The daddy issues of modernity

June 2, 2017 § 32 Comments

The natural law gives rise to absolute and categorical negatives: to absolute prohibitions which morally bind always and everywhere to prohibit certain kinds of behavior, independent of intentions and circumstances. Murder, contracting for usury, torture, and adultery are always and without exception morally wrong kinds of behavior.  Once a contemplated action is recognized as intrinsically immoral in species it is always morally wrong to choose that behavior.

It is also always morally wrong to intend the intrinsically immoral behavior of others, either as a means or an end.  We call this formal cooperation with evil.

The authority of particular men arises from and builds upon the natural law.  A father has authority over his children by nature; his imposition of a particular bedtime morally binds his children to obedience in virtue of his natural authority qua father.  We call the particular commands of a person in authority positive law.  For brevity I will refer to “the person in authority” as “the sovereign“.

Positive law can take two different forms.

In one form of positive law the sovereign directly asserts a particular command in a particular concrete situation: go to bed right now.

In another form of positive law, the sovereign promulgates a normative rule:  in thus and such a circumstance, this is to be done. Bedtime is eight o’clock.

Commands from authority are not the only kind of positive law.  For example we all have a positive natural law moral obligation to give alms: to materially support the poor and downtrodden, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But it is fundamentally impossible for positive law to morally bind us to particular actions under all conceivable circumstances. Positive law is always by its very nature regulated by prudence. Going to bed at eight o’clock when the house is on fire would be a kind of mechanical rule-following which makes no sense under the particular circumstances. The positive rule is normative, but cannot by its nature be categorical.

I can’t explain this more plainly than the Church itself explains it:

Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.

Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy cannot become a substitute for fathers, daycares cannot become a substitute for mothers, and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.

This 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 affairs.

Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.

§ 32 Responses to The daddy issues of modernity

  • The idea that liberalism leads to a lot of sociopathic behavior explains quite a bit about our current society and the particular moral ills it faces.

  • TomD says:

    And many rules seem kind of like tricking people; “You already agreed to that; this is simply an application of it” or “I’d love to help you, but the rule says” and so forth.

    Perhaps this is why Canon Law is absolutely a mess if you try to read it positivistically.

  • This was really well said. Everywhere I look in our culture, I see daddy issues, a fear of authority,and an attempt to rely on the alleged authority of rules and bureaucracy. Rules however, are linear and flat, they do not adapt well to every circumstance,we tend to write more and more of them and than you have a tangled mess of red tape that is incoherent all by itself.

    These days authority is almost always perceived as abuse, a person taking authority is perceived as bad, people really cannot see the positives anywhere. Fathers have really been targeted, their authority seen as potential evil rather than protection, provision, safety. Husbands too, very politically incorrect to suggest they should have any authority at all, even if just the authority to know where you’ve gone so they know where to start looking if you disappear.

    Interesting point too, about some people wanting the church as a substitute daddy, to tell them how to live. And things get even scarier when they start looking to the state to fill that need…

  • I’m going to nitpick your example. A father does not have the authority to command his child to go to bed while the house is on fire, either by means of a general or a particular command. So that isn’t a good demonstration of the distinction between general and particular commands.

    A better example would be a case where an authority does have the right to issue a particular command, but not a general one. Is there such a case?

  • Zippy says:


    A father does not have the authority to command his child to go to bed [under a potentially infinite number of mitigating circumstances], either by means of a general or a particular command.

    In other words, positive commands are always conditioned by prudence applied to circumstances.

  • Obviously. I’m just pointing out that this isn’t a question of particular vs. general commands, but rather one of human versus divine authority.

    For example, a human authority could, as far as I can tell, justly issue the following rule:

    In any case falling under category X and in which I could justly command you to do Y, you are hereby commanded to do Y.

