Tuesday, June 17, 2008


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Monday, June 9, 2008

New Polity has a new home!!!!

Dear New Polity readers,

We're moving house. My brother Jacob (see picture) is part of that gnostic inner circle of cultists that know how to speak directly to computers. Through his mysterious ways and inscrutable wisdom he has brought into existence.

How? I don't know.

Why? Are you serious? I'm not going to ask why! Look at him!!!!

All future post and comments will be showing up on rather than on


Ezra Full Post

Friday, June 6, 2008

He's a sub-sonic Ashkenazi Barry White

Now, Kissinger is one of those guys that's almost impossible to hate on a really visceral level. Yeah, you have the folks that want him to stand trial for war crimes. Fair enough. But how could you really hate that face... seriously. Try it. I dare you. Still hatin'? Okay, now the voice... Yeah. You're feelin' it now. You're liberal and you hate him, but face it, he's a sub-sonic Ashkenazi Barry White.


In last weeks International Herald Tribune - that ubiquitous comfort blanket for Americans that have wondered of into the wider world - the inimitable Henry Kissinger gave his take on the contradictions of the modern global economy.
It's like this: Speculative capital turns the normal business cycle into an unending series of economic/humanitarian crises. These crises damage nationalist economic interests - that Kissingerian for labor and industries that can't compete under a free trade regime. The threatened interests lash back and attempt to restrict trade. "The debate over trade policy in the U.S. presidential campaign is a case in point."

With each financial crisis, governments have to decrease their social legislation because of budget constraints and the imperative to stay competitive in the global market (capital doesn't like paying taxes to support layabouts). "In periods of economic distress, these trends are magnified."

This cycle of crises and race to the bottom on social legislation further deepens the divide between those who get the boon of global capitalism and those that are left in its dust. And...

"If there are perennial losers, they will turn to their familiar political institutions for relief. They will not be mollified by the valid proposition that the benefits of global growth far outstrip its costs."

This sets up and interesting pair of problems: (1) We have a world economic system that has delivered unprecidented levels of per capita growth, but somehow manages to lower the overall quality of life for many. (2) The real business cycle - though high growth - is increasingly downed out and disrupted by speculative bubbles

Bottomline: The world economy is producing more stuff (that's the technical term), but, paradoxically, the economic lives of the majority of the world population are less stable and, in many cases, less affluent. So what's going on?

To a reader of Marx, which I think it's safe to say Kissinger is, this is a familiar story. Increasing wealth and competition in the global economy are accompanied (paradoxically) with greater and greater levels of economic distress. "Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers, but overcomes them only by means which again place these barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale." (Capital V3, P3, Ch15.2)

Kissinger is dead right when it come to what's gone wrong - it's speculative capital. "While each crisis had a different trigger, their common features have been profligate speculation and systemic under-appreciation of risk." He also identifies part of the more fundamental problem; an absense of leaders willing to take a long-term perspective on the political effect of our global economic order. "The next administration should establish a bipartisan commission at the highest level to study what constitutes an indispensable strategic U.S. industrial and technological base and the measures to preserve it."

I was going to write a straight forward analysis of Kissingers article - which I broadly agree with - but everytime I sit down to write that hardcore analysis I end up with 1000 words on speculative capital or North-South global relations. So I've given up the fight, and I am now planning to write the first in a series of 4 succiquent articles onf the global economy:

(1) Speculative Capital: "Speculative capital is the inversion of capital, rather than aiding production it undermines it. Thus, it is against human flourishing, which comes through real capital and real work, not bets."
(2) Long-term Capital: "Roads, fiber-optics, education, civic virtue, research centers..."
(3) Inequality National and Global: "Why do poor countries remain poor and rich countries get richer?"
(4) Democracy and Economics: "Not by force of arms are civilizations held together, but by subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle."

I hope you'll come back to
Full Post

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Guardian's take on the Hillary: "abrasive, self-absorbed, selfish, delusional, emasculating and extortionate"

Michael Tomasky of the Guardian gave an interesting description of the real politik of Hillary's speech last night.

Here is the link for your enjoyment...

