Coronavirus and Civil Liberties

In a recent Newsweek piece, an article typical of so many, left and right, that incorrectly view the philosophical questions related to Coronavirus. Painting the struggle as one of liberty versus safety, the freedom of the individual versus the power of the centralized state the article misses entirely the question of the implications of such a struggle. It also ignores the question of what role should other important institutions be playing and to mitigate evil, and suffering as well as encourage citizens to use freedom ethically and government to act as little as required.


 

A recent Newsweek article[i] is representative of the much of the zeitgeist of the current state of American politics, left and right. A view of Natural rights, shaped by the Lockean view, have come to dominate both sides of the political spectrum, manifesting over separate issues, but deriving from the same root. Roger Parloff’s piece approaches the issue from the left-liberal progressive position; he is concerned with voting rights and abortion. One could easily find a piece approaching gun control[ii] or religious freedom deriving from the same flawed foundation. All such appeals begin with errors found in Locke’s conception of the state of nature, an incorrect view of natural law. Essential, both right and left approach these issues from a form of Pelagianism[iii] and an extreme focus on the individual; these approaches assume man alone can consistently choose good without divine aid and that the needs and rights of the individual are equal to the importance of the community and tradition and convention. Such a view is of course theologically flawed (James 2:8) but also is contrary to our history and traditions. It is a binary view that places the law and the central government’s role at odds with the individual, it completely ignores the historical importance of other institutions -subsidiarity - and the permanent things of a culture. It is also an appeal to an originalist view, left and right, that holds certain presuppositions about the de facto versus de jure nature of our system and the rule of law, premises that history calls into question.[iv]

Parloff begins his article with an assumption, that coronavirus is an “extreme crisis” that creates a conflict between safety and liberty. In this, he demonstrates two errors. First, it is impossible to know that Coronavirus is a crisis in and of itself because we simply do not know the nature of the thing.[v] Second, his assumption that a liberty/safety conflict must exist demonstrates the fundamental flaw of the ideologies of liberal societies. He goes on to equate delaying primaries as an affront to voters rights, prisoners being denied a ‘right to life’ because they may become ill, he conflates basic triage strategies with discrimination against disabled people and finally, the curtailment of medically ending the life of babies in the womb as an afront to human rights.

The conflict between liberty and security is a problem only insofar as the Western liberal democracies have abandoned the partnerships for the common-good Aristotle wrote about in the opening to Politics.[vi] This, compounded with the abandonment of subsidiarity, of institutions that ought to have co-equal roles with the central government in the nurturing and maintenance of culture and people, has led to the conflict Parloff and so many others see.[vii]

Looking to history, the problems that Parloff highlights would be considered absurd. The individual is a member of a community, that is his natural state.[viii] His community is in partnership with others for the common good. John C. Calhoun warned repeatedly that a strong central government without subsidiarity would invariably lead to these sorts of conflicts.[ix] Thus we find ourselves faced with an event we cannot define, partially because we listen to sophists, in a crisis we do not understand, leaving us to discuss balancing liberty with security while applying no philosophic principles other than flawed concepts of man and nature – individuality and fear.[x]

Parloff is not alone in his mistakes and errors, the central theme of all such pieces is their failure to understand that liberalism, progressivism, and individualism is bound to end in authoritarianism and tyranny.[xi] He has framed the wrong question and has failed to ask what role other institutions should play in an event like this to ensure common-good[xii] and morality and virtue at the local level. Instead, he assumes that the individual and the central government are the only actors, an assumption that if true, will invariably lead to the individual losing.

[i] See, Parloff, Roger., “The Coronavirus Crisis Threatens 2020 Voting Rights, Abortion, Other Civil Liberties, Watchdogs Say”, Newsweek, Monday, April 06, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-crisis-threatens-2020-voting-rights-abortion-other-civil-liberties-watchdogs-say-1496304

[ii] See as one example, Fernadez, Stacey,. “Texas gun stores are essential businesses, may stay open during the pandemic, attorney general says”, The Texas Tribune, March 27, 2020. https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/27/texas-ag-says-gun-stories-are-essential-businesses-during-coronavirus/

[iii] See, “The Pelagian Controversy”, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/pelagian-controversy/

[iv] See, McDonald, Forrest., “Was the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutionally Adopted?”,  The Annotated Secessionist Papers, Second Edition, Abbeville: The Calhoun Institute, 2018, https://books.google.com/books?id=-jVhDwAAQBAJ. pp. 41-60. Dr. McDonald presents an argument that the 14th Amendment was not ratified in accordance with law or convention. This one amendment is the foundation of much left-liberal, progressive and libertarian-conservative ideology yet, it does not comport with de jure law.

[v] It is impossible, simply because the data related to COVID19 is all over the map and ‘experts’ have been wrong at each step to know what the true nature of this virus is and the implications of that. Marcus Aurelius warned in Mediations, Book X, “Focus on what nature demands, as if you were governed by that alone. Then do that, and accept it, unless your nature as a living being would be degraded by it. Then focus on what that nature demands, and accept that too—unless your nature as a rational being would be degraded by it.” The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. United Kingdom, Routledge, 1894. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Meditations_of_Marcus_Aurelius/5qcAEZZibB0C.

[vi] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States, University of Chicago Press, 2012. p. 134. https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_Political_Philosophy/E7mScxst9UoC.

[vii] Organized religion, State and local government, business and trade organizations, fraternal and community based organizations – all have had a traditional and historic role in both protecting and nurturing communities and people locally but in allowing people, through voluntary organization to take care of themselves. Liberalism in the west has replaces all f this with Government and the individual.

[viii] Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 121.

[ix] Cheek, H. Lee. Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. United States: University of Missouri Press, 2004. p. 156. https://amzn.to/2w3agBE

[x] See previous argument, “How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature”, http://barryclark.info/how-locke-and-hobbes-were-wrong-state-of-nature/.

[xi] See previous argument, “From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism”, http://barryclark.info/from-radical-progressivism-to-authoritarianism/ or Clark, Barry, From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism (December 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3506918 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3506918

[xii] See previous argument, “Government for the Common Good”, https://calhouninstitute.com/government-for-the-common-good/

Natural and Revealed Law and Originalism

Coronavirus has taught us much about our culture, form of government and neighbors. Our system does not engender morality and the common-good as virtues. It is perhaps time conservatives reconsidered originalism.

Natural and Revealed law have very little influence on the dominant political philosophy in the U.S. Our political philosophy, an evolved form of Classical Liberalism[i], in the aggregate is shaped primarily by modernist and postmodern ideologies that derive from flawed continental philosophy. Only one of the political margins is shaped or influenced by concepts of Natural and Revealed Law – with little practical effect. Therefore, the influence of these concepts is minimal at most because the ideologies that have developed from Classical Liberalism either deny universals or define justice in terms that simply do not rely upon Natural or Revealed law.

Classical Liberalism, as defined and conceptualized by the two competing dominant ideologies (conservatism and left-liberalism), is the de facto political philosophy in the U.S. Both rely upon a form of reverence for Constitutional originalism. By necessity, this view holds the ‘Founders’ in a revered light and prefers the Federalists position.[ii] This position paints as salutary the revolt against tradition and convention that comprised the true founding of America nearly two hundred years before the birth of the United States.[iii] This is the core of the primary political philosophy in the U.S.,[iv] insofar as one might argue a political philosophy exists at all.[v]

The only remaining influence that Natural and Revealed Law has on political philosophy is only tangentially, on the margins and in some specific issues; abortion and marriage being prime examples.[vi] Few can explain how general revelation points to the truth of these positions. Without the aid of logic, reason, and philosophy, the growing minority is incapable of being understood by the growing majority that holds to no truth. Thus, even at the margins Natural and Revealed law have a shrinking practical effect.[vii]

Augustine argued that the temporal and the spiritual constantly intersect and that philosophy provides the common ground whereby the interaction between believers and nonbelievers can dialogue.[viii] This presupposes s functional philosophy. However, modernism and postmodernism have rendered philosophy impotent.[ix] Augustine held Plato in high regard but acknowledged the inability of pagan philosophers to effect a just society.[x] Augustine’s prescription for human government relied, overly so, on “eternal law…always and everywhere”[xi] History and events have proven man to fallen (Romans 8:3) to hear and abide by the eternal law alone.

Aquinas distinguishes between faith and reason in such a way that a failure of philosophy does not necessitate a failure of theology.[xii] He saw civil society not as deriving from nature[xiii] but as an integral part of the nature of man.[xiv] In his conception, the best form of government would comprise elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and polity.[xv]

The primary framers of the U.S. Constitution valued a theoretical, idealized, Neoplatonic conception of government. The Federalists in their writing demonstrated either a complete lack of comprehension of history and human nature or, perhaps more nefariously, a lie. Consider Hamilton in The Federalist number Seventeen discussing fears the central government would usurp local and state powers, abolishing subsidiarity. “I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptations the persons entrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the states of the authorities of that description.”[xvi] History before and after 1787 proves that statement wrong, and Hamilton knew or should have realized this fact.

Originalism, a harkening back to the intent of the ‘Founders’ by conservatives is a plea to Neoplatonic idealism, a system that depends on citizens being good.[xvii] It is not sustainable, it lacks mechanism that ensure morality and the common good[xviii] as a virtue.[xix] Under such a system, Revealed and Natural Law have little practical effect or influence.

@onlyBarryLClark


[i] Classical Liberalism was flawed at the start and necessarily had to end in an abandonment of reverence for the Divine as it began focused on the power of man’s reason.

[ii] See, M. Diamond. Democracy and the Federalist: A Reconsideration of the Framers’ Intent, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Mar., 1959), pp. 52-68. DOI: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1951730. For an example of ‘conservative’ Straussian arguments that synthesize the Framing and the Declaration of Independence.

[iii] We must first acknowledge that “America” had numerous founding’s, each with different goals, philosophical outlooks and worldviews. The U.S. was founded in 1787, but America has a much more diverse and longer history. Regions, states and the people that lived in each often had very different views of the role of Natural and Reveals Law in the political process. We must acknowledge that not all Framers held to the political philosophy. The debates before Ratification and until 1850, have influence that resonates to some degree with a minority view that persists. We must therefore acknowledge that The Federalist Papers were public relations documents, propaganda if your will, designed to appeal to support. They are inadequate to inform us of much of the intent of the Federalists themselves as they contain contradictions and, in some cases, outright misrepresentations and falsehoods (Federalist #68 for example). We must acknowledge the fundamental change in the nature of the Federal compact in 1861-1877. This change solidified Platonism as the dominant political philosophy in the U.S.

  For instance, most Americans accept that the “right to bear arms” is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Americans in the early eighteenth century would have understood this to be a state issue. Most would have understood that the concept of that right and others was a result of ancient British liberties rather than a Lockean social contract and a Federal constitution. 

[iv] See, “Government for the Common Good”, https://calhouninstitute.com/government-for-the-common-good/ for the arguments related to the presuppositions that support the argument presented here.

[v] Deviation only exists on the margins, paleoconservatism on the right and socialism on the left. The vast middle majority is shaped much more by ideology than true philosophy. Where issues that ought to be informed by Natural and Revealed law are debated in the public square these matters are shaped and corrupted by flawed notions deriving from events prior to the Framing and after. Because of our diverse founding coupled with the opposing views of political philosophy that were prominent until the mid-nineteenth century, and resident in some local and state laws until the mid-twentieth century, many Americans hold conceptions of politics that are best described and philosophically dissonant. This dissonance manifests for instance in ‘conservative’ Christians in the last several years that have accepted and fully supported national security policies that abandoned entirely the Thomistic concept of jus ad bellum as well as policies and programs that expand the power and scope of the central government. “Conservatives” cling to rights but attach the origin of those rights to a Ciceronian jurisprudence, not to ancient liberties and accidents of history as Burke might suggest. The left has essentially abandoned entirely the notion of universals as a basis for justice. It has abandoned the Lockean aspects of Classical Liberalism for a Hobbesian view. However, despite the subtle differences in the majority middle, these ideological divides share a Platonic foundation.

[vi] Even on those issues, the approach, and perhaps the understanding of most that support a position that aligns with Divine Law typically do so more ideologically than philosophically.

[vii] See, “Natural Rights and the First Amendment”, The Yale Law Journal, Volume 127, Number 2, 2017-1018, https://www.yalelawjournal.org/article/natural-rights-and-the-first-amendment. For an argument that the Framers held presuppositions about rights harkening to Natural Rights and a distinction between the Federalist and Anti-Federalist position of Common-law as a source of illumination of the Natural law.

[viii] Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States: University of Chicago Press, 2012. p. 177.

[ix] See polemic argument, http://www.openculture.com/2018/02/noam-chomsky-explains-whats-wrong-with-postmodern-philosophy-french-intellectuals.html

[x] Strauss and Cropsey, pp. 180-181.

[xi] Ibid. p. 184.

[xii] Ibid. 252.

[xiii] See argument why the Lokean/Hobbesian concept of the state of nature is wrong, “How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature”, http://barryclark.info/how-locke-and-hobbes-were-wrong-state-of-nature/

[xiv] Strauss and Cropsey, p. 253.

[xv] Ibid. 257.

[xvi] J.R. Pole. The Federalist. Hackett Publishing, Cambridge,  2005. p. 87

[xvii] Tocqueville, Alexis de., Zunz, Olivier. Democracy in America. New York: Library of America, 2004. See, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

[xviii] Erler, E.J. The Problem of the Public Good in “The Federalist”, Polity, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Summer, 1981), pp. 649-667. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3234644

[xix] See, “Beyond Originalism”, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/common-good-constitutionalism/609037/ and “Government for the Common Good”, https://calhouninstitute.com/government-for-the-common-good/.

Something is Coming

TLDR: My daughter informed me that the text below was dark and gloomy. My wife said it was more positive than she expected. YMMV. Bottom line. If the stimulus works and Coronavirus ends soon - we will all still be a little poorer. If COVID-19 lasts longer or is more intense, no stimulus package can avert economic troubles for long. Be smart, start thinking about the next phase now. Take steps with your family, community and church. Do things now, and make decisions now that will make life easier for you over the next 18 months. There is no point in doom and gloom. Americans have historically risen to the occasion. Get moving.

 

I 'knew' what was coming in January. I regularly watch Foreign news media and saw the real situation with Coronavirus, I was tame in the post because - nobody cared then, we were still mired in talk of impeachment.

Something is coming, everything just might change. I am not a prophet. It is not my intention to predict the future, nor to spread gloom. I admit, my bias leans toward considering the worst-case scenario, but I am also pragmatic. I spent much of my life parsing intelligence data, applying risk assessments to complex military operations and reading history as an avocation. However, I am no more qualified than all the fools talking on the internet right now.

Despite that, I believe there is a distinct possibility I am right about much I will say below. Take my words from what they are and consider the source, but please, if you have arrived here, at least consider them. Let us begin as one should begin evaluating any operation, with facts and assumptions.

Facts

  1. (F1)People in the U.S., many of them at least, are afraid.
  2. (F2)The scale of the shutdown, economically speaking is unprecedented.
  3. (F3) The supply chain for regular and essential items is strained.
  4. (F4) Increasing the money supply faster than the growth in real output will cause inflation - i.e. the bailout packages.
  5. (F5) Coronavirus is just that, a virus. Modern medicine has proven deficient in creating drugs that effectively treat viruses.
  6. (F6) Some economists predicted the U.S would enter a recessionary period in early 2020, this had nothing to do with Coronavirus. If their facts are correct the market and economy were already vulnerable.
  7. (F7) Depression is a period of recession and inflation.
  8. (F8) Some economists and financial experts now predict a global depression.  Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 24% drop in second-quarter GDP.

