Monday, November 27, 2017

Rise of the Modern State

Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society, edited by John C. Rao.

I must begin this post as I do each post in the series of examining this book: I am not interested in the theological debate.  I am interested in what happens to peace, governance, and growth of government when common culture is lost.

So let’s begin.

Christendom died to allow Europe to be born…
-        Francisco Elias de Tejada, cited by Miguel Ayuso

According to Tejada, the system was brought down by five successive ruptures:

-        The religious rupture of Lutheran Protestantism
-        The ethical rupture with Machiavelli
-        The political rupture at the hands of Bodin
-        The juridical rupture through Grotius and Hobbes
-        The definitive rupture with the Treaties of Westphalia

He summarizes:

From 1517 through 1648 Europe was born and grew, and to the degree that Europe was born and grew, Christianity died.

For the purpose of this post, if it helps: don’t think of “Christianity” in the…Christian sense; think of it in the common culture and tradition sense.

I offer a brief summary of these various characters:

Niccolò Machiavelli, best known for The Prince, is not the easiest political philosopher to understand.  Given the context of Rao’s book, it is safe to take the negative view:

Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even seemed to endorse it in some situations. The book itself gained notoriety when some readers claimed that the author was teaching evil, and providing "evil recommendations to tyrants to help them maintain their power".

Jean Bodin was a sixteenth century French jurist and political philosopher:

He is best known for his theory of sovereignty…

Bodin lived during the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation and wrote against the background of religious conflict in France. He remained a nominal Catholic throughout his life but was critical of papal authority over governments, favouring the strong central control of a national monarchy as an antidote to factional strife.

The fracturing of Christian (again, common culture and tradition, if you prefer) Europe inherently required a new ruler, one who would provide strong central control as opposed to the decentralized structure that came before.

Hugo Grotius was a Dutch jurist:

Grotius laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law.

It is thought that Hugo Grotius was not the first to formulate the international society doctrine, but he was one of the first to define expressly the idea of one society of states, governed not by force or warfare but by actual laws and mutual agreement to enforce those laws.

Laws to be created by man, not by custom.

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy.

Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which established the social contract theory that has served as the foundation for most later Western political philosophy.

The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster, effectively ending the European wars of religion.

The Peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peaces established by diplomatic congress, and a new system of political order in central Europe, later called Westphalian sovereignty, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states.

States were now sovereign.

Ayuso would later also add the Peace of Augsburg (1555):

It officially ended the religious struggle between the two groups and made the legal division of Christendom permanent within the Holy Roman Empire, allowing rulers to choose either Lutheranism or Roman Catholicism as the official confession of their state. Calvinism was not allowed until the Peace of Westphalia.

Let’s say you were one of the rulers of the time: if you choose the Roman Church, you were bound to shared sovereignty and customary law; if you choose Lutheranism, you were free from all of that – a true sovereign.

Now for the kind-hearted rulers in the audience, maybe your choice wouldn’t make much difference to those under your rule; you’re a good guy, you will treat the people fairly with or without Rome or your ancestors looking over your shoulder.  But if you have tendencies toward being a despot, freedom from Rome would sound pretty good.  After all, the worst can’t get on top if they have to share the top (or worse, have to deal with the Ultimate Sovereign at the top).

Returning to Ayuso, and the time before these five ruptures:

[The king’s] oath to the laws of the land and to justice was not simply a contract between the king himself and his subjects.  On the contrary, it was a contract into which figured God and His grace.

The king did not make law; his duty was to enforce law.  Law came from custom – old and good custom.

Replacing this was Europe – a Europe of sovereign states, codified in Westphalia.  The state gained life, eternal life – it was now timeless…

…having a form of a person distinct from citizens; as being an artificial entity that was the fruit of a social contract, a product of human genius, and gifted with sovereignty.

This statist logic, lawmaking based on human reason, could come to only one end:

Hence it arrives at the radical conclusion that there can be no other form of human or extra-human order, whether natural or created, that is not that of the state itself.

Something or someone will make the laws; something or someone will be sovereign.  Timeless custom or the timeless state; there is no third option – even contract law cannot capture every eventuality in the way that custom can (reasonably voluntarily and known before the fact) or the state can (by force, and after the fact if necessary).

One might ask: “what difference does it make to me who makes the laws?  I am stuck under the laws either way.”  I will ask in response: does old and good custom dictate the hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations man burdens under today, or does old and good custom dictate something approaching the non-aggression principle?

I think to ask the question is to answer it.  Therefore, under man-made law, compulsion becomes the mechanism by which we are made to obey.


Man as sovereign brought us liberalism – which only offers a negative liberty, a liberty with no criteria.  Keep in mind, no criteria for you means no criteria for your neighbor.  We see the fruits of this daily, but this isn’t the worst of it.  No criteria for you and your neighbor means no criteria for government – now the state, a timeless being, separate from the population and fully sovereign.

Who decides what laws the state can pass, how those laws will be enforced, the punishment for violations, and what determination will be made on appeal? 

The answer today is simple: the state, not bound to any criteria, not bound to customary law.


I know that there are some who cringe every time that I have a negative word to write about liberalism.  But what if it’s true?  What if man had more liberty under the custom and tradition of the Middle Ages?

Anyway, even if this isn’t the case, we see much in today’s world that can be traced directly to the building blocks of liberalism.  It might be worth trying to understand what went wrong and why.


  1. "The fracturing of Christian (again, common culture and tradition, if you prefer) Europe inherently required a new ruler, one who would provide strong central control as opposed to the decentralized structure that came before."

    I'm a little confused by this. Why would a strong central control be required? I can understand something would have to fill the governance roll that the church used to fill, but don't see why it couldn't still be decentralized?

    1. There will always be something that governs. The vastly decentralized Europe required some glue to allow people in such close proximity to live generally in peace.

      The glue was a common ruler - the culture, religion and tradition that made for the law was that ruler, a law that even the kings were subject to.

      The common ruler was destroyed, slowly at first but continuing even today. Who or what would replace this common ruler? A new tradition? A new religion?

      Neither was likely or even possible - generally accepted tradition and religion takes centuries, if not millennia, to develop. We have seen many attempts at creating this new tradition and new religion – consider all the schemes of man-made (as opposed to tradition-made) law and political systems, culminating in the upheavals of the 20th century.

    2. Thank you for explaining. That makes more sense to me.

    3. Watch this. Governance, not government!

  2. I'd suggest getting your hands on a copy of "The Socialist Phenonmenon" by Igor Shafarevich, either used from Amazon or interlibrary loan. It's relevant, has more theology in it than you might expect from the title, and I suspect your readers would find value in whatever you want to say about it.

  3. So the question for the libertarian is not "will I be a slave?" It is rather "what will I be a slave to?"


    1. "There will always be something that governs."

      I took your words to mean one would always be in service to, or ruled by, something... and that such is true no even if a person (or society) isn't aware of it.

      What is objectionable, besides perhaps my semantics, to the idea of picking your master?

    2. The word slave doesn't work. But even the concept...

      There is a neighborhood of conservative Christian families. Obviously they have certain expectations of each other in terms of behavior, even precluding behaviors that do not violate the NAP. For example, they don’t get drunk in public, they wear modest clothes, they don’t have sex on the front lawn, stuff like that.

      They don’t feel like slaves because of this; they don’t even feel as if their NAP is being violated. It is just their culture and tradition, the one that works for them, the one that – if they respect it – helps keep peace. They aren’t bothered by this.

    3. "What is objectionable, besides perhaps my semantics, to the idea of picking your master?"

      Picking your master would be a voluntary action, the word "slave" connotes no voluntary action/relationship.

  4. I see what you mean. And I agree.

    The term slave I borrow from Paul in Romans 6 (no, you can't get away from theology :)):

    "16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification."

    Your example family fit in both of our concepts, my "slave" and your voluntary cultural participants.

    Perhaps I can re-state my first comment: the question for the libertarian is "what culture/institution will I submit myself to?" I don't think the answer could possibly be "me and myself." Something will be governing; humans can never be fully autonomous.

    1. YES!

      "Me and myself" can only work for the lone man in the wilderness or the man who wants to constantly be at war against the world. In other words, it can work for no one who wants a social existence.

      Some libertarians suggest that this isn't pure NAP - maybe not; but it is life - and we will never get "pure" anything in a world populated by imperfect humans.

      Or it could be viewed as wholly consistent with the NAP - I am willing to conform to certain cultural norms in exchange for a life and future that I value.

      Whether it is or isn't pure NAP is irrelevant - as I said, in a world of imperfect humans...

  5. Hegel posited that history should not be thought of as individuals acting on their innate Will to Power as Nietzsche argued. Rather history is to be understood in terms of an abstract mystico-scientific process whose lengthy cycles dwarf and subsume all individual action. At the same time Hegel posits that a mystico-scientific force is driving history willy nilly toward a kind of improvement, perfection, what can be described as ‘progress’.

    A profound and dire consequence of Hegelianism is that it completely reworks the purpose of government. Where in the libertarian climate of 1776 government was understood to be no more than a force to safeguard individual rights and property rights, under Hegelianism such concern for rights completely gives way to the concern to accelerate, to bring about by direct intervention the Progress latent in and dormant in history.

    This reworking of government to accelerate progress is termed Progressivism. Now for a variety of reasons the United States has come to be the epicenter of such Progressivism. When Fukuyama talks about the end of history, he means the United States has become the country which by direct intervention all around the world is acting to bring about this abstract concept of Progress, to accelerate its realization to the greatest extent possible. Progress no longer depends on its happenstance production in natural cycles. The US is forcing it into existence by sheer determination.

    Globalism is merely the universalization of this re purposing of government to accelerate the attainment of Progress. Under globalism ALL governments are integrated and aligned to work in concert to produce Progress. What distinguishes such progress is that it is defined on the most abstract of levels. Its impact on the individual is not something to be considered.

    Now this Hegelian Globalism is the exact reciprocal of the Nietzschean individual Will to Power. The US presidential election of 2016 was an attempt to answer whether the future lies with the Individual and his own pursuit of the Will to Power, or whether it is only a Hegelian Globalism which lies in store.

  6. "I know that there are some who cringe every time that I have a negative word to write about liberalism. "

    I don't cringe at criticizing liberalism. I will readily admit the flaws I understand and am always open to accept new ones given a persuasive argument.

    I do cringe when you disparage negative liberty and extol positive liberty though. Positive liberty is what we have now: an endless list of duties we are obliged to perform against our will for those we've never met so that everyone has the 'freedom' to enjoy public benefits through the state at the private expense of others.

    I would argue that it was the victory of positive liberty over negative liberty that has contributed the most to the modern democratic warfare/welfare surveillance/regulatory state. It was the subversion of language that helped turn the idea of liberty into its opposite. The same can be said of Christian equity, which was turned into fanatical socialist egalitarianism.

    What positive obligations there were in the middle ages were small in comparison to today. For the most part, negative liberty reigned. I will agree with you that reason, and its unreasonable rejection of traditional virtues and customs, may have played the largest role, but I consider these issues linked. How else to convince others to abandon the traditional ways of life than mendacious or hubristic reason?

    "Human government is derived from the Divine government, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue" - Aquinas, Summa Theologica


    "Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like." - Aquinas, Summa Theologica

    Sounds like negative liberty to me.

    1. "What positive obligations there were in the middle ages were small in comparison to today."

      Yet they existed, and perhaps were beneficial toward keeping the law relatively libertarian.

      I also think - and I may have not been careful about this distinction in the past, but don't want to go back to read all I have written on this - that the ideas of positive law (which you seem to be criticizing) and positive liberty may be two different things.

      Or not. Perhaps a subject for another time.

    2. I do remember you making a distinction here, but I didn't quite get what that was. I know that you are not advocating the style of positive liberty we have now under the modern state, but the distinctions are unclear. Is it that some forms of positive liberty are favorable and some not? Or is there a more fundamental distinction I am missing? Just something to consider. I don't need an answer. I know you're busy, and you've written on this before. If I'm feeling up to it, I can look through your past articles.

      I'm all in favor of positive obligations in society (I think they're crucial) with one caveat: these obligations, unless aggression has been committed, must be enforced with social mechanisms like dissociation, boycott, ostracism, or excommunication.

    3. ATL

      At minimum I would say what we describe as culture or tradition would fit the bill of such positive obligations - and would be enforced by social mechanisms.

      I can't escape the idea of positive obligations to children, spouse, parents, etc. I know Rothbard and Block would disagree, but I don't see a functional society without these.

      I do think about some of the limits on use and disposition of property that were enforced during the Middle Ages - infinitely fewer limits than we have today, but limits nonetheless.

      They were generally - not always - respected voluntarily, most certainly not "libertarian.". They played some role in keeping society relatively free, I suspect.

      Anyway, I am not fully settled and it is a topic I suspect I will return to.

    4. My including "parents" in the above bothers me. So for now, take that out.