viernes, 22 de febrero de 2013

Where are freedom and secularism leading us? Part 2

Progress has meant a movement toward the fulfillment of a particular form of society where individuals are unhindered by social mores, so that everyone picks their way of life and being as freely as they can without government and social interference, and everybody else tolerates completely the decisions made by everyone else, nobody feeling grudges at the choices of others. In few words, everybody’s particular pursuit of happiness has no negative or positive influence in the pursuit of happiness of anyone else living in the same place. In few words, progress is a moral agenda. The practical consequences of this moral agenda will be discussed in a further entry. It only suffices to say that it depends on the destruction of any notion of a common good that depends on a shared system of values and traditions.
There is another understanding of progress which I consider misleading: progress as economic development. We owe this notion to the British, who at the opening of the modern revolutionary times triggered the massive economic development of the industrial revolution. Some people commit the tempting fallacy of arguing that the more economic development, society progresses toward the moral ideal described in the previous paragraph. I will not develop my ideas concerning this notion. It suffices to say that I disagree with it. Development and progress are two different things, and if there is a casual relationship between them we don’t know.
Conservatism aims in the opposite direction; first it was expressed as reactionary ideology and behavior: avoiding the moral and social changes posed by progress. Later it was expressed as nostalgia: recovering the traditions that a decaying civilization was destroying. Today is almost depressing pessimism: the memory of a social identity almost gone. This is also a moral stance, not an economic one. The mingling of the word conservatism with economic neoliberalism is nothing but confusion, and it has coinage strange expressions as “fiscal conservatism” (simply neoliberal would fit better, especially because it literally means what it says).
Being a moral stance, conservatism is antagonistic with liberal progressivism. One aims at an imaginary society, assuming that that society is possible, but with little empirical reference whatsoever. Conservatism aims at a real society: ours. It refers to a historically empirical experience.
The real problem lies in our concepts of justice and fairness. The truth of the progressive discourse lies in the injustices and unfairness of the old society, and it is in this critique that their entire agenda bases itself. Conservatives usually lack an effective response to this criticism, because after all the old society was filled with many if those so-called injustices. This is the main reason why conservatives are usually labeled as members of what used to be the group of people privileged by the old status quo, and many times it is an accurate remark.

miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2013

Where are freedom and secularism leading us? Part 1

The question that haunts my mind...


Two hundred years ago, when the Ancient Regime was still powerful and pervasive in the Western Civilization, the revolutionary idea of dethroning royal families and removing cardinals and bishops from public offices was a noble quest. The royal families ruled despotically, the caste society was unfairly repressive, the church had lost the spiritual function to which it was intended. For a middle class bourgeoisie of the time there was no better option than being more or less revolutionary. Things had to change. And they changed.

Seeing history backwards always helps understanding where we are now. But comparing the ideals of those times to the ones of today also helps gauging the value of our own time. The question goes: Where are we? And by “we” I mean the Western Civilization. I’m explicitly discounting the worlds of Islam, Hindu, Africa, East Asia and maybe the Slavic Orthodox societies. I’m counting in most of Western Europe and its former colonies (except those in Africa). In few words, I’m talking about the array of national societies that emerged from Roman Christianity some way or the other. Where is the Western Civilization going? To me it seems to have disappeared almost entirely. And to me that is a sad, unfortunate and tragic fact.

We can divide the history of the Western Civilization as before and after the French Revolution of 1789, because it was in the French Revolution where the modern debate of freedom and secularism slammed into our history not to leave the center stage ever again. In every country this event manifested itself in various forms, but given that France was then the peak of European civilization, a momentous social movement like this spread like wildfire. Even the Anglo American revolution of 1776, which began more than a decade before its French counterpart, was a consequence of the intellectual and social forces that where being cultivated in Paris’ slums.

