Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Electoral College and the Sense of the People

Every election cycle, there are junk arguments about the Electoral College that get thrown around. This cycle, like the the last, has been more quiet than the more contentious cycles before, but 'quiet' and 'silent' are not the same. Here is Jim Galloway at AJC:

The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution feared (small “d”) democracy, which they often associated with mob rule. The Electoral College was the awkward device imposed between voters and the power of the presidency — just in case the hoi polloi got carried away.

We have developed a friendlier attitude toward the popular vote in the centuries since, though it isn’t complete. Legislation to encourage a push toward the direct election of the president, introduced by Republicans, died a quiet death this year — at the hands of the most conservative elements in the state Capitol.

As to the point in the last sentence, I've talked about the sheer spam-scam nonsense of the (falsely named) 'National Popular Vote' movement before, about which I will only say here: good riddance and may its rotting corpse no longer lurch like a zombie out of its grave in search of idiot minds to devour. But over and over again, one hears this falsehood about the Founding Fathers creating the Electoral College to limit the power of the people. Indeed, this makes no sense historically. The system that the Electoral College replaced only allowed the people power over offices through their legislatures; the Electoral College gave them a new power that they didn't have before. The Electoral College was deliberately introduced for the purpose of guaranteeing that the people themselves would be brought into the election process for the Presidency, which was, in the form given in the proposed Constitution, a new and extraordinarily powerful office.

If you look at Hamilton, for instance, this is quite explicit, since Hamilton's defense of the Electoral College repeatedly connects it to guaranteeing a popular safeguard in the election of the President:

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture....

...Another and no less important desideratum was, that the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

To be sure, this sense of the people was not the only concern that had to be addressed by the constitutional system for electing the President; this is because the Presidency as it existed in the U.S. Constitution was the single most controversial part of the entire proposal -- a great many people thought that there was too much power concentrated by the Constitution into one office, so those defending the Constitution, like Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, had to allay worries about the possible tending of this "energetic magistrate" toward tyranny. So, for instance, Hamilton thinks that the Electoral College will provide a space for deliberative investigation of "all the reasons and inducements" for making a choice for the office. (The absurdity of electing the Electors so that they can rubber-stamp an already decided result is completely foreign to how Hamilton expected the Electoral College to work.) The means of election needed to be orderly and to allow for diversity in the election -- the Electoral College was intended to avoid a free-for-all every four years. (And here, at least, it works more or less as it was intended -- it makes it easier for people to keep track of the election given the huge population, and by breaking the election into chunks it makes more clear that everyone has to take into account more than just the view that happens at the moment to have the majority.) It needs relative immunity from corruption, as well -- which, people forget, is difficult to guarantee in a straight popular vote.

Thus there were other things that were thought important to consider. But the Electoral College was not put forward to reduce the power of hoi polloi but to increase it by guaranteeing them a say in the single most powerful federal office, which they did not have before, and as a way of guaranteeing that they would be one of the checks on the massively increased power that would be wielded by the President under the proposed Constitution. To be sure, one can find complaints about the Electoral College as an intermediary even in the anti-Federalist movement (Antifederalist no. 72, for instance); but the real target then was the sheer power of the Presidency in the new system. The Electoral College itself was designed to link the President to the people in a system already organized according to states, not to serve as a limit on the power of the people.

Of course, there is a legitimate question as to whether the Electoral College in practice lives up to the promise of the Electoral College in its original intent. But there's no question that the Electoral College as it was originally conceived involved a considerable expansion of the power of the people over the government.

Lit from Behind

Thanks to our upright posture, our liberated forearms, and our all-seizing hands we are able to face things not merely with our eyes but with our whole being. This posture penetrates our intentional understanding in subtle ways that have been in part clarified by Merleau-Ponty. The human face announces the human body and precedes it like an ensign. And our reading of the face reflects this. The face occurs in the world of objects as though lit from behind.