"She held a rhetorical knife to Obama's throat and said, in not so many words: I'm still calling some shots, buddy. You offer me the vice-presidency, or I walk away. But she has also forced Obama into a situation whereby if he chooses her now, he looks weak. So that's the choice she is hoping to impose on the nominee: don't choose me, and Bill and I will subtly work to see that you lose; choose me, and look like a weakling who can't lead the party without the Clintons after all."
Full Post

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Old Right meets the New Left

I just wanted to direct folks to this article (When the Left was Right from the American Conservative (Pat Buchanan's magazine). Bill Kauffman goes into an interesting exploration of the philosophical kinship and brief entente between the New Left and the Old Right (shorthand for a conservative who looks to Kirk, Hegel and Burke rather than Kristol and Reagan-Bush). Nothing ever came of this momentary warming of relations (the New Left turned violently anti-state and the Old Right completely lost the party), but I think it's timely since we're approaching at an election that completely inverts most of the conventional Left-Right dichotomies. And on an academic level, we're at a moment where the mainstream of political philosophy - egalitarian liberalism - is being increasingly challenged by a strange but holy alliance of Thomist Catholics and Anglicans, left-wing Hegelians, neo-Marxists, and Orthodox theologians.

The big question is still whether the ideological affinities between these two groups can be turned into a political alliance. Personally I think that Obama can be the candidate to make that happen, but we'll see. At the very least he has the American Conservative on his side...

(And if you're wonder why Bacevich of The American Conservative is endorsing Obama over McCain click here.) Full Post

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Same-Sex Marriages in California

The California Supreme Court decided on May 16th to that it was unconstitutional to maintain separate legal categories for domestic partnerships (same-sex) and civil marriages (male-female).

For those of you who are blissfully unfamiliar with California gender politics, the Court's decision finally overturned the California electorate's long-standing preference for granting identical rights to gay couples and straight couples... while maintaining a tattered linguistic distinction between the two. In fact, Californians are so committed to fudging this issue that they passed a voter initiative (Prop 22) saying that California does not acknowledge out-of-state or out-of-country same-sex unions. And they passed this initiative in the very same year that they gave California's extremely progressive Democratic Party a 25% margin in the Assembly. So in my book, May 16th was a day to be proud of our Supreme Court's wisdom and willingness to flout democracy in the name of good jurisprudence. The fact is, sometimes people want to have contradictory or ambiguous law out of an unwillingness to make hard decisions. On some level we want to give with one hand and take with the other. A good Supreme Court - like California's - guards the rule of law and, ultimately, democracy by not allowing us to do that.

Now, I've been told that my opinions on this subject are in no small part due to the fact that I don't actually have a family. But by the same token, if I took the opposite position I'd be hearing a variation of the same refrain. That is; "You don't know enough same-sex families." or "You've never had a gay lover and three adopted children." But rather than start a gay-family (sorry guys) and a straight-family (hello April!) and then wait for an informed opinion to emerge, I'm going to see if I can write convincingly on the subject with no experience of having either. Hopefully that doesn't offend...

I want to make three points concerning the effects of the In re Marriage cases: (1) it has no effect on the substantive family issues, (2) it holds no interest from a religious perspective, and (3) it upholds the kind of liberal separation of Church and State that the Church needs in order to remain free.

'Separate but Equal'

(1) In light of our state's constitution, Prop 22 and the California Family Code, which defines marriage as between a man and a women, are clear cases of arbitrary discrimination. In the court's words, 'both opposite-sex and same-sex couples are granted the right to enter into an officially recognized family relationship that affords all of the significant legal rights and obligations traditionally associated under state law with the institution of marriage, but under which the union of an opposite-sex couple is officially designated a “marriage” whereas the union of a same-sex couple is officially designated a “domestic partnership.”'

Once you've granted same-sex couples the right to adopt, the substance of the marriage-issue is exhausted. It would asinine to grant same-sex couples the ability to start a family and then turn around and systematically undermine the dignity and respect with which that family is held (see 'separate but equal').

Do you want a guy who excommunicated all of Geneva for not letting him excommunicate people giving you advice on marriage?

(2) The Court's decision - despite fears that it will suddenly alter God's policy on marriage - will not. I know we have a lot of non-Christian readers and friends, but they will surely follow along hypothetically with the proposition that "IF there is a God, THEN he doesn't conform his will to the California Supreme Court's". (Despite the fact that the CA SC is the most followed state court in the land GO CALIFORNIA!!!!!) So, as most Christians define marriage - something between God, a man and a women - this linguistic shift will have precisely no effect on the sacrament of marriage.

From the historical perspective (not to mention theological) civil and sacramental arenas have always been either opposed or at the very least, detached. John Calvin created civil marriage in the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva to express the theological position that marriage is a civil contract, not a sacrament relationship. In other words, Calvin changed the marriage triad from God-Man-Woman, to State-Man-Woman, (in his opinion God was pretty much disgusted with the whole sexy thing.) This transformation conformed to the central motifs of Enlightenment intellectual thought - disenchantment of religious institutions and the commodification of relationships.

