Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Oligarchy?

A reader recently sent me an interesting piece from an interesting website, Mercatornet which describes its ideals as a sort of Christian humanism, some of it even Personalist sounding . I haven't looked around their site enough, so I'm not endorsing them or anything, but I sympathize with the following description, though I also worry they might be part of the whole elitist "Western Civilization" triumphalist bandwagon (the Mercator Projection itself is, of course, incredibly area-biased in favor of the Global North):
This is what MercatorNet stands for: reframing ethical and policy debates in terms of human dignity, not dollars and cents or political calculation. We place the person at the centre of media debates about popular culture, the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion and law. MercatorNet isn't liberal. It isn't conservative. We don't want to be trapped on one or the other side of the culture wars. If you want a label, try "dignitarian".

How do we define human persons? They are men and women (that's right, nothing in between) who have an intellect to know the truth and a free will. Their bodies express their spirit in a way that makes them unique in the universe. They are not machines, animals, or cost centres, but beings with a transcendent value. They need loving families to flourish. They only thrive in a society whose laws recognise their dignity.

What about God? We believe in God (the editor is a Catholic), but defending human dignity is a task for people of every religion and of none. "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world!" -- that's Shakespeare, not the Bible. Religion adds clarity and conviction to the task of defending human dignity. But the arguments advanced in MercatorNet are based on universally accepted moral principles, common sense and evidence, not faith.

We oppose moral relativism, scientism, crass commercialism, utilitarianism, and materialism -- in short, any ism which reduces persons to ciphers and treats them as soulless machines. We delight in dissecting media cliches. We respond with logic and evidence. We do our best to be civil and courteous.

These are MercatorNet's principles. We apply them with flair and a sense of humour.
The piece in question is the following, in response to the recent Supreme Court nomination:
May 11, 2010

Hi there,

President Obama has just nominated Elena Kagan, his Administration’s Solicitor-General, to the Supreme Court. If she is successful, every single member of the Supreme Court will have attended law school at either Harvard or Yale. The incumbent president studied at Harvard; George W. Bush studied at Yale and Harvard; Bill Clinton studied at Yale; and George H.W. Bush studied at Yale.

Is there no talent outside Cambridge and New Haven? Is it healthy for the American political elite to be nurtured at two exclusive universities? Do we live in a democracy or an oligarchy?

Actually I went to Harvard, so I can claim some expertise here. How that happened, I don’t know. Amongst my forebears was one Thomas Dudley, who had signed Harvard’s charter back in 1650, and I was eligible for a Dudley scholarship. I felt rather like Peter Sellers’ "Birdie Num-Num" character in The Party – utterly out of place. I recall an orientation week gathering with the guys across the hall. After a couple of beers, they started, without any discernable reluctance, to compare their smarts. The first fellow was the top student in New York State; the second had a perfect SAT score; the third was embarrassed to reveal that he was a couple of points shy of a perfect… By that time I had slunk out.

However, subsequent events that year persuaded me that these were not the sort of guys who ought to be running countries, with the possible exception of very small tax havens like the Cayman Islands. IQ isn’t everything. Isn’t it time that the diversity mantra was intoned in the American judicial and executive branches?


Happy reading!
Michael Cook

I think this gets to the heart of a lot of what I have said about the dangers of idealizing "democracy," the great circle jerk of academia and, of course, the Whore of Babylon.

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