Europe and the USA

While Americans were glued to their television sets and devices yesterday, listening to a man talk about the executive who fired him, real change was occurring in the United Kingdom. British voters selected members of the House of Commons, changing the balance of their government in a way that was unexpected. The Conservative Party hoped to maintain their hold on Parliament, perhaps even increase their margin of leadership. Instead, they lost seats—sufficient losses that the party needs now to form a coalition government with another party. Many people speculate that Prime Minister Theresa May will resign as a result of the election.

Bring together a group of leaders—business leaders, political leaders, shapers of public opinion—from Europe and North America. Ask each of them what the voters in their country really want. Watch them scratch their heads and listen to them mumble. Over the past few years, voters have made it plain that they want change, but the same voters have been unclear about the kind of change they want.

In Europe and in North America, dissatisfaction with the status quo is running rampart. Liberals promise change, saying that things can be better, and many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them. Conservatives say that the government is already doing too much and that change for the better will only happen when the government scales back and stops trying to do so much. Many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them.

In this swirling uncertainty, political leaders would ordinarily pull together and support each other. Instead, within governments polarization increases and anger boils over in heated exchanges of rhetoric. Between governments distrust grows, and cooperative ties are stretched to the breaking point.

From its beginning as an economic agreement among three small countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, who formed a free-trade zone they called Benelux) to the European Common Market and the eventual European Union, the governments of Europe have tried to remain competitive with large countries such as the United States, Russia, and China by working together on a set of common goals. The United Kingdom made big news in the early 1970s when they joined the Common Market. They made big news again last year when British voters chose to withdraw from the European Union. When countries open borders and share resources, they find that they also share the problems of their partners. Governments in Spain and Greece are struggling to keep promises made to their citizens—free education, free health care, and the like. Citizens protest with fervor whenever these governments try to trim the national budget to stay solvent. As Margaret Thatcher quipped, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.” Fear that their taxes would be spent propping up struggling governments—and fear that the European Union’s open borders was allowing dangerous people to enter their country—caused British voters to reject continued membership in the European Union.

Meanwhile President Donald Trump, during the campaign and also since his inauguration, declared that part of his program to make America great again involves reducing American commitments to European allies. European intellectuals tend to view conservative American presidents—Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump—as reckless, misguided cowboys, whooping and hollering and firing guns into the air, endangering the stability of the rest of the world. They would prefer to ignore such a leader, but at the same time they are more certain than are many Americans that President Trump means what he says.

Isolationism will not make America great again. The nations of the world are too interdependent to ignore one another. However, renegotiating agreements that are not in the best interest of the United States is good for America. Even withdrawing from agreements that weaken the United States is good for America. As new leaders emerge in Europe, they will need to deal with President Trump as an existing reality. They will need to ignore the ongoing dramas—the smoke and the mirrors—and communicate with the real President Trump. Most of all, they will need to understand that President Trump will do what is best for the United States while expecting leaders of other nations to do what is best for their citizens. This is the way leaders are supposed to lead. J.

Definitions

This is the first part of a three-part post. In this first part I will define some terms used when discussing religion, particularly Christianity. In the second part, I will provide historical context using many of these terms. In the third part, I will finally get around to saying that which I want to say.

