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Of Hieroglyphs and Nihilism

It gives me no pleasure, but, convalescing at home from a bout with a flu and casting about for suitable internet reading material, I happened upon another Thomas Fleming column, this one on the California Supreme Court's pursuit of the logical puzzler of whether the California state constitution is unconstitutional. That constitution provides for a referendum process, and the outcome of one of those processes was that homosexual "marriages" were proscribed, existing ones nullified in the process. The argument, of course, is that the constitution secures "equal rights", or the "equal protection of the laws", and that it is thus a sacrilege against equality that a majority should vote to "revoke" the "rights" of a minority. The resultant egalitarian paradox - that certain persons are effectively rendered more equal than others - either escapes the intellects of the plaintiffs, or is actually embraced, cynically, as an element of the managerial reconstruction of public sentiments.

Fleming's piece, however, is vexing on numerous levels, which I will not be able to explore fully - mainly because, being ill and fatigued, the prospect of churning out 5000 words on the subject strikes me as unappealing, but also because the subject is inordinately complex, and implicates a plethora of questions best explored in multiple posts, whereas I intend to produce only one. Perhaps that is unjust, but that is blogging. Hopefully, the subject will receive further explication as the thread unfolds.

Fleming's argument is, first, that religious arguments against the deconstruction of marriage are futile and ineffectual:

I hate to pour cold water on good intentions, but religious arguments are of no great validity in a country without a national religion. Many Protestant sects–Obama’s pseudo-Christian United Church of “Christ,” for example–endorse Gay Marriage, and of the groups that oppose it, e.g. Mormons and Catholics, they agree on so little else, beginning with every item of the Nicene Creed, their united opposition amounts to nothing more significant than a single-issue tactical alliance whose members are united only in what they reject and not what they affirm.
If we are once clear that America is not a Christian nation, we can give up futile crusades based on a fantasy.

Second, while religious arguments and the strategy of co-belligerence are both fruitless and misguided, natural law is also a waste of time:

Catholics will retort that this is a natural law question, but this, again, is a futile argument in a country where 1) there is no widespread acceptance of natural law theory, and 2) even advocates of natural law disagree. Such arguments may well be binding on our conscience–though hardly as much as the universal Christian tradition against homosexuality–but they can play no effective part on the political stage. If natural law is what Robert George and George Weigel say it is, then it is as often a tool of leftist revolution against Christendom as it is a weapon of defense.

As regards Fleming's first point, all that the diversity of incommensurable normative discourses establishes is that there will be ongoing social conflict between the partisans of various doctrines, until one sect, or combination of sects, prevails. Culture is the form of fighting before the shooting begins, as Philip Rieff reminded us. So, there is no widespread acceptance of natural law doctrines, or their implications? Well, isn't that what we're fighting about? Was it imagined that, by means of an irenic exploration of the implications of some ethical doctrine, we would arrive, by some non-conflictual manner, at a consensus regarding the immorality of certain things? The repeated emphasis upon non-acceptance of natural law thinking is queer, as though, in response to the observation that we are fighting cultural wars because we do not share a common ethical discourse, Fleming is arguing that because we disagree, there is no point in fighting. It's just a non-sequitur.

As regards Fleming's second point, has this not been covered already, if by implication, in the previous thread? There is no disagreement on this subject among scholars who actually understand the natural law, so Fleming, in articulating this point, is either repeating his first point unawares, or is obfuscating what the natural law is.

Finally, as regards that dig at George and Weigel, what can one possibly say, except that Fleming here conflates natural law and modernist doctrines of natural right, whether Hobbesian/Lockean, Rousseauvian, or what-have-you, the two being distinct and irreconcilable - the former being predicated upon a teleological anthropology and all variants of the latter being predicated upon anthropologies of affects, drives, and passions - notwithstanding the fact that some natural law theorists articulate their views in terms of rights? Is Fleming actually implying that teleological doctrines of human nature are instruments of leftist revolution? Not teleological doctrines of societal development, but of human nature, that there is a gap between man-as-he-is and man-as-he-is-meant-to-be? If so, then perhaps every ethical dogma to arise since the close of the paleolithic has been an instrument of leftist revolution.

The salient question in all of this is, for Fleming, the political one, and it is on this account that there really are no differences between the warring factions - they are hypocritical Jacobin democratists, all:

The question, as both sides really know, is a political one. But what political principles are at stake? None, it would seem. Each side is willing to appeal alternately to the voters, by way of referendum, or to the Courts, in appeals to the principles of equality and human rights, or to the direct action, in stirring up the less stable elements in public demonstrations.

This time round, the issue is fairly narrowly drawn. Supporters of Proposition 8, including former special prosecutor Ken Star, who has presented a brief on their behalf, argue that the people have spoken through a referendum, and that in appealing to the Courts, Gay Marriage advocates are ignoring the will of the people.

Leading opponents, like Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who gained notoriety for “marrying” homosexual couple, argue that the principle of equality should prevent a whimsical majority from denying fundamental rights rooted in the principle of equality.

Now, I freely admit that both sides are misrepresenting themselves. If the shoe were on the other foot, Newsom would be arguing for the right of the majority to legalize Gay Marriage and Star would be appealing to the wisdom of the Court to prevent this exercise of mob law.

The essential fraudulence of the opponents of Proposition 8, and, by implication, the opponents of deconstructed marriage, is thus, on Fleming's reasoning that they believe that

... basic moral principles [should] be decided either a democratic political process, whether the decision is made by a direct referendum or by democratically elected representatives or judges or by judges appointed by democratically elected public officials.

It is far from clear that the opponents of the deconstruction of marriage law are actually arguing, as a substantive matter, that moral principles should be determined by public and democratic processes, as opposed to making the procedural point that, under the systems of law we have in this country, the judicial branches are not licitly empowered to legislate on these questions. But leave that to the side, for the more consequential point here is the sleight of hand, the equivocation about to take place - from the idea that the nature of marriage ought not be determined by political processes and authorities, to the idea that a defense of the nature of marriage is, properly speaking, beyond the legitimate mandate of the political, and beyond the competence of the state:

Marriage, until very recently, was never a mere contract between individuals or a government-created institution. Legitimate societies have always been interested in regulating inheritance laws, discouraging a decline in the reproduction of citizens, and in preventing dilution of the citizen ethos by marriage with non-citizens, but government has not, typically, defined marriage and the family, much less redefined them. The exceptions are the Jacobins of the French Revolution and the ideological states of the past 100 years, principally Marxist and democratist states.
(Snip - from the comments)
The right-to-life ideology is hopeless and is best ignored. They are well-intentioned people but entirely muddle-headed. What do they imagine the state to be? Is it a universal form of organization found everywhere and possessed of the same duties and rights? Obviously not. Since this is the subject of the book I am at work on, I will confine myself to a few brief points: 1) The state is an historically invented phenomenon, and, depending on definition it was either invented in the ancient Near EAst (a proposition I do not accept) or at the end of the Middle Ages. In either case, political organizations is a varied phenomenon. In general, the household has been a castle into which rulers do not intrude except in extreme cases–treason and great crimes like murder. 2) In the Christian world, it was the Church’s job to regulate marriage, not the state’s. 3) The transfer of authority from Church to state has been one of the great mistakes of the Renaissance/Reformation, and the consequences include state education, child protection statutes, no-fault divorce, and Gay Marriage. Enough is enough. 3) The language of the common good being invoked is Marxism with a human face. Decent societies never entrusted the rulers with some authority over private and family life as modern states possess.

Without desiring to belabour the point, this is, notwithstanding its historical truth in outline, purely hieroglyphic, in the Voegelinian sense of a form of discourse which somehow marches onward even though its historical, social, and material conditions have been espied by Minerva's owl in the shades of night: Where once this discourse evoked concrete social circumstances, it now evokes nothing at all, save the desire of some to both acknowledge reality and pretend that it is something other than it is. For while Fleming acknowledges the reality of the modern managerial state and its deformations of the moral life, it is fantastical to imagine that, if only we were to expose the nakedness of this idol, returning to our non-existent communities to undertake the impossibility of enforcing moral norms upon people who, in liberal society, will always have the option of checking out, like good voluntarists, whenever their whims are thwarted, the reality of the managerial state would somehow be altered. No, it wouldn't. The de facto moral orthodoxy would be that marriage is a purely private, voluntaristic contract, which the state either recognizes as such or takes no notice of, and those who dissent from this vision of (dis)order would be but one more voluntaristic faction among others, paradoxically creating themselves socially as people who do not believe that social formations are artifacts of will. The liberal/leftist doctrine that moral order and social order are artifacts of will would remain pristine in its operations, functionally the de facto orthodoxy of the society. However, the elect would at least remain untainted by the ontological evil of The State - if, that is, The State deigned to leave them to their conventicles, which it wouldn't. There is, in the end, an atmosphere of despair here, a sense, not that a mere political campaign is fruitless, but that an entire life-world must be hastened to its ultimate desolation, regardless of the consequences in the interim - which will be, beyond all caviling, the indefinite enthronement of a voluntaristic ethic and a state predicated upon that ethic, as upon an orthodoxy.

That's the thing about such hieroglyphic discourses - they are also anachronistic. The Church will not in my lifetime or the lifetimes of my great-great-great grandchildren reclaim her historical powers to regulate marriage, and to enforce its canons, not by the slender, frail reeds of consent and persuasion, but by means of the real historical sanctions she once imposed upon violators. It is not now a viable option to restore such powers to the ecclesiastical domain, and in the necessary absence of such a restoration, it is political authority, and political authority only, in the West, that will have the power to regulate such human affairs; but by pretending that the hieroglyph is real, we will only ensure that this authority is exercised against any tradition we would care to uphold.


1) Yes, I am cognizant of the facts that the modern state, in its origins, legitimating myths, and operations, is inextricable from the dubious modernist anthropologies I decry, and that, to that extent, asking the modern state to contravene its own inner essence by upholding a teleological conception of marriage is profoundly paradoxical, if not incoherent. What must be acknowledged, however, is that renunciation and abstention are still choices, and that the option of withdrawal does nothing, theoretically or functionally, but ratify the voluntarism of modernity and the modern state. Does the presence of the Amish in our society, as a subculture, alter in any meaningful way voluntarism of our religious, economic, and moral lives? No? Neither will the quasi-libertarian idea that marriage shouldn't be a state prerogative.

2) When Fleming writes that "If the state is simply an organic expression of the way people live together and work out their problems, it should not really be called a state but something else, like commonwealth, republic, politeia, or civitas. In either case, it does not exist to create or enforce virtue, as Thomas says, but to maintain conditions favorable to a virtuous life.", I think that he both misconceives what it is for a state to arise organically from the life of a people (for a political system to be organic is for it to be rooted in the traditions of the people, yes, but a people's way of working out problems always involves the enforcement of moral norms: organicity and morals legislation are not inconsistent) and places too much polemical weight on the notion of conditions favourable to a virtuous life, as though the enforcement of moral norms and the creation of conditions were radically distinct conceptions. Modern conservative fusionists prated about the conditions of a virtuous life, and all that entailed was an abstract liberty, the social vacuum within which people, if they willed, could practice virtue. However, does it conduce to the practice of virtue to permit people to pretend that not-marriage is marriage, and vice versa? That is, does the widespread acceptance of a defective moral ontology, a moral nihilism, conduce to the practice of virtue merely because everyone is nominally free to accept or reject, as a private matter, this moral anti-ontology? The habituation of men in virtue or vice, and the sociality of human nature, notwithstanding the appeal to St. Thomas, have vanished from this discourse, much to its impoverishment. It would seem that the modernist dialectic of state and individual has not been transcended, after all.

Comments (29)

I can't even bring myself to go and read Fleming's piece. Maybe I'll feel stronger another day. But what is the cash value, as it were, of his position? Is it that conservatives should cooperate with gay "marriage"? That they should at least try no political means whatsoever to oppose it? Were conservatives in Michigan positively _wrong_ to vote for a marriage protection amendment to the Michigan constitution? How about people who voted for Prop. 8 in California? Was it wrong for them to vote for it? What, exactly, does he want conservatives to do and not to do in this bit of the culture war?

Don't worry, you don't have to answer that, because I'll bet he just doesn't say.

Presumably he knows that in the end we will all be asked to _celebrate_ it. One can't help wondering what he would do if he were a newspaper editor asked to start including pictures of male couples under his "marriage" listings. Is that, too, something that one just has to go ahead and give in on to prove that one hates George Weigel? (Sorry, I couldn't resist the sarcasm.)

The cash-value of his position is that the modern state, grounded as it is in the same doctrines which give rise to the modernist anthropology of the self-creating superman, exists in a mutually-contextualizing relationship with all of the social effects of that anthropology, that this dialectic of individual and managerial state acts as a pincer against traditional forms of community, and that, therefore, there is no rationale for traditionalists of any stripe to rely upon that state, to ask that state to do, or not do, anything. Concentrate upon the reconstruction of communities, the little platoons of society.

I concur in the diagnosis up until the prescription of action/inaction (since these terms are relative to others, and to given ends and contexts). My objection is that withdrawal, say, acknowledging the campaign for the preservation of marriage to be pointless, accomplishes absolutely nothing, probably even less than nothing, for the cause of traditionalism. Does voluntarily checking out of a societal debate or transformation alter in any way the fundamental voluntarism of that society, especially when our society is incapable any longer of comprehending that, paradoxical though it may be, the decision to embrace a comprehensive doctrine (ie. one in which the individual is subordinated to a tradition) is not identical to a decision to keep one's options perpetually open? Will not the abandonment of any public campaign for marriage simply mean that, by default, marriage is a purely nominalistic concept in terms of our society's ongoing operations?

Moreover, what is the evil with which we are concerned here? Is it the voluntaristic/nominalistic idea that marriage is what we will it to be, and the attendant social disorder? If so, in what way is this evil redressed by withdrawing and permitting this notion to conclude its conquest of our marriage law in practice, while we pretend otherwise in our catacombs? Functionally, it is difficult to perceive a difference between this and the libertarian demand that the state take on interest in marriage, that marriage be accorded no official recognition by political authority. Beyond that, the implicit moral heroism - though the world become a cesspool of vice and depravity, let us endeavour to exercise and cultivate virtue in our besieged catacombs, without ever attempting to restrain the vice - is also reminiscent of libertarianism: Don't like gay "marriage", don't have one, and never mind the intersection of sociology and moral formation. It's you against the world, baby!

In this respect, the debate is analogous to much conservative railing against the welfare state or social democracy. Assume for a moment that a counterrevolution of sorts occurs, and the welfare state is abolished in a stroke. Does anyone seriously believe that, in the absence of the mediating institutions that once provided for social needs, and the proliferating barriers against a universal, homogeneous, (mythically) self-regulating market - this being the thing that dissolved most of the mediating institutions, the welfare state both finishing them off and compensating for the loss - and the absence of political authoritarianism, the people would not vote themselves some form of social provision the very moment the opportunity presented itself - as a protection against the desolating instabilities of destructive creation? Of course they would, because they would refuse to be subjected to a world determined by the price mechanism alone. We'd be right back where we started, after a period of political instability. Similarly, if the state involvement in marriage were ended, we'd be right back where we are, albeit without the slightest prospect of rectifying the mounting social disorder: withdraw the state from marriage, and, far from restoring the institution, people will go on conducting themselves as they have, with just a few remaining exceptions in law, as though marriage were void of ontological significance, as though it were absolutely nothing more than an infinitely variable contract for the sharing of money and bodily fluids. All of the cavalier talk about the abolition of the state, pushing back the frontiers of the state, withdrawing the state from sphere of endeavour x, in which its influence is supposed to be especially pernicious, would, if acted upon, accomplish nothing - this, because some of our problems lie in the corruptions of our souls, while others still are instantiated in customs, institutions, and practices thought to exist apart from the state, though they actually exist in relationships of symbiosis and dialectic with the state, such as globalization.

Even setting all of that aside, the question remains: what is the nature of law - a mirror of society, or a tutor?

There's also just the fact that there _are_ no catacombs, that it's impossible to avoid the reach of the liberal hegemony, so one ought to be active to preserve what freedom one has if one wants any hope of constructing "little platoons." Where homosexual rights ordinances and gay "marriage" are put into place, the activists conduct what amount to "sting" operations against precisely those people who are trying to live their lives in peace, construct their little platoons, and be left alone. They will come to the business run by such a person, demand that he endorse their agenda, that he let his business be used as a platform for it, that he employ them and give their partners the status and name of spouses, and so on and so forth. They will try to force the parents to send the children to the public schools where they will be taught that men can be married to other men. I mean, it's a rear-guard action we're fighting, but if we don't fight it, there is going to be no alternative society, no little platoon, left in the whole world.

The cash value is a right-wing variant of "turn on, tune in, drop out": grab a Scotch, plop down with the latest Chronicles, and feel warm and smug while the world goes to hell all around you, mocking those whose love for their faith, children, and country leads them to try to do whatever little bit they can to maintain those pockets of decency that still exist.

BTW, by using the expression "cash value" we've all revealed our implicit allegience to the neo-con Wilsonian democratic liberal capitalist world revolution. Also to Jamesian pragmatism. Also to whatever other bee Fleming has in his bonnet this week.

I confess to introducing the phrase "cash value." I won't let Maximos take a rap for using it. He was just answering me. But I tell you, it makes me wish somebody would give Mr. Fleming a very hard-ball interview: "So, Mr. Fleming, what _exactly_ are you suggesting? Are you saying, Mr. Fleming, that it was _morally wrong_ for people to vote for Prop. 8? Was it morally wrong for them to have Prop. 8 signs in their yards? Is it morally wrong for a lawyer to defend Prop 8 now in the court? What about local ordinances? If my city is going to pass a local ordinance encouraging lawsuits against businessmen who refuse to hire open and active homosexuals, indeed, making their failure to do so prima facie a crime, should I go to meetings and argue against it? Or is doing so bad, somehow? If my state is going to pass homosexual "marriage," _exactly what sort_ of civic involvement is legitimate, on your view, to oppose such a move?"

And so forth.

If I may pay devil's advocate for a moment, what if, by partaking in this political debate over gay marriage, we have already implicitly agreed with the liberal premise that the government has the ability and moral authority to both define and regulate marriage?

As regards the first half of the premise, no we've not agreed that the government has the authority to define marriage; in fact, it is precisely this upon which the entire controversy centers: government does not have the authority to define marriage as being anything other than what it is, ontologically, the union of a man and a woman. Government has a solemn, irrefragable obligation to acknowledge this truth of man's being, and never do anything to gainsay, subvert, contravene, or treat indifferently this truth.

As regards the second half of the liberal premise, I'd suggest that a state enforcing non-liberal moral norms is, by virtue of that fact, or to that extent, non-liberal. Liberals themselves comprehend as much when they denounce non-liberal policies as illiberal and oppressive. The government has the authority to enforce the norms of marriage because, in the absence of this enforcement, under conditions foreseeable centuries into the future, no other entity will possess the power to exert such authority, and in the absence of such authority, people will go on pretending that anti-marriages are marriages, causing confusion and dissolution to reign. Someone must do it. Let us be perfectly honest: the enforcement of norms of marriage by authority is integral with civilization itself, and telling people that they cannot pretend not-A is A doesn't become liberal or leftist merely because the best options for this authority are unavailable, leaving us with a rather imperfect instrument. This is merely a prudential adaptation to unfavourable circumstances. Pining for a social ideal - which I share - will not alter the fact that removing the state from the enforcement of marriage law amounts to functional libertarianism, no matter how arrayed in the robes of tradition. One's intentions are not identical with one's thoughts or desires, but with what one does or effectuates.

I would also point out that the pseudo-libertarian fantasy (or liberal bait-n-switch) according to which homosexual "marriage" represents _less_ government involvement is pernicious nonsense. The government will sure as shootin' be enforcing marriage law under a homosexual "marriage" regime, and "enforcing" is the word: Enforcing the pretense that these people are "married" against anybody who tries to refuse to acknowledge it and tries to stick to real marriage in his own dealings with the world.

Another of TJF's comments might help:

"A friend living in Europe just called, seeking clarification. Am I arguing, he wanted to know, against every using the law to enforce or reinforce morality? And, he added, is it really wrong for decent Californians to try to protect themselves by way of referenda? The answer to both is no. My broad point has to do with the proper relationship between government and other more basic institutions–family, church, community. Laws may and should buttress the common sense of morality inherited from our ancestors. When foolish or tyrannical rulers try to destroy our moral institutions, we should use the legal remedies available to us, including referenda. What I am objecting to is the blanket assumption that moral questions can be settled by an appeal to the principle of majority rule. Our goal should be to protect what we have left of our moral traditions from the intrusion of government, and therefore we should be very chary about appealing to the state and federal courts, if only because they gain power from every appeal–like the SciFi monsters that gain strength from attacks on them."

I think that the libertarians* imagine an "In the days of Noah" sort of fantasy, according to which the government will neither enforce a conception of marriage nor interfere in the acknowledgment/non-acknowledgment by private citizens of the "marriages" of others. Every man shall do as he thinks best, whether that entails taking a wife and honouring her to the end of their days, or gathering with three women and another man, along with a dog, and calling that a marriage.

I ask, given what is known about human nature, in the absence of authority, in which direction will such a society develop?

*Libertarians, as in, no one associated with the mainstream of the libertarian party or movement, which is, in actuality, liberaltarian.

I hate to break the news to Mr. Fleming, but it is the homosexual activists who are going to the state courts in California, not the conservatives. And so it was in Massachusetts, too. The supporters of traditional marriage are only there because the activists wouldn't give up and dragged the issue to the courts. Oh, and it was the activists who went to the courts the first time, too, to get a right to homosexual marriage declared. One wonders if he just pretends he doesn't know these things while writing his original posts and then later "clarifies his position" after having heaped scorn upon conservatives in the main post. I do not find this charming or enlightening.

What I am objecting to is the blanket assumption that moral questions can be settled by an appeal to the principle of majority rule.

A perfectly valid argument, one I've already stated in my own terms above, and yet one that can be delivered without recourse to confused and confusing discourses about The State. To wit:
This -

When foolish or tyrannical rulers try to destroy our moral institutions, we should use the legal remedies available to us, including referenda.

Is not entirely consistent with this -

Our goal should be to protect what we have left of our moral traditions from the intrusion of government, and therefore we should be very chary about appealing to the state and federal courts, if only because they gain power from every appeal–like the SciFi monsters that gain strength from attacks on them."

If we employ the legal remedies to which our customs entitle us, we just are appealing to the state and the federal courts. So, should we readily utilize our available remedies and expedients, or should we be chary of utilizing them, for fear that the state will aggrandize itself by arrogating to itself the right to define marriage - a power which will ultimately be used against us - as opposed to acknowledging the nature of marriage, to which we bear witness? This is a profound prudential question, and I won't minimize it, but the cash value of our deliberations is that we either accept the risk that we lose tomorrow, or concede defeat today. There are no other options, no third ways.

Why concede defeat today? Don't we already know that the night will be long and cold? Why not enjoy the flickering faint rays of the sun while we still may?

Fleming, with all the time he has spent in Italy, seems to have learned the Italian Salute. (For those not in the know, it's throwing up both hands in surrender.)

Fleming writes: "Many Protestant sects–Obama’s pseudo-Christian United Church of “Christ,” for example–endorse Gay Marriage..."

And they only do so now because those adherents to Christian morality inside and outside the denominations indifferently presumed their radicals were a fringe matter meriting no concern and no refutation.

The religious arguments are needed now to keep this incomprehensible error about sexual morality from spreading. Too many people are repeating the talking points of Episcopalian revisionists without being challenged.

The unwillingness to correct religious arguments may also hamper pro-lifers. I'd guess at least 5-10 percent of pro-abortion rights Christians justify their stand by a simplistic appeal to Biblical interpretations about "quickening" or "life being in the blood," while another 20 percent at least are inspired by a false view of conscience and private judgment.

Pro-lifers who emphasize natural law won't reach these people, nor will natural law anti-pseudogamists reach liberal Christians.

Lydia writes:

"I would also point out that the pseudo-libertarian fantasy (or liberal bait-n-switch) according to which homosexual "marriage" represents _less_ government involvement is pernicious nonsense."

This cannot be repeated often enough. One might well characterize the same-sex "marriage" certificate as a license to sue those who disapprove.

These pseudo-libertarians are often the same ones who think it is an advance for freedom if the federal government has the power to strike down all state laws they dislike.


You write:

As regards Fleming's second point, has this not been covered already, if by implication, in the previous thread? There is no disagreement on this subject among scholars who actually understand the natural law, so Fleming, in articulating this point, is either repeating his first point unawares, or is obfuscating what the natural law is.

In response to:

Catholics will retort that this is a natural law question, but this, again, is a futile argument in a country where 1) there is no widespread acceptance of natural law theory, and 2) even advocates of natural law disagree.

I do not know if Dr. Fleming has this in mind, but there is at least substantial disagreement between advocates of the New Natural Law Theory and [neo-Thomists] about the Natural Law and how some of its precepts are derived.

oops, the bracket should have been placed thusly: [neo-]Thomists

Certainly, but there is no disagreement among or between partisans of the various theories as to the nature of marriage. A natural law theory that disregards the biological, material nature of man in the course of deriving ethical precepts is a contradiction in terms. And that was my meaning, as in the case of abortion: derivations and terminologies may differ, but not conclusions. A natural law theory that allows for nominalistic marriage ceases to be a natural law theory in any substantive sense we are obliged to recognize, hence, as I wrote, there is no disagreement on this subject among scholars who actually understand the natural law.

I'll grant for the moment that the conclusions are the same--but if it is a natural law argument meant to convince those who do not believe in Christian revelation, is it not the case that it is not the conclusion that matters, but the argumentation/derivation?

I'm probably not the first person ever to say this, but I am very much struck by the contrast between Fleming and Lawrence Auster. I suppose this comparison comes to mind because they share a contrarian spirit and certain paleo concerns. But Auster is no nihilist, and Fleming is just so _shallow_. From what I've seen from these articles, sometimes it isn't even clear exactly what Fleming is getting at. Just spleen. Then he "clarifies" himself later, but his "clarification" then means that his original article had no point. Auster is _never_ shallow and pointless like that.

Leading opponents, like Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who gained notoriety for “marrying” homosexual couple, argue that the principle of equality should prevent a whimsical majority from denying fundamental rights rooted in the principle of equality.

I find it difficult to believe that those defending well established traditions are doing so on a "whim", but those advocating for new rights based on emotions and slogans are not. Conservatism and whim are like oil and water.

Lydia's favorable comparison of me to Thomas Fleming reminds me of my distinction between moral and immoral racialism. Apparently there is also a distinction between moral and immoral contrarianism. Or perhaps we should call the latter nihilist contrarianism.

On the substantce of the homosexual marriage issue, for years I have been horrified by and have strongly condemned those paleocons, including Fleming, who oppose the federal marriage amendment. They oppose it on the basis that the issue should be left to the states. What an absurd and perverse argument. There are already many powers that have been federalized on an illegitimate basis, and here, on an issue that is pre-eminently a national issue, an issue where something totally unacceptable can be stopped ONLY: on the national, constitutional level, and where it's a matter of a proper constitutional amendment, not of an improper judicial re-writing of the Constitution, these paleocons oppose it. Talk about nihilistic contrarianism!

I wrote about Fleming's opposition to the fedearl marriage amendment back in 2003. Here'a the main part of the entry:

Yet another conservative opposes the federal marriage amendment--and this one's not a neoconservative but a paleoconservative, indeed a principal founder of modern paleoconservatism, Thomas Fleming of Chronicles magazine. America, Fleming argues, is already so anti-Christian that the amendment could not be passed. Instead of an amendment, he says, what we need is a re-Christianization of America from the grassroots up. Great idea--but in the meantime homosexual marriage will have been instituted in all fifty states, a prospect Fleming seems either to have accepted or not to have considered. Moreover, he says outright that even if there were enough popular support to pass such an amendment, he would still oppose it, because it would nationalize marriage laws. This is obviously incorrect. The amendment would not interfere in the states' respective rules and regulations concerning marriage; it would simply define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as has been the case since the beginning of human history. The more important point, which Fleming entirely misses, is that in the absence a duly ratified constitutional amendment nationalizing heterosexual marriage, we will inevitably see the court-imposed nationalization of homosexual marriage....

Thus, while neoconservatives like David Horowitz and George Will oppose the vitally necessary federal marriage amendment out of an apparent desire to go along with the ever-advancing liberal Zeitgeist of tolerance and inclusion, the paleoconservative Fleming seems to oppose it out of sheer contrariness. He'd rather let the horror of nationalized homosexual marriage come upon this country than do anything to stop it. "Things will get worse before they can get better," he writes. The possibility doesn't seem to occur to him that things will just get worse. He dislikes America so much as it is now that he doesn't care what happens to it, a feeling he also conveyed in his rancorous meditation (rancorous against America, that is) on the September 11th attack. He has passed beyond paleoconservatism, to nihilo-conservatism.

Lydia writes:

"Fleming is just so _shallow_. From what I've seen from these articles, sometimes it isn't even clear exactly what Fleming is getting at. Just spleen."

This reminds me of a letter I wrote to Fleming in 1990 (yes, a letter, not an e-mail, hard to believe). While the main thrust of the letter was to defend him from the neoconservatives' charge that he was anti-Semitic, I also criticized an article he had written in National Review in December 1989 about Lincoln. I said to him that I found in his article no argument intended to inform or persuade the reader, but only "a spilling of bile." From that moment forward he hated me, in the same manner in which he hates so many.

Maximos's comment of 6:27 last night is uncommonly brilliant. And I hope he feels better.

Connecting two threads, let us ask ourselves what implication Fleming's arguments would have for the brave men and women circulating the counter-petition at the APA. Would his scorn stir them to steadfastness? To good cheer even in trying times? Would it impart hope or encouragement?

Surely it would imply a course of action amounting to retreat and abandonment of the cause of maintaining liberty in this organization. (Note well: not even the government; a private institution.) Surely it would incline them toward a quietism in the face of desired proscription of orthodox Christians from this philosopher's guild. Wouldn't want to sully themselves by entering into debate with Liberals, oh no.

And what about when the Star Chamber calls your pastor or priest before the bar of examination? What has the despair faction to say to you then? We has seen all over the country that Tolerance is a tyrant, and will not hesitate to crush individuals, families, small communities.

Few things, it seems to me, are so recklessly debilitating as encouraging even conservatives to renounce their country in despair of ever reforming any part of her.

"So, should we readily utilize our available remedies and expedients, or should we be chary of utilizing them, for fear that the state will aggrandize itself..."

The objectionable word here, I think, is "readily." What Fleming and other paleos and tradcons would argue is that if/when we do attempt to "use the legal remedies available to us" we need to be damn careful, as the nature of the contemporary omnicompetent managerial state is to give something with one hand while taking something else back with the other. If we do appeal to the state, we need to do so with the awareness that we may not only be inadvertently contributing to our own corrosion ("crapping where we eat"), but even ignorantly offering a pinch of incense to the emperor.

I wouldn't mind nearly so much if Fleming had some one specific case in which conservatives did some one specific thing that he thought misguided. For example, some conservatives have argued that the right of parents to direct their children's upbringing is an un-enumerated basic right that should be enforced by the courts. Now, I can see a principled conservative argument that this is asking the courts to engage in reading rights into the state or federal constitution in the type of move conservatives deplore when liberals do it. But that is a specific and principled objection, and moreover one who makes it can say clearly what he thinks people should do instead--specific changes in education laws and so forth enacted by the legislatures.

But instead Fleming just spreads scorn broadcast on ordinary conservative people who engage in civic action to protect conservative values, vaguely lumping all such action into a category of playing with governmental fire or offering incense to the liberal state without making any distinctions or specific points whatsoever. And his prescription of retiring from the world and building up alternatives is naive if he thinks the world is going to let us do so without a fight.

"Nihilist contrarianism" is a wonderful, and wonderfully accurate, addition to the lexicon.

"Auster is _never_ shallow and pointless like that."

George Will is a neo-con?!? Auster's attacks on those he doesn't like (see e.g. his invective against John Podhoretz) reminds me a lot of Fleming.

"Never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit."

- Henry IV

I can speak only to what I have seen, and based on that, I do stand by the comparison I made above.

By the way, I would call Fleming a draft dodger in the culture wars. And worse, the kind of draft dodger who sits around sneering at the men who are fighting and taking hits for the freedoms he takes for granted.

George Will a true conservative? Please, I just ate.

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