Arimathea | Philosophy
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Tuesday, June 30, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

13. Wealthy nations, like the United States, have a duty to aid the less privileged portions of mankind.

My friend Andrew pointed out to me that people often confuse individual and institutional morality. I do not have a firm opinion on this matter, though I am sure that our notions and principles of morality apply first and foremost to the individual. It seems to me that a “people” can be moral if the bulk of its individuals are moral. However, I suspect that we speak metaphorically when we apply the name “moral” to anything besides an individual rational agent. Similarly, I do not think that moral notions such as “duty” apply to institutions without several qualifications.

Certainly, there are appropriate ends for corporate human endeavors. A baseball team has a set of ends, and we might say that the team qua team has certain ends and perhaps even duties, such as to win, to follow the rules, and to adhere to good sportsmanship. We expect such from the ball players and from the team collectively. Yet, it is important to remember that the team qua team consists of individual men who make it to be what it is. A team is not simply the sum of its individual players, but the causal power that makes a team a team resides in those players and in their relations to each other. Joint human endeavors are not wholes like machines or puzzles that render their parts meaningful. As man is a social animal, there may be something like that principle that operates at the human level, too, but it is not the same. I am no individualist, but there is something complete and ineffable about the individual human being who cannot be justly reduced to a cog in a greater machine.

As such, I am wary to attribute moral duties to anything besides moral agents, such as men. Nations as corporate bodies may have duties—ends that are determined by their reason to be—but such duties differ from those of an individual person. I think, therefore, that states exist for the commonwealth of their members, not the commonwealth of everyone else. Thus, the United States of America have no charitable duty toward other states or to the members of other states. The gospel teaches us that, as men, we ought to help the poor, but there is no divine injunction for states.

The reason for this should be clear. When individual men practice charity, they reap a reward in the development of their characters. They emulate God’s giving example and become greater men. No such process occurs for an institution. Moral virtue is something cultivated by human beings, not corporate bodies.

14. Colonialism and imperialism are wrong.

I have a somewhat amoral—perhaps even Darwinian—approach to international affairs. I wonder if the national striving for more power, more land, and more people is simply the collective version of a man who strives for a better station for himself and for his family in his own society. As a conservationist, it saddens me to see the disruption of stable societies and cultures. However, when I consider human history, such eruptions are often creative destruction. The Roman legions upended traditional ways of life around Europe, Asia, and Africa, and, yet, such disruptions in tradition led to marvelous new cultures and civilizations. A part of me would like permanent, everlasting polities and peoples, but I recognize that life evolves, and such a process involves decay as it does generation.

That said, I hold that some developments are better and that some are worse. As such, certain colonial and imperial ventures are better and some are worse. I think that the Hellenistic and Roman expansions were overall positive developments in the ancient world. I think that the Mohammedan conquest, while it did produce some remarkable cultural mixing and civilizational jewels, was generally a negative historical process.

Of course, when Leftists speak of colonialism and imperialism, they do not mean those developments as human realities throughout history; they simply concern themselves with the West’s rise to global supremacy in the modern period. We cannot really expect such foggy thinkers to say what they mean. Anyway, as a development, I think that we see mixed results, and history continues to unfold. I think that the spread of superior Western ways has been positive, but it occurred at the time of—and was facilitated by—severe confusion in the Western world. The modern system that allowed for economic and martial superiority also poisoned the cultures of Europe, and Western expansion has spread such a virus around the world.

15. Hotels, motels, stores and restaurants in southern United States ought to be obliged by law to allow Negroes to use all of their facilities on the same basis as whites.

The liberal in me has always rejected “civil rights” legislation that allowed the state to dictate whom a private business must serve. I think that commerce is an extension of the ability to join freely in associations. I have no problem with the state’s regulation of business to ensure that it does not cheat or harm its customers, but I do not understand why the state in a liberal commercial republic should concern itself with the affairs of consenting, informed adults. If a business wishes to exclude potential customers, then it should be allowed to do so. Such is an odd enforcement of public morality.

If, on the other hand, we were to have a society where the laws and the state enforced morality extensively, then I could see how such laws might make sense. Irrational (as opposed to rational) discrimination must harm the souls of those who practice it, and a wise regime that looks after the virtue of its citizens would outlaw such harmful practices. Sparta is always an option for a regime. Yet, such is quite different from the American tradition, where men are exhorted to virtue voluntarily rather than through the mechanism of state control and violence.

Lastly, as I wrote in the answer to question 1, a healthy society would be rather homogeneous, wherein such tribal exclusions could not occur. Whether racist or rational, the Liberian project was a sensible one. Had it been successful, the American nation would be far healthier today rather than in a state of decay.

16. The chief sources of delinquency and crime are ignorance, discrimination, poverty and exploitation.

If one holds that vice is a form of ignorance along the lines of Socratic reasoning, then I might possibly agree with a highly modified form of this proposition. As it is commonly interpreted, I disagree completely. Mistreatment scars the soul of both the mistreater and the mistreated, and “exploitation” may help to engender vice. One’s upbringing, personal experiences, and education likewise mold one’s soul. Yet, we must hold that one is ultimately responsible for his own character or else nothing is; the moral buck must stop somewhere. For if we are simply borne along like dead leaves on the wind, then we exercise no agency of our own and are not accountable for anything. Some folks may claim that they hold such a view, but they certainly do not hold it consistently or deeply. As with the nihilists, moral determinists cannot get through a day without contradiction.

Once we affirm the principle of individual accountability, then this proposition falls apart. Delinquency and crime, along with the supposed causes listed above, are caused by vice, and vice is caused by making many bad choices that slowly pervert the soul. When one is raised among the vicious, then it is likely that one will also be vicious. Yet, at some point, one has to claim responsibility for his own character.

