iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Politics

Politics in general and in contemporary society

From natures to nature

This post follows on a previous post here.

How did we get from natures to nature? In a word, nominalism. The many natures of pre-modern science have been transformed into one nature or Nature, reified if not personified as a thing or force or being.

Nominalism is the teaching that universals or qualities or natures do not exist. Only particulars or quantities or individuals exist. And the result is that only one universal or quality or nature is acknowledged to exist, the somewhat mystical universal quality or nature of everything that underlies all the particulars and quantities and individuals.

We can see nominalism in physics and chemistry, with the rise of the atomic model of nature as composed of one kind of atoms, with only different quantities and configurations to differentiate them. We can see nominalism in biology, with the rise of the evolution model of nature as composed of one kind of life, with only different lines of descent to differentiate individuals. We can see nominalism in politics and economics, with the rise of the equalized person interchangeable with any other person.

By why should this one universal or quality or nature exist at all? Why not go all the way and deny any universal or quality or nature? Nominalism has no defense against such a move. And so we are seeing nominalism end in nihilism, the denial of nature altogether.

We are also seeing the rise of an opposite extreme: that every individual is a unique kind of person and that every individual life is a species. If there are no permanent kinds or species, then individuals are the only kinds. Every person has a right to a unique identity, unique treatment, and unique pronouns.

Equality and hierarchy

The state of nature was invented by Thomas Hobbes to support his idea of a social contract that was (or would have been) entered into by free individuals. In the natural state people would have been totally free but also lacking in security and other goods of society. So they voluntarily entered into a social contract that reduced their rights in exchange for social goods.

This placing of individual rights before social duties is what Harvey Mansfield called the beginning of liberalism. It is an egalitarian liberalism, since everyone is in an equal state of nature and has an equal right to make (or break) a social contract.

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We the people

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This founding document is written in the name of “we the people”. Who are “we the people”?

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George Washington’s warnings

Peter Lillback his article “The United ‘Statists’ of America?” in the book Statism: The Shadows of Another Night, edited by Charlie Rodriguez (2015) lists the following warnings given by George Washington in his 1789 address to Congress (with Lillback’s wording appended):

1. “I pretend to no unusual foresight into futurity, and therefore cannot undertake to decide, with certainty, what may be its ultimate fate.” Washington was not a prophet and could not make a final prediction about the ultimate fate of the Constitution.

2. “If a promised good should terminate in an unexpected evil, it would not be a solitary example of disappointment in this mutable state of existence.” In our uncertain world good things have often ended up as disappointing evils and this could happen with our Constitution too.

3. “If the blessings of Heaven showered thick around us should be spilled on the ground or converted to curses, through the fault of those for whom they were intended, it would not be the first instance of folly or perverseness in short-sighted mortals.” If we lose our Constitution’s blessings of liberty, it would not be the first time that human foolishness has squandered the blessings of heaven.

4. “The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes.” The word of God’s revelation of the Christian religion provides an eternal example of the fact that the best human organizations can be used for evil ends. (Washington is here referring to the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.)

5. “Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity:” America’s future power-hungry leaders could get away with a disregard of the Constitution’s limitations and harm our unalienable rights because the voters have become lazy or selfish.

Three kinds of racism

I believe there is only one race – the human race. Distinctions between people that use the word “race” are really about something else. I think there are three main ways that people use the word “race” and consequently may act in discriminatory ways toward people they believe are of other races.

(1) Racism of ancestry. This is the oldest kind of racism. It is a racism of “blood”. The one-drop rule says that “one drop” of blood from (sub-Sahara) Africa makes a person a member of the Negro or black race. The appearance of the person does not matter. Their culture or mannerisms do not matter. Only their ancestry matters.

This is the purest racism, which is built on feelings and ideas about racial purity, inherited character, and immutable destiny. There is nothing a person of a deprecated race can do to earn the respect or approval of someone who has this kind of racism.

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Centrist virtue

According to Aristotle (as noted here), the nature of virtue is to seek a mean or middle between extremes, which is an intermediate state between them.

These contrary extremes are often called vices, but that implies the operation of evil, which is contradictory to the good, and should be completely rejected. It would be better to call the contrary opposites semi-virtues as we shall see.

The issue concerns two goods that are contraries in some way so that preferring the one reduces the other and vice versa. In order to affirm both one must seek an intermediate state between them that balances their legitimate value. Let’s look at an example often used:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice.

That is to say:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between acting excessively imprudent, which would be rash, and acting excessively prudent, which would be cowardice. Thus courage is a mean between prudence and imprudence in action.

The contraries of prudence and imprudence are not vices, but neither are they virtues to be affirmed in general. In some way they are excessive, or from the opposite perspective, deficient.

Call them semi-virtues, for they are partially virtuous, but are not fully virtuous by themselves. They are imbalanced alternatives to the real virtues.

This is applicable to political life as well. Liberty and equality are both goods that are opposites in some ways. Liberty allows the inequality of abilities and interests to induce inequality in society. Equality stifles these differences, but that entails a loss of liberty.

Thus liberty and equality are semi-virtues in political life. Political virtue is a mean between these contraries. It doesn’t have a name but is a balance between liberty and equality. It is a centrist politics.

