Objective freedom, or, the allure of the formless void

March 23, 2017 § 19 Comments

As previously observed, every concrete choice made by a human being starts with a large number of potential reality-outcomes and collapses it into a particular concrete outcome. Choices are irrevocable option-reducers: they empower one particular possibility, breathe fire into it and make it a reality.  They take mere (but real) potential and convert it into actual reality: they merge the matter and form of possibility to make something concretely real. In the wake of doing so, every single choice leaves behind a multitude of roads not taken, options which now rest outside the realm of real possibility.

Freedom as an objective state can be understood as having real options: as having available choices not yet made. (Subjectively, freedom can be understood as a particular subject having available choices which correspond with what the subject wants to choose).

Acts of authority are human choices which, like all human choices, eliminate options. Because they are specifically acts of authority-as-authority they eliminate options available to subjects, to those subject to the particular authority in question.  For every single actual empowerment produced by the choice of a human authority, a multitude of mutually exclusive options, of roads not taken and now ruled out, are destroyed.

In short, every act of authority always and necessarily reduces objective freedom. When folks subjectively like the results it feels empowering to them: their wishes correspond to their real options.  When folks subjectively don’t like the results it feels constraining.  But it is a fundamental mistake to see empowerment of the good as “freedom.”  Empowerment of the good means that good actions are empowered and that the right sort of people are sent to prison.

Liberalism attempts to make increasing or sustaining freedom – availability of choices – into the (or a) primary justification of authoritative acts.  When liberals suggest that they are pro choice they really mean it: the most “consistent” liberalism is an anarchism which forces itself on everyone.  Ultimately, maximizing objectively available choices means not making or even “allowing” any actual choices: it means embrace of the eternal formless void out of a fear of better options.  In this sense a ‘conservative’ liberalism is indeed anti-choice.  In a perfect liberal paradise all choices are available but nobody falls into the imprisoning trap of actually making one.  In a perfect liberal paradise the clock can always be turned back to before any particular choice was made: reality must stand for reelection over and over again, in saecula saeculorum, amen.

In the real world, consistent loyalty to liberalism as a political doctrine is impossible. In practice, then, liberalism becomes weaponized incoherence.

It is of course common to equivocate here: to suggest that liberalism merely says (tautologically) that people ought to have the available choices that they ought to have, and sets one purpose of authority to be ensuring that subjects are really able to choose what they ought to be really able to choose.  These “things subjects really ought to be able to choose” – with the support of those in authority – we label “rights”.

But if that is the case we need to accept that more rights mean objectively less freedom, not objectively more freedom. Rights are rules which authoritatively discriminate and reduce the space of all really possible options to a more constrained space of really allowable options. Given that this is the case it seems that the only honest approach is to unequivocally shun the deontology – and even the language – of liberalism entirely.  When we say “everyone should be gay and should embrace gayness without resistance” we might just mean that everyone ought to be happy. But talking to modern people that way just makes us madmen, garrisoning the motte on liberalism’s behalf as we gaze at the padded walls.

The Earl of passive-aggressive drunkenness

March 22, 2017 § 11 Comments

Sometimes folks get lost in abstract discussions, and it becomes helpful to season it with little storytelling to help get a point across. This seems especially true when it comes to grasping the implications-in-context of incoherent ideas; doubly so in the case of the cherished ideal of political liberty, that is, the doctrine that protecting and advancing freedom is what justifies the exercise of authority.  Against the charge of incoherence it is sometimes countered that liberalism is not self-contradictory because (e.g.) expressly permitting abortion or public drunkenness or prostitution or gay sex parades or murder of the unfit or mass rape of young white girls by vibrant immigrants is merely passive: these are not active exercises of authority, and therefore do not discriminate, etc.  Rights, it is claimed, are simply a passive recognition by the sovereign and in no way involve the sovereign in acts.

This is, of course, a load of malarkey.  Whenever an authority chooses a course of action – any course of action – on a particular controvertible or actually controverted case this is always, necessarily, and without exception, an imposition of discriminating authority. There is no such thing as a “passive act”, in general.  Even choices which appear “permissive” from some narrow point of view or other are permissive only relatively speaking not in some general sense: permitting trespassers to overrun an owner’s property without consequences does not permit the owner to enjoy his property free of trespassers, and permitting mothers to murder their children in the womb without consequence fails to permit those murdered unborn children to be born and grow up.  Every single express permission granted by an authority implies numerous restrictions, always and without exception[1].

Suppose that I am the Earl of Meadistrad, and the issue of public drunkenness is brought before me because Rollo Rotgut has been making a spectacle of himself, vomiting in the street and corrupting youth.  The Earldom of Meadistrad has never addressed the issue of public drunkenness before.  Because the issue has literally never come up before now, the Earldom-qua-authority can genuinely be said to have been passive with respect to public drunkenness up to this point.  The large number of potential ways to address public drunkenness remain possible during the time before a concrete choice has been made.  It is only the case that an authority remains literally passive on a controvertible issue when that authority has never considered or been asked to consider that issue.

