Pandora’s Locke Box

April 24, 2014 § 55 Comments

Recent discussions here and at the Orthosphere (see here and here) have reinforced my impression that almost everyone wants to have a nice tame liberalism to keep as a pet.  A common idea-structure I encounter is that traditionalism and particularity are great and should be protected as a locally scoped phenomenon, but that individuals or individual units should be free to separate – to emigrate or secede, as it were – as they see fit, based on nothing more than their preferences qua individual or unit.  Thus we will have a free market of traditionalisms, and no particular traditionalism will be oppressed by other traditionalisms.

The hope seems to be that if we can just get a limited injection of “live and let live” liberalism somewhere within the right political scope (which varies based on the theorist), we can let a thousand flowers bloom.  You might think of it as a form of abstract traditionalism, which is something of a contradiction in terms.

But this is just liberalism itself, of course: and under liberalism everything is permissible only as long as it is compatible with liberalism.

I don’t understand why people who promote liberalism as a political doctrine on a global scope don’t expect it to come a-knocking on local doors.  The notion of a “tame” liberalism, one that will destroy only the authorities you don’t like while leaving intact the authorities you do like, is a baseless fantasy.

§ 55 Responses to Pandora’s Locke Box

  • King Richard says:

    And, thus, you have self-professed Traditional Catholics that urge you to ‘vote Libertarian’.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    I don’t know why, but this headline really cracks me up.

  • Escalona says:

    Over at Radish, the latest issue is a study of Lovecraft, who puts this abstract traditionalism into theoretical purity and makes you realize how absurd it is, at least if you don’t think it stands as a straw man in current discourse.

    How connected do you think the problem you bring up here is with the doctrine of “exit over voice”? Does the latter fall with the former?

  • Zippy says:

    Escalona:

    How connected do you think the problem you bring up here is with the doctrine of “exit over voice”? Does the latter fall with the former?

    Well, I can’t claim to be up on what everyone is writing about. But my own inchoate thoughts are somewhat related to my earlier writing on voting and universal suffrage elections — example post here, just to pick one of several that would apply.

    The question breaks down into what sort of political doctrine it makes sense to adopt and what practical actions should individuals (and small communities) take, in the context of a world that is unremittingly hostile to everything we value.

    A political doctrine only practically matters to the extent it survives and ultimately actually influences something politically, and/or provides solace and practical “tend to your garden in the meantime” implications for individuals “in the catacombs” if you will. As something actually influential on the world it can only be a small treasure of purified truth to be discovered later, or not, as Providence provides.

    So to the extent the “exit or voice” discussion is premised on the idea that there is something to be practically accomplished by some developing movement that we might personally influence, apart from just standing up for what is true, I suspect it is a bit too full of itself. To the extent it isn’t too full of itself, folks should do whatever makes sense to them in their own particular circumstances.

    If by some strange act of Providence a truly significant number of people start to think like I do because of something I’ve said, that’s wonderful (I guess). But my job, then, all the more, just becomes to worry about what is good, true, and beautiful. If (as is vastly more likely) that doesn’t happen, well, I am just one person of billions, I belong to my Maker to do with as He sees fit, and I am perfectly OK with that.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    And, thus, you have self-professed Traditional Catholics that urge you to ‘vote Libertarian’

    Yep and support Same-Sex Marriage, because, freedom.

  • Escalona says:

    Good thoughts. “Folks should do whatever makes sense to them in their own particular circumstances.” A quote for the ages from Zippy

  • Zippy, your position DOES hold a lot of questions. For example: At what point does, say, a monarch become a totalitarian dictator? Let’s say we have the legally valid first born son of the previous monarch becoming King after the previous monarch dies. Everything is above water. Then he institutes absolutely crippling taxes, restarts the feudal system, takes away all civilian weapons and essentially forms a police state, and takes over the media and only shows news painting him in a positive light.

    At what point are we able to say “This is somebody we need to rebel against”? Would you say never?

  • Escalona says:

    Classic Zippy though, say something intriguing but flatly refuse to speculate on the possible extrapolations

  • Zippy says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    At what point are we able to say “This is somebody we need to rebel against”? Would you say never?

