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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

What We Have Learned

by Tony M.

The 18 month period since COVID became a world-wide scourge has, for good or ill, taught us a few things that we might not have realized so well before. This is an attempt to run through a few of them.

1. Don’t Trust the Scientists.

(A) Science is important, and it represents one of the most critical fields of human understanding and endeavor. When science is done well, it results in enormous benefits to the human race.

But scientists are not “science”. They are human beings, and like humans everywhere, they have an extremely wide range of motivations and of skill. Many scientists are fantastic in their chosen field, but not so great out of it. Some scientists are only mediocre. Some scientists are trustworthy in conveying the results of their expertise, but some are not. And some are trustworthy in some matters, but not in all. Just because someone is a scientist does not mean their statements are trustworthy.

What I have noticed particularly in these months is that some really good scientists are no better than so-so at recognizing and expressing the limits of their own expertise, and are wont to express ideas at the edges of – or outside – those limits as if they were “science” when they are really opinions about the ramifications of the science they DO have, projected into the realm of possible but not necessary downstream thinking that can be built on science and theory, science and hypothesis, science and myth, science and religion (which includes secularism, the most common religion of scientists), science and politics, etc. Importantly, a great many scientists, because they are trained specialists who spend a great deal of time in a narrow focus, are highly UNTRAINED in considering the metaphysical and philosophical underpinnings of general science, as well as the ethical underpinnings of sound politics, and therefore make large mistakes when they attempt to interact with those underpinnings or other fields of endeavor. Politics is not science and is not amenable to the same rigorous modeling.

(B) While it is extremely valuable to have the science to help us, we must never forget that the term “science” does not describe a concrete, existing entity that we happen to LOCATE sometimes. It is a process that involves, inevitably, steps backward as well as steps forward; theories that get overturned by new experience; mistaken expression (by scientists) and mistaken description (by journalists and popularizers); and sometimes outright fraud by criminal scientists. A famous opening address to med students said: “50% of what we teach you over the next five years will be wrong, or inaccurate. Sadly, we don’t know which 50%” We are sometimes in a state of relative rest with respect to specific, narrow conclusions that are well tested and well understood, but we are always scientifically in a state of unrest and movement with respect to a great many other results that need further work, either to confirm (experimentally, something the soft sciences have had major headaches doing), or to understand properly (i.e. get a theory that coordinates new results with old material). And scientists are not always reliable in telling us which is which, they often lose sight, in the hurly-burly of the process, that onlookers might think “scientist S said ‘X’ means that X is true science” – which isn’t the case. Which means we cannot simply rely on scientists, unquestioningly. The rule, then, might be stated: Question the Scientists.

The other side of the coin is on us: don’t expect immediate answers to all questions. Give them space to say “we don’t know, we are working on it.” Learn to live with that. “Don’t know” isn’t code for “If you ask the same question in a different way, THEN we will have an answer you will like.” Stop thinking “Science” has all the answers: Science is a young child and is still learning, and isn’t even being trained to answer some things.

2. Without Vigilance, Government Powers Only Grow.

There is born in the heart of every intermediate and high official in every system a tendency to believe that “I know better than the hoi polloi what is good for them.” In many, many details, this is actually TRUE, which is precisely why that official has the authority to act on behalf of society: he is acting because many, many details need the guiding hand of a single policy, and someone must decide those details. Whether the details are those of speed limit standards that go into deciding whether some roads get set to 45 mph or 55 mph, or whether the upper boundary for a “safe” amount of a contaminant in drinking water is to be set at 5 PPM or 20 PPM, officials make the calls and (normally, at least) they do so on the basis of information and learning that is more skilled or more detailed than that of the broad level of “the people”.

But the tendency to believe this “I know better” has no limits inside itself. There is nothing within the knowledge of chemistry that tells an official when he should STOP applying his knowledge to regulate the behavior of others. Chemistry doesn’t have that limit. Instead it must come from some other source. And generally, that source is either philosophical, political (i.e. a political viewpoint) or religious (including humility), or a combination of them.

And here is one half of the problem: both of our major parties are prone to the temptation to expand rules voraciously, but one party has it naturally and by its genetic code, the Dems. For the Dems it is either formally part of their world view (for the progressives and marxists) or informally so (for nearly all others) that in the long run humans can be made to be right by the right programme of rules. Republicans fall prey to the temptation often as well, but the disproportionate tendencies can be seen statistically, in the degrees of invasive government behavior by state governments across the US (sample size, 50). The more invasive ones are those in the control of Democrats.

The other half of the problem is that crises (of any kind) increase the opportunity of government to seize more control of daily life. The pandemic was one such crisis. And many governors seized the day to take over new areas of human choice, using the pandemic as mere pretext for furthering other purposes: Banning church services on standards not applied to other physically similar activities, merely because officials aren’t religious and think of religion as fundamentally non-essential, was one such.

In general, governments are, at one and the same time, UNAVOIDABLY involved in making decisions that affect people in the concrete conditions of being able to arrange (relatively) satisfying lifestyle patterns, and UNABLE to make all choices for everyone as to what specific pathways will be the ones that satisfy them in particular, as it has not the competence or jurisdiction. The government cannot tell me what career will be most satisfying to me, or which person I should take as spouse to make me happy. There are infinitely many decisions of this sort the government cannot decide, and has no business deciding. The solution, of course, is for government to
1. make general policy determinations conformed with the common good which is general to all men;
2. make more fine-tuned determinations that are (as much as possible) neutral between lesser goods that are morally equal and morally tenable for its people; and
3. to maintain a stable system in which people can successfully make their own arrangements to satisfy their own peculiar, individual needs and goals – i.e. obtain / produce private goods - without generally expecting government to furnish these in detail.

That is, built in to the meaning of good government is a certain degree of stability of the system and broad patterns so that people can make rational long-term choices to fine-tune within the broad patterns. And government making interim “for the crisis” decisions that take over otherwise normally individual choices, and then KEEP ON controlling those decisions after the crisis has been met, is clearly contrary to that meaning of “good government”. Like the Michigan governor assuming she can just choose to keep extending the emergency as long as she wants.

Given the universal temptation on officials to make rules because they “know better”, vigilance is required even more than usual during crises, to make sure they do not bite off more than we can swallow.

3. The Law of Unintended Consequences is Hard to Dodge

This one might also be titled “So, you think you know what you’re doing, do you? Let me show you otherwise.”

When you change existing rules that affect large swathes of ordinary individual decisions in what are normally free and personally independent areas of choice, you necessarily damage a whole layer of the fabric of civic life. This necessarily leads to whole boatloads of downstream choices and follow-on effects – among which are included all those choices made by (relatively) rational people trying to UNDO the immediate negative effects on them of these new restrictions. In some sense, this is almost the same as (or at least significantly overlaps with) people merely DEFYING the new rule, but in a lot of cases it represents people trying to figure out (new) ways of obeying the letter of the law without allowing that law to have the simple, first-order negative impacts it otherwise would. But that they will react this way is a predictable outcome of making such a new rule. Hence rule-skirting and otherwise adjusting should have been factored into the analysis of how well the new rule would achieve its purpose. And yet it rarely was. And the fact THAT many others will try an infinite variety of make-shift attempts to fill in this new gap in life while following even the spirit of that new law – an infinite variety that can be guessed at but NOT easily predicted in detail: the much-ballyhooed diversity of people and minds essentially GUARANTEED that it would be extremely difficult to model out the ways in which people would react to sweeping new constraints on normal activities, and the ways these reactions would interfere with both normal governmental goals and with the specific crisis-generated goals. The whole point of custom is that it formulates the “the normal”, it smooths off rough edges, it forms patterns which can be predicted, and upsetting those (large, socially pervasive) norms is NOT readily predictable in downstream effects.

This should provide a very strong motivation to not make changes beyond those that are absolutely necessary, so as to mitigate the range of new unpredictable effects. But that’s not what actually happened. In plenty of places, officials were quite willing to initiate all sorts of changes more or less on the off-chance that they might do some good in mitigating the COVID dangers. I saw this as early as mid-March 2020: state governments were clearly operating as if nobody had EVER tried to “war-game” a crisis like this to see “hmm, what kinds of new problems pop out of the woodwork if we go with option A…” This failure to have ever been trained in the difficulties of multi-dimensional crisis management was manifest. They had no clue what secondary and tertiary effects were going to appear. One of the good things such training would have instilled (if it was any good, at least) is a bit of humility about what we can control or even anticipate by making large-scale changes to complex systems. Humility was in short supply.

4. Don’t Think of Risk as On / Off

In complex matters, there is no such thing as “the risk-free option”. All paths involve risk, the problem is balancing risks appropriately. Yes, you can guarantee, by Method 1, that no further people will get COVID. Unfortunately, Method 1 involves everyone staying within their home every moment of the day for the next 72 days, and they all die. The nuclear option. Oops.

In the IT department at my work, they have this ever-present worry of allowing internal data being compromised by hackers. But they finally also accepted a worry of making it so difficult to access internal data that even internal users cannot do their work. They have had to adapt to a mindset of accepting a certain degree of risk of undesirable access in order to allow work to be done. Their charge, now, is not simply “make it impossible for hackers to get in” but to minimize risk of hackers compromising data to the extent as is compatible with productivity,” which is a balancing act that constantly fluctuates in the particulars.

Governors and their health officials allowed themselves to fall into a mentality that looked at risk from COVID, and especially risk of death from COVID as the one risk issue driving decision-making. But risk from one thing accompanies risk from cascade effects of that one thing, and risk from actions taken, and cascade effects from THOSE as well, AND risk from omission and inaction on OTHER things. Shutting down “non-essential” medical care (including personnel that would never have been used to handle COVID care even if the numbers had sky-rocketed, such as dental hygienists) means that all sorts of ordinary medical care was deferred – in many cases for over 6 months, some even longer. This is no great burden to many people in most of their medical needs, but some people died from this deferral. There is always a small but real percentage of people whose life-threatening condition first shows up in routine screenings, my own father was one. Then there are all the people who committed suicide in part due to the isolation of COVID restrictive measures. And all the mental health problems that careened out of control for the last 18 months. Not to mention all the harmful effects of putting people out of work who depended on work not just for INCOME (that pesky little unimportant feature of life), but for personal satisfaction, validation, and emotional well-being. And … 10,000 other risks that were not considered.

