An irony of free market apologetics

The author of the blog Opus Publicum notices

Let us not forget the irony embedded in free-market apologetics against third-way proposals like Distributism. Such folks often — perhaps invariably — decry the existence of “crony capitalism,” i.e. the marriage of state and commercial interests, and yet repeatedly point to the capitalist system as it exists today as a “proof” for their claims that “unfettered markets” work better than alternative schemas. However, if these free markets have never existed, how can the “unfree market” assist economic liberals in illustrating their points? What the liberals often want their audiences to believe is that if a semi-free market is able to deliver X results, then an even freeer market will deliver X + 1 (or better) results. That doesn’t follow, at least not until one is able to demonstrate that apparent lack of freedom in the market was retarding gains rather than serving as a necessary (though not sufficient) cause of those gains.

A word in favor of ideology

Mark Lilla writing about the end of ideology at the New Republic:

this is a libertarian age. That is not because democracy is on the march (it is regressing in many places), or because the bounty of the free market has reached everyone (we have a new class of paupers), or because we are now all free to do as we wish (since wishes inevitably conflict). No, ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs or feelings muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. There were no public debates on this and no votes were taken. Since the cold war ended we have simply found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not. The only freedom we are losing is the freedom to choose our freedoms…


et our libertarianism is not an ideology in the old sense. It is a dogma. The distinction between ideology and dogma is worth bearing in mind. Ideology tries to master the historical forces shaping society by first understanding them. The grand ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did just that, and much too well; since they were intellectually “totalizing,” they countenanced political totalitarianism. Our libertarianism operates differently: it is supremely dogmatic, and like every dogma it sanctions ignorance about the world, and therefore blinds adherents to its effects in that world. It begins with basic liberal principlesthe sanctity of the individual, the priority of freedom, distrust of public authority, toleranceand advances no further. It has no taste for reality, no curiosity about how we got here or where we are going. There is no libertarian sociology (an oxymoron) or psychology or philosophy of history. Nor, strictly speaking, is there a libertarian political theory, since it has no interest in institutions and has nothing to say about the necessary, and productive, tension between individual and collective purposes. It is not liberal in a sense that Montesquieu, the American Framers, Tocqueville, or Mill would have recognized. They would have seen it as a creed little different from Luther’s sola fide: give individuals maximum freedom in every aspect of their lives and all will be well. And if not, then pereat mundus


Libertarianism’s dogmatic simplicity explains why people who otherwise share little can subscribe to it: small-government fundamentalists on the American right, anarchists on the European and Latin American left, democratization prophets, civil liberties absolutists, human rights crusaders, neoliberal growth evangelists, rogue hackers, gun fanatics, porn manufacturers, and Chicago School economists the world over. The dogma that unites them is implicit and does not require explication; it is a mentality, a mood, a presumptionwhat used to be called, non-pejoratively, a prejudice.

This brings to mind a couple of observations.  A few years ago, I read a nice one-volume history of Japan.  It was exactly what I would have said I was looking for in a history book:  one without ideological blinders, without villains that the writer makes no effort to understand, without a grand narrative of progress or fall imposed on the facts.  I finished the book, but I can’t remember a single specific thing that happened in it.  I was left with the impression that Japanese history is a sequence of changes that were good in some ways and bad in others, which is probably true, but without big ideas to latch onto, history just seems like noise.

Second, I’ve found that some groups of Leftists clearly produce more interesting writings than others.  Every feminist essay I’ve ever read has been intellectually worthless:  illogical, question-begging, philistine, hysterical crap.  On the other hand, Marxists regularly impress me with their observations.  I now see the reason is that Marxism is a real ideology, and Marxist historians and sociologists genuinely try to put together a coherent picture of the world rather than just vent.  So, for example, a Marxist will not just throw every contradictory insult in the book at capitalists; he will say precisely what he thinks is wrong with capitalists, and if another Leftist says the problem with capitalism is something else that doesn’t fit the theory, the Marxist will correct him.  As a Catholic, I would say that Marxists share with us the dogmatic spirit.  (We use the word “dogmatic” in a way opposite to Lilla’s.)  It also makes the commies a slightly more likable bunch that “history” has now passed them by like it did to us, so we share an alienation from the direction of history, a willingness to critique what passes for progress in a radical way.

Cross-post: one God, many peoples II

Since apparently there are some people who are willing to read this site but not the Orthosphere (and here I thought this was the site for the really offensive stuff), I bring you part II.

