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Political theory

Natural society

Is there such a thing as “natural society”? The difference between the traditional and modernist outlook is that the former believes in it and the latter does not, at least if “nature” is taken to refer to anything substantial and not simply to content-free abstractions like freedom and equality. The traditional standpoint is that basic institutions like family, property, religion and ethnic affiliation are natural. Secondary features and particularities of line-drawing vary here and there, but the institutions themselves are tied to basic human realities that don’t change much and require social relations—if they are to function at all well—to settle into certain forms that follow a logic and order of their own. That natural logic and order are affected by circumstances to some extent, and they can be supported or disrupted, but for the most part they go their own way and we can’t make of them what we will.


Another note on subsidiarity

A point raised in my last entry, that the realization that social engineering isn’t possible makes nonsense of a lot of current political, social and religious thought, is worth expanding. One implication is that a “top down” understanding of subsidiarity, in which government watches to see if families or whatever are doing what they should, and if they aren’t then it steps in to do the job itself, isn’t well-founded. There’s no assurance that government will be able to do the job that needs to be done, or even more good than harm.


The UN as a self-limiting problem

The feature of transnational institutions that will save us from the worst of their ambition to reconstruct us is their irredeemable inefficiency and corruption. It’s not something that will go away because of better management or appeals to abstract global ideals. Management is secondary, and generalized ideals are good fallbacks but can’t carry the weight of day-to-day life. At bottom, we act as we are.


Notes on subsidiarity

“Subsidiarity” is a basic concept of Catholic social teaching. according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” Catholic social teaching, some interpretations of social justice to the contrary notwithstanding, promotes decentralization. The idea, it seems, is that man is active, moral and social.


Leftist head-scratching continues

An example of leftish puzzlement about religion and politics that’s more intelligent and well-meant than the sort of thing one sees in the New York Times:

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior?


More on the values vote

Social conservatives complain that their issues—abortion, “gay marriage” and whatnot—aren’t taken nearly as seriously by politicians on their side as by those on the other side. For Republicans, it seems, those issues are mostly vote getters that can be compromised or negotiated away, while for Democrats they’re religious absolutes that take precedence over everything.


Blue constructions and red realities

An obvious lesson of post-election complaints by leftists is that highly-educated and well-connected Blues, including famous commentators on public affairs, simply don’t understand Reds. They haven’t a clue as to how most of their countrymen look at things or why they look at them that way. Hence the fear, loathing and fantasy.

Some explanation of the basic Red frame of mind may be in order. The most important difference relevant to American politics, I think, is that Blues assume the world is made of constructions, while Reds are more likely to think it’s made of realities. That difference means different positions on any number of issues:


MacIntyre, Catholicism and social justice

Someone sent this to me yesterday: The Only Vote Worth Casting in November, a statement by Alasdair MacIntyre on the presidential election. The statement is no longer quite topical, but it’s still worth comment because MacIntyre is a distinguished thinker and his views are in line with those of many Catholics who try to see things whole independently of current political preconceptions.

What he says is that we (meaning Catholics) shouldn’t vote in the election. Bush and Kerry are both intolerable, and we shouldn’t try to choose the less intolerable and so lend the system that offers such alternatives the legitimacy that comes from participation. He then goes on to say:


Catholicism and social justice in America

Here’s some background on how the American Catholic bishops came to sound collectively like standard-issue leftists, except on the issue of abortion: Social Teachings at Risk in the American Catholic Church.


Political modernity and Vatican policy

Here’s an interesting analysis of the outlook behind recent Vatican policies regarding Church, state, democracy, human rights and whatnot: What Kind of Caesar?. According to the author, Russell Hittinger, traditional Catholic teaching assumed that the state has a necessary sacral dimension—all authority, after all, is from God—and naturally wanted that dimension to be Catholic. The post-French Revolution state attempts on the contrary to abolish that dimension. Until Vatican II, the Church objected to the attempt on the ground that if the sacral dimension were lacking it would be impossible for state authority to remain both real and limited. In the absence of a superior principle that justifies it and puts it in a definite setting, government would end up anarchic or totalitarian.


How autonomy becomes tyranny

A first-rate summary of why making individual autonomy the ultimate political standard doesn’t work: The Tyranny of Liberalism And Its Evil Root: Individual Autonomy as the End of the State. Sample quote:


Book notes: The Long Truce

How bad will things get?

Right-wingers are alarmed by totalitarian features of advanced liberalism: its insistent universalism, its theoretical coherence and simplicity, its resolute suppression of alternative principles of social order, its principled rejection of common sense, inherited ways, and the very concept of human nature.


Problems of (civics textbook) democracy

Isn’t the claim that we have “democracy” a bit of a fossil? It may have been arguable in 1840 that the goal was popular rule, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense today:

  • Due to the development of constitutional law and conventions regarding what issues are allowed to be discussed in public fora like TV and newspapers, elites can now enforce radical changes in fundamental matters of social identity and organization, like immigration, ethnic relations, public religion, the relations between the sexes, and the definition and nature of the family. No back-talk is allowed, and if people complain or drag their feet it shows there’s something wrong with them and they have to be re-educated. But if oligarchs or guardians can redefine the demos and turn it into what they choose, how can the system be a democracy?

What type of thing is 'liberalism'?

What is “liberalism”?

Since I’ve been saying a lot about liberalism and its problems, a natural question is just what this liberalism is, where it is to be found, and why I think it’s so important. After all, the views I attribute to “liberalism” aren’t held in their totality by most people recognized as liberal, and if a particular person does hold some of them each view is likely to have limitations and a particular setting and coloration that obscure its implications for grand theory. Besides, other people have their own theories, about the Patriarchy, the Radical Religious Right, the Judaeo-Masonic Conspiracy and what not else. Why is my theory better than anyone else’s?


Technocracy and the culture war

I usually discuss the current situation by reference to fundamental liberal concepts like freedom and equality, and try to show how those concepts come out of the modern turn away from the transcendent and toward immediate experience and formal logic, and how they naturally lead, though various forms of modernity, to what we have today. Hence—among other causes—the fuss about religion. If the problem is that men have forgotten God, then God’s the answer.

Many people, of course, are inclined to say that social trends come out of something more concrete, the material conditions of production or whatever. That view emphasizes the political rather than spiritual aspects of the situation. In the end, the difference of emphasis may not matter. Material conditions, basic concepts, and concrete ways of doing things all go together, so if you start with one part of the picture you’re likely to end by discovering the others. Still, varying the analysis checks the accuracy of what’s been said already, so it’s useful to consider the practical workings of modern technocratic society and what they lead to.


Equal access to employment with Governor McGreevey

One issue raised by the current sleaze involving New Jersey Governor McGreevey is the issue of homosexuals hiring homosexuals. I have some slight personal experience of the thing, since an Episcopal diocese to which I used to be connected is run by a gay mafia that looks out for its own. Others have noticed it as well, if the Google entries for “gay mafia”, “homosexual mafia”, “velvet mafia”, “homintern” and whatnot are any indication. Many people, for example, find it very hard to understand the response of Catholic authorities to predatory clerical pederasts apart from the influence of homosexual cliques and networks.


A brief theory of religion and the current situation

The way things are today is novel enough that to get a grip on it you have to look at the grand sweep of history, and at basics like what people think about themselves and the world. Here’s an attempt:

Before the first cosmopolitan civilizations arose in antiquity, men lived in a world that seemed all of a piece, in which the traditions of their people or city defined for them the nature of things. Later on, trade and empire, written records, technological advances and so on made it easier to identify and describe the mechanical, technological and amoral aspects of the world and see that they formed a system that had to be taken very seriously. Once that had happened, to view the world as real and all of a piece was to view it as an amoral mechanical or random system. Hence the views of Democritus and the ancient Chinese legalists, as well as those of modern physicalists.


Putting the Founding in perspective

In a way, it doesn’t make much sense to ask what was wrong in the American Founding that contributed to the pickle we’re in today. We’ve got our problems but other countries mostly outdo us. We invented PC, and first made abortion a legally enforceable fundamental right, but so far at least we don’t normally put people in jail for saying un-PC things, and we haven’t (yet) ratified CEDAW or the convention on the rights of the child. Still, laws, constitutions and theories have been extremely influential in America, and they’ve shown the way to things that haven’t been all good, so it’s worth sketching issues with the particular path we’ve followed:


Zen and the art of antiliberalism

Liberalism can be understood as a view that evolved and triumphed in a contentious political environment through a sort of philosophical jiu-jitsu. It wins all arguments by not arguing but rather using its opponents’ own force against them. Liberalism claims it has no points of its own to make, it accepts all your points just as they are, and all it wants is to be able to do so, which requires you to agree to the general principle that all points everyone makes get accepted just as they are. Thereafter, of course, it turns out that for all points to be accepted equally everything has to be run by experts who claim to be neutral facilitators but nonetheless end up deciding everything important—in other words, by intrusive liberals. By then it’s too late. You’ve already in effect agreed than none of your points can have practical consequences, because that would deny equality to other inconsistent points and oppress their proponents.



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