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Is it Freedom or Ego that is the Problem?

There has been much discussion on various anti-liberal blogs that freedom (i.e., the idea behind liberalism) is the cause of all society’s ills. There is the notion that if only liberalism could be abolished then something better would take its place and all the social problems of modernity would be solved. I suppose the thinking is that anything is better than liberalism therefore there is no need to come up with a replacement for it. Or perhaps the reluctance to come up with a replacement reflects the subconscious knowledge that liberalism really is not the problem and that the same issues will come to exist under any type of regime.

One theory I see over and over again is that liberalism leads to evil and specifically mass murder because it is “incoherent.” The theory that liberalism is “incoherent” is based upon the premise that a government action is by its nature restrictive. Even if a government acts to promote the rights of one person or group of people it will necessarily restrict the rights of another person or group of people. Therefore, it is “incoherent” to say that a priority of government should be to protect the freedom of its citizens (as Western governments typically do) because in actuality a government cannot protect the freedom of one group of people without assaulting the freedom of another group of people. For example (the argument goes) if the government protects the right of one group to speak freely it will necessarily assault the right of another group to not have to listen to what the first group has to say.

Let us assume this analysis actually proves the incoherence of liberalism (and not the balancing of competing priorities). Does this incoherence really lead to mass murder as is claimed by the anti-liberals? The anti-liberal’s “go to” example of modern day mass murder is abortion. They argue that because liberalism is incoherent it can be used to justify abortion just as it was used (they argue) to justify the killing of Jews by the Nazis in World War II, the nuking of Hiroshima and the execution of opponents to Communist reform in the Soviet Union under Stalin. This justification arises under the “principle of explosion” apparently because under a contradictory logical construct such as is (supposedly) liberalism anything can be logically inferred to be true.

There are a few problems with this line of thinking. First of all, understanding the “principle of explosion” requires more than a bit of formal logic theory under one’s belt. It is not a theory that is readily grasped by the general public without this education. Therefore, to say that this principle is somehow used by liberals to justify their actions seems to be a bit of a stretch on its face. However, the argument might be that although expressing the principle of explosion in formal logic requires an education in logic that most people do not have, the principle itself is sound because most people on some intuitive level appreciate it to be true and use it to justify their beliefs psychologically. This too I think is a stretch because the intuitive level is governed more by emotion and ego than obscure rules of formal logic. But let us also assume this to be correct.

So then, we are now assuming it is correct that the belief in incoherent doctrines can lead to mass murder. It seems to me that from the perspective of the orthodox Christians who believe this this theory there is an obvious flaw they are ignoring. That is, the belief that incoherent doctrines lead to mass murder not only condemns liberalism (assuming liberalism is actually incoherent) but it would also condemn Christianity itself. There are many tenets in Christianity that are incoherent on their face (arguably). For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is logically incoherent. The belief that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man is logically incoherent. The belief that the Eucharist is actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the Roman Catholic mass is logically incoherent. The theodicy question suggests an incoherence to Christianity as well. These are but a few examples of arguments that could be made to demonstrate the incoherence of Christianity that are far more convincing (in my mind) than the argument that supposedly demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism.

All that being said, I do not consider either liberalism or Christianity to be incoherent. Nor do I believe that an incoherence of a doctrine logically leads to mass murder. So then the question arises what does give rise to these incidences of mass murder than take place in modern times? I think a far more logical explanation for the existence of mass murder in modern times is the modern technology that makes it possible.

The anti-liberals will argue that these acts of mass murder have only occurred under liberal regimes. But the fact that these events have (arguably) occurred only under liberal regimes does not prove that only liberal regimes are capable of committing acts of mass murder. Indeed the same people who argue only liberal regimes can commit mass murder are the same people who argue there are only liberal regimes in modern times. I think it is clear that this line of thinking easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because if there are only liberal regimes in the world then any crime committed in the world can be blamed on liberalism. Moreover, examples of illiberal regimes committing acts of mass murder (albeit on a smaller scale) can be pointed to in the Inquisition and the Crusades. It is easy to conceive that these acts of cruelty could have been much more extensive had the perpetrators had access to modern technology.

