Anglo-American civilization according to Blair
the way that Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking before a joint session of the United States Congress, articulates the common civilizational values that join Great Britain and the United States:
Today, none of us expect our soldiers to fight a war on our own territory. The immediate threat is not conflict between the world’s most powerful nations. And why? Because we all have too much to lose. Because technology, communication, trade and travel are bringing us ever closer together. Because in the last 50 years, countries like yours and mine have trebled their growth and standard of living. Because even those powers like Russia, China or India can see the horizon of future wealth clearly and know they are on a steady road toward it. And because all nations that are free value that freedom, will defend it absolutely, but have no wish to trample on the freedom of others.
Ever-increasing wealth, communication, trade, travel? Is that
what centuries and millenia of a common tradition is all about? Is our civilization really as shallow
as all that?
In the eyes of a liberal like Blair, yes. And notice how easy it is for him to switch from his more accustomed left-liberal language—social equality, the provision of people’s material needs and so on—to the right-liberal language more suitable for the hearing of his American hosts—technology, communication, trade, and travel. Both languages convey a sterile, reductive, material view of existence, in which there is nothing higher than human desires and the organization of society to satisfy them to the maximum extent.
What was it that T.S. Eliot said about the character of a civilization that defined by nothing but banks and insurance companies?
Reading Blair’s soulless words, I’m reminded of an older sort of liberal who spoke feelingly about each man having the chance to “run the race of life.” True, Abraham Lincoln’s vision also ran in the commercial, materialist direction that we find full-blown in Blair’s speech. But there was a crucial difference. Lincoln believed in the freedom of each man to improve himself by his own strivings, to raise himself, to attain personal autonomy and the good life. His vision was, at bottom, moral. Blair’s vision is simply one of endless, ever-expanding consumerism, of prosperity for the sake of prosperity, of freedom for the sake of freedom.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 18, 2003 01:55 AM | Send
I listened to the speech yesterday, too. Tony Blair said several disturbing things. Even worse was the hootenanny-like response from the congress. Just look at what Blair said—and what congress cheered:
* Our values are not “Western” values; they’re “universal” values.
* Our best weapons are not our guns but our ideas.
* Whenever people are freely allowed to choose between tyranny and liberty, they choose the latter.
Of course, Tony Blair and the Bush Republicans can only see consumerism as a viable replacement for two thousand years of Christian civilization. It’s all part of a worldview where you manufacture your washing machines and televisions in China, build your telephone call centers in India, and hire near slave labor from Mexico to wash your windows and mow your lawns. In such a world, culture and belief can come off the shelf as well. Thus the continuing fantasy: all you need to do is translate the Federalist papers and the writings of Thomas Jefferson into Arabic or the appropriate central Asian language, water with a few hundred thousand military troops from the USA, and sit back and watch as hundreds of millions of people discard *their* culture and traditions and adopt liberty, democracy, and all the rest.
British New Labour = American Neo Conservatism.
It is revealing, isn’t it, that the neocons’ favorite foreigner is an avowed socialist. Sean Corrigan has an amusing piece on that retrograde site, LRC, about The Guardian’s recent article speculating that Blair (or, as my late father called him, Blur) is off his trolley altogther. HRS
“Lincoln believed in the freedom of each man to improve himself by his own strivings, to raise himself, to attain personal autonomy and the good life. His vision was, at bottom, moral. Blair’s vision is simply one of endless, ever-expanding consumerism, of prosperity for the sake of prosperity, of freedom for the sake of freedom.”
Part of the problem is that once the _political_ domain has been given over fully to liberalism the game is really all over except for the shouting. For some the moral dimension exists and has authority, but only voluntary authority. It isn’t allowed to have any public consequences that are unchosen, that haven’t been consented to via liberal processes. And if something isn’t allowed to have any consequences it has effectively been abolished. The road from Lincoln to Blair is straight, wide, and downhill.
This is not the place for yet another discussion of President Lincoln, but I want to second Matt in one respect. Lincoln’s effective suspension of American constitutional federalism in order to prosecute a war against the Southern states set a dangerous precedent of executive authoritarianism. It is one that many subsequent American presidents (Wilson; F. Roosevelt; in some respects the incumbent, to highlight some) have found useful.
British governments have noticed this elevation of the American presidency, and many prime ministers have been jealous of the American president’s power. Blair is the culmination of the trend, leading the most self-consciously presidential government in parliamentary history. In that sense, Lincoln’s first steps toward an “imperial” presidency helped set a precedent for Blair as well. Blair seems to work at cross-purposes, though, as ultimately he wants to surrender the United Kingdom’s sovereignty to the European Union. Next stop for the Blur: President of Europe? HRS
Note though that the notion — whether true or not — that the authority of the federal government over the states was voluntary was also part of the problem. If someone or some state that is subject to a government can secede at any time, the federal entity is not really a government. Once you’ve abolished the binding consequences of authority in favor of freedom and equality — whether for a group of free and equal states or free and equal citizens — you have effectively abolished politics. It is all over except for the shouting.
I’m not a partisan of either side in the Civil War. Both sides were classical liberals, and the killing was over the selection of unprincipled exceptions.
Blair to Congress:
“Members of Congress, ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit, and anywhere — (applause) — anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.”
Congress cheering the statement that our values are not Western but universal? From which it follows that everything that we are gets reduced down just to those things that are universal, and all the other things about us that are Western and not universal, that are not instantly digestible by everyone in the world, those things are not what we really are and they are to be discarded. THAT is the neoconservative project. For example, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter wrote last year in separate articles that all people are the same, because all people don’t want to be brutalized (true), and all people care about their children (true). From which Podhoretz and Decter concluded that all people in the world are suited for our system of government. (And, of course, our country is suited to the population of the whole world.)
I didn’t listen to Blair’s speech, but to think of Congress actually cheering the statement that ours are not Western but universal values—that is another blow in this terrible period we’ve been through since the Grutter decision was issued on June 23rd. It is as though we have passed some threshold, and things that had been possibilities in the future have now become facts in the present. The threshold we seem to have passed—and I hope a resurgence of resistance will prove me wrong about this—is that the historic form of our society has now explicitly changed to a different form.
Tony Blair, whose government in the UK denies its citizens the right of self-defense and runs a Orwellian “Diversity Directorate” willing to carry out armed raids on on citizens for words they may have used, who is engineering the handover of British sovereignty to an unaccountable regime in Brussels, stands before Congress talking about liberty? Who will they cheer next, Fidel Castro?
