Monday, January 31, 2011

Bonald, Aristotle, Satan

Thus modern philosophy confounds, in man, the spirit with the body; in society, the sovereign with the subjects; in the universe, even God with nature; everywhere, the cause with its effects. It destroys all order, general and particular."--Louis de Bonald, again, very freely translated by me.--Louis de Bonald

Although Bonald probably didn't know his Aristotle, this passage is very Aristotelian. What is order? A positioning of before and after. What is the disorder he attacks? That which reverses this order.

One nevertheless sometimes must question the value of these long, almost schematic comparisons showing the consistency of the the modern worldview. Is the unity it displays real, or just a clever concatenation of similar words?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Waiting for the Barbarians

Philosophy is sometimes better expressed through the arts than through philosophy. With that in mind, I will present some important poem, work of prose, or piece of music each friday, so long as my knowledge of important or enjoyable works that a traditionalist might value does not run out.

The following poem was alluded to by Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue, as he admitted in the third edition. I copied it from here.

And I realize my formatting isn't uniform; blogger is being a pain.  I'll settle on uniform formatting sometime soon, I hope.

Newspeak: Religion (part 3)

Before moving on to something other than my nominalism about the word 'religion,' I'd just like to point out a few more problems with it.

First of all, 'religion' as the term is used in 'comparative religions' is relatively meaningless. If by 'religion' those who use the term mean one's view of the world, the ultimate reality, and human nature, then those who study comparative religions should study atheism, deism, the Transcedentalism of Emerson, hedonism, and all the other sorts of beliefs that have brought about comparative religious studies. If by 'religion' they mean any belief in something greater than man or existing on a level different from him, they still should study theosophy, fairies, UFO's, hero-worship, and other similar phenomenon. Either way, the term 'religion' is being used inconsistently. And the result of this inconsistent usage is that people separate themselves from what they are studying so that they think they have an objective, third-person viewpoint, when in fact the worldview from which they look at religion is just as parochial and limited a worldview as every other.

The other problem with the word 'religion,' unlike all those previously mentioned, comes from the internal perspective of those who might consider themselves religious.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Newspeak: Religion (part 2)

The last post was rather long-winded. Allow me to summarize.

Suppose there is some quality, X.

I wish to pass a law that I believe that will help the nation. Not everyone agrees that it will help the nation, but that is true of all laws. It might be difficult to enforce; but that is also true of many laws. This law, moreover, expresses my deepest beliefs about the good for the nation and about human nature; to ask me to suppress these beliefs is to ask me to suppress everything that I am.

I am not, however, allowed to pass this law, because it would be based on X.

Consider another man, who also wishes to pass a law that he believes will help the nation. Not everyone agrees that it will help the nation, but that is true of all laws. It might be difficult to enforce; but that is also true of many laws. It expresses his deepest beliefs about the good for the nation and about human nature; to ask him to suppress these beliefs is to ask him to suppress everything that he is.

He is, however, allowed to pass this law, because it is not based on X.

Anyone who saw this comparison would see that the people of nation X have written into their laws (or court systems) the belief that X is a Bad Thing. Even if most people would deny that X is a Bad Thing when asked, their behavior implies it. They act like it is, and actions are more eloquent than words. They certainly don't believe that X is a Good Thing.

Now, X is Christianity. We cannot pass laws based on it in the US because of the court system and public libertarian spirit. This is why the US is simply not a Christian nation.

I prefer the atheists who speak of banning Christianity and limiting its exercise as a danger to human well-being--and that means you, Sam Harris et alia--to those who use the rhetoric of tolerance to mask the reality of a secular confessional church: everyone who reaches public office is obliged, more or less, to state that they will not pass laws based on their 'private religious beliefs.' At least the atheists are more honest.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Newspeak: Religion

Most take it as an unquestioned fact that religion and the state should be separate from each other, and that religious ideals should not stand behind the state's laws. Few attend to the fact, however, that the word "religion" is used somewhat idiosyncratically in this statement.

If by "religion" one means ones ultimate beliefs about human nature and about the world, then the statement is simply false. Atheist, utilitarian, secular humanism can be such an all-encompassing worldview; arguments based on it are often used in the public sphere. Indeed, we rarely encounter arguments in the public sphere based on anything else.

If, on the other hand, by "religion" one means belief in a super-human personal Entity or entities, then it is true that religious arguments are not permitted to stand behind laws.

