The Road to Same-Sex Marriage was Paved by Rousseau, by Robert R. Reilly

At the heart of the debate over same-sex marriage are fundamental questions about who men are and how we decide what makes us flourish.

Ineluctably, the issue of “gay” rights is about far more than sexual practices. It is, as lesbian advocate Paula Ettelbrick proclaimed, about “transforming the very fabric of society … [and] radically reordering society’s views of reality”.

Since how we perceive reality is at stake in this struggle, the question inevitably rises: what is the nature of this reality? Is it good for us as human beings? Is it according to our Nature? Each side in the debate claims that what they are defending or advancing is according to Nature.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say that it is against Nature; proponents say that it is natural and that, therefore, they have a “right” to it. Yet the realities to which each side points are not just different but opposed: each negates the other. What does the word Nature really mean in this context? The words may be the same, but their meanings are directly contradictory, depending on the context. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand the broader contexts in which they are used and the larger views of reality of which they are a part since the status and meaning of Nature will be decisive in the outcome.

Let us then review briefly what the natural law understanding of “Nature” is and the kinds of distinctions an objective view of reality enables us to make in regard to our existence in general and to sexuality in particular. The point of departure must be that Nature is what is, regardless of what anyone desires or abhors. We are part of it and subject to it. It is not subject to us. Thus, we shall see how, once the objective status of Nature is lost or denied, we are incapacitated from possessing any true knowledge about ourselves and about how we are to relate to the world. This discussion may seem at times somewhat unrelated to the issues directly at hand, but it is not. It is at its heart and soul. Without it, the rest of our discussion is a mere battle of opinions.

Order in the Universe – Aristotle’s Laws of Nature

There are two basic, profoundly different anthropologies behind the competing visions of man at the heart of the dispute over same-sex marriage. For an understanding of the original notion of Nature, we will turn to those who began the use of the term in classical Greece, most especially Plato and Aristotle. To present the antithesis of this understanding, we will then turn to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who eviscerated the word of its traditional meaning in the 18th century and gave it its modern connotation.

The older anthropology is Aristotelian, which claims that man is by Nature a political animal for whom the basic societal unit is the family. The newer is Rousseauian, which claims that man is not a political animal and that society in any form is fundamentally alien to him. These two disparate anthropologies presuppose, in turn, two radically different metaphysics: one is teleological; the other is non-teleological, or anti-teleological. Again, the first one has its roots in Aristotle, the second in Rousseau. These two schools of thought provide convenient and necessary philosophical perspectives within which to understand the uses of the words “natural” and “unnatural” as they are variously employed by the proponents and opponents of homosexual acts and same-sex marriage today.

The discovery of Nature was momentous, as it was the first product of philosophy. Man first deduced the existence of Nature by observing order in the universe. The regularity with which things happen could not be explained by random repetition. All activity seems governed by a purpose, by ends to which things are designed to move. Before this discovery, in the ancient, pre-philosophical world, man was immersed in mythological portrayals of the world, the gods, and himself. These mythopoeic accounts made no distinction between man and Nature, or between convention and Nature. A dog wagged its tail because that was the way of a dog. Egyptians painted their funeral caskets in bright colors because that was the way of the Egyptians. There was no way to differentiate between the two because the word “Nature” was not available in the vocabulary of the pre-philosophical world.

According to Henri Frankfort in Before Philosophy, it was Heraclitus who first grasped that the universe is an intelligible whole and that therefore man is able to comprehend its order. If this is true – and only if it is true – man’s inquiry into the nature of reality becomes possible. The very idea of “Nature” becomes possible. How could this be? Heraclitus said that the universe is intelligible because it is ruled by and is the product of “thought” or wisdom. If it is the product of thought, then it can be apprehended by thinking. We can know what is because it was made by logos. We can have thoughts about things that are themselves the product of thought.

As far as we know, Heraclitus and Parmenides were the first to use the word logos to name this “thought” or wisdom. Logos, of course, means “reason” or “word” in Greek. Logos is the intelligence behind the intelligible whole. It is logos which makes the world intelligible to the endeavor of philosophy, ie, reason. In the Timaeus, Plato writes, “… now the sight of day and night, and the months and the revolutions of the years, have created number, and have given us a conception of time; and the power of inquiring about the nature of the universe; and from this source, we have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man.” Through reason, said Socrates, man can come to know “what is”, ie, the nature of things.

