2015/11/27

Dark Ages Now

John C. Wright offers a brilliant defense of the dishonestly much-maligned Dark Ages.
The elite were not a different religion from the commons then, but agreed on the basics of the basic vision of a just life. Not every king was a good king, but there was a basic agreement on what a good king should be.
Sneer me no sneers about the divine right of kings placing some men above others: that doctrine dates from the Reformation. The legal theory of the Middle Ages was Roman and hence, in the technical sense of the term, republican.
(And do not bring up that tiresome old slander, prima nocte: the idea that lords could commit adulterous rape on the wedding night with any comely peasant lass is a slander invented by Voltaire, who could not find any real medieval laws to mock, and so invented one. Ironically, it is one Voltaire’s fellow atheist and practitioner of modern scientific and secular values, Lavrenti Beria , actually indulged in.)
This legal theory, best explicated by Thomas Aquinas, does not promise civic equality to all men, and so is anathema to the modern age. But then again, the legal theory of the Modern Age started with Machiavelli: both sides of the great conflicts of the Twentieth Century, Democrats or Socialists, justified their politics on the basis of it being a necessary evil, an evil that is done that good might come of it.
The idea of a state whose mission is to encourage the virtue of its citizens comes from the days when the clothing and architecture and music likewise was meant to be both useful and beautiful. Nowadays we dress in drab denim, and live in steel boxes. The society that lives for its own pleasures and powers produces ugliness; the society that lives for God, for something greater than itself, produces pleasure and power.
My comment: Why didn’t Aquinas explicate a legal theory promising equality and freedom to all men? Because he would have instantly recognized the incoherence of the idea.

The notions of human rights that emerged during the Enlightenment are collectively called Liberalism–the political theory that government’s proper role is the use of coercive force to preserve every man’s freedom from coercive force.

See the problem?

Some people speak wistfully of a return to Enlightenment values–as if we weren’t at this very hour groaning under the near-total triumph of those values.

The division between Self-styled Classical Liberals and neo-Puritan SJWs is not one of basic ideology, but of priorities. The old Liberals designed a state that would enable each man to pursue his individual preferences as far as possible, to the limit of harming others. SJWs appeal to the state to maximize the freedom to pursue one's preferences, to the limit of committing often invisible aggression against designated victim groups.

For 300 years, the previous generation of Liberals has stared in dismay as the next generation took their perpetual rebellion one formerly unthinkable step further.

State power cannot guarantee equal liberty for all. When two or more parties inevitably find that the exercise of their liberties is mutually exclusive, the state must choose who gets to be free and who doesn’t.

Liberalism only ensures that those currently in power enjoy maximum freedom at everyone else’s expense.

A proposal too horrifying to contemplate: perhaps the proper role of government is securing the common Good instead of the quixotic pursuit of total egalitarianism and license.

2 comments:

  1. For a while now I've vacillated between defending Enlightenment principles and opposing them. Most people with opinions I respect seem to blame the Enlightenment for much of our modern ills.

    I remember wrote a college paper on John Rawls and the problem liberalism has with the common good. For classical liberalism, it seems that each person has the freedom to pursue their own conception of the common good, not THE common good (which, in the Aristotelian tradition is defined according to man's nature). This relativism of the common good necessarily leads to a bastardization of it.

    Still, there's much I like in the Enlightenment/liberalism, which makes it hard to reject.

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  2. "Still, there's much I like in the Enlightenment/liberalism, which makes it hard to reject."

    The American experiment shows that classical Liberalism can work--if and only if the people living under it agree to live by a shared understanding of the Good; in this case, a Christian understanding.

    Not that adherents of other faiths or no faith must abandon their beliefs for a Liberal system to succeed. But history shows that they must at least conduct themselves in the public sphere according to Christian moral principles.

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