In review: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. HarperCollins Publisher, 2012.

In American Sniper Chris Kyle comes across as a boor. He is more than a little racist and a border-line war criminal. My three-year-old son is capable of a higher level of moral reasoning and complex thought than Kyle is.

Kyle’s cavalier and crass attitude towards the Iraqis does little to convince me that America’s soldiers are making the world safer. If foreigners take his attitude as emblematic of the American ethos, it is no wonder half the world hates us.

Kyle’s vicious and juvenile behavior towards his fellow American citizens is offensive and reprehensible. For example, he claims that he was trained to hot-wire cars by the CIA. His final test was boosting a civilian’s car, joyriding around in it, and returning it unnoticed. On another occasion he and his fellow SEALs demolish several cars in a parking lot. He constantly assaults those he doesn’t find worthy of respect. Chris Kyle was a violent troglodyte who used the mantle of “patriotism” to sanctify his evil impulses. As do all fascists.

Contrary to popular opinion, Kyle was not an honorable man. No honorable man unabashedly lists his priorities in this order: “God. Country. Family.” Country before family -again, that’s fascism. He attempts to modify his priorities (slightly) near the end of the book, but his effort feels half-hearted.

Furthermore, there is no literary merit to this book. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator’s affectation of a Texas drawl is inane. Is it coincidental that the narrator pronounces “Saddam” as “Sodom”? The book’s only use would be to a cultural historian trying to understand the psychology of red-state fascism in the early 21st century.

American Sniper is fascist propaganda and conservatives should disavow it. Americans need to have a serious debate concerning the justice and prudence of the Iraq War. We do not need to mindlessly celebrate a soldier who refuses to analyze the situation, claiming he was only doing his job. Since when did we throw out Nuremberg?


“I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of these united states of America, and to their confederation, guided by natural law, protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.” -the Pledge of Allegiance, as it ought to be  

Children performing the Bellamy salute to the flag of the United States.

Children performing the Bellamy salute to the flag of the United States.

In 1892 Francis Bellamy, an avowed socialist, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.  Recitation of his Pledge was originally accompanied by the distinctive “Bellamy salute,” an upward thrust of the arm in the direction of the American flag.   Over the years, the Pledge underwent various mutations.  Clauses were added and the salute was eliminated, courtesy of Nazi imitation.  Congress approved its current form in 1954.  The phrase “Under God” was the final addition, courtesy of the Cold War against atheistic communism.

Modern progressives lobby for the extraction of the words “Under God.”  Most conservatives insist that this phrase is the lynchpin of the Pledge.  Both fail to understand that the entire Pledge is fatally flawed.

I refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, my conscience won’t allow it.  But rather than standing there looking like a complete tool while others belch it out, I offer my own pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of these united states of America, and to their confederation, guided by natural law, protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.

I hope that my revised version reveals the incipient evil in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I pledge allegiance to the Constitution . . .”

Flags are necessary symbols, but that’s all they are . . . symbols.  And the problem with a symbol is that it can take on multiple meanings.

ConstitutionFor example, some consider the Confederate flag a statement of racism; others see it as a visual embodiment of strict constitutionalism.   Because both readings contain a kernel of the truth about the Confederacy, it is natural to wonder which a redneck is pushing when the stars-and-bars festoon the hood of his monster truck.

When you pledge your allegiance to “the Flag of the United States of America” what exactly are you pledging your love and loyalty to?  Like the Confederate flag, the American flag is a nebulous thing.  Any demagogue can warp the flag after his own image, so long as his demagoguery is couched in patriotic rhetoric.  Does the flag provide an objective standard by which we can judge our leaders’ actions and policies?  Consider the fact that both Republicans and Democrats wear flag pins on their lapels whenever appearing in public.  The flag is a wondrous piece of emotional propaganda by which both parties stamp the imprimatur of patriotism on their every misdeed.

The Constitution, on the other hand, is an objective standard.  Sure, it is imperfect.  Sure, there will always be debate over the meanings of particular clauses.  But despite these flaws, the Constitution serves as a yardstick that government policies must be measured against.  It is easy for a demagogue to usurp the symbolism of a flag.  It is harder to twist the words of the Constitution.  Furthermore, the Constitution provides a touchstone by which citizens may scrutinize their government.  Can a citizen judge the legitimacy of government policy against the flag?

In the Bellamy Pledge, the flag represents empty and irrational patriotism.  The Constitution offers a rational and objective basis for social order.