  • AR:

    A general command is really just a way of saying “in the absence of extenuating circumstances, my particular command will be X.” Your final sentence really is the essence of any general command (whether given by God or man). Even God cannot order us to do something “in [every] case falling under category X” because there will always be conceivable circumstances in which the command would be unjust, and God isn’t capable of giving an unjust command.

  • Scott W. says:

    I might have a case in point, you tell me.

    Over at Crisis, Austin Ruse has an article about Maddi Runkles, “the 18-year-old who became pregnant and was punished by her Evangelical school for breaking the morality clause she signed when becoming a student”

    In it he makes the comment that in early times when this happened there as often the “shotgun wedding” and while it is less than ideal, it is better than what we currently have which has gone from tolerating single motherhood to celebrating it. This seemed rather uncontroversial to me and yet in the combox there was a lot of pushback. Comments about how this isn’t 1950 and that ’50s weren’t all they were cracked up to be (as if anyone asserted such); another clucked that she was glad her parents had her out of wedlock and glad when they split up; and the usual “Gee wiz, shouldn’t we put all our efforts into abolishing abortion before worrying about this?” as if we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Well in my experience when you get resistance to something relatively uncontroversial, it’s a signal that there is an unstated objection. Reading this entry I realized it may be a case of literal daddy issues with authority. Shotgun weddings don’t exist in positive law. It is rather family and society using their natural authority to pressure wayward children into doing the right thing. So the modern atomically individualist mind reels at the proposal that there are unwritten rules above him.

  • Zippy says:

    A tautology like “a command only binds when it binds, and doesn’t when it doesn’t” is a true-by-definition language structure, not a categorical claim about reality.

  • Mike T says:

    Positive law is always by its very nature regulated by prudence. Going to bed at eight o’clock when the house is on fire would be a kind of mechanical rule-following which makes no sense under the particular circumstances.

    The modern mind often doesn’t appreciate that this sort of authority is the natural output of bureaucratic rule-making and the “law for its own sake” mentality that is commonly called “the rule of law.” After a “bad shooting” or raid, police often derp about “procedure” and “their training” and it works because you can’t expect men to be critical thinkers in a society governed by bureaucratic proceduralism. Thinking critically would upset the invisible non-authority authority’s authority and require that they possess individual authority to break the rules if the rules are objectively harmful in a particular situation.

    The conceptual problem with the “rule of law” is that it takes several principles and merges them into one sound bite:

    1. Good men in authority.
    2. Objectively good laws.
    3. Consistent (within rational limits) application of the law.
    4. Appropriate sanctions when there are mitigating factors.

    None of that requires bureaucratic proceduralism, and that is in fact what destroys the “rule of law” as most people think of the issue. No normal person prefers the “rule of bad laws” to the “arbitrary rule of good men” because there is a natural consequentialism here in people ultimately preferring whatever political authority and legal system achieve decent results rather than tyranny.

  • John says:

    Zippy, have you ever heard of the Manegold of Lautenbach, or the Investiture controversy?

    Apparently, he was an early medieval master of theology who stated in his documents, during the Investiture controversy, that kings are akin to employees, with the subjects making a kind of ”covenant” with the king.

    Not like a social contract as understood in modern day liberalism, but rather a type of covenant where both the subject and the king make a pact to to the Law, which is instituted before the existence of the state by God, where they follow the (likely natural) law, and where the king can act against the subject if the subject is doing something against the Law, but also, where the subject can resist the king if the king is doing something against the law.

    This was called the right to resistance, which was basically an unwritten rule that most people at the time of the early middle ages, before law was being formally written down at all (formal law books didn’t exist until around the 12th or 13th century) recognised as real.

    In his writings, Lautenbach describes the covenant with the king as being of such a nature that the subjects can simply dismiss the king as one would dismiss an employe, if they are convinced in their heart and conscience that what the king is doing is a bad idea / against the law / against what they are convinced should actually occur.

    This right applied to both the rich and walthy aristocracy, and also even to the peasants.

