Monday, August 13, 2018

The Words of the Prophets


Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)
Introduction
From the description of the book at the Mises Institute site:
[Kuehnelt-Leddihn] marshals the strongest possible case that democratic equality is the very basis not of liberty, as is commonly believed, but the total state…. He further argues the old notion of government by law is upheld in old monarchies, restrained by a noble elite. Aristocracy, not democracy, gave us liberty.
I will review here the first chapter: Democracy and Totalitarianism: The Prophets.  To properly capture the meaning of the title of EvKL’s book, consider that democracy is the most appropriate, if not only, proper political expression for a society comprised of “equals.”  So, you could consider instead: Liberty or Democracy.
History
The notion that tyranny evolves naturally from democracy can be traced back to the earliest political theorists…
Aristotle offers a glimpse; Plato's Republic offers “an almost perfectly accurate facsimile….”  EvKL does not rely solely on such ancient sources; he focusses on those from the one or two centuries prior to the totalitarian twentieth century – those who saw the direction that the West was taking since the Enlightenment and could see where this path would lead.
The long gap in examples between Plato and the Enlightenment was because democracy during this intervening time was relatively unknown except for the case of certain city governments.  This changed with the American and French Revolutions.  Some observers saw this movement toward democracy as one which would provide stability and balance; others saw it merely as a step toward tyranny and total servitude.
EvKL offers a long list of such thinkers, concentrated in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Something for me to consider, given statements I have made in the past: about half of these could be called liberals, and these were the most vocal in their denunciation of the pending evil:
Contemplating this list it is certainly no exaggeration to state that, during the nineteenth century, some of the best minds in Europe (and in America) were haunted by the fear that there were forces, principles and tendencies in democracy which were, either in their very nature or, at least, in their dialectic potentialities, inimical to many basic human ideals —freedom being one among them.
Democracy: the god that was destined to fail. 
Standing Naked Before Man
Lord Canning, who had a sharp eye for the signs of the times, stated that “the philosophy of the French Revolution reduced the nation into individuals, in order afterwards to congregate them into mobs."
We saw this idea in Nisbet’s work.  Democracy is based on all men created equal; democracy demands uniformity.  It is this uniformity that threatens liberty and gives rise to tyranny:
Citing Benjamin de Constant, writing in 1814:
[Despotism] has an easier road with individuals: it rolls its enormous weight over them as easily as over sand.
Lower Your Shields
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to service us.
Resistance is futile.
 
Continuing with Benjamin de Constant
The same code of law, the same system of weights and measures, the same regulations, and (if one can arrive at it) eventually the same language—this is what one proclaims the perfection of any social organization. . . .
Arguments in favor of liberty that are grounded in universalism cannot stand in the way of the totalitarianism that results from conformity; certainly, universalism demands ever expanding (in geography and scope) conformity, and conformity neuters the individual – more precisely, conformity destroys the intermediating social institutions that stand between man and an all-powerful State. 
Jacob Burckhardt writes, regarding a speech of President U. S. Grant:
The complete programme contains Grant's latest address, which points to a single state with one language as the necessary aim of a purely acquisitive world
In the words of an early example of pop-culture virtue signaling, we are the world.
The Lowest Common Denominator
In one of many observations offered by EvKL that has a very unfortunate similarity to events of our own time, N. D. Fustel de Coulanges offers:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Property Rights!


What is the objective of a libertarian order?  Is it to secure private property – that is, to apply the non-aggression principle to perfection – or is it to secure freedom?
Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.
Frank van Dun (FvD) offers his view on this question in his essay entitled Freedom and Property: Where They Conflict.  If I may summarize his essay in the form of a question: if the objective of libertarian theorizing is anything other than securing freedom, then why are we wasting our time?  He wouldn’t say it that way, as I suspect he is too much the gentleman.  Such concerns rarely stand in my way!
The question may prompt an obvious retort: what is the difference?  The non-aggression principle, properly and fully applied, will result in freedom.  FvD will disagree.
Libertarian theorists like to trace social and economic problems to coercive, usually government-imposed or sanctioned interventions in the free market or restrictions on the exercise of the libertarian rights of self-ownership, private appropriation and use of material resources, and exchange by mutual consent.
Thus, proper application of the non-aggression principle is all that is necessary for freedom to flourish.
This is fine as far as it goes—but how far does it go? As we shall see below, respect for the above-mentioned libertarian rights is not in itself sufficient to guarantee the freedom of every person. There may be cases where there is a conflict between claims on behalf of one person’s freedom and claims on behalf of another person’s private property.
This is one of those “approach with real caution” essays; if one doesn’t draw an absolute line around private property, where does one end on the slippery slope to full-blown socialism?  By the end of this essay, you will find that I am taking the wimpy way out…at least for this day.
Where there is such conflict, which should prevail: your freedom or my property?  I have in the past, and continue to believe today, that your freedom to have me bake a cake for you doesn’t trump my property rights in my oven.  FvD is working through an issue not as easily solvable as this…but still, the issue of the slippery slope must be recognized and dealt with.
As a libertarian – and for a libertarian – it is difficult to give up on this “freedom as property” notion.  First of all, it is the basis for the most effective arguments against government interventions of all sorts (well, second, perhaps, to moral arguments…but few people listen to these).  Second, it undercuts the idea that libertarian law is nothing beyond the most rigorous application of the non-aggression principle.
But is the objective property or is it freedom?  What happens if there is a conflict, which one wins?  If the winner is anything other than property – in every situation – then where does the line get drawn – and how powerful must the line be to avoid sliding down the slippery slope to hell?
FvD offers the example of hostile encirclement.  To help paint a mental picture, he offers another planet – Quasi-Earth; it is just like our planet, except that every individual recognizes the property of another and every person lives completely by the non-aggression principle.  So, on Quasi-Earth…
…every property owner is free to do with, to, and on his property whatever he likes provided his actions have no significant physical effects on others or their properties….  In short, Quasi-Earth is the very model of a libertarian order according to the “freedom as property” paradigm.
Before moving on, FvD explains his view regarding the term “significant”:
I shall not discuss the problem of drawing a line between significant and insignificant effects, although it is obviously a pervasive practical problem. A libertarian order cannot be viable unless it recognizes that a few particles of smoke crossing the boundary between two properties are different from a thick cloud of black smoke, a faint smell is different from an unbearable stench, and so on.
On the one hand, this is the entire issue: it is not in the black and white (as we classify such things in Western Civilization – and, perhaps, different for other civilizations) where issues are raised; it is in the gray.  I offer that the gray is best handled by culture, tradition, custom.  And, perhaps, the issue of dealing with the slippery slope raised by FvD’s argument can only be dealt with via culture, tradition, and custom.
The issue examined by FvD is one that seems to be quite black and white:
The most obvious case is encirclement. Suppose that every point on Quasi-Earth is privately owned by one or another individual person in such a way that every owner of a piece of the surface of Quasi-Earth finds that his property is surrounded by the properties of other persons, possibly by the property of a single other person.
Look, not every neighbor will be a nice guy.  Some might allow easement for travel; some might make it conditional on a nominal payment; some might make the payment onerous; a few might hate you enough to never let you pass.  Even on Quasi-Earth, they are human, after all.
“Look,” some libertarians will retort, “the surrounded individual could always dig under or fly over the neighbors’ properties.”  Assuming that no one has established property rights in mining or overhead wires, this still offers no solution.  After all, FvD replies, the same options are available to a prisoner.  Yet would we describe the prisoner as having his freedom?
“Yes, but those blockading property owners will be motivated by market forces to allow ingress and egress at some market-clearing price.”
This argument is purely academic. First, we are not talking about people being excluded from one or a few bars or shopping malls but from the only means of access to their own property or to other places where they are welcome.
A somewhat more fundamental issue that being able to enjoy a Jameson Irish Whiskey with a few buddies.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Birthing Pains



Tenth century Europe rode in on the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire and rode out as foundational to what would be remembered by many as the high point of the Middle Ages.  Per Paul Collins, it was this century that gave birth to what we know (or once knew) as Europe.  Western civilization – the combination of the Frankish-Germanic people of northwestern Europe and Rome (or, perhaps, an idealized version of Roman civilization) – was formed during this period.

I am about a third of the way through the book.  This is a bit different than many of the books I have read on the topic.  It has little focus on the law, and much focus on the violence, intrigue, invasions, and forced conversions.  Then again, being only a third of the way through, I have not yet come to the “new Europe” part.

Certainly Collins notes that power was diffused; the idea of an absolute monarch didn’t enter Europe until the sixteenth century:

Instead, power in medieval society was noncentralized, consensual, and consultative, even if the consent was limited to the more powerful.

From my earlier reading, while the more powerful had more liberty in their consent, the less powerful were not left naked. 

We are introduced to the raids and invasions of Vikings, Magyars, Saracens – all made the easier due to almost continuous fighting among and between brothers regarding inheritance and kingship. 

While governance was decentralized, there was one thing binding all of the people:

Latin, or Western, Christianity, was the heart and soul of this new culture.  Catholicism totally permeated this society, and there was no distinction whatsoever between church and state in our sense.  They were simply two sides of the same coin.

While Catholicism permeated the society, this did not mean that conflict was unknown between king and Pope.  The Pope used the kings, the kings used the Pope – partners when necessary, conniving when sensing weakness.  In the earlier period, the kings were generally ascendant; in the latter period, the papacy came to challenge this dominance.

It was the Saxons – brought to Christendom in the most violent manner by Charlemagne – that, perhaps, saved Christendom.  Further, Poland and Hungary were eventually converted; even the Vikings came to Christianity.

A few themes from the introduction…

The fallacy of medieval: the Church was intolerant, stoning heretics and burning witches, etc.  Not so.  We read of Archbishop Agobard of Lyon, in the early ninth century, who came across a scene of villagers about to stone two “sky sailors.”

The villagers faced a bad crop, and potentially starvation; it was believed that such conditions were brought on by evil men who served the devil.  These “sky sailors” were, instead, just unfortunate travelers, who happened by at just the wrong time.  It was Agobard – the Catholic Archbishop – that saved these two unfortunates from the anger of the villagers.

The land: everything was tied to the land – it wasn’t just the serfs.  Massive dense forests: the nobles hunting for sport, the peasants hunting for survival.  Peasants holding traditional rights to hunt (although the right to hunt “big game” was reserved to the nobles), gather firewood and other products.  Cleared forest – some of known origin, others from pre-history.  The idea of anyone having full and absolute property rights was unknown. 

Monasteries: cleared land, provided rooms for travelers, maintained and developed tradition and scholarship. 

And now, a story: the Cadaver Synod. 

The Cadaver Synod is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January 897. The trial was conducted by Pope Stephen VI (sometimes called Stephen VII), who was the successor to Formosus' successor, Pope Boniface VI. Stephen accused Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally. At the end of the trial, Formosus was pronounced guilty and his papacy retroactively declared null.

A picture is worth a few thousand words:

Monday, August 6, 2018

Augustine



“For Augustine,” writes Thomas Cahill, “is the first human being to say ‘I’ – and to mean what we mean today.”

So now we know that it was Augustine’s Confessions that Equality 7-2521 (aka “Prometheus”) was reading when he discovered the word “I.”

Augustine, born in North Africa in the middle of the fourth century, was – perhaps only after Paul – the most influential writer in Western Christian thought.  Having travelled through Manichaeism and having become a Neo-Platonist, these influences did not leave him when he later became a Christian and was baptized.

Some definitions:

Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process that takes place in history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light, whence it came. Its beliefs were based on local Mesopotamian religious movements and Gnosticism.

Even though Neoplatonism primarily circumscribes the thinkers who are now labeled Neoplatonists and not their ideas, there are some ideas that are common to Neoplatonic systems, for example, the monistic idea that all of reality can be derived from a single principle, "the One".

There are those who view the earliest period of the Middle Ages, due to Augustine’s influence, as the highpoint of the appearance of the individual.  While Casey understands why such a claim can be made, he disagrees.  Casey sees this idea as advancing over the next eight-hundred years.

While Augustine wrote some 117 books, there is no single book devoted to political philosophy or political thought.  Instead, one gathers from several of his works Augustine’s views on such topics.  To properly understand Augustine, it must be realized that his view of man and history is defined by two points – and through these two points: man’s original bliss in Eden, and man’s future bliss in heaven (or damnation in hell).  As he has this “truth” in his grasp before he begins, it guides his views throughout his work.

In The City of God, Augustine depicts not two distinct cities, but two views of man – separated by the object of their love.  The one loves God, the other himself; the one lives by the standards of the spirit, the other of the flesh; the one desires to serve, the other desires dominion.  Ultimately the two point to two different visions of sovereignty.

Given that we live in this world – the one populated by many who wish dominion – for Augustine, government is not specifically a necessary evil, but necessary due to evil; government is required due to the concept of Original Sin.  Citing Luskin, for Augustine, government…

…“was the consequence of sin and it arose from the lust for power and domination.  But in so far as coercive authority restrained further abuse of free will, it was a necessary and legitimate remedy of sin.”

The state does not exist to make men virtuous; the state does not exist to provide universal law.  The purpose of the state is to underpin order – while a thief-taker, it is a necessary thief-taker.  Such coercion is both necessary and inevitable, given man’s nature.

As such, Augustine finds no issue even with slavery, beyond noting that slavery – like government – is nothing more than a natural outcome of man’s original sin: slavery is for the benefit of the enslaved, just as government is for the benefit of the governed.

His realpolitik may be ground in more than his pessimism of man’s nature or his call for passive obedience; given his view of history – marked by the two points of Eden and heaven (or hell) – nothing in between really matters.  We may have Augustine to thank for the unfortunate interpretation of Romans 13; Augustine – 1200 years before – anticipates Hobbes: a strong power is necessary to restrain man.

Augustine describes the ideal ruler as one who is not inflated with pride; who puts his power at the service of God’s majesty; who fears, loves and worships God more than his earthly kingdom.  But whether or not a ruler has such characteristics, he is to be obeyed: he puts forward a theory of passive obedience to the state – whatever he moral character of its leaders.

While he sees government as required, he is by no means blind to its evils – a gang of criminals on a large scale.  His endorsement is nothing more than realpolitik: given man’s sinful nature, the state is necessary.  Whether a good prince or a bad prince, a prince is necessary to maintain peace and justice.  Good or bad, the prince is an instrument of Providence.

Conclusion

While Augustine – like Machiavelli – focused on the dark side of man’s nature as the reason for a strong state, unlike Machiavelli, Augustine never lost his moral bearing: unlike Machiavelli, Augustine didn’t lose site of the reality that state power was an evil.  Understanding Augustine, one could describe him as the first Calvinist.  Now there is something to consider.

Augustine’s life and death coincided with the fall of Rome.  This was to usher in the birthing of a society through which libertarian law bloomed.  But this is a story for another day.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Hair of the Dog


Well, it has been quite the ride.  Jordan Peterson and Christianity…quite an engaging topic.  I have decided to stop responding to comments at the post – very complicated and I don’t think I could keep up.  Instead, perhaps a few thoughts here.

While not surprising, it is worth noting: just in the comments here, how many different views about what it means to be a Christian, a believer, the meaning and purpose of the Bible, etc.  And this audience is a mere speck in the universe of diverse Biblical interpretations.

From what is perhaps the most studied book in the history of the world, we don’t have a single answer; we have had 2000 years to figure it out, and it seems we have only become more confused. 

Is it possible that God is too complicated for us to grasp fully?  Certainly.  Is it possible that this might be why Peterson has difficulty dealing with such questions?  Maybe.  Is it possible that people who get so upset about “the wrong” interpretation might be the ones with the wrong interpretation?  Often.  Is it possible that Sola Scriptura only served to add confusion instead of bringing clarity?  I won’t touch this one with a ten foot pole.

There are a few reasons I do not allow (much) discussion of theology at this blog – talk about going down a rabbit hole!  Libertarians can’t hold a candle to Biblical scholars (and especially wanna-be Biblical scholars) when it comes to endless debate.

Now that he has chosen to make himself known, I am free to mention Mr. Spock as the author of the email.  Mr. Spock, clearly I misunderstood the entire direction of your thoughts.  After reading some of your comments, this seems to be the case. 

May I ask: what was your purpose in sending me the email and the link?  Because what you were apparently looking for (given your subsequent comments) I clearly didn’t deliver.

If your primary purpose was in regards of a proper theologian to address Peterson’s theological views, you have been around here long enough to know that this is not a subject I would address; assuming that my position about discussing theology was obvious, I went in a different direction.  Clearly I was wrong.

If your purpose was to use the theological argument to get me to change my views about Peterson…I don’t know.  Whatever Peterson’s faults, in a world that is driven by evil he is bringing some good – or, if some in the audience prefer, I will say he is bringing less evil. 

I will certainly take Peterson over just about every mainstream (i.e. warmongering, Israel-worshipping) pastor in America – I just think about the clear line set by his “no more stupid wars” comment.

Regarding his theological faults: in the land of confusion that is Christianity, in all of its sects and denominations (reasonably mainstream congregations large and small), is Peterson alone in believing wrong things regarding the Scripture?  Is he the only one with more questions than answers?

My mind keeps coming to Ayn Rand – and I know this is a terrible comparison, but it is the best I can come up with in my very limited brain: she is quite clear that she is not a libertarian, yet she has brought more people to libertarianism than perhaps anyone.  Sure, a few get stuck in objectivism, but perhaps these were lost to libertarians anyway.

Peterson has opened up the Bible to millions of people.  Who are any of us to say that this is a bad thing?  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  Perhaps some of those millions who are doing the hearing might open a Bible and discover faith.  Absent Peterson, who was reaching them?  Certainly not the laughingstocks that make up most of Sunday morning evangelical television.

Sure, some might get stuck in some bastardized theology or philosophy, but such as these were lost anyway – and it isn’t Peterson’s doing that thousands of theologians and preachers have failed at reaching these individuals.  Peterson isn’t leading sheep astray – sheep such as these were already astray.

A million sheep in the pasture of unbelievers; a million sheep who have heard the mainstream Christian message and have rejected it; a million sheep who are now paying attention to Peterson’s message.   If one lost sheep of these million is found via Peterson’s introduction, it seems to me a victory. 

I have found Paul VanderKlay to be a great example in this discussion.  He takes value from Peterson as he finds it; he has a group of “Peterson” followers (both in the virtual world and in the physical world) who find little of value in what would traditionally be called Christianity, yet they engage with PVK on topics of Christianity. 

Might there be some of these that PVK has reached who find faith due to the hearing?  Could be.  Would there be any to find PVK absent Jordan Peterson?  To ask the question is to answer it – PVK certainly knows the answer.

Conclusion

Mr. Spock, I agree: trained theologians have a duty to properly address Peterson’s comments regarding Scripture.  I am not qualified for this.  I already write about enough topics for which I am not qualified – as I am too often reminded.

Monday, July 30, 2018

I Am Going to be Sorry in the Morning…


…for writing this post.

I received the following email, shortened for length:

A little less than a year ago, I sent Gary North an email about Jordan Peterson. I stated that I had become concerned about the Jordan Peterson "bandwagon."

The writer lists Tom Woods, Bob Murphy, Lew Rockwell, and yours truly as examples of those on the “bandwagon.”

After expressing my concern re Peterson’s comments on the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc., I said to Dr. North, “Without sounding too dramatic, before this gets out of hand, someone needs to write an exposé on him. I'm not the guy, but I'm thinking you might be or know someone that is….

He didn’t take up the challenge, but he did reply (and gave me permission to pass on his comments) with this:

"Just another liberal.  They are like cockroaches. Step on one, and four more appear.

A psychology professor who has taught at Harvard and now Toronto…a liberal?  To paraphrase Captain Renault: I'm shocked! Shocked to find that psychology professors at major western universities are liberal!

"What I do not understand is why any Bible-believer pays any attention to such people.   But they do."

Of course, I believe there are many Bible-believers who do not understand why any Bible-believer would pay any attention to Gary North when it comes to the Bible….

Well, the good news is there is now an exposé, if you will, on Peterson from a major Christian organization.

Today’s daily article from Creation Ministries International (CMI) is: “Is Genesis psychology or history?

It’s not quite as in-depth or extensive as I’d like it to be, but it does a great job of finally providing an analysis of Peterson for the Christian community from a Christian perspective. Please take a few minutes to read it. …I give Peterson credit for being excellent on several subjects/issues. It's just that he's awful when it comes to Christianity.

Why any Christian would look to Peterson to be good on Christianity is beyond me…but anyway…. Following is my reply, in total (with some editorial comments inserted), after which I will add some further comments:

I do not understand why it is important to turn Peterson into an "either / or" box: either he is 100% right on everything or he is not worth listening to at all.

"Is Genesis psychology or history?"  Why can't it be both?  Why does it take an atheist to elucidate the idea that God may have put more in Genesis than mere history, that God might have offered a meaning and depth to the narrative far greater than the mere recitation of facts and timelines? 

Peterson isn't a theologian, he isn't a historian, he isn't an archeologist, he isn't an evolutionary biologist.  He is a psychologist, and he has brought to life meaningful depth in these Biblical narratives.  When it comes to the psychological aspects of his lectures, I find nothing blasphemous in this (I am sure there might be something, but little). 

Unless there are some Christians who believe that God isn’t the author of human psychology?

Perhaps Christian critics can spend more time evaluating the value in Peterson's psychological interpretation and less time worrying about adding the years since Adam.

Because adding the years since Adam may be the least important religious aspect of the book of Genesis.

Is there value in knowing something more about Cain and Abel beyond who killed who?  It seems to me, yes.  Why did it take an atheist to popularize this?  Why are Christian leaders angry (to the extent that some are)?  I don't know; I wonder if it isn't, instead, jealousy.

Someone has the courage to say the things Peterson says about our social situation, the trend in university, etc.  Things that need saying, things that Christian leaders should have been saying all along.  Why not just accept that this is a pretty good day's work. 

As you know, I do not get into theological discussion at the blog, so I have not commented one way or another on Peterson's theological views.  I wouldn't bother listening to him or discussing him if this was my purpose.

Because I do not look to Peterson as a theologian.  (Hint: in case you missed it…he also never once has claimed to be.)

Now, to my further comments…