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Last night the woman and I heard Lech Walesa speak at the university. He spoke through a translator, so some of the rhetorical effect of the talk was inevitably lost, and the topic (something about "democracy in a global age") was altogether banal. What struck me, though, was that Walesa attributed his success, and the fall of the Soviet empire in general, to divine intervention. Needless to say, such sentiment if passe in academic America (in fact, one audience member actually laughed audibly when Walesa used Reagan's "Evil Empire" designator for his country's old overlord.) But Walesa was dead serious about invoking God in the narrative of Poland's salvation from communism and transition to real democracy. His lapel pin, in fact, was a depiction of the Virgin Mary.

Now, Walesa may be of the older generation. Born in '43, he predates the American boomers only by a hair. But his conception of the role of Christianity in the life of the polity is worlds away. Remember the guffaws when Bush's "God told me to invade Iraq" statement was made public? More to the point, every open-eyed American with any connection to academic circles understands that the Almighty, unless under the knife or microscope, is totally last century.

So here's the question: To what extent is our ability to levy moral judgment on aspects of our society contingent on faith? Was Walesa silly or superstitious to cast the Reds as "evil"? Most of us agree that unchecked relativism is no place to be–Philosophy 101 taught us that much. But those of us with no real stock in Christianity seek another sort of framework, no less objective than devout faith, and no less effective in the zeal it inspires, but just…not Christianity. Not any stylized faith. Classical liberalism, combined with humanism, might be a good fit.

Morgan Hubbard

The Economist suggests that America’s public policy has deeper intellectual roots than one might imagine. A cursory glance at one of George W.’s fumbling speeches does not betray any hint of the notion that American policy is eggheadish. But on closer examination we can see that intellectualism indeed is the engine of public policy. As the economist notes:

“[I]t is America that is the land of the intellectuals and Europe that is the intellect-free zone.Look at the Iraq war, and you can see the influence of the dreaded neocons. Look at tax policy, and you can see the influence of the supply-siders.”

This is also true for foreign policy. In 1991 Jeffrey Sachs left his post at Harvard for a three-year stint helping Russia make the transition from Communism. This “government by brains” mentality is now spreading to Europe, where more and more think-tanks are opening each year. This is sure to provide lawmakers in Europe with more informed and more divergent opinions. Plato had it partially right– but in contemporary politics, it takes as many philosophers as you can get.

Daniel Corbett

Everyone's been there. You're sitting quietly, taking in a movie when the person behind you picks up his cell phone and makes hushed conversation during the middle of the film (how polite!). Wouldn't it be great if we could just shut off all these idiots' phones? This is a plan of action many theatre owners are now considering. But as it stands, the FCC prohibits theatres from doing this. And in many people's opinion, rightfully so. Letting theatres jam wireless signals could threaten the freedom and safety of wireless customers, effectively shutting them off from the outside world when the step into the neighborhood megaplex.

 

Jesse Walker of Reason makes the case for markets solving this debate. He aruges that theatre owners will have a disincentive to jam signals. This may be the case, but the threat goes beyond issues of consumer freedom. Here we have the private property rights of theatre owners butting up against the private property rights of wireless providers like Cingular, Verizon, and the like. Allowing theatre owners to jam wireless networks would benothing short of theft from wireless networks who rightfully own their piece of the spectrum.

Daniel Corbett

March 2006
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