Roger Scruton, The Face of God, Bloomsbury (New York: 2015), pp. 80-81.

Maronite Year LXIV

Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Corinthians 3:7-17; Mark 9:1-7

You, O Christ, assumed our human nature,
undiminished in Yourself and Your glory,
and yet like us in all things except sin.
You shone brightly before Peter, James, and John,
a foretaste of the happiness You bring.
Shine on our minds that we may be enlightened;
allow us to taste the sweetness of light.
How good it is that we may dwell in Your grace,
for You are resplendent on the mountain!

One in nature with Father and Spirit,
to exalt servants You became a servant,
and yet in serving You were not severed:
there is one Power, one Kingship, and one Light.
Because of You, we heard the Father's voice,
and You have shown us the way of salvation.
Before the glory upon Golgotha,
You revealed Your majesty on Mount Tabor,
in beauty resplendent on the mountain.

On Tabor You showed us You are God's Son,
for the Father confirmed it with splendid love.
You gave us a taste of heavenly life
and showed us the beauty of Your Father's light,
the bright blazing in which You will return,
in the body but glorious in Godhead.
May our bishops, Lord, remember their task,
to show the brilliance of Your divinity,
bright, unending, resplendent on the mountain.

Today we hear the voice of the Father,
saying, "This is my beloved Son; hear him."
Today the Church cries out with rejoicing,
for this is the Son who has come to save us.
May all be touched by Your light and transformed;
may we carry Your name to all the nations,
revealing the light You revealed to us,
that we may contemplate Your face forever,
radiant, resplendent on the mountain.

Friday, August 05, 2016

El Inconcebible Dolor

por Jorge Luis Borges

Soy el único hombre en la tierra y acaso no haya tierra ni hombre
Acaso un dios me engaña.
Acaso un dios me ha condenado al tiempo, esa larga ilusión.
Sueño la luna y sueño mis ojos que perciben la luna.
He soñado la tarde y la mañana del primer día.
He soñado a Cartago y a las legiones que desolaron Cartago.
He soñado a Lucano.
He soñado la colina del Gólgota y las cruces de Roma.
He soñado la geometría.
He soñado el punto, la línea, el plano y el volumen.
He soñado el amarillo, el azul y el rojo.
He soñado mi enfermiza niñez.
He soñado los mapas y los reinos y aquel duelo al alba.
He soñado el inconcebible dolor.
He soñado mi espada.
He soñado a Elisabeth de Bohemia.
He soñado la duda y la certidumbre.
He soñado el día de ayer.
Quizá no tuve ayer, quizá no he nacido.
Acaso sueño haber soñado.
Siento un poco de frío, un poco de miedo.
Sobre el Danubio está la noche.
Seguiré soñando a Descartes y a la fe de sus padres.

by Jorge Luis Borges

I am the only man on earth and maybe there is neither earth nor man.
Maybe a god deceives me.
Maybe a god condemned me to time, that long illusion.
I dream the moon and I dream my eyes that perceive the moon.
I have dreamed the evening and morning of the first day.
I have dreamed Carthage and the legions that ravaged Carthage.
I have dreamed Lucan.
I have dreamed the hill of Golgotha and the crosses of Rome.
I have dreamed geometry.
I have dreamed point, line, plane, and volume.
I have dreamed yellow, blue, and red.
I have dreamed my sickly childhood.
I have dreamed maps and kingdoms and the duel at dawn.
I have dreamed inconceivable sorrow.
I have dreamed my sword.
I have dreamed Elisabeth of Bohemia.
I have dreamed doubt and certitude.
I have dreamed all of yesterday.
Perhaps I had no yesterday, perhaps I was not born.
Maybe I dream having dreamed.
I feel a little cold, a little fear.
Above the Danube, it is night.
I will continue dreaming Descartes and the faith of his fathers.

