Arimathea | Philosophy
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Wednesday, June 29, A.D. 2011
Expansion of the Police State

I have occasionally written about my disgust at the American (non)reaction to the federal government’s security overreach, especially in regard to the Transportation Security Administration. See “American Mandarins,” “Sexual Assault at the Airport,” and “TSA Checkpoint.” Now, we read in Mother Jones that Napolitano’s toady John Pistole has requested funds to increase the number of roving squads of Homeland Security personnel who will impose air travel’s gate rape regime on other forms of mass transit. Since Christmas, I have been using Amtrak and buses to avoid the jackbooted fondlers; I may have to start renting cars for my trips back to the heartland. I thought that we wanted to encourage people to use more efficient and responsible forms of transportation. When will the people revolt?

Mother Jones?, you say. As I wrote in “American Mandarins,”

It is interesting that the forces eager to cripple American liberty originate on the Left and on the Right, both of which are willing to sacrifice American freedom to their other pet projects (such as socialist leveling or police state law and order). Similarly, we find that the American Civil Liberties Union and traditionalist American institutions (those old paleocons) oppose the slide to an increasingly Orwellian society. Shall we say that totalitarianism and opposition thereto are bipartisan endeavors?

I do appreciate some of the truly liberal concerns of the Left. The American Civil Liberties Union, Ralph Nader, and the Greens are useful allies in the fight against the all encompassing corporatist police state that reduces people to pegs in a machine. If these people would only realize that their social liberalism contributes to civilization’s disintegration, which justifies government intrusion in life to reimpose order. We needs laws of the heart backed up by cultural standards to avoid having so many laws on the books backed up by the threat of state violence.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 29, Anno Domini 2011
Monday, June 27, A.D. 2011

One of the occasional, non-political features on Auster’s View from the Right is synchronicity, where Auster and his readers relate the quirky coincidences that befall us throughout our lives. A few weeks ago, Kristor commented on one of these posts, “Can’t get away from that synchronicity (or, God has a mischievous sense of humor),” and he was characteristically Kristoresque. In other words, he wrote something worth repeating:

No one should fret about the fact that material causation cannot explain much of what happens in our lives. In fact, it is a grotesque error to expect such a thing from material causation. After all, material causation cannot explain material causation. Indeed, there is no possible material cause of material causation. I can’t think of a more succinct way to express the Aristotelian argument for a First, and Unmoved, Mover (or, ipso facto, to indicate the epistemological limits on the domain of merely scientific inquiry).

If there is no utterly transcendent First Mover, then there is just no motion, at all—no change of any kind, nor any being. Likewise, if there be no utterly transcendent Order, then there is just no order at whatsoever. If on the other hand there is such a Mover, and such an Order, then nothing that happens—nothing whatsoever, no matter how trivial—can fail to be connected in every respect to that Mover, and thereby wholly ordered to that Order. Nor, being wholly ordered to the source of all Order, may anything that exists fail to be part of a comprehensive and coherent ordering toward all other things. As Whitehead said, “each atom is a system of all things.” Furthermore, those multifarious connections between things, being all orderly, must at least in principle all be intelligible to any rational observer. So that, in principle, investigating anything carefully enough may provide us an opportunity to discover everything that can be discovered. This is one of the reasons poetry is useful—poems help us attend to significations we usually neglect to notice. That’s how poetry can engender apprehensions of sublimity. And, love is like poetry. Love a thing or a person well enough and properly, and in the object of your charity you may discover all that there is to be known.

Thus synchronicity is pervasive in what exists—this is just another way of saying, “things happen together, and we live in a coherent world”—and Hannon is quite right that whether we notice it depends upon how well we are paying attention to the connections and mutual significations among the disparate elements of our experience, by which that coherence is obtained, in every moment, and from each moment to its successors.

