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by Clark Carlton
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
The 2008 US presidential election is almost a year and a half away, and yet the various campaigns are in full swing. With states vying to move the primary season up into late 2007, it is time that we as citizens of the United States start to think about who we would like to see elected to the White House next year.
Before I express my own thoughts about the upcoming election, let me begin with a couple of obvious, but nonetheless vital, observations. First of all, reasonable people - and certainly the reason-endowed sheep of Christ's flock - can disagree about political philosophies and the relative virtues and vices of particular candidates. I do not believe that there is one "Orthodox" answer to some of the questions that I will raise below. In other words, I will question neither the purity of your faith nor the sincerity of your commitment to Christ if you disagree with my thoughts.
Such circumspection is necessary because our Lord did not deliver to us any particular "political philosophy." When the Pharisees tried to trap Him with a question about money He replied simply, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Later, the Pharisees accused Him of trying to put Himself in the place of Caesar. When Pilot asked Him about this He replied, "My Kingdom is not of this world." St. Paul admonished Christians to obey those in civil authority - even though they were pagans - but later writers, living under intense persecution, were somewhat less enthusiastic about their allegiance to the Roman Empire.
Finally, in the fourth century the Roman Empire underwent a slow and sometimes painful process of Christianization. (Eusebius' rose-colored version of events needs to be taken with a grain of salt.) This eventually gave rise the Byzantine theory of "symphony" between Church and state. There is no question that the conversion of the Empire had many benefits, chief among them the development of a genuinely Orthodox culture - with all of its artistic, literary, and architectural achievements - and greatly increased missionary expansion. At the same time, however, there was always a very real danger of identifying - confusing, really - the state with the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the actual history of Roman Orthodox symphonia is a decidedly mixed bag. Our calendar is full of saints who suffered exile and even torture at the hands of the "most pious Christian Emperors" (Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Maximus to name but three). The point is that Orthodox Christians throughout history have lived all over the world under quite diverse political circumstances. While Byzantine symphonia holds an honored place within the history of the Church, one cannot claim with any theological seriousness that this is the only Orthodox political philosophy.
This leads me to my second observation, which is that contemporary American culture is far removed from that which has developed within traditionally Orthodox lands. Therefore, I do not for one minute believe that the political principles that I shall advocate below are necessarily exportable to other cultures. Frankly, I would be delighted to see the restoration of an Orthodox monarchy in Russia. (For the record, I do not subscribe to the Third Rome theory.) However, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of such a thing happening over here. And frankly, I would not want it to happen even if it were possible because our culture is so profoundly different from the Russian culture, which is the product of a thousand years of Orthodox influence.
Keeping these observations in mind, we must begin with the principles that make the American system unique in the world. Certainly most of the nations of the developed world could be termed "democracies" in some sense, and yet it is clear that our political culture is quite different from that of France or Germany, or even Mother England for that matter. The political principles that undergird the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are technically known as "political liberalism" and go back to the empiricist philosopher John Locke. ("Liberalism" in this sense is quite different from the typical modern use of the word.) The differences between Locke's approach and that of Continental philosophers like Rousseau and Kant are crucial to understanding the uniqueness of the American political system.
According to Locke and his spiritual heirs such as Thomas Jefferson, the function of government is to secure the liberty of individual citizens. Thus, the American political philosophy begins with the individual. Of course, for the Orthodox, individualism is a very problematic notion, one that is intimately connected to our understanding of the Fall of Man. Yet, we must keep in mind that no secular political philosophy could possibly do justice to the Orthodox concept of persons-in-communion. Given the choice between secular individualism and secular collectivism, a good case can be made that individualism is preferable.
The belief that the purpose of government is to secure the liberty of its citizens necessarily entails limited government. The equation is quite simple: the bigger the government is, the more it tries to do, the less freedom is available to its citizens. The purpose of government within the American tradition, then, is neither to make its citizens righteous nor to take care of them from the cradle to the grave, but to protect their God-given liberty.
