NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Merry Michaelmas, and Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. It's also the birthday of me, Bryant Gumbel, Lech Walesa, Madeline Kahn, Jerry Lee Lewis, Anita Ekberg, Stanley Kramer, Gene Autry, most notably Miguel de Cervantes, and presumably many other less famous people. I'm hereby reminded to add Cervantes' wonderful Don Quixote to my profile's list of favorite books. In honor of Cervantes and Don Quixote, here's some poignant lines from the end of G.K. Chesterton's poem about the Battle of Lepanto, in which Cervantes fought:

"Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain"

Speaking of setting swords back in sheaths, one of my favorite stories about St. Michael is of the vision that Pope St. Gregory in the tenth century had of the Archangel doing just that, during a penitential procession the Pope was leading through the streets of Rome for the end of a plague that was devastating the city. The Pope took it as a sign that God's wrath had passed, and indeed the pestilence abated after that day. In honor of the occasion, the Pope re-named the mausoleum of Hadrian over which St. Michael had appeared the Castle of the Holy Angel, which is still known by that name today and over which stands a statue of St. Michael sheathing his sword.

I'll refrain from speculating about the metaphysical and theological implications of this legend, but it certainly provides a different perspective than the one we're used to!

On a lighter note, St. Michael is traditionally seen as a protector against the dark of night and the administrator of cosmic intelligence, making appropriate the occurrence of his Feast Day at the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. Tune up them snow-blowers with chins up!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Court TV's "13th Juror Question" of the Day

In the context of its coverage this morning of a criminal trial of parents accused of causing the death of their young son through child abuse (the parents admit to physically disciplining their son but claim the death was caused by a skin infection), Court TV asked its audience "Should the government determine whether and to what extent parents may physically discipline their children?" [My memory and transcription of the question is not exact but close.]

This is an important question from a libertarian perspective. Benjamin Tucker, the turn-of-the-century editor and publisher of the journal Liberty, who was in many other ways a good thinker and is a major influence on many left libertarians, infamously argued that a child (at least until reaching the age of being able to contract and provide for himself) is the property of his mother and the mother therefore had the right to throw her child into a fire (though he did say that "it is highly probable that I would interfere in such a case" -- what a guy!).

On the other hand, answering Court TV's question in the affirmative brings us to the brink of many "slippery slopes": If the principle is that the government may prevent and punish harm caused by parents to their children and determine what constitutes "harm," does this not provide a basis for government determining that homeschooling and thereby depriving a child of public education harms the child, or determining that even grounding the child or sending him to his room (let alone spanking him for punching his little sister in the eye) constitutes harm?

My own view (which to non-libertarians may seem utterly uncontroversial) is that we have the right and sometimes the duty to stand up not only for our own rights but also the rights of others, especially those not in a position to assert their own rights; that obviously children have rights independently of their parents; and that even animals have certain rights. I agree with Thomas Paine in his The Age of Reason, "That the moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the creation towards all his creatures. That seeing as we daily do the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practise the same towards each other; and, consequently, that every thing of persecution and revenge between man and man, and every thing of cruelty to animals, is a violation of moral duty."

When it comes to the relationship and potential conflict between the rights of children on the one hand and the rights of their parents to direct their upbringing on the other (which I believe are primarily derived from and determined by their duties towards their children), things are complex and uncertain, and to avoid error it is right and proper that the limits of those respective rights be determined by the judgment of the community (which for better or worse is assumed to be reflected in the judgment of the government), rather than be left solely to the judgment of any individual or pair of individuals (including the child's parents). From that perspective, an undue emphasis on "parental rights" appears misplaced, since about the only parental right I can think of off the top of my head that is not derived from parental duties is the right to expect help around the house (or the farm, as the case may be). On the other hand, it makes sense to think in terms of parental rights insofar as the very complexity and uncertainty mentioned above argues for deference (within the limits established by the community) to the judgments of the people most directly involved in the upbringing of their children, and whose primary duty it is to provide for their moral and physical well-being.

These reflections lead to no definitive absolutes. But it is nevertheless important for the community to protect the rights of children by setting some limits, and equally important for the community in setting such limits to recognize its own fallibility concerning differing philosophies about child-rearing. The community should set the limits for parental conduct at things that are obviously and excessively cruel, obviously counter-productive, and/or obviously likely to lead to permanent harm (including withholding important medical care because of religious beliefs). My own view is that a parent should never take down a child's pants and spank him with a belt, and it would not strike me as beyond the pale if a community outlawed such parental conduct. On the other hand, it would strike me as outrageous if a community outlawed all corporal punishment, even though by my lights I think such punishment should rarely if ever be used.

These issues appear particularly important to me because theoretical anarchism is at the heart of my libertarianism (see my post "Why be a libertarian?"), and anarchism at first glance does not seem to provide for the protection of the rights of children and others who are not in a position to assert their own rights. In an anarchist society personal security and corrective justice would be provided by private protection agencies and mutual protection societies, less preferably by a group of friends and neighbors formed in response to a particular threat or injustice, and if necessary and feasible by self-help. A child obviously would not be able directly to avail himself of any of those means of protection. Any sensible mutual protection society, however, formed say at the neighborhood level, would provide for what happens when an individual becomes aware of child abuse in a neighbor's home and exercises his right or duty to stand up for that child's rights, and would protect and support that individual's intervention. More specifically, it would likely provide for the intervention of the society as a whole when such abuse is brought to its attention, to preclude the neighbor of the child from taking matters into his own hands with potentially violent results. On the other hand, the written policies of a respectable and viable private protection agency, like today's modern cost-conscious insurance agency, would not protect its clients from the consequences of any damned thing the client might do, and certainly not from the consequences of abusing a child (though it would of course ensure that due process is followed).

Incidentally, hearkening back to Tucker's view that an unemancipated child is the property of the mother, libertarianism per se has nothing to say about abortion, contrary to common perception. I was heartened (though this doesn't necessarily say anything about my own views on the legality of abortion) to see this admitted recently by Brian Doherty (who is generally a socially-liberal libertarian) of Reason Magazine:

"[Ron] Paul does, though, believe some things many libertarians don't, and some libertarians think these issues are so important that his libertarian credentials should be revoked. For example, he'd like to eliminate Roe v. Wade and would be happy to allow states and localities to ban abortion -- and personally considers abortion a moral crime. But this position, however hard to explain to one's liberal friends who ask a libertarian about this Ron Paul guy, doesn't place him outside the libertarian pale. If you see a living human fetus as a human life the same in morally significant respects as any born human, then supporting a ban on it is as consistent with libertarianism as laws against murder."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why be a "left" libertarian?

What is the real difference, if any, between a "left" libertarian and a "right" libertarian? This is a matter of some debate, as evidenced by the Wikipedia article on the subject, so I will define at the outset of this blog what I mean by the distinction. Assuming libertarianism simply means that people have a natural right to their life and property and to pursue happiness in whatever way they want so long as they don't infringe on the equal rights of others, my belief, and what I take to be the simple common denominator of "left" libertarian philosophy, is that a correct understanding of and adherence to said parameters of natural justice would lead to a far more equal distribution of property than a "right" libertarian might think is just. Note that hardly any libertarians will ascribe to themselves the label of "right" libertarian, but if there is such a thing as a left libertarian, as I maintain, then there must be such a thing as a right libertarian. In large part the difference comes down to differing conceptions of natural property rights.

For example, while both right and left libertarians generally recognize that people own themselves and their talents and the fruits of their labor, a left libertarian generally considers land (but not any man-made improvements upon it) and other natural resources to be owned equally by all, while a right libertarian generally considers such resources to be the exclusive property of whoever first appropriated them or received them from such person through a series of exchanges or gifts. Therefore, by the lights of a left libertarian, a person finding himself marooned on an inhabited island where all the land had already been appropriated and divided among the inhabitants (or a propertyless young person finding himself in a similar situation upon attaining the age of majority in these United States) would nevertheless in justice have rights equal to the other inhabitants to the natural resources of the island, and the rights of those original inhabitants would be correspondingly limited by the equal rights of the newcomer. If it were impossible or impractical or unfair to give the newcomer an actual equal physical share of the land and other natural resources, then he would be owed compensation from the others to make up the difference, as a matter of justice rather than charity. A right libertarian would tend to disagree with this conception of natural justice. But what is the alternative? That the newcomer be forced back out to sea? That he be afforded some less than equal pittance in an amount determined arbitrarily by the original inhabitants out of the "goodness of their hearts" (cf. welfare)? That he be allowed to live and work on someone else's land so long as he pays out of the fruits of his labor as much rent as the landlord can get out of him? None of those alternatives are just, since they all deny him access to his natural share of the resources God has given to all.

Likewise, a left libertarian might view the property of a person who has passed on to his eternal reward as having fallen back into the realm of unowned things and as having a status analogous to that of unimproved land and other natural resources to which everyone in the society has equal rights, as opposed to viewing it as somehow still belonging to the decedent and whoever he posthumously transfers it to through the agency of the state and the legal fiction of an executor. A just but humane and practical custom and policy would provide for minor dependents of a decedent, take account of the personal value of things like family farms and businesses and heirlooms, and allow a substantial percentage of the property formerly owned by the decedent to pass to beneficiaries designated by him, but would be based fundamentally on the above conception of property rights and notions of distributive justice.

Some left libertarians have also addressed critically the limits of society's obligation to recognize an individual's entitlement to property received by inter vivos or lifetime gifts. This issue is less clear than the problems with the putative right to inherit, and is an example of a topic I might explore on this blog. Like Catholic Social Teaching's "preferential option for the poor," left libertarianism as I conceive it implies a rebuttable presumption in favor of equality. Clear natural property rights, truly conceived, may rebut the presumption. Today's typical leftist / socialist / "liberal" may purport to enlist and expand the power of the state to help the poor and/or promote equality, but does so as a matter of public policy and without much regard for individual property rights or natural justice. What distinguishes a left libertarian is the belief that a simple adherence to natural justice, truly conceived, both fosters and limits equality. Indeed, a left libertarian believes that such simple adherence to natural justice would foster equality and relieve the poor to a far greater extent than the government programs of the socialist / "liberal." For example, while a typical "liberal" appears to have no problem with current heavy taxation on the modest incomes of the poor and middle class, so long as some of the proceeds are doled back to the needy in the form of government programs, a left libertarian views such confiscation, i.e. of the fruits of one's own labor (and/or capital) that are needed to establish and maintain a decent and reasonably secure lifestyle, as robbery, and as the cause of many of those thus taxed falling into the class of the "needy" in the first place.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why be a libertarian?

The libertarian political attitude is expressed concisely in the motto endorsed by Henry David Thoreau at the beginning of his essay Civil Disobedience -- "That government is best which governs least." Its central tenets are the principle of self-ownership and the principle of non-aggression, which holds that the initiation or threat of physical force or fraud upon persons or their property, by a person or a government, is illegitimate. The principle of non-aggression does not preclude defending against or responding to aggression. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual," and "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him."

The first question that must be asked about any government is: By what right does it exist in the first place, and from where does it derive its "just powers," if it indeed has any? "The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation," observed Albert Jay Nock in his great book, Our Enemy, the State. With regard to the origin of the American State specifically, after a survey of the historical circumstances surrounding it, Nock had this to say:

"It is clear that while in the nature of things the British State's interventions upon the economic means would stir up great resentment among the interests directly concerned, they would have another effect fully as significant, if not more so, in causing those interests to look favourably on the idea of political independence. They could hardly have helped seeing the positive as well as the negative advantages that would accrue from setting up a State of their own, which they might bend to their own purposes. It takes no great amount of imagination to reconstruct the vision that appeared before them of a merchant-State clothed with the full powers of intervention and discrimination, a State which should first and last 'help business,' and which should be administered by persons of actual interest like to their own. . . .
The main conclusion, however, towards which these observations tend, is that one general frame of mind existed among the colonists with reference to the nature and primary function of the State. This frame of mind was not peculiar to them; they shared it with the beneficiaries of the merchant-State in England, and with those of the feudal State as far back as the State's history can be traced. Voltaire, surveying the debris of the feudal State, said that in essence the State is 'a device for taking money out of one set of pockets and putting it into another.' The beneficiaries of the feudal State had precisely this view, and they bequeathed it unchanged and unmodified to the actual and potential beneficiaries of the merchant-State. The colonists regarded the State primarily as an instrument whereby one might help oneself and hurt others; that is to say, first and foremost they regarded it as the organization of the political means. No other view of the State was ever held in colonial America. Romance and poetry were brought to bear on the subject in the customary way; glamorous myths about it were propagated with the customary intent; but when all came to all, nowhere in colonial America were actual practical relations with the State ever determined by any other view than this."

The Founders of the newly-born United States government, although they drafted a Constitution that allowed them and their successors to exercise the "full powers of intervention and discrimination" in furtherance of their own interests, tried to locate its legitimacy somewhere other than in raw self-interested power, i.e. in the myth of the "consent of the governed" -- a myth rigorously debunked by Lysander Spooner in his indispensable treatise, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.

