Burning old love letters

October 14, 2017 § 20 Comments

I first ‘met’ occasional commenter and current knight-of-the-blogroll Semiotic Animal in the comment boxes of the Acton Institute.  It appears though that the entire comment thread at Acton was deleted, at some point: at least I don’t see any comments when I call up the page.

That’s too bad.  That particular comment thread was an interesting exercise in schooling ideological free marketers on the actual medieval understanding of usury, as opposed to strawmen crafted through extremely selective curation.

An explanation for the disappearing comment thread is as mysterious and impenetrable as an explanation for the Las Vegas mass shooting.

We are all Jesuits now

October 9, 2017 § 31 Comments

LMS Chairman writes:

The practice in Confession of not absolving unrepentent sinners is intrinsically related to its nature as established by Divine Law.

There is a problem with this view though. The ‘pastoral’ practice of absolving unrepentant sinners goes back to well before Vatican II, and is not a new or novel thing with the publication of Amoris Laetitia.

The Vademicum for Confessors in 1997, under John Paul II though not signed by him personally, authorized absolution of penitents who were unrepentant on contraception.

The various Sacred Penitentiary and papal audience rulings on usury in the 1800’s authorized absolution of unrepentant interest-takers in a couple of cases: specifically when those unrepentant usurers rationalized their behavior by appealing to either (1) the fact that they made mutuum loans to businessmen (condemned as an excuse by Vix Pervenit) or (2) by the fact that the ‘law of the prince’ authorized charging a certain rate of interest.

Amoris isn’t the camel’s nose in the tent: it is the other end of the camel coming into the tent.

That doesn’t make the current round of clarification any less urgent, but it is important to have a full and adequate grasp of the situation. Pope Francis is not an innovator. As the first Jesuit pope he is simply completing the centuries long Jesuit project of fighting the Protestant heresy by embracing it.

The History of Economic Thought website describes, consistent with my own understanding, the Salamanca Jesuit approach to morality in economic life and politics:

It is common to associate early Jesuit philosophers like Leonard Lessius, Luis Molina, and Juan de Mariana, with the Salamanca school.

The Jesuit Order (‘Society of Jesus’), founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius de Loyola, was erected to combat the appeal of Protestantism. […] The Scholastic doctrine of ‘just price’ was rejected out of hand as all-too-divine, the Jesuits arguing that value is a human affair and was determined by natural human interaction on markets. They followed much the same line on money and inflation. On moral defenses of usury and profit, the Jesuits were eager to reform Catholic doctrine to bring it more in line with current practice, to ease their efforts to overcome the resistance of Protestant towns to re-catholicization.

Quite more controversial was the Jesuit view of the basis of civil government, something the Salamanca scholars had largely and judiciously avoided. In line with their general approach, Jesuits like Molina, de Mariana and Suarez proposed that government rested on human consent […] Jesuit musings on the human rather than divine sources of government made them downright subversive to the established order. It did not help matters that, notoriously, the Jesuit philosopher Juan de Mariana (1598) openly contemplated that the murder of a monarch might be justified, if he proved tyrannical to the people. This was uttered at a tense time of notorious political assassinations – Henry IV of France (attempted in 1595, succeeded in1610), James I of England (Gunpowder Plot, 1605), Paolo Sarpi of Venice (attempted, 1606), etc. – in which Jesuit activists were suspected of having a role (and may indeed have had one).

In the popular mindset of the time, the Jesuits became synonymous with regicide and political destabilization.

The Jesuit approach (or, more fairly, a prominent and pervasive Jesuit approach) has always been to downplay and subjectivize the moral law as a way of making the Church seem more familiar and appealing to non-Catholics, especially Protestants. From this point of view, if pervasive everyday practice is contrary to the moral law as traditionally understood then what has to change is our understanding and application of the moral law, to accommodate everyday practice and get these people into the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church.  The important thing is Catholic unity, and if the moral law is a cause of disunity then that implies a problem with our understanding of or application of the moral law.  What is important is how people actually live, not the abstract moral demands of the Gospel.

Jesuits have been doing this for centuries, and the fruits of this approach are manifest. We are all Jesuits now.

