ShrinkWrapped has concluded his initial response to my Principia Liberalis. I will further the conversation as soon as possible. Again, comments are closed at the sad red earth and should be offered at ShrinkWrapped.
In reviewing Jay’s 25 point Principia Liberalis* a few things stood out of me. One was that there is little overtly objectionable in most of the comments that Jay makes. For example,
2. Human beings aspire to the good and are drawn to the bad. They are both. There is no evidence to conclude which will ultimately rule in them.
3.Human history is both sublime and horrific.
Who could disagree? Then there is
5. There is such a thing as evil. It often conceives of itself as a good.
Again, there is nothing here to object to; the statements seem pretty self evident, yet what is of interest is that when evil “often conceives of itself as a good” one must inquire by what guidelines would Jay delineate good versus evil? This is not a trivial question since moral equivalence and moral relativism is found predominantly on the left these days. In fact, it may well be that one clear difference between Liberals and Libertarian/Conservatives resides in just this fact, the Libertarian/Conservatives do believe there is an absolute basis for distinguishing good and evil. As with all of Jay’s Principles, it would seem to me that “the devil is in the details.”
Further along, I couldn’t help reading the entire middle section in light of my knowledge of Jay’s intense interest in and concern for the plight of the Native American, nee American Indian.
7. Nations, like people, are responsible for their actions. They act as historically and legally conceived and constituted entities, and they are responsible as historical and legal entities.
8. The animating determinant of historic national responsibility is in the living consequences of past acts: no continuing consequences, no conceivable responsibility.
9. The past cannot be undone, but the future can be different; this is accomplished through understanding and acknowledgement of the past and accountability for it.
10. Accountability for the past is policy for the future.
11. The colonial epoch is ended. Its consequences are not.
12. Victors record history. This does not make the history false. Neither does it make it true.
13. Conquerors leave the past behind more easily than the conquered. This is because the conqueror owns the future.
14. To have been conquered or oppressed, to be weak, does not ennoble a people before or after the fact; the acts of a conquered, oppressed, or weak people are not legitimized by those conditions. Neither is the injustice of their conquest, oppression, or weakness abused, or the justness of redress, negated by their imperfection.
Again, there is little to object to on the surface. After all, as a Psychoanalyst I know that the person I see before me is the product of his past and that the past has ongoing consequences. Yet, it seems to me (and I have made this point before in discussing Jay’s concerns for Native Americans) that the greatest responsibility for change must belong to the “victims” of the past. Certainly, “Conquerors leave the past behind more easily than the conquered”, but this does not mean that only “the conqueror owns the future.” The conquered can either remain a victim and remain in the past or take active measures to escape their victimhood and take an active role in shaping their future. There are many reasons why a conquered people fail at such a task and this is not the place to attempt that discussion, however, those who unconsciously need to remain victims will never be able to move forward.
If I have misunderstood Jay’s intent or meaning, I would welcome clarification. In addition, and in line with the idea running throughout that it is the specific details which will be determinative, many of Jay’s Principles do not seem to lend themselves easily to policy prescriptions. Consider:
24. Terror and tyranny must be opposed, freedom and democracy defended, in more than mere word, not only by might. All efforts to confuse these ideas must be combated.
I certainly agree with the statement. At one time, curiously, it was the Democratic Party which vowed to go anywhere to fight against tyranny while the Republicans were the home of realpolitik and various forms of amoral isolationism. Today the roles are reversed. It is not enough to say “Terror and tyranny must be opposed, freedom and democracy defended, in more than mere word, not only by might” but what does this mean in practice? In fact freedom and democracy ultimately need to be defended by might or the threat of might; mere words are never enough. The bumper sticker, the tag line of which is “if you can read this in English thank the US Military” is exactly right. Without police on the beat, my freedom to walk about would be severely constrained unless I were willing to use force to defend myself when necessary. Without a military powerful enough to discourage those who wish us harm, my survival and freedom would again be at risk.