My translation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The Ebb and Flow of the Tide

Related to the previous post, here is Butler:

We cannot indeed say a thing is probably true upon one very slight presumption for it; because, as there may be probabilities on both sides of a question, there may be some against it; and though there be not, yet a slight presumption does not beget that degree of conviction, which is implied in saying a thing is probably true. But that the slightest possible presumption is of the nature of a probability, appears from hence; that such low presumption often repeated, will amount even to moral certainty. Thus a man’s having observed the ebb and flow of the tide to-day, affords some sort of presumption, though the lowest imaginable, that it may happen again to-morrow: but the observation of this event for so many days, and months, and ages together, as it has been observed by mankind, gives us a full assurance that it will.

This is fairly interesting, since Butler is arguing that "the slightest possible presumption" must be a kind of probability for what is presumed because by accumulation it can reach even full assurance. Butler takes moral certainty to come in degrees, and "full assurance", I take it, is what he calls "the highest moral certainty".

Beattie very clearly draws on Butler's argument in his account of probable reasoning in the Essay on Truth, even using the same example of the ebb and flow of tides. However, Beattie's probability only concerns the future, e.g., our expectation that the tide will keep ebbing and flowing, whereas it is quite clear that Butler is only using it as just one kind of example for a much larger phenomenon.

Not Intuitive, Not Demonstrative, Yet Sovereign

Assent on reasonings not demonstrative is too widely recognized an act to be irrational, unless man's nature is irrational, too familiar to the prudent and clear-minded to be an infirmity or an extravagance. None of us can think or act without the acceptance of truths, not intuitive, not demonstrated, yet sovereign. If our nature has any constitution, any laws, one of them is this absolute reception of propositions as true, which lie outside the narrow range of conclusions to which logic, formal or virtual, is tethered; nor has any philosophical theory the power to force on us a rule which will not work for a day.

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Chapter 6. In the sense Newman means, 'assent' is unconditional and does not admit of degrees; if you assent to something, you simply take it to be true, period. (You can still have a reason for assenting, of course; but the assent itself is not provisional or tentative or partial or something that comes in any kind of degree at all.) Examples of things that Newman thinks all reasonable people, however much they love truth, take to be simply true, despite not having perfect proof of it, are: that we exist, that there are things we do not know, that there are other minds, that there is an external world, that the earth is round, that there are lots of cities on it and that they do not disappear when we leave them, that we have parents, that we will die. The idea is that whether or not one can have a rigorous proof of these conclusions, in fact every reasonable person accepts some things like these as simply true despite having nothing more than a probable -- and sometimes even only a weakly probable -- argument in hand for them; therefore it can be reasonable to believe something certainly on reasoning that itself is only probable.

Paradise in Nature

Beauty in nature is the breath of the Holy Spirit over the world. Beauty is immanent to creation and clothes it. Beauty is paradise in nature, whose traces are preserved in nature's memory as a reflection of heaven, although in the fallen world beauty finds itself torn away from holiness. This natural beauty is revealed to man, who is called to receive its revelation not only naturally but also spiritually, in teh entirety and fullness of his spiritual being, directed at God. For man, therefore, beauty is inseparable from holiness; it is not only natural but also "spiritual" beauty.

Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, Jakim, tr., Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI: 2008) p. 155.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


Gary Gutting has a post on religious intolerance at "The Stone"; Gutting is usually vague to the point of being almost vapid, but this is even worse than usual. When people try to make these kinds of arguments without being clear about what is supposed to be meant by 'tolerance' and 'intolerance', the result is inevitably going to be dubious at best. Without knowing precisely what one means, it's not clear what it means to say that there was achieved "a widespread attitude of religious toleration in Europe and the United States"; prejudices against religious groups are certainly common both places, as (to take one example) the history of Mormonism shows in spades, and continue up to the present day. If one means legal regimes of toleration (as Gutting occasionally seems to mean), they have a checkered history and are sometimes tolerant only by technicalities, and it's not really clear what this would have to do with a young man slitting a priest's throat in a European country, anyway. No doubt there's some meaning of 'tolerance' in which one can say that Gutting's claim is true -- the word can mean almost anything outside of active attempts to destroy -- but then the question would be, is this really the sense relevant to his comments about Islam? And it's impossible to say without knowing the sense.

Part of the reason this is worth noting is that there is not, contrary to popular conflations, an obvious relation between violence and most things called intolerance. A lot of things that get called by the name are intrinsically conflict-avoiding -- strong prejudices against external foreigners are one possible ground for isolationism, prejudices by a minority within a nation not uncommonly lead to enclave formation, and prejudices by a majority in power most commonly lead to 'slow strangling' of the outgroup by laws because the people holding the power don't usually need to resort to direct violence unless they are facing a rebellion. By plenty of standards, the Amish are highly intolerant of other religious groups, and nobody is worried about Amish violence. Stable Islamic governments that have actively attempted to limit non-Islamic religious movements have not historically been very violent, in the sense of initiating active physical force; it's much more efficient to tax the opposition out of existence or make it very difficult for them to earn a living. (That's one of the major reasons why modern England is Protestant rather than Catholic, and it took hardly more than a generation.) The violence in such cases is usually started by the people being taxed or restricted out of jobs, and has nothing to do with whether they are religiously intolerant or not. (Unstable governments, of course, tend to be violent toward any perceived threat, whatever it might be.)

Where we are confining ourselves to talking about violence, it is arguably, in any case, a mistake to think of these matters in terms of tolerance and intolerance at all; it ultimately does not clarify anything to discuss how tolerant or intolerant Islam is considered to be, because 'intolerance', like 'hate' or 'fear', tends not to do any explanatory work. It is usually used as a pseudo-explanation, a label for a result that happens to be put in causal terms, rather than something that is genuinely capable of being a cause of anything. It's like saying that war is caused by aggressiveness -- setting aside all the kinds of aggressiveness that don't result in war, usually what you're doing is simply classifying someone as aggressive because they are engaging in an act we classify as aggressive, without a hint of a real cause of the act itself anywhere in sight. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it's not a real explanation of anything -- just at best a description of what needs to be explained. More and more I am inclined to regard dragging in 'intolerance' as a concession of not understanding the situation, because it often doesn't contribute anything at all.

None of this, of course, is to say that one can't have an argument of the sort that Gutting's argument purports to be -- only that Gutting, like most people, is not doing any of the work, or critical thinking, required for it.

And, incidentally, on this:

As President Obama recently said, “Some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.”

If there's anything that's certainly true about ISIS, it's that it is reforming religion to adapt to modernity. Within its means, it is using all the methods and tools of modernity it can, and it was built to reform the entire religion in light of them. Of course, what President Obama means (and what Gutting means by quoting him) is that some currents of Islam have not grown so wise (as he sees it) as to agree with his main preferences for how to live; that's what people in the First World always mean by 'modernity': adaptation to their own convenience and liking. This, of course, is merely conceptual gerrymandering. Totalitarianism is as modern as religious toleration and has as good an Enlightenment and secular pedigree; bombing people is as modern and secular a way of getting results as letting people run for office. Terrorist groups and aggressively oppressive regimes are adaptations to modernity. It's time for people to stop lying to themselves about this: this is modernity.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Estel and Amdir

'Have ye then no hope?' said Finrod.

'What is hope?' she said. 'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.'

'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdir we call it, "looking up". But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?'
[J. R. R. Tolkien, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in Morgoth's Ring, Christopher Tolkien, ed., HarperCollins (London: 2015) p. 320.]

You might remember that Estel was the name Aragorn had when growing up in Rivendell, before he was told about his heritage.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fortnightly Book, July 31

MrsD a while back mentioned Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, and that's the next fortnightly book. In high school I loved Nathaniel Hawthorne, and read almost everything I could get my hands on (I particularly liked The House of the Seven Gables and "The Celestial Railroad"). But I don't think I ever got round to reading this one, or, if I did, I don't recall anything about it.

