First principles

Inequality is not a first principle of the Right, despite the way some on the Alt Right speak of it.  Conservatives, by and large, are happy to pass over the underperformance of certain groups in discreet silence.  It was only because the liberals use these facts as an indictment of the West that we have been forced to voice the alternate hypotheses.  Regardless, inequality of intellect, self-control, or any other quality is a mere truth of the empirical order.  It does nothing to establish the Right’s true first principle:  authority, the legitimate rule of one over another.  As Louis de Bonald writes

Thus the reason for public power is in divine power, and can be found nowhere else.  Man naturally has no dominion over man, man owes nothing to man; all power constituted on natural or divine laws comes from God, omnis potestas ex Deo, and this passage has never been understood otherwise…Thus, once legitimate power comes from God, authority is justified and obedience ennobled, and man must fear to command and be honored to obey.

— from On Divorce

Why should one man rule over another?  Because he is smarter or more virtuous?  But then, as Pascal pointed out, this is just an invitation to fight over who is smartest and most virtuous.   The best arrangement, he concluded, is for rule to base itself on a public, easily verifiable fact, one that makes no pretense to determine overall personal value, such as being the previous king’s eldest legitimate son.  Anyway, that another man is smarter than me may make it prudent for me to follow his advice, but it cannot create an obligation to obey.

Some, even at the Orthosphere, think authority can be understood in terms of ownership, as in the king “owning” his kingdom.  In fact, ownership (and indeed “private” property) just is a type of authority, so statements of ownership bring us no deeper.  In fact, one cannot go deeper, because authority is the primordial fact of the state.

There is no authority-granting quality inhering in individuals that could precede the actual existence of an authoritative institution like the state.  Nor is it true that the nation precedes its ruler.  This is the error that conservatism arose to contest, the idea that the nation can be conceived as existing without constitutional order, intrinsically possessing rightful mastery of itself which it then alienates onto its government but may repossess at any time.  In fact, imagining a nation not ruled by its government according to the norms of legitimacy established by its unwritten constitution is like imagining my body not being ruled by my brain, which would not really be imagining my body at all.  Get rid of authority, and the related markers of citizenship and territory also lose meaning.  There would be no way for the nation to reconstitute its government that could command obedience, no way even to establish in a definite way the limits of the “we” who would be instituting a government.

Julius Evola writes

In the world of Tradition the most important foundation of the authority and the right (ius) of kings and chiefs, and the reason they why they were obeyed, feared, and venerated, was essentially their transcendent and nonhuman quality.  This quality was not artificial, but a powerful reality to be feared.  The more people acknowledged the ontological rank of what was prior and superior to the visible and temporal dimension, the more such beings were invested with a natural and absolute sovereign power.  Traditional civilizations, unlike those of decadent and later times, completely ignored the merely political dimension of supreme authority as well as the idea that the roots of authority law in mere strength, violence, or natural and secular qualities such as intelligence, wisdom, physical courage, and a minute concern for the collective material well-being.  The roots of authority, on the contrary, always had a metaphysical character.  Likewise, the idea that the power to govern is conferred on the chief by those whom he rules and that his authority is and expression of the community and therefore subject to its decrees, was foreign to tradition.

— from Revolt against the Modern World

Evola makes it clear that Traditional orders do not fall into the opposite error, already discussed, of making kingship precede the kingdom, as if a private person might possess a numinous halo of royal majesty without having yet acquired a kingdom to rule.  In fact, traditional thought does not imagine that one can find in the nation a more primordial social reality behind authority, behind the dyadic structure of ruler and subject.  The only reality of any kind behind it is God Himself.

The scandal of the idea of mortal sin iv: Hellfire

he scandal of the idea of mortal sin is really the scandal of the idea of everlasting punishment.  That a person may deprive himself of heaven doesn’t really bother us.  Nobody deserves heaven, and for heaven to end up filled with the defiantly unrepentant would contradict its nature.  No, what bothers us is the idea of eternal physical torture.  This is not just an issue of sexual sins.  An infinite punishment of this sort is out of all proportion to any human offense, according to our very basic intuitions of fairness.  One may say that these intuitions are wrong in this case, but they cannot just be dismissed as “feelings”, since they are integral to all our moral reasoning.  One must show how they are wrong.

