Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: Marathon

Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization
by Richard A. Billows

It will come as no surprise how many people, academics and scholars in particular, brim with enthusiasm for their work. Indeed the lifelong dedication toward mastering a specific field, often highly specific, demands a great deal of confidence in the importance of the material. So the music theoretician is aghast you cannot recognize the overture to The Magic Flute, the art historian confounded you don't see the philosophical dimensions of Rembrandt, and so on. Classicists are no different and indeed I know no Classicist with a lukewarm attachment to the Greek and Roman world. Yet the Classicist occupies a slightly different position in justifying his affinity, the difference being that the Greek and Roman world, especially the former, was the birthplace of Western Civilization. Many no doubt bristle at the term, "Western Civilization" which today has, somehow, become déclassé. Without probing the depths of that phrase's evolution, or devolution, "Western Civilization" ought to be a particularly valid term for describing the fruit of the Classical world for the reason of common cultural, political, and social ancestry alone.

Like it or not, Western Civilization is, and like it or not, the Greeks made it and changed it. Yet it was never guaranteed, and at one point, in Mill's words, "it hung trembling in the balance." [1]

Richard A. Billows', Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization, explores and commemorates this seminal event of the Battle of Marathon, whose 2500th anniversary is approaching. The 490 B.C. defense of Greece by 9,000 Athenians and their allies from an invading Persian force had been considered by the 18th and 19th century philosophers and in particular the 19th century "philhellenic" Romantics, as a critical moment of Western Civilization. Today, though, the influence not only of the battle but of Classical Greece, and the concept of a "Western identity" are, incredibly, no longer settled matters. To any student of history, such is pure rubbish, and Billows deserves credit for saying as much in no uncertain terms, "Some contemporary historians deride the idea of classical Greece as the cradle of Western civilization. They seem to me to be, quite simply, factually wrong; wrong not so much about classical Greece, as about the modern development of Western culture." Billows takes pains to say several times though, to emphasize that he's not making a qualitative assessment of the Greek influence and Western Civilization, but rather simply that the Greek influence was a significant one.

It is a general principle about making movies that a battle on the screen is only as good as the buildup to the action. In laying out the histories of Greece and Persia immediately preceding the battle at Marathon, Billows follows this principle and the result is effective. This is no small feat considering the quantity, significance, and complexity of the events in discussion. Yet the opening chapters do not simply recap history, but set the stage for 490 BC. What comes across most strongly are the many changes, none of them inevitable, which the Athenians underwent in the time preceding Marathon which made victory possible.

We begin, both customarily and properly, with Homer, who introduces the first of two concepts that we will see play out throughout Greek history. The concept of aristea, or "bestness" is at the heart the Greek enthrallment with being the best and the best at absolutely everything. This focus on being the best and demonstrating it, seen in the very aristocratic nature of early Greek warfare and the Iliad and Odyssey, which focus on great, famous men, goes hand in hand with the concept of eris. First laid out by Hesiod and usually translated as strife, eris is the intense competitive ethos, which can be good, encouraging a warrior or artisan to do the best work possible, or bad, causing disarray and disunity amongst a citizenry. These two concepts will underscore all Greek history, here enriching, there bedeviling.

Moving on from the Archaic times we see Greece grow and mature. We see its alphabet, around 800 BC., the first simple one which one could read and spoken completely from the text as written. We see the birth of trade and the rise of a middle class, one which would challenge the old aristocratic order. We see the tyrants, more properly understood not as malicious rulers, but as rulers who usurped the power from the traditional sources, the aristocratic families. In art we find songs which also criticize society and the status quo, but not with the claim of being prophets or aristocrats, but with the only authority of being a fellow citizen in a free society. This growing egalitarianism manifested itself in the Athenian military too, which transitioned from a system focused on rich, powerful, and well-equipped aristocrats to what we have come to know as hoplite warfare, of citizens tightly formed in ranks, supporting each other.

Billows' sections on early Athenian lawmaking and political life are especially good. The early conflicts among powerful aristocratic families like the Alkmaionids, the middle class, and tyrants, some of who wanted simply to usurp power and some planning actual reform, come across appropriately as unpredictable: no one knew the direction the government of Athens would take. Aside from the reforms of Solon, the most famous Athenian reformer and one of the "Seven Wise Men" of early Greece, Billows calls needed attention to two facts. First is the incredible civic participation of the early Athenian democracy. He points this out by way of comparison: The 500 councilors of Athens represented a body of about 30,000 to 50,000 men; The USA has a total of 535 members in the bicameral congress, representing over 200 million citizens. The Athenian system was designed to achieve in representation as random a sample of the people as possible, both by its size and by apportioning to localities. Billows' second point is the obscurity of the creator of this system, Kleisthenes. Mainly, why has he been largely forgotten? Billows traces this to the re-creation of the democracy following the overthrow of the "Thirty Tyrants" who ruled after Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War. In re-creating their democracy, they needed to establish legitimacy and continuity and thus the reformers like Ephialtes and Kleisthenes were too recent to draw on as authoritative. They needed to reach back farther, to an older tradition, and thus turned to Solon as the great founder of their traditions. This argument persuades.

Documenting the rise of Persia presents a different challenge, mostly because of the dearth of details on them. We rely heavily on Herodotus out of necessity. Billows strikes a good middle ground in citing the oft-fanciful and highly narrative stories Herodotus gives us about the rise of the Persian Empire, neither reporting them uncritically nor following the contemporary trend of disparaging him. (In the Suggested Reading section, Billows refers us to the recent scholarship on this debate.) Nonetheless, the story of the Persian Empire has an undeniable epic sweep: the fall of the Assyrians to the Medes, the Median King Astyages' fall to his grandson, Cyrus, who conquers and pulls together the many disparate lands to forge the first Persian Empire. When we finally meet Darius, he is one of several aristocratic conspirators attempting to seize the throne upon the deaths of Cyrus' sons, Cambyses and Smedris. Billows tells this tale quickly and soberly without the usual flash and drama that usually attend this "scandal" of succession. We see that when Darius finally encounters the Greeks, he has spent years fighting to re-unite the empire, which was plagued by rebellions when he took the reigns. He wasn't going to take any nonsense from these small, relatively poor, and quarrelsome people on the western border of his finally-secure empire.

In the years immediately preceding the battle of Marathon, the Athenian democracy was still fragile. It survived threats in part by the Corinthians and Plataians standing by their alliances to Athens. Thus the Athenians now were united with Sparta in resisting the Persians, who were now demanding the traditional tribute of submission, earth and water, after crushing the Ionian Greeks who revolted. Well, they were sort of united. The Spartans were still, and would remain, primarily concerned with the Peloponnese, which they seldom wandered far from out of fear the neighboring peoples they had enslaved and bullied would rise up. Athens itself, though burgeoning and increasing in "bestness" still faced the problem of disunity, both internally on account of rival factions and amongst other cities.

The Battle on the Plain of Marathon, Summer 490 BC.

