From Civic to Liberal Republicanism: John Locke and the Dutch

September 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:19 pm   Category: Calvinism,Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Politics

This is the 4th part in my series whereby I roughly follow Jerry Muller’s Thinking About Capitalism, in order to bring socio-economic and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s political taxonomy.  Here is the political spectrum that I have been working with:

spectrum-and-legend

Last post I discussed how Machiavelli, Hobbes and various religious thinkers contributed to the transvaluation of Civic Republican virtue into the modern “virtue” of self-interest.  This post will discuss the ways in which the 17th Century Dutch experience in general and – even though Muller strangely ignores him – John Locke in particular transformed the aristocratic Civic Republicanism into the middle-class Liberal Republicanism that would later form the very heart of the American constitution. (more…)

A Genealogy of Self-Interest: Machiavelli and Hobbes

This is the third post in my series where I appropriate Jerry Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” to bring socioeconomics and intellectual history to Jonathan Haidt’s social-psychological account of political differences. Briefly, on the right is a very rough, graphical depiction of Haidt’s tripartite political taxonomy. On the left is my taxonomy which is (with huge caveats that I won’t elaborate upon here) the vertical mirror image of Haidt’s:

my-spectrumhaidt-spectrum

Paternalism = Theocratic Chiefdom (Traditional Segmentation)
Abs. = Absolute Monarchy
Const. = Constitutional Monarchy
Individualism = Libertarianism (Classical Liberalism)
Welf. = Welfare State Liberalism
Soc. = Socialism
Fraternalism = Anarchism (“Utopian” Communism)
Mult. = Multi-Cultural Humanism
Civ. = Civic Republicanism (Aristocratic Humanism)
Nat. = Nationalism

To be sure, no 2-dimensional political spectrum could ever include every nuance or exception to every rule.  As such, these circles and boundaries are suggestive, high-level generalizations intended to function as entry points and primers rather than the definitive, last word on any such position. (more…)

Greek/Christian Condemnations of Profit/Usury

September 12, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 4:29 pm   Category: Ethics,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

(This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the relationship between Mormonism and capitalism.)

Last post I proposed to frame the history of capitalism around the tensions between self-interested exchange and reciprocal charity – two very different and mutually incompatible ways of organizing social relations.  This tension is best illustrated by a father who will not provide for his family unless somebody can answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”  To be sure, some classical liberals have sought to actually answer this question, but I think most of us think the very act of asking the question (let alone trying to answer it) is, at best, morally problematic.

The question that capitalism forces upon us is the extent to which we want to model social relations on familial reciprocity or on contractual exchange?  Which is the rule and which is the exception, and when is it the exception?  Muller’s second lecture, “The Greek and Christian Traditions,” is aimed at describing how medieval society insisted that we organize economic relations around household relations as both the Civic Republican and Christian traditions dictated. It is against this moral background that the modern advocacy of capitalism and the radical trans-valuation of morals that it entailed should be understood.  The questions which we Mormons ought to ask ourselves are: 1) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations presuppose the traditional condemnations of profit and usury? and 2) To what extent do our scriptures and revelations support the radical trans-valuation by which these condemnations were overthrown?  (more…)

Capitalism and the United Order – Pt. 1

September 8, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:45 pm   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

This will be a new series of relatively short posts that will center around Jerry Z. Muller’s lecture series “Thinking About Capitalism” (follow the link for transcripts of the first 18 lectures).   In previous posts, I have strongly recommended his “The Mind and the Market“, and I wish to reiterate that recommendation.  While there is a lot of overlap between the lecture series and the book, I will stick to the former since 1) it breaks things down into manageable, 4,000 word chunks and 2) it doesn’t require anybody to go out and buy a book.  For these and other reasons, I strongly suggest that people read the lectures that I have linked above.

First, a little overview of what to expect.  Muller is an intellectual historian who has a clear but guarded preference for free-market capitalism.  He knows that capitalism is not perfect and is fraught with several dangers and moral costs, but thinks that its benefits justify those costs.  Like most liberals (I will insist upon the European sense of this term while reserving “socialist” for left-wing despisers of the free market), he has a tendency to draw strong connections and parallels between right and left-wing critics of free market liberalism.  While we should be on guard for this, his approach does provide a lot of historical context and continuity to various left-wing criticisms of capitalism.  Now, moving on…. (more…)

The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former. (more…)

Common Consent, Consensus Formation and Habermas

August 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:57 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

Is there anything that you would be more willing to purchase when your mother is not present?  What about your father?  What about your children? What about an attractive young adult with whom you’re on a second date?  Does this person’s presence effect how you treat a homeless person that asks you for change?  Does his/her presence effect which jokes or stories you are willing to tell?  Which moral values you are and are not willing to take a stand on?  I think the standard answer to most of these questions is: yes, of course.  It is perfectly normal and healthy to adapt one’s behavior to those who are present.  In this post I wish to approach the ways in which public acclamations of “common consent” in the form of sustaining our leaders differ from other forms of “consensus” and the means (both private and public) by which they are formed and maintained.

For starters, almost every type of community holds some type of “consensus” or “common consent” in high esteem.  It is in this sense that many consensus theories of truth (where “truth” is the “consensus” that is arrived at at the end of “inquiry” under “ideal” conditions) and many appeals to “common consent” within the church can often be quite bereft of content.  Jürgen Habermas, however, is a clear exception to this tendency in his defense of a participatory democracy in which the consensus reached at the end of “communicative action” ought to determine collective action.  While I do have serious reservations about his theory, it is certainly not empty and will thus serve as a convenient entry point to the discussion. (more…)

Grace, Faith and “Loyal Opposition”

August 2, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:17 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Scriptures,Truth

Grace without hierarchy is meaningless.

I wish to unpack this claim using (while at the same time taking very large liberties with) Alexis de Tocqueville’s contrast between the paternalism of the European Ancien Regime, on the one hand, with the individualism of the then nascent America and the idealized fraternalism of the French Revolution, on the other, as a spring-board.  (I will lump the latter two under the common label “modernity”.)  I would also point out that Protestantism did not banish hierarchy altogether, but merely flattened it to three levels: God, humanity and non-human life.  This view, however, is the historical exception rather than the rule.  Most societies have, as a matter of historical fact, organized themselves by assigning a social/moral status to persons that they either 1) inherit by birth or 2) are set apart to by those above them in the social hierarchy.  (more…)

Righteous Dominion and Max Weber

June 1, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:32 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

It is nearly impossible to overestimate Max Weber’s influence upon social theory.  He was a lawyer, an economist and a historian who largely invented the discipline of sociology, was fluent in 8 languages and authored enough works to fill 43 massive volumes.  Not bad for somebody who suffered a major emotional breakdown at the age of 33 and died at the relatively young age of 56. He was, by any reasonable standard, a walking encyclopedia and (for better or worse) his books read like one too. Indeed, it is the dry style with which he marshals an (often) excessive amount of historical material that is responsible for his lack of Marx and Nietzsche’s far more polemic popularity.  My goal in the next few posts will be to distill the historical material to be found in Weber’s writings while adding a bit of my own polemic punch.

(more…)

Authenticity, Morality and Truth: A Faithful Nietzsche III

May 18, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:25 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Truth

This will be the third and final post in my “Faithful Nietzsche” series. To recap, the first post appropriated Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch by attacking our own tendency to burden the living prophets with the weight of the dead by ignoring their limitations in stewardship. The second post appropriated Nietzsche’s hostility toward the universal equality around which modern morality is centered, suggesting (similar to Kierkegaard) that to be religious and to be moral are sometimes two very different things. In this third post, I will first unpack my own model of truth. After which, I will compare and contrast my model to that of Nietzsche. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the two models, there still remain several significant and irreconcilable differences.

(more…)

The Mediocrity of Modern Morality: A Faithful Nietzsche II

April 22, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 5:08 pm   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Happiness,Life,orthodox,Politics,Truth

(Edit: Like Abraham of old, we are sometimes required by the Lord or His messengers to do utterly immoral things. In other words, sometimes we have an obligation to act immorally. This post is aimed at explaining why this sounds like a contradiction in terms to our modern ears.)

Democracy is horrible and Aristocracy is fantastic. While there is much to disagree with in this claim of Nietzsche’s (he has nothing but condemnation to say regarding all forms of inter-personal obligations and authority), there is also a great deal of truth that we Mormons would do well to address. After all, the secular world clearly exalts the values and morality of the former while the church is quite obviously an Aristocracy (of sorts) that repeatedly insists that it is not a democracy in which “the people” rule. What are the tensions between these two moralities and to what extent to these tension manifest themselves within the modern, Mormon mind?

