Bismarck and Living Under State Socialism, By Ismael Hernandez President, Freedom & Virtue Institute
Posted on August 2, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was a Prussian statesman and diplomat of the late 19th century who played an important role in world affairs. He became Chancellor of the North German Confederation in 1967 and the first Chancellor of the German Empire in 1871. Bismarck is also the creator of the first modern welfare state. Ironically, Bismarck created his welfare system to prevent a radical socialist take over.
Although idealism and compassion are offered by politicians to justify every government take-over, it is shrewd politics and tactical opportunism what often drives them to act. As Germany rapidly industrialized, it experienced what has happened elsewhere: massive migration from the countryside into the centers of industry. Its population rapidly expanded from 41 million in 1871 to 50 million in 1891. By the 1880s a majority of Germans were living in towns rather than in the rural areas. Masses of people moved quickly only to find themselves momentarily impoverished and isolated. Under such conditions many were easily lured by Socialist propagandists. As the Socialists grew in numbers, and after Bismarck failed to suppress them, he cleverly found an answer: beat them at their own game!
The socialist’s loyalties to an international movement made Bismarck distrust them as they posed a threat to a strong national identity pursued after the German reunification under the Second Reich. Using attacks against the life of the Kaiser in 1878, Bismarck introduced laws banning most socialist newspapers, trade unions associated with the socialist movement, and depriving them of a right to assemble. In 1880 the Social Democratic Party, which gathered most socialist groups and now de facto underground, met in Switzerland to plan a resistance movement against Bismarck. Knowing that the socialists could not be tamed simply by force, Bismarck enacted socialist laws against the socialists.
Prussian nationalism was the reason for Bismarck’s injection of socialist ideas into the body politic. The radical socialists were opposed not for their specific economic policies but for being “un-German.” In a sense, the Bismarckian experiment was a precursor of Hitler’s National Socialism. In effect, the Nazis claimed to follow Bismarck’s attempts to unify the nation and enact policies enhancing the collective national organism in need of consolidation. Hitler considered himself “a second Bismarck.” The workers were cogs in the machine of the nation, centrally directed by the state. In both instances a managed economy was promoted to defeat parasitical radical movements attaching themselves to the nation but with intolerable foreign allegiances. As is often the case, socialism hides behind other ideas. Ho Chi Minh said it much later, “We have a secret weapon…it is called Nationalism.”
Bismarck stunned Germany in 1881 by introducing in the Reichstag a legislative program that ended with the creation of a series of welfare reforms such as a national health and accident insurance, as well as retirement pensions for German workers. In doing so, Bismarck planted the seed of doubt in the capacity of the market to provide jobs and security for all and thus initiated the slippery slope of government interventionism that will eventually confirm the socialist analysis of capitalism. Let’s listen to him:
“The real grievance of the worker is the insecurity of his existence; he is not sure that he will always have work, he is not sure that he will always be healthy, and he foresees that he will one day be old and unfit to work. If he falls into poverty, even if only through a prolonged illness, he is then completely helpless, left to his own devices, and society does not currently recognize any real obligation towards him beyond the usual help for the poor, even if he has been working all the time ever so faithfully and diligently. The usual help for the poor, however, leaves a lot to be desired, especially in large cities, where it is very much worse than in the country.”
The insecurity that drives individuals to action was seen as a hindrance and a threat to human dignity. Insecurity creates a sense of helplessness, said Bismarck. Entitlement was then proposed as the solution for the illness of insecurity. Bismarck affirmed that the state should offer the poor “a helping hand in distress…. Not as alms, but as a right.” The individual has a claim against the state and the state has an obligation toward the individual. The statesman called his system Staatssozialismus or “state socialism.”
In capitalism, to the contrary, security is not granted as a right to anyone. In effect, insecurity becomes the great engine of invention motivating men to thrust forward and recreate their environment. Instead of a social illness, insecurity is a healthy heart, the heart that pumps life into the social arrangement. It is insecurity what allows men to first create a universe of plenty in their minds and then move to actualize it. If you take away insecurity, you destroy the system piece by piece and rights-giving program by rights-giving program.
Conceived in Germany, the idea rapidly spread throughout industrialized Europe under the same rubrics of protecting workers from the socialists and shielding families from the perceived hazards of industrial society. Little by little, the capitalist system was assaulted in the name of saving it. Socialists all over denounced it as a new capitalist tool of oppression. It was simply another facet of the capitalist system intent on moderating the tensions of class conflict by pacifying the workers and controlling the conditions under which capital is organized. In effect, however, the policies helped the socialists destroy capitalism without the need for total war.
Destroying it has become the hallmark of American statists who have looked to Bismarck for inspiration. For example, as Professor Anthony Bradley of The King’s College tells us, Bismarck is praised as a visionary on the official U.S. Social Security Administration’s website. The site says the following about Bismarck:
“Despite his impeccable right-wing credentials, Bismarck would be called a socialist for introducing these programs, as would President Roosevelt 70 years later. In his own speech to the Reichstag during the 1881 debates, Bismarck would reply: ‘Call it socialism or whatever you like. It is the same to me.’”
Bismarck has become a species of patron saint for the intellectual left, almost as much a saint as Roosevelt. The very same kind of failed policies that were tried by Bismarck first and by Roosevelt later are being enacted now. And the same rhetoric about security and want remains untouched. Whole generations of Americans have been indoctrinated into the idea that Roosevelt, modeling his welfare system on Bismarck’s, saved our country from economic doom and that now Barack Obama is saving us again.
We must be reminded, however, that the contemporary welfare state is not Barack Obama’s doing. Much of what has expanded its reach has occurred under Republican and supposedly conservative administrations. The prosaic idea that the government has an expansive responsibility for social protection and a sort of cosmic justice-enacting power to protect individuals from their own bad decisions, from bad luck and from all sorts of personal misfortunes remains entrenched in the minds of all sorts of politicians. The self-preservation instinct of political aspirants responds to the voter’s demand for welfare, even as voters often do not call it that way. Income transfers, coated with the rhetoric of fair shares, are always popular with those who are at the receiving end. The more people at the receiving end, the more votes they get. It is a simple cost analysis.