Once the issue of public drunkenness has been raised, though, this collapses the wave function.  As in quantum mechanics, mere observation by the authority is all that is required to make a specific concrete result inevitable.  Every response by the authority in question – including considering the issue and choosing expressly to decline to respond at all – converts a large number of potential possibilities for subjects into a more constrained space of  current and future possibilities for subjects. Action always converts a large number of potentialities into a single concrete and particular result.  That is what action means: change of potency into actuality.

It is the nature of every choice made by an authority to constrain possibility: to always and necessarily restrict freedom based on some substantive, discriminatory conception of the good.  Indeed this is the nature of choices in general: choices collapse the infinite possibilities represented by real potentialities into some actual result which precludes all mutually exclusive real possibilities.  When that choice is made by someone in authority acting qua authority, this always and necessarily constrains those subject to that authority.  It changes all of the “might have beens” into a single “this is how it must be”.

Consider the following non-exhaustive list of possible responses I might make to Rollo’s public drunkenness once the issue has been raised:

  1. I express my desire to ignore the issue entirely and send the people who raised it away.
  2. I go on a public drunken bender with Rollo because I think he is a fun guy and his detractors are prudish busybodies.
  3. I declare that subjects of the Earldom are not to be punished for public drunkenness.
  4. I declare that no public accommodation may refuse service on account of public drunkenness.
  5. I declare standards for public drunkenness and prescribe punishments corresponding to those standards.
  6. I declare that subsidiarity authorities should handle the matter of public drunkenness, but reserve the authority to resolve it myself if they can’t get their act together.

Each of these choices is an act by me as the authority: it collapses my subjects’ possible worlds from before the choice into a world constrained by my choice.  (Every act, every choice of behavior, collapses a large number of potential outcomes into one actual outcome).

Because my choice is an act of an authority-qua-authority, this act constrains my subjects. Those subjects who would rather live without vomit in the streets, or those who would rather keep the raucous party going, etc are out of luck if my choice does not produce the kind of outcome they prefer.

Note that I am not passing judgment on the merits or demerits of various choices by authority.  I am merely observing that all choices by an authority qua authority necessarily discriminate based on some substantive conception of the good, in the process necessarily restricting the freedom of subjects, collapsing potential possibilities into a particular authoritative and constraining  result.

So liberalism — the doctrine that liberty is what justifies acts-of-authority — is rationally incoherent.

[1] It does not follow that an authority never grants any sort of permission for anything, of course.  That every single permission is accompanied by a multitude of constraints does not mean that permission is never granted. Permissive will is real enough as a facet or mode of a particular choice; but every coin has both a heads and a tails.  Every concrete choice empowers (or “frees”) a particular actual reality to the detriment of mutually exclusive real potentialities. That God “permits” the world as it is actively precludes infinite different potential ways the world really might have been.

But I trust that He has His reasons.

Debtor’s prison and usury

March 20, 2017 § 43 Comments

A good sovereign will decline to enforce usurious contracts, and will reserve the authority to – if prudentially necessary – punish those who attempt to craft usurious contracts.

It follows that in a good polity, the only way to acquire a magistrate-enforceable personal debt would be by committing a crime (including, possibly, criminal negligence).

I conclude that what makes debtor’s prison bad is acceptance of usury.  In the absence of usury, debtor’s prison is just prison for criminals.

The principle of explosion as a weapon of mass destruction

March 20, 2017 § 40 Comments

As an exercise in being honest with ourselves, every time we are tempted to use a phrase like “Bob has the freedom to do X” in a political context we should substitute “Bob has the authority to insist that everyone else must obediently cooperate with him doing X”.

“Freedoms” in a political context are in fact simply particular, concrete, actual exercises of authority which bind subjects – all those subject to that authority – to cooperation and obedience. “Freedoms” or “rights” in other words are always and without exception discriminatory demands that subjects cooperate and obey on a particular matter.

The honest question of politics is not “what freedoms should people have and in what contexts”. This liberal framing simply begs the question, slyly pretending that the exercises of authority which he labels “freedom” or “rights” are not actually exercises of discriminating authority which bind subjects to obedience and cooperation. It falsely assumes that there is such a thing as a concrete exercise of authority which “leaves other people alone”, a special sort of freedom-by-command which we label a “right” or a “freedom”. It sociopathically hides the inextricably authoritarian side of its own coin, of its own political assertiveness and assertions, underneath a fog of begged questions.

Rights or freedoms are special cases in the incoherent storm of the liberal’s political mind: they are a kind of ruthlessly anti-authoritarian authority, iron rules which abolish iron rule and force everyone, good and hard, to be free.

