The good liberalism
comments at VFR on the subject of liberalism could easily lead readers to the conclusion that I define liberalism solely in negative terms, as a destructive egalitarianism and liberationism. But we must not forget the earlier liberalism that motivated and justified the American Revolution, and that is still indispensable to us today: the rejection of unaccountable power, the insistence that, within a political community, power, to be legitimate, must in some manner reflect the consent of those over whom the power is being exercised.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 14, 2003 11:05 AM | Send
Our friend Matt has been taking a break from VFR, but I expect he will tear himself away from more pressing matters to challenge my assertion of a “good” liberalism. :-)
I appreciate the subtle provocation! And I am flattered to have my opinion solicited so overtly :-)
To the extent that there is a non-self-contradictory “good liberal politics” it seems to me that the “liberal” modifier is literally empty of content: one might as well leave it out, and including it only deceives the listener.
Also I would modify Mr. Auster’s account of a good posture toward political power in the following way:
“the rejection of unaccountable power, the insistence that, within a political community, power, to be legitimate, must in some manner reflect the _good_ of those over whom the power is being exercised.”
That is, strike “consent” and replace it with “good”. In a good politics, the point of the politics is not the selfish benefit of the leaders or ruler but the good of the social whole and the individual citizens as persons intrinsically (at least by default) worthy of respect. A good political relation between leader and followers is always paternal, never tyrannical. It would seem more than a little bit of a conceit to attribute these notions to liberalism, although no doubt some liberal thinkers felt that they had personally drawn this wisdom forth themselves from the void, as new thoughts never before thought by previous heirarchical and intrinsically tyrannical Man.
Once one asserts_consent_ rather than the good as an ultimate political standard the devolution into what I call liberalism — which is always and everywhere an evil from which we must repent — is inevitable. That’s the view from under my tinfoil hat, at any rate.
A tremendous shift has occurred over the past 500 years in how we think about politics. It is quite evident from the way Matt defines good politics.
Our fundamental concepts such as the “dignity of man” and the idea that the state exists to cater to the needs of those who are governed are actually new and revolutionary. Mr. Auster is right about the products of liberalism in the past several centuries.
Is the authority of government a divine authority that exists to force man serve God by also forcing him serve the state? Or is it a secular authority that exists to assure that man may serve God without hindrance? Is man’s value in submission to authority, or is his fundamental value in individual autonomy to act as his own moral agent and choose good?
We answer these questions today in a completely different way than we would have before the Protestant Reformation and before the American and French Revolutions. That is our liberalism.
The real danger, of course, is what we see when those ideas are extended to extremes. What happens when individual autonomy to choose good becomes worship of that individual autonomy itself? What happens when the state is seen purely as a vehicle for liberation of man from all authority? That is the modern liberalism.
Our fundamental concepts such as the ““dignity of man”” and the idea that the state exists to cater to the needs of those who are governed are actually new and revolutionary.
Posted by: Thrasymachus on September 15, 2003 12:19 AM
governments exist for the good of men because men are by nature social. it is precisely because men have social needs which governments are able to provide, that governments exist.
the choice or juxtaposition is not between autonomy, (libertarianism) and pantheism (subsuming man into the state), but between these errors and the proper nature of man as God created him.
as matt pointed to, the good of man is not what he has false faith in as being the good, but in his comforming to the Good.
“Is the authority of government a divine authority that exists to force man serve God by also forcing him serve the state? Or is it a secular authority that exists to assure that man may serve God without hindrance? Is man’s value in submission to authority, or is his fundamental value in individual autonomy to act as his own moral agent and choose good?”
Abby has pointed out that these are false dichotomies; of the sort a child might say to his father, I would add. A good father provides both autonomy — in the measure in which an individual child is capable of handling it — and authority. Both of those particular modes of fatherhood (and there are more modes, such as provision vs independence, etc.) can be abused or false — a good father never uses his children as means to his own selfish ends, for example. Liberalism on one view is indeed a demand that all be granted an adult degree of autonomy without any need to earn it. The fact that some teenagers actually are abused and oppressed is held up as exhibit A for the emancipation of all minors of all ages (thus the importance of the oppressed ubermensch in liberal theory). Liberalism is (and ever has been) the institutionalization of the petulant know-it-all teenager, an attempt to simplify institutionalized politics into a tantrum screaming out a claim to an unearned adulthood. In liberal politics the inmates truly do run the asylum.
The notion of the King as father to his people is not some new novel modern invention as Thrasy would have it. Indeed, the idea that it is some new outside imposition rather than the natural state of human affairs is so counterfactual that one wonders how many mirrors and how much smoke is necessary to maintain the illusion on the internal viewscreen.
Part of the problem right now is that the petulant arrogant narcissistic teenager has become the father. It isn’t clear how many generations will be necessary in order for that to be transcended, but barring nuclear holocaust life does go on.
“Liberalism is (and ever has been) the institutionalization of the petulant know-it-all teenager…”
This comment interests me because I have often explained the American Revolution in terms of a teenager’s relationship to his father, though not with Matt’s critical angle. My idea is this. Imagine that a father gave his teenage son every liberty, so that the son was accustomed to making all his decisions for himself and living his life as he chose. Then suddenly one day the father without warning announces: “I am your father, you must obey my every word.” The son is naturally going to rebel at this. That’s what happened between Great Britain and the colonies starting in the 1760s. The colonies had been self-governing as to their internal affairs including taxation for their entire history, and then the king suddenly asserted a prerogative over them that he had never asserted before. Rebellion was inevitable.
Also I am intrigued by Matt’s re-formulation of my definition of good liberalism into a definition of good theocracy (or perhaps “agathonocracy”—rule by the good):
“the rejection of unaccountable power, the insistence that, within a political community, power, to be legitimate, must in some manner reflect the _good_ of those over whom the power is being exercised.”
I do not deny that good, non-liberal government could exist in which the magistrate is devoted to the people’s good, without their actually having any say in the laws over them. I would also venture to say that there is such a thing as good, liberal government, in which legitimacy is based both on the magistrate’s devotion to the good of the people and on some form of popular consent as well.
A couple of comments:
Mr. Auster wrote:
“This comment interests me because I have often explained the American Revolution in terms of a teenager’s relationship to his father, though not with Matt’s critical angle.”
My angle isn’t necessarily critical in the sense Mr. Auster seems to think. There are instances of extreme tyranny in which the sons (governed) should just up and leave the father (current government). There are even instances in which the teenage sons would be in the right to kill their father. Part of the point to the parallel — it is in my view more than an analogy — is that those conditions only occur when something becomes radically disordered. The appropriate justification is NEVER that the father only rules by consent of the sons in the natural state of things, and it is in that contention that the seeds of the liberal error germinate.
“I do not deny that good, non-liberal government could exist in which the magistrate is devoted to the people’s good, without their actually having any say in the laws over them.”
It isn’t as if sons have no say in the governance of the family, as any good father can tell you. So Mr. Auster’s implicit contention, that in an illiberal government the people have no say whatsoever, is plainly false.
“Part of the point to the parallel — it is in my view more than an analogy — is that those conditions only occur when something becomes radically disordered.”
Liberalism in practice becomes a continual imposition of radical disorder. I think the above discussion raises one of the reasons. There has to be a continual supply of horrifically oppressed in the liberal order to justify the continual state of rebellion. If liberals really believed that consent was primary in justifying political power then this constant manufacture of radical grievances would be unnecessary.
I find Matt’s assertion interesting. He sums up my statements as “the notion of the King as father to his people.”
I would point out that it is not only our notion of government that has changed, but also our notion of “father.” The old idea of a father as unquestioned God and King in his own family is no longer believed.
So yes, the idea that of the King as father is old. And it proves me right.
Despite the stimulating comments of Matt, I still agree with Mr. Auster that in the modern world, something of liberal consent is necessary. Roman republican rule was the rule by a hereditary aristocratic elite who were descended from the gods and who had the mandate of the gods to rule. Imperial and regal rule in good premodern societies likewise claimed a divine mandate, which was generally accepted by the subjects of the regime.
I have responsibilities to my father, and he to me, because our relationship is natural and ordered by God. What contemporary political authority could claim or demand such a relationship with me? Another way to put this is to say that the paternal metaphor works only to the extent that it is not really a metaphor at all.
No modern ruler will be able to have the father-son relationship with me because (1) he’s not my dad and (2) we don’t agree together that he is divinely ordained to act fatherly toward me. Thus the necessary liberal solution of sharply reducing the amount of power he has and the nonliberal expedient of praying a lot and hoping things turn out for the best.
While Agricola and I are in agreement on the need for (some form of) consent, I just want to make a passing point about his historical example. The Roman Republic was not simply rule by a hereditary aristocratic elite. It was a mixed government, the official style of which was the Senate and the People of Rome, Senatus Populus Qua Romanus, the initials of which (analogous to USA or UK) were SPQR. The Senate consisted of the nobles, while the People’s Assembly included all other citizens (there were no elected representatives). In an early stage of the Republic, the people had withdrawn from the city in protest against one-side aristocratic rule, the nobles then yielded and gave the People’s Assembly real power in the state. It was this mixture of aristocratic and democratic elements (with separation of powers and checks and balances between them) that made Rome truly a republic, that is, a state that consisted of the various components of the society and not just a king or elite standing over the society.
“No modern ruler will be able to have the father-son relationship with me because (1) he’s not my dad and (2) we don’t agree together that he is divinely ordained to act fatherly toward me.”
But Agricola assumes the conclusion, that the ruler’s claim to earthly authority is predicated on the agreement/consent of the follower. This is manifestly false, though. The current American government has legitimate authority over me - and all Americans - independent of my consent, and I must be obedient to it and respectful of its authority, even though it is terribly dysfunctional to say the least.
On Thrasy’s comment, I can’t see that anything new has been added. It appears to be simply a reassertion of the dramatically counterfactual conceit that a father, pre-liberalism, was a tyrant rather than a caretaker and protector and that it took the intervention of liberalism to turn fatherhood into a morally acceptable role.
liberalism appears to be standing in for consent of the governed, but this is quite contrary to the truth. just as the vicious man is bound by his libertine vice while thinking himself free, and the virtuous man is free because he chooses the Good, so likewise liberal government binds those under it with a false liberty. men are never so bound as when they choose error because error prevents men from choosing their good.
also all governments in some measure rule by consent because any form of government can be removed and a new government established.
the problem is what form of government is best given the circumstances of fallen nature and the widespread error of the modern world. the choice in the modern world appears to between domocracy, oligachy and tyranny because virtuous men very rare. tyranny is to be prefered because the people are less likely to see the good of the state as their good, and the demands or the tyrant are less in number than an oligarchy, and far less than tyranny of many in democracy.
“But Agricola assumes the conclusion, that the ruler’s claim to earthly authority is predicated on the agreement/consent of the follower. This is manifestly false, though. The current American government has legitimate authority over me - and all Americans - independent of my consent, and I must be obedient to it and respectful of its authority, even though it is terribly dysfunctional to say the least.”
Posted by: Matt on September 15, 2003 12:01 PM
first we never have a duty to consent to evil, the degree we abide it is a prudential judgement. the abortion laws are an example of this.
second consent is not in the singular, but in the people sufficient to establish a society. the family may be the foundation of society, but it is not sufficient unto its self.
Matt points out that there are other forms of authority besides the paternal. My argument is that the paternal type is impossible in the modern world. “Consent” is not exactly the point. Not only would I not treat any political authority as a father, but no political authority can be found who will treat me as a son, seeing my well-being as an extension of his in a particular way which is both natural and divinely ordained.
Popular assemblies existed in Rome prior to the secession of the plebs, which was largely a struggle for legal codification and an end to debt slavery. (Also, it’s Senatus Populusque Romanus). I disagree with Mr. Auster’s estimate of the amount of popular power in the Roman state, but I merely mean to suggest that the Romans (ideally) treated their aristocratic elite as fathers, and were in turn treated as sons, because the Romans all believed that their aristocrats were of divine heritage and that the gods had so organized society.
In the modern world we think that aristocrats are “just people.” I’m not able to unthink that, although I recognize the threat of the egalitarian slippery slope which follows from it.
Thanks to Agricola (who from his name ought to know) for the correction. I’ve seen it spelled both “Populus Que” and “PopulusQue” Is there a Latin scholar who can explain the difference?
Also, I didn’t mean to suggest that the People’s Assembly was equal in power to the Senate. But I also hadn’t read before that the aristocrats in the Roman republic were seen as semi-divine or of divine descent.
“In the modern world we think that aristocrats are “just people.” I’m not able to unthink that, although I recognize the threat of the egalitarian slippery slope which follows from it.”
Posted by: Agricola on September 15, 2003 12:36 PM
it is even worse than agricola describes, the people in the u.s. see themselves living in a democracy with the good of the state being their own good. and since we do not have an aristocracy but a oligarchy, what we finally have is a state where the people impose upon themselves the vice of the vicious few who do not will the people’s good.
The foregoing discussion reminds me once again of why I am not a traditionalist, at least as posters here seem to define it.
I truly wonder, as a matter of practical politics, how you are going to limit the actions of a government that is explicitly acknowledged as ruling not by consent but by some definition of the good of its subjects? Who is to define this good? Government agents? Surely you can’t mean that.
Agathonocracy would be far too self-congratulatory for my taste - and far too easily subverted by corrupt elites. I would rather that matters concerning the “good of my soul” be between me and my God and please leave the state apparatus out of it.
“first we never have a duty to consent to evil, the degree we abide it is a prudential judgement. the abortion laws are an example of this.”
Sure. If my father commands me to commit murder I am under no obligation to obey, and indeed I am under an obligation to disobey. There is always a higher transcendent law above every earthly authority.
Also, in my experience people tend to get bogged down in discussion of various structures, typically after having already accepted faulty first principles. My objection is specifically to the first principle that the _moral legitimacy_ of an earthly ruling authority derives from the _consent_ of the ruled. This first principle could presumably be applied under all manner of different structures; in all cases whatsoever it is objectively false. The legitimacy of a ruling authority derives from the fact that God created you with that authority over you. So you’d best obey it, unless you are quite certain, without doubt, that you have been _commanded_ by God to disobey it.
John Purdy thinks that he has escaped the tyranny of a government with a relentless and false moral imperative by virtue of birth in a liberal democracy. A cursory glance around ought to disabuse him of that illusion.
To Agricola, Patrician literally means “Father”, or what we would call ‘City Fathers’ in modern idiom. Senator literally means ‘Elder’, and the Roman Senate was literally a Council of Elders, that being the English translation of the Latin.
To Matt, your take on liberalism I find interesting. The liberalism of the American Revolution is not what liberalism means today. The American Revolution was about government with the conscious and continuing consent of the governed, and equality under the law, not what the laws should be, per se. I think that what is generally called ‘liberalism’ nowadays is what John Stuart Mill would have thought of ‘eudamia’ (I think that’s the word), or a ‘well lawed’ society that we both agree is flawed. The American Revolution was not about Mill’s eudamia. Do you think that it’s sort of an inevitable ‘slippery slope’ ? I’m not sure from your posts.
Last, but not least I think some of the posters here sort of misunderstand what the Founding Fathers thought about government. The Declaration originally read “We hold the Truths to be sacred”, or we want to create a govt assuming the notions listed are true. Putting in ‘self evident’ changed the entire meaning of the document. Per the Founding Fathers government as a sort of bargain amongst the governed is not an ideology, but in fact how government always and everywhere happens, it’s a ‘natural law’. Sometimes, the consent can be fraudently obtained though, Louis XIV comes to mind. That there should be a state is a fact of the natural law that one can see by examining man, but that Louis should be the state, and that God said so, is not. Louis did obtain consent, if he didn’t have it he wouldn’t have been the king, but he got it fraudulently.
While I’m not without sympathy for what Mr. Purdy says, he ought to recognize that the views advanced by Matt and Abby are not made with a view to institutionalizing them in our existing society. No one (at least as far as I can tell) is thinking of taking contemporary America and suddenly imposing an “agathonocracy” over it. The context of the discussion (which is a philosohical discussion) is: what is the best type of state?
In any case, several others of us who call ourselves traditionalists are arguing for the importance of consensual government, so Mr. Purdy shouldn’t take the promotion of agathonocracy as defining traditionalism per se.
Just to illustrate what liberal political philosophy actually says Mr. Auster writes.
In any case, several others of us who call ourselves traditionalists are arguing for the importance of consensual government, so Mr. Purdy shouldn’t take Matt’s and Abby’s views as defining traditionalism.
The Founding Fathers held that consensual govt was actually the only kind that does or has ever existed, and that a govt explicitly built on the notion would be the most lasting and permanent, it won’t collapse in on itself.
“John Purdy thinks that he has escaped the tyranny of a government with a relentless and false moral imperative by virtue of birth in a liberal democracy. A cursory glance around ought to disabuse him of that illusion.”
That is 100% false, Matt. I have very few illusions about the nature of our modern government. Nor am I a believer in “democracy”. In fact I subscribe to the idea of polyconstitutional order: many centers of qualitatively different forms of authority, overlapping and interpenetrating, partly cooperating partly competing. Family, local government, churches, professional groups, work and so on are all distributed centers of authority.
Mr. Auster writes:
“The context of the discussion (which is a philosohical discussion) is: what is the best type of state?”
I’ll reiterate that my issue is one step prior to this one. My issue is, from where does a state’s _legitimacy_ derive, whatever its form. The moral legitimacy of father-as-earthly-ruler does not derive from either the implicit or explicit consent of the children. Likewise the moral legitimacy of the authority of the state does not derive from either the explicit or implicit consent of the citizens of the state. I haven’t consented to the current American government nor its form, nor would I if given my druthers, yet its authority over me is nonetheless legitimate. Obedience is not the same thing as consent.
Jimbo’s argument reminds me of the pragmatic argument in favor of the moral goodness of homosexuality, and it shouldn’t be surprising that a prequel to modern moral philosophy is present in the Founders. Homosex exists wherever people have lived in numbers, therefore it must be morally good. Government tautologically exists wherever it is not overthrown by popular uprising, therefore its legitimacy derives from the fact that it is not overthrown by popular uprising. Personally I prefer government with tighter moral shackles than that implies.
It sounds as though on the structural and pragmatic issues we are not terribly far apart. I am a militant Catholic and a firm believer in the principle of subsidiarity; I would never model a government after the Protestant absolute monarchies that degenerated into the Wars of Religion.
I don’t think you’ve addressed the _legitimacy_ issue, though.
This discussion is an indication of the liveliness of VFR, of which I’m appreciative. Late last night I posted the very brief (86-word) article at the beginning of this thread, and by midday today it had already generated 27 comments, totaling over 4,100 words.
“While I’m not without sympathy for what Mr. Purdy says, he ought to recognize that the views advanced by Matt and Abby are not made with a view to institutionalizing them in our existing society. No one (at least as far as I can tell) is thinking of taking contemporary America and suddenly imposing an “agathonocracy” over it. The context of the discussion (which is a philosohical discussion) is: what is the best type of state?”
Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 15, 2003 01:14 PM
i have no idea what a agathonocracy is, and with that said:
i’m without hesitation for institutionalizing the best form of government. why should we desire less?
“The American Revolution was not about Mill’s eudamia. Do you think that it’s sort of an inevitable ‘slippery slope’ ? I’m not sure from your posts.”
I think that liberalism is and always has been the belief that providing for freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of politics, contra any transcendent values that don’t manifest themselves through the exercise of equal freedom by the citizenry. (Transcendent values are allowed by liberals to have binding authority, sort of: if and only if that authority manifests itself through the free and equal exercise of rights by the citizens). Because liberalism is conceptually incoherent it in practice manifests itself in many different ways. From incoherent premeses one can syllogize a path to literally any outcome whatsoever, so liberalism degenerates in the end to providing an aura of legitimacy to “whatever I want”. The classical variety and the modern Clintonian variety are related branches of the same tree.
Note that unlike some other traditionalists I think of liberalism as a political rather than overall deontological philosophy. I think that is consistent with how the founders viewed themselves and with how modern liberals view themselves. There are and have been plenty of Christian liberals, which is no more contradictory than being any other sort of liberal (since all forms of liberalism are fundamentally self-contradictory). One problem for liberals is that politics cannot be utterly divorced from the transcendent and the transcendent cannot be placed in a box, so in practice liberalism creeps from the political to the deontological. Liberalism (including the classical variety) is riddled with so many contradictions that that one hardly matters, but liberalism’s internal contradictions are cleverly turned into strengths since they are used (probably unwittingly by most liberals) as a basis for equivocation. It is indeed the strangest thing.
“I think that liberalism is and always has been the belief that providing for freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of politics, contra any transcendent values that don’t manifest themselves through the exercise of equal freedom by the citizenry.”
It seems to me that Matt is disregarding the alternative definition of liberalism with which I began this discussion: the belief that political rule without some measure of popular consent to validate the rule (e.g., taxation without representation) is tyranny. (Of course, he’ll probably say that my alternative liberalism is the same as his liberalism.)
Also, what does deontological mean?
From the Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
“In one sense, a deontology is simply theory of our duties, something most ethical theories have. But philosophers mean to convey more by calling a theory deontological. Roughly, a deontological theory denies in some way that the good or what is of value, always takes priority over the right or duty.”
Mr. Auster writes:
“It seems to me that Matt is disregarding the alternative definition of liberalism with which I began this discussion: the belief that political rule without some measure of popular consent to validate the rule (e.g., taxation without representation) is tyranny.”
I don’t think a definition can claim to be liberal without reference to equality, so at most I would concede that calling out popular consent as a prerequisite to political legitimacy is proto-liberal. Irrespective of what we call it, though, it is objectively in error in my view.
“Also, what does deontological mean?”
I used it to refer to an overall theory of objective morality, or to claims of objective morality in general; as opposed to claims of what it is legitimate to do politically with the guns of the police, the military, the courts, etc. In my experience liberals think of themselves as operating in the latter sphere.
So, would Matt oppose the principle of “No taxation without representation,” since that principle is, according to him, based on a pernicious liberal notion of equality?
To Matt: That seem’s ‘slippery slope’ to me. I would like to emphasize that I’m conducting a friendly arguement here, I yield to no one in my admiration for anyone who can work in the two phrases ‘biblical literalism’ and ‘Godel complete’ in an intelligent sentence, as I’ve seen you do.
So what if my definition of govt is tautological, all definitions are tautological, by err, definition.
You’re losing me when you get to ‘transcendant’. My perhaps erroneous understanding of ‘natural law’ is that it’s specific contents are indeed ‘earthbound’, contingent and particular and to be gleaned by looking around oneself, and the ‘transendent’ part is by logically imputing a teleological purpose to the Author of Nature, as it were. All men everywhere live under a govt, all govts are actually are agreements…, that’s the way it is, and the Being that decides what is and isn’t obviously has a reason for making it so. If one’s notions about govt are contradicted by the facts you see, your notions of govt have to go, not the facts (Truth is one).
I don’t need to know any revealed truth to realize that Heather having a mommy and a daddy that are married is better for Heather than two mommies or two daddies, or one mommy and no daddy, or one daddy and no mommy, just as I know that Heather is best off with one mouth and one nose that she is biologically related to. Or to know that Man learns in the school of example and will in no other. ‘Natural Law’ concerning man is ‘the wisdom of the ages’, or what C.S. Lewis called ‘the Tao’ and is not exclusively Christian, I think, but the law under which man is happiest through one’s whole life. I believe it’s Catholic doctrine that the Church’s position on abortion can and should be arrived at by non-Catholics also. It’s not just how happy one is between the ages of 18 and 19, which is far as an untutored 18 year old looks, another piece of age old wisdom, or natural law.
Your ‘slippery slope’ arguement, if I’m getting it right is that the liberal take on govt, or how and why a particular Caesar gets to be Caesar, not why there is a Caesar, is misconstrued by modern liberal types that each man is his own Caesar, or being able to vote means you can be whoever or whatever you want instead of what you actually are. If you say that political liberalism is a bad thing because it can and has been misunderstood, well, what idea cannot be misunderstood ?
i’m not sure what you mean by consent. are you saying that the authority of government comes directly from God as opposed to authority resting first in the family and secondly being delegated to government?
The definitions provided didn’t make sense to me at first because I was assuming the word was related to ontology, the study of being. But now I see the root is:
Greek deon, deont-, obligation, necessity (from neuter present participle of dein, to need, lack. See deu-1 in Indo-European Roots) + -logy.
Mr. Auster writes:
“So, would Matt oppose the principle of “No taxation without representation,” since that principle is, according to him, based on a pernicious liberal notion of equality?”
Yes. I don’t oppose taxation *with* representation in principle, mind you, but I do oppose the notion that taxation without representation - that is, a government that taxes some person or entity that does not have an explicit structurally formal representative directly accountable through democratic vote - is intrinsically morally illegitimate.
I do reject the notion that a government that taxes is intrinsically illegitimate unless it is a liberal democratic republic, which seems to be the point of “taxation without representation”.
I’m no great fan of George III. Among other things he was an idiot as a leader. Even a morally bad leader, if he has good leadership skills, can eat your lunch and have you thank him for it. Such was not King George; but then those Windsors are a bunch of usurpers anyway. >:^]
Based on Matt’s general theme and his answer to my last question, I have to acknowledge that he may be truer to the description of this website (which Jim Kalb founded and I inherited) than I am:
“The passing scene and what it’s about viewed from the antimodern … Right.”
In truth I am not purely anti-modern since I do not reject all aspects of modernity. In particular, I do not divorce myself from the concerns that gave rise to the American Revolution. At the same time, I also do not base myself on Lockeanism which represents a fatally superficial understanding of society. But, for that matter, neither did the Founders base themselves on Lockeanism per se; Locke was one part of their philosophy, not the whole of it.
I also admit that I do not understand these issues well enough to give a full accounting of them. That’s one reason why I began this dicussion. The best I can state my position is as follows. I believe society must have an ultimate orientation toward God and the good. But I also believe society must contain some formal mechanisms for popular consent. We’re not living under Tiberius or Louis XIV or—God help us—under the the sort of unaccountable regime that Hillary Clinton or the globalist bureaucrats would impose on us. The threat of tyranny is real; the fear of tyranny is something I feel in the cells of my body. For example, when the Clinton health-care financing bill was proposed in ‘93 and ‘94, I felt a palpable, gripping fear of what it would be like to come under such a regime. I feel the same toward the EU.