It should be readily apparent that poverty does not cause vice. Immigrants who come to America with nothing quickly rise through our socially mobile society. Their industry, self-discipline, and talents allow them to escape poverty. By contrast, a native from a middle class background who starts down the dark path may end up destitute or in prison because he becomes tangled in self-destructive behavior. Statistically, the chief causes of poverty in the United States are substance abuse and single motherhood, and you can see how vice leads to both conditions. As Lady Ann has said, if you do not become a druggie or a drunk and if you do not let yourself get knocked up, then you are very unlikely to be poor. Of course, children who are born to vicious parents do not have such clear choices. Yet, at some point, one has to claim responsibility for himself. As a social policy, we could execute or imprison substance abusers and sterilize fornicators, which would result in huge social benefits. The authoritarian virtuous regime is always an option, but . . .

17. Communists have a right to express their opinions.

As I wrote in the answers to questions 2 and 12, a commonwealth ought to establish parameters for public discourse that reflect and uphold the regime’s order and the citizens’ values. However, I would allow for free inquiry and expression in designated institutions like universities where such could be productive in the pursuit of truth. So, men could freely debate Marxist views in such places, but they could not be Communists. Communism is not simply an ideology but a political movement within organizations. A sensible regime would not allow such organizations to operate in its land.

18. We should always be ready to negotiate with the Soviet Union and other communist nations.

I think that a state’s foreign policy should advance its own interests. If negotiation and diplomacy work better than other options, then they should be employed. With more forceful methods, one must consider the costs and benefits. Human life, whether of one’s own nation or of foreigners, should heavily figure into the calculation.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, June 30, Anno Domini 2009
Thursday, June 25, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

7. The government has a duty to provide for the ill, aged, unemployed and poor if they cannot take care of themselves.

I address this matter in “Redistributionism” and in “A Place for Us.” In a nutshell, I think that private charity, extended families, and voluntary, local assistance work far better in addressing the needs of the weak in a society. The posts explain my reasons more fully.

8. Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.

I touch upon this topic in “Redistributionism,” and I could not disagree more with this statement. “Progressive” taxation is unjust theft through the violence of the state.

Moreover, inheritance taxes are a statist intrusion into the bonds of families and of generations. People do not simply work for themselves; they work for their families. When they die, they want the fruits of their labors, ingenuity, and good fortune to pass to their descendants. Inheritance taxes, estate taxes, and the treatment of inherited assets as income whittle away at this good and natural concern that public policy should help to foster rather than discourage. As it stands, people aim to spend all of their assets before they die lest the government take their wealth. Such encourages an irresponsible and inefficient use of money. The extremely wealthy have developed methods to maintain family fortunes, but the laws invite all sorts of dysfunctional behavior that result in undesirable consequences.

One of the many unfortunate results of this socialist inheritance policy is the dearth of family controlled companies and institutions. Given the tax laws, families choose or are forced to make their companies public. However, stockholders rarely care about a company in the same manner as family owners. Stockholders look for profit, and the corporate boards that govern companies only care about the bottom line. However, a family that has built and maintained a company has connections to and interests in the company that go well beyond profit. Their self-image is intertwined with the company, and they want it to succeed as a matter of personal glorification. “Success” here extends beyond profits to a company’s place in the community, its relationship with its employees and customers, and the pride in and value of the company’s products or services. As with monarchy, a family company’s “ruler” is more likely to identify his own good with that of the ruled. When one adds the dynastic element to the mix, a family company exists through various generations, and the legacy of a company influences family owners in positive ways.

Reductionist economists consider all non-economic values unimportant to a company. For them, commerce involves resources, production, and profits. Who cares about the stability of a community or of workers’ lives when maximum efficiency is all that matters? However, I think that there are more important things for public policy than economic efficiency, even if it means that American workers in northern Ohio make automobile parts in a less efficient manner than factory slaves in the Third World. A family owned company is far less likely to choose to close up shop unless driven by necessity to do so.

Furthermore, the ultimate decision maker in a family owned business is the family or head thereof, who is likely to know the community and the company’s workers and customers personally. Such awareness is awareness of the truth. A company is not simply an economic being; its reality in the world touches many lives. By contrast, corporate governance is far more likely to reduce a company to such an inhuman, abstract level.

9. If reasonable compensation is made, the government of a nation has the legal and moral right to expropriate private property within its borders, whether owned by citizens or foreigners.

As I wrote in the answer to the third question of this test, I do not believe in rights. Thus, I do not think that individuals have an unalienable right to their land regardless of the circumstances. Like Thomas, I hold that private property exists, ultimately, for the sake of the common good. However, making good on that end is the responsibility of the property’s owner. Furthermore, communally assured protection and respect of private property are necessary foundations of a healthy society, and the community should only abrogate such respect in dire circumstances. “Progress” is not such a justification. I therefore find the policy (if not the ruling) of Kelo v. City of New London very disturbing.

10. We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.

This statement is ambiguous. Does it mean that we have a duty to all men, all living men, the human species, human nature in the sense of essence or form, or to some other abstraction called “mankind.” Moreover, what does this duty entail?

I think that our minds and wills ought to value things according to their real worth, esteeming higher things above lower things. As all men have some intrinsic worth, we have a corresponding duty to all men—to treat them as having such worth. Yet, I would argue that such duty applies to all creation, accordingly.

At the very least, we have the duty of goodwill to all men. Yet, I do not think that our duty to each and every man is the same. Unlike Kant and the universalists, I think that kinship, proximity, and a host of other factors involve varying levels of duties and of claims.