We need to defend freedom and democracy with words, of course. Ultimately it is the conjoined ideas of freedom and democracy that most frightens our enemies; for example, it is freedom and democracy that will, one hopes, eventually render the Middle East a more peaceful place. (That is, Real Freedom and Real Democracy, if it ever arrives for the Arabs and Persians, among others, not the one man, one vote, one time pseudo-democracy we are used to seeing in the neighborhood..) But the idea that words alone, without a credible threat of force, will ever cause tyrants to modify their behavior is being disproved daily by the Mullahs of Iran, hated by their own subjects and an escalating threat to their neighbors.
Finally, even Jay’s most obviously correct comment
25. Yankees rule. (The baseball team.)
has been repeatedly brought into dispute. I understand the clarity with which he holds this to be true and agree completely, yet I know several misguided Boston Red Sox fans who insist on disputing this obvious truth on a regular basis. This suggests to me that even the most obvious of truths is going to be disputed by someone some of the time.
I look forward to Jay’s response and to any discussion this post will evoke and provoke.
Addendum: For increased ballast, I thought I would link to a couple of interesting posts today.
Coyote notes that the definition of “activist” has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis over the years. This is relevant to the kinds of problems (as with the Native American) that so hold the attention of Liberals:
In the language of mathematics (I mentioned before I am in the middle of Goedel-Escher-Bach) if actually aiding someone is “helping,” then I guess organizing people to help is meta helping, and lobbying government to force other people to help is meta meta helping and so advocating on your blog that people should lobby the government to force other people to help is meta meta meta helping. Must really warm (Kevin) Drum’s heart to be so directly connected with helping people.
Stephen Den Beste, who rarely blogs these days, has written a wonderful piece describing a significant difference between those who see the world as it is versus those who see the world the way they believe it should be:
Way back in the depths of time, Greek philosophers ended up with two basic and incompatible ways of looking at the universe. One way was materialism, which says that there is a material universe which behaves in a consistent way, and if you study it you can learn the way it works.
That’s the world view of engineers and scientists — and businessmen, for that matter. It’s the world view of people who understand and use mathematics, and statistics. It is a place where cause leads to effect. It’s the place that game theory studies. It isn’t necessarily inherently atheistic; a lot of religious people live in the materialist world.
But there are people who don’t. A different epistemological view is teleology, which says that the universe is an ideal place. More or less, it exists so that we humans can live in it. And human thought is a fundamental force in the universe. Teleology says that if a mental model is esthetically pleasing then it must be true. Teleology implies that if you truly believe in something, it’ll happen.
Read it all and then take a quick look at Jennifer Rubin’s comments on the President’s speech to the Democrats in the Senate urging them to press ahead with healthcare reform:
It’s remarkable: Obama’s signature legislative item is at a crucial juncture. It’s not clear that there are 60 votes for Harry Reid’s plan, abortion has become a stumbling block, and the public continues to sour on the Democratic scheme to take over health care. So the president goes to Capitol Hill – and says nothing of consequence. The Hill reports:
Obama told reporters that the meeting was a “pep talk,” not a negotiation. Obama didn’t take questions from the senators or mention the two issues now dividing Senate Democrats and preventing passage of the bill: a government-run insurance plan and restrictions on federal funds for abortion.
He really doesn’t add much to the mix, does he? Perhaps it’s passivity, or maybe he simply lacks the interest or ability to help craft a bill. As with his super-duper speech to Congress in September, Obama seems unable to go beyond platitudes and get down to the nitty-gritty of governance. After all, he wasn’t in the Senate for very long and didn’t champion any significant legislation, so there’s no evidence that this is really his strong suit.
The President too often acts as if his celebrity and his oratory are enough; that the world as he envisions it will naturally emerge if the proper rhetoric is employed. To bring us full circle, many of Jay’s words are eloquent and unobjectionable, but it is when the words become the basis of action that the Liberal endeavor tends to break down.