Freedom implies equal rights

July 31, 2014 § 42 Comments

Libertarians and reactionaries coming from a libertarian background tend to make equality subordinate to freedom in their political theories, or in some cases abandon equality entirely in favor of freedom. This doesn’t work, because freedom as a primary political principle implies equality in a context of massive and complex constraints on what people are permitted to do.

Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what we wish to choose. It is incapable of discriminating between good choices and bad choices, so when it is treated as a good in itself it makes discrimination between different kinds of choices impossible. If discrimination between different kinds of choices is impossible it follows that all choices are to be treated as equally valid politically.

So it isn’t really possible to abandon equality and still retain freedom as a guiding political principle. If we do that we’ll just wake up on liberalism’s eternal Groundhog Day all over again.

Why insisting on more freedom brings about more tyranny

July 30, 2014 § 59 Comments

Modernity’s idea of freedom is based on the concept of rights.

Rights have two modalities which cannot be separated from each other. Every right has a modality of empowerment and a modality of constraint. A right discriminates between the right holder and others, empowers the right holder, and constrains others.

A simple example is that a property right discriminates between owner and potential trespasser, empowers the owner, and constrains all of the potential trespassers. But this basic structure is common to all rights.

Individual rights are a one-to-many relation in terms of modality: for every single right-holder who is empowered by a given right there are many other people constrained by that right.

Liberalism functions by a kind of sleight of hand wherein, on our freedom ledger, we are supposed to count the individual empowerment from a given right; but we are not supposed to notice the constraints it implies. As we insist on more and more freedom what happens is a proliferation of empowering rights. And behind the curtain, for every single instance of empowerment we get many instances of constraint.

Actions kill deader than words

July 28, 2014 § 46 Comments

The central point of my post below may have gotten lost in discussion of the particulars of illegal immigration. So at the risk of repeating myself, I am going to repeat myself.

In day to day life we mostly learn how things work by watching what people do.  Listening to what they say generally takes a back seat, partly because we know and expect that frequently what people say is incongruent with how things really work.

The detailed terms and conditions of iTunes or other software are almost meaningless. Probably the only people who actually read them are the people who write them.

Even if we had to assent to them out loud through a microphone though – perhaps by saying “I do” several times after the computer reads each section aloud – it would be false to expect that most folks’ understanding of the terms and conditions of software use would come from the actual words which were read aloud. On the contrary: most folks’ understanding of the legal implications of software use would come from the actual practices of the people in charge: courts, police, government officials, etc.

Practices contrary to positive law on immigration are – among other things – an injustice perpetrated against illegal aliens themselves who, not unreasonably, set their expectations based on actual practices as opposed to mouthed or written pieties. Suggesting that it is morally just to deport them simply because they technically violated the terms and conditions of iTunes is, at best, a gross oversimplification. At the same time, suggesting that native lower class blacks should just suck it up, that they should stay in the ghetto because all the “jobs Americans won’t do” in that strata of society are now taken by illegal Mexicans, is also problematic. The disconnect between legal doctrine and actual practice has created a morally difficult situation, and anyone who pretends that it is morally cut and dried is just engaged in reductionist wishful thinking.

But the situation is much worse when it comes to marriage and the Church, because here we are dealing with sacramental reality. There is no way to make an estranged but validly married couple not married. It is only possible to turn them – and the people they attempt to “marry” in a “second marriage” – into adulterers. Sacramental “deportation” from a “second marriage” isn’t something over which the Church has any control or say, because it is impossible to “emigrate” from a valid marriage in the first place.

So current and proposed pastoral practices with respect to marriage are literally vicious on multiple levels.

People whose expectations about marriage come from what the Church does “pastorally” as opposed to what she says doctrinally in the fine print may have wrong ideas about marriage; probably in many cases to enough of an extent that they attempt marriage invalidly.  At least for most of them there is a sacramental way forward that does not involve perfect continence: convalidation.

But the only way forward, the only possibility for a ‘sacramentally illegal alien’ in a ‘second marriage’, is perfect continence or reconciliation with one’s valid spouse. “Deportation” isn’t just automatic: they never really left the home country to begin with. Pastoral practices contrary to this sacramental reality are unspeakably cruel.