11. The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.

I like the idea of a global meeting place where states can air their grievances and work through problems with diplomacy rather than war. However, the United Nations is problematic in many ways. First, the General Assembly is dominated by dysfunctional Third World regimes, and the largely powerless body lends respect to such states that deserve none. Second, the bureaucracy of the various U.N. agencies and initiatives is one enormous, Leftist monster that works to poison all the nations of the world with its sick ideology. Third, the United Nations causes further confusion about international law, which is an already confusing mess. How can there be a law without an executive to enforce it? The hard fact is that Hobbes was right; states exist in the state of nature with respect to each other. The United Nations simply offers a veneer behind which states maneuver for their own self-interest.

12. Any interference with free speech and free assembly, except for cases of immediate public danger or juvenile corruption, is wrong.

My answer to question 2 also addresses this question. Censorship is necessary for a regime that wishes to cultivate virtuous souls. Custom is the better guardian of society, but communal control through the organs of the state should supplement the regime of the heart. If all men were wise, intelligent, and virtuous, unrestrained freedom would be sensible. Lacking such a state, social control is required lest society descend into anarchy.

Admittedly, however, I harbor many liberal tendencies on this issue. A democracy cannot be trusted to empower the wise to lead it, and, thus, these liberal freedoms become indispensable in a democratic regime so that the mob cannot silence the wise. However, I am answering these questions with regard to a second best regime, and such a regime would not be a democracy that could not be trusted to monitor speech.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 25, Anno Domini 2009
Wednesday, June 24, A.D. 2009
Meyer’s Intelligent Design

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a short lecture at the Heritage Foundation by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute on the evidence of DNA for intelligent design. You may watch the lecture on the Heritage Foundation’s site.

I do not believe that I have addressed Darwinism on Arimathea, yet. Though it is a “hot topic,” I do not have a firm opinion on the matter. However, I am interested in the issue, and I wanted to see what Dr. Meyer had to say. I was a bit skeptical going in because the Discovery Institute is held in such low regard by people whom I respect, such as John Derbyshire. However, I found the discussion interesting and Dr. Meyer most affable.

You ought to watch the lecture yourself or read Dr. Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, but his basic argument is that the naturalistic explanations of chance, natural law, or a combination of the two cannot account for the biological information in DNA. Using Charles Lyell’s and Charles Darwin’s scientific criteria of “inference to the best explanation” when seeking causes in remote prehistory, Meyer argues that we should attribute causation of biological information to the only thing that we know to be the cause of information—namely, intelligence. Watch the video and read the book for the details.

I have no problem with acknowledging that mind is behind the order of the cosmos. I think that it is glaringly evident that the world demonstrates intelligent design. However, I think that such design underlies all reality. The very structure of the cosmos gives rise to the complex, ordered, and beautiful universe that we behold. I therefore think that intelligent design is an obvious metaphysical truth that undergirds physical truth.

What is the alternative? Chance? Chance is ultimately a non-explanation; chance is the impious’ “god of the gaps”—the doctrinal mantra of nihilists. For what is chance other than simply admitting that at a given level of reality, the causality of an event is not intended by agents operating at that level? However, if we push back our inquiry further and further, we realize the emptiness of chance as an explanation. It is ignorance posing as wisdom. Atoms in the void? But whence the atoms? Whence the void? And why the movement such as it is?

My concern with the intelligent design movement is not that it advocates intelligent design but, I worry, that it confuses the level at which such intelligence operates. In Aristotle’s terms of causality, I fully admit that God operates on the world and holds it in being through final, formal, and even material causality (in the sense of creating and sustaining matter), but the issue that so vexes the scientific community is God’s acting in efficient causality. Meyer’s position is not simply that God starts the process of motion (like Aristotle) and holds the universe in being as it moves, but that God—an intelligence—operates on the level of efficient causality in the cosmos as a being in the cosmos. Meyer did not claim this, but it appears to be the consequence of his position. It seems to me, by contrast, that efficient causality is something like a shadow of formal reality, and God’s influence on events works in this manner—of the eternal’s unfolding in time. Obviously, I do not understand metaphysics, and this issue is extremely perplexing. However, I find it aesthetically and intuitively repugnant to have God act like another being among beings. We Christians have a name for such a mystery, and it is called the Incarnation. I suppose that it is possible that all of providence operates in the same way, but such makes nature inaccessible to man’s reason. It is because of this that the scientific community so strenuously objects to the intelligent design movement. How can we, through natural reason—through natural philosophy, through science—understand the natural world when an agent beyond natural understanding frequently injects itself into the mechanism of nature and we cannot detect any sort of regularity or law behind that injection?

I told Dr. Meyer that I had an aesthetic objection to his system. Imagine a factory that produced goods. It is obvious to any sane man that an intelligent designer was behind the coming to be of that factory. It did not come to be on its own. Yet, the intelligent design movement wants an intelligence to interject itself at indiscernible times in the production of the goods, whereas I would prefer a factory in which everything runs smoothly according to the design. On a metaphysical level, I believe that God still holds the world in being through all its operations, but that universal and regular involvement does not make our natural understanding of the world problematic. Dr. Meyer’s system appears to do so.

Dr. Meyer responded that my objection was a matter of metaphor rather than substance. If we used cooperative instead of interruptive imagery, then it does not appear as objectionable. Yet, such does not address the peril in which such a view puts natural science. Dr. Meyer argues that we must follow the evidence where it leads. One cannot argue much against that point, but I would like to hold out for a currently unknown natural force or set of forces that directs evolution besides the currently accepted and rightly criticized Darwinian explanation. Genetic reductionism, the great improbability of random mutation’s having produced the multiplicity of life on earth even given its great age, and the abundant evidence of teleology call Darwinism into question. Yet, what other natural forces can explain the history of biological evolution? I would like to believe that we still have not found such forces but they do exist.