Mr. Auster wrote: “Therefore, everything that we are gets reduced down just to those things are are universal, and all the things about us that are Western and are not digestible to everyone in the world, those things are not what we really are and should be discarded. This is the neoconservative project.”
And don’t forget Ben Wattenberg’s oxymoronic assertion that the United States is the first “universal nation.” Living testimony to the notion that a sincere belief that something is so, does indeed make it so.
Talk about Matt’s theory about the power of unprincipled exceptions to draw conservatives to the left! Blair is a leftist. He staunchly supported our country in the Iraq War. I agree he deserves credit, praise, and thanks for this. But our brainless conservatives don’t stop there, they go overboard and make a hero of him, losing any consciousness that he is a leftist.
So, in reward for supporting one unprincipled exception from liberalism, Blair along with his entire leftwing globalist worldview gains the uncritical applause of conservatives.
The catastrophe continues, and all we can do is witness it and speak the truth about it.
Whatever one thinks of the merits of our invasion of Iraq, ordinary Britons were overwhelmingly opposed to it, and remain opposed to British forces’ continuing presence there.
While I understand that Mr. Auster is grateful to Blair for committing British forces despite British opposition, I have to ask a question about what Blair’s job is. Saddam Hussein’s regime was no more a threat to the United Kingdom than it was to the United States. Is Blair’s duty, as the head of the British government, to act in a democratically accountable fashion in Great Britain’s interests or to be a token poodle for American neoconservatives? To me, his willingness to submit to American direction is of a piece with his willingness to subsume his country in the European Union. HRS
As soon as Mr. Sutherland switches into the anti-war mode, be begins reasoning like a liberal, thinking that opinion polls are the true source of “democratic legitimacy” that should determine national policy. The truth, of course, is that the United States and Great Britain are not plebiscitarian democracies. Great Britain is governed by the House of Commons, meaning by whichever party controls the majority of the House of Commons as long as they continue to control it. The Labor Party holds a large majority of the Commons. Blair won a large majority of Commons for the war, including almost all Tories and a majority of his own party. If his own party had been sufficiently opposed to the war, they would have turned against him and removed him as party leader, as happened to Mrs. Thatcher in 1991 over European unification. Alternatively, if the governing Labor Party lost the majority of the whole House on any vote of importance, new elections would be instantly called to elect a new House. There was nothing illegitimate in the way Blair led Britain into war.
Mr. Auster makes good points. Still, Blair only just avoided a Labour back bench revolt, and only because the Tories were foolish enough to back him when they should have seized the opportunity to kill him off. But I digress…
Labour may yet turn on Blair over Iraq, which is one reason why he was over here looking for a veneer of American support. HRS
Mr. Sutherland’s 7-18-03 2:28 PM comments were rash and will be reconsidered. It seems a grave mistake to view the war on Iraq as tainted in some way. The war on Iraq was a pre-emptive knife in the belly. We can’t know the motives of the decision-makers, but we can know the result of President Bush’s sound decision was a victory for reducing the probability of a nuclear holocaust in the West. It is incredible to conclude Saddam Hussein would not have sought and used nuclear weapons against us (the West—Australia, etc.). Saddam enjoyed killing.
The argument that Saddam Hussein was no threat to the West was buried in the rubble of the WTC. If a guy sitting in a cave in Afghanistan can strike the U.S with such devastating destruction, both in lives and economically, it is irresponsible in the extreme to dismiss a fanatical anti-American Arab fascist who had the resources of an entire country at his disposal.
Still, the position that he was no threat is consistent with the paleocon practice of inserting the head into the sand and keeping it there.
“The road from Lincoln to Blair is straight, wide, and downhill.”
Matt uses, once again, the slippery slope argument as to why the Founding and America’s constitutional principles lead in a straight line to modern cultural Marxism.
As has been pointed out before this argument is based on ignoring the fact that America’s system of government worked perfectly fine until the assault on the constitution and our Judeo-Christian heritage that began first under the New Deal and then under the Counter-culture New Left.
It also ignores the fact that this assault has occurred in many Western countries, including Catholic ones, and that therefore blaming the Founding is dubious at best.
Matt claims to love America. However the America he loves does not seem to be the one that most Americans, especially Protestant and Jewish Americans, have loved and fought for.
“Once you’ve abolished the binding consequences of authority in favour of freedom and equality — whether for a group of free and equal states or free and equal citizens — you have effectively abolished politics. It is all over except for the shouting.”
But whose authority is Matt talking about? This gets to the heart of both the Revolution and Matt’s opposition to it. The Revolution allowed Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, to live in relative peace, especially compared to Europe. Lets not mince words here. Under Matts “Blood and Cross” notion of the West, there is no place for the Jewish people, nor is there any place for Protestants who certainly would disagree with Matts Roman creed.
Progress, including political progress and evolution, are not incompatible with Conservatism. From his own words, it would seem that Matt’s notion of a conservative society is pre-Reformation Catholic Europe. Now this is fine if you’re Catholic, but as I said Jews and Protestants both would view such a society with dread, and for good historical reasons.
The genius of the Founding was to allow for individual freedom and religious freedom. Neither of these principles is opposed to a conservative conception of society, so long as they are understood in context with other values. The early Americans understood this. Freedom must be exercised along with personal responsibility and personal virtue.
I am open however to the idea that the Constitution, while not wrong in itself, is incomplete, and that an amendment recognising our Judeo-Christian heritage, and the central place of the Ten Commandments for American law, might well help to solve the problems many traditionalists are concerned about. This would allow for a better constitutional foundation for the country without changing radically the basic thrust of the constitution in favour of freedom, and the principle that all men are equal before God.
The history of Europe is a history of bloody wars between Protestants and Cathjolics, and horrific persecution of the Jews. If we are to avoid the mistakes of that past, we must recognise that Classical Liberalism, and America’s expression of it in the Founding, for all its faults, was a valid attempt to correct the bloody mistakes of European history. What is needed is not a total rejection of Classical Liberalism, but to re-think and re-formulate those principles which are valid within the framework of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
“…therefore blaming the Founding is dubious at best.”
I don’t attribute liberalism to the American founding specifically. The American founding was one event in a whole series of liberal revolutions, and as Mr. Kalb has pointed out it was one of the more conservative of such events.
“…it would seem that Matt’s notion of a conservative society is pre-Reformation Catholic Europe.”
Actually I don’t claim to know what the future holds, except that if we do not repent from liberalism it will lead to our utter destruction.
