Goofus and Gallant

Does anyone remember the “Goofus and Gallant” page from old Highlights? You know, in the left frame Goofus illustrates how not to behave; in the right frame Gallant illustrates proper etiquette.

Goofus and Gallant

I can’t help but think that in a galaxy far far away at the edge of our universe, the alien equivalent of Highlights simply reprints the #FakePresident’s tweets in the left frame, while displaying good alien conduct in the right.

Take this morning’s rant.

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One can just see Goofus chasing after the “quitters” who refuse to eliminate healthcare for millions of citizens. In the right frame is Gallant, praising Congress members for not caving into bullying.

But I am also remembering an older layer of Goofus and Gallant. Thucydides reports how, in the Summer of 430 BCE “with their land devastated for the second time, and under the double burden of plague and war, the Athenians suffered a change of mind” about the policies of their ruler, Pericles. “They now began to blame Pericles for persuading them to war and held him responsible for the disasters that had befallen them” (Thucydides, Peloponnesian War 2.59).

Like Goofus, Pericles turns the tables on the Athenians. Their sons, brothers, and husbands are returning in body bags. Criminal neglect of Athenian health and infrastructure have spread the plague. But, instead of comforting the Athenians, Pericles ridicules them:

I was expecting this anger of yours against me (I can understand its causes), and I have called this assembly in order to refresh your memory and to suggest that you are wrong to criticize me or to give in to your present troubles (Thuc. 2.60).

Remember? You are the obstructionists who for the past seven years have vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Certainly if all else is well and people have the choice of war or peace, it is great folly to go to war. But if, as was the case, the stark choice is either to submit and endure instant subjection to others or to face the risks and win through, the greater blame lies in shirking the danger rather than standing up to it. For my own part, I remain the same and my position does not shift. It is you who are changing. What has happened is that your conviction when you were unharmed has turned to regret now that trouble is on you, and in your weakened state of morale that argument of mine now seems to you mistaken: the pain has already made itself felt by every individual, but the benefit for all of us is not yet clearly seen (Thuc. 2.61).

When it was a matter of fanning hatred against a black President in order to win votes, you were all on board. Now that you are called upon to deprive millions of citizens of affordable healthcare, you are shirking your responsibility. Quitters.

The enemy have attacked, as they were always going to do on your refusal to submit; we were prepared for all else, but not for the additional affliction of this plague, the only present circumstance which could not have been foreseen. I know that my increased unpopularity is largely due to the plague: but this is unfair, unless you will also give me the credit for any unexpected success (Thuc. 2.64).

“My increased unpopularity is due to the fake news reporting the CBO’s fake numbers — the plague of media; but, wait, look at those job numbers!”

Quitters. Astonishingly, however, Thucydides then reports: “The universal anger at Pericles among the Athenians did not subside until they had punished him with a fine. Not long afterwards, as is characteristic of crowd behaviour, they elected him general once more and entrusted all their affairs to his management” (Thuc. 2.65).

Why? Because Goofus and Gallant no more changed anyone’s mind than did Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. Deprived of the means of understanding their fate, the Athenians — as is characteristic of crowd behaviour — dutifully tuned into Fox News every evening and reelected the leader responsible for their pain, destruction, and suffering.

And, yet, the lesson was not entirely lost. Two millennia later, when Federalists lined up to defend their new Constitution, they universally condemned this so-called “father of Democracy,” this demagogue, this bully. He is Goofus, not Gallant. Parents: he is the left hand bad example; not the right hand good example.

Christian Faith

Some folks you just know are Christian by looking at them. They look Christian. Perhaps I look Christian. That’s a huge problem because the stigmata of Christian faith defy surface signals such as race, gender, ethnicity, language, dress, gender preference, or nationality. The stigmata — the signs — of Christian faith are relational. We should not be able to tell whether an individual is Christian by that individual’s outward appearance or language. And, yet, we all routinely make that call. I, for example, assume that urban African Americans are either Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, or Church of God; and just as routinely I assume that, when a European American’s dialect betrays her or him as a “southerner,” she or he must be Southern Baptist or some more conservative strain of evangelical. Stereotypes are short-cuts. But, just as with mushrooms, looks can be deceiving.

Sixteenth-century German painting of Jesus Christ wearing the crown of thorns.

In the first century, if you were a Christian and resided in the eastern Mediterranean, chances are that you were born into a Jewish family; but, if you were among Saint Paul’s converts in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Thessaloniki, or Colossi, there was an equal chance you might be a pagan convert. Appearance, language, and custom would, in this case, be of little help. As late as the 80s and 90s CE, the Apostle John’s communities are still pondering the question: how will you recognize another Christian?

The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters (1 John 3:10).

Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death (1 John 3:13-14).

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sisterb in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:17-18).

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments (1 John 5:2).

But then we try to translate this “love” into a surface appearance. If you love God, then you will oppose taxes on wealth. If you love God, you will hate men who love men and women who love women. If you love God, you will hate . . .

I am thinking about the stigmata of Christian faith today because I know, in less than a month, that I will once again be thrown into the arena of Fall Semester with an entirely new group of Junior and Senior Economics majors. My mostly Asian and Eastern Mediterranean students will be confused. I look like a Christian. But the sound coming from the speakers in the lecture hall is (I haven’t decided) Radiohead, alt-J, Drake, FKA twigs, who knows. I look like a Christian — white, European American, short hair, in my 60s, but . . .

And, then, over the course of the semester we will conduct a deep reading of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, GWF Hegel, Karl Marx, Carl Menger, and a long list of others, tracing in their economic models the unfolding of a world that is patently not Christian, not religious, not ethical, and not loving. “He must not be a Christian.”

Stigmata. Because were I a “Christian,” I would simply tell them what the Bible says about obeying governing powers, about avoiding works righteousness, and about the “Jesus prayer.” Instead I am inviting them to master rigorous mathematical modeling of an increasingly integrated, comprehensive economic world. “He must not be a Christian.” “Did you notice how passionately he taught Marx?”

The stigmata of the Christian faith are relational.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the  king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 26:34-40).

The world thinks that the Christian faith is something superficial — a language, a sexual preference, a nationality, a race. The world thinks that the Christian faith can be read off the surface of a person’s life — their clothing, the music they listen to. And, yet, if these are the stigmata of Christian faith, then it is just as superficial as it seems.

So, once again, this Fall, I will step out into the great lecture hall of Economics 105, History of Economic Thought, and I will test how closely my students are reading meIs he a Christian? He looks like a Christian. He doesn’t listen to Christian music. He doesn’t sound like a ChristianHe can’t be a Christian. Is he a Christian?

The Fake President’s God

Ok. I admit it. I receive the #FakePresident’s tweets. Most of them, of course, are so outrageous as not to deserve comment. But at 12:21 today, EST, he combined blasphemy with treason:

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Astonishingly, the #FakePresident was not immediately consumed in a ball of fire. I guess that will come later.

First the blasphemy. Republics do not worship any god. Worship is how religious practitioners respond to divine grace. Republics are grounded in res publica, literally “the wealth we hold in common.” In his tweet, the #FakePresident is, in effect, presiding over a national liturgy: “We worship God.” Which is to say, on behalf of the political entity — the nation and its people — over which he is legally the President, he is calling us to worship: “We worship God.” But (1) the #FakePresident enjoys no apostolic authority to call us to worship; (2) the #FakePresident cannot invite worship from an entity — a Republic and its citizens — which, by definition, is incapable of worship; and (3) we must therefore infer either that the god to which the #FakePresident is calling us to worship is not God, but the Evil One, or that the service  over which he is presiding is not sacred, but secular, or both. In either case he is guilty of blasphemy.

But, let us assume that, like all of his tweets, this tweet too is simply a public relations stunt; using the name of God in vain. In that case, every religious leader everywhere, from the most conservative to the most liberal, should feel obligated to reprimand the #FakePresident for his blasphemous conduct. Of course, since he would never place himself under diocesan discipline, no bishop is obligated to officially rebuke this reprobate. And, yet, I am sure God would welcome a sharp rebuke from any and all bishops of this blasphemer-in-chief.

But, of course, the #FakePresident’s tweet is also treasonous; not, of course, were the United States a divine monarchy and the President a divinely appointed monarch. We readily expect and attend to words uttered by Her Majesty, Queen of England. But the United States is a Republic. The nearest, therefore, it comes to religion is attested to in Romans, chapters 1, 2, and 13, where the Apostle Paul summarizes popular first century Stoic teaching on natural religion. When the author of the Declaration of Independence (a deist) and the framers of the US Constitution (Unitarians, Deists, and Anglicans, with a smattering of Presbyterians and Congregationalists) invoke “nature and nature’s God” they have nothing more in mind than the Apostle Paul’s summary. So what contains that summary?

It contains not one iota of scripture, for “they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness” (Rom. 2:15). While baptized Christians find God in Christ, a different standard holds for others: “For what can be know about God is plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he made” (Rom. 2:19-20). But, far from emancipating those who have this “natural” knowledge of God, this knowledge is sufficient only to condemn them (Rom. 2:20).

As for the #FakePresident’s government, here is what first century popular Stoicism teaches:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:1-7).

First, to which governing authorities is the Apostle referring to in his letter to the Romans? Yes. He is referring to Nero and to Nero’s bureaucracy. He is referring to Government, big “G,” in spades. He is referring to the pagan temples that Nero supports. He is referring to the imperial armies garrisoned across Afroeurasia. He is referring to the blood-thirsty Roman practice of completely eliminating any community that mounts resistance to Roman rule. Government, big “G.” Obey it.

Nevertheless, within the context of Stoic statecraft, the Apostle’s counsel made some sense. Creation is a tightly-woven fabric of threads — some precious, some common, but all necessary in the composition of the whole. All beings fit within this whole, from the dust beneath our feet to lower animals, to slaves, women, children, and men (the heads of households), and then those who govern many households, ascending upward to the highest celestial beings, and finally to Being itself: to God. In popular Stoic cosmology, it was incumbent upon every subordinate being to accurately identify and fulfill its purpose within the whole. Government, big “G,” is good. Nero is good. Notwithstanding the fact that he murdered his own mother, Nero is a servant of God within this popular Stoic scheme. Notwithstanding the fact that taxes are spent oppressing the Jews and supporting temple prostitution, secular Roman law is good.

Later, of course, after the collapse of Rome, Christian interpreters less familiar with popular Stoicism misrepresented Saint Paul’s counsel as though it referred to “Christian magistrates.” In 60 CE? Christian magistrates? I don’t think so. Saint Paul was referring to the full secular, pagan Roman bureaucracy.

Were Christians supposed to “worship” Nero? Of course not. But, even Saint Paul recognized that Nero’s whole legitimacy was grounded not in the Gospel, but in natural law. Paul will have other things to say about Roman imperial governance when he addresses the matter from the vantage point of the Gospel.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucifi ed the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8).

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-25).

So, yes. According to the Apostle, big “G” government will be destroyed at the end of the age. But, until that point Christians are obligated to obey not their “Christian magistrates,” but their secular, pagan rulers who govern not according to Scripture, but according to the “law written on their hearts,” in accordance to “natural law.”

This was the Deist faith of the framers of the US Constitution. This was the faith of Thomas Jefferson, author of the completely naturalized and secularized “Jefferson Bible.”

When the #FakePresident presides over his nationalist mass; when he ingenuously invites us to violate the Apostle’s counsel in Romans 13 and invites us, just as ingenuously, to violate our baptismal vows in 1 Corinthians 1-2; and, finally, when he invites us to commit treason against our Republic, he is worthy of a three-fold rebuke by every Church authority: every pastor, priest, bishop, and cardinal.

Abusing the AG

“Rule over naturally free men is different from rule over natural slaves; rule in a household is monarchical, since very house has one ruler; the rule of statesmen is rule over free and equal persons.”

Aristotle, Politics, 1255b18-20

When the framers of the 1787 US Constitution met in Philadelphia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was there; Donald Trump was not. Mr Sessions was there in the person of southern slave-holders, who, like Aristotle, understood that the privileges enjoyed by citizens rest upon the labor of other members of their household (their oikonomike [οἰκονομική]), the slaves or workers (doulon [δούλων]). Only because others worked did southern gentlemen farmers enjoy the wealth, leisure, education, security and good health to spend their summer among their equals (ison [ἴσων]) writing a constitution. Their aim in Philadelphia was to keep it that way. And, there, in a nutshell, is Jeff Sessions, who has spent much of his adult, law-making life making sure that workers in general, and African American workers in particular, did not enjoy equal status with free and equal white men.

Donald Trump was not in Philadelphia in 1787. That is because the 45th President (and those like him) were on the record opposed to republican values and institutions. In their view, the public sphere (politike [πολιτική]) was entirely illegitimate: a boondoggle. For the public sphere entailed the seizure of private wealth for the sake of institutions legally bound to serve the public good. It is illegitimate because only the monarchical rule of private enterprise is wholly legitimate — i.e., legal because based on private property. Because the 45th President is fundamentally opposed to public authority, he — along with Tom Paine, Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and others — were locked out of the Philadelphia convention. For, as Aristotle noted, “rule in a household” — in a private enterprise — is monarchical, since every “household” — every business — “has only one ruler.” Thus the 45th’s anger. He is the boss. He is the “monarch” of this private enterprise. And one of his doulon, one of his slaves, has gone rogue on him.

But, what is worse is that the 45th President cannot understand how his own Attorney General gained admission into the Convention while he, the President, was left outside. How could this be?

To be sure, the Attorney General is a slave owner. With Aristotle, he believes that only those who enjoy wealth, education, health, security, and leisure should be allowed, with their equals, to rule. And with Aristotle, he believes that those who are “natural slaves” — those who, for whatever reason, do not enjoy these qualities — should be relegated to work on behalf of those who do. Fair is fair. Where he differs from his President is that, for whatever reason, the Attorney General believes in a public sphere governed by the rule of law — racist law, misogynist law, plutocratic law, but law nonetheless. His President, by contrast, knows only the law of the private household, the oikonomia, private enterprise, where the manager (the despotes or despot) rules monarchically.

This conflict between the 45th and the AG cannot end well; not because Jeff Sessions is a fine upstanding slaveholder and the 45th a pitiful anti-Federalist. It cannot end well because the AG and all of his well-intentioned slave-owning allies created their own nemesis: the 45th.

Rule of law? You must be joking! “L’Etat? L’Etat, c’est moi.” Very few in 1787 fully appreciated the full nature of this aggressive cancer. Among those who did was Gouverneur Morris, delegate from New York, who on August 8 intoned:

I never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It is a nefarious institution. It is the curse of heaven on the states where it prevails. . . . Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and had them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? . . . The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this, — that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina, who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow-creatures from their dearest connections, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes, in a government instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views, with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.  Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States, for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence against those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and seamen, in case of foreign attack. The legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports, both of which will fall heavier on them than on the southern inhabitants; for the bohea tea used by a northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of having their votes in the national government increased in proportion; and are, at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the general government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a country. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? I would sooner submit myself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution (Elliott’s Debates, Volume 5, Wednesday, August 8, 1787).

In the end, the Attorney General won. He got his slavery, according to law.

The irony is that Jeff Sessions is now in battle against those excluded from the floor of the Philadelphia convention. Those who reject republicanism entirely are now in power. Ironically, the slave-owning AG is the mud sill for the rule of law.

He will lose. The anti-federalists and anti-republicans are now in power. They hate the 1787 Constitution. It is their nemesis. But, the even greater irony is that Jeff and his good-old-boys — McConnell and Ryan — did not know (did they?) that this 45th would be their undoing.

Dialogi Adversus Pelagianos/Arianos

A few days ago my patristics professor reported on social media that she had just left a service where she had “heard a pitch perfect ‘Arian’/’Pelagian’ sermon by an elderly liberal pastor at the local country church (Jesus was sent to be perfect and you must be too). I haven’t felt that crushing despair in decades, but was so impressed by his consistency.”

My professor’s report reminded me of any number of conversations I have had recently with institutional heads and administrators searching for ways to streamline instruction for holy orders. “All seminarians need not be scholars.” “All seminaries need not focus on scholarship.” So true. And, yet, in order for this to hold true, clergy not called to scholarship need to listen to the spirit speaking through those who are. This is the clear implication of Saint Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, where, in three tightly argued sections (1 Cor. 12-14), the Apostle urges members of the community of faith to rely upon the gifts exercised by others.

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. They eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving greater honor to the inferior members, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:14-26).

As seminaries pare back their curricula, which parts of the body should administrators eliminate? Which parts are “less honorable”; “less respectable”? Of which parts have we no need?

When community members called to holy orders step up to the pulpit (or, more commonly, when they step to the front of the nave), we rely upon them to exercise their office; to bring the Word of God to the community. I am led to believe that this calling cannot be confused with displaying rhetorical skill or eloquence; though both of these are doubtless helpful. Rather, in our (Anglican) tradition, I am led to believe that this gift and calling bears some relationship, on the one hand, to the liturgy and, on the other hand, to the specific texts that follow in the course of the liturgical calendar. The liturgy, as found in the Book of Common Prayer, aims to unite every parish with every other parish around the globe, but also to bring each parish into communion with all parishes throughout time and space. Through the liturgy we not only announce, but embody, one holy catholic and apostolic Church — the communion of saints throughout all time. It is only within this catholic context that we come to the offices of any specific service. Why?

Mssrs. Arius (256-336) and Pelagius (360-418) were terribly well educated, bright, very good speakers and writers, who enjoyed encyclopedic command of sacred writ. Neither set out to divide the Church or introduce heresy among her ranks. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that their grasp of the faith was consistent with how the communities of faith in which they were baptized and to which they then ministered understood the gospel. They were simply perfecting and passing on what they had heard and understood from those by whom they were taught. What is more, I would be the first to admit that, absent any guidance to the contrary, the Bible lends itself to both an Arian and a Pelagian reading; which is to say, Arius and Pelagius offer us plausible interpretations of sacred writ. Fair enough.

All of which makes perfect sense until we come to the Creed. The Creed reminds us that our relationship to the divine is not only vertical; it is horizontal. Or, if you prefer, the Creed reminds us that we believe in one God Who is not exhausted by the First Article of the Creed, Who is not only “maker of heaven and earth,” but is also “incarnate from the Virgin Mary,” “made human,” “was crucified under Pontius Pilate,” “suffered death and was buried”; and Who is “the giver of life” Who has “spoken through the Prophets.”

This, of course, is the offensive side of our faith. No one is offended when we proclaim God’s perfection. No one is offended when we note human inadequacy. And no one is offended when we suggest that we should strive to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The offense comes from divine weakness and death.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).

Incarnation is offensive in its own right. Yet divine suffering and death make it doubly so. But it gets worse; much worse. For, it would be one thing if, following divine resurrection and ascension, we could then give ourselves over to an immediate, direct, apophatic experience of the divine through a spirit given to each of us, individually, without ever again having to know “Christ from a human point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16).

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5:16)

All we need to do to see God’s spirit is look at our own spirit. No more flesh required. No more offense.

But, what if we see God only by seeing one another? What if we are the Body of Christ? And, what if we are the Body of Christ not only here and now, but also from Pentecost to the eschaton? In that case, reading God off of my own spirit is not only ill-advised; it is impossible; for the divina locus, in that case, is not — precisely not — in me, but in us; and not in us, here and now, but in us throughout time and space: in us during war and death and suffering and hunger and pain and sorrow. This is where God is.

Thus the offense. Just as Arius imagines that Jesus gradually escapes from/redeems his humanity, winning through his suffering a title he did not originally enjoy (Phil. 2:9-11); so Pelagius imagines that we too can win that same title, having that mind in us that was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5). The flesh — embodiment — will give way to through suffering to something better, more perfect. The Incarnation was a mere stepping stone, a vehicle, a fast-track, to disincarnation.

If, on the other hand, we must “discern the body” (1 Cor. 12:29); and if discerning the body means something more than meditating upon the Holy Sacrament or, still worse, private self-examination, then attending to the Church catholic is not optional, but necessary. Attention to this universal Body and to the gifts distributed and exercised through the Spirit among its members is not optional: not escaping the Body, not transcending it, but discerning it.

When an individual called to holy orders, in exercise of her or his spiritual gift, clearly articulates a message that violates the Spirit that has been heard in the Church for almost two millennia, it is, at the very least, evidence that this individual needs discipline and further instruction.

I am thankful that when I attended seminary I enjoyed access to a full palate of lectures and seminars taught by highly esteemed scholars, churchwomen and churchmen. I am thankful that I was sufficiently instructed to know when I was at risk of entertaining heretical positions. I am far less certain that such is the case today. Cuts have to be made. Efficiencies need to be realized. Which “weak” or “less desirable” parts will be placed on line, outsourced, or furloughed? Not all who are called to holy orders need to be scholars. So true. And, yet, no seminarian should ever be granted a degree who has not discerned the Body, or who, knowingly or not, is so poorly instructed in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church that belief in it is pure nonsense.


Tomorrow I will board a plane in Oakland and decant into Burbank with hundreds of fellow delegates to the UC AFT State Council Meeting. I am psyched. We have a really hard row to hoe. But I am happy with our statewide delegates and with our leadership.

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“Vineyard March” by Richard Correll, 1970

So, why do I feel so uneasy?

Obviously, much of my disease is related to November 2016. My job would have been somewhat easier were a Democrat nominating the next Supreme Court justice. With a Republican in the White House, the odds of us winning local, regional, and state battles diminished, dramatically.

But I am also diseased because of the weight and composition of our opposition. Our opposition is, predominantly, composed of working families; of women and men who should be joining with us, but who, for a variety of reasons are arrayed against us. They, in turn, are backed by capital that — unlike the capital of Soros or Buffet — is focused like a laser on political candidates and issues; the Kochs finance a vast network of “think-tanks” (I use the term loosely) whose sole purpose is to promote private capital, i.e., whose interests are anti-republican.

What can we say that is new, original, inspiring? What can we do in the face of this corporate-nationalist anti-democratic, anti-republican seizure of power?

I have long argued for a realignment of labor and capital. I think that we are barking up the wrong tree. And I believe we are pursuing the wrong strategies. There is more than enough wealth on the left to completely bury the De Voses and the Kochs. Their wealth, though substantial, is a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the wealth of those survey research places on the left.

What we lack is not wealth, but a coherent vision. What do I mean?

I am not a Leninist. Not by anyone’s measure. Nevertheless I appreciate how the Leninist message captured the imagination of a generation of workers in the 1920s and 1930s who then coalesced around what was essentially a Fordist ideology. Vladimir Ilyich idolized Henry Ford. He dreamed of reproducing the Ford factory all across Russia. In part, he succeeded. Whatever improvement in social conditions Russians enjoyed, they owe to Henry Ford, and to V.I. Lenin.

But that can no longer be — should never have been — the message of labor. The fact is, we have too many workers. Employment is way too high. We need to vastly expand unemployment.

Here is what has happened. Labor in the US — as in the industrialized world more generally — has been hugely efficient. Under normal conditions, these efficiencies would have been shared between labor and investors. This, in fact, is how things have worked (more or less) in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and beyond. Working families have been rewarded for their efficiencies with health care, housing, education, end of life security. In the US, by contrast, these efficiencies have been transferred up the income hierarchy to families that have no need for them. Their children are already attending the best schools. Their health plans are the best that private wealth can afford. And so they invest their windfalls in ever more speculative assets in hope of achieving even higher returns on their investment.

But, what if we were to send these efficiencies down the income hierarchy to families that could genuinely use them? In that case, working families would suddenly find themselves with a well-earned windfall. Their daughters and sons would attend universities funded by the efficiencies their hard labor had earned. They would enjoy well-earned retirements. Their investments would blossom.

I am not naive. I do not think that such transfers happen on their own. They happen because of political organization. Yet, I could wish — I do wish — that George and Warren would begin to think more broadly about the future. They are supporting the wrong side. Come over to the bright side.

(Special thanks to Lincoln Cushing for putting a name, title, and date to the woodcut reproduced above.)

On Constitutions

As we follow the decomposition of (small “r”) republican institutions around the globe, we often forget how fragile these institutions inevitably are. Who, after all, willingly relinquishes their private wealth?  Or who willingly submits to laws, regulations, institutions, and political bodies over which they do not enjoy direct control?

The answer to these questions, is, of course, republicans (again small “r”). Under the conviction that we are all better off submitting to laws, regulations, institutions and political bodies specifically and deliberately protected from private wealth, republicans — in the Americas, in France, in the Caribbean, England, and eventually throughout the world — willingly bound themselves and their wealth to shared constitutions.

I am thinking about constitutions today because constitutions rest upon nothing but the legitimacy they are granted by those who submit to them. Absent this legitimacy, constitutions are not worth the paper they are printed on. It was therefore with no small amount of dread that I  read first Stanford University political theorist Francis Fukuyama’s article (1989) and then his book (1992) End of History seeking to shift the ground for constitutionality away from Hobbesian mutual constraint and towards right-wing Hegelian legal theory. Not that Mr Fukuyama’s thesis was terribly original; it was not. But only that in its earlier articulations — by Nazi legal scholar Carl Schmitt; by his student Leo Strauss; and by eccentric anti-communist Hegelian Alexandre Kojève — it failed to land a punch. Now, finally, in 1989, with the communist world emptying into the dustbin of history, the story told by Schmitt, Strauss, and Kojève could be updated, cleansed, and made respectable. The fact that this story was deeply anti-republican troubled no one in 1989. Indeed, as of 1968, the Republican Party itself was on record as anti-republican. It no longer believed in res publica, “the wealth we hold in common.”

