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Archive for October 2009



Saying Boo To A Ghost

So far as Hallowe’en is concerned, the Pope, it seems, is all bah, humbug. The Daily Telegraph has the details:

The Holy See has warned that parents should not allow their children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls on Saturday, calling Hallowe’en a pagan celebration of “terror, fear and death”. The Roman Catholic Church has become alarmed in recent years by the spread of Hallowe’en traditions from the US to other countries around the world. As in Britain, it is only in recent years that Italian children have dressed up in costumes, played trick or treat on their neighbours and made lanterns out of hollowed out pumpkins.

The Vatican issued the warning through its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in an article headlined “Hallowe’en’s Dangerous Messages”. The paper quoted a liturgical expert, Joan Maria Canals, who said: “Hallowe’en has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.” Parents should “be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death,” said Father Canals, a member of a Spanish commission on church rites.

Good luck with that.

The post below, Why are Catholics Democrats?, has prompted a great deal of discussion. Some of it quite interesting, though I disagree with the general thrust of the commentary. What I disagree with is that there is something fundamental about the ideology of the Roman Catholic Church which makes it congenial to the ethos of the Democratic party. I am aware of the “seamless garment” promoted by many Catholics, but I do not believe that it is fundamentally Roman Catholic. Additionally, I do not think that the church influences American Catholics much, as is evident by their general lack of difference from the Protestant population on attitudes toward abortion or birth control. Instead of something fundamental about Catholicism, I think there are many historically contingent processes at work which result in the demographic differences we see today. Of course, I may be wrong. But theories about how the ideological basis of a religion has particular concrete consequences have generally not panned out, consider Max Weber’s assertion that Confucian societies were not favorable toward the emergence of capitalism (Weber’s earlier work on the Protestant ethic has been called into question in any case, the wealthiest modern German state is staunchly Catholic Bavaria).

The American National Election Study has some data on 2008 presidential results. I decided to do the following:

1) Limit the sample to those who voted for John McCain
2) Limit that sample to Catholics and Protestants
3) Then query the sample by a range of variables

The results are below. I offered many variables because the sample sizes are small, so I’m looking for consistent trends. The main point that seems obvious is that Roman Catholics who voted for John McCain are simply less conservative than Protestants who voted for John McCain. They do not seem to exhibit a “Catholic” profile, whereby they are more conservative on social issues than their fiscal moderation may have predicted. Rather, they’re more liberal about abortion and gay marriage than Protestants.



Why are Catholics Democrats?

Norman Podhortez just came out with a book, Why Are Jews Liberals?. It seems that this as intellectually interesting as writing a book, “Why are blacks Democrats?”, would be. You can tick off specific reasons, but in ethnic terms American liberalism and the Democratic party is a minoritarian coalition. To some extent it has been true since the recruitment of the Irish in the urban North in the early 19th century as allies with the outnumbered partisans of slave power. In fact The American Jewish Identity Survey tells us that once Jews become Christian, they aren’t so liberal. Here are the percentage of Republicans by Jewish subgroup:

Jews by ethnic origin & religion – 13%
Jews by ethnic origin, irreligious – 13%
Jewish by ethnic origin, “Other religion,” which is mostly Christian – 40%

Jews of other religion are also less intelligent than the other two groups, 36% college graduates vs. 57% for Jews who are religious and irreligious.

In any case, if Norman Podhoretz wants Jews to become Republican, he should encourage conversion to Christianity. Specifically, Protestant Christianity. Look what rock-ribbed Republicans Jim Talent and Marvin Olasky became. And don’t even talk about Howard Phillips, he wants to bring back to the inquisition for idolaters and pagans!

But I come not to talk of Jews, but of Catholics. As I said, the rise of the Democratic party as we know it was to a great extent concomitant with the first waves of Irish Catholic immigrants to Northern cities. The historical details of this are well known, so I won’t go into it, but to some extent the ties still are operative. According to the exit polls, last fall Barack Obama won 47% of white Catholics. He only won 34% of white Protestants! This is still a large difference.