“…we must recognise that Classical Liberalism, and America’s expression of it in the Founding, for all its faults, was a valid attempt to correct the bloody mistakes of European history.”
I have characterized it more specifically before as a reaction of deists, masons, and other non-mainstream descendents of Christians to the protestant wars of religion. I stick by that characterization. As Jim Kalb says in his indispensable essay “Traditionalism and the American Order”, America is in some ways the most conservative of the liberal polities because it was one of the first explicitly liberal polities.
“What is needed is not a total rejection of Classical Liberalism, but to re-think and re-formulate those principles which are valid within the framework of our Judeo-Christian heritage.”
Here I am not sure what Shawn means. In my view unless liberalism-qua-liberalism — politics with the primary purpose of protecting freedom and equal rights — is utterly rejected, the West will not survive. There is no compromise possible, because to compromise is simply to engage in the ever-leftward dance. It is possible that Shawn means that liberalism is OK as long as it is subordinate to the traditional moral order, but we have shown before how liberalism subordinate to the traditional moral order is superfluous. Therefore the only true liberalism — and the only liberalism worth articulating at all — is liberalism as supreme arbiter over all competing politically authoritative claims. There is no such thing as a tame liberalism.
In the end there is no reconciling Shawn’s position with mine. He is in favor of the liberal revolution and just wants to tweak it. I reject it utterly and call for repentance from it. He will note scary things about persecution of minorities and I will note the abominations perpetrated by liberalism (and the fact that they are quantitatively orders of magnitude larger than anything previously seen). There is no question but that human history is filled with bad events that can be invoked to scare one intellectually away from the implications of any particular world view.
In the end, though, what matters is whether or not my characterization of liberalism and the Hegelian process it follows (which can be derided as a “slippery slope” but I think that doesn’t do it justice) is true.
None of us knows what the future holds, but the notion that it is a return to some past state of affairs doesn’t strike me as very credible.
I will be traveling and unlikely able to respond very promptly; but in the end I think we do have to recognize that either Shawn is terribly wrong about what is true or else I am terribly wrong. There is no synthesis of the two positions. That by itself might possibly demonstrate the utility of completely rejecting liberalism and its Hegelian ever-leftward dance. Where we take a stand is of the utmost importance.
Shawn, you seem to focus your identity as an American on a particular political system. I don’t think that as an Australian I am particularly defined as being a “constitutional monarchist” (even though I think the system works pretty well). It’s hard to define the totality of what constitutes a sense of national identity, but ultimately it comes down to a feeling of belonging to a particular people, with its own shared history, and its own unique culture. It’s perfectly possible for Matt to recognise the liberalism inherent in the American founding and yet love what managed to grow uniquely within millions of American homes over many generations.
Just one further point Shawn. Conservatives in Europe fought liberals for many decades to uphold the principle of an established religion. I think in the long term they’ve been proven right. It might be nice to pick and choose amongst an array of churches, but it leaves society lacking any church with the authority to exert its influence over culture and politics. What institution do we have which is going to defend a spiritual view in the public sphere? Absolute freedom of religion has effectively undermined any real authority of religion, which I expect is what many liberals hoped would be the case. I think a conservative order would ideally be built around an established church (“established church” does of course leave open the possibility of freedom of conscience and non-established religious observance).
“I don’t attribute liberalism to the American founding specifically.”
I meant within the context of America specifically.
“I have characterized it more specifically before as a reaction of deists, masons, and other non-mainstream descendents of Christians to the protestant wars of religion.”
Which is where we disagree, and have done so before. I do not attribute the Revolution solely to “Deists and Masons”, but recognise the reality that a diverse range of opinions and people had an influence, including traditional Protestant Christians. Moreover, not all of the principles articulated in the Founding are modern. Republican Rome and classical Greece also had an influence, so we get back to my contention that you identify conservatism in a very narrow way that rejects significant aspects of pre-modern Western history.
“In my view unless liberalism-qua-liberalism — politics with the primary purpose of protecting freedom and equal rights — is utterly rejected, the West will not survive. There is no compromise possible, because to compromise is simply to engage in the ever-leftward dance.”
The difference between us, amongst others, is that I do not view liberalism as a single monolithic entity that must be rejected in its totality. Liberalism contains some valid principles, as well as some, many of which have a lot to do with Marxism rather than classical liberalism, which are not. This is an issue of separating the wheat from the chaff.
“It is possible that Shawn means that liberalism is OK as long as it is subordinate to the traditional moral order, but we have shown before how liberalism subordinate to the traditional moral order is superfluous.”
This is not what I have said. What I have said is that SOME of the principles of classical liberalism are valid, and that, COMBINED, with a traditional moral order, are a sound basis for society. This comes back again to the fact that I do not see liberalism as a monolith that must either be accepted in its totality or rejected outright. Some of the principles of liberalism have been around a lot longer than the modern liberal revolution, and can be traced back to republican Rome and classical Greece.
“He is in favor of the liberal revolution and just wants to tweak it.”
I think that is a false representation of my views, as I have pointed out above. What I am in favour of is preserving those principles of classical liberalism that are valid, and rejecting those that are not. Again, we are not dealing with a monolith which cannot be tamed, but with a diverse set of ideas, theories and propositions, some of which are modern, and some of which pre-date Christianity.
” He will note scary things about persecution of minorities and I will note the abominations perpetrated by liberalism”
Certainly, but there is no denying that some of the scary things that were common in Europe, (and in places like Ulster, still are), are not common in America, precisely because of the constitutional freedoms we enjoy. The answer to those scary things that result from liberalism is not to return to an uncritical acceptance of pre-liberal Europe. In other words, the answer to modern problems is not to return to old ones.
“In the end there is no reconciling Shawn’s position with mine.”
This is true, and as I have said before, the difference is between that of a Protestant view and a Catholic one. At the risk of starting old wars again, which I do not want to do, I would assert that traditionalist Catholicism is, by its very nature, antagonistic to American political values, and always had been. It may be that in any real sense, traditionalist Catholicism and America are utterly incompatible. A traditionalist Catholic could only be truly happy in an America that had essentially ceased to be American in any sense at all.
Individual freedom is fundamental to the American identity and to American values, and to ask Americans to repent of this is to ask them to cease being Americans.
It isn’t traditionalist Catholicism (or certainly not only traditionalist Catholicism) that is antagonistic to “American values”, if by “American values” we mean propositional liberalism (and leave off work ethic, common sense, initiative, charity, neighborliness, and a thousand other abstract attributes not to mention everything concrete).
