When Institutions Decay

7f441559a42Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die is intriguing since the title reflects what should be an obvious connection: Social institutions do affect economies.

The noted British historian’s latest book is a compelling demonstration of his thesis. He lays out all the symptoms caused by decaying institutions: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, and an uncivil society. It is clearly a degeneration, and even a great degeneration.

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We can only admire Ferguson in his quest is to go beyond media hype and find out what really went wrong in the West. He rightly claims that “until we understand the true nature of our degeneration, we will be wasting our time, applying quack remedies to mere symptoms.”


In this short essay, Ferguson lists the four principal institutions which he affirms are in decline: representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society. The author masterfully shows how each one is suffering in our days. The frightening pileup of debts is threatening to burden those that come after us threatening what Edmund Burke called the “partnership” between the generations which he claims is so essential for representative government to work well. The rule of law is fast becoming the rule of lawyers. The free market is burdened under the scourge of excessive regulation. People simply aren’t getting involved in voluntary associations today diminishing the social capital that keeps free markets free.

These are themes that have long been discussed by scholars over the decades. Ferguson provides urgency and context to our present decline. He provides insight and excellent observations that should serve as a warning long overdue. His style is clear, engaging and at times witty.

Subscription12And yet, in his search for answers, we are left wondering if the author has dug deep enough.

The work suffers from its limitations as an essay. The 152-page text is taken from his 2012 BBC Radio 4 “The Reith Lectures” which limits the depth of his analysis since the book’s tone is light and slightly entertaining. There is no time to develop in depth those pressing questions that might be found in a more imposing tome with full bibliography and index.

However, there are other questions that might be raised. We are told how the institutions decayed but not why they decayed. Institutions simply don’t self-decay. We should be able to trace this decay to a decadence in men. There is little in the book to indicate what forces were at work in the depths of men’s souls that caused them to abandon these essential pillars. We are also given little clue as to what moral force might be employed to regenerate that which has degenerated.

The problem stems from the fact that Ferguson’s worldview is that of the Scottish Enlightenment when he felt the four pillars now in decline had reached their harmonious apogee. He thus works inside a rationalist and secular framework. As an historian, Ferguson must have observed that religious and moral institutions have always served as the most effective means to bring about a regeneration of society. Indeed, the very four pillars he lists as decaying were largely medieval institutions that developed under the tutelage of the Church. Yet he does not make the leap to suggest that a moral or religious regeneration is possible or even desirable. Such an omission is lamentable.Subscription5.2

Despite this omission, the book does have great value in making a link not often made. Economists have so entered into the abstract world of formulae and numbers that simply ignore such social considerations. Historians tend to concentrate on events and dates. Not often do we see those who admit that social institutions do affect economy. Economy need the support of social institutions to thrive. We ignore to our detriment this central fact so well demonstrated in The Great Degeneration.

 

A review of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, London, 2012.

The Bank That Trust Built

In writing about economy, I have frequently denounced what I call frenetic intemperance. Frenetic intemperance is a term to describe a restless and reckless spirit inside certain sectors of modern economy that foments a drive to throw off legitimate restraints and gratify all desires. Such a reckless spirit is often found in the financial sector of modern economies as it engages in all sorts of monetary wheeling and dealing.

I admit that banks have their purpose in society by securing money and facilitating transactions needed to carry out business. However, so strong is the frantic idea of modern banking that I have often asked myself if I could provide concrete examples of banking without frenetic intemperance. It is not an easy task.

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But in the business section of The Sunday Times of Ireland (7-21-13), I quite unexpectedly found a refreshing example. It involves a London bank called C. Hoare & Co. It is not your ordinary bank.

This is a 341-year-old institution run by a family. The bank’s senior partner is Henry Hoarse, one of seven family partners who are all 10th – or 11th – generation descendents of bank founder Richard Hoare.

Sir_Richard_Hoare
“Our aim is to treat others as we would wish to be treated” and they have been doing so for 341 years – Sir Richard Hoare, founder of C.Hoare & Co.Painted in his robes as Lord Mayor of London (1712), by Jonathan Richardson.

“Founded in 1672, we remain wholly owned by the Hoare family and continue to be guided and led by the descendants of the bank’s founder,” reads the bank’s website. “We have no allegiance to any other institution. Our aim is to treat others as we would wish to be treated.”

Just this statement alone would be enough to set the bank apart from all others, but there is more. This bank assumes unlimited liability for its actions. If a mistake is made, the bank pays the cost. Needless to say, with such a conservative policy in force, not many mistakes are made. Perhaps that helps explain why the bank has a long list of distinguished past clients that include Samuel Pepys, Lord Bryon and Jane Austen.

Someone might object that such a bank is really only a picturesque relic of past times and time-honored tradition. What about the bottom line? Does this bank make money?

It appears its conservative policies in such frenetic and uncertain times pay off. Business is booming. Since the financial crisis began five years ago, the deposit base of the bank has doubled to £2.3 billion ($3.55 billion). Deposits are increasing monthly.

Modern marketers might imagine that the bank must use its traditional image to attract these new customers and aid expansion. This is hardly the case. In fact, it seems that the bank does everything possible not to grow and expand.