Kristor’s offers a provocative insight about poetry. It is an old idea that the poet sees the divine in some way. Kristor suggests that the poet truly sees nature, though perhaps with a divine perspective.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, June 27, Anno Domini 2011
Friday, June 24, A.D. 2011

In her latest National Review column, Katherine Lopez Jones interprets Michele Bachmann’s candidacy through her John Paul II tinted “New Feminism” glasses : “Michele, New-Feminist Belle.” The article mentions a factor that may play a significant part in Bachmann’s candidacy—that Bachmann seems like one of the normal, respectable women that we know in our own lives. Politicians in democratic societies often play to the peanut gallery. Remember George H.W. Bush’s pork rinds or Al Gore’s laughable attempt to appear like a farm boy from Tennessee? Such pandering is demeaning, but that is not what is attractive about Bachmann. Rather, she seems like “one of us” because it appears that she is rooting for “our team.” That quality is what attracts people to Sarah Palin, too. Mama Grizzly does not have the necessary qualifications to be president, but neither does the current occupant of the White House. Yet, Leftists despise Palin while deifying Obama. For he is on “their team,” but they are used to having leaders on “their team.” We conservative Americans do not enjoy such a state. We suspect that the vast majority of the fellows whom we elect are crooked pols who, at best, pad their wallets and, at worst, conspire with the opposition to dispossess the white, Christian middle class even more. Bachmann, by contrast, seems like one of those sensible women at the township meeting who is more educated and more successful than everyone else but still very much part of the neighborhood, with the same values and goals as her townsmen. She does not appear to be one of the ivory tower, gated community types who wants to rule the alienated masses from afar.

Due to their own individualist ideology, mainstream conservative pundits decried the Left’s accusations of racism and tribalism against the Tea Party. Yet, those Leftists are partially correct. The Tea Party and Palin phenomena have an undercurrent of Old America’s slowly waking up to the relentless cold war that has been being waged upon it for decades. There is a racial aspect to that story, though it is not a racist one. For the Left, however, it is racist for white Americans to concern themselves with their own interests. Universal human self interest becomes “white privilege” in the fevered minds of Western civilization’s enemies. When Koreans want Korea to remain Korea and when they look after Korean interests, are they suffering from “yellow privilege”? Oh, I forgot, Leftists only apply their insane social diagnoses to white societies. At times, they give the Japanese a hard time, too. I guess that the Nips have been too successful to stay in the global flatteners’ good graces.

Moreover, as the historical populace and the contemporary majority, whites’ interests are the principles, customs, and legacy of traditional America, and this is the undeveloped and unrealized point behind the Tea Party’s “Main Street” rhetoric and appeal. Such cannot be said for the racial Marxists who want to remake America according to their desires, but precedence has never mattered to the Left. Palin and Bachmann attract conservatives because they are not ashamed of representing and of seeking to help traditional America. They repulse the anti-white, anti-bourgeois, anti-American Left for the same reason.

I hope that Bachmann shows herself ready and capable of leading the country. As Ezra Klein writes, “Put simply, Bachmann is the candidate Palin was supposed to be.” We may wish.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 24, Anno Domini 2011
Wednesday, June 22, A.D. 2011
The Republican Field

I corresponded with a friend about the Republican presidential candidates last night, and my laziness has induced me to cannibalize my letter for the post today. Here are neither interesting nor original words on the Grand Old Party’s contenders:

I watched the Republican debate last week and found the lot of them to be less objectionable than I had previously supposed. They presented themselves as acceptable candidates, though I only found Romney and Bachmann to have had rather spotless performances. I guess that Santorum did alright, as well, but I find it odd that he would try running for the presidency after having lost his last Senate election. Cain floundered, Paul said his silly libertarian bit about marriage, and Pawlenty was weaselly in defending his remarks about Romneycare—and I cannot trust Gingrich. I would vote for any of them against Obama, though I am very thankful that it won’t be Newt.

It will be interesting to see if Christie or Perry enters the race. I read today that Huntsman has tossed in his hat. It is shaping up to be an interesting primary.

