Monday, December 7, 2009

(At Long Last) Followup on "What Does the Bible Say About Nationalized Health Care?"

Last summer I asked the readers of this forum for their opinions on what guidance the Bible offers on the issue of nationalized health care. I promised that I would post my own thoughts on the matter once I had received some responses and had time to formulate my own thoughts. Here, at the eleventh hour, are my long promised thoughts.

In general, the Bible will tell us very little with regard to specific techniques and standards of care. It will tell us somewhat more about the principles that ought to govern us as we trade-off various considerations to propose solutions. And it will speak extensively to the worthiness of our individual and societal motivations in defining both the problem we wish to solve and potential solutions to it.

Note that in this post I'll stay at the level of summary with regard to "what the Bible says". I'll add supporting Scripture for a number of my assertions below in a later post.

So then let's begin at the level of motivation. Why we are undertaking a change at all? What problem or set of problems are we trying to solve? In a democratic republic such as that of the United States, there are, of course, many parties aiming at different ends in seeking to shape public policy, but is there a broad national consensus on what are the main reasons for proposing a change? Are we doing it principally for humanitarian reasons? For economic ones? For reasons of political philosophy?

The Humanitarian Motivation

If the principal reason put forward for a change is the "humanitarian" consideration, then the important thing is that there be clear evidence that there is a humanitarian problem to be solved. That is, to the extent that there really is a group of significantly poor people who can't afford basic care at all, the Bible is abundantly clear that it is morally mandated to care for such. On the other hand, if all can afford basic care
(meaning that they still have a place to live and enough to eat after getting said care) by some means or another, and the principal difference between "rich" and "poor" is the fact that the former can afford to extend their lives for a few weeks longer on average, it's unclear how strong the moral imperative supporting a change is here.

The Economic Motivation

Another common motivation for change is economic. That is, some say that health care costs are consuming too high a percentage of national income and that the percentage in question is continuing to grow at an unacceptable rate. In considering such a motivation we should determine what the cause is for the high and growing cost and decide if it is legitimate or illegitimate, addressable or unaddressable. For example, if the cost level and growth rate can be explained by the fact that our population is aging, then it's unclear that there's a problem to be solved at all. Or, if the cost level and growth rate are investments in medical research that have shown measurable results in length and quality of life, that would be entirely legitimate.

On the other hand, if the high costs and growth rate are caused by some group of people who are able to charge monopoly prices without producing economic value then there may actually be a problem worth solving there.

To the extent that there is an economic problem to be solved at all, the question will come down to whether there is "unjust" distribution of cost/benefit in the health care industry (that is, people stealing from others by taking more money than they are entitled to for value produced). That type of injustice is spoken to by the Bible's injunctions against greed in general and in favor of love for neighbor.

But, in order for this consideration to come into play, there needs to be evidence that such injustice is actually happening. That is, who's getting richer at the expense of whom, and how do we know that they are?

Political Philosophy

Some argue that health care is a right that ought to be provided by the government because the government is a more effective guarantor of individual rights than is private industry. There are two issues that need to be considered here: first, the nature of a "right", and second the issue of which type of entity is the appropriate one to guarantee and secure rights.

First, we must be clear on what constitutes a "right". For the purposes of definition, a "right" is that to which one is morally entitled. That is, a right is something which pertains to a person (whether inherently, by universal moral law, or by explicit or implicit promise or contract) and the taking of which constitutes injustice.

It's possible that some group of people could decide to constitute a society in which every member of that society undertook to collectively provide a certain standard of health care to all members of the society. Once made, that collective promise would constitute a "right" of the members of that society. Then, if some members of that society undertook to deprive other members of that society of this right, they would in fact be morally culpable of depriving others of their rights. However, this sort of right depends upon prior agreement by members of the society.

In the United States no such promise has been made and there is no such preexisting "right". What is being contemplated here is the creation of such a promise and such a "right". And the question which faces us is whether it is advisable to do so.

In my opinion, the Bible does not speak directly to the advisability of making health care a part of the social compact. It does provide some indirect guidance in the making of such compacts, however. It is not morally obligatory that a society create such a "right", but if we are going to do so, it is imperative that we as a society be clear about the nature of the covenant being entered into -- viz., who is providing what to whom in exchange for what. And it is imperative that we use the biblical principle of honest weights in setting forth the covenant. That is, no-one should lie or twist facts in order to create confusion. This is a societal agreement and therefore it is imperative that it be clear and understandable to all participants in the system.