The bank has always maintained only two branches over the centuries and has no interest in going beyond this number. It has never used a marketing plan to attract customers. The bank offers interest rates to savers that are paltry. There is even a service charge of £60 ($93) a month for those with an average monthly balance of less than £25,000 ($38,600). And yet, new customers are banging at the door in droves to open accounts.

Subscription14The key to the success is the role of the family which is very active in all aspects of the bank’s operation especially the lending part. Because they must assume full liability for their transactions, the Hoare family is very careful in selecting its family partners. There are some 1,000 Hoare descendents that could qualify to be partners. However, there is a strict vetting process that makes sure only the most capable ascend to the top. The family puts aside funds to invest for future generations. It also donates generously to the family charity.

This stable yet profitable bank engages in wise investment policy so different from those policies found all over the world of finance. Only half of the bank’s deposits are actually loaned out while another quarter is safely lodged at the Bank of England. Customers know they can trust the firm not to engage in transactions that have unnecessary exposure to risk.

Thus, banking, like any other business, can exist without frenetic intemperance. Such banks can even flourish and be very profitable. This London bank shows how the family can be an important instrument to temper business and keep it in balance. Hoare & Co. proves it doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog world. All it takes is a little temperance.

What Has Happened to Community?

charityIn modern society, there is no longer the sense of communal space where conversation and leisure normally took place. There is no longer a feeling of community where people sense the satisfaction of being together.

That is not to say people do not gather in crowds. There are plenty of places where large numbers of people congregate. However the rules of communication have changed dramatically.

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Psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that people can be together, but more often than not they are alone together – each isolated as in a bubble in the midst of the crowd. She writes: “In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a café, or a park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, New York, Basic Books, 2011, p. 155)

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This is a topic that is discussed at length in the book, Return to Order. Order your book now!


When Was Musical Harmony Invented?

When Was Musical Harmony Invented?

“It was medieval musicians who invented polyphony”

At the time of the Romans and Greeks, all voices and instruments sang and played a single musical line. They had no idea of creating harmonies.

Historian Rodney Stark reveals that,

“It was medieval musicians who invented polyphony, the simultaneous sounding of two or more musical lines, hence harmonies. Just when this occurred is uncertain, but it was already well known when described in a manual published around 900. Moreover, it was during the Dark Ages that the instruments needed to fully exploit harmonies were perfected: the pipe organ, the clavichord and harpsichord, the violin and bass fiddle among others. And in about the tenth century, an adequate system of musical notation was invented and popularized so that music could be accurately performed by musicians who had never heard it.”



(Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, New York, Random House, 2005, p. 51.)

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Praise for Return to Order — Rep. Lou Barletta

Praise for Return to Order -- Rep. Lou BarlettaReturn to Order is a refreshing breath of air in a time of economic and political distress. It reminds us of those basic and foundational institutions and practices that helped shape the generations of our fathers and mothers. And, it reminds us that we can be successful and solve the issues America is currently facing without terse political discourse, but with a strong Church, strong family and strong community. Horvat’s Return to Order is much like his book jacket illustration, a beacon on a hill enlightening the way for readers in a time of American uncertainty.”

Congressman Lou Barletta,
U.S. House of Representatives, serving Pennsylvania’s 11th District.

Toward Virtuous Leadership: Fixing the Military’s Moral Compass

Marines War Memorial

Toward Virtuous Leadership

By Lieutenant Colonel David G. Bolgiano, USAF, Retired*

Alexandre Havard writes in Virtuous Leadership on the importance and relevance of the cardinal virtues – prudence, fortitude (or courage), temperance (or self-control) and justice – to both leaders and organizations. Any person or group that lacks in one or more of these core character traits is doomed to failure. As William Penn, the founder and namesake of Pennsylvania, said:

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Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too … Let men be good and the government cannot be bad … But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

Likewise, our military depends on good people to lead and man it. Historically, it has consistently embraced the cardinal virtues to better ensure a spirit of selfless sacrifice and service amongst its members. Herodotus’s commentary on the duties of the ancient Persians, “to ride well, shoot straight, and speak the truth,” recognizes that there are absolute truths and an internal moral compass that warriors should follow.

These beliefs have formed the cornerstone of our military’s ethos. It is now under subtle attack by those that decry such beliefs as antiquated or even unconstitutional. Such efforts must be soundly repulsed, as military leaders’ moral compasses must be immune to quaint notions of modernity that recognize no fundamental truths.

party_over

“… self-absorbed, licentious behaviors such as one routinely observes in Hollywood and professional sports leagues.”

For years, living by the cardinal virtues has inoculated the military from self-absorbed, licentious behaviors such as one routinely observes in Hollywood and professional sports leagues. America’s modern military culture has fairly consistently remained above the fray of partisan politics and the gutter of licentiousness. Unfortunately, there are those trying to change that very culture by marginalizing the voices of virtue within our force.

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“…it must not proceed under the false belief that aspiring to live virtuously is somehow an antiquated and irrelevant modality.”