Right now, Bachmann is my favorite, and I say that as someone who generally opposes women in politics, being no friend of feminist rhetoric or doctrine. Maybe she is an exception that proves the rule, like dearest Maggie. She certainly comes across as more principled and more honest than the rest, and she is by no means the idiot that the press has portrayed her to be. Political reporters are such fiends. Take her ignorance about Lexington and Concord, for example. The only reason that I knew that Lexington was in Massachusetts was because my father and I almost stayed there during our New England trip, and I don’t consider myself to be ignorant of American history. There are gaps in all of our knowledge. That her mistake was used against her warrants contempt. She has an advanced law degree from William and Mary that I didn’t even know existed (LL.M.). She is no fool.

As for Romney, I don’t trust his convictions, though I have no doubt that he has the requisite skill set. I hope that he just postured himself as a Leftist years ago to get elected in Massachusetts. Sure, that’s dishonest, but at least he fooled those people. Such is not ideal, but strategic deception would be the best take on his flip flops for me. The worst possibility would be that he has no great attachment to principle but simply seeks power, like Clinton. I don’t buy politicians’ conversion stories without some convincing proof. How can a Mormon not just be an abortion rights supporter but one so dedicated that he attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers?  How can someone so smart who attains higher office be so ignorant about the issue? He cannot blame ignorance or his upbringing for his past stand on abortion. What else but Machiavellian dishonesty is left to explain his previous position—if he is truly prolife? Maybe, he is not. I suspect that issues of culture do not interest him. Materialist Americans deserve a C.E.O. as their president, I suppose.

Moreover, I would rather not have a Mormon as president. One doesn’t have to be a philosopher to be a decent political leader; so, I’ll give him a pass on the ridiculous metaphysics of his religion. But I do expect a political leader to identify with the nation that he leads, and Mormons are such a fringe group that their tribal myths do not match up well with America as a whole. I suppose that a Mormon would be better than our current Alien in Chief who identifies with Third World racial Marxism rather than the historical American experience. At the very least, the Mormons have a connection to the land and history, however distorted and peculiar it may be.

I recently learnt from Auster’s site that Perry supported Giuliani in A.D. 2008, which I consider a serious lapse of judgment. I am wary of him. He may be singing the right tunes, but I am suspicious of opportunism. It is nice to see federalism return as a political concern, though.

All that I know of Pawlenty is that he is a Midwesterner and from a blue collar background. So far, so good. But he needs to be a man when it comes to defending his own words. Defend or apologize; don’t slither.

I don’t know much about Huntsman, either, but he strikes me as a better looking technocrat with less baggage than Gingrich. Did I mention that I don’t trust technocrats? And I despise internationalist ones . . . it is what Obama branded himself, though he doesn’t have the talent to pull it off successfully even according to their own perverse standards. Such managerial, post-national folks’ natural home is the totalitarian, globalist Left. They certainly shouldn’t be trusted with American power, as they wish to destroy (“supersede”) the American nation in the name of efficiency and progress. I also read that Huntsman sits on a board for the Brookings Institution. Perhaps, he should run as the Democratic nominee; Harry Reid endorses him.

I like Christie, but he seems intent on not running. Maybe, Ann Coulter can convince him to make the move. On Friday, she swore that she would become his worst enemy if he fails to run for the sake of his country. That might get his attention. I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side.

There is also the inevitable question—W.W.P.D.? I hope that she continues to play the role of the ululating matriarch on the sidelines of the culture wars.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 22, Anno Domini 2011
Thursday, June 16, A.D. 2011
Ann and the Libertarians

I recommend Coulter’s column this week where she remonstrates against libertarian dismissals of publically sanctioned marriage: “Get Rid of Government—But First Make Me President.” In response to Ron Paul’s suggestion at Monday’s Republican presidential debate that the state should not regulate marriage, Coulter, J.D., presents several practical problems that would result from the institution’s complete privatization:

If state governments stop officially registering marriages, then who gets to adopt? How are child support and child custody issues determined if the government doesn’t recognize marriage? How about a private company’s health care plans—whom will those cover? Who has legal authority to issue “do not resuscitate” orders to doctors? (Of course, under Obamacare we won’t be resuscitating anyone.)

