelling reason to force that religious person from consuming the substance. If such an activity isn’t really affecting anyone else, then it is likely the courts will use the RFRA to protect the person’s religious liberty – not to ensure their performance of any discrimination prevented by the Civil Rights Act.

Of course, were the religious owners of a restaurant to try and refuse service to homosexuals (which they aren’t at all, in the first place), it would be very difficult for courts to use the RFRA to justify their claims – for not only are innocent third parties perniciously affected by an activity of that sort, but such would also set a dangerous precedent for the future of anti-discrimination law in the United States. But is that how the Left around the nation has consistently been interpreting the situation?

To be blunt and precise, no. Liberals have been acting as if the RFRA was drafted secretly in a church by fundamentalist law-makers who want to undermine civil-rights precedent. They know that it is not true, but it doesn’t really matter since the whole purpose of progressivism in the first place is to blankly oppose tradition in any area of life, no matter how respectable or frivolous. And so it is important to remember that which is becoming increasingly accurate when describing the Left: The true liberals in Indiana are not the ones who scream against First-Amendment protections, or who act as if any attempt to preserve America’s classically liberal traditions are necessarily discriminatory; the true liberals are those who understand the importance of allowing those with whom you disagree to carry on with their personal activity. For who wants to live in a country in which the feelings of some outweigh the Lockean natural rights of others?

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Bias University Teachings

Political affiliations are often a personal choice made based on an individual’s morals, trust in the government and economic situation. Many young people usually affiliate with the same party as their parents until they get to college, gain independence, and become more informed. However, numerous academic institutions that students attend are bias towards one party and do not offer students the chance to see the aspects of both platforms.

Typically, public universities tend to favor the democratic party and focus teachings around their platforms and principles, while openly showing detest towards other ideas. Even the textbooks that are used for classes explicitly favor liberal policies and frame conservative policies as shameful and egotistic. The strong-opinionated teachings that are executed at many public universities, such as UNC, are not appropriate in order to facilitate unbiased learned that leads to self-made opinions based purely on factual evidence. Even worse, students are learning to develop a hatred for not only other parties, but also those affiliated with those parties. The universities depict the Republican Party in a singular way and mislead their students into thinking that there is only one way to be a republican. They teach that there are not diversions in ideology, when in actuality, there are many degrees of republican, just as there are many degrees of being a democrat. The professors who teach in this way are limiting the minds of students and only showing them one path, when there is a magnitude of combinations of ideologies in which the students could study. Narrowing students minds to only consider one political party and directly steering them to detest other parties is limiting the minds of future generations.

Classes should not inaccurately shame other political affiliations because many students trust the learning institution whole-heartedly and will believe whatever is taught to them. Then, their opinions are based solely off of their trust of the professor and not through their own research and findings, creating naive citizens. Students should be shown an unbiased overview of party platforms along with the positions that each party takes and the moderations that are made. Students should be able to make a decision of their party individually, without feeling ashamed for what they believe to be correct. And students should not be taught that other parties are wrong, but rather to respect each person’s opinion of why they support their chosen party, even if they do not agree.

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“The Hill is Burning:” Rand Shannon’s Guide to Being a Great Congressman

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by | March 24, 2015 · 4:03 pm

Reflections on Leonard Bernstein

If you are lucky, you might get a composer with Leonard Bernstein’s popular appeal and intellectual aptitude every fifty years or so – a man with the musical skill of Herbert von Karajan, but not so much of the exclusivity and sourness that made Karajan distant and unlikeable. In fact, it is difficult to imagine how one person could contribute more to the consumption of music than did Bernstein: Aside, obviously, from his capacity as a composer, having written one of the great musicals of our time in West Side Story, Bernstein saw the importance of helping those who are otherwise non-musical to understand why it is that someone like Mozart is great, and why, exactly, Mozart’s music is foundational and intriguing. He knew, too, that the conducting profession entailed something far greater than merely touring around the world with an accomplished orchestra in order to offer respectable interpretations of the great pieces. Bernstein was great at doing just that, of course, and much more; but humans need, in some sense, to be taught, and if Bernstein excelled in anything, it was in teaching children and adults, college graduates and working men, alike, about what it means to truly appreciate music.

