Archive for the ‘History’ Tag

The Prehistory of the Alt-right | Jeffrey A. Tucker   Leave a comment

Reading “How I Left the Left” is a solid reminder that there’s not much intellectual heft remaining on that side of the fence. If an ideology sets out to isolate the locus of evil in people’s very identity, it is pretty well spent. This, in addition to the failure of the socialist model everywhere it has tried, explains why the Left has suffered so much at the polls and now faces a serious backlash in campus and public life.

Image result for image of alt rightHere we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking.

With the failure of action comes reaction, and now the Western world is dealing with something far less familiar to most people: the rise of the alt-right as the alternative. It is attractive to some young people due to its taboo-breaking, rebel ethos that so easily inflames teachers and protectors of civic conventions.The movement is more than that, however. It has a real philosophical and political history, one that stands in violent opposition to the idea of individual liberty. It has been largely suppressed since World War II and, because of that, most people assumed fascism (and its offshoots) was gone from the earth.

As a result, this generation has not been philosophically prepared to recognize the tradition, the signs, the implications, and the political application of the ideology so many are stumbling to embrace.

Here is a prehistory of what we call the alt-right today, which is probably better described as a 21st-century incarnation of what in the 19th century would have been called right-Hegelianism. I’m skipping over many political movements (in Spain, France, and Italy), and clownish leaders like George Lincoln Rockwell, Oswald Mosley, and Fr. Coughlin, to get right to the core ideas that form something like a school of thought which developed over a century.

Here we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking, developed in fanatical opposition to bourgeois freedom.

1820: Georg Friedrich Hegel published Elements of the Philosophy of Right, which spelled out the political implications of his “dialectical idealism,” an outlook that departed dramatically from the liberal tradition by completely abstracting from human experience to posit warring life forces operating beyond anyone’s control to shape history. It turns out that the politics of this view amounted to “the state is the march of God through the world.” He looked forward to some age in the future that would realize the apotheosis of State control. The Hegelian view, according to a 1952 lecture by Ludwig von Mises, broke into Left and Right branches, depending on the attitude toward nationalism and religion (the right supported the Prussian state and church, whereas the left did not), and thereby “destroyed German thinking and German philosophy for more than a century, at least.”

A champion of slavery and opponent of liberalism, Carlyle took aim at the rise of commercial society.

Image result for image of hegel1841: Thomas Carlyle published On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, which popularized the “great man” theory of history. History is not about marginal improvements in living standards by using better tools, but rather about huge episodic shifts brought about through power. A champion of slavery and opponent of liberalism, Carlyle took aim at the rise of commercial society, praising Cromwell, Napoleon, and Rousseau, and rhapsodizing about the glories of power. “The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men.” Carlyle’s target was Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment generally. Hitler’s biographers agree that the words of Carlyle were the last he requested to be read to him before he died.1841: On the continent, meanwhile, Friedrich List published The National System of Political Economy, celebrating protectionism, infrastructure spending, and government control and support of industry. Again, it was a direct attack on laissez faire and a celebration of the national unit as the only truly productive force in economic life. Steven Davies comments: “The most serious result of List’s ideas was a change in people’s thinking and perception. Instead of seeing trade as a cooperative process of mutual benefit, politicians and businessmen came to regard it as a struggle with winners and losers.” Today’s economic nationalists have nothing new to add to the edifice already constructive by List.

1871: Charles Darwin left the realm of science briefly to enter sociological analysis with his book The Descent of Man. It is a fascinating work but tended to treat human society as a zoological rather than sociological and economic enterprise. It included an explosive paragraph (qualified and widely misread) that regretted how “we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment… Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” At the very least, he suggested, we should stop the weak from marrying. This is the “one check” we have to keep society from being taken over by inferiors. Tragically, this passing comment fired up the eugenicists who immediately began to plot demographic planning schemes to avoid a terrifying biological slide to universal human degeneracy.

1896: The American Economic Association published Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick Hoffman. This monograph, one of many of the type, described blacks as intractable criminals who are both lazy and promiscuous, the influence of whom in national biology can only lead to a decline of the race. Their mere presence was considered an existential threat to “uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race.” Such views were embraced by Richard T. Ely, the founder of the American Economic Association, and came to dominate the academic journals of this period, providing academic cover for Jim Crow laws, state segregation, business regulation, and far worse.

1904: The founder of the American eugenics society, Charles Davenport, established the Station for Experimental Evolution and worked to propagate eugenics from his perch as Professor of Zoology at Harvard University. He was hugely influential on an entire generation of scientists, political figures, economists, and public bureaucrats, and it was due largely to this influence that eugenics became such a central concern of American policies from this period until World War II, influencing the passage of wage legislation, immigration, marriage law, working hours legislation, and, of course, mandatory sterilizations.

At this point in history, all five pillars of fascist theory were in place. 

At this point in history, all five pillars of fascist theory (historicist, nationalist, racist, protectionist, statist) were in place. It had a theory of history. It had a picture of hell, which is liberalism and uncontrolled commercial society. It had a picture of heaven, which was national societies run by great men inhabiting all-powerful States focused on heavy industry. It had a scientific rationale.Above all, it had an agenda: to control society from the top down with the aim of managing every aspect of the demographic path of human society, which meant controlling human beings from cradle to grave to produce the most superior product, as well as industrial planning to replace the wiles of the market process. The idea of freedom itself, to this emergent school of thought, was a disaster for everyone everywhere.

