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Habits of Liberty: Part III

We have been studying why liberty must be more than an idea or speech. Part I considered how ideas are inflected or corrupted by incompatible habits; a bureaucrat, for example, will understand liberty differently than a small business owner. Part II addressed the powerlessness of speech against a centralized authority unless embodied in “intermediate powers.” Next we take up reason’s ability to persuade under present circumstances. Because liberalism is agnostic regarding questions of value, it allows them to be settled at the polls and in the market. A corollary to… Read more Habits of Liberty: Part III

Habits of Liberty: Part II

Culture—understood as something not only thought, but enacted and embodied—shapes our articulation of values. Liberty, I have suggested, wears a different aspect under the present centralized bureaucracy than it did during the phase of our free-market republic. Christopher Lasch describes a related shift in our idea of “democracy”: “The word has come to serve simply as a description of the therapeutic state. When we speak of democracy today, we refer, more often than not, to the democratization of “self-esteem.” The current catchwords—diversity, compassion, empowerment, entitlement—express the wistful hope that deep… Read more Habits of Liberty: Part II

Habits of Liberty: Part I

The Declaration of Independence tells us that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed” who lay “its foundation on such principles and organiz[e] its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Liberalism thus substitutes liberty or choice for any “abstract and eternal justice, beyond all local custom or convenience.” It is agnostic and agonistic regarding questions of ultimate value. A liberal nation discovers and effects its choice by means of polls and market, and because that… Read more Habits of Liberty: Part I

Religion, Fundamentalism, Gnosticism, BLM: Part V

Fundamentalism, as I have said elsewhere, is a faith in a compact doctrine “which is unprovable but unchallengeable by facts or by argument external to that faith, and which claims a universal application.” Pastor John Piper’s recent contra-Trump article provides a good example of a fundamentalist mode of argument. The essentials of Piper’s argument are I think adequately summarized as follows. Trump, he suggests, exhibits certain “sins mentioned in the New Testament…that destroy people,” including “unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai) [and] strife-stirring… Read more Religion, Fundamentalism, Gnosticism, BLM: Part V

The Year the COVID Broke

In The Day the Dam Broke, James Thurber recalls the panic of 1913 when the populace of Columbus Ohio became unaccountably and mistakenly persuaded that the dam had collapsed. His description of the disordered flight from town is perfect: although they were “as safe as kittens under a cookstove…some of the most dignified, staid, cynical, and clear-thinking men in town abandoned their wives, stenographers, homes, and offices and ran east” when “a loud mumble gradually crystallized into the dread word ‘dam.’” As is so often the case with stories of… Read more The Year the COVID Broke