One of the keys to interpreting Bernstein’s career thus seems to involve the importance of music education – not just playing band in high school, or hearing a few minutes of Bach on the radio as you drive home from school, but actually studying the mechanics of music and appreciating its fruitful historical unveiling. Bernstein’s contributions to the field were invaluable, but the study of classical music remains stigmatized in twenty-first-century American culture precisely because it is seen as the stuff of snobs and cultural pedants. In light of Bernstein’s proper legacy as an educator, this development seems tragic, and I think he would be the first to point out the necessity of reaching the poor, the marginalized, and social outcasts of all sorts with the transforming power of music.

To focus on Bernstein the teacher, however, is not, by any means, to underestimate Bernstein’s eminence as a composer – nourished by his friendships with geniuses like Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky – evident in his musical variety and in his ability to capture in sound the mid-nineteenth-century American spirit. Though Bernstein spent much time with symphonic music in directing orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, two of his most famous works, Candide and West Side Story, were written for the stage – the latter of which brilliantly reinterprets Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet to an American audience, using jazzy sounds and dancing city slackers to tell the lovers’ story. Accordingly, it is no coincidence that we see the musical as quintessentially 1950s in its pertinent understanding of intercity ethnic conflict, but that we also acknowledge its continued relevance to the sorts of struggles characteristic of contemporary culture. As Bernstein once reflected, “I don’t get sick of [West Side Story] – that’s a sign of something fresh; I mean, it’s not fresh the way Mozart stays fresh time after time, but who’s in that class?”

Bernstein’s approach to music education can be adequately summed up by his ability to analyze with relatable language and accessible conceptual lenses the works of great composers – his knack for lecturing with passion, precision, and charisma. He never shied away from structural detail, but he also never allowed esoteric technicality to get too much in the way of his listeners’ apprehension: With regard to Beethoven’s central talents, for example, he remarks, “In Beethoven’s case, the form is all, because it is a case of what note succeeds every other note; and in Beethoven’s case it was always the right next note, as if he had his own private telephone wire to heaven …. Inevitability – that’s the word for it.” A renowned connoisseur of the inscrutable Mahler, Bernstein used the notion of inner conflict – indeed, relating it to his own life as a composer and a conductor – to explain the tensions and struggles inherent to Mahler’s glorious symphonies. And when it came to the eccentric Berlioz, he delighted in discussing the elusive, imperious idee fixe pervading the Symphonie Fantastique and lending to the psychedelic romanticism of an early-nineteenth-century work. Whenever he wanted to illustrate a point, of course, he only had to turn around and point his baton to his personal assembly of musical masters – the New York Philharmonic – to make it happen.

Bernstein even tackled such difficult subjects as the nature of American music and the many possibilities of melodic structuring in certain lectures he gave … to children! Called the Young People’s Concerts, these informative sessions brought together Bernstein’s youthfulness, his passion for people, and his musical sharpness in order to teach puerile minds all they needed to know about listening well during formal performances. In other words, he reached young people without having to use the typically frivolous shortcuts employed by disinterested adults in all venues of academic life; he taught them something they could hold on to, without pandering to them and without treating them as if they were the same age as their accompanying parents. And so it was that one of the great musical minds of the twentieth century focused on imparting his wisdom to new generations: As would any great teacher, he sought to cultivate passion for the musical traditions that Westerners continue to hold dear.

Regardless, perhaps Leonard Bernstein’s greatest legacy is not necessarily the individual impact he made in the worlds of composing, conducting, and teaching, serving as one of the definitive ambassadors of classical music to the general public in the twentieth century; perhaps his greatest legacy, rather, is the fact that when we hear the transcendental beauty and truth that good music has to offer – when we think of Beethoven’s humanness and sublimity, Mahler and his torturous complexity – we see, in part, that dignified, deep, emotional man with a cigarette in his mouth, sitting upright at a piano or on a raised platform, motivating us to understand the art with which we have been thoroughly blessed.

And for that alone, I think we are inexpressibly thankful. When Bernstein traveled to Berlin in 1989 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inspiring maestro decided to change the German word for joy, “Freude,” with the German word for freedom, “Freiheit,” in Beethoven’s epic final symphony. He did so because he knew as well as anyone the spiritual and even political intricacies of music’s significance to our souls: Even though he died shortly thereafter, his memory lives on just as music continues to bring beauty to the lives of the lost, changing the fortunes of kids who, instead of video-gaming or mulling about sketchy malls listlessly, are experiencing the intricate notes and delightful tones of their first melodies.


