Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Bizarro world of left-wing politics

I have only a little to add to what others have already said about the Kafkaesque Covington affair.  There were, as you all know by now, three main parties involved.  There was the group led by Nathan Phillips, who is now known to be a liar and rabble rouser who appears to have been trying to provoke a confrontation.  There were the “Black Hebrew Israelites,” classified by the SPLC as a hate group and who have been captured on video instigating the whole mess by shouting things that any left-winger would normally denounce as the worst sort of racist, sexist, homophobic, and fundamentalist bigotry.  And there are the Covington Catholic school teenagers, who were there waiting for a bus and got caught in the middle of these two groups of lunatics. 

So, at whom do the left-wing press and social media direct their venom?  Not at the liar and not at the racists, but at some poor Covington kid who was… smiling at Phillips.  That’s all he did.  For this act of unspeakable depravity, members of the cybermob opined that he should never be forgiven, fantasized about punching him in the face and putting him and his friends into a woodchipper, hoped for his death and the deaths of the other boys and their families, offered sexual favors to anyone who would assault him, compared him and his friends to Nazis and Jim Crow era racists, called for their doxxing, made death threats against him and his friends and their school, compared him and his friends to the Roman soldiers who spat at Christ, and so on and on.

(That last piece of insanity actually came from a conservative who was a bit too quick on the virtue-signaling trigger and has since apologized – one Nicholas Frankovich, previously known to me only as someone who once urged his fellow Catholics to be less rigorously logical and more “right brain.”  How’s that advice sound this week, Frankovich?)

It is true that many of these people were initially misled by Phillips’ lies and that many of them have since expressed regret.  But incredibly, some of them are still trying to find a way to rationalize the Two Minutes Hate they directed at the teenagers, while continuing to ignore Phillips’ lies and the Black Hebrew Israelites’ undisguised bigotry.  Moreover, even if the initial reports had been accurate, the most that could have been said about the now famous smiling teenager is that he smiled – or disrespectfully smirked at Phillips, we were told, but still a disrespectful smirk is all it would have been.  On what world other than Bizarro world does that make remotely understandable, much less justifiable, all this ghastly stuff about face-punching, woodchippers, doxxing, and all the rest?  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Bishop Robert Barron and Rod Dreher have some interesting thoughts on the subject.  Here are some other ideas.

The hermeneutics of suspicion

James Piereson’s book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution argues that a bizarre inversion of reality changed the face of American liberalism during the 1960s.  John F. Kennedy was shot by a hard-core communist and Robert Kennedy by a left-wing Palestinian nationalist.  Yet the Left spun both assassinations in such a way that they are remembered by many today as having a vaguely right-wing provenance.  The milder form this took was to blame the assassinations on some vague cultural rot that had purportedly set into American life as a consequence of redneck violence and racism.  The more extreme form, of course, was to argue for a secret right-wing conspiracy.  Though the assassinations were in fact driven by hard-left politics, the lesson drawn from them was that we need to be wary of some inchoate sinister alliance between militarists, businessmen, the KKK, etc.  And the paranoid style of politics this reflects has increasingly permeated beyond the left-wing fringes into mainstream liberal politics.

As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.  This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.  

The result is a kind of Gnosticism, according to which only an ignorant or naïve person would take political phenomena at face value, whereas the person initiated into whatever one’s favored hermeneutics of suspicion happens to be possesses the secret knowledge about “what is really going on.”  Into the bargain, there are, just as in the original Gnosticism, unseen dark forces lying behind the purported illusion – the specters of racism, sexism, capitalism, militarism, fascism, fundamentalism, etc. etc., always lurking offstage somewhere pulling the strings.  Like Gnosticism, the whole thing is a paranoid fantasy, posing as knowledge but in fact a kind of faith-based gestalt.  Speculative political theory drives one’s interpretation of empirical reality rather than the other way around.

(I am not saying, by the way, that no conspiracies of any kind ever occur.  Of course they occur.  But as I have also argued elsewhere, what is philosophically problematic is the kind of conspiracy theory that posits a conspiracy so far-reaching and subtle that it undermines the theory’s own epistemological foundations, in something like the way radical philosophical skepticism undermines itself.)

Again, initially this kind of paranoid thinking was confined to the Marxoid fringes, but since the 1960s it has permeated ever more deeply into the left-wing mainstream.  Hence the tendency to interpret absolutely everything as part of a “larger narrative” of “racism,” “sexism,” “white privilege,” blah blah blah.  To come back to my main topic: The reductio ad absurdum of this mainstreaming of the hermeneutics of suspicion occurs when the ordinary left-wing journalist or Hollywood type looks at what is in reality absolutely nothing more than the face of some innocent teenage kid smiling awkwardly… and sees in it the avatar of the dark forces of oppression which must be annihilated.

Blindness of mind

So, part of the explanation for what happened with the Covington teenagers is that even mainstream left-wingers are increasingly prone to seeing politics through the lenses of an ideological illusion.  But how does one maintain such an illusion?  The motor of self-deception requires potent emotional fuel.  And there is no fuel more potent than sex.  

It is probably no accident that the teenage boys who had aroused such an unhinged response from the Left had just attended an anti-abortion march.  Indeed, some of the most shrill left-wing responses have emphasized this fact.  

Now, abortion involves the deliberate killing of one’s own child, and it is usually done for the utterly frivolous purpose of being able to enjoy the pleasures of sex without the hassle of its natural consequences.  It is about as perverse an act as can be imagined, and even most liberals have until recently halfway conceded its morally problematic character by arguing that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” (in Bill Clinton’s famous formulation).  

Still, they have been relentless in framing the issue in terms of Orwellian euphemisms: Violently to interfere with the normal course of reproduction is, we are told, a matter of “reproductive health.”  To facilitate mothers killing their own babies is to show respect for mothers.  And so on.  And in recent years the disingenuous “…and rare” business has given way to the “Shout Your Abortion” movement.  For these activists, killing your own baby is something to celebrate publicly and have a friendly chat with the kids about.

Such bizarre inversions of what virtually the entire human race until about 20 minutes ago regarded as common sense and basic decency vis-à-vis matters of sex have become increasingly common as the sexual revolution has progressed.  Thus do we now find ourselves in a situation in which someone who has male gametes, male chromosomes, male sex organs, looks paradigmatically masculine, and has for decades thought of himself as a man and been taken by everyone else to be a man, one day declares that he is really a woman… and anyone who responds with even mild and respectful skepticism stands in danger of being shrilly denounced, Maoist-style, as an ignorant bigot who ought to be fired from his job and socially ostracized.  

Examples could easily be multiplied.  The more extreme the departures from traditional sexual morality, the more shrill and moralistic has been the rhetoric in their defense.  You might have expected the opposite – that such disruptions of long-standing institutions and moral assumptions would be proposed tentatively and with humility – but no.  What is going on?

