Tom Stringham: Canadian conservatives should embrace urban design

When it comes to ideological wars of words, conservatives often find themselves on the defense. Constantly shoring up the status quo, we fall into a pattern of only reacting to change, neglecting to anticipate and shape it. If we intend to win our battles, we should press our advantage when an opportunity for forward-thinking conservative activism presents itself. Here’s one policy drum for conservatives to beat, at least at the local level: urban design.

The bright minds at The American Conservative magazine have given space to a new conversation about urban design by way of a year-long feature called “New Urbs”. The idea is that America’s cities, and especially its sprawling suburbs, have become lifeless, ugly and isolating. Cultural redemption for a community comes, according to the philosophy of New Urbanism, through a renewal of its physical architecture.

New Urban communities feature businesses and shops in the midst of houses, abundant parks and wide sidewalks, so as to encourage residents to come into contact with each other frequently and develop a sense of community absent in many suburbs. Buildings themselves are designed in a neo-traditional, non-utilitarian style, where cupolas, weather vanes, gables and arched windows are not out of place.

The concept of neo-traditional urban planning is a few decades old, but the practice has not caught on except in isolated patches across North America. In Canada, there are no more than a handful of such neighbourhoods. Where New Urban design has been implemented, it has been local developers that have led out, and often they have faced challenges from municipal governments. In McKenzie Towne, a New Urbanism-inspired neighbourhood in Calgary, developers have been forced to leave apartments above stores empty, because of zoning laws that require commercial and residential properties to be physically separated.

Advocacy for sophisticated, family-oriented urban design at the municipal level is something conservatives will be able to do best, because we believe that economic and cultural activity is best organized at the family and community level. In our heavily suburbanized nation, it’s critical that conservatives do not simply defend their vision of the world in workplaces and college classrooms, but that they also construct it in their own families and neighbourhoods.

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Geoffrey Wale: Palestine Arabs must reject fundamentalism

The conflict between Hamas and Israel rages on and both sides are suffering losses. Families in Gaza and Israel are left in mourning. The fighting goes on with no end in sight. The yearning for statehood is at the root of this conflict. Palestinian Arabs remain stateless, trapped in Gaza and under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Is the use of terrorism justifiable in the drive for Palestinian statehood? In my opinion, the willful destruction of life and property to advance any cause is never justified. However, in the history of the conflict over Palestine, Zionists resorted to terror in advancing their drive for the foundation of Israel. Let me be clear, I am not equivocating Hamas with Zionist organizations such as Irgun.

Irgun was a splinter group from the Haganah–a militia founded in 1920 to defend Jewish immigrants in Palestine–dedicated to armed struggle for the foundation of a Jewish state, maintaining “only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state.” Irgun waged a campaign against British rule in Palestine in an effort to drive the British out. There were attacks on the British Army, sabotage of infrastructure, bombings of British embassies abroad and smuggling of Jewish refugees to Palestine. Irgun was designated a terrorist organization by the British, and captured Irgun fighters were imprisoned and in some cases hanged. In the end, Irgun prevailed: Israel was founded on May 14, 1948.

However, Israel is a modern, secular nation, a parliamentary democracy and signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which crucially, ensures religious liberty is guaranteed in Israeli law.

In contrast, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its goal is the restoration of the caliphate with the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine. The basis of the Hamas Charter is Sunni Islam and Salafism. The Hamas Charter reiterates the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet is the model, the Qur’an its constitution, jihad its path, and death for the sake of Allah its most sublime belief.” This is nothing more than a deadly pipe dream. If there is any hope for the foundation of a Palestinian state in the region to coexist with Israel, the Palestinian leadership must reject religious extremism, particularly the internecine fighting between the Sunni and Shia denominations in Islam. It must also reject terrorism as this only ensures fighting will continue with no end in sight.

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Karsten Erzinger: Where is America?

As I continue to read about the various crises that have recently erupted around the world, two questions keep popping into my head: “Where is the United States? What will their response be?” The answers to those questions seem to be “nowhereandnothing.” While Barack Obama has gone to great lengths to soften America’s foreign policy since becoming President, Obama’s response to recent events have taken this approach to a new extreme. This does not bode well for American allies and for the international community at large. Power abhors a vacuum and if the United States continues to remove itself from international conflicts and shrink its influence around the world, the vacuum left will likely be filled by unfriendly regimes and other bad actors.

Surveying the current landscape it’s not hard to see that the bad actors of the world have become emboldened. The examples are numerous; the Ukraine-Russia conflict, where Russian-backed rebels seem to have shot down a passenger plane, ISIS in Iraq, Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran steadily progressing towards a nuclear bomb, the endless killings in Syria, Boko-Haram, the turmoil in Libya – the list goes on. The United States, under President Obama’s leadership, has been content to outsource and minimize their role in these conflicts by “leading from behind”, calling on vague “international responses”, using “hashtag diplomacy,” or by flat out ignoring the problems. Most recently, American efforts to intervene in the Hamas-Israel crisis has been so ineffective that even liberal-leaning media outlets are mocking the efforts.

