Live And Let Die

According to Peter Leithart, Israel’s prophet’s did not preach a legalistic message that aimed at moral reform. They preached an evangelical word. Ever since humanity has lived East of Eden the curse that follows sin is “dying you shall die”. This same curse haunts Israel since the covenant at Sinai. The prophets don’t proclaim: “Israel has sinned; therefore Israel needs to to get its act together or it will die.” The message is, “Israel has sinned; therefore, Israel must die, and its only hope is to entrust itself to a God who will give it new life on the far side of death.” Or, perhaps more simply: “Israel has sinned; Israel is already dead. Cling to the God who raises the dead.” This is the message of 1-2 Kings, which in Leithart’s mind “systematically dismantles Israel’s confidence in everything but the omnipotent mercy and patience of God.”

Woodrow Wilson’s Natural Successor

joe-george-bush-picture-1-2In a speech delivered in Whitehall in 2003 George Bush made much of the fact of the fact the he was the first U.S. President to stay in Buckingham Palace since Woodrow Wilson. He goes on to celebrate Wilson at some length:

The people of Great Britain also might see some familiar traits in Americans…We’re sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that’s an error, it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith…The last president to stay at Buckingham Palace was an idealist without question. At a dinner hosted by King George V in 1918, Woodrow Wilson made a pledge. With typical American understatement, he vowed that right and justice would become the predominant and controlling force in the world…Free nations failed to recognize, much less confront, the aggressive evil in plain sight. And so, dictators went about their business, feeding resentments and anti-Semitism, bringing death to innocent people in this city and across the world and filling the last century with violence and genocide.

Bush often pointed out the necessity of free markets if we’re to have a free world with free nations. Again, echoes of Woodrow Wilson:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused. (Lecture, Columbia University, 1907)

Maybe Bush was a Wilsonian after all.

When Doubt Gets Dogmatic

The Enlightenment conferred great authority upon its tribunal of criticism. The principle of sufficient reason suffered no exceptions; all beliefs had to submit to its requirements. Nothing was sacred before the criticism of reason, not even the state in its majesty nor religion in its holiness.. Nothing, that is, except of course the tribunal of critique itself, which was somehow sacred, holy and sublime.

But such a conspicuous and dubious exception only created suspicions about the Enlightenment faith in criticism. Some philosophers began to recognize that an unqualified demand for criticism is self-reflexive, applying to reason itself. If it is the duty of reason to criticize all our beliefs, then ipso facto it must criticize itself; for reason has its own beliefs about itself, and these cannot escape criticism. To refuse to examine these beliefs is to sanction ‘dogmatism’, the demand that we accept beliefs on trust. But dogmatism, which refuses to give reasons, is clearly the chief enemy of criticism, which demands that we give reasons. So, unless criticism is to betray itself, it must become, in the end, meta-criticism, the critical examination of criticism itself.

Yet if the meta-criticism of reason is necessary, is it not also dangerous? If reason must criticize itself, then it must ask the question, ‘How do I know this?’ or ‘What reason do I have to believe this?’ But then we seem to face a very disturbing dilemma. Either we must ask this question ad infinitum, and embrace skepticism, or we must refuse to answer it, and lapse into dogmatism.- Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason, page 6.