July 31, 2017 § 225 Comments
Consider the phrase “the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed”.
This phrase is a liberal slogan, and as a well adjusted modern person you aren’t supposed to consciously notice the different things that it means. What you are supposed to do, as a good conservative, is defend it when it is criticized by taking advantage of the fact that it means different things. When one of the meanings is criticized, the criticism can be parried by claiming that that isn’t what the slogan really means at all (at least not to you): it really means one of the other things that it means. Pay no attention to the body bags, mass graves, and fetal organ marketplaces: that kind of thing can happen anywhere.
One of the things that the slogan means is that no actually functioning government has been overthrown by violent revolution: that the dictator hasn’t been assassinated (yet). This meaning of the phrase is always true by definition, and makes no distinction between liberal and illiberal government regimes.
Another meaning takes the term “just” in the phrase seriously and proposes that the consent of the governed is what morally grounds legitimate government authority and concomitant powers. The consent of the governed is what makes government powers just in liberal regimes, as opposed to illiberal regimes which lack this moral grounding. Consent of the governed is what morally distinguishes liberal regimes from illiberal regimes.
This meaning is self contradictory, because justice always trumps consent by definition. That is why we have jails. The positive law – governance – in its essence tells those subject to the law – subjects who did not choose their own state in life – what they must consent to, or else. If J always trumps C then C cannot be the moral justification of J.
A third meaning asserts that only particular structures of government are moral: constitutional republic, democracy, or what have you. You can think of structure as being like the organization chart of a company or other institution. Organizational structure describes who presently reports to whom, how decisions are made institutionally, what policies and procedures are normative in various ordinary scenarios; that sort of thing.
Which particular org charts are and are not thought to be good depends on who is asserting the slogan and what their opinions happen to be about various organizational structures. The great thing about fighting over org charts is that they provide endless meaningless entertainment and distraction.
The idea that the basic problem of authority and governance in modernity is that we don’t have the right constitution and political structure, is akin to thinking that the basic problem with Planned Parenthood or the Nazi party is how they are organized.
July 29, 2017 § 70 Comments
First assume that any theory is better than no theory at all; even when the theory in question is manifestly and demonstrably destructive, evil, deceptive, and just plain wrong. The important thing is that in the hierarchy of answers we accept, admitting ignorance and expressing a willingness to accept reality as it is, is at the bottom of the list.
The magic question of modernity is “what alternative do we have?” Failure to answer this in a way that the questioner finds satisfactory is disqualifying.
July 24, 2017 § 9 Comments
The house always wins.
Of course, the house doesn’t always win, if we take the term “always” literally.
What the saying actually means is that the house wins just a little bit on average; and that winning-a-little-bit-on-average is good enough to assure its long term triumph: the long term defeat of its enemies, foreign and domestic.
A finger on the scale is all it takes to make the house win on average, with a time horizon that encompasses more than just the fleeting hope of winning a jackpot today that we would have considered impoverishment yesterday. The secret to winning a long game, against a wizard who keeps an invisible finger on the scale, is to unequivocally refuse to play at all.
Unless we exorcise him.
July 24, 2017 § 114 Comments
Modernity defends itself through equivocation: by asserting the truth of some basic superficially unobjectionable doctrines and — this is the important part — rhetorically rationalizing that these doctrines are what distinguish good, distinctively modern societies from bad, distinctively regressive societies. The whole point of these modernist doctrines is to set up oppositions: freedom versus rule by a monarch, equality versus aristocratic titles and privilege, sola scriptura versus distinctively Catholic doctrine and practice, feminism versus patriarchy, consent of the governed versus congenital positions of servility and authority, etc. etc.
Liberals diligently drowning priests and nuns, beheading aristocrats, and aborting unborn children in mass-murder factories while working hard to make sure that nobody so much as thinks about actually punishing the murderesses never stop to ponder if the doctrines they assert actually genuinely support the blood and bone distinctions being made in reality by the sharp implements employed.
One of the ways we can help bring clarity to the situation is to craft accurate descriptions of these superficially unobjectionable doctrines; descriptions we can set on fire and lob over the walls into the motte where modern conservatives (those who work hardest to conserve modernity) live, breathe, and have their being. I’ll start with a few, and encourage folks to improve upon them or think of others.
- Freedom means that a free society puts the right kind of people in prison for the right reasons.
