Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Liberty, equality, fraternity?


Pictured above are the ideals of the French Revolution, and of the modern world in general – liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Note carefully how they manifest their chief attributes.  Liberty freely indulges its desires.  Equality shares what it has.  Fraternity looks on with brotherly concern.  And they’re all idiots.

“Surely you’re not against liberty, equality, and fraternity?!” you ask.  Well, no, not necessarily – depending on what you mean by those terms.  The trouble is that though some of the ideas that commonly go under those labels are good, others are very bad.  But the good and bad frequently get mixed together, so that it is assumed that if you accept liberty, equality, or fraternity in one sense, you have to accept them in the other senses as well.

How to untangle the mess?  And what exactly are the good and bad senses to which I refer?  The best place to start is with how the greatest of the classical and medieval thinkers understood social life.  This is the natural law view of the world, which is of course the correct view of the world (or so I would say, being a traditional natural law theorist myself).  The natural law position is harder to convey through labels as rhetorically powerful as “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”  But then, what makes those terms rhetorically effective – they are simplistic and ambiguous – is precisely the source of their philosophical inadequacy. 

If you must have three words or phrases that sum up the natural law position, they would, I suppose, be: subsidiarity; solidarity; and family and patriotism.  Liberty, equality, and fraternity as usually understood are distortions of these three.  There are other and opposite distortions as well.  For example, tribalism and nationalism are other, very different distortions of family and patriotism.  The best way to understand the distortions is to understand what they are distortions of, so let’s walk through them.  It is best to go in reverse order.

Family and patriotism

Man is by nature a social animal.  A new human being is for many years dependent on his parents and siblings both for his material well-being and for his basic understanding of what the world is like and how to behave within it.  When he becomes an adult, he finds himself drawn before long to bond with another human being, resulting in offspring of his own for whom he must provide materially and spiritually.  When he is old, he becomes dependent once again, this time on those offspring.  Every human being, no matter how independent in other respects, to some extent and for a considerable portion of his life finds himself dependent on and/or responsible for other family members in one or more of these ways.

The family is thus the fundamental context within which we manifest our social nature.  We form friendships too, of course, but these are like extensions of family relations.  Hence we say that a close friend is like a brother to one, that a trusted mentor is like a father to one, that a mentee is like a son to one, and so forth.  Even less close friendships are analogous to family relationships insofar as they only form where we have at least some small degree of intimacy with another and at least some small degree of affection.  Hence a friendly workplace is often described as feeling “like a family.”  It is family relationships that tend to form the model for most other relationships that are important to us, even if the analogy is sometimes very loose. 

There are also, of course, some relationships that are too remote and impersonal plausibly to be modeled on family relationships.  For example, the stranger in the street to whom you give directions, the vendor from whom you regularly buy your newspaper, the mailman, etc. are not plausibly thought of as “brothers” in the way that a friend or even co-worker might be.  But these sorts of relationships are not the fundamental way in which we manifest our social nature.  They come into existence only after we have been socialized by growing up in a certain family situation.  Moreover, even these relationships are defined by reference to family relationships in an indirect way.  We think of the people in question as strangers precisely insofar as they are not either family members or the sort of honorary family members that friends are.

Nuclear families naturally give rise to extended families, and historically these in turn gave rise to tribes and nations.  The allegiance we naturally feel for our families naturally gets extended to these larger social formations which grew out of the family.  Patriotism is essentially family loyalty writ large.  And the offense people take at attitudes or actions perceived as unpatriotic is to be understood as analogous to the offense we feel when a family member exhibits disloyalty to the family or brings disgrace to it.  Patriotism is thus natural and good, just as family loyalty is natural and good.  It is as necessary to the health of a nation as family loyalty is to the health of a family, and thus the absence of it is dysfunctional in something like the way a family is dysfunctional when its members feel no affection or loyalty for it.

Notice that there is nothing whatsoever in patriotism so understood that entails hostility or contempt for other nations, any more than the special love one has for one’s own family entails hostility or contempt for other families.  Nor does patriotism entail even a mere lack of concern for other nations.  On the contrary, since the human race is essentially a very large extended family, human beings are naturally bound to exhibit some degree of fellow feeling and concern for all other human beings.  However, this is also quite naturally never likely to be as strong as the special concern one has for one’s own nation, just as one’s allegiance toward and concern for one’s own nation is never going to be as strong as the concern and allegiance one has for one’s own immediate family.

Human beings thus naturally relate to others in a way that is usefully illustrated by way of concentric circles.  Our immediate allegiances and responsibilities concern members of our own nuclear families and friends.  In the next concentric circle would be members of our extended families, toward whom we also owe a certain degree of allegiance and responsibility, but where the debt is not as great as that owed to our own immediate family.  In the next circle beyond that are our countrymen, to whom we owe allegiance and toward whom we bear some responsibility, but where these are not as great as the allegiance and responsibility we owe to our extended families, let alone our immediate families.  In the outermost circle are those of other nations and the human race in general, to whom we also owe real allegiance and to whom we have real responsibilities, but where these are not as great as what we owe to our own nations, much less to our extended and immediate families.

It is virtuous, then, to have a special loyalty toward one’s family and to be a patriot, and to lack these habits of thought and action is, accordingly, vicious.  But as with other virtues, there are in fact two corresponding vices here, one of excess and one of deficiency.  The vice of excess is manifested in tribalism and nationalism.  Consider, for example, the Mafioso whose allegiance to his clan is so excessive that he thinks crimes and other immoralities justifiable when they are done in the interests of his family.  Or think of the person who so deeply identifies himself with the ethnic group to which he belongs that he is hostile to and paranoid about those outside that group.  Or think of the nationalist who believes that his country or race ought to impose its will on other countries and races, and exploit them for its own benefit.

The vice of deficiency is where fraternity comes in.  Just as one can be excessively attached to one’s own family or nation, so too can one be insufficiently attached to them.  This vice is exhibited by those who think it best to regard oneself as a “citizen of the world” or member of the “global community” rather than having any special allegiance to one’s own country.  It is the idea of a “world without borders” and a “brotherhood of man” – hence fraternity construed as an ideal of universal brotherhood to replace family loyalty, patriotism, and other local allegiances. 

To be sure, there is a sense in which all human beings are brethren; as I said above, we are all members of the human race and thus in that sense all members of the same maximally extended family.  The problem comes when the idea of brotherhood is falsely taken to imply that there is something suspect about national or other group loyalties – when it is taken to imply that one’s countrymen are one’s brothers in no stronger sense than any other human being is.

Family relationships are so close and deep that it is difficult for this vice to eat away at family loyalties the way it often eats away at patriotism.  But even here the vice has an impact.  Think of the way that movies and other pop culture artifacts portray the biological, nuclear family as inevitably dysfunctional, and commend instead novel “family” arrangements of individuals’ own design – “families of choice” or “found families,” as they are sometimes called.

