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15 August 2016

Reflections on a Summer of Portliness

I'd like to thank everyone who has read and supported The Portly Politico for the past couple of months.  I've been very pleased with the overall response, and I love the engaging questions, comments, and personal attacks I've received.

Because the school year resumes this week--and my blissful summer break draws to a close--I will be slowing down the rate of output to one piece per week, probably to be released Monday mornings at 6:30 AM.  While I would love to maintain the Monday-Wednesday-Friday releases, I've taught long enough to know that keeping up that pace would be detrimental to the quality of the posts (and probably to my teaching, which keeps the lights on).

As such, I'd like to dedicate today's post to looking back on the summer, and to share some insights into how I put this thing together.



The Author in Repose.
(Original image c/o The Portly Politico)


- The Process:  When I relaunched this blog in early June--after six years without a single post--I figured I'd keep it up for a few weeks before cutting back on the frequency of posts.  After those first couple of weeks, though, I was hooked, and became committed to sticking to a regular, three-posts-a-week schedule.

It was not always easy (although, to be honest, how hard is it really to sit at a keyboard and write?).  As so often happens, my best-laid plans to have two or three pieces on file at any time quickly went astray. Just like the college history major I used to be, I found myself writing most of this summer's posts at around the same time as this one:  9 PM the night before the 6:30 AM release.  Some were written at more sensible hours (which my body, tired after long hours at my summer job as a facilities maintenance man, appreciated); Sunday afternoons often saw me writing a post for Monday.

"Deadlines... inspire.... a due date--even a self-inflicted one--is a surefire cure for writer's block."

Most of the posts took about two hours to write and edit, though some took longer.  My process usually goes something like this:  the day I needed to write a post, I'd start brainstorming ideas (if I didn't already have one in my head).  Once I hit upon a topic, I'd begin "writing" it in my head--pretty much how I've always written, going back to school--and then sit down in the evening to hammer it out.  If I'd had trouble dreaming up a topic, I'd scan The Drudge Report for headlines, hoping to find some inspiration.  Many of my posts were adapted from lectures given in the AP US History, AP Comparative Government, and US Government classes I teach during my day job.

Current events, of course, fueled the output, though I tried to avoid particularly controversial or complicated issues when they first broke.  My general policy for this blog and for political discussions is to withhold judgment until all (or most) of the facts are in, especially in the case of shootings.  That's why I never wrote about any of the various shootings that occurred over the summer, whether by or of a police officer.

Deadlines, however, inspire, and I always managed to come up with something.  It's amazing how a due date--even a self-inflicted one--is a surefire cure for writer's block.

I also required myself to post a link to every piece on Facebook, both to attract readers and to force myself to address criticisms (and, in some cases, to face attacks).  It certainly helped sharpen my thinking, and clarified the importance of citing sources frequently!

- Tough Times:  The most discouraging moment of the summer occurred while writing my "Life after Brexit" piece.  I'd had a long day and spent a very long time hammering out that piece (a good bit of which--probably for the better--was wrong), and had actually completed the post.  I was about to go to bed, but I had finished reading an op-ed National Front leader Marine Le Pen wrote to The New York Times, and wanted to include a quotation.  Somehow--and, despite my basic level of computer savvy, I don't know how--I managed to delete the entire post.

That was the closest I came to calling it quits for the night and posting a lame apology the next morning.  I rallied, however, and finally got into bed after 1 AM.  Needless to say, the next morning was not fun, but I'd stuck to my self-imposed deadlines.

The other more amusing moment was the response to "Music is for Everyone," a relatively non-controversial premise.  Someone posted a rather snarky, ridiculous commentary on a very innocuous Facebook post I made; I (against my better judgment) responded with the post linked above.  Needless to say, this nasty fellow did not take kindly to be calling out (though I suspect now it was exactly what he wanted).

"It's been a tough century for conservatives, and we needed a win.  Brexit was a major victory...."

While it was all a bit blown out of proportion, I couldn't let a vile bully go unchallenged.  Mockery is a powerful weapon against normalcy and decency; no one wants to look foolish, so no one attempts a defense.  This minor issue probably wasn't the hill to die on, but at this point, if we can't all enjoy cultural products without fear of being "appropriative" or because we don't share the artist's political beliefs, what kind of society can we hope to have?  Either one of total conformity, or none at all.

- Fun Times:  While some of my posts performed dismally, it was fun to see which posts were well-received.  I was particularly surprised that the "Family Matters" series was so popular.  To date, the initial post is the most-viewed post of all time, finally eclipsing (fairly substantially) the first true comeback post, "American Values, American Nationalism."  Apparently, many people were eager to read about the decline of the two-parent nuclear family.  Those posts generated a LOT of discussion, too, and it was interesting to read some of the comments about divorce, particularly from those who have been through it.  Many of the comments essentially acknowledged that there are exception, but that most of the time, the two-parent nuclear family is the best way to run a family.

- Brexit:  Speaking of fun times, I had a blast writing about Brexit.  It's been a tough century for conservatives, and we needed a win.  Brexit was a major victory for nationalism and sovereignty against totalizing globalism.  The predicted economic catastrophe didn't happen (and I even thought it would--I argued it was a price worth paying for independence); in fact, the stock market is reaching new heights.  We certainly haven't seen the last of the potential fallout, but I was thrilled to cover such an historic event on this humble blog.