The unique genius of the American Founding was that it combined a rejection of unaccountable central power with a concern for establishing legitimate state authority. Those concerns, and the tension between them, are perennial. Matt and Abby envision (though they haven’t given us any examples) some kind of theocratic regime, which throws away the tension altogether by giving power to those qualified to act for the public good. I feel the attraction toward something like that, myself. I regard Plato’s Republic, with its vision of the constitution of human nature reflected in the constitution of the polity, as the supreme work of political science. But in the real world Plato’s Republic is not possible, and therefore there must be a mixed government that balances the moral authority of (it is hoped) virtuous leaders with the popular consent of a (it is hoped) virtuous citizenry.
“To Matt: That seem’s ‘slippery slope’ to me.”
I don’t shy away from the characterization. Some things do have natural and inevitable consequences. Some conseqences are not natural and inevitable, so sometimes there is no slope and the ground isn’t slippery. In this case I think it is. People are basically logical, and once they accept certain explicit premeses they will attempt to make their experiences and actions coherent with those explicit premeses.
“All men everywhere live under a govt, all govts are actually are agreements…, that’s the way it is, and the Being that decides what is and isn’t obviously has a reason for making it so. If one’s notions about govt are contradicted by the facts you see, your notions of govt have to go, not the facts (Truth is one).”
Part of the problem is that there is an equivocation on the word “consent” lurking. If “consent” merely means that a government has not yet been deposed by a popular uprising then indeed all existing actual governments have been, are, and ever shall be governments by consent. But then this modifier “by consent” is used to recommend some _specific form_ of government over and against other forms. If it recommends a specific form then it must not merely be the thing that is tautologically true of all forms. So an intellectually honest (which is to say logically unequivocal) argument will not use the same “consent” label in both cases. “Consent”, the tautological kind, may indeed be built into natural law on some argument. But establishing that does not imply the illegitimacy of any government not based in “consent”, an entirely distinct concept.
“i’m not sure what you mean by consent. are you saying that the authority of government comes directly from God as opposed to authority resting first in the family and secondly being delegated to government?”
I was distinguishing consent from obedience. As an extreme concrete illustration a rape victim can be obedient without consenting.
As to the further question, I do not agree with the notion that government gets its authority over me and my family because I (as the rightful master of my household) delegate it by consent. If that were true then this government would have no legitimate authority over me and my family, because I have not granted my consent nor delegated any authority that is rightfully my own. I would know it if I had done it. But it is my contention that the government in fact does have legitimate authority. If it didn’t then I would have no moral reason to be obedient, but merely the practical fear of being caught.
Based on something Matt just said, I think there may be a misunderstanding between us which may at least partly account for why our views seem so far apart. He writes:
“As to the further question, I do not agree with the notion that government gets its authority over me and my family because I (as the rightful master of my household) delegate it by consent.”
Now I do not say that government derives its authority over me by my consent (in the Lockean social-contract sense, for example). I say rather that for the government’s authority to have legitimacy and not be tyrannical, it must be accountable, subject to a process whereby popular consent can be registered. In other words, I do believe (with Matt) that the ultimate authority of government comes from God; but I also believe that, since this authority is exercised by men, in order to prevent it from becoming tyrannical, it must be accountable to the community over which it is ruling. And I do not limit such accountability to popular rebellion that occurs when government authority becomes so unendurable that people have no recourse but to resist the government by force. I mean a consensual process that is itself part of the government structure.
Once again, we would all prefer to be led by supernally wise and good men. But we don’t have that option. Therefore some kind of mixed government is necessary.
Mr. Auster seems to see two possibilities: either a government is utterly unnacountable, or its citizens accept the notion that legitimacy comes from the formal consent of the governed. Certainly some governments are more accountable than others, but it isn’t clear to me that the ones that enshrine consent as their fundamental legitimizing principle are more so than other sorts, particularly in the long run. I’m willing to bet that pretty much everyone who is working hard right now to advance the Tranzi-EU vision believes fervently in consent of the governed as fundamental to legitimacy. I expect the consent-of-the-governed train to chug along much farther than other forms have gone before triggering popular uprising; in fact that may be part of the point. Just ask Louis XVI’s head.
Matt writes: “I’m willing to bet that pretty much everyone who is working hard right now to advance the Tranzi-EU vision believes fervently in consent of the governed as fundamental to legitimacy.”
I don’t think that’s true at all. The EU elites are openly seeking to create an unaccountable government by bureacracy.
I hope Matt can reply to my last two comments, where I laid out my views as best I can.
I posted my last before I saw Mr. Auster’s of 4:54 PM. I agree that accountability and subsidiarity are important. A king must be accountable to his nobles, who must be accountable to their vassals, who must be accountable to their peasants, etc. Subsidiarity is critical, as both a practical and a moral matter, in the natural heirarchy of unequals. What is more, the government heirarchy is hardly the only legitimate heirarchy of natural authority.
But that isn’t what liberals seem to mean by “consent of the governed”. They seem to mean something more than just accountability, although as illustrated in my reply to Jimbo there is equivocation (not on Jimbo’s part, mind you, but built into the liberal theory). What concerns me is this _something more_ and its lurking implications.
Mr. Auster writes:
“I don’t think that’s true at all. The EU elites are openly seeking to create an unaccountable government by bureacracy.”
But now you are objecting because what the liberals are doing and saying is incoherent. My answer to that is, of course it is! It always is. It in fact is true that what they are building does not in fact achieve the liberal dream, because nothing ever does (or even can in principle). But what they think they are doing is building the liberal dream.
Again, I am willing to bet that when a Tranzi EU liberal goes to bed at night he views himself as a warrior fighting for the uncompromisable principle of global government for freedom and equal rights made legitimate through consent of the governed.
I agree that “governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed” (notwithstanding the magnificent phrasing) is problematical. The powers of government are ultimately from something higher than the consent of the governed (or at least from the consent of the governed alone), they are derived from the structure of existence itself. I hope Matt acknowledges that throughout this discussion I have spoken not of “powers” being based on consent but of “legitimacy” being based on consent.
“I hope Matt acknowledges that throughout this discussion I have spoken not of “powers” being based on consent but of “legitimacy” being based on consent.”
I do; I think we’re somewhat stuck on legitimacy and accountability at this point. Government authorities (in whatever form) should be accountable as a practical matter, without doubt. A saint of a ruler could be legitimate without any formal accountability, in principle, though such states of affairs are unlikely and in any event don’t usually have great succession plans in place - and part of a leader’s responsiblity is the succession plan. But liberal consent of the governed and accountability in general are not the same thing in my view.
Responding to Matt:
Liberal political theory doesn’t say that the only form of govt that can have the consent of the governed was liberal democracy. The ‘godfather’ of liberalism is Machiavelli. The liberal state (which isn’t necessarily the Millsian libertarian state, and indeed I would say definitely isn’t) is a state designed for permanence, or ‘what would a regime that would never collapse into civil war and anarchy look like’. Obviously monarchy (of an earthly type) isn’t the answer, the only way to deal with a bad king (who is a bad king because he’s incompetent or malevolent, it doesn’t matter, and is usually the last of a string of bad kings), is by overthrowing him, revolution and anarchy is a built in assumption of the system that always will occur sooner or later. Some Louis or Charles was inevitably bound to lose his head.
As far as the EU is concerned, I agree with Mr. Auster that ‘consent of the governed’ isn’t what they’re aiming for at all. A constitution that’s 1000 pages long, as the EU one that is on the table, seems to me a recipe for a banana republic. If one is English too, remembering the Punch cartoon about the French constitution being in the periodical section, how on earth should they agree to a constitution written by a Frenchman is beyond me ! :) Bad joke, but I couldn’t resist.
Ok, let’s see if we can put together what Matt is saying. He is saying that legitimacy doesn’t absolutely require accountability, if the ruler is spiritually perfect; but that is rare. Generally, then, Matt supports accountability, not in the liberal sense, but in the hierarchical, medieval sense, with each subsidiary order being able to exert pressure on the level above it (which further implies the existence of regularized government instruments through which the pressure can be exerted). But he doesn’t go along with consent, either as the source of power, or as the source of legitimacy. In other words, he would like the nobles to be able to give the king hell if he oversteps his bounds, and the lower nobles to be able to make the higher noble uncomfortable if _they_ go too far, and so on. But he doesn’t want the idea that each subordinate level must formally give its consent to a law enacted by the next higher level before that law becomes operative.
Is this a fair summary as far as it goes?
First, I’d like to say that I enjoy the quality of debate here at VFR. It’s consistently high-minded and polite - which is more than one can say about many other sites.
I will have to think about this a bit more before I can say anything that furthers the debate. As a bottom line though I am nervous about any definition of legitimate government that dispenses with the concept of consent of the governed. As a purely practical matter I see no way such a system can maintain accountability and subsidiarity etc if its philosophical basis does not include some concept of the sovereignty of the people and therefore recognizes the importance of their consent.
One might point to the Roman church I suppose but it does not hold temporal power and was not notably just in all those cases in which it did influence temporal power directly.
I fear we are into the 50,000 word essay zone now. Any way thanks for the enlightening exchange.
To Mr. Purdy,
For me this thread is exploratory, an attempt to clarify one’s own (and our shared) thoughts. Most of all, I am testing Matt’s rejection of consensual government and would like to understand what form of government he envisions. It is precisely because Matt rejects the common belief in the Founding and government by consent that most traditionalists share (for example, Thrasymachus and Agricola also seem to tilt toward modern notions of consent) that I feel it’s worthwhile to try to meet his challenge.
Perhaps one could put the problem this way. All societies are based on truths (though they may vary from society to society) which are transcendent and not derived from men’s wishes and preferences. Yet for a particular truth to be legitimate and operative as the truth of a given society, the members of the society must voluntarily recognize and affirm that truth. If they don’t, the society will break down. So two things are necessary: the transcendent reality, and men’s subjective perception of and voluntary adherence to that transcendent reality.
Can this not serve as the paradigm for power and consent? Power derives from a higher source as represented and embodied in the governing authority. But that authority will have no legitimacy unless the community acknowledges it as based in truth.
I recognize that the language I am speaking is somewhat outside the American Founding.
Mr. Auster writes:
“But he doesn’t go along with consent, either as the source of power, or as the source of legitimacy. In other words, he would like the nobles to be able to give the king hell if he oversteps his bounds, and the lower nobles to be able to make the higher noble uncomfortable if _they_ go too far, and so on. But he doesn’t want the idea that each subordinate level must formally give its consent to a law enacted by the next higher level before that law becomes operative.
Is this a fair summary as far as it goes?”
It is very close, or perhaps exactly right, depending on how it is interpreted. It is not that I _endorse_ the schema Mr. Auster describes as some sort of earthly ideal. A liberal will find the schema _illegitimate_, and it is this judgement — the condemnation of that political schema as illegitimate by the liberal — that I reject. An authority does not become automatically illegitimate just because it doesn’t consider its authority to be derived from the consent of the governed. It isn’t that I affirm the medievalist’s claim to legitimacy per se; it is that I reject the liberal’s pretext for rebellion. Indeed the rightful burden of proof is always on the rebel, _even when he is in the right_; and the liberal justification fails.
None of this says that there was no possible legitimate reason for the colonies to break from England. I think Mr. Auster’s description of what happened is quite apt as an objective matter. It is just that in my view the actual most commonly given justifications — taxation without representation, no consent of the governed, etc. - are illegitimate.
Now, there are those who become really worried when I say things like that. They seem to think that if the revolutionary war wasn’t fought on perfectly morally justified grounds then the United States is somehow illegitimate as an actual country and an actual people. That seems ridiculous to me: no actual people and country has a perfect past. So I find the notion that my position is intrinsically anti-American more than a little odd, but it is a fairly common reaction so I’ll put it out there preemptively.
“Can this not serve as the paradigm for power and consent?”
I think its a fine concise way to state a precondition of any functional society. It seems to be a restatement of Jimbo’s tautological natural-law “consent” which is clearly distinct from liberal “consent” and, critically for this discussion, “consent” doesn’t imply anything about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of particular formal arrangements as far as I can tell.
“The liberal state (which isn’t necessarily the Millsian libertarian state, and indeed I would say definitely isn’t) is a state designed for permanence, or ‘what would a regime that would never collapse into civil war and anarchy look like’.”
That no doubt accurately describes one of the goals of the early liberal thinkers. It does track their hubris pretty well for those on Ozymandius watch. What we now call “liberalism” is the product of their intellectual foment: the enshrinement of freedom and equal rights as the legitimate goals of government.
“As far as the EU is concerned, I agree with Mr. Auster that ‘consent of the governed’ isn’t what they’re aiming for at all.”
When dealing with liberals one must always distinguish between what they think they are doing and what they are actually doing. What they think they are doing is always at bottom incoherent, their goals not merely practically unachievable but literally inconceivable. What they actually do is not therefore governed by their intent.
musing over a problem,
first off, i think it goes without saying that proper, (i’m not sure what legitimate means in this context), government is accountable to God because governments exist for the good of those governed and derives its authority to govern from God.
secondly, the principle of subsidiarity strictly limits government authority, and places authority at various levels of government. for instance the education of children is the authority of the parents and is inviolable .
given the above, i wonder how a government can be accountable to that from which it does not derive its authority. parents are not accountable to their children, they are accountable to God to raise their children as God intended. similarly, the king’s minister is delegated authority from the king and in turn is accountable to the king, so likewise in every instance is account limited to those from whom authority is derived.
and if a government is not accountable to those it governs, from whence does the authority come to change government? if the king is not accountable to his subjects, but only to God, from whence do his subjects derive their authority to remove the king if he rules contrary to the good of the citizens? if we say the authority comes from God, then we say that both the king and his subjects possess the same authority simultaneously. but this same authority cannot be possessed simultaneously.
the only possible solution i see is to say that the king by ruling badly forfeits his authority, and the authority in turn comes to rest in the subjects, since it must rest somewhere. but this solution seems to lead back to consent of the governed, with the authority first resting in the family, and only delegated to the king.
and so i wonder.
The distance between Matt and me seems to have narrowed. But now it must be said that the sort of government we’re thinking of—in which the governing authority rules, not based on the consent of the people, but based on its own status as representative of higher truth, and made accountable for its acts by subordinate bodies only after those acts have been passed—would only be conceivable in a culture with a sacred core and articulated in terms of authoritative wholes such as family, church, hierarchical classes and so on. It’s not conceivable in anything like modern conditions, i.e., in a society articulated in terms of the individual. As Voegelin writes in The New Science of Politics, representative government (government by the consent of the people) is the natural expression of such a society.
“i wonder how a government can be accountable to that from which it does not derive its authority. parents are not accountable to their children, they are accountable to God to raise their children as God intended. similarly, the king’s minister is delegated authority from the king and in turn is accountable to the king, so likewise in every instance is account limited to those from whom authority is derived.”
I had wondered the same thing myself earlier, but hadn’t stopped to focus on the problem. But here’s one possible answer to Abby. The king’s minister derives his power from the king, but if the nobles or people get seriously unhappy with his administration, the king may remove him. This would be an example of authority coming from above, but accountability coming from below.
Nevertheless, Abby’s comment raises a serious objection to my restatement of Matt’s position at 5:35 p.m.(with which he agreed). As she says, it would seem to lead us back to the necessity of government by the consent of the governed, even in a class-based society with a sacred core, not to mention a modern, individualist society. I don’t know the answer. One thing we lack in this discussion is historical examples of how various forms of government have operated, particularly medieval government, since that seems to be Matt’s paradigm.
A king is accountable to all sorts of people: clergy, guildsmen, aristocrats, diplomats, other kings, etc. No one individual within these groups is the king’s formal _peer_ within his own kingdom: in his kingdom the king has no individual equal. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t accountable. I guess having extensive experience as a CEO I appreciate that firsthand in a way that many others don’t. I’ve never been a king, but a CEO is accountable to every bloody moron with a grievance, I can assure you.
“A king is accountable to all sorts of people: clergy, guildsmen, aristocrats, diplomats, other kings, etc. No one individual within these groups is the king’s formal _peer_ within his own kingdom: in his kingdom the king has no individual equal. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t accountable.”
Posted by: Matt on September 15, 2003 08:39 PM
this accountableness is used in a secondary sense, just as a father is said to be accountable to his children. but a father is not finally accountable to his children, but to God. likewise a ceo, may in some sense be accountable to his workers, but not in the same sense as he is accountable to those who purchase his company’s services. a client may fire him, his employees cannot. the same with children, they cannot depose their father, but a higher authority may step-in and remove him according to the principle of subsidiarity.
Whatever form of government is settled on, it must be capable of military alliances and fielding a high-tech army. Imagine Mexicans or Saddam Hussein respecting an Amish border, and the basis for my proposition is clear.
It seems the fatal flaw in the American founding was failing to take into account the possibility that the three supposedly co-equal branches of government would believe in the same thing and that thing was false or evil or both. A racist, anti-Semitic, and aggressive southern neighbor is invading America, and not one branch of government thus far is willing to do anything about it.
Hopefully, Mr. McClintock in California will stick to his guns and either win because of his immigration reform idea or illustrate to most quasi-liberals (Republicans) that they cannot win without his reform idea.
Abby seems to think that a CEO’s accountability to some of his various constituents has no teeth. I beg to differ. Employees who want to can destroy a CEO’s career, not just fire him from a particular job. I don’t think anyone is “finally accountable,” in the way Abby seems to mean it, to anyone but God; and I don’t think the sort of toothless secondary accountability Abby suggests even exists. It is true that in any leader/follower relation there is a whole web of accountabilities, some more formal than others, some stronger and some weaker, and leading off in many directions. The simplistic view of leader/follower relations on display in this part of the discussion doesn’t match any of my own experience, either as CEO or as father. I don’t imagine that king as leader somehow magically transcends all that. A dictator might, but nobody in this discussion appears to be favorable toward dictatorship.
To pick up Matt’s last challenge, there are times when dictatorship is the best government. The Romans of course institutionalized the dictatorship by consent and of limited duration. What government is best depends on circumstance. The divine order is permanent, but the means of realizing it vary with the pressures of necessity and the culture of the people. Making the best of a bad situation is our divine vocation.
To address the main theme in the thread, it may be useful to see “consent” as having a procedural value and a substantive value. Procedurally, consent is present in both the universal ballot and the informal pressures that can be exerted in the corporate political family. Which procedure is adequate depends on what people will accept. The wrongness of modern liberalism lies in its conversion of consent into a substantive value, as an end in itself, a form of self-expression. Then it becomes another form of narcissistic pleasure or a badge of resentful self-assertion. Whereas, if consent is viewed as merely the means to a “more perfect government,” as a corrective to the governor’s swerving away from the good, then it will be instituted very differently.
I suspect the Founders, for the most part, viewed consent as a means to an end, not an end in itself. They had experience that self-governing men of even modest property could run an orderly, just, and prosperous society. Incipient Jacobinism, however, saw consent as an end in itself or at least as a means to express resentment of restriction.
I can write anything I want and there’s little chance anyone will make it all the way down here!
First, in response to a call for a Latin scholar about forty posts ago—I AM a Latin scholar! I would hardly presume to correct others’ Latin if I were not. “-que” means “and” in Latin; it is enclitic, which is to say that it is never free-standing but attaches to the end of a word; and it forms conjunctions of the type “x yque” = “x et y” = “x and y.” Incidentally, the manhole covers in modern Rome are still stamped “SPQR.”
Second, there are some conservatives who have argued (with some degree of plausibility) that the roots of our troubles lie with the rise of liberalism in the thirteenth century or the fifteenth century or whatever. To the extent that this is true it turns us into conservative anthropologists, commenting on contemporary folly without the possibility of any kind of change or defense. I *think* we can draw upon certain aspects of older liberalism, but I certainly *hope* we can, because we’re not going anywhere if we can’t.
The difference between the Roman and American republics may be illustrative. The various constituent bodies of the Roman res publica had a voice in order to bring about societal unanimity. Our founders sought to distribute power with the (liberal) understanding that unanimity was impossible and with the hope that the play of factions would open up space for liberty. We have a lot to learn from the Romans but as far as political theory goes the American arrangement is the only game left in town.
After an interesting procedural/substantive analysis, Bill writes:
“I suspect the Founders, for the most part, viewed consent as a means to an end, not an end in itself.”
It is possible that that is the case. What matters though is the explicit propositions they asserted:
“governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed”
Therefore all just powers come from the consent of the governed under this proposition. Powers that do not derive from the consent of the governed are intrinsically unjust, by simple deduction.
Again, in examining liberal theory it is important to always look for the equivocation. An equivocation broadly speaking is when two very different concepts are employed as if they were the same thing. The weaker concept - some sort of procedural consent as a means to the end of accountability, in this case — is the fall-back. The liberal claims, and probably believes himself, that procedural consent as a means to an end is all he is asserting; and who could possibly object to such a weak pragmatic assertion? In practice, though, he treats powers not derived from consent as unjust. People are generally rational, and generally try to be consistent with what they state and defend as their basic principles.
I have noted before that this same sort of thing occurs in a political-deontological equivocation. It is this latter equivocation that allows someone to think of himself as a good Christian and a good liberal simultaneously, even though that is ontologically impossible (at least in my view).
Bill’s discussion raises the liberal procedural-substantive equivocation.
There are many liberal equivocations (as one would expect of an intrinsically incoherent ideology). Most conservatives treat liberalism as if it would be OK if only it stuck consistently to the weaker instances of its equivocal concepts (e.g. stick to procedural equality and avoid substantive, stick to political assertion and avoid deontological, etc). I don’t think so though. There is Jimbo’s slippery slope for one thing. For another thing the language of liberalism becomes entirely superfluous if all it refers to is the weaker concepts. But human beings don’t like superfluous language. When we assert and defend principles we are bound to treat what we assert as meaningful.
Concerning the American Founding and the consent of the governed: Perhaps the real issue was whether King George III was acting in the interests of the good of the colonists, or merely using them (economically and politically) for his own good. The “consent of the governed” might be a practical way to ensure that the government looks out for the good of the whole people, but it is an indirect way of approaching the main issue. As Matt points out, liberalism makes it the primary issue, rather than acknowledging it as only a means to an end. (If George III had consistently looked out for the good of the colonists, would there have ever been a revolution over representational issues in government?)
If we keep our eyes focused on the end, not the means to the end, we will be able to apply corrective measures when the government is observed to not be acting for the common good, but rather for the limited good of the rulers or certain special interests. Under modern (left) liberalism, whatever happens in a democracy is justified by definition, and constant vigilance and correction are not the focus. When the government derives its legitimacy from universal suffrage rather than from demonstrating that it is acting for the general good without trampling upon the rights of the minority of citizens, then a lower standard of legitimacy exists than a traditionalist conservative desires.
Thus, I would see it as a flaw in the rhetoric of the Founding that so much focus was on one particular means to the desired end, such that it became a modern shibboleth.
Thanks to Agricola for the clarification on Latin. So the literal word order in Latin is:
The Senate the PeopleAnd of Rome.
Odd. I know of no other language that places the word “and” _after_ the second word in the pair rather than before it.
Romanus technically = Roman.
One other language which acts similarly is ancient Greek, where “te” is used much like “-que”:
Zeus, pater andron te theon te. “Zeus, father of men and gods”
“Abby seems to think that a CEO’s accountability to some of his various constituents has no teeth. I beg to differ. Employees who want to can destroy a CEO’s career, not just fire him from a particular job. I don’t think anyone is “finally accountable,” in the way Abby seems to mean it, to anyone but God”
Posted by: Matt on September 15, 2003 11:09 PM
since the purpose of looking at accountability is to seek to know from where the king’s authority to act as king comes from, is it directly from God or delegated from those who have received it directly from God, it is best to focus on the king’s relation to his source of authority. i see this as attempt to move from better known by man to better known by nature, with account better known than authority.
with the above in mind: just as the artist is accountable to his patron as artist to produce fine art, but is not accountable to his patron as artist to be a good father to his children, so likewise the king as king is accountable to rule just and wisely. it is outside the purview of the king to produce fine art as the artist, and the king is not accountable as king if he is incapable of producing fine art.
secondly, the carpenter is the instrumental cause of the architect. the architect may in some manner be accountable to the carpenter to produce good construction documents, but the architect as instrumental cause of his client, is more properly accountable to his client. similarly, the employee is the instrumental cause of the ceo, with the ceo in turn being the instrumental cause of his client.
the king likewise is the instrumental cause of that from whence he receives authority, just as government per se is the instrumental cause of men because men are social by nature and have needs that can only be met by just and wise government. God instituted the Church on earth to serve men’s spiritual needs, He did not create men to serve the Church’s needs.
just as the architect receives from his client the authority to act as architect on this or that project, so likewise the king receives from God either directly, or indirectly, the authority to act as king to this or that state.
since government is the instrumental cause of men to serve mens social needs, and men institute this or that government serve those needs, and since the instrumental cause is first accountable to its efficient cause, government is first accountable to men in its capacity as instrumental cause.
also, only God has the power of life and death, but the king also has the power of life and death, thus the kings also act in God’s place as his minister. and as his minister is accountable to God alone.
thus the king is an instrumental cause to both men and God. and it is as instrumental cause to men that the king can be removed.
I haven’t managed to syllogize my way through Abby’s account of state authority well enough to be sure if I agree or not, as yet. But again, my focus is not on what does and does not constitute legitimate State authority. My focus is on the excuse that the liberal gives for his armed rebellion. According to the liberal, the only government powers which are just are those derived from the consent of the governed. The liberal assumes for himself a right to use violence in rebellion against any government authority that does not justify its own powers based on the formal consent of the governed. That is, the liberal assumes for himself a right to violently rebel against any government that is not liberal.
A given state may or may not hold legitimate authority under whatever principle it is that objectively constitutes just authority. I don’t say what that might be in my critique and I don’t have to say it. I don’t have to assert a comprehensive theory of sovereignity in order to refute the liberal’s specific claim to a specific right to rebel, just as I don’t have to assert a comprehensive moral theory in order to find the actions of a murderer unjustified.
A liberal who claims a right to rebel specifically based in taxation without representation, or in the putative fact that the government doesn’t derive its authority from the formal consent of the governed (under whatever interpretation), is ALWAYS in the wrong. That is, his explicit reason for rebelling is invalid *even if there are other, unstated reasons for rebelling that would be valid*. That is, *even if the State in question is illegitimate*, the liberal’s explicit reasons for rebelling are themselves illegitimate.