What is going on, I would suggest, is that it takes a morality to beat a morality.  Sexual behavior that is now being mainstreamed and celebrated would, for all of human history up until now, have been regarded instead as a source of great shame and guilt.  Indeed, even now left-wingers lament the feelings of shame and guilt experienced by those who indulge in such behaviors.  Now, natural law theorists and other traditional moralists would respond:  Well, of course… it’s called “the voice of conscience.”  But the sexual revolutionary will have none of that.  It is, he insists, really the voice of the oppressor – of the “patriarchy,” the forces of “heteronormativity,” or what have you – which has been internalized by the oppressed.  

Thus do we have a Marxoid hermeneutics of suspicion deployed in the service of sexual, rather than economic, revolution.  The proletariat, in this story, comprises everyone whose sexual behavior does not conform to the traditional norm of a man and a woman united in marriage for the purpose of building a family.  Alienation is the residual guilt and shame this sexual proletariat feels for failing to conform this norm, and liberation is the overthrowing of the norm and the political defeat and social ostracization of those who still uphold it.

This opens the door to a counter-morality.  The good person, on this narrative, is the person who rejects traditional sexual morality and opposes those who defend it.  The nagging feelings of shame and guilt are magically transformed into a reassuring sense of pride and virtue.  Moreover, you can link arms with those who fight other forms of oppression, and their virtue rubs off on you.  Getting an abortion or publicly declaring yourself “bi-curious” becomes an act of political courage on all fours with sitting alongside Rosa Parks or marching at Selma.

The whole thing is preposterous, of course, but anyone strongly tempted to what would traditionally have been regarded as sexual vice has a powerful incentive to want to believe it.  And the more you can work yourself into a moralistic frenzy against those who uphold traditional sexual morality, the more thoroughly you can overcome any feelings of guilt and shame for flouting it.  

Natural law adepts will recognize in this an example of the “blindness of mind” that Aquinas says is one of the “daughters” or byproducts of lust, and which I have discussed at length in earlier posts.  As the sexual revolution has come more and more to dominate the agenda of the Left, this blindness has increasingly shaped left-wing psychology.  Thus does a visceral, crusading sexual counter-morality become the emotional glue that keeps the ideological blinders affixed.  Thus does some hapless smiling teenage kid come to be demonized as The Patriarchy incarnate.


  1. Amen, amen, and amen.

  2. Dr. Feser,

    Does Aquinas speak on how to act towards people with this level of blindness of mind? I wonder if you have seen the video of a woman saying (to a Trump supporter) that we should “ attention to fear and not logic”.

    Surely reasoning will not have any beneficial effect on these people (as countless fruitless abortion debates citing embryology and natural law philosophy has demonstrated).

    Can these only be saved by prayer and fasting? I would love to hear your (and Aquinas’) thoughts!

    Perhaps it would be a worthy follow up post. Many conservative Catholics I know (myself included) would like to respond by punching a wall. Somehow I feel like that is not the best or most Christ-like approach.

    1. Hello Scott,

      There's no simple answer, but I would say that much, much more in the way of sober and high-quality rational argumentation, rather than less, is a crucial part of the story. Not because fanatics like the person you mention are likely to be convinced -- they aren't -- but rather because at least some people of good will who are on the other side, and even more people of good will who are still on the fence, can still be convinced, or can at least be made to see that the traditional views are reasonable and defensible. Moreover, people who are already sympathetic with the traditional views need to understand the rationale underlying them. Natural law, natural theology, and apologetics have been neglected in Catholic circles for decades, and we are now paying the price for it. Correcting this situation is not the whole of the solution, but again, it has to be a part of it.

      Another part of it is that Catholics need to face reality and see modern liberalism for the inherently hostile force that it is. For decades now, Catholics have been deluding themselves with the comforting illusion that "modern man" has somehow arrived at a deeper understanding of the dignity of the human person than earlier generations had, that the time was accordingly ripe for "dialogue" and cooperation between secular liberalism and the Church, and so on. This was always a delusion, but it takes a special kind of self-deception to remained locked into it given the developments of recent years. Yet we still have even some conservative Catholic churchmen and commentators constantly prostrating themselves before the liberal zeitgeist and trying to find ways to accommodate it. People need to cut this out, stop accommodating and apologizing and trimming the sails, and see that the best defense is to go on offense. Not obnoxiously, but nevertheless confidently and frankly and unapologetically.

      I've only addressed what has to be done at the cultural level, and the political level is much harder. But no advances made there will ever be more than temporary unless the problems at the cultural level -- the quality of thinking and acting among faithful Catholics and other upholders of traditional morality -- are addressed. In the Catholic context, this can only fully be accomplished when the moral and doctrinal rot that now permeates the Church is addressed. That will take the right leadership doing the right things, but the rest of the faithful can do their part by living and thinking better. The faithful can only do so much without the right leaders, but at the same time, when the right leaders do come along, there had better be people ready to follow them and equipped to assist them.

    2. Was it Plato that said something along the lines of 'You can write the city's laws, I'll write it's songs' as a nod towards culture shaping politics?

      Could be a succinct summary of the approach Christians should take.

    3. They know, they just don't care:

  3. Caitlin Flanagan at the Atlantic had the best description of the event itself: "...these kids had wandered into a Tom Wolfe novel and had no idea how to get out of it."

  4. And Jonestown, Ed. Jones was a Leftist. T
    He was re-painted as a religious extremist when it all went South.

    1. Jim Jones was a freak. He was literally a freak. Even if you disagree with their politics, there's no reason to attack all left-of-center people with guilt by association.

    2. there's no reason to attack all left-of-center people with guilt by association

      That's true, but I don't think that's what Aquinian meant to do. I think his point was merely that the Jonestown episode is another example of something that is widely thought to have been a vaguely right-wing thing when in fact it was the opposite.

    3. Yes, that's exactly it. Jones was not a believing Christian. He was a committed communist who believed that the best way to spread communist thought was by infiltrating the Church.

      Jones invited the Soviet ambassador to Guyana to Jonestown. After his visit, the ambassador told Jones: you people are more communist than we are.

  5. While it may not change much in this post, it seems relevant that they were wearing MAGA hats, no? I don't think the response would have been anywhere near as hysterical if they hadn't been.

  6. Re the "smirk": He tried to smile but it's virtually impossible to just *keep* smiling. Try it sometime! A smile whose reason for existence has disappeared turns, unfortunately, into what looks a lot like a smirk but isn't.

    His repertoire of responses for the situation in which he found himself was, understandably, limited. He wasn't smirking at all, he was smiling without a cause.

    If he'd gone back to "resting-face" he would have been accused of "hate-face". His choices were limited. "Surprise-face" would have looked better but keeping that up would have made him look like an idiot.

    Personally, I would have gone with "rest-face" which is closest to being "neutral" but I wasn't there and am not a 16-year old boy. Poor guy. It'll be interesting to see what futures the Covington lads will make for themselves!

    1. Ron, my thoughts exactly. Well stated.

      Looking at how the kid behaved, I thought he would have made me proud, were he my son. He didn’t know what to do, so he stood modestly and tried not to be drawn into anything, an admirably Christian and manly response.

    2. Yes. And many people say he should have just walked away. But how disrespectful would it be to turn your back on an elder!

    3. I would find it difficult not to laugh given the absurdity of the situation. Of course you can imagine what kind of media outrage that would have provoked.