Assumptions

  1. (A1)When people are afraid, some of them can become dangerous.
  2. (A2)The shutdown can't continue long, Americans will either just refuse, or the government will take steps to force compliance.
  3. (A3) Americans are not eating or consuming more than normal, we are simply buying from different sources.
  4. (A4) Suppliers of restaurants will soon figure out ways to shift delivery to the consumer market.
  5. (A5) Recessionary monetary trends may offset inflation caused by (F4) - that is the theory of modern monetary theory at least.
  6. (A6) Coronavirus appears to be past containment, and will likely 'burn' through the U.S. population.
  7. (A7) We assume that effective treatments will arise, but (F5) indicates this is difficult with a virus.
  8. (A8) Coronavirus, therefore, will be with us for a while.
  9. (A9) If depression(F8) becomes a reality, everything changes.

Something is Coming

Whether you accept the worst-case scenario of depression or the milder version of a recession, I think it is hard for any thinking person not to realize it will be significant, painful and transformative. Only the most rabid socialist could possibly think that the government can prop up or sustain the economy for long by simply creating money and injecting it into the system. Modern monetary theory, the sort advocated by so many on the left, is not that different than the monetary policy of the Weimar Republic. It has never worked historically. At best it is a temporary band-aid to keep people home and stop panic. Even in the best circumstance, it is dangerous and extremely destructive. But, this is the path we are on, it is a done deal. It cannot continue for long, not without adding many additional negative effects.

What does this Mean, What Practical Steps Should the Individual Take?

Work

As we get ready to go through this, the smart among us will realize that entire sectors of the economy are going to change during the event and then after. The Great Depression changed how people worked and lived, the 2008 Recession did the same on a smaller scale. A full-blown depression in 2020 will be more transformative than the 1930s. People are different now.

Smart people will right now begin to evaluate what they did for a living before this all began. There are many occupations and roles that are not critical to recovery and production. Administrative, marketing, middle-management, salespeople hawking unnecessary items, some lawyers, journalists and many many more - will soon find themselves redundant. Take a look at what you do for a living, what benefit you bring to actually producing or delivering the good or service your firm offers, and perhaps even what goods or services your firm is in. The government may bail out folks for a bit, but a depression is more transformative than a government can control.

If you are sitting at home reading the news on Facebook and Twitter, doing a little telework - this may be the time to try and figure out how to learn something new, to transform yourself and your skills. Doers act in a crisis, losers go hungry or cry for government tyranny. Take steps now.

Money

As mentioned above, depression means less production and higher inflation. Essentially your inflated dollars will chase fewer goods. People have already taken it on the chin in terms of investments, none of that will come back in a big way if (A8) becomes a reality. Speculators will rally the market some in the coming days, people do get rich in depressions and recessions, but these rallies will be just that, opportunism, not something the ordinary guy can risk.

The smart money right now is on shoring up the things we need to make it through. Chase lower interest rate loans now, while there is still money to lend. Pay down things you can. Buy things that last. Stop buying luxuries. Invest in sustainable things. Don't speculate unless you are willing to wear a sandwich board if it all does not work out for you.

Commitments

Don't sign leases, buy expensive new things, buy 'deals' you see for vacation packages in the fall. Save your money and reduce your expenses and commitments.

Food

Stop stressing over the availability of food. We are not eating more than we did a month ago. We are simply not going to restaurants, we are buying all that the groceries have. Suppliers will soon figure out how to get the food normally delivered to restaurants packaged and delivered to groceries. The only danger is the unknown of the virus. What happens if truckers start getting sick? You cannot just create new long-haul truckers from thin air.

Here is a fact that should reassure you. The government has a lot of capability they can throw at a problem. If in a worst-case the truck network stops or slows, the rail system will work, it is aligned with the strategic transport network. The military has trucks and drivers and planes. Food will be delivered, even in a worst-case scenario for a bit. This virus is not a world-killer. It will not get bad enough to stop civilization.

However, that does not mean your income will buy as much food as you might want in a depression. It does not mean that people may not have hungry bellies.

Plant a victory garden, in your back yard, on your balcony, in your common area. It is close to spring in many parts of the country. This all happened at basically the perfect time for us to take steps to make life easier. Some potatoes and fresh vegetables will reduce your financial burden, give you a physical task to work on, relieve stress, reduce anxiety and help the nation. Smart Americans need to do this right now and stop worrying and complaining. The generation in the Great Depression did this, so did the WWII generation. We have this in us. We have t can beat this. Plant a garden!

Skills

Learn to fix things. We have the Internet - learn stuff. Get ready to make some of the things at your home last longer than they might have otherwise, without the need to call a handyman. Give yourself the option.

Family

Parents - Prepare to make room for your adult kids. Go ahead and start rearranging things now so that they have a safe place to land. Adult kids - You should face no shame in moving back in when the time comes. Bring your resources, respect the house and the roof, endeavor to contribute and prepare to thrive through this. Do not be prideful and think you alone can get through this with no job or work if only you had an extra $thousand bucks loan. Know when it is time to change course.  Families will likely, in many cases, have to pool resources. Parents, if you have been stupid, selfish and wasteful and cannot provide a safe nest for the family to return to - take steps now.

Church and Community

This could be the genesis of the Fifth Great Awakening. Stay connected to your local church community. Come together, help one another, reach out to others. Pray and study. Find ways to help each other become more sustainable. Plant a church garden of vegetables that glorifies Christ's garden on Earth.

Crime

Be aware. Prepare for this. Scared, confused people are dangerous. It is not bad yet. But, a depression in 2020 will not be the sort of the 1930s. Many people are selfish, greedy, evil and violent. If you are not now prepared for this, it is too late - it is pretty expensive to buy a gun or ammo.

Disclaimers

All that I said above has little to do with Coronavirus itself. For good reason. I am not an expert and many of the 'experts' we listen to on the television or the Web have been wrong about so much - how contagious it is, how it is transmitted, when people are contagious, how deadly it is, etc. We do not know and I would be hesitant to say.

Some reports indicate that Italy is a special case, with an older population that smokes a lot. I saw a disturbing and unconfirmed report today that demonstrated that active cell phone accounts in China have shrunk by millions since the event started there. The first data point would indicate it may not be nearly as deadly here. The second, if true, has all sorts of potential implications. But I do not know.

The virus is not a threat to how we live long-term. People will suffer, some will die and many will be afraid. I am not making light of that by pointing out what comes next. None of us can do a lot about the virus. We can try and avoid becoming sick or passing it along, but ultimately, what becomes of the virus is not in our hands as individuals.

What comes next, stage two of this event, the economic effects, these are things we can have an impact on. If you have read this far down, you know in your heart that this is different and things have changed. Take steps to prepare yourself and your family for stage two.

Winter Comes Again

William Strauss and Neil Howe predicted in The Fourth Turning, that once the cultural war was complete we would enter a period of great crisis, the fourth turning. They thought the cultural war would conclude perhaps around 2005 (ish). Most of us can see now, it ended in 2019 with total defeat of anything close to an authentic conservative worldview. Read chapter four of their book; pandemic, the great economic devaluing, grey champions - it is all there. Their observation of the cyclic nature of history is spot on from my observation, and it is hard to argue that their book, originally written in 1999 is not proving accurate as well.

What Does This Mean?

They predicted a crisis that would define the lives and worldview of a generation, specifically generation Z, those youngsters still in college or freshly graduated. These folks just entered a world or were preparing to enter on filled with hope, promise and prosperity. The events surrounding COVID-19 have done damage to the economy we cannot yet even reckon. I suspect the virus will not be the worst of our troubles this year - real evil lurks in the shadows. This will change the lives of these youngsters - it will shape them in the way it shaped the youngsters coming of age in the depression and WWII. I have written a lot about the Fourth Turning here and in a couple of books, I hoped it would never become a reality. But here we are.

However, all is not doom and gloom. The thing that has always emerged from past events is a young generation that went into adulthood and changed things. Hardened and shaped but the smack of dire reality, it has been the crisis generation that has in each prior event rebuilt, changed and corrected things.

I am sorry this burden falls to my children, to their generation, but this is the nature of things. We older folks need to love them, support them and pass along everything our grandparents taught us.

 

The excerpt below is from The Philosophy of Commonsense, published December 2019

A Love Letter to Generation Z – the Great Hope

Dear Zoomers,

When you came into the world in the late 1990s or the 2000s you provided your parents something to actually care about.  We, Gen Xers, were accused all of our lives of being aloof and nihilist but we had our reasons.  We were a small generation, ignored by advertisers and sandwiched in between two lame and uncool groups of people.

Our older cousins the Boomers we found to be full of it.  Self-righteous about their exploits in the 60s and so smug about all the stuff they bought in the 80s and 90s.

Our little cousins the Millennials were just annoying. From the time they could talk they were entitled.  As soon as they went to college, they thought they were smart enough to change the world. Many as young adults live with their Boomer parents, protest to tell everybody else what they should say or think, rail against capitalism yet they buy a lot of things.  Boomers hire these brats to actually run things, thinking they know how to talk to others of their ilk.

We have looked around at these lame hypocrites all of our lives and shook our heads. Those people are simply not cool.

Perhaps we were nihilist, perhaps our sense of sarcasm and irony was well developed seeing others mess things up.  We certainly were not perfect.  I think you are already aware of that.

Perhaps my generation was never meant to change the world, we were just too small and surrounded by two loud-mouthed know-it-all generations.

I am sorry you will have to spend much of your adult life dealing with the trouble the Millennials will cause.  I am sorry you will inherit a world that is far less perfect than it ought to be.

The political system in the United States that was described by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 as the finest example and a shining hope to the world has descended into lies, petty arguments, deceit, and ineptitude.  It will only get worse I am afraid in the coming years.

If the theories related to generational turning are correct, there will be, within your lifetime a major crisis.  This will be no mere market crash or a small war.  It will be a defining event such as the American Civil War, the American Revolution or World War II.  It may or may not involve a lot of violence but it will threaten to fundamentally change the very nature of society and government.  Everything that is and was may be threatened, the good and the bad.  What replaces it is uncertain.

That what, the thing that comes after, the solution that moves us forward is for you to figure out.  You will be the calmer, more reasoned, practical and creative voice in society.  The Boomers started this and the Millennials will take it to a climactic conclusion, you will end it and put it all back together.

Much rest upon your shoulders.  We and future generations are depending upon you. To coin a cliché, the fate of the free world is in your hands.

At the conclusion of all this mess, once the Millennials have enacted all of their ideas and ideologies, only to see them create more problems, less freedom, and less prosperity it will be you that finds a new way. You will have to find ways to balance liberty and responsibility, to define the nature and source of truth, to figure out what a just and good society and the government looks like.

We, your parents, had the privilege of knowing some great people in our lives.  Our grandparents from the depression, the WWII generation, and our parents from the Silent generation.  These were good, solid people that believed in traditional values of self-regulation, hard work, personal freedom, charity, justice, and responsibility.  They went to church and respected the God of their fathers.

We literally went to “old school” in hot and cold basic classrooms, where we were taught the story of American exceptionalism and the American Creed.

We have observed the idealist and hypocrite Boomers and Millennials and we have come to know a few things.

We know that there was a lot of value in the words of those old men and simple preachers we interacted with as youngsters.  Their common-sense and realist approach made them a lot smarter than all the other folks we have seen trying to change the world and tell everybody else how to think and talk.

After a rocky start of apathy and silent rebellion, we found our way back to church.  In fact, 94% of all adults that attend church weekly are Generation Xers, and 64% of all Generation X claim a belief in God. (Pew 2019)

We have come to know that those old folks we knew when we were young were right about a lot of things. We have come to know that those that advocate loudest in the public square from the generations before and after us are wrong about a lot of things.

We do not know how to handle the crisis you will face, we do not know the exact way that crisis will play out. We know that you are special, you were special to us because you gave us something to actually care about.  You are special in the minds of theorists like Strauss and Howe because you are a generation that fixes things.

I think there is one thing my generation was supposed to do.  That is to serve as something of a link between traditional America and you.  To be a living, speaking and perhaps writing testament to the words and ideas of people that were better than us.

What we are supposed to do is pass along some of that knowledge and insight to you.  To explain the values and ideas that made those people so much better than the ones running things now.

In the near future, as you look at problems and seek solutions don’t forget to look back and ask questions of those people.  Read some of their ideas, try and understand what they thought and why. Use common-sense.  Know that universal truth exists and seek a relationship with the Creator. Trust realism and over idealism until idealism can firmly prove an idea wrong.  Be stoic in your approach to life, self-governing, self-improving, humble and steadfast. Seek first principles based upon real truth to answer pressing questions.

I am sorry that this challenge is your lot in life, but you are well prepared for it. You gave us a reason to care.  You will fix things.

 

Coronavirus: A Principled Response

A Philosophical Question

Last evening a new acquaintance, and perhaps someday a friend, responded to one of my Twitter posts with a question that has plagued me since watching the events in China back in January.

It's just not obvious to me. People die all the time from new virus mutations. It infects entire societies. Why this one? Is it because it stays on surfaces for prolonged period?

Indeed. How and why is this different than SARS, the influenza epidemic of 1957, the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 or the Black Death?

I do not know? President Trump's Oval Office speech on 11 March used words that if a President in 1940, 50 or 80 had uttered would have positively impacted the spirit of the nation.

From the beginning of time nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond...

Spot on, common-sense, robust words. Tough times come, troubles arise and brave nations and people rise up to meet the challenge. None of what Trump said mattered the markets tanked, the news media went into a frenzy of speculation and attack and Americans, in general, acted like idiots. We bought up toilet paper but did not take any steps to avoid crowds. By Sunday 15 March, many took things seriously, reaction, overreaction and panic were the norms.

But as Harrison Frey asked via Twitter - why is this different? What first principle are we applying? Essentially he is asking, what is the nature of this thing, this coronavirus event?

What is the Nature of the Thing

It is certainly hard to tell. We were told by 'experts' you could only get this if you were within three feet of someone coughing. Some people pushed a campaign of #StayCalmWashYourHands. I saw this locally from the folks in charge of AUMC. Washing one's hands is certainly sage advice, but did the 'experts' really understand the nature of the thing? So why the different information coming out now 'it lingers in the air and on cardboard boxes too'?  Did we not have enough information because China refused to let anyone in to observe what was going on? Is the virus mutating? Are our experts incompetent? Is it all three in combination or some other factor I have not considered? Is the virus as dangerous as it appears in Italy? Was it just as China depicted, or did they cover anything up? Is Iran being completely honest about their mortality rates? Why did so few people on crowded cruise ships contract it and so few die?

These are tough questions? Without answering them, it is difficult to approach the nature of the event by analyzing the virus itself. One thing is certain, it is no longer 'crack-pot' to at least wonder if Chinese bioengineering work in Wuhan had anything to do with this. Was it an accidental release? Is this mutating because it was bioengineered?

Of course many in the US are still hung up on what to call the virus, reporters that have the opportunity to ask serious questions that might inform the public waste their chance with ridiculous #ChinaVirus questions. Not the issue at hand, unimportant and detracts from the important conversations.

Perhaps this is the nature of the thing, not the virus, but the level of distrust, stupidity and triviality that infects the media, the Fourth Estate. Perhaps the ineptitude, bias, and dishonesty of the media (something no honest person can deny exists) have contributed to a general sense of cynicism, distrust, and fear in the population.  Perhaps when we couple this cynicism with our cultural decline (loss of faith, identity, unity, civility and ethics) and add-in selfishness, sloth, greed, laziness and overall weakness in American people generally - the true nature of this becomes clearer.

This is certainly not how the generation that faced the Great Depression or WWII acted, we know that as a fact. The Spanish Flu of 1918-20 did not cause this sort of fear and reaction and as far as we can tell the Black Death. As a fact, we know we, as people have changed - perhaps that is the nature of this thing.

Existential Risks and Biotechnology (post from February 2nd)

What First Principles Apply

My conversation with Harrison centered on first principles - what applies here. Is all life is invaluable and no life is invaluable; or to paraphrase Spock, do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Is the cost to the economy, and the suffering and death that will necessary? How deadly would this have been if normal controls were instituted?

These are solid philosophical questions - but not applicable. The United Kingdon considered implementing a plan where a portion of the least vulnerable would contract the disease and they would implement measures to protect those most likely to have serious complications. The theory being eventually the population would build up immunity and stop spreading the disease and the economy could carry on. Winston Churchhill could have briefed such a plan in 1941, you can essentially hear the words he would have used - they would differ only slightly from Trump's words on 9 March. But again, this is not 1941, people have changed, the zeitgeist has changed. The UK government quickly abandoned their herd immunity strategy. Britons it seems are not as stiff-lipped and stalwart as their ancestors. Neither are Americans.

Since it is impossible to implement any policy that measures the cost to life of overreaction versus underreaction, in our present culture, we must seek other first principles to apply. The only one I can envision fits at this point I propose is 'societal continuity' - the preservation of the structure necessary for safety and order. it is a bit more Platonic than I prefer, but in the absence of everything else, people expect the government to maintain order so that there is not a war of all against all.

Faced with a population that is more and more apt to turn to the government for solutions to problems individuals and communities should solve; a people that are weaker, less moral and less robust than past generations; a society filled with greed, laziness and unethical behavior in an environment where people cannot trust their news media and fear abounds - the government, state and Federal, has had no choice but to act drastically. Social continuity must be maintained, for the health and safety of all.

But This is America By God!

 

The government cannot just tell bars to close, limit alcohol or gun sales or institute a curfew, not here! Apparently, governments in New York, Ohio, California, Lousiana, and South Carolina disagree. We have seen mayor rush to limit gun sales (because that is proven to stop a virus) and now we are seeing curfews and shelter in place orders. By what authority you say? By the authority we as weak, selfish and lazy Americans have given them.

If you are upset with the reaction of the government and the fear and behavior of your local citizens, look at what you have done to stop the age of entitlement that proceeded this event. Look to the progressivism, socialism and weakness that has captured public policy and the politician of each party, that we have voted for over the years that have slowly grown government. This event is our penitence, not the virus, but our inability to weather it like brave and free men. We have done it and you and I over the years allowed the situation to develop. We have only ourselves to blame.

How the Coronavirus Changed the World

The title of this post might seem premature, to say the least. As I pen this post (13 march originally) there are 137,445 reported cases and 5088 deaths. On the grand scale, this is a drop in the bucket. The US has barely been touched, with only 1268 cases reported.

Despite that, we can already see, sense perhaps, that this is something more. Perhaps not because of the virus specifically. Mankind has faced such before. On a philosophical level, many people know that when presented with something like a new disease, the best thing to do it be smart and carry on.  But we are not simply carrying on, and that fact, not the virus itself, will be the catalyst for change. Something is off and has been off, for some time in Western Civilization. It is hard to define in a few words - trust, reason or an anchor and foundation might approach it best. Leaving aside the definition of what has been wrong in Postmodern Western Civilization, and accepting the premise that something exists, the current Coronavirus hysteria makes sense. What comes next, the ramifications make sense.

What Will Change?
  1. The 2020 Presidential election outcome has certainly changed. Unless something significant happens Trump has no chance of reelection. His words during his Oval Office address made historical and philosophical sense the other night - 'these things happen, we will hunker down and get through and take steps to keep the economy going'. In times past that would have been sufficient to calm fears, in 2020, in our new reality, it had no positive effect, people did not understand his words, the markets still panicked. The old way, solid wisdom from the past has no currency now. People will either come to see that an American First policy was right and needs to be implemented full-force - or they will see full-throated socialism as the answer.  It is Bernie or Trump, people simply will not choose a man like Biden, all things considered now (unless the Democratic party manipulates a choice that is somebody versus Trump and excludes Mao Bernie)

 

Scratch that - Trump has won reelection in the last three days (15-17 March). His press conferences have been measured, informative and reasonable. His administration's plan has been proactive, reactive, forward-thinking, innovative and creative. Partnering with industry, eliminating regulations to speed the delivery of medical supplies, data-focused response, various tools to save the economy. Only a fool could really throw rocks at this point (and such people would anyway). Biden (current Dem frontrunner) was in Pence's position when 13,000 Americans died of SARS with no response. The election is over. Trump's plan will get us out of this as long as Americans act responsibly. This was his crisis, and to the chagrin of his detractors, he rose to the occasion. 

2. Trust.  If people had a difficult time trusting anything they were told before after this is over they will trust even less. If 1.6 million Americans die and our hospitals are overwhelmed (worst case projection) people that were originally naysayers and believers alike will become convinced they were lied to. If it all passes with just a few thousand cases, naysayers will never believe an emergency (confirmation bias) and original diehard believers will distrust their preferred sources and outlets. Either way, we come out of this trusting everything less, believing almost nothing and basically becoming more nihilist. Unless...we look at some of the flawed premises that supported postmodernism and our culture prior to Cornavirus and find the foundation and anchor that was missing.

2. How we shop. If things get really bad and supply chains are strained or broken, people will question the current global economy. If things become just a little stressed and more people are sent home to telework, many will turn to online shopping for groceries. In the first instance, coming out of this, people may demand the government do more to return key industries to their own nations (food and medical supplies). In the second, milder scenario, people may find they really like having groceries delivered. This could almost kill the local supermarket.

3. How we worship. (or if we worship). Many churches will be canceling in-person services in the next weeks. Many of those will offer online service formats. Some people will become enamored with the idea. On the other side of this, churches may find fewer people in seats, opting for online viewing instead. Long-term, without the ties of in-person community relationships, online worship arrangements will invariably fail to maintain interest. Fewer people may actually attend church in any form after this is over. Conversely, this could spark America's fifth great Awakening. Old stale denominations and structures might change or fade away and something new and real, or perhaps revitalized, might replace them.

4. Our demographics. If the virus is anywhere close to the worst-case projections it will decimate the older populations. The Silent Generation and Boomers will die disproportionately.  Such a demographic change will affect the markets, government expenditures, how companies market products, and even the vacation industry. It will fundamentally, and quickly change many things.

5. Our view of government. China, apparently did a pretty good job of controlling Coronavirus. They mobilized armies of workers, built hospitals from scratch, sent armed groups to drag suspected infected from homes and perhaps even build temporary crematoria (unconfirmed). Those are the sorts of things a totalitarian government is good at, all of those actions can only occur in a nation where the government has a lot of control and the people few rights. If all of this goes south in the West, many people will wonder why their government did not act as effectively as China. Some people will long for totalitarianism. Others, the wiser among us, will realize we have come to rely upon government too much for many things. This could change us into dystopian totalitarianism of return us to our individualistic roots.

6. Working from home. With massive levels of telework going on one of two things will happen. 1) people will come to view the corporate management model for what it is, a stupid prison. Companies may come to see the savings and benefits of remote employees. OR 2) humans being human, many will mess up this opportunity, and not work and corporate pea brains will assume they were right from the beginning, instead of admitting that perhaps they have hired the wrong people.

7. Online school. With all major universities transitioning to online learning for the rest of the semester students might just begin to wonder why they are going in debt and paying outrageous tuition, rent, and fees for the privilege of sitting in a room with someone that really does not teach them much anyway. This might just bust the entire education bubble.

8. Cynicism. If nothing really comes of the Coronavirus but a few thousand infected and some 'old people dying', many people will become entrenched in their cynicism. If there is ever a truly deadly, population destroying germ to emerge in their lifetime, they will simply blow it off and not act. In a way, Coronavirus might be preparing mankind for just that sort of stupidity. If it is very bad, worst-case scenario situation, many may adopt a 'ring around the roses' attitude - we all fall down. Conversely, we could come to see the ineptitude and dishonesty of institutions like the media and rebuke them and cause something better to emerge.

Those nine effects are almost guaranteed, depending upon the severity or lack thereof in each element.

Right now, 13 March 2020, only some areas in America are experiencing anything close to a 'run on the stores'.  Over the next few days, we will begin to see the picture better as cases pop up in areas where people are basically non-plussed at present. What all that means and how people act, and what they start saying they want the government to do will determine other elements that might signal real and permanent change. I will add those as the situation unfolds.

My daughter and I have toyed around in various discussions with the Strauss-Howe Fourth Turning generational theory. She commented to me "might this be the crisis that they spoke about that changes everything for my generation?" (she is a Zoomer) ---Yes darling, it perhaps could be, this could change many things - perhaps almost everything.

15 March 2020 Update: The Trump administration today in a press conference demonstrated innovation and creativity, partnering with industry and by-passing the ineffective CDC to expedite testing. Man does not control nature, and no matter how loudly some scream for government to fix this the simple fact is governments cannot control everything, nor should they try. Asking for too much, in a panicked rush will only have negative long-term costs to freedom and prosperity. This may all become terrible, it may just be an annoyance, either way, we must endeavor to persevere and retain our values and principles.

Something of note, Italy's mortality rate is at 7.3 percent as of today. That is outrageously high. These numbers throw all sorts of doubt on the numbers that China reported. Those 'fake news' sites that reported crematoria and smog from the smoke they produced in Wuhan perhaps deserve a second look. Did we ever really believe we could trust much of anything China released about their outbreak? All we know for sure is it was very serious in China, serious enough for them to shut down an entire industrial region and cordon off millions of people. I am not suggesting the situation in Italy will repeat elsewhere, but it is within the realm of possibility. It is worth considering if you are still on the fence thinking life can go on as before right now. Take steps to take care of your loved ones!

I have noticed some 'conservatives' trending progressive and calling out Trump for 'not doing more'. Do more like what? Do you want the Federal government to send armed groups into homes to drag people out or lockdown entire cities like China or nationalize industries perhaps? We are Americans, we have different principles to uphold. We need to do all we should but we cannot become something we are not, and should not want to be, just based upon fear. We need to be reasonable, cautious and stalwart and weather this like free-men!

Also, the Google built website that the Trump administration promised and the regular news outlets called a hoax went live today. https://www.projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19/. We really cannot trust any of the news companies in the US to be truthful, perhaps this situation will finally make that clear to all.

Courageous Calvinism and Paleoconservatism

John Calvin

I attend (from afar because they are rare) a conservative, biblically-based, doctrinally sound (based upon received and tested tradition) Presbyterian church. Many of my Baptist friends might assume that there can be no such thing as an authentic Christian Presbyterian church. In the Baptist tradition, there was a time, in the late 1960s, when liberal elements expunged Reformed and Calvinist aspects. Some of this was restored in the conservative resurgence in the SBC in the late 1970s and 80s, but most Baptists are not fully aware of their Reformed and Calvinistic roots. It is understandable not to see the possibility that a conservative branch of Reformed cousins exists in at least one of the Presbyterian denominations. My Lutheran friends have their view, not kind at times and my Catholic friends believe I am in rebellion. We all have problems in our traditions that need correction. We all hold pieces and parts of something that is true, we could argue nicely over how much and who. There is also a lot we could each learn from one another I suppose, but I digress.

Traditions are important, God gave us the family, traditions passed from father to son is a critical part of social continuity (his gift to us). My family left Jura, Scotland in the early 1700s. I am who I am.


Does Calvinism hold more memories than promises? I suggest it is not a mere memory. Reactionary Calvinism, based upon the traditions and the truths from which those traditions derive is the key to solving our religious decline in the culture and to address our difficulty in defining what authentic conservatism ought to look like in the public square. The megachurch will not do it, dead Christianity will not, hopes placed in feckless and foundationless political parties will not. A return to the traditional principles and courageousness of our Calvinist roots might - God willing.

Jarod Longshore recently opined, "[a] cowardly Calvinist is an illogical thing. I don’t say that it is a thing that does not exist. Sadly, regrettably, shockingly, it does exist. But it shouldn’t." Read his entire post.

We need a renewal of a sparse, sincere rebellion - against sin, against the compromise of the glory of God, against the status quo, against the 'wisdom' of the world and against the absurdity that is all around us. Confident, courageous and certain that the Word of God is our life, guide, and answer to the needs of this world. Our difficulties in the culture and our fecklessness in politics are the results of many things; true. However, if there is any hope to fix it we need to consider the words of Paul, as he departed the Ephesian elders:

18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts 20 (ESV)

Robert Godfrey spoke to this issue at the Reformed Bible College. Highlights from the talk in the video below include: Christianity no longer has the influence on the culture it once had; however, Christianity is not in decline; God is at work in the world; Americans are often fixed within; Catholicism abandoned tradition; Evangelicalism no better off. American needs a return to Courageous Calvinism.

  • Confident
  • Christ-centered
  • Comprehensive
  • Coherent
  • Caring

 

What does this have to do with paleoconservative, or traditional conservatism - that thing way on the fringe that sees the Republican party and mainstream 'conservatives' as useful idiots in the progressive agenda? Everything!

I think CJay Engel suggested recently in an article I cannot locate that at every step of the progressive advance, mainstream conservatives have been just a step behind, building nice roads and structures to support what the progressives have done. What we have come to know as 'conservatism' in America, the talking heads, the pundits, the massive organizations and think tanks; all of these are tragically flawed. None of them look back and ask real questions about what went wrong, what policies and programs have been adopted, no matter how long ago, that are damaging to culture, tradition, and families that we might actually fight to repeal. Their fight has been about the day to day, small things, rudderless and foundationless notions. They continually lose because they abandoned the foundations of conservatism.

If we are to save America, and perhaps this is not within God's plan, we have but a duty to try, it will never happen with the current leadership, ideas, and programs of ordinary politics. There is little left of what was, nothing much left of the good. What are we conserving? Look about, it has almost all been burnt down.

In these times, our calling is to become courageous. Protestant Christianity was a permanent thing of American culture, we simply do not exist as Americans without that influence. Reformed Protestantism was the foundation of that Christianity.

However, we need to come to terms with the flaws of Protestantism. The spirit of independence and rebellion is sinful. Catholics that hold to authentic Christianity and the traditions of their church know some things we have forgotten. (natural law, subsidiarity, and metaphysics to name just three). Traditions passed from father to son are important (I hold that as a first principle), but there is much we might all learn from each other (those that truly follow the narrow path) We all have a mess to clean up in our various traditions.

It is perhaps time to stop calling ourselves conservatives, there is little left to conserve, and instead become courageous, radical reformists and reactionaries against the staus quo. We need to stop fighting the ridiculous daily battles of red/blue politics and stand and say "all of this, all of these programs, ideas, trends, policies and this direction is wrong, we want to restore was was good and true of tradition." We need to stop entertaining the notion of further compromise, in our denominations (looking at you SBC with your current fight over complementarianism) and in the public square. As Godfrey says above, Confident, Christ-centered, Comprehensive, Coherent, Caring; Courageous.

Only God knows if this is a fight we are supposed to win, but just as Paul knew certain death awaited him as he departed Ephesus, he did his duty, he spoke the truth, all else was in God's hands and plan.

I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen. -Luther

How Locke and Hobbes Were Wrong: State of Nature

Much of modern political theory is a result of or a reaction to the theories of Locke and Hobbes and their individual views of both the state of nature and of the social contract. Although both men differed in their views of each of those topics, they share a commonality in that they missed key elements. Theirs was an idealist view of how community and government came into being. In their idealism, they missed key elements of reality.