Propositional liberalism is antagonistic toward itself, because it is antagonistic toward any discriminating authority. There isn’t anything unique about traditionalist Catholicism except perhaps that (like no doubt other views as well) it has a perspective from outside the self-destruction.
“Individual freedom is fundamental to the American identity and to American values, and to ask Americans to repent of this is to ask them to cease being Americans.”
Government-enforced freedom is a contradiction in terms. Every actual exercise of government power ever, without exception, is an exercise of discriminating authority that restricts someone’s freedom. I am not asserting an external contradiction of propositional liberalism from a perspective of traditional Catholicism. I don’t have to. The contradiction exists within liberalism itself.
As Mark Richardson points out succinctly, though, there is far more to America (and Australia, Mate!) than a bunch of formal propositions and political structures.
“Shawn, you seem to focus your identity as an American on a particular political system.”
“It’s hard to define the totality of what constitutes a sense of national identity, but ultimately it comes down to a feeling of belonging to a particular people, with its own shared history, and its own unique culture.”
The two are not incompatible. This why I reject both paleoconservative and neoconservative ideology. On the one hand, the paleocons see national identity solely in the sense which you speak of above, and reject the fact that the principles of the Declaration of Independence and our constitional principles are also sources of American identity.
On the other hand neoconservatives reject ethnicity, faith and culture in favour of the “propositional nation”, a nation bound by a set of ideas alone. Both of these extremes are wrong. American identity is both ethnic, religious and cultural, as well as centering around a set of political propositions. As I have said before, the split in conservatism between paleocons and neocons has distorted traditional American conservatism, both on domestic issues and foriegn policy issues. The future of American conservatism, if it is to be successful, must be based on a reconciliation between these two camps.
“Conservatives in Europe fought liberals for many decades to uphold the principle of an established religion. I think in the long term they’ve been proven right. It might be nice to pick and choose amongst an array of churches, but it leaves society lacking any church with the authority to exert its influence over culture and politics.”
There are several problems with this. First, some European countries have state churches, and are far more liberal than America is. Scandanvia comes to mind, as does England. So I do not see how having a state church solves anything. Conservative Christianity has not only survived better in America than it has in those countries with state churches, but America is one of the only Western nations where conservatve Christianity has any influence at all. If anything, America’s system of not having a state church has preserved the independence of conservative churches far better than in Europe, and therefore they have far more influence over poltics that European churches do.
But by far the biggest problem would be, who’s church? If you think that establishing a state church in America is possible, then your living in a fantasy land. Americans would never accept it and that includes conservative Christians. Imagine trying to put Baptists, or Mormons or Catholics in charge as the state church. The result would rebellion by other Christians and quite possibly civil war. In other words, we would be repeating the mistakes of Europe, when we have no need to.
Some reasonable points on the churches, Shawn. Of course, I don’t believe in the practicality of choosing a single state church for America now, the question was rather if you already had a long tradition of a single established church would you try to keep it or move to the current situation. Also, you’re right to suggest that the churches in Europe are in the doldrums, even more so than in America. In part, this might be that state support makes a church less vibrant, although I think there are a lot of other factors. For instance, the Anglican church in England has probably suffered by the fact that its bishops are effectively appointed by the government of the day, meaning that its leadership has a limited independence from the ruling liberalism. Note too that there do exist some examples of churches in European countries which did manage to preserve their influence into relatively recent times, such as the Catholic Church in Ireland and Poland.
I agree with Shawn when he says that Catholicism is intrinsically antithetical to the essential principles upon which the American regime is based, that is, the deist, Masonic, individualist, materialist, religiously relativistic, social contractarian, naturalist, rationalist assumptions built in to the Constitution and Declaration, as well as the over all anti-Catholic spirit and ethos of the American Founding.
And since Cathoicism is the Truth (We should be debating that, since all else depende upon the right religion), then it is God’s will that those principles be changed and replaced with Catholic ones. This should be the goal of all Catholic political activity.
Therefore, Catholics should stop trying to fit Catholicism into the conservative or American mold, and get on with the real work of claiming this country for Christ the King and transforming it into a Catholic, confessional state. Perhaps in 500 years we’ll see the fruit, but it will be worth it to see it happen from Heaven.
“Once you’ve abolished the binding consequences of authority in favour of freedom and equality — whether for a group of free and equal states or free and equal citizens — you have effectively abolished politics. It is all over except for the shouting.”— Matt
Can Matt describe what role freedom would play in his ideal state?
“It is possible that Shawn means that liberalism is OK as long as it is subordinate to the traditional moral order, but we have shown before how liberalism subordinate to the traditional moral order is superfluous.” — Matt
When has this been shown? I’m not aware of anyone having made this point. On the contrary, it seems to me the goal of American and Western traditionalists is not to eliminate freedom, but to place it within a moral and cultural order.
“I have characterized [the American revolution] ore specifically before as a reaction of deists, masons, and other non-mainstream descendents of Christians to the protestant wars of religion.” — Matt
This is something of a caricature of the American revolution, and I agree with Shawn in rejecting it. Ellis Sandoz and others have shown the profound Christian elements at work in America in and during the Revolutionary period, as well as the role of the classical heritage.
“Some of the principles of liberalism have been around a lot longer than the modern liberal revolution, and can be traced back to republican Rome and classical Greece.” — Shawn
This makes me think of Cicero, and with his exalted notion of a common citizenship, and the way he balanced a particularist organic sense of the Roman republic with a sense of a universal truth common to all men. I see Cicero as one of the fathers of Western civilization. I’m wondering if Matt would dismiss Cicero as a liberal because of the Stoic elements in his thought.
In conclusion, I think if Matt is going to reject everything about the American government from the start, he needs to articulate some idea of the society he would believe in. My belief is that the essence of Western culture is the balance of freedom and order. From everything Matt is saying, he seems only to favor order, and to leave no place for freedom at all. Let’s say Matt would like to see a post modern version of the Catholic Middle Ages. Maybe he believes people should have no more freedom than they did then; and maybe he’s even right; But if that’s what he believes, let him be clear about it.
Also, I do not share Shawn’s rejection of medieval Christendom. To me it’s the height of true civilization, religion, art. When I’ve travelled in Europe, it is the medieval heritage that speaks to me most deeply, as though it were my true home, calling to me. (Perhaps this contradicts when I said about the balance of freedom and order, I’m not sure.)
