Coronavirus and Civil Liberties

In a recent Newsweek piece, an article typical of so many, left and right, that incorrectly view the philosophical questions related to Coronavirus. Painting the struggle as one of liberty versus safety, the freedom of the individual versus the power of the centralized state the article misses entirely the question of the implications of such a struggle. It also ignores the question of what role should other important institutions be playing and to mitigate evil, and suffering as well as encourage citizens to use freedom ethically and government to act as little as required.


A recent Newsweek article[i] is representative of the much of the zeitgeist of the current state of American politics, left and right. A view of Natural rights, shaped by the Lockean view, have come to dominate both sides of the political spectrum, manifesting over separate issues, but deriving from the same root. Roger Parloff’s piece approaches the issue from the left-liberal progressive position; he is concerned with voting rights and abortion. One could easily find a piece approaching gun control[ii] or religious freedom deriving from the same flawed foundation. All such appeals begin with errors found in Locke’s conception of the state of nature, an incorrect view of natural law. Essential, both right and left approach these issues from a form of Pelagianism[iii] and an extreme focus on the individual; these approaches assume man alone can consistently choose good without divine aid and that the needs and rights of the individual are equal to the importance of the community and tradition and convention. Such a view is of course theologically flawed (James 2:8) but also is contrary to our history and traditions. It is a binary view that places the law and the central government’s role at odds with the individual, it completely ignores the historical importance of other institutions -subsidiarity - and the permanent things of a culture. It is also an appeal to an originalist view, left and right, that holds certain presuppositions about the de facto versus de jure nature of our system and the rule of law, premises that history calls into question.[iv]

Parloff begins his article with an assumption, that coronavirus is an “extreme crisis” that creates a conflict between safety and liberty. In this, he demonstrates two errors. First, it is impossible to know that Coronavirus is a crisis in and of itself because we simply do not know the nature of the thing.[v] Second, his assumption that a liberty/safety conflict must exist demonstrates the fundamental flaw of the ideologies of liberal societies. He goes on to equate delaying primaries as an affront to voters rights, prisoners being denied a ‘right to life’ because they may become ill, he conflates basic triage strategies with discrimination against disabled people and finally, the curtailment of medically ending the life of babies in the womb as an afront to human rights.

The conflict between liberty and security is a problem only insofar as the Western liberal democracies have abandoned the partnerships for the common-good Aristotle wrote about in the opening to Politics.[vi] This, compounded with the abandonment of subsidiarity, of institutions that ought to have co-equal roles with the central government in the nurturing and maintenance of culture and people, has led to the conflict Parloff and so many others see.[vii]

Looking to history, the problems that Parloff highlights would be considered absurd. The individual is a member of a community, that is his natural state.[viii] His community is in partnership with others for the common good. John C. Calhoun warned repeatedly that a strong central government without subsidiarity would invariably lead to these sorts of conflicts.[ix] Thus we find ourselves faced with an event we cannot define, partially because we listen to sophists, in a crisis we do not understand, leaving us to discuss balancing liberty with security while applying no philosophic principles other than flawed concepts of man and nature – individuality and fear.[x]

Parloff is not alone in his mistakes and errors, the central theme of all such pieces is their failure to understand that liberalism, progressivism, and individualism is bound to end in authoritarianism and tyranny.[xi] He has framed the wrong question and has failed to ask what role other institutions should play in an event like this to ensure common-good[xii] and morality and virtue at the local level. Instead, he assumes that the individual and the central government are the only actors, an assumption that if true, will invariably lead to the individual losing.

[i] See, Parloff, Roger., “The Coronavirus Crisis Threatens 2020 Voting Rights, Abortion, Other Civil Liberties, Watchdogs Say”, Newsweek, Monday, April 06, 2020.

[ii] See as one example, Fernadez, Stacey,. “Texas gun stores are essential businesses, may stay open during the pandemic, attorney general says”, The Texas Tribune, March 27, 2020.

[iii] See, “The Pelagian Controversy”,

[iv] See, McDonald, Forrest., “Was the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutionally Adopted?”,  The Annotated Secessionist Papers, Second Edition, Abbeville: The Calhoun Institute, 2018, pp. 41-60. Dr. McDonald presents an argument that the 14th Amendment was not ratified in accordance with law or convention. This one amendment is the foundation of much left-liberal, progressive and libertarian-conservative ideology yet, it does not comport with de jure law.