I use these examples not to attack Christianity. I am a Christian. I use them to demonstrate that any political philosophy or belief system is capable of mass murder given the right circumstances and therefore to believe that the supposed incoherence of liberalism is responsible for these acts is a fallacy.

But modern technology is not the whole explanation. So what then is the discriminating authority that causes one person or group of people to commit an act of violence on another person or group of people? Might I suggest that it is ego. It is the voice within the self that says I am right and he is wrong. It is the voice within the self that says I am different than him (or her). It is the voice in the self that says I am better than him or her. It is the voice within the self that says if you disagree with me you must lack the capacity to understand me. It is the voice in the self that says you are my enemy. In my mind (and I would think most reasonable people would agree) this is the real problem.

 

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Essentialism and Egotism

ESSENTIALISM AND NOMINALISM

From what I gather reading the Orthosphere and other related anti-liberal blogs, anti-liberals believe essentialism and anti-liberalism go hand in hand. To aid my loyal readers who may not be familiar with this term, Essentialism is a philosophy holding everything has a set of characteristics that define it and that this essence has an existence logically prior to the existence of the thing itself. For example, a dog has a set of characteristics that make it a dog and not a cat. In other words, there exists an essence of “dogness” that all things we call dogs possess which is why we refer to them by the same name. Put another way, the label “dog” is indicative of a pre-existing truth.

Essentialism is typically contrasted (by anti-liberals) with nominalism which is a philosophy holding that these essences are only labels or intellectual concepts without any actual corresponding reality and that only things (not the essence of things) exist prior to the labels man applies to them. For example, a dog is a thing man calls a dog because it makes it easier for man to conceptualize a grouping of similar things. In other words, the things man calls dogs exist but this label “dog” is a just a creation of man. Moreover, man could just as easily contrived some other labeling system that did not segregate dogs into a discrete category the way man is used to thinking of dogs.

I can see different appealing aspects to both philosophies. The appeal of essentialism is that it presumes a reality and truth that exists independent of the mind of man. The universe has an order to it and it becomes man’s job (if he chooses) to seek after this pre-existing truth of reality. By contrast, the appeal of nominalism is the presumption of a universe in which man is free (to a certain extent) to define and shape as he sees fit. Whether a person identifies as an essentialist or a nominalist depends upon their view of the world which is in turn determined by their culture, religion, education and psychology. I imagine most people do not consciously identify as either. Interestingly enough, I have observed that anti-liberals tend to use nominalism as a pejorative term.

THE GOOD

There also seems to be a link between what anti-liberals consider to be orthodox (small “o”) Christianity and essentialism. This link has to do with there being one true definition (i.e., the essence) of the good which is reflective of God’s will and exists independent of man’s speculation or opinion of the good. Among essentialists there does exist some degree of agreement on at least part of the definition of the good. One can certainly look to the Bible and to the magisterium of the Catholic church (if one happens to be Roman Catholic) for guidance on this subject. Of course, not everyone happens to be a Roman Catholic or even Christian and so in this general sense there does not exist a universal agreement as to the definition of the good. Essentialists believe this definition exists none the less despite the fact that even they do not possess one hundred percent clarity as to what is in fact the definition of the good.

Even Saint Paul laments, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). Based on this passage it seems to me to be extremely arrogant for a person to presume to know the mind of God which is the vault in which resides the exact definition of the good. I accept, certain aspects of the good can be discerned from various secondary sources but the entire picture remains (as Saint Paul accurately points out) inscrutable in part.

THE ESSENTIALISM / NOMINALISM DICHITOMY

I am not convinced that liberalism (defined as the political philosophy espousing that the freedom and equal rights of citizens should be a nonexclusive priority of government) has a special relationship with nominalism. Perhaps one could argue that the very notion of freedom implies a rejection of the tyranny of labels. But one could also conceive of a person being “free” within a specific set of rules or parameters. It has been my experience that most educated and reasonable people understand the notion of freedom as used in political discourse to refer to Western political structures which are relatively more free than dictatorships, police states and authoritarian polities and not the non existent, straw man society where every citizen is absolutely free. As such, the “freedom” liberalism espouses is not a total rejection of authority and labels by any means and is therefore not incompatible with essentialism as far as I can see.

