Sunday, November 21, 2010

Intersex and the Natural Desire for Sexual Identity

In my course "Biopolitics and Human Nature," we have had a lively discussion of Anne Fausto-Sterling's essay on "The Five Sexes." That there might be more than two sexes appears to deny my claim that human beings naturally desire to identity themselves as male or female. But in a previous post, I responded by indicating that even as I stress the dualism of sexual identity as male or female, I recognize the variation from this strict bipolarity--hermaphrodites, who combine both sexes, or those who cross from one to the other.

In that earlier post, I noted that Aristotle recognized this in his biological works. In one sense, he reasoned, hermaphrodites are "contrary to nature," because they deviate from what naturally happens "for the most part." In other sense, however, hermaphrodites are "natural," because they arise from natural causes.

Deciding how to handle those cases that deviate from the central tendency of sexual bipolarity is a matter of cultural tradition and prudential judgment. But the fact that biological nature gives us such exceptional cases should not obscure the fact that the central tendency of nature is to clearly distinguish male and female.

Since the original publication of Fausto-Sterling's article in 1993, there has been a vigorous debate over the medical treatment of intersexuality. Intersexual individuals are those whose sexual development has deviated in some way from that of a typical male or typical female. This includes various disorders of sexual development that create anomalies in the sex chromosomes, the gonads, the reproductive ducts, and the genitalia.

For example, those with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) show at birth a disjunction of internal and external sex anatomy. In the womb, a male fetus with XY chromosomes develops testes that secrete testosterone, which then usually has a masculinizing effect on the body and brain of the developing fetus. But those with CAIS have a molecular disorder that causes the cells of their body to be insensitive to testosterone. Consequently, an XY male might look like a girl from birth. Other disorders can produce a child having both an ovary and a testis.

For some time, it was common for many doctors in North America and Europe to advise the parents of intersexual children that genital surgery and hormonal treatments were necessary to assign children clearly to either a male or a female gender. Babies with penises considered too short for a male would be assigned a female gender identity. Babies with clitorises considered too long for a female would be assigned a female gender identity, but the clitoris would be shortened or cut off.

This medical approach was promoted in the 1950s by John Money and others at Johns Hopkins University. Arguing for an "optimum gender of rearing" model, they claimed that "gender" was socially constructed as opposed to biological "sex." Consequently, parents should decide to rear their child as a boy or a girl, and this social construction of gender could then be supported by medical procedures (surgery and hormonal treatment) that would design the body of the child to conform to the socially constructed gender identity. Many feminists adopted this model, because they liked the idea that gender was socially constructed and thus malleable, and so biological sex could be manipulated to serve the socially constructed gender identity.

But, then, in the 1990s, some people with intersex began to challenge this model by publicizing its harmful effects. In many cases, doctors and parents had lied to them, and they did not discover until they reached puberty or adulthood what had happened to them. Some of them were so uncomfortable with the sexual identity they had been given that they wanted to change to the other sex. Many of them suffered a loss of sexual pleasure that impeded their desires for sexual mating and conjugal bonding.

This led to an intersex rights movement. The history and arguments associated with this movement are surveyed at the website for the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA). The people in this movement argue that parents and doctors should tell the truth to their children about their intersex condition, and that there should be no medical intervention (such as surgery or hormonal treatments) except in cases where this is necessary for the physical health of the child. Then, when the child is old enough to decide, the child can decide whether to have medical treatments to support whatever sexual identity the child finds most comfortable.

There are some points of disagreement in the intersex rights movement. Fausto-Sterling argues that cultural attitudes should be changed so that we accept a multiplicity of sexual identities beyond the two-sex system of male or female. Against this, ISNA recommends that the cultural tradition of male-female bipolarity is so strong, and so deeply rooted in the biological propensity to create males and females, that parents and doctors should assign children to one sex or the other based on their best judgments as to which sexual identity will fit the child over the whole life span. They concede that mistakes are unavoidable: sometimes children raised as one sex will grow up to discover--perhaps at puberty--that this is not what they want, and then they can choose to change. But parents and doctors can allow for this freedom for children to decide for themselves by fully informing them as to what has happened to them, and by refraining from any medical interventions during their infancy that children might later want to reverse.

I agree with the ISNA's position. And I draw three lessons from this.