- Equality means that every aristocrat, commoner, criminal, slave, proprietor, debtor, trespasser, invader, disrespecter of royalty, savage, apostate, and heretic gets what he has coming to him.
- Sola scriptura means that every true doctrine of the Christian faith is consistent with the Scriptures as assembled into the Biblical Canon and interpreted by the Apostolic Church established by Christ.
- Feminism means that women are people too. Female people, who go into an irrational hormonal storm every few weeks and need men to look out for them and tell them what to do.
- Consent of the governed means that nobody has managed to assassinate the dictator.
- Minarchy means we want everyone to get along and play nicely with each other, and unicorns that fart fairy dust.
Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
July 23, 2017 § 21 Comments
People are generally quite sincere in their beliefs, and mostly tend to tell you what they actually think. Really.
Keeping secrets is actually rather difficult; and in any case if there is one thing which unites all of modernity it is the universal conceit that our opinions on all manner of things – especially those about which we are entirely ignorant – are really, really important. Furthermore when people publicly and en masse express certain beliefs this creates a tendency for these masses of people to act as though those beliefs are true.
So if you want to know what modern people sincerely think, or at least what you can assume that they think (because they are going to act as though they sincerely think what they say they think), just listen to what folks actually say and watch what they actually do.
In the modern first world liberalism constitutes the invisible background assumption of almost all politics. There is generally no need to even talk about liberalism per se: liberalism is assumed to be the default commitment of all fully human individuals. Only despicably evil subhumans with debilitating psychological problems actually call liberalism itself into question.
Because liberalism can ultimately mean whatever one wants it to mean, liberals who have sincere beliefs – personal interpretations of liberalism – which happen to bring more power into the hands of people with their specific beliefs, tend to make the faction espousing their specific beliefs more powerful. The dynamic is perfectly explicable as natural selection of powerful forms of liberalism.
The postulate that liberals lie about their own beliefs in order to gain power is entirely unnecessary. All liberals believe that their own faction deserves power, as the proper path to freedom and equality of rights. In other words, the idea that liberals (and related modern ideologues) are insincere and express their beliefs insincerely as a way to attain power is almost always wrong; or, even worse, is just true enough to prevent anyone from calling liberalism itself into question.
It isn’t that liberals en masse embrace beliefs insincerely in order to gain power. It is that liberals with sincere beliefs which, when treated as true, result in those liberals gaining power, become the ascendant, powerful form of liberalism.
So folks who propose to actually oppose liberalism and all that it has wrought should refrain from accusing liberals of being insincere about their beliefs. Liberals accusing other liberals of insincerity protects liberalism itself from criticism. But it doesn’t just protect liberalism from criticism: it also ensures the ascendency and dominance of the strongest, most powerful, most resilient forms of liberalism.
 Of course “liberalism” the word is sometimes used by right liberals as an epithet against left liberals. This use is ironic from my perspective, since liberalism itself is in fact the one thing upon which “conservatives” (right liberals) and left liberals vehemently agree.
July 23, 2017 § 57 Comments
Now suppose you are someone who finds this critique of modernity in general, or one of the particular critiques, outrageous. You are convinced (say) that your non-nominalist concept of political freedom is perfectly coherent and unequivocal. You declare victory and plant your flag in triumph.
Have you noticed anything missing in your counter-argument?
July 14, 2017 § 123 Comments
Today we’ll explore another infrared pill by showing that it is impossible for authority to limit itself.
Post Cartesian modernity believes in matter-energy, physical laws, and an interior realm of personal experience in which each human being orchestrates the drama of his subjective life in the IMAX theater of the mind. This radical disconnect between physics and subjective experience produces a purely subjective concept of value: “is” (it is thought) cannot give rise to “ought”, so economic and moral values are merely market aggregations of subjective preferences. Arson produces value as long as the arsonists all agree that it produces value. Nietzsche informs us that God is dead, Hume insists that facts and values live in entirly distinct realms. Thus modern man finds himself in the position of believing six impossible things before breakfast, as long as he finds them subjectively pleasing.
One of modernity’s more subtle contradictory ideas, resting in the radical subjectivity of this post Cartesian picture of the world as applied to authority, is the notion that authority can limit itself.