I am also not convinced that the essentialism / nominalism dichotomy is an accurate reflection of how people generally look at the world. Essentialism holds that a definition of the good exists independent of man’s conception of the good. Nominalism rejects this pre-existence of the definition of the good and thus leaves it up to man to make this determination. But I can certainly conceive of a person believing in freedom and a pre-existing definition of the good at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can also think of a third category where there is a pre-existing definition of the good that man does not have one hundred percent clarity as to the exact nature of the good so therefore there is room for speculation. I can even think of a fourth category where essentialism is true for some things but not others. I suspect, however, that the rejection of this dichotomy would be seen by an essentialist to be a symptom of nominalism.

EGOTISM AND ESSENTIALISM

Based on my admittedly limited experience the impression I get from many essentialists is that they have convinced themselves that they have clarity as to the exact nature of the good. The process of convincing themselves may have been augmented by their tendency not to converse with or take seriously anyone who might hold a different perspective or challenge them in any way. One can see how easy it would be for a person believing himself to have clarity as to the exact nature of the good to judge and criticize those with a different perspective.

It would make sense that an essentialist who truly believed his own dogma to be true would also have to believe that anyone who disagreed with him was either dishonest or lacked the capacity to understand his particular position. He might very well view the ability to see things from different points of view as smacking of the heresy of nominalism.

It seems to me that a true essentialist would be humble because he would know there are truths greater than the self and the mind’s ability to conceptualize. As Saint Paul reminds us, God’s ways are inscrutable. But for a man to have convinced himself of his own hold on truth and goodness seems to me to be closer to nominalism than essentialism. If given temporal power who knows what cruelties he might inflict on those he would condemn from his lofty perch. This (it seems to me) is the true danger of arrogant egotism combined with essentialism.

 

 

 

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Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.

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The Legitimate Liberal Process

There is value in questioning basic assumptions just as there is value in adhering to a set of beliefs that have been tested by logical experiment and examination. The value of course is that these assumptions and beliefs are reflections of the truth. And the truth is valuable in its own right. In fact, it might be said that all value is based ultimately in the truth.

Over the past few months (as reflected in my blog entries) I have been engaged in a dialogue with a group of people who could be described as extreme right conservatives or simply anti-liberals. In my mind this dialogue has been a process of determining the truth as to whether liberal government is essentially good. For the purposes of this discussion I am using the term “liberal government” to mean a type of government that values and prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens before the law. When I first began this exploration I can honestly say that I never actually questioned whether a liberal government could possibly be a bad thing. Having grown up in the United States this was never presented to me as a viable option. For this reason, the exploration has been a useful and informative means of questioning this basic assumption for the purposes of determining its veracity.

As an aside, much of the dialogue with these extreme right wing individuals has been civil and respectful. Some of it has not. This is not surprising as people tend to take their politics personally. It has always been my strategy, however, to be respectful but if met with rudeness to respond in kind. Bullies (especially the kind who hide behind the anonymity of cyber space and echo chambers where their opinions are rarely challenged) should be stood up to. As one of the right wing commentators rightly stated:

…to properly deal with an actual “bully” one must at some point respond in kind and let him know – good and hard! – that he has met more than his match.

It has been my experience that people of this sort are either unaware of or do not want to admit their true motives while at the same time characterizing their intentions as intellectual, philosophical and virtuous. Accordingly, making them aware of their real motivations is also in service of the truth.

THE LEGAL PROCESS AS THE FINAL PRINCIPLE

With that out of the way I would like to turn to the main purpose of this blog post which is to explore a topic that came up in the comment section of my last blog post entitled “A Controvertible Case“. In the comment section one person argued that freedom cannot properly or logically be a priority of government because if a government acted to protect the freedom of one citizen it would necessarily work to detrimentally affect the freedom of another citizen. Specifically he argued:

…in order to protect a certain citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of speech), another citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of religion) may be compromised. Even if the legal precedent provides for a way to resolve such a case, it cannot provide for a case where one’s freedom of religion clashes with another citizen’s freedom of religion; the government must protect the freedom of religion for one of the party’s at the expense of another’s, or it will protect neither party’s freedom of religion. What is the final principle to resolve such a case?

