Another blow in the First Things / Front Porch Republic debate

Finally, here’s the reply to Joe Carter that I’ve been waiting for.  Excerpt:

Mr. Carter seems to contrast a democratic regime with a regime of coercion, such as when he writes in the comments: “There is not a hint that he (i.e., Mr. Salyer) prefers democratic means to advance his agenda. If he did he would not need to favor coercion to reach the goals he wants to achieve.” But of course, democracies do not differ from other regimes in the degree of coercion they might exercise; they only differ from other regimes in the mechanisms they employ to determine how and when that coercion is exercised. The extent of that coercion may be quite as broad and inhuman as any power wielded by a monarch…Why exactly should we believe that rule by fifty-one percent of such a population will result in the most just and peaceable regime?

Yet, rule they must. In any complex society, the opinion and principles of some portion of the public must be expressed in the laws, to the displeasure of some other portion of the public. Here is where I think Mr. Carter shows himself the most deceived. He writes, again in the comments, “So if someone has the right ‘vision for a proper life’ it’s okay for them to coerce other people into accepting that vision? And how is that not fascism?” It’s not fascism because it’s a description of every single political order that ever was, or ever will be. It’s certainly a description of our own democracy, where a “vision of a proper life” which includes a lack of etiquette, an all-pervasive trash culture, a deceitful public language known as “political correctness,” and the demolition of enormous swathes of our natural landscape for the erection of strip malls and tract housing are imposed on the rest of us which regard these things as horrifying. The reason Mr. Carter doesn’t consider these things to be forms of coercion is because they go forward with the consent of the majority of Americans, and he, like most Americans, is accustomed to thinking of coercion exercised by a majority of citizens as no coercion at all. For this reason, he is able to believe in that most fantastic of liberal chimeras — the neutral state, the state uncommitted to any discrete philosophical positions. James Fitzjames Stephen, the Victorian jurist and polemical foe of J.S. Mill, took especial aim at this fallacious notion in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity:

They found, as everyone who has to do with legislation must find, that laws must be based upon principles, and that it is impossible to lay down any principles of legislation at all unless you are prepared to say, I am right, and you are wrong, and your view shall give way to mine, quietly, gradually, and peaceably; but one of us two must rule and the other must obey, and I mean to rule.

In America, it is the majority that means to rule, and to their views the views of everyone else give way. It is not the case that in America, no one has a “vision of a proper life” imposed on them. It is simply the case that in America, a majority of the people generally gets to choose what that vision looks like. And the rest of us are coerced into accepting it.


13 Responses

  1. The contradiction at the heart of liberalism lies in its simultaneous assertion of popular sovereignty and universal human rights. In the brief interlude between the absolutist state of the Ancien Régime and modern mass democracies, this was achieved by the separation of the public sphere of state activity and the private sphere of civil society. The state provided a legally codified order within which social customs, economic competition, religious beliefs, and so on, could be pursued without interference.

    But, when the social consensus on which the distinction rested breaks down, as, in an age of mass political parties, it is certain to do, liberalism has no way of defining or defending the boundaries of this sphere; everything becomes potentially political.

    Rousseau saw this very well. “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important,” for “ if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”

    Now, the Throne & Altar Conservative has his judge; for him, the ruler of a Christian people must be a faithful son of the Church. It is not without interest that some Liberals are now seeking a secular equivalent in the international community and its organs, with the Security Council and the International Criminal Court replacing the Chair of Peter.

  2. The majority rules in the United States? Who knew?

    “Democracy” is an equivocation. On the one hand, in the dictionary, it means rule by the people or rule by the majority. On the other hand, in the world, it means the set of political institutions in use by the countries we call democracies. Democracies in the second sense are countries ruled by a stable elite which stable elite is created and maintained by the institutions we call democratic. But the elite does not share the majority’s opinions on many things. And, in case of such conflicts, the elite usually gets what it wants. It is actually worse than this, however. When democratic institutions produce elites not to the liking of our elites, they magically lose the democracy imprimatur (Palestinian Authority, Russia, soon Iraq and Egypt).

    To state the obvious . . . The equivocation is objectionable because it is dishonest. The rule by an elite is not objectionable at all. The rule by the particular elite created by democratic institutions is objectionable.

  3. This is all correct, but the fact remains that the Christians have no compelling reasons to offer non-Christians why they should accept a Christian regime and not bitterly oppose Christians who wish to impose one.

    All transcendental bullshit aside, politics has always been decided by force, either through soft or hard methods. It is about imposing one’s will on others. Whether one has the “better argument” or not is irrelevant. What is needed to overthrow liberal democracy is a force with enough willpower and savvy to accomplish the act. All talk about “god” and other fictional characters is, at best, a means to an end.

  4. Rousseau puts it rather well in the Social Contract:-

    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it…

    Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be represented; it lies essentially in the general will, and will does not admit of representation: it is either the same, or other; there is no intermediate possibility. The deputies of the people, therefore, are not and cannot be its representatives: they are merely its stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts. Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows, indeed, that it deserves to lose them.” (III:15)

  5. Yes, that is very apt.

  6. This is all correct, but the fact remains that the Christians have no compelling reasons to offer non-Christians why they should accept a Christian regime and not bitterly oppose Christians who wish to impose one.

