Friday, May 27, 2005

Societal Defense vs. Revenge:
(A Rerum Novarum Clarification Post)

Recent posts to this weblog have resulted in some emails -mostly of a positive nature but admittedly some which were not-so-positive (to put it nicely). As the latter emails have a common theme to them, it seems appropriate to dispatch with the root error common to them all: the idea that an endorsement of the death penalty in certain circumstances necessarily involves "revenge killing."

Now it is true that I have referred to societal defense being a key hermeneutic whereby I view the application of the death penalty in some cases.{1} But some have written who seem to be of the impression that any support of the death penalty constitutes necessarily taking a vengeful approach. Before clarifying my position on this matter, let us consider the aspect of those who support the death penalty under the rubric of "retribution."

The "retribution" theory is one that views a proportionality of punishment for crimes on the grounds that any crime creates an imbalance in the social order that should be addressed by action against the offender. This approach is often caricatured in strawman fashion as "revenge killing" when in reality it is more than that. This is not the only rubric under how this subject can be approached; ergo ideologues who speak of all who support (in some respects) application of the death penalty in society as "revenge killers" should not be taken seriously by people actually interested in ideas and principles.

What I have always supported since reassessing my previous position on this matter in the light of Evangelium Vitae{2} is the judicious usage of the death penalty. Here are references from some earlier posts to this weblog (via the side margin) on this subject:

[I]f the Church recognizes the licity of judicious use of the death penalty (which by its very implication means rare) and states that the end of this is preservation of life, then if the end can be achieved in other ways that do not involve the taking of life, that is the route we must tend to. In short, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium vitae, points to the fact that we have many ways to protect society from offenders. Because of this, he states forcefully that the traditional Catholic principle that bloodless means whenever possible are to be utilized is to be retained. Whatever arguments we want to make about the application of this teaching, they must proceed from the principle of what is necessary to achieve the end that the death penalty historically has been used for: preservation of life.

"All things are lawful but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" sayeth the Apostle (i Cor. x,22-23). The same is the case with the death penalty in the vast majority of cases where it may apply from a theoretical standpoint. And while the pope has not set any strict schedule in stone on how this principle is to be carried out, there is a moral duty to inform oneself and to act accordingly. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 3, 2002)]

And again:

With the death penalty we also are dealing with a teaching of a moral precept and it has been reiterated in the same manner as the subject of reservation of priestly ordination to men or artificial forms of contraception. And while the pope may personally think that the criteria for just use of the death penalty is "rare if not non-existent", he prefaces the next part of his encyclical with a key phrase "in any event". This is significant as I see it. Here is the text:

"In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."

I do not see how the Church can come any closer to banning the death penalty then this...[Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 28, 2002)]

And again:

The pope's personal opinion is not required for grasping... (In the sense of being the template for rendering religious submission on the teaching.) What is required though are the doctrinal principles behind a limited usage of the death penalty -if its usage is advocated at all. The pope's opinion on the frequency of the usage are no more binding than his opinion that the Didache is "the oldest non-Scriptural Christian writing." (Something he mentions in the same encyclical earlier on if memory serves.) Whether it is or not is a matter of scholarly debate.

With regards to personal opinions, they are not the deciding factor as the pope himself noted after stating his opinion then following it up with a qualifying term such as "nonetheless." The principle being bound is what follows that word or its equivalent within the text. As this is so often misunderstood, I will reiterate it with emphasis:

All that requires submission is the principle enunciated in the Catechism about bloodless means being the required recourse whenever it suffices to remove the individual in question from being a continued menace to society.

Obviously this is a principle which will have a different application depending on the nation and the circumstances. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 16, 2003)]

There are other posts not in the side margin which can be found in the archives for those who want to look for them. Nonetheless, what is noted above is adequate to clarify this matter. And as any reader with a normal intact functioning brain can see, these are not arguments for retribution but for self-defense. It is to be hoped that this will suffice for all but the ideologically blind and irrational people who want to comment intelligently on what your host adheres to on this subject. Certainly if any of those same people email me with misrepresentations of my view on this matter, they will no longer be considered to be erring in good faith but instead to support an agenda. And as the latter can hardly be said to conform to traditional Catholic canons of charity, no more needs to be said on the matter at the present time.


{1} For one such post, see the thread located here:

More on the Death Penalty With Greg Mockeridge (circa December 16, 2003)

I go over the viable exceptions to the bloodless rule (as I see it) in that thread.

{2} My dad's idea of justice with murderers was simple: the person gets put into a room and into that room is placed the families of the victims with baseball bats. The difference between us perhaps is that I read Evangelium Vitae and he did not. Because prior to informing myself of that encyclical's teaching, I too was a "kill them all and let God sort them out" kind of guy. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 14, 2003)]

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"The Stupid Party Strikes Back" Dept.
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

It is unfortunate but quite necessary to point out yet again{1} that too many Republicans are a bunch of spineless poltroons (to put it nicely). There is virtually nothing{2} in the so-called "filibuster idea" that is good. According to National Review Online:

The Democrats who signed it committed to using filibusters only in “extraordinary circumstances.” But “each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.”

