The Problem of the Humanzee

October 29, 2011

THE PROBLEM OF THE
HUMANZEE

Richard Dawkins has written:

Our
ethics and our politics assume, largely without question or serious discussion,
that the division between human and ‘animal’ is absolute. ‘Pro-life’, to take
just one example, is a potent political badge, associated with a gamut of
ethical issues such as opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

What it
really means is pro-human-life. …  But
such ‘essentialism’ is deeply un-evolutionary. If there were a heaven in which
all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding
continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed
with a female who could interbreed with a male who could … fill in a few
gaps, probably not very many in this case … who could interbreed with a
chimpanzee.  …

What
would change everything is a practical demonstration, such as …   a successful hybridisation between a human
and a chimpanzee. Even if the hybrid were infertile like a mule, the shock
waves that would be sent through society would be salutary. This is why a
distinguished biologist described this possibility as the most immoral
scientific experiment he could imagine: it would change everything!

The distinction between a chuman, or hybrid of male chimpanzee and
a woman, and humanzee or manpanzee, or hybrid of a man and a
female chimpanzee is of some moral importance.
For in the eyes of many of us there something peculiarly repugnant about
asking a woman to gestate a human-chimpanzee hybrid.  Since, however, the focus of my essay will be
the implications of chimpanzee-human breeding as such, I will use the
expression humanzee throughout.

The questions are two, should we create a humanzee? and if someone creates a humanzee, what follows?   The phrase
“most immoral scientific experiment” covers a lot of territory, but, in this
case at least,   Leon Kass’s “wisdom of
repugnance” is well-grounded.  There does
not seem to be any compelling reason to create a humanzee, except the
imperative do whatever is technically possible.
And there are plenty of bad reasons, such as the need for a slave labor
force, for the desire to create a class of subhumans.    Setting aside Dawkins’ glee at shaking us
up, we have plenty of problems already without trying to find a place for humanzees
in our society.

But in the eyes of many of us creating humanzees is not
just imprudent, but unnatural, or even monstrous.  In a world in which every imaginable variety
of sexual behavior and reproductive technology has its defenders, this kind of
argument cannot be expected to convince everyone.   But
before we rejoice at our liberation from inherited constraints, we must
acknowledge its dark side.  Eminent legal
scholar John Yoo has asserted that the President has a higher law right, which
cannot be overridden by statute or treaty, to order the crushing of the
genitals of a young boy, in order to get his father to talk.

There is a paradox involved in the
conclusion that we ought not to create some kind of entity, at least if we are
not prepared to argue that it ought to be killed once it comes into being.  For never having come into existence is not a
possible life course like going to jail or remaining free.   But everyone will concede the argument in
some cases:  we ought not deliberately to
create children addicted to drugs in order to study their effects.   

In
the rest of this essay, I shall approach the larger issue by examining the
question, if someone does create a humanzee, what place should the hybrid have
in our social institutions?

Not so long ago, being
conceived or born outside marriage carried with it severe social disabilities.  Even now many people believe, rightly or
wrongly, that the products of incest or rape, and even more so of incestuous
rape, ought to be aborted, and one
deterrent to adopted children seeking their birthparents is the possibility
discovering such origins.   And there are
pressures on the mothers of fetuses, however unreliably, diagnosed as impaired,
to have abortions as well.  A
woman of my acquaintance was unsuccessfully pressured to have such an abortion,
among other people by her mother, who had previously told the woman’s husband
that he was a sperm donor.  (The child did
not, as thought, have Downs.)

The
judgment that a certain person ought not
to have come into the world is going to have its effects on the person, even if
we do not explicitly apply it to him after birth.   But such considerations can no more be
counted on to prevent the production of humanzees, than in earlier days they
prevented the production of bastards.

It is an axiom of
contemporary ethical debate that all human beings or persons are entitled to
equal rights, including a right to life and a right to liberty.  Notoriously, however, there are endless debates
about what entities count has human beings or persons “within the meaning of
the act”; and, more fundamentally, on what grounds we are entitled to assert the
existence of human rights.  That we were
endowed with such by our Creator is no longer common currency, and even among
those who assert a religious basis for human rights, the results in practice
cover the ideological waterfront.

One
persistent source of difficulty is that human beings are in no observable
respect equal.   We are not, for example,
equally capable of making decisions for ourselves, as opposed to following
whoever most recently has addressed us in an authoritative tone of voice.  Under the circumstances, the following ways
of answering the questions, Who is human?
and Who is a person? have emerged.

  • A human being or person is any entity our
    laws or customs recognize as such. I call this the conventionalist principle.
  • A person is an entity presently able to
    engage in rational activity including reflection.  I call this the present possession principle.
  • A person is an entity that presently or
    in due course will be capable of engaging in such activity.  I call this the potentiality principle.
  • A person is any member of the human
    species, and perhaps also any other intelligent species.  I call this the species principle.

The
conventionalist principle is useless, since whether we should treat a humanzee
as a person has now no settled answer.
If the problem became real, large and powerful segments of society would
treat such creatures as freaks and monsters, to be destroyed as quickly as
possible.  Supporters of this alternative
would include those people who fear the competition of humanzee labor.   Other powerful interests would urge us to maintain
humanzees in being, in order to make use of their services.  One tempting course would be to re-invent
racism and hold that we had created a class of natural slaves.    Thus, for example, female humanzees would
be legitimate outlets for the surplus sexual energy of young human males,
whereas sex between a woman and a male humanzee would be regarded as an
abomination.    In any event, the question is one of power
politics, not philosophical reflection.

The
present possession principle is right on one point.  If we encountered a humanzee capable of
rational activity, we would be obliged to acknowledge him or her as one of us.   At what point we draw this line is a
complicated issue, since we cannot rely on the practice of according human
rights to impaired members of our own species.
Moreover, as in the human case, the present possession principle permits
us to prevent such a result by killing humanzees in the womb or even in
infancy.   Killing humanzee babies will
be as acceptable as killing human babies.
Michael Tooley dodges this implication in his recent writings, but he drew it explicitly at one
time, and has never explained why it does not follow from his assumptions.

The
potentiality principle avoids this result, but encounters the following
difficulty.   Even among human beings a sufficiently
impaired entity will not count as a person, and there is no clear standard
telling how much impairment is sufficient.
But, faced with infants or fetuses in all known respects normal, we
presume that they will in due course be capable of rational activity (though
the practice of aborting fetuses on uncertain diagnosis of impairment is to the
contrary).   But no such presumption is available for the
humanzee, which is likely to be either a very intelligent ape or a cognitively
impaired human being.

Finally,
the species principle puts us back where we were.  Whether humanzees count as members of the
human species or some other, and if some other whether that species counts as
intelligent, is the question at issue.  I
conclude that there is no way of answering philosophically the question of the
status of the humanzee; in practice the issue would be one of power politics.

There
are three possible ways of proceeding from here.  One, suggested by Dawkins, is to abandon the
whole framework of human rights and dignity in terms of which the debate is
framed.  John Gray has vigorously
defended such a view.   A second possibility is to take the
“progressive” route and give humanzees, along with other borderline cases such
as pre-embryos, the rights of full-fledged humans.  The third is to strongly oppose the creation
of humanzees, and deal ad hoc with
the (we hope) few attempts people make to produce them.

Historically speaking,
there have been abundant examples of caste systems, in which some human beings
have been regarded as of lesser inherent worth than others.  Such systems have not always condoned the
killing of a low caste human being.  In traditional Hindu thought, killing
a Brahmin was the worst of offenses, but this did not mean that killing members of other castes was
acceptable; abortion was a paradigm of evil behavior.  (See Mahābhārata, 1.149.7, 1.56.17.)    On the other hand,
advocates of animal rights propose that we should extend our concept of equal
dignity and rights to nonhumans.  But
defenders of animal rights – whether Kantian or utilitarian in inspiration –
trade heavily on principles of equality defined and defended in human contexts
– equal rights for women and racial minorities most especially.     This true both of Tom Reagan and Peter Singer,
and of everyone else who uses the term speciesism
to draw an analogy between species membership and race or gender.  In short, the case for animal rights is
parasitic on the tradition it undermines.

The proposal to give borderline
entities the benefit of the doubt has great appeal.   But it supposes that the case for denying
them full status as persons is less than compelling.  If the pre-embryo is a borderline case of
personhood, we ought not to create one with the intention or expectation of
subsequently destroying it.  If, however,
one come into being when a woman is raped, more than a benefit of the doubt
argument is needed to require us to spare it.
And so the question of the status of the humanzee will, by default, be
one of power politics.  And once such
entities exist in significant numbers, the gravitational force of social practice
will strengthen the, already powerful, temptation to say that might makes right
everywhere.    Therefore we ought not to
create humanzees. 

 

 

 

 

The Concept of Tradition

August 3, 2011

THE CONCEPT OF TRADITION

NATIONAL REVIEW …stands athwart history, yelling Stop.
William F. Buckley
The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, Newton, the emancipation of women, Karl Marx, Balanchine ballet et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history, and it is the white race, and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, and which now threatens the very existence of life itself.
Susan Sontag

Tradition is one of those words whose sense, reference and evaluative force depend on who uses it and why. The concept of tradition, as well as being conspicuous in contemporary debates about marriage, is also central to Alasdair MacIntyre’s work both as an educator and a cultural critic. It will be an essential resource for the development of whatever answer his admirers may give to the question, what is to be done? Many a revolution has been spurred by the desire to restore a tradition that the pursuit of external goods such as wealth has corrupted, but it remains to be seen whether MacIntyre’s philosophy supports this or any other form of political practice. Since MacIntyre like Marx is proposing a philosophy of practice, his inability to answer questions of application would mean that his philosophy had failed.
Samuel Scheffler lists a number of reasons why people value tradition, and are reasonable in doing so, for example that it makes it possible for people to find a home for themselves in time as well as space. But he neither cites MacIntyre nor responds, negatively or positively, to his concerns. And on the issue of most concern to me here he says only, “it is a truism that the traditions most likely to endure are those that develop successful techniques for balancing continuity and change.”
I.
Advocates of tradition argue that is an inescapable part of our reasoning about both theoretical and practical matters. Yet the concept of tradition in MacIntyre suffers from an ambiguity, one that also appears in many writers of a similar tendency such as Newman and, despite MacIntyre’s hostility to them both, Hume and Burke.
In Oedipus Rex Laius, fearing that his son will displace him has him exposed. But, however powerful fathers may be, and however ruthless they may be in suppressing their children, they always end up displaced. And the same is true of the status quo, however abstractly considered. For no set of rules, however detailed, can provide for all the conflicts that call forth divergent interpretations. The open-texture of our concepts means that our rules will always require interpretation, and the clashing interests and outlooks that exist in any society means that we will always face divergent interpretations of our inherited ideas. (An illuminating counter-example is the rules of chess.) And some of these interpretations will be innovative or even radical. Locke, while a key figure in the libertarian side of our tradition, can be interpreted as a social conservative, but arguments drawn from his writings can also undermine his traditional views and make the prohibitions on suicide and infanticide that inform his political theory entirely arbitrary. In Newman, the true course of development is discerned intuitively in a way that gives no guidance in case of real doubt. In any case, a tradition could not guide its adherents if it did not also constrain them; if it did not rule out some possibilities it would be useless.
II.
MacIntyre draws on the thought of Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos to define tradition as an element of an ongoing practice of inquiry, that might include large revisions of inherited theory and practice. Another model for understanding a tradition is that of a craft; crafts like traditions can like develop or degenerate. And similar issues arise: does Andy Warhol develop the visual arts, or does he represent their degeneration? (Even Warhol’s admirers might draw the line at Maine lawn sculpture.)
Yet another model for tradition is a natural language, and so that the possibility that a person might become an adherent of, or at least understand, two different traditions is analogous to the possibility of his becoming bilingual. Wittgenstein provides an enlightening picture of language, and hence also of the broader tradition carried along with it.
Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions made from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
Our city includes not only the stable elements Wittgenstein mentions, but also regions under construction, zones of conflict, and burnt-out districts not yet rebuilt. It also includes regions in decline: as Simon Blackburn puts it, “To paraphrase Wittgenstein, when we start to abandon a way of thought, the lights do not go out one by one, but darkness falls gradually over the whole.”
MacIntyre’s philosophy requires that we find a middle ground between ideas in Platonic heaven – as one might create Islam as a contribution to contemporary debates about hermeneutics – and entrenched social habits. Traditions in the relevant sense are historical-cultural facts as well as systems of belief and practice, and they could do what they do for human beings were they otherwise. All traditions have to be transmitted from generation to generation, and the process of doing so is emotionally fraught. Thus those features of our existence that liberals dismiss as accidents of birth, such as birth on certain territory or of certain sorts of parents, retain their relevance. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were Greeks looking for a common human nature, with equal emphasis on both sides of this proposition.
In any event, we can distinguish two kinds of inquiry. One consists in the attempt of adherents of a tradition to understand it more deeply and apply it to problem situations. The other form of inquiry steps, at least to some extent, outside the rival traditions and asks whether some tradition has exhausted itself, and whether some other tradition can solve the resulting problems more adequately.
At this point in the argument, we can exclude certain some of radicalism. Sontag’s claim to stand over and above the Western tradition and judge it as a whole is without foundation. (It is also characteristically Western.) In MacIntyre’s sage words,
Claims about hallucinations, illusion, distortion of thought, and the like can be made only from the standpoint of claims that the contrast can be clearly drawn between hallucinatory, illusory and distorted modes of perception or thought, on the one hand, and genuine perceptions of realty or rigorous or undistorted reflection and deliberation, on the other. Hence, to identify ideological distortion one must not be a victim of it oneself. The claim to a privileged exemption from such distortion seems to be presupposed when such distortion is identified in others.
But our problems arise, not from outside agitators, but within the practice of our society, and lead to disputes among those usually considered conservative.
What may be called the ‘integralist’ impulse tries to rid a cultural tradition of extraneous elements, at the risk of eliminating important truths; on the other hand the ‘cafeteria’ approach to intellectual issues, which picks and chooses among inherent ideas according to need or even mood, gives one every opportunity for adapting one’s beliefs to one’s purposes, even in the most cynical way.
III.
As MacIntyre has observed, “traditions are defined retrospectively,” often because some challenge makes their adherents aware that all of them, whatever their differences, are contributing to the same enterprise. Tradition is then further defined, by granting authoritative status to some documents of the past, as the New Testament accorded authority to what Christians call the Old Testament, or St. Thomas called Aristotle “the Philosopher,” contemporary scientific naturalists adduce Galileo and Darwin, or literary modernists look back to Joyce and Eliot.
Tradition is a feature of a community that unites author and reader, but there is a long-standing practice of ‘unorthodox’ reading. In consequence, the most important issues for a tradition arise from disagreements among adherents of the tradition itself, who are at least presumed to be able to apply its governing concepts competently. When adherents of a tradition disagree, they look for core elements in the tradition immune to change in terms of which disputes on the periphery can be adjudicated. But often different adherents find the core in different places, in which case we have two or more traditions where we previously had one – in other words a schism. Two sorts of situation we can be distinguished: a set of rules and principles fails to determine a result in some case, so that competent representatives of the same tradition reach different conclusions; and a tradition divides into two or more sub-traditions, which differ systematically in their conclusions. But these two situations are but different sides of the same phenomenon.
Macintyre’s most important contribution to the resulting discussion has been to forge a link between rationality and tradition. He points out that it is possible that a tradition might fail by its own standards, and thus encounter an incurable epistemological crisis. And adherents of such a tradition might discover that some other tradition better solves its problems than the tradition itself can do. Hence he has hopes of avoiding relativism.
Reflective traditionalism admits the need for change while insisting on the demands of continuity: Burke, after all, was Whig, not a Tory. Yet Burkean traditionalism threatens to become an empty rhetorical form, casting “decent drapery” or a “politic veil” over the results of power politics, whatever they might be. The revision of Buckley’s slogan sometimes proposed, “The dominant strain of conservative thought has stood athwart history, yelling “’Slow Down!’” keeps us on any slippery slope on which we might otherwise find ourselves, even that from Weimar to Hitler, so long as we go down slowly. Lacking on any version of the standard conservative or progressive account of tradition is the possibility that we need a change of direction.
Jeffrey Stout reads MacIntyre as demanding a highly structured tradition as the only alternative to conceptual and moral chaos. In his own language,
Equally essential to the rationality of a practice, according to MacIntyre’s account, is its embodiment in institutions that are capable of securing agreement on a doctrine of the human good (presumably by means of catechism directed at newcomers and a combination of magisterial suasion, discipline, and excommunication directed at dissidents).
Citing Susan Moller Okin’s “incisive” critique of MacIntyre, Stout observes that feminism, though not a tradition in the sense of being defined by authoritative texts, a tradition in the sense of “’a not yet completed narrative,’ an argument about the goods that constitute the tradition.”
This argument, however, confuses traditions in general with the particular tradition MacIntyre has embraced or even with a relatively stringent version of that tradition. And it is false that feminism lacks an authoritative core. Just try defending Larry Summer’s views on mathematical intelligence, or a pro-life position on the abortion issue, around contemporary ‘mainstream’ feminists, and you will discover that the concept of history is alive and well. (There are, however, pro-life feminists.)
As Stout observes, “All discursive practices involve authority and deference to some extent. … The difference in a matter of how, when, and when someone defers or appeals to authority, not a matter of whether one does at all.” Even the most loosely structured traditions can make it clear that someone has stepped outside its limits. The New York Times defines a secular (and secularist) orthodoxy that is both all-pervasive and hard to resist.
All traditions have their canons of orthodoxy, and their internal debates, including debates between hard-liners are soft-liners. Yet traditions behave more like drops of mercury than like organisms: merging and splitting almost at will. Appeal to tradition is frequently appeal to the confluence of more than one tradition. In one of the clearer appeals to tradition in contemporary political argument, same-sex marriage opponents find it incredible that people at so many different times and places, whose beliefs and ways of life are in so many respects so different, could have been all wrong in their understanding of a crucial human institution Greco-Roman pederasts did not marry their boyfriends. That the emperor Nero is reported to have ‘married’ Sporus (whom he had had castrated) as a man and Doryphorus as a woman shows nothing about what was considered healthy or normal even in imperial Rome. The moral of the story was that, as emperor, Nero could do – or though he could do — whatever he wished.
Such people may be appealing to a sacred tradition going back to the origins of humanity and existing, often in distorted form, in all cultures. But even this formulation gives us great liberty in distinguishing ‘sacred’ tradition from its subsequent corruptions. There are aspects of ‘traditional marriage’ that no one would now defend, such as use of daughters, and to a lesser extent of sons, as counters in intra-familial politics.
Historically observable traditions change, or at least develop, often at least through an attempt to return to their origins. When we move from a more rigorous to a less rigorous rendering of the same tradition – say from pre-Vatican II to post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism — there is both gain and loss. The advantages of a greater flexibility in dealing with the problems of human existence have been much celebrated; the costs are increased confusion; and, for tradition faced with an aggressive cosmopolitan culture hostile to its understandings, the loss of the ability to resist externally generated pressure.
V.

Some understandings of tradition, however, do not allow for the possibility of development. If we refuse the immobilist option, we face the urgent but difficult issue of distinguishing development from decadence. We cannot appeal to the verdict of history to resolve the question: as J B. Schneewind puts it in a slightly different context, “If we must wait for it in order to know the solution to a problem, then that knowledge will have no role in the actual give and take of life.”
The American Revolution and the New Deal have been defended on traditionalist grounds. Even the French Revolution carried out the Bourbon tradition of the centralized absolute state: those of the revolutionaries’ decisions that Burke and his followers find most horrifying – the execution of the king and the nationalization of the Church – followed English precedents.
What is lacking in MacIntyre’s account is what may be called a philosophical ecclesiology – a philosophical understanding of the sort of historically embodied community that sustains a particular tradition. While attending to the historical data, the philosophical ecclesiologist will attempt to abstract conceptual and normative principles from this data – examining such concepts as schism, fidelity, fundamentalism, and the distinction between development and decadence. Decadence, as I understand it is a cultural phenomenon, that of a community that has lost the capacity to transmit itself, biologically and culturally.
VI.
I solve the problem of individuating traditions by citing traditions that are articulately defended as such in the contemporary world. Traditions so understood are historical entities that have founders, and which sometimes come to an end. An outsider should hesitate to express an opinion internal to an alien tradition, such as whether in Mormon theology God’s wife is a goddess. Hence I consider, among self-identified traditions, those with which I to some degree identify.
I now attempt a brief survey of the American legal and political tradition, whose outcome will support MacIntyre’s claim that we live among ruins. Further enquiry would require the study of the survival and break-up of a variety of other traditions, both religious and secular. In the early 1980s, MacIntyre identified himself with the American political tradition that combines procedural justice with republican virtue. By 1987, however, his question had become “How to Be a North American,” and Canadians and Mexicans, despite their very different political histories, were included in the community supporting the American tradition, along with Founding Fathers, Southern rebels, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese and other immigrants. I do not see why North America, as opposed to say Euro-America or the Western hemisphere, is a useful way of specifying the social embodiment of a tradition.
In any event, I here focus on American political tradition, and its important legal component, which is inevitably linked to the history of a particular nation-state. There are three major components of this political tradition: our reliance on law and the Constitution as a legal document, the English-speaking liberal tradition founded by Milton and Locke, and the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition,’ on which we rely, as we once relied on ‘mainstream’ Protestantism, when we emphasize the need for public virtue.
If we treat Anglo-American liberalism as a tradition of dealing with value conflict, in a complex relationship with the ‘civil religion’ tradition of Hobbes and Rousseau, we can avoid the severity of MacIntyre’s judgment of contemporary moral discourse and hence also the question, how on MacIntyre’s showing could he possibly write his books? But neither MacIntyre nor anyone else has found a way of bridging the gap between the Evangelical and the Enlightenment wings of the American tradition, or addressing effectively the related conflict between the demand for a virtuous citizenry and our reliance on institutional checks and abstract rights to manage the corrupt nature of humanity.
The New Deal, however controversial in its day (and even to some extent today), was the product of a relatively culturally homogeneous society. The question of alcohol received a “states’ rights” solution. But the New Deal consensus has since been overtaken by cultural conflict, which becomes more intense larger the government’s role in our society becomes. As for American Republicanism, it is a jumble of elements in shifting alliance, the chief of which are moral traditionalism, libertarianism, corporate interest, technocracy, and American expansionism.
Americans appeal to the law, and especially the Constitution, to resolve the ambiguities of our political tradition and make it possible for adherents of divergent strands to live together. Even the least traditional elements in American society appeal to the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, which they sometimes seem to regard as the entire Constitution. One of the reasons for having a constitution, that it provides a framework for constrained conflict among persons whose interests and ideals are at variance, has been eroded.
No one thinks the Supreme Court is infallible. Even Rawls, for whom the Court embodies public reason, finds some of its decisions “profoundly dismaying” and would find some of its more recent decisions even more so.
The resulting evaluations vary immensely. James Boyd White has defended the abortion decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey on neo-Burkean grounds, placing the Plurality Opinion among the classics of political theory ; while Michael Stokes Paulsen has called Casey “the worst constitutional decision all time.” While White sees Casey as remedying the defects of Roe v. Wade, Paulsen sees it as a further step into jurisprudential depravity. Apologies for Supreme Court decisions can be as divisive as criticisms of them. Mark Graber defends the Dred Scott decision, hitherto reprobated by Democrats and Republicans alike.
In the campaign financing case Citizens United we see the disarray of our constitutional tradition. No Justice, even the Chief Justice who had sold himself as a minimalist, adopted the obvious middle ground, that bona fide not-for-profit corporations engaging in political advocacy are entitled to immunity from governmental financial supervision. The majority Justices removed all significant restraints from corporate purchase of politicians; the minority would allow the Washington Establishment to use electoral regulations to harass critics of (as she had then become) Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Culture wars issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage were not far from the surface of the case.
If just any Supreme Court decision can be rejected, then constitutional jurisprudence is a game without rules. But if whatever the Court decides to do can be provided with decent jurisprudential drapery, we are faced with the collapse of constitutional jurisprudence into power politics.
Xenophobic constitutional lawyers now argue that the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment conferring citizenship on “all persons born … in the United States” does not extend to the children of undocumented aliens, whom such jurists think of as akin to an invading army. But this proposal would not alter the fact that being an American is an inherited trait: being born of a citizen or documented alien is as much an accident of birth as being born the eldest son of a duke.
Authoritarian lawyers are prepared to argue that, as Richard Nixon once said, “When the President does it that means that it is not illegal.” Many people will say that some legal interpretations are beyond the pale and their advocates therefore ‘outside the mainstream’ of our jurisprudential tradition. As one writer says of the doctrine that Afghanistan was a failed state, whose captured soldiers were not entitled to the protections accorded prisoners of war, “There are legal opinions that are debatable. There are legal opinions that are wrong.” The verb to bork was coined to describe such judgments. But those who are borked and their friends frequently resist this judgment.
A Realist approach to such issues collapses not only the distinction between law and politics, but also that between politics and war. The only question is who decides? Moreover, issues like abortion, immigration and the war power, and the use of judicial power to stigmatize certain moral and political positions as unconstitutional, all have to do with our relationship with outsiders, both within and without the boundaries of America. They engage the distinction between friends and enemies, and the sovereign power to draw the line between them. Thus Carl Schmitt defended the Night of the Long Knives from a legal point of view; in his own language, “the act of the Leader was a genuine act of jurisdiction [Gerichtsbarkeit].” The gangster-style killing of Osama bin Laden makes this precedent apt.
The transformation of law in to politics, of politics into war (what is sometimes called ‘lawfare’), and of war into violence in the style of Rambo has its roots or correlates among elite scholars. Legal scholars across the jurisprudential spectrum now join the Critical Legal Studies Movement in holding that American law is an incoherent system, from which any position you please can be persuasively supported. On the ground, episodes such as the O. J. Simpson trial confirm the popular impression that American law is a farce. For very many Americans rightly believed, before the verdict, both that Simpson was guilty and that he would get off.
The mutual tolerance that underlies the American Constitutional order is not a transcendent requirement standing above all our other beliefs. The reasons for holding that tolerance does not stand outside the other goods of social life are also reasons for holding that militancy is not a transcendent requirement either Hence the survival of our traditions of political civility is an open question.
VII.
A tradition can die, as MacIntyre rightly insists, because it degenerates into inarticulate prejudices, or because – as has happened with some forms of Islamic thought, as well as with some forms of Thomism – it ceases to support further inquiry. But it can also die because it loses its ability to harmonize the consciences of its adherents. There is an important ambiguity in the concept of inquiry, which can mean anything from filling in tiny gaps to throwing the whole project into question (as MacIntyre does for some traditions).
As one commentator has put it, MacIntyre holds that
We should steer a middle path between the conservatism of Edmund Burke, who exalts tradition over and against rationality, and the liberalism/radicalism of a Concordet and other Enlightenment figures, who exalt abstract rationality over and against tradition.
The question I have been asking here whether such a middle ground exists.
Some traditions limit themselves accumulated human wisdom, others claim divine revelation, and others, like Thomism, invoke a mixture of the two. Likewise traditions sometimes speak abut human nature and flourishing (and the requirements of justice among human beings), sometimes about divine revelation, and sometimes about both. The problems I have found for the concept of tradition arise at both its human and its divine aspect.
The two-sided character of the concept of tradition reflects the concept of God. In MacIntyre’s own words, “theistic belief has a double aspect, at once problematic and unproblematic. As the former, it invites ruthless and systematic questioning. As the latter it requires devoted and unquestioning obedience.”
Doctrines such as the Trinity are “to be piously believed and not impiously questioned,” as St. Columban put it. Against those people who claim a patent or copyright on God, we must maintain that He is greater than any conceptual and normative structure we may be able to formulate. Yet God also addresses us – or at least is believed to address us – with quite definite requirements of belief and practice. We see this tension at work in the endless dialogue between creative and therefore dissident Catholic theologians and the Church’s doctrinal watchdogs (and consequently the tedious ‘police court’ theology assessing the authority of various documents and the resulting limits on dissent). Catholic authority is now searching for a “hermeneutics of continuity,” which avoids both repudiation of Vatican II as heretical and the claim that “spirit of Vatican II” authorizes limitless departures from past belief and practice.
There is no algorithm distinguishing legitimate developments of a tradition from degenerations of it. But considerations drawn from the need of the adherents of a tradition to maintain and transmit it to future generations can at least provide persuasive arguments.
We are not Platonic philosopher-kings (or queens) creating institutions de novo. Hence longstanding elements of our traditions should not easily be set aside. Luther’s ‘humanist’ opponents such as Erasmus and More were right to foresee that his theology entailed the fragmentation, since his day the extreme fragmentation, of Christendom. (Protestants do not view schism as gravely as do Catholics, but even many Protestants find the present chaos alarming.) There was something profoundly wrong, even apart from the issues of substance, about the way the liberals in the Anglican Communion pursued the issues of the ordination of women and open homosexuals. Extreme Presidentialism puts an end to the appeal of the American Constitutionalism, which controls power by dispersing it; they destroy our tradition in the attempt to save it.
The vitality of any tradition requires respectful attention to the convictions one’s fellow adherents, both living and dead. But we need not only to reflect on our traditions, but also to live them.
Philip E. Devine
Providence College

THE CONCEPT OF TRADITION

NATIONAL REVIEW …stands athwart history, yelling Stop.
William F. Buckley
The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, Newton, the emancipation of women, Karl Marx, Balanchine ballet et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history, and it is the white race, and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, and which now threatens the very existence of life itself.
Susan Sontag

Tradition is one of those words whose sense, reference and evaluative force depend on who uses it and why. The concept of tradition, as well as being conspicuous in contemporary debates about marriage, is also central to Alasdair MacIntyre’s work both as an educator and a cultural critic. It will be an essential resource for the development of whatever answer his admirers may give to the question, what is to be done? Many a revolution has been spurred by the desire to restore a tradition that the pursuit of external goods such as wealth has corrupted, but it remains to be seen whether MacIntyre’s philosophy supports this or any other form of political practice. Since MacIntyre like Marx is proposing a philosophy of practice, his inability to answer questions of application would mean that his philosophy had failed.
Samuel Scheffler lists a number of reasons why people value tradition, and are reasonable in doing so, for example that it makes it possible for people to find a home for themselves in time as well as space. But he neither cites MacIntyre nor responds, negatively or positively, to his concerns. And on the issue of most concern to me here he says only, “it is a truism that the traditions most likely to endure are those that develop successful techniques for balancing continuity and change.”
I.
Advocates of tradition argue that is an inescapable part of our reasoning about both theoretical and practical matters. Yet the concept of tradition in MacIntyre suffers from an ambiguity, one that also appears in many writers of a similar tendency such as Newman and, despite MacIntyre’s hostility to them both, Hume and Burke.
In Oedipus Rex Laius, fearing that his son will displace him has him exposed. But, however powerful fathers may be, and however ruthless they may be in suppressing their children, they always end up displaced. And the same is true of the status quo, however abstractly considered. For no set of rules, however detailed, can provide for all the conflicts that call forth divergent interpretations. The open-texture of our concepts means that our rules will always require interpretation, and the clashing interests and outlooks that exist in any society means that we will always face divergent interpretations of our inherited ideas. (An illuminating counter-example is the rules of chess.) And some of these interpretations will be innovative or even radical. Locke, while a key figure in the libertarian side of our tradition, can be interpreted as a social conservative, but arguments drawn from his writings can also undermine his traditional views and make the prohibitions on suicide and infanticide that inform his political theory entirely arbitrary. In Newman, the true course of development is discerned intuitively in a way that gives no guidance in case of real doubt. In any case, a tradition could not guide its adherents if it did not also constrain them; if it did not rule out some possibilities it would be useless.
II.
MacIntyre draws on the thought of Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos to define tradition as an element of an ongoing practice of inquiry, that might include large revisions of inherited theory and practice. Another model for understanding a tradition is that of a craft; crafts like traditions can like develop or degenerate. And similar issues arise: does Andy Warhol develop the visual arts, or does he represent their degeneration? (Even Warhol’s admirers might draw the line at Maine lawn sculpture.)
Yet another model for tradition is a natural language, and so that the possibility that a person might become an adherent of, or at least understand, two different traditions is analogous to the possibility of his becoming bilingual. Wittgenstein provides an enlightening picture of language, and hence also of the broader tradition carried along with it.
Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions made from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
Our city includes not only the stable elements Wittgenstein mentions, but also regions under construction, zones of conflict, and burnt-out districts not yet rebuilt. It also includes regions in decline: as Simon Blackburn puts it, “To paraphrase Wittgenstein, when we start to abandon a way of thought, the lights do not go out one by one, but darkness falls gradually over the whole.”
MacIntyre’s philosophy requires that we find a middle ground between ideas in Platonic heaven – as one might create Islam as a contribution to contemporary debates about hermeneutics – and entrenched social habits. Traditions in the relevant sense are historical-cultural facts as well as systems of belief and practice, and they could do what they do for human beings were they otherwise. All traditions have to be transmitted from generation to generation, and the process of doing so is emotionally fraught. Thus those features of our existence that liberals dismiss as accidents of birth, such as birth on certain territory or of certain sorts of parents, retain their relevance. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were Greeks looking for a common human nature, with equal emphasis on both sides of this proposition.
In any event, we can distinguish two kinds of inquiry. One consists in the attempt of adherents of a tradition to understand it more deeply and apply it to problem situations. The other form of inquiry steps, at least to some extent, outside the rival traditions and asks whether some tradition has exhausted itself, and whether some other tradition can solve the resulting problems more adequately.
At this point in the argument, we can exclude certain some of radicalism. Sontag’s claim to stand over and above the Western tradition and judge it as a whole is without foundation. (It is also characteristically Western.) In MacIntyre’s sage words,
Claims about hallucinations, illusion, distortion of thought, and the like can be made only from the standpoint of claims that the contrast can be clearly drawn between hallucinatory, illusory and distorted modes of perception or thought, on the one hand, and genuine perceptions of realty or rigorous or undistorted reflection and deliberation, on the other. Hence, to identify ideological distortion one must not be a victim of it oneself. The claim to a privileged exemption from such distortion seems to be presupposed when such distortion is identified in others.
But our problems arise, not from outside agitators, but within the practice of our society, and lead to disputes among those usually considered conservative.
What may be called the ‘integralist’ impulse tries to rid a cultural tradition of extraneous elements, at the risk of eliminating important truths; on the other hand the ‘cafeteria’ approach to intellectual issues, which picks and chooses among inherent ideas according to need or even mood, gives one every opportunity for adapting one’s beliefs to one’s purposes, even in the most cynical way.
III.
As MacIntyre has observed, “traditions are defined retrospectively,” often because some challenge makes their adherents aware that all of them, whatever their differences, are contributing to the same enterprise. Tradition is then further defined, by granting authoritative status to some documents of the past, as the New Testament accorded authority to what Christians call the Old Testament, or St. Thomas called Aristotle “the Philosopher,” contemporary scientific naturalists adduce Galileo and Darwin, or literary modernists look back to Joyce and Eliot.
Tradition is a feature of a community that unites author and reader, but there is a long-standing practice of ‘unorthodox’ reading. In consequence, the most important issues for a tradition arise from disagreements among adherents of the tradition itself, who are at least presumed to be able to apply its governing concepts competently. When adherents of a tradition disagree, they look for core elements in the tradition immune to change in terms of which disputes on the periphery can be adjudicated. But often different adherents find the core in different places, in which case we have two or more traditions where we previously had one – in other words a schism. Two sorts of situation we can be distinguished: a set of rules and principles fails to determine a result in some case, so that competent representatives of the same tradition reach different conclusions; and a tradition divides into two or more sub-traditions, which differ systematically in their conclusions. But these two situations are but different sides of the same phenomenon.
Macintyre’s most important contribution to the resulting discussion has been to forge a link between rationality and tradition. He points out that it is possible that a tradition might fail by its own standards, and thus encounter an incurable epistemological crisis. And adherents of such a tradition might discover that some other tradition better solves its problems than the tradition itself can do. Hence he has hopes of avoiding relativism.
Reflective traditionalism admits the need for change while insisting on the demands of continuity: Burke, after all, was Whig, not a Tory. Yet Burkean traditionalism threatens to become an empty rhetorical form, casting “decent drapery” or a “politic veil” over the results of power politics, whatever they might be. The revision of Buckley’s slogan sometimes proposed, “The dominant strain of conservative thought has stood athwart history, yelling “’Slow Down!’” keeps us on any slippery slope on which we might otherwise find ourselves, even that from Weimar to Hitler, so long as we go down slowly. Lacking on any version of the standard conservative or progressive account of tradition is the possibility that we need a change of direction.
Jeffrey Stout reads MacIntyre as demanding a highly structured tradition as the only alternative to conceptual and moral chaos. In his own language,
Equally essential to the rationality of a practice, according to MacIntyre’s account, is its embodiment in institutions that are capable of securing agreement on a doctrine of the human good (presumably by means of catechism directed at newcomers and a combination of magisterial suasion, discipline, and excommunication directed at dissidents).
Citing Susan Moller Okin’s “incisive” critique of MacIntyre, Stout observes that feminism, though not a tradition in the sense of being defined by authoritative texts, a tradition in the sense of “’a not yet completed narrative,’ an argument about the goods that constitute the tradition.”
This argument, however, confuses traditions in general with the particular tradition MacIntyre has embraced or even with a relatively stringent version of that tradition. And it is false that feminism lacks an authoritative core. Just try defending Larry Summer’s views on mathematical intelligence, or a pro-life position on the abortion issue, around contemporary ‘mainstream’ feminists, and you will discover that the concept of history is alive and well. (There are, however, pro-life feminists.)
As Stout observes, “All discursive practices involve authority and deference to some extent. … The difference in a matter of how, when, and when someone defers or appeals to authority, not a matter of whether one does at all.” Even the most loosely structured traditions can make it clear that someone has stepped outside its limits. The New York Times defines a secular (and secularist) orthodoxy that is both all-pervasive and hard to resist.
All traditions have their canons of orthodoxy, and their internal debates, including debates between hard-liners are soft-liners. Yet traditions behave more like drops of mercury than like organisms: merging and splitting almost at will. Appeal to tradition is frequently appeal to the confluence of more than one tradition. In one of the clearer appeals to tradition in contemporary political argument, same-sex marriage opponents find it incredible that people at so many different times and places, whose beliefs and ways of life are in so many respects so different, could have been all wrong in their understanding of a crucial human institution Greco-Roman pederasts did not marry their boyfriends. That the emperor Nero is reported to have ‘married’ Sporus (whom he had had castrated) as a man and Doryphorus as a woman shows nothing about what was considered healthy or normal even in imperial Rome. The moral of the story was that, as emperor, Nero could do – or though he could do — whatever he wished.
Such people may be appealing to a sacred tradition going back to the origins of humanity and existing, often in distorted form, in all cultures. But even this formulation gives us great liberty in distinguishing ‘sacred’ tradition from its subsequent corruptions. There are aspects of ‘traditional marriage’ that no one would now defend, such as use of daughters, and to a lesser extent of sons, as counters in intra-familial politics.
Historically observable traditions change, or at least develop, often at least through an attempt to return to their origins. When we move from a more rigorous to a less rigorous rendering of the same tradition – say from pre-Vatican II to post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism — there is both gain and loss. The advantages of a greater flexibility in dealing with the problems of human existence have been much celebrated; the costs are increased confusion; and, for tradition faced with an aggressive cosmopolitan culture hostile to its understandings, the loss of the ability to resist externally generated pressure.
V.

