Friday, September 18, 2020

Aquinas contra globalism

In Book Two, Chapter 3 of his little work De Regno (or On Kingship), Thomas Aquinas addresses matters of trade and its effect on the material and spiritual well-being of a nation.  On the one hand, and at the end of the chapter, he allows that:

Trade must not be entirely kept out of a city, since one cannot easily find any place so overflowing with the necessaries of life as not to need some commodities from other parts.  Also, when there is an over-abundance of some commodities in one place, these goods would serve no purpose if they could not be carried elsewhere by professional traders.  Consequently, the perfect city will make a moderate use of merchants.

However, “moderate” is the key word here.  The bulk of the chapter is devoted to warnings about the negative effects of excessive reliance on trade.  Aquinas begins with the material harms it entails:

There are two ways in which an abundance of foodstuffs can be supplied to a city.  The first we have already mentioned, where the soil is so fertile that it amply provides for all the necessities of human life.  The second is by trade, through which the necessaries of life are brought to the town in sufficient quantity from different places.

It is quite clear that the first means is better.  The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient.  Now the city which is supplied by the surrounding country with all its vital needs is more self-sufficient than another which must obtain those supplies by trade.  A city therefore which has an abundance of food from its own territory is more dignified than one which is provisioned through trade.

It seems that self-sufficiency is also safer, for the import of supplies and the access of merchants can easily be prevented whether owing to wars or to the many hazards of the sea, and thus the city may be overcome through lack of food.

End quote.  In Aristotelian-Thomistic political philosophy, the state is the perfect society in the sense that it is complete in a way smaller social units are not.  For example, individual families and small villages are not able to provide for all of their needs, such as protection from invasion and the variety and amount of food they need.  That is why larger social formations, united into a state, are necessary.  But by the same token, a state that is less reliant on trade, especially for basic needs, is ipso facto more perfect or complete.  And this is evidenced by the fact that the breakdown of supply lines, the hostility of foreign powers, economic collapse elsewhere, etc. are bound to affect the well-being of a state that is highly dependent on trade more than that of a state that is not so dependent.

But Aquinas has even more to say about the moral and spiritual harms that tend to follow from an overreliance on trade.  Economic self-sufficiency, he writes:

is more conducive to the preservation of civic life.  A city which must engage in much trade in order to supply its needs also has to put up with the continuous presence of foreigners.  But intercourse with foreigners, according to Aristotle’s Politics, is particularly harmful to civic customs.  For it is inevitable that strangers, brought up under other laws and customs, will in many cases act as the citizens are not wont to act and thus, since the citizens are drawn by their example to act likewise, their own civic life is upset.

End quote.  A nation is not merely a population located in a certain geographical territory.  It is united by a common history, laws, mores, and culture, and disruptions to the latter therefore threaten its unity.  Aquinas thinks that “the continuous presence of foreigners” has a tendency to cause such disruption, especially insofar as citizens “are drawn by their example to act likewise,” i.e. to begin to act according to foreign norms and lose allegiance to those of their own nation.

This is related to a theme Aquinas develops elsewhere, in Summa Theologiae I-II.105.3.  Of ancient Israel, he observes, approvingly, that:

When any foreigners wished to be admitted entirely to their fellowship… a certain order was observed.  For they were not at once admitted to citizenship: just as it was law with some nations that no one was deemed a citizen except after two or three generations, as the Philosopher says (Polit. iii, 1).  The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.

The principle here is that becoming part of a nation is, again, not merely a matter of entering into the population of some geographical territory.  It also involves making one’s own the common history, laws, mores, and culture of that nation – joining the extended family, as it were.  Until that happens with an incoming population, it cannot, in Aquinas’s view, be sure to have the nation’s “common good firmly at heart.” 

What these passages from Aquinas imply is that too free a flow of populations across borders tends to dilute allegiance to the shared norms and culture of a nation, and thus threatens national unity.  For, on the side of citizens, out of deference to foreigners they will become less attached to those norms and that culture, and thus less attached to their own nation; and on the side of foreigners, they will feel less incentive to adopt or respect the norms and culture themselves, and thus less likely to assimilate to the extended family.

So, in Aquinas’s view, excessive reliance on trade threatens the material well-being and unity of a nation.  A third danger concerns the moral character of a nation.  As he writes in the same section of De Regno:

Again, if the citizens themselves devote their life to matters of trade, the way will be opened to many vices.  Since the foremost tendency of tradesmen is to make money, greed is awakened in the hearts of the citizens through the pursuit of trade.  The result is that everything in the city will become venal; good faith will be destroyed and the way opened to all kinds of trickery; each one will work only for his own profit, despising the public good; the cultivation of virtue will fail since honour, virtue’s reward, will be bestowed upon the rich.  Thus, in such a city, civic life will necessarily be corrupted.

In other words, a nation excessively concerned with commerce will begin to approximate Plato’s conception of oligarchy, i.e. a society dominated by souls oriented primarily to the pursuit of wealth.  Not only does this foster the vice of greed, it also leads to a general decadence.  Aquinas observes that “tradesmen, not being used to the open air and not doing any hard work but enjoying all pleasures, grow soft in spirit.” 

In Book Two, Chapter 4 of De Regno, Aquinas considers the topic of decadence at length.  On the one hand, he acknowledges that “since the life of man cannot endure without enjoyment,” a city needs to be pleasant.  As he says at the end of the chapter, “in human intercourse it is best to have a moderate share of pleasure as a spice of life, so to speak, wherein man’s mind may find some recreation.”  However, what he emphasizes is that when citizens become too concerned with pleasure-seeking, “this is most harmful to a city.”  He develops the theme as follows:

In the first place, when men give themselves up to pleasure their senses are dulled, since this sweetness immerses the soul in the senses so that man cannot pass free judgment on the things which cause delight.  Whence, according to Aristotle’s sentence, the judgment of prudence is corrupted by pleasure.

Again, indulgence in superfluous pleasure leads from the path of virtue, for nothing conduces more easily to immoderate increase which upsets the mean of virtue, than pleasure.  Pleasure is, by its very nature, greedy, and thus on a slight occasion one is precipitated into the seductions of shameful pleasures just as a little spark is sufficient to kindle dry wood; moreover, indulgence does not satisfy the appetite for the first sip only makes the thirst all the keener.  Consequently, it is part of virtue’s task to lead men to refrain from pleasures.  By thus avoiding any excess, the mean of virtue will be more easily attained.

Also, they who give themselves up to pleasures grow soft in spirit and become weak-minded when it is a question of tackling some difficult enterprise, enduring toil, and facing dangers

Finally, men who have become dissolute through pleasures usually grow lazy and, neglecting necessary matters and all the pursuits that duty lays upon them, devote themselves wholly to the quest of pleasure, on which they squander all that others had so carefully amassed.  Thus, reduced to poverty and yet unable to deprive themselves of their wonted pleasures, they do not shrink from stealing and robbing in order to have the wherewithal to indulge their craving for pleasure.

End quote.  So, Aquinas notes, first, that pleasure can overwhelm the mind to such an extent that, the more devoted one is to pleasure-seeking, the less “critical distance” one has on the pleasures one enjoys.  One is less able to think reasonably or prudently about them.  (As Aquinas emphasizes elsewhere, this is especially so with pleasure taken in sexual immorality, which has a tendency to blind the intellect.)  Second, the more one is inclined to pleasure-seeking in general, the more likely one is to fall into immoral pleasures (as opposed to licit pleasures pursued excessively).  For indulgence tends to increase rather than satisfy the appetite, making one more willing to “push the envelope” in order to sustain the same level of pleasure.  Third, people excessively concerned with pleasure-seeking become soft and unable to face problems manfully.  Finally, they tend also to be wasteful with wealth, and unscrupulous with regard to the means by which they would secure their pleasures.

Though Aquinas does not draw the connection in chapter 4, a commerce-oriented society is bound to be a pleasure-seeking society, given that it will be appetitive and will have the wealth to indulge its appetites.  To the extent that excessive reliance on trade makes a society more commerce-oriented, then, it will thereby in turn make it also more pleasure-oriented.

Going back to chapter 3, we can note that Aquinas adduces one final consideration against excessive reliance on trade:

Finally, that city enjoys a greater measure of peace whose people are more sparsely assembled together and dwell in smaller proportion within the walls of the town, for when men are crowded together it is an occasion for quarrels and all the elements for seditious plots are provided.  Hence, according to Aristotle’s doctrine, it is more profitable to have the people engaged outside the cities than for them to dwell constantly within the walls.  But if a city is dependent on trade, it is of prime importance that the citizens stay within the town and there engage in trade.  It is better, therefore, that the supplies of food be furnished to the city from its own fields than that it be wholly dependent on trade.

End quote.  In short, excessive orientation toward trade concentrates people in cities and thereby leads to greater social strife than would exist if people were more dispersed.

What would Aquinas think of contemporary politicians and business leaders who treat commerce and pleasure-seeking as the primary social goods, enact trade agreements that undermine domestic manufacturing, implement policies favorable to multinational corporations and economic globalization, encourage multiculturalism and disdain national loyalties, favor loose immigration controls or even open borders, and take interest only in major metropolitan centers and regard the rest of the nation as “flyover country”?  Would he regard them as fit to govern their fellow citizens, according to the principles of De Regno? 

Related posts:

The virtue of patriotism

John Paul II in defense of the nation and patriotism

Liberty, equality, fraternity?

Continetti on post-liberal conservatism

Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism

96 comments:

  1. I noticed a recurring theme in your posts.

    excessive orientation toward trade concentrates people in cities and thereby leads to greater social strife than would exist if people were more dispersed.

    The cession of strife is not an unconditional good. Friend Computer in the RPG Paranoia successfully ended all strife in Alpha Complex. But he was the evil villain, not the hero.

    It reminds me of how absolute monarchy supporters often justify themselves by saying that a king "doesn't practice politics." But this is the political science version of Hume's fork, because the apolitical stance is a political stance in itself, and so it's self eviscerating.

    tl;dr: "Apolitical" people are the Humeians of political science, and right-wing authoritarian ideologies like those of Trump supporters are the scientism of political science.