If the Armed Forces of the United States is to remain a dominant player in geopolitics as well as a guardian of our populace, it must not proceed under the false belief that aspiring to live virtuously is somehow an antiquated and irrelevant modality for a postmodern world. The first obstacle often thrown out by those objecting to infusing virtue’s lessons into policy is that doing so somehow violates the Constitution of the United States’ First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which proscribes a formal church-state relationship. Such an objection is a canard that is predicated on ignorance of history and the law. Historically, discussions of the cardinal virtues can be found not only in all of the world’s major religions, but also in classical literature and philosophy. Legally, those that rail against any open religious activity in the military, such as the presence of a Chaplains’ Corps, seem to ignore the Free Exercise Clause of that very same Constitutional Amendment. Sadly, these voices have found traction of late within the Executive Branch.

The Cardinal Virtues

Prudence or Competency

(VBSS) training

Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team.

As Francis Bacon noted, one rarely finds a wise head on a young body. Hence, this virtue, like all the others, must be taught and learned. Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, meaning “right reason applied to practice.” In the military, this is reflected in a commander who has mastered fundamental tasks so well that in the fog of war these are enabling, rather than distracting. At a purely tactical level, it is that Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) team member so intimate with his weapon systems that he can focus on potential threats, not on whether his weapon’s selector switch is on safe or fire.

When a leader consistently makes wrong decisions – or makes rash decisions, right or wrong – then that individual is imprudent. Due to the complexity of the modern battlefield, it is easy to err in this fashion. Accordingly, competent leaders seek the counsel of others and quickly learn to delegate responsibility and authority to trusted subordinates. They also encourage freethinking amongst their staff. Those assigned to a dysfunctional staff, where the commander browbeats those who disagree, will instantly recognize this lack of virtue in their boss. “Don’t be the nail that sticks above the surface” is the unspoken advice in such commands. Sadly, courageous subordinates are often crushed; while sycophants, or those who simply remain silent, get promoted.


Prudence or competency is the result of practice. But, it also may require personal humility. Disregarding the advice or warnings of others whose judgment does not coincide with one’s own may be a sign of imprudence. It is possible that the commander is right and his staff wrong; but the opposite may be true, especially if the commander is consistently disagreeing with those whose demonstrated judgment is sound. Absent a moral barometer, either derived from natural law or the Ten Commandments, there is no measure of right reason. Accordingly, bad commanders will simply bully others to get their way. That is why assaults upon the military’s seemingly archaic moral code are so intrinsically dangerous. For he who believes in everything believes nothing and, consequently, lacks a compass by which to steer a true and straight course.

Justice

Prudence or competency is the internal focus of one’s intellectual abilities: the application of right reason to a given problem. Justice is more outwardly focused. It is that trait which seeks to give everyone his or her rightful due. This requires much more than simply abiding by the rules set forth in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or General Orders. While maintaining discipline in the Armed Forces is very important to the orderly conduct of military operations, and most people desire and expect malefactors to be brought to justice, the virtue of justice is much greater than the sum of what is set forth in those rules and procedures. Good commanders utilize justice as a positive motivator on the path toward a humble and magnanimous career for themselves and their subordinates.

Field Marshal William Slim 1950

Field Marshal William Slim, commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War II

Members of a successful military command are more concerned with respecting the rights of others and giving them proper credit where credit is due. It was said of Field Marshal William Slim, Commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War II, that he never said “I,” rarely said “We,” and always said “You.” Sam Damon, the protagonist in Anton Myer’s brilliant novel Once an Eagle, further exemplifies such a person. Damon is a professional warrior who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self-interest. He justly earns his promotions. The book’s antagonist, Courtney Massengale, is an unjust, self-absorbed bully who advances by political scheming and trampling upon subordinates and contemporaries. Once an Eagle should be mandatory reading for all officers and non-commissioned officers.

Justice also requires an acknowledgement of and obeisance to the natural law or divinely-inspired law. Absent such a framework, we are left with simply the subordinate laws and whims of man. We would be well served to remember that Adolf Hitler did nothing illegal under the laws of the Third Reich. The reason that Hitler’s acts were so unspeakable is that they contravened Divine or natural law. A just leader respects both the natural rights of others (to be secure in life and limb, their obligations to family and associates, fundamental property rights, and to practice one’s religion and hold sacred beliefs) and the legal rights of others (command authorities, the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), personal contract rights, and other rights and entitlements found under the law). Should legal rights ever come into conflict with natural rights, however, the latter take precedence. Hence, a warrior has both a right and an obligation to disobey clearly unlawful, unethical or unconstitutional orders. Without an underlying concept of right or wrong – what is justice – how would a service member ever be able to discern this?

Courage

Finding Our Knight

Col. John Ripley, opposed the inclusion of females into units routinely expected to be engaged in close quarters combat (CQB) missions. Fought for the protection of femininity, motherhood and graceful conduct of women.

One may assume that anyone donning the uniform of the Armed Forces has physical courage. However, what is being discussed here is an overarching moral courage. A person could be physically courageous enough to charge a machine gun nest, but still be a moral coward in other important leadership capacities. Moral courage, or fortitude, is that rock-steady virtue that seeks to elevate others above self. Competency and justice are the virtues by which we decide what ought to be done. Courage provides us the will and strength to do so, even in the face of obstacles. For day-to-day life, it is the constant practice of seeking and speaking the truth in the face of adversity or peer pressure to do otherwise. It is what gives that subordinate staff officer the strength to raise a hand during a command briefing and disagree with a politically expedient, but morally wrong or unjust, course of action.

traditional marriage campaign

TFP Traditional marriage caravan in Illinois at Lake Michigan.