The opposite extreme vices I’ve been describing tend to play off of one another.  Hence, tribalism and nationalism sometimes arise as an overreaction against the bloodless cosmopolitanism of the “global community” idea, with its tendency to collapse into an alienating individualism.  Meanwhile, the “global community” ideal sells itself as the only alternative to nationalism and tribalism, and its proponents tend to see these vices in every expression of patriotism.  Each extreme tends to blind its adherents to the sober middle ground.

Solidarity

The natural law understanding of society is an organic one, in that it takes the members of any society to be related to one another in something loosely analogous to the way that the organs of a living thing are related to one another.  Just as each organ serves a distinct and essential role in realizing the good of the whole organism, so too does each member of a society serve a distinct and essential role in realizing the good of that society.  And just as an organism takes care to nourish and protect each of its parts, so too ought society to be organized in such a way that each of its members can flourish (subject to the qualifications entailed by the principle of subsidiarity, to be discussed below).  The parts of the body are in solidarity with one another, and so too must each part of society be. 

Pope Pius XI gave a classic expression of this organic model as applied to the family in his encyclical Casti Connubii.  He speaks of “this body which is the family,” in which “the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.”  Naturally, this is politically incorrect these days, but anyone who sees in it a recipe for patriarchal tyranny is not paying attention to the force of the analogy (not to mention “the chief place in love” Pius assigns to mothers).  In a literal body, the head functions for the sake of the heart and the other parts just as the other parts function for the sake of it.  Or rather, they all function for the sake of the whole, and the whole looks after each part.  And that is the way the family is understood.    

Political authority, on the natural law conception, was originally an extension of paternal authority, with the earliest rulers being patriarchs or fathers of tribes and nations, analogous to the fathers who governed nuclear families.  As nations got larger and the relationships between citizens less personal, heads of countries naturally came to seem “father”-like in only the loosest way, and the consent of and input from the governed came to play an increasingly prominent role in governance. This is perfectly appropriate given subsidiarity (again, to be discussed below).  But the essentially organic nature of society, and the need for each part to be in solidarity with the others, does not change.

Solidarity is incompatible with the notion of class struggle.  In an organism, the fact that head, heart, arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc. have very different roles and needs does not mean they are in competition or at odds with one another.  On the contrary, they need and complement one another.  Similarly, capitalists and managers on the one hand and workers on the other, political authorities and those they govern, men and women, people of different ethnic groups, and so forth, are not in the nature of things at odds and cross purposes, but also complement one another and bring different strengths to the table.  The health of society requires, not the victory of one class or group over another or the elimination of class and group distinctions altogether, but rather the sober recognition of their differences and mutual respect and cooperation between them.

Solidarity is also incompatible with the notion of racial struggle, which is essentially a reflection of nationalism, the perversion of patriotism.  For one thing, though the solidarity we owe the human race in general is not as strong as the solidarity we owe our own family or country, we do owe it.  Every human being is a brother in an extended sense, and thus it is wrong to regard any other racial or ethnic group with hostility or contempt.  For another thing, very large nations are united not only by blood but by ties of shared history, language, culture, and so forth.  Even in the absence of blood ties, there is something analogous to an adoptive family connection between citizens.  One’s countrymen of any race or ethnicity are thus owed the same allegiance.

Now, this organic conception of society has two key components: the notion of society as a whole that is analogous to the body of an organism; and the notion of the members of society as analogous to distinctive parts of this whole, corresponding to the distinctive parts of the body (eyes, ears, heart, legs, etc.).  Distortions of the ideal of solidarity tend to distort one or other of these key components.

Hence, totalitarianism in its various forms (such as the class-oriented totalitarianism of communism or the race-oriented totalitarianism of Nazism) puts so much emphasis on the whole of which the members of society are parts that the parts essentially disappear.   The members are no longer seen as unique, each having needs and dignity of their own that the whole body must respect (the way that its eyes, arms, heart, lungs, etc. are cherished and looked after by an organism).  Rather, the members come to be seen as fleeting, interchangeable, and easily replaceable, like mere cells are, or even altogether dispensable, like waste products or hair and fingernail clippings.  The disanalogies between individual human beings and parts of the body – and no natural law theorist would deny that there are disanalogies, since the analogy is not exact – come to be ignored.  It is in part to remedy this dangerous misapplication of the organic analogy that the natural law theorist insists on balancing the principle of solidarity with the principle of subsidiarity.

There is another way solidarity can be distorted, which brings us to equality.  There is a clear sense in which the parts of the body, and the members of society too, are of equal concern.  As St. Paul writes:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.  But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. (I Corinthians 12:21-26)

But equal concern for all does not entail concern that all be made equal.  For all are not equal in every significant respect, and it is for the good of the whole that they are not.  The eyes and the legs are not equally good at seeing or equally good at walking.  Each has its job, and each has to do its job if the whole organism is to flourish.  An organism that does not take care of both its eyes and its legs is going to be dysfunctional.  But an organism that thinks that this means trying to force the eyes to walk and trying to force the legs to see is also going to be dysfunctional. 

Modern egalitarianism makes essentially this mistake.  In the name of equal concern for all, it resists or even rejects the idea that different members of society have different roles, aptitudes, and needs.  Hence socialism’s hostility to the very existence of different classes.  Hence feminism’s hostility to traditional sex roles within the family and to the idea that men and women naturally tend to differ in psychological traits no less than they do physiologically.  Hence the liberal’s dogmatic insistence on seeing persistent differences in economic and other outcomes as a result of unjust discrimination and insufficiently vigorous social engineering.  Hence the Rawlsian attitude of regarding individuals’ differing natural assets as “arbitrary from a moral point of view” so that the redistribution of the fruits of those varying assets is called for.   Hence the egalitarian’s constant, shameless blurring of the distinction between helping the poor (which solidarity most definitely requires) and equalizing economic outcomes (which solidarity most definitely does not require).  Hence Marx’s ridiculous fantasy in The German Ideology of:

communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, [where] society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Rightly understood, solidarity not only does not entail radical egalitarianism, it positively excludes it.  For egalitarianism, no less than radical individualism, is contrary to the organic nature of society.  The radical individualist denies that we are in any sense parts of a larger social body.  The radical egalitarian does not necessarily deny this, but does deny that we are different parts.  He wants to make us all eyes, or all legs, or all hearts.

This is why popes like Leo XIII and Pius XI were extremely hard on socialism and egalitarianism even as they called on capitalist society to reform itself so as to improve the conditions of workers and the poor.  This was not inconsistency on their part, but on the contrary perfect consistency, given the organic natural law conception of society with which they were working.  The teaching of the popes, like the teaching of natural law, is both that man is a social animal, and that he is not a socialist animal. 

Subsidiarity

An organism cannot fully flourish if it is interfered with – if you cage it, put it in fetters, constantly poke and prod it, or even just make yourself a nuisance, as a horsefly does.  It needs room to breathe, freedom of action, and the opportunity to make use of its special talents and knowledge. 

