Some links

Is First Things going particularist?  One gets that impression from R. Reno’s surprisingly sympathetic review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, where what’s surprising is how Reno casts Coates in a sympathetic light by drawing an analogy between him and Southern Agrarians like Alan Tate.  In both cases, the memory of a historical grievance is used to shore up a group’s threatened sense of identity.  I’d still say that Tate is by far the more likable of the two, because Southern identity was not just a sense of grievance against the North.

What role does “freedom” play in understanding the proper role of government?  One may reject libertinism and individualism while still saying that good government promotes a people’s “true liberty”, where “liberty” “rightly understood” means virtue, ability to flourish, ability to participate in subsidiary societies, or some other such thing.  The question is whether “liberty rightly understood” is doing any work–why not speak directly of virtue or whatever?  This question is explored in a comment box debate at ArkansasReactionary’s blog, following his clever post How not to be a right-liberal.

Similar issues are raised by Lydia’s Scotland keeps cracking down.  Is the idea of having the government appoint a spy to check on how you’re raising your children wrong because it violates freedom or because it undermines the authority of parents?  That is partly a matter of words.  What struck me is how little of our real passion on these questions is driven by formal questions of who is authorized to do what as opposed to content questions of what is to be done.  Let’s be honest:  the real reason this is so horrifying is that the Scottish government wants to use its spy network to make sure every child in the country is brought up to revere sodomy.  (Read the excerpt.  They’re quite explicit about this.)

Thinkers in Iran and Russia are advancing critiques of Western liberal universalism drawing insight from Martin Heidegger.  I was impressed that the author, Alexander Duff, seems to try hard to characterize nonliberal views fairly.  I may try to get his book Heidegger and Politics: The Ontology of Radical of Discontent.  I doubt I’m smart enough to read Heidegger directly and get anything out of it.

Father Waldstein has an important work on Integralist theory up at The Josias:  Integralism and Gelasian Dyarchy.  Integralist positions on the authority of church and state are contrasted with “Augustinian Radicalism” and “Whig Thomism”.  Readers familiar with intra-Catholic disputes will not be surprised that it comes down to different ideas of how nature and grace relate.

32 Responses

  1. […] By Bonald […]

  2. Lydia is basically making the same argument that all right-liberals do. She points to a few bad authorities, and declares that they are proof that all authority is bad and should not be trusted. Suffice to say, that this argument is patently nonsensical, not least because it’s the exact same argument that the busybodies in the Scottish government make against parental authority.

  3. Also, making “freedom” a political principle is incoherent, because politics just is the practice of restricting freedom in favor of a vision of the common good. It’s true that “unjustly restricting freedom” is bad, but unjustly doing anything is bad, the key concept there is injustice, not freedom.

  4. Good points. Reading your argument with Hapsburg Restorationist impressed on me the fact that “freedom” at its best just doesn’t do any work in a political argument. It can, however, do mischief.

  5. Coates doesn’t really believe that Black Americans exist as a real people. The difference between blacks and whites is a just racist conspiracy to keep the one group arbitrarily designated as black down. Hence, all of Coates’ “people who believe they are white” and “black bodies” nonsense. I’ve noticed that quite a few black intellectuals will jump on wacky postmodern thinking and deny the existence of their own people simply to spite whites. Of course, they then use the argument that, since this identity exists, we might as well harness its power for progressive ends. I believe the term is “strategic essentialism.”

  6. What do you that no of this argument.

    To the extent that natural rights are a real thing, they are a corollary of our natural duties based on the kind of creatures that we are. From our nature is is clear that we are called to be virtuous. True virtue requires freely choosing virtuous actions. This is why God gave us free will. Authorities thus, to fully allow for human flourishing, must allow for the possibility of vice while promoting virtue. In other words they must to some degree support “freedom of choice”, even if their purpose is not to maximize personal freedom per se.

  7. Good heavens, I hate autocorrect. Can you make out the argument among the typos?

  8. Josh,

    I tried to correct typos, but please check that I retained your original meaning.

    Would you regard diffuse social sanctions, like social disapproval of vicious behavior, as something that also must be held in check, so that people have the opportunity to commit sins without consequence, and thus choose not to in a more meritorious way?