T.H. Marshall’s evolutionary theory for the development of the nanny state tells of the change in the meaning of citizenship in a rapidly evolving industrialized culture. Such change in the meaning of social allegiance may serve to explain the steady growth of the welfare state and how politicians can justify it without recurring to explicit Marxist analysis. Social mobility broke the bonds of solidarity existing in local communities and shifted such solidarity toward larger social structures. The state then came to embody the whole of society, a given “community” I could embrace wherever I go. The different basic communities that used to provide the greatest unifying bonds eventually collapsed under the institutions of the state. Instead of the intimate bonds of family, friends, and neighbors, we now had an overarching reality of a larger community and the bonds were now more detached and less comprehensive. Civil rights, under such construct, would give way to political rights which in turn would lay the ground for the social rights of the welfare state. All of it happened as the inevitable evolutionary development of the industrialized world. Accept it, live it, get over it.
What is most destructive to the fabric of a free nation in this evolutionary analysis of the welfare state is that it destroys the place of basic communities and the comprehensive place they had in molding the lives and values of individuals. It detaches the person from the intimate social group, giving way to economic independence from the clan via dependency on the amoral and detached system of the state. Herein lies what is most appealing and at once devastating in the analysis―it confers on the state and its welfare institutions the legitimacy and place of a basic community that promotes the creation of true human capital. The “Bismarckian” trade-off of freedom for security eventually destroys the whole of the social fabric of a nation.
 See Robert Gerwarth, The Bismarck myth: Weimar Germany and the legacy of the Iron Chancellor. (Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press.) Pp. 131.
 For a Marxist analysis of the welfare state in capitalism see Regulating the Poor by Richard Cloward and Frances Piven and The Fiscal Crisis of the State by James O’Connor.
 Anthony Bradley, The Bismarcking of America in http://blackchristiannews.com/bloggers/2010/09/the-bismarcking-of-america.html
 See T.H. Marshall, Sociology at the Crossroads and Other Essays (London: Heineman, 1963).
Posted on August 1, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
I come to America, this blessed land, and learned three things very soon; two very good ones and another no so good. The first was that America values me, as a person. The individual matters, he is not supposed to fade away behind a collective label. I come here, I had very good grades and the university decided to offer me a full assistant-ship! They paid my studies while I still hated them. “This is not supposed to be happening. I hate their guts and they still reward me?” What I then learned was the wondrous connection between reward and accomplishment; one that we are quickly losing under the powerful influence of victim mentality and entitlement attitude.
The second was that what you called poverty was really a joke. How can you call poverty a lifestyle that is the envy of the world? According to the 2010 census we learn these things about the “poor”:
● 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36% of all Americans had it.
● 92 percent of poor households have a microwave; two-thirds have at least one DVD player and 70 percent have a VCR.
● 75 percent have a car or truck; 31 percent have 2-3 cars.
● 80 percent of poor adults and 96 percent of poor children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.
● Nearly two-thirds (63.7%) have cable or satellite television.
● Half have a personal computer.
● More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as Xbox or PlayStation.
● Just under half have Internet access.
● A third have a widescreen plasma or LCD TV.
● One in every four has a digital video recorder such as TiVo.
Blessed poverty! Give me more!
Finally, I learned something bad. As I stepped here I learned that written in the law there was already a remedy against my discrimination! I have already been made a victim of America even as I have experienced nothing but blessings! I have been decreed a victim, a “protected specimen” as if I was some kind of endangered species. How degrading!
It is time for all of us to draw the line and say, enough!
Posted on July 2, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
I am a defender of the principle of limited government. The term, however, is not synonymous of just. Now, that the power of government is “limited” means that it is not regal or plenary. Plenary jurisdiction gives the state a kind of general authority that is not prevented even by law.
Although a government can be limited and unjust, a characteristic of limited government is consistent with justice as it calls for a regula that prevents the whim of men to impose itself or the appetites of the masses to trample on individual rights. In other words, limited government can better contain the passions of men by emphasizing on the dictates of reason. The law is such dictate.
Here is where believers in natural law find a congruence with respect for human law. They believe not that natural law must whimsically substitute human law but that it ought to inform it; as natural law is the dictate of reason about reality itself while human law is the dictate of reason limiting the whims of men in society. The natural law, as can be easily discerned, is deeper than human law and human law-givers have a responsibility to listen to its injunctions; they are not exempt from the constraints of natural law based on having a mandate from the people.
The founders recognized such inalienable rights and saw them as a law informing the constitutional foundations of the nation. Our practice of law was from the beginning built on a prior law discoverable by reason. That is why limited government cannot be simply reduced to a government that allows the uncoerced activity of citizens with the only boundary being the harm principle. Yes, with many defenders of freedom, I believe that the primary role of government is to protect our freedom but that freedom is recognizable only by the boundaries that define its limits. Lawmakers do well in understanding the limits of human action in natural law and, even more, to discover what are the human goods necessary for social cooperation. In essence, the common good is an instrumental purpose of government. That is, the reasons for action in society demand the discovery of a certain intelligible benefit.
Here is where we can see a chasm with certain the liberal positions defining the role of the state as neutral between diverse understandings of the good life. If that is the case, where resides the constraint that majorities have to impose a will, however ill-informed it is? If it is the non-harm principle, what are the contours of harm? How can we know without a guide what causes harm? How can the state fulfill its purpose of advancing the common good if it is neutral or non-cognitivist about the human goods (and ills) important in social cooperation?
