Envy (Indianopolis: Liberty Fund, 1969)

Meticulous, careful, learned. I had long thought I needed to read this classic, and am glad I finally did. A mix of psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology, this book is dense but worth it. For pastors, there are a number of takeaway gems.

Making Seneca Crack Up

My friend Garry Vanderveen has been kind enough to suggest a side-by-side comparison of what Jim Jordan and I teach on the subject of regeneration, coming to the conclusion that we are not all that far apart. I commend that post to you, with the exception of whatever was going on when they justified the right margin. As Peter Leithart put it a couple years ago, everybody in the room is a high predestinarian, which surely should count for something.

I want to keep myself quite open to the possibility that what we are saying is not that far apart, and I certainly believe we are not as far apart as some might like us to be. And that said, however far apart we are — is it lettuce/arugula or is it lettuce/cabbage?) — I don’t believe these issues in themselves are issues of heresy.

But with that said, in this postmodern climate, heresy is never that far away from anyone who graduated from seminary in the last several decades, whatever the presenting issue might be. So don’t get cocky, kid. If you don’t believe that the laws of thought are attributes of God, then peril is crouched by your door like sin stalking Cain. To maintain that lettuce and cabbage are the same thing represents a profound capitulation to a view of the world that turns absolutely anything into heresy.

There are important issues here that require careful definition — catholicity and confusion should not be considered dialog partners. We can define things carefully, and distinguish things that differ, without slinging careless accusations about. But we have to debate like (charitable) 17th century divines who believed in absolute truth, and not like pomothinkers, whose softness of head is rivaled only by their hardness of heart.

So whatever you call this particular issue — lettuce/cabbage, amber ale/oatmeal stout, puritan/lutheran — keep in mind that we are distinguishing for the sake of maintaining good fences between good neighbors.

But if this in fact were the case, and Jim and I have been saying almost the same thing all this time, then I would be content to retreat from the discussion, fully abashed. Here I have been, pleading words and names and our own law, just begging Gallio to drive us away from his court. I never want to be the guy who hands Gallio a ripe story capable of making Seneca crack up at the next family reunion. I mean, who wants to be that guy?

But . . . and you knew that was coming, right?

Book of the Month/August 2014

For this month’s installment, I am going to do something a little bit different. I am going to throw some superlatives into the second paragraph, explain some obstacles in the next, and then add my own observations following all that.

This book, Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, is one of the most important books of this generation — magnificent, magisterial, monster-mojo-fun. Everyone who is directly or indirectly connected with politics needs to get it, read it, and digest it. It is an unlikely contender for best seller status, but we need to make sure it gets there anyway. I am taking the unusual step of reviewing a book for this spot before finishing it — but bear with me. I want to take it all in slowly while getting the word out quickly.

Okay, there are some obstacles. The book costs about fifty clams, which works out to about a dime a page — worth every penny. This thing has a tight weave of 511 pages, with 111 pages of dense footnotes on top of that. It is a carefully written academic tome, published by The University of Chicago Press, in a nondescript powder blue cover, with the title looking suspiciously Times Romanesque. Take all these things together, and you scarcely notice the fuse sticking out of the top. But then, after a double take, you realize it is a lit fuse. Despite all these challenges, one time I checked it was ranked around 12,000 at Amazon. That is remarkable for a book like this, but we need to have it do a lot better than that.

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

But don’t just buy it to make a statement. Read it, and let the good law professor make his statement. Scott Johnson of Powerline has a review of the book in the current issue of National Review, an adaptation of which can be found here.

We have been told that the modern world is a complex place, and that the archaic rules laid down for our governance in the Constitution have not be able to keep up. Modern! Shiny! Techno! Faster! How could we possibly expect the powdered wig guys, however much we revere them, to have anticipated the modern challenges that confront us Today?

In this book, Philip Hamburger simply destroys this glib assumption, not to mention the hubris it rode in on. The modern administrative state is not the shining achievement of technocratic man, but is rather a retrograde political movement returning, like a dog to its vomit, to a certain medieval form of governance that our constitutional forms of government first arose and smote.

The only thing missing is that the EPA has not seen fit to start meeting in a Star Chamber. Enough with the disparagement of constitutionalism as powdered wig governance. The “modern” administrative state is governance by despots in Elizabethan breeches and piccadills. There is nothing new about any of this.

