Category : Philosophy

(1st Things) David Randall–Learning how to Die

How should colleges educate students? We have wandered a long way from what Michel de Montaigne thought should be the first principles of education.

For it seems to me that the first lessons in which we should steep his [the student’s] mind must be those that regulate his behavior and his sense, that will teach him to know himself and to die well and live well. Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us.

Montaigne did not mean “liberation” as the devotees of Paolo Freire’s pedagogy understand it. Montaigne wrote, “He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Knowing how to die frees us from all subjection and constraint.” No education matters more.

Modern American colleges dedicate themselves instead to life without limits, and the cant progressive politics of our day. The mission statements sprawl, paragraph piled on paragraph. Bureaucrats and professors unable to edit themselves teach an object lesson in the fruits of indiscipline. “Virtue . . . is a state of character concerned with choice,” said the philosopher; and colleges unable even to choose one guiding institutional virtue educate their students to a similar incapacity to choose, to develop character, to live by virtue.

Of course, students miseducated in such a regime display little virtue in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. They have no knowledge of how to die well, or even that they should.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Education, Philosophy, Young Adults

(Prospect Magazine) Bp Graham Tomlin–How coronavirus is giving us a crash course in a different moral universe

Over the past few weeks, we have seen something quite extraordinary. Without too much legal threat, we have voluntarily submitted to severe abstinence, denying ourselves the rights to mix freely, to go to pubs and restaurants, to watch live sport, to shake hands, to travel to work. As we go through this period of collective self-abnegation, the suppression of our personal ambitions and desires, we are learning how to redirect our personal longings for a greater good, to sacrifice what we would normally like to do for the good of the whole.

We are learning that for a society to work, and to stave off the threats that confront it, the prioritisation of individual choice on its own is not enough. A society cannot survive if each one of us pursues our own self-chosen goals independent of everyone else. We have to exercise restraint, the Queen’s “self-discipline and resolve,” to learn the capacity to sacrifice our own desires for the sake of the wider community.

To address the potentially even more serious challenges of climate change, or the elimination of global poverty, for example, will require an even greater and longer exercise in self-restraint. The question is, when this is all over, whether we will go back to what we have been used to in the recent past, or whether we will restore something of an equilibrium between the demands of individual ambition and the common good.

Saint Paul once wrote that the Christian idea of grace, the notion that we are recipients of goodness that we didn’t create, “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” It may sound quaint and Victorian. But unless we can learn to live self-controlled, disciplined lives, a little more like the ones we’re having to lead right now, there will be little future for our planet or the people who live on it. Maybe coronavirus is giving us a crash course in a different moral universe—one that might just be the saving of us.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Philosophy, Theology

(PD) Adam J. MacLeod–Essences or Intersectionality: Understanding Why We Can’t Understand Each Other

Intersectionality is many things. It is a group of theories that join at the confluence of postmodern philosophy, poststructural social science, and critical cultural and legal studies. It is also a movement, which brings spokespeople for minority races, gender- and sexual-identity activists, and socialists together with a certain kind of feminist. And, as Warren’s quip illustrates, it is also a pose. It is a way for “woke” people to demonstrate their intellectual, social, and moral superiority over the unwoke.

The most essential tenet of Intersectionality is that nothing is essential. There is no essential human nature, nothing essential about reason or logic, no essential meaning of “man” or “woman” or “white” or “efficient” or “liberty” or “law.” At the deepest point in the Intersectionality pool, the very center of the confluence where all of its tributaries come together, everything is invented by those who hold power. Not only cultural norms and language, but also natural rights and duties, biological definitions, religious convictions, economic and scientific rules, and logic are all constructed “discursive practices.” Everything is a social construct, built by those who want to leverage their superior economic, cultural, or political positions to preserve their privileges and keep others down in the zero-sum contest for power.

This is one of two convictions that all Intersectionalists share in common. They are all, to varying degrees, against essence. They are all convinced that some term or feature that unenlightened people take for granted is both artificial and unjust. They do not always agree on which terms and features must be torn down. But they all share a motivation to tear down some aspect of the apparent essence of something.

Socialists and critical legal studies theorists focus on the constructs of “law” and “economics.” They teach our young people that “due process,” “price,” and “liberty” are suspect artifices imposed upon the poor by the rich. Critical race and dominance feminist theorists teach our young people to reject traditional notions of natural equality and equality before the law. Gender-identity and queer theorists go after the assumption that there can be anything essentially “masculine” or “feminine.” And so on.

The other conviction that all Intersectionalists share is that the most privileged people, who are responsible for the construction of most of the oppressive discursive practices, are heterosexual, white males.

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Posted in Anthropology, Language, Marriage & Family, Philosophy

(1st Things) Dana Gioia–Why Beauty Matters

Take the time to listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Sightings) Russell Johnson–Martin Buber’s Hope in Polarized Times

At Carnegie Hall in 1952, Buber gave a lecture titled “Hope for this Hour.” His goal was to give an honest assessment of life during the escalating Cold War. He announced, “The human world is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understand the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth.” Buber does not advocate a centrist position between these two camps, nor does he here weigh in on the disputed points between them. Rather, Buber analyzes how this disagreement over economic philosophies is a site of polarization. He makes three points that are relevant for “this hour” in our social landscape.

First, we need to be critical of the way disagreements are framed. In polarization, Buber says, a person is “more than ever inclined to see his own principle in its original purity and the opposing one in its present deterioration, especially if the forces of propaganda confirm his instincts in order to make better use of them.” He continues, “Expressed in modern terminology, he believes that he has ideas, his opponent only ideologies. This obsession feeds the mistrust that incites the two camps.” Put differently, polarization attenuates critical thinking, making us all too easily satisfied that our commitments are right because they are superior to those of our opponents. We also become less sensitive to distinctions and concerns of the other side, since we think we already know what really motivates their political behavior. Mistrust snowballs, then, as each side believes the other side is intentionally misrepresenting reality. The first thing we need in polarized times, Buber writes, is “criticism of our criticism.” Unless we hold ourselves to a high standard when inferring the motives and concerns of the other side, suspicion will get the better of truth.

