Saturday, August 30, 2014
I was recently reading the Old Testament with my family, and we read 1st Samuel Chapter 8. I found an application to today which is somewhat frightening - and when I give this application and thus make an interpretation of scripture, I am not speaking for my faith (which is almost always neutral in politics), but for myself, and my own political views.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
" ♪ Lyndon Johnson told the nation,
Have no fear of escalation.
I am trying everyone to please. ♪
♪ Though it isn't really war,
We're sending fifty thousand more,
To help save Vietnam from Vietnamese. ♪ "
- Chorus to Tom Paxton's song "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" (1965)
This film stays with you to a degree others don't
I had seen all the other presidential biographies by this filmmaker when I watched this one about LBJ, and so I had high expectations going into it. David Grubin's biographies of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and Truman are all really good; and so I was thinking this one would be good as well. It turned out to be as good as I expected, but it's also one of those films that stays with you - not because of an inspirational lead character, but because of a complex lead character who can't be reduced to simple descriptions. As my dad once said, he's like the Shakespeare character who is neither totally good nor totally bad, but somewhere in between. Thus, for me, he is someone that I like to have a love-hate relationship with. I remember what I like about him, and I remember what I hate about him; and I can't put either one aside. They're both too powerful and both too real; and in both ways, he is a constant source of fascination for me. He was a terrible president; but unlike Jimmy Carter, he was an interesting man, and one that I find myself thinking about more often than you might expect.
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Johnson always manages to surprise you
I was not always this way - I had my opinions about LBJ, which were mostly confirmed by this film; but I didn't find him a very interesting man. Yet after this film, he became quite fascinating, like a character you get to know from literature and still don't know what to make of him. No matter how many times you familiarize yourself with him, he always manages to surprise you - sometimes for good, sometimes for evil, but always unexpected. That's the way I feel about LBJ.
LBJ taking oath of office aboard Air Force One (just hours after Kennedy assassination), 1963
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of War, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
- Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" (1651), Part I, Chapter XIII, section entitled "The incommodites of such a war" (with spelling modernized)
The Founding Fathers never tried to "reinvent the wheel"
The Constitution was not created in a vacuum - it did not "appear out of nowhere" in 1787 as if there had never been anything before it that was worthwhile. We may sometimes think that we have to credit them with every good idea that ever arose in politics, as if it would be an insult to them not to do so. But the fact is that there were other smart people before they arrived on the scene; and the Founding Fathers had the "intellectual humility," if you will, to recognize the wisdom of these prior ages. Indeed, it is a testament to their genius that they listened to these prior philosophers carefully and with an open mind. Our heartfelt respect for our Founding Fathers does not mean that we have to discount everything else that has ever happened. If the Founding Fathers, after all, did not dismiss or ignore these prior philosophers, it would seem that there is no reason for us to do so (if I may be so bold); since even the greatest minds of our country's founding felt the need to listen to other opinions from other ages, and avoid wasting time in a fruitless effort to "reinvent the wheel."
They used the good ideas of those that came before, and then added their own improvements
Indeed, the Founding Fathers of the United States were - almost without exception - a smart bunch. Many were quite brilliant, and some were very original thinkers. But like any group of smart men, they used the good ideas of those that came before them; often improving on them, the way an inventor improves on previous technology. The list of philosophers that influenced the Founding Fathers is a long one; as they were influenced even by the ones they disagreed with, and many were quite familiar with the "wisdom of the ages." But besides the French philosopher Montesquieu, and the English jurist William Blackstone, the two philosophers that influenced them the most may have been Thomas Hobbes and John Locke: the two that I will focus on here. (For more about Montesquieu's ideas, click here - I'll focus this post instead on Hobbes and Locke, and cover Blackstone later.) There was much about Thomas Hobbes that our Founding Fathers disagreed with; but there were some important ideas original to him that they agreed with, and that influenced their thinking in the most profound of ways.
Friday, August 15, 2014
"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."
- Napoleon Bonaparte
He was the ruler of France, but learned French as a second language, and spoke it with an accent. He praised the egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, but always considered himself a little more equal than everyone else (much like a Marxist that way). And he was a military genius whose victories brought him glory and power, but who lost it all through the tragic flaw of always wanting more, and never knowing where to stop.
How Napoleon is perceived in America
The man was Napoleon Bonaparte, and his name is well known to young and old; but few in America know much about him, or care. It's not only that he lived far away from the world we live in - Americans have a never-ending interest in (and horror of) Adolf Hitler, even though he too was across the Atlantic - but Napoleon is perceived not to have had much effect on American history. Part of it may be that he was so long ago, but part of it also may be the perception that he was beneficial to our country - that his fighting our mutual enemy of that time (Great Britain) kept us from losing our War of 1812. There may be some truth in this; but regardless of one's feelings about this, he was a major foreign policy issue for the presidencies of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison; and was the central fact of domestic life for the vast majority of the continent of Europe. He hit very close to home for them, and inspired a never-ending fascination with his life that lives on in Europe today.