The point is that many officials were far, far over-focused on just ONE ASPECT of risks, and ignored lots of other risks that were also vitally important. And they were under-reflective of counter-risks, i.e. new risks that arise due to acting in specific ways on the risks you have considered. Lack of experience and training for how to handle the temptation toward the tunnel vision of hyper-focus on just one problem or risk showed itself all over the place.

5. The First Thing To Do Is: Kill All the Media

The level of damaged info produced by the media in the last 18 months has so greatly exceeded the level of sound information that one begins to wonder whether we should retract the First Amendment protection of the press, (not of individuals in their own name), and maybe even reverse it. I have effectively stopped even trying to get information from news outlets, it’s so bad. It’s difficult enough trying to get information from the actual root sources themselves, but I can no longer count the number of times a reported “fact”, when I researched its bona fides, turned out to be either (a) flat wrong, or (b) so degraded in validity as to amount to nothing better than propaganda.

I don’t actually have a real solution here, since I don’t think we can or should kill all the media people. Ignoring the media and going to root sources is a stop-gap measure, since nobody can spend enough hours in the day looking up for themselves ALL of the information they need in root sources that are reliable. We need middle-men to mediate that delivery, but the media has proven itself incapable of doing it. Is this a temporary thing, or has the gangrene become so systemic that the only solution is to kill it off and start over from scratch?

Comments (40)

Hi Tony,

I was rather shocked by some of the sentiments you voiced in your latest post. Allow me to share my perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic from Japan, where I have lived for the past 20 years.

I'd like to begin by articulating a general principle, based on my observations of the way the world works: a country gets the government it deserves. Applied to America, where people tend to have an adversarial mindset and where most people belong to one of two political camps, which are constantly at loggerheads with one another, one can predict that the government will struggle to get anything done, and that any government initiative (whether good, bad or indifferent) will be stoutly resisted by about half the population, making a national consensus impossible. Thus it is hardly surprising that the U.S. is torn down the middle on issues such as mask-wearing, going back to school and mandatory vaccine shots. Nor is it surprising that conspiracy theories abound on social media, or that 666,000 people have died so far of COVID-19.

In Japan, by contrast, the number of COVID-19 deaths to date stands at a little over 16,000, in a country with roughly 10 times America's population density and 38% of its population. The current 7-day average for the number of daily COVID-19 deaths in Japan is 57, compared to 1,215 for the U.S. It's fair to ask: why are the two countries so different? There are several reasons, which I'll list below.

1. In Japan, people value consensus in decision-making. In a meeting, people typically talk matters through until they come to some sort of agreement. Agreement usually means about 80% of people endorsing a proposed course of action. A mere 51% majority would be seen as too divisive.

2. Japanese (like Australians and New Zealanders) have a healthy respect for science. There's no debate over here regarding whether masks work in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our supercomputer Fugaku, the world's fastest supercomputer, says yes, they do: cotton, polyester and nonwoven masks stop at least 80% of spray. So on the trains, mask compliance is at least 99%. (A few selfish people remove their masks while drinking on the train, but the vast majority comply with the rules.) In schools and offices, everyone wears masks. It goes without saying. Likewise, with respect to getting vaccinated, there are some people who are reluctant to get vaccinated because the vaccines are relatively new, but there's no organized movement to speak of. Most people are getting vaccinated. Although Japan was a late starter, 47% of people have already been fully vaccinated, compared to 52% in the U.S.

3. A "hygiene culture." Japan has had epidemics in the past, and has learned the hard way that masking up is the best way to cope when these hazards strike. And of course, disinfectants are ubiquitous, and people tend to avoid mass gatherings. (Sadly, a few people in their twenties flout the rules, but they are the exception.)

4. People are skinnier. At 65 kg and 180 cm, I fit right in. The obesity rate in Japan is about 4%; in the U.S., it's over 40%. Obesity is a significant risk factor for complications arising from COVID-19. In Japan, every convenience store sells healthy, nutritious meals costing no more than $4; there are no "food deserts" where veggies are scarce.

5. Government is gentler and people are more co-operative. Cops over here are pretty easygoing: they won't usually pull you over for jaywalking, for instance. Rules are not rigidly enforced; police tend to use their discretion, charging only the most egregious offenders. At the same time, people have a genuine liking for the police, who are seen as being on the side of the public. In Japan, the government doesn't like to issue prohibitions, opting instead for recommendations. (People still remember the abuses of fascism. Even now, on the trains, drinking alcohol is still legal, although generally frowned upon.) Nobody forces kids to get vaccinated, and if you walk around without a mask, you may get frowned at, but you won't get yelled at, and you certainly won't get charged. At the same time, people tend to be more public-spirited in Japan, and they are happy to comply with government directives, even when they're merely recommendations.

Regarding the limitations of science, which you mentioned in your post, Tony: yes, it is extremely annoying when scientists do U-turns and say, "Sorry, scrub that; we were wrong." But science offers us the most reliable epistemology for finding out about the new coronavirus and how to tackle it. Fallibility can be a good thing, when combined with a willingness to readily admit one's mistakes and move on. To those who reject being led by the current scientific evidence, I say: "What's your better alternative?"

Finally, regarding the media, I wouldn't trust most American news sources, as they tend to be polarized along party-political lines, but I do trust the BBC, which has a policy of reporting both sides of an issue and at least trying to be fair. BBC reports are refreshingly free of polemic and snark.

Anyway, that's my two cents, for what it's worth. Cheers.

Vincent, thanks for those observations. I had noticed early on - last year - that Japan was doing far better than the US (or the rest of the world, for that matter), and I wondered why. Do you have any data on the rate of international travel and how that affected the overall transmission?

Let me start from the bottom of your list and work upwards: #5. "Government is gentler and people are more cooperative." My initial draft of the post included a final point - which I deleted - about that: Not all government action needs to be mandatory. You can have "rules" that are softer than definitive mandates. You can do things like this: set out a series of best-to-least-good options, and advise people on the risk-benefit ratios involved. You can create incentives for some things. Etc. Coupled with a population which values cooperation rather than adversarial positions, that would work for a LOT of stuff. But I deleted it precisely because I felt just what you pointed out, Vincent: in the US there is far too much oppositional, factional feeling for such measures to work WELL. More is the pity - we really should not be adversarial to our OWN GOVERNMENT. It is, after all, the social agency working for the common good.

4. I agree that in this case, Japan with its lack of obesity, is far better off than the US (and a few other places). Good for the Japanese, and we should be taking notes. However, it is not impossible that the next virus that comes along is harder on the thin than on the fat. While it is not strictly speaking pure chance that the thin are better off with this specific virus, there is still an element of chance. The Japanese can rightly be proud of having better health through better diet and exercise, but there are limits to that.


3. A hygiene culture: Vincent, our scientists and doctors are already noticing but not yet QUANTIFYING how psychologically deleterious the impact of long school days of mask-wearing is to youngsters. (And physiologically, as well.) Perhaps Japan, with its different historical setting and social dynamics, gets off easier than the US and other western countries do, on this problem. I don't know. Whatever the case, having myself gone along with making mass gatherings scarce, I recognize the VALUE of a willingness to curtail gatherings, but I also recognize that doing so necessarily involves costs as well. Social and psychological, and spiritual. I don't think that the existence of these costs makes it out-of-bounds for a government to speak to this issue, but I do worry about a government making such decisions WITHOUT EVEN RECOGNIZING the possibility of such trade-offs. How could they be making GOOD trade-offs when they aren't even aware of the costs? Unfortunately, in the US all too many decision-makers were too focused on the evils of COVID to even pay attention to anything else. Here's a simple example: a rule is made, no "visitors" allowed to see COVID patients in the hospital. The hospital tells the priest there to administer last rites: nope - "no visitors" means NO VISITORS." There was not even an ATTEMPT to recognize that spiritual care was one part of care for the patient: doctors and nurses were able to "visit" the patient by taking appropriate cautions, but no, they could not think of the priest as being someone who could, like doctors and nurses, don "battle armor" (mask, face shield, gloves, gown) and care for the patient who was dying.

2. Respect for science: As I indicated in my post, science does a tremendous amount of good for us, ESPECIALLY in terms of medicine and health care. Perhaps in our politically divisive culture, science activity too has been damaged more so than in places like Japan, but even in Japan it remains true that scientists are not SCIENCE. They are people: they have differing levels of skill within their science, and differing motivations. What I have noticed especially is that scientists are not by and large much better than other intelligent people (e.g. successful businessmen, sound policy makers, etc) at going from "the science" to adjacent arenas like politics. For example, science may say "masks reduce water droplet spray by 80%. But "science" is unable to say how low in age the required mask-wearing should go, because there are other factors than just the physical aspects of the masks. Here's another: the science may say the vaccine is effective at reducing infection and re-transmission among those vaccinated. (Though each vaccine has its own rate of effectiveness.) But what science was (early on) not yet able to say is what the rate of adverse reactions would be among the kinds of people who WERE NOT part of the initial study groups - e.g. young children. Here is a quote I found, from a 2002 study on smallpox vaccines and the idea of doing mass-vaccines on "everybody":

The federal government has indicated that voluntary vaccination of the general public may be approved after health care workers and first responders have been vaccinated. Increasing the number of vaccinated persons will inevitably lead to increases in morbidity and mortality due to vaccinia, and current evidence suggests net harm would result if smallpox vaccine were made available to the general public on a voluntary basis.32 Such a policy would pose a risk to both the vaccinees and their close contacts (who presumably have not consented to vaccinia exposure) with little or no benefit under many attack scenarios.