I posed my concern to Dr. Meyer with an analogy to particle physics. Before the twentieth century, no one could explain how atoms maintained their structural integrity. If the atomic world behaved just like the macrocosmic world of the solar system, then the violent interactions of forces would cause all atoms to collapse. Yet, atoms maintain their structures, and scientists eventually discovered the strong and weak nuclear forces in addition to the force of gravity that explains planetary motion. Couldn’t another unknown force be active in directing biological evolution? Dr. Meyer responded that natural laws are mathematical relationships that could not account for the irregularity of life. Again, such a response seems reasonable, but how do we, in ignorance, know what could not be? I do not want to incur the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, but I think that it is better to wait for better answers than to adopt an answer that unravels natural philosophy. Perhaps, with positive evidence rather than negative evidence, I may see a reason to adopt intelligent design. Lacking such, I’ll hold my hopes.

Nonetheless, I wish that the people would debate these issues rather than simply shutting down “heterodox” dissent. All men dedicated to finding truth should welcome an occasional challenge to reassess their assumptions. If the intelligent design movement awakens scientists from their dogmatic materialist slumber, much good could result.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 24, Anno Domini 2009
MetaphysicsPhysics • (2) CommentsPermalink
Tuesday, June 23, A.D. 2009
Capital “M” Movements

Perhaps, I harbor too many iconoclastic and skeptical psychic fibers, but I hate to read misplaced capitalization such as “the Party” or “our Movement.” If someone writes, “the Republican Party,” then I have no problem with capital “P” Party; one capitalizes the word because it becomes a particular and proper noun. Yet, when people write about “the Party” without irony, I ask how it is that these same folks have never read 1984? Doesn’t it occur to them that they might thereby appear cultic and creepy?

I appreciate the hard and worthwhile efforts of the National Right to Life. I have been a supporting member of the organization since I was a teenager, and I always read their monthly newspaper. However, I started noticing the newspaper’s disturbing use of “Movement” a couple of years ago. Prolifers are not Communists or the brainwashed followers of Jim Jones; why should they employ the orthographic habits of the freakish Left? We should capitalize with caution; politics is not worthy of such veneration.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, June 23, Anno Domini 2009
Monday, June 22, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

1. All forms of racial segregation and discrimination are wrong.

I suspect that Kantian universalism lies behind liberalism’s beliefs on this issue. Kantian morality abhors the natural tendency of man to value what is closer more than what is farther away. For an extremist Kantian, one has no more responsibility or claims for oneself or one’s own (in the many possible meanings of “own”) than for any other rational agent. Therefore, discrimination in favor of one’s own and against the other is wrong.

A distinction is needed here. When one acts in his own person for his own interests as a man or as a citizen, he has obligations fitting to being a man or a citizen. When one acts in a position of leadership, then one has a separate list of responsibilities; one must consider another set of claims. So, we can rightly criticize nepotism in most situations because it involves someone’s misusing the powers of a political or institutional office to further his personal interests. In this, he betrays the trust placed in him by the community or institution. One should look after “one’s own” in one’s own life. However, one should look after the interests of the community or the institution (depending on the position) when exercising the powers and instruments of that community or institution.

How does this relate to racial discrimination? Well, I believe that nations are extensions of families; I do not think that they are simply civic or social constructs. It is for this reason that I find the abstractionist notion of America doomed to fail. Universalists do not consider America a particular land with a particular people and a particular history. For them, America is an idea—an ideal, and they despise “irrational” concerns such as ethnic, linguistic, and cultural heritage as unifying elements. For them, anyone can be an American, and America can be anything. Such folks fail to realize that most of human life—including communal human life—exists on such an “irrational” plane where basic commonalities in appearance, manners, and language matter far more than abstract ideological commitments. What portion of mankind really understands Enlightenment principles, after all? Yet, every adult has an instinctive awareness of the tribe, no matter how much such is consciously ignored or suppressed.

As such, I think that “racial” discrimination is not only permissible but necessary for the survival of the commonwealth. Every nation must consider its demographic integrity if it is going to survive. Western Leftists readily admit such a principle for non-Western nations. For them, it is praiseworthy for the African nations to expel their white populations, though such a policy has led Africa into famine and ruin following the end of colonialism and the expulsion of their white farmers and engineers. No one questions that Burma has the right to remain Burmese. Yet, the Western Left cheers the replacement of European populations by non-European populations. They condemn the Israelis for worrying about the rise of its Arab population. They celebrate the destruction of white America. Little do they seem to understand that the newly arrived tribes will not adopt their own (inconsistently) universalist values. Like all sane people, “La Raza” understands and accepts its own tribal chauvinism well.

It was perfectly acceptable for the United States to initiate the immigration controls of the 1920’s, and it was suicidal for the United States to ensure the destruction of our society in the 1960’s immigration reforms. When a society and its individuals no longer are able to discriminate “racially” or ethnically, there begins the unravelling of that society. Multiculturalism is the consequence of such a morality; for there is no longer an ethnic identity left for the society. In the United States, what it means to be an American has been diluted to such a meaningless, fuzzy notion that it has destroyed civic belonging and commitment.

I think that perhaps religion could offer a substitute unifying identity in the manner of Christendom or the Mohammedan ummah, but secular ideologies, whether liberalism or Communism, cannot replace the sense of an extended family that occurs in a nation—an extended tribe.

