When the towers of the World Trade Center fell, thousands of people lost their lives immediately. But those who survived, including people in the buildings, those nearby, and first responders, inhaled a toxic stew of dust that include fibers of asbestos used to construct the towers. This exposure made people sick, and even today, nearly 20 years later it is still harming the survivors.
The Toxic Dust in the Air
When the massive buildings came crashing down in 2001, many of the materials in the towers were pulverized and entered the air as a thick dust. Almost 500,000 people were exposed to the toxic air, but those closest to it, covered in the white dust, received the most exposure. These were the first responders rushing into help.
Exposure included 400 tons of dust made of cement, glass, lead and other heavy metals, dioxin, PCBs, gypsum, cellulose, and asbestos, among others. In the week following the tragedy analysis of the air in the vicinity of the towers showed a greater than one percent level of asbestos. This is above the threshold of significant risk to human health.
Health Effects of Asbestos Last Decades
Asbestos exposure can cause serious respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, a scarring of the lung tissue, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma. The latter is particularly insidious and deadly. It is an aggressive cancer that begins in the pleural tissue around the lungs.
The damage caused by asbestos fibers takes decades to develop and manifest as symptoms. Workers who responded to the World Trade Center disaster and who spent time afterwards cleaning up, were put at serious risk of getting sick years later because of asbestos.
First Responders and Other Still Getting Sick
The lasting impact of asbestos exposure and other toxic substances is still being felt by first responders. Some have been sick for years, while others are just beginning to feel the effects of the toxic dust. A study published in 2017, for instance, examined CT chest scans for over 1,000 first responders at the World Trade Center. Nearly a quarter of the workers showed abnormalities in the pleural tissue.
The harm extends beyond first responders. A program at Mount Sinai Hospital that funds treatment for people impacted by the disaster has enrolled more than 70,000 people. More than 8,000 of these people have already been diagnosed with some type of cancer. The director of the program expects to start seeing more cases of mesothelioma now that it has been nearly twenty years since first exposure.
Asbestos Illnesses and Medical Bills
Not only are first responders facing the greatest risk of getting sick after the events of 2001, but they are also facing mounting medical bills. Billions of dollars have already been distributed by the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund. But the fund is running low. Administrators warn they will have to cut the payouts significantly.
The timing is unfortunate for those people who are now getting sick because of asbestos. The long latency period between exposure to asbestos and symptoms that led to a diagnosis means that these victims may not get the funding they need to cover medical care.
The tragedy of the World Trade Center was massive on the day it happened. That tragedy has rippled decades into the future. The residual effects of the toxic dust that came from the towers are ongoing. They are even expected to pick up pace as more survivors start to develop symptoms and get sick. The number of victims continues to grow.
What can you do? Learn about the issue and how you can support those suffering by visiting dedicated research and support centers here!
The Burkean Conservative recently provided a Facebook post arguing against an opinion editorial by Senator-elect Mitt Romney. This post is adapted from comments I left in reply to The Burkean Conservative.
Mitt Romney’s article argues a premise that seems, to me, inarguable: that President Donald Trump lacks moral character. To its credit The Burkean Conservative does not seem to argue against this premise; rather, the Burkean Conservative seems to argue that we should move on from such arguments and focus on what Trump has done in office.
In this post, I shall do just that.
On Trump and “Fake News…”
Argument, paraphrased: “Trump is doing a good job handling the fake news media.”
Rebuttal: One would think a good messenger for the idea that the media is flawed and biased would not be a serial liar and birther known for planting false stories in tabloids about himself hooking up with supermodels in the 80s, and who once claimed that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the JFK assassination. I’ll leave the list there, but everyone knows I could keep describing Trump’s own promotion of fake news stories for the duration of this post, and just doing that would make it longer than it is in its present form.
This is not to say that the media is not flawed and biased. It is to say that the idea that Trump is doing a great job illuminating the media’s flaws and biases is ridiculous. Absolutely no one believes that Trump has deep-seated beliefs about the need for a fair and accurate press, because he has spent decades trying to ensure that press about himself and his enemies is not that. If you ask him for the names of the best journalists working today, he will give you the names Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. That is not because they are more fair and accurate than the average journalist—they are far, far less—it is because they like him. That is Trump’s only metric of fairness and accuracy: whether people are saying nice things about him.
Remember, the term “fake news” became popular as a description of Trump. He then co-opted it to describe any negative news about him, and because branding is the only thing he’s genuinely good at, the rebranding worked. This post-truth attitude of our president is much more poisonous to our nation’s collective notion of truth than anything the mainstream media has been up to for the past decade.
So no, he is not doing a great job handling the media. He bashes the media whether they are accurate or not, based entirely on whether they are telling him things he wants to hear about himself. That is not “doing a great job.”
On Trump’s moral character
Argument: “Put aside his private moral character. He was elected, and he’s doing a good job if you look at policy.”
Rebuttal: A presidential candidate’s moral character does not stop mattering once they are elected president, and the idea that it does would have been inconceivable to The Burkean Conservative before Trump. The Burkean Conservative authors have allowed Trump to lower their standards.
Obama was, overall, a man of good moral character. As was Bush. Trump is not. This matters. But even if one chose to put aside Trump’s private behavior and just focus on how he governed, it is hard to see how he has done so morally. Here are several examples elaborating on this point:
A moral administration would not even do a few of these things, let alone all of them. And this is only the corruption that directly stems from his position as POTUS. So be my guest: ignore his private behavior, his tweets, his demeaning comments, his incoherent rants at rallies. Ignore the corruption before he came into office, such as his hoax of a charity, defrauding people with Trump University, his shady business deals. Ignore the misogyny toward even many conservative women during the campaign. Just focus on what he’s done as president. That’s damning enough.
I hope these arguments are persuasive to at least some of those who insist we ignore Trump’s private behavior and focus on what he’s done as president. These are not partisan attacks, and should not be considered partisan issues. Whether you are on the right or the left, we should all be able to look at the list above and see that many of Trump’s actions as president have been objectively awful.