Who inherits in the absence of a will? Who is entitled to a person’s Social Security and Medicare benefits? How do you know if you’re divorced and able to remarry? Where would liberals get their phony statistics about most marriages ending in divorce? . . .

Some of those legal incidents of marriage can be obtained by private contract—such as the right to inherit and make medical decisions. Gays don’t need gay marriage to leave their electric spice racks to loved ones.

But there are more obtuse Americans than there are gay Americans, so courts are going to be bulging with legal disputes among the unalert, who neglected to plan in advance and make private contracts resolving the many legal issues that are normally determined by a marriage contract.

Under Rep. Paul’s plan, your legal rights pertaining to marriage will be decided on a case-by-case basis by judges forced to evaluate the legitimacy of your marriage consecrated by a Wiccan priest—or your tennis coach. (And I think I speak for all Americans when I say we’re looking for ways to get more pointless litigation into our lives.)

If one spouse decides he doesn’t want to be married anymore, couldn’t he just say there never was a marriage because the Wiccan wasn’t official or the tennis coach wasn’t a pro?

Under Paul’s plan, siblings could marry one another, perhaps intentionally, but also perhaps unaware that they were fraternal twins separated and sent to different adoptive families at birth—as actually happened in Britain a few years ago after taking the government-mandated blood test for marriage.

There are reasons we have laws governing important institutions, such as marriage. As in landscaping, you don’t remove a wall until you know why it was put there.

Marriage is a legal construct with legal consequences, particularly regarding rights and duties to children. Libertarians would be better off spearheading a movement to get rid of stop signs than to get rid of officially sanctioned marriage. A world without government stop signs would be safer than a world without government marriage.

I went through my libertarian phase in adolescence, and I still maintain libertarian sympathies when I consider how reckless and wicked government power is when wielded by the vicious and idiotic. However, libertarianism is unworkable. Man is social, and government is the name that we give to the general management of human community. As Coulter notes, contract law cannot substitute for cultural norms codified in law. The statutory law itself cannot foresee all circumstances, and the libertarian demands that each person create an individualized contractual framework for handling all life’s affairs. Myopic is too generous a word for such foolishness.

I disagree with Coulter that Ron Paul’s argument was only a “chicken-s**t, I-don’t-want-to-upset-my-video-store-clerk-base answer.” Rather, I think that libertarians try to avoid the culture wars by avoiding culture. As modern Europeans avoid the religious question by privatizing religion, libertarians follow their “Enlightenment” forebears in seeking their own Edict of Nantes. For toleration, though, they trade everything else. In “A Diagnosis of Modern Political Disease,” I wrote:

Therefore, I find the liberal strategy for the past two centuries rather unfortunate. Instead of attacking directly the flawed understanding of human nature of Rousseau and friends—chiefly their radical egalitarianism—liberals have sought to deny the collective claims of the city upon its citizens. Their principles have thus forsaken political life altogether. Instead of a city, they propose a marketplace—a meeting place where individuals have dealings with one another based only on consensual agreement. In a marketplace, there is no common view of the good, there is no religion, there is no culture, there is no duty—all that matters is common adherence to some basic rules of exchange. There is nothing wrong about the market as such, but there is something gravely diseased about reducing the city to a bazaar. The city, then, becomes the individual himself and perhaps a collection of voluntary associations in which he immerses himself. What we call the state, in this liberal sense, is rather a collection of polities in agreement about the terms of trade—the World Trade Organization rather than a commonwealth.

The human consequences of this barter are difficultly perceived while the relief promised is easily sensed. It is no wonder that congenitally and constitutionally liberal Americans would find Paul’s solution to the marriage war congenial. I love Lady Ann, but she fails to acknowledge the sincerity of and underestimates the depth of her opponents’ confusion.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 16, Anno Domini 2011
Monday, June 13, A.D. 2011
Auster on P.C.

