On Politics Part One — The Metaphysics of Politics

I have been asked to explain in a rigorous way the political philosophy to which I adhere. I can promise the reader no startling revelations, nor do I propose any new system, but instead I seek to place on a clear and plain footing what in these darkened days has sadly become unclear to far too many men, and I seek to call men back to their first love, and remind them of that which civilization was erected to protect. Whether this effort is in vain in not for me to say; I leave that to the candid judgment of the reader. What I will say is, as the apothegm of GK Chesterton declared, even a bad shot is honorable when he accepts a challenge to duel.

One of the small tragedies of life is that the beginnings of things are oftenest the driest and most boring, and that axioms are either too painfully obvious to bear mentioning, or too painfully wrongheaded to bear repeating. Nonetheless, I take it as an axiom that every science begins with its axioms, and I take it as an axiom that there is very little to say about axioms, because they are the beginnings and not the conclusions of arguments.

It behooves us to begin by identifying those axioms tacitly assumed by everyone, even by those who claim to refute them.  This places the argument on as sound as footing as is possible to human reason. We can leave to one side the question of whether these axioms are arbitrary as opposed to apodictic: as a practical matter, if no articulate argument can be raised against them that does at tacitly assert them, human reason has no choice but to assert them.

A statement that there is no truth, if true, is false. Likewise, from the statement that logic is not valid we can deduce nothing, not even the conclusion that logic is not valid. Likewise again, the statement that nothing exists, cannot exist without invalidating itself.

A man cannot read nor hear a statement that says all his senses are false, and believe he has heard or seen the statement truly; nor understand the statement that all human understanding is warped, subjective, prejudiced, or false; nor decide that decisions do not exist; nor can he in good conscience decide the conscience to be nonexistent or irrelevant. And if he says that there are no moral rules, either he speaks honestly, that is, he abides by the moral rule which commands him not to lie, or he speaks dishonestly, so in either case what he says is not so.

Now if, dear reader, it seems to you upon reflection that these seven sentences in two paragraphs have contradicted nearly the whole of what modern philosophy has said since the time of Hume, you may be astonished that modern philosophy is so fragile as structure that it can be shattered with a word. Since men of great learning and intellect have devoted lifetimes to this work, it may seem incredible that so humble a Jack can topple so proud a Giant.

It is not incredible at all, but simple. The one assumption all modern philosophies take for granted is the dismissal of metaphysics, that is, of axiomatic truths. Modern philosophies are famous for their attempt to analyze the human condition as if from the outside, as if from the point of view from beyond human existence, a viewpoint from nowhere. In this illusionary pursuit of apodictic objectivity, they analyze human beings as objects, as if only seen from outside, as if the only thing true about man or known about man was what an outside observer could observe. Each modern philosophy can be tested by the simple expedient of holding up its conclusions against the philosopher who speaks it, and if the philosopher cannot account his own existence, or his ability to do philosophy, which is, to reason about ultimate truths, then his philosophy is false.

Metaphysics is apodictic subjectivity, that is, metaphysics is the study of those axioms without which reasoning is impossible. Apodictic means that which is self-evident; subjective means not what is arbitrary or unmeaningful but that which is dependent on one’s coign of vantage. Modern philosophers since Kant have decreed that apodictic subjectivity is impossible, or is unpersuasive.  If I say it is noon because I stand at a coign of vantage where the Earth is underfoot and the sun directly overhead, this statement is true but dependent on my viewpoint. If at the same hour a man stands on the opposite side of the globe, the statement is untrue. For him, it is midnight. However, every man who stands anywhere on the world agrees that the downward direction points at the core of the earth. The statement is true for all men on Earth, and it is indubitable, and yet it is subjective.

Likewise, every reasoning man, whether he admit it or no, by the very act of using reason, takes as an axiom that truth exists, and that conclusions validly deduced from axioms are valid, and that valid deductions from true statements about real things are true and real.

He tacitly accepts that empirical evidence is probative, that prudent judgments are possible to the human mind, that the will is free, and that the conscience is sovereign. In no case does he deny that all these faculties are free of error; but he denies the cynical conclusions of modern philosophy which say these faculties consist of nothing but error, and are not to be trusted at all.

Stating these abstract axioms at the outset, oddly enough, while it says nothing about politics itself, will eliminate from consideration any political theory based on an exploded metaphysical principle, as for example National Socialism, which is based on racial determinism and polylogism, or strict Marxism, which is based on historical determinism and materialism in the sense of denying the free will. However, in general, these are minority views far removed from the mainstream of political thought and debate.