Malise Ruthven, in discussing why capitalism arose under Christianity rather than Islam, identifies a core difference between Christian and Muslim societies.  (See here for a more extended quote.)

The key to the seemingly anarchic or ‘irrational’ growth of the Muslim city may lie in a singular fact of the Shari’a law:  the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’.  In Europe, the public right is an abstraction which can be upheld by defending it in law as a ‘legal person’.  Litigation between the public and private interest can therefore–for civil purposes–take the form of an adjudication between two parties…The absence of juridicial personality in the Muslim law may not have been an oversight:  it is certainly consistent with the uncompromising individualism of the Shari’a.  Many aspects of Roman-Byzantine law and administration were taken over by the Arabs…This absence of a juridicial definition of the public sphere had far-reaching consequences.  Islamic law did not recognize cities as such, nor did it admit corporate bodies…

To add a few links to this argument I suggest that in the West the Church, the ‘mystical body’ of Christ which alone guaranteed salvation, became the archetype in law of a whole raft of secular corporations that succeeded it during the early modern period.  The mystic qualities of fictional personhood originating in the Body of Christ were eventually devolved to joint stock companies and public corporations with tradable shares.


– from “Islam in the World”

Organic metaphors for societies are common in ancient and modern political thought, but the mystical body of Christ is not only a mystical organism; it is a mystical person.  To be a person means to transcend oneself, to recognize an “outside” reality and its other beings.  The defining act of the Christian Church is an act of recognition of God the Father, the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ sacramentally appropriated through the Eucharist.  Christian theology insists that men are not redeemed by our own private sacrifices to God, which would be unworthy of Him even if our slavery to selfishness didn’t prevent us from truly offering ourselves.  Mankind is redeemed by a single perfect sacrifice, identical in its meaning to the Son’s eternal self-offering to the Father but, through the Incarnation, a symbolic event in the public, human world, and thus suited for symbolic appropriation by other men, enabling them to relate to God in a literally supernatural way.  (For more on this, see here and here.)  Everything hinges on there being numerically one sacrifice.  Christians thus “speak” to God with a single voice, that of Jesus Christ because He entirely composes the message, but a corporate Christ in that He has allowed us to participate in it.  Judaism, of course, also had a unitary sacrifice until the destruction of the Temple, after which the religion was fundamentally altered.  Muslims offer animal sacrifices to God on Eid Ul Adha but as families or groups of families rather than as a corporate people, in accord with the individualism of their faith.

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Cross-post: One God, many peoples I: JudeoIslamic universalism

This is the first of a 4-part series.  Please comment at the Orthosphere.

The reactionary blogosphere is largely a debate between Christians and secular or pagan antiliberals.  Thus, we argue a lot about whether Christianity is to blame for unleashing anti-cultural universalism and egalitarianism on the world.  The related but deeper question is what spiritual forces, whether or not they are distinctly Christian, have driven these movements. I’d like to start this little investigation by inviting a couple of interesting outsiders to have their say, reserving my own arguments for later.

First, here’s historian David Levering Lewis lamenting the victory of Charles Martel at Tours:

Had [Muslim general] ‘Abd al-Rahman’s men prevailed that October day, the post-Roman Occident would probably have been incorporated into a cosmopolitan, Muslim regnum unobstructed by borders … one devoid of a priestly caste, animated by the dogma of equality of the faithful, and respectful of all religious faiths … [T]he victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.

How about that?  Islam=equality, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance.  Christianity=particularism and hierarchy.  That’s the common wisdom among historians.  Not all monotheisms are the same, and if group loyalty is what you care about, you’re much better off with Christianity.  For their part, Muslims seem to be proud that their faith and its law teach individualism and equality, that it dissolves national and ethnic boundaries.

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Throne and Altar: 2009-2014 stats

Average views per day

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Overall
2009 8 6 2 3 5 5 4 8 5
2010 19 86 46 44 36 65 174 127 99 185 180 207 106
2011 218 332 406 372 398 405 580 548 623 549 718 887 504
2012 866 1,028 403 338 279 219 189 200 212 209 263 204 365
2013 170 192 179 198 171 170 159 140 248 407 355 426 235
2014 403 437 465 405 427 362 463 493 427



My persistence during the year of 2009 was admirable.  In retrospect, I don’t know how I was so motivated to spend so much time writing stuff that no one was reading.

It looks like I really chose the wrong time to retire this blog.  My audience was growing rapidly in late 2011 and early 2012, and I’ve never managed to get most of them back.  I wonder what I was doing right at that time.