First, the gender/sex dichotomy is false. There is no sharp separation between culturally-constructed gender and biological sex. The cultural traditions of rearing boys as boys and girls as girls are certainly crucial factors in shaping our sexual identity. But human culture is constrained by human nature, so that the cultural assignment of sexual identity fails when it contradicts an individual's biological propensities. Parents and doctors must exercise prudential judgment in deciding the sexual identity of a newborn based upon their predictions of what will be most satisfying for the child as shaped by both natural propensities and cultural learning.

Second, a Platonic moral cosmology cannot account for sexual identity as an individualized human good. Many moral and political philosophers assume that the human good is determined by some eternal normativity as set by a cosmic standard of the good--cosmic God, cosmic Nature, or Cosmic reason. But this moral cosmology cannot handle the variability of the human good that comes from sexual identity. If there is an Idea of the Good that applies universally to all rational beings, does this mean that the human good is sexless? If so, doesn't this deny the empirical reality of the human good in sexual identity, in our experience that what is good for us varies according to our identity as men, women, or something in between? As a biologist, Aristotle could recognize the individual variability of the human good coming from the variability of sexual identity, but Plato could not. While many moral philosophers have followed the Platonic tradition, the recent emergence of Darwinian moral psychology supports a renewal of the Aristotelian tradition of empirical ethics.

Third, a Darwinian liberalism offers the best way to handle the moral and legal issues of sexual identity. We can recognize that by nature most human beings will be born as clearly male or female, and that sexual identity will be nurtured through parental care and cultural traditions. But we can also recognize that a few human beings will be born sexually ambiguous, and in this case, we will have to rely on parental judgment and civil society to decide the best assignment of sexual identity. The final standard will be what is most satisfying for children as they grow up and reach the age when they can decide for themselves whether their parents have made the right decision, or whether they want to change their sexual identity. The continuing debate over the treatment of intersex people illustrates how the spontaneous order of civil society generates moral standards of the human good shaped by human nature, human culture, and human judgment.

Another lesson that might be drawn from the experience of intersex people is how sexual identity depends on whether one has a "female brain" or a "male brain," which denies the idea of the "unisex brain." Some previous posts on this can be found here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Philosophy and Theology in Raphael's "Stanza della Segnatura"

In his book God and Morality: A Philosophical History (2009), John Hare argues that morality is impossible without religious belief--particularly, some kind of theism. In developing his reasoning, he tries to show the importance of theism for the moral philosophy of Aristotle, Duns Scotus, ImmanuelKant, and R. M. Hare. In doing that, he criticizes me for not seeing the theism in Aristotle's teaching. I have responded to this criticism in a previous post.

Hare also argues in this book that Raphael's frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura--particularly, the School of Athens and La disputa del sacramento--illustrate his view of the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christian theology.

A good website for viewing these frescoes can be found here.

Since I have long been fascinated by Raphael's frescoes, I would like to offer an alternative reading of Raphael's artistic rhetoric in these frescoes. I will lay out my thinking in four steps. First, I will raise four general questions. Second, I will offer a brief survey of the frescoes in their political, philosophical, and theological circumstances. Third, I will summarize Hare's interpretation. Finally, I will answer the general questions, while also answering Hare.

There are at least four general questions that we might raise about Raphael's frescoes.

1. How do we judge the rhetorical persuasiveness of a painting as a visual argument?

2. Can such painting teach us something that we could not learn in any other way? Or is painting at best only an illustration of ideas derived from intellectual activity outside of the art of the painting?

3. How persuasive is Raphael's visual argument about Greek philosophy?

4. How persuasive is Raphael's visual argument about the relationship of Greek philosophy to Christian theology?

Raphael arrived in Rome in 1508 at the age of 25. The frescoes were painted between 1508 and 1511. These were originally designed to adorn the walls of the personal library for Pope Julius II. It is unlikely that Raphael's education in philosophy and theology was extensive enough for him to design the Stanza della Segnatura by himself. He probably followed a program designed for him by a humanist scholar. Hare thinks this was Egidio da Viterbo, a prominent orator and Augustinian in the papal court. But I think Christiane Joost-Gaugier makes a good case--in Raphael's Stanza della Segnatura (2002)--that Raphael's program was designed by Tommasio Inghirami, the papal librarian. In any case, whoever helped Raphael was deeply influenced by the Renaissance humanist thought of Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, and other Christian Platonists who were trying to unify Platonic philosophy and Christian theology.

