« Diminished Respect for Wendell Berry | Main | On Dickens »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Give me liberty or give me death

Better death than virtue? :-)

virtue is for the sake of liberty

Wouldn't it be the other way round?

Well perhaps it makes me a liberal on your terms, but I find it difficult to conceive how anyone could think the virtues have any other point than to make one a free person.

I suppose one kind of conservative would describe that freedom as "freedom to do what you like," and the other would describe it "freedom to do what you ought."

Virtues are habits that you form in order to live in a certain way. That would work whether you were seeking to live a Christian life or a noble secular life.


I would say that freedom is a product of virtue, but not the only one. For Enlightenment-cons, freedom tends to be an end in itself, without much regard for the uses to which it's put.

I would say that freedom is a product of virtue, but not the only one. For Enlightenment-cons, freedom tends to be an end in itself, without much regard for the uses to which it's put.

Scholars such as Patrick Deneen, Mark Mitchell, and others, many of them conservative Catholics, have argued that much of today's conservatism isn't actually conservative but is in fact right-liberalism, given its less-than-critical acceptance of Enlightenment tenets ("liberal" here having the original meaning, not the current political one). I haven't read deeply in this matter yet, but on the surface it makes a fair amount of sense.

I think that one difference between the classical/Christian and Enlightenment understandings of liberty is that the former emphasizes "freedom to" while the latter is based on "freedom from." The idea of virtue is primary in the former, but only secondary in the latter, if it's there at all.

Brad Gregory's excellent book The Unintended Reformation goes into this in considerable detail.

Hmm, don't know how I posted that comment twice.

I frequently come across the terms "right-liberal" and "left-liberal" used to describe, respectively, our conservatives and progressives. I think there's a lot of truth in that.

Personally I'm not one of those who thinks the Enlightenment was an unmitigated disaster. That's another reason I don't firmly identify myself with any clearly discernible political school. I'm hoping we can preserve what's good in the Enlightenment legacy. For instance, the USA.

I think the distinction you make would be of significance primarily in the realm of drafting academic curricula (and, perhaps) public ceremonial. (Please recall Irving Kristol's remarks on the traffick in pornography: "If you care about the quality of American democracy, you have to be for censorship"; recall also that the most vociferous defender of the drug laws ca. 1987 was A.M. Rosenthal).

What was good about the Enlightenment, Maclin? (I don't know enough about it to have a firm opinion). How do those things stack up against Church teaching?

In an address in 2005, then Cardinal Ratzinger said the problems with the Enlightenment arose when it became disconnected from its roots, that is Christianity.

Some Enlightenment thinkers, like John Locke, didn't lose this connection. Which is perhaps why America's Founding Fathers, who were heavily influenced by Locke, put God in the Declaration of Independence.

That's a striking quote from Irving Kristol. From what I've seen, though, it's not the usual sentiment among E-cons. And there don't even seem to be all that many V-cons who will publicly call for it (censorship). I've certainly run into a lot of commentary over the years from E-cons who have no particular problem with the various excesses of American life, as long as people choose them freely. I'm being just a little tongue-in-cheek with that distinction, in that I don't really think it's a neat division. But the two tendencies are discernible.

I wouldn't attempt to answer that in a blog comment, Louise. Or probably even in a blog post. Let's see if I can sum it up...I think there have been a great many improvements in human life over the past 250 years or so, and I assume that at least some of those were set in motion by the Enlightenment. I really don't know enough history to back that up very well, though. The founding principles and Constitution of the U.S. are pretty good ideas, and the founders were men of the Enlightenment.

Yes, that is the key, Marianne. And it's been pointed out over and over how different the American founders and their revolution were from the French. It seems to me that the American system really showed a way that a fair degree of religious pluralism could work. But it was dependent on a sort of natural law bedrock, and our progressive intellectuals have worked diligently to destroy that foundation. A few years ago they were shrieking and fainting over the idea that a potential chief justice of the Supreme Court might subscribe to a sinister and oppressive Catholic idea called "natural law," which they apparently had never heard of until that moment.

"Virtue can never be fully attained without liberty, and the absence of liberty proves that virtue in its full perfection is wanting. Therefore a man is free in proportion to the measure of his virtues, and the extent to which he is free determines what his virtues can accomplish; while on the other hand, it is the vices alone which bring about slavery, and subject a man to persons and things in unmeet obedience" (John of Salisbury)

There are two kinds of conservatives: those who think there are two kinds of conservatives and those who don't. (sorry, couldn't resist)

Great essay from FPR with relevance to the virtue/liberty question and the Enlightenment. Per this piece it seems the question could also be framed "vision vs. method," or perhaps "telos vs. technos."


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two sets and those who don't. :-)

Have to read the FPR piece later.

I only had time to read to the "implications" section, but it's really good. What really strikes me lately, and is reinforced by this piece, is just how *closed* the secular mind has become to any other possibility--almost, in a sense, ontologically closed, in that it can't be what it is and be open.

Oh, and by the way--a minor thing, but I wonder why the phrase "human flourishing" has suddenly became so widely used? It's begun to get on my nerves a bit. Not that it damages that piece.

In the 1970s academics started using it as a translation of Aristotle's "eudaimonia" that most fully conveyed the range of that word's meaning. From there it came into more general works of Aristotelian philosophy, virtue ethics, and suchlike, like Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue (1981), and so on into ever broader circles of public discourse.

There are two kinds of conservatives: those who think there are two kinds of conservatives and those who don't. (sorry, couldn't resist)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two sets and those who don't. :-)


Thanks for giving me some feedback on the Enlightenment question, Maclin.

You're welcome.

The 1970s, huh, Paul? That's interesting. I would have said I first saw it within the past three or four years. Well, maybe it took that long to reach me.

It's only to be found in commentaries on Aristotle prior to the 1980s, and not outside academic philosophy for a long time after. I first came across it in the year 2000 (which is when I read After Virtue).

It struck me then as a clumsy bit of philosophical jargon, but it is hard to think what might replace it and do the same work. The older standard translation of eudaimonia was "happiness", but perhaps that's been spoiled by modern use as a feeling rather than a state or end. Could some variant of "thrive" and "thriving" do it?

(Not to try to derail this thread into an arid debate about terms!)

In the past few years I've seen 'human flourishing' used as a sort of alternative to the term 'progress' by those who are wary or critical of the whole progressive mindset, technology, etc. Maybe this is where you're seeing it too, Mac.

Pretty sure I saw it recently in a George Weigel column. Other than that, I can't associate it with anything more specific than conservative intellectuals.

The possible substitute that comes to my mind is "the good life," but that, too, has the wrong associations now. Lounging by a swimming pool with an elaborate drink or something.

I associate "human flourishing" with Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Joseph Boyle. I think they believe that there are eight irreducible human goods that constitute human flourishing. You can't sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

I don't know what these 8 are, Robert, but a list of 7 such goods I found listed were:

Sociability (friendship)
Practical reasonableness

I like this list, although sleeping in doesn't feature, oddly enough.

Maybe it is seven. I remembered it as eight.

Maybe sleeping falls under practical reasonableness.

But what about "sleeping in" - that's of greater concern to me!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)