Just because disorder is so spectacular in public life, it is easy to confuse causes with symptoms. I am all for political reform, but our decline cannot be cured just by better policies, strategies, candidates, inventions, or techniques, for its ultimate causes are moral and spiritual.
On the whole, these causes are no better understood by the various factions of reformers than by those whom they are trying to reform, and they affect them just as strongly. This is why our choices become less and less attractive, and why more and more of the things that pass under the name of making things better actually make them worse.
“All right, wise guy. If our disorder can’t be cured by politics, what’s your big idea?” I haven’t one. But I can suggest a place to start.
Let each of us resolve, once and for all, I will not do evil so that good will result.
Think it over carefully. Consider all the things that a person must stop believing, start believing, or remember, just for the resolution to make sense.
Reminder: On Tuesday, March 2nd, at 1:30pm Central Time, I’ll be speaking about “The Flavors of the Common Good.” This will be the second in a series of Conversations offered by the Common Good Project, a new initiative of the Law School, University of Oxford, England. Anyone who would like to hear it streamed can sign up here.
I happen to be on the board of advisors for the Common Good Project, a new initiative of the Law School, University of Oxford, England. On Tuesday, March 2nd, at 1:30pm Central Time (that's night in Oxford), I’ll be speaking about “The Flavors of the Common Good,” which will be the second in the Project’s series of Conversations. Anyone who would like to hear it streamed can sign up here.
For those who read my longer items, the next of my commentaries on Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Divine Law, will be published in May by Cambridge University Press. This is not the same as my earlier Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law.
Three new articles and book chapters of mine have also just been posted to the Read Articles section of this website:
Of Course Human Law Develops. Can Natural and Divine Law Develop? In a symposium on “Aquinas on the Development of Law,” Aquinas Institute, held at the Blackfriars, Oxford University, Oxford, England, March, 2019. Published in Law and Justice, No. 183 (2019).
Thomas Aquinas on Marriage, Fruitfulness, and Faithful Love. In Theresa Notare, ed., Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later: A Compendium (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2019).
’The Same as to Knowledge’. In Christopher Wolfe and Steven Brust, eds., Natural Law Today: The Present State of the Perennial Philosophy (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2018).
In the ‘seventies, when I was a welder, I didn’t see much overt racism, though no doubt there was much that I didn’t see. Of course there had been a great deal in the recent past, and various forms of discrimination continued. People were sensitive. Even so, blacks and whites worked together and had beers together. A few white guys kind of admired George Wallace, but what they liked about him wasn’t his old segregationist attitudes (which by then he was only a few years from repenting). Rather they laughed because he wanted to “throw the briefcases of the pointy headed intellectuals into the Potomac,” an attitude for which the black guys I knew had a good deal of sympathy. Whites and blacks where I worked talked about these things freely, with humor and without rancor. Perhaps, privately, some fellows might not have cared much for blacks, or cared much for whites, but most of them tried to be fair. They might not have wanted their sons to date each others’ daughters, and the reluctance was probably mutual. But at least on the surface, they treated each other pretty much the same.
Today, a half century later, my left wing academic colleagues are certain that working class people are racists, but would be shocked to be viewed as racists themselves. They are equally sure that the University is “systemically” racist, even though of course they, who run the system, couldn’t possibly be. By the way, they consider it racist to believe that persons of color are sufficiently talented and disciplined to succeed in school without special preferences. Very strange.
A reader responds:
I have read your latest blog post (“a conservative is someone who wants to censor obscenity but not opinion; a progressive is someone who wants to censor opinion but not obscenity”), and came to realize the following three things:
What profound truth is alleged to lie in obscenity, that it can transcend any type of censorship? If you have the time and the interest, could you please elaborate a bit?
Yes, it was something like a tweet! I don’t mind an aphorism now and then. It’s just that if tweeting is the dominant mode of discussion, it tends to coursen it.
With my own little aphorism I was merely making the point that although progressives claim to believe in liberty, actually they are opposed to liberty in the classical sense, because they are opposed to free discussion. Why then do they even think they believe in liberty? Because they have changed the meaning of liberty. For them, liberty no longer means self-government; rather it means something like the abandonment of any expectation that people will, or even can, govern themselves. Therefore they treat every sort of sexual behavior, depiction of sexual behavior, and sexual self-image to be – quoting Lawrence v. Texas -- of “transcendent dimensions.”
Conservatives, on the other hand, think that a republic (self-government in the political sense) and virtue (self-government in the personal sense) are both good, but that the former is impossible without the latter. We cannot collectively direct ourselves to the common good unless each of us tries to place his passions and appetites under the control of virtue.
A conservative is someone who wants to censor obscenity but not opinion. A progressive is someone who wants to censor opinion but not obscenity.
I overheard a bit of conversation last week.
One woman mentioned to another that a block from where she lived, on two consecutive days, a man was shot in the neck and a woman and child were taken hostage. “I’m very upset that the Austin city council voted to defund the police,” she said.
The other woman replied, “But we need to spend more on mental health!”
The second woman’s response contains at least seven fallacies.
1. That the only way to advance mental health is to cut the budget for police and police training. The alternatives are not mutually exclusive.
2. That one can, in fact, deal with mentally ill offenders without police support. Imagine an unarmed counselor trying to detain an armed and deranged person.
3. That most crime is due to poor mental health rather than vice. We have a curious reluctance these days to call vicious people wicked; instead we call them “sick.” But vice is a moral disorder, not a mental disorder, and most persons suffering from mental illness are not violent.
4. That violent persons who really are mentally deranged can be cured by hiring more counselors to talk with them on the fly. Although having more residential institutions might help, I don’t suppose the second woman was thinking of that, for in our day ideology dictates that disordered people must be “deinstitutionalized” and turned loose on the streets. If she was thinking of so-called halfway houses, I doubt that she knows much about how these dismal caves are run.
5. That what our governing classes mean by “mental health” actually has something to do with it. Bear in mind that in our generation, progressive political ideology brands faith as a mental disorder, but regards a variety of genuine derangements as personal choices or identities. A good case can be made that if government policy has any effect on mental health at all, it makes people crazier.
6. That the state should be the first-line defender of mental health. The second woman may have been thinking of subsidizing non-governmental institutions such as hospitals, but do we really want to compel them to follow the government’s conception of mental health? And please don’t suggest subsidizing churches.
7. And that public officials really are using the money that they cut from police budgets for authentic social services, rather than, say, an increase in funds to facilitate abortion, as in my own town. Never forget that the governing classes consider killing babies an element in social services.