Julius II was Pope from 1503 to 1513. He was one of the Renaissance popes during the period of moral and political corruption in the Vatican that provoked the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Church at Wittenburg in 1517. The gross decadence of the Church became especially apparent with the pope before Julius--Alexander VI, the father of Cesare Borgia, who turned the Vatican into a personal source of wealth, power, and mistresses.

One dramatic example of those calling for moral and religious reform of the Church was Girolama Savonarola, a Dominican friar in Florence. His sermons moved the Florentines to establish a Christian Republic. But when he called for a Church Council that would remove the Pope, because he was no longer a true Christian, the Pope excommunicated him and demanded that he be punished. In 1498, he was hanged and burned. He thus became Machiavelli's best example of an "unarmed prophet" who was ruined because he relied on religious belief without military power to enforce his religion.

Julius II came to power with the promise of reforming the Church, but he never fulfilled his promises. He was preoccupied with expanding the political power of the Papacy by fighting wars to secure the power of the Papal States in Italy, which brought factional violence to his fellow Christians.

Machiavelli spoke of Julius as showing "impetuosity and fury" in his military leadership (Discourses, III.9). He was also impressed by Julius's boldness in removing Giovampagolo Baglioni as tyrant of Perugia so that he could replace him with a ruler who would support the Vatican. Julius showed his furious courage in walking into Perugia with his Cardinals, but with only a single guard. Baglioni could have killed the Pope and all his Cardinals. Baglioni was a vicious man who had murdered his relatives and taken his sister as his incestuous lover, but, amazingly, he did not dare to kill the Pope, and he allowed the Pope to lead him away. For Machiavelli, this illustrates how "very rarely do men know how to be altogether wicked or altogether good." Baglioni was wicked, but not wicked enough to secure the glory that would have come from killing the Pope (Discourses, I.27).

Machiavelli lamented that the "wicked examples" of the Papal court had destroyed the Roman religion by not preserving the religion as established by Jesus, and this had ruined Italy by depriving it of its religious support for political order (Discourses, I.12).

In this situation, Raphael's art became a tool of papal propaganda in promoting the glorious display of Julius's grandeur.

The ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura is divided into patterns of four (a divine number for the Pythagoreans--four elements, four directions, etc.). Over the four walls of the room are four female personifications of philosophy, poetry, jurisprudence, and theology, which indicate the four divisions in the books of the library. Over the School of Athens, the motto is "knowledge of causes." Over the Disputa, the motto is "knowledge of divine things."

The School of Athens represents philosophy on the east wall, while on the west wall, the Disputa represents theology.

The perspectival center of the School of Athens highlights Plato and Aristotle, posed so as to suggest that they are opposed to one another--Plato being more "vertical," while Aristotle is more "horizontal"--and yet the balanced symmetry of the painting suggests that they are complementary sides of the same dualistic reality.

In the center of the Disputa, the Host is at the center of the Eucharist.

Some of the human figures in the paintings are easily identified, but many are not. There are 44 books in the paintings, some clearly identified by their titles, while others are untitled.

Plato's vertical gesture seems to be fulfilled by the vertical movement in the Disputa from the Host through the Holy Spirit dove to Jesus to God the Father and the highest Heaven--as if to suggest that the ascent to Heaven and return to God is the fulfillment of Platonic philosophy.

The Church's theologians had been divided over Plato and Aristotle. Among many of the early Church fathers--especially, Augustine--Plato was seen as the pagan philosopher who foreshadowed Christian theology by his teaching that philosophy was a contemplative activity of ascent to the divine. Plato's Timaeus was combined with the Bible to support the Cosmic Model of the Middle Ages ("The Great Chain of Being").

Aristotle's writings were largely lost in medieval Christendom. But in the 13th century, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas led a revival of interest in Aristotle.

Renaissance philosophers like Pico della Mirandola argued for Plato and Aristotle as unified in their complementarity--Plato stressing the immortal side of human beings as contemplators of the divine, while Aristotle stressed the mortality of human beings as embodied animals. Christianity could then be seen as the fulfillment of Greek philosophy through the incarnation of Jesus and the ascent to Heavenly contemplation of God.

Hare uses his interpretation of the Stanza della Segnatura to support his argument for a divine command theory of morality. He claims that we need to bridge the "moral gap" in our experience: we have an intuition of our moral duty, but we are unable to fulfill that duty without God's assistance.

