Stopping the State: Why Conservatives and Libertarians Need Each Other

One of the consequences of the GOP primaries and particularly Ron Paul’s candidacy has been to reignite the debate between self-styled conservatives and libertarians. Recently the Witherspoon Institute’s “Public Discourse” forum invited a conservative to critique libertarianism (Nathan Schleuter) and a libertarian to critique conservatism (Nikolai G. Wenzel). Without intending any disrespect to the forum or the authors, I have to say that I was rather disheartened by both papers. Neither seemed very willing to find points of substantive agreement, and both seemed to be engaged in a sort of tunnel vision regarding the merits of their own ideology as well as the alleged shortcomings of the other.

It is disheartening because of the time in which we live, a time in which conservatives and libertarians need each other in approximately the same way two people freezing in the night need each others warmth if they are going to survive to see the light of day. The few points of agreement that these authors pass over as if they were almost trivial – free markets, the importance of non-political social institutions such as the family, or the U.S. Constitution – ought to be rallying points for all who recognize the grave threat posed by the modern “progressive” state.

It was shocking to me that Schleuter could explicitly acknowledge that American conservatism seeks to preserve “natural law liberalism” without making any connection to libertarianism as such. Where else does libertarianism originate but the original or classical liberalism? On the other hand, it is just as disconcerting that Wenzel defends philosophical relativism while vigorously rejecting conservatism because it rests “on a claim of privileged access to to truth.” Criticisms of this sort will always be bankrupt, because they will always depend on the exact same sort of claims. To say that no one can legitimately make truth claims or even have any knowledge of moral or philosophical truth is to make a truth claim that can itself be subjected to the same sort of criticism.

Things generally don’t improve when agnostic or relativistic libertarians venture into “truth claim” territory themselves. Murray Rothbard once asked, “Why be libertarian anyway? By this we mean, what’s the point of the whole thing?” Readers can judge for themselves, but I maintain that he never actually answered the question. He tells us how those who are already libertarians ought to be and what they ought to value but we don’t really get the answer we are looking for: why be libertarian to begin with?

Enter an idea called “paleo-libertarianism,” which has more than a few things in common with “paleo-conservatism.” Rothbard himself was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the paleo-libertarian point of view, along with Lew Rockwell and now the wildly popular Ron Paul. Though Rockwell himself appears to no longer approve of the term, I think the basic idea behind it was distinct and accurate enough to deserve its own label.

That basic idea (as I see it) is that the maximization of political and economic liberty is not, as many conservatives and leftists often assert, bad for society but rather a social good; on the other hand, the growth of the state is both a sign of and a further cause of social decay. To put it another way, those things that conservatives value most on the basis  of their “privileged truth claims” about man and the social order – religion, marriage, family, and property to name a few – are best preserved in a “libertarian” political order of very limited government, decentralization, free markets, and above all, freedom of association.

This strikes a lot of conservatives as counter-intuitive if not absurd, because of the widespread acceptance of what I would call the Marxist narrative of capitalism’s historical development, outlined in The Communist Manifesto and other works. Here the processes and institutions valued by libertarians are set at odds with religion, family, marriage, and even private property itself. Marx explains that all of these old associations have been destroyed by capitalism. As he famously wrote, quoting Thomas Carlyle, capitalism makes it so that “no other nexus between man and man” exists but “naked self-interest, than callous cash payment.” Of course Marx sees this process as a necessary precursor to the socialist and communist future that will truly liberate man, while conservatives see it as something to be arrested, but they often appear to agree on the historical facts and their social implications.

I don’t even wish to challenge these facts or implications at the moment. Even if they were granted, it wouldn’t change what has become clear over the last century or so, which is this: that the state cannot replace whatever has been lost in the way of fundamental social institutions required for the development of well-rounded human beings, and that it in fact oppresses and degrades them even more than capitalism allegedly has. Whatever role economic liberalism may have played in disrupting traditional ways of life pales in comparison to what the modern welfare state has accomplished. Besides, critics of capitalism also like to insist that we never actually had a “free market”, except when they are blaming it for every social problem of the last 200 years or so. Either we had one or we didn’t, and if we didn’t, then it can’t be blamed for anything. And yet the state was always there.

So what can a free economy and a “minarchy” actually accomplish for faith and family? First consider that the modern state is directly responsible for the propagation of every kind of anti-social vice. What is it, after all, that makes the prospect of single parenthood, of divorce, of abortion and a state of childlessness a serious option for modern people, and especially women? It is the prospect of the impersonal state replacing the husband and father, and even the children when one reaches old age and has no one to care for them. The state will help you fornicate without the “punishment”, as Obama put it, of having children or having to marry the mother of your children; it will help you remain lazy and unproductive without the punishment of impoverishment; it will help you keep a failing business operational without the punishment of failure – all conditions that would be imposed in a free society, which is not without its own built-in restraints and consequences.

The modern state does all of this in order to perpetuate itself. If the state could cure all social ills, it would become unnecessary. But if it can manage without destroying all social ills then it can become indestructible. This was the ultimate social plan of communism, and it was brilliantly understood in Orwell’s 1984, which has the all-powerful Party distributing booze, porno and lottery tickets to the masses in order to keep them morally corrupt. Our own regime is a little more refined with its high-end pharmaceutical drugs, artificial contraception and welfare spending, but the idea is the same.

This reality must shatter both conservative and libertarian illusions. The state is not the guarantor of social order, and so conservatives who look to it as such ought to stop. A limited government is better for social order than no government, but the modern state is a “cure” that is worse than whatever the disease was, and the libertarian critique of the state as such is invaluable in opposing it.  At the same time the modern state that libertarians despise perpetuates itself by promoting the sort of things that the same libertarians are apt to dismiss as “harmless”, not worth fussing over, or even positive goods. Sexual liberation was supposed to be great, right? Not when it turns out that the breakdown of the family is the health of the state, as much as war ever was. To be opposed to the state without being opposed at the very least on a personal level to various kinds of anti-social and immoral behaviors is at this point completely irrational.

This is all a rather long-winded way of saying that libertarians and conservatives can learn a lot from one another, and would further each others ends if they could get over certain prejudices and hang-ups. The Ron Paul campaign is a great place to start, because social conservatism can’t exist without fiscal conservatism, and fiscal conservatism is impossible in a state of perpetual war.

  • Martial_Artist

    Thank you, Mr. Yates, for an excellent and unbiased article.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • Cord_Hamrick

    It seems to me that each of these articles (the two referenced by Mr. Yates, I mean) suffers from a similar flaw:

    The pro-conservative one levels charges at “libertarianism” but since there are many different libertarianisms, some of these charges fall flat because they apply solely to libertarianism-A and not to libertarianism-B.

    The pro-libertarian one levels charges at “conservatism” but since there are many
    different conservatisms, some of these charges fall flat because they
    apply solely to conservatism-A and not to conservatism-B.

    A different and more constructive approach might be to find the formulation of libertarianism which is least guilty of the complaints leveled by conservatives, and the formulation of conservatism which is least guilty of the complaints leveled by libertarians, and evaluate that pairing.

    When I say “evaluate” that pairing, I do not mean necessarily that one can reconcile the most-libertarian conservatism with the most-conservative libertarianism. It may very well be that after needless disagreements and unnecessarily antagonistic formulations have been eliminated from either side, what remains is still irreconcilable. (Folks who have engaged in ecumenical dialogue between various branches of Christendom will be familiar with this difficulty.)

    But after needless disagreements and unnecessarily antagonistic formulations have been eliminated, that which remains irreconcilable is a much smaller set of disagreements, and it is there that working towards mutual understanding and an appeal to justify one’s views on the basis of underlying principles may be most productive.

  • Cord_Hamrick

    To add to my earlier comment:

    Nathan Schlueter’s criticism of libertarian thinking is uniformly non-applicable to my own views (which I do not myself bother to classify as libertarian or non-libertarian, but which are often described as libertarian around here).

    The issue of individualism versus collectivism is easily finessed, for example, by the simple expedient of noting that Solidarity is worthwhile and valuable when persons work together in pursuit of a noble purpose, but only to the degree that such cooperation is voluntary. The “Solidarity” labor union in Poland was of immense value…but imagine what would have happened were that union a government-operated organization in which membership was mandatory on all the Polish people! But that is a large topic; I bring it up only to dismiss it as not a fundamental issue between libertarians and conservatives.

    The fundamental discord is raised by Nathan Schlueter under the term “harm principle.” He defines this principle in the following way: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

    It is true that this principle would be readily agreed-to by many libertarians and would forbid many conservative interventions.

    But I think that libertarians should not agree to that formulation. Instead, they should adopt the following formulation:

    1. To use force or fraud (instead of honest argument) to influence a human being’s behavior is to treat him as a thing to be kicked rather than a person to be persuaded. It is
    to disrespect his intrinsic human dignity and the image of God within him.

    2. For this reason, to use force against a human being is generally unjustified and sinful; which is to say: God, under His Moral Law, does not license men (that is, does not grant human beings any authority) to use force against one another in most circumstances.

    3. Under the Double Effect principle, however, there exists a possibility of a just use of force under limited circumstances. God does, under those circumstances, grant us just authority under His Moral Law to use force against one another to a proportionate and fitting degree…but only to a degree which is proportionate and fitting.

    4. We may therefore use force against Person X to prevent/deter/punish Person X’s harming of Person Y. This is agreed to by all parties.

    5. Person X can harm Person Y in various ways, not all of which involve physical harm. This is agreed to by all parties. (However, purely spiritual harm is outside of the competence of human juries and judges and lawmakers to competently measure, and the corresponding uncertainty leads to the possibility that you may use excessive force to redress a spiritual harm whose severity you overestimated. Caution is therefore indicated.)

    6. Person X can harm Person Y in various ways, not all of which are forcible. This is agreed to by all parties. However, it is not proportionate and fitting to use extremely, directly-forcible action to redress an indirectly and barely-forcible evil.

    7. For us to be morally justified in wielding force against Person X, it must be proportionate and fitting. Since there are extreme uses of force (e.g. execution or life in prision) and also less-extreme uses of force (e.g. a small fine, a tax advantage not granted,
    being the topic of critique in taxpayer-financed public-service announcements), and a broad spectrum of lesser and greater uses of force in-between these extremes, we have the ability to fine-tune our response to a particular evil.

    8. For a use of force against Person X to be proportionate and fitting, the degree of its severity must be proportionate to the seriousness of harm imposed by Person X and the degree to which that harm is, itself, forcible. We cannot, for example, execute Person X for tricking Person Y into buying a pack of bubblegum through misleading advertising. This
    would be non-fitting because the crime is forcible (through fraud) but not very; and because the harm is minimal. We could, however, fine Person X for misleading advertising. This is an indirect and low-severity use of force against Person X, which is fitting in that it
    corresponds to the indirect and low-severity use of force by Person X against Person Y, and to the low severity of the harms.

    9. The consequence of this moral requirement of proportionality and fittingness for our own activity when we are enforcing criminal laws is that a very libertarian-friendly state-of-affairs is produced: Murderers might receive the death penalty and robbers might
    receive long prison terms. But sellers of fast food or high-salt food or sugary candies could, at most, be subject to a very minor tax penalty, and perhaps not even that: For a willing seller and a willing buyer indicates that the transaction is non-forcible, and the harms must
    accumulate over a lifetime and thus cannot be easily traced to a single sale. In short: No clear ability to trace harms, no certainty of harms, no force involved: Force in response is either not authorized, or to keep it proportionate and fitting, it must be very light indeed and very indirect. Michael Bloomberg, in levying heavy fines on restaurants using salt in their food, is out-of-court: The limits of his just authority would allow, at most, a public-service-announcement warning the populace against the dangers of high salt intake.