- Monetization DeniedFull disclosure:  one sinister reason for starting this blog was to help generate a little extra cash; after all, I'm a capitalist.  For some reason, though, my AdSense application keeps getting dinged for "insufficient content"--a laughable proposition.  Even though your sweet, sweet ad dollars didn't start rolling in, I still enjoyed the challenge and the intellectual workout of putting these posts out there.  And if you ever want me to come speak at your organization, please shoot me an e-mail at

What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it shrivel up like a raisin in the sun?  Or does it ask for your donation to keep quality content alive and well?

- eBook:  While I won't have as much time to write new material, I plan on taking some of these posts and adapting them into one or two short eBooks.  I've already decided to take my "Family Matters" series and turn into a larger defense of social conservatism and tradition.  I'm also hoping to put together an election guide for the 2016 presidential election, with detailed information on the major and minor party candidates.  Stay tuned for more details; I recommend signing up at the top of the page to receive e-mail updates.


Well, that's enough navel-gazing for one day.  Thanks again for your support.  It's been a wonderful summer.  See you next week!

12 August 2016

Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism

For the past week, I've written about the decline of the nuclear family, with follow-up posts about divorce and sex education, and about the negative impact of the of the welfare state on family formation.  These post have generated some wonderful discussions and input from followers, and I've been surprised by their popularity.

As I wrote in "Values Have Consequences," I'm devoting Friday posts to discussions of social conservatism.  Social conservatism is increasingly the red-headed stepchild of the traditional Republican "tripod" coalition that also includes national security and economic conservatives (with the rise of Trump, populist nationalism could count as a fourth leg).  Politically, this marginalization makes some sense, as it's not likely that fifty or sixty years of cultural attitudes and values will be changed at the ballot box.

Nevertheless, social conservatism is an important leg of the tripod.  Indeed, I would argue that the three coalitions are not at odds, but create logical synergies that allow each leg to stand.  The stool is much more stable when the three legs work together.

Economic conservatism--by which I mean the belief that freer markets, fewer and lighter regulations, and lower taxes, or what is more properly called neoliberalism (after the classical liberalism of the 18th-century thinkers like Adam Smith)--is wonderful and hugely important.  It's led to massive gains domestically and globally, lifting untold millions off people out of poverty.  It allows people to enjoy a greater variety of goods and labor-saving devices, and provides more leisure time (and plenty of things to do during that time).

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But free markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship.  Without a shared sense of trust and belief in human dignity, capitalism becomes cold and abstract.

Further, full-fledged economic liberalization without the limiting principles applied by constitutionalism and a morality supported by strong families and a robust civil society can lead to socially-destructive disruptions and behaviors.

As I've argued many times, making mistakes or bad choices is the necessary price of liberty.  But for self-government to work effectively--and to avoid social instability--a healthy dose of social conservatism is the best medicine.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee wears the most socially conservative outfit ever; later, he played bass on Fox News.
(Image Source; photo by Craig Michaud)

To offer an illustration from recent history, contrast the post-Soviet experiences of Poland (and most of Eastern Europe) with that of Russia.  Despite decades under Communism--an ideology that was aggressively atheistic, stressing loyalty to the state and Communist Party over all else--Poland roared back into the West.  It adopted neoliberal (modern conservative) economic policies, and was one of the few European nations not to suffer severely during the Great Recession.

Russia similarly adopted "shock therapy" after the Soviet Union collapsed for good in 1991.  Rather than experiencing a huge economic boom, however, well-connected former Communists and others close to the old regime made off like bandits, leaving most Russians left holding the bag.

What's the difference?  For one, the Russians lived under Communism for nearly a generation longer than the Poles, meaning there were several generations of downtrodden, state-dependent Russians by the time the USSR collapsed.  Many of these Russians were unable to adjust to a free-market system after living in a closed economy for so long.

Another key difference--and one that I think is extremely significant--is that Russians lost any scrap of civil society they might have possessed prior to the Bolshevik takeover in late 1917.  Civil society--the institutions between the basic family unit and the government, like churches, schools, clubs, civic organizations, etc.--was automatically preempted when every club, organization, or activity became part of the Soviet government.  The severely crippled (and, as I understand it, collaborationist) Russian Orthodox Church was unable or unwilling to push back against Soviet rule, providing little in the way of a spiritual alternative to the totalizing influence of Communism.

"[F]ree markets unmoored from guiding principles, strong and stable institutions, and the rule of law can morph into mindless Mammon worship."

Poland, on the other hand, managed to maintain its deep Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church as an international organization (and with powerful, influential popes, most notably the Polish anti-Communist John Paul II) could never be wiped out completely by Soviet Communism.  Further, the Poles formed the Solidarity trades union movement, which offered an alternative to official Communist organizations.

Thus, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Poland emerged with a strong civil society anchored in a richly Christian worldview and ethic.  The shared sense of morality--one that stresses mutual respect, the dignity of human life, and the importance of honesty--allowed the complex deals and uptempo economic exchanges of capitalism to occur smoothly and rapidly.  From these civil and religious values came a firmer grasp of and respect for the rule of law, making predictable economic activity and long-term planning possible.

