A Problematic Gumby Word

I have been involved in the work of recovering a right understanding of the liberal arts in education for decades now. One of the reasons for this is that we have to destroy what is now called liberalism—what also goes by its other names of progressivism or leftism, depending on which convenience store they are sticking up. But others may have noticed—and it would be hard not to—that when I write on economics, I write from what might be characterized as the perspective of classical liberalism. What is this gumby word?Health Care

Thomas Sowell has written persuasively that the basic division in our cultural wars lies between those with a constrained vision and those with an unconstrained vision. For the conservative, the world is shaped by limits and limitations. Progress in this world is possible, but only if we carefully navigate the necessary trade-offs. For the liberal, the world is not shaped or bounded by such constraints, and so he thinks naturally and instinctively of solutions—and not of the price tag.

The conservative Christian—the kind of Christian who believes the Bible—is a person who is placed naturally, readily, easily, within the category of those who believe in a constrained vision. Because of the fall, we distrust all utopian schemes. We are aware of the bent within, the twist that will cause all the political promises to come crashing down. And because of the doctrine of creation, we distrust those who would erase creational boundaries—like the distinction between male and female, say.

Now for someone who has unbounded faith in man, a devotee of the unconstrained vision, there is a problem. If man is by nature unconstrained, how do we explain all . . . the constraints? If man is basically good, how do we explain all the badness? The basic humanistic impulse, going back to Socrates, is to say that man does evil because of ignorance. And if ignorance is the disease, then what is the solution? The solution has to be education. This is why advocates of the unconstrained vision so naturally turn to education as their messiah, as their savior.

But there is more to it. Men do not just do evil in various instances of individual criminal acts. No, there is clearly a lot wrong with institutional man. Going back to Rousseau, man in his primitive condition, or in his youth, is uncorrupted, and it is society that corrupts him. Society is the sum total of our accumulated bad habits, and something must be done about it. That something is, again, education.

And this is why advocates of the unconstrained vision gravitate naturally, instinctively, inexorably toward educational salvation, but it must be an educational salvation that debunks.

And this is why George Washington can’t get a fair shake anymore.

The word liberal comes from the Latin liber, which means free, in the sense of “free man.” But of course a word like free is going to take on its local meaning from whatever it is you want to be free from. The liberals want to be free from the older, orthodox constrained vision for man. The constrained want to be free from the disasters that will surely follow if we continue with the cliff-jumping, imagining ourselves to be in possession of wings. We self-identify as winged—and which has to be true. We incurred 100K in student loan debt from an elite institution on the east coast to teach us that self-identifying was good enough.

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insanitybytes22
Member

Yes, all true. Well said. I just want to mention the elitism inherent on the left side of politics. When education becomes the cure for immorality, than the white collar academic criminal is perceived as being more moral, more progressive, than the honest plumber or electrician who actually work for a living. I call it credentialing. People on the left side of the aisle will often toss their credentials at you, as if this somehow means something, in possession of either morality or intelligence. “I have a degree in philosophy, therefore there is no God.” Or, “I am credentialed in… Read more »

carandc
Member

Yes, higher education today is really all just about a credential. Decades ago in the U.S., people went to University mostly because they wanted to learn. Today, we just want/need to get a credential. Jeffrey Selingo covers this well in “College (UN) Bound”. Read it las month. Highly recommended for any one interested in college or parents who have H.S. graduates on the horizon.

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

I understood the unconstrained vision to mainly about human malilability. It claims man is perfectible where the constrained vision takes man’s fallenness as given. That’s why left wants to engineer us.

Jane
Member

Fundamentally, yes, but Sowell applies it more broadly, the way Wilson does. At root, imperfectible systems are so because they’re run by imperfectible humans. But the unconstrained vision can apply to either human behavior, or human systems. If we just design the right healthcare system, we’ll all be taken care of. With the right gun control laws, we’ll end “gun violence.” Etc.

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Or if we could just kill all the Kulaks we could reboot society. All the left’s noble aims come down to power for them and death for the recalcitrant.

ashv
Guest
ashv

If we just guarantee the correct set of rights…

(or) If we just write the proper Constitution…

etc.

