Category Archives: Religion (Christianity)

Church, King and State – Decentralisation and Liberty


Church, King and State – Decentralisation and Liberty

By Duncan Whitmore

Introduction

It scarcely needs to be said that life as a libertarian theorist and political activist is an often isolated and lonely existence. Even though we often have the evidence to illustrate that we are correct, our ideas are ridiculed, if they are ever listened to in the first place. While “free-marketism” from the point of view of generating “economic efficiency” enjoys a seat at the table of the mainstream and may, depending upon the circumstances, disseminate views which are taken seriously by the highest echelons of government, radical libertarianism does not. We are a bare minority of extremist nutcases, deluded by the romantic fairytale vision of the industrial greatness of the nineteenth century, the reality of which, we are told, meant spoils for the rich and destitution for the masses. Our intellectual heroes are derided as dogmatic crackpots who would do away with all of the civilising achievements of our social democratic world order and consign us all instead to a vigilante society reminiscent of the “wild west”.

Having said of all of this, the endeavour to justify libertarian principles is only a small part of the battle. In fact, the biggest difficulty in such justification is not in crafting high quality arguments that will consign statism and socialism to the intellectual rubbish heap. Rather, it is the fact that the die is so heavily weighted in favour of statism, and that the willingness to accept any kind of confirmation bias, however minute, for the status quo is so eager, that even if one was armed with a fortress of insurmountable libertarian arguments the debate could still be lost. No doubt many libertarian has been in the position of having taken a horse to water only to find that he will not drink – and that, sadly, we must be prepared to wait for him to realise that he is dying of thirst. Read more

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What Exactly Did the Reformation Reform?


What Exactly Did the Reformation Reform?

By Frank van Dun[1]

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century reformed nothing but it changed everything. It was a crucially important factor in the demise of Medieval Latin Christendom and its rapid transformation in what we now know as Europe or, more generally, the West. Philosophically and religiously it rede­fined and revolutionized Western civilization, for, what characterizes a civiliza­tion is not so much what people do (which is pretty much the same always and everywhere) as what they conscientiously believe they ought to do: its fundamental scheme of justification and rectification — in a word, its conscience. Read more

Libertarianism is Subsidiarity


The conventional definition of a ‘state’, as provided by Prof. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, is ‘an agency…that exercises a territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making. That is, it is the ultimate arbiter in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving itself, and it allows no appeal above and beyond itself.’1 Europe, however, developed remarkably different systems of law and advanced stateless civilisations, as I have written about in detail elsewhere. Nevertheless, a growing number of Western nationalists have begun to idealise the more oriental, statist elements of the Roman Empire, as influenced by the Etruscan patricians, mistakenly perceiving statism to be the traditional European system of law and order. Consequently, they perceive modernism, especially the modern state, as a welcome reinvigoration of this supposed Western political tradition.

In this article, I will argue that sovereign, patriarchal institutions are necessary to sustain decentralised juridical orders; more specifically, the European tradition of having a plurality of such interacting institutions was what prevented the rise of states and allowed the development of famously European liberties, from the ancient Indo-Europeans to Latin Christendom. The emphasis on the patriarchal element of jurisdictions is important to understand how to optimise human liberty.

For example, let us cast our minds to Robinson Crusoe on his island – a favourite hypothetical of Rothbard; alone on his island, Crusoe possesses free will and is also free in the sense that most libertarians would understand the word – that is, no potential interloper is present to create a conflict over the scarce resources on the island and Crusoe’s negative, assumed rights to these remain unviolated. Now, let us assume Crusoe finds a woman on the island, and she becomes his wife and the mother of their children. Would we object to Crusoe acting as the ultimate decision maker of this family unit? The vast majority of us would not. Most Christians among us believe it is perfectly natural and right for the father to be the ‘head of the family’; the strict Rothbardians essentially agree on similar grounds, i.e. that the young children haven’t yet reached an age of reason. But, let us add a crucial variable to this situation.

Let us suppose that Crusoe has dominated a sort of Amazonian tribe of women on the island. Crusoe has also developed a superstition regarding the island’s active but quiet volcano, even worshipping it as some deity. Crusoe sacrifices all his male offspring into the volcano’s fiery mouth, as well as the more mouthy of his wives. Do we agree with this situation? The strict Rothbardians would perhaps only object (in terms of law) if any of the women disagreed with this arrangement. Imagine, if you will, one of the Rothbardians washing up on the island, yet all of the women agree with and were even the ones who converted Crusoe to this volcanic religion; they are perfectly satisfied with the sacrifice of their male infants, which they believe has not only quelled the volcanic eruptions, but it also blessed the island with their special prophet, Crusoe. What objections would the Rothbardian raise?