Russia, on the other hand, devolved into a fast-paced, nationwide run on the national cupboard.  Those with good connections grabbed whatever public funds and goodies they could.  Normal Russians couldn't figure out whey their government checks and free lunches stopped coming, and couldn't understand why (or how) to pay taxes.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, all civic organizations ceased to exist, because they were all part of the Soviet government.  Without any civil society or other enduring institutions to model good behavior and to stress and enforce moral values, Russia struggled--and continues to do so--to adapt to global capitalism and democracy.  Not surprisingly, they've turned to a dictatorial strongman for guidance.


What of the American context?  As I've written before, I'm skeptical of full-fledged libertarianism--what I would broadly define as the marriage of economically conservative and socially liberal views--because it fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptionsLiberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint.  Without moral common ground and shared values that stress self-control, liberty rapidly turns to libertinism.  Libertinism without a great deal of wealth leads to shattered lives, which in turn wreck families and communities.

Eventually, unbridled, unchecked lasciviousness--even among (formerly) responsible adults--results in social chaos, requiring a dwindling number of hardworking, honest, and thrifty individuals to pay for the ramifications of poor moral choices that have been magnified many times over.

"[L]ibertarianism... fails to acknowledge the need for strong moral values to uphold its own economic assumptions.  Liberty and self-government can only really work when coupled with self-imposed order and restraint."

Capitalism's blessing of unparalleled abundance is also a potential curse.  Without a strong civil society that stresses good moral values--and without proper historical perspective--it becomes easy to take that abundance for granted.

That abundance also allows, for a time, more and more individuals to pay for the price of bad decisions.  Prior to the modern era, few people were wealthy enough to risk the negative consequences of immorality.  Now, Americans and Westerners enjoy a level of material comfort and well-being that can absorb at least some of the unpleasantness of questionable choices.  Over time, however, that security breaks down.

Richard Weaver likened the situation to an alcoholic who is so addicted to his drink, he's unable to do the work necessary to pay for his addiction.  The more he needs the alcohol, the less capable he becomes of obtaining it.  Likewise, the more individuals become addicted to luxuries, the less able they are to work hard to maintain them.

To avoid the fate of Weaver's drunk, we must recognize the importance of social conservatism.  While we should maximize individual liberty as much as possible, and within the bounds of the Constitution, we should also stress the moral and religious underpinnings that make that liberty both possible and responsible.

10 August 2016

Family Matters Follow-Up Part II: The Welfare State and the Crisis of the Family

My series of posts on the decline of the traditional family unit in the United States and the West has generated a great deal of discussion (and, occasionally, some bitter recriminations).  Thus, after the overwhelming feedback and requests for clarification I received to "Family Matters," I decided to expand upon some portions of that piece (click here to read "Follow-Up Part I" about divorce and sex education).

One of the claims of "Family Matters" concerned the "havoc" President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society/War on Poverty wreaked on the black American families.  In the original post, I failed to link to any data or articles to substantiate this claim, but I've since updated the post with links to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous "Moynihan Report" (actual title:  The Negro Family:  The Case for National Action) and a piece from 2015 that summarizes some of the main points of the report.

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The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan--who would go on to serve as US Ambassador to India and the United Nations, then as a Democratic Senator for New York--enjoys a rare respect as a liberal among conservatives.  Though he was a leftist on many issues, he was first and foremost a scholar with a commitment to following the data wherever it took him.

The so-called "Moynihan Report"--which he wrote while working as a bureaucrat in the Department of Labor in 1965--demonstrated that many of the problems of the black community were caused only in part by discrimination, but much more so by a decline in marriage and stable family formation.  While racial discrimination was (and--I would like to think to a lesser extent--still is) a major problem in the 1960s, it alone could not explain adequately the plight of many black Americans.

Instead, what Moynihan discovered was that well-intentioned government programs inadvertently subsidized single motherhood, and were destroying the black family.  Indeed, the "national action" for which Moynihan called was that which would reinforce "the establishment of a stable Negro family structure."  This national goal would be "difficult," but "it almost certainly offers the only possibility of resolving in our time what is, after all, the nation's oldest, and most instransigent, and now its most dangerous social problem."  (Moynihan, The Negro Family)

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan--a Bureaucrat who actually deserved a fat government paycheck.

I once heard a conservative black gentleman from Darlington, South Carolina, summarize Moynihan's argument thus:  at a time when black men faced legitimate discrimination in the workforce, and could lose their jobs on the flimsiest of pretexts, the federal government came along offering generous support to single mothers.  By 1975--ten years after Moynihan's prophetic report--a head of household would have to earn $88,000 (in 2015 dollars; about $22,000 in 1975) to out-earn the benefit from the federal government.  (Jack Coleman, "Juan Williams:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan 'Had it Right' About Breakdown of the Black Family")  As Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us:  How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed wrote in a 2015 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, "In effect, the government paid mothers to keep fathers out of the home--and paid them well."

Not surprisingly, many women took note of this benefit.  Some of them--and, yes, I know what you're about to read will be hard to believe, but it actually happened--calculated that they were better off divorcing their husbands or having a child out of wedlock, especially given the real, costly discrimination their husbands faced.  Government do-gooding, coupled with a legacy of racial discrimination, caused many young black children to grow up without fathers.