Jane
Member

Yes and no. I’m not convinced the Founders thought they were creating Utopia by designing the right constitution. I believe they thought they were preventing certain foreseeable evils.

ashv
Guest
ashv

I agree that the authors of the Constitution were much more realistic about it than conservatives today are.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

But you object to the founders’ approach all the same?

ashv
Guest
ashv

Yes, but I have the benefit of hindsight. There may have been room for doubt about the results of liberal democracy in the eighteenth century but today its detractors’ predictions have proven true.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

What better alternative was there (even with the benefit of hindsight)? Whatever the failings of our national foundations, even today we’re still a whole lot better off than Canada, aren’t we?

ashv
Guest
ashv

The differences in government size and quality between the USA and Canada have never been more than trivial, so far as I can see.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Even today we in the US still have gun rights, significant homeschool freedoms in most states, and a remnant of marginal rights not to buy into government-defined medical care. Aren’t those things significant?

ashv
Guest
ashv

The healthcare thing is definitely a red herring — there has never been a health insurance system that wasn’t government-supported, there are just better and worse ways to do it.

Guns and homeschooling are meaningful differences, sure, but that’s out at the margins.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Medical care and the health insurance system aren’t one in the same, although of course there’s a lot of overlap. I think Americans until Obamneycare had a very significant degree of freedom to choose not to buy into the mainstream health insurance system, and that difference is still significant although reduced, and the freedom not to buy in is significant regardless of the degree to which the health insurance system is controlled or supported by government. Even under Obamneycare there are still exemptions for programs like Samaritan Ministries, which make substantially different decisions from mainstream insurance companies about what to… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member

I agree. But I think there are significant differences in underlying political theory and in view of government. For the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the Canadian is closer to peace, order, and good government. It is an unusual Canadian who, as a matter of principle, demands limited government or who views government in general (as opposed to a particular administration) with suspicion and hostility.

ashv
Guest
ashv
Ilíon
Member

Also, they were designing a system that *harnessed* human sinfulness, rather than denying its reality as the utopians do.

carandc
Member

I’ve never never been able to find the source, but I remember it said once that the most literate, i.e. educated, country in the world during the 1930s was Germany.

ashv
Guest
ashv

That was also true for much of the 19th century as well — German philosophy, literature, and science led the world for many decades.

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
Guest
40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

True, but the whole time, Nigeria was nipping at its heels.

And Haiti was a close 3rd.

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
Guest
40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

And this is why advocates of the unconstrained vision gravitate naturally, instinctively, inexorably toward educational salvation, but it must be an educational salvation that debunks.

And this is why George Washington can’t get a fair shake anymore.

Love the flowery language Doug, but that’s only part of it.

Another part – admittedly only a teensy weensy part – is that Washington believed black people were grossly inferior to whites, and he actually owned a whole bunch of black people, which he kept in line with implied or actual violence.

Dave
Guest
Dave

FAAAK, just keep on trolling. Wasn’t there a oldies song “Just troll on by?”

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
Guest
40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

FAAAK, just keep on trolling. Wasn’t there a oldies song “Just troll on by?”

Maybe. But judging by the title, it’s probably some kinda homo deal.

Here’s what I listen to while I post. Troll on Down the Highway:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LNH27s5ULE

Steve H
Guest
Steve H

I think this genre is called meth rock

Christopher
Member

Primus or Motorhead would fit that better.

wtrsims
Member

BTO?

More like BTFO!! amirite?!

jeers1215
Guest
jeers1215

“I have been involved in the work of recovering a right understanding of the liberal arts in education for decades now.”

1. How did you know this was your mission in life?

2. Can you identify other decisive points where others should focus their efforts?

ashv
Guest
ashv

Conservatism and progressivism are both leftist descendants of classical liberalism. The distinction between the unconstrained-vision belief in the perfectibility of man and a Christian understanding of fallen human nature is important — along with a recognition that the ruling power is under God’s authority — but the liberal tenets of “separation of powers” and “rule of law” don’t follow from that the way many would lead us to believe. To use your analogy: our rulers self-identify as not responsible. So, to start with: why is it that every regime founded on principles of “limited government” has resulted in a bigger… Read more »

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

You mean like England?

ashv
Guest
ashv

England hasn’t had an absolute monarchy since 1688.

john k
Guest
john k

Or since 1215 (Magna Carta), right?

ashv
Guest
ashv

One could conceivably make that argument. I don’t regard the demands of the barons to be in the same category as cutting off a king’s head.

john k
Guest
john k

Well, you did say “absolute monarchy.” An absolute monarch who faces barons who can force demands on him no doubt finds them as subversive of absolute monarchy as those who cut off a king’s head. If beheading is the definition, England’s absolute monarchy went away in 1649. Actually, England’s monarchs have been limited by parliaments long before that.

ashv
Guest
ashv

“Absolute” hasn’t ever meant “unlimited” so far as I can tell, as King Canute so famously demonstrated. Specifically I think of the term as meaning that the judgement of the king supersedes positive law, aka “legislation” or “constitution”. That’s different from needing to gain the cooperation of his subordinates to accomplish his goals.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