[v] It is impossible, simply because the data related to COVID19 is all over the map and ‘experts’ have been wrong at each step to know what the true nature of this virus is and the implications of that. Marcus Aurelius warned in Mediations, Book X, “Focus on what nature demands, as if you were governed by that alone. Then do that, and accept it, unless your nature as a living being would be degraded by it. Then focus on what that nature demands, and accept that too—unless your nature as a rational being would be degraded by it.” The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. United Kingdom, Routledge, 1894.

[vi] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States, University of Chicago Press, 2012. p. 134.

[vii] Organized religion, State and local government, business and trade organizations, fraternal and community based organizations – all have had a traditional and historic role in both protecting and nurturing communities and people locally but in allowing people, through voluntary organization to take care of themselves. Liberalism in the west has replaces all f this with Government and the individual.

[viii] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 121.

[ix] Cheek, H. Lee. Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. United States: University of Missouri Press, 2004. p. 156.

[x] See previous argument, “How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature”,

[xi] See previous argument, “From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism”, or Clark, Barry, From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism (December 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

[xii] See previous argument, “Government for the Common Good”,

Coronavirus: A Principled Response

A Philosophical Question

Last evening a new acquaintance, and perhaps someday a friend, responded to one of my Twitter posts with a question that has plagued me since watching the events in China back in January.

It's just not obvious to me. People die all the time from new virus mutations. It infects entire societies. Why this one? Is it because it stays on surfaces for prolonged period?

Indeed. How and why is this different than SARS, the influenza epidemic of 1957, the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 or the Black Death?

I do not know? President Trump's Oval Office speech on 11 March used words that if a President in 1940, 50 or 80 had uttered would have positively impacted the spirit of the nation.

From the beginning of time nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond...

Spot on, common-sense, robust words. Tough times come, troubles arise and brave nations and people rise up to meet the challenge. None of what Trump said mattered the markets tanked, the news media went into a frenzy of speculation and attack and Americans, in general, acted like idiots. We bought up toilet paper but did not take any steps to avoid crowds. By Sunday 15 March, many took things seriously, reaction, overreaction and panic were the norms.

But as Harrison Frey asked via Twitter - why is this different? What first principle are we applying? Essentially he is asking, what is the nature of this thing, this coronavirus event?

What is the Nature of the Thing

It is certainly hard to tell. We were told by 'experts' you could only get this if you were within three feet of someone coughing. Some people pushed a campaign of #StayCalmWashYourHands. I saw this locally from the folks in charge of AUMC. Washing one's hands is certainly sage advice, but did the 'experts' really understand the nature of the thing? So why the different information coming out now 'it lingers in the air and on cardboard boxes too'?  Did we not have enough information because China refused to let anyone in to observe what was going on? Is the virus mutating? Are our experts incompetent? Is it all three in combination or some other factor I have not considered? Is the virus as dangerous as it appears in Italy? Was it just as China depicted, or did they cover anything up? Is Iran being completely honest about their mortality rates? Why did so few people on crowded cruise ships contract it and so few die?

These are tough questions? Without answering them, it is difficult to approach the nature of the event by analyzing the virus itself. One thing is certain, it is no longer 'crack-pot' to at least wonder if Chinese bioengineering work in Wuhan had anything to do with this. Was it an accidental release? Is this mutating because it was bioengineered?

Of course many in the US are still hung up on what to call the virus, reporters that have the opportunity to ask serious questions that might inform the public waste their chance with ridiculous #ChinaVirus questions. Not the issue at hand, unimportant and detracts from the important conversations.

Perhaps this is the nature of the thing, not the virus, but the level of distrust, stupidity and triviality that infects the media, the Fourth Estate. Perhaps the ineptitude, bias, and dishonesty of the media (something no honest person can deny exists) have contributed to a general sense of cynicism, distrust, and fear in the population.  Perhaps when we couple this cynicism with our cultural decline (loss of faith, identity, unity, civility and ethics) and add-in selfishness, sloth, greed, laziness and overall weakness in American people generally - the true nature of this becomes clearer.

This is certainly not how the generation that faced the Great Depression or WWII acted, we know that as a fact. The Spanish Flu of 1918-20 did not cause this sort of fear and reaction and as far as we can tell the Black Death. As a fact, we know we, as people have changed - perhaps that is the nature of this thing.

Existential Risks and Biotechnology (post from February 2nd)

What First Principles Apply

My conversation with Harrison centered on first principles - what applies here. Is all life is invaluable and no life is invaluable; or to paraphrase Spock, do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Is the cost to the economy, and the suffering and death that will necessary? How deadly would this have been if normal controls were instituted?

These are solid philosophical questions - but not applicable. The United Kingdon considered implementing a plan where a portion of the least vulnerable would contract the disease and they would implement measures to protect those most likely to have serious complications. The theory being eventually the population would build up immunity and stop spreading the disease and the economy could carry on. Winston Churchhill could have briefed such a plan in 1941, you can essentially hear the words he would have used - they would differ only slightly from Trump's words on 9 March. But again, this is not 1941, people have changed, the zeitgeist has changed. The UK government quickly abandoned their herd immunity strategy. Britons it seems are not as stiff-lipped and stalwart as their ancestors. Neither are Americans.

Since it is impossible to implement any policy that measures the cost to life of overreaction versus underreaction, in our present culture, we must seek other first principles to apply. The only one I can envision fits at this point I propose is 'societal continuity' - the preservation of the structure necessary for safety and order. it is a bit more Platonic than I prefer, but in the absence of everything else, people expect the government to maintain order so that there is not a war of all against all.

Faced with a population that is more and more apt to turn to the government for solutions to problems individuals and communities should solve; a people that are weaker, less moral and less robust than past generations; a society filled with greed, laziness and unethical behavior in an environment where people cannot trust their news media and fear abounds - the government, state and Federal, has had no choice but to act drastically. Social continuity must be maintained, for the health and safety of all.

But This is America By God!


The government cannot just tell bars to close, limit alcohol or gun sales or institute a curfew, not here! Apparently, governments in New York, Ohio, California, Lousiana, and South Carolina disagree. We have seen mayor rush to limit gun sales (because that is proven to stop a virus) and now we are seeing curfews and shelter in place orders. By what authority you say? By the authority we as weak, selfish and lazy Americans have given them.

If you are upset with the reaction of the government and the fear and behavior of your local citizens, look at what you have done to stop the age of entitlement that proceeded this event. Look to the progressivism, socialism and weakness that has captured public policy and the politician of each party, that we have voted for over the years that have slowly grown government. This event is our penitence, not the virus, but our inability to weather it like brave and free men. We have done it and you and I over the years allowed the situation to develop. We have only ourselves to blame.

How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature

Much of modern political theory is a result of or a reaction to the theories of Locke and Hobbes and their individual views of both the state of nature and of the social contract. Although both men differed in their views of each of those topics, they share a commonality in that they missed key elements. Theirs was an idealist view of how community and government came into being. In their idealism, they missed key elements of reality.

In broad strokes, each envisioned a pre-government world where man either lived mostly in peace, following natural law (Locke) or in a constant state of war of all against all (Hobbes). Man eventually decided it was in his best interest to come together, in community, and to surrender rights to some form of government. Hobbes would say all rights were surrendered, locker argued only some. Hobbes would argue that man did this out of fear of his neighbor, Locke essentially that man saw this as the best way to preserve his rights to his property and prosperity. Hobbes was more Platonic in his view, Locke more Aristotelean. Both, Hobbes to a greater extent, abandoned key elements of philosophical thought going back to the Greeks. Both proposed something new and radical; idealist.

However, both abandoned a realist view of history, anthropology, and sociology in their theories of ‘man in nature’. Man has never existed in nature as an individual, alone with no authority, no structure, and just his senses and desires.

If one is inclined toward an evolutionary view of history and the rise of man, looking back we would find the first human-like creatures with intelligence and some form of capacity for reason were not so different from the primates that evolution would tell us these humanoids descended from. That is to say, they were social creatures built around family groups. The individuals in those groups were born into a social hierarchy and authority structure. The same sort of structure that existed for eons before, in that individual’s ancestors that were not humanoids at all but rather apes.

No individual ape ever contracted with other apes to form a group for protection, biology provided the template for the social order; the family. There was no instance of a Lockean state of nature with apes ‘monkeying’ around, eating bananas from their private property trees, such radical individualist would have been killed and never allowed the chance to procreate. There was never a case of all apes individually at war with all other apes in the Hobbesian view. Each ape was born into a social order, a social order that went back in one form or another as far as their mammalian ancestors existed. It developed over time, being traditional, it was learned, it was also inherited. It was never contracted. When the first humanoids arrived in the evolutionary story, they brought with them these traditions and learned behaviors and biological facts; the family group.