To Part Two

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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21 Responses to On Politics Part One — The Metaphysics of Politics

  1. Matthew says:

    Yes, but what do you think about Vox Day? Isn’t he the worst? I hear the SFWA says he’s a racist, misogynist, anti-Semite.

    • Matthew says:

      Also, having seen the new trailer for Blomkamp’s Elysium, I’m now mentally casting Sharlto Copley as Atkins. He protects the libertarians from the garbage, right?

  2. Stephen J. says:

    (This may be a duplicate post because the first one seems to have vanished: please delete if so:)

    “National Socialism, which is based on racial determinism and polylogism”

    This caught my interest: what is polylogism, and how did it influence National Socialism?

    • Polylogism is the theory that the laws of logic are not uniform. In this specific case, I have heard (I cannot quote a primary source) that the Nazi theorists claimed that the Jewish logic of the Jewish race differed from the Aryan logic of the Aryan Race. Not that their philosophy or conclusions or general personality types differed, but that their categories of logic differed such that there was no way to have a rational discussion with them.

      The great economist Ludwig van Mises explained this point here: http://mises.org/humanaction/chap3sec2.asp

      • Mary says:

        Nietzsche recognized the dependence of the spirit on sex and blood, and he was the first who spoke of the spirit of a race, and that a German sees and solves problems that a Latin cannot see, and vice versa. For them Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer were not only German philosophers, but also philosophical Germans, people who did philosophy from their race, from their blood, not from their spirits.

        But there was an era that thought differently; it was irrelevant where a truth was discovered or a problem solved by a European, a Negro, a Jew, a Chinese, or an Indian. If something was right, it was true for all people, even for non-humans. angels, and gods, for all eternity, as the Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl arrogantly proclaimed a decade ago. The influence of race and blood, he thought, could only confuse and mislead the intellect; pure intellect freed itself from the prejudices of a particular people. Only it could discover eternal, universal truths.

        Full article here:
        http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/fw6-20a.htm

        • Fichte said much the same in 1808 in his Addresses to the German Nation – that non-Germans could not be expected to agree with his analysis, and would not even understand his logic, because Germans have a *true* grasp on reality unavailable to foreigners. All good philosophy and art and culture and civilization came from true Germans.

          He did not, however, trace this superiority to mere physical decent – to race – but rather to the purity and naturalness of the German language. It’s still some pretty freaky stuff to read.

  3. joetexx says:

    I’m looking forward to part two.

    I have nothing to say against the metaphysical groundwork.

    I suspect the practical conclusions you draw from it I might find to
    be too optimstic. We’ll see.

  4. Robert Mitchell Jr says:

    “One of the small tragedies of life is that the beginnings of things are oftenest the driest and most boring, and that axioms are either too painfully obvious to bear mentioning, or too painfully wrongheaded to bear repeating.”

    Save for politics, where the bloodiest battles are fought over axioms. For example, the axiom that Humanity is static (got Human DNA? Human. The Republican position) vs. Humanity is dynamic (Got political power? Human. Powerless (Jewish, very young, very old, in a “coma”, wrong skin color, what have you) Not Human. The Democrat position). And the discussion devolves into shouting very quickly, because, as you say, what can you discuss about any particular axiom? Either it’s true or it’s false…….

    • Actually, I was using axiom in the more limited meaning. I meant the formal presuppositions of a formal system. What you are talking about are either value judgments or definitions, which are like axioms in that they are equally as difficult to discuss, but they could be the conclusion rather then the beginning of a line of reasoning.

      But your point is still well taken.

  5. Tyrrell McAllister says:

    And if he says that there are no moral rules, either he speaks honestly, that is, he abides by the moral rule which commands him not to lie, or he speaks dishonestly, so in either case what he says is not so.

    I don’t see how this follows. The previous examples you gave were far clearer than this one.

    I can see how your previous examples really do describe someone being logically incoherent (or lying). To make this incoherence especially stark, imagine four men (Messrs. A, B, C, and D) who say the following:

    Mr. A: Consider the following sentence S: “Everything that any man hears is false.” I heard S and I believe it.

    Mr. B: Consider the following sentence T: “Everything that any man understands is false.” I understand T and I believe it.

    Mr. C: Consider the following sentence U: “Decisions to not exist.” I made the decision to believe U.

    Mr. D: Consider the following sentence V: “The conscience either does not exist, or it has no effects.” My conscience exists, and one of its effects is to make me believe V.

    I grant that these men are indeed being logically incoherent in a formally demonstrable way. Each man, if he speaks truthfully, believes a proposition that, when combined with his other beliefs, logically entails its own falsity.