While in its current iteration conservatism embraces classical liberalism, there is writing on the wall that suggests the conservative movement may revert towards a more traditional conservative way of thinking. This can be seen in the rise of current thinkers like Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen whose political philosophy shares a good deal in common with traditional conservatism.
Deneen’s arguments are flushed out in his book Why Liberalism Failed. Like Burke and Kirk, he desires a return for Western Civilization to its traditional practices and institutions. In the introduction, he argues that the reason liberalism is appealing is because it builds off the longstanding Western belief in protecting liberty and human dignity from tyranny. He argues though that these ideas are not liberal in origin, but rather have their roots in the centuries long development of Greco-Roman and Christian ideas and practices.
So what do these ideas teach regarding liberty and tyranny? As he notes, the Greeks taught that only by living a life of virtue can one self-govern and prevent tyranny. He continues on by describing how Roman thinkers and later on Christian thinkers would build off these ideas especially with respect to how they checked the power of government. Some of these checks include constitutionalism, separation of powers and rule of law among others. With respect to liberty, he writes that liberty to these thinkers meant the ability to live in accordance with the virtues necessary for self government. They saw it as something that requires a good deal of learning and discipline as one had to be able to restrain their self interests and desires and order themselves in accordance with virtue. In essence, they saw liberty as the ability to free oneself from their corrupt nature and live a life of virtue. As to how liberty and virtue are fostered in society, he believes that they are fostered by living by societal practices and structures such as the government, family, church and so on and so forth.
In response to this, a modern conservative would rebut that classical liberalism is consistent with this as it believes in self-government and in protecting liberty from tyranny. Deneen however argues that this is not the case and in-fact that it operates against these principles of Western Civilization. His rationale for this is that not only does he see liberalism as rejecting the precedents needed for these values be strong, but that it also fundamentally redefines liberty itself. In discussing liberty, he notes how starting with Machiavelli, modern thinkers rejected the classical and Christian understanding of liberty. Rather than focusing on virtue, Machiavelli argued that society should embrace humanity’s inherent self interest and desire to acquire material goods as a means of building society. This line of thinking is similar to that of classical liberals who believe that maximizing the ability of individuals to live life according to their own desires will lead to a better more advanced society.
In order to accomplish this however, Deneen believes liberals needed to tear down what they perceived as chains to individual liberty. As he notes, Enlightenment philosophers such as Hobbes and Descartes came to see custom and tradition especially religious ones as being roadblocks to individual liberty. In its place, they desired a system based on individual rationality and where deviations would be handled by a centralized state. In essence, not only is liberalism’s definition a contradiction of what Deneen conceives as true liberty, but to build a society centered around it, liberalism attacks the foundations needed for a society based on true liberty. His arguments against liberalism reflect those of traditional conservatives. Both Deneen and traditional conservatives see humans as being innately prone to follow their selfish passions and desires. They also both as a result believe that for society to work, individuals needs to learn to live with morality and virtue and see traditions and institutions as playing a key role in shaping those. In addition, both see liberal definition of liberty as being toxic to society.
While some might be inclined to dismiss Deneen as a minority within the conservative movement, it would be foolish to do so. Since Donald Trump first ran for President, there has been a resurgence in right wing populism amongst the conservatives who make up the base of Trump’s support base. Like traditional conservatives, they see societal traditions and institutions as being the base of society. Also like traditional conservatives, they see liberalism as undermining society. This can best be seen in how Trump’s base supports policies like tariffs to protect American businesses from being driven out by foreign industry. This can be seen even more in how they are skeptical of big corporations like Walmart who they see as a threat to the small businesses that make up their local community.
While this all could just be a temporary thing, the nomination of more populist-minded candidates by the GOP suggests a potential shift in thinking. While right wing populists certainly are not traditional conservatives (as they would reject the elitism supported by Burke), their skepticism of liberal values and ideals would represent a shift back towards traditional conservative thinking. As Professor Deneen argues convincingly, this trend within American conservatism may very well continue to gain traction.
Patrick J. Deenen, Why Liberalism Failed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018)
In an earlier article I wrote about the rise of Jordan Peterson and the waning influence of New Atheism as we head into the future. While covering this topic, I mentioned that Jordan Peterson criticized the New Atheists for accepting, to some extent, Christian metaphysical presuppositions (though I argued he probably would be more accurate to call them religious metaphysical presuppositions). What, in fact, does this mean? Is there a point to be made about this? And how is one, as an atheist, to go about moving beyond this criticism?
The answer is multifaceted. Let me first observe that Dr. Peterson is making a substantive and observable point. For example, Sam Harris is quoted as saying the following at the Beyond Belief conference in 2006:
"It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. The problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available."
As we can see above, what the New Atheists have done is taken a religious principle (in this case Christian altruism) and merely removed it from God. Often in response to such accusations one might argue, as did Christopher Hitchens, that these ideas are not based in Christianity but can be found in a variety of societies and cultures over time. This is why I would argue that Dr. Peterson is wrong to call these ideas as requiring "Christian" metaphysical presuppositions. It is more proper to consider them "religious" metaphysical presuppositions since they are not limited to Christian constructs.
Why does this matter? It has nothing to do with intellectual dishonesty: the New Atheists seemed to have shared values beyond the dismissal of God which include personal values like altruism, helping the poor, and a love of a Truth they argue is "good" inherently. However, it is more something like this: atheists have spent years debating theists like Frank Turek who, in his famously frustrated debate with Christopher Hitchens, question where athesit morality comes from. The New Atheists have taken the same route many other atheists have traveled: they endeavor to show that a person can be "good" without God, or more specifically that a person can be just as good as a "good Christian" without God.
