3 ideas that changed the world

Cuerpo_humano_jaqaruThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Standing in a checkout line at the supermarket, I saw a special edition of Time magazine titled, “100 Ideas That Changed the World: History’s Greatest Breakthroughs, Inventions and Theories.” Because I’m in the idea business, I was curious, so I picked it up.

Many subjects and great people didn’t make the list – those subjects are important and the great people no doubt had significant influence in world history, but this particular magazine is about ideas. Photography made the list, as did the computer. The free market, electricity, television and geometry made the list. Every major religion is on the list, including every major proponent of those religions, and, of course, every major political philosophy and central advocate showed up. I was gratified to see that Edmund Burke’s conservatism made the list and was not surprised to find opponents of conservatism, such as utilitarianism, Marxism and atheism on the list.

But I got thinking: If I had to pick just three ideas that changed the world, which three ideas would I choose? I immediately set aside technology. For me the winner is clearly electricity and all of the science that preceded its unveiling. Electricity is the single technological difference between the modern world and the developing world (with clean water a close second).

No, I stuck with what I knew best: ideas about politics, religion and culture.

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A vision of love and community

Friends young womenHere’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.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams: Founding Fathers pass together on the 50th Fourth of July

Founding Fathers, political combatants and finally old-age companions: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

Founding Fathers, political combatants and finally old-age companions: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

As the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence drew near, twilight was fast approaching for two living American icons. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were dying. Former presidents both, of course, but more than that, the two had been catalysts at every major step in the formation and advancement of the infant United States: the arguments for freedom, the break from England, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution, the Constitution, the early years of a new republic. But now the mortal sojourn was drawing to a close for these two men of immense capacity.

They had been invited to numerous Fourth of July celebrations in 1826, but each was too weak to attend any of them. Adams was asked for some thoughts that local leaders could share during the Quincy, Mass., festivities. “I will give you,” Adams proclaimed, “Independence forever!” When asked if would like to say anything else, he replied, “Not a word.”

Jefferson composed a letter that was shared widely across the country. He wrote, in part:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government…. All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. These are the grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, let the annual return to this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Neither was expected to live to the Fourth, but both men did. As Adams lay breathing with great difficulty, efforts were made to make him more comfortable by changing his position. He awoke and, told that it was the Fourth, said clearly, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” Read more

Conservatives begin with gratitude

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

It’s about gratitude.

This is what Yuval Levin said upon receiving the Bradley Prize last week at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Levin is editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought. He said in his 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 points 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.

Conservatism and freedom: Sen. Lee gets it

familyof3Utah Senator Mike Lee delivered a superb exposition on how conservatism, accurately interpreted and applied, offers the best hope of providing the maximum amount of freedom and highest quality of life for more citizens than any other alternative. Sen. Lee spoke to the Faith and Freedom Coalition yesterday, saying,

We’re all committed to bedrock principles of individual liberty, individual rights, and personal responsibility.  But the reason we fight for individual freedom is the strength, vitality, and value of the communities free individuals form.

The alternative to big government is not small government. The alternative to big government is a thriving, flourishing nation of cooperative communities – where your success depends on your service.

It’s a free enterprise economy where everyone works for everyone else, competing to see who can figure out the best way to help the most people.

And it’s a voluntary civil society, where free individuals come together to meet each other’s needs, fill in the gaps, and make sure no one gets left behind.

Conservatism has never been a vision of isolated loners. Ours is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations and friends. Read more

Defending the pillars of society

sutherland file pictures 008The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

Last week, at the Sutherland Institute annual dinner, our special guest was Professor Robbie George from Princeton. Professor George is described by The New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” His resume is so long that it took Utah Valley University President Matt Holland a full five minutes to go through it – President Holland being one of Professor George’s students.

To put it simply, Robbie George is on the front lines in defending marriage and family as a scholar, intellectual and lawyer. His National Organization for Marriage has been the foremost activist group in passing Proposition 8 in California and defending marriage laws throughout the nation.

In his remarks at the Sutherland annual dinner, Professor George addressed what he calls the “Five Pillars of a Decent and Dynamic Society.”

Any healthy society, any decent society, will rest upon three pillars. The first is respect for the human person—the individual human being and his dignity. Where this pillar is in place, the formal and informal institutions of society, and the beliefs and practices of the people, will be such that every member of the human family…is treated as a person—that is, as a subject bearing profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity…. Read more

Scholar Robert P. George speaks at Sutherland dinner on the pillars of a decent society

robertgeorge2Princeton’s Robert P. George spoke at Sutherland Institute’s annual dinner on Tuesday, giving an impassioned defense of the traditional family structure as the key to a free, prosperous and happy society.

“Although no family is perfect, no institution matches the healthy family in its capacity to transmit to each new generation the understandings and traits of character,” he said in his speech.

“Every institution in society depends on something it cannot produce — that is, there being an ample supply of basically decent … men and women” who have learned their values in the family. “And if the family doesn’t produce them, they will not be produced.”

Here’s what the Deseret News reported:

Princeton University professor Robert P. George, once dubbed by The New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker,” spoke to Utah leaders and students about the importance of protecting traditional marriage at a dinner hosted by the Sutherland Institute on Tuesday and a lecture at Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institution on Wednesday.

George emphasized the biologically intact family as an indispensable pillar of a decent society.

Click here to read the rest of this story at the Deseret News website.

Click here to watch Sutherland Institute’s video of George’s speech at Tuesday’s dinner.

Growth: The new Conservative vision?

800px-Bush_Inauguration08The Weekly Standard recently posted a pair of articles about the need of the GOP to craft a policy and political agenda centered on “growth.” The authors focus on economic growth, but they focus on how that growth improves opportunities for education, economic mobility, access to affordable health care, tax relief, low energy costs, and stronger families and communities, particularly for lower and middle-income Americans.

Is “growth,” as described by these authors, the right formula and message for a national revival of conservatism and for a renewed conservative policy vision for the country? Only time will tell – but let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

'The Cause of Freedom'

FireworksThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

At the 2013 Sutherland Institute annual dinner on April 9, we will release two new publications: a booklet titled The Sutherland Idea: The Cause of Freedom and a book titled Exceptional Utah: Leading America in Faith, Family and Freedom. This week and next I’d like to share some thoughts from those new publications. This week I’ll focus on the booklet, The Cause of Freedom.

To say that freedom, or a free society, requires us to become our better selves is axiomatic. It’s self-evident. No reasonable person would say that a free society would long endure becoming our worst selves. This point is particularly true as we discuss “social issues” such as abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, illicit drug use or gambling. In fact, a central argument in opposition to those issues is that they represent bad behavior. Killing babies on demand is bad behavior. And bad behavior can become a devastating problem for a free society. Read more

Debating the future of U.S. conservatism

Since the 2012 presidential election, there has been an ongoing and lively debate about what the future of conservatism is or should be. For example, Commentary magazine recently published a “symposium issue” containing brief articles from more than 50 conservative thinkers, activists, and writers seeking to address this question. Additionally, some have sought to summarize the themes of these varied opinions from diverse minds.

One argument among the many that should not get lost amid the debate is the argument of Arthur Brooks: The path to future success for conservatism (i.e., in changing conventional political wisdom and culture) is grounded in moral arguments. His argument is not that conservatives should get preachy, but rather that conservatives must make a moral case for their vision of society and their desired public policies if they hope to succeed.

The reality is that the average person, whether by nature or nurture (or both), wants to do the right thing. Read more