Objective freedom, or, the allure of the formless void

March 23, 2017 § 19 Comments

As previously observed, every concrete choice made by a human being starts with a large number of potential reality-outcomes and collapses it into a particular concrete outcome. Choices are irrevocable option-reducers: they empower one particular possibility, breathe fire into it and make it a reality.  They take mere (but real) potential and convert it into actual reality: they merge the matter and form of possibility to make something concretely real. In the wake of doing so, every single choice leaves behind a multitude of roads not taken, options which now rest outside the realm of real possibility.

Freedom as an objective state can be understood as having real options: as having available choices not yet made. (Subjectively, freedom can be understood as a particular subject having available choices which correspond with what the subject wants to choose).

Acts of authority are human choices which, like all human choices, eliminate options. Because they are specifically acts of authority-as-authority they eliminate options available to subjects, to those subject to the particular authority in question.  For every single actual empowerment produced by the choice of a human authority, a multitude of mutually exclusive options, of roads not taken and now ruled out, are destroyed.

In short, every act of authority always and necessarily reduces objective freedom. When folks subjectively like the results it feels empowering to them: their wishes correspond to their real options.  When folks subjectively don’t like the results it feels constraining.  But it is a fundamental mistake to see empowerment of the good as “freedom.”  Empowerment of the good means that good actions are empowered and that the right sort of people are sent to prison.

Liberalism attempts to make increasing or sustaining freedom – availability of choices – into the (or a) primary justification of authoritative acts.  When liberals suggest that they are pro choice they really mean it: the most “consistent” liberalism is an anarchism which forces itself on everyone.  Ultimately, maximizing objectively available choices means not making or even “allowing” any actual choices: it means embrace of the eternal formless void out of a fear of better options.  In this sense a ‘conservative’ liberalism is indeed anti-choice.  In a perfect liberal paradise all choices are available but nobody falls into the imprisoning trap of actually making one.  In a perfect liberal paradise the clock can always be turned back to before any particular choice was made: reality must stand for reelection over and over again, in saecula saeculorum, amen.

In the real world, consistent loyalty to liberalism as a political doctrine is impossible. In practice, then, liberalism becomes weaponized incoherence.

It is of course common to equivocate here: to suggest that liberalism merely says (tautologically) that people ought to have the available choices that they ought to have, and sets one purpose of authority to be ensuring that subjects are really able to choose what they ought to be really able to choose.  These “things subjects really ought to be able to choose” – with the support of those in authority – we label “rights”.

But if that is the case we need to accept that more rights mean objectively less freedom, not objectively more freedom. Rights are rules which authoritatively discriminate and reduce the space of all really possible options to a more constrained space of really allowable options. Given that this is the case it seems that the only honest approach is to unequivocally shun the deontology – and even the language – of liberalism entirely.  When we say “everyone should be gay and should embrace gayness without resistance” we might just mean that everyone ought to be happy. But talking to modern people that way just makes us madmen, garrisoning the motte on liberalism’s behalf as we gaze at the padded walls.

The Earl of passive-aggressive drunkenness

March 22, 2017 § 11 Comments

Sometimes folks get lost in abstract discussions, and it becomes helpful to season it with little storytelling to help get a point across. This seems especially true when it comes to grasping the implications-in-context of incoherent ideas; doubly so in the case of the cherished ideal of political liberty, that is, the doctrine that protecting and advancing freedom is what justifies the exercise of authority.  Against the charge of incoherence it is sometimes countered that liberalism is not self-contradictory because (e.g.) expressly permitting abortion or public drunkenness or prostitution or gay sex parades or murder of the unfit or mass rape of young white girls by vibrant immigrants is merely passive: these are not active exercises of authority, and therefore do not discriminate, etc.  Rights, it is claimed, are simply a passive recognition by the sovereign and in no way involve the sovereign in acts.

This is, of course, a load of malarkey.  Whenever an authority chooses a course of action – any course of action – on a particular controvertible or actually controverted case this is always, necessarily, and without exception, an imposition of discriminating authority. There is no such thing as a “passive act”, in general.  Even choices which appear “permissive” from some narrow point of view or other are permissive only relatively speaking not in some general sense: permitting trespassers to overrun an owner’s property without consequences does not permit the owner to enjoy his property free of trespassers, and permitting mothers to murder their children in the womb without consequence fails to permit those murdered unborn children to be born and grow up.  Every single express permission granted by an authority implies numerous restrictions, always and without exception[1].

