The self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad

May 17, 2017 § 23 Comments

There exist in our world what we might call ‘social beings’: institutions or communities which are composed of individual human beings but which are not reducible to nothing but the aggregation of individual human beings. Social beings transcend individuals in the sense that they are not reducible to individuals. I don’t have an overarching theory of these transcendent social beings, but I know that Italy is not reducible to the collection of all individual Italians, Catholicism is not reducible to the collection of all individual Catholics, etc.

We can refer to the good of these social beings as the common good.

Authority is a natural and essential organ of these transcendent social beings, much as the brain and nervous system are a natural and essential organ of individual human beings.

Liberalism is (as a specifically political doctrine), at least in its more advanced forms, an attempt to reduce this transcendent social organ (authority) to nothing but the collected free and equal wills of the individuals who make up a polity.  Opposing itself to natural authority as inherently tyrannical, liberalism insists that all authority must be mediated through the triumph of the human will. Authority as a real organ which transcends the consent of the governed is denied.

Liberalism is an attempt to build, if you will, a completely brainless and mechanical society in the name of emancipation from the privileges of natural authority: it is the self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad.

§ 23 Responses to The self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad

  • Zippy says:

    Right liberalism might be though of as an attempt to give the Mindless God a seat at the table.

  • LarryDickson says:

    I think lobotomy is an extreme characterization. Saint Robert Bellarmine was closer to “consent of the governed” than to “divine right of kings”. In a healthy body, the body parts consent to the leadership of the head. Authority combined with legalism, as exemplified in the modern era, is the most extreme “triumph of the human will” – that of the ruler and his inner circle. For a description of authority in the absence of legalism, read the works of Regine Pernoud on the Middle Ages – you may be surprised by some of the details.

  • Zippy says:


    “consent of the governed” than to “divine right of kings”

    … is a false dichotomy, in the genre of ‘wife beating versus free love’.

    The divine right of kings was an invention of protestantism as a way of attacking the natural and divinely instituted authority against which they were rebelling.

    “Consent of the governed” was an invention of later authority-deniers as a pretext for rebelling against previous generations of authority-deniers.

  • LarryDickson says:

    You have not answered my point about Saint Robert Bellarmine, who did NOT treat the opposition as equal evils.

  • NoTrueCatholic says:

    There is a difference between saying consent of the governed is not the source of authority, and that good subject have the virtue of obedience. So the theory of divine right of kings is not only irrelevant. But outside of the subject. Divine right of kind is one transcendental theory of authority, not all theories of transcendental authority nor the theory itself.

    And modernity is not authority with legalism but authority which deny it is authority, and very often legalism.

    If I got it right.

  • Zippy says:


    If you have citations of St Robert Bellarmine positivistically reducing the justification of authority to nothing but the consent of the governed, and withdrawal of consent as sufficient justification for rebellion, by all means produce them.

    If you don’t have that sort of citation, then I’d suggest the possibility that we aren’t successfully communicating.

  • LarryDickson says:

    I never claimed that Saint Robert Bellarmine was a positivist, merely that he believed in the consent of the governed – he even got into trouble for a while with the pope over the limits of papal temporal authority – see Fr Christopher Rengers, The 33 Doctors of the Church, TAN Books, 2000, p 500-502.

    You are insisting on an extreme, shall we say existentialist definition of freedom as the opposite of limits; most people define freedom as the opposite of slavery. John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    You are right that we aren’t successfully communicating. Please pay attention to some of the other points I made in my first post on this thread, particularly legalism and Regine Pernoud. Legalism is bad, promises the whole solution and always fails; authority should reside in a person and its mirror image virtue should be loyalty (dare one say fealty?). Tribesmen of Afghanistan, fighting against Soviet domination in the 1980s, were fiercely loyal and fiercely free (I know because I was personally involved). The reason I can say free is because there is such a thing as human nature (NOT absence of limits!) in which human freedom rightly resides.

    Also, please do not forget that the keys of the kingdom, granted to Saint Peter and the popes, are a special case. Human authority does not naturally reach that level of certitude.