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    1. You are confusing two different ideas of "politics," and in doing so, misunderstanding monarchists. When we something is "political," we can mean one of two things.

      1) It presupposes some tradition, ideology, or belief that may be controversial.
      2) It is necessarily involved in some political factional dispute.

      When monarchists proclaim the virtues of having a king that doesn't practice politics, they mean politics in the second sense. Because the king's rule is absolute, he can minimize the factionalism within his rule, thus "depoliticizing" everything making his view the default. Monarchists do not deny that the king will inevitably be informed by some worldview, which is why Catholic monarchists in particular emphasize the role of religious upbringing and moral education of the monarch while he is a prince. That way, when he grows older, he will adhere to natural law and the teachings of the Church when he governs.

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    2. That there will be more strife in concentrated populations than dispersed ones does not necessitate that the complete absence of strife is the ideal. It only implies that strife in the latter is further from the ideal than the former. In this world disfigured by sin, some strife will be inevitable; the demand for a perfect world without strife is characteristic of utopian ideologies, not Thomas.

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    3. Eh I see I mixed up "latter" and "former" in that last comment but I think you will figure it out.

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    4. David,

      The monarchical critique of republicanism and democracy is not that they don't get rid of strife (that is, as you say, impossible). Rather, they claim that democracy makes strife the organizing principle of society. For what is a vote but a count of bodies between two opposing armies, each with their own troops? Is this not simply war between two factions held up as something sacred? Understand, from the monarchical standpoint, this is perverse.

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    5. The only kings who don't practice politics, who are above all factional disputes, are the kings who are wholly powerless - the ceremonial monarchs, who have no duties but performing rituals of state. And the rule of such kings are anything but absolute.

      Meanwhile, the real absolute monarchs always use their power in ways that injure some of their subjects - that can't be avoided. As a result they become the head of a faction, and those they injure become another, opposed to them. And then the king's status, as the necessary head of the state who must not be opposed, gets transferred to his faction, and to oppose his policies on any point becomes rebellion.

      It is not obvious that this is a better way to govern than the open, but limited, disputes of constitutional republics.

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    6. Michael,

      The disputes of constitutional republics are not limited. No, in fact, they expand throughout the entire state, as seen in modern times, where everyone is either a Republican or a Democrat, and everyone must vote as if this is the most important election in the history of the world. Factionalism become the cornerstone of the republic. Meanwhile, only a weak king will have to deal with such injurious factionalism. For when the king is strong, he has no need to be tyrannical, for who can challenge his power? But when he is weak, he must exercise his authority and injure his subjects all the more.

      As Sir Robert Filmer once wrote: "Whereas many out of an imaginary Fear pretend the Power of the People to be necessary for the repressing of the Insolencies of Tyrants; wherein they propound a Remedy far worse than the Disease, neither is the Disease indeed so frequent as they would have us think. Let us be judged by the History even of our own Nation: We have enjoyed a Succession of Kings from the Conquest now for above 600 years (a time far longer than ever yet any Popular State could continue) we reckon to the Number of twenty six of these Princes since the Norman Race, and yet not one of these is taxed by our Historians for Tyrannical Government. It is true, two of these Kings have been Deposed by the People, and barbarously Murthered, but neither of them for Tyranny”?"

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    7. "what is a vote but a count of bodies between two opposing armies, each with their own troops? Is this not simply war between two factions held up as something sacred?"

      In the Christian monarchies of the time of St Thomas, democracy played a big part, at the centre, in the regions, and localities. Party democracy in eighteenth century England, and absolute monarchy in continental Europe in the seventeenth century, were inventions of what came to be known as conservatism. Conservatism's argument with liberalism and socialism is a debate among Enlighteners.

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    8. What necessary benefit arises from strife that could not arise without it?

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    9. Mister Geocon, pace Filmer, wasn't John a tyrant? And Henry VIII?

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    10. Anonymous,

      They certainly were evil men, though I don't think either of them rose to the level of tyranny. But that just points to the fact that monarchies have trade-offs. Sir Filmer is certainly right that monarchy is certainly less divisive and less horrible than you'd think. I myself am not an absolute monarchist, but I acknowledge this much.

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    11. Geo, you didn't really quote Filmer, did you? That guy gave a bad name even to other absolute monarchists, given his extreme theory. Even in that one quote, the assertion that not one is tyrant is ridiculous. (Of course, there is a qualified sense in which his "not taxed by our Historians" as tyrant is true: the winners write the histories, and the tyrant kings would not let historians write anything like "the victorious X was a tyrant". Certainly Henry VIII was a tyrant, as was Elizabeth. You don't overthrow a nation's religion because you want to bed a different woman than your wife. Many a king has had a mistress on the side without a political take-over of the Church.

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    12. What necessary benefit arises from strife that could not arise without it?

      Goodhart's Law. When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

      "No strife" is a good measure of an ideal state, until "eliminating all strife" becomes the target of the government, and then you get a state where all sources of dissent are summarily executed and no strife happens because everyone is forced under steep penalties to have the same ideology.

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    13. From General System-antics by John Gall: "Loose systems last longer and work better. (Efficient systems are dangerous to themselves and to others.)"

      Monarchies are very efficient systems. This is the most St. Thomas of Aquino says about them when he sorts the six forms of government. And so they are dangerous to themselves (see: monarchs become inbred) and to others (see: Louis XIV, every evil king of Israel, etc...)

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    14. For when the king is strong, he has no need to be tyrannical, for who can challenge his power?

      King Louis XIV was the strongest king who ever reigned in Europe and he exterminated a religious minority.

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    15. Mister Geocon: An absolute king might not need to be a tyrant. But if none can challenge him, he doesn't need not to be a tyrant - which, unless he's a saint, means he will be. And we can't depend on sanctity in a king.

      See, there is such a thing as an absolute republic - a state where nobody has a special status, but whoever persuades a majority of voters may do whatever he likes. And, of course, in those states elections are basically battles between factions, because winning control of the state is a matter of life and death. But that's also the case in absolute monarchies - the difference is merely that a faction only has to persuade the king, instead of a majority of voters.

      If a state is absolute, that is, it will be full of factional strife, whether a king stands at the head of it or not. It must be so, for in such states no one is secure in their life or livelihood, so they must control the state just to protect themselves.

      The whole point of a constitutional state is that, provided a citizen follows the law (which is known beforehand) he is secure in his life and livelihood, and thus need not practice politics just to live. That removes what is, historically, the main source of factional strife.

      Oh, and Filmer wasn't telling the truth about the English kings. Charles I was deposed and executed precisely for tyranny. One can claim that the Parliament did so unjustly, but not that they had any other reason. And all the Tudors have been taxed by historians for tyrannical government.

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    16. In the Christian monarchies of the time of St Thomas, democracy played a big part, at the centre, in the regions, and localities.

      @Miguel: I can't see how democracy played a significant role in the monarchy, either at the top end or in the regions or localities. The baron ruled locally, a duke held barons under their sway, and the king ruled the dukes and barons. While a king might have to listen to dukes to be very successful in a large effort, he didn't need to take a vote among the dukes or barons.

      Party democracy in eighteenth century England, and absolute monarchy in continental Europe in the seventeenth century, were inventions of what came to be known as conservatism. Conservatism's argument with liberalism and socialism is a debate among Enlighteners.

      It is true that many who opposed the leftward effort of the more strident Enlighteners were, themselves, Enlighteners (of the more rightward persuasion), that's not the ONLY people who opposed them. Take, for example, St. Robert Bellarmine, who opposed both the Enlighteners and the absolute monarchy publications of Filmer and King James VI of Scotland (who became James I of England). It would be silly indeed to say of Bellarmine that he was an Enlightener. It would also be silly to declare that he was not a conservative, merely because the term came into common usage later. So, at most one might argue that the later, right-leaning Enlighteners tried to take away being the standard-bearer from the anti-Enlightenment conservatives and and then called their theories "conservative", but even that would have been a misnomer, because there was nothing they could point to that they were "conserving" that fit the bill in any principled way.

      The rise of large nation-state monarchies in Europe preceded the Enlightenment. The opposition to absolute monarchies also arose before the Enlightenment. The devolution of the nation-state monarchies into other forms in the 1600-1870 period could not have had right-leaning Enlighteners trying to "restore" a previously existing "better" form of Enlightenment government, because what had existed earlier wasn't an Enlightenment form of government.

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    17. Tony, why Elizabeth and not Bloody Mary?

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    18. Because Elizabeth reigned 9 times as long? And killed more religious opponents. And (most of all) cemented in the revolt against the Catholic faith, based on no good reason.

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    19. But Mary might have been a tyrant too, I just don't know much about her.

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    20. Elizabeth is known as Good Queen Ness, whereas Mary is Bloody Mary. Mary's short reign caused a longlasting fear of Catholic monarchs in England, lest the fires of Smithfield should burn again. Elizabeth only really targeted Catholics after the Pope called on Catholic's to overthrow her, and even then it was mostly priests that were killed, seen as direct agents of an enemy power. Mary killed people for their religious beliefs alone.

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    21. BA
      alancedTryteOperators, who replied to mentioning Goodhart's law:

      That is like saying "I decided on a measure to drink more water but I didn't like it so I had to kill myself to uphold the target measure"

      You get the last word.

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    22. Elizabeth is known as Good Queen Ness, whereas Mary is Bloody Mary.

      Hehe. That's pretty funny given my previous comment about winners writing the history books.

      and even then it was mostly priests that were killed, seen as direct agents of an enemy power.

      "mostly" ?

      Catholics could not receive the sacraments without those priests. Their spiritual lives were at stake, and Elizabeth made it a death sentence for a priest to say mass: oh, yes, you can be a priest (if you were ordained before 1559), but woe to you if you say mass! And it was death to teach a person so they could become a priest, so ONLY foreign priests could see to the spiritual needs of Catholics. So...the foreign bit was at least in part Elizabeth's own doing.