Posted on June 4, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
After a few drinks an American politician took a friend to a window and asked him to look for a brand new bridge nearby. Pointing a finger at his own chest the grinning politician said, “twenty percent.” This of course referred to his cut on the deal.
The same scenario is now transferred to an African gathering. There, after looking through the window, the African fellow could not see any bridge, only a cow pasture. “Where is the bridge?” he asked. With an even wider grin the African politician replied, “One hundred percent.” This tale is apt in showing the depth of corruption that exists in other places of the world where government officials acquire insane fortunes and there is nothing in return for the people. In America, however, the level of corruption is lesser and things get done. Great for us.
After considering the scenarios one might think that the American one is much better as, at least, there are social benefits from political activity, even if corruption is involved. Not so fast. When tempted to think this way it is good to remember Sir Francis Bacon’s dictum: “Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.” Although the African example is pitiful, it allows one to see evil nakedly and the dangers of political power and cronyism are unavoidable. Their problem is daunting as it requires dethroning those in power but the reality of freedom being better than statist control is clear; freedom has a chance! There might be hope under the skin of oppression and a seed of liberty might have already been planted and is waiting to burst.
The American scenario, on the other hand, is pitiful. It is the scenario of a nation that experienced the blessings of freedom but is slowly losing them; it is a scenario of decay. When things get done by the state, whether in corrupt ways or not, there is an incentive to believe in the inevitability of government activity and the impossibility of things being any other way. Some might contemplate that trading a few liberties for the promise of security might not be a faustian bargain after all. The civic memory of the people shifts toward an acceptance and support for more government intervention as, “we need things to get done.”
The incremental loss of liberty is a sad scenario as it steadily moves in the wrong direction. As the shift is so gradual, people deny that it is happening until the final chapter comes swiftly, as if “from nowhere.” That, I might say is the greatest reason not to support government intervention even in areas that may appear so obvious; one of them being the supposed need for “infrastructure.” We must remember that we are crawling just so gently toward statist disaster when tempted to think, “What is so wrong with the Federal government re-building our roads and bridges?!” Unless one can determine that there is some unique wisdom in government activity, so unique to state activity that things cannot be performed otherwise, our attitude ought to be to reject their intervention. To have that attitude, however, we need a painful renewal of the mind. That is why the “twenty percent” analogy is the worst!
Posted on May 28, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Living in Htrae is a common experience in modern America. Htrae, also known as Bizarro World, was a fictional planet in Superman comics where all things were inverted, the opposite of life on earth. The planet was popularized by the sitcom Seinfeld where in one episode Elaine meets a group of friends the exact opposite of Jerry, George, and Kramer: considered, kind, reliable and intelligent.
That is what some accuse supporters of limited government of doing, living an opposite version of what they say to believe. A comparison of how much money the Federal government takes in taxes from people living in “Red” states against how much money these states receive in Federal funds is a version of the accusation. If the dollar per dollar ratio of Federal aid exceeds taxes collected pundits accuse liberty-minded people of duplicity: “Look, your state receives more than it pays in taxes, hypocrites!” After all, they add, the Federal government is not “stealing” anything from anyone, if anything the Federals are giving away more to conservatives than what they take. How can that be theft?
There are plenty of reasons for thinking that some who say government should shrink are just “talking the talk”; we all know of politicians who go to Washington only to be swallowed by the power that comes from handing out the bacon. Yes, they live by the Bizarro Liberty Code: “Us do opposite of all Liberty things!
However, the generalized comparison of taxes versus Federal aid does not seem to obtain. We can come back from the cube-shaped planet into the real world of political analysis and see that maybe the bizarre world lies elsewhere. One of the problems with the analysis is that it is based on a false notion of property rights. I am walking down the street and you come down and steal my wallet. Some weeks later I see you again and I confront you.
― “Hey, you are the guy who took my wallet the other day!”
― “Hold on a minute, sir, I did not steal your wallet. In fact, I took only $100 and added $20 more I took from elsewhere and gave the money to several of your neighbors in need. After I determined they were more in need than you I gave them more than what I took from you!”
In essence, any analysis comparing the amount of money confiscated through taxation to the amount of money offered through Federal aid fails because it assumes that property is collectively held and can be extracted from those momentarily holding it. That collective loot can then be re-distributed by bureaucrats as they see fit. They think that the guy whose wallet was taken should reply, “Oh, I see, you did not steal my wallet, after all. Thank you!”
Only in the Bizarro World of statism can one get away with that! Down is up and theft is charity. Being logical is a capital offence in the world of collectivism. If you steal from a given individual you can only repay by returning the money to him. He moment that you take property from me and leave my home, you stole from me. It does not matter if later, you give the money back to someone else, or if I might benefit in some way from something you created with my property.
How do we know when property was unduly confiscated? Whenever the Federal government extracts wealth from me for purposes other than those enumerated in the Constitution, theft has taken place. Whenever those funds are used by others to determine who will get them back and what criteria one must meet to get back a portion of what was confiscated, theft occurred. Theft occurs precisely when property is extracted from rightful owners by those who have no right to do so. If the constitution does not allow for a given purpose, then I have a right to keep that money and you have no right to force it from me. You are a thief!
Moreover, in the htrae scenario of statism the higher one’s income is the less one can claim from a number of means-tested programs. Regularly, those who did not earn the money taken by the government are seen as more deserving than those from whom the money was confiscated. Many from the former group vote in favor of the thieves, after all, the good and loving government commissary gave the property to them, so it must be that they deserve it. States do not vote nor see their taxes taken, individuals do. Within “red” states you have a number of people who vote for statist policies and benefit from them.
Finally, in what form is the supposed Federal aid returned to the states? It often returns in the form of programs or grants. These programs employ people and create systems to determine benefits and track and disburse them. In other words, most of the money taken from individuals is eaten up by the bureaucracies of redistribution, never reaching individuals in the general population. The Federal behemoth gets fat in Washington but its tentacles spread wide across America.
