Tuesday, June 22, 2021

What to Conserve

 

Benjamin Boyce: “The bottom part of the left wants to destroy every order and the top part wants to centralize things.  I don’t know what the left means.”

To which I replied:

Yes, you do.  You just said it.  There is nothing consistent or coherent about the left when you dive into it (and, by the way, much of what we label the right politically is equally left).

This is why, when the left is most successful at tearing down every order, you get a Stalin, a Mao, a Hitler (National SOCIALIST, as opposed to the communist left who are international socialists), etc.

And this is why the top part supports the bottom part – the top part knows that as the bottom part tears things apart by destroying traditional intermediating institutions and hierarchies, the top part will gain ever more monopoly power over the rest of us. 

Destroy all intermediating institutions, tear down a natural law ethic, drive Christianity out (all the work of the bottom part and the desire of the top part), and the top part gets to absorb more authority.  There, in one sentence, is the democrat party in the United States.

And from here, I offered the following:

What does conservativism wish to conserve?

What does liberalism wish to liberalize?

What does progressivism wish to progress to?

Only one of these has a functional answer, yet those who label themselves as such (conservative) are ignorant of it or don't wish to aim at it.  That would be the purpose of man, which is the foundation for discovering the natural law - the foundation of which only comes to full development through Christianity.

The other two offer no target at which to aim, as there is always more to liberalize or to progress to.  So we have Bari Weiss wishing for the NY Times of three years ago, apparently ignorant of the countless Walter Duranty types that preceded her by decades or more.  And Jordan Peterson, who wishes to go back only a few years further - when [personal] pronouns actually had some definitional value.

I would like to expand on this, beginning with such labels in the current political scene.  For us, the term “left” is associated with political parties labeled democrat or liberal, while “right” is associated with parties carrying labels such as republican or conservative.  In this post, I will use the following terms in the following ways:

Right / conservative: those who want to support and defend something akin to a natural law ethic, with government intervention limited to defending / prosecuting acts of aggression.

I recognize that this is a much narrower definition of “right” or “conservative” than is currently employed.  This is why I suggest that much of what is labeled “right” today is actually “left.”  Without an anchor in a natural law ethic, the right has no place to stand. 

Republicans: politicians who claim to support some sort of (nebulously articulated and conveniently ignored) traditional values; some may even mouth the words “natural law,” although it seems few understand it.

What traditional values are republicans conserving (or, in reality, attempting to, but failing to, conserve) these days, beyond that which they fought against not even twelve months ago?

Left / liberal, progressive: those who want to move humanity away from something akin to a natural law ethic, with government taking an active role in the process.

They don’t put it in these terms, but this is the reality.  Every move away from a hierarchy that accepts the nature of man and the resultant natural law ethic moves human beings away from their intended purpose and, therefore, away from natural law.

Democrats: politicians who unashamedly articulate such visions and act accordingly.

The first thing, perhaps, to notice: most republicans are hypocritical on this matter – claiming to support traditional values while acting contrary to this; democrats are not at all hypocritical in their actions or words – they claim to want to drive change (progress, liberalize), and they put their words into action.  Unlike republicans, democrats are at least honest about their aims.

Therefore, it is fair to conclude that while virtually all democrats can be labeled “left,” most republicans can be labeled “left” as well. 

So…what to conserve?  We each have a point to which we would like to return.  At the moment, February 2020 doesn’t look so bad, albeit I know many of us didn’t believe that at the time.  The election of Trump (the first time, not the second time)?  The 1950s?  The late 1800s, at the peak of what we now call classical liberalism?  The time of the Constitution, or the Articles of Confederation, or the Declaration of Independence?  The Peace of Westphalia, the Magna Carta?

Do we go back to before the legalization of gay marriage, abortion, the changes to immigration in the 1960s, the formalization of the European Union, the total militarization of the United States after World War II?

What is it that conservatives wish to conserve?  None of these points above provide an anchor or a consistent philosophical underpinning.  None of these are a steady target at which to aim.  Whatever it is that conservatives wish to conserve, it most certainly is not represented by the bulk of the political right. 

Whereas liberals or progressives have a mission.  They don’t have a target, but they have a mission – a mission to progress or liberalize something, anything, the next thing.  There is always something more towards which to progress, something more to liberalize.  Human-animal marriage?  Why not?  Adult-child sex?  No reason to not take this step.  Child mutilation in the name of transgender identity?  Wait, we already have that.

They don’t have to be consistent either, nor concern themselves about hypocrisy.  Pro-choice on abortion, anti-choice on schools and vaccines; militarization abroad, defund the police at home; black lives matter when taken by whites, but not when taken by blacks; election security was such a disaster under Obama that Trump was elected by Russians, but Trump cleaned up the election security so much that the Russians were unable to get him elected for a second term.

Further, the liberals and progressives have a political party through which to force an agenda.  The political left (and a good part of the political right) happily drives the bus for the cause.

Which brings me back to the top: the liberals and progressives have no target at which to aim, giving the political left a free run toward any objective of their choosing.  The conservatives have a target at which to aim (the purpose and nature of man), but no political party through which to act.

What this means for the left: they fight amongst themselves about “this far but no farther.”  We see this in evidence with the infighting and defections from the camp.  Jordan Peterson was solidly in the liberal / left camp, until he said “you have gone too far.”  At which point, he was labeled a fascist (slang for “right-wing extremist). 

We see it in the treatment of Bret Weinstein at Evergreen – he a good representative of the left until he no longer was.  As the left has no target at which to aim, there are no bounds to what can be liberalized.  Permanent revolution.  Personal feelings; my common sense vs. your common sense – but neither of us have “sense” in common.  Everyone claiming to use reason, but only the loudest and most violent reason wins.

The left, therefore, is attractive to two groups, broadly speaking: those who desire no constraints (an ever-growing group given the education received), and those who desire to control (as the destruction of intermediating institutions only serves to centralize more power to the elite).

The only defense against this for society is a target at which to aim.  That target is natural law, derived from the nature and purpose of man.

As for the conservatives, the issue is not to pick some point in history and say “here, this is what we want.”  “Why can’t we go back to the original meaning of the Constitution?”  “Let’s put prayer back in school.”  “Let’s put people back in pews.”  There is no going back to some magical time in history – there was no magical time in history.

The issue is to drive for a return to the center: what is the purpose of man?  From this, natural law can be discovered.  Human history as moved closer to or further from this mark – but this is the center at which we always return, unfortunately sometimes only after painful lessons.

The natural law ethic has something for those on either side of the political spectrum: all are made in God’s image, providing a proper framework for equality; God breathed into man, placing man above the rest of creation; man is to be a steward for God’s creation, providing a foundation for proper conservation; man’s ultimate purpose is love – first to God, then to his neighbors, setting a proper hierarchical order. 

However, an adherence to natural law does not serve those who wish to usurp power, wealth, and authority.  For this reason, one has to marvel at the success the powerful and wealthy have had at manipulating the masses (those who revolt against power and authority) toward their cause.  While the protestations of the masses against those in power and control have grown ever more violent, the wealth and control exercised by those on top has only increased.

Conclusion

In Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty, Murray Rothbard writes:

…only forms of natural or higher law theory can provide a radical base outside of the existing system from which to challenge the status quo.

To further emphasize the point, from For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto,  Rothbard adds:

…the natural law provides the only sure ground for a continuing critique of governmental laws and decrees.

Murray Rothbard is known as Mr. Libertarian.  It seems to me that it would be more accurate to call him Mr. Liberty.  Rothbard recognized that liberty requires a foundation – a foundation more fundamental than the non-aggression principle, a foundation built on natural law.  When one believes the non-aggression principle is sufficient for liberty, one is playing the game of the left.

The natural law is what conservatives must conserve if we are to move toward liberty.  It is also what libertarians must build on if we are to achieve liberty.

Everything else leaves us fighting a losing battle, to those that have no target at which to aim and are happy about the freedom this offers.

23 comments:

  1. Let's rediscover natural law. Then we can conserve it.

    I think you state what it is generally above, but the definition needs extension to make sense for most people I think.

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  2. Ultimately you wind up with a Christian version of Moldbug, I'm pretty sure. Libertarianism is (by Walter Block's own statements) only suitable for the New Libertarian Man, so it isn't fundamentally different from communism in its unsuitability for people as we are.

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    1. I think that is the caution of not requiring man to become superman.

      I think what BM is advocating for is different though. It doesn't take perfection. It doesn't take a higher level of being. But mankind tending to the lowest common denominator doesn't work either.

      The high level principle is to have people focused on loving other people. Humans can do that. Imperfectly. Weakly. But regarding others as more important than yourself or at least as important and loving them as best you can is possible for humans to do.

      It's just that people need to value "love" and receive training on what "love" is and being in a community that practices "love".

      Now defining "love" which BM has started on this website in all of its manifestations and further the "purpose" or "end" of mankind will take a lot of time and effort and negotiation. The tenets of natural law need to be general enough to be universal to all mankind and also specific enough to be instructive in many if not all of life's areas. Much of this for the Christian is found in the Bible, but I think natural law will have to be extended beyond simple Bible verse quotations and abstracted too for reasons I already stated.

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    2. I do not know enough of Moldbug to comment on this point, but RMB covers my views at a high level (and given the hundreds of posts I have written on this general topic, that will have to do for a comment section).

      If you are interested, a good place to start is here:

      https://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/p/the-book.html

      After this, some of the more important posts in this topic will be found here:

      https://bionicmosquito.blogspot.com/p/key-links.html

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    3. VirtualAlaskan,

      "Libertarianism is only suitable for the New Libertarian Man, so it isn't fundamentally different from communism in its unsuitability for people as we are."

      This is actually a stark difference between libertarianism and communism. Communism does indeed require a new man who will disregard his own interests and work like an ant for the good of the collective. Libertarianism asks only that we consistently apply the most basic rules of humanity we all follow everyday to those who presume to govern us.

      Here's quick list for future reference.

      Libertarianism does not:

      1) disregard the self-interested nature of man.
      2) ask man to be anything other than peaceful to his neighbors.
      3) discount the benefits of cooperation and association.
      4) discount the necessity of leadership and authority, especially in the realms of dispute resolution and law enforcement.
      5) deny the right or importance of defending person and property with violence or coercion.
      6) regard or rely upon man being naturally good.
      7) ... (and many more)

      Libertarianism does:

      1) ask that you not hurt or kill your neighbor.
      2) ask that you do not use without consent, steal or destroy your neighbor's property.
      3) outlaw aggressive (i.e. prone to committing unprovoked violent or coercive acts) territorial monopolists of governance.

      What exactly is it that you think libertarianism asks of man that man doesn't already demonstrate the vast majority of the time on a daily basis?

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  3. What we should conserve is our own understanding and adherence to natural law, love of God and family, etc. It should be a personal goal, not necessarily a political one.

    I feel it is futile trying to influence governments to conserve these things, or to even end its aggression against them. It goes against the fundamental nature of government; its propensity to grow and to increase its control. It might even be counter to natural law as it requires us to join forces (politically) with those we would otherwise choose to avoid.

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    1. Jeff, I have not ever advocated for government to be involved in this. It is the role of the church, as natural law is an ethic. The only other possibility is the university, but even these are downstream from the church.

      To the extent government has a role in my scheme, it would be to protect my natural rights. These are limited to aggression against my life and property, nothing more.

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    2. Sorry BM, I didn't mean to imply you were advocating for government. I was thinking more in terms of influencing politically minded people against government. I think that too is a futile effort.

      I agree the church should weigh in on what the law should be, or at least how it should be interpreted. But having grown up in a soldier worshiping Christian family, my trust in the church as an institution is very limited.

      I think final resolution must ultimately fall on communities, with like mined people deciding what laws are valid based on religion, culture, tradition, etc. Enforcement must also come from the community. I came to these conclusions largely from reading your posts, mostly those from when I first started following you.


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  4. I have hesitated commenting here because I am not a scholar, but a humble old pastor who has worked with smaller Bible churches for 40+ years. I have often emailed Bionic, who has been gracious and encouraged me to participate here. So be kind.

    I believe Bionic is dealing with crucial issues. This article hits the bullseye. Those of us who love liberty must clearly identify where true liberty comes from: God and His Law. For most of us "protestants" this is the Bible. For most of the rest of true liberty lovers it is natural law. Bionic is right, most protestants do not understand natural law, or better do not use the language of natural law. I am more and more convinced that we need to argue and defend liberty from this mountain. We would say from the Biblical/God's Law mountain. But we have so much in common with all of you who use the Natural Law mountain. The basic moral law written into the DNA of humanity. (Some I do think missed that strand).

    Governments are simply a reflection of the religions of their countries. The same problems that governments wrestle with, churches wrestle with on smaller, bottom up level. Our christian churches are divided over 100s of detail, ever moving issues. The only solution is to focus on the main issue: what can we all agree on is foundational. What are the foundational principles to which we are committed?

    I believe it is what I refer to as the Moral Law of God: the second half of the 10 Commandments. How we treat our fellow man. Love your neighbor as yourself. Seek peace and pursue it. Persuasion, not war. If all our churches would focus most of our energy upon truly loving our neighbor in practical ways, I think we would have far more appeal and much more harmony with natural law advocates.

    Bionic asks: What do we want to Conserve? Restore? What is the foundation upon which we build and defend. We may and will disagree about many of the details, but if we can find common ground to defend and promote, this would go a long way toward solving our current crisis.

    I have come to realize that I often have more in common with patriots, true liberty lovers, those who have walked away from our church camp, frustrated by the in-fighting and hypocrisy, than I do with those in our church camp? Why? Because our churches do not seem to address practical issues very well. Our nation and world are "going to hell" -- and many of our churches are clueless, or even worse, complicit.

    Biblical Moral Law and Natural Law on the same mountain? Is that possible? This is precisely what Bionic is doing: bringing us together. Thank you, Bionic.

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    1. Thank you for commenting here, Alan. You have no need to express humility - your comments, via emails to me, have always been valuable.

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    2. Good thoughts. I am one those in the Bible church camp who also is interested in liberty. I see some of the same problems in the church. Part of that is due to the church being primarily a conduit from the gospel not politics. But I agree good politics should flow out of the gospel. All good things like liberty should come from it. The other part of the issue is the Christians are coming out of homes and schools that train them to believe in government. Even those very good on the gospel are way off on how liberty parallels the gospel message. They take all these ideas as separate from one another. We as church leaders need to do our best to explain how it all starts with the gospel and then all good things flow out of that. That is the main thing I am trying to do in my blog, show all the good things that flow out of the Biblical gospel.

      https://thecrosssectionrmb.blogspot.com/

      Some of these articles started out as blogs for my churches website, but that got discontinued so I started out on my own.

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    3. Alan,

      You are more than qualified to comment here, and your insight, judging from your first comment is very welcome! We need pastors who understand that the fights for liberty and Christ are bound up with each other. People like you are the true leaders we need in this world.

      I am just an engineer by trade. I was raised Episcopal. Went through a rebellious agnostic phase in my early twenties, not because I hated Christ, but because I thought it was too good to be true: a beautiful tale and nothing more. Found liberty to be valuable. Somewhere along the way of finding that Christianity is necessary for liberty, along with a deep dive into the history of Christianity over the course of 4 or 5 years, I became a Christian again, but this time I chose to align myself with the Roman Catholic Church.

      "Biblical Moral Law and Natural Law on the same mountain?"

      Bionic's work is very, very special, but much of this synthesis was completed almost 800 years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas and further developed by the Scholastics of the Middle Ages. As many Catholics have embraced the work of C.S. Lewis, I hope many Protestants can begin to appreciate anew the astounding work of Aquinas.

      Together is indeed the way forward for those who genuinely love both Christ and liberty.

      "Peace be to the children of God, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen." Ephesians 6:23-24

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    4. I should add to my last statement, that I did not mean to exclude anyone who may only hold to one or the other of liberty or Christianity. For whatever it's worth, I'm saying you're welcome to join us in the fight for a better future too.

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    5. Alan, thanks for posting. There's not much I can add to the excellent responses above. I just want to say I find it heartening to find a pastor with your insight. I hope you continue to share your thoughts and knowledge.

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  5. Jeff, good points. Natural law is about nation building not state building. Nations are built on language, religion, custom, laws, and culture.

    The hope is that building up a people, a nation, on natural law would then lead to that nation pushing out the state from areas where it doesn't belong.

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  6. Dear Bionic, bravo! Paleoconservatism! Yes, Natural Law, but even that, according to the Fathers, is not sufficient. Without it being explicitly anchored in the worship of the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Spirit, natural law becomes in itself an idol, and all idolatries fail according to their intrinsic distance from the truth. We must restore true worship, that natural law may takes its rightful place.

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    1. Ben, I agree fully and have written as such. Natural law only reaches its full potential in Christianity, and can be sustained only on this foundation.

      There is something higher than natural law, and it is the natural law giver.

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    2. Ben,

      I'm becoming more and more convinced of this point.

      The NAP is wonderful, essential even, but it needs the natural law to fortify it as more than just a 'negative' philosophy (i.e. a philosophy only of what you're not supposed to do). We need to be informed of our proper duties and ends as well as our liberties.

      Natural law is wonderful, essential even, but it needs Christianity to guide to a proper understanding of what is natural for humanity. Natural law without Christ can swing from Rousseauan romanticism to Hobbesian rationalism.

      Natural Law Christianity is wonderful, essential even, but without true faith among its adherents, its tenets and commandments will eventually be ignored, denied, or abandoned altogether.

      Genuine faith in Christ is wonderful, essential even, but it must be supported by liturgical participation. The faith, to be incorporated in one's life, must be experienced not just believed in. Without active worship, the mental muscles of faith will atrophy and fade and so too will our convictions in Christ's promises.

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    3. "There is something higher than natural law, and it is the natural law giver."

      That statement is very close to the Islamic boast that "allahu akbar", which means 'the god is greater'. Anyone who believes in a necessary god, however, has to take another step when thinking about what laws exist.

      A claim that a god, or anything else, exists necessarily is a claim about a law of existence which stands above ALL willpower. So, if a god exists necessarily, it's not the case that "allahu akbar", and it can't be true. Rather, the law is greater. This is just what we suspected anyway when we figured out that no god could make nihilism true, or falsify the infinitude of prime numbers, or make √2 a rational number i.e. a/b=√2, where a and b are integers.

      This reminds me of an irony lurking in the theological idea of a necessary god. It can be drawn out with a question: Does the law of the god's necessity inhere in the god? If so, the god lacks control over the most important aspect of its own being. (Such a god would be unimpressive.) If, on the other hand, the law of the god's necessity does not inhere in the god, why not just dispense with the idea of the god? There's no evidence of a god, and we've already seen that we can have our supreme law and BE FAITHFUL TO IT, no god required. Granted, the lower classes of humans will need some prodding to make them submit and conform, but this is hardly a new experience for civilization.

      The supreme law of existence is so important that it bears meditating upon it at length. It is no mere natural law. It binds all extant things, restricts all willpower, and imposes limits on every incompatible desire. It encompasses logical and mathematical proofs which hold true for physical things, that is, this supreme law infuses the realm of space, time, energy, and matter. To see what I mean, draw a square of any size. The diagonal will have a length which is irrational.

      So we hardly need any separate concept of a natural law, much less a willful being to declare such a law. It turns out that the regularities of nature are subject to law superior to any god's willpower. So your concept of natural law, which you make a function of willpower, is a confounding red herring. It diverts us from reality and confuses us with needless plurality. But at least it leaves you with an opening to introduce arbitrariness into the affairs of the world. This puts you in good company with "the left" which irritates you so much. They, too, are pious believers in arbitrariness.

      Taking things just one step farther now, we can dispense with old ideas that a god is necessary for physical things to exist. Imagine that there were nothing. What would prevent instantiation of something? Well, nothing.

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    4. God willed nature according to His reason.

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    5. "The supreme law of existence is so important that it bears meditating upon it at length. It is no mere natural law. It binds all extant things, restricts all willpower, and imposes limits on every incompatible desire."

      Where there is a law, there is a law giver; where there is an effect, there was first a cause; and at the beginning of all things, the first effect was set into motion by the First Cause.

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  7. (Bionic - if this is a duplicate, please delete. I tried to preview, but it just disappeared.)


    Alan, your "I have come to realize that I often have more in common with patriots, true liberty lovers, those who have walked away from our church camp, frustrated by the in-fighting and hypocrisy, than I do with those in our church camp? Why? Because our churches do not seem to address practical issues very well. Our nation and world are "going to hell" -- and many of our churches are clueless, or even worse, complicit." - directly addressed my entire premise for being on the net.
    Since Christianity is a foundational pillar of Western Civilization, if you undermine that pillar, the rest is just a matter of waiting for the termites to follow through - as they have.
    All the other institutions are dependent on Christian values to maintain their integrity - so why not change the mission of the church 'to make disciples of all nations' to 'how do I get to heaven' - in other words, personal piety and it's 'all about me'.
    Mission accomplished!
    Think of it - every institution of government, religion, politics and culture are driven by that mantra. Reality dictates that these conflicts interests cannot last, but we're deluded to believe they will.
    Deception is the rule, not an exception - and it all began within the church to make the rest of our degradation possible.
    For anyone interested, my website is available for further reading, but it's only a beginning - the rest is up to you.
    We're all accountable!

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