      Mary is estimated to have killed 300 Protestants - with the torture of fire. Elizabeth killed many priests and their hosts - and often with torture also, the difference being that where Mary did it under the penalty of fire for heresy, Elizabeth did under the penalty for treason: hanging, drawing and quartering. Nor did Henry refrain from these punishments. Burning for heresy and H,D&Q for treason were well established and approved punishments throughout the prior ages, in England and elsewhere. As bloody as Mary was, so were the others. The main reason she has the epithet where the others don't is that the winners write the history books - in this case, literally: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe, had dozens of prints of Protestants being burned.

      Whatever Elizabeth's true personal beliefs (she was born after Henry revolted from the Church, so I assume she was raised a Protestant), her people were still more than half Catholic in sentiment. She ground it out of them. And whatever justification she might have had, Henry didn't: he was a tyrant who bent a nation and a religion to his own personal preferences.

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    23. Elizabeth only really turned against Catholics though once the Pope decided to call on her Catholic subjects to depose her. For Elizabeth Catholic priests were traitors or agents of a foreign power trying to overthrow her. Mary went after Protestants simply for their religious beliefs. There seems to be a distinction here. I'm not saying Elizabeth was right to act as she did, but this was an age when treason and sedition were treated harshly.

      Mary was still burning people as she lay dying. She reigned a much shorter time than Elizabeth, so it wouldn't have stayed at 300 burnt if she had reigned as long as Elizabeth.

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    24. In fact the numbers for Mary's reign would have been higher if she hadn't first been restrained by Cardinal Pole and if many bishops hadn't lukewarm in carrying out the persecutions.

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    25. Tony,
      "I can't see how democracy played a significant role in the monarchy, either at the top end or in the regions or localities... While a king might have to listen to dukes to be very successful in a large effort, he didn't need to take a vote among the dukes or barons."
      With subsidiarity, away from Kings, dukes and barons, most of society was furnished with institutions to run itself. There were village and town assemblies, the Hundreds, in England, regional assemblies and parliaments. From the time of St. Thomas onward, English kings needed approval from these assemblies for taxation - in other countries this happened earlier. The function of assemblies was not merely consultative. They were democratic, but not in the sense Burke, Rousseau or Marx understood it, because there were no ideological parties involved.

      St. Robert Bellarmine surely preceded the Enlightenment, nor was he a conservative. Even if he rejected divine right monarchy as a "nova et singularis... sententia", he did so basing himself on the scholastic tradition of universal and absolute values, a world away from all conservatism.

      Chesterton wrote of the futility of "all conservatism" in trying to have a white post by leaving it alone, when the natural tendency of every white post is to become a black post. The solution was to keep repainting the post, which Chesterton provocatively likened to having a "revolution". His point was that human nature and society being what it is after original sin, only the application of the universal and absolute can truly transform it. Such an idea is NOT to be found in the writings of Edmund Burke.

      What conservatives are really on about is conserving is the heritage of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, triumphs of Enlightenment thought. Before the Enlightenment we cannot speak of monarchical nation-states in the modern sense; people in the sixteenth century simply lacked the intellectual framework to think in such terms. The ideological basis may have been laid by Bodin, but it did not become a reality for a century.

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    26. @Anonymous

      Let me phrase it to you like this:

      Wanting to have a free society without politics or strife is like asking for a bountiful field of crops without torrential rain and thunderstorms. The farmer who decides to create his farm on arid land with none of the loud thundering will get nothing for produce. What will happen when you successfully eliminate politics and strife will resemble what a farmer will get when he sows and plants in the Sahara (without irrigation).

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    27. St. Robert Bellarmine surely preceded the Enlightenment, nor was he a conservative.

      Potayto, potahto. You're just choosing a meaning for "conservative" that excludes him.

      Before the Enlightenment we cannot speak of monarchical nation-states

      Before the Enlightenment (properly, the Endarkenment), there was the nascent advance of Europe from its former complex INTO larger states that swallowed up smaller entities. The French situation is emblematic, absorbing the duchy of Burgundy in the late 1400's. Castille and Aragon were joined and then absorbed Navarre in similar times, though the cultural unification continued forward for decades. These activities were not the result of Enlightenment ideas. You may not want to use the term "nation-states", but the reality of larger states being forged out of the material of a complex of smaller states was happening. (The unification of England and Scotland into Great Britain is another, but it didn't start until 1600, so I won't add it to the list). Whether or not it is useful to think of them as "nation-states" is a different matter and I am willing to accept another term, but we need something that denotes the conglomerated entities as distinct from the smaller entities that got swallowed.

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    28. You won't find influential conservatives who believe St. Robert Bellarmine to be a conservative thinker. In any case conservatism is essentially naturalistic, not religious, and St. Robert would have found it nauseating.

      It's not just that most important conservative thinkers simply aren't religious themselves; even those who do profess religion justify their worldview in a way that can't be reconciled with religion. Russell Kirk, for example, based his worldview on doctrines like this:

      "God's purpose among men is creation revealed through the unrolling of history. How are we to know God's
      mind and will? Through the prejudices and traditions which millenniums of human experience with divine means and judgements has implanted in the mind of the species" (The Conservative Mind). It would have been better if he hadn't mentioned God, because this is not the Christian understanding of revelation.

      Compare the following orthodox view of history from Catholic sociologist Christopher Dawson: "For the Christian view of history is not merely a belief in the direction of history by divine providence, it is a
      belief in the intervention by God in the life of mankind by direct action at certain definite points in time and
      place", (Dynamics of World History) with Kirk's: "History is the gradual revelation of a supreme design... God makes history through the collective mind" and "Habit and custom may be the wisdom of unlettered men, but they come from the sound ancient heart of humanity".

      This is the worldview of most "religious" conservatism, yet it is even more eloquent in giving the game away as to its non-religious nature. How can the traditions and prejudices of millennia of human activity (a mixture of truth and falsehood) be called God's mind? Because, as Kirk tells us,. "they come from the sound ancient heart of humanity". But the Christian religion teaches that the heart of man is anything but sound, ancient or otherwise.

      Conservatism, as a post-Renaissance ideology, is based upon minimising original sin. Its naturalism leads it to believe that over time, "the species is always right", (Edmund Burke) but the Faith tells us that the "species" can not be counted on to do what is right, no matter how much time it allowed it, because of original sin. The dogmatism that Burke hated in the liberals of his day he also despised in religious people. Yet dogmas, the Church, the Faith, are all things which do not depend upon civil society. It is civil society which must be conditioned by these things which come from outside itself. Kirk's "collective mind" is helpless without them.

      The growing size of kingdoms had nothing to do with the arrival of the nation state. Most nation-states emerged through the breaking up of larger states. Existing kingdoms became nation-states when they became infused with the cult of civil society itself, which is the main focus of conservatism’s religiosity to this day. Countries suffering from messianic cults directed towards themselves (like France) were precocious in their adoption of nationalism and the national state, which went in step with the decline of genuine religiosity. To this day, many conservatives cannot understand that divinising the nation or the state automatically secularises society and corrodes religion. It was no accident that the Ancien Regime produced the revolution.

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    29. We have to think of a state as a set of laws. A law student knows that English law began, to the extent we'd recognize it in law today, as the book of writs. If you couldn't find your cause of action in the words of one of the writs the monarch's officers were empowered to adjudicate, you were bereft of legal remedy. So Cervantes's claim that most government, as the use of power to settle disputes, the -cracy, was settled by demo-cracy, that is, social arrangements at the base, is almost unavoidable.

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  2. Again, if the citizens themselves devote their life to matters of trade, the way will be opened to many vices. Since the foremost tendency of tradesmen is to make money, greed is awakened in the hearts of the citizens through the pursuit of trade.

    Professor: I have read that Aristotle and St. Thomas were both, at least in part, devotees of the "zero-sum" theory of market transactions: in order to have a "fair" transaction, person A must get as much out of the sale as he puts into it, and no more; the same with person B. Thus A and B both bring something of X value, and walk away with something of X value. If A walks away with X + Y value, than B walks away with X - Y value, which is unjust.

    Against this, the standard modern theory of market transactions allows that BOTH persons A and B can walk away with something more of value to themselves than what they came to the market with. A is a potato farmer and has potatoes in excess of what he can use. B is a apple grower and has more apples than he can use. They trade a bushel of potatoes for a bushel of apples: A walks away with more in value to him than the potatoes he started with. B walks away with more value to him than the apples he started with. Thus BOTH A and B realized a gain on the transaction.

    Based on this, there was a common misunderstanding of "tradesmen" in pre-modern periods; in buying an item for K, and selling the same item for K+M, tradesmen were viewed as unjust by either cheating the person he bought from or the person he sold to. But in modern theory, the tradesman T "adds value" to the equation and increases the TOTAL value in the system: T buys from the craftsman C at K price, and then the C doesn't have to sit there hawking and negotiating sales, which is not his forte - he can get back to making more salable items. T then locates the best buyer and sells the item for K+M. T may also add value by either warehousing the item until the best seller is available (accepting the costs and risks of fire, rust, mold, etc), or by transporting the item to a better location where the market is not yet glutted with that product and he can locate the best buyer. By these three (or more) mechanisms, T adds value to the system, and C ends up making more items for everyone this way - more wealth exists because T operates in the market. That constitutes added value.

    It may well be the case that tradesmen OFTEN forget just how it is that they are supposed to improve "the system", and bend their activities simply toward "making a profit" and nothing else. This would be a deformity of the true role. But it is approximately just as true of a GREAT MANY occupations that people involved in them forget or ignore how it is that their role justly and uprightly improves the human family overall, and they just focus on "what's better for me" or "what makes more money". This happens in office staff, who don't "make" anything with their hands. It happens with lawyers, whose main "value added" is to help ensure that ALL OTHER activities are justly constrained within proper limits. It happens with mid-level managers, who spend much of their time increasing their fiefdoms rather than making their department work better. It happens with college professors who push more for writing and for speaking engagements because there's more money in that than in the teaching, which is dull.

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    1. I have read that Aristotle and St. Thomas were both, at least in part, devotees of the "zero-sum" theory of market transactions: in order to have a "fair" transaction, person A must get as much out of the sale as he puts into it, and no more; the same with person B. Thus A and B both bring something of X value, and walk away with something of X value. If A walks away with X + Y value, than B walks away with X - Y value, which is unjust.

