Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Symbolism of Corona

Jonathan Pageau offers his symbolic take on the coronavirus “pandemic,” and on plagues and epidemics more broadly considered.  I have found his video worthwhile on many levels, and have watched it several times.  I will encourage you to watch the video, it is something less than 30 minutes.

Equally interesting to his symbolic views are the political comments that he offers – it is primarily these that I will touch on here.

We can’t fully understand the dangers and ramifications of the situation.  The danger of the disease itself, versus the danger of the ramifications of over-reacting to the disease; we can’t seem to know which is best.  We know that excesses on both sides can cause massive damage to our fragile world.

It is nice to see that Pageau does not merely take one side of this issue – that paying the price will result in tremendous cost.  Unfortunately, too many people with far more public authority or a far larger audience have gone bat-$hi+ crazy on one side.

Pageau continues, discussing how this event will call into view our modes of being: our connected mode of being demands calls for diversity, we are the world – “all the buzz words we are hearing from one side of the culture war.”  The other mode of being is the separation mode, a turn toward the inside, a return to our roots and identity – “a level of differentiation from the outside. …All of the buzzwords we hear from the other side of the culture war.”

As this progresses, we will see some very strange swings in discourse, some very disturbing contradictions playing out.  We will see positions flip from one side to the other.

The same person who just a week ago was screeching how racist and horrible it is to ban others from coming into your country is the same one today that is telling you today to isolate yourself totally.

He snarkily offers his local example (Pageau is a French-Canadian):

Just the other day, I watched my own prime minister, the post-national, infinite openness, diversity is our strength Justin Trudeau – I watched him close down our border.

How quickly principle falls by the wayside when one doesn’t have any principle.  When there are no universals, only particulars, then every answer is the “right” answer – it just depends on the day.

The dirty little secret of an infectious disease is that it always comes from the outside.

Certainly, for an individual this is true; but the symbolism runs much deeper and broader – and Pageau will have some interesting comments on this momentarily.

Since the end of World War II, the West has adopted, almost religiously, this idea of openness and multiculturalism.  Now we are watching countries close their borders – even within Europe. 

I have often been astounded at the naïveté of people who insist that xenophobia is inherently evil, or who want to equate xenophobia to some kind of racism, full stop.  This is a sign of blindness, because everybody practices xenophobia.  We tell our children to beware of the stranger with candy, or we lock the doors of our house and cars.

Everyone has borders; everyone is careful about managing their borders.  Even the most “open borders” cultural-diversity-is-our-strength libertarian-leftist has borders that he manages.

It is normal to have healthy caution toward things we don’t know.

He comments on the purity laws from the Bible, which have been under ridicule over the last centuries.  Yet, purity plays out in all levels of society – we wash our hands, we don’t want Russians interfering in our election (he adds, sarcastically), we isolate ourselves from the sick and diseased.  Differentiation is an act of purity (which kind of puts a knife in the egalitarianism of the left).

The same people screaming about Russian interference in the US elections are simultaneously advocating for open borders and giving non-citizens the right to vote.

It really is funny.

There is a risk we will see scapegoating, and it might come from the very same people who were stating the opposite two weeks ago.

He notes that the ongoing breakdown of the intermediating groups – workplaces, community groups, churches, businesses – could result in even more centralizing systems of control at a higher level.  Robert Nisbet noted this many decades ago, and it has been occurring in the West beginning with the Renaissance – and absolutely since the Enlightenment.

He also finds the name – the “Crown” virus – of note.  There is a strange relationship between death and glory, and the word crown (glory) has the same origin to the word horn (death). 

He gives an interesting interpretation of “why toilet paper” toward the end of the video.  To summarize, it is used as part of the function of the ultimate act of cleaning (really, do I need to say more?).  There is also a link here to the transgender bathroom debates.


He comments on the closed churches – “and that’s pretty crazy if you think about it.”  Yes, it is – isolating the loneliest among us at the time of their greatest need.  Let’s see if they stay closed even for Palm Sunday and Easter.

Becky Akers offered in a blog post at LRC to send a PDF of a pamphlet written by Dr. Daniel O’Roark: “A Brief COVID-19 Analysis and Its Implications for the Church.”

Akers writes: “I was cheering before I’d finished the first page, in which he affirms philosophical and religious truth.”  It is a great read.  If you want a copy of the pamphlet, write to her and she will send a copy to you.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Distinction and Hierarchy

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard Weaver

The most portentous general event of our time is the steady obliteration of those distinctions which create society.

Portent: something that foreshadows a coming event; prophetic indication or significance.
Portentous: being a grave or serious matter.

Remember, this was 1948.  Families still mattered; sex still mattered; age still mattered; at least when looking back from today.  Weaver saw the cracks seventy years ago.  While reading this post, try to remain aware of the number of times that you will nod and say, Weaver was right – he saw the future.

Weaver notes that the preservation of society is dependent on the recovery of true knowledge – knowledge as to hierarchy and distinction.

If society is something which can be understood, it must have structure; if it has structure, it must have hierarchy; against this metaphysical truth the declamations of the Jacobins break in vain.

But their declamations are against the first “if”: who says society must be understood or understandable?  And in this we find a key.  Perhaps the first “if” could be: if a society is to be maintained, it must be understood – which means, it must be understandable, or capable of being understood.  Some, of course, do not wish to maintain society; the destruction of society is, therefore, their objective.

No doubt, we live in a society today that is not capable of being understood.  A society of no distinction or hierarchy (or of a distinction and hierarchy that contradicts the nature of man) is not understandable, therefore not sustainable. 

A sustainable structure must have hierarchy, but to have hierarchy requires a common assumption about ends.  Since the Renaissance, and certainly since the Enlightenment, any common assumption about ends has been tossed aside.

Weaver describes the act of overturning tradition as “subversive activity.”  He cites Shakespeare on the subject of subversive activity, from Troilus and Cressida; Ulysses is speaking:

O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick!

Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

To which Nestor replies:

Most wisely hath Ulysses here discover'd
The fever whereof all our power is sick.

When all distinctions are erased, all that remains as a goal is comfort; so wrote De Tocqueville.  When reformers set the agenda, they merely substitute a bureaucratic hierarchy for a natural one.  We are left with an undefined (and undefinable) egalitarianism:

An American political writer of the last century, confronted with the statement that all men are created free and equal, asked whether it would not be more accurate to say that no man was ever created free and no two men ever created equal.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Run on Revolvers

You think this is about the run on firearms and ammunition.  Nope.

From ZeroHedge: "Revolver Run": Banks Suffer Record $200BN In Outflows As Frenzied Companies Draw Down Revolvers:

…as of last Friday, corporate borrowers worldwide, including Boeing, Hilton, Wynn, Kraft Heinz and literally thousands more, had drawn about $60 billion from revolving credit facilities this week in a frantic dash for cash as liquidity tightens.

For those unfamiliar with this term, think of a revolver like an open line of credit with a ceiling.  A company will have some permanent forms of financing in place (equity, long term debt, bond debt); it will also have a revolver from which it can draw (typically) temporary needs, for example, seasonal or inter-monthly fluctuations in working capital, etc.

Confirming the unprecedented revolver drawdown scramble of 2020, JPMorgan reports that its tracker of known corporates that have tapped banks for funding rose further to a record $208 billion on Thursday, up $15 billion from $193 billion on Wednesday and $112BN on Sunday.

Banks offer revolvers up to some limit – for example, a company could have a revolver of up to $5 million (or $5 billion); at any one time, none, some, or most of it might be drawn.  JPMorgan reports that revolvers are currently drawn, in aggregate, at something approaching 80% of their limit.

Why are companies doing this now?

As a result what was a revolver "bank run" has become a spring for the ages as virtually every company has rushed out to draw down its revolver for two reasons i) with the CP market still locked up, even blue chips have no access to short-term funding…

CP = commercial paper market; this market is still not functioning well, despite the Fed recently announcing a backstop for it.

…ii) increasingly more companies are concerned their banks may not survive…

This one is interesting.  If the bank doesn’t survive, money on deposit at the bank might be worse than having undrawn capacity on a revolver.  Money on deposit sits on the bank’s balance sheet; a depositor becomes nothing more than an unsecured creditor to a bankrupt institution (for any amount above the FDIC limits).

Meanwhile, the borrower will owe the balances drawn on the revolver to whatever institution has taken over the assets of the bankrupt bank – and these assets include loans made to companies who drew down their revolvers.

…so why not just draw down the facility and hold the cash instead of being subject to the whims of some fickle bank Treasurer who may not have a job tomorrow, or who decided to abrogate all revolver contracts with the blink of an eye…

This would be interesting: banks not meeting their commitments.  It is certainly possible, but if this happens in any substantial quantities, the banking system would be called into question just as if bank deposits were not made available.


I suspect that all of this can be papered over again by central banks, not forever, but for a time.  It will take central banks a few weeks or months to figure out how to handle this new normal, just as it took them some months the last time (2008-09).

Until consumers suffer unbearable price inflation, nothing prevents central bank balance sheets from growing to whatever number desired or necessary.  For the Fed, now at something around $5 trillion, $10 or $20 trillion can likely be had.

Prior to 2008, that number was something around $800 billion.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Dissolution of the West

This is another book about the dissolution of the West.

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard Weaver

I was told of this book by a good friend.  Well, not exactly.  Obviously, I knew of the book, but had previously never looked into it.  This friend had just read it and was blown away.  He knows how much I have written on this “dissolution of the West” idea, yet still suggested that I would find it worthwhile.  As I greatly value his perspective, I decided to read the book.

I will follow my usual pattern of writing more than one post as I go along.  I am not sure that this will result in the best treatment for the book, but this method has become so ingrained that I don’t know if another approach even remains open to me.

It is in the introduction where Weaver points to what he sees as “the best representation of a change which came over man’s conception of reality….”

It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence.

Thereby ultimately calling into question the idea that there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man.  While I did not, at the time, know that Occam was the culprit (discovering this only later), it has been clear to me for some time that there is no chance for liberty as long as this idea of man being the pinnacle is held as the ideal.

The thread continues from Occam through many thinkers, scholars, and philosophers, ultimately leading to Hobbes, Locke, and other eighteenth century rationalists: man needed only to reason correctly from the evidence he saw in nature.  To wonder about purposes – especially what the world is for – is meaningless, as it suggests a power higher than man; something prior to nature.

Following on the heels of the rationalists was Darwinism – man explained by his environment.  Biological necessity would explain all.  This entire story is presented as a story of progress; therefore, it is difficult to get people to see it as anything else.  How on earth does one question the Enlightenment?

Yet, it is clear that there is a cultural decline – at least clear to those who consider such things.  Weaver looks to establish “the fact of decadence” as the most important duty of our time, and this decadence he sees in the cultural decline.

Jacques Barzun offered his definition of decadence in his wonderful work, From Dawn to Decadence, with this last century being the century of the West’s fall into decadence:

All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.”  It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense.  On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance.  The loss it faces is that of Possibility.

We see this – there is plenty of energy in the ever-expanding animosity in the moral fight of the culture war.  In this, Weaver sees that Western man has squandered his estate – despite believing in the story of ever-advancing progress.  Yet is this ever-advancing story so? 

…let us waive all particular considerations of this sort and ask whether modern man, for reasons apparent or obscure, feels an increased happiness.  We must avoid superficial conceptions of this state and look for something fundamental.

Compare our modern philosophers to those of the medieval period; modern architecture to that of a thousand years ago; modern art, literature, and music to that of centuries past.

First, one must take into account the deep psychic anxiety, the extraordinary prevalence of neurosis, which make our age unique.

This book was first published in 1948.  What would Weaver write today?  The idea of a meaning crisis has fully entered the psyche, and it is visible in the juvenile acting out of many, and the suicides and opioid drug use of many others.

Added to this is another deprivation.  Man is constantly being assured today that he has more power than ever before in history, but his daily experience is one of powerlessness.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Foundations for Liberty

The realistic theory of knowledge is the basis both of the unity of knowledge and of the internal coherence and organic structure of the sciences.

Metaphysics is the logical foundation of all science.

Science – whether as the term is narrowly understood today as those disciplines that can be objectively tested, proven, falsified, or as the term has been broadly understood in the past to include what we today call sociology, philosophy, theology and the like – cannot be internally contradictory.  Truth of the world around us – both material and being – must come together into a consistent whole.  It is metaphysics that stands as the discipline to carry this burden.

Here, I am writing of ethics and liberty.  Rommen describes the first principle of ethics: good is to be done and evil is to be avoided.  But what makes an action good or evil?  On what basis?  It is determined, Rommen offers, “from the essential being of the rational, free, and social nature of man.”

Many libertarians will agree on the rational and free part.  While they might recognize the social part, they do not find a place for it in their thin theory of libertarianism – taken, by many, to be the complete theory supporting liberty. 

Some years ago, while I was well on my way through this journey but still just beginning, I faced just such questions: what of society, what of community?  These questions cannot be dealt with from a strict reading of the non-aggression principle, but they must be dealt with if one is after liberty.

Murray Rothbard had no such struggle:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture.

Before there is any such thing as a market or as an individual (in the narrow sense), there is family, language and culture.  Developing a theory of liberty on any other basis – e.g. a state of nature; the abstract individual – ignores the nature into which man is born.  Returning to Rommen:

The essential social nature of man means that his mode of being is a social being, and that the idea of man is perfected in the community and its gradations.

One cannot speak of either the primacy of the individual or the primacy of community.  Each is fully dependent on the other; neither can exist without the other.  As man is a social being, doesn’t it follow that perfect liberty can only be approached if this aspect of man is also respected – certainly by custom, and in certain aspects by law? 

The essential nature of man, the idea of man as a rational, free, and social being is, as the normative goal, the principle of social ethics and of the natural law.

This social idea of man was well recognized and understood in Western law and tradition until just the last centuries.  Rommen offers that it was the age of individualism that destroyed the idea of a philosophy of law and replaced it with a philosophy of rights.  If law properly reflects man’s nature, what need is there for a philosophy of rights? 

Yet, once this abstract individual came to the scene – certainly since the Enlightenment – this transition was inevitable.  Rommen contrasts the treatises of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that were supported by tradition (to include nineteenth century works supportive of the natural law doctrine of philosophia perrennis) against the comprehensive treatises of the individualist and rationalist schools of natural law of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:

Following the deductive method, these last regulate all legal spheres down to the minutest detail.

There was nothing like this necessary when law – the old and good law, always kept from extremes via the natural law – was supreme.   No need for a 100,000-page federal register, or countless and infinite state and local statutes.

None of this precludes the idea of the individual or of property:

Good ought to be; what is mine ought to belong to me, what is yours, to you; no one may molest me in what is mine.

Yet even here, natural law does not dictate with precision any final forms; more than one form of governance is acceptable to natural law (albeit Rommen will use the terms “state” and “government”).  The final form can be found in feudalism (during which, even the serf’s private property was respected) or liberal capitalism.  There is, however, one sphere in which proper governance will not be found: any communistic system that rejects, on its face, private property.

Natural law does, however, dictate the principle of subsidiarity: sub-political groups are to be respected in their sphere; all people, therefore, have a share in proper governance.  Pius XI would write in 1931:

Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too it is an injustice, a grave evil, and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies….


None of this suggests that the application of natural law is simple, or that it is a straight path to a better and more perfect application.  The application advances toward true law, interrupted by many wrong paths. 

One cannot construct natural law application as one would approach geometry; experience, judgement and reason must carry the day.  It is not the natural law content that changes, it is the application of natural law that must be regularly considered.