On Monday, the Lebanese government resigned. Public pressure on the government had been relentless in the wake of two devastating explosions on the afternoon of August 4 at the port in the nation’s capital city, Beirut. The explosions caused at least 220 deaths, 7,000 injuries, billions in property damage, and have left hundreds of thousands homeless. These explosions were caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate ([link removed] ) stored in an unsecured warehouse at Beirut’s cargo port. The ammonium nitrate had been confiscated by the government six years ago ([link removed] ) , and its original owners remain a mystery ([link removed] ) .
Everything the state was supposed to do, it tragically failed to do.
What is most remarkable, perhaps, is that the government of Lebanon has admitted as much ([link removed] ) :
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, announcing his cabinet’s resignation, blamed endemic graft for the explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history and which compounded a deep financial crisis that has collapsed the currency, paralysed the banking system and forced up prices.
“I said before that corruption is rooted in every juncture of the state but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state,” he said, blaming the political elite for blocking reforms.
What former Prime Minister Diab has conceded was something the 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat noticed long ago ([link removed] ) : “The state is the great, fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”
This is an empirical observation of the temptation and tendency of every state unconstrained by limits, the rule of law, and subsidiarity. These principles ([link removed] ) make space for the social institutions and individual rights that make human flourishing possible. Bastiat believed that a state so constrained could serve a salutary function ([link removed] ) but that its realization was difficult. In this way, he is different from those “men of speculative or imaginative genius” who “attempt to admonish or reform mankind by devising an imaginary state.” They, Lord Acton reminds us ([link removed] ) :
remained without influence, and have never passed from literary into political history, because something more than discontent and speculative ingenuity is needed in order to invest a political idea with power over the masses of mankind. The scheme of a philosopher can command the practical allegiance of fanatics only, not of nations; and though oppression may give rise to violent and repeated outbreaks, like the convulsions of a man in pain, it cannot mature a settled purpose and plan of regeneration, unless a new notion of happiness is joined to the sense of present evil.
It is precisely the need for a “new notion of happiness” that makes a robust society of free individuals, diverse institutions, and a vibrant free economy necessary. It is this “society beyond the state” in civic, religious, and commercial life from which Lebanon must choose new leadership and, following the example of Moses in the desert, “select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (Exodus 18:21 ([link removed] ) ). Efficacious political reform can only originate in a society which is beyond the state and beyond corrupt elites ([link removed] ) .
Acton Line Podcast: Rise of the national conservatives with Matthew Continetti ([link removed] )
August 12, 2020
20200812 Acton Line ([link removed] )
The conservative movement in America has always been evolving. From the old right of the progressive era to the conservative intellectual movement identified with William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review to the Reagan revolution to today, the political right in America has changed with the challenges it has faced and with the context of the times in which it has existed.
The current iteration of the conservative movement is today more nationalist, more populist and more skeptical, if not opposed, to classical liberalism, liberal institutions and free markets than ever before – at times even expressing doubt or skepticism about the American founding itself.
How did the conservative movement get here?
On the episode, Matthew Continetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, discusses the history of the American conservative movement, its evolution into being dominated by nationalism and populism, and where it may be headed in the future.
Listen to the Episode
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Pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai arrested in Hong Kong ([link removed] )
People who love freedom and who are committed to the defense of human rights should speak out forcefully against this blatant and egregious attack, not only on Mr. Lai and his family, but on basic human dignity and the freedom that this human dignity requires. Jimmy Lai is a man of extraordinary faith, conviction and strength. He, his family, and his beloved Hong Kong need our prayers now.
New York AG takes aim at the NRA
and the rule of law ([link removed] )
The attorney general of New York state, Letitia James, fired a shot across the bow of the National Rifle Association last week, filing a lawsuit to “dissolve” the nation’s largest gun rights organization “in its entirety.” This punitive legal action is aimed like a Gatling gun at our civic foundations.
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