      This is not true of either Aristotle or Aquinas, and comes, I think, of reading modern reductionisms about value into them. For both, the purpose of trade is explicitly so that both parties can have good they would otherwise not have. They both hold that just exchanges require equality (because justice always requires some kind of equalization), but of course Aristotelians hold that the equality relevant to justice is proportional, not, as you describe it here, arithmetical.

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    2. @Brandon
      Could you elaborate on that distinction between proportional and arithmetical equality? I confess I find Aristotle very confusing on this point and that the easiest interpretation is what Tony said

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    3. Brandon, I had some doubts about the position, but I have been unable to find citations clearly for or against their being zero-sum theorists. A few passages with indirect implications I found were, with some ambiguities, seemingly more compatible with a zero-sum theory than a win-win theory. Can you point us to passages that are clearer about where they stood?

      I have been re-reading Aritotle's Ethics over the past month, and in Book V, his chapter on commercial, transactional justice (ch. 5) does mention a KIND of proportion: the proportion that exists between the housebuilder's art and the shoemaker's art, which must then be balanced by the larger number of shoes of the shoemaker to pay for a single house. While the idea of proportion is here, the entire passage gives, (so far as I can find), no single hint that in terms of economic VALUE, both parties walk away with a profit that can be measured in monetary terms. The kind of (mutual) advantage he sees is that such commerce makes a society possible, so that there can even BE a state, but he doesn't seem to point to both the housebuilder and the shoemaker each walking away with an economic profit in hand. In describing THEIR situation, he constantly uses the term "equal", and nowhere indicates room for both to realize a gain. I would be delighted to locate a passage where he indicates otherwise, but cannot find it.

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    4. In fact, the whole passage is almost rudimentary in terms of economics, and leaves me with a sense that Aristotle's grasp of economic principles was, at best, rather limited. His comments about money, for example, have a hint of an exaggerated sense of how much (commodity) money can be controlled by the governing authority: yes, money can be made, or unmade, by the state, and can be diluted or not. But commodity money cannot have its value assigned by fiat, and any at attempt to do so quickly leads to dislocations in the marketplace, as all governments which have tried have discovered to their dismay.

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    5. Tony,

      I have to admit that my grasp of economics is very limited as well. It's not clear to me how the trade you described adds "value".

      If we define the "value" of a thing as its (potential) usefulness to a person (which is relative, as the "value" of a thing may change with time, place and the person involved). Perhaps a trade "adds" value in the sense that it increases the value/usefulness of the thing being traded, which would otherwise remain useless to their owner. On the other hand, one could argue that no value is added, because the potential value is already there, and is only actualized by the trade.

      You wrote, "yes, money can be made, or unmade, by the state, and can be diluted or not. But commodity money cannot have its value assigned by fiat"

      Could you explain the difference?

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    6. Nemo, you identified the basic point: as the "value" of a thing may change with time, place and the person involved. Bob has shoes for sale, and Jim has apples. Bob has a surplus of shoes that he doesn’t need, and is willing to give up a pair of shoes for 4/5 of a bushel of apples. Bob has a surplus of apples that he cannot use and is willing to pay up to 1 and ¼ bushel of apples for a pair of shoes. After negotiating, they both settle on a price of 1 bushel of apples for the pair of shoes. Bob gained by 1/5 of a bushel more than the minimum he wanted from the sale, and Jim gained by paying ¼ of a bushel less than the maximum he was willing to pay for shoes. They both walk away with (a) a thing that they value more than the thing they gave up, and (b) by paying a smaller price than they were prepared to pay for it. This is a win-win transaction. Both parties have an increase in value to themselves by the exchange.

      Commodity money is money made out of something which can and does trade on the market irrespective of it being made into money. For example, gold: of the gold mined in 2017, roughly 61 % of it was used for jewelry and industrial application. Back when "coin" meant gold and silver (and copper) coin, gold was one form of commodity money. When used as money, its value in exchange is (at a minimum) related to its value for reasons OTHER THAN being used as money. A $50 gold coin is worth 5 times as much as a $10 coin because it has 5 times as much gold.

      Paper money, on the other hand, is extraordinarily cheap to make, and its value when made into money has effectively nothing to do with its value not as money: a $50 bill is not worth more than a $1 bill because the $50 bill is made from paper worth 50 times as much as the paper used in a $1 bill. Paper money gets its value from other causes than that its paper is, itself, a traded commodity on the market.

      A government that makes its money out of a commodity, such as gold, silver, copper, or iron, can hire craftsmen to cast or print more coin, or to melt it down and destroy it. They can even attempt to set, by law, what the coin will be worth in terms of other commodities: 1 ounce gold coin for 50 loaves of bread, for example. But if they try to assign a nominal value, that assignment will ALWAYS fail in the long run if it is severely different from what the market price of gold represents not-as-money: there will grow a black market that assigns the gold and loaves of bread their natural price, and people will buy on the black market rather than at the legal price. Governments that attempted to assign a different value by subterfuge (by making a coin that LOOKS like the old coin, but has a smaller weight of gold than the old coin) universally end up causing inflation when the market adjusts to the new amount of available coin for buying the same old amount of goods.

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    7. Thank you for explaining "commodity money", Tony.

      Value in a market is a fleeting thing: For example, if one buys a pair of shoes using his hard-earned money, only to find out that the shoes don't fit (and there is no return policy). The supposed value of the shoes vanishes instantly. I wonder if something similar happens often in the global market.

      I'll have to re-read Aristotle's Economics to better understand his view on governmental control of money.

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  3. The deformity may be slightly more typically found in tradesmen, but not by any great amount compared to the 10,000 other occupations of a large economy, though perhaps more in those who who don't actually craft an object each day. In order to rid the state of the greater tendency toward this defect in ALL of those whose occupation doesn't end up with a grown or made sale product, the state would have to be a small rustic simplicity compared to even moderately sized cities. The state would then have to get rid of such things as universities, because these are (like other entities that don't produce a physical product) allow for the tendency to forget producing value and focus merely on "profit". (They also only ever exist where there is a large enough population able to generate enough WEALTH that some people have LEISURE and can pursue the higher pursuits of the mind, such as philosophy and theology. Universities live off of the surplus wealth generated by others where there is sufficient specialization of work, and you don't get such surplus in small, rustic populations.)

    In short, there are very definite TRADE-OFFS between having a developed, complex society with specialization, and having a simple, rustic, non-specializing economy. The latter will not much allow for the higher pursuits of the free man.

    In addition, there are also benefits from foreign travel and commerce, in terms of cementing together peoples so that they are more amicable and less inclined toward war.

    I would argue that while there are indeed benefits if the state can supply most of its needs without imports, the moral implications indicated from trade qua trade are less one-sided than he indicates.

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  4. I agree with the principles—and warnings—expressed in the OP. However, the timeless truths expressed therein were less complex in Aquinas’ time than our own where efficiencies of scale have become indispensable to not merely conveniences and luxuries, but to moral and humanitarian obligations. Technology and “globalization” have allowed us to produce more food while using far fewer resources (land, water, etc.). Land not used for food production can now be returned to habitat and other uses. Advances in denser energy sources have allowed us to produce much more while dramatically reducing the resources required to do so and with much less environmental impact, pollution, etc. We are now in a period of deindustrialization: we have a much larger population yet require far fewer molecules to support that population. And that is a good thing.

    Aquinas’ principles still need to be heeded, but now in a different context.

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  5. From the OP: “that city enjoys a greater measure of peace whose people are more sparsely assembled”

    “The bible commands us to love our neighbors as well as our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” G.K. Chesterton

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  6. In Aristotelian-Thomistic political philosophy, the state and the nation do not have the sense they have today. The implied criticism of economic globalism in Thomistic social teaching is valid, but can also be considered a criticism of the economic structure of the nation-state.

    When St. Thomas centred his social and economic comments on the City and its surrounds, this was not just a reflection of "his times" and the state of transportation. The economic autonomy of each city, region and locality was not considered a fact of life, but something absolutely desirable. So, until the period of the Enlightenment, European countries not only protected their commerce and industry from "foreign" trade, but also from internal competition from other regions and localities in the same state. This was done by means of an intricate web of trade barriers and toll gates within each country. Conservatism has intransigently opposed trade barriers within countries in the name of the sovereign market. The criterion was always what made commercial "sense”, NOT subsidiarity or local autonomy and social stability. As for international trade, conservatism has changed its policies according to the times.

    A good case in point is the United States (and the English before them), countries built on the right to trade anywhere, reside anywhere in order to pursue commercial interests, and to change local customs and mores. The deleterious effect of the Monroe doctrine in the Catholic countries of the Americas is evidence of this. At present, because China has turned out to be better at the game that they are, the Americans under Trump say they want to take their bat and ball and go home, at least until circumstances change.

    The "Fly-over" US is the product of the sovereignty of the market. The interventions, internal "barriers" to trade required in order to revive subsidiarity, with flourishing towns and regions, might well be labelled socialism by Trump and the Conservatives (and the Democrats as well). But this would only be the revival of the practices which maintained the society in which St. Thomas lived, for so many centuries. But is Luxembourg and Ethiopia should have economic autonomy, why not Amarillo and Knoxville?

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    1. The people who founded the US were NOT conservatives.

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  7. When it comes to self-sufficiency, the great shining example today is North Korea. Self-sufficiency is their national motto. North Korea is "ipso facto more perfect or complete" than all other nations!

    This whole post sounds like it's talking about North Korea. Every point describes North Korea perfectly.

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    1. The libertarian ideologues are out in force today!

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    2. John,

      Screech more and more incoherently.

