Religion without God

from the Claremont Review of Books, The Church of Environmentalism

In contrast to Klein’s dogmatism, Robert Nelson’s The New Holy Wars takes a measured, philosophical approach to the environment and the economy. A professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Nelson devotes a significant portion of his book to “religious” aspects of economic thought. Religious thought masquerading as empirical inquiry, he notes, is far from the exclusive province of environmentalists.

Yet his discussion of environmentalism offers the deepest insights. In Nelson’s view, today’s environmentalist religion is rooted in “Calvinism minus God.” He discusses the founding environmentalists, from John Muir to Rachel Carson, who were brought up in the Calvinist tradition, and skewers today’s climate fundamentalists for rejecting technical solutions in favor of Manichean moral arguments. “In environmental religion, global warming is a sin against God, not an issue to be resolved by economic calculations of possible future benefits and costs to human beings.”

The conservative blogger Ace of Spades has written, “God, save us from those who have no god but who are bursting at the seams with religion.” It is long past time for conservatives to develop a serious, public critique of environmental theology, which perverts the science it claims to serve. If environmentalists wish to play a serious role in future policy debates, they will have to focus more on empirical findings and less on a holy war against real or imagined adversaries. As the continued popularity of Klein and her kindred shows, environmentalism’s crisis of faith is not yet at hand.


Progressive Disruption


The Challenge of Our Disruptive Era by Ben Sasse at National Review

Industrialization brought a massive disruption. At the end of the Civil War, 86% of Americans still worked on the farm. By the end of World War II, 80 years later, 60% of Americans lived in cities. One of the most disruptive times in American history was the Progressive Era. And what was Progressivism? Not much more than the response of trying to remake society in an era of mass immigration, industrialization and rising cities. But it turned out not to be as disruptive as people feared, because once you got to the city, you got a new job, which you’d probably have until death or retirement. And the social capital that used to be in the village tended to be replicated in urban ethnic neighborhoods.


Progressivism redefined the principles of the Constitution to adapt to the disruption of the industrial age.  How will the principles of the Constitution be redefined (or rediscovered) to adapt to the even greater disruptive change?  How will the economic principles of capitalism adapt?

Failure to Accept Victory

by Henry Oliner

The first Progressive Era from Teddy Roosevelt through Woodrow Wilson established the regulatory and administrative state and changed the nature of our government. It was tainted by an elitist view of race that used the science of Darwinism to justify the eugenics movement and racist policies.  While Darwinism was illuminating as a descriptive scientific theory it was socially toxic as a prescriptive tool.  An idea should not be held accountable for the people who misuse it.

The second progressive period from Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter lasted much longer due to the length of the Great Depression and its extension of government power through World War II and its Cold War aftermath. The zenith of this second progressive period was the Great Society of LBJ and the great Civil Rights achievements.  Great strides were made in black voting power and women’s rights.  They were painful and often violent, but hostility gave way to tolerance and tolerance gave way to acceptance and respect.  Obama’s election was a crowning achievement of the embrace of the Civil Rights movement, even if one rejects his policy preferences.

This does not mean that race is no longer relevant; there are still pockets of power where progress is delayed. We are still commonly segregated by geography, although this segregation can often be better explained economically.  Coming Apart by Charles Murray explained that unsuccessful behaviors yielded similar results in the white population of Fishtown.

A generation later women are half of the doctors, lawyers and accountants and more than half of the matriculants in graduate programs.  We have even begun to accept women in military combat roles.  Young women may take the feminist revolution for granted, but that is the clearest sign of it success and permanence.

While the progress of blacks in the economy remains disappointing by many measurements we can now see causes beyond the visceral bigotry that was defeated in the Civil Rights era.  Civil Rights was a victory because it was accepted as a just cause by most of the white population.  The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement connects with many blacks, particularly in still segregated urban areas, but it is not accepted by most whites with anything like the significance afforded the Civil Rights Movement. BLM lacks the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, John Lewis, James Meredith and many others.

One of the great roadblocks facing today’s progressives is an unwillingness or failure to accept their victory.  The rejection of identity politics is not the rejection of equal rights, but the willingness to embrace the victories and move on.  Accusations of racism are now used to squelch real debate, and its decay into the intolerance and illiberalism of political correctness and ‘safe spaces’ is being soundly rejected.

The left should pay heed to Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama when they criticize the intolerance of campuses to voices they oppose.  While many liberals may reject these violent protests, they weigh heavily on voters.