    But your last example is not like the others. My best attempt to render it into the form I used above is the following:

    Mr. E: Consider the following sentence W: “There is no moral obligation to believe or to speak the truth.” I believe W.

    In the previous examples, I could start from the premise that the man reported his own beliefs truthfully, and I could deduce from this premise that the man’s beliefs are mutually contradictory.

    However, I am unable to do this in the case of Mr. E. I can deduce only that he has done something that he isn’t, in his view, obligated to do — namely, (1) to believe W and (2) to report this belief to me truthfully.

    But to perform an act A does not commit one to the belief that performing A is obligatory, so I am unable to deduce a contradiction. I see no incoherence in his beliefs, at least not of the kind that I saw in the beliefs of A, B, C, and D.

    Would you show the steps in your reasoning more explicitly?

    • Excellent question! Forgive me if my enthusiasm requires me to answer at length:

      There is an unspoken minor premise I did not make clear: Mr. E is attempting to persuade you (or himself) by means of reasoning.

      The moral obligation implied by the act of reasoning is this: if the statements of what you believe cohere logically with an axiom you admit to be true, you are under an imperative to consent to the conclusion, despite any personal inclination or desire to do otherwise. A duty is the imperative to perform an act (in this case, the mental act of consent) despite any personal inclination to do otherwise.

      Mr. E says “There are no moral rules.” In the context of a philosophical argument, the statement is being presented for the sake of its truth value as judged by its logical coherence with axioms taken as true. It is not being presented as a joke, or a nonsense statement, or a poetic metaphor, or as a bald fact with no moral implications. The moral implication is clear. It is being said in the expectation that you upon acknowledge the conclusion to be validly deduced from a true axiom will put aside any emotional or personal reasons for disbelief, and from a sense of loyalty to the truth, consent and believe.

      The same statement in other contexts might have other meanings. But in this context, which is the context of a philosophical statement, the statement presented for the truth of the thing asserted.

      Hence, the statement “There are no moral rules” is the same as the statement “1. If it is true there are no moral rules, then your philosophical loyalty to truth imposes an obligation for you to believe that there are no moral rules, despite any inclination otherwise. 2. It is true there are no moral rules. 3. Therefore you are obligated to believe that there are no moral rules, despite any inclination otherwise.”

      But the set “obligation” is a member of the set “moral rule” therefore the statement “if there are no moral rules you are morally obligated to believe that there are no moral rules” is false.

      Mr. E can escape this paradox if and only if he presents the statement “There are no moral rules” WITHOUT presenting the statement for the sake of its truth value, such as when it is a jest or poem, OR when presenting the statement as a bald fact from which no moral implication — not even the implication that you or I or anyone should believe it true when proven true — can be deduced.

      In other words, if the statement “There are no moral rules” is true, then the statement “I should believe that there are no moral rules” is not true on the grounds that it is meaningless, i.e. neither true nor false, because no statement of imperative “should” is meaningful.

      Mr. E is using the following unspoken argument:
      1. You should believe statements are true because they are really true, not because you do or do not want them to be true.
      2. Statement W is true.
      3. Therefore you should believe statement W is true because it is really true, not because you do or do not want it to be true.

      Or he is using the following:

      1. You should believe what is pleasant to believe, whether true or not.
      2. Statement W is pleasant
      3. Therefore you should believe statement W, whether true or not.

      Or he is using some other figure of argument with the same form, where the major premise establishes the moral rule of when you “should” believe the belief being presented to your consideration.

      1. You should believe any statement fulfilling criterion X
      2. Statement W fulfills criterion X
      3. Therefore you should believe statement W

      But, as a matter of fact, Statement W contradicts any and all statements beginning with “You should”.

      This is true even if Mr E is talking to no one but himself by himself, and the “you” in the sentence is his own system of belief. The act of reasoning implies a moral obligation on the part of the reasoner to abide by the results of reasoning, or otherwise it is not reasoning, just a recital of one’s personal tastes.

      • Stephen J. says:

        “Mr. E can escape this paradox if and only if he presents the statement “There are no moral rules”… as a bald fact from which no moral implication — not even the implication that you or I or anyone should believe it true when proven true — can be deduced.”

        What little I’ve read of philosophers who explicitly subscribe to this thesis suggests that most people who believe this do present the statement this way; if they imply a “should” at all it is more of a consequentialist observation than an assertion of obligation — i.e. you have no duty to believe there are no moral rules, but a belief that matches reality is likelier to be productive than one that does not, so that belief is recommended without being obliged or enforceable.

