If you really don’t know who is in charge, you don’t have time for theory

April 2, 2014 § 29 Comments

Some folks seem to think that in the absence of an abstract formal theory explaining why we should obey our particular sovereign, we don’t have an obligation to obey our particular sovereign.  No formalized theory of authority means no reality of authority.

It seems to me that contemplation of formalized theories of sovereignty is a luxury that only those under a clearly defined public authority can afford; and that what they are typically buying is not understanding, but rebellion.

Authority in general, of course, because of its very nature, cannot compel us to do evil.  However, finding City Hall and identifying the government is not typically difficult for most people.  If you have the free time to contemplate political theory it is a virtual certainty that you live under a well defined public authority.

And the reasons for actual rebellion, in those rare cases when rebellion is morally licit, cannot come from some abstract theory of sovereignty.  They can only come from the just war doctrine.

§ 29 Responses to If you really don’t know who is in charge, you don’t have time for theory

  • Scott W. says:

    In addition to your link to the CCC on the 5th Commandment, I’d like to add a link to the 4th, which covers civil authority and includes the conditions when armed resistance against it is legitimate: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P7W.HTM

  • Zippy says:

    Scott:
    Sure, but why can’t we develop a theory of sovereignty/dominion that allows me to take what I want and do what I want without having to jump through all those pesky moral hoops?

  • Scott W. says:

    Sure, but why can’t we develop a theory of sovereignty/dominion that allows me to take what I want and do what I want without having to jump through all those pesky moral hoops?

    Great quote from Master and Commander: “You’ve come to the wrong shop for anarchy.” 🙂

  • Another good quote from Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

  • Zippy says:

    So we are ruled over by blacks, women, and homosexuals.

  • So we are ruled over by blacks, women, and homosexuals.

    Until at least 2016 anyway.

  • Nah, you can criticize the first two under many circumstances, say 2/3 of the time. The last, though, totally off limits.

  • Zippy says:

    What is 2016 again? Is that when all the Faithful will gather once again to affirm their personal support by personal and voluntary choice, in a concrete ritual act of communion, I mean of voting, for the liberal consensus under which we are governed?

  • Erik says:

    I’d say that not being able to criticize group X means that the country is ruled for the benefit of group X, not necessarily by group X. In Voltaire’s day I suppose these two groups would more frequently have been the same.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Political authority is the claim that the Polis makes upon an individual.

    The polis has this claims over
    A) to the persons that belong to it.
    B) To the aliens that sojourn in its territory.

    The claims A and B can be different. For instance, the aliens may not be called upon to sacrifice their lives for the polis.

    Now, a person is not bound to a particular polis. I was once English or Irish or Indian. Now. I am an American. The Irish polis has no claims of type A over me That is, I choose to renounce the Irish polis. I unilaterally ended the “belonging to irish polis” relation. Now I have no obligations of type A
    towards it.
    “The claims of type A exist only by the individual consent”.

    Even, while living in Ireland, I can choose not to sacrifice myself for Ireland.
    I move myself from a citizen to an alien (or an alienated citizen or an outlaw).

    What one can find by going to City Hall is claims of type B, that pertain to both aliens and citizens.

    The distinction between aliens and citizens is what is precisely sought to be erased by liberalism so it is necessary that we ourselves do not fall into the same trap.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    The first Just War criterion is that the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.

    Now, suppose my country is under an apparently benign foreign occupation, Say British Raj. But even this could be intolerable to an Indian patriot. Plus, the British influence does inflict lasting, grave and certain damage to the traditional Indian mores.

    So, could it be just to resist by armed force a benign foreign occupation just because it is foreign?

  • Scott W. says:

    Nah, you can criticize the first two under many circumstances, say 2/3 of the time. The last, though, totally off limits

    It has the benefit of honing subtleness. Like a response I saw to a news item a while back:

    A Canadian truck driver was shot and killed early Wednesday on the South Side of Chicago. Police said he was the victim of a robbery with multiple male perpetrators.

    Yeah, more of that “male” crime we’re always hearing about.

    At least until 2016

    Choose your favorite consequentialist!

  • vishmehr24 says:

    In short, my position is that I must obey some political authority,
    But I choose which one to obey.

  • Zippy says:

    Erik:
    That’s a good distinction.

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:
    You choose only in the truncated sense that you are sometimes permitted by a given sovereign to immigrate/emigrate. And even that choice is not a matter of arbitrary will; that is, it could be immoral, for example, if you were emigrating specifically to avoid defending your country.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Zippy,
    Fundamentally, I choose whom to love. The belongingness to a particular polis is what patriotism is. It does not require actual movement across borders.

    Now, it could be argued that piety requires we love what our fathers loved.
    That we love where we were fed, we love those that loved us.

    “Permitted by a given sovereign to immigrate/emigrate” is a strange locution. Won’t it be unjust for a polis not to allow emigration?

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Falling out of love is actually not that uncommon. Witness, Pakistan, a brand new nation that emerged out of India. There were plenty people that were patriotically Indian but later renounced India.
    Or Palestine.
    Or American Founding.

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:

    Fundamentally, I choose whom to love.

    You fundamentally choose whom to love and whom to obey, but you do not in general choose whom you are morally obligated to love and to obey. Moral transgression is frequently reframed by liberals in such a way as to propose that moral transgression impossible, but we shouldn’t fall for that.