Libertarianism is just a sociopathic kind of statism

July 27, 2014 § 79 Comments

In the comments to a previous post we were discussing libertarianism. Catholic Economist (not addressing libertarianism specifically) observed:

As both St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine have noted, it is neither necessary nor desirable for the state to explicitly outlaw every vice…

This is true enough, but it should not be taken as a concession to libertarianism as a political philosophy, for several reasons.

One is that authority is not a single monolithic thing. Whenever one authority acts to prevent a particular vice, libertarianism implicitly requires another authority to step in and stop it. So libertarianism presupposes and requires the kind of centralized all-powerful bureaucratically micromanaging government that it is ostensibly against.

Another is that the fact that it is not possible or prudent for every government to enforce every moral norm in every conceivable case does not invalidate governance generally. If it is taken as support of libertarianism in particular it proves too much: if governance is legitimate at all then precisely what is at issue is what it ought to do, so saying that it can’t do everything so it ought to only do what I say is just begging the question.

Still another is that libertarianism adopts its pose of moral superiority by pretending that it is a passive, hands off political philosophy in contrast to the active busybody interventionism of other “statist” political philosophies. This is just an outright self-deception or lie: every government always actively and authoritatively discriminates in favor of its particular conception of the good. Libertarianism is no exception. Like all political philosophies it proposes to actively initiate force in favor of its particular conception of the good. By simultaneously denying that that is what it is doing, libertarianism just becomes (like all forms of liberalism) sociopathic.

In general, libertarianism presupposes the very things that it denies are legitimate.

At the end of the day, libertarianism is just another intrinsically dishonest form of liberalism.

Why does Cardinal Kasper hate illegal immigrants?

July 26, 2014 § 36 Comments

There is an important distinction between immigration law and sacramental doctrine: the former is a matter of positive law, which can be changed; while the latter is not.

The position of most of the American bishops on illegal immigration ‘works’ by distinguishing between what the positive law requires and de-facto practice. Illegal immigration may be formally against the law, but the de-facto practice of the powers that be has encouraged it. People have settled in and built their lives in the place where they were encouraged to do so by the people in charge. The proposed just solution, then is some iteration of an amnesty for those who formally broke the law, followed by a change in the law, so that they can remain in the homes they have made for themselves.

Whatever one thinks of all that, the same sort of approach will not work with admission to the Sacraments. The hierarchy has winked at divorce and annulment for long enough now that, in a kind of doctrinal parallel of illegal immigration, many Catholics “know better” than to take explicit sacramental doctrine on marriage seriously.

But unlike the case of illegal immigration, granting sacramental amnesty to heretics and adulterers – even heretics and adulterers who have settled in the home they have because of the winking and encouragement of the powers that be – literally cannot, per impossibile, be followed by a change in sacramental reality.

They may well have walked into a trap set by negligent and even wicked elites and leaders. But springing the trap on them won’t save them from the predicament.

The pastoral road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops

July 25, 2014 § 17 Comments

27 Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 11:27

Participation in the sacraments while in rebellion against Church doctrine is very dangerous.

Someone who makes an invalid confession, by deliberately withholding explicit confession of acts which go against Church teaching or natural law, invalidates the confession and commits a sacrilege. Someone who receives the Eucharist unworthily commits sacrilege. Someone who attempts sacramental marriage while in rebellion against any of the essentials of sacramental marriage commits sacrilege, fails to actually marry, and instead creates a state of ongoing moral atrocity from which recovery becomes more difficult with each passing moment.

Formal excommunication is merciful, because it explicitly informs a person of the sacramental problem and its moral and spiritual gravity. Failure to do so trivializes sacramental irregularity. The alternative is to think of sacramental theology as a kind of bluff: the Church might formally say that we believe these things, that these things are the law as revealed by God Himself to His Church; but we don’t really believe them.

The problem with trying to put too large a gap between doctrinal belief and pastoral practice is that sane people pay more attention to what others do than to what they say.

The Catholic bishops have been teaching for decades that following written doctrines isn’t always required or just: that what is written should not be taken seriously when contrasted to the de-facto rules implied by action. For example although the explicit laws of the United States prohibit illegal immigration (which is what makes it illegal), as a de-facto matter illegal immigration has been encouraged and supported by the powers that be for decades. The explicit laws are a kind of bluff: our other actions demonstrate that we don’t really mean it, and immigrants can hardly be blamed for responding to what we do as opposed to what we say. It would be unjust to start enforcing the positive law as written against illegal immigrants because the positive law is a bluff, not meant to be taken seriously.

