New Prager University Video: Capital Punishment

The latest from Prager University:

Is it immoral for the state to kill convicted murderers? Is it immoral for the state not to? Best selling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager answers both questions in this powerful five minute presentation.

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Hillsdale’s Wenzel vs. Schlueter on Conservatism: My 2 Cents

Whenever two Hillsdale College professors get into an argument, everybody wins. At the Public Discourse, economics professor Nikolai Wenzel makes the case that “conservatism is misguided, arbitrary, inconsistent, and ultimately inimical to liberty and human flourishing; in response, philosophy professor Nathan Schlueter argues that Wenzel mischaracterizes conservatism and misunderstands its conception of liberty.

I didn’t have much interaction with Dr. Schlueter during my time at Hillsdale, but by all accounts he’s a marvelous professor. I did take Dr. Wenzel’s introductory course on Political Economy, and can personally attest that it was equal parts informative and intellectually challenging. Were I to undertake the difficult task of ranking Hillsdale’s professors, Dr. Wenzel would unquestionably make my top five.

I say this to make clear that the libertarian-conservative debate couldn’t ask for more formidable combatants, and there is precious little I could possibly add to the philosophical side of the exchange. However, in defending conservative philosophy, Dr. Schlueter’s response didn’t cover my main objection to Dr. Wenzel’s argument: whether his characterization of conservatism matches what we see in practice.

His chief objection seems to be that, rather than being truly committed to liberty, conservatism is all too comfortable with the “enlightened few” using government to impose “private preferences” on the individual. But Dr. Wenzel doesn’t elaborate on how that translates to anti-liberty policies. I’d like to explore just how illiberal conservatism’s non-libertarian causes actually are.

Abortion—It never ceases to amaze me that libertarians and pro-lifers quarrel as much as they do. The rationale for legally protecting unborn life is exactly the same as the rationale for protecting adult life: that life is one of the individual rights that justice demands government protect. Both groups have the exact same conception of liberty; it is a separate question—are the unborn people?—which leads conservatives to look at the evidence and conclude that fetuses deserve to be grouped with the individuals government already protects. Libertarians should either concede that abortion is a liberty issue and join forces with us, or explain why the unborn don’t have the same individual rights as everyone else.

Marriage—As Jennifer Roback Morse argues, civil marriage is “society’s institutional structure for protecting these legitimate rights and interests of children.” Through incentives and obligations, it binds couples together to give their offspring a stable home with a mother and a father. The rationale for limiting this union to man-woman couples is that men and women bring unique sets of characteristics to parenthood, and children need both sets for an ideal upbringing.  Further, there’s nothing coercive about it—obligations are only placed on those who voluntarily agree to them by marrying, and no gay Americans are denied their rights to form relationships, live together, have sex, hold marriage ceremonies, consider themselves married, share property, visit one another in hospitals, make medical decisions for one another, or receive domestic partner benefits from employers who wish to offer them. Current law could easily be revised to extend the incidents of marriage (hospital visitation, bereavement leave, etc.) to gay couples without redefining marriage.

Religion—In controversies over religion in public, conservatives are almost exclusively on defense, warding off legal assaults on benign religious expression in public schools and benign religious monuments on public property. They are pushing against coercion, not trying to impose it. Granted, conservatives also take pains to remind people of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, but they do so out of Washington’s belief that liberty cannot survive without the “indispensable support” of religion. Further, this doesn’t translate into coercive policies, either; merely affirmation of America’s religious roots through symbolism, ceremony, and discussion.

Drugs—While some conservatives may base their opposition to drug legalization in health concerns or antipathy for drug culture, the more overriding rationale is that drugs warp one’s mind and dull one’s senses to the point where he becomes a threat to the rights of others. If government is essentially the collective exercise of the individual right to self-defense, then people are well within their rights to protect themselves from drug-related crimes and accidents via drug prohibition. It’s worth remembering that John Locke himself believed man’s power over his own body was not absolute, that liberty didn’t cover the right to enslave or destroy one’s self:
[…] a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases […] though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself […]
Other—Dr. Schlueter’s reply notes that there are individual-harm components to pornography and prostitution, as well. Here, though, let’s ask a different question: how many conservatives—even devout social conservatives—rank these among their chief concerns? How many are really politically active because of porn or prostitution? To judge conservatism based on a few conservatives’ fixation on these issues is just as silly as judging libertarianism based on a few libertarians’ fixation on copyright laws.

Surely there are some conservatives out there to whom Dr. Wenzel’s critique applies, but are they really numerous enough to warrant the attention he’s given them? There’s no conservative push to turn the reins of government and society over to an “enlightened few” dispensing virtue edicts.

