Forging the hammer of tolerance in the furnace of liberty

March 28, 2016 § 57 Comments

Suppose we have four groups of moderately pluralistic ‘live and let live’ painters.

Group A thinks that it is really important to paint doors red. Otherwise they are content with beige or gray for fences, walls, and driveways.  They don’t feel particularly strongly about it: in fact they don’t really give it much thought at all. Doors are the important thing. But other than doors people should be free to paint as they please. Even when people are wrong or show bad taste it is important to have restraint and demonstrate good manners. Those fundamentalists who keep screaming that all driveways should be painted yellow really ought to be a bit more tolerant: they should adopt a more ‘live and let live’ attitude like Group A.

Group B thinks that it is really important to paint driveways yellow. Otherwise they are content with beige or gray for fences, walls, and doors.

Group C thinks that it is really important to paint fences white. Otherwise they are content with beige or gray for driveways, walls, and doors.

Group D thinks that it is really important to paint walls blue. Otherwise they are content with beige or gray for fences, doors, and driveways.

They all vote on what color to paint doors, fences, walls, and driveways. Oddly, the society in which they live is all beige and gray. A few of the folks who felt especially strongly about other colors are in prison, or are at least unemployable and ostracized. They don’t really grasp what happened, because they really are sincerely live-and-let-live kinds of folk: they just start to draw some lines when it comes to important things like yellow driveways.  And where did all of these social justice warriors come from, anyway?

And that is why just one drop of liberalism in your political philosophy is like just one drop of sewage in your wine.

The unholy ghost of modernity

March 8, 2016 § 165 Comments

One of the ways that folks keep falling into the mind trap of liberalism is through failure to grasp that liberalism is specifically and concretely a political doctrine: a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority. Liberalism makes freedom into a purpose, final cause, or telos of political action, that is, of the exercise of authority. Discussion of freedom as something other than final cause of political action is a change of subject: it is a squirrel, a red herring. Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts.

Politics in action specifically just is the art of discriminating authoritatively, restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good. Actual politics – politics in act, in action – every specifically political act – involves the exercise of authoritative discrimination to restrict freedom. So it is impossible – nay not merely impossible, it is incoherent – to try to make freedom a telos or final cause of political acts.  Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.

Political acts always and necessarily involve the resolution of controvertible cases. Freedom as final cause of political action quite precisely demands that we do not resolve the specific controverted case in front of us: that we do not exercise substantive discriminating authority: that authority must refrain from prejudicial acting, must remain neutral in a specific controverted matter. But when we authoritatively decide ‘not to resolve’ the controverted case in front of us – whatever that implies for the particular case – we have still made an authoritative, discriminatory choice about that controverted case.

Making freedom the principle of political action requires politics to not act. It requires politics to remain non-actual: it insists that prejudiced political authority a priori favoring a particular understanding of the good must disappear.  Insisting that freedom (and concomitantly equality and fraternity) are the principles of political action, are the final causes of political acts, requires politics to remain literally unreal, non-actual. It creates a political wraith, a ghostly creature which pretends not to exist as it tears out your entrails: the unholy ghost of modernity.

Naturally, in the context of real people competing over real controversies, liberalism’s inherent anti-realism is invoked selectively by parties in political conflict with each other. Rather than defusing violence coming from unreasoning prejudice as it pretends to do, liberalism amplifies violence and covers it up with a positivist blindfold.

But freedom or liberty as a specifically political priority/telos – liberalism – is not just wrong. It is not merely a mistake which places a lower good in too high of a place in a hierarchy of goods. It is quite literally rationally incoherent, and thus destroys politics. It invalidates actual authority (authority in action), makes rejection of authority into the principle of authority, thereby unleashing the unconstrained will.

There is no coherent freedom as a specifically political prior which does not entail empowering wickedness and suppressing the good.

Behave yourself

March 3, 2016 § 45 Comments

Based on recent combox discussions, it is clearly time for a little refresher in basic moral theology.

We are morally responsible for:

  1. Behaviors we choose.
  2. Behaviors we intend to choose.
  3. Behaviors of other people that we intend.  (This is “formal cooperation”).
  4. Imprudent choices we make (material cooperation with evil, prudential judgment, and the principle of double effect all fall here).


A (temporarily or perpetually) continent person:

  1. Does not (while continent) choose any sexual behaviors.
  2. Does not intend to choose (while continent) any sexual behaviors.
  3. Does not intend (while continent) for anyone else to choose particular sexual behaviors or specific sexual acts.
  4. May or may not be acting prudently.


That brings us to our scenario:

Cut to Germany.  Rapefugees are raging through the streets, global media cameras are all comprehensively and studiously pointed at a couple of gun toting white guys somewhere in the remote western United States.

Helga Homemaker has a diaphragm or other barrier contraceptive that she puts in as limited protection against roaming rapefugees. She takes it out when she engages in sexual activity with her husband.

If she has done moral wrong, it must be because she:

  1. Chose a contracepted sexual behavior. (nope)
  2. Intended to choose a contracepted sexual behavior. (nope)
  3. Intended for someone else to choose an immoral behavior. (nope)
  4. Acted imprudently.

Folks who believe that Helga does wrong cannot base that judgment on the intrinsic immorality of choosing (or intending to choose) contracepted sexual behaviors.  They must argue that she acts imprudently.

And I think that argument is weak.

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