Initially, that might not have been a huge problem... but it metastasized.  Young boys grew up without father figures to shape them, and came to expect that leaving a woman, or having children with multiple women, was natural.  Young girls grew up thinking they had no reasonable expectation of their man sticking around.  With each generation, the problem grew worse and worse, until now roughly 72-73% of black children born in America are born to a single parent.

"[S]imply replacing one parent with a paycheck does not fulfill a child's many needs."

Single parenthood is sometimes the only option, but it's a tough row to hoe.  Not only does it place financial burdens on the parent; it also removes from her or him the ability to parent a child adequately.  To quote economist Walter Williams at length:
"Whether a student is black, white, orange or polka-dot and whether he's poor or rich, there are some minimum requirements that must be met in order for him to do well in school. Someone must make the student do his homework. Someone must see to it that he gets eight to nine hours of sleep. Someone has to fix him a wholesome breakfast and ensure that he gets to school on time and respects and obeys teachers.

"Here's my question: Which one of those basic requirements can be accomplished through a presidential executive order, a congressional mandate or the edict of a mayor, a superintendent of schools or a teacher? If those basic requirements aren't met, whatever else that is done in the name of education is for naught." (emphasis added; Walter Williams, "Can Racial Discrimination Explain Much?")
In other words, simply replacing one parent with a paycheck does not fulfill a child's many needs.  Children born out-of-wedlock and raised by a single parent are more likely "to experience a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems," according to Dr. Paul Amato in "The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation."   That creates ripple effects for generations to come, and the cycle is difficult to break.


The problem was prevalent even before Moynihan wrote his report (which, not surprisingly, caused many of his fellow-liberals to accuse him of "racism" and bigotry--common tactics when faced with an unpleasant truth).  Ronald Reagan, while campaigning for Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, told the story in his magisterial "A Time for Choosing" speech of a mother who divorced her husband to get a check from the government, and how she learned to do it after talking to two other women who'd also gamed the system.

We've now had fifty-one years of the Great Society, and while some of its programs helped alleviate malnutrition and other problems that are, thankfully, dwindling issues, its good intentions created a host of other problems.  In 1965, one could still plausibly claim that government do-gooders merely didn't know any better.  Now, the argument seems to be, "Well, we're trying to do the right thing, so that's all that should matter."  That's prime paving stone for the road to hell.

"The decline of the family is a problem all Americans will have to address."

Moynihan argued that black Americans in particular were experiencing the decline of family formation most heavily because of the "tangle of pathologies" stemming from centuries of slavery and a century of legal, social, and economic segregation, and that this legacy dovetailed disastrously with the perverse incentive toward divorce and single motherhood.  As he predicted, this tangle morphed into a multi-generational cycle that has ground many black Americans further into poverty.

In 2016, the negative consequences have not only magnified the problem among black Americans; it's spread throughout American society.  There's been a crisis among black families for fifty years; we ignored it at our peril.

The experience of black American families since the 1960s is a sad story, though there are many brave black mothers and fathers who raise their children with love and support.  They are struggling to break a dangerous cycle, one that swirls in a murky stew of cultural, social, and economic pressures against the two-parent family and traditional marriage.

Racism appears to have enhanced the deleterious effects of the welfare state in the case of black families, but now those negative consequences are increasingly color-blind.  The decline of the family is a problem all Americans will have to address.

(For additional reading, check out the works of Walter Williams, a brilliant economist and political conservative who, as it happens, is black.  Start here for an appetizer:; after that, get Race and Economics:  How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?)
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08 August 2016

Family Matters Follow-Up Part I: Divorce and Marriage; Sex Education

Last Friday I wrote a post entitled "Family Matters" about the decline of the traditional family in the United States and the West, which I called "our true national and civilizational crisis."  To my surprise, the post was very well-received and popular.  To date, it is the second-most read blog post on the site, and I look for it to eclipse the most-read entry, "American Values, American Nationalism."  It certainly shattered single-day records for The Portly Politico.

It also garnered quite a bit of discussion on my Facebook page, where I always share links to these posts.  There was a great deal of excellent discussion, including questions for clarification on some points.  People also shared some of their personal experiences with matters of family and what sorts of arrangements work and in what circumstances.

As such, I thought I'd dedicate today and Wednesday's posts to following up on some of the comments, questions, and observations I received.  I do so to facilitate further discussion and to help clear up any confusion about some of my contentions.

(Note:  As I wrote this post, I decided to split it into [at least] two parts.  Wednesday's portion will deal with questions about same-sex couples and the impact of the Great Society upon black families.)


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- Divorce:  I did not mention divorce at all in Friday's post, but many of the comments I received dealt with this painful scenario.  Certainly, no picture of the decline of the traditional family is complete without a discussion of dissolved unions.

With roughly 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the model of the stable, two-parent family is further threatened, although increasingly families are forming outside of formal marriage.  Neither of these scenarios is ideal.  The rate of divorce naturally increased in the twentieth century in part because divorces became easier to obtain, especially with the rise and success of the women's suffrage and rights movements.

The relative legal ease of acquiring a divorce, however, does not tell the full story.  Divorce also increased because of increasingly relaxed attitudes about marriage and family formation.  As the single working mother morphed from an object of sympathy into a perverse ideal--and as social signals and laws increasingly downplayed the importance of fathers and privileged mothers--both men and women came to see marriage as less of an institution and more of a formality.

"[Parents]... should make a good-faith effort to raise their children in a stable home, and to spare them the misery, confusion, and familial turmoil of divorce."