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  8. I don't see the argument for trade leading to sin. Great wealth may lead to more occasions for sin, but there's no reason why wealthy merchants should be more sinful than great landlords, for instance. The Medicis were, at times, a pretty venal and pleasure-seeking bunch - but this was especially the case as they progressively abandoned honest trade and became politicians and lords of Florence.
    The claim that a society that does not rely on trade is somehow more perfect also seems odd. Is it really a bad thing that Europeans eat bananas grown in Central America or West Africa? Is it not rather a good thing that trade binds different peoples together in peaceful bonds? Later scholastics, I think Vitoria, saw trade and commerce, based on the unequal endowment of different countries and peoples, as a means by which providence established for peaceful and friendly relations among peoples.
    The connection to globalism is also tenuous - there is no reason why global trade should lead to the present problems of immigration, for instance. Why should the importation of bananas lead to immigration? Why should increased material welfare (which, let us not forget, still for most people in eastern Europe and Asia means an escape from grinding poverty and starvation) lead to the rise of globohomo?
    The evils of globohomo - and all the other nefarious aspects of globalism - are rather a political problem, as the American state and ruling class tries to remake the world in its own image.

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    1. Kristoffer,

      I think you’re right, but I think what has changed isn’t really the principle, but rather the context. Self-sufficiency is generally good except where there is a compelling reason to depend on others. I think that list of compelling reasons has, no doubt, expanded since Aquinas’ time (and, no doubt, includes bananas). Defense of the state was more of an issue than today (not in importance, but in manner). Finally, in the middle ages merchants were persona non grata (perhaps the used cars salesmen of the day), and that, perhaps, had some influence on Aquinas.

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    2. I live in one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe and no one is dying of starvation. This may happen in some neighbouring countries which have higher levels of economic development.

      There does seem to be some link between increasing material prosperity and globohomo influence, as this country gets richer and a middle class tied to Western style enterprise as opposed to the old Soviet model develops, so you can see globohomo tendencies spreading among the young.

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    3. What does 'globohomo' mean?

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    4. T N
      I think my problem is that seeing self-sufficiency of a community as a good is that it makes man more than he is. We are each of us finite and weak, we are made to be dependent on others. No matter how large a community you can imagine, it will still be finite and its members will still have needs that could be better satisfied by cooperation with "outsiders".
      St Thomas' point about the dangers of depending on others for food is really to my mind a prudential question. In general, today, I see very little danger from such dependence. Even in the medieval period, was it really better for a town to grow its own food? Could it not better withstand a siege by some other means, e.g., large magazines of corn? The enemy would most likely occupy the town's farmland, after all.

      Breadroll,
      I would guess there are two possible links: The first is simply that increased prosperity leads to a multiplication of occasions to sin. It is easier to gain access to pornography, clubs etc and at the same time it is less costly to break with one's more traditionally minded community.
      Secondly, I think as people become more prosperous, they will "consume" more western culture. And there's no denying that "alternative" life styles are lionized in western culture.
      I guess that kind of contradicts what I said previously that globohomo is forced on the world by politicians. But I don't think it really does, after all, both can be true: there can both be a cultural attraction, and a political interest by outsiders in fostering the growth.

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    5. Pl0,
      It's just short-hand for the ideology of "progressive" global elites that sees the latest LGBT fad as the summum bonum. I didn't invent it, but I forget where I picked it up.

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    6. No matter how large a community you can imagine, it will still be finite and its members will still have needs that could be better satisfied by cooperation with "outsiders".

      Kristoffer, that "no matter how large" doesn't really work: if you take the whole world as the option, then we better not need help from outsiders. But speaking more practically: there are countries at various times whose internal resources were adequate for nearly all of the grave needs, and they could survive without external trade for a while; their trade goods consisted mostly of peripherals / luxury goods that the society can do without if necessary.

      It is easier to gain access to pornography, clubs etc and at the same time it is less costly to break with one's more traditionally minded community.

      I agree this has been happening, but it is an entirely contingent and changeable situation: there is no necessity that the culture be modified in that way. Part of our difficulty is the attitude about pluralism in western society, in which you are a meany if you don't agree with everyone else's lifestyle. Pluralism regarding moral norms is evil and culturally damaging, and this facet of western style democratic politics is a contingent feature.

      On the other hand, the more trade you have with others who have different cultures and different morals, the more likely it will be that moral pluralism will set in. It isn't necessary, but it is likely and the tendency is there.

      I think the real question is whether commercial prosperity itself (even if it does not come from trade and imports) tends to make the populace lax and bent toward the vices of the flesh. If so, then in a sense it is prosperity rather than trade that should have been Thomas's target. But that too seems difficult to argue: there has never been a society so situated that it didn't have any poor among them who rightly and justly aimed at being more prosperous. So then you are left with the problem of those who are too well off being overly indulgent, lax, and given to the vices of the flesh. And that, we do tend to see in western cultures.

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  9. Quoted from St. Thomas in the OP: "Finally, men who have become dissolute through pleasures usually grow lazy and, neglecting necessary matters and all the pursuits that duty lays upon them, devote themselves wholly to the quest of pleasure, on which they squander all that others had so carefully amassed."

    All too true.

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    1. On that note, you may want to check out the link in the op: Hayek's Tragic Capitalism.

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    2. @ T_N: a lot of good points in that article on Hayek, thanks for the nudge to read it.

      One thought in response to Feser's article on Hayek reminds me of the discussion on Feser's last thread, which seems to have been cut off at September 17. People were talking about theories of value. I note that issue in Feser's article on Hayek, i.e. that a focus only on price (and perhaps a desire to use a theory of price do all the work that a theory of value had tried to do?) obscures value. And there are objective values, however much we argue about them. I think a tie made in Feser's article is between Hayek's recognition of the value (!!) of governmental regulation of aspects of the capitalist economy and recognition of the importance of the question, "is this good?" -- so often pushed aside by the questions "Do we want this, and how much will we pay to get it?"

      I am not convinced, though, that Feser's example of what I think is supposed to be an akratic individual, i.e. a young social just warrior who calls for free univ tuition, legalized marijuana, and non-essentialist conceptions of gender is so bad. Don't Germany and certain other successful capitalist countries have free university and legalized marijuana? Free uni has a lot to commend it as a good for a society, and as a non-weed user I think it expedient to decriminalize it. But I digress; good article.

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    3. ficino4ml,

      As an A/T person (and someone who seldom disagrees with Feser), I agree with the point that things have an objective value independent of any assigned price. However, we only have so many choices on how we can try to attain knowledge of that objective value short of a voice from heaven. We could find a benevolent philosopher king or a direct representative of God Himself and he could infallibly tell us, but we’ve tried that lots of times and it doesn’t work so well in the long run. Or we could let everyone collectively give it their best shot, which is what capitalism does.

      The critiques of Hayek at the end of the review: subjectivity of value, atomization of society, and the hegemony of powerful corporations are taken in account because they are built into human nature and therefore into the choices the market participants will ultimately make. Human beings can, of course, stray from the objective principles, but not for long before they encounter inevitable problems which causes a (usually painful) reversion to the mean. That is, we can get things wrong for a while, but reality has a way of reasserting itself with a vengeance.


      In the final paragraph, Feser states that “None of this implies a condemnation of capitalism per se.” and I read into that statement, as I said in the last thread, that: capitalism is a really ugly pig, but that doesn’t prove that the next pig will necessarily be better looking.


      The big problem with “free” is that it isn’t. Calling the cost a “tax” doesn’t make it free; it almost certainly makes it more expensive. If we say no one should pay for their own degree, all we’re really saying is that everyone should pay for everyone’s degree. All that does is equate stupid decisions with really smart ones. If I am debating whether to pay for a degree in Neuroscience or a degree in beer drinking, I may think the former a good choice and the latter a bad one. But if degrees are “free”, I must pay for the bad choice by force. And if we remove the cost of bad decisions, how have we incentivized better decision making?

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    4. I think in Germany there are stricter standards for admission to university than in the US - at least, there used to be. So I agree there is a built-in way of trying to restrict the "free" access. At least the result is not the crushing debt that students can incur here, and an echelon of well-educated workers helps the German economy and the prospective employers. Since I think we're agreed that a purely laissez-faire system is not great (or at least, that's what Feser describes as Hayek's view), taxation for education is to my lights in general an expenditure, paid for by workers and owners out of taxes, for the public good.

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    5. Well, maybe. But if a given degree is valuable enough to have tax payers pay for it through taxes, why isn't it valuable enough for market participants to pay for it through prices and the corresponding increased income to the holder of the degree?

      Conversely, if the debt is "crushing", the degree must not be valuable enough for people to pay the holder to excersize it.

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    6. Except that social and individual value isn't always measured in money. We can talk about the amount of students going to university and the quality of degrees (Grievance Studies degrees are worthless), but conservatives used to see university as more than a matter of churning out glorified tradesmen. Liberal education amongst the social and intellectual elite was seen as a positive social good, whether or not it led to direct remuneration.

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    7. Sort of related to these concerns: "Harvard economist David Cutler told Investopedia that the reason why US healthcare costs are so high is because of the “astronomical” administrative costs. Around a quarter of healthcare cost is linked with administration; far higher than in any other country.

      However, that’s not the only issue affecting cost. There’s also a lack of competition in the US because hospitals are consolidated. While the healthcare system is so complex that its inefficiency also raises costs.

      Those are all part of the reason why the World Health Organization ranks the US’ healthcare system as only the 37th best in the world."

      https://www.boredpanda.com/doctor-us-healthcare-system-sayed-tabatabai/?utm_source=smartnews&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=organic&fbclid=IwAR2cjBHaVsJVeSIHkPSj--Hb3tDNy_AAPl5jsHzlQLIk5nhjmA_CUqdvIlg

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    8. @ T_N: aren't there a lot of tax breaks and credits and other financial incentives given to businesses by govt in the US? Why should corporations get incentives or even out and out bailouts and not individuals? Like, college students? I don't see how the public good is furthered by a pattern of government intervention to favor owners and not government intervention to favor workers. If the workers have more money, they will spend or invest more, so isn't that to the good?

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    9. Ficino,

      Wow, you are really singing my tune now! The healthcare market in the U.S. is out of control. Why should a patient (which is all of us eventually at least) not know the price of routine services? Marty Makary is a watchdog on this; check him out. I’ve read his books and he gives example after example of identical routine services that are priced wildly different from one hospital to the next. The only reason is that consumers don’t know what they’re paying (the insurance company pays for it).