But there literally is no such thing as a political “right” or “freedom” which is not an exercise of discriminating authority, authority which binds those subject to that authority to cooperation and obedience. Liberalism is a contradiction in terms, all the way down and in all cases.

Its superficial plausibility combined with its deeper logical incoherence turns liberalism, in the context of any particular public social reality, into ad-hoc question-begging: makes it a weaponization of the principle of explosion.

Most folks love the empowerment they feel from (what they delude themselves into thinking is) personal possession of WMDs.  In free societies every man is king, and reality is whatever you want it to be.

That is, they love it up until the point that someone else deploys it to kill them.  When that happens it is doubtful that many even see it coming.

On minding your own business and the unpersoning of contract counterparties

March 17, 2017 § 21 Comments

In Question 49 of the Usury FAQ I discuss whether a merchant may licitly charge an individual[1] penalties for late payment on unsecured merchant credit, distinguishing between two cases.

In one case the individual mutuum debtor has the resources to pay the merchant on time and refuses to do so. This is a form of theft or fraud, and thus is (under the natural law) a criminal act subject to the extrinsic titles and criminal penalties which arise from criminal acts.

In the other case the debtor has suffered misfortune and is unable to pay on time.  By extending unsecured credit the merchant took the risk of this occurring upon himself, and is not entitled to late payment penalties.

Notice that this means that the merchant who extends unsecured credit, and the enforcing sovereign, have to understand the individual holistically and charitably as a human being, in order to make this distinction.  It means – and I’m sorry to break this to you – that the dehumanizing incantation “it is just business” doesn’t actually turn contract counterparties into unpersons.

Treating others like the human beings they are in reality is a lot of work, and doesn’t always make for the most efficient business operations.  The other horn of the dilemma is that failure to extend unsecured credit will almost certainly limit a merchant’s available market.  With those moral constraints in place, it is almost as though extending unsecured personal credit should only be an act of charity, not a business decision.  It is almost as though we are to expect nothing in return when we lend money in exchange for a personal IOU.

But efficiency isn’t everything.

[1] As usual, the prohibition of usury applies to debt qua personal IOUs not to debt qua impairment of specified property.  The balance sheets of institutions are inventories of property and the various claims against that property, so “debt” which impairs the balance sheet of an institution is not the kind of “debt” implicated in usury.

The Usury FAQ as a tangible asset

March 16, 2017 § 17 Comments

Reader TomD is preparing to make a print version of the Usury FAQ available.  He is doing all of the work (he has a nice shiny shovel made of mithril), but in preparation for this ‘third edition’ I’ve added Question 56, “Isn’t criticism of usury just veiled anti-semitism”.

Regular readers may notice that the answer is a modified version of this blog post.

Lies, damn lies, and mass murder

March 13, 2017 § 12 Comments

Generally speaking there are a lot more ways to get something wrong than there are to get it right.  In the Church there is a special category of lie called heresy, which involves (again generally speaking) denying or distorting a doctrine of the Church specifically.  Truth is a unity, but not all truths are doctrines of the Church.  That water is H2O is true but is not a doctrine of the Church, for example.

The issue has been raised as to whether one of my claims is that liberalism is a heresy in this technical (rather than merely a colloquial) sense, as opposed to simply false or a lie.

My answer to that line of inquiry, for the record, is that I take no firm position on the question[*]. It is certainly arguable that liberalism as I describe it on this blog — keeping in mind the limitations of language, and the fact that liberalism is what it is in reality independent of those limitations – is condemned in various papal encyclicals, for example Immortale Dei.

But from my point of view it doesn’t much matter, and I don’t think the point is especially worth arguing.  Most folks wouldn’t balk at condemning a mass murdering political philosophy like Nazism without really caring much about whether it is or is not, in a technical sense, a heresy.  One would think that political doctrines which drive the mass murder of innocents (as just the most obvious and visible in a long list of atrocities) would run afoul of a Church doctrine here or there, I suppose, at least indirectly. But frankly the whole question seems like a bit of a red herring.

The same goes for liberalism and – depending on where you feel the lines should be drawn – its close modernist cousins.  Some folks feel compelled to draw the lines this way or that, probably driven by a delusion that the substance of the basic criticisms of liberalism can be deflected by some nominalist semantic dancing.

But my thought is that once the body count of innocents murdered reaches a certain point, quibbling over whether or not a particular political doctrine is or is not technically heresy is just Nazis dancing on the head of a pin.

[*] This contrasts with my position on usury, to which I have not really added any original thought.  My work on usury specifically (except where stated otherwise, and of course this doesn’t apply to e.g. more general discussions of currency, securities, finance, property, etc) is simply a reiteration, to the best of my ability, of the timeless moral prohibition against charging interest on personally guaranteed loans “for consumption” (in the pertinent sense) to individuals, with a few suggestions here and there as to why the moral prohibition obtains.

That is, when it comes to usury I do my best to simply restate Church doctrine; and dissent from Church doctrine is heresy.