    Now, Lautenbach was writing this during the Investiture controversy, which was a controversy of whether the king had the authority to appoint bishops or whether such authority belonged to the pope alone.

    At that time, those who sided with the king made the argument that the relationship between the subject and the king was of the same kind as a relationship between various parties making a binding contract.

    Because the subject, according to the supporters of the king, made a binding contract with the king, he simply could not resist the king in any active / violent fashion and was obliged to obedience in any case.

    This all sounds similar to the modern day liberal ”social-contract” idea, and is actually what some historians believe to be the origin of the very idea of a social contract as understood by classical liberalism, centuries before the birth of Locke! And if true, then it is very ironic indeed that absolute obedience to the king was justified with a concept of what was basically a proto-social-contract!

    The supporters of the pope, on the other hand, opted for a view of the relationship between subject and king where the subject did indeed have a right or even a duty of violent resistance if he felt in his heart that what the king did was wrong, and where the king’s primary role was in upholding the Law which was ordained by God before the existence of the state.

    Now this clearly seems like a medieval version of libertarianism or minarchy, which seems contradictory to your points against libertarianism in particular, but liberalism in general.

    I would like to know your opinion on the Investiture controversy, as it seems like the controversy showed that the church wasn’t just a proponent of subsidiarity, but rather of a more libertarian-like idea which isn’t compatible with the type of classical monarchism you claim is a good thing and was espoused by most people before the birth of Locke.

  • TomD says:

    Duty of resistance is simply because we have an Higher Authority.

    In human terms, a father cannot command (where a command is a moral order that binds) a son to evil; nor can a king; because we are not our own; we have been purchased for a Price.

    But the important distinction is that in the case of disobedience we are not obeying ourselves, but a higher authority (God).

    And sometimes the only way out is death. See Zippy’s quote of Veritatis Splendor.

  • John says:


    That is a good answer, but that doesn’t explain why people in the early medieval ages, and not just Lautenbach but many of his contemporaries too, believed that the king held his power on the basis of some kind of pact with the with the subjects.

    A child for example, doesn’t make a pact with his father, but in the early middle ages the ruled did indeed make some kind of pact with the ruler, at least as was commonly believed.

  • Zippy says:

    Pretty much all basic errors can be argued to have ancient roots. “People in this era believed X” can actually be a subtle ad hominem (or what I call a “reverse ad hominem”, to wit, “Bob is a really great guy and he believes X!”)

    Or if not a reverse ad hominem, certainly a selective appeal to an (epistemic) authority, the weight of which is only as great as the credibility of that authority.

    This post may be pertinent:

  • John says:


    I understand. But this still leaves open the question as to why the pope himself, as a result of the Investiture controversy, sought to limit the state power of the king by appropriating existing Germanic customary law, which included the right to resistance as I mentioned previously, into his response, and why his defenders insisted on that libertarian-fealty approach as well.

    In fact, Pope Gregory’s defenders even used the concept of a pre-existing ”natural law” to defend the mutual-fealty apprach, and this use of a concept of natural law or an order of law that pre-exists society existed before the scholastic one, and in fact an argument could be made that the future natural law we know from Aquinas and the scholastics emerged from that conception or even borrowed certain elements of it.

    And this also makes the fact that the defenders of king Henry IV against Pope Gregory VII were basically the first conceivers of the idea of absolute monarchy an anomaly.

  • Zippy says:


    If your comments are intended as a criticism of something I’ve written, maybe you can be more specific by citing and describing in precise terms what objection you are making, and precisely where the objection comes in. Because all I’m getting from your comments is something like a claim that political libertarianism de facto became a doctrine of the Church during the Investiture controversy. That might be an interesting thing for you to try to prove in a graduate thesis or something, I suppose.

  • “A child for example, doesn’t make a pact with his father, but in the early middle ages the ruled did indeed make some kind of pact with the ruler, at least as was commonly believed.”