If one is inclined toward a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, again we find no instance where an individual man was without a structure and some authority over him. God created Adam and served as his sovereign. God created a mate for Adam, creating the family and gave Adam headship over the family. The entire Old Testament from Genesis to Kings is centered on the family group and tribes that derive from extended family. Never in the Biblical story did either a Hobbesian or Lockean state of nature exist.

It never existed in an evolutionary recount nor a Biblical view, Locke and Hobbes were working in the realm of idealism, not realism. Yet, their entire theories begin with the premise that the social contract exists because man previously lived in a state of nature. Somebody, somewhere, in their view, came together to contract for something better, to form community and then an authority to rule over that community. The fact is, humans have always had the foundational building block of community, the family, and authority that naturally resides in a parent over a child. Social order has existed throughout most of human history because of convention, tradition, and power derived from biologically inspired sociological facts – greybeards were stronger and wiser than youngsters and taught them the way. Families formed the core, family leaders became tribal leaders, and later kings – no social contract.

In the American story, our rights, laws, and traditions came from Britain. A nation that developed a constitution from what began as a simple monarchy. In the 1600’s ours was a British system, in the 1700s also, when the Constitution was ratified, we were still recipients of these British traditions. Ours was a combination of centuries of convention, tradition, subtle modifications and progressions. We were not founded, we were framed.

The implications of these errors are not insignificant. All of classical liberalism, all of the political theories that derive from that and have emerged to oppose it are based on or opposed to the fundamental errors that both Hobbes and Locke made. Thus, democracy, republicanism, and socialism all have inherent flaws. They either promote the idea of the individual or the community above that of the foundational building block of society for eons – the family. They downplay the importance of tradition, accidents of history, and received knowledge.

In the US, many of the framers of the Constitution understood the difference. The anti-federalist did not see a founding but rather a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties. They understood the notion of sovereignty and knew full well that the British sovereign had relinquished sovereignty not to the Continental Congress but to thirteen free and independent states individually. They thus understood that the will of the people might only be expressed through their states in congress assembled.

The Federalist, had a pretty different idea, they used many of the words of Locke, but upon analysis, they were much more Hobbesian and Neoplatonic in their view. They feared a lack of control, they feared checks and balances – they wanted centralization, a Hobbsean Leviathan that operated under the rule of law, but a could also define and redefine what that law meant and what the limits of its own power were at will. The Federalists did not see America as a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties – established through convention and sometimes accidents of history. They say themselves as founders of a nation based upon idealistic notions.

Their hubris combined with the error of Hobbes and Locke at the base of their thinking is what has brought America to this stage of absurdity.

Existential Risks and Biotechnology

Yeah, I do not believe in coincidences!

Apparently, Twitter just banned Zero Hedge for proposing a Coronavirus theory similar to what Josh Clark talks about in episode # six of his podcast The End of the World – gain of function biotechnology laboratory research.

I wall say it, it is too early in the news cycle to be taken seriously, I may be termed a conspiracy guy. But based upon legitimate open-source info, this smells like an engineered phenomenon, an accident, but man-made.

The internet is abuzz with all sorts of false information about Coronavirus, perhaps from official and fringe sources alike. Zero Hedge certainly qualifies as an outlet on the fringe. Whether than makes them always wrong, I cannot say. Josh Clark is certainly not always correct in his treatment of the issue in his podcast linked below – but he raises curious facts.

See below why you ought to listen
The End Of The World with Josh Clark

I admit that is a pretty catchy title. So catchy that when my wife and I were on a road trip a few weeks back she voted a hard ‘no’ when I suggested we listen to it. However, it is perhaps not what she assumed it to be. Josh begins with the question, if there are billions of stars and millions and millions of planets in the universe, statistically, many of them should have produced life and some of that intelligent life. If the scientific answer regarding the formation and timeline of the universe is correct, we simply should already be aware of other life.

Unless life is so unique it exists only here (God? or some scientific reason that makes life statistically improbable?) I could personally accept that God made life unique, but let’s stick in the realm of how a scientist might answer this apparent problem or paradox in their theories.

Josh does a good job of explaining the paradox

Science might attempt to answer this paradox by stating 1) life is hard to form, or, 2) life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate, or, 3) life is easy to develop, but intelligent life is difficult to sustain.

Item number one would place Earth in some improbable cosmological lottery, if life is so hard to form that it has only formed here, among all the possible other options, it makes us a statistical anomaly (or designed by God).

If life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate through various disasters, then why are we here and still do not see anyone else? Why did we and nobody else, out of millions and millions of possibilities, make it? This would mean, again, Earth and humanity are winners of a cosmological lottery (or God).