What they have done is to demonstrate that one can live up to the Golden Rule, or to the few parts of the Commandments they like, or have proof of Truth-as-good without God. It is like trying to live up to the standards of your admittedly abusive parents while dismissing them for their cruel behavior. The New Atheists are saying, in effect, "Look at me! I am a good Christian, but without the need for supervision." With Hitchens as an exception (who seemed to march to the beat of a different drum on a great majority of these issues), the New Atheists as a whole seem willing to prove how they can be good Christians without a God.
But, if asked what it means to be good, they will accept some sort of religious ethic, often not proudly but as an exhausted, last ditch option. They say things like: help the poor, because it is better to reduce suffering in the short time you have than prolong it. It is better to do unto others as you want done, because life is short and we suffer because of it. They accept the ethic, to whatever degree, as the ultimate sign against the God they despise, hoping to get some sort of praise for being so "good" (in a borrowed sense, obviously) without God.
I make this point for the sake of differentiating the New Atheists from the postmodern or Meta-modern Atheist. This Atheist is at first glance much like the New Atheists, tearing down the obvious contradictions of religion in a literal sense over and over again. They show you just how much a literal reading of the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, and so on makes no sense regarding any rational sense. But the Meta-modern Atheist, however, has come to a very complicated, and perhaps dark, conclusion that is different than the premise of the New Atheists. The true or proper Atheist, according to the Meta-modern Atheist, is one who completely pulls themselves away from religion. They recognize that one can only do so by rejecting even the idea of being good by the standards of God or the religious. You must stand tall, in the face of all things, and say, "I am good, not by your standards, but by my own standards."
To become a meta-modern atheist you must ask yourself, without giving into guilt; "What does it mean to be good?" "How do I know?" And once this has been found out, independently, you can start decided what values you accept. We are not here to dress up for the religious, to say, "Look at me, I give alms just as well as you, without God." The point is to say, "I give alms because of my standards, because my reasons are better than yours." Often, I would argue that the Meta-modern Atheist may not even need to mention God; for God truly to the Meta-modern Atheist does not exist outside of a historical concept. Meta-modern Atheists figure out what is good and what it means to be ethical, instead of surrendering, however loudly, to religious dictations of such terms.
Atheism, as a meta-modern endeavor, is not a fight, my friends. Meta-modern Atheism is the first step in developing who you are. It is the first step in the project of your own humanity. Find your own ethics, don't borrow it. Reconstruct your beliefs, don't deconstruct.
In my previous essay about the intellectual legacy of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, I discussed the tenets of classical conservatism also known as Burkean or traditional conservatism. I also mentioned that the modern conservative movement in America is divided in thirds between classical liberals like Rand Paul, more traditionalist-minded leaders like Ted Cruz, and populists like Donald Trump. In this essay I intend to further examine the first two branches as they make up the vast majority of the American conservative movement (and have since the days of the Reagan presidency). A natural question to ask is why the division in the movement exists in the first place. The answer lies in the nature of the fusionist philosophy that has been the backbone of modern American conservatism and the Republican platform since Ronald Reagan.
Back in the 1950s two major cultural events were occurring in the world. In the U.S, the culture started to become more liberal. The government reflected this by continuing the FDR trend of expanding the bureaucracy and regulations on the market. In Europe, the Soviet Union was openly challenging long standing Western institutions and religious notions such as Christianity, nationalism, the traditional family, respect for individual rights, and the free market system. This triggered a response from American right wingers who supported small government, free market principles, and individual rights.
Other than responding to the communist threat, however, there was no sense of agreement among the American Right. On one side were classical conservatives like Russell Kirk who believed that the government should promote the common good by protecting traditional Christian and Western values and institutions. On the other side were classical liberals such as F.A. Hayek who had a more individualistic and enlightenment-based view of society. This led to massive infighting that almost tore apart the right. In an effort to save it, William F. Buckley formed The National Review and brought in several right wingers from both camps in hopes of unifying them under a common cause.
One of these writers was ex-communist Frank S. Meyer. In the 1960s, Meyer attempted to synthesize classical conservatism and classical liberalism into a unified philosophy through his writing. Since this philosophy was a mesh of these two philosophies, it would become known to many as fusionism. Just like classical conservatism, fusionism put a strong emphasis on the Christian religion as the moral fabric of civilization. In his book In Defense of Freedom, Meyer wrote, “the Christian understanding of the nature and destiny of man, which is the foundation of Western Civilization, is always and everywhere what conservatives strive to conserve.”
In addition to adhering to the Christian understanding of human nature and morality, Meyer also saw religion as essential to the development of individual freedom in the West. In his article “Western Civilization: The Problem of Political Freedom," he argued that in early human civilizations, there was no distinction between individuals but rather distinction based off of social class. These social orders to these societies were divinely ordained and the beliefs regarding one's class would define them forever regardless of their individual capabilities or beliefs. While societies such as Greece and the Jews challenged this view in favor of judging an individual based off their virtue, they both fell to Rome. It wasn’t until the ministry of Christ and the spread of his teachings throughout the Roman Empire that this view of humanity took charge. As a result of this change in view, the Western world overtime came to believe that by one's own capabilities one could choose the life they wanted to live. One's character was not determined by their social standing but by their free will to choose good or evil.
In regards to culture, funionism agrees with classical conservatism regarding the importance of upholding the traditions and customs that have long upheld Western Civilization. In discussing the philosophical differences between traditional conservatism and libertarianism in his essay “Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism," Meyer argued that both ideologies have their foundations in different aspects of the traditions of Western Civilization. He says that traditional conservatives put an emphasis on the Western values of morality, virtue, and order while libertarians put an emphasis on the Western values of individual rights both politically and economically.
Meyer then argued that the reason there is such division among them is that there are extremists among both groups who present a danger to society. Meyer claimed that if the conservative extreme were taken, the resulting government would risk losing sight of individual liberty and might become authoritarian. If the libertarian extreme were taken, then the sole focus of society might become individual liberty with no regard to morality and the result would pave the way for future tyranny. In further discussing what order conservatives seek to preserve in society, he wrote
“ For what the conservative is committed to conserve is not simply whatever happens to be the established conditions of a few years or a few decades, but the consensus of his civilization, of his country, as that consensus over the centuries have I reflected truth derived from the very constitution of being.”
