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Monday, August 14, 2023

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Brother Bill, I think it would be a quadrilemma, with No.4 being a resistance movement, which, I believe, would have a good chance at success.

Here's a radical question -- posed in various forms by, among others, Julius Evola -- for thoughtful defenders of the equalities you mention "(equality of opportunity, equality before the law, treating like cases in a like manner, and such related ideas as due process which are the glory of the Anglo-American legal system)". It's a question that, in the modern West, might seem shocking, but it's a profoundly important question nonetheless, and so I'll ask it anyway:

To what extent are these equalities really a correct foundation for a healthy, organic state, given the "natural hierarchies' that tend always to assert themselves? What axioms must we hold in order to assert this foundational American theorem? Do we indeed still hold them?

I'll add that, looking at the current application of the law to political faction, social engineering, etc., the answer to the second part of the question seems to be "no" -- and in that case, what does that say about the condition of this foundation as a whole?

*Sorry - in my previous comment I should have said "the last part of the question", not "the second".

Malcolm: In answer to your question, I think that we must hold the axiom that God has a plan, that each and every one of us has his unique part to play in it, and that no-one else can do the part assigned to them, and that it is very important and honorable that you do your part, and that we should encourage each other in this, and that life on this earth is a quickly passing thing, and that the rewards in heaven are what is important.

Do we still hold this? Not so much, anymore.

Addendum to what I just posted:

Of course, politicians actively work against the realization of that truth.

Hi Joe,

Yes, the idea that people are not in fact "equal" at all (i.e., they are not interchangeable atoms), is at the core of the traditional, hierarchical idea of an organic, rightly organized society. Each has his different nature and telos, and the idea is that for each to fulfill his proper role in accordance with that nature, in a hierarchy directed to higher influences, is the key to real flourishing.

But the traditional corollary of this view is that each different nature has its own natural "law", and that the idea of a one-size-fits-all law is a Procrustean perversion. And it's immediately obvious to everybody (if they're willing to admit it), that people aren't really "equal" in any tangible way at all.

So how do we square this with the principles of the American Founding? Only, as I understand the Founders' political theory, by taking the position that we all stand in an infinitesimal relation to the Creator -- which obviously in turn requires, at minimum, belief that such a Creator really exists.

How many people in America these days (or in the West more generally) understand all this, and are willing to make that doxastic commitment? Even at the time of the Founding, this radical basis for equality was a daring move. How solid can it really be today? And even if it IS solid, is it really the best way to organize society? Or is the organic, Aristotelian, hierarchical model, with different laws, roles, and duties for different people according to their different natures, better for genuine flourishing?

Given our sacralization of Democracy in the current era, I realize that to ask all this borders on heresy -- but in all honesty, now that we've had a couple of centuries to run our radical experiment, how well is it really working out? Was our well-intentioned attempt to find a moral compromise with the world's "natural hierarchies" doomed to failure?

P.S. I realize, Bill, that this was a bit of a long-winded tangent from your original post, and I hope it didn't violate your comment policy.

Malcolm,

It's a tangent, but a line worth investigating. I know Evola from only one of his books, The Doctrine of Awakening, his deep-going book on Pali Buddhism. Packed with insights. On the rights question, which of Evola's books would you recommend?

>>To what extent are these equalities really a correct foundation for a healthy, organic state, given the "natural hierarchies' that tend always to assert themselves? What axioms must we hold in order to assert this foundational American theorem? Do we indeed still hold them?<<

1) Will you grant that there is a natural right to life, and that this right to life is possessed equally by all human beings, or at least all the citizens of a republic? To keep it simple, let's leave out of consideration pre-natal human beings.

2) Do you understand what I mean by 'natural'?

3) Do you grant that the right to life, like the right to own property, is at least a negative right? I say it is a negative right, not a positive right: I have the right to buy property, but no right to be given property by others.

4) Do you agree that it is morally wrong (and morally ought to be legally wrong) to steal a man's property? Do you agree that if a man stronger than you has the power to kill you and steal your property that his power to do these things does not morally justify his doing these things? Here is where the natural hierarchies come in. One such hierarchy is that of physical prowess. We are obviously not equal in respect of physical prowess.