On the other hand, such an interpretation destroys the statement's pleasantly neutral facade: it shows that the statement favors the secular worldview over the religious, just as theocracy favors the religious over the secular. To say that religion and the state should be separate becomes the same as saying that secularists should be able to pass laws that are based on their values--and which thus promote their values--while those who believe in God should not be able.

One might object that nearly everyone can agree on certain good things that secular humanism endorses, like food and shelter. This is true. But to base laws only on the principles of secular humanism will be satisfactory only to those who recognize only secular humanist goods--that is, only to secular humanists. Because man is finite, any attempt to promote solely a certain sort of good will injure man's chances of attaining other kinds of good. A life organized around making money will fall short by Christian standards; thus a state organized around humanist goods will also.

The same argument could be reversed: nearly everyone can also agree on certain good things things that Catholicism endorses, like food and shelter. But no non-Catholics would be satisfied with a state that only permitted laws based on Catholic principles.

Similarly, no one who is not a secular humanist should be satisfied with a state that only permits laws based on secular humanist principles.

And no one, save secular humanists, would be satisfied with current western states, if it were not for their veil that language draws over reality.

Thus, the separation of religion from the state masks the imposition of the secular worldview.

This is but one example of how a vaguely used term, such as 'religion' is often used in an incoherent or a deceptive way in private thought or public discourse. I am going to begin a series on this theme, because it is extremely important.

"Man thinks his word before he speaks his thought," according to Louis de Bonald. Thus, words change how we think, and words that do not reflect reality can change it for the worse.

Allow me to quote George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" explaining how degenerate language and degenerate thought reinforce each other:

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible."

Our slovenliness serves the purposes of others, he continues.

"When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims [in politics], one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer."

This is why our language fails to cut reality at the joints: those who use it have no desire to do so.

Take a look at "religion" again, for instance.

If this means that politicians should not base laws on their principles and beliefs about the good, then we are simply asking politicians to be unprincipled, and therefore venal and corrupt. If this means that politicians should not base laws on beliefs about something greater than themselves, then we are asking them to pass laws like atheists. Neither alternative is terribly attractive to me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday's Quotation

"The theoretical part of this work is divided into chapters, and the chapters into propositions or articles. Nothing makes better felt the connections between ideas than to disconnect the propositions. The reader then sees where the chain of ideas is interrupted, and where it is continuous. . . . The continuous style, which is more agreeable for the reader, is also easier for the writer, and is above all better suited to imposing itself on the reader's attention while masking the disorder of ideas; but it is less favorable to the exposition of truth, and this is why the geometers adopted the method of division into proposition."--Louis De Bonald, Legislation Primitive, freely translated by me.

This statement may be taken too far; Spinoza did not attain the truth. But what truth, if any, does this statement contain?

Well, it is difficult to hide logical errors in clear and logical prose with clearly enumerated propositions, syllogisms, and conclusions. The clarity with which the ideas are articulated makes inserting bad arguments difficult.

It is easier, but still difficult to hide such errors in paragraphs of typically rhetorical prose. The presence of rhetoric and the absence of explicit logical steps makes it easier to hide bad arguments. But the arguments are still articulated, generally in enthymeme rather than syllogistic form.

Worst of all, though, is visual or emotional rhetoric that lacks any articulated arguments or propositions whatsoever, and instead works by associating positive feelings and images with whatever the rhetorician wants to communicate. Most modern rhetoric appealing to rights, freedom, democracy, and so on and so forth falls into this category.

When one looks at modern democracy, however, we find that this is the sort of argument that dominates the public sphere. This is quite predictable. All articulated, logical arguments require significant attention and concentration if they are to work. Given that the supermajority of citizens in a democracy are unsuited for such an activity by education or by nature, by the amount of leisure time that they have, and by reason of their constant entertainment and distraction, political success can best be gained by the use of such language. This is why elections are not intellectual engagements.


Untranslated quotation: "La partie theorique de cet ouvrage est divisee en chapitres, et les chapitres en propositions o articles. Rien ne fait mieux sentir la liaison des idees que de detacher les propositions. Le lecteur voit alors ou la chaine des idees est interrompue, et ou elle est continue. . . . Le style continu, plus agreable pour le lecteur, est aussi plus aise pour l'ecrivain, et surtout plus propre a en imposer a l'attention sur le desordre des idees; mais il est moins favorable a l'exposition de la verite, et c'est ce qui a fait adopter par les geometres la division en propositions."

