There is an odd distinction in modern politics: Private vs. Public. The assumption seems to be that if the “government” runs something, it is public, whereas when “private citizens” or groups of “private citizens” run something, it is private. However, “private citizen” is somewhat of an oxymoron, as “citizen” has the connotation of belonging to a political entity (most literally a city) and “government” is run by individuals or groups of individuals. A better understanding of the words “private” and “public” might be that they refer to either private or public interest. But if this is the case, things like education, healthcare, and housing are all “public” by nature, since they all serve to promote a healthier community through the care of its members. In some people’s minds, this means that the government ought to run it as a “public” service, but this is because there is no sense that “private” companies have public obligations. Instead, there is a sense that “private” companies are doing something right when they give to charities or form charitable foundations, but not that they are doing something wrong if they don’t contribute to the health of their communities through “public” works. Thus, we have an untenable situation where the government has total responsibility for public works while trying to incentivise public aid through things like tax breaks. Ultimately, the common good becomes a tug-o-war between competing groups of people, the “government” and “corporations.”
Individualism and liberalism are antithetical to politics (and especially democratic politics) because when the assumption is made that we can live according to our own truth (unless your way of life hurts someone), the only way to accomplish anything is to get people to agree with “your” truth because “other” truths are inherently harmful. Thus, you naturally get a polity that is divided not pragmatically but morally. The other side is *morally* repugnant because that’s the only calculus for rejecting someone else’s position in an individualist world view. Furthermore, this requires the individualist to propose a strict morality that applies to everyone thus contradicting the individualism he espouses. This pitting of individualistic, competing and self-contradictory moralities against one another is corrosive to any community whether it be a city, a state, a nation, or an empire; whether it be a democracy, a republic, or a monarchy. If we dismiss the members of our communities as morally “other” we risk categorizing them as unwanted, unneeded, undesirable. It leads to treating others as sub-human and not deserving of charity whether in word or deed. It leads to a broken understanding of justice both in regards to punishment of criminals and our obligations to those around us.
What we need is to embrace a moral vision of humanity and our world that denies this individualism and regards each person as a moral and rational agent with the innate desire for good and the capacity to cooperate toward a common good. It must be a consistent moral vision that embraces all political action that promotes this common good. This political action takes many forms, but its foundation is care for the spiritual and material growth of the people. The family is where this growth begins and our energy should be focused as a society on promoting healthy families where spiritual and material welfare flourishes. Our schools should be places where this moral vision and where the family is supported in its growth as the kernel of a moral society. Our cities should be planned so that the family and the schools are given all they need to fulfill their purposes.
There are many issues that are close to many people; injustices that must be stopped, confusion that must be addressed. What is the answer? What are we waiting for? Do not hesitate on the way to demonstrate your superiority or to revile your opponents. Do not scoff at those who are less fortunate or at those you perceive as less intelligent. They are in need. You are in need. There in only One who can address every need, but we are made in His image and therefore have that capability written faintly in our hearts. He made us to be helpmates. It is time to take heed of the plight of the members of our society; those who suffer violence at the hand of another, those who experience misfortune through no fault of their own, even those who hurt themselves in apathy, despair, or confusion. We need each other and must not let fear and anger divide us, even when justified. We have a great capacity for evil, but an even greater capacity for good. Let us act on that capacity together and perhaps, by the grace of God, we can make our society great.
Leisure is more than just free time. It is time devoted to the unencumbered fulfillment of the human spirit in its reflection of the Godhead. It is a time for love, creativity, and contemplation. In this way, it can only be enjoyed consistently by those who are not required to work for a living.
However, it is proper that our work also contain in itself the seeds of leisure (it should be a service or creative or yet some form of contemplation) so that even those who must work may fulfill the needs of the human spirit (in fact, one may say that work is itself a reflection of God. Yes, truly, but drudgery is proper to the fall and is not work as God Himself works.)