  • Agnostic: uncertain whether or not God exists. Many agnostics are quiet about their lack of certainty, but some agnostics insist that certainty about God is impossible. The latter group regards theists and atheists as equally insincere about their convictions.
  • Apologetics: the effort to communicate religious beliefs to others, often in an attempt to convert the others to the same beliefs. Not to be confused with the usual meaning of apology, in which one admits that one was wrong—in this sense, an apology is a defense of what one believes to be correct.
  • Atheist: certainty that no god exists. Many atheists are quiet about their lack of faith in any god, but some atheists overtly insist that there is no god and that all religions are based on lies and delusions.
  • Catholic: (when used of Christianity) united and present throughout the world. All Christians on earth who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, and all those with him in Paradise awaiting the resurrection, are members of the catholic Church.
  • Conservative: 1. In any context, wanting things to stay the way they are, resisting change; 2. In Christian thought, holding to the historic teachings of the Church, demanding that doctrines not be changed. (compare liberal)
  • Contemporary: in the context of Christian worship, using recently-written songs and an informal structure of worship that consists largely of songs, prayers, readings from the Bible, and preaching. (compare traditional and liturgical)
  • Cult: 1. in an academic context, a New Religious Movement not based on any older religion, or one that contains enough syncretism to be treated as a new religion; Among many conservative and fundamentalist Christians, a religion based upon false teachings, often centered around a powerful personality
  • Deist: belief in a God who created the world and established the rules of morality, but who is inaccessible. Deists do not believe in miracles or prayer or a personal relationship with any god.
  • Ecumenical: An effort among Christian groups to unite the Church into a single organization rather than many competing organizations. Conservative and fundamentalist Christians sometimes accuse ecumenical efforts of watering down doctrine for the sake of shallow unity.
  • Eisegesis: warping or twisting a passage from the Bible to make it seem to support a certain thought or belief (compare exegesis)
  • Evangelical: based upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Exegesis: studying the Bible to discover what it says (compare eisegesis)
  • Fundamentalist: defining membership in Christianity based on acceptance of a list of beliefs. Fundamentalism began in the United States early in the twentieth century, but the word is now used for movements within Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism as well. The list of beliefs created by Christian fundamentalists usually includes the doctrine of the Trinity, the identity of Jesus as both truly God and truly man, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus as the only source of salvation, inerrancy of the Bible, acceptance of miracles (especially the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection), and the future bodily return of Jesus.
  • Gnostic: claiming to have secret knowledge about religion (especially Christianity) that goes beyond the teachings found in the Bible. Gnosticism was common during the growth of early Christianity, and is often thought to have been revived in the New Age movement within Christianity.
  • Heretic: one who denies a key doctrine of Christianity, such as the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, or the humanity of Jesus. Heretics are generally regarded by Christians as outside the true Church.
  • Hermeneutics: the set of principles that guide a reader of the Bible—a way of practicing exegesis and avoiding eisegesis. Differences among Christians often result from different hermeneutical approaches.
  • Heterodox: one who is mistaken about certain important doctrines but correct about the key doctrines. Heterodox people are generally regarded as fellow Christians with the same Savior and the same hope of heaven in spite of their differences. (compare heretic and orthodox)
  • Indigenous Religion: a religion long practiced among a small group of people with the same culture, usually a minority surrounded by a more powerful culture which follows a different religion. Indigenous religions are still practiced among some Native Americans, Africans, Pacific Islanders, Siberians, and the like.
  • Irenics: the effort to communicate among groups with differing beliefs, generally in a non-confrontational manner. The term irenics is derived from the Greek word meaning “peace.” Accordingly, irenics can be described as peaceful coexistence of people whose beliefs differ, although irenics includes communication about their differing beliefs. (compare pluralism)
  • Liberal: 1. In any context, wanting things to change, believing that a situation can be improved. 2. In Christian thought, accepting changes in doctrine, whether as a response to scientific discoveries, a response to changing social conditions and perceptions, or the ecumenical movement.
  • Liturgical: in the context of Christian worship, following the order of worship that was developed in the early Church, generally including the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei, all of which are songs derived from passages in the Bible. (compare contemporary and traditional)
  • New Religious Movement: in an academic context, a group of religious beliefs and practices that has come into being within the past several centuries (see cult and sect)
  • Orthodox: one who is correct about all Christian doctrines. Naturally, every Christian considers himself or herself orthodox and judges others to be heretic or heterodox.
  • Pluralism: a society in which several religions coexist without violent confrontation. The United States is often described as a pluralist society.
  • Sect: 1. In an academic context, a new religious movement that arises within an established religion. 2. Among many conservatives and fundamentalists, any Christian group that is heterodox rather than orthodox.
  • Syncretism: blending two or more religions. The Old Testament prophets preached against syncretism involving Canaanite religion and the religion of Israel. In more recent times, Santeria and Voodoo have appeared as New Religious Movements derived from Christianity blended with indigenous religions of Africa.
  • Theist: certain that God exists, that he has thoughts and feelings and personality, and that one can have a personal relationship with God.
  • Traditional: in the context of Christian worship, maintaining the same form of worship rather than developing new forms of worship. Often a synonym for liturgical. (compare contemporary)
  • Unionism: groups of different beliefs and practices worshiping together. Sometimes used of different religions worshiping together, sometimes used of different forms of Christianity worshiping together.

The New Social Order in America

An interesting document has recently crossed my desk at work: a booklet titled The New Social Order in America. Here is a selection of statements from the front cover:

“IN THE PRESENT SOCIAL CRISIS

“When old social and economic institutions are being abandoned;

“When government control of industry has been carried to an unprecedented degree;

“When legal regulation of wages and prices is being swiftly extended;

“When taxation of incomes, profits, inheritances, and luxuries is being immensely increased

“When organized labor has acquired unprecedented influence;

“When capitalists of the Charles M. Schwab type predict the approaching domination of America by the manual workers;

“In such a crisis, every thinking person wants to know the rudiments of the great issues up for decision, to think these issues through for himself, and to encourage others to face the social reconstruction with equal frankness….”

