Theodore Dalrymple at First Things reviews Christopher and Peter Hitchens’ memoirs: ‘The Brothers Grim:”
‘Perhaps the division between the two brothers is essentially this: One believes that man can live by his own individual reason alone; the other believes that something else is necessary and inevitable. Without being religious myself, I side with the latter.’
‘Sadly, this corrupt system has proven to be immune from constitutional attack. Yet that attack should succeed on the simple ground that its mandatory renewal provisions force landlords to surrender possession of their premises for below market rents—a classic taking without just compensation.’
This blog’s opinion: A select few get favored over others, gaining from a deal which can’t be justly kept.
I’m neither here nor there regarding Woody Allen’s work, but gathering a mob, exalting victims and exacting revenge in some sort of moral and emotional expiation poses clear dangers for justice, individual liberty and due process, regardless of where the truth lies: ‘Cancel Culture Comes For Woody Allen:’
‘But as the cases of Kobe Bryant and Woody Allen show, the distinguishing problem with modern cancel culture isn’t just mobs per se: It’s the gatekeepers who surrender to the mob’s Manichean judgments…’
Mattress Girl is still probably an object lesson, where we can see similar ideas and impulses emerging from a college bubble and being rewarded by those in high office (where the claims are not necessarily true).
‘I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’
Sure it’s fun to mock the p.c. crowd, but this is p.c. on steroids. Greg Lukianoff, founder of FIRE (Foundation For Individual Rights In Education) sees a new threat on the doorstep:
“In 2011, the Department of Education took a hatchet to due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. Now the Department of Education has enlisted the help of the Department of Justice to mandate campus speech codes so broad that virtually every student will regularly violate them.’
‘Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are:
Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—subject to discipline.
Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.’
This blog would like to make a brief appeal:
Without glossing too much over the historical record nor the clear moral wrongs of this country’s legacy and institutions to black folks: The above approach is closing doors you might want to keep open. No one can take away the civil rights ethos of your elders that’s been passed down to you. It’s been vital in carving out space for freedom, inclusion under the law, truth, wisdom, safety, dignity and common purpose. It’s your legacy.
That said, the playing field has changed and will continue to change. Activists and progressive political coalitions like the ones we have in power will by their nature churn out bad, restrictive laws that tend to favor a few (usually themselves and their cronies) in the name of all. Every law that can be used to favor your interests, can be used against your interests.
To appeal further, hopefully beyond the typical libertarian argument (freedom vs. coercion, the individual vs. the State) I would say such progressive activism can harm the soil out of which future generations will grow: The church through onerous regulations and laws which contradict church doctrine, the neighborhood through a weakened and stagnant economy, the healthy bonds that can unite different groups society-wide by encouraging political favoritism and corruption which erodes the public trust.
As an economist, Friedman has explored the idea of what transferring functions of the State to private agencies might look like. In the video he presents an outline of his thinking about what would happen if the legislature, the courts, and the police (drafting, legislating, passing and enforcing laws) would all be handled by private agencies instead of government. You would become a customer of a private enforcement agency amongst other agencies competing for your patronage in areas now covered by the criminal and civil law. There would be no more State, or perhaps just a Nozickian “night-watchman” State overseeing the National Defense.
1. As a consumer and customer of an agency, you would have more say than when you vote now, because you have the freedom to vote with your feet and choose a different agency. Your agency would be more responsive to you than the government is now (if you’ve paid your dues, I presume).
2. You would have more access to information about the performance of an agency, because more agencies would be able to compete and offer alternatives, and presumably have more incentive to provide information about their performance for consumer choice.
3. Criminals aiming to make their own agency (having the freedom to do so if not incarcerated by an agency) would find themselves unable to stay in business because of the overwhelming market forces that victims’ agencies would create. The harm done the victims and the right to be free from violence would still be central, but handled by the market. Friedman also makes the argument that there may be less crime overall because certain moral reasoning that has led to, say, the War on Drugs (drug use he considers a victimless crime) actually creates more crime, much as Milton Friedman argued that State welfare programs creates poverty by restricting access to the market (e.g. via minimum wage laws).
4. The National Defense is a public good for which Friedman’s thinking doesn’t fully have answers, but he does go into charities, the U.S. militia system (as back when we organized to fight the British) and because of the our wealth, the possibility of not maintaing a standing army. He rather naively (in my opinion) suggests letting people play and practice war games as they saw fit, but overall having a more martial, Spartan approach to play (a little totalitarian, and he points to Kipling). He suggests that because of our numbers and GDP, when the threat to our Sovereignty appeared, we would then organize and respond to it.
