The Philosophical Road Less Traveled By:
A Philosophical Blog
(Started on August 30, 2007 in response to certain issues raised in Twenty
Questions, the text used in my Introduction to Philosophy course at
Livingstone College, fall semester, 2007.)
August 30, 2007, Thursday:
I have never tried to write within the mainstream tradition of post-modern philosophy
(where God is left out), a decision that has taken my career off the beaten path of trying to
publish as many articles as possible in refereed journals and thus to gain success through
employment (and promotion) at one of the major universities. I have never regretted this decision,
and the reason is simple: the kind of Christian pacifist view that I want to defend is not one that is
popular in this day and age with most philosophers in most departments or in most philosophy
journals. Indeed, I have searched for my niche in academe and not found it through the usual
avenues to "success" (that is, journal publications, tenure at a "prestige" institution, etc.).
Why is this? I write from a metaphysical and ethical perspective that is not particularly highly
respected today in or out of academe. I am not really sad about that, and my life has not been
tragic as a result. My situation is simply the reality derivative of many conscientious choices,
although there have been some strong repercussions in my personal and professional lives as a
result of my choices. Rather than view these repercussions as tragic, I see them as more or less
inevitable, beyond my control, and nothing to worry about unnecessarily.
As a Christian pacifist, I make strong assumptions about ultimate reality; that is, I make strong
metaphysical assumptions. This instantly takes me out of the major popular philosophical currents
of our time, which are typically not theistic, not avowedly metaphysical, and not particularly useful,
in my opinion. In other words, I do not fit the post-modern mode or style which is so necessary
for "success" by the usual criteria.
Contemporary philosophy is overwhelmingly secular, wordly. One might think that I might
therefore have gained success by retreating to one of the religious schools of thought, or to a
department at a "religious" university. The fact, however, is that I am as far away from those
popular religious and philosophical/theological traditions as I am from the popular secular ones.
Again, I do not view this as a tragic development. It is simply my response to the academic and
religious worlds that I have found. I have had to make certain concessions to academe to survive
in academe, but one concession that I have not made is to try to publish very much within the
contemporary secular academic tradition. Doing so hardly means selling one's soul, but there is so
little time on this planet that I have chosen to devote it to doing that which makes sense to me,
whether it is popular or not, and whether it is the road to "success" or not.
In other words, I would surely be considered a failure in both the secular and the religious camps
of philosophy, at least the most popular ones. Success and popularity not being the proper goals
for philosophers, however, I have accepted my lot and seen it as a reasonable price to pay for
simply being myself--and for embracing intellectual autonomy above all else. It is actually a small
price to pay. From what I have seen of large university departments (and I have seen quite a bit in
graduate departments across at least three disciplines: philosophy, political science, and Spanish),
there is little wisdom (or even love of wisdom) there, and from what I have seen of religion in or
out of academe there is precious little that is edifying or divine there. Therefore one might choose
to interpret my history as not only not tragic, but blessed. In any case, that is the interpretation
which I choose to put upon it. I do not miss success and popularity any more than I miss the city
when I have walked alone in the mountains of North and South America, or when I have paddled
the trackless void off the Atlantic coast in a sea kayak. I rather like going it alone, although this is
not to say that I do not welcome those who wish to come along. I am not, however, going to
follow anyone else in my pursuit of wisdom, unless it be Jesus of Nazareth, and even his teachings
I will read skeptically and critically. I am going to go where wisdom and truth seem most likely to
be found, and I have not often found them in crowds--including the Sunday morning ones.
I have, that is, taken the road less traveled by, philosophically speaking, and I could not have done
otherwise. The road I have taken is a pretty nice road, from my perspective, and, if it is a bit
lonely at times, at least I am consoled that I have not had to sell my philosophical soul to take it.
I do not rationalize in saying any of this. I really do mean what I say, and in what I have said. This
is my philosophical life and my philosophical journey. Shall I not embrace that life? Shall I not
keep moving on that journey?
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
--Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"
Landrum Kelly, Jr.
