Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« When the Rubbers Hit the Road | Main | Weighing in on obesity »

May 08, 2005

"The End of Big [Democratic] Government"

From Enkidu, Theologian-in-Residence (May 8, 2005)

Every now and then, I encounter Americans who self-identify as Buddhists.  "Mahayana or Theravada?" I ask.  They never know what I'm talking about.

Really, I don't know very much about Buddhism.  Not enough, anyway.  I know enough to know that I am not a Buddhist, which is more than my interlocutors can claim.

I also know that I am not a Libertarian, and I encounter Americans who self-identify that way even more often than erstwhile Buddhists.  These people almost always vote GOP.  In the past half-decade, a few of them have even accompanied their votes with passionate rants in favor of President W's gang or against the current Democratic party.

Do you know any similar "Libertarians?"  If so, here's a Mother's Day present that I hope you share with them.  It's the May 3, 2005 Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute, a Libertarian (for real!) think tank. 

Here's part of the Executive Summary:

President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years. His 2006 budget doesn't cut enough spending to change his place in history, either.

Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush's first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton's last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush's first term. The Republican Congress has enthusiastically assisted the budget bloat. Inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs they vowed to eliminate in 1995 has grown by 27 percent...

The GOP establishment in Washington today has become a defender of big government.

My own mother's not a Libertarian, by the way.  She's a "Buddhist."


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "The End of Big [Democratic] Government":


I'm not a Buddhist, but I've felt for the past... oh... month? That utilitarianism and Buddhism were different but non-contradictory approaches to the problem of human happiness. Utilitarians focus on "how can we change the world so that we're more satisfied with it, however we already are," and Buddhists focus on "how can we change ourselves so that we're more satisfied with the world, however it already is." I've sometimes daydreamed about writing a book called "From Buddha to Bentham: An End to Suffering" or something like that. Of course, this would require that I actually know stuff about Buddhism, or utilitarianism. And have lots of time. When I tried to write a 50,000 word novel for National Novel Writing Month,, I only managed to write about 3000 words.

I commented on this here:
Bottom line: Republicans spend more money than Democrats AND they are worse on social issues. Any self-aware right-libertarian should MUCH prefer Democrats.

I too find the libertarian right wing, extremely so. More, they are a simple minded lot only slightly different the anarchist of yore. A lot of Techies will tell you they are libertarians but when quizzed it is soon apparent that they know little about anything other their own flavor of technology. Narcissism seems essential.

I think it would be cool to be a Buddhist. Does that make me one?

my father is a libertarian. a real libertarian. he goes to events at cato and attends conferences for organizations with the word "freedom" in them.

oh and PS - he really does not like the good ol' george w. either.

If someone doesn't know, they're probably Mahayana. Sectarianism doesn't have the same importance in Buddhism as in Protestantism; the Buddhist creed (Four Noble Truths) is the same for everyone, the canon is open-ended (and the different sects read each other's stuff), and there's no particular problem with being an unaffiliated Buddhist.

Of course, Buddhist laypeople rank low -- it tends to be a monkish religion, with an elect).

I'm a mostly Democrat voting libertarian.

Just so, you know, don't think there aren't any of us out there reading this. When non-insane independents have a chance, I usually go for them (this of course excludes Nader, on both counts). Sometimes I vote Republican, when there is actually one who believes both in personal liberty and shrinking government, which doesn't happen often these days.

I owe a lot of my political leanings to Hayek and, to a lesser degree, David Friedman.

No real point.

Most of the Libertarians I've known have been deeply committed to the internal logic of their philosophy (and it is a philosophy, as distinct from a political persuasion). They preferred Reagan over the alternatives, but considered his policies a thin gruel of compromise.

In this second Bush, they finally see an actor who can set in motion the chain of cause and effect that will bring about their dream - the complete destruction of the Federal government.

I'll spare you a detailed account, but reducing revenue while exploding costs and embroiling the military in disastrous 'nation-building' adventure(s?) are only the most blatant of his multifarious set-ups.

Republicans with libertarian leanings are perplexed by these policies, but true, deep-thinking Libertarians are delighted, because they have the insight to predict the inevitable results.

Cato has to publish a weak protest or two just to keep up the illusion.

To know Buddhism is not to know Buddhism. One how claims to know the Buddha does not know the Buddha.

John is right. If someone doesn't know the answer to your question, they are almost certainly Mahayana.

This is an unusual thread, Buddhism to Libertarianism as libertarianism is to Neoconservatism...

Of Course I just finished watching a History Channel documentary on how Himmler's SS tried to use the people of Tibet and Lhasa to prove the existence of an aryan master race... Facism to Buddhism. Now there's a mix!