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President Obama is right

Americans can’s sue a sovereign nation.  Not the Vatican.  Not Saudi Arabia.  To imagine otherwise is either to suppose that America has some sort of authority over all other nations or to partake in the liberal drive to eliminate politics and the the responsibility of political authorities with impersonal procedure (that is, with authority hidden and irresponsible).  The judiciary is still part of the government, and legal rulings are acts of some government’s authority, not of some sort of disembodied Voice of Justice.  If one nation has a grievance against another, it may pursue it through the arts of diplomacy and warfare, if it decides that its desired satisfaction is attainable and worth the cost.  President Obama agrees with former President Bush that antagonizing Saudi Arabia doesn’t serve the country’s common good.  This may or may not be true, but it is at least an answer to the right question.

What men want

I had to have surgery on my colon a few weeks ago; it had gotten twisted, and I now have two feet less of it than I did before.  Everything went okay, but it will be a few weeks before I have my energy back, during which time I’ll have to save my energy for teaching, proposals, and my daughters.  Expect light blogging.

While the doctors were doing tests on me, they found a bunch of other stuff wrong.  Apparently I have very high blood pressure, and at some unknown time in the past one of my kidneys died.  It’s nothing that will kill me tomorrow, but it did get me thinking, in my hospital bed, that I may not have as much time left as I had thought.  Set aside for a moment practical worries about my life insurance and retirement savings.  I asked myself what I really want to get for myself out of the remainder of my life.  I found that the thing that I really cared about was that my children should remember me, and I wanted them to remember me as I was, being able to chase and throw them, and not just as I will be when frail and dying.  They’re 5 and 2 right now, so I’ve got to hang on a while longer; I have no recollection of my paternal grandfather who died when I was 2, nor of my kindergarten teacher I had when I was 6.  Interestingly, I found that I felt no urgent need to be known and remembered by grandchildren, much less by future generations in general.  Nor could I work up much interest in my ambition to finally find my problem and make a big contribution to physics, which I had thought was the whole reason I’d done all that work of going through school and postdoc and getting tenure.

It was a clarifying experience; I believe I have genuinely discovered something about myself.  It’s well known that humans care a great deal about things that happen after they die–their legacy, the fate of things they love that survive them–even though they will necessarily not be there to experience it.  This could create problems if we let the eventual extinction of humanity impose a sense of futility on everything.  Fortunately, our horizon of concern doesn’t extend nearly so far.  I just need 16 years to see my daughters to adulthood.  Not that I’ll then face death with any particular stoicism.  The survival instinct, the terror of oblivion, stays till the end, or so I imagine.  But I’ll have accomplished the real objective good (see my discussion of desires and goods in The Audacity of Natural Law) that I most want.

While I was in the hospital, the Democratic candidate for President took the unprecedented step of delivering a speech attacking illiberal internet sites.  The Alt Right is naturally thrilled, and I am happy for them if also a little jealous.  Religious conservatives are, one regrets to admit, now too unimportant to be worth attacking.  And to think this wasn’t so a mere decade ago, back when George W. Bush, and not Donald Trump, was Hitler.  I’ve learned not to let the Democrat attack machine get my hopes up.  I doubt Trump is any more a principled racist than GWB was a theocrat.  Nor should we imagine that the Alternative Right, which by and large has no interest in preserving Christendom or the patriarchal family, could really deliver us from the evils of the modern world, even if serious persecutions were not coming its way.  Still, the spread of particularist ideas is to be welcomed, especially in Catholic circles.  For too long, our intellectuals have spoken of “solidarity” as this ever-expansive force, internally driven to smash the boundaries of real, distinct communities, limited only by an antagonistic principle of “subsidiarity” that allows these defectively-solidaristic (because non-universal) communities some space to control their own functions.  What these people have gotten wrong is not a failure to appreciate subsidiarity, but a failure to understand solidarity.  Love of one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s ethnic group, one’s country, one’s religion, desire to preserve them, happiness at being immersed with fellow members of them–that’s real solidarity.  Catholic social thought will not be healed until the bishops repent their condemnations of racism.