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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Well, if this blog ever had readers, they've surely drifted off by now, but I'll struggle to keep up the fiction. Apologies for dropping off the map. All I can plead in mitigation is the unremitting gall of employers who actually want projects finished on schedule. It's been heads-down time here for a good month and a half. It's not just this blog that has suffered; I've basically been out of touch the whole time, and there's a lot of news to get caught up on before I would have anything to say about it that anyone else would think were worth reading.

I notice, however, that Steven Den Beste is still in a funk over the quality of feedback he receives. And what I have to say in just a bit will no doubt qualify, in his mind, as just the sort of sideline trees-instead-of-the-forest nitpicking he complains about.

I wind up agreeing with Steven most of the time. Every once in a while, one of the overtones of what he has said will make me uneasy, but there is very little of his output with which I would disagree, and, most times, very little (if anything) that I would add to it, and anyway he says it a whole hell of a lot better than I would. (I like to flatter myself that this has something to do with the relative amounts of free time each of us has, to say nothing of the fact that writing, like any other art, improves with exercise. If I should ever find myself with sufficient leisure, though, Steven, I'll be gunning for you. Just letting you know, is all.) If I don't have anything of my own to say, I'm not going to waste space here posting that nothing, nor will I waste anyone else's time (again, keeping up the fiction) grinding through "I agree," "me too," and "read this." Steven runs one of the only two blogs, so far as I know, that have ever linked here (the other being Emperor Misha); I assume anyone who winds up here will already be an avid reader of USS Clueless, and will already have seen whatever I might otherwise link. The same applies to any email I might send.

Still, there's that funk to worry about. What worries me about it is that it has much the same feel to it as was present and growing in Steven's posts on his discussion groups just before he pulled the plug on them. And the overall sense I get from his recent posts on the topic is, he'd like, every once in a while, to have the sense that there are at least decent odds of finding something in his inbox that makes it worth the effort of firing up the damn program and slogging through everything else.

I hope you realize, Steven, that's a very tall order. Even if we overlook the torrent of spam, and the residual drip, drip, drip of pointless "gotcha!"s, both of which already have the scales heavily tilted the other way, it's an intimidating assignment. "Attaboy!" only goes so far, and it doesn't work more than a couple of times, even assuming you have any reason to think my approbation is worth something. The alternative is, actually coming up with something just as interesting to say back, but that takes a lot more work.

OK, that said, here's the potshot I alluded to above, again addressing those troubling overtones. Actually, I have two of them. First, it's "rights," Steven, not "natural rights." The important part is that there be things government cannot do. Where those rights arise, whether from the nature of government, or from the nature of man, or from philosophy, or from law, or what have you, is unimportant, and the term "natural rights" has some legal baggage you might not want to tote along.

Second, the idea of "perpetual revolution" is troubling. Human nature is what it is; it effortlessly defeats any attempt to change it, and clobbers any scheme predicated upon its being somehow different. And it is human nature itself, in the last analysis, that drives the determination of the proper forms and powers of government. So there is no intrinsic value in "change" apart from the merits (or lack thereof) of a particular proposal; it is far more important that the law be known -- which includes that it be stable -- than that it be just; and we've been at it for a few centuries, now, refining this, that, and the other, and pretty much have most things right already. And I must say, I find it difficult to reconcile your admiration for the idea of "perpetual revolution" with what, to paraphrase Aristotle, anyone must have before he comes to the study of engineering: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The remarkable thing about our government is its long-running stability. The world has seen tyrannies, whether stable or fragile, one after another, with dreary monotony, for millennia; it has also seen, here and there, the occasional short-lived outbreak of freedom, and usually they shake themselves apart. Ours is the only one that has lasted.

(I should perhaps clarify what I mean when I say, "Human nature is what it is." The trouble is, it would take much more time than I have right now. Let's see if this does the trick, though: "Law" is to "justice" is to "human nature," what "statement" is to "truth" is to "fact." What I want to avoid, here, is any confusion arising from the failure to distinguish between human nature itself, on the one hand, and all the -- mutually contradictory -- systems that have attempted to describe and/or control it, on the other. My statement about the knowability of the law being more important than its justice, though, is in a different category; it depends upon a specific view of human nature, and thus invites all those mutually contradictory systems to take their whacks at it.)

Moving on to a different post, here's a final observation. One of the indications -- I was going to say "stigmata" -- of "p-idealist" thought is the attempting to explain the behavior of multitudes in terms of specific personal motives.

-- posted by Clayton 5/07/2004 09:44:00 PM

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