Second, we need “individuation,” which means not treating the other side as a monolith but recognizing that each person has unique convictions. This idea is central to Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. One effect of polarization, he argues in “Hope for this Hour,” is the transformation of ordinary mistrust into “massive mistrust.” It is normal and even necessary to treat with suspicion the claims of a person who has shown themselves to be untrustworthy. We should be leery of an individual who has made a pattern of playing fast and loose with the truth. However, any transition from distrusting an unreliable individual to distrusting an opposing camp is not a change of degree but of kind. The other side’s speech becomes guilty until proven innocent. “One no longer merely fears that the other will voluntarily dissemble, but one simply takes it for granted that he cannot do otherwise.” Polarization is not extreme disagreement, but the erosion of the conditions—like trust—necessary for working through disagreement.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Philosophy, Politics in General

(EF) Pablo Martinez–“Turning the truth into a matter of personal opinions, inexorably leads to loss of hope”

Question. We went from ‘I think therefore I am’, to ‘I feel therefore I am’, and then to post-truth. What is the reference that will be an anchor to human beings in this new decade?

Answer. The two great anchors of human beings are truth and hope. Both come together, they are inseparable and make the backbone of human existence. These two do not vary with time, we need them today just like twenty centuries ago. What changes is the relationship, the attitude of Man towards these two anchors. That’s where the origin of the current deep crisis of values lies. The replacement of ‘the Truth’ by ‘my truth’ has broken one of the anchors, dragging the other one, hope, with its breakup. In his best known work From Dawn To Decay, the renowned French historian Jacques Barzun, already warned that ‘the postmodern assault on the idea of truth could lead us to the destruction of 500 years of civilisation’.

The root of the conflict is not cultural or ideological, it is a moral one. Ultimately, it is not a matter of a new philosophy, but a matter of who has the authority in my life and in the world. Does anyone rule up there or can I rule?

A strong earthquake has shaken the foundations of Western civilisation, because in the last 30 years the foundation and nature of the truth have amazingly changed. The change is summed up in one sentence: ‘Truth is dead, long live to my truth!’

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology

(PD) Allen Guelzo–The Irony That Our Creed Is Our Culture: On Reno, Lowry, and National Conservatism

For these arguments to succeed, especially with other American conservatives, Reno and Lowry have to convince us of three things:

  • That the American republic was not, as Tom Paine claimed, a project that “began the world over again”; that we were instead an evolution of English norms, culture, and language, so that the Revolution (in Lowry’s words) “sought to protect the traditional rights of Englishmen”; and that the invocation of the Declaration of Independence’s preamble, with its universalistic appeal to natural rights shared equally by all humanity, has been exaggerated.
  • That (in Reno’s words now) “the free market promises spontaneous order” but in actuality promotes a self-satisfied swamp of “dissolution, disintegration, and deconsolidation,” and then calls these “openness”; that the liberal interest in economic deregulation is in fact the mirror image of the progressives’ cultural deregulation; and that capitalism and technology have reduced society to a collection of “little worlds” that imagine they have no need for virtue.
  • That no polity can live by the bread of “rights” alone, but requires love—love of country, of family, of truth, of transcendence (these are what Reno, following Durkheim, describes as the “strong gods”); that nations cannot be merely accumulations of self-interested parties; and that there is a “common interest” in the life of the nation that (as Lowry puts it) “is deeper than any specific power struggle” and which “makes possible the social trust that lubricates everyday life.”

These are no small concerns, and they are fed in many hearts by the sneers of a thin-souled and contemptuous cosmopolitanism, by educational systems that aspire feebly to little more than “critical thinking,” and by immigration policies that cannot seem to distinguish between huddled masses yearning to breathe free and outright colonization. Indeed, there were many moments in reading both books when I resonated with the losses they so tellingly itemize.

Yet their arguments must also come to terms with the reminder, on the back of every one-dollar bill, that the American republic is a novus ordo seclorum

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(1st Things) Bruce Riley Ashford–My Ten (Or So) Favorite Cultural Critics

In 1974, British theologian Lesslie Newbigin returned to England after four decades of serving as a missionary to India. Back in Europe, he wrestled with a pressing question: How to preach the gospel to the West? He believed the Western church had unconsciously been captured by secular ideology. Rather than viewing the Bible’s narrative as the true story of the whole world, the church had bought into various Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment narratives. The church, Newbigin argued, must once again “soak” itself in the Bible, challenging the axioms of modernity with the axioms of Scripture.

The task of bringing the West into a missionary encounter with Scripture remains today. We must analyze Western culture to understand what is happening and why. We must attempt to discern the reigning idols of our day, how they twist the affections and thoughts of society, and how they warp our cultural institutions. This will help us better understand how to bring the gospel to the secular West.

Toward that end, I offer this list of eleven of the most perceptive cultural critics of the last two centuries. The list includes historians, philosophers, sociologists, poets, and literary critics. Some are well-known, others are quite obscure. Some are Christians, others are not. All were born before 1950 and each offers a salient evaluation of Western society and culture that remains relevant for our task today.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature

(1st Things) NT Wright–Loving to Know

As a historian, I knew that this either/or of “objective history” and “subjective meaning” was a gross oversimplification. In my 1992 book, The New Testament and the People of God, I suggested that we needed a better integration, one that transcended the antithesis of objective and subjective. I had been introduced to the idea of critical realism through the work of Bernard Lonergan, whom I encountered in the work of Ben Meyer. And in that context, I met what they thought of as “an epistemology of love.” Ever since then, I have tried to understand what that might mean and to put it into practice.

Along the way, I have realized that it isn’t only in biblical studies that the Enlightenment’s epistemological proposals result in false antitheses. In my Gifford Lectures for 2018, now published as History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural ­Theology, I laid out the ways in which so-called natural theology, on the one hand, and the historical study of Jesus, on the other, have become dangerously detached from each other. This isn’t because we have now discovered, in some objective sense, something about natural theology or the history of Jesus that requires them to be kept separate. It is because both studies, and any link between them, have been distorted by Enlightenment epistemology.