The point is not the specific analysis applicable to that smallpox vaccine, (whose mortality and morbidity rates were low but different from those of the COVID vaccines), but the general point: there are more factors involved in saying "hey, everyone should get the vaccine" after deciding (a) the vaccine is effective, and (b) the vaccine is safe enough to make available to the more at-risk elements of the population. And ultimately, "net harm" determinations cannot avoid determinations of trying to balance a number of DEATHS against a number of OTHER results (e.g. blood, nerve, or lung disorders (of varying duration), maybe paralysis, etc. Which is not, per se, a determination of "science".

1. I wish the US were not so oppositional. I fear the country cannot long last if people cannot recover a sense of the common good that everyone more or less sees in similar terms. I worry that the political/cultural illness we have is terminal.

The idea that having people wear a cloth mask over their faces all day long while sweating, breathing, etc., is part of a "hygiene culture" would have been laughed out of court just a few years ago...In fact, I'm constantly struck by how unhygienic and even anti-hygienic it really is.

The idea that the current dystopianism and police state circumstances in Australia, with people internally displaced due to closed borders, not permitted to leave the country, and in some places allowed out of the house only for an hour to exercise, represent a "gentler" use of police powers is laughable too, not to mention a tad creepy.

Tony, your warnings about the growth of govt. power are all the more timely today after yesterday's announcement of an attempted mandate.

I'll add/modify an item on Tony's list (and surface a potential conflict in his thought) about what we've learned at the same time. Then I'll address Vincent's common insinuation that American culture may be inferior to ones with mindsets more collective in character.

I think those that have been paying attention would recognize that among the lessons learned by the government and social dynamics of the *reaction* to covid is the total bankruptcy of communitarian assumptions. Defining it isn't much easier than defining postmodernism (yet not so hard), and there's a huge overlap. Like many of the theoretical ideas from academia–where anything abstract is rightly open to debate– that then leaked into popular culture and what people think they know unfiltered and metasticixed, communitarianism is one of those. This is why IMHO in many religious circles you'll find useful idiocy for what are now Neo-Marxist ideas by well-meaning Christians.

Communitarianism was a group-think academic reaction to a long book no one reads by John Rawls by MacIntyre, Sandel, Taylor, and Walzer. Something has gone wrong in "modernity", or so the story goes, and though no one reads any of this they takeaway is that the West is corrupt to one degree or another in ways the rest of the world is not, and probably was from the start. Whatever the academic value of the abstract discussion–which In the academic & abstract I have no problem with whatever–the skeptical message is all that is received by all but a handful of people. Like an ersatz Fall, the message received was the problem we must solve if we're to have meaningful lives is the problem of modernity (not the problem of meaning that's been present since antiquity, that Christianity answers), whatever that is. As with Christian pacifists, who conflate Christianity with pacifism, communitarians conflate the communitarian view that modernity is atomizing, secularizing, and dehumanizing with Christianity itself. Or at least–and here is the overlap with postmodernism–for the West, or at least for the U. S., as the putative representative and exemplar of the West.

I cut my teeth studying to answer the problem of "scientism", of which Tony mentions. It's false alright, but over time I came to see it was more of a fringe element than the view of the average person. Scientists and the medical establishment can be as domineering and tyrannical as any other profession. I always thought that. Tony rightly points this out. But the story of the domination by science over society and culture in the "scientific revolution" since the 17 century or whatever IMO and that of many is overdone. That story is itself part of the postmodern idea that postmodernism/communitarianism is based upon. I'm not trying to tweak you Tony– I'm really not–but reaction to that view was probably the main impetus behind Neo-Thomism. Just saying it's worth a thought, if assumption matter. The claim is that science itself–not just tyrannical scientists who'd jump at the chance like any other human given enough power and status–was tyrannizing us. I think that's dubious. No, it's the idiots competing for power and status that happen to be scientists. It's their chosen tool, but it's just a tool. Don't conflate the two. They're very different things. I've seen tyrannical attitudes in the workplace–by a few–since ever, and it's never occurred to me to posit it to the profession or trade itself. But that's what the familiar narrative–that's PoMo in attitude and impetus–that is an extremely common view in religious circles. It's why C. S. Lewis wanted to "re-enchant the world". Because they thought science itself–the very knowledge itself–had corrupted us. I think it's misguided. That is what those in thrall to postmodern believe. Doctors and scientists are there to give me information. I'm the one who calls the shots. I'm the one who plays some scientists and some doctors against each other, as with philosophers, to try to better arrive at the truth or what the practical actions for me and my family should be. It's all on me.

I'll finish it up by addressing the Japan comparison. Despite your protestations, and though the Japanese are a fine and respectable nation and people, Vincent I don't find your diagnosis–actually bias confirmation–to be accurate about the U. S. It's simply a facile comparison riding on communitarian assumptions. Your basis for doing so–and the entirely predictable fact that it goes entirely unchallenged here– is the acceptance of communitarian ideas as true among religious folk of a certain ilk. So much so that challenge invites shock, bewilderment, and even anger. Honestly there's only so much credence I can give to the idea that some nation's peoples are superior that have a special name for mass suicide, and not as fantasy but have engaged in it. No, such cannot be our model. I'll keep sticking it to the man, in classic American individualist tradition, thank you very much.

Out of time for now. I'll leave you with a video based upon Hayek's essay "Individualism: True and False" and include snippets below. He cuts to the chase.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoKK5b4aTG0

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"True individualism is a product of an acute consciousness of the limitations of the individual mind, which induces an attitude of humility towards the impersonal and anonymous social processes by which individuals help to create things greater than they know.

In contrast, false individualism is the product of an exaggerated belief in the powers of individual reason, and of a consequent contempt for anything which has not been consciously designed by it, or is not fully intelligible to it."

"... the error made by the collectivist apologist is the belief that individualism postulates or bases it's arguments on the assumption of isolated or self-contained individuals instead of starting from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society."

"What individualism teaches us is that society is greater than the individual, only insofar as it is free. Insofar as it is controlled or directed it is limited to the powers of the individual minds which control or direct it."

–Friedrich Hayek, essay Individualism: True and False

Please don't conclude anything from what, in Vincent's comments, goes unchallenged here. I have not found argument in the past with Vincent (over entirely different topics) to be very profitable for my time usage, and he said and assumed many false things. Hence I confined myself to a couple of sideways remarks and left it at that. In general I think a healthy dose of individualism would be a big boon in the current crisis. I also think that the right kind of individualism is also best for the "common good," in much the same way that we can say that following God even to the point of suffering is ultimately what is best for ourselves as well. The collectivism amounting to totalitarianism that has come out in the Covid crisis is simply appalling. At this point it is beyond caricature or satire. Particularly in Australia, but in many parts of the U.S. as well.

I know from past experience you'd argue for individualism Lydia. I wasn't thinking of you. I'd argue the best term for what non-skeptics mean by it is Durkheim's term "moral individualism". On communitarianism I suspect we'd split. Lefty Fareed Zakaria noted over 2 decades ago that the real division was between communitarians and libertarians, and I think that's it, but it's the ideology that dare not speak its name.

I guess in general terms I think that it's a problem that people believe in blobs. 'Modernity" is one of those blobs. All it really mean by those most vocal about it is an assumed radical rupture in the past. I don't think we've ever been modern. Postmodernity is a blob too. So for years–before I knew what postmodernism was–I'd heard people claim it was a good thing if for no other reason than that it taught to have skepticism about the solidity or faith in science. I think that's nonsense, because people not skeptical enough about science are simply too credulous about how we come to know things generally. Life itself is a solution to naïveté, and better to learn it through experience than a book or class about theory.

Mark, I think you have a point about communitarianism. Any political or social organizing principle that excludes a Christian foundation is always going to be off-kilter, and in this communitarianism is no different from an anti-Christian individualism. And communitarianism doesn't become Christianized merely because there is in fact one way to proceed from Christianity to a foundational communal social principle. (It's present in the natural law, as well). Under Pope St. John Paul II, it went under the name "solidarity", and while that's a historically charged name, it's as good as most for today's purposes. The balancing principle is that of subsidiarity, whose philosophical, natural law basis is equally compatible with a foundational Christian anthropology: what "man" is, in his own nature, is BOTH individual and social. Neither one excludes the other, and this means that to be fully completed as a human being means to be both making decisions and choices for himself and at the same time for his communities (the plural very necessary). Hence, any ultimate model of communitarianism that undermines a proper individual/subsidiarity field of action is askew from reality.

I've seen tyrannical attitudes in the workplace–by a few–since ever, and it's never occurred to me to posit it to the profession or trade itself. But that's what the familiar narrative–that's PoMo in attitude and impetus–that is an extremely common view in religious circles. It's why C. S. Lewis wanted to "re-enchant the world". Because they thought science itself–the very knowledge itself–had corrupted us. I think it's misguided.


If I understand you, that's pretty much what I was aiming to suggest, at least implicitly.

to try to better arrive at the truth or what the practical actions for me and my family should be. It's all on me.

Exactly: Since it is up to US to make use of the information offered by the medical guys, it is up to us to ask the penetrating and skeptical questions. And, consequent upon that, it is up to us to expose those scientists who are using their standing to proclaim conclusions that are not "science" and are not sufficiently established. Some scientists are doing that too - and "science" done well will TEND to participate in just that skepticism - we cannot assume that the inside-the-lab community will police themselves sufficiently.

I'm not trying to tweak you Tony– I'm really not–but reaction to that view was probably the main impetus behind Neo-Thomism. Just saying it's worth a thought, if assumption matter.

Fair enough. I am not well-read on the history of philosophy as to the period of neo-Thomism. It does seem plausible that at least at the levels of the top of the Catholic Church - i.e. Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X - there was a more-or-less conscious apprehension that within Thomism there was a useful answer to the "problem" which the "modern" philisophico-politico-socio-scientific thinking was posing to Christendom. At least within Thomism extended by application of Thomistic thinking into seemingly new problems, or at least Thomistic thinking used to correctly respond to new forms of bad thinking, e.g. Cartesian, Humean, and Kantian philosophy. Since their desire to see that theologians be taught to think with the principles and methods of St. Thomas has been repudiated in the Catholic universities and seminarians, it is difficult to say that their apprehension was more wrong than that it is untried. At least, the success of people like Feser, Davies, and other Thomists in current philosophy and theology suggests that Thomistic thinking properly used is useful for addressing the current errors.