    First I would suggest that there are probably many different and likely mutually incompatible answers to that question; answers which are individually compatible with the views of authority I have expressed. The only strictly incompatible views would be those which attempt to justify rebellion based on a withdrawal of consent of the governed.

    However, I would (as I’ve mentioned before) also narrow the scope based on the just war doctrine. I couldn’t possibly discuss the ramifications in all of their detail here even if I had thought them all through, but one of the JW requirements is that the war must be prosecuted by the competent authority. This is especially tricky in the case of a civil war; but since a king is not a dictator it is certainly arguable that a rival aristocrat with a legitimate claim to the throne might constitute competent authority in such a case. The further from a legitimate claimant he is, the less likely he passes muster under the JWD.

    All that said, I expect that the great majority of actual historical revolutions have been illicit.

  • This seems counter-intuitive to me – a peasant revolt is NEVER justified, no matter how bad things get? It always needs to be some member of the ruling class leading the people, or else, they need to sit back and take whatever the government throws at them?

    I’m wondering if it’s just my pseudo-libertarian sentiments (my position allies itself quite closely – really, identically – with Dr. Feser) coming out here, but I’m not so sure. Something seems off to me about a concept of authority that doesn’t allow for revolt by the people in times of legitimate need unless the right noble happens to agree with the peasants – unless I’m misunderstanding you, which I might be.

    I don’t disagree at all with your comments on the “majority of actual historical revolutions”.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    malcolmthecynic,
    “war must be prosecuted by the competent authority. ”

    Humans are political animals thus authority arises naturally within groups that are not mere assemblages but the oriented towards a particular thing and thus have an object of love in common.

  • Scott W. says:

    This seems counter-intuitive to me – a peasant revolt is NEVER justified, no matter how bad things get?

    I believe Zippy agrees with the Church’s teaching on justifiable armed resistance:

    2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”48 “We must obey God rather than men”:49

    When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50

    2243 Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

  • Mike T says:

    This is especially tricky in the case of a civil war; but since a king is not a dictator it is certainly arguable that a rival aristocrat with a legitimate claim to the throne might constitute competent authority in such a case. The further from a legitimate claimant he is, the less likely he passes muster under the JWD.

    I don’t see how that’s possible since the only authority the aristocrat has to muster an army is to do so in service to the king. That didn’t stop many nobles from having their own armies, but it was never legitimate for the nobility to have men at arms not sworn to the king. Ending that by creating a standing army that was loyal only to the king was a major step forward.

  • Mike T says:

    4) there is well-founded hope of success;

    I wonder how the Catholic Church would have responded if the experience of the Communist states had occurred before this stipulation was added. Consider the words of Solzhenitsyn:

    And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.

    They had little reason to believe they’d succeed, but they had nothing to lose. The state had gone full on psychotic toward the people and was imprisoning without cause, torturing and murdering with impunity. If there was ever a case for fighting to the death against all odds against the authorities, it was Stalin’s regime.

  • King Richard says:

    Malcolm,
    You ask a reasonable question but I fear your examples are a bit wanting in some ways.

    ‘Restarts the feudal system’: OK, and? First, which of the many specific systems now collected under the umbrella term ‘feudal’? I assume that you mean the most common conceptualization first formed by Ganshof in ‘Qu’est-ce que la féodalité’ admixed with Bloch’s more broadly inclusive concept from ‘Feudal Society’ – society is bound by a network of mutual and reciprocal lega, military, and moral obligations between the Three Orders (Those Who Work, Those Who Fight, and Those Who Pray) and the Three Classes (Lords, Vassals, and Peasants).
    But this cannot be seen as tyranny in and of itself, actually.

    ‘takes away all civilian weapons and essentially forms a police state’ – these are not the same thing! A ‘disarmed populous’ != ‘police state’. So I will take these one at a time.
    A disarmed populous is not tyranny in and of itself *especially in the feudal system*. Within a feudal society the privileges of the fighting class were earned by their obligation to fight and protect the other two classes. I know this is radically different than what most moderns are used to conceptualizing, but the military classes of the ‘classic’ Feudal system were obligated to protect the peasants in a very personal, very direct way.
    Beyond that if society is safe and secure with reliable police, etc. not being armed is not the same as being oppressed.

