Civic Virtue needed to Maintain A Republic

“Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”—President John Adams, to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, October 11, 1798

The cry goes something like this:
Muslims are invading and destroying Europe.  They’re putting Sharia in place.  Illegals are invading our nation and they’re not following laws, they don’t believe in American ideals.  You can’t teach these people how to have Western values.  You have to get rid of them.  We need to close the borders.  If we don’t get rid of them, if we have open borders then Western Civilization will be destroyed.

There are infinite variations on this theme. Some are dressed up in erudite language and carefully chosen facts taken out of context to support them, some are the racist tirades of white trash.  Some speak of high minded things like tradition and culture that must be protected.  Some are unabashedly hateful.  Doesn’t matter what form it takes, the short version is that “Foreigners are the cause of our problems, and getting rid of foreigners is the solution.”

Of course, that’s like a morbidly obese person who eats nothing but fast food, never got vaccinated for anything, and lived in filth blaming the person who gave them the flu for their health problems.
Just because you have an infection doesn’t mean that it is the cause of your problems…often it’s only the symptom of the situation you created.

So, let’s look at the two main claims here: (1) Muslims and Sharia are destroying Europe now and will soon destroy America, and (2) illegals of all kinds are destroying America.

Now, no one has more problems with Muslim ideology than me.  As I have dealt with before, the core tenets of Islam in its world view, its view of the relationship of God to Man and Man to God, and its entire history of destruction toward reason and rights, lay the foundation for a culture of barbarism, hatred, genocide and atrocity.  Why? Because ideas have consequences.  So yes, Muslim ideology is dangerous.  But only when it is left unchallenged. In an environment where such filth is held up for public display and public critique, as Western society is supposed to do to all ideas, the only logical result is complete ridicule and shaming of those who espouse the ideas of traditional Islam.  In such an environment, the reformist calls of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji thrive and the backwards ideas of the traditionalist Iman are only mocked.  In such an environment those who hold to the traditional ideas that the sword must be used to further the cause of Allah and his Prophet are promptly put in jail for their violence, and those who push for reform are rewarded by society with money and charitable help from those within and outside the community.
But that is not what is happening in Europe, is it?  Nope.  One scandal after another of violence against women, children, Jews, and anyone would dare speak out against the religion of a sixth-century pedophile and genocidal con man (if there is one thing I know for certain in the entire history of any religion, it’s that God never spoke to Muhammad).  I don’t have to make the case because the racists and xenophobes have already made it with documentation of crimes, of whole neighborhoods where Sharia rules and the laws of a nation don’t, where violence against those who dare to speak out against the vile filth of the so-called Prophet of God are intimidated and assaulted, where recruitment for armies of evil goes on without much opposition.  Yes, to someone who just wanted to look at symptoms it would appear that Islam is the problem and getting rid of them would fix the problem.  But that would require unspeakably shallow thinking to think this.  The rise of virulent Islamo-fascism in Europe is a symptom but did the disease start when Muslims starting arriving in droves?
Let’s go back to my point about the fact that if we held to the traditions of Western Civilization, the public discussion and critique of ideas.  If those traditions which date back to Aristotle, to the Roman Republic, to the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment were in play would Islam have made headway?  Obviously, no.  So, when did the acceptance of evil start?  And don’t say it was when the Muslims starting coming in droves. No, it goes back much, much further than that.  In fact, if you want to really point to it, you could say that the point that Western Culture truly died was WWI.  Yes, I said I, not II, I.
Let me explain.
What I am calling Western Civilization is a collection of societal habits and customs.  The public discussion of ideas is one of those.  It goes along with reason, rule of law, natural rights, the purpose of life being the attainment of what the Ancient Greeks called Eudaemonia (which we render as Happiness, but not in the sense of pleasure but in the sense of a life lived well), of personal and civic virtue, of concern for the immortal human soul as well as the temporal world we live in.  Now these virtues have been at their height at times like the middle period of the Roman Republic, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and of course—and they have been on the downswing during the fall of Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, and post Napoleonic Wars Europe.  If you want to point to one single figure as being the driving force for these ideas is Aristotle (see Murray’s Human Accomplishment, Hermann’s The Cave and the Light, Wise Bauer’s The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Fall of Constantinople, Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments…and so many others).  Some who don’t actually know much about history or philosophy may point to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but while thankfully that tradition doesn’t deny reason like its cousin Islam, it doesn’t really help that much.  Certainly, it’s better than atheism, but a belief system that has presided over the fall of the Roman Empire (and if you ask Gibbon was the chief cause of said fall) the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, as well as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution (for good and bad) and a dozen other things good and bad, one has to admit the countless contradictions and vagaries of the Judaeo-Christian tradition make it rather weak as a driving force.  But it is Aristotle who drives the best in European history.  It is when Aquinas merges Aristotle with Christianity that the Dark Ages end. It is when Aristotle’s desire to know challenges the dogma that has surrounded Aristotle’s teaching in a very UN-Aristotelean way, that brought the scientific revolution.  It is the pursuit of Happiness and the virtues and rights therein required that defines Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics…and subsequently the self-evident rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….It was even the ideas of Aristotle that allowed for the Golden Age of Islam under Abbasids and Mu’tazilites (see The Closing of the Muslim Mind by Robert Reilly)
And it’s Aristotle that went out the window with WWI.  No longer did merit, virtue, and reason matter…only might makes right.  Granted the less detestable side won in “The Great War” but hardly on an argument of right and virtue.  Wars before were fought in God’s name, in the name Liberty, in the name of Rights…starting with this there was hardly any real motive other than might and power.  I’m not so naive to think that previous wars weren’t about power and might, but they at least had the good taste to dress their motives up in more noble pursuits.  Yeah both sides may have used propaganda about how terrible the other side was but it was like Clinton and Trump attacking each other’s morals—neither side was a saint themselves.  Their arguments weren’t for any ideal higher than nationalism, which itself is nothing more than racism and hatred of the other dressed up as if it is patriotism.  And this cost Europe.  When they had a chance to rebuild, to start afresh, to have hope, that most Western and Aristotelian of all ideas, they didn’t.  Starting with most punitive treaty in history at Versailles, followed despair, economic depression, and political breakdown of all kinds.  Completely in opposition to all reason.