It may be that there are other valid but unstated moral reasons to disobey or even rebel violently. For example, if it becomes clear that God is commanding disobedience to an earthly authority then God’s command always supersedes that of the king. A Christian in pagan Rome who refuses to light the incense in offering to the pagan gods is a good example of this.
But the proto-liberal’s pretext for violent rebellion — that a government cannot legitimately command obedience unless it derives its powers formally from the consent of the governed — is an empty, false pretext. The liberal’s claim that he can disobey authority on those grounds is false.
“since government is the instrumental cause of men to serve mens social needs, and men institute this or that government serve those needs, and since the instrumental cause is first accountable to its efficient cause, government is first accountable to men in its capacity as instrumental cause.”
Accountable to which men specifically, and when? Much of this discussion seems predicated on the notion that there is a quick, easy, obvious and explicit answer to that question. That seems quite contrary to reality to me.
A king is subject to law, subject to God, subject to the institutional Church, subject to other kingdoms, subject to his subjects, and subject to a great many other things in a whole hodgepodge of different ways. Liberalism attempts to simplify this and make it explicit by claiming that state sovereignity comes exclusively from the equal formal consent of all citizens. (The point to doing so seems to be to invalidate authorities that liberals don’t like at any given moment in time). That isn’t true even in liberal polities, though. It is just another liberal lie.
“Accountable to which men specifically, and when?”
Posted by: Matt on September 16, 2003 05:03 PM
the instrumental cause is most properly accountable to the efficient cause, just as the pen is most properly accountable to the writer.
particular governments come into being through the will of particular men. these particular men are the efficient cause of this or that government since these particular men will this government as opposed to that. just as the artist wills this painting as opposed to that painting. or the carpenter wills to build this chair for sitting upon as opposed to that chair.
jsut as the chair is the instrumental cause of the carpenter having something to sit upon, so likewise do men use a particular government to satisfy their needs which cannot be met by the family. the more perfect comes into being to serve the family and is created as instrumental cause to serve the family.
or to say it simply, government is most properly accountable to that which brings it into being. with the family being the primary or foundational unit of government and which is not created by men, but which brings into being that which is more perfect.
“particular governments come into being through the will of particular men. these particular men are the efficient cause of this or that government since these particular men will this government as opposed to that.”
So under Abby’s account, as I understand it, a government is accountable in a direct sense only to the actual men who instituted it. That means that our current government in the US is accountable to nobody at all, because the men who actually instituted it are all dead.
Personally I think we ought to avoid such attempts at gross simplification. As is the case with all liberal propositionalism the personal license that such simplifications grant is not worth the pact with death that they entail.
“So under Abby’s account, as I understand it, a government is accountable in a direct sense only to the actual men who instituted it. That means that our current government in the US is accountable to nobody at all, because the men who actually instituted it are all dead.”
Posted by: Matt on September 16, 2003 05:39 PM
no, just as citizenship passes on the succeeding generations, and those succeeding generations in turn are obligated to the government to act within its laws, so likewise is a particular government held accountable to the posterity who caused it to come into being.
the father stands in for his children just as the godparents stand in for the not rational newborn. citizenship into the heavenly city is passed on through the will of the god parent so likewise is citizenship into the state passed on to the children through the parent. this citizenship which was formed at the creation of the particular government is passed on to succeeding generations with the children inheriting the efficient cause since the state is kept in being through the will of succeeding generations.
do we also need to go into immigration and naturalization of citizens? or shall the above suffice?
the distinction i was seeking was to separate out the accountableness that a government is said to be held to by another government.
the king is held accountable to the Church in so far as the state exists for the Good of the citizens. just as men are both body and soul so likewise are men’s needs both material and spiritual, the state does not form the spiritual but as the earth is tilled for sowing, so likewise is the state formed so that the Church may sow. the soul forms the flesh, but is other than the flesh.
the king is accountable to God to conform state law to the natural and moral law, just as we are accountable to conform ourselves to the natural and moral law. and just as we are punished by God for transgression so likewise does the king act as minister when we transgress the natural and moral law.
the king is most properly accountable to the citizens in his promulgation of prudential or human laws. if the king act contrary to good government, such as usurpation of the parent’s inviolable right to educate their children, or other usurpations contrary to the principle of subsidiarity, the king may be deposed. just as a faulty pen is discarded in to the waste bin.
the king may also be deposed by the citizens if he fails to promulgate law which is contrary to the natural and moral law. just as the citizen forfeits life and liberty if he acts contrary to the natural and moral law, so likewise does the king forfeit his kingship if he acts contrary as king to the natural and moral law. and in his forfeiture, and as instrumental cause, his kingship comes back to reside in the citizens who will in turn to form a new government.
“no, just as citizenship passes on the succeeding generations, and those succeeding generations in turn are obligated to the government to act within its laws, so likewise is a particular government held accountable to the posterity who caused it to come into being.”
Then the government’s legitimacy is not based in consent, because those of us in succeeding generations have not consented. I would know it if I had done it.
i noticed i wrote a contradiction in the last paragraph of my last post. it should read:
the king may also be deposed by the citizens if he promulgates law which is contrary to the natural and moral law. just as the citizen forfeits life and liberty if he acts contrary to the natural and moral law, so likewise does the king forfeit his kingship if he acts contrary in his capacity as king to the natural and moral law. and in his forfeiture, and as instrumental cause, his kingship reverts back to and resides in the citizens, who will in turn to form a new government.
i should read my posts before i send them on their merry way.
“Then the government’s legitimacy is not based in consent, because those of us in succeeding generations have not consented. I would know it if I had done it.”
Posted by: Matt on September 16, 2003 08:36 PM
the ‘consent’ is first through the parent. later as an adult, consent is implied through his actions as a citizen.
“Soc. Then the laws will say: “Consider, Socrates, if this is true, that in your present attempt you are going to do us wrong. For, after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Any of you who does not like us and the city, and who wants to go to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, and take his goods with him. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him.”
from the crito
“the king may also be deposed by the citizens if he promulgates law which is contrary to the natural and moral law.”
Any violation at all, or would it have to be a serious violation, or a dire violation?
I haven’t consented, and wouldn’t consent, and don’t consent, to governance under liberalism. I _obey_ the liberal government in most things, but that is a different matter entirely. If “consent” is a mystical property that gets passed around implicitly from generation to generation then it isn’t really “consent;” it is something else hiding behind the word “consent”.
The equivocal nonsense about consent is purely a pretext to rebel against authority. It is a whitewash of the conscience that liberals use as an excuse, in most cases because their rebellion is morally unjustified and in others because it is impolitic to promulgate the real reasons for rebellion.
I think Abby may be clinging to it because she doesn’t like the idea that she is morally obligated to obey Caesar (unless COMMANDED otherwise by God), irrespective of her consent. I could be wrong about that, because she doesn’t directly answer whether the liberal consent-of-the-governed formulation is valid or not. But it is certainly my impression.
Note the process of equivocation here. “Consent of the governed” is an implicit, mystical, ineffable property that passes from here to there via invisible processes when that modality supports some authority that I (the liberal) want exercised. “Consent of the governed” has to be an explicit act on the part of free and equal citizens when that modality will invalidate some exercise of authority that I want invalidated.
Its a bunch of equivocal sophistry; a load of crap. I don’t know why any self-respecting traditionalist would fall for it.
I suppose I should address Abby’s “if you don’t like it you can leave” quote from Plato. I’ll concede that there may have been some validity to that notion when dealing with a small city-state. If you don’t like California, move to Virginia. On the other hand, the notion that it would be noble (rather than cowardly) to abandon my homeland, to which I am covenanted by birth, to the liberals is counterintuitive to say the least. I think Plato’s admonishment is to those who would assert a right to break the law at will because they haven’t consented. I don’t assert such a right, and in fact I expressly refute the liberal’s assertion of such a right. So for a number of reasons the “if you don’t like it then leave” cop-out doesn’t apply to me.
In reviewing the thread I realized that I never addressed Jimbo’s specific point here directly:
“If you say that political liberalism is a bad thing because it can and has been misunderstood, well, what idea cannot be misunderstood ?”
It isn’t that liberalism has a coherent interpretation, but that it has been misunderstood and applied incoherently. It is that liberalism quite literally has no coherent interpretation. To be very precise, liberalism has no coherent interpretation that has any implications on our political behavior — it is possible in principle to interpret liberalism as meaningless, or completely empty of content, rather than as positively incoherent. When the “weak forms” of liberal equivocations (e.g. “procedural equality”) are used liberalism is literally empty of content (in the case of procedural equality this is because there is no such thing as a value-neutral set of procedural rules - the postmoderns are quite right about this specific point). When the “strong forms” of the equivocations are used (e.g. “equal rights”) then liberalism becomes a positive assertion of a contradiction in terms.
So anyway, it isn’t that liberalism has been misinterpreted or misapplied by the powers that be. That is quite literally NEVER the case. It is that there is no conceptually possible coherent application of liberal principles whatsoever. Liberal fundamental principles are intrinsically incoherent if they have enough logical strength to actually apply to any actual assertion of political power (which is to say, in the non-tautological modes of the liberal equivocations).
Liberal principles are either meaningless - in which case using their language in justifying specific political acts is a deceptive lie - or they are actively, malevolently incoherent. There is no intellectually honest interpretation of liberal principles as something that can distinguish between political choice A and political choice B and discriminate in favor of one over the other.
Sorry I haven’t responded earlier, I was busy.
Again, I think you’re substituting Mill for the ‘liberal’ I’m talking about which would be someone like Publius from the Federalist. The ‘liberalism’ I’m talking about is the design of a regime, whose main design spec is that there will never be a revolution or a civil war like the English Civil War which Locke and Hobbes lived through and informs their thinking tremendously.
Liberalism is silent on the content of the laws when they don’t have anything to do with the majority getting its way in politics. Freedom of speech is important, obviously, habeas corpus, excessive bail and the like stop a govt official from jailing his political opponents and thus impeding the will of the majority. Some measure of capitalism, or private property, is necessary too, what good is freedom of the press if the govt controls the newsprint market or can starve it’s loyal opposition by withholding food. Separation of powers keeps any temporary cabal from subverting the majority. Liberalism has no problem with a law banning pornography, but it does have a problem with a law banning the public advocation of repealing such a ban.
Also, I think you’re misinterpreting what a Publius would have thought ‘consent of the governed’ would have meant. The ‘governed’ isn’t each citizen individually, but the citizenry corporately, the majority being its best spokesman. An individual can only withdraw consent as a member of the majority, not by himself. And if the majority gets its way, the govt will stand since it cannot be successfully rebelled against if the majority is behind it. And it won’t be rebelled against, since if the would be rebels are wise, they’ll know they’ll lose. When the majority doesn’t get its way in a major way, that’s when the shooting starts, so that is a situation to be avoided.
In a little aside, what would Publius thought of the age old American pastime of “complainin’ ‘bout the guvmint” ? He’d have loved it. Take a big ‘modern liberal’. Any govt that’s behavior made him into a positively estatic supporter of it would perforce make a conservative hate the government so much he would be ‘go home and get the rifle down from off the mantlepiece’ angry and vice versa. A govt that everyone is mildly dissatisfied with was exactly the sort the Founding Fathers were aiming for.
I agree with everyting you say about the ‘liberalism’ you’re talking about but that isn’t the ‘liberalism’ of Publius but the liberalism of John Stuart Mill. But the content of the laws is independent of the type of regime there is. What determines the content of the laws if the govt is a monarchy, elective dictatorship, rule by religious authorities, or an aristocracy ? Nothing in the structure of these types of regimes, for want of a better word, the ‘culture’ of the rulers does. Liberalism a la Publius is no different, and that point isn’t on it’s agenda, it’s silent on the topic.
I do sort of see your point on the ‘slippery slope’ stuff, thought I don’t agree in its inevitabity. The Victorian ruling class promoted virtue through its laws and in private were a rather licentious bunch. Maybe no ruling class will ever legislate for its own virtue, so if the ruling class is restricted the rot can be contained. I don’t think this the case though, the US did this pretty well until about 1960.
“I agree with everyting you say about the ‘liberalism’ you’re talking about but that isn’t the ‘liberalism’ of Publius but the liberalism of John Stuart Mill.”
I disagree. Publius (that is, Hamilton) was a master of the liberal equivocation. In the federalist papers he argues that the anti-federalists are nutty to think that the federal power to tax and spend is a power to spend on anything considered to be for the general welfare. Then in his _report on manufactures_ after the ratification of the constitution he says that of course the federal government has the power to spend on whatever is for the general welfare. (Incidentally he argues for unrestricted immigration in the same report).
Liberals, including Hamilton and Jefferson, have always been two-faced equivocating liars.
“The ‘liberalism’ I’m talking about is the design of a regime, whose main design spec is that there will never be a revolution or a civil war like the English Civil War which Locke and Hobbes lived through and informs their thinking tremendously.”
Again that may be a GOAL of liberalism, but it is not itself liberalism. You can’t have liberalism - whether Hamilton’s, Jefferson’s, Mill’s, Marx’s, Rawls’s, or anyone else’s - without freedom and equal rights as the basis for what is considered legitimate politics. And in any case if that DEFINES American liberalism then it was hubris on the order of Ozymandius from the beginning and died in the 1860’s.
“Liberalism is silent on the content of the laws when they don’t have anything to do with the majority getting its way in politics.”
I’ve discussed this already in this thread under the heading of the political-deontological equivocation, though I realize it has been a long thread. Also I disagree that classical liberalism is majoritarian. Classical liberalism is majoritarian as long as everyone’s equal rights aren’t violated. (This whole basket of concepts is incoherent, which can make it difficult to discuss, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a handle on it of sorts).
Also, Jimbo wrote:
“But the content of the laws is independent of the type of regime there is.”
I’ve explicitly rejected this premise elsewhere in this thread as well. As the postmoderns have observed correctly (even a broken clock is right twice a day), no set of rules and procedures is value-neutral. Lex oriandi lex credendi, or something like that.
I agree that political liberalism was largely a reaction against the protestant wars of religion, and that it has both reactionary and progressive elements in it. There are many eroding residual processes and institutions in our society that are quite valuable, especially in a post-reformation society like ours in which Church is a subject of the State and therefore not a viable rival to it and check on it: a limited freedom of speech within social class, private property, etc.
Liberalism didn’t invent those things, though, any more than Al Gore invented the Internet.
Liberalism’s ‘story’ of equal rights isn’t incoherent, assuming ‘rights’ are properly understood.
Man is never ‘free’, he must follow the ‘natural law’ which in this context is in modern idiom ‘the laws of physics’. A right is the same as a power, it’s something you can do. If you can swim across the English channel you have the ‘right’ to do so under the natural law. That won’t mean you have the right to swim across the Atlantic ocean, you’ll drown, though you do have the right to try, the laws of physics don’t ban that. Under the natural law man can do anything it allows, these are his ‘natural’ rights. The phrase ‘created equal’, by nature and nature’s God refers to this, any way you cut it all men are rather equal under the natural law described in this fashion, and IQ doesn’t matter much either. We live in a society that practices intense specialization and trade, and leverages the rather small differences among men which won’t show up in a ‘natural’ setting where you get your own food, clothing and shelter yourself.
Of course the natural law in no way forbids one man from killing another, though the intended victim might try and stop him, the natural law won’t. When only the natural law is in force, i.e. the state of nature where life is nasty, brutish and short, you’re in the war of all against all and this war is, given the rough equality of the combatants, a stalemate. Man is naturally averse to violent death (and killing others too possibly) so this situation does not appeal to him, so he (naturally) trades away the right to murder and rob other men that he has under the natural law for a contract based right (the Social Contract) that other men do not exercise their rights under the natural law that pertain to harming or robbing him. All rights are equal in rights since the rights under the natural law are roughly the same and what’s traded and received in the Social Contract is the same. We don’t expicitly think of a Social Contract, but if everybody stopped following it tomorrow, we’d be instantly in the state of nature where we’d only have to obey the natural law, the war of all against all, so we continually ratify it and it’s a real thing.
I could keep going and I’m sorry for being a bit of a show off, but what’s so incoherent about that ?
Your point about Hamilton and Jefferson being power hungry liars is taken, but that isn’t unique to liberalism, monarchs, aristocrats, and clergymen become power hungry liars too when given power, power does that to humans, not liberals.
The one thing where I might agree with you about ‘the slippery slope’ is that liberalism is different from other forms of govt like aristocracy (formal or informal) in that it makes no pretense at relying on virtue in its political actors. It’s sort of founding observation is that all forms of govt rely on being to create a ‘philosopher king’, who’s both good and wise and this attempt has been a miserable failure thoughout history, it’s never worked. Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of govt except for all the alternatives” quip captures the whole idea in a nutshell. Quite possibly abandoning the pretext entirely will lead to less virtue in society. What Mills denies is the possibility of virtue, before at least pretenses had to be kept up, an ideal counts even if noone achieves it. Since political actors aren’t even pretending to set a good example, and example is the school of man, laws for preserving virtue will naturally disappear given enough time. Inevitably though?
“A right is the same as a power, it’s something you can do.”
That may be what liberals contend, but it is another equivocation. That does not describe what a right ontologically is, or at least not *all* that a right is. A particular right is always an obligation that others have toward the right holder, and it always entails an authoritative discrimination. A particular right is always and everywhere, without any conceivable exception, an authoritative discrimination in favor of the right holder enforced against those who do not hold the right. For example, a property right is an authoritative enforced discrimination in favor of the owner of a specific piece of property and against non-owners of that property.
A requirement for equal rights enforced by government is therefore a requirement for nondiscriminatory authoritative discriminations. It is always and everywhere, without exception, a self contradictory concept.
“…liberalism is different from other forms of govt like aristocracy (formal or informal) in that it makes no pretense at relying on virtue in its political actors.”
This is another equivocation within liberalism, though it isn’t a particularly strong or important one to my mind. The founders often told us how the free and equal liberal polity would only be possible with a virtuous people. Even more modern expressions of liberalism, and closely related ideologies such as naziism, contain this concept of the free and equal new man as a necessary component.
In any case liberalism’s equivocal contention that virtue is not a requirement of leaders in a liberal polity has clearly been shown to be false in practice.
“I haven’’t consented, and wouldn’’t consent, and don’’t consent, to governance under liberalism. I _obey_ the liberal government in most things, but that is a different matter entirely. If ““consent”” is a mystical property that gets passed around implicitly from generation to generation then it isn’’t really ““consent;”” it is something else hiding behind the word ““consent””.”
Posted by: Matt on September 17, 2003 07:51 AM
as to obedience: men are by nature both social and rational. if a government acts beyond its competence and thus acts irrationally, we may comply with the enacted law, but the compliance is not obedience but prudence. for men are not bound by irrational law because irrational law is not strictly speaking a law. compliance to liberalism falls under prudential judgement, as is also evidenced from your comment “I_obey_ the liberal government in most things”.
or to put it another way, since tyranny is by its very nature irrational, and we are not bound to act or comply to that which is contrary to our nature, we are not bound to comply to tyranny. but we may through prudence choose to do so.
“A tyrannical law, through not being according to reason, is not a law, absolutely speaking, but rather a perversion of law; and yet in so far as it is something in the nature of a law, it aims at the citizens’ being good. For all it has in the nature of a law consists in its being an ordinance made by a superior to his subjects, and aims at being obeyed by them, which is to make them good, not simply, but with respect to that particular government.”
St. Thomas, Summa Theol., la, 2ae, q. 92, art. 1, ad 4
as to consent: it’s a very interesting term isn’t it. com sentire. i think it is accurate to see the term as ‘to think together’ as in an ‘ implied agreement’. socrates consented to the law. socrates drank the hemlock because of his implied agreement with the law.
using ‘consent’ in the above context also fits with the proper nature of the state which is prior to the family and instrumental cause of the family.
as aristotle writes at the beginning of the politics: “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good… … When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.”
“I suppose I should address Abby’’s ““if you don’’t like it you can leave”” quote from Plato. I’’ll concede that there may have been some validity to that notion when dealing with a small city-state. If you don’’t like California, move to Virginia. On the other hand, the notion that it would be noble (rather than cowardly) to abandon my homeland, to which I am covenanted by birth, to the liberals is counterintuitive to say the least”
Posted by Matt on September 17, 2003 09:17 AM
A state, then, only begins to exist when it has attained a population sufficient for a good life in the political community: it may indeed, if it somewhat exceed this number, be a greater state. But, as I was saying, there must be a limit” politic book 5 part 4
given that california or even virginia exceeds this limit, it is quite valid. and by the by, this limit, for all things by nature have a limit, would also solve many of the cultural problems which are commonly discussed on the blog, and which are partly due to this unnatural limitlessness.
what do you mean by covenant? what do you mean by it exactly?
“A requirement for equal rights enforced by government is therefore a requirement for nondiscriminatory authoritative discriminations. It is always and everywhere, without exception, a self contradictory concept.”
I don’t see this. Take voting. If every adult in a community, regardless of how much property he owns, has the same right to vote in the same elections, then all citizens have an equal right to vote. If citizens’ right to vote was based on how much property they had, then some would be able to vote, some not, and the right would not be equal.
“Any violation at all, or would it have to be a serious violation, or a dire violation?”
Posted by: Matt on September 17, 2003 07:51 AM
just as man’s final end is the Good, so is the government’s final end men’s Good. when the government acts contrary to men’s Good, it acts contrary to its nature and reason for being.
if a man has the habit of virtue, but commits a mortal sin, he does not cease having the habit of virtue, although the habit is weakened. if he persists in his sin, he will soon have the habit of vice. nor is mortal sin necessary for a man to loose the habit of virtue, persistent venial sin will also cause a man to loose the habit of virtue. the same can be said of the government. if the government persists in acting contrary to its end, it will acquire the habit of vice so to speak.
a government which persists by habit in acting contrary to its nature has without doubt forfeited its reason for being, and just as sin in a very real way causes men to cease to exist, so does the government by acting contrary to its final end cease to exist. and likewise the king’s kingship ceases to exist and becomes tyranny.
but when should a tyranny be deposed? let prudential judgement be men’s guide.
Mr. Auster writes:
“If every adult in a community, regardless of how much property he owns, has the same right to vote in the same elections, then all citizens have an equal right to vote.”
No. A right is always an exclusive right to something specific, even when dealing with the abstraction of democratic voting (which is the public ritual in which liberalism attempts to perfect its self-contradictory notion of equal rights). You have an exclusive right to _your_ vote. Nobody else has a right to your vote, just as nobody else has a right to your property, and the same sorts of trespass and other crimes have taken place with votes as with other property.
Equal rights is always self-contradictory.
As I mentioned before, I don’t have a full-blown theory of the authority of the state as Abby seems to. But Abby’s perspective is exactly the wrong one. She dismisses objections to rebellion because rebellion in her schema is a prudential judgement, and she seems to be saying that any state above a certain size is intrinsically invalid. The Roman Empire was pretty large, but Christ still admonished his followers to give unto Caesar. Also I think much of Acquinas’ writing is directed toward a Catholic State. He doesn’t provide a free pass for disobedience to those (like us) born into a pagan State.
I say that if you are going to start disobeying the law and engaging in violent rebellion, the burden of proof is on you. The burden of proof is NOT on preexisting institutions to justify themselves to you in order to gain (or retain) your consent, whatever squirrely thing is meant by consent in this particular moment.
Here are two syllogisms that I hope won’t embarrass me too much.
1. A government discriminates when it treats one citizen more favorably than another.
2. The American government treats citizen A more favorably than citizen B when the government confiscates B’s property and gives it to A.
3. Therefore, the American government discriminates against citizen B.
1. A government discriminates when it treats one citizen more favorably than another.
2. The American government treats citizen A (who is in favor of the principle that everyone should have the right to vote) more favorably than citizen B (who is opposed to allowing anyone to vote) when the government forces citizen B to refrain from stopping citizen A from voting.
3. Therefore, the American government discriminates against citizen B.
Any syllogism at all that denotes an instance of the government exercising its authority denotes an authoritative discrimination. The situation with voting authoritatively discriminates in more ways than just the one Mr. Murgos points out (this despite the fact that democratic voting is supposed to be the ultimate immanent expression of equal rights). Supposedly the fact that ballots only have one candidate in despotisms is a violation of equal rights, as the property title “I own everything” would also (supposedly) be a violation of equal rights. Liberals think that by putting more than one liberal candidate on the ballot that they’ve made things more equal. You can have any candidate you want, as long as he is a liberal.
Also, I would point out that when the police come and eject a trespasser that is a good thing. It is also an authoritative discrimination between the owner and the trespasser, whose rights to the property are not equal. The issue is not that political discrimination is a universally bad concept; it is that political equality is a universally bad concept. Sometimes a particular authoritative discrimination is good, sometimes it is bad. But political equality is a contradiction in terms: every actual political act in real life involves authoritative discrimination, even in Mr. Auster’s artificially constrained circumstance of just the voters in a single election. The votes of the guys who got to write the ballot, and who got to make the rules for writing the ballot, are not equal to mine. Every invocation of political equality as the justification for a government action is a lie, without exception.
We live in a world of particulars: particular things and particular acts which are always distinct from each other. My vote is not your vote, and you supposedly don’t have a right to steal my vote from me. An actual right is always a right to a particular thing, and it is always exclusive, never equal.
“An actual right is always a right to a particular thing, and it is always exclusive, never equal.”
This is how Jimbo’s Jeffersonian classical liberalism *inevitably* gives rise to some form of modern socialist liberalism, by the way. Marx was insightful enough to realize that the only kind of equality that has any consequences at all, that can discriminate between traditional monarchy and rational modern democracy and find the former wanting, is a substantive equality. Procedural equality is any empty concept, because no set of procedures is value-neutral. It is just a cloak of supposed legitimacy placed over the old traditional political discriminations, which lie hidden but unchanged (to the liberal mind) beneath.
Marx’s largest single intellectual failure was that he did not realize that equal political rights is a self-contradictory concept in general that a rational man quite literally has to abandon entirely. You can either be rationally coherent or politically liberal, but you can’t be both at the same time. The postmoderns express this truth with bracing, if unintentional, clarity.
Wow Matt, you are an interesting madman :).
Just to continue my ‘rights story’ from above.
The thing that men in the state of nature, the war of all against all, are fighting about is property, that is the cause. Man needs property in order to survive, without food, clothing and shelter he dies. The fighting in the state of nature is caused by the necessity of getting and keeping property, its rather malthusian, when enough men live near each other. All food, clothing, and shelter and any other property is the creation of man, he has a right to create it under the natural law (Right being that he can do it, and natural law being the ‘laws of physics’). I know I’m ignoring property man doesn’t create, namely land, but I’ll get to it. The Social Contract, in ensuring man’s life, also ensures his property, the property being the reason his life is in danger, the two are joined at the hip as it were.