If number three is correct, this assumes there was nothing particularly improbable about us getting to this stage of history and development, yet we look around and do not see anyone else. Why? Josh describes the answer as the great filter, a set of problems that intelligent life would have to navigate to exist much past us and our level of development.

Just look around as some of the technology that we are only beginning to play with, even though we only dimly understand it; AI, biotechnology, physics experiments at the quantum level, etc. Passing the great filter, in this sense, is a civilization learning to both create and control AI without creating the terminator. To master bioengineered food, drugs, and germs without accidentally releasing an extinction-level pandemic. And finally to master physics at the quantum level without blowing up the world. All of those dangers are perhaps low probability, but at the extreme, they are highly dangerous, as they potentially end civilization.

The great filter then is this set of challenges a civilization has to solve as they become just smart enough to play with the ‘fire’ but not yet wise enough to fully understand it.

More on the Great Filter

So what does this have to do with coronavirus? As Josh points out biotech laboratories are all over the world. Several years ago many of these labs began gain of function research. Essentially this is the process of speeding up the development of viruses by stimulating the artificial selection of some of the most horrendous traits. This can result in a much more lethal, more contagious and more resilient virus. Many scientists view this as a way to get ahead of bad germs so that we might be able to fight them if they appear in the wild.

Of course, Josh also points out that the numerous ‘high containment’ labs around the world have a pretty poor history of containing the bad stuff inside. He suggests the great filter might consist of one of these Franken-viruses escaping from a lab and decimating the population.

Two points are interesting, the sheer number of these labs around the world doing this sort of research and the number of mistakes that have been documented to occur.

Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter because of an article they posted, suggesting that Coronovirus originated in just such a lab in Wuhan China. They listed the lab and the lead scientist from that lab. We will perhaps never know if this is exactly what occurred but based upon the track record of such labs and the sort of gain of function research routinely going on; it is possible. Worth discussing for those with a dog in the fight.

Coronavirus certainly does not seem to present an existential risk to mankind. Not in its present form. It does not seem lethal enough and it does not spread fast enough. It could perhaps end up being bad, or it might burn itself out. But it does not seem to be a civilization killer.

What is interesting about this whole situation is just how slow the world has reacted. Last Friday when the State Department announced real travel restrictions, the doctors they brought out said essentially, ‘at first we did not know infected individuals could be asymptomatic and infectious, now we do”. We are now three or four weeks into the outbreak, and nations are just now taking anything close to real action. If this were the sort of virus that could end, or severely depopulate mankind, we would be far too late in reacting.

If the great filter is a real thing, if biotech labs are as inept at maintaining containment as Josh points out, then we seem rather unprepared when a serious virus escapes one day.

Public policy guys need to consult somebody (philosophers and theologians) to help guide scientists in these efforts. Big money throwing cash at mad scientist without wise people thinking past stage one is dangerous.

Philosophical and Political Worldviews

We often view the world through a limited perspective and fail to see the larger narrative, the foundational differences in world views. A liberally inclined person may look at some conservative ideas and see totalitarianism. A conservative invariably does the same. Neither is absolutely wrong, but it is also unlikely that when a person right or left speaks these words or has these thoughts that they understand why this is true.

Within the umbrella of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, within the context of millennia of Western political, philosophical and theological thought, both left and right, conservative and liberal ideas of freedom, economics and government exist side by side. They are complementary, they share the same basic world view. Conservatism and liberalism, left and right, in the Western tradition, are based upon realism, rationalism, and acceptance of truth – this is Classical Liberalism.

The image above represents the various ideations of thought that derive from the Enlightenment. Obviously there is a vast swath of difference across this spectrum but at the core the most rigid forms of republicanism and the most liberal forms of scientific socialism share in common an acceptance of materialism, rationalism, realism and objective truth. From right to left, there is a difference in agreement as to what constitutes objective truth but everything that is true to the Enlightenment, everything above the ‘cut line’ agrees on the foundational world view, there is an agreement that truth exists.


The Enlightenment itself was subjected to a counter-revolution, beginning with Immanuel Kant and continuing through philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche and finally to the modern era and postmodernism. The counter-revolution was a slow but steady assault on the ability of men to know truth and finally of the existence of truth at all.