Some understandings of tradition, however, do not allow for the possibility of development. If we refuse the immobilist option, we face the urgent but difficult issue of distinguishing development from decadence. We cannot appeal to the verdict of history to resolve the question: as J B. Schneewind puts it in a slightly different context, “If we must wait for it in order to know the solution to a problem, then that knowledge will have no role in the actual give and take of life.”
The American Revolution and the New Deal have been defended on traditionalist grounds. Even the French Revolution carried out the Bourbon tradition of the centralized absolute state: those of the revolutionaries’ decisions that Burke and his followers find most horrifying – the execution of the king and the nationalization of the Church – followed English precedents.
What is lacking in MacIntyre’s account is what may be called a philosophical ecclesiology – a philosophical understanding of the sort of historically embodied community that sustains a particular tradition. While attending to the historical data, the philosophical ecclesiologist will attempt to abstract conceptual and normative principles from this data – examining such concepts as schism, fidelity, fundamentalism, and the distinction between development and decadence. Decadence, as I understand it is a cultural phenomenon, that of a community that has lost the capacity to transmit itself, biologically and culturally.
VI.
I solve the problem of individuating traditions by citing traditions that are articulately defended as such in the contemporary world. Traditions so understood are historical entities that have founders, and which sometimes come to an end. An outsider should hesitate to express an opinion internal to an alien tradition, such as whether in Mormon theology God’s wife is a goddess. Hence I consider, among self-identified traditions, those with which I to some degree identify.
I now attempt a brief survey of the American legal and political tradition, whose outcome will support MacIntyre’s claim that we live among ruins. Further enquiry would require the study of the survival and break-up of a variety of other traditions, both religious and secular. In the early 1980s, MacIntyre identified himself with the American political tradition that combines procedural justice with republican virtue. By 1987, however, his question had become “How to Be a North American,” and Canadians and Mexicans, despite their very different political histories, were included in the community supporting the American tradition, along with Founding Fathers, Southern rebels, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese and other immigrants. I do not see why North America, as opposed to say Euro-America or the Western hemisphere, is a useful way of specifying the social embodiment of a tradition.
In any event, I here focus on American political tradition, and its important legal component, which is inevitably linked to the history of a particular nation-state. There are three major components of this political tradition: our reliance on law and the Constitution as a legal document, the English-speaking liberal tradition founded by Milton and Locke, and the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition,’ on which we rely, as we once relied on ‘mainstream’ Protestantism, when we emphasize the need for public virtue.
If we treat Anglo-American liberalism as a tradition of dealing with value conflict, in a complex relationship with the ‘civil religion’ tradition of Hobbes and Rousseau, we can avoid the severity of MacIntyre’s judgment of contemporary moral discourse and hence also the question, how on MacIntyre’s showing could he possibly write his books? But neither MacIntyre nor anyone else has found a way of bridging the gap between the Evangelical and the Enlightenment wings of the American tradition, or addressing effectively the related conflict between the demand for a virtuous citizenry and our reliance on institutional checks and abstract rights to manage the corrupt nature of humanity.
The New Deal, however controversial in its day (and even to some extent today), was the product of a relatively culturally homogeneous society. The question of alcohol received a “states’ rights” solution. But the New Deal consensus has since been overtaken by cultural conflict, which becomes more intense larger the government’s role in our society becomes. As for American Republicanism, it is a jumble of elements in shifting alliance, the chief of which are moral traditionalism, libertarianism, corporate interest, technocracy, and American expansionism.
Americans appeal to the law, and especially the Constitution, to resolve the ambiguities of our political tradition and make it possible for adherents of divergent strands to live together. Even the least traditional elements in American society appeal to the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, which they sometimes seem to regard as the entire Constitution. One of the reasons for having a constitution, that it provides a framework for constrained conflict among persons whose interests and ideals are at variance, has been eroded.
No one thinks the Supreme Court is infallible. Even Rawls, for whom the Court embodies public reason, finds some of its decisions “profoundly dismaying” and would find some of its more recent decisions even more so.
The resulting evaluations vary immensely. James Boyd White has defended the abortion decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey on neo-Burkean grounds, placing the Plurality Opinion among the classics of political theory ; while Michael Stokes Paulsen has called Casey “the worst constitutional decision all time.” While White sees Casey as remedying the defects of Roe v. Wade, Paulsen sees it as a further step into jurisprudential depravity. Apologies for Supreme Court decisions can be as divisive as criticisms of them. Mark Graber defends the Dred Scott decision, hitherto reprobated by Democrats and Republicans alike.
In the campaign financing case Citizens United we see the disarray of our constitutional tradition. No Justice, even the Chief Justice who had sold himself as a minimalist, adopted the obvious middle ground, that bona fide not-for-profit corporations engaging in political advocacy are entitled to immunity from governmental financial supervision. The majority Justices removed all significant restraints from corporate purchase of politicians; the minority would allow the Washington Establishment to use electoral regulations to harass critics of (as she had then become) Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Culture wars issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage were not far from the surface of the case.
If just any Supreme Court decision can be rejected, then constitutional jurisprudence is a game without rules. But if whatever the Court decides to do can be provided with decent jurisprudential drapery, we are faced with the collapse of constitutional jurisprudence into power politics.
Xenophobic constitutional lawyers now argue that the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment conferring citizenship on “all persons born … in the United States” does not extend to the children of undocumented aliens, whom such jurists think of as akin to an invading army. But this proposal would not alter the fact that being an American is an inherited trait: being born of a citizen or documented alien is as much an accident of birth as being born the eldest son of a duke.
Authoritarian lawyers are prepared to argue that, as Richard Nixon once said, “When the President does it that means that it is not illegal.” Many people will say that some legal interpretations are beyond the pale and their advocates therefore ‘outside the mainstream’ of our jurisprudential tradition. As one writer says of the doctrine that Afghanistan was a failed state, whose captured soldiers were not entitled to the protections accorded prisoners of war, “There are legal opinions that are debatable. There are legal opinions that are wrong.” The verb to bork was coined to describe such judgments. But those who are borked and their friends frequently resist this judgment.
A Realist approach to such issues collapses not only the distinction between law and politics, but also that between politics and war. The only question is who decides? Moreover, issues like abortion, immigration and the war power, and the use of judicial power to stigmatize certain moral and political positions as unconstitutional, all have to do with our relationship with outsiders, both within and without the boundaries of America. They engage the distinction between friends and enemies, and the sovereign power to draw the line between them. Thus Carl Schmitt defended the Night of the Long Knives from a legal point of view; in his own language, “the act of the Leader was a genuine act of jurisdiction [Gerichtsbarkeit].” The gangster-style killing of Osama bin Laden makes this precedent apt.
The transformation of law in to politics, of politics into war (what is sometimes called ‘lawfare’), and of war into violence in the style of Rambo has its roots or correlates among elite scholars. Legal scholars across the jurisprudential spectrum now join the Critical Legal Studies Movement in holding that American law is an incoherent system, from which any position you please can be persuasively supported. On the ground, episodes such as the O. J. Simpson trial confirm the popular impression that American law is a farce. For very many Americans rightly believed, before the verdict, both that Simpson was guilty and that he would get off.
The mutual tolerance that underlies the American Constitutional order is not a transcendent requirement standing above all our other beliefs. The reasons for holding that tolerance does not stand outside the other goods of social life are also reasons for holding that militancy is not a transcendent requirement either Hence the survival of our traditions of political civility is an open question.
VII.
A tradition can die, as MacIntyre rightly insists, because it degenerates into inarticulate prejudices, or because – as has happened with some forms of Islamic thought, as well as with some forms of Thomism – it ceases to support further inquiry. But it can also die because it loses its ability to harmonize the consciences of its adherents. There is an important ambiguity in the concept of inquiry, which can mean anything from filling in tiny gaps to throwing the whole project into question (as MacIntyre does for some traditions).
As one commentator has put it, MacIntyre holds that
We should steer a middle path between the conservatism of Edmund Burke, who exalts tradition over and against rationality, and the liberalism/radicalism of a Concordet and other Enlightenment figures, who exalt abstract rationality over and against tradition.
The question I have been asking here whether such a middle ground exists.
Some traditions limit themselves accumulated human wisdom, others claim divine revelation, and others, like Thomism, invoke a mixture of the two. Likewise traditions sometimes speak abut human nature and flourishing (and the requirements of justice among human beings), sometimes about divine revelation, and sometimes about both. The problems I have found for the concept of tradition arise at both its human and its divine aspect.
The two-sided character of the concept of tradition reflects the concept of God. In MacIntyre’s own words, “theistic belief has a double aspect, at once problematic and unproblematic. As the former, it invites ruthless and systematic questioning. As the latter it requires devoted and unquestioning obedience.”
Doctrines such as the Trinity are “to be piously believed and not impiously questioned,” as St. Columban put it. Against those people who claim a patent or copyright on God, we must maintain that He is greater than any conceptual and normative structure we may be able to formulate. Yet God also addresses us – or at least is believed to address us – with quite definite requirements of belief and practice. We see this tension at work in the endless dialogue between creative and therefore dissident Catholic theologians and the Church’s doctrinal watchdogs (and consequently the tedious ‘police court’ theology assessing the authority of various documents and the resulting limits on dissent). Catholic authority is now searching for a “hermeneutics of continuity,” which avoids both repudiation of Vatican II as heretical and the claim that “spirit of Vatican II” authorizes limitless departures from past belief and practice.
There is no algorithm distinguishing legitimate developments of a tradition from degenerations of it. But considerations drawn from the need of the adherents of a tradition to maintain and transmit it to future generations can at least provide persuasive arguments.
We are not Platonic philosopher-kings (or queens) creating institutions de novo. Hence longstanding elements of our traditions should not easily be set aside. Luther’s ‘humanist’ opponents such as Erasmus and More were right to foresee that his theology entailed the fragmentation, since his day the extreme fragmentation, of Christendom. (Protestants do not view schism as gravely as do Catholics, but even many Protestants find the present chaos alarming.) There was something profoundly wrong, even apart from the issues of substance, about the way the liberals in the Anglican Communion pursued the issues of the ordination of women and open homosexuals. Extreme Presidentialism puts an end to the appeal of the American Constitutionalism, which controls power by dispersing it; they destroy our tradition in the attempt to save it.
The vitality of any tradition requires respectful attention to the convictions one’s fellow adherents, both living and dead. But we need not only to reflect on our traditions, but also to live them.
Philip E. Devine
Providence College

THE CONCEPT OF TRADITION

NATIONAL REVIEW …stands athwart history, yelling Stop.
William F. Buckley
The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, Newton, the emancipation of women, Karl Marx, Balanchine ballet et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history, and it is the white race, and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, and which now threatens the very existence of life itself.
Susan Sontag

Tradition is one of those words whose sense, reference and evaluative force depend on who uses it and why. The concept of tradition, as well as being conspicuous in contemporary debates about marriage, is also central to Alasdair MacIntyre’s work both as an educator and a cultural critic. It will be an essential resource for the development of whatever answer his admirers may give to the question, what is to be done? Many a revolution has been spurred by the desire to restore a tradition that the pursuit of external goods such as wealth has corrupted, but it remains to be seen whether MacIntyre’s philosophy supports this or any other form of political practice. Since MacIntyre like Marx is proposing a philosophy of practice, his inability to answer questions of application would mean that his philosophy had failed.
Samuel Scheffler lists a number of reasons why people value tradition, and are reasonable in doing so, for example that it makes it possible for people to find a home for themselves in time as well as space. But he neither cites MacIntyre nor responds, negatively or positively, to his concerns. And on the issue of most concern to me here he says only, “it is a truism that the traditions most likely to endure are those that develop successful techniques for balancing continuity and change.”
I.
Advocates of tradition argue that is an inescapable part of our reasoning about both theoretical and practical matters. Yet the concept of tradition in MacIntyre suffers from an ambiguity, one that also appears in many writers of a similar tendency such as Newman and, despite MacIntyre’s hostility to them both, Hume and Burke.
In Oedipus Rex Laius, fearing that his son will displace him has him exposed. But, however powerful fathers may be, and however ruthless they may be in suppressing their children, they always end up displaced. And the same is true of the status quo, however abstractly considered. For no set of rules, however detailed, can provide for all the conflicts that call forth divergent interpretations. The open-texture of our concepts means that our rules will always require interpretation, and the clashing interests and outlooks that exist in any society means that we will always face divergent interpretations of our inherited ideas. (An illuminating counter-example is the rules of chess.) And some of these interpretations will be innovative or even radical. Locke, while a key figure in the libertarian side of our tradition, can be interpreted as a social conservative, but arguments drawn from his writings can also undermine his traditional views and make the prohibitions on suicide and infanticide that inform his political theory entirely arbitrary. In Newman, the true course of development is discerned intuitively in a way that gives no guidance in case of real doubt. In any case, a tradition could not guide its adherents if it did not also constrain them; if it did not rule out some possibilities it would be useless.
II.
MacIntyre draws on the thought of Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos to define tradition as an element of an ongoing practice of inquiry, that might include large revisions of inherited theory and practice. Another model for understanding a tradition is that of a craft; crafts like traditions can like develop or degenerate. And similar issues arise: does Andy Warhol develop the visual arts, or does he represent their degeneration? (Even Warhol’s admirers might draw the line at Maine lawn sculpture.)
Yet another model for tradition is a natural language, and so that the possibility that a person might become an adherent of, or at least understand, two different traditions is analogous to the possibility of his becoming bilingual. Wittgenstein provides an enlightening picture of language, and hence also of the broader tradition carried along with it.
Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions made from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
Our city includes not only the stable elements Wittgenstein mentions, but also regions under construction, zones of conflict, and burnt-out districts not yet rebuilt. It also includes regions in decline: as Simon Blackburn puts it, “To paraphrase Wittgenstein, when we start to abandon a way of thought, the lights do not go out one by one, but darkness falls gradually over the whole.”
MacIntyre’s philosophy requires that we find a middle ground between ideas in Platonic heaven – as one might create Islam as a contribution to contemporary debates about hermeneutics – and entrenched social habits. Traditions in the relevant sense are historical-cultural facts as well as systems of belief and practice, and they could do what they do for human beings were they otherwise. All traditions have to be transmitted from generation to generation, and the process of doing so is emotionally fraught. Thus those features of our existence that liberals dismiss as accidents of birth, such as birth on certain territory or of certain sorts of parents, retain their relevance. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were Greeks looking for a common human nature, with equal emphasis on both sides of this proposition.
In any event, we can distinguish two kinds of inquiry. One consists in the attempt of adherents of a tradition to understand it more deeply and apply it to problem situations. The other form of inquiry steps, at least to some extent, outside the rival traditions and asks whether some tradition has exhausted itself, and whether some other tradition can solve the resulting problems more adequately.
At this point in the argument, we can exclude certain some of radicalism. Sontag’s claim to stand over and above the Western tradition and judge it as a whole is without foundation. (It is also characteristically Western.) In MacIntyre’s sage words,
Claims about hallucinations, illusion, distortion of thought, and the like can be made only from the standpoint of claims that the contrast can be clearly drawn between hallucinatory, illusory and distorted modes of perception or thought, on the one hand, and genuine perceptions of realty or rigorous or undistorted reflection and deliberation, on the other. Hence, to identify ideological distortion one must not be a victim of it oneself. The claim to a privileged exemption from such distortion seems to be presupposed when such distortion is identified in others.
But our problems arise, not from outside agitators, but within the practice of our society, and lead to disputes among those usually considered conservative.
What may be called the ‘integralist’ impulse tries to rid a cultural tradition of extraneous elements, at the risk of eliminating important truths; on the other hand the ‘cafeteria’ approach to intellectual issues, which picks and chooses among inherent ideas according to need or even mood, gives one every opportunity for adapting one’s beliefs to one’s purposes, even in the most cynical way.
III.
As MacIntyre has observed, “traditions are defined retrospectively,” often because some challenge makes their adherents aware that all of them, whatever their differences, are contributing to the same enterprise. Tradition is then further defined, by granting authoritative status to some documents of the past, as the New Testament accorded authority to what Christians call the Old Testament, or St. Thomas called Aristotle “the Philosopher,” contemporary scientific naturalists adduce Galileo and Darwin, or literary modernists look back to Joyce and Eliot.
Tradition is a feature of a community that unites author and reader, but there is a long-standing practice of ‘unorthodox’ reading. In consequence, the most important issues for a tradition arise from disagreements among adherents of the tradition itself, who are at least presumed to be able to apply its governing concepts competently. When adherents of a tradition disagree, they look for core elements in the tradition immune to change in terms of which disputes on the periphery can be adjudicated. But often different adherents find the core in different places, in which case we have two or more traditions where we previously had one – in other words a schism. Two sorts of situation we can be distinguished: a set of rules and principles fails to determine a result in some case, so that competent representatives of the same tradition reach different conclusions; and a tradition divides into two or more sub-traditions, which differ systematically in their conclusions. But these two situations are but different sides of the same phenomenon.
Macintyre’s most important contribution to the resulting discussion has been to forge a link between rationality and tradition. He points out that it is possible that a tradition might fail by its own standards, and thus encounter an incurable epistemological crisis. And adherents of such a tradition might discover that some other tradition better solves its problems than the tradition itself can do. Hence he has hopes of avoiding relativism.
Reflective traditionalism admits the need for change while insisting on the demands of continuity: Burke, after all, was Whig, not a Tory. Yet Burkean traditionalism threatens to become an empty rhetorical form, casting “decent drapery” or a “politic veil” over the results of power politics, whatever they might be. The revision of Buckley’s slogan sometimes proposed, “The dominant strain of conservative thought has stood athwart history, yelling “’Slow Down!’” keeps us on any slippery slope on which we might otherwise find ourselves, even that from Weimar to Hitler, so long as we go down slowly. Lacking on any version of the standard conservative or progressive account of tradition is the possibility that we need a change of direction.
Jeffrey Stout reads MacIntyre as demanding a highly structured tradition as the only alternative to conceptual and moral chaos. In his own language,
Equally essential to the rationality of a practice, according to MacIntyre’s account, is its embodiment in institutions that are capable of securing agreement on a doctrine of the human good (presumably by means of catechism directed at newcomers and a combination of magisterial suasion, discipline, and excommunication directed at dissidents).
Citing Susan Moller Okin’s “incisive” critique of MacIntyre, Stout observes that feminism, though not a tradition in the sense of being defined by authoritative texts, a tradition in the sense of “’a not yet completed narrative,’ an argument about the goods that constitute the tradition.”
This argument, however, confuses traditions in general with the particular tradition MacIntyre has embraced or even with a relatively stringent version of that tradition. And it is false that feminism lacks an authoritative core. Just try defending Larry Summer’s views on mathematical intelligence, or a pro-life position on the abortion issue, around contemporary ‘mainstream’ feminists, and you will discover that the concept of history is alive and well. (There are, however, pro-life feminists.)
As Stout observes, “All discursive practices involve authority and deference to some extent. … The difference in a matter of how, when, and when someone defers or appeals to authority, not a matter of whether one does at all.” Even the most loosely structured traditions can make it clear that someone has stepped outside its limits. The New York Times defines a secular (and secularist) orthodoxy that is both all-pervasive and hard to resist.
All traditions have their canons of orthodoxy, and their internal debates, including debates between hard-liners are soft-liners. Yet traditions behave more like drops of mercury than like organisms: merging and splitting almost at will. Appeal to tradition is frequently appeal to the confluence of more than one tradition. In one of the clearer appeals to tradition in contemporary political argument, same-sex marriage opponents find it incredible that people at so many different times and places, whose beliefs and ways of life are in so many respects so different, could have been all wrong in their understanding of a crucial human institution Greco-Roman pederasts did not marry their boyfriends. That the emperor Nero is reported to have ‘married’ Sporus (whom he had had castrated) as a man and Doryphorus as a woman shows nothing about what was considered healthy or normal even in imperial Rome. The moral of the story was that, as emperor, Nero could do – or though he could do — whatever he wished.
Such people may be appealing to a sacred tradition going back to the origins of humanity and existing, often in distorted form, in all cultures. But even this formulation gives us great liberty in distinguishing ‘sacred’ tradition from its subsequent corruptions. There are aspects of ‘traditional marriage’ that no one would now defend, such as use of daughters, and to a lesser extent of sons, as counters in intra-familial politics.
Historically observable traditions change, or at least develop, often at least through an attempt to return to their origins. When we move from a more rigorous to a less rigorous rendering of the same tradition – say from pre-Vatican II to post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism — there is both gain and loss. The advantages of a greater flexibility in dealing with the problems of human existence have been much celebrated; the costs are increased confusion; and, for tradition faced with an aggressive cosmopolitan culture hostile to its understandings, the loss of the ability to resist externally generated pressure.
V.

Some understandings of tradition, however, do not allow for the possibility of development. If we refuse the immobilist option, we face the urgent but difficult issue of distinguishing development from decadence. We cannot appeal to the verdict of history to resolve the question: as J B. Schneewind puts it in a slightly different context, “If we must wait for it in order to know the solution to a problem, then that knowledge will have no role in the actual give and take of life.”
The American Revolution and the New Deal have been defended on traditionalist grounds. Even the French Revolution carried out the Bourbon tradition of the centralized absolute state: those of the revolutionaries’ decisions that Burke and his followers find most horrifying – the execution of the king and the nationalization of the Church – followed English precedents.
What is lacking in MacIntyre’s account is what may be called a philosophical ecclesiology – a philosophical understanding of the sort of historically embodied community that sustains a particular tradition. While attending to the historical data, the philosophical ecclesiologist will attempt to abstract conceptual and normative principles from this data – examining such concepts as schism, fidelity, fundamentalism, and the distinction between development and decadence. Decadence, as I understand it is a cultural phenomenon, that of a community that has lost the capacity to transmit itself, biologically and culturally.
VI.
I solve the problem of individuating traditions by citing traditions that are articulately defended as such in the contemporary world. Traditions so understood are historical entities that have founders, and which sometimes come to an end. An outsider should hesitate to express an opinion internal to an alien tradition, such as whether in Mormon theology God’s wife is a goddess. Hence I consider, among self-identified traditions, those with which I to some degree identify.
I now attempt a brief survey of the American legal and political tradition, whose outcome will support MacIntyre’s claim that we live among ruins. Further enquiry would require the study of the survival and break-up of a variety of other traditions, both religious and secular. In the early 1980s, MacIntyre identified himself with the American political tradition that combines procedural justice with republican virtue. By 1987, however, his question had become “How to Be a North American,” and Canadians and Mexicans, despite their very different political histories, were included in the community supporting the American tradition, along with Founding Fathers, Southern rebels, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese and other immigrants. I do not see why North America, as opposed to say Euro-America or the Western hemisphere, is a useful way of specifying the social embodiment of a tradition.
In any event, I here focus on American political tradition, and its important legal component, which is inevitably linked to the history of a particular nation-state. There are three major components of this political tradition: our reliance on law and the Constitution as a legal document, the English-speaking liberal tradition founded by Milton and Locke, and the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition,’ on which we rely, as we once relied on ‘mainstream’ Protestantism, when we emphasize the need for public virtue.
If we treat Anglo-American liberalism as a tradition of dealing with value conflict, in a complex relationship with the ‘civil religion’ tradition of Hobbes and Rousseau, we can avoid the severity of MacIntyre’s judgment of contemporary moral discourse and hence also the question, how on MacIntyre’s showing could he possibly write his books? But neither MacIntyre nor anyone else has found a way of bridging the gap between the Evangelical and the Enlightenment wings of the American tradition, or addressing effectively the related conflict between the demand for a virtuous citizenry and our reliance on institutional checks and abstract rights to manage the corrupt nature of humanity.
The New Deal, however controversial in its day (and even to some extent today), was the product of a relatively culturally homogeneous society. The question of alcohol received a “states’ rights” solution. But the New Deal consensus has since been overtaken by cultural conflict, which becomes more intense larger the government’s role in our society becomes. As for American Republicanism, it is a jumble of elements in shifting alliance, the chief of which are moral traditionalism, libertarianism, corporate interest, technocracy, and American expansionism.
Americans appeal to the law, and especially the Constitution, to resolve the ambiguities of our political tradition and make it possible for adherents of divergent strands to live together. Even the least traditional elements in American society appeal to the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, which they sometimes seem to regard as the entire Constitution. One of the reasons for having a constitution, that it provides a framework for constrained conflict among persons whose interests and ideals are at variance, has been eroded.
No one thinks the Supreme Court is infallible. Even Rawls, for whom the Court embodies public reason, finds some of its decisions “profoundly dismaying” and would find some of its more recent decisions even more so.
The resulting evaluations vary immensely. James Boyd White has defended the abortion decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey on neo-Burkean grounds, placing the Plurality Opinion among the classics of political theory ; while Michael Stokes Paulsen has called Casey “the worst constitutional decision all time.” While White sees Casey as remedying the defects of Roe v. Wade, Paulsen sees it as a further step into jurisprudential depravity. Apologies for Supreme Court decisions can be as divisive as criticisms of them. Mark Graber defends the Dred Scott decision, hitherto reprobated by Democrats and Republicans alike.
In the campaign financing case Citizens United we see the disarray of our constitutional tradition. No Justice, even the Chief Justice who had sold himself as a minimalist, adopted the obvious middle ground, that bona fide not-for-profit corporations engaging in political advocacy are entitled to immunity from governmental financial supervision. The majority Justices removed all significant restraints from corporate purchase of politicians; the minority would allow the Washington Establishment to use electoral regulations to harass critics of (as she had then become) Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Culture wars issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage were not far from the surface of the case.
If just any Supreme Court decision can be rejected, then constitutional jurisprudence is a game without rules. But if whatever the Court decides to do can be provided with decent jurisprudential drapery, we are faced with the collapse of constitutional jurisprudence into power politics.
Xenophobic constitutional lawyers now argue that the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment conferring citizenship on “all persons born … in the United States” does not extend to the children of undocumented aliens, whom such jurists think of as akin to an invading army. But this proposal would not alter the fact that being an American is an inherited trait: being born of a citizen or documented alien is as much an accident of birth as being born the eldest son of a duke.
Authoritarian lawyers are prepared to argue that, as Richard Nixon once said, “When the President does it that means that it is not illegal.” Many people will say that some legal interpretations are beyond the pale and their advocates therefore ‘outside the mainstream’ of our jurisprudential tradition. As one writer says of the doctrine that Afghanistan was a failed state, whose captured soldiers were not entitled to the protections accorded prisoners of war, “There are legal opinions that are debatable. There are legal opinions that are wrong.” The verb to bork was coined to describe such judgments. But those who are borked and their friends frequently resist this judgment.
A Realist approach to such issues collapses not only the distinction between law and politics, but also that between politics and war. The only question is who decides? Moreover, issues like abortion, immigration and the war power, and the use of judicial power to stigmatize certain moral and political positions as unconstitutional, all have to do with our relationship with outsiders, both within and without the boundaries of America. They engage the distinction between friends and enemies, and the sovereign power to draw the line between them. Thus Carl Schmitt defended the Night of the Long Knives from a legal point of view; in his own language, “the act of the Leader was a genuine act of jurisdiction [Gerichtsbarkeit].” The gangster-style killing of Osama bin Laden makes this precedent apt.
The transformation of law in to politics, of politics into war (what is sometimes called ‘lawfare’), and of war into violence in the style of Rambo has its roots or correlates among elite scholars. Legal scholars across the jurisprudential spectrum now join the Critical Legal Studies Movement in holding that American law is an incoherent system, from which any position you please can be persuasively supported. On the ground, episodes such as the O. J. Simpson trial confirm the popular impression that American law is a farce. For very many Americans rightly believed, before the verdict, both that Simpson was guilty and that he would get off.
The mutual tolerance that underlies the American Constitutional order is not a transcendent requirement standing above all our other beliefs. The reasons for holding that tolerance does not stand outside the other goods of social life are also reasons for holding that militancy is not a transcendent requirement either Hence the survival of our traditions of political civility is an open question.
VII.
A tradition can die, as MacIntyre rightly insists, because it degenerates into inarticulate prejudices, or because – as has happened with some forms of Islamic thought, as well as with some forms of Thomism – it ceases to support further inquiry. But it can also die because it loses its ability to harmonize the consciences of its adherents. There is an important ambiguity in the concept of inquiry, which can mean anything from filling in tiny gaps to throwing the whole project into question (as MacIntyre does for some traditions).
As one commentator has put it, MacIntyre holds that
We should steer a middle path between the conservatism of Edmund Burke, who exalts tradition over and against rationality, and the liberalism/radicalism of a Concordet and other Enlightenment figures, who exalt abstract rationality over and against tradition.
The question I have been asking here whether such a middle ground exists.
Some traditions limit themselves accumulated human wisdom, others claim divine revelation, and others, like Thomism, invoke a mixture of the two. Likewise traditions sometimes speak abut human nature and flourishing (and the requirements of justice among human beings), sometimes about divine revelation, and sometimes about both. The problems I have found for the concept of tradition arise at both its human and its divine aspect.
The two-sided character of the concept of tradition reflects the concept of God. In MacIntyre’s own words, “theistic belief has a double aspect, at once problematic and unproblematic. As the former, it invites ruthless and systematic questioning. As the latter it requires devoted and unquestioning obedience.”
Doctrines such as the Trinity are “to be piously believed and not impiously questioned,” as St. Columban put it. Against those people who claim a patent or copyright on God, we must maintain that He is greater than any conceptual and normative structure we may be able to formulate. Yet God also addresses us – or at least is believed to address us – with quite definite requirements of belief and practice. We see this tension at work in the endless dialogue between creative and therefore dissident Catholic theologians and the Church’s doctrinal watchdogs (and consequently the tedious ‘police court’ theology assessing the authority of various documents and the resulting limits on dissent). Catholic authority is now searching for a “hermeneutics of continuity,” which avoids both repudiation of Vatican II as heretical and the claim that “spirit of Vatican II” authorizes limitless departures from past belief and practice.
There is no algorithm distinguishing legitimate developments of a tradition from degenerations of it. But considerations drawn from the need of the adherents of a tradition to maintain and transmit it to future generations can at least provide persuasive arguments.
We are not Platonic philosopher-kings (or queens) creating institutions de novo. Hence longstanding elements of our traditions should not easily be set aside. Luther’s ‘humanist’ opponents such as Erasmus and More were right to foresee that his theology entailed the fragmentation, since his day the extreme fragmentation, of Christendom. (Protestants do not view schism as gravely as do Catholics, but even many Protestants find the present chaos alarming.) There was something profoundly wrong, even apart from the issues of substance, about the way the liberals in the Anglican Communion pursued the issues of the ordination of women and open homosexuals. Extreme Presidentialism puts an end to the appeal of the American Constitutionalism, which controls power by dispersing it; they destroy our tradition in the attempt to save it.
The vitality of any tradition requires respectful attention to the convictions one’s fellow adherents, both living and dead. But we need not only to reflect on our traditions, but also to live them.
Philip E. Devine
Providence College

Pray for Osama

July 4, 2011

PRAY FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN
In the Catholic tradition, we pray for the dead because the majority of humanity are neither perfected saints nor hopeless sinners. It is hard to imagine most of us ascending directly to heavenly bliss, or consigned to eternal separation from God. And many of us hope that the ranks of the damned are empty, even of Judas. We no longer believe that those outside the church are for that reason alone damned. We are grateful for the doctrine of Purgatory, which enables us to hope for the salvation of many a flawed soul, without sacrificing all semblance of moral realism. And so our prayer, to help the pilgrim soul upon its way.
I.
These thoughts were on my mind, when, as Life magazine trumpeted justice over Osama bin Laden, and crowds rejoiced in Times Square and at Ground Zero as if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were over, Time posted a thoughtful piece reporting a movement to pray for his soul. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2072793,00.html. Accessed June 14, 2001. That Osama was not a saint requires no argument; that he is not beyond the reach of our prayers may require a little discussion. (Even if he is, God will know what to do with them.)
During the Second World War, the Allies engaged in terror bombing of both Germany and Japan; the atom bombing of Hiroshima was only the most notorious example. Thoughtful people have defended at least some of this (though the bombing of Nagasaki has found few defenders), on the ground that we in the West then faced an ultimate threat to our way of life, and that all moral bets were consequently off. Those of us who hold that killing innocent people is unjustified even under such extreme circumstances must acknowledge that many our fellow-citizens disagree. (I am indebted to Edith Black on the need to clarify this point.)
Many Muslims these days believe that their way of life is under ultimate threat, from the economic, cultural, political, and military pressure imposed by the West. And many Western intellectuals are eager to consign Islam to the trashcan of history, and turn people of the Islamic world into secular relativists, in a bizarre alliance with those Evangelicals who consider Islam an evil religion. The behavior of the Bush and even the Obama Administration has done little to assuage Islamic anxiety. Muslim militants may be wrong, perhaps even on both counts, and I in fact believe that they are. For Muslims have both wealth derived from oil and a receptive audience in some segments of the West. But to damn them for acting on their beliefs is to consign Harry Truman and Winston Churchill to perdition.
We should never easily accept the attempt to solve political problems by assassination, however much we may detest the man killed. The victims of Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives – an action defended by a leading legal scholar of the day – were Nazis like himself. (Carl Schmitt, “Der Fűhrer schűtzt das Recht [The Leader Protects the Right],” Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung 15 [August, 1934]: 945-50. Available at http://delete129a.blogsport.de/2007/09/aamasone-uebergesetzlishe-staatsnotwehr-a-eine-deutsche-tradition/ accessed 14 April 2008. For a good short description of the event itself, see Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power [New York: Penguin, 2005], pp. 31-41.) And the ideology of the war against terror does not distinguish between enemies within and without. Those of us whose names are Philip rather than Mohammed need not worry about our personal safety, perhaps, but why should that be a cause for rejoicing?
I do not know whether Osama could have been taken alive without loss of American life. If not, his unwillingness to be taken alive might have arisen from a well-founded fear of torture, even of his family. Eminent American jurist John Yoo has maintained that the President has the right, superior to any law or treaty, to order the crushing of a boy’s genitals to get his father to talk (debate with Professor Doug Cassell of Notre Dame [Chicago, December 1,
2005], posted at http://rewor.ord/a/torture-victims-confront-advocate.htm, December 12, 2005, accessed June 4, 2010.) A trial would have satisfied our sense of justice, especially if the court had included Islamic judges. But it could have proved gravely embarrassing: Osama was trained by the CIA under Ronald Reagan, and thereby involved in the incestuous world of the security services. (http://www.democracynow.org/2004/6/10/ghost_wars_how_reagan_armed_the. Accessed June 14, 2011.) He may have known too much.
II.
But we Americans are always innocent, no matter what we do. If anyone dislikes us, he must be moved by a fiendish hatred of the good. And the way to our hearts is to claim to be an innocent victim – even pedophiles have made the attempt. Conservatives rightly scorned this strategy, until they themselves found it useful to present America, even as it launched two invasions of foreign states, as a Victim Nation.
At the same time, there is widespread agreement that our system is not working. Some people complain of the state of the economy, others of the state of the family; the two complaints are consistent and even mutually reinforcing. Partisanship is now out of hand: following the example of the Bush-bashers, Obama’s foes now maintain that he is not just a bad President, or legally ineligible for the office, but an active hater of his own country. A fascistic note has entered our public rhetoric, even on the part of minority groups whom political common sense might dissuade.
And no one trusts the government: the causes lie, not in the machinations of Tea Party people, but in the behavior of politicians of both parties. (Democrats, however, suffer the brunt of the results.) When the government to remedy a health care system that is by all accounts failing, our fears of Big Brother in Washington reach the point of paranoia. How our problems are related to one another is a messy issue. But here I discuss two pervasive national vices, which combine with a particularly deadly effect: decadence and arrogance.
Our arrogance makes us want to turn the whole world into America – whether Vermont, or Wyoming. As Bush put it, we want to rid the world of evil. All the wealth of the world flows to our shores, including surplus children for childless couples. Our decadence makes us unwilling to pay the price, in blood, treasure, or popularity, for the privileges of a hyperpower. After the attacks of September 11, when an earlier generation of leaders would have called for a national day of fasting and humiliation, ours called for more shopping. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Mourning Has Broken,” Washington Monthly, October 2003, available at http://www/washingtonmonthly.com/2003/0310.wallace-wells2.html, accessed March 25, 2008 [quoting an address by President Bush on September 20, 2001]. On Clinton’s participation in this campaign, see Paul Krugman, Robin Wells, and Anthony Myatt, Macroeconomics [New York: Worth Publications, 2006], p. 269. I am indebted to James Devine of Loyola Marymount University for these references.) Arrogance can be respected, as in the ancient Romans or the imperial British; decadence can be pitied. But there is something distinctly repulsive about as tyrant who wants to be loved. Arrogance and decadence pervade our whole society, but the head of the snake is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where superior libraries and ethnic restaurants underwrite controversial beliefs about such things as abortion and same-sex marriage.
III.
Observations that might be obscene a time of national mourning are urgently required at a time of national gloating. Yet I would not join those who would observe Columbus Day as a day of penitence, as if the only thing people of both Americas had to say for ourselves was “Forgive us for living.” I am not arguing that Americans are worse than Germans or the Russians or even the Belgians, whose conduct in the Congo shocked the conscience of an imperialist age. The illusion of American innocence needs to be combated.
Our traditions, if taken seriously, provide the needed remedies. Greek tragedies tell us again and again of the path from pride to madness to ruin. The Hebrew prophets are replete with warnings against the dangers of consumer capitalism. So, like Thomas Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. Yet I also remember that Osama died on Divine Mercy Sunday. And so I pray for Osama bin Laden – and for America, too, that we may be spared the fate of Weimar.
So far I believe that I have been on solid theological ground. I now move onto thinner ice (following a line of thought suggested by my friend Josef Velazquez). If Osama is in Purgatory, he is saved – however much purgation he may still have to undergo. Prayer for those one hated during one’s life seems an appropriate form of purgation for those guilty of vindictiveness; and God, it seems, will hear such prayers. And so, I suggest with some diffidence, that we might not only pray for him, but ask him to pray for us.

Is Incest Next?

March 15, 2011

IS INCEST NEXT?[1]

In April, 2003 then Senator Rick Santorum said in an interview, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery.” Gay rights advocate David Smith responded with indignation,”The outrageous thing … is that he put being gay on the same legal and moral plane as a person who commits incest.”[2]    

Ideas have consequences, though they are not the only things that have consequences, and their logical and social consequences are distinct.   The plausibility of a slippery slope argument in one context depends in part how slippery the slope proves elsewhere.  We all have an understanding of the straight and narrow, even those of us who neither believe in it nor practice it. Life-style liberals seek the greatest possible freedom for uncustomary behavior, without going all the way to social chaos; their view inevitably raises the question of limits.  People who depart to some degree from this understanding resent their association with people who go further still.  Those who defend incest between adults, for example, are likely to condemn vehemently incest with children, or incestuous reproduction.[3]      

So far there is no incest liberation movement outside the fringes of the World Wide Web,[4] with the exception of the attempts of ‘kissing cousins’ to gain legitimacy.[5]  Likewise, pedophile liberation has been firmly relegated to the closet.    Yet once inherited prohibitions on sexual behavior are thrown into question, we must face the question, whether this questioning should (or can) stop at the boundaries of the incest prohibition or that of the prohibition on sex with children or at that of sexually charged forms of torture.    There have been significant attempts to bring pedophilia out of the closet.  The poet and homosexual spokesman Allen Ginsberg joined the North American Man Boy Love Association, justifying his action on the unconvincing ground that he was defending their freedom of speech,[6]  and pedophilia continues to have its defenders in the psychological profession.[7]    Hence we cannot take an incest prohibition as an immutable feature of our society, concerning which normative reflection is unnecessary.

I.

Incest is commonly thought to be a universal taboo, but the facts on the ground are complicated.  .  I examine legal, historical, and ethnographical data to discover what ‘we’ think about such issues and each reader should ask him or herself whether these judgments seem sound.  My method will be a form of public phenomenology, suggested by J. L. Austin and the later Wittgenstein, one which asks, not how things appear to me, but how they appear to us – though the deliverances of the ‘wisdom of repugnance’ are always open to correction if sufficiently powerful reasons for changing them are put forward.  There are, I am suggesting certain common human moral responses, though these take different, and sometimes distorted, forms in various cultural settings.

We must distinguish rules about sex from rules about marriage and rules about procreation.  Not only does sex take place outside marriage, and without even possible reproductive consequences; there is reason to suspect that the incestuous marriages of royalty such the Ptolmeys were unconsummated and thus without reproductive consequences.[8]  I here take sex to be the central question in discussions of incest, not marriage or reproduction.   But the availability of artificial insemination and other forms of assisted reproduction means that there can be reproductive incest and reproductive adultery just as much as reproductive rape.

Incest is also tricky because, though the prohibition makes a strong claim to supraconventional validity, the details are a matter of convention.  There may be some relationships – between mother and son, or perhaps even between parents and children – that are incestuous regardless of social practice.  But how we are to know when this sort of thing is the case I do not see.  

At least so far as adult incest is concerned, we must admit an element of convention in any prohibition, and even the age of consent is itself largely conventional. This is by no means a lethal concession:  property is largely a conventional matter, but theft is wrong.  Nor does it mean that supra-conventional principles are not at work in applying these conventions.  St. Thomas Aquinas held that, in situations of extreme need, all goods are in common, though he also held that there are moral prohibitions that hold regardless of consequences or circumstances, including the mores of society.   In contemporary pluralistic societies the answer to the question, what is incest? will vary from subculture to subculture.  

Tell me whether you regard sex between a brother-in law his sister-in-law, between father-in-law and daughter-in-law, between siblings by adoption, between stepsister and stepbrother, between a man and his ex-wife’s mother, or between a man and his former girlfriend’s adopted daughter, is incestuous, and I will tell you how you understand kinship relations.[9]  The same question can be asked of relations between first cousins,[10] between siblings by adoption, or between a brother and a sister raised separately. Relations between stepfather and stepdaughter are certainly incestuous, but there is some doubt about those between stepmother and stepson, though these were strongly prohibited in the ancient world.  A further question is whether marriage matters:  is a woman who seduces her daughter’s boyfriend less bad than one who seduces her daughter’s husband?   There are also some important metaphorical extensions of the idea of incest: the Romans regarded sexual intercourse by a vestal virgin as incestuous (H 82), and the stricter sort of academic feels the same w ay about sex between students and teachers.