Thus, the creation of civil marriage made explicit the unromantic truth implicit in marriage during Calvin's time. Calvin simply hastened marriage's regression to a mere contractual relationship between two individuals for the purposes of procreation, property and economic production. With the advent of civil marriage, the higher significance of marriage as an icon of spiritual truths, a sacrament and the ruling metaphor of the New Testament, receded behind it's economic and juridical meanings. It is unsurprising then that following Calvin's "contribution" to the institution of marriage, divorce ceased to be a non-starter. What previously would have been seen as blaspheming suddenly became, in Protestant countries, a part of the normative structure of marriage. The profaning of a sacrament is re-imagined as a business deal gone bad. (Pre-Reformation divorce was normally reserved for spiritual reasons like unfaithfulness, after the Reformation the reasoning becomes economic, i.e. impotence, accident, infertility...etc.)

Now this is all a long way of saying that those of us that believe in marriage as sacrament should stop obsessing over this issue since nothing can change marriage in the sense that matters to us. Marriage as a sacrament can only be further undermined by linking it to the institution of civil marriage; these institutions may look similar but at bottom they are in completely different universes. (What's far worse is that in the interest of Christianizing our government, Christian "culture warriors" have aided and abetted one of the most immoral administrations in recent memory. )

So it is fair to say that from the perspective of the Churches that still recognize marriage as a spiritual practice (the Orthodox, the Catholics...etc.) this is a complete non-issue. Civil marriage was irrelevant from the start and the California Supreme Court deciding what sound we make with our mouths when we talk about same-sex marriages just makes it hilariously irrelevant. No one can force the Church to recognize a marriage.

Culture War v. Cultural Liberalism

(3) The decision reflects the kind of jurisprudence that will keep Americans free to practice their faith without interference from the state.

The really clever thing about our country and why it functions so smoothly is that it isn't a democracy. We have a constitution which defines the rules that democracy must play by. (I would be tangential to argue for this here, but I think it's clear that we wouldn't want unmitigated democracy.)

One of those rules (thank god) is that the government - regardless of democracy - cannot establish privileges that are delimited to a particular community. Granting heterosexual couples extra privileges or recognition is a clear example of illegitimate discrimination based on both gender and creed. So the four judges had the right to maintain the principles of our state constitution by opening up marriage - and the privileges that go along with it - to homosexuals. If people want it to be otherwise, they can change the constitution (we'll be voting on just that in Nov.).

We have a choice in how we handle contentious cultural issues like this, we can choose a clash of cultures or cultural liberalism. Culture war: Christians, and presumably others, should attempt to give their beliefs concerning society the weight of law. Cultural liberalism: In the simplest formulation - if what you are doing does not harm any one, the government should not prevent it.

Personally I think that all creeds, including my own, are safer in a liberal society. Yes, our beliefs won't be officially seconded by the state, but we will be allowed to do what we personally believe is right and to carry on our cultural traditions - like marriage - in the manner that we see fit. Once we define the situation as a culture war, then we are in a scenario where losing is a disaster and any win is empty. That is; if we lose, we have established the idea that the cultural "winner" gets to enforce their personal code through the mechanism of the state. If we win, what have we achieved? It's not going to change anyone's heart, it's not going to significantly change how people constitute their families, it's not going to change the culture, it merely deprives homosexual partners of certain legal rights and symbolic support enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Full Post

Monday, May 19, 2008

So... who's the electable one? (Dispatch from Oregon)

One of Clinton's major talking points has been that "Obama is unelectable" or the more nuanced "Obama can't win the states that a Democrat must win to succeed in November", i.e. PA, OH, and FL. Now on the basis of these three states - Clinton is the more electable (Clinton: +10, +8.5, +8)(Obama: +5, -1, -1). The lie of this argument is that Nov. 2008 is not Nov. 2004 or 2000.

I was trawling through the last month of polls compiled by ... as one does... and found some interesting changes in the electoral map.

(1) Obama opens up the West (CO and NV) and the Mid-Atlantic (VA and NC). Something that Clinton is utter incapable of doing - those states all go into her "can't win" basket. From the historical perspective, that would be the first time a Democrat had won the Old Dominion since they ran on a segregationist platform. (That's not actually true, LBJ won it in '64 and Truman won in '48. But I think anyone reading this will agree that it doesn't count if you (a) ran against Old Goldy or (b) won a World War.)

(2) Clinton opens up the West (CA and WA) - to the GOP - and loosens the Democrat's grip on the Great Lakes States (MN, WI, and MI).
Did that sink in?
I'm not saying that McCain will win CA, MN or WA, but the suggestion passes the "laugh-test"... which should make the Democrats sweat - not to mention allocate campaign funds. So win or lose, that's a win for the Republican Party.

Without further ado, here are the maps...

Clinton - McCain:

Obama - McCain; Full Post