On occasion, corporate power teams up with the state precisely because the former wants a good portion of the stolen goods; why ask the guy with the stolen wallet to buy my products if I can go to the guy who now has it all? Here is where we get the super-villain, the Machiavellian industrialist Lex Luthor of collectivism: crony capitalism.
In the end, there is no hypocrisy in so-called Red states and Federal aid. The hypocrisy is in the statist system that confiscates property from rightful owners and distributes it at will, very often to those invested in the perpetuation of the theft system. Where is Superman when you need him?
 Many smaller and poorer states vote Republican but within those states, poorer people vote Democrat. See http://www.cbsnews.com/election-results-2012/exit.shtml?state=US&race=P&jurisdiction=0&party=G
Posted on May 27, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Atheists love to play psychologist when trying to explain faith in God and religion. Marx explained it as a sort of drug, an opiate that numbs your senses so one need not accept the reality that there is no ultimate triumph of justice in an afterlife. Freud spoke of escapism from the realization that we are food for worms once we die. Like children, we take comfort in a tall tale of coming back to life. In other words, religion is a childish refuge for the weak.
God is a fiction of man’s imagination, a psychological construct that help us not to look at reality as it is and allowing us to escape into a world of wishful thinking. Finally, others see the power of religion in mind-control from men looking for monetary gain, leaders who see in religion a good way of making money, getting accolades, and having power over others. These atheist psychological explanations are offered as gospel, with the arrogant flair of those who think that they are superior intellectual beings, not alienated in any way from reality, perfectly secured in true knowledge; they are the “brights”! Well, if they can play psychologist, let us do the same with atheists. Let us turn the tables and place them on the spot. What is the psychological attractiveness of atheism?
In effect, some atheists have stated that they prefer a world where there is no God. H.L. Menchen, for example, has stated his inclination is “to hope that it is not so.” In any event, why the desire for there not to be a God? It seems as they want a sort of liberation. It cannot be a liberation from a god that after all does not exist. The emancipation must be from moral constraints.
Certainly, many atheists tell us that they want to practice virtue and that moral norms can be derived from nature itself. They tell us that the atheist is not for moral corruption and that the good can be discovered and pursued without a belief in god. But why give them the benefit of the doubt if they do not give it to theists? If even when we pursue the good and act honorably they see some fancy mythical and psychological factor at play, why not do the same to them?
Some tell us that they are atheists and yet they want to pursue a nobler world, a world where justice and goodness prevail. However, they can pursue such lofty goals without getting rid of religion! Just look at the history of how hospitals were created; they arose from the work of nuns. Look at Mother Theresa’s work for the poorest of the poor or to the incredible charitable work of Christians all over the world. Their reaction? Condemn Mother Theresa and ignore or defame the work of Christians.
There must be a different reason than pursuing lofty goals and moral goals then. Let us psychologize their pursuits. Could it be that they are stewing in anger due to early losses in life? Darwin had a very devout Christian wife, Emma. They had a daughter, Annie, who was especially loved by him. He suffered much due to the death of his ten-year old daughter. Another case is that of Stephen Hawkin. Could it be that his physical condition due to contracting motor neuron disease brings about in him a hatred of God? Isn’t it possible that the psychological reasons for unbelief have something to do with anger and a desire for revenge against a god they perceive as uncaring?
Another psychological reason might be the desire to fulfill one’s appetites and wishes without fear of retribution. Isn’t it possible that if one gets away with the notion of eternal punishment one can find an alibi for a number of lifestyles and decisions? If matter is all there is, the threat of punishment ends with the material world. In other words, by positing a purely material world, one can do as one wishes as long as one does not get caught. If you accomplish that you can get away with it.
When an atheist looks at existence he sees a world where pleasure is the only intrinsic good, all other goods being instrumental to maximize one’s ease or minimizing one’s suffering. But here come the gods telling him, “Do not do this or that.” Moreover, Christianity says that you cannot get away with it because there is a final judgment after death! If I see pleasure as the great value and escaping pain as a pressing goal even death is relief from the quest and any idea of punishment nothing more than tyranny.
Moreover, even in the here and now we can experience psychological relief if we convince others that there is no “ought” in human nature and that traditional morality in fact detracts us from what is in effect “moral”: following the natural inclinations of the flesh. Only imagine the psychological relief that can come from the idea that there is no moral constraint. “Cool!” Imagine the relief experienced by those who think life has no ultimate meaning and you better just enjoy without any fear of retribution or mental anguish for doing something wrong. This is the ultimate case of defining deviancy down.
All these atheists tell us now that if God is dead does not mean morality is but let them destroy religion and their psychological urges will take over only to tell us, “We did not mean that. The party is on!”
I can only hear the atheists yelling that I am misrepresenting them as atheists often are so good people and have big thoughts on things. Well, if they can pseudo-babble belief in God now you know how it feels…
 S.T. Joshi, ed., H.L. Mencken on Religion, p. 38 cited in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Wahington, D.C.: Regnery, 2007) p. 263.
 See Robert Krulwich, “Death of Child May Have Influenced Darwin’s Work” in http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100597929; Desmond & Moore, Darwin (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991) p. 387.
Revolution Sweeps Your Life Like a Caribbean Hurricane, By Ismael Hernandez Freedom & Virtue Institute
Posted on May 16, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Looking inward was not an option. My socialist sensibilities and early training in ideological conformity were nurtured for too long to let them plunder under any momentary curiosity. My character was by then formed by a complex stew of emotional, psychological, and intellectual ingredients akin to a religious experience preparing me for a holy crusade. There was no room for doubt because the rooms were already filled with socialist truth. Thus, when my college acquaintance presented his ‘socialist-lite’ alternative for Puerto Rican independence, I laughed at him. Any perceived aperture to the possibility of compromise away from socialist orthodoxy had no space in my universe. I considered it the stuff from where heresies grow. Consequently, as I waited for the taxicab at the city of Aguadilla, I delighted in making him look like a fool:
— ‘I cannot accept your ideas. You do not understand! The only alternative is to destroy this society, bring it down to the ground and, from its ashes, build the just socialist society,’
— ‘I am not sure of that, Ismael, what about…’ He replied with kindness.