    ‘takes over the media and only shows news painting him in a positive light.” OK, and? Let’s say that you have state run media and only state run media (not as uncommon as you might think). Now if the media was honest and fair but only observed the rules of lèse-majesté this is not tyranny, is it? FYI, ‘èse-majesté is still the basis of a number of active laws around the world is such oppressive slave pits as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.
    State control of the media and even positive coverage of the sovereign is not tyranny in and of themselves.

    ‘Crippling taxes’. Maybe – what do you mean by ‘crippling’? the average person cannot retain their reasonable property or clothe and feed their children? Sure, that’s crippling. Its hurting business growth? That’s not crippling.

    ‘Police state’. If you really mean ‘police state’ where people live in fear, there are no legitimate courts, the government disregards the law, etc. then yeah, probably.

    As Scott posted, there are clear guidelines from the Church on when rebellion can be justified and how. But many of the things you listed simply don’t count.

  • Zippy says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    Something seems off to me about a concept of authority that doesn’t allow for revolt by the people in times of legitimate need unless the right noble happens to agree with the peasants

    Well, again, bringing in the JW doctrine is an additional narrowing in scope. What I laid out in the OP and the previous post doesn’t say anything about what justifies rebellion, other than that it can’t be withdrawal of consent. (That’s why you suggested that my posts raise further questions. Of course because we are not positivists we know that there will always be further questions).

    Someone might completely disagree with my combox thoughts on when rebellion is and is not justified without in any way calling into question the OP and the previous post. And for that matter as always there may be a “line drawing” problem.

    I would caution against a generalized “but no fair” sentiment though. “Give into Caesar” are the actual words of Christ, and the history of early Christianity is not very supportive of the idea that armed rebellions are easily justified.

    Mike T:

    the only authority the aristocrat has to muster an army is to do so in service to the king

    I’m not sure where that is in Holy Writ, but in order to be legitimate the “in service to the king” part has to include “in his capacity as protector of the common good”. It isn’t the person of the sovereign that is the nexus and justification of public authority: it is the common good.

    One of the reasons liberalism struck our ancestors as so plausible is because of the abuse of monarchy which preceded it under paganism and Protestantism. But true public authority always derives from the common good and is exercised on behalf of the common good. “Rule by divine right” is a half-truth: it uses the fact that particular authority always derives from Nature and Nature’s God to hide the ball, if you will, because authority may be possessed by the sovereign but it is only true authority to the extent it isn’t about the sovereign and his personal interests.

  • King Richard,

    Well, my comment about the feudal system was throwaway. Your characterization of it seems fairly reasonable, though.

    ‘takes away all civilian weapons and essentially forms a police state’ – these are not the same thing! A ‘disarmed populous’ != ‘police state’. So I will take these one at a time.

    Yes, I know. In a previous post I noticed the fairly intense debate going on about the subject. That’s why I intentionally connected both, as in, the reason people are being disarmed is so that the police have the ability to bully citizens with impunity. I’m using “police state” in the most negative way possible, like 1984-style.

    I didn’t clarify all of this of course, so these are fair objections. My initial reasons, as I said before, were basically throwaway.

    Crippling taxes’. Maybe – what do you mean by ‘crippling’? the average person cannot retain their reasonable property or clothe and feed their children?

    Yep. Crippling in the strongest sense of the word.

    And finally, when I was talking about the media I meant it in the sense that the government is extremely corrupt and the media is spreading lies and misinformation on its behalf.

    I hope that all of this clarifies the sense I meant to be using my examples.

    Scott,

    That’s a good quote from the Catechism. It seems just about as clear as you can get, and answers my questions in a pretty direct way.

    Where do all of you think the Catholic idea of subsidiarity fits into all of this?

  • Mike T says:

    Zippy,

    Ok, fair enough. My point there was to say that an aristocrat may be closer to the king, but the aristocrat is not in fact the king and since the king is the nexus of martial authority in the realm under reasonable circumstances the aristocrat is no more commander-in-chief than a peasant is in a way that matters. A titled aristocrat may be close to the king in many ways, including line to the throne, but that confers no martial authority under normal circumstances.