Enlightenment thought rejected Jesus’s resurrection, but not because of a new scientific awareness that dead people do not rise. Everybody has known from earliest times that dead people stay dead. The Enlightenment’s real reason for the rejection was that, if Jesus had risen from the dead, his resurrection would be the turning point of world history—a status the Enlightenment claimed for itself. There cannot be two such turning points. Here lies the crucial epistemological battle. The Enlightenment was in thrall to the split-level epistemology that, by insisting on hard facts and creaming off everything else into a subjective sphere, realized Francis Bacon’s maxim that “knowledge is power.” Knowledge of the Enlightenment sort—“we know the way the world is and we’re going to impose it on you”—became the instrument of the imperial projects of the modern West. But that kind of knowledge does not do justice to the ultimate realities of the world; and it fails to grasp, or be grasped by, the Ultimate Reality itself, which is the resurrection of Jesus as the launch of new creation in the midst of the old. As Wittgenstein said, “It is love that believes the resurrection.” Many of our current ills, social, political, and cultural, have emerged from our ignoring this or trying to bypass it.

My proposal is that paying attention to Jesus as a real figure of first-century history can point some ways forward for the Church and, through the Church, for our misguided and muddled world. And for all this—and for the multiple resultant tasks in theology and mission—we need to understand, and put into practice, new ways of knowing: specifically, an epistemology of love.

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Posted in Philosophy, Theology

(AJ) ‘Coming to God without freedom is not coming to God’: Philosopher Charles Taylor on seeing God in church decline

Why are fewer people going to church?

It’s very hard to put your finger on this, but this is what I’m trying to work out: that there’s another kind of spiritual life, spiritual searching, going on to a great extent in our contemporary West—sometimes it’s in totally different religions, or totally non-religious—and that this somehow is taking off at the expense of an earlier way of expressing one’s spirituality, which involves being members of national churches or in the case of a very diverse country like Canada, at least a church which you know is very big and solid in some parts of the country.

It’s not that religion is disappearing, or spirituality is disappearing; it’s taking different forms. If you put yourself in the mindset of people, in particular of younger people, who are concerned about the meaning of life, concerned about becoming better people, more loving, more open, etc., and are seeking in some way some discipline—it could be meditation, it could be various things—if you put yourself in the mindset of these people, when they go to the pews the least bad thing is that they don’t feel it’s very relevant! The worst thing is they feel that their whole way of approaching this is not really appreciated and it may be seen as threatening the people in the pews. Now of course this is perhaps more the case—I’m a Catholic—in the case of the Catholic church [laughs], where you have these very backward-looking people who are screaming abuse at [Pope] Francis and so on [laughs]!

That’s the extreme case, where you actually feel, “I’d better rush out of this place [laughs]! Or I’m going to be badly treated.” But the least worrying or problematic [for those outside the church] is just that this is not a concern that people [in the pews] recognize, this searching concern. “Everything is all settled, and we’re all together in these pews affirming it.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anglican Church of Canada, Books, Canada, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NR) Yuval Levin–The Historian as Moralist: The remarkable life’s work of Gertrude Himmelfarb

The passing of Gertrude Himmelfarb, who died on December 30th at the age of 97, is a loss felt keenly by all who had the good fortune to know her.

To family and friends, she was known as Bea Kristol, and embodied character and decency, good humor, and good sense. To Americans with an interest in our country’s intellectual life, she might have been best known as the wife of Irving Kristol. This always suited her humility (let alone her pride in Irving), and you would surely gain some real insight into the aims of the original neoconservatives by reflecting on the fact that Irving Kristol’s wife was a scholar of Victorian England.

But as such a scholar — one whose life’s work spanned an amazing seven decades of wise, independent-minded, reliably fascinating, and brilliantly expressed historical analysis — Himmelfarb has never been sufficiently appreciated. There will no doubt be many remembrances of her unique mix of personal warmth and dignity in the days to come, from many who knew her far better than I did. But a reflection on the ambitions and significance of her work is very much in order too.

She was among the most important American historians of the last century. Her path-breaking work illuminating the intellectual life of 19th-century Britain not only helped transform our understanding of what the Victorians were up to but also provided a rich vocabulary for describing the place of the moral in the social and political lives of liberal societies. And in the process, she helped several generations of politically minded intellectuals in her own day understand themselves, their roles, and their goals more profoundly.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(CLJ) Tim Kelleher–A Divided Society Is Already Conquered

There is an insight that would seem to get us fairly close to the heart of things. It goes like this: in the philosophy of the East, what needs to be proved is the existence of the self. In the West, it is the reverse; a la Descartes, with Berkeley doubling down, the self is the reality outside of which all else, including the world and other beings, is dubious till proven otherwise.

At this point, we’re painfully aware of the cultural snare, oddly dubbed, identity politics. Like Penny Lane, it is very much in our ears, and in our eyes. And, with barely a squint, the connection between it, and that Western view of self, racks to revealing focus. Identity politics, it turns out, is a sad irony. For what passes as identity here is, in fact, inherently, radically, self-insistent. With each new grievance a new sub-identity emerges, indicting enemies from a pool of usual suspects, as well as those amazed to be cast, suddenly, in the part. Indeed, yesterday’s confederate becomes today’s foe with dizzying regularity. To the less inflamed eye, the syndrome is, in truth, a hunger. One that grows ravenous on its present fare — and in a pattern similar to cancer, whose cells, unlike their healthy counterparts, divide without stopping.

In this case, the agents of division are human. The insistence may be confused, but it is willful, and as potentially hazardous. No stardust here. With little to build on, or with, it is, rather, a race to a dead-end of identity, shrunk beyond meaning. More benevolently: Wile E. Coyote, the moment he realizes he has overshot the cliff. Less benevolently: he is taking us with him. Nothing that has been said should be mistaken for a dismissal of injustice, the individuals and groups burdened by it, or the need for genuine remedy.

