Daniel Larison

Corporate Millets

Even greater participation could be achieved through the establishment of marital corporations (MCs), which could have hundreds or thousands of couples as shareholders, all sharing common values about marriage.

Couples getting married would subscribe to the shares of an existing marital corporation. Its charter documents would set forth the terms of the marriage to which the subscribing couples agree.

Here is where a plethora of choices would become available to prospective newlyweds.

A Catholic marital corporation would forbid its members from divorcing. Progressive marital corporations would allow gay marriage. Islamic or Mormon fundamentalist marital corporations could allow polygamy. Plain vanilla marital corporations would probably be popular among people who just want to get married without thinking about it too much. ~Colin P.A. Jones, San Francisco Chronicle

Via The Japery.

Fr. Jape has a great parody of these so-called marital corporations, but this will be a bit different. I’m not sure that it occurred to Mr. Jones that the “free market” system for marriage he is describing is similar in kind to the sort of legal arrangement that certain autocratic systems, particularly the Ottoman Empire, created for their several religious communities. Under the millet system, what we would call family law, along with most other ‘internal’ and ‘domestic’ matters, fell under the supervision of the head of the religious community (this is not because of any famed toleration, but simply because the Ottoman state did not have and did not want to create the apparatus for administering its subjects’ affairs to this degree, as this would diminish resources for the tax and military administration).

In the Ottoman case, the Greek patriarch, the Armenian catholicos, a chief rabbi and the shaykh al’islam were the authorities in charge–no different, in practice, from what these marital corporate boards would be. In that case, marriage followed the religious requirements of the different communities. The millets serve as a good example of what this “market” solution could create: an intensely fragmented and more segregated society, with the added bonus of an even more debased one in which “brand” or “company” loyalty replaces fidelity as the virtue to be practiced.

And what should occur if two shareholders in Catholic Marriages Inc. decide that they would really rather not abide by their agreement? (Maybe they also decide to change churches, or convert to a new religion all together?) Presumably, the corporation could sue them for breach of contract–the capitalist’s bull of excommunication. If it couldn’t, what would be the point of corporations “forbidding” or “allowing” anything? It would be like joining a society to which you owed no dues–a meaningless, superficial commitment (which is, I suspect, what marriage would quickly become if its requirements became entirely voluntary and possessed no public sanctions and regulations). In fact, legally recognised corporate bodies already exist in this country to meet this supposed “demand.” They are called churches.

But marriage, not to mention the assumed bearing of children that usually follows, is one of those things in which public authority really does have a compelling interest. We would not propose to have “driving corporations” in which drivers subscribe to different traffic laws–let us call them ‘driving style consumers’ instead of drivers–so why would any sane man argue for further privatising one of the fundamental social obligations in life? We need only look at the chaos wrought by a few decades of greater “choice” in the “market” of marriage to see where this would lead.

Forget about “the state” or government for a moment, and consider that the commonwealth or republic distinct from the government also has a natural and abiding interest in governing the norms and practices surrounding marriage and the upbringing of children. It is one of those things, like the common defense, that cannot be privatised if there is to be a res publica, because it does not involve only the couple and their families but the entire society that either benefits from a successful and fruitful marriage or suffers from its dissolution and bears the costs of broken homes.

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Forgetting Daedalus

Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World by Chantal Delsol (ISI Crosscurrents, 2003)

With Icarus Fallen, Chantal Delsol has written a thoughtful and timely book cataloguing the crisis of what she and others have elsewhere called “late modernity,” arising from modern man’s attempt to ‘liberate’ himself from his existential and historic condition and to (try to) eliminate the structures (i.e., politics, economics, religion, morality, etc.) that have persistently defined and filled human existence. In this reflection on the late modern condition, Delsol argues that contemporary (Western) man has emerged from the crucible of the collapse of earlier systems of meaning into what should be a veritable utopia of prosperity and peace since 1945. Modern man is confronted with the re-emergence, albeit often in different forms, of the fundamental structures he has tried to abolish, underscoring the impossibility of the original goal of elimination. However, because of the real (and perceived) disasters wrought by systems of certitude in the past, contemporary man is afraid of truth, so he banishes it only to find himself still longing for the meaning it provides, while remaining opposed to any real conception of absolute good (but still in need of a good) and trapped under the two oppressive weights of the neglect of ultimate questions and the substitute system of goods that makes up contemporary democracy and “human rights” worship.