It sounds as though They (whoever They are) are threatening America’s liberties and its very survival. Patriots need to be informed of Their agenda to prevent Them from succeeding in Their nefarious schemes. And I think we all know who They are—government types, some of them elected, but many of them appointed and not accountable to the People; agitators, threatening violence in their efforts to reshape our society according to their own mistaken values; liberals, who do not trust liberty and capitalism, but who instead want to play Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. They trust big government to have the answer to all society’s problems. They discourage productivity and thrift, rewarding bad decisions with largesse taken out of the hands of those who have earned what they hold.

But before we get too excited at this document, guaranteed to help us beat back the New Social Order, I want to fill in the gaps that I left in the above quote.

First gap: “When millions of men are being summoned to service by the government;”

Second gap: “…by war necessity;

“When equal suffrage seems imminent;

“When prohibition of the liquor traffic is impending;”

Third gap: “When extreme radicals are the controlling native force in Russia;

“When the British Labor Party is uniting hand and brain workers on a program of fundamental economic reconstruction….”

Have you put those pieces together? A nation at war, sending millions of men into the conflict; equal suffrage imminent; probation impending; radicals in Russia—the date of this document is October, 1918.

And yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The radicals taking over Russia in 1918 were finally kicked out of the government in 1991, but Vladimir Putin was trained by the last generation of those radicals. Hardly anyone in the United States is opposed to women being allowed to vote, or in favor of the prohibition of alcohol, but questions of equal access to the ballot box and discussion of the use or prohibition of other substances are still burning issues. We have volunteers serving in our armed forces, and we are not sending millions of men to the conflicts in western Asia, but the reality of war and the cost of that war still concern us today.

Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. We have a social crisis today in which taxation, regulation, and abandonment of traditional institutions remain symptomatic of our problems. I haven’t had time to read the rest of the booklet, but the cover intrigues me. Here are the concluding words on the cover:

“As an aid to these ends, this study syllabus has been prepared as the cooperative product of a number of liberal thinkers.

“Copies may be secured at 15 cents each, eight for one dollar, or $12 per hundred, from Hornell Hart, 807 Neave Bldg., Cincinnati.”

If you should try to contact Mr. Hart, please let me know if you receive a reply. J.

Definitions

As a history teacher, I must define a few words so that the students and I can use them properly in the classroom. I want my students to know to true meaning of words such as “conservative,” “liberal,” “capitalist,” “socialist,” and “communist.” When we all use those words the same way, our conversations are much more productive.

Conservatives want to conserve things. They want to keep things the way they are. A conservative is likely to say, “If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.” Liberals want to change things. They don’t think things are good enough, and so they want to fix what is broken. A liberal is likely to say, “We can make it better.”

Actually, conservative and liberal are two words that cover some territory on a broad spectrum. A conservative wants to keep things the way they are, but a reactionary wants to change things back to the way they used to be. A liberal wants to improve the system, but a radical wants to destroy the system and replace it with a new system. Moderates are between conservatives and liberals. They want to change some things, but they want other things to stay the same. Convinced conservatives and convinced liberals think of moderates as weak and indecisive. They find it hard to fathom why anyone would want to remain in the middle between two choices. Yet political opinions are generally shaped like a bell curve. I suspect more people are moderate than are either conservative or liberal.

People sometimes change their minds, becoming more conservative or more liberal because of different experiences and new perspectives. Ideas can also change, generally from liberal to conservative. A new idea is going to be liberal at first. To adopt a new idea is to want to change. Two hundred years later, that idea has become old. Conservatives want to keep that idea, not to change it; but liberals might reject that idea that used to be liberal, because they think things can be better.

Limiting the power of government was once a liberal idea. Now it is a conservative idea. Defending human rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, was once a liberal idea. Now it is a conservative idea. Abolishing slavery was once a liberal idea. Allowing women to vote was once a liberal idea. Even capitalism was once a liberal idea. Once an idea has been around for a while and people have gotten used to it, the idea is now a conservative idea.