Now there is a very banal sense in which we might say, very loosely speaking, that authority can limit itself. A good leader exercises deliberation and restraint, as some of the virtues of good leadership. More accurately stated, persons who hold authority can choose different ways of governing, and of course some ways of governing are better than others given different circumstances.
But, more strictly speaking, it is impossible for authority to limit itself. Authority does not and cannot operate on itself: authority operates on subjects, on individuals who are obligated, in context, to obey some particular assertion of authority.
As I’ve described before, authority in its essence is a capacity for someone in a position of authority to create moral obligations on the part of subjects (those subject to that authority). When a property owner tells his guests to leave, this creates a moral obligation on their part to leave. Whether they do or do not actually choose to leave at that point is an exercise of their free will; but what they literally cannot do, in an act of free will, is destroy the moral obligation that they have to leave once the owner has told them to leave.
Authority is distinct from material capacity to enforce authority. An injured father in bed retains his authority over his sons irrespective of his physical ability to fetch and apply the switch to their behinds. The fact that sons might be able to avoid punishment doesn’t destroy their moral obligation to obey their father.
Now a particular father may fail to exercise his authority when he should, may act imprudently, 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 family.
However, nothing that he does qua father can change the nature of the authority of fatherhood. The authority of fatherhood has a particular, given nature and scope: it is an objective reality, not something the nature of which fathers can themselves change or upon which particular fathers can place limits. That a particular father may choose to govern in a particular way doesn’t alter the nature of the authority of fatherhood, and therefore of his own authority in itself, in the slightest.
The idea that a person in a particular position of authority can choose the nature of the authority he exercises is self-negating. If he is just making up what his authority and responsibility entail like the author of a fictional story, then his authority and responsibilities can be whatever he subjectively decides to make them. But if authority is a fiction written by the person holding it then no subject has any objectively real obligation to obey it. The existence and nature of authority must of necessity be prior to the exercise of that authority, as the nature of a man is prior to his choices and is itself unchosen by that man. A man can pervert himself and destroy himself, but he cannot change the nature of what it is to be a man no matter how many tattoo inks and scalpels and vials of hormones he employs.
It is possible for individuals to lose (or regain, for that matter) their personal occupancy of particular positions of authority for a variety of reasons. A property owner might sell his property, as one of an infinite number of possible examples. It is also possible for the apparatus of enforcement to be configured in a virtually infinite number of ways.
But it is not possible for individuals in positions of authority to change the nature of authority itself, any more than a scientist can change the objective nature of matter by rewriting equations. Authority, like the good more generally, is a feature of given reality not an edifice built to conquer Heaven by the People of Babel.
A concrete real world example is the modern abortion regime. The sovereign has the authority and concomittant responsibility to treat murder as the crime that it is in fact, and to enforce the law against murder to the extent possible. Liberals pretend that the sovereign is merely ‘limiting himself’ when in the name of freedom and equality of rights he issues legal warrant to murder the weak and defenseless and enforces that warrant. But this regime of putatively ‘self limiting authority’ doesn’t in fact limit the actual authority (and concomitant responsibility) of the sovereign. Sociopathic exercise of authority isn’t ‘self limiting’ authority unless we are nominalists and simply define it that way by fiat.
And if we are nominalists then when we use a word it circularly means just what we say it means, nothing more, nothing less; rendering unequivocal communication, let alone understanding of reality, impossible.
A regime can pervert itself, make itself sociopathic, and even destroy itself. But no mechanistic scheme of Man can change the nature of legitimate authority.
 “Impossible” here is a statement of fact, not a statement of preference.
 “We insist that we must have only good leaders” is a nice sentiment; but welcome to the human race.
July 13, 2017 § 18 Comments
Nothing I have said should be taken as a denigration of voluntary cooperation. Voluntary cooperation is an essential part of any community — this point is so obvious that it shouldn’t really need to be stated at all.
However, voluntary cooperation is entirely irrelevant when the specific question we are asking is the fundamental question of politics: that is, what grounds the legitimacy of every (or any) concrete, human exercise of authority?
The answer to this question cannot be “freedom,” or “equal rights,” or any permutation of those things without resort to:
- Tautology (“freedom” just means that the concrete exercise of authority is justified when it is and isn’t justified when it isn’t);
- Nominalism (described recently here); or
- Self contradiction (described recently here).
 My answer to this question is that I don’t have a comprehensive answer myself. (I also don’t have a comprehensive theory of where rabbits come from).