In broad strokes, each envisioned a pre-government world where man either lived mostly in peace, following natural law (Locke) or in a constant state of war of all against all (Hobbes). Man eventually decided it was in his best interest to come together, in community, and to surrender rights to some form of government. Hobbes would say all rights were surrendered, Locke argued only some. Hobbes would argue that man did this out of fear of his neighbor, Locke essentially that man saw this as the best way to preserve his rights to his property and prosperity. Hobbes was more Platonic in his view, Locke more Aristotelean. Both, Hobbes to a greater extent, abandoned key elements of philosophical thought going back to the Greeks. Both proposed something new and radical; idealist.

However, both abandoned a realist view of history, anthropology, and sociology in their theories of 'man in nature'. Man has never existed in nature as an individual, alone with no authority, no structure, and just his senses and desires.

If one is inclined toward an evolutionary view of history and the rise of man, looking back we would find the first human-like creatures with intelligence and some form of capacity for reason were not so different from the primates that evolution would tell us these humanoids descended from. That is to say, they were social creatures built around family groups. The individuals in those groups were born into a social hierarchy and authority structure. The same sort of structure that existed for eons before, in that individual's ancestors that were not humanoids at all but rather apes.

No individual ape ever contracted with other apes to form a group for protection, biology provided the template for the social order; the family. There was no instance of a Lockean state of nature with apes 'monkeying' around, eating bananas from their private property trees, such radical individualist would have been killed and never allowed the chance to procreate. There was never a case of all apes individually at war with all other apes in the Hobbesian view. Each ape was born into a social order, a social order that went back in one form or another as far as their mammalian ancestors existed. It developed over time, being traditional, it was learned, it was also inherited. It was never contracted. When the first humanoids arrived in the evolutionary story, they brought with them these traditions and learned behaviors and biological facts; the family group.

If one is inclined toward a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, again we find no instance where an individual man was without a structure and some authority over him. God created Adam and served as his sovereign. God created a mate for Adam, creating the family and gave Adam headship over the family. The entire Old Testament from Genesis to Kings is centered on the family group and tribes that derive from extended family. Never in the Biblical story did either a Hobbesian or Lockean state of nature exist.

It never existed in an evolutionary recount nor a Biblical view, Locke and Hobbes were working in the realm of idealism, not realism. Yet, their entire theories begin with the premise that the social contract exists because man previously lived in a state of nature. Somebody, somewhere, in their view, came together to contract for something better, to form community and then an authority to rule over that community. The fact is, humans have always had the foundational building block of community, the family, and authority that naturally resides in a parent over a child. Social order has existed throughout most of human history because of convention, tradition, and power derived from biologically inspired sociological facts - greybeards were stronger and wiser than youngsters and taught them the way. Families formed the core, family leaders became tribal leaders, and later kings - no social contract.

In the American story, our rights, laws, and traditions came from Britain. A nation that developed a constitution from what began as a simple monarchy. In the 1600's ours was a British system, in the 1700s also, when the Constitution was ratified, we were still recipients of these British traditions. Ours was a combination of centuries of convention, tradition, subtle modifications and progressions. We were not founded, we were framed.

The implications of these errors are not insignificant. All of classical liberalism, all of the political theories that derive from that and have emerged to oppose it are based on or opposed to the fundamental errors that both Hobbes and Locke made. Thus, democracy, republicanism, and socialism all have inherent flaws. They either promote the idea of the individual or the community above that of the foundational building block of society for eons - the family. They downplay the importance of tradition, accidents of history, and received knowledge.

In the US, many of the framers of the Constitution understood the difference. The anti-federalist did not see a founding but rather a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties. They understood the notion of sovereignty and knew full well that the British sovereign had relinquished sovereignty not to the Continental Congress but to thirteen free and independent states individually. They thus understood that the will of the people might only be expressed through their states in congress assembled.

The Federalists, had a pretty different idea, they used many of the words of Locke, but upon analysis, they were much more Hobbesian and Neoplatonic in their view. They feared a lack of control, they feared checks and balances - they wanted centralization, a Hobbsean Leviathan that operated under the rule of law, but a could also define and redefine what that law meant and what the limits of its own power were at will. The Federalists did not see America as a continuation of British traditions and ancient liberties - established through convention and sometimes accidents of history. They saw themselves as founders of a nation based upon idealistic notions.

Their hubris combined with the error of Hobbes and Locke at the base of their thinking is what has brought America to this stage of absurdity.

Existential Risks and Biotechnology

Yeah, I do not believe in coincidences!

Apparently, Twitter just banned Zero Hedge for proposing a Coronavirus theory similar to what Josh Clark talks about in episode # six of his podcast The End of the World – gain of function biotechnology laboratory research.

I wall say it, it is too early in the news cycle to be taken seriously, I may be termed a conspiracy guy. But based upon legitimate open-source info, this smells like an engineered phenomenon, an accident, but man-made.

The internet is abuzz with all sorts of false information about Coronavirus, perhaps from official and fringe sources alike. Zero Hedge certainly qualifies as an outlet on the fringe. Whether than makes them always wrong, I cannot say. Josh Clark is certainly not always correct in his treatment of the issue in his podcast linked below – but he raises curious facts.

See below why you ought to listen
The End Of The World with Josh Clark

I admit that is a pretty catchy title. So catchy that when my wife and I were on a road trip a few weeks back she voted a hard ‘no’ when I suggested we listen to it. However, it is perhaps not what she assumed it to be. Josh begins with the question, if there are billions of stars and millions and millions of planets in the universe, statistically, many of them should have produced life and some of that intelligent life. If the scientific answer regarding the formation and timeline of the universe is correct, we simply should already be aware of other life.

Unless life is so unique it exists only here (God? or some scientific reason that makes life statistically improbable?) I could personally accept that God made life unique, but let’s stick in the realm of how a scientist might answer this apparent problem or paradox in their theories.

Josh does a good job of explaining the paradox

Science might attempt to answer this paradox by stating 1) life is hard to form, or, 2) life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate, or, 3) life is easy to develop, but intelligent life is difficult to sustain.

Item number one would place Earth in some improbable cosmological lottery, if life is so hard to form that it has only formed here, among all the possible other options, it makes us a statistical anomaly (or designed by God).

If life is easy to develop but also easy to eliminate through various disasters, then why are we here and still do not see anyone else? Why did we and nobody else, out of millions and millions of possibilities, make it? This would mean, again, Earth and humanity are winners of a cosmological lottery (or God).

If number three is correct, this assumes there was nothing particularly improbable about us getting to this stage of history and development, yet we look around and do not see anyone else. Why? Josh describes the answer as the great filter, a set of problems that intelligent life would have to navigate to exist much past us and our level of development.

Just look around as some of the technology that we are only beginning to play with, even though we only dimly understand it; AI, biotechnology, physics experiments at the quantum level, etc. Passing the great filter, in this sense, is a civilization learning to both create and control AI without creating the terminator. To master bioengineered food, drugs, and germs without accidentally releasing an extinction-level pandemic. And finally to master physics at the quantum level without blowing up the world. All of those dangers are perhaps low probability, but at the extreme, they are highly dangerous, as they potentially end civilization.

The great filter then is this set of challenges a civilization has to solve as they become just smart enough to play with the ‘fire’ but not yet wise enough to fully understand it.

More on the Great Filter

So what does this have to do with coronavirus? As Josh points out biotech laboratories are all over the world. Several years ago many of these labs began gain of function research. Essentially this is the process of speeding up the development of viruses by stimulating the artificial selection of some of the most horrendous traits. This can result in a much more lethal, more contagious and more resilient virus. Many scientists view this as a way to get ahead of bad germs so that we might be able to fight them if they appear in the wild.

Of course, Josh also points out that the numerous ‘high containment’ labs around the world have a pretty poor history of containing the bad stuff inside. He suggests the great filter might consist of one of these Franken-viruses escaping from a lab and decimating the population.

Two points are interesting, the sheer number of these labs around the world doing this sort of research and the number of mistakes that have been documented to occur.

Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter because of an article they posted, suggesting that Coronovirus originated in just such a lab in Wuhan China. They listed the lab and the lead scientist from that lab. We will perhaps never know if this is exactly what occurred but based upon the track record of such labs and the sort of gain of function research routinely going on; it is possible. Worth discussing for those with a dog in the fight.