And didn’t it (England) result in smaller and less intrusive government than the absolute monarchies on the continent (so long as those continued)?

ashv
Guest
ashv

Did it? That isn’t obvious to me — they all seem about on the same level compared to their nineteenth-century successors.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

If I understand you right, you’re saying they’ve all fallen about equally far from their respective 19th century positions. But shouldn’t we instead be asking how far they fell between 1688 and WWI (the median end of absolute monarchy in Europe)?

ashv
Guest
ashv

It’s probably worth exploring — but I’m saying that the worst of the ancien regime was better than the best of liberal democracy today, in terms of governmental size and quality.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

But those differences could be attributed to industrialization and changes in technology rather than any political options the founders might have considered.

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote:

But those differences could be attributed to industrialization and
changes in technology rather than any political options the founders
might have considered.

Indeed. This is exactly the point. Ashv is attributing the bloated government to the principle of limited government itself, rather than look at the factors that led to an end run around the principle of limited government.

Jill Smith
Member

Are you sure? Can you think of an English parallel for the conduct of Louis XIV keeping his nobles at court to ensure their loyalty? Didn’t the English monarchs always have contend with the aristocracy, which resulted in stronger local government but a weaker national state.

Ilíon
Member

England never had an absolute monarchy. Nor, for that matter, did France, even during the time the regime ruling it claimed to be an absolute monarchy.

For a real world example of an absolute monarchy, we need to look to the various leftist/socialist regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries: the Soviets, the ChiComms, the Fascists, the National Socialists.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Naturally one can redefine terms however one wishes. That makes communication pretty difficult, though.

“Absolute” monarchy is typically contrasted with “limited government” or “constitutional monarchy”, which were later inventions.

Ilíon
Member

Well, you yourself do know quite a bit about “redefin[ing] terms however one wishes”

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I don’t think I’d take ashv’s side in terms of his conclusions, but with respect just to definitions, I think it’s fair to define absolute monarchy in the early modern European sense where it’s most commonly used.

Ilíon
Member

Let’s see that Ashv *actually* wrote — Ashv:So, to start with: why is it that every regime founded on principles of “limited government” has resulted in a bigger and more intrusive government than ones produced by absolute monarchies?

So, explicit violations of the founding principles (and documents) of the American Republic still count, definitionally, as being a result of those principles of “limited government”, but me mocking his penchant for idiosyncratic definitions is a but too much?

Katecho
Member

Ilion wrote: So, explicit violations of the founding principles (and documents) of the American Republic still count, definitionally, as being a result of those principles of “limited government” … Well said. Ashv keeps claiming that big, intrusive government somehow represents a failure of the very principle of “limited government” itself. This is equivalent to saying that Quantitative Easing and TARP bailouts are a failure of the principles of free market capitalism rather than a rejection of them. By failing to make necessary distinctions, and by proposing a return to monarchy, all that ashv is really telling us is that he… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

By that logic, I guess it would be absurd to question the affordability of the “affordable” care act. No, I’m still with ashv on the definitions.

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: By that logic, I guess it would be absurd to question the affordability of the “affordable” care act. No, I’m still with ashv on the definitions. Or, by that logic, “because the Affordable Care Act is more expensive than ever, the principle of affordability is clearly the problem and we must abandon the principle of affordability in order to get the prices back under control”. Ashv is asking us to give up on the principle of limited government so that we can have limited government (because limited governments are too big). I hope everyone can see the inconsistency.… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Where has ashv asked us to give up on the principle of limited government? Not in the comments here, not any more than those opposed to the Affordable Care Act have asked us to give up on the principle of affordable medical care.

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: So, to start with: why is it that every regime founded on principles of “limited government” has resulted in a bigger and more intrusive government than ones produced by absolute monarchies? Notice that ashv is asserting that the principle of “limited government” itself is what failed. Elsewhere ashv has claimed that limited government is essentially unobtainable because raw power is the only thing that can limit government, and the only entity with enough of that power is government itself. Yet, at the same time, ashv is complaining that the problem with “limited government” is that it “resulted in… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

If by “principles of ‘limited government'” he meant real and true principles of limited government, then you’d have a point, but the more likely absurdity is your assumption of what he meant, especially when he put “limited government” in quotes. Surely “limited government” in quotes means limited government as it was advertised, as opposed to real limited government.

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: If by “principles of ‘limited government'” he meant real and true principles of limited government, then you’d have a point, but the more likely absurdity is your assumption of what he meant, especially when he put “limited government” in quotes. The absurdity is real, but the problem is not with my assumption about what ashv meant. Ashv has been quite clear that he has a problem with actual, real, principled limited government, thus his interest in absolute monarchy. As I said, ashv does not believe that principled limits to civil government are even attainable because he believes that… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Katecho, do you think absolute monarchy is necessarily at odds with limited government?

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: Katecho, do you think absolute monarchy is necessarily at odds with limited government? Of course. This is basic. Limited government is limited by contract, and constitution, and rule of law. For example, our constitutionally limited government restrains federal government to those powers which are explicitly enumerated. Rather than list all of the things that our federal government may not do, it states that the government may only exercise the powers that are listed. Now a constitutional monarchy may also impose limitations on the king, but an absolute monarchy does not, by definition. An absolute monarch is unconstrained in… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I misunderstood what you and ashv both meant by “limited government.” I was thinking of limited government as the same thing as small government. By the other definition, I was obviously asking a dumb question, but thanks for helping me figure that out. Regarding the limitations of enumerated powers, to go with your example, though, is there anything that governments anywhere else have done that our government has been prevented from doing by the limitations of enumerated powers? If Wickard v. Filburn didn’t prove how worthless enumerated powers are in limiting anything then upholding the individual mandate on grounds of… Read more »

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: If Wickard v. Filburn didn’t prove how worthless enumerated powers are in limiting anything then upholding the individual mandate on grounds of interstate commerce regulation put the nail in the coffin, didn’t it? I would encourage ourdemascam not to make the same mistake that ashv continues to make. Just because a particular implementation is vulnerable to ambiguity, loopholes, dismantle, neglect, or is just flatly ignored by sinful human hearts, it does not at all follow that the principle itself is to blame. If this were the case, then ourdemascam could find himself trying to accuse God’s Law as… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

katecho, you said, “our constitutionally limited government restrains federal government to those powers which are explicitly enumerated.” If those “restraints” don’t actually restrain anything, what good are they?

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: If those “restraints” don’t actually restrain anything, what good are they? I certainly do not mean that statutes jump off the page of the Constitution and hog-tie would-be despots. I mean that they restrain by obligation. This should not be a strange concept to us. This is no different, in principle, than the way that marriage vows restrain and bind husband and wife by obligation. Can they break their vows? Sure, but those vows reveal and expose the offense when they do. Those broken vows testify against them. This is how God’s Law works as well. It reveals… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

God’s law isn’t useful as a restraint. It convicts us of sin, leads us to Jesus, and teaches us how to love the author of the Law, but I don’t think it restrains. If the good of the enumerated powers was to serve as a restraint, then the enumerated powers were no good (or so close to no good that it would be splitting hairs to find the good.)

Evan
Guest
Evan

“God’s law isn’t useful as a restraint.” not to derail, but are you sure about that? Notice the use of the word ‘bind’ in the following: “V. The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof;[8] and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.[9] Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.[10] VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

“Bind” as in “obligate”. The question all this discussion revolves around is: who enforces punishment on lawbreakers? Obviously God sets up rulers for this purpose. The story of Saul makes it clear that God does not let wicked rulers escape punishment either. The problem with advocates of limited government is that they claim, without basis, that there can be a government without men in it who are legally accountable to God alone for their decisions.

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote:

The problem with advocates of limited government is that they claim, without basis, that there can be a government without men in it who are legally accountable to God alone for their decisions.

If this is our problem, then ashv should have no trouble quoting me making such a claim. This will be a real challenge for ashv, since I have never said such a thing.

ashv
Guest
ashv

OK. If this is not something you object to, then so far as I can tell our differences have been over terminology.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I think I’d agree, Evan, that the law restrains the regenerate, but I don’t think there’s any parallel to the regenerate when we’re talking about enumerated powers, etc. Does the law restrain the unregenerate? Doesn’t restrain mean to keep someone from doing something he would otherwise do?

Evan
Guest
Evan

I was always taught the threefold use of the law. One those uses being to restrain lawlessness.

quick summary here:
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/threefold-use-law/

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

According to that link, the only restraint the law offers the unregenerate (at least the only restraint the link points out) is that it teaches authorities how to punish evildoers. I wouldn’t think the law is restraining the unregenerate in that case, however. I would think the authority is restraining the unregenerate, and the law can help him to do so rightly.

Evan
Guest
Evan

Hmm, you mean this sentence:

“Though the law cannot change the heart, it can to some extent inhibit lawlessness by its threats of judgement, especially when backed by a civil code that administers punishment for proven offenses (Deut. 13:6-11; 19:16-21; Rom. 13:3, 4). “

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Yep.