Overall, readers of this blog may pride themselves on being an elite, at least in the sense of being a small group.


Top posts

Home More stats 116,866
Home page / Archives More stats 75,160
In Defense of the Patriarchal Family More stats 15,036
The Conservative Vision of Authority More stats 9,693
About More stats 7,338
A pill to kill male sex drive More stats 6,578
In Defense of Monarchy More stats 5,943
The Meaning of Conservatism More stats 4,811
In Defense of Censorship More stats 4,329
The positive side of bullying More stats 3,288
The Legend of the Wandering Jew More stats 2,970
The Cristero Rebellion More stats 2,626
Neofeudalism: a manifesto More stats  2,623



One lesson is that prominence on the top of the web page does matter.  It seems that the essays are ultimately more influential (or at least more read) than the shot blog posts.  I’m glad to see this, because it’s my essays that I really put the most work into and take the most pride in.  Whenever I’m working on one, I have the feeling that I’m killing my readership as I watch the number of daily hits decline, but I’m carried on by an inner compulsion.  Whenever I’m writing an essay, I’m convinced that it’s exactly what the world needs to hear, even if no one will ever actually listen.  In the long run, though, the essays get a constant trickle of readers, and it adds up (not much, but more than other stuff I write).

Some of you may be surprised to see “A pill to kill male sex drive” up there, but I wasn’t.  Every day, that post gets a few readers from people doing internet searches on the subject.  Apparently, there is a real desire for such a thing.  I’m sure people who come to my blog are disappointed to find that I’m not selling anything but just raising the subject as a thought experiment.  “The positive side of bullying” got a lot of hits because it was linked on View from the Right.


Top referrers (all time)

Referrer Views
Search Engines 65,095 9,838 9,582
Google Reader 3,217
Facebook 2,850 1,942 1,425
Reddit 1,360 1,359 1,093 1,065 1,024


Top referrers (past month)

Referrer Views
Search Engines 1,774 555 366
Twitter 121 101 91


Thanks, guys!

Cross-post: the lonely struggle of the conformist

Please comment here.

So now we hear that

Pope Francis’ courage is causing disquiet among those with “a very conformist and closed Catholicism” the Archbishop of Dublin has warned.

In a speech given in Melbourne, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to a young curate who recently told his parish priest he was not at all happy with some things the Pope had said.

The young priest felt they “were not in line with what he had learned in the seminary” and he suggested that they were “making the faithful insecure and even encouraging those who do not hold the orthodox Catholic beliefs to challenge traditional teaching.”

The archbishop warned conservative and progressive Catholics against becoming “closed in” within our own ideas. He also acknowledged that Irish Catholicism had a strong tradition of strict teaching.

Responding to the comments, Fr Seamus Ahearne of the Association of Catholic Priests said the Archbishop’s words were “apt” and that the Church in Ireland needs to hear more comments like this.

He said the archbishop’s concern about the “young curate” was a familiar one as many were concerned that the few young priests there are in the Irish Church appear to embrace a very traditionalist view of Church.

They are “so locked into a past model of priesthood” he commented and said this manifested itself in “the way that they dress up, the way they celebrate Mass, and in their views.”

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On the Middle East

As I’ve said before, I prefer for the two rival monotheisms to be at each others’ throats rather than united against Christianity.

Islam and Judaism are closer to each other than either is to Christianity, so it’s silly to think that we have to pick one or the other to favor.  I often hear from fellow conservatives that the Muslim God isn’t really God because Muslims reject the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.  This is never said about the Jewish God.

I know this is kind of perverse, but don’t you kind of feel jealous of Islam that so many young men are ready to kill and die on its behalf?  I can’t imagine what it must be like for masses of young people to be inspired enough by Christianity to make any sacrifice at all for it.  We imagine that we’re doing pretty well if we can keep our children from defecting to the Left.  How the heck do those Mohommedans, with their false revelation, do it?

I appreciate a good neocon-bashing round as much as the next man, but at some point doesn’t what happens in Iraq become the responsibility of the Iraqis?  When do we get to that point?  To me, the instant association of “misfortune in Iraq” with “Bush” is starting to smack of American parochialism.