Furthermore, it is proper that the worker also have regular recourse to leisure that is not work, and this is to be contrasted with “recreation” or the recovery of the body and mind after working. Leisure is not passive. It requires the engagement of the whole person. For this reason, leisure is often not possible on a daily basis because for the worker, his mind and body are not recovered sufficiently to engage in true leisure, not to mention various other responsibilities that take his time. Thus, leisure is not just “the time when you are not engaged in your livelihood.” In fact, your livelihood, as I mentioned above, should itself contain at least the seeds of leisure and there are many other uses of free time that are not leisurely.
The other reason why leisure is not possible for the average worker (nor even for the independently wealthy) is that true leisure is not understood because human nature is misunderstood. This leads to a decided lack of education in leisure which in turn leads to an inability of most people to properly pursue it. This is beside the fact that leisure itself is sort of seen as something you “earn” and often makes modern man feel guilty that he is not engaged in some utilitarian pursuit, so called. This obsession with work and utility yet this lack of understanding of leisure and human nature leads to a very depressing society in which fever-pitch activity alternates with boredom and/or bouts of mere inactivity.
This is not good for the individual nor is it good for society. We are all called to reflect God in our daily lives and we must as a society decide to ennoble work with leisure and provide the education in leisurely pursuits to all so that all may partake in natural human fulfillment in the broad variety of ways that we have developed.
In a strict democracy, it’s all a numbers game. The more people who agree with a course of action, the more likely it will happen. The majority rules. The minority has to submit. This is of course assuming it is an absolute majority and not just a majority of the people who can and decide to “cast their vote.” Whatever the case, in a democracy, the more people who like something, the more valuable it is. Might, as they say, makes right.
The modern market wants to be a democracy, but instead of a vote (which in theory costs nothing except a little bit of time), the “majority” is decided by the amount of money behind a certain product or initiative. In the stock market, the more people buy certain stock, the more valuable it is. “See?” we seem to say. “Look at all those people buying up. It must be a good investment/a valuable product/a good thing.”
This happens of course on a local level. If a rich person (or even a middle class person) buys a house in a neighborhood, the neighborhood increases in value. (I mean, if a poor person buys a house in a neighborhood, it doesn’t say anything about the neighborhood since poor people “have no choice.”) Of course, as rich people buy up a neighborhood and increase the property value, poor people can’t afford to buy in the neighborhood. The value of the land and the houses has nothing to do with any intrinsic value of the land and the houses, but with how many people are buying there. The houses and land are the same before and after the sale.
Sure, the rich can afford to improve the house and land in appearance, but property values are based more on whether there are sales being made (and thus money being invested in the neighborhood) than on what the neighborhood looks like. In this way, the neighborhoods where there is more money are more valuable in the modern market mentality.
So too with any local services. Because we live in a “competition economy,” money is the deciding factor on whether something is worth keeping in the neighborhood. For example, a big-box hardware store can afford to build a new location where there is a locally owned and operated hardware store. It can also afford to sell more at a lower price. This means that although the people in the neighborhood have been happy to go to the other hardware store, it won’t win the competition because it doesn’t have as much money to compete. Furthermore, the people in the neighborhood will pay for the cheaper store and thus will cast their monetary vote for that store.
Those that are “more economically successful“ have a greater influence on the market than those who are “less.” In other words, the rich can do things the poor can’t, even if the poor have a better product. The only way the poorer people can compete is if they can get enough rich people to cast their monetary vote for them.
This obsession with a competitive, consumption-driven, majoritarian market translates nicely into the other realms of political life. The more money that goes into a certain initiative or candidate, the more important and valuable it seems. After all, without the support of money, nothing can get done. However, in a country split by special and individual interests, the richer special groups and individuals will always hold sway regardless of the “right” or “wrong.” Our political and economic system is, in fact, a behemoth of bribery. Political action is bought and sold daily. The federal government can refuse to give states federal funding if they don’t make the correct laws. There is no political will where there is no money.
This is what we get if we insist on the absolute neutral equality of political and economic action. When we allow any industry that can “succeed” and bring in money to the economy, we lose sight of any sense of something’s intrinsic worth. As long as enough people are investing in something, it is good. As long as enough people want a politician or a political platform, no matter how tenuously they want it, we have to accept it. After all, we live by social contract decided by a majority. Agreement is truth.
