Monday, December 29, 2008

Aphorism XIV

I have never met an anti-dogmatist, but I have met people who are opposed to anyone other than themselves making ex cathedra statements.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

"For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Isaias 9:6).

"For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty Word leapt down from heaven from Thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction" (Wisdom 18:14-15).

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14).

Monday, December 22, 2008

On St. Thomas Aquinas, the soul and conception

A distinction between human life and the presence of a human soul is not philosophically tenable. Or at least not insofar as many who put it forward attempt to use St. Thomas Aquinas as support for their position.

It is true that St. Thomas, following the received embryology of his day, did not believe that the ensoulment of an immortal, rational soul happened until some few months after conception. What is never mentioned is that, given St. Thomas' understanding of the relationship between body and soul, this means that there was no human life until after the ensoulment of an immortal, rational soul.

The soul is the substantial form of the body. This means that the soul makes the body be the kind of being that it is and grants to it all the powers that it possesses. Now, a human being is a rational animal. This means that it possesses a rational soul, from which stem its powers of intellect and will. But, since the soul is the substantial form of the body, this rational soul is also the origin of a man's vegetative and animal powers, i.e. the powers of life, reproduction, growth, nutrition, sensation and local motion.

Now, in the received embryology of the day, the being in the womb after conception first possessed only a vegetative soul. Thus it possessed only the powers of vegetative life, nutrition, growth. After some development this vegetative soul was replaced by an animal soul. Thus the being no longer had simply vegetative life, but animal life. Thus, in addition to the powers of nutrition and growth it now began to develop the powers of sensation and local motion, as seen through the development of sense organs and limbs. Finally, when this animal development had reached a fitting stage, God would infuse the being with an immortal, rational soul. Animal life would now be replaced by human life, and the rational soul would be the origin not only of the powers of nutrition, growth, sensation and local motion, but also of the powers of intellect and will.

As this brief sketch hopefully makes clear, there was no human life before the infusion of an immortal, rational, human soul. For to have a human life is to be a human being, to be a human being is to be a rational animal, and to be a rational animal is have an immortal, rational soul.

Thus those who would use St. Thomas as cover for their pro-abortion positions demonstrate only that they know nothing of St. Thomas. For in St. Thomas there can only be human life were matter is informed by an immortal, rational soul. If it can be demonstrated that human life begins at conception, then, for St. Thomas, it would be demonstrated that a human soul is infused by God and present at the moment of conception. To say otherwise would be to imply a duality between body and soul that is entirely foreign to the thought of St. Thomas.

An interesting note: The Council of Vienna formally declared that "whoever shall obstinately presume in turn to assert, define, or hold that the rational or intellective soul is not the form of the human body in itself and essentially must be regarded as a heretic" (Denzinger, 30th ed., no. 481). The conclusion that can be drawn from this pronouncement and the brief philosophical sketch given above I will leave to the reader.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Aphorism XIII

Anyone who tells you the Gospel is about love is speaking the truth; but anyone who says the Gospel is about love and defines love simply as warm, fuzzy feelings is a fool or a liar and should be instructed, admonished or ignored as necessary.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Aphorism XII

Wisdom finds its end not in some proof, but in the Sanctus.

A Thanksgiving prayer.

"Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?" ~1 Corinthians 4:7


Lord, on this day when my country still in some way recognizes that You exist and that You are the source of all that is good, I offer to You a much belated and inadequate thanksgiving for all the gifts You have given me. I offer also my sorrow and repentance for those far too numerous times that I have squandered Your gifts.

I ask You, omnipotent and eternal God, to give me the grace to return to You what You have given to me a hundredfold. Let me not be like the wicked and slothful servant who returned no gain to his master. And yet Lord, I am a weak and foolish man. I am a wrathful man, a lustful man, a gluttonous man. I am limited by my nature and broken through the fall of mankind's first parents. I can do nothing pleasing to You, return nothing to You, without the help of Your grace. But I know, O Lord, that Thy grace is sufficient for me, for Your power is demonstrated most perfectly through my own infirmity. Help me to return to You all You have given to me and to pour out myself, even to the last, for the glory of Thy majesty and the salvation of souls.

I ask all this, Father, through Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Update on my studies

I'm not sure if it has ever come up before, but I am a graduate student currently working on my licentiate in philosophy. All my course work is finished, so I have been writing my thesis. It's title: A Defense of God’s Freedom to Create in the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I just dropped my first draft in my director's mailbox today. Not counting front and end matter--the dedication, acknowledgments, table of contents, bibliography &c.--it clocks in at just under 150 pages. My director must now read it and suggest any changes. Once he has approved it, a reader will be found for it and I can schedule my final oral examination. Once it receives reader approval and I pass the oral exam, I will receive my licentiate and be licensed to teach philosophy in any pontifical university or major seminary.

I would appreciate any prayers that readers might spare for the successful completion of my studies. I would also appreciate prayers to aid me in discerning what to do after I graduate. At the moment it looks like a decision between finding work as a teacher or entering the seminary. I am currently leaning towards the latter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The foolishness of values subjectivity

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" (Planned Parenthood v. Casey).

If all values are purely subjective, then your life is only worth what I hold it to be worth. And if I hold it to be worth less than anything else, and I further believe that it is worth sacrificing your life to achieve something I value more, then you have no right to stop me. To do so would be to impose your meaning of human life on me, and my right to define human life for myself is at the heart of liberty. What are you, a fascist?

"Then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom" (H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu").

Fhtagn, baby. The stars will soon be right. They must be. After all, we're almost there already.

Of course the best part of all thus bull plop is that it is self-refuting. If liberty means that I get to define life, the universe and everything, then that means I have every right to define them in such a way as to allow me to forcibly impose my definitions on others. Which in turn violates the right people have to define life, the universe and everything.

Do we actually pay Supreme Court justices? Because this is first year undergrad, intro to philosophy, "here's your F-" crap.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A bit on marriage basics

What is essential to marriage? It is essential to marriage that the couple, by being the kind of couple it is, is ordered towards having children. That is the basic essence of marriage.

A couple that consists of a man and a woman, by being the kind of couple that it is, is ordered towards having children. This is true even is this particular couple, consisting of this man and this woman, is not capable of having children due to age or infertility. It is even true if this man and this woman use contraception to prevent themselves from having children. The universal, i.e. being this type of couple, is essential. The particular, i.e. being this particular couple, is accidental.

A couple that consists of two men or two women is not ordered towards having children. This is true by virtue of being the kind of couples they are. Neither two men nor two women are capable of making a baby. This is not due to being this particular couple, but to being this type of couple. It is not accidental, it is essential. As such, neither two men nor two women are capable of marriage.

I hope that clears it up for everyone who tries to argue for same sex "marriage" by arguing that we do not make heterosexual couples prove they will not use contraception before the government considers them married. Such arguments are fallacious. They are examples of the fallacy of the accident.

Aphorism XI

Marxist argumentation: When logic and reality are against you, accuse your opponent of a pathology.


Or, to put in the terms of the Underpants Gnomes...

Argument Plan:

Phase 1: Accuse your opponent of a pathology.

Phase 2: ???

Phase 3: Victory!

See how simply it is?

Another post election thought

Morning prayer today has the following reading, which I will give from the Douay-Rheims translation:
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful (I Corinthians 12:9-10, emphasis added).
Something to contemplate, no? Quite often the public prayer of the Church will speak to one's life in a way that seems surprising for a standard cycle.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gonna start a counter-revolution from my bed...

So, this post over at Mark Shea's blog got me thinking, "What do we conservatives really mean when we say, 'We need to return to those things which made America great: individual liberty and limited government'?"

Well, I don't know what everybody else means by them--though some seem to mean, "I can do what I want, and neither man nor law has the right to stop me!"--but I know what I mean by it. And what I mean by it has been shaped by my understanding of what our forefathers meant by it. (I would note that by "forefathers" I don't just mean the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the Constitution. I mean the everyday, ordinary sort of people. You know, the ones who actually made the Constitution law by their approval of it, the ones whose interpretation of the Constitution make for its real original intent?)

So, first let us discuss "individual liberty" and what conservatives should mean by it. I take my understanding of individual liberty from our forefathers, who seemed to take it from Micah 4:1-5. To paraphrase it all into one sentence, it is when every man walks in the name of the Lord, and sits under his vine, and his own fig tree, and there is nothing to make any afraid, or at least as close to this as is possible this side of the Parousia. "Liberty," then, is the product of a proper order--defended not just by law, but by religious conviction and virtue--that allows men to tend to their own families and such without the need for interference to make them do good or keep them from doing evil. There is no need for interference because virtuous men freely choose to live their lives this way.