From the French Revolution of 1789 emerged the revolutionary ideal that convinced so many people from Jefferson, Hegel, Bolivar and Proudhon, to Juarez, Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara, and so forth. Paris’ massive rebellion became an icon, then an ideal, then a conviction, then a way of living. If we look at the French Revolution as nothing more than a successful plebeian rebellion in the capital of a particular civilization at the moment of its cultural peak, we start to wonder if everything that came afterwards was nothing but a misinterpretation, if not a huge misunderstanding. It was just a rebellion like many others in the history of mankind; however, this one was interpreted as a definite moment in a historical phenomenon usually referred to as “progress”. And it was the impression that there was a historical progress that put so many bright minds in the path of searching the direction of this phenomenon.

But if we consider the possibility that there was never a progressive movement; if we consider the option that this impression was nothing but an idiosyncratic feature of a civilization reaching its peak of self fulfillment; maybe then we can understand why we seemed to be at a complete lost today: because we were looking for something, and framed the most comprehensive discourses about something that we were sure was there, when it wasn’t. This is the most paradoxical feature of all progressive political discourses and movements today: that they move an agenda based on a north that is purely ideological.

martes, 22 de enero de 2013

My new Executive Auto Biography

 I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. I lived in New York City for two years hoping to one day become an American citizen, but the U.S. environment toward Hispanic immigration of any type has become so hostile that I decided to move to Mexico City after finishing my M.A. at NYU.

Now I'm starting a new life in this wonderful city founded by the Aztecs and re founded by Hernán Cortés, with the most wonderful woman I've ever met, a native "chilanga" named Quetzalli, after the nahuatl word which means "precious one", and the root of the name of the famous Aztec god Quetzalcóatl.

After seeing everything that is happening in Venezuela from abroad, after seeing the heretical cult to the personality of Hugo Chávez that has been building up, I've decided that I no longer want to belong to that community of servile people, and no longer call myself Venezuelan. I will not belong to a Maoist form of society, even though international regulations bind me to this ridiculous passport.

I've always denied the thesis of a post national world, but if we are moving in that direction, at least in what regards to culture and identity, then I claim to belong no longer to the Venezuelan nationality, with the hope of finding something new, something extravagant, if not imaginary, a name I could call myself.

If gays have this right to change their natural sexual orientation, why could we not demand to be called differently? Better be a homeless gypsy than something you dislike so much.

In a more positive tone, I consider myself more a Roman Catholic than anything else in the world. My internationalism is expressed through the Church of Christ. To me it doesn't matter where you are from, or the color of your skin, or the language you spoke when you were a child, or the language spoken by your ancestors; if you are a Christian, you are my brother or sister.

All Christians are citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven, and we enjoy equal rights under the same supreme monarch Jesus Christ, and we all receive perfect judgment and universal peace and love, for in the Kingdom of God no difference is of any matter.

martes, 15 de enero de 2013

If this is Civilization, I choose Barbarism.

I share this news with you. "Four activists from Ukrainian feminist group Femen stripped off in St. Peter's Square on Sunday in a protest for gay rights just as Pope Benedict XVI was reciting his traditional weekly Angelus prayer."

This is another bold demonstration that we no longer hold to a true and sane notion of freedom. Where freedom becomes irreverent disrespect for sacred things, then freedom becomes something sick, insane and ultimately evil.

We are way into a moral dark age, where individuals in the name of their individual pride, in strife for self-gratification, for bodily pleasure, for dirty, pig-like, debased and debauched forms of love and lust and licentiousness, are even willing to come to a sacred place that is not even the center of their own religious cult (Ukranians are Christian Orthodox after all), to insult and humilliate those that do not share their moral decrepitude.

This is another act that proves that individuals must be guided in their freedom, and that freedom must be somehow guided by a superior intelligence, for when they are left to themselves, many human beings become ugly and savage animals, like this feminist group from somewhere outside Roman Christianity.

What has happened with the freedom Locke and J. S. Smith defended so ardently? These men where Christians that understood freedom to be a wonderful gift from God. The moment it turned against God, against the sacred, it ceased being freedom and became a work of the devil.