I do wonder how far the free-market will go and how legitimate moral authority is possible on this view. Justice, and the feelings of fear, anger, mistrust revenge etc. that grip victims of the wake of many crimes (especially violent crimes) would be handled by those working for a paycheck, a promotion, or the incentives offered at a private firm without a Federal structure (though these are all are incentives for cops, lawyers and judges now). How fierce would the competition get between agencies? Would it be up to consumers themselves to form agencies to oversee the agencies and maintain private property rights? What other social institutions would unite Arizonans under agency B with New Yorkers under agency A? Would a form of soft despotism with a ring of price-fixing, oligopolic agencies develop?
A Hobbesian reponse might highlight that the rational interests of man in Nature given the State of Nature that would compel individuals to eventually declare their loyalty to one entity, compelling the creation of one large, authoritarian structure anyways, especially for security from within and without. There are many concerns in abandonding some of the rich heritage of British empiricism found within the common law for another set of principles that are assumed to be universal. Life liberty, and property might be harder to secure.
Friedman asserts that people who once identified as classical liberals are now closer to ‘classical libertarianism.’ Most libertarians I know, as well as many conservatives, believe they are observing something similar: Modern American liberalism seems much more comfortable with many forms of collectivist political philosophy and principles of political organization (partially on the backs of postmodernism and moral relativism) that can lead to Statism and great intrusion into the lives of individuals. It has meant more freedom for some (especially against the injustices of slavery), and morally there are deep reasons and much good done as a result of these ideas, but it is not clear at what cost these changes have had on our educational, social and political institutions as well as our political stability and the dynamism of our economy. It’s up for debate.
Of course, all people aim to draft law according to their own principles while claiming their preferred laws and policies will serve the common good. On this view, though, modern collectivist liberals are pursuing their own self and group interest and overlooking what classical liberals once maintained, and what libertarians are maintaining (and being attacked for maintaining, often by liberals), namely the autonomy of the individual, the importance of open markets and an open society and a small government in maintaining liberty.
I’ve often wondered if the libertarian attempt to resuscitate classical liberalism isn’t chimerical from the conservative point of view, as some conservatives I know see libertarianism as a continuation of the Straussian slide into hedonism and relativism under the pursuit of post-enlightenment Reason alone (away from Natural Right), others see a slide away from from Natural Law, and others still simply an excessive pursuit of freedom that libertarians share with liberals, away from the doctrines of the Church and the clubs, associations, families, and institutions which maintain civil society.
Nussbaum implores Americans to respond to the idea of ‘global justice.’
‘Well, why not? It is a day when people, immersed in busy lives, may actually stop to think in ways that they usually don’t. So why not talk about a vitally important topic that usually occupies too little of most people’s time?’
Here’s where I would agree with Nussbaum:
Moreover, the intense compassion that was generated by the disaster never got translated into a keen interest in the mundane and boring problems that actually kill so many more people in the world than terrorism, or even war: hunger, malnutrition, chronic diseases, lack of sanitation and clean water, sex-selective abortion, and infanticide.’
These efforts can clearly be worthwhile, and the day-to-day struggle and the cost and risks are picked up by those who often volunteer their time, money, and resources to try and ease the suffering of others (and I agree they are generally morally good but the reasons as to why they are morally good are up for debate). I would point out that such work can also lead to Western and American interests involving themselves in other countries and potentially involving other parts of our societies (political, military) in those cultures.
‘In his terrific recent book Altruism in Humans, C. Daniel Batson summarizes years of experiments showing that the vivid imagining of another person’s suffering is strongly correlated with helping behavior.’
‘Batson concludes that compassion is necessary for morality, but woefully incomplete: We need principles and entrenched habits. Bloom comes to a similar conclusion: Morality has roots in “human nature” but is an achievement of culture that must go beyond our native equipment.’
But whence those principles? Clearly, some combination of nature/nuture leads to our capacity for empathy and development of the moral imagination and its duties to our civilization. Nussbaum argues that in the wake 9/11, we’ve failed to live up those principles:
‘But we also saw the distressing shortfall of the compassionate imagination: As soon as things returned to “normal,” most people went back to their old habits and their daily lives, continuing to put themselves and their friends first in the old familiar ways.’
On Nussbaum’s view, what is necessary is:
‘What, then, should we learn from these unsurprising and all-too-human failures? First, we need not just emotional responses, but then, tempering and correcting them, principles and habits. Second, we’d better turn those principles into laws and institutions that treat all people with equal concern and regard: at the national level, but also through global agreements and global work on human development and human rights.’
Why exactly should we turn those principles into laws and institutions? What obligations would they impose upon, say, citizens of the U.S.? Why should individuals like Bill Gates (who thrived due to innate intelligence, hard thinking and hard work, access to computers, shrewdness to say the least, business acumen, cultural opportunity resources ((laws and traditions)) and maybe just luck) be obligated to create an institution? Why should principles of positively defined justice and the power of the State through the laws be involved in deciding an individual’s moral obligations to his neighbor, and to unknown persons halfway around the world?
To my mind, just as vital to the moral imagination on this view may be the freedom from institutions and eventual bureaucracies that would enshrine these ideals (human rights and global justice). The pursuit of justice can unite people in common cause and tap into a deeply human need for fairness, especially on a global scale (and could be expedient in defining common U.S. and European interest). However, as the Continental Left in Europe has shown, it can also commit individuals to institutions and structures that can abandon those very same individuals (including the development of the moral imagination) in favor of rule by a relative few, hierarchy and injustice, (and the abuse of those institutions through fraud, rewarding friends and punishing enemies, maintaining power, creating a Eurozone bureaucratic class).
Nussbaum has done good work guiding feminism and liberalism back to our laws. She’s also tried to solve very specific problems in India’s young democracy with Amartya Sen (addressing that nation’s long history and the deep injustice of the caste system, its hundreds of languages and many, many religions with a platform of Western liberal equality and liberty). This brief piece, though, reminds me why I am generally not a liberal, and why I’m skeptical of distributive and re-distributive justice, and would rather have liberty much more negatively (defined) as regards the laws and the State.
You may have noticed a shift in thinking about Israel lately, or a greater willingness in American political and social life (mostly on the left, but not only) to consider the conditions and injustices under which the Palestinians live.
There may be many reasons for this:
1. A reaction to some of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq…combined with a weak economy.
2. A still relatively intellectually confused but resurgent American left.
3. A demographic shift toward a larger Arab population in both Europe and the U.S.
4. Our interaction with the Arab world through rapidly advancing technology.
As Israel sees it (and there are many good reasons for seeing it this way), any concession to the violence of Hamas is unacceptable. Any loss of Israeli life to a Hamas rocket attack is cause for military operation to protect the civil order. Despite the rallying anger, resentment and threats of violence by much the Arab world (to which the Israelis have long since steeled themselves) they’ve gone ahead and pursued a military operation.
I don’t necessarily have a response to such current events…
…so much as I’d argue that one of our most important shared interests with Israel is still through its functioning democracy: Israeli military force is eventually answerable to the Israeli people through its laws, lawmakers, and ultimately to the people themselves. This is a form of government cast in our own image, with which we identify and understand as vital to our own freedoms and way of life.
The current wellspring of sentiment in America toward the Palestinian situation has important truths to it…but look for it to be used accordingly by groups for peace…for aid…for Islam…for social justice (to rally the blame America first crowd)…and more generally by U.S. politicians as they may eventually navigate these waters. As a result, perhaps U.S. foreign policy in the region may gradually be changing in much the same way…if it hasn’t been already.
Well, the City Journal’s pretty far out on the right (sometimes a little nutty, resuscitating compassionate conservatism?), so you likely know where you’ll end before you begin.
What it seems Kirsch defends are forms of transcendentalism (i.e. Plato’s World Of Forms, or the possibility of knowledge beyond experience) against Raymond Geuss’s idealism, neo-Marxism and Leninism (as Kirsch has him: narrow-mindedly analyzing who has the power and the means of production).
From Plato’s Republic, Kirsch raises Plato’s extensive discussion with Thrasymachus:
“When one looks at justice clearly, Thrasymachus insists, he finds that it’s nothing but the disguise worn by power: “I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.”’
There are likely many who think like Thrasymachus among us. In fact, we have all probably found ourselves thinking like this at times…
However, Kirsch implies that Geuss is not even as consistent as Thrasymachus:
“The unjust is lord over the truly simple and just: he is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own,” Thrasymachus says…
It follows that the only logical course for any human being is to try to be happily unjust, rather than simple—that is, stupid—and just.'”
Join in the game, or be a useless crank or a coward? Bottle it all inside like Thrasymachus and then when you see Socrates discussing the idea in public, unleash all of your anger at such an idealistic fool? Or maybe like Geuss, you put it all in your philosophical idealism and encourage others to overthrow a common enemy? Kirsch ends with:
“The world of Thrasymachus is a war of all against all, in which the powerful will always win. If Geuss does not want to inhabit such a world—and who does?—he should acknowledge that the inquiry into the nature of justice, which has occupied philosophers from Socrates to Rawls, is not an ideological trick, but the necessary beginning of all attempts to make the world more just.”
Not a bad point, though I’m already sympathetic to the theme.
Just A Thought-Of course “justice” is not merely a code for “social justice” and the neo-marxists, feminists and postmodern American left. Obviously, it’s a central concept to the church. The origin of many of our laws comes from the moral thinking of the church and the assumption of transcendance (it comes from God, and God is outside of us). These laws, in turn, protect many of our freedoms.
Here is a quote from John Locke that could be quite relevant to someone like, say, Dr. Martin Luther King…who obviously thought about the nature of justice quite often:
“For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour’d with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven.”