The RTD States Its Creed

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial pages, on the heels of its year-end self-congratulatory note of Sunday, opens the New Year by publishing its editorial “creed” in today’s edition.

No one can accuse the RTD of simply serving up bland platitudes. What the newspaper lays out is nothing less than a comprehensive philosophy of life, encompassing political philosophy, epistemology, economics, and even theology (as seen in the references to “man’s fallen nature”).

Importantly, the creed also includes claims about the way the world works (i.e., the claims that “capitalism” is simply the sum of individual economic decisions or that the employment relationship consists in “consensual exchange.”) The RTD’s commitment to specific views about what are in large degree empirical questions might appear to be in serious tension with its claim to place ultimate priority on objectivity and truth; if one places highest priority on truth, you must always be willing to revise your beliefs about the way the world works in light of new evidence.

In any case, the RTD has certainly made our job much easier by printing these principles and generating lots and lots of grist for the Richmond Talks Back mill. It would be impossible to attempt a comprehensive commentary on the RTD’s principles in a single blog posting, but over the next few weeks this space will periodically comment on a number of the specific statements in the RTD’s editorial creed.

We’ll start, however, by pointing out a few things that the RTD leaves out of its creed:

  1. Democracy and democratic participation. Freedom is not just about individual choice; it’s about having an equal voice in shaping the laws and social arrangements which govern one’s life.
  2. Equal opportunity. The RTD cites Kant on the dignity of each person as an end in himself or herself. But showing respect for the worth of each person’s life strongly implies that each person should have a meaningful opportunity to develop their own capacities and the same chance as others to rise to positions of authority and responsibility. That in turn requires a substantial degree of social equality, as well as freedom from poverty—two more values which the RTD couldn’t find room for in its creed.
  3. Racial equality and reconciliation. There is absolutely no acknowledgment by the RTD of Richmond’s own painful history of racial oppression and enforced inequality, the manifold effects of which are still very much with us. In short, the RTD says absolutely nothing in its creed about the most obvious and pertinent historical and social reality shaping life in this region.

We could go on, but it will suffice for today to point out those gaping omissions.

Coming later this week: Is there a “capitalist system”?

Published in: on January 1, 2007 at 5:38 pm  Comments (9)  

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  1. It didn’t leave those things out of its creed; it categorically rejected them, singling out “fashionable philosophers [who} took a turn toward incoherence” and the “wordplay of sophists.”

    Of course the paper didn’t mention “democracy” or “social equality,” since it had already stated its value as “freedom.” That’s why the Framers gave us a republic, and not a democracy. “Democracy” and an intellectualoid elite’s idea of “social equality” are inconsistent with “freedom.”

  2. So the conservative view these days is that we can’t have both freedom and democracy? Wow.

    The Framers were great guys, especially insofar as racially exclusive, male-only property owners go, but that doesn’t mean that we should accept as gospel their more limited conception of democracy (or republicanism if you prefer), which regarded nonwhites, women, and those without property as incompetent to vote, which tolerated slavery, and which denied the people (that is, even the qualified citizens) the right to directly elect senators and presidents. Fortunately, democratic practice evolved pretty rapidly beyond the Framers’ original vision in the first few generations.

    Even Madison by the end of his life had a much more sanguine view of popular democracy than at the time of the Federalist Papers. Check out Robert Dahl’s “How Democratic is the American Constitution?” for more argumentation along these lines. (Warning: Dahl, one of America’s greatest living political scientists, is at the very least an “intellectualoid,” though most give him the title of “intellectual.”) If conservatives are offering America a trip back to 1789, I don’t think there will be many takers.

    I also would be pretty shocked if the RTD were to say it was actually against racial equality and reconciliation in principle, in some vague form.

    Whether they are for it in substance is a different question.

  3. Thank you for reading — and responding. Some remarks about your rebuttals and whatnot are here:

    With every best wish for the new year,
    Bart Hinkle

  4. Excellent point. And since UofR also has a past history of excluding certain races, I think all the white professors should immediately resign and give their jobs to a traditionally oppressed racial, ethnic, sexual or trendy religious minority. I assume this will happen the day after Michael Paul Williams gives his column up to a gay Mexican. I won’t hold my breath.