Some of this might be accounted for my region and ethnicity (e.g., Italians and Northeasterners are more likely to be Catholic). So I looked in the GSS. There’s a variable “ETHNIC,” which asks where one’s ancestors came from. I wanted to look at a few groups, especially ones where the sample size wasn’t too small, and where there were likely to be Catholics and Protestants. So

1) French, who are those whose ancestors come from French Canada or France

2) German, whose ancestors come from German or Austria

3) British, whose ancestors are from England, Wales or Scotland

4) Mexican, whose ancestors come from Mexico

5) American Indian, whose ancestors come from Mother Earth’s union with Coyote

Some of these groups, such as Germans, had Protestant and Catholic cohorts from the beginning. By contrast, Mexican Americans have a large Protestant contingent through conversion (though some indigenous immigrants from Chiapas were converted in Mexico). American Indians were targeted by both Protestants and Catholics. Finally, though Huguenots have been prominent in the American aristocracy (Franklin Delano Roosvelt’s mother was a Huguenot, as were the ancestors of many Southern low country planters), I assume most Protestant French Americans arrived at their religion through conversion on these shores.

I also limited the sample to 1992 and later to have some contemporary relevance.

Then I compared these classes to two categories, political ideology and political party. I created an “index” of liberalism and Democratic orientation, so that I simply multiplied the frequency in each class by an integer. Ergo:

Index of liberalism = (% liberal) X 2 + (% moderate) X 1 + (% conservative) X 0
Index of Demo orientation = (% Democrat) X 2 + (% Independent) X 1 + (% Republican) X 0

So an index of liberalism of 1 means perfect balance, while below 1 means somewhat conservative, and above 1 means somewhat liberal (2 being all liberal). The same for Democrats. Then I took the ratio of Catholics to Protestants by their indices.

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The ends of liberty

In Reason, Are Property Rights Enough? Should libertarians care about cultural values? A reason debate. If politics are dispositions, then at the end of the day they still have to “point” to the “Good Life.” The norms that one’s ideology points to are generally not the function of calm and detached reflection in the the island of one’s ego. Rather, they emerge out of our concrete lived experiences. American libertarians tend to be secular young men, and that concretely impacts upon their conception of the “Good Life.”

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At The American Scene there’s a post about WASPs and their relationship to Israel. Of course, that begs the question, what do you mean by WASP? WASP = White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, but that is a plain and broad-church definition which many self-described WASPs might bristle at, as they self-identify as the scions of the Northeastern gentry. This highlights the reality that there are secret ethnic groups in the United States, ethnic groups which are discussed explicitly only in scholarship, for example Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, but understood implicitly. George H. W. Bush is a WASP. Bill Clinton is a Southerner. Both are white and Protestant and of British ancestry. The type of “white people” which black comedians such as Dave Chappelle mock as without color are WASPs. George H. W. Bush. Not Bill Clinton.

In any case, I wanted to look at possible differences in attitudes toward Israel among American whites separated by region in the GSS. I limited the years to between 1988-1994 (this is the tail end of the survey question). The variable itself is “ISRAEL,” which asks:

You will notice that the boxes on this card go from the highest position of “plus 5″ for a country which you like very much, to the lowest position of “minus 5″ for a country you dislike very much. How far up the scale or how far down the scale would you rate the following countries? g. Israel

In the GSS I decided to look at “mean” score of each class. I recoded the regions so that I combined “Pacific” and “Mountain” into “West,” and simply aggregated the three Southern regions and the two Midwestern ones (you can see the Census regions here) The means are also generated from recoded variables, so that lower scores are pro-Israel, and higher scores are anti-Israel. The most pro-Israel score would be 0, and the most anti-Israel score would be 9. The bold are the means, while below them are the sample sizes. Finally, I limited the “Bible” variable to Protestants alone.

