On the last day of 2019, I published an article on The Liberty Hawk criticizing Yoram Hazony’s video on the Enlightenment for PragerU. Well a year has gone by, The Liberty Hawk website I wrote for is now gone (although it is trying to re-establish itself here on Medium) and the article only still exists as a section of my collection of articles, The Establishment Is Dead: Long Live The Establishment, published earlier this year.
Considering 2020 has been a bit of a weird year, I figured it might be best to end this year as I ended the last one — mocking Yoram Hazony. So I booted up the latest episode of his podcast NatCon Talk (“Where nationalism and conservativism meet”) and listened to his interview with R.R. Reno, editor of the Catholic Magazine First Things.
According to Reno and Hazony, the idea of a “common good” needs to be brought back (this is a common theme in both of their writings, and one that is mentioned in the interview, with Hazony going so far to say that all politics is based around the common good). For example, if an airborne illness that is both easily spread and has a long incubation period were going around, one would assume it would be in the “common good” to wear a face covering in case you have the illness but don’t know in order to stop the spread. Well here is what Reno tweeted on this very topic on 5/11/2020:
By the way, the WWII vets did not wear masks. They’re men, not cowards. Masks=enforced cowardice.
Just to reinforce. Talked to my son in Seattle. The mask culture if fear driven [sic]. Masks+Cowardice. It’s a regime dominated by fear of infection and fear of causing of infection. Both are species of cowardice.
Now we know who wants to cower in place. By all means rage against those who want to live.
Look, let’s face it. There are those who are terrified, and those who are not. Where do you stand? Terror or a more reasonable position? Will you visit our mother? If so, the mask is a PC gesture. If not, you are a moral monster.
Even many of Reno’s fellow conservatives (Patrick Connelly, Erick Erickson, Jonah Goldberg, and Rod Dreher) were equal parts enraged and confused at what Reno was saying. I instead find it equal parts nonsensical (how would wearing masks help those fighting in World War Two?) and illuminating to the true role of “common good” in political debates. For men like Reno, “the common good” is not a first principal, nobody makes laws based on a utilitarian calculation, but instead something you mention to shout down critics of your ideology — turning it into nothing more than another weasel word.
Describing the ideas of Karl Popper, Reno says that Popper rejected the idea of “truth”. This is true, but Popper’s view is slightly more complicated than Reno implies. In his 1984 work In Search of A Better World Popper states:
Our aim as scientists is objective truth; more truth, more interesting truth, more intelligible truth. We cannot reasonably aim at certainty. Once we realize that human knowledge is fallible, we realize also that we can never be completely certain that we have not made a mistake.
Popper did not believe that truth did not exist, but instead that humans could never discover such a thing without massive amounts of trial and error. Popper believed our first attempt at truth was likely to be our worst one (hence why the first volume of The Open Society And Its Enemies heavily critiqued Plato — one of the founders of modern philosophy, in part to show just how flawed his ideology was) and that we would need constant experimentation in order to prove something correct or incorrect.
Reno says “you cannot make openness an end” to go after Popper, and to prove why he cites the fact that when you do something, you close yourself off from other options. Here, Reno is using the term “open” is such a bizarre manner that his criticism hits “not even wrong.” You have me, Mr. Reno, you cannot make civilization some kind of hyper-space where you can do two contradictory things at once — take that you silly liberals.
Okay, so both a common good and an objective truth exist — but does a perfect civilization, one that follows both of those, exist? According to Reno, no — and this is the contradiction I wrote this article to talk about. You see, if one objective truth does exist, and that objective truth should be implemented using policy, then logically it would follow that such policy would look similar across the goal regardless of nation.
Here is what Reno wrote in November 2018:
We need to resist the utopianism that imagines America to be the universal, missionary nation that will bring human rights, freedom, and democracy to the whole world — or that the whole world can immigrate here. Our Constitution and way of life are noble achievements. They are rooted in the soil of our unique history, however, and are not readily exported. Nor can they survive unlimited immigration that disrupts the transmission of our national identity from one generation to the next.
Wait a minute, is our Constitution rooted in universal truth or is it not? If it is not, then I would want it to be gotten rid of and replaced with something that actually matches the objective truth we know exists. If it is, then I would want it to be spread across the world, implemented everywhere possible, as it the one truth and should be treated as nothing less.
There’s this post-modern thread in some forms of conservativism , in his 1790 work Reflections On The Revolution In France, Edmund Burke wrote:
But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.
In more recent times, Michael Knowles said on the 9/3/2020 edition of his podcast:
The idea [of statistics, and liberalism in general] being that there is not only . . . a science to physics for instance, or a science to precise things we can measure under a microscope, but there’s also a science of society, there’s also a science to history, there’s also a science to human affairs and politics . . . The trouble is, the idea that there’s a science to society, is complete BS.
But wait a minute, if there is an objective truth to everything, and there is a common good that can be determined from these truths, why is a science of society so impossible? Why shouldn’t politics be nothing more than a means to intact this truth and nothing more? I can go on for awhile, but the fact is, this idea simply does not hold up to the facts that are being mentioned before this.