But before doing so, I want to review what I've already written about common sense, beginning with this post from five years ago, originally titled It All Starts with Dictionary Abuse -- which it surely does, "It" meaning the uncommon sense -- or rather, common nonsense -- of the left. For as Dávila says in one of his most important aphorisms about the left, it is a lexicographical tactic more than an ideological strategy. Meaning that always and everywhere, the left begins by torturing the plain meaning of words -- words such as "freedom," or "rights," or "equity," or "justice."
In the counter-cosmos of the left, In the beginning was the word, and the word was redefined. The left knows as well as anyone that language has magical properties. The difference between us and them is that they co-opt the magic in order to seize and expand their own power. Which transforms it to black magic, precisely. It is a kind of demonic transubstantiation in which the form remains but the substance changes (e.g., "homosexual marriage").
Ultimately the left breaks the sacred covenant between word and thing, such that language is only about more language (as in deconstruction, the precise opposite of the metaphysical realism of orthodox Christianity). This effectively blocks the way to transcendence, thus enclosing us in a manmade immanent logosphere. This is what totalitarianism does, every time: the means of our escape is transformed into the means of our enslavement. A number of aphorisms go to this diabolical process, such as
In certain eras the intelligence has to devote itself merely to restoring definitions.
Marxism turns the intelligence that it touches to stone.
The leftist does not have opinions, only dogmas (NGD).
In other words -- and you must understand this literally -- the leftist lives in an ontologically closed world whereby verticality is denied in favor of an absurcular horizontality in which unavoidable ignorance is transformed to smug certitude.
Or maybe you didn't catch any of the seven-hour climate scarathon on CNN the other night, in which the candidates promised to outlaw everything from cheeseburgers to plastic straws on the grounds that they will end Life On Earth. Worst weather report ever. Notice how their cheap omniscience -- after all, it didn't cost them a thing, not even their private jets -- is transformed into a very costly denial of our freedom. They know. We pay.
Anyway, on to the old post:
Everyone is in favor of common sense, right?
No. In fact, I think this is another one of those questions that distinguishes left from right. You could say that conservatism is simply the conservation of common sense -- of time-rested general agreement about the Way Things Are and how to order our lives around these truths (in other words, the world, AKA reality, comes first, not our ideas, dreams, and fantasies).
The leftist would respond, "maybe, but a great deal of oppression and stupidity also get imported along with the good, so there is no intrinsic reason to defer to the past. We can always do better."
People don't generally think too deeply about common sense, which is one reason why it can be difficult to defend when challenged, as in "who are you to say that marriage must be limited to members of the opposite sex?"
That's not an honest question; rather, it is simply the aggressive abandonment of common sense. We know this, because one might just as well ask, "why limit marriage to just two people, or to human beings, or to living things? Why do you arbitrarily exclude robots, or sheep, or inflatable partners?" Once you go down that path, you've abandoned common sense, so there's no end to it.
A book I'm reading at the moment, The Common Mind, goes to this question of common sense. It's actually a collection of essays, each devoted to a thinker who championed the common sense of Christian humanism in the face of the hostile and regressive forces that are always arrayed against it, in every age. It seems that this is what fallen man does, by virtue of his fallenness. It reminds me of Russell Kirk's brief definition of conservatism, which is to say: the negation of ideology.
Yeah, it's always been this way, and always will be. There are always omnnisicent asssouls such as Obama who want to fundamentally transform the world, and in so doing conduct a frontal assault on common sense. In the words of Samuel Johnson,
It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated.
At best we may give "longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be eternal." Which implies that the left will ultimately succeed in destroying the United States, just as death will succeed in taking us all, but so what? It remains for us to do the right thing for its own sake, not for some secondary gain.
To paraphrase someone, there is no lost cause because there is no permanently gained one. Rather, there is only the same struggle, as each generation tries to hold the ground gained by the previous one, handing forward the Deposit of Common Sense. (Along these lines, I can't help thinking how my generation -- the Worst Generation ever, the Boomers -- not only failed to hand on this sacred deposit, but arrogantly tossed it overboard in the quest to begin anew, like Adam 2.0: this time we'll get it right, and we will be as gods!)
It's the same with language. One of the perennial tactics of the left is its relentless attack on language, which is the vehicle of common sense. It is as if there is a conserving and integrating force in language, to go along with a dis-integrating and catabolic force. In reality, both are needed -- conservation and change -- in order to progress. As it pertains to Life Itself, change is the very means of conservation, and vice versa.
But progress does not and cannot occur by destroying the very mechanism of conservation, by undermining the plain meaning of words. Thus, one could say that there is nothing quite as conservative as a dictionary; likewise, on the political plane one could say that there is nothing as conservative as the Constitution (which naturally allows for constitutional change, just as language allows for new words; conversely, progress is negated by pretending the Constitution means anything we want it to mean).
But this simple common sense won't do for the left. For example, the Constitution plainly forbids discrimination on the basis of race, so the left (to paraphrase Justice Scalia) is in the position of arguing that the 14th amendment actually requires what it expressly forbids. In order to accept their argument, one must simply abandon common sense.
In the chapter on Chesterton, I was reminded of his comment to the effect that most all philosophy since Aquinas requires us to accept one insane premise. Once we have done so, the rest of the insanity follows with ineluctable logic. It makes it easy, because one doesn't have the burden of remembering dozens of lies. Rather, so long as one assimilates the first, the rest flows along from entailment to entailment. Which Adam learned the hard way.
"Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality" (Chesterton). Which is interesting right there, because why not? If there is a common reality and a common human nature, then why can't we all agree on a common philosophy?
One reason why Aquinas' philosophy is so attractive is that it comports with common sense. It is "the philosophy of sanity since it is integrative, universal, sensible, and reiterative of the common understanding of experience rooted in the senses and refined by reason." And what is sanity? It is simply the registration of objective reality, "the universal wholeness that connects man and God, matter and mind, heart and soul." If there is no common reality knowable by a common human nature, then there is no sanity either. In case you were wondering why the left is insane.
Again, most modern philosophies begin with "a particular point of view demanding the sacrifice" of sanity. In short, a man must "believe something that no normal man would believe," if that something were expressed in a simple and straightforward manner. Which is precisely why leftism must always lie about itself, and why it must so relentlessly abuse the poor dictionary.
Thus, modern philosophies reflect and assist "the breakdown of reality, the disintegration of belief and the fragmentation of society."
So yes, liberalism is liberating, but from what and for whom? From reality, and for the abnormal, the insane, the lacking in common sense, the envious, the angry, the auto-victimized, the sexually confused, the tenured. For the rest of us it is mental slavery, slavery being a symptom of the absence of the rule of natural reason, and denial of any appeal to the court of common sense.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but abuse of words can destroy a soul.