Homosexual incest now figures only as “a potent predisposing factor in extreme pathological behavior,”[11] and the lesbian variety in pornography.  Françoise Héritier argues that mother-daughter relations are the most fundamental variety of incest (H 306-07).   At least as extreme a case is sexual relations with one’s identical twin or clone.   Long before this point, sick and creepy have become more appropriate language than morally wrong. I suspect that women the mother-daughter case, and men find the cloning case, creepier.   The one sort of incest implicates the loss self in the devouring Mother, the other the quintessence of narcissism. How masturbation fits into this picture is a question worth asking. 

 II.

            There are two broad families of theory of the incest prohibition:  biological and social.  There are legitimate worries about defective offspring arising from frequent mating among close relatives (A chap. 2), and many species of animal avoid inbreeding (A 89-94), but such considerations do not support the conventional prohibition on incest.

The undesirability of inbreeding does not apply to people beyond the age of reproduction, or to those who reliably use contraception or otherwise avoid procreation.  Nor does homosexual incest, or intercourse between stepparent and stepchild, or between relatives by adoption, pose any genetic risk.  Hence we must find the source of the prohibition against incest in the structure of social relations.

            The social theory of incest calls for an answer to a triple0barreled question, why is incest nearly everywhere prohibited, why is this prohibition sometimes violated, and would we better or worse off without it?   Explanatory theories may be relevant to, but do not settle, normative questions.  To be sure there are explanations whose effect is to debunk the prohibition, such as Lord Raglan’s contention that it arose from fear of mysterious origin of having sex with a woman on the same side of the stream as oneself.[12]   The same might seem to be true of Héritier’s contention that incest prohibitions arise from archaic beliefs concerning the circulation of bodily fluids, though bodily fluids might be taken as metaphorical expressions of social or genetic relations (H.188-197, 209-224, and chap.7).     In any event, it is possible that our ancestors had good reasons for their prohibitions.

The ethnologist W. Arens concludes that, while the avoidance of inbreeding is natural, incestuous behavior is the product of culture.   Following Rousseau, he speaks of “an unavoidable conclusion about the human capacity to define and engage in evil” (A 15).   Culture brings with it “hypersexuality, which allows for sex for its own sake or as a medium for conveying other messages about social relations” (A 153). Hypersexuality also leads to forms of sexual behavior which cannot lead to offspring, as well as to ones whose fulfillment in offspring is undesirable.  Also hypersexuality makes possible sexual prohibitions, including prohibitions on forms of incest that cannot produce offspring, or which carry with them no genetic risk. 

Arens’ version of the doctrine of the noble savage, who neither forbids incest nor practices it, is not convincing.  When my neutered male cat attempts futilely to penetrate his spayed sister, he is not attempting incest.  Nor is the prairie vole, which in its natural setting avoids inbreeding (A 93), avoiding incest.  Like theft, adultery, and genocide, incest is a notion that applies only to the behavior of morally accountable entities.  Even in the most custom-ridden society, there is a difference between what is unusual and what is prohibited, and legislators do not bother to prohibit what no one shows any signs of doing.   

III.

Our philosophical, theological, and jurisprudential tradition does not provide a clear answer to the question, what is wrong with incest? or even a clear narrative of progress or decay in our understanding of the prohibition.  Nor does the ethnographic data provide a clear answer. If we construct a narrative of progressive liberation from taboos, we must fact that even the most depraved forms of torture will benefit from it; if we call for a return to the good old days when fundamental taboos were respected, we will end supporting such things as female infanticide.  But the data do supply some reference points for discussion, and some intuitive judgments from which we might extract an account.    For the ‘gut’ reactions of human beings, though fallible, are not totally irrational.

Some ethnologists deny that there is a common essence among the various social phenomena called the incest prohibition.[13]  Among the Mossi of the Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), incest is regarded as absurd, but without further natural or supernatural consequences; whereas among the Jalé of New Guinea incest is broadly defined and punished by death or by a degrading ordeal (A 6).  In contemporary India, there is no criminal law against incest, but there are honor killings of incestuous spouses (again broadly defined).[14]   In groups that institutionalize homosexuality among unmarried men incest prohibitions paralleling to those which govern heterosexual intercourse and marriage obtain (A 11).  But David M. Schneider reports that “the ideal inseminator is the boy’s father’s sister’s husband” – in other words his uncle, though not by blood (cited in H 235). 

As the title of Arens’ book on incest, Original Sin, indicates, ethnology often borders on theology.   The Hebrew Bible prohibits incest (Leviticus 18:6ff.)   The antinomian tendencies of some passages in the New Testament (Matthew 12:1-6, Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5, Acts 10:15; 11.9) call the incest  prohibition in question along with Sabbath regulations, dietary laws, other sexual prohibitions, and all other moral rules.  But St. Paul resists such antinomian tendencies — interestingly, the most pertinent case is not blood incest but relations with a stepmother (I Corinthians 5). 

Plato (Republic 461e, Laws 863 a ff.) and Aristotle (Politics Bk. II) take a prohibition on incest for granted on the way to discussing other matters.   Aristotle is troubled by even a chaste romantic relationship between close male relatives (Politics 1262a32ff.),   St, Augustine (City of God Bk. XV, chap. 16)[15] makes five points of continuing relevance.  Incest was necessary when the human race was so few in numbers that the alternative was dying out, but is unacceptable now.  Forms of sexual relationship permitted by law may nonetheless be discouraged by custom.  Out-breeding is desirable because it multiplies relationships of friendship.   In the case of incestuous procreation, “one man would …be both father and father-in-law, and uncle to his own children.” And he appeals to “a natural and praiseworthy shamefacedness which restrains us from desiring that connection … with anyone to whom consanguinity bids us to render respect.”

            I take St. Thomas Aquinas as representing the best reflections of the pre-modern West, and the most serious attempt to synthesize ideas from Greek and from Hebrew sources.   Incest is a problem for him because he does not manifest St. Augustine’s obsessive concern with controlling lust at all costs. And incest is in one sense at least natural in a way homosexual practices or masturbation is not.   For one could not tell, just by looking at a couple, that they were engaging in incest.  And, in the earliest stages of humanity incestuous unions were necessary to the survival of the species. The discussion in the Summa Contra Gentiles (Bk. III, chap. 125) emphasizes marriage rather than sex, although St. Thomas believed that sex outside of marriage was sinful.  Moreover, he allows for dispensation from the incest prohibition both by human and by divine authority (para. 10). So far as I can see, even father-daughter unions might benefit from such dispensations.   

In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas adds an intriguing reason: 

Since it is natural that a man should have a liking for a woman of his kindred, if to this be added the love that has its origin in venereal intercourse, his love would be too ardent and would become a very great incentive to lust: and this is contrary to chastity. (IIa IIae Q. 154, art. 9).[16] 

Contemporary moral theologians do little better: Germain Grisez limits himself to saying that “all incest violates family communion.”[17]   Three other Catholic moralists influenced by Grisez add to his account the following questionable sentence:  “Incest is a sin of lust, an act in which pleasure is pursued, with gross disregard for the values toward which of its nature and of divine will sexuality is essentially ordered.”[18]  But incestuous sex can express love, unite the two sexes, and produce offspring.

Kant waffles on the question, whether incest is a crime of the flesh against nature.[19]    Jerome Neu[20]  correctly points to the value of incest taboos.   If a father develops sexual feelings toward his pubescent daughter, he needs not moral reasoning but a stern prohibition to keep his desires in check.  But Neu misses an important feature of kinship relations, and hence also of incest prohibitions:  once a person stands in such a relationship to me, he stands in it forever.  A son estranged from his father is still his father’s son.   If so, though Oedipus may plead ignorance, he is still “objectively” guilty of incest as well as parricide.   Likewise, father-daughter incest remains horrible even if the father is eighty and the daughter twenty.   And, even if we grant that siblings raised apart can couple without incest, siblings raised together are bound by the taboo forever. 

Conventional definitions of incest, and the degree of stigma attached to incestuous behavior, vary widely. Incest remains a felony in almost every State,[21] and its best-known though not necessarily its most frequent form (sex between a father and his underage daughter) is strongly reprobated.   Since this form of incest involves children, it is objectionable on other grounds.   In Rhode Island, though adult incest is not a crime,  incestuous marriages are denied recognition.[22]  This means that incestuous unions are in the same legal boat as homosexual relationships in many jurisdictions, and, as a matter of practice, polygamous relationships in Utah.[23]  They are neither regarded as criminal nor given full legitimation.  .  In Michigan, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, none of which criminalize incest between adults,[24] open incest is not common.  Laws prohibiting marriage between siblings by adoption have been struck down in Colorado.[25]  Recently there was a controversial prosecution of a brother-sister relationship in Germany;[26] the judiciary upheld the law against constitutional challenge.[27]     In practice, incest laws are usually invoked to prosecute incestuous fathers and stepfathers, where the daughter or stepdaughter is below or near the age of consent.[28]   In Florida, the definition of incest is limited to vaginal intercourse, with the result that gay incest is now legal.[29]  While Massachusetts defines incest in ways that include homosexual practices, its definition of consanguinity refers only to opposite sex relationships.[30]   

IV.

It is now time to move from a review of the literature to the normative question.  Are prohibitions on incest justifiable, and if so how should we resolve disputed cases?  We begin with the horror that incest evokes in many minds.  It is characteristic of the debate about sexual issues – at least since Lord Devlin’s invocation of “intolerance, indignation and disgust”[31] — that traditional moral views are treated as unreasoned feelings that nonetheless may have some legitimate weight in political and legal reasoning.  Thus Judge Richard Posner, who denies sex any inherent moral meaning, concedes,

If after acquainting himself with all the facts bearing on the sexual perversions, as he may choose to regard them, a person is left with so profound a revulsion that he desires the state to step in and punish the practitioners and is willing to bear his fair share of the public expense of such punishment, I have nothing further to say to him except that he ought to reread chapter 4 of On Liberty.[32]

Incest, however, is not a strictly speaking a perversion and On Liberty is not holy writ.  Nor, I suspect, would even Mill have been prepared positively to evaluate every sexual possibility, if he had had the imagination to envisage them all.

We ought neither disallow our revulsion at incest nor decline to examine it for underlying reasons.  Incest creates discord in the family, and impairs its capacity to form the next generation.  So, however, do domestic violence, quarrels with in-laws, too lax or too rigid discipline, adultery by one or both of the parents, and divorce.   But none of these is subject to as rigid a social prohibition as is incest.  Moreover to some unknown degree the bad effects of incest arise from the prohibition itself.   

We are here moving in a domain where many people’s exercise of moral imagination will be uncomfortable.  Such discomfort tells us something:  a world in which incest (or bestiality or pedophilia) was widely and openly practiced would be a world very different from the present one — one in which the context of our choices, even if we were not ourselves inclined to such practices, would be different from our own, in a perhaps worse way    Such considerations are important, but not decisive.  For people are squeamish about interracial sex and homosexual practices as well as about incest. 

Social, and especially kinship, relations have a grammar, analogous to the grammar of language. We can speak instead of the metaphysics of social relations, provided we do not forget that supraconventional constraints come dressed in conventional garb, that we may not know important natural necessities, and that the very existence of creatures like ourselves is a contingent matter. [33]

Unlike overtly consequentialist or Kantian principles of sexual morality, or applications of general principles forbidding violence and deceit to sexual contexts, that one’s mother or daughter (or father or son) is out of bounds sexually is a grammatical remark.  If an aunt makes advances to her nephew, his spontaneous response is likely to be “But you’re my aunt!”  (Therefore, to spell out the remark more fully, you cannot be my lover.)   We ‘balk’ at expressions in which words fail to fit together appropriately, [34]  and we in similar way balk at certain sexual relationships  In the cases of extreme incest I mentioned earlier, between mother and daughter or parent organism and clone, we encounter the meltdown of the grammar of  both sexual and  social relations.   Though we cannot draw a precise line between nature and convention, at some point our balking represents the recoil of human nature at what violates it.

When human nature is violated, bad consequences are likely to follow.  Thus the existence of bad consequences is evidence of a violation of human nature. There may be consequentialist or other extrinsic reasons for having a social-sexual grammar or for having the particular grammar we have.  Fear of the genetic consequences of inbreeding may make us less accepting of relations between cousins.   But these considerations are effective only to the extent they work through the grammar of kinship relations already in place; one cannot just make up taboos on then ground that they are socially useful.    

In some respects the grammar of familial relations is like the laws of property, or like the allocation of powers among officials in a legal system.  Property relations can be, however, far distant from face-to-face human interactions, as when a corporation owns stock in another corporation (though even such relations sometimes have a powerful impact on the lives of individual human beings).[35]  There are in any case distinctive and powerful emotions associated with violations of the family, commonly expressed in the language of defilement.   In consequence, the grammar of kinship relations is harder to change deliberately than that of property or constitutional structures, though it does, of course change.

Atavistic emotions are not engaged by offenses against property unless they involve such things as the invasion of one’s home.  As for claims of abuse of power by officials, and of their failure to perform their official duties, these are the usual accompaniment of power struggle, and the accompanying emotions are less tangled than those aroused by incest   Nonetheless, the American Constitution has a kind of familial aura associated with the Founding Fathers, and the language of defilement comes into play when it comes to outright bribery.[36].  

The grammar of social relations is transmitted largely through Myths; in the case of incest the most important Myth is that of Oedipus, though that of Hamlet is also pertinent.   (A Myth is not a lie:  it can even be historically accurate, as for example the stories of Paul Revere’s ride and the sinking of Titanic.)  Unfortunately perceptions vary:  some people ‘balk’ at the notion of time travel or same-sex marriage; others do not. Likewise, some people balk the notion of marriage or a sexual relationship with a cousin, and others do not.  Linguistic intuitions and moral intuition, though distinct, are akin, especially when the concept in question, like marriage, is essentially contested.  

It is characteristic of the grammar of kinship that the relations in question do not change. Unmarried lovers can marry; a spouse may die, and a previously adulterous relationship then will cease to be so.  But once near kin, always near kin. One can on the other hand, become near kin, by adoption or by marriage; in this respect kinship relations are like the voting age or the age of eligibility for Social Security.  

Non-contractual relationships such as kinship are required by human vulnerability and the protection of those whose bargaining power is poor, and concern to protect their grammar is a natural consequence.  When the grammar of kinship is disrupted, we experience a form of unease that differs from that produced by other behavior of which we may disapprove.  And when it is disrupted, so are the relations built upon it – not only relations among the persons immediately concerned, but also relations among the other people whose lives are affected  by the disruption of communal relations  entails (this sentence is directed against A 56ff). Usually the bad consequences will be on the surface, but when they are not we also have to consider the welfare of a society that relies on kinship relations to provide its structure I take St. Thomas to be hinting at the need for such a grammar when he speaks of “too ardent” love, and not the silly argument that married siblings might have sex too often.  As I read him, the sort of love appropriate between brother and sister, or between father and daughter, if combined with that between lovers or spouses, should cause us to balk  

The need for a grammar of personal relations is also recognized among groups one might expect to repudiate it:  Ned Rorem remarked of the promiscuous “tribal gay scene” in Fifties Greenwich Village, “There wasn’t sex in the family.”[37]  And age differences continue to provide an important element in the grammar of our personal relations:  my students, to state their views with artificial precision, regard sex over forty as a perversion.  

 One purpose of the grammar of sexual relations is to provide for relationships for which sex is out of the question (to prevent sexual rivalries within the family for example).   Another is the use of sexual bonds to forge alliances among groups – if I am required to marry a woman of another clan, my relatives and hers then become relatives of a sort.  I know of two couples who became friends when their children were courting, and came to fear that the children would break up and damage their parents’ friendship. 

Liberal understandings of harm[38] and privacy are fatally ambiguous.   The concept of a victimless crime is used to defend practices, such as abortion, that harm an entity, though one whose moral status is disputed; and privacy is used to support behavior advertised in the Yellow Pages or proclaimed in the media.  But there are also subtler reasons why these concepts are problematic 

In view of the complex and powerful emotions associated with human sexuality, a society needs relationships from which sex is excluded as much as it needs relationships within which sex is not only permitted but encouraged. Of course, one might regret the intensity of sexual feelings, and wish that human beings could couple, or otherwise discharge excess sexual energy, as easily as hungry people satisfy their desires by a snack. But we are not that sort of being and it is pointless to wish that, and dangerous to act as if, we were.

We have, I am suggesting, a collective interest in the integrity of our kinship system, comparable to our collective interest in the integrity of our currency.  What harms it harms us regardless of anything else.  To understand the nature of this interest, it is best to consider the generation represented by our students, which lacks the experience of an unquestioned normative family, and for this reason finds itself increasingly bewildered in its decisions concerning personal relationships.  To be sure, the 1950’s family was not a haven in a heartless world:  attitudes toward the sexual and other abuse of children within communities have hardened since then.[39]  Nonetheless, there is something of value in a publicly acknowledged norm, even if it continues to be violated in secret. (This proposition is uncontroversial for such things as racial discrimination.)

The threat of social chaos that underlies the argument in this area is never fully realized in practice.  The sexual life of animals is no more chaotic than any other aspect of their lives.  However much ancient Rome may have earned its reputation of “lustful cruelty and cruel lust” (as St. Augustine put it), contrary principles of loyalty, religion, and marriage were never forgotten.    Corresponding to the socially conservative vision of chaos is a radical vision of human relations unmediated, and therefore undistorted, by social roles, including those of marriage and kinship.  Incest, and even sex with children would be legitimate for this vision, but its advocates draw the line at violence and deceit.  But the contention, that one can remove constraints on the sexual instinct without thereby also removing constraints on violence, is both implausible and not supported by experience. In any event, this vision is never realized in practice:  even communes have a structure.     Yet societies do fall apart, and the consequences are not pleasant.  When order is restored, it is likely to be far more brutal than the repression that the rebels rejected.   Weimar Germany led to Nazi Germany.

Many of the arguments advanced for legitimizing homosexual practices extend also to incest and for that matter to pedophilia. Conversely, one reason given by the informants of anthropologists for incest prohibitions — that it is wrong to “put the same on the same” (maxim of the Samo of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), cited in H chap. 6, esp. p. 203). – applies quite directly to homosexual practices. [40]   And the same is even more so of Héritier’s fuller formulation:  “What is absolutely unthinkable … is the sexual relationship between perfect identicals.  Unthinkable evil, unthinkable ideal” (H 315).

Denying people their preferred form of sexual expression, or requiring them to keep their practices private, is widely resented in contemporary society. And people involved in nonstandard sexual relationships may love one another; parents and children, and other close kin, are expected to do so.    Yet those who have pressed for the normalization of homosexuality and resisted the normalization of incest are not, strictly speaking, inconsistent. They can be proposing a new grammar for sexual relations, one less rooted in biological facts than is the heterosexual norm.  For incest with one’s stepmother is biologically indistinguishable from sex with another woman of the same age.  Moreover, there are reasons for leniency toward homosexuals that do not apply, at least with the same force, to people in love with, or in lust for, a close family member: the incestuous lover can be told that there are lots of other fish in the sea.   Moreover, kinship relations are now more central to many people’s way of life, or at least to their professions, than are the differences between male and female.  Contemporary sensibility even regards mothers and fathers are interchangeable (a couple will announce “we are pregnant” in defiance of the biological facts).    Yet it is impossible to escape the impression that there is something feigned, or even fraudulent, about such professions.

The complex analogies between gender and kinship join with the lessons of experience supporting the conclusion that slippery-slope considerations cannot be laughed away.  When the Supreme Court upheld a right to contraception, it did not seem that the argument would be later extended to abortion let alone to homosexual practices. Though there is no significant incest rights movement at present, this feature of our politics cannot be taken as permanent.  For the rhetorical resources of such a movement are now in place.

 

V.

In determining the limits of acceptable behavior, and more particularly in applying a concept like incest, both individuals and communities are faced with a line-drawing problem.  Sometimes the line is drawn by the gut feelings of the individuals concerned, sometimes by the mutually reinforcing feelings of the members of the larger society, sometimes by legislation (whether the criminal law or the law of marriage), and sometimes, as in the book of Leviticus, by divine revelation.  Except for revelation, and even there when it is applied to a complicated case, what is called for is the indispensable but ambiguous virtue of prudence. 

The arguments here deployed to support a modest form of social conservatism might end up supporting a more extreme version.  For the differences between the sexes and the races, like relationships of kinship, form part of our social grammar.  And we would or should not tolerate behavior that undermines the currency or the banking system on the ground that it goes on discretely.

Moreover, America before the Civil Rights Movement was not only replete with racial prejudices; it was expressly structured on racial lines. Thus the Movement assaulted not only some particular law or policy, but a complex social system, of which a prohibition on miscegenation (more severe where the white party was a woman) was one crucial part.   So far as persons of color are concerned, while a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X rejected interracial sex in crude terms.[xli]   James Baldwin hated racism, but he also believed that race was so deeply entrenched in our social structure and conceptual scheme that it could not be removed without a metaphysical revolution.  In his own language, he believed that God was white.[xlii]  Interracial sex – and even more so interracial homosex – was for him an act of metaphysical rebellion. [xliii]  In short, the question once put to racial liberals, would you like your sister to marry a Negro?  needed to be faced.  And this question poses the further question, if racial distinctions are not founded in human nature, what social distinctions are.

The argument from social grammar threatens to support an endless series of further exclusions –class barriers and the exclusion of Jews for example.  It also threatens the revival of other ideas generally thought well discarded, such as the double standard of sexual morality and the corresponding doctrine of two kinds of women. Even intellectual questioning of established ways might be thought dangerous.  St. Thomas used the analogy with the currency I have invoked in connection with incest to defend civil penalties for heresy (Summa Theologiae IIa IIae, Q. 11 a. 3).  Social conservatives must face the possibility of a different slippery slope, not a slope into chaos, but into an untenable form of conformism and immobilism.  

Dealing with this possibility requires going beyond mere conservatism to a search for standards founded in human nature.    Whether we should cease to organize our lives around kinship and gender, as we have endeavored to cease to organize it around race, cannot be settled by a short argument.  The core issue is, whether we object to any grammar of personal relations, or only those we have independent reason to believe unjust.  That one social grammar is unjust does not imply that all are, and conversely that we have a need for a social grammar does not imply that just any possible grammar is just.  Thus the appeal to the grammar of personal relations leaves open the question, what forms of society and personal relationship are good for human beings.  Applied to sexual morality, it raises the issue, how important sexuality is in human life and in what way.  At one end we have the recreational view of sex; at the other end the view of Schopenhauer that sex is an unnecessary evil and that the human species should therefore die out.  In between is the quasi-sacramental view of sex implicit in John Paul II’s theology of the body, which affirms the goodness of sex while objecting to practices that entail its banalization.

The culture wars engage the dispute between those who treasure inherited structures for the procreation and nurturing of human life, which at least arose in a religious context; and those who would replace them with state power or free-form human relations.  On the free-form side, even so pious a writer as Eric Gill draws disturbing implications from the beauty of the human body and the goodness of sexuality. He writes of his discovery of his sexuality

I lived henceforth in a strange world of contradiction:  something which was called  filthy which was obviously clean; something was called ridiculous which was obviously solemn and momentous; something was called ugly which was obviously lovely.[xliv]   

In practice this turned out to imply the legitimation of all forms of sexual behavior, including anal intercourse with an underage daughter.[xlv]  

The deepest question is, does human flourishing require some sort of structure independent of our choices, or is it sufficient for us to be free to whatever we choose to be (or feel like being at any given moment), so long as we are not unjust to other people by standards that do not engage controversial ideas about the human good?   In such a context, what a philosopher wants to hold is of crucial importance:  Thomas Nagel, for example, wants atheism to be true.[xlvi]   

Both nature and convention enter into our understanding of incest, as of all other moral issues, and it is impossible to draw a precise line between their contributions.  In practice, people are best advised to follow what the conventions of their group, in the absence of powerful reasons to the contrary.  For they condition both the consequences and the significance our actions.[xlvii]


 [1] I take my title from Brett H. McDonnell, University of Minnesota Law School, Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series, Research Paper No. 03-14, http://ssrn.com/abstract=442520, accessed February 15, 2010.

[2] William Saletan, “Incest Repellent?” Slate, April 23, 2003.  Santorum’s views were seconded by Marvin Olasky, “From Homosexuality to Incest?” Townhall.com, April 24, 2003, http://townhall.com/columnists/MarvinOlasky/2003.04/24/from_homosexuality_to_incest, accessed February 23, 2010. Arguments similar to Santorum’s can also be found in Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 2495 (2003) and in Justice White’s opinion for the Court in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 195-96 (1986).

[3] See Johann Hari, “Forbidden Love,” Guardian, January 9, 2002, posted at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/20002/jan/09/familyandrelationships.features103, accessed February 8, 2010.   A Canadian man having an affair with his sister declares, “It’s nothing like some old man who tries to fuck his three-year old, that’s evil and disgusting.  We’re not fucking perverts.”

[4] This fact is crucial to the argument of McDonald, “Incest.”

[5] Cousincouples.com, accessed February 22, 2010.

[7] For a discussion of recent developments in the psychological profession, see Linda Ames Nicolosi, “The Pedophilia Debate Continues –And DSM Is Changed Again,” http://www.narth.com/docs/debatecontinues.html, updated September 2, 2008, accessed October 8, 2008.  I am indebted to Virginia Cody for pointing out debate among psychologists to me.

[8]W. Arens, The Original Sin (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), chap. 7, cited below as A.   

[9] On secondary incest, where no blood tie is present, see Françoise Héritier, Two Sisters and their Mother, trans. Jeanine Herman (New York: Zone,  2002); see especially her discussion of the case of Woody Allen at  pp. 309-311.  Cited below as H.

[10] On this issue, see Joanna Grossman, “Should the Law be Kinder to ‘Kissin’ Cousins’”? (FindLaw, April 8, 2002).

[11] Florence Kaslow et al., “Homosexual Incest,” Psychiatric Quarterly 53, no. 3 (September, 1981):  184-193

[12] Raglan, Jocasta’s Crime (London:  Watts and Company, 1949), cited in A xii, 98.

[13] Rodney Needham, Remarks and Inventions (London:  Tavistock, 1974).

[14]  Another ‘Honour Killing’ in Haryana,” Hindu, July 24, 2009, http://www.hindu.com/2009/07/24/stories/2009072454340500.htm., accessed February 8, 2010.

[15] Trans. Marcus Dodd et al. (New York:  Modern Library, 1950).

[17] Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, vol. 2 (Quincy, IL:  Franciscan Press, 1993), chap. 9, Q. E, sec. 2, para. f.   

[18] Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap., Joseph Boyle. Jr., and William E. May, Catholic Sexual Ethics (Huntington, IN:  Our Sunday Visitor, 1985), p. 206. 

[19] Kant, Lectures on Ethics, ed. Peter Heath and J. B. Schneewind, trans. Peter Heath (Cambridge:  Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001),  pp. 159-160

[20] Jerome Neu, A Tear is an Intellectual Thing (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), chap. 10.

[21] Richard Posner and Katherine B. Silbaugh, A Guide to America’s Sex Laws  (Chicago:  Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 128

[22] Laws of Rhode Island, secs.15-1-1-4. 

[23] Kristen Scharnberg and Mayna A. Brachear, “Polygamy … Utah’s Open Little Secret,” Chicago Tribune, September 24, 2006.  http://www/religionnewsblog.com/16068/polygamy-2.

[24] McDonnell “Incest,” p. 16n73.  .

[25] Israel v. Allen, P. 2d 762 (Colo., 1978), cited in McDonald, “Incest,” p. 23n.110. 

[26] Dietmar Hipp, “Dangerous Love: German High Court Takes a Look at Incest,” Der Spiegel, On-Line, March 11, 2008.

[27] Beschluss des Zweiten Senats, Bundesverfassungsgericht, February 27, 2008, 2 BvR 392/07. Bundesverfassungsgericht.mht!http://www.bverfg.de/entscheidungen/rs20080226_2bvr039207.html, accessed February 9, 2010.

[28] Posner and Silbaugh, Guide, p. 130

[29] Florida Statutes Annotated sec. 826.04.

[30] Massachusetts General Laws, chap. 272 sec. 2; chap. 207, sec. 1 and 2.   

[31] Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals (London:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1965).

[32] Posner, Sex and Reason (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Univ. Press, 1992), p. 203.   

[33] For an argument that contingent beings are subject to de re necessities, including overflow necessities unknown to us, see James Ross, Thought and World (Notre Dame:  Notre Dame Univ. Press, 2008).

[34]See Paul Ziff,  “About Ungrammaticalness,” Mind 73, no. 209 (April, 1964):  204-15; and A. C. Baier, “Nonsense” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), vol. 5, pp. 520-22.

[35] The connection between Parkhurst and Hubble in Kermit Roosevelt, In the Shadow of the Law (New York:  Picador, 2006), led to the death and grievous injury of a number of people in a chemical fire.

[36] On the religious background of rules against bribery, see John T. Noonan, Jr., Bribes (Berkeley:  Univ. of California Press, 1984).

[37] Quoted in Mel Gussow, Edward Albee: A Singular Journey (New York:  Applause, 2001), pp. 78-79.

[38] For detailed argument concerning harm, see Steven D. Smith, “The Hollowness of the Harm Principle,” Legal Studies Research Paper Series, No. 05-07 (September 2004), available at http://ssm.com/abstract=591327.

[39] On how this happened, see John Pratt, “Child Sexual Abuse:  Purity and Danger in an Age of Anxiety,” Crime, Law, and Social Change 43 (2005):  263-287.

[40] I have not been able to find a specific discussion of Samo attitudes toward homosexuality, but marriage in Burkina Faso is constitutionally defined as heterosexual (Constitution [1997], Tit. 1, chap. 3, art. 23), and a Peace Corps document advises gay, lesbian, and bisexual volunteers in Burkina Faso to stay in the closet.  “Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues in Burkina Faso,” http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Diversity_and_cross-cultural_issues_in_Burkina_Faso#Possible_Issues_for­_Gay.2C_Lesbian_2C_or_Bisexual_Volunteers,  Accessed March 7, 2011.

[xli]  X, Autobiography, with Alex Halley (New York:  Ballantine, 1965), p. 278.

[xlii] Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York:  Dial Press, 1963), pp. 44-45.  .

[xliii] See Baldwin,  Another Country (New York: Dial Press, 1962), esp. pp. 22, 206

[xliv] Quoted in Fiona McCarthy, Eric Gill (London:  Faber and Faber,. 1990), p. 20.  James Hanink suggested Gill’s relevance to my argument.

[xlv] For this incident see ibid., p. 156.

[xlvi]  Nagel, The Last Word (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), p. 130.

[xlvii] This essay has benefited from the comments of James Hanink, George Rutherglen, and an anonymous reader, as well as from conversations with Josef Velazquez.

Europe

August 9, 2010

ALAS, BABYLON

Or       

THE CONCEPT OF EUROPE[1]

This paper began life as a response to a conference paper, not even semi-published, by Alasdair MacIntyre, entitled, “How to be a European:  Questions for Tariq Ramadan.”[2] I have attempted to answer MacIntyre’s question, what is Europe (or a European)? in my own way, though I hope my method is broadly at least in accord with his.  The paper is not an interpretation of MacIntyre, though it is an attempt to understand and further his theoretical and practical project.

            Europe has long been closely associated with the Christian tradition in the public mind.[3]   Yet the Christian religion arose in the Middle East, and its center now shifting from Europe to the Global South.[4]   And the contemporary understanding of what it is to be a European is more likely to be secularist, consumerist, and plutocratic than Christian.  This essay is an attempt at combined conceptual analysis and cultural criticism provoked by these observations.  I do not here denigrate Europe and praise America, nor do I criticize the European social democratic project, which I believe that the Eurocrats are undermining.

I.  Introduction

            Europe is a contested concept embodied in a tract of territory; one European commentator on this paper has called it poster concept without determinate meaning outside political sloganeering).   Geographically, Europe (in contrast to Western, which is not really a geographical expression) designates what might best be described as a quasi-continent though one whose boundaries are unclear.  Still, New Zealand, however important European ideas might be to its formation, is not a European country. 

The word Europe also designates an idea, though an extraordinarily elusive one.[5]    Like other contested concepts, for example law, marriage, liberalism, and person, and, as I have recently learned rural, its sense, reference, and evaluative force depend on who uses it and why.   The continent of Europe shares a common history of bloody war, fueled in part by religious and ideological controversy.   One phenomenological investigation of the concept of Europe concludes that “as Tashidi Ogawa has suggestively remarked, what Europe … demands of itself is nothing less than the de-Europeanization of European life and thought.”[6]   This sort of cosmopolitanism, in its own way very European, may be admirable in philosophy, but provides no foundation for co-operation among Europeans or for the persistence of a European society from generation to generation.  Europe’s leaders have rejected Christian cosmopolitanism as a basis for unity, and the rise of the Postmodernist movement means that the Enlightenment cannot be taken for granted, either. [7]       

II. Europe vs. America

For Americans, Europe stands for two sharply contrasting things.  On the one hand, it represents a richer, thicker set of beliefs and practices from which Americans who find our way of life thin can draw spiritual sustenance.  On the other hand it represents what one polemicist calls “a shorter workweek, early retirement, Internet pornography, state-funded abortion, afternoon adultery, the whole dolce vita lifestyle constantly held up as a reproach to us money-grubbing, overreligious Americans.”[8] 

One motive at work in the literature of European decadence was to discredit German and French opposition to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.   The argument that contemporary Europe is decadent it has been made from perspectives ranging from religious conservatism to gay advocacy (for a survey, see J 10-17), however, and thus cannot be dismissed as an artifact of international politics (like the notorious ‘freedom fries’).  Probably the most neutral statement of the difference is that Americans and Europeans differ in their estimate of the value of the use of military force – in part for the uncomplicated reason that Americans have more force to deploy.[9]  This sometimes means the illusion that it is possible to ‘rid the world of evil’ by establishing unchallenged American dominance.[10]  Skepticism or hostility toward international law and the United Nations is a natural corollary of such attitudes.

Nonetheless, all cultural clichés contain a mixture of truth and error, and the contrast between decadent Europe and virile America is no exception.  Decadence is primarily a condition of a society or culture, and only secondly a condition of a writer or other individual.     A group is decadent if it is unable or unwilling to reproduce itself biologically or culturally.  One dimension of decadence is failure to reproduce; another is the ineffectiveness of a group’s official beliefs and consequently its inability or unwillingness to transmit the way of life that embodies them to the next generation.   A celibate order is not necessarily decadent, but such groups avoid decadence by placing themselves within a breeding community, which admires their view of life and from which they may hope to recruit new members.   One dimension of decadence is a condition of moral sensibility, in which reason and emotion fail to co-operate effectively in the guidance of and evaluation of conduct.   

In a thoroughly decadent society, even the memory of the orthodoxies which gave structure to life has departed.    Moral judgment degenerates into a legalism that leaves no room for prudent adaptation to circumstances, a situational emotivism that allows free rein to whatever feeling that may be dominant at a given moment; and  the use of bureaucratic idioms, such as significant other or lifestyle, designed to circumvent questions of value.

America is as decadent as Europe.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 sparked a nauseating episode of dishonest self-congratulation in America, during which only extremists like Jerry Falwell, Ward Churchill, or Stanley Hauerwas (who “disdain[s] all natural loyalties”)[11] could suggest that America’s misfortunes were even partly America’s own fault.    In a time of national trauma and mourning, when an earlier generation of leaders, both American and European would have proclaimed a day of fast and humiliation,[12]  the younger Bush, joined by former President Clinton, called for “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”– in other words shopping. [13]  Internet pornography is as much an American as a European phenomenon.  Our abortion rate is roughly twice that of the Netherlands (J 68).  We are up to our gills in credit card and other consumer debt.[14]  There are disturbing reports that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan assert American power abroad only with the help of heavy medications.[15]  If the measure of decadence is the collapse of communal structures and the transformation of society into a dust of individuals, some writers argue Europe is far less decadent that America.[16]    As for intellectual decadence, it is hard to top the American Richard Rorty.[17]

Contemporary American politics confirms MacIntyre’s claims concerning de facto emotivism of our moral and political discourse.[18] Bush-bashing was prolonged until the day of his successor’s inauguration.[19]  No sooner was President Obama inaugurated than the campaign for his impeachment began: the gist of the charges is Obama’s “unabated malevolence towards this country” — by which is meant Republican or “red state” America.[20]  On a broader front, America is currently experiencing what the New York Times has called a wave of anti-incumbency sentiment.[21]  The polarization of American politics, which invites people to regard their opponents as not just as mistaken but also as wicked, now extends beyond morally fraught issues such as abortion and torture.[22]  

A further contrast between Europe and America concerns our attitudes toward authority. As Jenkins (J 86) reminds us, European elites are more homogeneous, and therefore more capable of controlling grassroots dissent, than American.   In America, as Jane Pauley has put it, “the Left and the Right have changed costumes.”[23]   A group called the Tea Party Express evokes America’s revolutionary past and our invocation of resentment of taxes a way of raising questions about legitimacy (not to mention considerable moral zeal) to discredit government (its slogan is Just Vote Them Out!)[24]  It has a military wing called “Oath Keepers,” which announces its readiness to disobey orders they interpret as commands to take part in a coup d’etat.[25]   Its adherents are scornfully called ‘teabaggers’ — an expression that has a nasty sexual connotation.  

The behavior of politicians of both parties has done much to feed the distrust of government such groups exploit. Senator (now Vice-President) Joseph Biden used charges of sexual impropriety against Justice Clarence Thomas, little reckoning that a President of his own party would be guilty of far worse improprieties than those charged against Thomas.    Moreover, private malefactors get much of their power from the state.  Poletown in Detroit was destroyed with the help of the sovereign power of eminent domain, for the benefit of General Motors.[26]    

America is now divided into two different countries, neither of which is comfortable sharing national boundaries with the other.  There is much in MacIntyre’s thought to ground sympathy for the Tea Party movement, since he finds the claims of expertise that underlie the contemporary Democratic Party program of New Deal Restorationism highly questionable.[27]  For example, the recent health care act was unintelligible to ‘plain persons,’ who relied on the testimony of experts to tell them whether it was benign or sinister.  

A narrative of decline and fall requires a base-line of relative health, from which decline can be measured.  Walter Laqueur’s base-line is the Europe of thirty years ago, i.e., the late Seventies, but even he recalls a childhood in part spent under Nazi rule.[28]   But if Europe since the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire was ever healthy,  its time of health was before the First World War, when it was overwhelmingly Christian, and even its secular representatives such as Marx sought to pursue the ends of, usually Protestant, Christianity by other means. 

Contemporary Europeans are absentee Christians, to use MacIntyre’s suggestive phrase.  The Irish joke, “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?” retains its point.  Still, this absenteeism reached the point where cathedrals and art galleries have to provide elementary accounts of Christian doctrine of the sort needed by a visiting Buddhist (J 37). The prevailing relativism of European culture renders it mute before the assertiveness of a tradition that insists that the Qu’ran is without qualification the word of God, whether in confrontation or dialogue.     To take a point from Catholic writer Russell Hittinger, the Netherlands, which is in the forefront of the euthanasia movement, can hardly counter Muslim vigilantism by insisting on the sanctity of innocent human life or the state’s monopoly on the use of lethal force.[29]   And Marxist writer Terry Eagleton has observed, “If the British or American way of life were to take on board the critique of materialism, hedonism, and individualism made by devout Muslims, Western civilization would most certainly be altered, for the good.”[30]  In short, the resurgence of militant Islam represents the repressed bad conscience of the West, and in particular Europe.

Kelvin Knight has described MacIntyre’s current political stance as a politics of resistance; the phrase Aristotelian revolutionary is due to Knight, but has been approved by MacIntyre  [31]  MacIntyre’s program and strategy are far from clear, but their thrust is very much in the American mold.  Many a revolution has been launched in defense of traditional ways of life; a contemporary possibility is the protection of human, cultural, and natural environments against the deification of the market, [32]  the proponents of growth at any cost, the claim of technology to replace religion as he source of our definition of reality, the revolt of the elites against the claims of common humanity, and the marketing of “alternative life styles.” He is therefore in the same camp as Wendell Berry,[33] Christopher Lasch,[34] and Neil Postman [35]   — culture critics who, though in some sense conservative, do not spare the shibboleths of contemporary capitalism.    

We Americans could use less taste for political patricide, and Europeans a greater degree of insubordination.   I notice, however, that in a recent survey only 0,2% of Lithuanians[36] viewed the government in power with unqualified approval, and that 34,700 emigrants left Lithuania to live in other countries in 2009, 50% more than in 2008.[37]  Though hyper-inflation has been overcome, the official unemployment rate in Lithuania is now 15%.[38]  The birth rate is below the replacement level.  [39]Such facts do not seem to have the political implications that they would have in America.

In any event, one implication of MacIntyre’s politics is that the American attitudes toward authority that underlie movements like the Tea Party should be regarded as an occasion for education rather than as objects of contempt.  Any American revolution will have to be an American revolution (and the same point holds for England, France, or Germany):  the project of using immigration to turn America in to Latin America is absurd on a number of grounds. Perhaps they can learn to focus less on the moral failings of politicians, and more on the suspect role of the corporate and technocratic elite.  But Aristotelian revolutionaries, as much as any other need to face the problem of the state –how can we muster its capacity for good without, at the same time letting loose its at least equally immense capacities for evil?

