Motime’s been having some problems, and in the meantime, Paul Cella posted this comment at Turnabout, and it’s definitely worthy of a response–so without further ado!
Mr. Fiore: I tried to post this comment at your own blog, but to no avail, so I’ll post it here.
May I take the liberalism you espouse as “the most ‘concrete’ political theory that has ever existed” [quoted from Mr. Fiore’s blog] to be, mutatis mutandis, the liberalism of John Stuart Mill? That is, a theory predicated on the principle that no man may lawfully force, or attempt to force, his moral views on another man? We might call this “Open Society Liberalism,” because it posits as its guiding principle the ideal of the Open Society.
May I also assume that you are an atheist?
Finally, let me just say this in defense of what you are disparaging as abstractions: Human civilization is, at base, a product of human imagination. To maintain it requires not merely that we punish and control barbarism and cruelty in concrete manifestations, but also that we “police” the imagination with the instruments of custom and prescription and inherited tradition.
To illustrate that, consider the effect it would have on you if an acquaintance turned to you and said, “Dave, occasionally I dream of violently raping your girlfriend. Of course, it’s just in my imagination.” Would you ever let this acquaintance, say, drive your girlfriend to work? I submit that you would think very hard about it.
My point is that, if men felt empowered at all times to utter their darkest thoughts, the cement of trust and neighborliness, so to speak, would rapidly dissolve; and the binding of civilization would follow in sort order.
Part of civilization is this control on our imaginations; our trained habit to repudiate our darkest thoughts, or at least, to never utter them. The prosecution of the crime, when it happens, is only the last option, and the state only the most obvious, but hardly the most important, element of civilization.
You write that “I am convinced that no problem was ever solved by silencing dissent,” [again, quoted from Mr. Fiore’s blog] but we have quite a number of examples of societies where all dissent was accepted, even celebrated and empowered. Two good examples come to mind: Weimar Germany and Spain of the early 1930s. In short, societies that just kept on talking without limits — and talked themselves into civil war.
Posted by: Paul Cella at January 29, 2004 07:50 AM
Yes Mr. Cella, you’re right to identify me as an “Open Society Liberal”, and I happily acknowledge my debt to the author of On Liberty–like Mill, I’m loathe to blur the boundary between what’s good for individuals and what’s good for society… I am an “atheist” (in the sense that I don’t believe in a personified Deity, or an afterlife), but keep in mind, I also describe myself as a “neo-Calvinist liberal”… I hold every relationship between myself and other beings sacred–which is just another way of phrasing Kant’s maxim that we ought to endeavor to treat humans (and, as far as I’m concerned animals) as ends rather than means. I’ve even had a “conversion experience” of sorts, which is what my first novel was about, in a way… No one likes hedonism less than I–but I’d rather let people “drift” than anchor them to a plot of ground that’s uncongenial to them. I don’t have any answers for anyone–and neither does the Catholic Church. You can’t legislate “groundedness”, or peace of mind–and it’s about time we stopped trying to do so.
With reference to your hypothetical “I want to rape your girlfriend guy”–I would say that this person would definitely benefit more from saying this stuff than bottling it up, although it might be preferable for him to say it to a therapist… If he let himself be guided by a sense of his indivdual relationships to the people in his life, he’d easily avoid the error you describe (making this admission to me, I mean). In any case–I don’t have the power to “allow” or “disallow” my girlfriend to do anything! She’s well able to take care of herself, and I trust her to make her own decisions, and to defend herself (both verbally and–since she’s done a good deal of Martial arts training–physically)
On Weimar and Spain–I could cite the very same examples to support my own contentions Paul. The problem in those places was that people became impatient with all of the talk and possibilities and decided to take “one road” in the interests of restoring purpose and unity to the body politic. I construe this development as a failure of nerve. This is why I’m as unhappy with softy liberals as I am with tradtionalists/patriots–liberalism is a faith. You’ll never hear me saying it’s “rational”. And a faith–as you folks at Turnabout know–must be defended! At this point in the West, the only choices are to go on with the liberal project or to embrace fascism. There’s no third way.
Good afternoon friends