Jill Smith
Member

Do you think the law can awaken the beginnings of conscience in the unregenerate, which can then lead to realizing one’s helplessness in avoiding wrongdoing?

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Let me ask first, by helpless in avoiding wrongdoing do you mean slavery to sin?

Jill Smith
Member

Well, that isn’t a Catholic expression so I have to think about that. It could be, as in the addict who hustles to get money for a fix and begins to loathe himself. He has always known the law forbids theft, but maybe one day he catches himself committing some truly shameful act of theft and he sees himself as the law sees him. For once, he actually feels like a criminal. Yet he feels powerless to stop the stealing because he needs the drugs. Is this when his human efforts fail and he realizes he needs God? So, yes,… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

As far as slavery to sin, I was thinking along the lines of Romans 6:16-17. To answer your original question, though, I think that ultimately only the Spirit awakens the unregenerate, but I think it would be very normal that that process would begin with the Spirit convicting a person of sin by the knowledge and consideration of the law.

Evan
Guest
Evan

I see. It seems to me the Law threatens punishment punishment for law-breaking from God Himself. I don’t think the enforcement of those punishments are contingent upon whether a human authority carries them out or not. The threat of punishment itself is what restrains law-breaking. Anyways, I didn’t mean to derail the conversation. Just some thoughts to ponder. Carry on.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Do you mean the threat of punishment from God restrains the law-breaking of the unregenerate? Certainly I believe that God will punish lawbreakers, but I don’t think that’s a restraint on the unregenerate. I think Romans 6:20-21 especially shows that the law is no restraint on the unregenerate.

Evan
Guest
Evan

How about this, are unregenerate people as evil as they can be all the time? If not, why not?

Jill Smith
Member

I think they are restrained by common grace and natural law.

Evan
Guest
Evan

Yep. That’s what I was thinking.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Yes, they are. Why would you think they’re not?

Evan
Guest
Evan

Unrestrained utter depravity? Got a nice ring to it, I’ll give you that! ????

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Or as Genesis 6:5 says, “…only evil all the time.” As for the “unrestrained” part, evil is certainly restrained by God (Mt 10:29, Rom 8:28, Gen 45:8…), even as He precisely controls the movement of the sun in the sky (Joshua 10:13), which has never heard or considered or been influenced by the law at all.

Evan
Guest
Evan

So if I understand you correctly, you’re saying unregenerate people are as bad as they could possibly be all the time? You are also saying God’s moral law has no effect on them in any sense in restraining their lawlessness? (sorry, I’m kind of slow; I need things repeated in order for my brain to catch up.) :)

Jill Smith
Member

I have a hard time believing that the average unregenerate person is as wicked as he could possibly be all of the time. When we look at our unregenerate friends, they are not typically murdering their wives, robbing banks, torturing dogs, and producing child pornography. In my experience, they are not more likely to tell lies or to cheat on their taxes or to hold satanic rites in their basements. In fact, I think statistics have not shown a higher crime rate among people who identify as nonbelievers. I agree, however, that refraining from lawlessness, which is a duty and… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, can you make that case from the Bible?

Jill Smith
Member

I don’t know the Bible as well as I ought to! But I thought immediately of the rich young man who seemed to have been “naturally good.” He had grace enough to want to follow Jesus, yet he chose to reject that grace rather than lose his riches. Or Pharaoh’s daughter who was not utterly depraved when she took pity on the Hebrew baby. But, I think we may also use our own observations of the people around us, and my experience does not lead me to see those people as incapable of any goodness. I think that unregenerate people… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, the trouble I have with those examples is that it’s not clear to me what the motives of the rich young man or Pharaoh’s daughter were or where there hearts were (or, for that matter, whether they were regenerate when those stories took place.) Other passages, however, give us a God’s-eye-view (Gen 6:5, Ps 53:3, Rom 2:1… even the story of the rich young man in Mk 10:18…), and it seems best therefore to make sense of the other passages in the context of the more direct teachings.

Christopher
Member

“I have a hard time believing that the average unregenerate person is as wicked as he could possibly be all of the time.”

Our ability to imagine people being more wicked than they are does not grant them the capability to be that wicked.
This is probably a diference between catholicism and calvinism.

Jill Smith
Member

I think it is, and it is probably an irreconcilable difference. As I understand Calvinist doctrine (and I might not understand it correctly), God is entirely sovereign and gives the grace to desire Him only to those He has chosen. No one can desire Him without this grace. For this to be logically tenable, it must follow that the unregenerate man is utterly depraved and incapable of appreciating his need for redemption. Catholic teaching is that every man is given enough grace to perceive his sinfulness and his need for a Savior. We are taught that the divine will is… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, I’m really going to head off on a tangent here, but if salvation is as you describe the Roman Catholic teaching, does that not mean that what ultimately makes the difference between whether someone is saved or not is how resistant someone is to grace? In other words, are some men just more evil, more disinclined to God than others, and are believers just naturally (in themselves, not of grace) better people, more inclined to and desirous of God?

Jill Smith
Member

A very difficult question! Yes, resistance to grace is central, but so is perseverance to the end. A Catholic Christian may cooperate with grace for years only to fall by the wayside later in life. I need to explain first that the Catholic view is that man is created in the divine image and naturally yearns for God. The effect of Adam’s fall was to give everyone a strong tendency to sin. This tendency, however, is not to be confused with utter depravity. We have warring within us the desire for God and the desire to have our own way.… Read more »

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

“…the person who lives a morally degraded life is in less danger of becoming pleased with himself.”
You’d think. But it depends partly on how well it seems to be working for him, and whether or not the world applauds.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, thanks (belatedly) for the thoughtful reply. If one weren’t too concerned about reconciling one’s theology to the teaching of the Bible, that would seem like a reasonable position, but from my very Protestant cultural background — not to dismiss the potential for my own bias — that seems like a position that would be very difficult to reconcile to the Bible.

Jill Smith
Member

I thought about this for a bit. It is true that most of us will never be as wicked as a Hitler because we have neither the desire nor the opportunity. We may lack the talent as well–talent that in Hitler’s case has been perverted to evil ends. But how does utter depravity account for the nonbeliever who is strongly tempted to do a more everyday evil act and yet refrains–not because he fears consequences but because he believes it is wrong? Or the nonbeliever who, though tempted to be cowardly in the face of danger, stays and does his… Read more »

Jill Smith
Member

If an unbeliever wants to embezzle from his employer but resists that temptation because (1) he fears detection and (2) he respects and admires him, how is he not being restrained by the law in the first instance and common grace in the second?

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jilly, I think your example is a case of that category where, as I said before, “the authority is restraining the unregenerate, and the law can help him [the authority] to do so rightly.” If we’re talking about parallels to the enumerated powers, I don’t think those sorts of examples are applicable.

edited to add: Without thinking about it very much, I’d agree with the common grace part, but I don’t see the value of the example of common grace to the question of enumerated powers at all.

Katecho
Member

ourdemascam wrote: God’s law isn’t useful as a restraint. Are marriage vows useful as a restraint? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. — Romans 7:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” — Psalm 2 What bonds? What cords? ourdemascam wrote: If the good of the enumerated powers was to… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Are marriage vows useful as a restraint? Nowadays it would depend on the vows, but assuming some variation of traditional vows, it would depend on the culture surrounding those vows. The vows on their own are no restraint at all. A law with no penalty and no enforcement is a dead, worthless law. And the enumerated powers are likewise dead (if they weren’t stillborn.) Surely the bottom line here has to be what difference something makes. What difference has the enumeration of powers made? If it makes no difference, if nothing is actually restrained by it (kept from going somewhere… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

Politically, the value of God’s law to us is that it reveals what God will reward and punish. A law that is never enforced has no value. Sometimes we receive punishment in this life for breaking God’s law, sometimes it waits for the final judgement. (For example, the former pastor of my church left his wife and shacked up with another woman — he developed cancer and died two years later.) There is a difference between taking a vow and being subject to laws enforced by men, even though these are often combined (as in your marriage example, where an… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

No, katecho has it right, I am saying that the classical-liberal idea of “limited government” is incoherent and unworkable, and should be discarded for something that matches reality better. I’m not convinced it can or should be 18th-century style monarchy, but it deserves a second look.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Is there another idea of limited government besides the classical-liberal one that you think is coherent and workable? Do you not value limited government as in smaller, less intrusive government in general (whether democratic or by the choice of an absolute monarch)? Of course, lots of people don’t, although here in this forum I would expect most people do. Have you expounded on your thoughts about these subjects in more depth already elsewhere (besides just bits and pieces of comments), somewhere that could be shared?

ashv
Guest
ashv

The question invited by the passive-voice phrase “limited government” is “limited by what or whom?” In practice, there will always be an authority beyond which there is no appeal. In the current incarnation of the USA that has been the Supreme Court, for example. Any successful defiance of the SC by other elements of the government would result in a reorganisation of power so that some other component of the system had final authority. Thus I believe it is best to discard the fiction of limited government and accept the reality of how sovereignty works, to reduce uncertainty and opportunity… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
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Wendell Dávila Helms

What if final authority rested with the states, as those that believed in the right of states to secede? Would that not lead to small government, especially so long as free trade and movement between states were maintained?

ashv
Guest
ashv

History has answered that question: it led to final authority resting with the central government.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I’m inclined to disagree with the idea that history has answered that question. In other instances, the right of secession hasn’t failed. Brexit comes to mind first. The separation of Montenegro and Serbia is another. One could also say that history has answered the question of absolute monarchy. But how long a system can continue and what the implications of that system are so long as it does continue are separable questions.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Fair point. I think it’s too soon to tell on Brexit, but one can point at the Czechs and Slovaks parting ways peacefully, etc. What I meant is that imperium in imperio is particularly unstable and tends to be resolved by either separation or absorption.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

I wonder about the history of Switzerland, too. I don’t think that a canton could secede today, but I wonder — I really don’t know — if there wasn’t for a very long time a right of secession recognized then. In any case, I don’t think history has had much chance to show what a confederation of states can do, especially not with an explicitly recognized right of secession, and it’s a design I’m inclined to favor with some hope in the outcome.

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: No, katecho has it right, I am saying that the classical-liberal idea of “limited government” is incoherent and unworkable, and should be discarded for something that matches reality better. I am trying to make sure that I represent ashv accurately, but sometimes ashv is not consistent. Case in point, he did not qualify his rejection of the principle of “limited government” in previous comments, but here he has added the qualifier of “the classical-liberal idea” of limited government. He does not tell us what that means, or how it differs from the principle of “limited government” that he… Read more »

ashv
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ashv

By “limited government” I mean the principle of separation of powers, the idea that good political engineering comes from having multiple competing power centres in a government, and the principle of rule of law, the idea that the sovereign should or can be constrained by legislation or constitutions.

I recommend you read de Jouvenel on this topic. The problem with these concepts is that they produce an incentive structure that encourages expansion of power in a way that absolute, centralised sovereignty does not.

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: By “limited government” I mean the principle of separation of powers, the idea that good political engineering comes from having multiple competing power centres in a government, and the principle of rule of law, the idea that the sovereign should or can be constrained by legislation or constitutions. This is what I had understood ashv to mean in the past, and I appreciate his candor and clarity. I’m just curious what value he thinks is added by using the qualifier “classical-liberal” when talking about limited government. Separation of powers, multiple centers of government, and constitutions were certainly not… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

To be clear, I’m thinking Frederick the Great, not George II.

Katecho
Member

Unfortunately, ashv didn’t clarify what he meant by his use of the qualifier “classical-liberal” in regard to limited government. Classical liberalism had nothing to do with the origin of separation of powers, rule of law, judicial review, or constitutionally limited government. Ashv’s general rejection of the principle of limited government is not helped by adding misleading qualifiers. Frederick II of Prussia doesn’t impress me as the most obvious role model, given that he had no heir, and was an admirer of the Enlightenment (and personal friends with Voltaire). As a warlord, he would have made neocons proud. Faults can be… Read more »

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

“…limited government according to God’s law.”

That sounds like quite a stretch. Are you suggesting that all the kings of Israel governed in contradiction to God’s law (even apart from the decisions they made)?

ashv
Guest
ashv

Actually let me try again: “rule of law” and “separation of powers” are a problem for reasons cited previously, but the specific problem with “limited government” is that it’s a contradiction in terms. No government can limit itself, there must be a man or group of men within it who have final decision making authority.

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: Actually let me try again: “rule of law” and “separation of powers” are a problem for reasons cited previously, but the specific problem with “limited government” is that it’s a contradiction in terms. No government can limit itself, there must be a man or group of men within it who have final decision making authority. Ashv has made this thin assertion before. It’s equivalent to declaring that: “the problem with laws is that people break them, so law must be a contradiction in terms and an overwhelmingly demonstrated historical failure, therefore the solution is to get rid of… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

I’ve seen this equivocation before and I don’t buy it. Yes, rulers have a duty to obey God and rule justly according to divine law. The church has a duty to bear witness to God’s demands and call rulers to account. This is has been acknowledged for all of Christian history (see the story of Theodosius and Ambrose) and is not the same thing as understood by “rule of law” today, the bizarre idea that legislation can rule without men to enact it — this idea seems to be traceable to Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex. So I acknowledge the requirement… Read more »

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: … not the same thing as understood by “rule of law” today, the bizarre idea that legislation can rule without men to enact it — this idea seems to be traceable to Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex. Equivocation? I’m not sure how many times I have to say this before ashv gets it. I have no problem with ashv critiquing a certain notion of “rule of law”. I agree with ashv that it is absurd to suppose that laws enforce themselves (God gave a sword to the state for a reason). However, ashv continually pops off that the rule… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

Then I have no idea what you’re calling “rule of law”. So far as I know the definition I’ve been referring to is the commonly accepted usage. Care to shed some light on this?

Katecho
Member

ashv wrote: Then I have no idea what you’re calling “rule of law”. So far as I know the definition I’ve been referring to is the commonly accepted usage. Care to shed some light on this? Simple. Go to google.com and type in “rule of law”, and the first thing that comes up is this: the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws. Then, the first search entry is from wikipedia, which states the following: The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to… Read more »

ashv
Guest
ashv

To be clear: I am not saying “limited government” is bad because when achieved, it produces bad results — I am saying that the concept itself is incoherent, and attempting to achieve it produces bad results. On the contrary, “affordable health care” is a meaningful concept, though the government program under that name assuredly won’t produce it.

Ilíon
Member

The only reason that the “absolute monarchies” of the early modern period were less intrusive than the modern social “democracies” is due to the limitations of the technology available to them.

Image a Roman Empire (or worse, a Chinese Empire), or even just a William ‘the Conqueror’ with present-day technology.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Is it such a stretch to believe that to achieve one of the goals of socialism (wealth for all), one must abandon the principles of socialism? Some principles just don’t match reality and should be discarded for ones that do.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Well, communist governments with founding principles and documents declaring that no one ever need be poor again violate that principle. Is it just that true communism has never been tried?

Jill Smith
Member

With reference to Communist theory, is it true that no state has ever gone past the “dictatorship of the proletariat” phase? I suppose this enables some to say that, given more time, dialectical materialism would have eventually borne fruit.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Ultimately one has to judge by results rather than intentions.

Jill Smith
Member

I agree, and even the theory never made sense to me. But for those who still think such a society could ever work, I suppose that is the wistful fallback: ah yes, but it has never really been tried. I think it works in convents where, in the old days, you were not allowed to refer to your bed, your book, or your breakfast as “my”. (But you were allowed to say “my tooth” if you were talking to the dentist. Which I always thought as kind of a shame, as I would have enjoyed saying “The amalgam in our… Read more »

adad0
Member

Because a Monarch is only one Gumby?

ashv
Guest
ashv

stop posting

adad0
Member

“Stop posting”?
Are you saying that as an:
A: King?
B: Commissar?
C: A guy with SHDD?
(Sense of Humor Deficit Disorder) ????????☀️????

wisdumb
Guest
wisdumb

ashv,
The reason is that the responsibility to keep the government from growing too large rests with the intermediaries (lesser magistrates). With a monarch, it was the knights who resisted – because they had personal treasure invested. With our republic, it was supposed to be the states who resist. But with the conflict of 1860-64, the states became essentially neutered, and we slid toward a democracy – which would have no intermediaries. Now, every grievance becomes a law, and each law begets a new enforcer, so there is very little resistance to governmental growth.

ashv
Guest
ashv

As de Jouvenel points out, conflicts between nobles and kings ultimately increased government power, as did conflicts between the states and the federal government. Balance of power simply isn’t possible in the long run.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Is any political structure sustainable “in the long run”?

Jill Smith
Member

Iceland’s parliament has been functioning since the 900s.

ashv
Guest
ashv

I think so. Obviously, every previous civilisation met its end somehow, which is why they’re previous, but it’s clear that some forms of government are more stable and durable than others. The Byzantine empire lasted a thousand years and could have lasted longer if they hadn’t stabbed the Third Crusade in the back. The Capetians ruled France for several hundred years. The USA hasn’t even made it a century without a major reorganisation (counting the Civil War and New Deal as points where distribution of power within government changed significantly).

wisdumb
Guest
wisdumb

Its probably not the ‘balance of power’ that cannot last, but it is any single human structure or form of government that has a limited lifespan. I think this is a feature of God’s sovereignty – to keep us from becoming complacent. Our latest phase – information technology is creating another major disruption. Interesting to watch!

Lisa Reese
Guest
Lisa Reese

Housekeeping note for Brother Wilson: why do I get two copies of your Mail Chimp stuff, but never any digests? I admit to signing up twice, because I used to get the digests, and then they just quit. Any way to fix this? I’m still reading your stuff, but I know I miss things.