Review essay on Charles Murray’s By the People

@LiberyLawSite

July 21, 2015

Has the American republic passed its zenith? A building chorus of social commentary suggests that it has. Works such as Os Guinness’ A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (2012), Donald J. Devine’s America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution (2013); James L. Buckley’s Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People (2014);  and Kevin D. Williamson’s The End is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure (2013) each seek to describe the illness besetting our contemporary political order and to consider whether we can halt the decline.

With By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray joins this chorus, which speaks to an increasingly palpable kairos, that opportune, and perhaps fleeting, moment in time when things must be said and done if a propitious outcome is to be achieved. Murray has been writing over the past decade—see his In Our Hands(2006) and Coming Apart (2012)—with a sense of urgency that has reached a crescendo in By the People, where he confesses in the tones of a jeremiad, “I am frightened by how close we are to losing America’s soul.”

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Can Civil Society Save Us?

Published in The Freeman Online, August 28, 2013

American public discourse is characterized today by predictions of decline and fall that offer little hope to the rising generations. From economic, social, and political critics, there is ample commentary on America’s self-destructive path.

Such prognoses have given birth to a mini-industry of Tocqueville studies, with partisans of all stripes hearkening back both to Tocqueville’s analysis of the strength of American democracy in our habit of association and to his awareness of a young nation’s underbelly, vulnerable to soft despotism.

“Like Tocqueville, I believe that spontaneous local activism by citizens is better than central state action not just in terms of its results, but more importantly in terms of its effect on us as citizens,” writes Niall Ferguson in his current bestseller, The Great Degeneration. So far, so good.

While I share the contemporary fascination with Tocqueville’s powers of description and prognostication, I am cautious about claiming that “civil society” holds the solution to our present decline. The current institutions and leaders of civil society to which so many are looking for answers have themselves been shaped by their partnership with the welfare state. Few are in a position to articulate, much less reclaim, their independence from the State.

Read more: http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/can-civil-society-save-us#ixzz2dHTdF9Wy

Common Sense Philanthropy

One watch set right will do to set many by.

—American folk saying

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

—Alfred North Whitehead, as quoted by F. A. Hayek

In a recent presentation to the Hewlett Foundation, Bill Schambra adroitly contests the sensibility of the foundation community’s current fascination with “strategic philanthropy.” For Schambra, the best tool in the philanthropist’s tool kit may be simple common sense. He proposes that instead of filtering grant-making decisions through complex rationalizations involving the development of theories of change and logic models, philanthropists should put more trust in the more pedestrian logic of people and their communities:

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http://www.philanthropydaily.com/common-sense-philanthropy/

Defending the Charitable Status Quo

with Virgil Storr and Chris Coyne at PhilanthropyDaily

Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal (“How Big Government Co-Opted Charities,” July 17, 2013) James Piereson aptly suggests that one of the fundamental questions to consider in the coming fight over the charitable deduction is whether it is possible to wean the not-for-profit sector from its dependence on the welfare state.

Philanthropists of various stripes have been coming together in recent months around at least one shared conviction, that the charitable deduction is sacrosanct. There seems to be little will to launch a more serious reconsideration of the political, economic, and social rationales that gave rise to the existing law of the charitable deduction and whether reform is needed.

Read the full essay at:  http://www.philanthropydaily.com/defending-the-charitable-status-quo/

@The Freeman– Common Core: A Tocquevillean Education or Cartel Federalism

When administrators act, they constitute as well as manage. But what is being constituted—Leviathans or self-governing communities of relationships in compound republics?

—Vincent Ostrom

The development of the Common Core, the model school curriculum standards that have been adopted by 45 states, offers us a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the democratic drift toward soft despotism. Proponents tout Common Core as “state-led” and say states “voluntarily adopt” the standards. Philanthropic and corporate America have gotten involved voluntarily. Parents and students—those most intimately affected by the initiative—won’t get to be a part of the voluntarism. But Common Core is so good, the argument goes, they’ll want it anyway.

Read more: http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/common-core-a-tocquevillean-education-or-cartel-federalism#ixzz2bEEH8yM5

Essay published online and in the July/August 2013 print edition of The Freeman.