All that was really necessary was popularization of its most incendiary ideas.

Hitler loved the book and sent Grant a note praising the book as his personal bible.

1916: Madison Grant, scholar of enormous prestige and elite connections, published The Passing of the Great Race. It was never a bestseller but it exercised enormous influence among the ruling elites, and made a famous appearance in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Grant, an early environmentalist, recommended mass sterilization of people as a “practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem” that should be “applied to an ever-widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.” Hitler loved the book and sent Grant a note praising the book as his personal bible.1919: Following World War I, German historian Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West, which met with huge popular acclaim for capturing the sense of the moment: the cash economy and liberalism were dead and could only be replaced by the rise of monolithic cultural forms that rally around blood and race as the source of meaning. Blood beats money all over the world, he argued. The interminable and foggy text broods with right-Hegelian speculations about the status of man and predicts the complete downfall of all lovely things unless the civilization of the West dispenses with its attachment to commercial norms and individualism and instead rallies to the cause of group identity. The book kicked off a decade of similar works and movements that declared freedom and democracy to be dead ideas: the only relevant battle was between the communist and fascist forms of state planning.

Mises called him “the Nazi Jurist” for a reason.

1932: Carl Schmitt published The Concept of the Political, a brutal attack on liberalism as the negation of the political. For Schmitt, the political was the essence of life, and the friend/enemy distinction is its most salient feature. Friends and enemies were to be defined by the State, and enemy-ness can only be fully instantiated in bloodshed, which should be real and present. Mises called him “the Nazi Jurist” for a reason: he was a party member and his ideas contributed mightily to the perception that mass death was not only moral, but essential to the preservation of the meaning of life itself.1944: Allied troops discovered thousands of death camps strewn throughout Nazi-captured territories in Europe, created beginning in 1933 and continuing through the duration of the war, responsible for the imprisonment and death of upwards of 15 million people. The discovery shocked an entire generation at the most fundamental level, and the scramble was on to discover all sources of evil–political and ideological–that had led to such a gruesome reality. With the Nazi forces defeated and the Nuremberg trials underscoring the point, the advance of fascist dogma in all of its brooding, racist, statist, and historicist timbres, came to a screeching halt. Suppression of the ideas therein began in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, creating the impression that right-Hegelianism was a mere flash in the pan that had been permanently doused by state power.

The same year as the death-camp discovery began, F.A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, which emphasized that it was not enough to reject the labels, songs, slogans, and regimes of Nazism and fascism. Also necessary, said Hayek, was the rejection of the ideas of planning themselves, which even in a democracy necessarily led to the end of freedom and the rise of dictatorship. His book was met with critical acclaim among a small group of remaining classical liberals (many of whom were involved in the founding of FEE two years later) but was otherwise denounced and derided as paranoid and reactionary by many others.

For the duration of the ensuing Cold War, it was the fear of communism and not fascism/Nazism that would captivate the public mind. After all, the latter had been defeated on the battlefield, right? The genesis and development of rightest totalitarianism, despite the earnest pleadings of Hannah Arendt, fell away from public consciousness.

Liberalism Not Yet

Look at your progenitors, Alt-right: do you like what you see?

The Cold War ended 25 years ago and the rise of digital technology has given liberal forms of political economy a gigantic presence in the world. Trade has never been more integrated. Human rights are on the march. Commercial life, and its underlying ideology of harmony and peace, is the prevailing aspiration of billions of people around the world. The failures of government planning are ever more obvious. And yet these trends alone do not seal the deal for the cause of liberty.With left-Hegelianism now in disgrace, political movements around the world are rooting around in the pre-war history of totalitarian ideas to find alternatives. The suppression of these ideas did not work; in fact, they had the opposite effect of making them more popular to the point where they boiled up from below. The result is what we call the Alt-right in the US and goes by many other names in Europe and the UK. (The transition from the 1990s to the present will be the subject of another essay.)

Let us not be deceived. Whatever the flavor – whichever branch of Hegel we choose to follow – the cost of government control is human liberty, prosperity, and dignity. We choose mega-states, strongmen, national planning, or religious and racial homogeneity at our deep peril.

For the most part, the meme-posting trolls who favor stormfront-style profile pics on their social accounts, and the mass movements calling for strongmen to take control and cast the other from their midst, are clueless about the history and path they are following.

If you are feeling tempted toward the Alt-right, look at your progenitors: do you like what you see?

What is the alternative to right and left Hegelianism? It is found in the liberal tradition, summed up by Frederic Bastiat’s phrase “the harmony of interests.” Peace, prosperity, liberty, and community are possible. It is this tradition, and not one that posits intractable war between groups, that protects and expands human rights and human dignity, and creates the conditions that allow for the universal ennoblement of the human person. (For more on the history of despotic ideas in the 20th century, I suggest Mises’s epic 1947 book Planned Chaos, now available in epub.)

The last word on the correct (freedom-loving) path forward was framed by the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830, a statement that would be loathed by every fascist in history:

“It is not by the intermeddling of an omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilization; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.”

Source: The Prehistory of the Alt-right | Jeffrey A. Tucker

Posted March 18, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Political Philosophy

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What is Fascism?   3 comments

Someone on social media said I had “fascist leanings” a few days ago, which sort of made me laugh, but then I sobered up and realized that he really meant the use of the word, but he was using the term completely incorrectly.

Related imageIt’s sort of remarkable that we use that term “fascism” all the time these days, but we have no idea what it means. Yes, this term is omnipresent these days, shouted by furious young people on college campuses, on the floor of the Irish Senate, and used just about daily at the Huffington Post.  If we’re going to use a word that much and use it against people on social media I think we really ought to know what it means.

Don’t you?

George Orwell wrote a landmark 1944 essay “What is Fascism?lamenting the transformation of fascism as a system of government and economics into little more than a swear word.

“You will find that there is almost no set of people- certainly no political party or organized body of any kind- which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years.”

You hear the word, but it really isn’t used to mean a specific system of government or economics. It’s more of a way of saying we disagree with whatever the other person is saying. It’s like shouting “racist” at anyone who disagreed, no matter how briefly, with President Obama or like little kids screaming “doodoohead” on the playground.

When Orwell wrote his essay in 1944, much of the free world had declared war against fascism, but even then, most people didn’t have a firm definition of who or what was fascist. Why?

Primarily because, then as today, the definition of fascism has been perverted to suit the agenda of the moment to such an extent that Orwell wrote,

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.

But fascism had a meaning when it was first used. Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in Italy and invented the word himself. Mussolini was THE fascist, and his essay, the Doctrine of Fascism, lays the definition out. Here is one excerpt:

“Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State.”

In other words, individualists (for example libertarians with anarchist leanings) are not fascists because we strenuously oppose collectivism and the State, things THE Fascist strongly believed in.

Image result for image of orwell on fascismHistorian Martin Kitchen explains that fascist totalitarianism incorporates six main features:

  • an over-reaching ideology
  • a single political party
  • a state terror apparatus
  • a government-controlled media
  • a monopoly on arms
  • a centrally-directed economy

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I don’t hold with any of those concepts.

So, how did it come to mean nothing? Yes, the answer is found in history.

The American progressives of the 1920s and 30s liked fascism a lot! Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the chief architects of the New Deal (which is the foundation of modern “liberalism”) remarked that fascism, “[is] the cleanest, neatest most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I’ve ever seen. It makes me envious.”  In fact, at the time the New Deal was underway, the radical left thought this was America’s own experiment with fascism and they were quite excited about it. This was going to remake their world as they though it should be. Go back up to those six features. American progressives had read Mussolini’s essay and they subscribed to its ideals. We have to remember that Mussolini hadn’t yet gained a reputation as a butcher, so “for the radicals of the twenties the whiff from Italy carried no foul ideological order.” (John Patrick Diggins). It just seemed like the best way to put the “right people” in control of society.

Once Mussolini and Hitler’s reputations began to change, fascism’s American admirers worried for their own reputation, so they began cursing anyone on their political right with the questionable label of “fascist”. That mostly worked. Historian John Lukacs remarks “the overall application of ‘fascism’ to all right-wing, and strongly anti-communist parties and practices and phenomena was very useful for international communist and left-wing rhetoric and practice.” Since communism has mostly disappeared from the world state in the last 20 years, today’s progressives have shifted their animosity to American conservatives and brand anyone who doesn’t agree with them as a “fascist” because this sometimes results in those who disagree with them being too flummoxed to answer their foolish arguments.

The attempts to liken American conservatives to fascists, then and now, have gone to some absurd lengths. Economic liberty is even deplored as fascist, with Marxist ideologues like Leon Trotsky insisting that capitalism is the same thing as fascism and that Marxism must stand opposed to it.

Although the outward trappings of Communism have mostly faded, it really isn’t historically accurate to ignore the deep influence marxism has had on today’s liberals.

A more modern example comes from Brian W. Kulik:

“We live in a democracy, after all, and is that not the very antithesis of fascism? But even democracy is not without its limitations. We may have a choice of what car to buy and what designer clothes to purchase, but we have little choice but to be a consumer.”

 

To a committed Marxist-influenced social liberal, even freedom is fascist because it is protected by the law. The Doctrine of Fascism, however, clarifies itself on the issue, “It is not the people who make the state but the state that makes the people.” The free market does not make that claim. In fact, it’s entirely opposed to such a sentiment.

Of course, democracy is not free market capitalism, as Kulik seems to suggest. Hitler’s rise was completely democratic, but Hitler’s Germany was an engine of national socialism, not capitalism.

What the left refuses to talk about is that corporatism and capitalism are not the same thing. Corporations (called corporazioni, in fascist Italy) weren’t and still aren’t creations of individuals. In Mussolini’s Italy, they were creations of the fascist state itself. Mussolini wanted a “return to the guilds.” He opposed private companies. The Doctrine of Fascism says:

“We are, in other words, a state which controls all forces acting in nature. We control political forces, we control moral forces, we control economic forces, therefore we are a full-blown Corporative state.”