  • Larry,

    You are absolutely wrong that moderns define freedom as the opposite of slavery. Just read John C. Wright – he is practically the platonic ideal of the classical liberal and he has said many times – once again recently – that merely bending a knee to the king is literally a fate worse than death. Taxation without representation was used to justify war. The rot runs deep.

  • Zippy says:


    You are insisting on an extreme, shall we say existentialist definition of freedom as the opposite of limits…

    People often chat in sweeping generalities.

    I’ve described in my own words precisely what I mean by political freedom, described precisely how it becomes the commitment of a ‘social being’ as defined in the OP, described the precise way in which that conflicts with reason and reality, and described the consequences of that conflict, in many different ways and in many different posts here.

    If you have an objection to something I actually said, it isn’t hard to find things here that I actually did say.

  • Zippy says:


    Divine right of kings is one transcendental theory of authority; not all theories of transcendental authority…

    Yes, in much the same way that Voluntarist Allah is an (also false) conception of the one God.

  • TomD says:

    Authority demands the consent of the governed. Withholding it is sinful.

    Authority is not created by the consent of the governed. Holding that is sinful.

    The distinction is subtle, but exists.

  • LarryDickson says:

    None of you have responded to my other substantive points – Robert Bellarmine, legalism, Regine Pernoud, loyalty. TomD, your second point is true, your first should be: consent normally, loyalty always. To illustrate, try this case: Denethor, Faramir, and Pippin.

  • Zippy says:


    None of you have responded to my other substantive points – Robert Bellarmine, legalism, Regine Pernoud, loyalty.

    And you haven’t shown how those points even apply to something someone actually said.

    If you are just talking generally, by all means start a blog and have at it.

    But construed as a response to the OP it isn’t clear — at least to me — that what you wrote is even on topic.

  • Aristokles Contra Mundum says:

    Making vague references to Bellarmine and asking us to read hundreds of pages of Pernoud is not really making a substantive point.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Re: Larry

    Theories of authority are not all on one axis. If one imagines a line going from “consent of the governed” to “divine right of kings” with various opinions falling somewhere in between, Bellarmine would not be on that line. Given that the OP is attacking a theory (consent of the governed being the basis for authority) that Bellarmine, however close was or appears to have been to it, did not in fact hold, I’m not sure how referencing him is relevant.

  • […] exercise of easily-abused authority, auhtority which in any case just falls to certain people by accident of birth.  Nothing about universal surveillance in itself interferes with a person’s […]

  • […] is distressing to the modern mind, which desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of […]

  • […] So we are to obey Father because “Father knows best”, not because he is Father. If we knew better than Father our obligation to obey him would disappear. Father doesn’t actually have authority; he just happens to be in an epistemically superior position through accident of history, at least for the time being. Sovereignty is justified by the sovereign’s superior knowledge: by his capacity to infallibly declare doctrine, not by something so humiliating to us as actual possession of real authority.  It is to this transcendent knowledge that we give assent, not to the flesh and blood king. And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is always there to set us free. […]

  • MMPeregrine says:

    Zippy, I wonder if you saw James Kalb’s essay at Crisis Magazine this week? I’ve seen you praise his writing before and wonder what you think of this one?

    Here is a quote of his from the comments below that essay:
    “For all that, it’s messy. Is it a legitimate government that has some bad tendencies and does some tyrannical things, or an illegitimate system of compulsion in the service of destructive ends? It can be hard to say.

    Also, what kind of resistance do you have in mind? The Catechism (2443) accepts a right of rebellion, but takes an approach along the lines of just war theory and so sets a rather demanding standard. The piece suggests other possibilities. If you want to make further and perhaps bolder suggestions, go ahead.”

  • […] folks who want to live in a civilization, or even a tolerable small community, or merely a functional family, have to first accept the […]

  • […] treating human authority and hierarchy as if it were what is wrong with the world would lead to its dissolution and reconstitution as an inhuman […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading The self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad at Zippy Catholic.