Thursday, July 29, 2010

Antony C. Sutton's "Conclusions"

From time to time I will follow up my July 15, 2010 post on Antony C. Sutton.  Today I provide you with his own summary of his three-volume detailed study of Western technology transfer to the Soviet Union in the days of Revolution, World War, and Cold War.  It is the last chapter of the last volume, but encapsulates his trilogy's whole story. 
Although the policies concerning trade and technical transfers appear vague and often confused, there is one fundamental observation to be made: throughout the period of 50 years from 1917 to 1970 there was a persistent, powerful, and not clearly identifiable force in the West making for continuance of the transfers. . . .
. . . whenever the Soviet economy has reached a crisis point, Western governments have come to its assistance. . . . All along, the survival of the Soviet Union has been in the hands of Western governments.
In this study's closing pages, Sutton would admit only that he “lean[ed] to the position that there is gross incompetence in the policymaking and research sections of the State Department.” He would spend the rest of his life attempting to clearly identify that force, thereby replacing this earlier verdict of incompetence with a more satisfying one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reflections on the Occasion of Ernst Cassirer's Birthday

Over the years I have collected several short essays on the great morphologist of the human spirit, Ernst Cassirer (July 28, 1874 – April 13, 1945) by very different thinkers whom I also admire and posted them on my philosophical site.  I hope my posting links to them, accompanied by excerpts, will stimulate interest in Cassirer and the problems he wrestled with.

(I wish to record that the day he died--suddenly collapsing after responding to student Arthur Pap's calling out to him near Columbia University's main gate--Murray Rothbard, who would one day influence my thinking considerably, but then all of nineteen years of age, was probably in class nearby, completing his requirements for his B.A.)

In his review of Cassirer's An Essay on Man, Blanshard sounds a note of disappointment:
It is hard not to think, as one reads a book so wealthy as this in historic and scientific erudition, but at the same time so oddly inconclusive, that Cassirer was rather a distinguished reflective scholar than a great speculative philosopher. The learning is not mobilized in the interest of any theory; the book is not so much an 'essay on man' as a series of essays, all suggestive and enlightening, which converge on—what? It is hard to say. Perhaps there is no end, or harmony of ends, toward which all these activities are moving. But then, on Cassirer’s own showing, no philosophy of man would seem to be practicable; there would only be a theory of art, a theory of religion, and so on. This is in fact what he gives us. And an admirable gift it is, for which I, at least, am thankful. Only it is not what he sets out to give, nor all that the reader hoped to gain.
William Schultz, in his Cassirer and Langer on Myth, commented directly on Blanshard's assessment:
Here is the assumption of a continental philosopher that a system must 'converge' on something or lead to an overall unity of experience, an ideal unity. To some extent, the criticism is correct, for the main arguments are not in An Essay on Man, yet Cassirer’s claims about the need for unity should have alerted Blanshard that they were in his previous books, as Cassirer himself said in the Preface to that work written almost twenty years after the three-volume masterpiece [The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms]. Ironically, both Blanshard and Cassirer share some of the same assumptions about what philosophy should do, but Blanshard did not study Cassirer’s work enough to recognize the revolutionary way in which Cassirer satisfies traditional expectations about what a philosophy is and does.
The other subject of Schultz's study, Susanne Langer, the German-American philosopher whose thought was shaped to a large degree by her early absorption of Cassirer's writings in the original as they were published, contributed an essay his theory of language and myth to the Library of Living Philosophers volume dedicated to him.
. . . myth and language appeared as genuine twin creatures, born of the same phase of human mentality, exhibiting analogous formal traits, despite their obvious diversities of content. Language, on the one hand, seems to have articulated and established mythological concepts, whereas, on the other hand, its own meanings are essentially images functioning mythically. The two modes of thought have grown up together, as conception and expression, respectively, of the primitive human world. . . .
The first dichotomy in the emotive or mythic phase of mentality is not, as for discursive reason, the opposition of 'yes' and 'no,' of 'a' and 'non-a,' or truth and falsity; the basic dichotomy here is between the sacred and the profane. Human beings actually apprehend values and expressions of values before they formulate and entertain facts.
Her preface to his Language and Myth serves as an excellent introduction to his thought: Language, "man’s prime instrument of reason, reflects his mythmaking tendency more than his rationalizing tendency."

Eric Voegelin, the philosopher of consciousness, had the highest regard for Cassirer the intellectual historian, but in his 1946 review of The Myth of the State, thought Cassirer had mishandled his chief topical concern:
In the present book there is no awareness that the myth is an indispensable forming element of social order though, curiously enough, in his earlier work on the philosophy of the myth Cassirer, under the influence of Schelling, had seen this problem quite clearly. The overcoming of the "darkness of myth" by reason is in itself a problematical victory because the new myth which inevitably will take the place of the old one may be highly unpleasant. The Myth of the State is written as if it had never occurred to the author that tampering with a myth, unless one has a better one to put in its place, is a dangerous pastime.
Perhaps.  A good way to inspect that alleged "tampering" short of reading Cassirer's posthumously published 1946 book is to read his never-anthologized 1944 essay, "The Myth of the State," written for Fortune's mainly non-academic audience.  In my prefatory paragraphs I give a brief account of how it came to be written.
What we have learned in the hard school of our modern political life [Cassirer writes] is the fact that human culture is by no means the firmly established thing that we once supposed it to be. Modern civilization is very unstable and fragile. It is not built upon sand; but it is built upon a volcanic soil. For its first origin and basis was not rational, but mythical. Rational thought is only the upper layer on a much older geological stratum that reaches down to a great depth. We must always be prepared for violent concussions that may shake our cultural world and our social order to its very foundations.
In 1945, that is, about a year after Cassirer's essay appeared, we meet with a slightly different use of the volcano metaphor.  Just when Brand Blanshard's review of Cassirer appears, his reflections on his two terms as president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association are also published.  As his terms of office had "coincided almost exactly with the chief period of" World War II, he offered for the consideration of his audience this question: "In the light of the last few years, is not reason best conceived as a film stretched across the mouth of a volcano?" 

Blanshard's answer, elaborated upon in his address, was, of course, resoundingly negative.  But his defense of reason was also limited, even "slender," and not incompatible with Cassirer's ostensibly severer judgment:
All I am concerned to deny is the conclusion often drawn from these researches [into human irrationality], that the mind is so controlled by pulls from within that it is never under the control of the objective pattern of things, or follows the thread of an impersonal logic. The remarks I have offered, slender as they admittedly are, do seem to me to settle that point in principle.
Cassirer was equally concerned to deny that conclusion.  As Professor Schultz wisely noted, Blanshard simply "did not study Cassirer’s work enough" to see how close they were.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Does God Permit Evil?

The following answer, a slightly modified version of the one posted in 2002 at Philosophos (originally "Ask a Philosopher") and later on my own site since 2004, summarizes my approach to this vexing problem.  Links to my other efforts may be found here

*   *   *
The question was: If there is God and he is almighty, why then do we suffer evil in the world?

I accept the factual assumption.  We do suffer evil in this world.  (Perhaps some philosophers would argue that evil is an illusion.  But their allegedly veridical grasp of that illusion—which, arguably, would itself be an evil—makes me wonder if their perception of other evil is illusory.)

To the factual assumption is linked a moral presupposition, which we can explicate as follows.  All things being equal, a moral agent who is able to prevent excessive suffering from befalling another—suffering from which good is neither expected to come nor can conceivably come—is morally obligated to prevent it if he can.

The strength of this obligation varies with circumstances.  They include the risk to himself, his loved ones, or his property that the prospective preventive act may expose them to.  (This does not hold for those who profession it is to incur risk in order to rescue others in danger.)  Generally, however, as risk rises, obligation weakens. (We regard as heroes those who perform their rescue obligations without regard to risk, especially when risk is significant.) Obligation is strongest where ability is great and risk is minimal.

In the case of God—at least the deity of classical theism (that of Eastern and Western Christian orthodox theology)—ability is infinite and risk is zero.

And thus the implicit problem.  For the existence of great power alone does not by itself make the occurrence of excessive suffering a puzzle.  Many powerful men have made people suffer greatly, but their victims never wondered how it could be so.  What would have made them wonder, and curse, was that anyone would praise their tormentors for being morally good.  The questioner omitted to mention God’s moral character.

Neither did he specify what he means by “almighty” or even by “God.”  We may ascribe to God great creative power without ascribing to him a monopoly of power, as does classical theism.  In the latter philosophy, beings other than God do have power, but only by his leave.  They have no power independently of God’s decreeing that they have it, which power God can withdraw at will.

There is an alternative theism, however, wherein God exercises the power of persuasion.  God “lures” (Whitehead’s term) other subjects of experience into arrangements that afford more intense experiences for them and for God.  God does that, according to this alternative scheme, by providing each subordinate agent with an initial aim, which the agent may accept or replace with its own.  In such an alternative theism, God is not unilaterally responsible for the metaphysical situation in which each agent (including God) finds himself.  Neither is God unilaterally responsible for the actual cosmic order that results from the decisions and actions of all agents.  God is a necessary, but by no means a sufficient factor in the actual world order.

