Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Avoiding the Obvious

Many people are seeing and recognizing that society is falling apart.  Many who once would have proudly claimed to be classical liberals are recognizing that something went amiss with their project, and a few, very few, of these are admitting that the derailment was built in to the system.

Jordan Peterson is one of these, sort of (well, unless you are Palestinian).  He recently held his first ARC conference.  Despite the fact that he recognizes the current system is falling apart, and despite the fact that he has done more exploring of Biblical and Christian thoughts and writings than most who came out of his classical liberal pond, the main points in the conference were: free markets, individualism, Lockean property rights, etc. 

In other words, classical liberalism.  You know, the thing that failed – in fact, the thing that opened the door to where we sit today.

Christopher Rufo has written a piece: The New Right Activism.  In it, he rightly focusses on both language and institutions.  Yet he also embraces some form of classical liberalism:

We don’t need to abandon the principles of natural right, limited government, and individual liberty, but we need to make those principles meaningful in the world of today.

Fair enough.  But there are important questions to be answered.  On what basis?  What will provide the foundation?  Why will it be different this time?  What went wrong last time these were tried?  In other words, how will we make these both meaningful and sustainable?

Before coming to this…He makes important points: get this idea of neutrality out of your head.  There is no such thing as “neutral.”

Following a libertarian line, the conservative establishment has argued that government, state universities, and public schools should be “neutral” in their approach to political ideals.

The libertarian approach is neutral.  The property owner is free to decide the rules for his property, the behavior, values, etc.  Hans Hoppe cites Murray Rothbard, writing:

…logically one can be—and indeed most libertarians in fact are: hedonists, libertines, immoralists, militant enemies of religion in general and Christianity in particular—and still be consistent adherents of libertarian politics.

Every property owner will be something; what he will not be is neutral. 

Returning to Rufo, a second important point:

The popular slogan that “facts don’t care about your feelings” betrays similar problems.

Just the “facts” of the last few years demonstrates that feelings win out over facts.  Covid, George Floyd, mostly peaceful riots, 2020 election, January 6, Ukraine, Israel.  The list is endless, and in each case, the facts lost.  (And if the last four years – to say nothing of the last 125 years – doesn’t bury the Enlightenment idea of placing reason as the god in control, nothing will.)

Finally, the conservative establishment has appealed to the “free marketplace of ideas,” and the belief that the “invisible hand” will rectify cultural and political problems organically.

Ideas have to be defended, even more than property or person – it is because we value more foundational ideas that we came to embrace the idea that property and person must be defended.  In other words, there is a foundation on which rights in person and property are valid rights.

I agree with all of these observations – these shortcomings in thin-libertarian thought and non-libertarian conservative thought that have left the door open to the disaster in which we are living and the greater one that we are headed toward that will make today look like a day in paradise.

Rufo’s answer?

The New Right activism must focus its efforts on three domains: language, institutions, and ends.

As noted, most important is ends, as language and institution, like property rights, are meaningless without an understanding of ends – what are these pointed to, on what basis.

We will get there.  But first, on language he writes:

The point is not only to shape the meta-discourse as a matter of “general culture,” but to attack the political discourse directly on individual issues — in other words, to engage in agitprop. … The point is to replace contemporary ideological language with new, persuasive language that points toward clear principles.

On Institutions:

…the New Right needs to move from the politics of pamphlets to the governance of the institutions. … We must recruit, recapture, and replace existing leadership.

So, the questions remain: On what basis?  In other words, what are the “ends” Rufo advocates for?

The language of ends has almost vanished from American life, and this disappearance supplies the greatest opportunity for the New Right. Because of its religious adherence, the Right still has access to the language of ends — the language of God, or, in its more contemporary form, “Nature and Nature’s God.”

It is a very promising start.

The idea of happiness, properly understood, can be revolutionary.

Yes, he is speaking my language…perhaps.  In my language, happiness – beatitudo – means other-regarding action.  One achieves the highest happiness when one acts with concern toward or for the benefit of another.  But here, as you see, language is key.  Does Rufo mean what I mean?  If he means something else, is his “something else” built on a solid foundation?