(This is not to say that it is wrong to display an American flag.  I am only suggesting that the flag is not a worthy object of the Pledge of Allegiance.)

“. . . of these united states of America, and to their confederation . . .”

Contrary to 150 years of propaganda, the United States was never intended to be a nation.  True, the Constitution represents a unifying bond, but it did not negate state sovereignty.  Here’s a simple analogy using a modern parallel:

the states :  these united states :: the United States : the United Nations

Hence, in my revised pledge “united states” is not capitalized, so as to emphasize the primacy of state sovereignty.  The use of the article “these” and not “the” emphasizes that the pluralism of the states underpins their union.

American nationalism OR the children's crusade

American nationalism OR the children’s crusade

By pledging allegiance to the confederation of states, I deliberately reject American nationalism.  I am not promising to uphold the American central government at the expense of state sovereignty.  A confederation is, by nature, voluntary.  Hence, a pledge to respect the confederation is a pledge to respect its voluntary character.  Even were I to allow that confederation to dissolve, I would not be violating my pledge.  Rather, I would be respecting the voluntary nature of the confederation until its very end.

Every person who intones Bellamy’s Pledge to the indivisible nation is promising to forcibly prevent other people -other free agents- from withdrawing from the nation.  By taking the Pledge, a person places himself as a despot over his neighbors.  No word in the Pledge is more illiberal than the phrase “indivisible.”

” . . . guided by natural law . . .”

Did I just omit the Pledge’s shout-out to God?  Well yes, I did.

God is great.  God is good.  I believe this.   But not all Americans identify with the Judeo-Christian tradition.  In America there is a place for Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, etc.  Requiring them to pledge their loyalty to the Judeo-Christian God hardly respects their religious liberty.

That being said, the American Constitutional order ought to have a rational, objective, and intelligible foundation.  This requires some modicum of moral consensus.  This common ground can be found in natural law.  Natural law offers a set of moral principles that are knowable through reason and universal in application.  People may not always agree on the content of natural law, but agreement on the existence of natural law is prerequisite to a public square and common language of debate in a plural society.  As much as Christians might wish it to, Scripture alone does not accomplish these ends.

Thomas Jefferson. Enough  said.

Thomas Jefferson. Enough said.

In order to reach theological common ground, C.S. Lewis wrote about “Mere Christianity.”  America would be wise to ground public debate in “mere natural law.”

The Christian must not think that natural law detracts from the glory of God.  Christians, after all, believe that the source of natural law is God’s eternal law.  From the Christian perspective, natural law represents those moral principles that God made readily accessible to all men.  He created our common ground.  He gave people the faculty of reason, by which to discern the natural law.

Thomas Jefferson was correct, God “must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”  Reason is God’s creation.

“. . . protecting the life, liberty, and property of all.”

For these are the only legitimate functions of government.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with the original phrase “liberty and justice.”  Again, it’s just not that specific.

A group of schoolchildren performing the Bellamy salute, May 1942.

A group of schoolchildren performing the Bellamy salute, May 1942.

In Conclusion

I don’t demand that you,  dear reader, adopt my modified Pledge of Allegiance.  I do encourage you to question the political and philosophical ideas underpinning Bellamy’s Pledge.  Never pledge your love or loyalty to deplorable ideals simply because it is the “patriotic” thing to do.

Do you refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?  How would you amend the Pledge?

Political compromise makes sense if it advances your ideals and values.
Political compromise makes no sense if it slowly drives your ideals out of existence.

Does the Republican Party advance your ideals or is it complicit in their gradual extinction?  Do you believe in voting third party? 

385059Voltaire’s Candide represents the nadir of the Enlightenment and makes mockery of the virtues of classical liberalism.

The first few chapters of Candide offer a few witty criticisms of the Ancien Régime.

Nothing could be smarter, more splendid, more brilliant, better drawn up than two armies. Trumpets, fifes, hautboys, drums, cannons, formed a harmony such as never been heard in hell. -Voltaire (sarcastically) in Candide

However, the book rapidly degenerates into a fantastic catalog of human misery. Published in 1758, Candide presages the destruction of the positive vision of humanity essential to the project of classical liberalism.

‘Optimism,’ said Cacambo, ‘What is that?’

‘Alas!’ replied Candide, ‘It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when everything is worst.’

The book exemplifies the pessimistic and nihilistic view of human nature that modern liberals (often unwittingly) accept.