September 1, 2007, Saturday:
What happened to metaphysics? I might better ask what happened to philosophy. In
this so-called "post-modern" epoch (whatever that means), the study of metaphysics is no
longer in fashion. Indeed, the legacy of the logical-positivists has pervaded contemporary
thought to such an extent that persons tend to think that metaphysical claims are indeed
meaningless--as the positivists claimed and continue to claim. Many persons do not even know
to what extent their thinking has been captured by logical positivism, which they fashionably
disparage while parroting many of its "truths."
I just made reference to "metaphysical claims." In fact, if one engages in metaphysical
speculation (speculation about ultimate reality), one is not really making claims at all. One is
simply "postulating" or "assuming" something, as in "God exists" as opposed to "God does not
exist." Saying one or the other in philosophy qua philosophy is not really to make a claim at
all. It is simply to say, "Let us assume that God exists" or "Let us assume that God does not
exist" or even "If God exists, then what is implied?"
I am reminded of Einstein's famous statement in his 1905 article on electrodynamics, the core
of the Special Theory of Relativity. I first read this journal article when I was forty-seven
years old, and I was surprised by two things. First, Einstein (in English translation, at least) is a
lot easier to understand than all of the commentators about Einstein and his views on physics.
Second, and even more significant, I was struck by the way he proceeded: "If we postulate
that the speed of light is constant. . . ." (This is the famous statement to which I referred
above.) That is, Einstein assumed that the speed of light is constant. No one had ever
bothered to tell me that before, not Isaac Asimov when I was a teenager nor the myriad other
commentators on Einstein. Please do not misunderstand. I cannot read Einstein's General
Theory. The math is way over my head, and I am no physicist. I do not even know why
Einstein assumed that the speed of light is constant in the Special Theory (which I and many,
many others can read), but one thing is clear: his claim was not as assertion so much as a
premise,a postulate, an assumption. He plugged that assumption into Maxwell's equations, and
the rest is history. Mathematically speaking, it was a simple substitution--and a subsequent
reduction of complex equations to very simple ones that expressed simple but staggering truths.
Perhaps Einstein's genius was that he had the imagination to make such a bold supposition
(which was much more radical that it at first appeared), but my point here is simple: Einstein
made an assumption and saw what followed mathematically or logically from that assumption.
We do well to emulate his example, whether we are in the physical sciences or in the realm
"beyond physics," i.e., metaphysics, the core of philosophy.
To what extent Einstein was a philosopher in addition to being a scientist is not my concern
here. Nor is the logical-positivist claim that philosophy and science proceed by the same
method my concern here, except to say that the logical positivists would like for us to forsake
all metaphysical speculation and only speak about that which we can observe, a
recommendation which, if heeded, would be the death of philosophy qua philosophy.
Philosophy by its very nature is inquiry into that which, in most cases, is not going to yield to
more and more empirical data, that is, more information which comes through observation or
the senses in general. It is nonetheless true that one never knows to what extent new scientific
information is going to shed light on some old philosophical quandaries. It is equally clear,
however, that the core of philosophy does not seem to be something that is going to yield to
more scientific data. Short of somebody's spotting Jesus on the "clouds of heaven,"
philosophy will have to proceed without more sensory input. Most of us are not waiting for
the Second Coming before we say what we have to say about the existence or non-existence of
Nor need we say that we either "believe" or do not believe that God exists. That is all well and
good for religion and personal life, but philosophy is not about belief qua belief. That is, as
philosophers we can assume that which we do not believe. I happen to believe that God does
exist, but I can nonetheless proceed philosophically by postulating that which I do not believe,
that is, that God does not exist. I can even find some interesting things by postulating or
assuming that which I do not believe, not least of which is the understanding of the thought
patterns of my philosophical adversaries. I even reserve the right to change my mind, but so
far that has not happened. Atheism is, after all, well, boring.
Indeed, when I read or listen to the atheists, I am struck above all by how very simple-minded
they typically are. They will tell us with great alacrity that, if God is indeed all-powerful
(omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient) and all-good (omnibenevolent), then it makes no
sense that there could also be evil in the world. Then comes their great "therefore": therefore,
God does not exist, as if they had just disproved the existence of God, and all too often
expressed in a tone that would make one think that they think that they had just discovered
some new insight.