Of course, a nation can adopt foreigners as its own if such adoption does not disrupt the integrity of the nation. For instance, the Jász were admitted to Hungary and became a distinct people within the Hungarian nation. Had America followed a different course than its modern self-destruction, I would have expected such subnational identities to have developed for the various American Indian tribes. On a smaller scale, the Dumas family is unquestionably French, though they descend from Caribbean French masters and African slaves. A dash of spice does not threaten the identity of the soup.

On a personal level, it horrifies liberals that white kids hang out with white kids, that black kids sit at the same table in the cafeteria, and that social clubs, religious congregations, neighborhoods, stores, and pretty much any other human gathering not under the social engineering command of Leftists shows that people like to gather together with folks that they find similar. Of course, there will always be outliers, but outliers know that they are special and they do not much care for general trends. It is not morally reprehensible for folks to associate with people that they find similar to themselves. What is egregious in our society is that real, unified community only exists on such localized levels because we have maddeningly pursued a multiethnic social policy. I agree that it would be good not to have such divisions in our society. The way to fix that, however, involves the formation of a nation, as was the desire of many of our ancestors. That process cannot occur, however, with liberalism’s universalist principles in control.

2. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

A better question is whether someone is entitled to be wrong. I do not believe that to be true. Human rational abilities exist for the sake of truth, not for the sake of developing an opinion. Moreover, “entitled” is a dirty word for me.

Now, the Poppers of the world fear that such a view leads to totalitarianism, and they have a point. I am leery of a community’s ability to think more clearly than a given individual. Yet, I think that the case for freedom of thought should be made with such a view to truth in mind. That is why I think that certain distinctions can be made when its comes to “free expression” as the public dimension of freedom of thought. In general, I think that there should be certain institutions such as universities, academies, and think tanks where such freedom can be exercised without constraints. For (I would hope) the folks in those institutions employing such freedom would be more likely to be responsible with it; they are the kind of people whose very jobs entail the search for truth. As such, those people should be given license to work beyond the bounds of social convention. Naturally, I envision a more traditional academic setting than the universities of contemporary America where professors are dedicated to ideology rather than a methodological striving toward truth. Yet, if I can imagine a second best regime, I can likewise dream of universities that exist for truth.

However, unrestrained “free expression” of one’s “free thought” is damaging to a society. American conservatives—the surviving classical liberals—argue for freedom of speech on the grounds that true speech will gain sway in the marketplace of ideas. These conservatives are correct if we limit the marketplace to the patrons who actually have money to spend—that is, intelligent, educated people who can inspect the wares in such an intellectual bazaar. However, many people are not able to detect swindlers, and it is best to limit the marketplace of ideas to the places like universities. Official censorship and unofficial custom, which is far more effective, should set guidelines for the extent of free expression. The inculcation of virtue is one of the community’s most important tasks, and the community should not have to compete with preachers of vice and wickedness.

3. Everyone has a right to free, public education.

I do not really believe in “rights” of any sort. I think that human beings have a certain value simply because they are human beings, and I think that particular human beings have additional value because of their particular qualities. As such, I think that we ought to treat each other in certain ways, and I think that this limitation and expectation of treatment applies both to individuals and to communities. Thus, I do not believe that a man has a right to life, but I do believe that other men and human communities should respect and protect a man’s life to the extent that it is possible, given the circumstances. However, I do not think that anyone can claim absolute rights that must be respected in any situation. There are conditions in which individuals and communities would have to ignore the standard claims and protections that human beings have. I am not arguing for utilitarianism but rather acknowledging that men alone and together must adhere to certain priorities, and higher priorities sometimes eclipse lower ones. A city cannot allow itself to be destroyed due to a deference to an individual’s “rights.”

That said, I do not think that a community need worry itself about supplying a “free education” to everyone. By free education, people often mean an academic education as opposed to some other form of training. It is folly to think that all men are the same, that all men can learn the same things and learn them equally well, and that it is socially useful for all men to be philosophers. Some people are fit to be teachers, while others are fit to be artisans, while still others are only fit to be directed servants. I would say that a healthy political community should find a place for all of its members to contribute to the common good. However, I think that more localized agents such as family members and neighborhood friends are bound to be more efficient than any bureaucratic institution in connecting people so that everyone finds a well fitting niche.

4. Political, economic or social discrimination based on religious belief is wrong.

In the answer to question 1, I note the importance of nationality, ethnicity, or tribe. Yet, human affairs also involve transcendent considerations, even with respect to the mundane. Every society operates under a conventional hierarchy of goods. It just so happens that liberal Western society is actually a swarm of competing microsocieties with their own divergent standards of right and wrong and higher and lower priorities. This leads to social confusion and chaos, and a much better system involves consistency in these matters. I do not wish to pose as an Averroist, but few if any men are capable of discerning the appropriate hierarchy of goods through reason alone. Religion supplies such wisdom to the masses. Therefore, any healthy society has an official or unofficial religion that creates the parameters of values for the society. Given that this is the case, I think that it is important for a society to buttress its religious foundation.

Note that this is a political rather than a religious consideration. One sometimes hears modern post-Christian critics of medieval Christian kings cry about their meddling against the Christian freedom of conscience. Yet, these kings worried about the religion of their subjects for political rather than religious reasons. They ruled as kings rather than as Christians. Absolute freedom of conscience may be a Christian principle, but it is not a workable political one.

Were I a Christian king, I would allow the heterodox to keep their heterodoxy in their own minds. As in the answer to question 2, I would also carve out spheres of free thinking in the university where such matters could be discussed. Yet, until a consensus was reached among the religious authorities as to the acceptability of heterodox doctrines, such an argument would remain “academic.” As Averroes wisely noted, we cannot allow the disputes of the theologians to corrupt the unity of the political community.

5. In political or military conflict it is wrong to use methods of torture and physical terror.

In the answer to question 3, I note that circumstances may determine the extent to which society can fulfill all of its priorities. In general, I think that the community and individuals should treat men as rational animals, even if many men fall short of the rational part. As such, argument and persuasion are the best methods of direction and control. However, when higher priorities—such as the survival of the community—are in peril, then lower priorities—such as treating all men as if they were rational beings—can be forsaken for the sake of the higher. As such, “physical terror” might be necessary.

It is useless to say that torture would be unnecessary because that seems redundant. The line between “torture” and other violence or “physical terror” appears to hang onto what someone thinks is appropriate. So, of course, I would say that torture is always wrong, but that is because what I consider torture is what I consider the unacceptable treatment of a man in any situation. Obviously, people disagree about what constitutes torture. Consider the revulsion that some people feel about waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and harmless but creepy, crawly insect intimidation. I do not consider any of those methods torture. By contrast, I would consider permanent bodily mutilation torture (as opposed to temporary pain-inducing actions like low voltage electric shock, which might be warranted in certain situations). For it seems that causing pain is torture for some people, whereas I am perfectly fine with applying temporary pain to the vicious—not simply for ulterior motives but also as a matter of justice. However, I would be against such methods for honorable, enemy P.O.W.‘s.

6. A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.

As I wrote in “George Tiller, Abortionist and Lutheran Usher,” I think that moves to overturn one’s regime almost always result in a worse situation. As such, I think that revolutions are usually bad. Nonetheless, a movement to ameliorate a regime within the constitutional order of that regime is always commendable. One needs to remember, though, that it is difficult to manage a rolling snowball as it is turning into an avalanche.

I wonder, however, what constitutes a dictatorship? Tyranny is commonly held to be an unconstitutional or historically illegitimate regime or, in Plato’s terms, the worst regime where the worst element rules for its own perverse good to the detriment of everything else. The end of tyranny, then, is bound to be better than the tyranny itself. Yet, what makes a dictatorship a dictatorship? As far as I know, the term comes from the Roman Republic when the office of extraordinary powers was used in times of crisis for the good of the republic. Critics of dictatorships obviously do not mean such; Lincoln was a modern American example of something like a dictator, and few people hate Lincoln. So, what makes a dictator different than a monarch? Do the anti-dictators think that dictators are bad monarchs, like Plato’s and Aristotle’s tyrants? One would have to know what a dictatorship was to address this question more fully.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Monday, June 22, Anno Domini 2009
Thursday, June 18, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude

As I promised in last week’s “Are You a Liberal?” post, I am going to take James Burnham liberalism test because I shamelessly enjoy self-indulgent tests and because the test questions are good blog tinder. Today’s post will be the prelude (or the continuation of the prelude, if last Saturday’s post counts) before I answer the questions themselves.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I think that the questions involve both liberalism and egalitarianism, which are not the same and which are not reducible to one another. I have liberal proclivities for practical reasons, but I despise egalitarian principles. Egalitarianism is false and debasing. It is the enemy of civilization, and it leads to diseased societies, relativism, and self-destruction (for some arguments, enter egalitarian in my search box).

Concerning the test, Burnham thought that “liberals” would answer in the affirmative to each of the questions. It is interesting to note how American politics has changed over the last fifty years. A large segment of the contemporary Left would disagree with many of these propositions in one way or another. Their commitment to liberalism has been surpassed by their commitment to a peculiar vision of egalitarianism—equality for some but not for others. Perhaps, we could say that they have adopted an egalitarianism of revenge, where advantage is sought for certain human beings and destruction is sought for others. However, maybe they are simply unprincipled agents of rebellion. Who knows?

One may answer these sorts of tests with various model political communities in mind. Among the many possibilities, here are three ways in which I could approach the test.

First, I could answer the questions according to an ideal state—“ideal” in the sense of the best state possible given our rather unideal human condition.

Second, I could answer the questions according to a sort of “second best” possible state. However, I hold that there is a great diversity of such regimes: all excellent but all likewise necessarily limited. Depending on what sort of society you wish to produce and the consequent human being and human life that would result from such a society, you could favor one model or another. For there are many aspects of human achievement, and sometimes they are mutually exclusive. If you want a martial society where men excel in war, you must design a different regime than one where men excel in the arts. A focus on one particular perfection might preclude other possible perfections.

I am open to the possibility of an ideal regime (the previous option of how one could answer the test), where a society pursues the hierarchy of human excellences according to their real worth and according to the correct measure, but I have little understanding of what such a regime would look like or how it could come about except, as Plato suggests, by divine dispensation.

Of course, a natural end of every human community is to survive, and circumstances narrow the possibilities of which sorts of regimes may exist at different times and places. In a primitive condition where mere survival comes with difficulty, a focus on the lower but prerequisite human talents is necessary.

Third, I could answer the test based on what I find conducive to what I think is the essence of the American regime. This is tricky to perceive, as well, because our society, like most societies, has always had contradictory elements. The paleoconservative Buchanan interprets America through its history of agrarian republicanism, whereas a radical, egalitarian, Leftist social engineer with dreams of a technocratic utopia finds some nascent sources of his world view in the American founders, too. Like the papists, our latter day, hypothetical Condorcet believes wholeheartedly in a development of doctrine where his views are the blossoming flower of much older roots. Given the inherent problems and contradictions of our revolutionary regime, I’ll not answer the questions with the United States in mind. I am sympathetic with the Leftists on this matter; we have been doomed to slide toward their Gomorrah since our independence. Our degeneration is in the genetic blueprint of democratic regimes.