So if it is true that there are large numbers of invalid marriages among Catholics, that is just because those Catholics have taken to heart what the Bishops have been teaching. Their understanding of marriage has been formed by de-facto practice. They may (or may not) be aware of the explicit rules; but they’ve been taught not to take them seriously.

And whose doing is that?

Why ‘patriarchy lite’ is just a stepping stone to feminism

July 24, 2014 § 54 Comments

Liberalism for men but not for women isn’t patriarchy. That kind of “patriarchy” is just liberalism: a particular form of liberalism with an unprincipled exception carved out excluding women.

Every form of liberalism must carve out unprincipled exceptions in order to govern at all. The “patriarchy lite” form has already been tried. The suffragette movement and feminism were just the liberalism that all respectable people support getting rid of obvious violations of the governing principles of freedom and equal rights. “Patriarchy lite” isn’t a tame liberalism which will play nice: which will avoid going too far and slaughtering millions of innocents. It is just inherently unstable liberalism itself engaged in its infernal intramural conflict, sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.

I’ll believe a man’s claim to support patriarchy to the extent he openly and willingly shows filial devotion, obedience, and respect to his own biological, spiritual, and political human fathers. When I see him on one knee kissing the ring of his human superiors, and making it clear that their flaws do not invert the hierarchy, is when he starts to build an ounce of credibility as a supporter of patriarchy. Before then he is just a poser.

The modern project is driven by a relentless motivation to deny and avoid messy fallible human authority. Positivism attempts to do this in the domain of epistemology. Nominalism attempts to do this in the domain of language. Liberalism attempts to do this in the domain of politics. Protestantism attempts to do this in the domain of religion. Feminism attempts to do this in the domain of sex and the family. Scientism attempts to do this in the domain of ontology. Utilitarianism attempts to do this in the domain of deontology.

Examples can be multiplied. But the common thread is an attempt to avoid or reject messy, fallible, flawed human authority. The common thread is to propose that even if we are not God and cannot be God, by God nobody else will stand over me personally in some human hierarchy. The common thread is to reject bending the knee to any other man.

And the inevitable result is descent into raving, meaningless chaos.

An ontological argument for our existence

July 22, 2014 § 33 Comments

[31] Seeing, saith he, I have once begun, I will speak to my Lord. What if twenty be found there? He said: I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty. [32] I beseech thee, saith he, be not angry, Lord, if I speak yet once more: What if ten should be found there? And he said: I will not destroy it for the sake of ten. – Genesis 18:31-32

St. Anselm famously argued that God must exist because existence is more perfect than nonexistence.  Very roughly speaking, and without pretending to really do the argument justice, God is by definition the most perfect being that can possibly be conceived; if He didn’t exist then He wouldn’t be perfect; therefore He must exist.

Whatever one thinks of that as an argument for the existence of God, it is interesting to reflect on our existence in the light of Anselm’s argument. It is better for myself and all the people and things that I love to exist than for them to not exist. The fact that my personal existence is logically contingent upon all sorts of evil and suffering doesn’t change the basic fact that existence is better than nonexistence.

An infinitely loving, infinitely good, infinitely powerful God cannot do “everything” when the referent of the term “everything” includes “things” that are rationally inconceivable. Strictly speaking, rationally inconceivable “things” are not really things. An omnipotent God cannot lock Himself into a box from which He cannot escape without ceasing to be omnipotent: the “box from which an omnipotent God cannot escape” is not a “thing”, because it is not even a rationally coherent idea.

I’ve known several young men who have born terrible suffering. One young man is quadraplegic because of a botched delivery. He just graduated from high school. His parents’ marriage broke up over the stress years ago.

Another young man with terrible physical deformities used to come to our house for birthday parties years ago. He had to carry around an oxygen tank and was physically very limited. He loved sports despite his own limitations, and he had an indomitable spirit: rarely have I seen such fierce and determined joy in a human being. He died when he was twelve years old.

I know several others too: a young man confined to a wheelchair who cannot talk and who suffers dangerous siezures; a relative is eighteen and autistic, and cannot cross the street by himself. I won’t get into ‘closer to home’ examples, because they pale to nothingness in comparison to the crosses I have watched others bear and accept: not just the ‘victims’ of these maladies and tragedies themselves, but the parents and families whose hearts break at what their loved ones endure, and the limitations they face.