This shift perverted the classical liberalism philosophical spectrum. Without an understanding of the nature of man, universal truths, natural moral law, and natural rights the poles of the spectrum devolved into dangerous ideologies. Far-right republicanism gives birth to statism, far left progressivism gives birth to pseudo-marxism and totalitarian communism. Finally, a third way was born to address the inadequacies of perverted classical liberal ideologies, fascism, a phenomenon that can exist on the right and left of the spectrum below the classical liberal cut line.

The great political divide we observe at almost all levels of the process is a direct result of the abandonment of truth, or perhaps agreeing that truth exists. No longer does the definition of liberal or conservative reach across the spectrum to some degree as it did under a classical liberal view, no longer is there a middle. To be certain, there are still those that term themselves conservative and liberal but almost all on each side have succumbed to various postmodern ideological influences. This must invariably lead to some sort of totalitarianism, a form of fascism.

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or a mode of discourse that rejects the possibility of reliable knowledge, denies the existence of a universal, stable reality, and frames aesthetics and beauty as arbitrary and subjective. It can be described as a reaction against scientific attempts to explain reality with objective certainty, recognizing that reality is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal circumstances. It is characterized by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, often denying or challenging the validity of scientific inquiry, or declaiming the arbitrariness of the aesthetics of artistic works or other artifacts of cultural production, or questioning various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality.

Postmodernism relies on critical theory, an approach that confronts the ideological, social, and historical structures that shape and constrain cultural production. Common targets of postmodernism and critical theory include universalist notions of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress. Postmodernist approaches have been adopted in a variety of academic and theoretical disciplines, including political science, organization theory, cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature and music.


Why This Matters

Everything that derives from postmodernism is poison to the Western tradition, right reason, morality, and ethics based upon truth. Critical Theory, as applied to Critical Race Theory, has divided the populace by reigniting racism. Feminist Theory has destroyed the family. It has slipped into traditional organizations such as:

  • Most of mainline Christianity in the form of Social Gospel
  • The Southern Baptist Convention and the acceptance of Critical Race Theory
  • The core ideology behind the formation of the megachurch growth, seeker-sensitive and emergent church movements – Peter Drucker, the Leadership Network The Gospel Coalition and others.
  • Almost all of academia.
  • Neoconservatism, neoliberalism and progressivism – meaning most of the Republican and Democratic parties and most of the organizations and individuals that advocate in the public square for either are affected in some way by postmodern ideology.

My daughter asked me recently, “how can two sides look at the evidence and issues related to Trump’s impeachment and see the facts so differently?” The answer is simple: people are incapable of thinking from first principles and agreeing on the existence of universal truths. And so it is, so long as the vast majority are mired in bad ideology the situation will persist and intensify.

Jus Bellum Justum

Today I was listening to Mike Church on his network Veritas and was struck by a topic he covered.

I have heard Mike talk about what is a just war and why America is involved here or there before. I have heard him mention that others have accused him of not being “conservative” or being anti-American and all that because of his stance and suggestion that perhaps we ought to think about these things a bit more. These are tired arguments I saw hurled at other conservative and moral voices beginning back in the mid-2000’s. Justin Raimondo received the same sort of reception for some of the same reasons.

In the legal world there is this notion of standing, essentially having an interest in something before one might be party to or bring an action. In Mike’s case, his standing is upon centuries of doctrine codified into church teachings and that eventually found there way into international law. Numerous treaties related to how nations conduct war and when are based upon the Christian doctrine of jus abellum, first theorized by Augustine of Hippo and fleshed out by Thomas Aquinas.

Mike has never “been there” and “done it”, he has almost certainly read something about it and talked to a few people that may have been there but his standing to make the case that many of America’s military engagements are unjust is based not upon personal experience, rather upon church doctrine and quite obviously Western tradition as manifested through laws, treaties and customs we have developed based upon the foundations of those teachings over centuries. That plus the fact that he is a tax-paying American citizen give him standing to have an opinion on these matters.

Still, there are the moans and groans from the crowd of “traitor”. It seems that historical facts are not enough of standing for some to accept these arguments.

If one is Protestant rather than Catholic and if you attended a more fundamental or evangelical church it is highly likely that you have never heard Augustine mentioned within the confines of your church. So why do you care what this Augustine guy said?

One might argue that this is America by God and we will not be hamstrung by international law, even if such law is buttressed by foundational principles of Western Culture itself. So why care about international law developed over decades based upon the Western tradition?