 

Britain’s valiant struggle against fascism wasn’t a new beginning of Aristotelianism as it should be, but its last hurrah.

Tolerance for evil became the norm.  First socialism, then fascism, then after its defeat socialism again.  One could say that Europe was tired of total war and wanted to avoid it again…but clearly, they were willing to do so at the cost of all that made Western Civilization great in the past, all that had worked in the past, all that was in line with reason and virtue. Holding to reason, aspiring for virtue, is long and tiring work and it often requires to put every comfort and joy in your life on the line for the higher truths of existence.  It’s tiring work and Europe was just tired of working for it. While there were always pockets of the people fighting for the right it was never enough and while we could detail every act of appeasement from Europe tolerating Lenin’s rise, to the League of Nations offering no resistance to Hitler’s evil, to the repeated calls from most of the West to give into to Russian aggression, to the current indifference about the spread of Islamo-fascism in the Middle East, unchecked Russian aggression, and the spread of fascism in their midst.

jefferson-ignorance

So how did this start?
Well it’s probably no shock that the idiocy of nationalism has something to do with it.  As nationalism grew to replace religion as the motivating cause for most people (see How Civilizations Die by Goldman for a further discussion on this phenomenon) certain things changed in the habits of civilization.  Religion, for all its failings, understood that virtue was something that did not come innate in human-beings—that left on their own some people might achieve virtue, but most would not—and that they had to be taught right from wrong, virtue from vice, good from evil, and ideally the reasoning skills that lead to one picking one over the other.  Nationalism not so much.  For Nationalism you are better simply because you’re German/English/French.  There is no need to learn what that means, you just are.  Now nationalists will claim otherwise, but you can’t say someone is inherently better and claim you have to be taught what that means—it’s either inherent or it’s not, it can either be taught or it can’t.  These two concepts are oil and water to each other.  Now there may be a lot of propaganda telling the people that because they’re from Country X they are better than all others, but propaganda is not education.  And it certainly isn’t virtue, because like education, virtue isn’t inherent, it is something that one must strive for.  So, the idea of inherent superiority is antithetical to teaching the civic virtues that may have come with previous systems.  Ideas have consequences, they just aren’t always immediate consequences.

And the jingoism that WWI brought to the front didn’t destroy Europe immediately…but it did prevent it from recovering as fast as it should have.  Let’s be honest any intelligent understanding of virtue would not have imposed the debilitating reparations of the Treaty of Versailles, which in turn allowed the stupidity of nationalism to turn into the fall on evil of fascism.  And when virtue is not an issue then you don’t care if Czechoslovakia is overtaken by tyranny because that would be a concern for people who care about human rights.  Something that becomes less and less important the more nationalism begins to spread in Europe (and don’t think that it was just Germany or just Italy)…almost every nation on the continent was all too eager to hand over their Jews to the Nazi war machine.  But maybe that wasn’t the case, I mean did we have any nations that still believed in civic education that didn’t fall victim to this?  Yes, we had the rather extensive school systems reinforced by religious organizations and private social groups of the US and to a lesser extent the UK.  Where civic virtue persisted you didn’t see society fall apart like you did on the continent.  They faced the same challenges, and they survived better than those who had left true civic virtue behind.