Second, with regard to who is the best guarantor of "rights". It generally is true that it is the province of human government to secure people against the theft and depredations of morally lawless people. Therefore government should be involved in making sure that the social compact embodied by a health care system is faithfully adhered to.

This does the raise the issue of separation of powers. It would be highly inadvisable to have one and the same power involved in being party to the agreement and enforcer of the agreement. If we as a society create a right to health care it is important that a truly independent group be created and maintained to ensure justice. If it is not practical or reasonable to create such an independent group then we ought not to create the social compact because it cannot be enforced and is therefore subject to significant corruption.

Solution Constraints and Trade-offs

In addition to the motivational aspects discussed above, it's also important that any particular solution adhere to God's Law.

Some examples:

- if a principal reason for nationalizing health care is economic, in adhering to a Biblical view we must affirm that life is sacred and ought never to be taken for economic reasons.

- a national health care plan can not be said to be valid on a biblical basis to the extent that it supports the taking of life in abortion.

- a national health care plan that doesn't allow freedom of conscience to physicians would not be acceptable.


There's nothing inherently bad about national health care (and it MIGHT actually be a good thing), ASSUMING THAT

- clear statement of the problem we're trying to solve is made
- clear evidence is produced of the nature and magnitude of the root causes
- significant consensus for solution actually exists
- we're very clear AND HONEST about the social compact being created
- there is separation of powers and alignment of incentives to ensure honest and just administration of the compact
- it adheres to God's Laws with regard to sanctity of life
- it respects freedom of conscience

On the basis of these principles, I believe that it is
premature for American Christians to support this type of legislation. That is, I believe a clear and honest accounting of the nature of the problem we are trying to solve has yet to be articulated, and that most of the legislation currently pending in Congress fails the test of simple and honest explanation of a proposed social contract. I also believe that there are not adequate safeguards for freedom of conscience in any current legislation. Finally, I believe that the legislation doesn't have sufficient safeguards to ensure compliance with God's Law regarding the sanctity of life.

Beyond these concerns (founded in my understanding of biblical principles as enumerated above), I have doubts about the practical ability of the federal government to administer even a worthily conceived system of this sort (even in a system with adequate separation of powers). And I generally believe that the more power a governmental body has, the more the tendency to corruption, and therefore that we ought to be very cautious about the powers we give the national government.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Excellent reminders from C.S. Lewis on prayer

I was rereading "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis this morning and came across this excellent reminder on prayer which I thought I'd share with you. Reminder: The Screwtape Letters are written from a senior to a junior devil, so "the Enemy" in the letters is God.
Whenever they are praying to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask him for charity, let them instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment."

Blessings until next time ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rob Bell's version of the gospel

This is a video of Rob Bell's emergent version of the gospel. Take a look and respond to the blog with your thoughts on what he's saying.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What does the Bible say about health care reform?

I've been watching the national debate on the proposed restructuring of the American health care system with great interest. There appears to be a plurality in favor of the position that at least some reform of our current health care delivery system is called for, but there are substantial minorities who disagree that any significant reform is required. Even among those who would agree that some reform is required there is little to no consensus on what the list of problems to solve is, and what priority is associated with each problem on the list. And, even in cases where there is agreement on the nature and priority of the problems to be solved, there is no consensus on acceptable solutions to those problems.

Further, given the multitude of individuals, groups, and companies with different perspectives and purposes with regard to the evaluation of our health care system, it was never to be expected that any such debate would proceed in a very orderly, rational manner.

Rather, given the complexity of the issues involved, health care reform has come to be a fairly binary plank in political platforms with the Democrats "in favor" (without there actually being much agreement on what they're actually in favor of), and the Republicans "against" (whatever that means). This stalemate existed until the recent election when the Democrats, who took advantage of a groundswell for change in the electorate, and who had campaigned under the illusion that consensus answers to the questions above actually exist, attempted to push their signature issue and had their illusions shattered when they actually tried to commit specific reforms to writing.