For Hare, the School of Athens suggests the theistic longings of the Greek philosophers, which unites Plato and Aristotle. Plato's theological cosmology in the Timaeus is echoed in Book 10 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where the highest human life is said to be the contemplative beholding of the divine.

According to Hare, this theistic morality and philosophy of the Greeks finds its completion in Christian theism. Christian theism as depicted in the Disputa improves upon Greek philosophic theism in three ways. First, the two semicircles in the Disputa depict a clear separation between the supernatural and the natural realms. Second, we see that God cares for human beings and moves toward them through the Son and the Holy Spirit. Third, what we see most clearly is Jesus as the visibly incarnate union of the divine and human.

Here's how I would answer the four general questions.

1. How do we judge the rhetorical persuasiveness of a painting as a visual argument?

We might consider painting as employing the rhetorical technique of metaphor--an artistic "likeness" of something. Then we would have to judge the truthfulness of the "likeness."

Don't we often see visual metaphors in philosophic texts? Consider, for example, Plato's "divided line" and his image of the cave in the Republic or his "ladder of love" in the Symposium.

In the case of Raphael's frescoes, we have visual references to many philosophers and theologians, and so we can judge the accuracy of these references.

We also have references to 44 books, some of which are clearly identified--Plato's Timaeus, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Euclid's Elements, Augustine's City of God, the Bible, and others. So we can judge the plausibility of how these texts are presented. (Books became especially important in the Renaissance because of the new technology of printing presses.)

2. Can painting teach us something that we could not learn in any other way? Or is painting at best only an illustration of ideas derived from intellectual activity outside of the art of painting?

I'm not sure how to answer this question. But it does seem hard to me to see how painting teaches us anything that we couldn't learn from other sources.

3. How persuasive is Raphael's visual argument about Greek philosophy?

Raphael's depiction of the relationship between Plato's teaching in the Timaeus and Aristotle's teaching in the Nicomachean Ethics as showing both conflict and complementarity is defensible, and it certainly was a historically influential reading of these books.

But doesn't this overlook Aristotle's criticisms of Plato at the beginning of the Ethics? And doesn't this overlook the subtlety of the books? In the Timaeus, Timaeus gives a long speech without any questioning from Socrates (although Socrates does say that Timaeus represents the "peak of philosophy"). In the Ethics, the arguments in Book 10 for the divinity of the contemplative life are remarkably strange and contradictory (as I have indicated in some recent posts).

4. How persuasive is Raphael's visual argument about the relationship of Greek philosophy to Christian theology?

To me, this teaching is utopian in a way that fails to resolve the moral, political, and intellectual problems left to us by Greek philosophy. Let me offer just a few examples of what I have in mind.

At the center of the Disputa, we see the doctrines of Transubstantiation and the Trinity. But why should we expect that Greek philosophers would accept such miracles without skepticism? Don't even Christians disagree about these doctrines? After all, within a few years after Raphael's death, Christendom will be divided over such issues, and they will begin slaughtering one another in religious wars.

In Heaven, we see Abraham with a knife, which reminds us of his faith in being willing to obey God's command to kill his son Isaac. Doesn't this cast doubt on the moral teaching of the Bible? Don't we have to invoke a natural moral sense to correct this biblical story? Hare speaks about this "terrible story" (80). He refers to Duns Scotus, who tries to read Genesis 22 in the light of Hebrews 11: Abraham believed that Isaac would be resurrected if we were killed. But this is not clearly said in the Old Testament text. Moreover, there are other places in the Old Testament where human sacrifice is endorsed (Judges 11:29): Jephthah sacrifices his daughter to Yahweh to fulfill a pledge he had made to Yahweh to secure victory over the Ammonites. Here, then, is the classic problem for divine command theory. (Kierkegaard used the Abraham and Isaac story as an example of the "suspension of the ethical.")

Raphael depicts Heaven, but not Hell. Why not? Does he mean to imply that there is no Hell? If so, he would be denying a fundamental doctrine of orthodox Christianity, and he would be adopting the heresy of Origen.

If Raphael believes in Hell, and if he believes that most human beings will be eternally condemned to Hell, does this mean that the Greek philosophers and all those in the tradition of Greek philosophy will be in Hell forever? If so, doesn't this deny his attempt at reconciling pagan philosophy and Christian theology? Or would Raphael incline towards Dante's solution to the problem by putting the philosophers in Limbo?