III. The European Union.

            It is now time to examine the project of European integration, which some expect will issue in a Europe that is one nation, in the sense that the United States or even or Lithuania is one nation.   Reponses to this prospect have ranged from paranoia[40]  to gush.   An example of gush is Jeremy Rifkin:  “We Americans used to say that the American dream was worth dying for.  The new European dream is worth living for.” [41]  Democratic advocates of “another Europe” represent yet another point of view,[42]  as do those critics who see not only the European Union (EU), but the whole of European civilization, as committing “slow-motion suicide.” [43]   

Among the theories crafted by political scientists, to understand and guide the course of European integration, the most important is neo-functionalism.  The key neo-functionalist concept is spillover (of integration in one area to integration in another).  Co-operation on one front leads to co-operation on others.  As the political scientist from whom I have taken this idea reminds us, however, “’spillover’ assumes the continued commitment of the member states to the undertaking” – at least until integration has proceeded so far that the nation-states of Europe cease to be independent actors. [44]    There are two grounds for skepticism about this project, one derived from Hobbes, the other from Rousseau. 

A. Hobbes

EU law claims to be supreme.  But the EU relies on national police and armed forces for its enforcement, [45]  and national courts have accepted its claims only conditionally.[46]    What, an American observer inevitably asks, if a situation emerges in which the EU attempts to impose upon its constituent members policies offensive to the majority or to the elite within some country?  

A second issue concerns voting in EU Council.  Decisions may be taken either by unanimous vote (abstentions do not block a decision), or by qualified, i.e. weighted, majority vote (QMV) – in other words by votes proportioned to power.  “Nonetheless, there is an underlying ‘culture of consensus’ in the council, which ensures that the council hardly ever acts by QMV even when it is allowed to by the provisions of the Treaty.”[47].    But the concept of consensus represents a prudential decision that some party is weak enough to ignore, without the frank recognition of this decision implied by a majority vote.  Moreover, the possibility that a state may be outvoted cannot be glossed over; as one advocate of another Europe puts it, “QMV means that laws which are opposed by a sovereign state’s government and may be abhorrent to its people can be imposed on them.  There may be defenses of this, but practicality will not do” (McG 33). 

A broader issue is the difficulty of understanding how EU institutions are supposed to work, even at the level of a high-school civics course. The large literature attempting to explain these institutions still leaves them somewhat vague in my mind and I suspect that of many others.[48]   One implication of the murkiness of EU institutions is that grassroots constituencies are at a severe disadvantage against elite lobbies, since they cannot figure out where to apply pressure.  Another is that, if a confrontation should occur between the EU and one of its constituent states, the ‘European’ party will have a hard time rallying its forces.  It is difficult to imagine a European Abraham Lincoln.

B.  Rousseau

Nation-states are bound together, not only by the acceptance of a common authority, but also by spontaneous solidarity. Hence a second route to Euroscepticism takes its marching orders from Rousseau rather than Hobbes. The general will is not one of the clearest concepts in political thought — understandings of it range from strong democracy to the fascism – but it does seem that not everything in politics can be a matter of bargaining or voting.

Patrick Buchanan has put the question in disturbing terms:          “No transnational institution can elicit the love and loyalty of a country…. Men have died in the millions for Poland, France, England and Germany.  Who would walk though fire for the European Union?[49]”  We need only to add that the communities now capable of eliciting spontaneous loyalty may now be not traditional nation-states, entities smaller than, larger than, or overlapping, such states.  Catalonia may turn out to be more important than Spain, Cornwall than the United Kingdom.

It is still possible that the idea of Europe could move men and women to make sacrifices on its behalf, and in this way support a Europe-wide general will.   At present, the most important issue is that of solidarity:  in times of economic crisis, are relatively fortunate states prepared to make sacrifices for their weaker brethren?  For some countries, having been dragged into “Neoliberal” capitalism, have found it a weaker reed than its apologists promised.    As the New York Times has recently explained, 

The traditional concept of “solidarity” is being undermined by protectionist pressures in some member countries and the rigors of maintaining a common currency, the euro, for a region that has diverse economic needs. Particularly acute economic problems in some newer members that once were part of the Soviet bloc have only made matters worse. [50]

Economic pressure can only aggravate cultural and religious conflicts, and the broader social tensions with which it is inextricably entwined (see J 168ff for how this happens in Europe.).    

            The Rousseau-inspired critique of the EU proceeds on two further tracks:  that of democracy and that of sovereignty.

1.  Democracy

 The collapse of Communism was a great victory for democracy; the movement toward a united Europe is its greatest recent defeat.  As Stephen McGiffen has observed, and as recent economic developments have made clear, 

Probably the biggest single act of subversion of democracy committed in the name of the European Union … has been the establishment of the single currency, the euro… The Maastricht Treaty’s convergence criteria for admission to the single currency and the rules for participation … oblig[e] member states … to follow … a particular idea of fiscal prudence.  These rules are impervious to electoral change and imposed by an unelected board of central bankers, one of the narrowest ruling elites in recent history. (McG 185) 

More broadly speaking, “Until the dying days of the Soviet system … democracy was defined in large part as a political system which allowed people to choose between competing economic systems”(McG 183).   And the EU denies its members that freedom.

As the New York Times recently explained,     

The 16 nations that use the euro … must submit to the monetary leadership of the European Central Bank. That keeps some members hardest hit by the economic downturn, like Ireland, Spain, Italy and Greece, from unilaterally taking radical steps to stimulate their economies.[51].

The heart of the matter is that the EU is a plutocratic institution, one in which what the interests of bankers is predominant, in derogation of both democracy and the power of other elites. Nor is the rule of bankers benign, except by comparison to Soviet and Nazi rule or ethnic cleansing on the Balkan model.   In Lithuania, for example, Neoliberal economic policies implied inflation of more that 1,000 %, and the loss of tens of thousands of industrial jobs,[52] leaving the losers without either income or savings.  

Yet even a plutocracy requires a shared understanding of what it is about, and the EU is by common consent deficient in what is nowadays called “the vision thing.”    But democratic advocates of another Europe have also failed to come to grip with cultural issues any better than their plutocratic adversaries.  McGiffen writes:

In order to defend what is left of democracy, to create a genuine internationalism, and identify real alternatives, we must first leave our flags at home, forget about whose picture is on the money, and make a bonfire of all those national myths which we were force-fed as children (McG 187).

But the idea of a united Europe requires active belief, not merely acquiescence out of powerlessness or a craving for material luxuries. The lack of such belief among voters is reflected in low voter turn-outs for the European Parliament and the growth of fringe parties.[53]   Democratic societies, even more than oligarchic ones, need to beget and educate a new generation and to socialize them to accept their political norms.     But immigrants cannot be asked to assimilate into a society that proclaims only its ironic detachment from its heritage, while many people of native European stock find the official ideals of secular Europe unacceptable. 

The stock EU response to cultural issues emphasizes the right to religious freedom.

While the constitutional system has to be neutral in matters of religion or Weltanschauung, it must be explicit as regards the values of human dignity and the respect for human rights. Those principles have the character of so-called “meta-values” (or meta-norms), values which are the condition for the enjoyment of the basic individual rights and freedoms by every citizen according to his/her specific convictions and value system, including religious confession.[54] 

But not all worldviews support these ‘meta-values,’[55] and adherents of those that do will each interpret and apply them in their own way, as they address issues in sexual morality, bioethics, economic policy, and the boundaries of religious freedom.

In terms of the philosophy of Habermas, philosophical morality  rests on conventional morality, and there are practical issues, perhaps many such that cannot be resolved in terms of philosophical morality alone.  As Habermas puts it, “The possibility cannot be excluded that abortion is a problem that cannot be handled from a moral point of view at all.”[56]  And, as Thomas McCarthy suggests, “what Habermas says about abortion [might] hold for a great number of issues that democratic legislatures typically have to deal with in multicultural societies.”[57]  “Morality” here means philosophical morality of the broadly Kantian sort advocated by Habermas and the early Rawls (not every possible philosophical morality), in contrast the mores of particular societies, which are unsurprisingly different in the Baltic countries than in, say, the Netherlands.  The local cultures the Eurocrats have agreed to respect are not limited to such things as traditional songs, dances, and recipes.[58]

Finally, the bland ‘Euro-discourse’ to which EU representatives are inclined feeds paranoia.  For, in a world where customary patterns of expectation have broken down, we fear one another deeply.  People we know may a source of trouble, be we know what to expect of them.  The culturally alien are unpredictable and therefore scary, and vague humanistic pieties make fears more intense,

2 Sovereignty

The idea of sovereignty is a transposed theological concept;[59] it has sometimes been described as “organized hypocrisy.”[60]    Both the idea and its institutional realization have a complex history, in which both religious and secular ideas have had a crucial role, though they never float freely of human beings and their interests.[61]   

The ‘Westphalian’ idea of sovereignty is Protestant in logic and inspiration.  As Daniel Philpott observes, “all along, the [Catholic] Church has condemned the absolutely sovereign state as an idolatrous claimant to godlike status, an affront to the moral order and to natural law, whose authority lies ultimately far beyond the borders of the state.”[62]   Jacques Maritain for example rejects the idea of sovereignty, in part on the ground that its underlying theological analogy is defective.[63] 

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss sovereignty as irrelevant. . There are social entities that act as units and in which local resistance or external intervention is commonly perceived as illegitimate.   So long as nationalism remains an influence in our world, it is not possible to dismiss the idea of sovereignty, and the corresponding resentment of ‘outside’ intervention or ‘inside’ resistance, as an element in our political life.   That the accountability of supposedly sovereign entities is relatively informal does not mean that it is unreal, but it does make a significant political difference. 

 

  IV.

The project of European integration is fundamentally flawed.   The Eurocrats political arrangements model the kind of marriage where the husband leaves his wife for no better reason than when the wife becomes ill, or simply grows older, the husband finds a younger woman more attractive. 

The Eurocrats are banking, to a dangerous degree, both on continued prosperity and on their ability to control cultural conflict.  The revival of nationalism in a nasty form (which need not correspond to existing state boundaries), and the resulting collapse of European integration in blood, is one possible outcome.   But, in view of the poor predictive record of the social sciences, it would be absurd for a philosopher to move into the breach.   Whatever their faults may be, Europeans know in their guts that war not only kills, but also has devastating social and spiritual effects.[64]   

A standard answer to the question of the sources of lost confidence, though one that merely pushes the question back a step, is the loss or weakening of religious faith.  As Jenkins has observed, “Death and resurrection are not just fundamental doctrines of Christianity; they represent a historical model of the religion’s structure and development” (J 289).    The revival and decline of old religions, as well the formation of new religions, provide a clear case of the X-factors in politics that disrupt our attempts to predict the human future.    Yet the invention of new religions could not help the EU project.  Even the renewal of old religions seems more likely to foster fragmentation than union.[65]   Founding a Christian revival on hostility to Islam[66] would be to support forms of secularism that propose to destroy Christianity as well.[67]  

V.  On the Fragility of Institutions

Nonetheless, the fragility of a set of institutions may be a source of its stability. For political actors  may restrain themselves out of fear of collapse, at least until the issues moving them do otherwise become too pressing.

The theorists of the social construction of reality[68]  – or, less polemically, the construction of social reality[69]– remind us, in the words of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, that “all societies are constructions in the face of chaos.”  In the present world, for example, human rights are established by loudly asserting them, and getting others to accept them by whatever means.[70]     Though human nature sets limits on such constructions, [71] social forms are undetermined by observable human nature, while normative and metaphysical accounts of human nature vary widely.  The upshot is the recognition of the dependence of all our institutions on what unbelievers call fortune and believers call Providence. [72] 

Philip E. Devine

Providence College

NOTES


[1] Delivered at the meeting of the International Society for Macintyrean Enquiry, Vilnius, Lithuania, July-August, 2010.

[2] Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, December 1, 2007. 

[3] See Philip Jenkins’ balanced discussion, God’s Continent (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2007), cited as J.  For a contemporary statement of this idea, see Benedict XVI, Papal Address at University of Regensburg, “Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization” (September 12, 2006).  Posted at http://www.zenit.org/article-16955?l=english. Accessed June 2, 2009.

[4] See Jenkins, The Next Christendom (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002)…

[5] See Roldophe Gasché, Europe or the Infinite Task (Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press, 2009).

[6] Gasché, Europe, p. 33; the reference is to Ogawa, “Eurozentrismus, Eurozentrik und Ent-Europäisierung,” in Grund and Grenze des Bewusstseins (Würzburg: Kőnighausen, & Neumann, 2001), p. 129.

[7] For a provocative account of the issues, see Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1993).

[8] Bruce Thornton, Decline and Fall:  Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide (New York:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Encounter, 2007), p.135.

[9] See Robert Kegan, Of Paradise and Power (New York:  Vintage, 2004).

[10]  For a selection of expressions of this theme, see George W. Bush, We Will Prevail, National Review edition (New York:  Continuum, 2003).  Daniel Frum and Richard Perle Riding the World of Evil (New York:  Random House, 2003) spell out what such policies mean in practice.

[11] For Hauerwas’ response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, see his Hannah’s Child (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 264-272 (quotation, p. 268).

[12] Queen Victoria proclaimed a day of humiliation in response of the outbreak of the Indian “Mutiny” of 1857.   Andrew Ward, Our Bodies are Scattered (New York:   Holt, 1996), p.524.

[13] Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Mourning Has Broken,” Washington Monthly, October 2003.   Posted at http://www/washingtonmonthly.com/2003/0310.wallace-wells2.html. Accessed March 25, 2008 (quoting an address of September 20, 2001).   On Clinton’s participation in this campaign, see Paul Krugman, Robin Wells, and Anthony Myatt, Macroeconomics (New York:  Worth Publications, 2006), p. 269.  I am indebted to James Devine of Loyola Marymount University for these references

[14] The total U.S. revolving debt (98 percent of which is made up of credit card debt) was $852.6 billion, as of March 2010.  As of the same date, the total U.S. consumer debt was $2.45 trillion. Ben Woolsey and Matt Schulz, “Credit Card Statistics, Industry facts, Debt statistics,” CreditCards.com. Accessed May 27, 2010.

[15] Kelly Vlahos, “G.I. Drugged,” American Conservative, March 21, 2010.

[16] See Mary Ann Glendon, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1987).

[17]  The remarks on torture in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), p. xlii, have grown darker since he wrote them.

[18] See MacIntyre, After Virtue, revised edition (Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), chap. 3, excerpted in Kelvin Knight, ed., The MacIntyre Reader (Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), pp.73-75.

[19]  See “Sock and Awe” (http://www.sockandawe.com/ accessed December 18, 2008).  I am indebted to Robert J. Rafalko for this reference.

[20]See impeachobamacampaign.com, accessed May 27, 2010.  For the campaign to impeach Bush, see Jan Frel, “Could Bush Be Prosecuted for War Crimes?” AlterNet, July 10, 2006.

[21] May 19, 2010. 

[22] For detailed discussion of contemporary American political polarization, see Alan I. Abramowitz, The Disappearing Center (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2010).

[23] At the 1995 Providence College Commencement.

[24] See http://teapartyexpress.org/  Accessed December 30, 2009.  Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro, “Tea Party more popular than Dems, GOP,” http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/12/16/2154426.aspx. Posted December 16, 2009, accessed December 30, 2009

[25] http://oathkeepers.org.  Accessed March 6, 2010.  See Justine Shamrock, “Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason,” Mother Jones, March/April 2010. 

[26] Glendon, Rights Talk (New York:  Free Press), pp. 29-30.  For the approval of such measures by the Supreme Court, see Kelo v. New London (2005).

[27] See MacInytre, “Social Science Methodology as the Ideology of Bureaucratic

Authority,” reprinted from Maria J. Falco, Through the Looking Glass (University Press of America, 1979), in Knight, Reader, pp. 105-108. 

[28] Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe (New York:  Thomas Dunne/ St. Martin’s 2007), pp. 1, vii.

[29] See Hittinger, The First Grace (Wilmington, DE:  ISI, 2003), chaps. 6 and 8.  I am indebted to my colleague Andrew Peach, now a student at the University of Virginia Law School, for calling my attention to these chapters.

[30] Eagleton, “Culture and Barbarism,” Commonweal 136, no. 6 (March 27, 2009):  11-12.  Eagleton elaborates his argument in Reason, Faith, and Revolution (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2009).

[31] Knight, Reader, pp. 23-24.

[32] On the theology of the market see Harvey Cox, “The Market as God,” Atlantic Monthly (March 1999), reprinted in John Wilson, ed., The Best Christian Writing, 2000 (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 79-91. 

[33] Berry counters the urban tendency to forget the rural poor in his “The Prejudice against Country People,” The Progressive 66, no. 4 (April 2002):  21-24.  Jeffrey Stout commends Berry to the attention of those influenced by MacIntyre in Democracy and Tradition (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2004).

[34] See Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Norton, 1979).  Like MacIntyre, Lasch rejects the Communitarian label; see The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (New York: Norton, 1995), chap. 5.

[35] See Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York:  Penguin, 1986) and Technopoly (New York:  Vintage, 1993). 

[36] Since space limitations forbid me to consider every European country, I examine only Lithuania in detail.

[37]  Lit News, July 23–August 11, 2010, p. 2.

[38] CiA information as of February 19, 2010.  Posted at http://www.indexmundi/Lithuania/unemployment-rate.html.  Accessed August 7, 2010. 

[39] According to official sources, the number of children born alive to the average woman is now 1.55 %, well below replacement levels.

[40] Christopher Story, The European Union Collective (London:  Edward Harle, Ltd.., 2002) sees the EU as a vehicle for both German and Russian imperialism.

[41] Rifkin, The European Dream (New York: Tarcher/ Penguin, 2004), p.  385.

[42] Gugliemo Carchedi, For another Europe (London:  Verso, 2001); Stephen McGiffen, The European Union:  A Critical Guide, new edition (London:  Pluto Press, 2005) (cited as McG).

[43] See, for example, Thornton, Decline; and Laqueur, Last Days.

[44] See especially Leon N. Lindberg, “Political Integration:  Definitions and Hypotheses,” in Brent F. Nelsen and Alexander Stubb, eds., The European Union, 3rd edition (Boulder, CO:  Lynne Reinner, 2003), chap. 17; quotation, p. 160.

[45] Simon Hix, The Political System of the European Union (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1999), pp. 108-110.

[46] Ibid., pp. 116-17.

[47] Ibid., p. 73.

[48] See, in addition to the works already cited, Neill Nugent, The Government and Politics of the European Union, 5th edition (Durham NC:  Duke University Press,  2003).

[49]Buchanan, “The EU at 50:  Can it Survive Midlife Crisis?” Investor’s Business Daily, April 2, 2007.  Posted at www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspex?id=260406436848534&type=right, quoted in Ray Taras, Europe:  Old and New (Lanham:  Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), pp.76-77.

[50]Steven Erlanger, “Growing Economic Crisis Threatens the Idea of One Europe,” New York Times, March 1, 2009.

[51] Ibid.

[52] According to the official publication Lithuania:  An Outline (Vilnius:  Arketa, 2001), pp. 138-39.  On the NeoLiberal libido dominandi all over the world, see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (New York: Picador, 2007).

[53] Constant Brand, “Anger, Disappointment Sour EU parliament Vote” (Associated Press, 2009).  Posted at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g84TG_GbGmg0KYpU0rWja872XM4wD98FB1700 Accessed May 30, 2009.

[54] Hans Kőchler, “The European Constitution and the Imperatives of Transnational Democracy,” Singapore Year Book of International Law (2005): 1-15.  Posted at http://hanskoechler.com/Koechler_EU_Constitution-SYBIL-2005.pdf.  Accessed December 5, 2008

[55] For a vigorous rejection of the idea of human dignity, see John Gray, Straw Dogs. (London:  Granta, 2003).  Alan Soble, Pornography, Sex, and Feminism (Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Books, 2002), defends pornography on the ground that it debunks claims to human dignity.

[56]Habermas, “Citizenship and National Identity,” Praxis International 12 (1992):  11.  

[57] McCarthy, “Legitimacy and Diversity,” in Andrew Arato, eds., Habermas on Law and Democracy (Berkeley, Calif.:  University of California Press, 1998), p. 126.

[58] Murray Forsyth observes:  “The steps taken by the Maastricht Treaty to reassure  some kind of brake on the  expanding powers of the Community’s institutions – namely the express declaration of the principle of subsidiarity, and the various provisions stating that the Union and the Community must respect the identity and cultural diversity of the member states – are indications of a growing anxiety, but  such principles of  and intent seem feeble indeed when compared with the differentiation of powers typical of an authentic federal constitution.”   “The Political Theory of Federalism,” in Nelsen and Stubb, eds., European Union, p. 212.

[59] See Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).  Among classic theorists, Jean Bodin, De la république (1583) makes the theological connections most explicitly.

[60] See Stephen D. Krazner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

[61] See Daniel Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001), especially chap. 7 on “The Power of Protestant Propositions.”

[62]  Ibid., p. 262.

[63]  Maritain, Man and the State (Chicago:  Phoenix Books, 1951), chap. 2.

[64] See Tony Judt, Postwar (New York:  Penguin, 2005), especially the Epilogue.   . 

[65]  For an attempt to make sense of the confusing historical data, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 2007).

[66] As Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes (New York:  HarperCollins, 2007) perhaps proposes. 

[67] See Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 2006), especially chap. 9; and Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York:  Knopf, 2006).

[68] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday & Co., 1966), quotation, p. 96.  See also Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis:  Hackett, 1978); and Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

[69] See John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York:  Free Press, 1995) and The Making of the Social World (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2010). A valuable secondary study of Searle is Joshua Rust, John Searle and the Construction of Social Reality (London:  Continuum, 2006).  The expression construction of social reality does not carry with it the suggestion that we are unmasking something questionable or conspiratorial.  No one doubts that money gets its value from convention.

[70] For an example of this sort of approach in practice, see Alison Jaggar’s contributions to Michael Tooley et al., Abortion:  Three Perspectives (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009).

[71] As Berger and Luckmann concede, Social Construction, p. 167.

[72] This essay has benefited from discussions with Josef Velazquez of Stonehill College, James Hanink of Loyola Marymount University, and the participants in the meetings of the American Maritain Society, held in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (New York, December 2009),  and of the International
Society for Macintyrean Enquiry (Vilnius, July-August 2010).

Big Love

June 7, 2010

BIG LOVE:

FROM SAME-SEX MARRIAGE TO POLYGAMY

Philip E. Devine

Professor of Philosophy

Providence College

One Cunningham Square

Providence, RI 02918 USA

pdevine@providence.edu

BIG LOVE:

FROM SAME-SEX MARRIAGE TO POLYGAMY

(Abstract)

Individuals, communities, and jurisdictions who uphold same-sex marriage, at least if they do so as a matter of principle, ought also to defend polygamous marriage.  For all the arguments that support same-sex marriage also support polygamous marriage, and polygamous marriage has advantages over the same-sex variety when it comes to providing a framework for the procreation and education of the next generation. My argument does not reach defenders of traditional (heterosexual, monogamous) marriage.   I also criticize liberal theory for neglecting friendship in favor of liberty and equality, in a way that bears on the marriage issue.    

 

 

BIG LOVE:

FROM SAME-SEX MARRIAGE TO POLYGAMY

It is possible to defend gay and lesbian relationships while accepting that marriage is by definition heterosexual.[1]   Some people believe that sexual activity outside marriage is always wrong, but no one I know of makes the morality of gay or lesbian sex turn on whether the parties are publicly recognized as married to one another   When, however, we examine institutions rather than individual relationships, it becomes clear that those who support same-sex marriage have no reason to refuse their support to polygamy as well.  (I assume that the polygamous wives in question are all above the age of consent, and are aware of, and consent to, one another’s existence.)

In Part I of this essay, I set the stage with some general remarks about the logic of marriage and the strategies for dealing with this and other essentially contested concepts.  Part II is devoted to a defense of my central thesis, Individuals, communities, and jurisdictions who uphold same-sex marriage, at least if they do so as a matter of principle[2], ought also to defend polygamous marriage.  Part III pursues the argument into some points of liberal theory, which might lead its adherents to reject polygamy while accepting same-sex marriage.  Part IV deals with some broader issues, such as the rejection of ‘heteronormativity’ and the larger implications of the influence of Nietzsche and Foucault on our public discourse.  

I.

Marriage, like democracy, law, and philosophy, and as I recently learned, rural, is a contested concept – one whose sense, reference, and normative force depends on who uses it and why.   Marriage is an honorific label, conferred upon some relationships (usually but not always sexual), which our society has deemed it desirable both to affirm and control.  The honorific marriage is conjoined with an age-old definition, observed even in societies where open homosexuality was common, of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman (though not in all societies only one woman).    That the emperor Nero is reported to have ‘married’ Sporus (whom he had  had castrated) as a man and Doryphorus as a woman shows nothing about what was considered healthy or normal even in imperial Rome.   The moral of the story was that, as emperor, Nero could do – or though he could do — whatever he wished.[3]  

As an honorific marriage is inevitably inegalitarian, since it favors some relationships, and consequentially some sexual dispositions, over others; it is therefore under pressure in what has been aptly called a culture of mandatory relativism.  Those who object to the inegalitarian dimensions of the concept will want to disestablish marriage, while permitting it to exist as a private arrangement recognized by churches and other non-state communities, not extend state-recognized marriage to same-sex couples or polygamous associations.   Such a view is suggested by Douglas Laycock, [4] by Nancy Polikoff, [5] and by Tamara Metz.[6] 

 In this essay, I do not put sneer quotes around marriage where the parties are of the same sex or more than two in number, but beg no questions thereby.  For people who think such ‘marriage’ a contradiction in terms, or a metaphysical absurdity, may read the phrase as we read counterfeit coin and decoy duck.  One defender of same-sex marriage declares that “allowing two people of the same sex to marry shifts that institution’s message.”[7]  And to change the message of an institution is to change the meaning of the corresponding word.   Likewise, the phrase traditional marriage may suggest bride prices and the like.  I am referring to the understanding of marriage that the majority of Americans still hold, as a relationship between a man and a woman, in intention a least permanent, from which offspring characteristically though not invariably follow

Nor is the question of marriage the only example of conceptual conflict in the contemporary world.  We dispute whether elective abortion is health care, an impoverished suburban area is rural, and whether a transsexual, before or after the operation, is a woman or a man.    The problem of communication across an intellectually revolutionary divide therefore arises.[8]  

There are two different ways of responding to this situation.  One of these defines a particular sense of marriage, and hence also a particular version of the institution itself, as ‘natural.’  Sometimes this contention is made by appeal to revelation, or to the self-understanding of a particular faith-community.  Thus the recent Pastoral by the American Roman Catholic Bishops quite properly begins by evoking the Catholic marriage ritual.[9]  A strictly philosophical defense of the idea of natural marriage as a “two-in-one flesh communion” rooted in “reproductive type acts,” [10] must overcome five obstacles if it is to persuade Protestants and Jews, not to mention unbelievers.

First, there are relationships virtually everyone calls marriages that are difficult to view as rooted as in reproductive type acts.  If the bride has undergone a hysterectomy, pregnancy and childbirth on her part would involve as radical a miracle, or nearly so, as a man’s conceiving.  (In the recent case, the person said to have given birth as a man was a transsexual whose female reproductive organs were intact.) [11]  Perhaps the sexual acts of a sterile couple are ‘reproductive type’ in the way an anencephalous infant is a rational animal, but this is to explain a difficult case by a difficult case. [12]  One can circumvent this obstacle by building heterosexuality, even apart from its reproductive potency, into our understanding of natural marriage.  For marriage is a way of coping with a central form of human diversity by establishing intimate unions between members of the two sexes.[13] This view may be correct, but it is useless in arguing with those who are inclined to support same-sex marriage.

Second, the institution that has most carefully attempted to embody ‘natural’ marriage in institutional forms is committed to the view that many relationships conventionally understood, even in the most conservative circles, as marriages are not such.   For the Catholic Church holds that true marriage is indissoluble, and that ‘marriages’ that follow divorce are consequently non-marriages.  (This is a different proposition from the commonplace observation that divorce, especially where there are children, is a tragedy.)   But the Church also grants annulments on a variety of grounds.  As an official spokesman puts it, 

When couples do separate and divorce… the Church examines in detail their marriage to determine if, right from the start, some essential element was missing in their relationship. If that fact has been established, it means the spouses did not have the kind of marital link that binds them together for life.”[14]  

In such circumstances, and they are fairly common, it turns out that a couple conventionally regarded as married, and presumed by Church authority to be such until their relationship failed, was not married at all. 

Third, also ad hominem to Catholics, the (admittedly exceptional) marriage of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph is traditionally regarded as sexless.   If so, they did not engage in reproductive type acts or enjoy one-flesh communion.  Yet their relationship is regarded both as true marriage and as a model for the marriages of ordinary people.

Fourth, all natural law arguments face a common problem:  they frequently fail to convince.  The persistence of moral disagreement is a problem for utilitarians and Kantians as well, but if we claim that our understanding of marriage is rooted in human nature, we are driven to the claim that (in the words of the movie Dr. Strangelove) large numbers of our fellow citizens are “deviated preverts.” [15]  Or else we must go beyond philosophical reasoning and join theologians in their talk of original sin as an explanation of entrenched moral error.

Fifth, even if a purported marriage is not such by nature, it can be so by legal fiction.  If all the corporations that, legally speaking, had their headquarters in Delaware, in fact did so, there would be no room in Delaware for anything but corporate headquarters.  Likewise a Massachusetts marriage (whose two-woman version used to be called a Boston marriage) might be a marriage by courtesy.

II.

Such being the case, it seems better to plunge into the maelstrom of contemporary controversy rather than attempt to impose upon it a conception of marriage a priori.  I begin with what was until just recently the socially established understanding of marriage, as a relationship between one man and one woman, and examine the implications of various modifications of it. I recall the classical Roman definition, which contributed to the recognition of non-ceremonial ‘common law’ marriages:  “a monogamous union if a man and a woman, total community of life, a partnership according to human and divine laws.” [16] I would have included in my older definition of marriage — permanence, at least in intention.  But the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, 1996,[17]  echoed in the legislation of many States,[18] does not exclude even explicitly temporary marriages.

I propose the following thesis. Individuals, communities, and jurisdictions who uphold same-sex marriage, at least if they do so as a matter of principle, ought also to defend polygamous marriage.  Whether they ought also to accept incestuous, polyandrous, group, or cross-species marriage; marriage for a fixed period of time, marriage to a robot or fantasy partner, or various sorts of threesomes is a matter for further inquiry.  

The case for same-sex marriage, briefly put, is as follows:

(1)  Some people either are (a) immutably homosexual in their inclinations, (b) identify themselves as gay or lesbians, or  (c) have concluded, after due reflection, that a union with a person of the same sex is better for them than celibacy or a heterosexual union. 

(2)  Such persons deserve equality of legal status with heterosexuals.  Alternatively, differences of treatment between homosexuals and heterosexuals – what is here called ‘discrimination’ – deprive homosexuals of full citizenship. [19] 

Therefore (3) same-sex marriage should be legalized

Te argument as a whole, though not logically tight, seems valid.[20]    Premise (1) of this argument seems true, though disjunct (a) concerning immutability is controversial.  Hence our attention must be concentrated on premise (2), which requires that homosexuals and heterosexuals be allowed the same right to marry persons of their choice.  I here contend that this argument, if sound, also applies to polygamists.  Hence the thesis of this essay is that, if we are prepared to redefine marriage to include the relationship between same-sex couples, we ought to also allow polygamous associations.  
            Advocates of same sex marriage have greeted the polygamy argument with impatience.   The first sentence of “Homosexuality and the P[olygamy] I[ncest] B[estiality] Argument” by John Corvino is “Some bad arguments never die.” [21]  Nor are such sentiments an isolated phenomenon. [22]  Corvino’s article concerns the morality of homosexual relationships, not their legal recognition as marriages, but many of the considerations at work in the arguments are the same.  Wolfe’s response to Corvino focuses tightly on the morality of sexual acts.[23]  I am concerned with institutions, not with personal morality, and so need not consider issues such as contraception, masturbation, non-coital heterosex,[24] and non-marital cohabitation.  That an argument is made by Conservative politicians and columnists does not in the least indicate that it is unsound. 

My thesis is conditional, and can be interpreted in two ways.  One can interpret it as presenting a reductio ad absurdum of Cambridge Liberal (hereafter Liberal) understandings of marriage, of which proposals for same-sex marriage are only one manifestation.  (The capital L distinguishes one contemporary version of liberalism from the sense in which virtually all Americans are liberal.) [25] 

If we interpret the thesis in this way, it does not require us to agree with. James Donovan when he says,

The conservative recourse to this slippery slope argument against same-sex marriage signals a concession–formal to the argument itself, but actual in the choice of the argument at all–that the complaint against same-sex marriage based upon its intrinsic qualities has failed. Proponents of gay marriage, in other words, no longer have to prove that it is good, or even that it is not morally bad.[26] 

To the contrary we are arguing against those people who say that same-sex marriage is good, that they are committed to holding a position they may want to reject.  Even people who find the idea of two men or two women marrying a joke in questionable taste, or even that homosexual practices are abominable because contrary to the order of creation, can offer reasons to those whose perceptions are different from their own.

The second interpretation, however, accepts that same-sex marriage is the wave of the future.   If crucial elites within American society are irrevocably committed to Liberalism about marriage, in a sense that requires the legal recognition of same-sex unions,[27] then my arguments point to a way of defending older understandings of marriage against the moral lessons embodied not only in same-sex marriage but also in no-fault divorce.  For if the state withdraws from the task of distinguishing marriages from less valued relationships, then traditions will be free to maintain their own definition of marriage in their communities and act accordingly.   Metz has observed, “Were the state to withdraw from its current, contested role, alternative but more effective sources of ethical authority would likely fill the void”[28]  On such premises, marriage would be a matter for the church, synagogue, mosque, New Age spiritual group, humanist association, or group of friends and family members, of which the parties are members or which they approach to ratify their relationship.[29]  Intra-communal disputes about marriage, like the “Who is a Jew?” question[30] or the debates among contemporary Anglicans/Episcopalians about sexual issues,[31] will be resolved, if otherwise irreconcilable, by schism. (The state will have to decide the resulting property disputes.)  Whether non-state communities would in fact provide the needed ethical authority to support disestablished marriage is one of the points where political philosophy becomes a matter of risk-assessment.

The expressions civil union and domestic partnership equivocate.   Either such unions are private contractual relationships, which the parties are free to enter but which impose no obligations on third parties, or else they are state-sponsored institutions which may infringe on the consciences of those who object to them.[32]   The claims of equality apart, the desire to impose affirmative obligations on unwilling others is the principal reason why advocates of same-sex marriage insist on marriage.

On both interpretations, my argument concerns the logic of the relevant reasons, not historical prophecy.  The charge of arbitrary discrimination against polygamists is difficult to answer, unless one is prepared to assert that marriage is monogamous by definition.  Nor does my argument suppose that same-sex marriage would be acceptable, except for “slippery slope” considerations linking it with polygamy.  On the contrary, my argument is of the same form as that which maintains that abortion and infanticide, apart from differences in public sentiment, are the same sort of actions – an argument that cuts both ways.[33]  I do not contend that same-sex marriage and polygamy are identical forms of behavior, even morally, but that the arguments for the first are also arguments for the second.   As far as effects are concerned, assessing them requires at least a generation.   The experience of other societies is illuminating, though sorting out causes and effects can be tricky.[34] 

III.

A.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,[35] in its influential decision concerning same-sex marriage, admits that it is redefining marriage.[36]  (In contrast, the Vermont Supreme Court stopped short of requiring the ‘m-word’ for same-sex relationships, [37] though the legislature proceeded to drop the other shoe.)[38]   It is the right to marry in a redefined sense that gay and lesbian advocates are now attempting to establish across the nation. [39]  The issue under consideration here is whether, once marriage has been redefined in this way, there are principled grounds for resisting a further redefinition.

The California decision[40] overruled by Proposition Eight after a bitter campaign[41] is instructive, since it specifically rejected the Attorney-General’s argument that ‘domestic partnerships’ were sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the California Constitution.    The California Supreme Court said that marriage is “of fundamental importance to both to society and to the individual” and that the state is under an obligation to “to grant official, public recognition to the couple’s relationship as a family” – a clause that raised the prospect of the active promotion of homosexual unions, say through the public schools. [42]   When it said that marriage provides   “a ready and public means of establishing the legal basis of one’s parental relationship to one’s children, “it evoked considerations that apply – centrally at least — to biological fathers in heterosexual relationships.  A biological mother does not require certification of her maternity, and adoption will secure the rights of non-biological parents. But the California court failed to say why this institution is of such importance to either society or the individuals concerned that the state must recognize and support it, and hence also failed to explain why such reasons extend to same-sex couples and did not extend to polygamous groupings.   As Metz puts it, “The California court … seems to have stumbled upon something it wants both to embrace and deny, to protect and reject:  the something that makes marriage special.”[43]

 There cannot be a moral, legal, or constitutional right to marry whomever you want.  He or she may not want to marry you.  Laws limiting marriage to opposite sex couples do not distinguish between men and women, nor is the impact of such laws noticeably harsher on either sex. Nor is discrimination against the homosexually oriented exactly the issue.  For it was always legally possible, though not advisable, for gay men and lesbians to marry a member of the opposite sex – for the purpose of procreation or some other reason.  The party asserting (unfair) discrimination in disputes about same-sex marriage is, in short, not gay men or lesbians as individuals, but same-sex couples desiring recognition as spousesThe analogy with anti-miscegenation laws makes the issue clear, though defenders of tradition respond that sexual difference is pertinent to the nature of ends of marriage in a way racial difference is not.[44]   Hence the question is whether such distinctions should count as unfair, as nearly everyone would agree in the case of refusal to allow mixed race couples to marry, or merely an instance of the classifications that any legal system must make.   For all law discriminates:  statutes forbidding sex with children discriminate against those can get sexual gratification only from children.[45]

 The attempt to define, on principled grounds, an official list of oppressed minorities, classifications unfavorable to whom are discriminatory,  has failed.  Evan Gerstmann reports suspect classification approach, used by the judiciary to resolve equality issues, is in shambles.

[The] criteria [of suspect classification] have proven to be completely impossible to work with.  The Court has utterly failed to define any of the crucial terms such as ‘history of discrimination,’  ‘immutability,’ and ‘political powerlessness.’  It has continually applied these terms so inconsistently as to make them virtually useless in framing a legal argument.  ….  [Moreover,] for practical purposes the constitutional doctrine concerning suspect classes since the mid-1970’s. … The only time the Court used [these] criteria … is to deny groups suspect status. [46]   

It is at least as arguable that ‘discrimination ‘against the polygamous reflects irrational prejudice as that discrimination against those desiring same-sex unions. That marriage in our society is by definition monogamous is no more (and possibly no less) persuasive than the fact that it is by definition heterosexual. 

The issue of polygamy cannot be ignored,[47] dismissed as unreal,[48] or treated as peripheral to the debate.[49]    For polygamy has been widely practiced in many societies, although only by men who could afford it.  Moreover, polygamy is now a live issue in Russia,[50] and immigrants to Europe and America from polygamous countries will bring multiple wives with them and demand both recognition and social services for them all.  National Geographic has recently published an article on polygamy in America that lends color to the claim that Fundamentalist Mormons and other polygamous groups are a persecuted minority.[51]

 In this context, I examine the pertinent arguments.  Polygamous groups can assert all the interests that gay and lesbian couples assert, in gaining legal recognition for their associations.  In a celebrated (or notorious) passage, a plurality of the Supreme Court asserted. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the concept of human life.”[52]   Chai R. Feldblum explains the doctrine as follows 

I use “identity liberty” to describe the liberty the Casey plurality to capture in its “mystery of human life” description, a description repeated by Justice Kennedy in the Lawrence majority. … [Such liberty] may be a person’s liberty as a parent (including the decisions whether to have a child and how to raise a child), a person’s identity as a spouse or lover (deciding what form of intimacy one wishes to engage in, a person’s racial, ethnic or national identity, or a person’s gender identity.[53]

Our as she puts it elsewhere, “These are not small decisions. These are those big decisions in life that go to the core, essential, elements of our selves.”[54] 

The decision to marry polygamously, at least if those spouses already in place consent, is as good an example as any of a decision falling within identity liberty so defined.  For polygamy is part of the practice of some religious groups, and ‘polyamory’ part of the self-understanding of many men and some women. [55]   (By polyamory I mean the propensity to maintain more than one romantic relationship – as opposed to a brief sexual encounter — at one time or in close sequence.)   Moreover, as Corvino points out against Christopher Wolfe, polygamy is “open to procreation … (indeed, abundantly so).”[56]

But the rhetoric of identity liberty is so open-ended that it can be used to justify anything.    Hence a narrower argument is desirable.  Though the argument is in tension with the language of identity liberty, it is often said that some people are, for genetic or other reasons, inescapably gay or lesbian.  No other form of sexual expression is available to such persons.  But for every person that is immutably homosexual, there are a host of people who are immutably polyamorous. For some such people their polyamorous nature will be “a profound element of human identity” in Andrew Sullivan’s language.[57]  And there are socio-biological reasons to believe that such men will be abundant, since promiscuous behavior enables men to distribute their genes widely.  In any event, it would be absurd to regard polyamorous inclinations in a man as in any sense pathological.