  9. One may reject libertinism and individualism while still saying that good government promotes a people’s “true liberty”, where “liberty” “rightly understood” means virtue, ability to flourish, ability to participate in subsidiary societies, or some other such thing.

    Well, if someone performs this weaponised redefinition of ‘liberty’ I can only conclude that they’re quite desperate. Such an approach conflates the means with the ends: ‘good’ liberties (keeping in mind that whether many liberties fall into this category is situational) is a type of means, one means amongst other types of means towards the true end of politics, which is a virtuous society. And anyone who thinks that some form of liberty is a proper End is still a liberal at heart.

  10. Well, all I really wanted to do is to come up with an argument where “freedom” actually does some work.

    It would seem that temptation increases the virtue of an act. At least that is a reasonable guess as to why the gospels include the story of Christ’s temptation. As to what this would mean in practice, that would be a matter of prudential judgment for those in authority. In reality, it is impossible to remove the ability to sin in thoughts,words, things done and not done. When I think of my role as a father, my children lacking the opportunity to sin is not a major concern!

    To the extent that there is any practical application of what I’ve said it is to refocus on the actual point of government, to make men virtuous in thought and action, not merely to minimize the amount of external vice per se.

    As to social sanction, this could be viewed in a number of ways, but the question is always whether it is makes men virtuous. Are those that sanction acting out of love or out of pride? Does the act of sanctioning increase pride or humility? What is the effect on the sanctionee? Do they repent? Do they fear God or the mob? Does the from of the social sanction lead to resentment and rebellion or is it morally improving?

    Specifically wrt whether social sanction needs to be checked in order for men to be more free to choose between virtue and vice. This depends. If men are acting merely out of fear of the mob, they are not fully expressing fully virtue and thus not fully flourishing. However, if abstaining from external viscious action, leads to greater virtue in the long run as sin begets sin, leading men to freely choose the Good, then this is not an issue. Seems like an empirical matter, which may differ in different times and places. In theory, social sanction can be too restrictive on freedom to choose (and as I said before, can have negative effects on the sanctionees, but that is a separate argument).

  11. The only way to completely restrict freedom of choice is some sort of mind control ray which destroys free will. Politics, by its own finite and this-worldly nature, cannot destroy free will.

    The problem with discussions of freedom/liberty is that people are always equivocating between politics and not-politics.

    Politics specifically just is the art of discriminating authoritatively, restricting freedom to promote some particular vision of the good. Actual politics – politics in act, in action – every political act – involves authoritative discrimination which restricts freedom. So it is impossible – nay not merely impossible, it is incoherent – to try to make freedom the telos or final cause of any political act.

    Political acts always and necessarily involve the resolution of controvertible cases. Freedom quite precisely demands that we do not resolve the specific controverted case in front of us. But when we authoritatively decide not to resolve the controverted case in front of us, we have still made an authoritative, discriminatory choice about that controverted case.

    So freedom as a specifically political priority/telos – liberalism – is not just wrong. It is rationally incoherent, and thus destroys politics, thereby unleashing the unconstrained will. There is no coherent freedom as a specifically political prior which does not entail empowering wickedness and suppressing the good.

  12. Sin is an act of the will. Anyone can choose to “commit” any sin, regardless of whether it’s actually possible for them to carry out their evil designs in the real world. Restrictions on vice, whether from legal or social sanctions, only reduce temptation, they don’t eliminate the possibility of sinning.

    As a side note, systems which are designed to “directly” promote interior virtue, however conceived, tend to be colossal failures. See psychiatric drugs, the parole system, and the current penitential discipline of the Church for a few examples of this.

  13. I don’t think its actually possible to prevent people from sinning.

    Is that what psychiatric drugs are attempting? It seems like they are trying to circumvent the need for virtue. Do psychiatrists even acknowledge that virtue exists?

    wrt to parole. I see what you are saying. CS Lewis made a good point about “rehabilitation”, in that the concept of retributive justice implies a degree, whereas one can never have too much rehabilitation.

    I have to wonder, however, if these systems are trying to engineer a conditioned response rather than focusing on interior virtue. I’ll grant that they rely on the psychology of the individual, but they are operating under the behaviorist paradigm where psychological manipulation is indistinct from physical carrots and sticks.

  14. Getting people to have the “right” mental state is exactly what psychiatry is about. They wouldn’t use terms like “interior virtue” because of their metaphysical premises, but that is exactly what they’re trying to do.

    Note, that this is a completely different question from whether what psychiatrists deem good really is or not.

  15. Josh:

    I have to wonder, however, if these systems are trying to engineer a conditioned response rather than focusing on interior virtue.

    As far as that goes, behaviorism has long been discredited in psychology.

    (As AR suggests, that says nothing else about the state of psychiatric ‘wisdom’ — just that behaviorism has been thoroughly discredited).

  16. Has behaviorism been discredited in the field of psychology (specifically, among credentialed psychologists)? The Psych 1100 class I took less than ten years ago took behaviorism as its basic premise; the prof also took some entirely-off-topic pot shots at the concept of a soul and the premise of the the Clinton-era welfare reforms, nearly fifteen years old at the time, all during the first lecture. Maybe we had substandard psych professors because we were an engineering school, though.

  17. Since you have read Libido Dominandi, it is quite obvious why many traditionalists use “freedom” to mean “virtue”.

    Vices are the easiest way to mentally enslave a people

  18. AR, what do you think is wrong with the current penitential discipline of the Church?

    I, too, took Psych 101 ten years ago and my prof suggested that behaviorism was one of those silly, bad old ideologies.

  19. The Church’s penitential discipline (fasting, abstinence etc.) was gutted shortly after You Know What. As with all the other wreckovations, there was an idea that the “excessive” practices were causing people to “just go through the motions”, and that in order to make people really mean it, they needed to reduce the burdens. By all objective measures, this has been an unmitigated disaster.

    For one small example, the Church used to require Catholics to abstain from meat on all Fridays. The US bishops reduced this so that Catholics could perform a penance of their own choosing on Fridays outside Lent. Nowadays, how many Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, much less perform any type of penance on other Fridays?

  20. Yeah, that was a dumb move, wasn’t it? Today, if I fast on a Friday outside of Lent, it will only be because I want to fast, not because it’s a distinctively Catholic thing that Catholics do, because it isn’t. And, of course, I don’t want to fast, so I don’t do it. Giving me a choice has, ironically, largely taken the choice away from me.

  21. The funny thing is that on Ash Wednesday, the one day a year when I am fasting in public (I don’t work on Good Friday) in solidarity with other Catholics, you can tell that even my lukewarm coworkers positively enjoy it. They enjoy the solidarity of complaining about it together. Maybe not the holiest attitude, but it certainly strengthens the unity of the church.

  22. I read Reno’s review of Coates’ book. Reno is an impressive fellow, and I respect him all the more because he demonstrates well his strength of stomach. How any decent man could make it through such dreck is beyond me. I cannot even stand to look at Coates’ image. There is something abominable about him — an aberration of nature that confounds right order. It is not because he was a poor but intelligent boy who escaped the ghetto through education and refinement. Disgust is rather due to the fact that Coates remains as ignorant and stupid as any hoodrat, but he has figured out how to ape elevated discourse and manners in service to his low class petty resentment. I feel the same revulsion toward “SJWs” who appropriate analytical philosophical language and categories. They are like freakish chimeras — manticores with human faces and demonic hearts, who use the language of reason in order to confuse and distort. I shudder in considering them.

  23. “He has figured out how to ape elevated discourse and manners in service to his low class petty resentment. I feel the same revulsion toward “SJWs” who appropriate analytical philosophical language and categories. They are like freakish chimeras — manticores with human faces and demonic hearts, who use the language of reason in order to confuse and distort. I shudder in considering them.”

    What a spot on assessment! I agree with your sentiments with one exception — your estimation of Reno. Reno is a serious milquetoast. It is not a shock to me that he would spend time reading this nonsense and then present it as a worthwhile read. I find Reno’s perspective and approach to many of the issues confronting us today problematic, but even more so — just plain boring.