Courage may require one to speak out against voguish but evil spirits of the times, impure conduct or trends, and the common tendency to seek the path of least resistance. It also requires one to speak the truth even if doing so may be personally painful: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:26)

The New Testament also speaks to those who “are willingly ignorant.” The meaning is the same. It is one thing to be unaware of the truth; it is altogether different when people know what is true, yet ignore it out of cowardice or political expediency. By a casual reading of today’s headlines, it appears to all but the naïve or complicit that many of our senior military leaders have failed to stand up for what they must, in their hearts, know to be right and just. This is likely for want of courage.

Self-Control or Temperance

Mtn. Home Air Force Base

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho — Airman 1st Class John Sriharong, 366th Equipment Maintenance technician, prays during a men’s prayer group Fed. 26 at Liberty Chapel.

Epistemologically, self-control or temperance demands control of one’s animal desire for pleasure. We wring our hands and wonder why so many of our warriors commit acts of sexual assault; and, how come so many flag officers commit other diverse acts of moral turpitude. Often, these acts are a failure to moderate desires in the face of temptation. Self-control is that virtue which attempts to overcome the human condition best stated as “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But, if we have institutionally disavowed the notion that there are fundamental rights and wrongs, is it any wonder we are in this quandary?

However, self-control is much more than just tempering base sexual desires. In the realm of virtuous leaders, self-control might mean that choleric personalities restrain their tempers; impatient persons exercise listening skills; tardiness is replaced by timeliness; or phlegmatic persons make an effort to be more outgoing. “Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.” This notion applies to seeding and growing virtue in organizations and individual lives. Taking such seemingly small steps can gradually build a command imbued with a sense of unit humility. It can truly help transform an organization from a dour, miserable workplace to a magnanimous command where people are excited and proud to serve.

Magnanimity is an underutilized and not frequently understood word. It is the loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity. It is the essence of chivalry. A magnanimous person is the opposite of a pusillanimous or small-minded person. Every military leader should strive to foster an environment where magnanimity flourishes. Absent a deep understanding and practice of the cardinal virtues, however, such a goal is futile because the leader lacks the inherent capacity to foster unit humility and magnanimity.

Words of Caution

The dangers for the military not acknowledging and living pursuant to the cardinal virtues should be obvious. But, when one considers how to boil a frog, the pitfalls may not be as obvious as they once recently might have been. Just consider the myriad “hot button” issues, critical to the continued integrity and strength of our military, which have now all but been placed “off limits” by senior leaders who seem more concerned with keeping their stars than speaking or hearing the truth. For example, any rational discussion concerning these topics – (1) the possibility that core tenets of Sharia law are incompatible with a Constitutional Republican form of governance that respects religious freedoms; (2) forced affirmation of vice in the form of acceptance of homosexual conduct within our forces; and (3) the inclusion of females into units routinely expected to be engaged in close quarters combat (CQB) missions – has been effectively quashed in today’s military. This is true, despite the fact that a majority of those serving have principled questions about each of these topics.

But anyone that now questions the wisdom of such policies is, at best, quickly marginalized. Truth, or at least rational attempts to discern the truth, has been labeled as “Hate Speech.” In some instances, as in the case of Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley who was crushed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for daring to raise the aforementioned Sharia issue, otherwise stellar careers are ruined for not toeing the party line. We should do well to heed the words of Isaiah: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”

Douglas MacArthur lands Leyte Gulf

General Douglas MacArthur, accompanied by President Sergio Osmena of the Philippines (L), land at Palo Beach, Leyte, on October 20, 1944.

While it is imperative – as General of the Army Douglas MacArthur tested during the Korean War – that the military remain subordinate to its civilian masters in matters of policy and strategy, it must nevertheless vigorously resist attempts to dilute its core values by means of crass political bullying. Moreover, if there are rational and moral concerns about any policy or course of action, voices expressing such concerns should be encouraged, rather than quelled or shunned. Sadly and dangerously, this does not appear to be happening in today’s military.

Trends to muzzle the virtuous voices in the military must be reversed if our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard are to remain morally fit and strong. The silence of the admirals and generals has been deafening in this regard. Six years into this Administration’s grand experiment to radically transform America has caused serious erosion in our military’s capability and discipline; yet, we hear crickets instead of voices of truth and moral incorruptibility from our flag officers. Consequently, we now have a military that appears more concerned with providing benefits to random sexual partners or forcing the square peg of “gender” equality into the round hole of readiness.

No objectively honest person should be surprised that an overwhelming majority of female candidates simply can’t make it through physically demanding courses such as the Army’s Ranger School, Marine Infantry Officers Course, Basic Underwater Demolition School (SEAL-BUDS) and Special Forces Qualification Course. By not accepting the fact that “war is hard” and close-quarters combat is necessarily a realm for masculine males, the military scrambles to change the standards to ensure “sex” equality occurs despite costs to our readiness.

USMC Training

“There is a reason there are no female athletes in the National Football League.”

