Monday, March 28, 2011

Dicta, no. 9

Before choosing sides at an argument, look at what the sides have in common. This is often what divides them.

PS. Grad-student life is catching up with me, and posts are going to be very scarce (i.e., non-existent) for two or three weeks. I will return to your regularly scheduled programing shortly thereafter, rather than continue to try to post updates consisting simply of quotations.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Though it's been said, many times, many ways . . .

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

"Even as the economy has recovered, social welfare benefits make up 35 percent of wages and salaries this year, up from 21 percent in 2000 and 10 percent in 1960, according to TrimTabs Investment Research using Bureau of Economic Analysis data."--CNBC

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Acedia in America: Tocqueville's View

"A native of the United States clings to this world's goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Any Successful Historical Decentralization of Government?

Many traditionalist Americans desire a decentralized American government, perhaps similar to that advocated by the anti-Federalists, wherein the central government would be stripped of most of its current powers and act principally for purposes of defense, and wherein local governments would be the most important governmental unit. Such local governments could work for moral goals without becoming horribly oppressive in so doing, as the federal government seems to be; the federal government's task would principally be to protect the autonomy of such local units.

This picture is very attractive to me. But I fear that working for it politically might be a fool's errand. Why is that?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dicta, no. 8

There are disciples who advance from the premises of their masters and multiply conclusions. And there are those who dig beneath the premises of their masters and unify them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Metaphysics and Changing the World

Metaphysics and politics are often thought to have nothing to do with each other, like quantum physics and literary theory. I, however, think that metaphysics and politics are like white wine and chicken. And in today's post, I want to look at something I think metaphysics illustrates about how social change must be achieved, if you wish to achieve it.

So if you dislike metaphysics, or if you have a short attention span, don't read this post. And if you dislike unashamed moralizing, don't read this post either.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dicta, no. 7

The first and most important prerequisites for intellectual engagement are not intellectual.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Renewing All Things

I was thinking about the debate over at Throne and Altar; the more I weigh the issue, the more it seems to me that whose who wish to change the world for the better must first aim at changing themselves, their close friends, and their immediate community for the better.

I'm still trying to nail down the reasons why this is the case, though, so the following list is a definitely a work in progress. Suggestions welcome. I'll probably post more about this in the future.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Democracy and Original Sin

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never."--John Adams

This is one of the reasons democracy is problematic--just like every other form of government, I admit.

Men are just as bad in masses as they are as individuals, if not worse. The difference is that in masses they are less likely to see that what they are doing is wrong. It is wrong for me to steal another's property--but redistributive taxation? It is wrong for me to load my children with debt--but social security? It is wrong and foolish to ignore everything another says in debate--but I'll toe the party line and insult all those who don't. It is wrong to try to favor oneself at the expense of the common good--but hey, this politician promised earmarks, and we could use a new school.

Democracy seems mostly to extend responsibility to those who have not been trained for it, are not intellectually prepared for it, and can scarcely be made aware that they have it.

Dicta, no. 6

The truth that reconciles two opposing opinions never lies in the average between them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dicta, no. 5

Societies that ban religion from the public sphere for fear of religious tyranny are justly punished by being ruled by a religion that men have not recognized as such, and which is therefore all the more tyrannical.

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Legislating Morality

"A philosopher-people would be a people of searchers, and a people, under pain of death, must know and not search."--Louis de Bonald, Recherches Philosophiques

The usual arguments for free speech assume that the state always needs to be testing its official beliefs. In some ways, this is rather dumb. Individual people must firmly believe that many things are true, if they are to live; societies must also firmly believe that many things are true, if they are to live.

A man who believes nothing can do nothing, for all action is for the sake of what you believe to be good. Thus, modern man is characteristically vacillating and spontaneous in his action; swift to follow what appears good, and equally swift in abandoning its pursuit. He is free only to be inconstant, because his freedom consists in being unmoored from any fixed position. And so he is a man who seems to be nothing inside, because he has never dedicated himself to anything outside himself.

A society that believes nothing, similarly, can also do nothing. The United States is also vacillating in its policies, switching them from year to year with the emotional whims of the voters, the power of the lobbyists, and the events of the moment. Because it believes nothing, it will only wander aimlessly until, as do all things that follow nothing, it descends to nothing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Modern Conservatism = Classical Liberalism = Liberalism

The idea that modern conservatism is not conservative, and that the classical liberalism that is modern conservatism leads naturally to socialist liberalism, is absolutely essential to a correct understanding of the modern world.

Their historical connection is visible in works such as J.S. Mill's On Liberty. Mill wrote this book before liberalism had split into classical liberalism and socialist liberalism, and so each can be seen inchoate in its content. Mill speaks about limiting the government's control over anyone, and sounds like a classical liberal; he also speaks of the government fighting the prejudices of the ignorant masses so that minorities are free of unwanted social pressure, and sounds like a socialist liberal. The two had not yet, inconsistently, been separated out into two opposing parties.

Dicta, no. 4

Those who rebel against one tradition in order to be themselves simply enter another tradition of which they are unaware, and to which they are therefore all the more enslaved.