There are many keen insights in the book, and there are passages that hint at brilliance, but there is also an uneven quality stemming from the author’s diffidence with respect to revealed religion and excessive confidence with respect to the political habits and institutions of Western societies. In the end, the book is a diagnosis of what ails late modernity and an affirmation that ultimate questions of meaning will not go away, but will become more pressing, because they are an unavoidable part of human existence, but it offers little in the way of remedies with respect to rediscovering truth and the respect for truth. Her preemptive dismissal of any sort of ‘return’ to Christianity as a way of knowing the absolute and finding certain meaning emerges from what can only be described as an intellectual’s studied detachment from authority. Even as she grants that religion is a permanent part of human life, she cannot grant that any religion has real access to the absolute, much less the only or uniquely privileged access to the absolute; even as she grants that political authority, the world of obedience and commands, is an unavoidable part of human life, I suspect she has no interest in any politics that enshrines the principle of authority. She is a good freethinking democrat (this is not meant pejoratively but descriptively), and she is warning the West that the tangible goods of the freethinking, democratic world are in serious danger under the current management with its very particular reading of the “philosophy of rights” and what democracy entails. Those of us in the religious, traditional and authoritarian camps can appreciate her observations, even if we cannot share her barely concealed hostility to most historic expressions of a rightist politics of meaning in the last 200 years.
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St. Sava of Serbia Commemorated Friday

O guide of Orthodoxy and blessed teacher of virtues,* purifier and enlightener of thy homeland,* beauty of monastics,* most wise Father, Holy Sava,* by thy teaching thou didst enlighten thy people,* O flute of the Spirit, pray to Christ God for our souls. ~Troparion to St. Sava

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St. Gregory of Nyssa Commemorated on Monday

Thou hast shown forth thy watchfulness,/ and wast a fervent Preacher of godliness:/ by the wisdom of the teachings thou dost gladden the Church’s faithful,/ Righteous Father Gregory,/ entreat Christ our God to grant us his great mercy. ~Troparion to St. Gregory of Nyssa

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Metropolitan Laurus on Unity

Unity is from God; division is from the devil. The tactic of the one who hates mankind is ancient: to rule, divide and conquer. And the root of all divisions lies in our passions: pride, self-love, envy, lack of faith—with these the devil stirs up misunderstanding and enmity among men. The Lord calls upon us to uproot within ourselves the passions which separate us and to go unto Him by preserving our conscience and peace of soul.

At this time, we are confronted by a fateful event: in May, the All-Diaspora Council will convene, at which the process of the reconciliation of the Church of Russia will be deliberated upon in council in the person of our chosen representatives.

During the days leading up to this Council we must preserve with great care our peace of soul, lest passionate emotions, enmity and disputations extinguish it. For this we should apply ourselves all the more diligently to prayer, attending church more frequently, resorting to the Holy Mysteries more often.

Only in the Church can we find peace of soul, in the grace of God imparted to us abundantly in His Mysteries. Addressing himself to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul said: “I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4: 1-6).

And so, following the advice of the Apostle, we must also maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and seek that which is of God, and not of mankind. And if we will act in accordance with the will of God, His peace will not abandon us.

In our limited perception of the judgments of God there is little room for the sober view: we see only a small part of the general picture, and that through the distorted lens of our own passions. But the omniscient God knows what is more salvific for the children of His Church: His Holy Body. Therefore, let us purify our minds and heart from passionate and vain philosophizing, and with peace in our souls let us ask the Lord to grant us understanding.

May the King of peace grant peace to our souls! ~Nativity Epistle of His Eminence, the Most Blessed Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia


Pope Benedict on Love

This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice. ~Deus Caritas Est

No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friends. The love of which Pope Benedict speaks in his first encyclical is what we Orthodox (and not only the Orthodox) refer to as kenotic love, a love in which the lover empties himself out and succumbs to every humiliation for the sake of the beloved. This is the love that the Lord had for all men, such that He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, and it is because the Master has become a slave for our sakes that we may dwell with the Master in His court. Such love as this is found in the abandonment of our own will, the learning of humility and obedience and patience, and the doing of His will that we might fulfill the greatest commandments of love. Perfect love is realised in true unity of will, as we put aside self-will and embrace the transformed will of our restored nature, and it is realised in the synergeia of God and man and men with one another and the communion of all in Christ by the blessings of the Holy Spirit. But such love is also the font of these virtues, and without it there is no real living virtue in us.

Via Charles Featherstone, LewRockwell.com Blog.


Which Do You Prefer: Jack Bauer or the Rule of Law?