The growth of constitutional liberty was a long slog, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was one great victory over the dogma of the “royal prerogative.” The American War for Independence was another great moment in that same struggle. The result of the American resistance to arbitrary government was our written Constitution, a document expressly designed to prohibit the kind of governance we now suffer. The fact that this Constitution was designed to prohibit the current shenanigans is something that Hamburger demonstrates again and again.

Royal Prerogative

We have determined that the employer mandate may be waived for the present, as it suits our pleasure . . .

Do you want to know why Obama thinks he can simply alter the requirements of Obamacare? Congress passes a law, he signs it into law, but then when aspects of it land heavily upon certain lords and barons who are friendly to the crown, he just issues his administrative waivers — his “suspending and dispensing powers,” as Henry VIII would have called them. As Scott Johnson put it, this is a “new old regime.”

There are two great takeaways from this book. The first is that our current regime is an old enemy in a new guise. It was not a development that the Founders could not have anticipated — it was their old foe. They knew it quite well. They knew the arguments of expedience and necessity, and they rejected them. They rejected them at the root and in the flowering fruit. They wanted nothing to do with it.

The arguments for administrative law are therefore arguments for absolute power. The whole thing is deeply and profoundly unlawful, illegal, and subversive. The ruling elites always gravitate toward this kind of dry rot polity, all while assuring us that everything is perfectly sound. But this book will forever dispel their ability to lie that particular lie.

The second takeaway is an implication of the book for those Christians who take their faith seriously, and who therefore believe that we have an obligation before God to be law-abiding citizens (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).

In this respect, the title of this book is explosive. Is Administrative Law Unlawful? The answer to this question is provided over and over in the course of the book, and the answer is that administrative law is unlawful. It is not binding. It is lawless. It is rebellion. It is subversive. It follows then that those who reject its authority are not rejecting authority — just the reverse, actually.

There are of course a host of practical questions that arise. But before tackling the practical questions, it is important to get the theory straight. Whether or not a particular agency has enough SWAT teams to take my property away from me, I should at least be clear that when they do, they are the ones being the outlaws. Resisting them in whatever ways I can ought not to be a burden on my conscience. And to be perfectly frank, not resisting them should be.

Whatever you do, get this book. For all your getting, get wisdom (Prov. 4:7).

Mission Drift

Mission Drift (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2014)

A good rehearsal of the basic principles necessary to keep organizations from going the way of all flesh. The New St. Andrews board reads a book together in between each of our quarterly board meetings, and this was the one on tap. It contained some really good ideas. A great read if you serve on any boards at all. You might want to say, “Well, that goes without saying.” But it doesn’t.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

The Dems are talking up the prospect of impeachment for the president right now because they know what a loser issue that would be for the Republicans, and the Democrats desperately need for the Republicans to obtain for themselves a loser issue that can be wrapped around their necks. They are able to talk it up because even though the Republican leadership is (wisely) dismissing such talk with contempt, there is a high level of frustration with the president’s behavior in the Republican base. The leadership is attempting to vent this frustration with their lawsuit, seeking to head off any talk of impeachment. The last go round with all this, when Clinton was impeached, was disastrous for the Republicans, because they treated ordinary politics as though it were something else. When you start killing ants with a baseball bat, the rest of the story will not go well for you.

For our foreign readers, in our system a president is impeached when the House of Representatives brings articles of impeachment. It is like being indicted — the trial is yet to happen. The House prosecutes the case, and the Senate serves as the jury. Thus when a president is impeached by the House, he will then be convicted (or not) by the Senate.

Up to this point in our history, impeachment has only been on the table three times. The first was when Andrew Johnson was impeached, and barely escaped being removed from office. But this was in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, when something like impeachment was comparatively small beer. The second time was when Richard Nixon saw the handwriting on the wall, and resigned rather than face removal from office. He knew that if his case went before the Senate, there was a high likelihood that he would be convicted. The third time happened with Bill Clinton. He was impeached, but not convicted, and the Republicans had to deal with significant blowback for making the attempt.

A peach for our president.

A peach for our president.

In the modern era, the only way impeachment could possibly obtain a conviction would be if the entire country were overwhelmingly united behind the effort. This would have to include both the House and Senate being ready to convict, and it would also be necessary to have the mainstream media — The Washington Post, The New York Times, the major networks, etc. — all calling for the president’s head as well. And let us be honest, you and I. The only way the mainstream media would be at all behind the impeachment of President Obama would be if, at the State of the Union address, the president pulled off his rubber mask and announced that he was an alien creepizoid from the Planet Kenya. And even then, it would be touch and go.