5) Is it your or Evola's view that Right reduces to Might, that a person's power to do X justifies his doing X. This reduction is arguably an elimination of the concept of Right and rights, an elimination of normative. There are no objectively binding norms of behavior; there is just what is done and what happens. :The world is the Will to Power and nothing besides!" (Nietzsche)

6) You ask about a healthy organic state and whether such a state requires a foundation in equal rights -- assuming that these rights are natural, negative, few in number, and not generated ad libitum to serve particular interests. You speak of health. Nietzsche spoke of die grosse Gesundheit -- which is amoral, beyond good and evil. I gather that this is Evola's drift too, judging by the one book of his that I have read. I take it you are toying with the idea that a state cannot be healthy if its weakens itself with such moralistic notions as that of equal rights.

7) You ask what axioms we must hold. But the propositions that formulate equal rights ARE the axioms, e.g., "Every citizen is equal before the law." "Like cases are to be treated in a like manner." Etc.

What you are really asking about are the metaphysical presuppositions of the axioms. This leads straight to the ultimate three-way fight between naturalists, theists, and creative anti-realists.

8) You ask whether we still hold the "axioms," i.e. the metaphysical assumptions that underpin them. The answer in the USA is: about half of us citizens do. And this, I think, is the ultimate root of the battle for the soul of America.

Thanks, Bill. The questions and assertions you have given here are substantial, and I want to take a little time for a careful response; I may want to address them individually in a separate post.

I will say this: it seems to me that in the absence of a transcendent foundation, it's hard to see how natural rights, or moral truths, can be said to have any existence beyond convention, however strong our intuitions may be that they are real (my own intuition, I'll add, assures me that they are).

The assertion of these rights in the Declaration of Independence, which is the bedrock of the political philosophy of the American founding, explicitly invoked this support, and despite valiant efforts to make the idea of natural rights stand on its own without a supernatural underpinning (see for example, Thomas G. West's attempt, here) I remain unconvinced that it can be done. (As the noted Nietzschean philosopher Mike Tyson once put it, "everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth".) I worry that secular modernism cuts these principles off at their root, and that this is having a fatal effect on the American experiment.

I want to consider also that, given our obvious inequalities in talents, capacities, and potential, it may be possible, as Evola suggests, that a rigidly uniform system of law might in fact be a less moral and wholesome order, and less in harmony with the Creator's design, than a system in which "natural rights" are understood as being reflections of the particular nature of each person, and vary accordingly; that each of us has a form of natural right that accords uniquely with our particular telos, and that is suited for the maximization of our individual expression and flourishing, with each individual realizing his fullest purpose and dignity in finding his natural place in the general, hierarchical order. (This is, I think, Evola's view, but it should be clear that it also depends on a transcendent metaphysics, and that it is very far from mere "might makes right".)

P.S.

"2) Do you understand what I mean by 'natural'?"

I understand you to mean "inhering in us by nature, and therefore inalienable".

This is the nub of the question Evola raises: if our nature varies from person to person, as it seems to, might this not mean, then, that our natural rights, and the law we each should obey, will also vary accordingly?

As I understand the idea of natural rights as adopted by the Founders, it is "flattened" by our common tininess in comparison with the infinitude of God; compared to God's absolute majesty, the scale of the human hierarchy becomes vanishingly small -- and so, as infinitesimals, we become, despite our (glaringly obvious) differences, effectively equal.

Evola's view, however (and, in general, the pre-18th-century view, always and everywhere), scales the natural human hierarchy back into view, and regards it as being just as important, or even more so, than the simple, two-tiered hierarchy above. By zooming in in this way, another hierarchy rises from the plain, and it is in this fractal sub-hierarchy that we actually must live. A subtler and more nuanced understanding of this organic order, therefore, gives us our best chance of achieving our highest potential -- both as individuals and, one level up, as a State.