— ‘You are not a socialist, ‘friend’!’
Later on, during my hot mid-day cab ride, I felt terrible at the way I mocked the guy. I struggled in vain to erase the emotional discomfort arising from my behavior but I could not apologize. To apologize would be to show weakness in my effort to bring about heaven on earth. Expressing regret meant threading the path of surrendering the dream. After all, the heart of the socialist is sowed with the thread of utopia. I managed to shift from my emotional discomfort by focusing on the scenic majesty of the land. As my eyes followed the natural magnificence, I found some relief from the guilt that oppressed me.
Recently, I took same Aguadilla turn in route to the city of Mayagüez and, as back then, I was caught by its attractiveness once more. This time, the picturesque contour offered an opportunity for pure admiration rather than emotional avoidance. Engulfed by astonishing beauty, I descended toward the Guajataca turn where the green mountaintops are followed by the indigo splendor of the ocean. The rain forest mountains are everywhere to the left and still today seem impregnated with color and life. In their outline, I am convinced, we can get a glimpse at what God had in mind when making paradise. At times, if you listen carefully with your soul, you may hear the Arawakan cries of the Taíno people cooling on the sea breeze of the evening while admiring the landscape filled with typical Puerto Rican plants like the yagrumos, alelís, and giant ferns. Then, to your right, you can delight on the majestic plain yonder, and, a little further, on the crystal blue of the Atlantic hovering around in an eternal affair with the sparkling foam.
Do not allow it to fool you however, as the expansive realm of the ocean splendor hides beneath raging tidal currents of untold turmoil, as if they have witnessed the spilled blood of the Taínopeople wounded by the brutal blade of Spaniard conquistadores. With that in mind, and as if out of nowhere, the far-gone incident with my friend came back to haunt me. Emotion caught me as I asked God to erase time and place me again before my friend so that I could ask for forgiveness, so that I could ask him to look within me and see the infinite leap in understanding I have been blessed with. A leap I had not yet encountered on that long-gone day. Silently, I prayed for my friend and for forgiveness.
While descending through one of those notorious island curves on that route, I always feel as if the car will inevitably tumble down into the nothingness beneath. The long ride and the fear are symbolic, I think, of the perilous leap away from the idea of socialism; emblematic of the ecstasy and turmoil experienced when a socialist has second thoughts. Measuring the distance from one ideological pole to its opposite gives me a sense of falling into that depth, of losing myself. Such is the grip that revolution has on true believers. To abandon the idea of revolution is death, and worse, it is betrayal.
The turmoil brewing in the Deep materialized itself on a parcel of humanity infecting the marvelous scenery in days before my birth but in ways nearing closer. On the early morning hours of November 7, 1944, a train packed with electors going back home to vote in their districts was travelling from San Juan to Ponce. Train number three of the American Railroad Company headed west. At each stop on its way new passengers boarded as the train approached the city of Aguadilla. Without a doubt, the beauty recently engulfing me was not naked before them. I can only imagine that the breeze coming from the north occasionally interrupted the dull sounds of the powerful iron monster with a tidal wave of life carrying with it the harmonious singing of the Coquí.
The machine deviated at the Jimenez Station to switch conductors. Although the new one had no experience with passenger trains, Mr. José Antonio Román was supposed to finish the trip all the way to the southern city of Ponce. It must have been around 2 a.m. as the train sped down the hill section known as Cuesta Vieja hauling six passenger cars with hundreds of commuters when it suddenly happened. Derailing, the train exploded.
El Mundo Newspaper described the incident: ‘The machine suffered a terrible explosion as it derailed and the impact was so great that three wagons were converted into fantastic wreckage. Sixteen people died and almost fifty were injured.’Although attributed to the machinist’s error of driving at high speed, some thought it to be an act of terrorism. Among many Nationalists, there was the belief that it was an election day revolutionary act against American imperialism and what we considered the farce of elections. My father seemed to have some knowledge about the involvement of his brother ‘Guango’ in the incident. He acted as if hiding some secret reserved only for the friendly ears of true revolutionaries. Was this only Nationalist and Communist propaganda to foster their cause and affirm their strength or was there some truth to their involvement? After all, Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, by then in prison, called the ballot the coffin of the Puerto Rican nation.
The possibility of my uncle’s involvement, even if faint, strengthened my commitment to a cause that seemed to be in the very fabric of my identity. It made me proud of knowing that our enlightened vanguard was active and committed to revolution. Nothing could interfere with a revolutionary’s commitment to the cause, nothing. This explains why my father grew so detached, as if coming too close to us was adulterous. I can see him standing with pumped chest and eyes wide open while mother sat at the table and contended with him.
—‘Revolution is my life. You see these children, [pointing toward us] if I could offer their lives right now for independence and revolution, I would do it without hesitation!’ he yelled.
I can remember mom crying while we tried to console her. Deep inside, however, I was in proud agreement with dad. How my metamorphosis must have pained him! My passion for socialism fading, I had become a stranger to him and he could not take it. No rejection from past comrades could compare with the sadness of my father’s disappointment. Close to the end, we ceased to discuss politics and dreaded to bring up anything touching on ideology. In a way, such absence ripened the reward of a few deep conversations on other matters, especially related to faith. The diaspora of my new convictions, however, never allowed for an encounter at the level I hoped for.
