Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Will “History” Ever End?

Writing in TNR, Mark Lilla informs that intellectuals in China seem genuinely interested in the theories of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss. I know more about Strauss than Schmitt. My admiration for the Straussians must be strange. I don’t agree with the Straussian neo-conservatism that wants war abroad and religious conservatism at home. Yet, I think they’ve done great work examining the political philosophy of the American Founding (even if I disagree with them there, at times, as well).

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” thesis is alluded to in Lilla’s article here:

Classical liberalism had little to say about war and international affairs, leaving the impression that, if only human rights were respected and markets kept free, a morally universal and pacified world order would result. For Schmitt, this was liberalism’s greatest and most revealing intellectual abdication: If you have nothing to say about war, you have nothing to say about politics. There is, he wrote, “absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics.”

As you can see Fukuyama didn’t invent the thesis, rather popularized its applicability to the modern world after 11/09/1989. (When I saw Harvey C. Mansfield speak at Princeton a few years ago, he said, after 9/11/2001, “History was back ‘on.'”)

History would not end, the theory goes, with a Marxist state that transcended capitalism, but rather with a classical liberal/liberal democratic system that embraced capitalism. The neo-Marxist Left pejoratively terms such a system “neo-liberalism.”

I should note too, that the dominant form of capitalism, the one that, if any has a chance of “Ending History” in the foreseeable future is not laissez-faire, but the “third way” capitalism (that term coined by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair). It’s a heavily regulated bureaucratic form of capitalism that provides a safety net not just to people, but corporations. It’s a capitalism that both Democrats and Republicans in America seem to endorse.

There’s debate as to whether the Straussians think Ending History with liberal democracy a “good” thing. (I think some of them do, some don’t). The End of History is an end to war. Personally I see that as desirable. I also see a universal classical liberal system as desirable as well. The Declaration of Independence, if you read the document carefully, was not meant to be a particularly “American” document. Rather it’s written in universal terms, good for all men at all times. If all governments accepted the basic principles of the DOI, the theory goes, war would end. (I guess I must be a contemptible bourgeois “Last Man.”)

Now, I understand we don’t all interpret the DOI the same way. For instance, I believe in a right to life, but not that a fertilized egg has that right, though some do. I also believe in a right to political liberty and that includes voluntary homosexual behavior and drug use, though many who purport to believe in the DOI do not. However, simply embracing the principles of the DOI in a general sense — that we have these rights that are antecedent to majority rule but that majorities have to “consent” (regularly) in order to validate the legitimacy of the system — seems enough to prevent liberal democracies from going to war with one another.

But Marx wasn’t the first to predict an End to History either. While I can’t speak for the other religious traditions in which I am less learned, the Bible speaks of an End to History in the Book of Revelation.

Yet, the Bible is not a book of modern politics. Whatever the Christian Americanists may tell you, the Founding Fathers’ idea of republicanism did NOT originate in the Bible, just as Marxism did not originate there either. Yet, the Bible did influence both systems. Certain tales in the Bible resonate with both Marxism and the American Founding.

Interestingly, the idea of “Ending History” with liberal democracy traces to America’s Founding era. Liberal democracy as originally articulated by America’s Founders and the philosophers who influenced them was “settled” as the final form of government with a top down, God given metaphysics. Yet, the God of the Bible is not an apparent liberal democrat.

When one therefore mixes biblical revelation with Founding era democratic-republican theory, one gets results that are “interesting” to say the least. This is what the original “history enders” (most notable among them Enlightenment unitarian Christians Joseph Priestley and Richard Price) believed: Jesus would return at the success of the French Revolution to usher in a millennial republic of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” This was part and parcel of the same line of thought that argued the Bible established a “republic” as opposed to a “Kingdom” of Heaven, that the Ancient Israelites had a “republic” instead of a theocracy and that the Romans 13 really did teach revolution was permitted, indeed demanded, to secure liberal democratic ends.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian Dean
    December 22, 2010

    #26

    1) “Created equal.” At the time of a person’s birth, we cannot say with certainty what they will go on to become.

    The DOI doesn’t say “All men will be equal”, it says “All men are created equal”. It is a PRESENT TENSE statement. However, it’s clear that not all men ARE created equal since some men are born with handicaps.

    Unless you believe that Forrest Gump is likely to happen in reality, you gotta admit that a handicap is pretty darn likely to cause you to end up with less of a life.

    “Creator.” In the very first paragraph, Jefferson specifically uses the phrase “…the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God…” so this could not be more clear, including the implication of his capital N in Nature. The phrase “…endowed by their Creator…” can be paraphrased “…endowed by God and/or Nature…”

    That still implies that “Nature” is some personal being that decided one day in 1964 “Oh, I’ll create this guy Brian Dean”.

    Otherwise, how can “Nature” give somebody rights?

    The term “rights” was understood at the time to mean “natural characteristics of,” rather than “legal entitlement to”

    That renders “rights” meaningless. You might as well say that men are created with two legs and two arms. Besides, you are contradicting yourself when here you say that it isn’t referring to a “legal entitlement” and at the same time earlier saying that “equal” refers to equality before the law.

    “natural characteristics of persons, that cannot be separated from them.”

    Your liberty can pretty easily be taken away from you. So can your life or your ability to pursue happiness.

    The obvious conclusion is that it does not take a particularly complex brain to demonstrate behavior consistent with free will.

    There are also reasons to believe that “free will” doesn’t exist. See for example:

    http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=194682

    You also have some people who say that free will is incompatible with determinism and some say it is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incompatibilism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism

    Also, even if free will exists, it can be influenced by drugs or stress.

    The modern terminology is “approach behavior toward pleasant stimuli, and avoidance behavior toward unpleasant stimuli,” or to use the more pithy psychoanalytic phrase, “the pleasure principle.”

    There are some people who voluntarily suffer for some other good. Also, I can take away stuff that you use to seek pleasure. For example, recently I disabled the computers in the back of the English classroom because boys would come in and play too many computer games. However, I asked the school for permission to do so (I did it by removing the keyboards and mouses and locking them in a cabinet). If “seeking pleasure” is an inalienable right, then I shouldn’t have been allowed to do that.

    Sugar water is an almost universally pleasant stimulus to animals, and electric shock is an almost universally painful stimulus.

    I guess you are against electro-shock therapy then. Also, too much sugar will make you fat and lead to various diseases.

    Besides, it isn’t the point of the DOI that creatures seek pleasure. It’s the point of the DOI that we have an “inalienable right” to seek pleasure. So that would mean that if I delete all the games off the computers in the English room, I would be violating the students’ rights. The fact that saying so is silly means that the “inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness” is bullshit.

    but you are not born with property itself hardwired into your brain.

    Someone born with a mental illness might have “suicidal ideation” hard wired into his brain. That doesn’t mean he has an inalienable right to suicidal ideation.

    Among normal people, a “right” means it’s fair for you to have it. Not that you have it because it’s hard wired into your brain.

    And the fact that the laws of societies can, through due process, deprive a person of the exercise of these characteristics, hardly eliminates or invalidates them

    Then what’s this talk about for example, China violating somebody’s rights?

    If you want to define a “right” as something you have just because it’s hard wired into you by “Nature” then you are not talking about “rights” as normal people understand them. I could define a “right” as something that has four legs and long whiskers, but I wouldn’t be talking about “rights” in any sort of normal way.

    Besides, if all “rights” are according to the DOI are things that are hard wired into you, I would as a British king respond with something like.

    “Well, since these rights are inalienable and hard wired into you, then I can’t take away any of these rights anyway. So I don’t know what you are complaining about. Since the taxes I levy are part of the social contract why don’t you just pay them?”

    hardly eliminates or invalidates them, any more than the fact that the laws of nature can do likewise. If you jump or fall from a high place, at minimum you will have pursued pain rather than pleasure, and possibly deprived yourself of some liberty should you be paralyzed

    The thing is, nobody thinks it’s unfair to deprive a murderer or rapist his “inalienable right to liberty” by throwing his ass in jail. In fact MANY people consider that to be a GOOD thing to do.

    However, I don’t see many people saying that jumping off a high place as something that is good to do.

    Also, I don’t see how Britain taxing the colonies violated any of their “rights”. In fact, according to your argument, the British taxes are NOT violating them because they are granted by nature and therefore inalienable.

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