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Below are the 4 most recent journal entries recorded in The Democracy Reader's LiveJournal:

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004
3:25 am
[johngorentz]
Sidney Hook: Bread and Freedom
I just barely got started on this item. I liked this from the opening paragraph:

Despite various doctrines of absolute and inalienable rights, no one can reasonably hold that any specific right or freedom should be gratified regardless of its consequences on the community and its bearings on other rights and freedoms. Some order of priority among freedoms must be recognized, and some method of determining that priority must be found."

A few years ago you'd hear libertarian types saying, "We should argue against the income tax on the grounds that it's immoral for the government to take blah, blah, blah..." And I would just roll my eyes. Yes, it's immoral for the government to take your money. And it's immoral not to have a government that protects our country and that protects the weak from the strong, etc. Whatever you're going to do, you can say it's immoral.

I haven't heard that line so much lately, but I'm not sure this isn't a weakness of libertarians, that they obsess on any one particular right. If you talk about the need to accomplish other social objectives, they accuse you of social engineering. Well, I now think I'm prepared the next time I hear that line, but I'll save it for then...
2:58 am
[johngorentz]
Corporatism and Letter from Birmingham City Jail
"...it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals."

This is from Martin Luther King Jr's famous "Letter from Birmingham City Jail."

BTW, I had certainly heard of this letter before, but had never read it until now. I was quite impressed, from beginning to end.

The quoted item above is by far not the most important thing in the letter, but it caught my attention. I hadn't known that Reinhold Niebuhr said anything like that about groups and individuals. But it's true. As an individual I might not want to support the oppressive government of China or whatever, but as a member of a group, i.e. as an employee of a corporation that happens to be a public university, I have to buy from whoever offers the best price. Same way when it comes to dealing with other employees -- my responsibility is to look out for the good of the university. As individuals we might never want to create hardship for other hard-up individuals to build a new baseball stadium, justice center, or fund a health care plan so that Ma and Pa don't have to sell their $200,000 motor home and $500,000 home. But as members of a group, we'll do it.

If the term "corporate greed" means anything at all, it means that we'll do things behind the shield of the organization that we would never justify doing as individuals.
Saturday, December 25th, 2004
1:53 am
[johngorentz]
Careful, war is dangerous to your civil liberties!
Here is more from Edmund Burke's Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol. I had known he was against the war with America, but don't recall ever reading the reasons for his opposition. This letter explains. It seems he was fearful of the permanent danger the war posed to civil liberties in the British empire and in Britain itself.

...We have made war on our colonies, not by arms only, but by laws. As hostility and law are not very concordant ideas, every step we have taken in this business has been made by trampling on some maximum of justice or some capital principle of wise government....

Well, it's true. Just about every war in the U.S. has resulted in a permanently expanded role for the federal government, and a loss for personal and community freedom outside it. At least all the big wars have had this effect. I was worried at the time that the Gulf War would in this respect follow in the footsteps of previous wars, but in the end it didn't. But the current Iraq war is certainly following the old pattern.

Burke was not only fearful of what the law would do to the system of government, but how it would change the personality of the nation, so to speak.

Nor is it the worst effect ... that our laws are corrupted. Whilst manners remain entire, they will correct the vices of law, and soften it at length to their own temper. But we have to lament that in most of the late proceedings we see very few traces of that generosity, humanity, and dignity of mind, which formerly characterized this nation. War suspends the rules of moral obligation, and what is long suspended is in danger of being totally abrogated. Civil wars strike deepest of all into the manners of the people....We may flatter ourselves that we shall not fall into this misfortune. But we have no charter of exemption, that I know of, from the ordinary frailties of our nature...."

I will leave it to others to think about whether the Iraq war is almost a civil war (i.e. a war of red against blue).

What I take that last sentence to mean is that it doesn't matter whether Democrats or Republicans are running the war. It will have a corrupting effect on whoever is waging it.
Friday, December 24th, 2004
3:55 am
[johngorentz]
Edmund Burke on the Patriot Act
It may have been as long ago as my high school days (in the mid 1960s) that I last spent any quality time with Edmund Burke's writings. Tonight I continued where I had left off back then, so to speak. I was reading the excerpt from his "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol" and thought it was very relevant to some of issues with the Patriot Acts and the way the Bush administration is dealing with terrorism.

While googling to see if this letter is on-line anywhere (I haven't found it) I learned that I am not the first person to see the relevance.

Anyhow, below are some snippets, along with my comments.

He explains here the proposal he is arguing against:

...The main operative regulation of the act is to suspend the Common Law and the statue Habeas Corpus (the sole securities either for liberty or justice) with regard to all those who have been out of the realm, or on the high seas, within a given time. The rest of the people, as I understand, are to continue as they stood before.

It sounds as though it was feared that some people who had been out of the country might have gotten contaminated with ideas from the American Revolution, etc., or might have gotten involved with it.

I confess, Gentlemen, that this appears to me as bad in the principle, and far worse in the consequence, than an universal suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act...

OK, that got my attention. But shortly I saw what he meant. In a way it's similar to some of my reasons as to why we should not have such things as tax exemptions for churches and property tax abatements for businesses. The people whose taxes are exempt basically go AWOL in the debates over tax rates for everyone else. His thinking is also similar to that famous Niemoller quote, "They came for the Communists, and I didn't object..."

...Partial freedom seems to me a most invidious mode of slavery...People without much difficulty admit the entrance of that injustice of which they are not to be the immediate victims. In times of high proceeding it is never the faction of the predominant power that is in danger; for no tyranny chastises its own instruments. It is the obnoxious and the suspected who want the protection of law; and there is nothing to bridle of the partial violence of state factions but this -- "that, whenever an act is made for a cessation of law and justice, the whole people should be universally subjected to the same suspension of their franchises." The alarm of such a proceeding would then be universal. It would operate as a sort of call of the nation. It would become every man's immediate and instant concern to be made very sensible of the absolute necessity of this total eclipse of liberty. They would need carefully advert to every renewal, and more powerfully resist it...But the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts....Other laws may injure the community; this dissolves it.

Well, it's getting late and I need to stop already. But I'm thinking about how Bush-Ashcroft-Gonzalez think that it's OK to hold terrorist suspects without arraignment, trial, or bail, and without making known any information about their being held. What is extremely disheartening to me is how so many conservatives have abandoned the Burkean principles and gone along with this.
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