The American form of political liberalism is not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination, and we must always be wary of granting America a sort of messianic status as some Evangelical Protestants have done. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that given our political, social, and cultural history, the kind of government envisioned by Jefferson is by far the best form of government for Orthodox Christians in America who wish to live their lives in pious obedience to the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church.
This political system will not guarantee righteousness - no government can - but it does guarantee the fundamental conditions of liberty in which a life of true evangelical righteousness can blossom. Neither will this system guarantee that every citizen is "taken care of." Yet, we must not forget that the admonition to feed the hungry and clothe the naked was addressed to the Church, not to Caesar. Sometimes we confuse the two and expect the government to do our work for us. This is an abdication of our evangelical duties to the poor, not their fulfillment. At any rate, a limited government would mean a more expansive role for the Church within society, whereas an expansive government necessarily means a diminished role for the Church. For example, the Roman Catholic Church in California has had to alter its participation in the state's adoption system because of state rules regarding same-sex couples. Government involvement always involves government regulation.
This example, however, illustrates the fact that the kind of government we have now at all levels bears little resemblance to the system envisioned by Jefferson and the other founders of our Republic. All three branches of the federal government - branches that were created precisely as checks on each other's power - systematically ignore the limits imposed upon the federal government by the Constitution. The Congress passes all manner of legislation not authorized by the Constitution, limiting the freedom of the public through an ever-increasing network of laws and taxes, while at the same time almost completely abdicating its constitutional duties in regard to foreign policy and war. Presidents, for their part, routinely abdicate their duty to veto unconstitutional legislation and act as a check on congressional spending and instead have taken to themselves the almost monarchical power to promulgate their own laws (Executive Orders) and to wage war without a congressional declaration. (The last time Congress declared war was 1941.) And rather than keep the other two branches of government in line with the Constitution, the judicial branch instead rewrites legislation or invents new laws simply by fiat. (That is how we ended up with Roe vs. Wade.)
In short, the problem we face is that while the constitutional form of government envisioned by Jefferson may well be the best form of government within our cultural context, yet, quite clearly, this is no longer the kind of government we actually have. The question is whether or not this form of government can be restored to the American people. I believe that it can and that the presidential election of 2008 is the key to this restoration.
I am 43 years old and for the very first time I will be voting for a presidential candidate rather than against the other guy. I am convinced that Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, a candidate from the Republican Party, is the single most important presidential candidate in my lifetime. I make this bold statement because he is the first presidential candidate that I have ever heard who clearly understands the philosophical foundations of our republic and who is committed to governing in accordance with the Constitution - including abiding by the limitations placed on the power of the president.
In more than seventeen years as a US congressman, Ron Paul has never voted for an unbalanced budget. He has never voted for legislation that is not authorized by the Constitution. He does not even participate in the congressional pension plan. His consistent, principled stand for constitutional government has earned him the nickname, "Dr. No."
While opposing runaway congressional spending, Congressman Paul has also been an indefatigable opponent of runaway executive power. Committed to the constitutional principle that only Congress can declare war, he voted against the resolution approving of President Bush's war plans for Iraq. (Congress refused to actually declare war, so they passed the buck by granting the president the "authority" to go to war.) Furthermore, he voted against the Patriot Act, which represents one of the gravest threats to individual liberty in American history. He stood almost alone among Republicans in this. (He also opposed President Clinton's illegal war against our brother Serbs!)
Some have tried to portray this position as being contrary to conservative and Republican principles. Yet, Congressman Paul knows well that non-interventionism is the traditional Republican stance. The foreign policy of the present Republican administration is designed by a clique of former Trotskyites who have embarked on an imperialistic program of perpetual war abroad and ever-greater government power at home. Ron Paul understands that:
There is nothing conservative about an undeclared war against a country that has not threatened us.
There is nothing conservative about threatening other countries (Iran) with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
There is nothing conservative about "spreading Democracy" at gunpoint.
There is nothing conservative about suspending or ignoring habeas corpus.
There is nothing conservative about warrantless searches.
