Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reviewing the Shutdown: Losing Prudence

Politicians continue to speak of prudence in political discourse, but the recent government shutdown highlights a lack of actual prudence in present policy debates.

Classically, prudence is practical wisdom, the virtue of politics. Prudence unites the intellectual and moral virtues, the realms of ideas and actions. Prudence unites the best means to proper ends. As practical wisdom, prudence understands the limitations of action. Thus, in uniting ends to means, prudence always necessitates practicability, the best possible means for the best possible ends.

U.S. political history provides vivid definition to prudence in action. While maintaining the right to political revolution against tyranny, the Declaration of Independence cautions, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…” The implications follow neatly. The people can properly engage in political revolution responding to tyrannical government; altering a tyrannical government is a worthy goal. The caution though entails that proper means can be matched to a good end and still be imprudent. Prudence looks at the whole picture, practicability and necessity of the particular means for achieving the goal.

The recent government shutdown reinforces the Declaration’s maxim: proper means and good ends are not enough. Prudence dictates the best possible means for the best possible ends. Forgetting this important lesson, the GOP harmed its own cause and weakened the possibility of achieving the proposed end.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Prison: Enemy of Justice

Modern society has a problem. The problem goes to the very core of society, the preservation and promotion of justice. At the center of this problem lies a prison system called to be a promoter of justice, but can only be its destroyer.
Society exists because it provides for the best possible life for individuals within it. Individuals join society, societies coalesce, or societies exist naturally because they provide a place for each individual. They enable the relationships and discourse, and opportunities that make for a fully human life.

Society emerges from relations. The organic or mechanical relations between individuals, groups, and institutions constitute a society. The relations of society and the contributions of each member to the society create rules of engagement for the society. Call it the social order. Order has more than its authoritarian meaning. It has biological meaning. An order naturally collects of smaller units (families) in the animal kingdom in natural, meaningful relationship.

Birthed in the relational nature of society, social order in turn creates authority. Social relation necessarily gives proper authority to the elements involved in the relation. Social order comprises the rules that govern behavior within society for each individual to live a fulfilled life. The proper social order best directs each individual to the best life, a fully human life in the society. Each elemental part of society has the duty to support the social order and the basic authority to defend it. Various elements, individuals and institutions, have various authority proper to themselves determined by the social order.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Prisoner of Zenda and the Meaning of Love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
-- Jesus Christ

“But is love the only thing? If love were all, I could follow you in rags to the ends of the world. But in that world, you’d have left the king to die in his cell. Honor binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honor lies in keeping faith with my country and my house. I don’t know why God has let me love you. But I know that I must stay.”
-- Princess Flavia

The Prisoner of Zenda has excited and delighted the imaginations of both young and old for many years. The Adventure novel first published in 1894 by Anthony Hope follows in the tradition of the British adventure story of the time. At the height of the British Empire, the taste for stories of adventurer in these unknown places gave birth to many well-known adventures. Hope placed a new twist, though still involving a member of the British military who had been to those far off lands. The Prisoner of Zenda is set in a European country, though not any better known. The country though matters little. Adventure is the key.

I have read the book, and I did find I very enjoyable. More recently viewed the acclaimed film adaptation, and I thought I would share some thoughts on it since it is fresh in my mind.

The 1937 film adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda may even surpass the original in publicity if not in substance. The plot follows the conventions of the ordinary man placed in a situation that quickly becomes far more than he bargained for. The unassuming and modest Rudolf Rassendyll has recently retired from military service and is looking forward to a vacation in Easter Europe. As soon as he arrives, he finds that he is a sight to the locals, who all gawk at his very presence. Rudolf finds out that he is the very image of the crown prince, soon to be crowned King Rudolf V. Upon this meeting, the two Rudolfs become quick friends.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 4

By the 19th century, natural rights theory had come under attack from many different angles and fell into disfavor. Providing perhaps the most radical divergence from the natural right, compact theory of statehood was GWF Hegel and his historicism. Hegel placed reason in a primary role infused in history unfolding in time. Right became subservient to the rational will of historical progress. Hegel believed that by his time, history had rationally created the “Germanic Realm” of regimes, the modern state.

Hegel’s strict historicism saw history as a Spirit coming to know itself and unfolding through different stages of consciousness over time. This “absolute” or “universal” Spirit possesses pure rationality because the rational can only be defined in terms of the Spirit itself and its progress. The Spirit progresses through time by working itself out dialectically. Through the conflict of the thesis, as the Spirit presently exists, and the antithesis within it, the Spirit can progress to a new synthesis as the latest expression of history. The Spirit develops rational self-consciousness by knowing itself through the conflict that reveals its next step.

At Hegel’s time, the state represented the fullest expression of the Spirit of that point. The state also thinks and knows itself; it has its own self consciousness (§257). The state has full rationality because it represents actuality of the absolute Spirit in the political realm. Individuals, rather than combining via natural right to create the state, find their rational expression in subjection of their wills to the fully rational will of the state. The state provides objectivity and universality to its individual members as they align with it. Reason is embodied in the state, and rationality comes to the members of the state as its interests are infused into the individual interests (§258). By willing the objective purposes of the state, individuals become reasonable creatures in accordance with the truly rational Spirit of history.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 3

As the modern state became the reality of modern politics, Hobbes' theory of the naturally sovereign state was enacted in different forms. Many thinkers after Hobbes held that reason also determined natural rights for each man beyond just self-preservation. States developed in combinations and balances of sovereignty and rights. For thinkers, this was the the struggle of nature and reason. The 18th century regime changes in England, France, and the United States show different combinations, birthed in differing conceptions of sovereignty and rights within the modern state. Most importantly, they demonstrate that the modern state reduces the players in the quest for power to two: the state and the individual.

Montesquieu studied closely the development of the British regime in the 18th century. He found it to be the best expression of a free, modern state. Montesquieu thinks that republics best preserve freedom but must adapt to the modern world (or the modern state idea). The state, for Montesquieu, must respect the individual's rights. Montesquieu sees the laws and constitution as the best expression of reason for the state. Laws are not reasonable in themselves as acts of a state. Instead, the laws must preserve the freedom of the individual within them as reason dictates they best can (128). Reason, for Montesquieu, does not belong exclusively to the state, but the state should use it.

In order for republics to survive in modern statehood they must confederate to provide external strength in addition to free institutions (126). Montesquieu follows the natural right theory of government. In external relations, rights belong to the state in terms of natural desire for self-preservation (133). Just war is rooted in natural right and defense of the interest of the state itself. Enlightenment, the development of reason, leads to peace as states respect rights internally and externally. Thus, conquering states owe a debt to human nature (137). States cannot claim an exclusive rationality to overrun the rights of other states or people.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 2

While Machiavelli was penning his masterpiece, several rulers through Europe are already beginning to practice many of his ideas. These rulers agreed with Machiavelli that effective sovereignty necessitated total centralization of power.

In France under Louis XI, the power of dukes was finally broken in 1472 and the road to the modern state was paved. In Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella did the same. They drove out the Muslims and Jews and instituted the inquisition to root out all dissenters. In England, King Henry the VIII continued the centralization of power begin by his father. He dominated the other nobles and the parliament. He also increased his power by putting the Anglican church fully under his influence and separating from Rome in 1534.

As Machiavelli gathered from his study, the centralization of power was the key. On fact, he wrote the prince as manual for Lorenzo de Medici to do the same in Italy.

By the time Thomas Hobbes came into the scene in the early 1600s, the modern state had become well instituted in many places over a 100 years. Hobbes sought to provide a new explanation and justification for it that went deeper than raw power.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 1

"By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down."
- A proverb of King Solomon

The modern state has become the standard of acceptable statehood in the 21st century world. The most basic main components of the modern state include a centralized political decision-making and administration that can be projected over a large area. Additionally, modern states have been coextensive with a distinct nation, forming nation-states.

With the ubiquity and permanence of modern state regimes, it may be surprising to some that this predominance has only been the case for the last few hundred years. The modern state has overcome all previous regimes when the have come head to head in wars because no other regime has been able to match the modern state in centralized organization and projecting power.

For those interested in the proper understanding of human right and authority and the implementation of justice, the problem of the modern state should raise some serious questions. Over the next couple weeks, I will be publishing a series of blogs excerpted from papers I have written for a previous study of the modern state up until the end of the 19th century when it really became entrenched in the international political order. Though this study, we will take a critical look at the philosophy and development that undergirds the modern state. We will have the opportunity to reflect on the following (and other) important questions:

1. What is the thought behind the moderns state? Does this thought fit into a Biblical understanding of statehood?

2. Is the modern state inherently at odds with a Biblical conception of states or can the two be reconciled in a reasonable manner?

3. How has the development of the modern state affected its appearance today? Can the modern

4. Does the modern state provide for the ethical ideal of justice? Can it provide justice? Is the modern state a perfect system? A useful but faulty one? An inherently corrupt one?

5. Is the modern state here to stay or will history provide for the development of a new (better or worse) political organization.

After our survey we will be able to come back and touch on these questions directly.

Any survey of the development of the modern state must begin with Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th Century Italian political theorist, and here we will begin as well:

The modern political project developed in response to the feudalistic regime structure of the Middle Ages. States began to assert sovereignty and centralize over against the influence the Catholic Church and feudal lords. But what exactly is sovereignty and how was it being centralized? Early theorists and scholars of the modern state attempted to develop answers to these questions. Power played a major part in answering these questions. The quest for power, its organization, and its use have long been the focal points of regimes. The modern state gives a new perspective on all these fronts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anna Karenina: The Need for Reality

*Note: This is my first book review on this blog. My reviews may contain minor spoilers, but I will try to refrain from sharing plot elements except the bare minimum necessary to make the review meaningful. I hope you will find that to be the case. Read on.

“There is less charm in life when one thinks of death, but there is more peace.”
-- Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina 

It all began the day Anna Karenina stepped of the train and the rail worker stepped in front of it. The sight of the rail worker’s death causes quite the disruption in Anna’s seemingly peaceful life. The beautiful Anna is the dutiful, if not loving, wife of the respected, but much older Karenin, a public official. Anna has resigned herself to this life, but she has not truly devoted herself to it. Anna imagines she has come to Moscow on a goodwill mission to reconcile her sister-in-law, Dolly, to Anna’s unfaithful brother, Stiva. After seeing the untimely and disturbing death of the rail worker at the Moscow station, Anna perceives a bad omen, but she cannot understand it. Her peaceful life is about to be run over by a train of its own, a train of her own making. 

Tolstoy’s study and critique of hypocrisy in his contemporary Russian society play a vital role in the novel. Anna’s undulating path begins with her own hypocritical choice to accept the advances of Count Alexei Vronsky even as she reconciles her brother to his wife after his own latest affair. Anna hypocritically refuses to halt Vronsky’s advances, allowing his attention to come between her and Karenin. She begins to compare him unfavorably to Vronsky, not Vronsky as he is, but Vronsky as she has come to create him. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Saved By Justice.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
-- St. John

Have you ever paused to wonder what John is saying here about our salvation when He says God is “just to forgive us”? How is this just? Don’t we deserve punishment as sinners? Isn’t it only by God’s grace that we are saved? What does this verse tell us about God?

Many of our struggles in understanding God come because we attempt to artificially separate the attributes of God without recognizing their radical unity in Him. God’s justice and mercy (or grace) are two which we have a hard time reconciling. We do not know how God can be both just and gracious. In a way this is a great mystery to us, but we often make it more difficult than it need be. We confuse the issue even further by trying to explain God as just or merciful without recognizing that He must be both.

Some choose to ignore God’s justice in its temporal application. They do not want to interact with the judgmental side of God. They see His justice only as a future contingency of judgment if people will not choose His grace in salvation. The fear of God’s justice provides an impetus to find salvation, but that is really as far as they will go with it. They prefer to focus their time on the fact of God’s love and grace to men.

Others try to see a more complete picture of a God both just and merciful, but they end up in a similar error by splitting the attributes apart in God. They see God as just in some situations and merciful in others. Then they think they understand that He has both justice and mercy. They see God’s justice (without room for grace) only in his righteous judgment of wicked men. They also see God’s mercy (without room for His justice) only in His gracious salvation of men. In taking this view of God, they wrongly apply human limitations to God’s nature, and they limit their own understanding of God, whose justice and mercy are one. If God’s attributes are not unified in His nature, He becomes arbitrary and denies Himself as He has revealed Himself to us. To allow for disunity in God essentially annihilates Him.

The unity of God’s attributes provides a beautiful picture of the whole which allows us to more clearly see the beauty of the parts. Essentially separating God’s attributes clouds His beauty.

Welcome. Good times to come.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
-- Jesus Christ

Hello all. Welcome to “Under Darkening Skies”. This is my new (and first) blog. I am glad you have found it, and I hope you will have cause to return often. I have long anticipated beginning a blog, but I never found the appropriate motivation to do so until now.

The reasons that I have chosen to begin this blog are really five:

1.    As a challenge to myself to put my ideas and reflections out for the critique of others

2.    As a challenge to develop my ideas and reflections more fully by forcing myself to express them clearly

3.    As a way of blessing all those whom I can influence through it

4.    As a challenge to you to think through these things that I find important more clearly and thoughtfully to see how they might affect your life

5.    As a learning experience whereby I mature in my thought and actions through interaction with you all.

Please feel free to look around. I will also be posting on here quite regularly. You will soon find out (if you do not already know it) that I have a variety of interests, but hopefully the variety will enable us to paint a more complete picture in our thoughts by relating them to each other. These topics will often include, but not be limited to, thoughts on ethics, theology, politics, and current events; book reviews of my favorite reads (or whatever I have most recently finished); reflections on movies and culture; and archives from papers I have written in the past.

Needless to say I am very excited by this new challenge and opportunity. Please leave comments and I will respond when I can. Also, if there is a topic you would like me to reflect on, suggest it, and it may become a post in the future.

Eyeing the storms with delight,

Jacob L Barrett