Southern Dialectics

28 Jun

The Confederacy was for wicked things, as were the Nazis and other wicked people. Would you be willing to fly the Nazi flag? You say you honor the valor of the Confederates, but surely there were valorous and skilled Nazis. Patton respected Rommel, for instance. But flying the Nazi flag to honor Rommel would be unacceptable. Likewise, flying the Confederate flag is unacceptable.”

This reduction comes to light as mistaken when we consider that no sane Southerner would defend putting up a Nazi flag, but they do defend the Confederate flag. That is, there are people who defend the flag that are not racists and have no murderous hatred tucked away in their hearts. If it were the case that the only people who raised the Confederate flag had a murderous hatred of blacks, then of course there would be no argument between sane people over the issue.

Once we have come to this point – agreeing that the Confederate flag stands for something wicked – all reasonable people will assent to this argument. But many people in the South don’t agree to this. (Just as, I am guessing, many Japanese don’t believe their flag stands for their sins from WWII.) And this is where Southern Dialectics comes into view. When we are nailed to racist attitudes, despite our genuine belief that we aren’t racist, we Southerners have a feeling it is not because of racism, because we do not believe that we are racist. We dig deep to find the root cause of the animosity, so as to justify our way of life before indignant accusations we do not believe are honest, or clear-headed. We do this in our best moments. In our lower moments, we thumb our noses at Northern morality. And then, in our bad moments, some of us become racists.

This same process occurred over slavery itself. I think it can be shown that the vast majority of the Southern elite, at the time of the revolutionary war, viewed slavery as a moral evil, and wished for the eventual abolition of it. For a relatively short period after the war, the North and the South were relatively brotherly. But once abolitionists started accusing Southerners of wickedness, things became increasingly worse. I believe a study will show that manumissions fell significantly. Good Southerners thought, “Wait. I thought we agreed that it was evil, and you all should know we are trying our best. We have strong opponents, but give us time and we will overcome them.” Southerners of less fortunate dispositions and more bitter turns of mind – who could not think the problem through – quit trying to separate out their way of life from slavery, because they could not do so in thought. It was easier to justify it. Hence the new-fangled literature defending slavery as a moral good appeared a la Fitzugh’s “A Sociology for the South” and “Cannibals All.” When you tell these weak thinkers, who cannot separate out the thousands upon thousands of times they have said “that is good” from racism – when you have convinced them that their way of life and heritage are in fact racist and little besides – they are going to turn to defending racism. They are not subtle enough to see that there is a more fundamental difference in thought between a Massachusetts man and themselves. And if there weren’t a more fundamental difference, they wouldn’t turn racist because they would be able to separate out their way of life from racism.

That is, the North seems very able to shuck off old habits and old ways of doing things. Northerners, or liberals, seem very able to say “that is bad” about things they had previously affirmed as good, or at least not bad. The South, however, is particularly bad at this. Now I welcome you to simplify the issue: “The people of the North happen to be better people than the people of the South.” This is what we Southerners think you Northerners think. It seems natural to view it this way: “We’ve accepted the change. It is morally right to do so. It is a matter of my moral character that I have been able to do so. They do not accept he change. It is probably a matter of their moral character.” Or, a more intelligent response, “They are ignorant and once educated will see the way we do.” This is the raison d’etre for the ACLU. However, whether you think the South is filled with people who are more wicked than you or just more ignorant, I hope you understand that we beg to differ on both counts.

And this difference of mind is why it was so very easy for the majority of Southern kids of my generation (along with a good many intellectuals of previous generations) to believe the war was about something more fundamental than race or slavery. We see the fruits of a different turn of mind in numerous ways. And I have to say, I am unwilling to switch teams. My turn of mind allows me to not be a racist. I am not compelled, however, to extend toleration to all the things moral Northerners want me to tolerate. I affirm what is good, I can tolerate things that are less than good but not too dangerous, and I see no need to tolerate beliefs that are in fact dangerous. That is, for me and those of like mind, toleration is a matter of prudence, not a moral imperative. Whereas for the Northern mind, it is a moral command, founded in the dignity of every human life. The Southern turn of mind affirms and in some cases tolerates love of one’s own. The Northern turn of mind does not: it is denied this by its moral foundation. It is on this battlefield that the two ways of life have come to blows over numerous issues. The Northern morality has ground out decisive victories in the material sense and intellectual sense, while the Southern has thrown up brilliant protests along the way. The Confederate flag has flown for things the Southern mind needn’t accept today if it is being clear headed. (Skin color is not a substantial foundation for defining one’s own. For instance, I don’t like a lot of people who are white, but do like many individuals graced by nature with different pigments. The best foundation for deciding who is “one’s own” is a shared way of life, or virtue.) But I had hoped, and that hope was expressed in the last post, that the flag might become a symbol for what is fundamental to the Southern mind, and not any one of that mind’s various manifestations.

Pavlos and Matt may be right: “That’s all over now.” Maybe as a result of the recent education session, the flag is now firmly “racist.” And so maybe that flag has been separated from the Southern mind by being calcified into a period of the Southern mind. If that’s the case, which I think it probably is, then oh well. We’ll pick something else to stand beside. But I hope you do not blame those of us who continue to see in the flag the Southern mind. And I wish you would stop doing what you’re doing at some point. What I mean is, if you do happen to uncover some embarrassing detail in the past of a person (or institution), you might do what I think a respectable person ought to do, and simply blush for him. If nobody gains by embarrassing him further, I say let him be.

I realize that this has been a wide-ranging argument. That is, more can be said and more detail added. But this post is already so long… I will obviously keep thinking about it.


What The Confederate Flag Stands For Now

25 Jun

People like me grew up learning about the Civil War from a Southern perspective. We know, as much as it may disconcert you, that Southerners owned slaves and Northerners hated that. But we venerate the Confederacy. I still like the damn thing. Why?

confederate-flag-art-print-posterWell, it might astonish you that a defeated people indulged in a little revisionist history. But as Jesus says, you might have a plank in your own eye. Our fathers did indulge, and we young people were taught to revere the Cause and its symbols, for reasons wholly unrelated to racism or slavery. We revered it because men showed bravery in the face of a paternal and violent central power. We like that our generals were geniuses in the battlefield, and that those kind of men are “something else.” Our General Johnston was magnetic, brave, and died on the battlefield. Our Stonewall had ingenuity, cunning, and quirkiness; his end taught us what tragedy meant. Our General Lee was the gentleman soldier. Brilliant in battle and gracious in defeat.

Oh, but now we learn they were men who supported cruel things, or were traitors, or something else equally bad. Some very angry people have taken it upon themselves to make a noise about how bad these men were, similar to the noise they make about America’s Christopher Columbus … or the Washington Redskins, or nativity scenes.

And that brings me to what the flag means today. It means an end to all that “origins raking.” It means an end to American guilt. The fact is, every people has its origins in some injustice, and this is no surprise to any intelligent person. What we mean by flying the flag is that “we know this;” which means we know that “you too” have unjust origins. We forsake the injustice of our ancestors and embrace what is good about them, and so we refuse to be moved by your guilt trips. Why don’t you go tend to your own garden and leave us be?

Flying the flag today means: guilt trips, as a sort of political motivation, carry no truck here.

Why Winning the Presidency is Bad / Is probably bad

5 Dec

Why It is Bad to Win the Presidency.

My friend Geoff Skelley recently researched the ill effects the presidency has on a Party’s local races. That and a comment I made last weekend has had me thinking about how I don’t want my side to win the presidency. So I am writing an “avoid writing graduate papers blog post.”

Let us begin with this observation: Anger is ugly. 


Anger is necessary to motivate many people to do many necessary things but it never makes them think clearer. Winning the presidency is like winning, through a vote, who is morally right about what values America should hold to. Obviously this is a simplification, but there is something to it. Under Bush, conservatives all over could speak out in opposition to gay marriage with confidence. After all, they shared that view with the President. Their ideas were the majority opinion. They weren’t “going against” what was normal. Under Obama, the opposite is the case. Now, voicing such opposition is being weirdly backward when everyone else has moved on.

More evidence for my simplification, and here is where you really see the ill effects of anger. Under Bush we heard the following inanities spoken with absolute confidence. “If you don’t support the war, you are anti-American.” “If you like homosexuals, you hate God.” Under Obama we hear similarly un-nuanced statements. “He hates women.” And – “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay. Christian Fascists Go Away” was recently chanted at a bi-sexual academic, whose work stresses the importance of heterosexual parenting. He was giving a talk at CUA… VERY RARELY do these stupidly simplistic statements do justice to the person or situation. However, it is my opinion that whichever side is in the presidency is emboldened to act this way.

Not only does this affect how your side is perceived, it affects how rigorous your side is in thinking out its positions. Being in power makes it dangerously easy to ignore the need for a thoroughly persuasive position. Being out of power does the opposite. As your side seemingly becomes more and more marginalized, you desperately seek the truest and most persuasive justification for yourself. Now, “truest” and “persuasive” are not necessarily coincident. But, being sick and bemused by the simplistic rhetoric that is crushing your view you seek what is impregnable. At the very least, you seek it for yourself. If you are going to live in the margins, you have to feel justified or else your solitude is a mark of your own depravity.

The ideal would be to grab and maintain power without relinquishing intellectual honesty or ability. But this is rare, if not impossible. It is especially difficult in a democracy where winning a national majority equals getting what is basically a simple majority (when compared to the House or Senate, whose majorities are complex and varied.). i.e., winning the presidency means winning at least a large proportion of the lowest common denominator.

So, to conclude, I see conservatives doing a surprisingly (take that word literally) good job of thinking and, at the very least, they are doing a much better job of arguing from higher ground than they did under Bush. Obviously I am on the Right when it comes to these things. So I hope Republicans lose in 2016. Or, if they win, I hope they focus more on maintaining their sobriety more than anything else. You know, really, I just wish whoever won would do that. I just don’t think it is possible to pull it off. And while I am playing the wishing game, I wish we would force presidential candidates to have debates for hours at a time, without a moderator. Just one on one, like Lincoln v. Douglas. … And eliminate soundbites! Not through a LAW (Michael Hamilton/Jake Crabbs) but let’s have everyone who is anyone shame any politician who runs commercials with soundbites.

Ok. back to paper writing.

The Parting of Allies (Part I)

1 Jul


In 1953 Eric Voegelin wrote, “The true dividing line in the contemporary crisis does not run between liberals and totalitarians, but between the religious and philosophical transcendentalists on the one side, and the liberal and totalitarian immanentist sectarians on the other side.” Voegelin had the tendency to needlessly use rather difficult words, so let me explain this quote before moving onto my thesis.

There are some very nasty political orders that human beings can find themselves establishing. The “contemporary crisis” is the appearance of these political orders (like Nazism and Communism) and the potential for the recurrence of these malignities. According to Voegelin, people generally place “liberals” opposite “totalitarians.” However, Voegelin thinks this is a mistake. The West was mistaken to view WWII as a conflict between Liberal Democracy and Fascism. (After all, didn’t the Stalinists play a role in the defeat of Nazism?) Voegelin views this dichotomy as discredited and wishes to replace it.

Voegelin claims that some people resist these bad political orders (religious people and philosophers) while other people seek them out (totalitarians) or unwittingly hasten their arrival (liberals). So we have the good guys and the bad guys.

Voegelin calls the good guys “Transcendentalists.” Transcendentalists think that there is a human nature and that it is irrevocable. This group has two sub-groups: philosophers and religious people. The philosophers believe in certain higher truths and religious people believe in a God who gives order to the world, making it intelligible. While the two groups may not always agree, neither are relativists. They think the world is intelligible and that “ a right way of life” as well as “the wrong ways” are knowable because a standard can be found. There is a standard that “transcends” or “Stands Above” the flux of atoms, giving all thoughtful or reverent people a reference point.

People of the transcendentalist persuasion are naturally opposed to totalitarian-tyrannical governments because tyrannical governments seek to change or eradicate human nature.[1] Obviously the people who think that human nature will point us towards the right way of life do not wish for people to try to change that nature, much less eradicate it. And if they think change or eradication is impossible, they will still fear the attempt to do so because of the disastrous consequences of Communism and Nazism. As for religious people, if it is not human nature that points the way, it is a relationship with God that does. But perhaps there is something about the human that can only be satisfied with God.