Here is Mr Fukuyama:

 This Hegelian understanding of the meaning of contemporary liberal democracy differs in a significant way from the Anglo-Saxon understanding that was the theoretical basis of liberalism in countries like Britain and the United States. In that tradition, the prideful quest for recognition was to be subordinated to enlightened self-interest — desire combined with reason — and particularly the desire for self-preservation of the body. While Hobbes, Locke, and the American Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Madison believed that rights to a large extent existed as a means of preserving a private sphere where men can enrich themselves and satisfy the desiring parts of their souls, Hegel saw rights as ends in themselves, because what truly satisfies human beings is not so much material prosperity as recognition of their status and dignity. With the American and French revolutions, Hegel asserted that history comes to an end because the longing that had driven the historical process-the struggle for recognition — has now been satisfied in a society characterized by universal and reciprocal recognition. No other arrangement of human social institutions is better able to satisfy this longing, and hence no further progressive historical change is possible (F Fukuyama, End of History 1992:xviii).

To his credit, Mr Fukuyama admits here openly what most members of the Republican leadership either don’t know or do not care to mention: that contemporary Republican ideology is anti-republican. It is fundamentally opposed to what “Hobbes, Locke, and the American Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Madison believed.” Mr Fukuyama is seeding a different ideological ground; a post-republican ground for a quite different constitutional future.

[Disclosure: Mr Fukuyama grew up in the University of Chicago’s shadow. His father received his doctorate from Chicago in the 1950s. While there, the young Fukuyama fell under the spell of Leo Strauss, student of Carl Schmitt; which influenced his decision to pursue his bachelors at Cornell under Strauss votary Allan Bloom.

[Further disclosure: Mr Strauss and Mr Kojève joined a fierce political philosophical battle over the status of politics, published as an appendix to Strauss’ On Tyranny (Chicago ). Mr Fukuyama’s End of History finds him adopting Mr Kojève’s Hegel to promote a post-republican narrative not unlike Mr Strauss’ or Mr Schmitt’s.

[Final disclosure: I studied Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and Francis Fukuyama as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. I have a horse in the race.]

Where Mr Fukuyama reduces classical republicanism to pecuniary self-interest, I would invite readers to more carefully explore both the published record — in the Federalist Papers — and the published, but more voluminous, record of the US Constitutional Convention in Elliot’s Debates and Farrand’s Records (Journals of the Continental Congress). Here one does find much evidence for a pecuniary self-interest among the framers. Yet, one also finds a genuine republican spirit, a spirit eager to constrain and limit private wealth for the sake of the wealth we hold in common. Here, following Aristotle, the framers deliberately and explicitly excluded anti-Federalists and anti-Republicans from the Convention precisely because they favored the Lockean philosophy grounded in private property and private labor. This was because, already in the fourth century BCE, Aristotle recognized that stable public institutions needed to limit access from private self-interest. When in 1989 Mr Fukuyama shifted the discussion to Hegel’s philosophy of the slave-master relationship, to self-respect, pride, and recognition, he also shifted the ground from the public agora to the private household.

This change of venue was precisely that against which Aristotle had argued in the opening pages of his Politics. But — and this is significant — it was also the change in venue against which Hegel had argued in his discussion of civil society in his Philosophy of Right (1820). A political economy organized around private self-interest, in Hegel’s view, destroys itself and its concept.

Which brings us back to the essential fragility of constitutions. We are, all of us, deeply invested in our own self-preservation. Our natural state is private, not public. Thomas Hobbes said it best when he declared in De Cive (1642) that our natural state is a bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of all against all. It takes something unnatural, unusual, extraordinary for us to propose to make our private wealth public, to create what was once known as a commonwealth. This does not happen naturally. It is forced, coerced, constrained, limiting.

And it is precisely this constraint against which Mr Fukuyama inveighs in his End of History. It is a diatribe against republicanism, against res publica. And, it is an appeal to revert to our natural state.

Our natural state is not a state with constitutions. It is absent laws, regulations, and institutions. It lacks an agora, a public square.

I am not blaming Mr Fukuyama. He simply reflects his times. His mind is the mind of his age. There is nothing specially notable, one way or the other, about what he wrote; he wrote it well, but what he wrote is unnotable. Constitutions appear when communities recognize their shared interest, their public interest; when they recognize that their private wealth needs to be made public. These are very rare, exceptional moments. They are never pure and undistorted.

What is unique about our own moment is that the party called “republican,” which feeds upon and feeds the merely common longing for self-interest, is the most anti-republican party in US history. There is nothing noble, nothing notable, nothing distinguishing or distinguished in it. It is the essence of what Hannah Arendt meant by “banal.” It is that to which all of us, unattended, revert.

Thus my sense of dread. There is nothing here to legitimate. There is nothing here to defend. There is no constitution.

Ayn Rand’s Critique of Capital

When he takes the stand in Chapter XVIII of Book Three of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark intones what his creator, Ayn Rand, believes to be a blistering critique of collectivism. It is at least that. Yet it is also, at the same time, a blistering critique of capital and of capitalism. Let me explain.

Image result for fountainhead

The Fountainhead is a theological treatise, not in broad sense in which any fiercely-held belief might be called “religious,” but in the most narrow technical sense where we expect to find and do find metaphysical subtleties, divine beings, eternal destinies, penitential rites, and the like. The Fountainhead is a theological treatise; which may help explain why individuals who fashion themselves deeply religious, such as Wisconsin Congressman, House Leader and former Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, can also feel absolutely devoted to Ms Rand’s philosophy of “objectivism.”

The Fountainhead is a theological treatise that aimed to defend one dimension of the commodity form — its unique, irreplaceable, objective form of appearance — from its abstract, general, homogeneous, undifferentiated social being. And, yet, since both of these dimensions — both its objective form of appearance and its abstract social form — are inseparably bound together in the commodity form, qualitatively differentiating and isolating them from one another requires speculative, theological, metaphysical violence; “divine violence” (W Benjamin “Critique of Violence,” One Way Street 1979:148-154).

“Divine violence” mistakes the socially and historically specific contradiction immanent to the commodity form for an ontologically fundamental, objective, transhistorical state of being. To break the stranglehold the general, homogeneous, undifferentiated totality exercises over the particular and unique, self-determining “Being” breaks through and establishes its dominance over mere “being”; except that self-determining “Being” itself forms the dynamic, living inner core of the commodity form, the counterpart and compliment to its general, homogeneous, undifferentiated social form. “Divine violence,” even for Benjamin, entails the destruction of the law: the deployment of power to destroy the constraints on power.

The ontologically fundamental character of authentic Being everywhere requires a foundation myth that differs fundamentally from the Abrahamic-Babylonian myth to which it is opposed. Whereas the latter invites readers to recognize a natural order destroyed by human hubris, the objectivist myth invites initiates to identify this hubris itself as the essence of human being. Adam ventures out on his own; he tests the world; he breaks its laws. For his enterprise he is condemned. In the objectivist canon, Adam should instead be praised for resisting a world that constrains him; where the Adamic myth condemns hubris, the objectivist myth praises law-breaking.

This glorification of illegality captures the dynamic, living value form of the commodity as it turns upon and seeks to annihilate its material form of appearance: its merely outward social being.

Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had lifted darkness off the earth. Centuries later, the first man invented the wheel. He was probably torn on the rack he had taught his brothers to build. He was considered a transgressor who ventured into forbidden territory. But thereafter, men could travel past any horizon. He had left them a gift they had not conceived and he had opened the roads of the world (A Rand, The Fountainhead 1971:1724).

As is only appropriate for a religious text, Ms Rand gave to her Fountainhead an epic form. Dramatic events and actions assume a secondary role. This foregrounds the dialogue. The dialogue, in turn, takes a secondary place to several strategically placed soliloquies, the most significant of which is placed in the mouth of Howard Roark at his trial for bombing a public housing facility. Roark refuses outside counsel, choosing instead to defend himself. He begins his defense with the origins myth reproduced above. Roark continues:

That man, the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures — because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that that one paid for his courage (Ibid.).

Ms Rand’s mythic account has many parallels across the modern epoch. Two, however, stand out. The first is Adam Smith’s memorable story about the original human beings and their natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” (A Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I 1776:25). The second is Friedrich von Hayek’s origins myth in his 1944 Road to Serfdom.

Mr Smith’s story is significant not for what it tells us, but for what it conceals. As far as we can tell, for 2.4M years human beings have engaged in trade; for perhaps 20,000 years they have enjoyed markets. But, then, why did it take human beings 2.4M years to stumble upon a society mediated entirely — or so Mr Smith would like to believe — by abstract labor time expended? Would it not make more sense to seek a more proximate explanation for why communities began to change so dramatically in the fourteenth century?

Yet, it is the nature of origins myths to read contemporary social ontology back upon the past. As Hannah Arendt has noted:

Legendary explanations of history always served as belated corrections of facts and real events, which were needed precisely because history itself would hold man responsible for deeds he had not done and for consequences he had never foreseen. The truth of the ancient legends — what gives them their fascinating actuality many centuries after the cities and empires and peoples they served have crumbled to dust — was nothing but the form in which past events were made to fit the human condition in general and political aspirations in particular. Only in the frankly invented tale about events did man consent to assume his responsibility for them, and to consider past events his past. Legends made him master of what he had not done, and capable of dealing with what he could not undo. In this sense, legends are not only among the first memories of mankind, but actually the true beginning of human history (H Arendt, Origins 1979:208).

Even allowing for Ms Arendt’s own myth-making, we can well understand why eighteenth century social philosophers, curious to explain why their community had come to distinguish itself qualitatively from every other community at any time throughout history, might feel compelled to develop a powerful legend — antithetical to the Genesis account they had inherited — to explain this unprecedented anomaly. Such “Robinsonades,” so named after Daniel Defoe’s famous Robinson Crusoe (1719), richly populate the eighteenth and nineteenth century political economic landscape. Here Mr Smith is far from unique.

Our second myth-maker is Friedrich von Hayek, who, like Mr Smith, is eager to establish the ontologically fundamental character of individualism. In 1944, Mr von Hayek spread his net of inauthentic — which is to say “collectivist” — being so broadly as to capture most of the governments then battling fascism in Europe; not simply Communist Russia, but New Deal United States and Labor’s equivalent in Great Britain.

How sharp a break not only with the recent past but with the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism means becomes clear if we consider it not merely against the background of the nineteenth century but in a longer historical perspective. We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely or Cobden and Bright, or Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of the salient characteristics of Western civilization as it has grown from the foundations laid by Christianity and the Greeks and Romans. Not merely nineteenth- and eighteenth-century liberalism, but the basic individualism in herited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished (F v Hayek, Road to Serfdom 1944:67-68).

From which we might easily deduce that Mr von Hayek had either never read, but surely never understood, those “individuals” whom he here idolized; otherwise he would surely have known that the aristocratic Thucydides held nothing but contempt for the demagogue Pericles (a contempt, incidentally, Thucydides shared with the framers of the US Constitution, see Federalist No. 6).

But Mr von Hayek can hardly be faulted. Creation, innovation, entrepreneurship, and independence could be found on everyone’s lips (and on everyone’s pens) in the 1940s when both Ms Rand and Mr von Hayek crafted their respective religious treatises. German Fascism and Russian Communism seemed on their face  to articulate both the “common sense” indictment against all collectivisms — left or right — and the “common sense” proof of the virtues of individualism. It mattered little that the innovation and entrepreneurship that both Ms Rand and Mr von Hayek loudly trumpeted was virtually nowhere to be found in the 1930s until the US Congress voted to distribute $4.6T to research laboratories, manufacturers, universities, and the bank accounts of working families. Both Ms Rand and Mr von Hayek conveniently forget this mammoth, historically unprecedented, public gift to private enterprise without which, by all estimates, economic recovery would have taken decades — assuming, that is, that without this public gift, the US could have won the war at all, which is doubtful. In the mythic tales of Ms Rand and Mr von Hayek the recovery in the 1940s simply happens; or, as in Milton Friedman’s retelling, it unfolds as a tale of private entrepreneurs willing to sacrifice for their community.

The great advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science or literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized goverment. Columbus did not set out to seek a new route to China in response to a majority directive of a parliament, though he, was partly financed by an absolute monarch. Newton and Leibniz; Einstein and Bohr; Shakespeare, Milton, and Pasternak; Whitney, McCormick, Edison, and Ford; Jane Addams, Florence Nightingale, and Albert Schweitzer; no one of these opened new frontiers in human knowledge and understanding, in literature, in technical possibilities, or in the relief of human misery in response to governmental directives. Their achievements were the product of individual genius, of strongly held minority views, of a social climate permitting variety and diversity (M Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom 1962:3-4).

In fact, there is no one in this list who did not benefit directly or indirectly from sizable centralized government expenditures — Mr Friedman himself, whose first jobs (with the NRC and NBER) were with the Federal Government, not excepted.

The challenge for Ms Rand, as for these others, was to redeem the material form of appearance from its social form; the bare fact from its concept. Capital has always assumed this two-fold form. On its surface, it presents as a world of individual things, products of individual creators, innovators, or, in Ms Rand’s Fountainhead, architects. Underlying this world of things, however, is a social form knitting all things together into a homogeneous, undifferentiated whole. Ms Rand, Mr von Hayek, and Mr Smith are sworn enemies of this homogeneous, undifferentiated whole. In this whole, independence is eliminated. In its place is a web of mutual dependence, where no individual is able or is permitted to distinguish him or herself; where, in their drive to achieve social harmony, the individual is completely lost.

The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves. The relationship produces nothing but mutual corruption. It is impossible in concept. The nearest approach to it in reality — the man who lives to serve others —is the slave. If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the concept of servility of the spirit? The conquered slave has a vestige of honor. He has the merit of having resisted and of considering his condition evil. But the man who enslaves himself voluntarily in the name of love is the basest of creatures. He degrades the dignity of man and he degrades the conception of love. But this is the essence of altruism (Fountainhead 1729-1730).

Here Ms Rand perfectly describes the social form of the commodity. Here in its most degraded form is what Martin Heidegger and his student, Hannah Arendt, understood by “social being.”

Over and against this abstract social form, however, is its inexplicable individuality or particularity — its material form of appearance — Dasein, its “being there-ness.” The indigence of the individual captivates Ms Rand — as it captivates Mr von Hayek, Mr Heidegger, Mr Adorno, and Mr Smith. They mistake it for ontologically fundamental Being — for Dasein. To it, they oppose the general, the homogeneous, the undifferentiated. And, yet, in the commodity form, these two are themselves interdependent.

In the commodity form, specific actions, individuals, and materials are harnessed to produce a good whose value arises from none of these — not the action, not the individual, and not the materials — but from the price a good commands in the market. In non-capitalist social formations, the market is subject to the deliberations of actual individuals who are burdened (or blessed) with actual interests — their families, their souls, their defense of borders. These extra-market constraints place limits on the conditions under which trade takes place. Under capitalism, by contrast, these actual interests — familiar, religious, local, cultural — are made to give way to a new, abstract social form: capital. Capital is burdened by limits. It seeks to annihilate limits. Therein, limitation — the social form — strikes capital as a limitation on freedom. Indeed, from the vantage-point of capital, embodiment of any sort entails a limitation. And, yet, capital cannot dispense with the particular. It cannot dispense with the particular because it is in the particular that it finds its most cogent defense against the general, homogeneous, and undifferentiated: I want an apple, not an orange. I am a pipe fitter, not a brick layer. And, yet, this particular it sets against the universal, the general, the homogeneous — capital, which is its actual object. It cannot pursue one without the other. The two are essential. And, yet, in order to achieve its full potential — in order to “realize itself” — the one must destroy the other. There is no other way.

Ms Rand seizes one end of the commodity form, which she believes to be its material form of appearance, and she weaponizes it to defeat the other end of the commodity form, its homogeneous, undifferentiated, immaterial value form. And, yet, having seized the material form of appearance, she discovers that it has no substance: it is pure will, energy, life. It dematerializes because the moment that this energy achieves materiality it suffers from the same disability that mere things display: all things are subject to constraint.

In Ms Rand’s Fountainhead, the immaterial value form of the commodity turns upon and lashes out against its material form of appearance because what it perceives in this material form the constraints placed upon it by its social being. The social being Rand despises (and invites us to despise), however, is the social being of the commodity form whose abstract immaterial value she now seizes as the vantage point of her critique. The “second-handers” whom Ms Rand despises since they are so clearly socially constructed are made to pay for their social constitution by the immaterial value form of the commodity by which they are driven. And, yet, because this immaterial value form is itself socially constituted and reproduced, it requires an ontologically fundamental origins myth to redeem it from its social limitation. Ms Rand is driven to theological speculation and myth-making by the terror of social constitution.

In historical terms, the New Deal and FDR rally capital — through the voting of war bonds — to defeat the “collectivist” fascists and (following FDR’s death) “collectivist” communists. In so doing, they help compose the welfare state version of the collectivist identity. But this identity is nothing more than the social expression of the abstract value form leveraged in 1938 to defeat German fascism and Japanese nationalism. It is “collectivist” on both sides — both the capitalist and the fascist/socialist. Against this collectivism, the Mont Pelerin Society rallies the “individual” who is free from extrinsic determination; Howard Roark, if you like. But with equal justice we might call him Mikhail Bakunin or Vladimir Ilyich — the man who stands on his own, who acts independently, who is in control of his self; Ms Arendt’s “natality” standing erect against “fatality.” This individual stands against the homogeneous, undifferentiated totality composed by the abstract value form of capital; and, yet, this individual believes that it stands outside of and against the whole. It is, instead, the fountain head, the origin, the uncaused cause. It is God.

But unlike the God of Hebrew, Muslim, and Christian piety, the objectivist God seeks to annihilate its own body, its own creation. The objectivist God hates its own constrained being. And herein it behaves in a manner consistent with every commodity ever produced. Since every commodity ever produced aims not to satisfy the desires of consumers, but to escape from its own body — to produce value — it behaves towards those who have bodies — including its own body — as though they could, if they wished, escape from their bodies and in this manner free themselves from constraint. And, yet, they require bodies in order to realize their own abstract value.

But the body they have learned to despise is, after all, their own. It is a body socially and historically limited to a specific epoch. From other epochs we know of bodies not so constrained; differently constrained, never perfectly. We know of bodies not orchestrated homogeneously, generally, abstractly; bodies that are truly differentiated, whose collectivity forms no whole, but only always a partial, incomplete body of individuals. But this also exposes Ms Rand’s weakness. Her deep hostility to religion is not really a hostility to religion at all, but to a specific religion: to Judaism and, more specifically, to Christianity. Her deep, fundamental hostility is to a God that willingly constrains itself by what it has made, by creation, which it declares “Good.” And, even more, she is hostile, fundamentally hostile to a God Who undergoes death.

Herein, Ms Rand adopts one end of the commodity form and leverages it against the other. It is a critique of capital, but not a very sophisticated one. Indeed, it is quite common, even “banal,” to use Ms Arendt’s term. What distinguishes Ms Rand from her epigones and sycophants is that she, at least, had the courage to acknowledge and even proclaim that her god was not in any way, shape, or form, the God of Allah, Moses, or Jesus. This God she and her followers hate fundamentally, even when they feign Christian faith (e.g., Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan). And, yet, their theology is the same. It is misanthropic to the core of their being.

Paul Krugman: Education? Yes and No.

According to a recent Pew Research study, University Professors are overwhelmingly more likely to lean left than right; which is to say, they are not representative of the voting public. Which raises an interesting question about the independence of institutions of higher learning. As followers of this blog will long ago have noted, I am a keen follower of a strain of conservative thinking that is, on principle, anti-democratic and, ironically, anti-republican. Since it takes the revolutions of 1848/49 as its point of departure, this strain of conservative thinking holds suspect any critical reflection that rests upon survey research: truth is not subject to the demos.

But, what if the aristos, the “excellent,” were able to convince the doulos, the “slaves,” to adopt policies that were excellent, let us say, through “slight of hand” or “turn of speech”?

This, obviously, is the question that Plato raised and answered in his Republic. Insofar as the doulos, the slaves or workers, are ignorant of what the aristos know; and, therefore, are ignorant also of what is good for them, the aristos are obligated to deceive the doulos to embrace policies that promote excellence, not mediocrity.

In his recent blog, Paul Krugman wrestles with this dilemma; unsuccessfully, I would argue. As we might guess, Republicans are incensed over their lack of representation at institutions of higher learning. They are urging university administrators to craft their recruitment of professors to more accurately reflect the public these professors will teach.

Mr Krugman is correct to note that colleges have not grown more liberal. He is also correct to note that professors have grown more hostile to conservative views.

Yes – but surely that has a lot to do with the changing nature of what it means to be a conservative. When denial of climate change, and for that matter the theory of evolution, become tribal markers, you shouldn’t be surprised to find academics, very much including those in the hard sciences, decline to be identified as members of the tribe.

Here, presumably, is where Mr Krugman could shine. He could illuminate the economic and social changes that have given rise to a change in ideology. Or he could point out how control over public information has shifted over the past half century.

Instead, he falls back upon information itself — as though accurate knowledge were an independent variable.

When Mr Krugman appeals to the broadened educational franchise of the 1950s and 1960s; when he credits this broadened franchise with the leadership that the US enjoyed, albeit briefly, he allows the tail to wag the dog. Economic rigor invites us to reflect critically on the conditions that gave rise to the broadening of the educational franchise: the Great Depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, a Great War, and a President eager to spend whatever was necessary to defeat fascism in Europe and totalitarianism in Japan. That huge expenditure not only defeated fascism; it poured into the bank accounts of working families who suddenly found it within their means to send their sons and daughters to college. Moreover, these baby-boomers attended college at a moment when professors trained in the 1930s and 1940s were specially sensitized to the dangers both of populism (left and right) and of authoritarianism (again, both left and right). So, yes, Mr Krugman is right:

America basically invented the modern, educated society, leading the way on universal K-12 education, building the world’s finest and most comprehensive higher education system; this in turn was an important factor in how we became leader of the free world.

But, it was never ideology that underwrote the expansion of the educational franchise. In fact, it was the reverse. A great depression gave rise to social discontent. This social discontent might have yielded a movement to fascism or totalitarianism. In fact, sympathy for fascism was quite high in the 1930s in the US, at least in some circles. President Roosevelt, pressured by movements on the left, steered in a different course. Yet, were it not for the unprecedented spending required for defeating Germany and Japan; and did this spending not find its way into the pockets of working families, the “modern, educated society” that Mr Krugman praises would have been nowhere on the map.

What is odd is that Mr Krugman avoids this clear economic explanation for the expansion of the educational franchise and settles instead upon an ideological explanation; or, worse. He credits education with economic expansion; not economic expansion with education.

In the end, the two — knowledge and wealth — are mutually constitutive, each shaping the other. Yet, by isolating knowledge from the conditions that make it possible is, I would argue, a most un-economic way of thinking.

What we know we don’t want to know

Call me cynical. Or, simply call me another investor. Although I would like to believe that my investment portfolio is as “progressive” as progressive can be, I also recognize that money is, by necessity, “dirty.” I part with my dollar, so someone else can use it. I part with it because I anticipate a return. But that “someone” may also part with it because she determines that it will earn more in some other venture. And so on, and so forth.

I often reflect on this Econ or PoliSci 101 example when I think of the behavior of the 45th President and his Cabal. They are investors. They are cynics. And, as often as I think of this example, I think of how terribly naive the 44th President was to feel that principal might triumph over self-interest.

I am not suggesting that the 44th President was innocent of political or economic maneuvering. No one is. Rather am I reflecting, personally, about how little “principle” comes into play when we theorize the contemporary world. Even principled action is driven — or so we cynically argue — by the utilitarian pleasure-pain principle. Our neoclassical models would not function (they do function quite well) were this not the case.

A member of the 45th’s team meets with a Russian who says he has dirt on the 42nd’s wife. That’s golden! Go for it!

Wouldn’t we do the same?

There is really no answer to this question. I have spent more time than most pouring over the records of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. They are not pretty. They are not pretty even though, to a person, the anti-federalists were excluded from the assembly. Had they been admitted, there would have been no constitution. But, it was not their exclusion that brought the anti-federalists to mount a centuries-old campaign against the U.S. Constitution. On principle they are opposed to its underlying logic. Which is why they feed upon those few scraps offered to them — the 3/5ths clause, the militia clause — that promise to unravel the fabric from inside out.

They are not unprincipled. They are anti-republican and anti-federalist; on principle.

The question is: what is that principle? It is not republican. It has no respect for “the wealth we hold in common,” for the “commonwealth.” Nor is it aristocratic. They are not champions of blue blood — not champions of power by blood. So, what is their principle?

Their principle is money; not inherited wealth, but money. They will just as quickly turn upon old wealth as they will turn upon new learning. Money is freedom; freedom is money. This is the old yarn that Milton Friedman used to tell about why the common man and the self-made millionaire are one and the same: money. Or, should we not say “private wealth”?

There is a reason why this doctrine — principled to the core — is antithetical to the republic. There is a reason why the framers excluded every anti-federalist and every anti-republican from Philadelphia. The Federalist Papers are propaganda. No doubt. They are politics. Because the folks who stand on the other side hate — they really hate federalism and republicanism, on principle.

Their whole raison d’etre is wrapped up in “private wealth.” The very essence of the U.S. Constitution, by contrast, is “the wealth we hold in common,” res publica, the republican ideal.

But if “private wealth” forms the beginning and the end of political being in the U.S., then what danger is their in a meeting with Russians who have dirt on a politician who threatens, however modestly, private wealth? If “private wealth” is the bottom line, then cynicism is simply another word for common sense.