holding hands

A vision of love and community

Here’s a great column in The Atlantic by Michael R. Strain on how love and community can save conservatism.

Many on the right correctly emphasize individual liberty, but they do not emphasize what conservatism knows to be true: It is in community that people learn how to be free.

[Rep. Paul] Ryan argued that “the federal government has a role to play” with respect to community, but that “it’s a supporting role, not the leading one.” This is generally true. Government should distance itself enough from the individual that civil society — which exists in the space between government and citizen — can flourish. Speaking generally, government should help support these institutions, but it should not do their work for them.

But this is not to say that a communitarian ethic should be absent from politics and public policy — quite the opposite. Proceeding with a spirit of community would help conservatives formulate and support better policies. Let’s discuss a few.

This is the kind of conservatism we want, the kind that would improve life in Utah – or anywhere. Read the rest of this article here.

Photo credit: Sarah Stierch via Wikimedia Commons

girl with flag

Conservatives begin with gratitude

Conservatism is not about saying “no” to everything, nor is it about putting the brakes on a rapidly moving culture.

It’s about gratitude.

That’s what Yuval Levin told us upon receiving the Bradley Prize two years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Levin, who calls himself a “reform conservative,” is editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.

He said in his Bradley Prize acceptance speech,

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.

But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.

We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.

Levin pointed out that conservatism is about sustaining “the foundations of American life—our free society, economy, and government; our culture of virtue.” American progress grows from those foundations:

Without those, there is no future. The work of preserving them is therefore not passive work, it’s not restraint; it is the active work of keeping our society alive and thriving. It’s not a brake, it’s the very engine of the American story.

Click here to read the rest of Levin’s optimistic, forward-looking speech.

Screenshot 2015-04-10 09.31.44

Crowdfunding and ‘little platoons’

Want to see what a strong civil society looks like in practice? Then you need to meet Austin Niehus. Austin was born with Goldenhar Syndrome. The National Craniofacial Association defines Goldenhar syndrome as:

A congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face. Characteristics include:

  • A partially formed or totally absent ear
  • The chin may be closer to the affected ear
  • A missing eye

Because of the Goldenhar Syndrome Austin is dealing with, he has undergone 52 surgeries. His mom, Kera, set up a fundraiser to help pay for surgery number 53. Kera described 14-year-old Austin’s journey this way:

[His surgeries have included] cleft lip and [palate] repair, G-Tube, Tracheotomy, Bone anchored hearing aid, external ear reconstruction, Bone Grafts, Orthodontia, and multiple Mandible Distractions.

Austin has grown into a kind, intelligent and gentle young boy even after enduring bullying most of his life. He has a great future in front of him, as well as many more surgeries.

Austin’s next surgery will be his 53rd. It is a major surgery to repair his open palate. Insurance won’t cover the plate they will be using to close his palate. It costs $4,000.

As I record this, the campaign has raised $87,542 from 4,034 people. Simply beautiful. And Kera’s right. Watching Austin on his video, I see a kind, happy, beautiful human being.

And his story is evidence of civil society in action. I’ve talked before about what English statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society that need to be strong in order to meet the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. Austin’s story is the story of individuals, you and me, uniting to form a little platoon to help, in this case, a complete stranger.

Screenshot 2015-04-10 09.29.36Think of the results. Those who donate feel great for helping out in their own small way. For their part, Austin and Kera say they feel deep gratitude toward this little platoon of strangers. They feel the love of 4,000 people saying, “Austin, we love you. Kera, it must be so hard to handle the financial and emotional burden. You are both awesome. I can’t do much, but I want to help. Here’s my donation.”

Another consequence of sturdy little platoons is that they reduce the need or opportunity for government to grow in its size, scope and services. Smaller, more focused government means less taxes, less waste, less need for the impersonal bureaucracy of government to enter into the delicate details of people’s personal lives.

Think of practically any government program — youth detention centers, prisons, police, food stamps, Medicaid. Now, think about this. Instead of those government programs, what if we met those needs? What if family, friends, and churches nurtured their children so they stayed out of government correctional programs and prisons? What if neighbors kept an eye out for each other and their kids and banded together to share their food, money and resources with those in need? Wouldn’t the care given to our neighbors in need be more personal, more loving? Wouldn’t your life be more deeply enriched this way, instead of just paying more and more in taxes to “let government take care of it?”

Some neighborhoods already work this way. Let’s do our part to spread it, to build our own little platoons. Find a community nonprofit, or a church, or a club that you can be a part of. Find a cause to which you can donate your time or money. The more we can help our neighbors, or even strangers like Austin, the less we’ll have to depend on the impersonal, often unreliable arm of government.

If you want to learn more about Austin’s story, search for “Support Austin Our Hero” on the gofundme.com website.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Why should we embrace religion?

Because freedom is the combination of liberty and virtue, religion provides a natural and voluntary source of moral guidelines to assist us in living virtuous lives.

Human beings need and want to belong in communities. In a free society those communities are natural and voluntary: family, friends, religion, neighborhoods, community groups, etc.

Tyrants understand that to take control of any people the tyrant must become the “community” for the people. Hence, dictators such as Hitler and Stalin first sought to erase the intermediate layer of society that stood between the individual and the state. Only then – only after family, religion and natural communities are destroyed – can a tyrant assert moral authority. Healthy religion is the enemy of an overreaching state.

Of all natural moral influences within a free society, the positive and constructive influence of religion is second only to family.

For more on this topic (and others), visit Utah Citizen Network.

SUTHERLAND SOAPBOX: There Will Be Order

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order.One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

self-controlConservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

There will be order – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/10/15

self-controlThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order. One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

Conservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Ronald Reagan: Still remarkably relevant today

Official_Portrait_of_President_Reagan_1981Thirty-five years ago today, on Nov. 13, 1979, Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for the office of President of the United States. Though a generation and a half have passed since then, in many respects his words and the circumstances they describe sound remarkably relevant today.