      The Oklahoma Surgery Center is part of the free market healthcare initiative and they post their prices online. I’ve heard Keith Smith interviewed many times; the internal workings of insurance cartels are infuriating. Last year I had a procedure that had a sticker price of $17,000. The insurance contract “negotiated price” knocked of $11,000, which leaves $6,000 actual cost. The Oklahoma Surgery Center does that procedure for $3,600. The rest is fat for administration (ever see a hospital that didn't have a big crane in front?). What on earth is all that number jockeying?

      The industry answers by saying no one ever really pays the sticker price, but anyone who defaults (20% of Americans) is sued for the full sticker price. What a disaster!

      https://www.econtalk.org/keith-smith-on-free-market-health-care/

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    10. Fincino,

      The government does give financial incentives to both businesses and individuals (including college students). Which incentives are appropriate and which aren't is a prudential matter frought with trade offs. Do you have something specific in mind?

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    11. J.H. Newman,

      Sure, but who decides? Some people think the "Grievance Studies degrees" are a great social good. You think they are "worthless". Who decides?

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    12. T N wrote, "... if a given degree is valuable enough to have tax payers pay for it through taxes, why isn't it valuable enough for market participants to pay for it through prices and the corresponding increased income to the holder of the degree?"

      If I understand your question correctly, education is certainly not "free", but having it paid for by taxes would allow individuals and families who cannot afford it to receive education for their own and the public good.

      As for the question "who decides" what type of education should be provided, it seems only fair to let the taxpayers decide, since they're the ones paying for it.

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    13. Nemo,

      I'm imagining that this thread will lock soon, but explain further: by what mechanism will "taxpayers decide"? Why can't those same taxpayers make their decision directly through prices instead of through some governmental mechanism?

      Are the "families who cannot afford it" taxpayers? Why can they afford it through taxes, but not through traditional means? If the "families who cannot afford it" aren't "taxpayers", why should someone else pay for them to recieve a value, and why should someone else dictate what they may and may not earn a degree in?

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    14. T N,

      The taxpayers don't decide the prices, so I'm not sure what you mean by "make their decisions directly through prices".

      Low income families can pay taxes because taxes are proportional to their income, bur the same cannot be said about tuition.

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    15. Nemo,

      The "taxpayers" (i.e. the aggregate of consumers) do decide prices. If you buy something at a given price, you vote 'yes' to that price. If you don't buy at a given price, you vote 'no' on that price. Ergo, we collectively decide prices.

      You said the taxpayers should decide "what type of education should be provided". By what mechanism? Why would this mechanism be better than voting directly through prices?

      Charging taxpayers for everyone to get a degree will increase taxes (and decrease the value of a degree). Do you plan on increasing everyone's taxes, or just on some taxpayers? If we can pay for college through taxes, why can't we pay for it by traditional prices? Is it because you want to charge one group for the benefit of another group? I'm just asking what your plan is.

      There are already many government programs that help low income people pay for college. Why is what you're suggesting better?

      If college is benefit, why isn't it worth paying for? Why should person A have to pay for person B to receive a benefit?

      I agree that prices for college are out of control, but that is in large part because of government interference in not allowing prices to work. Since the government got in the business of higher education loans and grants, the sticker price has shot up accordingly. And why wouldn't it if Uncle Sam is paying? Why not let colleges (and the medical industry for that matter) compete on price and bring costs down? How will giving colleges and universities an endless taxpayer slush fund bring down prices?

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    16. T N,

      Paying a price is not "voting" or "deciding" for it, any more than paying a ransom is "voting" for the ransom. Granted, in the classical supply and demand theory, prices do correspond to consumers' choices to come degree, but that mechanism does't apply to every product or service.

      If you care to ask questions one at a time, I'd be happy to try to answer them, and continue the discussion. At the moment, I suspect it would be futile to answer rhetorical questions.

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    17. Paying a price is not "voting" or "deciding" for it, any more than paying a ransom is "voting" for the ransom.

      In this day, virtually anyone who actually wants to go to college and is intelligent enough to benefit from it (i.e. anyone with an IQ over, say, 80) can manage to go to community college and then a state u: the combination of government help and private aid and loans make it possible. Roughly 1/4 of young adults END UP with a 4 year degree, but others start out and then drop out or settle with a 2-year degree, or never intended to get a 4-year degree.

      And the economy actually explains that in part: there is a significant rate of failure of bachelors degreed graduates getting a bachelor-level job, many are settling for associate's degree level jobs because that's what's available. And while a number of old types of jobs that didn't used to require a degree now are enhanced if you have a degree, often the degree that enhances is an associates degree or a certificate program, not a traditional 4-year bachelor's degree. A significant number (about 1/3) say that their increased income opportunities by getting a 4-year degree is not worth the added student debt they take on - an indicator that market forces are not being well matched to regulate the choices being made: it is not clear that the ECONOMY as a whole can actually make use of the higher education if everyone got a 4-year degree, and there is some evidence that some of the gradually increasing #s of employer-requirements for SOME level of college education is a factor of employers winnowing out deadbeat prospects by seeing if they could get good grades in college (instead of push-em-through-and-out high schools), rather than by the extra knowledge actually being used on the job. And it is clear that people are not prepared for the academic rigors of that level of education.

      There is abundant evidence that high rates of government funding has been a leading contributor to the increased costs of a bachelor's degree (including, not least, the VERY sizable increase in the number of people who stretch their studies out to 5 or 6 years to get that 4-year degree, because (in part) the money is available), on a constant-dollar-value basis. Being a college professor is a high-paid AND high-status job, and it's level of ongoing effort required once you have a Ph.D is astonishingly modest for the level of pay. If universities and college were working with fully market-driven economic forces, there would be fewer dollars in the system and they would have to "work harder" to get them.

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    18. Tony,

      I can't put my fingers on it, but something is not quite right about letting the market decide education. The purpose of education, as i understand it, is to make man. Isn't there more to the value of man than can be measured by the market?

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    19. Nemo, yeah prices are voting for the value of the product or service.

      You don't care to explain yourself. Ok, have a nice day.

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    20. T N,

      As I said, I'be happy to answer questions (or explain myself). However, when a person asks multiple questions in one comment, I suspect those are rhetorical, and s/he is not really interested in the answer, so responding would be an exercise in futility.

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    21. I can't put my fingers on it, but something is not quite right about letting the market decide education.

      Nemo, I agree that education is a very important part of becoming a complete, flourishing person. However, that does not imply that it should be primarily the task of the government. Under subsidiarity, the government should generally keep its fingers out of pies that can be well met by lower / smaller entities. Experience has shown that education CAN be successfully carried out by private organizations. And no, I don't mean merely for-profit schools: there have been schools funded by charitable donations or combined private/charitable coordination for many centuries, LONG before governments got involved. There are also private schools that serve low-income populations: for example, I believe that the Catholic school system in the city of Washington, DC serves effectively the same demographic cross section as the public school system. (With, mind you, vastly better results). There are roughly 5M private college students and 15M public ones, (3 to 1 ratio) but 60 years ago the ratio was about 2 to 1. That is, private schools were handling a very large minority share of the task: there is no reason to think that private schools could not handle the entire task if funding were run differently.

      The purpose of education, as i understand it, is to make man.

      Well, I think the parents have something to do with making a man. And (so the Catholic Church teaches quite explicitly) it is a primary duty of parents to both HAVE children, and to EDUCATE them: for nature intends the end goal, not just the first stage, and the end goal is a mature, healthy, independent man, not a child. But just because it is a primary duty (and right) of parents, they also have a primary right to DIRECT the education of their kids, which includes (among other things) directing the religious education of their kids. One of the manifest results of a public education devoted to a sense of pluralistic, non-religious education is that such education teaches the kids to be pluralistic, non-religious: by taking education out of the hands of parental choice, public schools take away religious education and generate a man-made vacuum in its place, ready for implosion.

      Isn't there more to the value of man than can be measured by the market?

      Certainly. And that's why charitable schools have been around since the middle ages: men agree that education is worth non-market actions by men, and they put their money where their mouths are with direct donations. This is not market-driven in toto. But (when it is left in the hands of private enterprise (which includes private non-profit schools)) these also ANSWER TO market forces and quasi-market forces: they answer to market forces in that they must pay teachers a sustaining wage. They answer to quasi-market forces in that they must offer a product that donors / benefactors believe to be WORTHWHILE in the whole, or they will stop throwing money into the kitty. This (tends to, somewhat) prevent them from running off the rails into bent and unreasonable theories of "education" that foster such things as revolution or madness.

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    22. Tony,

      I'm not saying (or implying) that education is "primarily the task of the government", or that government can override parents' right and obligation to educate their children. My concern is about a system of (public and private) eduction that is driven by the market, more specifically, the object of material gain. It aligns with Aquinas' point that excessive trade is bad for the nation.

      One doesn't need religious convictions to see that such a system is seriously flawed, even in a pluralist society, I would think. The question is what, if anything, can be done about it. Because education impacts the public good, I think it is reasonable that government should be involved, though private schools provide more choices for parents and individuals.

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  10. OP
    “The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient.”
    Aquinas fails to objectively and for future generations establish what the “thing” is that is more dignified by being more self-sufficient.

    Perhaps the “thing” that should be self-sufficient is the individual. Therefore each individual should live alone and provide all things for himself, ideally. Hmm…no, that won’t work, one needs at least some contact with the other sex to procreate.

    Then perhaps the “thing” is the family. Well, maybe a family could farm individually, with their bare hands and wood they shaped into crude tools themselves. No, that doesn’t work very well either.

    Perhaps the “thing” is a village, but then, who is to say the “thing” cannot be a large city? Why couldn’t the “thing” be a province or state?

    Perhaps the “thing” should be a nation state.

    Why can’t the “thing” be the totality of humankind? Who is to say that the ideal level of self-sufficiency cannot be that the entire planet is self-sufficient?

    Although, even our planet receives external support we are mortally dependent upon, from our star, the sun. Still, if we only consider human interdependencies Aquinas fails to establish an objective reason that any particular level of human organization ought to be self-sufficient.