I do suggest that, if remedy is what we are really after, the modus operandi of identity politics is not just the wrong way to it, it is no way to it at all. What it lacks is gaping, and fatally flawed, namely, acknowledgement of personal culpability, in the first instance, on the part of everyone, in every social wound. It is the default position of authentic humility, upon which noble things can be built.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology

(LARB) Jessica Riskin–Steven Pinker’s Pollyannish Philosophy and Its Perfidious Politics

“INTELLECTUALS HATE REASON,” “Progressives hate progress,” “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery.” No, wait, those last two are from a different book, but it’s easy to get mixed up. Steven Pinker begins his latest — a manifesto inspirationally entitled Enlightenment Now — with a contrast between “the West,” which he says is critical of its own traditions and values, and “the Islamic State,” which “knows exactly what it stands for.” Given the book’s title, one expects Pinker to be celebrating a core Enlightenment ideal: critical skepticism, which demands the questioning of established traditions and values (such as easy oppositions between “the West” and “the bad guys”). But no, in a surprise twist, Pinker apparently wants us over here in “the West” to adopt an Islamic State–level commitment to our “values,” which he then equates with “classical liberalism” [1] (about which more presently). You begin to see, reader, why this review — which I promised to write last spring — took me all summer and much of the fall to finish. Just a few sentences into the book, I am tangled in a knot of Orwellian contradictions.

Enlightenment Now purports to demonstrate by way of “data” that “the Enlightenment has worked.” [2] What are we to make of this? A toaster oven can work or not by toasting or failing to toast your bagel. My laser printer often works by printing what I’ve asked it to print, and sometimes doesn’t by getting the paper all jammed up inside. These machines were designed and built to do particular, well-defined jobs. There is no uncertainty, no debate, no tradition of critical reflection, no voluminous writings regarding what toaster ovens or laser printers should do, or which guiding principles or ideals should govern them.

On the other hand, uncertainty, debate, and critical reflection were the warp and woof of the Enlightenment, which was no discrete, engineered device with a well-defined purpose, but an intellectual and cultural movement spanning several countries and evolving over about a century and a half. If one could identify any single value as definitive of this long and diverse movement, it must surely be the one mentioned above, the value of critical skepticism. To say it “worked” vitiates its very essence. But now the Enlightenment’s best-selling PR guy takes “skepticism” as a dirty word; if that’s any indication, then I guess the Enlightenment didn’t work, or at any rate, it’s not working now. Maybe it came unplugged? Is there a paper jam?

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Media, Philosophy

Dirk Kurston–Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought

Looking at our own sexual revolution, the “having your cake and eating it too” phase would have lasted into the early 2000’s. We are now at a stage where we should begin to observe the verification or falsification of Unwin’s predictions.

Unwin found that when strict prenuptial chastity was abandoned, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking disappeared within three generations of the change in sexual freedom. So how are we doing as we enter the second generation since our own sexual revolution at the end of the 20th century?

  1. As predicted, absolute monogamy has already been replaced with modified monogamy. Common-law relationships are becoming the norm. Although divorce occurred prior to the 1970’s, the mainstream of our culture still maintained the view that marriage should be for life, and common-law relationships were regarded with some distaste. That has clearly changed. Those who actually practice life-long commitments in marriage have become the minority, with couples born prior to the sexual revolution much more likely to maintain a life-long commitment in marriage.

  2. Deism is already rapidly declining, exactly as predicted. Prior to the 1960’s, a combination of rationalism and a belief in God was the norm for mainstream culture. Not only has belief in God greatly decreased since the 1960’s, but there has been a trend to remove the concept of God from government, the educational system, and the public forum. Those who still believe in God sense a strong societal pressure to keep deistic beliefs private. In its place, is a surprising rise in superstition,[7] classified by Unwin as a “monistic” culture, two levels down from the rationalist culture we had prior to the sexual revolution. There has also been a huge increase in the percentage of the population that classifies itself as non-religious, a symptom of the lowest, “zoistic” level of Unwin’s categories.[8]

  3. The swiftness with which rational thinking declined after the 1970’s is astounding. In its place arose post-modernism, characterized by “scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism” and “a general suspicion of reason”.[9] But it gets worse … post-modernism is giving way to “post truth”. In direct contrast to rational thinking, a post-truth culture abandons “shared objective standards for truth” and instead, stands on appeals to feelings and emotions, and what one wants to believe.[10] People can now “identify” themselves as something which flat-out contradicts science and rational thinking and, in many cases, receive the full support and backing of governments and educational systems. Not only do people feel they have a right to believe what they want, but any challenge to that belief, even if supported by truth and logic, is unacceptable and offensive. Here is a quote from Unwin that has become particularly a propos in the last couple decades since our own sexual revolution …

If I were asked to define a sophist, I should describe him as a man whose conclusion does not follow from his premise. Sophistry is appreciated only by those among whom human entropy is disappearing; they mistake it for sound reasoning. It flourishes among those people who have extended their sexual opportunity after a period of intense compulsory continence. [11]

Summary of where our culture is going, given Unwin’s findings

For the first part of the 1900’s, mainstream Western culture was rationalist and experienced enormous technological advances — from horse-and-buggy to cars; from hot air balloons to supersonic flight and spacecraft landing people on the moon; from slide rules to computers. Unwin’s three main predictions — the abandonment of rationalism, deism, and absolute monogamy — are all well underway, which makes the ultimate prediction appear to be credible … the collapse of Western civilization in the third generation, somewhere in the last third of this century.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–I Was Once a Socialist. Then I Saw How It Worked.

I came to realize that capitalism is really good at doing the one thing socialism is really bad at: creating a learning process to help people figure stuff out. If you want to run a rental car company, capitalism has a whole bevy of market and price signals and feedback loops that tell you what kind of cars people want to rent, where to put your locations, how many cars to order. It has a competitive profit-driven process to motivate you to learn and innovate, every single day.

Socialist planned economies — the common ownership of the means of production — interfere with price and other market signals in a million ways. They suppress or eliminate profit motives that drive people to learn and improve.

It doesn’t matter how big your computers are, the socialist can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops. The state cannot even see the local, irregular, context-driven factors that can have exponential effects. The state cannot predict people’s desires, which sometimes change on a whim. Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(Theos) Sally Phillips: Human Dignity, Different Lives & the Illusions of Choice

The takeover by stealth of Utilitarian thinking means that we are now a people that thinks the idea of society having winners and losers is inevitable. We measure everything from the number of steps we take to the length of our sleep and how many seven year olds can spell the word ‘turnip’.

As a result, we are losing the ability to talk about the things that cannot be measured. And if the world is governed according to the edict “what gets measured gets done”, we may be neglecting some of the most important things about being human. Like love.

