Sunday, 04-17-2016

Can everything we need to say about how to live be translated into rights talk?  Possibly.  But.

Consider an easy case.  I can translate the statement that parents have a duty to care for their children into the idea that children have a right to their parents’ care.  Not bad.

Now consider a harder case.  I can translate the statement that we have a duty to seek the truth about God into the idea that we have a right to seek that truth, provided that we do not pursue it in ways that hinder the rights of those around us.

Something is lost here.  Surely our duty to seek the truth is based on our need for the truth.  But as rational beings we need not only to seek it, but to find it, and not only to find it, but to order our lives in by it.  Both of these things require the assistance of other people.  Rights talk doesn’t have much room in it for the idea of a community of persons who order their shared life by the truth.

Besides, which language we use has other ramifications.  However firmly rights may be grounded in what is objectively just, they may seem to be subjective simply because they belong to individuals and need a subject to make a claim for them. Of course, the same might be said of duties, yet, psychologically, a difference exists.  “My” duties in this sense direct my attention outward, to the persons toward whom I owe them.  By contrast, “my” rights direct my attention inward, toward myself.  This difference makes it very easy to view rights as though they were not really about objective moral realities, but “all about me” -- about the sheer assertion of my radically sovereign will.

The upshot is that if rights talk is the only moral language that we know, there is going to be a lot of moral slippage.


Waiting to Fall

Saturday, 04-16-2016

The paradox of the sexual revolution is that those who preach it belong mostly to the upper stratum, but those who suffer from it belong mostly to the lower.  Will this difference persist?  I don't think it can.

Although, as I conceded in a previous post, wealth can compensate for a while for the natural consequences of sexual irregularity, the cost of compensation becomes greater and greater.

Well-off parents of the last generation who no longer believed in the old sexual norms and kept up their marriages merely as a social pretense provided at least a shred of stability to their children.  But the children of these parents no longer believe even in the pretense, and the chances they take make their parents look like pikers.  Their own children will be worse off than they are.


These Chocolates but Not Those

Friday, 04-15-2016

People sometimes tell me that they believe there may be some natural laws – okay, it’s wrong to murder -- but that there are no natural laws about sexuality.  They simply refuse to consider that sex might be ordered to procreation.

During a recent conversation, when I drew attention to the natural consequences of loose sex, such as fatherless children, one person said, “You make that so black and white!”  Another said, “That’s just a religious opinion.  Shouldn’t it be up to the individual?”  Another asked “Isn’t there a mean between extremes?” 

I suppose the first protestor meant that not every natural consequence always happens – just as a person may walk into moving traffic and yet not be hit by a car.  Yes, but does that make it smart to walk into moving traffic?

As to the second protestor, if it is a religious opinion to suggest that individual choice doesn't trump everything, then it is also a religious opinion to suggest that it does.  The god of the former religion is the author of human nature.  The god of the latter is “Me.”

The third protestor was onto something.  Yes, of course there is a mean.  Locating it is exactly what we are trying to do.  Between the extreme of careless sex and the extreme of revulsion from sex, we find it by considering the good of the children and the good of the union of their parents.  It turns out to be marriage.

I am such a meanie.


News from the Front

Thursday, 04-14-2016

Has the population of the hookup world suddenly become more numerous than before the HHS mandate and before Obergefell?

No, but its inhabitants are more openly angry about rational criticism, and the minority are less willing to speak up.


Reader Asks “Am I a Sensationalist?”

Wednesday, 04-13-2016


I have closely followed the politics of your country since 2007.  I am very interested in how this election will turn out, and have enjoyed your blog posts on The Demagogue.  I cannot help but imagine what a brokered convention would look like.  Is that a sign that I am a sensationalist?


To give a serious answer to a tongue-in-cheek question:  A brokered convention would certainly be sensational, but your mere interest in the possibility doesn’t make you a sensationalist.  A sensationalist would be attracted to the subject only because of the excitement of scandal, but there are lots of good reasons to be interested.

For example, you might sorrow over it, as over the affliction of a friend, or you might seek to understand it, as a doctor of politics.  There is a big difference between the prophet Amos crying “Woe to those who are not grieved by the ruin of Joseph,” and the National Enquirer crying “Latest hot news and pictures on the ruin of Joseph!”


Social Justice

Tuesday, 04-12-2016

It is a trifle for the upper strata to promote sexual liberation; those who have money can shield themselves (to degree, and for a while) from at least some of the consequences of loose sexuality.  The working classes do not have that luxury.  In a country like this one, serial cohabitation and childbearing outside of marriage contribute more to poverty, dependency, and inequality than a million greedy capitalists do.

Do you to really want to raise up the poor?  Then do as the English Methodists did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:  First live the Commandments.  Then go among the people and preach them.  Start with the ones about marriage and family.

I do not say this is all you should do, but if you won’t even do so much as this, then the rest of your social justice talk is hypocritical.  You may as well admit that it is all about you.


Diving In

Monday, 04-11-2016


I have been inclined to read your commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law for some time, but I have been stumped by a prior question.  I am worried that I cannot understand St. Thomas on law without a better understanding of his thought on politics.  The two go hand in hand, right?  But I know that his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics is really not complete, and what else we have from him (On Kingship, for example) is not extensive either.

So, I guess my question is this: what would you recommend as the proper preparation for assimilating the teaching of the Treatise?  Aristotle's Politics?  Plato?  Leo Strauss?  Alasdair MacIntyre?   Or maybe I have it wrong, and your commentary is sort of sui generis?   Maybe it is a mistake for me to try to situate the ideas fully in a political teaching and so I should just dive in?

Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.


I think it’s fine to begin with St. Thomas, but by all means read the other classical writers too.  Read as much as you can!  Feast on all those riches!  Most people find it better to read the ancient and medieval writers before the moderns, not just because they came first, but also because the moderns forgot so much of what the previous writers wrote and became confused about the rest.  But there is no one way to do this.  The important thing is to jump in and start swimming.  Since you’re drawn to the Angelic Doctor and his views on law, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t dive right into the Treatise.

True, you should read the Treatise in the context of St. Thomas’s other work, but that doesn’t mean you have to read all the other works you mention first.  In fact, I would suggest saving them until later.  His work on kingship is a quirky special-purpose work.  His commentaries on Aristotle are intended to explain Aristotle’s thought, rather than his own.

Yes, secondary sources can be helpful, but even so, I think you should always begin with the author’s own words -- otherwise your baloney meter won’t be calibrated well enough to detect whether the secondary source is helping you or feeding you baloney.  Of course, my own commentary on the Treatise is a secondary source too, so don’t throw away caution!  But in a line-by-line commentary, where you have all of the author’s original words, you can tell more easily whether the commentator is playing tricks with them.  That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to bring this genre of writing back.

Still, if my book doesn’t help you, drop it like a hot potato.  You can always come back to it later.  The same goes for the work of any scholar.