Your basis for doing so–and the entirely predictable fact that it goes entirely unchallenged here– is the acceptance of communitarian ideas as true among religious folk of a certain ilk.

That's pretty funny. There are times and places for battles, and sometimes we decide not to take on a battle at the place offered. There were several avenues available to take issue with Vincent's comments, but I chose to build on common ground instead. And I stand by the point I did make: the US is indeed ill in the manner in which our people lock up in opposition to each other and to "the government". The illness can be viewed under any number of different angles and under a plethora of names; one such angle is that we have lost a sufficiency of a unifying notion/perception of what is the "common good" that constitutes the proper goal of the temporal civic order. That's not the only way to view it, but it's one valid way to look at the cluster of problems. That this angle says more about a defect regarding communal understanding does not mean that the answer is more individualism: I would suggest that BOTH the individual and the communal driving forces are (largely) askew from right thinking these days, and both need correctives. The Hayek quotes above seem to suggest the same. It's not enough to say we have "too much" communitarian thinking, and we need more individualism. We need RIGHT individualism, along with RIGHT communal thinking.

Tony, I think it's a category error to oppose communitarianism with individualism. I believe it's fair to say that's what communitarians do. Individualism as understood by communitarians is clearly a pejorative, and a very strong one. A synonym for sin or wrong behavior. I don't think there's any such thing as individualism as so understood.

I think you could oppose individualist to collectivist understandings. In this sense neither can be thought of as a pejorative. There are proper individual and collective understandings of groups of things. I might have a collective view of the apple's in a garden, or an individual view of them in another sense. Both are perfectly valid and neither good nor bad in itself. Communitarianism is a view of human politics and society. It's reason for being and purpose was to challenge classical liberalism.

IMO the problem with communitarianism is that:

1) It's a system of belief that's lost sight of the wisdom that though humans have a radical sameness, at the same time they also have a radical otherness.

2) Things like closeness and compassion can't overcome the fact that in this fallen world we inevitably project our hopes and fears onto others.

“It is the tragedy of other people that they are merely showcases for the very perishable collections of one’s own mind." –Proust

If these core limitations weren't true, then I'd be a communitarian. There'd be no reason not to be. I've said I think there's a very large overlap between communitarianism and postmodernism. I think both are little understood. Both are creatures of academia. As I said, communitarianism was an academic reaction to a John Rawls book by MacIntyre, Sandel, Taylor, and Walzer. But the popular understanding–and let's be honest even in academia all but a few academics are in the same category– doesn't grasp much other than "modernity bad".

Anyway, deep subject.

There are various "versions" of communitarianism just as there are various versions of individualism. Richard Weaver wrote about the latter ("Two Types of American Individualism"), as have Wendell Berry and others.

Communitarianism in the strict sense may have come about as a challenge to classical liberalism. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but even so, in the ensuing years the term has come to mean more generally the idea that the community and the individual are interdependent and in some sense inseparable. One need not reject classical liberalism to accept this.

>> Communitarianism in the strict sense may have come about as a challenge to classical liberalism.

Not might have, but did. There is a clear consensus on this. The literature is quite clear on this so much so that its a standard item in philosophical encyclopedias.

>> in the ensuing years the term has come to mean more generally the idea that the community and the individual are interdependent and in some sense inseparable.

I don't accept this for the simple reason that there was never a time when it wasn't grasped or intuited by decent folks. The only way it's plausible is to assert that it was lost at some point in time, which is basically the communitarian party line. Late modernity or whatever. To believe a proper understanding was arrived at very recently would undermine the entire impetus for communitarianism IMO. But of course they don't, and in fact they've only asked a bunch of questions and supplied no answers. MacIntyre famously said we must wait on another St. Benedict. And I think it was Walzer who was only able to cite one example of a current or past system with assigned roles people could fit into (because that's so wonderful I guess) only came up with one: India's caste system. Yes, really. That's very encouraging isn't it?

But whether my definition of communitarianism correct or not, I realized I used the term communitarian too expansively in my first comment. There are other ideologies that overlap only in their causal basis in a supposed radical break with the past in modernity. Never let a crisis go to waste. That is the cause for about every active ideology there is.

There is what's been called the "ideology of intimacy". It is this as given by Richard Sennet in The Fall of Public Man:

"The reigning belief today is that closeness between persons is a moral good. The reigning aspiration today is to develop individual personality through experiences of closeness and warmth with others. The reigning myth today is that the evils of society can all be understood as evils of impersonality, alienation, and coldness. The sum of these three is an ideology of intimacy: social relationships of all kinds are real, believable, and authentic the closer they approach the inner psychological concerns of each person.

It was cited by Malcolm R. Parks in his seminal essay "Ideology in Interpersonal Communication: Off the Couch and into the World" which analyzes its effects and pathologies, and I'm pretty sure doesn't credit anything to Sennett's account of it's cause. Sennet attributes this ideology to "a profound dislocation which capitalism and secular belief produced in the last century". I think that's nonsense. Others including Parks have located it in perennial longings and nostalgia in humanity that is easily seen in Greek literature –and probably every society that ever existed– and has been exacerbated by the Romantic movement.

I think it's a big deal. It's the familialization or small groupification of everything. It's very oppressive and has made things like church virtually unbearable for many people. It has essentially marked large groups of otherwise normal people to be abnormal who don't conform to these false norms.

"Not might have, but did. There is a clear consensus on this."

My broader point did not center on the "might have," but pointed toward the fact that whatever it meant at the beginning the term now has more than one strict meaning.

"I don't accept this for the simple reason that there was never a time when it wasn't grasped or intuited by decent folks."

That may or may not be true but it has no bearing on the way the term is used nowadays. Spend some time in the agrarian or distributist world: the term comes up a lot but not everyone who uses it is a strict communitarian proper. Even the wikipedia article notes these differences.

As to "there was never a time when it wasn't grasped or intuited by decent folks," I grant that you are correct, but would say that not all decent folks grasped it, and that some indecent folks definitely did not. There is a species of liberalism that manifests on both right and left which argues that the individual is prior to and thus the creator of community, and that community is therefore, strictly speaking, voluntary. I think this idea is daft in the extreme, but a lot of people buy into it, or at least some version of it. Ann Rande (I know how to spell her name -- don't want the objectivist trolls showing up) still has a fair amount of followers.

I think the rest of your comment is drawing too stark of an either/or. There's no doubt that there are abuses present in some of the various appeals to community. This does not mean that all of them are automatically suspect.

>> Spend some time in the agrarian or distributist world: the term comes up a lot but not everyone who uses it is a strict communitarian proper. Even the wikipedia article notes these differences.

Oh I'm fully aware of this. I've seen the wikipedia page. It rightly says they're on the left and right, as is well known. And the origins of the term in utopian socialism isn't a secret either. Not sure what you think I'm missing. I think Scruton I think was very perceptive decades ago in his piece "Community, Yes. But Whose?". https://www.city-journal.org/html/community-yes-whose-12284.html

If you use the term even with what are clearly it's adherents (they'll cite opposition to Rawls, and of course gushingly cite MacIntyre, Taylor, and the rest) you'll hear only total silence as if you're not to question the sanctity of The Way or attempt to demystify it. It's verboten. But of course most never read Rawls or Taylor or any of these loooong books, but just learn it by proxy from their pastors who got it from grad school (of course without reading them) and movies, TV, and such because it's now the air we breathe.

Anyway, generalizations can be hard, but without them communication is impossible. But as I said, lefty Fareed Zakaria said over two decades ago the main division was between communitarians and libertarians and I think he nailed something real. In fact I do believe that many–or at least I'm one, so perhaps I'm projecting–in past years who would not have been uncomfortable with being called a libertarian for it's perceived failings are now increasingly ok with it because we've been pushed to it by the real threat of progressivism/communitarianism. "Don't Tread on Me" is increasingly seen at most urgent task.

>> I think the rest of your comment is drawing too stark of an either/or. There's no doubt that there are abuses present in some of the various appeals to community. This does not mean that all of them are automatically suspect.

No doubt it seems that way to you. Again, I think it's because I have to run that risk to make sure I'm steering clear of using a term for that could apply to so many things it has no clear meaning, and nothing is communicated by it, and of course nothing learned. As I said, I try not to use it as a pejorative (except when admittedly adding dismissive comments), and IMO you should try–and I'm not saying you are but just to be clear–strive not to use it as an honorific. Because in either case it's lost most if not all meaning. I said once a few years ago in comment here that "x isn't actually a community" because I thought it was really a society or association, and someone said "Oh, no these people are very cordial with each other". Say what? I wasn't disparaging it at all, but it was taken that way. This is community not as a technical term, but rather an honorific. Like Libs now say "that's not scientific". Science is an honorific to them.

For a term like communitarianism to have a meaning outside of the stricter sense it's had since the 80's, I suppose it must be paired or opposed to something that also has some clear meaning. Famously the communitarians that oppose it to "liberalism" also oppose it to "individualism". But in your terms–correct me if I'm wrong–you see it as a good term to use for merely balancing out an excess of something. An excess of individualism if and when you see that as happening. I get your point, but I think it's a hash of misguided terms at that point.

Now if someone were to tell me "I'm a communitarian because I hate globalism", I'd get their meaning and would agree with their point, because they're opposing it to something that has a fairly clear meaning: globalism or cosmopolitanism. Obviously if it's a balancer for individualism, the communitarian boogie man, then I'm not sure that's so far from communitarianism in the strict sense. But more importantly, it puts both terms are up for debate and discussion. For communitarians, individualism = atomism. I'd say that's a problematic argument that needs hashing out on the merits, before we even get to talking about communitarianism.

But lest this get any longer, I'll resume below on a different tack.

Nice, the elephant in the room IMHO in these discussions is I guess what I'll call intellectualism. I don't know that's the best term, but that's the term I'm going to use for lack of a better one. Because looking to theory or abstractions operating over long periods of time to explain what's actually happening is notoriously problematic. So for example the idea that nominalism from centuries ago is affecting us now is frankly silly, no matter what Weaver wrote. The book was an abstraction about abstractions.