There is no escaping the historical fondness progressive economists have had for fascism. Mussolini liked them a lot too:

“Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”

Leftists who are not focused on economics simply have a tendency to conflate America’s right, or La Pen’s National Front, or British conservatives, with what was once, in 1933, known as “the right,” simply because they bear the same moniker. This is an illusory correlation akin to thinking today’s liberals have something in common with the classical liberals of early America. Co-opting a title or having it pinned on you doesn’t mean you share the same values.

Fascism shares an extricable relationship with statism, which could also be called “collectivism”, so it cannot rightfully be applied to people who focus on reducing state interventions in favor of individual liberty. Seeing the benefits of capitalism is not the same thing as being a fascist.

 

It is regrettable then that the word “fascism” continues to be applied to those who oppose fascist systems like American Republicans and conservative. If you did a bit, you find the real meaning and learn that the American right, particularly libertarians, are the antithesis of fascists.

Presidents of Mass Murder   1 comment

That didn’t take long!

In case you missed it, Donald Trump has joined the gallery of presidents who are killers.

Gotta be tough. Gotta show the terrorists who’s boss.

An 8-year-old girl was killed after being shot in the neck during a US SEAL raid in Yemen. Supposedly it was raid on Al Qaeda, but the grandfather of the murdered girl claims that this was an enclave of tribal sheikhs fighting the Yemeni govenrment … the government that is supported by Iran-backed Houthis. The 8-year-old daughter was the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric and U.S. citizen who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.

Eight years old? Was Nawar al-Awlaki a terrorist? Or was she just a little girl with a famous daddy who got caught in the cross-fire of an unjust attack?

 

More than a dozen civilians were also killed in the operation, but we American were supposed to be in mourning for the SEAL team member who was also killed by people defending their own lives.

 

Anwar al-Awlaki, her father, was killed in 2011 in a CIA-led U.S. drone strike, marking the highest-profile takedown of terror leaders since the raid on Usama bin Laden’s compound. He was also a US-born American citizen, who became a militant Islamic cleric who became a prominent figure with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was involved in several terror plots in the United States in recent years, using his fluent English and Internet savvy to draw recruits to carry out attacks. President Obama signed an order in early 2010 making him the first American to be placed on the “kill or capture” list.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer claims the raid yielded an “unbelievable amount of intelligence.”. A defense official told the Associated Press that the mission was planned by the Obama administration but authorized by Trump. Then a US official told Reuters that surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best.”

“The decision was made … to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” that official said.

In other words, the Trump administration could have waited indefinitely to conduct this raid and thereby saved the lives of all those civilians, including an 8-year-old girl whose only “crime” was having the “wrong father” who died when she was only a year or two old.

 

Before you start freaking out about how horrible and war-mongering Donald Trump is and how we should have elected Hillary Clinton, let’s not forget that she was Secretary of State when Obama dropped that drone on an American citizen without benefit of a trial. And it wasn’t the last time.

Two weeks after the killing of Awlaki, a separate CIA drone strike in Yemen killed his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis. The U.S. eventually claimed that the boy was not their target but merely “collateral damage.” Abdulrahman’s grief-stricken grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, urged the Washington Post “to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman,” which explained: “Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies. His Facebook page shows a typical kid.”

While you could logically (but not legally or Constitutionally) justify killing the father for his activities, there is no argument for killing his children. There is no evidence they were involved in terrorism and they were American citizens who had a right to a trial.

Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like the death of Abdulrahman. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries. This man made a mockery of the Nobel Peace prize, so no one can claim he is a better man than Donald Trump or George W. Bush. They’re all murderers. Bush at least seems to regret some of it and at least he didn’t target American citizens.

In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence.

 

Posted February 4, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Tyranny

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Corinth in History   Leave a comment

Image result for image of corinthSecular history verifies and clarifies the impression of the city of Corinth offered by Luke (Acts) and Paul (1 and 2 Corinthians). Politically, Corinth was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia, a territory including nearly all of Greece, which is why Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, was in Corinth and heard the charge against Paul. Geographically, Corinth was so strategically located its prosperity was almost assured. It was situated on a plateau overlooking the Isthmus of Corinth, two miles from the Gulf. Nearby Acrocorinth, a 1900-foot mountain, acted as a citadel for the city, a fortress so secure it was never taken by force until the invention of gunpowder. It contained an inexhaustible water supply in the fountain of Peirene. A temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sat on the summit of Acrocorinth. At the base of the citadel stood the temple of Melicertes, the patron of seafarers.

Located on an isthmus, Corinth became a crossroads for both land and sea trade. Located between two large bodies of water and two land areas, Corinth was virtually surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Were it not for the isthmus on which Corinth was founded, the southern part of Greece would be an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Goods exchanged between the north and south would normally be shipped by land through Corinth.

Much of the sea trade of the Mediterranean from east to west also passed through Corinth. To the west of Corinth was the port city of Lechaeum on the Gulf of Corinth. On her east was the port of Cenchrae on the Saronic Gulf. These acted as ports of call for ships. Travel across the isthmus and through Corinth was generally considered safer than the 200-mile voyage around Cape Malea, the most dangerous cape in the Mediterranean.

