Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blog Interviews: Greg R. Lawson

For this edition of Blog Interviews the Liberty Pen is providing a conservative Republican perspective. As you remember, the last interview was centered around a Libertarian viewpoint from Mr. David Colborne. Therefore, it would only be fair to purvey a position that is different with regards to political philosophy. I hope you enjoy the interview.

tLP: Please describe for us your political orientation and why is it important to you?

Mr. Lawson: I consider myself a conservative Republican. That said, I do not believe I must adhere to a standard order litmus test in order to carry that label. I am pro-second amendment, pro-life, pro vouchers and charter schools, and for the most part a Friedman like supply sider, though my concerns over the deficit have become more pronounced for obvious reasons. Additionally, I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit and cannot abide the notion that it must be crushed by a weighty governmental apparatus made up of an interminable bureaucracy.

However, I also believe that tradition is extremely important and believe that the constant turmoil and “creative destruction” brought about through the free market can bring its own set of ills, in particular, reckless consumerism that denies man the opportunity to engage in his higher virtues. Consequently, I am open to the use of limited governmental regulation to establish a framework within which those activities can thrive without becoming the sine qua non of all human endeavors. I am definitely not a libertarian in that respect.

Additionally, I am in no way an isolationist. I believe in robust global engagement. I think we have gone too far down the road with technology and communications to ever be able to bottle up the need for intensive interaction. This is especially true given what I now perceive to be the imminent danger of nuclear proliferation run amok.

With that in mind, I believe the United States by virtue of its power position in the world is the “grand stabilizer.” This does not mean it never errs and does not, in fact, create a certain degree of instability on a case by case basis ( Vietnam , Iraq as examples), but that our presence around the world does mitigate the tendencies of other nations to seek to become overtly militaristic as has historically been the norm.

I am a big believer that large causes are important. I believe strongly that we must conserve our “humanity” which I sometimes think is being assaulted on all sides by a blind allegiance to technology and “progress” for nothing more than progress’ sake.

I suppose I am a “national greatness conservative” without some of the over simplifications that have so tarnished it with the sobriquet of na├»ve neoconservatism.

tLP: When did you become active within the field of politics, and what precipitated said action?

Mr. Lawson: I became active in politics during the 2000 presidential race. At the time I was still in college and trying to determine what I would do with life. I recall watching the early GOP debates and becoming mesmerized by the discussions. Amazingly, those early debates seemed much more substantive to me than the later debates between Bush and Gore.

I was further entranced by politics when I attended a McCain rally. At the time I supported his patriotic message and call to a “higher cause” and thought it much more poetic and ennobling than then Governor Bush’s message. I subsequently became an intern in the Ohio statehouse and began volunteering on local political campaigns.

tLP: Is there a certain area of politics that you like most? Could you explain why?

Mr. Lawson: Foreign policy is my favorite political arena. I love world history and find the interactions between states exciting and increasingly important to us on a domestic level as well.

I even have taken the US Foreign Service exam and passed the written section three times, though I could never quite get through Foggy Bottom’s “oral interview.”

At that McCain rally I actually asked him, mind you it was February of 2000, about the Russian concerns over our plans for ballistic missile defense.

tLP: What are some of the most important things you have learned while being active within the political arena? Did it teach you anything new about yourself?

Mr. Lawson: I believe politics is both the best and worst thing there is. I do believe politics can be a noble enterprise and I admire figures like Lincoln, Churchill, and Reagan, as well as classical historical figures like Pericles, Augustus Caesar, and even Cicero.

However, it is also inherently a corrupting occupation. Power, the scramble for power and its actual usage tend to distort one’s views and can often make even the great come off as petty and angry little people seeking to control the uncontrollable.

As for me, I have learned that it has actually expanded my horizons. It has forced me to look outside simply myself, but to look towards the perennial problems of mankind. While politics per se is not the solution to fundamental issues, it becomes a necessary battlefield in which one must be engaged if they wish to leave behind something better in the world than that which they first stumbled upon.

tLP: What activities are you currently engaged in?

Mr. Lawson: I still engage in local political events and I am on my county GOP executive committee. I recently managed a city council campaign and was involved with the 2006 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio where I traveled with the Lt. Governor candidate statewide. I also serve on two local charter school boards as I believe they are a piece of a solution to getting our education system back on track.

tLP: Name one book that you have read that has influenced your political views. What are the key elements of the book and why are they important?