I'm expressing a view called particularism. It's simple. You must observe–or take the word of observers you trust or have reason to believe you can trust (or better yet examine their actions, since talk is cheap)–that something is real before you go looking for reasons for it.

If you don't do this you'll simply end up chasing unicorns, and finding reasons for things that aren't actually true. I take this to be true in every area of life. Whether you're parenting, or trying to be a good friend/employee or whatever, it's those who use this approach to the world will be the most successful. If you're an investor, you'd be very wise not to trust the latest info coming out of the MBA program, or the foot soldiers graduating from it, because it's been observed they've been notoriously and egregiously cynical on many things for decades.

My favorite expression on anything is "And you know this how?" I take it that few things in life can really be known with any certainty. Now I'm an avid reader of philosophy and history, so you might wonder why I'm that way if I've always been a particularist as I have. It's simple. I research things I've experienced, or those in whose word I think I can trust that they've experienced searching for reasons why these things might be. Those engaging in intellectualism have it backwards. They come to abstract ideas and assume these ideas must be observable–reified if you will–in the experiences of people. Or they take what appears to them conventional wisdom to be true–that actually isn't–and go looking for reasons for that. In so doing they end up seeing what doesn't exist and denying what would otherwise be obvious.

You can learn things about Soviet or other societies by reading in books about Marxism, but that's because the creation of communist governments was an observable phenomenon and they looked to Marx for guidance on how to do it. I read books on communitarians because I know people who talk and act in a certain peculiar way, and their ideas seem to hang together, and it seems they have some dog-whistle terms (with given understandings) they recognize, or at least I suspect they have secret handshakes.

I'd never read a book or set of ideas and assume I could go out and find people influenced by it. I'd need to answer first: "And how I you know that?" How do I know what people call 'modernity' is thing affecting people in certain specified ways? How do we know many of the changes in society are linearly additive as assumed when we try to add together the effect of abstractions, rather than offsetting each other such that it hasn't actually changed in fundamental ways?

Particularism also makes me deeply skeptical of long historical causal chains tied to abstract ideas. Guys like Carl E. Truman and books like "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution". Guys like that trace an extremely tortured genealogical path of ideas over many centuries. "And how do you know that?" Intellectualism. There are alternative explanations–often many–that could be offered to explain the same set of data. So why believe that particular path? I think it's a fool's errand–an exercise in bias confirmation tracing such tortured genealogical paths. That Hitler may have influenced in part by the concept of Lebensraum to invade Germany is about a proximate cause. Saying that a given idea is operating as a proximate cause is nothing like a set of differing ideas over centuries caused something in the here and now.

My view of this fallen world is that people will either find or fall into error in various ways, and though we can find some proximate causes sometimes in their error, the real value of exploring history isn't that we can find long causal chains based on abstract ideas. We learn there's an infinite number of ways to go wrong. And if it wasn't this or that bad idea we've read or heard about, the proximate cause was some other one we've never heard of that caused it. Looking for a long genealogical chain to link together is usually to fall into bias confirmation and miss the point.

The reason Neo-Marxism matters isn't because I read it in a book and expect to find it in the world. No, it's because I'm being inundated with bad stuff like social justice warrioring and CRT that for which I must go search to find causes. That's also why Continental philosophy matters. It doesn't matter whether I find it interesting in it's own right or not. The reason "the ideology of intimacy" matters isn't because I read it in a book. I read it in a book as part of a search for why I have to deal with the insane practical matters that I do at my workplace.

I think this is the elephant in the room, and arguing over theory is to miss the point. Anyway that's my view in a nutshell. Cheers

That's a fairly large nutshell. :)

~~~Now if someone were to tell me "I'm a communitarian because I hate globalism", I'd get their meaning and would agree with their point, because they're opposing it to something that has a fairly clear meaning: globalism or cosmopolitanism. Obviously if it's a balancer for individualism, the communitarian boogie man, then I'm not sure that's so far from communitarianism in the strict sense. But more importantly, it puts both terms are up for debate and discussion. For communitarians, individualism = atomism. I'd say that's a problematic argument that needs hashing out on the merits, before we even get to talking about communitarianism.~~

I do not believe that for all communitarians individualism = atomism, if only because there isn't only one version of individualism. That was my point in bringing up Weaver and Berry.

~~~Because looking to theory or abstractions operating over long periods of time to explain what's actually happening is notoriously problematic. So for example the idea that nominalism from centuries ago is affecting us now is frankly silly, no matter what Weaver wrote. The book was an abstraction about abstractions.~~~

Without getting into the rightness or wrongness of Weaver's thesis itself, I believe it's difficult to argue against the general belief that ideas do in fact have consequences. Few historians and philosophers doubt the concept even if they do not use the phrase. The error comes into play when ideas are over-emphasized at the expense of the "facts on the ground," and there is some analysis that makes this error. But it would seem to be an equal and opposite error to do the reverse -- to look only at the nuts and bolts history and ignore the ideas that variously affect it.

For my money the best brief treatment of this subject is philosopher Berel Lang's essay "Genocide and Kant's Enlightenment." What is striking about this essay is that Lang not only traces certain Enlightenment ideas from Kant up through Nazi Germany, but during the course of the piece he describes what he's doing, deals with objections, notes explicitly where the concept yields the temptation to explain too much, etc. In other words you don't get just the analysis, you get a sort of running commentary on how such analysis actually progresses. It's well worth a read for anyone who's interested in these issues.

>> Without getting into the rightness or wrongness of Weaver's thesis itself, I believe it's difficult to argue against the general belief that ideas do in fact have consequences.

Even to anything at all resembling a realist approach, there are no absolutes on such a thing. No reasonable person claims ideas don't matter. The question I've raised isn't that at all. Not even close. I've raised the question–a very, very, very obvious one but too often overlooked–that do they *always* matter? Biiiiiiiig difference. Big, big. Surely they don't always. No, there are no absolutes. I study philosophy because ideas matter, but it's far, far more important to know that often they don't. If one doesn't know that then all the philosophers and writers of the world will only lead one astray. You know what they say about a little knowledge. Yep.

>> I do not believe that for all communitarians individualism = atomism, if only because there isn't only one version of individualism. That was my point in bringing up Weaver and Berry.

Though I'd never claim a deep understanding of Berry, but here I'd say let's see quotes or you're pulling this out of ... nowhere. I suspect you've been hoodwinked by a few words any fool knows to offer to show himself reasonable, right before they tell you what they really think. If your belief is true–as I understand it–that Berry has some nuanced position on individualism or communitarianism distinct from plain vanilla communitarianism, it should be easy to quote from the Berry corpus showing an understanding of individualism distinct from the communitarians. Is it? This is the age of google. How hard could it be?

>> For my money the best brief treatment of this subject is philosopher Berel Lang's essay "Genocide and Kant's Enlightenment." What is striking about this essay is that Lang not only traces certain Enlightenment ideas from Kant up through Nazi Germany, but during the course of the piece he describes what he's doing, deals with objections, notes explicitly where the concept yields the temptation to explain too much, etc. In other words you don't get just the analysis, you get a sort of running commentary on how such analysis actually progresses. It's well worth a read for anyone who's interested in these issues.

But see here again, I was clear not to dispute that ideas matter, and that they can motivate people do act in significant ways. They've been rightly called I think "the motor of history". No, what I've disputing is loooooong, speculative, tortured genealogical chains. Those are the ones to look out for. Things that trace such things as 'modernity's as a perjorative that have any definite meaning as opposed to a mood or anti-meaning.

So Nice, to reiterate, you're completely misunderstanding me. See though I've never heard of Lang, I'm a fan of Bernard Yack. "The Longing for Total Revolution in Germany" for one book. German philosophy is critically important to postmodernism. Most people don't know much about Germany. Its history is widely misunderstood, in part because of the Cold War– a need to pivot quickly and sweep everything under the rug to dub them the good guys in an alliance against the Russians. The Germans were highly anti-Western. Their population is the most anti-American of the Europeans by far even now. Suffice it to say that the more you look at German philosophy at its peak, and the more you understand the deep longings of their society, the less the rise of the Nazis seems a mystery. They were like the national equivalent of an intelligent teenager with loads of money listening to toxic ideas.

But again–one more time–it's one thing to claim ideas matter as far as relatively proximate causes and/or within a single or at least similar nations. It's entirely another to claim to trace highly abstract and speculative ideas from academia whose existence can't even be verified across many centuries and societies to arrive at a phenomenon one thinks one sees in the present. Especially when ordinary people either aren't even aware of this or reject it, so that one is basically positing either mass stupidity or Neo-Marxian false consciousness to those who don't see this phenomenon or reject it.

Particularism also makes me deeply skeptical of long historical causal chains tied to abstract ideas.

Me too.

So for example the idea that nominalism from centuries ago is affecting us now is frankly silly, no matter what Weaver wrote.

Me t...no, wait. Let me paraphrase, and see if it works better: the idea that nominalism from centuries ago is a direct and controlling influence on us now is ... unsupported by actual facts. However, the idea that nominalism affected certain late medieval thinkers, whose bad ideas then affected - and led to - still worse philosophies in Cartesianism, Humeanism, Kantianism, and Hegelianism, which DO affect us though in myriad complex ways, is not quite as far fetched. It's a tortuous path, and needn't be located in anything as simple "nominalism" today. Especially because to some extent certain later philosophical errors were generated in rejection of nominalism's problems.

On the other hand, long historical causal chains tied to abstract ideas ARE traceable and reasonable when the developments were made explicitly in the abstract chains from one thinker to another, with attribution and development. The development from St. Paul's Romans 13: 1-7 through St. Augustine's proposed just war theory through early medieval thinkers up to St. Thomas's molding of just war theory, while it certainly does not CONTROL nations going to war in a definitive way, certainly affects moderns who think they need to try to justify themselves in going to war - even Bush Jr. used the modes of Thomistic just war analysis to CLAIM his Iraq war was just, (regardless of his accuracy in doing so). Perhaps a more telling example: the development from Christ's dictum "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's", led to the development in Christendom of the distinction of "Church" and "State", something the ancient world was NOT KEEN ON. Which distinction not only is present today, it has been overblown into a "strict wall of separation" of Church ans state, and (finally, in the last 60 years) into an outright war on religion by the state. But nobody can realistically claim that the abstract idea of a distinction between religion and state "doesn't affect us" today. Nor reasonably argue that the idea didn't go through a recognizable morphing over the centuries, wherein the adjusted ideas at each stage had significant impact on real world practices.

Generalizations made without adequate foundation in concrete facts is certainly a problem. And even more, generalizations made without reference to concrete facts, or on the basis of only a few of the facts and positively ignoring more germane facts, are pretty worthless. But even to speak is to employ generalizations, and when particularism goes so far as to undermine the possibility of communication, it has gone too far.

>> still worse philosophies in Cartesianism, Humeanism, Kantianism, and Hegelianism, which DO affect us though in myriad complex ways, is not quite as far fetched. It's a tortuous path, and needn't be located in anything as simple "nominalism" today. Especially because to some extent certain later philosophical errors were generated in rejection of nominalism's problems.

I have a good bit of skepticism here too. I think Kant matters because Hegel matters, and he matters only because Marx matters. Then again, I'm not sure we'd be talking about Marx–and thus any of them– if Lenin's train from Sweden had crashed. If there were no Marx then I suspect neither Kant nor Hegel would matter except as abstractions the history of philosophy. So I think who matters is accidental; a product of historical accident. Because there are plenty of brilliant thinkers in the history of philosophy that made a splash in past generations that we've forgotten. Unless one wants to argue that ideas matter such that Marx is a necessary product of the chain from Kant. And if you think that's too skeptical, I don't think you even want to hear what I think about the practical effect–or lack thereof– of Cartesianism after a few generation out. He was a radical but his metaphysics was not widely believed and forgotten to the point most people have no idea what it is. I fully understand many Catholics think otherwise, but I struggle to see it.

Again, my view is a reversal of that. Like I told Nice, in this fallen world people go wrong for any or no reason. The Romantic movement had real consequences, I think to the present day. But it does only because it taps into certain indelible aspects of human nature, and we recognize these things by noting sin. But here's the thing. I think it's highly interesting to study Romantic philosophy–though some dispute its existence, it's a real thing. But not because I think it causes anything directly. See, in this fallen world we fall into sin. But the thing is there are only so many sins and manifestations of it. If the Romantic movement never occurred it would have been some other set of ideas–perhaps antithetical to them–that would be used to justify the sinful behavior that occurred.

So bottom line is that I think studying ideas is an excellent way to discocer the ways people behave the way they do. Because there are only so many ways to behave. Our imaginations are limited. There are only so many ways to go wrong. So many ways to justify error, wrong, and sins. But that's very different from thinking these ideas caused the behavior we observe unless it's pretty direct. Did Descartes flatter our pride? Did he motivate us to action? His philosophy obviously motivated, or justified really– vivisecting of animals in his own time since they were supposedly automatons? Yep, he sure did. No problem with that. It's a very clear path from that false belief to action. But the vast, vast majority of what we hear is so abstract and speculative as to be contradictory and incoherent. I hope that communicates my view. Ideas matter, except when they don't. We can only know that they matter by empirical observation and rigorous historical study. Otherwise we head off into an idealistic world where we imagine what isn't there.

And look, as far as Kant. I think he was significantly wrong about a lot of things. I've no real brief for him. And yet, if I turn to the major alternative the Anglo empiricist tradition (including Hume, for which I've no brief either), there are plenty of things there too that don't really make much sense. They seem like facile reactions that don't solve a lot. I've no dog in the fight. It's all history to me. I think both idealism and empiricism are deeply flawed. It's the human condition. There is no true philosophy. As for political philosophy I have far, far more confidence in it and I'm deeply thankful what the Founders made of the Anglo philosophical tradition. But it's widely misunderstood what the Founders actually thought about human nature by the time the Constitution was written, and I don't think it had anything to do with Descartes or even Locke's non-political philosophy. Locke's philosophy was wrong about a lot of things too, but IMO not much or seemingly anything that mattered to his political philosophy. So again, ideas matter except when they don't, and the truth be told they don't probably as least as often if not more than when they do. So how we approach our study is important, since a little knowledge is ... well you know.

In my view the better question is why Marx's philosophy has mattered as much as it has. Why did Neo-Marxism carry on after the failure of Marxism like nothing happened?

I'm not sure, but I suspect because Marx theory contains a low-level aspect that tapped into a fundamental or basic desire for an us vs them binary understanding that we can all relate to, at least in our darker thoughts. A sinful amorphous theory good for all times maybe. I don't know. Maybe no future theory could better it for pure adaptability for malevolence, barring some directly dehumanizing evil narrative. But the nature of sin is that humans would have had to invent such a theory if it wasn't provided by their forbears. We're quite creative enough to do it. There's an infinite number of alternate paths–alternate writers or whatever–that Marx could have come up with, or later writers could have if he hadn't. I just don't see the causality other than accidental.

BTW, the late Peter Augustine Lawler was a teacher I only learned about recently who was always denouncing a "Lockean understanding of who we are". I understand he was a good Christian brother, God rest his soul, but I have to say after I'd read a couple essays and heard an audio lecture, if I didn't know better I'd have thought he was doing satire. Most of what he says I find patently absurd. A Lockean individualistic logic? WTH is that? His students fondly remember he used to say "Keep Locke in the Locke box." You can't make this stuff up. Few have ever taken anything other than Locke's political philosophy seriously, just as few have ever taken Descartes' MP seriously. I don't understand why people assume effects of views that never took hold. Locke's effect on Americans is through his political philosophy, and that through the Founders. The idea that Locke or anyone's MP has anything to do with how I treat my neighbor or myself is wildly intellectualistic or rationalistic if that's a better term.

Here's a quote from my Evernote file of a Lawler journal article.

"... torture and murder ... ancient paganism tolerated as a matter of course, precisely because it regarded particular persons as unreal."

That's a jaw dropper. How bizarre is that? The ancients "tolerated" murder because ancient man regarded persons as unreal? What does it even mean? I'd guess only those ancients tolerated it that had no ability to retaliate against those responsible. No, the affected retaliated because they regarded persons as quite real. This is no off the cuff interview over drinks. He wrote this and published it. I'm sure he was a nice guy, but I feel sorry for his students whenever I come across an essay of his. It's the most egregious sort of intellectualism, or the most naive view of the effects of sin imaginable.

Well actually I forgot Lawler was a communitarian, so that fully explains why he thinks as he does. LOL. It's all about modernity and individualism. It's why I'm so cynical of communitarians. It's all straw men all the time.


You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan

"here I'd say let's see quotes or you're pulling this out of ... nowhere."

Berry wrote at least one entire essay on the subject. Given the number of essays he's written, and the fact that I don't know the title might make tracking down the particular one I have in mind difficult, but I probably should try to find it just for my own benefit. When I do, I'll post the title here.


Well if you want a balanced assessment, read "A Communitarian Defense of Liberalism" by Emile Durkheim. Yes that Emile Durkheim. If you think Berry has more to teach me than Durkheim I think that would be pretty naive. I'm quite familiar with the attacks and defenses (counterarguments), because it's my method of learning. I think it's fair to say you display a familiarity with the former and not the latter.

But Nice, if you want a brilliant example of the value of tracing ideas, look at Stephen Hicks and/or James Lindsay. Here's Hicks giving an excellent lecture on the topic. It's fascinating and important stuff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENpn0pendew&t=21m14s

My problem isn't that ideas matter –at least sometimes– a lot. Of course they do. It's that people go beyond that and say or imply or assume a causal story. If only Descartes hadn't wrote thus and such we wouldn't be like thus and such. I think that's nonsense. I think a better way to think of it as far as any practical outworking of abstract ideas is that they serve as pretexts for actions, not causes. People don't like to appear or feel like they're taking actions for no reason or selfish reasons. Actions that would be taken in any case for any pretext available. Maybe that's a subtle distinction, but it seems pretty huge to me.

I guess great minds think alike. I hadn't finished yet the the
Hicks and Lindsay discussion I started last week that I linked above. At the end (about 52:20 to the end) Hicks says what I was trying to get across. That people and societies seize on available ideas for historical accidental reasons, so that it's at the least very often not the case that a given idea or school of thought is valued on its own merits at all. That doesn't mean ideas don't have consequences, but IMO that when we talk about the power of a given idea, unless we can give an explanation for it's link to current action we're very much in danger of engaging in presentism and bias confirmation. Occam's razor should be valuable here. If I can explain fully a given tendency in terms of human vanity and pride, there's no reason to look for a deeper causal explanation. Ideas are often pretexts for basic human needs–and sinful ones if that be the case–and the pretexts can be very useful to know. But they're not causes, and they can even distract from and hide the real motives and keep us from effectively countering evil or destructive actions.

The Berry essay I had in mind is called "Rugged Individualism" and appears in his collection The Way of Ignorance. In it he distinguishes between the type of individualism that is consciously related to communal good, and that which operates largely by appeals to personal rights and entitlements. Roepke vs. Rand, let's say, or the division on the left between those who emphasize community and those who emphasize individual rights at the expense of same. It does not take a PhD in sociology to see that there is validity in this delineation, and that it exists on a continuum, not primarily as two opposite poles.

"I think it's fair to say you display a familiarity with the former and not the latter."

That may be the case, but I'm not the one who's drawing a hard line between the two. I see the two things as complementary; I don't feel the need to defend one against the other, except in terms of correcting misconceptions.

"it's at the least very often not the case that a given idea or school of thought is valued on its own merits at all."

There's a sense in which this doesn't matter. I'm willing to bet that 99% of the current cultural leftist types have never heard of Marcuse, let alone read him. But if you can't see Marcusean ideas in the contemporary crop of wokesters and SJW's you're blind. Marcusean thought got into the intellectual DNA of the New Left like a virus and has been there ever since, even if the vast majority of current cultural lefties couldn't tell Marcuse from Miley Cyrus.

