Thursday, March 30, 2023

Fine Wine


Come and have a taste

A rare vintage

All the finest wines

Improve with age

-          Count of Tuscany, Dream Theater

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, and The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis, both came out eighty years ago, in 1943. Via an article by Micah Watson, C.S. Lewis on the Specter of Totalitarianism, I came across this: Ayn Rand’s marginalia on C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

“It’s true, some wine improves with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place.”

-          Abigail van Buren

After eighty years, let’s see which wine started with good grapes.

Regular readers know that I believe Lewis’s Abolition may well be the book that best describes our condition today, how we got here, and what is necessary to get us out – out, meaning out of the meaning crisis and out from under tyranny and toward liberty. 

I lean on Lewis’s book heavily in the two “books” I have written, to be found here.  One is The Search for Liberty, and the second is Natural Law and the Meaning Crisis.  I also began this journey long ago, if you will, on Rand, discovering her through the band Rush and a reference to her short novel Anthem.  I consider my travels as having taken me from milk to meat.

While I still find value in Rand’s work, as I have developed my thought the shortcomings in her view become ever more obvious – and even contribute to the mess of society we live in today.  Certainly, when we needed him most at the beginning of covidmania, John Galt was nowhere to be found; John Galt is not our savior. 

But Rand’s biggest and most damaging shortcoming is found in her views of Christianity and religion, and the tradition developed through this.  Well, this and her acerbic personality.  Which is where I will begin.

The aforementioned marginalia positions comments and reactions by Rand against various sections of Lewis’s book. In her marginalia, she refers to Lewis (not what he has written, but as a person) as follows:

·         The abysmal bastard!

·         …this monster…

·         The cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity!

·         (The bastard!)

·         This is really an old fool – and nothing more!

·         This incredible, medieval monstrosity…

·         The lousy bastard…

·         The cheap, driveling non-entity!

·         This monstrosity…

·         The abysmal caricature who postures as a “gentle­man and a scholar” …

·         The bastard…

·         (The abysmal scum!)

And in the midst of a dozen ad hominem attacks, she accuses Lewis with the following:

·         Ad hominem!

But enough of examining Rand’s less-than-cheerful personality.  What are her substantial comments?


Lewis writes: “If [the Innovator] had really started from scratch, from right outside the human tradition of value, no jugglery could have advanced him an inch towards the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity.”  To which Rand replies: “You bet he couldn’t!”

Rand, of course, is well known for her virtue of selfishness.  So, the idea of working for the community or for posterity – for the sake of the other and not for the sake of one’s self – is anathema.  Therefore, any tradition that advances such an idea – that you have some sort of obligation to care for your fellow man and your future men – is not merely a bad tradition, but an evil one.  In other words, what Jesus did for humanity is the worst evil one could do. 


Lewis: “Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.”

Here Lewis is writing of the control of some men by other men – recall from Abolition that man conquers nature, after which he conquers his fellow man.  If this wasn’t obvious to Rand in 1943, it most certainly is obviously clear today.  Lewis saw this, and is ridiculed by Rand for seeing this.

Monday, March 27, 2023

The Highest (Political) Value

What is the highest political value, or end?

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, The History of Freedom

Yes, that’s my answer as well.  Liberty.  Now, that answer needs some explaining, because liberty is understood or developed very differently by different people.

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” – United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Liberty," boomed Wednesday, as they walked to the car, "is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” – Mikhail Bakunin

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade...” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

And this:

“Cultural liberty is a vital part of human development because being able to choose one’s identity – who one is – without losing the respect of others or being excluded from other choices is important in leading a full life.” – United Nations Development Program

To further clarify my answer and use of the word: I have liberty in my person and in my justly acquired property.  I have no unconditioned liberty beyond this; I have no right to encroach on another’s person and property without permission.  In other words, liberty is conditioned by the non-aggression principle:

The non-aggression principle is an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense.

This raises a question, and a real point of confusion for many.  Which is the highest political value: liberty or the non-aggression principle?  Or, to put it another way, is libertarianism sufficient for liberty?  Wait, I think I asked this question once before:

If liberty is the objective, is the non-aggression principle sufficient?

My conclusion:

Is libertarianism [the non-aggression principle] sufficient for liberty?  Everything about man’s cultural and moral evolution answers with a resounding “no”; everything about how cooperative relationships are formed answers with a resounding “no.” 

What is the objective?  Is it to live lives of NAP purists and theoreticians, or is it to achieve liberty?  Which is the higher political value?  What if both cannot be achieved – which is preferred?  Murray Rothbard opens his book, The Ethics of Liberty, with the following:

“All of my work has revolved around the central question of human liberty.”

