Monday, February 28, 2022

My Relationship with Gary North


I am sorry to have to report the death of another old friend, Gary North, who passed away a few days after his eightieth birthday.

-          David Gordon

I joined Gary North’s community many years ago, a few years before the birth of bionic mosquito (which now is itself approaching twelve years).  He was one of the most important influences in my education and, therefore, to this blog.

I recall his having recommended three books to his general audience, books that he said had greatly influenced him.  I have written extensively on each of these three books, and for those interested, the posts can be found here; I only touch on each of these here:

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life

Barzun offered a sweeping history of Western history since the Reformation and Renaissance.  His work helped to shape my understanding of both the good and the bad of the Enlightenment.  He also touches on the liberty that was developed in the earlier, so-called, Middle Ages.  His book can be considered an encyclopedic reference for the time in question.

Martin Van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State

“Government” and “the state” are two entirely different things.  He made clear that there was no such thing as a “state” before 1300, with the institution taking full form only in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Thereafter, until the time of the French Revolution, the state instrumentalized – bureaucracy, armed forces, statistics, police, prisons.  Until 1945, the state was seen as some kind of ideal.  Thereafter, the entire concept has been in decline.  He offered a prescient insight, as one of the possibilities that would follow this decline:

At worst, the tables may be turned, and people may find themselves living under, or governed by, organizations that are less accountable and more authoritarian.

This possibility has become the reality.  We see this clearly today.

Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom

Nisbet greatly advanced my understanding of the value of community and a common culture if one is actually pursuing liberty.  While the non-aggression principle offers what not to do (don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff), what is it that is necessary to do in order to move toward liberty?  Nisbet helped move me in this direction by offering an answer to this question.

Regular readers of this blog can quickly see how each of these three books has greatly influenced my thinking. 

North also influenced my understanding on Antonio Gramsci (here and here), which further contributed to my view that it is, in fact, the Christian culture (and Christianity more fundamentally) that can be the only foundation for liberty.  There are many libertarians who, like Gramsci, see Christianity as an impediment toward their respective ends.  For these libertarians, as an impediment toward liberty; for Gramsci, as an impediment toward communism.  Only one of these can be right, and as Christian culture has been in decline, it is obvious which one of the two is right.

North was far along in understanding this cultural reality long before I ever paid any attention to it.  From the official eulogy, written by Craig Bulkeley:

Friday, February 25, 2022

Female Blasphemy…and Glory


Maifreda had taught her followers that she was destined to rule all Christendom: that she would be elected pope.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

Things didn’t end so well for Maifreda.  She was burned at the stake.  Having followed in the footsteps of Guglielma, her fate was sealed when Guglielma’s past was revealed.

Guglielma, so it was reported a year after Maifreda’s execution, had come to the city ‘saying that she was the Holy Spirit made flesh for the redemption of women; and she baptised women in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of herself.’

She taught a form of dispensational theology: from the Creation to the coming of Christ, it was the Age of the Father; from Christ until now, the mid-thirteenth century, it was the Age of the Son.  Now it was the Age of the Spirit, and whether sanctioned by her or not, Guglielma’s followers believed her to be the Spirit.  The Age of the Spirit was to be a feminine age.

After her death, Maifreda claimed to see Guglielma rise again.

A year after Maifreda’s execution, and twenty years after Guglielma’s death, the inquisitors took a crowbar to Guglielma’s tomb.  The corpse was removed, a great fire was lit.  The bones were burned to ashes and scattered.  Her tomb was smashed to pieces and her images were crushed underfoot.


A nude female statue was discovered while digging the foundations of a house in Siena.  It turned out to be Venus, the goddess of love.  This ancient masterpiece was too beautiful to be left hidden.  It was taken to the city’s great central plaza and placed on top of a fountain.

At once, everything began to go wrong.

A financial crash; a rout of the Sienese army.  Five years later, the Great Dying – the plague – reached the city in 1348. It raged for months.  In the end, over half of Siena’s population had succumbed.

Yet, this was not the end of it.  An army of mercenaries extorted a massive bribe from the government; there followed a coup; the city’s nearest and bitterest rival, Florence, would inflict a massive military defeat.