Perhaps you served an enlistment as a young Marine years ago and still puff out your chest when telling boot-camp stories to folks that will listen. I will not deny you that. Perhaps your grandfather served in WWII and after almost 80 years since that event he only tells the good stories – that is his prerogative and I would listen to his stories. Maybe still you knew or know someone that came back from Vietnam and spent much of their life with a sadness that they could not explain, a feeling of betrayal – perhaps you feel a little guilt and sadness about that. I have seen that, I understand it and I hate what was done to those men.

However, none of that should matter when talking about what is truly just and what is unjust, what we should do and what we should not do. Some of the above is based upon ignorance, others pride and the last shame. These are vices that ought not direct us to an understanding of right and wrong.

If, you are still in the camp that says a guy like Mike has no standing to speak to these issues and that his Catholic Saints have no say in how America dictates to deals with the world. What say you of me? Do I have standing to speak to this issue?

Your humble writer is but a hypocrite of sorts. I spent 33 years in the Amy, 23 on active duty. I knew perhaps as early as Somolia and for certain no later than Bosnia that something was wrong – yet I still served, still took a paycheck and today I draw retirement.

I was pretty certain we had won, as best as one can win, the war in Afghanistan just a few weeks after it started. We had punished and diminished the folks that did us harm and that should have been that. We should have gone home and let them sort out the rest. And yet I still served.

I questioned why we should invade Iraq. I had been part of planning to “finish the job” way back in the mid-1990’s, we were just waiting for a reason. I saw through the WMD nonsense. Yet, still, I served.

One might ask why if I knew and believed these things as early as the mid-1990’s I continued to wear the uniform. That is a complex answer.

Robert E. Lee is quoted as stating a truism that I came to understand more and more as my career progressed.

“It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.”

I did not spend each and every deployment safely ensconced on some well-bermed FOB perhaps taking an “adventurous” ride over to BIOP or some other well-fortified location. I spent much time embedded with, living beside, training and fighting with foreign forces.

I have seen people die, I have feared for my life and I have rejoiced at the countenance shown upon me when I escaped unscathed.

Lee’s quote could not be truer. Wrapped up in what real war is one finds a breadth of emotions more intense than I suspect is possible to replicate in any other way. All of the senses, all emotions and all of a person’s being can and does transcend into a hypersensitive, acutely alert and devastatingly feeling and acting being. Fear, anger, hate, love, compassion, confusion, surety, exhilaration, exhaustion, all in one moment’s breath felt more intensely that it seems possible. And after, nightmares, memories (fond and foul), hypervigilance, distrust, fear, anger and more. Sherman got only one thing right in his deplorable life, war is hell, but Lee got it more right, there is something appealing to the terribleness.

All of the above coupled with the fact that from a young age I knew that I was born to be in the military – there was never a question. I was once idealistic about it. Ronald Reagan did much to stoke my enthusiasm and encourage me to pick up a rifle and stand a post.

Once in, I decided that I would do as much good as possible. Perhaps for those I served with or those I led and maybe for those people who’s country I was occupying.

I recall in 2011, while a peon on a staff planning an operation in (or shall we say against) Libya I was one of the few that questioned if we even had the right to enact regime change based upon the limited scope of the UN resolution (and a clear understanding of first principles). Some of the lawyers said the same thing before they were replaced. In my own way, I tried.

I cannot recall the number of times, late at night over tea and pretending to smoke a proffered cigarette, I had a conversation about Christ with a Muslim I served beside. They always initiated it and it was always their attempt to convince me to convert – but in my way I thought my presence and those conversations had a purpose.

I even once tried to proselytize my profession.

There is more – my personal story is not the point. My point is I do have standing to talk about just and unjust wars if you will not accept Mike’s explanation. I picked up a rifle and I stood a post.

God created us all for a purpose, my life and my career were my purpose. Much like the Centurion in Mathew 8, I was a man under authority, doing what God created me to do.

Honor the servant but chastise, rebuke and hold the master accountable. It is simply not un-American to ask that our government engage in a less bellicose form of diplomacy. It is not anti-conservative to look at war as the last and perhaps least best option in most cases.

It is perhaps the converse. The most conservative and American thing we can do is ask why we make war and hold those actions to a standard accepted by the Christian Church and Western Culture in general for centuries.

There is a real cost to war and military action and it ought not be undertaken lightly.

I am not referring to mere dollars and cents, although considering that actions and expenditures today will burden our children and grandchildren, that in and of itself is not small concern.


