This time Lucy won’t pull the football away

September 18, 2017 § 60 Comments

From a new article at First Things (hat tip donnie):

It was characteristic of Michael [Novak] to frame the highest good as liberation from constraint. As he says at one point, “God did not make creation coercive, but designed it as an arena of liberty.”

The free market gives us a glimpse of the ideal society, one that features order without authority and purposeful freedom without the need for agreement about the common good beyond a procedural rule of law.

Democratic capitalism does a better job sustaining an open, pluralistic society than political liberalism[1], because capitalism, unlike political deliberation, guarantees freedom more jealously (and effectively).

Yet we’ve seen setback after setback, and the corporate tsunami that recently swept through Indiana after it passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act made clear the link between global capitalism and progressive clear-cutting of traditional religious culture and morality.

Needless to say, Michael Novak did not foresee these outcomes when he wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism any more than I did when I thrilled to his insights more than three decades ago.

…he described the anthropology of capitalism in a one-sided way. Its fearsome dynamism speaks to part of our soul, but it neglects and even works against the part that cherishes permanence.

This one-sidedness needs to be corrected, for our challenges are quite different from the legacy of postwar consolidation that Michael responded to with such élan. We do not live in a closed, regulated, regimented world. Political correctness is a serious problem, and it has an authoritarian tendency. But it is not born of loyalty to permanent things. As an outgrowth of liberalism itself, this rigid ideology comes under the sign of choice. It is an obligatory, enforced participation in a fluid, liquefied moral world. We are told that we are not required to think or live in any particular way—except that we can’t think or live in ways that constrain, compromise, or even throw doubt on anyone else’s free decision to think or live differently. Taken to its logical extreme—everything is permitted as long as it permits everything—this becomes a paradoxical totalitarian toleration that is all the more dangerous because it deludes those who promote it into thinking that when they drive all dissent from the public square, they are “including.”

My summary of the article:

Don’t blame us for the poison we’ve been pumping into society for decades. We had good hearts and meant well, we just accidentally neglected to keep our nice tame liberalism on a leash. No reasonable person could have foreseen a “how were we supposed to know?” stage to inevitably follow our “what could it hurt?” enthusiasms. Who would have thought that pouring acid over the moral social fabric for centuries would make it dissolve? Who could have predicted that treating human authority and hierarchy as if it were what is wrong with the world would lead to its dissolution and reconstitution as an inhuman monstrosity?

So the thing we should all do now is correct the ‘one sidedness’ of what we’ve been doing for decades.  We need to work together to promote a nice tame liberalism in common sense balance with moral constraints and the common good.  We need more water for the shriveled up plants in our common garden, to bring balance to the acid we plan to continue pouring on them.  And that is totally, totally different from what conservatives have been doing since the founding of America.  This time it will work, really.  We have to adjust to the times, to find a renewed way for political freedom to flourish.

Oh, and that crank Zippy’s understanding of liberalism is a big strawman.

——————

[1] Translation: our intramural team in the red shirts is so much better than the other team playing the exact same game by the exact same rules in pursuit of the exact same goals, because they wear blue shirts.

You have the right to Locke yourself in a closet

September 16, 2017 § 104 Comments

Your right to swing your fist stops when your fist comes anywhere near someone else’s face.

Your right to speak your mind stops when your unwelcome or unhealthy sound waves impinge upon someone else’s ears.

Your right to promote your favorite heresy stops as soon as your heresy corrupts the thoughts of another person’s child. (Everyone is someone’s child).

Your right to commit sodomy stops as soon as any other human being is forced to know about it.

In summary, your rights operate only to the extent that your choices have no effect whatsoever on others or on the common good. Deep inside the closet, your choices are between you and God.

Of course if anyone loves you then even that isn’t, strictly speaking, your business alone. Your right to destroy yourself ceases the moment it breaks someone’s heart.

Everything outside of the closet is the domain of the common good. It is here where authority operates: where these “rights” of yours cannot negate the operation of authority.

And there is no closet.

As 33, HCN, C17H21NO4, C3H5N3O9

September 13, 2017 § 57 Comments

In America, everyone has the right to free chemistry.  Chemical acts express ideas, and the expression of ideas is protected under the first amendment.

Free chemistry obviously doesn’t mean absolutely free chemistry.  Absolutely free chemistry is clearly a straw man, positing no middle ground between manifestly insane absolute rights and nice tame rights within due limits. Everyone who is committed to free chemistry agrees that there should be some limits on chemistry. We just don’t want to live under an inquisitional chemistry-restricting tyranny.

Free chemistry means that permissible chemistry should be permitted, while impermissible chemistry should be suppressed and punished.  It means we should take a live and let live approach to regulating chemistry.

So free chemistry, at least as understood by reasonable liberals, is restricted chemistry: chemistry circumscribed within limits.  The terms “free” and “restricted” are interchangeable.  For reasonable non-ideological liberals, free means the same thing as restricted.

There have been critical times when the right to free chemistry has prevented tyranny and protected the innocent.  Bad regimes, which have restricted chemistry and even imprisoned or killed people for their chemical acts, have produced incalculable horror due to those restrictions.

So every reasonable person should acknowledge the public goods produced and protected by the right to free chemistry.