  7. "[T]his can only fully be accomplished when the moral and doctrinal rot that now permeates the Church is addressed. That will take the right leadership doing the right things..."

    Yes, and as we've seen with the failure, at least as of now, of the New York bishops to excommunicate Gov. Cuomo, we may be waiting a long time.

  8. Exactly right, Ed.

    I don’t like the left-right paradigm in any case, but the dominance of leftist bias in media and academia over the past half century is illustrated by examples like yours and many others, including Jonestown. Likewise Vatican II and the New Mass. The “popular” (meaning, imposed by leftist elites on suffering ordinary folk) of the entire reform is indisputable, and the fruits are as predicted by men like Archbishop Lefebvre on the Council floor, yet our media consistently mis-analysed everything in order to avoid the obvious, and still do. It’s now been long enough that what is essentially a dated, hippie liturgy, firmly locked in the ‘sixties, feels traditional to its victims.

    My advice to sincere Catholics looking for sanity, get back to the traditional mass, ideally offered by the SSPX, and don’t look back.

  9. All of this are signs of the times -- we are living in the last days of liberalism, and its pioneer, the American experiment, is collapsing on itself.

    Ah, what a fine time to be young. Glory to God for all things.

  10. Another point, which bears emphasis, is that in the wake of the second world war there was a concerted effort to discover the root causes of fascism, and this led many in the political mainstream to start smearing every traditional western institution as potentially dangerous and potentially fascist. This streak persists on the left to this day, where everything white and Christian is automatically suspected of being fascist or proto-fascist- as if the US is always just one election away from turning into Nazi Germany 2.0 but for the vigilance of the activist left. The shrill and paranoid writings of Corey Robin and Jason Stanley are recent examples mindset at work, but it has roots going back to the post war period.

    Think, for example, of Adorno's "authoritarian personality" or the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg who asserted back in the 60's that the boy scouts were just like the Hitler Youth. There was also the bizarre insinuations that fascism was a function of sexual repression, and that you could foster a more democratic personality through advocating sexual license. This played directly into the politics and rhetoric of the sexual revolution in the '60s- where all the "hung up straights and squares" were just fascist personalities looking to externalize their inner repressive tendencies. It is all complete bunk, but it reflects a deep seated way of thinking on the left.

    We also know that there were wealthy and powerful interests in the post war period that wanted to liberalize Christianity in order to make it more amenable to the liberal democratic order, and these interests invested tons of money and manpower into the seminaries and universities to try and bend their teachings in the direction of liberalism. Look at Union Theological seminary and the complete subversion of Notre Dame under the stewardship of Theodore Hesbergh for example. All of this was motivated in part by fears about the inherent danger of fascism and totalitarianism sparked by the world war II experience.

    In short, this ridiculous "everybody to my right is a Nazi" paranoia is not something new- it has been a mainstay of the American left for decades. It is only coming to the for now because the present day left so completely out of control and unhinged that it is impossible to ignore it.

    1. You'll notice that the Freudian view of human nature is dominant within the leftist-dominated society. This sees human beings as essentially simple animals that must not repress their primal desires. Today's sexual revolutionaries might point out that the Nazi regime denounced Freud as a pervert, and that therefore those opposed to total sexual liberty are acting just like Nazis.

    2. @Jonathan Lewis
      Your explanation certainly makes sense of one of my more vivid recent memories. It also seems to help explain why they seem to have decided that sexuality is public, but religion is private.
      I expect the worst part is that they actually believe the 'logic' and 'rationales' that seem to lie behind their attitudes.

  11. Stother Martin put it more tersely:

    What we have here is a failure to excommunicate.

  12. I'm less charitable to the Trans Conservatives here, particularly Frankovich. He didn't really give much of an apology. Such as it was, it was directed to his readers, rather than to those he had attacked, and mentioned only his tone. No mention of the extremely self-righteous Phariseeism of his comment.

    And he was not alone in this. NRO's initial response was simply to memory-hole their initial reactions, and then give weak apologies which consisted of a lot of self-absolution.

    I'll grant that some (e.g., Ross Douthat) who did write some genuine and serious retractions. But for many, color me unconvinced. Until now, I've tended to be on the irenic side about splits on the right. But that's a lot less true after this disgrace. I think Steyn, Kimball, and Ace of Spades are onto something, something ugly in many who profess conservatism. They have a lot more soul-searching to do.

    (I also suspect the list would have been longer had the whole story not broken, and then broken up, over a weekend.)

  13. If he did the Millennial scream, he wouldn't have been attacked.

  14. Yet we still have even some conservative Catholic churchmen and commentators constantly prostrating themselves before the liberal zeitgeist

    At this point the number of US bishops who have a true and honest claim to the term "conservative" is vanishingly small - possibly as low as the fingers of one hand. Nearly all of our bishops are chosen from the sort of people who don't make waves in the cultural gloom of media- and academia-drenched liberalism, and of that ilk the ones who make it as far as a bishops hat are (usually) ones who have drunk the kool-aid so often they are now unable to see anything but the liberal vision. There are plenty of right-leaning liberals in the group, because to "not make waves" in a Church that believes in moral absolutes, while kow-towing to the liberal culture, is to thread the needle by trying to be as rightward as a liberal can be and still not be screamed at by feminazis. Right-liberals. Stick a pin in a bishop, and as often as not you will get a life-long Democrat, who believes illegal immigrants should be called "undocumented residents", who has no clue why Obamacare or a single-payor health system is contrary to subsidiarity - if he can even spell the word.

  15. Ed,

    I don't mean this out of disrespect...I greatly respect your philosophical knowledge but I think you are doing some selective gymnastics here.

    I am not a Leftie or a Rightie...but I think there are some bizarro stuff on the Right also.

    Don't you also think there is some bizarro stuff going on in the Right?

    I will just mention a couple things out of many bizarro things on the Right.

    With regards to taxes, don't you think that someone who makes a billion dollars a year in income should give a higher percentage to the government than someone who makes 50 thousand dollars a year?

    Is not justice system, no roads, etc, which the govt is spending making it much more likely for the billionaire to keep making his billions every year compared to the average Joe and thus should the billionaire not pay much more in percentage?

    For sure you don't think that the billionaire is working 20,000 times harder (1 billion/50,000 = 20,000).

    Regarding the wall, how would you feel if the Native Americans created a wall before the Europeans came or if the Protestants created a wall before allowing Catholics to come in large numbers?

    Maybe we should all pack our bags and leave the land for Nathan and his people who are survivors...most of the Native population died from being killed or from disease that came to them from immigrants from the continent of Europe coming to the Continent of the Native peoples.

    I think we all need to be less ideological in order to get out of tending towards bizarro mindset, whether of the left or right variety.

    1. Hello grateful,

      I never said that there is no "bizarro stuff" on the Right. It's just not the topic of the post, that's all. The post was occasioned by a specific event that has a specific character, and where this character reflects what I think is a specifically left-wing pathology. Of course there might be other kinds of pathology that have a distinctively right-wing character. There is nothing in what I said that rules that out, and thus no "selective gymnastics."