In the alternative theism, whose ultimate coherence and adequacy to experience we cannot assess here, evil results from the collision of subjective aims.  Collision is perfectly compatible with the existence of a universal end-coordinating God.  Without God, there would not be any coordination of aims.  There would, therefore, be no intelligible world with someone in it asking how evil is possible.  Given a world that God can shape but not unilaterally determine, God cannot obliterate evil any time God wishes to.  The classical theistic God can.  But classical theism cannot satisfactorily explain why God apparently wishes to so rarely and selectively, especially when the demand for God to do so is so excruciatingly urgent.

Given our moral presupposition, then, the God of classical theism cannot be morally good.  Yet classical theism affirms God to be precisely that.  Classical theism is therefore incoherent.  The reasonable person rules out the incoherent.  One theism’s incoherence, however, does not necessarily rule out every other version.  The God of the alternative theism we have been entertaining, in so far as this God is the universal lure to the better, does all within God’s power to promote the realizable good in every situation.  This God is therefore morally good.  What God cannot do, however, is push gross matter around, as we can.  Such pushing is, however, often what preventing excessive and pointless evil requires.  God cannot be morally blamed for that inability.

If some kind of being recognizable as God is necessary for there to be a world, then the occurrence of excessive, pointless suffering does not disconfirm the existence of that God.  On the supposition of the latter, however, we see how there can be “excessive,” “pointless” beauty.

Genocide: A Catholic Dilemma

I composed the following argument about a dozen years ago in response to the claim of a certain priest of my acquaintance, a philosopher whose analytical mind I had expected to make hash of my question, that he was going to deal with it in print, some day, somewhere.  To my knowledge he never made good on that informal promissory note.  I posted it on my site during 2004, its inaugural year. Perhaps a different forum will improve its chances of being paid the courtesy of a refutation.  If anyone reading this would like a crack at solving this specific problem, or can cite someone else's having done so, I invite him or her to post a comment.

*   *   *

1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 105, states that God is the author of Sacred Scripture and that the Church “accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts” because they were “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

2. Paragraph 106 states that God inspired the human authors of the sacred books and that “they consigned to writing whatever he [God] wanted written, and no more.”

3. Paragraph 107 states the inspired books teach the truth, and that “without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wish to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

4. Paragraph 120 lists the Old Testament Book of Joshua among the sacred books.

5. Paragraph 121 states that the books of the Old Testament are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value.

6. Paragraph 311 states that “God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil.”

7. Paragraph 2313 states that in war, non-combatants “must be respected and treated humanely” and that genocide is a grave moral evil: “the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.”

8. The eleventh chapter of the Book of Joshua states that God commanded Moses to cause the genocide of various non-Israelite peoples.

In summary, the Catholic Church teaches that the Book of Joshua is divinely inspired, contains all and only what the human author of Joshua was inspired to write, and teaches truth for the sake of our salvation.

Presumably, then, even if a book of the Old Testament was in error about, say, the number of people killed in a given battle, it could not be in error where it speaks about God’s relationship to man: on this matter we can count on an Old Testament book to tell us only the truth.

But in Joshua 11, God specifically relates to man by telling one group of men to annihilate other groups, including their noncombatant women and children.

Did God give a command that “one is morally bound to resist”? Since the command was carried out, does not that make God at least an indirect cause of a moral evil? Can a coherent negative answer be given without giving up one or more of propositions 1-8?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Antony Sutton’s Inconvenient Research: A Neglected Libertarian Resource

I'm not yet an expert on the works of Antony C. Sutton (1925-2002), but I hope to be one day, and this post will explain why.

Deep within the second volume of his magnum opus, Sutton posed the following alternative:

To subsidize and support a system that is the object of massive military expenditures is both illogical and irrational. . . . it calls into question not only the ability and the wisdom but indeed the basic common sense of the policymakers. The choice is therefore clear: either the West should abandon massive armaments expenditures because the Soviet Union is not an enemy of the West, or it should abandon the technical transfers that make it possible for the Soviet Union to pose the threat to the Free World which is the raison d'ĂȘtre for such a large share of Western expenditures. Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1945-1965, Stanford, Hoover Institution, 1968, p. 400.
When I chanced upon Sutton's trilogy at a public library in the early '70s, I was still viewing the world through Herbert Aptheker's red-tinted spectacles. The massive amount of evidence of technology transfer that Sutton had discovered, organized, and published—under the imprint of Stanford University's Hoover Institution—didn't cohere with either the Communist worldview I held then or my anti-Communist one of a few years later. For Sutton proved that for at least fifty years capitalists had sold their supposed mortal enemies helming the Soviet Union much more than the proverbial rope with which to hang them (thereby fulfilling a prediction apocryphally attributed to Lenin).