"If I can explain fully a given tendency in terms of human vanity and pride, there's no reason to look for a deeper causal explanation."

I've always thought that this argument is specious in that if it's true, it's true in an uninteresting sense. Of course we can ultimately attribute everything negative in humanity to original sin, but that gets us nowhere in terms of historical explanations. Even if we grant that original sin is everywhere operative, that doesn't explain how it manifests and works itself out in given situations. The fact that there is no "deeper" explanation than original sin cannot mean that secondary causes are unimportant. Otherwise, you just may as well chuck the whole thing, throw up your hands and say, "That's just the way people are!" which is true, but hardly helpful.

Btw, NM, since I was last posting on W4 regularly, I have read a *ton* of Wendell Berry's fiction and absolutely loved it. I can't get into what I've seen of his essays so much. But his fiction is astonishingly good. The man is talented beyond measure. The short story "Pray Without Ceasing" is one of the best short stories in the English language that I have ever read, hands down.

When I go beyond the sheer power of his literary ability and the fascination of his stories and characters and start getting abstract about ideas, I find a mixed bag. For example, his promotion of a liberal sort-of-Christian universalism is unimpressive, while at the same time his grappling with the problem of evil is deep.

But his individualism in his fiction is very interesting. In some ways it is what would be called libertarian. One of my favorite bits in this regard is the part of Jayber Crow where Jayber opens a "bootleg" barber shop down by the river in his retirement shack, because the regulators have shut down his in-town barber shop for lack of running hot water. He expressly says that he's "running a free will establishment" and that his customers are coming to him willingly--a classic libertarian type of argument against micromanaging health regulations. That it's a barber shop was especially poignant to me during the Covid year when in Michigan and other states literal, flesh and blood barbers were defying illegal executive orders to remain open.

At the same time, of course, Berry relentlessly preaches that "we are all members of one another," a lesson that Jayber himself learns to his core, to the point that he literally gives up owning a car so that he is even more dependent on the tiny community in which he lives and can't "escape" from time to time easily to the neighboring big down.

While I don't agree with some of the lengths to which Berry takes it, I consider that interplay of healthy individualism and independence, hard work ethic, etc. (none of which is appreciated by the contemporary left) with a recognition of the mutual dependence of these free individuals to be extremely important and valuable.

For that reason I'm all the more disappointed in Berry's essay on gay "marriage" and abortion, in which he, of all people, endorses the legal status of both, though with at least some reluctance in the case of abortion. It's particularly astounding since his fiction is *incredibly* "heteronormative" in the current jargon and also pro-natal. His endorsing these things is a tribute to the power of zeitgeist over correct intuition, even in a person like Berry who prided himself on being countercultural.

Agreed. I think the fiction is outstanding, and I would say that many of the essays are excellent as well, although because there are so many of them, in a way they can't help being more of a mixed bag.

I too wish he was more consistent on the abortion issue, and while from a certain angle I can agree with him on SSM in relation to civil unions, I think his treatment of the issue from a moral/religious point of view is sadly lacking.

In terms of left vs. right I once read a quote by Berry in an interview where he said something along the lines of "Liberals write about me, but it's the conservatives who come to visit." He's one of these guys that one can learn from even when you disagree. I once told a friend who knows him personally and has written about him that reading Berry "keeps me honest." It's like reading Orwell or Lasch or other "straight shooters." They don't let you get away with soft thinking.

"His endorsing these things is a tribute to the power of zeitgeist over correct intuition, even in a person like Berry who prided himself on being countercultural."

Yes, I think you're right. At root I think he's an old-fashioned Jefferson democrat, with a good measure of "conservative" intuition, but he also has a bit of a tendency to at least nod toward the zeitgeist at times.

while from a certain angle I can agree with him on SSM in relation to civil unions,

No no! But don't get me started.

>> In it he distinguishes between the type of individualism that is consciously related to communal good, and that which operates largely by appeals to personal rights and entitlements. Roepke vs. Rand, let's say, or the division on the left between those who emphasize community and those who emphasize individual rights at the expense of same. It does not take a PhD in sociology to see that there is validity in this delineation, and that it exists on a continuum, not primarily as two opposite poles.

Of course there is validity in the distinction, but you fail to see the distinctions you're making are purely theoretical. Identifying the extremes when everyone knows exactly what they are isn't helpful.

What you're effectively doing is presenting a paradox as a solution. Part/whole or group/individual relations, where one ends and another begins, does nothing whatever to tell people how to judge in practice or how to set public policy to foster better citizens or to promote good neighborhoods. Nothing whatever. Likewise Theseus' paradox, also known as the Ship of Theseus thought experiment (if/when does plank replacement make a different ship), does nothing useful for any shipbuilder, because there's no practical reason to care outside of philosophy classes.

Now of course fictional characters in prose or film can in the mind or imagination show examples for excellent character just as real people can. But if you can't summarize in some way communicate what I'll learn about excellence of character from Berry's works except to repeat the extremes few if anyone could fail to know, the basis for your recommendation given what you wish me to learn is unclear. I doubt you'd want to say you regard Berry's books a mystical experience, or that all schoolchildren should profit by reading Berry to make them better citizens. Or maybe you would. Do you think if the defunct utopian communities dotting the landscape of the nation would have had Berry to read they'd not have shortly dissolved? Or that the Amish could profit by reading him?

Not a mystical experience.

Yes schoolkids could benefit. (I mean, school kids can benefit and become better citizens by reading all sorts of great literature, so this certainly falls into that category. And I could get more specific.)

The Amish: Berry would say that he learned from them, not vice versa. He always speaks positively of the Amish in his fiction and portrays them as naturally living out what he has in mind. So he'd probably say they don't need his books.

Here's my shot at summarizing: Free individuals aren't coerced into living as part of a community and helping each other out and accepting help. They are always free either to leave or to be selfish or to try to do everything on their own or whatever. There are no legislative forces in place to make them do otherwise. But if they do try to do those things they impoverish themselves. Even the proudest, most individualistic character (he has one, his name is Elton Penn, and he is portrayed as really quite admirable) who doesn't want to owe a thing to anybody, has to learn how to take, how to accept help as well as giving help, in order to live the life that he *himself* wants to live. The best community is one where people exchange help generously while most of the time not putting any monetary value on it, while at the same time being quite frugal with their money and having a strong sense of individual property rights. (In that sense the vision or ideal is not even remotely collectivist.) And that community is assisted by the need to do hard jobs, but jobs that most members of the community are able to learn. The older ones teach the younger. Oddity, individuality, and eccentricity are welcomed and made a part of the community as a whole--made a source of humor or stories to tell as well as, at times, a source of trouble and anxiety. Because everybody is living a pretty tough life, people can't afford to be apart from one another, though they also often guard their own privacy fiercely. Finally, people rightly resist attempts, whether from governments or from corporate merchants of culture, at homogenization between types of towns and communities as well as between individuals.

Okay, I'll stop there, but you get the idea. As a model for citizenship, it does pretty well, actually. One thing I was struck by were the parallels between Berry's ideal and the glimpses of Whittaker Chambers's ideal of a farming community that one sees in between all the courtroom drama in Witness.

"No no! But don't get me started."

Trust me, my agreement is *extremely* limited, and has far more to do with the state of the institution of marriage in the U.S. than with any support of civil unions or SSM.

I think Lydia pretty much nailed it, but would add that I'm not presenting a paradox as a solution. What I see as a "solution," if you want to call it that, is the place of balance on the continuum, or at least the honest attempt to come close to that place of balance. And the fact that many agrarian writers have either described such a balance or have themselves striven to achieve it in reality means that it's not just "theory." I would suggest that if anything makes a person a realist vs. an idealist it's farming.

I think Lydia pretty much nailed it, but would add that I'm not presenting a paradox as a solution. What I see as a "solution," if you want to call it that, is the place of balance on the continuum, or at least the honest attempt to come close to that place of balance. And the fact that many agrarian writers have either described such a balance or have themselves striven to achieve it in reality means that it's not just "theory." I would suggest that if anything makes a person a realist vs. an idealist it's farming.

I just don't see what's been nailed here. These paeans to the supposedly simple life are nothing new. I grew up on a farm in central Indiana steering a tractor in the field when I was 4, my feet not even close to reaching the pedals. Got the pictures to prove it. Crawling speed of course, dad would walk up and stop it when he wanted it stopped. Lived there until I moved out and on my own. Fed calves with a milk bucket whose mothers had rejected them at 6am in the dark before school in a barn probably built around the turn of the century. Helped my dad rip it down years later with a colossal crash that kicked up a mountain of dust. I didn't leave the farm until I moved out of the house. I own a farm now, though I don't live on it. So suffice it to say I don't need lectures on the benefits of farm life.

Nor does being familiar with farm life mean one will approve of agrarianism, which was birthed by poets and literary critics at Vanderbilt in the 30's in the midst of radical politics of the Midwest that few even know about now. The same goes for communitarianism, and however ambiguous that term may be, it can't mean wholesomeness or goodness or at least approved–as now the term 'science' has for many–it has no meaning at all.

If you think Wendell Berry should be added to the list of great books, well fine. I read a lot of fiction in my fiction days, but it's not my thing now. I've read most of the classic fiction in the back of "The Closing of the American Mind" because I went down the list one by one. No, I didn't skip War and Peace. But that doesn't mean that whatever the benefits of reading fiction there can be mean that those who read fiction have better character than those that don't. I say this not because anyone here has said that, but the claim is sometimes made. You don't have to be Plato to know that's nonsense.

I really don't think people can be made better people by self-awareness campaigns, a la Ellen DeGeneres (be kind to one another ...), or adding one more book to the list of classic books. If all that is being said –as it seems– boils down to too many kids don't have intact families and not enough have responsibilities at a young enough age, then that's not controversial. But if ostensible proponents of agrarianianism and communitarianism under the pressure of supply examples of what they mean simply fall back on visions of the simple life and "communities" in the abstract rather than real ones they can point to that we should replicate, then it's effectively a shift from a strong to a weak claim.

