December 21, 2011


The weightless Lib Dem rationalists will end up looking rather quaint In the decade to come, technocracy and modernity will fade, and people will likely turn back to the old religious illusions (Andrew Brown, 12/20/11, The Guardian)

[A]ll the interesting decisions in the world are those we make under constraints. They are the realistic choices that we make when we don't have the time, the knowledge, or the power to ensure they're right; and can't, in any case, have all we want. The choices that matter are always renunciations. They are what the real political battles are about.

In economics, that's becoming painfully obvious. For most of us, the credit has, quite literally, run out. The freedom to shop appears now to be debt servitude. I think it is the disappointment with that dream that has driven, as much as anything, the riots, and the Occupy protests. It's not yet disillusionment: the looting rioter is living the dream the only way he can. But disillusionment will follow from repeated disappointments.

Similarly, the free sexual marketplace turns out not to be the recipe for happiness. It's another arena where the strong make the rules and the weak suffer. Monogamy is probably the earliest and most successful human experiment in taming the power of markets and harnessing them to social use. And this reflection, painfully learned, leads away from the idea that whatever consenting adults do must be OK. (This is a reflection that has nothing to do with homosexuality but a great deal to do with marriage).

When the dream that life should be more like shopping fades, we won't suddenly grow up. There will be new illusions, other dreams. These need not be religious, though I think they will be, if only because religions are better - have more experience - at claiming that they're true. This is, of course, the thing that modernity is meant to hate about them most. But this dislike of other people's claim to truth is based on the unspoken assumption that we know better. And we don't. 

Which reminds us of some of our favorite quotes, reflecting the fundamental insight of the Anglosphere:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Rom 7:18,19) 

Should a traveler, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

"Freedom is, in truth, a sacred thing. There is only one thing else that better deserves the name: virtue. But then what is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?"  (Alexis de Tocqueville)

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.  (Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics)

"Character is the accumulated confidence that individual men and women acquire from years of doing the right thing, over and over again, even when  they don't feel like it. People with character understand that their lives are filled with events and choices that are significant, above all, not because of the short term success or failure of the search for money or position, but because the choices we make are actually making us into one kind of person, or another. Our life of choices is a life-long labor to make ourselves into a person who has begun to respond adequately to the awesome gift we received from God when He made us in His image."  (Alan Keyes)

[W]e may well designate the moral cynics, who know no law beyond their will and interest, with a scrptural designation of "children of this world" or "children of darkness." Those who believe that self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law could then be termed "the children of light."  (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Don't set the people free: many poor souls need institutions, but the ideologues and cost-cutters insist on giving them autonomy (Theodore Dalrymple, 12/14/02, The Spectator)

It should not be necessary to explain a praiseworthy revulsion. (Mark Helprin, Chanukah in the Age of Guys and Dolls)

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Posted by at December 21, 2011 6:52 AM

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