It was the first week of November 2004. My team and I hunkered down in an apartment complex just north of the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Fallujah. The presidential election results were just in back in the States, Bush had won reelection which meant the operation to retake the city was a go (could not have casualties or collateral damage pre-election you know). Beginning near sundown, just after the election results were received, the entire city was engulfed in fire from all manner of ordinance. It made a million-dollar minute look like a small fireworks show, and it persisted for hours. I recall all the mosques in the city actively calling prayers all night throughout the barrage. I wondered what sort of folks would stand and fight in the face of such terrifying firepower.

We had a mission the next morning and knew the next days (it turned into weeks) would be grueling, therefore we needed a rest plan and sleep. We took turns sleeping in the various bedrooms. The apartment was that of a family of four. There were two children, they appeared to be perhaps eight or nine years of age. The bedroom I selected was that of a little girl. The family had left almost everything as they evacuated before the operation. The US had dropped leaflets for weeks telling the civilian population to leave, 300,000 or so left.

I lie there trying to sleep, listening to the prayers and the explosions and looking at the pictures, dolls and essentially the stuff of this family’s life sitting just as they left it. I imagined that they had perhaps a bag of small items each and did not know if they would ever see their home again. It was a difficult night as I imagined how I would feel as that father.

Were terrible things occurring in Fallujah? Yes! There was were torture houses, makeshift courts and execution rooms and all that. It was all terrible. The thing is, the people we fought in Fallujah came from around the world, they had migrated there for months and saw the city as the start of a great caliphate. They were there to fight us. The civilians were just caught in the middle.

Did retaking the city change the future history of Iraq for the better? You can judge that for yourself, but considering ISIS eventually established a caliphate much larger than just Al Anbar province I say no.

There are many other stories from other places The one above is sufficient I think to tell of the true cost.

Cost to young US troops, many who joined because they simply had no better options, some out of idealism or a sense of duty and others as a way to better themselves. These were young folks under authority doing what we, The American people, asked.

Cost to civilians in lands where we wage these wars.

Cost to the young ideologically motivated on the other side with conviction in their faith and a belief fighting the US is a holy thing.

Cost to spouses and children left alone temporarily or permanently because their military parent is deployed and/or killed.

Cost the the soul of our nation for waging wars willy-nilly without debating the temporal and eternal cost.

I picked up a rifle and I stood a post. I have standing to say there is a cost and we ought to think and pray more diligently before rushing into any war anywhere.

The Freedom to be You

One of my objectives in retirement was to stand up a nonprofit corporation with the intent of “enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles”. Additionally, the purpose of the organization is to encourage the study of the works of John C. Calhoun and to defend that which is good of his legacy.

Last night my wife lovingly looked at me and said people would not understand and that somebody, somewhere would eventually call me a racist just because Calhoun was involved.

Heck my daughter attends the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson, on the grounds the Calhoun family gave to found that orange covered place. When I was a youngster in school I was taught Calhoun was the greatest statesmen to ever come from SC and one of the greatest from the US generally.

This perplexed me. I am a chauvinist for certain, in a loving, paternalistic sort of way. I cannot help but be who I am and believe that women are the fairer sex and that men were created to leave the cave and protect them. I do not apologize for that. I am perhaps a curmudgeon of sorts in training in terms of cultural, social and moral values – I cannot hide nor deny that.

But a racist because I think there is still great value in the political philosophy of John C. Calhoun? Do some of his words offend modern sensibilities? Certainly. Can the same be said of many other men of his time and after, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind? – certainly!

The thing most people seem to have forgotten or were never taught in history courses is that everything must be taken in context.

I thought deeply about what she said. Shame on anyone that ever or eventually paints me with such a brush. I also resolved to come to the conclusion that I do not care. If one can find anyone that I ever worked with or for or that worked for me that would honestly call me a racist then I would say they had traveled to a parallel universe to find said person.

There is no truth to it.

As a benefit to my efforts with this new organization, I have been dialoguing with a man whom I have read and respected for years. In the next couple of weeks, I will sit with him and have lunch. He is perhaps the most accomplished scholar alive, perhaps ever to live, related to the life and works of Calhoun. This man, since retiring from his professorship at the University of South Carolina has been called a racist in many places on the web. He is a curmudgeon, he is old school, but I have read most everything he has written and I have never seen anything that would qualify as racist.

It is a sad state of affairs in a society that claims to love freedom where an individual can be denigrated based upon spurious and unfounded accusations simply because they support elements of truth that are uncomfortable to someone else’s narrative.

The beautiful thing is. I am free to do what I believe and I need not care what anyone that would spread such filth might say or believe.

Part of finding purpose is knowing where you stand and not being afraid to be present in that spot.