    Perhaps something left out of this discussion is the responsibility of authority? A father IS in a pact with his child, so natural law is at work and the buck stops there. He is accountable, responsible for his authority, right or wrong. Rules cannot take responsibility, they have no accountability of their own, they are just “things.” This is why we prefer not to have the state raise children, there is no natural pact, bureaucracy and institutions tend to lack personal accountability, and responsibility is just shifted off to the rules.

    Sovereign is related to the word reign, of which we have the synonym, dominion. Dominion implies ownership,investment. When it’s your kingdom, your stuff, or your child, you are in a pact with it.

  • Zippy says:


    A lot of mischief arises from the sophistry that an authority structure you are born into and never had any choice about is still somehow a contract or pact of some sort between equals.

  • True Zippy, but when we start speaking of “equal,consent,and contracts,” aren’t we just perceiving it all through the distortion of modern eyes?

    John said, “the ruled did indeed make some kind of pact with the ruler.” Perhaps, but they are not equals, they have been born into that kingdom without their consent,and should their ruler violate his pact, they have little or no power to do much about it.

  • John says:


    Well, my comment isn’t primarily directed as an objection to something you’ve written, but it is something that I wanted to see your thoughts on as I couldn’t find any other traditionalists talk about this event at all.

    But yeah, generally, I think the Investiture controversy is a bit problematic if one is a non-libertarian that believes the Church always supported a monarchical or authoritarian view of society.

    What’s also problematic, at least for the traditionalist who claims the Church does not change nor evolve it’s ideas (because that would be dangerously close to modernism), is that the Investiture controversy seems to suggest that the Church at one point in the early middle ages was close to, or even completely at the level of, being libertarian in it’s politics, but then changed it’s views once the scholastics came on the scene and Roman law was rediscovered in the 13th century which allowed for law to be formally codified.

    In fact, the very idea that political standards were very very different before law was codified and then underwent change after law was formalised is both interesting and something which looks like an objection traditionalists might want to analyse in further detail.

    After all, if authoritarianism can be derived from natural law, then the question is how is it possible for people in the early middle ages to have overlooked that for hundreds of years? Or at least how it could be possible for most people in such a far away time to have even lacked the intuition for an authoritarian monarchy?

    It makes it look like classical liberalism is nothing more than an accidental rediscovery of something most people knew and practiced ages ago ( there were plenty of rebellions kings had to face in the early middle ages from peasants and nobles who in their hearts thought the king was stepping out of line and thus put the right to violent rebellion into practice; that era is indeed noteworthy for the fact that kings used their charisma and personality to conquer and exercise their will instead of being freely able to do that as would be the case under an absolute monarchy. King Charlemagne of France is a good example of this)!

    The monarchies at the time weren’t even hereditary; the king was chosen not through the direct bloodline of father-son but rather from the entire extended family bloodline of the king; and the entire family line judged who was the most competent to suceed a dead king by voting for the successor.

    It was basically a proto-aristocracy of sorts.

    This at least shows that the Middle Ages weren’t a homogenous mess people try to paint it as.

    But my primary query here is this:

    What do you think about this? How would you explain this under the traditionalist perspective which you accept?

  • Zippy says:


    I already addressed the “libertarianism is just the rediscovery of authentic Catholic politics” idea — at least as much as I plan to.

    As for the rest, you seem to be (incorrectly) interpreting my position to be that political liberalism is a heresy. I recently addressed that here:

  • John says:


    ”Perhaps, but they are not equals, they have been born into that kingdom without their consent,and should their ruler violate his pact, they have little or no power to do much about it.”

    And that is exactly the problem.

    In the early middle ages, that sentiment was as good as non-existent.

    Manegold of Lautenbach is a clear example of this, though obviously not the only one, as most of his contemporaries and most people at the time thought so as well.

