Freedom, Virtue, and Alignment With the Real
But this is only half of the process, since adequation to reality is necessary but not sufficient to constitute prudence: "the other half consists in 'translating' our knowledge of reality into decision and action." Thus, prudence "is the art of making the right decision based on the corrsponding reality -- no matter whether justice, courage or temperence is at stake."
Now, in the end, there are only two antithetical philosophical stances which go by various names: realism/materialism, or idealism/empiricism, or essentialism/existentialism. Thus, if one of these fundamental stances is not in accord with reality -- and they cannot both be equally true -- then most everything else that flows from the stance is going to be poisoned by that initial error.
Let's take Christopher Hitchens, for example. He is a hardcore materialist, empiricist, existentialist, and flatlander extraordinairre. He denies even the possibility of any higher reality. But if this higher reality does exist -- and I insist that it does -- then there is going to be something fundamentally flawed about Hitchens' judgment. It won't mean that it is impossible for him to believe things that are true. That would be absurd. However, it will often mean that he doesn't necessarily believe them because they are true. Thus his prudence will be "accidental" rather than "essential," i.e., flowing from the nature of things.
Likewise, since Hitchens and I may be fairly described as philosophical opposites, most any convergence of our views will be accidental and not essential. Take the war on Islamo-fascism, for example. Many people were surprised by this lifelong Marxist's eloquent support of the liberation of Iraq. However, being that he despises all forms of religiosity in principle, then it should not really be a surprise that he particularly despises Islam. And based upon his recent comments about Jerry Falwell, we can see that he hardly harbors less animosity toward evangelical Christians, since he regards them as intrinsically vulgar frauds and deceitful crooks -- dangerous, superstitious, abusive of women and children, etc. In short, they deviate from what Hitchens regards as reality, so they must be bad. In this regard, Pieper and Hitchens agree about prudence following from alignment with reality.
What is more difficult to account for is why Islam gets a pass from most leftists, even while they share Hitchens' animosity toward proper religion, such as Christianity. But for most leftists, there is an internalized implicit hierarchy of victimization that generally corresponds with skin color rather than religion or ideology. Therefore, darker skinned religious savages trump lighter skinned white European Christian males every time, the latter of whom are at the top of the heap in terms of victimizers. That is their "reality," so their judgments -- at risk of abusing the word -- follow.
Thus, it would not be exactly correct to say that Christopher Hitchens is on my side in the war, since he would go after me with similar gusto once the Islamists were out of the way -- just as the Islamists went after America as soon as the Soviet Union was out of the way. In hindsight, we can see that it was folly to believe that we had earned any brownie points by helping Muslims liberate Afghanistan from communist tyranny, for they are not interested in American style liberty but Islamic tyranny. It is similar folly to believe that a man such as Hitchens could ever be our ally except tactically. We can only use him as a means to an end (benignly, of course) of which he confesses total ignorance, since it inheres in spiritual reality.
Likewise, Hitchens has his own "ends" (i.e., his idea of the "good," even if his philosophy forbids him from speaking of any transcendent moral reality) which do not correspond to American values. The American ideal is fundamentally grounded in a rightly ordered spiritual liberty with which we are endowed by our Creator, but Hitchens would presumably condemn us to some form of statist collectivism, since he remains a committed ideological leftist. Only one of us can be correct -- or even remotely correct -- about the source of our liberty. And with that very first step into "ontological space," innumerable implications follow, both personal and political.
For example, it is impossible for an American -- if he is to remain an American in any meaningfully spiritual sense -- to believe in "affirmative action," or government imposed racial discrimination. The idea of granting the state the power to sort people into racial categories and dole out special favors to this or that group is strictly inconceivable on the American view of what constitutes reality -- since it runs afoul of the intelligible spiritual reality that all men are created equal. Specifically, they are created vertically equal by their Creator, not forced to be horizontally equal by the state. The latter is tyranny, not liberty. But only if you believe in spiritual liberty to begin with.
In fact, once you eliminate higher reality, then you will find that the most inexplicable leftist belief suddenly makes perfect sense. In other words, no matter how rash, immature and imprudent they may look, leftists are "prudent" within the constraints of their ability to know reality.