If such a man finds himself linked to a wife who no longer excites his desires, he is as effectively denied legitimated sexual expression as any gay man or lesbian.  Divorce is always an option, and many men take advantage of no-fault divorce laws to rid themselves of aging or ailing wives to marry younger women.  But to do so is to leave the older wife adrift.  Polygamy would make it possible for her to retain her place in society, and continue to receive both moral and material support.   To be sure, there is a difference between forbidding someone to marry a particular individual, and forbidding him to marry everyone he wants to marry.  But to make this argument is already to treat monogamy as normative. 

It may be true, as many writers have argued, that polygamy may dilute the emotional bonds between husband and wife, and between father and children.  But it does not seem that we are entitled to impose on minorities our notions of familial intensity. Perhaps contemporary middle-class families would benefit from a cooler emotional atmosphere.  The various forms of anti-social conduct associated with polygamy might be attributed, as they have been with gays and lesbians, to the outlaw status of polygamy.

Lawrence Tribe observes:

The circles that our adultery and bigamy laws have drawn around married couples have established partitions that fall with an undeniably cruel weight upon individuals who fall in love or lust with someone else’s spouse.  But these laws … cut no wide swath through the population to limit the options open to any particular oppressed minority.[58]

This remark holds only if people in polygamous religious and cultural traditions do not count as oppressed, nor do women who prefer “man-sharing” to living without children and male companionship.  One advocate for such women, Mary Mitchell, writes:  “Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe in marriage.  We just need to update some of the rules.” [59]   Or –dropping the reference to oppression – the argument requires that refusal to provide a polygamous option is a less serious restriction than refusal to provide same-sex option. 

There was a serious public attempt in Nineteenth Century America to extirpate the Mormon religion, in part at least because of their practice of polygamy.  The Supreme Court upheld a conviction for bigamy where the husband believed that such a marriage was his religious duty, in part on the ground (hardly cheering to contemporary Liberals) that “polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic or African people.”[60]   In the resulting struggle, many Mormon women supported their men-folk.[61]

At the end of his very helpful discussion of the polygamy issue, Gerstmann attempts to distinguish same-sex from polygamous marriage.

There certainly seems to be a difference between a right to marry who you want and marrying however many people you want.   Multiple marriages raise several legitimate state concerns that same-sex marriage does not. … Polygamy threatens the social safety net by diluting social insurance. … Polygamy could create confusion over the issue of custody, who has final say over the medical decisions in the case of an incapacitated spouse, and so forth.  … Finally, and most importantly, a right to multiple spouses has no logical stopping point.  If a person can have two wives, then why not twenty, fifty, or a thousand?[62]

  A polygamous widow who receives a third of her late husband’s Social Security benefits is better of than she was as a woman whose marriage is unrecognized and has to rely on her own benefits alone.  An easy rule is that the eldest wife should make medical decisions for her incapacitated husband, and that husbands should make medical decisions for their wives, unless the patient plainly provides otherwise or the proxy suffers from a manifest conflict of interest.  The limits of polygamy are provided, not by logic, but by the material and other resources of the would-be polygamist.   And in any case the “no logical limits” argument is one of the most important arguments against recognizing same-sex marriage in the first place.  (I emphasize once again that I am assuming that polygamous wives are of age and aware of one another’s existence.)

Issues concerning kinship, including incest, pose more serious issues for the defender of polygamy.  Confusions about kinship already arise from divorce and remarriage, and even more so from regular homosexual relations, even if not legally recognized; as well as from practices, such as artificial insemination by stranger and surrogacy, that gay rights advocates tend to favor.  If I fell in love with or in lust for my sister’s partner’s son by an unknown father, would this desire count as incestuous?  If I had been a semen donor during the relevant period, so that there was a possibility that I was his biological father, would this change the situation? 

Gerstmann worries about the possibility that “multiple wives might increase the incidence of incest … between half-siblings.” [63]To the extent that incest between half-siblings is more likely than incest between full siblings, it is also less repellent (and in any case the divorce of couples with children already creates this problem). The most difficult problem is that of relations between young men and their fathers’ younger wives, which were strongly tabooed in the ancient world.  But incest could remain a crime, and if polygamy were legal, it would be relatively easily to specify which relationships count as incestuous.  

Finally, many women experience an atavistic abhorrence of sharing their man or their home with another woman.  How much weight we should attach to what Leon Kass calls “the wisdom of repugnance”[64] is a complicated issue, especially since such repugnance varies considerably from individual to individual and from culture to culture.  But advocates of same-sex marriage have already resolved to set the ‘ick factor’ aside.

B. 

 I have so far argued that polygamous relationships, where the wives are of age and aware of each other’s existence, are as deserving of the name marriage as same-sex unions.  But there are reasons why polygamous unions are preferable to same-sex unions.  Such reasons cannot be in the nature of the case be anything like demonstrative, but in practical contexts they carry considerable weight (we may call them “principled prudential reasons”). [65]

 Like monogamous, heterosexual marriage, polygamous marriage provide a regular framework for relations between the two biological halves of the human species, each of which is then able to correct the limitations of the other   This remark may seem to a bit of rhetorical ‘heterosexism,’ more suitable for public advocacy than for philosophical reflection (and so one reader found it).  But if we rule it out, we also rule out appeal to the special value of life-long committed relationships between two people.  

Moreover, let us assume, as not every one will,[66] that men should be held responsible for the reproductive consequences of their sexual acts (and that, when they are prepared to fulfill their duties, this gives them a legitimate interest in their offspring’s future)..   Such was the view of the founder of English-speaking liberalism, John Locke,[67] as well as of the “saint of liberalism” John Stuart Mill.[68]   Both polygamy and monogamous marriage provide a framework for preventing disputed or conflicted paternity, and for enabling biological mothers and fathers to co-operate in raising the resulting child.  (By conflicted paternity I mean a situation in which both parents and children know that social and biological fatherhood diverge; the use of DNA testing has aggravated this problem.[69] )  A woman who teaches her son baseball is not quite a father; a man who makes his sick daughter chicken soup is not quite a mother.  A father is better placed than a mother to teach his son the meaning of his erections and spontaneous emissions, and a mother is better placed that a father to teach her daughter the meaning of her menstrual periods.

 Polygamy also satisfies the child’s need for a known father as well as a known mother:  as a pair of writers who make every effort to make lesbian parenting seem healthy concede, “It is very normal for children to ask about and long for a father. … We encourage you to hang in there when [your child] works through her grief.”  (They recommend “father fantasies.”) [70]    The view that children require a parent of each sex is, to be sure, controversial among sociologists, but reasonable enough that prospective mothers should not be penalized for acting on it.  Nor does it matter to what extent sexual differences are, as they say, ‘socially constructed’; what matters is that they are real in the experience of children.

There are, to be sure, ‘principled prudential’ arguments against polygamy. (It is my understanding that the Islamic community has generally abandoned polygamy on this sort of ground.[71])  To adapt an argument made by St. Thomas Aquinas, polygamy is inconsistent with even a weak understanding of sexual equality. [72]  If the wives are contemporary women, who believe they have rights to their husband’s time and attention, the strain upon their shared husband will be considerable.  When we add the demands of caring for the resulting children, a good polygamous husband will have to be a superman.

 Another objection to polygamy is that polygamous wives (or polyandrous husbands) may quarrel among themselves or gang up on their common spouse. There is the problem of the superfluous man, which Fundamentalist Mormons are reputed to solve by expelling boys. As Jonathan Rauch has put it, “if one man has two wives, it follows that some other man has no wife.”[73]    A similar problem arises, however, as a result of same-sex marriage, should it become more common among women than among men, for men seeking stable heterosexual relationships. [74]  Such a problem has afflicted women in areas a high concentration of homosexual men, leading some of them to go to Alaska, where, as it is said, “The odds are good although the goods are odd.”  The force of this argument depends on two plausible empirical assumptions:  the legitimation of same-sex marriage will make same-sex relationships (and consequently gay and lesbian orientations) more socially acceptable, and that female sexuality is more strongly influenced by the social and political climate than male (otherwise the leftover males could console themselves with one another). [75]

We are concerned here, not with our ideal of marriage, but with minimum requirements of acceptability for a marriage license.  Those who enter marriage of any sort should be above the age of consent.  To prevent fraud and other forms of abuse, the state should require that a new polygamous wife should be made aware of her sister wives, and that the wives in possession should consent to any new addition to the household.  But, beyond that, if we accept the rest of the argument made here, women should be free to enter into an unequal relationship if they so choose (the alternative might be childlessness or raising a child alone).  I might think that a couple who decides not to have children, but to have dogs instead, is behaving in a less than ideal fashion.  The same is true of a marriage for reproductive purposes only, in which the bride’s family (and the bride herself under pressure from them) regards the groom as a ‘sperm donor.”    The first of these marriages, and possibly the second, would be regarded as invalid in Catholic canon law.  But there is no case for refusing to recognize these relationships as civil marriages.

Polygamy, it may be said, is inconsistent with our notions of romantic love, whereas there can such love between same-sex partners.[76]  The word romantic is crucial here, since there is love between parents and children, between fellow soldiers, or between siblings.   Romantic love includes, however,  the Platonic ideal of chaste homoerotic attachment, the parties to which, like Socrates, might have wives and children as well as boyfriends.[77]  Marriage is irrelevant to such forms of love.   Only if we stipulate that ‘romantic’ love is both exclusive and sexual at least in intention, but do not require parties of opposite sexes, does the concept of romantic love provide a ground for distinguishing same-sex from polygamous relationships.  It seems to me odd that so intimate a feeling should be the ground of a legal as opposed to a personal or a communal relationship.  As Joseph Rauch puts it, “from society’s point of view, the main point of marriage is not, and never has been, to sanctify love.  … In fact, society doesn’t much care whether spouses love one another, as long as they meet their marital obligations.” [78]  Romantic love may even be an enemy to marriage, if it leads spouses to expect violins in the background when they do such things as clean a cat box.

            Corvino questions the relevance of Platonic love in the following passage:

There is no reason  to assume—and indeed, there are good reasons to doubt—that one can  remove the sexual aspect of relationships and have all others remain the same. Sex can be a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating,

            and replenishing love in a relationship. This is one important reason

why heterosexual people have sex even if they don’t want children, don’t

want children yet, or don’t want any more children. It is a reason why

sexless marriages are often cause for concern. To assume that one can

subtract sex without affecting the rest of the equation is to take a naive

and reductionistic view of sexual relationships. This is not to say that

physical intimacy is always connected with other forms of intimacy: sex

is sometimes impersonal, mechanical, or fleeting. But sex is often much

more than that, for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. The physical

union of the partners manifests and contributes to a larger union.[79]

Sexless heterosexual marriages may be problematic (I would not put it any more strongly), but I for one find nothing troublesome about sexless ‘Boston Marriages,’ or about the corresponding long term roommate arrangements between men (Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson may serve as a model).  Sometimes such relationships are sick, but the same is true of relationships of any other sort  

In any case, Corvino’s argument can be made on behalf of polygamous relationships. [80] For Fundamentalist Mormons, the mutual love of every party to a plural marriage, including the nonsexual love of ‘sister wives’ for one another, is crucial to the relationship.  And the conquest of jealously required in sharing a man with other women is part of the spiritual benefit claimed for such relationships.

Corvino responds,

It is true that you can use the same form of argument for PIB relationships: PIB relationships have benefits X, Y, and Z. But whether PIB relationships do

in fact have such benefits will not be settled by looking to homosexual

relationships. Put simply, to observe that many people flourish in homosexual relationships is not to prove that others might flourish in

incestuous, bestial, or polygamous relationships. Whether they would

or not is a separate question—one that requires a whole new set of data.[81]

At this point we are pressed to evaluate two entire ways of life:  one that retains the norm of monogamy but extends it to same-sex couples, and one that retains the norm of heterosexuality but extends it to polygamous groupings.  Corvino observes in another place:

The deep human tendency to disapprove “what we don’t like” often causes us to label our dislikes “unnatural: and to condemn things we do not understand.  The effects of such condemnation – the pain and isolation and fear, the wasted time an energy – are a far greater moral tragedy than sex between consenting adults could ever be.[82]

But this statement applies with at least equal force to polygamous as to homosexual relationships. I suspect that most of my readers have more acquaintance with homosexual than with polygamous or bigamous (as opposed to adulterous) people.

In any case, for the purposes of this essay, we are not concerned with the value of various kinds of relationships to the individuals themselves, but with the reason the larger society may have for recognizing and regulating them. Chief of these is providing a framework for the regular procreation and education of the rising generation.  Some heterosexual marriages are childless, intentionally or otherwise.   But intentionally childless couples can change their minds.  Couples not presently reproducing can build the foundation for later procreation, or co-operate in  raising children already in being. Unwillingly childless couples can adopt children, and thus provide, as gay couples cannot, a family life approximating the cultural norm. (Even if this norm is questionable, children are better off if they can decide for themselves whether to undertake experiments in nontraditional living.) 

Various ways of mimicking heterosexual reproduction reinforce my point. For example, one woman inseminates another with the semen of a man – usually of a stranger.   There are proposals to produce children by fusing ova or even spermatozoa. [83] Whatever the merits of such practices– and the risks of defects from fusing same-sex gametes would seem impermissibly great  — they do not accomplish one central purpose of heterosexual union, which links the love of the man and woman with the fusing of their lineages.  The risk of narcissism and of exclusion of the Other, in homosexual relations is accentuated when two women collaborate to produce a child guaranteed to be female.  Reliance on selective abortion might evade the question of defect if we can stifle our moral repugnance to such procedures, but not if the defects show up in later life.

 Moreover, heterosexual marriage provides for what is, from a social point of view, a secondary purpose of marriage, a stable framework for relations between the two sexes. This purpose may bulk larger in the feelings of the couple themselves than do procreative purposes.   For what heterosexuals characteristically desire from marriage, and what cannot be attained from homosexual relations, is not only affection, pleasure, or even offspring, but also the union with a person of the opposite sex which the union of the genital organs both effects and signifies, and of which children are sometimes the fruit.[84]   (Despite the sacramental overtones of my language, I am here making a strictly philosophical argument.)   Thus I give independent weight to the union of the two sexes, even apart from its reproductive potency; my argument is in this respect different from that of the new natural lawyers.  From society’s point of view, a few people who take part in an institution for reasons other than its central purposes do not seriously affect our shared understanding of that institution.  Recognizing same-sex or polygamous marriages on the other hand redefines the institution as a whole.   If we are prepared to undertake one redefinition, I see no reason why we should refuse the other.

IV

In response, Liberals can stress the centrality of equality to their argument.[85]   The state’s role is larger than merely insuring that all contracts are freely entered into; it also takes a role in forbidding contracts that it deems excessively unequal.  Even if both parties freely consent, it is still illegal for a client and a credit card company to enter into a contract specifying an interest rate higher than the legally determined maximum amount.  And Liberals could argue that a polygamous marriage contract is like this, i.e., that it, too, would be a contract that is so unequal that the state should forbid it even if the parties might freely consent to it.  Liberals could further argue that the existence of practical considerations to the contrary need not override the state’s ban on unequal contracts.  For example, it is easy to imagine situations where it would be in someone’s interest to form a contract with a credit card company at an interest rate higher than the legal maximum.  And Liberals could argue that the case with polygamy would be like this, i.e., that in this case, too, practical considerations do not trump the state ban on a polygamous contract that is, by its nature, very unequal.

Finally, the examples I give of less than ideal marriages which should nonetheless be permitted are marriages which are either intentionally childless or one exclusively reproductive.    But the standard Liberal assumption is that freedom and equality have a special status: they are universal or transcendental.  Liberals, for example, have no problem criticizing other cultures where freedom or equality is infringed, while such

criticism would be prohibited in all other cases.  And so Liberals would have no problem saying that the state should step in and forbid unequal marriage contracts (since equality is on the transcendental list) while also saying that the state should not step in and forbid intentionally childless or exclusively reproductive marriages (since family size and emotional intensity are not on the transcendental list).

            A more radical version of this critique of polygamy, and defense of same-sex marriage, attacks the former, and supports the latter, on the grounds that polygamy reinforces gender roles and is therefore reactionary, and that same-sex marriage undermines them and is therefore progressive.  Being defined at birth as male or female undermines a person’s capacity to define himself or herself however he or she wishes.   The attempt to radically change our understanding of gender can hardly stop with same-sex marriage, however, since this innovation is as likely to devalue heterosexual marriage as to increase esteem for same-sex relationships.  One must go on to ban ‘homophobic’ speech, [86]or at least use public education to indoctrinate children in ‘progressive’ attitudes.[87]  If parents claim the right to home-school their children, or send them to private schools, more draconian measures might prove necessary.  Since I am arguing within a vague consensus that we are living in a free country, it suffices to point out that social engineering of this sort furthers neither liberty nor equality.   For, both intellectually and politically, it requires a vanguard that stands above the rest of society and is authorized by its superior wisdom, or greater degree of commitment, to govern the rest of us for the sake of some distant utopia.

The first problem with this line of argument is that it sacrifices liberty to equality.  No doubt the state could insist that spouses in place consent before a new member should be added to their household, as it could ban marriage, polygamous or monogamous, with a child.    And it might even ban arrangements in which some wives are first- and others second-class.  But if a mature woman freely decides to join a polygamous household, for reasons persuasive to herself, refusing to allow her do so can be justified only on strongly paternalistic grounds, or on grounds the Liberal has already rejected, such a desire to preserve and protect the traditional institution of marriage as good, on the whole, for women, men, and children alike.   There is no reason to believe that all polygamous marriages are so predatory as to count as unconscionable for standard contract doctrine.  And few Liberals want to ban traditional marriage, even in the version where the wife stays home and the husband supports her, though in the view of many writers such relationships are unacceptably inegalitarian.[88]

            A second problem with the argument is that inequality is much more pervasive that the attack on polygamy or traditional heterosexual marriage suggests.  Human beings are always forming hierarchies:  in a same-sex relationship one party is likely to be dominant (though as in a heterosexual relationship power can shift from one party to the other).  In egalitarian political movements there are always leaders and followers.  If we nonetheless hold that all human beings are equal in fundamental dignity, we must do so in the understanding that we are fighting at least one persistent strain in human nature. If we appeal to religious sources of the egalitarian ideal, the same verse in Genesis (1:27) that tells us we were created in the image of God also teaches us that we were created male and female.

            A third problem is justifying the claim that liberty and equality are universal principles, while other considerations equally powerful in human affairs are not.  Not all cultures value liberty and equality as much as we do (or at all).  Friendship in the broadest sense is at least equally important,[89] and it bears on our argument at two points.  First, polygamy allows otherwise lonely women to gain the friendship not only of her husband, but also of her children and sister wives; and, second, a common understanding of marriage contributes to civic friendship – something liberalism in all its forms tends to threaten.   The Liberal understanding of human nature treats our capacity to make rational choices is central and our existence as social, bisexual, animals secondary.   But sidelining flesh-and-blood humanity in this way has devastating implications for familial issues.  For, whatever else they are, families are institutions for enabling young human beings to attain a capacity for rational choice that they do not now possess.

            Finally, equality requires only that like people be treated alike,  and the question whether same-sex or polygamous groups are relevantly different from heterosexual couples, in a way that warrants ‘discrimination’ in matters of marriage, is the central question at issue in our debates.

.

V.

Much discussion of same-sex marriage distinguishes between ‘bracketing’ and ‘engaging’ the relevant moral intuitions.[90]  But, for the purposes of the present argument, it does not matter which course we take.  If we bracket moral and religious views hostile to homosexuality, we need also to bracket such views when they oppose polygamy.  If we engage the relevant moral questions, we must face the difficult question, why homosex[91] is acceptable and polyamorous sex is not.   For even advocates of gay marriage do not necessarily value sexual fidelity:  Andrew Sullivan defends “the beauty and mystery and spirituality of sex, including anonymous sex.”[92]  

A crucial concept in the gay rights argument is that of heteronormativity. As one defender of same-sex marriage puts it, “’Heteronormativity’ is or includes a powerful ethical preference for the same, or for sameness, and is as such antithetical to humanity’s pluralism. … Heteronormativity looms tyrannical over all human sexuality.”[93]   But since the plurality of human sexual behavior includes promiscuity, both homosexual and heterosexual, of the most extreme sort, there is no reason, on this ground, to oppose polygamy once one accepts same-sex marriage.  One might as easily speak of ‘mononormativity’ of ‘polyphobia’ as of their heterosexual counterparts    Then incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and whatever other sexual dispositions one might be able to imagine, are now prepared to demand social recognition.

The thought underlying such rhetoric is derived from Nietzsche and Foucault:   that all socially established evaluations are mere impositions of the collective will-to-power.  If this is so of the privileging of heterosexual monogamy, it is also true of the privileging of liberty and equality, to which advocates of same-sex marriage appeal.  When all of these are swept away, the road is clear to the imposition “new values” by force and deceit.

My argument is directed against individuals, communities and jurisdictions that accept same-sex marriage.  Those who hold firmly to traditional heterosexual monogamy may have other problems, but are not vulnerable to the arguments presented here. Traditional marriage and Massachusetts marriage are different institutions, which uneasily coexist within the same society and sometimes within the skin of a single individual.[94]


 


[1] See for example, Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson.Answering Advocates of Gay Marriage,” (Emory University, 2003), available at http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/ho0064.html., accessed December 18, 2009.  Though I found this article in a Roman Catholic source, its authors are neither Catholics nor defenders of Catholic sexual ethics.

[2]  In an e-mail to me, dated June 2, 2010, Douglas Laycock writes, “Philosophy is one thing; law reform is another.  With respect to law reform, I’m a big believer in one step at a time and the art of the possible.”  Defenders of same-sex marriage who think in such terms ought at least to admit that there goal is recognizing polygamous (and perhaps a wide range of other nonstandard) relationships as equivalent to traditional marriage.

[3]  See Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero, chaps. 28-29.

[4] Laycock, “Afterword,” in Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, and Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty (Lanham. MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), secs. IV and V.  The same view has been defended by another contributor to this volume, Jonathan Turley, “A Unholy Union,“ ibid.,, p. 60.

[5] Polikoff, Beyond (Gay and Straight Marriage (Boston:  Beacon Press, 2008)

[6] Metz, “Why We Should Disestablish Marriage,” http://academic.reed.edu/poli_sci/faculty/metz/metz-marriage.pdf, accessed December 24, 2009; and more fully in her Untying the Knot (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2010).  Metz points out that Harriet Taylor and William von Humbolt held similar views. (pp. 66-68); for rosters of contemporary scholars who support her proposal, see ibid., pp 165n.24 and 181-82n.38.

[7] E. J. Graff, “Retying the Knot,” Nation, June 14, 1996, reprinted in Philip E. Devine and Celia Wolf-Devine, eds. Sex and Gender (Australia:  Wadworth/Thomson, 2003), p. 334.

[8] See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1962).

[9] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Marriage:  Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” November 17, 2009.  Available at http://www.usccb.org/laity/LoveandLife/MarriageFINAL.pdf., accessed December 17, 2009.

[10] So for example Robert P. George, “’Same-Sex Marriage’ and ‘Moral Neutrality,’” excerpted from Christopher Wolfe, ed., Homosexuality in American Public Life (Dallas TX:  Spence, 1999), in Devine and Wolf-Devine, eds., Sex, pp. 325-329.

[11] See Alan B. Goldberg and Katie N. Thomson, “Barbara Walters Exclusive: Pregnant Man Expecting Second Child,” November 13, 2008. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=6244878&page=1, accessed December 23, 2009. 

[12] I am here responding to an argument made by James Hanink in correspondence.

[13] See for example Michael Novak, “Men without Women,” in Devine and Wolf-Devine, eds. Sex, pp. 312-16.

[14] Joseph M. Champlin, Ten Questions About Annulment,” 

http://www.americancatholic.org/newsletters/cu/ac1002.asp  Accessed December 16, 2009.

[15]  For an example of this approach, J. Budziszewski, The Line through the Heart (Wilmington, DE:  ISI, 2009).

[16] Gorän Lind, Common Law Marriage (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2008), pp 32-33, translating the jurist Modestinus (in D. 23, 21):  “Nuptiae sunt conjunctio maris et femininae et consortium omnis vitae divini et humanae iuris communicatio.”

 

[17]  ‘‘In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” (sec. 3). And so far as I can see, the States might still be required to recognize other States’ polygamous marriages, so long as they do not involve “a relationship between persons of the same sex” (sec. 2).

[18] The Ohio Defense of Marriage Act, 2004, provides:  “A marriage may only be entered into by one man and one woman. … Any marriage between persons of the same sex is against the strong public policy of this state.  Any marriage between persons of the same sex shall have no legal force or effect in this state… Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in any other jurisdiction shall be considered and treated in all respects as having no legal force or effect in this state and shall not be recognized by this state.”  http://www.aproundtable.org/issues/doma_nov21.html  posted February 9. 2004, accessed January 2, 2010.  California’s Proposition Eight, 2008, reads as follows:  “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” (Wickepedia, s.v.  “Proposition Eight”).

[19] For the citizenship argument, see Joseph Raz, “Liberalism and Trust,” in R. George, ed., Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1996), and the discussion of Raz’s argument in Wolfe, Natural Law Liberalism (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009), chap. 5.

[20]  The argument is  not valid if (2) is interpreted in prima facie terms, since opponents of same-sex marriage advance important social interests justifying ‘discrimination’ in this case.

[21] Ethics 115 (April 2005): 501–534.   At the end of the argument he writes of “irrational panic” and in another place that “the one thing [PIB] has nothing to do with the other [homosexuality].” “Homosexuality, Harm, and Moral Principles,” in Laurence Thomas, ed., Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy (Malden, MA:  Blackwell, 2008), p.90.   

[22]  For similar sentiments see James M. Donovan, “Rock-Salting the Slippery Slope: Why Same-Sex Marriage is not a Commitment to Polygamous Marriage,” Northern Kentucky Law Review 29 (2002): 521ff.

[23] Wolfe, “Homosexual Acts, Morality, and Public Discourse,” Thomas, ed., Debates , chap. 6, esp. sec.3

[24]  I find the expression heterosex useful, though some social conservatives find it unduly friendly to the gay cause.

[25] For an attempt to use this broader sense of liberalism to circumvent contemporary ideological barriers, see Wolfe, Liberalism, especially chap. 7.

[26] Donovan, “Rocksalting,”  pp. 589-90

[27] For a discussion that suggests that the Supreme Court may be so committed, see David Masci and Jesse Merriam (both of Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life),”The Constitutional Dimensions of the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,” July 9, 2009.  Available at http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=425, accessed December 16, 2009.

[28] Metz, “Disestablish Marriage.”

[29] In the UK, the distinction between marriage as a religious and as a civil institution is better understood than in America, though the line between state and society is more blurry.   Prince Charles married his long-time companion Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall, in a civil ceremony, from which the Queen absented herself.  They then had their union ‘blessed’ in a penitential ceremony over which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presided.

[30] On this dispute, see Jack Wertheimer, A People Divided (New York:  Basic Books, 1993), chap. 9

[31] On this dispute, see Stephen Bates, A Church at War (London:  Tauris, 2004); R. R. Reno, In the Ruins of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos, 2002); and Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner, The Fate of Communion (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2006).

[32] See Turley, “Union,” Laycock, Picarello, and Wilson, eds.,-Marriage and Liberty, pp. 78, 80, 95-97, on the external effects of civil unions; and Mark Stern, “Same-Sex Marriages and the Churches,” ibid., p. 223n.224, on those of domestic partnerships.  

[33]  For a defense of both practices, see Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1988).   

[34] For one view, see Stanley Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” Weekly Standard 9, no. 20 (February, 2004).

[35] I here limit myself to judicially established same-sex marriage, since such establishment involves the strongest claims to be acting on principles that justify the ‘trumping’ of countervailing state, communal, and individual interests.  See Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 1977).

[36] Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 309 Mass. 309 (2003).  .  

[37] Baker v. State, 744 A 2d   864  (Vt., 1999). 

[38] On why the ‘m-word’ matters, see Metz, Knot, chap.4, who proposes to remove the state from participating in its definition.

[39] For a  State Supreme Court decision that did not follow Goodridge, see Frank Conaway, et al. v. Gitanjali Deane , et al.,  (Maryland Court of Appeals, September Term 2006).   http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2007/44a06.pdf., accessed December 16, 2009.

[40] In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal. 4th 757 (2008). My analysis draws on Metz, Knot, pp. 37-46.

[41] For the harassment of supporters of Proposition Eight, see Jesse McKinley, “Marriage Ban Donors Feel Exposed by List,” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/us/19prop8.html, posted January 18, 2009, accessed January 29, 2010.

[42]  In Lexington, Massachusetts, first grade students were assigned a book entitled King and King, which celebrated same-sex marriage in a fairy-tale context (no pun intended). The courts brushed aside parental objections on the ground that “Diversity is a hallmark of our nation.”  CNN, American Morning, April 20, 2006; Susan Bushey, “Lawsuit filed by Parkers, Wirthlins Dismissed,” Lexington Minuteman, February 23, 2007; Jonathan Saltzman, “Same-sex Teaching Upheld,” Boston Globe, February 24, 2007

[43] Metz, Knot, p.43

[44] Moreover, while anti-miscegenation laws keep the races apart, defining marriage as heterosexual brings the sexes together.  The proper analogue to traditional understandings of marriage is a bizarre law requiring spouses to be of different races.

[45]  These observations are required by remarks such as the following.  “The new territory we stake is not predicated on any other assumption that the Constitution, properly understood, offers nothing less than full and equal citizenship before the law, and after, and that its protections are sincere, not facetious.”  Gordon A. Babst, “Introduction,” in Gordon A. Babst,  Emily R. Gill, and Jason Pierceson, eds., Moral Argument, Religion, and  Same-Sex Marriage (Latham, MD.:  Lexington Books, 2009), p. viii.

[46] Gerstmann, Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 62-63.

[47] The word polygamy does not appear in the index of Polikoff, Marriage (nor does bisexuality, which raises the prospect of threesomes); she extends the civil partnerships that in her view should replace marriage only to “same-sex couples” (p. 132; my emphasis). 

[48] Richard Parker says, “Since the life of the law is (and should be) democratic politics – not logic – the legalization of other unions will occur only if and when there is widespread public sentiment favoring such an expansion of marriage.  I don’t foresee that soon; do you?”  In Lawrence Tribe and Richard Parker,  “Judicial Activism and

Gay Marriage:  A Debate,” Harvard Law Bulletin (summer 2004): 8ff., reprinted in John Arthur and William H. Shaw, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Law, 4th edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006), p.  608. 

[49]  Metz, Knot, allows that polygamous groups might be granted the status of  I[ntimate] C[are] G[iving] U[nion]s  with which she proposes to replace state-sponsored marriage (p. 147), and that such groups should also be free to call their unions marriages without risking prosecutions for bigamy (p, 141).   But she also says that polygamous unions are “not … common enough to be include on the list” and “too provocative to include without explanation” (p. 179n.12).  So same-sex unions are not provocative?

[50] See Reuters, April 7, 2009, http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=5896; Moscow Times, December 24, 2009.  http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/a-muslim-revival-of-polygamy-and-camels/396767 both accessed December  26, 2009

[51] Scott Anderson, “Polygamy in America,” National Geographic 217, no.2 (February 2010): 45-57.

[52] Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 US 833, 851 (1992), quoted and followed in Lawrence v. Kansas, 539 U.S. 588, 574 (2003).

[53]  Feldblum, “Moral Conflict and Conflicting Liberties,” in Laycock, Picarello, and Wilson, eds.,  Marriage and Liberty, p. 139

[54] Feldblum, “The Right to Define One’s Own Concept of Existence,” Georgetown Journal of Gender and Law 7 (2006). 

[55] Corvino says that “very few people in contemporary Western societies seem interested in polyamorous relationships (a relationship with one partner is challenging enough).”  “PIB Argument,” p. 528.  What planet is he living on?

[56] Corvino, “Homosexuality,” p. 91.

[57] Sullivan, “Three’s a Crowd,” New Republic, June 17, 1996.

[58] Tribe in Parker and Tribe, “Judicial Activism,” p. 608.  Another version of the “options” argument is provided by Jonathan Rauch, “Marrying Somebody,” in Andrew Sullivan, ed. Same-Sex Marriage:  Pro and Con (New York: Vintage, 1997), pp. 285–88.   I use the Web version published by the Independent Gay Forum, http://www.indgayforum.org/news/printer/26894.html, accessed May 19, 2010.

[59]See Mary A. Mitchell, “Shortage of Eligible Men May Require New Rules,” Chicago Sun-Times (October 22, 2000):  24A.  I am indebted to the late Eleanore Devine for this reference.

[60]  Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 165 (1879).

[61]As David Chambers, “Polygamy and Same Sex Marriage,” Hofstra Law Review 26 (1997):  66-67, points out.

[62] Gerstmann, Same-Sex Marriage, pp. 104-05.  His whole discussion may be found at pp. 99-105.

[63] Ibid., p. 105.

[64]  Kass, “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” New Republic 216 (1997).

[65] I take this expression from Wolfe, Liberalism, pp. 242-47.

[66] The nature, sources, and extent of parental obligation is one of the points at issue in the abortion debate.   See Keith Pavilschek, “Abortion Logic and Parental Responsibilities,” in Louis Pojman and Francis Beckwith, eds.. The Abortion Controversy (Belmont, CA:  Wadworth, 1998), and Andrew Peach, “Abortion and Parental Obligation,” Life and Learning 14 (2004):  193-219  A group called the National Center for MenTM advocates “Roe v. Wade for Men.”    Press release available at http://www.nationalcenterformen org/page7.shtml.

[67] See especially his Second Treatise, para. 56. As Thomas West points out in his Witherspoon Lecture (Family Research Council, 2001), Locke was in contemporary terms a social conservative. There are, however, elements of this thought that might be (and have been) invoked to undermine his professed views. 

[68]Mill, On Liberty, chap. 5. Mill also called for tolerance for Mormon polygamy (ibid., chap. 4).

[69] See Ruth Padawer, “Who Knew I Was Not the Father?” New York Times Magazine, November 17, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/magazine/22Paternity-t.html?pagewanted=all, accessed December 16, 2009.

[70] D. Merillee Cluns and G. Dorsey Green, The Lesbian Parenting Book (Seattle, WA:  Seal Press, 1995), pp. 54-55.  April Martin, The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook (New York:  HarperPerennial, 1993), p. 192, puts the matter this way, “Some children [of lesbian and gay couples] do express an intense longing for the other biological parent, talking about it frequently and emotionally. … It is also true that what is unimportant today may surface tomorrow with urgency.”

[71]See Gamal A. Badawi, “Polygamy in Islamic Law,” in which polygamy is defended as the lesser evil in some circumstances, both individual and social. http://www.al-islamforall.org/litre/Englitre/polygainis.htm.  Accessed January 6, 2010.  I am indebted to James Devine for this reference.

[72] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. III, chaps. 123-24.

[73] Rauch, “Marrying Somebody.”

[74] I owe this point to Corvino, “PIB Argument,” p. 528. 

[75] For a discussion supporting the second of these claims, see Arlene Stein, “From Old Gay to New,” reprinted in Devine and Wolf-Devine, eds., Sex, pp. 128-135

[76] There is an informative but confused discussion of this issue in Donovan, “Rocksalting,” pp. 557-563.

[77]Martha Nussbaum, “Platonic Love and Colorado Law: The Relevance of Ancient Greek Norms to Modern Sexual Controversies,” Virginia Law Review 80, no. 7 (October, 1994):  1515ff, has denied that Platonic love requires abstention from genital sex.  (Or she has reduced this claim to a generalized hostility to sexuality that if taken seriously would mean the end of the human race.)   For replies to Nussbaum, see John Finnis, “’Shameless Acts’ in Colorado.” Academic Questions 7, no. 4 (1994), 10-41; and Robert George, “’Shameless Acts’ Revisited: Some Questions for Martha Nussbaum,’” Academic Questions 9 (winter 1995-96): 24-42.  For a critique by a Platonist who is also critical of Finnis, see John M. Rist, “Plato and Professor Nussbaum on Acts ‘Contrary to Nature,’” in Mark Joyal, ed., Studies in Plato and the Platonic Tradition (Aldershott, UK:  Ashgate, 1997), chap. 5.

[78] Rauch, ““Marrying Somebody.”

[79] Corvino, “PIB Argument,” pp. 512-13.

[80] Incidentally, Corvino errs when he says, “there are no such things as polygamous

“acts,” strictly speaking.” (ibid., p. 503).  If there can be marital acts – i.e., sexual acts that consummate or continue a monogamous marriage, so there can be polygamous acts, i.e. sexual acts that consummate or continue a polygamous relationship.

[81] Ibid., p. 513.  I consider this argument only insofar as it applies to polygamy, not incest or bestiality.

[82]  Corvino, “Homosexuality,” p. 91.

[83] As was suggested by William Eskridge in a debate with Gerard Bradley on same-sex marriage at Providence College (April, 2010).

[84]  E.g. John Finnis, “Law, Morality, and ‘Sexual Orientation,’” Same Sex: Debating the Ethics, Science, and Culture of Homosexuality, ed. John Corvino (Lanham,   MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), criticized in Corvino, “PIB Argument,” pp. 515ff.

[85] This section paraphrases and responds to arguments suggested by Josef Velazquez in correspondence.

[86]  For detailed discussion of the freedom to preach against same-sex marriage, see Marc D. Stern, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Churches,” in Laycock, Picarello, and Wilson, eds., Marriage and Liberty, sec. I.

[87] See note 42.

[88]  But see Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York:  Basic Books, 1989) and her co-authored work, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds., (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1999).   For a detailed critique of Okin, see Celia Wolf-Devine, “The Hegemonic Liberalism of Susan Moller Okin,” in Wolfe, ed., Liberalism at the Crossroads, 2nd edition (Lanham:  Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), chap. 3.  .

[89]  Aristotle for example says, “Without friends one would not choose to live, though he had all other goods.” Nicomachean Ethics 1155 a 5, trans. W. D. Ross in Richard McKeon, ed., Basic Works of Aristotle (New York:  Random House, 1941).                                                

[90] For defenses of same-sex marriage that avoid bracketing, see Babst, Gill, and Pierceson, eds., Moral Argument.  Neither monogamy nor polygamy nor fidelity appears in the index of this book.

[91]  See note 24.

[92] Sullivan, Letter to the Editor, Salon.com, http://www/salon.com/1999/12/15/sullivan, accessed 21 September 21, 2005.   He is summarizing the argument of his Love Undetectable (New York:  Knopf, 1998).

[93] Gordon A. Babst, “Consuming its Own?” in Babst, Gill, and Pierceson, eds., Moral Argument, pp. 184, 198.

[94] I am indebted to the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, Maine for its well researched contribution to the same-sex marriage debate. Discussions with Patrick Breen, James Devine, James Hanink, Arthur Jackson, Christopher Lutz, George Rutherglen, Peter Simpson, Josef Velazquez, Patrick Walker, and Celia Wolf-Devine, as well as the comments of several anonymous readers, were also invaluable.

Stations of the Cross

March 13, 2010

STATIONS OF THE CROSS
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you,
Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Traditional Stations of the Cross
Meditation

During Lent, we have learned through prayer how many people there are to pray for, not least ourselves, and how limited is our ability to pray. Through almsgiving we have learned how many are the needy, not the least ourselves, and how limited our ability to help them. Through fasting we have learned our dependence on creature comforts, as means of repelling spiritual assault. And above all, we have learned how it hard it is to love ourselves, let alone our enemies or God.

In Holy Week, we contemplate the Cross, and think again of what the world does to those men and women who refuse to play by its rules. We take as central our devotions an instrument of execution, one designed not only to kill, but to torture and degrade – to give the lie, at every level, to the humanity of a rebellious slave. The man who suffered this death suffered also betrayal and abandonment by his friends, and everything in despair except the consent of the will.   Satan told Jesus,  as he hung on the Cross, not only that he was a loser, but also that he had been condemned to be such for all eternity. If we run too quickly to the belief that Jesus was destined to rise again glorified, we lose focus. The Crucifixion is the triumphant consummation of divine love, and the Risen Christ appears with his wounds.

Invitation
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28
Prayer
Jesus,
Who did suffer a brief, anguished death,
And twenty centuries of planned obsolescence,
Be with me in the hour of my death,
And whenever else I find
I’m not quite as modern as anticipated.
Patrick Walker

The Stations
1. Christ is condemned to death.
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released to them Barabbas; and, having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified
Mark 15:15
`
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane.
The tane unto the t’other did say.
“Where shall we gang and dine today?

“In behind yon all fail dyke,
I wot their lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hounds, and his lady fair.

“His hound is to the hunting gane.
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s ta’en another mate,
So we may make our dinner sweet.

“Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pick out his bonny blue een.
Wi’ ae lock of his golden hair.
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.

“Many a one for him makes mane,
But nane shall ken where he is gane,
O’er his white banes where they are bare,
The wind shall blaw for evermair.”

“The Twa Corbies,” Anonymous (date uncertain)
2. The cross is laid upon Jesus
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.
John 19:17
O Sight of Anguish! View it near—
What weeping innocence is here–
A manger for his bed!

The brutes yield refuge to his woe—
Men, worse than brutes, no pity show,
Nor give him friendly aid!

Say, radiant Seraphs thron’d  in light,
Did love e’er tower so high of flight?—
Or glory sink so low?

Samuel Worcester, Hymn #12, “Pilgrim,” as sung by Tim Eriksen.

3. Jesus falls.
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:13
“[Frodo] shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand. Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He as able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures, two standing by the lip of the dell, three advancing. …Their eyes fell upon him, and pierced him, as they rushed toward him. … The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In the one hand he held a long sword and the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. Bk. I, chap. 11.

4. Jesus meets his mother.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son! Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”
John 19:16.
Of the dark past
A child is born
With joy and grief
My heart is torn

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

James Joyce, “Ecce Puer.”

5. Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross.
And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country … to carry his cross.
Mark 15:21

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging `eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!”
“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
\
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 3

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.
Mark 14:9
1
marie farrar: month of birth, april
an orphaned minor; rickets; birthmarks, none; previously
of good character, admits that she did kill
her child as follows here in summary.
she visited a woman in a basement
during her second month, so she reported
and there was given two injections
which, though they hurt, did not abort it?
but you i beg, make not your anger manifest
for all that lives needs help from all the rest.

8
between the servants’ privy and her bed (she says
that nothing happened until then), the child
began to cry, which vexed her so, she says
she beat it with her fists, hammering blind and wild
without a pause until the child was quiet, she says.
she took the baby’s body into bed
and held it for the rest of the night, she says
then in the morning hid it in the laundry shed.
but you i beg, make not your anger manifest
for all that lives needs help from all the rest.

9
marie farrar: month of birth, april
died in the meissen penitentiary
an unwed mother, judged by the law, she will
show you how all that lives, lives frailly.
you who bear your sons in laundered linen sheets
and call your pregnancies a `blessed’ state
should never damn the outcast and the weak:
her sin was heavy, but her suffering great.
therefore, i beg, make not your anger manifest
for all that lives needs help from all the rest.
Berthold Brecht, “on the infanticide marie farrar” (trans. anon.)

7. Jesus falls again.
When Judas, this betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. … And, throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
Matthew 27:3, 5

Frodo: “I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, to lose them, so that others may keep them.”

Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Bk. VI, chap. 9.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.
Luke 23:28

Moan for man.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road
9. Jesus falls a third time.
And Peter remembered how Jesus had said, “Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times. And he broke down and wept.
Mark 14:72

“I have come,” [Frodo] said, “but I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!”

Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Bk. VI chap. 3

10. Christ is stripped of his garments.
And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of his purple cloak.
Mark 15:20

Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glittering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breast-plate, which you wear,
That th’ eyes of busy fools may be stopp’d there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed-time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’ hill’s shadow steals.
Off with your wiry coronet, and show
The hairy diadems which on you do grow.
Off with your hose and shoes; then softly tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
….
O, my America, my Newfoundland,
My kingdom, safest when with one man mann’d,
My mine of precious stones, my empery ;
How am I blest in thus discovering thee ! …
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee;
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be
To taste whole joys. ….
As liberally as to thy midwife show
Thyself; cast all, yea, this white linen hence;
There is no penance due to innocence:
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then,
What needst thou have more covering than a man?

John Donne, “To His Mistress Going to Bed,”

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
And it was the third hour when they crucified him.
Mark 15:25
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre or pyre
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Pt. IV.

12. Jesus dies.
And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbactani?” which means, “My God, my God, why has though forsaken me.

Mark 15:34.
It is finished.
John 19:30
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine trees covered with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sum; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man.”
13 .Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross.
And he brought a linen shroud, and, taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud.

Mark 15:46
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”

14 Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb.
And [Joseph of Arimithea] laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Mark 15:46
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Easter
And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, he is not here.” … And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mark 16:8

Sam: ”Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue.”

Tolkein, Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Bk. VI, chap. 4.

Christ will be in agony until the end of the world; we must not sleep during that time.
Pascal

A Maverick Manifesto

November 17, 2009

Everyone these days agrees that our world is falling apart, though each party hastens to blame the other. In a world in which partisanship is both furious and all-pervasive, my approach to social and political issues is that of an unabashed maverick. During the last Administration, Bush-bashing went beyond all political measure, continuing even when he was a lame duck in every sense of the word; the new President, Barack Obama, has been accused of being both a fascist and a secret Muslim, and the movement to impeach him has already begun. Ideological lynch mobs against people like Larry Summers are common in the academy, and David Frum published an enemies list of fellow Conservatives, accusing them of treason for failure to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At the same time, the cult of the personality – once of Bush, now of Obama – remains a conspicuous feature of our political life

The philosopher who attempts some distance from the passions of the moment to reflect on the roots of human social life is constantly running into ideological mine-fields: this one has been accused of anti-Semitism for emphasizing common human nature (the book so accused is [12]). To oppose both abortion and torture is to place oneself outside of both of the contending political tribes (on torture see [21]).  Such a philosopher will inevitably be a maverick, though one who tries to remain in dialogue with the members of the various herds he finds in the world around him.

Social and political philosophy is never value-neutral, as the cases of Plato, Locke, and Marx make clear. And if the practical implications of a philosophical work, for example my teacher John Searle’s Construction of Social Reality, are obscure, that fact is a problem for him.

Thought about philosophical issues should no longer, however, be dominated by the Left-Right continuum inherited from the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly. In an unfortunate development, Left unless otherwise specified has come to mean cultural Left – advocacy for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transpeople and women seeking abortions – rather than a defense of the poor and working class. The rural poor, especially if heterosexual white men, are neglected: people who otherwise abominate derogatory names for groups happily use such expressions as redneck, hillbilly, and poor white trash. (One such man prefers Appalachian American.) Meanwhile, the rich are well able to take care of themselves; there are even institutions in which willing intellectuals can sell themselves in accordance with a sort of inverted Marxism. Likewise, liberal and conservative were never proper antonyms. Virtually everybody these days is some sort of liberal (the alternative is holy war against ideological and cultural opponents). And the best sense of conservative is cautious, as in a conservative investment strategy. As such conservative is a relative term.

Both the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ halves of the American political spectrum are in a state of moral and intellectual collapse. The Left suffers from the simultaneous breakdown of Liberal Protestantism, defeated by its unwillingness to say that certain positions are not Christian; and of Marxism, defeated by the untrustworthiness of ‘laws’ of history, whether of the ‘progressive’ or the ‘reactionary’ sort. The Right rests on a forced alliance between cultural traditionalists and Libertarians – those who hate the federal government because it corrupts their communities, and those who hate it because it restrains their greed. While proponents of a new Tea Party have good reasons for distrusting the government, they have not the least idea how to shrink the government or what to do once it has shrunk. The assumption, that if Big Government would just go away, materially and morally supportive communities would somehow come forward, rests on nothing but a wish and a promise.

Then there the Corporatists, who have no interest in small government or cultural traditions except so far as they favor the interests of their clients.  To the extent that such people have a philosophy, it is a kind of inverted Marxism, The ruling ideas of the epoch are and ought to be the ideas of the ruling class — and those who think otherwise are truants, smart-alecks, or friends of terrorists, even if they are in other respects conservative. 

In this context, I have been developing a communitarian social and political philosophy based, first on our common humanity [9, 10, 11, 12, 16]; and second, on belief in a transcendent God, Who is able to place all of our institutions, practices, and movements under judgment [15]. My interest in the religious issues goes back to my early work on the ontological argument [for example 8], but has since turned to the question, how does God interact with ordinary human life? Though myself a (theologically moderate) Roman Catholic, I have been exploring the Calvinist roots of American culture, which continue to exert a subterranean influence on our minds and imaginations [4]. For, despite its harsh side, Calvinism presents a vision of our common humanity in the face of death and a transcendent God, which is a necessary element in any humanistic program.

While I take the religious dimension of this program seriously, I reject the attempt to turn a faith-community or political movement into a sort of coven, whose members talk only to one another, cut away common ground with outsiders, and egg one another on to more and more extreme positions. Groups that have attempted to bridge cultural and political divides, such as the Anglican Communion, break up noisily. Politically engaged Christians are now usually Democrats or Republicans first, and believers second. I do not appeal to religion to certify particular moral or political positions: as far as I can see no one, believer or otherwise, knows how much religion has affected his convictions. What is important is that God is the Supreme Judge, Who stands above our factional conflicts and upholds the dignity of every person.

The claims of common humanity begin with the right to live, obscured though it is by the explosion of other rights-claims [9; more briefly 10, 11; see also 2 and 6]. This means seamless garment pro-life ethics [5], including recognition of the right of all people to decent health care. It is frustrating to see trauma care held hostage to abortion, and only slightly less frustrating to see repugnance to abortion enlisted into a generalized attack on governmental support for health and welfare. Yet we must expect cultural conflict to bedevil the post-New Deal state, both in the domain of health care (for more reasons see [3]) and wherever else serious questions arise.

Though not the only offense against human life, abortion remains especially obnoxious, since it denies both the humanity of the unwanted and the bond between mother and child. Almost as important is the right to be free from torture, until just recently common ground among people of every persuasion. The ‘wet liberal’ (by which I understand a liberal by inheritance rather than conviction) Richard Rorty has said in the New Republic that we have nothing to say to torturers except that is not the way we do things here (on Rorty, see [13]). But then it turns out that we do.

Torture is in some ways a worse offense against human dignity than killing, since it is not content to eliminate a person who stands in our way, but keeps him alive more effectively to subject him to our will [see 21].

I also continue the traditional humanistic dislike of the deep and widening gap between rich and poor, both in our own society and in the world at large, though absolute equality may not be desirable or attainable. For such a division undermines our sense of common humanity, especially in a world in which the poor are constantly reminded both of the luxuries of the rich and the contempt in which the more fortunate hold them. Phenomena such as human trafficking, reproductive prostitution, and the market in human organs are the natural result of such a division. Reportedly, we are now building a new prison every week.

A belief in our common humanity is central to my outlook. And that we are all ‘of woman born’ is an anciently recognized bond of common humanity. Thus issues of sex and gender are at the center of our cultural conflicts [17]. Though I find the persecution of gays and lesbians abhorrent, heterosexuality – and especially heterosexual marriage – remains central to a way of life in which the differences among us, including differences of sex, are subordinate to our common humanity.

Yet one recurrent feature of human nature is the tendency to form mutually uncomprehending and often hostile groups [see 18]. The clash of dogmatically held perspectives, the more stridently held the weaker their rational basis, characterizes much contemporary discourse. There are people who refuse to believe that their adversaries care what they say they care about. Alison Jaggar refuses to acknowledge that pro-life people are in fact pro-life. And the breakdown of society into warring tribes, followed by authoritarian rule established by one of them, is very real.

We need at least to attempt to reason in ways that engage adversaries. For this purpose, we need two kinds of liberal education: education in an in-depth appreciation of one tradition, resulting in a richly and finely crafted version of a shared outlook; and education for dialogue with other outlooks [12, 13]. All parents instill ‘values’ into their children; those who let them reach maturity and make up their minds have taught them indifference. Before children have reached the age of critical reflection, the alternative to parental instruction is the rampant consumerism of the media, or propaganda for the outlook of the educational establishment.

People of all backgrounds need to learn to appreciate one another’s common humanity, and learn from one another. Academic freedom needs to be understood, not as the privilege of protected professionals, but as a way of facilitating dialogue among various points of view [1]. Training in dialogue is essential to civic education, though there will inevitably be (we may hope only a few) people with whom dialogue is impossible. The idea of a ‘canon’ is far too rigid, and confuses religious and secular education. But the Great Books of the Western tradition, supplemented by contemporary writings whose status as yet undecided, form a sound basis for such education for people in contemporary America. Exploration of at least one alien tradition in all its dimensions including the spiritual, and the study of at one foreign language, will make students aware of other ways of seeing the world, and help them both understand social outsiders and have a deeper appreciation of their own tradition. All of this may seem irrelevant, in a world in which many children receive only a custodial education. But negative egalitarianism about education is absurd; it is our task to see to it that as many citizens as possible have the equipment to understand our shared problems and evaluate proposed remedies

The hardest question, for all my positions, is why? Why should we value even the most unattractive members of the human species, and why should it bother us if the human race or some part of it dies out? Relativism does not provide a foundation for tolerance among rival outlooks [15]. If there were any doubt about this point, an encounter with Islam, which holds the Qu’ran is the Word of God and Mohammed only a ‘tube,’ should make the matter plain. For a relativist can say neither that Muslims are wrong, nor that they are right, nor that they are ‘really’ relativists after all.

One answer to the resulting questions is dogmatism and dishonesty, as when Martha Nussbaum builds her political program into her account of human capabilities (and is prepared to misrepresent the text to make Plato seem to fit). Another is the demand that one’s adversaries proceed under a veil of ignorance concerning their fundamental beliefs; less elegantly, believers are told to ‘sit down and shut up.’ Such political philosophies are, in the last resort, two more versions of the doctrine that might makes right.

A better answer is that all of us are created in the image of God. The most important challenge to this belief is the secular religion extrapolated from the theory of evolution, which implies that we are nothing more that brute animals. But as science as opposed to Myth, evolution describes but does not explain (for example why some ‘adaptive’ mutation occurs). So evolution does not explain why human beings happened, and thus poses no threat to the idea of human dignity [7, 20]. So, if we are to avoid the doctrine that might makes right, we should continue to adhere to the belief that we are created in the image of God. And on this basis we can develop a Communitarian social philosophy [19]. As far as practice is concerned, we are called, not to be successful, but to be faithful.

I welcome comments both from supporters and critics of this project.

Philip E. Devine
Professor of Philosophy
Providence College
pdevine@providence.edu

For a vita with publications, see http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/vita/

For a photograph and statement of teaching goals, see http://www.providence.edu/Academics/Faculty/Humanities/Devine.htm

REFERENCES
(All by Philip Devine except as otherwise noted)
1. “Academic Freedom in the Postmodern World.” Public Affairs Quarterly, 10, no. 3 (July 1996): 185-201.
2. “Abortion: A Communitarian Pro-life Perspective” and “Reply to Tooley and Jaggar” (both with Celia Wolf-Devine), in Michael Tooley et al. Abortion: Three Perspectives (Oxford: 2009).
3. “AIDS and the L-Word.” Public Affairs Quarterly. 5, no. 2 (April 1991): 137-147.
4. “Born to Die.” Semi-published.  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/born-to-die/
5. “Capital Punishment and the Sanctity of Life,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy (2000):: 249-53.
6. “’Conservative’ Views of Abortion,” Advances in Bioethics.  Vol. 2, New Essays on Abortion and Bioethics.ed. Rem B. Edwards (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1997): 151-202.
7. “Creation and Evolution,” Religious Studies, 32, no. 3 (summer 1996).
8. “Does St. Anselm Beg the Question?” Philosophy. 50 (July 1975): 255-260.
9. The Ethics of Homicide.  (Cornell, 1978; reprinted Notre Dame, 1990).
10. “Homicide,” International Encyclopedia of Ethics.(Wiley: forthcoming).
11. “Homicide: Criminal Versus Justifiable,”Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. Ed. Ruth Chadwick (San Diego: Academic Press, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 587-9.;
12. Human Diversity and the Culture Wars.  (Praeger, 1996).
13.  The New Fuzziness:  Richard Rorty on Education.(semi-published).
14. Natural Law Ethics. (Greenwood, 2001).
15. “Relativism, Abortion, and Tolerance.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 48 (summer 1987): 131-38.
16. Relativism, Nihilism and God (Notre Dame, 1989)
17. Sex and Gender: A Spectrum of Views, with Celia Wolf-Devine. (Wadsworth, 2003)
18. Them: A Study in Excommunication. In progress. Prospectus available.  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/them-a-study-in-excommunication/
19. We (semi-published). http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/we-title/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/we-preface  /http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/we-introduction/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/we-chapter-1-2/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/wechap-2  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/we-chapter-3//  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/we-chapter-4/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/we-chap-5/   http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/we-chap-6/   http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/we-chapter-7/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/we-chapter-8/   http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/we-chapter-9/   http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/we-chap-10/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/we-chap-11-2/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/we-chap-12/   http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/we-conclusion/  http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/we-bibliography/
20. “What is Naturalism?” Philosophia Christi. 8, no. 1 (2006): 111-125.
21. What’s Wrong with Torture?” International Philosophical Quarterly, September 2009.

POLITICS AFTER MACINTYRE

July 30, 2014

POLITICS AFTER MACINTYRE

ABSTRACT

MacIntyre is known for his root-and-branch rejection of liberalism (which includes many political philosophies known as conservative); he neatly synthesizes Left and Right critiques of liberalism.  I trace the Marxist background of MacIntyre’s position, and ask what the practical consequences of its acceptance might be.  I conclude that MacIntyre requires a form of liberalism, to protect the communities of virtue he advocates against other communities and the secular state.

            I give my political loyalty to no program.

Alasdair MacIntyre (K 265)

            MacIntyre is known for his root-and-branch rejection of liberalism (which includes many the political philosophies called conservative). Neatly synthesizing Left and Right critiques of liberalism, he has observed,

Liberalism, while imposing through state power regimes that declare everybody free to pursue whatever they take to be their own good, deprives most people of the possibility of understanding their lives as a quest for the discovery and achievement of the good, especially by the way in which it attempts to discredit those traditional forms of human community within which the project has to be embodied.  (K 258)

 In one sense at least he is  a radical; he is not concerned only with questions of distribution of acknowledged goods, but also with challenges to prevailing understandings of well-being that condition what is thought to be a benefit and what a burden.              

                        In this essay I will accept MacIntyre’s Aristotelianism and the critique of liberal society it supports for the sake of argument, and ask how these views can be translated into practice. The first step in my inquiry will be a look at his Marxist past.     

            MacIntyre’s Marxism had the following features. 

  1. A constant theme in the development of MacIntyre’s philosophy, both in his Marxist and his post-Marxist periods, is that it is not a mere theoretical reflection, but requires translation into practice (see for example E 103, 422, 424).
  2. MacIntyre’s Marxism was democratic, regarding the bureaucratic collectivism that prevailed in the former Soviet Union as a profound betrayal of the Marxist cause.
  3. It was international, opposed to any version of “socialism in one country” (E chap. 26).
  4. It was anti-reformist, arguing that the capitalist system had the power to absorb and pervert any change (E chaps. 19, 23, 30, 32).
  5. It rejected the construction of utopian enclaves, whether socialist (E chap 9) or Christian (E chap. 18) in inspiration.
  6. Putting the last three points together, it was committed both to transforming the whole world, and to transforming it wholly. In jargon, his was ‘maximalist’ version of Marxism. In this he followed Trotsky.
  7. He regarded the socialist project as a historical failure. He concluded: “The central question about socialism is whether the tragedy sprang merely from local circumstances … or from deeper and more permanent factors in the life of the working class and of socialist parties and groups” (E 393). 
  8. His evaluation of the historical situation led to some difficult moral and political judgments (e.g. E chap. 43, 352, 61-62 67).  For example, exactly what was wrong about the political justice employed by the victorious Soviets after the Hungarian Revolution, and right about that of Fidel Castro? (K 48).
  9. The upshot of his argument was that “those who make the conquest of state power their aim are always, in the end, conquered by it” (E 416).

            Nonetheless, phenomena such as wealth polarization, the shameless marketing of expensive, unneeded goods, the disproportionate political power of the top one percent, the collapse of law into the use of judicial power in defense of the privileges of the rich, and the extrajudicial killing of foes of the regime, suggest that Marxism retains its relevance.  The notorious case of Citizens United v. FCC, 2010, seems to me worse than its critics suppose.  Neither the majority nor the dissenters understood the, to me elementary,  distinction between a group of citizens supporting a common cause, and a business corporation which donates to both sides of an election, so as to have friends in office whoever wins.

            Trotskyists have sometimes proved politically significant:   Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez described himself as a Trotskyist.  His claim met with a mixed reception among the faithful, and in characteristic Latin fashion he returned to the Church before his death (http:aciprensa.com/noticias/hugo-chavez-murio-en-el-seno-de-la-iglesia-12000/#U5oKolvdWSo (June 12, 2014)).  In any event, the number of Marxist true believers falls far below their aspirations, and their insistence on doctrinal purity keeps their groups small.   And no one has explained, except by an appeal to Providence smuggled in through Hegel, how if capitalism collapses anything but Stalinist (or other) barbarism will ensue. 

             The key theoretical text here is Marx’s Third Thesis on Feuerbach;

The materialist doctrine that men are the products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator himself  needs educating. Hence the doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The word men here is generic:  there are many women who take a strongly elitist approach.

            Workingmen and women have understandably preferred the relief of present distress to long term goals; they have also preferred national or other sectional solidarities to solidarity with all workingmen and women everywhere.   Hence arises the dilemma of socialist leadership:  whether the socialist elite should regard itself as above the working class and manipulate them, or immerse themselves in the working class and attempt to give voice to their interests as workingmen and women themselves understand them.  In either case they will water down or betray the socialist project.

            For those Marxists who could not swallow Stalinist orthodoxy, it turned out that “Marxism is only a theory, only an idea, it lacks any material incarnation” (E chap. 24, 320).  Yet from his Marxist past MacIntyre retains both a critique of liberalism, and hence also a critique of capitalism, and a demand for a philosophy capable guiding political practice.

            MacIntyre’s argument against liberalism can be explicated in terms of the perennial problem of the transmission of the social contract.   Liberalism can maintain itself as a socially embodied tradition, persisting from generation to generation, only by methods that are by liberal criteria illegitimate.  The resulting contract is constantly renegotiated as the relationship between politically active groups changes.  Out-groups have to struggle for acceptance, and when they succeed, are transformed in the process — sometimes becoming oppressors in their turn.  And children, the elderly, and future generations lack bargaining power independent of the conventions of society and thus are always at a disadvantage.             In his response to this situation, MacIntyre looks for virtuous communities governed by their own traditions of excellence. He here touches base with Rousseau. In my evaluation, I shall neither ignore nor be bound by MacIntyre’s political positions; though MacIntyre may know his own thought better than anyone else, he is not infallible concerning its interpretation and application.           

            Benjamin Smith and Thaddeus Kozinski respond to MacIntyre’s argument by using his philosophy to revive the political theology or theological politics defended by St. Thomas Aquinas in a different historical context. In practice, this appears to mean that, in Smith’s words,

Contemporary Christians should advocate radical political decentralization, so that practical political life can be relocated onto the local level where it is more likely that we will find – or be able to create – communities of organic Christian solidarity capable of naturally developing and supporting forms of Christian politics.

MacIntyre does not accept Thomistic restorationism.  In a recent article he has written,

Newman as a historian remarked on the fact that political establishment of the church has been bad for the church, often very bad indeed.  [If so,] … then we have strong theistic reasons for holding in political society [no religious association] … should be established. So, although for a very different reason from the secularizers, theists can and should be in favor of political forums in which variety of theistic and other voices can be heard.   

            MacIntyre’s solution is to at least modify his earlier anti-utopianism, and call for the creation of virtuous, or as I shall sometimes call them ‘intentional,’ communities, each founded on what Rawls has called a comprehensive view;  and each with its accompanying tradition and array of virtues and practices.  The issue is how such communities will interact with other communities and with the larger society.  Some jurists suggest a “rizomorphic” process of interaction among these communities.    (The word rizomorphic is taken from Deleuze and refers originally to the branching roots of certain fungi.)   Outsiders will consider all of them virtuous; some of them will be considered cults or criminal conspiracies. Sometimes the relationship between an intentional community and the larger society has ended in blood,

            While virtuous communities need not be religious in the usual sense, I shall discuss faith-based communities here, since they represent most of our relevant experience. 

MacIntyre has recommended that a virtuous community should be “wary and antagonistic in all its dealings with the state and the market economy” (K 252), but has not explored the necessities of a politics of self-defense.   Even if the members of an intentional community gained control of a nation-state or some part of one, they would still have to deal with the pressures of the European Union on its constituent states, see http://philipdevine.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/alas-babylon/, of American imperial power of all states other than the “hyperpower,” and of the global market economy on everyone.   

            In America, the ways in which the larger society impinges on a virtuous community go well beyond the Health and Human Services mandates that have received all the press.     Limiting ourselves to state action for the time being, the federal privacy regulations for health care have a serious impact on religious communities’ access to their seriously ill members.   In order to fend off threats from the larger society without bloodshed, virtuous communities will have to develop a constitutional apologetics, invoking such stock liberal ideas as freedom of religion and conscience.  Even if the state is scrupulously respectful, he economic and psychological pressures of the larger society will bear on the dissident community generation after generation.  Moreover, as MacIntyre has acknowledged, children require both stable family structures and enough to eat if they are to learn, both of which require a community to forsake virtuous poverty and secure adequate economic resources

             There is a great need for dialogue between MacIntyre’s admirers and those Jewish spokesmen who take their tradition seriously, and can reflect on long experience as a minority culture.    But Hilary Putnam, the one avowedly Jewish spokesman I know of who has addressed MacIntyre, falsely accuses him of devotion to the status quo (for MacIntyre’s reply see K 25)    And MacIntyre unfortunately feeds Jewish suspicions his use of the Soviet Russian expression “rootless cosmopolitans” (K 135), which originated in a Slavophil campaign against Western influence but whose target was subsequently was narrowed to Jews.   The same reasons that dictate dialogue with Jews also dictate dialogue with Muslims and Mormons.

            So far we have politics as usual, though viewed from the angle of the ideal more than the material interests of competing groups.   In technical language, MacIntyre’s argument ends up supporting modus vivendi liberalism, for which “‘civil peace’ is not preceded by the adjective ‘mere.’” Yet MacIntyre goes beyond modus vivendi liberalism, to value dialogue among rival traditions.  He favors a society that “will ask what is to learned from … dissenters.  It will therefore not only to tolerate dissent, but to enter into rational conversation with it and cultivate as political virtue not merely a passive tolerance, but an active and enquiring attitude toward  radically dissenting views” (K 251).    This remark balances the defensive drift of the argument so far, and provides a useful counterweight to demands, which sometimes claim MacIntyre’s authority, for universities dominated by their theology departments, and in which intellectual rigor is subordinated to piety.  

            Such an approach does not help much, however, in dealing with the intellectual battles to which the culture wars give birth.   What is lacking is training in argument of a sort that will not be instantly rejected by outsiders to one’s political or metaphysical perspective. Such dialogue is not merely part of MacIntyre’s intellectual program; it is also a practical necessity,

            I do not assume that tradition-transcending intellectual standards are available only that there is some overlap between the standards of adherents of one tradition and those of adherents of another. .  Some believers and some unbelievers  can agree, for example, that one should engage an opponent as charitably as possible, at least until his bad faith is proved beyond reasonable doubt.  Readers tempted to despair about the possibility of dialogue across ideological boundaries should read Thomas Nagel’s recent review of Alvin Plantinga (www.nybooks.com/articles/archives2012/sep/27/philosopher-defends-religion/?pagination=false#fnr-2),

            Some intentional communities will endeavor to transform the larger society in accordance with its conceptions of justice and the good for human beings.   Since a MacIntyrean community is on all accounts very small, a ‘city on the hill’ strategy – inducing others to imitate one’s community by one’s success in achieving one’s ideal – seems the only way of so doing.  (Frances Fitzgerald, in Cities on a Hill (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986) provides thick descriptions of four radically different contemporary American communities, each of them in its own way disturbing.)  This will be especially be true in marriage and family life, especially insofar as successful child rearing will require grandparents, aunts and uncles, and  celibate orders with a teaching mission their functional equivalent. 

             We therefore need a communitarian form of Civic Republicanism, in which representatives of various intentional communities agree to co-exist under shared laws, providing at least for mutual non-aggression; and concur in valuing a free society so understood. The usual liberal apparatus of courts will also be necessary, to adjudicate the boundary conflicts between various sorts of community.  Even America’s debilitated civil religion might lend support to freedom of conscience.   There is some reason to hope that the American judiciary can be moved in the desired direction. The recent unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, 138 S.Ct. 694 (2012) and the narrowly decided Hobby Lobby decision, 2014, are from a MacIntyrean perspective hopeful.  [1]

            Some writers have attempted to reach an accommodation between MacIntyre’s philosophy and the liberal language of rights. Even MacIntyre, though notorious for his rights-skepticism, has moderated his position to allow for communally based claims of right.      Virtually any normative framework can support claims of right, though rights-skeptics are right to protest the habit of taking such claims as self-evident deliverances of the moral consciousness.     The appropriate frame of reference for the resulting debates is minimum-claim pragmatism, along the lines defended by Jeffrey Stout, which sedulously refrains from asserting that practice-transcending claims of truth are impossible, while abstaining from such claims as well.   Yet this policy of abstinence will come to an inevitable end; metaphysical and religious issues can arise anywhere, though they need not arise everywhere.  And the greater the diversity of outlooks admitted to the conversation, the less reason we will have to expect convergence.

            My argument has implications for the contested concept of the common good.  The common good of an intentional community will be defined by its comprehensive view, which may contain elements derived from revelation as well as from reason. The common good of a pluralistic society will include the avoidance of civil war – of tribe against tribe rather than of individual against individual – that happens when civil conversation breaks down.  And MacIntyre offers something richer.  He has observed that “the good life for man is the life spent in seeking the good life for man” (K 91).  Analogues, the common good of a pluralistic society includes a shared search for the common good.

Politics takes place among human beings, whose life is always larger than their beliefs. The material basis of social life is the bare existence of human beings, and since we are mortal, our need to reproduce ourselves culturally as well as biologically.  Communities of virtue, with the exception of celibate communities not rooted in a larger breeding community, will do well by this standard.

            Moreover, as a theistic philosopher, MacIntyre is entitled to believe in a transcendent source of help and hope.  But what should we hope for?  That God will re-activate the world proletarian revolution?  That He will rapture us from a decaying world, at natural death or as excitable Christians have supposed, at some earlier time, so that we will escape the wrath to come? That He will intervene and put an end to the human comedy? That we will be able to fight the wars of the Lord in small or large ways, without knowledge of the results?   All of these answers and others as well have precedents in the history of theological politics.  But what Christopher Lutz has called the “Marxist, ex-Marxist, and post-Marxist audience”    that is looking for a way to revive their old belief, or fill a Marxism-shaped gap in their thought and practice, are certain to be disappointed.

This essay is a sequel to my “The Concept of Tradition,” delivered at the ISME meeting in Providence Rhode Island, July 2011, and published in Reason Papers 35, no. 1 (July 2013): 107-12.  It was delivered to the Philosophy Department at Providence College in March 2012 and at the ISME meeting in Athens in July 2014. I am indebted to the participants in these discussions for their comments, and in particular to Michael Murray for putting his observations in writing.   I am also deeply indebted to two anthologies: Kelvin Knight, ed., The MacIntyre Reader (Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1998) (cited as K); and  Paul Blackledge and Neil Davidson, eds., Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism (Chicago:  Haymarket, 2009) (cited as E).

 

 

 

 

 

Douthat on diversity and dishonesty

June 9, 2014

Everyone, right, or center (whatever these words mean these days), should read this piece by Ross Douthat. It was published in the New York Times.

Diversity and Dishonesty

EARLIER this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

No higher-up at Harvard endorsed her argument, of course. But its honesty of purpose made an instructive contrast to the institutional statements put out in the immediate aftermath of two recent controversies — the resignation of the Mozilla Foundation’s C.E.O., Brendan Eich, and the withdrawal, by Brandeis University, of the honorary degree it had promised to the human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released.

Instead, the Mozilla statement rambled in the language of inclusion: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions. …”

The statement on Hirsi Ali was slightly more direct, saying that “her past statements … are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” But it never specified what those statements or those values might be — and then it fell back, too, on pieties about diversity: “In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”

What both cases illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.

The defect, crucially, is not this culture’s bias against social conservatives, or its discomfort with stinging attacks on non-Western religions. Rather, it’s the refusal to admit — to others, and to itself — that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to “free expression” or “diversity” affirmed in mission statements and news releases.

This refusal, this self-deception, means that we have far too many powerful communities (corporate, academic, journalistic) that are simultaneously dogmatic and dishonest about it — that promise diversity but only as the left defines it, that fill their ranks with ideologues and then claim to stand athwart bias and misinformation, that speak the language of pluralism while presiding over communities that resemble the beau ideal of Sandra Y. L. Korn.

Harvard itself is a perfect example of this pattern: As Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame pointed out when the column was making waves, Korn could only come up with one contemporary example of a Harvardian voice that ought to be silenced — “a single conservative octogenarian,” the political philosophy professor Harvey Mansfield. Her call for censorship, Deneen concluded, “is at this point almost wholly unnecessary, since there are nearly no conservatives to be found at Harvard.”

I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.

But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.

And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.

Secret of the Strauss Divided

June 9, 2014

THE SECRET OF THE STRAUSS DIVIDED
As many people have seen, Leo Strauss and his followers follow the example of those whom they view as great writers and practice esoteric writing. The purpose of such writing is not, however, so much to protect philosophers from the fate of Socrates, but to protect contemporary societies from the subversive impact of philosophical reason. The Straussians are self-hating and closeted modernists (or more accurately historical relativists), and wars among various schools of Straussian – Eastern, Midwestern and Western – turn on disagreements on how best to maintain their cover.
***

