Friday, December 09, 2016

It's Almost 2017

And the phony Christian Nationalist quotations are still with us.

If folks like Joe Farah don't want to get labeled "fake news," they should stop making these mistakes, even as they have been called out many times before for this particular one.

A taste:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.”

– James Madison

Now that we have a president-elect who seems to understand how government that tried to do too much ends up doing nothing but harm, wouldn’t it be nice if he learned about and talked about the very best kind of government – self-government?

America’s founders knew all about it.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sources on Right to Pursue Happiness

Friend of American Creation Bill Fortenberry listed some philosophers who influenced the American Founding with links to their understanding of what the phrase "pursuit of happiness" meant to them. It was noted that John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding invoked "pursuit of happiness." Interestingly, the Locke's famous "life liberty and property" derived from his Second Treatise on government.

Here is a link to Locke's specific use. Here are some other philosophers' use of that phrase: 1. Bolingbroke; 2. Joseph Priestley; 3. Shaftesbury; 4. Joseph Addison.

The deck of those four or five seems to be tilted in favor of the thesis that it was certain "key" or elite figures who possessed more heterodox ideas that were in tension with those of the more orthodox powers that be.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Right to Pursue Happiness: Eudaimonia

When I teach introductory or ethical portions of various American law courses, I usually lay the foundations with broad principles law seeks to protect and promote. And I go to America's Foundations (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Jocke Locke, etc.).

Things like: Life, Liberty, Property, Equality, Promotion of Commerce, Order, Health & Safety, Diffusion of Knowledge.

As noted above (parenthetically) we do the Declaration and John Locke. I don't put "pursuit of happiness" on the list; though I do discuss how in Locke's original it was "life, liberty and property" and Thomas Jefferson changed it from  "property" to "pursuit of happiness."

The classes I teach tend to be survey classes (that is we don't get too deep into the tall weeds). So I attempt to briefly gloss over what I am about to write. First, scholars debate why Jefferson and the Declaration's other authors made this change and what, if anything it means. Left leaning scholars, I have observed, tend to emphasize Jefferson did this to give short shrift to property rights. Others, I have observed, argue simply the right to "pursue happiness" means "property rights."

To me and others, on the face of it, the rights to "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness" sound like a redundancy.

I suspect however, such was a bit of wisdom the authors of the Declaration attempted to impart that traces to Aristotle (Eudaimonia). For reasons I need not get into in this post, I reject the argument that the Declaration and American Founding ought to be understood that there is only a right to do what's right, or that there can be no right to do wrong.

And that's not, as far as I understand, what Eudaimonia means. Rather, what such means is ... well let's let George Washington explain:
There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; ...
In other words, in order to be truly happy (or perhaps we can say happiest), you must do what's virtuous. Certain unvirtuous behaviors may, in short, make us feel good; but we will probably wake up the next day feeling worse than we did before we did the dirty deed.

So use your liberty wisely. You can use it to do what's right or perhaps not right; but if you use it to do the latter, you won't end up happiest. Perhaps not happy at all. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dr. Robert P. Kraynak on Strauss, Voegelin, and Burke