The problem with such vaguely worded statements is that they are often a kind of "camels nose in the tent" whereby the exception is elevated into the norm. This is what history teaches us and we would be wise to listen for once lest things repeat themselves as they so often do.{3} There is nothing wrong with the idea of "extraordinary circumstances" in and of themselves. The problem is the second clause whereby supposedly “each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.” That statement makes the entire enterprise a subjective exercise in the personal whims of individuals rather than an attempt (whether successful or otherwise) towards an approach to reality that has some plausible claim of objectivity.

Now this writer is aware of an incident involving a judicial battle from 1968 which is being used as a kind of "precedent" for the Democrats to continue in this kind of unconstitutional drivel.{4} Before dispatching with that example, it bears noting that they can only list one so-called "example" in the 150 odd year history of the Senate where a minority party sought to filibuster judicial nominees.{5} With legislative filibusters there is a silence in the constitution that could be construed as a kind of defacto permitting of the practice. However, the same cannot be said for judicial filibusters.{6} The principle behind "super majority" vs. "simple majority" in governing decisions was outlined in Federalist #58 by James Madison in the following words:

It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences. Lastly, it would facilitate and foster the baneful practice of secessions; a practice which has shown itself even in States where a majority only is required; a practice subversive of all the principles of order and regular government; a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us. [James Madison: From Federalist #58 -Objection That The Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands Considered (circa February 20, 1788)]

If we are seeing anything in the modern disputations over judicial filibustering it is precisely the creation of the kinds of secessions that James Madison spoke of. Oh they are not explicit yet in the form of separate governing bodies of course. But what manifests itself explicitly later on tends to exist in a implicit fashion from an earlier period -sometimes a long period prior to an explicit manifestation thereof. And there is no doubt to the astute reader that the Democrats in the Senate are trying to (in the words of Madison) extort unreasonable indulgences with their latest political shuck and jive.

It would not however be fair to limit this to only the Democrats -indeed this post title refers to the "Stupid party" because there are Republicans involved in this too. The most notorious of them is Senator John McCain of Arizona. And while this writer has not been a John McCain fan politically; nonetheless, there was always respect for him as a man of integrity. This has not always been an easy tightrope to walk admittedly but at the present time, it is impossible.

For what Senator McCain is attempting here is to limit the constitutional authority of the executive. Some have opined that this is a way of Senator McCain trying to "get back" at the man who beat him for the presidential nomination in 2000. This writer is hesitant to impute those kinds of motives to people as a rule; however in politics the exception sometimes is more prevalent than it is in the ordinary course of events. Senator McCain would after all like to be president and a wise strategist seeks to build coalitions early on. There are also other factors to consider and that is a person's habitual tendencies if you will.

In light of his tendencies in recent years to sell authentic conservatives down the river, it seems that Senator McCain is trying to appear as a so-called "moderate" to a variety of people who make up the vast and unprincipled middle in politics.{7} And if he is doing this for political and press favour, then he is a political whore plain and simple. And in light of the seriousness of this issue -the potential taking back of the judiciary from numerous court termites and court whores - this latest shafting is more than a mere betrayal. Instead, it is in the opinion of this writer a form of political treason.

It is not comforting to use such words against a man who showed such integrity in battle as Senator McCain unquestionably did. But there is no other word to describe this action other than referring to him as a political traitor and a political whore. He has evidently been the latter for a while...though it did not seem appropriate to mention it when he was not doing any visible damage. But if this so-called "deal" gets through and any potential Supreme Court nominees who are constructionists fail to get to the floor for a vote, then Senator McCain deserves to be publicly dishonoured by his party's peers along with defeat at the ballot box in his next election for senator...not to mention any bids he makes for the presidency.{8}

This writer does not like political hitmen{9} as a rule but Senator McCain will have committed the political version of treason on this and Our views on treason have been expressed clearly and unequivocally before. All that needs to be noted here is the political version of what convicted traitors deserve is what Senator McCain will deserve if his betrayal results in any filibusters of Supreme Court nominees...particularly with Chief Justice Rhenquist probably stepping down this summer and needing another constructionist merely to hold serve (let alone begin replacing the court whores and court termites).{10}

It is at least heartening to see that Senator Bill Frist has not fully bought into this idea. And as Senator Frist is the determining factor on this issue, his stance is of no small importance. And if Frist is not fully on board, the so-called "nuclear option" is still viable (however less likely) and that is a good thing in all honesty. But that point aside, simple logic should dictate that the framers by specifying certain circumstances in governance where a supermajority was required were indicating by implication that a simple majority in areas not so enumerated was sufficient. And as one of the areas not requiring of a super majority is the confirmation of judicial nominees, the logic (for those capable of using it) clearly points to a simple majority being all that is needed for confirmation of judicial nominees.