When it comes to matters of national defense, specious beliefs in the physical equality of the sexes should not trump the harsh reality of the battlefield. There is a reason there are no female athletes in the National Football League (or any other professional sports league): men are better suited to such physical conflict. All the politically correct thought and indoctrination in the world can’t change this fact of nature and God’s design. If we allow courts or policy makers not anchored by virtues to challenge this immutable truth, we will end up not only with boring sports contests but also a less effective combat force. But, first, we must acknowledge there are immutable facts and truths. Voices of reason and truth, like that expressed by Marine Captain Katie Petronio, are few and far between in this discussion. They appear entirely absent amongst our flag ranks.

Repeating lies loudly and often enough does not make them true. Senior leaders must not simply parrot the opinions of their political masters. Sometimes, the cardinal virtues demand they speak the truth. But, perhaps paralyzed by the fear of losing their stars or not getting a “top block” on that section of their fitness report that demonstrates the proper degree of political correctness, most will remain silent.

Subordinates watch and learn from their leaders. If those leaders go into defilade instead of standing up for what is virtuous, what lessons will be passed down to the next generation? This is not a matter of arguing the value of one combat system over another or the next evolution or revolution of warfare. This is about retaining core virtuous principles that spawn courage, truth and selflessness.

Occupy Wall Street

“…a Marine Corp Private stands head and shoulders above ‘Occupy Wall Street’ types”

Citizens expect such high standards from their Armed Forces: it is why a Marine Corp Private stands head and shoulders above “Occupy Wall Street” types or the likes of Bradley (Chelsea?) Manning. Service members must forfeit many of their erstwhile civilian idiosyncrasies – faddish haircuts, sleeping late, using illegal drugs, and being couch potatoes – in order to become part of a greater whole. First and foremost, our Armed Forces should be a corps of moral, disciplined, steely-eyed killers – exemplified by distinguished commanders such as Arleigh Burke, Chesty Puller and Jim Mattis – that can close with and destroy our Republic’s enemies on the seas and fields of battle. Hence, we must never forget to ride well, shoot straight and speak the truth: even if doing so ruffles some political feathers. Our warriors deserve nothing less.

About the Author:

Lt. Col. David G. Bolgiano is a retired paratrooper who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions. He is the author of Combat Self-Defense: Saving America’s Warriors from Risk-Averse Commanders and their Lawyers and co-author of Fighting Today’s Wars: How America’s Leaders Have Failed Our Warriors.

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Is This Election a Last Hurrah?

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“the debate on the two fringes is not about how to fix the system, but rather if we should fix it at all.”

Many are attempting to make sense out of the present election cycle and especially the appearance of unconventional political outsiders that are dominating the headlines and in some cases the polls.

Everyone seems to agree that the system doesn’t work anymore. It’s broken and no one knows how to fix it. However, this election season is different because the debate on the two fringes is not about how to fix the system, but rather if we should fix it at all.

It is a perplexing problem. After all, the system has worked quite well over the decades. It has given us prosperity and freedom; abundance and entertainment. Even considering the present state of affairs, things could be much worse from a political and economic perspective. And yet there is discontent.

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The discontent comes from the fact that the cooperative structures of our union are breaking down. People sense this and it is becoming unsustainable.

From the beginning, our republic developed a system that has functioned much the same way as a farm co-op, in which membership conferred many legitimate benefits, with distributed risks, voting privileges, few liabilities, and plenty of fun and recreational opportunities. There are certain internal contradictions within the system that are hard to balance but the idea is that everyone must get along if we are to prosper.




To deal with these internal tensions, the founders of our national co-op started out with a few general rules that keep it going. They insisted upon a vague moral code that keeps everyone honest. They imposed upon themselves a certain amount of self-discipline and hard work to keep things running.

The system worked fine until many people started breaking the co-op rules, denying the moral code and resenting the call for discipline. To deal with mounting chaos and disorder, those in our co-op system enacted more rules to keep order — many more rules — so many, in fact, that it made it almost impossible for anyone to get things done. At the same time, they watered down the moral code and discipline with a stifling system of political correctness that accommodates the prevailing moral laxity and suffocates any dissent. Unsurprisingly, people aren’t getting along anymore.

As a result, people are frustrated and angry. The co-op that used to be a kind of materialistic paradise has now become a straightjacket. The co-op is, so to speak, not paying out dividends but causing anxiety, depression, and stress.

Voters are now looking for simple anti-establishment solutions saying: “Down with the system! Get us out of here! We don’t care how! Just get us out of here!”

It is a strange paradox because frustrated voters are not rejecting the prosperous society they once enjoyed under the co-op system. They may disagree a bit on the version they want. Some will tend more toward the moralistic fifties while others will favor the socialism dreamed of in the promiscuous sixties. However, they all want the old co-op back — but without the system of rules, codes, and discipline needed to sustain it.

Added to this surreal scenario is the fact that voters feel that society is falling apart around them — many crises loom on the horizon. This gives the moment a sense of urgency and desperation which makes voters willing to grasp on to those who promise to do away with the old system while bringing back all its benefits. In fact, the more fantastic the claim, the more alluring it is to them. They cheer on all who seek to break down the few remaining structures that keep a semblance of order in society.

