Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Those of my readers interested in politics, and particularly those who share my particular take on the relationship between faith and politics, may find the following interesting:

Aaron Menikoff reviews Francis J. Beckwith's Politics for Christians: Statecraft As Soulcraft, providing this summary of its contents:
...Beckwith argues that because morality is at the heart of society, explicitly Christian arguments should be made and welcomed in the public sphere. After an introductory chapter examining what it means to study politics, Beckwith gets to the meat of the book. First, he argues that Christians are obligated to work for the common good. In that sense, they should be Christian citizens. Second, he argues that the First Amendment is in place to protect religious liberty, which includes granting Christians the freedom to make a religious case for their policy views. Third, Beckwith argues that there is no such thing as a neutral state. Advocates of secular liberalism are, in reality, sectarian since secular liberalism “presupposes and entails its own understanding of liberty and the human good that answer precisely the same philosophical questions that the so-called sectarian views answer” (143). This is a great chapter—clear, concise, helpful for someone tempted to leave faith out of policy decisions. Finally, he argues that the very existence of the “common good” is overwhelming evidence for the existence of God.

Like Richard John Neuhaus in The Naked Public Square, Beckwith helpfully strips away the misguided notion that religious motivations ruin the intellectual credibility of political and legal arguments. .... [more]
10 Books Every Conservative Must Read: Plus Four Not to Miss and One Impostor. One of the commenters provides the following list of the ten and the others [I might suggest that other versions of Scripture would serve]. I hope the ringer is obvious. Apart from that one, it looks like a pretty good list to me:
Aristotle's Politics
Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton
The New Science of Politics, by Eric Voegelin
The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
The Federalist Papers
The Anti-Federalists
The Servile State, by Hilaire Belloc
The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek

And the four not to be missed (and one impostor) are:
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jerusalem Bible
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
On the broad question of what social science can tell us that is relevant to public policy, Jim Manzi in "What Social Science Does—and Doesn't—Know" explains why social science's contribution is bound to be limited:
.... Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs.

The missing ingredient is controlled experimentation, which is what allows science positively to settle certain kinds of debates. How do we know that our physical theories concerning the wing are true? In the end, not because of equations on blackboards or compelling speeches by famous physicists but because airplanes stay up. Social scientists may make claims as fascinating and counterintuitive as the proposition that a heavy piece of machinery can fly, but these claims are frequently untested by experiment....

Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science. The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest. ....

It is tempting to argue that we are at the beginning of an experimental revolution in social science that will ultimately lead to unimaginable discoveries. But we should be skeptical of that argument. The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it has moved through topics of increasing complexity. Physics was entirely transformed. Therapeutic biology had higher causal density, but it could often rely on the assumption of uniform biological response to generalize findings reliably from randomized trials. The even higher causal densities in social sciences make generalization from even properly randomized experiments hazardous. It would likely require the reduction of social science to biology to accomplish a true revolution in our understanding of human society—and that remains, as yet, beyond the grasp of science.

At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can. [more]
Politics for Christians - TGC Reviews, What Social Science Does--and Doesn't--Know by Jim Manzi, City Journal Summer 2010