Worth Reading - 3/2

1. Trevin Wax thoughtfully considers the reality that in our society, there is no such thing as common sense because of the extreme polarization of political opinions.

My point is not that common sense is an infallible guide to justice and freedom. For some cultures, it was common sense that a widow would throw herself onto the funeral pyre of her husband. In the South, it was common sense among white people that the races were better off segregated. Common sense can be wrong.

My point is that in our society’s most contentious debates, we have a hard time finding “common ground” because there is no “common sense” regarding what’s at stake. The challenge we face is the disappearance of common sense at the level of ideals.

Our problem is not that we disagree over how to achieve the “common good”; it’s that we no longer share a vision of what the common good is or should be.

It’s one thing to debate the best way to achieve a goal. It’s another thing to debate the goal.

It’s one thing to debate the best path forward for making progress. It’s another thing to debate the destination toward which we hope to make progress in the first place.

This is the kind of common sense we lack today. And that’s what makes our dialogue and debate increasingly difficult.

2. Gene Veith summarizes some research that indicates that worldview, specifically denominational tradition, influences views of the poor. The study he summarizes mischaracterizes Reformed thought, but the concept and research is interesting. It also, I think, goes a bit easy on Veith's preferred tradition, which is why he likes the study.

For Lutherans, the poor are sinful, but so are the rich and middle class; and they have all been redeemed by the blood of Christ. The Lutherans approached the poor in terms of vocation.

All vocations are equal before God and so are all worthy of respect. God gives daily bread to all by means of the poor peasant hard at work in the fields, who can thus live out his faith by loving and serving his neighbors. But begging is anathema! And those who are poor because they have no work must find a vocation!

Thus, in Lutheran-influenced nations–especially the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and also Germany (though Kahl says the German approach is also influenced by its large Catholic population)–the emphasis is on ensuring that the poor work.

3. Proponents of bringing greater socialism to the US tend to point to Scandinavian countries for their support, but this article from FEE argues that aside from their ginormous welfare state, the Scandinavian countries have a pretty free market.

So we should be grateful that we only have a medium-sized welfare state. Because our better score on fiscal policy helps to offset our comparatively anemic scores on the other four variables.

Having pointed out that the United States now has only a rather small advantage over Scandinavian nations when looking at all five measures of economic liberty, that’s still better than nothing.

It probably explains, for instance, why Americans of Scandinavian descent earn so much more than their cousins who remained back home.

And why Americans of all backgrounds generally enjoy higher living standards than folks in Europe, even the ones in Nordic nations.

4. William F. Buckley is, perhaps, responsible for building the conservative movement in the U.S. He died a decade ago. This article summarizes his importance.

Imagine a world without Mr. Buckley’s presence for all those decades, and his continuing legacy. Not only no National Review, still America’s pre-eminent journal of sensible thought and analysis, but no institutions of the right, ranging from the Young America’s Foundation to The Philadelphia Society. None of the thousands of next-generation followers who have made their individual marks in myriad ways to promote freedom worldwide.

Ever the defender of what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things,” Mr. Buckley continually reminded us that real conservatism is based on tradition and the cumulative wisdom of those on whose shoulders we stand.

He was reluctant to provide a final definition of conservatism, but he offered himself as a definition, admitting he was dependent on human freedom, not as an end, but as a means — to “live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.”

What a legacy William F. Buckley has left for us to celebrate — and emulate.

5. P.E. Gobry argues that the reason many on the left don't understand ISIS is because they don't see that humans are not animals. That is, we are not merely consumers and reproducers, but individuals with beliefs and desires that shape our actions.

But, of course, the problem is deeper than political correctness. For progressives, it’s something I’ve come to call Vulgar Marxism.

While most progressives today disavow actual communism, those that care about the history of ideas still typically regard Karl Marx as an important and serious thinker. And his idea that has had the most influence is dialectical materialism, or the idea that the only driver of history is socioeconomic forces.

According to this view, religions, philosophies, ideologies, worldviews, and even culture at large are simply illusions, embraced after the fact to justify this or that move in our class warfare. Marx’s views of history were influenced by 19th-century evolutionism. Think of the idea that we’re just genes trying to reproduce: You may think that you’re in love, or that you do your work for some higher purpose, but really it’s just your genes tricking you into thinking that to increase their odds of spreading. Hence, for example, his notion that religion is just “the opium of the people” (a quote that is much kinder to religious believers in its context than is usually thought, by the way): beliefs have no influence on history.

This is why progressives view redistribution as almost a holy duty: If everything is about dollars and cents, well, everything is about dollars and cents. Conservatives also believe everyone should have a good standard of living, but they also believe that if people achieve this through work they will attain a greater degree of human flourishing than if they just get a check in the mail, since people’s flourishing is not just limited to the material. That’s why we have more nuanced views about redistribution.