For example, the other day while mountain biking in the hills, I came across a beautiful deer. She was obviously very frightened that I had entered her space, and instantly froze before bounding away with remarkable speed. From my point of view, that wasn't very prudent, since I would have loved nothing more than to approach the deer and scratch her belly. But from the deer's more limited point of view, its actions made perfect sense. It lives in the dichotomous world of predator/prey, and I fell into the former category by default. (Speaking of deer, headlights, and leftists... )
Similarly, the leftist lives in a world of absence, or lack, at its center. As I have written before, I believe this is an ineluctable result of their alienation from spiritual reality, which they translate to material or economic lack. Thus, they believe -- religiously, I might add, since it flies in the face of economic reality -- in the notion of a limited amount of wealth, or a "zero sum" economic model. And because the amount of wealth is limited, it is unfair that some should have more than others. Therefore, since there's presumably no way to "make more wealth," then a heavy-handed state must come in and redistribute it in a manner leftist politicians deem fair.
It all makes perfect sense, except that it makes no sense, since these views are not in accord with economic reality. As a result, imprudent economic policies are guaranteed, whether it is the government taking more of the money you have earned, or forcing businesses to pay people more than they're worth, or forcing landlords to charge less in rent than the market dictates, or suing businesses because they have the wrong racial or gender mix, etc.
Once again, Master Sowell offered a lucid editorial yesterday, in which he lays out what he believes is the "first wrong step" of the leftist, which is the presumption that it is possible for any human being to have more than a tiny fraction of the information embodied in the free market -- the market being the sine qua non of a complex information system. In a free market, the "price" of a product or service is only the end result of countless little independent decisions that have been made at every stage of production. In light of this, the idea that price is simply a static entity that can be understood, much less imposed, from the top down, is quite patently absurd. It is a bizarre, medieval superstition that goes way beyond anything Jerry Falwell could ever come up with. And yet, millions of leftists the world over believe it, including, one presumes, Christopher Hitchens. No self-respecting Marxist could believe otherwise.
In keeping with today's theme, Sowell writes that "Radically different conclusions about a whole range of issues have been common for centuries.... My own view is that differences in bedrock assumptions underlying ideas play a major role in determining how people differ in what policies, principles or ideologies they favor."
For example, "If you start from a belief that the most knowledgeable person on earth does not have even one percent of the total knowledge on earth, that shoots down social engineering, economic central planning, judicial activism and innumerable other ambitious notions favored by the political left."
I should just stop now, for that pretty much sums it up.... Nevertheless,
"If no one has even one percent of the knowledge currently available, not counting the vast amounts of knowledge yet to be discovered, the imposition from the top of the notions favored by elites convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue is a formula for disaster." (And just wait until the catastrophic economic ideas of radical environmentalists are implemented.)
Marxist that he is, Christopher Hitchens spent the 1980s attacking Ronald Reagan -- the great liberator from communist tyranny -- in the same savage way he recently desecrated Falwell's dead body. Therefore, if we were as temperamentally choleric as Hitchens, we would be justified, I suppose, in using the same juvenile terms to describe him that he used to describe Falwell (actually, much worse, because at least Falwell never aligned himself with a genocidal ideology, as has Hitchens) such as "slimy toad" or "give Falwell an enema, and you could bury him in a matchbox." (Give Hitchens an enema, and you'd have to figure out which end to start at, says Dupree.)
But Hitchens is a leftist. He is a better person than Falwell -- which is what the santimonious left always believes about itself, irrespective of how they actually conduct their lives and treat other human beings. As Sowell writes, what leftists share "is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others."
Intelligent people who have no contact with higher reality are without question the most dangerous people on earth. Because of their intellectual pride, they are prone to overestimate the abilities of their puny intellect, as if they are fit to pronounce on all manner of things about which they possess no knowledge at all. There is no ignorance like educated ignorance, as it is the recipe for imprudent action on a mass scale. Which is why William F. Buckley famously remarked that he would prefer to be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard faculty.
To savor all things as they really are is to truly taste wisdom --Josef Pieper