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About those other public options

The newly reinvigorated advocates of a “public option” in health care argue that government, with its limitless deep pockets, with its ability to sustain an economically unviable operation indefinitely through its taxing and borrowing power, provides fair and meaningful “competition” to private health care providers and insurers.  Well, then, why not have private providers compete with government across the entire range of government services?  Maybe the supporters of actual market-based competition in health care could offer the following deal:  We’ll give you your health care public option, now open garbage collection, road-building, transit operations, mail delivery, parks maintenance, education, sewage treatment, prison management, inter alia, to private sector competition, and let the most efficient player win. 

(I do not, by the way, believe that even an appropriately deregulated market in health insurance will succeed in lowering health care costs significantly over the long run.  As long as people retain their desire to sustain their own or others’ lives long beyond what our biological shelf-life is naturally programmed for, human ingenuity will create ever more fantastic and expensive new technologies and drugs for doing so.  The Fountain of Life does not come cheap.)

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Religious freedon in 2009

The US State Department has released International Religious Freedom Report 2009. Here the list of countries where “violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy.”

North Korea
Saudi Arabia

H/T: Talk Islam.



The shoe on the other foot

Arnold Kling recently mentioned he was reading Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. A little over halfway through the book, I am struck again by the historical contingency of particular foreign & social policy outlooks. For example, around 1800 New England was an export driven economy based on trade, in particular with Great Britain. Around 1850 the South was an export driven economy based on trade, in particular with Great Britain. By 1850 New England the whole Northeast had shifted toward a more diversified economy, and native manufacturers militated for the tariffs which their forebears would have scoffed at. Additionally, around 1800 New England was the redoubt of orthodox Christianity. The South was the domain of more easy-going religion, and outright heterodoxy among its social & political elites. Finally, one of the most interesting things to note is that it was in the Southern states that Francophilia during the period of the French Revolution was strongest!



Full-court press

The New York Times asks whether Obama’s White House is too male-dominated.  It took the Times weeks to acknowledge the Acorn and Vann Jones stories, but a little delusional grousing about all-male (as opposed to?) basketball games immediately catapults the feminist complaint  to front-page status.  As delightful as it is to see the furies of identity politics howling after a liberal Democratic administration, one that has always encouraged identity solipsism, it is equally scary to contemplate the possibility that the Obama administration may be even more responsive to feminist hen-pecking than spineless Republicans.  To be sure, Obama’s rejection of the basketball  criticism was refreshingly vigorous:

Mr. Obama, in an interview with NBC on Wednesday, called the beef over basketball “bunk.” . . . “I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever.”

But he could have also rebuffed the charge of male-dominated policy-making on the substantive ground that his political initiatives –expansion of government social service and education unions under the guise of economic stimulus, explosion of welfare state initiatives, suspicion of private sector autonomy—is as feminized an agenda as any Womanist Studies gynocrat could hope for.




Economic hot potato

Barack Obama should stop blaming his Republican predecessor for the problems facing his presidency, writes Peggy Noonan:

The president said last week, at a San Francisco fund-raiser, that he’s busy with a “mop,” “cleaning up somebody else’s mess,” and he doesn’t enjoy “somebody sitting back and saying, ‘You’re not holding the mop the right way.’” Later, in New Orleans, he groused that reporters are always asking “Why haven’t you solved world hunger yet?” His surrogates and aides, in appearances and talk shows, have taken to remembering, sometimes at great length, the dire straits we were in when the presidency began.

On manliness grounds, Noonan is right.  It would be admirable if Obama simply addressed the problems at hand, rather than assigning blame.  But whether or not Obama should continue mentioning it, it is true that the Republicans handed Obama a massive financial mess.  They did preside over the reckless leveraging of debt that led to the financial sector collapse.  Would the world economy have already perked up had McCain won in 2008?  Perhaps.  Perhaps if the Republicans had responded to the economic downturn with huge tax cuts, business formation and hiring would be much more vibrant today.  I certainly would have preferred such a strategy to the Ponzi scheme of stimulus spending and the anxiety-producing promise of “health care reform.”  But the tried and true Republican tactic of tax cuts unmatched by spending cuts is fiscally irresponsible, too.   And it just might be that the complexity of the market situation at the moment is beyond any government policy to right in the short term.  (more…)

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