This time Lucy won’t pull the football away

September 18, 2017 § 63 Comments

From a new article at First Things (hat tip donnie):

It was characteristic of Michael [Novak] to frame the highest good as liberation from constraint. As he says at one point, “God did not make creation coercive, but designed it as an arena of liberty.”

The free market gives us a glimpse of the ideal society, one that features order without authority and purposeful freedom without the need for agreement about the common good beyond a procedural rule of law.

Democratic capitalism does a better job sustaining an open, pluralistic society than political liberalism[1], because capitalism, unlike political deliberation, guarantees freedom more jealously (and effectively).

Yet we’ve seen setback after setback, and the corporate tsunami that recently swept through Indiana after it passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act made clear the link between global capitalism and progressive clear-cutting of traditional religious culture and morality.

Needless to say, Michael Novak did not foresee these outcomes when he wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism any more than I did when I thrilled to his insights more than three decades ago.

…he described the anthropology of capitalism in a one-sided way. Its fearsome dynamism speaks to part of our soul, but it neglects and even works against the part that cherishes permanence.

This one-sidedness needs to be corrected, for our challenges are quite different from the legacy of postwar consolidation that Michael responded to with such élan. We do not live in a closed, regulated, regimented world. Political correctness is a serious problem, and it has an authoritarian tendency. But it is not born of loyalty to permanent things. As an outgrowth of liberalism itself, this rigid ideology comes under the sign of choice. It is an obligatory, enforced participation in a fluid, liquefied moral world. We are told that we are not required to think or live in any particular way—except that we can’t think or live in ways that constrain, compromise, or even throw doubt on anyone else’s free decision to think or live differently. Taken to its logical extreme—everything is permitted as long as it permits everything—this becomes a paradoxical totalitarian toleration that is all the more dangerous because it deludes those who promote it into thinking that when they drive all dissent from the public square, they are “including.”

My summary of the article:

Don’t blame us for the poison we’ve been pumping into society for decades. We had good hearts and meant well, we just accidentally neglected to keep our nice tame liberalism on a leash. No reasonable person could have foreseen a “how were we supposed to know?” stage to inevitably follow our “what could it hurt?” enthusiasms. Who would have thought that pouring acid over the moral social fabric for centuries would make it dissolve? Who could have predicted that 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 monstrosity?

So the thing we should all do now is correct the ‘one sidedness’ of what we’ve been doing for decades.  We need to work together to promote a nice tame liberalism in common sense balance with moral constraints and the common good.  We need more water for the shriveled up plants in our common garden, to bring balance to the acid we plan to continue pouring on them.  And that is totally, totally different from what conservatives have been doing since the founding of America.  This time it will work, really.  We have to adjust to the times, to find a renewed way for political freedom to flourish.

Oh, and that crank Zippy’s understanding of liberalism is a big strawman.


[1] Translation: our intramural team in the red shirts is so much better than the other team playing the exact same game by the exact same rules in pursuit of the exact same goals, because they wear blue shirts.

As 33, HCN, C17H21NO4, C3H5N3O9

September 13, 2017 § 57 Comments

In America, everyone has the right to free chemistry.  Chemical acts express ideas, and the expression of ideas is protected under the first amendment.

Free chemistry obviously doesn’t mean absolutely free chemistry.  Absolutely free chemistry is clearly a straw man, positing no middle ground between manifestly insane absolute rights and nice tame rights within due limits. Everyone who is committed to free chemistry agrees that there should be some limits on chemistry. We just don’t want to live under an inquisitional chemistry-restricting tyranny.

Free chemistry means that permissible chemistry should be permitted, while impermissible chemistry should be suppressed and punished.  It means we should take a live and let live approach to regulating chemistry.

So free chemistry, at least as understood by reasonable liberals, is restricted chemistry: chemistry circumscribed within limits.  The terms “free” and “restricted” are interchangeable.  For reasonable non-ideological liberals, free means the same thing as restricted.

There have been critical times when the right to free chemistry has prevented tyranny and protected the innocent.  Bad regimes, which have restricted chemistry and even imprisoned or killed people for their chemical acts, have produced incalculable horror due to those restrictions.

So every reasonable person should acknowledge the public goods produced and protected by the right to free chemistry.

You may speak freely in the asylum

August 24, 2017 § 102 Comments

In 1689, during the lifetime of John Locke, free speech meant that a member of parliament formally charged with a speech crime committed during a session of parliament had to be tried by parliament, not some other judicial body.

In 2017, free speech means that you can say anything hateful and false you want to about white people and Christians, pollute the community with despicable pornography, and commit blasphemy against Christ (but not against the false and violent religion of Islam). Yet stating facts about official victim groups in the most apologetic way possible can destroy your livelihood and turn you into a national pariah.

There are several features of free speech regimes worth collecting in one place.

  1. Free speech refers to a regime of restricted and censored speech.  Every reasonable person acknowledges that there have to be reasonable limits on speech.
  2. Free speech dishonestly frames the question of what restrictions there ought to be on speech as if it were a question of whether there ought to be restrictions on speech.
  3. This dishonesty in framing introduces instability into free speech regimes. There is nothing intrinsically incoherent about symbolic representations or slogans which refer to complex traditions. But free speech isn’t a complex tradition of what speech is acceptable; it is a simple anti-tradition which implies that restricting speech is wrong.  The configuration of empowered speech and restricted speech captured by the label “free speech” is thus mostly implicit and constantly changing.
  4. Free speech regimes have to police speech while pretending not to police speech. The result is that methods of censorship and enforcement are mostly unofficial, indirect, non-explicit, and generally sociopathic. People are regularly punished for having violated today’s nonexplicit unofficial standard some time in the past. Free speech regimes are thus intrinsically unfair.
  5. Because of their intrinsic unfairness and instability, free speech regimes create a progressive cascade.  Whatever you say today – even though it is permissible by today’s standards – might well destroy your life in the future, so you have to be constantly thinking ahead about the progressive pieties of tomorrow and adjusting your speech to accommodate those anticipated future standards.
  6. Because it is impossible for most people to maintain a complex lie over decades, the progressive cascade created by free speech regimes requires you to try to accommodate not just your speech but your internal thoughts to the anticipated inviolable progressive pieties of tomorrow.
  7. Because liberals generally don’t grasp the implications of their own ideas, the more conservative among a population of liberals attempt to fight the perversity created by a free speech regime with assertions of a right to free speech.

The dirt nap gap

August 8, 2017 § 74 Comments

Diversity fideism has taken another scalp, thereby proving the victim’s point.

The shrieking harpies of tolerance once again demonstrate that women and feminists aren’t thin-skinned at all (really!) in the face of big scary challenges to the diversity monoculture.

Any subhuman oppressor who attempts to politely discuss inclusiveness and open sharing of all opinions within a diverse modern high tech organization must be ejected from polite society, deprived of voice and income.  Young intelligent twenty-something lightly pigmented men who very gently and apologetically notice that men and women are  —  despite stipulated wide individual variation and the occasional surgical adventurer  —  generally different qua populations, pose a terrible threat to billionaire masters of the universe who also happen to be young intelligent lightly pigmented men.

What constitutes ‘fact’ doesn’t depend upon empirical reality: it depends upon narrative-established victim status. That over 90% of work related fatalities are men is not a relevant fact at all: nobody is lobbying to close the dirt nap gap.

That individual women who accomplish the same things as men in the same position make the same pay is not a relevant fact. (That they actually shouldn’t be paid as much for the same work is something which must never be proposed at all.  That is even worse than noticing that importing a pliable Mexican underclass harms the prospects of a more darkly pigmented and less pliable American underclass).

That women as a population earn less than men on average is a relevant fact; but only inasmuch as it is founded on the idea that women are not moral agents making their own decisions. The observation that women qua population might be making free choices which affect average pay is not a relevant fact.  White men are awful oppressors and the reason they dominate Fortune 500 boards is unfair bias.

These are foundational propositions in the Current Year version of the modern creed, dogmas not subject to empirical falsification and set in opposition to transcendent evil. Blind faith in the ruling class religion of total open-mindedness and the nonexistence of authority must never be questioned, no matter what your lying eyes may tell you.

The glass ceiling and the dirt floor are joined together by walls of irony resting on a foundation of bones, walls built and maintained by slaves chanting the mantra of freedom.

Arguing over Hitler’s org chart

July 31, 2017 § 224 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.

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