Notes for a busy week

8 11 2010

I don’t really understand people who want an authoritarian religion but a free state. Or rather, why do some value freedom so much in the political realm but abhor it in the religious realm? And why are people so shocked and dismayed that most people value personal “freedom” in both, especially in its “cafeteria” manifestation?

Personally, I think it would be a good idea to have an laissez-faire attitude towards religion but an authoritarian attitude towards politics. Wouldn’t that make more sense on some level? It certainly would make things interesting. Life on the ground in traditional Catholic regimes wasn’t exactly like that, but it was something like: “you may believe whatever you want as long as you sign on half-heartedly to our dogmas and empty rituals, but if you cross our police force…”

Then again, I have never really been all too concerned with what freedoms I have, but what I do with those supposed freedoms. I have long ago considered “human rights” to be a superstition founded neither in religion nor sane philosophy.


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25 responses

26 11 2010
TKB

I am precisely one of those people who believes in minimizing the state/maximizing freedom while simultaneously affirming the importance of a highly traditional Church (the Orthodox Church, in this instance).

There are MANY reasons why I am simultaneously a religious traditionalist and a radical libertarian, but the first point that jumps to my mind is this: many of us believe the Church has an authority that the State can never even begin to approach having. I trust my Church in a way that I can never trust the State. Particularly when a government rules over very large and varied populations, we cannot look to it to provide meaningful guidance for how we ought live our lives– which is precisely what a restriction of freedoms implies. I don’t necessarily think pluralism is sustainable in the long run, but I much prefer a State that says as little as possible about as many things as possible to one that starts thinking it has the legitimacy or the ability to discern Truth. It’s also not just about enshrining freedom as some kind of ultimate virtue; it’s about recognizing the terrible things that can result from an overconfident state interfering where it ought not– from problems like regulatory capture and the culture of poverty perpetuated by certain welfare programs to murderous, totalitarian regimes.

I think ultimately theocratic regimes undermine and distort the Church, although in my weaker moments I dream about the revival of the Byzantine Empire (or really, ByzEmp v2.0). I’m willing to trust completely the Church on matters of theology because frankly I’m not sure what other options I have? I can easily evaluate how, say, a war on drugs instigated by a puritanic state increases crime rates, props up black markets, etc etc etc– but I really don’t see how it’s my place to say “Screw you, fasting is stupid, your liturgy is boring and y’know what, I’m gonna cross myself however I feel like it!” I just can’t imagine being that hubristic, I suppose.

But I don’t think it’s at all strange to regard the kinds of authority my State and my Church have as radically different and have different ideals accordingly.

13 11 2010
sortacatholic

Thanks Visibilium for noting that Spain has traditionally supported authoritarian regimes (Philip V springs to mind, among others). He (ab)used Catholicism as a means to unite the Spanish people (no better example of the _muy Catholicos_ than the bombastic Escorial). Also, the rise of Netherlandish Reformed practice and political unrest proved to be a handy baffle for his domestic conflation of politics and religious practice.

You are right that the Francoist experience can’t be extrapolated to encompass the general political desires of the institutional Church. However, I would say hesitantly that JP II’s unabashed support of Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei might lend secondary or tertiary support to Franco’s conflation of Catholic moralism and fascism. One aspect of Opus Dei penitential practice involves unyielding authority to Escriva’s legacy and the hierarchical structure of the order. This structure is not unlike the Francoist political ideology insofar as Spaniards under Franco did not exercise rights out of reason or discretion. Then, actions were prescribed as either morally or ideologically correct or even necessary, and enforced under pain of censure. If the Vatican wholeheartedly endorses The Work, then one might make an argument that the institutional Church prefers both macro- and micro- fascism on a political and religious scale. I cannot attest to the success of such a thesis, but certainly there are possibilities in this area.

13 11 2010
Visibilium

Since I’m not an ecumenist, I’d love to paint Old Rome as being a magnet for fascism, but I’ve an obligation to be objective as well. Historically, RC countries have been a mixed bag, just as Orthodox countries have been. Spain has traditionally been rather absolutist (although it’s had republican episodes), and I’m not sure you can extrapolate the Spanish experience.

12 11 2010
sortacatholic

Catholicism’s irresistible attraction to clerical-fascist regimes such as Francoist Spain or Duplessis in Quebec stems from the illusory promise that a compliant Church-fascist dictatorship should uphold every moral dictate of the Church. This is well known. What’s less discussed is the way in which the clerical-fascist state presents tyranny as the redemptive suffering consequential to free will. The emotional and physical suffering of the Spanish under Francoism was reframed by the clerical caste a collective act of penance and an accrual of merit. This confessional reframing served the ultimate goal of creating a confessional state that exploited personal lives under the pretence of their salvation. We all know, however, that Franco’s goons beat and arbitrarily imprisoned because of this distorted bargain between belief and corrupt rule.

I am convinced that fascism is the best form of government for Catholicism, even if such a government causes certain people manifest suffering. Then again, fascism has rose to power in non-Catholic societies to great success. For this reason there is another catalyst within the rise of fascism that inevitably draws Rome to its arms.

12 11 2010
Visibilium

You’re saying that ditching “traditional religiosity in the context of modernity” isn’t a sane position? Well, you’re right, but not within the context of the widely-accepted Westernized understanding of religious/secular separation.

We Orthodox start out without the separation, but our involvement in the inherently corrupting church/state synergy mindset produces similar problems. I don’t think it’s any accident that a monster like Stalin was a priest’s son.

I suspect that we’re agreeing about something, and I have to sit down.

12 11 2010
Arturo Vasquez

“Religion is a voluntary effort. If the priest gets too mouthy, we can walk out.”

That’s my point: in many places, it isn’t really voluntary, nor were most religious manifestations created in the context of religious freedom. So why is it any surprise that people ditch traditional religiosity in the context of modernity? But then again, there are enough Christians on the Internet brainwashed by libertarian bullshit to make it seem like a sane position. Well, it isn’t.

12 11 2010
Visibilium

You’re talking about two different things. Religion is a voluntary effort. If the priest gets too mouthy, we can walk out. The plain fact of our material world is that everything of value requires effort to get it. Things that require no effort are conditions of existence and are not objects of action.

On the other hand, we don’t like other people pushing us around. State compulsion is involuntary and is therefore resented by folks who have developed a modicum of control over their environments. This is the rationale behind the geostrategy of exporting economic freedom to unfree regimes. The richer we are, the less interested we become in doing what we’re told–unless we voluntarily consent to the telling.

Regarding your point about Franco, the church/state synergy stuff has been around only since SS Constantine and Helen (which, I grant, was fairly early), but people are so used to it that they consider religious freedom to represent the state’s devaluation of a former state religion. Christianity was never meant to uphold a particular state structure. We see the modern application of this principle in pronouncements from the Coptic Pope of Alexandria. Yes, his dhimmitude is tough for me to watch.

11 11 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Does such a balance exist? Or is the tension itself a balance?

I think we tend to underestimate how much virtue comes from duty. That is, virtue is often the result of coercion. It is born out of necessity, and not in spite of it.

We should be prepared to accept the implications of our choices.

11 11 2010
Leah

What then, is the proper balance between freedom in the political and religious realms?

11 11 2010
Arturo Vasquez

But here’s my question, though: if freedom is to be so coveted in the political realm, why is it not to be coveted in the religious realm as well? Why is it that some (very few, but still) see no cognitive dissonance between wanting absolute anarchy in the social sphere, but in the religious sphere would be governed by a bunch of infantile autocrats in black robes. Is this some sort of ideological S & M: consenting adults creating private spaces of authority that mean nothing on the outside? Do I get a “safe word” in the Catholic or Orthodox Church?

Funny you should mention Franco’s Spain: that is a classic example where the vast majority of people associate the existence of the Church with the tyrrany of the State. That is why people left the pews in droves once Franco died. Again, most people cannot make that fine distinction between freedom inside and outside of the Church wall. That is because that line is rather ridiculous.

11 11 2010
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

Dauvit Balfour,

I am still trying to understand the implications of Dr. Fleming’s argument (as poorly as I presented it), which is partly why I suggested the book to Mr. Vazquez, hoping that he might provide feedback at some future point.

I agree: very careful distinctions need to be made in the philosophical arena of natural law. Unfortunately, unlike Dr. Fleming (who is a classicist by training), too many “philosophers” lack the necessary linguistic abilities to produce anything too profitable in that area.

I’m all for the blues, but one of the last “plebe bars” I patronized used toilets seats in place of bar stools. Then again, a bar trying that hard to possess such raw authenticity is probably not a real “plebe bar.” Damn, I sound ridiculous. Cutting myself off…

11 11 2010
Visibilium

I’m glad that we have the luxury of bullshitting about whether authoritarianism is better than freedom. I prefer honky-tonks, if you must know.

I met a Spanish immigrant who had lived under Franco and had great respect for la Guardia Civil, the guys who wore the funny three-corner hats, but at whom one never laughed, ever. He told me that they ran down and arrested a motorist whom they had tried to flag down to drive an injured person to the hospital. The motorist received five years in prison.

10 11 2010
Dauvit Balfour

The explanation is much appreciated, and I believe I am closer to agreeing with you and Dr. Fleming than I initially thought.

I think a useful distinction in rights theory is that between positive and negative rights, where positive rights are those claims upon others that you place into the second category, while negative rights are the “natural” rights, those things upon which we have a claim that are not proper to other individuals. One might claim, then, that this thing, taking proper care of one’s children, is right (1st sense) without claiming that the children have a right (2nd sense, positive) to this care, yet while still asserting that the children have a right (negative) to life. I think the loss of this distinction is where rights theory has gone astray (even within the Church). I think, also, that you (and Dr. Fleming) are correct that this began, or accelerated, with the Enlightenment, though I believe the roots of such confusion can be traced back at least to the Reformation (which was, after, the intellectual progenitor of the Enlightenment).

Nor do I think it necessarily wrong to reach back to the Roman idea of virtus. Augustine co-opted Plato, and Aquinas, Aristotle.

I like the plebe bars, myself. They’ve got character. And usually the blues.

10 11 2010
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

Dauvit Balfour,

I’ll let Dr. Fleming speak for himself (forgive the lengthy quote):

The term “rights” is shifty, since it may imply either that which is right or correct (as in “You got that right…”) or a claim on someone else (as in “You have no right to…”). It is in the first sense that ancient and medieval philosophers usually speak of “natural rights” or “natural justice,” by
which they mean that which is right or just in nature. St. Thomas, for example, says that, since justice is the virtue that is directed to what is right or just in relationship to other people, the object of this virtue is called just (iustum); and this just thing, in fact is what right (ius) is. (Dr. Fleming refers to Summa Theologiae, 2.2, 57.1.) It is perfectly possible to declare, as does Thomas, that something is naturally right, such as taking proper care of one’s children, without concluding that the object of right behavior (one’s children in this case) has a claim—that is, a right in the second sense—to be treated justly.

Where would such a distinction get us? To the place where we can say that there may well be “rights” in nature (that is, actions or duties that are naturally right to do) without accepting the very dubious notion that human individuals, in the absence of some ulterior and metaphysical justification, have natural claims upon each other or upon some third party as a government, or even upon themselves. (Everyday Life 221-2).

Dr. Fleming (I hope that I don’t presume to speak for him) does not maintain that the Christian tradition fails to inform people in what ways they should (and must) treat one another so as to live justly and peaceably in civil society; in fact, such injunctions apply to those both in power and those who labor under those who are in power. Furthermore, from a practical standpoint, the government must enforce certain rules to keep the peace, and its citizens must obey certain rules to keep the peace. However, what Dr. Fleming does question is the notion that a person–or group of people–should have recourse to the governmental enforcement of the ever-growing list of declared rights. To use a fun example, recently in my home state, a lesbian high school student sued her school for discrimination, based upon the argument that she had a right (Constitutional, human–I don’t remember) to wear a tux and to bring her lesbian partner to the prom. Personally, I could care less about what she wears and with whom she dances (anyway, most of us wind up trying to forget what we wore and whom we took to our first dance or prom), yet I do think that this example is a striking case-in-point of rights theory taken to its natural end (pun not intended but definitely noted).

I agree with you: virtue should be freely pursued without any governmental prescription/proscription, which is why I did not say such. (I trust that I did not seem to imply such either.) Yet, I do wonder about this: while you would not want a government to enforce perceived duties upon people, you will take a government that will enforce perceived rights upon people? Either way, it seems, the likelihood of arbitrary rulings runs high.

Finally, if you can find at what bar and on what nights the philosopher kings are throwing darts and drinking beer, count me in. The bar scene in my city is so for the plebes.

9 11 2010
synLeszkax
9 11 2010
synLeszkax

An authoritarian state is not a pleasant place to live. Most people who live their want to leave and the ones who want to stay are nationalists who hate the government but an intense lustful love of the patrimonial soil.
My father, who says that Marxism is an idea which is too beautiful to be implemented, left the Soviet bloc, giving up his medical career and moved to the States by way of Greece. He ran away because of the authoritarian regime, he did not want to kill or get killed for the ideals of the Polish People’s Republic. Now, he is a taxi driver in the US. He like the majority of emigrees from that era, albeit admitting that Poland has changed irrecognisably, are menaced by the threatening past. The authoritarian regime is good, as long as you are obedient but especially the intelligentsia are viewed with suspicion. The revolutionary feeling, on which you build your career, ultimately nips you in the butt. Anyways, if your dream of authoritiarianism is anything like the socialism of the past, then prepare to burn your books, paper, computers and become manual laborers. It maybe hard to believe for you all but in socialism the manual laborers were the aristocracy. The priest, lawyer, state-enterprise director and intelligentsia were pariahs in their own backyards.
I do not think that Arturo wants to give up his job and become a manual laborer or soldier. Vain words should not be spoken.

9 11 2010
Dauvit Balfour

Bourbon Apocalypse,

So what Dr. Fleming is saying is that we ought to discard the notion of rights founded in Natural Law (which theory was developed by the scholastics long before the enlightenment), because it supposedly has no founding in Christian tradition, and instead return, in a burst of Archaeologism, to a notion found in pagan Rome?

Not, of course, that duty is unimportant or to be shunned, and not to denigrate virtus. The enlightenment certainly took the notion of Natural Law and Rights and twisted it greatly, but this bastardization does not render the concepts invalid.

While I, as a man, have duties and ought to seek to grow in virtue, these must be freely pursued. To allow a government composed of fallen men (especially assuming a secular, not a confessional state) to prescribe and proscribe certain actions under the guise of duty would easily result in a violation of moral law, as those in power judge the duties of man to be what most benefit themselves materially, not his soul or the souls of others.

Or shall we find ourselves philosopher kings to rule over us?

9 11 2010
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

Turmarion,

I didn’t mean to leave you out in this. You may also find this a worthy volume to add to your ever-increasing reading list.

9 11 2010
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

Mr. Vasquez,

You may (or may not) be interested in reading Dr. Thomas Fleming’s _The Morality of Everyday Life_. He argues–as he has for quite some time–against the notion of rights, a notion whose genealogy leads more to the Enlightenment principles rather than to Christian teachings. Instead, he urges a return to the ancient Roman notion of virtus. That is, we may or may not have Right X, but we certainly have duties X, Y, and Z to perform–and usually before supper.

9 11 2010
Turmarion

One thing I must say about this blog–it’s giving me quite a reading list! Including what I’ve already got piled up, it should keep me busy for the next several years! 🙂

As to human rights, I’m aware of some of the philosophical and theological issues and problems with it, but I’d be curious to hear more details about your take on it, Arturo. Certainly the way the term gets thrown around in contemporary discourse is worse than useless.

8 11 2010
Anonymous

Critical theory in general is usually just relegated to the art world in the US.

8 11 2010
Henry Karlson

Nice to see someone add Virilio in the mix; he is way too neglected in the US.

8 11 2010
Anonymous

You’d probably appreciate it more now. I’m reading A Thousand Plateaus right now… goes good with parallel readings of Foucault, Virilio, and Zizek.

8 11 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Man, a long time ago (15 years?), and I don’t remember what was in it.

8 11 2010
Anonymous

Have you read Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia? Their conception of “state thought” fits into a lot of what you are against… you want a nomad Catholicism.

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