Voegelin calls the bad guys “immanentist sectarians.” The bad guys want to “bring heaven to earth.” People who want this are the “immanentists” because they want to make “immanent” something they consider to be very good.[2] However, the connection between liberals and tyrants is more difficult to see than the connection between religious people and philosophers. Why does Voegelin think liberals aid tyranny, even if they do so unknowingly?

Tyrants are men for whom there is no moral right or wrong. They do not believe in justice. The only thing that matters is power – its acquisition and retention. The liberal does not “go in” for this sort of view. He may even denounce tyrannical men. However, the liberal lacks a coherent moral grounding. He cannot say why tyranny is unjust, just as he cannot say why one lifestyle is better than another. He refuses to make “value judgments” and as such paves the way for the men who take a world without inherent value seriously. Such men take things “for the way they really are” and try and get all the good things they can possibly get. Such men think: “Why not? It seems like only the suckers abide by moral rules. Their delusions deprive them of the greatest goods in human life., whereas I accumulate power and can use that power to get the things I want.”

Confusingly, the liberal inexplicably acts as if he does have “values.” Although he says “my way isn’t any better than your way” he elaborates a list of Rights to which “all men without exception” are entitled. In the face of Islamic views of women he is enraged, but it is hypocritical anger. Although hypocritically held, liberal values (The Rights of Man) are extremely potent – perhaps the most potent set of values in the history of man. We will see later how these values can lead to Tyranny. For now it suffices to recommend to the reader the chapter in Democracy in America titled, “On What Form of Despotism The Americans Have to Fear.”

So Voegelin’s quote has been sufficiently explained. Philosophers and religious people are the good guys because they have a standard. Tyrants and liberals are the bad guys because they lack such a standard. My thesis is the following: that the good guys are soon to part ways. The defection, I am sorry to say, will come from the religious people who will join the liberals. Christians and liberals, while collectively denouncing tyrannical men, will nevertheless help bring about the most horrific tyranny in the history of the world. Why are the good guys going to part ways?

Enlightenment philosophy injected a liberal-atheistic notion into Christianity in order to liberalize it. Christians were tricked into accepting a line of argument naturally inimical to religious belief. A good example of this trickery can be seen in John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration. [3] In that letter, Locke injected into Christianity the liberal-atheist notion that wicked actions are a result of ignorance rather than a willful decision to act immorally. The implications of this notion are far reaching and Christianity has been slowly succumbing to the power of Locke’s argument. I will open this inquiry in my next post.


[1] Think of the “people” inhabiting Socrates’ ideal city in speech. As has been observed of the modern factory worker: while it is true that Tasks benefit from the dictum “one man, one task,” it is not at all clear that the Man benefits.

[2] Voegelin also attaches the epithet “sectarian” for no very clear reason. His work focuses much more on the “immanentist” aspect. It is not really worth speculating too much about what he specifically means by “sectarian.” It suffices to say they are probably “narrow” in their thinking and “self-serving” insofar as they don’t care for those outside the sect.

[3] I pick out Locke as an exemplar of Enlightenment Philosophy. I do not mean to imply that he accomplished the transformation of Christianity single-handedly.

Ethics 101 and The Right to Self Preservation

19 Jun

It is my contention that the right to self preservation is an atheist right. I will show this through a classic conundrum: supposing there are two men on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but the raft can only hold one, what do you do?

Rose and The Guy from Titanic

“Clever” ethics professors pose the “two men alone on a raft” question. This pseudo-conundrum is not so difficult. The answer is as follows:

(a) You are an atheist, or someone whose god(s) does not punish or think people are wicked/sinners. The answer is simple: you can ask yourself questions about “How much you care about the other person?”, “How willing you are to kill them?”, etc. and if you find that your desire for preservation outweighs the other life *sploosh!* off the raft they go! It’s a simply matter of calculating your self-interest correctly.

(b) You’re not an atheist. You must take into account who owes more to whom (between the two of you) and who is more beneficial to the Whole/God/the City. Questions like: “Who is younger?” “Who is a father?” “Who is a better person?” = “Who has the more important life?” Whoever comes out the best in this line of questioning gets to stay on the raft.

A not-so-clever professor responds: “I’ve got you! What if all that comes out even! You’re in a pickle there!” Actually no. It should just be clear that neither party can do anything to the other. Instead they can draw straws, cast lots, open up a fish and read the entrails, wait for an omen/sign or something like that. The bottom line is neither one has the right to choose because both are equally deserving.

A more clever professor responds: “What if the two men, neither atheist, have different moral standards? You were assuming they could agree on whose life is more important. What nonsense!” Of course it is a possibility that they have different standards. However, (excuse the coming switch to first-person) I must decide in light of the law-standard I abide by. If I decide that the law requires me to sacrifice myself for whatever reason, I must do whatever I can to bring about that end (including stopping the other guy from disobeying the law by sacrificing himself.)  If the law tells me that I am the deserving one and he refuses to die, I may consider him the aggressor and (if my law allows) attack him or (if my law does not allow me to attack) die condemning him.

So you see, the “right to self preservation” is atheist in origin and this conundrum isn’t so difficult (for anyone) after all. Hurray!



A Love of One’s Own

6 Jun

My Orientation

The purpose of this section is to give the reader an idea of my way.

On pages 7-8 of The End of History and The Last Man, Francis Fukuyama looks back to American views during the Cold War. He explains that there was an “almost universal belief in the permanence of a vigorous, communist-totalitarian alternative to Western liberal democracy” which came to an end at “[communism’s] worldwide collapse in the late 1980s.” Professor Fukuyama’s book predicts, as everyone knows, that such grand political alternatives have passed. Human history will see them no longer. This passing is exactly what I do not want to be the case. I like grand political alternatives, and I think living in a time of grand political alternatives is good for people.

“Mr. Simmons! Does this mean you would prefer half the world live under the scourge of communism? You think this is ‘good for people’?” It is not that I think communism is good for people, but that having a definitive contrast to one’s way of life is good. Such a contrast between political alternatives leads men to think more about their way of life and helps to give purpose to their lives insofar as they become defenders of the way of life they inherited, or proponents of a different way of life. And in any event, I wonder how far removed from the USSR mentality Putin and the Russian government is today, except that the rhetoric of alternatives has ceased, surreptitiously ceased.

This sort of purpose is undermined by our current way of thinking, which views all ways of life as equally good. Without an enemy or “other” to contrast ourselves with we become apathetic to the way we live. We have become apathetic because we do not think there is any single way of life that is, in principle, the best way of life. Therefore, no single way of life has precedence. By setting up any and all ways of life as legitimate (in an attempt to encourage diversity) we have lost the ability to distinguish between truly alternative ways of life, which I believe exist and can be ranked. This movement (historically and dialectically) results from modern (in the sense of Lockean) liberal principles.


It will be useful to offer three descriptions of what I find distasteful about modern liberal tendencies. I draw the first description from Alexis d’Tocqueville, to show what happens when men no longer feel strongly about their own. I draw the second description from Carl Schmitt, to show the dishonesty of modern-liberal politics. And the third description comes from Leo Strauss, to show the uniqueness of our present situation.

In the chapter titled, “What kind of despotism democratic nations have to fear” Alexis d’ Tocqueville gives the following description of modern despotism:


“I want to imagine with what new features despotism could be produced in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country.

Above these an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principle affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?”


The first paragraph describes the type of men that live under a soft despotism, and the second paragraph describes the type of despot who rules such men. Now, I think what is missing from the men in the first paragraph is a love of their own, or a shared identity.[1] Not only does this lack of love explain their abjectness before the Central Power, it explains their softness and aptitude to live on entertainment. These two claims are supported by the following considerations: “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Abusive authority is more easily maintained when men are disinclined to forcefully resist it and soft men are so disinclined. Men find themselves disinclined to forceful or warlike exertions when they lack a good reason for them. We must feel as if something is at stake if we are to kill and risk being killed. One’s own (friends, property, family, fellow citizens) is the most potent reason to risk oneself in such a manner. Men who love their own are hence more willing to go to war. They are not soft.

I am fully aware that other solutions within modern liberalism may be offered and despotism avoided. It is true that “love of one’s own” does not necessarily need to be relied upon to avoid soft-despotism. Indeed, Tocqueville’s own solution apparently lies outside of a return to a love of one’s own, instead encouraging the continual exertion of enlightened minds to uphold republican self-government. I do not share Tocqueville’s opinion that this solution is adequate, or at least I do not find it adequate today. But I do share his aversion to soft despotism, to the results of certain notions of justice leading men to erect a world in which quiet obeisance is rewarded with satiating comfort.

Another reader of Tocqueville was a German (Nazi) jurist by the name of Carl Schmitt. He offers his own striking description of a world gone soft:

“Like everything that has a bad conscience, this age reveled in discussing its problematic character until the twinges of conscience ceased and it could feel better since such reasoning was at least interesting. This age has characterized itself as the capitalistic, mechanistic, relativistic age, as the age of transport, of technology, of organization. Indeed, ‘business’ does seem to be its trademark, business as the superbly functioning means over the end, business which annihilates the individual such that everything must go smoothly and without any needless friction. The achievement of vast, material wealth, which arose from the general preoccupation with means and calculation, was strange. Men have become poor devils; ‘they know everything and believe nothing.’ They are interested in everything and are enthusiastic about nothing. They understand everything; their scholars register in history, in nature, in men’s own souls. They are judges of character, psychologists, and sociologists, and in the end they write a sociology of sociology. Wherever something does not go completely smoothly, an astute and deft analysis or a purposive organization is able to remedy the incommodity. Even the poor of this age, the wretched multitude, which is nothing but ‘a shadow that hobbles off to work,’ millions who yearn for freedom, prove themselves to be children of this spirit, which reduces everything to a formula of its consciousness and admits of no mysteries and no exuberance of the soul. They wanted a heaven on earth, heaven as the result of trade and industry, a heaven that is really supposed to be here on earth, in Berlin, Paris, or New York, a heaven with swimming facilities, automobiles, and club chairs, a heaven in which the holy book would be the timetable. They did not want a God of love and grace; they had ‘made’ so much that was astonishing; why should they not ‘make’ the tower of an earthly heaven? After all, the most important and last things had already been secularized. Right had become might; loyalty, calculability; truth, generally acknowledged correctness; beauty, good taste; Christianity, a pacifist organization. A general substitution and forgery of values dominated their souls. A sublimely differentiated usefulness and harmfulness took the place of the distinction between good and evil. The confounding was horrific.”

Schmitt lashes out in numerous directions and his description of the modern ailment is less clear than Tocqueville’s. However, the moral power in Schmitt’s writing (a power absent from Tocqueville’s) is perhaps the cause. Tocqueville has certain tastes that he shares with Schmitt, but lacks the conviction of Schmitt. Unlike Tocqueville, Schmitt is certain there is something morally rotten about the cosmopolitan world he sees around him. He naturally laments the loss of the distinction between “good and evil.”

According to Schmitt, men have lost their “enthusiasm” because they have taken a crooked view about their own; that is, they are denying the primacy of their own. Men seek to make an earthly Babel, not only because they have rebelled against the deity, but they have denied differences between themselves – Heaven can be found in Berlin, Paris, or New York. These cities, erected by differing peoples, all have the same taste, the same seedy feel. Nothing is differentiated properly and men especially refuse to distinguish between “friend” and “enemy.” We have had to turn Christianity into a pacifist organization because we wish to be through with enemies and through with weighty matters to fight over. Men used to fight on behalf of The One True God. Now they don’t think anything, even His Truth, is worth fighting over.

