Orthodoxy and the Mob

Caesar 1

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus is quoted as saying “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” in response to the question as to whether Jews should pay taxes to the Romans. This points to a tragic aspect of human existence and that is the need for social organization, and social organization involves lies and coercion. Human history is an appalling resumé of scapegoating and murder. The world of Caesar is the exterior world ruled by determinism and the absence of divinity. At most, signs and symbols of divinity intrude upon us and give us respite from brutality. Sigmund Freud pointed to the ways in which social reality constrains our wishes and desires, but he could only identify motives from below, the sex drive, the death wish, etc. Thus, he was unable to comment on the ways in which our spiritual nature is frustrated by social existence. Spiritual aspiration drives us too. In a compromise with phenomenal reality, we find it necessary to punish and imprison murderers and sadists when, spiritually speaking, they have already organized their own prisons of hatred and loathing. The entirely non-spiritual desire for revenge which factors into the justice system has even caused us to imagine God the Father creating an eternal hell – the existence of which would mean the failure of God and a limit to his desire to forgive, and an end to the possibility of redemption. As Berdyaev points out, we project sociomorphic items like Judge, Punishment, Lawmaker, Ruler, onto God – importing social categories relating to the fallen world around us into ultimate spiritual matters.

Satan is the ruler of this world – the realm of Caesar. We find it necessary to construct hierarchies of authority to minimize violence. When all are equal, all become each other’s rivals. But Personalism, the notion that every human soul is a microcosm, a world unto itself, made in the image of God and sharing in God’s divine freedom, admits of no hierarchies. And then the hierarchies that we do construct often have precious little to do with merit. He is taller than him, she is prettier than her, they are wealthier than them, this individual has letters after his name, this one does not. How many people who have people with authority over them at work find that the spiritually and epistemically superior are ruling over their mental and moral inferiors? Frequently, it is the reverse. College administrators, that bloodsucking plague upon the planet, are the social superiors while Caesar 2being moral midgets, the more so the more orthodox they are. Henry James writes: “Life is, in fact, a battle. On this point optimists and pessimists agree. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally, unhappy.”[1]

Socrates at his trial said that the one thing he wanted to promote was to worry more about your own soul than social success. In the Kingdom of Caesar social success is paramount, in the Kingdom of God, it is irrelevant, and even contraindicated, social success providing more opportunities for exploitation than social failure. There is even the well-known phenomenon of the economically successful regarding themselves as God’s favorites when God’s real favorite was crucified.

The tragedy is that it is not possible to simply import spiritual criteria into social existence. The fantasy of anarchy, the abolition of all governments and armies, in the name of unalloyed freedom effectively tries to do this very thing. But, abolishing the army would simply put the innocent and weak at the extreme mercy of the strong, ruthless, and uncompromising, and there is plenty of that as it is.

Tradition is a set of practices that have been found to work. Typically, trial and error is involved and usually no one can say for sure why it works or predict what would happen if it were changed. If there is any connection between tradition and truth that is happenstance, and the truth it embodies is just a truth about social existence, not about reality spiritually conceived. An intellectual tradition is an oxymoron. The history of popular ideas is no guide to the nature of divine truths. Intimations of the existence of a divine reality seem to occur spontaneously within the human breast, but the interpretations of the nature of that divine reality are in error the more they are sociomorphic in nature. Knowledge of the truth is the mission of the individual Person and is a creative activity dependent on the state of that person’s mental and moral development, their imaginative and creative ability, and the nature of their deep-rooted intuitions. Reciting rehearsed statements is not to know the truth.

In the terrible clash between the spiritual and the physical; between the noumenal and the phenomenal world, in the experience of great beauty, the noumenal penetrates the phenomenal world and makes its existence known. Beauty fills us with an intimation of our spiritual home, and so does the Truth. Truth is known in and through Freedom. “I come in my own freedom to know the truth which in turns liberates me.”[2] No authority can constrain me to know. “I cannot be liberated by force.”

Just as love, friendship, and creativity require Freedom, for their existence, so does Truth. Truth is the way and the life, it is not an extraneous thing that commands allegiance and forces recognition. The idea that truth is an object wielding authority over us, that it forces us to give up freedom is wrong. Berdyaev writes “I believe in the scandal and stumbling-block of freedom. Freedom itself is a constituent and basic element of truth as it gradually reveals itself in and to me. The freedom of my conscience is an absolute dogma, in the face of which no midcourse and no compromise are possible.”[3] The truth appears in different guises as one makes his spiritual journey. The best course is a self-guided one reading whatever interests the individual, leaping from stone to stone in crossing the river, letting your nose be your guide. There will be false starts and dead ends, and it makes sense to try to benefit from others’ experience in their reading, but only if those others are congenial to you. And then those others can suggest directions, but it is still necessary for you to walk on your own two legs along the path.

Unfortunately, the Church, schools of thought, academic journals, the machinations of democracy, the family, all revolve around “consensus” or the exercise of power and force. And consensus is a truly terrible thing that is essentially inhuman because impersonal. In fact, it is anathema to the Person. Berdyaev’s choice of words, describing freedom as a scandal and a stumbling block connects freedom to the anathematized scapegoat. The scapegoat is an outrage to the mob. The mob functions precisely on consensus, on shared agreement about who the guilty one is – but truth, about which the mob does not care, has nothing to do with the mob. Even if by chance the mob were correct about something the truth is not something that can be shoved down someone’s throat. Here I am picturing the grotesque form of murder depicted in the execrable The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover where the victim has the pages of a book forcibly inserted into his esophagus, one by one. Scapegoating involves murder or ostracism, and is ideationally connected to in-groups and out-groups – between the accepted and the anathematized. It is a social fact that the Church probably needs dogma as a way to distinguish those within the Church from those outside it. And this distinguishes the theologian from the philosopher. The philosopher is devoted to wisdom and truth. The theologian is committed to a set of dogma that determines the sort of theologian he is. If Spirit and revelation are connected, and revelation is an ongoing event, then dogma is anti-spiritual, because anti-freedom.

Spirit lives and breathes partly within the human breast where we probe and question it. Prayer, meditation, and reading, can make their vital contributions. Truth, as the way and the life, is not “out there,” but “in here.” “Knowledge is an approximation to truth wrought out of personal experience.[4]” Truth has spiritual existence and spirit is the realm of freedom. It comes to be known through feeling, will, and intellect. Demonstrations and proofs have precious little to do with it. Demonstrations and proofs exist for those who have different intuitions from our own. Since every demonstration takes some truths as axiomatic, as self-evident starting points, demonstrations have no power to force agreement. It makes more sense to announce your current thoughts, feelings, and positions on a topic, and mostly leave it at that. Berdyaev comments that Kant compromised his creative genius by focusing on demonstrations. The alternative Berdyaev describes as “creative dogmatism.” By that he means not a rigid adherence to a fixed position, but simply asserting your intuitive perception of things without scurrying around trying preemptively to defend it against all objections, or trying to prove it in a way with which no one can possibly fail to agree – in a throat-shoving manner. It is a more honest modus operandi. Demonstrations and proofs are an attempt to force agreement, and strong arm the stumbling block – he who asserts his devotion to freedom and freedom of conscience. The proper way to communicate your thoughts is by inviting others to share your insights. This method is made legitimate by the fact that “man is capable of knowing and understanding only in virtue of his being a microcosmos, a point in which the whole world converges, and though he be a mere atom in space and time, his destiny has yet universal significance and value.”[5]

The history of the Church has seen it make alliances with the strong, the rich, and the powerful, and even attempt to wield temporal power itself. In that way it secured its continued existence. If instead the Church had sided against the powerful and the exploitative this would have been far more consistent with Christianity, but also terminal. Hank Williams has a song lyric “I’ll never get out of this world alive” and that, oftentimes, seems to be the fate of truth and spirit in this realm. Church councils hashing out the finer points of Church dogma, or horse trading about which books of the Bible will be included and which apocryphal, is very much giving unto Caesar.

The notion of the peer-reviewed journal is not at all compatible with truth. It is understandable that people are afraid of any old rubbish being published, but it is a troubling example of social conformism. It is very much the “consensus” mode of thinking. It is odd that there is even the officially recognized error called “the fallacy of popularity.” Something being popular is not evidence that it is true, but maybe acknowledging that fallacy is not very popular!

Berdyaev notes that “the philosopher’s situation is truly tragic in the face of almost universal hostility directed against him…both religion and science are its avowed enemies.”[6] Religion and science are supported by social institutions and consensus; the creative, spiritual, philosopher is not. As a result, we have “Socrates condemned to drink hemlock…Giordano Bruno burned at the stake…Descartes forced to seek refuge in Holland…Spinoza excluded from the synagogue.” Just as philosophy was gaining some freedom from religious institutions, and tradition, science entered the picture and the philosopher was expected to kowtow to scientific dogma. In this way, the world has united against the philosopher speculating freely. He is constantly a figure of resentment.[7] Science is as jealous of philosophy as religion; both claiming to have a doctrine to replace philosophy.[8] Theology is collective socially-sanctioned philosophy; creative philosophy, individual. Thus, the many versus the one.[9] Orthodoxy is the mob. Philosophy can never claim to represent orthodoxy and should not want to. Technically, something is not a heresy if it is not claiming to replace Church dogma. But since theology and philosophy cover the same ground – the meaning and purpose of human existence and its connection with the divine, with great philosophers seeking to “regenerate the soul through knowledge,”[10] theologians feel their authority to be challenged by philosophers and seek to shut them up.

Recently, after the pandemic generated transition to online teaching, I was surprised to find some of my “remote” students actually embracing scapegoating. Presumably, given the popular consensus, these two students would be anti-bullying, and anti-lynching, and even anti-microaggressions, the concept of microaggressions suggesting some utopia where all the horrors of the world have been solved, bloodthirsty murder and ostracism quelched, permitting our attention to turn to the tiniest little nuances of pained feeling – though, of course, microaggressions being precisely identified by their causing tiny pained feelings with no interest shown in the intentions of the “perpetrator,” the concept is radically dystopian. When I can say you have no right to offend me, you are my prisoner and I your warder.

After spending years reading and thinking about scapegoating as described by René Girard, I had actually forgotten that anyone might announce that he was pro-scapegoating. But Caiaphas’ statement “Better that one man should die than a whole nation perish” is of course the consensus view; i.e., the view of the bloodthirsty and heartless mob. The fact that it violates “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and the most elementary notions of justice evinced by dicta like “Do not kill the innocent” does not seem to bother them. It certainly is inconsistent with the idea that the individual Person is the highest good and must be put above abstract categories like “nation,” “humanity,” “the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” “the common welfare,” “human flourishing,” etc. It is tempting to give a consequentialist argument that in a society in which scapegoating is countenanced, and the innocent murdered when socially convenient, it could happen to each one of us at any time, thus each one of us would live in fear, but that is just to give into pragmatics instead of following morality. To use social consensus against itself, perhaps it should be pointed out that to scapegoat is to lynch and to lynch to scapegoat, and lynching is wrong…

[1]From Henry James’ essay “The Sorrowful World of Turgénieff” (1878)

[2] p. 53, Self-Knowledge, Semantron Press, Berdyaev.

[3] Ibid.

[4] p. 83, ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, Semantron Press, p. 3.

[7] Ibid, p. 9.

[8] Ibid, p. 4.

[9] After finishing my PhD, I planned to study theology, only to find that theologians were truly second-rate as philosophers. Rudolph Bultmann’s The Gospel of John seemed promising, but was, in fact, tedious and exhausting.

[10] Berdyaev, p. 6.


11 thoughts on “Orthodoxy and the Mob

  1. You wrote: “College administrators, that bloodsucking plague upon the planet, are the social superiors while being moral midgets, the more so the more orthodox they are.”

    Apropos of your insight, I offer the following from Henry James’s brief essay on “The Sorrowful World of Turgénieff” (1878):

    “Life is, in fact, a battle. On this point optimists and pessimists agree. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally, unhappy.”

  2. The Liege-Knight of Poverty (Léon Bloy)

    “Lord Jesus, Thou prayest for those, who crucify Thee,
    and Thou dost crucify those, who do love Thee!”
    (p. 91 in Engl. edition Berdyaev’s “Crisis of Art” — epigrammatic quote )

    How similar to Christ’s words from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”… For they that walk with Christ, yet how difficult to emulate, in being savagely brutalised by PC mobs… As we constantly ask: “Quo vadis? Whence goest Thou?”, Christ constantly urges us, “Gradi po Mne! Come, follow Me!”…

    Just some further Berdyaev insights upon Prof. Cocks most excellent article!


  3. Pingback: Orthodoxy and the Mob | Reaction Times

  4. Richard, your post reads as if you are saying that this world is essentially and entirely evil (a Gnostic notion, which if true entails the utter wickedness of Gnosticism itself, and all other worldly things whatever), that society is wicked per se (an obviously inaccurate exaggeration – were it true, there could be no reason or profit in our social discourse with each other, and all Tradition would be wicked, and our nihilist liberal adversaries would be entirely, albeit incoherently, correct), that an *absolutely* untrammeled Liberty – of the will, or of what else, pray? – is prior to all other things, prior even to reason and indeed even (therefore) to God himself (a Nietzschean notion, so extreme that Nietzsche himself might have scrupled to assert it – particularly since, if true, it would have vacated all speech gestures, including his own).

    It seems to say that we can have nothing to learn from each other, or from our ancestors, or from philosophy, or from mathematics, or – when you get right down to it – from anything, really, other than our own raw untutored lonely experiences. But this is to reject society; and, since the cosmos is a society of beings, it is to reject the cosmos.

    I much doubt you meant to assert any of the foregoing. Can you clarify? Wherein have I read you wrong?

    • Hi, Kristor: Yes. You are reading me wrong. Perhaps if you were to read it again…? If you read it with a view to me not making any of the assertions you mention, bar one? Friends and books are important to me, if that helps. I have tried writing two much longer replies, but really I am just repeating the points you read above, so I am not posting them.. Nearly everything I write mentions something of Freedom as a metaphysical principle. I suspect you have read everything I have to say on the topic (which is not to imply that you read, or ought to read, everything I write). And no, it’s not of will. And yes, it does have to come before reason. My articles against determinism argue for the priority of the causeless, Mystery that is meonic Freedom over reason. It is not amenable to conceptualization. Sorry about that. It is a part of God just as it is a part of us. We just have to have it if we want love, imagination, friendship, creativity and reason. I probably would reject the cosmos as a society of beings, it doesn’t sound appealing. Do these beings love each other? Voluntary communion with Persons who are microcosms, made in the image of God because participants in Freedom, Martin Buber’s I/Thou kind of thing. That I can get with. Cosmos worship is too close to naturalism and I/It for my taste.

      • OK, that’s clear – as clear as a fundamental mystery can be, anyway. I take you to mean that freedom is basic to actuality, and thus to actualization – to becoming as such, and so to its terminus ad quem in being. This is the only way that it could be possible to enact even a jot of unreason, of any sort. If reason were prior to freedom, unreasonableness of any sort could not ever happen. It does happen, ergo … So far, we agree completely.

        That said, of all other beings the Creator is the necessary forecondition. To create is to condition – literally to speak together – and so, to constrain. And God is Reason itself. So Reason constrains all creatura, albeit not absolutely; for, to constrain is to draw tightly together, but not to amalgamate, nor to determine. And what does not actually exist cannot be drawn into coherence with other things. Divine Providence constrains the created order then only in the light of what creatures freely choose to make of themselves, in light of his revelation to them of his own being, and of their own; bearing in mind that some of them might make themselves incompossible with their native, proper cosmos, or with any other that is at all nice, and so render themselves utterly bereft inhabitants only of some outer darkness. What cannot choose damnation is not free.

        But although all creatures are constrained, still Freedom as such is basic, and irreducible; for, first, creatures can in fact choose, within the constraints of the Real; and it is furthermore obvious that God is perfectly free. God is unlike his creatures, for nothing constrains him as he constrains them. Such is his perfect Freedom. His own Reason then is not prior to his Being, or to his Freedom; neither of them constrain any of the others; for, they all arrive together eternally as a package deal, integral and inseparable.

        Cosmos as society is, precisely, a friendship: socius is the Latin for friend, ally, companion. NB that “cosmos” is the Greek for the Hebrew “Sabaoth.” Both terms denote the angelic host, in ordered array of battle. So, yes, I take the society of the cosmos to be a voluntary communion, and agree with Dante and Empedocles that love is the fundamental urge that moves the stars in their dance forever singing as they shine.

        But, however noble our concept of the cosmos might be, it is nevertheless indeed a category error to take it as divine, or to worship it; for, it is contingent. Far be it from me to propose pantheism.

        I remain a bit worried about what seems in your post to be a wholesale condemnation of society as such – of tradition, orthodoxy, the Church, hierarchy, government, law, rule, reign, authority, the family, schools of thought, academic discourse, politics, and so forth. It seems to take society per se and in all its organs to be tantamount only to an oppressive mob, hunting scapegoats. You write of social organs that:

        … [they] all revolve around “consensus” or the exercise of power and force. And consensus is a truly terrible thing that is essentially inhuman because impersonal. In fact, it is anathema to the Person.

        But this is to miss the fundamentally friendly nature of society, and instead take its defects as basic and essential to its character. It is to fall into a Marxian analysis of society as consisting of nothing but oppressive and implicitly violent – i.e., evil – power relations. And that is to shortchange reality; it is to give an account of society that is inadequate to its real complexity. Consensus is not essentially evil, nor is it inhuman. Man is by nature a social animal, and cannot for long rightly live extrasocially. The person – the persona, the mask – is a membrane and boundary, thus an interface and an instrument, that mediates the relations of others to a self so as to preserve the self from dissolution in society, *and vice versa.* The person then is *essentially* social. So far is society from being anathema to the person, that there is no point to the person, nothing for it to do, and no reason for it to be, apart from society. And society must first be a friendly agreement – a common sense of things, a consensus – before it can devolve into disagreements that, in the social search for a renewed agreement on a revised consensus, crush this or that individual.

        Individuals all find themselves in some disagreement with their society about this or that, to be sure. Were it otherwise, they’d have but little to talk about with each other, forsooth; and, little to learn. So as forming the greater part of the matter of their discourse, their natural disagreements are revealed as a feature of society, rather than a bug; society then being among other things a constant search for common agreement on a consensus that is true, good, and beautiful, and best under Heaven for everyone withal; so as to form from it a commonwealth, and a companionship – a common good.

        That search cannot proceed but by crushing this or that hope of this or that individual. So some such disappointment is inevitable, for all of us. But that is not to say that such disappointments are unjust. Some are, sure; but not all. Indeed, almost all our compromises to each other – literally, our common promises – which we suffer as sacrifices for the common good of this or that social organ, and accept as just and valuable corrections of our own idiosyncratic errors, are undertaken in love for each other.

        God in Christ Jesus would never have adjured us to render unto Caesar what is properly his if Caesar were nothing but a pure vassal of his Enemy Lucifer; would not thus have valorized Caesar’s rule as fundamentally just and proper – albeit, of course, as human and Fallen therefore naturally more or less defective.

        The tragedy is that it is not possible to simply import spiritual criteria into social existence.

        That would be to commit the category error of immanentizing the eschaton. The tragedy happens when people try to do it, despite its manifest impossibility.

        If there is any connection between tradition and truth, that is happenstance, and the truth it embodies is just a truth about social existence, not about reality spiritually conceived. An intellectual tradition is an oxymoron.

        If that were simply and unconditionally true, we could not learn anything from each other, or pass along any of what each of us has learned. There could not be any such thing, then, as a tradition that was simply true; as, say, the tradition that honesty is the best policy. That notion would not be about reality, but only about society.

        Excursus: is not society real? Are not truths about society then truths about a department of reality? On our own concrete lived experience, and on the eternity and necessity of the truths of game theory, we should answer in the affirmative, to both questions.

        All traditions then would be false to actual fact, howsoever true they might be to the facts of society. Notice that this would render society throughout an illusion of some sort, that has nothing to do, really, with things as they are. Worries about society then would be about as veritably worrisome as worries about the possible truth of the ravings of a schizophrenic. There would then be no reason to fret about, say, transsexualism, or homosexual “marriage,” or paederasty, or socialism, or any of the other radical inanities of modernity that, being in fact loathsome insults to proper human nature, so rankle such as we – or, by the same token, to fret about any of the things that trouble our adversaries.

        Social discourse as such proceeds on the basis of the presupposition of all sides thereto that its terms denote reals, that are of real concern. Otherwise, it is but noise: sound and fury, signifying nothing whatever.

        All traditions are mediated intellectually, at least in part; so they are all intellectual. If intellectual traditions are oxymoronic, then there are no traditions, period full stop. But of course there are traditions, ergo etc.

        Indeed, repudiation of intellectual tradition is itself an ancient intellectual tradition: it is traditional in the school of nominalist liberalism.

        I suppose that in writing them, you presupposed some unspoken conditions to the statements quoted above, which all of us share; such, perhaps, as that lively tradition is mediated, reiterated, and so survives renewed from one generation to another, only by the search for knowledge, understanding and wisdom of generation after generation of questing minds, that again and again find traditional ways best, all things considered – or, that simply suffer no discomfort under those ways, so that those traditions never come under question in the first place.

        The philosopher is devoted to wisdom and truth. The theologian is committed to a set of dogma that determines the sort of theologian he is. If Spirit and revelation are connected, and revelation is an ongoing event, then dogma is anti-spiritual, because anti-freedom.

        Taken simply, and without unspoken qualifications, this amounts to saying that all theologians are unphilosophical per se, and that all dogmata are per se both false and evil. But that dogmata are false and evil per se is itself a dogma of a certain religion, albeit not of a church: namely, the religion of our nominalist liberal adversaries, that as autophagous is incoherent.

        Theologians find themselves committed to dogmata, not tendentiously or on account of their social interests, but precisely because, as philosophers, they find those dogmata to be true, and credence in them to be therefore wise. Every philosopher who has satisfied himself that this or that proposition is true has thereby settled upon a dogma – a firmly established tenet of his understanding of the world, that he honestly takes to be true and, therefore, to be valuable and so worth transmitting to his social companions, his friends, and to their benefit. As committed qua philosopher to his dogmata, he cannot but think they all derive intelligibly from First Things that are themselves at least somewhat intelligible, even if only apophatically; that are, therefore, approachable somehow, so as to be amenable to their entertainment by the mind in the first place, however dimly. So is any such philosopher then a sort of theologian: namely, the sort of philosopher who puzzles out the lógos of First Things as it impinges upon men.

        How is dogma anti-spiritual, per se? Dogmata are all revealed first and always to intelligent minds; they are all the fruit of revelation, by some spirit or other. They can perdure as lively in men’s minds and credible from one generation to another only in virtue of their revelation somehow – via liturgy, or scripture, or teaching, or reading, or contemplation, or prayer, or theoria, or vision (whether intellectual or mystical) – to one mind after another. A dead dogma – such as the dogmata respecting Thor, e.g. – has lost its revelatory oomph, its spiritual power to convince intelligent minds. It is no longer being revealed to minds as true; its revelation has ceased.

        Other, more compelling idols have taken Thor’s place.

        Among the methods by which the truth of a dogma may be revealed to such minds is logical demonstration. It serves to convince them not so much whether or not p is true, as that this or that argument for the truth of p is or is not valid. It is a test of a seeming insight into truth derived in the first instance from the source of all concepts – the spiritual world – and cast into good linguistic form, which being intelligibly communicable thereby proposes that insight to readers and auditors as, being true, therefore an attractive, valuable, or useful proposition for the formation of their own understanding. Now, we would not think to subject p to a logical test in the first place if we had no notion that p was anywise true. No one bothers to construct an argument that borogoves are all mimsy. We worry logically only about propositions that seem to us probably true.

        Logic does not show us that p is true. This is why it cannot alone convince us that p is true. It can show us only whether arguments for p are valid. If we can see no valid arguments for p, then is p not so probably true as it would be if there were such arguments. If it be logically demonstrated that there can be no valid arguments for p, then may we conclude that p is surely false (Gödel’s Incompleteness arguments are of this utterly dispositive sort; they forever establish a permanent dogma). Logic then is a sort of stress test of notions that seem to us cogent prima facie.

        Dogmata are, certainly, contrary to a radically untrammelled intellectual freedom, that might settle upon any notion whatsoever as being no less credible than any other. But this is just, and correct. It is a feature of dogmata, and not a bug. For, it cannot work to construe all notions ab initio as equally true, and so equally credible. Minds must settle. Settlement upon the proximal truth is their final cause, and their raison d’etre. If just anything is as creditable as any other, then nothing is credible, and they cannot ever settle, cannot ever relax; such is the predicament of our radical nominalist adversaries, whether they wot it yet or not. If every notion is equally credible – i.e., if minds are totally free to think whatever they like – then no notion can be quite credible in its own right, or anywise compelling, or cogent, as being simply true. So is it that, provided they have not availed themselves of manifold unprincipled exceptions (e.g.: “political violence is evil,” a proposition that cannot even be understood in the absence of moral truth), which usually they do, so as to be able to live as we all must, our nominalist liberal adversaries end always sooner or later as nihilists, who believe in nothing; and who then despair (or preach despair, anyway, even if they do not, find that they cannot quite, live it).

        In and to any mind, notions get to be dogmata in the first place precisely because they are more credible than their alternatives.

        But then, after all, creaturely freedom simply cannot be untrammeled. It is necessarily conditioned, and so constrained, by reality; which is to say, by experience, raw and cooked. Facts rule. By its factual trammels thought tells what is probably true from what is probably false. It is not in our power to credit a proposition that we understand is certainly false to fact. Among the facts that we cannot possibly controvert in act – in thought, or in deed – is the truth of the laws of logic and mathematics; which is to say, the laws of thought. We cannot think that any creatures might be radically untrammelled in their intellectual freedom except by means of the laws of thought, which inescapably condition thought as such; so that notion is autophagous, and cannot therefore be veracious.

        Perhaps you meant something quite different than the propositions to which I have here responded. Either way, some further clarification would be most helpful.

  5. E. F. Schumacher comments that third person truths of which logic and mathematics are examples, and also science in general, are amenable to consensus, but that spiritual truths are not so amenable and are by their nature debatable. Hence, the injunction not to speak religion and politics at the Thanksgiving. I suggest that we let readers decide which point of view they prefer between the two of us and which aligns best with their spiritual intuitions. I think they will have a clear idea from where each one of us is coming. In reading books and discussing with friends I participate in no tradition, unless one wants to include that very activity as a tradition, in which case, fine! I don’t reject the virtue of tradition in social matters; quite the contrary as I have written. We make compromises in the name of friendly social relations, but this has nothing to do with philosophical truth of which the individual must be left free to pursue as best he can, listening, pondering, reading… I wish I shared your vision of the fundamentally friendly nature of society – I think that might depend on how much pressure you personally feel to conform your thoughts to the mob. They are not the mob until you dissent. May your reading be fruitful, Kristor!

    • Thanks, Richard, for a generous, pacific, and so a wise reply to my logorrhea. In response I shall say, as efficiently as possible:

      1. Spiritual notions are of course – like all others – debatable, and we do well to debate them, so as to get to the bottom of them, and so set ourselves aright in respect to that spiritual reality to which they refer, and which (of course) far outpasses their comprehension. But if there be no possible final settlement of such debates upon the truth of things spiritual, so that we might grow in our understanding of such things, why then there can be no such things at all, about which we might utter true statements; or, therefore, arrive at any settlement at any bottom, nor any setting ourselves aright.

      Excursus: this is interesting. The statement that there is no true statement about x entails the falsity of the statement that there is no x, *and* of the statement that there is some x. We are then forced to the conclusion that, of any x, it cannot be the case that there are no truths.

      2. That result would be a repudiation ab initio of all spiritual intuitions whatever. There must be a “third person” truth about spiritual things, if there are to be any such things – or, therefore, any reason to talk about them.

      Viz., if there be no “third person” truth about spiritual things, then one notion that cannot be true is the third person truth that there are spiritual things; another is that “there are no ‘third person’ truths about spiritual things.”

      Things as such impose themselves upon us, ineluctably. No such imposition, then no such thing.

      God is, obviously, the third person in question. All debates between creatures terminate upon him.

      3. In reading books and talking with friends you do, certainly, partake a tradition: the tradition of human society per se. I cannot but think that your discourse with friends is intellectual, at least in part!

      4. The social compromises I had in mind were rather more concrete. E.g., the compromise I make when I leave off writing at the Orthosphere in a few minutes, so as to spend time with my wife and daughter on a luminous April evening. That compromise of my near hopes – such as attends any decision, forsooth – does not at all force me to a deliberation upon my principles, or a fortiori to an exception thereto. On the contrary: it is easy, and as fitting to things as I see them by my best lights, so therefore entirely amenable; indeed, happy.

      If such practical compromises force us to enact an exception to our principles, there is something wrong with our principles.

      Most of society consists of just such concrete mutual adjustments and coordinations. Each of them involves some sacrifice, however trivial; each of them, that is to say, involves some love. Indeed, we love each other even when, walking down the sidewalk, we avoid collision by our mutual recognitions. In our natural and indeed just focus on our failures of social coordination, we overlook our many successes thereat, upon which such failures supervene.

      The scapegoat could not be exiled from a community that had no prevenient integrity; that was not already a community, before ever there had been any worry about a threat thereto, or so about a scapegoat whose fault it might be.

      This is where I quibble with Girard. The expulsion of a scapegoat cannot be the fons et origo of culture, *precisely because any such expulsion can be undertaken only by a social community.* If there be no such community, then there can be nothing from which a scapegoat might be scaped. Community, then, is the forecondition of the scapegoat, and not vice versa. And you can’t obtain a community without social coordination, which in turn supervenes rules, customs, at least a gestural language, and so forth: in short, a traditional culture.

      After all, in Girard’s own parabolic account of the origin of mimesis, it transpires *within a social group – i.e., a commensal group – already congregant about a kill.* The mimesis cannot account for the congregation that first subvenes it.

      Not that I take these two phenomena – community, and scapegoat – to have been too much separated in time. On the contrary, I take it as obvious that the moment we got human communion, we got with it an impulse to banishment therefrom. Separation and communion seem to be two sides of the same coin. As Empedocles might have put it – perhaps he did – there can be no love without strife. Love *just is* in its effects a sort of discrimination *against* what is not so much loved as the beloved.

      5. As to whether or not society is fundamentally friendly or inimical, I take it as obvious – logically obvious – that it must be the former. Enemies *cannot* be friends, *by definition.* This even under the Christian mandate that they should love one another, despite their inimity. So no society, which by the definition of “society” simply must be constituted mostly of friends and companions, can possibly be made mostly of enemies. To think otherwise is to entertain credulously a contradiction in terms.

      Notwithstanding all that, I completely grant that you might in your experience of the basic inimity of the modern academy to all that is good and true, and indeed beautiful, have suffered some pangs I have myself, as a businessman, so far escaped – thanks be to God, and to my early decision to forego an academic career (it was academic politics that put me off; ditto for the priesthood). I am in no position therefore to judge your cynical evaluation of society, that has been gathered from your academic experience. I would rather beg you to remember that society is more truly, justly, and basically constituted of your friendly intercourse with Tom and your weekly companions at the bar in Oswego, than it is of those goddamned committees and star chambers, those gutless heartless gormless bureaucrats and administrators, sitting pallid day by day in their fluorescent hells, with nothing better to do than to interfere with us all, and so to make of all our lives a weak echoing hell.

      • I recently had a bureaucrat, just such a one as you describe, attempt to summarily fire me for a three page handout after 19 years of service; no warning, no talking to, just be gone, and what the handout contained happened to be empirically true, and in normal circumstances, not debatable. She had company. The lynch mob failed this time, but, if at first you don’t succeed… If we define true society in advance as members of the humane race, I’m all for it!

      • Good heavens! No wonder you’re in a misanthropic, bloody minded mood. Congratulations on surviving this first attempt. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

        You probably can’t share the contents of the handout, for all sorts of reasons, but I’m with child to discover them.


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