      Probably the most significant pathology on the mainstream Right these days is a tendency of some people to fetishize the free market and the rhetoric of individualism, to the point where these have become ideologized. Some conservatives, on hearing me say that, are no doubt likely to think I am attacking capitalism, which only proves my point. I am not attacking capitalism, but rather merely criticizing a tendency of some on the Right to think too crudely and ideologically about it. An example would be the hysterical reaction some conservatives have had to the things Rusty Reno has been saying in First Things in recent years, and to Tucker Carlson's recent remarks.

      Of course, there is also some foolish stuff said by critics of capitalism, not only by left-wing critics but by distributists and the like. My own views tend to line up with what your average American Thomist would have said in the mid twentieth century, insisting on a careful balance between subsidiarity and solidarity -- most people tend to overemphasize one or the other too much -- and emphasizing how much depends on prudential judgment and cannot be deduced from first principles. And within that prudential context, my inclination is to recommend decentralization and private enterprise as far as possible. But also to hammer on the fundamental point that the health of the family is the beginning and end of the social enterprise, and that to put market principles ahead of that is to put the cart before the horse.

      But you can't sum that up in a simplistic slogan, and too many people insist, moronically, that one must either uncritically praise or bitterly condemn this abstraction called "capitalism." Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John Paul II wisely refused to do either, opted for a sober middle ground position at the level of principle, and realized that the details are a complicated prudential matter about which reasonable people can disagree.

    2. I fail to see how rule of law and challenging progressive taxes is 'bizarro'. You doth protest too much, methinks.

    3. Dr. Feser,

      I don't see how the Popes refused to condemn either -- _Laborem Exercens_ explicitly rejects both capitalism and state socialism, but not socialism simpliciter -- the socialization of resources is not ruled out, and joint ownership of the same is praised.

    4. insisting on a careful balance between subsidiarity and solidarity

      Subsidiarity itself has a built-in balance if I understand correctly - only that which can be handled at the lower level should be. The balance is that if it can't be handled at that level, you bump it up.

  16. Why didn't the chaperones of the students just move them away from the scene and avoided a confrontation?

    1. It was a judgment call, but it seems to me that in a sane media culture, there would have been no need to do that. You find yourself in a situation where you've got some loudmouths being obnoxious, you muddle through it the best you can while you are waiting for the bus, and then you get on with your life. Big deal.

      These days, though, there are hordes of fanatics and drama queens and bed-wetters and pretentious chin-pullers and hacks waiting to micro-analyze every gesture and expression and verbal tic and random remark and assign it some momentous significance and signal their virtue and wisdom by commenting on it. "Was that a smirk? Or only a smile? What did he mean by it? Did that one kid make a tomahawk gesture there for a second? Isn't that insensitive? What about the things people associate with MAGA hats? Should you really wear one at a pro-life rally? And what about the Black Hebrew Israelites group and the horrible stuff they said? And what about Nathan Phillips and his antics? What does all this tell us about the state of our society?" Blah blah blah blah blah.

      Really, all the specifics of the situation don't by themselves amount to anything. It's just a bunch of people at a rally, some of them being reasonable and some of them being jerks in different ways -- like people always have done and always will do at rallies. That's all. The one thing that is significant is the unbelievably over-the-top media response to it and the obsessive nitpicking over, and making a federal case out of, absolutely every stray image and remark that ends up being captured on a cell phone.

      The poor chaperones probably hadn't the faintest idea any that the press and social media fools would be gorging themselves on this nothingburger for a week. Had they realized it, no doubt they would have moved the kids away from the scene.

    2. There has been a lot of unwarranted harsh criticism of the kids' chaperones, even from some on the right. I think your commonsense appraisal of their actions is right.

  17. Hi Dr. Feser,

    My thoughts on transgenderism is that it is on the same spectrum as hermaphroditism. A hermaphrodite has both sets of sexual organs, so which one is he supposed to "go with" as far as self-identity goes? Since hermaphrodites are real, then I don't see it as implausible for their to be less obvious versions of hermaphrodites. A spectrum, since there are those with more or less developed organs of both genders, why would it be implausible that there be someone where only one gender is fully physically developed but the opposite gender is present as well, if only "mentally."

    Is this really implausible, and if not how would it fit into natural law theory?

    1. Gender and sex are not the same. Intersex conditions are disorders of embryological development, and their existence doesn't entail that sex is on a spectrum.

      As for gender, this either refers to behavioral dispositions and roles, which are largely socially constructed, or to some inner mental stste. But when most people say that they are male or female, what they refer to are biological facts. I have no idea what it means to be a man or woman "inside" -- and if Wittgenstein's private langilan argument is sound, then nobody but the claimant can know what they mean by that. Such a person could say they are "male" or "female", but they might as well say they're "schwibba".

      Now one might bring in neuroscience and point to differences between male and female brains, and there have been studies which attempt to show that a MTF transgender has a "feminine" brain and vice versa, but there are two problems with such arguments:

      (1) That the brains of biological males and females are significantly different is dubious, to say the least, and studies on this are at best inconclusive. This is the empirical problem.

      (2) The logical problem with such claims is that in order to classify brains as masculine and feminine, one needs to have some preëxisting notion of what those words refer to, and that itself demonstrates the primacy of sex when we speak of "male" and "female" -- a "male" brain is what most members of the male sex have.

      Most importantly, transgenderism harms real women, as in biological females. Sex-based discrimination is very real (rape, prostitution, pornography, sex-selective abortion) and the ideology of transgenderism, by making the words "female" and "women" into arbitrary, contribute to the sidelining of women, as in biological females, by appropriating their spaces (bathrooms, women's shelters) and the discourse of women's rights to suit their ends.

    2. Errata:


      private language*

  18. Dr. Feser, why do you think sex has become the sacred cow of the left? I'm routinely puzzled with sex, sexual expression, gender identity, the whole host of modernity's libertinistic virtues--why was the sexual revolution so successful in the first place?

    One theory of mine is that sex (using "sex" as a catch-all term for both the act and the biological constitution of human beings), by virtue of its powerful implications for human nature, mankind, the species, becomes infinitely malleable when devoid of its telos. When devoid of its telos it becomes aimless in every direction. Suddenly gender is divorced from biology, divorced from reproduction. The reproductive act itself is divorced from family, becoming easily commodified, voyeuristically-consumed, seen as a mere activity amongst the libertarian's slew of life-choices he can determine his will towards. Babies become avoidable consequences, no longer the telos of sex, just a side effect, judged to be good or bad based on the predominance of the human will.

    1. By virtue of its infinite malleability, it becomes the voluntarist's playground. The will becomes dominant over the turning of the generations, the biological makeup of man, life and death.

    2. I suspect it's because the sex drive is very strong in most people, so we have a correspondingly strong motive to adopt a worldview that lets us have sex with whomever we like. Also, the negative consequences of promiscuity (worse mental health, difficulty forming stable romantic relationships, etc.) are generally quite remote from the sexual act itself, making it easier to convince oneself that we can all sleep around without any consequences.

    3. RomanJoeJanuary 27, 2019 at 6:51 PM

      Dr. Feser, why do you think sex has become the sacred cow of the left? I'm routinely puzzled with sex, sexual expression, gender identity, the whole host of modernity's libertinistic virtues--why was the sexual revolution so successful in the first place?