Schmitt justifies this lament by “giving the lie” to his opponents. The new Heaven of swimming pools and automobiles waged war against the old Heaven. Those Christians turned merely pacifists themselves went to war, and are still waging war, against those who think some matters are so substantial that no toleration is possible. In fact, it is not even that one side thinks some things are worth fighting over – both sides think some opinions and ways of life are beyond toleration. The difference is that men like Schmitt admit that this is the case. He is willing to call his enemy “enemy,” and revolts at the insult (or disingenuous attack) of his enemies calling him a friend. In the end, everything is reducible to a love of one’s own or patriotism, and all the honest people are willing to say so. Those who claim to love everyone equally and decry intolerance have only learned the newest tactic in the war of all against all. Now, I obviously think there is something true to be gleaned from Schmitt’s view. However, I do not give “the political” the absoluteness he does. Which is a good reason to turn to Leo Strauss.[2]

Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve undertook a debate about the goodness of the “the universal and homogeneous state.” Their writings on the subject can be found in On Tyranny. In the second to last paragraph of his “Restatement,” Strauss describes the world state and comments on the novel sense of urgency philosophers should feel in the face of it:

“It seems reasonable to assume that only a few, if any, citizens of the universal and homogeneous state will be wise. But neither the wise men nor the philosophers will desire to rule. For this reason alone, to say nothing of others, the Chief of the universal and homogeneous state, or the Universal and Final Tyrant will be an unwise man, as Kojeve seems to take for granted. To retain his power, he will be forced to suppress every activity which might lead people into doubt of the essential soundness of the universal and homogeneous state: he must suppress philosophy as an attempt to corrupt the young. In particular he must in the interest of homogeneity of his universal state forbid every teaching, every suggestion, that there are politically relevant natural differences among men which cannot be abolished or neutralized by progressing scientific technology. He must command his biologists to prove that every human being has, or will acquire, the capacity of becoming a philosopher or tyrant. The philosophers in their turn will be forced to defend themselves or the cause of philosophy. They will be obliged, therefore, to try to act on the Tyrant. Everything seems to be a re-enactment of the age-old drama. But this time, the cause of philosopher is lost from the start. For the Final Tyrant presents himself as a philosopher, as the highest philosophic authority, as the supreme exegete of the only true philosophy, as the executor and hangman authorized by the only true philosophy. He claims therefore that he prosecutes not philosophy but false philosophies. The experience is not altogether new for philosophers. If philosophers were confronted with claims of this kind in former ages, philosophy went underground. It accommodated itself in its explicit or exoteric teaching to the unfounded commands of the rulers in such a way as to guide the potential philosophers toward the external and unsolved problems. And since there was no universal state in existence, the philosophers could escape to other countries if life became unbearable in the tyrant’s dominions. From the Universal Tyrant however there is no escape. Thanks to the conquest of nature and to the completely unabashed substitution of suspicion and terror for law, the Universal and Final Tyrant has at his disposal practically unlimited means for ferreting out, and for extinguishing, the most modest efforts in the direction of thought. Kojeve would seem to be right for the wrong reason: the coming of the universal and homogeneous state will be the end of philosophy on earth.”

According to Strauss, the two most dangerous things about the world state are (a) the Final Tyrant’s claim to represent the only true philosophy, and (b) the material he possesses to seek out and silence opposition combined with a substitution of fear and suspicion (informants and fear of them) for law-abidingness. What allows the Final Tyrant to represent philosophy is his elevation above “irrational” attachments to one’s own people. The modern state is founded on “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” not this people or that ancestry.

Now, Strauss appears to argue that this tyranny is altogether new. “But this time, the philosopher is lost from the start.” If the philosopher is lost from the start “this time” we may suppose he was not lost in former times. However, “the experience is not altogether new for philosophers” because philosophers were “confronted with claims of this kind in former ages.” Wherever there is a ruler that claims universal authority, an authority that “extends beyond borders” and knows no particular nationality, this ruler claims his authority on philosophic grounds (the Pope comes to mind). It is not mere geography that ties his people together, but common assent to the truest law, the Law of laws. Strauss thinks that philosophers have faced this sort of problem in the past. What is truly unique is the material power of the Final Tyrant. Supported by vast technological advances, his ability to uncover corrupters of the youth surpasses the abilities of all tyrants before him.