The problem is, money can buy agreement. Money can buy loyalty. Money can buy support. If only our personal interest is at stake, money can make anything palatable because it allows me to pursue my interest even if at the expense of something that we don’t like. Money is a moral equalizer.
And if that’s not a problem, I’m not sure what is.
While we’re on the subject of equality and justice, we might as well ask the question, “What is the basis for equality?” In what ways are all humans equal and why?
Absolute equality indicates commonality in kind and degree. We can say that two men who play for the National Football Leagues are equally football players, but not that they are absolutely equal in respect to being football players; one is better than the other. In order to determine which is better, we have to have set criteria by which we judge them. Distinctions are a necessary part of these criteria. We could very well say that one of them is a better football player, but not a better man. One could be better at running, another at catching, another at throwing. The general equality of “football player” does not factor into who is the best at this or that. It is, however, relevant to what rights and responsibilities these men have. The NFL gives certain things to and expects certain things from all its players.
When judging whether there is absolute equality in humans, we once again have to look at kind and degree. It is a pretty well-established fact that if you are human, you are human. In other words, we are all of the same kind; there is something common to all of us and binds us together as one kind as distinct from other kinds of things. Do we all have that thing to equal degrees? That is a question for the ages.
There have been many instances when human beings were “dehumanized” or at least their humanness was regarded as diminished. There is the infamous “3/5” clause in the original Constitution of the United States (as well as just general consensus that the black slave was “less human” than the white slave-owner). The Jews in Nazi Germany were considered “less human” than the Aryans. A human fetus is considered by many to be less human than an adult human. It is clear from all of these instances that the commonality of human genetics was not a factor in determining equality of degree. The “uncommonness” is what drives dehumanization.
Human genes are common to all humans and we all have them to the same degree; there are no “dilute” human genes. Are genetics (and biology) the common factor which determines human equality? What would justice based on genetics look like? In order to figure this out, we would have to figure out what good or end is common to all human genetics.
The human gene wants, as all living organism, to sustain and reproduce; to continue the existence of the human gene. If there is a “sick” gene, one unable to reproduce, or reproduce healthy genes, then that gene is not fulfilling the purpose of a gene; according to “genetic justice,” it is an insidious presence in the development of the human gene, generally speaking. If we are to base justice merely on genetics, it must, therefore, not be allowed to reproduce or infect other genes with its deficiency.
If “eugenics” comes to mind, then my point is made. It appears that not all genes are, in fact, equal. They do not all have the same potential; they are not equal in degree. A “genetic” view of equality is not absolute and will ultimately lead to dehumanization. What is it, then, that we all have in the same degree? In what do we have the same potential?
From a material standpoint, there is nothing we have that is absolutely common in kind and degree. Our bodies develop based on genes and environment and no two people have the same genes and environment. Furthermore, no one has “perfect” genes that he or she can pass on perfectly. Equality from a materialistic standpoint is a doomed project.
However, are also spiritual beings and as such have spiritual goods and ends. In my last post, I mentioned two “universal” ends: a happy and just society and union with God. Both of these are derived from humanity’s spiritual reality, not its material reality. “Happiness” and “Justice” are things unknown to genes. Union with God, who is Himself spiritual, must be spiritual in nature. However, our spiritual good is aided by our material good, and thus the good of our genes is important, yet ultimately subservient to the more absolute spiritual good.
It is in this spiritual way (with spiritual goods and ends) that we have equality. No matter what our material reality, our souls have happiness and justice (ultimately union with God is the highest happiness and justice) as their end. If we deny this, we deny any true basis for equality. If we affirm this, then all of our decisions, both in positive law and general consensus, must reflect this.
Our obligations to each other originate in common goals. If a community wants to run a soup kitchen, the members are obligated to bring soup (or other food), staff the soup kitchen, etc. If a business wants to make a profit, the CEO, managers, and employees all have specific tasks that they are obligated to perform so that profit is made. If they fail in their obligations, the business fails.