      One theory of mine is that sex (using "sex" as a catch-all term for both the act and the biological constitution of human beings), by virtue of its powerful implications for human nature, mankind, the species, becomes infinitely malleable when devoid of its telos."

      Apart from the prima facie hedonic nihilists, there is a better, I think, reason which Feser has pointed in his remarks about cultural Marxism's obsession with sex.

      And that reason ... well let me quote as best I can from the progressive perspective of a Psychology Today article form a couple decades ago. Paraphrase; "Sexual relations are the most broadly accessible method of self-transcendence". They were speaking in terms of a kind of anti-individualist perspective, arguing what was essentially the "species-being" line. The author went on to wonder if non-participation was a legitimate option for humans. Or at least to wonder aloud if that were not itself a legitimate question to be posing.

      Now let's go back to Engels on the family, and to Marxist theorists who saw the abolition of the private family as a necessary part of the construction of a society in which the problem of alienation was abolished. Extremes in the Sixties included German revolutionaries promoting sex with children, with Bill Ayers reputedly wondering if engaging in homosexual relations was necessary to achieving a fully revolutionary consciousness.

      In short, for all the talk of the individual-as-difference being respected, in fact the individual as private operator with private interests, as an individual morally responsible before either Nature [the tyranny of nature] or God, is what the general progressive movement seeks to, and has always sought to, eventually eliminate.

      There is a long and explicit history in which economic socialism is linked to sexual collectivity. If some Marxist-Leninist theorists denounced homosexual activities as counter productive, plenty of other progressives with Marxist affiliations, did not.

      So it has not just recently become an issue for progressive intellectuals. It is just that the long march through the institutions has finally arrived on your doorstep.

  19. Ed,

    I know you are busy. Thanks much for taking your time for your thoughtful response. I agree that family comes first. I support free enterprise but not the ability of the rich to then stack the deck to create advantages for themselves. I agree that finding what is fair cannot be deduced by first principles. And it is the incapacity of first principles that led me to my earlier comment.

    I did not imply the use of selective gymnastics in the arguments of the post per se. I usually read your philosophical posts not just once but more than once and then I enjoy re-reading them in the future again.

    For this post, I just glanced at parts of it since I did not have time to read the whole post. But I used those words because only certain questions are selected over others. I was being a little pointed in my previous comment but in this post, I am saying this more generally. Knowledge is not only in seeking the correct answers but in formulating the more important questions. I find that people in the Right and the Left tend to only ask questions that arise from occasions that they find irritating. But the questions that are inconvenient (to the political party one favors) are usually not asked. I actually tend to find this worse among the Right than the Left. For example Thom Hartmann used to have intellectuals from the right come on his show and would politely ask them questions and give the bulk of the time on his show and he would even let them have the last word.

    Regarding economic questions, I find the study by John Rawl to be telling. The very rich favor the status quo of capitalism but if they are told to make themselves imagine a scenario where they they don't know if they would be rich or not and they have to choose economic system would they choose, almost all of them choose a system that is much, much less capitalistic. This study has been replicated in various settings and reveals the same telling results. And this is only possibly by asking the inconvenient questions.

    1. That’s odd about the economic questions. I am strongly in favour of free markets and capitalism, precisely because I am a poor man and that system is the only one in which I have even a theoretical possibility of becoming rich. The best that socialism has ever offered me was to keep me in my present condition, whilst degrading those better off to my own level.

      For some reason, they offer this ersatz equality only in the economic sphere; they do not propose to cut off the noses of pretty women so that all will be equally ugly, or, what is more to the point, bash clever people in the skull with hammers so that everyone will be equally stupid. Since this would take away their own means of controlling the system of state control with which they mean to replace the free market, I cannot say I am surprised by this form of special pleading. But it does them no credit.

  20. Its amazing. What was really a minor incident seen against the scale of violence being dramatized all over the planet 24/7 is now offered as "proof" that left-wing politics altogether is completely Bizarro.

    To paraphrase the Bard himself he summed up the significance of this incident and the over the top response to it.

    It was full of sound and fury and signifying nothing (including the bloviating self-importance of all the hot-air pundits)

    1. Most of the ‘over-the-top response’ has come from the organized Left and from left-leaning media. The ‘bizarro’ phenomenon is the insistence of the media upon making mountains out of molehills if it may thereby manufacture an apparent scandal for its enemies. That is a perfectly fair target for criticism.

    2. It is not a minor incident if you are a 16 year old boy subjected to death threats by a left wing mob. It should have been a minor incident, as Dr. Feser pointed out. The people you are attempting to defend are the ones who ensured that the incident explode in an orgy of hatred.

  21. Ed,

    I forgot to add that I think the whole term "distributive" is unfortunate and misleading.

    The rich benefit far more from the government than the poor. Bill Gates would not have become rich as he is without the patents and the whole government infrastructure of the judicial system, the law enforcement system, etc. Thus, a progressive tax should not be read only as distributive but also to address the higher benefit that the rich derive from a judicial system that protects their riches but inherently provides a progressively uneven playing field where the rich have more and more advantages to continue to dominate the market and push out the poor. We need to do our best to push out these advantages that in the extreme lead to monopolies but since it is impossible to completely remove these vast unequal playing field for the rich, a fair system has to have a progressive tax system. If you are implying it only serves distributive function, it is wrong headed. Again, no disrespect intended.

    1. Without patents, the judicial system, law enforcement, etc., nobody would be secure in life or property and there would be no meaningful form of wealth available to anyone. The same system that protects Bill Gates’s property protects mine, and if the state decides to abolish that system and begin confiscating property at will, it will not begin with him, because he has the power to offer resistance; it will begin by going after people like me.

      The idea that a ‘fair’ system requires higher incomes to be taxed at higher rates is a null claim in the absence of a definition of ‘fair’. It is also a falsehood. Mr. Gates’s wealth was never subject to income tax, for the reason that most of it was held in the form of Microsoft stock. Such property is not taxed until sold, at which point it becomes subject to capital gains tax; and Mr. Gates was not such a fool as to sell off his own business simply so that the IRS could take its cut of the proceeds.

      In any case, Bill Gates is a singularly inapposite target for your envy, as he has turned over a great part of his wealth to charitable foundations. Wikipedia, for whatever that may be worth, cites an estimate that he has given $28 billion to various charities. If you want to argue that those charities should be subject to progressive taxation, be my guest.

    2. Tom, you have misunderstood my point. I agree that losing all those government services and infrastructure would hurt everyone but proportionally, it would hurt the rich the most by far.

      People won't suddenly lose 99% of their wealth if such services did not exist but those who benefit most of the system would.

      And of course, let's not forget the people working at the corporations and the contractors...if they did not do the toiling, then the owners would not make any money at all.

      And don't accuse me of envy of Bill Gates. I have never envied him and I am grateful for him enriching so many people's lives for his hard work and his inventiveness.
      I greatly commend his charitable work to vaccinate children around the world, etc. I am very happy for his success and I wish the best...including I hope for him to have more faith in God and thus for him to be blessed in the hereafter as well. So don't be partly a troll or accuse anyone of poor intentions. I am just using his name since he is so well known.