My father was the product of his generation and of deep convictions. Not prone to openly express much emotion or accept an intellectual challenge from one of his sons, I realize that my chances for a deeper encounter were slim. The closest I felt to him was while reading his only letter to me, where he expressed his love and admiration for what I had accomplished and thanked me for a previous letter to him. Not that I had not known of his love, I always knew of his love for me although he never verbalized it. After all, I was the most radical of his children, the one who could always understand. The great fear of totally losing him by losing the dream of revolution never materialized, and his letter was enveloped in that truth. I am thankful for that.Just a few years ago, I buried my father with his beloved Puerto Rican flag embracing his casket as he had embraced it with his life. He died a communist. At that time, I again silently sang the revolutionary songs to pay homage to the fallen warrior. And I cried his death and still honor his life.
His closing days were met by a measure of God’s love. By the end, the communist ‘official’ rosary prayer leader prayed it daily and with devotion and received communion often. He never achieved absolute coalescence between his politics and faith, but I know that God likes fighters on his side. Although my father’s revolutionary utopian plan remained unrealized, he fought the good fight. Where there is no passion for truth, there can be no yielding before God’s throne. I have no doubt that in the heavenly abode, the full truth now discovered, he is still gathering the angels around to do more than just singing. Looking back to his journey, I feel a sense of contented thankfulness for the mercy of God upon me in revealing through my father that if truth, as the key to open the mysteries of existence, is not passionately pursued, life is nothing but meaningless eventual vanishing. The air of freedom now filling the lungs of my soul killed the fantasies of socialism within me, but dad’s committed life taught me how to retrieve and wave a new flag, the flag of freedom. And now, I am convinced, he still looks on in approval.
My stance with other radicals was another matter. It ran a tumultuous course others before me have experienced. A Puerto Rican socialist reading this account will still despise me today. Although with the fall of the Berlin Wall the Socialist Party faded and many others went into hibernation or hiding under the mantle of nationalist causes, they still see a rejection of the dream as a great offense. For black American leftists, consternation at my position easily shifts toward dismissal. My blackness fades away fast once they find out that I do not share their views. From being “one with us, a son of the same Mother Africa, I become something else, an islander, not really black. I am simply someone who cannot understand their reality, as I am not one of them. For a few who believe in freedom, I will remain forever suspect; forever one who might still be a wolf in sheep clothing. That is a price I am ready to pay for my embrace of freedom but it is not easy to find yourself at times in a kind of intellectual limbo.
It has been a great journey to discover the truth about man, the truth about social processes and the beauty of liberty. What I have learned about collectivism is that it is a vision more than an ideology. It is a way of looking at the world, a worldview that paints reality in a certain color, one that becomes so comforting and so difficult to surrender. Having been a “red diaper baby” and having my whole world wrap on a set of assumptions, I can say that to detach from that vision is the most difficult exercise.
Now, having gone through the hurricane, I see things through a different shade. I see now how moralistic and all-encompassing socialism is; admitting no real compromise or partial commitment. Being so comprehensive, a failure in one of its parts cannot be admitted without risking total demolition. Revolution sweeps your life like a Caribbean hurricane tearing apart all in its path. It offers a posture of moral justification and, as a reward, it confirms your humanity and anoints your superiority. Such posture comes at the expense of reality. The revolutionary dream denies the reality of a fallen and imperfect world where self-alienation, division, error, sin, and inequality do exist. We do not possess the radical capacity to overcome our nature and the fate such imperfection imposes on the human race. It is only in accepting reality that an ocean of authentic possibilities opens before us.
The coquí is a very small frog about one inch long. Its genre is found throughout the Caribbean islands but only the Puerto Rican type makes the “co-qui” sound. In Puerto Rico, it has become symbolic of national identity. During the time of the Taíno Indians, they must have been of amazing numbers and were central to their myths and art.
 See Haydee E. Reichard de Cancio, La Tragedia del 7 de Noviembre de 1944 (The Tragedy of November 7, 1944), El Nuevo Dia, Seccion Por Dentro, Pg. 116, Diciembre 7, 1996.
 Ibid, p. 116.
Hear speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3oszOEBt5s&feature=related.
Posted on May 7, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Listening to people discuss abortion is often interesting and revealing. A case in point is a podcast discussion by anarchist commentator Stefan Molyneux. The thrust of his argument can be summarized in this particular quote from his talk:
“It is fairly indisputable that a woman owns her own body, of course, there is no question of that. If a woman owns her own body then she owns all the cells within it. One of the things that we know is the case is that a fetus is a potential human being in the way that a child is a potential adult and an adult is, I guess, a potential corpse. But the actuality of humanity has not come to be for a fetus, it is a potential, therefore I do not equate it as equal with a human life.”
I find so much imprecision and undue assumptions here that it is impossible to cover all of them in detail in a short commentary but I will attempt to focus on one particular statement I find important. However, let me digress a little here on account of context.
First, it is not indisputable at all that persons own their bodies. Such is a rather controversial philosophical proposition along the lines of metaphysical or ontological dualism. If a person owns her body we are establishing that a person (a conscious and desiring self) is different from her body; her body being property, possessing instrumental value. The instrumentalization of the body is at the heart of the proclamation that we own our bodies. Property cannot own property, only persons can; therefore, consciousness (or the soul or a mind or what have you…) must be identified with a kind of non-physical reality whose locus is difficult to ascertain. This tells us that a person is a sort of ethereal entity, a consciousness that might be related to the body but is different from it. This separation of the body from consciousness is a difficult proposition, in no way indisputable, but that discussion is for another day.