Nonetheless, there is no shortage of constitutional and historical idiocy out there on this entire issue. On the idea (from the latter link) that the so-called "nuclear option" would result in the Senate [ceasing] to function as the Founding Fathers had intended: a slow and deliberate body meant to cool the passions of the people, see the previous thread to this weblog to be disabused of this noxious error.

As far as Senator Harry Reid's comments that "[c]hecks and balances have been protected," he obviously is as ignorant of the Constitution as he is of basic economics and of the elementary tools of reason. As far as his comments that "[t]he integrity of the Supreme Court has been protected from the undue influence of the vocal, radical right wing", this is an example of someone who is either cognitively disfunctional or who approaches things in an Orwellian doublespeak fashion.{11} But enough on that subject for now.

The writer of this post would like to take this opportunity to to invite anyone who believes in an evolving constitutional interpretation to email him if they are fans of Texas Hold 'Em and are interested in playing for money. For your humble servant is not only a pretty decent poker player but he also has in mind starting a game with people like you for money to illustrate by demonstration the logical absurdity of your positions: Texas Hold 'Em with "evolving rules."{12} Something tells your host that such a game would amply clarify the absurdity of the "evolving constitution" position in precise proportion to the amount of money the promoters of the "evolving constitutional interpretation" theory lost their cash in the afore-proposed card game.

Tonight we saw once again the GOP betray it's base by compromising with the leftists on the issue of judicial filibusters. As one blogger put it, the GOP "folded a winning hand." Once again the GOP managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. [Kevin Tierney: From his weblog post Thank you Spinless Republicans (circa May 24, 2005)]


{1} There are certain ideologues out there who do not actually read the work of others before trying to misrepresent what said persons actually believe. Hence, this footnote will contain some of the many posts where what the present writer has said about President Bush and his Administration -either in policies or in principles- are significantly problematical (to put it mildly).

{2} The National Review Online notes the following as "good points" to the proposal:

If we were inclined to take an optimistic view of the judicial-filibuster deal announced last night, we would start with the fact that the full Senate will be allowed to vote on the confirmation of Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and William Pryor. That would not have happened if Senate Republicans had not threatened to forbid judicial filibusters. We would continue, in an optimistic vein, to suggest that the deal sets a precedent that nominees as conservative as Brown, Owen, Pryor were not the menace to the republic that the Democrats have spent the last few years suggesting they are. [National Review Online: Excerpt from the article Dealing with the Deal (circa May 24, 2005)]

This writer does not see how any of the above is adequate in light of the many bad principles (not to mention further constitutional erosion) that the deal involves.

{3} Due in no small part amongst those who partake in the reiteration of history by either (i) ignorance of history or (ii) lack of ethical principles.

{4} See the thread posted to Rerum Novarum earlier today for some examples of this.

{5} As Charles Krauthammer dispatches well with this canard, the present writer will defer to him on the matter:

This technique is defended by Democrats as traditional and rooted in history. What a fraud. The only example that comes close is Lyndon Johnson's nomination in 1968 of (sitting) Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to be chief justice. But this case is muddied by the fact that (a) Fortas was subject to allegations involving conflicts of interest and financial impropriety, (b) he did not appear to have the votes anyway, and (c) the case involved elevation on the court, not appointment to the court. [Charles Krauthammer: Excerpt from the article Nuclear? No, Restoration (circa May 13, 2005)]

As the readers can see, the parallels between this example and the ones of President Bush's judicial nominees do not exist. None of President Bush's nominees (i) have allegations of financial impropriety or conflicts of interest against them, (ii) they have the votes to be appointed, and (iii) they are being appointed to courts not elevated to a higher position on a court where they are already a sitting justice. So this attempted "historical justification" of a "traditional" practice has been "weighed in the scales and found lacking" to quote a Scriptural passage ((Dan. v,27) in the context of a political question.

{6} See footnote four.

{7} With regards to the so-called "moderates", most people who situate themselves here are precisely the sort of people who are incapable of making decisive judgments -indeed they often impugn people who do this. And as a result, they set themselves up as lambs for the slaughter by those who can make decisive judgments and who lack the moral grounding to render such judgments in accordance with any standard of morality except the subjective morality of the individual. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa July 16, 2004)]

{8} We at Rerum Novarum predict that Senator McCain has shot in the head any reasonable chance of election at this stage unless he officially joins the party of traitors.

