Of Left and Right, Reason and Faith
Friday, December 01, 2017
Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.
I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it?
On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them.
I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings.
A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.
For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer.
In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent.
I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf.
By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister.
Neither can I. And if a child is orphaned or abused, other family members should take care of it in preference to state intervention.
Posted by: Tom | Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 10:59 AM
I am for the state getting out of regulating people's lives - it should be the parents who look to the children. Can't see why that is bad.
Posted by: james higham | Monday, December 11, 2017 at 07:15 PM
Everywhere. Life as a process is, by my observation, neither fair nor 'just'. The only 'justice' is that which people make for themselves via the paradigms we humans construct our societies from.
Besides, 'justice' is a highly subjective concept, so what is 'Just' to one party may seem unnecessary, pointless and cruel to another. God has nothing to do with it.
Posted by: Bill Sticker | Saturday, December 09, 2017 at 04:13 AM
I am as socially conservative as you in how I choose to live. But I am not socially authoritarian. The more things you want a state to regulate the bigger it must be. And history shows us that big states do more harm than the social ills you want them to suppress. THAT is where we differ. We could live as neighbours without ever scandalising each other I assure you!
Posted by: Tom | Thursday, December 07, 2017 at 11:15 AM
I am anything but a progressive, but then maybe it’s just a badge word with no real objective meaning. Authoritarian leftists use it as a euphemism for their Marxism and conservatives and libertarians use it as a term of abuse. Like when an antifa calls someone a Nazi it’s really just a bombastic way of saying “you’re wrong”. And I know you think I’m wrong and it’s ok because I would like to be.
Posted by: Tom | Thursday, December 07, 2017 at 10:56 AM
Our primary difference has always been social conservatism, Tom.
Posted by: James Higham | Tuesday, December 05, 2017 at 02:03 PM
If I may, where do you see the world telling you there is not a just God?
Posted by: Navigator | Tuesday, December 05, 2017 at 07:28 AM
Thanks Tom. although regrettably your first 7 paragraphs confirm my fear, which is that you are a progressive!!
On your last paragraph, that is your article of faith. I disagree, as you know, as I think there is a better hat of faith and reason to have..... And by the way, you contradict yourself, no, as you might recall from that wonderful drive where we came up with those noble laws that a state should have!! My submission to you, until we have the chance to meet again, is that your libertarian dogma is not quite perfect. There is a better article of faith!!
Posted by: Navigator | Tuesday, December 05, 2017 at 07:27 AM
"In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose..." Likewise.
I too would love there to be a just God. But the world tells me otherwise.
Sometimes it is hard not to feel a deep wistful sadness that others cannot understand this quasi-ambivalence and simply live and let live.
Posted by: Bill Sticker | Monday, December 04, 2017 at 06:35 PM
You are a good man and I genuinely like to agree with you, but I struggle here. To agree "we were made" for X and Y, would require, I think, my agreement on the existence of a Maker. I would like to agree on that, but I can't. Friends of faith are praying that I may be able to one day.
The best I can say for now is that it is objectively better for children to be brought up in a marriage staffed by both major varieties of human. I already went so far as to say that I would not willingly have brought children up in any other way. That's not always a choice and one of my best friends in the world is womanfully, with great love and noble intent bringing up a splendid young gent of whom I am very fond entirely on her own. It wasn't her first choice but she's doing her best and I have high hopes he's going to turn out well despite the disadvantage of having no full-time male role model. Decent males of her acquaintance are deputising when they can. One of them is me and I only wish she lived closer so I could do it more. Given your disagreement with my ideas you may be happy he's not over-exposed to my role model!
Other friends are doing their best in sub-optimal family circumstances. Of the nature, nurture and free-will tripod, one or more leg is wonky for their children but there's plenty of evidence from children brought up in worse circumstances that a one-legged tripod consisting of just the child's free will can produce good results.
For example I knew one of two brothers brought up by a tragically useless single mother in appalling circumstances. With no educational or financial advantages, he made a decision to rise above his upbringing. Before he died he raised a good family. His children have no valid complaints of disadvantage and his grandchildren are now prospering too. His brother on the other hand turned out as a good Social Justice Warrior would have predicted - drugs and crime and dissolution. There were no differences in their circumstances or upbringing. One just accepted he was a victim and the other refused.
I don't deny life is unfair and that certain starts in life offer advantages. I simply hold robustly to the practical view that every sane and healthy man has a powerful choice in how to play the cards he's dealt. All a poor child in the United States has to do to join the ranks of the world's lucky is to finish high school and not conceive a child until married and able to support one. I doubt the bar is any higher in Britain or any other Western country. That's in anyone's grasp if he is not discouraged by people who tell him that he's a hopeless victim. The greatest evil Leftists do is tell young people they have no chance because of their class background, sex, sexual preferences or ethnicity.
Legislating for virtue is pointless. Firstly legislation is essentially unvirtuous because it involves violence. Secondly legislators are no more (I would argue they are less) likely to be virtuous than any random parent. And thirdly, virtue compelled is not virtue at all. Good intentions matter and going through the motions of virtue is a vice. Marriage is not a magic spell. It's not a ritual incantation to be made every day over breakfast to invoke the protection of the gods. It is, as the order of service makes clear, a difficult thing and not to be undertaken lightly.
You cannot seriously be arguing that the imprimatur of a state will make a thing better than your God can on HIs own surely? The kind of "encouragement" a state can offer is weak stuff. If you marry because it buys you a tax relief, what kind of mother or father are you likely to be, for goodness sake?
Finally, my neighbour's child is important, yes. But I would be an hypocrite if I claimed s/he is as important to me as my own. I help my neighbour's child where I can, out of a natural inclination entirely unshaped by the state. Anyone who needs to be compelled by state violence to do what my nature inclines me to do is best kept well AWAY from children.
You're one of my most rigorously intellectual interlocutors, but you are making the common error of assuming the violence of the state can be directed to good ends. All non-defensive violence is bad. Government is a necessary evil and evils must be kept to an absolute minimum.
Posted by: Tom | Monday, December 04, 2017 at 03:03 AM
I am mindful that it is your blog, to speak as you choose, and to make the points you wish to make, but I would be interested in your views on the point I made.
For what it is worth, I don't agree that the Church erred in converting nations - having states legislating for virtue is a good thing; and to recognise and encourage marriage as all of human history has known it up to a few years ago save in decadent and declining Western nations is prima facie a good thing. Oh, and it isn't humility to avoid defending what is right. Your neighbour's child is as important to defend as your own.
Posted by: Navigator | Sunday, December 03, 2017 at 07:20 PM
It is statistically correct that children thrive better if brought up in a marriage. That's how I chose to bring mine up and I would never have done so in another way. Such generalisations are useful in making ones own choices but not so much in inflicting them on others. Not every child is lucky enough to grow up in ideal conditions. That does not mean they are doomed. Children from the same environment often turn out very differently. There is nature, there is nurture and there is free will. For the most part, attempts to use the state to inflict ones ideals on others are likely to do more harm than good When the early Church converted European nations from the top down - evangelising their kings and having them impose the Church's world view on their subjects – it committed an error (you might say a sin). It gave the keys to the definition of a range of human relationships to the State, when they should have been matters for the humans involved in them (and their God and/or Church if appropriate). I am not a libertine. I value stable human relationships. I simply respect my fellow men enough (and have enough humility) NOT to believe I am entitled to inflict my views on others using state violence as my proxy. Nothing in my experience of life suggests to the contrary.
Posted by: Tom | Saturday, December 02, 2017 at 07:13 PM
Yes, the reaction to Rees-Mogg's honesty was informative. The Left believes that to permit is to condone. I condone very little of what people do. I have my own fairly strict rules as to how I think life should be lived, but I would permit almost everything, short of the initiation of violence and fraud. A new aspect of this odd world view of those who would be our masters is that it's not enough to accept others' foibles. One must now endorse them, approve them, encourage them or one is - again - assumed to condemn them. I neither care, nor accept any obligation to care about what others do as long as they are not initiating force or fraud.
Posted by: Tom | Saturday, December 02, 2017 at 07:07 PM
Well, it's good to have you back posting, and I think you know I yield to no man in my dislike for modern politics and the Conservative Party in particular.
Having said that, you depart to join them in the muddled headed arena with your assertion that marriage is a private matter! I suspect I will never convince you, or the modernists who now view marriage as a mere private matter, but let me just air the basis for the marriage of faith and reason as it applies to marriage: we are made men and women, objectively; to have children one needs one man and one women; to raise such children the best way, empirically, is in a house where same man and woman are married, not merely cohabiting or any other arrangement (refer Mr Liddle's articles form the last two weeks in your Speccie for the data); raising children in the best way possible is a public good, for the survival of our society; therefore government should be legislating for the virtue of its citizens on such a fundamental matter of public interest - the future, and it most definitely should not be legislating in a manner that undermines that virtue. One can repeat the same argument for abortion, too, and as you point out, the child is the innocent in all of this. Why protect only your own child, and not your neighbour's?
I suspect the issue is you reject an objective Truth, preferring your own subjective truth. Presenting in those terms, which side of the current debate to best fit?!!
Posted by: Navigator | Friday, December 01, 2017 at 06:30 PM
What an excellent piece, and how I agree.
On marriage: If people insist that marriage confers special rights or privileges on the partners entering the relationship - tax breaks, rights to property or whatever - then let them put the State on notice by recording a non-religious civil agreement as a matter of public record. Those who want to go on and have the religious service, fine; that's their call and their right. But it's a private matter.
The State should have no part to play in deciding who can marry or cohabit with whom - with the exceptions of close blood relatives, children, and animals. Gender? Entirely a matter for the partners concerned. And while we're at it, if a bakery wishes to decline an order for a wedding cake, a jam doughnut or a bacon butty they should be free to do it and forgo the earnings, without penalty.
On Conservatism: It's been a great triumph of Socialism to succeed in portraying Conservatives as "the nasty party" - and if I recall correctly, it was our current PM who came up with the expression. The Conservative Party of today has little or nothing to do with light-touch government, low taxes, fiscal continence and in rolling back the influence of the State. Theresa May is a thoroughgoing disgrace as a Prime Minister, the Party she leads is little better, and the only worse thing would be the alternative - Corbyn and his creature, McDonnell.
A few weeks ago Jacob Rees Mogg was asked what his view is on abortion. It's to his credit that - as an honest and straightforward man - he said he follows the teachings of his Church, and does not believe it's right. The Twitterati, the fake news peddlers and the Facebook generation were all over it like a rash; "if Rees Mogg were elected, abortion would be banned!"
He'd said nothing of the sort, of course, but it's typical of snowflakes and socialists to confuse (perhaps I mean conflate) issues for political ends.
My late father once told me that his father, a survivor of a number of convoy sailings to Murmansk in WW2, had seen some of glories on offer in a socialist state and had formed the view that "only the very wealthy can afford to be Socialists". As a guideline, it works well. It sweeps up all the celebs and luvvies who wave their virtue by lauding Corbyn or Clinton. They can afford it. Most of the rest of us, meh, not so much.
Posted by: markc | Friday, December 01, 2017 at 03:43 PM