Second, if the woman owns her body it does not follow that she owns all the cells within it. After all, babies are within a pregnant body and mothers do not own their babies. Even if you see the body as property and the property of the child (his body) is within the mother, this does not entail the mother with ownership of the child. That your property happens to be within my domain does not offer you automatic ownership of it. Unless one asserts that a baby is a part of the body of the mother, a sort of tumor, as some used to say in the pro-abortion camp. I refuse to believe that Mr. Molyneux has such crass ignorance of the facts of biology. Another alternative is along the lines of metaphysical dualism which, again, denies personhood to a child in the womb. Yet, even under the “body is property” idea, we do know that such being in the womb is not biologically a part of the woman’s body, it is, so to speak, “stuff” belonging to someone else. But, again, that is for another day…
Third, do we really know that a pre-born baby is a “potential human being”? Mr. Molyneux’ seems to ignore the avalanche of scientific evidence that contradicts such assertion. It is in no way true that “we know it to be the case.” Is he referring to personhood? If he is, he ought to be more clear and try not to confuse terms as introducing personhood muddies the discussion instead of revealing with exactness what is he trying to say. There is no reason to establish his rather metaphysical theory of personhood as a fact about human beings when science clearly tells us what constitutes a human being. Interestingly, he thinks that humanity is something that “comes to be” for the being in the womb; in other words, an accidental characteristic instead of an intrinsic one. In effect, he is mixing terms and assuming meaning of conflated terms in a very mystifying fashion. But, again, this is a discussion for another time. Yes, yes, I am getting to it…
Finally, to my point. Molyneux states:
One of the things that we know is the case that a fetus is a potential human being in the way that a child is a potential adult and an adult is, I guess, is a potential corpse.
There is an important equivocation here. When one tries to create a comparison using a continuum one needs to observe carefully the possible breaks within that continuum and what they might mean. In this case he equates a supposed continuum between a fetus and a human being with a continuum from a child becoming an adult and later, to use his term, a corpse. As they say, a chain is as strong as its weakest link and the same happens to your argument about the chain!
The problem I observe is that he is comparing apples and oranges to establish an equation. In the first continuum of potentiality there is more than a developmental change that converts a fetus into a human being. To use Michael Sandel’s failed analogy, just as acorns are not trees, fetuses are not human beings. Here we are before a substantial change in the nature of a being into another and that is what it seems Molyneux, and Sandel, fail to realize. Although there is a continuum here, the leap between one step and the other is radical, the change from one sort of being into another. Thus, it is false to affirm that a fetus is a potential human being “in the way” that a child is a potential adult.
Here we have a clear inordinate mixing of categories. The term fetus, in my view, simply means a human being at that stage of development; a unified and continuous organism that proceeds from one stage of development into another. My point here needs to be elaborated, of course, but the comparison on continuum that Molyneux presents is certainly not self-evident ( and definitely not something that “we know”). As it is not self-evident, I am curious of what is the non-arbitrary substantial change that occurs to a fetus that instantiates humanity. He will not find such trigger anywhere in science, lending to the belief that his viewpoint is a metaphysical theory of personhood. It is ironic that the so-called “pro-choice” position has been reduced to rather inefficient dualistic metaphysical theories about personhood after years of telling us not to introduce religion (a kind of metaphysics) into a strictly scientific discussion!
There is a clear and objective continuum from embryo to fetus to child to adult; these being stages in the development of the same kind of being. That is not the case in the supposed continuum between a fetus as a potential human being and a human being. Here we refer to a clear change in the substance, the nature, the kind of being in discussion.
Finally, Molyneux adds another perplexing conflation of terms when he ends the continuum at a corpse. Calling it an obvious point, he first states that humans own their bodies. Later he adds that a fetus is not a human being but a pre-human entity with the potential of becoming one. This seems to posit humanity in some sort of trigger of consciousness. As stated previously, his is a body-consciousness dualism where there is a separation between the body as property and consciousness as true self. If that is the case, why is an adult a “potential corpse”? A corpse is merely a body, a substance lacking the same actualized consciousness he previously associates with being a human being. Therefore, under the logic of his construct, an adult is not a potential corpse, the corpse would be only discarded property left by the ethereal consciousness that once existed.
Anyhow, when people talk about abortion it is often interesting and revealing…
 See Michael Sandel, “Embryo Ethics – The Moral Logic of Stem Cell Research,” New England Journal of Ethics 351 (July 15, 2004) p. 208.
Posted on April 5, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
Is there any meaningful debate going on regarding the so-called “gay marriage”? No. Those invested in making it happen have the cultural and political upper hand and a serious debate harms their good prospects. One after the other Republican and Democrat politicians who until days ago were supposedly staunch defenders of traditional marriage are now “seeing the light.” That is, the light of political expediency.
The issue of “gay marriage” has been reduced to an issue of “liberty”, “rights”, and “equality”, when in truth it is not about that at all. Even some Evangelical pastors are buying into the narrative of political or civil rights. Again, the debate is now a purely political exchange where you vie for your position, claim certain rights, and call the other side names such as “intolerant” or “anti-gay.” We should not be surprised at the absence of substantive discussion when it might deviate from the prize. It might be asked what the marriage controversy is then all about if it is not about rights and freedom? This is an intelligent question, one that sends us in the right and meaningful direction.
The answer is that the controversy is about the meaning of marriage itself. If there is an intrinsic reality to what marriage is, it ceases to be a human construct, hence possibly limiting certain rights-claims. If a given act or condition has determinate contours, can the law by fiat, or magic, change them? Let us take a historical example. Our Declaration of Independence speaks of three inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are called inalienable because they are intrinsic, preventing any human power from rightfully depriving people of them. Some of us think that in great measure (although not exclusively) the Founders meant property when they referred to the pursuit of happiness. How else can it be understood as if one is deprived of the goods coming from one’s brow well-being might be endangered? Can happiness be attained under that kind of serfdom?
Now, for a portion of our history, we ought to regret admitting, certain human beings were considered property. The law gave “owners” of persons property rights over them. What a conundrum! One inalienable right is affirmed at the expense of the claim of other human beings to the same right. Moreover, the latter claimants could point to the fact that if they are property they are deprived of all their rights.