It is a bit of a tradition to describe "Great Battles" in terms of columns, flanks, weapons, and armor. The image of generals moving figures over giant table-top maps comes to mind. Indeed this sort of analysis is both helpful and necessary. Billows accomplishes this aspect of understanding the battle efficiently and clearly but he does not dwell there, rather he brings out the many unique aspects of the battle as a whole. First, an astounding [about] one-third of the Athenian population, essentially a full call to arms, came out to fight.
Such an enormous mobilization of national manpower, percentage-wise, is virtually unparalleled in the history of warfare: only the fundamentally democratic and participatory nature of the Greek city-states, and especially of Athens, which made the city-state, in all important respects, the same as the citizen body and thus made the citizen feel the state was his state and his business, can explain the kinds of mass mobilization of which Greek city-states were routinely capable. [Billows, 209]
Indeed, as Aristotle would go on to say, thanks to those who fought at Marathon, "the salvation of the community is the common business of all. This community is the constitution [emphasis mine]" [2] and referencing the fight between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad, "he is a citizen in the highest sense who shares in the honors of the state. . . he who is excluded from the honors. . . is no better than an alien." [3] Thus what made the Athenians uniquely able to prevail in this struggle vividly comes across here.

Billows also makes a few necessary corrections to the Marathon legend. First, it is not likely the Athenians would have run the entire mile between the armies, both on account of the fatigue which would ensue, and that it was only necessary to run whilst in range of the Persian archers, i.e. the final 150 meters. Second, Miltiades deserves more credit for his tactics. At at time before extensive and strategic generalship, when armies more or less walked at each other and started fighting, Miltiades' perceiving that the threat was of being outflanked and subsequent strengthening of the Greek army's wings at the expense of the center ought not to be underestimated as achievements.

Billows' step-by-step narrative of the details of the battle also gives a much-needed human perspective on the trial of battle:
The mass of men around him, marching in the same rhythm, wearing the same equipment, ready to fight for the same cause must have been a comfort, and no doubt the sheer act of marching in unison, of moving, will have settled his nerves a bit. Then came the trumpeting and shouting of orders as the regiments wheeled from column of march into line of battle, and with tit the front-rank hoplite will have gotten his first clear sight, through the eye-holes of his now pulled-down helmet, of the massed Persian ranks. Thousands upon thousands of strange-looking men, wearing trousers rather than tunics, and other exotic gear, must have started up the nerves again. [Billows, 222]
Lastly, Billows offers some clear alternatives to some of the post-battle incidents. First, it is quite unlikely Philippides, who had just run 140 miles from Athens to Sparta and back again, would have dropped dead after running, one way, the 25 miles from Marathon to Athens. Second, the real feat of the immediate aftermath of the battle was the fact that the whole Athenian army, desperately hoping to out-run the rest of the Persian force which was making its way to Athens by ship, marched from Marathon to Athens. They did so, according to Billows, via the two roads back to Athens, the young and more able taking the rockier, uphill path, and the rest taking the longer but less-strenuous path. The Persians, arriving and finding this army trickling in at Athens, wisely departed, probably grudgingly impressed. The Spartans, arriving a few days later, certainly were.

Billows rounds out the story with the conclusion of the Persian Wars, but duly emphasizes it was what happened there, then, at Marathon, that enabled a complete victory later. Had the Athenians faltered, failed, or simply left, the fates of the Greeks would have been different. The busy and bustling city of Athens, the city of Plato and Sophocles, the culture and world in which they lived and thought, would not have come to be. This city of garrulous and quarreling peoples, this city which fostered and required civic and cultural engagement, became a hot-spot of creation, experimentation, and inquiry. It is unlikely a town on the Persian Gulf, where the people of a defeated Athens would have been relocated, would have had a climate that would have inspired The Clouds or The Republic. If you were to ask  a Classicist, "what are the influences of the Greeks on Western Civilization" you would probably get a bit of a chuckle. If the ways are not innumerable they are near it.

I'll close with what Dr. Billows begins with, that the lesson of Marathon "is that on some non-trivial level, humans can take charge of and affect their destinies: if ten thousand men had not made the stand they did on the plain of Marathon, history as we know it would not have come about."

N.B. Gladly, Dr. Billows' book is not laden with footnotes and excessive scholarly minutiae. Someone, even a non-expert and non-Classicist, can actually pick it up and read it and enjoy it. The "Further Reading" section at the end addresses some issues of contention and points readers toward a variety of sources on more specific issues.

Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization
by Richard A. Billows
Overlook Duckworth, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. 2010.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

[1] Hegel, G. W. F. Philosophy of History. 2.2.3
[2] Aristotle, Politics, 1276b
[3] ibid. 1278a

Friday, July 23, 2010

Grand Strategy with Charles Hill

Peter Robinson, for the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge, interviews former adviser to Secretaries of State George Schulz and Henry Kissinger, Hoover research fellow, and member of the Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, and author of Grand Strategies.

Part I
Grand Strategy: knowing where you're coming from and where you're going, maintaining the big picture; the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and the birth of the modern international state system.

Part II
Education: Statecraft cannot be practiced in the absence of literary insight. Aeschylus' Orestia and modern Afghanistan.

Part III
Thucydides and the complexity of strategy and statecraft.

Part IV
Souls, human rights, equality, and sovereignty. American exceptionalism. Federalist 10, property rights, and protecting liberty.

Part V
Ineptitude and lack of purpose in post Cold War American foreign policy. Book recommendations for President Obama

Grand Strategy with Charles Hill

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, July 17 through Friday, July 23.

1) In City Journal, Heather MacDonald and "Classical Music's New Golden Age."

2) William Schambra in National Affairs on "Conservatism and the Quest for Community."

3) Henry Olsen in National Affairs on "Populism, American Style."

4) Victor Davis Hanson and pitying the postmodern cultural elite.

Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conscious Dignity, Freedom, and Tragic Fate

Just a brief reflection on thought that did not make it into yesterday's essay, "Man, State, and Morality."

In his short treatise, "Thoughts on Government" [1] John Adams wrote he wished for a people to be inspired "with a conscious dignity becoming freemen." The phrase reminded me of a wonderful section from H.D.F Kitto's classic, "The Greeks:" [2]

Pindar, Nemean Ode VI.
ἓν ἀνδρῶν, ἓν θεῶν γένος: ἐκ μιᾶς δὲ πνέομεν
ματρὸς ἀμφότεροι: διείργει δὲ πᾶσα κεκριμένα
δύναμις, ὡς τὸ μὲν οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ χάλκεος ἀσφαλὲς αἰὲν ἕδος
μένει οὐρανός.
One is the race of Gods and men; from one mother
we both draw our breath. Yet are our powers poles apart;
for we are nothing, but for them the brazen Heaven
endures forever.
So says Pindar, in a noble passage mistranslated by scholars who should know better, and made to mean: 'One is the race of Gods, and that of men is another.' But Pindar's whole point here is the dignity and weakness of man; and this is the ultimate source of that tragic note that runs through all classical Greek literature. And it was this consciousness of the dignity of being a man that gave such urgency and intensity to the word (eleutheria / ελευθερία) that we inadequately translate 'freedom.' 
Some were barbarians for living under despots, others for living in tribes, but they were all not free. The Greeks lived in what we broadly and inaccurately call the city-state, what, Kitto writes, "became the focus of a man's moral, intellectual, aesthetic, social and practical life, developing and enriching these in a way in which no form of society had done before or has done since. Other forms of political society had been, as it were, static; the city-state was the means by which the Greek consciously strove to make the life both of the community and of the individual more excellent than it was before."