To avoid the distance and danger of the journey around the Cape of Malea (now called Cape Matapan), goods would be unloaded at one port, transported across the four-mile strip of land (through Corinth), and reloaded on the other side. Smaller ships were actually transported with their cargo over the isthmus by means of rollers. Consequently, the isthmus was named the Diolkos, “the place of dragging across.” Nero had planned a canal to join the Aegean and Ionian seas, and he even began construction in A.D. 66. The three and one-half mile canal was finished in 1893.

So Corinth became a great commercial center. Luxuries from all over the world were available and so were the vices of the world. These evils did not all have to be imported, however. The temple of Aphrodite had 1,000 cult prostitutes who sold themselves in the name of religion. The Greeks of the day used the verb “corinthianize” to describe an act of immorality. “Corinthian girl” was a synonym for prostitute.

Estimates of the population of Corinth range from 100,000 to 600,000 and it was a very diverse city with an ancient history and a vibrant present. The site had been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. Alexander made Corinth the center of a new Hellenic League as he prepared for war with Persia. In 146 B.C., the city was destroyed by Roman soldiers because it led the Greek resistance to Roman rule. All the males of the city were exterminated, and the women and children were sold as slaves. The city was rebuilt by Julius Caesar 100 years later, and eventually became the capital of the province of Achaia. Many of those who settled in Corinth were not Greeks. Roman soldiers retired there after receiving their freedom and Roman citizenship in addition to grants of land. A variety of nationalities settled in Corinth, enticed by the prospects of economic prosperity. A good number of the immigrants were Jews.

… this mongrel and heterogeneous population of Greek adventurers and Roman bourgeois, with a tainting infusion of Phoenicians; this mass of Jews, ex-soldiers, philosophers, merchants, sailors, freedmen, slaves, trades-people, hucksters and agents of every form of vice … without aristocracy, without traditions and without well-established citizens. William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), p. 2.

Posted January 29, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Introduction to 1Corinthians   Leave a comment

Brad and I have been renewing an acquaintance with a man who used to be a good friend and in doing so, we’re confronting a lot of our beliefs and his. This man claims to be a Christian. In fact, he used to be our Sunday School teacher. But he went seriously off the rails a few years back, which contributed to the church we were attending at the time going seriously off the rails and our family deciding to attend another church. He no longer attends our old church either, which is probably a good thing … for that church and possibly for him. He still comes around to us now and again and we still care about him, so we’ve been discussing our appropriate response toward him. As always, we turn to the Bible for guidance.

First Corinthians is a tough book in modern times because Paul might as well be preaching to 21st century Christians. In other words, it is a perfect book for today when Christians have so many voices trying to tell them how they should live. Early Christians, some of whom had met Jesus in the flesh, recognized Paul’s letters as something special, worthy to be preserved, copied and distributed. Peter himself alludes to Paul’s writings as “from God”. We ought to pay attention to what those who knew Jesus personally thought was scripture because these people would have objected if it ran counter to what Jesus taught.

Before we begin our study of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, it would be good for us to view the book as a whole. Why? Because 1Corinthians was not written as a series of disconnected verses or passages that someone stuck together into a book, but as a letter to a specific group of believers — people Paul knew — about specific circumstances. as summarized in this outline:

The letter can be outlined in this way:

1:1-9

Introduction: Salutation (verses 1-3) and thanksgiving (verses 4-9)

1:10–4:21

Dealing with divisions within the church

5:1–6:20

Dealing with sin that separates believers from God

7:1–10:33

Questions answered

11:1–14:40

Church Conduct—Diversity without divisions

15:1-58

The Doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

16:1-24

Conclusion—Getting Personal

I wonder how most Christians would feel about being sent to a church like the one in Corinth, as described in the two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. I suspect most of us would hesitate to be planted there because, from a purely human point of view, the church in Corinth appears to be hopeless.

Yet, Paul’s introductory statements were positive, upbeat, and optimistic. His prayers concerning this church were filled with expressions of thanksgiving. That doesn’t make sense. How could Paul be so positive and optimistic as he communicated with this church? Some would like to say that Paul actually was commending this church for its attitudes, but when you read his actual works, it’s clear that he didn’t condone the conduct of many of its members.

It’s tempting to skip over Paul’s salutation, as if it were just a boiler plate greeting that means nothing, but in our studies, Brad and I realized that Paul began to lay out a theological foundation for his ministry and the teaching he presented throughout the letter.

With the elaborations of this letter Paul begins a habit that will carry through to the end. In each case the elaborations reflect, either directly or subtly, many of the concerns about to be raised in the letter itself. Even as he formally addresses the church in the salutation, Paul’s mind is already at work on the critical behavioral and theological issues at hand. Gordon D. Fee, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Grand Rapis, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), page 28

Paul’s letter was written within a certain context. It fits into history which comes down to us in the Book of Acts. At the end of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council met to decide just what should be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-29). When Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways, Paul took Silas with him and set out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41) while Barnabas went on a separate journey with John Mark. Paul and Silas began by revisiting some of the churches that had been founded on the first journey, primarily delivering the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 16:4-5).