You’re probably thinking ‘I’m not a utilitarian’. Even if you’re not utilitarian, think of what you mean by justice. Usually you mean fairness, you get back what you put in. It is unjust not to be paid what you are worth. I’m just thinking of the BBC gender pay gap.

In a way, some forms of Christianity, certainly the ones that I have been involved in, contribute to this too. The Low Anglican tradition that I love deeply teaches a transactional salvation. We are distinguished from animals by virtue of consciousness, self–reflection, moral capacity, the act of repentance. I have literally no idea if that is right or wrong but it does appear to be a kind of cost–benefit, quid pro quo.

If the point of our lives is what we are capable of doing then the implication must be that a human life lacking in the capacity for purposive action will be worthless, pointless. Those who are involved in the lives of people with disabilities disagree. Our insider experience tells us differently.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Children, Christology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Philosophy, Theology

(Unherd) Ed West–Is a Form of Communism creeping into America?

Next year promises to be a bumper one for political books, at least on the Right, and in America. Ross Douthat has one out in February, The Decadent Society; before that in January Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement looks at the US since the assassination of JFK, while I’m looking forward to the reasoned, nuanced media debate that will follow Charles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class.

I can’t see any tripwires there!

Much later in the year is Rod Dreher’s as-yet-unnamed book, which delves into the psychological resemblance between life under Communism and developments in America since the Great Awokening began….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology, Young Adults

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–Debating the decline of wedlock, again, in the shadow of the baby bust

Over the last 10 years, however — and again, I acknowledge that this is impressionistic — I think we have reached a third phase in liberal attitudes toward marriage, a new outworking of cultural individualism that may eventually render the nuanced liberalism my colleague describes obsolete.

This new phase is incomplete and contested, and it includes elements — in #MeToo feminism, especially — whose ultimate valence could theoretically be congenial to cultural conservatives. But in general the emerging progressivism seems hostile not only to anything tainted by conservative religion or gender essentialism but to any idea of sexual or reproductive normativity, period, outside a bureaucratically supervised definition of “consent.” And it’s therefore disinclined to regard lifelong monogamy as anything more than one choice among many, one script to play with or abandon, one way of being whose decline should not necessarily be mourned, and whose still-outsize cultural power probably requires further deconstruction to be anything more than a patriarchal holdover, a prison and a trap.

The combination of forces that have produced this ideological shift is somewhat murky — it follows a general turn leftward on social issues after the early 2000s, a further weakening of traditional religion, the cultural ripples from Obergefell v. Hodges, the increasing political polarization of the sexes and, of course, the so-called Great Awokening.

But it does not feel like a coincidence that the new phase tracks with the recent decline in childbearing. If the new liberal hostility to marriage-as-normative-institution is not one of the ideological causes of our latest post-familial ratchet, it is at least a post facto ideological excuse, in which the frequent prestige-media pitches for polyamory or open marriages or escaping gender norms entirely are there to reassure people who might otherwise desire a little more normativity (and a few more children) in their lives, that it’s all cool because they’re in the vanguard of a revolution.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(PD) Nathaniel Blake–Outrage Mobs Might Be More Forgiving If They Believed in Hell

Belief in Hell might seem like the opposite of forgiveness. However, divine forgiveness is contingent on the possibility of divine punishment. Temporally, belief in divine retribution may also encourage human forgiveness, as believers recollect that they, too, need mercy. At the very least, they may overlook some wrongs on the basis that God will sort them out.

The prospect of Hell may allow for a moving-on even in cases of radical evil of the sort that Arendt deems unforgivable. Civil peace often demands leniency for horrific crimes. It is sometimes necessary that witnesses and informants be granted immunity for their crimes, that traitors and terrorists be offered amnesty, or that treaties be made with tyrants. In such cases, where reasons of state preclude justice in this life, belief that there will be an accounting after death may help restore and preserve peace, even without forgiveness. Belief in divine justice liberates humanity from the responsibility of administering perfect justice—an impossible effort that, because of human finitude and sin, itself produces injustice.

Recognizing the social utility of religious beliefs is not enough to preserve them. Still, such reflection aids in diagnosing the ills of a culture that abandons them. Declining belief in divine judgment may encourage some to indulge themselves, comforted by the belief that there will be no punishment. However, others will attempt to take the place of the absent divine judge.

Those who believe that the only justice to be had is that which they administer in this life will be neither proportionate nor merciful. And those who do not believe in Hell may attempt to create it themselves.

Read it all.

Posted in Eschatology, Philosophy, Politics in General

Saturday Food for Thought from Ernest Becker

I think that taking life seriously means something such as this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false.

–¬Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1997 paperback ed. Of the 1973 original), pp. 283-284

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Philosophy, Theology

(The Point) Bad Infinity–The endurance of the liberal imagination

“In the United States at this time,” Lionel Trilling wrote in 1949, “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.” These words are strange to read today. One cannot imagine someone writing them now and, in retrospect, they suggest a dangerous hubris. And yet it is not clear that, applied either to Trilling’s time or to ours, they are wrong.

Since the global political unraveling in 2016, liberalism has lost its voice. From the “basket of deplorables” to the “#resistance” pins to the eat-pray-love liberalism of “a thousand small sanities,” public defenses of the West’s regnant political ideology ring hollow and desperate. Read the Times or the Post, listen to politicians, sit for a second and catch the mood in the airport: the absence is in the air, not just in our language. Max Weber called twentieth-century governance the “slow boring of hard boards”: they have been bored, and so are we.

To literary critics and political theorists—those whose job it is to front-run the zeitgeist—liberalism now seems not so much an opponent to battle as a corpse to put to rest. It is something to be, at most, anatomized, if not simply buried and forgotten. The new right tends toward the former: Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, published in 2018 and blurbed by everyone from David Brooks to Cornel West, blames the very idea of America, with its manic commitment to a radical and spiritually empty freedom. For millennial socialists and fully automated luxury communists, liberalism is, instead, a kind of dad joke, a boomer blooper: faintly embarrassing and best ignored. Maybe we grew up believing in Obama, but that’s all over; now we’ve grown up and moved out.