  24. […] makes a foray into the “Some Links” genre with Some links. It is, by now, a comparatively ancient observation that First Things is far more interesting […]

  25. Joe, Reno is a mainstream voice — and all mainstreamers sound milquetoast. The larger society’s Overton Window has collapsed, and “respectable” folks must self-censor or be banished to the outer darkness, where there is weeping, gnashing of teeth, and the humiliation of wage slave, low class work for brilliant people. Reno was a professor for many years at Creighton and now steers the ship at First Things. Cut the man some slack, and let’s call our understanding noblesse Douthat.

    Besides, Reno strikes me as a reasonable man. Consider his interview about Pope Francis in America. Such takes some courage and clear vision — admirable traits that are in short supply nowadays. Moreover, compared to his fellow contemporary Roman Catholic “theologians” in America, Reno appears as a latter day Athanasius.

  26. “freedom” at its best just doesn’t do any work in a political argument. It can, however, do mischief.”

    This is nothing more than SJW-level political correctness, only this time from the Right. A word can be deployed for mischief, and therefore ought to be stricken from the vocabulary altogether. To be consistent, Catholics ought also to ban words like “love” or “the common good”, since the same people and ideologies that historically invoked the word “freedom” to mischievous ends also wrought mighty social, political, and spiritual havoc with those words as well.

    What is to be gained conceptually by retaining the word, “freedom”? Well, inter alia, freedom is a logically indispensable component of the *very concept of authority* (i.e. “authority” denotes the freedom to act as one sees fit in a greater or lesser sphere of competence).

    Banning the word “freedom” from political theory could have the evil effect of causing people curious about the Catholic faith to get the wrong idea and conclude that the Catholic ideal of a just society is a totalitarian nightmare writ large, something very much like a cross between North Korea and the Borg collective. But that’s not Catholicism; it’s transhumanism and neo-Reaction.

    Transhumanism is so severely disordered on its face that there’s not much of a chance that it would lead any reasonably alert Christian astray, but NRx is pernicious in that has enough superficial right-thinking cred to sneak its many egregious errors in under the radar. It is symptomatic that it emerged from the Libertarian thought-space. In fact, it *is* Libertarianism- standing on its head, to be sure, but continuing along the same characteristically disordered and intellectually anomic course, with the same intemperate Puritan zeal, the same dogmatic excess, and the same unrelenting determination to push every principle past the bounds of reason to a terminal point in outright absurdity. The individual, who once was supposed to enjoy absolute freedom, under “formalism” is to enjoy none at all- a reasonable, if not rational, position to take in a thought-space where extremism is no vice and moderation no virtue, where there must be no linguistic or conceptual point of overlap whatsoever between rival ideologies, and where a given word or concept is thus indelibly tainted because it figures in the enemy’s ideological system, too (once again, it is with political correctness that we find ourselves, and the family resemblance with the SJW far Left becomes unmistakable).

  27. No one has said anything about *banning* the word “freedom” from the language.

  28. It still sounds like it’s not doing much useful work. If freedom of X to decide Y just means authority of X to decide Y, what do we lose by just sticking with the “a” word?

  29. “It still sounds like it’s not doing much useful work. If freedom of X to decide Y just means authority of X to decide Y, what do we lose by just sticking with the “a” word?”

    It helps to overcome the tendency, which has disordered and retarded so much of modern political thought, to conceive “freedom” and “authority” as mutually-exclusive quantities locked in a zero-sum relationship with one another, so that more liberty means less authority and vice versa; the political choice that follows is between Liberalism or State totalitarianism.