As several commenters noted, sometimes divorce is, sadly, the better option, such as when a spouse is abusive.  I suspect many such unfortunate unions take place precisely because we've come to take marriage (and love) so lightly.  The erosion of a broad, common set of cultural and religious values could also play a role, as more and more "oxen" are unevenly "yoked," creating deep tensions within relationships.

Of course, marriage is hugely complicated, and couples part way for many reasons (usually money).  However, it does seem that, absent abuse, infidelity, or criminality, couples with children should make a good-faith effort to raise their children in a stable home, and to spare them the misery, confusion, and familial turmoil of divorce.

If your husband is pointing a gun at you, it's probably time to call it quits.  Otherwise, make the best of a bad situation.  At least you can still get 2 for $20 entrees at Chili's (tm).

Marriage, after all, is--or, at least, should be--a serious obligation entered into by two sober-minded adults with shared values and principles.  Of course, actual human relationships tend to be messy even in the most ideal of circumstances, but a proper focus on the point of marriage--two people coming together as one in the presence of God--would go a long way to help realign and heal struggling marriages.

 "Marriage, after all, is... a serious obligation entered into by two sober-minded adults with shared values and principles."

- Sex Education:  One friend argued that we need more sex education in schools, as well as free birth control for young people to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  While I believe that abstinence is the best method of birth control to emphasize, I'm enough of a realist to know that teenagers find particular joy in doing what they're told not to do.

The problem I see is two-fold:  first, we already provide sex education in most public high schools throughout the United States; second, the call for more sex education and access to contraceptives merely demonstrate the crisis of the family I've noted.

The proper realm for sex education is the home.  The popular media has perpetuated the myth that parents don't talk to their children about the pitfalls of premarital sex because they're uncomfortable or prudish, so the schools have to do it to prevent millions of unplanned pregnancies.

The problem, rather, is that so many children are growing up in homes without proper parental guidance, they're missing out on important lessons about sex, marriage, and familyAbsent fathers aren't there to teach their children that it's wrong to get a woman pregnant and then to leave her.  Sex outside of the framework or expectation of marriage becomes devoid of any larger sense of responsibility.

 "[S]o many children are growing up in homes without proper parental guidance, they're missing out on important lessons about sex, marriage, and family."

Therefore, teachers have had to take on yet another responsibility that should rest primarily, if not solely, with parents.  Add to this lack of parental involvement the glorification of sex in the media and the general "if-it-feels-good-do-it" philosophy of postmodern America, and you have a recipe for moral disaster.

It's unfortunate that schools have had to adopt this responsibility, at it suggests a massive decline in the understanding of what parents are supposed to do for their children.

To the point about free birth control in schools, I've never really understood this argument.  I understand that the logic goes, "it's worth taxpayers' money because it prevents the births of children who would become wards of the state; therefore, it's ultimately more cost-effective."  But many forms of birth control are incredibly cheap and readily available.  There's no compelling argument for why the government should force taxpayers to pay for a box of condoms for high school students.

As far as the birth control pill for girls, it's actually Republicans who want to make it available over-the-counter, which would further drive down the cost and allow young women experiencing shame or uncertainty to obtain it more easily.

 "[P]roviding birth control pills to minors through public schools introduces a host of sticky constitutional and legal concerns...."

Most importantly, providing birth control pills to minors through public schools introduces a host of sticky constitutional and legal concerns, the biggest being, "what if a family's faith forbids the use of contraceptives"?  A devout, traditional Catholic, for example, would no-doubt object to being forced to pay for birth control for his daughter and the daughters of strangers.  He would likewise experience a crisis being required to purchase condoms for his or others sons.

Just because most people--including, apparently, most Catholics--are morally comfortable using traditional birth control and contraceptive methods doesn't mean that we should make those who disagree pay for it.  The need to fund contraceptives becomes even less pressing when the low cost is considered.  Why cause an unnecessary, stressful crisis of faith for millions just to save a kid a quarter on a gas station rubber?

At this point, I would agree with my friend that, unfortunately, schools do have to take some role in sex education, especially given the increased likelihood children won't receive it at home, since the traditional family unit is on the decline.  If private non-profit organizations want to provide additional information or free contraceptives, no worries--there's no infringement upon religious liberty via official coercion.  Additionally, schools should stress the moral and financial obligations of parents to their children, especially in those communities where good role models are lacking.

Unfortunately, another government program to hand out free condoms is not a lasting solution to a problem that is one of the soul, not of the pocketbook.  Let civil society address these problems (perhaps with a revival of the good, old-fashioned shotgun wedding).


These are certainly thorny problems, and I fully recognize that as a single, never-married man I don't possess the same perspective as, say, a married couple of twenty years or a divorcee.  Nevertheless, I reject the notion that a lack of personal experience disqualifies one from the discussion (even while acknowledging that personal experience often provides a great deal of clarity).  Besides, I've witnessed first-hand the power of strong marriages and stable families.  Indeed, I'm the beneficiary of one such union.

Finally, I appreciate lively (and civil) feedback and discussion, and I look forward to expanding further on this topic on Wednesday.

05 August 2016

Family Matters

Last Friday, I wrote about one of my intellectual heroes, Richard Weaver (and I recommended his masterful treatise Ideas Have Consequences in the wildly popular Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016).  In that post, I promised to begin a series of pieces "exploring why tradition, morality, and Truth matter to a free society, and how we can restore them."

