Every good argument is based on three things, namely principals, reasoning, and evidence. Before this blog begins, some space should be devoted as to why I believe what I believe.
Most of us are deductive in our reasoning. Sometimes we are inductive. Acknowledging that there is a number of what philosophers call ‘logical systems’ that provides a basis for learning and reasoning, for this blog simple deductive and inductive reasoning will be adequate. So I spent some time trying to identify the major principles upon which I will be basing most of my arguments. Here is my list as of today.
1. There is a moral good. Regents University holds a Ronald Reagan Symposium annually and in February 2010, Hadley Akres was invited to speak. I invite everyone to find the symposium in the C-Span archives and listen to the whole program. Akres argues that there is a natural law that defines the moral good and that it is discoverable through reason, by asking questions to discover our moral principles and applying them consistently in our lives. Some say God gives these principles to us. Others say that they are formed by and embedded in society, and are stable enough over generations to form the basis for society and government. One thing is clear. They should not change in the short term. History’s best example of a democracy that abandoned its long-term moral good over night is the first French revolution as it used tyranny to purged its society.
2. The rule of law. Because society pursues a moral good, government can seek to apply it by maintaining the rule of law. Justice can now have meaning in its application.
3. The Declaration of Independence gives the Union purpose. I once saw a debate between Alan Keyes and Alan Dershowitz in which Dershowitz proclaimed that the Declaration of Independence is mere metaphor. I don’t care if Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, the Declaration of Independence has meaning, and if I could change anything about our legal structure, it would be to weave the term “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” into that structure.
4. The Constitution gives our political system process. If the Declaration of Independence gives us purpose, the Constitution gives us process. The Constitution is a work of genius in balancing power (thank you Ben Franklin). The best way to curtail a force is to counter it with another force. However, it is clear that the Constitution is not the purpose of our union.
5. Reason is a good thing. It is an undervalued thing. It can lead to faith. Reason and faith can and should be used together. Father Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame University said the following when introducing President Obama to the 2009 graduating class. “Genuine faith does not inhibit the use of reason; it purifies it of pride and distorting self-interest. As it does so, Pope Benedict has said, “human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending … public debate.”” Father Jenkins postulated that reason can lead to faith, and with faith we can reason. Faith and reason are not separable, especially in public debate.
6. We are a nation of faith. Though we vigorously separate church and state in the conduct of our governmental business, the people of this nation believe in God. We are a nation of faith, and faith-based arguments can and should be used to persuade one another to do right things.
7. Self-interest is a good thing, economically, politically, and personally. Adam Smith proclaimed self-interest a good thing in describing the organization of our societies economically. And yes, self-interest is present in our bureaucracies. In fact, we cannot get rid of it. It is part of our nature in running organizations, both public and private. More importantly, things work better when we use self-interst as a basic organizing principle. For me, to legislate against self-interest is delusional. To politicize it is demagoguery. Therefore, let’s use it well, but in doing so; let’s realize that self-interest does have its limits. When it leads to excessive power, the best way to counter it with an opposing power. And again, our Constitution is an excellent example of three branches of power, each limiting the others.
8. Limits and balance. All things have limits, even governments. We should not overreach. None of our creations should overreach. We all have boundaries. To exceed them leads to self-destruction.
9. Keeping promises. When I was in grade school and we came to studying poetry in English, one poem by Robert Frost stood out called “Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening”. It describes someone who is traveling in the evening, perhaps delivering goods with a horse and buggy, and who stops to admire the beauty of the woods and enjoy the light snow falling to the ground. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” I believe this is a good principle upon which to base national public policy.
10. Being an ‘other person’ person. The reader can probably guess that I am a Christian, and I need to relate that an extremely important point in my Christian walk is when I realized that I was saved for a purpose. It is not just salvation, but how we act out our salvation. That means imitating Christ, who really lived for others. Every situation in the Gospels describes how he understood his audience and purposed every interaction to build up the people that he was with. Though I am discussing a Christian point of view, similar points can be made within the context of other faiths. One of my most memorable and touching experiences was several days after 9-11 when a fellow employee, who was Muslim, shared his faith with me and I shared mine with him. I could see how the horror of 9-11 affected him. He talked about the mercy and compassion of his faith, and how he could not fathom how an act such as 9-11 could come to be.
There is tension when to give to others and when to give to oneself. We must take care of ourselves in order to be a meaningful giver to others. There is a tension between self-interest and fulfilling the call of our faiths. Sometimes this tension is present in our public policy discussions, and those of us who have an active faith should be challenging each other in faith in the midst of public debate. And no, I am not leading up to a right to life discussion.