Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Right Mix

One of the maddening aspects of human experience is that no belief system rooted in a single, clear concept ever works effectively—but that the “clear concept” nevertheless has genuine value. An example of this is liberty and the various doctrines that it has engendered beginning with the Enlightenment: laissez-faire, human rights, libertarianism, and the like. Evidently, the word “libertarian” was initially used in 1789 by William Belsham, an English political thinker. He opposed those who held a “necessitarian” view.” This contrast sums up the whole problem: human’s have free will while, simultaneously, we have to live in the realm of necessity. We can no more advocate a purely libertarian approach to ordinary life than we can support, philosophically or otherwise, a purely deterministic view. In both cases either one will immediately energize its opposite. Every movement of our body involves the flexion of some and the extension of other muscles. Maddening. But when it comes to muscles, we do not split into camps of flexarians and extensionists. We happily shovel snow, go up and down the stairs, and stir the tea using both in harmony.

Curiously libertarianism, unfolding in various ways, not least into democracy, developed at the same time as modern science—both born of the same rationalism. But science has fathered scientism, which is pure determinism; in that view it swallows free will, which becomes an illusory epi-phenomenon: humans are just puppets pulled by the springs of stimulus and response.

The unavoidable data of reality, which contain both real freedom and undeniable necessity produce the maddening situation in which keeping it simple renders one stupid. Laissez-faire worked reasonably well when society was still firmly anchored in the traditional synthesis of Christendom. As that creative impulse cooled, monarchy added more and more necessities to those supplied abundantly by nature—and these had to be shaken off. But in our day the traditional synthesis has decayed to such an extent that chaos grows all around us and yet more liberation seems downright crazy. I need not go far for an example. I just ponder watching a three-minute part of the recent Superbowl half-time show.

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