In the same way, insofar as a society has common goals, the members of the society have obligations to each other to bring about the common goals. These obligations imply certain rights; every member has a right to demand that the obligations be met and a right to see that the goal is achieved. If the goal is contingent or not absolute (such as the amount of profit or the size of the soup kitchen), then the rights are also contingent or absolute. In fact, profit-making and establishing a soup kitchen are both themselves contingent goals, contingent on some higher and more absolute goal: a happy and just society. True, either one can be used wickedly, but in each case, the ultimate goal is something else entirely.
The more absolute the goal, the more absolute the obligations (and thus rights), but also the general or abstract. The Bill of Rights gives Americans the right to bear arms for the goal of a well-ordered militia. That is a specific right for a specific goal, but the militia itself is to be formed for a more general and absolute goal: the safety and protection of the community. However, a militia of freely-armed citizens isn’t the only way to protect a society (though it may be the most just). Thus, the right to bear arms for this purpose is not an absolute right. If it was thought that only arming the best-trained citizens was the most just way of protecting the community, then only the best-trained citizens would have a right to bear arms, according to the common goal of the people.
However, people do not just have the right to the means to the goal, but to the goal itself. In the previous example, the goal is a safe society. Because this is a common goal that applies to everyone, it is a right that everyone has (and equally). How that goal is achieved, through what means, is dependent on what means are available, and of course the effectiveness of the means. Rights (and obligations) are distributed according to the means of the members of society so that those who have greater means have greater obligation (and a right to fulfill that obligation!) Ultimately, though, all of these rights and obligation are in service to a common goal. Rights are as universal as the goals to which they are applied.
The question, I suppose, is, “Are there any universal goals that apply to every human being.” If there are, then we have a foundation for a sense of “equal” or “universal” rights (and the obligation to fulfill these rights). Two goals that come to mind that apply to every human being are a happy and just society and union with God. There may be others.
If we think about these two goals, it is clear that one is more universal than the other. Union with God (according to some definitions, the ultimate being, according to others, being itself) is the ultimate universal goal to which all other goals are subordinated. Everyone, therefore, has a right to pursue this union (and in fact, some say, a duty.) We also have an obligation therefore to ensure that people are able to pursue this union. This ultimate universal goal implies ultimate universal rights and obligations, though the means to achieve the goal may mean that the rights and obligations are not identical for every single person.
However, even if we were to deny the existence of God (a dangerous prospect, to say the least), a happy and just society is universal enough, since it does indeed apply to all people (if you would like more information on this goal, consult your Aristotle.)
If the goal of a happy and just society is universal, then the right to that goal is universal, as are any rights that are necessary to achieve that goal. Of course, the definition of “happy” and “just” are operative. What is justice? What is happiness? If any society is to have this goal, they must first determine what it means. Perhaps we shall discuss these questions further at a later date.
In my previous discussion of equality, it became clear that on a purely material level, we are not equal in means; neither do we have equal rights in our contingent, material goals. However, on a spiritual or supernatural level, one that demands justice and a union with God, the rights to pursue these things is universal, though not all ways of pursing them are effective or good. Our universal rights do not mean that we have a right to do whatever we want, but rather that everyone has the same right to practice good means to a universal end, whatever those means are and whatever that end is.
As George Orwell once wrote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Can we have a society of perfect equality? Or perhaps most importantly, should we? What does equality mean? Are “all men created equal?”
It is interesting to note that not everyone has the same definition of equality, or, I suppose more accurately, not everyone agrees on what should be equal. When the Founding Fathers stated that “all men are created equal,” they certainly weren’t talking about the black slave, and some weren’t talking about women or Catholics either. However, this aside, what “all men” were “equal” in were certain inalienable rights. Everyone (except those excluded) was endowed by the Creator with the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, among other less explicitly mentioned rights.