‘Do you believe,’ said Candide, ‘that men have always massacred each other as they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, bandits, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?’

‘Do you believe,’ said Martin, ‘that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them?’

If the world is as evil as Voltaire suggests, it seems that an escape from the Ancien Régime would only mark the rise of a different form of tyranny.    Candide is prophetic of the failure of the French Revolution’s breed of liberalism. If man is infinitely evil, he is certainly incapable of self-government. Dictatorship is inevitable.

‘For what purpose was the earth formed,’ Candide asked.

‘To drive us mad,’ replied Martin.

Liberalism cannot survive while human nature is deemed irretrievably bad.

JOSH’S RATING: 2/5 stars.

1885I am convinced that when most women read this book they identify with Elizabeth Bennet. However, most women are actually as badly behaved as Lydia, Mary, or Mrs. Bennet. They ought to take the lessons of Pride and Prejudice to heart.

You are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner. -Mr. Bennet to Kitty

I’m not trying to be sexist. Men have ample faults. However, since most men won’t read this book, there is no point in picking on them.  After all, Pride and Prejudice represents feminism at its best:

Do not consider me now an as elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth of her heart. -Elizabeth Bennet

Pride and Prejudice is not a great book because it is a romance. It is timeless because it offers a penetrating and witty examination of human nature.  Pride and Prejudice is a book every rational being must read.  It is one of the greatest books written in the English language.

People themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever. -Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice

JOSH’S RATING: 5/5 stars.

Why do you love (or hate) Pride and Prejudice?

www.randomhouse.comThe Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage,” the latest book from Fox News analyst Greg Gutfeld, is mildly funny but mostly disappointing.  It meanders endlessly.  It lacks a thesis, plot, or purpose.

Granted, there are some funny passages –though few are funny enough to make you laugh out loud.  There are only so many times a man can reference his own drunkenness without sounding like both a bore and a boar.  Stop reminding us that you worked for Maxim UK, Greg!  We bought your damn book; do us the courtesy of not deliberately diminishing your own credibility.

It is strange that Gutfeld labels himself a libertarian.  The only libertarian position he espouses is approval of gay marriage.  His foreign policy is neoconservative and downright simplistic.  Perhaps the moniker “libertarian” just sounds too cool to pass up . . .

Greg-Gutfeld-6345Overall, Gutfeld seems more interested in proving that he’s a cool guy than offering any meaningful political or cultural analysis.  It’s one thing to mock Progressives and whiners.  It’s another to provide positive and convincing solutions.  On this count, Gutfeld fails.

There are a few amusing –if pointless– passages in the book. Gutfeld’s defense of smokers’ rights is admirable.   He astutely summarizes the psychological origin of Progressivism:  “The longer I live, the more I’m convinced the world is just one big high school, with the cool kids always targeting the uncool.” Gutfeld’s only unique insight is summarized in the book’s subtitle: we live in an age of phony outrage.  Still, this observation is simple and obvious –it needs little reiteration.

 If you want something light and mildly amusing to read while watching “Dancing with the Stars,” this book is for you.  If you are seeking laugh-out-loud humor or thought-provoking political commentary, this book will fill you with outrage.


How I felt reading this book. Outraged.

JOSH’S RATING: 2/5 stars.

51yULcb6XWL._AA160_John Horvat II, an apologist for the “Tradition, Family, Property” organization, argues that in order to solve our economic crisis, modern society needs to resurrect medieval values.  This is my brief response.

Return to Order is a polemic produced in association with a Catholic organization that goes by the unwieldy name, “Tradition, Family, Property.”  I am an orthodox Catholic and I know many wonderful people in the TFP, but this book is wretched and harmful. In short, it is not historically accurate; it undermines private property and private enterprise; it promotes a quasi-divine right theory of sovereignty; it is perversely materialistic; and it fails to find a place for pluralism within its social vision.  And these are only some of its egregious errors.

Though it proffers a grand historical meta-narrative, Return to Order is not a historical work.  In his quest to instill the reader with medieval values, the author often uses flowery phrases such as “the marvels of Christendom” or “the benevolent and saintly medieval monarchs” while providing few concrete examples.  Rather than producing a scholarly examination of “the marvels of Christendom” Horvat attaches innumerable favorable adjectives to feudal society or medieval institutions like the guilds: they were infused with a family-spirit, they were charitable, they were humane, etc. There is a remarkable scarcity of footnotes.