While the estwhile Libertarians might not be aware of the Cato Institutes policy analysis... most of the old Reagan/Goldwater Republicans are feeling equally lost and confused by the Neocons. After all... weren't the defining points of their politics:

1. Smaller less intrusive government.

In fact Goldwater was attacked by the Neocons for being Prochoice. He wasn't proabortion, he just felt the Federal government had no business intruding in a personal decision any more than a considerable number of conservatives felt about the intrusion into the Terri Schiavo fiasco.

2. Fiscal responsibility.

Now as the Cato folks pointed out... Bush has set the record! Record budget deficits, while having record trade deficits, while borrowing record amounts of foreign capital. Creating a financial time bomb that even had Alan Greenspan back peddling and saying the unthinkable... "I never said that I thought The President's tax cuts were a good idea and you won't find it in print anywhere." (No... but you didn't come out and say they were a bad idea either you weasel!)

3. States Rights.

Two words... Terri Schiavo! They tried to over turn the State courts in Florida (even though the justices were conservative Republicans and Bush1 and Reagan appointees). They dread the states and their Gay marriage initiatives.

4. The "Rule of Law."

See item three and grit your teeth. Also change the rules of the House Ethics committee, the Senate, unravel the Bill of Rights with the Patriot Act... and try to stack their own activist judges on the Federal bench with judges that their own Attorney General has critisized!

Enter the new "Lost Generation"... ala Christie Whitman "Its my Party too"... bleet!

Now meanwhile back at the Buddhist...

"Of course, Buddhist laypeople rank low --
it tends to be a monkish religion, with an

1. Buddhism is not a religion... it is a non-theistic philosophy and practice. Mahayana and Vajrayana schools hold him as just a smart man who figured out some things about human existence, the nature of suffering, how to get out of it, and beleive that any human being can do it.

2. Buddhism is not atheistic... He neither affirmed nor denied the existence of God. There are twenty-six questions that the Buddha refused to answer. He was asked which God is the true God and he refused to answer that one saying "it is unsettling to the mind." He also was asked about a personal soul... to which he replied, "I have not seen it." Yet he was said to have recalled 500 previous lifetimes... go figure!

John Paul II called it atheism... so much for Papal infallibility.

In fact I know a man... who is a Jesuit, an ordained priest, and a Zen Buddhist priest (Roshi)... and for good measure he is the Divinity Department Chairman at St. Mary's College in Union City NJ. Father Robert E. Kennedy.

3. All schools of Buddhism practice meditation on the breath. There are minor variations between the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana schools (some eyes shut, some eyes open, some count the breaths, etc.etc.etc.) So you can call them "monkish." There are Benedictine contemplative practices that are similar, where they say the word "Maranatha" on the outbreath.(Maranatha is aramaic for Our lord comes).

4. As to "rank low and having an elect"??? They show respect to teachers, but the highest one I knew always said that he was respected not because he was extrordinary... but because he was ordinary.

They don't believe in a personal "I" as a reality. I went to a Soto Zen practice hall in California once, Kannon-do. I met a man in street clothes and asked him who was in charge... he stopped for a moment, looked thoughtfully, glanced back at me and said "that's a good question" and chuckled. He was the Abbott and a very humble man.

Westerners have a lot of problems with understanding eastern schools of thought, their practices, and traditions. I think that it is because of our own heirarchical orientation and our own aggressive drive for achievment. Sort of like the awarding of belts in the martial arts... in the east you are either a student or a master, belts were created to keep western students interested.

Great post Flint.

If I read the Tibetean Book of the Dead on LSD, does that make me a buddhist?

For that matter, if I read Ayn Rand on LSD, does that make me a libertarian?

It's not surprising that libertarians prefer Republicans to Democrats. Libertarians say they like both free markets and civil liberties, but American libertarianism evidently rose in opposition to the New Deal, not to Prohibition. Furthermore, you'd expect people who were keen on preserving individual liberties to be frothing at the mouth in their opposition to fascism, but instead libertarians commonly apologize for fascist regimes. Finally, libertarians tend to conflate communists who murdered everyone who opposed them, such as Lenin, and socialists who don't give a damn about property rights but improve the state of civil liberties, such as Chavez.

When people ask me "Theravada or Mahayana?" I say: "Zen"

Before you spout off about a religion, you might want to actually know something about it. Go to Japan and ask that question. Zen. Go to Athens or Moscow and ask: "Catholic or Prostestant?" Eastern Orthodox. In the south "Baptist or Methodist?" Church of Christ. Obviously, a buddhist knows all either\or questions are bullshit. There's always a third answer.