    Won’t it be unjust for a polis not to allow emigration?

    Not in general. In some cases it is grossly unjust to allow emigration, e.g. in the case of dangerous criminals it can be unjust to foist them off onto other countries/peoples.

    Emigration/immigration is a matter of prudence falling under the sovereign’s authority, properly understood. So the fact that you have been permitted to do it is not evidence that you supremely and arbitrarily get to voluntarily choose which sovereign you should obey.

  • Elspeth says:

    I’d say that not being able to criticize group X means that the country is ruled for the benefit of group X, not necessarily by group X.

    That sounds more like the current situation we’re in.

  • Choose your favorite consequentialist!

    I will laugh uproariously if our choices are Hillary and Jeb.

  • Zippy says:

    Elspeth:
    Yes, as usual with Voltaire the bombast takes precedence over accuracy. City Hall is frequently filled with white male faces governing for the sake of Those Who Must Not Be Criticized.

  • I think the criticize meme is a bit of a diversion. You also can’t criticize anyone who has a serious parallel society (Amish as one example), but I sure don’t see the usual suspects working on doing that. They would rather push the Voltaire meme all over the internets instead.

  • Marissa says:

    Of course you can criticize the Amish, they’re sincere Christians and ripe for atheist mocking in this day and age. They’re just so boring who’d want to even think of them, much less devote the resources to criticizing them?

  • vishmehr24 says:

    “you (do not) supremely and arbitrarily get to voluntarily choose which sovereign you should obey”

    And why?.

    Because of piety?, as I suggested.
    Or is it a brute fact beyond which no explanations are possible.

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:

    Or is it a brute fact beyond which no explanations are possible.

    I’m not even sure what that means, or if it means anything intelligible at all. It seems to suggest (at least mildly) that ‘explanations’ have the power to make things be or not be, which is wrong.

    The fact that the sun is yellow and warm is a fact, whether explained or not and no matter how it is explained. That doesn’t mean that the yellowness and warmness of the sun can’t be explained, or that better or worse explanations are possible, etc. An unsatisfactory explanation doesn’t change the fact that the sun is warm and yellow; it calls the explanation into question.

    So I certainly wouldn’t say that no explanations are possible to explain the facts. But if the explanation attempts to contradict the facts the problem is with the explanation. That’s generally true of the relation between explanation and fact, always.

  • King Richard says:

    I am convinced that failure to understand, recognize, and submit to legitimate authority is responsible for rather more of Modernity’s issues than is generally believed. The mistaken notion that political authority derives from the will of the governed, for example. This returns, of course, to the mistakes made about conceptualizing ‘social contracts’ by Hume and Rousseau; their attempts to both divorce obligation from an essential understanding of the source and nature of authority and also to tie such ideas to the then-nascent idea of a nation-state and thus make social contracts devoid of inherent morality AND tied to territory and such helped fuel the revolutions of the 18th-20th Centuries.
    The bugbear of equality is similarly distorting; the myth of equality has caused more people to misunderstand that very nature of sovereignty and authority than perhaps any other idea.
    Observe how the combination works, especially when admixed with Marxist class and oppression jargon!
    -If we are all equal, why does the royal family get to rule? Can’t anyone rule?
    -Why can only those with land vote? If we are all equal, can’t everyone vote?
    -Why do some people have more than others? If we are all equal shouldn’t everyone have the same things?
    -The voting population only has X% people like Y; if everyone is equal, shouldn’t each group have equal impact?
    Thus we have the situation of Democracy – universal suffrage, universal grievance, unqualified people in positions of authority, laws based upon enforcing equality.
    And combined with shouts of praise when a woman or a Black, etc., is placed into a position of power. But this makes no sense, does it? If men are equal to women, why does it matter if a woman is Prime Minister? If Blacks are no different than Whites why does anyone care the color of the skin of the President?
    It is because of the cognitive dissonance required to be a Republican (I use the broader meaning of that word) – they must simultaneously believe that all voters are equal and all voters are wise, but also believe that some groups or classes are not equal and insist that some are not wise. Just as they must simultaneously believe that the power of the government comes solely from the ‘will of the people’ while also believing that the government is an out-of-check power that is well-nigh unstoppable by the common man.
    The voter is simultaneously wise and foolish; equal and oppressed; the source of power and powerless.
    They must also agree that monarchies are bad; monarchies are oppressive; monarchies are unequal and this means unfree.
    They must also acknowledge that the remaining worlds monarchies are few and far between but dominate lists of the richest (nations and citizens), freest (citizens and press), lowest taxed, least belligerent, healthiest, and happiest nations in the world.

  • josh says:

    Erik’s distinction doesn’t quite work. Only a fool would believe given their current depredation that Power is actually trying to help black people.

  • Erik says:

    I figure they’re as disordered on the subject of what helps black people as they are on the subject of authority.

  • Zippy says:

    I second Erik’s last comment. Liberalism really does see the inequality of blacks as arising from (and only from) injustices committed against them. See (e.g.) this discussion. The possibility of inequalities stemming from something other than injustice is outside of the available cognitive space of many liberals: it literally won’t occur to them unless it is beaten into their heads repeatedly, and once it does occur it will be quickly suppressed.

    You can’t understand liberalism without understanding that it involves a fundamentally disordered view of reality.

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