    These same principles, applied to such things as private consensual homosexual activity, or prostitution, or the production and sale of pornography, or sale of narcotics, can allow all the basic ethical underpinnings of conservatism to remain unchallenged while producing an outcome essentially amenable to libertarians. A libertarian need not
    challenge whether they produce harm; he need only state that the harm is of a spiritual kind and thus beyond the competence of a human court to measure with any reliability, and more importantly that it results from a non-forcible transaction. This morally obligates us to err on the side of caution, lest we be guilty of using force in a
    morally unjust way. Thus execution and prison time and heavy fines are excluded. Tax disadvantage or discouraging public service announcements become the outer limit of our proportionate and fitting use of force to discourage such activity.

    It is possible at this point for conservatives who wish narcotics-dealing to remain strongly punished under the law to argue that narcotics do in fact represent a use of force
    against the buyer, through the mechanism of addiction. This is an entirely appropriate discussion to have, and if in the end we decide the act really is forcible, then
    the degree of force we may proportionally and fittingly use to oppose it will increase.

    But the principles outlined above rule out the idea that a conservative may say, “It doesn’t matter that the crime is non-forcible, we should execute perpetrators anyhow.” For that would be a disproportionate use of force not corresponding to the crime, and conservative ethics do not permit that.

    • Vishal Mehra

      You start with a context-free set of X,Y,Z individuals harming or not harming each other.

      It is a thin view of humanity and the political situation. In fact, your view excludes politics altogether.

      There are three irreducible levels: the Individual, the Family and the City.

      A family can only exist if the comprising individuals believe that it does and are intent upon the Good of the Family. That is, they are willing to sacrifice their personal good for the sake of the greater good of the family.

      A City can only exist if the comprising individuals or families believe that it does and are intent on the Good of the City,.
      That is, they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good of the City.

      People can reason to the greater goods. Thus in the time of war, a City may call upon its young men to sacrifice themselves. Your view can not account why people feel this call.

      A City, faced with disruption by narcotics or rampant pornography, may judge them to be sufficiently threatening to merit a drastic response.

      The medievals were not altogether wrong in harshly treating the heretics. We can understand why, as the victory of heresy led to widespread violence, attacks on the Church and greater confusion in the minds of people.

      Rampant homosexuality is not a ‘purely spiritual harm’ and has well-known public consequences, including corruption of the young, impiety, decline in marriage and friendship. You could read Anthony Esolen.
      All measures are justified to meet this threat.

      • Cord_Hamrick


        Thanks for agreeing with me so vociferously!

        (Except when saying “all measures are justified.” Surely you don’t mean that we should attach brain-monitors to all citizens and immediately execute anyone we detected getting sexually attracted to a member of the same sex, and jail their families just in case there’s a genetic component. Even you believe there are limits to the justifiable use of violence against moral harms.)

        But I say that you’re agreeing with me vociferously because you are taking the approach I take: Evaluating what the harms are, and using that as a component in evaluating how much force is proportionate in combating those harms.

        • Vishal Mehra

          As I see it, the authority to punish wrong-doers is given to the City and not to Individuals. Herein the error of libertarians. It is simply empirical fact, that only in the weakened Cities, one finds vendetta.  The absence of vendetta is the hallmark of a functioning community. Even primitive tribes have tribal justice, and not vendetta.

          It offends egalitarian and libertarian feelings, but rulers exist and have always existed. 

          If mankind always and everywhere binds itself by laws that libertarians find unjust, then I suggest that a re-look at one’s premises is in order, rather than  inveighing against the whole world.

          • Cord_Hamrick


            I don’t think this “branch” of this conversation is going to be fruitful discourse between us, because it is on this point where we have always disagreed before.

            You say that authority to use force to punish wrongdoers is given to the City. I agree; I only ask you first to identify (a.) who are “the City,” and (b.) how are “the City” selected, and (c.) who directly gives “the City” its authority?

            For of course…

            (a.) “The City” is an abstraction. That does not mean that it is nonexistent, or that it is less than the sum of its parts (it is more). But when “the City” does something it only does so by particular individuals deciding that it should. These individuals are the deciding authorities of “the City.”

            (b.) For this reason it becomes important that the individuals who are granted authority to decide the actions of “the City” have both a valid claim to that authority and a clear understanding of the limits of that authority.

            (c.) All authority comes from God, but not all authority is granted directly by God as it was to Moses, or even by a prophet divinely deputized as God’s ambassador, as it was when Samuel anointed David. Sometimes, instead, authority is granted to a man by other men through an act of delegation, as when the bishops ordain a priest or a deacon. And whereas a direct granting of authority by God may confer unlimited authority (because God’s authority is unlimited); a delegation of authority from one man to another cannot confer unlimited authority (because the first man’s authority is limited, and he cannot delegate more authority than he has).

            So the critical question before us is this: Who makes decisions for “the City,” by whose (direct) authority are they placed in office, and what authority could those who placed them in office have delegated to them?

            When one lives in a divinely-ordained monarchy such as Israel under David, the answer is clear: David made decisions, he had authority from God, and only God’s decision to limit the authority granted to David could possibly allow that authority to be limited, for God Himself had unlimited authority which He could delegate if He chose to do so.

            But when one lives under the authority of a democratically selected legislature, the situation is very different. The act of the people electing persons to office is an act by which the people delegate certain authority to the officials. These officials then become the decision makers of “the City”…but their authority is limited to whichever types of authority the people opted to delegate. If the people had a type of authority that they did not opt to delegate to their elected officials, then the elected officials necessarily will not have that authority.

            Moreover, the authority of the people themselves is also not unlimited. There are certain kinds of authority that they could not delegate to their elected officials because they themselved lacked that authority.

            For example, let us say that it is the year 1800 and you and I, Vishal, with a hundred of our friends and family and lots of supplies, move to the wilderness of the Western United States, fell several acres of trees and till the earth and plant crops, and we decide to found a new town and to elect a city council from amongst our members. And let us assume that there are no Catholic clergy among us.

            Can we give our new city council authority to decide the canon of Scripture? To select the pope? To ordain priests and deacons? Clearly not!

            Can we give our new city council authority to choose a sheriff, to arm him, and to empower him to deter, halt, and punish violent crimes? Why yes: But that makes sense, since we, under God’s Moral Law, already have that authority ourselves. We are merely delegating our just authority to a group of hirelings (the council) who in turn are delegating that authority to another hireling (the sheriff).

            God, therefore, delegated authority to use force to us, the people. We delegated either all of that authority, or a more limited subset of that authority, to others. They delegated either all of that authority, or a more limited subset of that authority, to still others. And so on.

            The critical observation is that at each level of delegation, the scope of authority can only narrow or remain the same, but it cannot widen. One Catholic layperson cannot ordain a bishop; neither can ten Catholic laypersons; neither can a thousand; neither can a million, neither can a billion. The mere fact of increasing numbers does not grant one the ability to delegate authority one does not have. Authority comes from God, directly or indirectly; it does not come from wishful thinking, however widespread. (Those who oppose the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control could stand to learn this.)

            So, yes: Rulers exist and always have: They were either appointed by God, or delegated authority by their fellow men (as a subset of the authority their fellow men had from God) through voluntary Solidarity. Whether egalitarian or libertarian persons are offended by this fact is irrelevant; but the fact that rulers exist does not at all undermine the position I am arguing.

            Likewise, vendettas happen when the authority held or exercised by rulers is insufficient or incompetently wielded or corruptly wielded. I grant this. That fact does not at all undermine the position I am arguing.

            If mankind frequently has laws that libertarians find unjust, should we always agree with mankind? I grant that we usually should. But if we “always” agreed then institutional slavery would remain a fixture even today.

            Clearly there is such a thing as moral improvement in the limits of our rulers’ exercise of the use of force. I am merely advocating another stage of moral improvement.

            • Vishal Mehra

              I do believe that the conservation is getting fruitful, as least for me!.

              “(a.) who are “the City,” and (b.) how are “the City” selected, and (c.) who directly gives “the City” its authority?”

              City is not “are” but “is”.
              City is another, a more ancient term for “We The People”. As in American Constitution or Rousseau, The People is sovereign
              However, that is 18C Enlightenment absolutism that perhaps should be qualified. Belloc accepts it though.

              The term City though implies a local-ness and sensitivity to human scale that is not captured by scale-invariant term We The People.  

              (Scale-invariant is a physics jargon that means something that looks same at any scale, you could look at it with lens of any power and not find difference).

              The City respects subsidiarity. For example, in the City of New York, we may recognize a Catholic City, a Jewish City, a Chinese City, and so on. All these cities are appropriately sub-governing e.g.  could be having their own family law. 

              (a) “The City is an abstraction.”
              And so is an individual, esp Autonomous Individual.
              That people live in families, and families do not exist in mutual isolation but are embedded in City is simply undeniable

              (b) The City is not to be confused with its government or its rulers.

              (c) I agree that City needs to respect the Individual and the Family.
              But there does not and can not exist any hard and fast demarcation
              where between permissible and tyranny. 
              Even if David was directly anointed of God, he did not have unlimited authority. He was a king, having traditional kingly authority, no more and no less.

              The libertarian error lies in the assumption that it is the Individuals  that delegate authority to the Govt. This error comes from Locke and Hobbes, that repudiated the classical notion of City by State of Nature of isolated individuals.

              The Lockean notion is historically false and denies the classical and Christian insights. The Lockean society is not bound by love and friendship but mutual self-interest. Thus it leads to either collectivism or mutual separation, both not amiable to human aspirations and flourishing. 

              The proper attitude towards Govt is reverence but the present Govts worldwide, having departed from Natural Law, are now de facto tyrannies and thus require an irreverent correction.

              • Cord_Hamrick


                On “are” vs. “is” for the City: This is a debated regional English grammar thing, and one oughtn’t read specific meaning into it. In Canadian and some other U.K.-influenced English style usages, a group of persons “are” as in “Rush are a progressive rock group hailing from Toronto, they consist of Neal Peart, Alex Lifeson, and Geddy Lee” (and to use “is” is felt to be clumsy or peculiar); in other regional styles this would necessarily be “is” as in “Dream Theater is a similar though more recently-formed group from the United States, consisting largely of musicians from Berklee College of Music.”

                I understood your use of “the City” to mirror the concept of “We The People,” and acknowledge the associational benefits.

                By calling the City an abstraction I didn’t intend to demean it (which is why I acknowledged that it can be more than the sum of its parts)…but the individual is not an abstraction in the same way that the City is, because an individual has free will and makes choices in-and-of himself. The City does not make decisions except insofar as some individuals make decisions and these are taken, because of those individuals’ positions of influence, to be the “decision made by the City.” You can’t ask what decisions the City makes without asking about those individuals. Take them away and the City makes no decisions unless the City’s decision-making authority reverts to some other group; take all individuals away and the City doesn’t even exist. That is the point I meant to convey by calling the City an abstraction.

                I do, however, think it is undeniable that individuals can and do live separate from the City or even (after maturity) the Family. That they usually ought not and usually cannot thrive that way is a perfectly true, but even the Family does not make decisions except when individuals do, and some men, even some saintly men, have forsaken City and Family for desert solitudes.

