Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.
When Choice Justifies Murder
While the road to serfdom is paved with good intentions gone awry; the road to self fulfillment - the dream of the modern person - is constructed with freedom stones resembling personal license. What is emerging in the United States, based in part on the empirical data in Charles Murray's Coming Apart, is a selective version of morality. If it feels good, do it. The constraints inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition, our genetic inheritance, even our sex, are mere trifles compared to personal choice and desire. To my astonishment, even murder is justified as an act of personal morality.
Francesca Minerva argues that since babies have not formed desires and plans, they may be killed (she calls it "after birth abortion") if they interfere with the desires and plans of other people who have formed desires and plans, namely their parents and other immediate relatives, and also society as a whole. She writes:
If . . . an individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth. On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.
Here is utilitarianism with a vengeance. It is not a new position since Peter Singer, the Princeton philosopher, made the same claim more than a decade ago. But this blunt justification for murder reverts, in a real sense, to an anachronistic dark period before Jerusalem and Rome when child sacrifice was accepted.
That parents, who have the unconditional obligation to protect an infant, are now given the right to destroy the baby if their plans and desires dictate, is a monstrous reversal of morality and every religious precept. Of course, that is precisely the point. Taboos established by religion must be overturned by the avatars of a new age based on unlimited freedom, even a freedom bordering on license.
Clearly affluence has provided our society with freedom never before entertained. For example, the average secretary has probably seen more of the world than an 18th century king or queen. However, the limits imposed by God, or nature, are now viewed as impediments to personal desire. If desire is the height of individual attainment, the moral compass offers no direction. We are merely in a sea of roiling water eager to latch on to any lifeboats.
As a consequence, the mediating institutions in society, the ones that mitigate the tension between the state and the individual - schools, families, churches - have been cast aside in the name of personal freedom. Sliding down this slope, the individual hasn't any buffers; he aims to fulfill desire. In the process, institutions cultivated over millennia are toppled like domino pieces.
Where this will end is now clear: murder of infants is permitted if it stands in the way of freedom, choice, and desire. Welcome to a brave new world that seemingly has more than a passing acquaintance with the dark ages.
The New Defense Posture for America
In testimony given to the Congress, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserted that Congress's war powers authority is irrelevant. As he described it, U.S. intervention in Libya, Syria or elsewhere would be justified by permission from "relevant" international tribunals, such as the UN Security Council and NATO - the approval of the congressional representatives being unnecessary.
Presumably the Constitution that vests Congress with the power to declare war as well as deprive presidential war making of necessary funding is null and void. It is instructive that President Obama did not consult Congress before intervening in Libya. Based on recent experiences and Panetta's testimony what is emerging in this administration is the belief that the United States needs permission from foreign tribunals to use military force. This may be in keeping with the transnational impulses of Dean Koh and other State Department spokesmen, but it is certainly not consistent with the Constitution, national traditions, and independence.
Even Senator Levin, liberal to his core, tried to save Panetta from the implications in his testimony, but the Secretary persisted. For transnationals and progressives, the 18th century Constitution is an impediment to their goals. The promotion of global norms on human rights, the environment, and economic regulation take prevalence over all other considerations. As a strategy for altering the Constitution, transnationalists contend international law should be incorporated into American jurisprudence.
This philosophical stance is not merely legalistic; it goes to the very essence of national sovereignty. Are we a nation independent, relying on self-government and the will of the American people, or are we to be seen as a centrifugal force rotating as one of many states around a global sun, dependent on our relationship with other states and on "permission" for our actions?
For those who see a world increasingly interdependent, the answer is obvious. What is not so obvious is that many states regard globalization and international law as a way to harness U.S. influence. If unilateral action by the American government is restrained, if Gulliver is tied down, the "malevolent" action of Americans - as the internationalists see it - would be in retreat, if not nonexistent.
As a consequence, transnationalism is an expression of distrust, distrust in prior government engagements, distrust in the artificial limits imposed by the Constitution, and distrust in the projection of American power. That this position has been embraced by national elites is startling. According to this scenario we cannot afford our foreign adventures and will no longer have the will to defend our interests. The default position is progressive internationalism. It takes us off the hook. You don't have to put your economic house in order and we don't have to worry about national interests abroad.
Of course, if we went down this road the U.S. would be a different country - an eventuality radicals would embrace. But most Americans do not buy into the transnational position. In fact, poll after poll suggests the American people do not want American soldiers wearing United Nations insignia on their uniforms. Whether this transnational position is adopted may have more to do with the subtle manner in which elite opinion insinuates its agenda into daily governmental decisions than some plebiscite on the nation's future. In the process of managing details a lot of damage can occur.
For example, Secretary Panetta, managing the largest bureaucracy in government, offers daily signals to his staff and associates. What does he say to engender a belief in transnational defense decisions? What precisely does cooperation with Russia mean? Who will be invited to review defense installations? The future of defense decisions has arrived. Anticipated cuts in the defense budget over the next decade total a trillion dollars. The net result is apparent - a hollowing of military capacity and an inability to act unilaterally.