Not capable of discerning the ideal state, I’ll try to answer the questions in the second mode, with my model inspired by what I think is salvageable and productive in our Anglo-Saxon constitutional tradition.

The following linked entries will become active as I post them over the next week or so.

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 18, Anno Domini 2009
Saturday, June 13, A.D. 2009
Are You a Liberal?

On View from the Right, Auster has posted James Burnham’s liberalism test from his Suicide of the West published in A.D. 1964. It is an interesting list of questions, though I share some of the frustrations of Auster’s commentators about it. As I noted in “Your Morals,” political tests often do not supply the contexts that would determine one’s answers to their questions. Nonetheless, in true blog fashion, I’ll narcissistically offer my own answers to the test in next week’s posts.

However, it bears repeating that I find the American use of “liberal” problematic. In “A Diagnosis of Modern Political Disease,” I briefly examine liberalism. We see the seeds and development of liberalism in Locke, Montesquieu, the physiocrats, Constant, Mill, and the American founders, where the central political goals involve individual liberty and autonomy and where the main political problems involve securing such liberty and autonomy for all members in a human community. Yet, Americans call “liberals” those who readily dismiss considerations of liberty for those of equality. Egalitarianism and its socialist fruit have coevolved with liberalism as the twin spawn of the Enlightenment, and the lovers of equality no doubt share many traits with their liberal brethren, but they are not the same. One cannot long seek liberty and equality as political goals without soon having to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

Auster attempts to handle this divergence in modern politics with the distinction between right-liberals and left-liberals. As far as I can tell, Auster thinks that both right-liberals and left-liberals adhere to liberalism’s fundamental principle that the supreme political end is individual autonomy—and perhaps individual fulfillment through selecting and achieving one’s own version of the good. What distinguishes right-liberals from left-liberals, it appears, is that right-liberals want individuals to carry out this process free of political coercion, while left-liberals want the power and resources of the state to facilitate such fulfillment for everyone.

I may not understand Auster’s distinction well, but as it stands, I do not agree. Auster’s left-liberals do not want communal support for individual “fulfillment” because they really believe that each individual has the right to choose his own good and to live for it. Rather, they are driven by a devotion to equality. For without collective support, many individuals will not be able to attain the good that they choose, and such inequality is unjust in the left-liberal’s eyes. Yet, a society’s resources to indulge the attainment of these various goods are limited; they do not magically appear but they must be expropriated from individuals in the community by the leaders of the community. In a purely left-liberal system (as Auster imagines such a thing to exist), this transference of resources would have to proceed voluntarily. Otherwise, it would not be liberal at all; there is no liberty or freedom in suffering theft. However, such left-liberal systems do not work because people do not readily give up their labor and its fruits for others who are not closely related by blood or friendship. Thus, left-liberalism does not exist except perhaps as an ephemeral development in the soul of a blossoming socialist.

Rather, socialists, Communists, egalitarians, and their ilk exist, but their concern for liberty is quite limited and often idiosyncratic. We may justly ask why a hypothetical but altogether representative Vermont socialist would believe fully in authoritarianism for so many aspects of human life but then harbor intense liberal beliefs about sexual freedom. Congress is full of elected officials who want the state to micromanage human life but who wax Jeffersonian when it comes to whether the state can regulate certain drugs. These beliefs do not make such socialists—who are statists through and through—“liberals.” It rather makes them inconsistent managerial authoritarians.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, June 13, Anno Domini 2009
Friday, June 12, A.D. 2009
Swedish Madness

The world has lost its mind, and in no country is modern neurosis as advanced, it seems, as in Sweden.

I found the following article both interesting and nauseating: “Make accused rapists prove consent.”


Since 1965, when Sweden first enacted a sex crimes law, roughly 100 to 200 rapists have been convicted every year. However, the number of rapes reported annually has increased from around 300 to more than 5,000.

The article does not mention why the rates have so dramatically risen. Sweden has spent much of its social energy for the last several generations on engineering “gender equity,” and yet violence toward women continues to rise.

Could it be that their New Age social structure is unnatural and harmful to the Swedish people?

Is it due to the ever advancing hordes of third world immigrants who have begun to turn what was once almost a land free of violent crime into yet another statistic that shows the folly of open borders to unassimilatable masses?

Instead of dealing with the problem(s), the Swedes continue to pervert human life.

What is wrong with Sweden? Or Europe? Or the whole West? How can so many people be so wrong about so much?

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 12, Anno Domini 2009
Thursday, June 11, A.D. 2009
Only Victims Are Black

The American media have an odd way of handling race when they report crime. After receiving so many complaints years ago that their constant refrain of “black male” assailants when reporting local crimes contributed to racist stereotypes, the ever fearless journalists have written some odd reporting rules for themselves. I am not in the media myself, but from watching the news and from reading the papers, I gather that these rules are as follows:

1) If there is a crime anywhere in the country (or the world) where the assailant is white and the victim is brown, the entire media and political establishment must talk about it over and over for months. They bring in soi-disant race relation experts, professors of “African diaspora” studies departments, and the token racial grievance spokesmen to comment day after day about the lingering white racism of Americans. Even in the age of Obama, Americans’ suppressed hate resurfaces again and again. Evidently, our thought control programs have not been as effective as we might have hoped.

2) During the long periods when there are no such crimes, the media, the politicos, or the occasional academic must invent one. When the authorities discover that such was false or a hoax, the establishment dismisses the story quietly. What fake noose story?

