Do we Live in a Society? This question came up in a recent Josias Podcast episode. Serious doubts were raised about whether we do. The discussion focused on the United States, where my interlocutors live. I lived almost half of my life in there, but it has now been almost 14 years since I left. In another sense, however, as a German rock band says, “we’re all living in Amerika.”Continue reading
St. Thomas distinguishes between two senses of the end: finis cuius (the end of which or for which), and finis quo (the end by which). The finis quo is the activity by which I attain to an end. For example, eating by which I attain to the end of ice-cream, or knowing by which I attain to the end of knowledge. The finis cuius usually means the end itself that I attain by my activity, for example ice cream, or knowledge. Thus St. Thomas writes:
As the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 2), the end is twofold—the end for which (cuius) and the end by which (quo); viz., the thing itself in which is found the aspect (ratio) of good, and the use or acquisition of that thing. Thus we say that the end of the movement of a weighty body is either a lower place as thing, or to be in a lower place, as use; and the end of the miser is money as thing, or possession of money as use.
The grammar here might seem a little puzzling. Why is ‘the thing itself’ in which the ratio of good is found indicated by the genitive pronoun, cuius? Why is it not indicated by the accusative, as being the direct object of the activity that attains to it? Why do we not say finis quem, the end which, rather than the end of which? Wouldn’t the finis cuius be more appropriately applied to the one for whom the end is a good? Say I have a person who wants ice-cream. Wouldn’t the most logical way of dividing the end be to say that we have an end by which (eating), an end which (ice-cream), and an end for which (the person)?
In fact, if we look at St. Thomas’s commentary on the passage of Aristotle’s Physics referred to in the quote above we see that there he does use finis cuius to mean the beneficiary of the good:
It must further be noted that we use all things which are made by art as though they exist for us. For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things. And he says ‘in a sense’ because, as is said in first philosophy [Metaph. XII:7], that for the sake of which something comes to be is used in two ways, i.e., ‘of which’ (cuius) and ‘by which’ (quo). Thus the end of a house as ‘of which’ (cuius) is the dweller, as ‘by which’ (quo) it is a dwelling.
What is going on here? I think the key is the remark that he makes at the beginning about art. ‘For we are in a sense the end of all artificial things.’ Here he is considering the products of art as useful or pleasant goods. And useful and pleasant goods are ordered to those who use or enjoy them. That is, the one using or enjoying such a good is really better than the good attained. But when we are talking about the primary case of the good: the honorable good (bonum honestum) we are talking about something that is really loved for its own sake. In loving an honorable good we are not directing it to ourselves—even though we are certainly the beneficiary of it, and we delight in it—but rather we are directing ourselves to it. Thus, a person loves the honorable good of truth not only more than his own knowledge of the truth, but in a sense, more than his very self. He is willing to give his life for the truth. Hence it is fitting to use the genitive finis cuius primarily to refer to the the thing pursued as an end itself. Because it is that which is primarily for the sake of which (cuius causa, or cuius gratia) an action is done. In the case of useful or pleasant goods, the person is himself the primary end, and can be called finis cuius, but in the primary instance of good, it is the good thing pursued that is the true finis cuius for the sake of which all is done.
In the latest issue of Studies in Christian Ethics, I review of Marcia Pally’s book Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics, and Theologies of Relationality. The review can be read online at Sage Journals. It’s free at the moment, but will probably be behind a pay-wall later. Some excerpts from the review follow below. Continue reading
Over at the bloggingheads spinoff meaningoflife.tv I have a conversation with Aryeh Cohen-Wade, in which we discuss the Mortara case, debates about liberalism and integralism among Catholics, and finally the monastic life. The conversation was enjoyable, though I was a bit groggy from flu and flu medications.
We discussed an interesting essay by Nathan Shields at the Jewish magazine Mosaic, liberal propaganda about the wars of religion, and Gelasian Dyarchy (I’m afraid I forgot to mention The Josias, the integralist website for which I have written a number of pieces), and then a little about the monastic life and the practice of lectio divina.
The Josias has started a podcast, in which I and two other Josias writers talk about ethics and politics and Catholic social teaching. In the first episode we discuss the common good— what it is, what it isn’t. The conversation touches on many things including the relation of practical and speculative virtue, Alexander the Great’s complaining of Aristotle’s publishing decisions, and an esoterically anti-Nazi book published by a German professor under the nose of the National Socialist censors.
My last post reminded me of a correspondence between Yves Simon and both de Koninck and Maritain on the common good that my father translated some years ago. So I got permission from my father to post it at The Charles De Koninck Project. It’s a fascinating correspondence, and gives a lot of details about the controversy over de Koninck’s book. Consider, for example, this description of a party at Simon’s house in South Bend:
After the lecture there was a party at my house. I had told W[aldemar Gurian] to open fire. He didn’t delay. Hardly had De Koninck sat down when he got the fatal question right in the solar plexus: Who are these personalists? De K[oninck] hesitated visibly and showed a little less Belgian good nature and a little more reserve. He mentioned a Californian review (do you remember, The Personalist, which Mounier discovered four or five years after launching Esprit); Adler and Farrel; Garrigou-Lagrange (with insistence), Fr. Schwalm, the author of lessons in social philosophy. As for Esprit—he did not know it; Maritain—he did not know him. When we insisted that the whole world believed Primacy of the Common Good was directed against you, he asked if the ideas of Maritain are such that one could recognize them in the personalism he described: the common good as mere instrument, etc. We insisted that many readers have the impression that you shared these idiocies. In private conversation I told De K[oninck] twice that, whatever his intentions may have been his book was being exploited “as an instrument of defamation,” that I would not want to have this on my conscience, and that he should publish an article or a note to put an end to this. His objection: “But then I would have to read Maritain! I don’t have the time.” Gurian could not believe that he has not read you. As for me, I believe it readily.
In a post on René Girard and St. Thomas I argued that Girard’s account of desire as “mimetic” is very persuasive when applied to modern, secular civilization, but that it is much less convincing when applied to the ancients. This is why Girard’s very first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, remains my favorite of all his works. In that book Girard concentrates on the peculiarities of modern culture and its false promise that man can take the place of God. His readings of Stendhal, Proust, and Dostoyevsky are far more convincing than his later readings of Sophocles and other ancient writers, and much, much more convincing than his readings of Sacred Scripture. His account of desire as arbitrary and rivalrous gets at a very important feature of modern (and hypermodern) culture with its subjective view of the good, embedded in capitalistic/consumerist economies and egalitarian politics. But it is not adequate to understanding human life built around the non-rivalrous pursuit of genuine common goods. Continue reading
When the Manifesto of the Tradinistas came out I noted that while I agree with their critique of liberalism— and indeed with most of their political positions— I would never consider myself a Tradinista on account of the cultural and historical associations that they embrace. In other words, I would never consider myself a “leftist.” But what exactly does it mean to be a leftist? I recently had a discussion with Coëmgenus on that question that made me understand more clearly what the Tradinistas mean by it, and where I differ from them. With Coëmgenus’s permission, I reproduce a slightly abridged version of our discussion below.
Coëmgenus: People use the word “left” to mean very stupid things.
Sancrucensis: What should “left” be used to mean?
Coëmgenus: I use “left” to mean the inclusion of social questions and questions of production within the realm of the political. So that a distributist who was sufficiently attentive to these things (and did not imply that they were to be solved extrapolitically through spiritual conversion alone) would count as “left” in my book. I give no credence to the idea of a “cultural left”; I see that as the fantasy of certain capitalists who want to wash their hands of certain capitalist problems.
Sancrucensis: Hmm, by your definition, Coëmgenus, Fascists are leftists.
Coëmgenus: Sort of. That’s the critique that’s often made of them by market liberals anyway. But I should probably add that leftism requires that, once one takes such an analytical approach, one tries to rectify differences in class power (ideally by neutralizing distinctions of class) — most fascists seem to have been more concerned to direct labor to some national end than to protect laborers as a class. What some reactionary critics of fascism notice is that fascism does not hesitate to use the rhetoric of helping the common man, but in practice I think this is just for show. The Trump business with Carrier seems like a fine example.
Sancrucensis: I think the addition is helpful. Leftists not only see economic power as a political question, but also think that inequality of economic power is per se unjust/exploitative. This is understandable given that they are reacting to a capitalist society in which the unbalance of economic power is unjust. To me, on the hand, a social order is conceivable with a highly gradational distribution of economic power, but in which economic activity would be subordinated to the genuine common good of the whole society, rather than to the private good of the class that has the most economic power. A corollary to my claim about the possibility of a mixed regime with an extremely hierarchical distribution of political power, but fully ordered to the common good. The leftist position seems to still accept to much of the liberal ideal. It’s democratic checks and balances applied to economy. Or as Comrade Stalin put it:
Bourgeois constitutions usually confine themselves to stating the formal rights of citizens, without bothering about the conditions for the exercise of these rights, about the opportunity of exercising them, about the means by which they can be exercised. They speak of the equality of citizens, but forget that there cannot be real equality between employer and workman, between landlord and peasant, if the former possess wealth and political weight in society while the latter are deprived of both – if the former are exploiters while the latter are exploited. Or again: they speak of freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, but forget that all these liberties may be merely a hollow sound for the working class, if the latter cannot have access to suitable premises for meetings, good printing shops, a sufficient quantity of printing paper, etc.
What distinguishes the draft of the new Constitution is the fact that it does not confine itself to stating the formal rights of citizens, but stresses the guarantee of these rights, the means by which these rights can be exercised. It does not merely proclaim equality of rights for citizens, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that the regime of exploitation has been abolished, to the fact that the citizens have been emancipated from all exploitation. It does not merely proclaim the right to work, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that there are no crises in Soviet society, and that unemployment has been abolished. It does not merely proclaim democratic liberties, but legislatively ensures them by providing definite material resources. It is clear, therefore, that the democratism of the draft of the new Constitution is not the “ordinary” and “universally recognized” democratism in the abstract, but Socialist democratism.
Coëmgenus: The Stalin quote is good enough as far as it goes. I would not say (differing here from many leftists) that leftism is about eliminating inequality, but about making it subject to politics. This could be the same as your view — a hierarchy in which everything is subordinated to the common good. But most reactionaries who defend hierarchy this way end up wanting parts of the hierarchy to be sui juris — they will admit eg. that the great landowners have a duty to serve the common good, but will either imply that they serve it best through glorifying their houses, or that this duty cannot be enforced by a bunch of filthy peasants. For “a subject and a sovereign are clear different things”. I have no interest in complete equality (both on account of its impossibility and on account of the critique of proceduralism to which you allude), but I hate an inequality that exempts anyone from answering to the common good. In feudalism as practiced, economic power was explicitly articulated through the state (less liberal than in our polity), but each community tended to be put at the service of the private good of the noble personage in charge of it — of course this story is much complicated by the existence of monastic holdings.
One last thing: checks and balances as such are not bad; this is why I support labor unionism, for example. Not because it’s a guarantee of welfare, but because it addresses what seems to be a frequent failure of negotiation. The error is not to have a procedure but to put one’s hopes for justice in procedure alone.
Sancrucensis: I agree that checks and balances are not bad in themselves; the “mixed” regime with democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical elements is best. But I think it important that checks and balances don’t tip the regime so far over that one loses the goods of obedience, political piety etc. It is quite true that sovereign and subject are two different things. Even in a democracy there will always be a part that rules and part that is ruled. But in democracy the ruling part has to conceal this fact, and pretend that it is ruling merely as an instrument of the sovereign people. And therefore the goods that are considered most important in a democracy are “vulgar” goods, and the type of human being taken to be the measure is the so-called “common man”. (Leo Strauss has a great discussion of this in ch. 4 of Natural Right and History). In a liberal democracy the ruling part is an oligarchy that rules in the name of the common man, but really for the private advantage of the capitalists. In a “socialist” state it is usually a vanguard party that considers itself to be preparing a post-political future, but really functions as an inefficient oligarchy. So I still think the best solution is one in which the democratic checks and balances are considered secondary, and the greater part of political power is in the hands of an hereditary monarch and an hereditary aristocracy. The hereditary aristocracy should be composed of a landed gentry that is at the same time an urban patriciate (to use Strauss’s terms again)— that is of “gentlemen” who derive their income from the land, but live for part of the year in the city. Such an aristocracy can of course become corrupt, and seek its own private advantage. But historical experience shows that such an aristocracy— especially when tempered by the monarchical and democratic elements— can cultivate an ethos of true public spirit, and an appreciation for noble goods: for civic friendship and military virtue, for art and philosophy. To the extent that they really pursue such goods they contribute to the common good of every member of the society. To the extent to which natural virtue can dispose men well towards supernatural virtue, I think such a regime does prepare men well for the life of the Church, and conversely the Church can have an ennobling and moderating effect on such an order.
Coëmgenus: I simply cannot imagine an aristocracy that does not degenerate into a faction. The aristocracies of Europe were born as a kind of mafia, and seem to have discovered the common good as a last-ditch effort to win some support when the bourgeoisie was finally about to wipe them out. “Popular sovereignty” can be an idol, but whoever rules rules on behalf of the whole community, and is in a sense their delegate.
The classical throne-and-altar view is that an aristocracy ought to rule while the commoners pray pay and obey, so that the common people are not troubled by the demands of political life. Against that ideal, I want to maintain that the subject never ceases to be a citizen. It is not my vote that creates the common good: even a purely autocratic system is not inevitably unjust. But if I am part of a community its political life is very much my business.
But why do we say so much about envy if we do not also suggest how to get rid of it? It is indeed hard for people not to envy someone who has what they want to acquire. Concerning any material good that is acquired, the more it is divided among many owners, the less of it does any single person have. And that is why the mind of the one who wants it suffers so much from spite: one person who has what that one wants has either bought up the whole supply or has made it scarcer. The one, therefore, who wishes to be rid of the plague of spite for good must fall in love with that inheritance that is not used up by the number of coheirs. It is one for all and all for each one. The more abundant it is, the greater the multitude of those who receive it. (Moralia 5.XLVI.86)