    The new Reactionaries, almost all uncommonly intelligent and full of fresh and unexpected insights, unfortunately continue this tradition; they rightly reject Liberalism, but then go on to altogether repudiate rights- even their own- and call for a despot with no limits on his power to establish a new Herrschaftsverband. But, as Hobbes knew, all social distinctions and all personal authority necessarily vanish before the Sovereign- and this same Sovereign, wherever we find him historically, in the interest of keeping the subjects equal in their mutual subjection endows them with…individual rights. The bad kind. (e.g. for Hobbes, the mother, but not the father, has “natural dominion” over the child). It is thus towards the Enlightenment paradise of liberty, equality, and fraternity that the Reactionary ship ironically and inexorably sails.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. I think that, if we bear in mind that rights and freedoms inhere in authority, and social relationships of authority, we can much more readily see- and, importantly, communicate to the general public- that a traditional society, a hierarchical society, a Catholic society, can do a better job of delivering and maintaining rights and freedoms than the present Godless and disordered system of anarcho-tyranny. These rights and freedoms proceed from reflection on the nature of men and things, and from the workings of that nature in social practice (i.e. custom and usage)- not the power and policy interests of the State, nor utilitarianism/hedonism, nor the silly idea that temporal freedom is the supreme end for which Man was made, and certainly not from “equality”. Asserting and/or defending such rights by no means makes one a “right-Liberal”.

    For example, unreasonable gun regulations certainly infringe on the rights of legally free men- but not because every socially homogenized and interchangeable individual atom should be free to do whatever strikes his fancy as long as he doesn’t harm the other atoms, because social scientists have proven that each armed citizen unwittingly serves as a free policeman for the State, or different Liberal canards like that. Rather, to deny the right to carry arms to a grown man who isn’t actually in a condition of servitude, who can assume various duties of care over others, and who is supposed to be a fully-fledged member of the State (i.e. a “citizen”) is to disagree with the nature of things- not least of all because, in all of the ages and civilizations of Man, the right to arms is a public sign of the special social dignity of such a man vis-a-vis women, children, simpletons, and others who are fit for action only under the authority of that type of man.

  30. People act as if authority (actualized authority anyway) and freedom are in a zero-sum system because they are. Pointing out that liberals also are aware of the zero-sum system (but pathologically support the latter to the destruction of the former) and claiming that we should deny it because they believe in it is a form of ad hominem. Liberals also believe that the sky is blue.

    Also, I find it noteworthy that all of the tyrannical regimes you held to be examples of authoritarianism were in fact rabidly leftist regimes totally obsessed with their version of “freedom”. Unless you intend to repeat the standard right-liberal tripe about how left-liberals aren’t really dedicated to the cause of freedom.

    “unreasonable gun regulations”

    Who is vested with the authority to determine which gun regulations are reasonable?

    “in all of the ages and civilizations of Man, the right to arms is a public sign of the special social dignity of such a man”

    Except of course, for the societies where that wasn’t so.

  31. I’m not a partisan of the “cause of freedom”, as I am not a Liberal, but anyhow.The relationship between actual authority and actual freedom is way too complex to be described as a zero-sum system. The emancipation of the subject of Feudal-type ties and his social reconstitution as the modern private individual was a gigantic win for the authority-freedom of the State, a small (and ever-shrinking in size and scope) win for the authority-freedom of the average person, and a catastrophic, near-total lose for the authority-freedom of the aristocracy, the Church, and the corporations.

    Every sovereign State of the modern type (i.e. every State that actually is, or claims to be, the sole, self-sufficient, and final source of juridico-political authority on Earth), regardless of Constitutional form (monarchy, republic, whatever) or policy preference, must carry out this sort of social leveling in order to actualize itself as such and weaponizes freedom in order to do it. The phenomenon is by no means confined to radical Leftist regimes, since *every* secular sovereign State is a radical Leftist regime, a rebel against God, Nature, and right order. Leviathan, like Cthulu, always swims left; abolishing the Liberal Constitution won’t abolish Liberalism as long as the State continues to monopolize (or, in Federal systems, authorize) legislative, executive, and judicial power under the new one. Liberalism will be abolished only if and when the State stops playing God, restores the rights of the family and the intermediate powers, and above all, in due humility submits to the correction of the Church, all as external, extra-political limits to State power.

  32. “The relationship between actual authority and actual freedom is way too complex to be described as a zero-sum system.”

    No, it’s really not. Every time authority is exercised, it necessarily restricts someone’s freedom. That’s just what politics is.

    In the case of the feudal system ending, the exercise of authority that ended serfdom in any given country, restricted the freedom of the lords.

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