3) By contrast, the media and political establishment go to great lengths to ignore or to misinterpret the incessant criminal violence upon whites by the browner denizens of the land. Even though such crimes happen daily in every large city in America, the official word keepers remain quiet, or they euphemize such crimes as random or by “youth.” Of course, they never forget to dismiss such crime as typical urban violence. Poverty and dense living cause crime, you see.

Lawrence Auster makes this odd reporting a regular theme of his blogging; here is a collection of such articles. Unfortunately, Auster, Buchanan, Sailer, Brimelow, or any other public voice who dares to mention the obvious incurs the wrath of all right thinking individuals. It would be racist to acknowledge reality, it seems.

Yesterday, a crazy white supremacist entered the Holocaust Memorial in Washington and killed a security guard. As with the George Tiller murder, the incident proved to be a horror fantasy relished with hysteria by American Leftists. See, Napolitano was right! The threat to America is the radical right, and one elderly Jew hater with a weapon and a history of crime and mental illness proves that the sky is indeed falling.

The last twenty years have shown us a series of Mohammedan “human caused disasters,” Leftist anarchist violence, and hundreds of thousands of brown on white violent crimes, but it will always be Timothy McVeigh and a hand full of abortionist killers who represent the clear and present danger to American society.

Let us not forget that contemporary Nazis are behind all the world’s terrorism, while our peace loving fellow monotheists just want everyone to get along.

Unexpectedly, the Holocaust Memorial shooting offers us another example of how the media selectively mention race. In the Associate Press story on the killing, reporters Syeed and Espo, to their credit, mention the recent killing at the Army recruitment center in Arkansas and note that the killer was a Mohammedan convert. They do not, however, mention his race. Yet, they do mention that the security guard who died at the Holocaust Memorial was black:

The attack was the third in a recent wave of unsettling shootings that appeared to have political or ethnic underpinnings.

A 23-year-old Army private, William Andrew Long, was shot and killed outside a recruiting office this month in Arkansas and a fellow soldier was wounded. The suspect, a Muslim convert, has said he considers the killing justified because of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.

Late last month, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in his church.

Johns, the security guard killed Wednesday, was black.

What are we to make of this reporting? Perhaps the Mohammedan angle was enough to explain the killing of the soldier, given that the motive involves (in Leftist terms) a man’s rage at American aggression in the Middle East.

But wouldn’t the “anti-Semitic” angle be enough to explain the Jew hating von Brunn who picked the Holocaust Memorial as his target?

I suppose that it was not outrageous enough for a white supremacist to try to kill Jews in the Holocaust Memorial. We must also believe that he sought to kill blacks. Yet, there is nothing newsworthy about the coincidence of militant Islam (or some mutated form of it) and black American violence. Ernest McGee (Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis), Malcolm Little (Malcolm X), the victims of John Allen Williams (John Allen Muhammad), and the many others killed by Nation of Islam goons and their spiritual allies must have slipped the journalists’ minds. [You may wish to read Daniel Pipe’s article about such violence.]

Of course, if the media consistently mentioned the racial aspect of crimes in reporting, there would be nothing of interest in the story’s reference to the security guard’s ethnicity. However, race is only mentioned when whitey is the bad guy and the poor, long suffering wise black man is the victim. It is just like Hollywood, but on C.N.N.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 11, Anno Domini 2009
Saturday, June 6, A.D. 2009
The Hop Bird

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg recently reposted a link to “The Hop Bird.” It is an endearing tribute to his father that he wrote after Sidney Goldberg died four years ago. Goldberg is thoroughly likable, and it seems that he follows his old man in this; reading about “the hop bird” gladdens me, knowing that such a man existed. Goldberg is certainly fortunate to have such a fine family, and he is quite aware of it.

Goldberg recounts the story that inspired his article’s title. It made my heart smile.

As Goldberg family legend has it, my parents were engaged after only a few dates, and mom fell for dad after a daytime date at the Central Park Zoo.

My Dad, already in his late thirties and a respected editor, took Mom on a daytime trip to the zoo. Now, for a gal like Mom, this wasn’t exactly her idea of an exciting date. But she was intrigued. He brought her straight away to the old birdhouse, which hasn’t been there for decades. At the main birdcage he told her to look off to one side where an un-presupposing small bird was standing alone. It took my Mom a few moments to find it. Keep your eye on that one, Dad told her, as she was still wondering what this was all about. And she waited. And waited. What was the deal?

And then, suddenly, the bird hopped.

It was a humble hop, all things considered, but a distinctly purposeful one. And, then nothing. Another longish wait. And then: another hop. And that was it. That’s all it did: Hop, after long intervals and for no apparent reason. It was, as we Goldbergs have called it ever since, “the hop bird.” And my Mom thought it was hilarious. She laughed and laughed and laughed. She still laughs about it today.

If you didn’t have it pointed out to you, you might never have noticed the hop bird. He didn’t look particularly special. He didn’t have showy feathers or huge wings, like many of the other birds in the cage. But he had this hop. And he hopped as he saw fit, on his own schedule, to his own inner clock and, while he surely noticed the other birds, he was content to be unlike them. He was, simply, the hop bird. There was no explaining him. Either you got him, or you didn’t. And if you got him, you loved him.

And my Mom got him.

How extraordinarily ordinarily human! Such stories, though common and seemingly unimportant, justify mankind’s existence. For in them, we see how human beings acknowledge the splendor of being with wonder, amusement, and love.

Sidney Goldberg, may his memory be a blessing.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, June 6, Anno Domini 2009
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