Coronavirus certainly does not seem to present an existential risk to mankind. Not in its present form. It does not seem lethal enough and it does not spread fast enough. It could perhaps end up being bad, or it might burn itself out. But it does not seem to be a civilization killer.

What is interesting about this whole situation is just how slow the world has reacted. Last Friday when the State Department announced real travel restrictions, the doctors they brought out said essentially, ‘at first we did not know infected individuals could be asymptomatic and infectious, now we do”. We are now three or four weeks into the outbreak, and nations are just now taking anything close to real action. If this were the sort of virus that could end, or severely depopulate mankind, we would be far too late in reacting.

If the great filter is a real thing, if biotech labs are as inept at maintaining containment as Josh points out, then we seem rather unprepared when a serious virus escapes one day.

Public policy guys need to consult somebody (philosophers and theologians) to help guide scientists in these efforts. Big money throwing cash at mad scientist without wise people thinking past stage one is dangerous.

Final Words on the Megachurch

I have written at length about the megachurch movement and why I am convinced it is so dangerous to authentic, organized Christianity. I have thrown about the word communitarianism as a pejorative. I have spoken of the importance of the community over the individual in what might be considered a very classical liberal way. So what gives?

Perhaps if you have read much of my writing you have noticed that I call myself a paleoconservative. Surely you must say, if I truly am such, I realize full-well that the Straussian neoconservatives and the progressive liberals alike would likely make the same arguments. They argue that the United States was founded on liberal principles, deep Lockean principles that recognized natural rights.

Of course, I know such claims are at best complex and at worst utterly false. The United States was founded on conservative principles, and the US Constitution was perhaps only a compromise between a Hobbesian and Lockean view. The states and their constitutions, the entities that really mattered in 1788-89, were definitely conservative instruments. Rights were viewed not as natural but derived from British tradition. In honest truth, no man in nature has the right to anything he cannot defend. We know this is true but like the philosophical position that this may not be true. But I digress, what does this have to do with the megachurch you say.

I do not hold that the individual is supreme, that the natural moral law and reason alone can suffice to inform a man of what is right. As a true conservative, in the philosophical sense of the word, I know full well that the experience of the ages and tradition combined with received knowledge are the main ways that men come to know truth.

This then is the crux of what might appear divergent views within my own mind on the subject of the megachurch movement. I argue that their communalism diminishes the individual, and the authority structure they set up is potentially dangerous. It is not a traditional authority they prescribe but one of their own design. Yet, I am a man that believes that it was the local communal Reformed Protestant nature of America through most of its history that defined us. It was, from the perspective of many, a very illiberal history and circumstance, but it worked well. In short, I agree with communitarianism, just not the sort that Drucker and his ideology invented.

My main argument against the megachurch movement was that it was built upon bad ideology deriving from bad philosophy. And, perhaps most dangerously, they are built upon the premise that they must be relevant, they have to offer something the people want, in order to get them in the door. It is this reliance upon relevance, combined bad ideology that makes this movement so dangerous to organized Christianity.  The megachurch movement and its churches will fail because the culture will drive them eventually. I am opposed to submitting or seeing others submit to community and authority built upon such a base.

But these churches identified some real problems and attempted to solve them. They used, and sometimes, misused, techniques straight out of America’s conservative tradition to get after the problem. The various Protestant denominations in the US in the late 1980s were dying or dead, stale, stuffy, feckless beasts. The pastors, boards of directors and initial groups of elders that founded what would become megachurches were predominantly generation X folks, they had sat in those stuffy pews, saw exactly how ineffective those churches were and wanted something different. Many of these churches got their start in the mid-late 1990s, this was just off the heels of the failure of the Moral Majority and the exposure of many televangelist. It was a pretty bad time in Christianity.

Peter Drucker offered a model to Bob Bufford and the Leadership Council.  Early generation megachurches based mostly upon strong pastor personalities, such as Rick Warren’s Saddleback provided examples and lesson-learned. The Leadership Network supplied the template, and the disgruntled, dissatisfied upstart GEN Xers took it and built churches, everywhere.  

They identified a problem, applied methodology and systems to the problem and created solutions. It is hard to argue with that. Except for the foundation, Drucker’s ideology, and his stated intent. His was a vision to fundamentally change society, through building community in churches. The problem with utopian ideas is just that, history generally has something to say about the frailty of man’s ability to reason out complex social issues with brilliant solutions – generally the best of such ideas fail the worst, sometimes with catastrophic results.

History has taught us that the best way to move forward and solve complex problems is by relying upon the experience of the ages, to fall back on tradition, to fix what is broken rather than create something new, shiny and brilliant. The innovators of my generation, GEN X, that abandoned traditional career paths and forged ahead to build Amazon, Google, Facebook, and our digital world would disagree with that statement, as too would those folks that built started those future megachurches in the 1990s. But there is a difference in building an online shopping mall and digital warehouse and redefining how to ‘do church”.

Success is something that is hard to argue with, yet success does not make a thing optimal or even correct. Do we yet know the cost of Amazon on society and our way of life?  If someday the only real purchasing option is online will that be better? We do not know. We do know that sort of innovation was transformative and abandoned tradition rather than refurbish old practices? Is the social media revolution truly good for mankind?  I suspect not in total, but it is too soon to say. The point is, yes, those innovations have thus far succeeded, but at what cost? And, again, technological innovation is not on the same level as changing the church just because you can.

What will be the cost to the success of the megachurch movement? What happens if it fails, now that so many formerly dying churches have been drained?

As a Christian, Protestant, conservative, I applaud the efforts by the megachurch folks to bring back community. I wrote about this very need in Retrenchment: Christian Defense of Permanent Things. For the same reasons, I am opposed to the idea of building a new and shiny thing, particularly for something as important as faith, theology and religion – Christianity itself. The ‘community’ of a megachurch is too big for accountability – too big to be called community. The group is beyond one’s circle of influence and of concern. The pastor and the staff are too far removed to be knowable. How can you keep accountability of a man that teaches you the word if his congregation is so large that you most can never break bread with him, and few can do it regularly enough in a personal way to actually know him?

What should that entrepreneurial generation Xers have done in the mid-to-late 1990s? If I think the megachurch movement has gone all wrong what should have been done? I agree with them, all the major denominations had serious flaws and error. There was no real possibility of working inside of them to effect change, not in the short-term, not to change the whole thing.

They should have done the only thing a right-reasoned conservative can do when faced with such a circumstance; retrench and double-down.  Buying into what Drucker was selling, the Rick Warren-like model, was wrong and they should have recognized it from the start. That they did not perhaps speaks to motivation, but I cannot see into their hearts.

By retrenchment and doubling down I mean, in seeing the problem that existed in the church, they should have focused on the local church. If they saw it as dead an irrelevant, make it alive, while remaining true to what came before. If they wanted to build community, they should have begun in the local church. You do not have to move an entire denomination overnight to change the world, you do it the proven conservative and rational way, in small steps at home with people you know. The solution in 1990,1995 or 2000, when these megachurches got their start, was not that complicated.

Yet, that is not the path the leaders and founders of these churches chose. They picked a model that allowed them glory from building something bright and shiny. It was hubris, arrogance and pride that told those 20-something-year-old idealists that they knew better than the centuries of doctrine, procedure, and creeds that proceeded them. A bold statement, but I stand beside it. A lot of harm can come from relying upon oneself to try to do good.

If you want to know why I have written so vigorously about the megachurch, yes it is about what I have seen, things that are easily discernable as fruit from the movement. However, it is also something else. Look to the founding, look to Drucker’s own words concerning his intentions with The Leadership Network. Ask yourself about the thought processes of the young men that started these churches 25 or so years ago – why did they choose the Drucker model instead of putting their heads down and getting to work on the local church? 

I suspect their egos wanted to build something.

First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?

This is all I will say on this issue.

See Also