I cannot resist drawing a parallel to the work of J. R. R. Tolkien here, especially because the folks at Tolkien Gateway put the ideas so well and in such similar terms:

The Gift of Men is death—the inheritance of Ilúvatar's Younger Children, which allows them to go beyond the confines of Arda, this world. Though the phrase commonly refers to this type of mortality, death is actually only part of the broader Gift given to Men: it is one with their ability to operate beyond the Music of the Ainur, which "is as fate to all things else". With this Gift, Men were to fulfill the world down to the finest detail. . . all other beings in Arda, including the Valar themselves, were bound to the World and its fate, [but] the Gift freed Men from this destiny, allowing them to shape their own lives as they wished.
But like all other aspects of life in Arda, the Gift of Men became darkened by Morgoth's shadow. Men came to view death with great dread, and it became a Doom to them rather than a Gift. . . However, those Men with the greatest understanding treated death as the Gift it was originally intended to be, and when their time came gladly gave themselves up to it. For example, the earlier Rulers of Númenor in the Second Age, and Aragorn in the beginning of the Fourth Age, accepted the Gift at the natural end of their lives. [3]

[2] Kitto, H.D.F. The Greeks. Penguin. Middlesex, England. 1951. p. 10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Man, State, and Morality

1. In a recent essay at Big Hollywood Mark Tapson discussed and expressed disapproval with some recent statements by filmmaker Michael Moore, who asserted all Americans share in the immorality of what he alleged were crimes committed by the American government. This is in fact, and surprisingly, similar to a philosophically-centered conversation your humble bloggers had a few months ago. The question boils down to this: what exactly is the relationship of the individual to the state? The corollary point, which is the only one discussed most of the time, is where does the responsibility for state action lie? There are a number of issues at play here so let us systematically look at them using the United States as an example.

N.B. While both of your bloggers discussed this issue recently, below are strictly my thoughts. I actually had in mind also various existential criticisms of the state, i.e. that it ought not to exist at all. Also, it is a rather preliminary investigation into these issues, presented here anyway for the purposes of promoting discussion and understanding of the questions.


2. We already stated the first question, "what exactly is the relationship of the individual to the state?" We must now examine its constituent parts: the individual, the law, state institutions, and the execution of law. We must note first what is considered to be the natural state of things before any human action:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator  with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
3. Thus governments are instituted to secure man's Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Government's just powers are derived from the consent of the governed. Thus any body of laws should begin, "We the people, for the purposes securing Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, establish laws, X, Y, Z, et cetera." Let us look at how the Constitution begins:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It is not quite what one would expect. Instead of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" we have to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Logically we must assume the latter six not only to be compatible with but in fact a subset of the first three. These are those "principles. . . as to the people will seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Other principles we will find in the Bill of Rights and the form as we know will be a bicameral congress, judiciary, and executive.

Through the remainder of this essay for efficiency we will use simply the word liberty to refer an individual's life and property, the protection of which is the means of effecting the above principles. (We will consider this particular point again in section eight below.)

4. But let us return to the notion of "consent of the governed." What if you withdraw your consent and refuse to be governed? You still possess the natural right to secure your "Life, Liberty, and Happiness" yourself. You would simply have a private piece of property somewhere not subject to the specific subset of laws adopted by other nations. We will call these "private men." This sounds acceptable, perhaps even preferable. However what if 10,000, or 100,000 such private individuals existed. Let us say they are free to interact with, amongst, and on the property of Americans. Should disputes arise, which law would prevail, that of the private men or the Americans? Each case involving a private man and an American would be one essentially of "international relations," i.e. highly complex. The only solution would be to say that on American territory American law prevails. This means American law is effective in certain places (still stipulating that Natural Law is effective everywhere.) What if, then, a man moves far away from American territory but still wishes to follow American law? Imagine the year is 1800 and 10,000 citizens from New York disperse to 10,000 private residences amongst the wilderness of the frontier and wish to follow American law. This is naturally impossible to carry out. They are effectively their own countries who choose to accept American law.

5. Let us look at another example. A child is born to an American family in an American city. This child as we keep saying has the same natural rights as all people. (We will not henceforth mention this.) Does he inherit the positive law also? Yet he is a child and subject to the laws of his parents too. Then let us assume he has reached the age of maturity, 18, and pose the same question. He would appear to have the choice of staying or leaving. If he leaves his choice is clear, but if he stays? May we assume consent?

What if he inherits or purchases property surrounded by "American property?" Which prevails, his right to exercise his authority over his property or the concept that an umbrella of the state exists over certain property the state claims? It would seem the man's claim, being based on natural law, ought to prevail.

6. We see in the problems from the above section five that the concept of the state, which is by definition an entity of homogeneity, is in tension with the concept of liberal natural rights. The terminology of the preamble to the Constitution demonstrates the fact the Founding Fathers were attuned to this tension. For example, it mentions forming a "more perfect union" and insuring "domestic tranquility" and passing on liberty "to our posterity." All of these phrases suggest a need for smoothing over, for harmonizing, or at least mingling, discord. The first two phrases quite obviously refer to establishing the legal homogeneity required for a state we mentioned in section five above. The phrase "to our posterity" implies some need of continuity from one generation to the next. We will revisit these principles later.

7. We looked for the natural condition of man, shall we not do so for the state? Perhaps nature will resolve or assist us in resolving the contradictions we have observed. Undoubtedly the most famous statement in this line of observation is that of Aristotle's, from Book I of his Politics, that man "is by nature a political animal." The Philosopher reasons that the state is a natural outgrowth of the most fundamental association of all, that between man and woman. This pairing, he says, is not deliberate but natural and necessary. Such is the criterion he sets forth for associations, that "there must be a union of whose who cannot exist without each other." Clearly he is correct in this observation regarding man and woman. Can man exist without the state? Surely he may, theoretically, but can he in practice? Aristotle reasoned likewise that as man and woman form family, families form communities, and communities villages, and villages states. The end of a thing being its nature, man is thus said to be a political animal. Minimally we may say based on observation that lack of a state, even if such a lack is not natural, is certainly not the norm. Indeed, societies without continuous government and law can be seen to be less sophisticated.

8. A state comes into existence, as Aristotle says in the opening line of the Politics, with a view to some good. The Preamble to the American constitution sets forth the good hoped for. The legitimate state, then, exists to bring about for the people something necessary and something attainable by no other means.

We should digress to elaborate on this notion. Namely that government should act only by design, toward its end, and not in incidental manner. Too it should not impede anything else which is necessary. Likewise it ought not to impede or promote anything contrary to its end. We see then, by this argument, that the protection of liberty, more specifically the restraining of criminals and of necessity the state itself, from violating the rights of citizens, is the only proper role of government because it is the only goal which can be carried out without destroying another.

9. To return to our earlier statement then, that the legitimate state exists to bring about for the people something necessary and something attainable by no other means. For example, the union of man and woman exists because without such a union humanity would not continue. Is the fundamental purpose of the American constitution, then, possible, without the state?

It would seem so, especially because man is said to be "born free." If he is already free, then why does he need the state to be free? Yet is the preservation and continuation of liberty possible without a just (recall, "deriving their just powers") state? Clearly not, at least on one respect, for example the constitution was needed in the first place. The American colonists were free by right but not in practice. Likewise, "common protection" was deemed something only commensurate to a just state. This too is so, for while a man can defend himself from a bandit, and perhaps even a family may defend itself from bandits, it alone cannot protect itself from larger parties.