So the reason Republicans (whether in the leadership or in the base) ought not to be talking about impeachment right now is that they don’t have the resources (Luke 14:31). As St. Augustine once succinctly put it in his treatise on just war, don’t start what you can’t finish.

America’s Udder

The reason we have an immigration problem is not because we are welcoming people to America, but rather what kind of America we are welcoming them to. This in turn has an effect on what kind of people seek to be welcomed here, which then provokes the wrong kind of reaction on our part, and which results in a series of actions and reactions not unlike a child’s party balloon that was not tied off yet but was over-inflated, and then let go.

We have two presenting issues on our southern border. One is the border security itself, and the other is all the stuff we are doing that creates the need for border

A low-information voter, weighing his options.

A low-information voter, weighing his options.

security in the first place. What we are doing wrong would include, but not be limited to, anchor babies, food stamps, other forms of welfare, free education, and so on. You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you don’t. There are very few things quite as destructive as American good intentions. If we then add to the mix the problems caused by American bad intentions, everything gets really complicated. What would happen to the drug cartels if Americans quit snorting their happy powder? And, incidentally, that problem is not going to be solved by a federal “war on drugs,” what a joke, but rather by Americans doing what previous generations of Christians used to quaintly call “repenting.” A whole host of our “political” problems have no political solution.

Back to immigration. In the current set-up, conservatives have a point when they say that we need to get control of the border first, and then talk about what to do with the millions of ille . . . oops, almost did a bad thing . . . undocumented ali . . . oops . . . what a klutz I am being this morning . . . undocumented personages. Ah, for the halcyon days when folks could just say wetbacks and nobody minded!

Let me take a brief moment to explain that I was not using the word wetback there, but rather was observing that there was a time back in Eisenhower’s day when other people did that kind of thing, and what I did was all in the third person, and so I would suggest, with all appropriate modesty, that I should not be arrested for merely reporting on these facts. Yes, someone might reply, but you were being simultaneously provocative and coy, and we are on to your tricks. You were really making a point that was plainly critical of the current diktats of our most revered speech police, and therein lies your real crime. Well, yes, I guess I was doing that. That is my real crime. I do confess it.

A Pretty Firm Grip on the Ears

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to preface my remarks with any of these qualifications, but then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have our perennial crisis in the Middle East. And so it would be that I would not have to say anything at all . . . in a perfect world.

But here are the qualifications. Israel is a sinful nation, and they need to hear the message of Christ desperately. They are a Western nation, transplanted by Zionists into a troubled part of the world, said transplanting not commending itself to me as having been a good idea. They share the strengths of the West, as well as all the decadent weaknesses. They are in an extraordinarily challenging situation, largely created by the lords of the earth drawing hubristic lines on the map after the First World War. In short, they have a grizzly bear by the ears. On the bright side, they currently have a pretty firm grip on those ears, but the long term prospects are not rosy.

I say all that as a preface so that I might give as resounding a statement of support for Israel in the current conflict as I possibly can. One of the deadliest traps in analyzing conflicts between nations is arbitrarily to postulate moral equivalence where there is none. There are multiple situations where a “faults on both sides” approach just won’t cut it, and this is one of them. If you want to know the difference we are dealing with, Israel uses its missiles to defend its children, while Hamas uses its children to defend its missiles. That’s all you really need to know about this conflict.

I have gone over this before, but it needs to be said again and again. Terrorism is not to be defined as what the big army accuses the little army of doing. That is way too facile. Hamas targets civilians deliberately, as a matter of cold policy, as a matter of course. Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent civilian

Trolling for aggression in Gaza.

Trolling for aggression in Gaza.

casualties. Simply on the basis of what both sides openly commit themselves to, we should be able to take it from there. We should simply condemn the avowed depravity of Hamas, and not allow them to distract anybody by wailing about “the conditions” that drove them to it. The conditions that drive them to these insanities are nothing but the smoking craters left over from the previous round of insanities.

Creed Pres

The Creed of Presbyterians (NL: Fredonia Books, 1901)

I enjoyed this very much. It is a bit too rah-rah in places, and I read an early version of it (1901), written before the author was bedazzled by Barth. At the same time, it was heartening to be reminded yet again how much good Calvinists have introduced into the world.