Note: Mondays will, unless disaster strikes, feature short quotations from generally unknown authors, with a short meditation upon the quotation's significance for our day.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


This blog is about the goods that have been abandoned, the evil things that have taken their place, and the attempt to recover one and destroy the other. As has been written, in a world where evil has dulled most men's sensibility to evil and to good, the first duty of reformers is to show the need to reform.

I write from a Christian, Augustinian, traditionalist perspective. The good things to be restored include Christianity, community, family, intellectual and cultural traditions, and the Social Kingship of Christ. The evil things to be destroyed include secular humanism, individualism in government and family, arrogance in autonomous human reason, and the dictatorship of relativism.

This blog will thus be unapologetically traditionalist and reactionary in rejecting much of the modern world. It will also unapologetically liberal and synthetic in searching for good wherever it may be found, even among modern writers. And finally, it will be unapologetically focused on truth for the sake of the good, on intellectual theories for the sake of practical action, and on insight into reality for the sake of communal order. Indeed, the integration of practice and theory is one of the chief subjects I plan to discuss. If this blog does not ultimately gather together like-minded individuals and bring forth practical action, it will have failed.

Among the authors whose writings I will use are Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre, Donoso Cortes, Alasdair MacIntyre, Weaver, Nisbet, Chesterton, Pascal, Belloc, Augustine, Aquinas, and God. I will also take whatever truths may be gained from von Mises, Montaigne, Hume, Schmitt, Strauss and whatever pagan or atheist authors may have gained part of the truth. Nevertheless, my appropriation of their writings will be more cautious, and, I hope, more philosophically and theologically informed than is usually the case. I do not intend to sacrifice Christianity to secularism.

Although, as stated, I am Christian, Augustinian, and traditionalist, no single adjective or set of adjectives well describes the position I wish to advance. Only time will tell if this is because I incoherently borrow from a multitude of writings or because I occupy a well-defined theoretical position that the current poverty of the English language leaves unnamed. I plan to rewrite this introduction in a manner that is, to me, more philosophically satisfying as I refine my own commitments.

On one hand, I think that individuals are always dependent on things larger than them: on God, for everything, on their community and on others, for their intellectual and practical knowledge and techniques, and on their family, for their initial orientation towards the world. There is no autonomous individual; all that we have we have from another. On the other hand, I think that people have the most heavy responsibility of searching for truth and of doing the good in their own life, and that this responsibility cannot be lifted off their shoulders. The individual is autonomous; he is really responsible for what he does. The twin poles of man's dependence and man's responsibility cannot be easily reconciled in a way that is not glib, but any coherent account of man must include both.

In short, I think man requires God's assistance and must place all his hope in Our Lord. And yet I also think that God has given man freedom, because of which he is obliged to take a stand, whether for good or for evil.

If you would understand the perspective from which I write, then, read the Ballad of the White Horse, by Chesterton. That is my position.

"But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Names

Names, according to ancient belief, revealed the true natures of things; knowing someone's name could give one power over them.

In modern times, we tend not to think about names so much; we treat them as arbitrary handles allowing us to refer to things rather than as presentations of the true natures of things. But they still have influence on how we perceive things. The names "Robert Cooper," "Lao Tzu," "Dolores Rivera," and "Neal Hawkins," for some reason all sound as if they would have rather different personalities behind them, at least to my ear.

So, when naming a blog, how does one name it? Does one give it a straightforward name that clearly reveals what it is about--like "Throne and Altar" or "View From the Right"? Does one give it a paradoxical name that requires further reading--like "Unqualified Reservations"? Does one give it a name that alludes to some work of literature, covertly or clearly?

Each has risks. The straightforward can be boring. The paradoxical can be off-putting. The literary can be pretentious. All of them run the risk of being misleading to many or irritating to a few.

But, in the end, as in most human actions, one can just go with what appears best to one and hope that it does not work out badly. There is, wrote Yves Simon, usually no best actions for a man when he makes a decision; there are merely an array of goods before him, of which he must embrace one. So also in naming.

And so, I welcome you to "Thrice Night Over You." It alludes; it is perhaps unclear; it hopes to irritate like a gadfly; but it presents to you at least in some fashion what this blog will be about.