In essence, Meyer's fusionism seeks to preserve the morals, values, traditions, and institutions that are integral to the well being of society.
Where fusionism disagrees with classical conservatism is the function of government in relation to individual rights. While Meyer agrees with classical conservatives that rights are limited by morals and values as a means of promoting virtue, he disagrees with the notion that government’s purpose is to protect the common good by promoting morality and virtue. As referenced earlier his main argument against it was that in the event that a corrupted individual were to take power, he could use the power meant to promote morality and virtue for tyrannical authoritarian purposes. In addition to this, he argued in his 1962 National Review article “The Twisted Tree of Liberty” that government policy cannot make someone be moral or practice virtue. Instead it should be taught and promoted by institutions like the church, the school and the family and that it is up to the individual to choose to accept morality and be virtuous. In describing the functions of government in his book In Defense of Freedom:A Conservative Credo, Meyer argued that the sole purpose of government is to defend freedom by executing the following functions: defense from foreign threats, a justice system to resolve disputes, and defense from domestic threats. In essence, Meyer's believed that morality and virtue were important, but they could not be coerced by government and must be an individual choice learned from churches, schools, and families rather than the government itself.
Meyer's philosophy would go on to influence both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. President Reagan himself acknowledged Meyer’s influence on him in a 1981 speech in which he said,
“It was Frank Meyer who reminded us that the robust individualism of the American experience was part of the deeper current of Western learning and culture. He pointed out that a respect for law, an appreciation for tradition, and regard for the social consensus that gives stability to our public and private institutions, these civilized ideas must still motivate us even as we seek a new economic prosperity based on reducing government interference in the marketplace. Our goals complement each other. We're not cutting the budget simply for the sake of sounder financial management. This is only a first step toward returning power to the states and communities, only a first step toward reordering the relationship between citizen and government."
Reagan would go own to become a legend and heavy influence upon the GOP causing fusionism to play a heavy influence on the modern Republican Party platform.
So why is there such an apparent division among American conservatives, namely between traditionalist thinkers and those who lean classically liberal? The answer lies in the philosophical legacy of fusionism and its combination of those two philosophies. On one side, you have people like Ted Cruz who are more supportive of morally-based government policy and on the other you have people like Rand Paul who put more emphasis on free markets and civil liberty. The division therefore has to do with the fact modern American conservatism is actually a fusion of two political theories -- with some people within the movement putting more emphasis on one philosophy rather than the other.
We stand in a world that was once a battlefield for those who called themselves the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse. The Horsemen declared war against the last remnants of all religious authority on matters of morality, history, science, and politics. In other words, they pushed religion from its carefully concocted position as bearer of Truth to the shadows of cultural mythology. Say what you will of what others call their "strident" or "abrasive" style, they did as they did. And it is their banner that hangs high in the air, having won the battle. It was Nietzsche who declared the death of God, but it was Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett who did the autopsy.
'What of it?' you may ask yourself. 'Why do I care at all if God is dead, confirmed or otherwise?' Because Religion persists. One forgets, too often, that those who are religious are herd-like, much akin to their name as a "flock." Religion is not connected to God at the hip, as it were.
Religion exists regardless of belief in God because religion was taken into our postmodern culture and then spat back out. Religion underwent the same disassociation with Truth that most postmodernists have experienced. Within this disassociation in it does not matter what is true, but rather what is comfortable. All that matters is what makes one "feel better." In fact, religion was always susceptible to this merger, because as Nietzsche notes in his work The Anti-Christ, "In Christianity, neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point."
Why is this? Nietzsche argued that it was because religion has a disdain for living. This, in and of itself, is a very apt understanding of religion. Religion hates life. But, I would argue, the relation between postmodernism and religion is actually more subtle. They both have a disdain for Truth, of any kind.
John 4:16 is the famous line that Jesus gives in response to Thomas, who had just asked how to live rightly. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The importance of this is substantial: Truth is removed completely from reality, and is placed in an individual. You are to act as that individual says, and anything beyond that person, even in reality, is wrong without need of examination.
Now fast forward past the death of Jesus, arriving to the Death of God. What is religion to do? Nothing. What they have done is combined, in the original texts, into an individualized truth with a commandment of devotion. As a result we get a very common phraseology: "My God says..." In my many discussions with individuals on religion, if you press them with rational arguments, they no longer turn to "faith" as the last form of defense. No, they go one step further: they tell you that the texts may say one thing, but "their God" says another. With God they have a personal relationship. And like any necrophiliac, their personal relationship with the corpse of a concept is so ugly, they must too live in a denial that requires enough detachment to support such a delusion.
Religion now sells comfort in the form of faux-tradition and a socially acceptable imaginary friend. Religion is something you can go to in grief and forget in happiness. It is something that can shelter you from the Truth because this God is "your truth." It is not really about God for the religious believer. It is not longer about the Bible, or Torah, or the Quran. It is about ownership of the Truth.
Dr. Jordan Peterson recently asked why feminists reconcile with Islam. How can feminism support anti-feminist Islamists? It is because they are used to the postmodern God of the West, who can be whatever you want him (or her) to be. They see Allah as another postmodern political construct that can be added to collection of oppressed people's favorite toys, right up there with pussy hats and drag queen dresses.
But they have no clue the size of the monster hiding in their closet.
One of the major differences between classical conservatism and modern conservatives is a difference in perspective concerning human rights. While Classical Conservatives like their modern counterparts cherish and support natural and civil rights, their understanding of them is far more different than those who adhere to the classical liberal (or Lockean) understanding of natural rights. John Locke’s view of natural rights was that humans have them on the virtue of their species and the only restraint on them is that one cannot use them to inflict physical harm upon another individual. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke condemns this understanding of rights as being one that is too abstract. He argues that if liberty was such an abstract concept, then it can be used to justify horrendous actions in the name of fighting for or defending liberty -- which is what ultimately happened in France a few years later during the Reign of Terror.
So then how do rights originate then according to Burke? Well later on in Reflections, he argues that whenever there is a law, there exists rights to act within that law or in other words, rights are auxiliaries to laws. But theses laws don’t refer to arbitrary acts of government legislation, they refer to Christian moral laws, and the values and customs mentioned several times throughout this essay. Another question Burke considered regarding rights was not only their consistency with the morals and values of a just civilization, but also how such rights would benefit the common good of society. It was also using this standard that Burke argued rights can be limited on an individual to individual basis. For example, he opposed allowing the homeless to vote in Parliamentary elections in the House of Commons because he felt that since they didn’t participate in society at large, they are more likely to vote for their own wants at the expense of the pressing issues facing society. A more modern example of this in the US would be how the mentally unfit, felons, and domestic abusers are not allowed to own guns as they pose a threat to the safety of those around them.
Russell Kirk’s views on natural rights are explored in his 1957 book The American Cause. Here he argues like Burke that natural rights arise from the Christian moral law and from rights that would benefit society as well as their non abstract nature. The first area arises from ones partnership with God meaning the freedoms they have given their human ability within the constraints of God’s laws. The other area is how such rights would benefit society and here he directly quotes Burke in saying, “Men have no right to what is not reasonable, and to what is not for their benefit.”. To put it plain and simple, Burke and Kirk argue that natural rights arose from the morals and values that have upheld society as well as in how they benefit society and that it is by these principles that they are also limited.
Another area in which classical and modern conservatives are similar but different, is economics. While both support free market principles, modern conservatives like classical liberals tend to support a laissez faire economy where as this mindset is condemned by both Burke and Kirk. When discussing Burke and economics, it is important to under that by the time he died, Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith was only 21 years old so capitalism was only really beginning to be tried out. However, many of the underlying principles of capitalism such as the right to own property and the belief that one can improve their own social status by utilizing their resources and ingenuity had long been ingrained in western culture and also its important to know that Burke did live long enough to have an opinion on the start of the Industrial Revolution. With this all in mind, let’s analyze Burke’s economic views. When Parliament attempted to set minimum wage laws in the agricultural sector, Burke condemned this as he felt prices were best set by the balance of consumption and production(the supply and demand equilibrium) and that this philosophy had been working just fine and that Parliament would be disrupting an efficient economic order. 150 years later when Kirk starting writing, capitalism had grown to be an essential part of the western world so his views were much more flushed out in his 1963 essay The Meaning of Capitalism. Here he praises how the private ownership and competitiveness of the free market have enabled wealth and property to be more widespread and how it has led to a very high standard of living. So while both Burke and Kirk support the philosophical tenets and principles of the free market, as mentioned earlier they condemned the laissez faire mindset. In that same essay, Kirk condemns the mindset of many Americans of finding happiness through wealth and capital for he felt that it would lead to a materialist society and would lead people to abandon religion and the orders of civilization which would lead to the decadence of society. Burke’s ax to grind was with how many industrialists at the start of the Industrial Revolution were very profit centered to a point where they ignored the environmental consequences and the well being of their workers. In essence, the economy Classical Conservatism envisions is one where it’s based on free market principles but is regulated and adheres to the morals and values of society just as the culture and government should.
A final point commonly associated with Conservatism is federalism. While Burke never really advocated for federalism, he did argue that by empowering societal groups of the smallest denominator like, local churches, families, schools aka “the little platoons of society”, one helps to improve society as a whole which is similar in spirit to federalism. Kirk on the other hand did define federalism as a key tenet of conservatism. In his 8th Point of Conservatism, argues that society is comprised of multiple small groups and that decisions should be made by those mostly affected by them. So a family would make family decisions, businesses would make business decisions, local governments would make local decisions and national government would make decisions regarding national issues.
To summarize, when it comes to culture, the classical conservative adheres to and promotes Christianity as the moral fabric to society and to the customs and traditions of western civilization as the vehicle that promotes order and prosperity in society. In regards to societal progress, the conservative welcomes change as a means to progressing and helping society grow but at the same time believes change should only be implemented if it doesn’t contradict the foundations of society and if such change would be proven to improve society. It also believes that such change should be implemented slowly as to help prevent any societal unrest it could cause. As it relates to human rights, the classical conservative believes rights both originate from and are limited by the aforementioned moral and philosophical foundations of a just civilization and that rights are also granted and limited by how such a right would benefit the common good. From an economic standpoint, the classical conservative adheres to the basic principles of free market economics but condemns the materialistic and laissez faire mindset that has dominated modern free market economics on the right and believes that the same morals and values that govern society culturally and civically also govern the economy. In addition to all of this, classical conservatism teaches that decisions should be made for the most part by those most affected by them directly such as a family making family decisions or a local government making local decisions vs a national government making decisions at even the smallest levels of society. To sum up more precisely, classical conservatism is the promotion and adherence to the institutions, morals, and philosophies that have enabled the West to grow and thrive over the centuries.
Rather recently, I noticed an article discussing neuroscientist and pop-philosopher Sam Harris on the Burkean Conservative. I also noticed reference to the debate between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore over the question "Do we need God for life to make sense?" It reminded me of the older videos of the New Atheist movement: when members such as Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Daniel Dennett, Mr. Christopher Hitchens, and Dr. Sam Harris dominated the intellectual landscape. Their videos populated YouTube in a way that cannot be said about much else in the area of academia and debate. One merely has to see various pages that continue to post these videos, and new videos, in order to see the dominance of New Atheism, even if such dominance is waning.
The New Atheists, however, were not ready for Jordan Peterson. The professor from Toronto University, YouTube star, and renowned Jungian psychoanalyst, is a deep thinker to say the least. From his position on free speech to his position on the relation between biology and gender, he often has a well thought out (albeit very long-winded form of reasoning) for every position he is asked about. He is a man who admits he believes in God, although he rather insistently resents the question, "Do you believe in God?", seeing it as a way to label him and being woefully unable to deal with the depth and breadth of the religious impulse. Somewhat ironically; he has this whole argument built upon, for the most part, the works of the atheist thinker Friedrich Nietzsche.
To discuss the state of the New Atheist movement, in relation to the rise of Jordan Peterson, I will break down my analysis into three parts: The intellectual state of pre-Peterson New Atheism, the critique of Jordan Peterson, and my response to the Peterson's critique.
1. New Atheism, Pre-Peterson
New Atheism came to rise in the minds of the world from 2006 with a slew of books published by the likes of Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Sam Harris, Mr. Christopher Hitchens, and Dr. Daniel Dennett, later joined by the philosophers Peter Singer and A.C. Grayling, as well as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Steven Pinker, and others. They came out against religion, arguing for it to be criticized along the lines of rational argument, scientific inaccuracy, and as a proponent of immoral doctrines. Following the release of their books, the New Atheists went about the country, debating theist thinkers in forums, on campuses, and on some news networks. Often scorned by their fellow atheists as well as by their opponents, New Atheism brought to the forefront the doctrine of rational humanism, Enlightenment values, and a pro-science agenda. Along with these came a support for Free Speech that the current cultural war was sparked by, as the New Atheists divided the left wing between classical liberals and (what I call them) New Age liberals. In an age where post-structuralist ideas had taken root as the status quo, with perspectivism as it's epistemological crux, the New Atheists fought back against such a laid back, accepting doctrine.
All of this was done with the use of Reason. Such reliance on Reason by the New Atheists was tied to a love of science, in which they argued that science can be used, among other things, for deconstructing religion, progressing mankind, and being the basis of morality. This form of argument can be traced back to the essay Why I am Not a Christian, written in 1927 by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, which often leads one to question how New Atheism differs from Old Atheism. The difference, I would argue, between New and Old Atheism is based on the idea of faith.
The old atheists may have argued against religious faith, but not faith in, say, evidence or science. The New Atheists, however, reject faith fully. They argue that science reveals the objective Truth, and thus we must realize that science and morality are inexplicably intertwined. Specifically, evolution is exalted as the basis of understanding the human condition. Altruism, compassion, charity, and even a desire for peace are extrapolated from data about the evolution of man. The New Atheists accept the idea of a natural determinism while arguing that a person can reject religious dogma based on their own Reason. Sam Harris ambitiously set out what he believed was a good argument for ethics being derived from science, in his book The Moral Landscape.
The New Atheists are practically Promethean, something I quite admire about them. In the grey mire of our post-structuralist society, the idea of men and women possessed by the idea of Truth, of Freedom (in whatever imperfect form) and of Human Progress is invigorating. It strikes at the heart of the desire to believe in the future.
2. The Peterson Critique
Enter Jordan Peterson. Professor, lecturer, Jungian. He talks about God and Nietzsche in the same sentence, before discussing the nature of young men (using archetypes of course). As soon as he uttered the words "metaphysical presuppositions," I knew he was serious. He points out that the New Atheists have a faith which they deny as a faith, specifically in science. As is argued in Nietzsche's work The Gay Science and Will to Power, Peterson points out that science presupposes a "metaphysical faith." That is, science must assume both that there is a truth and that Truth is worth finding at all costs. To expound on this more, let me quote Nietzsche from The Gay Science, in his essay To What Extent even We are still Pious. (Prepare yourself, dear reader, for a very lengthy quote):
It is said with good reason that convictions have no civic rights in the domain of science: it is only when a conviction voluntarily condescends to the modesty of an hypothesis, a preliminary standpoint for experiment, or a regulative fiction, that its access to the realm of knowledge, and a certain value therein, can be conceded, always, however, with the restriction that it must remain under police super vision, under the police of our distrust. Regarded more accurately, however, does not this imply that only when a conviction ceases to be a conviction can it obtain admission into science? Does not the discipline of the scientific spirit just commence when one no longer harbours any conviction? It is probably so: only, it remains to be asked whether, in order that this discipline may commence, it is not necessary that there should already be a conviction, and in fact one so imperative and absolute, that it makes a sacrifice of all other convictions. One sees that science also rests on a faith: there is no science at all "without premises". The question whether truth is necessary, must not merely be affirmed beforehand, but must be affirmed to such an extent that the principle, belief, or conviction finds expression, that "there is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value". This absolute will to truth: what is it? Is it the will not to allow ourselves to be deceived? Is it the will not to deceive? For the will to truth could also be interpreted in this fashion, provided one included under the generalization "I will not deceive" the special case "I will not deceive myself"....Thus the belief in science, which now undeniably exists, cannot have had its origin in such a utilitarian calculation, but rather in spite of the fact of the un-usefulness and dangerousness of the "Will to truth", of "truth at all costs" being continually demonstrated. "At all costs": alas, we understand that sufficiently well, after having sacrificed and slaughtered one belief after another at this altar! Consequently, "Will to truth" does not imply "I will not allow I myself to be deceived" but there is no other alternative - "I will not deceive, not even myself"; and thus we have reached the realm of morality. For let one just ask oneself fairly: "Why will you not want to deceive"? Especially if it should seem - and it does seem - as if life were laid out with a view to appearance, I mean, with a view to error, deceit, dissimulation, delusion, self-delusion; and when on the other hand it is a matter of fact that the great sweep of life has always shown itself to be on the side of the most unscrupulous polytropoi. Such an intention might perhaps, to express it mildly, be a piece of Quixotism, a enthusiastic craziness; it might also, however, be something more serious, namely, a destructive principle, hostile to life - "Will to Truth" that might be a concealed Will to Death. Thus the question "Why is there science” leads back to the moral problem: What in general is the purpose of morality, if life, nature, and history are "non-moral"? There is no doubt that the conscientious man in the daring and extreme sense in which he is presupposed by the belief in science, affirms thereby a world other than that of life, nature, and history; and in so far as he affirms this "other world" - what? Must he not just thereby deny its counterpart, this world, our world? But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is always a metaphysical faith on which our faith in science rests - that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysians still take our fire from the flame lit by a faith a millennium old, the Christian faith, which was also the faith of Plato, that God is truth, that the truth is divine..." (The Gay Science, pg. 201)
Famously, the last lines of that quote are repeated by Jordan Peterson in reference to the Sam Harris and the New Atheists.