    Lautenbach, nearly 600 years before Locke, describes the relationship between subject and king as a relationship between employer and employee, and makes an analogy of the king by comparing a king to a swineherder.

    He then makes the case that the king can be deposed in the case he does something against the established law, or if enough people feel in their hearts and are compelled by their conscience (!) to rebel against him when they think he did something wrong.

    Basically, from his writings one gets the suggestion that the king can be dismissed almost on a whim.

    This wasn’t just something theoretical; kings in the early MA’s frequently experienced peasent rebellions and disagreements from their nobles

    The Magna Carta at least prescribes that the king should be restrained by the nobles and basically arrested until he concedes that he will change his orders.

    In the early middle ages, he would have been killed violently, simply as that.

    The sentiment that monarchists prefer that people should have towards their ruler by obeying him and having opportunity of rebellion strictly limited, simply did not exist in the early middle ages.

    And what’s even more problematic is that Pope Gregory VII seems to have appropriated the Germanic code which had these ideas and used them against king Henry IV and his claim that he has equal authority to the pope when it comes to appointing bishops.

  • John says:



    This means then, that the Church hasn’t officially declared liberalism a heresy, even though it condemns it, right?

    Nazism is not technically a heresy, but it can still be condemned without it being formally declared a heresy.

    But still, this leaves open the question as to why the Church danced so dangerously close to libertarianism, or even accepted it, and then changed it.

    But then again, I’m saying this without having read your material on whether libertarianism is a rediscovery of authentic Catholic politics, so who knows.

    Maybe this entire Investiture ordeal can be explained as nothing more than a case of the Church supporting subsidiarity, but considering that the Investiture controversy was about church authority about a specific subject when compared to secular authority, this may not be an unimportant thing to consider but rather something in need of specific investigation because of the obviously serious implications it has since it deals with church authority over appointing something as important as bishops.

    I hope you could perhaps look into this in the future or even make blog posts about it if you want to, due to the nature of the topic being about Church authority and the possibility of someone claiming error in Church judgement over this.

    Anyways, another very important thing I think you might want to take a look at, if of course I’m not taking this too far off topic, is this peculiar thing as it relates to Church teaching.

    And it relates to modernism too in the end, which makes it most likely on-topic for your blog post here as you do touch upon modernity and positive and normative law.

    The site is in Czech, and the blog is by a Czech Catholic who also happens to be a bit of a philosopher, but also one who happens to have quite some difficulties with Catholicism.

    He raises an interesting discovery he found as it relates to Catholic catechisms, teaching and sin.

    To make a long story short, he had a conversation with an atheist friend of his, Michal Hank, who pointed out how shocked he was when he found out that only very few Christians are willing to say that if their beliefs were to have turned out to have been mistaken that they would no longer believe them.

    Jakub Moravcik, the author of the blog, points out a Czech translation of the catechism from 1894 which defines the mortal sin of doubt as :

    ”Who is missing from the doubt of faith?
    By doubting the faith, it is sinful, he who concedes to the idea that there may be something untoward of what the church is about to believe.”

    That is a rough translation of the Czech catechism of 1894.

    This means that to even concede that the Catholic faith might be wrong, is to commit the mortal sin of doubt. Which we do everytime we have discussions with people who are not Catholic

    Now, Moravcik defines doubt as admitting that something might be untrue.

    The quote from the catechism doesn’t specify other characteristics of doubt, which means it doesn’t exclude so-called methodical doubt as defined by George Fuchsovsky, who discussed Czech thomists such as Father Vojtek in his noetics.

    Vojtek defines methodological doubt as:

    ”To doubt methodically means to withdraw from the certainty that I actually have of some truth in order to examine it scientifically.”

    (rough translation)

    Fuchs doesn’t think that definition applies to the sin of doubt at all, but Moravcik begs to differ by pointing readers to his essay called The Ethical Legitimacy of Philosophy where he points out several problems with Fuchs’ approach and his other essay The True Theoretical Suspension of Ethics?, as well as pointing out how Vojtek and co. were Catholic priests which means their various definitions of various forms of doubt do indeed obviously apply to the universal sin of doubt.