To that end, I'd like to focus on the importance of family to the maintenance of a free, prosperous society.  This topic should be fairly uncontroversial--that is, if we still lived in a society that did not demonize the traditional family structure while unthinkingly validating less productive--and, indeed, at times destructive--alternatives.

Unfortunately, we seem to take the nuclear family for granted.  We do so at our peril.  I would argue that a host of modern American society's worst problems--generational poverty, increased government dependence, loosening morals--are in many ways byproducts of the destruction of the nuclear family.

In 2012, over half of births to women under 30 were out of wedlock72.3% of blacks were born out of wedlock, while nearly 30% of whites were born so.  Compare those figures to the 1950s--before President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which wreaked havoc on the black family--and illegitimacy rates were comparably very low, and only somewhat higher among blacks than whites.  Now it would seem that the rising tide of illegitimacy is indeed lifting all ships, and the ill-effects of illegitimacy are decreasingly color-blind.

The most adorable public domain family I could find.

(For more reading, I highly recommend anything written by economist Walter Williams, especially his excellent book Race and Economics:  How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination.  I've also used this Williams article in preparing this post: more statistics--and nice line graphs--check here:'s a link to a transcipt of Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous "Moynihan Report," written in 1965 while he was working in the US Department of Labor:

It's a testament to the institution's destruction that I even have to argue in favor of it.  The benefits of the nuclear family should be self-evident.  To wit:

- The Family is an Incubator for Morality:  The family is the first place in which children's morality is taught and reinforced.  We all have an inherent sense of right and wrong (except for sociopaths), but the family helps to develop the conscience and to give morality meaning, usually through a system of punishments for bad behavior and rewards for the good.  Parents (ideally) model good behavior for their children, and take an active role in inculcating proper behavior.

Indeed, self-government is impossible without this moral instruction:  we learn self-control and -restraint so that we can live freely.  Without such moral instruction, we raise generations of adults who are unable to control their impulses and who fail to understand the consequences of wickedness.  Therefore, a poor or incomplete moral upbringing breeds more criminality and recklessness, causing a growing portion of society leaning on the state for support.

"Without such moral instruction, we raise generations of adults who are unable to control their impulses and who fail to understand the consequences of wickedness."

- The Family is a Generational Anti-Poverty Machine:  I am able to live a modest, comfortable life on a private school teacher's salary (it's noticeably less than that of public school teachers in the State)--and was able to pursue two degrees in History/Advanced Trivia--because my father read water meters while going to school full-time, and because my parents scrupulously saved money (and taught my brothers and me how to do the same).  My father was able to teach me those lessons because his father accepted ChristHis father--from what I can discern--was a restless gadabout who played piano in juke joints and lumber camp bars.  My grandfather reversed what could have been a negative trend of absenteeism and amorality.

It took three generations of self-restraint and moral uprightness to build a solid foundation.  Even then, it required loving moral instruction from my parents to help preserve the gains of the past.  The hard work and sacrifice of my parents and grandparents not only taught me how to fend for myself; it provided (and continues to do so) a powerful economic incubator.  Without that sacrifice, I would have been unable to attend college, or would have become massively indebted doing so.  I'm able to slam money into retirement now because dad read those water meters, went to college, and worked his way up in municipal government.  In the process, he taught me to work and study hard (which is why I spend most of my summers painting classrooms and trimming the football field).

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was right when he called the nuclear family the most effective anti-poverty program available.  It works!

- The Family Provides a Model for Masculinity and Femininity:  The image of the sexy single career mom--the one who doesn't need a man to raise a kid--and the schlubby, do-nothing dad are probably two of the most destructive notions ever to plague the modern West.  Don't get me wrong--I'm all about women pursuing their dreams and careers as they wish.  What I object to is the unrealistic notion that somehow people can "have it all"--all the rewards of work, family, and the like--without any of the necessary sacrifices that come with them.  It's selfish to want and expect everything, even at the cost of a child's well-being.  Further, any objective observer will acknowledge that it's harder to raise a child with one parent rather than two.

"[S]tatistically and historically, the best possible social arrangement for the rearing of children is the traditional family structure headed by a mother and a father."

Allow me to make a point that is, unfortunately, now controversial:  men and women need each other.  Yes, that's a generalization.  Yes, there are some exceptions.  But, broadly speaking, it's the truth most of the time.  More importantly, children need a mother and a father.

Please note:  I'm not arguing that a stable, same-sex couple or a single person shouldn't be allowed to adopt a child.  The need to find good homes for orphans far outweighs the potential shortcomings of lacking a male or female role model.  Nor am I arguing that all traditional families are always perfect--far from it.

What I'm saying is that, statistically and historically, the best possible social arrangement for the rearing of children is the traditional family structure headed by a mother and a father.  It's pretty much the way we're designed.  Children need and receive different things from their fathers than they do their mothers, and vice-versa.  Young boys learn how to be good men from their fathers.  That means they learn how to treat women with respect, among other things.  Little girls, for that matter, learn different lessons from their fathers than their mothers.

As I often tell my students, men and woman are different, but equal.  One sex isn't better than the other, but both are complementary and possess intangible qualities that the other needs.  That's why marriage is a coming together of two people to make one.  And, again, it's just the way we're made.