The current regime has poured trillions into welfare programs, ideological production, family recomposition, and psychotherapeutic intervention, but Americans are more miserable than ever.

The meaning crisis.  A focus on happiness as man’s proper end is the cure – but again, what does Rufo mean by happiness?

To again demand happiness — Aristotle’s eudaimonia, Jefferson’s Declaration — cuts straight through all our postmodern dilemmas.

The air is really starting to get let out of my balloon.  Some air may return if he ties Aristotle to Aquinas, otherwise I will leave here deflated.

Who does Rufo point to as examples of the kind of men we need?  Is Aquinas here?  Jesus Christ?  No.

For every Paine, Washington, and Jefferson, there are a hundred nameless men who spilled ink, and blood, for the fight.

One at a time.  Thomas Paine supported the French Revolution and attacked Edmund Burke’s views on the matter.  George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention – a revolutionary act contrary to the principles of the revolution for which he recently fought.  And Thomas Jefferson?  All of the good he wrote about fell apart by 1861, if not 1812, if not at the Constitutional Convention.

But these are the men Rufo wishes us to emulate.  However, I find nothing salvific in the blood they spilled.  As to spilling blood for the fight, one man spilled all the blood necessary.  Perhaps we should consider emulating Him.


For a solution to our loss of liberty, look to a natural law ethic.  For a solution to the meaning crisis, look to a natural law ethic.  Rufo is looking for solutions to both, yet he points to a solution that failed almost immediately upon its implementation.  I have written on solutions to these here.  As for what conservatives should aim at – in other words, what is it that conservatives should conserve – see this.

For the means by which to secure the natural law ethic, there is only one place to look.  It isn’t horizontally, to a new Paine, Washington, or Jefferson.  One must look up. 

There is no means or basis possible to secure a natural law ethic other than to ground it in Christianity: all men are made in God’s image; the first commandment is to love God, and the second is just like it – to love your neighbor as yourself; the Golden Rule.

There is much more to a natural law ethic, of course.  I have written dozens of posts on this, including why a natural law ethic can only be developed and maintained if one looks up – to God, the Christian God.  Further, I do not confuse natural law with natural rights, although there is a relationship.  Links to many of these posts can be found here.


Two things, actually:

First, in many ways, I am a big fan of classical liberalism.  It came with one major shortcoming, and this shortcoming was why the project was doomed to fail: God was removed from society.  A talk on this can be found here (video, text).

God was allowed in the home and in my head, but not in my voice in the town square, not as a voice in how values and laws are formed.  I think Doug Wilson offers a better solution that Christopher Rufo does.  Wilson understands the value necessary at the top of the pyramid. 

Second, I am aware that Rufo did yeoman’s work on the Harvard president issue.  For me, it is mildly amusing that a plagiarist was outed – a plagiarist who held one of the highest seats of power in academia.  Yes, it is a nice little moment of joy.

But the more important issue: the left is consuming the left.  See what I previously wrote on this, on what Israel’s war on Gaza is bringing forward:

Numerous billionaires, who have no problem spreading countless millions of dollars to (so-called) elite universities when these universities and their students were actively destroying western civilization suddenly have a problem when someone utters the “P” word.

The enemies of western civilization and of the Christianity that undergirds it were bound to crash into each other.  They are doing so now, on the subject of Israel and Gaza, and Rufo played a big part in helping the left do this to itself.

For this, he has earned gratitude.


  1. Rufo may very well agree with you but is probably just trying to fit things into the secular democratic frame. He has a wife and three kids to feed, after all.

    The solution is actually hierarchy, aesthetics and transcendence but getting there from here is way too ruthless at this point. And I'm increasingly drawn to Bruce Charlton's view that human consciousness has evolved (not progressed) to a highly individualistic perspective with a corresponding loss of collective consciousness. So we couldn't have a Christian monarchy even if we wanted it; it would be a pure LARP. In my more pessimistic moments I worry that technology, secularism and modernity have erected an iron dome against transcendence, and I'm not sure there's such a thing as religious faith in the absence of a collective consciousness with liturgics.