Why the Columbine massacre was necessary

September 5, 2017 § 130 Comments

Someone inclined to take the position seriously would likely frame it as Harris and Klebold “having no choice”.

This was the only option available to them, as just two powerless high school kids against the implacable foe of constant institutionally tolerated bullying.  This was the only way to decisively accomplish their good intention of getting people to take bullying seriously. There had been lots of anti-bullying awareness-raising to no effect. There are many suicides because of bullying, so in the long run their actions saved more lives than were lost.

They didn’t intend the “deaths” of innocents and other bad “effects” — understood as premoral or merely physical occurrences in the manner JPII describes in Veritatis Splendour (his seminal condemnation of this pattern of thought)[1]. There was no other way for them to achieve the good they hoped to accomplish. They did not want anyone innocent to die as something for its own sake.  Their anti-bullying message could have gotten through even if, by a miracle, everyone had survived. And who is really “innocent,” anyway?

This is where proportionalist moral theology leads.  Proportionalism can be understood as applying the principle of double effect[2] while ignoring the fact that certain objective behaviors are always intrinsically immoral to choose apart from the intention for which the choice is made.


[1] “There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the “premoral” or “physical” goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.” — Veritatis Splendour

[2] At least as it is popularly understood.

The indiscriminate sacredness of bombs

August 31, 2017 § 228 Comments

We are always responsible for the behaviors we choose.

Bombs are indiscriminate weapons: they kill everyone in their fatal blast radius without discriminating between innocent people and belligerents. This is the nature of bombs.

When we choose to detonate a bomb we are choosing to kill everyone we know to be in the fatal blast radius. That is the nature of the objective behavior we have chosen.

But many people seem to believe that the indiscriminate nature of bombs qua technology has a sacred charism which takes away our responsibility for our choices. The fact that a bomb is objectively indiscriminate somehow implies that we aren’t responsible for killing all of the people we choose to kill when we deliberately destroy their living bodies with a bomb. We are only responsible for killing the people we wanted to kill with an imaginary discriminate weapon, not all of the actual people we actually chose to kill with our actually indiscriminate weapon.

But the fact that bombs are indiscriminate weapons doesn’t change the nature of human choices and moral responsibility. Bombs are not quasi-sacramental objects which move our moral responsibility out of objective reality and into an imaginary inner world wherein we didn’t actually choose to kill everyone known to be in the fatal blast radius.

The modernist notion is that bombs as a technology change the moral nature of killing, moving it into a subjective imaginary realm in which we are responsible for the choices we would have made in an idealized imaginary world: we are not responsible for the actual choices we actually made in the real world.  You might notice a certain similarity to the idea that financial and medical technology have changed the moral nature of usury and contraception.


See recent Crisis Magazine articles here, here, and here.  You can see my own comments on these articles on my Disqus profile.

You may speak freely in the asylum

August 24, 2017 § 102 Comments

In 1689, during the lifetime of John Locke, free speech meant that a member of parliament formally charged with a speech crime committed during a session of parliament had to be tried by parliament, not some other judicial body.

In 2017, free speech means that you can say anything hateful and false you want to about white people and Christians, pollute the community with despicable pornography, and commit blasphemy against Christ (but not against the false and violent religion of Islam). Yet stating facts about official victim groups in the most apologetic way possible can destroy your livelihood and turn you into a national pariah.

There are several features of free speech regimes worth collecting in one place.

  1. Free speech refers to a regime of restricted and censored speech.  Every reasonable person acknowledges that there have to be reasonable limits on speech.
  2. Free speech dishonestly frames the question of what restrictions there ought to be on speech as if it were a question of whether there ought to be restrictions on speech.
  3. This dishonesty in framing introduces instability into free speech regimes. There is nothing intrinsically incoherent about symbolic representations or slogans which refer to complex traditions. But free speech isn’t a complex tradition of what speech is acceptable; it is a simple anti-tradition which implies that restricting speech is wrong.  The configuration of empowered speech and restricted speech captured by the label “free speech” is thus mostly implicit and constantly changing.
  4. Free speech regimes have to police speech while pretending not to police speech. The result is that methods of censorship and enforcement are mostly unofficial, indirect, non-explicit, and generally sociopathic. People are regularly punished for having violated today’s nonexplicit unofficial standard some time in the past. Free speech regimes are thus intrinsically unfair.
  5. Because of their intrinsic unfairness and instability, free speech regimes create a progressive cascade.  Whatever you say today – even though it is permissible by today’s standards – might well destroy your life in the future, so you have to be constantly thinking ahead about the progressive pieties of tomorrow and adjusting your speech to accommodate those anticipated future standards.
  6. Because it is impossible for most people to maintain a complex lie over decades, the progressive cascade created by free speech regimes requires you to try to accommodate not just your speech but your internal thoughts to the anticipated inviolable progressive pieties of tomorrow.
  7. Because liberals generally don’t grasp the implications of their own ideas, the more conservative among a population of liberals attempt to fight the perversity created by a free speech regime with assertions of a right to free speech.

Whither whether which what

August 20, 2017 § 157 Comments

“Free speech” and “limited free speech” are intrinsically dishonest phrases, because they treat the question of what restrictions there ought to be on speech as if it were a question of whether there ought to be restrictions on speech.