    Nor did Aquinas establish criteria that could be reasonably sustainable for future populations. To be fair, it hardly seems likely that a monk of some 750 years ago could or would envision the scope of our modern world, which is why going back to medieval times to try to find wisdom regarding modern socio-economic organization is unlikely to be of any significant value.

    If self-sufficiency is so great why don’t you all buy some property in Idaho or Arkansas and go be self-sufficient? In fact, why not just go off grid so you can fulfill the ideal of maximal dignity through maximal self-sufficiency?

    Sure, you will be spending your days looking that the rear end of a horse, plowing your fields with crude implements, pumping your water by hand from a well, making your clothes from local fibers, cut off from any communication with the outside world, and you will lack access to medical care, but you would be happy in your maximal dignity of maximal self-sufficiency, wouldn’t you?

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  11. I strongly sympathize with this critique. But I want to see if there's something more to be said from a broadly Aristotelian perspective in defense of the dignity principle

    Now, it may be of some importance to note that Aquinas does not say, "the more self-sufficient a thing is, the more dignified it is." Rather, he says, "The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient." This may be relevant, but I do not know.

    Of course, you're right to point out that needing another's help is not always deficient. I think a more charitable reading might be, "The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is *vis-a-vis things which are not necessary for its flourishing qua the type of substance it is.*" This would get around your objection about marriage and reproduction: it is part of human nature, and so to be self-sufficient in the sense of not having relationships would be deficient (failing to act in line with your telos as a rational [human] animal).

    I do wonder if a similar move might help to defeat your other objections about the self-sufficiency of the family, city, state, etc. As the first Aquinas quote Feser offers makes reasonably plain, some degree of external interaction is necessary to secure the goods relevant to a flourishing human nature. To this extent, then, self-sufficiency would be immoral, if you're still tracking.

    Rambling now, but the upshot would be roughly this: self-sufficiency in Aquinas's sense here would only conduce to dignity if the external good/agent in question is incidental to the flourishing of the human qua human.

    Does that do anything for you?

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    1. I'm the same one as Anon@10:45. Been chewing over something for the past half hour or so, and wanted to try this on for size.

      StardustyPsyche, again, I resonate intuitively with the apparent queerness of Aquinas's 'dignity principle' (DP) here. A very visceral part of me was almost embarrassed to read it, and I think for some of the reasons you've indicated. But, as I've said, there's likely much more to it along the lines indicated above, and I'll develop that further here. But for now I want to focus a bit more on what (I presume) you see as absurd consequences of DP.

      Let's say this: (DP) = the view that a when a substance S increases in self-sufficiency (vis-a-vis things not essential to the flourishing of S), the dignity of S increases proportionally.

      For the sake of clarity, let's assume dignity (or, say, nobility) is closely related to, though not strictly coterminous with, goodness (goodness might be a decent enough synonym, in other words, eve if it doesn't capture all the precise nuances of meaning of the other terms).

      So here's the thought--and I freely concede it will sound very strange to most people. So ridicule away; I get it. But here goes:

      When I chop my own firewood, split it for kindling, and heat my home exclusively using the wood-burning furnace, there is something deeply satisfying about it. On a lazy day, I'll flip the boiler on and radiators will heat my home using oil I did not procure, did not pump into the tank, etc. Phenomenologically, the former sense of satisfaction is noticeably absent.

      I have found the same for cooking: a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment--dare I say dignity--accompanies a meal using onions, carrots, garlic, etc. I have been growing in my garden for months. Now, it is much, much easier simply to drive to the store, procure the necessary ingredients, and do things that way. But, not only is this sense of dignity once more absent, by comparison the latter meal feels decidedly cheap, like I have in some arcane sense denigrated my nature. I would never know this, of course, unless I had my own garden and ingredients, so I well appreciate that very few will know precisely the feeling.

      One more example, this time from my wife. Giving birth in a hospital or infirmary is, I am told, no great treat. There is nothing particularly special about it, and save for the (successful) end result, the experience as a whole is eminently worth forgetting. This is especially so when a team of doctors are introduced, when the epidural is administered, when the doctor hacks away at the poor woman's stomach just to speed things along. Contrast that with a home birth without medication, any other external aides or implements (besides a trained midwife to supervise but not intervene--in my country these are actually trained professionals, by the way). As my wife relates it, there is a profound sense of accomplishment, nobility, and dignity in the latter experience that is almost entirely lacking in the former. She has gone so far as to say she (almost) found the experience of childbirth *enjoyable*.

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    2. Continued from immediately above:

      Again, I recognize this sense of dignity I have been speaking of is hard to pin down--to use two vague terms very imprecisely, there is something spiritual or mystical in these experiences that is, in comparison, clearly and disappointingly absent in the other experiences. And, I think I can only begin to make sense of this phenomenon if something very much like DP is true.

      I assume, of course, that subjective feelings and impression in some sense track nature: the feelings will be more 'satisfying' the more they align with the nature of a thing. And if DP is true, these feelings of dignity, and the comparatively paltry attendant feelings of the less self-sufficient experiences, are to be expected.

      That is, in sum, I find that self-sufficiency (as qualified above) is deeply satisfying and imparts an unmistakable sense of dignity in a way that external reliance does not. Perhaps the flippant remark about moving to Idaho or Arkansas isn't such a bad idea after all.

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    3. Anon,
      “"The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient."”
      That thesis is fundamentally wrong.

      The inability to collaborate constructively is the greater deficiency by far. Without the capacity to ask each other for help we are each confined to a primitive and stunted life.

      Columbus did not get to America without help, nor did any great human endeavor come to reality without the willingness to ask each other for help. By helping each other, by collaborating with each other we do the much more difficult and noble work, to engage constructively with others, and thus advance in myriad ways no individual possibly could.

      “Giving birth in a hospital or infirmary is, I am told, no great treat. There is nothing particularly special about it, and save for the (successful) end result,”
      Well, that is the great desire of parents, now isn’t it? That there should be a successful result? Yes, there are many places one can have a baby other than a hospital, but one might not have a warning that an abnormal birth is imminent. I would not like to hear that you suffered the loss of your wife and or child out of some romanticized notion of how virtuous it is to not ask for help, only to be faced with an unexpected complication that could have been successfully solved with the help of medical professionals in a hospital setting.

      “Perhaps the flippant remark about moving to Idaho or Arkansas isn't such a bad idea after all.”
      That was no flippant remark (Idaho and Arkansas are beautiful wonderful places in which remote land is affordable), rather pointing out that almost anybody who really thinks being so independent is such a great virtue has that option, yet almost nobody actually goes off grid.

      Rather, I have found that many people talk about how wonderful it is to be a rugged individual, yet they remain in the city, very much on the grid, using electricity to power their phone and computer and big screen TV and microwave oven and all the rest. Driving their computerized cars powered largely by foreign oil. All made in part or in whole in Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, Germany, or elsewhere while they complain about globalism. Disingenuous much?

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    4. Anonymous, you can just add a moniker like "Dignified" or something at the end - within the text - so we can keep the many cousins of Anonymous distinct. It doesn't require signing in or anything.

      I find your distinguishing between what a thing is designed to be dependent upon versus what a thing CAN be independent of significant. At the largest level, I think Thomas intended the difference between angels and man (man depends on material things to flourish, whereas angels need no such additions); and between man and the lower material beings (man can direct HIMSELF to his end, whereas the lower animals must depend on nature (instinct, for example) to be directed to its end, because they have no reason to "figure out" where to go).

      Within human nature itself, it belongs to man and woman to depend on each other to reproduce: however, nature designs to minimize this in terms of "depending on another", because a man and woman are supposed to love each other as friends, and
      "a friend is 'another self' ", so that relying on a friend is LIKE relying on yourself.

      However, one of the "natural" benefits of commerce is that by it men EXTEND friendship more broadly than they otherwise would. Even if the friends thus made are less perfectly friends (only approaching the ideal in a lesser degree), that is better than NONE. St. Augustine says that one of the reasons marriage is directed outside the family is to extend the bonds of friendship at large within society - this argues directly against men seeking to be as independent as physically possible.

      Ultimately, the life of the mind (philosophy, contemplation) also requires the aid of others, as both teachers and as co-investigators, because one man's mind is inadequate to study all of the avenues of knowledge in the depth needed to make progress, whereas all can benefit from the work of experts. And, further, the activity of the wise in aiding others toward wisdom has its own dignity as well. Hence in man there seems to be a sort of arena of trade-offs between the flourishing implied by independence and the flourishing implied by dependence, where it is problematic to assert a dogmatic principle that holds for all cases.

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    5. Thanks for the tip, Tony. At first I had only seen the option either to remain anonymous or else use my gmail account.

      Stardust (by paragraph),

      (1) As I said, I get the intuitive pull of your sentiment that it's 'fundamentally wrong'. But I tried to defend it at length on (I think) more charitable lines, and I think you may have largely missed my point. Ultimately, I don't want to know why this thesis is fundamentally wrong:

      'The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient'

      I want to know why DP (the qualified principle) is fundamentally wrong.

      (2&3) Of course. No one is claiming otherwise. My distinction is meant to solve this worry of yours (or at least go some way in doing so).

      (4) The point is well-taken, and I think it might be vicious (in the moral sense) not to have some help just in case (i.e., the ability to phone an ambulance and have someone on hand who does know what she's doing just in case). As Tony says, there are trade-offs, and things very definitely aren't so black and white.

      (4&5) I'm largely agreed here, with the caveat that, in most cases, there's more to it than sheer hypocrisy--so the ideal can still be there even if the person's life remains unaffected.

      Tony,

      Thanks for this. A couple of questions/comments.

      (1) Where (if anywhere) does Aquinas talk about dependence/self-sufficiency and friendship? And when you say 'man and a woman are to love each other as friends': is this Aquinas speaking or you?

      Maybe I've been reading too much Lewis, but I think he's right to say "the error [is] to assimilate all forms of affection to that special form we call friendship" (he sees this mistake at the root of the contemporary obsession with 'equality'). I guess I just have trouble buying that dependence is minimized insofar as my wife is just another self (it might work, but I'd rather just say a spouse is one of those dependencies DP takes care of).