      And no I don't want charities to be subject to progressive fact, I don't want charities to be taxed at is my understanding that charities are not taxed at all and I hope it always stays like that.

      I am for free enterprise system and I believe it is actually good for there to be a rich class of people if they earned it through their merit.

      But they should pay their fair share. That's all.

      Just because we cannot and never would be able to pinpoint what is "fair," is no excuse to not try to get closer at what is fair and to ask the really important albeit inconvenient questions.

      It is profoundly unethical to weasel out of striving towards fairness just because we can't exactly quantitate it.

      It is clear that rich or at least certain categories of the rich benefit more from the system. If we cannot quantitate exactly how much to have the progressive rate be, then that is as unethical as saying...well, we don't know on what sliding scale in which to construct a progressive rate, so uhmmmm, but since it is higher, let's just make it 95%. That would be unethical in the other extreme.

      We are not omniscient so we are not obligated to have an exactly correct tax structure. But we have been endowed to have a conscience, so we are obligated towards finding a fair system.

    3. The rich does not benefit more from the system. They simply take greater advantage of the system. That is one of the reasons why they are rich. Why should they be disadvantaged for being better at working within the system than others? It's like some people not getting a drivers license which limits their options for working location dramatically, therefore clearly those with a license are benefiting more from the system which is unfair and they must pay a fee for simply having a license. Not for driving a vehicle, not for using the roads, but for simply taking advantage of the systems in place and getting a license. That is actually unfair. There are situations where people come up with great ideas, but don't get them protected or protect them but don't pursue anything when that protection is violated. For some, they dont have the money to do so. As is well known, Bill Gates and Microsoft are relentless about this and have the money to do it. But again, they are simply using the system, that everyone has access to, to their advantage. A license holder shouldn't be curtailed simply because someone else can't afford to get a license.

      I'm guessing you believe the myth that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer right? Not in America. Incidentally, its much more common in countries with a much more progressive tax rate.


    4. I don't have any problem with securing patents...I think it is a great thing and I hope everyone does it.

      This is just a red herring.

      Lets get real, shall we? Just like there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are almost no rich people who like to have the current system if they were not born rich as the studies of John Rawls and others who have replicated his studies at various settings demonstrate.

      The rich have gotten richer and the poor have lost purchasing power. The banks get bailed out even though they create the bubbles through their speculation. When the rich elites misuse a countries wealth, their deals with the IMF and the World Bank create austerity measures which make the poor suffer ever more.

      I would like to remind my Catholic brothers and sisters in faith that greed is one of the seven deadly sins. I am not a Catholic or a Christian but Thomas Aquinas has pointed out that like pride, greed can lead to not some but all evil.

      And I would like to remind my Catholic brothers and sisters that supporting a system that supports greed is not moral either.

    5. For those who want to get a little informed on this issue of corporate greed, here is a good primer by the erudite Chris Hedges.

    6. To be fair, you don't have to be a socialist or even anti-capitalist to be against intellectual property rigjri. Indeed, some of the strongest free marketeers and classical liberals (what you yanks call libertarians) have argued against intellectual property rights. There does seem a difference between intellectual property rights and other property rights. Normally we have property rights because resources are scarce and can't be indefinitely shared out without diminishing the original owner's share. If I own a block of land and a house, giving others free access will affect my own use of the land. Intellectual property rights, on the other hand, are about creating an artificial scarcity. If I write a book or invent something, these can be copied without me having to share the original physical works an indefinite amount of other people. You can say my work or invention might thereby some lose value for me but that extra value comes specifically from the state making access to it artificially scarce. Intellectual property rights introduce scarcity where none naturally exists. There are therefore plausible arguments against intellectual property rights that aren't in any sense socialist or anti-capitalist, and, in fact, arguably the most hardcore libertarian position is the anti-IP one, given that we have here the state giving out to people property in what is not naturally scarce.

      Of course, there are also plausible arguments in favour of IP (though perhaps not in the bloated form we find them today).

    7. Thanks for that info. But it kind of went past me. My mind is not that sharp today and I don't have anything against intellectual rights. I have not read up on it and I did not mean to generate any discussion on that. My whole argument is that there are a lot of bizarro stuff on both the right that does not get talked about enough.

    8. Just another example of our perverse tax system where the middle class and poor are taxed more than the rich is the property tax. The majority of the wealth of the middle class is taxed by something called the property tax...I am sure you all have heard of it. Well, for those who are very wealthy and thus have wealth beyond a home are not taxed for the majority of their wealth.

    9. Grateful,

      Your point about corporate bailouts is something most America right wing capitalists are largely very suspicious of. Many would argue that a clear position would be to oppose them unless very extreme circumstances call for it. You won't find this is be an idea supported by the right in general.

      As for your point about Rawls studies, I don't think it proves what you think it proves. You seem to be making the claim that a system is unfair depending on whether people believe it is unfair or what they would prefer. Your crystal ball example entails this too. It just doesnt follow at all. This same point can be made about any inequality of any kind, not just about wealth, and at no point are you getting anywhere close to supporting a case for fairness or against unfairness. A system isn't fairer simply because people think it is fairer, even if that preferred it.

      People can have some concerns about specific practices, legislation or institutions but you are going wholesale and saying the whole thing is unfair and problems permeate everything. The poor are doing okay right now comparatively speaking, but somehow you think that because the rich is doing better, we need fundamental transformations of the system.

      At the moment, it seems like you may be slightly in bizarro world on this point at least. Stick to something specific otherwise be wary that you aren't just buying in to grand narrative conspiracies. That isn't to say that some things aren't a concern btw. Just because the left make politics their life, doesn't mean the right should too. Getting an absolutely fair system at all costs is not of major concern to most conservatives.

      The system doesn't support greed, even if there are some concerning aspects of it.

    10. Anonymous,

      You have not grasped my points. Bailouts for not just the rich but the actual perpetrators of poor standards to satisfy their greed and which has led to the impoverishment of millions in losing their homes or much of their equity has occurred multiple times. And the CEOs of such companies were not only not punished but awarded with tens of millions of dollars of bonuses ***after*** their greedy practices were uncovered.

      You are grossly wrong. The system enables, rewards, and perpetuates greed.

      "but you are going wholesale and saying the whole thing is unfair and problems permeate everything."

      Those are your words, not my words. On the contrary, I have explicitly stated that I support a free enterprise system in that people should be free to enter into businesses they want and to expand and so far. I am against a system that prevents such freedoms. ***However***, what I have mentioned multiple times and what you are not willing or not able to absorb is that such a system ipso facto provides more and more advantages to the rich and powerful over the poor and vulnerable in profound ways. If we allow such a system, then it is our duty to be vigilant in curtailing these attempts by the rich and powerful to use their riches and power to make an uneven playing field and thus ironically making it an uneven playing field.

      Moreover, as even with such vigilance, such a system will continue to favor the rich and powerful, they need to pay a progressively higher tax just for fairness and justice. This is not "distributive" which is a misleading and fallacious buzzword. This justice. Plain and simple utter justice.