I am glad that they see the power of this argument, which is a great challenge to those of us
who are theists, but I am perennially disappointed that they think that it is decisive. I am also
amused when it springs forth from their pages or their mouths as if they had discovered
something that no one else had "seen" before. Indeed, it is the very fact of the existence of evil
in the world which is the well-spring of much significant theological speculation--and make no
mistake, theology is philosophy, even if the logical-positivists have declared it out of bounds,
meaningless. Indeed, theology is that branch of philosophy that one takes if one comes to the
road sign that points "God" in one direction and "not-God" in the other--and then takes the
"God" ("God exists") road, as least as a postulate. That is, if one assumes or postulates that
God exists, then one is in that realm of philosophy which is theistic and which is thus by
definition "theology," whether one wants to admit it or not.
In any case, we travel the road of life and we come to that fork (God v. not-God) more than
once. Unless we are going to stand where we are until the skin rots off our bones, then we had
better try (at least intellectually) one road or the other. Better to travel either road than to say,
"I don't know. I think that I will just suspend judgment for the rest of my life." Well,
suspending judgment is often virtuous, and one can suspend judgment all one wants, but, if
one does it indefinitely as a profession regarding the ultimate questions, then one will in the
process be suspending philosophical argumentation, and thus one will have stopped being a
philosopher by profession. To make no assumptions precludes the possibility of further
argumentation, and argumentation is what philosophy is about. Without assumptions and
argumentation, there can also be no conclusions, not even tentative ones. Alas, existential
limbo is likewise the consequence of the abjuring of the heart and soul of philosophy,
metaphysics. Resisting making assumptions of an ultimate or metaphysical nature leads to
paralysis at best, disaster at worst.
The disposition to suspend judgment indefinitely is indeed the condition of most contemporary
"philosophers," not to mention many literary critics and other theorists. They have stopped
philosophizing, if indeed they ever started. None of us has any obligation to follow their
"lead," which is to say stand around only snipping definitions, making literary and philosophical
allusions, and engaging in all manner of things which, though not wrong or useless, are not in
themselves philosophy. I do much of that sort of thing myself, but at some point I, like all
human beings, have to face the choices in the philosophical road and try one or the other and
see which way it goes, both cognitively and existentially. We human beings qua human beings
are philosophers, whatever else we may be--which is why the highest degree in most
disciplines contains the word "philosophy" in the title. We ought to face that fact, that reality,
that necessity of philosophy. Perhaps, if we were better philosophers we would be better
human beings, beings who thought many things through in advance, so that we would not
make some of the more disastrous choices in our lives--and then have to face the potentially
disastrous consequences of those decisions..
I meant to say, "The truth is threatening only to liars." The person who thinks that he or she
can indefinitely avoid risking an answer to the ultimate questions with no ill effects is
profoundly self-deluded and thus the worst kind of liar there is.
September 11, 2007, Tuesday
The Rule of Ideas: A Political Philosophy of Voluntarism
I will not try to label the political theory or philosophy set forth here as “ideocracy” or anything
else with a simple name. The” rule of ideas” will have to suffice, at least for now. I would like to
say that such would be the rule of God, but the ideas of human beings are not identical with the
thoughts within the mind of God, as can be seen by the wide range of opinions that human beings
have expressed within all types of political orders, including those of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin..
Nonetheless, to the extent that human beings aspire to alternatives to violence, there is indeed
something divine about the prospect of a world in which ideas rather than violence or coercion (the
threat of violence) might be used for the sake of governance. I will not even at this point venture
an opinion as to whether the rule of ideas would imply total governance in the absolute individual
sense or in a collective sense. Nor do I know whether the rule of ideas, if it were achievable,
would imply a particular structure or hierarchy, or whether it might conceivably be expressed as a
truly non-hierarchical order. It seems, that is, that all hierarchies are coercive to some extent, but
perhaps that is a mistake on my part in so thinking. In any case, the appeal of a rule of ideas
implies the end of violence or threat of violence, and thus the end of coercion. The point of a rule
of ideas, that is, would finally be freedom. Thus does the sub-title link the idea of the rule of ideas
to the idea of a truly voluntary society. The full implications of voluntarism are not obvious at this
point. There are those, for example, who say that the army is a voluntary organization if one
voluntarily joins it, but I cannot see the logic of this claim. If one voluntarily joins a coercive
organization, that is, then one is handing over one’s free will, and this would seem to imply the
utter end of a true spirit (or reality) of voluntarism. Combine that fact with the fact that armies do
not coerce merely their own members, but other entire cultures, and one can see that the idea of a
“volunteer army” is a bit of an absurdity.
