Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Someone to check out

Robert P. Kraynak refers to Hungarian political philosopher and conservative critic of liberalism Aurel Kolnai in this review of John Hittinger's Liberty, Wisdom, and Grace: Thomism and Democratic Political Theory.

In chapter ten, Hittinger gives further consideration to Kolnai's "metaphysics of political conservatism" and tilts in favor of this approach over Maritain's and Simon's democratic progressivism and defensive neo-Thomism. Kolnai contrasts conservative metaphysics, which views life in terms of "hierarchy, privilege, and liberty," to democratic metaphysics, which views life in terms of "identity, sameness, and rebellion." Kolnai defends conservative metaphysics against democratic metaphysics because the former is more noble than the latter and accords with the natural order of things. The problem with this judgment, of course, is that conservative metaphysics point toward an aristocratic order of politics while democratic metaphysics point to the mass culture of the common man, neither of which is entirely acceptable. Kolnai tries to solve the problem by combining the two orders in a view of "constitutionalism" that separates limitations on power from individual rights and connects "liberty under God" with dispersed centers of power based on privilege and corporate hierarchy. It is unclear, however, if Hittinger completely accepts this political solution because he senses that Kolnai's spirit is at odds with the Second Vatican Council and with the views of Pope John Paul II, a champion of the rights and dignity of the human person.

I'm sympathetic to dispersing centers of power, but the advocacy of privilege triggers egalitarian suspicions I didn't even know I had. Granted, this is a prejudice on my part; but as Edmund Burke has noted, there is something to be said for prejudices.

There's more informaton on Kolnai in this brief review: FindArticles.com - A neglected political thinker

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy

The Liberty Fund has made Henrich Rommen's excellent natural law study available on-line.

From the introduction:
Heinrich Rommen is known in the United States primarily as the author of two widely read books on political philosophy, The State in Catholic Thought: A Treatise in Political Philosophy (1945) and The Natural Law (1947), and as a professor at Georgetown University (1953–67). Yet, before 1938, when he fled the Third Reich for the United States, Rommen was neither a scholar nor a university professor, but a professional lawyer—trained in civil and canon law—who had devoted considerable energies to Catholic social action during the dissolution of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party. The two books that secured his academic reputation in the United States were written in Germany in the midst of his legal and political work, for which he was imprisoned by the Nazis.

Although The Natural Law displays erudition in a number of academic specialties (law, philosophy, history, theology), the reader will appreciate that the book was written by a lawyer in response to a political and legal crisis. As a practicing lawyer, Rommen watched with alarm as the Nazi party deftly used German legislative, administrative, and judicial institutions to impose totalitarian rule. “Our modern dictators,” he remarked, “are masters of legality.” “Hitler,” Rommen concluded, “aimed not a revolution, but at a legal grasp of power according to the formal democratic processes.”

Every generation, it is said, finds a new reason for the study of natural law. For Rommen and many others of his generation, totalitarianism provided that occasion.4 As he put it in his book on the state, “When one of the relativist theories is made the basis of a totalitarian state, man is stirred to free himself from the pessimistic resignation that characterizes these relativist theories and to return to his principles.” Rommen’s writings were prompted by the spectacle of German legal professionals, who, while trained in the technicalities of positive law, were at a loss in responding to what he called “Adolf Légalité.”

What caused this loss of nerve, if not loss of moral perspective? Rommen points to the illusion that legal institutions are a sufficient bulwark against government by raw power—as though a system of positive law takes care of itself, requiring only the superintendence of certified professionals. “Forgotten is the fact that legal institutions themselves can be made the object of the non-legal power struggle. Who does not know that in a nation the courts or the judges themselves are subject to the power strife, showing itself in the public propaganda of contradictory social ideals?”

The Constitution of Liberty within Christendom...

is the title of a brief essay by Paul Rahe on liberty in the middle ages. It's lifted in part from Volume I of his _Republics Ancient and Modern_, my current read. Rahe links the evolution of political liberty to the Canon Lawyers' reinterpretation of the Roman Law principle "What touches all must be approved by all."

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Two Essays on War

Ecumenical Councils of War, reviewed by David B. Hart, outlining the just war tradition in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. Hart raises a key problem in contemporary just war reasoning:
More importantly, by beginning his account of just war theory by bothering to recognize the legitimacy of a state not explicitly bound to divine law—however much he may urge that Christians must attempt to make the state conscious of that law—Cole puts himself in the odd position of having to argue that Christians must both obey the principles of just war and also resign themselves to fighting at the behest of a political order that has not necessarily placed itself under the sway of those principles. It is, after all, the liberal state that gave us total war in the modern age and that has often, precisely on account of its liberal utopian abhorrence of all war (as Cole himself quite acutely observes), forsaken even the pretense of justice in making war.

It is a curious thing indeed, then, for Cole to begin his defense of the just war tradition by arguing on behalf of a political system that is in its essence intractably post-Christian. If the most for which Christians can hope is that they have a “voice” in the political determinations of a government that does not otherwise acknowledge the spiritual and moral supremacy of the Church in worldly affairs, what remains of just war theory but a collection of axioms by which individual Christians must try to ascertain for themselves whether they may or may not consent to a particular war being waged by their government?

But surely just war theory is not supposed to function as a private calculus, but as a social and political rationality. In the age of the liberal state, what authority may Christians trust in times of war, if the state cannot—by its own constitutional logic—speak under the clear guidance of the Church?

Second, an essay by the Rev. Michael Baxter, CSC, Just War and Pacifism: A "Pacifist"
Perspective in Seven Points

The Nation-State and the Common Good

Via Verbum Ipsum, we find the essay Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good,(PDF Format) in which William T. Cavanaugh makes a very contrarian argument. He holds that the nation-state never claimed to look after the common good, that "society," in its unitary sense, is actually a creation of the modern nation-state, and, echoing Simon Schama, claims that a potent state is the enemy of vibrant communities.

A few quotations:
"Globalization is, in part, the hyperextension of the triumph of the universal over the local on which the nation-state is founded."

"The nation-state may be understood theologically as a kind of parody of the Church, meant to save us from division."

He also has a revealing quotation from a political scientist named Michael Budde, on his encounter with the ecclessial bureaucracy:
Once upon a time, I was hired as a consultant for a public-policy arm of a state-level Catholic bishops’ conference. The bishops, according to the institution’s staff people, wanted to engage in rededicated efforts to confront the realities of poverty in their state.
What the church bureaucracy had in mind was something on the order of a new lobbying initiative in the state legislature or perhaps an expert conference on poverty in the state.
I told them that they should attempt to take every Catholic in their state on an intensive retreat, with follow-up programs upon their return. Nothing the Church could do would benefit poor people more, I argued, than to energize, inspire, and ignite the passion of larger numbers of the faithful. Without attempts to “convert the baptized,” in William O’Malley’s phrase, the stranglehold of self-interest, isolation, and religious indifference would continue to throttle the church’s attempts to deal seriously with poverty in a global capitalist order.
My advice, to put it gently, was unappreciated. I was fired. They had an experts conference. As far as I can tell, poverty in their state remained indifferent to their efforts.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Political Philosophy and Science Envy

"For just as Galileo could look at the path of a cannon ball and see it as the resultant of the force of gravity and linear velocity, or Priestley look at a chemical reaction and see it as an exchange of atoms, so the new social theorists looked at the state and saw it as the resultant of the actions of all the individuals who make it up. But note please that these individuals who are the primary constituents of the state and the elements of reductive analysis of society are not individual human beings. They are social atoms, totally denuded of individuality, of character, of emotion(except fear and greed) and ov value. The individual, in this mode of analysis, is not a real human being but an abstract quantity, comprehensible because of his abstract nature and ultimately manipulable by social controls. The relevance of the reductive mode of analysis for modern politics should be immediately obvious, for in the ideologies of modern totalitarian movements, we can see this method of perceiving human beings as abstract quantities in the full light of practice."
-John C. Caiazza, Modern Science and the Origins of Our Political Discontent(PDF File)
Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1977

I am beginning to better understand Chantal Delsol's suspicions of essentialism, since the "essentialism" of modern theory posits a reductive nature of man in order that man can be manipulated by a technocracy, in contradistinction to the essentialism of classical and Christian philosophy, where human nature is not a thing to be manipulated but a norm to be fulfilled.

Caiazza also notes how modern science follows the Cartesian route, moving away from experience and into abstraction. Modern political philosophy, in its envy of the promises and accomplishments of physical science, tries to follow suit: "Just as it becomes the mark of an educated man to say that the physical universe is not as it appears to be, so it becomes possible to say that the phenomena of politics are not what they appear to be; are not what our experience tells us they are." He critiques social contract theory as one such abstraction. "Hobbes based his idea of the state on the contract theory not because he was committed to the idea of individualism, but because he was modeling his analysis on the reductive method of science." Obviously, this preference for abstraction over experience engenders the rabid anti-traditionalism of modernity.

Truth and Freedom

A ruminative essay by Joseph Cardinal Raztinger on the relationship between truth and freedom. I read it years ago, but I only just now noticed that its critique anticipates that of Chantal Delsol in Icarus Fallen. Delsol is more wary of "essentialist" philosophy than Ratzinger, but I think Ratzinger goes further in providing the anthropology that Delsol so pined for.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Tumor growing in Democratic Party by Fran Maier, the chancellor of the Catholic Archiocese of Denver.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

A bit of Capitalist Messianism

Former CEO of GE Jack Welch writes
Last but not least, the leader of the United States must love business, because a thriving economy is the free world’s last, best hope.

So much for "In God We Trust." Most money is digital now, anyway.

Something else they don't teach in schools

Social Darwinist excerpts from the book under question in the Scopes trial, via Eve Tushnet.

Addendum 7/22/05: More excerpts

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The New Pantagruel, Winter Edition

I have a review essay covering Claes G. Ryn's _America The Virtuous_ in the latest issue of the New Pantagruel. I fear I'm a bit out of my league, being in the same issue as excerpts from Eric Voegelin and two superlative essays on place and locality. Still, one doesn't learn to swim by staying out of the water. My thanks to Caleb Stegall and the other TNP editors for the opportunity.

A few links on Voegelin

First, the essay What is the Metaxy? analyzing the concept in Plato and in Voegelin's interpretation of Plato. The author provides some useful guidelines for interpreting Plato.

Second, a handy Dictionary of Voegelinian Terminology, found via The New Pantagruel