Immediately after the shock of Trump’s victory the left reacted with excuses ranging from a dysfunctional electoral college (it isn’t) to inappropriate interference from the FBI and the Russians to fake news and sinister gerrymandering.

Eventually a few came to realize that Hillary was flawed in many respects and campaigned poorly. They were likely aware of her deep flaws before the election, but seriously doubted it would be bad enough to lose to Donald Trump.

Now the Democrats believe that they need to improve tactically with better outreach and support in local elections, but they still refuse to accept their defeat in ideological terms.  The contempt shown by Hillary in her ‘deplorable’ comment probably hurt her far more than any of the excuses. Voters will tolerate a certain degree of corruption, but will recoil from contempt. This contempt was displayed by Jonathan Gruber’s comment about the need to lie because of the “stupidity of the American voter”, Obama’s comment about “clinging to their guns and religion”, or Elizabeth Warren’s comment that “you didn’t build that.”

This contempt is expressed in their demonization of dissent and the creation of pathologies to rationalize opposition.  Race is used as a pathology to avoid debate and introspection rather than a call for justice.  It becomes another excuse for avoiding the failure of their ideology and the rejection of identity politics and its Siamese twin, political correctness.

Fighting terrorism, reducing the debt, stimulating the economy and creating jobs are not about race. The idea that we are black, white, female, Hispanic, or gay first and American second is the reason for the rejection of identity politics.

Race and identity politics are no longer useful, and waste capital on a contest with no opponent, fighting a battle they have already won.

Circumventing the Solution


The Challenge of Our Disruptive Era by Ben Sasse at National Review

I am a historian, and that usually means I’m a killjoy. When people say we’re at a unique moment in history, the historian’s job is to put things in perspective by pointing out that there is more continuity than discontinuity, that we are not special, that we think our moment is unique because we are narcissists and we’re at this moment. But what we are going through now—the past 20 or 30 years, and the next 20 or 30 years—really is historically unique. It is arguably the largest economic disruption in recorded human history. And our politics are not yet up to the challenge.

There have been four kinds of economies: hunter-gatherers, agriculture (settled agrarian farmers in their villages), industry (mass urbanization and immigration), and whatever we’re entering now. Sometimes we call it the information-technology economy, the knowledge economy, the service economy, the digital economy. Sociologists call it the “postindustrial” economy, which is another way of saying “we don’t have anything to call it.”

With the magnitude of the challenges we face in this moment of disruption, it isn’t the case that one side is right and the other side is standing in the way, or that one side is enlightened and the other side is retrograde. It’s that we don’t have any of the right policy conversations. Most of the really big challenges of this moment are not easily reducible to core Republican or Democratic platform positions.


Ben makes a great point. Perhaps our political conflict is not about opposing ideologies, but it is about an economic shift that is so profound that neither party is up to the challenge…. yet.

This is as much of a problem for the progressives who believe the government always has the answer as it is for the conservatives who rely on past solutions that may no longer work. The solution is included in the properly stated problem; and we do not know how to state the problem yet.

It is difficult to address the problem politically without circumventing the evolution of much better solutions.

Sasse is the brightest star of the GOP. Read the whole article.

Aggression vs Ideas

O’Reilly, Ailes, and the Toxic Conservative-Celebrity Culture from David French at National Review

What followed was a toxic culture of conservative celebrity, where the public elevated personalities more because of their pugnaciousness than anything else. Indeed, the fastest way to become the next conservative star is to “destroy” the Left, feeding the same kind of instinct that causes leftists to lap up content from John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert. Liberals use condescending mockery. Conservatives use righteous indignation. That’s not much of a difference.

The cost has been a loss of integrity and, crucially, a loss of emphasis on ideas and, more important, ideals. There exists in some quarters an assumption that if you’re truly going to “fight,” then you have to be ready to get your hands dirty. You can’t be squeamish about details like truth or civility or decency. When searching for ideological gladiators, we emphasize their knifework, not their character or integrity.

Of course, this notion reached its apex in the person and personality of Donald Trump, but Trump had an advantage that O’Reilly, Ailes, and others simply didn’t enjoy. When he was under fire, especially in the general election, he could argue that the choice wasn’t between truth and lies but between him and Hillary, between lies and lies. Which liar do you want? The one allegedly on your side, right?

Make no mistake, there are conservative “fighters” who are men and women of integrity. Fox News still has a number of journalists and pundits whom I trust and admire. But when we ask for fighters first, and we elevate aggression over truth and competence, we ask for exactly the kind of scandals we’ve endured.