      (2) Very interesting avenue to pursue here with contemplation, and this might be relevant to Aquinas's (certainly Aristotle's!) view of self-sufficiency. As we know from Aristotle, the height of contemplation--the fulfillment of the intellect's activity--is isolation par excellence. And, "If God thus possesses the good in eternity, even as we can so do on occasion, it is wonderful indeed: if even more so, then it is yet more marvellous" (from Metaphysics 12.7)

      Identifying oneself with nous (the active intellect) is, literally, to cut oneself of phenomenologically from everything else and attain complete self-sufficiency (for a moment).

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    6. Dignified
      I want to know why DP (the qualified principle) is fundamentally wrong

      I was going by the OP and the restatement above, quoted again here:
      'The more dignified a thing is, the more self-sufficient it is, since whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient'

      In particular, the assertion that “whatever needs another’s help is by that fact proven to be deficient” makes no sense beyond basic functional capacities we are all expected to have.

      Yes, I suppose that if I needed help to tie my shoes or eat my food then I would be thus deficient.

      The computer technician who requires the help of a mechanic to fix his car is not deficient any more then a mechanic is deficient to require the help of a computer technician to fix his computer. That is how we as a species have advanced, by depending on each other to do the things each of us cannot do ourselves.

      Without that interdependency we would be back in the days of hunter-gatherers and simple herders making a subsistence living independently, although even then people gathered together into small bands. Rarely does any human being strike out on his or her own to be truly self-sufficient.

      Our interdependence, rather than a sign of deficiency, is how we have advanced from our former primitive conditions.

      It’s kind of funny to listen to conservatives complain about globalism, while they drive foreign cars, watch Japanese and Korean TVs and monitor screens, use their phone made in China, and encourage our farmers to sell to foreign markets.

      True, there can be some risks to being over dependant on foreign sources. 47 years ago we were so dependant on foreign oil that OPEC cut off supply to raise prices. That worked for them for a little while, but we have made a lot of adjustments and thanks largely to fuel efficiency regulations and the excellent leadership of President Obama with his highly pragmatic All Of The Above energy policy we now buy and sell energy on the global market without being held hostage to supply embargos.

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    7. I don't disagree with you. I just tend to think that, if these obvious conclusions follow from "the OP and the restatement above", there is probably more nuance to it than meets the eye.

      Or, the point could be put like this:

      (1) If you hold "the OP and the restatement above" principle, you have to be a dunce
      (2) Aquinas isn't a dunce
      (3) Therefore, Aquinas doesn't hold that principle.

      Again, I would suggest we consider some more charitable, less obviously false readings of the principle.

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    8. Dignified,
      I wouldn't call Aquinas a dunce, rather, simply mistaken about a number of things, and a man of his times.

      If you think there is a more charitable interpretation beyond the plain text of that short passage, perhaps a greater context to allow for important qualifiers, fine.

      An Anon above seemed to suggest that the principle only applies to things that are not required for flourishing. So, does watching a Korean made TV makes one deficient, as opposed to making the TV one's self? Nobody can make a TV independently, even if you are an electronics engineer you still have to buy the parts that were manufactured in clean rooms and factories no individual could possibly operate alone.

      No, I think the principle has appeal to conservatives because there is a conservative tendency to think wistfully of the great men of self reliance who founded and settled a wild land some 200 years ago.

      Of course, none of those conservatives would actually want to live under such circumstances but it makes a nice little fantasy while complaining about socialism and globalism.

      The title of the OP is Aquinas Contra Globalism. Clearly, statement of the principle is meant to show that globalism is not Thomistic because globalism means one is not self sufficient and that is deficient on Thomism, which is just one more reason to say that Thomism doesn't make sense and contains no wisdom that is beneficial in modern times.

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    9. The whole point of my three examples above (heating, cooking, childbirth) was to try to make sense of DP as it might apply to very trivial matters (like buying a Korean TV).

      Perhaps my examples aren't very good--as I conceded, I strongly suspect that many people would ridicule them. But if they do in fact indicate something important about human existence, they might serve to underwrite DP. (In other words, if they are right, it's not Aquinas who needs to modernize; it's the modern world that needs to medievalize.)

      "So, does watching a Korean made TV makes one deficient, as opposed to making the TV one's self?"

      I would be careful with the language, first of all. DP only says that making the TV oneself would impart a certain dignity, or nobility, that buying a Korean TV lacks. And this I find to be plausible. Today we don't apply the term 'noble' or 'dignified' to such a person. People my own age would say, "that guy is a bad ass." I think this is probably similar to what Aquinas means by dignity (in this case at least).

      In the end, perhaps it comes down to mutually incompatible intuitions. But: build your own TV, and then come back to me and tell me if you feel more 'bad ass' than you would after buying a Korean TV. :)

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    10. Dignified,

      "I would be careful with the language, first of all. DP only says that making the TV oneself would impart a certain dignity, or nobility, that buying a Korean TV lacks. And this I find to be plausible. Today we don't apply the term 'noble' or 'dignified' to such a person. People my own age would say, "that guy is a bad ass." I think this is probably similar to what Aquinas means by dignity (in this case at least)."

      I feel like the people who've built their own aircraft, guns, etc. prove DP.

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  12. If by globalism, we mean centralisation to the detriment of subsidiarity, then Thomism is against it. However, subsidiarity doesn't imply rejection of unity, or universalism. Catholic sociology has often (till today https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c2a1.htm) made Trinitarian analogies.

    All societies have unifying principles which combine autonomous entities. It happens within each country, and can also happen on an international level, with many autonomous countries united by a common head of state. This unity is complete when combined with common religious unity, which is its precondition.

    There is nothing in Catholicism opposing a "globalism" which would see many countries or the world itself united by the true religion with political systems in close alliance or sharing the same head of state.

    The Thomistic criticism of today's globalism because of its attack on subsidiarity is also a criticism of nation states as they are currently constituted: little globalisms that make cultures uniform and crush subsidiarity wherever they find it.

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    1. "When the Prince breaks the law, he is no longer the Prince." The problem with Thomas, as with every scientist, is there is not enough time to work out all the implications. Have you read Karl Rahner? Thomas's big omission was in his saying that there is no knowledge without the phantasm, mental imagine, in the imagination, where knowledge occurs, but then failing to draw the necessary conclusions. Karl did half of this drawing in Spirit in the World, writing on that very definition of knowledge, but then Karl left it ambiguous if "this is one of those" as the act of knowledge occurs in words. It does not. Saying what the known thing is is a separate act. The true religion is that we encounter God via the senses. As Thomas Merton summarized virtue, "do what is indicated". The imagination also being the seat and sole territory of chimeras makes it problematic to see what is indicated. You must want to see what the senses report. You can explain it away. How is this willingness encouraged by others? I would say all creation encourages it: when you walk in a delusion, you stumble. Authority, "the weakest form of argument" per Thomas, can insist that the stumble was a success and oblige you to bow to it, like the Global War On Terror, for instance. That doesn't change the nature of the GWOT.

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    2. I misquoted Thomas. "When the Prince no longer pursues the common good, he is no longer the Prince." The definition of law for Thomas is the mandate of reason promulgated by authority for the common good. As long as I'm cleaning up my workspace, I probably should add that globalism as a global information network is the definitive replacement of authority by mandates of reason that don't need a mother's milk (the root of "promulgate"): an authority's unreliable arguments. I might say, no more book of writs.

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  13. Wow! Quite thread this time. I haven't been called stupid yet.

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  14. I sent the following in an email to the person who sent me this blog entry, so you might as well see it. I repeated some of it in my replies to "Miguel Cervantes". I noted in skimming through the comments some concern about "value". To oppose "nature" and "value" is the same mistake as to oppose "reason" and "will". When you know what something is, you know what it is worth. When you know something, you value it appropriately. Now for what I wrote to my correspondent:
    As the New Yorker magazine used to say, "Here's Where We Stopped Reading Dept.": "...In Aristotelian-Thomistic political philosophy,..." There is no such thing, at least as far as Thomas is concerned. Whatever the writer here will boot-strap in on that unsupportable gambit is not worth reading. I'll take a peek. Thomas has more to say, and the writer's theory of the state might be supportable to Thomas, but here's something to remember about his political theory: "If the Prince breaks the law, he is no longer the Prince." Well, that lengthier quote, about foreigners, puts "Aristotelian-Thomistic" in plausible guise: when Thomas quotes "the philosopher", as he would, you can speak of Aristotelian Thomism, in some very vague way.
    After Thomas's mention of Israel, the writer introduces his own hijacking plan: "What these passages from Aquinas imply is that too free a flow of populations across borders tends to dilute allegiance to the shared norms and culture of a nation, and thus threatens national unity." He/she has just verified that Thomas's criterion is "the common good", but now substitutes "national unity". I would regard this as an error that cannot be recovered from: the reader will not take that turn.
    Notwithstanding, the writer's next point improves on Thomas's quoted argument. Thomas says, says the writer, that one's senses can be "immersed" in pleasure. The writer changes this metaphor to "overwhelm": so the senses might be waterproof but yet not indestructible in some sense. "So, Aquinas notes, first, that pleasure can overwhelm the mind to such an extent that, the more devoted one is to pleasure-seeking, the less 'critical distance' one has on the pleasures one enjoys. One is less able to think reasonably or prudently about them." We reach here the major flaw of what I will call Thomism, which Karl Rahner fixed: how does one know something? Though Karl uses Thomas's rule, "there is no knowledge without the phantasm", i.e., mental image, i.e., in the imagination, Thomas seems not to have worked this out, for instance in relation to the supposed distinction of reason and will. "... moreover, indulgence does not satisfy the appetite for the first sip only makes the thirst all the keener." Thomas, down to the present day (declared "Angelic Doctor" by some nineteenth century Pope), would have us believe, to the extent there is still a Catholic Church which still teaches philosophy, that we are binational beings: reason and will, with no common sense of the common good. How do you know what you want, what you would like, what you need, what you will do? You can make a plan, in your imagination, based on what you remember, in your imagination, and then wait and see if you carry it out to any extent at all.

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