Suppose that I am the Earl of Meadistrad, and the issue of public drunkenness is brought before me because Rollo Rotgut has been making a spectacle of himself, vomiting in the street and corrupting youth.  The Earldom of Meadistrad has never addressed the issue of public drunkenness before.  Because the issue has literally never come up before now, the Earldom-qua-authority can genuinely be said to have been passive with respect to public drunkenness up to this point.  The large number of potential ways to address public drunkenness remain possible during the time before a concrete choice has been made.  It is only the case that an authority remains literally passive on a controvertible issue when that authority has never considered or been asked to consider that issue.

Once the issue of public drunkenness has been raised, though, this collapses the wave function.  As in quantum mechanics, mere observation by the authority is all that is required to make a specific concrete result inevitable.  Every response by the authority in question – including considering the issue and choosing expressly to decline to respond at all – converts a large number of potential possibilities for subjects into a more constrained space of  current and future possibilities for subjects. Action always converts a large number of potentialities into a single concrete and particular result.  That is what action means: change of potency into actuality.

It is the nature of every choice made by an authority to constrain possibility: to always and necessarily restrict freedom based on some substantive, discriminatory conception of the good.  Indeed this is the nature of choices in general: choices collapse the infinite possibilities represented by real potentialities into some actual result which precludes all mutually exclusive real possibilities.  When that choice is made by someone in authority acting qua authority, this always and necessarily constrains those subject to that authority.  It changes all of the “might have beens” into a single “this is how it must be”.

Consider the following non-exhaustive list of possible responses I might make to Rollo’s public drunkenness once the issue has been raised:

  1. I express my desire to ignore the issue entirely and send the people who raised it away.
  2. I go on a public drunken bender with Rollo because I think he is a fun guy and his detractors are prudish busybodies.
  3. I declare that subjects of the Earldom are not to be punished for public drunkenness.
  4. I declare that no public accommodation may refuse service on account of public drunkenness.
  5. I declare standards for public drunkenness and prescribe punishments corresponding to those standards.
  6. I declare that subsidiarity authorities should handle the matter of public drunkenness, but reserve the authority to resolve it myself if they can’t get their act together.

Each of these choices is an act by me as the authority: it collapses my subjects’ possible worlds from before the choice into a world constrained by my choice.  (Every act, every choice of behavior, collapses a large number of potential outcomes into one actual outcome).

Because my choice is an act of an authority-qua-authority, this act constrains my subjects. Those subjects who would rather live without vomit in the streets, or those who would rather keep the raucous party going, etc are out of luck if my choice does not produce the kind of outcome they prefer.

Note that I am not passing judgment on the merits or demerits of various choices by authority.  I am merely observing that all choices by an authority qua authority necessarily discriminate based on some substantive conception of the good, in the process necessarily restricting the freedom of subjects, collapsing potential possibilities into a particular authoritative and constraining  result.

So liberalism — the doctrine that liberty is what justifies acts-of-authority — is rationally incoherent.


[1] It does not follow that an authority never grants any sort of permission for anything, of course.  That every single permission is accompanied by a multitude of constraints does not mean that permission is never granted. Permissive will is real enough as a facet or mode of a particular choice; but every coin has both a heads and a tails.  Every concrete choice empowers (or “frees”) a particular actual reality to the detriment of mutually exclusive real potentialities. That God “permits” the world as it is actively precludes infinite different potential ways the world really might have been.

But I trust that He has His reasons.

The principle of explosion as a weapon of mass destruction

March 20, 2017 § 40 Comments

As an exercise in being honest with ourselves, every time we are tempted to use a phrase like “Bob has the freedom to do X” in a political context we should substitute “Bob has the authority to insist that everyone else must obediently cooperate with him doing X”.

“Freedoms” in a political context are in fact simply particular, concrete, actual exercises of authority which bind subjects – all those subject to that authority – to cooperation and obedience. “Freedoms” or “rights” in other words are always and without exception discriminatory demands that subjects cooperate and obey on a particular matter.

The honest question of politics is not “what freedoms should people have and in what contexts”. This liberal framing simply begs the question, slyly pretending that the exercises of authority which he labels “freedom” or “rights” are not actually exercises of discriminating authority which bind subjects to obedience and cooperation. It falsely assumes that there is such a thing as a concrete exercise of authority which “leaves other people alone”, a special sort of freedom-by-command which we label a “right” or a “freedom”. It sociopathically hides the inextricably authoritarian side of its own coin, of its own political assertiveness and assertions, underneath a fog of begged questions.

Rights or freedoms are special cases in the incoherent storm of the liberal’s political mind: they are a kind of ruthlessly anti-authoritarian authority, iron rules which abolish iron rule and force everyone, good and hard, to be free.

But there literally is no such thing as a political “right” or “freedom” which is not an exercise of discriminating authority, authority which binds those subject to that authority to cooperation and obedience. Liberalism is a contradiction in terms, all the way down and in all cases.

Its superficial plausibility combined with its deeper logical incoherence turns liberalism, in the context of any particular public social reality, into ad-hoc question-begging: makes it a weaponization of the principle of explosion.

Most folks love the empowerment they feel from (what they delude themselves into thinking is) personal possession of WMDs.  In free societies every man is king, and reality is whatever you want it to be.

That is, they love it up until the point that someone else deploys it to kill them.  When that happens it is doubtful that many even see it coming.

Lies, damn lies, and mass murder

March 13, 2017 § 12 Comments

Generally speaking there are a lot more ways to get something wrong than there are to get it right.  In the Church there is a special category of lie called heresy, which involves (again generally speaking) denying or distorting a doctrine of the Church specifically.  Truth is a unity, but not all truths are doctrines of the Church.  That water is H2O is true but is not a doctrine of the Church, for example.

The issue has been raised as to whether one of my claims is that liberalism is a heresy in this technical (rather than merely a colloquial) sense, as opposed to simply false or a lie.

My answer to that line of inquiry, for the record, is that I take no firm position on the question[*]. It is certainly arguable that liberalism as I describe it on this blog — keeping in mind the limitations of language, and the fact that liberalism is what it is in reality independent of those limitations – is condemned in various papal encyclicals, for example Immortale Dei.

But from my point of view it doesn’t much matter, and I don’t think the point is especially worth arguing.  Most folks wouldn’t balk at condemning a mass murdering political philosophy like Nazism without really caring much about whether it is or is not, in a technical sense, a heresy.  One would think that political doctrines which drive the mass murder of innocents (as just the most obvious and visible in a long list of atrocities) would run afoul of a Church doctrine here or there, I suppose, at least indirectly. But frankly the whole question seems like a bit of a red herring.

The same goes for liberalism and – depending on where you feel the lines should be drawn – its close modernist cousins.  Some folks feel compelled to draw the lines this way or that, probably driven by a delusion that the substance of the basic criticisms of liberalism can be deflected by some nominalist semantic dancing.

But my thought is that once the body count of innocents murdered reaches a certain point, quibbling over whether or not a particular political doctrine is or is not technically heresy is just Nazis dancing on the head of a pin.


[*] This contrasts with my position on usury, to which I have not really added any original thought.  My work on usury specifically (except where stated otherwise, and of course this doesn’t apply to e.g. more general discussions of currency, securities, finance, property, etc) is simply a reiteration, to the best of my ability, of the timeless moral prohibition against charging interest on personally guaranteed loans “for consumption” (in the pertinent sense) to individuals, with a few suggestions here and there as to why the moral prohibition obtains.

That is, when it comes to usury I do my best to simply restate Church doctrine; and dissent from Church doctrine is heresy.

The butcher’s bill of rights

March 8, 2017 § 71 Comments

As we’ve discussed many times before, what modern people call “rights” are instances of discriminating authority.  A property owner has the authority to eject trespassers without everyone insisting that he has to give good reasons for why he is doing so.

A property owner’s discriminating authority is labeled “property rights” as a way of short circuiting any further thought on the matter. By labeling this a “right” we don’t have to acknowledge that the law discriminates between the property owner and everyone else, empowering the property owner to, himself, discriminate and bind people to do or not do certain actions within the domain of his authority.

The magic word “rights” acts as a kind of wrongthought circuit breaker, allowing us to notice the empowerment involved in “rights” while studiously ignoring the multitude of constraints which are concomitant to every right.  “Rights” give us mental cover for thinking of ourselves as empowered while at the same time avoiding the terrible crime of discrimination.  Because rights are empowering, more of them means more freedom to our short-circuited modern minds.  The more expansive our “rights” are interpreted to be by the ruling class, the more of this “freedom” we have.

At least for certain values of “we”.

Shut up and row, or, good leaders are rock star divas

March 4, 2017 § 67 Comments

Good leaders make unreasonable demands; and good followers meet those demands obediently, without making a lot of static.

In the comments below, Mike T writes:

 …in ordinary circumstances there is likely no defensible reason why something which is good or neutral should be prohibited by an authority.

I couldn’t disagree more.

There is a now-famous story about the rock band Van Halen.  The band members were such entitled divas, the story goes, that they would bury a rider in their contracts for a bowl of M&M candies in their dressing room with all of the brown candies removed.  If the bowl of M&M’s wasn’t there, or if it contained even a single brown M&M, the band would (or was contractually entitled to) cancel the show and engage in general acts of destructive mayhem.

David Lee Roth explains the real reason for the M&M contract rider:

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes …” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

A good leader always makes a few unreasonable demands here and there, and rightfully expects his followers to pay close attention, shut their pie-holes, and do what they’ve been told to do.  Loyalty which is never tested isn’t true loyalty.  Obedience isn’t obedience when you are only ever told to do what you want to do or agree you ought to do.

Decent civilizations require good followers.  Some leaders are genius enough to herd cats, to be sure. But they are few and far between, and genius has no succession plan.

So if you want to live in a decent civilization, you’ll learn how to shut the **** up and row.

Maybe our fried ice can help reduce the fever

February 27, 2017 § 130 Comments

I’ve argued before that there are no free societies: that when people use the term “free” or “freedom” in a political context what they really mean is that the “more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison.  “Less free” societies put the wrong sort of people in prison; so “freedom” in the political motte has become a way of expressing the speaker’s approval of that society’s rules and customs, while tyranny has become a way of expressing disapproval[1].

It is sometimes objected that the USA really is more free than countries which live under different variants of liberalism, such as North Korea or Nazi Germany.  This is just obvious, it is thought, and refusing to concede it invalidates my understanding of liberalism without any further thought or argument required.  (It has even been suggested, amusingly, that my refusal to see political freedom as something ontologically distinct from the constraints implied by every “right” makes me a positivist).

What is good in any given society is as much attributable to what that society forbids and sanctions, in the particulars, as it is to what that society “permits” (which is itself another way to say what a society supports, enforces and destroys opposition to through informal and formal structures of law and custom). To the extent the USA is better than North Korea that is as much or more a function of what isn’t accepted and permitted as it is of what is accepted and permitted. Restrictions on arbitrary confiscation of private property by Communists are, well, restrictions. Every right which empowers carries inextricable corresponding restrictions; in fact each and every single empowerment gives rise to a plenitude of constraints. So the very notion of an abstracted political “freedom” – divorced from the myriad restrictions implied by adopting one set of rules and customs versus another – is nonsense.

One might as well complain that I refuse to concede that the USA is more round-squarian than North Korea, and has more and better fried ice. When one makes an intrinsically nonsensical assertion the only truthful response is that the assertion is – and I mean this quite literally – nonsense. It may seem like it isn’t nonsense on the surface; but that only works as long as we refuse to think about it any further.  That one thinks the USA puts the right sort of people in prison and North Korea puts the wrong sort of people in prison may be true enough, but labeling that difference in the details freedom, as if these “freedoms” were one-sided coins which imply no corresponding restrictions, is just self deception.

Whatever one thinks of USA under its current variation of liberalism and North Korea under its current variation — keeping in mind that liberalism isn’t everything — these intramural conflicts between which kinds of liberalism are “better” or “worse” are in my view a pointless exercise, or worse. More immediately benign forms of liberalism (to the extent we even buy that there is such a thing) cultivate, protect, spread, and give rise to more virulent forms. This is the basic problem with “conservatism”, about which much has already been written: what it conserves these days is, for the most part, merely earlier and more larval stages of liberalism.

Is it better to have symptomatic carriers of virulent disease in a quarantine, or asymptomatic carriers wandering around spreading the illness? Even if we grant the premise for the sake of argument, showing that not-yet-symptomatic disease carriers are “healthier” than symptomatic disease carriers – in a truncated and temporary sense – doesn’t have the positive implications that the term “healthier” implies.


[1] Regular readers might be concerned that I am drifting into the vicinity of claiming that freedom and tyranny are anti-concepts.

You may rest easy though: tyranny is a perfectly meaningful concept, and freedom is a perfectly meaningful concept.  In fact if freedom were not a meaningful concept at all then it would not be possible for freedom-as-a-political-priority — liberalism — to be self-contradictory.  “Round square” and “fried ice” wouldn’t be self-contradictory if the constituent terms had no meaning.

As always it is important to be aware of qualification-into-vacuity.  A retreat into “freedom” as vacuously meaning exercise of authority when it is good to do so and not when it is bad to do so is the tautological motte into which the more assertive forms of liberalism creep away to hide from the burning truth of daylight.

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