Sutton followed the logic of his previous research in another trilogy, written in a more popular vein for less prestigious publishers, but no less rigorously researched. In Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution (hereafter WSBR), Wall Street and F.D.R. and Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, Sutton exposed the direct contribution of certain financial houses located on or near Wall Street to the success of the 20th Century's economically centralizing movements, including the New Deal. Sutton argued persuasively that the major struggle among the Wall Street corporate socialists, and the Marxian socialists, and the National Socialist was over personnel, not over socialism, certainly not over the insight that the royal road to riches is paved with governmentally backed monopolies.

To compress the import of these works almost to the point of distortion: but for the actions of these men, the Bolshevik revolution would have to do without certain leaders and critical infusions of cash, and the Soviet Union it spawned would have collapsed from industrial chaos and famine; America would have been spared F.D.R.'s phony "war on Wall Street" (whose creature and tool he was); and Hitler's electoral platform would have lacked not only a key plank (fear of Bolshevism), but also necessary funds.

After having passed briefly through social democracy and conservatism from the mid-'70s to the early '80s, I settled on libertarianism under the primary influence, literary and personal, of Murray N. Rothbard. The persuasiveness of Man, Economy and State and Power and Market was decisive, but he had also convinced me (and as a former William-F.-Buckleyite I needed convincing) that the Soviet Union had never posed any serious threat to the West: the Soviet economy, hobbled by the calculation problem, was doomed: it was a "basket case" that must in the long run lose any political competition with economies that enjoyed private markets for capital goods. In retrospect, however, I feel that Rothbard could, and should, have gone much further.

Ironically enough, before Murray Rothbard's name meant anything to me, I had seen it in WSBR:

Suppose . . . that American monopoly capitalists were able to reduce a planned socialist Russia to the status of a captive technical colony? Would not this be the logical twentieth-century internationalist extension of the Morgan railroad monopolies and the Rockefeller petroleum trust of the late nineteenth century? Apart from Gabriel Kolko, Murray Rothbard, and the revisionists, historians have not been alert for such a combination of events.
If this did not dovetail with Rothbard's own research program, nothing did.

During the years I read myself into libertarianism, however, although I had not entirely forgotten Sutton's thesis, nothing sustained my awareness of it. Rothbard's personal influence is the best explanation, in my opinion.

As his historical revisionism was inspired by his friend Harry Elmer Barnes, Rothbard's disciples consequently know of Barnes' work. But Rothbard was silent on Sutton; and so also have they been. After more than 27 years of reading Rothbard, I still cannot recall his ever having even cited the work of his fellow laborer in the same vineyards.  (If any reader of this post can, I would be grateful for the citation.)  He certainly never did so where one might have expected him to (e.g., The Case against the Fed or Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy). 

Several passages from the memoirs of Herbert Hoover, courtesy of Sutton's WSBR, are most germane to our topic. In them Hoover recounted the circumstance that motivated certain financial interests, headquartered at 120 Broadway in lower Manhattan (the building which housed the law offices of Sargent Shriver’s law firm, where I happened to work – in the mailroom – when I first read WSBR), to withdraw their support from him and throw it promiscuously behind Roosevelt. "Hoover," Sutton wrote,

recognized the Swope Plan [inspiration for FDR’s National Recovery Act, written by General Electric’s Gerard Swope—anarchristian] as a fascist measure and recorded this in his memoirs, along with the melancholy information that Wall Street gave him a choice of buying the Swope plan—fascist or not—and having their money and influence support the Roosevelt candidacy.
This is how Herbert Hoover described the ultimatum from Wall Street under the heading of 'Fascism comes to business—with dire consequences':
Among the early Roosevelt fascist measures [Hoover wrote.—anarchristian] was the National Industry Recovery Act (NRA) of June 16, 1933. The origins of this scheme are worth repeating. These ideas were first suggested by Gerard Swope (of the General Electric Company) at a meeting of the electrical industry in the winter of 1932. Following this, they were adopted by the United States Chamber of Commerce. During the campaign of 1932, Henry I. Harriman, president of that body, urged that I agree to support these proposals, informing me that Mr. Roosevelt had agreed to do so. I tried to show him that this stuff was pure fascism; that it was merely a remaking of Mussolini's 'corporate state' and refused to agree to any of it. He informed me that in view of my attitude, the business world would support Roosevelt with money and influence. That for the most part, proved true.  
Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression, 1929-1914 (London: 1952), p. 420.
Other words of Hoover's shatter the popular myth, enjoying currency as late as our Age of Obama, which casts Hoover as a head-in-the-sand apostle of laissez faire who lacked the guts to expand the government's role in the economy in order to "save capitalism from itself":

Those who contended that during the period of my administration our economic system was one of laissez faire have little knowledge of the extent of government regulation. The economic philosophy of laissez faire, or "dog eat dog," had died in the United States forty years before, when Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Sherman Anti-Trust Acts [1887 and 1890 respectively.—anarchristian].   
Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Cabinet and the Presidency 1920-1923 (London: 1952), p. 300.
Sutton's comment on Hoover is gratifying for a Rothbardian to read:
Murray Rothbard points out that Herbert Hoover was a prominent supporter of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party and, according to Rothbard, Hoover "challenged in a neo-Marxist manner, the orthodox laissez-faire view that labor is a commodity and that wages are to be governed by laws of supply and demand." As Secretary of Commerce Hoover pushed for government cartelization of business and for trade associations, and his "outstanding" contribution, according to Rothbard, "was to impose socialism on the radio industry," while the courts were working on a reasonable system of private property rights in radio frequencies. Rothbard explains these ventures into socialism on the grounds that Hoover "was . . . the victim of a terribly inadequate grasp of economics." Indeed, Rothbard argues that Herbert Hoover was the real creator of the Roosevelt New Deal.
Rothbard in turn must have known of Sutton, yet he declined to harness the polemical potential of the research of his near-contemporary. One could only imagine the effect of Rothbard's pen in service of the thesis that the Cold War was essentially a sham, a bloody farce for which tens of thousands died in wars and millions of civilians were deceived into supporting repressive policies against their fellows.

As for the disjunction Sutton posed in our opening quotation: it cannot be taken at face value. He knew that the men whose deeds he exposed were hardly lacking in common sense, let alone ability and wisdom. It doesn't take much reflection to see that all three attributes were needed to play at "fighting" the Soviet Union while rescuing it over and over again.

What the Machiavellian plotters of the "Cold War" lacked was a moral center. They had no qualms about selling to an "enemy" the know-how to produce weapons that would one day be used to kill men who were drafted into military service by their own government, just to "keep the game going."

Those who facilitated the technology transfers that materially benefited the Soviet Union were honored in their day as industrialists and statesmen, while myriads of writers, actors, and singers with pro-Soviet opinions would be hysterically reviled as "un-American" and lose their livelihoods.

Those convicted of selling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union were disgraced and executed, but those who had supplied the Soviets with all they needed to become "nuclear-ready" died in bed with their good name intact. They were the real "enemies of the West," because they were the enemies of free markets.

So let us quickly dispel the mystery underlying Sutton's rhetorical alternative. In the minds of diverse captains of industry, "massive armaments expenditures" and "technical transfers" were lucrative enterprises for men without conscience. Through their money and influence, they set the range of permissible policy options in Washington and other Western capitals. There was nothing in the least "illogical" or "unsound" about it.

Those terms better describe the notion that Sutton himself believed that rank irrationality, rather than naked interest, dictated Washington's "save the Soviets" policy for more than a half-century through nine administrations. Sutton's later conjectures on the Order of Skull and Bones, essayed in books that I have not yet studied, suggest otherwise.

Sutton was a self-professed libertarian. He cited Rothbard and Mises frequently and approvingly, and—notwithstanding his employment of a norm of "inefficiency" in his critique of the Soviet economy in a way that would annoy an Austrian—his own economic viewpoint is squarely in the free market camp.

In his 1984 book Survival Is Not Enough: Soviet Realities and America's Future, distinguished Russian history specialist Richard Pipes stated that "Sutton comes to conclusions that are uncomfortable for many businessmen and economists. For this reason his work tends to be either dismissed out of hand as 'extreme' or, more often, simply ignored."

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that libertarians have treated him better.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blanshard and Lonergan on Religion: An Unexpected Complementarity

In Reason and Belief (1974), humanist philosopher Brand Blanshard (1892-1987) wrote:
Religion is an attempt to adjust one's nature as a whole to ultimate reality. In as sense all human life is that. But whereas the larger part of such life consists of an adjustment to what is immediately around us, religion seeks to go behind the appearance of things to what is self-subsistent, to something which, intellectually and causally, will explain everything else. And it must be conceived as a response of man's nature as a whole. . . . If we may take the old trio of cognition, feeling, and emotion, as covering the field of human faculty, we may say that religion employs all these activities at once and hence engages the whole man. On the cognitive side, the religious man is a philosopher ex officio, whether a competent one or not. Since he is trying to adjust himself to the government of the world, he will inevitably feel some interest in knowing the truth about it, and hence be carried on to form some conception of it. This conception, in turn, will evoke toward its object some attitude of reverence, love, indifference, or fear. Again, if he conceives the world to be governed by a personal being who is wise and good, as Christianity does, he will try to bring his practice into line with what he takes to be the divine will. His religion, then, will not be a function of thought or feeling or will; it will be the joint activity of all three; it will be the response of the man as a whole to what he takes as ultimate true and ultimately good. (434-435)
As though anticipating Blanshard, theistic philosopher Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) wrote in Method in Theology (1972):
To deliberate about x is to ask whether x is worth while. To deliberate about deliberating is to ask whether any deliberating is worth while. Has "worth while" any ultimate meaning? Is moral enterprise consonant with this world? . . . . Does there or does there not necessarily exist a transcendent, intelligent ground of the universe? Is that ground or are we the primary instance of moral consciousness? Are cosmogenesis, biological evolution, historical process basically cognate to us as moral beings or are they indifferent and so alien to us? Such is the question of God. It is not a matter of image or feeling, of concept or judgment. They pertain to answers. It is a question. It rises out of our conscious intentionality, out of the a priori structured drive that promotes us from experiencing to the effort to understand, from understanding to the effort to judge truly, from judging to the effort to choose rightly. In the measure that we advert to our own questioning and proceed to question it, there arises the question of God. . . . [H]owever much religious or irreligious answers differ, however much there differ the questions they explicitly raise, still at their root there is the same transcendental tendency of the human spirit that questions, that questions without restriction, that questions the significance of its own questioning, and so comes to the question of God. The question of God, then, lies within man's horizon. Man's transcendental subjectivity is mutilated or abolished, unless he is stretching forth towards the intelligible, the unconditioned, the good of value. The reach, not of his attainment, but of his intending, is unrestricted. There lies within his horizon a region for the divine, a shrine for ultimate holiness. It cannot be ignored. The atheist may pronounce it empty. The agnostic may urge that he finds his investigation has been inconclusive. The contemporary humanist will refuse to allow the question to arise. But their negations presuppose the spark in our clod, our native orientation to the divine. (102-103)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Anarchristianity: A Personal Synthesis of Many Influences

It's more important for me to resist the temptation to put off launching this blog another day than that its first post be memorable.

All right, then, to anticipate an obvious question: I've had the e-mail handle "anarchristian" since 1996. I have less reason than ever to disown it. My personalist theistic metaphysics and the anti-state libertarian ethics (I believe) it entails are encapsulated in this combination of two Greek roots, anarch- and christ-, whose juncture is the letter chi ("X").

It is my conviction that the theoretical dependency runs both ways: in the interest of achieving the deepest possible coherence (not merely logical consistency), a personalist theist ought to be a free-market anarchist and vice versa. The very thought of it will irritate some in both camps. I hope to provide a balm for them in future posts.

Murray Rothbard, among whose friends I was privileged to have been numbered for the last dozen years of his life, was the greatest libertarian theoretician of the 20th century. We must, however, not only continue to mine his work, but also to criticize it when necessary. One neglected area of criticism was his idiosyncratic use of the natural law tradition.

He had his reasons for uncoupling that tradition from the Christian personalist metaphysics that informed the mind of its classic writers, as though it were dispensable window-dressing. I have not, however, seen much interest on the part of Rothbardians in what those reasons were. It is one thing to say that one can rationally demonstrate a proposition without reference to God. It is quite another to be satisfied with a theoretical life that is agnostic about God at its foundations and in its superstructure and consign, however benignly and tolerantly, God-talk to the private sphere.

Rothbard was so satisfied, and that marked him as thoroughly modern. We are, however, living through "the fag-end of the Enlightenment," to employ the late Fr. Francis Canavan's charming phrase, and any theory that hopes to meet the issues of our day must either transcend modernity's dualisms or join the other flickering embers in history's ashtray.

More on this to come.