Where is the fault in reasoning with the legal claim? The legal fallacy resides in pretending that a human being can be property; that we can be decreed to be objects instead of subjects. The very character of human beings prevents us from agreeing with such law as it is a fiction, as it cannot magically change human nature. A piece of paper stamped with a seal or even a vote by overwhelming majorities cannot change what human beings intrinsically are. When laws attempt to do so, they immediately lose their character as law and must be rejected and disobeyed. They lose power to bind the conscience of any law-abiding citizen. Positive law cannot per se grant moral right.
There lies the issue at hand before us today: what is that institution we call marriage? Some of us affirm that, as with the humanity of slaves, marriage has an intrinsic and determinate feature which can be discovered by reason, without appeals to religious sentiment. As marriage is inherently heterosexual, laws changing that traditional understanding lose their character as law. They might pretend to use power to force conformity, a dictatorship of the will, but they cannot change the nature of things. They can change what marriage is as much as the state can make it happen if it were to declare that from now on men can get pregnant. Would the law suddenly and, again, magically, effect the sorcery? Would we begin to hear men then say, “Hey, my water just broke?”
Posted on March 30, 2013 | Filed Under The Latest News
If you want to silence someone in today’s society become offended and demand an apology. The tactic works by changing the discussion from one where an idea is engaged to one where the one with the idea is shamed into silence.
Dr. Ben Carson is learning that truth rather quickly. Let us take his comments on so-called gay marriage as a prime example.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”
Did Dr. Carson say that all these types of action are the same? He did not. The only similarity he established is that they are all alternative arrangements to the traditional understanding of sex and marriage. That is essentially true. If marriage is understood in any other way than the traditional, each alternative understanding offers a different basis to constitute marriage. Secondly, if what marriage is can be changed, as the institution is not inherently heterosexual, it becomes a social construct and any other understanding supported by various pressure groups may be equally valid. Dr. Carson says that is not the case. That is what he said and that is correct.
Dr. Carson’s way of looking at the problem opens the door for rational debate on whether or not marriage is what he says. Those attacking Dr. Carson, however, believe that there is no need for a debate on the issue of what constitutes marriage. They see the problem as strictly political, one of exclusionary policies infringing on people’s rights. Bypassing the essential question facilitates the use of power to meet their goals. We must resist the tactic of focusing exclusively on politics, because that cheapens the discussion.
What is exactly the traditional way of looking at marriage? It is quite simple. Marriage is that unique kind of friendship characterized by an organic, biological unity between sexually complementary beings; an actual unity that creates a single reproductive principle. You see, human beings are complete principles when they actualize other human goods such as digestion, locomotion, respiration, vision, audition and the like. But when it comes to reproduction, we are only half of a complete being. It is the unity of spouses that unites them organically as one what constitutes a marriage.
What about romantic love? Is romantic love what makes two people fit for marriage? No. Why not? First, romantic love is based on the emotions and emotions are very fleeting things that remain outside of the control of our reason. You cannot base a relationship with another on what is outside of your control. That is simply lying to the other. What are you promising? To care as long as you feel?
Caring? You see, there are other kinds of friendship that no one believes marry people to each other and are based on caring deeply for others. All of us have multiple acquaintances, some friends, and a few intimate friends. The closer the relationship is, the less number of people we can relate to because intimacy requires a degree of effort and time that we cannot offer to the many. I can have friends with whom I share thoughts, time, emotional attachments, commitments, caring thoughts, a household, and even common goals for the future and still I am not married to them. Caring is so important but it is not the basis for marriage. These activities, attitudes, and decisions do not offer unique characteristics that define a marriage, as they are common to the general concept of “intimate friends.” In other words, emotion cannot become the basis of marriage as it is fleeting and caring is an important and essential aspect of friendship in general, thus lacking any unique and constitutive feature.
Traditionally, we have distinguished only one kind of friendship that is so intimate that it allows only a pair, and that is heterosexual marriage. That relationship is so unique that it blends organically two beings into one in actualizing an important human good that is naturally possible only in that relationship: the good of reproduction. Organic, biological unity becomes the matrix distinguishing this relationship from any other. That is what marriage is.
What some moderns tell us now is that we can call any other relationship marriage even when nothing particular and unique characterizes those relationships. It is as if I send you to the kitchen with a given task and something like the following ensues.
─“Bring me the coffee maker,” I say.
─“Here, take it.” You actually brought back a spatula and I look at you, amazed.
─ “No worries, we are now calling this a coffee maker” you retort.
─ “But this does not brew coffee,” I insist.
─ “Do not be so narrow minded, we can call the spatula whatever we decide to call it.”
The reality is that when we make marriage a social construct we are rationalizing our way into absurdity. When you go to the kitchen you can identify a coffee maker as the kind of thing that can actualize the brewing of a cup of coffee. You do not need to plug it first to see if it is a coffee maker to know what to bring to me, it is the kind of thing made for making coffee, even if, due to some defect, it might be unable at the moment (or permanently) to perform the task. The same with marriage, it can be readily recognized as such only in heterosexual unions. What some do is to beg the question:
“People love someone, therefore they should be allowed to marry.”
For many people this seems sound when in effect is a logical error! If that were the case, I could marry my sister or my mother or my pet or multiple other persons. I love many people in my life, thus, love (however people choose to define it) is not a unique characteristic constitutive of marriage.
As marriage is intrinsically heterosexual, the state can call other relationships marriage with as much good reason as it were to pass a law saying that from now on all males are allowed to get pregnant. This is mere legal positivism where the existence and coherence of a law does not depend on any intrinsic reality behind the decree. If the law exist, then that is what is important, independently of any merits in the case or whether there is any moral, ethical, or even rational content to it. That is exactly what we are seeing in our country today, we are told that there is a right to marry apart from the traditional understanding and we better simply get used to it. When one tries to discuss further, the discussion ends with appeals to the fact of the existence of such right. The attempt now is to posit a law and close the case, as afterwards any attempt to change the law can be portrayed as an attempt to eliminate “rights.”
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