Monday, August 12, 2013

More Conservative Thinking

Today is the second post linking to some favorite articles available at The Imaginative Conservative, an online place with some deeply philosophical discussions about conservatism. Friday’s post represented some of the writings of Russell Kirk, who influenced the creators of this site. Today I’m highlighting a few pieces I’ve had fun reading lately. (Yes, I already know that I define “fun” and “light summer reading” in my own unusual way.) I hope you will enjoy them too. 

What Is This Think Called Justice? by Bruce Frohnen.    Much of this piece skewers John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, written 40 years ago or more, including his “life is like cake” analogy. (I was not aware of this before reading the article, so no prerequisites required.)  I highlighted a number of quotable parts of this, so that it started looking more highlighted than not. In essence, law is the morality of the people codified; if you can’t legislate even basic morality, you can’t have law. Here are just a couple of favorite paragraphs:
Philosophy—the love of wisdom—for well over a century has meant the “rational” study of basic questions about how we know things.  Not that those questions are unimportant, but they have been reduced to the “analytic” study of the definitions of particular words.  So the “philosophy” of law has become little more than the “unpacking” of the meanings of particular words (like “law”) related to, well, law. 
The problem with jurisprudence comes from its very origins, and so seems insoluble.  Those origins lay in the desire among lawyers to lay claim to a “science” all their own.  That is, legal academics have wanted to claim that law, like any other social institution, is “worthy” of being studied as a thing in itself, like politics or economics.  And in a sense these lawyers are right, for the law is like politics and economics in that the attempt to study it in isolation results in a fundamentally skewed understanding of law (or politics, or economics).  For all of these aspects of public life are rooted in and aim at the human good.  And, as in politics and economics, the modern, “rational” trend is to ignore this existential fact, leaving the nature of that good and its importance in determining the proper shape and limits of law undefined and unexamined, but still present as largely unexamined assumptions. 

Aristotle and Plato
image found here
The Road to Same-Sex Marriage Was Paved by Rousseau, by Robert R. Reilly.   I read this in late July, when I was writing about the Supreme Court, with just a little about the Windsor ruling (July 15, 17, and 19).  I have written in the past about Ultimate Good, ( also here) and the philosophy of that world view. And I’ve written pretty extensively about the need to protect and reaffirm marriage and family. (See my Defense of Marriage collection.)  But I was pleased with how well this piece connects the dots between the basic underlying philosophy needed to protect marriage. It’s not so much a discussion of same-sex “marriage” as it is a lesson in philosophy of the diametrically opposed sides. I like how this compares and contrasts. (It’s the kind of essay students would do well to read and examine the structure before writing their assigned compare/contrast essay.) I’ve struggled to pull out quotes from this one, because it is a good, cohesive whole. Nevertheless, here’s a sampling:
Aristotle taught that the essence or nature of a thing is what makes it what it is, and why it is not something else. This is not a tautology. As an acorn develops into an oak tree, there is no point along its trajectory of growth that it will turn into a giraffe or something other than an oak. That is because it has the nature of an oak tree. By natural law, in terms of living things, we mean the principle of development which makes it what it is and, given the proper conditions, what it will become when it fulfills itself or reaches its end. For Aristotle, “Nature ever seeks an end.” This end state is its telos, its purpose or the reason for which it is. In non-human creation this design is manifested through either instinct or physical law. Every living thing has a telos toward which it purposefully moves. In plants or animals, this involves no self-conscious volition. In man, it does.

     Anything that operates contrary to this principle in a thing is unnatural to it. By unnatural, we mean something that works against what a thing would become were it to operate according to its principle of development. For instance, an acorn will grow into an oak unless its roots are poisoned by highly acidic water. One would say that the acidic water is unnatural to the oak or against its “goodness.”
Contra Aristotle, Rousseau asserted that man by nature was not a social, political animal endowed with reason. Unlike Aristotle, Rousseau does not begin with the family, but with an isolated individual in the state of nature, where the pure “sentiment of his own existence” was such that “one suffices to oneself, like God.” Nature becomes a secular substitute for the Garden of Eden. Yet this self-satisfied god was asocial, amoral and pre-rational. His couplings with women were random and formed no lasting attachment. The family was not natural to him. 

The Question of Purpose, by Stratford Caldecott.   This one, again, requires a shift of brain to philosophical thinking. Much of it is about the state of education. He concludes with this uncomfortable summary:
Our modern curriculum is fragmented or shattered into a thousand glittering shards. The secret of their unity lies in the Logos that is the principle of unity both for the world and for the human person – for the breaking of the curriculum reflects the brokenness of the person who is the very subject of education itself. 

Homesick in the Cosmos, by C. R. Wiley.  Cosmos, he reminds us, means order. The post-modern creation story takes God (a designer) out of the picture and insists that everything is random:
We are told that if we just look at things dispassionately we will see that the universe is not designed.  Instead we will see that we, along with everything else, are the flotsam and jetsam of a tremendous explosion.  The order we perceive, if that is the right word for it, is just a loss of momentum and a balancing of forces following that explosion.
He makes the point that this atheistic belief in random chaos is a religious belief, and it’s harder to believe than any other culture’s creation story, since it belies the order we see around us. Making the universe from whole cloth, as if making a machine, without feelings or morals, is a harmful, dehumanizing belief.
Explaining the title, he says this:
Once upon a time people lived in households.  They built them, husbanded the resources sheltered in them, and dwelled in them.  (The word “husband” means “house-bound.”)  Today we are houseless—oh, we have places where we sleep and recreate when we have the time—but we no longer live in houses. This is one reason we no longer feel at home is the cosmos—our homes no longer function as households.  The reverse is also the case, one reason we no longer think of our homes the way people once did is because we no longer think of the cosmos as a household.  The notion that the cosmos could be a household seems absurd to modern people.  This, I am convinced, is one reason why our lives seem absurd.    

All of these pieces take some brain exercise. But it is with exercise that we build strength. Worth reading.


No comments:

Post a Comment