Tuesday 19 July 2016

Walter Scott on mature love

                                                    Charlotte Scott (in 1810; died 1826)

I'm almost at the end of my reading through Walter Scott's Collected Works and am now into his 'Poems'. (So 93% through the Collected Works per my Kindle.)

Frankly, I'm unable to judge the poetic merits of the following: too fresh and it hit an emotional chord. ('August' is certainly coming metaphorically for me (and of course literally as well).) Anyway, hadn't seen it before and it's a feature of long enduring marriages that's too little celebrated:

Oh, say not, my love, with that mortified air,
That your spring-time of pleasure is flown,
Nor bid me to maids that are younger repair,
For those raptures that still are thine own.

Though April his temples may wreathe with the vine,
Its tendrils in infancy curl'd,
'Tis the ardor of August matures us the wine,
Whose life-blood enlivens the world.

Though thy form, that was fashioned as light as a fay's,
Has assumed a proportion more round,
And thy glance, that was bright as a falcon's at gaze,
Looks soberly now on the ground,--

Enough, after absence to meet me again,
Thy steps still with ecstasy move;
Enough, that those dear sober glances retain
For me the kind language of love.

Had I seen this poem at the time, it would have served as an excellent response to this typically grubby little Daily Mail piece which stuck in my mind at the time as displaying in its faux sympathetic prurience much of what is wrong with modern understandings of sex and explains why fewer of us seem to reach the sublimity of Scott's attitude. There is in any case a special place in Hell for (mostly) men who dump their wives in favour of younger versions. (Rather too common judging from my circle of acquaintance.)

If there's a general moral to be drawn from all this, it's perhaps that the ability of men and women to construct long term marriages is based on a complex web of attitudes and practices that our modern culture is doing its best to undermine. Instead of sex education, small children should be forced to rote learn the above so that, when August and the need for such an attitude arises, the words are already there.

[As I'm lazy, I googled the poem and cut and pasted it from the website here. It's a nice tribute to Scott and a good site for poetry in general.]

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Virtue ethics and motherhood

The downfall of Andrea Leadsom as prospective Prime Minister was at least strongly associated with her apparent claim that being a mother gave her an edge over the childless Theresa May.

Putting aside the details of what she said, didn't say and the tone with which she said it, I found the resulting Twitter flood of mockery utterly depressing. Whilst appreciating the inevitability of the brutal knockabout of politics, many comments from people not directly involved displayed a general acceptance of the view that being a mother offered absolutely nothing in the way of a worthwhile experience or endeavour.

Let's consider another way of spending, say, eighteen years of one's life: military service. If a political leader said something along the lines of, 'I think my eighteen years of military service has helped make me a better politician', then I doubt anyone would have objected. It's of course not a knockdown reason to vote for someone. (On the whole, you might suspect that military service would be less important than (say) successfully running one of the more important ministeries.) But it would count for something.

Note a few things here. First, to claim that it gives you an advantage implies that it gives you an advantage over others -and that those others could be (if you wanted to or thought it tactful) be identified. So it is implicitly claiming that, ceteris paribus, you have an advantage over those who have not served. The mere fact of claiming an advantage isn't unreasonable, even if that advantage might be outweighed by other experiences that your opponent has and you haven't. The reluctance to mention motherhood in this way (particularly when May had made it clear that her childlessness was both involuntary and regretted) says more about our implicit acceptance of how important motherhood is to people's flourishing: we expect people (especially women) to be extremely sensitive about failing to have children in a way that we don't consider people likely to be so sensitive about other lacks (such as military service). Paradoxically, the 'horror' that some claimed to have felt about Leadsom's remarks is a testimony to the sui generis importance of motherhood.

But what is that importance? Let's take two aspects. First, it achieves something. Giving birth to a child and rearing it is essential if humanity is to continue. To the extent that we need or want a new generation, we need mothers. It is, we might normally think, right to honour people who achieve an important good. Secondly, it opens up a range of experience that profoundly affects our character and understanding of the world. Going back to the example of military service, fighting in the front line might plausibly be thought to open up an aspect of the world and to produce changes in character that others who had not undergone this might not have access to. This doesn't mean that everyone will be so altered and it doesn't mean that there mightn't be other experiences the importance of which again might outweigh the importance of military experience. But we might once more say that, ceteris paribus, the experience of war is something that would count for something. Turning to parenthood -and especially the experience of motherhood- I find it difficult to see how, normally, such an intense and extended experience wouldn't have a profound effect on people.