Social organisms are like this too.  A family has a concern for its members that is stronger than that of which outsiders are capable, and a knowledge of their needs that is greater and more intimate than that of outsiders.  The family ought therefore to be left to run its own affairs as far as possible, with outside agencies either assisting or interfering only when the family simply cannot otherwise continue to function properly.  Even then, when such intervention is necessary, it ought as far as possible to be those closest to the family itself – the extended family first and foremost, then local public authorities when absolutely necessary, and so on through the concentric circles mentioned earlier – who provide the assistance in question. 

What goes for the family goes for other social organizations.  The presumption is that they are to be left alone by higher-level social organizations, and that presumption can be overridden only when intervention is necessary to restore the proper function of the lower-level organizations, and only to the extent and for the time that this is necessary.  This is the natural law principle of subsidiarity, given classic expression by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno:

As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations.  Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.  For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

End quote.  Like the organic conception of society enshrined in the principle of solidarity, the principle of subsidiarity is at odds with socialism and any other political program that would in the name of “social justice” usurp what private enterprise, local communities, churches, and in general what Edmund Burke famously called the “little platoons” of society can accomplish. 

It is important to emphasize that this is a moral principle, and not merely a pragmatic one.  The claim isn’t merely that a central government may opt not to meddle in the affairs of smaller scale institutions if it judges that this may be more efficient.  It is that it must not meddle unless it is strictly necessary to do so.  Hence, suppose it is possible to provide adequate health care for all in a private system supplemented by government assistance programs for the needy who are unable to acquire adequate care in the free market.  (Whether this is in fact the case is not a debate I’m getting into here – it’s just an illustration.)  Then, in that case, we are not merely in a situation where it is unnecessary for the state to socialize the medical system.  According to the principle of subsidiarity, we are in a situation where the state morally must not do so – on pain of what Pius XI calls “injustice,” “grave evil,” and “disturbance of right order.” 

Hence, socialism cannot be justified in the name of social justice, because social justice rightly understood is a matter of solidarity rather than egalitarianism, and because solidarity goes hand in hand with subsidiarity.  Both principles are equally essential to the proper functioning of social institutions.  Thus did Pius XI teach in the same encyclical that “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

As Pius’s characterization of subsidiarity indicates, the principle applies even at the level of the individual.  Again, he writes that “it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community.”  However, the reason why this is wrong is the same as the reason it is wrong unnecessarily to interfere with the family and other “little platoons.”  Each of these smaller scale institutions within society has a special function of its own – just as, in an organism’s body, the eyes do the seeing, the legs do the walking, and so forth – and needs the freedom to get on with performing it.  But so too does the individual.  In particular, he needs the freedom to pursue the good as defined by natural law.  And while the many differences between individual talents, interests, and circumstances entail a large degree of freedom on the part of individuals to work out what is personally best for them, the natural law entails certain absolute moral boundaries within which this freedom can be exercised.

In short, the freedom of individuals and of families and other social formations has a teleological foundation.  It is fundamentally the freedom to do what is necessary or fitting for us to realize the ends toward which we are directed by nature.  (I have spelled out the teleological foundation of natural rights in several places, such as my article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation,” which is reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays.) 

This brings us at last to liberty.  Understood as the freedom of individuals, families, churches and other “little platoons” to pursue the ends toward which the natural law directs them, liberty is essentially the same thing as subsidiarity, and under contemporary circumstances may be the most neglected and urgent of the requirements of social order emphasized by the natural law social theorist.

However, that is not how most people understand liberty today.  Liberals, socialists, libertarians, and even many self-described conservatives think of “liberty” as essentially freedom from constraints on doing whatever one happens to want to do, rather than freedom to pursue what is in fact objectively good.  They disagree about exactly what respect for liberty thus understood entails, but they all tend to divorce it from anything like an objective natural law teleological foundation.  Justice Anthony Kennedy summed up this conception in a famous line from the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

“Liberty” understood in this sense is the greatest threat to social order as natural law theory understands it.  This is nowhere more obvious than in the case of the “liberty” ushered in by the sexual revolution and the enormous damage it has done to the institution of the family – that is to say, to the fundamental social institution.

In what natural law theory regards as a rightly ordered society, most people marry, and marriage typically results in children, and lots of them.  This in turn creates a large social network of people known personally to one – lots of brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, and so on – on whom individuals can fall back in times of need.  Divorce is stigmatized, so that children generally have stable homes and discipline, and they and their mothers generally have a reliable provider.  Elder family members are looked after by the new generation, just as they looked after that generation when it was in its infancy.  Elder members also find ongoing purpose in helping to raise their grandchildren.  In general, the good of the family takes precedence over the desires of the individual member.  And this subordination of self-interest to the common good of the family makes people more sober and realistic in their expectations, less selfish, and better able to achieve a contentment that is deep and lasting even if not as titillating as running off to begin a second or third marriage.

Contrast that with the contemporary mentality, which regards sex and romance as primarily a matter of self-fulfillment, rather than having self-sacrifice for the sake of children and family as its natural end.  Whereas the traditional arrangements commended by natural law subordinated the short-term interests of the individual to the long-term health of the family, the modern mentality subordinates the long-term health of the family to the short-term interests of the individual.  Naturally, solidarity is weakened.

How so?  First and most dramatically, enormous numbers of the inconvenient offspring that result from sexual relationships are now not only not looked after, but aborted – that is to say, to speak plainly, they are murdered by their own parents.  Solidarity doesn’t get any weaker than that.

But even that is just the beginning.  The children that people do have typically find themselves in very small families, with one or two other siblings at most.   Divorce, remarriage, and the ensuing shuffling around of offspring and geographical separation often also make the relationships that exist between siblings (or half-siblings) more distant.  Widespread fornication and divorce leave many women without providers and their children without a male role model.  With only one or two children to look after them, elderly family members come to be seen as a greater burden.  All of this results in greater poverty and in turn greater dependence on the state, as well as the anti-social behaviors (gang activity, crime, and the like) that young men are more prone to fall into in the absence of paternal discipline.  Men, meanwhile, since they can easily find short-term sexual gratification outside marriage, become more boorish and selfish, more prone to use women and abandon them.  Widespread pornography use makes them less able to find satisfaction with a real woman when they do marry, and contributes to marital discord and higher divorce rates.  A great many women, tossed aside when “serially monogamous” men decide to marry someone else, are unable to find husbands at all, and after middle age face decades of loneliness and childlessness.  Elderly family members are shuffled off to nursing homes and children to day care centers, to be looked after by paid employees rather than by other family members. 

So, there are fewer nuclear families, the ones that do exist are much smaller and less stable, care for children and elderly is often largely impersonal and divorced from the family itself, and the extended family has largely disappeared as a background part of everyday life.  People are more self-centered, less willing to sacrifice for the good even of their own flesh and blood.  They are also lonelier, and more in need of, and demanding of, governmental assistance.  In short, modern “liberty” undermines solidarity, which promotes state dependence, which undermines subsidiarity or liberty in the authentic sense. 

It also destroys allegiance to larger social orders.  If even the family itself is something to be broken apart and reinvented at personal whim, or even abandoned altogether, rather than sacrificed for, it is hardly surprising if one comes to see one’s country as having no special claim on one’s loyalty.