On View from the Right, an enthusiastic reader recently praised Auster for understanding political correctness. I agree with the reader’s judgment; Auster has a knack for expressing the essence of complexities simply. Auster writes in “George MacDonald Fraser, the ruin of Britain, and the possibility of true resistance to liberalism”:

The point I am getting at, which I’ve often made before, is that attacking political correctness goes nowhere. It adds up to a catalogue of complaints. Yes, PC makes patriotism an embarrassment; yes, PC suppresses and criminalizes conservative speech; yes, PC suppresses negative truths about the behavior of minority groups; yes, PC takes away the legitimate rights of association and expression even as it gives vastly expanded rights to the libertine, the jihadist, and the thug. The problem with focusing on PC is that PC is not just a collection of annoying attitudes and rules and “double standards.” PC isn’t some weird thing that popped into existence for no reason. PC is the manifestation of an entire world view. PC exists because people believe in the world view that gave birth to it. Therefore we can’t successfully resist political correctness unless we attack and discredit that world view.

That world view is liberalism, the belief in equality and non-discrimination as the ruling principles of society. Liberalism attacks all the larger wholes—natural, social, and spiritual—that structure man’s existence, because those larger wholes create differences and distinctions which violate the rule of equality and non-discrimination. Liberalism attacks God, truth, religion, objective morality, standards of excellence, social traditions, the family, parental authority, sex differences, nation, ethnicity, and race. It aims at a world of liberated, equal human selves, with no God above them and no country or culture around them, free to interact on a basis of total freedom and equality with all other human selves on earth. To achieve this universal freedom and equality, the ability of actual peoples to define and govern themselves must be eliminated. Democratic and constitutional self-government must be replaced by the regime of the global elite, a regime that is beyond criticism and democratic accountability because it represents and embodies the very principle of liberal goodness: the equality of all.

That’s the liberal vision. Political correctness is one of the weapons by which this vision is imposed, it is not the vision itself. To complain about political correctness, when the problem is really liberalism, is like complaining about “enemies of freedom,” when the problem is really Islam. If we are to have any hope of defeating political correctness, we must understand the liberalism that begets it. Once we understand the positive vision that drives liberals, once we understand what liberalism has taken away and why it must take it away in order to realize the liberal vision, then we are in a position to start opposing liberalism.

Opposing liberalism means rediscovering, re-articulating, and restoring those elements of true human order that liberalism has delegitimized and suppressed. There is no simple way of summarizing these elements of true order. Each civilization consists of a unique ordering of mankind for the purpose of realizing the good life in a way that is appropriate for the people of that civilization. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not speaking of some Nazi-like tribalism but of the traditional moral order of a society under God.

There is much more to be said, but for the moment these are the basics with which we can begin:

There are universal principles of order of human existence.

There are particular principles of order for each distinct human society based on its unique history and character.

Liberalism, the belief in non-discrimination as the guiding principle of society, wages a relentless attack on these universal and particular principles of order, not ceasing until they have been suppressed and the ways of life based on them destroyed.

Therefore there can be no meaningful resistance to liberalism without a grasp of the vision that liberalism seeks to achieve and without the opposing vision of the transcendent and traditional goods that liberalism seeks to destroy.

Once we understand what liberalism is, and what liberalism is not, we can start building up a counter vision to liberalism—the seeds and cells of a new society. Merely complaining about political correctness or the endless idiocies and treasons of liberals leaves us thrashing at the symptoms of liberalism, even as we remain locked within its gravitational field.