President Obama promised to change America and change he has brought. The question that remains is whether this is the change Americans wanted and whether this is the change with which we can live.
The Chinese Strategic Vision
It has been widely reported that the Chinese government is providing loans and outright grants to Latin American and African nations for the construction of schools, clinics, power plants, and even soccer stadiums. The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess across the globe, generating approval in many quarters, and raised eyebrows and concerns in some diplomatic circles.
Spokesmen in Foggy Bottom do not see a security concern since these involvements aren't in military installations and bases. But the investments are formidable, with a reported $6.3 billion spent in Caribbean governments, and more than $10 billion in Africa. Speaking out about this matter, Dennis Shea, the chairman of the U.S. China Economics and Security Review Commission said, "I am not particularly worried, but it is something the U.S. should continue to monitor." Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbados, noted, "They [the Chinese] are buying loyalty, and taking up the vacuum left by the United States and Canada and other countries, particularly in infrastructure improvements."
What are the Chinese up to? It seems to me the answer can be found in Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Sun Tzu contended there are ways to defeat an adversary without going to war. You can create an environment in which defeat is inevitable. For example, if Caribbean states are beholden to China for the infrastructure gifts that have been conferred, the U.S. and its regional influence will be neutralized, exposing its southern flank. One need not anticipate a Soviet-style government in Cuba and the Caribbean to recognize a subtle, but real challenge to American interests through Chinese humanitarian and commercial investments.
Similarly, the Chinese vision for the future can be characterized as "food, fuel, and minerals." Dominance in these three areas could create a stranglehold on basic resources the world requires. It is not coincidental that the Chinese government overpaid for Potash Inc., one of the world's major fertilizer companies. If the Chinese can control fertilizer, the Chinese can control food supplies.
Chinese government officials have moved aggressively to control commodities wherever possible. Oil futures have been purchased in East and West Africa and, as significant, mineral deposits such as manganese and titanium have been pursued throughout the continent without regard to the present market rates. The Chinese are notorious for paying handsomely in order to control mining rights.
The long-term strategy - if seen as a strategy - is that control of key commodities offers control of the globe, or at least, global influence without a shot being fired. It is clear that U.S. military is dependent on minerals, a dependency possibly under the control of a potential enemy.
It has been said the U.S. plays checkers, while our enemies play chess. But if one were a student of Sun Tzu it is evident the Chinese have a strategy, a vision of the future, while the U.S. is pragmatic, ad hoc, without an idea of what is over the horizon.
From Religious Fragmentation to National Unity
Writing in the New York Times (4/8/12) Ross Douthat writes "religious common ground has all but disappeared." The existence of a Judeo-Christian center that helped bind the teeming nation together is in retreat, he claims. In a nation as divided as ours, religious polarization is inescapable, as the race to the presidency has already suggested.
Fear about radical secularism, driving every aspect of religion out of the public square, and the specter of theocracy, haunting the precincts of the liberal left, are offset by churches that are institutionally weak and fragmented. Americans do not separate religion from politics, but they are sensitive to the manner in which they are combined.
As I see it, notwithstanding Douthat's thesis that fragmentation characterizes the religious landscape, there is hope for a strategic alliance, a way for religions to embrace a common theme. The United States owes its origin and unique institutional qualities to religion, to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
John Winthrop compared those seeking to avoid English religious prosecution in their pursuit of the New World with the exodus of Jews from Pharaoh's Egypt. Thomas Jefferson's reference to the phrase "all men are created equal" comes from the Book of Genesis. The separation of powers in the Constitution is based on the Augustinian supposition that evil and avarice must be countered with institutional checks and balances.
The Federalist Papers written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay are filled with direct and indirect references to Original Sin, including the belief that "if men were angels" institutional sanctions would be unnecessary. The founding of the new nation was seen through a belief in God's will. Illustrations of the political motives and religious ideas abound.
For secularists to deny these antecedents undermines the unique history of the United States. We the people are religious to our historical core and those who want to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance or deny religiosity in our public events eviscerate the national heritage.
It seems to me American history transcends the present fragmentation to which Mr. Douthat accurately refers. Most significantly, this reliance on the religious ideas that led to the birth of the Union could serve to unify our diverse population. The key would be an effort to educate Americans about their religious past, specifically the biblical ideals that helped to formulate the idiosyncratic system of government we have.
Our Declaration of Independence refers to God-given inalienable rights. Presumably since they are God-given, they cannot be removed by governments or those intent on dictatorial authority. Students may read the words in the Declaration, but do they understand and imbibe the lesson?
That is our challenge, to educate Americans about this civic dimension of religious ideas. A foundation for freedom and democracy can be found in our history and in the desire for unity, for the indivisible nation, Lincoln fought to create. Our historical past can be harnessed as a vehicle for coming together through an understanding of our religious heritage. Yes, we are divided now in part because our history is like a forgotten dream, but that might change if we can recall the gifts that God gave the new nation. *