How to explain America’s overwhelming partiality toward Israel?  The Palestinian leadership is a nasty piece of work, but no worse than many “freedom fighters” we’ve supported in the recent past.  If Israel were the weaker party, I could understand supporting it as a move to weaken and destabilize the Muslim world, but Israel is certainly not weak.  Why not wash our hands of the whole damn mess?  Some blame Christian fundamentalists and their kooky End Times theology, but this is a group that is obviously powerless to affect policy on any other issue, so I doubt they would be all-powerful on this one.  Others say that the Jews are bribing or blackmailing the US government to do Israel’s bidding.  This explanation at least names a genuinely powerful interest group, but my impression is that American Jews are not as uncritically Zionist as many other groups.  To me, it is clear that American Zionism is a side-effect of Americans’ strong conditioning to regard any criticism of Jews as unacceptable.  It’s been drilled into all of our heads that only a bigot would say bad things about Jews or the way they use their influence.  (One may, of course, criticize individuals who “happen to be Jewish”, but not recognizably Jewish communities as such.)  Certainly, groups of Jews were heavily involved in setting up this conditioning process.  However, like all ideological weapons, it is no longer under the control of its creators.  If the American public comes to regard something as Jewish, then even the protest of all American Jewry will not keep it from enjoying immunity from criticism.

Marriage rights in Christendom: one data point

In 1201 he [Pope Innocent III] decreed that such was the need of the Holy Land that a man could take the Cross without his wife’s assent.  This ran counter to the traditional principle of canon law on the binding and enduring consequences of the marriage contract:  no one could unilaterally refuse his partner marital rights without that partner’s permission.  Even Urban II had been careful to state that no young married man was to join the First Crusade without his wife’s consent.  Innocent had made an elementary mistake and later canon lawyers were careful to limit the exception to the sole case of the interests of the Holy Land.

From “What Were the Crusades?” by Jonathan Riley-Smith

“Darwinism of the gaps”

Lydia writes

I suppose one might add, to try to wring as much as possible out of the remaining data, that we do not know why humans go through a transient phase in utero in which their spinal chords are extra-long and then regress. But talk about “Darwinism of the gaps”! “We don’t know why this happens, so maybe it has something or other to do with evolutionary history!”

This is a marvelous phrase, although I would have rather called it “evolutionism of the gaps”, because when one says “Darwinism”, people often think “natural selection”, which in this case is not the offending idea.  We should always be wary of explanations that amount to telling one not to look for explanations.  They’re not always wrong–there really is no deep reason that, for instance, the Earth spins at exactly the rate it does.  Still, an excuse not to understand is a dangerous thing.

I once read an anthropology textbook, written in the 70s, that basically claimed that Evolutionism of the Gaps once ruled anthropology.  Among any primitive people, there would be customs and beliefs that anthropologists couldn’t see the reason or function in, and so these were interpreted as holdovers from some earlier stage of that tribe’s evolution.  Then Bronislaw Malinowski revolutionized the field when, stranded by World War I, he took a much closer look at the day-to-day function of tribal practices and found that many of these supposedly useless customs actually served individuals and the community well in subtle ways.  Malinowski became skeptical of many efforts to rationalize primitive peoples’ ways of life, given the unavoidable unintended consequences.  (From that 70’s textbook I was reading, I caught a hint of annoyance among the rising generation with their great man’s conservatism.  They were so eager to help the new post-colonial communist despots of Africa build socialism.)  Everybody says that the main result of Malinowski’s work was to overthrow the horrible racism of the evolutionary school, but to me it all sounds very much like the insights of a certain 18th century Whig whose writings are often discussed on this blog.  That’s not how it’s advertised, so I probably just don’t know what I’m talking about.

As Lydia tells it, something similar is happening in biology.  Not, of course, that scientists are doubting the fact of evolution, but that they’re finding that what once seemed to have no current function often just has subtle functions.

The cautionary tale here is not hard to find: When an evolutionary theorist, even a theistic evolutionist, tells you as an assured fact that some human structure is caused as an atavism by a leftover and normally switched-off gene from our evolutionary past, don’t be in too much of a hurry to believe him. In this case, it turns out that Giberson’s characterization is wrong even by comparison with what his fellow evolutionists are saying. As for his rush to infer “bad design,” what is one to say? When the gene in question is, in fact, working just fine, thanks very much, in human neural tube development, the characterization of its existence as “bad design” cannot stand up for a moment. But of course that characterization is of a piece with the inaccurate claim that the gene is normally “switched off” and “ignored.”

I am not claiming that there are no segments of the human genome that do not have presently known functions. These are the segments that scientists have recklessly been calling “junk DNA” for quite a while, though a variety of recent developments may be teaching them a little more humility and caution. I’m not even claiming to know for sure that there is no actual, non-functioning junk in the human genome, were all known. In this case, however, the gene in question is not even alleged by mainstream science to be non-functional.