Aristotle taught that the essence or nature of a thing is what makes it what it is, and why it is not something else. This is not a tautology. As an acorn develops into an oak tree, there is no point along its trajectory of growth that it will turn into a giraffe or something other than an oak. That is because it has the nature of an oak tree. By natural law, in terms of living things, we mean the principle of development which makes it what it is and, given the proper conditions, what it will become when it fulfills itself or reaches its end. For Aristotle, “Nature ever seeks an end”. This end state is its telos, its purpose or the reason for which it is. In non-human creation this design is manifested through either instinct or physical law. Every living thing has a telos toward which it purposefully moves. In plants or animals, this involves no self-conscious volition. In man, it does.

Anything that operates contrary to this principle in a thing is unnatural to it. By unnatural, we mean something that works against what a thing would become were it to operate according to its principle of development. For instance, an acorn will grow into an oak unless its roots are poisoned by highly acidic water. One would say that the acidic water is unnatural to the oak or against its “goodness”.

The term “teleological”, when applied to the universe, implies that everything has a purpose, and the purpose inheres in the structure of things themselves. There is what Aristotle called entelechy, “having one’s end within”. The goal of the thing is intrinsic to it. These laws of Nature, then, are not an imposition of order from without by a commander-in-chief, but an expression of it from within the very essence of things, which have their own integrity. This also means that the world is comprehensible because it operates on a rational basis.

It is by their natures that we are able to know what things are. Otherwise, we would only know specificities, and be unable to recognize things in their genus and species. In other words, we would only experience this piece of wood (a tree), as opposed to that piece of wood (another tree), but we would not know the word “tree” or even the word “wood”, because we would not know the essence of either. In fact, we would know nothing.

Nature is also what enables one person to recognize another person as a human being. What does human nature mean? It means that human beings are fundamentally the same in their very essence, which is immutable and, most profoundly, that every person’s soul is ordered to the same transcendent good or end. (This act of recognition is the basis of Western civilization. We have forever since called barbarian those who are either incapable of seeing another person as a human being or who refuse to do so.) Both Socrates and Aristotle said that men’s souls are ordered to the same good and that, therefore, there is a single standard of justice which transcends the political standards of the city. There should not be one standard of justice for Athenians and another for Spartans. There is only one justice and this justice is above the political order. It is the same at all times, everywhere, for everyone.

For the first time, reason becomes the arbiter. Reason becomes normative. It is through reason – not from the gods of the city – that man can discern what is just from what is unjust, what is good from what is evil, what is myth from what is reality. Behaving reasonably or doing what accords with reason becomes the standard of moral behavior. We see one of the highest expressions of this understanding in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

As classics scholar Bruce S. Thornton expressed it: “If one believes, as did many Greek philosophers from Heraclitus on, that that the cosmos reflects some sort of rational order, then ‘natural’ would denote behavior consistent with that order. One could then act ‘unnaturally’ by indulging in behavior that subverted that order and its purpose”. Behaving according to Nature, therefore means acting rationally. Concomitantly, behaving unnaturally means acting irrationally. This notion of reality necessitates the rule of reason.

Read the complete article in The Imaginative Conservative

“Non c’è successo economico senza ordine morale”, by Maria Claudia Ferragni

In questa prima settimana di luglio, nel corso della quale gli americani festeggiano l’anniversario della loro indipendenza, si trovano in Italia due economisti legati alla presidenza Reagan: Howard Segermark, ex-collaboratore di Arthur Laffer, l’economista che ha impostato teoricamente la Reaganomics, e Grover Norquist, fondatore e Presidente di Americans for Tax Reform, considerato uno degli uomini più influenti di Washington (oggi parlerà in un incontro pubblico a Roma alle 17 presso l’Hotel Nazionale, in piazza Montecitorio). Entrambi ospiti del Columbia Institute, portano in Italia la loro esperienza di indomiti paladini della libertà economica e individuale. Ma ci raccontano anche di un’America che sta vivendo un momento storico di transizione e che si sta avviando sempre più in fretta verso la pericolosa strada dello stato sociale europeo, anche per ciò che riguarda la messa in discussione dei valori fondanti la civiltà occidentale.

Della attuali sfide della galassia conservatrice abbiamo parlato a Milano con Howard Segermark, oggi vice presidente della Patten Associates, società specializzata in relazioni con il governo, esperto lobbista a difesa dei diritti di proprietà, attivo in molteplici associazioni e fondazioni conservatrici anche in ambito culturale.

Signor Segermark, qual è la situazione attuale del movimento conservatore negli Stati Uniti?