By and large, conservatives are every bit as live-and-let-live as libertarians, their understanding of the cutoff between private preference and public concern every bit as healthy. In standing for life, marriage, and traditional culture, conservatives can be trusted to leave liberty every bit as secure—indeed, even more so—than they found it.

Around the Web

Ann Coulter’s latest column gives a taste of her new book’s subject matter – the relationship between liberalism and mob/herd mentality. Sounds like a persuasive, insightful take on an urgent topic.
Speaking of irrational, hateful mobs, young punks in Madison, this time ticked off about voter ID, have reached a new low: protesting Gov. Scott Walker as he speaks to a Special Olympics group, blocking the kids’ view. I don’t know what’s more sickening – the behavior of these protestors, or the knowledge that so few of the “fine, upstanding citizens” our public schools have been churning out who agree with them will have the basic human decency to stand up and say, “not in my name.” But hey, the ends justify the means no matter what, right?
Outrage in Fond du Lac: Another slap on the wrist for a predatory teacher, thanks to DA Dan Kaminsky. This case also includes the added bonus of Judge Gary Sharpe, who should have recused himself, and then blocked pertinent evidence, thereby demonstrating why he should have been recused.

Perfect quote form the Other McCain: “[T]he fundmental falsehood of all sex-education efforts [is] the belief that most sexual problems are caused by a lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of virtue.” Too bad there’s always some scumbag around the corner to demonize truth-speaking.
Newt’s campaign is falling apart as we speak. Surprise!

New on NewsReal – Justice or Revenge? The Morality of Celebrating Osama bin Laden’s Death

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Most of the nation is still celebrating the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the monster behind one of the worst days in American history. Some are relieved bin Laden can no longer aid the jihadist cause; others take pleasure in knowing the suffering he caused us has been partially repaid.

But at least one voice is having none of it. At the Huffington Post, “specialist in transformational change” (whatever that means) Dr. Pamela Gerloff writes that celebrating bin Laden’s death is mentally unhealthy and geopolitically dangerous:

“Celebrating” the killing of any member of our species–for example, by chanting USA! USA! and singing The Star Spangled Banner outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets–is a violation of human dignity. Regardless of the perceived degree of “good” or “evil” in any of us, we are all, each of us, human. To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honor life’s inherent sanctity.

Plenty of people will argue that Osama Bin Laden did not respect the sanctity of others’ lives. To that I would ask, “What relevance does that have to our own actions?” One aspect of being human is our ability to choose our own behavior; more specifically, our capacity to return good for evil, love for hate, dignity for indignity. While Osama Bin Laden was widely considered to be the personification of evil, he was nonetheless a human being. A more peaceable response to his killing would be to mourn the many tragedies that led up to his violent death and the thousands of violent deaths that occurred in the attempt to eliminate him from the face of the Earth; and to feel compassion for anyone who, because of their role in the military or government, American or otherwise, has had to play a role in killing another. This kind of compassion can be cultivated, as practitioners of many different spiritual traditions will attest […]

It is hard not to think that some of the impulse to celebrate “justice being done” may also contain a certain pleasure in revenge–not just “closure” but “getting even.” The world is not safer with Osama Bin Laden’s violent demise (threat levels are going up, not down); evil has not been finally removed from the Earth; the War on Terror goes on–so any celebration must be tempered with the sobering fact that much work still needs to be done to establish peace.

There’s a lot to unpack here, most of it awful. But first, for the sake of fairness and decency one fair point must be acknowledged: If we truly recognize the intrinsic worth of all human life, we have to recognize that even the worst among us have souls, warped and polluted though they may be, and be careful not to think casually of any killing—even just and necessary killing, as bin Laden’s death clearly was. Now, I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t found some satisfaction in the confidence that Osama now knows the afterlife isn’t quite what he expected, but I also have to admit those thoughts don’t live up to the standard my Savior has set for me.

So we shouldn’t take pleasure in exacting bloody vengeance, but there is another aspect to the celebration that is entirely appropriate.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

Hope in the Face of an American Holocaust

It’s a couple months old, but I recently came across an incredibly powerful essay Kyle-Anne Shiverputs the evil of abortion in stark clarity and historical context. An exerpt: wrote on American Thinker, which
The whole problem with growing up and becoming intellectual is that we stop making the fundamental connections that children innately make.  We stop being able to see the threads of evil for what they really are.  We watch evil morph, change the colors or characteristics of its stripes, and we are fooled.  Again and again mankind is fooled into embracing evil’s new form, even while decrying those who perpetrated evils past.