      "Getting an absolutely fair system at all costs is not of major concern to most conservatives."

      You are absolutely right that this issue of justice is not that important to conservatives...indeed, many intelligent conservatives are oblivious to it and perpetuate this greed by making excuses for it and defending. it

      But you are wrong again in insinuating that I or others want an "absolute" fair system. And you are utterly wrong to insinuate that I or others want fairness "at all costs."

      I have said that I agree with Ed that we cannot know the absolutely what is exactly the fair amount of taxes for each income category and so on. Again, this is not something that can be derived from first principles.

      But being aware to the ever widening income disparity and the the misery from the burst of bubbles every several years and the decreasing purchasing power of the middle class and the poor and the effect on this in terms of damage to families and increasing substance abuse and opioid epidemic and so on is not some minor aspects to just be concerned about.

      Seeing evil requires speaking out against it, not letting it pass over or talking about other issues all the time which is a cover-up of this rampant greed of corporations and all who most benefit from it being given privileged power.

    11. Dude, it's not my words, your the one saying that the system supports greed, and willing to preach to people you don't know about how terrible they are if they don't agree with you. You are basically saying the system is evil.

      Income disparity is of very little concern. Dont let leftists suck you in to that point. There is more income disparity between those in Bill Gates community than in any other community in the entire world. But I'm sure you don't care at all about those at the bottom end of Bill Gates community, because they are still rich. It doesn't matter if people have more than other people, only whether people have enough.

      The system is working well. The poor are getting richer, the middle class is moving up, but just because rich people are getting richer and some times abuse the system, you are claiming the whole system is evil. It's ridiculous but if you think this, you must want to fundamentally transform it, maybe not at all costs, but you are basically describing it as if it's comparable to slavery.

    12. No, you are confused.

      First of all, you continue to utter false statements. The purchasing power of basic goods has been dropping for many years. This is not in reference to technology goods which get less expensive because of increasing demand and technological advances.

      But the basic goods like food and education keep getting more difficult for people. The poor and middle class have been losing purchasing power for many years.

      Although, you are correct that income disparity per se is not a problem, it is the repercussions that has which is the problem which I have stated not once or twice but many times but you are not able to grasp those points. Maybe you are too busy trying to see how to respond to them without listening to their content.

      The rich and powerful always manipulate the system which inherently is stacked to support them. Dude, focus on the system's name....capitalism...c-a-p-i-t-a-l-i-s-m.

      Those who have capital are able to feedback that capital in the system to give them an advantage and so on and so forth at ever more powerful manipulation.

      Thus, we need to be vigilant to minimize and try to eliminate the manipulation of that power in making the marketplace for those specific goods not on an even playing field and to minimize and try to eliminate the influence of the wealth of rich and powerful in influencing political leaders and so on.

    13. And I am not saying capitalism is "all" evil.

      However, when there are not ***sufficient,*** and ***vigilant,*** and large numbers of moral people pushing back against the ever present tendency of the powerful to manipulate the system to their favor at the expense of the working class, then those people are being immoral in allowing greed to implement injustice. No wonder the vast majority of middle class and poor people are now in indebt. I am not vindicating anyone from taking responsibility in the choices they made but the system is inherently encoded to help those who have capital take advantage of those who don't have capital. As the experiments of John Rawls has shown that if when most of those with capital are faced with the imagined situation of starting off without that advantage, they would not want society to have the type of capital system they are in.

  22. How much real political power does the left actually have anywhere in the world?

    In the context of American politics how many left-wing militias are there?
    Were any of the dozens of militia and patriot groups that emerged out of the swamp immediately after the election of Barack Obama in any sense left wing?
    Is there a left-wing equivalent of the Proud Boys, Stormfront and other white nationalist and patriot groups?
    Have left-wing religious groups taken over much of the chaplaincy services to the various arms of the USA military?
    Is there or was there a left-wing equivalent to Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Father Coughlin etc etc?
    Is there a highly organized left-wing equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan, the former Moral Majority (which was neither), the Christian Coalition, the Values Voter outfit, etc etc?

    Is there a left-wing equivalent of The Family as described in the book by Jeff Sharlet in his book titled The Family Power Politics & Fundamentalism's Shadow Elite? The Family operates all over the world by the way.

    Is there a left-wing equivalent of the School of the America's as described here

    Both in America and all over the world too is there any organized left-wing group that has anything remotely like the political and financial power of Opus Dei?

    1. The so-called militias have zero political or economic power. Ditto the ‘patriot groups’ to which you refer. Ditto the white nationalists.

      If you think there is no highly-organized leftist religious group in a position of cultural influence, you obviously have never heard of the Episcopal Church; and it is not far to the left of several of the so-called mainline Protestant churches.

      If you want to find the Leftist equivalent of the School of the Americas, find out who provided training and supplies to the Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao, Shining Path, MPLA, and other Marxist paramilitary organizations the world over during the decades of the Cold War. The answers are not hard to find.

      Opus Dei has no political or financial power except in the deranged imagination of a Jack Chick or Dan Brown.

      The idea that any or all of the groups and organizations you mentioned represent a substantial bloc of political power in the U.S. or any other country is simply a paranoid fantasy.

    2. >Is there a left-wing equivalent of the Proud Boys, Stormfront and other white nationalist and patriot groups?

      Ahem! **cough** ANTIFA! **cough**

      Seriously dude???

    3. "The idea that any or all of the groups and organizations you mentioned represent a substantial bloc of political power in the U.S. or any other country is simply a paranoid fantasy."

      Exactly. The Left is the establishment. While the Right has made inroads on the internet (which Leftist megacorporations are desperately trying to shove the genie back in the bottle), they still overwhelmingly dominate upper education. College degrees are the gateway to prestigious jobs and high office, and students on virtually every campus are forced to navigate a PC ghetto. When a professor prattles on about diversity, ask him how many conservatives are in his department. And heaven help the young college man if the Title IX office casts their lidless gaze on him.

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  23. What's so interesting is that Hegel discusses this in the first few chapters of his Phenomenology of Spirit. He calls this Gnostic tendency the 'Unhappy Consciousness'. See:

    If have read the Phenomenology and then read Marx's 1844 Manuscripts it is very hard not to conclude that Marx was a philosophical charlatan who did not really understand Hegel at all - ditto for Feuerbach who created the 'alienation' paradigm.

  24. Yet again, Ed, I'm standing in the park, watching the ball fly out over the stands. Would love to see you expand on this topic in longer form, maybe even book form.

  25. The funny thing is, though, that this situation really WAS radically different from what it seemed on the surface, from the first images. And it's surprising how often this is the case. There was, in fact, a deliberate effort to portray it in one way-- presumably, if someone else was holding the camera it was de facto a conspiracy. I find it hard to modulate just how suspicious I should be of conspiracies, especially when it comes to right-wing Catholic discourse about Freemasons, etc.

  26. @grateful to God:

    I agree that losing all those government services and infrastructure would hurt everyone but proportionally, it would hurt the rich the most by far.

    I think that is very questionable. The very rich can afford private guards, private roads, and the like. They are the ones who can find ways to handle societal breakdowns, and they always do.