Check it out here. A taste:
Following the logic of their positions, Strauss and Voegelin agree on crucial points in the development of Western thought but diverge on the role of Christianity. For Strauss, Western thought is a philosophical drama in which the classical philosophers and their medieval developers made virtue the standard for politics; this approach provoked the accusation of modern thinkers that the ancients “aimed too high” and that one should lower the goal of politics to the satisfaction of selfish human passions in a regime of freedom and material prosperity. While the modern revolt against any authority above man at first glorified scientific reason in the conquest of nature, it eventually led to the destruction of reason and produced the crisis of moral relativism or nihilism—the denial of any objective standard of right and wrong and the complete forgetting of eternity. Faced with this situation, Strauss sought to recover the classical rationalism of Socrates, which he understood to be a kind of zetetic (or searching) skepticism that allowed for rational standards of morality in natural right.
For Voegelin, the development of Western thought is mostly a religious drama (“history is Christ writ large”) in which Christianity changed human consciousness in ways that make it impossible to return to classical philosophy. While Christianity advanced the consciousness of the West by elevating the dignity of all persons, it also created a problem for political authority by dividing the spiritual and temporal into two realms and by radically secularizing or “de-divinizing” the political realm. This division eventually provoked a reaction among medieval thinkers like Joachim of Flora who sought to re-connect the two realms by giving politics an eschatological dimension. Their efforts produced a deformed kind of spiritual knowledge that Voegelin calls Gnosticism—the attempt to realize heaven on earth through secularized political religions, such as radical Puritanism, progressive liberalism, Comte’s “religion of humanity,” socialism, communism, and fascism. The history of the West is thus a Christianized history of consciousness that leads to misguided efforts to bring about worldly salvation through utopian ideologies, resulting in the totalitarian tyrannies of the modern age. Faced with this situation, Voegelin sought to recover the primary experience of openness to transcendence in the “mystic-philosophers” of earlier ages in the hope of restoring the authentic basis of order.
Both Strauss and Voegelin thought John Locke was "modern." Hat tip: Tom Van Dyke

Saturday, November 19, 2016

VoegelinView: "Redefining Rebellion: John Locke’s Slight of Hand"

By Scott Robinson here. A taste:
Voegelin was indeed quite critical of Locke on those occasions when he wrote about him, labeling Locke among “the most repugnant, dirty, morally corrupt appearances in the history of humanity”1 because Voegelin saw Locke as “an ideological constructor, who brutally destroys every philosophical problem in order to justify the political status quo.”2
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, and their respective followers, disagree on much. One thing in which they were agreed is that John Locke was up to something.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau (The British Republicans) & Modernity

One of these days I'm going to write a piece examining how current Western liberal democracies reflect the different ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (and the British republicans as a proxy for Rousseau or vice versa). The current system of bureaucracy, including military bureaucracy is Hobbsean. That he, unlike Locke was unpopular among America's Founders is irrelevant: His vision of huge government prevailed.

To speak of a "republican" tradition in contradistinction to Locke's "liberalism" is important because many scholars after most notably Bernard Bailyn argued republicanism prevailed over liberalism. I am suspicious of this claim and have concluded there were simply viable streams of thought that were in tension with one another (harmonized as unified by the "Whigs").

Likewise with egalitarian republican Rousseau. He wasn't popular in America. But both present day America and Europe have similar safety nets, redistribution of wealth and income, and regulations on businesses, with Europe tending to be slightly more progressive. A difference in degree, not kind.

Late 18th Century England and America may not have cared for Rousseau, but they did have their own stream of "republicans" who argued for economic leveling on very similar grounds. They tended to do so using biblical language. However, Rousseau was, at least exoterically, a theist who claimed to be a Christian.

So we can swap Harrington for Rousseau, and it doesn't make much of a difference.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

EJ Spode: "The Calvinist Roots of American Anti-Intellectualism"

Check it out here. A taste:
The sanitized story about Protestantism that has been passed down to us is that it represented a revolt against corruption in the Church and brought a focus on Biblical writing rather than Church traditions as a source of authority. And it was indeed about those things. Partly. But more than that it was a revolt against an idea, espoused by Saint Aquinas, that we can come to know nature without the aid of religion (in the insider terminology, we can understand nature without the help of grace). The idea that part of the world that could be known and understood without aid of religion helped ignite the Renaissance but was an idea that Calvin in particular could not tolerate. In his view, separation of grace and nature would lead to no end of troubles; every aspect of our lives (science, culture, etc.) needed to be brought under religious control.
I think this certainly accurately describes some Calvinists. I for one have come across many American Calvinist fideists.  I wonder though, whether this accurately describes the big picture.

Hat tip: The Barefoot Bum.