    And as for the Founding Fathers…true, they were not perfect men, as you obviously are, but were ahead of their time AS WELL as restrained by their time. The social order simply was not ready for the abolition of certain oppressive institutions. Kind’ve like if a professor at UofR wanted to go against all the grinning bobble heads knodding in agreement every time some navel gazing woodstock throwback blurts out a mouth full of guilt ridden, race obsessed social justice groupthink. In the current academic climate, such a departure from established theological doctrine would be unthinkable! Just like abolishing slavery would have been in the Founders time.

  5. I totally agree that the Framers were ahead of their time and also constrained by it. My point is simply that we don’t need to be constrained by their time, too.

    As to UR, I’d love to see an honest historical inquiry into its own complicity with/participation in slavery and racial oppression, comparable to what Brown University recently did. It would be long overdue.

  6. You act as though we haven’t made any progress since 1800. Lets not forget, it’s exactly the philosophical foundation laid down by those men that allowed us to be where we are today. There hasn’t been a social movement since then that didn’t use the founders ideas to advance their cause. Their words are the gift that keeps on giving. Not to mention that uttering those words was the same as signing their own death warrant had the revolution gone another way. I can think of few intellectuals today who would put their lives on the line as a matter of principle. Hell, we’re afraid of a freaking muhammad cartoon. And as for picking scabs at UofR, what would be the point? Whats “progressive” about dwelling on the past? Look at what that’s done for the middle east. Hell, Richmond itself is stunted because of so much time squandered obsessing over “the noble cause”. There comes a time when nursing and exploiting old grudges has to stop if we’re ever going to get along.

  7. I don’t disagree at all with your point that the power of the framers’ ideas transcend the specific historical context in which they were shaped and the limited degree to which they were initially applied. But, as the initial comment on this thread argued, it is true that the framers at the time of the founding weren’t really writing a constitution for a mass popular democracy and were in considerable degree frightened of popular majority rule. Ever since that time, however, the system has evolved (by fits and starts) in the direction of more and more democracy–of course we’ve made enormous progress since 1800, and as I indicated in an earlier response, it would be crazy to want to go back.

    That said, it remains a serious question whether the current Constitution is sufficiently democratic and whether it might be time for another round of amendemnts. I suspect Jefferson and others would agree.

    Re history, I don’t think an honest and full recounting of the past is ever a bad thing, though I’d admit it’s possible the process could get hijacked in a way which stirred up resentment. But slavery and racism are not just “old grudges”–they are aspects of our own past which continue to shape the present.

  8. No…WE shape our present. The actions of those who came before us may have set the course, but we’re at the helm now.

    “I’d admit it’s possible the process could get hijacked in a way which stirred up resentment.”

    Thats putting it mildly. There are legions of “activists”….those standing armies of “social justice” advocates…out there desperate to pick a fight in order to justify their bloated sense of moral superiorty. Look at how the faculty at Duke has behaved, especially in the weeks following the first allegations of rape. These low rent scholastic posers didn’t just think the accusations were true, they WANTED them to be true. They even took out an ad in the local news rag all but calling for these poor bastards to be hung. What intelligent person thinks like that?

    You’re right though, in that this behavior is directly connected to our past. It’s a sort of freakish Mississippi lynch mob turned inside out and fueled by intentionally cultivated hatred and vindictiveness. And Duke is not alone. This mentality permeates most of the academic world and is as caustic today as it was 50 years ago when it was used to beat down the very people it’s supposedly helping.

    And speaking of mob rule…

    It was democracy that just gave us the marraige amendment.

    Democracy is one of those ideas that looks good on paper but quickly falls apart once human nature seeps in. Throw in a little old fashioned demogougery and look out!

  9. “Democracy is one of those ideas that looks good on paper but quickly falls apart once human nature seeps in.”

    I like that statement. I mean, really, a lot of us abuse “rights” to the point I think they ought to be taken away.

    Freedom of Speech is the most abused — today’s accepted meaning is far different from what the Framers intended. And that was merely: GOVERNMENT could not jail folks for criticizing the way GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS do business.

    Painting crap with a brush stuck up your arse and then insisting its art? Puh-leeeez. Save it for the Doc at the looney bin, don’t lean on The Framers for help.

    Or what about Jimmy Dean (sausage king) exercising his “property rights” on his land in Varina, several years back?

    I mean the poor victim’s tire blew-out on that country road. He was looking for a place to make a phone call. And Good American Jimmy strolls up with his shotgun, telling the guy he didn’t want to hear nuthin’ about no car troubles.

    And he was full within his “rights” to be a mean bully. Yeah, the Framers intended that alright. Sure.

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