My response was that “[t]he process is the final principle” by which I meant the legal process is the final principle. I would now like to take this opportunity to elaborate on what I mean by this assertion.

First of all, when we speak of a liberal government prioritizing the freedom of its citizens what we are really talking about is a government that restricts its own authority over its citizens. In this context the term freedom refers directly to limited government. A liberal government such as the government of the United States is limited by its constitution which defines its legal process and the structure in which the process takes place. This structure is comprised of various entities which check each other. Specifically there is a representative legislature to make laws, an independent executive branch to enforce the laws and an independent judiciary to interpret how those laws should be enforced. The government is further divided between the Federal and State governments. All these (and more) divisions act to check one particular part of the government from becoming so powerful so as to act outside the legal process. The federal constitution itself further limits the power of the federal legislature as to what types of laws it can or cannot make. It is through this legal process that freedom and equal rights are made priorities in our liberal system.

My extreme right wing colleagues often argue that governments are essentially “discriminating authorities”. That is, governments by their very nature act by discriminating in favor of one party’s interest over another. As such, to say a government can act to preserve the freedom of its citizens is a logical impossibility. However, I would argue that it is precisely because governments are discriminating authorities by nature that the liberal notion of freedom must entail a limited government. This is why the process (i.e., the legal structure or constitution) has to be the organizing principle. This is also why adherence to this organizing principle (i.e., the rule of law) is necessary for a legitimate, free and liberal society. This is also why a government without the rule of law such as North Korea, Nazi Germany or Stalinist Soviet Russia cannot properly be described as liberal regimes in this sense because under a dictatorial system without the rule of law there is no process in place to make sure the process is adhered to.

THE “PITCHFORKING BABIES” COUNTER-ARGUMENT

One extreme right wing individual argued that the legal process cannot be a final operating principle because any process might lead to immoral results. Specifically he argued:

So as long as the right process is followed, pitchforking babies is perfectly liberal.

Unless ‘the right process’ is defined as a process which produces good results. In which case the process isn’t actually the final principle at all.

By now you ought to be able to see the question-begging incoherence in your own attempts to defend liberalism.

It is said that Winston Churchill once stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Whether or not he actually said this I believe there is some truth to this statement. If the legal process (i.e., the embodiment of liberal freedom) is the operating principle then it is true that immoral results can result. However, the liberal legal process also allows for citizens to object to the pitchforking of babies through free speech and elections (for example). In non-liberal (i.e., top down) systems as North Korea, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Russia or whatever the non-liberal utopia exists in the mind of my extreme right wing colleagues, this cannot be done. In those systems of government a citizen must hope that his top down government happens to be one in which the pitch forking of babies is frowned upon. King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents comes to mind as a non-liberal government which pursued this policy. (MT 2:16-18). So unless my extreme right wing colleague can offer an alternative to a liberal government under which he could guarantee that babies will not be pitchforked I do not find his counter argument to be particularly persuasive.

LIBERALISM LEGITIMIZES AUTHORITY

On a related topic it has been said that liberalism is in essence a rejection of authority. I find this assertion to be questionable at best. On the contrary, I see liberalism to be very much in favor of legitimate authority. One might say that liberalism legitimizes authority in order to make it an authority that is acceptable. This is not to say that all legitimate governments need to be representative democracies or even liberal. They do, however, on some level need to be a government that is acceptable to the people under its jurisdiction. Liberal systems are designed to demonstrate their acceptability and legitimacy.

It comes down to a matter of trust. That is, do we trust the people who embody the process to act in a way that will create good outcomes? Whatever form a government takes (be it liberal or non-liberal) there is certainly no guarantee that good outcomes will result. As such, it seems reasonable to put a process in place whereby a variety of voices can have a say so as to moderate any potential immoral voices that might steer a polity towards immoral outcomes. This outlook of course assumes that the majority of voices will be moral and knowledgeable. It requires a free and credible press to inform these voices. It also requires a respect for the rule of law. That is, there must be a respect for the legitimate liberal process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Controvertible Case

Not long ago I found myself alone in a comment section debate amidst the various members of the Zippy Catholic echo chamber. For those who don’t know, the main point of adhesion for this community is their unwavering belief that liberalism (i.e., the political philosophy which holds freedom and equal rights of citizens to be a legitimate and primary goal for a government to pursue) is (1) incoherent (their description) and (2) necessarily leads to mass murder. In this blog post I would like to address the first point (i.e., the supposed incoherence of liberalism) as it relates to the aforementioned comment section debate.