Land is viewed to be owned by the first person to stick a plow in it and thus producing food, the property needed to survive, and since originally one could only own what you could plow yourself, the ‘original partition’ is assumed to be equal. This reasoning is of course extremely lame in the case of Europe, but in the US before the frontier was closed, though not entirely accurate, is not too far off the mark. You could always get your piece of the ‘original partition’ if you went west, and rarely had to pay for it, the West was settled mostly by squatters, legal sanction coming after actual possession before the Homestead Act, with legal sanction coming before actual possession after the Homestead Act.
The acquisition of property is an activity that makes men happy, if not the only one. Since men will still strive for more after they’ve reached substistence, and have always and everywhere when they could, this is a ‘natural’ fact about man. The Social Contract enables man to do so since now he need not worry about defending his property and can devote his time to creating more. This is the reason he assents put in the broadest terms.
The Contract put in the broadest terms is don’t mess with other people. It is a list of prohibitions too, it requires no ‘positive’ action, its a list of ‘do not’s not do’s. Man’s freedom, and thus his rights lie in what is not prohibited by it (and the natural law). The saying goes ‘the silence of the law is the freedom of the individual’. Freedom is the ability to exercise your rights, the amount of freedom you have and the amount of rights you have are the same.
Last, govt is merely the agency established by the parties to the Social Contract to enforce it if its broken.
Last thing about what a natural law is. The law of gravity does not cause a stone to fall to the ground, it is a description of what a stone in fact does when dropped, without a human altering what it naturally does. Since this story, whatever the founding myth of a society is, is a good description of what actually happens, and what actually happens is not the result of some prehistoric Solon who figures it all out for everyone, it just happens on its own accord just like a stone falling to earth, it is a natural law, not as precise or mathematical as Newtonian gravity, but essentially the same thing.
Lets go to the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident”
Natural fact to be seen through observation.
“That all men are created equal”
See above post where the first half of the story is.
“Endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
The creator created nature, including human nature, just like the sun and the moon. Since the social contract arises naturally as explained above, the creator thus endows man with it’s contents. He gets life, from it, he’s allowed to do anything not barred by it, liberty, and he can pursue happiness, the particular pursuit guarantted by the contract being the pursuit of property.
“Government’s are established among men to secure these rights”
To enforce the contract, and govt is natural, intended by the creator of nature as a natural consequence, it just happens.
Last but not least, the governed can get rid of the govt when it fails to perform its function, because they have the ‘right’, because they can.
Having wrote that all out in pieces over the day, I guess I have proven myself to be a rather boring madman.
But again, the word ‘right’ was universally meant to be something that you could do, something not barred by the natural law as it were, and your definition of the word ‘right’ is simply not what Publius or Barry Goldwater for that matter would have thought of it in. Noone at all thought that way before the New Deal when the meaning of the word began to shift. They would have accurately described a ‘right’ to decent housing as a duty imposed on some people to provide, throught the state, other persons with a dwelling that met certain specs, they would have been puzzled by using the word ‘right’ like Teddy kennedy does. Teddy Kennedy, and I agree with you on this, is not puzzled because he’s not smart enough to realize his concept of rights is incoherent, exactly as you say. Teddy Kennedy’s conception of rights though, is a recent invention and as far as I can see there is no sort of automatic or natural process that leads the meaning to shift, its an accident of history.
“Wow Matt, you are an interesting madman :).”
You aren’t the first to think so, I assure you.
“…your definition of the word ‘right’ is simply not what Publius or Barry Goldwater for that matter would have thought of it in.”
Since I am not a nominalist, though, the stories they tell themselves to keep their consciences clean are not what matter to me. What matters to me is what a political right actually is and entails in reality. Every political right always and everywhere not merely confers a power on the right-holder, but also asserts obligation on the part of others; obligation that is enforced by government. Every political right is intrinsically an authoritative discrimination between the right-holder and those who do not hold that particular right to that particular thing. This is true whether or not Barry Goldwater, or Marx, or Jefferson, or I myself or anyone else wants it to be true. Therefore liberalism is always and everywhere, in any form whatsoever, self-contradictory.
Liberals specifically and most moderns generally are nominalists, or have nominalist tendencies. They think they can control the implications of their assertions; that their assertions have no rational implications unless they _consent_ to those implications. Reality doesn’t work that way, though. God is not a nominalist.
“Abby’’s perspective is exactly the wrong one. She dismisses objections to rebellion because rebellion in her schema is a prudential judgement, Also I think much of Acquinas’’ writing is directed toward a Catholic State. He doesn’’t provide a free pass for disobedience to those (like us) born into a pagan State”.
Posted by: Matt on September 18, 2003 10:31 AM
aquinas’ writing was directed toward the law of a tyrant as well as a tyrannical law in the particular, as is clear from the objection. as is also clear from aquinas’s reference to aristotle.
as to a “free pass”, st. thomas is quite clear, to wit:
“Man is bound to obey secular princes in so far as this is required by order of justice. Wherefore if the prince’s authority is not just but usurped, or if he commands what is unjust, his subjects are not bound to obey him, except perhaps accidentally, in order to avoid scandal or danger.”
St. Thomas, Summa Theol., 2a.2ae, q. 104 art. 6 ad 3
i don’t dismiss objections to rebellion, since i have never defended rebellion, because rebellion is contrary to men’s nature. but i have defended the right of men to depose tyranny.
as st. thomas writes on kingship:
If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a given multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or have his power restricted by that same multitude if, becoming a tyrant, he abuses the royal power. It must not be thought that such a multitude is acting unfaithfully in deposing the tyrant, even though it had previously subjected itself to him in perpetuity, because he himself has deserved that the covenant with his subjects should not be kept, since, in ruling the multitude, he did not act faithfully as the office of a king demands. (p. 27)
“ I say that if you are going to start disobeying the law and engaging in violent rebellion, the burden of proof is on you. The burden of proof is NOT on preexisting institutions to justify themselves to you in order to gain (or retain) your consent, whatever squirrely thing is meant by consent in this particular moment.”
Posted by: Matt on September 18, 2003 10:31 AM
i will substitute in deposing a tyranny in place of your ‘disobeying’ and ‘violent rebellion’ since your terms are incorrect both denotatively and connotatively.
first because a man does not ‘disobey’ unjust law since he is not under obligation to obey it. If you wish to produce an argument proving that men are under obligation to obey that which is contrary to men’s nature, i would take more than pleasure in reading it.
secondly, i agree, the burden of proof is on those who depose tyranny to prove their act a correct one, but that doesn’t mean that such proof cannot be provided. and it’s not as if tyranny can justify itself since tyranny by its very nature is not just and thus justifiable.
prudence, which by the way is a virtue, is the best guide men can have on this earth to guide them in practical matters concerning the particular. that is of course short of explicit divine revelation. but since divine revelation is not the norm in such affairs, let prudence be men’s guide.
“and she seems to be saying that any state above a certain size is intrinsically invalid. The Roman Empire was pretty large, but Christ still admonished his followers to give unto Caesar.”
Posted by: Matt on September 18, 2003 10:31 AM
as to the size of a state, are you saying that there is not a limit? i think not, and so the question remains, what by nature is the natural limit of the state. since the size of the state is relative to its end, then the best size will be that which best accomplishes its end. and a state which exceeds this size will diminish in its capacity to fulfill its end as it increases in size.
if we wish to know what that limit is, we need first look at men’s nature, as aristotle does.
these posts are becoming way to wordy, but such is life. :< )
“secondly, i agree, the burden of proof is on those who depose tyranny to prove their act a correct one, but that doesn’t mean that such proof cannot be provided. and it’s not as if tyranny can justify itself since tyranny by its very nature is not just and thus justifiable.”
I’ve been quite clear that I agree with this, in principle. There are times when a child is in the right to revolt against a tyrant father, as I mentioned waaaayyyyyy up there in this thread. But the child’s _consent_ is not where the father’s rightful authority comes from. _Consent_ is also NOT where the legitimate authority of the state comes from. The gyrations that liberal philosophers have to go through with that word, in order to pretend that it justifies their power, prove the point.
Where precisely does Acquinas say that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, if we are to treat the good Doctor as having the final word on everything political ever?
I’ll leave Abby with this thought:
“Take pains to impress on the Christian people a due obedience and subjection to rulers and governments. Do this by teaching, in accordance with the warning of the Apostle, that all authority comes from God. Whoever resists authority resists the ordering made by God Himself, consequently achieving his own condemnation; disobeying authority is always sinful except when an order is given which is opposed to the laws of God and the Church.” - Pope Pius IX, _Qui Pluribus_, 1846
Consent doesn’t come into it.
I’d like to parse this statement of Abby’s a mite closer:
“first because a man does not ‘disobey’ unjust law since he is not under obligation to obey it.”
I don’t like this phrasing because it can be easily misinterpreted to let the disobedient subject off the hook. Rather than saying that a subject has no obligation to obey an unjust command or law, it is better to say that a subject MUST DISOBEY a command or law from an earthly ruler if he is commanded to do something evil.
The notion that if you think something is unjust you don’t have to go along is pernicious in our modern age. Some might be deceived into thinking that this could justify vandalism and armed rebellion in response to an “unjust” 2% tax on tea, for example. Or that Fort Sumter ought to be shelled to preemptively prevent the collection of an “unjust” tarriff, setting off a violent civil war in which brother fights against brother and hundreds of thousands die on American soil. So it isn’t that there is no possible good interpretation of Abby’s formulation; it is just that that formulation is pastorally very unwise in our day and age, when the zeitgeist defines “justice” as “equality,” where any authority not supported by my “consent” is considered intrinsically invalid, where I consider my community to have a plenary right to secede despite the obvious violent consequences, and everyone feels he has a license to rebel against “injustice”.
Its just a dumb way to say things in this day and age, frankly.
“I’’d like to parse this statement of Abby’’s a mite closer:”
Posted by: Matt on September 19, 2003 11:51 AM
may i join in and parse it some more? a man is not under obligation to the unjust tyrant, but he may be under obligation to either the community, his family or himself to obey it. as st. thomas writes: in order to “avoid scandal and danger” and i would add for the common good. but it must be kept in mind, the obedience is only accidentally to the unjust tyrant. in other words, the obedience appears to by to the tyrant, but it is not.
“_Consent_ is also NOT where the legitimate authority of the state comes from… . Where precisely does Acquinas say that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, if we are to treat the good Doctor as having the final word on everything political ever?”
Posted by: Matt on September 19, 2003 09:17 AM
i of course agree with Pope Pius IX, _Qui Pluribus_, 1846, and have written nothing in contradiction to it.
now on to consent. consent must be understood as an agreement which puts it under “positive right”.
I answer that, As stated above (article 1 ) the “right” or the “just” is a work that is adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality. Now a thing can be adjusted to a man in two ways: first by its very nature, as when a man gives so much that he may receive equal value in return, and this is called “natural right.” In another way a thing is adjusted or commensurated to another person, by agreement, or by common consent, when, to wit, a man deems himself satisfied, if he receive so much. This can be done in two ways: first by private agreement, as that which is confirmed by an agreement between private individuals; secondly, by public agreement, as when the whole community agrees that something should be deemed as though it were adjusted and commensurated to another person, or when this is decreed by the prince who is placed over the people, and acts in its stead, and this is called “positive right.”
St. Thomas, Summa Theol., 2a.2ae, q. 57 art. 2
One more time with emphasis:
“…disobeying authority is always sinful except when an order is given which is opposed to the laws of God and the Church.” - Pope Pius IX, _Qui Pluribus_, 1846
I note that the bit where the good Doctor says that government gets its just powers from the consent of the governed is not forthcoming.
“One more time with emphasis:
”…disobeying authority is always sinful except when an order is given which is opposed to the laws of God and the Church.” - Pope Pius IX, _Qui Pluribus_, 1846”
Posted by: Matt on September 19, 2003 05:17 PM
tossing this statement on to a post as if it stands alone, makes about as much sense as stating all jews are damned to hell. while both statements are true in themselves, both are easily misunderstood.
as to your other point. i did answer it. minus a few dozen steps. but i suppose i’ll have to lay out a few more other than just a key intermediate step to the conclusion.
by the by, since you have alluded to it, i have no interest in how liberals see consent or any other aspect of government, except in the same regard as i have an interest in knowing any other error.
“…as to your other point. i did answer it. minus a few dozen steps. but i suppose i’ll have to lay out a few more other than just a key intermediate step to the conclusion.”
It seems to me that where this is going is as follows: Acquinas doesn’t actually assert the liberal formula, but Abby thinks she can construct a chain of syllogisms long enough to impute something like it to him, as long as enough of the right assumptions are tossed in in the right places. This tortured chain of neo-Thomism is then to be stood up against the plain and quite direct language of Qui Pluribus (not to mention the Bible) in order to justify an easier political disobedience than the Faith actually allows.
First, Aquinas is not an ultimate authority; therefore, unqualified reliance upon his writings, rather than the Catholic magisterium, seems unwise. Second, I propose considering whether we are trying to handle too many ideas at one time. As I understand it, Mr. Auster proposes (as a practical matter) any government must strive to have the consent of the governed and Matt proposes any government must strive to obey God.
I lean toward Matt’s idea. Consent seems counterintuitive to Catholic teaching. Jesus taught that we must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and we must look to St. Peter, upon whom He bequeathed His authority on earth. As a Catholic, I must obey the Pope when he declares I must do so under penalty of excommunication. Of course, as a Catholic, if a person who appears to be the Pope tells me to do something that seems immoral, I may pray to the Holy Trinity and consult the magisterium, and I will receive my answer in my obedience or my disobedience.
(Believe me. I am far from saintly.)
But Mr. Auster relies logically on history. Clerics and dictators have done awful things.
Mr. Murgos may misunderstand my point of view subtly, I think. My objection is to the following liberal two-step, and anything that provides it aid and comfort:
1) State that government is _only legitimate_ when it derives from the consent of the governed.
2) Use that premise as a (false) _moral pretext_ first for disobedience of the civil authority, then for rebellion.
Checks and balances are a good thing. Distributed power is a good thing. Subsidiarity is a _necessary_ thing - without it a civilization dies.
But the liberal myth about “consent of the governed” doesn’t accomplish any of this. Its first horrifically violent breakdown in the US was less than a century after the Constitution was ratified. All these platitudes about having a moral right to overthrow the terrible tyrant are revealed as empty, destructive adolescent arrogance against the background of the blood still soaked into the Manassas battlefield.
Mr. Murgos writes: “As I understand it, Mr. Auster proposes (as a practical matter) any government must strive to have the consent of the governed and Matt proposes any government must strive to obey God.”
I don’t think that’s exactly what I intended to say, though maybe it’s implied in what I said. One could imagine a society designed by Plato or Matt based on rule by God or the good, which might be much preferable to the sort of republican governments that we are familiar with. I only meant that, in the actual historical society we have had, the resistance to unaccountable government power, as seen especially in the American Revolution, represents a good aspect of liberalism. Experience shows that without such liberalism we end up, not under a benign theocracy, but under a tyranny. Europe is heading into tyranny precisely as it dismantles the political mechanisms of accountability and consent.
The liberalism I’m describing would seem to be at the core of the paleo-conservative vision, i.e., the opposition to centralized power. However, maybe I’m confusing terms here, because the real key to the avoidance of tyranny is not consent but subsidiarity; that is, the national government has some powers, the state governments have other powers, the municipal governments, families, churches, associations have other powers. But does not such a federal arrangement of separated powers imply mutual agreement, i.e., consent, among the respective levels and parts of the polity?
Let me expand on what I just said by referring to Matt’s last comment in which he summarized his position:
“My objection is to the following liberal two-step, and anything that provides it aid and comfort:
“1) State that government is _only legitimate_ when it derives from the consent of the governed.
“2) Use that premise as a (false) _moral pretext_ first for disobedience of the civil authority, then for rebellion.
“Checks and balances are a good thing. Distributed power is a good thing. Subsidiarity is a _necessary_ thing - without it a civilization dies.”
Matt rejects the idea that legitimacy requires consent of the governed. But then he says that checks and balances are a good thing. But—I reply—are not checks and balances a form of CONSENT? Checks and balances means that an act by one part of the polity can be stopped by another part of the polity. That’s another way of saying that an act of one part of the polity requires the CONSENT of the other part if it is to take effect.
Notice that in my original, 80-word article that set off this discussion which now consists of 109 comments and over 22,000 words, I did not say that democratic consent, the consent of the people per se, as in a majority election of all the people, was required. Rather, I defined the good liberalism as “the insistence that, within a political community, power, to be legitimate, must IN SOME MANNER reflect the consent of those over whom the power is being exercised.” [emphasis added.] That requirement could be fulfilled by a system of checks and balances in which the various parts of the government, representing the various parts of the society, must in effect get each other’s consent before government decrees acquire the power of law.
Mr. Auster asks:
“But does not such a federal arrangement of separated powers imply mutual agreement, i.e., consent, among the respective levels and parts of the polity?”
Only the sort that means the parties involved haven’t started shooting; that is to say, the tautological sort that Jimbo and I discussed above. Any society involves a degree of cooperation, and acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the civil authorities by the populace. The liberal wrongly equates that fact of obedience and respect for authority to voluntary “consent” as the precursor to withdrawing that consent and engaging in violent revolution. This little trick is the beginning equivocation within liberal theory. Respect for authority is redefined in terms that allow it to be changed, through an act of will, into its opposite.
Most of this is irrelevant to what we can actually do right now, though, or to what anyone can do in the time he is alotted, since it pertains to designing civilizations from above and forming governments directly out of the state of nature. I am not aware of that ever having actually occurred, and indeed that mind set is often part of the problem. The only direct relevance to right now would not be in designing a new civilization, but in justifying a revolt, it seems to me. There may be some merit in envisioning a more perfect polity, of course, but the temptation to turn that into a demand for it right now is overpowering once that is done and taken seriously - especially when part of the theorizing entails justifying pretexts for revolt against the existing civil authority under which we were all born or naturalized. So a critical first step is insuring that that won’t happen with this revision of _The Republic_.
Checks and balances are a good thing, but that doesn’t imply that our personal judgement that they are present in the current polity are necessary for the legitimacy of the polity. A polity without checks and balances, however defined, is not intrinsically illegitimate. There is no right to rebel against civil authority simply because it isn’t arranged formally the way that you or I would like it to be arranged.
Mr. Auster writes:
“Europe is heading into tyranny precisely as it dismantles the political mechanisms of accountability and consent.”
Leaving aside accountability, which I think is utterly distinct from consent (and indeed it is realizing this that lies at the root of much misinderstanding), is this really true? Are they planning to abolish democratic elections in the EU?
Has not Matt read about European Court rulings requiring, inter alia, that the British army admit open homosexuals? The British people have no say over this and scores of other issues ranging from human rights to packaging of food. Authority over these things has been transferred to European bodies which are invulnerable to popular opinion. Under the proposed EU Constitution, this unaccountable concentration of power is going to be formalized and greatly expanded.
Again Mr. Auster raises the objection that what liberals are actually doing is hypocritical and incoherent. All forms of liberalism are always hypocritical and incoherent, including the classical kind, though.
That wasn’t my question. My question was whether the European elites have expressed abandonment of the principle that government gets its just powers from the consent of the governed. I thought such an event would have made headlines, and I think rather that the European elites would be horrified by an overt abandonment of that principle. If the Eurpoean elites were to abandon their liberalism they would have no basis from which to assert that homosexuals cannot be authoritatively discriminated against, contra their consent (“their” being those governed, that is, homosexuals), in the armed forces.
There is no internally coherent liberalism to accept, so the fact that nobody really accepts liberal principles in practice can’t be used as an argument against my contention that liberalism is incoherent.
If the European elites were to repent utterly of their political liberalism then forced homosexual inclusion in the military would not be an issue, I assure you. “Consent of the governed” as the putative only legitimate basis of just politics is the _cause_ of liberal tyranny, not a savior from it. It will persist as long as it can convince enough people that it is their political messiah, though.
I think Matt had an exchange on this point with someone else previously in this thread. As was pointed out there, I think he misconstrues what’s happening in Europe. The European elites are pretty openly contemptuous of majority rule. The elites rule, not in the name of popular consent, but in the name of principles such as equal rights and economic harmonization. In practice this must dispense with popular consent, since local and national majorities might oppose equal rights and harmonization. So, for example, if a referendum in one country opposes the latest step in the advance of the EU superstate, the EU elites simply hold another election, and then another, until they get the result they want.
The proposed EU Constitution is even more explicit in its rejection of popular consent as the basis for power. I don’t have time to find quotes at the moment, but let me close with thses comments about the EU constitution by Edward Rothstein in the July 5, 2003 NY Times:
“This is not the Jeffersonian language of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” with its allusions to the Enlightenment, nor is it the language of the Bill of Rights, which limits government power. This is the language of interest groups, which, enshrined as constitutional rights, will end up guaranteeing the ruling bureaucracy its right to daily bread.
“One paragraph asserts the “right to good administration,” which is a sort of protection clause against the union’s own potentially Kafkaesque agencies, but the constitution’s atmosphere is itself uncommonly Kafkaesque. Its often knotty procedures are designed to accrue powers to the central authority while moderating the authority of pre-existing nations.
“The document … multiplies rights, it seems, because it has little faith in the ability of democratic self-government to allow subsidiary rights to grow out of others or in the wisdom of citizens to adopt some rights as laws and to reject others.
“This lack of confidence erupts in anxious assertions of authority. The constitution affirms democracy, but the language affirms restriction and power.”
this might help matt:
DE LAICIS or THE TREATISE ON CIVIL GOVERNMENT
by St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Universal Church
The Same Inference is Drawn from the Efficient Cause
The fourth argument is taken from the efficient cause. For it is certain that political power is of God, from Whom proceeds nothing that is not good and lawful. St. Augustine proves this.61 For the Wisdom of God proclaims, “By Me kings reign.”62 And below, “By Me princes rule.”63 And, “The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, and strength, etc.”64 And, “Thy dwelling shall be with cattle and with wild beasts, and thou shalt eat grass as an ox, and shalt be wet with the dew of heaven; and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth over the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.”65
But in this place other matters should be noted. First, political power considered in general, not descending in particular to Monarchy, Aristocracy, or Democracy, comes directly from God alone; for this follows of necessity from the nature of man, since that nature comes from Him Who made it; besides, this power derives from the natural law, since it does not depend upon the consent of men; for, willing or unwilling, they must be ruled over by some one, unless they wish the human race to perish, which is against a primary instinct of nature. But natural law is Divine law, therefore, government was instituted by Divine law, and this seems to be the correct meaning of St. Paul when he says, “He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.”66
Note, secondly, that this power resides, as in its subject, immediately in the whole state, for this power is by Divine law, but Divine law gives this power to no particular man, therefore Divine law gives this power to the collected body. Furthermore, in the absence of positive law, there is no good reason why, in a multitude of equals, one rather than another should dominate. Therefore, power belongs to the collected body. Finally, human society ought to be a perfect State, therefore, it should have the power to preserve itself, hence, to punish disturbers of the peace, etc.
Note, in the third place, that, by the same natural law, this power is delegated by the multitude to one or several, for the State cannot of itself exercise this power, therefore, it is held to delegate it to some individual, or to several, and this authority of rulers considered thus in general is both by natural law and by Divine law, nor could the entire human race assembled together decree the opposite, that is, that there should be neither rulers nor leaders.
Note, in the fourth place, that individual forms of government in specific instances derive from the law of nations, not from the natural law, for, as is evident, it depends on the consent of the people to decide whether kings, or consuls, or other magistrates are to be established in authority over them; and, if there be legitimate cause, the people can change a kingdom into an aristocracy, or an aristocracy into a democracy, and vice versa, as we read was done in Rome.
Note, in the fifth place, that it follows from what has been said that this power in specific instances comes indeed from God, but through the medium of human wisdom and choice, as do all other things which pertain to the law of nations. For the law of nations is a sort of conclusion drawn from the natural law by human reason;67
after reading matt’s last post, i think i see his problem. which is the same problem Pope Leo13 addressed in:
http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/L13CIV.HTM and in: http://www.newadvent.org/docs/le13id.htm
it is the error of the modernists such as hobbes and rousseau:
“Authority is the outcome of contract, not between people and prince, but of every man with every other man to relinquish solitude and its rights, and live in civil society. Rousseau is instant in pronouncing that between people and prince there can be no contract, but the prince is a tenant at will, who may be turned out of doors, with or without reason, any day that the Sovereign People assemble to vote upon him.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02137c.htm
“The question of the origin of authority seems first to have been raised by the Roman lawyers. In their hands it assumed the concrete form of the origin of the imperial power. This power they argued to reside primarily in the Roman people; the people, however, did not exercise nor retain it, but transferred it by some implicit lex regia, or king-making ordinance …Francis Suarez, S.J.Suarez argued against James I that spiritual authority is not vested in the Crown, and that even civil authority is not the immediate gift of God to the king, but is given by God to the people collectively, and by them bestowed on the monarch, according to the theory of the Roman lawyers above mentioned, and according to Aristotle and St. Thomas. Authority, he asserted, is an attribute of a multitude assembled to form a State. By their nature they must form a State, and a State must have authority. Authority, therefore, is natural to mankind collectively; and whatever is natural, and rational, and indispensable for human progress, is an ordinance of God. Authority must be, and God will have it to be; but there is no such natural necessity of authority being all centred in one person. Authority is a Divine institution, but kings are a human invention.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02137c.htm
sorry for the length, but it is of less length overall than matt’s repetitions against reason. :<)
one last comment. authority may in fact come from God directly to the king, but this does not affect consent. much the same way in marriage, authority in the father is from God, but a marriage comes into being by consent, i.e. aggrement. whether the father’s authority is through the wife and husband or directly from God, does not affect that authority rests in the father.
it can also be seen as in procreation. creation is both through the parents and God. with in this instance God causes the immaterial soul i.e. authrority, while man causes the material soul, i.e. the body politic. reason properly directs the flesh just as the ruler directs his subjects.
“Majority rule” and “consent of the governed” aren’t the same thing. The former is merely an attempt to carry out the latter. The EE think they are protecting homosexuals from a tyrannical backward majority who would lord it over them without their consent, if their rights weren’t protected by more principled liberals.