The administration and the congressional leadership, surprised by the lack of consensus and realizing the weakness of their position have fallen back on demonizing the opposition as evil. And, many in the Republican opposition are at this point more excited about "winning" and weakening President Obama politically than they are in rationally answering the questions of which parts of our system (if any) require reform, and what those reforms might be. The result, of course is that the political discourse on the subject is not, on the whole, an honest pursuit of truth, but is instead an exercise in justification of preconceived positions and masking of self-interest.

It's easy, as a Christian citizen, to get sucked into the debate and become a partisan of whichever side of the debate we are naturally drawn to without making the effort to found our opinions in what the Word of God has to say to us. Said another way, in reading the various arguments put forward both for and against the proposed reforms, I have seen few that examine the proposals (or propose other policy prescriptions) from a specifically Christian perspective.

So, with that long introduction, here are the questions that I would like to pose to my readers (with the expectation that you will post replies here for others to read):

- What guidance do you think the Bible has to give with regard to health care legislation specifically or on social welfare generally?
- How does that guidance translate to specific policies that you think Christians should support?

The only rules are to support your answers biblically.

Assuming adequate participation I'll summarize and add my thoughts after a while (if there isn't participation then I may just share my thoughts without benefit of discussional prelude).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Makes a Pastor a Pastor?

I read an article by Gordon Macdonald today in Christianity Today's Leadership Journal entitled "The 3:00am Phone Call: What Makes a Pastor a Pastor?".

The article was a very worthwhile reminder that pastors are shepherds: a job that goes far beyond preaching to encompass deep knowledge of their flocks and a willingness to sacrifice their lives for the sheep.

How thankful I am for those among us whom God has gifted and called as undershepherds of His sheep, and how we should continue to pray that God will continue to raise up pastors to shepherd the flock of God.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A good link on the Piper-Wright justification controversy

I saw this good blog post today on the Piper-Wright justification controversy. I encourage those of you who are interested in the topic to read it.

Helm's Deep: Why Covenant Faithfulness is not Divine Righteousness (and cannot be)

Blessings until next time ...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vacations and Sabbaths

I just got back late last night from a 10 day vacation. And, while I enjoyed the time away from my regular routine very much, being the philosophical guy that I am, I got to thinking about the concept of "vacation" and how it relates to our calling as Christians. Stated a little differently, I began to think about how a "vacation" as practiced by a follower of Jesus should be different from those as practiced by others.

Perhaps a good place to start is with the need for rest. It's quite easy to see by reading the Bible that God not only created people with a need for it, but commands that we shall rest regularly. So what, exactly, is rest?

Some would say that rest is purely utilitarian -- i.e., a periodic cessation or reduction of work which allows the gathering of renewed energy to engage in continued work. While this may be true in a sense, emphasized too strongly it can promote a view of life as drudgery with rest being something that we need to get just enough of in order to be more productive. That is, it presumes that the purpose of life is "productivity".

Others would say that it's the other way around: that is, that rest is the reward toward which work is directed. But emphasized too strongly this can promote a view of work as a necessary evil which we endure to get the pleasures we're really after.

But it's probably more accurate to see both work and rest as institutions of God which are to be enjoyed both now and in eternity in their proper balance and in the proper way, each serving the other as part of a glorious whole. In some ways, it's a balance very much like giving and receiving, loving and being loved.

The Sabbath, of course, was a day which God set apart as holy to commemorate the completion of God's work of creation and his subsequent rest. And the book of Hebrews tells us that we are to seek to enter the Sabbath rest which is the completion of God's work of redemption. In neither case is God's rest the cessation of all activity -- for God continues to "uphold all things by the word of His power". The rest in each case signals the revelation of a completed work of God and the consecration of it as holy.

In the same way, our daily, weekly, and yearly "rests" can be set apart as holy times to delight in Him and to honor Him for the work that He has accomplished in, for, and through us and to consecrate ourselves to Him as we continue into the future.