Why does Raphael allow himself to be used as a propagandist for Julius II, as a time when the Church was morally and politically corrupt, and Julius failed to act to reform the Church? Is Raphael's utopian vision blind to the corruption of religious authority?

Hare thinks the face of Savonarola appears in the Disputa. But Hare doesn't acknowledge that Julius II failed to support the reforms called for by Savonarola.

Why doesn't Raphael give us some warning about what's to come with the Protestant Reformation? In 1512, at the first meeting of the Fifth Lateran Council, Edigio da Viterbo gave the opening oration in the presence of the Pope. He pointed to the bloodiness of Julius's wars, and he warned that the corruption of the Church had provoked scorn for the Christian religion and a split among believers. Why doesn't Raphael show the same courage in challenging Julius?

Greek philosophy offers us no escape from our moral, political, and intellectual imperfection as human beings. Plato's Republic attempts to construct a utopia in which we could escape our imperfections. But it fails. Any attempt to put the Republic into practice would promote tyranny.

Raphael presents Christian theology as fulfilling Plato's utopia in a supernatural utopia beyond the natural world. But it's hard to see how Christian utopianism is any better than Platonic utopianism.

Maybe Nietzsche was right: Christianity is Platonism for the common people.

Some related posts can be found here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hayek and Science: A Liberty Fund Conference

Recently, I received approval to direct a Liberty Fund conference on "Hayek and the Scientific Study of Economics, Politics, and Morality."

If you have ever been to a Liberty Fund conference, you know that it's great fun. I think it's the most intellectually stimulating way to organize an academic conference.

15 participants are invited to a resort hotel in a beautiful setting. They are given a set of readings related to a specified topic prior to the conference. The conference lasts for two and a half days. The participants meet for six discussion sessions. They also have all of their meals together. Some of the best conversations arise over good food and drinks. The afternoons are free for relaxation. Liberty Fund pays for all of the expenses and also pays each participant an honorarium. All that's required is that each participant study the readings in advance and then contribute to the discussions.

The purpose is to provoke a lively discussion of important topics related in one way or another to the idea of liberty. There is no predetermined outcome. Participants are free to follow the conversation wherever it leads.

Some of the most satisfying intellectual activity of my life has come from Liberty Fund conferences.

The topics for my upcoming conference will center on Friedrich Hayek and science. Much of the power of modern science comes from the dream of a complete unification of all knowledge through the scientific method. Fulfilling this dream might require a science of social life and human conduct that would have the same mathematical precision and predictive power as is now achieved in the physical sciences. And yet Hayek and other critics of this dream have warned that this is not true science but "scientism"--the false presumption that social phenomena can be known by the methods that prevail in the physical sciences.

According to people like Hayek, scientism is not only an intellectual mistake but also a moral and political problem, because it assumes that a perfected social science would be able to rationally plan social order, which denies the individual liberty necessary for the spontaneous orders of social life.

The participants in this colloquium will investigate this Hayekian argument through reading some writings by Hayek alongside some writings by Michael Oakeshott and Leo Strauss, which argue that social and political knowledge requires practical judgment and common-sense understanding that cannot be reduced to the sort of technical knowledge sought in the physical sciences.

We will also consider the suggestion of Ernst Mayr that evolutionary biology avoids this mistakes of scientism and provides an intellectual bridge between the physical sciences and the social sciences.

We will conclude with some essays by Hayek and Paul Zak on the evolution of markets and morality.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Conference on the Science of Virtue at Berry College

The past few days, I have been at a conference at Berry College, in Mount Berry, Georgia, on the "Science of Virtue" at Berry College. The conference directors were Peter Augustine Lawler of Berry College and Marc Guerra of Ave Maria University. The major funding for the conference came from the "New Science of Virtues Project" at the University of Chicago. The title for this conference was "The Scientific Foundations of the Modern World: Descartes, Locke, and Darwin."

Berry College is a beautiful campus with some very bright students. President Stephen Briggs and others at the College were gracious in their hospitality.

There were four lectures on the main themes of the conference. I spoke on "The Darwinian Science of Aristototelian Virtue." Thomas Hibbs (Baylor University) spoke on Descartes. James Stoner (Lousiana State University) spoke on Locke. And Jeffrey Bishop (St. Louis University) spoke on "Science, Virtue, and the Birth of Modernity."

There were three panels: "Walker Percy on Science and the Soul," "Being More Cartesian than Descartes," and "Tom Wolfe, Technology, and Greatness."