True social justice

Here is an irony of Orwellian proportions.  The currency of the term “social justice” originated in Thomistic natural law social theory.  It is often attributed to the great Jesuit natural law theorist Luigi Taparelli.  It has to do with the just or right ordering of society as defined by strong families and cooperation between husband and wife in carrying out their respective roles for the sake of children and elders, solidarity and cooperation between economic classes and other social groups, and scrupulous attention to subsidiarity in the state’s relationship to the “little platoons” of society. 

What today goes under the label of social justice – what self-described “social justice warriors” agitate for – is precisely the opposite of all of this.  It entails sexual libertinism and abortion on demand, the feminist demonization of “patriarchy” and of traditional family roles, the incessant stirring up of tensions between economic classes and racial groups (e.g. the daily Two Minutes Hate directed at “one percenters,” “white privilege,” etc.), the relentless smearing of one’s country and its history, socialized medicine and socialized education, and so on.  This might be liberty, equality, and fraternity after a fashion, but it is the destruction of subsidiarity, solidarity, and family and country.

When will true social justice be achieved?  Only when this evil doppelgänger is defeated.  Indeed, one is tempted to parody the line famously attributed to Diderot, and reply: only when the last socialist is strangled with the entrails of the last sexual revolutionary.  That’s meant as a joke, of course.  Revolutionary bloodlust is itself yet another malign legacy of the French Revolution, which every conservative and natural law theorist ought to condemn.  But all the same: Écrasez l'infâme

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51 comments:

  1. *standing ovation*

    Great post, Dr. Feser!

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  2. Another good post, Ed.
    C. S. Lewis uses the term "nationalism" to describe the vice of an excessive attachment to one's nation (patriotism being the virtue). The best term for the vice of insufficient attachment to one's family or nation is "oikophobia" coined by Roger Scruton.

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  3. I second that. Amazing post, Dr. Feser! You hit this one out of the park...

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  4. Your introduction paragraph is an instant CLASSIC!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dr. Feser,


    Couldn't freedom be defined as freedom from
    arbitrary constraints, that is, freedom from contraints that are not strictly required from natural law?

    This definition of liberty would be perfectly compatible with a society where divorce, abortion, contraception, gay "marriage", and even sodomy are all banned, and the individual gets to pursue all the particular goods he wants, all within the good and stable boundaries of natual law.

    What do you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joe D.,

      Every society will have constraints that are not strictly required by natural law and so by that definition, will be ‘arbitrary’. But such constraints are necessary for a functioning society.

      For example, while a particular society’s traditions embody and manifest natural law, they do so in particularized, concrete ways, and these particular manifestations are not strictly required by natural law. Take for example, differentiated sex roles, which differ from culture to culture, but which all point to the universal reality of the distinctiveness of man and woman, to the complementarity of the sexes, and to their function in society. Any particular manifestation of sex roles in a particular society is arbitrary in that this particular manifestation as opposed to that one is not strictly required by natural law. But for a society to regard freedom from arbitrary constraints as any sort of ordering principle for society – for example, for individual men to decide to differentiate sex roles in whichever ways they want without any respect for how the community expresses them - would be to undermine these traditions that bind a community together and that express the universal truths of natural law. This in turn would thus be to undermine the community itself.

      Those who advocate for ‘freedom from arbitrary constraints’ always presuppose some arbitrary constraints that they unwittingly take for granted. For example, trial by jury is arbitrary in the sense that there are other ways for a society to dispense justice. Or another example: a classical liberal or libertarian might try to argue that free markets allow man the freedom from arbitrary constraints in the economic realm in a way that is still consistent with natural law. But any ‘free market’ economy will presuppose certain definitions of what counts as property, what counts as ownership, what counts as a valid contract, what patents should cover and for how long, etc., and will also presuppose a particular legal framework. Such definitions and the legal framework itself are arbitrary in the sense that they could be defined differently and still be compatible with natural law.

      Moreover, a society might proscribe certain things not strictly required by natural law but regarded as conducive to promoting the common good. For example, a society might have good reason to outlaw gambling. A society might put restrictions on the free market because it judges capitalism to be undermining the family by alienating men’s and women’s work from the cooperative endeavor of support of the household.

      Best just to reject freedom as an ordering principle for society, unless defined in something like the way in which Prof. Feser defined it in his post, which is a definition that is referenced to the more ultimate ordering principle of the Good.

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  6. The family is thus the fundamental context within which we manifest our social nature.

    Why should the family be taken as primitive? Is it impossible to find a more basic mechanism to explain filial relations and how they map into broader social relations (for instance might filial reverence be based on a debt of gratitude for caring for one when vulnerable + their willing the good for one). If so it should be possible to take the fundamental social context to be interaction between individuals.

    Contrast that with the contemporary mentality, which regards sex and romance as primarily a matter of self-fulfillment, rather than having self-sacrifice for the sake of children and family as its natural end.

    On NL the former conjunct follows fairly clearly - what does it mean to say one has children (and undertakes a sacrifice) for the sake of the family though? Often the couple in question + the hypothetical children that will hopefully result from their union, just are the family - there is no entity above the individuals involved.

    Technically speaking is not having children a matter of the fulfillment of one's natural end? Ed is using 'fulfillment' in a lose and popular way here to mean 'satisfaction' I take.

    True, the goal of the state as facilitating the flourishing of its inhabitants is analogues to the role of a family head caring for their children and in all likelyhood evolved out of such a role.

    Nuclear families naturally give rise to extended families, and historically these in turn gave rise to tribes and nations. The allegiance we naturally feel for our families naturally gets extended to these larger social formations which grew out of the family. Patriotism is essentially family loyalty writ large. ... Patriotism is thus natural and good, just as family loyalty is natural and good. It is as necessary to the health of a nation as family loyalty is to the health of a family, and thus the absence of it is dysfunctional in something like the way a family is dysfunctional when its members feel no affection or loyalty for it.

    Can someone clarify whether Ed is claiming patriotism is analogues to filial loyalty or whether it is based/an extension of it?

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    1. Cont.

      Solidarity is incompatible with the notion of class struggle. In an organism, the fact that head, heart, arms, legs, eyes, ears, etc. have very different roles and needs does not mean they are in competition or at odds with one another. On the contrary, they need and complement one another. Similarly, capitalists and managers on the one hand and workers on the other, political authorities and those they govern, men and women, people of different ethnic groups, and so forth, are not in the nature of things at odds and cross purposes, but also complement one another and bring different strengths to the table. The health of society requires, not the victory of one class or group over another or the elimination of class and group distinctions altogether, but rather the sober recognition of their differences and mutual respect and cooperation between them.

      Modern egalitarianism makes essentially this mistake. In the name of equal concern for all, it resists or even rejects the idea that different members of society have different roles, aptitudes, and needs. Hence socialism’s hostility to the very existence of different classes.

      I don't think modern welfare leftists, as opposed to old school Marxists, would claim that the hostility to economic class would entail the hostility towards differing but equally valuable social roles. Their claims would appeal to a version of this:

      The presumption is that they are to be left alone by higher-level social organizations, and that presumption can be overridden only when intervention is necessary to restore the proper function of the lower-level organizations, and only to the extent and for the time that this is necessary.