    To make a very long story even shorter, I will put his various points he makes in the blog post in bulletin form point by point.

    You can read the entire blog post in Czech and put it through a translator if you wish though.

    So, his points are as follows:

    1:The 1894 catechism’s definition of doubt does not exclude methodical doubt for the sake of discussion or argument or non-methodical doubt, but rather seems to include both.

    2:Which means it is likely even methodical doubt is forbidden.

    3: This means that a Catholic can never have a real serious debate about Catholicism as that would imply that he would have to admit he could possibly be wrong.

    4: He would therefore have to pretend that he is methodically doubting when he in fact is not and can never actually doubt internally whether methodically or non-methodically.

    5:To hold that the catechism and by extension God’s commandments can change with the times is modernism, which traditionalists vehemently reject.

    6:The inquisition led by Pope Pius V used methodical doubt against heretics.

    This approach would be either a lie for the sake of the Inquisition or a sin of doubt.

    7:This leads to some rather absurd consequences such as that Aquinas was commiting a sin when he first formulated arguments for the existence of God.

    Catholics would then have to show how Aquinas was using neither non-methodological nor methodological doubt when making arguments, which seems impossible.

    8:Even if the sinfulness of doubt applied only to revealed truths, the doubting of God’s very own existence automatically puts the revealed truths in jeopardy as well, so the response doesn’t work.

    9: The only other solution then seems to be that the Czech catechism shown in the picture in the blog post I linked is a mistranslation or error.

    Now, my question here to you is:

    Do you have any experience with traditional catechisms from the 19th century in order to be able to determine whether or not Moravcik’s findings are correct yourself?

  • Zippy says:


    That all makes perfect sense. Also, I really like coffee. And did you know that broccoli stems are just as nutritious as the florets?

  • John says:


    I guess the Czech Catechism digression ruined the comment, didn’t it?

    Ughh, I knew I shouldn’t have done that! Sorry!

    Anyways, I at least hope that at least the issue of whether or not the Church accepted libertarianism (which is a modernist fallacy) during the Investiture controversy specifically and consequently through the Gregorian reforms, and then changed it later on, is perhaps important enough or made enough of an impression for you to warrant some potential future dilligence here.

    Oh well.

  • Zippy says:


    A lot of different projects compete for my head space. Suggesting tasks for me is like buying a lottery ticket: you can’t win if you don’t play, but it helps to go into it knowing the odds. It is also (not coincidentally I am sure) like pitching a startup company: odds remain small but go up with precision, conciseness, substance over technicality, realism, an a priori awareness that my mind probably doesn’t work at all like what you are used to, etc. I get not insignificant numbers of emails from cranks who really think I am obligated to do due diligence on their personal obsessions, so it helps to avoid coming off as yet another one of those.

    Also for this sort of thing in particular it helps to keep in mind that I’ve been arguing against ultramontanism for decades. An actually-libertarian Pope in his politics would prove nothing about the coherence or morality of libertarianism, just as actual Popes with actual mistresses and bastards proves nothing about the morality of fornication and adultery.

  • […] when he actually tells you what to do you’d bloody well better do it, unless you have compelling contrary reasons and are willing to face the consequences of […]

  • TomD says:

    Anyone who still believes in the absolute power of positive law is invited to browse malicious compliance.

  • […] folks who want to live in a civilization, or even a tolerable small community, or merely a functional family, have to first accept the reality of messy, fallible, flawed, particular human authority vested in […]

  • […] may be lenient, may be strict, may tolerate things he shouldn’t, etc. He may even abdicate his own personal paternal authority by abandoning his […]

  • […] how decisions are made institutionally, what policies and procedures are normative in various ordinary scenarios; that sort of […]

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