The discontent is such that many are thinking: Why not take a gamble and just go for broke? Let’s shout out one last hurrah before the whole system breaks down! Let’s engage in a bit of wishful thinking, and maybe, just maybe, if we wish hard enough, someone can give us back our co-op dividends without any of the co-op’s hateful rules!

But is this really what the nation needs? We need to see that it is not only the system, but we ourselves who are broken — morally, politically and economically. We blame the overburdened system and not our disorders that created it. If we are to return to order, we must address these causes not just their effects. We should not risk everything on the desperation of one last hurrah.Subscription4.1

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Christianity Greatly Favors the Welfare of the State

Christianity Greatly Favors the Welfare of the StateThe beneficent action of how Christianity greatly favors the welfare of the State is described by Saint Augustine, who comments:

“Let those who say that the teachings of Christ are harmful to the State find armies with soldiers who live up to the standards of the teachings of Jesus. Let them provide governors, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, kings, judges, taxpayers and tax collectors who can compare to those who take Christian teachings to heart. Then let them dare to say that such teaching is contrary to the welfare of the State!RTO-Audiobook-AD-medium-res Indeed, under no circumstances can they fail to realize that this teaching is the greatest safeguard of the State when faithfully observed.” (“Epist. 138 ad Marcellinum,” [Chap. 2, no. 15]) in Opera Omnia, vol. 2, in J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, col. 532). (TFP translation.)


 

 

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America’s Native Spirit

By Norman J. Fulkerson.

Bourbon_tasting,_anyoneIt might appear to a casual observer that the United States is not a country where one would find a healthy regionalism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Bluegrass State which is commonly seen merely as the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Those who see it this way might be surprised to learn that a centuries-old tradition of producing world-class bourbon found its origin right here in tiny Nelson County, Kentucky. This not only represents another example of an Only in America paradox but it is another refreshing example of what we can discover when we get off the beaten path.

It was a particularly picturesque morning as I drove down the Bluegrass Parkway across rolling hills towards Bardstown, Kentucky. The sun peeped below a low lying mist and cast a marvelous bronze hue across the frost-covered landscape. This is the heart of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and the dream-like color of the countryside that day seemed identical to the wonderful liquid which has put it on the world map. This idyllic morning, I would later find out, revealed a profound symbolism; that which makes Kentucky bourbon so extraordinary has as much to do with the soil from which it is born as the people who harness its potential for excellence. This is what gives it such a refreshing regional character.

“A region,” according to John Horvat in his book Return to Order, “is formed by the intimate relationship between a people and a place.” He goes on to point out how such a place has its “own vegetation, lay of the land, natural wonders, hinterland, and mysteries.”[1]

This is what one can see in this area of the Bluegrass State, particularly Bourbon County, which sits atop a massive, six-county-wide limestone shelf. This calcium-rich water filters out the unwanted iron that provides ideal water for bourbon. Curiously enough, it is the same bone-strengthening water that is a contributing factor in producing million dollar racehorses and explains why Kentucky’s numerous distilleries are intertwined with finely manicured thoroughbred farms.

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The other element that must not be overlooked are the white oak trees native to this region that are used to make barrels for aging bourbon. During the hot, humid Kentucky summers, the bourbon expands into the walls of the barrel. In the cold winter it retracts, taking with it a variety of flavors, anything from vanilla, caramel to fruity or citrus notes and… the marvelous amber color.

Lastly, it’s Kentucky rich soil that produces an abundance of another essential ingredient, corn. For it to be called Bourbon, there has to be at least 51% corn in the mash.

“Sometimes it seems that there are places that Providence has blessed with harmonic features,” Mr. Horvat continues, “as if awaiting inhabitants.”[2]
Everything necessary to make excellent bourbon was put in place for just such people and their arrival would occur in an unexpected way.

The Origins of “Old Bourbon”
It all began with the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 when George Washington imposed an excise tax on the domestic manufacture of all “spirits.” Disgruntled European immigrants – primarily Scottish, Irish and Germans – were furious over what they considered an unjust levy on a product they brought from the Old World and decided to pack up and head south to the fledging Commonwealth of Kentucky. They eventually settled in Bourbon County named after the French royal family. This county was eventually carved into many smaller ones, but many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon. Located within its boundaries was the principal Ohio River port from which whiskey and other products were shipped south.[3]

They recommenced making their fine whiskey but when they shipped it down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans in oak barrels, a curious thing happened. The long trip aged the whiskey, thus enhancing its taste profile, while the oak wood gave the drink its distinct mellow flavor and trademark color. The recipients of this unique spirit enjoyed it very much but were curious as to what it was called. Seeing “Old Bourbon” stenciled on the barrels – to indicate their port of origin – they began calling it bourbon.[4]

This was the beginning of a liquor that would go on to earn the name of “America’s Native Spirit.”[5]

Since then, generations of Kentuckians have continued the heritage and time-honored tradition of making fine bourbon, unchanged from the process used by their ancestors. It has become an international symbol of Kentucky craftsmanship and tradition which has attracted nearly two million visitors from around the world in the last five years alone.[6]

Bourbon “Nobility”
One name that is indisputably linked to the industry is Jacob Beam. After immigrating to America from Germany in the eighteenth century, he started his first distillery in 1788 with a special strain of yeast, which he carefully guarded from the hot summers by placing it in a jug then depositing it in a nearby creek to keep cool. He would go on to teach his son everything he knew about making bourbon, and they in turn passed on the knowledge to their sons and grandsons.