This idea of “equal rights” which is so fundamental to the American way of life is a little misleading. For one thing, there has always been a system of justice designed to deprive criminals of life, liberty, and/or property (sometimes considered analogous to happiness, somehow); there are some who don’t deserve to exercise their rights, even if they have them. Furthermore, where there is a dispute between individuals, an appeal to “equal rights” falls flat on its face. Whoever adjudicates the dispute must decide whose “rights” are more important.
It is often hard to exercise rights without the means to do it. For example, according to the Bill of Rights, Americans have the right to bear arms (I won’t go into the debate over this amendment right now). Not everyone can afford a gun (or a sword, or a spear, or a bow and arrow, etc.) not to mention that not everyone can afford the same kind of gun. As to the right to Life mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, not everyone has the power to decide who lives and who dies, but some people do! Not only are there lawmakers who decide what is considered a crime deserving of death, but there are also those with the social capital to influence these decisions. Furthermore, not everyone dies or lives according to his or her choice. Some are unable to provide for themselves or their families and thus their “right to life” is not fully exercised.
So, clearly “equal rights” are not absolute in our society, and if there are any rights that should be absolute, it is not entirely clear which they should be. Let us, for now, set aside the question of rights.
Perhaps, then, equality of means is what proponents of an equal society are pursuing. A perfect society is one in which everyone has the same things so that they can do and get the same things, so that no one has an advantage over the other. On the screen, it looks great. Let us not be satisfied with “on the screen” however. Imagine, if you will, that it was possible for everyone to have the same things. This would either mean that everything was shared by everyone or else that every single person owned an instance of every single thing. Ultimately, the first is the collectivist’s dream, the second, the individualist’s. However, they are both nightmares.
If everything is shared by everyone, who makes sure that everyone gets to share equally in that which is shared? If there is a farm that is shared by everyone, who farms it? If everyone who shares it takes turns farming, who decides who works when? Not everyone can farm well. Some are weaker physically, others are allergic to certain plants, etc. Clearly not everyone can work equally on the farm, so do they get less of a share of the farm? Should only those who can farm well be allowed to share in the crop? This clearly flies in the face of the “equality” first posited. Decisions have to be made by someone as to how things are shared. Things get even more complicated when we think about the fact that life demands much more than just farming. The more that is “shared” the greater the need for a decision-making authority to ensure justice.
In the individualist’s nightmare, each person owns one of everything. However, not every single farm is equal. Even if each person receives an equal size farm with an equal amount of seed, the harvest will be different in each place, not to mention the inequality already mentioned above; not everyone can farm well. To give each person everything needed for survival so that he or she need not depend on anyone else is to give everyone more than they can properly handle.
Instead of these nightmares, we of course can see that reality demands that not everyone have the same things. Inequality is a necessary part of any work toward a common end. A new building needs a leader of design and a leader of construction not to mention people to do the various tasks for each area. No one can do everything and not everyone can do something.
In the end, “equality of means” is both undesirable and impossible. After all, one of the most important “means” that we have is our own strengths, and these are all inherently different and unequal. Contrary to popular belief, this inequality is of utmost importance in reaching our common goals. Not everyone will be or can be a politician. Not everyone will be or can be a farmer, but we need people who do each if we are to reach the goal of a just society.
There is very little in which humans are naturally equal. There is always the stronger and the weaker in nature. Instead of focusing on equality, perhaps we should, as a society, be focusing on mutual cooperation within the inequality that is inherent in nature. A proper and useful distribution of rights, obligations, and means will always be unequal, and it is the only way we can work for a just society.
One of the accompanying principles of the libertarian philosophy is pluralism. If it is our belief that each individual is free to pursue happiness according to his own perception of the good, it is natural to assert that having a variety of opinions, beliefs, and practices in society is a good, as long as no one is harming anyone else. For now, we shall set aside the question of whether liberalism as a common principle even makes sense and take up the question of whether and in what way pluralism contributes to the common good.
