As we enter the Advent season, we are taught to think about and to care for the less fortunate. A few weeks ago, Laura “The Thinking Housewife” and Auster had a series of posts about beggars, charity, the demands of the gospel, and the counsels of good sense. The topic is one that interests me greatly, rousing my Nietzschean suspicions about Christianity and challenging my views about how one is to live the double life that the gospel requires.
From The Thinking Housewife:
“The Entitled Beggar”
“Commanded to Give”
“Charity and Reason”
From View from the Right:
“Are we literally supposed to give to every beggar who begs of us?”
I find Jonah’s comment on Auster’s post significant:
I am not sure as I would go so far as to say I take issue with your contextualization of Jesus’ statement regarding begging, but I would caution that there is a point where the strangeness and sheer counter-intuitive other-worldliness of Jesus’ views, which was seemingly noticed by all at the time, is undercut by making too many attempts to line him up with the practical life-choices of a conservative, urban, resentful-of-the-squalor-of-the-left American.
While I do agree that, for example, the verses regarding the welcoming of strangers is in no way a comment on national borders policy, I do think we should recall that whoever we are, and however much try to align ourselves with the Christian way of life, the Christ remains a startling and singular figure, and there may well be directives that do not always align with what we’d ordinarily consider a convenient, prudent life-choice.
This is meant to serve not as a counter-argument, really, but more as a caution, a weight which must always remain on the same side of scale, the side of strangeness.
Proper commentary must wait. I’ll just note how queer it is to sort out the mess that is the human condition.
Also, you may wish to read my post about this topic from last year, “Effective Giving,” which offers some sound advice.
It is Black Friday, and American consumers are going to rush today to buy goods made in China. I hope that everyone finds good deals. In related news, Kevin Williamson wrote an informative article in the National Review a few weeks ago, “Red Scapegoat.” Williamson rejects the theories that blame America’s economic woes on China. I recommend that you read it; it differs considerably from the views of economic nationalists.
I find these issues beyond baffling, and I remain rather agnostic on trade policy. Economics truly is the dark art.
Auster and the folks at View from the Right have an interesting discussion going on concerning traditionalism’s understanding of freedom: “Has VFR failed to define political freedom?” It involves my favorite V.F.R. commentator, Kristor, as well as a civil Randian. This libertarian Bob is evidently a funny man; he referred to Kristor as Auster’s “Realist philosophical consultant.”
I wrote the following comment to Auster:
Regarding your freedom discussion with Bob A., I think that it is important to emphasize Kristor’s point about the moral virtue and cultural strength of a self-governing citizenry. Bob A. rightly worries about the insane excesses of the majority. Imagine being ruled by the current residents of San Francisco, were they to have plenary power. That would involve a nightmarish tyranny of the absurd. The libertarian answer is to gut communal control completely, as libertarians have no appreciation of man as a political and social animal. I wonder if Randian man is like Rousseau’s uncorrupted savage man . . . an insane and utterly ahistorical depiction of primitive humans as solitary animals who come together at various times only to copulate.
The traditional solution, by contrast, is to have a morally sound citizenry with a good understanding of human nature and a healthy respect for tradition as the accumulated wisdom of many generations. This traditional wisdom involves an understanding of the proper limits and the scope of competence for various levels of authority (the whole community, particular fields with their professional societies, the family, the individual). So, I do not think that traditionalists are “majority rule” zealots. Rather, traditionalists respect the various levels of social authority, of which communal authority is (arguably) best preserved and executed through localized self-governing. That involves some sense of majority rule—or at least majority consent.
The aim of the political community ought to be the common good, which facilitates human flourishing. Traditionalists see the American experiment as a means to this goal. For the liberal, there is no common good—there is only the “freedom” to pursue one’s own individually chosen good as unrestrained as possible. From that perspective, the American experiment at its inception was only a shadow of true individual autonomy. To use Constant’s language, liberals only want the liberty of the moderns; they have no use for the liberty of the ancients. As such, they want the rights of the individual to limit not only the federal government but all government. Hence, they support the madness of the fourteenth amendment, which destroyed our constitutional order. To butcher the words of a good lady, the consistent liberal believes that there is no such thing as society. We are all just willful atoms swirling in the void.
Some of you might be surprised by my friendly words about majority rule. I assure you that I have not converted to being a democrat. I shall always detest mobocracy. However, I think that there is a place for localized civic engagement and self government. The wise of old thought that a mixed regime is likely the hardiest constitution, and I find such advice intelligent. In a mixed regime, the democratic element is best suited for local governing, and I admit that many individual and political virtues come with the active citizenship that democratic life cultivates. For democracy works best when everyone knows everyone else who is making and who is affected by the decisions. Moreover, the average man is more apt to choose the best course of action in matters close at hand. Average intelligence does not serve the masses well in considering abstractions or the long view on social evolution. It is usually good enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of normal, everyday, practical decisions.
Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher reflects on an interesting and honest admission in The Last Word by Thomas Nagel in “Nagel on Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” I recommend that you read it.
A young Jesuit professor that I had argued that moral considerations largely drive men’s theoretical commitments. I rejected his view at the time, thinking that it was bad form to psychoanalyze disagreement. The older I get, the more I think that he was right. Of course, we must deal with arguments rationally by examining the matters being discussed. Nonetheless, when I think about the arguer rather than simply addressing the argument, non-rational motivations may explain what often seems to me inexplicable.