A youthful and bubbly Erica Boone was my tour guide the day I visited this historic distillery. She is proud of being a descendant of Daniel Boone but her face glowed with pride when she named another of her ancestors. “I am an eight generation Jacob Beam,” she said, alluding to the patriarch of the family.

She went on to explain how Beam, like most distilleries, was shut down in 1919 during Prohibition and was forced to liquidate its inventory. Jim Beam, great grandson of the founder, figured this period would not last long so he carefully studied aquifer maps for areas most rich in limestone and eventually found a choice piece of land in Clermont, Kentucky. His wisdom paid off.

Prohibition was eventually repealed in 1933, and they started up where they had left off. The distillery has grown quite a bit since then. They now have nineteen 35,000-gallon fermenters and have produced over 12 million barrels of bourbon to date. Their White Label Jim Beam is the most recognized bourbon in the world which might explain the enthusiasm of a Scotsman who recently toured the plant. While his countrymen might be known for producing great Scotch, he was forced to admit that by coming to Jim Beam he had arrived at “the Mecca.”

The dynasty of Beam distillers and their artistry have shaped the industry so much they could very well be considered the American aristocracy in the bourbon industry. I found this out firsthand at the end of my tour when Erica made a passing reference to their current Master Distiller, whose last name was Noe.

The Beam dynasty begun by Jacob, Miss Boone explained, was later transferred to the Noe line when T. Jeremiah Beam – great, great grandson of Jacob – did not have children. His sister Margaret married Frederick Booker Noe and their son Frederick Booker Noe II would continue the family tradition begun centuries before. She perhaps noticed my disappointment at what appeared to be a break from tradition and candidly explained: “It’s just like a king who produces no male offspring and passes on his crown to the princess.”

The original Beam name, however, can still be found throughout the bourbon world. The master distiller at Heaven Hill, Kentucky’s largest distillery, is cousin Parker Beam who has been sharing his knowledge for over 53 years. He is joined by his son, Craig Beam, who will no doubt continue enriching the bourbon family tree.

“I love what I do,” Erica admitted. “I am not just an employee; I am a member of the family…” Her words trailed off as she begged pardon for “getting teary eyed.” When she regained her composure I asked “Why the tears?”

“It’s the heritage,” she responded. “You have no idea what it means to be able to trace your roots back 200 years. It gives such a sense of self awareness.”

Hotbeds of Distilling Prowess
This same sense of intense pride shines through in every distillery you find in the Bluegrass State. Employees at each one, even those not directly related to patriarchal figures, pride themselves in simply being a part of this rich tradition.

 

It is for this reason that one should not visit the area without a stop at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. They are the only distillery in Kentucky that continued to operate un-interrupted during Prohibition because they were allowed to sell their product for medicinal purposes. No longer being limited to curing the body, they are now allowed to delight the soul of bourbon connoisseurs the world over. Their finest product, George T. Stagg, just won the International Spirit of the World Award last year by knocking off the yearly favored Highland Park 18 Scotch Whiskey from the Northern Highlands.

“Spirits are continually getting better and more sophisticated each year,” says noted spirits reviewer Paul Pacult. “It’s no surprise to us that three of the top five spirits in the world hail from Kentucky, which right now is one of the hotbeds of distilling prowess.”[7]

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“What We Could Enjoy Every Day.”
Freddie Johnson is likely one of the more knowledgeable persons in the state on bourbon and was my tour guide for the day. He spoke, with about as much pride as Miss Boone, that he is a third generation employee for the distillery and described the charming way he ended up there. He was in the middle of a successful career as a network engineer and at one point enjoyed security clearance for tracking Air Force One. He would eventually put all this aside to fulfill a twofold request of his father Jimmy.

“He made me promise to allow him to die in his own bed,” he explained, “rather than a nursing home.” The other request had to do with keeping the family tradition. “He wanted me to work at Buffalo Trace while he was still alive.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks as he described the day his father called with the news that both he and Freddie’s brother had come down with terminal cancer and were nearing the end of their lives. Freddie did not hesitate to fulfill both of his father’s wishes. He took an early retirement, returned to Kentucky and described how he and his father took one last walk through the distillery’s main warehouse on his father’s 92nd birthday. “He told me things about the distillery that his father had taught him,” Freddie explained.

He then recounted the most memorable conversation he ever had with his father while sipping from an old bottle of bourbon that had been signed by the current and previous Buffalo Trace Master Distillers.[8]
Freddie opened it to celebrate his father’s 94th birthday. After pouring a shot for his father, his brother and himself, Freddie put the cork back in the bottle.

“What on earth are you doing son?” his father sternly asked. “There will always be old bottles of bourbon. They are being made every day, but friends and family will not always be around and that is what bourbon is made for. Don’t ever do that again.”

The message was clear, he said, bourbon is meant to be enjoyed with the moment. It was the first time that his father, brother and he had really talked since they were very young. Three hours later Freddie helped his ailing, but now delighted, father into bed.

“This is the best birthday I ever had.” Eleven months later his father and brother were both dead but the memory of that day and the lesson learned lives on.