There are, in any act, the principles that support the act and the act itself, the “doing of the thing.” In more common parlance, there is theory and there is practice. This is true in any discipline whether it be architecture, history, or politics. Before building a building, there must be design intent and before there is design intent, there must be principles of design. If these principles of design are faulty, the building will be, in essence, unbuildable, or if buildable structurally unreliable. Before writing the history of something, we must first study that subject and in order to study properly, we must have an idea of what is relevant and what is not, what is within the scope of the subject and what is not. Before we enact laws and policies, we must first know that the laws are good and therefore must have principles of the good in mind.
Thus, there are two kinds of pluralism which we can encounter in the different disciplines: pluralism of principle and pluralism of practice. Let us imagine, for an instant, what the implications of pluralism or the lack thereof would have in these two areas of human action. Is pluralism possible in all aspects of human action? Is it productive? Is its good?
It is certainly possible for there to be multiple principles within a discipline. In architecture, for example, the three classical principles are firmitas, utilitas, and venustas (strength, usefulness, and attractiveness.) However, throughout history there have been architects who have different opinions on the value of each of these principles. Some think that usefulness is the most important; buildings needn’t last as long as they serve some purpose. Others think that strength is the most important; buildings are a perennial statement of some ideal that needn’t have a purpose other than that. Still others think that attractiveness is the most important; buildings are art, primarily.
There are other principles of architecture that spring from these three and there are even a greater number of opinions as the principles become more and more specific. This plurality of opinions exists, but is it productive? While in some sense, a variety of principles can lead to the flourishing of the building culture, an attempt to use many principles in the design of a building can lead to confusion and incoherence in a building. A building cannot be designed, let alone built, if the architect is trying to do too many things at once. It is more productive to have a small set of principles to adhere to so as to produce a clear and buildable structure.
However, as I said, having buildings that are each designed with different principles will not inhibit the architectural profession. Pluralism can, in fact, be productive when the principles are distributed between projects and not forced into competition within a single design. This would seem to indicate that there are some contexts in which a pluralism of principles is productive. It is, as an architect might say, a matter of scale.
Now, whether a pluralism of principles is good is another question entirely, unless you hold a utilitarian viewpoint, in which case, we will get back to productivity and the matter of scale.
In order for a pluralism of principles to be good, each principle must be good in and of itself as well as good in relation to the other principles at play. Once again, we find an overarching principle of the “good” to be necessary for any discussion of pluralism. If we are going to embrace any sort of pluralism, we have to know which kind to choose.
For example, a dietary pluralism is good insofar as it furthers the health of the body and mind. Eating a variety of foods is good, but it has to do proportion and priority. If ice cream is given priority, it is not a healthy pluralism. (Now, if you only eat ice cream, that’s not pluralism, but it’s still unhealthy.) Even “poisons” can be consumed in small doses, as in homeopathy, for good health. However, to eat toxins and food equally is to embrace an unhealthy pluralism of diet.
The same can be said of political or social pluralism. We must not give every social principle equal weight, nor indeed can we entertain every social principle at all. There are some social principles that are harmful to society and there are some that are directly contradictory to other social principles such that they cannot be held simultaneously within the same group of people without causing division. Social principles have practical implications and this division in principle will always lead to division in practice.
As I have said, it is a matter of scale. The more general a principle, the harder it is for pluralism without strife. As principles become particularized, it is easier for a society to hold them side-by-side and even use them in cooperation with each other. Having a multiplicity of perspectives on a particular situation can help realize its full implication, and often there are more than one possible course of action to address the situation. The other side of this coin is that the less particular a situation is, the more general the principles need to be and thus pluralism has less of a place. However, any sort of judgement about what action to take will always appeal to a principle that is outside the pluralism of perspectives.
There is an inherent hierarchy of ideas when talking about justice in society. Some principles are more universal than others; some can be used in concert with others while some are contradictory. Without a common sense of justice, pluralism will result in the discord of opposing principles and ultimately will result in an unjust society. Consensus is praised when it comes to practical social questions, and indeed, in order to accomplish anything, agreement must be reached. Ultimately, however, consensus in universal principles is what will ensure justice.
In discussing the Libertarian philosophy, a few things have becomes clear. First, liberty is not absolute. Not only are we unable to do certain things (a natural limit to freedom), we also insist that there are things we may not do (an imposed limit on our freedom.) Second, this imposed limit on our freedom must be based on a universal code of justice. It is impossible to resolve conflicts or promote cooperation between individuals and groups without accountability to some common conception of the good. Third, the principles that determine this common good must appeal to a common authority. If there is no common authority accepted by all, there is very little chance of cooperation and conflict and partisanship is almost inevitable.
This is all very well and good, but where are we going to find this “universal code of justice,” these “principles,” this “common authority?”
In order to implement any sort of code of justice that is common to all, we must first have an understanding of human nature. We must also have an understanding of what justice means. We must then be able to articulate our understanding into principles to be implemented as a binding and universal code from which we can determine appropriate use of our will. By whose authority, then, do we understand human nature and justice?
We could appeal to democratic authority. In other words, we can determine the answers to these questions by means of a simple vote. Whatever a majority of the voters holds to be true shall be considered true. There are a couple of issues with this. Although the minority may agree to enact policy based on the principles of the majority, there is no guarantee against abuse. The majority opinion could in fact reflect the interest or good of that particular majority of people or of all the individuals in the majority, but it is impossible to say that it also reflects the interest or good of all. In order to show that it does reflect the interest and good of all and is not just an imposition of majority opinion, the majority would have to appeal to an authority beyond just the majority will. It is also clear that in no body of knowledge is democracy used to determine the truth of something. Biologists do not take a poll to determine what the makeup of our blood is. Historians do not ask at the nearest pub who won the Battle of Waterloo.
If the sciences depend on expert opinion to determine the validity of a claim, should we not look to the experts to help us understand human nature and justice? But who are these experts? The understanding of human nature and justice has traditionally been the purview of the philosophers. Even if we believe that the “hard” sciences can tell us all we can know about human nature, that in itself is an act of philosophy and thus we have become philosophers. Not good philosophers, but philosophers nonetheless.
We must then depend on philosophers to study and explain human nature and justice and what the principles on which on our communities should be built. Our Founding Fathers in America depended on philosophers. In fact, politics is always formed by philosophy of one kind or another. In every society, there are the “experts” or the “wise” which are given respect and often reverence for their obligation to provide the society with the principles by which it is governed.
Even philosophers, however, disagree on human nature. Not all philosophers are equal in either understanding or articulation. We have some philosophers believing that religious practice is essential to human nature regardless of whether the accompanying religious belief is true or not. We have others who believe that religious practice is a contingent aspect of human nature the conditions for which have long passed. Still others believe that it is necessary to understand the nature of the divine reality in order to understand human nature.
Which is true? How can we know who is the greatest of philosophers? By what standard or authority are we to judge them? Is there something beyond the philosophers to which they are held accountable? Is there an ultimate authority that is authoritative on its own merits? If not, is it possible to have a universal code of justice? Is it possible to have principles of the common good? If there is no ultimate authority, some sort of unassailable rationality on which the authority of the philosophers is based doesn’t that leave us with only our own reason and will on which to depend? Still, we have already found that the libertarian, relativist philosophy (which also depends on philosophers for its articulation) is insufficient to meet the needs demanded by justice and human nature.
Until very recently, all, or most, philosophers believed in some sort of unassailable rationality that underpins reality and most saw this rationality as a being, whether personal or impersonal. The philosophers who do not believe in a rationality which pervades reality are those who believe that nothing has meaning and everything is absurd. It is a despairing philosophy and not very helpful in the practical considerations of politics and society.
Ultimately, then, this Rationality is the authority by which we must judge the philosophers and thus judge our principles and policies. We must give assent to the philosophers who give the most compelling account of this Rationality. Where will this lead us? Who can say, but not all of us are able to study reality to the depth that the expert does. We must, ultimately, believe something someone else says. We can not work out all answers ourselves; we have neither the time nor the single-mindedness to pursue the questions. We must trust those who have dedicated their lives to understanding this Rationality. If we do not, we stand on very shaky ground.