This family is then both free and not free. Though seemingly free from compulsion, it lacks the means, the force, to deter those who would initiate violence against it and deprive its members of their rights. We see then that the role of government ought to be toward restraining those who would deprive others of their rights, i.e. criminals. Non-criminals do not need to be and ought not to be controlled.

10. Lastly we may address the issue of the "posterity" clause of the preamble, which addresses the aspect of time. In fact it addresses an aspect of freedom only a continuum of some kind can fulfill. This clause makes the whole document eschew the ephemeral. Holding generations as well as individuals at legal parity, this seemingly slight phrase prevents any law which would sacrifice the future for the benefit of the present. This posterity clause is redundant insofar as everyone has equal rights and thus the old and young have the same. It merely emphasizes that these rights must of necessity be delegated from the young to the old.

It would seem that while man is "born free" his nature being a reasoning and political animal, that is by nature he may act beside inclination and must somehow interact with others, preserving his freedom is less plain a task. Thus to be free in practice man must either be alone or establish law and order. Unless, of course, all men are virtuous and in accord.

11. Thus policing is necessary, as is an institution for it, but is it a task only a state can fulfill? Let us consider domestic policing and foreign threats separately. Of policing it is clear individuals can rightfully defend themselves, and likewise clear delegating this authority to experts is desirable so one does not have to be in fear for his property or always to defend it himself. Yet it seems a private policing agency could be effective. In order to be in accordance with law it would have to work closely with the appropriate legal agency. It would then differ only slightly from a formal, state-run police force. However if there were multiple and changing forces the courts and legal system would be unable to coordinate with them all and produce a consistent protocol for dealing with crime.

Such would also be a problem in having multiple, dynamic, private armies: they would all need to liaison with the appropriate federal agency in order properly and consistently to carry out national defense policy. Both situations, private police and armies, would produce too many variables for the legal system.

Additionally, it being the case that the military and military operations have higher needs for unity it would be infeasible to merge or intermingle these private forces, potentially many and diverse in skill, age, and size, into a single operating force for imminent combat. As such the national force would be compromised. Also a military tradition must exist to maintain a sufficiently trained army, although should no other professional armed forces exist in foreign lands, one would then not be needed since all would be at equal advantage.  Until then, one must exist in a state.

Such of course presumes a standing army and thus a need for expediency. Only an in-place institution can react swiftly to dangers. Or at least more swiftly than if the citizenry had to react to each common danger as if it were the first. For example, imagine  a citizenry being threatened by a foreign power. Now imagine if they had not just to decide how to defend themselves, but first if and what sort of body, and a body of which people, ought to be convened to decide.

12. Yet these arguments are relatively slight and might conceivably be overcome given sufficient communication, planning, and efficiency. Such not being universally attainable, the above arguments must be brought forth. Most importantly, though, the administration of law must be enforceable and enforced, and for this reason some element of force must stand behind the rulings of judges and arbiters. If private enforcement agencies were instituted, they would in theory be accountable to the legislative and administrative authorities, but in practice would pose risk of faction in the realms of interpretation, jurisdiction, and administration.

Great caution must be applied in the creation of all institutions with the force to bind, since all force and power, external and internal, are potential threats to liberty. A great army to defend against external force might prove as great a threat to the citizenry as a foreign force. Precedent offers many such examples, most notably the Roman army's influence on the succession of the Caesars.

13. We see then, that a state is necessary in several respects. First is as set of laws fixed in place, something both necessary and natural. For example, there must be an objective law to turn to, otherwise even if two people can agree on a dispute, or submit to arbitration, why should a third, or fourth party be bound to the ruling? Thus they must be fixed, which is essential to be effective, i.e. to fulfill their purpose.  As Aristotle says in II.viii of the Politics, that while sometimes laws do need to be changed,
. . .great caution would seem to be required. For the habit of lightly changing the laws is an evil, and, when the advantage is small, some errors both of lawgivers and rulers had better be left; the citizen will not gain so much by making the change as he will lose by the habit of disobedience. . . For the law has no power to command obedience except that of habit, which can only be given by time, so that a readiness to change from old to new laws enfeebles the power of the law.
Second they must be instituted, i.e. carried out by an institution, i.e. a government entity, e.g. the mechanisms of administration or enforcement. Such is because all laws, even when they are fixed, are subject to the vicissitudes of life insofar as their administration, though not necessarily of their interpretation. Only an institution whose rulings are regarded as binding can create the objective standard needed for order. We must note, though, that an institution is not a guarantee of the end. We must stress it is itself only a means. Government does not guarantee liberty, of course, though good government is needed to create an orderly sphere in which liberty may be lived. Yet good government itself has requirements, namely broad understanding amongst the people of the nature of democratic-republican liberal government and the desire for, and the industry to create, peace, justice, and equality of rights. It also ought to reflect and be consistent with the natural law, its positive law ought to be practical to administrate, and it ought to reflect the nature of the people. An institution of good government is, though, a necessary means as mechanism and a natural, though not complete, retardant to change because it harbors precedent.

14. Having discerned the natural need for and state of the state, let us at last return to our issues from section five. The need for a state, in order to justify its existence, to exist fixed in time in law and domain means it cannot endure a constant flux where at any given time any amount of it is in fact not of it. In other words a state needs a domain.

As such a man, though a non-American, can obtain and freely possess American land, the land must remain of American law. The law being of a fundamentally liberal, i.e. minimal, nature, this ought not seem so egregious. This also answers our question regarding citizenship, i.e. if an individual comes of age and remains in the land does he consent to its rules? If the land is inherently of the law, then yes. We must add, though, that he must be free to leave.

15. Having inquired into the fundamental natures of man and the state we can look at the more subtle aspects of their relationship. Foremost we observe that it is the preservation of liberty which naturally binds them. To stray from this end is to be destructive of it. To stray from this end is also a moral hazard, since the individual has consented to be governed only toward the end of protecting his own liberty, not toward any other. To pass laws irrelevant to this end is also a breach of the contract between the governor and governed. In such cases the fault lies with the governors and legislators. The terminology we just used, that "laws bind" should make us pause and recall that all laws bind. Thus laws in addition only to addressing the issue of liberty, should be as few as possible.

Such demonstrates the necessity for the principle of federalism, wherein within one state there are smaller ones and still smaller ones. In a cascading effect, some laws apply to the whole land, some to smaller jurisdictions, and some only to the smallest. This has several benefits. First, people have choice amongst regional constitutions. Second, people are subjected to as few laws as possible, since people of a certain opinion can have their own town and law without trying to make a larger area, and thus likely people who disagree with them, subject to their law. Third and similarly, it is easier to pass certain laws since they will apply to fewer people and thus need a smaller consensus. Lastly, this system of cascading laws, or federalism, allows people to bind together for issues of great importance, and be free from what they do not wish to be a part of.

Jefferson made a similar plan with his system of wards, "It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down thro' all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm and affairs by himself. . ." [1]

16. We see then that while life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness naturally exist they do not naturally persist and are not always possible to act on. Even if one thinks freedom is conducive to allowing the individual to have everything he needs, it does not follow that everything (or nothing) is conducive toward effecting freedom.

The preamble to the constitution speaks of "unity, justice, defence, and securing for posterity." These are conservative points, as are the points about institutions we made above. Indeed we might do well to consider a just government an institutional of conserving liberty. A similar turn of phrase is found in Destutt de Tracy's Commentary and Review of Montesquieu, which much influenced Jefferson [2], that a rational government will always aim at conserving "the independence of the nation, the liberty of its members, and such security for every individual as to supersede the idea of fear internal or external." [3]

The Founders were acutely aware of forces, e.g. factions and mobs besides foreign threats, which were hostile to liberty. Even after experiencing tyranny, they resolved not to protect freedom by creating a vacuum of power, one they knew would be filled by the first man or confederacy which could arouse fear and promise security, but rather by arranging it as judiciously as it has ever been, with the most specific of focuses and limits.


17. We may now observe the last of our three aspects, that of the execution of the law. It is in this respect which citizens most differ amongst themselves, how to carry out the law. In a democratic society there are indeed a great variety of opinions as to what ought to be done, how, and when, even when the final end is the same. It is in these respects which the government acts contrary to the will of some of its constituents. This could only be avoided if 1) society was governed by an individual or group with absolute power, which would mean the citizens could not be blamed for the actions of the government because the citizens had no choice. Or 2) if the government only acted when 100% of the citizenry agreed, which would remove all agency of the government since such a time would effectively be never.

18. Thus we might now answer our original question. If you disagree with the fundamental laws of the government of which you are a part, (I stress government and not society) dwelling there by nature is hypocritical.  Disagreeing with execution of law is a different sort of disagreement, in fact one fundamental to the concept of a liberal democracy. Yet when one disagrees one must voice dissent, and not just to one's fellow citizens, but to one's representatives in government to whom one has delegated authority. Only in doing so have you done the maximum you can to exert your single-citizen's influence over the law. You have also removed your sanction from what you consider "wrong" (let us indulge the use of this vague term here.)

19. Of course this is not some easy and delightful solution. There is a certainly-apocryphal quote[4] from George Washington that government is a “troublesome servant and a fearful master.” Indeed. Being political requires much of man. It requires diligence, reasoned consideration, and a consistent effort of keeping informed. Freedom too requires much of man, namely an active and continuous participation in government. Yet it requires still more than that, namely an understanding that politics both binds and separates, and that a man know himself, when to bind and when to stand alone. It requires a "conscious dignity becoming freemen." [5] Such is the cost of a free society. Simply to resolve that the government is "just bad" and to exonerate yourself of its actions is as foolish and is as shameful an evasion as hyper-statism. It is likewise dishonest and false to claim a nation of democratic citizens at fault for each and every of its government's actions. These extreme approaches try to resolve a complex problem into facile answers, wherein problems are either the fault of everyone or no one.

[1] Letter to Joseph Cabell, Monticello, Feb. 2, 1816, M.E., XIV, 420.
[2] Koch, Adrienne. The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. Columbia University Press, New York. 1957. p. 154, footnote no. 19.
[3] ibid. p.160.
[5] Adams, John. Thoughts on Government.

Bibliographic Notes

After completing this essay I revisited Ayn Rand's essay "The Purpose of Government" which I had last read several years ago. I immediately became aware of many similarities between this and my essay. These were not deliberate nor did I seek to emulate, build on, or critique Rand. Nonetheless I must acknowledge the similarities and the debt.

Also after finishing my essay I read several sections of Ludwig von Mises' "Liberalism" and there too I noted similarities to this essay. Likewise they are not deliberate and in this case I had not read any of Mises' "Liberalism" prior to writing my essay.

Lest for any reason this essay be thought to give license to statism or a loose reading of "freedom" or "liberty" please consider my essay, "A Libertarian Case for Free Healthcare?"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Around the Web

For Saturday, July 10 through Saturday, July 17.

1) Nigel Biggar in Standpoint asks, "What are Universities For?"

2) In the WSJ, P J. O'Rourke with a modest proposal for improving a dull game.

3) At Pileus, James Otteson shares a short, sad story from the world of academia.

4) George Will gives the keynote at the Cato Institute's 2010 Milton Friedman Prize dinner, mentions James Madison, Heraclitus, baseball. [Youtube]

5) In the WSJ, Gonzalo Ruiz and transcribing Bach's Orchestral Suit No. 2 into an oboe-friendlier key.

6) The Economist reviews, "Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World" by Norman Lebrecht.

7) In the WSJ, Earle Hitchner with Mike Raffert, Irish Traditional Flutist and National Heritage Fellow.

8) In The American, Michael Barone on "The Return of the Jeffersonian Vision and the Rejection of Progressivism."

9) In the WSJ, Christian C. Sahner at "a glittering crossroads;" in Damascus' Umayyad Mosque, Roman paganism, Christianity, and Shiite and Sunni Islam all intersect.

10-12) Even more on technology and education. (That is, in addition to items [1] [2] [3] [4])
13-14) Remembering:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Slavophilism: A Russian Orthodox Response to Modernity

Reading the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (sometimes acclaimed as 20th century Slavophile) prompted this brief exegesis on a 19th century Orthodox counter-cultural movement.

Russian Slavophilism counted among its adherents such distinguished names as Dostoevsky, the Aksakovs, Ivan Ilyin, and Fyodor Tyutchev. Clearly, any movement containing such exalted thinkers and writers must be worthy of closer examination. What exactly was it that inspired these gifted thinkers? What were their goals and aspirations for the Slavic peoples? These are questions I hope to answer in this essay, for though these men are profoundly Russian in sympathy and at heart, the questions they pose and the answers they provide are relevant to all Christian men: using the insights and theological language of the Russian Church, they hoped to challenge the growing materialism and bureaucratism of Russian society, as well as counter its descent into revolutionary anarchy (cf. Dostoevsky's Demons). But before proceeding to the Slavophiles, we must take a closer look at a like-minded group, from whom they critically received some of their inspiration.

The Narodnichestvo movement was contemporary with late 19th century Slavophilism; Narodniks fought to preserve intact the peasant commune system after the Emancipation of Serfs. In preserving the economy of the obshchina (tr: the village 'commune'), they hoped to protect the newly-freed peasants from the money-hungry middle class, who might try to uproot and exploit peasant families. The Narodniks, to accomplish their goals, immersed themselves in the peasant culture, learning Russian (French was the language of the educated and wealthy.), dressing in traditional folk dress, and participating in peasant dances. Unlike Slavophilism, the Narodnichestvo had a strong revolutionary element.

Many of the leading thinkers of the Slavophile movement received excellent educations; they were intimately familiar with Western philosophy and literature, and some of them, in their early lives, were convinced by the materialist claims of the secular West. Ivan Kireevsky, an early Slavophile thinker, attended Schleiermacher and Hegel's lectures while traveling in Europe, Tyutchev was taught by one of the premier Russian disciples of the German philosophers, and Konstantin, as a university student, was a member of a Russian Hegelian society. All three men would later reject this youthful flirtation with Western philosophy, and all deprecated the soul-corroding effects of Western rationalism and acquisitiveness. In reaction to the excess scientism and rationalism of the German and French philosopher, they turned to the spiritual center of their country, the Orthodox Church, with its vibrant mystical tradition and its anti-Aristotelian bias. Kireevsky, in his essay On the Nature of European Culture and on its Relationship to Russian Culture, singles out for particular scorn Aristotle, holding him responsible for the West's 'decline' into empiricism and rationalism. The Christian East, according to Kireevsky, in contrast to the West, is the spiritual student of Plato. The Cappadocian fathers, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory Palamas are all heirs of Plato, emphasizing 'idealism' rather than empiricism. As such, the Slavophiles were polemical in their denunciation of the West's attachment to Aristotle. For Kireevsky, 19th century German philosophy was simply another baneful manifestation of the Western preoccupation with empiricism, a preoccupation he credited (wrongly, as I have it) to Aristotle. In contrast to the rationalist politics and theologes of the Germans, Kireevsky held up for particular reverence the Orthodox doctrine of sobornost, which he defines as "the sum total of all Christians of all ages, past and present, [who] comprise one indivisible, eternal living assembly of the faithful, held together just as much by the unity of consciousness as through the communion of prayer." His model of society, of sobornost, was the obshchina, where communitarianism and cooperation prevailed. Not surprisingly, a common Slavophile critique of the West was its rampant individualism.

Aleksey Khomyakov, the other grand old man of Slavophilism, was to develop themes and ideas similar to Kireevsky. Early association with Pyotr Chaadaev and other religious Russians was to lead him to a life-long and deeply-held Christian belief. He was something of a cultural provocateur, in that he wore a beard, a rare but noble act on behalf of Russian traditionalism. (Peter the Great had banned the beard in an attempt to modernize his country, and fines were levied on noblemen who wore the traditional boyar beard.) Khomyakov also criticized the two-headed economic demons of the West, socialism and capitalism. The weapon against these corrupt systems was the Church, where love, not lucre, was the commerce. The universality of the Church, its sobornyi, is for him a constant and ever-present model for the possibility of the world. He sees mankind's union in the Church as the one essential goal, for union with the Church also means union with God. Like Kireevsky, he saw the peasant obshchina as a Christian model for the world, where action was motivated by both love of God and neighbor. The reality of the obshchina may have been different, as Khomyakov's critics will no doubt happily point out, for the obshchina almost certainly had its share of wickedness and corruption. Nevertheless, the model Khomyakov is presenting surely cannot be faulted---as it is a society motivated by the highest ideal, Love. Difficult to achieve, but the mandate of every Christian---"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you."

At this point, it might be suggested that the Slavophiles were only reactionary landowners, typewriter 'peasants' who had little or no concern for the lower classes. That, however, would be a false impression. The Slavophiles were among the first proponents of a constitutional, monarchical government. Konstantin Aksakov wrote a letter to Czar Alexander II after his accession to the throne, imploring him to reconstitute the Zemsky sobor, the traditional Russian parliament that had fallen into disuse not long after the beginning of the Romanov dynasty. The Zemsky sobor contained four Estates: the boyar class (the aristocracy), the Orthodox episcopacy and clergy, the representatives of the towns, and the representatives of the countryside. Like all parliaments, past and present , the Zemsky sobor had its failings and its inefficiencies, but it did achieve some kind of representation for the diverse elements of Russian society, aristocrat and commoner, city-dweller and country-dweller alike. 

The Slavophiles were joined in these pleas for a more democratic society by the Pochvennichestvo (tr: return to the soil) movement. Like the Slavophiles, the Pochvenniki were men of the church, and they too believed in the especial spiritual vocation of the Russian people. Pochvennichestvo's greatest apologists were Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and critic, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, the novelist. The Pochvenniki held, inter alia, that the Russia's crises were a result of the educated and the wealthy's alienation from the soil. If the intelligentsia could come to know the common people, Russian could begin to right herself. Pochvennichestvo received some of its most eloquent press in Dostoevsky's journal, Vremia. For Dostoevsky, the great task of Russia was not to reconcile itself to the West, but to reconcile Russia's educated society and its peasantry. Politically, they applauded the emancipation of the serfs, but like the Slavophiles, they called for further political action, particularly decentralization of power. They too venerated the peasant obshchina, but not for the spiritual reasons of the Slavophiles; they rather appreciated its ability to empower self-rule and local autonomy. They also called for greater access to education and for the increase of literacy among the peasantry. The Pochvenniki placed great trust in the transformative power of literature.

I have not yet mentioned Leo Tolstoy, but there is a deliberate reason for the omission. As a philosopher and political thinker, Tolstoy defies all conventional categorization. He shares certain beliefs with both the Slavophiles and the Pochvenniki, but he is also clearly not one of their number. His un-Orthodox Christianity, for one thing, is a wedge between him and the more traditional Slavophiles. Tolstoy, however, despite his many failings, attempted to live out his ideals, many of them common to Khomyakov and to Kireevsky. His Anna Karenina is a beautiful 'hymn' to the peasantry and land, and Konstantin Levin one of the most sympathetic characters in the Western canon. Like his protagonist Levin, Tolstoy really did work among his peasants, plowing his fields on his estate and scything the hay at harvest time. Tolstoy seems genuinely to have cared for the well-being of the Russian peasantry, despite his other manifest hypocrisies.

As Christians, the Slavophiles hoped to vivify society through the Orthodox church with its teachings on man's moral imperative to love his neighbor. The spiritual vision of the Slavophiles and the political vision of the Pochvenniki may seem strange and unwieldy to the modern Westerner, particularly since much of their polemic is devoted to criticizing the excesses of the West. Nevertheless, I feel certain that many of their insights are of lasting significance for a revivified Christian humanism, and we would do well to meditate, critically, on their worth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Last week at The Hannibal Blog, Andreas Kluth put the question, "Greatest thinkers: Greeks or Germans?" Of course the challenge is a bit of a joke of the fact so many great thinkers were Greek or German. I did begin to consider though, "what do you mean by great?" Do you mean "profound" or "original?" Many great ideas were first considered by a Greek thinker of the ancient world, but found their perfect expression later. By this I mean that many artists put ideas more clearly, succinctly, and beautifully than the philosophers who first thought of them did. Surely some philosophers were great authors and stylists, namely Plato and Nietzsche. Aristotle's prose is remarkable for its clarity and succinctness, but it is still dense and technical. Some philosophers, like Kant, were abysmal prose stylists and their work is excruciating to read.  

Thus I thought, which works of art gave a philosophical idea, or even more specifically a metaphysical idea, its most clear, beautiful, and succinct expression? Of course all art is about some idea, but I was considering particularly abstract or philosophical ideas or ideas expressed in their most abstract or "pure" form. For example, I excluded expressions of a dramatic, descriptive, or pictorial nature. Likewise I considered whether the form of expression was appropriate, particularly appropriate, or most appropriate, for the idea. In the examples I selected I believe the form is ideal for the idea.

I also did consider mean statements simply well-said like, "the highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others (Socrates) and "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." (Aristotle) Rather my thinking was to find an expression of an idea so extraordinary as to be a perfect expression of its essence, and one which invites the reader into an experience of it. Philosophers sometimes succeed here, for example, Nietzsche's statement, "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you" is no mere assertion but an aphorism fraught with portent.

Thus we might say what I was looking for were expressions not about an idea, but which themselves constituted the idea. For example, Nietzsche's statement draws you into the question and makes the experience it is about and draws you into it.