He points out that, whatever their beliefs, their tendency to rely on Reason, Truth, and Science are a product of Christian metaphysical presuppositions. This can become almost glaring when Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the other New Atheists are asked ethical questions. Often, without hesitation, they will reveal a desire for ethical beliefs described in the Bible, often justifying it by referencing the fact those ideas have been around before the Bible, or outside the Bible. Jordan Peterson's critique, thus, come as a shock often to the New Atheist, because he is not tying them to any particular religion as much as tying them to a faith that can be questioned: a metaphysical faith in Truth, and the fact that it is "good". While Peterson says "Christian" metaphysical presuppositions, I would argue that what he is actually getting at is "religious" metaphysical presuppositions, in which faith is placed in a method or idea that one believes will lead them to a truth that is good or, as the religious call it, "divine". It is seen as the ultimate goal.
Further, such an idea of divine Truth (I use this phrasing because that is ore properly how to define the New Atheist belief in Truth) can further be tied to the idea of an almost transcendent Reason. Reason alone, the New Atheists argue, will lead to Truth, and since the Truth is good, thus Reason is good. This is something Peterson argues against, pointing out that Reason of this kind leads often to Utopian ideals, which have in the 20th Century led to absolute bloodshed and death. He points to Fascism, Communism, and other ideologies assured that Reason was good, taking their beliefs and applying them to the extremes. He makes use of the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, specifically his book Note from the Underground. In one of his many lectures, Peterson quotes a passage from his book, which is the following:
"In short, one may say anything about the history of the world--anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can't say is that it's rational. The very word sticks in one's throat. And, indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbours simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself--as though that were so necessary-- that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar." (Notes from the Underground, pg. 39)
What we can see from both of these quotes is that Jordan Peterson is, as he also claims, is a pragmatist. He often discusses the idea of Truth as something we cannot know, pointing out that often, we claim that science is true merely because "it works", which is ultimately a pragmatic position. While not saying it explicitly, if one reads Nietzsche carefully, they can find the crux of Peterson's critique of Reason: the idea that the brain is not designed to search for rational truths, but merely pragmatic solutions. Nietzsche, in his work Will to Power, put it this way:
"It is impossible that our "knowledge" should extend further than is strictly necessary for the preservation of life. Morphology shows us how the senses and the nerves, as well as the brain, develop in proportion to the difficulty in finding nourishment." (Will to Power, pg. 272)
This is perhaps the most important point to understand about Peterson and his beliefs. His critique of the rationalist New Atheist is based on the very evolution that the New Atheists espouse. It is the very natural question of how Evolution, which seems to be driven by a naturalistic pragmatism based on what best allows man to survive, may blur whether we are even developed to consider "Truth."
3. A Response: Mediating the New Atheist and the Rise of Jordan Peterson
So what is an atheist to do? For starters, read Nietzsche. There is a reason that many of those who have come to understand Nietzsche consider him so incredibly important: he is correct in many areas, including predicting that the loss of religion would lead to the rise of ideologies in it's place, with bloody consequences. He discusses everything, including Truth, leaving nothing unexamined. This is not to say that you must agree with him, but he must be contended with.
Further, one must formulate a response to Peterson's critique, and not a dismissal. The one thing that has always struck me as odd about New Atheism is the tendency it has to dismiss, rather than address. In the case of Peterson's critique, it must be addressed. Does science have a metaphysical faith? Why or why not? Is Reason transcendent, or is confined to pragmatism? How do we move beyond the religious metaphysical presuppositions about Truth being intrinsically good? Or do we? Can we know Truth, and is that truth provided by science? Is there a such thing as Truth at all?
I would agree that the New Atheists are currently operating within a set of religious metaphysical presuppositions. I would argue that atheism can far more easily move away from Truth as Good to Truth as non-axiological. Truth has no value outside of what we impose on it. As to whether we can know Truth, I argue we can, because the idea of the human mind, which psychoanalysis functions upon, is an illusion. The human mind is, in and of itself, a metaphysical entity that even Nietzsche did not question. He presumed he knew how it worked, and thus derived his conclusion that it looks for pragmatic solutions rather than rational truths. Is Reason transcendent or is it pragmatic? I would argue it is neither; it is phenomenological. Reason is the function of Consciousness in relating phenomenological values to our perception of reality. Is science built upon a metaphysical faith? Currently, yes, but it is also the one thing is most corresponds to reality, ad further it must be separated from ethics.
So is there Truth? Phenomenologically speaking, yes -- there is.
With the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in February and the Santa Fe High shooting in May, there has been a renewed call from both the media and gun control activists to enact gun control. While some call for simple reforms like background checks or red flag laws, others have been more radical and called for the complete ban of all semi-automatic weapons. This has evoked a strong response from those opposed to gun control such as groups like the NRA and the Republican Party.
While at the surface this may seem to be a debate over how to stop mass shootings, the true issue that lies at the heart of it is the meaning of the Second Amendment of the American Constitution. From the left wing, the general point of view is that the Amendment is meant to either protect the ability to hunt or for state and local governments to maintain peace keeping forces like the National Guard and local police forces. From the right wing, the Second Amendment is almost universally seen as saving the individual right to self protection whether that be from a criminal or a tyrannical government. To discover the answer to this crucial question, it is important to not only know the philosophical origins of the right to bear arms, but also what the Founding Fathers intended with the Second Amendment.