By analogy, by “contracting” into a society (whether literally or metaphorically) that would take
away even the slightest degree of individual autonomy would seem to vitiate the claim that any
contractually-based society could possibly be voluntary. This might be only to say that a truly
voluntary is never possible, since any society would seem to require giving up some degree of
autonomy. Even so, I shall only say at the moment that contractualism does not to me imply
voluntarism. I shall not so quickly give up on voluntarism as the possible outcome of a society
ruled by ideas. If we are to find the truly voluntary society, that is, and if it is possible that it could
be attained, we may be quite sure that it will not be based on any idea of the social contract.
Indeed, the rise of utilitarianism in its original “act utilitarian” variants might be seen to imply not
only the possible promotion of the greatest happiness, but also the manifestation of total and final
autonomy and responsibility on the part of the decision-maker. Even so, there are other problems
with utilitarianism, and so for the moment I can only surmise that not even utilitarianism would
hold forth much hope as the basis of a voluntary society, but in saying this I do indeed perhaps err.
In any case, the prospect of a society in which ideas ruled could only achieve its full potential of
being a truly just society if all human beings were always honest, so that the ideas which they
expressed were always sincere. In addition, at its best the rule of ideas would imply that persons
are not self-deluded, for there is no lie quite like the lie that one tells oneself–usually, I think, for
the sake of dominating or exploiting others, but also at times as a way of rationalizing past errors or
In any case, whether the idea of a voluntary society is possible or not, it is the most ideal that I can
conceive of in terms of a social order, and thus I should have to say that it would likewise be the
most just society conceivable–but all of this is merely speculation at this point.
Unproofed as of September 12, 2007
September 23, 2007, Sunday
The rule of truth? Well, let us at least think about this.
I have made reference above to the philosophical foundations of a truly voluntary society through
the "rule of ideas," but I have been unable to come up with a good name for the "rule of ideas."
Now I think that I see why. The idea itself is not adequate and thus not worthy of a name. The
"rule of ideas" is not all that interesting without some qualification and elaboration. Hitler, for
example, ruled through ideas--but the wrong ideas, ideas that included the use of violence to
enforce those ideas. His ideas included, that is, not only the legitimacy of violence but also of
regimentation, racism, etc. Those are hardly the foundation of a voluntary society, much less of a
society that would not only be voluntary but truly just in the fullest possible sense of "just": that
which is in accordance with the will of God, in my very strong opinion..
In any case, the only kind of "rule of ideas" that would be truly interesting would be the "rule of
true ideas," or simply the "rule of truth." This I shall call "veritocracy." I am not particularly
concerned with whether or not the term has been coined before. It just came to me, and it seems
to me to be an improvement over the simple but incomplete "rule of ideas" which I used earlier.
That is, lest I just failed to make my point, we need not only the "rule of ideas" but the "rule of
true ideas," veritocracy. Only thus could we have even the theoretical possibility of a voluntary
and just society. (Do I repeat myself? Well, then, I repeat myself. Ask my colleagues at
Livingstone College, especially Dr. M.J. Simms-Maddox., who accuses me of repeating
myself--and her--all the time. I plead guilty as charged. If her ideas were not good ideas, then I
would see no need to reformulate them in my own words so that I might internalize them and thus
Lest I be accused of begging all the interesting philosophical questions about "truth" by invoking the
"rule of true ideas" or "rule of truth," let me simply point out that it helps to know where we want
to go with philosophy. What, that is, is the real point or purpose or telos of philosophy? A
generalized quest for wisdom is fine, but what drives me to want to philosophize is to find some
way to escape oppression, not so much for myself and my generation but for subsequent
generations--or possibly simply for the next life. That is, it might well be that we shall never
overcome oppression on this planet, but we can perhaps learn how to live in the life to come, that
is, learn qua find truths that would govern us in the ideal realm--without violence or the threat of
violence. Such ideas could not but make our lives more meaningful in this life, whether we
actually escape oppression or not. We shall then at least recognize it (oppression) for what it is.
There can be cure for oppression if we cannot first of all recognize it. Our first order of
philosophical business, that is, is not to cure oppression but to diagnose it.