Mr. Auster assumes that “popular consent” has a coherent interpretation that is expressed in majoritarian democracy. The fundamental problem is in the _assumption_ that “consent of the governed” has any coherent interpretation at all. If the possibility that liberalism has no coherent interpretation at all is stipulated everything else falls neatly into place, from an explanatory standpoint.
I am interested in Mr. Auster’s thoughts on how I described the process above, in the light of our prior discussions on nominalism and liberalism as the exaltation of the human will over all other authorities:
“The liberal wrongly equates that fact of obedience and respect for authority to voluntary “consent” as the precursor to withdrawing that consent and engaging in violent revolution. This little trick is the beginning equivocation within liberal theory. Respect for authority is redefined in terms that allow it to be changed, through an act of will, into its opposite.”
Indeed if you look at that paragraph, as I discussed with Jimbo there are doubtless ways to use the word “consent” as a label _descriptively_ without falling into error (which is why the whole side conversation with Abby is at this point going nowhere). It is precisely at the seguey from description to prescription, where the liberal *describes* the justification for government with the word “consent” as a precursor to absolving the conscience of the rebel for supposedly withdrawing this justifying “consent”, where the error is made.
Put differently the presumption might be that Thomas Jefferson is not burning in Hell right now specifically for his acts of rebellion against the British Crown. While I would never assume that he *is*, the presumption that he is not is quite dangerous to those who would emulate his moral reasoning.
And in the light of my latest attempt at clarification, my post of September 20, 2003 01:54 PM should be modified to read:
“The fundamental problem is in the _assumption_ that ‘consent of the governed’ has any coherent prescriptive interpretation at all that differs from ‘the good of the governed’.”
(Note the addition of the word “prescriptive” in addition to the new ending phrase).
Thrasymachus’ post on September 15, 2003 12:19 AM gave us the choice between pantheism and autonomy. which is the same as a choice between the divine right of kings and hobbes’etc.
just as virtue is the mean between extremes, so is the nature of the state to be found between the false choices above.
matt appears to arguing against hobbes etc. which denies the nature of man, at the expense of the mean leans toward the opposite extreme. this is the same error as the scrupulous, who for fear of one error lean towards its opposite.
matt correctly see consent as used by the modernists as in error, but as opposed to seeking the mean, rushes to the opposite extreme which denies all consent.
Not every evil is an extreme of an Aristotlean mean. “Consent of the governed” _as something prescriptively different from “good of the governed” forming the basis for just politics_ is always wrong. There is no good liberalism. We must repent of liberalism utterly and without reservation. If we did that on a wide scale, the EU tranzis (among others) would be done for, since liberalism forms the basis of the false legitimacy of their power.
“Not every evil is an extreme of an Aristotlean mean.”
Posted by: Matt on September 20, 2003 03:44 PM
true. the theological virtues do not observe the mean, but the moral and intellectual virtues do:
“Whether the intellectual virtues observe the mean
There will be excess if something false is affirmed, as though something were, which in reality it is not: and there will be deficiency if something is falsely denied, and declared not to be, whereas in reality it is.”
St. Thomas, Summa Theol., 1a.2ae, q. 64 art. 3
although in another sense all evil is an extreme:
Whether evil is a nature?
“One opposite is known through the other, as darkness is known through light. Hence also what evil is must be known from the nature of good. “
St. Thomas, Summa Theo., 1a, art. 1
““Consent of the governed”” _as something prescriptively different from ““good of the governed”” forming the basis for just politics_ is always wrong.”
Posted by: Matt on September 20, 2003 03:44 PM
prescriptively??? hmm!? yup, i really understand that all right. what the heck are you saying??
but just for the fun of trying to understand it, let rearrange it a bit, and give it a whack.
long standing authority holds that ‘consent of the governed’ is always the same as ‘the good of the governed’. thus establishing ‘consent of the governed’ and ‘good of the governed’ as reciprocals. with this reciprocal forming the basis for just politics.
and since they are reciprocals:
1.)the agreement between the subjects and the prince forms the basis for just politics. with the agreement being a positive right.
2.)the good of the governed forms the basis for just politics. with the good being all that pertains to man’s nature.
am i close?
By prescriptive I simply mean prescribing some action, e.g. violent overthrow of an existing earthly authority.
“long standing authority holds that ‘consent of the governed’ is always the same as ‘the good of the governed’. “
“Consent” is either superfluously identical to “good” or it injects the notion that the human will (in some individual or collective form) determines the objective good. Therefore consent is either conceptually superfluous or false; and since human beings naturally want what they say to have meaning, it in practice is false.
ok matt, let me step back and get this straight, you agree, i assume that the choice of political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.
“Yet the people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions. If the political community is not to be torn apart while everyone follows his own opinion, there must be an authority to direct the energies of all citizens toward the common good, not in a mechanical or despotic fashion, but by acting above all as a moral force which appeals to each one’s freedom and sense of responsibility.
It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.(3)”
but you do not agree with St. Robert Bellarmine that ”power resides, as in its subject, immediately in the whole state, for this power is by Divine law, but Divine law gives this power to no particular man, therefore Divine law gives this power to the collected body. Furthermore, in the absence of positive law, there is no good reason why, in a multitude of equals, one rather than another should dominate. Therefore, power belongs to the collected body. Finally, human society ought to be a perfect State, therefore, it should have the power to preserve itself, hence, to punish disturbers of the peace, etc.
Note, in the third place, that, by the same natural law, this power is delegated by the multitude to one or several, for the State cannot of itself exercise this power, therefore, it is held to delegate it to some individual, or to several, and this authority of rulers considered thus in general is both by natural law and by Divine law, nor could the entire human race assembled together decree the opposite, that is, that there should be neither rulers nor leaders.
Note, in the fourth place, that individual forms of government in specific instances derive from the law of nations, not from the natural law, for, as is evident, it depends on the consent of the people to decide whether kings, or consuls, or other magistrates are to be established in authority over them; and, if there be legitimate cause, the people can change a kingdom into an aristocracy, or an aristocracy into a democracy, and vice versa, as we read was done in Rome.
Note, in the fifth place, that it follows from what has been said that this power in specific instances comes indeed from God, but through the medium of human wisdom and choice, as do all other things which pertain to the law of nations. For the law of nations is a sort of conclusion drawn from the natural law by human reason.”
do i have the above right?
The _Gaudium et Spes_ quote I take to be saying that even though in practice citizens are involved in choosing the specific forms of government, nevertheless the actual earthly authority over man comes from God. That is, the statement here affirms that even though Jimbo’s tautological form of consent is true, nevertheless just earthly authority gets its legitimacy from God not human choice. That specific quote is a refutation of the first step in the “enlightenment” political reasoning well articulated by Jimbo above.
I agree with St. Robert Bellarmine that just power resides in and for the whole state not particular individuals, so that e.g. a King is responsible for the good of the people rather than the people existing for the sake of the King. To the extent any delegation occurs it is not through anyone’s act of will and there is no right to withold or withdraw it, so again I object to the use of the language “delegate” and “consent” in our modern context not because there is no possible valid interpretation, but because there is no valid interpretation that isn’t superfluous. There seems to be a difference of opinion among orthodox Catholics about this these days. Some seem to think that articulating the truth in Enlightenment-sounding language that seems to be (but is not in actuality) conciliatory toward modern ways of thought is useful. I think it is just deceptive. It alienates the orthodox, deceives the weak minded, and emboldens the enemies of the Faith. As to whether it draws any _to_ the faith, well, that seems counterintuitive given post-VII statistics and in any case it seems a bit of a bait and switch.
So I would rather go with the straightforward candor of Pope Pius X: “…disobeying authority is always sinful except when an order is given which is opposed to the laws of God and the Church.”
In any case, I’ll point out to Abby what I pointed out above to Mr. Auster: all this state-of-nature theorizing presumes that a bunch of citizens in a state of nature get together, make nice, and decide in committee what sort of government to have. That never happens. All this state of nature theorizing gets done by guys who are not in a state of nature, but rather are already under existing governance. So they theorize about what might be proper in a state of nature, even though that state never exists in practice, and use that to justify first disobedience and then overthrow of the current order.
What it is that would be morally right starting from a state of nature is irrelevant to almost all people who have ever existed, including all of us. We aren’t a bunch of space travellers newly arrived on an empty Edenic planet. We are citizens born into a particular time, in a particular place, in particular families, and subject to particular preexisting States. One may as well ask what sort of family one would choose to have, starting from the state of nature behind a veil of ignorance. It is no accident that those who buy into “starting from a state of nature” politics in fact are asking those kinds of questions about family as if the premeses were legitimate.
So the question is really NEVER “what would be the right thing to do starting from a state of nature?” All that sort of theorizing is empty, yes even when engaged in by Saints in an effort to evangelize or answer moderns. If you ask the wrong questoin you will get the wrong answer, and the right question for 99.999999% of all people ever is “when am I compelled to disobey the existing State” not “what is a moral way to form a State from scratch”.
Ask a stupid question and you’ll get a stupid answer.
“this state-of-nature theorizing presumes that a bunch of citizens in a state of nature get together, make nice, and decide in committee what sort of government to have. That never happens”.
Posted by: Matt on September 22, 2003 08:03 AM
true. hobbes’ state of nature is contrary to man’s social nature. it is as if prime matter exists in its self as a substance, i.e. with a form. but just as prime matter may be in potency, it is potency from one form to another. likewise man is never in a state of nature as hobbes understands it, but in potency from one form of government to another. so just as prime matter must by nature have a form and is never without a form, so must men by nature live is society.
“What it is that would be morally right starting from a state of nature is irrelevant to almost all people who have ever existed, including all of us. We aren’’t a bunch of space travellers newly arrived on an empty Edenic planet. We are citizens born into a particular time, in a particular place, in particular families, and subject to particular preexisting States.”
Posted by: Matt on September 22, 2003 08:03 AM
it is irrelevant because it is an error, and only relevant because there are some who contend it to not be in error. since men are by nature social, and society existed from the creation of our first parents, and thus society was never in potency as a state of nature, if follows that even space travelers are in society, and never in a state of nature.
So the question is really NEVER ““what would be the right thing to do starting from a state of nature?”” All that sort of theorizing is empty, yes even when engaged in by Saints in an effort to evangelize or answer moderns.”
Posted by: Matt on September 22, 2003 08:03 AM
it is never a question in so far as it is the wrong question since hobbes’s state of nature in intrinsically in error. and no catholic schoolman of note has ever as far as i know ever attempted to argue from this wrong principle. arguing from wrong principle will always lead to error.
and so much for the error of the “state of nature”, which from a false premise leads to vicious conclusions.
i’ll have to come back later to go through matt’s other post on September 22, 2003 08:03 AM
let me clarify my first point.
“it is as if prime matter exists in its self as a substance, i.e. with a form.”
prime matter must have a form, but the form is not the form prime matter. the form is that which forms prime matter. the form is apple or man or chair etc..
this is the error of the presocratics and the modernists which denies substantial change and holds instead that all entities are different by size, shape, arrangement and place. for the presocratics and the modernists prime matter is a substance per se.
I guess the main point to the latest exchange is that Abby and I agree that “state of nature” political theorizing is crap, and it always leads to results which are crap. No human being ever exists in a pre-social state of nature. Certainly nobody reading this right now exists in a pre-social state of nature.
The point to liberals postulating such a state, and then reasoning that a government is then formed by consent from that state, is to lay the moral groundwork for withdrawing that consent. Obedience of authority is observed as a fact, and then is _defined_ as consensual in order to turn it into its opposite, disobedience of authority, through an act of will. This bait-and-switch equivocation is the seed of the liberal error, and it should be utterly rejected and repudiated without reservation wherever it is encountered.
Even if there are legitimate ways to use the word “consent” in discussing just politics that practice should be shunned in this day and age because it inevitably makes people think that authority is legitimate because we will its legitimacy or delegate its legitimacy in an act of will. That is never the case. A father’s legitimate authority is not delegated to him by his sons in an act of will, and a sovereign’s legitimate authority is not delegated to him by his subjects in an act of will. We are born subject to a particular sovereign and a particular father. Delegation and consent are explicit acts of the unencumbered will, and explicit acts of the unencumbered will don’t come into it.
I wonder whether Matt would obey a Hussein and fail to seek to overthrow a Hussein if Matt were a Catholic and lived under Hussein’s rule. Iraq’s citizens must have been in constant mortal fear of Hussein’s officials from lowly beaurocrat to soldier and to policeman. Please excuse me if Matt has already answered impliedly or explicitly.
One reason I ask is I recently discovered a name for what might be an excellent way of teaching the basic ideas this Site’s sponsors believe: story. (It’s an idea I hope to investigate further as a tool to educate myself, as I have no talent for writing.) I have proposed this idea before but did not know there was a name for it. This question is an extreme abbreviation of story and might not even qualify as story.
Mr. Murgos wrote:
“Please excuse me if Matt has already answered impliedly or explicitly.”
Certainly. Mr. Murgos might note several of my posts in the thread above, where I specifically say that there are times when it is morally right for a son to disobey his father, or a subject his sovereign. In neither case, though, do the just powers of the father or the sovereign come from the consent of the sons or the subjects.
Under the liberal philosophical posture toward authority, the sovereign serves at the pleasure of the people, who can fire him at will. That is, the sovereign’s authority is delegated to him by the people; or the people consent to the governance of the sovereign (note the comprehensive lack of any examples of this actually occurring in history, and the resultant mental gyrations about implicit consent and states of nature in liberal theory). On my own view of authority (I don’t claim magisterial authority to proclaim it for all Catholics, by the by), the sovereign serves at the pleasure of God. If the people are *compelled* by God’s law to disobey, or even to revolt, then they *must* do so. Otherwise, they *must* obey. The sovereign’s (or father’s) just authority does not derive from an explicit act of the unencumbered will of “the people” (or the sons).
I have not followed Matt’s long discussion with Abby. Part of the problem has been its abstractness from any recognizable political reality. It would be helpful if Matt could point to any historical examples of the sort of polity he believes in, one in which “the sovereign serves at the pleasure of God. If the people are compelled by God’s law to disobey, or even to revolt, then they must do so. Otherwise, they must obey.”
All polities ever work this way in actual fact. Not a single soul involved in this discussion consented to the American founding, for example, and the American founding did not occur starting from a Hobbeseian state of nature (an odd name for something that never occurs in nature). So as far as the factual state of things goes my characterization of authority is true always and everywhere without any notable exceptions. We aren’t obeying the laws in America right now because we consent to them in a free act of the unencumbered will; that much ought to be manifestly obvious.
The factual state isn’t the most controversial bit though. The controversial bit is over the moral determination of when a rebellion against existing authority is just. My contention is that that is only the case when that rebellion is _compelled by God’s law_. Saying that you don’t like a 2% tax on tea, and that the sovereign serves at your pleasure so you don’t have to pay it, isn’t good enough. If the sovereign is wantonly murdering hundreds of thousands of citizens in a reign of terror in order to pursue a narcissistic life of a billionaire playboy tyrant that is another matter. If you become convinced that it is sinful to obey the tyrant then you must disobey. If it is not _sinful_ to obey then it is sinful to disobey. There is no discretionary middle ground with respect to what you _want_, but only to the extent that you have honest uncertainty as to the facts and the law (Abby’s “prudential judgement”).
The question is to Matt, but may I throw in two cents?
Part of the problem has been its abstractness from any recognizable political reality.
Posted by: Lawrence Auster on September 23, 2003 02:39 PM
I only wish it was unrecognizable from any political reality. But unfortunatly, Hobbes, Rousseau, Tom Paine, etc. have us by the throat and are throttling us.
I posted two encyclicals together, not far back, which lay out the problem, and what is an acceptable polity concerning the issue at hand.
“If you become convinced that it is sinful to obey the tyrant then you must disobey. If it is not _sinful_ to obey then it is sinful to disobey.”
So, if a tyrant devises a tax system that leaves everyone with just enough after-tax income to live at a subsistence level, in order to make himself a trillionaire, then I would have to prove to myself that it is sinful to obey his tax laws in order to rebel. As numerous Christians have lived at a subsistence level over the centuries and it has not necessarily hindered their relationships with God, it might be hard to convince myself of that.
I was attempting to lead Matt into a more accessible articulation of his views, where they might become meaningful to more readers than I suspect is now the case. He has laid out a concept of social order which I’ve never heard of, and which I don’t know how to locate within the Western tradition. His descriptions don’t jibe with any polity I know of. So this discussion remains somewhat impenetrable to me.
Reply to Matt’s other post on September 22, 2003 08:03 AM
Consent when misunderstood, is no different than any other error, but as you note, the error is not in consent per se.
I think it’s more clear if attempt to make some distinctions, which in this instance, is a bit like separating out the human soul.
Men do not will society, just as they do not will their nature, but men do will the particular, that is, men do will this or that society. Further, society does not exist separate from authority, but authority is not the same as society. The authority is from God, and finally rests in God, but a particular society is created by man.
Government is the means of implementing authority. With authority coming from God. The authority is not willed, but the means of implementing authority is willed.
The universal is men are by nature social, from this follows the authority of God to direct men in society.
The particular is the willing of this society or that. And since society cannot exists without authority, the willing of this particular government or that, and further the willing of this particular ruler or that.
God is the efficient cause of man’s social nature and of God’s authority. But man is the efficient cause of the particular society, government, and ruler.
The legitimacy of each is according to the efficient cause of each.
Mr. Coleman seems to understand me perfectly. If a person had a right to violently rebel simply based on the fact that he has already paid more taxes than any ten others will pay combined in their entire lifetimes, why then I have a right to violently rebel right now. I don’t see myself as having such a right, though.
There is some artificiality to Mr. Coleman’s putative example, of course, since the specific circumstance he describes has never existed as defined and probably can’t exist as a practical matter (that is, one in which a tyrant engages in vast economic confiscation, yet maintains subsistence for all citizens and commits no other wrongs). But in the abstract, yes, he gets it.
“Consent when misunderstood, is no different than any other error, but as you note, the error is not in consent per se.”
I don’t think it is just that consent is misunderstood by the Lockeans. I think that Catholic apologists for consent, who attempt to redefine it as something other than an act of unconstrained will, are making an error in labeling. If we accept their premeses — that consent isn’t really an act of unconstrained will but really something else - then of course the sentences they string together may indeed say something meaningful. But they aren’t really talking about _consent_.
The trouble and its abstract nature go at least as far back as William of Ockham, in my view.
Mr. Auster wrote:
“He has laid out a concept of social order which I’ve never heard of, and which I don’t know how to locate within the Western tradition.”
That isn’t really true though. My view is a part of the much-maligned Christian tradition that admonished slaves to be good slaves and masters to be good masters. I think my view IS the consistent tradition of Western Christendom, and that first the European kings and later the liberals rejected it in favor of their own theories as an excuse to rebel. This was underway in the political and philosophical realm before the Protestant revolt was a glint in Martin Luther’s eye. It is an old struggle, and there are few left on my side of it, but I daresay that the issues Western traditionalists worry about would be less of a worry if there were more who held to the older tradition.
“If a person had a right to violently rebel simply based on the fact that he has already paid more taxes than any ten others will pay combined in their entire lifetimes, why then I have a right to violently rebel right now. I don’t see myself as having such a right, though.”
Posted by: Matt on September 23, 2003 05:18 PM
Whether you see your self as having such a right is not of consequence, but whether such a right exists, and how it exists. Truth is not subjective.
Matt as singular does not have a right to violently rebel against a tyrant so disposed, but the community, the collective does have such a right, given that all requirements for revolt are met.
I’m glad to hear that Matt considers it to be part of a recognizable tradition. I’m sorry I don’t more readily understand Matt’s writings, especially as I solicited his opinion in the first place.
I don’’t think it is just that consent is misunderstood by the Lockeans. I think that Catholic apologists for consent, who attempt to redefine it as something other than an act of unconstrained will, are making an error in labeling. If we accept their premeses —— that consent isn’’t really an act of unconstrained will but really something else - then of course the sentences they string together may indeed say something meaningful. But they aren’’t really talking about _consent_.
Posted by: Matt on September 23, 2003 05:24 PM
Matt, seriously, can you cite a single schoolman to back up your position on consent?
No Catholic apologist, and mean no one, or at least no one who can think, uses consent in the manner you say they use it. The unconstrained will is a notion completely foreign to Catholicism. The Faith through the intellect guides the properly ordered will.
And lastly, consent is exactly what they mean,
Since men are the efficient cause of the particular political power etc.
And since “this power resides, as in its subject, immediately in the whole state, for this power is by Divine law, but Divine law gives this power to no particular man, therefore Divine law gives this power to the collected body”.
It follows by necessity that “, ”this power is delegated by the multitude to one or several, for the State cannot of itself exercise this power, therefore, it is held to delegate it to some individual, or to several”.
“Whether you see your self as having such a right is not of consequence, but whether such a right exists, and how it exists. Truth is not subjective.”
Yes, yes of course. I write in that style so that I am not seen as saying “here is how things are, and everyone who disagrees is a moron!”. But my attempt at a respectful writing style, and my acknowledgement that my opinions are my own, should not be misconstrued as tentativity. I do indeed think I am objectively right.
“Matt as singular does not have a right to violently rebel against a tyrant so disposed, but the community, the collective does have such a right, given that all requirements for revolt are met.”
With all due respect that is just another tautology: if all the moral requirements for revolt are met then all the moral requirements for revolt are met. Also in practice the community as a collective is never unanimous in a revolution, so what Abby seems to be suggesting (if I attempt to interpret her statement as non-tautological) is that in sufficient numbers revolt becomes presumptively justified. In my view it is quite possible for even a unanimous violent revolt to be unjustified, since right and wrong do not depend on majority opinion or even unanimous opinion. But if a unanimous (other than the deposed sovereign) violent revolt can in principle be unjustified, then it is not possible to think of consent as justification.
The fact that consent is “withdrawn” (though how one could withdraw something one never explicitly extended remains a mystery) is never in itself a sufficient justification for revolt.
Mr. Auster wrote:
“I’m glad to hear that Matt considers it to be part of a recognizable tradition. I’m sorry I don’t more readily understand Matt’s writings, especially as I solicited his opinion in the first place.”
No problem at all, I recognize that my perspective is radically disconnected from the mainstream, even mainstream traditionalism (if there is such a thing!). I appreciate the invitation into the discussion; I’ll probably have to go back to my lurking and get a few other pressing things done though!
But what I’m hoping Matt would do is try to frame or contextualize his thoughts in a more familiar language of political science, so that they could be understood better. Traditional Catholic ideas of politics are not foreign to people. I don’t think your ideas are impossible to understand. But they need to be placed in a context that will make them more understandable to others.
“The unconstrained will is a notion completely foreign to Catholicism.”
I’m not navel-gazing at least at the moment, though. If the folks reading this discussion were on a jury that had to determine if an alleged rape victim consented to sex, they (and I) would try to determine whether or not she had chosen, in an act of her unconstrained will, to have sex.
Sorry, but I really am going to have to bug out for a while and get some other things done. But in the meantime, happy liberal-hunting!
Reply to Matt’s post on September 23, 2003 06:25 PM
Your problem is in the particular, not the universal.
Since the Church teaches that the collective can justly revolt against the tyrant, then there must be some particular where such circumstance can occur.
As just war doctrine guides authority, so does the Church’s teaching guide revolt against the tyrant.
Both are written in the universal to giude the particular acts of men.
Sorry, but I really am going to have to bug out for a while and get some other things done. But in the meantime, happy liberal-hunting!
Posted by: Matt on September 23, 2003 06:48 PM
I was about to write the same. I’ll be gone for a few weeks, and likewise “happy liberal-hunting”.
“Since the Church teaches that the collective can justly revolt against the tyrant, then there must be some particular where such circumstance can occur.”
Grumble. I have never denied this, and indeed I’ve affirmed it a number of times. What I have denied is that a government’s just powers derive from the _consent_ of the governed, such that a withdrawal of that _consent_ is sufficient justification for rebellion.
Bye all till next time, remember to always keep a round chambered and keep your actions clear.
Matt’s position seems to be this: that a government’s dominion over the governed doesn’t arise from the consent of the governed, but instead reflects the proper and natural order of things as instituted by God. To put it as abby did awhile back: since man is a social animal, it is natural and good for him to have a government over him. The *authority* of the state, then, doesn’t derive from the will of the people. It is entirely natural.
At the same time, the *just powers* of a state are merely the vehicles through which the state’s natural and lawful authority is exerted. Consequently, if some just power be denied to the state which is necessary for the state to exert its natural authority, then such denial is literally a crime against nature—it is a perversion (by way of obstruction, or starvation) of the natural and proper order of things. Thus, the just powers of the state cannot derive from the will of the people, inasmuch as the people are perfectly capable of denying their government some necessary and just power.
I hope I haven’t stated it too clumsily, but I believe this is Matt’s position. He will, of course, correct me if I’m wrong.
Some eighty or ninety posts back I argued that the conditions that allowed for Matt’s political theory in antiquity no longer apply in the modern world, namely that rulers neither rule by divine sanction in the eyes of the ruled nor, perhaps more importantly, do rulers themselves believe themselves to rule by divine sanction with the responsibilities that would entail. “Consent” and “states of nature” were the liberal fictions invented to allow for the continuance of necessary state power without the paternalism and religion of the older model.
Just because we lack the “right” to rebel when governed contrary to our “consent” doesn’t mean that rebellion is always wrong. Prudence is all that remains. We must realize that revolutions usually lead to even worse situations, that the costs of revolution are great and include many unanticipated consequences, and that the political organization of society is only part of what matters for our lives and souls. And no rebellion can be just or successful if it’s based on untrue abstractions like consent. But since modern states are generally built on such abstractions I can’t see how they have any special legitimacy in the face of rival claimants to power.
Rebellion is also needlessly dichotomized by the notion of “consent”, which suggests that rule is either just or unjust without gradation. But when the Thirty Tyrants ordered Socrates to act unjustly he simply went home, neither obeying nor rebelling.
“But since modern states are generally built on such abstractions I can’t see how they have any special legitimacy in the face of rival claimants to power.”
Your father is still your father, whether or not he is dysfunctional or if you consent to his rules, and he has special legitimacy merely in the fact of being your father. As a son you can live with an immature, narcissistic, rebellious father in a number of ways. If you want things to get better in the long run, though, it won’t be by adopting your father’s attitude of immature narcissistic rebellion. The best thing to do (barring some crime on his part for which you are morally compelled to kill him or leave to live in another home), is to treat his office with respect even if its holder is not worthy.