There's a reason the nuclear family is a subject near-and-dear to the hearts of social conservatives, and why we despair upon seeing the rise in illegitimacy rates and the decline of traditional marriageThe nuclear family as an institution and social arrangement is hugely successful, yet we've jettisoned it from society in favor of... practically nothing.  If all arrangements are deemed equally valid, then none of them is worthy of supporting.  Thus, why bother?

At that point--the point, I fear, we have reached now--there is little hope that the next generation will enjoy, on the same scale, the manifold benefits the nuclear family provides.

This sobering reality, more than anything else, is our true national and civilizational crisis.  To repair it will require an acknowledgement of the benefits of the traditional family structure and an emphasis on the proper roles mothers and fathers are to play in the moral lives of their children.

03 August 2016

There is No General Will

I've been watching the television series Wayward Pines (don't worry; no spoilers), which raises tons of great questions about how a society--particularly a closed one under duress--should function.  What's the proper balance between freedom and security?  How much should governing elites reveal to the folks, and what should be concealed?  Should people fulfill specific roles in a society to benefit the greater goals of that society, or should they be free to choose their professions (and, for that matter, their mates, homes, schools, etc.)?

These are interesting and complicated questions.  Indeed, the question of the proper balance between freedom and security has puzzled republics since Periclean Athens.  The question itself is misleading, I would argue--and likely will in a future post--that the two are not mutually exclusive.

"[T]here is no such thing as the general will."

But I digress.  All of these questions seem to pose a larger one:  what is the "general will" or "greater good" of a society, and how should a society go about pursuing it?  My answer is that there is no such thing as the general will.

Now, to be clear, this statement does not mean that I think there's no merit in a society pursuing some common goals, or that I deny that sometimes in a majoritarian system there will be policies that some people don't like, but that are beneficial for society as a whole.  Our whole constitutional system in the United States is carefully balanced to make sure that the "will of the people" is well-represented at the local, State, and national levels, while still guaranteeing and protecting the basic rights of individuals--even when those rights aren't particularly popular.

But here's the rub--while our constitutional order protects against the tyranny of the majority, the broad notion--from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau--of the "general will" acknowledges no such limiting principle against the power of the majorityIt is against this sense that the "will of the people" is the be-all, end-all of social good that I stand.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Philosophical Super Villain.
(Image Source, portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour)

The people, as a whole, are fickle.  It's very difficult to get ten people to agree about what to eat for dinner; note how difficult it is for 330 million to agree on even the most basic of issues (in South Carolina, we still haven't reached any kind of consensus about how to pay for and fix our roads, something virtually everyone wants done).

Even if you can get ten reasonable people to agree to, say, a long-term weekly dining schedule, at some point one or two will start to say, "Well, maybe we could have spaghetti on Wednesday nights instead of tacos."  Imagine that conversation happening loudly and angrily across fifty States.  It's a recipe--pardon the pun--for disaster.

Raw majoritarianism--what Rousseau appears to be calling for when he argues that society should be based on the "general will" of the people--is an unworkable scheme on anything but the smallest levels of society.  Rousseau's chilling dictum that men are "forced to be free" reveals the inevitable consequence of unbridled democracy:  ultimately, the inexpressible "general will" becomes expressed through a demagogic tyrant, or through a legislator uninhibited by any restraints on its law-making authority beyond what the people want.

"[T]he 'general will' acknowledges no... limiting principle against the power of the majority." 

I've long viewed Rousseau as one of the great villains of modern philosophy, and I would argue that one can draw a more-or-less straight line from Rousseau and the French Revolution through fascism, communism, and totalitarianism, all the way to modern illiberal progressivism.  Rousseau--like modern progressives--believes in the mutability of human will, arguing that laws, not human nature, make people bad or good.  Get the laws right--or tweak the system enough--and you can spit out completely virtuous people.

Thus we see the conceit of the modern Left that no one commits crime out of greed or evil; instead, they're "victims of circumstance" or subject to "systems of oppression" that cause them to do evil.  If only we created more programs or redistributed more wealth--or, if taken to the logical extreme, if only we did away with private property altogether, since the state and its laws exist to protect it--then, finally, man would be perfect.

Such notions are not only absurd; they are hugely injurious to both individual freedom and the health of society at large.  A virtuous society is one that cultivates a virtuous culture, which is only sustainable if it educates its people to live virtuously, recognizing that there will always be failures because, after all, to err is human.

(Note:  I do acknowledge that sometimes people are driven to commit typically immoral deeds out of necessity; however, I believe our society hugely exaggerates the extent to which such motives drive criminality and wickedness; just ask any wealthy person who's ever been convicted of shoplifting or embezzlement why they stole, and you'll quickly realize that even people with plenty of material safety are tempted to sin.)

"Raw majoritarianism... is an unworkable scheme...."

Expecting pure perfection is dangerous and unrealistic.  Mistakes are the inevitable price of freedom.  You can ignore reality for a time and get by with it, but eventually it will catch up.

Rather than idealistically seek after a non-existent "general will," we should instead govern ourselves--and resist tyranny in the process.  To do so requires decentralization of power (and more local decision-making), a shared understanding of American values, and an education rich in morality, virtue, and philosophy.