Some of the comments on religion above require advisement on whether or how one should proceed. On the one hand, Mr. Auster recently counseled Matt and Shawn to ‘stay away from those religious wars.’ (Although he apparently endorsed a statement earlier made by abby critical of Seventh Day Adventism, which an adherent of that sect might have wished to rebut had he seen it.)
Peter above does have a point when he suggests that the core religious holding of a person really form the root from which all other holdings are based. These differences are not trivial; they have in the past meant the difference between life and death for many thousands. They matter today — often and notably in how one views Israel, among other important topics. But I am unclear, based on the various threads I’ve seen, what the rules and parameters are in addressing these types of disagreements. Clarification would be helpful.
There are no rules here of the kind Joel thought I was suggesting. I said what I said partly in jest, but was also hoping that Shawn and Matt would avoid the kind of all-out clash on the Protestant-Catholic issue they’ve engaged in before (before Joel began posting at VFR). I have nothing against these things being discussed, but, because the positions are ultimately irreconcilable, hoping they can be discussed without being pushed to the point where debate breaks down.
By the way, I am disgracefully “wet” on the Catholic-Protestant issue, as I see truth and falsity on both sides. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to Anglicanism. :-)
As an amendment to my comments on the Shawn/Matt discussion, since I seemed to be disagreeing more with Matt, let me point out that Matt is making a fundamental point that Shawn and all of us need to answer, because it goes to the heart of the political character and fate of America. Matt wrote: “Propositional liberalism is antagonistic toward itself, because it is antagonistic toward any discriminating authority.”
Matt’s phrase calls to mind Lincoln’s statement that the United States was “… a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In response to Lincoln’s question about whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure, Matt’s answer is a firm No. The reason is that such a nation must ultimately be hostile toward any discriminating authority, and so dissolve itself. When Lincoln asserted national authority of the strongest kind to preserve the nation from disintegration, he was, in terms of our discussions at VFR, practicing an unprincipled exception—“unprincipled” meaning not that he was unprincipled, but that liberalism itself provides no principle to explain and support such vitally necessary authority. Yet is it not true that a nation defined in terms of a quest to make all men equal must in the long run become the enemy of itself, because, for example, the very existence of a nation makes non-members of the nation less equal, being subject to authoritative discriminations of a definite kind?
Shawn’s likely answer is similar to my own, that we need to place the equality idea within a cultural/moral structure that will limit its extent. But is that possible? Has it ever been successfully done (i.e., done in a way that lasted for more than a couple of hundred years)?
Speaking of such experimentation, I’m wondering how Fr. Neuhaus is now reacting to the Grutter decision (which officially overthrows the idea of individual equality in favor of race preferences) and the unfortunately named Lawrence decision (which overthrows any idea of America authoritatively embodying moral and religious principles). He’s contantly calling America an democratic “experiment,” even as he remains relentlessly upbeat about the essential goodness and religiousity of America. Well, I would like to ask him, can we say now that—barring some massive resistance to these decisions by the people—the experiment has had some definite results, that the experiment has indeed failed?
Lincoln’s question “whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure,” if translated into the terms of our discussions at VFR, might read as follows:
“Can a nation so conceived and so dedicated nevertheless retain enough unprincipled exceptions from its originating conception so as to maintain itself in existence? Can a nation founded on the idea that all men are equally free nevertheless assert sufficient sovereign authority to prevent men from exercising that freedom to the point of destroying the nation?”
Seen in this light, the war to preserve the Union was not only the greatest, but also the most explicit, exercise of the unprincipled exception in American history.
In other words, the Confederates were radical liberals, trying to take liberal freedom to its ultimate endpoint, while Lincoln was the true conservative, trying to preserve the society from the fatal consequences of such consistent liberalism.
There is a possibility that Mr. Auster has his Civil War example exactly backwards. The Constitution was a charter enumerating (thereby limiting) the powers of the federal government of a republic of states. Nothing in it prohibits a state’s seceding - for any reason, or no reason at all. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments emphasize the reservation to the states or the people of powers not expressly granted by the Constitution - which to say by the states ratifying the Constitution - to the federal government.
The Confederates, whatever one thinks of their motives for secession or their wisdom in trying it, were interpreting the Constitution as written. President Lincoln, in ignoring the Ninth and Tenth Amendments (and many other sections of the document before he was through), was the one applying a radical liberalism, stretching the Constitution to justify forcing states back into the Union that had exercised their constitutional prerogative to leave it. The Confederates were the conservatives, in that they recognized that the federal government was one of limited powers that could not constitutionally compel them to remain in union with other states once they had voted to secede.
That President Lincoln himself realized he was on very soft ground constitutionally is shown by his preposterous inversion of American history: the notion that the Union somehow preceded the states, which is chronologically false, if nothing else.
Another point worth noting is that the Southern states that seceded did not do so to destroy the Union. They compelled no other states to secede. The Confederate states chose to go their own way. They offered no threat to states that chose not to secede, and fought only to repel a federal invasion. HRS
Mr. Sutherland would subsume my discussion of the dynamics of liberalism under a re-hash of the substance of the secession issue. I was not trying to re-open that debate, I was referring to the Civil War in order to make a point relating to a different and larger issue. But I guess one can not even make a passing, illustrative point mentioning the Civil War without having to re-trigger the whole unresolvable Secession debate every time (unresolvable because the debate has already been held in full, and the positions of the two sides are both very well-known and totally irreconcilable). Which is another way of saying that the Civil War cannot be used as material for ordinary historical or political discussion.
It is possible that arbitrary secession was built into the supposed government that the states created. If so, though, then the thing they created was not a government since it had no stable binding authority on the states, no matter what the scope of its supposed powers.
I was only saying I thought your Civil War example got it backwards. Having alleged that, I thought it only fair to say why I think so. Forgive the digression. American history offers unprincipled exceptions galore, without having to mine the Civil War for them (although they are there, to be sure).
Matt raises one of the conundrums (conundra?) about our Constitution. Maybe states were supposed to be free to leave, but as long as they stayed they could not pick and choose the constitutional provisions they wanted to abide by. If so, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition - with a state free to take nothing. HRS
“Once you’ve abolished the binding consequences of authority in favour of freedom and equality — whether for a group of free and equal states or free and equal citizens — you have effectively abolished politics. It is all over except for the shouting.”
