Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Enlightenment’s Evil Twin

Proponents of liberty cannot escape confronting the issue that came to full fruition in the Enlightenment: liberty and tyranny both found freedom as a result.  Classical liberals cannot just point to Locke and Jefferson as the offspring.  In this post I will examine the Enlightenment’s evil twin – as represented in Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Thomas Hobbes

His ideas…are especially challenging to any libertarian who would wish to see the state minimised or eliminated.  That said, there are elements of his thought that any liberal would welcome.

Casey offers that more than half of Leviathan is about religion, and some take this as the most important part of his work.  One can glean Hobbes’ view on religion by the following:

Hobbes’s overall thought was fundamentally materialist…. For Hobbes, all that ultimately exists is matter in motion. …even the extremely complex social and political world too was explicable in materialistic terms.

Hobbes treated all of nature – human nature as well as non-human nature – as a vast system of mechanical causes from which purpose was to be excluded.

No room for religion there; no man created in God’s image; no possibility of an afterlife; no reason to think beyond the immediacy of the moment; no reason to consider the means to an end; no reason to consider any ends other than he who dies with the most toys wins. 

Hobbes, like many thinkers of his time, was enamored with the logic of mathematics and applying this logic to human action and behavior.  We today would call this the axiomatic method: starting with as few axioms as possible – and using only pure reason – producing “a rich and complicated set of theorems (deductions), all interconnected and all derived, in a strict logical chain, from the basic axioms.”

Two things can go wrong: first, one can make a mistake in reasoning; second, one’s axioms might not be as axiomatic as one believes.  One cannot read this and not ask, “what about Austrian Economics?”  Casey addresses this:

This isn’t to deny that any given empirical science may have at its theoretical heart a core of conceptually interrelated elements as, for example, does Austrian economics; it is simply to reject the ultra-rationalist idea that the axiomatic method is the scientific method par excellence. 

I will leave it to those who are far more qualified in both understanding the conceptual underpinnings of Austrian Economics and Hobbes’ methodology to separate one from the other. On the surface, it seems clear to me that Austrians, unlike Hobbes, accept that not all values are material – a factor that will greatly reduce error by Austrians.  But this might explain the different conclusions, and not necessarily offer an explanation as to why such deductive reasoning is or is not a valid tool.  Perhaps it is not any more complicated than challenging the axioms….

Hobbes finds man to be “spontaneously self-seeking, acquisitive and aggressive.”  Although man is not only these things, it is on these things that Hobbes builds his philosophy.  Based on this, Hobbes offers that there is no such thing as right and wrong, no such thing as civic virtue, no such thing as justice or injustice.  No room for natural law here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Oppressive Western Civilization

With this post, I will complete my review of Collins’ book. 

The Nuns

Technically a secular canoness, not a cloistered nun; bound to celibacy and obedience, but not to poverty.

Probably the best known of this era is Hrosvitha of Gandersheim, the first woman dramatist in Europe.

Hrosvitha was part of the intellectual renaissance of the tenth century (wait a minute; there was a renaissance before The Renaissance?), to include the males Liutprand of Cremona and “the greatest scholar and polymath of the age,” Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II).  Hrosvitha studied Virgil, Terence, Ovid and the Latin classics.

…Otto I granted the abbess complete freedom with the right to hold her own court, to have troops to protect the abbey, to mint her own money, and to sit in the imperial diet.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping women in their place.

The Peasants

About 85 percent of lower-class people were free – that is, they were not slaves or serfs.

Woops.  There goes that stereotype.  What about “feudalism”?

This word was invented by seventeenth-century French lawyers and antiquarians to describe the tangle of legal and customary relationships that they discovered in medieval documents in local French repositories.

Wait a minute!  The sophisticated and enlightened man of the seventeenth century was such the simpleton that he could not understand life in the decentralized Middle Ages?  So he just stuck a label on the time – a label with derogatory implications – and called it a day?

With that label, radicals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, along with Karl Marx, used this term to cast the aristocracy as exploitive of the lower orders.

The white, male patriarchy: keeping peasants in their place.

Science and Reason

His vision of Christian faith in tandem with science and reason was to find fulfillment only later in the genius of Thomas Aquinas….

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dealing With the Spaces In Between

When one cannot discern where one ends and the other begins….

Several weeks ago we were presented with the news of Alex Jones being banned from various social media platforms.  This raised an interesting question for libertarians: is this a free speech issue or a private property issue?