One of Zippy’s zealots named JustSomeGuy became particularly motivated to get me to respond to his logical proof which he believes demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism. It is as follows:

P1: Political acts are about resolving controvertible cases between two (or more) parties.

P2: Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two (or more) parties at odds, and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

∴ Freedom as purpose of political action makes freedom the purpose of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

Before I get to my discussion of JustSomeGuy’s theorem let me first provide some background to the interaction. Ideally, this conversation should have been an exploration of the issues alone. But as with virtually all comment section dialogues this one devolved to a large extent into the realm of ad hominem attacks. In the defense of Zippy and his adherents their ad hominem attacks were apparently not meant to attack my argument but rather my character and intelligence alone. As such they can not be said to have committed the ad hominem fallacy. This is an important distinction to make as Zippy has accused me of committing the ad hominem fallacy in a previous post entitled The Fruit of the Spirit where I remarked on an underlying current of negativity in his and other’s posts which seems to me to be at odds  with the fruit of the spirit as described by St. Paul in Galatians Chapter 5. I suppose in my own defense I could also argue that I was merely attempting to describe the spirit behind the rhetoric and not the logic of the argument itself but this digression I think has run its course.

Let us return to the subject at hand. When I did not respond to JustSomeGuy’s theorem right away he and others became agitated. They accused me of ignoring their arguments. In my defense, the reasons for my delay were twofold. First, at the time I happened to be responding to a number of different people at once. So naturally I could not get to everyone as fast as I or they would have liked. Second, I had to formulate an answer before responding to any one particular point. Unfortunately, this situation was apparently not satisfactory to JustSomeGuy or Zippy. For that, I apologize and offer this blog post as the response they seemed to desire me to give.

First of all, I am not convinced that politics necessarily involves a controvertible case in all matters. As I mentioned in the maelstrom I could imagine a case where a political consensus could give rise to a political act that did not necessarily involve deciding in favor of one party and against another. This, however, did not seem to be the strongest of arguments. Certainly consensuses are not the norm in politics even if it is conceivably possible. Accordingly, let us proceed assuming that politics does indeed always involve resolving controvertible cases between two parties.

As to point two of the theorem let us also agree that controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating against one party in favor of another. The point of clarification that I would like to make is that liberalism as a political concept does not concern itself with freedom in an abstract sense but rather it concerns itself with the freedom of a polity’s citizens. This is important because when a government acts to preserve the freedom of its citizens it is discriminating or restricting itself. We see this in the Bill of Rights in the repeated phrase “Congress shall make no law…” So yes, it is true that the government is restricting its own freedom when it acts to promote the freedom of its citizens. But this arrangement is a perfectly coherent situation as far as that goes.

In this way I would alter the wording of JustSomeGuy’s theorem to more accurately describe the reality of the situation.

P1. Political acts are typically about resolving controvertible cases between two or more parties.

P2. Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two or more parties and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

∴ Freedom of citizens as purpose of political action of government makes freedom of citizens the purpose of freedom-restrictive acts imposed upon the government.

I agree with JustSomeGuy and the rest of Zippy’s adherents that “abstract freedom in general” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue. For one thing it is too vague. But also, a government (as the echo chamber argues) acts by making decisions which will naturally discriminate against one party in favor of another. This discrimination in theory restricts the freedom of one party as much as it promotes the freedom of another. We see this clearly in court rulings, for example. However (as I attempted to articulate), I disagree that “the freedom of citizens” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue because a government pursues this goal by restricting its own action as is seen in the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution. If we take the example of the freedom of speech, the government is restricting its ability to stifle specific kinds of speech (particularly political speech). In this case the government is discriminating against itself in favor of a particular freedom reserved for its citizens.