With Matt’s compressed way of expressing himself, sometimes it takes a while for his real meaning to become clear. This statement is worth unpacking. How does making freedom and equality the ruling principle lead to the abolition of politics? Because politics means free men discussing together the good of society and organizing society around that good, so that the agreed-upon good will have some kind of public authority, which further means that enforceable discriminations can be made on the basis of that good. But freedom and equality, if taken as ruling principles, cannot allow ANY notion of a common good, let alone its incarnation in authoritative institutions, because that would limit freedom and equality. Therefore liberalism—consistent liberalism—means the abolition of politics.
Real politics means free men discussing together the true and the good by which freedom is necessarily limited. Consistent liberalism means a demand for absolute freedom that must destroy the very freedom to pursue the good, and thus the freedom to have a political order at all.
Expanding on what I said about liberalism meaning the end of politics and thus the end of liberal freedom itself, here is a cogent excerpt from a summary of Aristotle’s Politics at a web site called ClassicNotes. The author is Melissa Moschella.
… Yet there are reasons to doubt that Mill’s typically liberal approach to virtue and the good, based on utility and highly dependent upon the individual, really does provide a framework which can uphold the human freedom and equality which is both the foundation and goal of liberalism.
Mill’s words remind us of Aristotle’s critique of democracy, which provides some insight into this central dilemma of liberalism. Aristotle describes democracy’s defining principle much like Mill: “to live as one wants.” The problem with this principle, however, is its false conception of freedom: “[Democracies] define freedom badly… . [E]veryone lives as he wants and toward whatever [end he happens] to crave,’ as Euripides says. But this is a poor thing. To live with a view to the regime should not be supposed to be slavery, but preservation.” There are two crucial implications of the philosopher’s assertion. First, it is the incorrect definition of freedom, not freedom itself, which is the problem. Second, this definition is incorrect because it leads one to slavery, and consequently even acts as a danger to the preservation of the regime. True freedom, as opposed to democracy’s conception of it, entails one objective end—happiness defined as activity of the soul according to virtue or reason—and necessitates that any manner of action incompatible with this end be considered inferior, for such an action would in fact defeat freedom itself.
One could therefore conclude that Aristotle’s emphasis on living virtuously as the central goal of politics actually stems from a desire to preserve freedom. When examined in this light, Aristotle’s position that “the city exists not only for the sake of living but rather primarily for the sake of living well” and his consequent belief that “virtue must be a care for every city” are actually a means to protect the citizens’ true freedom. Therefore it is Aristotle’s emphasis on virtue, rather than the modern liberals’ emphasis on unqualified freedom, which truly upholds the cherished value of liberty. This view is not unique to Aristotle, but was held by the most renowned ancient and medieval philsophers—Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas and others—who all agreed that true freedom is inextricably connected to the proper end of human existence, and that severing it from this end leads one to the worst form of slavery—slavery to one’s own whims, passions, and appetites.
Mr. Sutherland writes:
“Matt raises one of the conundrums (conundra?) about our Constitution. Maybe states were supposed to be free to leave, but as long as they stayed they could not pick and choose the constitutional provisions they wanted to abide by. If so, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition - with a state free to take nothing.”
If the state was free to take nothing arbitrarily and at any time then none of the decisions of the federal government were binding on the state. If individual citizens had a right of arbitrary secession then I could refuse to pay my tax bill any time I wanted. If the federales (or staterales) ever attempted to extract the tax against my will it would be an act of war. Every tax “bill” I received, indeed any attempt to enforce any of my contractual obligations against me, would be mere suggestion and not actually binding. Thus the federal “government” under this scheme is just a cooperative of sorts. This peculiar United States Cooperative actually has less authority than a grocery cooperative, because at least a grocery cooperative has contractual arrangements (enforced by the government) with its members so that members can’t benefit from its activities and then refuse to pay after the fact.
So I’ll reiterate: even if the southern states’ notion that arbitrary secession was built into the Constitution was 100% right without qualification the result is incoherent anarchy and the destruction of the possibility of binding authority. If arbitrary secession was what everyone unanimnously thought they’d signed up for then they were self-deluded anarchists.
If what they actually did at the Constitutional Convention is get together and say “let’s formally establish anarchy” or “lets make a government with no authority” or some other self-contradictory thing, and then wrote that (or thought they were writing that) into a document, why should any of us today give a moment’s credence to their incoherent nonsense?
Mr. Auster wrote:
“Can Matt describe what role freedom would play in his ideal state?”
Freedom is always distinct from government. Government is exactly those formalisms that authoritatively discriminate, that is, restrict freedom unequally. A government’s particular governing actions (including the ones that are ostensibly part of its self-regulation) are always and everywhere unequal and freedom-restricting, with no exceptions even conceivably possible.
That doesn’t mean that freedom or free choice shouldn’t or doesn’t exist in society. It just means that coercive freedom is self-contradictory, so freedom and equality cannot be a government’s primary purpose.
I think Mr. Auster in part answered his own question with the discussion of aristotlean freedom, though.
“It is possible that Shawn means that liberalism is OK as long as it is subordinate to the traditional moral order, but we have shown before how liberalism subordinate to the traditional moral order is superfluous.” — Matt
“When has this been shown? I’m not aware of anyone having made this point. On the contrary, it seems to me the goal of American and Western traditionalists is not to eliminate freedom, but to place it within a moral and cultural order.”
In other discussions I’ve pointed out that it never makes sense to talk about a particular government action as anything other than freedom-restricting.
Now it is true that a society with a good government — that small formal part of it that discriminates authoritatively — will experience more freedom in the Aristotlean sense than either a liberal tyranny or some other form of tyranny.
“This is something of a caricature of the American revolution, and I agree with Shawn in rejecting it. Ellis Sandoz and others have shown the profound Christian elements at work in America in and during the Revolutionary period, as well as the role of the classical heritage.”
I agree that it was a muddle of reactionary elements and progressive elements, if that is helpful. There may be a substantive difference in opinion as well though. But in any case I don’t identify “American” as meaning “unqualified supporter of X” where X is some historical event, particular formal arrangements, or set of creedal propositions. Shawn requires such an identification in any legitimate American, apparently, although he does attempt to leave room for traditional elements (as do all right-liberals willingly or unwillingly engaged in the Hegelian process, actually).
“My belief is that the essence of Western culture is the balance of freedom and order.”
I think that’s right, and that thinking specifically that government provides for the freedom part is a sort of proto-liberalism. Part of the problem may be that I view government as a rather small thing, involved in the places where the most extreme coercion occurs to be sure but not the source of any emergent freedom or peerdom that occurs.