But is civic virtue just about the proper love of country? No it’s a whole lot of things.  It’s personal responsibility, the duty to understand issues and to learn, respect for the letter and spirit of the laws, to think long-term, to have some semblance of personal finance, to charity.  Now I’m not saying that everyone actually learned these so well that they made the lessons a part of their character and their soul.  No.  Only an idiot who has never actually cracked a history book believes in the Golden Past.  People are stupid, and they’ve always been stupid. They have always spent more than they have, they have always tried to blame other, they have always tried to get others to pay for what they want.  Virtue has never existed en masse anywhere in history.  But what policies like teaching civic virtue did is they kept these worst tendencies at bay by shaming the public embrace of them (America also benefitted by it’s more or less open borders policy and the promise of the American Dream which attracted people who felt a sympathetic call of these virtues as America presented them).

franklin-republic

But even these two nations didn’t resist it forever.  One of the key functions of civic virtue is personal responsibility.  These were worn away by FDR’s New Deal and the implementation of the welfare state in Britain.  And by then such concepts didn’t exist in much of the rest of Europe. And because they weren’t being taught to the citizens of such nations they certainly weren’t being taught to the people coming in from other nations.  One just has to read Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to see the effects of this problem.  She details how when moving to the Netherlands she was just given money, not taught anything about how to use it, how to plan, how to be a good Dutch citizen and lo-and-behold acted like a damn fool.  And this is a woman who clearly has shown she is capable of a level of intellectualism and self-reflection that few people are capable of.  Personal and civic virtues don’t come by magic or by birth, they need to be taught.  Through government.  Through charitable organizations.  Through schools.  Through churches.  Through friends and family.  Now an idiot liberal thinks that it’s just government’s job, but we all know that’s stupid. It is the responsibility of every citizen to help teach it to their fellow citizens, it is the responsibility of every organization public and private to foster it.  Not from foolish and mindless sense of Kantian duty, but because it is in our best interests—only a productive and healthy society will protect our rights and ensure we have the opportunities to achieve our own Happiness.

Another key function of civic virtues is respect for the letter and spirit of the laws. What does this mean?  It means understanding that laws were put in for a reason, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but that they were usually not just random in being put in place.  That when done properly they were put in with forethought and reason to address certain problems in society.  And with this understanding of that they were put in for a reason that they should not be changed for frivolous reasons because doing may very well bring back the same problems they were meant to solve.  But at the same time we must balance this with changing situations and circumstance.  We must admit that while laws should not be changed for light and transitory reasons, they should be changed when a better way to solve the initial problem no longer exists, when the problem is realized to be not a problem or not worth the cost and effort it takes to enforce such a law, or when a better way to deal with the problem exists.  A balance between the reactionary and traditionalist who never want to change laws and the progressive who wants to change everything on a whim.  And with this comes also the understanding that due process and the law sometimes is not perfect but that their imperfections are better than the other options currently available and we must accept this until we can find a better way.

And it is because of this lack of teaching civic virtue, at a personal, family, community, and government levels that we see these problems.

You could deport every single immigrant who entered the US in the last 10 years (legal or illegal, it doesn’t matter) and every immigrant into Europe in the same time and you wouldn’t stop a single problem. You would still have populations of nationalists who rather than deal with the problem would start blaming groups that have been in their nations for only a few generations and progressives who would still be winning about how reality itself is unfair and we have to act like facts are not the facts.  The problems will persist and idiots will still look for anyone but themselves to blame.

There is a reason that everything from Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics through Montessquieu ’s The Spirit of the Laws and Adam’s statement to the Massachusetts militia, to the wisdom of Reagan and the writings of Hasan Ali, at no time in history but among the alt-right and progressives has the idea of personal virtue leading to civic virtue not been the core of a good life and healthy society.

And what does that mean? It means before we talk about the virtues of other people we first need to make sure we personally have the core virtues in our own life and teach them through our example.  Prudence (knowing what is good for us), Moderation (choosing the right amount of those good as everything can be over or underdone), Fortitude (having the will to do what we know is right), and Justice (treating others according to their merits, and demanding that we be treated only according to our merit). These are the classic cardinal virtues and to maintain them (and it is something you maintain, you can’t just achieve them and be done, it’s a constant struggle to keep them) requires self-reflection, education, reason and common sense, and the will to demand of ourselves nothing less.   There are many other virtues, Aristotle and Aquinas are quite good at detailing them, but these are the ones you have to start with…because if you don’t have them then how can you have the love of your nation and its laws that is required of patriotism?  How can you be qualified to judge a nation as good if you don’t even have the foggiest clue of what goodness is?

washingtonvirtue

But admitting that we also have to change the things in society that undermine virtue, let’s look at the policies in Europe and America that undermine this virtue and will do in both if they’re not stopped (immigrants or no immigrants). In Britain in the post war era you had a few problems, the first being that a lot of people who understood that evil needs to be fought regrettably died in such a fight, but more caused by a government gone wild under the idiocy of Prime Minister Attlee.  Public ownership of industry, welfare, dole, health, housing, all the dream children of socialism.  There is an argument for a safety net, even a generous one that can be made by capitalists like Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and Charles Murray…but this wasn’t a capitalist safety net, this was socialist control.  Yes, they gave things but they said what you could do with it, where you could live, what you could buy, where you had to stand in line, for how long, who to see, when to see them.  A capitalist safety net says “We know you’ve had hard times, here’s some money to help you get over it, we trust you know your own life well enough to know how to best spend it”…but not the British welfare state which says “you like all individuals, do not know what is best for you, we the government know what is best for you, and will tell you how to live your life…oh we also know what is best for business so we’ll take that over too.”  Is it any shock that when being treated like children that people will start acting like children.  Virtues are things for adults, and if you’re going to be treated like a child and told what you can and can’t have, why do you need virtues to tell you what is good, you have government for that.  Worse when you can spend your time trying to find an extra $200 or you can risk losing everything by just looking for a job.  Most people are not long term-thinkers, and money now usually trumps the possibility of making more and the feeling of satisfaction that comes from making your own way later.  The other route has risks, welfare is safe.  Virtue may not always be the easy path, but while people have nobility in them, they don’t always live up to it.  So, we need to switch to plans like the UBI which doesn’t punish those who seek to better their lives, which don’t punish practices such as marriage which help foster civic virtue.  We need to remove as many barriers to free trade and small business creation (see The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto) to ensure that while not everyone wants to build their own business, that there are enough businesses out there to employee everyone.  And we really need to redo education.  We need to admit that education for everyone probably needs to go through their 20’, be it the liberal art or a trade, everyone is going to need more than a high school diploma.  As such we need to change tax and regulatory policies to ensure that people or businesses can afford to pay for these needed educations and that the opportunities to create what will be a massive increase in need. It goes without saying that education needs to become more focused toward civic virtue
For immigrants, we can’t just throw them in the country and hope they do the best, or give them money and expect them to have the knowledge it takes decades for Americans to acquire (and even then they don’t get it).  We need to have programs to teach them the life skills for surviving in a capitalist republic.  We need to make those same skills open to the Americans who seem to have not learned them in their teens.
And there needs to be a reevaluation of law enforcement because crime is destructive to civic virtue to not just the offenders and victims, but even to those who are not directly affected by it.  We need to admit that there are both too many laws on the books (unneeded licensing, a failed war on drugs policy, an unethical civil forfeiture, and rules that leave the public defenseless) and that enforcement needs to be steeped up with greater equality and efficiency (broken windows policing works but it must be coupled with community outreach and participation to work at its highest potential).   Respect for the law is at an all-time low, and unless this is improved by a sincere effort from both all levels of law enforcement and the public to meet each other half way (as both sides have some valid points against the other) respect for the law will continue to drops, and with it the law itself.
Personal charity.  We all hate the government taking over almost every aspect of helping those in need…but guess what if you’re not personally going to go out and spend your time and money the government gets the job by default.
And of course knowledge and understanding.  Democrats whine about Fox being so hard on Obama, now Republicans are proving to be just as petty by whining about the same kind of light being shown on Trump by everyone else.  Guess what the only problem is that not everyone was doing it to Obama, and now Fox is showing they’re merely partisan hacks by not doing it to Trump.  THE PURPOSE OF THE MEDIA IS TO QUESTION GOVERNMENT. It’s one of the key roles of the Fourth Estate.  No matter who is in power, even if you voted for them, you should want a careful and rigorous eye from the media being on them.  And if you have a problem with it then you don’t care about the good of society, you’re just another partisan hack who wants to hurt the other side more than wanting what is good for the nation.  Everyone needs to question everyone in power. Your side, their side.  Doesn’t matter.  You need to be up on all the issues, and if you don’t have the time, make the time.  This is the age of information and information is at hand. There is no excuse.
There are numerous other things each of us has to do, but this is a start.
The problem isn’t Islamo-fascists, immigrants or the other party.  Any nation with strong capitalistic democratically-republican government with an active populace that practices every aspect of every vision of civic virtue could withstand these problems and then some. A society with strong civic-virtue would view them like mosquitoes and suffer their evil with annoyance but not be threatened by them.

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2 Responses »

  1. America grieves electing a man, a government who alienates women from their own country, as an unjust government on its face. Oppression is indecent regardless of who holds power.

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