Before we dive into this however, it is important to have a basic background in the history of English culture. When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, the laws varied from region to region. In order to help unify the laws of England, he restructured the legal system. William did this by ordering judges to publish their rulings nationally and then he ensured those rulings would become law. These laws/rulings were then used as precedent for future cases which helped to further develop national laws. Thus the Common Law of England was born.
While introducing ideas from his native French culture, Williams allowed the English to keep the majority of their cultural customs and practices as a means of preventing societal unrest. This is important because unlike the rest of Europe which was mostly accepting of absolute monarchy, the people of England cherished individual liberty as it was strongly ingrained in their culture. As a result, the royal courts were influenced by these norms and over time, such personal liberties were codified into Common Law and collectively became known as the Rights of Englishmen.
While these rights were generally respected by the crown, at times the royalty wasn’t always so honoring of them. When this occurred it lead to several defining civil wars in English history. The first of these wars was the Magna Carta conflict in 1215 between the nobility and King John. This conflict arose when King John levied taxes against the nobility in order to fight war in France without their consent and then later trampled upon the judicial rights of due process and the right to trial by jury in order to suppress those who opposed his actions.
When the nobles waged war and eventually defeated King John, they forced him to sign the Magna Carta. This not only further cemented the rights John had violated into English law, it also established the idea of the rule of law in which all people -- even the king himself -- had to honor both the individual and judicial rights.
Even with this new principle established, it still did not prevent kings from violating the Rights of Englishmen. The next major conflict was the English Civil War which started in 1642 and ended in 1651. This war involved Charles I repeatedly attempting to usurp power from Parliament by ignoring their legislation. Things ultimately reached a breaking point when Charles attempted to dissolve Parliament without their consent and attempted to arrest five members who were highly critical of him.
The result was the division of England between those loyal to Parliament and those loyal to King. After a long and violent civil war, the forces of Parliament won and abolished the Monarchy. While the crown was eventually restored eight years later with the enthronement of Charles II, the Civil War marked the beginning of the end of the supremacy of the king and the rise of the legislative supremacy of Parliament.
The final death knell came in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution. King James II was dethroned in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband Prince William of the Netherlands. This occurred after James II silenced judges and clergy who disagreed with his views on Catholicism and on his power in relation to acts of Parliament. When William and Mary took the throne, they signed the English Bill of Rights which affirmed two critical things. It first affirmed all the established Rights of Englishmen, which would later all be found in the American version of the Bill of Rights. The other thing it established was the principle that government is derived from the consent of the governed. The Rights of Englishmen prohibited the crown from levying taxes, passing legislation, or raising an army in a time of peace without the consent of Parliament.
The centuries of conflict between the people and the crown ingrained a view within the English people that their history was defined by the struggle to defend their rights. This viewpoint was so ingrained in the people that when the colonists in America began the War of Independence, they saw it as a continuation of the struggle of their ancestors to protect their rights from violations committed by the crown.
Now that we have an understanding of the Rights of Englishmen and the blood shed to protect them, we can now begin to understand the philosophy behind the right to bear arms. The philosophy behind it is best explained by 18th Century English legal scholar William Blackstone in his renowned Commentaries on The Laws of England. In discussing rights, Blackstone argues that there are three absolute rights that form the basis for all other rights: personal security, personal liberty, and private property. He then argues that such rights are in vain without constitutional power to protect them. Thus, he argues, five auxiliary rights arise that protect the three main rights.
The first two auxiliary rights are the powers granted to parliament and the limitations on the power of the king, respectively. The third one is the right to redress of grievances and the fourth one is the right to petition the government. The fifth auxiliary right is the right of the individual to bear arms. In discussing it, Blackstone writes,
“The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute . . . and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”
In essence, Blackstone argues that the purpose of the right to own a gun is to protect not only the lives of citizens, but also the citizens' rights from any threat when normal means granted by law are not sufficient. Furthermore, in the larger context of the passage, it is clear that by threats Blackstone includes cases in which the government is violating their liberties.
With the American Founders' English inheritance combined with their knowledge of English law and history, it is more evident what they intended by the Second Amendment. The Founders desired the Second Amendment to mean the individual right to bear arms for self defense including defense from tyrannical government.
There is still one dangling thread, however, as the Second Amendment also includes the phrase “A well regulated militia.” Many gun control activist center their arguments around this phrase. But what did the Founders mean by this? In Federalist 28 and Federalist 29, Alexander Hamilton puts forth a few arguments as to what the militia is and its importance. He argues in Federalist 28 that, “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government..” In Federalist 29, he argues that a standing army is the biggest threat to civil liberty is a standing army because their loyalty might not be to their people, but rather civil authority.
Hamilton therefore says that a well regulated militia is the best defense for civil liberty. In discussing what this militia is, he makes the point that not only is coming up with military exercises but also training all capable people are both impossible to do because of the size of the country. So instead, he believes that work must be done to ensure the people are sufficiently armed and read should the federal government need to mobilize them to fight a foreign threat. In these two essays, the main point is that the militia refers not some government sponsored peacekeeping or law enforcement group, but rather the common man. Not only did Hamilton expect people to have the right to self defense from a tyrannical government, he also expected the people to organize themselves into a fighting force against it.
To conclude, the right to bear arms originated with the English culture’s valuation of personal liberty and the centuries of civil war the Englishmen undertook to defend their rights. Furthermore, this all led to the British seeing the right as a means of defending themselves from tyranny and led to a mindset of vigilance that the colonists would later take with them and embrace during the American Revolution. Finally, the word militia to the Founders meant all physically able gun owners and not simply just local militias or peacekeeping forces. Overall, the claim that the Second Amendment means nothing less than the full protection of the individual right to bear arms is philosophically and historically bankrupt.