{9} This expression refers to political assassins not actual assassins lest the reader wonder. And lest the reader wonder further, this so-called "deal" viz. whether it was or was not treasonous politically cannot be known until it is time to nominate for the Supreme Court. It is the habitual tendencies of the Democratic party which must be looked at here. And with the latter we have a bunch of people who are willing to go to any lengths to continue putting whores and termites on the court even to the point of (to quote an earlier post) trying to cloak their noxious activities in the incense of a mythical "longstanding tradition."

{10} This writer suggests that the congress vote on an impeachment of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer (two court termites) should there be any problems in the nomination of a replacement justice for Rhenquist.

{11} The entire reason for the nuclear option is to insure that "[t]he integrity of the Supreme Court" will be "protected." Indeed, no one with a normal intact functioning brain could believe that nominating people who intend to interpret the Constitution rather than invent laws is in any way putting the Supreme Court into "dangerous hands." And that is all you need to know about people such as Senator Reid.

{12} With the way the latter game is played, it is possible for an ace high to beat three of a kind, two pair to beat a flush, or three of a kind to beat a full house, etc...if the lower hands were held in that round by your weblog host of course :)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"The Framers Know Best" Dept.

As so much of the recent filibuster controversy revolves around the meaning of the "advise and consent" clause in the Constitution, let us consider what the framers themselves thought about the advise and consent function of the Senate with judicial nominees. In the words of Alexander Hamilton:

Those who have themselves reflected upon the subject, or who have attended to the observations made in other parts of these papers, in relation to the appointment of the President, will, I presume, agree to the position, that there would always be great probability of having the place supplied by a man of abilities, at least respectable. Premising this, I proceed to lay it down as a rule, that one man of discernment is better fitted to analyze and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to particular offices, than a body of men of equal or perhaps even of superior discernment.

The sole and undivided responsibility of one man will naturally beget a livelier sense of duty and a more exact regard to reputation. He will, on this account, feel himself under stronger obligations, and more interested to investigate with care the qualities requisite to the stations to be filled, and to prefer with impartiality the persons who may have the fairest pretensions to them. He will have FEWER personal attachments to gratify, than a body of men who may each be supposed to have an equal number; and will be so much the less liable to be misled by the sentiments of friendship and of affection. A single well-directed man, by a single understanding, cannot be distracted and warped by that diversity of views, feelings, and interests, which frequently distract and warp the resolutions of a collective body...

In the act of nomination, [the President's] judgment alone would be exercised; and as it would be his sole duty to point out the man who, with the approbation of the Senate should fill an office, his responsibility would be as complete as if he were to make the final appointment. There can, in this view, be no difference between nominating and appointing. The same motives which would influence a proper discharge of his duty in one case, would exist in the other. And as no man could be appointed but on his previous nomination, every man who might be appointed would be, in fact, his choice.

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration. [Alexander Hamilton: From Federalist #76 -The Appointing Power of the Executive (circa April 1, 1788)]

That more than adequately sets forth the view of one of the great champions of the Constitution. As far as this writer can discern, the closest thing James Madison (the other well-noted champion of the Constitution) had to placing restrictions on judicial nominations was to allow for a two-thirds majority to disqualify a judicial nominee. Surely anyone with a normal intact functioning brain can see that this is a position which is 180 degrees removed from the idea of supporting a filibuster on judicial nominees. (So that a minority can prevent a floor vote on judicial nominees.) Indeed, Madison argued at the Constitutional Convention that the President should have the sole power of appointment but (of course) he settled on a limited role of the Senate for advise and consent. Let us summarize in brief what that limited role was before concluding this installment of the framers know best series.

Essentially, the primary reason the advise and consent rule was made was to prevent conflicts of interest in the president's nominations particularly political patronage and nepotism.{1} The framers saw that giving the Senate a broader authority than this in the process would infringe on the authority of the executive branch and create the kind of imbalance in government that the framers strove to avoid at every turn. But indeed that is what the Democrats have sought to do in their little charade of judicial filibustering -all the while trying to cloak their noxious activities in the incense of a mythical "longstanding tradition." Hopefully this post demonstrates in reasonably brief fashion why that dog will not hunt.


{1} This writer challenges those opposed to the nominees President Bush has indicated for the judiciary to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt or even by a preponderance of the evidence (their choice) that any of President Bush's judicial nominees fall into either of these two categories.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Points to Ponder:
(On the True So-Called "Neo-Conservatives")

[I]f we want to get technical about it, the true "neo-conservatives" are those who like to apply that label to others...Authentic conservatism historically has been pro-active and ressourcement oriented, not reactive and oriented towards a blind and uncritical preservationist approach. Only in the twentieth century did the historical understanding of "conservative" undergo a diametric change and come to represent a sort of fundamentalist incarnation. It is for this reason that I reject the label "conservative" root and branch. If the term was understood as in the traditional sense than I would without a problem embrace it. But until then, I cannot in good conscience do so. [I. Shawn McElhinney: From Rerum Novarum (circa May 22, 2003)]

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