Mr. Lawson: There are many books that have influenced me. I would say the first book that left a large influence, even though I would say I am now fully cognizant of its limitations, was Machiavelli’s the Prince. While the goals of political action are not so much described in his book, I am hard pressed to find a better distillation of how the real world of politics unfolds. The insights are universal because he acknowledges human nature. I also always tell folks that Machiavelli’s central insight that it is “better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both” is often taken out of context. He clearly prefers that a good leader be both. I think most politicians try too hard to be either one or the other and neglect the need to determine the right synthesis between the two. I don't think anyone involved in modern politics can understand it without Machiavelli, even if one looks to other thinkers, be they classical, or more "liberal" to guide them.

tLP: If you have two hours to speak with any person in politics, alive or dead, what person would you choose and what would you ask them?

Mr. Lawson: As a fan of history, this is a difficult question, so I confess I’m going to cheat just a bit and pick two. I would say that for a historical person- I would want to meet Augustus Caesar and from the current time period, Henry Kissinger.

Augustus Caesar I believe dealt with times that are analogous to what we are facing today. He ended a series of civil wars that had consumed much of the Roman Republic and even lead to its practical elimination by his uncle, Julius Caesar. Augustus recognized that the cleavages within Roman society were vast and that there needed to be a healing. A healing that could, in his estimation, best be brought into effect by acknowledging the power of tradition and the wisdom it brought with it.

I would ask him if he sees any parallels to our time and what he would do to forestall any such parallels before we reach the breaking point the Roman Republic came to.

As for Kissinger, I admire his nuance and intelligence. He is, in my estimation, deeply conservative as he recognizes the fact that stability avoids the excesses of dangerous revolution, whether those revolutions are Jacobin/Napoleonic or Hitlerian. For all the criticism of Kissinger’s amorality and realpolitik, I am empathetic to his view that there are untold dangers that are let loose when the passions become unmoored from reality and fly away into utopian daydreaming. Indeed, while he was much different from Burke, I think he maintained a Burkean insight.

I would ask him how we deal with the social structure of America in a way that prevents us from continuing to daydream and becoming increasingly derelict in our handling of the responsibility we have on the global stage.

tLP: Name 3 political issues/problems that we as a people need to be concerned with. How would you fix these problems?

Mr. Lawson: 1) The ever present cult of technology and the worshiping of the individual as the epitome of existence has created a malaise or nihilism that is difficult to confront. While this is a social and philosophical issue; its political ramifications are legion.

It has led to a decline in fertility as individuals divorce themselves from the responsibility of raising future generations. Indeed, I believe we have become a thoroughly materialist and nearly hedonistic society. Sadly, throwing away the family has been a major disaster for America in the social field. It has led to abortion, decayed urban culture, a remorseless and ceaseless need for economic growth that leads to further commodification of humans, the radical growth of our welfare state, and, finally, a postmodern existential angst that saps the willingness of people to commit to anything beyond transient “causes” that are simply distractions.

We have become technologically sophisticated while philosophically and spiritually malnourished. I am not against technology by any means, but I believe the mind itself requires much more cultivation than we now give it. The classical education of past generations, especially our founding fathers’ generation, is almost nothing more than a dream that occasionally, but rarely impacts our day to day living. This is a tragedy. As is said in the book of Mark (8:36), “For what doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?I fear we are soon going to learn.

To remedy this requires a clarion call by leadership to look beyond the transience of the moment and embrace our western tradition, including our faith based tradition. This naturally requires us to revive discussions of faith. Not in the superficial way so much has been done over the past couple of decades, but in a deep and intellectual way. We must force humanity to confront the limits of materialism and begin to rediscover the joys of deeper reflection. In many ways, I find much of the dialog at to be an example of what is needed. There, the discussions bring people in rather than exclude people based on ossified doctrine. They challenge the conventional materialist wisdom and ask us to examine what we long for in the deepest recesses of our souls. The fact that we rarely do this anymore in public life simply illustrates how far we’ve traveled down the path of destroying the very things that historically have made us human.

I understand this in itself is reaching extraordinarily high and may be nearly as utopian as any social engineer’s dream. However, I think until the spiritual malaise and nihilism of our era is directly confronted, all other solutions to problems are “technical” and at best represent band aids.

2) The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As North Korea and Iran continue their march to nuclearization, the cascading impact of this will be felt for years to come. The Middle East will explode with aspiring nuclear powers and East Asia might as well, especially if America turns inward and nations like South Korea , and especially Japan , fear for their security in our absence. The threat of accidents, theft, and terrorism will only grow as more and more nations acquire the technical skills to develop these weapons.

While we do not face the almost apocalyptic scenario we confronted during the Cold War, we do face an increasing likelihood of the loss of a major American city. The psychological blow to this nation such an event would administer cannot and should not be underestimated. I believe we need to begin to consider a new method of deterrence, one that may require us to explore options we thought we had filed away years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

3) Immigration. While I think the fundamental problem of the day in America is the nihilism I referred to above, I think immigration is of intense, if tangential importance. Obviously, the more immigrants we allow to enter this country, the more our profile changes.