Do I buy into all this? I'm not sure. But it is a coherent model, and it avoids the obvious problems with the crude flattening of the human hierarchy, the most obvious of which is that a doctrine of radical equality tends, as we can see before our eyes, to drive everything to the lowest common level.

Just as an example: as you've said, Bill, the natural right to life implies a right to self-defense, which in turn implies the right to possess the means of self-defense, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms.

But is that right absolute? Does the right to pack heat apply in equal measure to a mature, sober individual with good judgment, and to an imbecile with the mind of a child, low impulse control, uncontrollable appetites, and a vicious temper?

Likewise, liberty means something very different -- both for the individual and for society -- when granted to these two widely differing types. (The same applies, I should think, to other rights as well, such as the right to vote.) Should a just system of law reflect all of this?

>>"2) Do you understand what I mean by 'natural'?"
I understand you to mean "inhering in us by nature, and therefore inalienable".

This is the nub of the question Evola raises: if our nature varies from person to person, as it seems to, might this not mean, then, that our natural rights, and the law we each should obey, will also vary accordingly?<<

But how could Evola or anyone think that our nature varies from person to person? If there is such a thing as human nature, it is invariant across all individual humans. This is because the nature of a thing is essential to it. Essential as opposed to accidental. An essential property is one without which a thing cannot exist. An accidental property is one without which a thing can exist. For example, all men are by nature mortal. It would make no sense to say or rather it would be false to say that some men are mortal and some are not. It would also be false to say, of a particular man, that he is mortal but might not have been, or that he is mortal today but won't be tomorrow.

If a man is mortal, he is mortal in every possible world in which he exists and at every time in every world in which he exists.

Of course, some men live longer than others. But this is irrelevant to the question whether man is by nature mortal.

Cats by nature cool themselves by panting, not by sweating. With us it is the other way around. Men by nature have the capacity to reason. This is the case despite the fact that some exercise the capacity and some don't, and that some who do exercise the capacity do it better than others.

You need to explain the above comment. I am not following you at all. Maybe you can pull some quotations fom Evola.

I don't think our fundamental nature varies, only our outward abilities vary; and then why should laws be different ? It is corrosive when laws are different.

And democracy, because it unleashes lying politicians, is no good system for getting at the Truth. Democracy degenerates, we see that now in the USA.

Winston Churchill, in his book "The Gathering Storm," calls the French on the carpet for their ceaseless swirl of politics, which, while amusing to themselves, left them woefully disunited, and vulnerable to Hitler's onslaught.

Britain, unprepared as she was, at least had a constitutional monarch, and so was more united than the French.

Democracy is also a thinly veiled system of might makes right; arrive at 51%, and dictate to everyone else. In unredeemed human nature, and in the animal world, such is "natural."

I am persuaded that without supernatural underpinnings, the laws, and the governments, and the actions of men, produce only tragedies.

Malcolm,

When you ask whether rights are absolute, I take you to be asking whether all rights are such that under no conceivable circumstances would it be morally acceptable to violate or suspend them. If that is what you asking, then not even the right to life is absolute. One example is self-defense against a deadly threat. If you attack me with deadly force, then I am morally justified in defending myself even if my defense issues in your death, and is expected by me to so issue. (The doctrine of double effect could be discussed here.) Have I violated your right to life, or have you forfeited your right to life by attacking me? If the latter, the right would not be inalienable.

Other possible examples: capital punishment, just war, aborting a fetus the carrying of which to term would endanger the mother's life, and suicide.

Maybe what you are thinking is this: whether or not a person has a right (to keep and bear arms, say)_often will depend on facts about the person, facts that vary or can vary from person to person. But it doesn't follow that human nature varies from person to person. But of course it depends on what exactly you mean by 'nature.'