A reasonable objection to the above considerations is this: Even if the government is illegitimate, a government is necessary, and that in a sense makes it legitimate, despite its dubious origins. There are two responses to such an objection: First, it is not at all certain that a State is necessary, and many have argued that it's not and tried to show how a Stateless society might work. (See, e.g., David D. Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. Quakers might be particularly interested in Murry Rothbard's history of the anarchist conditions and attitudes prevalent among the Friends who colonized Pennsylvania.) Second, if necessity is going to be the justification for the existence of the State, then necessity should be the standard by which all of the State's laws and acts should be judged. If you believe a State is necessary for national defense and building roads, for example, then the only State functions such a belief justifies is national defense and building roads. It doesn't legitimate anything else that a bunch of politicians or the people who bought them into office might want to do. There's no magic in a "majority" that gives them the right to do anything that any one of them acting alone wouldn't have the right to do (with the important caveat that trial by jury and due process when available is always preferable to vigilante justice, since less subject to error and passion).

That's the crux of the matter: The government has no right to do anything to you that no other person or association of persons has a right to do, or would have a right to do in an anarchist society. No one has or would have a right to throw you in jail for victimless "crimes" like smoking marijuana or non-fraudulently giving legal advice for money without a law degree, and neither does the government, though it pretends to. In an anarchist society like that projected by David Friedman private protection agencies and mutual protection societies would fulfill (probably more effectively) the police functions monopolized by government today, and would have the right to exact restitution and punishment for assaulting or killing one of their clients or members, assuming due process. To the extent that the present government merely does the same thing -- i.e. enforce the non-aggression principle -- there is no injustice. In an anarchist society one or several of the mutual protection societies or private protection agencies would likely attain, because of the mutual need for arbitration between such organizations and defense against large-scale invasion, a position at the top of a hierarchy of such societies and agencies. All that is needed to approximate such a state of affairs is for the present federal government and more importantly the people who now prop up its pretensions and usurpations by their complacency and misplaced patriotism to begin to think of the federal government as having a status no more exalted and no more privileged than that of a private protection agency at the top of such a hierarchy, with no rights other than what it obtains by freely-entered contract and actual explicit consent.

The most obvious difference between that conception of government and the illegitimate conception of government we have now is our present acceptance of pervasive armed robbery in the form of involuntary taxation. It is not only unjust in itself but is the source of the bloating and concentration of governmental power that in turn finances all of the other governmental aggressions against the rights of the people that are now carried on. There are in fact well-known ways by which the government could fund itself without resorting to robbery and that would actually serve to remedy rather than aggravate injustice. As discussed in my post titled "Why be a left libertarian?", for example, the land (apart from any improvements on it) and other natural resources in a community and the economic rent associated therewith (as well as, arguably, the estates of decedents) belong equally to all in the community, not just to those who presently hold title and possession. Since the necessary collection and distribution of this rent could ordinarily not be administered without the agency of some kind of governmental organization, it is legitimate for that governmental body to keep that part of the revenue which is needed for its necessary services before distributing the remainder equally to the members of the community (the Georgist "single-tax").

To close with something of a corrective, Albert Jay Nock did not have only bad things to say about America's Founding Fathers. In this passage in Our Enemy, the State he regarded Thomas Jefferson as a visionary:

"What is it, [Jefferson] asks, that has 'destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.' The secret of freedom will be found in the individual 'making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence, by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical.' This idea rests on accurate observation, for we are all aware that not only the wisdom of the ordinary man, but also his interest and sentiment, have a very short radius of operation; they can not be stretched over an area of much more than township-size; and it is the acme of absurdity to suppose that any man or any body of men can arbitrarily exercise their wisdom, interest and sentiment over a state-wide or nation-wide area with any kind of success. Therefore the principle must hold that the larger the area of exercise, the fewer and more clearly defined should be the functions exercised. Moreover, 'by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend,' there is erected the surest safeguard against usurpation of freedom. 'Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day;... he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.'"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why be a Quaker?

It's almost a tautology that the most important part of a person's philosophy is his or her view of the meaning and purpose of human life and of his or her own life, whether that view be grounded in Quakerism, Catholicism, Deism, athiesm, agnosticism, etc.. Most of the discussions about politics and economics that are carried on on the web and elsewhere seem impoverished by the absence of this most essential and fundamental of considerations. Where the discussions are nevertheless carried on fruitfully, there is often an unspoken meeting of the minds about these underlying assumptions. Where the discussions seem to talk past each other, there is often an unspoken and usually unconscious disagreement about these underlying assumptions. My aim in titling this blog as I have is to make my premises explicit, and to accord to the spiritual dimension of life the prominence and priority that justice and truth demand.

One of the first corollaries of the spiritual life is that materialism is flat wrong. Yet for all practical purposes materialism is normally the level to which politics, concerning itself with worldy power, and economics, concerning itself with worldly wealth, stunt themselves and fall short of reality. But spiritual reality has enormous implications for both politics and economics: A man may be spiritually free though deprived of power even over his own body, but woe to the slavemaster; A woman may be spiritually rich though deprived even of the wealth to which nature entitles her, but woe to the oppressor who causes her impoverishment. Spiritual reality, awareness and judgment therefore determine the happiness and fate of the slave, the pauper, the slavemaster and the oppressor alike, in this life and the next.

But backing up, how do I justify my belief in a spiritual reality, as opposed to agnosticism or athiesm, and my adherence to Quakerism (also known as the Religious Society of Friends) specifically? Or more importantly, why should you believe in God, take to heart the Christian message, and/or visit a Quaker meeting to see if it might be right for you? Vast amounts have been written elsewhere on these subjects, and there are a number of good links to information about Quakerism in the sidebar of this blog (Barclay's Apology might be particularly relevant in this context). I can only here touch on some of the considerations that have appeared particularly important to me in my own spiritual journey.

I don't think there is any special merit in "believing" per se. Belief has merit when it is based on something else we know. For example, it is right and good to believe something that a person we know (usually by experience) to be trustworthy tells us, particularly if we also know that person loves us and has our well-being at heart. There is merit in knowledge, and more merit in knowledge of the highest things, for knowledge of what is true is the basis of wisdom. More precisely and fundamentally, there is merit in the love of wisdom, for it is what leads to wisdom, to following (courageously if necessary) what wisdom commands, and to worship of the highest and Truest Truth. The love of wisdom proceeds from God and has God for its object.

I know that God exists and is Good. I know this by experience, and not by any rational demonstrations or "proofs" of the existence of God. The Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain put it well:

"When St. Paul affirmed that 'that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and divinity . . .', he was thinking not only of scientifically elaborated or specifically philosophical ways of establishing the existence of God. He had in mind also and above all the natural knowledge of the existence of God to which the vision of created things leads the reason of every man, philosopher or not. It is this doubly natural knowledge of God I wish to take up here. It is natural not only in the sense that it belongs to the rational order rather than to the supernatural order of faith, but also in the sense that it is prephilosophic and proceeds by the natural or, so to speak, instinctive manner proper to the first apperceptions of the intellect prior to every philosophical or scientifically rationalized elaboration. . . . Here everything depends on the natural intuition of being -- on the intuition of that act of existing which is the act of every act and the perfection of every perfection, in which all the intelligible structures of reality have their definitive actuation, and which overflows in activity in every being and in the intercommunication of all beings. Let us rouse ourselves, let us stop living in dreams or in the magic of images and formulas, of words, of signs and practical symbols. Once a man has been awakened to the reality of existence and of his own existence, when he has really perceived that formidable, sometimes elating, sometimes sickening or maddening fact I exist, he is henceforth possessed by the intuition of being and the implications it bears with it."

I think with St. Thomas Aquinas that the discursive reasoning and syllogizing faculty of man grows out of man's experience and dealings with the multifarious sensible world of physical objects, that it is particularly adapted to that world, and that when it embarks on metaphysical or theological speculations, including attempts to prove or disprove God's existence, it is out of its natural element so to speak. That's not to say that we should or can refrain from moral reasoning, which partakes of the metaphysical, or that metaphysical thinking is useless or impossible. (St. Thomas certainly didn't think so.) It's just to say that such philosophizing is necessarily tenuous and uncertain, and reveals far less about God than is revealed by the "creation of the world." God, even according to the best metaphysical speculations, is One and Simple, and to be true our knowledge of Him must likewise be One and Simple. Philosophical attempts to prove that God exists or that He has certain attributes, like other experiences of the God-created world, just might in certain individuals foster the intellect's direct and instinctive apperception of God's existence, but reasoning about God is far from knowing God, and can sometimes even be an obstacle to such knowledge.

Such considerations as these led me to become very circumspect about pretending to know things about God that I didn't really know, including things like the Divinity of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. To make a long story short, these considerations, as well as Quakers' venerable history of resisting slavery, war and other injustices, were what led me to the Religious Society of Friends, a Christian community which eschews credal formulations of what its members are required to believe. I'm not simply a Deist, because I do in fact believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is the Son of God. I believe it because I am persuaded by a preponderance of the historical evidence, by the beauty and truth of Jesus' life and teachings as depicted in the Gospels, and by the "answer" it provides to the mystery of why evil exists in a world created by a Good and Omnipotent God -- that whyever evil exists, our Creator is with us and shares in our sufferings, and has shown us by His Incarnation in the world how to overcome evil and death. I just don't know those beliefs to be true, and I resist the notion, which is essential to most mainstream Christian denominations, that salvation hangs upon both believing those things to be true and the truth of those beliefs. Instead, I put the emphasis where Jesus Himself seemed to put it, when He taught that the Greatest Commandment is to "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." I know the Wisdom and the Truth of that Commandment, and so in God alone my soul finds its security.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What's with the sword-swinging angel on the front cover of your new blog?

It does seem odd that a blog that bills itself as leftist and libertarian and Quaker would choose an image to represent it (at least for the time being) that connotes militarism and Roman Catholicism.

The first explanation is that I have a lot of respect for Catholicism. There's something to be said for its uncompromising upholding of moral ideals in the face of today's pervasive moral relativism. (Libertarians recognize with Lysander Spooner that "vices are not crimes," but the majority of us also recognize that that fact doesn't make them anything other than vices, which may pollute not only the individual's body and soul but society as well.) I also recognize that the Roman Catholic institution was responsible for carrying the Gospel message up through the centuries to the time of the Protestant Reformation, and that it remains today the most visible embodiment of that message, the "City set on a hill," and I agree with the assessment of Paul Johnson at the end of his History of Christianity that despite all of the Church's lapses and abuses Western Civilization would have been far worse off without it. Finally, the Catholic Social Teaching, as expressed by, among others, Pope Leo XIII, John Paul II, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and especially Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, has been a beacon in the darkness, a check on the pretensions and propaganda of communist and capitalist alike. The respect I have for the Church will of course be correspondingly diminished if the current Pope actually goes out of his way to promulgate an encyclical preaching everyone's moral duty to pay whatever taxes are demanded by the State, as it has been reported he will do in the near future, unless in the same breath he takes the trouble to preach also that many taxes are unjust and therefore illegitimate.

The second explanation is that St. Michael is a patron of mine of sorts. I remember a conversation I had with a very nice liberal professor back in law school. I told her I had a reputation of being very conservative, but went out of my way to express good will towards all and recognition of my own utter lack of qualification to judge anyone. She asked what my astrological sign was, and when I told her I was a Libra, she said that made sense, that I struck her as someone who strove to be balanced and see both sides of an issue. I responded, quite Libra-like actually, that I thought that was true to an extent, but that on the other hand I was also born on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel (September 29th), and that I had more than a little of the crusading spirit about me! (Indeed, during my first several years out of law school I used my law degree to embark on a legal crusade that challenged a certain politically-explosive segment of the governmental, medical, and scientific establishments, the outlines of which can be readily found by anyone interested via a Google search of my name. The government won that campaign and stopped the truth in its tracks, at least for now. If it hadn't, you would have heard about it.) Along with the circumstance that I was born on Michaelmas, there is also the consideration that the scales of justice traditionally represent not only my astrological sign but also my profession, and that they just look more colorful and dramatic when wielded by an Archangel, as they are in the attached image.

The third explanation is that, while war and preparations for war are an abomination, the martial image reminds me that we should be at least as energetic and courageous in waging peace as big business and its government lackeys are in waging war and exploiting the poor and powerless. As many before me have explained, the Christian injunction to "resist not evil" means in context that we should not try to fight fire with fire or hopelessly return evil for evil, but that we should fearlessly combat evil effectively with all of the good we can muster, that we should return good for evil. In my younger and foolisher days, I served the government for six years in the U.S. Navy, before I woke up halfway through the Naval Academy and resigned my commission as a midshipman. There were at least two good things about military life: the camraderie and the spirited potentially sacrifical effort on behalf of something bigger than one's self. The problem was that the camraderie was based on slavish obedience and the sacrificial effort was on behalf of something that, though "bigger" than the self, is no good. The challenge for men and women of good will is to create the same kind of camraderie in the spirit of liberty rather than slavery, the same spirited effort in the service of good rather than evil. The battle-cry of St. Michael in his contest with Lucifer, "Quis ut Deus?" ("Who is like unto God?"), destroys the pretensions of all usurpers, all those people and things that claim authority over our lives, and shows us the way to that selfless camraderie and that spirited effort.