    So I generally agree with Malcom that it would be bizarre to say that a peasant revolt cannot be justified. Indeed, a peasant revolt can be justified under pure self-defense against a madman like Stalin who has liquidated all “competent authorities” who might stand up to him and is slaughtering the proletariate using the full apparatus of the state.

    A disarmed populous is not tyranny in and of itself *especially in the feudal system*. Within a feudal society the privileges of the fighting class were earned by their obligation to fight and protect the other two classes. I know this is radically different than what most moderns are used to conceptualizing, but the military classes of the ‘classic’ Feudal system were obligated to protect the peasants in a very personal, very direct way.
    Beyond that if society is safe and secure with reliable police, etc. not being armed is not the same as being oppressed.

    It is also true that in a feudal society that if a knight wants to sleep with your wife, you as a peasant have limited means to stop him because he is privileged with every means to murder you and you can resist with only farm implements. Contrast that with 21st century America where in most jurisdictions if a state official wants to sleep with your wife and you want to stop him, all you have to do is decide which caliber of ammunition to use on him.

  • Mike T says:

    Probably better to rephrase that from “sleep with” to “rape” to keep any liberal lurkers from going “oh noes he wants to control her sexual autonomy so we must denounce da evil menz.”

  • King Richard says:

    Malcolm,
    Thank you for the clarity – it was very kind of you to take the time to explain yourself and I appreciate it.
    “Where do all of you think the Catholic idea of subsidiarity fits into all of this?”
    Music to my ears! I have been theorizing on this for, well, years. I can provide links to (almost certainly cripplingly boring) articles on this as well as short intros, but I believe that authentic Catholic social justice concepts (including subsidiarity) result in the following core political ideas;

    1. All men have a right to private property.

    2. All men have a right to just compensation for their labor and their goods.

    3. All business arrangements, including employment, must be entered into freely.

    4. Private ownership of property is good for the person, the family, and the nation as a whole.

    5. Work (whether physical, artistic, or intellectual) is a form of personal property.

    6. Leadership and responsibility should be as small and local as possible.

    7. All families should be as self-sufficient as is possible.:

    8. There is no utopia.

    6 & 7 are most germaine to subsidiarity, of course.

  • Zippy says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    Well, my comment about the feudal system was throwaway. Your [KR’s] characterization of it seems fairly reasonable, though.

    Hah, I thought about chiding you for dissing feudalism, but I figured you were just putting up some verbal tokens that meant “in some really bad situation that we all would agree is tyrannical”. Maybe peasants are being randomly targeted and ground up into sausage to feed the king’s pet pigs or something.

    Where do all of you think the Catholic idea of subsidiarity fits into all of this?

    I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I have a worked-out theory when I don’t, but my offhand thoughts are that this connects to the JW requirement for ‘competent authority’.

    First I would remind folks that authority is not monolothic. By nature there are many different authorities in an organic hierarchical web of entanglements.

    Next I would take a little detour to remind folks of the moral theology of self-defense. As an individual you may defend yourself with proportionate force when your life is threatened, but according to most of the Church Fathers and the tradition you may not deliberately kill. Certainly only the sovereign may deliberately kill the attacker after he has been subdued, as punishment and to prevent further attacks.

    This is precisely because the sovereign does not represent himself and his personal interests: he represents the community and the common good. He is the competent authority, using the Church’s terminology.

    So in a context of subsidiarity it is of course licit qua individual to flee serious and genuine oppression (the Church these days uses the terminology ‘right to emigrate’ here, which I think, while not materially incorrect, is unfortunate terminology for reasons that are probably clear to my regular readers). This is analogous to an individual defending himself from attack.

    But to actually rebel against the existing sovereign and attempt his overthrow one must be a competent authority: one must genuinely be the legitimate authoritative representative of the common good of the lower/adjacent/connected subsidiary community that is threatened by the sovereign’s tyranny.