After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6) and Bithynia, Paul, Silas, and Timothy ended up at Troas, where Paul received the “Macedonian vision” (16:9-10), which brought them to Philippi where a number were saved and a church was established. From Philippi, Paul and his party went to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens (Acts 17). From Athens, Paul went to Corinth, the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth. Like Paul, they were tentmakers. They had fled from Italy because of a command from Claudius that all Jews must leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). Every Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue, where he sought to evangelize Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4). Eventually, Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to join Paul at Corinth. Apparently, they brought a gift from the Macedonians which enabled Paul to fully devote himself to the Word, so that he gave all of his efforts to preaching Christ (Acts 18:5).

Paul’s preaching prompted a hostile reaction from the unbelieving Jews, so he left the synagogue and began to concentrate on evangelizing Gentiles (Acts 18:6-7). Paul moved his headquarters to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Gentile “God-fearer” who lived near the synagogue (Acts 18:5-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer and brought his household to the Lord. Many other Corinthians were also being saved and submitting to baptism (Acts 18:8). The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, assuring him that there were many more souls to be saved in that city and that he was not to fear. He was to speak out boldly and not hold back for fear of trouble (Acts 18:9-10). As a result, Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months, which was a longer period of ministry than in almost any other town.

Paul’s lengthy ministry was facilitated, in part, by a ruling of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (18:12-17). The Jews seized Paul and brought him up on charges before Gallio, accusing him of being neither a faithful Jew nor a good citizen, that he was speaking and acting against the Law of God and the law of Rome. Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Gallio simply gave his ruling, seeing this strife between Paul and the Jews as yet another instance of the in-fighting which was so typical of the Jews. Fed up with this situation, Gallio refused to be used by these Jewish zealots to prevail over their Jewish rivals. He threw them and their case out of court.

Gallio was a pagan who cared nothing for the Jews, the gospel, or Paul, but his ruling was a landmark decision, officially legitimizing and protecting those who preached the gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. Judaism was an official religion, recognized and sanctioned by the Roman government. The Jews were seeking to convince Gallio that Paul was really no Jew and that the preaching of the gospel was not the practice of Judaism. They inferred Paul was a threat to the stability of Roman rule and that neither Paul nor any other Christian should be allowed to preach the gospel under the permission and protection of the Roman law. When Gallio refused to rule on this matter, calling it a Jewish squabble, he declared Paul’s preaching of the gospel to be a practice of Judaism. As far as Gallio could see, Christianity was a Jewish sect and thus protected by Roman law. This meant Paul’s ministry was legal, and any Jewish opposition could not claim Rome as their ally.

The Jews were furious. In retaliation, they seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the proconsul, who looked on with disdain, mostly unimpressed and thoroughly unconcerned. This Sosthenes seems to be the same person who is with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:1).

 After about 18 months of ministry in Corinth, Paul set out for Syria with Priscilla and Aquila. On reaching Ephesus, Paul ministered for a short time, promising to return if the Lord willed (Acts 18:19-21). He left Priscilla and Aquila there and journeyed on to Caesarea, Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). After visiting the churches in Asia Minor, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years. While in Ephesus, it appears he received unfavorable reports about the Corinthian church which prompted him to write his first letter to this church. This letter was not preserved as a part of the New Testament canon (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We don’t know why or what became of it. It’s one of the questions I want to ask when I see Paul in heaven. Given the overall consistency of Paul’s entire body of writing, it is unlikely that this letter would vastly change his message to the Corinthians … or to us in the 21st century.

Later, while Paul was still ministering in Ephesus, he heard from some of “Chloe’s people” that divisions were emerging in the church at Corinth and that there was a case of gross immorality in the church. Instead of feeling shame and sorrow over this sin, at least some of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their tolerance (chapter 5), which might sound somewhat familiar to us today. Paul also heard of Christians taking their fellow-believers to court, seeking to have pagans pass judgment on spiritual matters (chapter 6), of unbecoming conduct at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11) and of doctrinal error concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). A three-man delegation consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus arrived from Corinth (1Corinthians 16:17) bringing a letter which asked Paul about marriage (1Corinthians 7:1), virgins (7:25), food sacrificed to idols (8:1), spiritual gifts (12:1), the collection for the saints (16:1), and Apollos (16:12). Paul then wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports and questions he had received.

Posted January 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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The Curse of Machinery   2 comments

The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate, but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group, but for all groups.

This is an ongoing series of posts on Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. You can access the Table of Contents here. Although written in 1946, it still touches on many of the issues we face in 2017, particularly the fallacies government economic programs are built upon.

 

Among the most viable of all economic delusions is the belief that machines on net balance create unemployment.Destroyed a thousand times, it has risen a thousands times out of its own ashes as hard and vigorous as ever.

Wow, the more things change, the more they stay the same. A while back someone asked me if I was worried that novelists would be replaced by software. Uh, no!

Image result for image of unemployment caused by automation

The belief that machines cause unemployment leads to preposterous conclusions. We wouldn’t be able to have any technological improvements if that were the case. Logically, primiative man “must have started causing it with the first efforts he made to save himself from needless toil and sweat.”