If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so.
Aragorn in Lord of the Rings
Nietzsche so dominated and bewitched me between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed everything that I understood of him.
Leo Strauss, Letter to Karl Loewith, 1935
Sometimes the best argument is the least persuasive, and the most persuasive far from being the best. That those who dissemble often do so in the cause of injustice does not mean that those who do dissemble may not do so in the cause of justice. … There is no time in which the truth may not require a bodyguard of lies.
Henry V. Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom
It is self-evident that a pious fraud cannot work if it is announced to be a pious fraud.
Ronald Beiner, Civil Religion
Leo Strauss and his followers are known for their belief that contemporary societies are disintegrating for spiritual reasons. (For a forceful restatement of Strauss’s central argument see Thomas L. Pangle, Leo Strauss (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Strauss-Introduction-Intellectual-Constitutional/dp/0801884403, chap. 1.) Moral relativism, they complain, has invaded even the churches. Their interpretation of the crisis of modernity, however, is the subject of a schism among Straussians of various persuasions – West Coast, East Coast and Midwestern.
(Henry V. Jaffa et al, Crisis of the Strauss Divided (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012), http://www.amazon.com/Crisis-Strauss-Divided-Essays-Straussianism/dp/1442217111, is devoted to intra-Straussian conflicts. I found the following short discussions of the debates among Straussians useful: Larry Arnhart, ”Three Cheers for Midwest Strausianism!–Strauss, Science, and the Zuckerts,” 2009, http://darwinianconservatism.blogspot.com/2009/09/three-cheers-for-midweststraussianism ; Mark Henrie , “The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles,” 2013, http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=871 , and Steven Smith, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism (extract), http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/764028.html .)
THE PROBLEM
If someone tells you, as Strauss does, that the wisest philosophers have practiced esoteric teaching, the implication, Go and do likewise, seems evident. If such philosophers are portrayed as holding more or the less the same views, the implication that these views are correct is likewise powerful. Moreover, the Straussians themselves use the method of finding secret messages in their accounts of Strauss and their polemics with one another. (See Jaffa’s exchange with Thomas Pangle in Strauss Divided, chaps. 4-6.) Straussians all assume that if we accept a supra-conventional morality, whether by reason or through revelation, its features will be for the most part the same for all moralists, and will include firm even if not exceptionless prohibitions on such things as lying and sexual misconduct. (Non Straussians are more doubtful.) Whether there in fact is such a supraconventional morality, based on reason or revelation or some mixture of the two, is on Straussian premises questionable.
For these reasons, Straussians are suspected of inculcating, though a practice of reading between the lines, an exoteric teaching that upholds classical and Christian understandings of virtue, with an esoteric teaching that advocates traditional morality for the masses while allowing the philosophical elite to enjoy lawless pleasures — a teaching is conveyed to the ‘puppies of his race’ by a master schooled in the secret wisdom of the classics. As Strauss himself puts it, “all [great] books owe their existence of the love of the mature philosopher for the puppies of his race, by whom he wants to be loved in turn.” (Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), http://www.amazon.com/Persecution-Art-Writing-Leo-Strauss/dp/022677711, p. 36.)
Plato and Socrates, Strauss holds, were discreet sophists. Consider the following observations on Plato’s Republic: “the proper work of a writing is truly to talk, or reveal the truth, to some while leading others to salutary opinions; the proper work of a writing is to arouse to thinking those who are by nature fit for it”; “the action of the first book consists in a marvelous victory for Socrates. As we have seen, that action is also a disgraceful defeat of Socrates the defender of justice.” (The City and Man, http://www.amazon.com/Persecution-Art-Writing-Leo-Strauss/dp/0226777111). If so Socrates’ victory must be that of a sophist. Or consider Strauss’ reading of Clouds, in which everything turns on a private interview between Socrates and Strepsiades, of whose content we know nothing. (Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes (New York: Basic Books, 1966), http://www.amazon.com/Socrates-Aristophanes-Leo-Strauss/dp/0226777197, chap. 2, esp. 22ff.) Strauss goes so far as to say, “[Aristophanes] ridicules Socrates, not for trying to keep his teaching secret from the uninitiate, but for his ineptitude in this respect\” (ibid., p. 314.) .
According to a common understanding of Strauss, promoted by Shaida Drury among others, members of the political and economic elite under philosophical tutelage called ‘gentlemen’ (they might also be ladies) are taught to loudly affirm traditional morality while discreetly violating its tenets when the political expediency so requires. Xenophon, and in our day Henry Jaffa, are a commonly cited examples of gentlemen. And at this point Strauss shows his sinister side.
STRAUSS AND SCHMITT
Chief among the tenets of traditional morality a gentleman will sometimes violate is the laws of war. Nor is this view of Strauss alone; air warfare conducted by ‘civilized’ statesmen has thrown the customary law of war into chaos. As one international lawyer sums it up, “Repeated violations of international law may have occurred, without changing the conviction that they constitute violations, but they may also have been committed with the opinio juris of creating new international law. This is, e.g., now the crucial and basic problem in the chaotic status of the laws of war.” (Josef L. Kunz, “The Nature of the Customary International Law,” American Journal of International Law 47, no. 4 (October, 1953): 68.) But such an erosion of the norm by the exception is the result Strauss and his followers want most to avoid.
In the middle of a book devoted to praising the American belief in natural right, and condemning European historicism and Realpolitik, Strauss not only endorses the ideology of total war, but also proposes to extend this ideology to domestic contexts. In his own words,
[In war] there are no limits which can be defined in advance, there are no assignable limits to what might become just reprisal…. But war casts its shadow upon peace. …. Societies are not only threatened from without. Considerations which apply to foreign enemies may also apply to subversive elements within society. Let us leave these sad exigencies covered with the veil with which they are justly covered. (Strauss. Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Pressm1953) press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/N/bo3643753.html., p.160
The ‘gentleman’ Jaffa agrees that there are” exceptions … to the rules of war – or the rules followed by rulers in protecting their regimes …that one is well advised not to advertise” Jaffa, Strauss Divided, p. 123). In other words, total war can and should be brought home, but we should place what Burke calls a ‘politic veil’ over our war against domestic subversives. But there is no minority, however inoffensive, that might not end up regarded as subversive by the forces of order.
On the issue of departures from ordinary morality and legality in politics, Strauss differs from the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt only in that Strauss is the more prudent and Schmitt is the more honest. One cannot even say Schmitt writes from the perspective of the executioner and Strauss from that of the victim: on the contrary both writers occupy both positions. The Night of the Long Knives, which Schmitt defended, was directed not at Jews or at Leftists, but at fellow Nazis and Conservatives Hitler thought unreliable. Homosexuals were a secondary target.)
Even the most authoritarian politician might draw the line at killing children by reason of their ancestry. Yet it is difficult to resist the argument that extraordinary situations require emergency measures. One way of dealing with the problem of exceptions is a super-principle such as the Principle of Utility, but this Principle is open to endless interpretation, since the relevant causal connections are often unclear. Moreover, Straussians accept neither a hedonistic theory of value nor the claim that statesmen are obliged to weight the interests of outsiders equally with those of their subjects. As we shall see Strauss, following Machiavelli, is interested, not in foreseeable consequences, but with consequences in fact. And these are unknown.
Another way of dealing with the problem is the claim that the prudent person knows when to make an exception. But without some sort of governing principle, appeals to practical wisdom amount to a right to find or make exceptions at will.
Strauss distinguishes between an Aristotelian approach that focuses on the ordinary situation and a Machiavellian approach that focuses on emergencies, though this rhetorical difference is consistent with materially identical normative content. In any event, Jaffa’s characterization of Strauss as “the greatest of all anti-Machiavellians” is indefensible. Perhaps Strauss counseled the violation of ordinary standards for higher reasons than did Machiavelli, but Machiavelli seemed to regard, for reasons unclear to me, the unification of Italy as an end of the highest order (see The Prince, chap. 26).
Yet Strauss defended liberal institutions. He did so on illiberal grounds, and with largely unspoken illiberal reservations. That some people are wiser and better than others, and that some ways of life are nobler than others, we need not dispute. Nor need we dispute the claim that liberal institutions require virtues that only non-liberal institutions such as families and churches foster The issue arises when such ideas are used to chip away at the difference between liberal democracy and populist dictatorship, We must ask whether any ruler, however virtuous, can be trusted with a limitless power to act outside the law; and if so, whether there is any way of making it even probable that our rulers will have the virtues necessary to be be trustworthy in this way. If not, we are left with Richard Nixon’s notorious doctrine that, if the President does it, it’s not illegal. (Interview with David Frost (May 19, 1977), printed in The New York Times (May 20. 1977), p. A16).
THE STRAUSS DIVIDED
Strauss is sometimes treated as a font of superior wisdom rather than as a partner in dialogue, and the books he designates as great are accorded similar status. And like all the groups of disciples that gather around great men, the school of Strauss has undergone schisms. Even in less fraught contexts than total war or its domestic repercussions, the followers of Strauss are committed to the following inconsistent triad.
1. Modernity is bad.
2. America is modern,
3. America is good.
All of these propositions are difficult for Straussians either to hold or to reject. “Midwest” Straussians resolve this contradiction by denying proposition (1). ”West Coast”: Straussians by denying proposition (2), “East Coast” Straussians by denying proposition (3). Hence the Strauss divided.
I here focus on the problem of America’s modernity. The rejection of modernity is Strauss’ signature position. Denying that America is good undercuts the claim of American Straussians to be a conservative movement: if America was misfounded, in a situation of crisis it would seem appropriate to found the commonwealth anew. Denying that America is modern requires denying that Locke and Madison are modern. Even if we distinguish between the real Locke and the Founders’ Locke, Strauss implies that the Founders, as Straussian gentlemen, ingested a poison pill within their governing philosophy, which later events were likely to activate. Even if we adopt a relatively traditionalist reading of Locke, or at least of Locke as understood by the Founding Fathers, as Thomas West does in his Witherspoon Lecture “Vindicating John Locke,” Family Research Council, 2001, http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?c=UNIVERSITY&playItem=WT01F1), the claim that there are no significant differences between Locke on the one hand and Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas on the other, strains credulity.
Alan Bloom is an East Coast Straussian. He writes against the refugee intellectuals among whom Strauss is a leading example. His homosexuality and general hedonism is fuel for the cruder sort of critic. And even people who find homosexual practices acceptable should worry about false pretences and the seduction of students. It seems that Bloom did what Socrates’ accusers suspected him of having done: seducing young men and introducing them into a secret wisdom subversive of the political community, and protected against ordinary forms of critique.
West Coast Straussians, such as the Zuckerts and Jaffa, insist on his friendliness to ‘orthodox’ American opinion. Jaffa believes that Strauss alone withstood the tide of historicism; and, that his writings might have saved a despairing academic from suicide. In the exact middle of one of his books he compares his experience of Strauss with St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. He includes pictures of himself with his wife in his scholarly writings–a practice that might generate suspicion in the paranoid world which the Straussians have helped make. One critic aptly writes of “Harry Jaffa’s Grand Synthesis of Athens, Jerusalem, and Peoria.” (All references to Strauss Divided)
Jaffa is a strong believer in human equality, though on a conservative understanding of the idea. http://www.mmisi.org/21_02/jaffa.pdf . But I do not see how he defends his understanding of egalitarian justice against M. E. Bradford’s claim “that Lincoln’s ‘second founding’ [much admired by Jaffa] is fraught with peril and carries with it with it the prospect of an endless series of turmoils.” http:///www.mmisi/20_0/bradford.pdf In Crisis of the Strauss Divided, he enthusiastically endorses the principles of religious liberty enshrined in the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty and George Washington’s letter to the Newport Synagogue. Yet he is also a determined opponent of the gay movement. In his own words, “No civilized person today wants to persecute homosexuals, or to see them suffer and die from horrible diseases. But it is equally true that no civilized person should wish to see homosexuality accepted as an equally valid ‘alternative lifestyle.’” http://www.angelfire.com/la/jlush/natural law.html ; http://www.claremont.org/publications/pubid.694/pub_detail.asp. In other words, Jews are entitled to full acceptance in America, but not gay men and lesbians.
There is no inconsistency here: any law or policy distinguishes, that is to say discriminates, among people and ways of behaving. Failure to distinguish between the guilty and the falsely accused is the most serious failure of a system of criminal justice. But the ground of distinction needs articulation and defense. Whatever position we take on such issues, we need supraconventional principles enabling us to distinguish among egalitarian claims. And whether these principles rest on reason or revelation or some mixture of the two, we must affirm it as true and not just as politically useful.
The corrupter of youth and the man who emphasized his straightness to the point of bad form represent the two faces of the Straussian movement. Stanley Rosen puts the resulting issue well; “Modernity is not simply a historical period but a condition of the human spirit.” What the Straussians mean by it is a doctrine that also had adherents in the ancient world. Modernists on this understanding hold: There is no truth, at least about human affairs; all there is in human culture is persuasion, by fair means or foul. Pheidippides in Clouds becomes a modernist under Socrates’ tutelage.
What a joy to hang around with
everything that’s new and hip,
being free to disregard all
customary laws and norms.
(Clouds, Jeffrey Henderson)
Pheidippides ‘rewriting of the customary law to allow sons to beat their fathers and mothers runs into an obvious objection: others might rewrite the law to the disadvantage of young men with aristocratic pretensions. (We may call this, after Macbeth, the bloody instructions argument.) Strauss and his followers are anxious to prevent the erosion of the norm by the exception, but they are prepared to make exceptions that they need to keep secret.
Modernity on Strauss’s understanding has both an authoritarian form (Schmitt’s political theology) and a permissive form (every man a philosopher king (L.S. Klepp), and every woman a philosopher-queen); they feed upon one another. The feminist extension of the principle cannot be evaded, though in practice it has serious consequences, insofar as women have been traditionally relied upon to sustain communities; but women turn out to be as capable of the will-to-power as men. Nearly everyone these days holds some form of permissive relativism (“whatever floats your boat”) until terrorism, rape, or clerical pedophilia releases hidden reserves of holy horror.
Strauss rejects the idea of progress. Progress implies that some states of society are better than others, even though all receive the approval, or at least the acquiescence, of the bulk of their members. For if justice is simply whatever set-up people can be brought to accept, the claim that post-Civil War America is more just than pre-Civil War America makes no sense. The problem with modern notions of progress, at least as Strauss understands it, is that they suggest that it is progressive to liberate oneself from any idea of transcendent truth, whether Biblical or Platonic-Aristotelian. This understanding of modernity is supported but not in any sense required by the extreme variety of worldviews with which we must now deal. It frees Straussians and other anti-modernists from the imputation of wanting to return to the Middle Ages, or an Early America mysteriously purged of slavery and the oppression of Native Americans. Yet it puts them under a strong obligation to articulate and defend supra-conventional principles by which they judge some institutions unjust and others unjust.
Strauss and his followers not only hold the key modern doctrine of historical relativism, but they also deplore its popularity in the modern world, especially in the academy and other elite institutions. They are in short both closeted and self-hating modernists. It is to cover up the fault lines in their argument that they both praise and practice esoteric writing.
More fully, the public doctrines of the various schools of Straussians are different ways of covering up positions like the following. Modernity is bad if openly preached, but good if secretly practiced. America is modern, insofar as it is possible to live a modern life fully here, but pre-modern insofar as we continue to give lip service to ‘traditional values.’ America is good, insofar as it makes it possible to live a modern life in an environment that limits its destructive impact, but bad when privately lived minority finds its way elf out of the closet. Modern here is not a chronological category, but refers to an outlook that authorizes superior people to make their own rules, ignoring the claims of both reason and revelation.
SCHOLARSHIP, EDUCATION, POLITICS, AND MORALS
The Straussians present scholarly, educational, political, and ethical issues.
A. Scholarship
Straussians expose the absurdity of value neutral social science, which claims to use words like crime and slums in an ‘objective ‘sense, and refuses to say that Hitler and Stalin were bad people. (On the other hand, there is no need to indulge in the political Manichaeism which issues in phrases like the evil empire.) And they face openly the consequences of accepting fully Nietzsche’s , seeing the absurdity of those who make of him a progressive or, worse yet, a conventional academic. Yet, as Josef Velazquez reminds me, there is a pagan, joyful side to Nietzsche that Strauss ignores. In Strauss’s own words, “There is an important ingredient, not to say the nerve, of Nietzsche’s “theology” of which I have not spoken and shall not speak since I have no access to it” (www.archive.org/stream/LeoStraussOnNietzschesbeyondGoodEvil/Strauss-NoteOnNietzschesBge_djvu.txt ).
As an interpretation of Machiavelli, Locke, Kant, or Mill, Strauss’s understanding of modernity raises the issue of the Straussian method of interpretation. Not content with “the old fashioned and simple opinion that Machiavelli was a teacher of evil,” Strauss goes on to attribute to him impieties worse than those which appear on the surface of the text. The Machiavellian prince as commonly understood – say Shakespeare’s Richard III — acts unscrupulously within fairly stable institutions. It is rather Mussolini who provides Strauss with his model for understanding the implications of Machiavelli for Italian politics. But the proposals of Strauss’ Machiavelli go beyond what Mussolini in fact did — for example he would exile the Pope to Switzerland. And, once we have gone that far, it is easy to imagine worse possibilities.
I would not read out of the text Machiavelli’s adverse judgment on the career of Agathocles of Syracuse (The Prince, chap. 8). According to Strauss, Machiavelli “retracts everything he said in connection with Agathocles about the difference between an able criminal ruler and an able non-criminal ruler” (references to Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli, http://www.amazon.com/Thoughts-Machiavelli-Leo-Strauss/dp/0226777022)_. A reading that saves Machiavelli’s text is that some wicked rulers have succeeded in founding lasting commonwealths, whereas Agathocles is forgotten and Hitler and Stalin – or for that matter Mussolini — are remembered only in infamy. This is not utilitarianism or even ordinary egoism: we are dealing not with foreseeable consequences, but consequences in fact. And these, once again, are unknown.
It is only the historically successful criminals whose principles possess what Harvey Mansfield on behalf of Machiavelli calls effectual truth, http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Machievelli-s-enterprise-7706). But what alleged truths will prove effectual is something not known in advance; as Machiavelli puts it, the result excuses (Discourses I, 9) – and this means not the reasonably foreseeable result, but the result in fact. (Machiavelli is not a utilitarian or even a pragmatist in the usual sense.) If we follow the judgment of St. Augustine, supported by much of Roman (and other) history, the peace of the City of Man is inevitably temporary, limited and tragic, the appeals of Machiavellianism are much diminished.
Moreover, even if we suppose that all the writers of the tradition, from Plato through Maimonides to Locke, have secret doctrines, there is no reason to suppose that they all have the same secret doctrines. Their temperaments, situations, and reasoning abilities remain different, and will affect what they hold secretly as well as what they profess openly. Secret doctrine can include defense of tyrannicide by a person of devout belief as well as selfish hedonism; and deism as well as atheism. The needed consensus of great minds, if it existed, could never be verified.
And, if we cannot verify the consensus of great minds, we are deprived of any reason to suppose that the secret doctrine that Straussians are conveying is true. They have no way of proving it, responding to objections to it, or clarifying its ambiguities. For all of these activities require that the doctrine be put openly on the table. As Mill noticed in On Liberty, a secret doctrine is likely to persist in the shadows of our collective consciousness, neither refuted nor defended nor even explicated.
B. Education
Straussians give careful attention to texts of permanent interest (‘Great Books’) — not as antiquarians but as thinkers concerned with contemporary issues. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, though in every way a product of Jacobean England, inspired the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957), a film many Americans have enjoyed. And Straussians have done useful service in placing Islamic and Jewish writers within the philosophical ‘canon.’
Yet there are portions of the Bible that are not Great Books, even if they are vehicles for revealed truth. I Chronicles (though it has its devotees) is the most boring book of the Bible, but it is as much a part of the Jewish and Christian canon as Ecclesiastes, which fascinates believers and unbelievers alike. It seems to me that the Bhagavad Gita is a Great Book, as are many other works that are neither strictly philosophical nor included in the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is hard to read, in part because the author relentlessly lambastes his hero, but the Man of La Mancha remains an iconic culture figure. Some popular poetry has entered the canon: the Child Ballads, for example. There have been fruitful contemporary debates about the place of both Beowulf and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the secular canon.
Human beings did not cease to write books of permanent interest with the onset of ‘modernity‘(whenever that was). Some modern classics are surprising: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is in many ways a very bad novel, but speaks powerfully to our problems.
As a philosopher, I make no attempt to elucidate the data of revelation (or even to defend one supposed revelation against its rivals). Revelation cannot be subordinated to philosophical ethics, as in Kant, or to a secular ideology of the Left or the Right. But we can exclude the ‘revelations’ promoted by a cult leader who tells his followers to poison themselves and their children.
Reason, however, does not speak with an unequivocal voice, even if we arbitrarily limit ourselves to Plato and Aristotle. If the classics disagree with one another, students need not fear disagreeing with them. If they do not stand outside history, they need not and should not be read without an understanding of their historical context.
Strauss’s educational philosophy when combined with his claims to secret wisdom becomes sinister. But detached from his political program, the reading of dead white males of acknowledged genius, looming above contemporary elites and ordinary folk alike, is no threat to even the most strenuously egalitarian understandings of democracy. For being dead they cannot claim political power or economic privilege. Nor can we generalize from individuals to groups. The fact that Shakespeare was a better writer than Grace Metalious does not imply that I am a better philosopher than G.E.M. Anscombe.
C. Politics.
On the political front, the belief that religion is a socially useful pack of falsehoods may excite dissent, but hardly horror; and the same is true of the belief that traditional morality is good for women and children, and even for a man within his family, but in the cold, cruel world of economics and politics, “a man’s gotta to what a man’s gotta do.” Nowadays one can say anything one wants, short of direct incitement to terrorism, in an anonymous blog. One can find the opinions horrifying to pious opinion, including defenses of pedophilia in accessible places. (The relative obscurity of the sources in which I found defenses of pedophilia is, I fear, a temporary phenomenon.) The openly expressed philosophical views of Richard Rorty are such that one might wish that he had taken the advice of Straussians and expressed them secretly. And one hears these days of closet Christians – Christopher Lasch perhaps. If someone is prepared to bring his secret beliefs and behavior out of the closet, and risk the effects of others’ following his example, then the Straussian argument does not apply. But the closet is not quite dead.
Political Correctness (p.c.) is real, as Larry Summers and Mark Regnerus among others have learned to their cost. And it has spread outside the academy, see http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0405/Mozilla-s-Brendan-Eich-and-gay-marriage-Intolerance-over-tolerance-video. I here refer, not to just any form of imposed orthodoxy, but to intolerance in the name of tolerance, exclusion in the name of inclusiveness, and enforced homogeneity in the name of diversity (see Ross Douthat, “Diversity and Dishonesty,” New York Times, April 12, 2014). Much of p.c.’s power is internal: those who reject contemporary academic orthodoxy are terrified in finding themselves in bed with the Westboro Baptist Church and other raving rightists even though the free speech rights of such people are protected.
But the Straussian strategy is no protection against p.c.: everyone knows that Harvey Mansfield is an odd man out at Harvard. And the suggestion that one holds secret views that one’s opponents would find even more horrifying if they knew what they were is not a prudent course for a professor faced with an academic lynch mob. In fact, Strausianism has contributed to the paranoid atmosphere in the academy which makes p.c. possible, while p.c has pushed timid, or merely prudent, conservative academics in a Straussian direction. So far as the fear of finding oneself a raving rightist is concerned, the remedy lies in making one’s views as clear as possible, both to oneself and to others.
In any case the contest between Nietzsche and the attempt to respect both faith and reason cannot be evaded. I call this project quasi-Thomism, because we need not accept St. Thomas’s particular way of holding together reason and revelation; and, in the case of Strauss, the synthesis is feigned only. And it is feigned, not to protect philosophers from society, but to protect society from philosophers.
D. Morals.
On the ethical front, politics is by common consent the realm of lies. And some of these lies are hard for even the most determined traditionalist to disapprove. During the Holocaust pious Catholics supplied Jews with false baptismal certificates, and few people have the hardihood to speak, as an unsympathetic traditionalist would, of sacrilegious lies http://www.chgs.umn.edu/museum/exhibitions/rescuers/savingDiplomats.htm ; http://www.raoulwallenberg.net/general/humanitarian-actions-monsignor/; http://the-american-catholic.com/2011/02/18/lying-about-the-historical-record/#sthash.wnqUqs5j.dpuf ). In a contemporary and more controversial analogue, a group called “Live Action” used deception to expose illegalities at Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics, http://www.humanlifereview.com/index.php/archives/61-2011-summer/139-live-action-lies (October 30, 2013).
I make no attempt to define the circumstances in which political lying is legitimate, only emphasize that such circumstances must be limited. But I offer some advice: if your situation makes lying necessary, do not advertise the fact. Above all do not drop hints that your real views are repulsive to conventional opinion, for conventional people are likely to suspect you of believing things much worse, from their point of view, than you hold.
The most acceptable reason for lack of candor is pedagogic reticence, whereby a teacher leaves it to his pupils to draw the full implications of his ideas (which he might not be completely sure about himself). A simplified version of the truth is appropriate for children and other intellectually unsophisticated persons, but those capable of understanding the subtleties should be provided with them; this is not a lie, No lying of any sort is involved here. Political reticence does not involve lying either. Frequently, a political figure makes a controversial statement, and then backs down under pressure. It is more prudent to wait until one is prepared, both intellectually and politically, to express one’s full views. But Silence is not lying.
I turn now to real lies. The least interesting of these are garden variety political lies, for example those lies the Bush Administration is widely suspected of telling about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. One hardly needs Straussian instruction to tell this sort of lie.
At a deeper level of deceit truth in the ordinary sense becomes irrelevant in the face of Truth in some higher sense; we may call this the doctrine of political truth. Jay Lovestone wrote of the Moscow Trials:
In effect, we practically ignore the charges, refutations, and counter-charges and ask ourselves, Which side was carrying forward the interests of the revolution and which was obstructing it? Some may be shocked by this utterly “unmoral” approach but it seems to be the approach of history! (Lovestone, “The Moscow Trials in Historical Perspective,” Workers Age 6 (February 6, 1937): 3.)
But careful attention takes away much of the sting of this sort of lie. Lovestone is indifferent to the question of the guilt or innocence of the defendants, and is concerned only with the issue, which for some reason he finds easy, whether they are on the right side of history. His attitude is deplorable but only at the surface deceptive.
The most troubling sort of lie — we may call it philosophical Machiavellianism — concerns matters of principle. An atheist avows Christian faith to advance his political career, a relativist denounces relativism. A believer in plutocracy pretends to be a democrat. Such behavior is not universal among political philosophers: no one to my knowledge suspects Robert George, Alasdair MacIntyre, Herbert Marcuse, John Rawls, or Richard Rorty of systematic duplicity. And there are reasons for this fact.
People tend to believe their own propaganda. Try to convince other people long enough of a certain proposition; you are likely to believe it yourself. But this sort of rhetorical self-manipulation is likely to lead to occasional doubts, which may have to be repressed by violent attacks on the opposition.
THE CENTRAL DILEMMA
More interesting than the thought that Socrates needed to be protected from Athens, is the thought that Athens needed to be protected from Socrates. At this point the question is inevitable, how important are ideas really? In my view, ideas have consequences, though their consequences in fact are not the same as their logical consequences. Nor are ideas the only thing that has consequences. Finally, the ideas that have the most important consequences are not the best developed ideas. Nationalism has had more impact on our world than has nominalism.
In a traditionalist democracy like ancient Athens, the possibility that young men of the elite might come to hold inherited views in contempt, and act instead on views dictated by their passions and appetites, was a real cause for concern. If Socrates held that the superior person is above the requirements of ordinary morality and entitled to revise them for his purposes, then the objections of the Athenians, however meatheaded we may think them, were well taken. That the Athenians’ behavior toward Melos was more corrupting of the youth than anything that Socrates or any sophist might have done or said, though well-taken so far as it goes, is not quite a sufficient answer.
Socrates might have replied that, if Pheidippides had thought the matter through, he would not have wanted to rewrite the rules of society to authorize his beating his father and mother. For rewriting the rules of society is a game any number can play, and the next turn of the wheel might not favor young men with aristocratic aspirations. Likewise, the sons and daughters of the elite who inhabit Ivy League schools and think it their privilege to shout down people whose views offend them need to be reminded that the forces of order have force at their disposal that they do not. So a defender of stop-and –frisk policies (which I do not support) was shouted down at Brown University (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/nyregion/protests-halt-kellys-speech-at-brown-university.html?_r=0 ). I am informed by both a participant and an observer of Brown’s discussion of same-sex marriage, that students there took a similar silence-the-opposition approach to that issue. Arguments from relative power have proved, however, remarkably unpersuasive in practice. There was some possibility that the guilty students at Brown would face discipline, though I have not seen any report that this has in fact happened. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Brown-President-Ray-Kelly-Discipline-230963001.html
If those who read philosophers cannot be prevented from turning philosophy into an ideology with tyrannical implications, esoteric teaching is a way not only of protecting the philosopher from his society, but also society from the philosopher. One disciple of Strauss has announced that Strauss had told him in person that such was his purpose (John A. Wettergreen in Jaffa, Strauss Divided, chap. 7),
Consider now the two following propositions:
1, There is no truth, at least about matters of human interest, only conventional opinion — as Richard Rorty has said, what our peers will let us get away with.
2. The fact that (1) is widely held in the contemporary world, especially among the intellectual and cultural elite, is a source of great social and political danger.
Proposition (1) raises a problem of self-reference; often called Nietzsche’s Paradox: is the truth that there is no truth merely a matter of conventional opinion? For the purposes of this discussion, I assume that proposition (1) can be somehow insulated from the rest of discourse, so that this conclusion does not follow.
For people who accept proposition (2), Dewey is the ultimate villain, since he sugarcoats Nietzsche in order to make him acceptable to respectable opinion. And Rorty is scarcely better, though his frankness might decrease the damage somewhat. Marx appears as a half-hearted atheist, who relied on a belief in Providence smuggled in through Hegel. As Bloom says, in a statement that casts equal light on both Marx and Strauss, “Marx denied the existence of God but turned over all His functions to History, which is inevitably directed to a goal fulfilling of man and which takes the place of Providence. One might as well be a Christian if one is so naïve” (Closing of the American Mind, wcenglish1.typepad.com/Documents/14434540-The-Closing-of-the-American-Mind.pdf. p. 196)
While there is no formal inconsistency between propositions (1) and (2); people who hold them both are in a peculiar intellectual and political position. It is easy to see how (1), if widely held or held among powerful and influential persons might be expected to have bad social effects. All of us rely on entrenched moral and legal rules, embodied in the customs and habits of the heart of our societies, to protect us against lawless violence and manipulation. Trust among the members of society rests on the confidence that our fellow human beings will violate these rules only under the most severe temptations,
But if (1) is true, a husband tempted to an extra-marital affair can revise his understanding of marriage in such a way that the affair can be insulated from the marriage. If the very concept of person can be reinterpreted to exclude inconvenient entities from social and legal protection, this strategy will not stop with the fetus but will extend to infants, the very old, the disabled, the homeless, minorities of every sort, and anyone else whom society as a whole or some faction might decide it was better without. The constraint on such revisions, if any, will be Hobbesean. Anyone whose attitudes are at all traditional, but is not a fundamentalist, must acknowledge the possibility of non-standard interpretations of inherited norms. But in teaching and upholding norms against such things as torture, the rule will be stated in categorical terms. In any event, someone who holds both propositions (1) and (2) is almost certain to cover his position with lies.
What we need to ask is to what extent realist views of value and obligation protect existing morality against, not against all change, but against the wrong kind of change. An objective morality must rest either on a form of reason powerful enough to exclude even the possibility of revelation, a revelation powerful enough to defeat its rivals including other supposed revelations, like the one received by Job at the end of the book of that name; or else a coherent synthesis of reason and revelation in the Thomistic manner. And the result may not be in the ordinary sense conservative: St Thomas Aquinas subordinated conventional property rights to human need.
In the absence of this sort of objective morality, governing politics as all else, the appeal to the Great Tradition in morality and politics collapses. If Strauss is a philosopher, no one has any business being his disciple as opposed to his student. And, even if he is read as open to revelation, Strauss is not a theologian transmitting a revelation. He is best read as a Gnostic teacher, conveying secret wisdom to “the puppies of his race.”
CONCLUSION
The secret of the Strauss divided is something deeper than ordinary hypocrisy. Strauss and his followers believe themselves to live in a world in which, as the rabbis put it, “there is no law and there is no judge.”\ Such a world is always on the brink of war, of each against all, sometimes conducted through the agency of the state. And Straussians are rightly terrified of the implications of such a world, and hope heartily that nearly everyone will believe, at minimum, in the “laws of nature and nature’s God.” The reason America is good, in the estimation of Straussians, is that is full of traditional believers who are not sophisticated enough to notice the Straussians’ double game. Yet the ‘hypocrisy’ of the Straussians reaches all human beings. All of us want the general observance of the rules of morality to protect ourselves and our friends. All of us can envisage circumstances in which we can avoid a great evil, or achieve a great good, by breaching the rules of morality.
Like Machiavelli, Strauss should be critically studied by those who enter politics, including the politics of ideas, for moral and religious reasons, or whose interest in politics includes a desire to find and communicate the truth. Those people concerned only with power for themselves and their friends know these things already. The only way out of the Straussian dilemma is to refute its premise – that there are necessary exceptions to our moral rules that cannot be defended publicly. In my essay, “The Conscious Acceptance of Guilt in the Necessary Murder,” Ethics 89 (April 1979): 221-239, http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2380072?uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103837876401 I argue that this problem is insoluble within secular ethics. Or, if one concludes that tolerable human social life has to be based on lies, one has to be more discreet about this doctrine than the Straussians have been. Violent polemics against Straussian deceit would appear to be the best course for such people. But we must look for a less deceitful alternative. In any event, the problem of rules and exceptions will be with us for the duration.

On the Black Mass at Harvard

May 17, 2014

A group of Harvard students recently scheduled a black mass (so far as I can see no consecrated Host was involved). The event was cancelled after protests by the Catholic community and its sympathizers, though a version might have been held in a local restaurant. And though Harvard President Drew Faust joined the protest, she did not forbid the event nor did she punish the perpetrators. So Harvard has been converted to untrammeled freedom of cultural expression? I rather doubt it.
So far as a can see racism, sexism, and homophobia remain heresies – perhaps the only heresies – at Harvard. If I recall correctly, Harvard Divinity expelled a Pentecostalist student was for an off-campus sermon offensive to the gay community. After a stupid attempt to buy off the opposition, Larry Summers was hounded out of the Harvard Presidency (and into the waiting arms of the Obama Administration), for his heretical views on the inheritance of mathematical intelligence. And I doubt that Harvard would tolerate the burning of a Qur’an (or even a blank book claiming to be the Qur’an), or a drunken and sexually liberated party deliberately scheduled for Yom Kippur.
Some Catholics thought the event was a missed chance for dialogue with Satanists. http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/7880/a_catholic_s_eulogy_for_the_harvard__black_mass__controversy/ Pope Francis, whose authority is sometimes cited for this sort of approach, holds traditional views about the devil. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-modern-pope-gets-old-school-on-the-devil/2014/05/10/f56a9354-1b93-4662-abbb-d877e49f15ea_story.html?wprss=rss_homepage. And anyone, regardless of his metaphysics, must acknowledge that there are powerful forces for evil at work in our world, and anyone who invites them in is a fool or worse. If the Temple of Satan are the humanitarian atheists they claim to be, http://www.thesatanictemple.com., they would receive little media attention. There is a long, and by now rather tedious tradition of dialogue between such people and believers.
We are observing the collapse of secular humanism into practices , like a requiem mass for the death of an enemy, that are medieval throwbacks if anything is. Only those who at least half-believe in the Eucharist do such things. The same sort of development is happening in the Unitarian Universalist Association where neo-pagans and New Age believers are driving out radical Christians and naturalistic humanists. The cutting edge of the Unitarian Church now defends polyamory – heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. http://uupa.org/
The bright spot in the affair is the dignified response of the archdiocese, which prompted an upsurge of Eucharistic devotion by Catholics and of sympathy from non-Catholics. The Eucharistic procession and subsequent Holy Hour, in addition to the importance of such rituals for Catholic believers, showed the Church’s celebrated talent for theater at its best. And Catholics and non-Catholics alike came out of the affair with a better understanding of the importance of the Eucharist for Catholic belief and practice. It is reasonable to hope that the attempted black mass will lead to conversions to Catholicism, the re-invigoration of weak Catholics; and vocations to the priesthood, lay ministries, and the religious life.
Meanwhile, Harvard is entitled to its own standards, which need not be identical with those of the secular state. And the same is true of religiously affiliated colleges and universities, at one of which I teach. Ross Douthat puts it very well, citing two recent cases of intolerance in the name of inclusiveness:
I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.
But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. … And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.
It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.
I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/opinion/sunday/douthat-diversity-and-dishonesty.html (

God is still speaking — at the Boston Marathon

May 10, 2013

God is Still Speaking – at the Boston Marathon
The United Church Christ represents Massachusetts liberalism at prayer. Barack Obama was a member until his membership created too many political headaches for him, and the church supported his candidacy to the point of endangering its tax exempt status.
“God is still speaking,” it informs us. Quoting as spiritual authority comedienne Gracie Allen, the UCC proclaims: “Never put a period, where God has put a comma” (http://www.ucc.org/god-is-still-speaking/). Self-styled progressive theologian Bruce Epperly explains, “God’s new vision invites us to go beyond biblical literalism and exclusiveness to affirm God’s presence in science, medicine, evolutionary theory, and gender and marriage equality.” (http://www.bobcornwall.com/2010/07/why-progressive-theology-matters-god-is.html). And so we can circumvent all the arguments to the contrary, both religious and secular, and proclaim same-sex marriage as a new revelation. We await further revelations in defense of polygamy, polyamory, and pedophilia; as well as of child sacrifice and ritual prostitution.
Some people have failed to hear these revelations. Dissenters from the party line within the UCC represent standard Evangelical Protestantism (and the earlier position of the denomination). But their terms of argument are so alien to the Church’s official position as to represent not merely a different inter-denominational option but a radically different religious outlook. (http://www.biblicalwitness.org/introduction.htm).
And the UCC is collapsing. The denomination has lost almost half of its members since the mid-1960s, and has not published membership numbers since 2008. But, though the UCC is franker than most representatives of ‘progressive’ theology, and remains at least nominally Christian, its attitudes are now to be found everywhere in the political and religious worlds.
In this situation two Muslim brothers, heavily exposed to Cambridge liberalism, killed three people, injured many others (some of them severely), and shut down an entire city. God is still speaking, it appeared, but something came after the comma that genteel liberals do not find agreeable: Thou shalt not kill, except the enemies of God. Since the UCC are in their bizarre way the heirs of Calvin, they should recall his doctrine of avengers, some of whom, “though they were directed by the hand of God … and did his work without knowing it, had nought but evil in their thoughts” (Institutes. Bk. 4, chap. 20, sec. 30). God was speaking in judgment on Massachusetts liberalism at the Boston Marathon.
The destroying angel does not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. God’s instruments in Boston were no more admirable than were the ancient Assyrians; we should not in any way deny sympathy or help to the victims and their friends and families, nor fail to bring terrorists of all sorts to justice. But neither should we fail to draw the necessary political and theological lessons.
Liberals are fond of confusing the Religious Right with fascists (who represent an entirely secular political outlook), and of simultaneously ignoring them and exaggerating their power and cohesion. They have forgotten the atavistic impulses that underlie human society, and play irresponsibility with deep feelings about sexuality, gender, reproduction, and family life. They risk rousing a beast, which may or may not take a Muslim form.
Since the assault on the Boston Marathon is likely to be used to justify repression of Muslims, we should make it clear that every part of American society is under judgment. Radical Islam is the bad conscience of ‘progressive’ Christendom, challenging not only our decadence, but also our brutality and greed. Gay alcoholic Lord Sebastian Flyte well represents the decadence of the Marchmain clan, but one would have to be a brute to hate him. But decadence combined with sanctimoniousness and brutality stinks to heaven. The supposedly progressive Obama Administration has closed not the concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay. It has increased the use of drone missiles for extrajudicial executions — creating many casualties among women and children, not all of which can be excused as collateral damage (http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/02/04/obama-terror-drones-cia-tactics-in-pakistan-include-targeting-rescuers-and-funerals/; http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/11/more-than-160-children-killed-in-us-strikes/; http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/10/most-complete-picture-yet-of-cia-drone-strikes/). And it has compromised with the Republicans on every economic issue.
Brian Banks, an African American man, was framed on rape charges, suffering both from a dysfunctional legal system and a guilty-if-accused attitude toward rape. There is every reason to believe that such cases are not rare. Meanwhile, elite malefactors of every sort, including those whose war crimes provoke terrorism, remain immune to criminal sanction.
White people who support Obama to prove that they are not racists are useful idiots. Vice-President Biden blurted out the truth when he said that Obama wields a ‘big stick’ – on behalf of the rich and powerful of both parties and all races and genders.

After Birth Abortion at Sandy Hook

January 14, 2013

AFTER BIRTH ABORTION AT SANDY HOOK SCHOOL
The December 14 mass shooting of students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut cannot be dismissed as an isolated outbreak of madness. For it is only one of thirteen mass shootings during the year 2012 (Crimesider, Year in Review, 2012). Nor is gun control, however necessary, sufficient: the NRA, however useful as a scapegoat, is right to insist that it is people, not guns, who kill. And the killing of schoolchildren is in a different league from the killing of adult enemies, people on the other side of a violent strike, ghetto riot or family quarrel; participants in a barroom brawl, or even victims of robbery. Even killings of family passion are not quite the same.
Yet it matters what children get killed. When Timothy McVeigh killed many children in Oklahoma City, America was horrified, and the names of the child victims, born and unborn, were lovingly recorded. No such response greeted the death of the equally innocent children of the Branch Davidians, killed by an Administration that claimed to feel our pain.
We are by all accounts a very angry society, as became clear even to reluctant observers during the 2012 election. Rambo-style entertainment both reflects and reinforces an anger that is already there among young men and teen-age boys. Part of the reason is a bad economy; part of the reason is the collapse of the informal understandings that at least contained our propensities to violence. And the two sources of anger reinforce one another: we can no longer take it for granted that if we work diligently at our jobs and do not offend our employer, and our employer is not in trouble, we will keep our jobs. Instead being ‘lean and mean,’ with emphasis on mean, is the word of the day in business, even at telephone companies whose market share is assured.
We are also a diverse society, and the way this diversity has been handled is one source of the problem. We are told to celebrate diversity and people who call attention to the problems of living with people whose way of life and thought is different from our own get dismissed as some sort of ‘phobe.’ Academic diversitarianism is a flaccid ideology barely concealing group politics of the crudest sort: Hispanics are diverse, but not if they are Cubans or Republicans; Japanese and Chinese Americans are not diverse, despite a history of discrimination against both groups; Muslims are diverse, but not Mennonites, Mormons, or conservative Bible Christians; gays, lesbians, and transsexuals are diverse, but not bestialists, necrophiliacs, voyeurs, or exhibitionists. Whether non-marital children, or people of part-Sioux descent, are diverse is anybody’s guess. At Roman Catholic schools diverse means non- or even anti-Catholic.
The study of foreign languages is not part of the program: our hearts bleed for Hispanics, but they are required to voice their concerns to us – or rather we are entitled to explain their concerns to them – in English. Nor is the study of Asian philosophy, which shows ‘diverse’ people thinking deeply and seriously, part of the program. In such a world, rational discussion of our common problems is impossible, and we are force a choice between sentimentalism, which reduces profound differences of belief to ethnic recipes, and xenophobia.
The emptying of human relationships of their customary understandings continues. We no longer celebrate Lincoln and Washington’s but, President’s Day (which applies equally to Warren Harding). When once we had wives and husbands, including the common law sort, girl friends and boy friends, and mistresses and lovers, we now only have partners (to the embarrassment of law firms). The search for a least common denominator morality leaves us less and less able to say that there things that are just not done – however severe and justified a person’s grievances might be. It is only a matter of time before pedophiles organize to proclaim the goodness of their proclivities – and win converts among the ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened.’ I could write the propaganda myself: love is not a four-letter word, and children sometimes do not regret their affairs with adults when they mature.
Both political parties have contributed to the disarray of our shared morality and of the sense of community that sustains it. Republicans defend torture, and dismiss 47 per cent of the electorate as ‘looters and moochers’; Democrats defend abortion as a means for sex-selection, usually against unborn girls. (Where have all the feminists gone?) Everyone is now out of the closet – even teenage girls who deliberately get pregnant to spite their mothers. Even under an African American president, we can discover the use of abortion to keep down the numbers of the poor (a group whom Americans constantly confuse with people of color) – in other words, form of genteel genocide. This strategy is especially popular in Planned Parenthood strongholds such as Connecticut. The net effect of such policies is throw all moral questions into confusion; it has become harder and harder to take certain convictions as given and work from there.
Even Machiavelli counsels his prince to avoid undermining public morality; the behavior of our princes would send him screaming out into the night. And intellectuals have done their bit to create a world in which our views ‘evolve’ so that we are ‘comfortable’ with proposals we would once have rejected as absurd or atrocious, and those who disagree get dismissed as old-fashioned at best. When Leon Kass invoked the wisdom of repugnance against cloning, he was greeted with a chorus of sneers. Whether we call such spontaneous reactions ‘disgust,’ ‘revulsion,’ or ‘recoil,’ the palm in argument goes to those who go furthest in dismissing it. Avant garde bioethicists defend ‘after birth abortion’ – in plainer terms the killing of babies. Legal scholar John Yoo (he teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School – commonly called Boalt Hall) defends crushing the genitals of young boys to get their fathers to talk. (The President, we are told, has an inherent right to order such things, that neither Congress nor the international community can take away.) And both parties are guiding us down the slippery slope at whose end a presidential challenger can be designated a security risk, silently stripped of his citizenship, and assassinated by Seals.
There are always hard cases, and the wisdom of repugnance is the beginning, not the end, of the argument. But all of us depend on a shared sense that there are things one does not do, however powerful the temptation might be. Philosophers try to excogitate a morality out of their own heads, but the morality that gets parents to care for their children and children [from for] their parents is tied to a rich culture including important religious elements. The phenomena to which I object are not the actions of criminals or rebels, but of respectable people convinced of their superior righteousness.
For many of us, a further source of horror was that the Sandy Hook killings took place in the Christmas season, when the children’s parents were buying presents, decorating trees, and in other ways preparing for a child-centered holiday. But they also took place in a society in which supposedly enlightened and progressive people have done everything in their power to strip Christmas of meaning. “Merry Christmas” gets replaced by “Happy Holidays” and some people even worry about the fact that holiday is short for holy day. And Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer and pets in Santa hats, as well as the children of those who send us Christmas cards, replace the Christ Child.
Yet Christmas once had a meaning, to which even an agnostic could respond. It spoke of the preciousness and value of the young and vulnerable members of our own species. The other holidays celebrated about this time of year also had a meaning: Hanukkah speaks of the right of cultural minorities to live their lives according their own rules, and to resist governmentally imposed homogenization. For Sh’ia Muslims, the day of Ashura, celebrated in November, commemorates the martyrdom of ‘Ali for his religious fidelity. Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s Enlightenment on Bohdi Day by intense meditation. Even the Winter Solstice, celebrated by pagans and Hindus, speaks of light in darkness, a hope that might restrain us from desperate deeds.
People in all these traditions should make their observance visible. But if Christmas means nothing more than an expression of vapid secular good will, at least people in Connecticut should cancel its observance. For on a “Holly-Jolly Christmas” one might do anything, even slaughter school children. If Christmas is only a party, we should have cancelled it; it is a serious religious observance, we need it even more in light of the tragedy.