Viewed this way, vacations can be seen not as occasions for self-indulgence when we are freed from the restraints of "regular life", but as times set apart to the Lord to be renewed in our primary purpose which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Blessings until next time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Great new book by Stephen Meyer on intelligent design

Began reading Stephen Meyer's new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design this week. It's a really excellent examination of the "goodness" of various scientific theories (including intelligent design) of the origin of life. Dr. Meyer articulates the various principles that are used by historical scientists (such as cosmologists, paleontologists, geologists, etc.) to evaluate the "goodness" of theories of past events. He then applies these principles to various theories which try to account for how the process of gene expression arose as part of the origin of life.

The very least that one can conclude upon reading the book is that he has taken the ground right from under the feet of a certain type of scientific bigot. That is, one comes away from reading the book convinced that the only way one can reject intelligent design as at least a possibly valid explanation for the origin of life is if one has presumed in advance that no valid theory can include intelligent design. Said another way, he's made it very difficult to dogmatically oppose intelligent design as a possible explanation for life's origin while claiming to be an unbiased evaluator of scientific evidence.

I highly recommend the book.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections on Freedom after Independence Day

While I sat and watched the fireworks on July 4 and listened to patriotic songs about American freedom, I pondered again what it is that people mean by the term "freedom". The most common meaning is "the extent to which a person is able to do as he or she wishes". Which is a perfectly serviceable definition.

The problem, of course, is that with respect to actions that are physically possible, people ARE free to do as they wish -- so long as they're willing to deal with the consequences of whatever it is that they want to do. Which reveals that there's a hidden element to the common notion of freedom. Rephrased, one might say that what people really mean by freedom is "the extent to which a person is able to do as he or she wishes WITHOUT A CONSEQUENCE TO HIM OR HERSELF WHICH THEY WOULD PERCEIVE AS UNDESIRABLE".

Stated in this form, the constraints which lie at the heart of freedom are made clearer. Given that there are multiple actors with possibly conflicting desires, freedom in one individual is in potential opposition to freedom in others. And, in the absence of an outside constraining force, the extent of one's freedom is the extent of one's ability to bring about their their wishes, whether or not their wishes are opposed.

Said another way, when discussing freedom we must always be clear about whose freedom we are discussing, to what end that freedom is directed, and who opposes it.

It's also clear that there is a very close association between freedom and desire. That is, freedom is always the ability to do or not do according to one's desire without external constraint or restraint. An implication of this is that if everyone desired possible and consistent end goals, then there would be maximum freedom. The converse of this is that if many actors desire inconsistent goals, then the factor that will equilibrate between the actors is the ability of each to impose their desires against the wishes of others.

Finally, in considering freedom, we must recall that God is the only truly free Being, in that he does whatever He wishes and none can impose their will on Him. The freedom of all others to do as they wish is contingent upon the extent to which what they wish is within the scope of God's Will.

Putting all this together, we see that the only way in which freedom can truly be maximized is for all to know God and to seek to do His Will. In every other case, "freedom" inevitably becomes the rule of the strong. Or, said another way, freedom for one is often bondage for another.

So, in light of all this, in what sense is a country, such as the United States, free? A country is only free to the extent that it is is governed in accordance with the revealed (as opposed to the decretive -- see below) Will of God. And, a consequence of this is that the further a nation strays from this foundation, the more subject to the will of the strong it will become, and the less free it will be.

A technical note on the above -- it is important to emphasize that the revealed Will of God can vary from the decretive Will of God. That is, sometimes God decrees that certain things will happen which are not, in and of themselves, according to His revealed Will -- but because those things serve a higher and more important purpose in what He has Willed. The best example of this is the death of Jesus -- an act which was the ultimate in evil, but which God decreed because it would result in ultimate good.

But the part of God's Will to which we have responsibility is his revealed, as opposed to his decretive Will.

And the salient point here is that a nation is only free to the extent that it is governed in accordance with the revealed Will of God.

Father God, have mercy upon us.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How Shall We Sing The LORD's Song In A Strange Land?

In Scripture we are often reminded that God's people are presently exiled from their Homeland.

For example, in reviewing the faith of the saints of the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews tells us that they "... died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (Heb 11:13-16)

Augustine expounded on this theme at length, reminding us that the disciple of Jesus, while temporarily sojourning in the city of man is, in reality, already a citizen of the eternal City of God. In that the two cities are utterly opposed to each other, the disciple, insofar as he faithfully represents the City of God in the midst of the city of man, is constantly engaged in a great battle against powers both within and outside himself that oppose the City of God.

The opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil takes many forms, but all the diverse forms have in common the practical denial of the existence or value of the City of God. For example, if the evil one tempts us, he tempts us with either pleasure or avoidance of pain in this present world. And, if our evil nature, being blind and dead to the things of God, yields to such temptation, it denies in practice the reality and infinite value of the City of God.

So, all opposition that we face, whether from within or from without, is, in reality, an attack on our faith. Not "faith" as a mere mental assent to the proposition that God, being infinite and good, condescended to make (and satisfy) a covenant of grace through the blood of the Cross to save ruined sinners; but faith in the sense of a revelation from God to us that He made and kept a covenant with us to save us from our sins.

The evil one seeks to destroy such faith. Ironically, however, true faith from God cannot fail. It is only false faith that can fail. The only effect that temptation has on true, God-given faith is to prove (when all temptation is complete) that the faith was genuine and well-founded. "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith." (I John 5:4).

When discussing the situation of the Christian in the midst of the world, however, it is misleading to talk exclusively in defensive terms of resisting attack and temptation. While it is certainly true that we are attacked, through faith we understand the greater reality that it is Satan and the city of man that are being invaded. That is to say, it is the Kingdom of God which is invading the kingdom of the devil and that will ultimately supplant it. "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev 11:15).

So what does this mean practically? Or, as the question in the title of this post asks "How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?" (Ps 137:4)

We sing the LORD's song in a strange land by realizing that it is the City of God that is real and the city of man that is the imagination and the dream (Psalm 73:20). We sing the LORD's song by asserting that what is real and true is what God has revealed about Himself, regardless of what appears to be true. "Let God be true though everyone were a liar" (Rom 3:4)

We do not sing the LORD's song by primarily seeking to obey the Law -- although keeping the Law will undoubtedly be a consequence of considering the knowledge of God and His glory to be our highest good. Nor do we sing the LORD's song by seeking primarily to be loving toward others -- although it is certainly true that those who are entranced by God's glory as revealed in Jesus will certainly be loving. We sing the LORD's song, even here in a strange land, by becoming and remaining intoxicated and entranced by the infinite value of God as revealed in Jesus our Lord.

"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. " (2Co 4:3-7)

Blessings until next time, ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Justification Debate Between Piper and Wright

A debate has been going on for some time between John Piper and Bishop N. T. Wright concerning how the doctrine of justification is to be understood.

In the 1970's, Bishop Wright (who is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England), was reading a commentary by C.E.P. Cranfield on Romans and was having trouble reconciling what Paul was saying (positively) about the Law in Romans with what Paul was saying about the Law (negatively) in Galatians. His conclusion was that something was wrong with his understanding of Paul's terminology and/or of Paul's perspective. He experimented with the idea of redefining terms a little and found a formulation which made sense to him. In this formulation, he redefined the term "justification" to mean "the forensic declaration by God that a person is a member of the covenant community". And he came to the conclusion that one of Paul's principal aims in Romans is to clarify the proper use of the Law in the context of a covenant community which included both ethnic Jews and Gentiles.

Over the years, he borrowed heavily (but eclectically) from the writings of people like E.P. Sanders and other proponents of the "New Perspective on Paul") in supporting his reinterpretation. His views are expressed in multiple books and articles, which can be found referenced at and at

Bishop Wright's ideas have caused a good bit of discomfort, especially to those Protestants of the Reformed persuasion. The particular aspects which have probably caused the most controversy are:

(1) The assertion that people are justified (according to Wright's definition above, not according to the classical definition) on the basis of the whole life they have lived. Some have understood this as saying that the basis for God's forensic (the term forensic means someone's -- in this case God's -- courtroom declaration that something is so) declaration of membership in the covenant community is whether one has evidenced one's faith by performing works of righteousness - and this appears to violate the Reformation principle of sola fide.

(2) The assertion that the Greek phrase dikaiosoune theou (the righteousness of God) refers solely to God's faithfulness and that it is not a quantity to be imputed to the people in the covenant.

