Saturday, 22 May 2010

Scola Gangraenae. — “The office of the Liberal school is to proclaim the existences it annuls, and to annul the existences it proclaims. There is none of its principles which is not accompanied by a counter principle which destroys it. Thus, for example, it proclaims monarchy, and immediately ministerial responsibility, and consequently the omnipotence of the responsible ministry, which is contradictory of monarchy. It proclaims ministerial responsibility, and immediately the sovereign intervention in matters of government, of the deliberative assemblies, which is contradictory of the omnipotence of the ministers. It proclaims the sovereign intervention in the affairs of state, of the political assemblies, and immediately, the right of the electoral districts to decide on the last appeal, which is contradictory of the sovereign intervention of the assemblies. It proclaims the right of supreme arbitration, which resides in the electors, and immediately it accepts, more or less explicitly, the supreme right of insurrection, which is contradictory of that pacific and supreme arbitration. It proclaims the right of insurrection of the multitude, which is to proclaim its sovereign omnipotence, and immediately, it establishes the laws of electoral eligibility, which is to ostracise the sovereign multitude. And with all these principles and counter principles it aims at one thing—to discover, through artifice and industry, an equilibrium which it never discovers, because it contradicts the nature of society and the nature of man. There is only one power for which the Liberal school has not sought its corresponding equilibrium—the power of corruption. Corruption is the god of the school, and as a god, it is at one and the same time, in all places. In such a way has the Liberal school combined things, that when it prevails, all have necessarily to be corrupters or corrupted; for where there is no man who cannot be Caesar, or vote for Caesar, or proclaim Caesar, all must be Caesars or praetorians. For this reason all the societies which fall under the domination of this school die the same death—all die gangrened. The kings corrupt the ministers, by promising them eternity; the ministers the kings, by promising them an expansion of their prerogative. The ministers corrupt the representatives of the people, by placing all the dignities of the state at their feet; the assemblies corrupt the ministers. The members traffic with their power, the electors with their influence; all corrupt the masses with their promises, and the masses corrupt all with their clamour and threats.”

Juan Donoso Cortés, Marqués de Valdegamas, Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism, tr. W. McDonald (Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1879), pp.181-3. (Cf., “Although the liberal bourgeoisie wanted a god, its god could not become active; it wanted a monarch, but he had to be powerless . . .”. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, tr. G. Schwab (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p.59.)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

In the Light of Socrates and Adeimantus. — Come, then, how does tyranny come into being? It is fairly clear that it evolves from democracy.
     It is.
     And doesn’t it evolve from democracy in much the same way that democracy does from oligarchy?
     What way is that?
     The good that oligarchy puts before itself and because of which it is established is wealth, isn’t it?
     And its insatiable desire for wealth and its neglect of other things for the sake of money-making is what destroyed it, isn’t it?
     That’s true.
     And isn’t democracy’s insatiable desire for what it defines as the good also what destroys it?
     What do you think it defines as the good?
     Freedom: Surely you’d hear a democratic city say that this is the finest thing it has, so that as a result it is the only city worth living in for someone who is by nature free.
     Yes, you often hear that.
     Then, as I was about to say, doesn’t the insatiable desire for freedom and the neglect of other things change this constitution and put it in need of a dictatorship?
      In what way?
     I suppose that, when a democratic city, athirst for freedom, happens to get bad cupbearers for its leaders, so that it gets drunk by drinking more than it should of the unmixed wine of freedom, then, unless the rulers are very pliable and provide plenty of that freedom, they are punished by the city and accused of being accursed oligarchs.
     Yes, that is what it does.
     It insults those who obey the rulers as willing slaves and good-for-nothings and praises and honors, both in public and in private, rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers. And isn’t it inevitable that freedom should go to all lengths in such a city?
     Of course.
     It makes its way into private households and in the end breeds anarchy even among the animals.
     What do you mean?
     I mean that a father accustoms himself to behave like a child and fear his sons, while the son behaves like a father, feeling neither shame nor fear in front of his parents, in order to be free. A resident alien or a foreign visitor is made equal to a citizen, and he is their equal.
     Yes, that is what happens.
     It does. And so do other little things of the same sort. A teacher in such a community is afraid of his students and flatters them, while the students despise their teachers or tutors. And, in general, the young imitate their elders and compete with them in word and deed, while the old stoop to the level of the young and are full of play and pleasantry, imitating the young for fear of appearing disagreeable and authoritarian.
     [. . .]
     To sum up: Do you notice how all these things together make the citizens’ souls so sensitive that, if anyone even puts upon himself the least degree of slavery, they become angry and cannot endure it. And in the end, as you know, they take no notice of the laws, whether written or unwritten, in order to avoid having any master at all.
     I certainly do.
     This, then, is the fine and impetuous origin from which tyranny seems to me to evolve.
     It is certainly impetuous. But what comes next?
     The same disease that developed in oligarchy and destroyed it also develops here, but it is more widespread and virulent because of the general permissiveness, and it eventually enslaves democracy. In fact, excessive action in one direction usually sets up a reaction in the opposite direction. This happens in seasons, in plants, in bodies, and, last but not least, in constitutions.
     That’s to be expected.
     Extreme freedom can’t be expected to lead to anything but a change to extreme slavery, whether for the private individual or for a city.
     No, it can’t.
    Then I don’t suppose that tyranny evolves from any constitution other than democracy—the most severe and cruel slavery from the utmost freedom.
     Yes, that’s reasonable.
     But I don’t think that was your question. You asked what was the disease that developed in oligarchy and also in democracy, enslaving it.
     That’s true.
     And what I had in mind as an answer was that class of idle and extravagent men, whose bravest members are leaders and the more cowardly ones followers. We compared them to stinged and stingless drones, respectively.
     That’s right.
     Now, these two groups cause problems in any constitution, just as phlegm and bile do in the body. And it’s against them that the good doctor and lawgiver of a city must take advance precautions, first, to prevent their presence and, second, to cut them out of the hive as quickly as possible, cells and all, if they should happen to be present.
     Yes, by god, he must cut them out altogether.

Plato, Republic, Bk.VIII:562-564c, tr. G.M.A. Grube & C.D.C. Reeve, in Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997), p.1172-4; original emphasis.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

A Humble Abode. — “It has often been said that the older picture of the world in space was peculiarly fitted to give man a high sense of his own importance and dignity; and some modern writers have made much of this supposed implication of the pre-Copernican astronomy. Man occupied, we are told, the central place in the universe, and round the planet of his habitation all the vast, unpeopled spheres obsequiously revolved. But the actual tendency of the geocentric system was, for the medieval mind, precisely the opposite. For the centre of the world was not a position of honor; it was rather the place farthest removed from the Empyrean, the bottom of the creation, to which its dregs and baser elements sank. The actual centre, indeed, was Hell; in the spatial sense the medieval world was literally diabolocentric.” 

Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964), pp.101-2.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Successful Method to Blindness. — “But the point to which I wish to draw attention is the mass of evidence lying outside the physiological method which is simply ignored in the prevalent scientific doctrine. The conduct of human affairs is entirely dominated by our recognition of foresight determining purpose, and purpose issuing in conduct. Almost every sentence we utter and every judgment we form, presuppose our unfailing experience of this element in life. The evidence is so overwhelming, the belief so unquestioning, the evidence of language so decisive, that it is difficult to know where to begin in demonstrating it. For example, we speak of the policy of a statesman or of a business corporation. Cut out the notion of final causation, and the word ‘policy’ has lost its meaning. As I write this lecture, I intend to deliver it in Princeton University. Cut out the notion of final causation, and this ‘intention’ is without meaning. Again consider the voyage of the battleship Utah round the South American continent. Consider first the ship itself. We are asked to believe that the concourse of atoms, of iron, and of nitrogen, and of other sorts of chemical elements, into the form of the ship, of its armour, of its guns, of its engines, of its ammunition, of its stores of food,—that this concourse was purely the outcome of the same physical laws by which the ocean waves aimlessly beat on the coasts of Maine. There could be no more aim in one episode than in the other. The activity of the shipbuilders was merely analogous to the rolling of the shingle on the beach.
     Pass on now to consider—still presupposing the orthodox physiological doctrine—the voyage of the ship. The President-elect of the United States had nothing to do with it. His intentions with respect to South American policy and goodwill in the world were beside the question, being futile irrelevancies. The motions of his body, those of the bodies of the sailors, like the motions of the ship-builders, were purely governed by the physical laws which lead a stone to roll down a slope and water to boil. The very idea is ridiculous.
     We shall of course be told that the doctrine is not meant to apply to the conduct of men. Yet the bodily motions are physiological operations. If these latter be blind, so are the motions. Also men are animals. Surely, the whole fight over evolution was about this very latter point.
     Again we are told that we should look at the matter historically. Mankind has gradually developed from the lowliest forms of life, and must therefore be explained in terms applicable to all such forms. But why construe the later forms by analogy to the earlier forms. Why not reverse the process? It would seem to be more sensible, more truly empirical, to allow each living species to make its own contribution to the demonstration of factors inherent in living things.
     I need not continue the discussion. The case is too clear for elaboration. Yet the trained body of physiologists under the influence of the ideas germane to their successful methodology entirely ignore the whole mass of adverse evidence. We have here a colossal example of anti-empirical dogmatism arising from a successful methodology. Evidence which lies outside the method simply does not count.
     We are, of course, reminded that the neglect of this evidence arises from the fact that it lies outside the scope of the methodology of the science. That method consists in tracing the persistence of the physical and chemical principles throughout physiological operations.
     The brilliant success of this method is admitted. But you cannot limit a problem by reason of a method of attack. The problem is to understand the operations of an animal body. There is clear evidence that certain operations of certain animal bodies depend upon the foresight of an end and the purpose to attain it. It is no solution of the problem to ignore this evidence because other operations have been explained in terms of physical and chemical laws. The existence of a problem is not even acknowledged. It is vehemently denied. Many a scientist has patiently designed experiments for the purpose of substantiating his belief that animal operations are motivated by no purposes. He has perhaps spent his spare time in writing articles to prove that human beings are as other animals so that ‘purpose’ is a category irrelevant for the explanation of their bodily activities, his own activities included. Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929), pp.9-12; original emphases.

To which may be appended a fitting word from Lord Acton:

“There is not a more perilous or immoral habit of mind than the sanctifying of success.”

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, “The Puritan Revolution”, Lectures on Modern History (London: MacMillan & Co., 1906), p.204.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Unmechanical Phancy. — “These men have been sometimes indeed a little Troubled with the Phancy, Apparition, or Seeming of Cogitation, that is The Consciousness of it, as knowing not well what to make thereof; but then they put it off again, and satisfie themselves worshipfully with this, that Phancy is but Phancy, but the Reality of Cogitation, nothing but Local Motion; as if there were not as much Reality in Phancy and Consciousness, as there is in Local Motion.” [1]

Ralph Cudworth alludes most pertinently to Thomas Hobbes, whose all-encompassing mechanistic philosophy rejected any place for intentionality or final causality in the world. Yet, by this denial, it makes no sense to say that intentional happenings are fancies or illusions; for these are themselves intentional happenings, that is to say, they are about something, albeit not true about the world outside the mind.

[1] Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (London: Richard Royston, 1678), p.846.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Lost without Landmarks. — “Up to the present in everyday discourse the habit of speaking of moral judgments as true or false persists; but the question of what it is in virtue of which a particular moral judgment is true or false has come to lack any clear answer. That this should be so is perfectly intelligible if the historical hypothesis which I have sketched is true: that moral judgments are linguisitic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by those practices. In that context moral judgments were at once hypothetical and categorical in form. They were hypothetical insofar as they expressed a judgment as to what conduct would be teleologically appropriate for a human being: ‘You ought to do so-and-so, if and since your telos is such-and-such’ or perhaps ‘You ought to do so-and-so, if you do not want your essential desires to be frustrated’. They were categorical insofar as they reported the contents of the universal law commanded by God: ‘You ought to do so-and-so: that is what God’s law enjoins.’ But take away from them that in virtue of which they were hypothetical and that in virtue of which they were categorical and what are they? Moral judgments lose any clear status and the sentences which express them in a parallel way lose any undebateable meaning. Such sentences become available as forms of expression for an emotivist self which lacking the guidance of the context in which they were orginally at home has lost its linguistic as well as its practical way in the world.”

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 2007), p.60.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A Radical Shift. — “It is obvious, from a casual observation of the medieval and modern methods of attacking the difficulties of metaphysics, that a radical shift has been made in the fundamental terminology used. Instead of treating things in terms of substance, accident, and causality, essence and idea, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, we now treat them in terms of forces, motions, and laws, changes of mass in space and time, and the like. Pick up the works of any modern philosopher, and note how complete the shift has been. To be sure, works in general philosophy may show little use of such a term as mass, but the other words will abundantly dot their pages as fundamental categories of explanation. In particular it is difficult for the modern mind, accustomed to think so largely in terms of space and time, to realize how unimportant these entities were for scholastic science. Spatial and temporal relations were accidental, not essential characteristics. Instead of spatial connexions of things, men were seeking their logical connexions; instead of the onward march of time, men thought of the eternal passage of potentiality into actuality. . . . It might be that the reason for the failure of philosophy to assure man something more of that place in the universe which he once so confidently assumed is due to an inability to rethink a correct philosophy of man in the medium of this altered terminology. It might be that under cover of this change of ideas modern philosophy had accepted uncritically certain important presuppositions, either in the form of meanings carried by these new terms or in the form of doctrines about man and his knowledge subtly insinuated with them—presuppositions which by their own nature negatived a successful attempt to reanalyse, through their means, man’s true relation to his environing world.”

Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1925), pp.12-4.