Monday, August 5, 2019

The Search for Liberty; Chapter Seventeen: Ergo Summatim

NB: All previous chapters can be found here.

Well, that’s it.  I think it is worth offering a brief summary as it seems a good way to close this book; it also will be helpful for those who don’t want to read too much.

In Plato we find the Form of the Good – the perfect triangle that exists in the abstract.  Aristotle placed this in physical form.  In other words, Plato offered us God; Aristotle required Jesus – the perfect form made manifest.

Human beings, like all of creation, are created with a purpose, an end, a telos.  It is easy to understand this for a tree, a rock, or a lion.  It is easy to understand this for an eye or a heart.  So why not when it comes to humans?  Are we given rationality and reason in exchange for a lack of proper ends?  “Do whatever you want”?  It seems a poor trade, one sure to lead to a meaningless life; it could easily lead to hell on earth.

But then what is that end?  God is the Form of the Good, but this is not understandable and therefore hardly useful for humans – what do we do with that which is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent?  We are none of these and can comprehend little of these.  We have been given Jesus – the Form of the Good made manifest.  In Him and through Him we find man’s end and purpose. 

Man’s end or purpose can be summarized in the Golden Rule, which can be considered the basis or objective of Natural Law.  Throughout history and throughout the world, the concept of the Golden Rule has been offered – in many cultures and many religious traditions.  However, only in Christianity did it develop in a manner extended to all humans, and not merely to kings – perhaps because the concept of man being made in God’s image is fundamental to Christianity.

Thomas Aquinas further developed Aristotelian Metaphysics, incorporating Christian theology into a holistic philosophical view.  While not being the first to do so, he offered happiness as the end, or purpose, for man.  But not happiness in the superficial sense we know the term; in the Latin, beatitudo:

The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action.

These ends are objective – they are not chosen at random by the pure reason of each individual.  These ends are to be discovered; they are in humans, not invented by humans. 

The issue: can the judged also be judge?  Can man be the judge of proper natural law?  If it is on man’s judgement – man’s pure reason – then how is this law objective?  Who, or what, will arbitrate when two men disagree?  On what basis will this be settled?  Will there be a third man above these two?  Who will stand in judgement of him?  If man (meaning all men) judges in this as opposed to accepting judgement from a third party, liberty cannot be found.

Which brings us back, full circle, to God as the perfect Form of the Good, and Jesus as that form made manifest.  If man uses his reason against this example of Jesus, he will not stray far from the mark.  The judged will be judged by a third party – the only party who can rightly judge. 

What of violations of the Natural Law that are not violations of the non-aggression principle?  Does liberty require breaking a few eggs for non-violent offenses?  This would seem to lead to theocracy.  A different path, yet a similar result if one follows the non-aggression principle devoid of any other absolutist ethics – both paths encroach on liberty while claiming to save liberty; both paths lead to diminished liberty.  One is merely left to debate degrees.

If one is after liberty, the proper way to deal with non-violent offenses of the discovered Natural Law is through advice and counsel, not physical punishment.  Providing advice and counsel is the role of parents, families, communities – to properly teach and hold accountable.  But fundamentally, it is the role of the Church – or Christianity, more properly, today.  Christianity, institutionally, must play this role.  Such absolutist ethics are not sustainable without an institution behind these.

As an aside, love – the “other-regarding action” of beatitudo – is to be found in the doing, not in advocating for government action.  It is here where the rubber of Christian advice and counsel must hit the road, in the doing.

Finally, every community will have different norms for the continuum – the spaces in between – as objective ethics offer little in the way of identifying the point along the continuum acceptable within a given community.  Questions on topics such as property, aggression, punishment, age of majority – there are many acceptable answers in between the easily identifiable extremes.


Asking questions, search for clues
The answer's been right in front of you

-          Octavarium, Dream Theater

Libertarianism is insufficient for liberty.  So that this opinion regarding objective ethical values grounded in natural law cannot be simply dismissed as a “Christian” opinion, consider Murray Rothbard when discussing the utilitarian approach of Mises:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic — an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual — grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature. Failure to recognize this is the greatest flaw in Mises's philosophical worldview. (Emphasis added.)

An absolutist ethic, made up of ethics for liberty as well as of other values, is required if one is to make a full case for liberty.  The non-aggression principle makes no such claim as to being so complete.  For any libertarian in the Rothbardian tradition, it seems this trail had already been significantly blazed long ago.  The answer has been sitting right in front of me, in plain sight.

Objective ethics grounded in natural law.  Perhaps one more reason that mainstream libertarians hate Rothbard.


You will note that I say nothing in this book about examining details of Natural Law beyond pointing to Jesus as offering an example.  This is by choice, as the topic is much beyond my intended scope.  But I will offer an examination of Jesus in the Appendix: His life, His words, and His deeds. 

Call it a roadmap.


  1. "...both paths encroach on liberty while claiming to save liberty..." - BM

    It does seem there is only one path that leads to truth and happiness (in St. Thomas's sense) and all others lead to error and pain. Maybe central to the attainment of liberty is not only the Golden Rule, but also the 'golden mean', which is from Aristotle as well, though I don't think he used that term. The idea that correct and virtuous action is not to be found in the extremes of human passions and capacities but in the perfect balance of them.

    For instance, courage is bounded on both extremes by reckless stupidity and pathetic cowardice. One extreme has a profound lack of regard for one's own life and the other has an excess of it. The golden mean is described by one who has a balanced (but not necessarily a 'midway') regard for his own life - one that when the circumstances are called for, may risk his life for a noble purpose, but will not risk it for ignoble purposes such as fame, fortune, or mental instability (not sure which of these three modern 'adrenaline junkies' suffer from - a bit of all three I bet).

    Charity likewise is the balance between having no love for others, or narcissism, and too much love for others and not enough for one's self. Because if you don't love yourself, then Jesus' second greatest commandment to 'love your neighbor as yourself' is meaningless. Are you following Jesus' will if you treat your neighbor like garbage, because this is how you treat yourself? I don't think the Golden Rule works this way. The bible also cautions against irresponsible giving - or giving to the extent that one becomes destitute and in need of the gifts of others.

    Similarly, libertarianism is bounded by the extremes of no regard for any authority and the worship of any and all authority. To the libertarian, any authority must be just.

    As a side note, I recently became enamored by the word 'polycentrism' and favored it even more so than 'decentralization' and 'subsidiarity' as it relates the anti-monopoly tenet of libertarianism, the fundamental strategy of attaining liberty, and the general appearance of a realistic order of liberty. I was enamored - that is until I did a quick history search of the word and discovered it was first used in the political sense by communists to describe their 'soviet' system of confederated communities. Not wanting to completely give up the word, I chose the word 'polycentricity' instead. This fits well with my conservative dislike for all or most 'isms' as well as my conviction that true liberty will have 'many centers' of authority.

    That got me thinking that maybe I should refer to libertarianism as instead 'libertarianicity' or 'libertaricity' - 'liberticity'?. Okay maybe all these are not very catchy, but you get the point. Maybe as liberty minded folks we should heed the good judgement of conservative thinkers of the past like Russell Kirk who have always seen 'isms' as questionable impositions on the nature of things by men who fancy themselves as the grand designers of mankind.

    After all, it's called Christianity, not 'Christianism'.

  2. By the way, I love the book. I think there are some extremely valuable insights in here, especially those that tie Plato and Aristotle to Jesus. You've even shown Aristotle to be somewhat of a prophet of Jesus (since Jesus was his necessary physical representation of the ultimate form of the good).

    Of course the main point you're making, that you need more than just the libertarian aspects of natural law to achieve a social order of liberty - you the need the rest of it as well, is fantastic too and so much needed in the libertarian world. But I think we all already knew you were going there. =)

    I'm very much looking forward to your appendix on the life and works of Jesus. Peter Kreeft has a book called "the Philosophy of Jesus". I think this might be worth a read. I've read his "Philosophy of Tolkien" and it was fantastic, so I'm sure he's done a good job on his book concerning the philosophy of his and our Lord and Savior.

    1. Thank you, ATL. You are correct to note that where I was headed was pretty clear - certainly to regular readers here. I just felt it helpful to draw one string through it all.

  3. Jesus is the pattern. The Christ is the power.

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