Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jim Kalb has a new book

Interview with James Kalb, author of
The Tyranny of Liberalism

What's this book about?

Liberalism and what to do about it.

What's the message?

Liberalism has won overwhelmingly. It dominates all public discussion and all respectable institutions. Rejecting liberalism today is rejecting what counts as rationality and moral decency. There seems to be no place else to go. That means that conservatism has no idea what it is or what to do. It also means that liberalism—which is basically oppositional—has run through its possibilities.

Sounds a bit like the end of history. What's the problem?

The problem is that liberalism taken straight doesn't work and destroys what does work. It's not possible to maintain social order if you make freedom and equality the highest principles. Their demands increase without limit and they wipe out other things that are needed for a tolerable or even minimally functional way of life. The more dominant liberalism becomes the less possible it is to mitigate the consequences of its basic contradictions. The only serious political question today is how to get beyond it. We all have to rethink, and this book is intended to advance the process.

What do you mean by liberalism? Conservatism?

Liberalism is the belief that equal satisfaction of preferences is the highest social good, and the purpose of politics and morality is converting the world into a sort of machine that brings about that good. Conservatism is resistance to that view for the sake of other goods traditionally recognized:—God, country, family, traditional social relations and morality. Modern thought has no good way to make sense of those goods so insisting on them has come to seem irrational, obstinate, retrograde, and probably malicious.

If liberalism goes, what replaces it?

Recognition that government can't be based directly on clear concepts that apply always and everywhere. Acceptance that people differ in ways that matter and choices must be made. Recognition that some particular understanding of the nature of man and the good life is basic to every social and political order.

And that means ...

Recognition that choices must be made means abandonment of freedom and equality as supreme principles. Acceptance of diversity means decentralization, local initiatives, and fewer attempts to do away with discrimination. Downplaying clear universal concepts means reliance on prudence, established practice, particular negotiated settlements, and general principles we don't fully grasp. And recognition that government is always based on a particular concept of the good means recognizing that government can't be neutral on basic moral and religious issues.

So you reject freedom, equality and tolerance?

No. They're often very good things. Where they work and people like them people should have them. The point is that they can't be supreme principles. Freedom only makes sense, for example, when you know what it's for. That requires some idea of what's good in human life.

How about justice and reason?

Justice and reason aren't found pure. They always have a setting. If you try to make them abstract and content-free, so they're equally acceptable to everyone no matter what his outlook and way of life, they go mad. We need tradition to know what things are and what they mean, so that we can reason about them and deal with them justly.

What's special about this book?

It ignores partisan disputes and deals with basic issues like tradition and scientism and the nature of knowledge and reason. It takes liberalism seriously and asks what it is, why it's so powerful, and what's really wrong with it. And it's willing to reject liberal pieties fundamentally.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bible 101: Proportional Justice in the Afterlife

This blog entry is written out of exasperation with the general state of Bible knowledge among Christians who ought to know better.

On punishment:

Luke 12:47-48: "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows."

Matthew 11:21-24: "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

On reward:

Matthew 5:17-19: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the LAW or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Luke 19:11-26: "While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: 'A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'

"But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

"The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'

"'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

"The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'

"His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'

"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'

"His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

"'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'

"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."

1 Corinthians 3:10-15: "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

Gradations of reward and punishment are clearly taught by our Lord and the Apostle Paul. Such gradations also make sense according to reason: God would be unjust to punish a garden-variety sinner the same as someone who tortured babies. This is simple, simple stuff, yet so many people, for whatever reason, can't seem to grasp the basic concept of proportional justice.

People were saved under the Old Covenant the same way they are now, through justification by faith. Justification by faith must not be construed to contradict the biblical teaching of the necessity of works and proportional justice. If a teacher of Christianity presumes to subvert these clear biblical truths, he is a false teacher.