Where do we start with this quest for the foundational truths of a true "veritocracy"? I propose the
Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapters 5-7. There are certainly worse places to start, since
strong philosophical claims and challenges to the status quo were advanced there--and they still are
there, challenging us from the living written page. I know too many Christians who read those
passages and then go right back to life--and violence and oppression--as usual after leaving the
church building. They read the pretty words. They "talk the talk" but they do not "walk the walk"
of peace and justice, of true brotherhood and sisterhood.
DO YOU HEAR ME, JUDGE? I am talking to you, you phony lawyer in a black robe, who was
on the verge of sentencing one of my students to jail Friday afternoon for being unable to pay a
traffic fine. (She was carrying four children to Scouts back in July, but only had three lap belts,
and so one child in the back had no belt--due not to her fault but due to the "oversight" of
whatever "pillar of society" made the decision not to include three lap belts in the back seats of
cars.) This student happened to African-American. (Yes, of course I loaned her the money to
pay the fine. Would you not have? It was not exactly heroic, and it did not exactly drive me into
bankruptcy) I had another student a few years ago, a young Italian-American woman, who did
have to spend a night in jail in South Carolina (you know, the state that gave us the Civil War)
because she could not produce the money that the judge required on the spot. She got more of an
education that day than in all the days that she came to my philosophy class--but it certainly was
not the lesson that the law purported to teach. She learned that the positive law has nothing to do
with justice, that true ideas are not the foundation of our so-called "justice system." She now
understands better what I meant when I spoke in class of two words for "law," lex and ius, the one
referring to the "law on the books" and the other referring to "justice," the law of God, which as a
believing Christian I believe is not the lex talionis of "an eye for an eye" but the law of
unconditional love, agápe. She now understands why it is not nonsense to speak of an "unlawful
law," a human law that is not congruent with the divine law. (For the record for any South
Carolinians who might be offended upon reading the preceding paragraph, let it be noted that I,
too, am from South Carolina, although I now teach in North Carolina. I think of my birth in South
Carolina as a bit like bastardy, an accident of birth for which I am not and was not responsible.)
I do not know what kinds of ideas those two judges referred to above were ruling by, but they
certainly were not they rule of true ideas. God's law does not need lawyers nor bailiffs nor
jailers--much less judges, who stand prepared and disposed to send people into cages or into
I see not only coercion in this world, but coercion in the service of the most inhumane and unjust
ends. That is what I see in the real world. What do you see? I see unchecked ambition,
indifferent to the welfare and rights of others. Does not all of this impel you to want to find the
true foundations for a fundamentally just order of things? If the indwelling "Spirit of God" has any
meaning--and I think that it does--then it impels us to want to cry "Foul!" every time we see an
injustice, not for the sake of oppressing or humiliating the violator and thereby adding to the sum of
human misery, but so that we can get on with the business of ridding the world of injustice--or at
least preparing ourselves to live together in total freedom and harmony in the next world. Now that
would be "justice," divine justice, the only kind of justice that is worthy of the name.
September 23, 2007, Sunday
God must love brown, since he made the earth itself brown, not to mention all of the people who
live on it, with the exception of albinos. Look at your skin and then look at the black typeface and
the white background on this page. Are you black or white? Of course not. You are, unless you
an albino, BROWN. Isn't it beautiful? Brown is simply a mixture of black and red pigments,
buffered here and there by a bit of yellow or blue or something else.
It is a strange world where social constructs such as "black" and "white" as applied to skin color
should have been allowed to be used without protest to promote injustice and exploitation. The
exploitation continues. . . .
The beauty of brown remains.
Above photos made in 2006 at Livingstone College, 701 W. Monroe St., Salisbury, NC. 28144
November 2, 2007
The State Only Wants Your Soul: Reflections on the State as Protection Racket
The state will offer you protection, and it will require only that you pay taxes in return. A
simple deal, no?
No, no. There is more. The state wants you to agree to obey all of its laws as a precondition
for its protection. Paying your taxes is not enough. You must also be prepared to judge (as in
jury duty) and to kill upon demand (when drafted), in return for that dubious protection.
