Thursday, September 22, 2022

A Shallow Conservatism

A Conservative Manifesto: Jordan Peterson’s Vision for Conservatives: Part 1

In this video, Peterson discusses what he sees as a positive message for conservatives, a message that can reach a wide audience.  As he sometimes does, this video is of him reading a text – a practice he uses when he wants to be careful about his words.  As Peterson has often said, he tries to be very careful about the words he uses.

Further, it is a text that he has asked some others to comment on.  In other words, what he says here are well-chosen and considered thoughts, vetted by trusted friends.  Nothing should be considered off-the-cuff.

Peterson describes this as a manifesto for the center-right and classical liberal front.  These are considered by him to be foundational principles.  I would start by challenging the idea that center-right and classical liberalism go together.

This is not to say that classical liberalism isn’t conservative.  Compared to the mess we live in today it is quite conservative.  Even one hundred-twenty-five years ago it would have been seen as conservative.  But at its birth – coming out of Enlightenment thinking – it was seen as anything but conservative.

Which comes to a very fundamental question: what is it we want to conserve?  There is some quote out these that goes something like: liberals drive change and conservatives consolidate their gains.  So, what, exactly, is to be conserved?  Peterson sees it as classical liberalism.  Unfortunately, this is a foundation built on sand.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Peterson begins:

A profound crisis of meaning currently afflicts, destabilizes and demoralizes the sovereign citizens of the West and the social institutions on which they depend.

I will come later to his repeated use of some version of the term “sovereign citizens.”  In the meantime, Peterson is speaking of the meaning crisis and the ignorance we have regarding the source of the principles that give life meaning.  He speaks of holding to a courageous faith in the traditional values of our past – the “eternal verities.”

What are these traditional values and eternal verities, which, as he says, are “crying out for rediscovery”?  He offers what he admits is an “inevitably incomplete list”:

Humility, liberty, autonomy, truth, agency, identity, merit, responsibility, tradition, community, stewardship, justice, and unity.

He then expands on each item from the list.  While he recognizes that these are traditional values and eternal verities, since he is focused on the sovereign citizen, he is grounding these on a foundation unknown until the Enlightenment. 

John Locke wrote in his Two Treatises on Government that "every man has a Property in his own Person". Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick interprets Locke as saying that the individual "has a right to decide what would become of himself and what he would do, and as having a right to reap the benefits of what he did.”  

Josiah Warren was the first who wrote about the "sovereignty of the individual".

In such a case, why would any individual act with or in accord with several items on Peterson’s list: humility, truth, responsibility, tradition, justice, and unity?  What would compel him to do so?

Much of Peterson’s list was considered virtuous several centuries before there was any notion of the classical liberalism that came out of the Enlightenment.  It was grounded in a tradition that the Enlightened classical liberal tossed aside as irrelevant – or even harmful.  Most importantly, he does not identify the one single virtue that gives reason or cause to pursue any of the other virtues or characteristics he identifies.

In other words, he says nothing about Christianity and nothing about love as man’s highest purpose.  Sure, he says “do something meaningful.”  But Marx did something meaningful; Stalin did something meaningful; Hitler did something meaningful.  And much of what they did they considered as offering liberty, truth, identity, merit, tradition, justice, and unity (no, not in every case, but in different degrees for each of them).

They could believe this because they didn’t have Christianity and they didn’t have love – properly tempered by discipline and truth – as man’s highest purpose.

Further, Peterson uses some version of the term “sovereign individual” and “sovereign citizenship” many times.  In fact, if there is one concept that undergirds all of his points and supports his arguments, it is this idea of the sovereign individual.  At the same time, he outlines specific objectives or values for this “sovereign citizen.”  This is very problematic and even contradictory. 

First, some definitions:

Sovereign: a person who has supreme power or authority; having supreme rank, power, or authority.

There is no way we are all sovereign, although leftists want to make us believe we are.

Judges 21: 25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Isn’t this the world we live in today?  We live in a West where anything peaceful is allowed, and even many things violent are acceptable and even desired.  We are sovereign in our ability to identify as anything we choose; we are sovereign in relation to unborn human beings; we are sovereign in creating our own truths; we are sovereign in inventing our own values.