    Sorry I can't engage more constructively. I think you're right but I've got no answers.

    1. No answer here either, beyond the destruction eventually leading to a search for truth.

  2. I do think Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness' refers to the natural law based happiness you have defined. He was pulling from Locke, Rutherford, and other Reformers who, as you have shown, do have important philosophical links to Aquinas and the "good" Scholastics. I am ready Lex Rex right now and he appeals to "the law of nature" and "schoolmen" frequently.

    The problem with America is that natural law and natural rights were never truly protected. A neutral view to morality protects destructive and immoral philosophies, so much that it attacks beatitudo in the name of "liberty".

    I keep coming back to the notion that any speech, law, or movement that attacks natural law must be made illegal. You wouldn't have to include private discussions in the law, but no professor, teacher, politicians, or scientist should be able to teach claims that contradict and deconstruct natural law. Natural law is what defines humanity. Anything that attacks it attacks humanity. Anyone who rejects natural law is in fact no longer human. Do non-humans have property rights?


  3. I fully agree with your definition of natural law.

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  5. This is an excellent analysis. Solzhenitsyn warned us years ago about just this thing, cf. his Harvard address and 'We Have Ceased to See the Purpose' in particular. As one wit once said, it was not an Enlightenment; it was the Endarkenment in which the West was benighted.

  6. "get this idea of neutrality out of your head. There is no such thing as “neutral.”"

    This is correct. We live and breathe in a cosmic conflict between 'good' and 'evil'. Everything that exists, including our thoughts, fall on one side or the other of the extremely thin, very sharp dividing line between these two polar opposites.

    Pure good only exists in God. Pure evil only exists in Satan. What we experience are gradations--something is MORE good than evil or vice versa. This is where the problem lies as most people are content to do nothing to change the status quo so long as they perceive the situation as coming down on the side of good--their interpretation of good--and that judgment is reached through the fog of relativism. We tend to compare our own version of 'good' with those around us and ignore the pure example given to us.

    "Perhaps we should consider emulating Him."

    We are all guilty of this and there is only one solution which you mentioned above. As individuals with a conscience, we must constantly, increasingly, deliberately align ourselves with the model of Christ, allowing that 'purification work' to spread outward from ourselves into a position of influence within the society we inhabit.

    1. Actually, it's been argued - well, I believe - that pure evil cannot exist by definition, as all evil is a perversion of the good. In the case of Satan and his demons, this would mean what was created good has been perverted by their own wills. Another way of looking at this is that evil needs good to exist. Good does not need evil. There can be an absolute good - we call that God; there cannot be an absolute evil, as that evil still needs its very being, which is not its own.

    2. Interesting. I've not seen this before. Can you elaborate?

      If Satan was created good and perverted by his own will, does this mean that he could, by his own will, have a change of heart, repent, and be forgiven? If not, why not?

      If created good, then is the perversion of that good total and complete (pure, in other words), or is there still even the tiniest smidgeon of good in him which might hold out the possibility of redemption at some point in time? Is he desirous to pervert even that, but is unable to, which inability cause him anger and rage?

      If there is any good in Satan, then it follows that there might be good in the evil schemes and practices which his followers promulgate and enact. Therefore, who can say what is good and right or what is evil and wrong?

    3. The way I understand it is that all angels were created good and with perfect knowledge of the consequences of their decisions. So when a third of the angels fell, they had perfect knowledge of their eternal separation from God. We humans on the other hand have imperfect knowledge of the consequences of our actions. This is why God offers forgiveness for the latter and not the former. Angels are a higher order life form and God has a higher standard for them accordingly.

  7. From what I've read, an angel cannot repent, as they are not ensouled bodies but spirit only. This means that once the decision against God was made, it was eternal; we, however, being in Kronos time, are able to repent.

  8. Our civil and moral society is not falling apart. It is being surgically disemboweled. Eventually we will have nothing but a democratic democracy left. Where reality no longer exists, just the narrative.

  9. Civil and moral society is being intentionally dismantled. It is not falling apart. The intent is to replace our existing system with something they can control.