One further note concerning virtue ethics and theology: God has no contrary (one might say it’s nonbeing but that’s another way of saying it’s nothing). So in relation to God, there is no middle state. The problem is not contraries but contradictories: good and evil, righteousness and sinfulness, truth and falsehood. The former is to be unreservedly affirmed, and the latter unreservedly rejected.

Politics and character

It is perhaps good that societies go through occasional paroxysms of outrage over abuses and vices among the high and mighty. That’s one way to reiterate the boundaries of acceptable conduct. It would be better if boundaries were in general supported on a daily basis, but societies have their ways.

In a representative system of government, it is often felt that representatives should represent all that is best in society, that they should reflect the self-image of people as good and wholesome. That may be asking more than elections can deliver, but it’s a noble sentiment.

The foremost task of a political representative is to represent the political views of the people in the district or state they represent. Alas, that includes the selfish side of the people. This is shown annually in budget battles for shares of the public purse.

A candidate whose words reflects the positions of the people is normally the best candidate without further ado. But if there are questions about character defects in the candidate, then the electorate has to take that into consideration, mainly to discern whether or not the candidate’s actions and voting would be consistent with their statements and promises.

If a candidate’s consistency is not an issue, they may still be questioned for their suitability if their character does not reflect the self-image of the people. What if the electorate has to choose between a candidate who does reflect their views but not their self-image and a candidate who reflects their self-image but not their views?

The choice is clear if unpalatable: elect the candidate who reflects the political views of the people because that is the purpose of an election. The integrity of the political process is what is the most important in an election.

Remember that democracies are not refined affairs. For example, promoting candidates with rum was an old trick in the early days of the republic (see here). If representatives reflect the political views of the people, that is sufficient. To insist on much more would be to expect some form of aristocracy.

Custom-made disagreement

I’ve written a few times before about U.S. Supreme Court cases, without claiming legal expertise. This time it’s the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, with oral arguments presented yesterday. This case is important because of the culture war implications and interesting because of the need to draw a line between behavior the state can prohibit and behavior the state can’t prohibit.

The case is complicated by several factors: it concerns a business, not an individual; it concerns a corporation, not a sole proprietorship; it concerns a message without knowing any text associated with that message; it concerns freedom of speech, though it seems like freedom of religion; and it concerns food, which seems removed from freedom of speech.

The justices seemed to see the case in a larger context, which is good because that’s the rub. Where do we draw the line? The principle that a business must serve all comers is well recognized and accepted. But can a business refuse a customer on the basis of their purpose for buying the goods or services?

In most cases, a business does not know what that the customer’s purpose is, other than the obvious one – e.g., food is purchased to eat. But in the case of a custom product or service the business needs to know the customer’s purpose. What if the business does not want to be part of fulfilling that purpose?

There are straightforward cases of a customer of a print shop who wants a message printed that the print shop objects to. The customer has the freedom of speech to speak the message but the business has the freedom to refuse to assist them because of the message. The refusal is focused on the message, not the customer themselves.

Although a message wasn’t yet part of the transaction, the parallel with the cakeshop is clear. The cakeshop objected to the purpose of the custom-made cake the customer wanted. The state should not be able to force a business to make something for a purpose they object to.

The cakeshop could advertise that they custom-make wedding cakes for traditional weddings and (perhaps in small print) they don’t custom-make cakes for non-traditional weddings – except that a customer may purchase any off-the-shelf cake and use it for any purpose they choose.

Is that too difficult to understand?

Political balance

Balance and centrism go hand and hand. One cannot have balance without a center of balance, and one cannot have a center without balancing opposites. Politically, the main balance needed is between liberty and equality. Economically, that means a balance between economic liberty and economic equality. And similarly for health, education, transportation, and so forth.

One who focuses on liberty emphasizes freedom of action over a wide range. A free society is one in which people, as individuals and as groups, are free to act. The state exists to protect society from its enemies, both foreign states and individuals (e.g., pirates), as well as domestic groups and individuals (e.g., criminals) who would take away society’s freedom.

Those who focus on liberty are concerned that without it there is tyranny, which leads to depression (inwardly), anger (outwardly), and oppression toward those lacking political power.

One who focuses on equality emphasizes similarity of condition over a wide range. An egalitarian society is one which which people, as individuals and as groups, are in a similar condition. The state exists to protect society from its enemies, both foreign states (e.g., imperialists) and individuals as well as domestic groups (e.g., bad corporations) and individuals who would take away social equality.

Those who focus on equality are concerned that without it there is disparity, which leads to envy (inwardly), resentment (outwardly), and oppression toward those lacking political power.

These opposites are both legitimate concerns that should be balanced. The result will be imperfect no doubt but should then progress toward greater balance. True progress is movement toward balance.

Centrists and extremists

There are a variety of centrists, as there are a variety of means (e.g., arithmetic, geometric, harmonic, etc.). But all centrists share certain characteristics, which differ markedly from all extremists.

Centrists reside in the center, the middle, from a long-term perspective. Unlike moderates, who go with the flow of current politics and culture, centrists resist change away from the center. As I’ve noted before, that often makes centrists contrarians, trying to turn society away from movement toward any extreme.

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