As shocking as some of these events have been, they are likely to become the new normal if the United States continues its passive and reluctant approach to foreign affairs. Everyone knows the US wields a large stick, but if they are unwilling to even threaten the use of it, it serves no purpose. The world’s problems cannot be solved solely by economic sanctions or by carefully worded statements delivered via a teleprompter, despite what the President seems to think. The continued reluctance of the United States to engage in a serious manner on these issues presents major problems for those reliant upon them for protection and support.

President Obama’s foreign policy approach has largely failed. He has alienated allies, emboldened enemies and lessened America’s power and influence throughout the world. One can only hope that President Obama has ability to recognize this and implement some badly needed course correction.

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Tom Stringham: “Beta marriage” and other bad ideas

Some neologisms are wed so effortlessly to the zeitgeist of their time that they are all but destined for linguistic immortality, even from the moment of their conception. One week ago, Time magazine acquainted the world with “beta marriage”, a conceptual try-and-buy marriage which can either be formalized or dissolved at the end of a two-year trial period. In a survey of American adults, 43% of the Millennial generation said they would be interested in this arrangement.

The theoretical appeal of beta marriage is simple. If, at the end of the trial period, a couple found they were not sufficiently satisfied with each other’s partnership, they could go separate ways without legal penalty. This is a horrifying idea to the older generation, but to Millennials it is nothing short of intoxicating.

Leaving aside my personal feelings on beta marriage, it’s clear that generation-specific assumptions about marriage separating Millennials from their grandparents are at the root of this discrepancy. The rising generation is the second (after their parents) to believe that marriage is in its essence a union of love and commitment, and that its defining good is mutual personal fulfillment. Previous generations, in contrast, saw marriage as the way that a couple started a family together—love and fulfillment certainly attended healthy marriages, but these things did not identify or consummate the union.

Millennials with the love-centric view find it difficult to make a philosophical criticism of a trial marriage institution—doesn’t love come and go? Can’t commitment mutually fade? In the conjugal view, however, permanence is imperative because the very appeal of marriage is that it binds a family, so that each child conceived will be born and raised by his or her mother and father.

Why are views of marriage changing so rapidly? The study’s author suggests it’s because Millennials are “nimble and open to change”. But regardless of my generation’s personality profile, it would be almost impossible for their views on marriage not to dissolve into near-meaninglessness given their institutional surroundings. The conjugal, child-centric view of marriage is definitionally offensive to an epicene marriage institution.

As the world watches Millennials ask ever more unsettling questions about marriage—why must marriage be permanent? Why must it be sexually exclusive? Why must it be restricted to two? Why must the government be involved in the first place?—some of us will remain entirely unsurprised. Watch for “beta marriage” to stick around in our lexicon, and for worse and more enterprising marital innovations to come.

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Cody Boutilier: How to stop the robot revolution

Yesterday in National Review, James Sherk wrote a staggeringly disingenuous rebuttal to fellow economist Michael R. Strain’s automation jeremiad. The following exercise in flippancy shatters his argument: “almost as quickly as technology has eliminated some jobs, it has created new ones. Like developing smartphone apps (as if the average American worker were capable of mastering advanced computer science). Or shuttling Uber passengers (as if Google’s driverless car won’t complicate that prospect). Or moving inventory in Amazon warehouses (as if stocking and transport can’t go the way of manufacturing).” [italicized phrases mine]

The impending robot revolution places conservatism at a pivotal crossroads. Confronted with the dramatic social upheavals that will follow automation and mass unemployment, conservatives have to decide whether they are first libertarian free marketeers or communitarian social conservatives. Hitherto, capitalism has thrived on the collective benefits derived from Smith’s invisible hand, but when technology fails to replace the jobs it destroys, conservatives must either accept a pronounced degree of government regulation or embrace radical Randian individualism.

It’s true that a robotic workforce will drive down the cost of consumer products to practically nothing, but when most of the human workforce is unemployed, this silver lining is nugatory. Progressives, envisioning an unprecedented redistributive apparatus, herald the New Man to emerge in the wake of obsolesced labor. Considering that more Americans seem to watch the Kardashians than have a working knowledge of the Bible, let alone Shakespeare, a massive welfare regime will coarsen rather than elevate the human spirit. Our hellish, welfare-plagued inner cities should put such utopian speculation to rest. Just as man does not live by bread alone, so does the value of work exceed basic sustenance.

The solution is to ban technology whose steep social costs outweigh its limited benefits. I’m frankly surprised that I’m the first commentator I know of to tend this obvious proposal. If the government can regulate tanks and nuclear missiles, then driverless cars and robot waiters should be no exception.

Questioning laissez-faire economics unsettles some conservatives more than the looming death of human dignity. This is the natural consequence of disparaging social conservatism in favor of libertarian fiscal policy. As social conservatives cognize the adverse consequences of the new wave of automation, they will have to abandon the fiction that humanity can absorb an unlimited degree of technological progress without attendant radical damage to the social fabric. Without impugning the well-meaning Mr. Sherk, it’s worth noting how much libertarians, in their worship of the abstract Baal of Progress and disregard for human impact, echo communists with their omelets and eggs.

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