Wake up! critics seem to say; Get Real. Liberalism is dead. All you have to do is look around: the world we live in is one our old categories can’t explain. Liberalism envisions the tools of reason—science, public debate, law—liberating individuals, tempering passions and leading, however slowly and unevenly, to a world felicitously governed, in harmony with itself. It is very hard to square such a vision with the present world, in which governments have been captured by grifters and demagogues, algorithms move markets and ambient anxiety reigns.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General

(1st Things) John Waters–Defending the Religious Sense

I do not think that, as a community, Christians have been reflecting adequately upon what is lost in the promotion of the secular-liberal anti-ethos. In light of Smith’s and Giussani’s observations, it is notable that, whereas the neo-pagan dispensation extends maximum indulgence to certain kinds of human characteristics (sexual preference, gender “choices,” race, etc.), it increasingly withholds approval for this other “layer” of human identity. This denial is justified implicitly on the basis that religion is a “software” issue, a matter of choice, whereas the others—sex, race, etc.— are “hardware issues,” outside the control of the implicated person.

To see religion as “software” is to see things from the perspective of the skeptic, the unbeliever, from a position of hostility. We know why neo-pagans might choose to see things in that way, but more mysterious is why religious people increasingly limit their pleading to petitions for tolerance, space, freedom-to-practice, etc.

By Giussani’s analysis the religious sense is concerned not just with membership in a church, or with prescribed lists of dogmas, rules, beliefs, or theologies, but with the notion that there is an element of the human person to which only transcendent concepts are capable of providing a correspondence. Recently, Pope Francis compared the hope offered by faith to “the air we breathe,” an apt metaphor. When religious rights are suppressed, so too is the capacity of the human being—including the secular human being—to breathe fully in reality.

Religion deals with those aspects of the human that concern imagining ourselves before, during, and after our earthly existence—in and on either side of the “tunnel” of the earthly trajectory. Neo-pagan culture cherishes the human in the tunnel of this existence only. When we are dying and frightened, society offers to sedate us but refuses to do any more than “tolerate” notions of a further journey beyond this dimension. In the pope’s metaphor: Our breathing becomes subject to cultural constriction.

If the idea of “live and let live” is applied only to the right of Christians to privately believe in daft ideas, there will come a time when each of us is excluded from the protection of the human community in the context of its institutions, laws, and enabling ideas.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(ES) Jonathan Haidt: ‘Many people will soon find themselves mired in perpetual conflict over words’

“When the article came out we were braced for an enormous pushback. It was an explosive time, and things were beginning to get very strange politically in ways we’re only beginning to understand,” he says. “But the climate changed in early 2016, when the number of shutdowns and disinvitations grew, and everything got worse. Things were changing in ways that are really bad for what we do, so Greg and I decided we had to turn it into a book.”

Between the article and the book, which came out last year, Haidt’s research revealed a strong connection between Gen Z’s soaring rates of anxiety and depression (especially among girls), their emotional fragility and their upbringing . “Originally, we didn’t see how it all linked to childhood trends, such as fearful parenting and the decline of play. We also didn’t know, until research was published last year, that there was a sudden radicalisation among white progressives in 2014 about different types of inequality: feminism, racism, misogyny, white privilege, or any other term from the woke vocabulary.

“Another big shift came from changes in social media after 2012, through Twitter and Instagram. This new configuration has been much more effective at spreading outrage, because almost anything can be taken as an example of how awful the other side is if you strip it of context and put it out there.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Language, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology, Young Adults

(CLJ) Adrian Vermeule–All Human Conflict Is Ultimately Theological

First consider a pair of puzzles from the crucial period 2014-16 in American politics, when the tempo of liberalism’s sacramental celebrations increased sharply. In both cases, the puzzle is that political incumbents in a liberal regime—executive actors in one case, litigation groups and judicial actors in another—took actions that were flagrantly ill-advised from the standpoint of the ragion di stato, revealing deeper sacramental commitments and impulses.

The first was the Obama administration’s relentless attempt to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to either fund abortifacient contraceptives or, at least, to take action to pass the responsibility elsewhere. Commentators at the time criticized the seemingly inexplicable stupidity of the administration’s approach, which created a highly salient example of repressive regulatory secular liberalism and thus radically antagonized Christian conservatives, who proceeded to vote for Trump in large numbers. It is plausible to think that the voting pattern was partly caused bythe example, although, in the nature of the case, it is extremely difficult to establish such things one way or the other.

But this criticism, while entirely valid from a ragion di stato perspective, does not quite reach the root of the matter, at least if we understand the inner dynamics of sacramental liberalism. The very point of the administration’s conduct, on my view, was not (or not only) to force one smallish order of nuns to provide contraceptives—indeed, the very fact the administration offered a “voluntary” opt-out underscores that the real objective lay elsewhere. Rather, the objective was ceremonial—to force the nuns to acknowledge publicly the liberal state’s just authority, even in matters of religion, the authority to require either provision or the exercise of an opt-out, as the state saw fit. The main point was to stage a public, sacramental celebration of the justice of liberal power and of the overcoming of reactionary opposition.

Another example involves the puzzle of Obergefell[26]including the administration’s rather chilling representation at oral argument in the Supreme Court that institutions not supportive of same-sex marriage might have to lose their tax exemptions as contrary to “public policy,” as did racist institutions like Bob Jones University.[27] The puzzle is not only why the administration would make such an inflammatory threat, but also why such a judicial decision was necessary at all, when the tide of politics was running in favor of same-sex marriage anyway. Simple nonintervention, by means of any of the standard techniques available to the liberal Justices,[28] would have attained the same policy ends with far less political conflict. As far as instrumental political rationality went, all that was necessary was to do nothing.

But a conspicuous conflict with the settled mores of millennia was, of course, the point. It was right and just to have same-sex marriage not merely embodied in law, but declared a requirement of fundamental justice, coupled with a conspicuous defeat of the forces of reaction.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court, Theology

(PD) Jane Robbins–Are There Cracks in the Edifice of Transgender Ideology?

yet these descriptions—cult, social contagion, ideology—fail to capture the uniqueness and enormity of what is happening with the transgender movement. Past and current cults have seduced their victims into losing all sense of reality and embracing bizarre and dangerous beliefs; social contagions and mass crazes have affected large groups of seemingly intelligent individuals; ideologies have taken hold that have altered societies and cost lives. But now we are facing something different.

