Saturday, 6 January 2007

Twenty Years Ago

1-6-87 . . . We Arizonans have a new governor. Evan Mecham, who won a three-way race in November, was recently sworn in to replace Bruce Babbitt. Already, Mecham has shaken up state government, firing many of Babbitt’s department heads and replacing them with his own people, all of whom share his view of minimalist government and pro-business. In his inaugural speech, Mecham vowed to eliminate drugs from society, crack down on pornography, and “get the federal government off the backs of business.” It’s a dire time for my home state. The only consolation is that I’ll be gone in twenty months. By early September 1988, I’ll be teaching philosophy at a university, and I know to a substantial certainty that it won’t be in Arizona. [It was in Texas—at Texas A&M University.] Then I can view Mecham’s policies from afar, shaking my head at their inanity. Government need not be a force for evil, as Mecham supposes. It can be a force for good if only we use imagination and good will.


If you’re a fan of professional cycling, as I am, you’ll like this race calendar. The Tour de France begins on 7 July this year—in, of all places, London. Maybe by then we’ll know who won the 2006 Tour.

Science and Religion

Here is a review of Richard Dawkins‘s latest book, The God Delusion, by biologist H. Allen Orr. Here is my favorite paragraph:

One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it. Indeed he suffers from several problems when attempting to reason philosophically. The most obvious is that he has a preordained set of conclusions at which he’s determined to arrive. Consequently, Dawkins uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there and the merit of various arguments appears judged largely by where they lead.

One would expect philosophers such as Brian Leiter to take Dawkins apart, but they won’t.  They’re more interested in solidarity than in truth.  Socrates would be appalled.

D. G. C. MacNabb on David Hume (1711-1776)

Hume‘s views on politics follow from his theory of justice. Governments, laws, and institutions are useful to human society. Their justification is in their utility, which depends largely on the habitual trust men have in one another’s allegiance to them. Consequently, an established trusted government should never be overthrown on grounds of religion or hereditary claims to thrones or in order to experiment with utopian theories. Nor does the authority of governments rest on a contract. Rather the authority of both governments and contracts rests on their utility (“of the Original Contract”). Hume was a conservative. Unlike later utilitarians, he hoped to overthrow nothing and would have liked to overthrow nothing except the Church.

(D. G. C. MacNabb, “David Hume,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1967], 4:74-90, at 88)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

One cannot read Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s timely and wise Jan. 1 Op-Ed article, “Folly’s Antidote,” without a twinge of citizen pain at how, four years ago, this White House turned a deaf ear to urgent cautions about invading Iraq from an array of experts who included historians, political scientists, anthropologists, military officers and diplomats.

They were scattered around the State Department, the Pentagon and the C.I.A. Many questioned the ability of Americans to bring about a swift transition to democracy in Iraq.

Such caution expresses one of the virtues of a genuine conservatism: respect for limits. How little the Bush administration deserves of [sic] the name conservative!

Donald W. Shriver Jr.
New York, Jan. 1, 2007
The writer is president emeritus, Union Theological Seminary.

A Year Ago