Forget the Sermon on the Mount, and all of the other gentle teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
You can leave those at the door when you make the Faustian bargain with the state--or when
someone says that you have already made such a bargain, as in the myth of social contract
theory. You might not be required to do all of those things right away, of course, but the bill
will come due sooner or later in the form of a summons to jury duty, as a subpoena requiring
you to testify against others, or as a letter from Uncle Sam requiring you to show up at your
local induction station, where you will be stripped of all signs and symbols of your previous
life, and stripped psychologically and spiritually of everything that you have been taught so that
you may set aside your birthright of moral autonomy and hand it over to your drill instructor as
the appointed representative of the state. He will take your soul and put it on ice until you are
either dead or too old to fight, or otherwise of no more immediate use to the regime. When
you leave such proclaimed "service," then you will be given your soul back, but in such a
wizened state that you will not even recognize it, or, worse, you will not recognize that it is not
yours anymore. You will have become another brainwashed "patriot," a word which derives
from the same word as "father."
Your real father in heaven will have lost one more of his children to the state, but, in the
infinite mercy of divine providence, you will probably have a lifetime or the better part of it to
reflect at length either in the local Veterans Administration hospital, or on disability, where you
will have lots of time to think about your current sense of emptiness. Out of that emptiness
will come anger, and out of that anger will come expletives toward those who have enjoyed the
freedom that you and your cohorts in violence have brought them, the pacifist parasites--or at
least you will so proclaim, if you are the typical veteran.
You will later start to rail against the state itself, how it has gone back on its word, how it has
used you and is now not taking adequate care of you, medically or otherwise. You will claim
that you have been raped by the state, but the fact is that you consented to the act which it
performed on you. Even so, you were young and so it was a form of statutory rape--defended
by statute, no less. You were a child, enfant, and that is why they put you in the infantry,
because the state sacrifices its children upon the altar of war.
Since that is the case, you are still redeemable, and, by the end of your life, you will probably
have disabused yourself of the notion that you committed heroic acts in the killing of other
human beings. You will realize that you were used so that the order of Caesar might possess
you, and you will probably at the end cry out that you would have preferred to have been in
the service and ownership of God. Nor will it be too late. You got a raw deal. God knows
that. God is into second chances, not to mention third and fourth chances, etc.
I meant to say, the next time I teach a course in political theory/political philosophy, I am going
to put The Godfather on the reading list. Better yet (since the screenplay was better), I am
going to use the movie version, and the class is going to see it and analyze it. The state is,
after all, a protection racket. All that it requires is your soul, but, frankly, you might find that
it did not do a very job of protecting you, either.
Listen, young soldier. Please come down off your pedestal and recognize that God gave you
and me freedom, that all good things come from God, not Caesar, and stop telling those of us
who chose the peaceful path that we were parasites when in fact we only chose to be children
of God as we saw fit. You did not, that is, buy my freedom. In fact, you wanted to take it
away, to make me more like you, at the command of something else besides divine reason.
You did not even know what freedom is, or you would not have surrendered your free will to
the state so that you could later say, as did the pilot of the Enola Gay after he bombed
Hiroshima, "I was only following orders."
Hmm. . . . Where have I heard that before?
February 7, 2008
Are We Accomplices in Violence? Thoughts about the Common Practice of Honoring
and Glorifying the Military
Perhaps I erred in Conscientious Objections when I spoke of honoring soldiers. Perhaps I did
not. In any case, I do want to memorialize them as victims, but not as heroes--at least not for
combat missions per se. It is true that many of them do not want to be viewed as victims, but
victims they are at best, and memorializing (but not honoring) them as victims is the best that I
There are at least two things wrong with honoring military men and women as heroes. First,
such public honor only induces more and more generations of young and gullible adolescents
into going into the military, and in the process surrendering their moral birthright of taking
responsibility for their own actions (that is, by passing responsibility up to their superiors in the
chain of command, their "leaders"). Second, there is something profoundly misguided in
honoring persons who have never conceived of a higher means to gain honor than by being
prepared to destroy other human beings. (I do allow for the justifiability of granting honor to
those who directly save or preserve life through their bravery, and who do no harm to others in
the process--but most military honors are not confined to this small category.)