                As to the origins of legitimate government authority: You describe the “classical and Christian insights” as an alternative to the view that the government is employed by persons acting in concert and authority delegated. But I think you are wrong: It would only be an alternative were it to answer the same questions as the delegation view, and it would only be a superior alternative if it were to answer the same questions better.

                But it does not, for the question answered adequately by delegation and consent is this: “How do the office-holders get selected, and how do the powers of the office get selected, and on whose direct authority, and where did that person get the authority to empower the office and select its occupants?” Apart from delegation theory, there is only one alternative: “Might makes right.”

                In the pagan world the person in charge was the person whose armies subjugated a territory. He was the ruler because no one else could be, all other persons with sufficient ability to wield force having been killed or made tributary. Might made right (of rule), and to ask a ruler too many questions about source of his authority to rule was either to lose one’s head, or to hear a fairy tale about the ruler being Zeus’ great-great-grandson. (To question the latter story’s veracity, or to point out that even if this were true it wasn’t unique, and even if it were unique it didn’t necessarily convey ruling legitimacy, was, again, to lose one’s head.)

                And the Christian world, once it came into existence, simultaneously undermined and retained this view. It retained it by painting a thin veneer of Christianity over it and renaming it “divine right of kings”: Instead of claiming the Emperor as a God-man, it made the Emperor the delegate of the God-man Jesus…but carefully avoided the topic of how he came to be selected as delegate, because that question could not be answered except with “might made right.”

                It undermined it the old pagan model of governance, however, because “render unto Caesar” and “Jesus is Lord” were ultimately impossible to reconcile with “might makes right.” Disguising the latter as a Christian notion under the name “divine right of kings” only delayed its inevitable collapse until the moment men began asking the right moral questions. (Similarly, disguising the pagan cosmological model by syncretically grafting in Christian angelology only delayed its collapse until men began observing novae and asking pointed questions about the predictive inaccuracy of epicycles. C.S.Lewis’ The Discarded Image is a fun read on this point.)

                But make no mistake “might makes right” has collapsed: Its moral illegitimacy is every bit as apparent as that of institutional slavery; the implausibility of the divine-right fig-leaf every bit as apparent as that of geocentrism. Christianity undermined all of that. The apostles did not teach that it needed to be abolished; they didn’t have to; they probably didn’t even conceive of it. They needed only state what the truth was, and the downfall of slavery, of absolute monarchy, of pagan cosmology, were all necessary outgrowths of the spread of Christian truth. The rock not cut out by human hands has smashed all the kingdoms of the earth into dust, and has grown to fill the whole earth. No other king-dom is really possible at this point, nor does He provide any framework for legitimizing one. The Kingdom of Heaven is the only Kingdom; all else are just terrestrial governments hired ad hoc to manage border security and trash collection. And that is a noble calling, in fact, to serve the people in that way. The only error is to fall back on pagan thinking and imagine that one is lording it over the people instead of serving them.

                One final point: You are correct to say that Locke imagined a polity united by self-interest. (Though of course we’re doing Locke an injustice by not saying
                “enlightened self-interest”: He’d have been the first to say that greed
                and conceit were not in one’s best interests!) But notice, please, that government by delegation does not require any self-serving motive for union. A society united by love and mutual service would also hire a government.

                Likewise, the view of government as servant of the people does not imply a low view of government unless one has a low view of servants and employees. But Christianity does not permit such a view: That is more paganism again.

                • Vishal Mehra

                  Consent makes Right no more than Might, a principle that grounds Court’s powers to void legislations.

                  Your unsympathetic reading of all pre-modern history is surprising.  The American and French revolutions were self-consciously inspired by the Roman republic. Plato wrote Republic 500 years before Christ and there were Republics in North India when Buddha walked this Earth.

                  So it is a false equation that paganism is for Might makes Right and Christianity is for direct democracy.

                  As for how certain people are delegated for authority, there is a huge tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Montesquieu and Rousseau and to the American Founders, that you casually dismiss. 

                  It is also a false similarity with slavery. Church began to express its views on slavery from St Paul onwards but it has never declared that there is anything wrong with monarchy. No theologian or saint has said so, to the best of my knowledge.

                  Certain people may be delegated authority by the City, by heredity principle, by merit gauged by  examinations, by elections that may or may not exclude a section of City, by lots, and so on.

                  All these ways have their pros and cons and  no absolute rule can be formed that would apply to all possible Cities at all possible circumstances.

                  • Cord_Hamrick


                    I want to reply to this note…but the comment-width is getting really narrow here.

                    I’m going to post my reply as a comment on the original essay. That’ll give us a new thread’s worth of comment-width to work with. Please come back to the original post and look for my new comment.

    • Vishal Mehra

      From another article published at this site today:

      “for years later, in the wake of the 1848 revolution, Tocqueville “went
      so far as to attribute to ‘socialist doctrines’ the regulation and
      reduction of working hours,” when what the workers were then demanding
      was to work no more than twelve hours in a day. To this and to similar
      demands, Tocqueville’s response was unequivocal: “nothing authorizes
      the state to interfere in industry.” One is again reminded of the irony
      of a liberalism that championed the freedom of the wealthy, while the
      ‘reactionary’ school of Louis de Bonald and his followers throughout
      the nineteenth century called for the restoration of such staples of ancien régime
      life as guilds, common lands, Sunday rest, and permanent marriage, all
      measures that had protected workers and their families in one way or

      Now would you agree with Tocqueville or Louis de Bonald?

      • Cord_Hamrick

        I can’t say that I agree with either; it seems that something is missing from both.

        Louis de Bonald called for the restoration of guilds: Well, what did that entail? Did it entail forcing guilds to exist or allowing guilds to exist?

        What I mean is, what was to prevent any ten laborers from going out and founding a guild, as an expression of Catholic Solidarity? Likewise what was to prevent a group of workers (under whatever name) negotiating for particular hours or a day off each week?

        If the state would have jailed them for starting a guild or for negotiating for different working hours, then the absence of guilds and of Sunday rest is a consequence of state intervention in industry.

        If on the other hand the state failed to defend their right to form a guild or to negotiate working conditions against wrongful compulsion by others (e.g. business owners), then the state failed in its duty to defend their unalienable rights, including freedom of association.

        And, importantly, what was to prevent competing businesses from arising and competing for labor with better working conditions? Did the existing businesses have a state charter which prevented competition? Did it have a monopoly on resources which prevented competition?

        There is naturally a certain kind of state intervention in industry which is required by (classical) liberalism: Defense under law of the unalienable rights of persons. Freedom of association is one such. To the degree that Toqueville or anyone else opposed doing this, he was not a (classical) liberal.

        I don’t know enough to answer about “common lands” and “permanent marriage” in this context, so I won’t address those. If the state was preventing people from remaining married, that sounds pretty totalitarian; if private persons were able to prevent two people from remaining married, that would be pretty lawless; neither represents a state of society supportive of human liberty.

    • Vishal Mehra

      A comment on Solidarity:

      “Solidarity is worthwhile and valuable when persons work together in pursuit of a noble purpose, but only to the degree that such cooperation is voluntary.”

      The cooperation  may also be customary. I analogize the customs to what CS Lewis calls “the chest” that connects the intellect and the appetites.

      Similarly, customs stabilize individual wills by preserving the ancestral wisdom and Solidarity is largely a matter not of conscious cooperation but of following customs of the City.

      • Cord_Hamrick

        Certainly this is the case.

        The “democracy of the dead” is worthy of consideration and Burke was entirely correct to have some contempt for the French revolution’s wholesale overthrow of much of the customary glue which would hold a society together in ways that were often imperceptible until their absence created chaos.

        Likewise we are not, as individuals “Vulcans” who operate only out of logic; and we are not capable of individually evaluating every decision as we act it out. The head must govern the hands through the chest (intellect governing activity through a well-trained set of emotions and instincts); and, the man must allow most activities to be governed by well-trained habits which are often adopted from custom and tradition.

        None of this changes the observation that true Solidarity is voluntary.

        If one’s habits and traditions and emotional responses lead towards Solidarity; one can voluntarily change habits and abandon traditions and retrain one’s emotional responses and thereby abandon those habits and traditions and emotional responses. Indeed, this may sometimes be a moral obligation, as it was for folk raised in the antebellum American south where slavery was then a normal institution. By voluntarily abandoning tradition and long habit and existing emotional associations, they also diverged from many of their peers, and while this no doubt could be intellectually understood as an act of Solidarity with the enslaved men, it would not feel that way. It would rather feel like a lonely individual act of rebellion against Solidarity with society as one hitherto had known it.

        Likewise in the same scenario new forms of Solidarity might emerge, such as voluntary cooperation with other abolitionists, inevitably producing new habits and emotional responses and eventually new traditions. The largely color-blind south of today is the product of replacing on Solidarity with another and better one.

        So, yes: Just as the head governs the hands through the heart in the individual (the seat of intellect using the seat of magnanimity to give promptness, persistence, and power to the deeds of the muscles), so too do individuals collectively lend promptness, persistence, and power to their collective deeds in Solidarity through their voluntary adoption or retention of those social habits we call custom and tradition…and sometimes, when needed, through the development of new ones.

        • Vishal Mehra

           Well as for created chaos, one could claim that the present chaos, where one’s children could be snatched by State agencies, or one is obliged to offer wedding services to man-man marriages or half the marriages end in divorce  is born out of the Libertarian tendencies and this tendency was born with Locke and is socialism’s twin.

    • Martial_Artist

      Cord (if I may address you by your given name, and simultaneously accord you the freedom to reciprocate),

      Based upon the above comment, you are a libertarian (or, if you dislike the term, and following the lead of Hayek, an “Old Whig”). Albeit, you are such secondarily as a consequence of your Catholic faith, not notably different than am I. Of course, were we not fallen and living in a fallen world, it might suffice simply to state that we are Catholics attempting to live our faith as fully as God gives us the grace so to do.

      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer 

      • Cord_Hamrick

         Thank you for your gracious note, Keith. You may certainly call me Cord. (I fear, in fact, that I have already called you Keith on one or more occasions. While I like the formalism of initially refraining from the use of one’s Christian name, it is difficult to be certain when to apply it. That entirely civilized standard is increasingly rare, and one never knows when the other person, far from resenting the presumed familiarity, may actually think one is distancing oneself for snobbish reasons by addressing him as Mr. XYZ!)

        I don’t necessarily dislike the term libertarian and I don’t mind it being applied to me.

        But I fear it is a term whose usefulness in discussion is fraught with opportunity for misunderstanding except when carefully defined at the outset.

        For we must admit that there are lots of different kinds of people who describe themselves as libertarians, but whose actual philosophies of government are very different. Do Bill Maher and Barry Goldwater and Robert Heinlein and Lew Rockwell and Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley and Bob Barr and John Stossel and Ayn Rand all belong under a single category?

        Clearly not, yet in each case the person either calls/called himself a libertarian, or in the case of Ayn Rand has tended to represent a center of gravity for a particular type of political thinking popularly called libertarian.

        So the potential for confusion is clear. It remains clear even if you unceremoniously boot Bill Maher off the list on the basis that he calls himself libertarian and then shows himself to be self-deluded by supporting politicians and policies that are statist by the standards of every other “libertarian” on the planet.

        The potential for confusion doesn’t go away even if you correct the rank ignorance of those like Rick Santorum who seem unable to distinguish between “libertarian” and “libertine.” (The inability to make that simple distinction was a huge turn-off to a large segment of the Republican electorate, and while it wasn’t the only thing that lost him the nomination, it was a biggie…a bit like mixing up The Prince with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion while courting the Jewish vote!)

        Anyway, I said before that I don’t mind the term “libertarian” being applied to me, provided that one is defining the term “libertarian” in a fashion that resembles not only my voting history and policy preferences, but also some of the reasoning by which I arrived at that history and those preferences.

        But I worry that “libertarian” might instead applied sloppily as a synonym for libertine or pothead or sexual moral relativist or anarchist or anarcho-capitalist or idolizer of greed or idolizer of self or some other damned thing. (That wasn’t frivolous swearing, by the way. I meant to indicate that these things are damned by God and risk damnation to those who hold/practice them.)

        If I’m to be labeled, then, I’d almost rather folks to come up with their own neologism that has no existing baggage of being identified with the aforementioned errors. Something too-clever, like “Well-Armed Neo-Quasi-Pacifism.” While a label like that would on initial examination say more about my sense of humor than my philosophy of government, still, the struggle to understand and apply such a term without self-contradiction would be sufficient to force the person evaluating it to actually learn my position. (If anybody really cared to! Who’m I, anyway?)

        At any rate I don’t want to be misunderstood, but I don’t mind being political allies with atheist libertarians and social conservatives and Tea Partiers and whomever. They’ll often (not always) support the same policies that I do. They often arrived at their preferences by a different thought process, too, but it’s a fallen world (and politics is the art of the possible) and you take what you can get!

        • Martial_Artist

          Thank you, also, for your gracious response. I don’t disagree with anything you have written above, which is why I generally describe myself, as Hayek did himself, as an Old Whig. I find that a very large proportion of the population has no misleading mental associations with that appellation, thereby avoiding much of their confusion about the principles which I hold and which motivate me.

  • Vishal Mehra

    The libertarian-anarchist David Friedman in Machinery of Freedom describes himself as an Adam Smith liberal and Goldwater conservative. 

    Thus, in his opinion, the anarchism is the logical climax of the liberalism of Adam Smith

    The implication is that the conservatives, if they agree with Adam Smith, that the society could flourish by the pursuit of enlightened self-interest with each man not interfering with another, these conservatives are being illogical as they bridle at the drastic consequences of Adam Smith brought forth by libertarians.

    Conservatives think that some places be reserved from the cash nexus, like family, religion, decency.

    But the libertarians would perform economic analysis for everything and everything must be justified for self-interest, Thus easy divorce, easy sex, easy drugs, easy porn, and no officious religion speaking truths to them.

    The irony that more the libertarians cry for self-interest, more they drive people into the arms of socialists. Since the glorification of self-interest does repel man, the socialists take advantage of the conservative hesitation between their Adam Smith and their intuitions.

    • Cord_Hamrick

       My replies to these paragraphs, in order, are:

      1. Who? in What? Is that a book? Is that a name I’m supposed to know?

      2. If that’s his opinion, then he’s wrong.

      3. Only if men were angels, which they aren’t, which is why he’s wrong.

      4. True. So do the vast majority of libertarians.

      5. Only a tiny (loud) minority of (mostly collegiate) libertarians, none of whom can (consistently) be Christian let alone Catholic, think this way…because this view is not a necessary logical consequence of holding a view which values liberty.

      6. Well, yes, that would be correct, if one makes the (erroneous) assumption that Adam Smith was an anarcho-capitalist and that conservatives, in citing Adam Smith on some points, are thereby embracing anarcho-capitalism. Neither is true.

    • So you think that the default state of humans is immorality and that we need an enlightened political elite in control to set us all straight? What’s the difference between conservatism and liberalism again?

  • Cord_Hamrick

    **NOTE: This comment is in reply to Vishal Mehra***


    You say,

    Consent makes Right no more than Might, a principle that grounds Court’s powers to void legislations.

    I disagree. If no relationship save fellow humanity exists between Person X and Person Y, and Person X begins without warning to paint Person Y’s house pink, Person Y’s property rights have been violated. But if Person Y hired Person X to paint his house pink, then Person X’s actions are actually an exercise of one of Person Y’s rights, namely the right to exercise Solidarity in the formation of an employer-employee relationship, and to delegate certain of his own just authority (the authority to paint his own house) to a deputy.

    Now when an employer hires an employee to do a task, he grants that employee tools and time and money and authority to perform the task, but only within certain limits. He may say, “Paint my house; here’s the paint, here is money to buy brushes…but you may only paint during the hours between 10am and 4pm.” And if that employer cannot personally be present to see that the employee does not transgress those limits — does not, for example, use the money to buy beer or set up lights to continue painting all night long — then the employer would be well advised to hire another person to check on the painter periodically, to make sure he was following instructions and staying within the assigned limits.

    If the employer was a fool, he could pay the same man both to paint his house and to check to see whether the painter was obeying the limits. But that would be the same as having no limits at all, for if the painter wanted to spend all the brush-money on beer and paint all night, all he need do is not report himself. So we see that a separation of these duties is wise.

    Also, a clear enumeration of limits is wise. So the employer is well-served to document what the painters may or may not do. And since there are a million things the painters might conceivably do with the brush-money, it makes no sense for the employer to try to anticipate each of the ways the painters might transgress and write them down in a “list of forbidden things.” Instead, it makes more sense that he write a much shorter list of what the painters may do, as a sort of “employment contract” or “job description for the job of being a painter.” He then gives copies of this both to the painters, and to the person he hired to check on the painters. This latter person will be able to see if the painters are doing unauthorized things by comparing the painters’ actions against the short list of authorized actions.

    In all of this, we see that the employer’s delegation of one duty to the painters, and a different duty to the checker, is in either case an expression of the employer’s consent: The employer is doing what he wants done, such as paint his own house or check on a hired painter, but he is doing it through a delegate or proxy.

    Likewise when four hundred (or four hundred million) persons unite in hiring a government to perform certain tasks, they write up a list of the things they wish done on their behalf; this list is called a constitution. It serves as the “employment contract” of the government. It lists what the legislature and executive may do, and whatever is not listed, the legislature/executive may not do. The constitution also empowers a judiciary to check up on what the legislature/executive is actually doing, and ensure that it falls within the limits of the enumerated powers granted to the legislature/executive.

    Thus by hiring a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary, the People exercise Solidarity with one another and with their employees…but they grant different tasks to different employees. The legislature is authorized only to exercise its enumerated powers, and the executive its enumerated powers. The judiciary is authorized to do nothing except determine whether the legislature and executive are exceeding their enumerated powers, and if they are, to declare the relevant legislation null and void.

    So you see that if you admit that the consent of the people is involved in granting authority to the legislature, then the consent of the people is also involved in granting authority to the judiciary as a check on the power of the legislature. The idea that judiciary acts of nullification — themselves empowered by consent through the instrument of the Constitution! — somehow disproves the consensual basis of legislative authority is false.

    In fact, all of this is basic American civics class. Traditionally, American schoolchildren learned these principles before they reached puberty.

    In the last fifty years, the existence of taxpayer-subsidized compulsory government education has tended to remove every incentive to systematically provide high-quality of education; as a result, educational quality has dropped. Moreover, the fact that these schools are government-operated provides systemic incentives for replacing the traditional American view with a confused or relativistic understanding of government which is more attuned to authoritarianism and statism. So as one generation replaces another, this understanding is progressively less-well grasped by the populace as a whole. But it is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the founding documents of the United States from the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers through to the 1789 Constitution and Bill of Rights. If this (allowing for imprecision due to brevity) is not an accurate description of the role and authority of government at least in the United States, then there is no government in the United States.

    You also say,

    Your unsympathetic reading of all pre-modern history is surprising. 
    The American and French revolutions were self-consciously inspired by
    the Roman republic. Plato wrote Republic 500 years before Christ and
    there were Republics in North India when Buddha walked this Earth.

    Of course this is true. I’m well acquainted with these facts. In fact, like Chesterton, I would not be surprised if the earliest governments in tiny communities were all Republics, and authoritarianism came later, like a sort of fall. (But that is all prehistoric and probably prior to the invention of writing; we are permanently ignorant about what the very first government did.)

    So it is a false equation that paganism is for Might makes Right and Christianity is for direct democracy.

    I think you misunderstood me. I never intended to convey that all pagans were always authoritarian; for of course I knew better than that. Here and there pagans had republics as here and there one can find a pagan being monotheistic (e.g. Akhenaten). All truth is God’s truth, and being a Christian does not mean that everyone who isn’t a Christian is 100% wrong. Of course pagans made serious advances is government just as they did in mathematics and astronomy and everything else.

    However, the presence of republics here and there, the existence of the Roman Senate even after the Republic became the Empire, do not detract from the reality that when a person asked, “Where does Nebuchadnezzar (or Sargon or Darius or Alexander or Antiochus or Caesar) get his authority to order me to do XYZ, and the authority to have me killed if I don’t? What makes it O.K. for him to do that to me, but not O.K. for me to do that to my neighbor?” …the answer typically had something to do with “the king is a god, and you aren’t,” or “the king is a descendant of the gods, and you aren’t,” or “the king is granted power by the gods, and you aren’t.”

    Now this claim sounds at first hearing like a real basis for governing authority. But it isn’t, as would become apparent if you had an argument or a test or a “divine lineage DNA scanner” which allowed you to demonstrate that, after all, the king wasn’t descended from a god, but this penniless beggar in the town square was. Would the king suddenly become ignored and the beggar be enthroned? Not likely! The beggar would be found dead the next morning. The same thing happened to more well-financed alternative claimants, also.

    Or let us say that there are two adjacent empires X and Y. X has by far the more powerful armies, and X’s king claims to be descended from Athena at 17 generations’ remove. Y is militarily weak and ready for takeover, and Y’s king claims descent from Zeus at 3 generations’ remove. What happens next?

    You know what happens next, and it isn’t that X’s king cedes his throne to Y’s king on the basis of his superior claim to divine right. After X’s armies conquer Y, you will not hear a subject of Y to say, “I owe X’s king no allegiance, for I’m the nephew of the king of Y, and my claim to divine blood is higher and nearer than X’s king.” The sentence would go more like this: “I owe X’s king no allegiance, for I…AACK!”

    In short, the king was not chosen on any basis except that he had conquered, or his father or grandfather had conquered…and even that didn’t matter if he didn’t retain sufficient military might to repel invaders and crush dissent. The question of “who has the right to rule?” did not exist as a practical matter; the person who ruled was he who could kill anyone else who tried to rule.

    Fast-forward to Europe a thousand or fifteen-hundred years later. A Christian king will not, of course, say that he is a god, or a descendant of a god. But he will say that he has “divine right” to rule. What does this mean?

    It means that he was granted authority by God. It means that God chose him. It means that he can order his soldiers to kill you if you don’t do XYZ. It is not significantly different from the kinds of claims made by Sargon or Belshazzar.

    But once again, this claim reduces to “might makes right” under scrutiny: No prophet of God went and selected an obscure shepherd or tanner to be king of England at God’s direction. A king chosen that way (as David and Saul were chosen) would have a historically verifiable claim to having been chosen by God. But that’s not what actually happened. Instead, a man in command of a military force defeated all rival claimants. When no other plausible claimant existed, the local bishop went to the coronation, anointing-oil in hand, putting the Church’s stamp of approval on what was already a forgone conclusion. Might made right. Later, a king’s son and grandson would rule…what, forever? No, only so long as someone else didn’t come in and defeat them. And why the king’s grandson, particularly? Why not the baker’s grandson? Simple: The king’s grandson traces his right to rule by his lineage: He’s the son of the son of the man who had enough swords to conquer the kingdom. Might made right.

    Of course some kings would enact laws governing succession; and these could become complex issues. When things got difficult to resolve (as in the dispute between Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy) an arrow through the eye of one claimant could always be relied upon to decide the matter in favor of the other. Might made right. And in any case, these laws governing succession carried legal force…why? Because they were enacted on the authority of a guy whose grandfather had enough swords to conquer the kingdom. Might made right.

    No matter which way you boil it down, there are only two ways to have authority to govern:

    1. You claim it on the basis that no-one else can do it, because you’ve killed them all.  (Or because your grandfather did, and then enacted laws saying that only his descendants could rule, and you remain powerful enough to keep those laws in force.)

    2. Because someone who themselves had authority to govern opted instead to allow you to govern on their behalf.

    …and Option 1 just isn’t consistent with Christian morality.

    However, Option 2 is quite consistent with Christianity, and it comes in two forms:

    2. (a.) God, who has authority to govern, selects a man to govern on His behalf and grants that man a limited sphere of authority to exercise. He indicates his selected man through a prophet.

    2 (b.) God, who has authority to govern, bids individuals govern themselves by not sending a prophet to select some specific ruler…but He bids them govern themselves in Solidarity with one another and only within the confines of His Moral Law. In this option, persons exercise the authority delegated to them by God to hire a government (having first followed His desire that they form a society in Solidarity with one another).

    As you can see, God might at any time send a prophet to select a new President of the United States and Congress and Supreme Court…or even an absolute divine-right monarch. Should He do so, my loyalty will of course be to whomever He chooses.But until then, I would rather exercise Option 2. (b.) and hire elected officials by exercising faithful citizenship informed by a well-formed conscience, and delegate to those elected officials the powers indicated in their employment contract (the Constitution).You add,

    As for how certain people are delegated for authority, there is a huge tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Montesquieu and Rousseau and to the American Founders, that you casually dismiss.

    Vishal, you’re not the first person with whom I’ve had this debate. One cannot dispute my argument merely by listing names of brilliant men who said many things, some of which were correct, some of which were incorrect but seemed plausible at the time, and some of which they themselves knew to be at best an educated guess or attemped explanation, which they fully expected to be improved upon over time.If you want to dispute what I am saying, you need only offer another explanation of how a person or group of persons can obtain a legitimate and unique authority from God to use (or threaten) force (personally or through a proxy) against other persons, when they had as of yet no command of an army able to conquer the territory, and when God had sent no prophet to select them out of obscurity.You may feel free to quote Plato and Aristotle, or even lesser lights like Rousseau and Thomas Paine if you like. But if what they say seems false, I’ll still say so, great name or no. Aristotle held the border between the changeable and the eternal to be at the sphere of the orbit of the Moon. He was a great thinker; but on this point he was simply mistaken, and through no fault of his own. Were you to quote him now in defense of the idea that the stars are forever fixed, I would still call you mistaken.

    It is also a false similarity with slavery. Church began to express
    its views on slavery from St Paul onwards but it has never declared that
    there is anything wrong with monarchy. No theologian or saint has said
    so, to the best of my knowledge.

    I should hope not! How could monarchy be intrinsically illegitimate, if Jesus is King? (And that wasn’t how I was using the comparison to slavery. That comparison was to show moral progress in the development of doctrine over time, which any Catholic must grant as a true premise in any case.)But it is not my view that monarchy is intrinsically illegitimate. (I think it is an unwise governing structure, but that is a different matter from illegitimacy.) It is my view that, in the absence of some prophetic message from God constituting a government for them, the People constitute their government, authorizing it to do X and forbidding it to do Y, because God granted them authority to exercise Solidarity and form a Society and to delegate (to certain persons within it) their own just authority exercise force in defense of the rights and dignity of persons…but that because this authority to exercise force is limited by the Moral Law, so too is the authority they delegate a limited one. That a saintly king like Louis IX may have on occasion exceeded this level of authority in executing his policy is no moral fault of his…given his era and his upbringing, he could hardly have been expected to do otherwise! And someone like Cyrus of Persia is excused for similar reasons.But if you tell me that it would be a moral improvement today for Congress to pass a law saying (for example) that all persons found guilty of consensual homosexual acts should be burned alive in the public square, I respond only that it would not be, and that the reason is that Congress has no just authority to do so, under the Constitution…and that Congress could have no just authority to do it, because Congress obtains its just authority from the People, and we have no such just authority under God’s Moral Law, and not having it ourselves, cannot delegate it to Congress.

    Certain people may be delegated authority by the City, by heredity
    principle, by merit gauged by  examinations, by elections that may or
    may not exclude a section of City, by lots, and so on.

    Waitasecond…I actually agree with that in its entirety; you suddenly sound as if you are agreeing with me.

    All these ways have their pros and cons and  no absolute rule can be
    formed that would apply to all possible Cities at all possible

    I agree that they all have their pros and cons. But in some cases one rule is morally superior and another is morally inferior. In that case, the morally superior rule is obligatory.

    • Vishal Mehra

      1) God is an unnecessary hypothesis in Politics.  Hindus, Confucians, Aztecs, Pygmies, all have cities.
      The argument should proceed from sovereignty of the City–as in Rousseau or Nature of Man as a Political Animal-as in Aristotle.

      2) If you agree that a) We The People refers not to Individuals but to the City
      b) The City may appoint Rulers by various means i.e. the General Will is expressed in various ways.
      See Belloc’s The French Revolution-chap on The Political Theory of the Revolution.

      Then we have no disagreement. But  the point 2a) still   seems dubious to you?.

      • Cord_Hamrick


        Re: “God is an unnecessary hypothesis in Politics”: I both affirm and deny that.

        On your first question:

        I affirm it in the sense that obviously politics happens when Aztecs or Mongols or whomever form social groups, and the need for governance becomes obvious.

        However, I deny that acknowledgement of the existence and character of God, and particularly of what He thinks about men and of the laws He intends men to follow, is unnecessary to improving the wisdom and morality of politics. All things which are in Natural Law could in theory be discovered by men without revelation, but in practice the fallenness of men would prevent it. Revelation and the prophetic voice do not merely assist men to know those things about God and the Moral Law that they would otherwise have never known; it also assists men to know things about the Natural Law that they could have known had they been perfect investigators of the Natural Law, but which they did not know because they were imperfect investigators.

        On your second question:

        I accept the proposition that “We The People” is implicitly limited to a group who through voluntary Solidarity are together a political entity. That entity might be a neighborhood, a town or city, a county, a province or state, or a whole federation of states. A group of individuals in solidarity may say “We The People Of Worthington Ridge Estates” or “We The People Of Baton Rouge” or “We The People Of Dekalb County” or “We The People Of Wisconsin” or “We The People Of The United States.”

        Does that mean that I agree that “We The People” refers not to individuals but to “the City?” Possibly, but I am suspicious of the phrase “not to individuals”; it seems out-of-place in that sentence. If a neutron bomb were to exterminate all the individuals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the phrase “We The People of Baton Rouge” would abruptly cease to have meaning. (An empty City is no City, but a ghost town.) “We The People” refers always to some individuals acting in concert. Furthermore, when the City makes a choice to do X and not Y, it does so through the choices of individuals. Either all the individuals choose through a plebiscite, or certain individuals to whom the task of choosing was delegated make the choice on behalf of “We The People” who hired them. Either way, “We The People” will always refer in some ways to individual persons.

        As for 2. (b.) I certainly agree that different Cities (or Counties or States or Hamlets or Empires or Whatevers) have opted for different processes by which they have appointed rulers. And of course some processes are more moral than others, and of those that are equally moral, some may be wiser or more effective at selecting rulers than others.

    • Vishal Mehra

      Reverence is said to be the proper attitude of an Individual towards the State.

      If so, then ‘hireling’ is not the most appropriate picture for the Govt.  The Govt or State has a paternal character that needs to be understood.

      CS Lewis in The Discarded Image speaks of the sanctity that a medieval peasant found in the Courts. 

      The Constitution is far more than a legal contract between employers (The City) and employee (Govt). It is a political charter, a declaration of the Intent of the City . You lose considerable nuance when you think in terms of a Contract.

      There was never a time when there existed no Govt in America. Before Constitution, there were Individual Colonies that ratified the Constitution and their Govts were not abrogated by the Constitution.

      My conclusion is that the problem of State is not circumscribed by the Constitution. of USA. The Constitution assumes many things that people now dispute. Such as the meaning of marriage or the paternal character of the State. If you read the History of the Federal Govt., you see that despite high-flown rhetoric the Federal Govt was prompt in assuming all the attitudes of a traditional State, including all the Paternal Attitudes. You would perhaps consider these Attitudes to be an holdover from the previous generation but despite all the libertarian propaganda, the American Govt has not relinquished one iota of the Paternal Attitudes. And this should be telling.

    • Vishal Mehra

      Your fundamental question seems to be
      ” What makes it O.K. for him to do that to me, but not O.K. for me to do that to my neighbor?” .”

      The answer is He is acting for the City and the City is sovereign,not me.

      In Aristotelian terms, the ruler or the State is the Efficient Cause of the City.  The ruler causes the City to be. 

      An unjust Govt deviates from the Natural Law. It is the deviation that causes injustice, not the lack of Consent.

      For example, monarchy can be perverted into tyranny. The Founders understood this. Their complaint was that George III was acting as a tyrant, not that he was a king.

      I regard the present day Govts as having substantially deviated as to constitute tyrannies. irrespective of the fact that they have been elected and the tyrannical measures obtain popular support. Indeed, for ancients, democracy is the perverted form of polity.

      • Cord_Hamrick


        To say that “the City is sovereign” reduces either to “We The People” are sovereign, in which case, being one of the people, I am sovereign; or, it reduces to “the City, apart from any of the people who make it up, is sovereign” in which case it reduces to “a thing with no ability to act or make choices is sovereign.” For the City cannot make a choice or do anything unless persons in authority make the choice or do it.

        But if a person is in authority and makes the choice, it follows that we must ask how they received their authority, and from whom, and what is the extent of that authority, and what are its limits.

        So your answer “He is acting for the City and the City is the sovereign” is either a falsehood or a non-answer. It is a falsehood if you say that the City, apart from any persons, has authority and rights and the ability to make choices. Your only alternative is to admit that the City makes choices only inasmuch as particular authorized persons make choices…but then your answer is shown to answer nothing, for you have failed to answer how those persons obtained that authorization, and from whom, and what the nature and limits of that authority might be.

        You say, “In Aristotelian terms, the ruler or the State is the Efficient Cause of the City.  The ruler causes the City to be.” Well, in that case, the Efficient Cause of the City is one or more individuals, and the individuals are the ruler, and the source of the authority of the City: You have granted my argument.

        You say: “An unjust Govt deviates from the Natural Law. It is the deviation that causes injustice, not the lack of Consent.”

        I grant that…but among the moral limitations placed on men by the Natural Law is the moral limitation on the use of force against one’s fellow men to certain very narrow circumstances. It follows logically that some uses of force by the state will be immoral; that is, will be opposed to Natural Law. And that leads us to the important conclusion: Just because Person X commits an act which is, itself, contrary to Natural Law, does not necessarily authorize the state to use force against Person X to punish him for that violation or to prevent him from doing it again. It is possible for the state, in attempting to enforce the Natural Law, to exceed its warrant for the just use of force and thereby, itself, violate Natural Law.

        In another post you said:

        Reverence is said to be the proper attitude of an Individual towards the State.

        so, then ‘hireling’ is not the most appropriate picture for the Govt. 
        The Govt or State has a paternal character that needs to be understood.

        CS Lewis in The Discarded Image speaks of the sanctity that a medieval peasant found in the Courts.

        “Is said to be.” Well, yes, if the state is one’s father that makes sense. But I don’t believe that’s an accurate model for thinking of the state; I think that’s a form of caesaropapism or idolatry.

        But that doesn’t mean one should take a dismissive attitude towards public servants (persons in government). Indeed, one’s servant is a child of God created in His image! How could the mere fact that a person is one’s servant lead a Christian to be dismissive of that person? And of course we are talking about a particularly important set of servants, doing a particularly important job! Their office merits significant respect.

        Likewise, I don’t think this creates a problem with having a sense of sanctity about courts. That sanctity comes from the sanctity of the Law and the Rule of Law. Truth and Moral Goodness are always to be honored.

        • Vishal Mehra

          You are apparently unable to think except reductively but City, Family and Individuals are irreducible entities. Per Aristotle The City exists by nature.

          I will come to that presently but first I must ask about the warrant for your  repeated assertion that God has given certain authority to Individuals and that authority is delegated by Individuals to the Govt..  It is certainly not Divine Law for that was once given to Hebrews collectively or through Church at present.  Does the Church declare it? But the Church is not libertarian and explicitly calls for Solidarity.

          Is the warrant Natural Law as through the American Constitution?. But the founders were agitating for the restoration of the ancient liberties of Englishmen and against the perceived tyranny of George III. The ancient liberties did not include making each individual sovereign nor does the American Constitution make an Individual sovereign in ANY SENSE.  You or me have absolutely ZERO sovereignty

          I excerpt from Belloc’s French Revolution (The Political Theory of the Revolution):
          that a political community pretending to sovereignty, that is, pretending to a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself. But the community cannot express authority unless it possesses corporate initiative ; that is, unless the mass of its component units are able to combine for the purpose of a common expression, are conscious of a common will, and have something in common which makes the whole sovereign indeed. It may be that this power of corporate initiative and of corresponding corporate expression is forbidden to men. In that case no such thing as a sovereign community can be said to exist. In that case ” patriotism,” ” public opinion,” ” the genius of a people,” are terms without meaning. But the human race in all times and in all places has agreed that such terms have meaning, and the conception that a community can so live, order and be itself, is a human conception as consonant to the nature of man as is his sense of right and wrong; it is much more intimately a part of that nature than are the common accidents determining human life, such as nourishment, generation or repose : nay, more intimate a part of it than anything which attaches to the body. —————————————————————————————————————-
          And regarding your question of .
          “But if a person is in authority and makes the choice, it follows that
          we must ask how they received their authority, and from whom, and what
          is the extent of that authority, and what are its limits.”
          Belloc writes:
          there stands against the statement of our political axiom not
          a contradiction added, but a criticism; and all men with some knowledge of their fellows and of themselves at once perceive, that the psychology of corporate action differs essentially from the psychology of individual action,
          and secondly, that in proportion to the number, the discussions, the lack of intimacy, and in general the friction of the many, corporate action by a community, corporate self-realisation and the imposition of a corporate will,
          varies from the difficult to the impossible.

          All men who reason and who observe are agreed that, in proportion to distance, numbers, and complexity, the difficulty of self-expression within
          a community increases. We may get in a lively people explosions of popular will violent, acute, and certainly real; but rare. We may attempt with a people more lethargic to obtain some reflection of popular will through the medium of a permanent machinery of deputation which, less than any other, perhaps,
          permits a great community to express itself truly. We may rely upon the national sympathies of an aristocracy or of a king. But in any case we know that large communities can only indirectly and imperfectly express themselves where the permanent government of their whole interest is concerned. Our
          attachment, which may be passionate, to the rights of the Common Will we must satisfy either by demanding a loose federation of small, self-governing states, or submitting the central government of large ones to occasional insur-
          rection and to violent corporate expressions of opinion which shall readjust the relations between the governor and the governed.

          All this is true : but such a criticism of the theory in political morals which lay behind the Revolution, the theory that the community is sovereign, is no contradiction. It only tells us that pure right cannot act untrammelled in human affairs and that it acts in some conditions more laboriously than in others :
          it gives not a jot of authority to any alternative thesis.

          So answer of where the ruler gets the authority is City
          The ruler acts on Common Will as expressed through public opinion, machinery of delegation or heredity principle etc.
          The limits of his authority is Natural Law, partly codified in Positive Law.

          I hope to have your comments on the above passage.

          • Cord_Hamrick


            Family is an irreducible entity; Individual is an irreducible entity: These are eternal entities and instituted by God. “Nature is mortal, we shall outlive her.”

            And any City which is eternal and instituted by God will likewise by irreducible. But…there is only one such City; namely, the Church.

            The human-created City emulates the good of the Church in some ways, and has often (to mankind’s regret) been mistakenly accorded some of the prerogatives that belong uniquely to the Church, but  it is certainly ephemeral and have all the reducibility of any human machine. The modern corporation, the Rotary Club or similar civic organizations, Protestant ecclesial communities, and even street gangs are exercises of voluntary human-driven Solidarity in exactly the same way as the government of the United States, with the exception that to these other organizations (save perhaps the street gang) the individuals participating in them do not delegate their god-given authority to use force to the collective entity.

            However, there is a moral obligation in each human individual to live in Family and in City: We are destined for the Family of God and the City of God, but even in this world our thriving requires some terrestrial Family and some terrestrial City. It is therefore in the Law of God that we should participate in some human Family and some human-created City…and we can learn this by right-reasoning apart from revelation, so it falls under the category of Natural Law.

            Furthermore, like many human-created things, the human-created City is more than the sum of its parts; once assembled it has a greater value and dignity than the same number of individuals would have had without being bound together in Solidarity. For this reason (at least) one cannot lightly discard the ties between one people and another, but only from grave necessity (typically a history of tyrannical abuses, as in the case of the secession of the American states from England).

            But one can overestimate the value and dignity of a human created city and accidentally ascribe the character of Christ’s Kingdom, which I believe you’re doing here. It’s an understandable error, but, I think, an error. It assigns the United States — and for that matter, the Assyrian Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Soviet Union! — the character of divine ordination. Were these things divinely ordained, then of course they would be greater than we, and such injustices as empires wage against persons to prolong the empire at the expense of the dignity of the person would perhaps be morally justifiable. That’s why I assign that error into the same category as Caesaropapism.

            But the City ought not be viewed that way. Like any human creation it can be done well or poorly, through fair means and foul, to the glory of God or the glory of something else, and used morally or immorally.

            As for your questions:

            …I must ask about the warrant for
            your  repeated assertion that God has given certain authority to
            Individuals and that authority is delegated by Individuals to the
            Govt..  It is certainly not Divine Law for that was once given to
            Hebrews collectively or through Church at present.  Does the Church
            declare it? But the Church is not libertarian and explicitly calls for

            It makes more sense for me to ask about the warrant for your repeated assertion that God has given certain authority to the government of the United States; a question which I have asked, and for which I have received no answer. When exactly did the prophet show up to anoint James Madison et alia?

            But as to the authority granted by God to Individuals to exercise force in the gravest extreme, to defend persons being unjustly attacked? You’ll find that in the Catholic Catechism, pp 2263 through 2265. That this same just authority extends to groups of persons acting in Solidarity as nation-states, you’ll find in various sources describing the Just War Doctrine. That this authority is not unlimited but only extends to the defense of persons who face real threat or attack, and that the use of force must be proportionate to the use of force in the attack, you’ll also find in both places.

            Indeed there is such continuity from the level of individual self-defense to the Just War Doctrine, and the criminal law of civil society stands so obviously at a middle-point between these two levels, that it is in my mind to challenge you why you believe that the state has just authority to jail two adult childless unmarried women for privately-conducted consensual sexual acts (the immorality of which I do not deny), unless you also believe that an individual has just authority to imprison those same two women in a frontier situation when no controlling government authority will do it, and unless you also believe that it is a Just War for the United States to invade France and Spain for carrying on a trade in pornography across their shared border. You may in fact think that, but that is not the center-of-gravity of Catholic thought. The Just War Doctrine has nations going to war only over grave harm done by one forcibly to the other. The doctrine of justified self defense expressed in the Catechism likewise says, in relevant part,

            2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

            2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

            If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

            2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.[emphasis added]

            Note, please, that even force redressing a wrong is only justifiable by appeal to double effect. Note that force is not justified except against an unjust “aggressor,” that more than necessary violence is unlawful, and that it is “for this reason” — (that is to say, for the same reasons as those that exist at the individual level, although made into a “grave duty” for those who are tasked to do it in service of the community) — that those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel…whom? Persons who commit any and every immoral act? No: aggressors.

            Take your pick of dictionaries and tell me if you can find one in which the definition of aggression includes immoral deeds willfully conducted by a single person that no other person ever sees, or two persons in perfect agreement with one another that no third party ever sees. I myself do not deny that fraud may be prosecuted by the state as a kind of “aggression,” but even that’s bending the definition of “aggression” a bit outside typical usage, and our degree of force ought therefore to be adjusted downward in response.

            I also take for granted that immoral acts done in private really do harm the whole body of humanity by corrupting the character of the person doing them. But in that case our response to such harm ought to be proportionate and moderate; the force employed in response should match, and not exceed, the force employed in the offense. But when there is no force employed in the offense, what then can we say about the degree of force warranted in response?

            But all that is an aside. The above suffices to demonstrate that Divine Law does authorize individuals to use force when needed to defend persons (either themselves or others) against unjust aggression. That an old man can hire a bodyguard to do this on his behalf is surely admitted by all? …in which case we see that the just authority under God to forcible defense against aggression is something that may be delegated.

            Now when a group of men get together (as the American Founders did) to create a government, they create offices and name these offices as they will. To one office they assign certain duties; to another office, different duties. So there is no doubt that these offices are inventions of men. Some of these offices involve the use of force directly (as when a newly-created frontier town chooses a sheriff); others (e.g. that of U.S. Senator or Representative) involve administering the use of force indirectly (through the enacting of

            Now your argument, if I understand it correctly, is that God confers authority on the State apart from that authority which the People might delegate to it, and thus can confer authorization to use force that the People themselves could never have conferred on their own initiative (since they had no such authority themselves).

            To save that argument, you need to demonstrate from Divine Law that when the 1789 Constitution of the United States established elected offices, those particular offices which used force had divine warrant to do so with or without any recourse to the consent of individuals either in defining the duties of their office or in selecting who would occupy of the office.

            Show me, then where in the Bible (or the Catechism or the Encyclicals then current) George Washington was granted authority as Commander in Chief, and that his possession of the office of President granted him just authority not only to repel invaders but to outlaw private intoxication, and that his election by his fellow men is irrelevant to his possession of the office, and that the intent of the authors of the Constitution is irrelevant to the powers of that office, and I will admit your victory.

            As to the passage from Belloc: I do not see that it advances your thesis nor that it contradicts mine. It rather seems to contradict yours and support mine. (But of course Belloc is a fallible source.)

            Certainly what Belloc wrote does not seem to justify your summation: “So answer of where the ruler gets the authority is City.” That leaves the question unanswered: Where does the City get its authority, if not from “the mass of its component units [which] are able to combine for the purpose of a common expression.” But if that is where the City gets its sovereignty, then its sovereignty is delegated to it by those component units…who must have first had that sovereignty, or else the could never have delegated it.

            In the end, human beings are eternal created in the Image of God. Does it not therefore make more sense that God should delegate authority to them, and that they in turn should delegate authority to something so ephemeral as the government of the United States, than that God should (at some unknown time) declare the sovereignty of the United States, and then it should turn around and delegate some limited set of privileges to the human beings whose creativity envisioned its offices and whose souls shall long outlive it?

            • Vishal Mehra

              I am afraid you are back to the Harm Principle again.
              1) I have called for God to be excluded from the discussion. All my arguments presuppose Natural Law only that can be known by reason, beginning with Aristotle “City is Prior to the Individual and to the Family”.  So I am not required to cite Bible or whatever.
              2) Civil Law is not an extension to Individual Right to Self-defense. It includes categories beyond Individual Rights. Even, there is an Individual Right to respond to Fighting Words.
              The right to punish fornication etc belongs to the City and not to Individuals or the Family.

              It is not necessarily tyrannical for a City to execute fornicators etc. It depends upon the context. As Esolen has explained, Justice is not a set of abstract principles but a Person.

              2) Pls see CCC 2266:
              The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

              3) “Where does the City get its authority”
              Ans: The City exists by Nature (Aristotle). You are not comprehending the meaning of sovereignty. The sovereign has authority per se. His authority is not derived from anything extraneous.

              The State or the rulers get their authority from the City. That is the constitutional part.
              4) “God should (at some unknown time) declare the sovereignty of the United States”

              God has nothing to do with it. USA became sovereign when the People said so and were able to defend its sovereignty against other sovereigns and internal disintegration.
              This is partly what is meant by City exists by Nature.
              The point is by Natural Law, people will always live in some City and certain functions or powers are reserved for the City, not to the Individuals. It is not sensible to say that these reserved powers are delegated to the City from Individuals.
              By your formulations, you end up with paradoxes and unable to understand why Cities act the way they do.

              • Cord_Hamrick


                What I stated above is consistent with the view that while many types of harm may be done, and not all are physical; still, the response ought to match the character of the way the harm was imposed and be proportionate to the degree of the harm. If the harm was not at all forcibly imposed, it is (and right Natural Reason perceives this) an unfitting escalation to respond very forcibly.

                As for whether God is excluded from discussion: You can’t have it both ways. When you asked me to demonstrate some Divine Law that my view was correct, you forced me to refer to Divine Law, which I did; I correspondingly asked you to do the same.

                But of the two of us, it would have made more sense for me to insist that you refer to Divine Law, since you insist that, at some unknown occasion, God has ordained authority to the City apart from that which it receives from the men who create or comprise either its authority figures or its whole population.

                That the City can receive authority by delegation from men is entirely clear, intuitive, and plain. That God has ordained it to have authority through some other channel is an unproven assertion. I asked you to prove it. Divine Law is one way you could have done so. If you prefer not to do so from Divine Law, that’s fine with me, but you don’t seem to be able to demonstrate it apart from Divine Law, either.

                Furthermore, we both agree that all authority in heaven and earth ultimately comes from God. And we are debating about what precise kind of authority exists in earthly government, and what are its limitations. So it is entirely fitting that I should ask, of any authority held (or claimed to be held) by an earthly potentate, “How did that authority get from God to this Man?” It will of course be difficult to answer that very sensible question, if you refuse to mention God in your answer!

                Your claim that “[The criminal code of civil society is] not an extension of Individual Right to self-defense,” is undefended and I disagree. Please provide an argument in favor of that assertion. It is perfectly clear how the prosecution of robbery serves to defend the property of individuals and how individuals may hire either private security or (through government) a public police force to do so. It is not at all clear that, if robbery was the only crime that existed, a police force would ever be hired except to defend the property of individuals. And if there were only one individual in the whole society, then that police force’s actions would be coterminous with defense of that individual. So the argument for my view of government (that when persons unite in Solidarity, they can unite their God-given capacity to forcibly defend themselves and each other by delegating it to an armed force administered by employees selected by vote) is clear. Yours is missing. You can’t beat something with nothing.

                I don’t see the relevance of the right to respond to Fighting Words. Will you please clarify why you mentioned it?

                You said that it is not necessarily tyrannical for the City to execute fornicators. I can agree that it is not tyrannical for the City to deter, halt, or punish fornication. My only qualm is with punishing it by execution; this is the most extreme form of force imaginable, and is thus unfitting for the offense and out of all proportion to it; the Catechism passages I have previously cited would exclude it on those grounds. (If you execute a fornicator, what on earth are you going to do to a mass murderer?)

                I don’t know why you mention Tony Esolen saying that Justice is not a set of abstract principles but a Person. I agree with him, naturally; but it doesn’t seem a relevant observation here. (And if it were, wouldn’t you then be breaking your self-imposed prohibition on appealing to God?)

                You quote CCC 2266, but nothing in it contradicts what I am saying, so I have nothing to say in response.

                You quote Aristotle saying “The City exists by Nature.” If by that he meant that given the existence of some individual persons in Solidarity to empower the City, the City exists, then I agree. If he meant that the City exists, prior to the existence of the entire human race, and would continue existing after the human race was extinct, then I answer that he is either talking about the New Jerusalem, or about a City for extra-terrestrials, or he is wrong.

                In what seems to be a non-sequitur, you add (as if it was implied by the Aristotle quote, which it isn’t) that “The sovereign has authority per se. His authority is not derived from anything extraneous.” In that case, if you are Catholic, you must be using the word “sovereign” as a synonym for “God,” for according to Catholic doctrine He is the source of all authority (not to mention existence!) in Heaven and on earth, and all other authority is derivative of his. His is the only non-derivative authority; He is the only being that can match your definition of the word “sovereign.”

                But I can tell from context that you didn’t quite mean to say that the City is God! I think you meant to say that the City has sovereignty, which God delegated to it without any intermediary step of first granting it to a human person.

                But that is an unproven assertion, which I’ve asked you to prove, and you haven’t been able to do so. When did the city of Detroit receive authority from God? When it was first founded? What did God say were the limits of its authority? Aren’t there any limits? Does the city of Detroit have authority to ordain bishops and set the canon of Scripture and to legislate the mass of an electron? God’s act of delegating authority to the city of Detroit must have been a profound event; how strange that He never mentioned it to any of us!

                Next, you say, “The State or the rulers get their authority from the City.” There is an ambiguity in how you are using the term “the City,” or perhaps it is a confusion in how I am interpreting your usage. On some occasions “the City” seems to mean “We The People” (an entity which predates whatever government the People opt to establish); on other occasions it seems to mean “The Government.”

                If you say “The State or the rulers get their authority from the City” you must mean that “the government gets its authority from We The People” — which is my position.

                You also add, “USA became sovereign when the People said so and were able to defend its sovereignty against other sovereigns and internal disintegration.” Well, that is exactly what I believe. So are we now in agreement, suddenly?

                Or must we now debate the nature of the sovereignty of  We The People, and that it comes from an aggregation of the individual sovereignties which each individual has from God, merged together in an act of Solidarity by the consent of the individuals who are uniting to form We The People?

                • Vishal Mehra

                  [The criminal code of civil society is] not an extension of Individual Right to self-defense,”

                  An individual has right to self-defense but never to punishment. I hope you appreciate this point. The justice requires a judge, necessarily a third party. Thus justice is irreducible to Individuals and must involve the City and in fact incomprehensible without it.
                  Now libertarians of anarchist type have built models of justice   based upon private companies that administer justice for a fee. Do you wish to go there? They believe that Solidarity will emerge out of profit-making.

                  Or you may wish to dispense with Justice altogether and link the criminal code to deterrence
                  and self-defense (of the city). This approach the modern liberals take.

                  • Cord_Hamrick


                    Punishment does exist in principle as an individual right of persons; so the argument you’re making against the criminal code of civil society being an extension of the individual right to self-defense is not sound.

                    I grant that punishment is dangerous for a fallen human individual to implement from a practical standpoint, but that is only because of our fallen-ness, and the fallen-ness of anyone we might punish. It is difficult, and often impossible, for any individual to justly impose punishment upon a person who has wounded him without falling into revenge-taking, et cetera. And the person being punished, also being fallen, could respond with resentment instead of repentance, leading to an escalation of violence unrelated to the original offense. So it is fraught with practical difficulty. But in the temporary or long-term absence of a civil authority (post-apocalyptic? frontier?), it might become necessary. (Some things are so important that they’re worth doing badly.)

                    It is because of the practical difficulties of the (fallible) wounded party being responsible for justice that we turn to a (hopefully both wise and disinterested) third party to administer justice. And this practical solution to a practical problem is indeed part of the reason that we are morally obligated to form civil societies (or “Cities,” in your terminology).

                    Thus we delegate our authority to punish wrongdoers and agree, as a normal practice, not to exercise it ourselves because our servants, the government, will normally do a better job. This should not surprise us, because it is in perfect parallel to our God-given just authority to use the threat of force to deter a wrongful attack, or to use actual force to halt a wrongful attack in progress: Such things are more effective and fraught with fewer practical problems if a few people specialize in doing them and are organized for the purpose of doing them, and under normal circumstances are the only ones who do them. That’s why we have a police force. But if there isn’t a policeman around for miles we may some day be forced to do it on our own, just as we might need to rescue a drowning man or aid a person who has stopped breathing. (This is why responsible adults, if capable, ought to own and be trained in the use of a firearm, just like they ought to have a fire extinguisher, and know how to swim, know the Heimlich Maneuver, and know CPR. But that is a back-up for extraordinary circumstances; calling 911 is the normal procedure.)

                    Incidentally, even the decisions made by human judges, and human legislators, are also fallible. That is why it is an important mark of wisdom that when the City implements justice, it is concerned with terrestrial, limited-scope justice and not eternal, cosmic-scope justice. Leftist get this wrong all the time: Instead of seeing to it that everyone plays by the same rules and receives equal treatment under law, they instead try to achieve equality of outcomes…which even in a perfect and unfallen society would never happen because people are not interchangeable and will exercise their free will differently even when they don’t sin or err.

                    I don’t believe that private companies ought to be tasked with administering justice. There are two kinds of power in human society which, though they can be used for good, tend often to compete with and displace the power of love; namely, the power of violence and the power of money. Uniting the two as a single power-structure is dangerous in a fallen world. Instead, government ought to be kept separate from commerce and commercial organizations kept separate from law enforcement. That way the one can focus on its proper duty (defending the people through the use of force) and the other on its proper duty (mutual enrichment through voluntary exchange). Combining them only works in a society of angels; in a society of men it would lead to an entity extracting money by force and giving shoddy service in return.

                    There is, by the way, a certain sense in which Solidarity does emerge out of profit-taking: When you and I (being both in sound mind and well-informed) voluntarily trade or barter with one another and are both pleased by the exchange and would be willing to make the same exchange again, our ongoing business relationship is a form of Solidarity. (Not all lucre is “filthy!”) Indeed that is part of the way that we both profit from that exchange: The forming of that symbiotic relationship. For of all the many kinds of profit that exist, the monetary kind of profit is not the most important one.

                    • Vishal Mehra

                      Pls support and elaborate your claim that
                      “Punishment does exist in principle as an individual right of persons”

                • Vishal Mehra

                  “individual sovereignties which each individual has from God”

                  That I deny emphatically. There is no warrant either in Natural Law or Divine Law.
                  In fact, the concept of multitudes of sovereignties
                  co-existing is incoherent. The word “sovereign” is
                  properly applied in a political context only. You
                  probably mean “self-ownership”.

                  1) Man is a political animal. Do you accept?
                  This implies that man is always found to live in a political communities or a City.
                  Your remarks about some City pre-dating or post-dating all men bypasses the logical point.
                  It is rather like Eternal Father begetting Eternal Son.
                  2) Man is a rational animal. The City is law-bound
                  This point is merely an elaboration of (1).
                  3) You seem to have a Social Compact picture in mind and are taken it more literally than it should be taken.

                  PS (1) By City I never mean Govt.
                  (2) Sovereignty I do not impute to God. God is not required in this discussion.

                  • Cord_Hamrick

                     Vishal: The comments here are once again getting really narrow. I’m going to reset the width again by posting a reply to the original thread one more time.

                • Vishal Mehra

                  Normally, a City gets its authority from another pre-existing City as when USA got its authority from pre-existing colonies.

                  Even if, there is a case of Individuals consciously forming a City, perhaps on a shipwrecked island, the City would have an authority that is NOT delegated by the Individuals. Justice, being the virtue that sews up people so as to form a body,
                  comes into being and thus the City judges
                  the composing Individuals in a way that merely a group of Individuals can not.

                  Another way of looking at it is, the Act of Solidarity that bounds Individuals into a City is Eternal. There were never Individuals that had not participated in this Act. Bandits and hermits are born in some City or other.
                  PS The word Eternal is not be understood in a transcendental sense.

            • Vishal Mehra

              “The modern corporation, the Rotary Club or similar civic organizations,
              Protestant ecclesial communities, and even street gangs are exercises
              of voluntary human-driven Solidarity in exactly the same way as the
              government of the United States,”

              City is a political association that is concerned with Justice. The corporations are with profit and other good, private or common, Church with divine good etc.
              None of them have the political character.

  • Martial_Artist

    I agree, in part, with the author’s comment that [italics in original] 

    The state is not the guarantor of social order, and so conservatives who look to it as such ought to stop. A limited government is better for social order than no government, but the modern state is a “cure” that is worse than whatever the disease was, and the libertarian critique of the state as such is invaluable in opposing it.

    The assertion with which I have reservations is the first half of the second quoted sentence. It is certainly neither apodictically nor axiomatically true for a modern democratic republic, as can clearly be seen by the condition of our nation, and of the Eurozone nations, today. But I think it depends upon how one defines “government.” Hans-Hermann Hoppe makes a very strong argument in his book Democracy, The God That Failed, that the young nation that won the American Revolution made fatal errors in abandoning what Hoppe, following Adam Smith,  calls “a system of natural liberty” which had been established during the colonial period. It was a system based on the recognition of private property, the division of labor and contractual exchange, men were capable of protecting themselves effectively against antisocial aggressors: first and foremost by means of self-defense, and as society grew increasingly prosperous and complex, by means of specialization, i.e., by institutions and agencies such as property registries, notaries, lawyers, judges, courts, juries, sheriffs, mutual defense associations, and popular militias, and by covenants: associations of linguistically, ethnically, religiously, and culturally homogeneous settlers led by and voluntarily subject to the internal jurisdiction of a popular leader/founder to ensure peaceful cooperation and maintenance of law and order. The second error was rather than letting “the inherited royal institution of colonies and colonial governments wither away into oblivion; they reconsituted them within the old political borders in the form of independent states, each equipped with its own coercive (unilateral) taxing and legislative powers. While this alone would have been bad enough, the new Americans made matters worse by adopting the American Constitution and replacing a loose confederation of independent states with the central (federal) government of the United States.”

    Looking backward almost three centuries, I think there might well be some significant merit to Hoppe’s argument.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  • Cord_Hamrick

    *** THIS REPLY IS TO Vishal ***


    In one of your replies below, you stated that you “deny emphatically” that each individual has an individual sovereignty from God, saying that “There is no warrant either in Natural Law or Divine Law.”

    I suspect what causes you to react that way is a difference in the definition of the word “sovereignty.” As applied to individuals, it indicates both the (God-given) ability to freely choose and the (God-imposed) responsibility for making good choices with respect to those people and things within (more narrowly) their sphere of authority and (more broadly) their sphere of influence.

    You propose that what I have in mind is “self-ownership” rather than “sovereignty.” I would be willing to accept that term, but only with qualifications. I think God “owns” everything outright; but, he assigns us a temporary role as stewards of our bodies, of a certain amount of time in which we are alive, of our money, and so on. We call a particular car “our car” to distinguish the one we bought from the one someone else bought. We say that we “own ourselves” to emphasize that no other man may treat us as a slave. But God owns all these things and has given us the privilege of administering them on His behalf for a limited time. He who is faithful with little will be trusted with much after His master returns.

    So you see the qualifications of “self-ownership.” Now, a similar set of qualifications exist for individual “sovereignty.” These bodies we are granted are indeed like little kingdoms — and sometimes unruly ones with some lawless sectors in the hinterlands — and so we human persons are “sovereign” over our bodies for a limited time. But that sovereignty comes from God: He is like a great King or Emperor who has granted us a fiefdom…but we are to exercise our limited sovereignty, which is derivative of His, in a fashion which is loyal to our King. Our bodies and our lives are not a duchy we can abuse any way we please.

    You say, “Man is a political animal.” I think I agree with this; indeed it is a statement I myself have made elsewhere. But I’m not absolutely certain that you and I mean the same thing by it, so that is why I am uncertain that I agree with your use of it.

    You say, “In fact, the concept of multitudes of sovereignties co-existing is incoherent.”

    Why do you think that? Even if we limit the word “sovereignty” to politics, do you think that just because the United States is a sovereign, that means that France can’t also be a sovereign?

    Or, if we use the word more broadly: If the United States is a sovereign, does that mean God can’t also be sovereign? Is Jesus Christ properly called “the King” or not?

    You say, that the word “sovereign” is “properly applied in a political context only.” Why? Do you mean that you yourself only use it that way, or that everybody (for some reason) ought to confine themselves to that usage?

    You say that “man is always found to live in a political communities or a City.” I answer: Not always, just almost always, and for perfectly good reason: His nature makes this (usually) a beneficial thing for him.

    Marriage and childbearing are likewise (usually) a beneficial thing for man. But that does not mean that all men are in a City, or that all men marry and have children. Some men have forsaken children, marriage, and even human society for the Kingdom of God.

    But you seem to be making a lot of eternal claims for “the City” which, unless you are talking about the New Jerusalem, are absurd. You even say that my logical requirement that there be some people first before the first City can exist “bypasses the logical point,” and you go on to say that the “It” is “rather like Eternal Father begetting Eternal Son.” You must be joking with me: Are you assert that existence of Detroit is as non-dependent on the existence of human beings as the existence of the Eternal Word of God?! I must not be understanding you correctly.

    ADDENDUM: Okay, I just discovered part of another note you wrote, in which you clarify that when you apply the word “eternal” to “the City” you are not meaning anything transcendent. But in that case, I can’t imagine why you are using the word “eternal,” which either means “outside time and thus having no beginning or end or dependence on the created order,” or, in more popular (though less accurate) usage, “going on for a perpetual amount of time.” You seem not to be using either the technical or the popular definition for the word “eternal,” so I’m at a loss to discover what you mean by it.

    You say, “Man is a rational animal”; naturally I agree. You add, “The City is law-bound”; I don’t know if I agree because I don’t know exactly what you mean by that. Then you say that these two assertions are “merely an elaboration of (1).” I don’t understand that. To me, these two observations are non-sequiturs and don’t seem very closely related to your first point, that “Man is a political animal.”

    Your third point is to say that I “seem to have a Social Compact picture in mind” and that I have “taken it more literally than it should be taken.” I’m not sure what to make of this statement. Perhaps if you tell me what you mean by the term “Social Compact” I’ll be able to tell you whether that’s part of my view or not.

    You add in post-script, “By City I never mean Govt.” That’s a good thing to know; but then it might be wise to clearly define them, along with terms like “We The People” and “The State” and “Sovereign” and set out what, in your view, are the relationships between each of them.

    To help with this, please use the following scenario:

    2400 individual people become stranded on a desert island, rich with resources and plenty of space for them all. There is even enough space for them to split into two or three non-communicating communities, should they choose, and still have some space left aside for hermits to go off into the wilderness to live in solitude. They have every reason to believe they will be there unrescued for a hundred years or more.

    As it turns out, they decide to split into three groups (X, Y, and Z) of 1000, 1000, and 400 persons respectively. In Group X, they go the route of representative government, with a Mayor, a Town Council, a triumvirate of judges, and a Sheriff (with some part-time deputies). In Group Y, they try to go that way, but it soon turns out that one man is able to get several other men to be violent on his behalf, so before long he is a tyrannical ruler with his pick of the best-looking women for himself and for his men. The 400 (Group Z) create a loosely-knit association of households who assist one another periodically on an individual basis out of sheer neighborliness, and don’t try to set up any authority structure at all.

    Over time, some folk from each group decide that group isn’t working as well as they’d hoped, so they opt to go to join another group. Eventually one group disbands entirely and ceases to exist, leaving the remnants to join the other two groups. (I won’t specify which one; it could happen to any of the three.)

    Okay. Given the above scenario,

    1. Define “The City,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    2. Define “We The People,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    3. Define “Government,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    4. Define “Sovereign,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    5. Define “Society,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    6. Define “Social Compact,” and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find.
    7. Define “Individual”, and give as many examples from the scenario as you can find, and indicate whether each Individual is a Citizen, a Subject, or something else.
    8. Of each set of persons who (directly or indirectly) exercise the use of force in the scenario, explain:
    (a.) Do they have just authority to do so?
    (b.) If they have just authority, how did they obtain it?
    (c.) If they obtained just authority from someone else, from whom?
    (d.) If the person they obtained just authority from is not God Himself, then how did that person obtain the authority, and from whom? Trace the “path” of authority all the way back to God, to whom all authority is traceable in the end.

    I will of course do the same.

    There. That way, we should get some clarity about all this.

    • Vishal Mehra

      I emphasize the City as an embodied moral order, an incarnation of Natural Law, not as machinery for Govt. 
      There is a quote I found:

      The freedom is always an exercise of “I” but the freedom comes into being through the “We”, through a tradition of civilized liberty.

      About multitudes of co-existing sovereignties: France is not sovereign over the same land and people as England is. But if we share a City, we are sharing land and it is meaningless
      for both of us to claim sovereignty.
      For individuals, the appropriate word is “ownership”.

      “His nature makes this (usually) a beneficial thing for him.”
      “usually” is too weak. Man is political by nature as Aristotle said. Perhaps you disagree?
      Your example:
      1) X is certainly a City, with laws and judges and Govt. As I claimed previously, the authority to judge and punish arises with the formation of the City. This is what is meant by “The City exists by Nature”.
      When people form a City, they acknowledge the Law that rules man and they bind themselves over to that Law. The Eternal Law has Authority over man to judge him, and the City is an embodiment of this Law. You may call it Divine Wisdom and the Authority passes directly from Law to the City. The Individuals possess no authority to judge another.

      2) Y is a despotic City at best, if some Law is being acknowledged, as in Stalinist Russia, where people married, reared children, honored age, and Courts operated.

      3) Z could also be a City if people acknowledged a Law that has Authority to judge them. The authority could very well operate informally but is likely to gain formality over time.

      If the philosophers are right, it is impossible for mankind not to acknowledge Law.

      A cult is also part of Law. Empirically, Cities do not last without a popular Cult. But you emphasize Govt more while not fully appreciating the wonder that makes man live in distinct and individual Cities.