      Of course they would say laissez faire economics* are not conducive to the proper function of all organizations and trades. Consider body analogy: they would claim overly free market societies are like the man who spends a lot of time on the comfort and wellbeing of his facial features but pays little attention to the medical needs of his feet.

      This is not to say welfare statism is the right option, only that its application by a government is prudential and not a moral principle.

      *The same argument is of course open to soft nationalists when claiming in favour of economic protectionism.

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    2. 1. You ignore the fact that Ed speaks of self-fulfillment, not "fulfillment" simply. That is very much a current term, referring to the radical individualist attitudes he attacks. That is not a "loose and popular" usage; although the idea discussed is itself confused, it still has a clear enough reference. And it's not all that new, either; it has precedents in existentialism (obviously), and Rousseau, and even Renaissance Platonists. (And that's just speaking of openly avowed predecessors. There are others who didn't expressly go so far, but in whom it does seem an implicit factor.)

      One key point is that familial relations are not contractual.

      2. I'm not at all clear about what you're getting at at the start, asking why the family, rather than the individual should be seen as fundamental. I don't see the argument.

      3. Nor am I clear about your point at the end. I've never encountered anything like an appeal to subsidiarity by a leftist, other than a few long-ago hippie commune dwellers of my youth. (And they were not actually all that left wing; that is a bit of a myth in itself.) What they do appeal to is a claim of the fundamental injustice of all such "structures" as existing solely to perpetuate power and oppression. So far as I can see, the left hasn't discarded the Marxist model of class. Quite the opposite; that model underlies the thinking of almost all nowadays, not just the non-Marxist left, but most of the right as well.

      What they have done is drop economics forces as the underlying reality, presumably because their economics has been so thoroughly disproved by events. They have replaced it with sexual and "identitarian" ideas as true reality. Through both versions, though, the "power and oppression" thread runs clearly.

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  7. Great post, Dr. Feser. Thank you.

    Perhaps you can answer a question for me. To what extent are nations justified in seeking to preserve their ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, if at all? Is it permissible according to Catholic ethics to take this into account when it comes to immigration policy? Is the preservation of culture an acceptable consideration in this regard?

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  8. This whole post reminds me a lot of Anthony Esolen's book on this subject, "Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching":

    https://www.amazon.com/Reclaiming-Catholic-Social-Teaching-Anthony/dp/1622821823

    Here is a blurb from Amazon's page:

    "Many claim that Catholic Social Teaching implies the existence of a vast welfare state. In these pages, Anthony Esolen pulls back the curtain on these false philosophers, showing how they've undermined the authentic social teachings of the Church in order to neutralize the biggest threat to their plans for secularization the Catholic Church.

    With the voluminous writings of Pope Leo XIII as his guide, Esolen explains that Catholic Social Teaching isn't focused exclusively on serving the poor. Indeed, it offers us a rich treasure of insights about the nature of man, his eternal destiny, the sanctity of marriage, and the important role of the family in building a coherent and harmonious society.

    Catholic Social Teaching, explains Pope Leo, offers a unified worldview. What the Church says about the family is inextricable from what She says about the poor; and what She says about the Eucharist informs the essence of Her teachings on education, the arts and even government.

    You will step away from these pages with a profound understanding of the root causes of the ills that afflict our society, and, thanks to Pope Leo and Anthony Esolen, well equipped to propose compelling remedies for them.

    Only an authentically Catholic culture provides for a stable and virtuous society that allows Christians to do the real work that can unite rich and poor. We must reclaim Catholic Social Teaching if we are to transform our society into the ideal mapped out by Pope Leo: a land of sinners, yes, but one enriched with love of God and neighbor and sustained by the very heart of the Church's social teaching: the most holy Eucharist."

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  9. Outstanding. Thank you, Professor.

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  10. Great post.

    I would replace the twin principles of subsidiarity and solidarity with the single principle of authority (subsidiarity and solidarity are two sides of the same coin of authority):

    https://bonald.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/the-one-principle-of-catholic-social-teaching/

    The blogger Zippy has described liberty, equality, and fraternity as sort of an unholy trinity: “Liberalism is political commitment to liberty, equality, and fraternity; where liberty begets equality and fraternity proceeds from them.” Because liberalism regards a ‘neutral’ conception of liberty (individual autonomy) as its ultimate standard, it has no independent objective standard by which to judge the goodness or badness of different desires that individuals might happen to have (to have such an objective standard would no longer be ‘neutral’). Therefore, no individual desire is objectively any better or worse than any other, and so they are all equal. Modern liberalism then becomes a project in administrating and managing the equal satisfaction of desires as efficiently as equitably as possible.

    Another writer well worth reading on liberty and equality is James Kalb. His book The Tyranny of Liberalism is excellent: before reading it, the left’s demands always seemed arbitrary and contradictory to me (for example, in its support of ‘sexual freedom’ and its opposition to ‘economic freedom’). Kalb shows how there is an internal logic to liberalism that makes sense of these superficially contradictory demands, but how at bottom it is an incoherent system of thought. It goes much deeper than your standard conservative critique of liberalism, which tends still to accept freedom as a worthwhile political standard.

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  11. On the topic of subsidiarity, Anthony Esolen elaborates well:

    The Thomistic view of the polis underlies the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, which asserts that communities closest to the issue at hand should be allowed the freedom to tackle it. That is not simply because they do a better job of it, as some conservatives insist. It is because the fullness of community life is essential to our being human. … [E]ven if it [the state] could do the job well, its assumption of that role would take from the community one of the most important responsibilities it possesses. It would overstep its own zone of authority to usurp another. Supposing some state agency could, with wonderful efficiency, feed children and make them do their homework and put them to bed; still, its exercise of this role would rob from the people one of the great challenges and joys of life, the raising of children according to one's own best lights.

    http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/esolen/07953.html

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  12. One thing that bothers me about many traditional Catholics when it comes to CST is that they really want to (literally) go back to the middle ages and the (supposedly) divinely ordained feudal structure of society that existed with little or no room to advancement based on merit. They would applaud should the 3rd verse of all things bright and beautiful be inserted into the creed.

    Coming from a poor family this really bothers me. I am an intelligent man with a good job (and good future prospects), engaged to a Catholic woman whose socio-economic class is superior to my own. Now whilst her immediate family have embraced me wholeheartedly, members of her extended family continue to treat me as a little more than a gorilla that has been strategically shaved and stuffed into a suit because I cannot quote Cicero in Latin off the top of my head.

    The fact that these men claim to be 'Christian Gentlemen' does sometimes threaten (albeit only on an emotional level) to send me back into the arms of Voltaire, Zola and Marx who were my childhood companions from whom (thanks in large part to Clara's influence) I escaped a decade ago.

    Whilst I'm by no means blind to the problems with democracy, I cannot seriously believe that going back to the feudal system would somehow solve all our problems. I may stand condemned for this, but I do (being half French) quietly celebrate Bastille Day and the overthrow of the Ancien Régime;

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    1. I think I've got something that could interest you.