On the contrary, these are all the actions of leftist, totalitarian governments. The failures of the Bush administration are not the result of traditional Republican principles; they are the result of the abandonment of traditional Republican principles. Quite frankly, Ron Paul is the only traditional Republican in the race.
Now I am not claiming that Ron Paul is perfect, and neither is he. Paul is not running for "Savior of the World," but for president of the most powerful nation on earth - a nation that is so far removed from its founding principles that it is now one of the greatest threats to freedom in the world, both at home and abroad. The United States has certainly become a threat to our Orthodox brethren around the world. Witness the US-backed persecution of our brethren in Kosovo and Palestine. Certainly the Christians in Iraq are much worse off now than they were before the US invasion. Furthermore, if current policies continue in place, we will be headed for an inevitable confrontation with a resurgent Russia. Our children and grand-children may be in for another Cold War â€“ only this time we may just be the Evil Empire.
I believe that Ron Paul is uniquely qualified to turn our country from this disastrous course and return her to her constitutional foundations. In particular, he possesses two character traits essential for this task. These are traits to which every Orthodox Christian should aspire: personal integrity and humble obedience.
It is a sad commentary on our society that integrity is not a trait we have come to expect from our politicians. As the GOP candidates crawl all over themselves to claim the flag of being for "family values," it is fascinating that the (current) top four candidates (including Fred Thompson) have seven wives between them. Ironically, the Mormon is the only one who is not a serial bigamist! In addition to the fact that Ron Paul has been married to the same woman for fifty years (five children, seventeen grandchildren), his voting record after more than seventeen years in Congress is the very picture of consistency and principled dedication. Indeed, he seems to be from another century altogether. The Scripture enjoins us: "Let your â€˜yeaâ€™ be â€˜yea,â€™ and your â€˜nayâ€™ be â€˜nay.â€™" Whether you agree with all of Ron Paul's positions or not, you know exactly where he stands today and can be assured that he will not change his principles tomorrow for the sake of political expediency.
Within our ascetical literature, one virtue stands out as the surest way to achieve Christ-like humility and love, and that is the virtue of obedience. When Ron Paul became a US Congressman he took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." That oath has determined every vote he has cast in the House of Representatives. In other words, he placed himself in obedience to the Constitution. He has never voted for a House bill that is not specifically authorized by the Constitution. Again, I am not suggesting that Congressman Paul is an Orthodox saint; he isn't. But his humble obedience to his oath of office is an example for us all. He certainly behaves as "one under authority." (Imagine how much better off our Church would be in North America if our bishops always acted in accordance with the canons!)
Furthermore, as a conservative Protestant and as an obstetrician by trade, Congressman Paul has consistently opposed abortion far more consistently than most of the other Republican candidates. Most importantly, however, Paul opposes abortion on sound constitutional as well as religious grounds. This means that he will be able to make a clear and credible case why the most fundamental right of all - the right to live - must be guaranteed to the unborn.
I have never contributed to a presidential campaign before. I have never put a political bumper sticker on my car before. And I have never written a letter like this before. I have done all three because for the first time in my life I truly believe that there is a chance to return this nation to the rule of law under the Constitution. Traditional Republicans feel betrayed by the Bush Administration, and anti-war and pro-civil liberties Democrats are beginning to see through the hypocrisy of their own candidates. The time is right for a man like Ron Paul, and Ron Paul is precisely the man we need for these times. As Judge Andrew Napolitano recently commented after reviewing a litany of tyrannical, post 9/11 "homeland security measures": "We need a Ron Paul in the White House more desperately now than we ever have at any time in our history."
If you are interested in learning more about Ron Paul, please go to RonPaul2008.com.
Asking for your prayers for our Nation, I remain,
Yours in Christ,
The Quotable Ron Paul
On Hate Crime Legislation
Last week, the House of Representatives acted with disdain for the Constitution and individual liberty by passing HR 1592, a bill creating new federal programs to combat so-called "hate crimes."... HR 1592, like all hate crime laws, imposes a longer sentence on a criminal motivated by hate than on someone who commits the same crime with a different motivation. Increasing sentences because of motivation goes beyond criminalizing acts; it makes it a crime to think certain thoughts. Criminalizing even the vilest hateful thoughts - as opposed to willful criminal acts - is inconsistent with a free society (May 9, 2007).