Your father is always your father. In antiquity, the ruler was (metaphorically) your father. In modernity, the ruler is not your father in reality or in metaphor.
I think that the fact that modern rulers don’t claim the rights and responsibilities of antique paternalism is central, more than whether the subject views the ruler as a father. What do I owe to a man who is not biologically related to me and who doesn’t claim to be my father? Certainly not filial duties.
“In modernity, the ruler is not your father in reality or in metaphor.”
You are born under a particular government in a particular place, and you are subject to its authority in the natural order of things. If your father has a wrongheaded attitude about fatherhood and tries to be your buddy rather than your father, that doesn’t make him not your father.
‘I don’t have to obey authority because old attitudes about authority are obsolete, and even my father doesn’t believe in them’ is exactly the problem. One who adopts that attitude might as well embrace liberalism whole hog, without reservation, in my (firmly held) opinion.
Another quick clarification: Agricola’s central idea seems to be that because governments (or the individual leaders in them) don’t consider themselves to be paternal anymore, that makes them objectively no longer paternal. That is precisely the same attitude that moderns have toward fatherhood: that if one doesn’t want to be a father in the traditional sense one can simply cease to be a father by willing it so, or that one’s fatherhood is what one wills it to be.
This is obviously nonsense though. A government cannot abdicate its intrinsic nature through an act of will, just as a father cannot abdicate the intrinsic nature of fatherhood through an act of will. All either can do is _assert_ such an abdication. This will make them radically disordered, but it doesn’t change their intrinsic nature.
The same is true of subjects of a government. We owe the government our obedience (consent notwithstanding) whether we, or government officials themselves, think we do or not. Modernism is a rational extension of nominalism, and liberalism is a rational extension of modernism: their common root is that they all embody the notion that such and such is the case because we will it to be the case. This is always quite literally a lie: it is intrinsic to the truth that it is what it is irrespective of what we will. Nothing is ever true simply because we will it to be true. Even when we exert our will in order to make something true (for example “this house exists”) it is through our actual true actions (the act of building the house), not our will-qua-will, that it becomes the case. Truth is the set of things that exist in some sense whether we will them to exist or not.
The net of this is that neither Agricola nor government officials can change the true relation between sovereign government and citizen subject through an act of will, any more than fathers and sons can change the nature of fatherhood through an act of will. Things can be made horribly dysfunctional, but their intrinsic nature is impervious to our will. This further is why my reply to Mr. Auster was that all governments ever conform to this understanding of government, including our government right now, *even if the government and the people themselves attempt to deny that it is so*.
Eight hundred years of dysfunctional families is too long for me! I therefore plead guilty to liberalism in this particular form, at least.
Augustine argues that it was appropriate for the Biblical patriarchs to have multiple wives at the time when they did, but in his present age it would be a sin. I don’t think he provides any specific Scriptural evidence for the idea; simply, “to everything there is a season.” I attribute my belief of the relationship between me and the state to thought rather than will, however, just as thought rather than willed in regard to the patriarchs.
“Eight hundred years of dysfunctional families is too long for me!”
Pah! Liberalism has perhaps gestated for 800 years, but it has only utterly dominated for a few decades. I do not share in Agricola’s surrender.
Matt writes as if it is perfectly obvious what the nature of government should be, and what should be the relationship between citizens and their government. Many other writers throughout the centuries have observed that very little is said in the New Testament about this subject, and there is considerable uncertainty concerning how to apply lessons from the Mosaic age to the Christian era. There has been lively debate over time concerning the application of Paul’s word in Romans, for example, to the subject of Christian obedience to government. When he says that government authority comes from God and we must obey (see Romans 13), he immediately explains that government only exists to maintain civil order and punish the evildoer. What about the government that cannot be described in such terms at all? Shall we consider verses 1-2 divorced from the context of verses 3-7, which some would claim is wrenching verses out of context? Or are we merely seeking our own wills and attempting to use verses 3-7 as our pretext to rebel against tyrants? Christians have come down on both sides of this debate for centuries.
What neither Christian side proclaimed, for very many centuries, was that “consent of the governed” was the alpha and omega of the issue. If it were, then a rebellion need not even be justified by claiming that the government is no longer behaving as described in Romans 13:3-7. Rather, consent could be withdrawn for any reason whatsoever; as Matt would say, simply as an act of human will.
I think that this discussion would be quite a bit more concrete and understandable if the participants could make some reference to the “Great Conversation” on these issues that has been ongoing for centuries, rather than just thinking up our own hypotheticals and abstractions. For example, Christian pacifists and non-pacifists have struggled mutually with obedience issues for quite a long time. David Hume objected to the Social Contract ideas of Locke and others, and many of his points are echoed by Matt in this thread. Perhaps if we read what Locke said, then what Hume replied, ditto for Christians writing theologically on these issues, we would be rooted in the historical conversation.
For example, the Constitution Society has online copies of several major works on social contract theory. “De Cive” (The Citizen) by Thomas Hobbes is at:
John Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” is at:
David Hume’s rebuttal, “Of the Original Contract”, is at:
Mr. Coleman writes:
“Matt writes as if it is perfectly obvious what the nature of government should be, and what should be the relationship between citizens and their government.”
No more (or less) so than it is perfectly obvious what the nature of fatherhood should be, and what should be the relationship between father and children. The presumption always seems to be that a nation is something we can design rather than something we are born into, which makes “how ought we design it” into a compelling premise, rather than “how ought we to behave in the particular nation into which we were born”. I reject the notion that the first question is even relevant.
On the subject of whether the 800 year conversation with nominalism and its fruits ought to continue, I am not as ecumenical as Mr. Coleman. I think of the blood spilled in the last century (and still being spilled today) as an unequivocal verdict in itself, without even raising any of the other historical products of government-by-consent theory. It is time to stop talking and repent.
But of course that’s just my own opinion, which Mr. Auster was kind enough to solicit in comment #1.
Much as I’d love to discover that liberalism is simply incoherent, I’m not yet convinced by Matt’s arguments:
“You have an exclusive right to _your_ vote. Nobody else has a right to your vote, just as nobody else has a right to your property…”
I take it the point is that we can’t all have a right to the same vote, or votes, hence we aren’t “equal” in that respect. But this needn’t be what “equal voting rights” means. Like everyone else, I have a right to *a* vote - some vote or other. The difference is between
(1) Smith & Vote 1, Jones & Vote 2, etc.;
(2) Smith & some vote, Jones & some vote, etc.
In either case there are two people and two votes, but in (2) no particular vote is assigned to any particular person.
So it’s consistent to say that Smith and Jones are equal - identical - in this respect: they both are given some vote or other. To make an analogy, suppose a principle of “equal bank accounts”:
(3) Everyone has a bank account,
(4) No one has the same bank account.
The idea of equal voting rights is like this. It’s not that there is some particular thing - a certain vote, a certain bank account in Switzerland - that everyone has exclusively. It’s that something of the same *kind* is assigned exclusively to each person. That’s perfectly consistent, isn’t it?
And the “nondiscriminatory discriminations” seen so far (if we put it in those terms) are also consistent. (2) discriminates between Smith and Jones - distinguishes them - in that they are two different people. But it *identifies* them - and so does *not* discriminate between them - as regards their relations to some vote or other. Clearly they can be distinct in one respect and identical in another. I don’t see any further “discriminations” here…
There are countless examples of liberalism as an incoherent demand for “nondiscriminatory discrimination”, but I don’t see that the idea of equal rights is *in principle* incoherent. Again, much as I’d like to; perhaps Matt can clarify his argument on these points…
If everyone has a right to his own particular vote (well, except for those who don’t) then everyone in the voting class has a vote. It doesn’t _add_ anything meaningful to say that everyone has an _equal_ right to a vote. Either the word equal is meaningless, or it requires _something more_ than merely that everyone has his own particular right to claim an unequal instance of the class of things called “vote” if he is eligible to vote.
My contention has always been that on any given question liberalism is either utterly devoid of all meaning, or that it is actively self-contradictory.
Think of it this way: every authoritative concept within liberal thinking is an equivocation. In one mode of the equivocation the concept has no additive meaning at all (it is superfluous: that is, it makes no authoritative discriminations, as in the case of saying that everyone has his own unequal vote except for those who don’t have a vote). In the other mode it is actively self-contradictory. When called on a contradiction liberals will always retreat to the meaningless mode, as in Julien’s post about voting. It is the existence of this tautological ground, to which liberalism retreats when challenged, that makes it possible for liberalism to exist at all. A conceptual framework that was always self-contradictory, and did not have a tautology into which to retreat, would immediately collapse. That is why more honest liberalisms such as communism, naziism, and anarchism collapse sooner: the more honest liberalism is with itself the less prone it is to retreat into tautology and the sooner it actively commits suicide.
In fact, in every liberal polity a certain class of people has a particualar kind of right, each to his own particular unequal vote in any particular election. Why though? Why bother with it at all? Because it is a formal attempt to implement the idea that everyone should have an equal substantive _say_ in politics; but of course politics is an exercise in which we authoritatively discriminate, which is to say that politics is an exercise of authoritatively defining whose _say_ wins over whose. So the goal is self contradictory in principle.
Every concept that means anything at all asserts a discrimination between what it means and what it does not mean. When a meaningful concept is attached to politics it asserts a politically authoritative discrimination in particular situations that arise. The alternative is that the concept asserts no discrimination whatsoever, that is, it is meaningless. Abstractly nondiscriminatory authority is a contradiction in terms, always and everywhere. If you take away the meaning you can take away both the discrimination and the authority, but if you do that then you are no longer authoritatively political. It is no accident that liberalism becomes the active pursuit of meaninglessness.
Maybe this will be more concrete:
Say that everyone has an equal right to vote. They vote, and decide that gambling is a crime and that criminals lose their right to vote. Now all of a sudden not everyone has a right to vote: an authoritative discrimination has been made. They vote some more and put in place laws - which can never be value-neutral even in principle - that either formally or de-facto disenfranchise more voters, shift power balances, etc.
And that is if you started out with everyone having an exactly equal vote in some initial election and an exactly equal say in what questions were on the ballot; an initial condition which has never been met in reality anywhere.
Rights are not and never have been and can’t even in principle be equal, if “equal” actually _means_ something. Not even democratic voting rights are equal, and they are liberalism’s penultimate attempt to instantiate the principle of equal rights in an actual political order.
I do tend to think that using the word equal when referring to rights to vote is superfluous and a right is a discrimination. The government, therefore, can be discussed merely by using the word discrimination. “Should we make a law that discriminates against shoplifters?” “Should we enforce discrimination section 38:4342, which forbids government officials from seducing their young female workers, against Bill Clinton for using his power to attract a young female federal page?”
I am not sure though that one can analogize a person’s relationship with his parents and a citizen’s relationship with his government. Some parents are awful to their children even though the parents are not physically or sexually abusive. Such children, I suggest, would be better off leaving home for an orphanage (which I perceive, from the outside, as preferable to shifting the children from foster home to foster home). The Big Brother idea does seem worthy.
Poorly behaved governments don’t have the same degree of control over children that parents have over their children. Grown-ups can deal with bad situations. It is harder for children to deal.
Here is a counter-argument to Matt’s claim that the concept of “equal rights” is *necessarily* either tautological, or else self-contradictory. If the account of “equal voting rights” I suggested earlier is tautological, as Matt says, then it is at least true: voters are “equal” merely in that they have a right to some vote or other - not to the same vote, or votes.
Now suppose that everyone on earth is granted a vote in electing people to a world government. It would be *contingently* true that in this (hellish) scenario that “equal” voting rights obtain. So it would be neither tautological, nor self-contradictory.
It wouldn’t be merely to say that voters vote, since that is true no matter what, but it isn’t true that “equal” voting rights obtain at present - 10 year olds can’t vote, etc. If the truth-conditions differ, presumably the meaning does as well. And it wouldn’t be self-contradictory to say that “equal” voting rights obtain, as no two people have an exclusive right to any particular thing.
If the mere concept of “equal rights” were *necessarily* either tautological or else self-contradictory, then “equal rights” would obtain always and everywhere, on one reading, and never and nowhere, on the other. But the thought experiment shows that “equal rights” can obtain once - for a month before the global election, say - and then disappear. Hence there is an application of the concept that is neither tautological nor self-contradictory.
I can see how equal rights if carried to its modernist conclusions leads to either anarchy or materialist pantheism where all is subsumed, but
It’s not as if “equal right’ has no meaning at all. For instance:
All men have an equal right to life. OR
All men have a right to life. And all men share in this right equally, since this right does not vary in degree, since to be living does not vary in degree, since a person is either dead or living.
Or absolute religious equlity. A man in bondage has “equal right” with his master to the sacraments.
Equal in this sense qualifies the above ‘rights’ as to their nature of equality, versus a civil right where men are not necessary equals.
Julien’s hellish example would have to also presume that everyone has an equal say in the ballot and an equal say in all preconditions in order for actual equality obtain (note how the liberal utopian Hell has become necessary in order for putative equality to obtain, though), so it isn’t possible in actual reality even in principle. This is essentially the theory of Rawls. Also the temporal trick doesn’t somehow turn an incoherent concept into a coherent one. The claim that everyone has an equal right to vote in election X is either 1) false, if it is an attempt to express a fact; 2) self-contradictory if it attempts to say something authoritative about how election X ought to be conducted; or 3) a tautological statement about election X in which the word “equal” is completely superfluous. The social gradient is always away from option 3 because people don’t like what they say to be superfluous, especially when it (equality) is supposed to be one of the most important things.
Unfortunately my time is too short to give properly thoughful answers. But that shouldn’t be construed to mean that I concede any of the points above, all of which can be addressed and perhaps at some time I will be able to do so.
Yes I encourage Matt to attend to the duties that enable him to retain a job that allows him enough free time to contribute. (I know it is difficult because I have the same dilemma (although an electron microscope would be needed to detect enough neurons that would miss my contributions.:-)
Matt and I disagree over modality. He writes that it “isn’t possible in actual reality even in principle” for equal rights to obtain. But this is true only a reading too weak to establish that the very *concept* of equal rights is incoherent, unless it is tautological. (I’ll set aside the suggestion that it might be a false statement of fact, since that is necessarily true if “equal rights obtain” is incoherent, and necessarily false if it is tautological.)
The problem is the notion of “in principle” possibility. Are these the principles that govern *actual* reality, or those that govern any possible reality? The claim that “equal rights” obtain is necessarily impossible - conceptually or logically incoherent - only if it violates the latter principles. But it violates only the former. So it’s contingently impossible - contingently necessarily false - and hence logically and conceptually coherent).
A *necessarily* self-contradictory statement is false in virtue of logic or the meaning of its constituent terms - “if A, then not-A”, or “some bachelors are married”. By contrast, the statement that Napoleon jumped over Mont Blanc is contingently impossible (contingently necessarily false), given the laws of physics, physiology, and so on. Contingently, in that those laws might have been otherwise.
The hellish liberal utopia is impossible in this latter sense - contingently impossible given the actual history of the world, human nature, etc. (This is the weak reading of “in principle impossible” that I agree with.) But this doesn’t show that it is *necessarily* impossible for “equal rights” to obtain, i.e. conceptually or logically impossible. On the contrary, it can be contingently impossible only if it *is* conceptually or logically possible.
Now of course it’s madness to base politics on an ideal that’s impossible in light of the actual history of the world, just as it would be to base politics on an ideal that violates physics. What we don’t have yet is an argument that shows that liberalism is either tautological or *necessarily* self-contradictory, conceptually incoherent. (Again, Matt’s third option - it could be a false factual statement - is covered by the “necessarily false” reading.) I.e., that “Equal rights should obtain” is *either* like “Bachelors are unmarried”, or else like “Some bachelors are married”. Rather, we have an argument that it is just totally, wildly implausible. It is like saying, “We can remake the world so that people are never mean to each other”.
I hope this isn’t hair splitting. It seems important to me, as it touches on the question of whether there is actually a liberal *view* to attack, or just an utterly incoherent set of claims. Again, it would be fantastic to be able to conclude the latter, but I still don’t see that we can.
Given my own current constraints I am willing to stipulate that liberalism is always and everywhere logically self-contradictory with a possible exception of pathologically trivial cases that cannot possibly apply to this world. I don’t see how that weakens the claim in any relevant way though. Mathematical theorems often apply only to nontrivial cases. Liberalism is logically self-contradictory in all nontrivial cases.
Julien appears to think that there is a possible instantaneous instance of an equal right to vote in a logically possible world. (We appear to agree that after that initial primordial vote equal rights would disappear as a logical possibility even in that world as soon as the results of the first vote are used in writing the ballot and voting rules for the next (unless we stipulate that everyone always agrees about everything which I think rationally precludes the notion of politics among human beings)). I don’t think he’s shown that logically possible primordial case though. In order for it to be logically possible for the right to vote in the primordial election to be equal (that is, to entail everyone getting an equal say), then  everyone in that possible world would have to have a vote in the primordial election, and  the ballot would have to be written in such a way that everyone’s say in fact has equal weight in a way that does not discriminate, and  the particular history of that world up to that point would have to allow for the logical possibility of . This is only logically possible if the population is perfectly uniform (that is, is not composed of actual human beings since diversity from other human beings is a part of the definition of a human being). As I mentioned this is quite similar to John Rawls’ approach in _A Theory of Justice_ except that he attempts to do the thought experiment without stipulating particular people with particular opinions at the outset (in all likelihood specifically to avoid this problem).
But in any case, unless we assume ahead of time that everyone agrees about everything then after the primordial election equality becomes logically impossible. So if we assume that politics (as a logical matter embedded in its definition) involves a succession of events and more than one instant of decision, and further than not every human being agrees on everything, then equal rights is logically impossible in principle in all cases with the possible instantaneous exception of the primordial election in a logically possible world that bears no resemblance to our own.
On Abby’s post: my critique is of political liberalism, so her religious examples may or may not be logically coherent but in any case they don’t apply. As far as a political equal right to life enforced by government goes, I don’t believe that there is such a thing. It is true that the government bans murder (though not all killing), and that if you are killed the government may punish your killer (if you were killed by another person). But an equal political (which is to say government-enforced) right to life, or even an equal right to have your killers punished if you are killed, is not something that actually exists in practice. Many, many attributes distinguish one death from another, and when government is involved at all it is to authoritatively discriminate between one man’s death and another. That is the very nature of government: authoritative discrimination.
Thanks to Matt for clarifying his position. Our disagreement is over whether it is logically or conceptually possible for “equal rights” to obtain - even just for 20 seconds, and only in a non-actual world.
(I’m not sure if Matt grants that the existence of such a case would be enough to establish that the concept of “equal rights” is not logically incoherent, but I’m assuming it would. How could a logically incoherent claim be true under any circumstance whatever?)
Matt’s third condition is that the history of the possible world in question be such that it is logically possible for everyone’s say in the vote has equal weight. And “[t]his is only logically possible if the population is perfectly uniform”. But the actual history of the world doesn’t bear on what is *logically* possible. It’s logically possible that people have an “equal” say in the sense Matt suggests even if actually they never have or will - just so long as the *other* two conditions don’t entail a contradiction. So I’d say the third condition is satisfied vacuously, if ever the first two are.
That leaves the other two conditions: (1) everyone has a vote, and (2) no vote counts more than any other. Now as far as I can see these entail no contradiction. Of course they are contingently impossible, given how the actual world has been and is. (And, for the above reasons, I don’t agree that (1) and (2) would *become* logically impossible after the vote; they’d become *contingently* impossible.)
So I agree with Matt’s conclusion that the scenario is possible, if it is, only in “a logically possible world that bears no resemblance to our own”. That’s to say that liberalism is an attempt to realize a logical possibility (actually) ruled out by contingent facts. This doesn’t show that the concept of “equal rights” is incoherent. On the contrary, if we try to imagine how (1) and (2) could be approximated in the actual world, we begin to see the logic of liberalism.
For example, (2) obtains only if (among other things) the questions to be decided politically transcend the particular interests of any nation, culture, community, religion, etc. Otherwise they will be weighted in favour of the interests of some people. If the vote is between, say, a radical and a moderate Muslim, orthodox Jews and agnostics will not be able to participate equally in the voting process with Muslims. And so on.
In short, (1) and (2) would require that politics be purged of almost all substantive disagreement. The culmination would be something effectively apolitical, but which might still have a political form - regular votes, for example. The equal vote is logically possible, and the kind of equality it represents might even be sustainable; but it wouldn’t be *politics*. (I take it Matt is suggesting something like this in his last post.)
So if anything, it’s *here* that I’d want to say liberalism is incoherent: “equal rights” are logically possible, but only if politics is abolished; hence a political order based in equal rights is a contradiction in terms. But to attack equality this way presupposes that the concept is coherent.
I suppose it is also worth pointing out that Abby’s religious example, though it doesn’t apply to equal political rights specifically, is itself either false or tautological. A schismatic or other non-Catholic, or a Catholic in unrepentant mortal sin, doesn’t have a right to the sacraments. By saying that everyone has an equal right to the sacraments Abby seems to be saying that everyone who has a right to the sacraments has a right to the sacraments. This is the tautological form to which I have referred many times. The word “equal” adds no meaning above and beyond simply omitting it in the tautological forms.
“Our disagreement is over whether it is logically or conceptually possible for “equal rights” to obtain - even just for 20 seconds, and only in a non-actual world.”
Indeed, and thanks for helping to get to this level of clarity. If I say “all the non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half” that is a logically rigorous assertion. Similarly, “all non-trivial instances of government-enforced equal rights are self-contradictory” is a logically rigorous assertion.
OK, now I see Matt’s contention: It’s logically possible that (1) equal rights obtain; not that (2) government enforces equal rights. The concept is coherent, but contingently inapplicable to any actual state of things. I’m tempted to say we agree (?). Thanks to Matt for an illuminating conversation, I’ll have to think about this.
(Just in case it’s unclear, my (1) above is Matt’s “trivial” case, (2) is his “non-trivial”. I assume that if a concept has possible, even if trivial, applications it must be coherent. That’s what we seem to agree on (?).)
“The concept is coherent, but contingently inapplicable to any actual state of things.”
Well, I am not sure that the concept is coherent even divorced from politics. It might be coherent divorced from all forms of _authority_, but then I think that a right is intrinsically an assertion of authority. It seems to me that every right even in the abstract asserts an authoritative discrimination, and that nondiscriminatory discriminations are not logically possible. I am also tempted to say that a right that can’t apply to any actual state of affairs isn’t a right, so properly defined the concept of equal rights is always incoherent.
I’m not sure these points are worth arguing over though! I am quite content with Julien’s statement:
“So if anything, it’s *here* that I’d want to say liberalism is incoherent: “equal rights” are logically possible, but only if politics is abolished; hence a political order based in equal rights is a contradiction in terms.”
I do try to restrict my equal rights critique specifically and my liberalism critique generally to _political_ claims. I stipulate (that is, I don’t plead guilty but rather I plead no contest) that there may be a coherent liberalism that is entirely apolitical (and possibly even both apolitical and non-tautological!), and in the past I have observed that the most consistent political liberal is the anarchist since equality if taken seriously invalidates all discrimination of all kinds and thus all authority of all kinds.
At the end of the day these are just quibbles, though. The main point is that one can be rationally coherent, or one can be politically liberal (this is true for ANY form of political liberal), but one can’t be both at the same time.
Thanks again to Julien for helping sharpen up the boundaries!
From Shawn’s link to the Claremont Institute:
“We at the Claremont Institute do not share the conservative ambivalence about the principles of the Declaration. We believe that liberty and equality and rights are entirely good, as those terms were understood by our Founders. A people that is a “good people” (as we called ourselves in the Declaration) cannot have too much of these good things. The problem today is not that we have too much equality, too much liberty, too many rights. The problem is that we are well along in a process of abandoning equality properly understood, and liberty and rights properly understood.”
Obviously most people of good will (I won’t say “conservatives” since it is impossible to be anything but one form of radical or another in the modern order) don’t yet get it, that one can either be liberal, or rationally coherent, but not both simulaneously. There is literally no possible way to “properly understand” equal rights without making it either tautological or false.
The escape hatch is nominalism, of course. Always classical liberal apologists ask “what would the founders have thought of X” as if the founders have some magical control over all of the implications of their philosophy as it encounters nature. Nothing in reality actually works that way though, ever; not even in the realm of pure abstract thought. We are not God, not even in our minds. Bernhard Reimann was brilliant, but he would doubtles be confounded by many of the results that have followed from the hypotheses that all non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half. The fact that the founders in all likelihood would be horrified by the ultimate results of their project does not mean that what you see around you today is a corruption of their ideas. It is, in fact, the actual results of their political project and its encounter with nature.
Every particular form of liberalism is dead anyway, ultimately, by its own hand. It is only by repenting of it utterly that men of good will can preserve the permanent things, the task of any conservative properly understood.
Julien’s and my remaining difference of opinion is probably irrelevant, but I may be able to point out where exactly it resides:
“That leaves the other two conditions: (1) everyone has a vote, and (2) no vote counts more than any other.”
(2) is not an accurate representation of the second criteria, doubtless because I did not specify it clearly enough. The second criteria is that the ballot has to be written in such a way that everyone has an equal _say_. I can easily write a ballot in which no vote counts more than any other, but yet in which not everyone has an equal say in the outcome, to wit:
Choice 1: In Newcountry, Matt owns everything
Choice 2: In Newcountry, Julien owns everything
Please enter your choice here:
Now, the votes of the 30 million people in the election can satisfy the condition “no vote counts more than any other” without everyone having an equal _say_ in the ultimate political outcome. Julien has simply _assumed_ that it is possible to logically construct a ballot condition in which everyone has an equal _say_. I don’t have a mathematical proof that such a thing is impossible - as I mentioned this is really just an academic aside that doesn’t affect the fundamental rational incoherence of liberalism - but I will point out that Julien has simply assumed the possibility without specifying it. The need to specify it was my third criteria, which because of how ambiguously I wrote it Julein thought of as being a contingent fact rather than a logical requirement.
Well, maybe this is really hair splitting, but I think I can rephrase my objection to Matt’s condition (2) from way back when. My paraphrase of (2) was ambiguous, but I did in fact have in mind precisely what Matt now says by way of clarification: the questions on the ballot have to be written so as to guarantee that everyone has an equal say.