      If you want to see a much more "moderate" form of traditionalism, read the Habsburg Restorationist.

      For example, he explicitly rejects feudalism here as being against the Common Good in contemporary circumstances:

      https://thewarforchristendom.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/europe-is-the-empire-the-social-order-of-tomorrow/

      And even goes the Aristotelian path by proposing that some democracy within a monarchy would a good thing as an expression of subsidiarity.

      In other words, he's more of a political realist than some other traditionalists are, which I think would solve some of the problems you have with traditionalists greatly.

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    2. I recommend Regine Pernoud's Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths.

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    3. I'd also recommend following Tim O'Neill on Quora ( https://www.quora.com/profile/Tim-ONeill-1 ). Despite being an outspoken "card-carrying atheist" (*not* an antitheist though!), and thus qualifying as a completely non-suspicious source, he handles the Church's historic role with fairness. Whilst being only an amateur himself, the thing is that he exposes the general consensus of the top scholars in the field (which he studies in great detail) in an engaging and crystal clear way, being particularly conscious that he is writing to a lay audience. To this effect, his strongest point happens to be his absolutely relentless demolishing of the series of resilient myths regarding the European past that persist in popular imagination to this day.

      Long story short, in reality, the actual Middle Ages (as well as the Early Modern Period, to some extent) were diametrically opposed to the grossly distorted caricature that pervades popular culture. In particular, the nobility and royalty, and of course the clergy, tend to be portrayed in a terribly bad light which is inevitably exaggerated and unjust. And indeed, most of the related myths have originated with the so-called Enlightenment (with many of them being recycled from Protestant propaganda), much in the same way that the myths regarding classical and Christian philosophy and rationality, which Prof. Feser has dismantled time and time again here in his blog and in his several excellent books, also trace back to this historical period.

      In truth, I speak from a similar starting position to yours. I am from Portugal, a country whose pious people have for centuries fallen victims to the same anticlerical, antimonarchist and anticonservative propaganda, itself consisting of the very lies borrowed directly from French leftist, secularist, republican "intellectuals". It's been a long journey for me but, at long last, at the same time I am making my way back into the Church of Christ, I am also coming to terms with the true history of my own civilization by learning to distinguish factual matters from the founding myths of certain worldviews.


      By the way, I write this from Fátima, the place where, exactly one hundred years ago today, at the solar noon of 13th October 1917 (the precise date, time and spot for which Our Lady of the Rosary had promised the three young children three months earlier "a sign, so that all may believe"), the Miracle of the Sun occurred. Needless to say, the tyrannical allegiance of freemasons, "freethinkers" and revolutionaries put all its efforts into discrediting "the superstitions of the illiterate masses", just like they have always done and will continue to do. But little do they know that Truth shall always prevail in the end.

      May the Lord bless all of you and your families,
      Petrus

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    4. Anon, I find that interesting. I am not at all Portuguese, but am strongly Lusophile, which comes from my fascination with all things nautical. One thing I hammer on is the falsity of the claim that the advances in technology, and the ensuing rise of European dominance, worldwide, were the result of the new science. Not remotely plausible if one looks at the timeline. Portugal spearheaded the advancement of seafaring and shipbuilding, starting at least 2 centuries before Galileo and Bacon. (You will know, but most don't realize, that Prince Henry was a close contemporary of England's Henry V.)

      I agree O'Neil is good. Pernoud is fun too. Others worth reading are the old Haskins Twelfth Century Renaissance, and Gimpel's Medieval Machine. But any decent course in the Middle Ages will start with the professor telling his students that everything they think they know about it, is false.

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    5. Thank you everyone for the replies, I shall certainly look into the resources you suggested.

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    6. Just Another,

      What I believe JoeD, dover_beach, and Anon are getting at is your belief that "they really want to (literally) go back to the middle ages and the (supposedly) divinely ordained feudal structure of society that existed with little or no room to advancement based on merit.

      This is wrong on three counts.

      1. It is false that there was little advancement in society. I just happen to have been reading J H Hexter on this very point ("Myth of the Middle Class in Tudor England"; it's a myth. The rise of "new men" (and the voices bemoaning that) were fairly constant back as far as he went, which was the 11th C. It's belief which was imposed by the model demanded by both Whig and Marxist historians of the 19th & 20th Cs. (And note that Hexter considered himself a Whig historian, albeit a most heterodox one.)

      2. The claim that the Catholics hold feudalism to be "divinely inspired" is unsupportable. There is no such doctrine. In fact, even in the Middle Ages, the Church's position was often in opposition to the natural tendencies of feudalism. E.g., the Investiture controversy, or (in the opposite direction) Pope Sylvester's support of the Imperial ideal. (Not that all popes did so; I'm just pointing out that it's not so simple.)

      3. Feudalism, in any meaningful sense, dates from Charlemagne's era, and is moribund by 1500. The Church long predated the former, and outlasted the latter, and the social teaching reflects that. (To my eye, some of the things St Thomas says sometimes sound anachronistic in the 13th C, sounding more appropriate for classical Rome or even the Greek Polis.)

      A final point: if you think the Ancien Regime was feudal, you've been swallowing a Marxist myth. Not even close. Absolutism is anathema to feudalism, and vice-versa. The whole tendency of the early modern period was the destruction of aristocratic power by the kings, except in England and the Netherlands, where it went the other way. (BTW, I too am half French; I sometimes fly the fleu de lis on July 14.)

      Oh, yes, one more thing. What you are dealing with in your prospective in-laws is simply a minority culture, like any other. They will show as concerned about the loss of their classical culture as are Jews and Greeks, and just as eager to see theirs survive. Intermarriage is always tricky. Try to see through their eyes, and good luck.

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    7. Dear George

      1. it is the fact that preening, privileged brats are consistently bemoaning the rise of 'new money' that is part of my animus. The fact that some people think of those of us who have earned our money as shaved gorillas and somehow not 'proper gentleman' is what grates.

      2. Yes I know that feudislim is moribund by the 1500s, but there are still Catholics of the Traditional variety who think of it as the only valid form of social structure.

      3. I know that the Ancien Regime was absolutist, that is where my sympathy for the revolution comes from.

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    8. Tim O'Neill is awesome. I've got to say I really love how he mercilessly destroys the sheer irrationality of his fellow atheists that won't hesitate to go to impressive lengths just to deny the historical facts, despite all the available evidence there exist in support of them. It's the ultimate irony and hypocrisy that these tend to be the very same people who insist theists have to sacrifice reason and evidence for the sake of their beliefs...

      I think (and pray) that one day he'll return to the Church. IIRC his unbelief seems to be mainly motivated by undergraduate philosophy. Which is to say, as we all know so well, if he ever comes across Dr Feser's work and reads it with the same intellectual honesty he puts into his studies on Church history, there's a good chance that might indeed happen ;)

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  13. Dr. Feser, I wonder what you would make of the relatively new American Solidarity Party, which has made its way into American politics as being based on Catholic Social Teaching?

    https://www.solidarity-party.org/platform/

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  14. Political Philosophy book when?