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The Danger of Cultural Relativism in our Foreign Policy

Much is being made of the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran, warning them that any agreement reached with President Obama is not guaranteed to last past 2016, when there will be a new president in the White House. Some question the legality of this move, others its wisdom and what precedent it might set for future diplomatic negotiations with the United States. There is even a petition at calling for criminal charges against the 47, accompanied by cries of treason and claims of an “unprecedented breach of protocol.” Now, regardless of how blatantly false, mendacious, and misguided these claims are, they neglect a far more important and politically far less expedient point: what those who support the President in this endeavor to sign an agreement with Iran are missing is the absolute and utter irrationality of such a deal.

Fundamentally – for anyone to advocate a formal agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, one has to have faith that Iran will actually comply with the agreement. Given its history of failing to do so, what makes anyone think this time will be different? What, then, is the point of such an agreement? If you have that confidence in Iran, you’re not only kidding yourself, but you’re also putting millions of lives at risk (unless the goal is to lure them into some false sense of security and then catch them “red-handed”).

Others argue that “Iran has every right to nuclear capability” and ask, “who are we to deny them this right?” At its vey core, such a statement is rooted in a cultural relativist worldview. In other words, one has to wholeheartedly believe that nothing separates Iran from the United States, that our differences are merely “matters of perspective,” and that we, as the United States, “have no right to deny them” nuclear power or nuclear weapons. It is a worldview, a belief system that completely abdicates any notion of right or wrong and chalks up all such characterizations to “difference” and mere matters of opinion.

But if you live in the real world, you will realize that Iran is an unadulterated evil. Its leaders are hateful, cruel, and ruthless madmen who have repeatedly expressed their desire and intentions to exterminate both Israel, the United States, and all the Jews of the world. It is a state riddled with absolute contempt for the West. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to posit that many of its people feel similarly. Iran is dangerous and simply has not proven itself to be a reasonable, responsible, peace-seeking member of the global community. This is why Iran does not have any sort of “right” to nuclear weapons.

What makes us different –  what makes us deserving of having nuclear power? Our civility, our common sense, our compassion,  our preference for peace, harmony, democracy as opposed to fanatical war and destruction, and our institutions and Constitutional foundation. It is impossible to equate these two sets of characteristics and it is because of this that Iran simply does not “deserve” to have nuclear weapons (of course, ideally, there would be no nuclear weapons at all in the world, but that’s utopian).

And finally, if my claim that the United States is deserving while Iran is not offends you and makes you want to cry out that we as a nation are merely “different,” I invite you to go live in one of these countries (Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, etc.) that is merely “different” from ours for a year and to report back to us how “different” those experiences of yours were.

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Stop Belittling Religion!

Religion is a positive influence on a person. It brings good morals, guidance, structure and peace of mind to daily life. Different religions differ in morals and some are more extreme than others, but most have good intentions. Some moral decisions play a part in politics, an aspect of life that has become increasingly stifling toward religious opinions. People are made to feel bad about their religious beliefs if they are contrary to popular opinion, calling into question our respect for the First Amendment.

The fundamentals of most religions teach right from wrong, which is an important concept for each and every person to understand. That does not mean that one must be religious to understand right from wrong, but without the structured learning of these morals, there might never be the chance to learn. America was founded on Christian principles, but lately it seems to be encouraging the suppression of public acts of religion. The general discouragement of religious practices in public places is increasing, as is the lack of morality in our society.  Some are teased or scorned for their religious beliefs. Within politics, conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals. Some liberals have used that as a weapon against the generally conservative Republican party when, in reality, it should be an advantage. Many people are passionate about their religion and find it important to uphold their religion’s standards. Everyone else should respect that. Our country is avid about accepting people from all different backgrounds based on race, but we should expand that to accepting them for their religion, and not shaming them or belittling their beliefs.

As a society, we focus more on what the media tells us is right than we focus on basic readings of principle, like the Bible. Hardly anyone questions the media’s judgment about everyday occurrences, which in light of recent events we know that there are many cases of false reporting, yet basic principles that teach good morals are scrutinized.  As a country, we should be supportive of each other’s religions. It should not be used as a way to discredit someone’s opinions if it is based off of their religion.

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