The following is Rothbard’s most controversial belief – an absolute and consistent, if hyper-individualistic, position regarding the duties of a parent to their child from the perspective of negative rights:

‘It must therefore be illegal and a violation of the child’s rights for a parent to aggress against his person by mutilating, torturing, murdering him, etc. On the other hand, the very concept of “rights” is a “negative” one, demarcating the areas of a person’s action that no man may properly interfere with. No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced. On the other hand, the very concept of “rights” is a “negative” one, demarcating the areas of a person’s action that no man may properly interfere with. No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced… [T]his means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.’2

So, the Rothbardian might suggest that Crusoe simply leave the babies at the side of the volcano instead, where they can die slowly, whether he personally finds this abhorrent or not. I highly doubt they or Rothbard himself would ever suggest such a thing, but he might come away from this experience with a greater respect for the cultural power of a shared belief, especially a metaphysical belief. Had the Rothbardian been a Christian, he might likewise recognise he has no legitimated authority per se on this island, but at least he would certainly have a missionary duty to attempt to convert Crusoe and the women, and end this diabolical cycle of murder. You might think this is a ridiculous hypothetical, but this struggle against the brutal paterfamilias was a stark reality in medieval Europe.

We say that all have free will, but what of those beliefs which totally deny this? What about total moral relativism? What about the shattering of justice into a spectrum of definitions, so that actual injustices to the natural order of the human world can simply be termed ‘social justice’? It should be clear to anyone who has engaged Western leftism of late, let alone anyone who has studied history, that there is and always will be a market for injustice. The legalistically Rothbardian, that is, hyper-individualistic among us would probably have had little success in ending the ancient, assumed rights of family heads – you choose your private court and I’ll choose mine. But, Christendom brought a plurality of natural law-oriented jurisdictions – practically speaking, competing patriarchies which didn’t threaten the liberty of the father, but rather refined it and allowed greater liberty for women and children.

Prof. Anthony Esolen describes what he calls the baptism of the paterfamilias by the monastics:

‘One of the great unheralded events in history occurred in the early sixth century, when a monk named Benedict of Nursia was asked to write a rule governing life in the monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict aimed to provide a Roman orderliness and moderation, unlike the spiritual athleticism of the East, with its daring flights of physical deprivation and marathon prayer… Saint Benedict’s genius was Roman; his instincts favored the stable and conservative.’3

The monasteries produced highly disciplined men who gave up their lives to work wholly towards the ideal, preserving and developing Christian civilisation, not just by clearing the forests and swamps and harnessing natural forces with brilliant machines, but by bringing an alphabet, the continuation of classical wisdom and reason, and the preservation of aesthetic beauty. These men were led by an abbot (from abba – father), inspired by the highly patriarchal culture of ancient Rome. Monasteries became centres of learning as well as economic and technological hubs. Later, guilds, universities, entire cities etc. would follow a similar pattern and would result in sovereign patriarchal institutions – the sort of environment in which jurisdictions could compete to provide sustainable order and liberty.

Esolen is right to describe this as a baptism of Roman patriarchy, as Roman law was built from the individual household up, with the father as head of each household and considered, along with the eldest son, to be a proper citizen. Indeed, as Prof. Larry Siedentop notes, ‘Citizens were originally simply the patres, something surviving in Roman usage when senators were called the “fathers” of the city.’4 Naturally, there emerged in the cities large, aristocratic, patrician families. So, this informed Roman public law, of course, with the senators being the ‘godfather’ figure to large bodies of junior branches of families and even more clients. Just as in ancient Greece, people belonged to the city and its gods, with the free patriarchs having ‘freedom’ in the sense of sharing the positive exercise of coercive government. Now, it’s important to understand that these people were thoroughly religious and not the extreme secularists modernists on the right romantically imagine them to be, so the system was not lightly challenged by underclasses. Just as with Crusoe on his island, a spiritual change would have to occur to so change Europeans’ understanding of individual freedom as we know and love it.

As Siedentop explains, the ‘old aristocracy’ of ancient Rome and the concept of kingship were always understood as a religious role; the undermining of this, i.e. ‘what moved the younger sons, clients and plebs was a desire to share in the privileges of the citizen class – to cut a figure comparable to that of a class which had hitherto combined the gravitas of priests, the pride of rulers, and the glory of warriors.’ As such, Siedentop identifies the preference of the underclasses for tyranny as simply a way of smashing the old order and maybe getting a better deal;5 the echoes of this can be seen in the Monarchic, French and Bolshevik Revolutions. But, as libertarians, we agree that greater centralised statism is not desirable, regardless of how we arrive at that conclusion.

So, we need to briefly digress to see where the European paterfamilias emerged from, in order to understand why Christendom and its plurality of jurisdictions was able to bring a level of peace to all of Europe – succeeding where pagan Roman Empire had failed. The ancient Europeans had their household gods – departed and glorified ancestors – who were invoked for assistance through the household fire, making the hearth the centre of the physical home, the abstract family unit and the spiritual elements which sacramentally unified the whole. The father was at once priest and ultimate decision-maker for the family; the eldest son would take on the continual maintenance of the family fire and invoking the idols around the heart – the basis for primogeniture in royal and other lineages, as well as gathering pictures of family around the mantelpiece of the fireplace, usually at the centre of the Western home. For women, marriage into the family meant taking not just the name but the religion also.

With the establishment of Latin Christendom, however, came a system which respected the father as head of the family, the masters, chairmen, principals, presidents, lords, kings etc., right up to the authority of the emperor. This was not simply a hierarchy, but horizontal, even parallel authorities had become sovereign and there was the cultural court of appeal of the Church’s canon law available at any level and to all. Indeed, the new belief that all had a life to live before God and were loved by Him anathematised brutality towards infants, who were now baptized into the Church, and women too could choose whom they married and had their own vows, as well as patriarchal authorities to keep a brutal husband in check.

Under such a system of patriarchal authorities, the expectations that men naturally impose on each other – ‘breaking each other’s balls’ when unnecessary weakness and irresponsibility was displayed – was palpable; thus, the traditional doctrine of subsidiriaty developed organically and would later become clarified Catholic social teaching, placing decision-making at its most local, immediate level. It is this subsidiarity, this undertaking and grasping of responsibility by men, down to the individual man, which enables countries like Switzerland and Liechtenstein to become so greatly admired by libertarians as sustainable, successful models for preserving decentralised authorities.

The individualistic, laissez-faire bourgeoisie so admired by most libertarians, however, is typically a culture of passing off responsibility when it becomes ‘cost-effective’ to do so, e.g. paying taxes is easier than fully undertaking everything required for me to defend my and even my neighbours’ properties, regardless of what effect this has on the masculinity of my community. Libertarians must re-evaluate the importance of cultural factors, such as patriarchal authorities, which sociologist, Steven Goldberg, brilliantly identified as inevitable in human groups decades ago, remaining unrefuted. We can conclude by declaring that competing patriarchies create greater freedom as the dominating aspects of masculinity, at any scale, are tempered by the protective. Also, as I have argued elsewhere, the importance of religion is fundamental to providing a shared definition of justice and, as a market and respect for injustice is ubiquitous, this demands to be considered in libertarian thought. I think my concerns were best brought home by the words of Mises Institute president, Jeff Deist:

‘what would you fight for? The answer to this question tells us a lot about what libertarians ought to care about. By this I mean what would you physically fight for, where doing so could mean serious injury or death. Or arrest and imprisonment, or the loss of your home, your money, and your possessions. I’m sure all of us would fight for our physical persons if we were attacked, or for our families if they were attacked. We might fight for close friends too. And perhaps even our neighbors. In fact we might like to think we would physically defend a total stranger in some circumstances, for example an old woman being attacked and robbed. And we probably would fight for our towns and communities if they were physically invaded by an outside force, even though we don’t personally know all of the people in our towns and communities. How about an abstraction, like fighting for “your country” or freedom or your religion? This is where things get more tenuous. Many people have and will fight for such abstractions. But if you ask soldiers they’ll tell you that in the heat of battle they’re really fighting for their mates, to protect the men in their units–and to fulfill a personal sense of duty. In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.’6

1 Hoppe, H. H. (2006) ‘The Idea of a Private Law Society’ – https://mises.org/library/idea-private-law-society (30/09/2018)