Rather than look at how Cain slew Abel to improve his economic situation, Hazlitt looked at Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. Chapter 1 is “Of the Division of Labor,” and on Page 2, the author tells us that a workman unacquainted with the use of
machinery employed in pin making “could scarce make one pin a day, and certainly could not make twenty,” but that with the use of this machinery he can make 4,800 pins a day. Less than 200 years before Hazlitt’s writing, machinery had thrown from 240 to 4,800 pin makers out of work for every one it kept. In the pin-making industry there was already 99.98 percent unemployment.

Image result for image of unemployment caused by automationOh, my! The Industrial Revolution was just in its infancy. What happened in the stocking
industry? New stocking frames were introduced so the handicraft workmen rioted, burning houses, threatening the inventors who were obliged to flee for their lives. Order was not finally restored until the military had been called out and the leading rioters had been either transported or hanged.

The rioters were thinking of their own immediate or even longer futures. Their opposition
to the machine was rational. The larger part of the 50,000 English stocking knitters and their families did not fully emerge from hunger and misery entailed by the introduction of the machine for the next 40 years. It turned out, however that rather than the machine permanently workers, before the end of the 19th century the stocking industry was employing at least 100 worker for every man it employed at the beginning of the century.

Related imageSimilarly Arkwright invented his cotton-spinning machinery in 1760. There were approximately 5,200 English spinners using spinning wheels, and 2,700 weavers—in all, 7,900 persons engaged in the production of cotton textiles. The introduction of
Arkwright’s invention was opposed on the ground that it threatened the livelihood of the workers. The opposition had to be put down by force. Yet 27 years after the invention appeared, a 1787 parliamentary inquiry showed that the number of persons actually engaged in the spinning and weaving of cotton had risen from 7,900 to 320,000, an increase of 4,400 percent.

Hazlitt gave other examples as well and wondered that there was any employment left in the world. His last example was of the Great Depression Technocrats who returned to this error like those who cannot remember the past, so are always doomed to repeat it. The Technocrats doctrine was still around, however, reflected in hundreds of make-work rules proposed by labor unions and then tolerated and even approved in the public mind.

In 1941, New York City electicians refused to install electrical equipment not made in New York States. In Houston Texas, master plumbers insisted upon cutting off the factory-installed threads of pipes to retread the pipe themselves. Painters’ unions had rules against using spray guns while out of state truck drivers had to turn their rigs over to New York truckdrivers upon entering the city. My husband is an electrician in 2017. As a fully-licensed journeyman electrician, he could not own his own company because he lacked a license to supervise himself. He had to have an administrator to oversee his journeyman work. So he took the administrator’s test and can now oversee his own work. There is a move in the state to make that illegal.

One might pile up a mountain of figure to show how wrong where the technophobes of the past. But it would do no good unless we understood clearly why they were wrong.

If a clothing manufacturer employs a machine that can make overcoats for half as much labor, it would seem to cut the labor force by half, but the machine itself requires labor to make it, persons to operate it, others to check the quality of the overcoats, so the loss of employment is not as great as first thought. Overtime, as the machine improves the profits of the manufacturer, there is a very real possibility that the manufacturer will expand his operations and hire more people. Because of the labor-saving machine, the manufacturer now has profits he would not otherwise have had and so can hire more people that he otherwise would not have hired.

Image result for image of unemployment caused by automationHis profitability will also prompt his competitors to purchase the machines, which will, in the long run, improve their profitability and cause them to expand their operations, hiring more people.

But there’s another unseen blessing. Overcoats are now cheaper to make and competition among the companies will cause prices to fall, so that more people can afford to buy overcoats. It takes fewer people to make the same number of overcoats, but more peole can afford to buy them, which creates a demand not only for overcoats, but for the stores where overcoats are sold and trucks to transport the overcoats from the factory to the store, and then for boots, hats and gloves to go with the overcoats.

[O]n net balance, machines, technological improvements, economies and efficiencies do not throw men out of work. They merely cause shifts in the type of employment available. This does not mean that some industries now operate with far fewer people employed due to automation, but that overall, machines have increased the rate of production, which has raised the standard of living and improved economic welfare. They may create more voluntary unemployment, but they allow people to work fewer hours. A clear benefit of that is that children now have a childhood and the elderly can retire.

Hazlitt then, brilliantly, recognized that some people will lose their jobs in the new market created by machines. Some people will find their dearly-acquired, highly developed skills are no longer marketable, essentially rendering them unskilled workers once again. We shouldn’t ignore these displaced workers, but we should allow them the dignity of choosing their own means to adapt to this new paradigm. Hazlitt did not try to solve this issue in his essay, though he acknowledged that it should be addressed.

 

Posted January 19, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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A Moment in History   4 comments

If you could witness a moment in history, what would it be and why?

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There are literally hundreds of events in history I would love to be able to witness, but I decided to go with the Council of Nicea, probably because it is the one event I’ve had more debates with than any other.

July 4, 325 was a remarkable day. About 300 Christian bishops and deacons from the eastern half of the Roman Empire had come to Nicea, a little town near the Bosporus Straits flowing between the Black and Mediterranean seas..