A free speech issue occurs only when it is government that clamps down on speech.  If the speech is occurring on private property, the property owner is free to decide if the speech will be allowed or not.  There were many libertarian voices stating that it was a private property issue and that the owners of these various social media platforms had the right to decide who was or wasn’t allowed to speak.

I was asked by one of these libertarians to weigh in on the matter, which I did not do at the time.  It is such a “gotcha” issue for a libertarian to weigh in on, and one far more complex than a simple “free speech or private property” discussion.  The complexity is introduced by the relationship between the government and these social media platforms – so intertwined that I defy anyone to say where one ends and the other begins – even to include the question of ownership (because ownership is not as simple as “the shares are registered in my name”).

One libertarian who understood that the question was not so simple was Justin Raimondo, who offered his views in a piece entitled “Challenging the Lords of the Internet.”  A snippet:

All this wasn’t good enough for Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), who demanded to know if the plan was to only take down “one web site.” …a direct threat had been made to these companies by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who sent out a memo listing all the ways the government could crack down on Big Data if they refuse to go along with cleansing the internet of “divisive” material.

Raimondo goes on to discuss the other unique protections offered by the government to these platforms – protections not available to sites like his own.  Protections that are offered to a common carrier, like the phone company, which are not liable for the content that passes over their lines or networks. 

These social media internet firms are sheltered from liability regarding the content – just as if they were common carriers.  Yet, unlike common carriers, they are allowed to (and now, under threat by the government, required to) censor content.  But they are not liable for the content that they censor, nor are they liable for the content that they allow.  How is this the free market?  Is this typical for private property?  Heads I win, tails you lose.

A private company may censor content and also be liable for its decisions.  Do these social media platforms really fit the definition of a private company?  I would say that Raimondo nailed the point that these companies do not qualify as private property.

Meanwhile, these companies are threatened by the government to censor content that the government wants them to censor – or else.  We all know what the “or else” means.  Which suggests something about “ownership.”  Ownership suggests control, use and disposition.  Does Mark Warner’s comment suggest something about the ownership of these carriers? 

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, and a major shareholder.  His net worth, depending on the day, is north of $70 billion.  Several months ago, his company was hit with a privacy scandal.  With the subsequent drop in share price, his net worth fell by about $14 billion.  He travelled to Capitol Hill for hearings…

…where he apologized for not taking “a broad enough view of our responsibility” and for not doing “enough to prevent [the platform] from being used for harm.”

Subsequently, the share price fully recovered its lost ground.  What do you think would have happened to the share price if he told congress what a private owner would tell them: pound sand.  Remind me: who owns Facebook?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

With the writings of Bodin, Althusius, and Grotius, we have moved gradually but inexorably from the end of the Middle Ages to modernity.  Whatever lingering remnants of medieval thought may attach to these writers, when we come to the writings of Thomas Hobbes, we find ourselves in a very different intellectual world.

So these three writers seem rather important, occupying time in the period between the Renaissance & Reformation on one end and the Enlightenment on the other.  I will cover the three, but not in the order presented by Casey.  His order gets in the way of my title, and also doesn’t flow given my focus.

I will spend only a little time on the ugly and the bad, including these only to give context to the good – while all three occupy generally the same time and place, it is the ugly and bad that are remembered while the is good a virtual unknown (even to my spellcheck).

The Ugly

Jean Bodin (1530 – 1596) wrote in the time of great civil unrest in France, so perhaps his thoughts are nothing more than a reaction to the time.  Unfortunately, while the context has not remained permanent, Bodin’s philosophy has survived: Bodin wrote of the requirement that state authority be absolute and sovereign. 

Bodin is famous for one thing above all and that is his conception of sovereignty, an idea that political theorists and indeed the general educated public now take for granted….

Such a concept, of course, did not exist in the Middle Ages.  If anything was considered “sovereign,” it was the medieval law – with all men, including the king, under it.  Medieval political discourse revolved around the relationship of – and sharing of power between – the spiritual powers and the temporal powers.

No one in the Middle Ages asked “what is a state and how is it constructed?”  Instead the focus was on who was the ruler and what is his power?  The transition from this decentralized governance structure to the full-blown state began in the fifteenth century, with Casey identifying its full culmination – in his view, the end of Christendom –  with the Treaty of Westphalia and the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

While Bodin saw the sovereign as absolute, this was somewhat nuanced: the sovereign was not absolute over divine or natural law.  However, as there was little recourse for the people to deal with the sovereign who abused this condition, it seems to be a distinction without meaning. 

