August 28, 2016 § 35 Comments
Libertarians are correct that their political views are, at least in a sense, more consistent with freedom and equal rights as uncompromising principles than other political views. That is precisely why libertarians (left and right) are so crazy and disconnected from reality. “Centrism” is really a concentric circle in between the singularity and the event horizon: it is a region of many unprincipled exceptions, little introspection, fairly strong comfort with the status quo, and unwillingness or inability to call liberalism into question.
UPDATE: Keep in mind that this is just a visual aid. The meaningful dimensions are left/right and distance from the singularity at the center of the picture. Up/down is not meaningful — the up/down in the libertarian diamond is simply distance from the center.
August 5, 2014 § 22 Comments
Libertarianism is the notion that freedom should be a political priority within some scope. “Liberty” is political freedom, which lies at the root of all liberalisms including libertarianism.
Subsidiarity is messy, hierarchical, distributed human authority. Anyone can look around and see that “that messy human authority over there” is restricting someone’s freedom. That’s what authority does: it discriminates between people in such a way that some people get their way and others don’t. And because freedom is a political priority, something must be done about it!
The never-ending collection of “something must be done about its” become concentrated in a single monolithic bureaucratic liberal government that manages everything for everyone, to make sure that everyone is free and that anyone who gets in the way of individual freedom is dealt with severely.
This is what libertarians are just too myopic to even begin to comprehend: that the monolithic managerial global all-encompassing liberal megastate is just libertarianism all grown up. Libertarianism is the larval stage of statist progressivism.
July 27, 2014 § 79 Comments
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.
At the end of the day, libertarianism is just another intrinsically dishonest form of liberalism.
September 8, 2013 § 33 Comments
Progtastic hipster liberal Christians have told me numerous times that stopping unjust war takes moral priority over stopping abortion, because unjust war is something that the government does itself whereas abortion is something individuals do. Abortion is simply something that government refrains from forbidding, and even someone as venerable as St. Thomas Aquinas has affirmed that not everything that is immoral must be illegal. The key difference then is that with unjust war the government is actively doing something evil in our name, whereas in the case of abortion government is simply declining to prevent evil perpetrated by others.
Many used this structure of reasoning as a way to justify voting for Barack Obama. This looks more than a little ironic in retrospect.
But I thought I’d take a moment to unpack a false assumption at the root of this leftist nonsense: the assumption of monolithic authority.
Backing up for a moment, many of us no doubt recall the spectacle of police troopers surrounding the hospice where Terri Schaivo was being, uh, “allowed to die”. The reason those troopers were there was to actively prevent Schaivo’s family members and others from attempting to give her food and water, even by mouth. It was therefore an active act of murder, perpetrated by government. It is one thing to fail to rescue someone who is in danger of dying, a passivity which may or may not be justifiable depending on the facts on the ground, other priorities, etc. It is another thing entirely to actively prevent attempts at rescue by other parties. The latter is murder, pure and simple.
Similarly, there is more going on in the abortion regime than a passive choice not to prevent and prosecute a certain kind of wrongdoing. It involves a choice by one authority – the federal government, specifically the Supreme Court – to actively interfere with efforts by other legitimate authorities to prevent mass murder. In the leftist view government is a single monolithic authority; back here in reality, we have always lived in a world of various and hierarchical authorities, each legitimate in its own right.
Libertarian/liberal/leftist ideologues are always trying to maintain frame, such that their active murders and other atrocities can be viewed as mere passivity: a ‘more rights less government’ passivity resting on the principle of equal freedom.
But it is all a big lie. The US government has actively murdered 50 million or more children by its deliberate and direct actions. Those deliberate actions weren’t unjust wars, and liberal supporters of falsely-framed-as-passive “hands off” abortion policy are – at best – accessories to mass murder, formally cooperating with that mass murder.