2 Rothbard, M. (2015 ed.) The Ethics of Liberty, NYU Press, p.100

3 Esolen, A. (2008) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, Regnery Publishing Inc., pp.121

4 Siedentop, L. (2014) Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Allen Lane, p.27

5 Ibid., p.31

6 Deist, J. (2017) ‘For a New Libertarian’ https://mises.org/wire/new-libertarian (30/09/2018)

Activism in Daily Life: Casting Votes that Count


Activism in Daily Life:
Casting Votes that Count
by Sean Gabb

25th August 2018

One of my books
Learn More

The more raddled and droopy my face grows, the more inclined I am to agree with a proposition put to me by various friends since before I needed to shave. This is that political activism is a waste of time. Oh, writing about politics – analysis, denunciation, a general flying of the ideological flag – that is probably time well-spent. I have always enjoyed it, and may have done no harm to the causes thereby supported. The waste of time is electoral politics and involvement in campaign groups. The first means joining political parties over which we have no control, and that are led by people whose behaviour – and increasingly whose speech – reveals them as our sworn enemies. The second means giving money to people who, with a few percentage wobbles either side, operate on the “Eighty-Twenty Principle.” 80p of every pound you hand over will be spent on whores and cocaine. Whatever remains that is not merely wasted will be spent on getting someone cheap to do the promised work. Read more

Stories from the Life of Christ


Stories from the Life of Christ:
A Latin Reader for Intermediate Students

Selected, with an Introduction, Notes
and Comprehensive Vocabulary
by Sean Gabb
Hampden Press, 2018
ISBN: 978-1983188732

Address to the Reader

The purpose of this book is to give a set of readings that are in genuine but fairly simple Latin, that are interesting in themselves, and that are accompanied by a Vocabulary in which nearly every word used in the text is fully explained. I hope it will be useful to intermediate students—that is, those who have made some progress in the language, but who still find the Roman Classics too difficult to read with any fluency. I think of A-Level students in England, or undergraduates anywhere in the English-speaking world who are beginning an accelerated course in Latin. I think also of students preparing for any other advanced examination at schools outside England, and of students in home education or those who are trying to learn Latin by themselves. I hope the book will be of general use. Read more

“We must obey God rather than men”: Lutheran-Calvinist theories of resistance


“We must obey God rather than men”: Lutheran-Calvinist theories of resistance
By Keir Martland 

The theology of Luther, Calvin, and other sixteenth-century Protestants is similar in some respects to that of S. Augustine, and arguably in the case of Calvin, based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, with Harro Hopfl describing the latter as Luther and Calvin’s “favourite Patristic theologian.” Whatever the provenance of it, there is in the writings of Luther and Calvin a strong emphasis on the fallen nature of man. Now, earlier Christian thinkers with such a view of the impaired, flawed, even wretched nature of man, tended to also hold such a view of society as a whole. When thinkers such as Augustine or later ‘Political Augustinians’ applied themselves to political matters, because of their view of man and society, they gave no ‘naturalistic’ interpretation of government, authority, and power, no account of it independent of the source of all goodness, God, since man and society were, on this account, incapable of any virtue apart from Christian virtue. Their treatments of politics, then, left little room for theories of resistance or even for theories of ownership and political authority independent of the Church; rather, such thinkers tended to view all dominion as belonging ultimately to the Church and they expected at least passive obedience from the Christian to the established secular – delegated – and spiritual authorities. Yet there developed in the sixteenth-century a Lutheran-Calvinist resistance theory, or theories. It is, on the face of it, hard to see how the resistance theory as found in Theodore Beza or the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos developed from the writings of Luther and Calvin. Read more

Jerome and His Women


Joan O’Hagen
Jerome and His Women
Black Quill Press, Sydney, 2015 (pb)
ISBN: 9780646943701 

Review by Richard Blake

This novel explores the background to one of the most important events in history. When Constantine established Christianity as the preferred state religion in 313, he was saving Western civilisation. Until then, the religious settlement in the Roman Empire was divided both vertically and horizontally. The vertical division marked off the educated elite. For those at the top, the pagan cults were approaches to the concept of a Supreme Being and a universal moral law. Those at the bottom took these cults at face value, with their alarming or simply scandalous mythologies, and their frequent lack of mutual sympathy.

Christianity was a universal religion. For all its sectarian tendencies, it crossed every boundary of language and race and class. It was a way of life, and it had philosophical content. Once spread beyond the frontiers, it did much to humanise the barbarians, who would otherwise have invaded as pure savages. It also provided a check to misgovernment. The Jews aside, it is hard to think of any religious group that had been able to face down a determined pagan emperor. Once Constantine himself was dead, the clergy could rally the faithful as they pleased – usually for the Empire that they now dominated, but also against any emperor who in their opinion went too far. Read more

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