The man who has written more about liberty and the non-aggression principle is clear that his objective is liberty, not the purification of the NAP.

Now, one will say, “without the NAP, you do not have liberty.”  Fair enough.  But what if with only the NAP I also do not have liberty?  Also fair enough.  What should I then aim for: liberty or the NAP?

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Woe to the Bloody City


The political world has always had scamps and miscreants who told lies that people believed, and they got away with their deception.

Why Fox News Needs to Free Tucker, Douglas Wilson

It’s different this time, best captured in the following:

We know they are lying.

They know they are lying.

They know that we know they are lying.

We know that they know we know they are lying.

And still they continue to lie.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn (or not)

No one is getting away with the deception – at least not getting away with keeping the deception hidden.  They don’t even care about hiding it. 

Of course, those who lie know that they are lying; the elite who go along with the lies know that these are lies; the government officials that go along with the lies know that these are lies; even many of the riff-raff go along with the lies, knowing that these are lies.  The worst is that Christians go along with the lies, knowing that these are lies.

Wilson lists a few of the more recent lies: vaccines, climate change, viruses, and election integrity.  One could identify a dozen in the last ten years, and a hundred in the last century.  If one measures corruption based on the number of lies (and murders) committed by a state actor, the United States government – given the size, scope and international reach of this hydra – is clearly the most corrupt state on earth.

This is because as a people we are getting exactly the kind of leadership we deserve. We tolerated the little lies for a long time, and now they are big lies, and we don’t know what to do.

What lies did we tolerate?  Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad gassing his own citizens, three buildings with two planes and a few box cutters, they hate us for our freedom, the one democracy in the Middle East, peaceful Ukraine was the ideal democracy.  That’s just a sampling from the last couple of decades.  Go a little further back: USS Liberty, Gulf of Tonkin, the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor without provocation, Remember the Maine.  For a longer list, try this.

So we have gotten to the place where the wickedness is open and manifest, but there appears to be some sort of operational truce—and the whole thing seems more than a little ominous to me.

The truce?  Per Wilson, the liberals know they are lying, and are fine with it.  The conservatives may not be fine with the lying, but don’t want to destroy faith in the state by exposing it.  I don’t see the lines drawn so clearly, but I fully understand his point.  And it is ominous, as no one in a position to do anything about any of it is speaking up.  (Has it come to looking to Elon Musk to save us from ourselves?)

Name one institution in our public life that has not been destabilized by all the lying.

Wilson offers no examples.  Neither do I.  Can you?  Government at every level, law enforcement of all stripes, universities, charitable institutions, think tanks.  Even many Christian churches. 

To better understand our current condition, Wilson cites Richard Sibbes:

“When sin grows ripe, and abounds in a land or nation, at such a time as this a man may know there is some fearful judgment approaching. But when is sin ripe? When it is impudent, when men grow bold in sin, making it their whole course and trade of life. When men’s wicked courses are their common lifestyle, and they don’t even know how to do otherwise . . . The more sin, the more danger.”

Monday, March 20, 2023

Chalcedon: The Aftermath

The emperor became infuriated and turned out to be a bitter persecutor of the non-Chalcedonian body. …In the face of such cruel treatment many made their surrender and joined the Chalcedonian body.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

Efforts were made to unify the two sides in the conflict in the latter half of the sixth century.  We are no more than one hundred years after the council.  Unity talks were held, documents of reconciliation drafted, non-Chalcedonian bishops were offered a diocese if they would switch sides.  All came to naught.

One emperor, Tiberius, refused to persecute the non-Chalcedonians.  “Are those whom you ask me to persecute heathens?”  “No,” came the reply from the patriarch, the one who was doing the asking.  They were Christians, just not Christians in our camp.

I reflect on the criticism offered by many in the Eastern Church of the Western Church – the persecution of heretics and the like.  It turns out all lived in a world of stones and glass houses in all times and all places in the history of Christendom.

An interesting example: during the sixth century, the Arab Christian Kingdom of the Ghassanids, adherent to the non-Chalcedonian view, grew into prominence.  Emperor Maurice had their leaders exiled, then destroyed the kingdom.  This opened the door for Persian expansion into Syria.  Did such behavior also later open the door for Islam?

The non-Chalcedonians in the East, being persecuted and oppressed by their emperor, preferred domination by the Persians – in this case, they enjoyed, relatively speaking, religious freedom.  When their emperor ordered that those who would not accept Chalcedon should have their noses and ears cut out and their properties confiscated…well, the Persians didn’t look so bad in comparison.

Samuel then goes into a long examination of the dispute – arguments from each side.  What, theologically, separated the two sides when it came to understanding the nature of Christ.  It most certainly was not that Christ was both divine and human – both sides agreed on this.  It was, precisely, how?

It is not a section that I will work through here.  The more I learn about the dispute, the more I am baffled.  Nothing in Scripture precisely explains this.  so, we are left with tradition.  But both sides claim adherence to tradition – exposing the folly of those Orthodox Christians who claim “we have followed the tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles.”  To which I say…which tradition?

My view on this entire matter is summed up well by Samuel, and after reading and working through this section of his work in which he examines the arguments on both sides (and having marked up these sections extensively), I could not summarize it better than he does:

In the Christological controversy, unlike any other theological dispute in the ancient church, there was a great deal of obscurity on account of the technical terms that were employed.

He looks at the Greek and Syriac equivalents of the key terms used in this discussion, how each was used and understood in the context of its use, how different writers understood the same term differently, how the same writer would use different terms to mean the same thing.  He further examines in detail each position relative to the earlier views in Antioch and Alexandria. 

Again, this is all secondary to my purpose – other than to emphasize that this controversy is not one that should have divided the Church – and should not be used today to continue in this division.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Strategy of the Mediocre

NB: a couple of weeks ago I received my first notice from google about one of my posts being barred.  I didn’t protest or anything.  The post already had its run, and was even picked up at LRC.  So, it was out there.  Strangely, a few days later, it magically re-appeared.  As of this writing, it is still up.

Why do I bring this up now?  Well, this might be number two in the series.

To Save America, Restore Our Frontier: Restoring accountability in America is the fight of our times, by Joe Lonsdale

The section I will focus on is entitled Unaccountable, Declining Institutions Prefer Wokey (link).  Lonsdale’s argument is that the woke mind virus (WMV) is “the perfect philosophy for unaccountable power.”

The WMV is the perfect nihilist philosophy for kludge and decline. It’s a circus being put on by the least accountable people and institutions on Earth.

Universities, growing on the back of guaranteed student loans, have departments in the dozens, even hundreds, working to stoke this virus.  Almost none of these people are qualified to do anything that society would pay for absent the temporarily “free” money doled out by the state.  Governments have countless tens-of-thousands of employees doing the same – and I expect the market demand for those individuals qualified to perform such WMV services also approaches zero.

But it isn’t that they aren’t qualified to even find their way out of a paper bag.  They are not even held accountable for the success or failure of the virtually useless task to which they are assigned.  Every failure is merely an opportunity for a bigger budget, a promotion, a new program.

Lonsdale notes the French radicals of the 1960s as providing philosophical cover for the WMV, but it is the unaccountable institutions that are the main driving force behind the movement in our societies.

So, “fighting wokeness” is the wrong strategy. We ought not spend time and energy fighting battles at the surface level while losing an institutional war underneath. The first step is to identify where it prospers most. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

·         Federal and state bureaucracies

·         Big Tech monopolies

·         Giant banks

·         Crony companies, like in healthcare and defense

·         Hospital monopolies

·         NGOs (often funded by government)

·         Universities

·         Museums

·         Longstanding charitable foundations

·         Public schools and other union-dominated government areas

In other words, institutions and entities that require little, if any, market-derived support; institutions that have the government and its printing press and regulatory framework on their side.  They truly are unaccountable to the market and unaccountable for success toward even their stated objectives, therefore have little need to respond to market pressure. 

I would add to the list: automotive companies and airlines.  Very few, if any, companies in these industries would survive without government support – and this has been demonstrated repeatedly over the years via bailouts and subsidies. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

(Paper) Thin Libertarians


…you cannot protect the value of respecting each other’s liberties with the value of respecting each other’s liberties. That value has to come from somewhere…

David French & the Vapors of Civic Virtue Escaping from a Mystery Box, Douglas Wilson (video)

It has been a while since I have written something directly and specifically about the non-aggression principle and libertarian political philosophy.  This blog started that way, and soon enough I figured out that it was not the foundation for a society that respected liberty.  In other words, paraphrasing Wilson, you cannot protect the value of liberty by using the value of liberty.

This could have been written by Hans Hoppe – he has written along these lines more than once.  Hoppe is, like Wilson, an outcast in respectable circles because he notes that a society that expects to achieve and maintain liberty will have to use values other than liberty to defend liberty.  In other words, paraphrasing Hoppe, sometimes you have to forcefully throw the bums out.

As I have noted: my libertarian society will not look libertarian to many on the outside.  You want sex orgies on your front lawn?  No, not in my libertarian society – I don’t care that your front lawn is your private property.  Such a libertarian society will not retain liberty for long.

Of course, the paper thin libertarian will retort: “you can just make the rules such that those who don’t voluntarily agree can’t join.”  Yes.  But this is my point: my “rules” won’t look libertarian to most libertarians.

This is where I came to grow weary of those who screamed “thin libertarian” as the path to liberty.  Now, admittedly, I once believed such things.  Libertarianism for children, as a good friend and well-respected (in our circles) libertarian once described such as these to me.  Yes, I once was this (look early in my archives…).  But I try not to be too hard on myself; some of the “children” are much older than I am and have been in the movement much longer – and have yet to mature.

It was through Hoppe that I came to understand that something deeper was required as foundation if one was after liberty.  I don’t recall if he put it exactly this way, but I do recall that he said something like you may occasionally have to throw the bums out if you want to preserve the liberty of which you are after.

In other words, Hoppe’s libertarian society will not seem libertarian to the bums (libertines) on the outside.  And I say…count me in.

Murray Rothbard, very early in his career (1960), understood this quite well:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic—an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual—grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature.

A society holding to liberty requires something more than liberty if society is to retain liberty.

Returning to Wilson:

The virtues that are embedded in our customs, mores, and laws, and which are barely hanging on anymore, are not “without father or mother” Our public virtues are not “without genealogy.” They actually had a “beginning of days.” They grew up in the black soil of a robust Christian consensus, as Francis Schaeffer cogently argued…

Our liberty, what little remains of it, came out of a specific culture, a specific tradition, grounded in certain customs and mores and laws.  It is grounded in what came out of the Christian West, and one can point to the mixing of Christian charity with Germanic honor as the source.

Of course, this came with many ills – both regarding Christianity and regarding honor.  Progress does not flow in a straight line, with no bumps, no setbacks, no difficulties.  Every culture, every tradition, suffers these.  But only one bore the fruit of liberty in any meaningful sense.  If the bad comes in every flavor, I prefer the one that also offers good.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Stopping the Flood

There is a theme running through many intellectuals and wanna-be intellectuals – those who at least see that without Christian values and culture the West is headed to some version of hell.  It’s something like: good religion is important for other people and society, but I don’t need to really believe it.  Anyway, I am too smart for that.

People like this really don’t get the reality that to get (or keep) the society they think they want they will have to quit standing on the sidelines, merely cheering on those who have placed themselves in the game.  It is as if they are saying, “It’s important that people dumber than me believe Christianity to be true, such that I can get the society I want.”

Jordan Peterson offers a version of this: “I act as if it’s true.” This rings equally hollow…and shallow.  Nothing was built or changed by playing games of pretend.  Very few people die for make-believe.  Well, maybe other than Peterson.  He may be the exception that proves the rule, given that his “acting as if it’s true” nearly cost him his life.   (And here, I am assuming he is acting – as opposed to hiding his conversion.  A reasonably safe assumption.)

Some people look at our current state and pine: it kind of worked even just a few decades ago – this “acting as if it’s true” stuff, this hoping that enough dumb people believed – such that society held together.  In other words, we didn’t need to overtly hold to Christian truth and, see, we were doing just fine!  On the one hand, yes.  On the other hand, the cards were dealt well before Obama became president and well before the pill.

We cannot really say "it worked" until just the last couple of decades.  The twentieth century was a catastrophe for the West, all the way around.  Communism was born in the West, as was Naziism, as was critical theory, as whatever it is that you want to say about the monstrosity of the American state, etc. 

Jacques Barzun describes World War One as the suicide of the West.  Now, no one wakes up one day going from well-adjusted to suicide.  The collective “West” didn’t do this either.  The motive power behind the depression and aimlessness was in place well before the suicide occurred.

So, then.  What was it that drove the West to this suicide?  Solzhenitsyn suggested that the reason the West fell into WWI was that men have forgotten God.  It is the best explanation for that otherwise unexplainable war that I have heard. 

When did men forget God?  This can be found in the Enlightenment.  The roots of the suicide of the West can be found here, when men forgot God.  Sure, in different parts of the West God lived on in the fumes of memory longer than in others.  But even early on, He was pushed out of polite society, to be kept in the attic bedroom like some crazy uncle.

Some will say it was earlier than the Enlightenment.  It was the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or the Great Schism.  Or, later: It was Marx, or Gramsci, or Marcuse.  But, in the former, there was still God.  And in the latter, there was not God.  It was in the Enlightenment that men forgot God.

What does this mean for us individually?  I believe that this picture that I painted (or some other such version of our historical reality) should make clear that we, individually, are impotent to fight against this massive flood.  The current is much too strong.