In 2007, Dr. Piper responded to Bishop Wright in his book The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright, asserting that Wright's view of justification is an unjustified (pardon the pun) deviation from historical orthodoxy. Just this year, Bishop Wright published his response in a new book Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision.

I've just begun to consider the debate carefully -- and I plan to make updates here as I have further thoughts. But my my early sense is that Dr. Piper is correct to be highly concerned about some of the statements and emphases of Bishop Wright. I also do believe that some of Dr. Piper's concerns are a little overdone and exaggerate the differences between their points of view.

To be sure, I find N.T. Wright's definition of "the righteousness of God" as articulated in "On Becoming the Righteousness of God" to be highly idiosyncratic and unsupportable, which weakens that particular point as a pillar for Wright's central contention that Paul views salvation primarily through the lens of membership in the covenant community of the children of Abraham.

But I do also think that Bishop Wright is onto something with the centrality of the Jew/Gentile question in the thinking of Paul. I also applaud Bishop Wright for considering honestly how to reconcile those passages in Paul that seem to deal with final judgment on the basis of works with those which say that we are justified by grace through faith -- although I hasten to say that I'm not fully convinced by those of his arguments that I have seen.

However, the most important issue that I will be trying to clarify is Bishop Wright's view of the basis of God's forensic declaration of justification. I think that the only bases for God's declaration of someone as a member of the covenant community are his sovereign choice and the satisfactory propitiation of the death of Jesus; and that the evidence that someone is a member of the covenant community is faith which shows itself in obedience to God.

In short, if Wright is saying (and at this point I'm not sure he is) that good works are the basis of God's declaration instead of the fruit of God's declaration then I believe he's in serious error. But I'll have a better sense of it after I more fully evaluate what he's written.

I look forward to hearing your points of view.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Troubling Reading for Troubled Times

I've been reading Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by H.W. Brands this week. It's very timely reading. I've been especially fascinated by the chapters on the famous Hundred Days -- i.e., the first hundred days of Roosevelt's first term, in which he and a pliant Congress delivered an enormous amount of legislation which remade many of the foundations of our Republic.

Well, actually, I don't know that "fascinated" is the right word. "Horrified" might have been better.

I hadn't known about so much of what happened in those years -- ranging from the Blue Eagle campaign to the slaughter of pigs and destruction of milk in the face of widespread hunger to "prop up demand". It's amazing how little resemblance what actually happened bears to the simplistic popular understanding so many people hold that "Franklin Roosevelt brought us through the Depression". I was also struck by how common it was among Democratic demagogues in those days to admire European fascism and to self-consciously model things along this statist, fascist ideal. (As an aside, it's one of the great accomplishments of the political left to have attached the label "fascist" to conservatives when historically all the fascist movements were movements of the left -- another good read on the latter topic is Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg.)

There are many parallels between those early days of the Roosevelt presidency and the early days of the Obama presidency. First, and most obviously in the pervasive atmosphere of "crisis" which pervades the political scene. Second, in the extent to which class warfare and wealth redistribution are popular matters of political debate. And third, in the characterization of the existing problems as having been caused by "private capital" (apparently without the involvement of government).

The parallels are ominous, and as a result, the reading is somewhat depressing. Notably because in some ways we have even fewer defenses against socialist engineering now than we had then. For instance, the Supreme Court, which played a key role in slowing the advance of the New Deal in the 1930's seems unlikely today to stand in the way of statist intrusions (witness the refusal to protect the rights of contract of the bondholders of GM and Chrysler).

So why read something so depressing?

For a couple of reasons.

First, because I'd like to understand what it is that causes people to be open to the suasion of "Demo-gogues".

Second, because I believe there will be good evidence, data, and anecdotes to be used in convincing people of how foolish these statist projects are.

Third, because I'm fascinated by the psychology of people like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Did he really believe in these programs? Why? Were his motivations at root philosophical or political? How much of his belief in them was consciously motivated vs. subconsciously motivated? It's been said (and I believe it) that people have a remarkable ability to see what they want to see. Why was FDR inclined to see the need for state intervention as a positive good?

Fourth, because it's possible, just possible, that I might be wrong in some of what I believe about the follies of New Deal socialism. And I want to remain open and rational.

In any case, the book is well-written, generally balanced, and very timely. I recommend it.