“From the moment we found the statue, evils have been ceaseless.”  So said the leaders of the new governing council.  Its nudity was contrasted with everything that the Virgin Mary represented.

On 7 November 1357, workmen pulled down the statue of Venus.  Hauling it away from the piazza, they smashed it into pieces.  Chunks of it were buried just beyond the border with Florence.


Prostitutes offered to pay for one of the windows of the great cathedral of Notre Dame.  This offer was rejected by the leading theologians of the university in Paris.  Two decades later, in 1213, one of these same scholars ordered all women convicted of prostitution to be removed from the city.  In 1254, the king sought to banish them from all of France.  (Clearly, men such as these had no understanding of the laws of supply and demand).

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Jordan Peterson: Conspiracy Theorist


Well, at least the start of one.

Peterson has so-often pooh-poohed so-called conspiracy theorists and their so-called conspiracies.  He seems to be coming to find that no other method of analyzing our world is possible when trying to understand what the truth might be when what we are being told is so obviously a lie.

He just released a conversation with Rex Murphy.  The two of them had a conversation about eight months ago as well, which I commented on, briefly, here.  The current conversation was recorded on February 19, in the aftermath of Justin Trudeau’s emergency orders that released the jackboots on the truckers and those who support them.

The discussion begins slowly.  First, underlying the discussion – and this point was never challenged (which is why I say “at least the start of one”) – covid is real, the steps initially taken by governments were rational, the vaccine isn’t questioned, etc.  Also, as is obvious to any thinking human, covid (or…the common cold) has morphed into something far less dangerous and far more mild.

But Peterson’s search in the first part of the discussion was pretty simplistic.  Basically, Justin Trudeau has daddy issues – he wants to live up to his father.

Rex Murphy is having little to do with that.  He is much more advanced in his thinking.  He sees that there are real snakes in the grass, purposely doing evil as opposed to just being incompetent.  He states clearly and unequivocally that what is happening in Canada and with the press is just a furtherance of how Trump was pounded and demonized for a totally fabricated Russian collusion story.

Statements about which Peterson does not display a bit of surprise.  So, this all seems to start to warm Peterson up, perhaps making him more comfortable to openly say things that he has only recently began to consider. 

It is at this point in the discussion, where Peterson is speculating on why the suspension of the Canadian Parliament.  To what is parliament an impediment? 

He then goes there: the World Economic Forum and Trudeau’s association with this; the global leaders’ program of Schwab, of which Trudeau is a graduate (if that’s the right word); there is a globalist agenda (“this sounds like right-wing propaganda, I suppose,” Peterson says while rolling his eyes – but it isn’t clear of which side he is being dismissive, until he gets to the next point – which he says with conviction):

There is a globalist elite agenda that is aimed at severely modifying the manner in which our fundamental institutions operate under the impetus of another crisis which is the hypothetical climate crisis.

He said “hypothetical”!  But he connects that the covid tyranny is just a test and a conditioning effort for the next thing.

Peterson then admirably points to Bjørn Lomborg, a climate scientist who is skeptical of the climate narrative and the actions being demanded to counteract the so-called crisis.  Peterson defies anyone on the climate-catastrophe side to show evidence and a methodology more sophisticated than that of Lomborg… “of analyzing an actual pathway forward that isn’t merely apocalyptic neuroticism and the desire for totalitarian control.”

Now I have to say, for someone who constantly mocks conspiracy theorists, Peterson is finally becoming a half-decent conspiracy theorist (really, these are now demonstrably conspiracy facts at this point).

Monday, February 21, 2022

Invented Tradition


Invented traditions are cultural practices that are presented or perceived as traditional, arising from the people starting in the distant past, but which in fact are relatively recent and often even consciously invented by identifiable historical actors.

It has every appearance of being an actual tradition, in that it repeats images and symbols drawn from the past (real or imagined), but is in fact both of a relatively recent origin and artificially created.

I have often wondered about the term “Judeo-Christian” and the idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition.  It is a concept that has (or had) significant purchase in the United States, used for reasons ranging as widely as a description of an ethical system to unqualified support for the state of Israel to advocacy for the Republican political party to a fundamental American value.

But where did this term come from?  How did it originate?  How has it been used in the past?

The term "Judæo Christian" first appears in a letter from Alexander McCaul which is dated October 17, 1821.

The term was used to describe Jewish converts to Christianity, which, of course, began in the first century of Christianity, when most of the earliest converts were, in fact, Jews.  Today, we describe such conversions under the label Messianic Judaism. 

Joseph Wolff also used the term in 1829, describing a type of church that would observe some Jewish traditions in order to convert Jews.  Wolff is an interesting character.  He was a Jewish-Christian (an actual “Judeo-Christian”) missionary from Germany, who was known as “the missionary to the world.”  He embarked, for example, on a journey to discover the lost tribes of Israel.  Further, from 1827 – 1834, he visited

…. Anatolia, Armenia, Turkestan Afghanistan, Kashmir, Simla, Calcutta, Madras, Pondicherry, Tinnevelly, Goa and Bombay, returning via Egypt and Malta.

He predicted that Christ would return in 1847.  He wrote a book entitled Missionary Journal and Memoir, and he writes of one Gregor Peshtimaljaan (“an Armenian gentleman”):

I never met with an Armenian who possessed so much of critical knowledge as Scripture as that man did.

He said that in converting the Jews one should not compel them to change their ancient customs, as circumcision, and keeping the seventh day, for the Abysinians circumcise, and keep the seventh day; in short, one ought to establish a Judeo-Christian church.

So…still no sign of a “tradition” or support for the state of Israel or the Republican party.  Yet the way the term is used today suggests that one follows the other – that “Christian” followed Judaism.  Isn’t that tradition?  Doesn’t one follow the other?

Not quite:

It is worth emphasising that Judaism and Christianity are, more or less, the same age and share a common religious heritage.

Wait!  What?

Both arose in the first century CE out of the Hebrew Scriptures ― known to Jews as the Tanakh, and comprised of the Teaching (Torah), the Prophets and the Writings.

What about Jacob?  What about Moses?

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Power of the Word


Holding to the faith of the first millennium, the Orthodox had simply never adopted the practices that Luther and his followers found so execrable.

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

The West had, by this time of the early sixteenth century, moved into a model of separation – a distinct divide between the clergy and the laity, a bifurcated model of society.  It was not only Luther, with the priesthood of all believers, who did, in his way, challenge this idea.  Erasmus would also write: “being a monk does not make one pious.”  This sentiment was not controversial in the traditional Church, according to Strickland.

Both Luther and Erasmus saw little more than superstition and clerical abuse in contemporary Christianity.  However, and as I have written before, their respective approaches were quite different and, in fact, Erasmus was eventually forced to confront Luther.

For Luther, this came to a head with his visit to Rome and his constant torment over his fallen condition and how he understood this in relation to Catholic Church teaching.  His main grievance in his 95 Theses was the sale of indulgences, one of several practices introduced or expanded in the West since the time of the Great Schism.

Which brings me to a sidebar, one I have touched on before but one that is worth revisiting: Luther’s Ninety-Seven Theses.  Yes, that is correct – not a typo.

The 97 Theses are a series of disputations written to invite debate on the topic of scholastic theology and are also referred to as his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology.

These were posted only a month before the more famous list of ninety-five, but, obviously, garnered none of the fame nor caused any of the subsequent ruckus.  On the surface, this is odd, but the oddity offers a glimpse into what was important to the Church:

Scholar Lyndal Roper expresses the opinion of most modern-day scholars that the 97 Theses "are in many ways more radical and shocking than the Ninety-Five Theses" in that the latter took aim at the church policy of selling indulgences and the authority of the pope while the former is an attack on the whole theological system of the Church including the concept of free will.

Per Roper, Luther argued that no one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle.  Luther’s 97 Theses were a complete attack on what had become by then the foundational underpinnings of Catholic theology.  But challenging the whole theological system of the Church was apparently less troubling than challenging indulgences and the authority of the pope.

The scholastics mentioned by Luther in this document include William of Ockham, Duns Scotus, and Gabriel Biel.  There is no mention of Aquinas.  It is difficult, however, to read too much into this omission, as Aquinas leaned on Aristotle perhaps even more than these later scholastics, who moved away from universals to a nominalist position. 

I recall reading elsewhere that Luther had read little, if any, of Aquinas directly.  For example, Luther thought he was arguing against Aquinas’s view of transubstantiation when, in fact, he was in fundamental agreement with Aquinas and opposed to the later scholastics.  It appears Luther didn’t really confront Aquinas directly or otherwise engage him.

In any case, no controversy followed the posting of the ninety-seven.  

Now, returning to Strickland: Luther had not intended to further fragment Christendom, but the Church’s necessary hold on indulgences and Luther’s rather obstinate personality and fierce polemic style were enough, almost, to force the issue.  Why almost? 

Luther, unlike his predecessors who also went against the Church and were executed for doing so, had a protector in Frederick the Wise of Saxony.  (As an aside, demonstrating the reality of the effective separation of Church and king in effect through much of the Middle Ages in the West.)

Sola Scriptura.  These are fighting words, I know.  Strickland addressed the topic head on, first, by citing the Apostle Paul from 2 Thessalonians:

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Lost History of Natural Law in the Eastern Church


A lecture on natural law by Fr. Michael Butler was offered to me by Walt Garlington.  Sure, you think, a Dominican discussing Aquinas – there’s a shocker!  Nope.  The title is Orthodoxy and Natural Law, and Fr. Butler is an archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America.  I offer: this is one of the better presentations on Natural Law I have heard from anyone – Catholic or otherwise.

As you know, I have found little, if any, support from the Orthodox Church for the idea of Natural Law.  I offer some of my writing on this here:

-          An Orthodox Take on Scholasticism

-          Universals, Nominalism, and the Church

I also recently touched on some comments by Jonathan Pageau, comments which continue to confuse me as he seems to be dancing all around natural law without ever saying the words or diving into the ethic.  Well, after reviewing this lecture by Fr. Butler, I grow evermore confused about Pageau – and will explain why in good time.

From the introduction:

Eastern Orthodoxy has been ambivalent about natural law. This lecture considers how natural law thinking might work in distinctly Orthodox ways of considering the relationship between faith and reason and examines some implications that might be useful today.

So, on to the lecture.  Strap in.  It really is good.  Please note: where I state that Butler is citing from an earlier source or Church father, I am reasonably sure this is the case.  Given I do not have the handout the he offered to the audience, there are times I cannot be certain. 

I have been asked to talk this evening on the subject of Orthodoxy and Natural Law.  That’s a little bit hard to do…

Making this work even more remarkable.

The Jews tend to think natural law is a Christian thing.  Protestants tend to think it is a Catholic thing.  Catholics sometimes think it is a medieval thing.  In medieval times, some people thought it was a Roman thing.  And the Romans thought it was a Stoic thing.  And Orthodox, when they think about it at all, think it is a Western thing.

Yes.  Man’s rebellious heart wants to run from natural law.

What is natural law?  It is the rule of conduct prescribed to us by God and by our constitution as rational creatures.

Then, he cites Thomas, “the Angelic Doctor”:

Natural law is the human being’s participation in the eternal law, which is present to us through the light of natural reason whereby we discern what is good and what is evil.  All men know the truth to a certain extent, at least as to the common principles of the natural law, and every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection of our participation of the eternal law which is unchangeable. 

The first principle of natural law is that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.  All the other principles of natural law are based on this.  The general principles of the natural law cannot be blotted out from the human heart: there are some things that you can’t not know.

The serial adulterer may be numb to the fact that what he is doing is wrong, yet he still hides this fact from his spouse.

Many consider the Ten Commandments to be a summary of the natural law.  Either stated, implied, or presupposed.  I recall a lecture by Hans Hoppe, where he openly stated this reality:

I do not want to appeal with this only [to] libertarians, however, but a potentially universal or “catholic” audience, because the same ideal of social perfection is essentially also the one prescribed by the ten biblical commandments. [For purposes of this lecture, he focuses on the second table.]

Returning to Fr. Butler, he offers how each of the ten commandments presuppose certain things: for example, for there to be adultery, we have to presuppose marriage, and that to abuse this relationship is wrong; or to not bear false witness presupposes just courts.  He offers a long list of such relationships / presuppositions: a rational basis for people’s common, moral sense.

But what about the Scriptural basis of natural law? 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

More From Canada


Jordan Peterson had a conversation on February 5, a few days ago, with Dr. Julie Ponesse.  The conversation is entitled Oh, Canada. 

Who is Dr. Ponesse?

Dr. Julie Ponesse has a PhD in Philosophy (Western, 2008) with areas of specialization in ethics and ancient philosophy.

She has a Masters in Philosophy with Collaborative Specialization in Bioethics from the University of Toronto and a Diploma in Ethics from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

Dr. Ponesse has published in the areas of ancient philosophy, ethical theory, and applied ethics, and has taught at universities in Canada and the US for 20 years.

In the fall of 2021, Dr. Ponesse saw her academic career of 20 years fall apart after she refused to comply with a Canadian university's COVID vaccine mandate.

The conversation covered covid policies, Joe Rogan, the value of free speech, etc.  Mostly they discussed the Canadian trucker protest and the childish, immature prime minister of Canada – Peterson continues to be quite biting regarding this nothing of a puppet.

In response to her being fired because she refused an experimental jab as a condition of employment, she posted this short five-minute video for her first-year ethics students, closing it with just one question for them to consider.  The answer is simple for anyone with a mind and with a heart.  Alas, for much of humanity, and for all of the people leading politics, media, universities, and technology…well, the answer is simple as well.

Serving God (knowingly or not) or serving Satan.  Depending on who one serves, the simple answer is different.


Here is another short video of Dr. Ponesse speaking to the crowd in Ottawa.  Unlike her cowardly prime minister, she had the courage to engage with the truckers and their supporters firsthand.

Monday, February 7, 2022



It was in the font of pagandom, then, that Western Christendom was rebaptized.  A withered culture of paradise went into the font, and a vigorous but radically changed culture of utopia sprang forth.

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

Strickland offers that the Renaissance (rebirth) was not a rebirth of the ancient pagandom of Rome, but of a Western Christendom that, in his view, had fallen into an anthropological pessimism and cosmological contempt since the time of the Great Schism.

While it was not ancient Rome, with its infanticide and sexual degradation, it also was not the paradisiacal Christendom that continued in the East.  It was a Christendom of humanism, the humanism born with Petrarch.

Christendom was, and in the East remained, a civilization directed toward the heavenly transformation of the world.  The West, with its immanent culture and without a transcendent source to sustain it, was unstable.  Theology went from the work of monks and bishops to a professional discipline.  Instead of the theologian being one who prays, he became one who thinks:

Scholasticism, with its Aristotelian underpinnings, did not so much open the heavens to man as set boundaries by which he must live in this world.

While this is presented as a criticism, I, obviously, see no problem with this.  We must know how to live in this world, while all the while becoming more Christ-like.  The Thomistic scholasticism of natural law offered this roadmap, fully conforming with Scripture, fully conforming with a Christian life, with man’s highest purpose being that of love – first of God, then, like it, of his neighbor.  Is there anything in that objective with which a Christian would disagree?  It need not be everything to still remain a valuable and meaningful contribution.

As has been offered earlier, it seems the scholasticism with which Strickland disagrees is that which comes after Thomas, in the fourteenth century, and the nominalism born from it.  Yet, he does not make this distinction at all clear – not directly, only hinted at.  It is unfortunate, as a proper understanding of natural law would go a long way toward Christendom fulfilling its mission on earth. 

Natural law also identifies the dividing line that is tearing both Christians and the West at large apart.  More specifically, there are those who choose to live basically according to the natural law and those who do not.  One will find both Christians and non-Christians on both sides of this divide.

In any case, by this time, many Greeks would find their way to Italy, bringing Plato with them.  Such a cross-cultural exchange had not been seen for several centuries.  This time, however, the cause was not driven by a zeal for traditional Christianity:

Many of the Greeks who now came were predisposed to interpret the impending collapse of Byzantium as a judgment against the Orthodox Church.

And, I ask, why not?

Friday, February 4, 2022

Natural Law and the Meaning Crisis


Taken from Jonathan Pageau’s January Q&A:

Question: Is there much difference in the Platonic forms and the patterns you talk about in your videos?

Pageau: There is definitely a relationship between the two.  I think that the more ancient cosmologies are closer to what I am talking about than the Platonic forms, although I do think that Plato is super-helpful, and that Neo-Platonism is super-helpful to help us integrate all of this together. 

But I am really older world than that.  It’s like hierarchies of acting principalities is what the world is mostly made of.  That is, these forms are not just abstract concepts or abstract ideas.  That the ideas are active, that they are purposive. 

That’s why I think St. Maximus the confessor gets it so much better because he joins the notion of forms with the notion of purpose.  He joins the notion of forms with the notion of Aristotle’s final causes.  That there is an active aspect, there is something that is pushing and pulling, which is bringing things into being through teleology. 

So, I think that that might be the difference.

What does this have to do with natural law and the meaning crisis?  Pageau describes patterns, and these patterns can lift us up or tear us down.  To what do we aim our purposive behavior?  What is the end, the telos, at which we aim?  The answer to this question will aim us higher or aim us lower.

The highest purpose is love – love God, love our neighbor.  The manifestation of this is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is Aristotle’s manifest form of the perfect abstract form described by Plato – God.  It appears, although I am no expert, that this is what Maximus was describing. 

Jesus is the ultimate, the highest, archetype.  The form of the Good made manifest.  This is the pattern, and He offers that at which we would aim.  And from this, one can deduce all of the natural law.

I explain my thoughts further on this here.


Paul VanderKlay is commenting on the Joe Rogan – Jordan Peterson discussion.  After Peterson introduces the foundational value of the Bible to Western Culture, VanderKlay offers:

“And he’s right.  He’s exactly right.  That’s the Bible.  It’s not just the Bible.  It’s the Bible and all of the mechanisms, all of the culture that has brought the Bible out into the world and have facilitated the Bible’s coding of our world.”

To which I commented:

Paul, it’s called natural law.  I don't think I have mentioned this before.... 🙂

Obviously, I have, dozens of times.  PVK is inching closer but still isn’t going there or just hasn’t grasped it.  I have written before (scroll down here) about the struggle that many Protestants and all Orthodox Christians (let alone academic philosophers) have with accepting the idea of the natural law ethic (or, at least, saying the words), although the entire conversation that involves Peterson, VanderKlay, Pageau and Vervaeke is aimed directly at it and is searching for it. 

Abandoning natural law is at the root of the meaning crisis, solutions for which these four and others are grasping.

Continuing with my comment:

That culture is found in and through many that have influenced and shaped the West and have been the sources through which we have been able to understand the natural law ethic that has its foundational requirements found in Scripture.  These influences would include (in addition to Biblical authors) Aristotle (the Apostle Paul understood that the Greeks were in search of God when he spoke at the Areopagus) and Aquinas, among others.


I have traced this out more extensively here.  But to summarize: man is created with a purpose; that purpose is exemplified in the life of Christ – the form of Plato’s Good made manifest as Aristotle (and, apparently, Maximus) would have it.

Pageau and VanderKlay are describing exactly this and this is precisely what they have been in search of.  Protestant nominalism and Orthodox angst about Scholasticism prevents or otherwise disallows these two from embracing the possibility that the answer to the meaning crisis is to be found in Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law. 

It doesn’t help that when either of these two have had conversations with Catholic theologians, clergy, or lay people, the Catholics don’t even bring it up.

Protestants need not accept the Catholic faith to find value in natural law; the Orthodox need not accept every word in the Summa to do the same.  Overcoming these, or whatever, obstacles, would go a long way toward aiming this conversation toward a fruitful end.