In particular, the Tyrant will take aim at those who differentiate between men because his dominion is founded on the claim that all men are potential philosophers or enjoyers of wealth and power. “We are all one and the same” is the thought that animates the Final Tyranny. This position is clearly the antithesis to a love of one’s own, where the distinction between “civilized” and “barbarian” holds sway.


So these three examples illustrate my own concerns. While basing politics on love of one’s own runs into certain irrefutable arguments, its contrary, as theoretically articulated by enlightenment philosophy and practically culminating in a world state, is no less prey to irrefutable arguments and is leading to a strangely oppressive world state. I say “strangely” because the world state will not oppress the majority of people with a stick, but with entertainment. And unlike the Roman panem et circenses, this entertainment will have a sort of unlimited quality. The Final Tyrant will never run out of trinkets to throw. Indeed, there will be a continual supply of novel trinkets to fascinate.

I turn to examining the United Nations because the principles animating this international organization all aim at establishing the terrible power described by Tocqueville, Schmitt and Strauss.



[1] “Identity politics” is not a phrase I must use to get my point across. However, arguments surrounding love of one’s own are so often attached to this phrase, which is then quickly associated with fascism and the nationalist politics of the early Twentieth-Century. My thinking is: if this tactic is often used by academics, why not preempt them and use the phrase in a more reasonable manner, in an attempt to separate politics surrounding love of one’s own people from crass manifestations of that love in the form of Nazism and fascism generally.

[2] Cf. Liberalism Ancient and Modern, “Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,” fn. 66.

Response to Responses

4 Jan

My friend Michael Hamilton wrote a thoughtful response to my last post, and this post is my response to that one. I will also address a few comments from the Facebook comments section.

When you differ on the most fundamental level, as I do with Mike, disagreements are found everywhere. For instance, I even disagree with his use of the word “prudence.” Unfortunately, we aren’t having a conversation, where topics can be taken up with greater ease and questions be asked at every turn. So I will address what I think is the crux of his argument and our general disagreement.

” Vices are actions bad for the person doing something, crimes are actions that victimize a third party. Vices only deserve scorn, while violence can be rightfully used to stop crimes, even those not committed against you.”

The vice/crime distinction is arbitrary and depends on circumstance rather than principle. Let me explain: the smaller a political community, the more clearly we see that it needs the devotion of each citizen. In a group of 10, when one member lapses into indolence. his indolence has direct consequences for the group. The individual’s indolence weakens the group, and therefore harms the other citizens. In America, the vast commercial republic, the disintegration of thousands and thousands of lives can be outweighed by the work ethic and habits of millions of other members. Not to mention the extreme case of war, where a people “fights for its very existence.” In such cases the indolence and weakness of some members of a social-body clearly harms other members. Should those who wish for the health of the whole ignore the growth and spread of pernicious habits?

Our nation’s size makes it easy to say to oneself “my own private habits are nothing more than that, my own! If they are a problem, they are my problem. Bugger off.” This illusion disappears in certain cases, and will gradually disappear as weakness and indolence become the norm. Once it becomes very visible to the majority of citizens that indolence and bad habits are damaging to the whole, they finally respond. But this response often happens too late and at the end of the road. This end of the road response is often violent and it has historically been fascist. The people turn to fascism (or something similar) because the people see very clearly that each person needs to contribute and instead of trying to bolster the habits and social norms through persuasion, they turn to law (force) and ask it to accomplish everything. In the modern setting, this has horrible consequences. So the American Conservative always keeps in view that decayed liberal democracies turn fascist, and to avoid the weakness of decay and the terror of fascism, he (the American Conservative) uses his rhetoric to attempt to halt, slow, or reverse the decay. He might try to keep marijuana illegal now, so that in the future the government does not take the reigns and ask the law to do far more.

We see the weakness of the libertarian position in my friend’s professed love of blue states/cities. He loves the social decay that, as one of his commenters noted, always seems tied to invasive governments.

Nathan Kross: I have spent far too much time on the above and need to do something else with my day. I also feel inadequate, insofar as I think you are correct, but only in a way. The contrary position is nuanced and that nuance, along with the talent for bringing out that nuance, is beyond my capacities here. I offer a quote that addresses your concerns, but only in a way. It is a quote from Willmoore Kendall.