They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where – because of our past excesses – it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do either. That is why I am seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, the result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding its proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.

Reading the transcript or watching the video of the full announcement address provides additional meaningful insights — about the man twice elected as our country’s chief executive, and about us.

As highlighted in a comprehensive online resource about our 40th president,

Ronald Wilson Reagan was the first – and last – modern conservative President of the United States. That fact alone accounts for the divergent recountings of his terms as leader of the free world. Members of the Political Left still revile Reagan, while simultaneously dismissing the accomplishments of his terms in office as if the major changes he envisioned and championed would have transpired without his leadership.

During Reagan’s tenure, those from the Left celebrated the balance of power and proclaimed the moral equivalence of the United States and the Soviet Union, content to live in a world divided into camps of the slave and the free. And few dared dream that this often precarious and edgy state of affairs could end in the span of their lives. But together with a band of courageous allies and inspired aides, Reagan adopted policies that eventually brought down the Iron Curtain, making the world both safer and freer than anyone could have hoped when the perilous decade of the 1980s began. In the process, Reagan demonstrated irrefutably that centralized power and bureaucratic planning cannot be harnessed to serve the public good. And the Left cannot forgive Reagan for that – much less acknowledging or congratulating his victory.

Regardless of one’s personal philosophy or political affiliation, of the many compelling messages proclaimed by Ronald Reagan, two more stand out as especially pertinent in today’s world:

We…believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people. (February 6, 1977)

And,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them with the well-taught lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in America when men were free. (March 30, 1961)

Read with caution: Why 'The Law' lacks context for today’s readers

Frédéric Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat

I read The Law by Frédéric Bastiat in 1977, when I was 19 years old and attending a small college in North Texas. The Law, along with other writings on liberty, had a profound effect on my intellectual development.

Sutherland Institute has distributed dozens of copies of The Law over the years to introduce responsible citizens to ideas on liberty. In fact, for several years The Law has been one of three books we provide inner-circle donors to get their minds focused on freedom (the other two books are The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt).

But last year I took The Law out of the Sutherland collection and replaced it with Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate by George Carey. Frankly, I came to feel we had been doing more harm than good by sharing The Law in this manner.

I’ll explain.

Demographically speaking, Millennials tends to be increasingly progressive in their politics. Many gravitate to the progressive left (i.e., liberals) but many also lean toward the progressive right (i.e., libertarians). Surveys tell us that Millennials in Utah, including those among the predominant Mormon population, tend to focus more on individual liberties and less on the common good. That focus is more on “choice” among consenting adults and less on the full constellation of rights and responsibilities that are part of authentic freedom.

I feel The Law, appropriate for 1850 when it was written and even 100 years later, now simply fuels the modern appetite for selfish individualism and justifies selfishness as doctrine. As conservative icon Russell Kirk once quipped, “We flawed human creatures are sufficiently selfish already without being exhorted to pursue selfishness on principle.”

This isn’t to say that The Law isn’t valuable as political philosophy. But 2014 is not 1850 or even 1950 in terms of understanding and rationally applying ideas of individual liberty. Ideas stated rudimentarily, but refreshingly, even radically, in 1850, seem incomplete and immature today. Read more

Twice as good, half as well, never enough

half loaf cornbreadIs it more important to stand on principle, or get while the getting is good? Is settling for half a loaf selling out, or a step in the right direction? Does mixing metaphors like concrete weigh prose down, or liberate the literary soul?

OK, no one but the grammar police really cares about that last one. But the first two will decide the limited government movement’s fate. That’s what’s splitting us right now, you see. Libertarian-leaners, classical liberals, and “establishment” conservatives are less divided by issues and objectives than we are about timelines and roadmaps. We all want to see the same movie, but we’re wearing ourselves out haggling over which showing and how to get there. And whatever we decide, the other guys will be there first. Let’s see if I can stick with one metaphor long enough to explain why.

The reason they’ll be there first is because they’re running the theater. Government employees are predominantly big government-type people. That’s not meant as a pejorative. It’s simple common sense. If you think government is the answer and you care about the question, you are more likely to migrate to government employment (it used to be government service, but the days of the dollar-a-year man are gone) than someone who sees government as the problem; or more likely, who sees private work or charity as the answer.

The simple fact is that when conservatives engage in the political and bureaucratic arena, it’s almost always an away game. One reason is noted in this excellent piece by Kevin Williamson: “[C]onservatives are forever in a position of running against handouts, and handouts are popular.”

Read more

Weakening the ‘old habits of decency’

The Cook County Juvenile Detention Facility and Court, Chicago.

A juvenile detention facility in Chicago.

A wonderfully stated warning regarding the effect of government largesse:

A sentimental utilitarianism argued that prosperity would abolish sin. It was a shallow argument, ignorant of history; for had it been true, all rich men’s sons, these many centuries past, would have been perfectly virtuous.

To the student of history, as contrasted with the doctrinaire positivistic reformer, it seems that people are decent, when they are decent, chiefly out of habit. They fall into habits of decent conduct by religious instruction, by settled family life, by assuming private responsibilities, by the old incentives of private gain and advancement in rewards for decent conduct. When the individual seems to run no risks; when food, shelter, and even comforts are guaranteed by the state, no matter what one’s conduct may be; when the state arrogates to itself a complex of responsibilities that formerly were undertaken by church, family, voluntary association, and the private person – why, then the old habits of decency are weakened, and the police constable and the Borstal* are required to maintain precariously by compulsion what once was taken for granted in Britain and elsewhere.”

– Russell Kirk, ‘The Sword of Imagination’

*youth detention center