        I’ve recently had occasion to think a lot about the difference between de facto and de jure evaluations of position, and the clash between “it amounts to the same thing” and “but it’s not the same thing”. It is one of those extremely narrow philosophical debatable lands that goalposts tend to slip around on. The difference between “should” as practical recommendation and “should” as formal obligation reminds me of this.

        • I beg to differ. The distinction between nuances of “should” and “it is prudent” or “it is productive” make no difference to this argument. The same paradox applies to “productivity” as to “truth-value” or “pleasure”. The form of the argument is the same no matter what the criterion of persuasion is.

          If you tell a kid you knew full well hates spinach and has no imaginable use for it that if he mows your lawn, you will feed him a heap of spinach as a reward is a pointless statement. The bald fact by itself that lawnmowing is more likely to produce more spinach than nonlawnmowing has no persuasive force whatsoever. In order for the conclusion to be in the imperative “therefore you should” either the major or the minor premise must contain an imperative. To reason otherwise is to engage in the Naturalistic Fallacy: one cannot deduce an “ought” from an “is” — one cannot deduce an imperative from a fact.

          The argument you mention is a word-game, because it makes an imperative statement, but phrases it in the FORM OF a statement of fact.

          In this case:
          1. You should believe any belief which matches reality on the grounds that it is likelier to be productive than a belief not matching reality.
          2. Statement W matches reality and is likelier to be productive than a belief not matching reality.
          3. Therefore you should believe Statement W.

          If statement W is that no statements starting with “you should” exist, then the argument contradicts itself.

          The only other option is to state the argument this way:
          1. It happens to be a fact that statements of type X have consequence Y: but consequence Y has no moral meaning and imposes no moral imperative, such that it makes no difference whatsoever whether you believe it or not.
          2. Statement W is a statement of type X.
          3. Therefore Statement W is a fact with no moral meaning, whose consequences impose no moral imperative, such that it makes no difference whatsoever whether you believe it or not.

          The problem with this second formation of the argument is that no one speaking to another or thinking to himself who postulates that the act of thinking has no moral purpose, nor indeed any purpose at all, is doing the act of reasoning. This second argument is not a persuasive argument because the point of the three statements is not to persuade. It is the recitation of three true yet meaningless statements.

          I am not saying the reasoning is vain or pointless. I am saying it is not reasoning at all, because the final conclusion (whether to believe what your reason tells you or to ignore your reason) can never be reached.

          Reason can justly put some things in the category of arbitrary personal preference, or determine that the matter is beyond the range of human reason where the attempt to reason is vain.

          But the reasoning process cannot without paradox reach the conclusion that the reasoning process is vain or arbitrary in all cases, including the case of deciding whether or not to believe the conclusions reason reaches.

          Attempting to substitute the plain word “should” for an elliptical phrase like “it just so happens that persons holding this belief get beneficial consequence Y” is vain unless we also add the unspoken minor premise that you “should” do what is beneficial, or you “should” seek consequence Y.

          People will sing or show friends their favorite songs or shows in hopes that the friend might have the same taste in music or drama. But it is vain to attempt to reason someone into liking a song or show, if it is not a matter where any moral imperative applies, if no action is required. On the other hand, reasoning always implies a duty to believe the truth despite one’s own inclinations not to. Otherwise, it is not an attempt to use reason to persuade.

          If we lived in a universe where reason did not impose a duty to be reasonable, no one would ever attempt reasoning as a means of persuasion. We would merely sing or show our favorite philosophy in hopes that our friends might have the same taste.

          These two things are vastly and not narrowly different. The difference between “you should because it is your duty” and “you should because it is prudent” and “you should because it is in your best interest” is a difference of motive only, not of form. The statement “you should because it is prudent” only is meaningful if I have a duty to be prudent despite my inclinations otherwise. If it is my inclination, you need not use reason to persuade me, you need only show me advertising images of smiling girls to influence my inclinations. Likewise for self interest.

          • Stephen J. says:

            The statement “you should because it is prudent” only is meaningful if I have a duty to be prudent despite my inclinations otherwise.

            Well, that’s what I meant by de facto and de jure. In formal language and logic, to say “you should” is to declare an imperative; in actual common usage, most people say “you should” merely to communicate, “I think it likely to be a good idea”, and most people hearing it take it that way. Hence the confusion.

            The irony of course is that this latter usage still makes “you should because it is prudent” equally meaningless, but as a tautology rather than an oxymoron; if “you should” means only “I think it prudent”, then all one is saying is, “It is prudent to be prudent” — which is true, but useless.