Another point I would make as to JustSomeGuy’s theorem is that although in a liberal society the freedom of citizens is a primary and legitimate pursuit of government it is not the only pursuit of government. For example, the maintenance of law and order is another primary and legitimate pursuit. Therefore, I disagree with JustSomeGuy’s theorem in that it assumes that freedom (in a general sense) is the goal behind every political act, which is not necessarily the case under the definition of liberalism.

Finally, I would like to say that while in the midst of the maelstrom I tried to explain my misgivings as to their core belief about liberalism. It was not my intention nor did I expect to change anyone’s mind in this debate. I was, however, (at least partly) interested in more clearly formulating my position. One effective way of doing so is to test it in the arena of debate. I was and am also open to abandoning my position if it has been sufficiently disproved. I have not reached that point yet concerning liberalism.

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The Fruit of the Spirit

I have been reading articles on the Orthosphere and Zippy Catholic‘s blog for a few months now. Both of these websites represent a brand of Christian conservatism (or perhaps more accurately Christian anti-liberalism) that would be considered a bit extreme by most people. Their contributors and commentators in large measure seem to think that freedom and equal rights are actually misguided pursuits for governments to concern themselves with and that these pursuits are in fact responsible for all the evil manifested in modernity from political correctness all the way to Nazi death camps.I must say that in certain small  instances they make compelling or at least logically consistent arguments to support their eccentric points of view. I cannot say that I am totally convinced by most of their arguments but they do make some points worth considering.

However, more than their position there is something about these blogs that disturbs me which for some time I have been having trouble putting my finger on. More and more, however, I can see that it is the underlying spirit of negativity, judgment and arrogance behind the content that is the cause of this feeling.

Recently, a contributor named JMSmith wrote a piece on the Orthosphere entitled “The Israel Fetish” which I think illustrates the point I am trying to make. Mr. Smith works in higher education and from what I have read is not all together satisfied with his professional experience. This seems to be a common thread among the contributors to these blogs by the way. Many work in academia and are unhappy with the present state of the world for which they blame liberalism. In his article JMSmith fixated upon a promotional message he recently received for a student trip to Israel. He quoted some of the language:

A trip to Israel is in essence a rite of passage for every Christian—a pilgrimage in the truest sense. The origins of both ancient Biblical faith and of a modern-day miracle intersect here. The land and the people of Israel have a story to tell. By coming to Israel this summer, you make Israel’s story part of your own story.”

Mr. Smith took issue with this advertisement on several levels. Primarily he rejected its incorrect use of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.” He explains,

The traditional Christian understanding of pilgrimage is that it is (a) an act of penance, and (b) a symbolic expression of the belief that we are pilgrims (literally foreigners) on earth…

Certainly a strong argument can be made that the author of the advertisement did not use the term pilgrimage correctly. But one gets the sense that this improper use of the term is representative of some deeper and more general corruption of society as well as his fellow Christians. He continues:

I well understand that Christian “pilgrims” have often been very silly people, and that Christian “pilgrimages” have often been larks, junkets and sight-seeing excursions…  But this does not make a sight-seeing excursion into “a pilgrimage in the truest sense,” even when the destination is, indeed, holy.  Rather, I submit that such an excursion is a pilgrimage in the stupidest sense.

Mr. Smith then articulates his problem with the improper use of “rite of passage” in the article:

Nor, I think, should one call [the advertised trip to Israel] a “rite of passage.”  … A rite of passage is a scripted ceremony in which select members of a society pass from one social status to another… A rite of passage ceremony publicizes the change of status to the relevant community, and this change in status entails real changes in a person’s rights and responsibilities… When the phrase “rite of passage” is used to denote nothing more than a “life-altering experience” at the personal and psychological level, it is being used in the stupidest sense.