  • King Richard says:

    Mike, you keep appearing to think that all that matters is weapons! It is kinda’ creepy.
    The Feudal Lord in the classical system would have faced the actual wrath of his peasants (they were just the source of his wealth and food and could do things ranging from costing him a fortune, ruining his family’s livelihood, petitioning the next higher liege for redress, going to courts, which did exist, etc) to the disapproval of his own liege, who had authority over him, to denial of the Sacraments, to excommunication, to anathema.

  • Zippy says:

    KR:

    Mike, you keep appearing to think that all that matters is weapons! It is kinda’ creepy.

    I don’t know that that is a fair characterization of Mike T’s commentary, but I do think it characterizes a lot of the ‘gun libertarianism’ I encounter IRL. Guns have taken on a sacred character as guarantor of equality in some liberal circles, as universal suffrage has in others.

  • Mike T says:

    Thank you Zippy…

    I certainly do not think weapons are all that matters. However, I think their importance is critical due to the fact that the provide a critical, final check on authority. If a tyrant becomes bold enough to go over the line, the targets of his tyranny can fight back and kill his agents and possibly him as well.

    My view on general weapon ownership is that if the authority is not doing evil, the authority should not fear the common man. Do what is right, and the authority will commend you as Paul said. The flip side of that is do what is right and those under your authority will generally obey you freely. Most people will submit instinctively to a good authority, who wields authority lightly when there is a disagreement between them. So if an authority fears the average person being armed, there must be a reason why and rarely is it “I’m a good leader stuck ruling a wicked people.”

    Also, with regard to your assertions about the other Anglo states we have seen them steadily turn toward criminalizing conservative opinions. Dare to suggest that all Pakistanis be sent home from London and you face prosecution in the UK. Dare to call homosexuality perversion in Canada and in some provinces you can face prosecution. Your assertion that these societies are free is increasingly being put to the test and being found wanting. The US is hardly perfect, but has cultural and structural advantages they don’t.

  • Zippy says:

    There may be some merit to re-imagining the issue of weapons in the context of the subsidiarity discussion.

    Qua individuals I’m pretty unsympathetic; but qua subsidiary authority each aristocrat certainly has the authority to do what is reasonable to protect his subjects.

    So as long as there actually are subjects, and the subjects in question are unequivocally bending their knee to the requisite authority – a set of conditions which are morally non-negotiable – I am sympathetic to that subsidiary authority including the authority to acquire material means to do violence when necessary.

  • King Richard says:

    Mike,
    I hope you know from the ‘tone’ that I was kidding.
    And yes, an armed populous is a check on evil leaders.
    And what if it is the *citizens* who are using weapons to do evil? What if the common man is the force for woe?
    Beyond the obvious examples of the various Communist revolutions of the 20th Century what about the French Revolution? Which was worse, the prohibitions on the ownership of weapons before the FR or the mass slaughter of the Reign of Terror? Which was the ‘worse tyranny’? Did restrictions on gun ownership “justify” Madam Guillotine?
    You bring up Stalin a few times – which was worse; the reality of the results of the Russian Revolution or the theoretical ‘tyranny’ of Imperial Russia with stricter controls on weapons?
    Speaking of Revolutions; the people of France were generally restricted in their access to weapons, yet they prevailed. The revolutionaries of Haiti were effectively completely disarmed and yet prevailed. Rather than pointing to ‘a disarmed populous is enslaved and helpless’ is seems a disarmed populous is still capable of overthrowing their leaders if they are united in will, doesn’t it?
    As for the entire ‘Brits can’t do x, y, and z so that’s tyranny’ last time I checked the UK still has free and fair elections, multiple political parties, and a vibrant, contentious press. Unless you, like me, reject Democracy you must conclude that the UK is just another successful Democracy and that the majority of people in the UK want things the way they are. Is that tyranny or is that Democracy?
    Is there a difference?

  • Mike T says:

    King Richard,

    When the common man has become a force for evil, the state finds itself in a very dangerous situation. It may also be beside the point since there are rarely governments that are better than the people they govern. But in answer to your question, I would give wide berth to the government, if the people were actually demanding by force to do true evil, to kill the rebels with impunity.

