Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Choice

One can point to many inflection points in the history of the west and western tradition: the Resurrection of Christ, the fall of Rome, the establishment of Christianity and Christendom, the Battle of Tours, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Battle of Vienna, the Enlightenment, and, finally, the Great War.  Several decades after the Reformation we find this debate. 

Alvarado examines this debate between Grotius and Althusius – or, more precisely, between their views on political order.  I have examined Althusius in great detail in the past, being introduced to him through Gerard Casey’s work, where he also examined Grotius. 

A simple view of this debate: Grotius thought in terms of international governance and individualism; Althusius thought in terms of decentralized and local governance; he attempted to mimic the decentralization of medieval Europe, however while lacking a very important factor: the Church that could stand in the face of the king.  In other words, I think the debate had no chance of being given a fair hearing or concluding with any other outcome.

From the Preface:

That the modern world is in a state of crisis is no secret. What has been building up for some time is now breaking out into the open: the utter untenability of a social order based on the primacy of the individual as the absolute standard and justification for authority, law, and order.

I read such words and the libertarian in me cringes – but not nearly as much as I would have cringed ten years ago.  I would have cringed reflexively, brought on by any challenge to the (political) primacy of the individual.  Yet today I can look around and see the damage this philosophy has brought to liberty.  It isn’t that I have done away with the individual; it is just that this idea is too shallow for liberty to survive in its wake.

As Alvarado notes, this has brought politics into every nook and cranny of life, as there is no room for institutions with the authority to intermediate between the individual and the state.  Few have pointed to or warned of this danger, but Alvarado notes Robert Nisbet who wrote of it more than 60 years ago.  Nisbet, like Althusius, saw the necessity of building from the bottom up such intermediating institutions as necessary to give man room and cover for his liberty.

Alvarado frames the debate that occurred four centuries ago:

For at the crossroads of Western civilization, at around the turn of the 17th century, an eventful and fateful choice was made, to go down the path of rationalist individualism instead of the path of communitarian associationalism. The two representatives of these opposing approaches to social order were Hugo Grotius and Johannes Althusius.

Alvarado offers an essay as introduction to the book: he describes Constantinople in 1453, finally succumbing to the Muslim Ottoman forces.

Western civilization today appears to be in the same position as Constantinople was in 1453: hunkered down behind once-impregnable walls, the breach of which is only a matter of time.

It is depressing to read, but this is the situation today.  Unfortunately, today the calamity is entirely self-inflicted – the west is consuming and willingly destroying itself.  In this, Alvarado finds it worthwhile to examine the crossroads and path taken at this similar time in the past – occurring in the Dutch Republic during its struggle to free itself from the Spanish Monarchy.  Two men, drawing on similar sources and with similar backgrounds, yet developing significantly differing political concepts.

Many new technologies were brought into play, technologies that would also shape the debate: the printing press (a driving factor in the Renaissance and Reformation), gunpowder (leveling the playing field between noble and peasant; changing the dynamic for walled cities), new techniques for silver mining and production (making the New World especially valuable).

In the middle of this were the Ottomans, threatening Europe and the Mediterranean in a manner unseen since the forces of Islam several hundred years earlier.  This was a driving factor in Portugal and Spain looking for alternative routes to the East – leading to circumnavigation of the globe.  Machiavelli is introduced – maligned by many, yet when taken in the context of the aftermath of the defeat of his beloved Florentine republic becomes, perhaps, a more sympathetic character.

The question at hand – in this tremendous confluence of religious, political, technological, and military upheaval: what of the jus gentium, “law of nations”?

What was involved was a common baseline understanding of sovereignty, extending in both directions – outward toward other nations, and inward, in terms of the structure of authority and constitutionalism.

It would be Spain where this question would first be dealt with, appropriate as Spain sat at the heart of many of these upheavals: the conflicts on the Italian peninsula, a major bulwark against the Ottomans, ruling over the North Countries – soon enough to be embroiled in a Catholic–Calvinist civil war, and a major power in conquering and settling the New World.  Each of these issues presented new challenges regarding this “law of nations” – some completely unknown even a few decades earlier.

The pioneer in this regard was Francisco de Vitoria, holder of the first chair of theology at the University of Salamanca, and founder of what has gone down in history as the School of Salamanca.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is the Pope Christian?

Bishop Athanasius Schneider gave an address on 16 May 2019 at the Rome Life Forum on the theme “City of man vs City of God – Global One World Order vs Christendom.”  Consider the theme of this Forum: a Global one world order (city of man) vs. the decentralized governance that was an inherent feature of “Christendom” (City of God) – in other words, the European Middle Ages.

Before getting into this address, a brief discussion on the topic: it is an examination of political universalism vs. political decentralization.  This distinction is a point of conflict not only in the libertarian world, but in the West more broadly. 

The universalists see and value no meaningful difference in culture, yet are known for championing “diversity”; those for decentralization see and value meaningful differences in culture, yet are known for being enemies of “diversity.”  I know, it doesn’t make any sense.  The universalists look forward to one law for all; those for decentralization understand that this is a wish for global totalitarianism.

On to Bishop Schneider (and for those who find this too “Christian,” keep in mind the context of universalism vs. decentralization):

Ultimately it is the replacement of the kingship of God and concretely of the kingship of Jesus Christ by the kingship of Satan or the kingship of godless or atheist men.

It was the Enlightenment that finally freed man from any connection to God.  “God is dead,” as Nietzsche infamously observed, to be replaced by man’s reason.  The consequence of this, according to Schneider?

The city of Man contains in its root the impulse to totalitarianism, to a global totalitarianism which will demand total submission and which will not tolerate the reign of the true king of this world and of humankind, who is the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ.

I can see a lot of eyes rolling out there: “bionic has finally fallen off of the deep end.”  Hey, I have fallen off of more deep ends than you know, but on this one?  I don’t think so.  Christianity has proven to be a necessary, but not sufficient, foundation for liberty; this plays out in the dividing line of universalism vs. decentralization or “woke” vs. “deplorable.”

If you had to read that about six times, join the club.  It makes no sense to me – the Vatican is attacking a gesture toward the Christian faith.  Even the Vatican has declared war on Christianity.  Let’s get some details:

The Catholic Italian politician [Matteo Salvini] with whom Pope Francis reportedly refuses to meet because of his immigration stance held and kissed a rosary during a political rally over the weekend and invoked the Blessed Mother…this while Francis has met on repeated occasions with supporters of abortion and other issues in conflict with Church teaching.

The universalist pope vs. the decentralizing politician.

Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro…issued several critical tweets, spreading the criticism on Facebook as well, saying Christians should be outraged.

Christians should be outraged that a politician invoked Mary?  Well, OK, I mean I know this might not sit very well with many Protestants, but still…outraged?

Bishop Domenico Mogavero, of Mazara del Vallo…said Salvini can no longer call himself a Christian…

Invoking Mary – does this make him a Muslim?  A Jew? 

There are at least a few with contrary views:

Catholic Herald columnist and associate professor of theology for the Catholic University of America C.C. Pecknold…acknowledged a globalist effort to de-Christianize the West via mass migration.   [He] noted that Salvini quoted Sarah in his speech, along with G.K. Chesterton, Pope Saint John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Quoting any of those three will get you thrown out of polite company.

Returning to Schneider:

Never has it been so capitally important to understand clearly the true foundations of all social life as in these days when humanity, diseased by the poison of social errors and perversions and tossed by a fever of conflicting desires, doctrines, and aims, has become the unhappy prey of a disorder created by itself, and is experiencing the disruptive effects of false social theories that neglect and contravene the laws of God.

If you like, you may replace that last part with “the laws of liberty,” or “the laws of economics”; because the same poison has consumed all three – and all three have their common roots in Natural Law grounded in a Christian ethic and worldview. 


Schneider quotes Juan Donoso Cortés, a Catholic Spanish politician, who gave a speech to the Spanish Parliament on January 4, 1849:

“When the religious thermometer is high, the thermometer of political repression is low; and, when the religious thermometer low, the political thermometer—political repression—tyranny is high.”

Something will provide governance: a common culture and tradition or a tyrannical state.  There is no third option.

“Today, the way is prepared for a gigantic, colossal, universal, and immense tyrant; everything is ready for it. …there are no moral resistances because all wills are divided and all patriotisms are dead.”

Universalism – whether libertarian or otherwise – is ushering in this tyranny. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Free at Last

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose

-          Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster; most famously performed by Janis Joplin

In Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation of religion in America, he described it as “the first of their political institutions.”  There is little of this visible in the situation today:

Values and moral commitments that were then widely shared no longer are.  This is the outcome of a long historical process, and it also lies at the root of some widely acknowledged frustrations in American public life and political culture today, difficulties that have never been more apparent than since the election of November 2016.

Gregory sees the fragmentation of Protestantism as a significant contributor to the secularization and fragmentation of American society.  The Bible – a complex collection of ancient texts – is interpreted in many different ways, and Protestants lack any shared authority to settle disputes.

Darwin is introduced as the figure in history that also defines the split in liberal vs. fundamentalist Protestants.  This is reasonable if one is considering the Bible as literal regarding creation.  But Gregory then offers that these two camps – defined this way – “typically hold rival political, social, and moral views….”

The context of Gregory’s discussion is the division in America that was made most visible in the 2016 election.  It isn’t clear to me that the division is along the lines that Gregory offers, that one’s view on creation (Young Earth vs. Old Earth) was the defining characteristic of those who voted for Trump vs. Clinton, respectively.

According to Gregory, this division (Young Earth fundamentalists vs. Old Earth liberals) is explanatory regarding views toward abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and many other social issues.

As a result, Protestantism can no longer inform American society in any coherent way.

This much is true, but the way Gregory defines the split seems too convenient and simplistic – it sounds very liberal and Enlightened (as opposed to conservative and deplorable): the dummies (Young Earth) voted for Trump, the intelligent (Old Earth) voted for Clinton; the dummies have the wrong view on many social issues, the intelligent have this right.

In fact, Gregory skips over the Enlightenment entirely, yet it seems to me that the divisions we see in society today are reflected more in rival views of the long-term effects of Enlightenment, as it was here that God was removed fully and finally from public life.  Of course, one can trace a string from the Enlightenment back to the Reformation; Gregory doesn’t do this.

I don’t write this to suggest that it takes away from my view of Gregory’s historical analysis; I just think he makes a strong political point in his closing chapter without meaningful factual basis or evidence.

Returning to Gregory: secularization was further driven by the influx of non-Protestants (Catholics and Jews) at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.  These eventually would be in a position to object to Protestant views and values reflected in laws, schools, and many institutions. 

Yet it seems to me that the die was already cast by then – the Civil War happened already and Protestants did a good job of arguing both sides of slavery and war.  I don’t discount the impact of introducing even more diverse voices (and the diversity, such as it is defined popularly, today is infinitely more stifling), but I return to the thought that a discussion of the impact of the Enlightenment is more explanatory than an influx of Catholics and Jews.

Gregory describes the legacy of state support for churches in Europe, making it “almost impossible for members of the clergy to stand apart from the imperialism and military involvements of their respective countries.”  It seems to me that, at least in the US, the state has figured out how to accomplish pretty much the same thing.  In fact, much of the strongest support for the military and interventionism will be found in Protestant churches.

Once Christianity was put under the control of the king (desired by Luther) as a result of the Reformation, it was certain to be made a tool of the state.  Religion no longer informs the state; the state informs religion.

Religion no longer informs society either; it is an individual, internal matter.  What has replaced Christianity in this secularized society?  More stuff:

To judge by most people’s actions today, they believe that the goods life is the good life, and they devote themselves to this whether or not they also believe in God or engage in worship or prayer.

Throughout the West, consumption of goods and pursuit of enjoyment has replaced religion. 

This would have horrified – if perhaps not surprised – Luther and Calvin and other sixteenth century Protestant reformers.

What the Dutch identified as the method by which they could get past religious division, the British extended and the Americans perfected.  Trade brings on peace: there are many who believe this, including many libertarians.  But it seems to me that something more is necessary.

The decades before World War One in Europe epitomized the realization of this liberal view.  If one wants to read the dictionary definition of classical liberalism and liberty applied, one would find this era.  Yet extended peace was not the result.  Europe consumed itself.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The New World

The Reformation is a paradox: a religious revolution that led to the secularization of society.

What does Gregory mean by “secularization”? 

…[secularization] refers specifically to the declining influence of religion in public life…politics, law, economics, education, social relationships, family life, morality, and the culture at large.

This secularization is described by Gregory as the broadest and most far-reaching outcome of the Reformation.  A major impact of this secularization is the loss of any ability for the Church (or some form of unified Christianity) to stand as a decentralizing force in governance. 

Gregory points to two other unintended consequences: first, the proliferation of versions of “Protestants.”  I would say that they multiplied like rabbits, but then one of you would make a Catholic joke and all hell would break lose in the comments section.  So I take that back.

Second is the relationship of Magisterial Protestantism (Lutherans and Calvinists) and Catholicism; they agreed that non-Lutheran and non-Calvinist Protestants had to be done away with.  Neither Catholic nor Protestant leaders intended to divide Christendom or bring on recurrent violence.  It seems to me that this could be true of much of the clergy given the number of councils and other attempts at reconciliation over many years.

The Reformation cemented heresies as far as the Catholics were concerned; it also gave new life to the Antichrist (as far as Protestants were concerned) in Rome.  It resulted in religion being controlled by politics, as opposed to informing politics and providing a check on power.  Religion became an individual matter, which meant it would play no institutional role in society.

Intellectually, theology had to be separated from philosophy and the investigation of the natural world.  I don’t even know how the former is possible; as to the latter, it only means artificially limiting the definition of the term “natural world” by introducing the concept of the supernatural (as if all of the “natural” in the universe can be comprehended by man).

It is no accident that modern philosophy and the Enlightenment emerged in the seventeenth century as intellectual reactions to the problems of the Reformation era.

Two of the major thinkers of this Enlightenment, René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes, were directly and adversely affected by the so-called wars of religion: the former as a soldier during the Thirty Years’ War and the latter who took refuge in Paris during the English Revolution.  They would attempt to base morality on reason alone – reason devoid of religion and tradition.  As Gregory describes this effort: “Or at least that was the plan.”

The plan has seen its fruits in the twentieth century, and is now being replace by a new plan – a post-modern plan, where there is never such a thing as a knowable objective truth.  New atheists are attempting to combat this with the same tools used by Descartes and Hobbes: reason devoid of religion and tradition.  Edward Feser has examined the claims of these new atheists and found them lacking.

In the Dutch republic, religion was restricted and in its place commerce was unleashed. 

According to the Union of Utrecht (1579), the Dutch republic’s most important founding document, each province is allowed to address religion as it sees fit, without interference from other provinces, “so long as each person shall be permitted to remain free in his religion and that no one shall be permitted to be investigated or persecuted for reason of religion.”

Shortly thereafter and as a result of the continuing wars with Spain, Catholic worship is outlawed altogether.  Meanwhile, the southern provinces establish the Union of Arras, which mandates Catholicism as the established religion.  Protestant refugees flee to the north.

With numerous religions and sects present, the one thing that binds the Dutch community is trade.  Trade is open to all: Calvinists, Arminians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Catholics, and Jews are all represented in the wealthier class.  Yet magistrates continue to monitor religion, out of a concern that some might decide to get overly political.

It turns out that regardless of their religion, almost everyone likes more and better material things.

This mix still works as at the time, because for the most part, Christians are Christian.  They share much more in common than they are divided by their differences.  Marriage, family relationships, responsibilities to others, civic duties, and a common sense of morality remain; differences regarding interpretation of scripture, grace and salvation, the sacraments, etc., are pushed to the rear – at least as far as political life is concerned.

Within about a century, the Dutch are replaced by the English as a global trading empire.  The English have learned something about religious toleration and commerce from the Dutch, with London replacing Amsterdam as Europe’s leading commercial city.

John Locke publishes his Tolerations, arguing for a sharp separation between church and state; Isaac Newton’s discoveries inspire a new variety of Protestantism – Deism: God created the universe and set its laws in motion, then took a long nap from which He is yet to wake.  Scripture might be useful for moral teaching, but nothing more – even here, it is good for moral teaching that conforms to reason derived absent scripture!  Which eventually pretty much renders scripture useless.

America’s founding documents make clear that religion is completely separable from the rest of life.  There is no publicly supported church – at least at the federal level; many states, for a time, offer such support.  Madison and Jefferson continue in the Dutch tradition:

Religion has to be construed as something that will not disrupt public life or divide citizens.  That means its scope has to be restricted, and what it applies to has to be limited.

Jefferson famously offered: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Easy enough to say when virtually all Americans were Christian of some sort, although it took the horrors of almost two centuries of European conflict to get to even this point.

The modern Western understanding of religion succeeds in the early decades of the United States, but not because Americans are rugged religious individualists, each eager to go her or his own way.  It succeeds because most of them are Christians, especially English-speaking white Protestants, who continue to share so much in common despite the disagreements that divide their churches.

It is best that I have no comment to any of this….


We look at the founding documents as establishing some form of common culture: “America is an idea,” we are often told.  This is not correct.  The founding documents presupposed a common culture; it was this common culture that was the foundation for the ideas in the documents.

What happens to the ideas in the documents when even the remnants of this common culture are lost?  Are the documents any longer of functional use, or are they merely museum pieces?  And then what?