Saturday, June 29, 2013

On Separation of Church and State

I recently had a discussion with another blogger (Tony) over at WWWtW on the issue of separation of church and state.  I was arguing for separation and he was arguing against it (both of us from a Christian perspective BTW).  Unfortunately I was away from my computer for several days and when I returned, the thread had been closed so I never got a chance to respond to his last comment.  (You can read the entire thread here.)

Here's where we left off:
Me:  I think it is possible to have a wall of separation between church and state without one entity having to go away. Sure, the two realms will cross paths, but if their boundaries are set in stone, they can coexist without encroaching on each other.

Tony: Yeah, you think it is possible, and I don't. The matter isn't about whether the "boundaries" are set in stone or more fluid, the problem is that any stated "boundary" between them cannot even in principle work for all cases and scenarios. The reason is that both the civil and the spiritual encroach on each other in the human person, who is subject to both.

Christians generally believe that the human person is ordered to a civil order and also to a spiritual order, but that this bi-fold directedness is ITSELF ordered: the one is related to the other as superior to inferior. (If that weren't the case, there would be no guarantee that the two directions are mutually and universally compatible, there would logically be the possibility that one direction results in a fundamentally incompatible requirement compared to the other.) In particular, the spiritual end of man is his permanent, eternal end, whereas the civic end is for this life only, which leads to the eternal end, and so the latter is subservient to the former.

This ordering principle, however, is more integrated into man than merely referring to those actions that are about his final end(s). Man attains his spiritual good even in and amidst attaining his civic end, because ALL of his human acts are spiritual acts. To make a truly human voluntary choice is to act using the spiritual aspect of man, his reason and his free will, and to do so with some recognition (or moral failure thereof) to choose in reference to one's final goal - either comforming [sic] to the final goal of unity with God or in adhering ultimatelhy [sic] to some created which is incompatible with union with God alone. Thus, regulating one's daily civic life is, itself, a spiritual act.

This affects all of civic life, in little ways as well as big. For example: The state sees it as a common good that all citizens be educated. In order to be able to mandate this, the state sees it as necessary to have schools paid by the state. But (in our case) the state considers itself forbidden to actively promote any specific religion, and mandates that its schools refuse to promote any religious perspective at all. The net result, then, is promotion of an ANTI-religious perspective in state schools. It is literally impossible to have a complete educational system from grades k to 12 that fails to promote some perspective about human nature, and if it fails to promote one that says humans are ordered to an end with respect to God it will perforce promote the opposite.

More generally, civic life as a whole and laws in particular have to be molded to be in conformity with the ends that society and the government see as the ends for its human beings. Because humans are integrated, the ends for civic government must be made and maintained as compatible with the spiritual end of man, which requires constant reflection back and forth between the two to keep them working together.  
My response then, is this:
 
Sure, humans are spiritual creatures with both a spiritual and a civil end, and sure, everything we do has some spiritual component to it...  BUT... that does not mean that we need the government to meddle in areas of spiritual behavior and beliefs in order to have civil order.

This notion that the two are somehow "inseparable" if we want to have civil law and order is demonstrably false.  We know, for instance, that there are people who have no regard whatsoever for God's law, and have no inclination at all towards the "spiritual good", yet prove themselves perfectly capable of adhering to a civil code of conduct every day.   The most die-hard atheist may well live his entire life having never once been arrested, or reprimanded, by civil authorities.  This without spiritual foundation.

We know also that there are governments all over this world that are completely without Christian foundation and yet manage to maintain civil order quite admirably - despite this deficiency.   This too, we see demonstrated every day.

So the notion that you cannot have one without the other is entirely without basis.

In this, we find scripture in agreement as well.  Look at Paul's words from Romans 13:3-5:
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.  Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?  Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  
Now what kind of government did Paul have in mind when he made this statement?  Surely his readers would know that he was referring to the Roman government circa 40 AD (or thereabouts).  This was a pagan government, not Christian in any sense.  Yet Paul called them "God’s servants" and commanded that his readers submit to their authority.  Did that mean that Paul thought that Christians should get their spiritual direction from the Roman government or that he recognized the Roman government as authoritative on spiritual matters?  Obviously not!  If so, he was a hypocrite for it is a matter of record that Paul and the early Christians were often jailed for disobedience to the spiritual directives of the various civil authorities in the region.  No, Paul did not hold or teach that civil magistrates were to be submitted to in spiritual matters.  He was specifically talking about civil authority over civil matters and advocating adherence and submission to civil laws.

So we do find a scriptural basis for separation of church and state in Paul's teaching and in the early church's way of life.  We also find that, when church and state combine, as has often happened in the past, a theocratic nightmare often ensues - with civil authorities making declarations of "heresy" and the like, and with punishments doled out for all manner of "incorrect" beliefs.

The fundamental question then is this:  Do you really want the government involved in settling spiritual matters for us?  Do you really want the government teaching our kids (their version of) man's spiritual ends? 

I don't!

54 comments:

Tony said...

Daniel, thank you for inviting me to continue the discussion.

I think above you are arguing about a different question than I was. I was discussing whether you could have a truly good civil government in which there was an absolute wall of separation between the civil government and the church (or religion). You seem to be arguing whether it is possible to have a good civil government that is separate from the church. To shorten the disagreement: I totally agree with the point that it is possible (nay, necessary, I think) to have civil government be separate from the church. To be a little clearer, I might prefer to use the expression that there should be a "distinction" between church and state. They should be distinct entities. I am no believer in theocracy. Indeed, just recently I have vociferously argued against theories that eradicate the notion of a distinction between the natural and the supernatural in part for that very reason, such an eradication would logically lead to theocracy. But the notion of having an absolute wall of separation implies more than simply that they are distinct entities. It implies that the state and the church cannot even (for example) confer over something to see if they can mutually arrange a matter to the benefit of BOTH. And much more.

To take an example, suppose you have a society in which 99% of the people are Anglican of the stripe, customs, mores, beliefs and standards of 1930 England. Along comes a professor of "education" in Munich who says that "schools must have sex education classes starting in kindergarten, that's the only way they can be educated properly." In a system that has an "absolute wall" of separation between the government and the church, the Ministry of Education cannot even ASK for input from the Anglican bishops, or the principals of schools, whether the German professor is correct, whether there is some other way of achieving young adults ending up being fully educated, etc.

Because every society that has a flourishing church has religious customs that may impinge on civil affairs, it must be possible for the state to at least take account of religious customs, and ideally to do so at least some times in direct concert with church officials. (Whereas there are people from Americans United who would have the state utterly refuse to grant any recognition of any church entity. And communists who would suppress all church entities utterly.)

Tony said...

No, Paul did not hold or teach that civil magistrates were to be submitted to in spiritual matters. He was specifically talking about civil authority over civil matters and advocating adherence and submission to civil laws...

Do you really want the government involved in settling spiritual matters for us?


Let us take a straightforward example: the law against murder. Is this a civil law regulating spiritual matters? Well, it certainly is regulating civil matters, no question about that. But it also regulates spiritual matters. Witness: the Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." This commandment is given not only because it helps regulate civil affairs, but also because it regulates our relationship to God, and directs us away from the domination of Satan "who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning."

Well, that's fine, but since the civil law and the spiritual mandate are the same, there isn't a conflict, no problem, right? Not necessarily. There are all sorts of periphery items that are involved: does a person have the license (under the law) to kill in self-defense? As a policeman in defense of others? As a soldier in defense of the nation? As an executioner? For most of these, in OUR society the rules run alongside Christian moral standards, because this used to be a Christian society. But it need not be. When a country levies a draft on young men, and puts a gun in their hands and tells them to shoot the enemy, some Christians (Quakers) are going to say "my religion does not permit me to kill, even at your orders."

In some places, the law is smart and makes an exception for that. In other places they don't (communist countries, for example). So, that's an example of a civil law - that you are required to fight for your country when they tell you to - that runs up against a religious tenet of some people. Maybe the government thought that their law was strictly about "civil" matters, but the Quakers did not.

Then again, less than 2000 years ago, there were those who thought that religion required that they sacrifice babies to Moloch. If the civil law said to them "no, you are obliged to leave people alone and not harm them" they would have answered unprintable, and then: get your civil laws off my religion.

I use this example to reach to a more central point: a typically libertarian model of civil law is that it should be limited to the protection of life & limb & property, nothing further. The problem is that this "SHOULD" is, itself, in part a religious conclusion. It certainly is not a self-evident principle. Absent a religious framework, it is not obvious to all men that government should prevent the strong from lording it over the weak in all respects - certainly most former civil societies allowed for slavery. Absent a religious core that values every person as made in the image of God, some people have that that sacrificing a child to a god can be a good, and must be legal.

The notions for what are the proper limiting principles of civil government are matters that of necessity includes the proper nature and end of man himself, and at least for Christians that cannot be well answered in absolute separation from religion. Even so much as the conclusion that man has an eternal end distinct from his civic end is a religious principle that either must infuse civil law or can run afoul of civil law. Therefore, the structure and content of civil society and its government rest on principles that are drawn from man's religious (or quasi-religious) pre-suppositions. making laws in protection of life rests on pre-suppositions about the value of life, religious (or quasi-religious) ones.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Tony,

Thanks for coming here and continuing the conversation with me.

I think the main point I'd like to stress - given what you've said - is that the libertarian view of the human race (i.e. the equality of all humans) does not necessarily come from religion. In fact, as your examples show, many religions view some humans as "less than equal" to others.

So there's that.

The second point is that by "wall of separation" I don't mean that the state and church can have nothing to do with each other. That would be silly. The "state" is representative of "the people", and if 99% of the people are church people, the state will likely have civil laws in keeping with church principles. That is not really the issue. The issue is what the 99% might try to do to the 1%. If the state starts to legislate spiritual matters (requiring church attendance for instance - which actually happened in the New English colonies prior to our Constitution) then the state has crossed over into the spiritual realm and has usurped the church.

So, the two entities must be distinct and separate.

During the pre-revolutionary years, there was great debate in the New English colonies about the jurisdiction over the "two tables" - meaning the two tablets of the ten commandments. There were some who thought the state should enforce "both tables" - that is those commandments that deal with man's relationship to God (the first table) and those that deal with man's relationship to his neighbors (the second table). Then there were those who felt that the state should only deal with the second table and that the first table was only to be dealt with by the church.

I agree with the latter.

The other issue you raised was one of public schools and the anti-religious teaching of a 100% secular school system. This may well be what public schools would become (and have already become), but that's not the end of it. A libertarian system of government would mean the end of public education as we know it (for sure at the federal level - most likely at the state level also). The state has no right to teach our children things we don't agree with anyway. So, the education system would become entirely local and mostly private. Churches would obviously fill the gap - as would community centers, home schools and charity organizations. Then, once they are out from under the stifling grip of central planners - these schools would compete with each other in an "education marketplace". Of course they would be free to teach religion to their hearts content - they just better be sure to provide a good education so that their students can compete in the post-educational (job) marketplace as well!

Tony said...

Dan, we have a great deal in common when it comes to what we would like the state to look like. Yes,, I think that the state should get out of the education industry altogether.

How do you determine whether the state makes law on the 2nd tablet, like kill, when some religions want to kill for purposes of worship. Of course you can say that such a religion is crazy, but THEY would say that you are trying to make the state push its nose into religious matters - trying to usurp the church. Without a standard that tells us how to discern what matters belong to the state and what matters belong to the church, there is no way to resolve such a question. Such a standard cannot be wholly apart from a view of man himself.

I think the main point I'd like to stress - given what you've said - is that the libertarian view of the human race (i.e. the equality of all humans) does not necessarily come from religion.

Right, but it comes from a view of what man is that speaks to some of the very same things that RELIGION says constitutes what man is. That is, the perspective from which libertarianism draws its force is in direct competition with religious perspectives, where they differ anyway. So it cannot claim any sort of presumptive validity for civil order in the face of religious disagreement.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Tony,

I'd just like to point out that in your first answer you site religion as the entity that finds two humans unequal then in your second answer you site religion as the foundation of human equality.

Now, I know what you're getting at - that it's the Christian religion that is the foundation of good civil law and human equality. But we must also own up to the fact that Christians have viewed many "heretics" as unequal in the past.

No, I think the libertarian concept of human equality stands on its own - sans religion. It's something atheists and theists alike can agree on (if they're both libertarians that is!)

And, to answer your first question, a law against murder can be (and is) based simply on the equality of humans. Now we agree that Christianity brought that view to the forefront, but that doesn't mean that a government must have a Christian view of mankind to function. In order to have a law against murder, we don't need to, say, send people to government run catechism or teach them about grace and the sacrifice of Christ.

Tony said...

Actually, I probably should have said that law rests on a moral view, which is inherently a view of what man is, rather than a religious view. It is indeed possible to speak correctly of human morality without landing directly in the middle of a religion. That's what the natural law does.

I'd just like to point out that in your first answer you site religion as the entity that finds two humans unequal then in your second answer you site religion as the foundation of human equality.

But of course humans are all different in some respects while being all equal in other respects. The hard work is figuring out the different respects and their consequences.

For instance, all humans are equal in the sheer fact of being made in the image of God - of having an immortal soul with a rational intellect capable of knowing universals, and a free will capable of choosing. Yet some men are more clever, better at memorization, more prudent, wiser, or more habituated to choosing well than others. These latter approach to godliness in a way that others do not, a way that is distinct from merely having intellect and free will.

And, to answer your first question, a law against murder can be (and is) based simply on the equality of humans.

And yet we have no problem discerning that guilty humans, those guilty of heinous grave crimes, are NOT protected from being killed by the state, their "equality" does not force us to refrain from executing them. Thus, there is more work to do, in constructing positive law on killing, than simply to point out that the basic obligation not to kill is based on equality of humans.

I really would like to hear what you think is the proper way to deal with Moloch-worshippers in a pluralistic state. They don't agree that the rule "thou shalt not kill" forbids killing for the purpose of worship.

[Although we don't have Moloch worshippers (in the open, that is) just yet, I expect to see them within our lifetimes, because the trajectory is visible: On the one side, reversal of fornication laws, then sodomy laws, then gay marriage, soon to come multiple marriage, reversal of bestiality laws, surrogacy pregnancy, getting to acceptance of pedophilia and NAMBLA, leading to the direct usage of children as objects. On the other side, abortion, euthanasia, cloning, leading to being willing to kill people for utilitarian reasons. And on the third side: the rise of new age "religions", then Wicca (which in its modern format is disguised Satan worship), along with hidden satanic rites not publicized, leading to the probable attempt by some satanist to get explicit, public acceptance of open demon worship.]

Some how or other the state has to be able to tell the Moloch worshiper that he cannot sacrifice a child for worship. Without the state running head on into religion, I don't see how that can be done. My position is that the state CAN do this, and that this means that the state cannot be said to be completely walled off from religion.

More generally, the natural law tells rational man that as a creature of reason, he is obliged to seek out, know, and worship his Creator. Thus, the state, using reason and natural law alone, can legitimately do things that promote the ability of religious activity that on their face are a way of carrying out that natural obligation, and of discouraging the encroachment of anti-religious points of view that make it more difficult to carry out that obligation. The state can give tax breaks to religious organizations without giving tax breaks to anti-religion groups. The state can HAVE A DEFINITION of religion, and make positive determinations that Wicca is not a religion properly so called, nor is Moloch worship.

Daniel Smith said...

I really would like to hear what you think is the proper way to deal with Moloch-worshippers in a pluralistic state. They don't agree that the rule "thou shalt not kill" forbids killing for the purpose of worship.


I think you have a distorted view of what I mean by separation of church and state. It is simply the separation of civil authority from spiritual authority. It is a matter of jurisdiction.

In the libertarian society I envision, the state enforces civil law - without regard for religion (pro or con). The object of a civil code of conduct is to keep the peace and to protect people from those that would harm them or take their property. This means that the state protects every individual equally - again regardless of religion (pro or con).

So the civil authority could not tell the worshippers of Moloch what to believe, that's none of their business, but once they break the civil code of conduct - as they obviously do in the case of murder - the civil authority can step in. This is a legitimate use of force and civil authority - and it has nothing to do with religion. The state does not care about what you teach or what you believe so long as you do not violate the civil code. If you do so however, you are in their jurisdiction.

Our problem in this country is that the state has gotten too strong and has sunk its tentacles deep into places it should never have been allowed. So the jurisdiction of "civil government" encroaches on every aspect of our life. Now we have the state "keeping the peace" by telling us what we can or can't say to people, who we can or can't hire and fire, who we can and can't sell our property to, who we can or can't rent to, who we must serve in our place of business, etc. We, as a nation, have allowed the federal government into every one of these areas without a fight. We basically trust the government to have our best interests at heart. I believe that's because none of us know what it is like to live under a repressive government regime. I fear we're about to find out. The state is standing at the threshold of the churches peering in - looking about for "violations".

For this reason, the church should insist upon its jurisdiction over spiritual matters. The church should never try to use the state to further its spiritual goals. Once the church does that, it forfeits its own authority over spiritual matters and cedes it to the non-spiritual civil magistrate. It should come as no surprise then when they suffer the chilling reversal of having the state dictate spiritual matters to the churches!

Steve Finnell said...

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG

Tony said...

Daniel, what principles or standards do you use to decide what is the proper subject and limits of the "civil code of conduct."

You suggest what you think it is here: The object of a civil code of conduct is to keep the peace and to protect people from those that would harm them or take their property.

I will admit that this sounds clean and easy. But I think it sounds better than it really is, because the term "harm" is a little to vague to actually employ just as such. For example, what about "mental harm." If I lie to you, is that "harm". Well, some people think it is. Obviously, if the lie is part of fraud that is going to cost you a lot of money, the loss of money is a harm, but I am talking about the lie itself, the mere act of creating error in your mind by lying to you: to cause someone to believe wrongly is to do them harm, because the mind is ordered toward truth, not error.

More troubling, what about emotional harm, say a stranger causing emotional distress to a child. Or worse yet, what about public indecency: if a man displays himself to a 16-year old girl, does he do her harm? In some sense, yes of course he does. In another sense, he does not. Which sense controls the sphere of the civic code? More importantly, why.

Much more abstrusely, what about (a) pressuring someone to do something wrong, or (b) encouraging them in a bad act, or even (c) merely setting them a bad example? Are these harms? The Church has always said that they constitute harm, Christ said it will go ill with those who lead others into sin. Obviously it is a Church concern. But if the evil act is a violation of the civil code, is any of (a), (b), or (c) also a matter for civic censure? Or are those kinds of harms "not civic"? On what basis? (the state has explicit punishments for inducing others into certain crimes - are those good or bad laws).

So the civil authority could not tell the worshippers of Moloch what to believe, that's none of their business, but once they break the civil code of conduct - as they obviously do in the case of murder - the civil authority can step in. This is a legitimate use of force and civil authority - and it has nothing to do with religion. The state does not care about what you teach or what you believe so long as you do not violate the civil code.

So, a Moloch worshiper goes around teaching all the neighborhood kids that Moloch demands human sacrifice every 4th Friday, and that a state law that obstructs this is a bad law. He encourages people to break the law. He teaches them that a law that violates his god's demand is no valid law. But he never himself sacrifices anyone to Moloch, finding it sufficient for his purposes to push others. According to your description, the state can have no reason to censure his activities above, because the state has no business caring about what he teaches or believes.

Since the meaning of harm can be understood in the light of the fullness of human good, anything that Mr. X does that detracts from the fullness of good to be enjoyed by Mr. Y can be called a "harm" in some sense. Even if you restrict the above to mean "good with respect to the temporal order" to limit it to matters the civic code might deal with, that's still an enormously larger sphere than what you envision. The problem is that "harm" is not, by itself, a determinate enough concept to carry the weight you want it too. Maybe "harm" in connection with 2 or 3 other concepts, that might work - like my addition "with respect to the temporal order". But since thinkers like St. Augustine and Martin Luther thought the good temporal order encompassed humans living virtuous lives, that's still not very much narrowed.

Daniel Smith said...

Tony,

By "harm" I mean harm to bodies or property. I do not mean harm to the soul. The church should worry about sin and the soul and the state should worry about bodily harm and property crimes.

Lying does not harm bodies or property but it can be used to do that.

The same with your other examples. The Moloch preacher is free to encourage everyone to break the law - it's only when someone actually breaks the law (does harm to bodies or property) that the state should step in. I'm sure it wouldn't take long for "the kids" you mention to figure out that murder is bad when every one who does it is thrown in jail.

As for mental anguish: when I was a kid, we had a saying: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me". We, as a society, used to dismiss those who would try to hurt us verbally. In the hypersensitive society we live in today however, we are actually taught to be offended by words - and not just for ourselves but for other people as well!

The one area that troubles me, and may well be where my system breaks down, is in the protection of children. I can see this being the area where society may wish to go beyond bodily/property harm. I think there's a common belief that children should not be exposed to too much too soon. There could be common decency laws regarding children. There could also be some sort of recognition of familial law that would supersede the bodily/property harm limitation of the state. I don't know... that would need to be worked out.

Tony said...

Daniel, that's a fair response, thank you. Limiting "harm" to bodily harm (and property) is much clearer than just saying "harm."

I think that in order to do the "working out" that you hint at, you are going to have to consider just what principles underlie your feeling that the state has a right to limit behavior even for suppressing BODILY harm. Certainly there are peoples and cultures that didn't think that this was the special and proper role of the state. And the Moloch worshiper who wants to sacrifice a child may claim, with some justification, that your imposition of a civic standard no bodily harm is arbitrary, or is itself based on a projection of a Christian view of man, one not compatible with his religion.

And if the "no bodily harm" standard is really and truly the root principle, incapable even in theory of being "backed up" by something still more fundamental, then you really will have trouble figuring out a solution to intra-family behaviors that are generally considered OK. If Dad spanks his 5-year old, and the state puts him in jail for assault, we have a problem. (Supposing that the state might deputize Dad to be a mini-magistrate to carry out the state's objectives within the family would be to embroil the state EVEN MORE injuriously into a sphere the state has no business.) But unless there is something deeper than "no bodily harm," it is going to be impossible, I think, to avoid that.

So, what underlying bases exist for saying that the state properly imposes on people a behavioral standard for "no bodily harm" that gives no possible room for a state role in emotional, psychological, or other kinds of harm?

And of course, how does that allow the state to protect children?

Tony said...

Lying does not harm bodies or property but it can be used to do that.

Just out of curiosity, what would you do with the man who yells "fire" in a crowded theater (when there is no fire), either to cause pandemonium for fun, or to cause the theater to lose money (maybe he is a rival). I think that some libertarians would say that this is a statutory matter, others would stick to "no bodily harm" as a principle and say that the state has nothing to do with it. The conceptual problem is that merely lying to people is not bodily harm, but having 300 people all at once believe a lie might well lead to THEIR causing each other bodily harm. But doing harm to each other is not the liar doing harm (bodily) to all the injured. For a man to convince OTHER PEOPLE to act in such a way as to harm others is OK under law, as you stated with the Molochian teaching others to sacrifice humans to his god.

Daniel Smith said...

So, what underlying bases exist for saying that the state properly imposes on people a behavioral standard for "no bodily harm" that gives no possible room for a state role in emotional, psychological, or other kinds of harm?

The underlying basis of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, i.e. the legitimate use of force. Libertarianism is centered around the question: "when is it appropriate to use force against another person?" Society agrees that government can legitimately use force to keep the peace; the libertarian goal is to limit that to as few areas as possible while still maintaining a civil society.

And of course, how does that allow the state to protect children?

Children are a difficult case because libertarianism is all about adults: their responsibilities for themselves and their accountability for their own actions. Children, OTOH, cannot be expected to exhibit either. I think that children would have to be protected under a deference to the family - IOW, the parents, as adults, would have a right (and a responsibility) to raise and protect their kids as they see fit - and would be accountable for their children's actions. The state would only become interested when the children reach adulthood.

That does not answer the question about how to protect children from abusive parents though. I guess there would have to be exceptions made in that case.


what would you do with the man who yells "fire" in a crowded theater (when there is no fire)

Well, again, someone yelling "fire" is not, in and of itself, a reason for anyone to panic. Every person is accountable for their reaction to the statement. If I yell "fire" (and there isn't one), someone else can stand up and say "where? I don't see a fire" - making me look like a fool and diffusing the situation.

Tony said...

The underlying basis of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, i.e. the legitimate use of force. Libertarianism is centered around the question: "when is it appropriate to use force against another person?" Society agrees that government can legitimately use force to keep the peace; the libertarian goal is to limit that to as few areas as possible while still maintaining a civil society.

Well, sure, most of society agrees with that. That's how you get government at all. But some people DON'T agree with it: anarcho-libertarians don't, and Moloch-worshipers don't agree with it laid out like that. So, in effect, you are telling these 2 groups that their beliefs about society and government don't matter, and they don't get to put their beliefs into action. Everybody else's beliefs about how society works gets to trump these 2 groups' beliefs. You are favoring one set of beliefs over another in your establishment of government, in part beliefs about religion. As the Moloch-worshipers would certainly say, and the anarcho-libertarians probably would say, you are favoring your religious views over theirs in the application of government.

How is that not intruding government into religion?

When I asked for a basis for the "no bodily harm" standard, you gave me what amounts to merely a re-statement of it: the non-aggression principle. I agree that you are using the non-aggression principle. What I am asking is, why is your claim to THAT principle not a matter of imposing your arbitrary, in part religious views on others who don't hold your opinions? Why do you have the RIGHT to impose it on people whose religion disputes the concept?

Your comment about children doesn't answer, even to the extent (which I am willing to grant you temporarily) of some room for still being in the process of working out the details. It doesn't even touch on the fact that there are non-bodily harms that we think children should be protected from, and we do NOT think that Dad is the right person to do the enforcing if someone attempts such harm. As, for example, my reference to a pervert who goes around exposing himself to kids. Leaving room for families to deal with kids internally doesn't help with this at all. The reality is that we DO think that the state has a role in addressing some non-bodily harms, and there doesn't seem to be a rationale lying within the non-aggression principle interpreted strictly.

Every person is accountable for their reaction to the statement. If I yell "fire" (and there isn't one), someone else can stand up and say "where? I don't see a fire" - making me look like a fool and diffusing the situation.

OK, that's at least internally consistent. There are some libertarians who would disagree with you, finding in the meeting up of the lie with the (presumptive) time-critical requirement for positive physical response from MANY people a situation where the physical harm standard is met for state involvement. I think that your position is more intellectually coherent. But I still think it wrong. A society in which people cannot act on the word of another person in TRUST is a society which will end up in a dog-eat-dog world of personal vendetta. One can imagine something like the old West when "a person's word is his bond", but one cannot imagine such a society without ALSO imagining that individuals will enforce failures to that standard on their own judgment, including physical punishments (whipping, hanging, duels, etc). And, indeed, the old West became civilized when the people gave up the claim to be able to personally enforce good behavior, and that condition necessarily made for the government to have to have more extensive behavioral rules than simply the non-aggression standard: Society as such needs more rules than that, and if government isn't the one to enforce them, then individuals will.

Daniel Smith said...

How is that not intruding government into religion?

I never said government could not "intrude" into religion IF said religion crosses the line into the sphere of civil mayhem. In fact, that is where government has traditionally intruded. Even the Romans left the Jews and Christians alone - so long as their religion didn't break the civil peace.

It doesn't even touch on the fact that there are non-bodily harms that we think children should be protected from, and we do NOT think that Dad is the right person to do the enforcing if someone attempts such harm.

I've been thinking about this and I think the definition of "aggression" includes "preying on the weak", so the non-aggression principle would entail protecting the weak from exploitation by the strong. This would apply, not only to children, but also to any helpless individual - seniors, the handicapped, minorities, (by this I mean those who are outnumbered by "the mob" - not races or classes), and etc.

Tony said...

I never said government could not "intrude" into religion IF said religion crosses the line into the sphere of civil mayhem. In fact, that is where government has traditionally intruded.

But this just amounts to defining your preferred civil gov limits into the solution. For the Moloch worshiper, or the anarcho-libertarian, and probably a Nietzschean believer in 'might makes right', too, this location isn't the proper sphere of civil government, even if it does cause mayhem. You can't just ASSERT that

Civil government's role is to protect people from aggressive bodily harm

without facing the fact that this rests on a belief about who / what man is, a belief that not everyone shares. Why do you get to assert, and run a government on the basis of, YOUR belief about man and trounce someone else's opposed beliefs about same into the dirt?

I've been thinking about this and I think the definition of "aggression" includes "preying on the weak"

OK, that's a reasonable stab at it. That is also a clear broadening of your original stance that government's role is to protect from physical harm and to protect property. "Preying on the weak" can be done emotionally, psychologically, sexually, economically, and maybe more. I think it is right for government to define statutory rape and protect 14 year old girls from being seduced by 22 year old men, even though the girls FEEL like they are doing something entirely voluntarily.

Of course, this is the first step on a very slippery slope: is "weak" to be defined objectively or subjectively? Does "weak" encompass a person who is ignorant of pertinent facts of a business deal because the other person has intentionally hidden the facts? Does it cover ignorance that he could not have uncovered even by "due diligence"? Does it cover the weak bargaining position of an unskilled menial laborer who cannot read a contract to save his life?

Daniel Smith said...

You can't just ASSERT that Civil government's role is to protect people from aggressive bodily harm without facing the fact that this rests on a belief about who / what man is, a belief that not everyone shares.

Why not? That's all any of us can do anyway. We can only assert that our way is 'the best', 'correct', 'the right way', or whatever. None of us have definitive proof.

Besides, I'm not making the claim that my way is 'the best', 'correct', or 'the right way' - I'm only claiming that I like this philosophy of government better that the others. Like you said - it's my preferred form of government.

Now, I could make the claim that this philosophy is based on Christian principles such as "do unto others" and Jesus' example of championing the downtrodden. I could do that but I don't want to. I don't want all the baggage that goes with such a claim. If I claim that this form of government is based on Christian principles, someone can challenge me with "sure, Jesus said 'do unto others' but he also said that looking on a woman with lust = adultery - so we need a law against that".

No, I think I'll just make the assertion, along with Jefferson, that the equality of all men is "self-evident" and leave it at that.

That is also a clear broadening of your original stance that government's role is to protect from physical harm and to protect property.

Well, generally libertarians speak of government's role in "protecting us from force and fraud". I've also heard the term "coercion" used - which may be more apt.

Of course, this is the first step on a very slippery slope: is "weak" to be defined objectively or subjectively? Does "weak" encompass a person who is ignorant of pertinent facts of a business deal because the other person has intentionally hidden the facts? Does it cover ignorance that he could not have uncovered even by "due diligence"? Does it cover the weak bargaining position of an unskilled menial laborer who cannot read a contract to save his life?

I don't know how slippery the slope really is. "Preying on the weak" is a lot like pornography, it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

That brings up another flaw in our legal system - the need to minutely define every type of criminal behavior. If statutes were more general and courts had more leeway in determining the spirit of the law (as opposed to the letter), I think our streets would be safer and justice would more often prevail.

Tony said...

Why not? That's all any of us can do anyway. We can only assert that our way is 'the best', 'correct', 'the right way', or whatever. None of us have definitive proof.

Depends on what you mean by "definitive proof."

Let me explain that by an example: I think that the Earth's spherical shape is capable of being proven definitively. In spite of that, there are people who think that the Earth is flat. So, by "definitive proof" I don't mean "by an argument that actually convinces everyone who hears it."

I mean something more like this: an argument that establishes the conclusion as being definitely true because the argument holds within it the necessary fundamental components to establish by its nature a conclusion definitively known: true premises, put together in such a way as to lead logically and necessarily to the conclusion.

That's just a description of what a valid argument is. Whether it actually convinces a person depends on a number of factors independent of the validity of the argument itself, including such things as (a) whether the person bothers to listen to it (there are an amazing number of voters who won't bother to listen to political arguments at length or in any detail at all); (b) whether they have the innate or trained capacity to retain their attention and their reasoning on long enough to keep in mind both the premises and the conclusions at the same time; (c) that they are sufficiently familiar with the rules of logic and valid argumentation (capable of noticing errors like equivocation); their souls are not occluded by vice from recognizing what are, in themselves, self-evident truths. Given these potentials for obstacles, we know better than to expect a valid argument to convince all comers.

I agree with you that the equality of all men is evident, whether it is "self-evident" I am ready discuss but I am willing to postulate for the sake of this argument. Let's assume it is so for the present.

To me, that means that basing governmental form on it as a definitively true and known proposition is justified by the fact of its being definitively known. We are not just ASSERTING "my belief" over someone else's, we are justifying the governmental arrangement on the basis of something that is objectively known and definitively knowable. The fact that someone doesn't know it is their defect, not a defect in the truth or its knowability.

This has importance for other parts of our governmental system. Generally, proponents of the natural moral law claim that said basic law is knowable and is definitively known. Therefore, precepts and conclusions of the natural law are suitable basis for guiding the forming of the governmental arrangement.

For example, that there is a Creator is known definitely through natural reason unaided by revelation. This Creator is owed, if nothing else, honor and thanks for our existence. Therefore, there is a sound basis for the government to make special allowance by which people may effectuate their honor and thanks to God, including making special allowances for religion(s) in general. Thus, a tax deduction for religious activity is a reasonable measure for government - special provisions on account of its being religious, benefits not accorded other entities like sports teams or businesses.

Tony said...

But more than that: natural theology says that each creature owes its obedience and submission to the Creator insofar as in it lies. A rock does it by just being subject to the laws of physics. An animal does it following its instincts. A rational creature does it voluntarily through choice. Now here's the rub: a polity is a sort of a creature. That is, it is an existent being of a sort, it exists by and in its persons who are its members. Since the state is a derivative creature of rational beings, it too is a (derivative) rational creature. Then it too is obliged, under natural theology, to honor and submit to the Creator, insofar as in it lies to be capable of doing so. Catholic teaching has always held that in a polity in which the whole people are Catholic (or in which the whole people are Jewish - it doesn't depend specifically on Catholicism), the state itself has a general obligation to honor God according to the forms of the religion of its people.

The proper basis for using "all men are equal" to construct the coercive powers of government (even over some people's objection gives an adequate basis for recognizing most of the natural moral law in government.

Daniel Smith said...

Well, I'm not a Catholic, nor do I believe that God is all that concerned about the various forms of earthly governments (which are passing away). I believe the focus of the New Testament is on the spiritual kingdom of God and the Age to come, and that earthly governments are just institutions of men which must be tolerated until the fullness of Christ's kingdom is revealed on Earth.

Now, there was a lot said about civil government in the Old Testament, but that was specifically meant for the theocratic nation of Israel (which utterly failed at following God BTW). No such teachings exist in the New Testament. I believe that's because the OT and the nation of Israel are only meant to be "types and shadows" of the spiritual realities of God's NT kingdom.

And, I don't think God means for the NT Church to rule over unwilling men - again because there's virtually nothing in the NT about civil government, (unlike Islam, a religion that IS set up to rule over unwilling men, and which has detailed instructions spelling out exactly how to do that).

So, that said, my personal view is that the best form of government for a Christian to live under, in this present world, is one that gives us the most freedom to live our lives as we believe God wants us to.

So I don't claim that my position is based on natural law, or that it comes from God, or any such thing, and my most pressing worry is that people who DO make such claims will try to force me into compliance with their beliefs.

That's why I'm for as much separation as possible between church and state, and that's why I'm a libertarian.

Tony said...

nor do I believe that God is all that concerned about the various forms of earthly governments (which are passing away)

Are not sparrows sold two for a penny? And yet it is impossible for one of them to fall to the ground without your heavenly Father’s will. And as for you, he takes every hair of your head into his reckoning.

I think that God cares for the governments of man precisely insofar as those governments make it more or less possible for man to enter the Kingdom of God. And while it is possible to be holy under any government, or social arrangement, it is more readily possible for more people under some kinds than others. In addition, the way man acts in this life is especially related to his coming into the Kingdom, and one aspect of the way he acts is the way he governs himself. So, it seems to me that the Gospel itself indicates that God cares about everything that contributes to man's achievement of the Kingdom, including the way he governs.

And, I don't think God means for the NT Church to rule over unwilling men - again because there's virtually nothing in the NT about civil government,

There is nothing in the NT about biochemistry either, but that doesn't preclude (a) our using it, and (b) our being required to use it in a godly manner. There are things in the NT about governing, though limited: "give unto Caesar", and "you would have no authority did it not come from my Father above", and "let the soldier be satisfied with his pay", and "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

It is unreasonable to read these and say that God is not concerned with about how we operate in governing civilly.

Tony said...

So, that said, my personal view is that the best form of government for a Christian to live under, in this present world, is one that gives us the most freedom to live our lives as we believe God wants us to.

OK. But the question is, what do you mean by "freedom"?

Let me start with an example: you have John and Bill. Both want to play a really top-quality game of basketball. John sets out by doing calisthenics, strength training, running, and ball-handling drills. Then he moves into practicing one-on-one drills, and works up to team drills, all over a 5 year period, and becomes a superb basketball athlete. Bill, on the other hand, can't be bothered with all the work and drills. At the end of 5 years, John and Bill play a game, and of course John mops up the court with Bill, who can't even make one basket against John. And John enjoys the game more than Bill, not just because he wins more, but because he enjoys doing it well. Now, who is more free to achieve his objective? I say that John, by converting his remote potential for excellence into an immediate readiness for excellence, is more free than Bill is - that is, more free than Bill to play a game of basketball. Freedom is measured by the end goal - to do something well that is fulfilling in itself (rather than a mere means to another end).

The fact that John was under a period of discipline, usually uncomfortable and sometimes downright unpleasant, before he achieved the habits of excellent basketball, doesn't mean he was less free than Bill, in actuality (measured by the end goal) he was becoming more free each day.

The excellence in basketball in the example is analogous to virtue, which is simply the habitual readiness to do the morally right action for the right reason, a habituation which makes a person inclined to do it and to be satisfied doing it as well. This applies both to the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and love as well as to the natural virtues.

A society which encourages people to achieve virtue, and discourages people away from vice, can be a society where people are more free to achieve their final goal - the Kingdom. Certainly society in general, and even the state as an organ thereof, can have a role in promoting virtue and discouraging vice, for the sake of freedom.

Tony said...

That's why I'm for as much separation as possible between church and state, and that's why I'm a libertarian.

If you lived in a state where everyone else held your religious beliefs, would you be MORE FREE, or LESS FREE, if the state undertook to promote and encourage (but not coerce) people to act in accordance with those beliefs?

Daniel Smith said...

I think that God cares for the governments of man precisely insofar as those governments make it more or less possible for man to enter the Kingdom of God.

That's debatable. Did the Roman government make it more or less possible to become a Christian? Didn't they promote the worship of pagan gods? Didn't they also, periodically, throw Christians in jail? Yet Paul calls them "God's servants". Does that mean God prefers the Roman form of government over all others?

There is nothing in the NT about biochemistry either, but that doesn't preclude (a) our using it, and (b) our being required to use it in a godly manner.

I didn't say God "precludes" our use of government. In fact, I think he's probably as concerned about our forms of government as he is about our use of biochemistry.

Let me start with an example: you have John and Bill. [...] Now, who is more free to achieve his objective?

They are both equally free. John just made better use of his freedom than Bill. That is the essence of freedom - you are not compelled to do things - you choose to do them of your own accord. No one forced John to learn basketball, he chose to do so.

The flip side of that is that with freedom comes accountability and responsibility. Let's take your analogy a little further: let's say that basketball skills are essential to survival. Does Bill then have a responsibility to learn basketball? Is he accountable for his lack of skills? Yes and yes. So John's family will thrive due to John's diligence while Bill's family will suffer - at least until one of Bill's kids sees the foolishness of Dad's ways and decides to learn basketball.

That's how a free society works.

Remember also that by "free society" I don't mean the freedom to do anything you want. There are limits - the use of coercion, harm to bodies and goods - these limits represent the state's obligation to hold people accountable for how their actions affect others. If Bill starts stealing from John, he ends up in trouble with the state.

So there is still a line.

A society which encourages people to achieve virtue, and discourages people away from vice, can be a society where people are more free to achieve their final goal - the Kingdom. Certainly society in general, and even the state as an organ thereof, can have a role in promoting virtue and discouraging vice, for the sake of freedom.

Yes, and we live in such a state now - only their version of "virtue" is "a politically correct form of 'diversity' whereby any religion that preaches that certain behaviors are 'sin' should be censured". So it matters who defines "virtue" - the church or the state. I'd prefer that the church teach a man to be virtuous and the state just keep him from harming others. That's just me though.

If you lived in a state where everyone else held your religious beliefs, would you be MORE FREE, or LESS FREE, if the state undertook to promote and encourage (but not coerce) people to act in accordance with those beliefs?

I would be LESS free. For one thing, the state has a hard time "promoting" without reverting to coercion when someone fails to accept their promotion. Secondly, the state would then be the arbiter of spiritual good - so where does that leave the church? If the church (whose leaders are chosen for their spiritual acumen) finds itself at odds with the state (whose leaders are chosen for their civil governing skills), then what? The church does not possess the power of the civil sword but the state does. So suddenly you find civil magistrates dictating to the church on spiritual matters. You want to talk about a slippery slope!

Tony said...

They are both equally free. John just made better use of his freedom than Bill.

Before the 5 years, they are both equally free, I agree. They both have the potential to do something worthwhile, and there is no definitive obstacle that cannot be overcome in achieving that good if they attempt it. But for both, that freedom is in degree quite modest - neither one can actually PLAY basketball well.

After the 5 years of training, they are NOT equally free: John is more free to play a good game of basketball than Bill is. He has converted remote potential into immediate readiness. To say they are equally free is to ignore part of reality to focus strictly on only a(nother) part of reality: that nobody external to them is (still) imposing any obstacle to playing a great game of basketball. That's true but not the entire story. Since we are not born ready to perform with that excellence, getting to the point of being ready to perform with that excellence is becoming more free. Thus the disciplines John undergoes during training are not a loss of freedom but are themselves the mechanism of the growth of freedom.

I would be LESS free. For one thing, the state has a hard time "promoting" without reverting to coercion when someone fails to accept their promotion.

So, the first place you turn to in order to show less freedom is by presuming coercion, in other words NOT the example I asked about but something else. Because of course in the actual example there is no reason to say "LESS" freedom.

Secondly, the state would then be the arbiter of spiritual good - so where does that leave the church?

Some goods are spiritual goods that are civil goods. We already established that: respecting the lives and goods of others is both. The classic distancing formula for the state vs the church is "temporal" vs "eternal", not spiritual vs non-spiritual. The man who is spiritually healthy is a good citizen of the state as well as a good citizen of the Kingdom of God, and the man who is filled with civil vices is also spiritually unhealthy. Just as St. Paul doesn't hesitate to recommend that the Christian should be a good citizen of the state, so also it is acceptable for the state to recommend the citizen to think of his eternal welfare (because that has a bearing on the state's goods too) - without having to resort to coercion.

Tony said...

GK Chesterton, in his book "What's Wrong With the World" asks the reader to focus on the question of making a better society by asking himself not "what individual thing(s) are objectionable in this one that I would change if I could, piece-meal", but rather, "what would a good society look like". He asks this not because he intent on a utopian program, he admits that we won't get a totally and completely good society. He asks it rather so that the reader can know more clearly the good things we are going to give up in order to get something a little more satisfactory than we have now, to realize the loss, the detraction from "a good society" simply. That is to say, once we know what a good society even looks like, we can admit that X, Y, or even Z aspect is not achievable now because of too many obstacles, but we don't have to give up A through R. To go the other way around and say piecemeal that we want A (and thus we are induced to give up G to get A), and then to say that we want B (and thus we are induced to give up C in order to get B), and to say that we want D...is a recipe for enduring that we get much less than we HAVE to settle for, and indeed is a recipe forever getting gradually less and less and less of what the GOOD society looks like.

That's why I asked the question the way I did. In a GOOD society where the state does not use coercion to impose non-necessary things on citizens, do we want the state to encourage acts of virtue, like courage and temperance? Is that even what a good society looks like? The virtues of courage and temperance are needed for the state to function well, since its soldiers need courage and its rulers need to be temperate. And it does very poorly indeed to merely outlaw the worst acts of the opposed vices (though we should outlaw them), you can never make illegal ALL of the acts opposed to the acts of courage that soldiers and police need to do their jobs. It is equally difficult with temperance and rulers: we can outlaw the worst acts of vice, but what the state needs is much better than just "not being illegal" in rulers. Should we give medals out for feats of bravery to encourage the virtue, or should the state simply say: "that's not our job, our job is simply to make necessary laws only, and awards for bravery aren't necessary because it is not (and shouldn't be) illegal to not be a hero."

Does a good state have Christmas as an official holiday, to make it easier for people to fulfill their religious duties? In a state that has a strict separation, (according to many if not most libertarians) it would say that "hey, make time for religious stuff on your own time, we are not using the STATE to suggest to you that paying attention to God on certain days is a good idea. No holidays like that."

Daniel Smith said...

After the 5 years of training, they are NOT equally free: John is more free to play a good game of basketball than Bill is.

Wait a minute, basketball skills = freedom? I thought basketball skills were virtue? Of course, if basketball = freedom, then the person who can best play basketball would be most free. But there are lots of problems with that analogy - chief among them: the fact that freedom is not a skill to be learned (like basketball). You can't get "more free" by practicing your "freedom skills" (whatever that would be).

Freedom, of the kind I'm speaking of anyway, is the absence of hindrances, obstructions or restrictions. Normally these are placed on us by external forces: parents, schools, governments, etc. I guess you could put restrictions on yourself, or place obstructions in your own way, but that would be entirely of your own choosing - so essentially you would be using your freedom against yourself.

No, freedom (again, of the kind I'm concerned with here) is always hindered by external forces. So John and Bill are equally free to learn and to play basketball. John is just better at basketball (not freedom). He used his freedom more wisely that Bill (if the goal of freedom was to learn basketball that is).

So, the first place you turn to in order to show less freedom is by presuming coercion, in other words NOT the example I asked about but something else. Because of course in the actual example there is no reason to say "LESS" freedom.

Well I didn't list them by priority - just in the order I thought of them. So yes, the first thing I thought of when you spoke of the concept of a 'non-coercive government' was "yeah right!" That's pretty much an oxymoron! Can you name ONE area in which our government has become LESS coercive?

Some goods are spiritual goods that are civil goods. We already established that: respecting the lives and goods of others is both.

I don't think we've "established" that at all. In fact what's definitively established (proven every day throughout the world) is the fact that someone completely devoid of spiritual goodness (even the most die-hard, God-hating, destined-for-hell atheist) can live his entire life without once running afoul of the law or disturbing the lives or goods of his neighbors. Think about this: most of the world is non-Christian, (by definition "spiritually dead"), yet most don't break the civil peace and live quietly amongst their neighbors.

The classic distancing formula for the state vs the church is "temporal" vs "eternal", not spiritual vs non-spiritual. The man who is spiritually healthy is a good citizen of the state as well as a good citizen of the Kingdom of God, and the man who is filled with civil vices is also spiritually unhealthy.

OK, but the man who is spiritually unhealthy is not necessarily a bad citizen.

Just as St. Paul doesn't hesitate to recommend that the Christian should be a good citizen of the state,

That's not really what he recommends. He counsels us to "do good" because doing good keeps us from running afoul of the state. IOW, be a good Christian and you should stay out of their crosshairs. Of course many good Christians still ran afoul of the state - just for being good Christians!

so also it is acceptable for the state to recommend the citizen to think of his eternal welfare (because that has a bearing on the state's goods too) - without having to resort to coercion.

The LAST thing I would want is the STATE looking out for my eternal well-being! That is just scary to me. Especially this faith you have in "non-coercive government". Why can't we just leave the eternal to the spiritual governors and the temporal to the civil?

Daniel Smith said...

GK Chesterton, in his book "What's Wrong With the World" asks [...] "what would a good society look like".

I don't think it's possible to have a "good" society until Christ returns. "No one is good save God alone".

And "society" ≠ "the state". In fact a society, free from state coercion, can reward whatever behavior it wants to. So, I think a better question is: Do we want the state to dictate what kind of society we have?

Tony said...

Wait a minute, basketball skills = freedom? I thought basketball skills were virtue? Of course, if basketball = freedom,...

the fact that freedom is not a skill to be learned (like basketball). You can't get "more free" by practicing your "freedom skills" (whatever that would be).

Freedom, of the kind I'm speaking of anyway, is the absence of hindrances, obstructions or restrictions.

Yes, and I am asking you to re-think, and possibly expand, your notion of freedom, using an argument from analogy. Apparently you don't like the conclusion so you reject the argument's form. Sorry, but that's not entirely cricket.

Many people would be comfortable with identifying, at least as a first approximation, as "the condition in which you can achieve your end, your purpose, your goal." This has a similarity to your description, "absence of hindrances", but yours leaves an ambiguity: do you mean EXTERNAL hindrances only, or all forms of obstacles.

Clearly, the term "can" in my phrase "can achieve your goal" may be used in this expression in many ways. If one uses it in the sense of "no external obstacles" only, then one ignores the possibility or importance of internal obstacles. A person who has an IQ of 75 may be "allowed" to learn tensor calculus by all the external forces in his life, and still never achieve it because he hasn't the internal capacity. In a real sense he can't learn it. That "can't" is at least A KIND of lack of freedom. If you won't at least allow that there is a sense in which the word "freedom" can refer to that notion, then I think we are done here. If you will allow it as at least "in a sense", the critical question becomes "which sense is the one that we need to use in understanding freedom in governing?"

In the moral life, Christ refers to freedom in a few places, and (I think) he is using it in a sense that includes (if not primarily referring to) the inner limitations. St. Paul repeatedly speaks of slavery to sin, and that the grace of Christ releases us from slavery to freedom. That notion is about the internal limitation, and then (with grace) the internal no-longer-limitation by which we CAN do what is pleasing to God. Grace empowers us in a way that nothing external to ourselves can do, because the chains of slavery to sin are interior. By grace we are given the virtue of faith, a virtue (supernatural) that is (as are all virtues) an abiding readiness, an immediate preparedness to do the right thing, i.e. to believe in Jesus Christ and act on that belief.

That's why I am cautious about allowing the word "freedom" to be, right from the outset, constrained to the meaning that refers solely to external limiting factors. (I am leaving as a later consideration whether the STATE should take thought for interior limitations, just for now asking what we mean by "freedom".) Just as a supernatural virtue is empowering to do good, so also is a natural virtue: the virtue of courage is an immediate preparedness to brave danger for a suitable reason. The man who has courage will do the right thing readily, normally, and with satisfaction, whereas man without any habits toward virtue will do it only with hesitation, will not do it usually, and will do it with distaste and revulsion. The man with vice, i.e. a concerted habit of directing himself away from the due act, has a positive interior obstacle to overcome to do the right thing.

Tony said...

Because we are born with the condition of disorder in our souls, we all start with interior obstacles to right action - at a minimum, the disorders of having strong inclinations to pleasure, comfort, and ease, inclinations that are not restrained by reason. So all men have obstacles, positive inhibitors to do that which is truly fulfilling, the acts which are in accord with right reason and God's divine law. By grace we can overcome these disorders in the soul, but grace acts in concert with nature: a person reduces the size of the obstacles, and grows in readiness to the right acts, by practicing the acts of the virtues. Thus a man who through grace and practice has acquired the virtue of courage is readily prepared to immediately spring into courageous action when it is needed, not needing to take time to overcome interior distaste for it.

It is insufficient for society (accepting your distinction between society and the state) for men to only obey the law out of servile fear of punishment, for in that case they will only obey when they think they might get caught, and will not obey when they think they can get away with it. This makes for a very poor society. A better society (even one that isn't ideal) has men who obey the law nearly all the time out of virtue, or at least out of general respect for law and the social good as a whole. So it should be a goal of society to have virtue in its men. This means that society should have methods and means of assisting men to achieve virtue: schools that show how to grow in the intellectual virtues; and families, churches, schools, and other entities that teach men how to grow in the moral virtues.

Even if the laws do not undertake these objects as direct goals of law, it is impossible for society to do so without the INDIRECT assistance of law - at a minimum, by accommodation, by "making space" for virtuous action. I mentioned having official holidays like Christmas. That's an accommodation by the state by which it allows society to push forward in its citizens the (natural) virtue of piety toward the creator. Similarly with having Sunday be a non-work day.

Under your view of the state, Daniel, you seem to dismiss even the possibility of state accommodation of social mechanisms that promote the virtues needed for a healthy civil society.

So, I think a better question is: Do we want the state to to cooperate with the needs and goals of society in producing men of good will and virtue?

Tony said...

Thus a man who through grace and practice has acquired the virtue of courage is readily prepared to immediately spring into courageous action when it is needed, not needing to take time to overcome interior distaste for it.

I meant to add, this IS MORE FREE than the man with the vice of cowardice, at least as Jesus and St. Paul speak of freedom.

Daniel Smith said...

Tony,

Perhaps I should clarify... I'm talking exclusively about political freedom here. I realize that there are other kinds of freedom - the highest of which is the spiritual freedom from the bondage of sin - but that's not the kind of freedom the civil state need concern itself with.

The church? Yes. The state? No.

Now I accept that the case can be made that all of this is connected. Sure, a person without God and in spiritual bondage to sin is not "free" even though no political system constrains him. But that just isn't what I'm talking about here. If that was the kind of freedom a civil government was meant to pursue then we'd be forced to the conclusion that the only legitimate form of civil government is a Christian theocracy. I reject that conclusion because I reject that premise.

Tony said...

I understand that you reject the premise, but the problem is the premise isn't simply an assumption, that premise is the conclusion of a long chain of reasoning, which you haven't tried to deal with.

You seem to be working with an assumption, rather, that the state and the church have such different spheres of concern that it is natural and possible to keep them apart so that they are complete strangers to each other. But my thesis is that for MAN to have 2 such divergent spheres is impossible, because a man is a single, unified, integrated and coherent being whose purposes are likewise aligned, coordinated, integrated so that what serves his civil purposes either serves or detracts from his religious purposes and vice versa, and they cannot be irrelevant to each other, or even strangers to each other without losing something essential to both.

You also seem to be operating on a different definition of "spiritual" than I would take as standard. Classical terminology would call "spiritual" those acts and aspects of man that spring from the part of him that is different from brute animals - his spirit. But that means his rationality, his operations of intellectual knowing and of loving, these are spiritual. If the state cares about, for example, men having adequate knowledge of the law to obey it properly, it cares about his spiritual side. If the state cares about legislators being prudent enough to make good laws designed to protect the general peace, it cares about virtue because prudence is a virtue, and is a spiritual reality.

I surmise that this sort of "spiritual" is not the distinction are trying to use to separate the civil government from the Church, but I cannot grasp what IS the distinction you are trying to use.

To go back to my earlier distinction between the temporal end of man and the eternal end, clearly man's orientation to know, love and serve God and be united with him in the next life is pretty much the fundamental concern of the Church. That's her reason for existing. The temporal end of man could be stated something along the lines of "to live the complete life normal to humans, which is a life in which man directs himself within several communities (the state and family are the 2 natural ones, and the many artificial ones of business, charity, etc) based on appropriately ordered love of self and others' goods."

I don't insist that this is a perfect definition of man's temporal end, you can suggest an alternative one. But I think it is clear that whatever is used, it is going to need to have within it a nod to an appropriate ordering of the goods of life. But the interior disposition which renders man ready to do that "freely" is that of the moral virtues - using "free" in the sense of Jesus' and St. Paul's use of "free".

Tony said...

Granted, then, that logically a man might be interiorly free without the STATE having to pursue that sort of freedom as its object, it is still the case that MAN cannot be free in that interior sense without pursuing virtue as a necessary condition for fulfilling his temporal end.

I submit that because man is inherently a social being, ordered toward relationships to others fundamentally, he cannot attain the virtues without SOCIETY being organized so as to promote and encourage the virtues: man needs the assistance of many during his life, as is clear from the need for parents, teachers, etc.

Secondly, I submit, that society cannot be, or remain, organized in that way without the (at a minimum) explicit cooperation of the state toward supporting social custom, social arrangements, that protect and promote virtue. Even if the state does not make laws mandating acts of the virtues (apart from those protecting life and property) the state must UNAVOIDABLY have arenas in which it requires, permits, and/or forbids acts that intersect with the activities of customs designed to promote and protect man in his virtues. If the state simply IGNORES virtue in man in these intersections as being "outside its concerns" the state cannot help but undermine customs and practices intended within society to promote virtues.

This is not a complete argument, it is the outline of one. But I am called to work, so I have to cut out here. Try to consider what the full argument would look like.

Daniel Smith said...

If I follow your thinking correctly, (and I may not, but if I do) then there's no reason to have any separation between church and state. The two should be one thing. If temporal man and eternal man cannot be divided (and I agree they can't), of what purpose is separate governance for the temporal and the eternal?

But don't we start to run into problems when we try to figure out how to use this church/state in dealing with the unspiritual and sinners? What does the church/state do with those who refuse to repent? How do we handle unbelief? The church has teachings about excommunication etc., but how do you "excommunicate" someone from the nation? Deportation? Would we deport all sinners?

You see, that's the problem - it's not that man is two separate things - it's that the church and the state are two separate things. Sure, some of their goals overlap, but so what? Does the church NEED the state? Because that's kinda what you're saying here. MAN needs the state, but the church does not.

So yes, I reject your premise, and its underlying principle that because man is both temporal and eternal - the state needs to concern itself with the eternal things (the things of God).

As for my definition of "spiritual", it IS different than yours. I take a more mystical view I guess. My view is that "God is spirit" (as are the angels and demons) and therefore the "spiritual" is that which deals with that unseen realm in which they dwell. Man's spirit is the part of him that communes with God. I take the scripture that says "ye must be born again" as meaning that the spirit of man is dead without God - thus only alive (reborn) through communion with God. Much of this is based on the fundamentalist Pentecostal experiences I had after leaving the Catholic church, but it is entirely biblical as well.

Tony said...

I don't think your sense of "spiritual" is as far from mine as you think, but I'll get there a bit later.

If I follow your thinking correctly, (and I may not, but if I do) then there's no reason to have any separation between church and state. The two should be one thing. If temporal man and eternal man cannot be divided (and I agree they can't), of what purpose is separate governance for the temporal and the eternal?

Of course I have said repeatedly that I think they need to be distinct. But I think also that it is necessary to say more about that.

I think both you and I will agree that at the end of time, when Christ comes again, there will be no more need of any government other than that of God's rule alone, without any "secular" or "civil" authority that is "independent" of the Divine structure of rulership. At least, I suspect that if there is any sense of man ruling at all, it would be so imtimately bound up in the direct vision of God by both the ruler and the ruled that for practical purposes it would be like God ruling directly.

But when God established man on this Earth, He did not (yet) establish the eschatalogical final version of the Kingdom. From the Bible, we see that He intended there to be first a period in which man is allowed to change, grow, and be tested. DURING THAT PERIOD, man is in a sense left to his own rule - man rules over the Earth - "have dominion over...etc." I don't think I am running into any area here where you disagree with me, I think I am just describing the order God put in place with the creation of man.

It seems to me that implicit in that order so created was that God allowed man room to make judgments about the "things of this world" without the benefit of seeing, directly and completely and unavoidably, how each choice or option would definitively fit with the eternal end, but left man with room for choosing proximate ends that might, or might not, lead well to the true eternal end - this is why man has the capacity to sin.

This is, I think the fundamental basis for something we can refer to as the "temporal order" - the ordination under which man must choose day-to-day goods which serve ends which are ends for this life but are not inherently ends in themselves, or ends with respect to eternity, only ends for this time. This is the ordination whereby "man is left in the hand of his own counsel", as Sirach 15:14 says. This temporal order, then, is the time of testing where man sees the things of God through a glass darkly, not clearly, and must choose whilst in that unclear vision, in the hand of his own counsel.

Tony said...

I think that the order of the 7 days of creation, as well as a multitude of other things, shows that God makes orderly things. Natural things move under natural laws, animals operate well by instinct. Since man was designed for social community, a complex of many men, and where there are a multitude ordained to some common purpose, there is necessarily a rule, a fit ordering principle to set the multitude to work hand in hand, it is then a necessary result that man is designed in such a way that he live under a rule or law also, but in this case a law of reason - he is directed to his ends not by force or instinct but by reason. This is, at root, what is meant by "natural moral law", an edict of reason stemming from the divine law, but that natural law is GENERAL in some respects rather than particular. (For instance, because man is social and the family is the natural unit of society, it is according to natural law that man marry under public vows by which he formally attests to his interior intention, but the natural law does not prescribe the specific form of the public vows or ceremony.) And thus there is need for human laws, to make particular the direction of general moral laws in the midst of concrete situations. Thus man, even without sin, is designed as subject to laws, first Divine law (as all things are), secondly natural law, and thirdly human law to particularize natural law that provide only general direction.

Even without sin in the temporal order, then, it is natural that those who see the due ends more perfectly, or the suitable means more readily, should assist the community by leading, counseling, and directing the actions of those who are less apt, whose vision "through a glass" is a little darker than others - for the mutual benefit both of the less apt and for the entire community. Without sin, those who would thus lead would do so without pride or other sins leading to self-gain, and those who would follow would do so without envy or distaste, and this mutual order would be mutually enjoyable.

Given the sin of Adam and Eve, and the introduction of the effects of sin - disordered passions, clouded intellects, nature at odds with man, man opposed to man, etc, it became unavoidable that limited natural goods would become matters of contention. But it did not change the fact that man is designed that some rule and some be ruled, even if (for example) the roles should be held alternatingly, or in other ways. Every community, in order to remain COMMON, must be willing to submit to a common authority: even a board of directors of a volunteer group must have a chairman to decide "we have debated long enough, now we vote", or "the vote is taken, the AYEs have it, the matter is closed." Without such an authority, every community in which it is possible for men to dispute appropriate means to ends (i.e. all human communities) would perforce split up when each could not convince the opposing party, they would cease to be a community.

Tony said...

So it seems to me that man is designed to have rulers who rule "in the temporal order", that is, whose object and whose goods they have under their care are those goods OF the temporal order, things which are good with respect to this life but not necessarily goods that persist ultimately into the eternal order. Ultimately God will rule in the eschatological end, but He withholds that resolution of the Divine Economy of the universe while we work out our time of growth and trial. Before that end man has his own rulers for the temporal order.

But of course the goods that are goods IN the temporal order are of (at least) 2 kinds: goods that are apparent goods, things that appear under the aspect of pleasing, satisfying, fun and delightful, but are opposed to man's final end, i.e. goods that are so-called "good" only by appearance, failing to be properly ordered with respect to man's final good, God, only because man sees unclearly now. And then goods in the temporal order that are truly in keeping with his order to his final good. This is why man's temporal order, though DISTINCT from the eternal order, is subordinate to the eternal order in some measure, as the incomplete to the complete, or as receiving its own due ordination as FROM the eternal. Thus, man's temporal government, though distinct from the eternal government, is not utterly unconnected to the purposes of the eternal law. Because even those goods that are properly under the care of man in his temporal government are properly goods only insofar as duly ordered with respect to man's final end, even temporal government must be careful of and pay attention to man's final end.

In no wise should the Church BE man's temporal governor, but nor should that governor ignore the eternal order as irrelevant to his own purposes.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Tony,

I can find no fault with your reasoning except that I don't know how you draw this conclusion from it:

In no wise should the Church BE man's temporal governor, but nor should that governor ignore the eternal order as irrelevant to his own purposes.

If temporal government is only necessary because man has sinned and "sees through a glass darkly", shouldn't those who "see clearest" (i.e. those closest to God) be the leaders?

If the eternal order is 'relevant' to civil order, wouldn't those who know the most about the eternal order be the ones most qualified to lead?

I guess I don't get how you escape from a theocratic form of government IF you feel the eternal is relevant to temporal order. I mean, just how relevant is it? Is it only relevant peripherally? Or is it central?

I think we can agree that, if you follow the reasoning of natural law to its logical end, the pursuit of God and of eternal good is central to man's happiness and well being. So how do you square that with the statement "in no wise should the Church BE man's temporal governor" since the church is the one entity that can lead man to God?

Tony said...

I think we can agree that, if you follow the reasoning of natural law to its logical end, the pursuit of God and of eternal good is central to man's happiness and well being.

I would modify that slightly, and that’s where the different conclusion comes from:

If you follow the reasoning of natural law to its logical end, the pursuit of God and of “the good” as understood under the eternal order ordained by God is central to man’s happiness and well being, including his happiness and well being in this life.

Man using reason alone cannot be certain that we will have a life after death – meaning a human life with both body and soul. So, when I changed your formulation to “the good” I am thinking primarily of the good insofar as the good can be understood by man who, using reason, knows there is a God who is the source of reality and of the basic moral law – the same foundational prescription that tells us what it is to be “man” in fulfilled human living: man as working, man as playing, man as contemplating, man as resting, singing, worshiping, celebrating, etc. All of these are under “the good” but do not constitute “the good” specifically referring to life after death. Hence there is a sense of the good life that is the good life lived here before death, a life lived under a sense of “the good” without enlightenment by grace and knowledge of the afterlife. And yet that sense of good is STILL oriented toward God and within his eternal order as that order impresses the natural order. For example, part of man living the good life insofar as that life pertains strictly to this life is worship of God in thanks and submission, and contemplation of “the best and highest things”, i.e. contemplation of God as an object of natural delight to the mind. Or again, part of man’s living the good life here and now is telling and living the truth (rather than being a liar), because speaking truth is the ordinate response of the intelligent mind to seeing truth. So man’s “pursuit of God and the good” is necessary for the achievement of the temporal good that is the special object of the temporal ruler.

If temporal government is only necessary because man has sinned and "sees through a glass darkly", shouldn't those who "see clearest" (i.e. those closest to God) be the leaders?

(1) I think man would need government even if there were no sin. Direction is needed any time there is a multitude, and it is possible for some to see the ends or the means more clearly than others. I take it that even in a non-lapsarian world, mankind would have varying levels of capacity for wisdom and prudence, some that some would need direction and others would direct.

(2) I think that the states of man both before and after the fall of Adam and Eve involved a lack of total vision: in the “after” state we know so well, our mental vision is clouded by an intellect in rebellion against the will and against uncomfortable truth. But even before sin, Adam and Eve did not see clearly the full range of results of their actions, nor were they directly and immediately endowed with the Beatific Vision. They could pay attention to one truth to the exclusion of another truth. Thus it is possible to foresee the need for rulers even without sin.

I guess I don't get how you escape from a theocratic form of government IF you feel the eternal is relevant to temporal order. I mean, just how relevant is it? Is it only relevant peripherally? Or is it central?

Let me make a pair of important distinctions. The first is the difference between the “orders” and the “objects” of the rulers.

Tony said...

The eternal order provides the foundation for both the existence and the framework of the temporal order. So the temporal order is, always, in relation to the eternal order. It’s like the interior wall of a house. You can’t MAKE a house be a house just using sheetrock. The sheets need to be attached to a frame, and that frame needs to have a foundation. But when you are inside the house, all you see is the sheetrock, and by golly you better have a good sheetrock installer if you want it all to be neat and tidy and orderly. And that installer has to be able to see and understand the framework to work with it and provide an orderly interior. But the sheetrock installer doesn’t create or put up the framing studs or lay out their design, he just uses them. The sheetrock installer simply perceives and accepts the framework as is and works within it for the purposes of the interior alone. The temporal ruler perceives and accepts the eternal order as is and works within it for limited temporal purposes.

So while the orders are distinct, the temporal rests on the eternal in a really significant way.

Man’s END GOALwith respect to the eternal order refers more especially to man’s end goal after death than to his activity within this life. And the ruler who takes special care to orient man with respect to his end in the next life is doing something distinct from the ruler who regulates man within the goals pertaining specifically to this life.

The second distinction is that of who is ruled by the distinct rulers. I mentioned above that man could not know certainly about his life in the hereafter – not naturally, that is. Through revelation, though, God gives us certain understanding of that future goal. Not only that, but with supernatural grace, in a certain imperfect way, for those who have received grace, we actually start to live that supernatural life here and now. This is, I think, the entire foundation of that the mystical experience of God that we have that is more than merely obeying commandments, it is “Christ in me to will and to do”.

I take a more mystical view I guess. My view is that "God is spirit" (as are the angels and demons) and therefore the "spiritual" is that which deals with that unseen realm in which they dwell. Man's spirit is the part of him that communes with God. I take the scripture that says "ye must be born again"

Tony said...

Though all men have human nature, not all men have grace. So, while all men are subject to the ruler of the temporal order, the church doesn’t (directly) rule all men. All men are called (by their nature) to live in harmony in their local community of men – in a temporal order. Only those who have received faith and grace can properly live the mystical life of union with God even starting here.
So the Church, which is intended to bring men to act in pursuit of their goal in the next life, operates here and now because (a) the actions that get us the goal in the next life are actions in this life, and (b) because the “next” life is begun, indistinctly and imperfectly, with the life of grace here and now. But that final end is distinct from the proper object of the ruler of the temporal order. The temporal ruler rules with respect to that sense of “the good” that pertains to all men in this life, and that all men (at least theoretically) can understand and reach for. And yet that temporal “good life” is a goodness that is understood in reference to the divine order of creation, the life of the natural moral virtues and natural fulfillments of human nature.

The church rules with respect to that sense of “the good” that pertains to men in the next life, which good is achieved by actions in this life. Hence, the temporal ruler needs to perceive the eternal order which frames the temporal order though he does not rule (directly) with respect to the next life, and the church rules man in regards to this life as it pertains to the mystical life with God, achieved fully in the next life but participated imperfectly in this life.

Daniel Smith said...

Though all men have human nature, not all men have grace. So, while all men are subject to the ruler of the temporal order, the church doesn’t (directly) rule all men.

If I understand you, you're saying here that the main reason the church should not rule over the civil sphere is because, in this life, the civil sphere pertains to all men - not just the regenerate. Is that correct?

If so, then we are on the same page as far as that goes.

Hence, the temporal ruler needs to perceive the eternal order which frames the temporal order though he does not rule (directly) with respect to the next life,

Therein lies the rub. The temporal rulers of this world, for the most part, are either not aware of the eternal order, or entertain some perversion of it. Take the Islamic ruler whose perception of the eternal order includes martyrdom as a means to the highest eternal reward. Or your Moloch priest who perceives child sacrifice as a keystone of the eternal order. Or the atheist who doesn't even believe in an eternal order.

And, even if they don't think about the eternal order, most rulers have a perverted sense of "the good". How many rulers would you guess have had a decent concept of "the good"? We're not ruled by Thomistic philosopher kings you know! Hitler thought "the good" involved racial purity. Stalin thought "the good" was achieved through purges of "the bad". Leftists think "the good" involves the redistribution of wealth, abortion on demand and cradle to grave entitlements. Corporatists think "the good" involves favorable regulations for maximum profit and minimum competition. I could go on and on. All of these have had, or do have, the civil sword enforcing their version of "the good".

You see, when you have unregenerate men, ruling over others according to their concept of "the good" all you end up with is unregenerate men telling us what's "good for us"!

This is why I would strip the temporal government back to its bare essentials: keeping peace between men, protecting the weak from the strong, and leaving everyone else alone to live their lives according to their own conscience.

Tony said...

OK, I think we have some progress here. I will admit that in a world where we don't have thomistic philosopher-kings, and most men are venal if not downright evil, the form of government that will be right for those conditions is not an autocratic monarchy.

Will you admit, also, that the "ideal" form of government, in some sense of ideal that is not the working ideal that will apply here or for the foreseeable future, is a government that DOES take thought for the way man is related to the eternal order (if only we could find some thomistic philosopher kings)?

If those are BOTH true, then what would follow would be something like this: to the extent that the citizens are far from virtue (and thus will neither restrain evil in their rulers nor limit their own demands on the government), and their rulers are far from wisdom and virtue, the governmental forms ought to restrict the powers of the government narrowly.

To the extent that the citizens are virtuous and will exercise vigilance over themselves and the rulers, and the rulers are wise and virtuous themselves, the governmental forms legitimately may extend powers to the government that allows the rulers to make decisions with regard to man's relationship to the eternal order, as expressed in the temporal ends of life.

The crux of the debate is about that "legitimately" above. If your position is that it is (theoretically) legitimately allowable but extremely imprudent at this and most times, and my position is that it is allowable but only partially imprudent at this time, we are not nearly as far apart as if your position is that it is always (in principle) an illegitimate way to order the governmental format. Since your examples in your last post refer to the actual character of actual rulers, I think it is fair (but correct me if I am wrong) to read into your comment the former: theoretically legitimate but extremely imprudent.

Daniel Smith said...

Well, in a Christian world, with men of pure heart and sound doctrine as rulers - yes, it would be a good thing for rulers to be concerned with eternal things.

That will never happen though (at least not in this age).

And, our experience shows that, even when rulers are Christian, it is still dangerous to give them authority over men's spiritual lives. America was populated with people fleeing persecution from the British state church which, depending on the monarch, varied from Catholic, to Protestant, to a mixture of both. The one thing they all had in common was that they were mandatory. So under one monarch, Catholics were persecuted, then under another, Protestants.

This is the danger when men, with the civil sword at their disposal, rule over others in spiritual matters.

My call then, for the government to divorce itself from spiritual and eternal matters, is NOT motivated by an aversion to the Good but rather by a zeal for religious freedom.

My belief is that some form of libertarianism would accomplish that. I think the guidelines I spelled out are probably a "most common denominator" which all men can agree on (except those deluded by some murderous ideology). If we can all agree on a basic code of conduct - don't harm others, don't take advantage of the weak, respect other's property, etc. - then we can let the various churches disciple the spiritually inclined while leaving every man free to decide for himself whether he wants to follow God or not.

Daniel Smith said...

Just noticed this over at Ed Feser's blog (I assume you are the "Tony" participating in the discussion there?)

Feser quoting himself: according to natural law theory, “there is common ground among all human beings, and particularly between religious believers and non-believers, on which moral disagreements can be rationally adjudicated.”

I've heard a similar statement made about natural law by Judge Andrew Napolitano (a Catholic libertarian). So it would appear, at least according to the views expressed by these gentlemen, that what I'm advocating for is in keeping at least with a certain interpretation of natural law.

Now I know that Feser's no longer a libertarian and he's said that the reason for this has to do with natural law, so I was a bit surprised to see that quote from him (and indeed he walks it back slightly by clarifying that he didn't intend that as a "definition" of natural law - just a feature of it).

Regardless, I think there just might be (and if not, there should be) a version of natural law which religious and non-religious alike can agree to. And, furthermore, I believe that a government based on that natural law would look a lot like what I've argued for here.

Tony said...

Well, in a Christian world, with men of pure heart and sound doctrine as rulers - yes, it would be a good thing for rulers to be concerned with eternal things.

Well, we have moved slightly closer to agreement with each other, but I think there is still a pretty wide gap. In my view, the sense of "virtuous" that I wanted in asking about the state that has virtuous and alert citizens and virtuous rulers was a general level of virtue that one could actually expect to see in some real people culture, regime here in this life, and perhaps that we have already seen, though only rarely: that of Rome in 250 BC, or parts of Greece in 500 BC, or Switzerland in 1400 AD, perhaps (the Swiss have had an amazing run of stability)? I wasn't thinking of a situation where every citizen and ruler is a veritable walking saint.

Secondly, I really doubt the following is just plain possible

My call then, for the government to divorce itself from spiritual and eternal matters.

I think that the temporal rulers cannot avoid making decisions that affect people in reflection of their final (next life) end, they either do it positively by enacting measure intended specifically to affect people so, or they do it negatively by enacting measures that (because they utterly ignore man's final end altogether) have the effect of constraining man's actions and religious options in ways they will object to.

Have to run out, more later. Yes, I am the Tony posting at Ed's blog.

Daniel Smith said...

I wasn't thinking of a situation where every citizen and ruler is a veritable walking saint.

Nor did I assume you were. We were talking only about rulers. But, even if we lower the standard for our rulers from "Christians of pure heart and sound doctrine" to simply "virtuous", whatever form of government we agree on will be at the disposal of ALL rulers, virtuous or not!

So we could, when the rulers are virtuous, grant them the authority to enact "laws of virtue", and then watch in horror as their non-virtuous successors, with that same authority, enact perverted "laws of virtue" according to their twisted sense of what constitutes "the good". This is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves today here in America.

So, no, I don't think we can trust men to remain virtuous, nor do I think we should assume that they will. We should assume, rather, that men will NOT remain virtuous and design our government to mitigate that. The framers of our Constitution had that in mind when they formed this government - having just broken free from tyranny themselves. They were decent, virtuous men but they put safeguards in the Constitution against tyranny, against the centralization of power in a few individuals, because they had seen first hand how that power corrupts and distorts men's hearts.

I think that the temporal rulers cannot avoid making decisions that affect people in reflection of their final (next life) end

This is why it is better, IMO, to strictly limit government to civil matters - and even then to a few simple principles that we all can agree to.

We have to break free from the mindset that the government is the arbiter of virtue and goodness in society and realize that there are other institutions that are better at it - and that don't have to use force or coercion to achieve it. In the end, no matter the form of government, a society gains or loses virtue from within - not from without. A strong church is more important than a virtuous government. My fear is that a strong government will undermine and weaken the influence of the church on society.

We see that happening in Europe, (and beginning to happen here), where the government "takes care of" the poor. In the past, it was churches and charities that would feed and clothe the poor - and expose them to religion, charity and volunteerism in the process. Now, through the government's "virtuous acts of charity", the churches and charities are weakened, people no longer give money to them ("my taxes do that"), and no longer volunteer ("the government does that"). Thus, churches and charities become ineffectual and the secularization of the society advances - partly at least because of the government's "acts of virtue". No one can argue that it's NOT good to feed the poor, the issue is whether or not it is within the sphere of government to do so.

Tony said...

Me: I think that the temporal rulers cannot avoid making decisions that affect people in reflection of their final (next life) end.

You: This is why it is better, IMO, to strictly limit government to civil matters - and even then to a few simple principles that we all can agree to.

I am not trying to be cantankerous, but you seem to be saying " I see your point A, that's why I prescribe not-A."

It's not that I think the civil rulers, those who rule in the temporal order, are men who SHOULD restrict themselves to only "civil" matters that only affect men with regard to our temporal end, but that they don't so restrict themselves. It is, rather, that they CANNOT POSSIBLY, even if they want to, restrict themselves to determinations that affect men only with regard to our temporal end.

Just to take a very straightforward example: suppose we are invaded by a foreign power, and the rulers draft men into the army to defend the country. Most full-fledged libertarians (not the anarcho-libertarians who repudiate government and all of its capacity to wage war) seem to think that if the government rightly "ignores" what men are doing for (or not doing for) their end in the next life, then the draft notices will go to all men in the right age, including parish priests, including missionary priests, including cloistered monks, men who have taken vows to live in community apart from the world, and whose obligations under canon law are to not be those who draw blood as either soldier or executioner.

Either the state must accommodate these men and say "oh, we didn't mean EVERYONE, you who have put yourselves under those religious obligations are exempt", or it ignores their religious obligations. To me, you seem to be saying the state should do the latter, it should demand that they serve as soldiers. But that means that it IS NOT leaving men free to pursue their religious duties as they see those duties. The state, by completely ignoring a specific concrete claim about final ends, end up demanding of men something that conflicts with their duties regarding that final end.

We have to break free from the mindset that the government is the arbiter of virtue and goodness in society

We cannot break free of that and still have a government. Your own range of permissible governmental rules shows that: your range enshrines a particular set of moral constraints - not harming others - rules that are (a) not agreed by all as universally valid, and (b) according to some, stem from principles of morality that, in the long run, are closely associated with the Judeo-Christian perspective on life (they are not wholly free of religious sentiment).

What gives the state the right to enshrine THESE morals over men's objections, but doesn't permit the state to enshrine OTHER religious and moral perspectives at the same time?

Daniel Smith said...

I am not trying to be cantankerous, but you seem to be saying " I see your point A, that's why I prescribe not-A."

Well, I am not prescribing "not-A" but rather "as little A as possible". You say that rulers can't rule temporally without affecting eternal things, and I agree. From that agreement I then argue that for that very reason we have to seek to limit them as much as possible. The LAST thing we want is unregenerate men ruling over eternal things - right? How best to accomplish that? Allowing and even encouraging them to rule over eternal things? Or strictly limiting them to temporal things (knowing that - even then - there will be some bleed over)?

What gives the state the right to enshrine THESE morals over men's objections, but doesn't permit the state to enshrine OTHER religious and moral perspectives at the same time?

Like I said, it's a most common denominator. It's the elusive version of natural law that the religious and non-religious can agree to. I'm not saying it's perfect or even "the best". It's the best we can hope for in this life, where unregenerate men rule over others of differing consciences.

Tony said...

Daniel, I agree that men and society, as unregenerate, are often not worthy of great power over men.

Consider, though, the possibility that taking what power they have away (power to do evil) is, itself, making the problem worse.

If, as I think, civil (temporal) society of its own nature needs the hand of rulers conscious of the eternal order and reflecting that order in their determinations IN SOME MATTERS, then it is at least possible that failing to have that condition, failing to exercise ruling that way, leads inevitably to the very level of degeneracy we see, and that it will only continue to get worse.

It may be that not allowing men to rule with a purpose to accommodate the eternal order in temporal affairs (because they can do a lot of evil with such power) is a lot like not allowing a young man any power or room to make mistakes, because his mistakes would cause evil. Sure, those specific evils are preventable by not giving him room to try. But it that is a guarantee that the young man never grows into maturity, into responsibility, into having the capacity to do great good with the scope of action allowed him.

Tony said...

Here's what I mean about needing rulers ruling with attention to the eternal order. I think it extremely probable that the only reason we have, during the last 30 years, governmental organs that most of the time will act to prevent harm to citizens and most of the time act to protect the common welfare is that both the people and the institutions (including structure of the institutions and the "institutional memory") are borrowing off the residue of a Christian notion of society and government. I fear that as that Christian sense of governing in the civil order goes away, we will see corruptions of both practice and theory of governing, so that it will come to look more and more like the rule of the strong over the weak, with hardly even a pretense of justice or "one law for everyone". We see a certain amount of this already, when we see high officials getting mere hand-slaps for actions that other people would be thrown in jail for.

You say that we have had non-Christian societies before, so Christian sensibilities for how to govern the temporal order are not critical. That may be true to an extent, but no society has had NO RELIGION at its core for how to govern civil affairs, so this is pretty much a new experiment, trying to do without it now. And, furthermore, all prior non-Christian societies had explicit reference to truths that are a large part of the natural law, even if they didn't call them that. In the current state of affairs, there is a major element of society that rejects even that much basic morality, and explicitly rejects natural law. It seems worthy of doubt that a civil government can remain intact with neither a religious perspective under it nor any reliance on the main body of natural law.

Daniel Smith said...

failing to exercise ruling that way, leads inevitably to the very level of degeneracy we see, and that it will only continue to get worse.

I don't agree. The degeneracy we see today is not a product of an overly free society. I don't believe you can make that connection. It would be easier to find a connection between over-governance and degeneracy. Go back and compare the level of governmental intervention vs. the level of degeneracy. You'll see that they increase together.

There's a reason for that:
An over-reliance on government takes away accountability and responsibility, and it undermines the churches and other organizations that hold sway in the absence of a strong central government.

I submit to you that, had there been welfare, social security, medicare, and other cradle-to-grave entitlements at the founding of this country, the degeneracy would have been epidemic from the very start! It was our freedom (and the responsibility/accountability that goes with it), AND the profound influence of the churches, that made us decent - not the government.

I'll remind you also - lest you think I'm changing the subject by bringing up entitlements - that every entitlement program was created "for the common good".

It may be that not allowing men to rule with a purpose to accommodate the eternal order in temporal affairs (because they can do a lot of evil with such power) is a lot like not allowing a young man any power or room to make mistakes, because his mistakes would cause evil. Sure, those specific evils are preventable by not giving him room to try. But it that is a guarantee that the young man never grows into maturity, into responsibility, into having the capacity to do great good with the scope of action allowed him.

So what you're saying is that if we give more power and more authority to politicians and regulators - they will eventually learn from their mistakes and use that power wisely?

Ha! I've got a couple Arizona cruise tickets to sell you!

Daniel Smith said...

Oh by the way, on your conscription question:
I don't think the government should have the right to force anyone to fight a war against their will. If this country is invaded, I'm sure there would be no problem getting volunteers to defend their homeland (unless, of course, the invading nation has MORE freedom that what we have now!)