I do not disrespect young soldiers anymore than I disrespect any other true victims. There are
far too many innocent victims of war, and that many of these are indeed young soldiers, taken
away from us at an early age, stripped of their identities, and made over into someone's false
conception of manhood (or, increasingly, womanhood). Whether they want to be conceived of
as victims or not, they are victims, and affirming their status as victims is perhaps the best that
a truly honorable society can do. Perhaps public apologies are in order rather than formal
ceremonies that honor them.
We have to begin to stop the madness of war somewhere. I suggest that we do so by making it
clear that, though we mourn the fallen in battle, we do not honor them. We can only justifiably
honor those who have learned something about peaceful means. If we honor those who know
only violence, then we dishonor both them and ourselves.
Brave men and women there are in the military, but bravery is not enough. Respect for human
life and for peaceful means is necessary before true honor can exist or be recognized.
(The above was written in its original form on what would have been my father's ninety-third birthday had
he not died of the asbestos that he inhaled during World War II while fireproofing ships. I honor my
heavenly Father and my earthly father, but not the realm of Caesar: the state is a false father, the
"patriot" a false son. My father was in his twenties when he inhaled those deadly fibers, but I take some
solace from the fact that he might have helped to save others in the process. I can honor the saving of
others in wartime without reservation. My father revered life. I revere and honor him for doing so.)
November 28, 2010
Is a Non-Statist Political Philosophy Possible?
Is it possible to conceive of a political philosophy which does not depend by any necessity upon
the state, nation-state, or city-state for its theoretical elaboration and its practical manifestation
as a political participant? The key phrase here is "by any necessity." Political actors typically
do act within a power matrix defined by the state or something like it: the city-state, the tribe, or
some other community which is to varying degrees violent or threatening. Is it possible for such
persons yet to act using non-statist (non-coercive and non-threatening) means within such
violent and dangerous social and political orders?
I think that, yes, it is indeed possible to act in non-coercive and non-threatening ways within a
basically coercive legal and political order. Indeed, isolated individuals have been doing so and
recommending such ideal ways of proceeding for a very long time. Of course, one's prospects
for long-term survival might not be good: that is, in order to be consistent, one could not avail
oneself of coercive legal practices and procedures (the defining essence of the state qua state),
and thus one might in espousing and trying to live without such protections indeed become easy
prey for those who have no compunction about using violence, fraud, or any other method they
Even so, the mere fact that avoidance of coercive or threatening practices might put one at risk
is not any reason to say that one must thereby flee the political field entirely. One might still,
that is, be concerned with "who gets what, when, and how," to use the famous phrase by
Harold Lasswell to define the realm of the political. If one were also a perfect altruist, one
might even have a totally altruistic political agenda: the welfare of others, not oneself. One
might even have to be prepared to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others.
As a non-statist actor driven by a sense of obligation to use only perfect means, one also would
not be indifferent to the law, even if one did not invoke the law to protect oneself. One might
even address what is legal or illegal, violent or non-violent, fraudulent or non-fraudulent, moral
or non-moral (or even immoral) without thereby threatening legal penalties or accusing or
condemning others of violent, fraudulent, or immoral behavior. In other words, one might
inform others that their actions are illegal without thereby threatening to turn them in to the
authorities. One might caution yet other persons that their actions are outside certain regulatory
principles of conduct without thereby necessarily condemning them of immorality or vicious
One's social role would be overwhelmingly that of a teacher, that is, but one might yet be
perceived as a threat by those whom one is trying to admonish or advise.
This is the danger of "going it alone," as the non-statist (non-violent, non-threatening) person is
always doing. The road of the non-statist, non-violent person does indeed require one to "walk
that lonesome valley" by oneself. Persons such as Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin
Luther King, Jr., and countless others have always gone forth without protection, and they have
not typically lived very long. Nor have they prospered in social or material terms. Even so,
their lasting impact has been enormous. They have typically recommended that we use similar
means and take similar risks for the sake of others, with little or no regard for ourselves.
Shall we not emulate them? Shall we not, that is, offer a gentle and compassionate agenda of
perfect ends which we hope to promote by the most perfect means? Would be not thereby be
like sheep among wolves? Perhaps so, but in any case there is certainly nothing in logic or
philosophy--nor even in the coercive legal system itself--which could prevent us, individually or
collectively, from trying to live the non-statist, non-violent ideal in a world which is yet violent
to the core.
Shall we not try?