If only the establishment “Right” in this country understood our situation as much as the intelligentsia’s pariah Auster, we would at least have a proper debate in this nation. As it stands, there is no conservative voice. As Dabney correctly noted, American conservatives only object to the latest follies and manifestations of social decay. They stand athwart history, yelling “Stop,” but time continues. One cannot defend or cultivate a traditional society if one accepts Hegelian sociohistorical metaphysics.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, June 13, Anno Domini 2011
Friday, June 10, A.D. 2011
Prolife Russia

Sophia Kishkovsky wrote an interesting column in the New York Times yesterday about the prolife movement in bear country: “Russians Adopt U.S. Tactics in Opposing Abortion.” (If you do not have a subscription, you can copy the article’s title and paste it into Google. If you link to the article from Google, you can access it for free. Alternatively, you can read the story on the DailyComet.)

It heartens me that the Russian political, cultural, and industrial elite now habitually support a saner, healthier direction for Russian society, quite in contrast to our own so called meritocracy. It is as if the influential people in Russia actually want to help their land and people. How wonderful it must be to live in a society wherein liberalism has not perverted social understanding. Give the Russkies another fifty years, and we might just see the restoration of the tsardom.

Боже, Царя храни!
Сильный, державный,
Царствуй на славу нам;
Царствуй на страх врагам,
Царь православный!
Боже, Царя храни!

The hope of the West is in the East.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 10, Anno Domini 2011
Tuesday, June 7, A.D. 2011
The Preferential Option for the Poor

R.R. Reno has a short but insightful column in First Things about how our society is failing the poor: “The Preferential Option for the Poor.” “Social justice” Leftists readily support material assistance to the poor but often fail to see how our society’s increasingly debased culture causes far more harm to the American underclass than material want. Reno notes,

The social reality of contemporary America is painfully clear. By and large, the rich and powerful don’t desire more wealth nearly as much as they desire moral relaxation and the self-complimenting image of themselves as nonconformists living a life of enlightenment and freedom in advance of dull Middle America. Meanwhile, on the South Side of Chicago—and in hardscrabble small towns and decaying tract housing of old suburbs—the rest of America suffers the loss of social capital.

I must admit that I often feel frustrated by my liberal friends who worry so much about income inequality and not at all about moral inequality. Their answer is to give reparations. Are we to palliate with cash—can we palliate with cash—the disorder wrought by Gucci bohemians?

No. Progressives talk about “social responsibility.” It is an apt term, but it surely means husbanding social capital just as much as—indeed, more than—providing financial resources. In our society a preferential option for the poor must rebuild the social capital squandered by rich baby boomers, and that means social conservatism. The bohemian fantasy works against this clear imperative, because it promises us that we can attend to the poor without paying any attention to our own manner of living. Appeals to aid the less fortunate, however urgent, make few demands on our day-to-day lives. We are called to awareness, perhaps, or activism, but not to anything that would cut against the liberations of recent decades and limit our own desires.

Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue.

In this and other ways, we can help restore the constraining forms of moral and social discipline that don’t bend to fit the desires of the powerful—forms that offer the poor the best, the most effective and most lasting, way out of poverty. That’s the truest preferential option—and truest form of respect—for the poor.

Reno’s advice is nothing but the consensus of Victorian social reformers who realized that squalor originates from vice and not simply from a lack of opportunity. Redistribution of wealth is but a scam that empowers and enriches bureaucrats who oversee the money exchange; it will do nothing to alleviate the woes of the poor because the vicious character of the underclass is the leading cause of its poverty.

Reno’s main point has been a theme of National Review writer Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg often notes how the sleezy and irresponsible lifestyle of the Hollywood set—with no apparent negative consequences—is ruinous to the hordes of poor Americans who get their values and mental content from trashy mass culture. Pop diva X can get knocked up unwed, leave her boyfriend, have multiple sexual partners, shoplift, and participate in the drug culture while remaining rich and famous. Seeing such over and over again on television, Crystal, LaShanika, and Candy, like millions of their fellow morons in the American underclass, think that they, too, can eschew traditional morality and standards and still live out their dreams. They do not realize that the rich can afford such dysfunction because their wealth, their families, and their friends provide rescue boats that the poor do not have. American pop culture has mocked common sense propriety for several generations now. The standard American social ethic has become non-judgmentalism (except when it comes to being judgmental about recycling, smoking, and others’ judgmentalism, of course). The less intelligent, less educated, less self controlled masses are left without proper models for behavior and are instead fed fare such as rap videos, daytime talk shows, and reality television. Is it any wonder that the lower class is such a mess?

