Monday, July 16, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Definitions, XVI: The Road to Nihilism — Hobbes's Absolutism

As we have already noted in this series, John Maynard Keynes claimed, in the opening passages of his Theory of Money, Volume I, The Pure Theory of Money, that the State has the power to "re-edit the dictionary." As we will demonstrate later on in this series, this is rooted in the totalitarian political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, which is itself rooted in Hobbes's abolition of the natural law and his enthronement of the State as a virtual god.

What concerns us in today's posting is the fact that William of Occam's distortions of the thought of Duns Scotus by allowing — even relying on — the redefinition of the precepts of the natural law, as Rommen pointed out, "wrought havoc in theology as well as in metaphysics and ethics." As Rommen explained,

"Reason had been rendered barren. The so-called Reformers had drawn the ultimate conclusions from Occamism with respect to theology. Contemptuous of reason, they had arrived at a pregnant voluntarism in theology as well as at the doctrine of natura deleta, of nature as destroyed by original sin. Thereby the traditional natural law became speculatively impossible." (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 54.)

Not surprisingly, this allowed various thinkers to do whatever they wanted, and to say anything, for truth lost all meaning, e.g., "The spirit of the Renaissance, too, had made use of Occam's separation of faith and knowledge to emancipate secular thought or worldly wisdom, and to place it in opposition to sacred learning. Pomponazzi (1462-1530), after the manner of the Averrosits, had spoken of a twofold truth: what is true in philosophy may be false in theology, and vice versa. Law as such was separated in a positivist fashion from the eternal law when the natural moral law had been made into a positive act of God's absolute will." (Ibid.)

In other words, Occam's achievement was to allow anyone with a glib tongue or a large club to have his cake and eat it, too, as long as people refused to think logically, or lacked the power to resist the coercive power brought to bear on them to conform to the wishes of others with power. Might makes right. The upshot in politics was that "[t]he absolute power of God in Occam's doctrine became at the hands of Thomas Hobbes the absolute sovereignty of the king." (Ibid., 54-55.)

Thus we can see why Keynes and others were so insistent on depriving ordinary people of property. Having property, people are vested with the power to resist unjust inroads on their lives by the State or wealthy private interests, which of course interferes with State control of the economy. For someone who knows what's right for everyone else (as is one of the claims of a divine right monarchy), absolute power is essential, because people will otherwise refuse to go along with things that benefit others at their expense.

As Rommen commented, "The entire theory of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) amounts at bottom to a denial of the natural law." (Ibid., 73.) As Rommen goes on to explain the development of this in Hobbes's thought,

"Like Epicurus in Greek antiquity, Hobbes thought that man is intrinsically evil, that he is driven by the reckless pursuit of selfish interests and passions uncontrolled by reason, that he is a lawless being. . . . There must be a transfer of all individual rights to the sovereign political power, a concentration of might which will forcibly uphold order and peace among men. Compulsion and obedience are the topics of Hobbes' theory. The state's power must be unlimited because man is selfish, reckless, and evil. Out of the surrendered liberty arises, then, the omnipotent Leviathan. There is only one will, the will of the state. There is only one power, the supreme power. Outside of this there is no right: not that of the Church as an independent society, not that of the autonomous groups such as feudalism or the medieval guilds had built. There is nothing but the Leviathan, and there must be nothing more, or else the forces of evil passions, the ruthless selfishness of man, would destroy this toilsomely established order. Thus the fundamentally evil nature of man is the origin of the state and its lasting justification." (Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought, op. cit., 61.)

As Rommen concluded this passage, "There must be order and peace. Truth is negligible, order alone is essential, and order is the product of an omnipotent will." (Ibid.) As he sums up the trend of Hobbes's thought, "The theories just mentioned . . . are in the last analysis unchristian. The gentle gospel of the God-man is forgotten by the mere secular humanism of Rousseau and has not overcome Hobbes' pre-Christian contempt for the specific Christian virtues of truth, charity, and humility." (Ibid., 62.)

In the next posting in this series we will begin to trace the process of how Hobbes's totalitarian philosophy became applied almost universally through the implementation of Keynesian economics.

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