Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Search for Liberty


Preface

Nine years ago, I somewhat formally began this journey.  I didn’t think of it as a journey at the time, because to have done so would have implied that I had some sort of some sort of path or destination in mind.  I didn’t. 

Much of my initial work was in debunking standard historical narratives – call it my feeble contribution to revisionist history; I had a special focus in the events leading up to the wars of the twentieth century.  I don’t think it would have been possible for me to move toward questioning much more fundamental narratives – e.g. the West offers the freest society ever anywhere in the world as the individual and reason freed us from the dogmas and chains of tradition – without first doing this revisionist work.

In broadest terms I worked through an understanding of thin libertarianism, which led me into confrontation with what can be described as left-libertarians, which brought on a challenge by one of these for me to attack Hoppe’s positions as I have done against the left, which led me to an understanding of a necessary cultural foundation for liberty, which then took me through medieval Christendom and the extended period of what was the longest-lasting period of reasonably libertarian law.

Which took me through the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment – which brought me to the view that our liberty was lost through these, not found.  All of this was aided by the many books that I read along the way – I think I was much more the follower than the leader in this, with one book pulling me toward the next.  More importantly, this was aided by the many feedbackers at the blog – some still commenting, some – unfortunately (in most cases) for the rest of us – no longer.

I must offer a small diversion regarding the Reformation: I have tried to stay away from theological aspects of the split(s) between and among Christians – both then and now.  As Gerard Casey offered, in his phenomenal book,  Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought:  “I know full well how hazardous an enterprise it is to set sail on the controversial and disputed sea of Scriptural interpretation….”  To which I respond, “Amen, brother!”

For my purposes: The Reformation brought about the split in the Church, making Christianity impotent to stand up to the king and eliminating the primary institution that ensured decentralized governance.  These are factual, political statements – wholly sperate from the theological dispute or other reasons for the split.

I also do not lay this entirely at Luther’s feet; the Church had many faults that were, for too long, ignored.  With or without Luther, this was coming as long as the Church refused to deal with these faults.

So…if liberty is not to be found where we have always been told to look – in modernity, beginning with the Renaissance and reaching full flower in the Enlightenment – then where will we find it?  This leads to the purpose of this journey – a purpose I was not aware of nine years ago:

Now my real work begins: Aristotle passes through Aquinas passes through the School of Salamanca passes through CS Lewis.  There are many libertarians – and very prominent ones – that buy into this 100%, as long as you don’t bring up the idea of God.  This is certainly true of those known as the New Atheists (libertarian or not).  They all offer a road that leads to a dead end…literally.

How deep do I want to dive into this?  I am not sure.  How qualified am I to dive into this?  Not at all.  But I believe that I have to do something.

Well, this is the beginning of that “something.”  As each chapter is published, the links will be found here.  I don’t believe any of the chapters will be some form of a republishing of my earlier work, however I suspect I will link to these or quote from these as these play into the narrative.

Introduction

You will forgive the following very lengthy quotes, but they establish the foundation for the rest of this work:


According to the proponents of this [Whig theory of history], what makes the present age so great and qualifies it as the best of all times is the combination of two factors: for one, never before in human history have technology and the natural sciences reached as high a level of development and have the average material living standards been as high as today – which appears essentially correct and which fact without doubt contributes greatly to the public appeal and acceptance of the Whig theory; and secondly, never before in history have people supposedly experienced as much freedom as today with the development of “liberal democracy” or “democratic capitalism” – which claim, despite its widespread popularity, I consider a historical myth and, since the degree of freedom and of economic and technological development are indeed positively correlated, leads me to the conclusion that average material living standards would have been even higher than they presently are if history only had taken a different course.


Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart; delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University:

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

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Friedrich Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman:

"Where has God gone?" [the madman] cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I.”

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Men Have Forgotten God; 1983 Templeton Address:

Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.

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Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart; delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University:

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.

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We are told that the Enlightenment brought us liberty.  We read some of the leading lights of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and find words and sentiments that sound an awful lot like liberty.  It is not so.  The Enlightenment gave us man’s reason set apart from tradition, culture, and religion – specifically Christianity.  It gave us the individual as sovereign and superior.  By giving us these, the Enlightenment removed every intermediating institution that stood between the individual and tyranny. 

Today, we search for what has been lost from the Enlightenment, from the promise of Classical Liberalism.  Our sights are aimed in the wrong direction.  When it comes to understanding our loss of liberty, the proper question is: what is required to be reintroduced that the Enlightenment destroyed?

As we must always remember, Marx was just as much an inevitable product of the Enlightenment as was Jefferson – it just took the West longer to get there.  The Enlightenment killed God, and with this, our liberty.

I believe our liberty will be found in Natural Law as developed in the Aristotelian – Thomistic tradition.  Many libertarians base their deduced natural rights from this natural law (and many non-libertarians who are in search of proper obligations and ethics do so as well), albeit almost as many want to divorce God despite the fact that He was absolutely in evidence in Thomas’s development of Aristotle’s concepts – I am on quite safe ground in stating that Thomas was surrounded by this God and was swimming in this tradition. 

As God is and has been always present everywhere, and as man is always in search of God, both Aristotle and other philosophers around the world have been and are – whether they know it (or admit it) or not – in search of Him.  Every major religion proclaims the Golden Rule.

Natural law grounded in Christian ethics can inform proper behavior in society – behavior necessary to sustain liberty and freedom; the non-aggression principle can help to inform regarding those violations of natural law that are deserving of physical punishment.  It is this that I wish to develop further. 

Just because I am beginning this phase of the journey does not suggest that I know where or how it will end – or even if I will continue to believe such things when finished.  After all, anyone who recalls bionic mosquito from the early days of The Daily Bell would probably say that this current manifestation is hardly recognizable. 

To which I will offer: first, I am pleased to the extent that this is so; it demonstrates that I am doing a reasonably decent job of allowing the journey to lead where it will, as opposed to me leading the journey to a pre-determined end.  Second, perhaps there is no change at all – from the beginning I have been after understanding liberty.

As has been true for virtually all of my public writing, this is a work of educating me; it is not a work of passing on that which I already know.  So please don’t expect more than this.

Is Libertarianism Sufficient for Liberty?  I think not.  In an attempt to provide purely objective law – and only objective law – pure libertarian law applied, without some statement regarding culture and tradition, will never allow us to reach the highest levels of human possibilities, as Solzhenitsyn suggests.  And, after all, can you offer a better definition of liberty than reaching our “highest levels of human possibilities”?

This is the purpose of this journey. 

8 comments:

  1. I truly look forward to this.

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  2. "Natural law grounded in Christian ethics can inform proper behavior in society – behavior necessary to sustain liberty and freedom; the non-aggression principle can help to inform regarding those violations of natural law that are deserving of physical punishment. It is this that I wish to develop further. "

    I look forward to you doing so.

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    Replies
    1. This was the paragraph that stuck out for me too. I would say maybe, and perhaps Bionic meant it this way, that instead of Christian ethics, a genuine Christian faith must be the grounding of natural law.

      Christian ethics are wonderful, but without a belief in a higher power enforcing these ethics, how long will these ethics last as an actionable guideline for people, especially those entrusted with authority?

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    2. ATL, just thinking out loud...I use the term "natural law grounded in Christian ethics" to differentiate it from natural law grounded elsewhere - for example, there are natural law libertarians who find no violation of natural law in abortion...and, in fact, find the violation in those who oppose abortion.

      Also, natural law grounded in Christian ethics does impose some positive obligations - again, contrary to views held by many natural law libertarians. Albeit, I make a distinction that the issue on this point regards physical punishment, not proper (and liberty-sustaining) behavior.

      Regarding a genuine Christian faith, it seems to me that a meaningful portion of any community (however small or large bound politically) must have genuine Christian faith if Christian ethics (and, therefore natural law grounded in...oh, I need to come up with an acronym) are to survive in the community.

      So I think this is what I mean...but I am still growing.

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    3. Thanks for the clarification. You were distinguishing between natural law adherents who were or were not also bound by the tenets of Christianity. That makes perfect sense. I agree that Christian faith is required to maintain Christian ethics, but I wonder what constitutes a "meaningful portion" or "widely held belief" (a phrase I like to use)? I don't think it is just a numbers game, but having numbers would sure be nice.

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    4. "Christian ethics are wonderful, but without a belief in a higher power enforcing these ethics, how long will these ethics last as an actionable guideline for people, especially those entrusted with authority?"

      Hey ATL- good to hear from you, it's been a while. I wanted to digest your statement for a day or two before responding.

      First, I think that someone who believes in the importance of Christian ethics in terms of holding society together has plenty of motivation to try to stick to said ethics out of concern for himself and society as a whole.(that is, someone who is genuine)

      You are right of course to question those in authority, but let us not forget that many of those currently in authority positions in the "state" claim to be Christians yet seem to have a hard time abiding by said ethics.

      I'm going to lightly touch upon the fact that belief in Christ/God has not been enough for all Christians walking the earth in terms of adhering to the Christian code of ethics(perfectly that is), except one, if you could call him a Christian- which is a metaphysical question that we don't need to answer at this moment.

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  3. "Just because I am beginning this phase of the journey does not suggest that I know where or how it will end – or even if I will continue to believe such things when finished. "

    You're a servant of the truth, not any particular ideology. I've come to believe this is the mark of a true conservative; it explains why many conservatives often have a distaste for ideology and systemic thinking (sometimes to their detriment, truth is necessarily systemic).

    I've certainly changed many of my views since I began my journey about 6 years ago, so I hope I can be counted among the true conservatives as well.

    In describing conservatism and change, EvKL posits the following:

    "At the same time it is obvious that the conservative aim cannot be a totally static world, because that is undesirable and impossible. It would be inhuman. The "state" and "society" of the ants, the termites, or the bees are completely immutable. Man is always faced with change-be it revolutionary (involving destruction) or evolutionary... There must be action among men and there must be thought, and with these two elements in the Western World change is unavoidable. The problem is to achieve organic progress, which means the preservation of real values [Christianity], the resuscitation of past, forgotten or abandoned values [the Natural Law], and the addition of new values harmonizing with the patrimony we have received [NAP]. Of course not everything that is old or taken over from the preceding generation is good; not everything seemingly brand new is bad." - EvKL, Leftism [additions are mine]

    If change is necessary, then what shall be the responsible vehicle of it? Apart from modern revelation, we can only rely on reason.

    "Still, the reactionary position should be rejected as antirational. Reason rather than sentiment is the distinguishing mark separating man from beast. Naturally reason, wrongly employed, perverted and under the yoke of emotions, is worse than mere sentimentalism-and this, precisely, was the "rationalism" of the Enlightenment. God created man, after all, in such a way that his head is above his heart... It is, however, this false rationalism of the dying eighteenth century which created a reaction against reason, and this particular reaction again affected not only the nascent conservative camp of the early nineteenth century but even the Catholic Church. " - EvKL, Leftism [speaking of Continental Conservatism]

    So in the process of responsible change, reason must be employed, but prudentially, bound by the natural law, the NAP, and the Christian faith. So faith + reason is our key. Not a circle with God in the center (Luther) or a circle with Man in the center (Rousseau) but an ellipse with two foci: God and Man (Aquinas). Good luck my friend!

    In the same paragraph, EvKL (Catholic) offers a small jab at Protestants with this:

    "One cannot blame the faiths of the Reformation for their attitude, since antirationalism belongs organically to their theology." - EvKL

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  4. Here is a great article written at the American Conservative by Casey Chalk which lightly details the origins of the freedom of religion in the West.

    Hint: they're not to be found in the Enlightenment.

    "It is only just and a privilege inherent in human nature that every person should be able to worship according to his own convictions; the religious practice of one person neither harms nor helps another. It is not part of religion to coerce religious practice, for it is by choice not coercion that we should be led to religion... For see that you do not give a further ground for the charge of irreligion, by taking away religious liberty, and forbidding free choice of deity, so that I may no longer worship according to my inclination, but am compelled to worship against it. " - Tertullian, early third century A.D.

    Casey's parting shot:

    "Yet perhaps to better protect religion’s role in the public square, it’s necessary to return to the thought of other pre-Enlightenment sources—those less tainted by the contradictions and inadequacies of liberalism. Only then can America develop an understanding of true religious liberty."

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