Capitalism has its origin in the High Middle Ages of Europe. As an economic idea, though, it was not expressed clearly until the late eighteenth century. When people thought at all about economics, they assumed that a limited amount of value exists in the world. For one person to gain wealth, someone somewhere would have to lose wealth. Nations competed for limited forms of wealth, such as precious metals. Explorers claimed newly-discovered lands for European governments, believing that they had to compete to see who would be wealthiest and strongest and safest. Adam Smith was one of the first writers to show that value in the world can increase, benefiting all people. A diamond found in a mine has value, but after a jeweler has spent hours cutting and polishing that diamond, the gem is more valuable, even though it is smaller. Wool sheared from a sheep has value. After the carder and spinner and weaver and fuller and tailor have worked with that wool to produce garments, the wool is far more valuable, even though much of it has been lost in the process.

Liberals at that time, believing in limited government, also believed that the government should be uninvolved in the national economy. They were convinced that the economy would regulate itself and would become stronger, benefiting all people, if the government would just get out of the way and let things happen. Private owners would be motivated to do their best to succeed with their property. They wanted customers to buy their products. Some would try to improve the quality of their products to attract customers, while others would try to cut costs to attract customers. Those seeking quality would pay their workers more to attract the better workers; but those who tried to cut costs might not need to pay workers as much, since their expenses would be smaller. Competition would waver between the higher quality and the lower cost, value would increase, and everyone would benefit. Liberal capitalists did not see any way that the government could help that process other than by staying out of the way.

Unregulated capitalists had critics by the middle of the nineteenth century. Capitalists hired children to work in their factories; those children worked from before sunrise until after sunset, labored in dark and dangerous conditions, and brought home less money than an adult would have expected for the same work. Liberals thought that conditions could be better. Some formed utopian communities, but others looked to the government to take over the factories and fix the problem. They figured that if the government owned the factories, they would improve working conditions, pay better wages, produce quality products, and sell those products for less, since the government would not be seeking to make a profit. Radicals (including Marx and Engels) expected the workers to rise in revolt, take over the factories, entrust them to the government for a time, and eventually replace the government with a world-wide utopian community in which each person would work for all and each would receive what he or she needed from all.

“Capitalism,” then, is defined as private ownership of the means of creating value, whether farms, factories, oil wells and refineries, or hospitals and medical clinics. “Socialism” is defined as government ownership of the same means of creating value. “Communism” is defined as shared ownership of these means without government control.

These definitions became confused when the Bolshevik Party in Russia changed its name to the Communist Party. They based this name on their promise of communism in the future, even though they named the country which they ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. For seventy years the Communist Party ruled the USSR, but the country remained socialist; it never became communist.

During the Cold War, Americans spoke of the struggle between communists and the free world. Other countries were ruled by Communist parties, but all of those countries were socialist. Moreover, all those governments were totalitarian, controlling the lives of citizens by controlling elections, education, communication, and every workplace, as well as law enforcement. It was a crime to disagree with the government. When citizens protested their governments, they were arrested or killed. People voted with their feet when they had their chance. Between three and four million Germans left East Germany to live in West Germany before the Berlin Wall was built; not many left West Germany to live in East Germany. When Vietnam was divided into a communist North Vietnam and a noncommunist South Vietnam, one million people traveled from North to South. Only ninety thousand traveled the opposite direction. When Fidel Castro said in 1980 that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba was free to go, 125,000 gathered at the port of Mariel waiting for transportation to the United States. That many Americans have not tried to escape to Cuba in the entire fifty-five years that Castro’s Communist Party has ruled Cuba.

Small groups of people have experimented with communism. Even the early Christians were communist, according to Acts 4:32. No country has ever been communist, and no country ever will be communist, because governments are not good at surrendering their power to the people. Socialism has been tried at various times in various places with various levels of satisfaction among the citizens.

If unregulated capitalism was so bad, why did the workers of the industrialized nations not rise in revolt as Marx and Engels predicted? Marx and Engels did not envision regulated capitalism, in which the governments make laws about how farms and factories will operate, even though the government does not claim ownership of the farms and factories. Laws restricted child labor and eventually placed limits on the number of hours any worker could work. Laws allowed inspectors into factories to ensure that the factories were safe for workers and that their products were safe for customers to use. Laws forced capitalists to allow their workers to gather into labor unions which could then represent the workers and negotiate with the business owners. Capitalism survived and thrived because of its compromise with regulation. By 1988 it was easy to compare East Germany to West Germany, North Korea to South Korea, China and Vietnam to Japan and Singapore and Taiwan. In every comparison, it was easy to see that regulated capitalism produced a better life for citizens than totalitarian socialism.

Yet in regulated capitalism citizens often disagree with one another about the amount of regulation that is ideal. This conversation is part of an idea that has been called “the social contract.” On another day, I will write about that contract and what it means for people living under regulated capitalism. This post is too long already. J.