The Republic and The Laws both note the importance of civic education and of stories where good men prosper and bad men suffer defeat and ignominy. Our collective cultural propaganda machine often sends the opposite message. Several months ago, I was discussing the perversities of the Jersey Shore with a group of adolescents, all of whom were from middle class or wealthy families. These teenagers sincerely admired the people on the show and thought that it was appropriate to live the way that “Snooki” and her associates lived. When I asked how such behavior affects life, they pointed to the show and said that such a lifestyle can lead to success. They were unable or unwilling to acknowledge that the media shield the people whom they exploit to make money from the consequences of their actions. Behavior typically associated with the Jersey Shore cast is a quick way to ruin even according to hedonist standards, not to mention that it reduces its practitioners to bestial slavery to the appetites and to a life of exile from transcendence. If only the Athenian Stranger could behold the chaos of contemporary America! Indeed, he foresaw it. The wise know, and the foolish fail to learn.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, June 7, Anno Domini 2011
Wednesday, June 1, A.D. 2011

The blog Throne and Altar posted a neofeudalism manifesto last month that I found interesting. Bonald follows a long line of Roman Catholics in modernity who attempt to articulate a third way in social economic arrangements besides capitalism and socialism. I heartily agree that we need to think beyond the framework of a sickly society, though I have reservations about Bonald’s diagnosis of our political disease.

Bonald argues that the distinction between public and private is flawed and contributes to social and economic disorder. I would say that there are various meanings of public and private that people frequently confuse, and yet the various meanings do have a place in a well regulated society. For example, contemporary Americans customarily confuse public in the sense of government owned with public in the sense of the social space wherein people interact in commercial and non-familial matters. Consider the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that regulate “public” institutions like private businesses, schools, and places of “public accommodations.” Compare such with previous orders and legislation that concerned “public” institutions like the military, public schools, and government offices. There is a real distinction between those senses of public, and the collapse of both into one betrays creeping totalitarianism to my inner liberal.

I would argue that an essential characteristic of totalitarian societies is the flattening of social space and social commitments. Aristotle teaches that politics involves many levels of community, from the family household to the most complex level of social organization. Each level has its own integrity and its own set of rules and responsibilities. The totalitarian state, by contrast, reduces all politics to the state, leaving no room for loyalties or duties to other social relationships. Such is perverse and begets inhuman disorder.

Instead of abolishing the concepts of public and private, I think that we rather need to articulate better the various levels of society and what is demanded at each level. Recognizing and respecting the different social levels are important, but the correct management of each level is much more difficult to decide, of course. We ought to aim for the good in all things, and every level of social organization has its own proper orientation to the good. I recommend Yve Simon’s A General Theory of Authority, which has some insightful analysis about the relationship between pursuing private interests and aiming for the common good. For both are needed, and both must relate in a well ordered society. Just because sinful human beings frequently err in these matters does not mean that we should abolish the distinction between the private and the public. The Republic demonstrates rather well what such a simplified correction of human tendencies demands and what violence toward our nature is necessary to fulfill the identification of the public with the private.

Bonald’s larger point remains a sensible one, though. The individualism rampant in our society chisels away at our sense of obligation and duty toward anything and anyone besides ourselves and the favored and freely willed objects of our affection. It is interesting to me how this creeping individualism coexists so well with creeping state totalitarianism. For the latter uses the former to justify accumulation of power, and the former finds the latter to be an excuse for dereliction of duty. They are remarkable opposites sides of the same demonic coin. Instead of a republic of generous free men, we are becoming selfish slaves to bureaucratic despotism. How Madison, Adams, and the gang would be horrified!

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, June 1, Anno Domini 2011
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