Peterson can’t mean this: we are free to do whatever is right in our own eyes.  He can’t mean this because he is offering a list of things we should do, values we should hold, virtues we should stride toward.  Yet, he uses the word “sovereign.”  So, to keep looking….

Next I looked for something on “sovereign citizenship.”  The first items in the search were to sites like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-defamation League and the like.  Sovereign citizens do not accept government authority, they are extremists, right-wing anarchists, etc.

Peterson can’t mean this either.  But, as careful as he is with words, how can he not understand that this is how many who he wishes to reach will understand this term?  They have long ago labeled him right-wing, alt-right, etc. Using this term just adds fuel to that fire.

Further, if I am a “sovereign” citizen, of what am I a “citizen” of?  To be a citizen of something implies that I am under some other authority.  Even if my participation is fully voluntary, inherently I am no longer sovereign.  Even if I am free to leave that authority and become a citizen elsewhere, I am now under a different authority.  Truly, a sovereign citizen, if words are to mean anything, would be an individual under no authority – earthly or heavenly – at all.  A citizen of an entity with a population of one.

Finally, I did a search on the term “sovereign individual.”  From Wikipedia:

Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one's own body and life. Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as libertarianism, liberalism, and anarchism.

Clearly it is this latter idea that Peterson has in mind.  But all of this just points to the problem of using the word “sovereign” and relating it to “citizen” or “individual” when describing a world conservatives would value. 

This idea of an individual as sovereign was certainly born in the Enlightenment, and it just as validly supports communism as it does liberty.  This idea of an individual as sovereign implies no hierarchies – or, at least no hierarchies that suggest accepting and living with responsibilities.  I know from what he has said in the past – and even in this video – Peterson doesn’t believe this. 

For example, he speaks of every person needing a purpose to give them meaning through this otherwise difficult and even tragic life.  He lists personal responsibility, marriage, family and job, civic engagement and sacrifice.  But he doesn’t offer a “why.”  Why should a sovereign individual value and pursue these, as opposed to the meaning pursued by the greatest despots in history?

He says people are crying out for individual sovereignty and responsible genuine social service and purpose.  But why would a sovereign individual cry out for genuine social service?

He speaks of “atonement through responsibility.”  Why would a sovereign have to atone for anything?  And, again, why take on responsibility?  I am sovereign, after all.  He says that the highest must serve the lowest, but again, no “why.”  So why stick with the word “sovereign”?

First, he sticks to the word sovereign (individual or citizen) because he cannot or will not escape the idea that the Enlightenment was an almost unmitigated good.  He is very much in the Steven Pinker camp on this.

Second, the “why.”  The answer to the last “why” in all of these questions is love.  Love of neighbor, to be sure.  But this cannot be sustained without a love of God.  It cannot, because there is no reason to love one’s neighbor when it is easier not to, when I am better off for not doing so, when it requires some sacrifice on my part.  And love always demands these things of me.  Love demands that which Peterson is asking of conservatives.  And it is my love of God that keeps me accountable to my neighbor (as poorly as I do this…).

But Peterson ignores the root; he ignores the basis.

So, why take on any responsibility – sovereign individual that I am – unless I am under the authority of God, Who places on me the responsibility to love?  That is the last answer to the last why?  But it goes unsaid by Peterson.

Almost.  He speaks of “the Abrahamic cannon” as our inheritance.  I had to look this one up.  I found things like the following: The Hebrew Canon (Tanakh and Mishna); Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; Islamic Canon.  Peterson says nothing of Christ, Christianity – Peterson doesn’t even use the invented tradition of “Judeo-Christian.”  

The Abrahamic canon is much too broad a concept.  There is the tradition of the Old Testament as understood via the New Testament.  It is through this canon that the ideas Peterson cherishes have borne fruit.  Without this canon, those ideas will not bear fruit again.

It should not go unsaid that Peterson makes some excellent points in this video: he recognizes that there is an inevitability to economic disparities, and to a difference in competence.  He speaks positively of free markets.  He does use the term “natural law” once (albeit, with no expansion or explanation).  He recognizes the negative result of the atomistic individual.