    With regard to your points about the Russian Revolution, the Tsar was actually quite liberal on weapon ownership compared to the revolutionaries.

    As for democracy, I am apathetic toward it. To me, it’s a means, not an end. I’d rather be governed by a king or dictator who generally leaves me alone than a democrat who gets in my face. It is not a religion to me by any means. My greatest sympathies lie with classical republicanism, especially of the Roman variety. One of the particular aspects is how the Romans until the Marian Reforms wouldn’t let poor men who could even buy their own weapons serve in the army.

  • King Richard says:

    Mike,
    My point was – considering the circumstance would you argue that the Tsar restricting weapons would have been more tyrannical/worse for the average citizen than the armed populace turned out to be?

  • jf12 says:

    ScottW quotes a condition of legitimacy of *armed* resistance that is quite striking “4) there is well-founded hope of success”. In other words, it’s best to have an armed revolt with *more* weapons than with fewer.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    It has ever been the case that if you are going to fight it is best to have a big stick. That it is Catholic doctrine may come as a surprise to some though.

  • Mike T says:

    King Richard,

    Let’s get something out of the way. You seem to be operating under the impression that I am a radical gun libertarian who thinks it’s a violation of his human rights to not be able to take a M16 with grenade launcher into the public. That’s simply not true. I don’t even think it’s tyranny to require a license to own a gun or carry one, though I think gun registries have revealed themselves too often to be a powerful too for would-be tyrants. What I object to is the idea that a reasonable, civilized man can be told that he cannot own a shotgun, rifle or handgun for self-defense, hunting, etc. These are weapons that in the hands of a reasonable, civilized man pose no threat to anyone but criminals. Since you say you are a veteran, I assume you have enough experience with weapons to understand that a 0.50 caliber rifle and a 10/22 have about as much in common as a truck and a mountain bike do respectively. Machine guns are simply not civilian weapons. The same reason why it is licit to prohibit Joe Blow Citizen from owning one is valid for prohibiting the civil authorities from having them (what are the police going to do, open up a M60 on a bunch of protesters to say “go home?”)

    One last thing, restriction != disarmament, but presumably everyone here already knows that since it logically follows that outlawing sedition does not justify outlawing a peaceful political rally.

    That said, let’s dissect the Russian Revolution here as I don’t think it supports your argument…

    From what I understand, the Tsar was not a good monarch. He was distant, had little affection for the people and was not well-liked by the people or nobility for those reasons and the fact that he pointlessly embroiled the country in WWI costing common Russians incredible suffering. Not excuses for the rebellion, but it sets the stage for what happened, wouldn’t you agree?

    The various left-wing groups did not represent the average Russian, but the Tsar by his own choices distanced himself from the law-abiding majority who he could have called to arms to annihilate the leftists. Peter the Great or Alexander II would have been able to do so.

    To make matters worse, a lot of the left-wing support came from the army, not the poor workers. The army had suffered pointlessly in a losing war, fought for reasons they didn’t understand or appreciate, led by incompetent leaders. In effect, much of the weapons turned on the Tsar were those his own government issued to the men wielding them against him.

    But you say that it was the armed public that turned on the Tsar. I see no proof of that in anything I’ve read. If anything, most of the quality arms were either brought in by the left-wing parties or the army, not the average fellow traveler in the streets.

    And the funny thing is that one of the first things the Communists did to cement their power was to disarm the general public because it didn’t take long for the Whites to rally against the Reds.

    Where would restricting the law-abiding majority have solved anything there? The main reason the Bolshevik Revolution was possible was due to the Tsar’s own behavior that separated him from the general public that would have rallied in force behind a better Tsar. Of course, it also didn’t help that Kerensky refused to mobilize the Mensheviks to kill the Bolshevik leadership when it became clear that the smaller Bolshevik movement was willing to liquidate social democrats and monarchists alike, but that’s a bit of a digression from your question…

    Would some restrictions have helped? In some revolutions yes, but ask yourself this. Do you think a good tsarist who is biting his tongue to keep from saying “this tsar is an ass and barely worthy of my obedience” is going to rally behind a tsar that, in his paranoia, demands he disarm himself while radicals threaten the public order? Or is it more likely that many on the fence would have said that that was the last straw?