I think, in the context of this thread, it is appropriate to post the poem "Recessional" by Rudyerd Kipling, to show how governance should be done, and that the upper classes need a reminder that God calls us all to account. Enjoy the poem. It bites deep. Here it is:

Recessional
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
1897

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Bill,

I can of course go and hunt up some quotes, as you ask (and I'll be glad to do so), but I think one can reasonably disagree with the stipulation that what we are "by nature" refers only to what is common to all humans; on my reading of Evola, I think he'd say this is far too narrow (and far too low). As mere humans, we share essential properties that broadly define our category, but we have a far more subtly individuated nature as persons -- the same "natural hierarchy" you mention in your original post -- that is no less important for the ordering of our affairs. Evola makes clear this distinction between human beings considered as "persons", with all of these distinctive natural variations, and "individuals", a word that in his view describes undifferentiated atoms of the great human mass that merely instantiate the "base-class" properties constituting a minimal definition of "human nature".

We speak, for example, of a "good-natured" person, or we might say that it is not "in my nature" to do something or other. You, clearly, are philosophical "by nature"; others obviously aren't. We vary, by nature in a thousand ways, and in the "Traditional" view espoused by Evola, the mere, binary differentiations between human and not-human, or between humans and God, are far too coarse to correctly order a healthy, organic hierarchy.

The great principle of the Founding is that no man has "by nature" the right to rule; Evola, on the other hand, would argue that there are qualitative gradations in the nature of men, including as regards their fitness to lead, and that a rightly ordered State should acknowledge this. (Jefferson himself acknowledges this principle in an 1813 letter to Adams in which he speaks of "a natural aristocracy among men.") This is not to say that there isn't a baseline, a minimal principle of rights that inhere in all men simply in virtue of our common humanity, but rather that above this floor, it is best for all that every person should occupy the role that is properly fitted to his nature, and that the law, in turn, should accommodate this variety. Is it not fair at least to ask whether society is best served by granting the same degree of liberty to those who govern themselves wisely, and orient themselves toward higher ends, and to those who cannot, and whom such license will destroy?

(As an aside, at this point, I want to be clear that I am not staking out a position of my own here; I'm only presenting this model for consideration and debate.)

With regard to "absolute" rights, what I meant is different from the way you characterize it above; perhaps, instead, I might better have said "universal", or "inherent by default". I certainly agree that I can, by my actions, abrogate my claim on certain rights, as in the example you give.

I was wondering, rather, whether the strength of our claim on various rights might vary not only according to our actions, but also according to the various qualities of our nature, which are not universally distributed.

You wrote that "facts ... can vary from person to person. But it doesn't follow that human nature varies from person to person."

But wouldn't you agree that some of the varying "facts" in question are indeed facts about differences in our nature? I asked whether we should really believe that the right to bear deadly arms should inhere equally in those who are by their nature wise, just, and self-governing, as opposed to those who are (also by nature) stupid, resentful, pugnacious, and impulsive. Mightn't one reasonably argue that we shouldn't?

You raise a sharp question:

Have I violated your right to life, or have you forfeited your right to life by attacking me? If the latter, the right would not be inalienable.

I'd say the latter (wouldn't you?), and so that does cast a shadow on the idea of the right to life as "inalienable", despite what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration.

Thanks for that, Joe. Kipling always has a sobering and bracing effect.

One last comment about Evola, if I may: if I could sum up his view in just a few words, I'd say that what he considers of highest importance are hierarchy and differentiation, as opposed to commonality and generalization. He stands in the firmest opposition to the tendency that pulls toward the feminization and "mass-ness" of humanity: what some now are calling "the longhouse", "yeast-life", or the "Bug-man". He stands, in his words, for the "Uranian" over the "Tellurian", and against the downward pull of the animal and the material.

I'll confess that it can be an attractive view.

"Lesser breeds without the law..."

Could you say that in public today? Not without consequences !

It is true, though.

How far we've fallen. And we will pay a price: abandon the law and join the lesser breeds.

Joe Odegaard,
"How far we've fallen. And we will pay a price: abandon the law and join the lesser breeds." And Noble Savage will rule the day as a savage, his 'nobility' is only assigned to him by the modern Leninist types who run our culture and politics for now. One could be 'indicted' for writing this in a newspaper opinion page.

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