C.S. Lewis on Government

I recently stumbled across an article at The Beacon on C.S. Lewis’ views towards government. Long, but engaging and worth the read. I will leave you, dear Reader, with a quote of his, quoted in the article:

The first of these tendencies is the growing exaltation of the collective and the growing indifference to persons. . . . if one were inventing a language for “sinless beings who loved their neighbours as themselves” it would be appropriate to have no words for “my,” “I,” and “other personal pronouns and inflexions.” In other words . . . no difference between two opposite solutions of the problem of selfishness: between love (which is a relation between persons) and the abolition of persons. Nothing but a Thou can love and a Thou can exist only for an I. A society in which no one was conscious of himself as a person over against other persons, where none could say “I love you,” would, indeed, be free from selfishness, but not through love. It would be “unselfish” as a bucket of water is unselfish. . . . [In such a case] the individual does not matter. And therefore when we really get going . . . it will not matter what you do to an individual.

Secondly, we have the emergence of “the Party” in the modern sense—the Fascists, Nazis, or Communists. What distinguishes this from the political parties of the nineteenth century is the belief of its members that they are not merely trying to carry out a programme, but are obeying an important force: that Nature, or Evolution, or the Dialectic, or the Race, is carrying them on. This tends to be accompanied by two beliefs . . . the belief that the process which the Party embodies is inevitable, and the belief that the forwarding of this process is the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws. In this state of mind men can become devil-worshippers in the sense that they can now honour, as well as obey, their own vices. All men at times obey their vices: but it is when cruelty, envy, and lust of power appear as the commands of a great superpersonal force that they can be exercised with self-approval.

 

Quote Of The Day

This passage is by Soren Kierkegaard, quoted from Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, a collection of existentialist writings assembled by Walter Kaufmann:

[T]o honour every man, absolutely every man, is the truth, and this is what it is to fear God and love one’s “neighbour”. But from an ethico-religious point of view, to recognize the “crowd” as the court of last resort is to deny God, and it cannot exactly mean to love the “neighbour.” And the “neighbour” is the absolutely true expression for human equality. In case every one were in truth to love his neighbour as himself, complete human equality would be attained. Every one who loves his neighbour in truth, expresses unconditionally human equality. Every one who, like me, admits that his effort is weak and imperfect, yet is aware that the task is to love one’s neighbour, is also aware of what human equality is. But never have I read in Holy Scripture the commandment, Thou shalt love the crowd- and still less, Thou shalt recognize, ethico-religiously, in the crowd the supreme authority in matters of “truth.” But the thing is simple enough: this thing of loving one’s neighbour is self-denial; that of loving the crowd, or of pretending to love it, of making it the authority in matters of truth, is the way to material power, the way to temporal and earthly advantages of all sorts- at the same time it is the untruth, for a crowd is the untruth.

[. . .] The crowd, in fact, is composed of individuals; it must therefore be in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual. From becoming  an individual no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by  becoming a crowd. To become a crowd, to collect a crowd about one, is on the contrary to affirm the distinctions of human life. The most well-meaning person who talk about these distinctions can easily offend an individual. But then it is not the crowd which possesses power, influence, repute, and mastery over men, but it is the invidious distinctions of human life which despotically ignore the single individual as the weak and impotent, which in a temporal and worldly interest ignore the eternal truth- the single greatest individual.

Life is Finite

A man that I knew recently passed away. I didn’t know him well, only having met his acquaintance through various parties and social gatherings over the years, but I always enjoyed his company when I was around him. He happened to do the same work as I, a carpenter, and we both enjoyed talking about music and, specifically, guitars.

His death was unexpected, stemming from an accident at work. He was working under a house in a tight area, and (probably while fumbling around), accidentally fired a nail from his nail gun into his heart. He was air lifted to a hospital, treated, went through rehab, and was sent home to recover further. Several days later, his wife arrived home from work to find him dead, looking “almost as if asleep”.

Moments like this in life, when an acquaintance, friend, or loved one passes away changes your perspective, if only for a little while. Our time here is limited, and while we struggle daily against that fact, eventually our bodies will decay, we will contract a disease, or suffer an accident, and suddenly we will be no more, our existence being extinguished like the flame of a candle being blown out.

As it turns out, this absurdity of life is something I happen to think about often. What makes life meaningful? Why? Is my life meaningful? Is there or can there be an objective standard of meaningfulness? I struggle to answer these questions, but increasingly I feel as though I am being pushed away from the things that I think are constraining me; work, money, etc. I wonder how much I am actually constrained by these things I worry about, and how much is dead weight that I am forcing myself to carry to my own detriment.

I can’t claim to know what makes life meaningful, but for me personally, I enjoy it the most when I feel free.

Life is short. Live freely.

But What Would We Do Without a Postal Service?

I recently bought two items on Ebay, one coming from Oregon, and the other from New Jersey. They were both shipped on the same day, the one from Oregon through UPS ground service, and the other through the Postal Service. Despite New Jersey only being about a 6 hour drive from here, the package is still going to take a week to get here, so the one coming from Oregon through a private carrier will cross the entire country in the same amount of time.

Why isn’t UPS allowed to carry mail again?

Are There Limits to Natural Rights?

I have been thinking about natural rights and their relation to political theory. Now, I have for quite a while now been in favor of a natural rights based approach, but lately have been questioning how viable it truly is. Most natural rights political theory begins with some form of the Non Aggression Principle, which according to Wikipedia is “… a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate.”. Now that certainly sounds like a good starting point to me, but does it tell the whole story? Wikipedia goes further:

NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person’s rights are.[1] Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately-owned property of another. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individual’s property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner’s free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership.

There are several problems that I have currently. One, strict adherence to the NAP would necessarily lead to anarchism, since taxation is a function of the state, and is inherently coercive, thereby violating the NAP (Also, notice how a definition of property rights is presupposed in the NAP, at least as presented here. The definition is taken for granted while using it to support the very thing in question!). Now, I see no reason to dismiss anarchism prima facie, but it could be a tough pill to swallow for some, and intuitively I think most people are inclined (whether rightly or not) to dismiss it. However, I myself am not an anarchist; I do believe a minimal state is necessary to secure individual’s rights. In any case, the supporter of a minimal state now finds his or her self at odds with the common natural rights approach.

Is there a way natural rights can be reconciled with a state? I read an argument, presented by Mark Friedman, which goes as follows:

Quite clearly, deterring or preempting foreign attacks and international terrorism promotes rational agency in a way the basic scientific research does not…Therefore, the coercion of rational agents to support national defense is an exception to Nozickian side constraints because it can be justified in terms of the very value, rational agency, which generates those constraints.

At first I found this argument rather compelling, but of late have questioned it. If rights truly are an inherent part of being human, and are universal across a myriad of cultures and times, then why is a state necessary to secure them? It seems as though the state must exist prior to those rights if they are to be secured through the state. In the absence of a state, can individuals truly be said to have intrinsic rights if they are unable to effectively secure them? (It is at this point that anarcho-capitalists will chide me for thinking a state is required to protect rights. For reasons I don’t care to get into at the moment, I do not agree with them, though I’m sympathetic to their commitment to non-coercion.) It is true that individuals would be free to contract with others to provide them with protection services, but this leads to the “free-rider” problem: Would enough people contract with a particular agency in order to effectively provide security for a given area? I think it is likely that they would not, perhaps not seeing any immediate threats to their rights that would prompt them to want to. But the free-rider argument is itself a consequentialist one. What place does that have in a system of natural rights?

To me this is a significant problem. Can we really just pick and choose what types of arguments we want to use in any given moment, even if they are at times contradictory? It may work well in your average internet political battles, but hardly would withstand scrutiny enough to be considered a consistent political theory.

I am naturally disinclined towards consequentialism. At the root of it, I feel as though there is nothing in the way of an ever increasing leviathan of a government, that there is no universal framework with which to point to when government goes too far. However, I am coming to grips with the idea that I may be wrong; after all, people can just as easily reject the whole idea of natural rights, and either way it is a battle for liberty. There may not be, in fact, any universal framework at all, but only individual’s subjective thoughts, feelings, and opinions on certain matters. If another individual doesn’t feel as though I have a right to something, then I can’t expect my right to be respected by them, can I? In aggregate, this can mean that by default I do not have a right after all, even if I feel as though I should. It might be nice to appeal to natural rights in such a case, however if we still must at times appeal to consequentialist arguments, why hold to natural rights at all?

I still would like to see natural rights saved, if you will. I’m open to hearing arguments for and against, but more and more I’m leaning towards consequentialism.

Quote of the Day

This comes from Kierkegaard (HT to Tongue Sandwich):

A fire started offstage in a theater. The clown came out to tell the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded. He told them again, and they were even more entertained. This is the way, I suppose, the world will come to an end – amid the universal hilarity and applause of wits and wise guys who think it’s all just a joke.

Either/Or (1843)

I’ve Been Meaning To Write a Post On Boston…

. . . but Ron Paul beat me to it.

As someone who lives in Massachusetts, I was horrified not only by the lockdown and unwarranted searches of innocent people’s homes, but also by people’s blase’ attitude towards it all. It is truly a non-issue for most people in my area. But at least Dunkin’ was open.

While watching CNN one morning, I took note of a soldier walking down a Boston street in full camo with a bomb sniffing dog. Full camo… in an urban setting. What exactly was he supposed to be blending in with again?

I can’t help but feel that a police state of a uniquely American flavor is coming, and it will be welcomed with open arms by the citizenry.