Nietzsche sees stratification as a normal and health aspect of life which Democrats, Moderns, Utilitarians, Kantians, Socialists, Classical Liberals, Capitalists, Proletariats, Materialists, Christians and a whole slew of others conspire against. Whereas Kierkegaard objected to the ways in which these various movements where making faith cheap, easy and weak, Nietzsche rejects them since they make life itself cheap, easy and weak. Both of these men had nothing but contempt for “the world” and it just so happened that “the world” at their time was largely Christian. When framed in these terms, that Mormons might also harbor a similar contempt for the now less-Christian world that we see around us. (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 3

March 14, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:50 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Theology,Universalism

In the first part of this series, I discussed Koselleck’s claim that absolute monarchism had solved the civil/religious wars by placing “reasons of state” above all moral and religious reproach, both of these being relegated to the status of “private opinion”. The second post dealt with, what Koselleck calls, the “hypocrisy of the Enlightenment” wherein moral society came to exert influence and power through a suspicious combination of public claims to universality and neutrality, on the one hand, and particularistic, political influence through secret societies, on the other.  This third post will deal with the tensions which emerged during the Enlightenment between moral reason and sovereign decision-making (both political and religious) and the ways in which “[t]he divine, heretofore impervious, plan of salvation was … transformed into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” (pg. 10)

Central to Koselleck’s account is that the (French) Enlightenment was not solely or even primarily a movement among intellectuals – hence his focus upon the crucial role played by secret societies.  Rather, it was a heterogeneous coalition among the anti-absolutist nobility, creditor bourgeoisie, pro-British emigres, philosophes and bureaucrats who were all united around little more than their shared objection to religious and political sovereignty.  These purely negative values around which these groups and interests were temporarily aligned had various forms of practical relevance:

  • They supported the illusion of political impotence and impartiality claimed by the Republic of Letters.
  • They greatly incentivized the criticism of all against all – this being the logic around which moral society became outwardly structured.
  • They strongly dis-incentivized transparency with respect to political decision-making within (secret) societies.
  • It made sub-groups within this coalition see one another as the new enemy to truth/freedom/etc. after the overthrow of absolutist monarchism.

(more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 2

March 7, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:09 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

The strange thing about the enlightenment was that the better policies and institutions worked, the more people took them for granted and criticized them for their imperfections.  (This tendency is still very much with us.) Koselleck thus argues, in Crisis and Critique, that the Enlightenment was an inevitably hypocritical process in which various societies – both secret and formal as well as public and informal – attacked absolute monarchism by willfully ignoring the concrete historical problems to which it was a solution.  Absolute monarchism had ended the civil and religious wars by placing a strong division between politics and morality/religion, and it was only within such a context of relative peace that Enlightenment criticisms were able to maintain an air of plausibility.

Thus, while Hobbes saw the authoritarian state as protecting our very lives within a civil war of all against all, 38 years later, Locke would argue that the state was a mechanism for protecting property and happiness within an otherwise peaceful environment populated by people who were both rational and tolerant.  Locke had thus fallen into the traditionally British snare of taking the peace and tolerance which he then observed in his own society as timeless, natural and thus in little need of vigilant safe-guarding when it had actually been the historical product of authoritarian state control.  The historical transition from a Hobbesian to a Lockean idea of the state thus lies at the heart of Koselleck’s argument, it being the antidote to such timeless and quintessentially British thinking. (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 1

March 3, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 2:51 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

About a year and a half ago I wrote a small series of posts in which I discussed Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere as a basic outline for different ways in which we can understand the various manifestations of the gospel. Within this post I would like to discuss another book which approach almost the same topic and material from a very different political angle: Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. The difference between the two is the whereas Habermas traces his roots back through the Frankfurt School to Kant and Rousseau, Koselleck intellectual heritage traces back through Carl Schmitt to Hobbes. Thus, whereas the former thinks that the “public sphere” is the best thing that can happen within and lead a society, the latter is much more suspicious and cynical about the idea that inter-subjective criticism can deliver on its rather utopian promises. (more…)