I myself think Berry's understanding of macroeconomics is flawed, especially since he doesn't seem to have a good answer to, "If we didn't have the big agribusinesses, how would the millions of city dwellers not starve?"

But it's only fair to point out that his fiction is to a large degree autobiographical and that he was a farming kid long before he was an academic of any sort. In fact, I kind of get the impression he was largely a misfit among academics, perhaps unlike the agrarian poets in Nashville. So I think he is pointing to an actual community that actually did "work"--namely, the real town that he's portraying under a fictional name in his fiction.

That being said, I'm not actually a Berry fan when it comes to a lot of politics. For example, nuclear power is actually a good thing for the world, not excepting farms, but he seems to have thought of it as evil or something. That's why I think the ideas in his fiction are perhaps sounder than the ideas in his essays.

>> I would suggest that if anything makes a person a realist vs. an idealist it's farming.

That's an idealist view right there. Farming won't necessarily cure a person of idealism or any particular bad idea any more than (to limit this for brevity to the topic of physical jobs such as farming, to the extent it is) construction work or other trades. On the other hand, the fact is there are a great many occupations that could cure one of idealism, and work of all types often does, except when they don't. When the conditions allow farming surely performs no better on that score than any other.

Farming isn't a superior way of life, not because it's not good or anything is wrong with it. It's not a superior way of life because there are no superior ways of life. My dad never thought it was superior, even though he loved it himself. He would've found the claim very strange if he'd heard it, and he probably didn't. As would Victor Davis Hanson, who grew up on a farm, and farms still I believe or at least manages it. He properly groups it with other worthy physical occupations and things that require types of physical knowledge that he rightly believes are very important to society. But it's not unique to farmers at all. Of course they take pride in the uniqueness of the work, as any workman should, but there's nothing uniquely realist about it that others wouldn't learn in their own occupations if they're so inclined. My dad didn't think farmers are uniquely realist. Some of them are as crazy as any other group.

I doubt Berry was more of a misfit than I was, and still am though I've naturally changed a lot. My town worked too. My school worked, though like many men I would have been hard pressed to finish school without spending half of the school day for 2 years of high school at a vocational tech school 20 miles away. Everything worked as well as I could expect.

If I wanted to meet the expectations of many, because of these common tropes I could easily idealize where and how I grew up. My dad's farm was 2 miles outside of a tiny town that was a university town and still is. I don't put things in idyllic terms not because there was anything over which to object to, even in retrospect. I don't idealize the farm, the town, or my upbringing, though internally I do idealize in many ways my parents as is only fitting. In many ways even at this remove I'm in awe of both of them. But I don't pull the levers that are right there in front of me, because such idealization is a mistake. Not least because what makes a good upbringing is first two parents. Much of the ostensible positives of my upbringing would have been nullified if that weren't so. Why people theorize about ideal communities will always mystify me.

The bottom line reason it's a mistake is that it seems to me Christianity's main philosophical contribution to society was seeing the glory in the mundane. Not just in puppy dogs and rainbows, but in everything worth doing. It's a huge huge deal. There are good communities, but it matters little to communitarians who reject them and look for ones they've borne of the imagination that they've never seen. Of course I'm concerned about the recent unrest across the nation, and some communities don't function well and never did. The reasons generally aren't hard to spot, which isn't at all to say easy to fix, but their existence didn't come about by a lack longing for better ones, and invariable known good solutions never seem to be applied for various reasons, many of them known.

Critical Race Theory proponents say "CRT is just teaching history of race relations". Great, I'm all for that. Alas, it's not just that, they've just shifted to a defensible narrative, only to return to the strong one if/when people are fooled by this. Communitarians say "Communitarian? –I don't even know what it means– I just want better communities." Oh, yeah? Well me too, and everyone else I know. Alas, it's not just that, that's just the defensible narrative having nothing to do with what their strong narrative posits. That strong narrative consists mostly of dismissing current forms of good working communities all around them, while they pine for better ones imagined, that will be formed they know not how.

Scruton pegged the phenomenon in the essay "Communitarian Dreams":

'Many who made their careers by sneering at the first-person plural of America are now campaigning for a “we” that will be strong enough to stave off the anarchy their sneering helped to cause.'

I know, this is going to enrage people. I'm done. I'll move on. Delete it if it helps. No worries.

I've read a lot of Scruton, and I'd say that his views on these issues were in many ways closer to Berry's than they were to what passes for conservatism in America these days, especially his writing of the past 15 years or so. I've been saying for a long time that the U.S. right's unfamiliarity with Scruton was regrettable.

I note that Etzioni responded to Scruton's critique, and Scruton in turn responded to Etzioni. In this regard it's notable that the "strict" communitarism of Etzioni, et al. has over the course of the 25 years since Scruton wrote his essay lost its legs, so to speak, and has been superseded by a less dogmatic, looser form. I would suggest that the last two paragraphs of Scruton's reply would be found by Berry and other "loose" communitarians, such as the people who write at Front Porch Republic, to be quite harmonious with their own vision.

Look, I'm pretty much allergic to much that I've seen that calls itself "communitarian," including some of the writing at Front Porch Republic, which I stopped reading years ago because it just irritated me. I've never called myself a communitarian and probably never will. I'll never forget Patrick Deneen's absurd review of "It's a Wonderful Life" in which he made the claim that the new homes that the movie was positive about were probably built on a graveyard, hence desecrating holy ground. (I forget how he reasoned that out, but I doubt very much that it was the moviemaker's intention.) Therefore, by Deneen's lights, the movie was portraying a kind of community as good when it was actually bad. That is a classic example of what upsets Mark: Derogating communities that work because they don't fit some preconceived stereotype. I'm all in favor of approving of whatever is good, true, and excellent in its quiddity, without being fixated on just one kind of life.

I was simply spelling out the interplay between individuality and community that was held up for admiration in Berry's fiction. That hardly makes me a communitarian, and I would never survive on a farm, myself. I do see the point that it's probably a problem if it's too easy for us to get isolated from each other. The lockdowns have made this pretty clear, I would say. "Oh, I can work from home and never see anybody." Or people who said they never saw their neighbors anyway, so the lockdown made very little difference to them. Something's not right there. Even if one works in tech, one should have more incarnate interaction with others as a normal, and needed, part of one's life. Obviously, some types of work push you more into interaction than others. That doesn't make them better tout court. It just is *one* type of guardrail against *one* type of isolation.

I would like to think that people in certain "earthy" communities would have learned enough, tacitly, to be disgusted and even in a grim way amused by the learned op-eds in some of our evangelical publications (and Catholic publications) talking now about how it's really *just as good* of a Christian community if it functions only on-line and how we need to "reimagine church" in those terms. Yeah, try bringing chicken soup to my door and giving me a hug that way. When you think of many of your friends as people who physically help you, it kind of blows all of that out of the water.

As far as reading fiction not making people better, nothing works like some kind of button pushing. Raising children and educating them isn't a technology. But yes, I'll definitely say that what kids read in their education matters to character formation, without being in any way automatic. We want our kids to read good literature to at least have some *chance* of not growing up as "men without chests," in Lewis's term--people with the rightly ordered affections underdeveloped. And such an upbringing also can help them resist tyranny and see through cant and bullshit. Not inevitably. Not as a technology. But as part of the system of causes. By the same token, having loving parents doesn't automatically make kids better people as adults than kids who had unloving parents. But it's a step in the right direction.

to Mark:

Locke's philosophy was wrong about a lot of things too, but IMO not much or seemingly anything that mattered to his political philosophy.

Which is just EXACTLY why I chose not to include him in my list of philosophers, after thinking about adding him, for 5 seconds.

I have a good bit of skepticism here too. I think Kant matters because Hegel matters, and he matters only because Marx matters. Then again, I'm not sure we'd be talking about Marx–and thus any of them– if Lenin's train from Sweden had crashed. If there were no Marx then I suspect neither Kant nor Hegel would matter except as abstractions the history of philosophy.

And again: that's why I included Kant and Hegel. If Marx (or somebody as badly wrong as Marx, but in some other direction) hadn't employed Kant or Hegel as a springboard, I wouldn't have bothered with them either. And the only reason I included Descartes is that Hume was reacting off of Descartes and his askew ideas. As was Kant reacting off of Hume. So...you seem to agree with me that in a twisted, INDIRECT manner, it is possible to see a train of ideas even though they don't follow from each other.

You don't seem to have any objection to my other suggested trains of ideas, that DO include ideas that follow from prior ones, as does the distinction between Church and State from Christ's dictum, which has certainly had practical consequences in the real world. So also, has the Augustinian "solution" to cooperation with evil that was borne out in just war theory - which (mostly) defeated an incipient Christian pacifism in real world practice, though (naturally) there is an infinity of particular ways people pretend to justify their wars with (and without) such theory. Let me say this much: while a great many wars were unjust, when somebody DID fight a war justly, it was generally because they understood at least some of the basics of just war theory (even if they didn't know it had a name, and couldn't point to it in a book), and when any educated chief executive of Christendom went to war justly, it was because he had learned just war theory and applied it successfully. Maybe - just possibly - he might have been able to thread through all the pitfalls on each side of justice WITHOUT such training, but...more likely, not. (For one thing, it is hard to grasp the due limits of justice in war without some kind of training / education.)

So, while it is easy to find examples of people misusing good ideas to justify their evil ways, and it is easy to find people doing evil without any particular effort to justify them (i.e. pretend their actions are "right"), it is not so easy to find people choosing and doing right actions in a STABLE way, without their grasping rightness and justice - that is, understanding principles that correctly distinguish good from bad in principle.

"Locke's philosophy was wrong about a lot of things too, but IMO not much or seemingly anything that mattered to his political philosophy."

Not so sure about that. If the philosophy of Marx, Mises, or Rand can "matter to" their politico-economic views I don't know why the same shouldn't be true of Locke.

https://lawliberty.org/metaphysics-as-politics-d-c-schindler-on-locke-and-liberalism/

Note that the reviewer here doesn't fully agree with Schindler, but IMO he does do a good job of presenting Schindler's arguments.

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