Monday, July 02, 2018

What are the first principles of modern society?

Rulings by supreme courts are useful things. Not because they demonstrate great wisdom or knowledge, but because they require the first principles on which a society is based to be openly stated.

Such was the case when the Iowa Supreme Court made its ruling on a proposed law which would require women to wait 72 hours before having an abortion. The court blocked the proposal on the following basis:
"Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free," the justices wrote. "At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one's own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty."

There you have it. The first principle of a liberal state is "liberty" but understood in a very particular way, namely as an individual autonomy by which we can "shape, for's own identify, destiny and place in the world."

I have explained many times before why this is such a negative and "dissolving" concept of liberty. It means, logically, that only the things that we self-determine are legitimate. The predetermined aspects of life, which we do not shape for ourselves, come to be thought of as "prisons" from which the individual has to be liberated.

But there is much that we do not determine for ourselves. We do not determine, for instance, our race and ethnicity or our sex. And yet these are significant aspects of identity and community. In a liberal society, though, they must be made not to matter, because they conflict with the liberal definition of liberty as a state of individual autonomy, in which what matters is a freedom to self-define and self-create.

It's interesting, too, that the supreme court justices use the phrase "dominion over one's body". Patrick Deneen, in his excellent book Why Liberalism Failed, writes about the shift in the early modern period in the understanding of man's relation to nature. Instead of being embedded in nature, the point instead was to stand outside and against nature, seeking dominion over it. Classical liberals, according to Deneen, applied this to the natural world around us but still accepted an embedded human nature that we might live by (albeit a cut down and distorted one by which human nature was understood to be a self-seeking one aiming at individual profit); modern leftist progressive liberals extended it to having dominion over human nature itself (i.e. we might choose our own nature) with a logical end point in transhumanism.

Hat tip: The Four Marks


  1. You might like to view "Lauren Southern becomes a man",
    for an example of this liberalism in action.
    It's funny but not in a good way.

    For "desert" then watch the interaction between "her" and a protester at
    "Lauren Southern informs Protester that she is a man."

  2. ""Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free"

    This is a statement of incredible ignorance and irrationality. The human body functions and is controlled by the laws of nature, most of which are only partially understood. Humans have freedom so long as they obey the laws of nature and accept its inherent and often rigid restrictions and limitations. The atheist man aims to control and dominate nature and harness its forces for his own needs. This is a dangerous and deluded goal because nature is vastly more powerful than man. Nature works by procedures and laws. The simplest chemical reaction has a precise procedure. Interference with procedure creates disorder and dysfunction.

    At the simplest human level, man aims to satisfy his appetites for sweet tasteful food at low cost, by overindulging in foods containing refined sugars. He overwhelms the capacity of his organs to metabolise this load. But he continues to indulge because he does not want any restriction to his enjoyment or freedom to eat what he chooses. But his biology, over which he has no control, hits back at him with diabetes, heart disease, renal disease, obesity which overwhelm him and lead him swiftly to an early death.

    Man must therefore live with respect to nature and submit obediently to its laws. The supreme court ruling shows that the USA lives in a false and puerile reality which will ultimately lead to its demise.

  3. Lawrence Auster called these first principles "ruling principles" and also "God principles"

  4. Our so-called mastery of nature has achieved remarkable real-world results. Maybe the most important of these are not "positives" but rather the drastic reduction or end of worries even our grandparents felt sharply: disease, hunger, infant mortality, actual poverty, lions and bears, even war to a large extent. The "positives" include lots of stuff we didn't know we needed, like recorded music, air travel, etc.

    Is going from our ancient desire to control nature to controlling our own human nature a radical disconnect instead of a "natural" extension? The distinction seems subtle if we have a universal impulse to constantly improve our own lot and subdue adversity. Success breeds success and we have no idea what the future end of the curve looks like; we only know we have to keep going.

    The modern age is well suited to, and largely created by, a liberal outlook (in every sense of the word). If history is any indication, those with a more conservative disposition will fare better, naturally, in times to come, as conditions that help reinforce or accelerate progressive ideas fade. It seems we experience more an alternation of views instead of a competition over time, both "poles" being both necessary and ineluctable. In the short view, things are sorting out within a merciless natural order. Our affinity for the spiritual order grants us the mercy required to transcend the vagaries of the former and express the best of human nature.

  5. True. The right criticise atheism on the left because atheism denies higher truth and if you deny higher truth it can lead to anything goes. There's lots of killing under atheistic regimes. This makes sense except that the way the left see it is that a bunch of corrupt self serving people took it on themselves to decide what higher truth was and to get around corruption Liberals broke the rules. I'd say they're both right, there is higher truth and individual conscience is needed and they're both wrong too. So, in a time when few are interested in understanding what's good in the other side's point of view, we fluctuate.

  6. " mastery of nature has achieved remarkable real-world results"

    The results you describe are not achieved by a "mastery of nature" but by the development of understanding of the natural world and its laws and processes and the development of processes in science, engineering and medicine which are synergistic with natural laws. The aeronautical engineer and pilot have no means of mastering or controlling the natural world.

    Human attempts at the mastery of nature are those which work antagonistically with the laws and procedures of nature as opposed to synergystically. Examples include genetic engineering and transgender procedures which seek to surgically mutilate the human body and castrate it chemically. The attempts at mastery and control of nature are the ones which lead to catastrophic results.

  7. "... the development of understanding of the natural world and its laws and processes" can be called the mastery of nature, just as one would say a person has a mastery of chess or sailing.

    I agree that trying to control or "master" nature (hence my use of "so-called" mastery) leads to bad results. Yet this seems to be a driving impulse behind modern science and ideas like transhumanism, etc. This observation is in line with Mark's frequent references to liberalism's ultimate aims in autonomy and individualist expression.