What is this sovereignty then?  It is supreme power over subjects unrestrained by positive or municipal law.  It is perpetual rather than limited in time.  It is primary rather than delegated.  It cannot be alienated and cannot be circumscribed by prescription.  (Emphasis in original)

In other words, sovereign meant sovereign – what we know today, albeit not as pervasive given the surviving tradition of the times…and also given the lack of technology.

What we see in Bodin is the transition from no sovereign to a sovereign at least theoretically under divine law.  It isn’t too big a step to remove the “divine law” part and get to tyranny – the “divine right of kings.”

The Bad

Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645) wrote voluminously, yet is described by Casey as a confused thinker.  So why does he hold such a high place for those who consider political philosophy?  He is said to be the one who developed a theory for international law…but he didn’t!  The Spanish jurists had covered much of this ground before him.  The Spanish, being Catholic, however, were growing less acceptable to an ever-increasingly Protestant Europe.

Grotius wrote at a time when it was becoming quite obvious that the religious and political divisions of Europe were permanent.  Grotius wrote of just war as defensive war; offensive wars can be just if to inflict punishment when deserved – such as for violating a contract; third-party interventions can also justified – even if the third-party is not a party to any dispute. 

His view of defensive wars fits very neatly into the libertarian non-aggression principle.  Justifying offensive wars is a slippery slope, but I find his justification of third-party interventions as a road to hell – this sounds too close to the United Nations’ adopted “Responsibility to Protect,” which is nothing more than the right to militarily intervene.  Grotius desires to limit such interventions to violations of the laws of nature, but we have seen the fruits of such thinking.

For Grotius, the sovereign is not encumbered or burdened by any higher source, other than to the law of nature.  However, here again this distinction is meaningless as once sovereignty is transferred from the people it cannot be reclaimed – it is permanent and perpetual.  Since Grotius sees voluntary slavery as permissible, he finds no means by which the people can reclaim their sovereignty.  What is unaddressed is the fact that there is no account taken of the descendants of these voluntary slaves.

Grotius lived in a time when mathematics was gaining prominence and being inserted into the social sciences – rationalism and certainty were ascendant.

‘My prime concern,’ writes Grotius, ‘has been to base my examination of what belongs to the law of nature on ideas which are so certain that nobody can deny them without doing violence to their foundational being.’

A “certain” social and political scientist.  Perhaps the biggest curse ever placed on man.

The Good

‘Only at the end of the first century of the Reformation,’ writes Daniel Elazar, ‘did a political philosopher emerge out of the Reformed tradition to build a systematic political philosophy out of the Reformed experience by synthesizing the political experience of the Holy Roman Empire with the political ideas of the covenant theology of Reformed Protestantism.’

Sunday, September 9, 2018


…Henry now proceeded to make a number of strategic errors, not least of which was his failure to show clementia (mercy and forgiveness) to two Saxon nobles who requested it.  In other words, he demonstrated a lack of magnanimity, one of the most important marks of a true king in the medieval mind.

Henry the Quarreler was released from prison upon the death of Otto II in December 983.  Being a personal prisoner of the emperor, the law required his release.  As the closest male relative to Otto’s son, he claimed a role in managing the affairs of this very young Otto III.  Lady Theophano, the Greek-Byzantine wife of the deceased emperor and mother of the new emperor, had little immediate recourse.

But Henry was solving her problem on his own.  His failure to grant the requested clemency was only adding to a long list of self-inflicted political damage.  Knowing it would take war to wrest power from Otto III, he determined he did not have enough noble support for victory.  But now he had a problem – it was his turn to beg mercy, from Otto’s mother and grandmother.

He brought the young Otto to Frankfurt.  According to the Annals of Quedlinburg

…he humbled himself according to custom… Humble in demeanor and action, hands clasped, he did not blush to swear his faith under the eyes of the assembled people and in the presence of the imperial ladies who cared for the kingdom…. In true faith he promised furthermore to serve [Otto III], asking nothing but his life and begging only for mercy.

The women responded…magnanimously, pardoning him and restoring his title.  This was in accordance with Saxon law and custom, and the antithesis of the behavior of the Italian clans or the Byzantine ruling class in such situations.  Had Henry committed such deeds in those lands, death would have been his only return.

This whole incident shows that an ability to compromise and work through conflict resolution to reconciliation was very much part of the Saxon way of doing things.

This was just a few generations removed from the Saxon conversion (by the sword) to Christianity.  Certainly the Christian faith influenced such behavior, but no doubt Saxon custom played a large – if not the major – part.

