June 5, 2017 § 80 Comments
The pope is primarily a sovereign, that is, a flesh and blood man born of ordinary human parents who possesses supreme authority over the Church. He is the Vicar of Christ: a human representative of Christ who is – Christ is – absolutely and supremely sovereign.
Human beings really don’t like to serve their masters in general, and they especially don’t like to feel obligated to obey other flesh and blood human beings. Unlike God human beings are messy, smelly, fleshy, hairy, blood-and-bone animals with limited intellects, voracious appetites, narrow perspectives, egos well out of proportion to their ant-like personal significance in the scheme of things, mountainous lasagna layers of prejudice about matters they don’t understand, and prodigious helpings of vice. Who would want to be actually morally obligated to obey such a creature?
Atheists avoid the problem entirely by anointing themselves supreme intellect, but alas, this option isn’t available to believers. Protestants resolve the issue by appointing themselves Popes of their own personal Churches, projecting their own opinions onto pages of infinitely plastic interpretable text.
And one pervasive way for Catholics to be rid of this terrible and humiliating sense of obligation to obey a smelly beast with an oversized brain is to confound authority with degrees of epistemic certainty. After all, once we acquire knowledge of good and evil won’t we ourselves be like God?
So we are to obey Father because “Father knows best”, not because he is Father. If we knew better than Father our obligation to obey him would disappear. Father doesn’t actually have authority; he just happens to be in an epistemically superior position through accident of history, at least for the time being. Sovereignty is justified by the sovereign’s superior knowledge: by his capacity to infallibly declare doctrine, not by something so humiliating to us as actual possession of real authority. It is to this transcendent knowledge that we give assent, not to the flesh and blood king. And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is always there to set us free.
Popes almost never make infallible proclamations of doctrine though. The primary concomitant to the doctrine of infallibility is that almost nothing that a Pope says or does is an expression of epistemic certainty. His power qua Pope resides almost entirely in his real capacity to bind us to obedience in certain matters in the juridical domain of day to day Church rule — whatever we may think of, and whatever may be the objective wisdom or folly in, his decrees.
Institutionally of course there is real content to the Deposit of the Faith, and over the millennia this content has clarified and developed. Individual Popes and Councils have certainly made contributions here and there; though at least one Council is claimed, by the very Popes who called and ratified it, to have been purely pastoral: that is, to have defined no doctrines or dogmas at all. “Pastoral” refers to the day to day life and actions of the Church as explicitly distinct from defending doctrine, that is, it refers to most of what the Church actually does as an authoritative living hierarchical institution headed by a flesh and blood monarch.
But the accumulated institutional body of knowledge at Ford is distinct from the authority of its CEO. The thing about Daddy is that on the sparse occasions 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 disobedience.
And the thing about individuals and whole societies with Daddy issues is that they usually don’t really want an actual Daddy. What they want is a flesh puppet with Daddy’s knowledge, competence, and authority to use his voice to speak their opinions and make them feel better about themselves.
June 2, 2017 § 29 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.
May 30, 2017 § 153 Comments
Authority is conserved, so the political possibilities in resolving actual controverted cases aren’t “more freedom” versus “less freedom”. The range of real political possibility is between authority exercised publicly and accountably by particular men, and authority exercised sociopathically without personal responsibility behind a wall of mechanical bureaucratic procedures and ‘zero tolerance’ rules (a situation often labeled ‘the rule of law’, but positivistically excluding the particular judgment which justice requires).
Modern people are always looking for ways to substitute rules and procedures for the authority of flesh and blood men. Folks who deny the reality of authority prefer to be an insignificant mechanical component in a vast impersonal rule-executing machine rather than a subject expected to doff his cap to the king. This necessarily results in unjust and sociopathic exercise of authority.
In this post I will argue that substituting rules and procedures for human judgment and authority is necessarily unjust for what is called the “exclusionary rule” in American jurisprudence.
The “exclusionary rule” requires criminal courts in the US to always suppress evidence of a crime when improper procedures were followed in the collection of that evidence. (Pay special attention to the use of always and some/sometimes in this argument).
This rule necessarily results in some cases resolving to an unjust result; in particular in those cases where good judgment should take procedurally tainted evidence into account. This injustice obtains against both the victims of crime and the common good of the community.
A rule which guarantees some unjust results is an intrinsically unjust rule. Note that it isn’t necessary for the rule to always produce an unjust result for this to be the case: it is only necessary for the rule to sometimes produce an unjust result, because the rule is supposed to apply always.
Therefore the exclusionary rule is intrinsically unjust.
May 18, 2017 § 32 Comments
Jeremy Bentham famously invented the idea of the panopticon, initially as a way to manage prisoners in a maximally efficient way. The architecture of the panopticon enabled a single guard to monitor a large number of prisoners simultaneously.
Being a modernist, Bentham started seeing the benefits of universal surveillance in all sorts of other areas of life. (He was also in favor of animal rights, a right to sodomy, etc — in the 1700’s, mind you). After all, as long as you aren’t doing something that offends the gods why should you care that you are constantly being watched? This is obviously an efficient way to design a civil society with minimal violence; a society which does not require a lot of messy exercise of easily-abused authority, authority which in any case just falls to certain people by accident of birth. Nothing about universal surveillance in itself interferes with a person’s freedom.