    This seems quite wrong to me. You don’t have to be Christian to prefer Bach to Beyonce, the Sistine Chapel to the Superdome, Charlemagne to Clinton. You merely have to have some minimal appreciation of goodness, of things directed to their right ends. Even I, back in my secular atheist days, could see this much. We don’t have much to offer the moral retards and hideous untermenschen our present society specializes in producing. That is, we don’t have much to offer them subjectively from their presently defective point of view. But, so what? Are their views important?

    All transcendental bullshit aside, politics has always been decided by force, either through soft or hard methods.

    This isn’t false, but it is useless. It’s true that a government secures obedience by threats of violence. But, it’s just as true that its threats of violence are only credible if it has secured obedience. A seemingly powerful government can fall in a flash if everybody decides all at once that they are not going to obey any more. If you are interested in revolution, you are interested in what makes them all decide at once to stop obeying, and this has dick-all to do with force because, once they have decided, there is no force to be afraid of any more.

  7. “You don’t have to be Christian to prefer Bach to Beyonce, the Sistine Chapel to the Superdome, Charlemagne to Clinton.”

    So Christianity was the only religion to inspire great art? How do you explain ancient Greece and Rome and China and India then? Where did I say I approved of the status quo? And how is this a compelling reason for non-Christians to accept the Christ Cult?

    “A seemingly powerful government can fall in a flash if everybody decides all at once that they are not going to obey any more.”

    But they don’t seem willing to do so in the name of Jebus and his nonsense teachings. And good for them.

  8. That’s a silly reply. One compelling reason to accept a Christian regime is just the one I gave. Christian regimes have produced great things, while their successors have been a big pile of crap. The claim that some other, remote in time and/or space, culture also did some stuff is just a non sequitur.

  9. And what evidence is there that Christianity would produce great stuff again if only all those pesky skeptics could just be removed or silenced? How delusional do you have to be to believe that the Middle Ages, which were nowhere near as stable or as spiritual as Christ Cultists think, can be recreated? Ever consider that maybe your shitty religion is moribund because of failures intrinsic not only to its institutions, but also to the nonsense found in its scriptures?

  10. Christians interested in establishing a theocracy over non-believers are to be found in only a handful of small sects, quite unrepresentative of the Christian tradition.

    Two views tend to characterize the mainstream (1) “Augustinians,” for whom the temporal order is important only as a locus for the evangelization of souls. Social order and stability and, consequently, the facility assured to individuals to accomplish their essential duties as human beings and as members of society is all that they require of the state and they tend to preach passive obedience to any régime, of any stripe, that secures it. (2) “Integralists” who wish to bring the social order into harmony with the gospel, by inspiring individuals to transform society from within. For them, efforts to establish justice are closely connected with God’s saving grace. They tend to be more tolerant of civil disobedience than the Augustinians.

    Both are Anti-Liberal, in rejecting the privatisation of Christian faith. On the other hand, they attached different meanings to their differing conceptions of what ought to be done in the socio-political order. Neither attaches any value, religious or moral, to coerced external conformity.

  11. No, I’ve never thought that, even before it became my religion. The intellectual progress of humanity/Europe looks like a very brief spurt in Ancient Greece, then nothing much, then steady and accelerating progress in Medieval Europe, a serious stumble at the Renaissance, then more steady and accelerating progress, then collapse beginning when European civilization became non-Christian. Inertia meant that some stuff was still happening early in the 20th C, but stasis and backsliding has now prevailed for about a century.

    The spurt in Ancient Greece was mostly explicitly religious and religious in a way with prefigured Christianity. Pythagorous and his school, for example, look remarkably like an abbot and his monks. The Renaissance was an explicit turning away from God and towards man, with similar toxic results to what we see in our current turning.

    And it’s not just post hoc ergo propter hoc. Christians, and especially Catholics, have a reason to do philosophy, science, art, etc. People who believe the universe is a meaningless bunch of subatomic particles bumping into each other don’t. What Beyonce does is easy and highly renumerative. What Bach did was neither. Why bother? We know why Bach bothered.

    Skeptics are not threatening at all and don’t need to be silenced. The role of Advocatus Diaboli was respected in the Medieval university and was, for example, until very recently, an important part of the Church’s procedure for canonizing saints. What needs to be done is to remove intellectual sewage from public view. People like Dawkins, Hitchens and the like need to be silenced. The idea that the current age is characterized by lots of skepticism about religion is mindbogglingly delusional. What we have are an army of dolts endlessly repeating long-ago refuted slogans and then doing endzone dances.

  12. Neither attaches any value, religious or moral, to coerced external conformity.

    I think this depends a lot on what you mean, exactly, by coerced external conformity. Is outlawing things like “Piss Christ” coerced external conformity? Is refusing to recognize, in civil law, marriages performed outside the Church coerced external conformity?

    When Protestants were busy cleansing England of Catholicism, they sure looked to be coercing external conformity. What was coerced external conformity in generation 1 became belief in generation 2 or 3. So, perhaps coerced external conformity is not valuable in the same way that hammers are not valuable (i.e. not valuable per se). However, saved souls and houses are valuable . . .

  13. In most European countries, insulting or abusive words or behaviour directed at religious groups is covered by the hate-speech provisions of Equality legislation, which is what I mean by public order.

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