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Breaking from the PC prison

I’ve been reading the manuscript of Bruce Charlton’s forthcoming book on PC, Thought Prison, which grew out of posts and discussions at his weblog.

It’s a good book, I’m writing a blurb for it, and I hope it catches on.

As he notes on his website, his views are mostly consistent with mine. They’re different though in manner of thought and expression. His writing has more zip. He’s briefer and more aphoristic and emphasizes paradox more. Also, he describes the present situation and alternatives more starkly.

Maybe that’s a more useful way to present the issues? A lot of this stuff you see right away if you’re willing and you won’t see it ever if you’re not willing. If that’s so then anything lengthier than an aphorism may be a waste of time.

We differ on some particular points. His background and history are quite different from mine—he’s a scientist, I’m a lawyer—and that colors his views and how he presents them. I may be more impressed by the unwieldiness of the human world as something that wants to go its own way on somewhat its own principles. And he’s intellectually more mercurial. He’s had more phases, for example—a PC phase, an Emersonian phase, an atheist/evolutionist phase—you name it. I’m much more the plodder.

Anyway, one result of my “unwieldy world” outlook is that I’m more sympathetic than he is to the Western Church/State distinction. Another is that I view the present situation in somewhat less apocalyptic terms. I’m hopeful for example that corruption and stupidity—the inability of theory, especially bad theory, to transform reality—will come through for us.

I’m also more sympathetic to the notion that every form of government has good and bad features and may be more or less the thing in particular circumstances. Take democracy for example—it doesn’t exist as advertised, certainly not in any large complex society, but there are a variety of mechanisms by which people consent to government, and those are often good and useful.

Democracy is also of course a theory that government is essentially an expression of the will of the people. I agree that’s a bad thing. It doesn’t have much do with reality and it tells our rulers they can do whatever they feel like doing. (Think of the history of Peoples’ Courts in various countries.)

So my ideal—unlike his Byzantine Empire ideal—isn’t specifically monarchical. Princes, kings, and emperors have problems too, and royal absolutism isn’t specially better than democratic. The important thing is the ultimate understanding of the world within which government operates. Is it the Catholic Christian world, or some other world—the scientific materialist one for example? The implementation is always going to be somewhat a mess, and how to go about it has a lot to do with circumstances, but the final standard is what counts most.

He’s also more inclined to press the analysis to ultimate origins (in his case, the Great Schism, which started the West on the road to modernity). I usually start my analysis in the 17th c. because when I read people like Bacon or Descartes I believe I understand what they’re saying, and that’s not true of e.g. Occam. (I don’t doubt that the origins of current problems lie in the medieval period, I just don’t know enough to discuss the point.)

Anyway, do buy his book when it comes out! Or at least insist that your library get it. Carthago delenda est, and this book helps undermine the city walls.



For what it’s worth, I agree with the above analysis.

I believe that insofaras humans can achieve abstract understanding of something like society, or the natural world, this is necessarily very simple - indeed simplistic.

Politics, in particular, is a very crude business. What appears to be understandable complexity, or is claimed to be such, is actually uncomprehended chaos - sometimes a messy and humanly incomprehensible transitional phase between stable and potentially-understandable situations.

So a clear dichotomy of simple types is, for me, just about the highest level of genuine understanding!

I liked BGC’s manuscript a lot, and I hope it catches on. I’ll do my best to promote it among my like-minded friends.

Regarding the roots of modernity, I recommend this book:…