Clearly this advertisement touched a nerve with Mr. Smith. This advertisement which incorrectly employed the terms pilgrimage and rite of passage both “in the stupidest sense” touched upon his disappointment with Christians in general which he described in the following language:

My real complaint is that we Christians are such everlasting saps and suckers and simpletons.  My real complaint is that we are the Rubes of the Universe, the easiest marks ever to shamble down the street, ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Okay. Clearly Mr. Smith has a problem with the present state of Christianity which I assume he believes to be corrupted by liberalism. This corruption has turned his fellow Christians into the “Rubes of the Universe” who are taken in by the incorrect usage of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.”Now it must be said that I do not have a problem with the general premise of Mr. Smith’s argument. The spirit of pilgrimage and rite of passage have been largely lost in our modern culture and this loss hurts us all.However, I do have a problem with the snarky, arrogant, snobbish and judgmental attitude in which the argument is made. It seems to me that this is not in line with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galations:

[T]he desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh…  Now the works of the flesh are evident: … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, … and things like these. Gal 5:19-21

It seems to me that this sort of judgmental commentary is conveyed in a way that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. In other words the energy behind this commentary is working according to the desires of the flesh.By contrast Saint Paul describes the fruit of the spirit:

[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Gal 5:22-23

I must say that I do not see these qualities in any of the posts or comments on the Orthosphere or Zippy Catholic. And that really is my problem with the Orthosphere and its daughter blog sites. Although they may raise legitimate points about how the current state of modern society is contrary to Christian principles they do so in a manner that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. For this reason I hold their contempt and judgment of their fellow Christians suspect. Accordingly, if they intend to hold themselves out to be the last bastions of true Christianity perhaps they should reconsider the spirit behind their message. And if the spirit behind their message cannot be reconciled with their message perhaps they should reconsider their message.

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The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

In a previous post I wrote about how Christ’s parable of the prodigal son gives insight into the dynamic of ego and shame. I recently re-heard this reading and was struck by how the older brother in this story provides valuable insight into the mind of the anti-liberals who write and contribute to the Orthosphere and other related blogs. I use the term “anti-liberal” rather than conservative because this group of people are far to the right of what would pass for an average Republican in the United States. For example, some of them advocate a return to Monarchy. Some reject the notion that freedom is a good that a society should strive for. What seems to bind them is their rejection of liberalism, leaving aside the fact that it is always unclear just what any one person on these blogs actually considers a liberal to be.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man asks his father for his inheritance. His father gives it to him and the younger son then goes away and squanders his money on riotous living. He subsequently falls upon hard times, sees the error of his ways and returns to his father begging for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the father welcomes him home with loving arms. He clothes his son and orders the slaughtering of the fatted calf in celebration. Meanwhile the older brother who had remained loyal all this time arrives home from working in the field to see this new state of affairs and becomes angry. When his father tries to convince him to join the feast he retorts:

‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

LK 15:29-30

We can all sympathize with the older brother. Surely there should be some reward for remaining loyal. At the very least there should not be a reward for disloyalty and sinful behavior. On the other hand, the older brother is using his loyalty to justify his lack of compassion and his judgment of his younger brother. In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world.

Now the father in the parable represents God the Father. His attitude is love and compassion and does not seem to be concerned with matters of fairness, property or finances. To him, the important thing is that the prodigal son has returned. To the older son the father says:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

LK 15:31-32

Jesus ends the parable here leaving it unclear as to whether the older son was convinced by the father’s argument. I suspect that he is not, primarily because the father’s argument does not provide any new knowledge that the older son does not already possess. The older son already knows that he shares in the father’s property. In fact, this is probably part of what is upsetting him because the return of the younger son presents a challenge to the remaining portion of the father’s estate that he will eventually come to own. The fact that the younger brother was ‘lost’ and is now found probably does not change the older brother’s attitude either because while the younger son was lost he was doing all the things the older brother had the discipline not to do.

The part of the parable that does not fit the analogy where the Orthospherians are the older brother, God is the father and liberals are the younger brother is that the prodigal son actually returns to the father. In the view of the Orthospherians the liberals left with their inheritance a long time ago and never came back. They are the ones who remained loyal and are out working in the fields. Perhaps the fact that the liberals have not yet returned justifies the Orthospherian lack of compassion and judgment of them. Perhaps they would in fact join God in a feast if the liberals ever returned. But I am not so sure about that.

I suspect most liberals would interpret this parable differently as it relates to them. I suspect at least some of them would argue that they never left with their inheritance in the first place and continue to work the fields with their older more conservative brother. Perhaps they would argue they work on opposite ends of the field but are still working in the field none the less.

 

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