Monday, November 7, 2011

Concord Bridge or Fort Sumter Part I

Joe Huffman used for a recent quote of the day a bit from Mike Vanderboegh's post titled "Choose This Day Whom you Will Serve".

Mr. Vanderboegh posits and Mr. Huffman concurs that hard times are on the horizon, and America's law enforcement officers will be forced to pick sides. Additionally, both men, after their own fashion, warn that the police will not have an easy time of it should they choose unwisely.

Fair enough. Mr. Vanderboegh and Mr. Huffman are serious men, and are not given to bravado, and when they warn of approaching storms, we had best take heed.

But take heed of what? It is one thing to tell someone they will soon have to choose sides in a conflict and warn them of the consequences of choosing the wrong side, but that leaves some questions unanswered: What will the sides be? What kind of conflict will it be? And what will the consequences be?

What side has both Joe Huffman and Mike Vanderbeogh (and for that matter... me) on it?

You could call it the freedom lover's side, but that is a little imprecise - everyone, including drunks, addicts, perverts, and thieves loves freedom, so that won't do at all. As a flag of convenience, let’s call our side the written word side. We believe the rules by which the government must abide are written down in words; the words have meaning; the rules may be changed by consent, but words can never be arbitrarily made to mean their opposite. It is the side which believes the good of having the government prohibited from doing harm far outweighs the harm of having it obstructed from doing good. It is the side which believes in putting the government on a tight leash and never letting it loose.

The other side is less abstract, They are the elected officials, appointed bureaucrats, and the tenured university elite. In medieval history, they were the first and second estates - the aristocracy and the church. Circling them are an army of functionaries, purveyors, and petty officials, all hoping and hungry that some bit of power and legitimacy will flow downhill and accrue to them by their association with the ruling class.

The nobility may fight among themselves, we call these fights elections, history books call them dynastic wars, and while kings and popes may have struggled endlessly for power and prestige, on the issue of keeping the peasants firmly in place, they were of one mind.

Our side believes words must not be permitted to change meaning, so that regardless of innovations, technological revolutions, and social evolutions, each generation will know what the previous meant and thought.

The other side believes meanings must be divorced from words so that mere logical consistency will not impede the establishment of a static social order where their position on top is secured. The courtiers at Versailles constantly invented new dances, conversational tropes, and social rituals to act as barriers to entry and badges of status - what was new yesterday is outdated today, and if you can't keep up - back to the farm with you. The same is true today - ask anyone who has fallen afoul of a university speech code. Political correctness is a means of keeping the lower orders in their place. Use the wrong word, criticize the wrong politician, or hire the wrong person, and you will be dragged down.

The conflict between the two sides arises then as a natural result of who they are, and what they believe. It is an existential battle between those who are driven to rule over others, and those content to rule only themselves. Many in our current version of the first and second estates understand explicitly, and all understand at least implicitly, that it is meaningless to be a ruler without subjects - and no subjects may be had, if people are free to simply walk away and rule themselves.

The constitution was originally conceived to act as an impediment on the ambitions of neo-monarchists. The founders understood it was the natural tendency for some people to look for kings, and the natural tendency for others to cast themselves in that role. But freedom is a mechanism which requires constant vigilance, and those who wished to be kings encouraged those who feared living without rulers to attack the very idea of that vigilance.

Argue that divorcing words from their meanings is a deadly philosophy, and the best you can hope for is blank stares. Not many care, and many others actually approve of the fact that promoting the general welfare stopped meaning protecting citizen's livelihoods and now means redistributing wealth; regulating interstate commerce stopped meaning enabling trade, and now means an invitation to rent seeking; and that enumerated powers metastasized into a stack of regulations, enacted without the consent of the people, and used as a bludgeon to keep the populace in line.

The conflict then, is between one side which must... MUST rule over others, and another which cannot understand why anyone would want to.


Joel said...

This is very good. Thank you.

Zendo Deb said...

People get confused about freedom.

I recommend "Six Great Ideas" by Mortimer J. Adler. This breaks freedom down into its two principle components: Liberty and License. (There is a reason it is "Give me Liberty...." and also "...with Liberty and Justice....")

The 6 ideas? Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality and Justice. Pretty good collection.

Earl said...

Thanks, haven't been reading your notes for awhile, this one is very good for my mind.

Mike W. said...

Ok, I'm going to have to re-read these now. I read Pt II first without realizing it and my brain is all jumbled.

Great post Mike!

Anonymous said...

An entirely paranthetical quibble by a medievalist: Versailles and the first/second/third estate concept isn't medieval. It is early modern France after the Hundred Years and Sixty Years Wars, a rather different beast. Church, nobility and urban councils were medieval power institutions, but it was quite a bit more complex than a nice little pyramid, think more of a network relying heavily on cooperation and compromise as much as conflict. Trade guilds in particular could be a real headache for would-be kings; and it was rare for a family to be a powerful influence in such guilds for more than three generations. Divine Right, the beloved trope of the monarchist isn't a concept that is written down until c.1500, in Scotland under the Stuart kings, who had been having a century of bad luck.

Anonymous said...

Those with a love of big government may be in for a nasty surprise. Most of the people in my office (state government) despise the left and handing too much power to government. We see on a daily basis how stupid government can be.

Rollory said...

You're twisting words somewhat yourself. True nobility - meaning, people who actually are noble, in the full meaning of the word - believe as you do: that words have meanings, and laws are to be followed, and that there is mutual responsibility. True aristocracy feels a sense of obligation and duty as a result of its position. The mere fact of being in a position of responsibility and authority does not automatically and immediately make people corrupt and untrustworthy. It may well have a tendency in that direction over time, but for that matter we all have a tendency toward death.

I also disagree with your division of people. There are quite a few who _want_ someone to rule over them: to provide them with warmth, shelter, food, without them having to make any hard choices or hard decisions to get it for themselves - without themselves wanting that responsibility. It's an extremely seductive promise, and the people who accept it are the ones giving strength to evil.