On Censorship and Racism
Let's be perfectly clear: the federal government has no business regulating speech in any way. Furthermore, government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combating bigotry in our society. Bigotry at its essence is a sin of the heart, and we can't change people's hearts by passing more laws and regulations. Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called "diversity" actually perpetuate racism. Their obsession with racial group identity is inherently racist.The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity (April 18, 2007).
On the Federal Budget
The fiscal year 2008 budget, passed in the House of Representative last week, is a monument to irresponsibility and profligacy. It shows that Congress remains oblivious to the economic troubles facing the nation, and that political expediency trumps all common sense in Washington. To the extent that proponents and supporters of these unsustainable budget increases continue to win reelection, it also shows that many Americans unfortunately continue to believe government can provide them with a free lunch.To summarize, Congress proposes spending roughly $3 trillion in 2008. When I first came to Congress in 1976, the federal government spent only about $300 billion. So spending has increased tenfold in thirty years, and tripled just since 1990.About one-third of this $3 trillion is so-called discretionary spending; the remaining two-thirds is deemed "mandatory" entitlement spending, which means mostly Social Security and Medicare. I'm sure many American voters would be shocked to know their elected representatives essentially have no say over two-thirds of the federal budget, but that is indeed the case. In fact the most disturbing problem with the budget is the utter lack of concern for the coming entitlement meltdown (April 3, 2007).
On Immigration Reform
The much-vaunted Senate "compromise" on immigration is a compromise all right: a compromise of our laws, a compromise of our sovereignty, and a compromise of the Second Amendment. That anyone in Washington believes this is a credible approach to solving our immigration crisis suggests just how out of touch our political elites really are (May 31, 2007).
On Protecting the Border
The talk must stop. We must secure our borders now. A nation without secure borders is no nation at all. It makes no sense to fight terrorists abroad when our own front door is left unlocked.
On Ending the War in Iraq
As I wrote when this measure first came before the House, we have to make a clear distinction between the Constitutional authority of Congress to make foreign policy, and the Constitutional authority of the president, as commander in chief, to direct the management of any military operation. We do no favor to the troops by micromanaging the war from Capitol Hill while continuing to fund it beyond the president's request.If one is unhappy with our progress in Iraq after four years of war, voting to de-fund the war makes sense. If one is unhappy with the manner in which we went to war, without a constitutional declaration, voting against funding for that war makes equally good sense. What occurred, however, was the worst of both. Democrats, dissatisfied with the way the war is being fought, gave the president all the money he asked for and more to keep fighting it, while demanding that he fight it in the manner they see fit. That is definitely not a recipe for success in Iraq and foreign policy in general.What is the best way forward in Iraq? Where do we go from here? First, Congress should admit its mistake in unconstitutionally transferring war power to the president and in citing United Nations resolutions as justification for war against Iraq. We should never go to war because another nation has violated a United Nations resolution. Then we should repeal the authority given to the president in 2002 and disavow presidential discretion in starting wars. Then we should start bringing our troops home in the safest manner possible (May 1, 2007).
On True Patriotism
Madam Speaker, for some, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. For others, it means dissent against a government's abuse of the people's rightsâ€¦. The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state. Resistance need not be violent, but the civil disobedience that might be required involves confrontation with the state and invites possible imprisonment (On the floor of the House, May 22, 2007).
November 28, 2007
Dr. Clark Carlton [ send him mail] is assistant professor of philosophy at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN. A graduate of Carson-Newman College, St. Vladimirâ€™s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and the Catholic University of America, he is a sought-after speaker on Orthodox issues. He is the author of the five-volume Faith Series from Regina Orthodox Press, and his weekly podcast, "Faith and Philosophy," can be heard on the Internet at Ancientfaithradio.