  • King Richard says:

    Mike, your long dissection is all about missing the point; please see
    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/because-i-said-so-thats-why/#comment-20543

    and once more, with feeling, obedience to a legitimate authority is not about the particular person ‘being worthy’ – that is Liberal Modernism talking.

    Here is an example; I know some so-called Traditional Catholics who are very upset about the upcoming beatification of HH John Paul II. Here is a paraphrase of a conversation I had today with someone who assume that I, ultra-Trad theologian, Latin Mass attending monarchist that I am, would agree;
    Me: ‘It the beatification against the dogmas, doctrines, or disciplines of the Church?’
    Him: ‘Um, no’
    Me: ‘Does the beatification threaten your immortal soul?’
    Him: ‘No’
    Me: ‘Would accepting the beatification threaten your soul?’
    Him: ‘No’
    Me: ‘Then shut up and obey. You have no moral or even legal reason to disobey. Since that is true your vocal, public disagreement with the legitimate authority of the Church is, in and of itself, a form of disobedience, scandalous, and sinful’

    The King is distant? Distracted? Sacked a popular general? Likes the wrong baseball team? You, a commoner, don’t understand international diplomacy and disagree with his treaties?
    Shut up and obey. It is the right, moral thing to do.
    That’s why a soldier refusing to fight because he doesn’t understand why he’s fighting gets shot. It isn’t ‘as an example’ or some other quasi-contractual/pop psychology reason, it is because he is shirking his moral obligation to obey *and deserves it*.
    Well, if the sovereign is legitimate.

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with the Crown Prince a week or more ago. He stated he felt Democracy is cruel to its own citizens in a very important way.
    It expects them to know about and be good at everything.
    Are you a semi-literate laborer in a rural area who works long, hard hours to feed yourself? A dedicated surgeon working long, hard hours to save others? A desk jockey who needs to keep up with the latest in IT and work a lot to feed your family?
    Yeah, well, you had better also be well-versed in economics, politics, history, psychology, marketing, communications, industry, agriculture, and current events. All of them. because Democracy expects you to know enough about them all, all the time, to choose the right politician at every level again and again and again.
    Of course, no one can do that so you get a lot of mediocre and poor elected officials and that teaches you to distrust authority. And Democracy teaches you that *you* are the source of authority. So the common man must do something he isn’t qualified to do then is expected to obey the incompetent person the system selected must do things *he* isn;t qualified to do and the common man must obey the incompetent politician because the incompetent person has the authority of – the common man himself. No wonder they have no idea what legitimate authority and proper obedience looks like.

  • That’s why a soldier refusing to fight because he doesn’t understand why he’s fighting gets shot

    This doesn’t quite match up with what you’re saying, but it’s still an interesting question: Say a Nazi soldier in the field doesn’t know what’s going on with the Jews in Germany (this is not as far-fetched as it sounds – Rommel for one didn’t learn about the death camps until close to the end of the war).

    Now he figures it out. He disobeys orders from his legitimate acting commander exercising his authority in the correct way because he refuses to fight for such a horrific cause. He is then sentenced to prison for insubordination.

    Should he have refused to fight? Should he have been jailed?

  • King Richard says:

    Malcolm,
    Fair point!
    I was referencing (indirectly) some o the classic complaints about Tsar Nicholas that Mike repeated. Let me clear that up.
    A low-level soldier has little exposure to strategy for his regiment, let alone causes for a war. A statement from such a soldier of ‘I don’t understand, therefore I refuse’ can’t have any moral weight because he not only doesn’t have the ‘access to the training, background, and information necessary to completely understand, he has no real right to it and (here’s the tricky part) even if he gains full knowledge and then, completely informed, disagrees, he STILL has no right to refuse unless certain conditions are met.
    Those conditions are pretty much JWT as was posted earlier.