“From everything Matt is saying, he seems only to favor order, and to leave no place for freedom at all. Let’s say Matt would like to see a post modern version of the Catholic Middle Ages. Maybe he believes people should have no more freedom than they did then; and maybe he’s even right; But if that’s what he believes, let him be clear about it.”
It isn’t so much my attitude toward society in general as toward government in particular. Government is, at an ontological level, discriminating coercion that enforces order. That is what every possible actual governing act entails, without exception. A consistent liberal is therefore reduced to the _reductio_ that governance is evil, and therefore chaos is good. I think it is better to just acknowledge the truth and see where it leads, without kidding myself into thinking that society is a deterministic Laplacian machine whose future I can predict and control like a Demiurge reigning over the big levers of human reality.
Sorry for the hurried reply, I’m traveling and my net access is choppy (unlike usual, when I live in the net!)
Both Mr. Sutherland and Matt have made interesting arguments. Matt said a government is not a government at all if its constitutive parts can leave any time they feel like it. I found that persuasive. But then Mr. Sutherland came back with the riposte that (speaking in terms of antebellum America as he understands it) AS LONG AS a state remains in the U.S., it is obligated to obey the law. Therefore, the U.S. is a government, for as long as its members of their own free will choose to keep it in existence. The right of at-will secession does not contradict government. Mr. Sutherland’s answer could be understood as an application of a pure contract theory to the United States. As long as a state wants to remain in the contract and receive the benefits thereof, it is obligated to observe its obligations, but if it decides to walk away, neither side is further obligated.
Matt replies: “If the state was free to take nothing arbitrarily and at any time then none of the decisions of the federal government were binding on the state.” However, I’m not sure that Matt has adequately answered Mr. Sutherland’s point. I think he’s saying the decisions of the federal government ARE binding on the state, as long as the mutual contract persists. (My interest in the argument should not be taken to mean I regard the at-will theory of the United States as plausible.)
Mr. Auster wrote:
“I think he’s [Mr. Sutherland] saying the decisions of the federal government ARE binding on the state, as long as the mutual contract persists.”
Who enforces the contract? The basic problem is that a functional at-will contract has a governing law, enforcement mechanisms, etc. That is, the contract itself is subject to governance. The southern secessionist sort of meta-at-will contract that allows for an arbitrary exit with no judicial authority to determine who owes what to whom is not really a contract at all. For example, perhaps the southern states legitimately owed money to the northern states to pay for the various commitments (raising an army, building a railroad, etc. for example) that were entered into by the federal government on the assumption that there was in fact a binding (even if at-will) contract. The southern secessionist “contract” is purely a reflection of the arbitrary will, at any given instant, of the one who holds the right of secession. It is in that sense anarchist rather than libertarian, since even an extreme property-libertarian allows for authoritative governance over at-will contracts.
There are some objections to this line of thought, but those objections point to the fact that what is being called a “contract” here is not a contract at all; that is, it is not a clear mutually consensual agreement with governing law, offer, acceptance, consideration, and exit/default terms. Contracts only exist within a framework of governance; they cannot themselves be the framework of governance despite libertarian fantasies to the contrary.
Mr. Auster understands my point. Matt’s questions are good ones. Because the secession of those 11 Southern states was reversed by force, we never found out how a peaceful post-secession would have worked. Had it been tried, I think adjustments and transfer payments of the kind Matt foresees would have been inevitable. I suspect that there would have been a settlement commission of U.S. and C.S. officials to sort things out - maybe that would have led to war eventually? We’ll never know.
One weakness of the Constitution is that it is not explicit about how states may lawfully secede, in contrast to its specificity about amendment, for example. That may be an argument for the impermissibility of secession, against which I would offer the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Under the circumstances, I think a legislative ordinance of secession that complies with the seceding state’s constitution would suffice to bid the United States adieu. (NB: None of this is advocating secession for any American state today.) HRS
Thanks Mr. Auster, for the clarification I was looking for — and I will try to recognize a sense of humour next time. ;-)
Strictly speaking I don’t look to engage in religious disputations. However, since visiting this site regularly I have come to recognize that the core religious differences among those of us here professing Christianity have very practical consequences in our respective outlooks on political questions. And it is a difference that is not a little disturbing.
Certain of our Catholic friends here have made excellent contributions in exposing the evils of modern liberalism, but their alternative is unclear — and what does come through is not something that gives much encouragement.
Matt for example, for whom I have great respect, has often made a devastating and convincing case against liberalism. But what he proposes as the ideal political situation remains a mystery. I am by now very clear on what he is against, but what pray tell is he for? Even in the “No Money On The Right” thread, when he was asked by PMurgos to cite an example of a past government he could point to as his model, (or to give some such explanation,) he resorted to more philosophy without giving a real answer.
Shawn’s statements above deserve consideration. For the record, I share to some extent your judgment on both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. (I don’t consider myself a Protestant.) Both have erred eggregiously in significant ways, especially concerning the Jews and the state of Israel, but much of what you value in our political system must owe its roots to the Reformation.
Religious freedom is not a Roman Catholic construct by any means. The bitter opposition to the Edict of Nantes is proof enough of that. I haven’t heard much from our friends here that would allay concerns on this point even today. Peter’s post above had a chilling air about it.
When you feel drawn to ‘Medieval Christianity’ as you put it, I wonder how much of the visible remains that seem so appealing mask a much darker reality that may be less obvious in our romaticized hindsite. Governments at that time under Roman Catholic sway I don’t think were the sort you would want to live under, especially if you were not Catholic!
But to return to the matter of religious controversy, I agree that there is a typical pointlessness to doctrinal disputes. But at the same time, we have to recognize that with such profound differences at the base of our beliefs, there comes a point where these translate into real political differences of the sort we regularly discuss. Rather than having a ‘religous war,’ perhaps we should at least start looking at how those ‘root’ differences are manifested in our political philosophies and from there look for the commonalities — and also those points where the ‘irreconcilable’ differences that branch off our disagreements may be pinpointed and confronted. So far, I have not been able to do this because, again, I don’t know what many of our friends here regard as the final goal.
There is probably no way to avoid some religious argumentation in discerning this, but it can still be constructive if the practical manifestations of these arguments are kept as the focal point.
I hope I made clear what I’m trying to say, and if not, I blame it on reading too many of Matt’s posts. ;-)
“Governments at that time under Roman Catholic sway I don’t think were the sort you would want to live under, especially if you were not Catholic!”