But modernity’s answer — liberalism — no matter how it is phrased or how circumscribed right liberals attempt to frame it to be — is a motte-and-bailey mashup of tautology, nominalism, and self contradiction.
July 13, 2017 § 41 Comments
Political equal freedom is self contradictory, because politics – resolution of controvertible cases through the exercise of authority by those in authority – just is discriminatory restriction of freedom. Liberalism then is ultimately an attempt to nullify or escape from politics: to retreat into the frontier or behind fences and avoid other people and the controversies which arise when people live together: to practice politics through mechanical trickery while avoiding the messy problem of the existence of other human beings.
Frontiers and fences are mechanical features of the world not human beings, so if we can hide the ‘problem’ of politics behind them maybe we can escape from the debasing horror of accepting human authority as an inescapable feature of the world which never fades away, no matter how desperately (and sociopathically) we try to suppress it. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of person who comes closest to escaping from politics is a homeless madman living a brutish and short existence alone in the wilderness. If you never interact in any way with any other human beings, controversy with other human beings is avoided; though even Lord Greystoke had his hierarchy of apes to contend with.
As the number of people on Earth exceeds seven billion those fenced in frontiers become smaller and smaller, less and less habitable, creating a kind of hive. The ultimate expression of liberalism becomes the libertarian paradise of urban projects: vast modern unnatural structures of tiny apartment cubes fused together in almost-anarchy. The only thing you can’t get away with in the projects without bringing down the Supreme Court and the Feds is refuse to bake a cake for out-and-proud sodomites. But otherwise the rest of the world will try to avoid the anarchotyrannical singularity.
Politics is authoritative resolution of controvertible cases when human beings interact. To avoid politics is to avoid other human beings. This is why ‘freedom of association’ becomes so important to some kinds of liberals: once again the impulse is to just make other people and their problems go away, so the free and equal superman can live his life in peace.
But 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 actual human beings. And if the community isn’t going to be intrinsically sociopathic, that means understanding and unequivocally rejecting political liberalism.
Unequivocally rejecting liberalism doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have a sociopathic community, of course.
But failing to unequivocally reject liberalism does guarantee that we will.
July 11, 2017 § 16 Comments
John Noonan’s basic thesis is that Church doctrine prohibiting usury doesn’t categorically prohibit anything at all: that the doctrine boils down to the idea that charging interest is either licit or illicit depending on circumstances and subjective intentions extrinsic to the contract itself. The putative coup de grace in reaching this conclusion for Noonan is what is called the triple contract.
The triple contract is an agreement between two parties, but in order to understand it you have to first consider a contract between three parties: lets call them the investor, the managing partner, and the insurance provider.
The managing partner proposes (say) to undertake a risky but potentially very profitable sea voyage. The investor provides funds to finance the voyage in return for a fixed profit. The insurance provider, for a fee, provides security to the investor: a guarantee that the investor will receive his money back and a fixed profit, even if the voyage fails.
In the triple contract the managing partner is also the insurance provider, and he imputes his fee as the insurance provider to himself. In effect he agrees to provide an insurance bond as an inducement to get the investor to invest, and then underwrites the insurance bond himself.
As with most attempts to turn the moral prohibition of usury into a decorative accessory which doesn’t actually prohibit any well defined objective behaviors, the part you aren’t supposed to notice is the whole matter of security for contracts. In this case the fact that insurance bonds (understood equivocally) were accepted as morally licit is supposed to make Noonan’s readers fail to notice the difference between actual property staked as security and a personal IOU.
A personal guarantee is not a licit “insurance bond”. Rent charged against a collection of property, set aside and held in escrow as a contingency if things don’t go according to plans, is licit.
Of course, if you game the scenario forward this raises the question of why a managing partner with the resources to fully insure the investor and his profit would bother with an investor in the first place. But it might make sense if, say, the managing partner had illiquid property like farms or estates to post as security: property he doesn’t want to sell unless the enterprise fails.
So if you encounter the triple contract as something supposedly problemmatic when you are reading about usury, you can rest assured that it is a nothingburger. The sleight of hand involved rests on all of the usual equivocations.
 Note that in insurance underwriting it is not typically the case for an insurance bond to cover even 100% of the possible loss, let alone the entire loss plus a profit, because of the perverse incentives this creates to destroy economic value.