On the topic of the book’s ahistorical character, the author contends that, since its inception and until recent years, Americans shared a consensus concerning the nature and mission of America.  One need not resort to Marxist historiography to prove this false.  Does Mr. Horvat remember the Anti-Federalist struggle against the Federalist party?  The institutionalized oppression of Native Americans and blacks?  The WASP oppression of Catholic immigrants? In fairness, Horvat admits that his work is not intended to be a scholarly historical treatment, but a springboard for such research.  Still, considering his expansive and startling claims, this disclaimer seems something of a cop-out.

If you are a modern Democrat or Republican you will find Horvat’s economic prescriptions quaint.  If you believe, as I do, in a laissez-faire free market, you will find his vision insidious.  For example, in his ideal society a sovereign should inflate or deflate currency to level the playing field if one city or geographical area comes upon hard times. Horvat fails utterly in addressing the central claims of the Austrian economists -and there are many Catholic Austrians (I recommend Thomas Woods and Robert Sirico’s books).

Horvat rejects any notion of a social compact, Lockean or otherwise.  He roots political sovereignty in a modified divine right of kings.  He believes a natural aristocracy (similar but not identical to feudal lordship in the past) should rule.  These natural leaders are capable of just and wise leadership because they embody Christian virtue.  Still, his scheme cannot be called a meritocracy because Horvat believes that families will provide a continuity of leadership within the aristocracy. He fails to account for what happens when rulers reject God’s grace. Furthermore, attempting to root his narrative in history, Horvat makes numerous references to St. King Louis IX … but mentions few others. The reader wonders if good King Louis is the only concrete example he can provide.

The book is something of a Catholic prosperity Gospel: if only we believe the right thing (the Catholic thing) and practice virtue, our society will be prosperous.  While virtues such as temperance are certainly necessary and even helpful, one wonders where in the Bible Christ promised to make nations rich if only people behave well.

While not rejecting the industrial order wholesale, Horvat laments the Industrial Revolution, modern mass production, and the decline of hand-crafted and localized production.  He contends that because items such as jeans (there is a full page, color depiction of an evil stack of jeans) are mass produced, they lack the spiritual values of beauty and human touch.  I wonder, if I had a tailor and paid extra for hand-crafted pants, would I really be progressing spiritually?  How is this vision not quasi-materialistic?  In “Return to Order” spiritual well-being is intimately connected to the material quality of our possessions.

Whether you believe that pluralism in society is a good or a bad thing, when proposing a socioeconomic model it has to be taken into account.  Horvat does not, rendering his proposals impotent.

I did not give this book 1 of 5 stars because there are many points that are in line with Catholic thinking.  For example, there is a focus on subsidiarity and family values.  Still, the bad outweighs the good.  If realized, Horvat’s model would restrict free trade and self-determination.  Families would undoubtedly suffer.

JOSH’S RATING: 2/5 stars

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

Contrary to the excited speculation in some Catholic and secular circles, I doubt the papal conclave will will elect an African, Asian, or Third World pope.

In America -because of our particular history and intellectual climate- racial struggle, colonialism, and the political rise of the Third World are at the forefront of our minds. The Church, however, confronts a different question: Where is the Church thriving and where is it stagnating?

Christianity and Catholicism are growing incrementally in the Third World and in places like China. It is shrinking and becoming more liberal in America. It is in its death throes in Europe; the age-old cathedrals are grand as ever, but empty.

Concerned with the death of the Faith in the West, the Conclave will probably pick another European pope, a pope with pastoral experience in the Gomorrah of the Old World.

Furthermore, I doubt the new pope will be Italian. For centuries an Italian pope was necessary, because the Vatican was an independent and expansive state within the conglomerate of Italian states. Of course, the Vatican is still a sovereign state, but it is geographically insignificant and is now less concerned with Italian politics than with religious evangelization. Italy is little more than another First World mission territory.

Of course, this is all speculation. As a Catholic I believe the Holy Spirit is the guiding hand behind the mundane politicking that occurs at a conclave. Transcending history and human vision, He may have other plans. Still, I submit my speculation, based on the idea that the Holy Spirit often works through the mundane.


2012 Reading Journal

Posted: March 3, 2013 in Literature

For the sake of his vanity, the author presents his 2012 Reading Journal.

