Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Future of the American Party System

Michigan State political scientist Ben Kleinerman wrote last night on his Facebook wall: "The parties are essential to the rational functioning of American government. Van Buren recognized a failure in the founders' system that he sought to correct through the party system. It elected Jackson while also controlling him. The two are not mutually exclusive."

But I say:

1. If parties like the ones we have now are essential (though Monroe, the most successful wielder of executive power between Washington and Lincoln governed without them) how is it that Congress and the executive branch have become more partisan and more dysfunctional?
2. Even if we need parties like the ones we have now that does not mean we need the party cleavage we have now. It has been Democrats and Republicans uninterrupted since 1868. But the Republican brand (and maybe the Democratic one as well, with the rise of Sanders) no longer recruit among the young. If the Republicans win as the Trump party, perhaps a new elite-cored anti-Trump party on the Whig model will arise? And what would be so bad about that?

Monday, February 22, 2016

A few facts to increase your anxieties

Michael Gillespie writes "For all of you interested in politics, don't be taken in by the dire scenarios presented by candidates from both parties and by our sensationalist, anxiety obsessed media. The world is not going to hell in an hand basket but in fact has become a much better place. Don't believe the doom and gloom. Just a few facts to ease your anxieties."

Read his post if you want to see his claims.  Her are my rebuttals.

1. We are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are also fighting in San Bernardino.
2. Mexican immigration to the US has waned because demand for labor is weak, because the economy is still in bad shape.
3. US unemployment statistics are down because those numbers don't include those who have given up looking for work, or those in jobs well below what there experience and education would suit them for and that pay below what is needed to sustain a decent lifestyle.
4. Yes, more Americans have health insurance. But to call that "coverage" implies that they have access to the care they need without outrageous copays and deductibles. Efforts to "bend the cost curve" will help insure that medical progress is largely a thing of the past.
5. Teen pregnancy is down for the same reason birth rates and marriage rates are down, because the future is clouded for everybody below the peak of the peak in skills and income.
6. Violent crime is lower both because of demographic changes (see 5. above) and because of "racial profiling," "mass incarceration" and wider gun ownership. If the Democrats win the White House and get to pack the Supreme Court, the policies that have helped keep crime down will be reversed.
7. American universities have become "islands of suppression in an ocean of freedom."
8. The refusal of the Obama administration to enforce immigration law or prosecute powerful allies and subordinates for egregious offenses have broken the faith of politically aware Americans in the rule of law.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wisdom and the University

My friend Lee Trepanier has just published a review of Sean Steel's The Pursuit of Wisdom and Happiness in Education: Historical Sources and Contemplative Practices
I haven't read Steel's book. But I have been thinking about the relation between universities and wisdom.
Greek philosophy, historically, comes after the first Greek "wise men" and disputes their claims.
Universities were created to check philosophy institutionally by subordinating it to theology, the faculty where divine wisdom was transmitted. It was only in the twentieth century that most universities stopped seeing as their ruling purpose the transmission of Christian knowledge.
Philosophy calls itself "love of wisdom," which means on their own admission they lack it.  Philosophers, when they are true to their vocation, devote themselves to crafting disparaging wise-cracks about those who pretend to wisdom.  Philosophy has a place in the university, but since philosophers are not wise, they cannot rule there.
Universities can only be led by the wise, those who know how to educate because they know how to live.  But Christian wisdom no longer has the social power to rule universities.  Today's academic administrators are virtually without exception not leaders but managers and fundraisers, who substitute flattery for wisdom.