(Hence my suggestion that *this* condition would require the abolition of politics. I assume condition (2) is logically possible, but inconsistent with anything we’d recognize as politics. Eg., everyone could have an equal say over the colour of the King of the United Nations’ cape, but not over anything that matters to anyone. It’s the combination of (2) and the claim that politics is taking place that I think is logically impossible, not (2) alone.)
The point is that condition (2), so understood, is not a condition for equality of voters, or voting rights, but for equality of *votes*. A stronger notion of equality (eg., Matt’s “actual equality”.) By analogy, a principle of “equal bank accounts” might require that that everyone has the same account balance - or it might merely require that everyone has a bank account. If the latter, everyone is “equal” in that respect, but obviously not everyone has the same economic power.
So condition (2) would be sufficient but not necessary for “equal voting rights” to obtain, unless we presuppose that “equality” can only have the strong reading. But there’s no need to assume that. And since condition (3) is necessary only if (2) is, that leaves just (1): everyone has a vote.
This makes the larger argument clearer to me: If “equal voting rights” means merely that everyone has a vote, it does nothing to further the liberal goal that everyone has an equal say. It would be like trying to eliminate poverty by opening an empty chequing account for every poor person. But if “equal voting rights” means anything more, then for the reasons already suggested, it can’t be that this voting business is a form or *politics*.
Matt and I still disagree over some modal stuff, I think. I hold there’s a reading of “equal voting rights” on which “actual equality” is logically possible but historically (and otherwise) impossible, and a second on which it’s logically impossible. (Likewise, I still don’t see that (3) is coherent: the actual history of a world doesn’t determine what’s *logically* possible at that world.) In any case, I agree that these latter points are quibbles - either way, a genuinely political reading of “equal voting rights” is incoherent…
“…the actual history of a world doesn’t determine what’s *logically* possible at that world.”
I agree that my wording was poor: the actual content, in terms of logical objects (persons etc.), of that world would have to be completely specified in order to determine what is logically possible in that world. Logical possibility depends on premeses. What is logically possible when acting on a set of particulars depends on the actual set of particulars.
Julien’s “weak equality” I have referred to as “superfluous equality”. It isn’t just weak; it is literally a meaningless formality. It is true that we can require that everyone in our political order has a bank account as a formality and yet not require anything with respect to the contents of that bank account. This is the sort of formal equality that has no implications whatsoever. An absolute dictatorship can grant everyone the right to vote for the dictator without changing its status as an absolute dictatorship one whit. In practice people don’t like the things they assert as important — the Claremont Institute’s claim that we cannot have too much equality, for example — to be literally, completely superfluous or tautological. They like what they assert as important to make a difference, to distinguish between one possible world and another. So as I mentioned the social gradient is always toward making equality actually mean something rather than being a quite literally superfluous formalism.
“It’s the combination of (2) and the claim that politics is taking place that I think is logically impossible, not (2) alone.”
I think our minor difference resides purely in the premises. If Julien were to allow me to say the following:
Assume that the domain of discussion is the domain of politics. Equal rights _as the justification for any actual political decision that distinguishes one political possibility from another_ is logically self-contradictory.
Would that be satisfactory?
Yes, this sounds right to me: “weak equality” is *politically* meaningless or superfluous. Thanks again to Matt for a very interesting exchange - you’ve given me a *lot* to think about. I still need to think through the implications for other cases. But I think I now see the reasoning behind your central claim. I would not have figured this out on my own.
My only lingering reservation is intuitive. I’m very tempted to think that liberalism as a whole is implausible - inconsistent with the *facts*. But if it is strictly incoherent that can’t be. Although it could be true of some particular liberal presupposition, I guess. Anyway, I don’t have an argument for this, and maybe I just need to give up that intuition…
Part of the intuitive problem stems from what happens when our minds attempt to syllogize starting from a contradiction. If we take contradictory premises seriously there is nothing that prevents us from constructing syllogisms from them. If we follow one path of syllogism we will end up concluding, for example, the truth of proposition A. If we follow a different path of syllogism we will end up concluding the truth of proposition not-A (indeed, going through this exercise is one of the most common methods of proving that premises are mutually contradictory).
When a liberal takes the self-contradictory premises of liberalism seriously, he may reason himself (quite legitimately) to a property-rights libertarianism. If he takes a different path he may reason himself (just as legitimately) to equal-communal-ownership communism, or to national socialism. It isn’t that he is engaging in dishonest reasoning, it is just that he hasn’t seen the contradiction, and in practice liberals tend to reason themselves in one direction or another based on their predispositions. So liberalism’s different encounters with actual people and actual states of affairs have produced radically different (although almost always murderously violent) outcomes, and in a _logical_ sense quite literally any outcome is possible without being any more (or less!) consistent than other liberals. A liberal might even conclude, quite validly (inasmuch as he has syllogised correctly but not far enough to where he sees the contradiction), that as a practical matter the closest we can ever get to equal rights is under an aristocratic monarchy.
I first discovered this many years ago when I found that in practice I could literally win any argument I wanted, which ever outcome I arbitratily chose, by starting from the premise that government’s legitimate purpose is to enforce equal rights. I found that troubling, since I know there are lots of people out there smarter and more knowledgeable than me, and I later managed to conclude exactly why it was the case.
Also, to say that liberalism is inconsistent with the facts is just to say that liberalism is inconsistent with certain factual premises. That observation doesn’t weaken the critique of liberalism from a logical in-principle critique to a merely practical critique. If there are literally no premises at all then logic doesn’t apply.
This has been quite clarifying for me also; thanks again.
I think this is what worried me: can we really say that “liberalism is inconsistent with certain factual premises” (i.e. contingent truths)? Consider
(S) “Snow is white and snow is not white”
Seeing as (S) entails anything you like, and so any contingent truth you like, it is *consistent* with any contingent truth. (And its negation of course.) Alternately, since it excludes *all* possibilities, it asserts *nothing*; how then can it contradict anything? I say that (S) is inconsistent with the fact that snow is white; you prove that it *entails* that snow is white.
If liberalism rests on something like (S), you can then show me that it actually *entails* whatever obvious contingent truth - about human psychology, say - I claim is at odds with liberalism. We’d never be able coherently say anything of the form, “Liberal theory rests on the false factual assumption that such-and-such”. It rests on nothing at all, since it asserts nothing about any logically possible state of affairs.
This seems deeply counter-intuitive to me, but as I said, it might well be true - and I don’t have an argument to the contrary. Thus my thought wasn’t that the practical critique weakens the logical critique, but that the logical critique, if sound, precludes the practical critique.
Matt’s argument that the equality, freedom and rights spoken of in the decleration are “liberal” is what I disagree with. I have argued previously that the ideas of equality and natural rights that are at the heart of both the declaration and Americas self-understanding were not originally liberal exclusively, classical or otherwise. I have also argued that while some of the Founders were motivated by classical liberalism, some were clearly motivated by Protestant Christianity, and much of the support for the Revolution came from Protestant, and especially Calvinist, churches. The notions of equality and natural rights that gave birth to America were in fact rooted in the Protestant/Calvinist understanding of the Gospel, and in the Scots/Ulster culture of the core people who settled America and founded what came to be known as the Jacksonian tradition.
So the problem does not lie with the declaration, nor does it lie with the words equality, freedom and rights, as all these can be understood without any recourse to liberalism at all. The problem is the liberal perversion of these words and there proper understanding.
I submit that Matt’s argument is essentially an argument for Catholic notions of authority against Protestant ideas of the priesthood of all believers and freedom of conscience, and not just an argument against liberalism.
“We’d never be able coherently say anything of the form, “Liberal theory rests on the false factual assumption that such-and-such”. It rests on nothing at all, since it asserts nothing about any logically possible state of affairs.”
The thing about contradictory premises is that they imply everything and everything’s opposite at the same time by taking different paths through the possible syllogisms. So it is correct to say that liberalism is both compatible and incompatible with any state of affairs when considered overall.
However, in practice liberals will follow their own reasoning to a certain point and then stop. They will claim (for example) that anyone who _keeps going_ has misunderstood the real true meaning of equal rights (see Shawn’s posts as as exhibit A - my specific logical critique of liberalism originates with me, as far as I know, and is not related in any way to any Catholic tradition (though my objection to “consent of the governed” is, I concede and even celebrate, rooted in both pre-reformation Christianity and the Bible itself)).
It is an odd and difficult thing to characterize what happens when self-contradictory premises are taken seriously by large numbers of people and even whole societies. Strangely it tends to make liberalism stronger, like a changeling or chameleon that can’t be pinned down, except when it has one of its spectacularly violent clashes with a rival liberalism.
“Thus my thought wasn’t that the practical critique weakens the logical critique, but that the logical critique, if sound, precludes the practical critique.”
There is some truth in that. Once it is acknowledged that something is logically incoherent then as a whole it cannot become more or less true or false based on whether one or more factual premises are incorrect. On the other hand any intermediate chains of reasoning can still be critiqued on those grounds, and factual argument is rhetorically useful for convincing interlocutors of the outright falsity of liberalism in the case where they have not grasped or acknowledged the existence of its global logical problems.
“I submit that Matt’s argument is essentially an argument for Catholic notions of authority against Protestant ideas of the priesthood of all believers and freedom of conscience, and not just an argument against liberalism.”
Well, I have two quite separate arguments. My argument against “consent of the governed” is exactly as Shawn says (although it ought to be pointed out that there are valid Catholic interpretations of freedom of conscience, and every believing Catholic has priestly, prophetic, and kingly duties — see Cardinal Newman’s writings for example).
My logical critique of equal rights is another matter. That originates with me (spurred on by Mr. Kalb to question government for freedom and equal rights as premeses a number of years ago) and is not a part of any tradition at all of which I am aware, let alone a Catholic tradition.
A few more thoughts on this, not exactly objections… First, if liberalism per se has the form ‘A & -A’, we can infer (say) whatever form or anti-liberalism Matt might favour - ‘C’, let’s call it: “(1) A & -A; (2) A; (3) A or C; (4) -A; (5) C”. Now Matt suggests that a practical critique of liberalism might apply to intermediate chains of reasoning, between (1) and whatever conclusion may be derived from it.
But clearly this critique does not bear on *liberalism* (on (1)). On the contrary, in the above example, it bears on anti-liberalism ((5)) - for that, at least, is a substantive *position* that can come into conflict with contingent truths. And it can’t be a practical critique of *both* liberalism and anti-liberalism. Hence it bears on anti-liberalism (or whatever else might be substituted for C).
So it seems to me that rhetoric aside, there is just no connection between the practical and the logical critique, between the intermediate steps that may be contingently false or implausible and the “global logical problems” Matt mentions. The logical critique makes liberalism per se immune to any practical critique. (Maybe this explains the chameleon-like quality Matt describes?)
Second, it becomes unclear what to make of Matt’s earlier claim that Nazism, Bolshevism and the like are varieties of liberalism. If that means merely that they *could* be derived from (1) (whatever the exact content of (1)) then everything is a variety of liberalism - Newtonian physics, the claim that 2 + 2 = 4, or whatever.
But if it means that Hitler and Lenin and their followers *in fact* reasoned to their positions from (1), then the nature of a political position comes to be contingent on the psychology and personal history of its adherents. (That is, if we discovered a bunch of Nazis who came to believe what they did on the basis of some other reasoning, or none at all, their Nazism wouldn’t be a form of liberalism.) And Matt has made it clear that he doesn’t accept that. (Nor would I.) More generally, it becomes unclear to me, for these reasons, what it would mean to call any position “liberal”. So I wonder what it could mean?
Finally, I’m curious to know how Matt would formulate his logical critique in full generality. I think it would be very interesting to see it set out schematically, step by step, and test it against cases…
“More generally, it becomes unclear to me, for these reasons, what it would mean to call any position “liberal”. So I wonder what it could mean?”
My solution to that problem has been rather simple-minded. It is true that you can’t ask the question “who is a consistent liberal?” because there is no such thing. The question that you can ask, though, is “has person X expressed a believable strong loyalty to a fundamental liberal premise?” (e.g. equal rights). In the most controversial case did Hitler profess a strong loyalty to equal rights accompanied by a rejection of traditional modes of authority (in his case the Habsburg monarchy)? Indeed he did. So he was a liberal. He was not a _consistent_ liberal, because there is no such thing: Thomas Jefferson was no more consistently in favor of equal rights than was Adolf Hitler, because it isn’t possible to be consistently in favor of authoritatively equal rights at all.
So someone with strong alliegences to liberal principles is a liberal, full stop and end of story, no matter where those premises take him (and there are indeed a literally infinite number of possibilities). He isn’t a _rationally consistent_ liberal simply because there is no such thing.
“…then the nature of a political position comes to be contingent on the psychology and personal history of its adherents.”
Well, that actually is the case in my view for different kinds of liberals, though not for different political philosophies in general since it isn’t necessary in principle for all political philosophies to be assertively incoherent. That is something I am either right about or wrong about. If we called someone with nearly identical views to a Nazi but who hadn’t started by rejecting traditional authority in favor of freedom and equal rights, and who had no underlying loyalty to a free and equal ubermensch, then we would be making a category error.
“Finally, I’m curious to know how Matt would formulate his logical critique in full generality. I think it would be very interesting to see it set out schematically, step by step, and test it against cases… “
I may do that at some point, and certainly others are welcome to try if there is interest. So far it hasn’t seemed terribly worthwhile, since the number of people who understand it at all on any level can be counted on one hand (but hey, we’ve added one more!)
Permit me to rewrite one piece of gibberish:
If we labeled as ‘Nazi’ someone with nearly identical views to a Nazi but who hadn’t started by rejecting traditional authority in favor of freedom and equal rights, and who had no underlying loyalty to a free and equal ubermensch, then we would be making a category error.
“More generally, it becomes unclear to me, for these reasons, what it would mean to call any position “liberal”. So I wonder what it could mean?”
I suppose I ought to defer to the way Julien asked the question. He didn’t ask how we determine whether or not a _person_ is liberal, but rather how we determine whether or not a _position_ (some political assertion on some particular issue) is liberal. In order for us to be able to do that liberalism would have to be capable of consistently making authoritative distinctions - of discriminating - and we have shown that it is not.
It is true that if we take some bare prescriptive political assertion that we cannot tell whether or not it is liberal. For example, “30% of GNP should be spent on the poor and unfortunate” is not an intrinsically liberal position. One could adopt that position on grounds other than that freedom and equal rights are the legitimate purpose of politics, or one could adopt it on those grounds.
So it is true that any given political position standing alone cannot be categorically liberal if it makes no reference to its _justification_. Liberalism is always a _justification_, not a specific policy position. This is part of what makes it so difficult to fight: one can disagree on an issue and still agree on what a legitimate justification could be, and what good American can be against freedom and equality? That is part of why issues-conservatism always fails.
Matt wants to distinguish between liberal and other positions by appeal to justifications. I wonder if this really helps, though. From the “liberal” contradiction (L) concerning equality, John Rawls is free to infer
(i) The UN should decide everything
or, if he prefers,
(ii) Tokyo is bigger than Liverpool.
Or absolutely anything else. That no one is *likely* to infer (ii) from (L) is an interesting fact about psychology. But it isn’t a principled reason to restrict the term “liberal” to conclusions like (i), given Matt’s criterion. In principle, we might suppose that Rawls has *no* political beliefs whatsoever; all he thinks about is geography and train schedules, say. Surely it would be false to say that such a person is a liberal. (And we can’t say he is just because he believes, or thinks he believes, (L) itself; for (L) has no content whatsoever.)
In any case, it would obviously be silly to class (ii) as a “liberal” claim under *any* circumstances - it just has nothing to do with politics. So the criterion can’t be right.
Maybe there is a way to modify this criterion somewhat. If, as Matt suggested earlier, it is the concept of “equal rights” or “equality” *as a political justification* that is incoherent, then that same concept *abstracted from politics* might be the real content of liberalism.
Admittedly, I’m not sure exactly what that content might be, and in any case it would not be what liberals *believe* the content of liberalism to be. Their allegiance is actually to this *other* notion, but they (incoherently) believe that it is a political notion. So we could see liberalism as the attempt to apply that notion to politics.
Since it can’t apply there, the result is a continual diminishment in the content and scope of politics. One after another, the ingredients of actual politics are discovered to be incompatible with the non-political ideal. Since *all* of politics is incompatible with that concept of equality, the trend is towards the abolition of politics - conceived of, however, as the culmination and perfection of politics.
Interestingly, this *does* seem like a fairly deep similarity between Nazism, Bolshevism, modern democracies and other polities Matt wants to call “liberal” - a drive towards a new world in which there are no intractable problems and differences.
Instead of saying that liberal positions are those justified by appeal to a certain contradiction, we could say they are positions (1) having a certain prior, non-political content (something to do with equality, I imagine), and (2) appealing to that content as justification for a political claim.
Condition (2) entails that the position as a whole is incoherent, but condition (1) assigns it some kind of content, and not just a contradiction; but the content is non-political, so we aren’t ascribing to liberalism any particular *political* assertion or presupposition. I realize this is pretty schematic. The challenge is, of course, to figure out what exactly that prior content might be…
Julien’s approach is one that might work. Another is to recognize that politics and reasoning are processes that take place in steps and over time, and so a taxonomy of political theories is a taxonomy of origins. Political reality doesn’t exist as a Platonic eternal formal system to be discovered, and liberalism can be identified at least as unproblemmatically as pornography or homo sapiens sapiens.
We deal with engineering problems of this sort all the time. A purely random noise generator has predictable properties within the larger system. Similarly liberalism has predictable properties within larger reality (including within the larger psychological reality of the individual liberal) even though liberalism itself is rationally incoherent.
There are other approaches to the equal rights problem that I haven’t mentioned in this thread. One of them involves deconstructing “equal” in practice to mean that certain facts F[i] are to be ignored when making certain authoritative decisions D[j] (for example, race is to be ignored when deciding who votes). It has been noted that liberals like to make lists corresponding to elements of F and D: race, sex, religion, national origin; voting, renting property, murder trials, etc. It is possible, though I am not yet willing to say for sure, that if the lists were specified and finite then equality would not be a problem; but once again it would be superfluous. (In part I am not willing to say because there are multiple modes of “ignoring”: a fact can be ignored but its correlates left as fair game, or the fact might need to be actively and comprehensively suppressed, or somewhere in between - the in between case would require an infinite specification and so would be cumbersome to say the least, the first would be superfluous, and the last would be intensely tyrannical although it seems to be what liberalism tends toward in practice).
Still another is to observe the part of liberalism that rejects tradition in favor of reason and will. Unfortunately for liberals prescriptive (including political) words are meaningless without tradition - again the postmoderns demonstrate this with bracing unintentional clarity - so once again liberalism turns out to be empty of authoritative content.
The fact that we don’t know everything about nature and liberalism’s place in it, and that liberalism is a peculair sort of thing (a self-contradictory ideology), doesn’t render it utterly opaque, it seems to me. I suppose it might be rather opaque from the inside, but to those of us who live out here in reality, off and away from it, it is less problemmatic.
The random noise generator analogy is helpful, although I’m too ignorant of engineering or physics for it to be more than suggestive to me. I’m surprised, though, to hear Matt suggest that we might solve the problem of classification by saying that “political reality doesn’t exist as a Platonic eternal formal system to be discovered, and liberalism can be identified at least as unproblemmatically as pornography or homo sapiens sapiens”. His identification of Nazism as liberalism seems far more problematic than the claim that Chinese and Scottish people are all human beings.
It’s true that we can identify many instances of liberalism easily and uncontroversially. (Hence my certainty that (ii), above, could never count as a “liberal” assertion, no matter how it might be justified.) And so clearly, in some sense, it is *not* “utterly opaque to us” - I didn’t mean to suggest it is.
But all this seems beside the point. We want to know what, if anything, would warrant classing Nazism as a variety of liberalism. This can’t be settled by pointing to our unreflective habits of calling this or that “liberal” - not in favour of Matt’s unorthodox claim about Nazism, at least.
Nominalism is surely true of *some* predicates - intuitively, true of “x is in Japan or x is greater than 3”, but not “x is human”. Given the mere fact that in practice we call beliefs or policies X, Y and Z “liberal”, but not (ii), it might well be that those things are no more a genuine kind than, say, the biggest pair of shoes in Tokyo and the number 7.
But if so, it’s hard to see why Nazism should count as a variety of liberalism: it isn’t normally counted as such, and the extension of a ‘nominalist’ predicate is fixed by its normal use. If “liberalism” *isn’t* a ‘nominalist’ predicate, though, I see no harm in calling it a ‘Platonist’ predicate - a predicate true of some intrinsically similar class of things. Then the inevitable question is, Which intrinsic similarity is that? Here we’d be involved in a ‘Platonic’ taxonomy, surely.
I’m more sympathetic to Matt’s other suggestions. If I understand the second, it is that we might simply list all the facts and characteristics liberals seek to ignore or suppress in various different cases. This would be a sort of ostensive definition. I also don’t know whether it would really be possible, but it would be interesting to see the list. However, I’d still wonder, What is it that unites these presciptions? I still feel that there really *is* something here, but naturally it might be something emotional, cultural or whatever - not a basic proposition from which those prescriptions would follow. I take it this is Matt’s suggestion as to the question of the “origins” of liberalism.
I think these sorts of explanations would supplement, but not substitute for, my original suggestion: figure out the coherent, non-political content that animates political liberalism. If we don’t have *something* coherent to attribute to liberalism - understood as something transcending the particular psychology of this or that liberal, culture and history, etc. - then it seems to me these other explanations will be fundamentally unsatisfying.
For suppose that we come to see the cultural and psychological appeal of a certain contradiction. We can trace the history of this appeal and its effects on people’s thinking, etc. But we still can’t say *what* it is that appeals to them. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s nothing at all - a meaningless string or marks and noises. And in that sense we haven’t even given an account of the appeal of *that* contradiction - at most we’ve listed a diverse bunch of psychological and cultural facts, perhaps causally connected.
Now obviously I can’t pretend that everyone is being rational all the time, or that the history of thought and politics is just the concrete unfolding of some syllogism. But an account of liberalism’s progress that made no reference to *any* kind of unifying, coherent liberal conviction would not be a *history* of anything - it would be causally convincing, maybe, but it would fail entirely to rationalize the behaviour of liberals. (So, for instance, the revolt against tradition: what is the idea behind this?) I guess this seems like a bad account to me for that reason - in order to explain how people are being *irrational* we have to ascribe to them some basic rationality. So I still think it’s important to try to see what the underlying thought might be that guides these different expressions of liberalism.
Again, this is not to say that liberalism is a coherent position. Only that there is a strong presumption in favour of thinking that liberals are led to an incoherent position because they believe *something* that is in itself coherent. Also, any critique of liberalism would be greatly strengthed if we could identify such a thing. We might be able to say, for instance, that this thing is actually of some value, and can be realized in non-political ways - diminishing the emotional power of liberalism.
“I’m surprised, though, to hear Matt suggest that we might solve the problem of classification by saying that “political reality doesn’t exist as a Platonic eternal formal system to be discovered, and liberalism can be identified at least as unproblemmatically as pornography or homo sapiens sapiens””
Well, I said that rather poorly. Let me try a different, still inadequate but perhaps more illuminating approach.
There are two different sorts of logical systems: stateless (combinatorial) and stateful (sequential). Normally when talking to philosophers we are dealing with stateless logic: that is, the entire result of applying the logic exists instantly, the moment we assert the premises and the rules of inference, all hanging together in eternity (thus my platonic reference). The moment you throw the “on” switch on combinatorial logic the entire existential nature of that logical system manifests itself immediately. We can examine the various branches and structures as we like, but they are all existentially “there” simultaneously.
A stateful logical system is like a computer, however: we install the program and step through it iteratively, one clock at a time. What it “looks like” changes over time, depending on how many times we’ve toggled the system clock and taken another step.
Political systems as manifested in nature are stateful rather than stateless. Even though we may know that a particular program will always “crash” irrespective of input there are still ontologically existent beginning and intermediate steps that we can identify categorically as that particular logical system and no other.
“…figure out the coherent, non-political content that animates political liberalism.”
Well, this may be just a semantic problem. I call something “liberalism” the moment it has adopted the self-contradictory premise of a political order based in equal rights for an oppressed ubermensch. If we want to know *why* someone would adopt such a system, well, there are variations but often it goes like this:
1) I want to have sex with my girlfriend.
2) The Catholic Church says I can’t have sex with my girlfriend.
Therefore: there is no God.
Just to be clear, the utility of liberalism to the liberal is that it can provide a justification for whatever you want, whatever you think is right, etc. It provides a syllogistic structure of justification to “back up” the exaltation of the human will and reason as the ultimate earthly authority. The Nazis were just a particuarly stunted form of liberal (and as a result have managed to murder fewer than many of the the other forms). As Hitler said facetiously of democracy, which in his opinion made a mockery of freedom and equality by allowing the oppressor to lord it over the suppressed ubermensch, “if you won’t be my brother I will crack your skull”.
I seem to be replying to Julien in threefers, so he must be challenging my noggin.
“But we still can’t say *what* it is that appeals to them. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s nothing at all - a meaningless string or marks and noises.”
I do think that liberal principles _sound like_ fairness, justice, etc. Things like Christian charity, live and let live, be reluctant to use the hammer of the law against your neighbor, etc seem to fit nicely into the liberal mold. I can’t explain that _seeming_ as a logical matter, but clearly the liberal self-contradiction has more psychological and moral appeal than just asserting “A and not-A”. Liberalism lets you do whatever you want and at the same time feel morally superior. I think the explanation as to why that is the case is psychological rather than logical, and I don’t have a rigorous explanation to offer. Liberalism attempts to have all of the benefits of Catholic Christianity without any of that pesky authority.
But again I think of these as motivations or animations that precede the adoption of liberalism-qua-liberalism.
“I think of these as motivations or animations that precede the adoption of liberalism-qua-liberalism”…
That makes sense to me; I think that’s what I was suggesting too. As to what those motivations might be, there is the wish to install “human will and reason as the ultimate earthly authority” and the fact that “liberal principles _sound like_ fairness, justice”. Maybe that’s all it is.
The ideal of human will and reason as ultimate authority is coherent (even if the theoretical justification for that ideal is not). If we suppose that this really is the ultimate authority, justice has to be reinterpreted as a dictate of human will and reason. Hence such contradictions as “Everyone should have an equal say in politics”. That sounds like something everyone could desire and agree to on the basis of rational self-interest. Hence the substitution of, on the one hand, consensus, and on the other, subjective certainty, for truth. So this gives us a coherent, if false, object of liberal hopes, and something that might serve to explain its historical and cultural progress.