A shallow conservatism.  This is what Peterson offers.  A conservatism with no foundation. 

I have previously dealt with this topic: What to Conserve.  From that post, I offer the following – a short summary, greatly expanded in the post:

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.

Without a focus on the natural law ethic and the necessity of Christianity to develop this fully (among other things, via Jesus summarizing the commandments: Love God, love your neighbor), the idea of “conservatism” is meaningless.

For those, like Peterson, who cannot give up on the Enlightenment or who otherwise cannot allow themselves to fully embrace the natural law ethic, they will never provide a workable or sustainable vision for conservatives; they will never find answers to the meaning crisis; they will never discover the antidote to the delusions that have overtaken society today.


Just a couple of other comments by Peterson worth addressing: He finds the current bodies of government to be fundamentally good and functional (I would suggest that he reads Hans Hoppe).  He must believe this, as he is a disciple of the Enlightenment and the Whig theory of history with liberal democracy seen as the highest form of government ever devised.  Things are really getting better, and we are just mucking it up because we aren’t taking on responsibility.

But one cannot divorce the reality that we are in a meaning crisis from the thinking and philosophy that came out of divorcing reason and the individual from God.

Romans 1: 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Peterson also offers: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He calls for conservatives to advocate unity.  But unity based on what principles, what truth? 

In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.

-          Ayn Rand

I know she won’t like it, but the Bible got there first:

1 Kings 18: 21(a) And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

Acts 5: 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.


  1. "There is some quote out these that goes something like: liberals drive change and conservatives consolidate their gains." -- Bionic Mosquito

    From G.K. Chesterton--
    “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”

    I have a very good friend who often uses the term "sovereign individual" to describe himself. I will engage him sometime using the arguments above and see what comes out of it.

    Good work. Thank you.

  2. If each person is considered to be sovereign, then that implies that no person has a right to interfere with the sovereignty of any other person. Interactions with others requires mutual consent. Meaning that we don't have to love our neighbors, we just can't violate their sovereignty.

    1. You are correct: we don't have to love our neighbors. Natural law ethics holds love as the highest purpose of man, but no man has a natural right to force me to love (or be charitable toward) him.

      If we want to live in peace and move toward liberty, natural law ethics is necessary. As for punishment of violations, the relevant violations are only regarding person and property.

    2. That's the best I can do as an appeal to everyone, including non believers. To my mind the love of money is NOT the root of all evil, although it can lead to a shallow life. The true root of all evil is the desire to have your will imposed on others.

    3. I guess it depends what you mean by "desire" and impose"... is a good father that has earned it by principled consistency with it, that forbids a son from doing X unwise thing, "imposing" from "desire"? Or a "headman" that knows the will and character of his people, using his power to do the same for them?

      For pre-moderns, this "imposition" and guardianship is completely acceptable. It might even be a duty.

    4. Leaving aside the parent/child situation, which I would consider as a special case, I would have to consider whether any man has a natural right to govern other men without their consent. My answer is no. Regarding the "headman", how did these people become "his people" and how did he obtain "his power"?

    5. An understandable position, as this is precisely the fruit of the Enlightenment in regards to thinking about power and authority.

      The leaving aside of the parent/child situation is indeed a wise one to leave out, as for pre-moderns it is the principled model to understand the others. In the same way but from the other end, it got Rothbard into all sorts knots to try and remain consistent with in his libertarianism.

  3. As I stated before, Peterson is an anthropologist (not by profession) and is not Christian.

    To conserve, in the political sense, is to maintain the base standard. Once the current status has deviated from the base standard it is the duty of a conservative to correct the deviation. But corrections have failed and the state of things has deviated so far, a true conservative, wanting to return to first principles must become a revolutionary.


    1. All good points, Jaime. I have mentioned before: it isn't an issue of going back to natural law. The point is to return to the center.

    2. Or a reactionary.

      Reaction is the proper footing of the conservative who finds himself in our current situation, since the Revolution has been committed against us, against the position of natural law and authority, against the Church, and against Western Christendom.

  4. That was even worse than I anticipated. Didn't Confucius pretty much cover all this already?

    The classical liberals are taking on a pretty desperate tone. Years ago my corner of the Internet started referring to these sermons as the conservative version of the ghost dance. The shaman reverently drapes the US Constitution over his shoulders and frantically chants and dances for the ghosts of Adam Smith, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson to appear and chase all the Leftist demons back into the sea. The more classical liberalism fades into the dustbin of history, the more frantic the dance.

    You might say the classical liberals are in the five stages of grief. If you want to see the Anger stage, look up Jerry Taylor, formerly of the Niskanen Center.

    Most conservatives strike me as in the Denial/Anger stage; they cannot believe that the institutions have been so wholly captured and are incapable of self-correction at this point. That is, they can't believe we aren't voting our way out of this mess. When those of us who've moved on don't turn out in support of Mitt Romney, the centrists and classical liberals start talking about "cleansing fire" and beating people's brains in. (Source: Niskanen Center).

    Conservative public intellectuals like Peterson are in an insoluble bind. They can't discuss the realities of race and ethnicity, and they ignore or evade the fact that propositional nationhood requires totalitarian levels of control to maintain. How long do the classical liberals think that 50.01% of the electorate is going to tell the other 49.99% what to do? Honestly, we need to dismantle the WMD's before we start using them against each other.

    The fact is we've practically abolished scarcity and the last great ideological battle of capitalism vs. marxism is mostly over and we've settled into a global consensus of mixed economies. The only thing left to fight over is "wokeism" vs. "tradition" (that's the best I can come up with) and the tendency toward one pole or the other probably has substantial hereditary inputs.

    Regards, Anti-Gnostic

    1. All good comments regarding those who today are labeled as "conservatives."

      If those such as Peterson want any hope of saving the best parts of classical liberalism (and there are many), they must embrace that which the Enlightenment threw out - as I note in my post.

  5. That was worse than I anticipated. Didn't Confucius kind of cover this stuff already?

    My corner of the internet used to call these sermons the "conservative ghost dance." The classical liberal shaman drapes the US Constitution reverently across his shoulders, and proceeds to dance and chant for the ghosts of Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and John Locke to manifest and drive the Leftists and the Alt-Right demons into the sea. The more classical liberalism fades into history, the more frantic the dance. Peterson comes across as a bit manic in this video.

    Conservative public intellectuals like Peterson are somewhere in the five stages of grief over the West's institutions. They can't accept that the institutions have become wholly captured and incapable of self-critical, self-correcting behavior, and they ignore or evade the fact that propositional nations require totalitarian means of control for their maintenance. They also can't talk about the realities of race and ethnicity.

    Conservatives need to jettison a lot of ideological thinking. We've evolved beyond the Mandate of Heaven for kings, so so the Ancien Regime vs. the Republicans is over. We've practically abolished scarcity, so capitalism vs. marxism is over and we've settled on the welfare state and the capitalists pay the taxes.

    So now we're at a point where 50.01% of the electorate tells the other 49.99% what to do, and that's not sustainable in any time or place. So rather than doubling down on classical liberalism (which only ever manifested in peoples from within the Hajnal Lines), Peterson should be talking about what comes next. But he really can't because then we have to deal honestly with the contradictions within pluralistic democracy and our sacred, strengthening Diversity.

    Regards, Anti-Gnostic.

  6. I am not bothered by the terminology sovereign citizen or self-ownership. They aren't absolutely true but practically instructive. The problem is the rejection of God, Jesus, and the biblical faith, i.e. secularization.

    In reality God owns us all. Using Lockean philosophy, God mixed his labor with matter which He created to create humans. We are His property. But according to natural law God gives each individual control of his own body and exercises that control through the mind. On the human to human level of relationships we own ourselves in that no other human does are can even claim to. This is natural law.

    But to your point, natural law also states that we are love others. When you carry out natural law freely you receive the blessings of God on your life. There is no blessing without voluntary, willful obedience to God and His truth. That part aligns with JP's call to virtue, but of course you formulate a meaningful criticism to his shallowness and secularization.

    Plus there is no virtue in the center-right. Ew! Disgusting. I can only imagine one level of hell is governed by the center-right.

    Here is how I formulated my thoughts on a similar topic of societal order, before I understood the concept of natural law.

    1. "God mixed his labor with matter ..."

      What matter? What labor?


    2. The creation narrative in chapter 2 suggests something along the lines of mixing labor with land, in verse 7:

      7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

    3. There was no matter until God spoke it into being. The "labor" was already baked in.

    4. My god. Please familiarize yourself with the text before making comments. God created matter. Then he formed man out of that matter.

    5. "There was no matter until God spoke it into being. The "labor" was already baked in."

      Yes, God spoke creation into being, but even the act of speaking was a form of labor. Besides, Genesis tells us that God took what had already been created--dirt-- and formed a new being out of it--man. The story goes that God deliberately shaped man from dirt, then breathed into his nostrils. That most definitely is work.

      This is, as Bionic has already said, mixing labor with land to produce something valuable. It is hard to read anything else into it.

    6. Good grief,! God speaking is [a form of] labor. Really?
      The point is that God owns it all and has nothing with mixing labor with matter.
      Whether God literally formed man with literal hands and literally blew with literal mouth, does not matter.
      God owns it it all.
      God's existence is self; Man's is contingent.
      God's authority is inherent; Man's is delegated.
      God is not subject to a higher principle.
      God is and is the highest principle.


    7. Jaime, God acted. He acted on the dust. Exactly how He did this we don't know and can't understand. But He acted to form man.

      Of course, we cannot perfectly explain or understand God, and certainly not in any language we understand. best as we understand it and in the words God chose to use to describe it, He acted. That's labor.
      He acted on the dust of the ground. That's land.

      Now, is God subject to John Locke's theory of property? Of course not. Instead, we can say that John Locke merely offered us God's reality, God's principle - as documented in Genesis 2:7.

    8. God acted. We agree on that.
      That that action, spoken (in whatever essence) or active (effecting/affecting the material essence God created), did not imbue God with ownership.
      God already has ownership ... from before anything that was created.


  7. Anti-Gnostic is quite wrong about the conquest of scarcity (not even Star Trek conquered scarcity!), but quite right that the relevant issues are still too far out of the Overton window to be given shape and properly addressed in the mainstream.

    The unpleasant realities of the human condition that must be acknowledged for things to get back on the rails are more - way more - than the average liberal-minded Westerner can stomach. From what I see all around, my guess is that this will remain true for at least another generation.

    But really, and this is something that's been growing in my mind for the past few years, I question how close to the idea of natural law the *popular* intellectual landscape can EVER come (I say this because Peterson is more pop than deep, though he deserves credit for bringing some depth to pop).

    Some of the unpleasant realities I mentioned above, and which have been touched on by this blog (AND by Peterson, who I suspect knows more about such things than he lets on, especially considering his specialization), are unsettling enough that it takes a solid mental and emotional foundation to even recognize consciously, let alone integrate into one's mental framework and view of self in a cosmic setting.

    The vast majority will not reach that degree of maturity in their lifetime. They will only accept the hard truths out of necessity. As long as they can clamor to be freed from these difficult realities and feel justified in doing so, they will go on doing just that, no matter how useless or even destructive it turns out to be.

    Once upon a time I would have thought this to be selling humanity short, but after covid... well, I can't explain how vast numbers of people can be OK with shutting down the world because of the sniffles without also assuming these people to be quite weak-minded. Worse, they mistake this weakness for virtue. If you tell them "yeah, some people will die, it's sad, but that's life", they write you off as a psycho with no empathy. Feh.

    Many, including Bionic (and rather eloquently too), have made the point of fear of death being the result of a lack of purpose in life. The point I'm trying to make is that for most people, this lack of spine cannot be remedied through intellectual development.

    And this applies to many other things. I'll refrain from making a list because I've gone on long enough, and because I'm on thin ice with the controversial topics as is!

    1. "I'll refrain from making a list because I've gone on long enough, and because I'm on thin ice with the controversial topics as is!"

      I don't think so. If there is one place where equality reigns - regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity (race), transgender status, economic condition, etc. - it is along the lines of the issues you describe in this comment.

    2. cosmic dwarf - thank you for your comment. I submit that we have practically abolished scarcity.

      If Mises were resurrected, one can picture him immediately buying pots and pans and boxes of canned goods, certain that the dollar is collapsing tomorrow. I recall talking with my father and mentioning that people have told me the dollar is about to collapse all my life; he told me people had told him that all his life.

      When even the 80 IQ have cell phones and all the tattoos, weaves, marijuana, booze and chicken tenders they want we have, for all practical purposes, abolished scarcity. This has some truly awful implications.

      I agree that in the long, long run, the technological scale piled up since the Industrial and Green Revolutions will outstrip the ability of a debauched civilization to maintain it. (I think we've already lost the capacity for cheap, reliable nuclear power). But it's no fun being in that interregnum part.

  8. I woke up this morning asking myself if you were all powerful what would you do to fix this world? The only answer I could come up with was that God be sovereign over all. The Devil is among us and in us. There will be no utopia until mankind is perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. In the meantime, I must strive to be as like Jesus as I can.

  9. Cool to see Tho Bishop tweeting about this article.

  10. We can agree on reexamining what the Enlightenment sought to diminish. But
    it is worth considering that they did that in the West for particular reasons, and that contradictions in Christianity unique to Christianity led directly to it.

    I suggest that flaws is in your last few quotes: Baal and "evil" (and perhaps even God and "good") is not in opposition to a Creator that is the Almighty Source of all. Sikhism, the Qur'an and Vedanta are much clearer on this and so would never lead to the Enlightenment. A "Heavenly Father", let alone a being that needed to eat, can never be the Absolute and Unconditioned, that created both Heaven and Earth. Christianity and it's love idol created its own nemesis.

    Still, the West reverting to and frowning its Christian roots will be of benefit to all. All the better to re-examine it's theological mistakes.

  11. Good post, thank you. My comment is a little off topic: Can conservatives conserve natural law by participating in the anti-natural framework of the liberal political order? They can in a very narrow way (e.g., by rolling back abortion laws), but conservative participation in the liberal political order is at least "proximal, material cooperation" with it, if not formal cooperation, perpetuating important anthropological errors and evils of the Enlightenment. What to do?!...

  12. Re sovereign individuals and citizens:

    Since a sovereign individual exists in a society, his actions affect others, so they are bounded in this way. But since each sovereign individual is sovereign over his own actions, collectively all sovereign individuals are sovereign over all their collective actions. Since they are collectively sovereign, governments are not sovereign.

    A sovereign citizen is just a sovereign individual who is a citizen in a government whose powers are delegated to it by its sovereign citizens.

    Re ”In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes”:

    In God is a Capitalist, Roger McKinney has an interesting take on the time of the judges. McKinney considers this a time of the most-minimal government there has been on Earth. The laws had been written by God, and the people of God turned to judges to interpret those laws and settle disputes, and to organize defenses against other nations, but otherwise there was no legislature and no executive. This would have been a recipe for prosperity, and indeed, in this time the people of God collectively became economically strong enough to resist enemies and support a series of kings.

    Seen through this lens, the interpretation of this Scripture would be kind of simple. Everyone always does what is right in his own eyes. What was different about that time was that there was no king, and the writer of this Scripture was functioning as an apologist for kings and their larger governments; the writer was claiming that higher taxes and administration were better.

    What David passed down through his worship of God was a fantastic legacy; but it’s hard to make the case that this was valuable enough to make the experiences under kings the better way than under judges.

    1. That's really interesting.

      The history of the British Raj and how they fundamentally changed India, reflects a deep misunderstanding of how things actually worked in a very decentralised manner before the East India Company and the British Raj's arrival. By your terms the Mughals and before that ruled as judges more than kings, and the bookish (Protestant) naivety of the British could only understand through the lens of kings. Hence laws on the books (of Hindu and Muslim traditions) that were applied very contextually before then in the country by "magistrates" that knew locals intimately, were codified and applied in very blind and centralised manners for the first time by colonial rule.

      The principle-less and loose faithfulness to its own roots utilitarianism of the English language may mean such ways are baked into the cake. I truly believe "White Man's Burden" (like "Progress" now) was sincere and well intended in sentiment... just lacking self consistent principles and self awareness. Naive, without propriety and brutal... but well intended.

  13. First off, great post. Sorry I've been away for a while. I've been plumbing the depths of liberty Twitter in my spare internet time lately. It's more of an addiction than anything meaningful.

    I see Peterson is still off the mark, though I do believe he is genuinely reaching (and I used to not). If he does not break out of the Enlightenment mindset, he will never get it. I kind of see him like a potential St. Augustine figure in search of a St. Ambrose. Would somebody just convert him to Christ already? I think Johnathan Pageau is the most likely candidate.

    As to the sovereign citizen/individual comments Peterson made, I'm not exactly sure what he means either. I doubt he means it in a political context; he is not nearly that radical. He probably just means someone who thinks for himself and is immune to mass formation psychosis (along the lines of Jung's "Undiscovered Self").

    My opinion on the sovereignty of the individual is that it is entirely possible and ethical at any point to declare yourself sovereign, at least over yourself and your property, but it is probably almost never a good idea.

    In a state of liberty, or private law society, I could see each person or head of household holding an option of sovereignty. If you join a legal association or covenant community, you now have legal protection, but have transferred your sovereignty. You have given fealty and now must recognize earthly authority above you. But this sovereignty has been transferred as part of a bond which has duties on both ends. If your legal association fails you, you have the right to reclaim your sovereignty, but then you are back in a precarious situation with no legal protection apart from self-defense and perhaps charitable defense by others.

    Alternatively the legal association has a right to boot you out on the street and 'physically remove' you from the association should you fail to meet your minimum obligations. In this latter situation, you'd regain your sovereignty but unwillingly.

    Of course, any Christian only recognizes one true Sovereign, the King of Heaven, Lord Jesus Christ. But I see no harm in using the word colloquially in regards to our neighbors/enemies on this earth at this moment in time.

    Maybe the best compromise between libertarian and conservative principles would be something like the self-stewardship principle. We are not the owners, but the stewards of our own bodies and the external property we come to acquire peacefully on this earth. God ultimately owns all, and we are just his unprofitable stewards trying to do our best for a Master we don't deserve.

    1. ATL, it is nice to hear from you. Your comments are always valuable.

      I think my hang up with Peterson's repeated use of the words sovereign individual/citizen is that this was his foundation for his advice for conservatives.

      It is a foundation that leads to communism much more easily than it leads to conservatism, let alone liberty.

      There is a proper context in which to consider the concept. It certainly is appropriate when considering the NAP, and, therefore, when considering my natural rights to my person and my property. But this, as we have been exploring here for some time, in no way is sufficient for liberty or for conservatism.

    2. "Maybe the best compromise between libertarian and conservative principles would be something like the self-stewardship principle. We are not the owners, but the stewards of our own bodies and the external property we come to acquire peacefully on this earth. God ultimately owns all, and we are just his unprofitable stewards trying to do our best for a Master we don't deserve."

      That I could put down a thought like you did.

    3. Thanks Jaime. If there is anything meaningful in it, it is probably just a result of me trying to reconcile my libertarian convictions with the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16.

  14. It is Carl von Haller's contention that there are two types of laws: 1) extra-social laws between people with no social connection to each other, and 2) social laws between people that are connected by family, community, association, or country, etc.

    The libertarian principle of non-aggression is the correct law for condition 1. This is to recognize people not socially connected to us as either sovereign themselves or at least represented by a different sovereign than we have aligned with.

    Libertarians err when they say that this extra-social law encompasses all of the law. Social law may and should be added upon extra-social law in order to build and maintain a successful community of liberty and virtue. Because life requires more than negative directives.

    I think the fine line to walk is to advocate the necessity of having the correct extra-social law between and within sovereign entities, while still advocating the correct social laws as well (those in accordance with natural law and the teachings of Christ) to be administered by these sovereign entities (whether they be private republics, kingships, covenant communities, or private law associations) within their own jurisdictions.