I cannot help but ask myself, is our civilization worth defending? Is this culture of freedom something we ought to protect? 

After all, we are being challenged by the Muslim world in ways that are startling. But at times like this I cannot avoid raising the question if the Muslim world does not have the better side in this debate. They remain steadfast with God, and if they will create their form of freedom any time soon, it doesn't seem to depart from their respect and yield to God. If that would be the case, why would we, Western Christians, side with our own decrepit civilization? If freedom means protesting topless in front of the most holy place in all Western Christendom: is it something worth considering as a good?

Two core values of modernity are falling short of my highest expectations: democracy and freedom. Democracy, because it's the weapon of the mass of uncultivated against merit, and the modern understanding of freedom, because it's a debased and corrupt form of individuality. Both are willing to assault things that are not to be touched by human beings. 

There is no legitimate right to disrespect sacred things. Anyone willing to do so is a rogue of Creation. I propose to call all these liberals rogues against Creation, like communists, atheists, and the family of infidels that turned their backs against God, and that now want to use the government to turn all of civilization against Heaven.

There is not right to send society down Hell. If you want to go to Hell, then do it on your own. Don't ask all of society to accompany you. Liberals are an army of evil harlots and incubus that want to see us all burned so that they can enjoy the pleasures of a few years of debauched life.

If this is civilization, I choose barbarism.

viernes, 21 de diciembre de 2012

The Mixed Literature in War and Peace

I never wrote a final remark about War and Peace when I finished it, months ago. It's common ground to say that this is one of the best novels ever written, and I enjoyed it deeply. It has its boring moments of a hundred pages here and there, but what do we expect for a four thausand pages novel? Even the Brothers Karamazov has its boring moments. Gargantuan novels cannot escape this fact.

The novel itself can be read as an apology of Kutuzov, a prudent general completely the opposite of the military virtues Clausewitz praises in Napoleon Bonaparte, the virtues demanded in his days. He avoids confrontation, because he fears the size and proffesionalism of the Napoleonic army, not without good reasons. It even appears as if Tolstoy admires him for avoiding more casualties, for sparing human lives that the rest of the high command was so liberal to throw into battle, and we taste a touch of Tolstoy's developing pacifism. Kutuzov gives ground to the French invasion and he even abandons Muscow, probabbly the most dramatic decision of the entire campaign. Moscow's fire is probbably my favorite moment of the entire novel. It gives you a touch of the enormity of history.

Another aspect that might puzzle the reader is the insersion of certain essays about philosphy of history all through the novel, including all the second part of the epilogue, which does not contain a single sentence dedicated to the stroyline. This drives me to conclude that the novel actually finishes not in the second but in the first part of the epilogue.

To many people these inserted essays might look awkward or annoying. I liked many of them. Others I found less well accomplised. But the interesting thing is that Tolstoy tries to give a theoretical explanation of the world events that his main characters are living. In a strikingly Hegelian fashion, he tries to demonstrate that historical outcomes are not dictated by powerful individuals, but by long, autonomous and anonymous sociological movements. So far I share his view. But, of course, he tries to give it a positivistic approach that lacks all the methodological requierements to make these writings scientific essays, and you feel that he is trying to do this. This is not Tolstoy's to blame. He is part of a pre paradigmatic moment in the theory of history, and he cannot mothedologically organize all these numeruous facts to fit coherently into a single explanation. This is where Tolstoy's speculations fall short, and might even become boring, because he doesn't explain anything in the end, and the essays remain in the field of mere criticism of historians.

The combination between the main storyline, with its plots of romance, marriage, infidelity, with the world size events of the Napoleonic Wars, with its battles, politics, strategies, which belongs to the realm of epic, and these long reflections on theory of war and history, which belong to the realm of essays, make a combination of outstanding and impressive literature, to the point where it is doubful if we can catalogue War and Peace as a novel at all. It's something more.

viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2012

Democracy vs. Liberty? A Misleading Debate

There is a problem with the traditional opposition between democracy and liberty. It consists in what authors assume to be individual liberty; it is strictly a bourgeoisie notion. When the government threatens liberty in this sense, by the arbitrary use of power over someone, the person in its individuality is not the thing being threatened, but a particular type of individual: the entrepreneur who dedicates his time to business and the objective of accumulating wealth for himself.

When the goal of the political and intellectual agenda of liberalism is to defend individual liberty, what is being defended is the form of life of a particular social class, because isolated individuals are not the ones threatened, but their social conditions as privileged members of the capitalist society. This is what individual liberty really implies in Modern Times since the French Revolution.

I don’t mean to say that the individual person is not threatened, because that’s what’s actually taking place. What I’m saying is that this threat to the individual is not intentioned at his individuality, at the uniqueness of his person, but is intentioned at his person as member of a social class. Liberalism portrays these rights as rights of everyone, but usually only the kind of people that want to live the bourgeoisie lifestyle really benefit from this notion and really care about its principles. People outside the benefits of a bourgeoisie lifestyle rarely get any concrete good. In this sense, Liberalism is an ideology that aims at making people believe that its principles also benefit them, when it is not.

The question now goes, why is the bourgeoisie the one really threatened by the power of politics and government? Let us begin from here: the central problem for the modern revolution is property, and not as Hanna Arendt thought: the establishment of liberty. One of the main objectives of the French Jacobinism (bourgeoisie ideology in its radical and uncompromising form) was expropriating the first owner of property in France: the Catholic Church. In Mexico, Benito Juarez’ Liberal-Jacobin revolution sought exactly the same thing. The secularization of state and society was part of this agenda seeking to expropriate the Church, at the same time it abolished the ideological edifice that preserved its moral authority. Modern science (and rationalism) came to support radical liberals in this aspect; it was their ideological weapon in the struggle between the rising bourgeoisie and the decadent Catholic clergy. The clergy was one of the Ancient Regime’s ruling classes; and revolutions are the overthrown of past ruling classes and the establishment of a new ruling class.

Having the entrepreneur bourgeois become the main character of the new regime of individual liberties, being himself the more skillful in exploiting this regime of liberties, to enrich himself, to participate in politics and in the production of scientific knowledge that served to sustain his own privileges, he became the next target of the modern revolutionary movement. Here we understand why democracy is not a threat to the liberty of individuals as such, but to individuals as members of a particular social class: the privileged in the redistribution of Church’s property through market mechanisms. The individuals belonging to the proletariat class, who extracted little benefit from the new regime of individual liberties, but the promise of increasing their consumer capacity and nothing more, could not understand democracy but as the capture of political power to move their own class agenda. This is where Marx kicked in.

Worse still was the ideological mechanism that tried to convince people that the new regime of bourgeois liberties also favored members of a class of workers that became more and more proletarianized. Having taken from them the safety zone offered by religion, the new status quo was one of increasing alienation.

But, alienation from what? From the lifestyle the industrial revolution and modernity was, and is destroying: family, clan, agrarian community, church, professional guild, etc. I.e. an alienation from the lifestyle that consisted of charity, reciprocity and friendship, supplanted by the lifestyle of a producer and consumer of manufactured goods. The former was a moral life and the latter lacked any morality whatsoever, except the ethos of the self-made man, unconcerned about the suffering of others.

The regime of individual liberties left them to their own luck, without them being able to enjoy fully the immense wealth that the bourgeois society constantly reproduced. It was totally natural that the revolution became to be understood, since then, as the expropriation of the property of the bourgeois class.

Presenting our initial problem, then, as a dilemma between democracy and individual liberty is misleading, because that individual liberty is not a privilege or right of isolated individual understood as citizens. It was never that way. It really consists of a regime of liberties that privilege the class (and race) who owns capital. The defense of the individual is the ideological surface of the dominance of that class (and race); that is, the modern ideology of the oligarchic regime of which Aristotle speaks in his Politics.

Democracy, on the other hand, is not the historic triumph of all over the oligarchy. It consists of the triumph of the proletarianized masses that, through messianic leadership, oppress the bourgeoisie, which does not cease to exist. It’s not as is usually believed, that the Rousseaunian democracy oppresses the individual. It oppresses concrete individuals as belonging to a social class, in the same way the Liberal oligarchy defended the liberty of some by oppressing the proletarianized majority.

But democracy does not free the proletariat from their pauper state. Instead it enthrones this pauperization, it mystifies it, it deifies it. The proletariat does not come out of its poverty, does not stops being ignorant. Instead, democracy is the rule of the poor, of the ignorant, of the meager, against the government of the old privileged, of the propertied, of the educated: us!

With this I conceptually defend the traditional notions Plato, Aristotle and Polybius had of democracy and oligarchy. The regime of individual liberties is no less arbitrary because it respects isolated individuals. It leaves enormous masses of individuals to their own luck, in a market system that really favors the bourgeoisie. Democracy does not achieve a contrary positive effect. Contrariwise, it’s the majoritarianism regime that idolized being poor, ignorant and pauper, without taking the people out of poverty. The people are seduced by the messianic leadership that aims at plunder, humiliate and reduce the bourgeois class. None of the two regimes present a comfortable solution for both classes, because we are not all proletariat, nor the regime of individual liberties favors us all.

Madison’s republicanism, instead, offers a different solution. By not starting from the liberty of isolated individuals, his model does not favor a strict bourgeoisie oligarchy. And by not starting from mass democracy, his model does not favor messianic leadership that leads to the tyranny of the majority. He starts from the principle that we are all members of groups, and that it’s through group and collective identity that we participate in politics. Our identities are determined by race, religion, social class, etc., and not by the uniqueness of our personality. We, as individuals, choose the group identity that we want to mediate between us and the government. The result is the fragmentation of society in a plurality of minorities (and not in an “infinite” number of unique personalities). This prevents the absolute dominance of a proletarianized majority by avoiding the formation of a unitary class conscience. But it also avoids the dominance of a bourgeoisie oligarchy by avoiding abandoning individuals to their own luck.

The great problem of individualist bourgeoisie Liberalism is that inevitably puts a proletarianized majority side by side with a privileged minority. With Madisonian democracy this does not happens, because the formation of minority group identities fragments both social classes, and even permits communion between bourgeois and proletarians across other group identities like religion, region and race.

Democracy is no longer an egalitarian regime, nor an individualist one (both are sides of the same coin), but a regime of group equality, as representation favors this spontaneous “corporative” vision of society.
The different group interests contrast and win relative majorities as temporary and not permanent coalitions. Hence most individuals enjoy being part of the majority in some topics, but have to bear being minority on other issues. The democratic principle of the rule of the majority is never broken, but it prevents tyranny by obstructing severely the possibility of a permanent coalition out of potential tyrannical majorities. It also avoids the absolute dominance of a minority economically privileged because it has a broken conscience itself. Their different members will sometimes win, when they form part of the majority, and will sometimes lose, when they form part of the minority.
In few words, the regime consisting of the equilibrium between masses and elites that Aristotle calls politeia, without threatening individual liberties, but at the same time permitting the rule of the majority in the form of minority coalitions, is not Tocqueville’s or Stuart Mill’s Liberalism, not the collectivism of Rousseau or Marx. Madisonian democracy the true Aristotelian politeia, or the Polybean republic. And it is in Madisonian pluralism where we find a more genuine form of democracy.

lunes, 29 de octubre de 2012

Is Modern Liberty Moral Debauchery?

This weekend I saw on TV a pop music video where they were selling the idea of sexual liberty, with a homosexual tone. The chorus would insist on the word "liberty! liberty!" from beginning to end. The song was in Spanish, and I couldn't retell the name of it. Anyways, I'm not interested in promoting it; just mentioning it to make my case.

This idea of linking liberty to sexual license has always produced discomfort in me, especially because I don't see this value anywhere in any major religion or spiritual philosophy. Contrariwise, sexuality is usually seen as base, immoral, destroyer of the bond between human beings with the higher being of God. The idea can't be proved empirically, but it happens that every major religion, from India to the Americas, rebuffs sexuality as something unworthy of a transcendent life. But because we like the word "liberty", because we link it to the highest values we strive for in the West, the discourse that tries to link liberty with sexual license disturbs me profoundly, because it forces me to choose between liberty and spirituality, and nothing can be further from the truth. The point of spirituality is to truly free the human spirit from the bonds that incarcerate it to its material condition. If the discourse of sexual license as liberty is true, we are forced to deduce that spirituality enslaves us, or liberty is a base and unworthy thing. I reject that conclusion. Instead, I want to bring to notice another discourse that is very old indeed, but no less true.

The solution to this problem was offered by Plato, in his Laws, book III. There he debates the virtuous middle path between liberty and slavery, where liberty is the condition under democracy and slavery the condition under monarchy. He considers both extremes vicious and contrary to prudent moderation that leads to true, elevated happiness. In 694a he speaks of "the just middle between slavery and liberty". A strange thought, isn't it? We are taught that slavery is always bad, always deplorable. But what kind of slavery is he talking about? Not the institution of slavery, that's for sure, but the acceptance of the higher truths of virtue that moderate the inclinations of the individual's will. This is a very old debate, but by presenting it this way he has illuminated me on this issue (like most of the time when I read Plato).

From Hobbes onward we have taken liberty to be to do whatever we want without interference from external things. But Hobbes does not follow that: the more liberty the better for us. Contrariwise the government is formed to regulate our liberty and solve the collective action dilemma that would lead us to self destruction. Plato and Hobbes agree on something essential: more liberty is not always better. I agree with those terms. The difference is that for Hobbes, individuals cannot be trusted to be sociable unless they are compelled by an extraordinary external force, whereas for Plato the cultivation of a virtuous life lead to self regulation and the enjoyment of true happiness and true liberty. 

The problem with Hobbes' notion is that he does not give us a solution to the problem of excessive liberty that does not imply frustrating it. The less government interference, the more liberty we enjoy, because we can do with our bodies whatever we want: hence, sexual license. This is one of the more paradoxical conclusions from Hobbes' Christian thought. But Plato, two thousand years before, already gives us the solution. If liberty in the abstract sense is a good thing, an aspect of the virtuous life, excessive liberty, in order to be bad for us, has to be something else. We call it licentiousness or debauchery, and it cannot be termed with true liberty without reducing it to an absurd concept. Why? Because true liberty is always moderate, prudent, self-regulating, conscious of divine truths, respectful of God and the aspect of God within us. All of these sexual licentiousness destroys, debasing the body, divorcing it with all its spiritual potentials. 

In this sense we have to see slavery not as oppression, but as moderation. In what sense? The Arabic word Islam gives us a hint: it means "voluntary submission to God," the origin of all universal truths and of all spirituality. If in all major religions God commands against sexual license, and also in pagan thinkers like Plato the same conclusion is reached, we have to accept that, empirically or not, all relevant spiritual traditions guide human beings through another path, and to another end than that portrayed in modern secular ethos and its sexual licentiousness. This not only includes homosexuality, but any kind of excessive practice of sexual life, like pornography.

I even claim that modernity is cheating on all of us. Excessive sexuality never produces true happiness, and the joy enjoyed by so many who live like this is an illusory comfort for a life void of spiritual content, of transcendent meaning. Contemporary capitalist, secular and modern values are contrary to ancient and universal wisdom. The idea that sexual license is liberty is derisory, and we should rebuff it whenever we find it expressed.