The child sees clearly the common threads.  The child can connect an evil father with an evil slaver.  The child can see that the evil which ensnared Anne Frank is the same evil that Martin is railing against.  The child discerns that a Jewish life is the same as a black life is the same as a white life is the same as a young life is the same as an old life.  The child could easily, with no prompting whatsoever, see a sonogram and tell you it’s a baby.  The child does not dissemble and rationalize and wish for convenient ignorance. 



To paraphrase Martin, dehumanizing one human being dehumanizes every human being.  And dehumanizing leads inexorably to more and more dehumanizing.  The line between who is on the legal list of those who can be treated as property to be disposed of becomes more and more blurred.  Until doctors are killing live infants with scissors slammed into the backs of their tiny heads.  And intellectualized adults can try to explain the difference to a child who knows better.

And just in case that’s too depressing, you should also check out Robert George’s reflections on the life of Bernard Nathanson, the abortion pioneer who eventually reformed and became a pro-life hero. Nathanson’s story should give us all hope that, if light can transform even the darkest hearts, it can also work on the bleakest times:

There are many lessons in Bernard Nathanson’s life for those of us who recognize the worth and dignity of all human lives and who seek to win hearts and change laws. Two in particular stand out for me.


First is the luminous power of truth. As I have written elsewhere, and as Nathanson’s own testimony confirms, the edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies. Nathanson told those lies; indeed, he helped to invent them. But others witnessed to truth. And when he was exposed to their bold, un-intimidated, self-sacrificial witness, the truth overcame the darkness in Nathanson’s heart and convicted him in the court of his own conscience.


Bernie and I became friends in the early 1990s, shortly after my own pro-life writings came to his attention. Once during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave at Princeton, I asked him: “When you were promoting abortion, you were willing to lie in what you regarded as a good cause. Now that you have been converted to the cause of life, would you be willing to lie to save babies? How do those who hear your speeches and read your books and articles know that you are not lying now?” It was, I confess, an impertinently phrased question, but also, I believe, an important one. He seemed a bit stunned by it, and after a moment said, very quietly, “No, I wouldn’t lie, even to save babies.” At the dinner he and I had with students afterward, he explained himself further: “You said that I was converted to the cause of life; and that’s true. But you must remember that I was converted to the cause of life only because I was converted to the cause of truth. That’s why I wouldn’t lie, even in a good cause.”


The second lesson is this: We in the pro-life movement have no enemies to destroy. Our weapons are chaste weapons of the spirit: truth and love. Our task is less to defeat our opponents than to win them to the cause of life. To be sure, we must oppose the culture and politics of death resolutely and with a determination to win. But there is no one—no one—whose heart is so hard that he or she cannot be won over. Let us not lose faith in the power of our weapons to transform even the most resolute abortion advocates. The most dedicated abortion supporters are potential allies in the cause of life. It is the loving, prayerful, self-sacrificing witness of Joan Bell Andrews and so many other dedicated pro-life activists that softens the hearts and changes the lives of people like Dr. Bernard Nathanson.


May he rest in peace.

New at NewsReal – Are the Assange Rape Charges a Pretext to Bust Him for WikiLeaks? Maybe – and That’s Okay

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

This weekend at NewsRealBlog, we had quite the brawl over the sexual-assault charges against WikiLeaks’ anarchic head honcho, Julian Assange. Today, let’s look at the arrest at a different angle: regardless of whether or not he assaulted anyone, is it right to use these charges as an excuse to punish his cyber terrorism?

Child abuse and sex crime victims’ advocate Wendy Murphy isn’t so sure. At the Daily Beast, she says the charges, if true, would be worth pursuing, but the prosecutors’ motives don’t pass the smell test:

[I]f Assange were any other guy, he would not be sitting in a British jail and there would have been no international manhunt, no matter how may times his condom broke during sex.

Because the public understands this, they also understand that the timing of Assange’s arrest on sex charges is suspicious. The charges are either a substitute for a lack of evidence in conjuction with a WikiLeaks indictment, or they’re “holding charges” meant to keep the guy penned up while the world figures out where, if anywhere, Assange might actually be prosecutable for the release of government files.

Either way, when prosecutors use the public’s money to pursue a criminal case as a pretext for some other agenda, people become cynical and mistrustful of the rule of law. During impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his lie about Monica Lewinsky, the public was plenty offended by Clinton’s behavior, but the impeachment proceedings were so over the top, many came to believe the process was nothing but a contrived show trial, generated by people who couldn’t have cared less about presidential lying but who hoped to seize the moment for political gain.

Read the rest at NewsRealBlog.