            Although interestingly, that suggests to me that saying that using reason imposes a duty to believe reason’s conclusions is likewise essentially tautological, because believing the conclusions of reason is what reasoning is — the term “duty” may be inadvertently misleading here because it implies that the choice is separate from the process and comes after it, rather than the process in toto, including its completion or abandonment, being the choice.

            (It should be noted here that I am more wandering around in the thickets of vagueness to find where the confusions come from, rather than actually disagreeing with your points.)

            • The confusion comes from phrasing an imperative “you should” as if it were a statement of fact “it is prudent to”. The point bares repeating that a naked statement of fact “Doing action X is prudent” without an express or implied statement of imperative “you should be prudent” cannot reach a conclusion of imperative “You should do X.”

              Let me offer you a thought experiment. Try to think of a sentence of the form “X is prudent” where X is not an action a man can do or a condition man can reach. You will find you cannot. Hence, calling something prudent logically and inescapably implies a call or recommendation to action. But the act of deciding whether some action is better than another always and inescapably implies a final cause, this is for the sake of that. Final causes are moral categories. Do you follow me? I am not sure if I am being clear.

            • Let me ask a follow up question: the philosophers who say that there are no moral rules, but that you should be persuaded of this fact despite your inclination not to — do they also say that a belief in moral rules is useful for gaining self discipline for an individual as well as gaining social discipline and cooperation for a society? Because a man cannot, as a practical matter, lead a life of self discipline if the concept of discipline is meaningless, nor can a society follow the rules needed for social cooperation if the concept of rules is obliterated.

              Hence the argument seems to be backward, does it not? You should believe that moral rules exist even if they do not exist because of the obvious practical advantages and gain in the long and the short term, including everything from the immediately obvious benefit of survival all they way up to imponderables such as happiness in living a meaningful life, and everything in between. If it is advantageous to believe morale rules exist, and if there is no moral rule of honesty and nor any moral rule about integrity, then there is no duty to believe unpleasant truths or to swallow bitter medicine.

              Therefore if there are no moral rules, and if belief in moral rules is a convenient or pleasant belief, you should believe in moral rules. Who shall say ye nay? Because if there are no moral rules, ergo there is no duty demanding of honestly, and no commandment of mental integrity reading “thou shalt believe the truth when it is true, even when truth is inconvenient or unpleasant.” So you are free to believe in moral rules if you wish, and you SHOULD wish because it is obviously practical and necessary for survival and happiness. And once you believe in moral rules, you must believe in the rule of honesty, ergo you must believe in moral rules including those situations where moral rules are inconvenient or unpleasing to keep.

              Do the antinominan philosophers you mention happen to deal with this rather obvious argument?

      • Tyrrell McAllister says:

        Thank you. I’m not sure that I understand your argument entirely, but I think that I understand it better than I did.

        Here is my new attempt to render Mr. E’s incoherence (or dishonesty) in the same form that I used for Messrs. A, B, C, and D:

        Mr. E: Consider the following sentence W: “No man is morally obligated to believe anything that follows logically from his other beliefs.” I believe W. It follows logically from my other beliefs, and I am morally obligated to believe it.

        I agree that this version of Mr. E is either lying about his own beliefs or his beliefs are logically incoherent in a formally demonstrable way. How close does this come to capturing the essence of your argument?

        • My argument is based on several assumptions. Let me lay it out stepwise again.
          1. Mr E’s comment has a purpose, namely, to persuade by an appeal to reason.
          2. An appeal to reason is defined as coming to believe something that follows logically from your other beliefs.
          3. The fact that something follows logically from your other beliefs is irrelevant in the absence of a duty to believe what follows logically from your other beliefs whether you are inclined to believe it or not.
          4. In other to be relevant, an appeal to reason innately and inescapably assumes a duty to believe what follows logically from your other beliefs whether you are inclined to believe it or not: that you OUGHT to believe it even when you do not WANT to believe it, even when it is not practical, or flattering, or useful, or for any other reason.
          5. Mr E’s would not make a comment at all if he did not assume it to be relevant.
          6. By assuming it to be relevant, he assumes you ought to believe it even when you are not inclined to believe it.
          7. “Ought to believe” = “Duty to believe”
          8. If no duties at all exist, the duty to believe does not exist.
          10. Therefore Mr E cannot make the comment that no duties exist, and have the comment be relevant. The comment assumes what it denies.

          In other words, once Mr E says, “There are no duties” and you reply, “If there are no duties, therefore I prefer to conclude there are duties” either he says “But you ought to be logical, and conclude what follows logically from the fact, not pretend whatever you prefer is a conclusion!” or his argument fails. But if he says “you ought” then his argument fails.

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