In for a penny... In for a pound, as the old saying goes. How about "Political Madhyamika" for a mixture?

Buddhist don't like labels, since they are words and intellectual constructs. Their whole discipline points to conscious awareness before words arise.

I spent most of the last twenty years outside of this country, mostly in Asia and the Pacific rim countries. Where ever I traveled, there was a lot of "yank bashing." but after a while the conversation always got back to "you yanks though, you did it right with your Constitution and your Bill of Rights and all that."

When ever I would come back to the US though, the political polarization was always growing more heated. People would always try to find out what "camp" I was in.

So I asked myself what camp did have anything that I resonated with. I liked the Democrats for their liberal compassion, the "new deal," but I also like the Republican emphasis on self reliance as well. Neither party seemed to live up to their ideals and certainly both machines were feeding at the same financial trough of corporate donors.

So I got motivated and went back and read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the letters of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers. I began to appreciate the wisdom of their approach and the structure of the checks and balances that they had created.

In the Dharma there is a point of view called Madhyamika... The path of no extremes or the middle way. It teaches that, by recognizing the interdependence of all phenomena, one can rid oneself of illusions and perceive the ultimate truth of the Buddha-the Middle Way that is beyond the two extremes of existence and nonexistence.

Federalism began to appeal to me because it seemed that the Founding Fathers set up a system that trusted no one completely and allowed for the emotionally charged passions of the House, but created the Senate where diverging opinions and passions could be resolved through compromise. In fact it locked them in a house where they had to work together or nothing got done... they always had to find the "third option", the middle way. It allowed time to let emotions settle and forced the Senators to consider alternative points of view. By doing this they weren't always right, but they could avoid the really big extreme mistakes that destroy governments.

So when I was asked what party I belonged to I began saying I was a Federalist for lack of a better answer. This had after all made America the oldest Consitituional democratic republic in the history of the world. Pity that the Neocons want to tear it down just to force their own views on others.

As to "rank low and having an elect"??? They show respect to teachers, but the highest one I knew always said that he was respected not because he was extrordinary... but because he was ordinary.

I don't understand your puzzlement. I have lived in Taiwan, where Buddhism is a religion, and where there's a definite layman / monk divide. What I suspect that you are saying is that the religious, monk/layman Buddhism I saw in Taiwan was not real Buddhism. I.E, that those who practice non-religious, non-theistic American Zen, as you do, are the elect.

My point was that it's a mistake to put the bar too high for whether someone should be called a Buddhist or not, and that points of theology or meta-affiliation are a particularly poor way of making the distinction.

I live now in the US, down the street from a Synogoge, yet I claim no real understanding of Judaism without first having studied it.

Flint, I read Chinese. I have read the Diamond Sutra in Chinese, as well as Fa Tsang "Golden Lion" piece, both with commentaries. I have friends who are American Buddhist monks. I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I have a considerable amount of information about the religion, which I was happy to share.

I'm glad that your practice is going as well as it is, but you ought to work on the pomposity and sarcasm aspect of it.

I missed the connection between the discussion of Buddhism in the first half of the post and the discussion of the Cato report in the second.

But the question of what kind of Buddhist you are is an excellent one. How about "practicing"?

as my masters would say... sit more please.

Send your master on over, Flint. But what do you say? I wasn't talking to them.

Practicing Libertarian: "I blah blah me blah blah mine." Total Waste Of Time. Practicing Buddhist: )

Alas... if that were only possible. I started with the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1976 and continued until the mid 80s when he died. He was the the head Abbott of the Surmong Monestaries in Tibet and a Tulku in the Kagyupta lineage.

After that I studied with the students of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in San Francisco. He brought Soto Zen to this country in the 50s. He also is sadly is dead.

I'm sorry if have offended you. If you wish to deepen your understanding of Buddhism and what it is and is not... I would suggest talking to a qulified teacher:

Kennedy Roshi is a Jesuit Priest, a Zen Priest, the Chairman of the Divinity Department at St. Mary's College in Union City, NJ. He has his feet in both worlds and is empowered to teach in both traditions. You would get a far more authoritative answer than I could provide to your questions.

I would say one thing further to you. The Dharma places great emphasis on the three jewels: Sutras, the Sangha, and the practice. They also cautioned us repeatedly not to get to trippy about it and place too great an emphasis on this book or that ritual and some how think that you were being more spiritual. They called it "coffee table Buddhism", some thing that you drag out to impress others and yourself. they always said the "practice" was the key to right understanding.

Again, I am sorry if I offended you and I hope that you will move from books to practice, the marrow. Good Luck on the path.

The comments to this entry are closed.