“There is a saying,” Freddie concluded, “that says, ‘if time was not a factor in our lives this is what we could enjoy every day.’”

Made in America
Before leaving the state, I stopped at Wild Turkey distillery, took the tour and sampled some of their excellent product. In the gift shop I had a chat with Scott and Beth Ryan who had travelled from Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Ryan explained how they had decided to travel Kentucky’s bourbon trail because he had seen an episode of John Ratzenberger’s Made in America which highlighted the bourbon making process at Maker’s Mark.

After having seen it with her own eyes, Beth described how she was attracted by the regionalism expressed in the entire bourbon trail. She quickly added how she was fed up with the standardization in our country.

The most meaningful part of the tour was the hands-on approach they found at Makers Mark. “Dipping your finger in a massive pot of whiskey to taste the product and then dipping your own bottle into the red wax to make your very own Maker’s Mark trademark seal.”

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“I just like the uniqueness and pride of the Kentucky bourbon industry,” she said.

As I left the state of Kentucky I was happy for travelling the Bourbon Trail and I agree with the Ryans. This detour allowed me to discover yet one more example of American regionalism. However, I was only able to see it because I got off the beaten path.

[1] John Horvat II, Return to Order, York Press, p. 205
[2] Ibid
[3] Charles Cowdery, Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, p. 25
[4] John Horvat II, Return to Order, York Press, p. 205
[5] This name was granted by a Congressional resolution in 1964.
[6] http://kybourbontrail.com/index.php/history/)
[7] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/george-t-stagg-named-top-spirit-in-the-world-for-second-year-in-a-row-155340915.html
[8] This was special because Buffalo Trace is the only distillery that has three living Master distillers. The oldest, Elmer T. Lee, is 93 years old and is one of only three living Master Distillers that have a bourbon named after them.

Five Ways Student Loans Are Ruining Our Economy and Culture

Five Ways Student Loans Are Ruining Our Economy and Culture

“A July report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia finds that student loans have increased tenfold since 1999.”

As the fall semester begins, students are attending classes and incurring great debt.

Uphold Marriage and the Family; Uphold Society: Sign the Return to Order Petition

A July report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia finds that student loans have increased tenfold since 1999. Even worse is the acceleration of this debt over the last eight years. Since 2007, loans doubled from $537 billion to more than $1 trillion today.

The ballooning of student loans is fueled by the idea that everyone should go to college. The problem is that most students have to go to the bank before going to college. Many students secure loans even though they are not sure what they want to study. Others just go because everyone else is going. Universities have responded to growing credit demand by making loans easy to secure.

The Philadelphia Fed’s report now says this policy is misguided. The surge of students on loans is not helping the economy, but ruining it.

1. Starting Life With a Handicap

The first reason why this policy does not work is because students on loans leave college with an average of $28,000 in debt. This weighs them down exactly during the time when they need to build resources to establish a family and career.


The problem becomes worse because the debt load comes when the graduate will be earning less because of a lack of experience. The graduate thus enters life as an adult with a severe handicap that dampens demand and initiative so necessary to a healthy economy.

2. Jobs Without a Future

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“Student loans are also responsible for a decreasing number of young entrepreneurs in start-up businesses.”

The second reason why student loans are ruining the economy? They discourage graduates from taking risks and initiatives that help economies. Usually young people are full of energy and ideas which can be a great stimulus for an economy.

Now risk adverse graduates laden with debt are flocking to existing companies to find “safe” jobs to pay off their burdens. They often accept jobs that have no relation to the degree they paid so much to obtain.

3. The Illusion of a Degree

Another reason is that the practice is not living up to the promises of success. Student loans often ruin the possibility of benefiting from a degree. It is now becoming increasingly clear that a university degree is not an instant ticket to success that promises higher lifetime earnings and better well being.

In fact, the Philadelphia Fed’s report finds that many students would be better off without a degree especially among those 17% that are delinquent in their debt payments.

4. Fewer Young Entrepreneurs

Student loans are also responsible for a decreasing number of young entrepreneurs in start-up businesses. The graduate with loans has neither the money nor credit with which to start a business. As a result, young people are not becoming entrepreneurs and the number of small businesses, which make up half of the nation’s economy, is declining.

The Kauffman Foundation, for example, has found that the number of new entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 to 34 fell to 23% of all new start-ups in 2013. The number is down from 35% in 1996. Such a decline could have grave consequences in the future.

5. Time Bomb

Finally, student loans are increasingly going unpaid. Default on loans is a trillion dollar time bomb just waiting to explode with horrific consequences for our economy.

Some want to present taxpayer subsidized student loans as a way of building the nation’sfree subscription future. However, it is fast becoming clear that it not only hurts the students who often carry their debt for decades but it also burdens the taxpayer who is left to pay the bill. All this pulls down the economy and discourages growth. Should the bubble burst, it could trigger an economic crisis.

Student loans are supposed to guarantee success and bolster today’s hobbling economic “recovery.” Instead, these loans are contributing to the problem they were supposed to solve.

Moreover, it is creating a culture of entitlement and irresponsibility. One has to ask: What ever happened to the days when students only went to college when they knew what they were going to become and had the money to pay for it?

As seen on theblaze.com