But in England and Ireland, everyone was Catholic!
Not to take a stand on the Protestant-Catholic thing (as I said, I’m a wet on this for a variety of reasons), but here’s one difference that stands out. In Catholic countries, there are holy places, saints’ shrines, that have a special atmosphere of holiness, coming down through the centuries and still having an effect on us today. There are no saints’ shrines in Protestant countries. They are devoid, stripped. They are missing something. And this is connected with the Catholic idea that earthly life, culture, can express the divine, while for Protestants any such cultural expression is a form of idolatry. So these are some ways in which I am drawn to the Catholic side of things.
Also, I don’t see how one can understand and identify with European culture and civilization, without at the very least a sympathetic interest in and feeling for the Catholic Middle Ages. One of the main projects of Protestant and secular modernity has been to destroy that feeling. To see the Middle Ages solely through the lens of “oppression of minorities” is to see the world through a liberal lens. It is not to see the Middle Ages as they were.
The thing that I most object to about the Reformation is that it didn’t actually “reform abuses,” rather, it trashed all of Catholic Christendom. So the Reformation was in the line of—indeed was the first of—the Western revolutions in which the West destroys its own past and leaves itself stranded in an increasingly barren present.
“But what he [Matt] proposes as the ideal political situation remains a mystery.”
I think Joel answered this himself elsewhere: there are no ideal situations, only fallen human ones. All human systems - structures and philosophies - of governance are indeed human, and thus in some senses fallen. (This includes not just in politics but Church, family, etc.) Some philosophies (like liberalism) are outright evil; in my view structures are formal reflections of philosophy which may explain why my focus is there rather than on formal structural arrangements.
People do always want to know about structure, and it is a legitimate question. It has to be understood though that I would not impose a structure from without on an unrepentant populace in an effort to force repentance. Quite the opposite: I am very much against such an imposition. I think that if there was broad-scale legitimate repentance from liberalism we would see a move gradually away from democratic structures to undemocratic ones. We would retain and restore subsidiarity (or federalism if you prefer). There would be fewer and fewer components of the government subject directly to democratic elections, and more and more structures that reflect heirarchy and subsidiarity. In general the distribution of authority would become more dispersed and heirarchical, and there might even be a king annointed at some point in the future. The king should be able to be overridden (formally or informally) by coalitions of aristocrats, but would himself be the highest single secular authority. No doubt we would learn from the past and attempt to provide nonviolent means to implement these checks-and-balances, means that would be embodied in the rule of law and would establish themselves as authoritative tradition. This sort of check-and-balance among legitimately UNEQUAL parties would be reflected throughout the sociopolitical heirarchy. I’ve described myself as a mild monarchist before — I think there is merit in having a king and an aristocracy because they are a direct repudiation of political equality. A people that has rejected liberalism will therefore naturally arrange itself unequally (rather than having the de-facto heirarchy aside an incoherent assertion of equality, which is what we have now). In some ways this would simply be acknowledging the legitimacy of heirarchy that already exists, while repudiating the liberal philosophy that maintains it and restoring the traditional moral order as its justification.
Finally, over time such a repentance would entail a gradual return to a closer (but never completely overlapping, except perhaps within a limited geographic area in order for the Church to have political autonomy) relationship between the things of God and the things of Caesar. As a Catholic I would naturally advocate what I believe to be the true Church established by Christ in this role; but even a “mere christianity” or some non-Catholic denominational affiliation for the State would be better than the Beast we call liberalism. It is important, though, that the Church’s power be in asserting doctrines of faith and morals, and that the State have autonomy in making prudential judgements. It is just as important that the Church have enough independence that it cannot become just a department or tool of the state, providing lip-service justification to the King’s every act. There can be no “wall of separation” between Church and State any more than there is a “wall of separation” between kingdom and duchy; but a king who can arbitrarily make the duke do whatever he says is no king, but rather a dictator.
So when I say that I don’t know how things would develop structurally, and that in any case they should develop slowly rather than through some top-down mechanistic imposition, it may seem like I am avoiding the question. I am not so much trying to avoid it as to explicitly reject its premeses though. I honestly don’t know what will grow up from the planting and I don’t make any pretense to knowing. That is in God’s hands not mine.
Sorry for the length and any latent obscurity, but I wanted to answer Joel’s quite legitimate concerns as forthrightly as possible. Sometimes full disclosure can get a bit wordy.
Thanks Matt! (Your ‘premises’ disclaimer was not necessary, as I think you made a very helpful answer.)
Also I didn’t mean ‘ideal’ in the “ideal” sense; I meant it within the context of fallen humanity, the best form that could be expected short of the One we’re really waiting for. ;-)
I think there’s much to commend your concepts here. I don’t feel qualified to make a real substantive assesment beyond that. But one thing I would note is that I think your views on equality/inequality do have a Biblical basis. Alot of passages to sort out on it right now, but it might be worth a further mention later.
“That is in God’s hands not mine.”
Indeed. However, He has revealed to us a great deal of what we can expect — pretty much exactly what we’re seeing right now. And the picture only gets worse from here. If the structure you describe above were indeed the best we could do, it would at best only slow down the inevitable.
In fact, until the full redemption of the creation is complete, even the perfect government to come will not be able to reform fallen man. I don’t know for sure how you interpret Revelation/Apocalypse, but there’s something in it that is relevent here so I hope you’ll forgive me another tangent. :-o
When we read that following the First Resurrection, the Lord establishes His Millenial Kingdom, we are told that Satan is bound and imprisoned so that he cannot carry out his deception against the nations. Descriptions of this period abound in the Old Testament, especially Isaiah. The Lord Jesus rules with an iron rod, and conditions reflect the perfect wisdom and justice of His rule.
At the end of this period, Satan is loosed for a season. What happens then is better than fiction. An army is gathered together “the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city…”
Is this not amazing? Even after 1,000 years, when everyone knows who He is, when nations are required to send delegations to worship, when anyone can go and actually see Him personally — yet, when an apparent ‘window of opportunity’ is deceptively presented, man will still make one final act of rebellion against God, who is fully justified in His response: “And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them,” bringing on the final judgment.
I think that the periods we read about where there seems to be a different way that God deals with mankind — with or without human government, with one chosen nation as standard-bearer, and now with the church — He does so to make a full and clear case against fallen man. The point is that no matter how He deals with mankind, mankind comes up short. Even when His Son has ruled!
Thanks for the thorough and illuminating reply, and don’t ever worry about length of posting on my account! ;-)