Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long on Porter: Turning Subjective

JEAN PORTER IS OF THE VIEW THAT human rights can only be defended on theological grounds. She is not convinced that human rights have any solid philosophical ground. It is not only that, in her view, rights came out of the theological tradition (largely through the work of canon lawyers resting on the work of the scholastics) and then were appropriated by Enlightenment thinkers and later secularists. But in her view there is no persuasive philosophical basis in either Enlightenment or secular thought that can support with universal approbation a concept of human rights. "I have yet to see a persuasive philosophical argument," she says, "developed on grounds that would be compelling to all, for a doctrine of human rights." Long, 173 (quoting Porter).

But despite Porter's belief that human rights lack philosophical basis, and despite its original theological basis which has largely been rejected, Porter acknowledges that we have inherited a reasonably hale notion of human rights as part of our "secular patrimony," one which has de facto become the lingua franca of international discourse. "The language of rights has become part of the shared patrimony of the race," Porter asserts. Long, 174 (quoting Porter). In her view, there is much good in this. And the pragmatic advantage of this state of affairs is justification enough to embrace, and even bed with, the notion of subjective rights. We need not care whether our rich fiancé got his money from a family of bootleggers or from the invention of the light bulb or even whether his family stole it from a bank: the important thing is that he's got the money and we can spend it if we marry him.

Long harbors doubts about Porter's attitude on human rights, and has doubts about her justification of them. Porter rejects the Rawlsian formula of "overlapping consensus" since she finds it "very strange" that different and even contradictory presuppositions on morality and religion can ever give birth to such a consensus. She is likewise not convinced that there is "foundationalist justification for a universal morality," "compelling to all persons of good will," that would give rise to sufficiently specific moral norms so as to be practically useful. She, however, sees the justification in "species-specific patterns of behavior, which provide an indispensable touchstone for evaluating moral theories." Long, 174-75 (quoting Porter).

Man is a Crossword Puzzle: How do we fill him in?
Porter's "species-specific patterns of behavior" do not provide a clue.

Despite his generally respectful regard for Porter's work, Long here unleashes on Porter. He sees Porter's reliance on "species-specific patterns of behavior" as essentially contentless, "lacking sufficient specificity to provide the foundation for genuine political or social solidarity." At most the "species-specific patterns of behavior" yield us "rhetorical meta-language of law," language which we beat our opponents over the head with in the catch-as-catch can of modern "rights talk," a "rights talk" which Mary Ann Glendon (one-time American ambassador to the Vatican and Harvard law professor) described in her book Rights Talk; A Nation Under Lawyers.

The "species-specific patterns of behavior" appears to be more a sociological, empirical construct than a jurisprudential, philosophical one. And for that reason yields no norms. Thus, "species-specif patterns of behavior" shows that parents often educate their young, but it tells us nothing about what sort of education the young ought to receive: are they to be taught theism, animism, communism, secularism? Of these latter questions "species-specific patterns of behavior" provide no guidance. Similarly, it is a "species-specific pattern of behavior" to live in "family units." Are these to be monogamous, lasting unions between a man and woman? Or are we to allow serial or simultaneous polygamy? Family unions between two men or two women? Or even more broadly life in common? Again, "species-specific patterns of behavior" do not give us answers to these important questions. It is this complete inability to specify right and wrong, good and bad which drives Long to label this Porterian construct "Maritain's argument on stilts." Long, 175.

Manifestly then, "rights" talk does not seem in itself a path toward civic peace, but toward endless disputation. . . . [A] right [to be] a just claim--and here it must be said that this is true even if the just claim in question if founded on something permanent in human nature-presupposes judgment from above regarding the hierarchy of ends, and from beneath regarding prudence (whereby one identifies the practical issue as subject to the claim in question). This is true regarding "right" of self-determination itself, which of course is only genuinely right when exercised in some ways and not others, and is only even socially tolerable if exercised within certain limits. And what sets these limits? To say "other rights" will be jejune, because each of these, too, is limited.

Long, 175. In short, "species-specific patterns of behavior" do not fill in the cross-word puzzle that is man, at best they give us some empty boxes, empty boxes which alone are meaningless . These empty boxes need to be filled in with letters that answer questions both across and and down in intelligible and right ways. The fact is that "species-specific patterns of behavior" do not allow us a vehicle by which to know what what is normative and what is not.

Focus on rights cannot get us to the issue of what is normative and what is not in political discourse or life in common. This is because the determination of just claims of right is something that is obtained by going "outside of the genus of rights," and this whether the right is objective or merely subjective. We must turn to a "contextualizing narrative provided by [a] unified teleology" of man. Long, 276. The good must be defined before the right. The right does not define the good. But Porter, largely because she seems to have despaired of a philosophical demonstrable basis of the natural moral law, seems to have despaired of finding a public basis of the good. She is, at root, fideistic, and, as such, falls into the trap that there is no version of the good, and accordingly no objective version of right, that can "compel acceptance by any rational person, whatever his or her beliefs or moral convictions." (Long, 176, quoting Porter). If reason (and a fortiori Faith) cannot be the basis for compulsion, then what can compel? Power? Whim? We are left in intellectual no-man's land. Our political discourse, then, will be abandoned of both religion and reason. Hence do we find it so famished.
What follows the loss of inscape of natural teleology and metaphysics, however, is as earlier argued the loss of an analogical point of reference for Christians and non-Christians, and the only one on which discourse and common action is feasible: namely, the truth, and the truth proportionate to human nature inclusive of the praeambula fidei.
Long, 177.

In other words, the natural law is what must be at the heart of political discourse. The natural law and nothing other. The natural law and nothing less. This means a natural law that considers "close-in" teleologies and an adequate and correct account of the hierarchy of natural ends and prudential judgment. One, moreover, that acknowledges natural theology, that recognizes God as a provident Creator. Finally, one that is open to the possibility of some order beyond the proportionate or proximate end of nature, to a final and supernatural beatific end. Reason is naturally ordered to God. Reason takes us to the praeambula fidei, the threshold, the jumping off place, of supernatural Faith in the Trinity. Law based upon reason, that is the natural law, ought to do likewise.

It is not Porter, and it is not Maritain that provide us the means of secular consensus by their fall into "rights" talk. Long's sets out what ought to be the Catholic view on political discourse:

What does this mean for secular consensus? It means first that the speculative truths implied by or contained within the natural law provide a point of analogous reference for believer and nonbeliever, and are naturally knowable; secondly it also implies that the Church is our tutor in the natural law, for the simple reason that, although the truths of the natural law are knowable apart from revelation, their full existential appropriation and applications require advertence to truths only accessible through revelation. There are truths prior to the promulgation of any secular order, both natural and revealed supernatural truths, and knowledge of these necessarily affects prudence, including political prudence. This does not mean that the Church has one univocal political program, but it does mean that the zone of charitable political discourse is a function of natural moral law and of the Gospel of Christ. It is for precisely this reason that the social and legal tolerance of political states toward the Church tends toward Christianization, and that the rejection of the Church tends toward persecution and suppression. The dynamic is no different now than it was in the early days of the Roman empire.

Long, 178.

There is, when it comes right down to it, no such thing as a "secular consensus," if by such we mean the exclusion of God as Provident Creator, and the exclusion of the possibility of God as Trinity. If we do not open up to the theonomic feature in the natural law, one that through reason sets us right up to the threshold of faith, we disembowel, or perhaps better inanimate, any hope for achieving political discourse:
The danger elsewise is that natural law becomes a juridic realm that, being construed as lacking any real publicly applicable ethical content beyond species-specific recurrent functions, is nonetheless used to ward off either the full doctrinal legacy of natural law--from close-in teleologies of bodily nature with their ethical implications, on to the praeambula fidei--or even to ward off the directive teachings of divine revelation itself. The affirmation of such a juridic realm seems, not an embrace of the full ontological density of natura as a theonomic principle, but rather a significant methodological evacuation of the ontological density of nature liable to leave the public square in the possession of a naturally minimalist and proceduralist theory.
Long, 180.

What is required? A philosophical conversion. An epistemological "re-turn." For there to be any hope of achieving the common good and of a participatory process that is just, we must abandon the philosophical darkness and hence political and jurisprudential darkness in which we find ourselves.

[T]his end requires setting aside the antirealist premises of modernity and postmodernity: We properly know not phenomenal objects, not merely linguistic tropes or usages, no mere concepts, nor even merely a concrete person in grace lacking any impress of natural order, but rather we know, even in the concrete, beings with natures.

Long, 182.

No comments:

Post a Comment