On Slippery Slopes

January 14, 2013

Is there a straight line leading from ‘the shot heard round the world’ to endemic divorce, gangsta rap, and the North American Man-Boy Love Association?
McClay, 1998:20
Someone proposes to remove all penalties from the production, sale, possession and use of marijuana, but to forbid its producers to advertise (except by word of mouth). If such a proposal could be made to work, it might provide an attractive way of resolving disputes about the legal standing of a wide range of controversial practices, including the use of ‘soft’ drugs of all sorts. Even pro-life people would find legal abortion easier to accept if clinics were not advertised in the Yellow Pages.
But there is reason to doubt that such a compromise would be stable. First, the Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on commercial speech. (44 Liquormart Inc. v. Rhode Island, 517 US 489 (1996)). Second, even if the Court could be prepared to rescind or sharply limit its commercial speech doctrine a profitable and therefore politically powerful marijuana industry would press in both the legislature and among the electorate for the removal of its disadvantages. They would charge unfairness, pointing out that neither the liquor nor the tobacco industry labors under a similar disability.
THE ARGUMENT IN GENERAL
We are here dealing with the slippery slope argument (SSA), as often scorned by philosophers, though often with such unhelpful qualifying phrases as “if the likelihood of such trouble is exaggerated. (Dowden 1993:A8-9, Rafalko, 1990:446) as it has been invoked by jurists and political advocates. Many critics have dismissed the SSA as the last resort of the traditionalists bereft of better arguments (for a compendium, see Lode .1998: 1473-74).
Textbook discussions of this alleged fallacy are systematically inadequate, in a way that reflects the authors’ sympathy for proposals against which SSA’s have been deployed. Thus the premier American logic textbook (Copi, Cohen, and McMahon, 2011:131-32) cites a “keen critic” for the following response to the SSA against physician assisted suicide.
Physicians often prescribe drugs which, in doses greater than prescribed, would kill the patient. No one fears that the actual dose prescribed will lead to their use in lethal doses. No one objects to such prescriptions for fear of a “slippery slope” (van den Haag 1995).
At the same time it endorses the following SSA against punishing hate crimes more severely than ordinary crimes.
There should not be a separate category for hate crimes. A murder is a murder; a beating is a beating. We should prosecute people for the crimes they commit, not why they commit them. If we start to categorize crimes by their motivation, we start down a very slippery slope. (Simpser, 2002)
But the first of these quotations ignores the line, salient on any view of which I am aware, between acts that intentionally take human life and acts that do not. And the second, fails to specify bad effects arising from motive-defined criminal laws comparable to a doctor’s deliberately killing his unprofitable patients or pressuring them to kill themselves. (Like most bad arguments it can be improved.)
I here argue that SSA’s, though not deductively coercive, sometimes give us strong reasons to reject an initially attractive proposal. Such a proposal need not be acceptable in itself, (as Lode, 1999: 1481, points out against Schauer, 1985: 369) but unless someone finds it appealing, there is no need for an SSA. If an otherwise seemingly acceptable A (in my initial example, legal marijuana without advertisement) threatens to lead to an unacceptable B (dealers aggressively marketing marijuana to the population including children), this is a reason, though not always a decisive reason, for rejecting A. That the argument is non-deductive, and sometimes leads us astray, is no argument against my thesis. The same could be said of induction.
Slippery slopes happen, even if sometimes we welcome their results. If a white Southerner argued in 1860 that abolishing slavery would lead to legal intermarriage and an African-American President, his historical prophesies would have been correct. We might not think that the bottom of the slope was a bad place , but that — my hypothetical pro-slavery writer would say – is exactly what we should expect. And those who promoted this development appealed to benign slippery slopes: Frederick Douglass, urging his fellow African Americans to enlist in the Union Army maintained, correctly, that the limited emancipation proclaimed by President Lincoln made general emancipation inevitable (Douglas .2011: 514.)
Moreover, the outcome of some slippery slopes is bad by any standard. The erosion of constitutional government in Weimar Germany led first, to more and more extensive use of emergency decrees to circumvent legislative deadlock, through the overthrow of the Prussian state government, through the summary killing of Hitler’s rivals in the Nazi Party in Night of the Long Knives, through the euthanasia campaign, and lastly to the Holocaust. The doctrines of the jurist Carl Schmitt facilitated this development (Kennedy 2004).
We may also observe the slippery slope at work in areas of contemporary controversy. The Supreme Court of Vermont, by way of imposing same-sex (quasi-) marriage on the state, turned the sour conservative maxim, Give some people an inch and they will take a mile, in to an imperative of constitutional jurisprudence. The court reasoned,
The State asserts that [the goal of promoting child rearing in a setting that provides both male and female role models] could support a legislative decision to exclude same-sex partners from the statutory benefits and protections of marriage. … The argument, however, contains a … fundamental flaw, and that is that is the Legislature’s endorsement of a policy diametrically at odds with the State’s claim. In 1996, [the Legislature removed] all prior legal barriers to the adoption of children by same-sex couples. At the same time, the Legislature provided additional legal protections in the form of court-ordered child support in the event that the same-sex parents dissolved their partnership. In the light of these express policy choices, the State’s arguments that Vermont public policies favors opposite-sex over same parents or disfavors the use of artificial reproductive technologies are patently without substance. (Baker v. State, 744 A 2d 864, 884-885 [Vt., 1999])
Whether the bottom of this particular slippery slope is a bad place t is controversial. But many of my readers, whatever their views on marriage, will be troubled by the story of euthanasia in the Netherlands.
Dutch courts began by declining to punish doctors who assisted the suicides of the terminally ill. They then extended this principle to cover patients who were victims of “unbearable suffering,” without any requirement that the patients be terminally ill. They then extended to the principle to cover who was in seemingly irremediable mental pain, caused by chronic depression, alcohol abuse, on the theory that the suffering of the mentally ill is “subjectively experienced as unbearable” by them, comparable to how the physically ill experience physical suffering. Dutch courts then extended this principle to cover a fifty-year-old woman who was in mental pain partly caused by the death of her two sons, again the theory that her suffering was unbearable. (Volokh, 2003: 1058-1059)
In any event, the central question raised by SSAs is that of evaluation. If the status quo before the proposed change is bad enough, or the condition at the bottom of the slope is relatively acceptable, then the slippery slope argument will fail. To recur to my original example, someone who finds the present “War on Drugs” intolerable, or views with aplomb the aggressive marketing of recreational drugs to children, will not be troubled by the difficulty of maintaining a ban on marijuana advertising in practice.
The question of historical causation is complicated. Ideas have consequences, but they are not the only thing that has consequences. Nor are the consequences of ideas in practice always what one might expect them to be in the abstract. In practice, this means that when an acceptable change A is followed by an unacceptable result B, it is often uncertain that that it was A, rather than some other development within the society in question that is to blame for B. Which battles to fight, and which are the most important, is an inescapably prudential question. But the counsel to avoid bad results by opposing bad beginnings remains sound, however complicated its application in practice.
Even when we speak of actions rather than justifications, the SSA concerns, not bare behavior (if there is such a thing), but behavior understood and legitimated in certain terms – as the exercise of a constitutional right for example. Hence some legal or legal-like formulary is always in the background.
Some facts about language are therefore crucial. With one narrow class of exceptions, all language is open to interpretation. The exception is the rules of a game such as chess, in which the number of possible positions is both finite and precise, however enormous. Aside from such cases, legal formularies fall upon a continuum with respect to the extent to which they invite dispute about their application. That each State of the American Union is entitled to two Senators raises serious interpretive issues only under conditions of plague or civil war, where the issue is whether the relevant entity is entitled to act as a State. On the other end of the continuum, the notorious ‘mystery’ doctrine (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”) is as indeterminate as a formulary can be without losing all content. For there is no conduct – whether suicide bombing or pursuing wealth in ways dangerous to the nation’s economic stability – that could not be defended as a way of responding to the mystery of human existence. .
As Eric Lode has pointed out, “People frequently remain steady in their application of vague terms. (Lode, 1999: 1509) But this is true only when the background understandings that govern their use are stable. Our legal system, however, has its home in a world where many different groups strive to push it in a direction they desire. Vague doctrines cover up clashing agendas, in way that can smooth a slippery slope. As Mario J. Rizzo and Douglas Glen Whitman point out,
The existence of multiple theories can lead to the adoption of political, legal, and ethical doctrines that are deliberately vague. For instance, politicians will sometimes pass intentionally vague legislation in order to avoid having to make tough decisions, thereby passing the buck to bureaucratic agencies. Balancing “rules” in the common law, which direct judges to weigh a variety of factors when deciding cases, are arguably a means of finessing the differences among judges’ theories. … Even if vague terms are not deliberately adopted to cover up differences of opinion, they may nonetheless have the same effect. Rizzo and Whitman, 2003:575-76).
In many cases the demand for legal or policy consistency generates slippery slopes. If two elements of the law are in tension with another, then the inconsistency can be resolved in more than one way. But each of them will be regarded, by some parties to the dispute as involving a slippery slope in an undesirable direction (Rizzo and Whitman, 2003: 565-66 and n.74, discussing People v. Kurr, 654 N.W.2d 65 [Mich. Ct. App. 2002]). For these reasons, SSAs in real-life practical discourse are not “sorites SSAs,” which exploit the inevitable open texture of language to oppose the extension of a term even part of the way into a contested area (despite Marmor, 2012:10). For example, someone might argue against severe taxation of the top one percent that there is no clear line between rich and poor, and that everyone would then be at risk of expropriation. Or we should not exempt low income people from the income tax, lest we end up without any revenue. Such SSAs would bring practical reasoning to an end. In real SSAs, there is always some principle or social force pushing us down the slope; the issue is its intellectual or political power.
Logic is one thing, and social psychology another. As Lode puts it, “Effective distinctions may fail to be reasonable. … Similarly ,reasonable distinctions might not be effective” (Lode, 1999: 1479). The reason for this phenomenon is, as Rizzo and Whitman observe,
The process by which arguments are accepted and decisions made is a social one that derives fromthe decisions of many individuals. …The person who makes an SSA does not necessarily claim that the listener himself will be the perpetrator of the future bad decision. Rather, he draws attention to the structure of the discussion that will shape the decisions of many decisionmakers involved in a social process. (Rizzo and Whitman, 2003:571).
Thus arguments and principles employed by people with one agenda may be captured by others whose agenda is very different and possibly even abhorrent to those who make the original argument.
There are three different kinds of argument that go by the name slippery slope. One is an argument by analogy, the second looks to the nature of the justifications offered, and the third relies, not on intellectual considerations, but on the dynamics of social and political life.
THE ANALOGICAL SLIPPERY SLOPE
Arguments by analogy pervade discussion of practical issues, both in the law and in more informal contexts. Here are two influential examples:
(A)
(1) Legal and social distinctions based on race are obnoxious.
(2) Distinctions based on sexual orientation are, in relevant respects, similar to distinctions based on race.
(3) Therefore, legal and social distinctions based on sexual orientation are obnoxious.
(B)
(1) Discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans is unacceptable.
(2) Discrimination against white people is, in relevant respects, similar to discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans.
(3) Therefore, discrimination against white people, say in programs of preferential affirmative action, is unacceptable.
Neither (A) nor (B) ends the argument. Those who reject their conclusions argue that the cases are relevantly different; an argument by analogy can always be answered with a distinction. But neither are they are irrelevant: they present a case their opponents are obliged to answer.
An analogical SSA involves a repeated use of analogy. Thus for example:
(C)
(1) Infanticide is immoral and ought to be illegal.
(2) Late abortion is in relevant respects similar to infanticide.
(3) Early abortion is in relevant respects similar to late abortion.
(4) Therefore, early abortion is immoral and ought to be illegal.
Writers hostile to SSA’s take (C) as their paradigm of the alleged fallacy. But there is nothing inherently wrong with it: it differs from (A) and (B) only in that it reiterates the analogy. And like them, while not decisive, it presents an argument its opponents are obliged to answer.
What (C) calls for is what is somewhat brutally called a “cutoff point” – an intellectually and politically defensible line between a human being or person and pre-human organic matter. Its proponents also need such a cut-off point, in order to rebut the suggestion that they are committed to the absurd result that any abstention from reproduction is murderous. But, since 1827, we have known of at least one clearly defensible cut-off point: the moment of conception.
But why not draw an arbitrary line, as we do when we designate a speed limit? The answer lies in the gravity of the issue at stake. The “mistakes are fatal” argument against capital punishment is very popular, though it has its problems (see Devine, 2000). But a parallel argument against punishing minor traffic offenses would be grotesque. We can be unconcerned about arbitrariness in the voting age, since a sixteen-year old need only wait two years for full citizenship. And a similar point holds for jury size, since there is no reason to believe that six-person juries are especially likely to perpetrate miscarriages of justice. But if we were to establish a maximum voting age, whether that age were seventy-five or eighty would be a more sensitive issue. The issue would be more sensitive still, if we accepted the proposal that people beyond a certain age were to be killed or denied life-saving medical care. Likewise, the possibility that we define the line between persons and non-persons in such a way as to wrongly exclude some entities from personhood ought to give us serious concern.
I draw two conclusions from this argument. One is that Bernard Williams is wrong to distinguish “horrible result” from “arbitrary result” SSAs (Williams, 1985). Slippery slopes trouble us only because their results can be horrible (though some possible results, such as endless litigation, are horrible only relatively speaking).
Second, Williams is correct to see that slippery slopes are inherent in some of our language, for example the word person as commonly used by bioethicists. In his own words,
There are some absolute terms, the absolute character of which is only a verbal matter, a substantival wrap for a content which is basically comparative. … A very important and misleading example is ‘person’, as that term is sometimes used by philosophers in ethical connections [his example is Tooley, 1989] It is formally true that no one can be more of a person than anyone else, but almost all the characteristics associated by these philosophers with being a person … come in degrees. … This concept, despite its absolute appearance, will provide no firm basis for rules about killing and similar matters, and those who place faith in it are deceiving themselves. (Williams, 1985:136-37)
This slope has in fact been exploited by some writers in bioethics (for example English, 1975).
If we find this result unacceptable, we have three choices. We can adopt a “precising definition’ of person, designed to remove or reduce its vagueness or open texture (see, for example, Fogelin, 1987: 83-84.) But these definitions commonly have considerable open texture as well.
A second approach is to embrace the open texture of the relevant concepts, and adopt, for example, a ‘gradualist’ approach to the fetus question. The problem lies in establishing an intellectually and politically defensible correlation between stages of development and ‘indications.’ We lack the necessary conceptual equipment for this task, in part because the moral metaphysics of the West treats personhood as an on-off category, and affirms that all persons (however much inequality we may tolerate at the practical level) as inherently equal. In traditional Hindu thought, by contrast, killing a Brahmin was the worst of offenses, though this did not mean that killing members of other castes was acceptable. Abortion in particular was a paradigm of evil behavior. To the (limited) extent that I understand this way of thought, the abortion of a male, Brahmin fetus is about the worst thing a human being can do (see Mahābhārata, 1.149.7, 1.56.17, .van Buitenen, 1988:309,129)
A third approach is to brave the charge of ‘speciesism’ and formulate the relevant rules in terms of membership in the human species. Member of extraterrestrial species, or even chimpanzees and dolphins, might also end up getting recognized as, as was said in the sixteenth century of American Indians/Native Americans, as “true men” (Pope Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537). Cited in, Thomas, 1977:125). But such recognition would not be automatic, and would require both deliberation and experience.

THE ARGUMENTATIVE SLIPPERY SLOPE
The analogical slippery slope focuses on the objective characteristics of the pertinent actions, to the limited extent that these can be distinguished from the agent’s motives, intentions, and justifications. The argumentative slippery slope links forms of behavior that may look very different, but are linked by the justifications offered in their behalf. The form of the argument is as follows:
(1) All the arguments for A are also arguments for B.
(2) Therefore, those who accept A also should accept B.
Where such an argument is valid, refusing to accept it is to commit the ‘taxicab fallacy’ – of behaving like a lawyer who is content to win the case and hand and feels himself entitled to neglect the possible wider consequences of a favorable ruling.
Here are two examples:
(D)
(1) All the arguments for recognizing same-sex marriage are also arguments for recognizing polygamy.
(2) Therefore, any jurisdiction that, as a matter of principle, recognizes same-sex marriage should also recognize polygamy. (I exclude such considerations that gay men and lesbians often have more political power than fundamentalist Mormons or immigrants from polygamous societies.)
(E)
(1) All the arguments for a woman’s right to choose abortion are also arguments for a man’s right to accept the obligations of paternity (“Roe v. Wade for MenTM”) (concerning which see National Center for Men, n.d).
(2) Therefore those who accept Roe v. Wade for women ought also to accept it for men.
These arguments both seem good, at least in the absence of persuasive considerations to the contrary. In defense of (E), it is true that those people who oppose Roe v. Wade for women demand a greater sacrifice of people who have brought about a pregnancy than do those who oppose Roe v. Wade for men. But the proponents of Roe v. Wade for women also demand more for women than their counterparts do for men– not only to have no part in the child’s upbringing, but also to do something that prevents the child being brought up at all. I do not, however, expect the conclusions of (D) and (E) to be followed in practice.
THE PRUDENTIAL SLIPPERY SLOPE
Prudential SSAs are of the following form:
(1) Policy P will (or may) lead to result R.
(2) Result R is bad.
(3) Therefore, we should not adopt policy P.
Two prudential SSAs, each of which can be taken as a sample of a far larger family are
(F)
(1) Voluntary euthanasia will (or may) lead to non-voluntary and even compulsory euthanasia.
(2) Non-voluntary and especially compulsory euthanasia are bad.
(3) Therefore, we should not accept even voluntary euthanasia.
(The examples in Lamb, 1998, are all biomedical arguments broadly along these lines.)
(G)
(1) Holding aliens suspected of terrorism indefinitely without trial will lead to the internment of loyal American citizens (as happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II).
(2) The internment of loyal American citizens is bad.
(3) Therefore we should not hold aliens suspected of terrorism indefinitely without trial.
The same sort of argument applies to the assassination of alleged terrorist leaders.
Both (F) and (G) are consequentialist arguments, though they are both used – especially (F) – by writers whose approach to ethics is non-consequentialist. Consequentialist arguments cannot be avoided in ethics, despite Grisez, 1978, though to rely on consequences alone would produce a morality that we should reject on consequentialist grounds. Both also turn on the consequences of policies: not individual acts, but acts carried out under public authority by the light of day. The Nazi euthanasia campaign was somewhat clandestine, and arguably contributed to the, also somewhat clandestine, Holocaust. But if clandestine operations have untoward implications, we are entitled to expect that public policy announced by the White House, the Congress, or the Supreme Court will have such implications as well (and even more so)..
Whether a prudential slope is slippery depends on a host of socio-psychological mechanisms (see Volokh, 2003).. I here hit the high points only. The status quo in all societies outside the gates of Eden is the result of a compromise among a number of groups each having both their own distinctive material interests and their own distinctive understandings of the good society and the way to it. Some such groups are acutely unhappy with the status quo, and have a program for change. Sometimes accommodation or even alliance is possible but sometimes these programs clash deeply. The saying of Mao Tse-tung (n.d) “We shall support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports,” has adherents these days all over the political spectrum.
Many members of disaffected groups would like to change things all at once, and some of them have moral objections to incrementalism (see Harte, 2005). But political effectiveness requires a willingness to proceed ‘step by step,’ if only to plant premises in the public mind that make possible more radical policies in the future (see Arkes, 2004: 247).And this means trying to push the larger society down a slippery slope.
As a result, a range of possibly attractive moderate positions become harder to defend. These range from moments of silence at the beginning of the school day, through “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies concerning homosexuality, to states’ rights approaches to the abortion issue. Some such proposals might be the best that can be done in an imperfect world. But we are constantly made conscious of the possibility that advocates of a moment of silence might, to put their opponents’ suspicions as charitably as possible, have a program for using state power to pressure children to pray.
Three further observations will conclude the discussion. First, an SSA cannot stand alone. If I have no inclination to believe that playing cards without gambling is morally offensive, I will not be moved by the suggestion that it leads to gambling addiction. Second, slippery slopes do not operate solo, but against a background perception that society is changing for the worse at least in some respects, and that moving with the times in these contexts means accepting deeper and deeper depravity. But, third, the fact that slippery slopes appear everywhere, and if always accepted would lead to paralysis means that such arguments must be used with prudence, though not that they are fallacious as such.
At every stage of the evaluation of an SSA a prudential judgment is required, both of the importance of the interests at stake of the power of the forces pushing us down the slope. Philosophers impatient with the messiness of the social world should renounce their ambition to be philosopher-kings (or queens).
The greatest source of belief in slippery slopes is to have observed a number of them. And the history of the institution of marriage and related issues contains many examples — so much so that one central purpose of the institution, securing the continued existence of communities across generations, is now under threat. The effect of SSA’s is to put pressure on those who advocate moderate reform, to show that their proposed changes will not have the deleterious global effects their opponents fear. Thoroughgoing radicals can ignore such arguments since they welcome such global effects. In that sense the SSA is a conservative argument.
.It is commonly said that people get more conservative as they get older. But a believer in the SSA, and in this sense a conservative, can consistently deplore the absence in our world of a genuinely participatory and democratic society within which the welfare of individual citizens is raised above theories and prejudices about alleged racial and ethnic superiority, and where individual interests have priority over economic dogmas and theories of social utility (Lamb, 1998:20). The sort of conservatism that comes with age is that of an investment strategy: a greater awareness of the possibly disastrous consequences of superficially attractive proposals.
REFERENCES
Copi, Irving, Carl Cohen, and Kenneth McMahon, 2011. Introduction to Logic. 14th edition. Boston: Prentice Hall.
Devine, Philip E., 2000. “Capital Punishment and the Sanctity of Life,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 24: 228-242.
Dowden, Bradley H. 1993. Logical Reasoning (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth).
Douglass, Frederick, 2011. “Why Should a Colored Man Enlist?” In Amy Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub, eds., What So Proudly We Hail. Wilmington, DE: ISI.
English, Jane, 1975. “Abortion and the Concept of the Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5, no. 2 (October).
Fogelin, Robert J., 1987. Understanding Argumentation. 3rd edition. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Javonovich.
Glover, Jonathan, 1977. Causing Death and Saving Lives. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin.
Kennedy, Ellen. 2004 Constitutional Failure. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press.
Lode, Eric, 1999. “Slippery Slope Arguments and Legal Reasoning” California Law Review 87 (December): 1469ff.
Marmor, Andrei, 2012, “Varieties of Vagueness in Law.” University of Southern California Law School. Legal Working Paper Series. No. 89. http://law.be.press.com/usclwps-lss/art89 (January 10, 2013.
McClay, Wilfrid, 1998. “Mr. Emerson’s Tombstone,” First Things, no. 83 (May).
Rafalko, Robert J., 1990. Logic for an Overcast Tuesday. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Rizzo, Mario J. and Douglas Glen Whitman, 2003. “The Camel’s Nose Is in the Tent: Rules, Theories, and Slippery Slopes,” UCLA Law Review 51: 539ff.
Schauer, Frederic, 1985, “Slippery Slopes,” Harvard Law Review 99: 361ff.
Simpser, Zev, 2002. “A Murder is a Murder,” New York Times, May 3.
Thomas, Hugh, 1997. The Slave Trade. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Tooley, Michael, 1988. Abortion and Infanticide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
van Buitenen, A.B, 1988, ed. and tr. Mahābhārata. vol. 1. (Chicago: Phoenix.
van den Haag, Ernest, 1995 “Make Mine Hemlock,” National Review, June 12.
Volokh, Eugene, 2003 “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope,” Harvard Law Review 116 (February).
Williams, Bernard, 1985, “Which Slopes are Slippery?” in Michael Lockwood, ed., Moral Dilemmas in Modern Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press): chap.6

Progress, Decadence. Apocalyptic

January 10, 2013

PROGRESS, DECADENCE, APOCALYPTIIC
American Conservatism now suffers from a pervasive intellectual incoherence with real-world political effects. (See, for example, James Kurth, “The Crisis of American Conservatism:
Inherent Contradictions and the End of a Road,” 2012, http://www.fpri.org/docs/Kurth_-_Crisis_of_American_Conservatism_0.pdf [January 8, 2013].) This incoherence has issued in a botched synthesis of old-time religion and Ayn Rand, reflected in Mitt Romney’s notorious dismissal of 47 per cent of the American electorate as looters and moochers. (Glen Levy, “Mitt Romney’s ’47 Percent’ Gaffe Tops Yale’s Quotes of the Year,” TimeNewsfeed, 2012, http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/12/13/mitt-romneys-47-percent-gaffe-tops-yales-quotes-of-the-year/ [December 13, 2012]. ) But the same is true of its counterpart, progressivism. If we talk about progress in terms other than achieving pre-established goals (more effective cancer treatments or weaponry for example), we immediately confront serious value conflicts. What changes are progressive, we are forced to ask, as opposed to reactionary or decadent?
The period 1968-73 witnessed the emergence of profound value-conflicts in American society, which could not be understood as questions of means to common ends, or results of an unfortunate experience in Viet Nam. For some people, Roe v. Wade was a triumph for human progress; for others it was a reactionary decision comparable to the Dred Scott decision’s entrenchment of slavery. Mark Graber, Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), goes so far as to defend Roe by defending Dred Scott. Once this sort of question is put on the table, the question what is progress? cannot be evaded. But the question is a general one: the resolutely secularist Ayn Rand believes that altruism, whether public or private, is decadent.
The only answer contemporary progressives can give is: progress is what we will all come to agree to, as we agree about the abolition of slavery. But we do not all agree, and therefore we need to talk about the issues. But the question then becomes, who is to be allowed in the conversation? If everyone from Seventh Day Adventists to the North American Man Boy Love Association is let in, then no convergence is even imaginable. If we exclude some people, we must do so by an act of will supported by power, distinguishing friends from enemies in the manner of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt. For all possible rational grounds for exclusion are open for discussion.
The most popular answer to this question is exclusivist secularism, sometimes called theophobia. Religious people, at least if they are disposed to take their beliefs seriously in political contexts, are told more or less politely, to sit down, shut up, and obey their unbelieving betters. Even the educational and welfare programs of churches and other religious associations are threatened with a secularist take-over. But there is no knock-down drag-out argument against the existence of God, and a an atheist can believe that our religious traditions preserve important insights. It is no threat to democracy if many citizens admire Franz Jägerstätter or Mother Theresa and shape their moral and political positions accordingly. Religious ideas work for many people and many societies. Secularization is not historically inevitable and in any case the secularization argument is a version of might makes right.
It is the realization that religion is not going to go away quietly that has prompted a new wave of militant atheism. Exclusionary secularism represents nothing more or less than the attempt of some people to intimidate and silence some others. And unless we are prepared maintain a morality independent of, and hence immune to, flux, the same will be true of any other proposed demarcation (excluding advocates of adult-child sex, genocide, or torture, for example). In practice such decisions are made differently in different communities of discourse, taking in to account both questions of rationality and facts of power.
But a global progressive philosophy requires a global answer .Progressivism rests on a three-pronged belief: history has a direction, we can know what this direction is in sufficient detail to guide political practice, and this direction is good. Accepting this belief in the contemporary world requires a radical act of faith in the teeth of experience. The confusions of progressivism have real world effects, insofar as they require progressives to ignore or suppress disagreements of value. Senator, now Vice President, Biden hated Clarence Thomas because he could not accept the possibility that a black man might have a mind of his own. None of this should prevent advocates of change from describing their proposals as progressive, or exposing the progressivism of the contemporary Democratic Party as pseudo. The most serious contender with progress for understanding our present condition is decadence.
II.
In the autumn the leaves come blowing, yellow and brown.
They rustle in the ditches, they tug and hang on the hedge.
Where are you going, leaves? Far, far, away
Into the earth we go, with the rain and the berries.
Take me, leaves, O take me on your dark journey.
I will go with you, I will be rabbit-of–the-leaves,
In the deep places of the earth, the earth and the rabbit.
Robert Adams, Watership Down
….night is here and the barbarians have not come.
Some people have arrived from the frontiers,
and they said that there are no longer any barbarians.

\\
And now what will become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
Cavafy, “Expecting the Barbarians.”

Decadence, as I understand it is a cultural phenomenon, that of a community that has lost the capacity to transmit itself, biologically and culturally. Of all the writers in the Western canon, Thomas Mann had the best sense of the meaning of decadence. For his sensibility was on both sides of the question. We see decadence in The Magic Mountain as a temptation to lie down in the snow and die, in Buddenbrooks as the decline of a family and, most frighteningly, in Death in Venice as a passion for a beautiful and multiply unattainable boy. And he provides a succinct definition: “wrestling … with life to attain death” (Buddenbrooks, trans. John E. Woods (New York: Vintage International, 1994), p. 551). Decadence in this sense is not harmless: it was the decadence of Weimar culture and politics that paved the way for Nazi barbarism.
To say that a person or practice is decadent is to speak by analogy of evidences of decadence within some society. Not all bad behavior is a sign of decadence; some forms of crime are entirely compatible with vigor. America of the revolutionary period, though unjust in a number of respects, was not decadent. It is a peculiar effect of America’s Puritan heritage that we associate decadence with rich chocolate desserts. More seriously: coyotes invade a suburban town and kill the inhabitants’ cats. Many of its citizens not only object to killing or removing the coyotes; they even care for them when they are ill. In short, they welcome the barbarians. (I am indebted to Candace Zito-Wolf for this example.)
A complex society is likely to have decadent and non-decadent elements. Whether a society is decadent or simply changing is likely to be controversial, though there are communities whose decadence is obvious to all, whatever their merits otherwise. Richard Rodriquez provides an affectionate portrayal of social decadence in “Late Victorians,” in his Hunger of Memory. Liberal Protestantism and Judaism, as well as the Anglican Communion, are now decadent.
Even if a society’s decadence is limited to its sexual, reproductive, familial, and educational institutions, the situation is grave. For it is these institutions on which societies rely to preserve themselves from generation to generation. Marks of decadence include gender-blending, for example preoccupation with transvestites and transsexuals; and culturally stimulated hostility or aversion to the opposite sex. For we are a two-sexed species, and the continuation of both the human race and of every community within depends on that fact. And the two sexes need to live with one another, difficult though this may be sometimes be. Another mark of decadence is a fascination with sexuality divorced from reproduction and personal union, as evidenced in the “guttering of the American mind” that began with the hearings on Justice Clarence Thomas.
All societies are subject to social entropy, and consequently to decadence. For example, reasoning about moral and theological issues, as Newman pointed out, dissolves shared conviction, and with it the restraints on the temptation to make an exception for oneself and one’s immediate desires. The desire to be “with it,” whatever “it” may be, or to be “cool,” that is to say uncommitted, is a mark of decadence, as is the squeaky wheel principle, which makes concessions not out of a sense of justice or fear of the damage some constituency might do, but in order to placate a noisy faction. Another is the desire to follow trends, however unpleasant the place where they reach their end: a decadent society is vulnerable to wave-of-the-future arguments. Another is the rhetoric of being ‘comfortable’ with this or that, with the implication that the more you are comfortable with the better – be it same-sex marriage or waterboarding; or of views that ‘evolve,’ always in the direction of laxity. And much of contemporary society has taken for its motto, as did Charles Manson, Revelation 9:21, “Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts.” (And then some unlucky public figure discovers that we disapprove of adultery)
Underlying decadence is a kind of nihilism that, while it does not exclude belief, prevents conviction from surviving rational scrutiny. Decadent institutions lose their moral voice, and hence their capacity to establish trust among human beings. Decadent colleges, universities, and churches abandon their founding ideal and capitulate to (as it is put) “the culture” or “the market.” Our unwillingness to make sacrifices to keep society going will lead to social meltdown., and all of us have reason to suspect that, come the Last Judgment, we will not fare well, What is distinctive about the present situation is the rise of a militant and sanctimonious decadence, which condemns its opponents as reactionary, sick, or evil. The best argument for same sex marriage is that we are so decadent already that it is pointless to resist the gay movement’s demands.
People at many times and places and have recognized that guaranteeing the continued vitality of their societies is outside their power, and therefore have invoked external forces – immigrants on the natural level, the gods on the supernatural level – to perform this task. But many of the remedies for decadence that have emerged historically and been embraced by conservatively minded people have been horrible. Others are doomed to frustration: there was no Early America minus slavery, and the attempt to recreate it, or even to draw upon it as our sole source of inspiration, defeats itself. All these facts are reflected in persistent apocalyptic imaginings.
III.
Setting aside as outside the domain of philosophy the divine guarantees claimed for the Church of Christ and the Jewish people, the demise of lineages and cultural traditions is as much a part of life as the death of individuals, And there are limits to what we are required or even permitted to do keep a dying culture alive., What is troublesome is the attempt of the representatives of decadent culture to use political methods to maintain control of their societies, and in the process impose their own decadence on other groups.
I remember a concert by Tim Ericksen at Passim, a restaurant in the heartland of Political
Correctness. There were many people from Western Massachusetts present, an all genders washroom, and a vegetarian tending toward vegan menu. Yet neither Ericksen’s masculine persona nor his Christian sensibility weakened his grip on his audience. And he concluded with a song from one of the many failed apocalypses of 19th century America: “Gabriel’s gonna blow in the sky, in the sky ….. Gabriel’s gonna blow from on high, from on high.” It requires explanation, why people who sponsor academic necktie parties for scholars who question the dogma that lesbian couples make for better child rearing environments than intact biological families should greet such a song with enthusiasm.
Decadence includes a lack of active belief in one’s official beliefs, sufficient to make it possible to persevere under conditions of stress. A decadent society is full of change, most of it trivial, controversial, or harmful. Some would-be improvements turn out in retrospect to be futile, and even unquestionably good changes can be disconcerting. Even the best proposals for change are impeded a depleted stock of moral energy. The upshot is that many of our expectations about one another’s behavior are systematically defeated. Husbands have always cheated on their wives, but these days the mistress might call upon the wife with detailed account of the affair, followed by her husband with more sordid details and an offer of himself.
The result is fear and anger, broadening into pervasive moods of anxiety and rage. We fear that even those closest to us will betray us, and we are angry when we believe that they do. And angry people suspect, often rightly, that the targets of their wrath are angry with them and will act accordingly.
The desire to live and to have some share in the world after one’s death persists among some members of even the most decadent society. A sense that the world is falling apart, and a desire to preserve what one cares about, leads people to embrace uncompromising beliefs, and the stronger the medicine the better. What we need are convictions strong enough to withstand not only personal temptations but also a corrosive cultural atmosphere. There is no rule about the content of these beliefs: Oscar Wilde, followed by his friend Lord Alfred Douglas, became Roman Catholics as did Joris-Karl Huysmans and Evelyn Waugh. Whittaker Chambers became a Communist and then a Christian. Many others have become conservative Bible Christians.
Traditionally the end of the world was to be the act of an offended or merciful God, Who would put an end to the comedy in His own good time. And Hume has taught us that someday the sun might refuse to shine. But now the apocalyptic imagination focusses on natural processes set in motion by human actions. Detroit has been described as a slow motion apocalypse, but it is hardly the most spectacular disaster on offer. First it was nuclear winter and now it is global warming and the fiscal cliff. A nuclear war between superpowers would destroy civilization, and possibly even the human race, and much of what the ecology movement says is or ought to be uncontroversial. And Lord Keynes never said that limitless deficits were innocuous: runaway inflation can destroy a society.
Yet the behavior of complex causal systems in which small changes in the initial conditions can bring about large changes in the result is not predictable. Ordinary weather forecasts are not that reliable and climatology is a form of futurology. Nor is economics an exact science: the fiscal cliff was an excessive reduction of the deficit, with relatively small though unpleasant economic effects. A well-functioning political system could handle such problems smoothly and with less favoritism toward the top one percent.
Still, many of us sense that our way of life is deeply disordered, and this fact produces a receptive audience for apocalyptic predictions, even those based on the Mayan Calendar. And these imaginings can be manipulated for political purposes. There are people out there who would intimidate us into policies we would certainly regret – whether unnecessary wars or Chinese style population policies, which create incentives for female infanticide and sex-selective abortions and throw the gender ratio out of kilter. So decadence is not easily cured.
IV.
As Eugen Weber has shown, decadence and the apocalyptic are persistent features of
Western culture, even in times and places, like nineteenth century Europe, where collective self-confidence officially prevailed. But these themes have been more conspicuous at some times and places than at others, and our time and pace – for a variety of reasons, both economic and cultural — is one at which the sense of a disintegrating world is particularly acute. The issue thus arises, what should people in such a world do? Pray certainly, and seek guidance, but we crave a more definite answer.
A precondition of any effective policy is a working political community. More than a simple majority is needed to support at least the broad outlines of the polity. We do not need the 99 percent support the Occupy Movement claims, though the Tea Party competes with it effectively for the allegiance of the disaffected. But we cannot follow the Republican Party and narrow the national community to exclude those dependent on government. The unwillingness of Americans to pay taxes, or otherwise make sacrifices for the, common good, does not arise from some extraordinary degree of selfishness, but from an entirely correct perception that the government does not represent Americans generally, but an array of constituencies that differs according to party, but inevitably includes the rich. Yet we all depend in one way or another on an active government.
A time-honored solution is to kill off the opposition. But even if the American Constitution fails and there is a bloody civil war (as there has been already) the survivors will still face the same problem. How can a deeply diverse and ever-changing society avoid lethal conflict and co-operate for common ends?
All known methods of securing national unity face difficulties. A .proceduralist politics has to deal with botched elections such as that of 2000, which ceased to have debilitating effects only when we were attacked in 2001. Even apart from moral objections to reliance on war to secure national unity, it does not seem to have worked. A leader may turn out to be a Hitler or a Pol Pot, or a pseudo-messiah whose rhetoric conceals deep-dyed opportunism. As an immigrant society we cannot rely on a royal family, in whose affairs the British take a prurient interest. Sports accomplish something, but not I think enough.
Appeals to an unalienable right to life, or to the laws of nature and nature’s God, get one labeled as a right-winger, while appeals to equality (the word created gets edited out) get one labeled as leftist. Appeals to our instinctive protective feelings toward the young encounter as Daniel Patrick Moynihan discovered, hostility among those whose family lives fall short of the desired standard, and resentment among relatively sterile groups of their fertile fellow citizens.
.Religion divides into blue-state and red-state varieties. It is hard to know which is more pathetic, the vanilla reference to God forced down the throat of a Democratic Party including a powerful anti-God faction, or the Republican attempt to synthesize old-time religion with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. What both libertarians and liberationists reject is not so much God Himself as the obvious fact that we are not He – that we do not enjoy limitless freedom to redefine ourselves, ignoring history, nature, and the needs of others. And that, I think, is the root of the matter.

Blogs for Maverkcis

September 10, 2012

Some Blogs and Websites of Interest to Mavericks

Nobody, I am sure, could agree with all these blogs and websites; they do not agree with one another.  I offer them as of interest to people who find the current political alternatives distasteful.  I have not included Holocaust Deniers or other lunatics, of which there are many on the web.

http://behe.uncommondescent.com/.  Solidly based scientific critique of Darwinism.

http://earthjustice.org/our_work/campaigns/fracking-gone-wrong-finding-a-better-way?gclid=COKuh_yC2q4CFcRM4AodRUcEaw.  Against “fracking.”

http://hispanosprovida.org/  Hispanics for life.

http://home.isi.org/  (Arguably) real conservatives.

http://jewishprolifefoundation.org/  Includes resources on post-abortion healing for Jewish women.

http://old.nationalreview.com/frum/frum031903.asp.   A neoconservative purge list, which ought to give anyone inclined toward that persuasion pause.

http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/home.aspx.  In favor of family, religious freedom, and life.

http://philpapers.org/s/Michael%20Wreen.  A maverick philosopher.

http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-document.cfm.  The Catholic Bishops mavericks?  Read their statements and see.

http://www.amazon.com/Pegasus-at-Plow-Poetry-Collection/dp/0981461905.  A maverick poet.

http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/prolifenonbelievers.  Atheists and agnostics for life.

http://www.dsausa.org/rs/vision.html.  Religious socialists.

http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com/

http://www.blackprolifecoalition.org/

http://www.catholicmaine.com/

http://www.celiawolfdevine.com/  Pro-life and prayer.

http://www.consistent-life.org/  Advocates a “seamless garment” approach to life issues.

http://www.democratsforlife.org/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pro-Life-Liberals/366896816811

http://www.feministsforlife.org/

http://www.l4l.org/  Libertarians for life.

http://www.lp.org/issues/foreign-policy.  Includes a hard-hitting libertarian critique of the “war on terror.”

http://www.macintyreanenquiry.org/  Alasdair MacIntyre’s philosophy includes much of interest to mavericks.

http://www.nationalblackprolifeunion.com/

http://www.nrcat.org/  National Religious Campaign against Torture.  “Torture is a moral issue.”

http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Pat_Buchanan_Foreign_Policy.htm.  Some provocative observations on foreign policy.

http://www.plagal.org/  Gays and lesbians for life.

http://www.ronpaul2012.com/  I doubt that Ron Paul could run the country, but cannot help admiring his integrity.

http://www.wendellberrybooks.com/  Wendell Berry has recently been invited to give the Jefferson lecture.  So Washington honors mavericks even if it ignores us.

About this blog

September 10, 2012

ABOUT THIS BLOG
This blog contains two sorts of posts.
Scholarly articles in social and political philosophy (including jurisprudence),
Editorials for a general audience.

The editorials are both more lively, and less carefully reasoned, than the editorials. I hope some of my readers will enjoy them both.


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