Then what should conservatives mean by "limited government," you ask? It should mean that first you take care of your family, and your neighbors, and your congregation, and your coworkers, and your employees, and the other guys in the 4-H, and the other members of your fraternal order, and the guys on your softball team, and any of your countless other immediate and personal connections. You do it because you have real relationships with these people, and such relationships mean that you have duties to each other. If that isn't enough, then you turn to your town, or city, or municipality, or whatnot to pitched in. And if that still isn't enough, then you turn to your state. If that fails, then and only then do you turn to the federal government. And when it is necessary to turn to these more remote levels of government, you remember that the limitations on their power were set in place so they couldn't butt in where they weren't needed and make a mess of things. And, as such, you respect these limitations and, if modifying them is necessary, you do so prudently and through the proper legal process.

Now, the problem is that, with a few exceptions, few people use these terms this way anymore. And when we conservatives use them we are often misunderstood. So I would suggest perhaps modifying the terms a little. For example, I try never to speak simply of "liberty," but rather to speak of "ordered liberty," as did men such as Edmund Burke, George Washington and Russell Kirk, to name just a few. This calls immediately to mind the fact that true liberty cannot exist without the proper ordering of the soul and of society. And I try never to speak about "limited government" without discussing the principle of subsidiarity and federalism, which is the framework for the implementation of subsidiarity in the American political tradition.

Now, the election of 2008 makes it likely that conservatives are going to have very little influence in the corridors of power. So be it. Remember that this loss happened, at least in part, because the so-called "conservative" major party was far more right- to center-liberal than truly conservative. Make sure you let them know that. Speak out for virtue, for the priority of the local, the preeminence of the family and for all those things that true conservatives hold dear. And, more importantly, live these things in your life. If the culture is poison, then be the antidote. The counter-revolution doesn't start in the voting booth, or at the party committee meeting, or on the soapbox. It starts in our communities, in our homes, and in our hearts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Today is Guy Fawkes Day

Today is Guy Fawkes day. It is the day a patriot and true son of the Church tried to bring down a tyrant.

Interestingly enough, it also the day William of Orange, the usurper, landed at Brixham. William was supported by the Whigs, who were traitors to their king and country. Their reasoning? James II and VII was Catholic.

Today, of all days, I find these fact amusing. But then again, I've always had a rather odd sense of humor.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election '08

Earlier this week my father and I wondered why we hold elections on a Tuesday in the United States. After thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that we hold elections on a Tuesday because the divine hand of providence has seen fit to have us vote on a day when the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are prayed. I would humbly suggest that any of my readers who have not yet prayed the Rosary today do so.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.


From The Ballad of the White Horse, by G.K. Chesterton:
"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

"Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"

Friday, October 24, 2008

God and substance

In reading an article for my thesis, I came across an argument that goes something like this: We must avoid the two erroneous extremes of pantheism, i.e. of seeing the whole of creation as an accident of God, and Aristotelianism, i.e. seeing created beings as substances that exist in themselves without the need of a reference to a creator. I think that the second half of this statement is false. I do not believe that what the article describes as Aristotelianism is a problem, nor that it entails holding that substances do not need reference to their creator.

God is not in any of the categories. God is the cause of all being and as such is the cause of all the categories. Thus the category of substance does not entail no relationship to God as creator.

The category of substance is traditionally held to be those things that exist in themselves, while the other nine categories are accidents, i.e. those things that exists through another. It is important to realize that the categories are categories of created beings, all of which have their existence through participation in the divine esse. Thus we could truthfully say that the category of substance contains those beings who possess their limited and participated existence in themselves, while the categories of accidents contain those things that only possess their limited and participated existence through some other created things.

One need not jettison the categories to preserve God's necessary creation and sustenance of all things. One need only realize that the categories themselves are categories of created beings. That, as far as I can tell, is how St. Thomas understood it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Abortion and government

There are those who feel that it is acceptable to vote for a pro-abortion politician if their other positions appear to benefit the common good and help reduce the number of abortions. The problem with this position is that reducing the number of abortions, as important as this is, is not enough. If abortion could be completely eliminated in fact but was still legal, then the task is not finished. This is because the legality of abortion is itself an attack on the very foundations of the rule of law and the common good.

As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught in Mater et Magistra, "individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution" (219). The legality of abortion is a direct assault on the foundation and purpose of the political community itself. The rule of law and the common good are meaningless concepts if innocent human beings are allowed to be legally murdered.

This teaching is reaffirmed and made even more explicit in Servant of God Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae: "Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good" (72). One cannot truly work towards the common good by ignoring the legality of abortion. The legality of abortion necessarily undermines the common good.

A candidate who runs on a pro-abortion platform essentially states that he will not work towards the purpose of government, i.e. the common good. He renders his administration incapable of benefiting the common good in any way except accidentally. This is because the very nature his administration's position attacks the common good by enabling the legal attack on the lives of the unborn.

Any attempt to put forward a pro-abortion politician as an acceptable candidate fails. A candidate who promises to attack the very foundation and purpose of government, the good of life on which all the rest of the common good depends, can never be acceptable.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What intentions can and cannot do, part I

Suppose that law makers passed a law that demanded all $100 bills be printed in blue ink. But further suppose that those law makers, in passing this law, really intended that all $100 bills be printed in red ink. Would it be a false interpretation of the law to rule that printing $100 bills in blue ink was in keeping with the law, while printing $100 bills in red ink was a violation of the law? Do the intentions of the law makes force "blue" to mean red?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A letter to Senator Biden

I just came across this interview with Delaware Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Hat tip: Mark Shea)

The interview ended thus: "To sum it up, as a Catholic, I'm a John XXIII guy, I'm not a Pope John Paul guy."

What follows is my letter to Senator Biden.

Dear Senator Biden,

I just read your interview with reporter Nicole Gaudiano, an interview apparently conducted on April 27, 2007, on The interview was posted on October 19, 2008, and the information given with it said that the second half of the interview, the half concerning the question of abortion, was being printed for the first time.

I noticed that you ended the interview by saying that you were "a John XXIII guy," so I thought I'd share the following two paragraphs from Blessed Pope John XXIII's encyclical letter "Mater et Magistra," which was concerned with Christianity and social progress:

"193. We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life.

"194. Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members."

I hope your deep respect for Blessed Pope John XXIII leads you to listen to his words and draw the obvious conclusions, conclusions reinforced by Servant of God Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae."

In Christ,


Edited to add: In the hopes of getting Senator Biden to actually read my letter, I have expanded upon it and mailed a copy to each of his three offices. After telling the Senator a bit about my own experience growing up as a Roman Catholic in Pennsylvania, I continued with the following:

I am telling you all this [about my background] so as to give you a better idea of the perspective behind this letter. I also hope to demonstrate that, however great the differences in our backgrounds, we also share at least a few commonalities.

I am writing to you because I just read your interview with reporter Nicole Gaudiano on This interview was apparently conducted on April 27, 2007. The interview was posted on October 19, 2008, and the information given with it said that the second half of the interview, the half concerning the question of abortion, was being printed for the first time.

I noticed that you ended the interview by saying that you were "a John XXIII guy." There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with this. People have different temperaments and different styles, and so it makes sense that we will all have different appreciations of certain Popes based upon how they present themselves. This is no more wrong than having a preference to devotion to St. Dominic over St. Francis of Assisi or vice versa.

The interview, however, did not leave me thinking that this was all you meant by your final comment. I fear that I received the impression that you were trying to play Blessed Pope John XXIII and Servant of God Pope John Paul II against each other so as to excuse your voting record on the question of abortion. This strikes me as an erroneous use of the thought of Blessed Pope John XXIII. To demonstrate why I believe this to be so, I thought that I would share the following two paragraphs from Blessed Pope John XXIII's encyclical letter Mater et Magistra, which was concerned with Christianity and social progress:
193. We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life.
194. Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members.
I hope your deep respect for Blessed Pope John XXIII leads you to listen to his words and draw the obvious conclusions, the same conclusions reinforced by Servant of God Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae.

There is a good chance that you will soon be the Vice President-elect of the United States of America. This would make you the second most influential political leader in our country. Such a position of authority is a heavy responsibility. Please remember the words of our Lord: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more."