The episode also demonstrates the value of ritual – the entire process of Henry coming to the court to humble himself, how he acted, what he said, throwing himself to their mercy.  The entire scene had to be acted out in front of an audience, and acted out in a certain way.  This had to be demonstrated, and it had to be witnessed.

What of Theophano?  While Otto was still young, she was the power behind the throne.  For ten years, there was a general peace in the land – really unprecedented.  How was this managed?  An example is offered regarding Lotharingia – the lands adjacent to the West Franks.

…Theophano had spent a lot of energy trying to maintain peace as well as possession of Lotharingia.  She used her relationships with other noblewomen to achieve these aims through mediation.

In 985, she held a meeting in Metz, alongside Queen Emma (wife of Lothar IV), Duchess Beatrice (Hugh Capet’s sister), Adelheid (Hugh Capet’s wife), Queen Mathilda of Burgundy, Gerberga (sister of Henry the Quarreler).  Other such meetings were held – not always successful, but a true effort at diplomacy.

Theophano died young, thirty-two years old at most.  She was buried in Cologne. The site is currently administered by the priests of Opus Dei.


Just a small example of the behavior expected of a king.  And a large example of the liberal society that was hidden in the so-called Dark Ages.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Reformation

It is better that all of the peasants should be killed rather than that the sovereign and magistrates should be destroyed, because the peasants take up the sword without God’s authorisation.

-        Martin Luther

‘The decline of Christian unity,’ writes Frank Furedi, ‘coincided with a powerful momentum for national territorial centralisation.’

In certain aspects, the Reformation did not create a new reality; instead, it accelerated (and offered a vehicle for) processes and changes that were already taking place.  Even in the late fifteenth century, state centralization was taking hold in France – Germany and Italy remaining quite decentralized.

Decentralized, but after the Reformation secular power no longer had to compete with the Church as a governance institution.  Within forty years of Luther’s taking hammer and nail to the church door, the Diet of Augsburg declared that Germany was irreparably divided into Catholic and Protestant states. 

…there can be no doubt…that as a result of the Reformation, the embryonic centralising states, both Protestant and Catholic, gained enhanced political power and control.

The loss of the Church as an institution with the authority to pass judgement on secular leaders would prove to be one of the key events leading to the formation of what we know as the state.

Casey offers predecessors to Luther.  Wycliffe offered that only Scripture was authoritative; he also attacked private property.  On the latter, the “Spiritual” Franciscans held the same view regarding property.  Had this view held sway, the Church could never find its expression in worldly matters; science would have been stopped.

Regarding property, Wycliffe was even more radical than these Franciscans: the Franciscans were addressing Church property; Wycliffe was considering all property – none to be held privately by anyone.  “…no one while in mortal sin has a simple right to any of God’s gifts.”  That “simple right” being all that stood between man and a quick trip to the pearly gates (or the other place).

It is worth noting the prevalence of a popular but mistaken belief that the Protestant Reformers, in contrast to the repressive Catholic Church, were the apostles of liberty.

The Reformation was many things but by no stretch of the imagination was it the result of a clamour for religious liberty or, indeed, for liberty more broadly construed.

In fact, it ushered in perhaps the most intolerant period in Christian history.

After Luther, Protestantism took its many forms: those like Luther and Calvin who still saw a united, universal Church, and the radicals “who professed every sort of extreme idea,” to include, “most dangerously, religious tolerance.”

As you will note from the opening quote from Luther, Augustine’s unfortunate interpretation of Romans 13 was influential; Luther, after all, began his religious life as an Augustinian. 

As Ellen Meiksins Wood puts it, ‘there hardly exists in the Western canon a more uncompromising case for strict obedience to secular authority; and this…belongs to the essence of Lutheran doctrine.’

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Peace of God

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-        Philippians 4:7

Charlemagne’s attempt at consolidation and empire ended in failure and chaos, especially in his original domain – the land of the Franks, the western lands of continental Europe.  Within a couple of generations, war, battles, highwaymen, theft: a drive for kingship and emperorship by some, a fight for survival by many.

The church tried to stem the extent of feudal warfare through “the peace of God.”

This wasn’t faith without works or words without action.  The movement began with the bishops and was spread by the bishops.  It might be considered one of the first popular movements in the medieval west, beginning in 989 at the monastery at Charroux, and then spreading in subsequent years to Le Puy (990), Narbonne (990), Limoges (994), and Poiters (1000).  Orleans and Burgundy subsequently followed.  The assemblies were held in open fields, with ever-larger crowds participating.