This conference and the sponsoring "new science of virtues" project at Chicago testify to the growing awareness that modern science offers new ways to understand virtue. The pervasive theme running through this conference and almost every one of the presentations was that modern science corrupts our morality, because science subverts the traditional philosophical understanding of virtue (coming from Plato and Aristotle) and the traditional religious understanding of virtue (coming from biblical religion). Of all the participants in the conference, I and Lauren Hall (Rochester Institute of Technology) were the only ones who argued that modern science--and especially Darwinian science--supports a healthy understanding of virtue.

I am so accustomed to being in a minority of one--or, at this conference, a minority of two--that it does not bother me, because I expect it. But it does bother me to see how many of the moral critics of modern science have no interest in actually studying the science that they are criticizing.

In the case of this conference, the assumption of almost everyone was that whatever they needed to know about science they could learn from reading Rene Descartes, Walker Percy, and Tom Wolfe. They assumed that all of modern science was nothing more than a working out of the philosophical program of Descartes (and maybe Francis Bacon, as well). They also assumed that the view of science taken by literary critics of science like Percy and Wolfe is so obviously accurate that one does not need to actually study contemporary science for oneself.

Descartes' philosophical science is an incoherent combination of materialist reductionism, on the one hand, and radical dualism, on the other. Most of the participants at the this conference assumed that for the past four hundred years, modern science has simply been trying to work out the details of Descartes' project. No one showed any curiosity about whether modern science might actually depart from Descartes in many ways.

What's at work here is a school of thought about the philosophy of science dominated by German phenomenology and Martin Heidegger that came to the United States through the influence of Leo Strauss and people at St. John's College. This school of thought promotes a deep fear of modern science as based on a desire for mastery of nature through technology that corrupts the the moral and intellectual traditions of Western Culture. One can see this clearly, for example, in the work of Leon Kass.

One of the assumptions of this school of thought is that all of modern science is based on Cartesian mathematical physics. There is no interest in Darwinian biology or modern biology in general as perhaps showing the emergent complexity and immanent teleology of life. All of these folks have read Descartes, but almost none of them have read Darwin. (Kass is an exception here. At least in some of his early writing, Kass did read Darwin, and he saw that Darwinian science was not a reductionist threat to human dignity.)

Also running through this school of thought is a romantic existentialism that sees the artist--embodied in literary artists like Percy and Wolfe--as exposing the dehumanizing effects that modern science has on the human soul. And, again, there is no interest in studying science to see if this caricature of science is really accurate.

For example, those contributing to the panel on Wolfe restated Wolfe's fears about modern science without questioning Wolfe's depiction of science. Wolfe argues that modern biology and neuroscience promote a reductionistic determinism that denies the human freedom that comes from the human capacities for language, social life, and cultural learning. No one on the panel noticed the inaccuracy of Wolfe's view. Contrary to what Wolfe claims, one of the most deeply researched areas of evolutionary science today is language and cultural evolution. In neuroscience, much of the research centers on neural plasticity, cultural learning, and "social neuroscience." As far as I could tell, no one on the panel had any knowledge of this research.

I don't believe that modern science is beyond criticism. I agree that modern science should be exposed to critical scrutiny by proponents of premodern science and religion. But shouldn't this criticism be based on an accurate knowledge of what is being criticized?

Some related posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here., and here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Republican Victory and the Future of Limited Government

The American conservative proponents of limited government might be pleased by the electoral victories of the Republican Party. But now the question is whether the Republican leaders will revive their traditional allegiance to limited government and constitutionalism.

A lot might depend on John Boehner, who will become the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. In opposition to President Obama, Boehner has stressed the need to renew the tradition of limited government. But, of course, the Republicans must bear some blame for supporting George W. Bush's "big government conservatism." Boehner has admitted this in some speeches, and he has suggested that the Republicans will be judged by how well they can return to their limited-government roots.

Two years ago, I wrote a post predicting that if the government interventions into the economy continued to follow the direction taken by Bush, that we could expect a prolonged economic depression. I have no reason now to withdraw that prediction. If the Keynesian policies of the Obama administration continue, we can anticipate falling into a long period of economic stagnation like that experienced by the Japanese.

Whether the Republicans can exert any influence in slowing or reversing this slide into economic statism is the great question coming out of this election cycle.

I agree, then, with Marco Rubio who said in his victory speech in Florida that this election creates "a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago."