Thursday, August 31, 2023

Atomistic Individual Curation


I have received a few replies to my post, Where is Murray Rothbard?   I will interact with a summary of these, but first a short summary of the purpose of that post: Rothbard wrote about and integrated several disciplines in order to come to a complete understanding of liberty.  Beyond even economics and political philosophy, he would write about natural law, revisionist (honest) history, the corruption inherent in the modern state, an appreciation of the western civilization that gave birth to our notions of liberty, and entrepreneurship. 

The purpose behind my question was to search for anyone or any group continuing this work:

While I admittedly am not familiar with everyone doing any work along the lines that Rothbard describes in this work, I am not familiar with any meaningful individual, group, or institution that is carrying it out.

This, other than Hans Hoppe, who stands singularly tall in this work…in my opinion.

As to the comments, several individual names were mentioned.  Of course, Hans Hoppe, but in addition: David Gordon, Gerard Casey, Ryan McMaken, Jorge Guido Hulsmann, Jeff Deist, Tom Woods, Bob Murphy, Lew Rockwell, Dave Smith, CJ Engel, Pete Quinones, and Gary North. 

This listing points to the reason for the title of this post.  Are we left individually to curate our own content?  This is no way to sustain and build a movement.  Individuals create, but it is institutions that sustain and build.

Yes, I did ask for individuals as well as groups or institutions.  I received many of the former, but only a couple of the latter.  As far as institutions, the Mises Institute was offered; as far as groups, “the Mises Caucus guys.” 

As for the individuals, there are some fine names offered.  There are also some that, for one reason or another, I have stayed away from.  For example, one of these, a few years ago, physically demonstrated the highest hypocrisy on an issue he loudly spoke against.  Another I have found unsteady, unwilling or unable to follow through on commitments.  No, I won't name names.

As for the institution and the group, I know little about the Mises Caucus.  For the Mises Institute, it will be nice seeing who replaces Jeff Deist.  Under Deist’s leadership, many of these various disciplines were pursued.  From where I stand, it is only this Institute that has the potential, currently, to continue this work. I don’t know if this will continue, and have seen some evidence via an article posted at the site and also some oddities about a couple of upcoming conferences that this may not be the case going forward. 


Having said this, there is enough from the list to do something with.  A conference with a few of those mentioned as speakers, focusing on the integration of two or more of these topics, or a listing of relevant work – some form of site that brings together the writing and podcasts from a few of these individuals that also address specifically the integration of two or more of these disciplines.

It is quite unfortunate.  Rothbard’s multi-discipline legacy is everywhere in all of these names.  But it is to be seen if it will be found under any institutional umbrella.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Precondition for Peace


I find this an excellent statement, from Archpriest Andrey Tkachev:

“Everyone talks about their own banal understanding of peace, without naming the main reasons for the war: there will be no peace for the sodomites, there will be no peace for those who kill children, there will be no peace for those who change their gender, there will be no peace for thieves and those who do wicked things, and for those who have stopped praying and are immersed in sin up to their nostrils – there will be no peace for them, ever. All the patriarchs, all priests and bishops should proclaim this.

“We need," the archpriest concluded, "to start a serious conversation about peace, about the genesis of war, about the genesis of sin, about the inner connection between sin and war, about the deep godlessness of modern civilizations and the fact that, for humanity, all this will inevitably result in bloodshed. This is simply God's Law.”

In order to live in peace, one must first repent.  In order to repent, one must recognize a sin as sin. 

I read this statement and shake my head at why such a simple concept is beyond the reach of so many Christian leaders today.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Value of the Ancients


We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask: “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H.G. Wells and Karl Barth.

From the Preface by C.S. Lewis to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

I will eventually get to the main book, but will spend some time with Lewis’s preface – beginning with this striking quote.  Striking not because it is inflammatory to anyone who recognizes deeper, objective truths, but striking because Lewis was not concerned about making this comparison of Hitler and Roosevelt (I won’t speak to the other comparison, not knowing enough about either person to comment). 

Without God, without understanding true good and true evil, our society has replaced Satan with Hitler.  Every bogeyman is compared to Hitler: Saddam, Ghaddafi, Putin, Assad, etc.  Lewis had the audacity to suggest one day we will look back on Roosevelt as Hitler.  Of course, for some of us, the idea is not really far-fetched at all.

There were some who saw the “untroubled agreement” between Hitler and Roosevelt at the time; more have come to see it since.  But “more,” of course, does not yet constitute a majority – still, my guess, just a small, single-digit, percentage.

Funny money, command and control of the economy, regulation of every movement, treating men as means instead of ends.  The list is endless, with much more in common than what might divide the two.  On one side there is liberty within natural law, and on the other there is everything else.  Both Roosevelt and Hitler fell toward an extreme side of “everything else,” far closer to each other than either is to liberty within natural law.

But why does Lewis point this out, in the preface to a book about the God-man?  He notes that we ignore the ancient books at our peril, that the ancient books should not be left merely to the professionals.  He sees this tendency as especially rampant in the field of theology.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. …A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it.

The ancient books have withstood the test of time.  I will add, when it comes to theology, the ancient books and ancient writers are closer in time, space, and culture to the source – giving the authors an insight not readily available to a modern writer.

If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight, you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.

I think about this often, in many ways when it comes to theology.  I think about it when it comes to Christian or tangentially Christian sects that came to be in the nineteenth and twentieth century.  I think about it regarding Protestantism.  I think about it regarding the early Church councils.  I think about it when trying to understand if something is an accretion or a good and necessary consequence.

Ultimately it is why I land on sola Scriptura – not in the sense of written Scripture as the sole authority, but as the sole infallible authority.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Where is Murray Rothbard?


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

This is the opening line to the Preface of The Ethics of Liberty, by Murray Rothbard.  I have been giving a lot of thought to this line and this book lately.  While I admittedly am not familiar with everyone doing any work along the lines that Rothbard describes in this work, I am not familiar with any meaningful individual, group, or institution that is carrying it out.

Wait.  I will correct that last statement.  If there is one individual, it is Hans Hoppe.  He has carried it out through his writing, his talks, and through his Property and Freedom Society, including its annual conference.  As it is, Hoppe wrote the introduction to this present volume of Rothbard’s work; I will reference it along with another work of his during this examination.

With this exception noted (and I will not repeat it, but it applies every time I make this absolute statement), Hans Hoppe is only one individual – granted, a giant among men in Rothbard-adjacent circles, but one man.  And it is for this reason that I ask the question posed in the title.  But to get at this further, more from Rothbard’s work:

For it has been my conviction that, while each discipline has its own autonomy and integrity, in the final analysis all sciences and disciplines of human action are interrelated, and can be integrated into a "science" or discipline of individual liberty.

Rothbard continues by commenting that his earlier, comprehensive work on economics was value-free – as economics properly theorized must be.  But for liberty, this focus on value-free economics alone is not enough; a positive ethical theory was required:

I at no time believed that value-free analysis or economics or utilitarianism (the standard social philosophy of economists) can ever suffice to establish the case for liberty.

Rothbard wrote these words in 1980, but this was no recent revelation for him.  In 1960, he would write:

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.

To establish this full case, Rothbard would continue, requires an absolutist ethic “grounded on natural law…”.  This would be the focus of this book by Rothbard.  Actually, the first several chapters are dedicated to natural law; the bulk of the work thereafter is focused on the natural rights to be derived when the theory of natural law is properly applied to human relationships.  While I disagree with a couple of his applications, on the whole the conclusions are solid.

Returning to the book, Rothbard writes:

It was furthermore clear to me that no one was engaged in trying to fill this crying need.

Which, forty years later, seems to still be the case. 

As mentioned, Hoppe wrote the introduction to this edition.  In it, he raises some key and complimentary points:

In an age of intellectual hyper-specialization, Murray N. Rothbard was a grand system builder.

He was not merely an economist.  Hoppe notes the practice of separating economics from ethics – yet these two had to be combined if one was to speak of liberty:

Rothbard's unique contribution is the rediscovery of property and property rights as the common foundation of both economics and political philosophy, and the systematic reconstruction and conceptual integration of modern, marginalist economics and natural-law political philosophy into a unified moral science: libertarianism.

I will go a step further: Rothbard’s integration extended far beyond even that which is found in this work (but in much of his other work).  It included revisionist (or realistic, honest) history, an examination of the modern state as presenting everything that is antithetical to liberty, an appreciation of the western civilization in which the idea of a healthy individual liberty blossomed, and an appreciation of the role of the entrepreneur (as opposed to the rent-seeker) in providing for the economic flourishing of man.

All of these were areas of focus for Rothbard, and nowhere do I find anyone doing the work necessary to further develop and integrate these into a whole.  In other words, nowhere do I see this integration continuing.  And this is to the detriment of liberty and in some ways a repudiation of Rothbard’s accomplishments.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

From Monasticism to Reformation


We retain the Christian, orthodox, and catholic faith whole and unimpaired… Nor do we approve of the Roman clergy who have recently passed off only the Roman Church as catholic.

-          Henrich Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession (1562 / r.1564)

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

Barrett sets out to demonstrate that the Reformation represented both a continuity and a discontinuity – a “yes” and a “no.”  The Reformation ratified a revision, but also a renewal – a renewal of old patristic and medieval paths.  He begins this examination with a look into monasticism.

He attributes the beginnings of monasticism to the end of martyrdom – martyrdom ending when the Roman emperor first permitted, then adopted, Christianity.  What did it mean to pick up one’s cross when there was no cross to pick up?

Some went to the wilderness – following the example of Christ’s forty days.  Lay people in society idolized these ascetics, only widening the divide between the average Christian and these of superior spirituality.  Even the priest who ministered to the people was considered inferior to the monastic.

Monasteries were founded to house those ready to devote every waking moment to disciplines like fasting, prayer, and physical labor. 

Barrett will examine the Cistercians, Dominicans, and Franciscans.  The details of each of these orders are secondary to my purpose, so a simple overview will suffice.  To be clear, these are generalities; many exceptions existed and certainly exist today.

The Cistercians focused on association, not instruction.  Instruction brings wisdom, but association in religious life penetrates into it.  Yet, this did not mean a total rejection of Scholasticism, or Aristotelian categories of efficient and final cause. 

The goal of the Christian life, then, is to ascend into the life and love of God.  one does not ascend merely by gaining knowledge; rather, ascent comes by desire.  Faith is not merely assent to religious facts but a religious experience itself.

When the Christian has little thought of himself and finds his identity in God, one has arrived at the destination.

The Dominicans were founded with a commitment to poverty and preaching – a lifestyle of begging for food as a thirteenth-century street preacher.  This represented a deviation from traditional monasticism – a return to society.

They were dedicated to scholarship – their most famous example being Thomas Aquinas.  However, the study of Scripture and theology was not an end in itself, but a means to proclamation – preaching.  At the same time, they participated in the Inquisition – targeting the heretics. 

The Franciscans were also dedicated to poverty and preaching, however Francis, at least, was not sympathetic with Scholasticism; later Franciscans would embrace this method.  Further, Francis would soon enough step down as the order would find ways to justify owning property without technically owning property. 

This brings us to the German mysticism of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  Names like Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, and Thomas à Kempis are part of this story.  They gave birth to a German piety – not uniform, not under a single institution or structure, no single leader or faculty of professors.  However, like the early monastics, they withdrew from the world for the sake of spiritual ascent.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Breaking the Icons


As for the appeal of icons to popular sentiment, perhaps this was best understood by local Soviet commanders in the 1930s: when they were ordered to campaign against the influence of the Church, they were known to line up icons, sentence them to death, and then shoot them.

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, by Judith Herrin

Lighting a candle, burning incense, all in front of an image.  This was not something developed in Christendom.  It was an ancient practice – an ancient way of showing respect.  Images were set up on alters, decorated with flowers; prayers were offered for medical cures. 

The earliest Christians would not offer such practice to the Roman images – just one more reason for persecution.  But, as time went on, Christian images would gradually replace pagan ones.  Christ, the Virgin, and various saints took over the role.

Pagan images were likely models for the subsequent Christian ones: Isis, a model for the Mother of God; Zeus for Christ.  This actually worked out well for the pagans, who could pretend that they were venerating Christ when in fact they were venerating the other guy.

From where dd the dominance of this practice in Byzantium come from?  There is a story that St. Luke had painted the Virgin and Child. And all later copies were endowed with authentic power.  It was believed that in some way, the icon captured the essence of the holy person depicted. 

Large eyes captured attention and Christians offered their total devotion.  Icons could serve as intercessors – prayers directed to the icon would pass through to the person depicted. 

Of course, stories could be told through the images as well; not a small thing.  Eventually, images would find their way onto coinage.  Given the craft and quality of materials, some icons would be seen as valuable works of art and evidence of the superiority of the Byzantine culture.

Then, the great debate.  In the period from 730 to 843, the battle over icons.  This can be captured via the following two quotes:

The falsely called “icon” neither has its existence in the tradition of Christ, of the Apostles, or the Fathers, nor is there any prayer of consecration to transpose it from the state of being common to the state of being sacred.  Instead, it remains common and worthless, as the painter made it.

-          Definition of the Iconoclast Council of 754

The making and worship of icons is no new invention, but the ancient tradition of the church… it is impossible for us to think without using physical images…by the bodily sight we reach spiritual contemplation.  For this reason Christ assumed both soul and body, since man is fashioned from both.

-          St John of Damascus, eighth century

Iconoclasm is one of the few Byzantine words still in English and European usage: “breaking the icons.”  The commandment prohibiting the making or worshiping of graven images comes to the fore: God is, after all, a jealous God.

But it seems this wasn’t really the driving force.  Getting consistently routed by the Muslims seemed to play a more significant role.  Icons had no role in Islam; the Muslims were routing the iconophile, “idol worshipping,” Christians; the icons are failing the Christians.  Perhaps the Muslims are succeeding because they don’t worship idols.