Excommunication was the threat used to reign in the recalcitrant:

Those who refused to keep the peace were excluded from Mass and Communion, refused forgiveness of sin, and denied church burial in consecrated ground, which effectively condemned them to hell.

Citing Ronald C. Musto:

In an age when salvation was the goal of life, such measures were of incalculable power.

The peace of God was followed by (and, apparently, merged into) the “truce of God,” which began about forty years later and in a different part of France.  What is common in both movements?  The Church, and God; a desire to reduce conflict and recognize life and property.

From George Duby, an influential French historian who specialized in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages:

The Peace and Truce of God, by attaching sacred significance to privacy, helped create a space in which communal gatherings could take place and thus encouraged the reconstitution of public space at the village level ... In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations.

From James Westfall Thompson:

Germans looked with mingled horror and contempt at the French 'anarchy'. To Maintain the king's peace was the first duty of a German sovereign.

For the Germans, such proclamations seemed redundant to what was already assumed a king’s duties.

Returning to Collins and the Franks:

Warlords gradually came to see the peace as a kind of treaty with God, the breaking of which would lead to divine chastisement.  The movement soon took on a popular tinge, as the church used crowds of ordinary people to persuade warlords to stop fighting.

A “treaty with God.”  We really can’t consider this merely a “contract.”  I am unaware of contractual clauses that come with the risk – a risk taken seriously by the parties – of eternal damnation for breaking the terms.

In addition to the regions of what is today France, peace was eventually declared in and between the Frankish regions bordering the east and the south:

Glaber tells us that Robert II “lived in peace with the rulers around his borders, especially the [German] Emperor Henry II.”  Henry and Robert met in 1023 on the Meuse River to strengthen the peace.

While protocol demanded a mid-river meeting, Henry chose to cross the river with only a small escort; the two then celebrated Mass.  After this, they had breakfast together, exchanged gifts, and proclaimed a universal peace.  Thereafter, the peace spread to Italy and Spain.

Was the peace ultimately effective?  I guess all things are relative; effective, compared to what or when?  It wasn’t a perfect peace, as man is not perfect.  Yet, the next centuries would witness the flowering of everything that is considered the best and most productive of the Middle Ages – from industrial developments, castle building, intellectual advancement, a liberalizing of society, the flowering of free cities, the birth of the university.


Excommunication and damnation to hell – “in an age when salvation was the goal of life.” 

Shunning is an effective and non-aggressive tool to govern behavior.  The issue, as always, is the underlying culture: what actions result in being shunned, and are these actions supportive of or destructive to life.

An eye on legacy – even eternity; this is also effective at controlling behavior – and perhaps one of the more important factors that shape culture.  A family, children, grandchildren – a belief in an afterlife; all cause man to consider the long-term impact of his choices and actions. 

Compare this with our situation today.  For many of the “nobles” of our age, “he who dies with the most toys wins” guides life choices.  Given the short-term focus and an environment of political correctness that purposely destroys family and church, the weapon of shunning today’s nobles toward peace, prosperity and liberty may not be so effective.

We don’t move toward liberty without first addressing this culture.  Which is why I grow further convinced that Christian leaders must once again play their proper role.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Few Thoughts

Different events, but related.

Make America Great Again

If I were to speak in such language, how would I define “great”?  I would say…Eliminate America’s role as global hegemon and primary elite tool for one-world, universal government.

While the wheels were already in motion, can you look at Trump’s actions and say anything other than “he is accomplishing this”?

Mid-Term Election

Let’s not speak of democrats and republicans; let’s instead speak of establishment globalists and MAGA (as defined above) supporters.

Why are the establishment globalists working hard to discredit the upcoming mid-term election?  You would think that if they expected to gain a majority in the House, and perhaps gain several seats in the Senate, they would trumpet the message that they have successfully implemented ways to ensure the Russians could no longer meddle.

Why discredit the election if you thought you would “win”?  I think to ask the question is to answer it.  Who knows, maybe they will claim that they purified the election systems a few days before the vote.  Also, maybe Trump will make public all the information necessary to make clear the crimes of the actors behind the scam known as Russiagate.

Different Actors, Same Story?

I just listened to an interesting Tom Woods podcast, on the latest situation in the Catholic Church: the homosexual-pedophile scandals, the response by the Pope and other apologists, and the potential ramifications. 

I will not do justice to the discussion by attempting to summarize it other than to say that it strikes me as a parallel play to the establishment globalists vs. MAGA supporters.  More than this: also the play to purposely destroy the moral authority of the Church – again for the purposes of the establishment globalists.