One of the most popular criticisms of the current American political climate is that it is too partisan; no one seems to be able to agree on anything. In my post on Economic Independence, I pointed out that the two sides of the argument both held that the economic freedom of America from foreign influence was a goal worth pursuing. It was, in short, a shared value from which they could argue to a particular course of action. They were able to have a proper debate with rigourous rhetoric on both sides because there was a common understanding of economy and the common good.
Today there is none of that. Today, there is not even agreement on the value of America, let alone its economy. The Founding Fathers were adamantly against partisan politics, but in fact this is what their liberalism has wrought. There is no possibility of debate on issues of the common good and human nature as long as the libertarian philosophy is assumed.
Let me explain. The libertarian philosophy claims that the individual is free to pursue happiness unencumbered by the interference of others. Strong libertarians deny any obligation an individual has to any group of people apart from what he has agreed to in order to pursue his own good. Right away there is a tension between the idea of a common or shared good that belongs to everyone and the idea of the individual good. But of course, the libertarian might say, as long as a group is in agreement, all members should be able to be free to pursue their own good. And this is where it gets tricky. All individual goods being met is not the same as a shared good, and in order for any sort of meaningful debate to take place, there has to be a good in mind that is shared between all parties.
For example, if two men find a cow walking aimlessly down the road, they might ask “What should we do with this cow?” Right away, there is the shared assumption that they should do something with the cow. Some men who encountered the cow might think otherwise. Their shared assumption might be that they shouldn’t do anything with the cow. However, if one of the men thinks one way and one thinks the other way, it is impossible to hold the debate “What should be done with the cow” until both parties are agree that something should be done.
If a nation asks “How should we define marriage for the 21st century?” and there are some who believe that we shouldn’t define marriage for the 21st century any differently than we have before and some who believe that it is imperative that a new definition be made, there is no common goal, no common value, therefore no proper debate. The first debate, “Should we redefine marriage at all?” must be had before any sort of debate about the nature of such a redefinition.
But of course, that debate is impossible without first having shared values about what is good for the community, what is good for children, what is good for those who are married etc. Those debates, furthermore, presuppose that there is some way of definitively knowing the answer to these, which implies the need for an authority. Ultimately, then, none of these debates can occur properly if there is not agreement on the authority to which the people can appeal.
The libertarian authority, ultimately, is the self. Unless one side is willing to take the other side as an authority, while the libertarian philosophy holds sway, there can be no productive debate. This might explain why Catholics, who traditionally were against the libertarian philosophy, have come to accept its authority for the sake of avoiding constant conflict.
It seems, however, that finally libertarianism has reached its natural end: endless conflict. No longer are people willing to cede authority to anyone else, for to do so would be illiberal. Instead, we have an obsession in this country with “defining ourselves” and anything which conflicts with our self-definition is to be defeated at all costs. The new dogma is that everyone must accept everyone else as their own authority about the meaning of their life.
Here’s the catch. Not everyone believes in this dogma.
Because not everyone believes in this dogma and the authority which proclaims it, there can be no shared principles and values from which to have a debate. We are forced to either agree to work from someone else’s principles or we are doomed to perpetual stalemate.
If we look at the political climate these days, is this not what we see? It is clear that not everyone agrees on policy decisions, but this is primarily because they do not agree on what our goals should be. They can not agree on what our goals should be because they do not have a shared vision of the nature humanity, individually and communally. They do not have a shared vision of the nature of humanity because they have different authorities, ultimately themselves, on which to base this vision.
Ultimately, the libertarian philosophy can only lead to partisanship, and bitter at that. Any dissent is seen as illiberal or even more an actual attack on the rights of people to define their own meaning. Thus, we have legislation enacted because of the loudest or most popular opinion without actually thinking about said legislation. The government has become merely an arbiter of rights, deciding which person must bow to the other’s authority.This means that the authority granted to one person over the other is granted by an authority outside either of them, showing once again the self-contradiction of the libertarian philosophy.