Previous cultish or similar social phenomena have generally been limited to some degree by time, space, or eventual return of the senses. But Western civilization is now gripped by a cultural cyclone that is blowing through such limitations with totalitarian force. Transgenderism has shaken the foundations of all we know to be true. Scientific knowledge is rejected and medical practice co-opted in service of a new “reality”—that “gender” is independent of sex, that males and females of any age, even young children, are entitled to their own transgender self-identification based only on their feelings, and that literally every individual and every segment of society must bow to their chosen identity at risk of losing reputation, livelihood, and even freedom itself.

Remarkably, this revolution is happening without any credible scientific evidence to support it. The concept of changing one’s biological sex is, of course, nonsense, as sex is determined by unalterable chromosomes. An individual can change his hormone levels and undergo surgery to better imitate the opposite sex, but a male on the day of his conception will remain a male on the day of his death. And as discussed below, the idea that there is a real personal trait called “gender” that challenges or invalidates the identity significance of biological sex is equally fallacious. But the absence of genuine evidence is simply ignored, and faux “evidence” is created to validate the mania.

So far. But there are signs of cracks in the grand edifice of transgenderism. As Dr. Malcolm warned in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” So does reality. At some point it will reassert itself, and we will ask how this ever could have happened.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Sexuality, Theology

(PS) Peter Singer–Rugby Australia’s “Own Goal”

If Rugby Australia had existed in the first century of the Christian era, and Paul had had enough talent to be a contracted player, Rugby Australia would presumably have ripped up his contract once his letter to the Corinthians became public. That makes it quite bizarre that Castle should have justified [Israel] Folau’s dismissal by saying, “People need to feel safe and welcomed in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion, or sexuality.” Did she mean that you can feel welcomed in rugby, regardless of your religious beliefs, as long as you don’t express them in public? That looks a lot like telling homosexuals that they can do what they want in the privacy of their bedroom, but they must not show their affection in public because some people might find it offensive.

As this example shows – and as John Stuart Mill argued in his classic On Liberty – once we allow, as a ground for restricting someone’s freedom of speech or action, the claim that someone else has been offended by it, freedom is in grave danger of disappearing entirely. After all, it is very difficult to say anything significant to which no one could possibly take offense. Mill had in mind restrictions imposed by the state, but when employers dismiss employees who make controversial utterances, that is also a threat to freedom of expression – especially when the employer has a monopoly on the employment of workers with special skills, as Rugby Australia does.

Rugby Australia would have a stronger basis for its decision if Folau’s post had expressed hatred toward homosexuals and could have been interpreted as an incitement to violence against them. But the post no more expresses hatred toward homosexuals than cigarette warnings express hatred toward smokers.

If that analogy seems implausible, that’s because you do not take Folau’s beliefs seriously. Granted, for anyone outside that particular faith, it’s hard to take such beliefs seriously. But try putting yourself in the position of someone with Folau’s beliefs. You see people on a path toward a terrible fate – much worse than getting lung cancer, because death will not release them from their agony – and they are blind to what awaits them. Wouldn’t you want to warn them, and give them the chance to avoid that awful fate? I assume that is what Folau believes he is doing. He even tells homosexuals that Jesus loves them, and calls on them to repent so that they can avoid burning in hell for eternity. That doesn’t sound like hate speech.

What should Rugby Australia have done about Folau’s post? It might have just said that people are entitled to express their religious beliefs, and that would have been the end of the story….

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Sports

The David French–Sohrab Ahmari Contretemps (V): (NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–What Are Conservatives Actually Debating? What the strange war over “David French-ism” says about the right

Still, you can see three broad demands at work in their arguments. First, they want social conservatives to exercise more explicit power within the conservative coalition.

This may sound like a strange idea, since, after all, it is social conservatism’s growing political weakness, its cultural retreat, that led the religious right to throw in with a cruel sybarite like Trump. But there’s a plausible argument that even with its broader influence reduced, religious conservatism should still wield more power than it does in Republican politics — that it outsources too much policy thinking to other factions, that it goes along with legislation written for business interests so long as the promised judicial appointments are dangled at the end, and that it generally acts like a junior partner even though it delivers far more votes.

A more assertive form of social conservatism is already visible in the state-level pushes to substantially restrict abortion, which amount to a demand that all those Republican court appointees actually deliver the latitude for pro-life legislation that generations of religious conservatives voted for. It’s visible in the forays made by Missouri’s new Republican senator, Josh Hawley, who has incited small uproars by imposing sharper abortion and religious-liberty litmus tests than usual on the Trump administration’s judicial nominees, and by taking an explicitly censorious stance toward Silicon Valley.

But a more assertive social conservatism would also pursue the second thing that the post-fusionist conservatives seem to want — namely, stronger state interventions in the economy on behalf of socially conservative ends.

These interventions might include more aggressive versions of the pro-family tax policies championed by Republican senators like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee. They might take the form of a new pro-family industrial policy of the kind Trump gestures at but hasn’t really pursued, some kind of infrastructure spending or manufacturing support that tries to revive the breadwinner wage. Or they might take the form of the kind of trustbusting culture war envisioned by Hawley, in which the new formations of woke capital, especially in Silicon Valley, get regulated in the name of both economic fairness and cultural conservatism.

Then alongside these practical power plays and policy moves, the post-fusionists want something bigger: A philosophical reconsideration of where the liberal order has ended up. How radical that reconsideration ought to be varies with the thinker.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

The David French–Sohrab Ahmari Contretemps (IV): (Atlantic) Alan Jacobs–What a Clash Between Conservatives Reveals

Why did Fish’s essay need a response? In large part because it made this argument:

If you persuade liberalism that its dismissive marginalizing of religious discourse is a violation of its own chief principle, all you will gain is the right to sit down at liberalism’s table where before you were denied an invitation; but it will still be liberalism’s table that you are sitting at, and the etiquette of the conversation will still be hers. That is, someone will now turn and ask, “Well, what does religion have to say about this question?” And when, as often will be the case, religion’s answer is doctrinaire (what else could it be?), the moderator (a title deeply revealing) will nod politely and turn to someone who is presumed to be more reasonable. To put the matter baldly, a person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.

