James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Of Pietism and Liberty

There is truth, and then there is being right. Being right is a "virtue;" those who aren't right either lack sufficient information or are morally and intellectually defective. Being right creates divisions, primarily between those who are right and those who are wrong on the Big Questions. And even among those who are right on the Big Questions, there are divisions between those who are consistent in their application of correct doctrines, versus compromisers and people with muddled thoughts and feelings. And even among the compromisers, there are people willing to compromise on one issue A but not issue B, and others who will compromise on B but not A. People tend to be more frustrated with those who agree with them 80-90% of the time, than with those who don't agree with them at all. And a certain kind of dogmatist just doesn't tolerate dissent and breaks off relationships with those who disagree with them on anything.

That kind of intolerance isn't so bad in consensual relationships. Sure, it might mean the purist has few friends, but perhaps in the cosmic division of labor he really does possess some truth worth preserving and that gives his life meaning. It is when intolerance of other people's ideas leads to coercion that we run into trouble.

These thoughts came to mind upon reading Murray Rothbard's essay on Lysander Spooner. Spooner was an abolitionist, but believed the North was wrong to invade the South. He applied correct dogma correctly. In this sense, he did not make the same mistake that many others from the pietist (i.e., moralist) tradition make, which is to resort to the State to punish sin and evil.

The distinction Rothbard makes between the pietists and the liturgical Christians in the 19th century also appears to have relevance today. The pietists were individualistic in their faith and - because of their intolerance of "sin" and of people with ideas other than their own - made the mistake of being moralistic in their politics; liturgical Christians deferred to the Church in spiritual and moral matters and laissez-faire politcally. This tension persists to this day.

Among conservatives, there are some who believe in stability, the traditional Constitutional order, laissez-faire, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. These "paleos," or the Old Right, are inheritors of the liturgical tradition (whether or not they belong to liturgical churches themselves). There are others, as Richard Ebeling describes, (.pdf), who are inheritors of the pietist tradition, focused on "right" and "wrong," and believe in things like free markets only to the extent that they award the virtuous. Liberty to them is a means only, and not the highest political end.

Among liberals, "social justice" pietists and their atheist and Jewish allies dominate. But then on the extreme are left-libertarians, the heirs of Spooner, who apply correct doctrines correctly and don't fall for Statism. They retain their moral commitment to individualism especially vis-a-vis the State.

A "pietist" commitment to moral principle is great - provided it includes a commitment to political and individual liberty. But this commitment should also be flexible to allow for alliances and coalitions - particularly with the Old Right.

This is what we are seeing the in the Ron Paul candidacy.

No comments:

Post a Comment