Historically, we were a melting pot, imperfect to be sure, but definitely a society that imposed assimilation upon new arrivals. I think we no longer do this. Our worship of “diversity” has blinded us to the fact that too much diversity means cleavages. It introduced competing interests that begin to erode national unity and purpose.

I believe immigration can and should continue, but with the all important caveat that assimilation be a non-negotiable part of any so-called deal. English only is one mandate that should be clear. A rudimentary understanding of American history is another.

I know many would criticize this as “ethno-centric” and, probably chauvinistic, however, if we are to not eventually balkanize, especially along the Mexican border, we have to take this seriously.

We’re a nation founded by immigrants, but it is also a nation founded on political ideals as opposed to blood and soil ties. Adherence to those ideals must supersede any other allegiances. Teddy Roosevelt best expressed my view when he stated,

"In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

tLP: What will our nation look like in 5 years? The in 10 years?

Mr. Lawson: As I write these responses, the hours to the birth of my first child are rapidly ticking away and I admit that I am very afraid of what the country will look like in 5 years and almost petrified at what it will be in 10. If President Obama is successful with his ruinous health care and cap and trade plans, America will never get off the mat again.

We cannot become a nation where government is the solution to our problems. By contrast, it must always remain a necessary evil that can do good, but only in certain ways and under certain circumstances. Obama disagrees. His belief in the nebulous concept of “social justice” actually tears the very communal fabric we should seek to reinforce. I suspect he doesn’t see it this way, but I am firmly convinced this is so.

I further fear that we will not be respected abroad. I fear that we will ultimately face the same problems Rome once did as a thousand pinpricks from abroad accelerate and reinforce the internal nihilism. Respect is different from popularity, especially the kind so touted by President Obama and his supporters. Respect will make a nation that may seek to test your mettle recalibrate such plans when they realize the steeliness of your resolve. Popularity is ultimately meaningless when it runs up against the cold, hard realities of other nations’ interests.

I am optimistic that these negative trends can be ameliorated and/or reversed by a determined effort at cultural renewal at home and a pragmatic, yet forceful projection of strength abroad. I do not envision that my feared scenarios are preordained to happen. America, and by extension our population, has ample opportunity to rectify these downward trends.

In summation, I believe we will either be a bigger “Europe” sliding into a kind of global obsolescence or a newly reinvigorated superpower that can instill true, unashamed pride. Obviously either of those alternatives will come about slowly, but I think the general direction will be clearly discernible by the end of the next decade.

tLP: I would like to point out that you have a blog called, "Greg R. Lawon's Blog," tell us a little more about it and what sort of articles do you like to write about?

Mr. Lawson: I generally focus on two areas, foreign policy, which I think is an area where mainstream media coverage is woefully inept, and philosophy. I tend to shy away from a lot of domestic issues, however, there are some that pop up that are necessary to confront.

I think it’s important to understand the “why” behind what occurs as opposed to just what occurred. Partisan sniping does not interest me for the most part. I find it tedious and more a part of the “game” and theatricality of politics rather than the beating heart of what is meaningful.

tLP: Why did you decide to create a blog?

Mr. Lawson: I had too many thoughts and not enough time to verbalize them, so I committed it to paper so to speak.

tLP: What type of reactions have you received from your readers? Have you had any that were completely rude or spiteful?

Mr. Lawson: I’m still looking to broaden my readership, however, those who have left comments have generally been very supportive and thoughtful. Even those comments that disagree with a view of mine have not degenerated into a vapid mess of name calling.

tLP: What sort of future does your blog have? Do you have any long term goals for it?

Mr. Lawson: As a believer that the fundamental issues are not about race, health care, or even taxation, I think conservatives must reconnect and reformulate our message, and perhaps, our very goals.

Our goal should be to make America live up to its legacy and its nobility. We should not deny individuality, as that is the well trod road towards Hayekian serfdom and worse. However, we also must preserve that which is greater than the individual, otherwise, what really is the purpose of life, besides the feeding of animalistic desires?

I hope that in some small way, my blog can begin this very needed discussion and reformulation.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Lawson for doing this interview, as you will agree, I think he provided his position in an intelligent and cohesive manner. I have asked Mr. Lawson if he would participate in debate style article; a question would be proposed and then each of us would give our answer from our own political, philosophical viewpoints. Look for that article by the end of the month. Until then, please drop by Greg R. Lawson's Blog for a penetrating read and leave some comments.

As of this writing Mr. and Mrs. Lawson had their first child. I would like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to his family, I hope everyone will extend their own felicitations.

In support of other bloggers to share their viewpoints, I would like to offer,
The Conservative Hideout 2.0. Take so
me time and look at this blog,
read some articles, and post some comments. Thank you

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