God watched as His only begotten son was tortured to death. This was literally for our sake in ways so comprehensive that most people – most Christians – can’t begin to appreciate it, I think.

The existence of suffering and evil is not an argument against God’s omnipotent power and infinite goodness. It is an argument in favor of those attributes. A more selfish God would not have made this blasphemous world. But as bad as we are, and as awful as the suffering in this world is, it is better for us all to exist than to not exist. In this world there is plentiful bad news; but there is also Good News. Those who would prefer Nothing over all that we are, all that we know, and all that we love, may eventually get the Nothing they crave. But not at the cost of any bit of good which can be saved.

UPDATE: Added epigraph.


Consent doesn’t create authority, even in marriage

July 20, 2014 § 153 Comments

Malcolm suggests that in the case of marriage it is the bride’s consent to marriage which creates the husband’s authority. This is mistaken.

A man – even an unmarried man – has natural law authority over his household. Just as someone may in some cases decide by (mutual) consent to become a citizen of a country and place himself under a particular sovereign’s authority, a bride decides by (mutual) consent to become part of the groom’s household and place herself under his authority.

But in neither case is it true that the authority in question derives from the consent of the governed.

Talk dirty to me

July 16, 2014 § 54 Comments

Human language is a natural faculty like sex. The fact that we learn the specifics of (say) the grammar and vocabulary of English from others is similar to the fact that we learn the courtship dance in a particular culture from others. Treating speech as a taught-and-learned ‘social construct’ is as foolish and misguided as treating sex as a ‘social construct’.

I’ve previously covered the subject of property and my thoughts on moral theology related to property: usury, currency, slavery, and the like. In order to do that I had to do some reading and take several steps back to think about the metaphysical nature of property and currency. Our modern modes of thought pollute almost everything we try to think about, sometimes in quite subtle ways; so frequently getting a handle on things requires grasping the subject matter from multiple and ‘inverted’ perspectives. For example although it is true in an everyday sense expressed to modern people that “it is morally licit for a starving man to steal bread”, that everyday way of saying it can cast confusion on the fact that, as an intrinsically immoral act, it is always morally wrong to steal.

My blog isn’t a catechism: an attempt to explain some basics in everyday language to ordinary people, impossible to understand absent charitable interpretation, without worrying that overly-literal interpretations could lead to contradiction. This is a place where bad ideas come to die; and as such, it is important for the arguments and understanding to be rigorous.

So I plan to start doing some thinking and reading about the subject of lying, as time allows.  It isn’t something on which I’ve ‘gone deep’ here yet.  The blog format is informal and conversational, so as with other topics you’ll probably see my thoughts unfold more or less as I have them.

Understanding the moral theology of lying will require getting a grasp of the core metaphysical elements involved in telling lies: language and meaning.  So this exploration follows directly from recent discussions of positivism: you won’t adequately grasp my thoughts on lying unless you already have a reasonable grasp of my thoughts on positivism and nominalism, because, quite appropriately, when we listen to speech or read text almost all of the meaning comes from somewhere other than the text.

Speech is a natural human faculty like sex, and its telos is an empathic sharing of meaning between minds. Speech doesn’t do the heavy lifting of creating meaning; words light up and help combine meanings that the listener for the most part already apprehends, or else he wouldn’t understand the speech at all. Speaking and listening requires significant preexisting common ground between speaker and listener in order for it to be meaningful at all.

So lying is to speech as contraception is to sex: both involve the behavioral use of a natural faculty in a manner directly contrary to and destructive of its telos. Lying attempts to construct false meaning – meaning which does not correspond to truth – in another person’s mind; truth-telling is the use of speech in an attempt to construct meaning in another person’s mind which does correspond to the truth.

My preliminary thought – and this is preliminary – is that this understanding has interesting implications for the classic scenario of the Nazis knocking at the door asking if any Jews are hiding there. Because when the Nazis do that, we know that when they are asking for Jews they are asking if there are any Untermenschen present whom they should haul off to the camps; and it isn’t obvious that answering “yes” is truthful even if Elimelech and Ezra are hiding under the floorboards.

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