  • Mike T says:

    King Richard,

    I actually didn’t miss the point. I refused to address your question directly for a few reasons. First, I’ve already told you that I have no qualms with violent suppression of unjust rebellions. Therefore anything less than systematic liquidation of the rebels is obviously fair game. Second, I am not going to give you the satisfaction of me adopting a consequentialist capitulation on a matter I think is a matter of intrinsic morality. Third, your own example doesn’t support your argument since much of the guns trained on the Tsar were from his own soldiers in rebellion. Fourth, my criticism was also aimed at applying your theory to actual reality of government which in this case means having an unpopular monarch facing a credible, but unjust, rebellion suddenly lashing out wildly with restrictions on millions of subjects not in rebellion.

    By your own criteria, disarming the law-abiding majority would have been unjust because the Tsar could not reasonably protect them at that point. Even you should see that a government on the run, facing a well-organized unjust rebellion, has no moral right to disarm decent people since it cannot even offer them a credible protection of their lives, let alone lesser goods like property.

  • Mike T says:

    he gains full knowledge and then, completely informed, disagrees, he STILL has no right to refuse unless certain conditions are met.

    In terms of ordinary war, that would be true. However, I cannot imagine God expecting a German soldier who has a conscience to keep fighting once he learned of the Holocaust. It is unspeakably cruel to expect an honorable man to continue fighting for a regime of cold blooded murderers.

  • Further thought: What do you all think of the famous “Nuremburg Defense”. Those men were, after all, just following orders. Should they, if not have been totally excused, at least been dealt with leniently?

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    @Malcolmethecynic

    Further thought: What do you all think of the famous “Nuremburg Defense”. Those men were, after all, just following orders. Should they, if not have been totally excused, at least been dealt with leniently?

    It seems that the Nuremberg defense is the sum total of “conservative-Catholic” jurisprudence these past few decades. I wonder how Bork and Scalia plan to argue their case in their respective particular judgements.

  • Zippy says:

    Ita:
    Good insight. The Nuremberg defense is a form of legal positivism, which is itself a way of avoiding responsibility by pretending to avoid making particular judgments of good and evil.

    Malcolm: further thoughts on your question on the way a bit later.

  • King Richard says:

    Malcolm,
    In many cases at Nuremburg soldiers were not tried because there was no expectation that they could have had sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision – this is why the Nuremburg trials didn’t include the entire Wehrmacht. The context of ‘I was only following orders’ is that it is no excuse *if you have personal knowledge that the orders violate the laws of war*.
    Nuremburg was focused on the men and women who *did* have personal knowledge that the orders they were following *and giving* were in violation of the laws of war. The matron who escorted the women and children into the gas chambers? She knew exactly what was going on and for her ‘I was just following orders’ is an invalid defense A captain on the Eastern Front? Wasn’t even in the dock at Nuremburg because, as pointed out, even many senior generals didn’t have real knowledge of the Holocaust; how could a junior officer be held responsible for for something that he couldn’t know?

  • Zippy says:

    To formalize KR’s points, there are two situations where “I was just following orders” is morally exculpatory even when the act, evaluated in its totality, is objectively evil. In general this is only the case when the concrete action itself is not evil, as far as the acting subject knows and can be reasonably expected to know.

    The first situation is one of prudential judgment. “Do we try to take that hill or not, even with the risk to civilians” is an example of that kind of circumstance. This is one of those “there is no line” situations: it isn’t that “just following orders” is always exculpatory in cases of prudential judgment; but it is sometimes exculpatory.

    The second is when the action is intrinsically immoral but the subordinate doesn’t know that it is because of a defect of knowledge: he has a reasonable expectation that his superiors know what they are doing, but he himself does not know the objective facts which render his action intrinsically immoral. An example would be executing an innocent man that one incorrectly thinks has been properly found guilty of a capital crime.

    But in general we are always responsible for our concrete actions; and authority creates moral obligations, so by the nature of things it is impossible for authority to create immoral obligations. The concept “immoral obligations” is analytically incoherent.

    And you really can’t commit rape or mass-march people into gas chambers as particular acts without knowing what you are doing. When you are ordered to do evil you have a choice: you can join with the perpetrators or you can join with the victims.

    Further reading on judicial positivism:
    You can’t fool mother nature.
    Dilemmas from the land of make believe.

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