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  15. "Or think of the nationalist who believes that his country or race ought to impose its will on other countries and races, and exploit them for its own benefit." This isn't a defining characteristic of nationalism! Why use this conflation to pathologize nationalism?

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    1. I agree that the connotation that has stuck to the word "nationalism" is unfortunate.

      For if "patriotism" is the love for one's patria (fatherland), "nationalism" should be the love for one's nation. And, while not strictly synonymous, the two should go hand in hand. Plus, I think it is relatively easy to agree, if not unanimous, that the people (the nation) are ultimately more important than the land (the patria).

      Also, it's not as if we don't already have better words to convey in a more precise sense what we usually mean by "nationalism". Namely: xenophobia (a hatred of foreigners) and chauvinism (an exaggerated, sometimes even militaristic, belief in the superiority of one's own nation).

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  16. What is a nation though? And what would precisely the people before the French Revolution think of our current attachments? And how much is national attachment of the modern sort a product of that very revolution and later developments that built on the centralization brought by it?

    Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen answers some of these questions.

    Some of the comments on the book:

    ‘“it is clear that France around 1870 did not conform to…[the] model of a nation. It was neither morally nor materially integrated” (p. 485). Eugen Weber argues persuasively that the peasantry did not nationalize until the 1880s and 1890s...’

    ‘... This book provides real insight into the mentality of French peasants and how this mentality was transformed from parochial self-conceptions and accompanying insular social organization to conceptions of French nationality and conscious membership in French society. For example, in the mid-19th century, a large number of Frenchmen did not speak French but rather a variety of regional languages. Expansion of the national economy, mandatory primary education, and other forces would eventually destroy local languages and produce a more homogenous French speaking nation. Weber demonstrates convincingly that this process took place relatively rapidly, focused in the years between the Franco-Prussian War and WWI’

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  17. This may well be my favorite of all your articles. Brilliant!

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  18. There is of course no such as true religion without consciously created community. the sacred community is the necessary theatre or crucible wherein true religious responsibilities and activities can take place.
    Over time, the conventional understanding of religion and of religious responsibilities has become abstracted and dogmatized , such that religion has been made to seem to be merely a personal and private endeavor. Thus, in this time and place conventional religion has become woefully deficient as a true culture. The normal dreadfully sane Catholic believer sitting in the church pew and mumbling on about Jesus is just as much dazed and confused about quite literally everything as all of the non-believers.

    The abstract State, or the broad social apparatus of politics and economics that now controls everyone and everything, is an inherently secular domain. When the people thus become tied exclusively to the now dominant secular environment of the State, they become fragmented into a mass of mere competing individuals, controlled by great and inherently indifferent political and economic forces.

    In this time and place conventional religion tends to create and to function only as an institutional order, but it, generally, fails to create a practical cooperative order, or a true comprehensive community culture. The institutions of conventional religion tend to organize the attention and resources of people in much the same manner as the modern day secular State. That is to say, merely institutional religion fragments the Inherent Unity and, thus, the native cooperative community into a chaotic mass of merely competing individuals. Therefore, conventional religion fails to be a true religion because it fails to oblige people to create literal, or true and real, religious community, involving mutual cooperation, mutual responsibility, and mutual inter-dependence.

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  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Although having children is, on Ed's NL account the realisation of one's nature and thus a good, the decision to have children at X time is still subject to prudential concerns - (think of the old line about couples holding off their marriage til they had enough money to support potential children). In a worst case scenario it might become the case that globally it might become prudential form humans to hold off having children for a while, whether by abstaining from marriage or practicing the rhythm method.

      Those more in tune with Natural Law are welcome to correct me here.

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    2. OP "subsidiarity; solidarity; and family and patriotism"

      Ok, so god is unnecessary after all. Told you so.

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    3. Well, unless accepting that background ontology commits one to theism one is welcome to be a Natural Law theorist without God. Of course some theists might take that as an argument against Natural Law theory.

      I would be interest to see Ed or other ‘old’ Natural Law theorists engage more with naturalistic equivalents such as Hurka or Q Smith’s Perfectionism.

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  20. On an unrelated note, I believe that Bertrand Russell is singularly responsible for making logic as confused as his own mind.

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  21. Tomislav OstojichOctober 13, 2017 at 8:36 AM

    "On an unrelated note, I believe that Bertrand Russell is singularly responsible for making logic as confused"
    --Interesting. What aspect of Russell's logic is "confused"?

    " as his own mind."
    --Ditto on his mind...

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  22. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/10/12/pope-francis-revise-catechism-to-show-death-penalty-is-inadmissible/ prof Feser you have to check this out. The man goes ahead

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    1. Ed's reply is here:
      http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/10/15/the-popes-remarks-on-capital-punishment-need-to-be-clarified/

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  23. Prof, this is a fantastic piece. Thank you.

    I just have one clarifying comment:

    Nuclear families naturally give rise to extended families, and historically these in turn gave rise to tribes and nations. The allegiance we naturally feel for our families naturally gets extended to these larger social formations which grew out of the family. Patriotism is essentially family loyalty writ large.
    ...
    Political authority, on the natural law conception, was originally an extension of paternal authority, with the earliest rulers being patriarchs or fathers of tribes and nations, analogous to the fathers who governed nuclear families. As nations got larger and the relationships between citizens less personal, heads of countries naturally came to seem “father”-like in only the loosest way, and the consent of and input from the governed came to play an increasingly prominent role in governance.

    It is my understanding that we have the Greeks, really, to thank for the idea of the "polis" as such, and their own distinction between themselves (the Greeks - one nation, though in many different polities) and "the barbarians" has to do with this. The distinction regards the matter of explicit tribal order. A nation (following the Latin) refers to those sharing a common origin by birth. But tribes do that too. What is different is that in a nation, the rank (and privilege, as under tribal ranking) are no longer ordered and maintained distinctly and according to a complete hierarchy. Nobody remembers or cares whether Dan son of Shem in the clan of Ben of the tribe of Judah comes higher or lower in a national hierarchy than someone else in a different tribe - there is no central ordering system. Hence, there is a fundamental equality of the different families in the nation (aristocracy being a different layer of ordering than the nation's tribes, which is why when you get to about 5th remove from the ruling line, it simply doesn't matter any more).

    Tribal ordering above the extended family can provide a useful method of ruling in small communities, but basing it on a strict notion of familial structure introduces a fatal flaw: when a man becomes old enough to leave his father and mother and form a new family with his wife, he no longer owes his father the same kind of obedience that a child owes his father. Trying to make it so can only distort family relations.

    Hence political order, and thus political authority, while it bears some analogy to that of the family, also entails some differences.

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    1. I don't know. I think there are two problems with this.

      1. The word "nation" has a dual meaning, a fact usually forgotten. The Greeks were, indeed, a nation in one sense, but certainly not a nation-state, by any definition. And it is the latter which is the basis of nationalism. The trouble is that it seems always to entail the annihilation of all lower orderings of society, as the object first of the highest, then ultimately of the sole loyalty of its citizens. This seems as true of America and Britain as of Germany and Russia, even despite the fact that our constitution does include a pre-national notion of federation.