The following were the first to my mind, though I welcome suggestions and there will likely be a Part II at some point. Music being the most abstract of expressive forms I am sure could predominate. I'm sure Beethoven ought to figure more prominently and one might consider the Mozartian overture in general as a fine example of what I am considering. I have discussed them here.

I have refrained from commenting where possible, since these works by nature are highly condensed, expressing much with little. Where necessary I offered some explication just to get the ball of inquiry rolling. In my experience starting to think about any of these pieces takes you down many and long roads.

Part I. Being, Non-Being, and Becoming

i. Overture to Don Giovanni, KV.521 (W.A. Mozart)

". . . the work is not about guilt and retribution but simply about being and non-being, and the overwhelming tragedy of the conclusion rests on the grandeur and terror of the action as such, not on the triumph of moral laws over the world of appearances." [Abert, 1050.]

James Levine, conducting.

ii. Piano Concerto 21, KV.467. Andante. (W. A. Mozart)
. . . the form is "a becoming." In it we may be aware of phrases, of sequences which show metabolism. . . but the main principle of its form is the approach to and decline from climax. . . we imagine ourselves to be the performer; if we do not live along its line, we are not fulfilling the composer's demands of us. [Hutchings, 139.]

iii. Hamlet, Act III, Scene I. (William Shakespeare)

– "To be, or not to be. . ."

iv. Das Rheingold - Scene 1: Prelude (Richard Wagner)
. . . It symbolizes the primitive element, water, in state of repose; the water from which, according to the teaching of mythology, life springs complete with all its struggles and passions. During this long sustained note we hear the beginnings of life; but those are things which are outside the province of words, and which music alone, speaking without an intermediary to the intelligence, can hope to make us comprehend. [Lavignac, 343.]
Georg Solti conducting The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

v. Fragments (Heraclitus)
  • X: Nature loves to hide.
  • L: As they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them.
  • CIII: The way up and down is one and the same.

    Part II. The Problem of Knowledge

    Items i-iii cannot be adequately shared here. Their length and nature is such that to divide them is to destroy their messages. I have, though, written on 2001 and Solaris.

    i. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)

    ii. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)

    iii. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa)

    Briefly to comment: Rashomon is a sort of hermeneutic riddle. What happened, and how do we interpret these descriptions of the events?

    iv. Claude Monet: Haystacks

    See the variations at Wikipedia.

    v. Four Quartets, II. East Coker. iii. (T. S. Eliot)

    You say I am repeating
    Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
    Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.

    vi. The School of Athens (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino)

    Causarum Cognitio, but how do we get it? The full painting is a sort of galaxy of philosophy, with other philosophers as constellations around the fundamental, intertwined, and yet opposing figures of Plato and Aristotle.

    See whole image at Wikipedia.

    Part III. The Divine Mystery

    i. Mass in B minor - Gloria - Duet: Domine Deus (J. S. Bach)

    The  canon "'neither confounds the Persons nor divides the substance', for the figure that is detached in one voice is slurred in the other." [Tovey, V. 38.]

    IV. Love

    i. Prelude to Tristan und Isolde

    An unfolding of themes, ceaselessly modulating. . . "the tension growing towards, and relaxing from, a climax of passion; and the passion is the love of Tristan and Isolde." [Tovey, IV. 125.)

    Zubin Mehta conducting Bayerische Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester


    Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.

    Hutchings, Arthur. A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos. Oxford University Press. New York. 1948.

    Lavignac, Albert. The Music Dramas of Richard Wagner and His Festival Theatre in Bayreuth. Dodd, Mead, and Company. New York. 1898. 

    Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis, Volume IV. Illustrative Music. "Tristan und Isolde. Prelude." Oxford University Press. 1965.

    Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis, Volume V. Vocal Music. "Bach. B Minor Mass." Oxford University Press. 1965.

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Brief Comments on the Law

    Originally a comment at The Hannibal Blog post, "Justice: by truth or victory?" and cross-posted here.

    1. Andreas Kluth posed the question:
    Which sort of judicial system, generally speaking, is more likely to lead to justice? One that:
    • looks for the truth, or
    • lets two sides fight it out to see who wins?
    The first philosophy — justice as a search for truth — we call the inquisitorial system (because a judge sets out to inquire after the facts of a case, ie the truth).
    The second philosophy — justice by duking it out until one side is left standing — we call the adversarial system (because two adversaries and their lawyers meet in court, and a judge merely makes sure that the rules are observed).
    2. I'm somewhat more bullish on the "adversarial system" insofar as it seems essentially dialectical, i.e. that we expect truth to come out of the opposing ideas. Of course the adversarial system could be nothing but a glorified duel. Indeed, as one could show, it often has been, but I do not think it is of essence. We expect in this system not that each side be equally persuasive, but as persuasive as possible since the system assumes there is only one truth. Also, the arguments for both sides might be deficient, but seeing both of them resulted in a synthesis (truth.) This system is of course subject to the availability of facts and quality of logic.

    3. Now the inquisitorial is ostensibly truth seeking too and just as dependent on the need of facts and logic. The difference is that the inquisitorial system is entirely dependent on the inquisitor's logic (would an "inquisitory panel" be more reliable? The term certainly reeks of totalitarianism.) whereas in the adversarial system, even if carried out poorly, there would be some element of contrast.

    4. The problems seem in both cases to be 1) human error, and 2) the lack of finite methods for dealing with these cases. Regarding point No. 2, such is why many rightly consider English common law such an achievement, since it dealt with many issues and was refined over many many years. It reflected the nature and character of the people, what they considered natural and normative. Yet such a system requires an essentially homogeneous and relatively static society.

    A brief discussion of justice as it intersects with the need for truth. Those uninterested may skip to paragraph 11.

    5. As commenter Richard said, though, what is justice? Justice would seem to require truth. The burden of proof being "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" certainly prevents injustice, but if a guilty person goes free is that justice? Of course not, but implicit in this very liberal standard is a sense of the imprecision of matters. To paraphrase Aristotle, the legal world is by nature a combination of logic and ethical-politics, rhetoric and dialectic, and various disciplines (with their own problems) precisely because it deals with matters for which there are no specific arts and precisely because we have alternative possibilities.

    6. Its methods are inherently imprecise in some cases. To use the word science loosely, science aims at the truth but can be refined over many years by many great minds and altered with the benefit of looking at many examples. Still, it's truth is admittedly provisional. To expect perfection in every case from a legal system with so many variables, including time constraints, working against truth is hazardous. Thus, "beyond a reasonable doubt" is not only necessary but its existence demonstrates a keen observation. Such is not to say truth is always or even usually, out of reach, but rather that an individual's liberty (and thus his finite life) ought not to be lightly taken away. We might be less wary of pronouncing judgment if the stakes were not so high. One must note though, that we cannot say a legal system has failed either by excess or lack of convictions, but must independently consider each case. 

    7. Additionally, in a system founded on natural law, justice is part adherence to natural, immutable law and part adherence to positive, man-made law. To call a decision "just" then requires justice in both senses, and thus the positive has in all cases to be in accord with the natural. (See Aristotle, Ethics, 1134b, Rhetoric 1373b)

    8. Let us consider a few hypothetical cases then. If a defendant has been logically proven guilty but is acquitted on account of a procedural rule or an obscure point of law, the fault is in the positive law. I say fault and not defect since the law in question may be designed to prevent a guilty man from being convicted. Such a system protects the innocent to the advantage of the guilty (and perhaps at the expense of other innocents, if the guilt party who was not convicted goes on to harm innocents.)

    9. Such sounds unpleasant and contrary to justice but the only alternatives are 1) a perfect system with perfect people, or 2) a system which convicts the guilty at the expense of the innocent. Such examples can readily be found in totalitarian states. The concept was also nicely illustrated in two episodes of the Star Trek franchise. In the Deep Space Nine episode "Tribunal" we learn on one planet that all cases end in convictions. "The system is efficient and the swiftness of 'justice' makes the people take pride in it." (a paraphrase) In the Next Generation episode "Justice" we see a planet with seemingly normal rules, but there is only one punishment, death. That surely keeps the peace. (In contrast to this extreme consider Aristotle's concept of "equity," Ethics 1137b and Rhetoric, 1374.)

    10. Thus in every legal case we are subject to the available means of truth-gathering, the available means of persuasion, the competency of the legal parties (lawyers and judges), and to what the laws themselves tend, deliberately or accidentally, to produce.

    11. Have we answered our original question, whether an adversarial or inquisitorial system is desirable? Yes, insofar as we have seen they carry mostly the same defects. Is it more likely to find one person, the inquisitor, competent to the task for an inquisitorial system or two, evenly matched in skill, for the adversarial system? Is it more likely for a judge or two lawyers to be corrupt? These questions are most similar to those we saw in examining the concept of executive authority. [1] Are there then no virtues in any system involving these two methods?

    12. Yes, and we will see them in a mixed system, whereby the whole case is broken down into separate elements. We see one virtue in the need of being convicted not by a fixed "inquisitorial board" but a newly- and impartially-formed jury of one's peers. We see one in the ability to represent oneself, choose one's counselor, and be guaranteed one. We see one in having an expert in law (a judge) accordingly guide the proceedings. Yet these structures do not guarantee justice, though they aim toward protecting the innocent. Also they cannot produce perfect justice in every case if they aim either to protect the innocent or convict the guilty. Most importantly they do not guarantee justice because they cannot guarantee good and wise lawyers, jurists, and judges, and while law may be amended better to promote justice, the injustice of acquitting the guilty or convicting the innocent cannot be undone.

    13. Thus we, if we are to expect justice for others and ourselves, ought to err on the side of liberty and, being a part of the justice system, must ourselves keep informed and strive toward wisdom. No system can compensate for a foolish and frivolous people.


    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Roger Scruton and Conservatism Abroad

    I've referenced Roger Scruton before on this blog. I admire him as a clear and incisive thinker with a catholic and far-ranging mind. Giving proof of his devotion to the traditions of Western man, he ventured, in the 80's, to Eastern Europe and gave private philosophical seminars to Czech and Polish dissidents. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and this willingness to put himself in danger for the well-being of the intellectually and spiritually oppressed marks him as a true philosopher, a lover of wisdom, justice, prudence, and truth.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Abraham and the Triune God

    (I wrote this little piece for a parish newsletter. It's a slight piece, but I hope it contributes to a better understanding and appreciation of the wonderful biblical exegesis of the Fathers.) 

    The Old Testament reading (Gen. 18: 1-3) that I took as my material for today's little meditation offers me an opportunity to sketch out a Christ-ological (a fancy theological word; it just means 'things having to do with Christ') reading of the Old Testament. Theology exists, or ought to exist, solely for the purpose of worship. If theological reflection does not lead us to prayer, it has failed in its purpose and should be cast aside as useless, and perhaps even dangerous. But now to the text itself!

    “And the LORD appeared unto Abraham in the plains of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, three men stood by him. And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground. And Abraham said, My LORD, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I pray you, from your servant.”

    I suspect that this little drama has largely been passed over in many an individual's reading of Genesis; it's not nearly as well known as the events that follow. But this episode in the life of Abraham is what ancient Christian writers called a 'type.' A 'type' is an event in the Old Testament that foreshadows Christian doctrine. St. Paul uses this kind of interpretation in his letters. For instance, in his Epistle to the Galatians (4:21-31) he adopts Hagar and Sarah as 'types' or symbols of the synagogue and church; early Christians, following the Apostle's lead, enthusiastically adopted his method. Two brief examples: Cyprian, a 3rd century bishop, interpreted Noah's Ark to be a 'type' of the Church (St. Peter in his First Epistle [3:20-21] adopts the Ark as a 'type' of baptism), and Ambrose of Milan, a 4th century bishop and theologian, interpreted the marriage of Rebecca and Isaac as a 'type' of Christ's mystical union with His spouse, the Church. If it helps, you might think of this kind of interpretation as an ancient counterpart to C.S. Lewis' allegorical re-telling of the Christian story in the Chronicles of Narnia. In those wonderful stories, Lewis re-imagines events in the life of Christ and dresses them up in new clothes: he allegor-izes the Christian story, using Aslan and his sacrificial death on the Stone Table to represent the death and resurrection of Christ. For his storytelling, Lewis is beloved of modern Christians. For ancient Christians, the Old Testament was similarly beloved and beloved for similar reasons. There, Christ was always peering out in veiled disguise, preparing the world for his Incarnation.

    At Mamre, Abraham, as the Scriptures say, met the Lord. This passage must indeed be puzzling to Jews, but for Christians, it allows but for one interpretation. The Lord, appearing in the guise of three angels, is a 'type' of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. To Abraham, God was One (as He is to millions of Jews and Muslims), but for Christians, that's only true insofar as we believe that God is One in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God revealed Himself to Abraham, He revealed Himself as the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. But revelation doesn't stop there. It continues with Moses who officiates at God's covenant with Israel, and with her judges, prophets, and priests. But like lightning from a clear sky, the New Testament, the record of Christ's incarnation, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection, reveals that God is not simply and only One; He is a mystery, a communion of three persons, and wonder of wonders, one of those divine persons, the Word, has taken flesh. Furthermore, his Crucifixion and Resurrection have reconciled us to the Father; and His gift of the Holy Spirit ensures the perpetuation of His grace and love in our midst until the end of the world.

    Gregory of Nazianzen, a theologian of the 4th century, writes of God's revelation: “It was necessary to proceed by successive perfectings, by 'degrees'; it was necessary to advance from radiance to radiance, through ever more luminous movements of advance, in order that the light of the Trinity might finally be seen to shine forth.” And a modern theologian, Jean Danielou, writes, “The whole history of salvation may be considered as a gradual unveiling of the Trinity.”

    When the Lord appeared to Abraham at Mamre, under the guise of three angels, He foreshadows his own revelation of Himself as Three-in-One. But preeminently, we ought to reflect, in this little episode, on Abraham's response: he runs to the Lord, bows down, and does worship. And he asks the Lord to stop with him and feast with him. Not even to Abraham did God confide his entire plan for the salvation of humanity, or the mystery of His own Triune nature, but it is our incomparable gift that we, so much the lesser than Abraham, should worship in spirit and truth the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man and the Revealer of God's mysteries. But this knowledge of the Triune God is a gift; we only possess it by virtue of God's own magnanimity, and we only possess it perfectly insofar as we make a gift of it ourselves. Let us too run forth to meet the Lord and bow down.