I will also be sending a copy of this letter to your offices in Wilmington and Milford in the hopes that this will increase the chances of you reading it personally. Thank you for your time. Know that I will endeavor to keep you in my prayers.

In Christ,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Some notes on abortion, phil. of nature, logic, &c.

A soul is the form of a living being. A form is that which causes a particular being to be the type of being it is. A particular being is a being that is whole in itself and distinct from all other particular beings.

Is the being that comes into existence at conception a particular being? Yes. It is a distinct being that is whole in itself, not a part of another being. If this were false, then any and every part of the being that comes into existence at conception would be a part of the pregnant woman. Thus, pregnant woman would eventually be two headed, four armed, four legged &c. Some of them would even be hermaphrodites. This is absurd. Thus, the being that comes into existence at conception is a particular being.

What type of being is this particular being? It is human. It is a being that posses a full human genome. Science can tell us that.

If what exists after conception is a particular human being, then it has a human form. And since human beings are living things, this is the same as saying that it has a human soul.


The "being" in "human being" means being per se, i.e. being that is whole and distinct in itself. A thumb does not posses this type of being. It is not whole and distinct in itself. Rather, it is a part that belongs to another being, a being that is whole and distinct in itself.


Form and matter are the two concomitant principles of physical beings. Form is that which makes a being be this type of being. Matter is what makes a being be this particular being. If you agree that there are individual beings, but that individual being share common types or natures, then you have all you need to hold the existence of form and matter. And since a soul is simply the form of a living being, you have all you need to hold the existence of soul.

There is nothing in this definition that requires any theological belief. There is nothing that requires a person to hold that any soul is spiritual and will survive the death of the form/matter composite being whose existence it informs. Indeed, Aristotle is not always clear on where he stands in this regard. Many believe that the textural evidence shows that Aristotle himself did not believe in the immortality of the human soul.

Nothing here requires faith. All that is required is the ability to recognize that many individual physical beings share the same type or nature. Biology does this whenever it divides living beings into Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.


taxonomy: Biology. the science dealing with the description, identification, naming, and classification of organisms.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More "wymynpriest" nonsense

Read this article from the Associated Press.

"It has also raised fears that women might abandon the Roman Catholic Church for other branches of Christianity that allow female priesthood."

The only other “branches of Christianity” that have real priests are the various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. None of those ordain women to the priesthood either.

I’m assuming the article is referring to various Protestant denominations that "ordain" their ministers, some of which are even called "priests." If that is what is being referred to, then it seems these women care more about that special feeling one gets from a public ceremony and being allowed to wear special clothes than they do about the ontological reality of ordination. Which justs goes to show that it would be wrong to ordain them even if women could be ordained.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned. ~Avicenna
Anyone who responds to a discussion about objective reality by saying, "That's might be your objective reality, but it's not my objective reality!" is not worth the time that talking to them would waste. They are really not worth the time taken to interact with them in any way. The sole possible exception is, per Avicenna, the time it would take to beat and burn them. And they are only worth that because it is the only kind of argument they are capable of understanding.

Edited to add: I am not, of course, suggesting that anyone actually beat and burn relativists, at least not without first consulting with your confessor. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a confessor who looks entirely kindly upon my beating people and setting them on fire. Not even if it is for the best of reasons.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast was instituted by Pope St. Pius V in a.D. 1573. The Pope instituted it to honor Our Lady for the victory of the Holy League over the far greater naval forces of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, a.D. 1571. Pope Pius V had asked all of Christendom to pray the rosary for victory. That day, while he was himself praying the rosary in his chapel, he was granted a vision of the Holy League's victory.

The victory itself is often considered something miraculous. As the fleets moved to engage each other the wind, which had previously been in the Turks' favor, changed direction. This change in the wind shifted the advantage to the Christian forces and lead to their victory, a victory decisive for Christendom and Western Civilization.

In honor of this great feast of Our Lady and the great victory behind its institution, I present here the poem "Lepanto," by G.K. Chesterton.
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain--hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,--
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Faith is not and cannot be private

Who has not heard a Catholic politician say something along these lines: "I am a Catholic, but I cannot let my faith unduly influence my actions as a public official because my faith is a private matter."

This is a pernicious falsehood. It is the duty of all Catholics to publicly live their faith and it is especially the duty of the laity to live their faith in the public sphere.

This is first and foremost made clear in Sacred Scripture. Our Lord makes this explicit to His followers: "You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5: 14-6; Cf. Mark 4: 21; Luke 11: 33-6). Similarly, St. James tell us in his epistle that "faith without works is dead" (James 2: 20, 26).

One can find this clear teaching reiterated by the Church. I do not know what the so-called "spirit" of Vatican II says about it, but the texts of Vatican II explicitly state that it is the vocation of the laity to carry their faith into the world through their actions:
Each individual layman must stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God. All the laity as a community and each one according to his ability must nourish the world with spiritual fruits. They must diffuse in the world that spirit which animates the poor, the meek, the peace makers-whom the Lord in the Gospel proclaimed as blessed. In a word, "Christians must be to the world what the soul is to the body" (Lumen gentium, 38).
Thus it seems clear that no Catholic can be faithful to the teachings of the Church while holding that his faith is merely a private matter. The Church explicitly teaches otherwise. Faith cannot be something we simply hold privately. Rather, it should be the source of our actions, giving birth to hope and charity, and motivating us to conform all the things and actions in our lives, whether they be public or private, to Christ.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"It takes all kinds to make a heaven."

In honor of the feast of St. Jerome, I give you "The Thunderer," by Phyllis McGinley.
God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Quick to disparage
All joys but learning
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all of his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.
In a mighty prose
For Almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of a saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
to make a heaven.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A response given to an atheist of my acquaintance upon his demanding, point blank, that someone prove to him the existence of God.

This is analogously equivalent to a beginning student of algebra asking for someone to prove Gödel's incompleteness theorems to them. Without the necessary background the proofs aren't meaningful to the one being taught, so they must either believe the teacher based upon his own credentials and authority or else doubt the teacher because they did not understand him and thus weren't convinced.

Proof of the existence of God is the end of metaphysics. It takes as given all previous metaphysical principles, as well as the principles of the philosophy of nature that metaphysics takes as its foundations. A thorough account would take at least a book. A complete understanding could take a lifetime. That might not be very satisfying. Reality can be a harsh mistress.

I would also note that if by "proof" you mean "scientific proof," then you are asking for the impossible. I will note, however, that I am not saying this simply to say that the existence of God is not a question open to the empirical-mathematical method of modern science, which is interested only in the accidents of sensible quantity and measurable quality. I am saying this because the scientific method, as a method, is not capable of providing proof of anything in a strict sense.

The scientific method is an inductive and dialectic method which relies on continually observing things under particular circumstances, forming hypotheses based upon these observations and then testing the hypotheses against further observations. When one hypothesis is demonstrated to be false because reality does not follow the predicted outcome, the data is then reconsidered and a new hypothesis is formed and tested. When a hypothesis continually predicts reality correctly, it is then considered to be true.

This is not, however, equivalent to proving that the hypothesis is true. The hypothesis is probably true because particular circumstances have continually conformed to the hypothesis' predictions. But all it takes is a single, repeatable example in which the hypothesis fails to render said hypothesis false, at least in scope if not completely. Sometimes such observations take decades, or even centuries, to be realized because they require new tools to enhance our senses, allowing us to observe phenomena that we previously could not observe. For example, classical mechanics was long believed to be the whole of mechanics until we were able to observe phenomena on a much smaller scale, a scale in which classical mechanics breaks down and fails to make accurate predictions. Thus quantum mechanics was born.

Thus, the scientific method, being an inductive method, does not prove anything in the strict sense. Its results are probably true, but they are not definitely true. In the most accurate sense, the information about reality given by science would be called justified belief, which is traditionally the name given to propositions held due to induction (moving from the particular to the universal) and dialectics (the back and forth of hypotheses until one is arrived upon that cannot be disproved given the current circumstances).

However, in the interest of providing some help, I will offer the following link. It provides an audio lecture on some proofs for the existence of God by the philosopher Peter Kreeft, as well as links to some more of his writings on the question. I offer this link with two caveats:

1. These lectures and writings are simplifications for the purpose of speaking to a non-academic audience with little or no higher level training in philosophy. As such, it is possible that there are weaknesses in the arguments as presented that would not be present in more rigorous and academic presentations of them.

2. Simplifications such as these are sometimes targeted at audiences more inclined to agree with the arguments than not. As such, the tone of the presentation might be contrary to your sensibilities. This is simply what one must deal with when one is dealing with this kind of work. I feel the same way reading Dawkins or Dennett.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New Blog

I've created another blog. This one has always been about philosophy and theology. Occasionally I want to write something that is only tenuously linked, at best, to those topics. Previously I've either not written it, or I've posted it here and felt that it was out of place. Now I'll post it at the other blog.

Popery et Potpourri. Check it out if you so desire.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I think it fitting, given the events of seven years ago that we commemorate today and the events of three hundred and twenty-five years ago we will commemorate tomorrow, to offer up a prayer to Blessed Marco D'Aviano and the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Most Holy Name is a symbol of victory over sin and death, for the conversion of all Muslims and an end to the preaching and practice of Jihad.

Just in case

Just in case its removed for being "offensive," I thought I would share my comment (EDIT: posted on the Washington Post's site) on this opinion piece :

"All Beliefs Welcome, Unless They are Forced on Others"

I hope the good Professor Doninger will join my continuing campaign to overturn any laws that make it illegal for me to kill those who annoy me. After all, what right does anyone have to force a belief about the immorality of "murder" on me? And besides, "Though shalt not kill," is one of those "Ten Commandments." Thus, not allowing me to kill those who annoy me is equivalent to imposing religion upon me.

Such laws also violate my constitutional rights. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States of America states, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that I have, "the right to define [my] own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." I do not believe that those who annoy me are human. Nor do they, it follows, possess human life. To keep me from killing them is to impose upon me a view of "the mystery of human life" that is contrary to my own, which is a grievous violation of my constitutional liberties.

I hope all who read this article are convinced by the sound argument presented and join me in my campaign for my moral and Constitutional right to kill all those who annoy me.

Have I "reducio"-ed enough to make the "absurdum" obvious?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Velocity matters

In a discussion following one of his posts over at the Chronicles website, Scott Richert notes that politicians, like particles in physics, do not simply have positions. They also have directional velocity. We ignore the latter at our peril.

Continually voting for the politicians who will move us leftward more slowly does not have the consequence of stopping our move leftward. But it does have the consequence of causing us to become more inclined to accept leftward movements as long as they don't happen at too great a velocity. This may leave us with better short-term consequences, but its long-term result is the voluntary corruption of our own moral sense.

That's the whole point of the Hegelian mambo. So forgive me if I sit this dance out.

The Hegelian mambo

(Thanks to Zippy of Zippy Catholic and What’s Wrong with the World for first directing me to this idea.)

Some preliminaries:

1. "Liberal" is hereby being used to mean those who accept as true liberal autonomy theory. "Liberal autonomy theory" is, in turn, generally defined as follows: a political, ethical and anthropological position that holds the individual will to be the foundational attribute of the human person, freedom of choice to be the greatest good, and views the individual as completely autonomous, all interpersonal relations being a matter of personal choice. By this definition, most American "conservatives" are simply right-liberals.

2. An unprincipled exception is a non-liberal value or assertion that is not identified as, or realized to be, non-liberal.

The definition of the Hegelian mambo can be found in, or at least figured out from, the comments here. I am, for the most part, going to first use the steps to the dance laid out by Matt in the second to last comment, then I am going to define what I understand the steps to mean.

The steps to the Hegelian mambo, our nations hottest new political dance:

1. Thesis step to the left, Thesis step to the left,
2. Grab Antithesis on your right and step to the left,
3. Twirl around
4. Synthesize
5. cha cha cha
6. And step to the Left...

The Hegelian mambo, broken down and explained:

1. Move further in a leftward and liberal direction.

2. Make the few unprincipled exceptions you are going to make, even while still moving in a more leftward and liberal direction on other issues.

3. Display your unprincipled exceptions for all to see, fooling conservatives to accept you as a conservative yourself, especially those conservative whose positions are a matter of tradition, piety and religious faith, but who themselves do not have a strong intellectual defense against liberalism.

4. Eventually your positions are accepted as the new "conservatism" by most people.

5. Hold to these positions for a time, either because you are not yet bothered by some of your illiberal positions or because you need to shore up support.

6. Start the dance all over again.

On rights

Take a man. Remove him from all historic and social context. Take him as a lone, autonomous individual. What rights does he have?

A liberal--either a left-liberal or one of those right-liberals we erroneously call "conservatives"--would probably be able to produce a short, or even a long, list. Certainly the left-liberal list and the right-liberal list would differ somewhat in content and emphasis, but either kind of liberal would be able to produce a list. Both lists would be wrong.

The correct answer is "none." A man possesses no rights when he is removed from all historic and social context. If such a thing as a lone, autonomous individual existed, he would exist without any rights whatsoever.

It is a good thing, then, that there is no such thing as a lone, autonomous individual. Man, as a bodily and incarnate being, always exists within a historic and social context. And it is only within this historic and social context that the concept of "rights" has any meaning at all.

A "right" is not a quality. Rights exist as complements to duties. Both only exist as relations within the context of relationships. A relation is a reference to another. To say one has a right means that one is owed something by another. One cannot speak of this right without referencing, at least implicitly, said other. To say one has a duty means that one owes something to another. One cannot speak of this duty without referencing, at least implicitly, said other.

This, then, is why it is absurd to speak of rights as existing when removed from historic and social context. A man exists within a particular time and place. This particular time and place governs the context of a man's relationships. And it is only within said relationships that the idea of rights has any actual content.

Monday, September 08, 2008

An aside

I think I am going to print up a bumper sticker that reads, "Don't blame me, I support a benevolent Hapsburg monarchy."

Other ideas:

"Don't blame me, I voted for Jefferson Davis."

"Don't blame me, I supported the Anti-Federalists."

"Don't blame me, I supported the Cavaliers."

"Don't blame me, I supported the Vendée."

"Don't blame me, I can comprehend Amendment X."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In the midst of moral dilemmas and electoral sniping: wisdom and humor

thebyronicman: In the heart of every orthodox Catholic man there exists a secret yearning for an evangelical girl who rides motorcycles. Let it go. It's a divine madness.

Kevin: You're right. There's something wrong about hoping to get the evangelical babe in short-shorts to pray the rosary with you. Alone.

Aphorism X

Being anti-Scylla does not make one pro-Charybdis.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Q: Why do you oppose abortion?

A: I can think of neither a legal nor a moral reason to allow the direct and intentional taking of an innocent human life.

Q: Do you oppose abortion even in cases of rape?

A: Yes. I oppose the direct and intentional taking of an innocent human life.

Q: Do you oppose abortion even in cases of incest?

A: Yes. I oppose the direct and intentional taking of an innocent human life.

Q: Do you oppose abortion even in cases where the life of the mother is or may be in danger?

A: Yes. I oppose the direct and intentional taking of an innocent human life.

Q: What would you say to those who argue that a fetus is not innocent?

A: Guilt and culpability require freedom of choice. No child has any choice whether or not to be conceived. Thus it is fallacious to impute any kind of moral culpability to an unborn child.

Q: What would you say to those who argue that the life of a fetus is not a human life?

A: What else would one call a unique and individual living being that possesses a complete human genetic code? Can anyone give me a name that is more accurate rather than an attempt at obfuscation?

Q: What would you say to those who argue that a fetus is not a unique and individual living being that possesses a complete human genetic code, and thus that a fetus is not a human life?

A: Perhaps they should purchase a simple introduction to embryology. (See here and here for some pertinent quotes from assorted text books.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Obtectively evil acts and gravity

I want to briefly discuss something I've touched on before. To say an act is objectively evil is to say that an act is evil by its very nature. An objectively evil act cannot be changed to a good act by our intentions or the circumstances surrounding its being committed.

But to say an act is objectively evil is not to say anything about the seriousness or gravity of the act. An act can be objectively evil without being grave, or grave without being objectively evil. Allow me to demonstrate.

Stealing is objectively evil. It is never permissible to take property that does not belong to you and that you have no right to. It would be an objectively evil act to steal ten dollars a dollar from the petty cash at your place of employment. (EDIT: changed the example a little to more clearly illustrate the point.) Yet it might not be gravely evil to do so. This is because stealing this ten dollars dollar, especially if you work for a multi-million dollar, multi-national corporation, does not do very much harm to the business at all. It is the kind of thing that might even be overlooked or ignored as a minor bookkeeping error. So while you have done something objectively evil, you have not done something that is necessarily gravely evil. Some older catechisms and moral manuals might even have considered this example to be only a venial sin, since its gravity is greatly diminished. (I wish my few old moral theology manuals weren't packed away in a storage box somewhere in the house, so I could check on this to be sure.)

Going to war is not objectively evil. If the condition of just war theory are met, the war is an act of justice and is not evil to enter into. But if a country enters into an unjust war, this would be gravely evil. This is because wars, even small ones, cause great suffering, death and destruction. That is of course why the rulers of a nation must be especially careful in examining whether or not the criteria for a just war have been met before committing themselves to such a course of action.

I think the confusion that sometimes arises over the distinction between whether or not an act is objectively evil and whether or not an act is gravely evil arises because of the issue of abortion. Abortion is both objectively evil--it is an act that can never legitimately be done--and gravely evil--because it is the killing of an innocent human being. People understand both of these facts, but since they are so used to referring to abortion as objectively evil, they begin to associate the grave matter of a sin with the formal category of objectively evil actions.

It is important to remember the distinction between the formal nature of the act and the matter of the act. Abortion is an act that is both formally evil and materially grave, but acts can also be neither formally evil nor materially grave, formally evil but not materially grave, and not formally evil but materially grave. Drawing proper distinctions in this fashion does nothing to lesson the evils of abortion, but it does allow us to properly judge other actions based upon both formal and material considerations.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program

So, as the last brief ethics post should make clear, I'm done writing about specific current events for the moment. Certain current events may inspire a brief post or two--after all, we do have an election coming up--but I'm done dealing with particular current events for at least awhile.

Looking back, that first post on the situation in the Caucasus was intemperate. At least the original post, though I think the edited addition was calmer and better laid out. Which I suppose goes to show that none of us are on-the-ball all the time. At least I'm not.

Anyway, back to regular postings. Though that sometimes means little to no posting unless an idea crosses my mind that keeps the thesis writing from progressing. Still, there are one or two posts I've mentioned that I really do want to write. The first one I'll try to get posted is the one I promised a commenter on predestination, hopefully before the end of the month.

Veritas et Caritas.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two points on moral reasoning

1. To say that "act A is not objectively evil" is not equivalent to saying that "act A is good." An act can fail to be objectively evil and still be evil.

It's not objectively evil to go have a few beers with your buddies after work. That doesn't mean that there is no moral difference between going home to eat dinner with your family and going out for said beers. It is illegitimate to say that one of those choices cannot be said to be a morally bad, i.e. evil, choice.

2. The main question when reasoning about the morality of an action is not, "how will the affect the world?" Rather, it is, "how will this affect my soul and character?" How an act will affect the world is not unimportant, but it is secondary.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You could say that, but you'd be wrong

As I've said elsewhere, justice involves treating similar things similarly and different things differently. I believe that I've also mentioned the fact that certain particulars--especially certain relations--are not simply circumstantial to acts, but play a part in defining the object of an action. And I am quite certain that I have spelled what I believe to be the connection between justice, relationships, rights and duties. The point being, of course, that the particulars of a situation can play a large part in whether or not an action is just or not, and even whether an act is objectively evil or not.

It is illegitimate to abstract actions away from important particular details so as to attempt to judge an action moral or immoral. One cannot abstract the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman out to nothing more than the physical action in an attempt to argue that fornication is moral since it is no different than the conjugal love between a husband and wife. It is illegitimate to abstract out the act of shooting a gun at another man to simply pointing and pulling the trigger to argue that there is no difference between murder and legitimate self-defense. In both these situation the particular relationship between the agent and the subject is fundamental to the object of the action and the attempt to ignore these particulars by illegitimate abstraction is pure sophistry.

In the same way, it is illegitimate to argue that it is hypocritical to be opposed to the secession of Kosovo from Serbia but to be neutral-leaning-towards-favorable for South Ossatia to secede from Georgia and join the Russian federation. The particular historic and existential details are enormously different in the two cases, and this effects what is the just decision in each. To whit:

Kosovo is an historic part of Serbia. There is no historic basis whatsoever for an independent state of Kosovo. An independent Kosovo does nothing but create a state run by Islamic mafioso in the middle of the one of Christendom's first bulwarks against assault by Jihad.

South Ossetia is not an historic part of Georgia. Indeed, its history supports its separation from Georgia and its close allegiance with Russia. The reason that South Ossetia is a part of Georgia boils down to "because Stalin said so."

These completely different historical relationships make a difference in judging the justice of the two situations. You could say it's hypocrisy to have different views on the independence of Kosovo and South Ossetia, but you'd be wrong.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The conflict in South Ossetia

I do not like to post too much on specific current events, but there are some things being said about this conflict that are so foolish and obviously false that I have decided to post something.

As far as I can tell, the following are all true:

1. South Ossetia has, it seems, closer historical and current ties with Russia than it does with Georgia. Over half the population of South Ossetia are Russian citizens.

2. Russian peacekeepers are in South Ossetia due to the agreement reached the last time there was a conflict between Georgia and the Ossetians.

3. South Ossetia has been a de facto autonomous state for over a decade.

4. Georgia signed a treaty granting autonomy to South Ossetia not a week before the conflict began. (I am having trouble confirming this from more than one source, so I'm striking it for being possibly false. Update: Some people I trust who are more up-to-date on Caucasus news than I am have mentioned an autonomy pact, so I think this point is basically correct. I am still going to leave it stricken, however, until I can find some more definitive information.)

5. Georgia started the conflict by sending troops into South Ossetia.

6. Russia, defending its interests and citizens in the region, sent in more troops to support the peacekeeping forces already in South Ossetia.

7. The Russians defeated the Georgians pretty thoroughly.

Now, perhaps someone can explain something to me here. How is it that Georgia invades an area that is historically and culturally distinct from Georgia, that has been de facto autonomous for quite some time, whose autonomy Georgia just recognized in a treaty, and who has the defense of an obviously superior military power, and yet people still want to view Georgia as a poor, down-trodden country unjustly stomped on by the Russian boot? How is it that Russia has legitimate political and historical interests in South Ossetia, has peacekeepers there legally, did not start the conflict, and yet still winds up being portrayed as the sole black hat in the affair? And how can a government that recognized the illegal secession of Kosovo from Serbia, of which is has long been an historic part, fail to recognize the secession of South Ossetia from Georgia? (Yes, that last sentence does refer to the United States.)

Is there some inability had by people who lived much of their lives during the Cold War to realize that the political situation in the Caucasus is different than it was before the fall of the Soviet Union? Am I only able to see the absurdity of the "Oh nos, teh Russian are moving, wesa gots ta do sumting!!!!" line of thought because the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union fell before I was even a teenager?

Is it because Russia is not as democratic as we think it should be? Democracy is not and has never been the criteria for legitimate government.

And why are the events happening in the Caucasus any of our business? There is a chance that Russia has acted as it did because it resents the US trying to get all the countries along its border, countries that Russia has had long political interests and involvement with, stretching back to before the Soviet Union and into the Russian Empire, into NATO. Why, oh why would Russia feel threatened by US troops and missiles all along its borders? Is that really a difficult question to answer?

Moreover, why does NATO still exist? The Soviet Union fell, it has served its purpose. What can it do now but antagonize Russia and make it more likely that US troops will die for no good reason? Why do we need to be so involved in the Caucasus anyway? How does this protect American citizens? The job of a government is to look after the common good of its citizens, not to police the world and spread democracy as if it was the only legitimate form of government.

Look, lets be clear: Georgian President Saakashvili is the one who foolishly started the shooting. Did he really expect Russia to not respond? There is a price to folly, and, while his foolishness does not absolve Russia of overreaching in this conflict and violating ius in bello, it does make it difficult for me to view Georgia as a blameless victim of Russian imperialism.

That being said, please pray for peace and reconciliation between these two Orthodox peoples. And toss up a few for Christian unity while you're at it.


A clarification on my position, since discussion elsewhere have demonstrated that it is needed:

1. There are historic, ethnic and cultural reasons to view South Ossetia's desire to secede from Georgia and rejoin North Ossetia as part of the Russian federation as a legitimate desire.

2. Georgia escalated this conflict into full-scale military action, and it did so not hours after it declared a unilateral cease-fire and offered to meet with Ossetian leaders with full autonomy for South Ossetia on the table.

3. Russia's response to the death of civilians and Russian troops legitimately stationed in South Ossetia may have been justified based upon my first point--it may have had a legitimate ius ad bello--but its disproportional response was unjust and a violation of ius in bello.

4. There are no good guys here.

5. The fact that there are no good guys here makes placing all moral blame in Russia's hands, as the Western media has certainly seemed to do, an act of untruth, if not an act of outright lying.

EDIT, part deux:

Pat Buchanan lays it out nice and simply.

EDIT the third:

Dr. Trifković's analysis may be the best I've seen.

In librum B. Dionysii De divinis nominibus expositio, c. IV, l. 9

Ex amore enim bonitatis suae processit quod bonitatem suam voluit diffundere et communicare aliis, secundum quod fuit possibile, scilicet per modum similitudinis et quod eius bonitas non tantum in ipso maneret, sed ad alia efflueret.

Indeed, from love of His goodness [God] proceeds insofar as He willed His goodness to be diffused and communicated to other things, according to all that is possible, i.e. by way of similitude and insofar as His goodness does not always remain in Himself, but flows forth into other things.

The paradox of wisdom

The wiser you get, the more you realizes what a fool you are. The more foolish you are, the more you believe yourself to be wise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On artificial intelligence

I have been, for whatever reason, thinking a bit about artificial intelligence (AI). More precisely, I have been thinking about what is generally called "strong AI," i.e. artificial intelligence that matches or supersedes the human intellect, the kind you see in science fiction books and movies. My thinking has led me to believe that such a thing will never be.

First, the intellect is, for lack of a better term, a substantial or essential power. Its origin is in the substantial form, the essence, the nature of the being that possesses it. No machine possesses a substantial form. Rather, any machine qua machine possesses only an accidental form that is brought about through the organization of parts. These parts may be composed of a substance or substances, but the machine itself exists only insofar as said substance or substances are given certain shapes and arranged within certain relations. Since a machine possesses no substantial form, it cannot possess, qua machine, any power that has its origin in substantial form, and thus it cannot possess intellect.

Second, the intellect is a purely immaterial, spiritual power. It does not depend on matter for its operation, either the matter of the knower or the matter of the thing known. While in some intellectual beings, viz. man, matter may be required to provide the intellect with the forms it uses in its operation through the external and internal senses, this is accidental to the operation of the intellect qua intellect. Now, man does not have the power to create immaterial being. As such, man does not have the power to create intellect.

Third, is anyone familiar with the "Chinese room" argument of analytic philosopher John Searle? I have only a slight familiarity with it, but I believe it goes something like this: Take a man who understands no Chinese and put him in a room filled with data on the rules of the language, such as grammar, structure, likely replies to certain inquiries &c. Have a Chinese speaker try to communicate with the man through writing. Given enough time and enough data on the language, the man will be able to respond to the Chinese speaker in a way that is both grammatically correct and makes sense to the Chinese speaker. The Chinese speaker will believe he is having a meaningful conversation with the man in the room, but the man in the room will have no idea as to what the conversation is about. I find this argument interesting because it demonstrates the difference between manipulating symbols and understanding them.

St. Thomas, if I am not mistaken, held that words carry with them the form of things. The origin of words, whether written or spoken, is in the internal word, the knowledge of a thing possessed by the soul. The use of words is not just the manipulation of symbols, but is instead the transmission if intelligibility and form. The word directs one beyond itself to the thing in itself as it can be known by the soul.

Then there is a difference between instinct, stimulus/response, or rule based communication and true intellectual communication. The former has its origin in some amount of in-built rules that determine the response to certain stimuli. The latter goes beyond the perception of the stimuli and the interaction of the one who produced the stimuli and the one who responds to them, referencing a third being whose intelligibility and form the words carry and to whom the writer or speaker of the words directs the intellect of the one who receives them. The former happens only on the level of the sensible, while the latter transcends the sensible, using it to direct eh light of reason to investigate some communicated piece of reality.

Anyway, those are just some random thoughts I've had in the last few days. Any critiques, discussion or interesting references would be much appreciated.

Worth Reading

Poor Mexico, Poor America, by Thomas Fleming:

Poor Mexico, Poor America I

Poor Mexico, Poor America II

Poor Mexico, Poor America: Extracts Omitted

Poor Mexico, Poor America: One More Time

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aphorism IX

Reality is heteronormative.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"You can't legislate morality!"

What, then, if anything, can one legislate, pray tell?

Look, lets be clear here. The law both prescribes and proscribes human action. All human action is governed by morality. Thus, any legislature, by definition, is the legislation of morality in some way or another. The real question is whether or not it is the legislation of correct morality.

So let us hear no more of this "You can't legislate morality!" twaddle.

The Truth is Out There

Here's an interesting article on the X-Files:

"The Truth About 'The X-Files," by Tom Piatak.


I have recently participated in a discussion of the X-Files and Mr. Piatak's article over on Mark Shea's blog. The discussion is in the comments on this post. I have decided to repost my comment here, making some minor additions and edits.

The context: I am replying to a poster who thought Mr. Piatak overstated the Christian theme in the series ending and demonstrated nothing more than that the show was anti-government.

My comment: I suppose one could look at the closing lines of the X-Files and see a vague spiritualism instead of a pointer to Christianity. One could probably say the same about the following lines from T.S. Elliot's Four Quartets: "And what the dead had no speech for, when living,/They can tell you, being dead: the communication/Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." But to do so, I think, is to ignore both the context of the lines and the work as a whole.

I have always seen Mulder and Scully as two people who compliment each other. Mulder's openness to mystery helps keep Scully from falling too deeply into a narrow scientism, while Scully's Catholic faith--however poorly practiced--and her distaste for irrational or non-rational explanations helps reign in Mulder's sometimes naive credulity. As I have begun watching the series in a more systematic order through the DVDs, I have noticed that rarely are either Mulder or Scully completely correct in their initial assessment of a case, though both may have a part of the picture. Mulder must expand Scully's narrowness while she reigns in his openness before they reach a conclusion nearing the truth. In this way I think that Scully and Mulder's relationship is an example of what should exist in true spiritual friendship--or, for any "shippers" out there, of what should exist in a healthy marriage--which is two people helping each other overcome obstacles on the path towards truth, virtue and faith.

As for the X-Files being anti-government, I'm not sure it is that simple. After all, Mulder and Scully both work for the FBI for most of the series. That makes them government agents employed by the executive branch. What the X-Files opposed was the military-industrial complex, the secretive and self-perpetuating intelligence community and any other aspect of government that--through secrecy, size and power--becomes a law unto itself, unaccountable to the moral law, to the rule of law, or to the electorate. That may be anti-our-current-government. But it is not anti-government per se, nor is it contrary to the American political tradition. I would argue that neither is it contrary to the best of classical and medieval political thought, which forms part of the basis for the political thought of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Calvin & Hobbes

Since I have been accused of having some kind of particular devotion to John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes over the past few weeks, I thought I would take some time to clarify my position.

The only Calvin & Hobbes I have any particular devotion to were written and drawn by Bill Watterson. They filled my childhood and early teenage years with much joy and wonder. As for the bucket, Pawtucket.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

3rd (Tentative) Definition of Torture

Torture is any act that causes pain to another person where the agent has power over the subject and no relationship exists between the agent and the subject that would offer the subject a guaranty that the agent will not act towards harming the subject per se.

By "has power over" I mean that the subject is unable or unlikely to be able to prevent the agent from acting upon the subject.

By "harming... per se" I mean acting in such a way that the effect of the action is nothing other than harm in and of itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Probably the best description of my views on political philosophy as applied to the United States to date

(N.B This was originally a comment to a post over at Mark Shea's. I've done some minor editing.)

Patriotism has little to do with form of government and much to do with land, people, culture and tradition. But insofar as the historic culture and tradition of a people includes and is tied up in certain realities of government, these realities are owed our allegiance more so than others.

The Constitution is no more the cause of the American people than the monarchy was the cause of the French people. But the Constitution is a product of the American people just as the monarchy was the product of the French people. That's why the Vendée were better Frenchmen than any Jacobin.

I think it is more true to say that Patriotism has nothing to do with abstract principles separated from the historic and traditional life of a people. That is why I think that the preamble of the Declaration of Independence is at best a rhetorical tactic to gain support in Lockean Europe and at worst pseudo-philosophical bunk that demonstrates Jefferson's fascination with Enlightenment thought getting the better of his far nobler classical and agrarian republicanism.

The most important part of the Declaration is the section detailing the king's violation of the traditional and historical rights held by the colonists. These rights stem both from the American political tradition of deliberate consent of the governed, which had existed since the Mayflower Compact, and the traditional common law rights of Englishmen, held by the colonists as English citizens and subjects of the crown.

In my view it is erroneous to say that the United States is some grand experiment meant to be the laboratory of political philosophers. But it is just as much an error to say that the patriotism of American citizens can be completely divorced from our form of government. Both views ignore the organic tradition, as historically lived by Americans, which inform the Constitution of the United States.

P.S. One commenter says that he has the same problem celebrating Independence Day as he would have celebrating Bastille Day if he lived in France. This strikes me as an erroneous conflation of the American War for Independence and the French Revolution. Such a conflation is common, but that does not make it correct.

The French Revolution was the violent overthrow of historic and traditional French institutions in the name of abstract principles. The American War of Independence was the severing of political ties between England and the thirteen colonies due to the violation of traditional and historic rights that organically developed over time. One fought against tradition, history and organic society, the other in favor of it.

St. Thomas as originalist

According to St. Thomas, one should always render judgment according to the written law, insofar as the written law does not violate the natural law (ST, II-II, q. 60, a. 5).

Earlier, in discussing the question of whether or not one must always act according to the letter of the law, St. Thomas argues that one can sometimes ignore what appears to be the letter of the law in favor of the intention of the lawgiver. Now, one objection states that only he who made the law can interpret it, the obvious reason being that he knows his own mind on the matter and what he meant when he wrote the law (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6 ob. 2).

In responding to this objection, St. Thomas argues that one who acts according to the intention of the law does not interpret it simply. That is to say, they are neither giving the law its meaning nor interpreting it for themselves. Rather, they are acting according to its meaning and interpreting it in light of the meaning intended by the legislator (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6 ad 2).

Now, the discussion of the letter of the law was focused on those who live under the law and do not have the authority to make or judge laws for the community. Yet this discussion points to two important points. First, interpreting the law is not just a matter of the letter of the law, but also of the intentions behind the letter. Second, when necessity does not demand immediate action in the face of certain risk, the interpretation of the law and judgment on whether or not a dispensation is in order is not something that can be done by any citizen, but only by those to whom the authority is given (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 6c).

How, then, are those in authority to interpret the law? First, they must judge by the written law. Second, the written law is not simply the text, but also the intention behind the text. Thus one who has the authority to interpret the law and render judgment according to the law must seek to understand the intentions of those who wrote and promulgated it. Now, I am no great legal scholar, but this seems to be the very definition of originalism. Thus it would seem that St. Thomas position on interpreting and judging according to the law is the originalist position.

So apparently...

... a socialist is worried about blogs.

I wonder who gets to decide who the "less principled people" are and what constitutes "misinformation and malicious intent?" The socialists, I guess? After all, they may be the only ones qualified to discern what's doubleplusungood crimethink and what's doubleplusgood goodthink.

And blogs might "considerably pollute cyberspace." Why do I see a "save the e-vironment" campaign in our future? And worse, why do I have the sinking feeling that it will be successful.

A tip of the hat to Orwell's Picnic.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A word I hate

I hate the word "sentient." Though, to be honest, it's not so much the word I hate as the way it's used. "Sentient" is often used to describe beings that possess intelligence, reason, intellect &c. But "sentient" is derived from the Latin sentire, which means "to feel." "Sentient" can still be found in modern dictionaries defined as "having sense perception" and "experiencing sensation or feeling." A better word for a being possessing intellect would be "sapient," i.e. a being that possesses or is capable of possessing wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge of the highest and most universal cause and it is the intellect that allows one to know the universal. Sense perception only allows one to know the particular.

A belated post for Independence Day

I did not post anything on Independence Day. Partially because I spent most of the day away from the computer with my family, and partially because my thoughts on the Declaration of Independence are complicated. But I found the following poem by Robert Frost and thought it said something important about my native country, the land that I love, these United States.
The Gift Outright

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

A tip of the hat to the Faith & Reason Institute's new web-journal, The Catholic Thing.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The one, true love story

The one, true love story is the story of the love that exists between God and the soul. All other love stories are reflections or distortions of this one.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Resisting evil

"But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other" (Matthew V, 39).

Is the preceding quote from the Sermon on the Mount a universal moral precept? It would seem not. Commenting on John XVIII, 22-3--"And when he had said these things, one of the servants standing by, gave Jesus a blow, saying: Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?"--St. Thomas Aquinas says the following:
So Sacred Scripture is to be understood according to all that Christ and the saints have kept. Christ did not offer His other cheek, nor Paul either (Acts XVI, 22ff). Thus it is not to be understood that Christ has commanded everyone to literally offer the physical other cheek to he that strikes someone; but this ought to be understood as preparation of the soul, that if it will be necessary, one ought therefore to be disposed to not be disturbed in soul facing a beating, but let one be prepared for the like and to put up with more besides. And this the Lord kept, whereby He offered his body at the fit time. So therefore this action of the Lord is useful for our instruction.1
The passage in Acts that St. Thomas references is when Paul and Silas were unjustly beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. When they were to be released the next day, Paul refused until the magistrates came and released them personally, for Paul and Silas were Roman citizens who had been beaten and imprisoned unlawfully. The Douay-Rheims commentary on Matthew V, 39 also references Acts XXIII, where Paul, upon hearing that some Jews were planing to kill him, sends the witness who brought him this information to the tribune, who in turn called for soldiers to protect Paul from the attack.

Thus, the meaning of the passage in Matthew cannot be that we can never resist evil, and instead always suffer in silence. Christ Himself rebukes injustice rather than offer His other cheek for striking. Paul utilized his full legal rights, as a citizen of Rome, to protect himself from evil and to rebuke those who unjustly did evil to him. Rather, the verses encourage the Christian to bear evils he cannot avoid or defend against with patience and love, praying for the good of those who harm them rather than hating them and wishing evil upon them. But if a Christian can morally defend himself and others against evil, he may do so. Nothing about defending against evil requires hatred or bitterness instead of love. Love and resistance to evil are not mutually exclusive.

1 Super Evangelium S. Ioannis, cap. 18, l. 4: "Sic sacra Scriptura intelligenda est secundum quod Christus et alii sancti servaverunt. Christus autem non praebuit isti aliam maxillam: nec Paulus, Act. XVI, 22 ss. Unde non est intelligendum quod Christus mandasset quod praeberent maxillam aliam corporalem ad litteram ei qui percutit unam; sed hoc debet intelligi quantum ad praeparationem animi, quod si necesse fuerit, ita debet esse dispositus ut non turbetur animo contra percutientem, sed paratus sit simile et etiam amplius sustinere. Et hoc dominus servavit, qui corpus suum praebuit occisioni. Sic ergo excusatio domini utilis fuit ad nostram instructionem."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rights, duties, relationships and justice

I hate talk of "rights" because it is so often void of content. Rights do not exist except as the result of duties, both of which exits only within the context of relationships, which are in turn governed by justice. If you do not speak about "rights" in connection with these other three things, then you are not speaking about anything at all.

A right is, by definition, something which a person is due from some other person, people or entity. If you are due something from someone, then they--again, by definition--have a duty to render to you that which you are due. So rights do not exist except where duties exist and vice versa. One cannot exist without the other.

And neither can exist except within a relationship, since their very existence demands that a relationship exists. A relationship is, at its simplest, a reference to another. If I have a duty, it references the one I have the duty to by definition. The same is true with a right. The nature of the relationship that exists depends upon how the relationship came into existence and who the relationship is between. The relationship's nature governs what rights and duties are present within it.

Justice is the virtue of rendering to each what they are due. Someone is due something because he has a right to it and another has a duty to provide it for him. These rights and duties exist within the relationship and depend upon its nature. Thus justice rules what rights and duties exist within what relationships.

As such, rights are not the starting point in a discussion of ethics and politics. The starting point is what type of relationship exists and what justice says about it. For it is only from these that rights and duties can be derived.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On conservatism (and liberalism too)

This essay is going to be on the topic of, "What is conservatism?" Or, more accurately, this essay is going to be on the topic of, "What is conservatism as I understand it?" I make no claims to originality. In fact, this essay will be extremely derivative. It will be derived from the thoughts of many men, men who in turn derived their thoughts from many other men &c. But that is necessary and as it should be, as I hope will be clear in the end.

First and foremost, I tend to see the distinction between liberals and conservatives as a distinction between two views on man's summum bonum and the foundation of a just society. Liberals view freedom as man's greatest good and the foundation of a just society. Since freedom is primarily an attribute of the will, it follows that liberal views assert the will as man's highest power and assert the primacy of the will in the life of man.

Conservatism, on the other hand, views order as the greatest good and the foundation of a just society. And since it is reason that orders things, it follows that conservatives view reason or the intellect as man's highest power and assert the primacy of reason in the life of man.

Now, if we accept these preliminary definitions as true, it follows that most of the so-called conservatives in the United States are not conservatives at all, but rather liberals. Far too many of them drone on about freedom and the ability to have endless choices as if these were goods in themselves. They are not conservatives at all, but rather right-liberals.

Key to the liberal exaltation of the will and freedom is the idea of autonomy. The autonomous individual is a law unto himself. As long as he is not causing physical harm to others, there can be no legitimate rule or norm imposed from without to bind or limit his will. This does not simply include the freedom of being left alone so favored by pure laissez-faire capitalism, which holds that, as long as one party is not harming another party by violence, theft, breaking faith on a freely entered into contract &c., there is no reason for there to be any laws governing the trading of goods and services. It also includes the freedom, so favored by feminists, homosexuals, abortion supporters &c., which actively seeks to destroys any law, custom or norm that that seeks to limit the number of choices open to individuals through legal punishment, social scorn, cultural ostracism &c.

Conservatives, as previously stated, do not see freedom, but rather order as the foundation of a just society. This order is not, however, an arbitrary arrangement. The order conservatives favor is an order rooted in the natural law and in human nature, permanent truths and principles of what it means to be human.

This does not, however, mean that conservatism is founded upon pure abstractions. This is far from the truth. The truths of the natural law and human nature are arrived at not by beginning with the universal and trying to reason them out. Rather, they are found in the human experience as lived by particular individuals and observed across the centuries. It is through history, the memory not simply of an individual, but of a people, a race, a species, that we may find the experience necessary to discover how man should live, how he should not and the consequences of each.

Some may think that even though history and the particular deeds of particular men and particular societies are the source of our grasping the principles of the natural law, it follows from the fact of the universality of these principles that they have universal application. Such a view may be true or false, depending on the meaning of the "universal application." If it meas that the principles of the natural law are valid and binding on all men at all times, then this is true. But if it means that the application of the principles of the natural law must be the same for all men at all times, then it is false.

The application of universal principles to particular situations requires particularity. It requires the use of prudence, or practical reason, to discern what the universals principles of the natural law require in these particular circumstances. The primacy of reason in the foundation of a just society is the primacy of prudence, for it is prudence that allows for the universal norms of the natural law--as discovered through human nature lived out historically--to be applied to the particular and concrete circumstances each society faces.

Prudence forces us to realize that in many things, especially the form of government that a society adopts, there is not necessarily a single, universally applicable solution. What is best for one society may heavily depend upon their specific circumstances. Trying to force other societies, especially ones with completely different historical and cultural circumstances, to fit the mold of our own is the height of folly. A conservative in a democratic society would feel no need to try to eliminate another societies monarchy, for he would realize that either form of government is capable of establishing and sustaining a rightly ordered society.

The primacy of prudence also favors the more particular over the less particular, the more local over the less local. Or, to put it another way, solutions should not be further removed from problems than they must be. This is because particulars differ in their circumstances, and thus sometimes differ in how one should properly apply the universal norms of the natural law. This is not to say that we can never treat things as members of a species or type rather than particulars, or that laws can never be passed on a level higher than the most local. It only means that one should not do this if it is not necessary. If something is a problem for a town rather than for the country, then there is no reason to pass laws at the national level rather than the local. If an action is not objectively evil in its species, then it must be dealt with according to the particulars of intent and circumstances.

The favoring of the local and particular does not simply mean that, all thing considered, laws should be passed by local communities rather than at a higher level. It means that non-governmental, non-legal organizations should be respected and can be forces that stabilize society and enforce moral norms without the need to pass laws and prosecute people. Societal pressure, backed by the support of local religious communities, civic organizations, commonly accepted morality &c., can be influential and effective in supporting the common good.

The primacy of prudence is also demands respect and deference to tradition and custom. For tradition and custom are nothing less than the prudence of our ancestors. They are decisions made to apply the universal principles of the natural law to the particular circumstances of our society that have been found to stand the test of time. This does not mean that traditions and customs can never change. If circumstances change, then it may be necessary that they change also. But in changing traditions and customs it is important for the change to happen gradually and organically. For if we are mistaken about the need for change or about what kind of change is necessary we may find that radical change--change that cuts off tradition and custom at their roots--causes more evils than it cures. Gradual and organic change allows us to observe the effects the change is having as it is being made, as well as allowing us to alter or abandon the changes we have decided upon if it appears they are not for the best.

It should be obvious, then, that conservatism is not revolutionary, at least not insofar as "revolutionary" means "in favor of overthrowing the current order in order to institute a new, better and more just order." Such an idea is antithetical to conservatism. Overthrowing the current order cuts a people of from its history and traditions, i.e. from its memory and its attempts to prudently apply the natural law to its concrete circumstances. Such a loss makes the further application of prudence towards the implementation of the principles of the natural law incredibly difficult, if not impossible. More importantly, the total overthrow of traditional political and social norms is foolish in the extreme, for it destroys the good as well as the bad, making it more likely that a greater evil will arise than the evils that the revolution attempts to abolish.

In another sense, however, conservatism is revolutionary. For insofar as "revolution" means "a returning, a turning back," conservatism is inherently revolutionary. For conservatism has a constant impetuous to return to the principles of the natural law, to return to history as the place where these principles are discovered and clarified through the concrete actions of particular men, to tradition as the prudent application of these principles to the particular circumstances of a people &c.

It follows, then, that where a revolution in the first sense has been successful and destroyed the organic traditions of a people it becomes the conservative's job to bring about a revolution in the second sense, a counter-revolution. The conservative has the duty to follow the reactionary imperative that the situation demands. He must do all that he can restore that which has been senselessly destroyed and to stay true to those truths that have been betrayed.

It must be remembered, however, that the power of conservatism does not come through force of arms. A conservative does not shy away from war when it is prudent or necessary. He does, however, realize that war is primarily the means of the revolutionary, for war is inherently destructive. War may be prudent, necessary and just when no other means will be successful in defending the traditions and order of society, and when the evils of not fighting will be greater than the evils brought about by war. But war is always to be a last resort.

No, the primary power of conservatism is the cultural and spiritual capital inherent in the traditions of a people. It must be remembered that the revolutionary has no true understanding of human nature, and thus the way of life the revolution tries to enforce upon people is non-human. The conservative brings about the counter-revolution by cultivating the truly human way of life found in the cultural and spiritual traditions of his people. He cultivates these in his own life, the life of his family, the life of his community &c. In-so-doing he concretely expresses and demonstrates the superiority of these traditions.

What, then, should be the prospects for conservatives today? I can speak with no authority other than what little I have as a man who seeks to know the truth about reality and to live in accord with this truth through prudent action. But I would suggest the following: Believe in God, go to Church, live your faith. Pass it on to your children. Stay true to the traditions of your family, your town, your state and your country (in that order). Teach your children to do the same. If you can or must, home-school your children. Keep your garden. Do what you can to support your town, especially local businesses. Work to keep it self-sufficient rather than tied to uncaring corporate giants on the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world. Seek the true and ordered liberty that comes when every man walks in the name of the Lord, and sits under his vine, and his own fig tree, and there is nothing to make any afraid (Micheas IV.i-v).

Now, there are some who will say that this is nothing but a retreat. They will argue that it is required that we engage the culture. But "to engage" can mean "to enter into battle with." And the culture is poison. What enters into battle with poison? Nothing but its antidote. Living such a life is nothing less than becoming an antidote to the poison of modern culture. And as long as poison and its antidote are together, either in the same blood stream or the same society, they are engaged by definition.

As I said in the beginning of this essay, there is most likely nothing original in it. And this is as it should be, since I am a member of a tradition of better and wiser men than myself, who have gone before me and shown me the way. If I can show others the path they have shown to me, then that is enough. And, if by some chance I have said something that is both original and true, if I have gone further down the path they uncovered, it is only because they showed me the path and taught me how to walk it.

This is one of the ironies of conservatism. Trying to shake off the past in an attempt to be original destroys piety while simply repeating old errors. Staying true to the past out of reverence and piety, on the other hand, is the only true source of originality. May I never seek to be original and may I always seek to be pious.