1852 was an election year, and Hawthorne was friends with Franklin Pierce. Pierce was a dark horse candidate, having squeaked by in the nominations due to a tactical mistake by the supporters of Buchanan. Hawthorne contributed to his campaign by writing a political biography of his rather unexciting career that made the case that this was actually an advantage. When Pierce won the election, he named Hawthorne consul to Liverpool, England. That's a sign of how appreciative Pierce was, because it was not just a plum position, but one of the very most important foreign service positions, very well paid and very prestigious. As the Pierce administration drew to a close and Hawthorne resigned from his position, he and his family went on an extended holiday to Italy for over a year and a half. While there, Hawthorne kept detailed notes, and they became the basis for The Marble Faun: or The Romance of Monte Beni, which was published in 1860. (The British edition was published with the title, Transformation, against Hawthorne's wishes.) It had a very curious reception -- critics were ambivalent about it, since it was a mixture of genres that were usually kept distinct, and a lot of people seem not to have liked the ending. However, as it happened it came out at the right time -- Americans were increasingly going to Italy, and they started using Hawthorne's tale as a sort of guidebook. The places Hawthorne talked about in The Marble Faun became the must-see sites in Rome. There was even an edition made at one point with blank pages where tourists could paste their own photographs as illustrations in the book. In the book, Italy is a kind of fantasy locale, built not just out of monuments and natural scenes but out of layers of history and legend and myth; The Marble Faun gave Americans an atmosphere for their tours.

And to get us started, here is the statue that inspired the name and story of the book, known variously as the Capitoline Faun, the Faun of Praxiteles, and the Resting Satyr, which is a Roman copy of a Greek statue supposedly by the great Greek sculptor Praxiteles:

Leaning satyr Musei Capitolini MC739

Maronite Year LXIII

The Maronite Catholic Church began, of course, as a religious movement, heavily focused on ascetic life, inspired by St. Maron (or Maroun), who was an open-air hermit in the mountains. One of the major centers for this movement was the monastery of Bet Maroun, which grew to have several hundred monks. Given the nature of the region in which the movement thrived, it is difficult to get any precise historical information about it. However, apparently in the early sixth century, the monks of the region had a brief correspondence with Pope St. Hormisdas. The primary struggle of Hormisdas's papacy was over the Acacian schism, which had been caused by the Emperor Zeno's issuing of a document, the Henoticon, attempting to force a compromise between the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians. Decades later, when Hormisdas came to the papal throne, the schism was still a problem, and Hormisdas himself strongly advocated a noncompromising position, and he asked for public declarations in the East in favor of the Council of Chalcedon and the letters of Pope St. Leo I. This seems to have been the occasion for the correspondence; the monks wrote a letter affirming their support of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, in which they told of monasteries having been burned and three hundred and fifty monks martyred by Monophysites, requesting his assistance and protection.

The Feast of the 350 Martyrs, Disciples of St. Maron
Romans 16:17-20; Luke 11:49-54

For the sake of Your holy name, the martyrs fought,
Lord, not with sword but with grace and holy patience,
and in all places You exalt their victory.

Beneath their feet You will crush the Adversary;
faith, hope, and love guided them to the paths of life,
for they were loyal to truth and did not waver.

As their death was pleasing sacrifice in Your sight,
may their memory be protection to Your flock,
and their prayers a shield for Your chosen people.

Through them, the unfathomable riches of Christ,
the treasuries of divine wisdom, rain on us,
according to the eternal purpose of God.

O Three Hundred Fifty martyrs! Great is your faith!
When our Lord Christ called you to follow, you followed,
and God's grace, like a mother, sustained you in death.

Pray for us, O martyrs, that we may be worthy
to celebrate your feast and join your holy choir,
giving great honor with you to Christ the martyr.