Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Virtuous Governance

 

Ira Katz has offered a response, continuing the dialogue that began with his initial question: Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?  He answers, “Yes, but keep capitalism.”  He also graciously acknowledges my several posts in exploring his initial question.

I would like to follow up on a couple of tangential, and maybe not-so-tangential, points made in this current response.  Ira begins by noting an analysis by Hans Hoppe, where Hoppe recognizes the reality that Marxists see quite clearly the relationship of wealth and state power, just as libertarians and those who favor free markets do; the issue, or difference, is what to do about it.  Ira writes:

[Hoppe] ends his essay “…. the end of exploitation and the beginning of liberty and unheard of economic prosperity, means the establishment of a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”

Ira does not agree, noting: “My original question and my answer imply that I do not believe so.”  In other words, “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law” is not sufficient in Ira’s view (nor, obviously, in mine).  Ira properly asks: “Can there be a virtuous government without a virtuous people?”  Of course, the answer is no; this is what I wish to explore.

For this, I must come back to Hoppe, and separate him from the other libertarians Ira notes.  There is much more to Hoppe than this.  In September, 2018, Hoppe gave a very important talk at his annual Property and Freedom Society Conference, entitled “The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative.” 

Why do I find it important?  If dry facts, rational arguments, and reason are sufficient to win the debate, libertarians and Austrians have won the debate, hands down.  These are not sufficient, as it is narrative that wins the day, that wins the argument.  We live in a narrative, a story; we don’t live in a formula.

Even if you believe that we are nothing more than an accident of nature, nothing more than random atoms smashed together randomly, we certainly don’t live as if this is true.  My mother and father are something more to me than blobs of matter.

The left understands this quite well.  They create stories about Russians and elections, viruses that make breathing a life-ending event.  The greatest of all: the story that destroys all stories – critical theory, the success of which has divorced us from all stories that give life meaning.  Hence, we are left to be molded by whatever destructive narrative the left chooses to foist upon us.

So, back to Hoppe’s talk.  His grand historical narrative was not one that demonstrated “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”  In this talk and after offering a sweeping background on the relationship of science, technology and engineering, Hoppe offers up…the Ten Commandments – seeing in these values necessary for a peaceful, cooperative society:

Setting the first four commandments aside, which refer to our relation to God as the one and only ultimate moral authority and final judge of our earthly conduct and the proper celebration of the Sabbath, the rest, referring to worldly affairs, display a deep and profoundly libertarian spirit.

Honor you father and mother; don’t murder, commit adultery, or steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet your neighbor’s wife or house or belongings.

Some libertarians may argue that not all of these commandments have the same rank or status.

Of course not.  Some of these do not violate the non-aggression principle.  As Hoppe notes, however, there is nothing said here about the severity or type of punishment:

Yet this difference between a strict and rigid libertarianism and the ten biblical commandments does not imply any incompatibility of the two. Both are in complete harmony if only a distinction is made between legal prohibitions on the one hand…and extra-legal or moral prohibitions on the other hand…

Some may be appropriately punished via physical violence; others by social disapproval or even ostracism.

Indeed, thus interpreted the full six mentioned commandments can be recognized as even an improvement over a strict and rigid libertarianism - given the common, shared goal of social perfection: of a stable, just and peaceful social order.

Hoppe offers: in a society where parents are habitually disrespected, where the idea of hierarchies are mocked, where marriage is discounted and adultery is exalted, where honesty is not respected…can one expect liberty to shine?  Do these characteristics make for a virtuous people necessary for virtuous government?  The answer is an obvious no.

My point is, Hoppe goes beyond a strict private-law society – and goes beyond the other libertarians mentioned in Ira’s piece.  Unlike some libertarian thinkers, Hoppe understands the necessity of this if one is after liberty.

Returning to Ira’s piece, and referencing one of the points I made in an earlier response:

The “something outside of human reach” Bionic advocates is Christianity and I for one agree. But I also do not preclude the possibility of other belief systems meeting this need.

I am not so sure.  Again, in Hoppe’s piece, Hoppe references the tradition of the Middle Ages and Western Christendom.  It was here where the framework of libertarian governance was at its best – and it is why I titled this post using the word “governance,” not “government” – at least not “government” as we understand and use the term today.

I will not dive into Hoppe’s comments on this aspect.  His comments are worth reading, and, in any case, I have written too often on this topic.  In summary: During the medieval period, the Church and king were separate – not always perfectly so, but by design and often.  The king held the military as a weapon, the Church so held excommunication; one could appeal to the Church if he felt his rights violated by the king, or appeal to the king if he felt his rights violated by the Church.

There was no state; there was no monopoly of authority.  There was no sovereign, unless by “sovereign,” one meant the law.  For a thousand years, this was the system that developed – again, not perfectly, not in a straight line, but it was the system.

So, why do I not agree with Ira’s statement that other belief systems might meet the same need?  For two reasons, I guess.

First, show me.  Where else in the world, in what other culture or tradition, did the ideas of the individual, reason, and liberty (bound by responsibility) take root and continue for more than a millennium?  Nowhere, that’s where. 

Which brings me to my second reason: We take this for granted in the West, that somehow what we have gained due to Christian ethics can be held without holding onto the “Christian” part – forgetting what was considered ethical in Rome or Greece before.  Nietzsche knew better.  After recognizing, through his Madman, that God was dead in the West, he would write, in The Twilight of the Idols:

As for us, we act differently. When we renounce the Christian faith, we abandon all right to Christian morality. This is not by any means self-evident and in defiance of English shallow-pates the point must be made ever more and more plain. Christianity is a system, a complete outlook upon the world, conceived as a whole. If its leading concept, the belief in God, is wrenched from it, the whole is destroyed; nothing vital remains in our grasp.

Nietzsche’s solution was the superman.  Well, we are living under the ethics created by the supermen.  Our liberty has not flourished in the intervening 100-plus years.  Nietzsche continues:

Christianity presupposes that man does not and cannot know what is good or bad for him: the Christian believes in God who, alone, can know these things. Christian morality is a command, its origin is transcendental.

Here is where I will disagree with Nietzsche.  I do believe that the non-Christian, but rational, man who understands something of the Western tradition can discover Christian morality as it is made manifest in natural law.  But I do not believe natural law is sustainable without a largely Christian society, a Christian society that understands the need for and definition of virtuous governance.

Of course, it is easy to criticize these views, but only by those who believe men can be angels (setting aside that even some angels fell…).  It is easy to poke holes at medieval Christendom, and very easy to poke holes at Christians today.  But, compared to what, when, where, or whom? 

Don’t compare the shortcomings of Christian men to some idea of perfection; compare these to Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, the Young Turks, etc.  The list is endless.  Theirs was the ethic of might makes right; Christianity gave us the ethic of love your neighbor.

None of these others ended slavery; none of these gave women and minorities equal standing to men and the majority; none of these cared for the poor, the sick; none opened hospitals for the needy or created universities.  Christian men and women did all of these.  All of these others committed atrocities that make any real or exaggerated claim about the Crusades or Inquisition appear as a child’s game.

Why do I believe it is only through the tradition of Christianity that something moving toward liberty, as a libertarian would understand it, is possible?  As I have written on this before, I offer here only the two key points:

·         Man was made in God’s image, telling us something about the respect we must have for every man and every woman.  This is found in both the Hebraic and Christian tradition

·         Jesus – both God and the Son of God – gave Himself as sacrifice, offering the highest sacrifice possible, thereby offering a way out from under any transgression and also making clear that we no longer had anything to gain by sacrificing each other.  This is found only in the Christian tradition.

All things regarding the liberty of the individual can be deduced from these, but there are several other points to add, with some further detail available here.

Where else is this combination to be found, in what other tradition?  Nowhere.  And it is not just chance that it was from these roots, when combined with Germanic traditions of honor and individual law, where our liberty was born.  From no other tradition is this to be found.  We throw this away, we throw away liberty.

I know, I know…many libertarians view Christianity as unnecessary for liberty, even an enemy of liberty.  I offer for you my canned response whenever I hear such objections; the more I have come to understand the reality of history and the necessity of a Christian ethic and natural law, the more I find such arguments to be childish…

…and, worse, dangerous.  One other thought for libertarians who believe Christianity stands in the way of liberty: why is it that the communists know Christianity is the enemy that must be destroyed if communism is to win out?  Only one side or the other can be right about this.  Will removing Christianity usher in an era of liberty or an era of communism?  It can’t be both.  Look around us and tell me: as we see Christianity in decline, which side is winning?

The communist Antonio Gramsci figured this out almost one hundred years ago, and it is his playbook that we are seeing in action today.  Cultural Marxism has nothing to do with Marx; it is Gramsci.  And Gramsci knew that Christianity had to be destroyed if communism was to win the West.

Conclusion

So, what about the “virtuous” part called for by Ira, and to which I agree.  The Western tradition has handed us seven virtues; four natural, or Cardinal, virtues, and three theological virtues:

Natural, or Cardinal Virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice.

Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Is liberty possible without a virtuous people?  To ask the question is to answer it.  And one virtue ties all the others together, ensuring none of the other virtues is unleashed to exaggeration:

1 Corinthians 13: 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Which leads me back to my initial three posts in response to Ira’s initial question:

-          One Answer to An Important Social / Political / Economic Question of Our Time

-          Free Market Capitalism as the Highest Value (Part Two)

-          The Way Out and the Way To (Part Three)

Unless love, properly understood, is at the top of the hierarchy (as is the case in both Christianity and natural law ethics), you can kiss liberty goodbye.  The evidence is all around us and the verdict is clear.

Epilogue

As I seem to have to do whenever I write like this: no, I am not advocating for a theocracy.  Natural law is an ethic; natural rights define proper law.  Natural rights are limited to life and property, and this must be the extent of formal law.  Full stop.

But without a natural law ethic, natural rights are lost to us.

20 comments:

  1. Without question, this essay moves the ball forward in the grand scheme of understanding civilization generally and ethical governance specifically, but also addresses an issue that has become glaringly evident to me recently - the lack of understanding and/or seeing the bigger picture in societal progress across the various cultural influences from our institutions. They all seem to be exclusively driven by self-seeking agendas.
    Bionic's reference to the medieval period as an age of the advancement of Christendom is news to most folks, since most have been indoctrinated into humanist religion - the exact opposite of Christianity.
    That includes most churchgoers.
    Take the 4 majors - Government/Religion/Politics/Culture - which also happen to be the title to my web presence and on which I had no clue almost 6 years ago as to the extent of the impact of their influence in everything.
    Here's my question - how many pundits can you name that can coherently explain, discuss or edify you on ALL of these topics and their interactive effects?
    I can count - maybe at most - on one hand, not using all my fingers.
    There is a woeful lack of knowledge combined with a wealth of willful ignorance!
    What does the average politician know outside government rules and party politics? And, of course, funding sources!
    What or who form our culture?
    What does the typical pastor know about being 'the leaven that leavens the whole loaf by the Kingdom of God '. It's all about personal piety - thus neutering the church at large.
    Antonio Gramsci figured it out 100 years ago - and hardly anyone knows his name.
    So how is this going to play out?
    I can only speculate, but based on historical evidence from Old and New Testaments - the KoG progresses historically (wheat and tares) in the midst of continuing civilizational development within its trial and error pattern.
    One writer I read recently said that Christianity is a relatively new religion - only 2000 years old - and if 1000 years is as one day to God, we have some ways to go. And you can disregard the last days madness crowd - I was one of them for 20 years. But we all see through the glass darkly!

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    1. Crush, I will have a post out on Friday that makes an interesting point about the humanist turn 500 years ago.

      As to which pundits have an understanding of all four? I am stuck pointing to a couple in the Mises / Lew Rockwell circle: Lew, of course, Hans Hoppe, Tom Woods. I think all three have spoken and can speak quite knowledgeably about the four and the integration / interaction of the four.

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  2. "Here is where I will disagree with Nietzsche. I do believe that the non-Christian, but rational, man who understands something of the Western tradition can discover Christian morality as it is made manifest in natural law. But I do not believe natural law is sustainable without a largely Christian society, a Christian society that understands the need for and definition of virtuous governance."

    I either slightly disagree with this or agree using a different set of thoughts. For a non-Christian, rational man to come up with natural law that leads to liberty; he must agree with Christian thought or its general presuppositions. I think this is true for 2 reasons.

    First, reasonable, non-Christians already tried to remake society by removing the Christian God from their thinking and start from just themselves. Man reasoning up to a better world was exactly what the Enlightenment and Modern philosophers tried to do. They failed to come up with a new rational system. They changed to a system or worldview based on non-reason due to that failure and here we are today.

    Second, many men who were not Christian or true believers helped build the Christian world through the Middle Ages and Reformation periods. The very last generation of these men were guys like Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and Ben Franklin. They were secular liberal who still retained the Christian world view. They did not worship the God of the Bible but they did base their political view points where the Bible taught on humanity and society. But people like this don't exist outside of a "Christian" culture. As the culture drifts so will the thoughts of men like this.

    This kind of thinking doesn't have to result in a theocracy. Mainly I think that because I don't think there are ever a majority of people who believe in Jesus. The non-believer who still agrees with the Christian worldview will be too numerous to have a theocracy per se, but will facilitate the liberty that you describe.

    But some day there will be a theocracy of a type. The more I study the more I think it will be a society with even much more freedom than we think of today. So I am not too afraid of it.

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    1. Looks like you're describing common grace. As Vox Day often says, even if you're not a believer, you appreciate indoor plumbing.

      Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress
      Gary North
      The doctrine of common grace is found more often in works by Calvinists than other Protestant groups. This doctrine answers this question: "If human depravity is true, why do people do good things?"

      Put another way, "If everything is going to hell in a handbasket, why aren't we there yet?"

      The answer is common grace: an unmerited (by the recipient) gift of God in history.

      My book appeared in 1987. You can download a free copy here:

      //www.garynorth.com/CommonGrace.pdf

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    2. RMB "...he must agree with Christian thought or its general presuppositions."

      I agree with this. People like Sam Harris or Bret Weinstein think they can somehow stand outside of Christian thought and discover what is good. They cannot stand outside of it - they are swimming in it.

      Many cultures and traditions have found, however, the Golden Rule; CS Lewis offers a comparison of moral teachings across multiple cultures in the appendix of The Abolition of Man.

      Yet, even with this, no other culture / tradition has made the advancements toward individual liberty and reason as Christianity has. No other culture / tradition has so fully developed natural law and natural rights.

      A fish doesn't think that he is swimming in water - he is just living life. Harris and Weinstein don't realize they are swimming in Christian water.

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    3. Mr. M.,

      I think they know. They suppress it.

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    4. As happens often when I read your essays Mr. Mosquito, I am humbled by your insight into the nature of humanity. Today’s offering “Virtuous Governance” is one of those.
      I have stated on this site that I am not a believer. Nevertheless, some years ago I said to my son that, whether one believes in the existence of a supreme being or not, life would no doubt be improved for everyone if we all would honor Christian beliefs and behave accordingly. That is as far as I have been willing to accede, and, as I see it, is consistent with “Even if you believe that we are nothing more than an accident of nature, nothing more than random atoms smashed together randomly, we certainly don’t live as if this is true.”
      Thank you yet again for enlarging my world, and thank you to Ira Katz for initiating this intriguing conversation. Peg in Oregon

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    5. To Anonymous - your statement alludes to common grace as I replied to another commenter on this article. When a nonbeliever sees and recognizes certain patterns of behavioral characteristics which can reasonably be traced to a specific belief system, we call that logic. In fact, in his book BIBLICAL LOGIC, Joel MucDurmon defines Biblical logic as the systematic study and practice of discerning and telling the truth.
      In my own life, I have discovered that learning truth for us mortals is a process, not an end state.
      Apostle Paul, in Romans 2, addresses this: "(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)"
      Read the whole chapter. All of us are responsible for our own education - in ALL things!

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  3. Without property rights, Christianity is useless. With property rights, Christianity is unnecessary.

    To argue that property rights require Christianity makes no sense. Why is Christianity a good then? Because it supports property rights? That position rightly implies that property rights are the primary good with or without Christianity. Is Christianity a good even without property rights? No. Property rights are the most fundamental of all moral goods. Either they are respected on their own merits or evil will prevail. Christianity is irrelevant.

    Further, the promotion of both faith and self-sacrifice are destructive doctrines enshrined in Christianity. They are anti-reason and anti-property.

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    1. There is no reason without Christianity because it is the God of Christianity that gives you the ability to reason.

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    2. Property rights are a fundamental component of the Christian worldview of life in this world. If you take property rights away, you have not Christianity but heresy, and most heresies throughout the history of Christendom did indeed attack property rights.

      "faith and self-sacrifice are destructive doctrines"

      I think that would depend on what you have faith in and what you sacrifice yourself for; neither is a good in and of itself. Faith in the 'science' of state-fostered elites and self-sacrifice towards their cause of wealth and power accumulation at any cost certainly would be destructive, not only of oneself, but of society as well. On the other hand, faith in Jesus and sacrificing oneself for the love of others are the greatest constructive forces the world has ever known, both for the individual soul and the society around them.

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    3. RMB / ATL - we could, of course, go back to the Greek and Roman property rights before Christianity, or, better yet, just enjoy all of the post-modern, critical theory property rights we have gained with Nietzsche's death of God.

      As if property rights sprang out of the void - created ex nihilo perhaps?

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    4. "There is no reason without Christianity because it is the God of Christianity that gives you the ability to reason."

      Nonsense. [nonsense: that which cannot be sensed] I sense no god, and so I reason that there is none. Reason is not something given to me. It is something I choose to do.

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  4. "If dry facts, rational arguments, and reason are sufficient to win the debate, libertarians and Austrians have won the debate, hands down. These are not sufficient, as it is narrative that wins the day, that wins the argument. We live in a narrative, a story; we don’t live in a formula." - Bionic Mosquito

    When it comes to writing the story of liberty, Hoppe may be the grand strategist, the keen commander, and the true heir of those yet still grander which came before him, but you my friend are the steadfast and irreplaceable general in the trenches. It is only because of men (and women) like you that liberty has any chance.

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    1. Facts are not dry. "Facts" is another term for truth. Libertarians and Austrians have won the debate. That liars and fools continue broadcasting their "narratives" is irrelevant. The truth remains.

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    2. Truth is by no means the same as facts. It's quite possible to cherry pick facts, present them out of context, and come up with a narrative that's the opposite of what actually happened. The news media do that every day.

      Our capacity as humans to know the facts, and understand their causes and consequences, falls very very short of fully grasping the whole picture. That's why we rely on worldviews ans narratives.

      It's certainly important to point out the flaws in narratives so they can be corrected, or torn down if they can't be salvaged. The Christian narrative of Bionic & others is by no means unassailable.

      But to say that they're pointless makes you an even greater fool than someone who ignores rational debate. Narratives are the point where the rubber of abstract thought meets the road of our everyday perception of reality. Rational debate could disappear from the face of the planet and narratives would still exist.

      Do you truly not care about that? Do you think that the way those around you view the world is irrelevant? How dense can you be? There's no ivory tower high enough to shelter you from destructive narratives like the ones currently making the rounds in the world of real people.

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  5. "Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,
    that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
    that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
    though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
    weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
    hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway."

    Our hearts may be timid but only because we know the evil we face and the monumental task ahead of (and perhaps beyond) us in saving those who still can be saved. Keep weaving Bionic. The shadow around us is only getting deeper; our light needs to in response burn brighter.

    "Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
    their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
    and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
    a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith."

    As sound as is the logic and the historical knowledge that makes the case for liberty, it still takes faith to believe these words have anything to do with reality. As small and rickety as your little arc is (Blogger is owned by Google after all), I am happy to be with you on this journey, come hell or high water. I believe.

    "Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
    of things not found within recorded time.
    It is not they that have forgot the Night,
    or bid us flee to organized delight,
    in lotus-isles of economic bliss
    forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
    (and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
    bogus seduction of the twice-seduced)."

    Let us not forswear but fulfil our soul's promise, for those who put their faith wholly in the material progress offered by the current machinations of the elite under the aegis of the state ("machine-produced") are certainly themselves "twice-seduced." Not only will simple material progress alone not grant us the beautiful and fulfilling lives we all innately desire, but the more we all crowd to this particular side of the boat, granting all power to the Machine in so doing, the faster we'll lose control of the ship, dash our materialistic desires on the rocks, and put the whole boat asunder. It's a good thing we have our little arcs! (all unattributed quotes above from Tolkien's 'Mythopoeia')

    "We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil." - J.R.R. Tolkien

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  6. More Mythopoeia...

    "They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
    and yet they would not in despair retreat,
    but oft to victory have turned the lyre
    and kindled hearts with legendary fire"

    Yours is a legendary fire Bionic. Let us know what we can do to help keep it burning.

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    1. ATL, I have concluded that this is what I can do - I can write based on what I read, listen to, and see around me. I take feedback from you and others that help give me guidance in this - and encouragement.

      I have had several people offer feedback about how this community has helped shape their thinking in a positive way; I have had one person tell me that he and his wife have started attending church because of this work - something they never thought they would do.

      I started writing as a dogmatic libertarian - yes, a Christian at the time, but writing straight NAP. Doing this work, getting the feedback (both positive and negative, seeing the silliness of many libertarians regarding culture and religion) has helped me grow in my Christian life. It has amazed me when I look back on it.

      People ask me what I do for fun. Yes, I have some outside activities, but I really do enjoy this blog.

      And, yes. I know of the google connection. I keep word copies of everything I have written, and many of my posts are at LRC. I also occasionally backup the blog.

      Thanks for your feedback and support.

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