(To read more about Rousseau's thought--and, perhaps, to correct my errors and oversimplifications, read more at

01 August 2016

The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016

I'm at the beach--at the very desk at which I re-launched this blog after a six-year hiatus--and I figure it's the perfect occasion to unveil the "Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016."

The books listed here are among some of my favorites.  I'm not necessarily reading them at the moment, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't!  These books have shaped my thinking about the many issues I've covered over the past two months.  I highly encourage you to check them out.

This picture accurately depicts high school students the night before classes start.
(Image Source:  Original doodle, 23 September 2012)

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some of my all-time favorites:

1.) Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1948) - I just wrote about this book in my last post (which I encourage you to read), and I'm including it on this list because it's pretty much required reading, especially if you're putting yourself through Conservatism 101.  The edition linked here is right around 100 pages, and while it's a dense read, it's not so overwhelming that you can't finish it, making it perfect for long days at the beach.

Weaver's writing is prophetic, especially if you've studied conservative thought, or even if you've just experienced a vague, gnawing sense of dislocation in the modern world.  It's packed--nearly on every page--with brilliant, quotable gems.  I re-read the introduction to the book every August right before school starts back, because it reminds me why I teach, and helps to align my thinking morally and spiritually.

If you read just one book this summer--or even this year--make it Ideas Have Consequences.

2.) Dennis Prager, Still the Best Hope:  Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph (2012) - Few books have shaped my thinking about American values--what they are, why they matter, and why they're worth defending--more thoroughly than this effort from conservative talk-radio host Dennis Prager.  Prager, a devout Jew with an Ivy League education and rich love of learning, outlines the so-called "American Trinity"--easily found on any coin--and argues that Americans are losing a three-sided battle against the Left and Islamism due to an inability to articulate why American values matter.

The "American Trinity"--liberty, trust in God, and e pluribus unum--is a brilliant and easy-to-digest device for understanding core American values.  In fact, I owe a huge debt to Prager; Still the Best Hope almost directly inspired two of my earliest come-back posts:  the much-read "American Values, American Nationalism," and the follow-up "Created by Philosophy."

Prager splits the book into three major sections:  outlines of the threats of radical Islamism and modern progressive Leftism, then an unpacking of the "American Trinity."  By far, the largest chunk of the book is the second section, which is one of the most effective eviscerations of Leftist assumptions ever written.  It's so long because it's extremely thorough and well-documented.

At around 450 pages, it can be a longer read, but it's written in a pleasing, engaging style.  Prager isn't a blow-hard like so many talk-radio show hosts, and his inquisitive, inviting voice comes through on the page.  I also love Prager's mind and the way he approaches topics; check out his other works here.

3.) Roger Kimball, The Long March:  How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (2001) - If you've got some time--and are prepared to be terrified by the excesses of 1960s radicalism and its heroes--you must read this excellent, damning collection of essays.  In fact, everything Kimball writes is required reading (I also recommend The Fortunes of Permanence:  Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia and The Survival of Culture:  Permanent Values in a Virtual Age, both from 2012; the latter is edited by Kimball and includes the works of other writers).

"[E]verything Kimball writes is required reading."

Long March strips away the romantic facade of 1960s folk heroes and "radical chic" academics, exposing their fraudulent, dangerous theories and their continued influence on American society and institutions.  Kimball isn't aiming for the easy targets or to satisfy the Sean Hannity crowd; he brings thorough research and intellectual heft to the proceedings.  As an art historian and critic, he offers a perspective that's often lacking from conservative scholarship, serious or otherwise.

My only real beef with the book is that he takes a very dim view of rock 'n' roll.  That being said, his argument against it makes sense, and I can't help but experience a twinge of introspection now whenever I listen to my beloved classic rock.

Regardless, Kimball is a strong, eloquent writer, and I can almost feel myself getting smarter when I read his works.  I'm currently reading The Rape of the Masters:  How Political Correctness Sabotages Art from 2005, and it's a linguistic delight.

"If you read just one book this summer--or even this year--make it Ideas Have Consequences."

Honorable Mention:  Greg Gutfeld, Not Cool:  The Hipster Elite and Their War on You (2015) - if you want a summer read that's quick, digestible, and absolutely hilarious, pick up Not Cool.  Greg Gutfeld, co-host of Fox News's The Five and former host of the excellent late-late-late-night round-table discussion show Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, offers an unusual thesis:  everything awful that's ever been done--such as adopting wasteful, inefficient, and redistributive government programs--for the past fifty years or so has been because people are afraid to look uncool.

It's oddly compelling.  When you think about it, no one wants to be left out, and the Left constantly bludgeons society with the idea that if you don't uncritically accept that the government should solve all of our problems through coercion ("compassion"), then you're a mean, stingy racist.  If the parade of A-list celebrities at the Democratic National Convention last week (and the smaller cavalcade of B-list celebrities at the Republican National Convention the week before) is any indication, then it's clear that it's "cool" to be a progressive, but lethally uncool to be a conservative.  After all, what's "cool" about saying no to "free" stuff?

Not Cool is a quick read, and Gutfeld's humor and insight crackle on every page.  Sometimes you won't know whether you should laugh or cry.


So, there's your summer reading for 2016.  We've still got about a month of summertime fun left (although I'll be heading back to the classroom in just a couple of weeks), so grab some of these books before you head out of town.  You'll be glad you did.