Title Author Rating Date Completed Genre
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis James Luceno 4/5 stars January Science Fiction/Fantasy
Olympos Dan Simmons 5/5 stars January Science Fiction/Mythology
Horns Joe Hill 3/5 stars February Horror
Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues that Affect our Freedom Ron Paul 5/5 stars February Current Events/ Politics/ Political Science
Dearly Devoted Dexter Jeff Lindsay 2/5 stars February Literature
Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto Mark Levin 3/5 stars February Current Events/ Politics/ Political Science
10 Books that Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others that Didn’t Help Benjamin Wiker 5/5 stars March Political Science/History
Dexter in the Dark Jeff Lindsay 3/5 stars March Literature
What’s So Great about America? Dinesh D’Souza 4/5 stars March Political Science/Politics/Current Events
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse Troy Denning 3/5 stars March Science Fiction/Fantasy
Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith Robert Spencer 3/5 stars March Politics/Current Events/Religion
A Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin 4/5 stars March Fantasy
I Am America and So Can You Stephen Colbert 3/5 stars March Comedy/Politics/Current Events
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins 1/5 stars April Science/Religion/Philosophy/Current Events
What’s So Great About Christianity? Dinesh D’souza 3/5 stars April Religion/Political Science/History/Philosophy
Opening Atlantis Harry Turtledove 3/5 stars April Alternate History
Marx in 90 Minutes Bernard Sternsher 2/5 stars April History/Political Philosophy/Biography
Rousseau in 90 Minutes Paul Strathern 2/5 stars April History/Political Philosophy/Biography
Blood Oath: The President’s Vampire Christopher Farnsworth 3/5 stars April Horror/Political Fiction
The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Jefferson David Barton 2/5 stars May American History/Biography
Hegel in 90 Minutes Paul Strathern 1/5 stars May History/Political Philosophy/Biography
Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America Ann Coulter 2/5 stars May Current Events/Politics
Dune: The Battle of Corrin Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson 4/5 stars May Science Fiction/Space Opera/Epic Literature
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Sean Williams 4/5 stars May Science Fiction/Science Fantasy/Fantasy/Video Game Tie-In
Heretics of Dune Frank Herbert 3.5/5 stars June Science Fiction/Philosophy
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance Sean Williams 3/5 stars June Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived Paul S. Kemp 5/5 stars June Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
The President’s Vampire Christopher Farnsworth 3/5 stars June Horror/Political Fiction
Red, White, and Blood Christopher Farnsworth 3/5 stars June Horror/Political Fiction
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Outcast Aaron Allston 3/5 stars June Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan   3/5 stars June Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
Race Matters Cornel West 1/5 stars July History/Politics/Current Events
Chapterhouse: Dune Frank Herbert 3/5 stars July Science Fiction/Future History
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Omen Christie Golden 1/5 stars July Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
Star Wars: Crosscurrent Paul S. Kemp 4/5 stars July Fantasy/Science Fantasy/ Science Fiction
A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin 4/5 stars August Fantasy
Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama Bill O’Reilly 2/5 stars August Politics/Current Events/History
Robopocalypse Daniel H. Wilson 3.5/5 stars August Science Fiction
The Great Destroyer: Barak Obama’s War on the Republic David Limbaugh 3.5/5 stars August Current Events/Politics
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three Stephen King 4/5 stars September Fantasy
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss Troy Denning 4/5 stars September Science Fiction/Rantasy
Sisterhood of Dune Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson 3/5 stars October Science Fiction
A Storm of Swords George R.R. Martin 5/5 stars October Fantasy
Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics Should be Libertarian Randy England 3/5 stars October Political Philosophy
Hollywood Hypocrites: The Devastating Truth About Obama’s Biggest Backers Jason Mattera 2.5/5 stars October Current Events/Politics
Hunters of Dune Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson 3/5 stars October Science Fiction
Omnipotent Government Ludwig von Mises 5/5 stars November Economics/Political Philosophy
First Things,  No. 228, December 2012 Various N/A November Various
Sandworms of Dune Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson 2/5 stars November Science Fiction
Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom Andrew Napolitano 5/5 stars December History/Politics
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism Robert P. Murphy 5/5 stars December Economics/Political Philosophy
Anthem Ayn Rand 4.5/5 stars December Literature/Dystopian Fiction/Political Philosophy/Philosophy

Check out this article.  Teddy Roosevelt was not a conservative.  In fact, he was somewhat insane . . .

“Bully Boy: The Neocons’ Favorite President” by Thomas DiLorenzo.