Nicholas N. Eberstadt has an informative essay in Commentary, “The Global Poverty Paradox.” Examining the data, Eberstadt argues that dozens of developing nations have actually seen their economies decline over the past few generations despite rapid growth worldwide. It is a somewhat dispiriting reality check for those who believe that technological and economic progress in the first world necessarily leads to economic progress in the third world.
—Not what to do with them actually, which would be to round them up and ship them to a lunar Van Diemen’s Land for crimes against civilization, but what to do with the Left orthographically. I have been inconsistent in this manner, as I am not sure when I should capitalize the “l” in left and its forms. There also seems to be no standard convention that writers follow. The following discussion applies to the use of the Right, as well.
I always try to capitalize Communist and its forms because Communism has always been an ideology of specific parties. We capitalize Republican, Conservative, Labour, National Socialist, and such words when they refer to particular political parties, and the Communists have always been members of Marxist political parties. Communism is not simply a general political philosophy, as socialism is.
The Left, though, is a general term that is not a political party but rather a way of categorizing a particular political orientation. There may be a “Left Party” somewhere, and then Left would always be capitalized when referring to that party. In general usage, though, the Left designates a field of political attitudes rather than a specific party. So, why should I capitalize something so amorphous? I do not capitalize various ideological components of the Left, such as liberal, socialist, or progressive, except when those words designate actual parties. Why, then, do I capitalize the Left?
Perhaps, I capitalize the Left to distinguish it from the common, directional uses of left. The “L"eft emphasizes the abstraction, though I admit that I do not consistently employ other words in such a way. Consider, for example, Plato’s forms. Many writers capitalize the forms for the same reason that I capitalize the Left, though I do not follow that convention. I do, however, sometimes capitalize the Good when it refers to the ultimate good in the Platonic sense, though I think that this distinction is more useful. When one writes in the context of Platonic metaphysics, one refers to the forms without normally having to mention form in its common sense, whereas one frequently must write about various lower goods when one explains “the Good.” Moreover, capitalizing the Good reminds the English reader of our way of writing God, and I intend the parallel.
Even if I consistently capitalize the Left, I still wonder what to do with its forms. I think that the way the French use national adjectives might be best. For example, the adjective German is allemand. So, the language is allemand, and a cheese can be allemand. However, when the adjective stands as a noun and refers to a person, the substantive is Allemand. Hence, un Allemand parle allemand. If I followed this convention, a Leftist would propose leftist policies. A reader, though, might not notice the pattern and become annoyed at the perceived inconsistency. However, why should the Left not consist of Leftists?
I do not feel like editing former posts, but I think that I should attempt to use the French proper adjective convention when dealing with the Left. If only all Leftists would suffer the French treatment, too, like their predecessor Robespierre . . .
It is the day of reckoning in the American democratic regime. Unfortunately, not enough asps will be chased from office, and other vipers will surely take their place. However, we should at least savor a day that proves troublesome for so many vicious snakes.
However, lest we become too enraptured by our national circus, let us heed the words of a wiser, more honest man, from Twilight of the Idols:
Critique of modernity. — Our institutions are no good any more: on that there is universal agreement. However, it is not their fault but ours. Once we have lost all the instincts out of which institutions grow, we lose institutions altogether because we are no longer good for them. Democracy has ever been the form of decline in organizing power: in Human, All-Too-Human (I, 472) I already characterized modern democracy, together with its hybrids such as the “German Reich,” as the form of decline of the state. In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward ad infinitum. When this will is present, something like the imperium Romanum is founded; or like Russia, the only power today which has endurance, which can wait, which can still promise something — Russia, the concept that suggests the opposite of the wretched European nervousness and system of small states, which has entered a critical phase with the founding of the German Reich.
The whole of the West no longer possesses the instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which a future grows: perhaps nothing antagonizes its “modern spirit” so much. One lives for the day, one lives very fast, one lives very irresponsibly: precisely this is called “freedom.” That which makes an institution an institution is despised, hated, repudiated: one fears the danger of a new slavery the moment the word “authority” is even spoken out loud. That is how far decadence has advanced in the value-instincts of our politicians, of our political parties: instinctively they prefer what disintegrates, what hastens the end.
Witness modern marriage. All rationality has clearly vanished from modern marriage; yet that is no objection to marriage, but to modernity. The rationality of marriage — that lay in the husband’s sole juridical responsibility, which gave marriage a center of gravity, while today it limps on both legs. The rationality of marriage — that lay in its indissolubility in principle, which lent it an accent that could be heard above the accident of feeling, passion, and what is merely momentary. It also lay in the family’s responsibility for the choice of a spouse. With the growing indulgence of love matches, the very foundation of marriage has been eliminated, that which alone makes an institution of it. Never, absolutely never, can an institution be founded on an idiosyncrasy; one cannot, as I have said, found marriage on “love” — it can be founded on the sex drive, on the property drive (wife and child as property), on the drive to dominate, which continually organizes for itself the smallest structure of domination, the family, and which needs children and heirs to hold fast — physiologically too — to an attained measure of power, influence, and wealth, in order to prepare for long-range tasks, for a solidarity of instinct between the centuries. Marriage as an institution involves the affirmation of the largest and most enduring form of organization: when society cannot affirm itself as a whole, down to the most distant generations, then marriage has altogether no meaning. Modern marriage has lost its meaning — consequently one abolishes it.
Nietzsche wrote those words one hundred twenty-two years ago. If he saw decay in the age of Bismarck, what would he think of the West now?