Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

European Christian Revival

My father first visited Europe in the early 50's as a recent college graduate with a Master's in geology and money from investigating a gold mine. He was amazed by the richness of European architecture and culture as compared even to NY City and to New England. He was so impressed that he returned to graduate school and earned a second Masters and eventually a PHD in French Intellectual History. My family traveled to Europe almost every year, or every other year, for decades after.

My father and I have long debated the religiosity of Europe. Although my father has great respect for the philosophy of St. Augustine, the agrarian stewardship of the Cistercian monks, and the literary works of Goethe and others... as a confirmed agnostic, leftist, and environmentalist he longs for humanity to eventually mature enough to do away with organized religion and the Christian message of dominion over nature. His best hope has always been Scandinavia with its reported 3% churchgoing population of well-educated and rational eco-socialists.

Last year I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark while studying urbanism with Swedish and Danish architects. Part of my daily commute was a walk through the cemetery of the local Lutheran chapel, a bus ride through the Muslim suburbs, and then a walk past the national Cathedral where the Prince was married and his son baptized. I took week long trips throughout Europe, including Scandinavia and Russia, but also the Middle East and North Africa for a full review of religious architecture and culture.

As I got used to my surroundings and to the people that I lived with, Christian German immigrants, I came to see the issue of religion in Europe as much more complicated. Despite expecting to arrive in a secular nation I was immediately struck by the abundance of religious structures, monuments, and decorations as compared to the US. Of course much of these are merely "left overs" from previous eras (similarly it is difficult to credit Europe with better urban planing as their best environs are also "inherited").

And yet, as an architecture student I was taken to see many new, "modern" buildings, and many of these were churches. Meanwhile, although the churches were not filled every Sunday they were used by nearly every family at some point in their lives, from weddings to funerals, and many national political events. The roots of Christianity are so deep in Europe that many people, on both sides of the Atlantic, often overlook the strength of its hold on the continent (similarly, it is as easy to ignore church teachings in Western Europe as it is to tolerate a garish modern building in the solid architectural fabric of a city like Paris or Vienna).

It is perhaps a simplistic analysis, but Europe gave me the impression a rebellious child. When the US assumed responsibility for economic and military security Europeans turned to the pursuit of sexual liberation and financial success. They responded to the imperialism of their past with multi-cultural tolerance (even adoration) of immigrants and neighbors. Meanwhile, the politicians pursued the abstract ideals of the European Union and International Law, enjoying new found moral authority and political clout, without real concern for backing up these ideas with force (when the Balkans ignited it was the US that tried to put out the fires).

I had frank and honest conversations with several Swedes who admitted that they felt comfortable not spending much on defense as they knew that if Russia ever caused them trouble the US would intervene and they considered Sweden simply to far north to be at risk from anyone else (Sweden has always had a modern military, quite competent, with sophisticated weapons systems... they stayed out of WWII and made a fortune resupplying Europe with manufactured goods). Meanwhile, although they are beginning to worry about their Muslim working class they still assume that their socialist paradigm will eventually absorb them (this faith is beginning to waver in recent years).

I began to suspect that distance from religion was proportional to an individual and a nation's distance from fear and from poverty. I also wondered if the rebellion from organized religion was similar to other rebellions of youth in that it was fleeting and prone to falter as the worries of life in the real world pressed in. As the "European Project" continues and global terrorism heats up I do not expect Europe's religious rebellion to continue much longer.

Another factor that I was aware of, but overlooked, is now being written about in the WSJ... Most European nations have given a monopoly, or at least state supported dominance, to one faith in particular. In Ireland, Spain, Poland, and Italy it is Catholicism (these nations also rank just as religious or more than the US). In England it is the Anglican church, while in Germany and Scandinavia it is Lutheranism. In the Baltics, the Balkans, Russia, and Greece it is the Eastern Orthodox church.

Some experts blame this constriction of religious choice for low attendance by the people (around 20%). They note that any monopoly eventually gets lazy and their poor service eventually drives away customers. They point to the abundance of religious options in the US to explain its continued high attendance numbers (around 50%) despite similar levels of modernity, wealth, and education as Europe.

They might also point out that Socialist governments actively discourage church attendance... as these regimes falter in the face of global economics and local demographics the church has been making a comeback. In Russia church attendance has boomed since the Soviet collapse. Churches have been retaking their lands and attendance has risen to near 70%. A quiet Christian majority was waiting for a better political climate in Russia and the same may be true in Scandinavia.

When a Swedish hotel chain pulled the Bibles out of its rooms a public letter writing campaign and boycott rose up in protest. Surprised, the chain took in over 10,000 Bibles as a gift from the Gideon Society and restocked its rooms. Eva Hamberg, a professor at Lund University (just north of Copenhagen, Denmark and where one of my instructors also taught), looks at recent data and concludes that although Europeans are deserting established churches, "this does not mean they are not religious."

Perhaps some European are "stealth Christians"... The family that I lived with in Germany wore no obvious Christian jewelry, nor did they decorate their home with symbols of their faith. They would have checked "do not attend" on national surveys of attendance in the state supported Lutheran Church. And yet they said grace before every meal, hosted weekly bible readings in their living room, and rarely missed Sunday services.

My host family were members of an American style "Christian" congregation. They met not in a church, but in an old theatre in a suburban business district. Many of their members were recent immigrants from other European countries and their numbers were growing. While I was there they bought their building and were looking to remodel it with a new sanctuary and several apartments for its members.

The most recent data from Europe finds that evangelical churches from America, such as the Pentecosts, are seeing a quiet surge. While they may not meet in the grand old stone cathedrals their members feel a deep connection to their faith and to their roots as members of Western Civilization. Visitors praise the new churches for an increased sense of energy and urgency, similar to their American counterparts, that draws attendance even when the old state churches do not.

Europe is facing an increased military threat from Russia - who just pulled out of the Conventional Forces Treaty that limited its troops on the European border. They will also soon face a severe economic recession brought on by an aging workforce and low birth-rates. Thus the traditional forces that once drove people to religion may once again be felt in the secular European states.

During my year in Europe angry mobs of Muslim immigrants burned cars in Paris, France and Berlin, Germany. In Denmark Muslim kids threw rocks and burning bottles at a school and told police not to enter "their territory" in the northern city of Aarhus. Several times I saw police in riot gear respond to immigration protests in the streets of Copenhagen. In the face of immigrants with a strong non-European identity the cultural appeal of religion may become an increasing draw.

The election of conservative governments in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France suggests that fear and poverty are once again European concerns. As these governments begin to loosen their hold on religion and exciting new versions of Christianity become available I wonder how long the European religious detour will last. All those empty church pews may begin filling with worried Europeans looking to reconnect with their national identity and their cultural roots.

From the WSJ article, these quotes:

"I was heavy with spirituality without knowing it. I was touched by the light of Saint Augustine," - Gerard Depardieu (French Actor)

"Lately, I have decided to consider myself a Christian." - Anders Borg (Swedish Finance Minister)

"I am an atheist, yes. An atheist-Christian." - Oriana Fallaci (Italian journalist and critic of religion)

"Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter." Jurgen Habermas (German intellectual and Marxist author).

Photo: King Stephen of Hungary from Wikipedia.

Sean: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere