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…

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Christians and Government

I know full well how hazardous an enterprise it is to set sail on the controversial and disputed sea of Scriptural interpretation….

Yes, same here.  This is one reason (of many) that I strongly prefer to keep theological discussion off limits.  I know this is difficult to do, given the topics at this post, and I appreciate that you all respect this desire.  As you know, my intent behind these topics is to examine the ramifications of broad religious issues on the social, governance, and political aspects of society.

I guess today I am going to somewhat cross that line.  The reasons are twofold: first, the examination Casey takes on is precisely on the point of freedom; second, the topic is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misused regarding the Christian take on government.

The topic?  In two words: Romans 13.  Casey offers a full examine of both Old and New Testament Scripture regarding kings and government authority, as a few verses should not be taken in isolation. 

Old Testament

Casey begins with the go-to chapter, 1 Samuel 8.  To summarize: Israel had no king; up to this point the governance was provided by God and by judges.  The Israelites demanded a king.  God, recognizing that the Israelites were rejecting Him, permitted them to take a king – but only after warning of the usurpations that the king would impose: taxes, mandatory service, etc. 

The subsequent history of the kings of Israel, from Saul, through David, Solomon, and Rehoboam, followed by the division of the kingdom is very far from edifying and can be seen as the fulfillment of God’s warning delivered through Samuel.

The book of Hosea, in chapter 8, touches on this idea of God permitting, but not approving: “They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.”

New Testament

Regarding the life of Jesus, Casey offers…

…we can see immediately that his very life was bookended by acts of political significance, from King Herod’s murderous intentions at his birth to the final drama of his politically inspired execution.

This is the lens through which all Scriptural discussion of kings and earthly authority should be viewed.  Casey offers that the New Testament is a target-rich environment when one wants to find passages regarding kings and government; he limits himself to five.  I will touch on only a couple of these.

Monday, July 23, 2018


I have skipped ahead to Casey’s review of the European Middle Ages.  His first chapter regarding this period is entitled “Christianity,” as seems appropriate if one is discussing freedom’s progress in the Middle Ages.

For its first three hundred years, Christianity was a non-establishment religion.  Christians learned to live beyond the action of the state, without state protection, and even had to struggle against the state:

These three centuries established an abyss between the domain of government and the domain of religion….

When Constantine turned to Christianity, much of his reason was for the support that this religion could bring to the Imperial State.  Initially, Caesaro-Papism (with the head of state also head of the Church) held sway.  This arrangement continued in the East until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

In the post-Roman West, the story was somewhat different.

In the wake of the Rome’s demise, barbarian kingdoms emerged – Visigoths, Franks, Lombards.  As tribes accepted Christianity, for a time Caesaro-Papism continued.  However from the eleventh century onward, this would all change.

Tom Palmer regards Gregory VII’s issuance of Dictatus Papae in 1075, in which the independence of the Church was announced, as “the first of the most significant moments of the past thousand years.”

The power of the Church gradually increased in the subsequent years, such that papal power came to know no national bounds in wielding imperial authority.  While ecclesiastical independence was a welcome event, it seems to have consumed itself in power, coming “to a shuddering halt with the onset of the Reformation.”

Setting aside the religious and theological issues, this result allowed for a return of local Caesaro-Papism, primarily in the areas under the sway of Lutheranism and Calvinism, but also in many Catholic regions as well.  This result also gave birth to what we now know as the modern state:

The modern state, in the form in which we have come to know it – the sole sovereign power in a defined territory, exercising a monopoly on (allegedly) legitimate violence, with the power to commandeer the resources, including the persons, of its citizens – had come into existence.

There was no “state,” as we know it, until the Reformation.  Again, set aside the theology; this is something worth understanding for those concerned about liberty…it seems to me.  Of course, the Church was not faultless in bringing on this result, as noted by Casey.

In any case, Casey is getting too far ahead in the story.  While Christianity had no immediate impact on the political environment, it did establish fundamental building blocks for what would become subsequent political thought.  Casey offers three important factors:

…first, the idea that there are two centres of human allegiance; second, the development of the gold and silver rules, together the rule of reciprocity, as the basis of human conduct; and third (and for my purposes in this history, most importantly) the value of the individual as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, whose ultimate goal is to know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next.

Casey examines each of these in turn – as will I shortly.  However a few interesting points are raised: to the first, competing and decentralized governance authorities; to the second, the silver rule is insufficient; to the third…this one is interesting. 

If the purpose of “individual” is to “know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next” (as opposed to “anything peaceful”), is it appropriate to carry forward the concept of “individual” absent this purpose?  The individual minus God equals…what, exactly, to a political theory based on the individual?  Curious.

In any case, let’s examine each of these three in turn:

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Open Secrets

The things that we’re concealing
Will never let us grow
-        Open Secrets, Rush

As you know, I am reading Gerard Casey’s Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought.  I have read enough to know that I will be challenged.  Challenged?  How?

Closed for my protection —
Open to your scorn
Between these two directions
My heart is sometimes torn

When I began this blog, my political philosophy was about as dogmatically libertarian and individualistic as could be.  No one can be judged but the individual; no one can act other than as an individual…. I could defend the undefendable with the best of them.

I remember conversations from long ago: thinking about people in groups is the first step toward genocide; valuing any political unit beyond the individual was a path to hell.  “No it isn’t; you are just being politically correct.”   I don’t think so.  “Well, you may not think so, but you are.”  Or how about this: “there is no racism.”  Well, I know of the results of racism – or whatever you want to call this idea of deciding people’s fate by putting them in groups.  “Yes, but not in this country.” 

When our weary world was young
The struggle of the ancients first began
The gods of Love and Reason
Sought alone to rule the fate of Man

-        Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres, Rush

One day I was challenged to take on Hoppe in the same way I took on the left-libertarians.  Well…you know where this road has led: it takes a little “thick” to make libertarianism work; if everything is “the individual,” then what we get is the state.  Not that I have fully reconciled this with what I still believe to be the danger of considering people in groups – there is a danger.

Well I guess
We all have these feelings
We can’t leave unreconciled

The Church?  If I described my denominational make-up, most of you would wonder how I didn’t end up in the funny farm…or maybe you would finally have the confession you need to conclude that which you already suspect: the funny farm is where I belong.  This post is probably convincing you of the same.

There is much that I have read so far from Casey’s book that buttresses my views – my views as you have come to know these via this blog.  But, I will also be challenged by Casey.  Challenged about individualism; challenged about the Middle Ages; challenged about the Church; challenged about things I am yet to read.  I am not saying all of my views will change.  I am just saying I will be challenged.

I think it may be possible, through Casey’s work, to reconcile and clarify many things about my thinking about the entire road from the Middle Ages through the Reformation, Renaissance, Enlightenment Classical Liberalism, and Libertarianism.  In other words, reconcile my views about “group” (both the good and bad side) with the value I place on the individual; reconcile the fact that I find both liberty and domination (libertarianism and communism) as a result of the Enlightenment.

I will push back.  I just don’t know that I will win.  Let me say this differently: I will win if I approach Casey with a reasonable amount of openness, because if I do this…then I will win – whether my views change or not.  I will lose if I stick to my views regardless of Casey’s presentation.

Now…I expect I will give as much as I will take…maybe.  In one page, Casey demonstrates that he understands more about whatever he is writing about than I demonstrate in any 20 blog posts.  Let’s just say I am attempting to punch above my weight class.


We can walk our road together
If our goals are all the same
We can run alone and free
If we pursue a different aim

Let’s see how I do.  Again, I am not saying that Casey will win on every argument.  What I am saying is that it is incumbent on me to argue fairly and honestly. 

I know many of you will hold me accountable – from both sides: the more “libertarian” of you on the one side, and the more “conservative” of you on the other.  I hope none of you have to hold me more accountable than I hold myself.

Let the truth of Love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united
In a single perfect sphere

Postscript: Whichever one of you convinced me to buy this book, I don’t like you very much right now!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Peterson on Trump

Jordan Peterson gives a very nuanced view about Trump and America; the last US election; a realistic view of politics and politicians; the most important thing a president can do (which Trump has done): 

He has not embroiled the US in an additional stupid war….How do you gauge the success of any American president?  Not engaging in a stupid war is a nice start.

Peterson is not looking for reasonable discussion by politicians, but “reasonable stupidity” from politicians.  Truly incisive.

The one thing Peterson does not capture is the ramifications if the left doesn’t change its ways and the chaos and violence that will then ensue.  But I think he has been clear enough on this point elsewhere.

Spend six minutes watching this video.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Freedom’s Progress?

When it comes to this blog, I don’t like being tied down.  What do I mean?  I have been asked to co-author papers, even books; submit articles to libertarian publications; write my own book; even “clean up my room,” meaning perhaps better organize blog posts to make certain ones easier to find.

I am humbled by such requests, but…I would rather just write.

I also am uncomfortable making big commitments in terms of what I will write.  I feel I have made one by diving into Rothbard’s Libertarian Forum, and although I have taken a break from this I know I will return to it at some point.

Well, I am about to enter this uncomfortable zone again, via Gerard Casey’s exhaustive work.   Approaching 900 pages, Casey explores the progress of freedom (the question mark is deliberate), beginning 200,000 years ago.  At least he is merely going to review human liberty, leaving the freedom of flora and fauna to others!

Anyone who has heard Casey speak knows of his wonderful sense of humor, and certainly this comes through in the Preface.  For example, in response to many Brits not knowing which Duke of Normandy invaded England and became its king, Casey offers:

…as Will Rogers noted, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects…

Per Oscar Wilde:

“In England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever,” before adding, gratefully, “If it did it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

Two out of three teenage Americans can’t place the Civil War within 50 years of its occurrence; one in five cannot say who America fought in World War II. 

Memory is how we transmit virtues and values, and partake of a shared culture.

Of course, a culture is stronger if the memories are accurately transmitted and proper lessons are learned from this.  Far from being a failure of the education establishment, Casey rightly labels this ignorance of history as education’s crowning achievement.

Casey offers four concepts of liberty to contrast with his view of liberty – “thin” liberty as he refers to his view:

Metaphysical Liberty: Metaphysical liberty can be understood as encompassing freedom of the will in some sense or other.

How “free” is free will, if at all?  Whatever one’s view on this matter, much of the social and legal structure of society collapses completely to the extent the concept of free will in action is dissolved.  In any case, this is not the notion of freedom that Casey is chasing in this book.

Liberty as autonomy: where autonomy is to be thought of not merely as the absence of constraint but rather as the ability to set one’s goals in a way that is genuinely in accord with one’s status as a rational being.

…nothing outside of oneself can be allowed to determine one’s actions in any way.

This isn’t what Casey is after, either.  Goods inform our choices; in my way of thinking, reality always gets in the way of my free exercise of actions.

Republican or neo-Roman liberty: …as in the writings of Cicero…one is thought to be free if one is part of and able to participate in a political structure in which no other person has the political or legal power to determine one’s actions.

Sounds kind of like classical liberalism.  So what gives?  While classical liberalism is concerned with the use of force or the threat of its use as the only constraint, this neo-roman concept views that dependence itself is a source and form of constraint.  Not for Casey.

Substantive (or thick) liberty: …not just as the absence of external constraints on my actions outside the scope of the zero-aggression principle but as a lack of anything that limits my actual choices.

I think no clarifying statements are needed for this one.

Casey is focused on thin liberty:

…to the extent that an agent is unconstrained in his actions by force or the threat of force, he is free…

Incapacity to attain a goal is not a constraint; freedom is nothing more than “independence of the arbitrary will of another,” as Hayek puts it.

Thin liberty is defined by “not”: not killing, not injuring, not stealing, etc.  This is justice.  Thick liberty requires, forcefully, helping the poor and disenfranchised.

Casey will explore the slow emergence of the free individual, freeing himself from group identity and groupthink.  While he sees this freedom of the individual as fundamental for libertarians, he offers that “liberty is the lowest of social values, lowest in the sense of being most fundamental, a sine qua non of a human action’s being susceptible of moral evaluation in any way at all.”

Citing Murray Rothbard, “Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end in life.”  Liberty does not automatically mean random individuals living in the wilderness, atomized individuals without any social connection or hierarchy. 


Casey’s book traces history with one focus in mind – the “fitful journey” of liberty.  He realizes and admits that this approach is biased.  So what?  Everyone’s approach to history is biased.  Casey’s is biased toward this singular focus: liberty.  To which I say, thank God: 900 pages is long enough!

Casey has allowed the reader the liberty to read the book in order or skip to any section that catches the reader’s interest.  I will take advantage of this freedom and begin with the chapters that cover the medieval period.