    OTOH, when you have the breakdown of the rule of law in poor communities, then the suffering and cost is unavoidable. You can see an analogous case of this in the schools. Who can afford to educate their kids when the public schools go into the tank? And where are the public schools which still do something for their students (though I'd argue it's not worth as much as they say)?

    I must also point out that the burden of proof, for graduated tax rates on fairness grounds, lies on its advocates. And frankly, I've yet to see it plausibly made. I do notice that, when challenged the argument tends to shift to other prudential grounds. (Some of which I do think are more plausible.) But simply saying A should pay 70% while B should pay 35% doesn't really amount to anything beyond pure assertion.

    1. George, I see what you are saying but you are missing the point.

      You are true that rich and powerful will find ways to offset loss of government services and many middle class and poor cannot.

      But that is evading the first issue which is the following"

      If the rich and powerful are told that we have a crystal ball here that says that the government services will completely collapse (no police, no judicial system, no legislative brach of government, etc) unless you pay 10 times more taxes, many rich and powerful will do so (if they are 100% convinced of the crystal ball).

      If the struggling middle class and poor are told that unless they pay double taxes the government services will completely collapse, not only will most refuse to pay even 1% more, even if they want to pay much more, most will not be able to do so.

      I think I can rest my case.

    2. Just to make the above point a little clearer, the rich and powerful would be willing to pay a much higher tax percentage since they know that it is in their interest to do so since a collapse of the government will cause a cascade of events where workers, financial system, judicial system, infrastructure, etc. will not be able to do what is needed for the corporations, etc of the rich and powerful to thrive. But the majority of the middle class and the poor cannot make the larger payments since it is physically not possible or because they don't want to become complete slaves. Note that I am not saying anything about what the percentage of taxes should only point is that when we take the tax system in total (income, property, sales, etc.) along with the way financial system operates, the tax system is perversely favored to give more and more advantage to the rich and powerful at the expense of the struggling middle class and poor.

      My point is not at all against rich persons per se. If some of the poor and middle class were born rich or if they became rich, chances are that they would want to take advantage as well.

      My point is not against any people but just that that system is grossly unfair. I am not against the system in toto. I favor a free enterprise system way more than communism. But a free enterprise system greatly gives advantage to the rich and powerful over the poor and the weak and this perversity gets worse over time as the rich and powerful become even more rich and powerful.

      (As an aside, note that corporations are worse than private business entities since executives run them, not the owners and the incentives of bonuses and perks for the executives is on short term quarterly gains and not on anything else..and their is limited liability on corporations leading to a loss of accountability and thus justice. I am not saying I am against the system of allowing corporations per se but just that if corporations are allowed to exist, then they are the most dangerous entities in a free enterprise system and thus efforts need to be taken to prevent them to exploit their advantages at the cost of the middle class, poor, and weak)

      Thus, we must be vigilance against the ways the free enterprise system can be exploited by the rich and powerful. Otherwise we are partaking in helping spread greed on the expense of the poor and thereby spread misery over the poor.

  27. Trying again: I just made a comment about how weird the comments have gotten. Seems to have vanished into the ether. Why has it gotten so much weirder?

    1. George, I don't know in your case, but I can tell you that when I try to comment with my Brave browser, I can't comment here without blogger acting like nothing happened, so I have to switch to Google.

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    1. When you receive threats against your self and your family, and are subjected to public shaming, all for something that did not happen, I hope you will remember that it's just a tempest in a teapot.

    2. I don't want to be uncharitable, but every time someone says this ("much ado about nothing" "tempest in a teapot" etc.) I can't help but feel they are attempting to deflect the obvious and well-deserved blame from accruing on the left side of the political aisle.

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  30. You’re right. Not giving unsolicited advice is another of the manifold traditional soft social rules that have disappeared in the past fifty years, and so thoroughly that folks don’t even seem to know they existed. The losses suffered on that front are immeasurable.

  31. The incident also demonstrates the lack of political options for Catholics in the US. The students were by far the sanest group and were present for a good reason - opposition to abortion. However the caps and other aspects showed how confining politics is for them as Catholics. Was there no other role but to be Trump loyalists? Conservatism is just another ideology which needs to be carefully disentangled from our Catholicism, like liberalism, socialism and the rest.

  32. As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.

    Except that is exactly true. Nothing is as it seems and reality is radically different from and even contrary to common sense.

  33. Dr. Feser I am curious what you think about the changing character of the right wing among the younger generations (millennial and generation Z "zoomers").

    I'm a pretty reactionary Catholic convert at one of the largest public universities in the country (in one of the most liberal states in the country). Most people I've met with a right wing bent (that isn't a libertarianism that surrenders all cultural issues to the left) are more anti-interventionist, market skeptical, isolationist, and anti-immigration than the Buckley-ites of yore. I myself fall into all of those trends to varying extents.

    I believe the generational gap is on the line of those who experienced the cold war and those who did not. Anti-communism can no longer effectively serve as the unifying force of the right keeping the free-marketer, the religious, and the nationalistic all under one tent. Social conservatives of all stripes see how the republican party concedes more and more ground to the left in every generation. Ben Shapiro's libertarian evasion of the gay marriage question would have been too liberal for the 90s democratic party even though he's the current standard bearer for American conservatism. However, the GOP never fails to give a tax cut to the Jordan Belforts of the world.

    In recent years conservatives have bragged about being the actual counter-culture at this point in history. I've attended events of every political organization on my campus and have acquaintances across the entire spectrum. With that I can authoritatively say that its the reactionaries who most complain about advertising, foreign wars, big money in politics, and all the classic targets for 1960 hippie counter-cultural grievances.

    Some panic over this change while others herald it as the American right-wing's return to its pre-Cold War character. I'm curious as to where you stand on this matter

    1. I know your question is directed at Dr. Feser, but my own observations square with yours. (I am a tail-end Gen Xer).

      I think Gen Z benefits from hindsight in ways that we did not. Most of us never came to terms with the fact that the leaders of our generation's conservative movement were little more than controlled opposition. We also did not come of age in the manifest dysfunction and chaos caused by liberalism which is now on full display. In our time we knew it was bad, and it seemed to be getting worse, but it happened gradually and only really seemed to start accelerating in about the last 10 or 15 years. Given how manifestly contrary to right order and civil society the contemporary left is, it is only understandable that younger right wingers would question the very system that allowed such a malevolent political movement to take almost total control and wreck society with such minimal opposition. Hence the many younger right wingers who are now openly questioning whether constitutions are of any real use, and whether democracy and free trade and capitalism are of any real worth. This is understandable, because unlike us, you are in position to say "IF this is what these things lead to, then no thanks" in a way that we were not. We also did not have ready access to "red pill" information sources in the way that you now do, and it is hard to overstate the importance of that.

      But your intuitions are sound. For 20 years we had a Republican party that couldn't keep trannies out of the bathroom or 11 years old boys off the drag circuit, but was always Johnny on the spot when the billionaires needed a tax cut or Israel needed a proxy war. You guys get it, and my hats are off to you even though you have one hell of a fight in front of you, thanks in no small part to the abject and ongoing failures of post war conservatives in the National Review mold.