This is Sohrab Ahmari’s argument, 23 years avant la lettre.

Neuhaus began his response by quoting a part of the passage I just quoted and then setting out to refute it—though not with a whole heart, because Neuhaus realized that one variety of liberalism is indeed programmatically opposed to religion. That variety contends that confidence in metaphysical claims—especially claims about what human beings are, and are for—is always dangerous because those claims are just not true. But Neuhaus saw that there was another kind of liberalism that is programmatically modest about what a whole society can claim to be true—and that kind of liberalism, he thought, was useful.

Thus, in his essay, he cites the great American Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray:

John Courtney Murray said that pluralism is written into the script of history, and I would add that it seems God did the writing. By pluralism, I mean a world in which people live by significantly different accounts of reality, including moral and religious reality, and must learn to live together.

Neuhaus thought not only that Good Liberalism is compatible with Christianity, but also that Christians, if they are properly mature, are among the best-suited to live in such an environment: “The Christian understanding of reason, faith, and how the world is created to be is the best guard against the totalitarianism, whether liberal or religious, that is invited by a monistic view of reality … This gives the Christian confidence that he can enter into conversation with the non-Christian … The Christian therefore tries in various ways to enter into the reason and language of non-Christians in order to help reorder them to truth….”

 

Ahmari thinks that “civility and decency are secondary values,” but even if that is true, they remain values, and Ahmari is not warranted in discarding them so flagrantly. Yet I am not sure that that statement is true. And here again, Neuhaus’s response to Fish is relevant: “The Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom is titled Dignitatis Humanae. Respect for the dignity of the other person created in the image of God requires that we not silence or exclude him but try to persuade him.” Even when people are wrong, he says, “we must put up with them or tolerate them or, much better, respect and love them”—not because that is a politically effective strategy, which it may or may not be, but because we are so instructed by God.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

The David French–Sohrab Ahmari Contretemps (III): (TAC) Rod Dreher–Sohrab Ahmari Vs. David French

I am not at all sure that that is a fair characterization of David French’s views, but let’s let that stand for the sake of argument. Ahmari wants a more robust, activist government, but active on the side of socially conservative goals. I can go along with that, and indeed there’s probably not much difference between how Sohrab Ahmari thinks the state should intervene, and my views. But here’s the thing: in a pluralistic democracy, if you’ve already lost the culture, how can you hope to elect a government that represents the will of the people, and that supports socially conservative policies?

I wish I saw more evidence that America is a socially conservative country. I wish I saw more evidence that we are a religiously traditional country. It’s just not true, and barring some kind of massive revival, it’s not going to be true for a long time. I am more concerned about religion and culture than politics. I believe in the Benedict Option as a practical response for traditional Christians to the crisis of our time in part because politics are so insufficient to the scope and severity of the crisis. It’s not that I am against politics; it’s that I think politics are downstream from religion and culture, and that we have to first restore a firm cultural basis for a decent politics. At this time, we are fighting (or should be fighting) with all we’ve got just to hold what ground we have.

Many conservatives I know wrongly think that the main part of the battle is political, when the truth is that the absence of moral and spiritual discipline in our own lives, and in the lives of our families and communities, is the root cause of disorder. A Christian academic friend and I were talking a while back about classical Christian education, and he lamented that most of the parents he knew from his local classical Christian school were running away from liberalism more than running towards a vision of classical virtue, Christian or otherwise. This is an important insight. Fighting political battles are necessary, but not remotely sufficient to keep the faith alive. And the faith is not just something we carry in our heads, but is a way of life. The way most of us conservative Christians live — I’m judging myself here too — can often be as much of a threat to passing on the faith to our children as attacks coming from progressives in power.

We have to fight progressivism in politics now in part to protect the institutions through which we pass on our virtues and religious beliefs to our children. But these freedoms won’t mean anything if we don’t use them.

I say all this simply to explain why I don’t have Ahmari’s faith in smashmouth right-wing politics of the Trumpian sort. David French’s fundamental decency as a man and as a Christian is not a fault, but a feature. I don’t get why his decency and honor is a liability. If we lose that for the sake of winning political battles, are we not at grave risk of having sold our souls? Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that sometimes politics may require us to do things we find distasteful (like, well, vote for Donald Trump) for the sake of the greater good. But we can’t let ourselves get to the point of despising decency as weakness — and this is where I depart most from Ahmari, who writes:

Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

What does this mean? The leftists that I fear most of all are those who would throw overboard any standards of decency for the sake of destroying their opponents. These are the leftists who showed themselves in the Kavanaugh hearings, and in the Covington Catholic media pogrom. I don’t believe Sohrab Ahmari is that kind of conservative, not at all, but these kinds of figures have appeared on the pro-Trump Right.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

The David French–Sohrab Ahmari Contretemps (II): (National Review) David French: What Sohrab Ahmari Gets Wrong

“Frenchism” (is that a thing now?) contains two main components: zealous defense of the classical-liberal order (with a special emphasis on civil liberties) and zealous advocacy of fundamentally Christian and Burkean conservative principles. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. It’s the formulation that renders the government primarily responsible for safeguarding liberty, and the people primarily responsible for exercising that liberty for virtuous purposes. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Moreover, I firmly believe that the defense of these political and cultural values must be conducted in accordance with scriptural admonitions to love your enemies, to bless those who persecute you, with full knowledge that the “Lord’s servant” must be “kind to everyone, able to teach, and patiently endure evil.”

I’m a deeply flawed person in daily (or even hourly) need of God’s grace, so I don’t always live up to those ideals. But I see them for what they are: commands to God’s people, not tactics to try until they fail. Ahmari does not wrestle with these dictates in his essay. He should have.

It is mystifying to me that my critics seem to believe that I don’t understand the nature and intentions of the enemies of American liberalism. They think me naïve, as if I wasn’t shouted down at Harvard, as if I don’t know what it’s like to be the only social-conservative faculty member at Cornell Law School, as if I don’t speak at events from coast to coast about the immense threat to Christian liberties and livelihoods. Still, they say, I just don’t understand.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture