October 2009 Archives
October 1, 2009
Four approaches to teleology
The debate over telos never ends. Yet more on the subject over at my personal blog.
US regulators released some signal financial numbers last week. As the Financial Times reported, “The US financial sector's losses on large loans exploded in 2009, exceeding the combined losses since 2001, with hedge funds and other members of the ‘shadow banking system’ hit the hardest.” These non-bank institutions “held 47 per cent of problem loans in spite of accounting for only 21.2 per cent of the total loan pool.” Shadow banks, which generated such handsome returns in good times, today, in bad times, are on the floor.
Shadow banking. The invidious edge in the term is not, in my mind, unjust. There is definitely a shadowy aspect to this; but it is not so much, as liberals would have it, in the fact that the shadow banks were nefariously unregulated, real free radicals of capitalism betting like gamblers; it is in the fact that, off at the end, public capital would have to be substituted for the private capital that once drove their business.
To those who would answer that public capital should never have been committed, I must say there are certain considerable difficulties that confront you. (a) Virtually all the participants, from both government and industry, did truly believe that, whether we knew it or not, we all faced in that moment the possibility of irremediable calamity; the very crack of doom yawned before us. (b) Even if that judgment is wrong, there is still the fact of the actual statutory obligations of, say, a Fed Chairman. Does Bernanke even have the authority to adopt a policy of studious neglect of the unraveling of the financial system? It seems to me that his office entails an allegiance to stability which precludes running the experiment of an advanced capitalist economy operating with no banking system.
October 2, 2009
Postmodern Death--Updated below the fold
Via Wesley J. Smith comes the news that Nature journal is peddling the snake-oil of "honesty" in redefining death. Whenever a liberal medical ethicist says, "Let's just be honest about what we're doing," run for the hills.
In this case, being "honest" about defining death--for purposes of organ transplant, of course, what else?--means, "Let's admit that we don't have very good criteria of whole-brain death, that we sometimes make mistakes, that we can't really be sure that people diagnosed as having suffered whole-brain death really have suffered permanent whole-brain death, including the brain stem. Let's shift to talking instead about what makes someone the person he was, what makes one alive in a meaningful sense. Okay?"
October 3, 2009
Ireland approves Lisbon Treaty
It appears Ireland has sold her sovereignty to the EU. The arrangement known as the Lisbon Treaty, despite its predecessor treaty having been rejected in 2007, met with the approval of Irish voters in a referendum today.
Why has Ireland done this? Why has she changed her mind so dramatically? The answer to that, according to most reports, is not much in doubt: The Eurozone is a refuge from the tumult of world finance. In other words, the driver for this shift in opinion is the usury crisis, which I gather Irish banks were up to their ears in; so much so that, as an FT columnist put it, the place had started to resemble Reykjavik-on-the-Liffey (Lex column, Oct. 2). As in the Dylan song, the EU stands there beckoning to the Irish:
Come in, she said, I'll give ya
Shelter from the storm
There is an almost insulting presumption in much of the promotion of EU consolidation. Fears from local patriots and conservatives about the loss of sovereignty are sort of sneered at and not much addressed.
And then, of course, there is this ingenious device, as seen today. The European plutocracy, if it cannot win a first referendum granting it new elements of sovereignty, need not fear; another will be held some years down the road. Lisbon is said to include important concessions to Irish sovereignty on abortion and taxation. Fair enough. But if the EU, some time from now, fails to honor its commitments on those points, will Ireland have recourse to her own new referendum? Risible. Why American policy vis-a-vis the EU has been so muted about these difficulties is a puzzle for diplomatic historians to sort out.
But Americans of all peoples on earth ought to be keen on this intense conundrum of confederated government. Any American can see the pretense in the notion that Ireland can be sovereign, and yet the EU, too, can be sovereign. The Irish shall give away their sovereignty and keep it? Nonsense on stilts.
All that said, it does seem to me, intuitively, that there is more sense in Irish alliance and combination with France and other Continental powers, than with many of the other EU combinations being attempted. That is to say, fusing the sovereignty and culture of Ireland with France is a daunting notion indeed; but not nearly so daunting as fusing France and Germany, much less Spain and Poland or England and Italy.
October 4, 2009
Fossils and Frankenstein monsters
One sometimes hears it said that studying the works of Thomists only distorts one’s understanding of Aquinas. “Read St. Thomas himself, and forget the commentators!” This sounds sophisticated, or is supposed to. In fact it is superficial. No great philosopher, no matter how brilliant and systematic, ever uncovers all the implications of his position, foresees every possible objection, or imagines what rival systems might come into being centuries in the future. His work is never finished, and if it is worth finishing, others will come along to do the job. Since their work is, naturally enough, never finished either, a tradition of thought develops, committed to working out the implications of the founder’s system, applying it to new circumstances and challenges, and so forth.
Thus Thomas had Cajetan, Plato had Plotinus, and Aristotle had Aquinas himself – to name just three famous representatives of Thomism, Platonism, and Aristotelianism, respectively. And thus you cannot fully understand Thomas unless you understand Thomism, you cannot fully understand Plato unless you understand Platonism, you cannot fully understand Aristotle unless you understand Aristotelianism, and so on. “But writers in the traditions in question often disagree with one another!” Yes, and that is all the more reason to study them if one wants to understand the founders of these traditions; for the tensions and unanswered questions in a tradition reflect the richness of the system of thought originated by its founder.
October 5, 2009
Hunter Baker of Houston Baptist University has produced a rare book. It is a book of serious explication both accessible to layman or beginner at the subject, and illuminating to those long immersed in its twisted passageways and forbidding streets. That subject is secularism, a tormented subject indeed in American history. For definition, my friend admirably gives, early in his book, several useful definitional statements: “private religion is at the heart of secularism.” “Secularism means that religious considerations are excluded from civil affairs.”
But the essence of secularism, according to him, is a cheap rhetorical trick. It is the pretense that you can kick out the supports for the edifice of traditional morality, stand in some bewilderment as it falls in a cloud of dust, and then proceed about in the ruins, appealing like some madman to a vague consensus in order to convince everyone a new structure has already been built. How the secularist has convinced so many with this particular chicanery is a story, perhaps, for our psychologists or novelists.
For our philosophers and historians and simple readers like me, Hunter gives us a serviceable narrative, succinctly composed and carefully worded, which not only summarizes the state of things now, but also incorporates some unappreciated scholars and thinkers into the conversation.
There is no sense in hiding my view that it will be a blow not merely for clarity, but for justice and truth as well, when the end of secularism has come. It is little to be doubted that when that day dawns, Hunter will have had his part in the victory.
In due time we will have occasion to excerpt Hunter’s new book The End of Secularism. For now I’ll leave readers with what may be my favorite part. To some bewildered secularist who, faced with a strongly argued religious position, throws up his hands in frustration and shouts, “why do religious people always have to make things so difficult!” — we can answer, with Hunter, that the reason people “bring their comprehensive views to bear” on political reality, “is that they have integrity.”
October 7, 2009
Just don't resist, and maybe they'll be merciful
The all-new, official British position on domestic jihad: Don't fight back to avoid "inflaming" terrorists.
I find this one really hard to wrap my brain around, but...
Britain's high court last year ruled that "long sentences for terrorist crimes could "inflame" rather than deter extremism." And so, accordingly, terrorists are having their sentences reduced. That's jolly. We'll have to check back with them in a few years and see how that's working out.
By the way, and tangentially related: I have a grade school age home schooled student who has a research paper to write and has decided to do it on the lifting of the seige of Vienna in 1683. Lots of web sites out there. The Wiki article almost looks too scholarly for the age category. Any suggestions from readers of sites giving a good overview of the lead-up, the siege, and the battle lifting the siege? A book suggestion or two wouldn't come amiss either. Nothing too heavy. The Internet yields an embarrassment of riches, but I imagine my learned readers will have their faves.
Thank goodness Jan Sobieski III, not to mention the defenders of the city itself, did not have the philosophy of their Lordships of the British high court.
October 8, 2009
Two little-known facts about organ transplant
This post will be fairly brief. I hope to write more another time about last year's report by the President's Council on Bioethics (that would be the previous President's council) concerning the determination of death.
Here I just want to highlight two little-known facts that I've become aware of that are very troubling concerning organ procurement practices.
The first fact concerns procurement from patients declared brain dead. Brain death is ostensibly the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem. That is its legal purport. It must not be confused with being in a so-called "persistent vegetative state." All patients legally declared brain-dead are unable to breathe on their own, whereas patients diagnosed as PVS are usually able to breathe on their own and have at least, as far as anyone knows, brain-stem function.
However, it apparently has been known for quite some time that (some? most? all?) patients declared brain-dead maintain body temperature, though at a somewhat lower-than-normal level and with help from blankets. (See PCBE report, pp. 40, 56, 60.)
In case the relevant bit of human anatomy class has faded into the misty past, body temperature is maintained by the hypothalamus which is...a part of the brain located just above the brain stem.
I have to admit that I fail to understand how anyone could declare in good faith that all the functions of a patient's brain have ceased if a function of the hypothalamus is obviously on-going. A clue may, unfortunately, be found in a passage about which I shall probably have more to say in the PCBE report:
[E]vidence of continued activity of the pituitary gland, or of similar residual brain tissue function in patients diagnosed with “brain death,” is not decisive in determining whether these patients are living or dead.* The question is not, Has the whole brain died? The question is, Has the human being died? This criticism can be leveled perhaps even more sharply at the commonly employed phrase “whole brain death,” which, if taken literally, implies that every part of the brain must be non-functional for the diagnosis to be made. In reality, and somewhat at odds with the exact wording of the UDDA, “all functions of the entire brain” do not have to be extinguished in order to meet the neurological standard under the current application of the law to medical practice. In Chapter Four, we take up the question, “On what grounds might we judge the persistence of certain functions (e.g., ADH secretion by the pituitary gland) to be less important than other functions (e.g., spontaneous breathing)?” (p. 18) [Emphasis added]
Oh. So they didn't mean it. Although it is the activity of the pituitary gland the report is discussing here (the report states [p. 56] that growth has occurred in at least one child declared brain-dead), presumably the authors of the report would say the same about the action of the hypothalamus--that it isn't as "important" as other functions, such as breathing, and hence that it is fine to declare someone brain dead even if his hypothalamus is still working--though such a declaration would be, er, "somewhat at odds with the exact wording" of the Uniform Determination of Death Act.
October 9, 2009
In other news, Edward Feser has been awarded the Dawkins Prize…
OK, I’ve finally stopped laughing. I see two good things coming out of this:
1. We now have an absolutely infallible test for determining whether Obamolatry has yet completely rotted out a given individual’s mind: Either you’re sane and still have a shred of intellectual honesty, or you think Obama merits the Nobel Peace Prize. Apply to your liberal friends, sit back, and enjoy.
2. This farce will only solidify in the electorate’s mind the truth of what was blindingly obvious before the election and has become Metaphysically Certain since: Obama is an empty suit with no substantive achievements to speak of, who owes whatever standing he has entirely to the ridiculous fantasies that have been projected onto him by his sycophants.
Said sycophants will, of course, be utterly unmoved whatever their idol does or fails to do. But with the swing voters whose opinion actually makes the difference in elections, this will only hurt Obama. When buyer’s remorse has been setting in already, the last thing you want to do is double down on the salesman’s BS. And there ain’t enough cash left in the Treasury for this clunker.
So, thank you Nobel Committee! Next year, why not go ahead and award one to yourselves? Couldn’t make you look any worse…
October 10, 2009
Nanny Notes from the State of Michigan
The Mackinac Institute is a free market think tank headquartered here in my lovely state of Michigan. Every month or thereabouts I get a large packet of well-produced materials from them--viewpoints, articles, and pamphlets--and I always feel a tad guilty about it. I'm sure I've never done anything for them that would warrant the amount of money these mailings must be costing, and in today's electronic world there is something faintly shocking about the sheer paper bulk I'm receiving. I can't possibly keep it all in a file.
But I usually look through it and often find good stuff. I just usually don't have time to blog everything good that I find. Here is a fun one (and later I plan to post a more serious one) that I recommend you read for a good laugh. It's about all the silly advice sites and articles the State of Michigan is publishing for its (evidently) incompetent and ignorant citizens. A few samples:
[S]tate government is concerned about your health. It offers shrewd advice on meal choices: Don't eat the guts, heads or bones of fish (Michigan Family Fish Consumption Guide). If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, consume less sugar (Sweet Relief!). While state officials are rarely the model of restraint, they want you to practice self-denial: Eat dried fruit instead of candy, and eat unbuttered bread (Sweet Relief!).
Do not clench your teeth (Living Healthy and Loving It). Instead, "dance to the radio" and "take deep cleansing breaths throughout the day" (Living Healthy and Loving It). To maintain a beautiful yard, keep it watered and fertilized (Spring Gardening Tips for Bedding Plants) - but use less water and fertilizer to help the environment (Clean Air Lawn Care).
Michigan Web sites also provide countless pages of helpful tips on raising young ones. For instance, children occasionally spill when they eat (Child and Adult Care Food Program), and they have trouble sitting still for long periods of time (Why Play in Kindergarten?).
And probably my favorite:
It's also important to remember your offspring. When you take your child in the car, "Place something that you'll need at your next stop — such as a purse, a lunch, gym bag or briefcase — on the floor of the backseat where the child is sitting. This simple act could help prevent you from accidentally forgetting a child" (Hot Weather and Vehicles).
Read the whole thing to lighten up your day.
October 11, 2009
È tardi!...the Lisbon Traviata: Scena Ultima?
Maria Callas was the greatest singing actress of the 20th century. And her greatest role was Violetta, the tragic courtesan of Verdi's Opera *La Traviata*.
But her mature interpretation of the role was never recorded for posterity in the studio. For, very early in her career, before her interpretation had matured, and before she had earned world-wide fame, she participated in a recording of *La Traviata* made (in terrible sound, with provincial forces) by a small Italian record company - and her contract forbade her to record the role again for any competing company for some period of years.
So at the peak of her career, in the mid 1950's, while she recorded all of her other great roles for EMI in much better sound with great artists like the conductor Tullio Serafin, the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano and the baritone Tito Gobbi at her side, she was barred from recording her greatest role of all.
In 1955, Serafin, di Stefano & Gobbi, wishing to preserve their own interpretations for posterity and despairing of any chance of freeing Callas from her contract, made their own recording of *La Traviata* for EMI with the well-meaning but sadly over-parted soprano Antonietta Stella in the title role - a recording that most opera fanatics prefer to forget.
Callas, in true *diva* fashion, never forgave them for what she saw as a betrayal, and vowed that she would never again record the role of Violetta - even after her contract ran out. And she kept her vow.
That's Act I. On to Act II, Scene i:
October 12, 2009
Libertarian neutrality so-called
John Rawls held that a liberal political order is neutral or impartial in three important senses: First, it treats persons as “ends in themselves” and thus as moral equals entitled to impartial concern; second, it seeks to realize its vision of justice in a way that is neutral between the diverse moral and religious worldviews prevailing among citizens of the society it is to govern; and third, it also neutral between the various alternative philosophical doctrines (liberal and non-liberal) individual political thinkers who could support it might be personally committed to. It rests instead on an “overlapping consensus” between moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines, while nevertheless sustaining a shared sense of justice between them, rather than a mere modus vivendi or truce between hostile factions.
Some libertarian theorists have proposed that their creed is more plausibly neutral or impartial in each of these three senses than egalitarian liberalism is. This idea is at least implicit in the thought of Robert Nozick, who also appeals to the Kantian principle of treating persons as “ends in themselves,” and who argues that a libertarian society constitutes a “framework for utopia” in which individuals and groups committed to wildly divergent moral, religious, and philosophical visions are all “free to do their own thing.” Will Wilkinson has been explicit in making a Rawlsian case for libertarianism, and legal theorist Randy Barnett, who endorses Wilkinson’s position, has presented similar arguments of his own.
My own view is that the “neutrality” of libertarianism is (like that of Rawlsian liberalism) completely bogus. I made the case for this judgment in an exchange with Wilkinson at TCS Daily a few years back (see here, here, and here). I make it at greater length in my paper “Self-Ownership, Libertarianism, and Impartiality,” which was presented at a conference at the University of Reading a few years ago and which is available at my website. Though Barnett is the direct target of most of what is said in the paper, its arguments apply to libertarianism in general, and it is my fullest “official statement” on the subject, for anyone who is interested.
October 13, 2009
Rifqa Bary Update
For those of you who are praying for Rifqa, things are not looking too good as of today, but they could be at least somewhat worse.
The Florida judge has agreed that Ohio will have jurisdiction, and plans are underway to send Rifqa back to Ohio. Ohio says (but I don't think they can be bound by this as some sort of promise) that they are planning to send Rifqa to live with a foster family in Ohio. I hope the foster family has good security. Even if that is true, it is unclear for how long she would be with that family or whether, if she were returned to her family, they could be prevented from leaving the country with her.
However, she does not return immediately. Rifqa's parents are--de facto even if this has not been ruled explicitly--in contempt of court for failure to provide their and Rifqa's immigration documentation to the Florida court. The Florida judge is very annoyed about this, and the Ohio judge has agreed that Rifqa need not be sent back to Ohio until the documents are provided. It is unclear, at least to me, that there is any substantive point here. That is, I do not know that the actual information concerning immigration can or will make a difference to whether Rifqa is sent back to Ohio. The point appears to be procedural: Her parents are not going to be allowed the victory of having jurisdiction (and Rifqa) transferred to Ohio while simply thumbing their nose (as they have done over a period of months) at a repeated, explicit court order to them for the production of certain documents. My own completely personal guess is that the Ohio judge agreed to this because judges don't like to let other judges be defied. Meanwhile, Rifqa stays in Florida, but now it looks as though that will be only for a short time.
It appears that Rifqa and her parents are now here illegally--apparently on expired visas. The immigration documents will, if they are produced, demonstrate this to Judge Dawson, the Florida judge. It's unclear what that means--whether in any way that could be used either for or against Rifqa. But the parents' stonewalling on the documents has gotten Rifqa a couple more weeks in Florida.
Rifqa has requested that she be allowed to see her Christian friends, the Lorenzes, one more time before leaving Florida. Pamela Geller was unable to discover whether this will be allowed.
We can only pray that if and when she is returned to Ohio the Ohio court will not give her to her parents, much less let her parents take her out of the country.
Comments are closed. As readers know, there is a time-wasting Muslim commentator who shows up on all my threads about Rifqa, and I haven't the time to be either patient or impatient with him. I am providing this update for my readers, as I know there are some who do not follow Pamela Geller or other sites that provide the information.
October 14, 2009
Chris Klicka, the first full-time employee of the Home School Legal Defense Association, ended his long battle with multiple sclerosis yesterday at the age of forty-eight. Those of us who are members of HSLDA will find his name very familiar. Right up into this last year one would read of Chris's continued work for home schooling, and he died after attending his last home schooling conference.
We bless the name of the Lord for all His servants departed this life in His faith and fear, especially Christopher, beseeching Him that they may continually grow in His love and service and that we may have grace to follow their good example.
Politike episteme and the Usury Crisis
One of the real problems we face is confusion about the interaction between economics and philosophy. Men are seen constantly arguing across a chasm of pedagogic division, with one shouting fiercely about certain principles of nature and man qua man, and another gesturing sharply toward the empirics of a science. The fact-value distinction has left some of us unable to communicate.
Megan McArdle wrestles with some of the same difficulties in this essay on the statistical history of Gross Domestic Product.
I propose that we need to repose in that discipline or field of study which proposes to bridge this divide; which proposes to make some balance or unity of facts and values. I mean, the field of politike episteme, a Greek phrase which translates directly to political science but (following Voegelin) I would say more closely resembles what we call political philosophy.
Consider this exchange:
“Efficient-markets theory says only that markets will give us the best estimate of value. Price is our best estimate of factual value. So on the evidence, all of our banks should have perished in 2008. They were ruined institutions. If I, as trader in bank-related credit derivatives, could have had my view made policy, all of your nationalization wishes could have come true. The banks were dead. We derivatives traders glimpsed it first. Policy should have reflected it. So why should I be blamed for a political system that won't let banks fail?”
“Any derivatives trader, by virtue of his labor activity, is complicit in the very trade which brought down the banks; all of which is to state that a derivatives trader creates the conditions of his own claims to knowledge, much like oil speculators in 2008 driving up the price of oil, after real estate tanked, and then claiming that the increased ‘demand’ for oil made it a great investment. One doesn't get to create one's own knowledge and then claim an especial prescience for ‘knowing’ it, or teasing out the implications of it. The implications of the derivatives trade were that the big Wall Street banks were insolvent, and ought to have been liquidated by the Feds; the derivatives trade caused this, more than any other factor. Moreover, the derivatives trade was not a necessary condition of this knowledge; one doesn't need a trade in occult financial instruments to know whether banks are insolvent or not; one needs only the information that banks have been required to disclose, even before derivatives emerged as a critical orgy site for Wall Street.”
Here is an argument which combines factual claims with philosophic principle. The speakers refer to facts and propose principles for weighing and interpreting said facts, with an eye toward applicable policy.
October 15, 2009
Libertarianism & Philistinism
I enjoyed Ed Feser's essay "Self-Ownership, Libertarianism, and Impartiality" a great deal and strongly recommend it to anybody who believes that libertarianism is, in any interesting sense, impartial between the various going moral & political worldviews of our time. He's right: it's not.
That said, I do have a few quibbles. Here's one.
Speaking of Grünewald...
The famous central panel of his "Isenheim Altarpiece" forms the capstone for my latest YouTube video - the greatest four minutes of music ever composed, performed, & recorded:
October 16, 2009
Kerstein on Israel
Benjamin Kerstein, my colleague over at The New Ledger, has written a provocative and illuminating essay on some ominous developments in the Middle East. He fears a new intifada — this time launched by Arab-Israelis. He also observes some worrisome trends on the Israeli Right which mirror the radicalism of the Palestinians. Kerstein’s writing ranges ably over the many complexities of the Middle East; “informative” is a description rather inadequate to it. But above all the essay presents a discussion of democratic theory that will probably unsettle readers on all sides of this ancient dispute. I predict that this important report will be either (a) ignored or (b) flippantly dismissed.
The state can make almost anybody its employee?
Earlier I posted a link to an amusing piece from the Mackinac Institute canvassing the Nanny-knows-best advice contained in many State of Michigan publications and web sites.
This link is more serious and, legally speaking, truly bizarre.
The State of Michigan created a shell corporation for the sole purpose of unionizing self-employed daycare owners throughout the state. Some state bureaucracy partnered with the apparently randomly chosen Mott Community College and declared this new entity to be the "employer" of all of the state's licensed daycare owners, including all the ladies who run daycare centers out of their own homes. By doing so, the State of Michigan created the possibility of having all these "employees" unionize against the employer. Since evidently there is no quorum requirement for union votes, a vote of only a minority of the newly minted "employees" was sufficient to create a new union, and now the women running daycare out of their homes are being charged union dues, much to their own surprise.
How is this possible, you ask? Well, evidently the state gives money to low-income families to subsidize their daycare in part. It is from these checks that the new union dues are being deducted. Realize, please, the insanity of this: If accepting money that the state gives to someone for a partial subsidy of a service allows you to be declared an employee of the State (and Mott Community College, whatever that has to do with anything), then every store owner that accepts WIC or food stamps could wake up one morning and find that he has been made an employee of the state's shell company without his own knowledge or consent. Tellingly, if this sort of thing is legally possible, without even any special legislative action, it would also presumably apply to school principals and teachers at schools that accept tuition vouchers. By this principle, the schools could be effectively turned into state entities instantaneously and their employees into state employees--a frightening thought.
What exactly the State of Michigan gets out of this, other than the sheer heady sense of power in knowing that it can force self-employed small-business owners to be its employees without their consent or the consent of their elected representatives, is still a bit of a mystery to me. I can only guess that somehow the State of Michigan is profiting from the union dues and that the state is behind both the new "employer" and in the new "union," but that is the purest conjecture.
In any event, this obviously must not be left unchallenged. The Mackinac Institute has taken on the case with its new legal defense team, and I have some hope that our state courts will strike this move down for the naked and illegal power play that it is.
October 17, 2009
I used to visit the website of The American Conservative fairly regularly, 'cause Patrick Buchanan is always worth a read, and 'cause they used to publish Steve Sailer (than whom none greater) from time to time, and 'cause they used to be...well...recognizably conservative - albeit a bit quirky.
But my interest waned, over time, as they drifted in the same general direction as our erstwhile co-blogger Daniel Larison - whose personal blog, Eunomia, they continue to host.
Which is to say that their version of "conservatism" increasingly seemed to consist of very little besides a deep-seated hatred of "Neo-cons" and Israel - often expressed in rather unrestrained language.
Scruton mania [UPDATED]
Roger Scruton is without a doubt the greatest living philosopher of conservatism. Apart from political philosophy and current affairs, he has also written important works on ethics, culture, religion, the history of philosophy, and, above all, aesthetics. In addition, he has written several novels, and a couple of operas. To give you a sense of how prolific he is, Scruton’s works take up slightly more than an entire three-foot shelf in my library – and even then I’m missing a volume or two. Nor does that include his many newspaper and magazine pieces. And absolutely everything he writes is worth reading, even when one disagrees with it. (He is a bit more reactionary than I am vis-à-vis contemporary popular culture – though I agree with him that most of it is pernicious trash, and one sometimes suspects that his über-snobbery is meant to be provocative. And he is, for my money, not reactionary enough vis-à-vis religion and modern philosophy, including modern political philosophy. Too little metaphysics, too much Kant. Which, of course, means any Kant…)
If contemporary academic moral and political philosophy were something more than a clubby chat society for people with broadly left-liberal assumptions and sensibilities, Scruton would be as widely read and assigned as Rawls, Nozick, Gauthier, Cohen, Thomson, Parfit, and the rest of the usual suspects. But it isn’t, so he’s not.
Anyway. This year has seen not only two new works from Scruton – Beauty and Understanding Music – but also two important works about Scruton from Mark Dooley: his study of Scruton’s work, Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach, which appeared this summer; and his edited volume The Roger Scruton Reader, which comes out next month. These are long overdue, and we are in Dooley’s debt. Perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a Scruton boom – sculptor Alexander Stoddart is selling a bust of Scruton, which is available to adorn your private study in either a bronze, marble, or plaster version.
In any event, The Roger Scruton Reader promises to make Scruton’s writings more easily available, and will surely be widely assigned by liberal professors of ethics and of political philosophy to their students, so that they might at long last get an idea of what the best representatives of the other side are saying.
Or maybe not.
UPDATE: My esteemed co-blogger Lydia McGrew has reminded me of something about which I had completely forgotten: that Scruton, while he opposes creating a legal right to assisted suicide, has taken the view that there are cases where a doctor who intentionally hastens a terminal patient’s death (e.g. via an overdose of morphine) should not be prosecuted and – Scruton seems to think – has even done something admirable. (See chapter 4 of his book A Political Philosophy.) Says Lydia: “I do think that pro-life, contemporary, Christian conservative writers should moderate their raptures about Scruton somewhat in light of such views.” And she is absolutely right. Such views are – in my judgment no less than Lydia’s – gravely immoral, and I regret having overlooked this unhappy side of Scruton’s work.
October 19, 2009
The Thomistic tradition
Christianity & Liberalism
Mangan is a political reactionary, but at the same time a Darwinian atheist, and his blog tends to attract commenters of similar bent. But it also enjoys its fair share of smart Christian readers - so there's more worthwhile give & take than one might expect.
Anyway, Mangan & other Darwinian conservatives have been worrying lately about the widespread support of Christians for some of the worst excesses of modern political liberalism. Case in point: amnesty for illegal aliens.
From His Eminence Roger Mahony, Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles to the National Association of Evangelicals, Christians in leadership positions seem to be drawn to open borders like moths to the flame.
So could the weakness of Christians for suicidal multi-culti nonsense be deeply rooted in scripture? Like, for example, the parable of the good Samaritan? Or, more especially, Galatians 3:28:
"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all...are one in Christ Jesus."
More generally, was Nietzsche right when he wrote, in The Antichrist:
"The 'equality of souls before God,' this falsehood, this pretext for the rancor of all the base-minded, this explosive of a concept which eventually became revolution, modern idea, and the principle of decline of the whole order of society - is Christian dynamite..."
Bacon's "The New Atlantis" reconsidered
I found myself with nothing to read and 45 minutes to wait. Momentarily panicked, I was relieved to discover, in the glove compartment of my car, an old copy of The New Atlantis, from Fall 2005.
I settled on a long essay entitled, “Francis Bacon’s God,” adapted from a book by a Gator political philosopher named Stephen A. McKnight. In it he performs a riveting exegesis of Bacon’s mythological work from which this fine journal takes its name. The burden of his subtle argument is that the current consensus about Bacon and Christianity presents him in a far too cynical light; presents him, indeed, as a full-on subversive of the Christian faith. McKnight does not deny that Bacon opposed with great firmness the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophical tradition, which so often formed the foil for various project of modern extravagance, but he does dispute that this opposition to antiquity extended into theology or scriptural authority. Well worth a read.
October 22, 2009
Matthew Roberts on Pagans and Christians
The comments thread on my post Christianity and Liberalism below is unusual, in that it has gotten more, not less, interesting as it has gotten longer. But the longer comments threads get, the fewer people keep reading. So I want to rescue a couple of things from premature oblivion.
First, this: M. A. Roberts writes that "similar debates have been taking place at TakiMag, Chronicles, and elsewhere." He doesn't provide links, but he does quote from his own contribution to the debate at TakiMag. Here's my own selection from what he writes:
Mao-Maoing the Beck watchers
My apologies to Tom Wolfe.
By now you’ve no doubt heard of White House Communications Director Anita Dunn’s jaw-dropping paean to mass-murdering communist dictator Mao Zedong, first reported on Glenn Beck’s show. You might find the official “explanations” convincing. I don’t.
So what’s the deal? Is Dunn really a Maoist, or at least soft on Maoism? There’s at least one alternative explanation.
October 23, 2009
Rifqa Bary Update--Rifqa to be returned to Ohio
Judge Dawson caves.
It looks as though he inexplicably gave up his demand that he receive immigration documentation for Rifqa and her family before sending her back to Ohio. But the Ohio judge had agreed with that demand. Since it appears quite clear that Rifqa's family is now here illegally, and since Rifqa's parents had stonewalled on the immigration documents, this could have provided a way for her to stay in Florida for quite a while until and unless the parents admitted their illegal status, at which point new questions could have been raised about transporting her across state lines, the danger of her being deported with her family or of her family's fleeing with her, and so forth. I find it hard to believe that the family provided the documents (which would have shown that they are here illegally) and that no one knows anything further about this. But I also cannot understand why Dawson is sending her back without seeing those documents when he could have stuck to his guns with the blessing of the Ohio court. The whole thing is sad and strange.
One guess is that he realized that the parents are here illegally and will not show their documentation and that he therefore is letting them win that round rather than keeping Rifqa in Florida indefinitely.
Right now it appears that she will be put into foster care in Ohio, but it is entirely unclear how long that will last. May God protect her. The greatest danger, in my opinion, is her being returned to her family and whisked back to Sri Lanka.
Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome
Lawrence Auster has a really interesting post up that I didn't want to let pass without comment. He notes that the supposedly "conservative" party in the UK is talking about setting up set-aside MP positions for women only. For crying out loud.
But we're all used to new absurdities coming out of England every day. One can't even keep up with them. The interesting thing to arise out of this is Auster's speculation:
It appears to be the case that if a society gives equal political rights to women, then over time there will inevitably be an expectation of equal political outcomes for women.
Auster's provocative conclusion, if I understand him correctly, is that women shouldn't be allowed to vote, so that this expectation wouldn't get off the ground in the first place.
October 24, 2009
On Choosing One's Battles
Far be it from me to inveigh against The American Conservative for any light and transient cause, especially after defending the redoubtable Daniel Larison in these pages (though he is more than capable of defending himself), but a couple of TAC's contributors have managed to lash themselves into a tizzy over Nick Griffin, and his recent appearance on the BBC, as well as Geert Wilders, who was finally permitted to enter the UK.
First, David Lindsay expressed his support for the initial ban, and then proceeded to opine that the ban should be extended to other ideological undesirables likely to disturb the public tranquility:
I fully supported the ban on Geert Wilders from visiting Britain, as he was finally permitted to do this week. He is in the Pim Fortuyn tradition of opposing Islam so that the Netherlands can remain a drug-addled, whore-mongering country where the age of consent is 12, contrary to the wishes of its general public either in the staunchly Protestant north or in the devoutly Catholic south. That is not any West which I for one wish to defend. But then, it is not in fact the West at all. It is only the most extreme, and in that sense logically consistent, manifestation of the pseudo-West proclaimed by the neoconservative movement, or what’s left of it these days.
I could perceive this as a reasonable criticism of Wilders, as he does seem to defend a sort of Netherlands that no conservative should be keen to uphold. But questions stubbornly persist. Is it possible, politically speaking, to prioritize either the struggle against hedonistic liberalism or the struggle against Islamic immigration, regarding one as more exigent at this moment? After all, transforming the decadent Dutch culture would be a multi-generational project, mainly apolitical in nature, while turning round the immigration problem could be accomplished straightaway were there any will to do so. Is it not obvious, moreover, that the reasons for the initial ban of Wilders were that his presence in the UK might inflame the Muslim mobs, and that his message would fall afoul of Islamophilic sentiment in the establishment? It is all well and good to advocate the banning of hedonists, but that is not what happened.
Dear reader, there is yet more.
Some Video Addenda...
to Maximos' latest post:
First, just in case there's anybody who hasn't seen it yet, here's that notorious street-protest against Geert Wilders by Muslims in London:
Just. Absolutely. Jaw-dropping.
October 26, 2009
Population control chic
Ho-hum. Government-forced population control is becoming chic once again. In the name of "reducing carbon emissions," of course. You could have guessed.
In this post I pointed out that the depths of evil involved in population control should make it as shameful to have been associated with it or to have advocated it as to have advocated Nazism. I argued that people just aren't ashamed enough of it, don't admit how truly evil it is, and that this explains the failure to hold the feet of someone like Holdren to the fire for being involved in advocating it in the 1970's along with Paul Ehrlich.
Well, that didn't take long. The half-hearted distancing from government population control on the part of the left is giving way to only-slightly-coy advocacy of it once again. And I bet nobody will ever be ashamed of this, either, even if someone who embraces it is later tapped for an important government position in the United States.
Alex Renton of the Guardian particularly wants white people in Western countries to engage in population hari-kari so that there can be more poor Africans:
[B]ased on current emissions and life expectancy, one less British child would permit some 30 women in sub-Saharan Africa to have a baby and still leave the planet a cleaner place.
There's a compelling argument.
October 28, 2009
Evolution & Ideology
I've been encountering a bunch of stuff, lately, on some of the blogs I frequent, concerning the compatibility of Darwinism and conservatism. Here, FWIW, is my take on that interesting question, in as few words as possible:
In his essay "The Wagner Case," Nietzsche summed up the worldview of the "revolutionary ideologist" like this: "For half his lifetime Wagner believed in revolution as only a Frenchman has ever believed in it...'Whence comes all the evil in the world?' Wagner asked himself. From 'Ancient compacts,' he answered, like all revolutionary ideologists. In plain words: from customs, laws moralities, institutions, from all that upon which the old world, the old society depends. 'How can the world be rid of evil? How can the old society be abolished?' Only by declaring war on the 'compacts' (the traditional, the moral)..." (tr. Hollingdale)
I think that's about right. Marx is a good example: he dismissed all traditional "customs, laws, moralities, institutions" as mere ideological "superstructure" - i.e., a pack of ancient lies through which the wealthy and empowered classes justified the perpetuation of their wealth and their power. And more recent revolutionary movements have followed in his footsteps. Most notably, feminists have dismissed traditional conceptions of the differences between men and women, together with all the consequences that those supposed differences entailed for their typical roles in life, as so many tools of patriarchal oppression. Similarly, multi-culturalists have dismissed traditional conceptions of the differences between racial and ethnic groups as no more than enabling myths of white supremacism.
In their war with tradition, such revolutionary ideologists have been eager to seize upon anything that might seems to discredit religion. So they have seized upon Darwin's theory of Evolution as a stick with which to beat Christianity. And, to an extent, it serves that purpose well, since Darwinism offers an account of the "origin of species," in all their diversity and complexity, without resort to divine intervention - thus, if true, dispensing, once and for all, with William Paley's "argument from design" for the existence of God.
Admittedly, that was always among the weaker of the standard arguments for the existence of God. But still - every little bit helps!
Trouble is, Darwinism doesn't stop with its account of the "origin of species." It goes on. And on, and on. And a lot of what it goes on to say is, in the first place, harder to fault than its highly speculative account of the progression from microbe to man, and, in the second place, extremely inconvenient for the sort of "revolutionary ideologists" mentioned above.
'Cause evolutionary theory has it's own story to tell about things like the differences between men and women, and the differences between racial and ethnic groups - the general upshot of which is that, by guess and by golly, our ancestors pretty much got all that stuff right. And it had nothing to do with evil patriarchal oppression, or wicked white supremacism. It simply had to do with homo sapiens experiencing and adapting to reality...to the facts on the ground, as they say, these days.
E.g.: men and women, on average, really are different - in ways that are not only easily predictable, from a Darwinian point of view, but which your grandmother probably understood better than your grand-daughter will - brainwashed as she will have been by the revolutionary ideologists who control American education from start to finish. And human racial and ethnic groups differ in ways that are at least as deep, and even more interesting, than the ways in which the various breeds of cats and dogs and chickens and goats and every other animal under the sun differ from one another. And those differences reveal more about the way the world wags than all the multi-culti mythology that ever has been or ever will be written.
In short, much (most?) of evolutionary theory is reactionary dynamite.
October 29, 2009
On Hate Crimes, Help Me Out
President Obama having signed into law a federal hate crimes statute, a two-week-old post at Crooked Timber has been brought to my recollection, not on account of any especial excellence, but for reason of the perplexity it occasioned, then and now.
John Holbo, criticizing John Boehner, argued as follows:
There is, I think, an even more basic problem, which is theoretically interesting, which I would certainly like to see used to swat down Boehner-style arguments, and which I’ve never actually seen anyone make (but probably I just missed it). Practically all crime is ‘thought crime’ in the good ol’ common law sense of the Latin phrase actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea – ‘the act does not make guilt unless the mind be guilty.’ If we were to take a strict liability approach to all violent crime we would be obliged to place wrongful death on a par with premeditated murder. (After all, it’s not as though the lives of those killed accidentally are worth less.)
And this is where I'd like to request the assistance of my co-bloggers and commentators. I never made it to graduate school, for reason of some familial matters not entirely happy, and in consequence I gravely fear that there is some cabalistic point of logic here that eludes my intellect. Hence, I beg the assistance of the professional philosophers in the W4 blog community, that this matter may be settled in my mind.
If all crime, for reason of mens rea and the necessity of establishing intent, is - under one aspect - thought crime, and this new legislation, by intention and execution, will establish certain mental states as exacerbating factors in criminal cases, how then is the conservative critique, however ineptly articulated it may be by any one conservative, vitiated by Holbo's criticism? How, in other words, is this not a case of, "some thought crimes are more criminal than others?"
What am I missing?
October 31, 2009
Rifqa Bary Updates at Extra Thoughts
I have posts here and here at my personal blog about the current Rifqa Bary situation. Please go there for current information, unless you have already read them. (They went up a couple of days ago.) Things are not looking good.
Warning to trolls and pedants, Muslim, liberal, and otherwise: If you think I'm mean, narrow-minded, and tyrannical here at What's Wrong With the World, you should see me at my personal blog. Comments there are enabled, though anonymous comments are not permitted. But you'll get deleted if you come over trying to waste my time, etc. These are intended for purposes of information for those who are genuinely concerned about Rifqa. They aren't intended to start debates.