Bentham’s vision has taken a long time to materialize because (as it turns out) most people don’t really like living under the constant surveillance of prison guards; guards who just might view them as less than fully human, possibly tomorrow if not in the Current Year.
But Mark Zuckerberg found a way to convince a billion people to voluntarily enter the panopticon. He baited the trap with an irresistible siren: a perpetual High School reunion, pictures of grandkids, and cat videos.
May 17, 2017 § 21 Comments
There exist in our world what we might call ‘social beings’: institutions or communities which are composed of individual human beings but which are not reducible to nothing but the aggregation of individual human beings. Social beings transcend individuals in the sense that they are not reducible to individuals. I don’t have an overarching theory of these transcendent social beings, but I know that Italy is not reducible to the collection of all individual Italians, Catholicism is not reducible to the collection of all individual Catholics, etc.
We can refer to the good of these social beings as the common good.
Liberalism is (as a specifically political doctrine), at least in its more advanced forms, an attempt to reduce this transcendent social organ (authority) to nothing but the collected free and equal wills of the individuals who make up a polity. Opposing itself to natural authority as inherently tyrannical, liberalism insists that all authority must be mediated through the triumph of the human will. Authority as a real organ which transcends the consent of the governed is denied.
Liberalism is an attempt to build, if you will, a completely brainless and mechanical society in the name of emancipation from the privileges of natural authority: it is the self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad.
May 13, 2017 § 120 Comments
In the case of usury this failure to perceive the difference between real things and mere ideas shows up in how contracts for profit are secured: as St. Francis Xavier put it, “in the whole matter of security for contracts”. A non-usurious contract for profit is secured by property which actually exists, and only that specifed property. A usurious contract for profit is secured by (sometimes in addition to some actual property) the mere idea of property: by a personal IOU.
A pledge to give an investor a cow next year is not — the pledge is not — an actual cow. It is not usurious to pledge to give an investor a cow next year as part of a contract for profit; but only so long as that pledge is secured by some property which actually does exist, which fully discharges the obligation. The pledge is not to hand over a cow next year simpliciter, but to hand over either the actually existent security or a cow, thereby fully discharging the borrower’s obligation. A well structured contract will incentivise but not guarantee the latter.
The term ‘right’ is (like many terms) multivocal, kind of like the term ‘cow’. A right which actually has teeth is a particular right: a specific exercise of discriminating authority which trumps all other claims in a particular instance, treating one specific claim as superior to all other claims. Bob is the owner and Fred is the trespasser, so Fred must depart Bob’s property or be dragged off to jail.
Other uses of the term ‘right’ include talking about abstract categories of rights as opposed to actual rights. Again, kind of like cows. The idea that everyone has an equal right to (e.g) property is like (indeed is a superset of) the idea that everyone has an equal right to cows.
If this right is actual as opposed to abstract then it pertains to a particular cow or cows; and no particular cow is equal to any other particular cow. If Fred slaughters and eats Bob’s beef, he goes to jail.
Furthermore, many people don’t have a cow (other than metaphorically, when all of this is pointed out). The mere idea of beef is not a meal equivalent to actual beef.
There is nothing more authoritative and discriminatory than an actual right; nothing more empty and unreal than an abstract right with no instantiation. Owning a hypothetical cow is categorically distinct from owning an actual cow. Reality is categorically distinct from fiction.
It is sometimes suggested that my understanding of liberalism is flawed because it relies on a concept of rights which is “absolute”. But what critics see as “absolute” in my criticism of liberalism is simply recognition that the difference between reality and fiction is a categorical distinction, not a matter of gradiation. The difference between the idea of a cow and an actual cow is not a matter of moving along some continuum of compromise with a possible happy medium. Being and non-being are absolutely distinct.
The liberal war on authoritative particularity arises from its commitment to political liberty framed in terms of rights: arises from the fact that nothing discriminates (contra equality) and constrains (contra liberty) like actual, real, existent particular things. And conservative liberalism, as the more sane and commonsensical sphere of liberal societies, makes the mistake of believing that a happy medium is possible between reality and the void.
May 1, 2017 § 33 Comments
My post The Products of Inception deliberately evokes the modern morally sanitizing euphemism “products of conception,” which refers to the post mortem object of the abortionist’s ministrations: the dismembered remains of her human victim.
There can be all sorts of personal motivations, as with murder more generally speaking, when it comes to murdering (or contracting the murder of) one’s own child. Liberalism (in its feminist aspect) isn’t always and necessarily what motivates individual choices to abort. Sometimes it likely isn’t a significant factor at all.
Liberalism considered purely in itself, as an abstracted idea to which nobody is committed even as a kind of default, doesn’t cause mass murder. What causes mass murder is the crushing impact of the liberal commitments of governing regimes , ruling classes, and whole populations as these social forces come crashing into reality.
Folks who like to think in terms of academic ideas isolated from reality, clinically examined in the laboratory of the mind, sometimes object that – despite express commitment to freedom and equality of rights among the herrenvolk – nazis and other moderns don’t really fit the “liberal” label.
I’m OK with that. No, really. Debate over whether mass-murdering modernist regimes are all forms of “liberalism” strictly speaking, as opposed to the perfectly understandable (and inevitable) results of liberalism crashing into reality, itself represents a radical pullback from the real world and into an abstract mind laboratory.
So feel free to insist that nazism and communism are not forms of liberalism, strictly speaking. From my point of view this is just counting nazis dancing on the head of a pin.