Image result for image of the nicene creedIn the conference hall where they waited was a table with a copy of the Gospels laid open upon it. The Emperor, Constantine, entered the hall in his imperial, jewel-encrusted, multicolored brocades, but out of respect for the Christian leaders, without his customary train of soldiers. Constantine spoke only briefly. He told the churchmen they had to come to some agreement on the crucial questions dividing them. “Division in the church,” he said, “is worse than war.”

After three centuries of periodic persecutions instigated by some Roman emperors, the bishops and deacons were actually gathered before one not as enemies but as allies. Some of them carried scars of the imperial lash. One pastor from Egypt was missing an eye; another was crippled in both hands as a result of red-hot irons. Constantine had dropped the sword of persecution in order to take up the cross, having converted to Christianity in 312.

Nicea symbolized a new day for Christianity. The persecuted followers of Jesus had become the respected advisers of emperors robed in purple as the once-despised religion was on its way to becoming the state religion, the spiritual cement of a single society in which public and private life were united under the control of Christian doctrine.

If Christianity were to serve as the cement of the Empire, however, it had to hold one faith. So the emperor called for the churches council at Nicea, paid the way for bishops to attend, and pressed church leaders for doctrinal unity. The age of Christian emperors was an age of creeds; and creeds were the instruments of conformity. That imperial pressure was at work at Nicea, the first general council in decades.

Arius, pastor of the influential Baucalis Church in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Christ was more than human but something less than God. He said that God originally lived alone and had no Son. He created the Son, who in turn created everything else. The idea persists in some cults today. Arius made faith in Christ understandable, especially when he put his teaching in witty rhymes set to catchy tunes. Even the dockhands on the wharves at Alexandria could hum the ditties while unloading fish.

Arius’s teaching held a special appeal for many recent converts to Christianity. It was like the pagan religions of their childhood: the one supreme God, who dwells alone, makes a number of lesser gods who do God’s work, passing back and forth from heaven to earth. These former pagans found it hard to understand the Christian belief that Christ, the Divine Word, existed from all eternity, and that He is equal to the Almighty Father. They preferred a God of their own design. So Arianism spread, creating Constantine’s concern.

Constantine viewed the controversy in the churches over Arian teachings as insignificant. He wanted peace in the Empire he had just united through force. When diplomatic letters failed to solve the dispute, he convened around 220 bishops and told them to work it out. There’s little evidence that he cared how they did that.

Once the Council of Nicea convened, many of the bishops were ready to compromise. Athanasius, a young deacon from Alexandria was not prepared to compromise and he had the support of his bishop, Alexander. Together, they insisted that Arius’s doctrine left Christianity without a divine Savior. He called for a creed that made clear Jesus Christ’s full deity.

In the course of the debate, the most learned bishop present, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (a friend and admirer of the emperor and a half-hearted supporter of Arius), put forward his own creed. Most of the pastors recognized that something more specific was needed to exclude the possibility of Arian teaching. They produced another creed, inserting an extremely important series of phrases: “True God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father. . . .

After extended debate, all but two bishops at the council agreed upon a creed that confessed faith “in one Lord Jesus Christ, . . . true God of true God.”

Many people believe that the Catholic Church as an organization was founded by Constantine at this Council. That is not true. The Church organization existed prior to the Council. In fact, if not for the existence of a hierachy of bishops and patriarchs, the Council would not even have been possible! (Otherwise, thousands of clerics across the Mediterranean would have to have somehow been assembled — all but impossible at that time.)

Constantine did not declare Christianity the “state religion” of Rome, at Nicaea. In fact, he never did so in his life — and for that matter, no other Roman Emperor ever did! The closest any of them came to doing so was when, around 390, Theodosius I outlawed virtually all pagan rites, leaving Christianity the only viable choice of religion for most people.

The concept of the Trinity was not decided at Nicaea. What was decided, was a position which would, eventually, lead to the Trinity doctrine (eventually decided upon at later Councils). The so-called “Nicene Creed” was not authored at Nicaea; it’s only called that because the foundation of some of its contents, was decided there.

Constantine did not make any of the Council’s decisions, nor did he order the assembled bishops to do anything. He couldn’t have, since its outcome was quite different from what he wanted from the Council! If Constantine had actually controlled the proceedings, a single unified Christianity would have emerged from it, rather than the fractious arrangement that resulted.

The Biblical canon was not decided at Nicaea. The canon as we know it was alreayd in widespread use by the time of Nicea, but it was not formally declared until the Council of Trent in the 16th century well into the beginning of the Reformation.

The Church was not unified at Nicaea. Quite the opposite — it was split into three distinct camps. Nicaea in fact permanently ended any hope of reconciliation among them; prior to that, accomodations had been possible, but the strict lines of demarcation declared at Nicaea rendered it impossible.

Nicaea did not end theological conflict within the Church. If anything, it deepened and spread it, since it drew distinct battle-lines which had not existed before. The Arian heresy spilled out of the east where it had been restricted mainly to Syria, Palestina, and northern Egypt. Arianism gained further geographical reach than could have happened without Nicaea.

So, I would want to witness that to lay aside some questions and to understand why the council was unable to reconcile the controversy in a way that reduced the heresy rather than increased it. It’s just one of those history buff questions that I would seek to settle.

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