Maybe we could put it this way: Moderns just can’t bring themselves to believe in a moral reality transcending subjective preferences and instrumental rationality. (This is another non-or pre- political motivation.) It just seems too *weird*. But they can’t bring themselves to give up their moral beliefs. Liberalism seems to be a middle way: we get to have our moral beliefs, but no religious/metaphysical beliefs, without thinking of ourselves as irrational. Since this actually is impossible, liberalism is always incoherent.
In this sense, liberalism is just an instance of modern subjectivism. I think of this as the hope that there is a middle way between nihilism and realism about some region of discourse. Roughly, truth without truth-conditions. While we’re comfortable enough with, say,
(M) “2 + 2 = 4” is true if and only if 2 + 2 = 4,
we’d like to avoid the truism that
(R) “Roses are red” is true if and only if roses are red.
The right-hand side of (R) makes no mention of what anyone thinks or perceives - but what on earth are *colours*? Those are “subjective”, aren’t they? We want to avoid the implications of this particular truism about truth; so philosophers toy with things like
(O) “Roses are red” is true if and only if they seem red to normal observers under such-and-such circumstances, etc.
The problem is that such claims as (O) never work. There is no way to substitute anything except “Roses are red” for the right-hand side. The real options then, are to either deny what seems undeniable - that roses are red - or to accept that these beliefs, like all the rest, have objective truth-conditions.
The same goes for “Charity is good”. The truth-conditions just have nothing to do with what anyone wants or believes (or with anyone’s culture, evolutionary history, or whatever). But then either one simply counts it *false*, because moral properties are “queer”; or one counts it true, and ascribes to acts of charity the property of moral goodness.
A nominalist will say that (i) “Charity is good” just means (ii) “Whatever is charitable is good”; and (iii) “X is charitable” just means (iv) “The predicate ‘x is charitable’ is true of X”. But if (iii) just means (iv), (iv) just means (iii). That is, (iv) doesn’t ‘reduce’ anything to anything, any more than (iii) generates something extra from (iv).
So whatever exactly the “ontological” conclusions might be here, anyone who believes charity is good also believes goodness is as objective as mass or speed - whatever “objective” means in either case. (I realize this argument could go on forever, but I just mean it as an illustration.) The modern mind finds this thought disturbing, or just crazy, inconceivable. So maybe this is also a pre-moral motivation for liberalism, having to do with the larger picture of the world we now accept.
As for Matt’s suggestion that Catholicism delivers a coherent morality, I guess this would open up a *very* different discussion. I certainly have trouble believing that Catholic doctrines are *more* rationally coherent than any variety of liberalism. I realize that many brilliant Catholic thinkers have tried to show the basic coherence of the system, and I’m largely ignorant of that tradition. But I really do wonder about the chestnuts - natural evil, for example. Also, while it seems to me that believing in objective moral truths and properties naturally inclines one towards theism of some kind, it clearly doesn’t entail theism - certainly not a particular theistic doctrine. (In fact, nominalism is probably consistent with theism - I’m not sure though.)
But in any case, without getting into the rational merits of Catholicism, I’m happy with the conclusions so far about the nature and origins of liberalism. I’m sure Matt will have more to say about this, though!
“Maybe we could put it this way: Moderns just can’t bring themselves to believe in a moral reality transcending subjective preferences and instrumental rationality.”
Ah, but liberalism is a much larger tent than that! Liberalism doesn’t require one to disbelieve in objective morality as a primordial commitment (I’ll stick to primordial commitments since we’ve already established that liberalism taken as a whole can’t be properly said to either require or not-require anything at all). Many liberals have been and indeed are professing Christians, for example, and being a Christian liberal is no MORE self-contradictory than being any other kind of liberal, for example.
Liberalism only requires that _political_ assertions be limited to those mediated by equal rights. So a Christian can easily fall into the trap of developing a strong alliegence to liberalism without (at least overtly) renouncing his Christianity. (Indeed one of the absolutely delicious ironies of the modern age is that most liberals are liberals because that is the authoritative tradition in which they grew up). A Christian who believes that abortion ought to be banned, but can only be legitimately banned through the political means of representative democracy because democracy is the guarantor of equal rights, is an anti-abortion Christian liberal. The manifestation of the “I’m against abortion but I think it should be legal” modern liberal is just a natural extension of the same mindset. It is important to view liberalism as a _political_ phenomenon not least becuase treating it as a metaphysical phenomenon allows liberals to claim that they are not, in fact, liberals if they don’t adhere to the guiding metaphysical claims and instead view their liberalism as a bit of pragmatism, or as a view confined to the political realm. I called this the deontological-political equivocation somewhere way up there in this thread. In my view a political liberal is a political liberal if he adopts liberal political premises, irrespective of his metaphysics.
“As for Matt’s suggestion that Catholicism delivers a coherent morality, I guess this would open up a *very* different discussion.”
I agree completely. I included that example there in an ironic fashion for the specific purpose of needling Shawn (hopefully in the spirit of gentlemanly debate!) :-)
[hopefully the gear-box won’t drop out on this next one … ]
“But I really do wonder about the chestnuts - natural evil, for example.”
I agree that the usual solutions of the problem of evil are generally unsatisfying, at least in their usual formulation to my hopelessly modern mind.
On the other hand natural evil is a triviality for a somewhat phenomenological reason. The specific uniting of a specifc sperm with a specific egg is a radically contingent event. If Mom took one more sip of wine ten seconds before, um, the event then there would be a Penelope instead of a Matt, if there were a child at all. If there were no Hitler and no concentration camps then Mom and Dad would never have met; if there had been no San Francisco earthquake then grandma and grandpa wouldn’t have read the paper and the minor change in schedule would have meant no Mom.
So to complain that God allows natural (and willed) evil is to complain about the necessary conditions for our own existence. To ask God to eliminate natural evil is to beg for death. It is true that natural evil is an abomination at the feet of an omnipotent, infinitely good God. It is also an apodictically necessary precondition of our own existence. What that says about us is clear; what it says about God is that He is infinitely merciful. Whether that leads directly to Catholicism is, as Julien says, another discussion.
“Liberalism doesn’t require one to disbelieve in objective morality as a primordial commitment…
Liberalism only requires that _political_ assertions be limited to those mediated by equal rights.”
I think I see Matt’s point, but I’m not sure how this connects with what I was going on about. It’s not that a liberal must positively (and primordially) *disbelieve* in objective moral truths. Rather, it’s that the liberal wants to be able to arrive at moral conclusions without committing to there being objective moral truths. Because he finds it psychologically impossible to positively *believe* in a moral reality.
So maybe I should reword my suggestion a bit: the “big tent” requirement that political assertions are to be “mediated by equal rights” is appealing because it seems to offer the possibility of believing *both* that X, Y and Z are good, and that there *is not/need not be* anything transcending subjective preferences and rationality in virtue of which they are. It’s appealing *because* it doesn’t (or seems not to) entail that there is such a moral reality. Ie., truth without truth-conditions, morality without moral truths. This is how it connects with the wish to make human will and reason the ultimate authority.
I’ll have to think more about the specific case of liberal Christianity, but I think it’s consistent with this suggestion. Maybe that means it isn’t Christianity; but it doesn’t mean that liberalism doesn’t require a “primordial” indifference as regards moral reality. If it didn’t, it could never get off the ground - neither could liberal Christianity, in particular.
Of course it might be that liberal Christians would explicity *deny* that they are indifferent as to moral reality. Bolsheviks might vehemently deny that they are liberals, but if Matt is right, they are, regardless of what they think. I’ll have to think a bit more about what Matt says about natural evil.
I should add that I am not saying that whether someone is a political liberal depends on whatever metaphysical commitments he might have. The metaphysical commitments, though, if sufficiently common, might serve to explain the power of liberalism. This wouldn’t be to make liberalism a non-political phenomenon; only to explain its appeal in non-political terms. Liberalism per se is incoherent, requires/asserts nothing; but what typically or historically drives people to it is coherent. This suggests a way of classing *people* as liberals, or not.
The criteria for classing a political *position* as liberal remain somewhat mysterious to me. A while back, Matt wrote: “I call something “liberalism” the moment it has adopted the self-contradictory premise of a political order based in equal rights for an oppressed ubermensch.” If anything, this seems to be a criterion for classing a society or legal system or whatnot as liberal. It’s just an extension of the psychological criterion we apply to individuals people. We still don’t know *what* it is that a person or society adopts - in some sense, apparently, nothing at all.
I think I stand by what I said earlier. The logical possibility that a society that adopts Matt’s contradictory premise but *only* reasons from that to conclusions about geography - while its morality remains that of, say, medieval Catholicism - is enough to establish that this is not an acceptable criterion for distinguishing liberal positions from others. “Tokyo is bigger than Liverpool” just can’t be a “liberal” claim, no matter how it comes to be believed.
OK, about natural evil. Is Matt’s theodicy that he wouldn’t exist unless certain natural evils had occured, and so he can’t wish there were no natural evils without wishing he didn’t exist? If so, I have two questions.
First, even assuming that the union of “a specific sperm and egg” is a necessary condition of Matt’s identity (I’m not so sure), does it follow that that sperm and egg could only have been united as they in fact were? (The “specific uniting”, that is. It might never have occurred, but some other “uniting” might have done the trick instead.) And if not, might they not have been united under conditions other than a natural evil? (I assume that we aren’t just presupposing the Christian view that sex is a natural evil!) That our existence is contingent is one thing, that the particular contingencies include natural evils is another. Is Matt saying it’s *logically impossible* that there are no natural, evil contingencies?
Second, even if it really is necessary for Matt’s existence that certain natural evils occurred, that would still surely leave a vast number of natural evils unaccounted for. This is just the traditional problem. Suppose that God never allows a natural evil when it is in his power to eliminate without thereby eliminating an equal or greater good. Still, it is just very hard to see how it could be *necessary* for the sake of some compensating good that - say - a baby suffers an agonizing cancer for one year and then dies. Is the idea that this, too, is a necessary condition for our own existence, or for some other compensating good? It’s implausible that this event not only *happens* (if it does) to lead to some good consequences, but that those consequences *couldn’t* have been realized any other way…
“Because he finds it psychologically impossible to positively *believe* in a moral reality.”
Part of the reason I know that this isn’t the case for a liberal is that I once was one; and yet there was never a time when it was difficult, let alone psychologically impossible, for me to believe in an objective morality. What I believed was that when making political decisions the legitimate way to make then was as justified by equal rights, and that the legitimate purpose of government was to secure everyone’s equal freedoms. Morality was an entirely different domain from politics.
“Of course it might be that liberal Christians would explicity *deny* that they are indifferent as to moral reality.”
Indeed, that is exactly what I would have told you.
“Bolsheviks might vehemently deny that they are liberals, but if Matt is right, they are, regardless of what they think.”
“We still don’t know *what* it is that a person or society adopts - in some sense, apparently, nothing at all.”
He adopts whatever seems reasonable to him that he wills to adopt, and liberalism provides his justification. I agreed earlier that (my position is that) there is nothing intrinsic to a particular political policy position - independent of its justification - that would make it categorically either liberal or illiberal.
““Tokyo is bigger than Liverpool” just can’t be a “liberal” claim, no matter how it comes to be believed.”
I disagree, in the abstract, although I think the probability that someone would reach that specific syllogism through intellectually honest reasoning is rather slim (which no doubt is why Julien chose it). Given a particular state of affairs and a particular set of preconceptions liberalism will (and does in fact) evolve differently.
” It might never have occurred, but some other “uniting” might have done the trick instead.) And if not, might they not have been united under conditions other than a natural evil?”
Here Julien seems to be making the claim that some other “me” could have been created in some entirely different way, and yet still be the exact same particular me. I don’t understand the basis of that claim; it seems to be an abstraction error.
“I assume that we aren’t just presupposing the Christian view that sex is a natural evil!”
What odd Christian denomination believes that? I know that we Catholics believe that sex is a natural good, and that like all natural goods it can be misused in disordered ways.
“Is Matt saying it’s *logically impossible* that there are no natural, evil contingencies?”
It is indeed logically impossible for me to exist exactly as I am without all of my logically necessary precursors.
“Second, even if it really is necessary for Matt’s existence that certain natural evils occurred, that would still surely leave a vast number of natural evils unaccounted for.”
The contention that certain parts of history can be simply eliminated wholesale without changing things enough to eliminate my existence is quite counterintuitive. Tiny variations in intial conditions in a complex system like human society can have enormous effects on global outcomes, let alone individual small-scale outcomes. The contention that some part of history - indeed even a particular gnat that existed in 500BC - is unnecessary as a precursor to some particular individual whom God loves is something that would have to be proven.
“Part of the reason I know that this isn’t the case for a liberal is that I once was one.” Me too. Maybe I’ve been too sweeping and too hasty to come to a conclusion as to what motivates people to adopt liberalism. But if we assume that someone is reasoning from a contradiction, the *actual* (and possibly coherent) beliefs that led them to adopt that contradiction can’t necessarily be discerned from anything they say. Hence the Bolshevik example: if I said, “I know Bolshevism has nothing to do with liberalism, because I used to be a Bolshevik”, that wouldn’t necessarily establish anything.
I think Matt is worried that I’m making liberalism into a *doctrine* that actually *asserts* something - namely, that there is no moral reality. But I’m only saying that that intuition, common as it now is, might be one reason why liberalism is appealing - it promises politics without any moral or metaphysical attachments. That it *seems* to offer that isn’t to say that it actually makes a claim…
More on natural evil:
“Julien seems to be making the claim that some other “me” could have been created in some entirely different way, and yet still be the exact same particular me. I don’t understand the basis of that claim; it seems to be an abstraction error.”
I’m assuming that (i) you could have existed despite being different in some ways from the way you actually are, (ii) those differences might conceivably include your genetic origins or the particular circumstances of your conception.
So, first, you could have existed if the particular sperm and egg that became Matt had been united at 11 pm Tuesday instead of 1 am Friday. (I hope this isn’t getting personal!)There’s a possible world where the first scenario occurs, and another where the second occurs. In either case, assuming the laws of genetics and whatnot are held constant, and that later events in each world aren’t radically different, you’d be the result. Or so it seems to me. That’s assuming that the particular sperm and egg combination is necessary to your being you.
But, second, even that might not be necessary. Since the laws of genetics and whatnot are contingent, it might be logically possible for someone with an identical *genetic* composition to be someone other than you - in a suitably different world, that person might be Napoleon. (I don’t know about this.)
In any case, while such possible Matts obviously can’t be “the same particular” Matt, if that means “identical in every respect”, it doesn’t follow that they couldn’t be Matt: if Matt were one millimetre shorter than he actually is, he wouldn’t be the same particular Matt, in that sense, as he actually is. I’d say he’d still be *Matt* though. Just as Matt is still Matt after a haircut.
“The contention that some part of history - indeed even a particular gnat that existed in 500BC - is unnecessary as a precursor to some particular individual whom God loves is something that would have to be proven.”
The objection from natural evil is just that the theist has to assume that the gnat’s existence at 500 BC *is* necessary in this sense. The agnostic or atheist doesn’t have to assume it isn’t. Or, in my example, the theist must assume that a baby’s long, agonizing death is logically necessary as a precursor to some particular individual whom God loves. If the individual is Matt, for instance, it would have to be that *only* given some unique and spectacularly long causal history could that particular sperm and egg have been united. In principle, this suggests that logical possibility is *far* more limited than we’d normally think - eg. “Gordon the Gnat sat on leaf in 500 BC & Matt exists in 2003” might turn out to be a *logical* contradiction. This sounds very implausible to me, but I hope we haven’t sunk to a war of intuitions!
(The fact that any particular event can have massively complex effects isn’t convincing, since for all we know the effects of a natural evil include countless more natural evils along with whatever goods.)
Isn’t the onus on the theist, then, to show that it is plausible to suppose no natural evil ever occurs without being the *only* way in which some compensating or greater good occurs?
“But I’m only saying that that intuition, common as it now is, might be one reason why liberalism is appealing - it promises politics without any moral or metaphysical attachments.”
Ah. Gotcha. Some days I’m slower than others :)
Matt, interesting madman indeed! :).
Again, I agree with you concerning Rawls, and ‘liberals’ of that sort, but I think you’re daft if you think there is no ontological difference between what I would call Millsian liberalism and the earlier sort. For ease I’ll refer to my kind of liberal as Publius.
To continue my story from way way above.
Man forms a govt to enforce the Social Contract, which is not between him and the govt, or the society at large and the govt, but between private individuals. Each individual has an absolute right to his property and life versus every other individual and the society, and all govts conform to this pattern. Every govt says private individual A cannot take private individual B’s coat. In addition there is no ‘discrimination’ on the magistrate’s part in enforcing this, you get that wrong Matt, with the exception of keeping a register of who owns what.
The individual has no absolute right to property vis a vis the state, in fact, if he did, there could be no state. ‘Discrimination’ on the part of the magistrate does come into play when the issue is the individual’s rights vis a vis the state, and Publius doesn’t deny this, or even consider this fact to be something worth denying since noone ever said this. This is where ‘natural law’ reasoning ends. Matt above says that liberal democracy proceeds from Social Contract reasoning and this is just plain false.
Error number one occurs when he says that noone ever sat down and agreed to the Social Contract. Publius thinks so too! In addition Publius doesn’t consider that a bug, it’s a feature. If man consciously agreed to it it wouldn’t be ‘natural’, that there is no deliberation or conscious assent is exactly what makes it ‘natural’, same as you don’t consciously decide to breath. And just like breathing, sometimes man doesn’t live under the contract, but these times are as extraordinary as you holding your breath, you always get back to it. Again, man lives under a govt that enforces the Social Contract, and given that all this happens without any conscious agency on man’s part is what makes it ‘natural’. The ‘State of Nature’ is not man’s ‘natural’ state, it is when only the laws of nature (the laws of physics) are in force. Man’s ‘natural’ state is to live under a govt that enforces the Social Contract, not the State of Nature.
Then, to say that social contract reasoning somehow is the ontological equivalent to ‘Rawlsian’ consent, is just intellectually and historically absurd. Hobbes himself thought the best form of govt was royal despotism like Louis XIV! Once you get to the particulars of the govt that enforces the social contract, you have left the realm of the natural law entirely and entered into the realm of human agency, which by definition is not ‘natural’.
Publius did not believe in ‘equal rights’ or necessarily the right to vote per se, the US Constitution doesn’t grant a universal franchise as a ‘natural right’.
Again, Publius is not interested in ‘legitimate’ govt, Publius is interested in a regime that will never collapse on its own accord, and nothing more, his goals were very modest. That’s all there is to it. Take equality before the law. The average American today thinks that equality before the law means equality before God in some sort of moral sense, that is not what the liberal philosophers believed. They believed that people are roughly equal in ability though modern society, which specializes and leverages the small differences in ability can give the illusion that this is not so. Equality before the law is not desirable because of this moral equality. All successful rebellions in English history had a core group that was composed of noblemen. Were these noblemen successful rebels because of any sort of natural superiority, i.e. they had rights (abilities to do things) under the natural law that other men didn’t have ? No, they didn’t. They did have rights that other men did not have but these were all under the human law. The Earl of Warwick’s or Duke of York’s powers were not natural, but a consequence of their extra rights under the human law, generally consisting of feudal obligations, they could raise an army at will. The best way to take away all these extra rights that make particular individuals like Earls and Dukes dangerous to the regime is to make all equal before the law, thus making the King more secure on his throne. Equality before the law is to defang the nobility, not to raise the peasantry. There is nothing normative about it.
You discuss the consent stuff all over the place, but the consent you’re talking about is the Millsian variety, which Publius would have thought as nonsensical as you do. The ‘consent of the governed’ as Publius meant it and it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence does in fact mean something like the Chinese concept of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, not the way a Millsian would call it. Your posts about ‘consent’ and the right of revolution as the liberal’s in the American revolution thought of it don’t mesh, since your definition of ‘consent’ is not their definition of consent, and your posts have a sort of ‘One of the ramifications of Napoleon’s victory at Waterloo’ quality to them. Frankly, your views on ‘consent’ and Publius’ are actually quite similar, though Publius’ are more logically consistent, and when I get around to it I’ll post on it, and providing Mr. Auster doesn’t cut the whole thing off.
“I’m assuming that (i) you could have existed despite being different in some ways from the way you actually are, …”
It seems to me that I can’t be the actual me without being the actual me, irrespective of whatever other abstract but nonexistent me’s are postulated. An abstract but nonexistent “me” that is different from me isn’t me. No matter what can be said about these other abstract nonexistent “me’s”, the actual me has an actual history that arises from a world that contains natural evil in it. It would be small comfort to this actual me to wipe — well, me — out of existence in favor of some other being who arises from a world without natural evil, whether that being is named “Matt” or not.
“If the individual is Matt, for instance, it would have to be that *only* given some unique and spectacularly long causal history could that particular sperm and egg have been united.”
What else could we possibly mean by “particular”?
There are two observations here: one is that our universe unfolds as a mathematically chaotic system, so the probability that the same exact point in the phase space is reached through different paths is negligibly small; that is, it is empirically impossible. The other is that when Julien says “Matt” in his abstraction he isn’t talking about me, the actual existing Matt; he is talking about an abstraction as if that abstraction were the same thing as the particular me, which it is not.
So anyway, the so-called problem of evil is both empirically nonsensical and logically nonsensical. The assertion “God could have made me without making me, so therefore the existence of natural evil is unnecessary for my existence” is clearly wrong, and it is what the problem of evil amounts to.
Finally, as to burden of proof, it isn’t the theist who is making an assertion. The problem of evil is an assertion by the atheist, that there cannot be an infinitely powerful and infinitely good God because natural evil exists. As it turns out, that is either a nonsequiter or an assertion that an infinitely good God would necessarily, because of His infinite goodness, annihilate all of us and everything and everyone we care about; take your pick.
We’re back to modality. Sure, “I can’t be the actual me without being the actual me”, but that’s not what I’m suggesting. I mean merely that not every property that you have is essential to your identity. You didn’t become a (literally) new person after your last haircut.
When I say that you could have had a haircut last week, that is modally different from saying that *you* could have been a 4th-century Japanese fisherman. The first counterfactual doesn’t cast doubt on the assumption that it’s *you* we’re talking about, but the second does. Would you grant this much?
If so, the objection is this: while it may be that a vast number of historical precursors are causally necessary to your existence, it doesn’t follow that they are *logically* necessary. Whatever long causal chain produced your haircut, or your height in micro-millimetres, might have been different without resulting in a different individual. First, the same property - height in micro-millimetres, say - might (logically) have been produced by another causal chain. Second, even if that property hadn’t been among Matt’s properties, he’d still have been himself, since it isn’t an essential property. So whatever causal chains we are thinking of here aren’t necessary to Matt’s existence, but only to some of his inessential properties.
This isn’t to say that that possible Matts = the actual Matt. Only that all possible Matts (so to speak) are possibilities *for* the actual Matt (ways *he* might have been different), given his identity (his essential properties). Hence Matt’s identity is what determines what is possible for him; hence it can’t be that Matt’s identity = the actual Matt, for the actual Matt is just one of the possible Matts, logically determined as such by Matt’s identity.
I’m jumping in here without having read all the thread, but I want to briefly respond to Jimbo.
Even if you’re right about the version of the social contract upheld by Publius, it is still a vision of reality based on an underlying liberal world view.
Do we have forms of social organisation because individuals unconsciously contract with each other to preserve life and property? You can only make this your starting point if you have already accepted a liberal view of man as an atomised individual stripped of those inborn and inherited qualities which form an “uncontracted” basis for group loyalties and social relationships.
In reality it is not any kind of social contract which binds people together. A man is brought together with a woman for instance because it is part of his inborn masculine nature to seek emotional and sexual love and to father children. At a level larger than the family, individuals feel bound to each other by ties of ancestry, language, religion and so on, forms of connection which grow over time in a particular way, rather than being contracted.
It’s not, therefore, a question of atomised individuals contracting with each other to form government, but of a government fulfilling the higher needs of social organisation of a community.
I think this discussion has gone on long enough (over 200 comments, and tens of thousands of words extending over a period of more than two weeks) and ought to be wound up. I doubt that anyone is reading it any more except the two or three participants. If Matt or Julien (and, now, Jimbo) care to sum up—in a very succinct way, and in a common language that other people can understand—the key points that have been made here, I think they should do so, and then let this discussion lapse into its natural end.
Mr. Auster wrote:
“If Matt or Julien (and, now, Jimbo) care to sum up—in a very succinct way, and in a common language that other people can understand—the key points that have been made here, I think they should do so, and then let this discussion lapse into its natural end.”
Here is a summary of my own views in the three separate discussions in this thread:
1) Withdrawal of the “consent of the governed” is inadequate as a (and indeed is completely unrelated to any) valid moral justification for disobedience of existing government authority.
2) “Equal rights” is always irrational (not merely impractical) as a political concept, no matter what back-story is used in an attempt to justify it.
3) The so-called “problem of evil” is fundamentally a nonsequiter, since we our actual selves are necessarily products of *this* world, including the natural evil that corrupts it.
I’ve concluded that Matt is right about “equal rights” but too cavalier about the problem of natural evil. It can’t be dismissed out of hand because my “actual self” is just one among various possible versions of the same person - namely, me.
If I preferred tea to coffee I’d still be me. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense to say that that is a way that I - Actual Julien - might have been. But then God could have created me without creating someone who happens to prefer coffee; that property is not essential to me.
By the same token, He could have created me without creating whatever sequence of events caused me to prefer coffee - God is powerful enough to do *that*, surely! Anyhow, thanks once again to Matt for a challenging and illuminating exchange.
this was a fun thread. is the matt still kicking about. smart boy, a bit goofy, but smart.
the next time the multiculturalist want to shove another of their laws down your throat, just tell em:
“A tyrannical law, through not being according to reason, is not a law, absolutely speaking, but rather a perversion of law; and yet in so far as it is something in the nature of a law, it aims at the citizens’ being good. For all it has in the nature of a law consists in its being an ordinance made by a superior to his subjects, and aims at being obeyed by them, which is to make them good, not simply, but with respect to that particular government.”
St. Thomas, Summa Theol., la, 2ae, q. 92, art. 1, ad 4
in fact, this is a handy response for every other nutty socialist law they want to force feed you.
speak of the devil, no sooner do i post and he shows up