For me, the Leadsom stooshie demonstrates yet again how the natural centrality of the family and the experience of parenthood, especially motherhood, is being marginalised. It brought to mind passages in a book I hadn't read for probably around twenty years in which the virtue ethicist Rosalind Hursthouse reflects on the nature and value of motherhood:

So, I conclude, bearing children is intrinsically worthwhile. To do it, and do it well, is to have done something morally significant. Doing it well involves exercising courage, fortitude and endurance, and, moreover, exercising them in the achievement of something worthwhile, not, like being a wall-of-death rider, something worthless. What is done is, I claim, not just worthwhile and significant but morally worthwhile and significant, because of its connection with, on the one hand, the value or sanctity of life and, on the other, with what I have roughly categorised as 'family life' -the field of our closest relationships with other people. For these two areas are the concern of morality if anything is.


Perhaps the general conclusion to be drawn from any serious discussion of 'the worthwhile' is that all of us who lead ordinary lives should consider whether

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

(William Wordsworth)

Then the particular conclusion to be drawn from the particular discussion of the worthwhile we have been going through in this section is that no woman who has borne children well in the ordinary way should say humbly to herself, 'Well, I haven't done anything with my life really; I've “laid waste my powers” ', for she can say, 'I have done this much'. But anyone who has not borne children well might have to say, 'I haven't done anything with my life really'.

[Hursthouse, 1987, Beginning Lives, pp315-18]

Monday 4 July 2016

The legitimacy of rebellion -another bite

One of the promises I've made and not yet fulfilled is to respond to Cathy Barry's combox response to my previous post on the issue of rebellion. Partly this is just procrastination, but partly it's because I wanted to get some objectivity on the nature of the debate by letting the ideas bed down  a little more. (And I should point out that I'm not expecting any response to all this! It's too long and just the effluvia of an overexcited mind.)

Once again, this is merely some jottings in this area and is more to keep a note of progress I've made in case I or anyone else wishes to return to the subject. It consists of three parts: the first dealing with the background issues and the reason why I think the issue is particularly interesting; the second dealing directly with Cathy's responses; and the third dealing with some further (partial) explorations which may be worth recording to take further.


Part I: Context

There is of course a reason to find the legitimacy of rebellion interesting in itself, particularly in the context of celebrations of 1916. And given the overwhelming influence of Catholicism on the Easter Rising, a specific interest in the Catholic theology and philosophy behind the Rising is again natural.

Whilst not dismissing those aspects, my main personal interest in this issue is, on reflection, concerned with the issue of subsidiarity. I've long held the view that one of the prime neuralgic points between secular modernity and Catholicism is the issue of the existence of forms of communal life between the individual and the State. This is especially a matter of the family, but also those communities of civil society, which possess a legitimacy which is not derived either from the voluntary accession of individuals nor from the delegation of authority by the State. So I'm interested in rebellion primarily as an occasion when (perhaps) those sources of authority which tend to become invisible when the State is working well, suddenly have to act independently of the State or indeed to oppose the State. (There's the added interest here in times of Brexit of being reminded of supra-national authorities (traditionally the Papacy and the Empire but with the EU and UN as possible successors) and the recourse to their legitimacy against the authority of the State.) In sum, rebellion highlights the multi-layered sources of authority in Catholicism as opposed to the tendency of modernity to concentrate all authority in the hands of the individual and the State.

In particular, one of the lacks of (some) modern Catholic social teaching is the lack of much developed thinking on the nature of these little platoons. Crudely, subsidiarity is often treated as an injunction simply to delegate authority to local or regional government without much thought about what the legitimacy (or even reality) of those lower authorities might be. This is (for example) at odds with Aristotle's treatment of entities below the State particularly in books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics where he examines how human social life has a variety of forms all based on the drive of philia (friendship). I won't try to explore this issue in any depth now, but I'm interested in the way varieties of communal life in little platoons arise naturally (and this of course involves the way modernity might undermine such communities as described eg in Putnam's Bowling Alone). A specific case in this area which I noticed recently has been the emphasis in some Dark Enlightenment discussions on the 'tribal' nature of human beings (and in that context, Ross Douthat's article on the tribal nature of cosmopolitan elites makes interesting reading). One doesn't have to be a fully paid up member of the gene machine/evolutionary psychology brigade to wonder what effect a naturally selected tendency to live together in chimpanzee like bands might have had on our current psychology and on our politics.

Anyway, much for another time. But if anything like this line of thought is right, the crisis of the State in rebellion ought to throw into relief these other communities and sources of authority.


Part II: Replies to Cathy's points in combox.

Her comments were as follows:

1. The great issue with seeking to establish legitimate authority in advance is that you are signalling your intention to revolt. Imagine North Korea rebels sought legitimacy from the Pope (or the UN) in advance, or sought to get signatures from a large number of officials - what action would the regime take as the news inevitably seeped out? The effect is to make revolt against tyranny extremely difficult, and the more effective the tyranny, the more difficult it is.

Any moral restriction on violence is going to make it more difficult to use and, in particular, is going to make it less likely to succeed. (So the conditions on a just war 'chafe' most precisely in the most desperate situations such as the allied bombing of Germany or the use of the atomic bomb in Japan.) The mere fact of some additional difficulty in rebellion is thus not in principle an objection to the applicability of a moral requirement. Moreover, that difficulty may be so great as to rule out a particular rebellion (or war): a war or rebellion might be highly desirable on many grounds, but might still be ruled out on the moral tests (certainly in the case of the just war and (I'd argue analogically) in the case of a rebellion).

A stronger objection might be if the tests ruled out *any* case in which war (or a rebellion) could be justly waged. But even if the requirement for just authority were more burdensome for rebellions (and I'm not sure in general it is), that doesn't seem to make them impossible. For example, in the case of the 1916 rising and the Scottish Wars of Independence, authority was actually sought from the papacy. Moreover, any rebellion involving more than a single agent requires some sort of communication between individuals and thus the risk of discovery. All that seeking legitimate authority would add to that unavoidable difficulty would be that certain individuals as authorities would have to be sought out (and given the dispersal of authority in (say) mediaeval societies, a general move in that direction does not seem overly burdensome in most cases, even if it might be in some).

2. This would make sense if the Church in general thought revolt always a bad thing. Aquinas says sedition (revolt by part of the state against another part) is always wrong, and in reply to the objection that "it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule...Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin." Aquinas answers that there is "no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant's rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government." Thus the thing called by some "sedition" is not really sedition when it is (a) aimed at restoring the common good and (b) will not have worse effects than the existing government. There are two tests here to determine whether a revolt is sedition or not. 

I agree. The only question is whether, given that a disturbance [perturbatio] is not a sedition, then the only test of legitimacy is the pragmatic one of whether it advances the common good or not. Aquinas frankly in the Summa is silent on this, but, quite apart from anything else, there is the question of plausibility: why should questions of just war require considerations beyond effectiveness while questions of rebellion require solely considerations of effectiveness? (In the absence of any explicit test beyond effectiveness, is it (eg) legimitate in a rebellion to target non-combatants?)

3. Aquinas does say that sedition is like war (and by analogy, revolt that is just must also be). It is indeed reasonable to look at his other writing to determine the approach to sedition. But it cannot be simply supposed without argument that Just War Theory applies in all parts to sedition or rebellion. Without being an expert on this in any way, earlier medieval writers have certainly supposed that deposing tyrants is rather different from attacking another state.

Again I'd agree. Rebellion is in principle (but see below on Aristotle's acceptance of vagueness in political and moral resoning) not the same as a just war (although it is noticeable that both the 1916 and Arbroath declarations seem to try to frame the perturbatio as war against an external enemy which suggests a certain reluctance to identify the action simply as rebellion). And again, I'd accept that the test of legitimate authority couldn't be simply lifted from the conditions of the just war to that of rebellion without some reasoning to back it up. Assuming both our interests here are primarily in the substance of the issue (ie more in ascertaining the correct conditions for a just rebellion rather than in ascertaining Aquinas' own position) I suppose my argument here would be simply that, if the question of authority is a good test of a just war, why wouldn't analogous questions arise for a rebellion, especially given that, in the Thomist (and I'd argue correct) view of a country, there would be possible sources of authority both above and below the ruler which could be resorted to?

4. If we look at your example, the Declaration of Arbroath was in 1320. In 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots, after Edward had been recognised as king of Scotland the previous year by the Pope. There was ongoing war until Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Based on that timeline, Robert was only attempting to establish his legitimate authority via the Declaration of Arbroath *after* he'd been in revolt for an extended period of time against the king the Pope had acknowledged. So was that prior revolt illegitimate, despite the long list of grievances the Declaration makes against the English monarchs? Is it really possible to declare an authority as legitimate retroactively?

The Declaration (here) states

And now, the divine Will, our just laws and customs, which we will defend to the death, the right of succession and the due consent and assent of all of us have made him [ie Robert] our leader and our king.

So Robert is King legitimately in 1306 (by authority of 'Barons, Freeholders and all the common people of the kingdom of Scotland') and to the extent that the Pope failed to acknowledge that, he is wrong.

I suppose I'd go back here to Aristotle (both as a matter of exegesis of the Thomist view but primarily because I think he's right!) on the general lack of definiteness of practical affairs. (Eg) Aquinas in his commentary on the Ethics (Book II, 259 here):

The teaching on matters of morals even in their general aspects is uncertain and variable. But still more uncertainty is found when we come down to the solution of particular cases. This study does not fall under either art or tradition because the causes of individual actions are infinitely diversified. Hence judgment of particular cases is left to the prudence of each one. He who acts prudently must attentively consider the things to be done at the present time after all the particular circumstances have been taken into consideration. In this way a doctor must act in bringing about a cure and a captain in steering a ship. Although this doctrine is such as to be uncertain in its general aspects and incapable of precision in particular cases, we ought to study it so that in these matters we may be of some assistance to men in directing their actions.

Practically, someone engaged in the sort of 'perturbation' involved in 1916 or 1320 cannot be certain whether they are engaged in a war or a rebellion. (I think it's pretty clear though in both cases that they would prefer to be seen as being clearly involved in a war against an external aggressor.) Practically (given the dispute about legitimacy of the rulers) they cannot be sure they are acting with legitimate authority. Hence seeking whatever legitimacy falls to hand at the time it falls to hand is what a wise person would do -and that appears to what is happening in both cases: appeals upward to the Pope and appeals downwards to the people/barons etc. It's very hard to imagine a rebellion which was not concerned to show itself as having some reliance on legitimate authority, particularly a rebellion founded on Catholic principles.

It's of course possible to imagine extreme examples where no such authority existed or could be ascertained. But there are also such extreme examples for wars (what happens if all the government are nuked in a first strike?) and in practice there are usually some sort of answers. (I am reminded that in Battlestar Galactica it is the rather lowly Secretary of Education who is the highest surviving official left to take over the presidency.) Moreover, I'm only arguing for the moment that (as I said in my previous post) 'might we agree that mediaeval political theory at least reluctant to concede right of rebellion/revolution to groups/individuals without legitimate authority?'  If that possibility of legitimate authority is not there at all, then that reluctance might be put aside. (See eg on this Aquinas below in his Commentary on the Sentences.) But in practice, I think it unlikely that this situation would often arise.


Part III: Sketchy explorations of other materials.

Some additional points:

1) There is (I discovered!) such as thing as the 'Lesser Magistrate doctrine' in Calvinism which holds the view that lesser magistrates have the duty to rebel against the tyranny of higher ones. (Wikipedia here.) This seems to have produced some rather sparky modern day followers in the American militia movement (here).

Calvin, Institutes, IV, ch 20 (here):

Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer. I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and perhaps there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets). So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fradulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.

(I owe this insight to:

The American Revolution: Not a Just War
Gregg Frazer
Journal of Military Ethics
Vol. 14, Iss. 1, 2015 )

2) Johnson, J.T. 2013, "Ad Fontes: The Question of Rebellion and Moral Tradition on the Use of Force", Ethics & International Affairs, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 371-378. This baldly says:

"Stab, smite, slay!" These are not the words of Bashar al-Assad telling his forces how they should deal with the Syrian rebel movement, or indeed those of any other contemporary political leader, but rather the words of Martin Luther exhorting the German nobility to a harsh response to the peasants' rebellion of 1524-1525. 1His writings show that he sympathized with many of the peasants' grievances so long as these did not issue in rebellion, but when they turned to force of arms, he responded sternly. This was not a peculiarity of Luther. Consider the following from an English courtier, Thomas Churchyard, writing admiringly of the treatment of Irish rebels in 1579 by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, commander of the English army sent to put down the rebellion:
He further tooke this order infringeable, that when soever he made any ostyng [military campaign], or inrode, into the enemies Countrey, he killed manne, woman, and child, and spoiled, wasted, and burned, by the grounde all that he might, leavyng nothing of the enemies in saffetie, whiche he could possiblie waste, or consume. 2
Nor was this way of thinking about how to deal with rebellion limited to the sixteenth century. Consider these passages from Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae--the first from "On Strife":
Strife seems to be a kind of private war. [As such,] strife is always sinful. . . . For if an officer of a prince or judge, in virtue of their public authority, should attack certain men and these defend themselves, it is not the former who is said to be guilty of strife, but those who resist the public power. 3
And this from "On Sedition":
Sedition is contrary to the unity of the multitude, viz., the people of a city or kingdom. . . . It is evident that the unity to which sedition is opposed is the unity of law and common good, whence it follows manifestly that sedition is opposed to justice and the common good. . . . It is a mortal sin. 4
The only exception Aquinas made was for the case of tyrannical rule, where he argued that subjects are not bound to obey tyrannical orders from the ruler.5Still, Aquinas argued that subjects should simply withhold obedience to wrongful orders, not rise in armed rebellion. While in extreme cases it is not a sin to overthrow a tyrant, it is subordinate rulers who should take the lead in this task (here Aquinas anticipated Calvin on the overthrow of an unjust ruler by "lesser magistrates"), not the people at large. The underlying reason is the responsibility the subordinate rulers have to use their ordering power in the service of justice and peace; other people may have the individual right of self-defense, but they do not have this larger responsibility for the common good, given that the overthrow of a tyrannical government by popular uprising may lead to social and political chaos and even worse injustice than that under the tyrant. Thus, Aquinas argues, the situation must be extreme to justify the overthrowing of a tyrant: "If there be not an excess of tyranny it is more expedient to tolerate for a while the milder tyranny than, by acting against the tyrant, to be involved in many perils which are more grievous than the tyranny itself." 6The reasoning here is not simply a defense of political order as such, but an acknowledgment of the centrifugal forces always present in communal life and the danger they may pose to justice and peace

[My emphasis]

Unfortunately, Johnson gives only a secondary reference to back up this claim: Gregory Reichberg , Henrik Syse , and Endre Begby , eds., The Ethics of War (Malden, Mass. : Blackwell Publishing , 2006 ), p.195

3)  I mentioned before the article

Thomas aquinas on the justification of revolution
Thomas A. Fay
History of European Ideas
Vol. 16, Iss. 4-6, 1993

I still haven't accessed this, but the four sources from Aquinas mentioned on the preview are:

Commentary on the Sentences II, dst 44, q.2, a.2 (1254-56) (English online version here.)

The most relevant portion here seems to be ad. 5:

To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.

[Note a) preference for recourse to superior authority; b) only in the absence of that is the tyrannicide honoured.]

De Regno (1266) (relevant piece not specified but seems to be Book I, ch.7, ss.47 and 48 (here) ) (Latin and English) This gives a reasonably clear answer:

[47] Should private persons attempt on their own private presumption to kill the rulers, even though tyrants, this would be dangerous for the multitude as well as for their rulers. This is because the wicked usually expose themselves to dangers of this kind more than the good, for the rule of a king, no less than that of a tyrant, is burdensome to them since, according to the words of Solomon [Prov 20:26]: “A wise king scatters the wicked.” Consequently, by presumption of this kind, danger to the people from the loss of a good king would be more probable than relief through the removal of a tyrant.

[48] Furthermore, it seems that to proceed against the cruelty of tyrants is an action to be undertaken, not through the private presumption of a few, but rather by public authority.

Summa Theologiae (1271-72) (again, place not specified but seems to refer to STh IIa IIae q.42 a. 1 and 2). (This was the question on sedition discussed in the previous post.) (here.) (English and Latin)

Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1272-73) (presumably on ch13 here) (Only in Latin)

(The dating is relevant because Fay argues that Aquinas seems to move from a greater acceptance of rebellion in his early writings to a 'much bleaker view of rebellion' in his later. I would stress 'seems' here: there appears to be a strong hint that this is a matter of 'seems' but not ''tis'.)
[NB: I haven't worked through the above in detail but they're there for further research by me or anyone else interested.]