August 30, 2012 § 10 Comments
On a practical level a lot of what libertarians see as good governance overlaps with what I see as good governance, at least in the higher levels of government hierarchy, because of the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity means that higher levels in the authority hierarchy should only do those things which are absolutely necessary at that level: that in general, legitimate authority derives from the common good, is bottom-up in nature, and higher authorities should butt out of local matters without some truly compelling, necessary interest. If it isn’t absolutely necessary to provide a certain kind of governance and enforcement at a higher level, it should be provided at a more local level.
Polities violate subsidiarity at their peril: embracing universal health care as a compelling federal interest has resulted, quite unsurprisingly, in the HHS contraception mandate and what will now be a scaled-up ongoing federal war on natural law morality under the guise of “health”. This should be no surprise to anyone who takes subsidiarity seriously, as opposed to merely giving it lip service and attempting to de-fang the requirement of subsidiarity by appealing to solidarity, as if solidarity and subsidiarity were in opposition rather than complementary. The idea that subsidiarity and solidarity are in conflict is of a piece with other atrocious modern ideas like feminism, which proposes that the natural complementarity of male and female are in opposition.
Liberalism in general cannot deal with complementarian realities, because complementarian realities imply that some discriminations and inequalities are natural and good in a way which trumps the whims of putatively free and equal citizens who get to decide for themselves what they want to be. As a result liberalism necessarily has to turn a blind eye to certain parts of reality; most especially those parts of reality where substantively good discriminations are enforced.
This willful blindness manifests itself in the language used under libertarian auspices. How often do we hear the issue of enforcing contracts between sodomites-qua-sodomites phrased as “allowing gays to marry?” The passive libertarian language of “allowing” deliberately conceals the reality; for what is advocated is not mere passivity. What is advocated at the most basic level is for society to enforce certain kinds of legal contracts, even though those legal contracts are grossly immoral. The passive language “allow gays to marry” is a lie. Enforcing contracts is an activity of government (not a passivity), and it is impossible to decide what to actively enforce and what not to actively enforce without making substantive judgements about the good. Substantive judgements about the good will necessarily discriminate: every function of governance, including contract enforcement, is an authoritative discrimination of some kind resting on some substantive concept of the good. What makes liberalism (including libertarianism) different from other political views is that liberalism has to make authoritative discriminations resting in a substantive conception of the good while at the same time denying that it is doing so. What makes liberalism different is that it has to lie about itself in order to invoke its own justifying principles, that is, nondiscrimination (equality of rights) and freedom from substantive discriminating authority.
We don’t “allow” – that is, actively enforce with police, courts, and jails – just any sort of contract whatsoever, and we shouldn’t. We also shouldn’t allow language to abused that way, because active enforcement of contracts is anything but the live-and-let-live passivity implied by the lying word “allow”.
July 3, 2008 § 42 Comments
As a kid I used to get a kick out of Mad Libs, those little stories with blanks to fill in with a noun, verb, or adjective. With my short attention span (once you’ve gotten an MBA you are incapable of spending more than 30 seconds on an ‘executive summary’ or ‘elevator pitch’ without prodigious effort) I thought I’d limit today’s game to a single sentence, with a single word substitution, inspired by a commenter. Our sentence is:
A perfectly valid position for somebody to hold is that, while ________ is a form of deliberate premeditated murder, it need not be criminalized.
Have fun, kids.
March 3, 2018 § 97 Comments
The political term “right” (also sometimes “liberty”), used as a noun, refers to some particular discriminating authority: to the legitimate empowerment of some specific claim as superior to competing claims. Thus a property right elevates particular claims of the owner over the claims of non-owners, discriminating in the owner’s favor when those particular claims come into conflict. To have a right is to have an authoritative claim superior to competing claims in some controvertible case.
There are many ways to understand political liberalism; this blog contains a veritable catalogue of ways to do so. That there are many ways to approach an understanding of political liberalism is sometimes criticized by positivists on the grounds that not all liberal critics use precisely the same definition. This is of course an empty criticism: there are many ways to come at an understanding of rabbits, but it doesn’t follow that people who come at their understanding of rabbits through different approaches are not all referring to the same thing, that is, rabbits. Some approaches to understanding may be clarifying and others may obscure. But at the end of the day a definition is just a definition, a way of making reference to a thing: a definition is not itself the thing which it attempts to define.
Another approach to understanding liberalism is through its insistence on using the terms “right” and “liberty” for its own claims (that is, the claims of a particular faction of liberalism), while using “authority” or “authoritarian” for claims which it opposes. The underlying reason for this is that liberalism uses connotation to subvert and invert the hierarchy of authority. “Right” or “liberty” simply denotes a particular discriminating authority; but these terms connote the authority of someone lower in the hierarchy of subsidiarity. A king has sovereign authority; vassals have their rights and liberties.
Under liberalism the term “authority” has a negative connotation; the terms “right” and “liberty” have positive connotations. So the good kind of authority under liberalism is authority that inferiors have over superiors.
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 § 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.
April 2, 2017 § 32 Comments
Political theory on first brush seems to involve discussion of ideas as opposed to persons. It is natural to leap to the conclusion that when we are talking about politics (while refraining from psychoanalysis), the objects of our discourse are ideas.
But this is not the case, since political liberalism is not merely an idea. Ideas are not ontic reality: they are a means by which we understand ontic reality. Political liberalism is not a mere idea, but a very real force which operates in society: a pervasive influence as inescapable, for individuals and small communities, as gravity. Political liberalism is a doctrine with vast numbers of adherents, riddled with factions and intramural conflicts: like a religion but with the nature of authority, as opposed to the nature of God and reality, as its primary subject matter.
Liberalism ostensibly prescinds from controversies of religion and applies itself to politics. It is a religion-of-authority rather than a religion-of-God: a Godless deontology and social being, with authority as its locus, in a post-Nietzchean world wherein for practical purposes God is dead. Its central subject matter is the very thing the legitimacy of which it incoherently and inconsistently denies: the authority which some men naturally and unavoidably possess and exercise over other men.
Liberalism therefore transcends – is an ontic reality more than – a mere idea. Liberalism is not reducible to the idiosyncracies, notions, unexamined assumptions, or cultural prejudices of individual liberals or groups of liberals, nor is it reducible to some mere abstraction or idea.
Liberalism is not reducible to an aggregate of liberals any more than you, dear reader, are reducible to an aggregate of mindless atoms. Liberals themselves are of course human beings with liberal commitments, just as (for example) Mohammedans are human beings with Islamic commitments. Persons are distinct from the doctrines to which they are more or less committed and the social matter which incarnates those doctrines to form the body and soul of a religion or other social entity.
Because liberalism is so pervasive it is naturally the case that many liberals happen to be generally well adjusted ordinary human beings. For that matter, some groups of liberals are clearly more well adjusted than others. This is true for social realities other than liberalism too, e.g. the religion of Mohammed. As with Islam the more well adjusted groups tend to be those who take the central doctrines rather less seriously: less monotheistically, if you will.
Or, to invoke the proper object of liberal doctrine, less monoauthoritatively. Through the conceit that liberalism can politely remain merely one political author in a diverse pantheon of authorities, cafeteria liberals ensure that no defeat can permanently vanquish liberalism: it always has a welcome home and can rise again, emerge from its impregnable keep in the central holy of holies, to ravage the plains, mountains, and streams of real life.
Mercy follows from truth, always. To observe that despite sometime appearances liberalism is a despicable horror is not to accuse some particular group among Earth’s billions of liberals of anything in particular, other than commitment to something they at best don’t really understand. I have no special insight into the personal culpabilities of particular people; in fact I actively desire to avoid that particular kind of knowledge. Whether and to what extent folks accept the truth and what they do in response to it is up to them. Knowledge and understanding can sometimes feel like a terrible blow, to be sure.
But it is better – ultimately – to really know and understand the object of your loyalties, than to not know.