      2. Thus most of what you say seems to apply to the first sense, but this does not: " nation, the rank (and privilege, as under tribal ranking) are no longer ordered and maintained distinctly and according to a complete hierarchy." The aforementioned Greeks are an obvious counterexample. No one in the Roman Republic would think that the Julii were no better than anyone else. Your position here would seem to imply that all these and others like them cannot actually be nations, in the more general sense. They surely were not nation-states.

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    2. The Greeks were, indeed, a nation in one sense, but certainly not a nation-state, by any definition.

      George, this is true, and I did not mean to imply or suggest they were a nation-state. Nor did my point involve thinking that. The Greeks were one nation but MANY different polities.

      And it is the latter which is the basis of nationalism. The trouble is that it seems always to entail the annihilation of all lower orderings of society, as the object first of the highest, then ultimately of the sole loyalty of its citizens.

      Whatever is right in one's duty of piety toward the nation is due in virtue of things that don't in the least cause the annihilation of lower orders: The respect and unity with others with the same origin as you; the communal sense with those who use the same language; the common gratitude toward those who have handed down to you the true faith, with which you worship God in common with your neighbor; the shared customs that smooth away the sharp edges of social living: all these are part of the heritage of "nation" but in no way do they defeat subsidiarity nor create hatred of those of other nations.

      The aforementioned Greeks are an obvious counterexample. No one in the Roman Republic would think that the Julii were no better than anyone else.

      I think, George, that you missed my point, which was of a COMPLETE hierarchy, such as you can have within one tribe. The loss of clear reference all the way back in unbroken line to the first ancestor(s) (eg. to Romulus, or, for the Greeks, to Hercules) made it so that none of the patricians could say to another patrician family "We are descended in direct line, you in a collateral line, therefore from first origin we supercede you in position." There was a common denominator in that they accepted each other (patrician) family's claim to descent from the favored ancestor(s), but nobody's claim of direct, unbroken chain of descent.

      At least, this is what I have read the Greeks said of themselves: their separating themselves from "barbarians" was in virtue of recognizing an organizing principle that admits of (and is necessary for) larger groupings than the tribe.

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    3. Most of what you say is OK, but I am doubtful about this:

      Whatever is right in one's duty of piety toward the nation is due in virtue of things that don't in the least cause the annihilation of lower orders

      I'll grant that there is no demonstrable logical entailment, but I will insist that it's awfully hard to find historical examples of nationalism not crushing subsidiarity. How's Palatine doing? Or Venice? That's actually one of the positive things about feudalism; power was necessarily spread out to a degree that the sovereign simply couldn't impose uniformity, as Rome did, and the modern state (and Imperial China, for that matter).

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    4. I am not sure it is quite fair to call it "nationalism" crushing subsidiarity. Germany united at least in part under the specific banner of "nationalism", but France not so much, and England not at all - it wasn't in virtue of any sort of "nationalism" that England and Wales (and eventually Scotland) consolidated under the English kings, it was just ordinary imperialism. (Not to mention that England took over Wales long before the rise of the modern nation-state). Russia, much the same. Napoleon, a key figure in the format of modern Europe, didn't try to extend France's empire over everyone else under the cry of extending the French nationhood to everyone else. Ancient Rome did not extend take over all of Italy out of nationalism, i.e. out of imposing Roman rule on all of those who had descended from Rome's ancestors, spoke Latin, and worshiped the Roman gods, it was in virtue of imposing Roman rule on others who were not at all Roman.

      I admit that the great powers have a habit of crushing the littler polities, but imperialism account for part, and at least in part this is because, prior to the rise of the nation-states, nobody even understood the principle of subsidiarity clearly. Nobody in antiquity mentions it. It was recognized in defense against the combined effects of imperialism and nationalism run amok.

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    5. I disagree about France. I think it is the very quintessential case of nationalism, from at least the 17th C onward. I think this was because it was so fractured previously. (OK, you could make a case for Spain.) Sure, Napoleon's approach to the rest of Europe was rapacious imperialism, but within France he worked very hard to make it a unified nation-state of the modern sort.

      Similarly, Russian nationalism is profound. Don't be fooled by the fact that the Russian empire included other peoples - it's not a matter of where the map extends. But among Russians their policy is a picture perfect image of nationalism.

      France and Russia are, in fact, the two nations where "throne and altar" and "blood and soil" were early allies, and not antagonists.

      One caution: just because the Russians and Germans thought that way, don't assume that a tightly ethnic standard is inherent to nationalism. It wasn't for France, nor for Mussolini, for instance.

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    6. I think it is the very quintessential case of nationalism, from at least the 17th C onward.

      I was thinking of the France that, some years after Joan of Arc died and the British were expelled, was under one rule - in 1453, not the 17th century. In 1453 the Renaissance was not yet in bloom in France, and it was certainly before the modern era of the modern nation-state.

      I suspect you and I are operating with a different meaning for nationalism. It's hard to define, especially in a way that carries meaning across on only centuries but whole eras. I view the rise of large states in the modern era as at least as much due to (a) the possibility of faster transportation and communication (the saddle, way-stations with post ponies, and much faster ships), (b) the increase in populations making possible the fielding of larger armies - but then requiring the response of coordinating with your neighbors to the threat, and (c) the management need to DEAL with all that effectively. The bent sort of nationalism is also in there, but the large state would have happened without it.

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  24. "Family and patriotism" would both fall under piety, i.e. right relation to the paternal. The added denotation would also be welcome.

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    1. Good point, James, I should have used that term. I don't know why I didn't think of it.

      And it would include the divine as well, our obligations to which are included in natural law and social justice. (A generic theism, that is. Specifically Christian theism takes us beyond natural law.)

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  25. I can only add John Locke simply said God gave man the planet and the Man simply has natural rights and then rights to what he creates. THEN this leads to contracts between men to confirm these rights. Including forming a group that obeys the leadership/government of the group AS LONG as it confirms their rights. So obvious things that are wrong nullify the contract(s).
    The group/tribe/nation is itself a contract.
    The family came first but quickly was replaced by the extended family itself quickly replaced by another boundary of a group.
    It was only segregated groups from the start

    John Locke did nail the equation for civilization or mankind.
    Gods laws and mans laws, after contracts,.

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  26. Prof Feser writes:
    "Political authority, on the natural law conception, was originally an extension of paternal authority"

    Other natural law, pre-modern views are possible. For instance, the view in which there are three irreducible levels of human social organization, namely
    i) Individual
    ii) Family
    iii) City in the sense of polis or nation.

    After all, families are NOT naturally found isolated. It is the City that is self-sustaining entity capable of independent existence for very long times. Families are simply not capable of transmitting cultural values necessary for human flourishing.
    As Aristotle has said in Politics, that without the rule of the City, the order in families is apt to disintegrate. He gives analogy to cancer. An isolated family is like a cancerous cell.

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