Over at Polemics, I wrote about 24 and the sort of executive power-worshipping propaganda it put forward as the only sane approach to national security. The domestic opposition to the interventionist security state is caricatured in season 4 as a buffoonish, self-absorbed son of the Secretary of Defense, and the alternative kind of leadership and law enforcement to the routine trampling of law upheld each week by 24 is the gutless, ridiculous Charles Logan, a man so weak-willed and feeble that he would make Michael Dukakis seem like Alexander the Great by comparison. This is not a very artful depiction of the alternatives.

So what would a small-government, constitutionalist, noninterventionist conservative have to say about 24? Not much good, you would think. Yet here is Pat Buchanan joining in the idolisation of the character of Jack Bauer as the great and admirable patriot.
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Which Canon of Statutory Instruction Are You?

Warning: law geeks and constitutionalists only need apply. Here were my quiz results:

You are the Plain Meaning Rule! You interpret statutes according to what an ordinary speaker of English would understand from the text. You’re upfront and direct. You claim that you’re just following the rules, but often find a clever technicality to interpret the rules however you want.

It’s pretty odd that a quiz on social behaviour can accurately rate how we would read laws, but it pretty well captured what my approach would be.

Via Glorfindel of Gondolin.

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Complex Drug Plan a Loser for Bush

How much complexity? Under the Bush plan, a typical retiree pays a monthly premium for prescription drugs averaging $32 a month. After he or she satisfies a $250 deductible, the insurer must cover 75 percent of the next $2,000 in drug costs. The assistance then vanishes through the so-called “doughnut hole,” until total expenditures exceed $5,100, at which point insurance kicks in again to cover 95 percent of additional drug costs. A retiree who judges this proposition a good deal must choose between an integrated, Medicare managed-care plan that includes drugs, and a free-standing drugs-only plan. In the latter category, there are more than 40 choices available in most locales, including multiple options from competing insurers, each covering different brand-name drugs and offering different inducements. The only way to navigate the decision-making process is via the Internet, which I am sorry to say that some elderly people still have not learned how to use.

The failure of Bush’s reform effort illustrates an important point about psychology and economics—what writer Barry Schwartz* calls the “paradox of choice.” Given too many options, rational actors are more likely to be paralyzed than to pick wisely. To take another example, consumers now have the right to choose from a long list of electricity suppliers via their local utilities. If you are a frustrated energy trader, this is a fabulous new benefit. If you just want the electricity to stay on in your house, you’re likely to ignore the menu and accept the default setting. The potential savings from choosing a new supplier—which come with a risk of increased costs as well—don’t justify the investment of time, even for the small minority of people capable of figuring out the new system.

Beyond that, the Medicare D fiasco offers a lesson about policymaking in an age of market consensus—one that we would do well to bear in mind as we contemplate further expansion of public health-care benefits and the eternal possibility of Social Security reform. Market-based schemes for distributing public goods may begin as clear and sturdy concepts, but they tend to become increasingly convoluted as the political and legislative processes work their magic. Whatever simplicity may have been present at the outset tends to get lost. And if the plan isn’t simple enough for average people to understand, it just won’t work. ~Jacob Weisberg, Slate

This will probably always be the problem for any public-private arrangement that tries to incorporate the complexity of the market by means of the complexity of bureaucracy and leaves it to the consumer to decipher how it all works. Another practical problem with enshrining Choice as the new idol of Republican politics is that it assumes that most people want the hassle and responsibility that come with having to make these choices. Decades of voting patterns suggest otherwise. Americans have become quite accustomed to someone else making all sorts of decisions for them, and to have the government ask them to start making decisions in order to benefit from what ‘should’ be a simple redistributionist giveaway program is probably as shocking as it is annoying. Of course, there should be no drug entitlement at all, or Medicare either for that matter, but that’s a post for another day.

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Our Allies, the Pakistanis

Pakistan’s president told a senior American official Saturday the United States must not repeat airstrikes like the one that apparently was aimed at al-Qaida but killed civilians in a remote village, as officials sought to soothe public outrage over the attack.

Also Saturday, two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press a captured al-Qaida leader had informed interrogators that he had met Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, last year at one of the homes that was hit.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf assured visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns that Pakistan would not waver in its support for Washington’s war on terrorism but said such airstrikes must not be repeated, a Foreign Ministry official said. The attack prompted nationwide protests calling for Musharraf’s ouster. ~Yahoo News

Via Antiwar.

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