I Conservatori si trovano ad affrontare i problemi creati dalle politiche del presidente Obama. In particolare, il suo risultato più importante nel corso del primo mandato è stata l’approvazione dell’Obamacare (la nuova legge che rende obbligatoria l’assicurazione sanitaria per tutti, ndr), una vera e propria usurpazione massiccia dell’assistenza medica da parte dello stato. E’ ora chiaro che la legge approvata dal Congresso non potrà essere applicata a partire dall’anno prossimo, come era stato promesso, e non potrà essere implementata senza un massiccio incremento delle tasse. Inoltre, circa il 25% degli americani resterà ancora privo di un’assistenza sanitaria adeguata. Quindi la legge non ha risolto il problema per il quale è stata creata, sarà molto più costosa del previsto e, infine, probabilmente ridurrà l’ambito dell’assistenza medica per gli americani. Ciò accade perché non è mai successo che i burocrati siano in grado di risolvere un problema. Il Senatore repubblicano Paul Ryan (candidato alla Vice-Presidenza lo scorso novembre, ndr) ha invece una proposta alternativa, che restituisce alla persona la libertà  e responsabilità di decidere quale piano di assistenza sanitaria scegliere e mi auguro che possa essere approvata se nel 2016 dovesse essere eletto Presidente un repubblicano. L’Obamacare, invece, impone ai giovani pesanti carichi fiscali per sostenere le spese sanitarie degli anziani; mentre sarebbe meglio, come previsto da Ryan, creare incentivi perché i giovani possano risparmiare per pagarsi da soli l’assistenza medica quando saranno a loro volta anziani.

Quali sono altri problemi che i conservatori devono affrontare?

La grande recessione economica. Da quando Obama è stato eletto, gli Stati Uniti hanno avuto una crescita inferiore al 3% in ciascun quadrimestre, senza soluzione di continuità. Di conseguenza, l’America ha vissuto una diminuzione di ricchezza a cui non era abituata, al contrario dell’Europa che sembra essersi assuefatta a questi dati statistici. Le politiche di Obama hanno sottratto circa 2.800 miliardi di dollari all’economia e non possiamo non pensare a quale tragedia sia questa perdita di ricchezza in termini di posti di lavoro, investimenti, ricerca. Quando l’economia vive un periodo di stagnazione, in Europa le persone si rivolgono allo Stato, che in un certo senso acquisisce nuovi “clienti”: ecco, questa situazione per noi americani è nuova, ma siamo arrivati al punto che ci sono oggi 70 milioni di americani che vivono con i “food stamps”(buoni pasto statali, ndr), ma è un sistema molto corrotto perché ormai da molti anni i food stamps vengono venduti sul mercato nero a 50 centesimi l’uno per ogni dollaro di valore. Ad esempio, una famiglia  di 4 persone che ha 100 dollari in buoni pasto può ottenerne 50 vendendoli al mercato nero, per comprare la birra… E’ quindi un sistema che per il 50%  si risolve in uno spreco totale.

Osservandoli dall’esterno, sembra che i Conservatori non riescano a trovare la strada giusta o il candidato giusto per risollevarsi, è vero?

Vede, tutta la politica americana negli ultimi vent’anni si è trovata ad affrontare due grandi problematiche: la caduta del Muro di Berlino e l’11 settembre. Nessuno dei due partiti è unanime nel modo di risolvere questi problemi. Obama ha ridicolmente vietato l’uso della parola “terrorismo”, definendo ad esempio l’attacco di chiara e lampante matrice jihadista nella base militare di Fort Hood del 2009 “un’atto di violenza sul posto di lavoro”… Si tratta perciò davvero di una situazione politica complessa e anche i Democratici hanno difficoltà nel digerire questo tipo di interpretazione dei fatti. Inoltre, nel mondo di oggi in cui gli Stati Uniti sono l’unica vera super-potenza globale è molto difficile gestire la politica estera: bisogna forse smettere di pensare di intervenire in ogni singolo conflitto nel mondo? L’esempio della Siria è emblematico: mi chiedo se gli Stati Uniti hanno un interesso diretto in quel conflitto. L’unico che ha mai sostenuto la politica americana è Assad… certo, è un dittatore. Ma se gli Stati Uniti consentono ai jihadisti e ai cloni della Fratellanza Musulmana di conquistare un altro Paese, questo non aiuterà il conflitto né la causa della civiltà occidentale.

Come ha reagito l’opposizione repubblicana?

Ecco, si tratta di uno degli esempi migliori della spaccatura che stanno vivendo. Il senatore John McCain è andato in Siria e ha incontrato molte persone chiedendo di creare una “no fly zone” sulla Siria, che corrisponde a un atto di guerra, mentre Obama sta cercando di armare alcuni dei  ribelli, ma non sa bene chi siano e, di fatto, non lo sa nessuno. E’ indubbio allora che pensare di intervenire per creare una democrazia, come non siamo riusciti a fare in Iraq e in Afghanistan, diventerebbe un atto di hubris politica.

Read the complete article in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana

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