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On Civilization

The true mark of the civilized society is not that it defends the rights of people who are loved by the bulk of the population, for those people need no defense. No one, after all, will arrest a popular person for saying or doing popular things. The true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled.

Indeed, in a truly civilized society, there would be no question but that you would defend the rights of people who disgust you provided they do no violence to others.

Our society is not civilized.

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31 comments to On Civilization

  • To paraphrase Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons:

    I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUqytjlHNIM

  • A self-appointed ‘elite’ of our society visibly get off defending those whom most of their society find distasteful or disgusting. Their methods include demonising those who feel that distaste, allegedly for their ‘privilege’, to the point where those demonised might be more accurately considered those whose rights (e.g. their free speech rights) were being denied. Fortunately, these are not ready to go quiet into that good night; there is some fightback.

    Amongst all this conflict, we see muslim terrorists being flattered by ‘liberals’, torturers leading “womens’ marches”, etc., while, on the other hand, Donald Trump wins an election despite being universally reviled by that ‘elite’ – and by no means universally flattered by the rest of us.

    I therefore think there is no need to seek out anyone who is truly and literally “universally reviled” to defend free speech. The ‘elite’ create a fictitious appearance of universal contempt; exposing that fiction is one of the most valuable ways to resist them.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “John Galt”, that scene from that film is a favorite of mine. Thank you so much for linking to it!

  • Mr Ed

    That was a ‘sanitised’ Sir Thomas More, of course, but that portrayal of him is a very good example to aspire to.

    Of course, the OP raises the bugbear of ‘society‘, which is everyone and so is no one. Perhaps it is the law that defends the reviled, though whether by proscription of actions or by deed of its servants is another matter.

    And let us recall the quotation of William Pitt the Elder:

    The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

    That is ‘civilised’, when war and force have no place. When one may proceed in all things by invitation and agreement.

  • bobby b

    Someone’s made a mistake thinking this fight concerns rights.

    Rights are more process-oriented; rights are about the fairness with which society treats you, the ability you are afforded to make a meaningful and consequential argument and defense, your allowed ability to prove where you lie on a moral continuum.

    This fight is about where moral lines are to be drawn. When you act in a certain way, does your act fall inside or outside of acceptable behavior? The left has attempted to move these lines – the Overton windows, as it were – in ways designed to bring all of their own behaviors into the acceptable range, and to exclude all behaviors primarily found amongst the right into unacceptable areas.

    Thus, if the left wins, concepts such as patriotism, nationalism, conservative sexual mores, and personal responsibility are to be treated as character defects and moral failings, while racial discrimination, silencing of speech, violent mob behavior, and intolerance will be virtues.

    It’s not “rights”, so much as it is “what is right?”

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Someone once said in a Samizdata thread:

    Submission to political authority (by definition unjust to at least some – hence political) is the mark of a civilized society.

    If we assume that protecting the rights of those who are universally reviled is unjust to most people – and most people are not libertarians so this is probably a very fair assumption – then in the scenario in which political authority defends the rights of those who are universally reviled is a case that accords with both the above statement and Perry Metzger’s statement that “the true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled”.

    Of course, there are certainly scenarios encompassed by the statement quoted above that are above and beyond Perry Metzger’s formulation of the mark of a civilized society, but it’s not off-base to observe that what Perry Metzger alleges to be the true mark of civilization is encompassed by and even a (admittedly narrow/limited) derivative of the statement quoted above. Interesting.

  • staghounds

    Shut up, hater!

  • Cristina

    The submission to political authority is a sine qua non of all societies. Does that mean all societies are civilized?

  • Laird

    If that’s your definition of “civilized” then there has never been a civilized society on this planet.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    The submission to political authority is a sine qua non of all societies. Does that mean all societies are civilized?

    Excellent. I suppose it depends on how you define submission. And how you define civilized.

    When soccer Moms declare that “Bush is not my President” are they submitting to political authority? What about when people protest the policies of the government? What about when individuals file “citizen suits” against government agencies? What about when people disagree with the outcomes of elections of our political leaders? What about when thugs engage in riots protesting government policies or protesting alleged/perceived legal rights of individuals (a Milo comes to mind) to engage in speech?

    Are these actions acts of submission to political authority? No.

    Are these actions civilized? Are these actions signs/symptoms/causes/consequences of civilized society? Perhaps some of these actions comport with civilization as most of us (read: not me) commonly understand it in mainstream modern society but they are in themselves signs and symptoms, causes and consequences of civilizational decay.

    In any case, submission to political authority is the mark of civilized society – partly because insofar as individuals submit to political authority so do the signs, symptoms, consequences, and indeed causes of civilizational decay dissipate and fade away.

    If that’s your definition of “civilized” then there has never been a civilized society on this planet.

    No temporal society is absolutely civilized. It is a matter of degree. The extent to which individuals submit to political authority is generally a fairly accurate barometer for how civilized a society is. There’s no rebellion, riot, or protest against the Creator in His Everlasting Kingdom and there is total, absolute submission to Him there; this is not a coincidence.

  • William Newman

    I think this is deforming the ordinary usage of “civilized” too much. If you take “civilized” to convey your especially-egalitarianly-morally-consistent meaning, what term do you think should be used to convey older meanings, such as the constellation of traits that made the city-oriented societies such as the Greeks or Romans or the Dutch or the Japanese formidable (and vulnerable) in characteristic ways that various hill tribes and nomads and hostile-environment-sparse-population-specialized tribes generally were not?

    It is already a figurative stretch to use “civilized” to refer to (roughly) the same loosely specified kind of bundle of virtues that people refer to figuratively with terms like “enlightened” or “higher”. Trying to then borrow this particular figurative vague usage and insist that it be narrowed to your preferred more-specific meaning seems like a particularly bad idea given that the literal use of the word already has a different more specific meaning when applied to societies.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Maistre of course said that government is true religion. An absurd statement I imagine modern minds to proclaim!

    But his masterful intuition can be interpreted in sundry ways.

    Let us examine one.

    Political authority is true, just, and good insofar as it is thought to be vested with spiritual authority. Perfect political order is spiritual order (remember the Creator’s everlasting Kingdom?).

    Consider two democracies. Identical in every way (economy, demography, size, etc) save one. If in democracy A I go on CNN and argue for the moral badness of democracy I will be scorned and laughed at, while if I do so in democracy B I will be neither laughed at nor scorned nor insulted but actually listened to (this is dangerous). Democracy A is more stable; the culture, the national identity even, of democracy A is stronger and vests its government with more spiritual power than does the former.

    Now, there’s obviously going to be less protest against the form of government (democracy) in democracy A than in democracy B. The government (modern eyes should read this as the “form of government”, since the myth of the peaceful transfer of power in democracy is just that – a myth because in elections power is generally only ever substantively contested by governing parties (which are all by definition part of the government whether in or out of office they are certainly in power) and the exceptions to this prove the rule as in the election of 1860) of democracy A is going to last longer than in democracy B because more protest, riot, acrimony against political authority in democracy B leads to more and faster growth of said disorder which leads to a sooner actual, you know, transfer of power (read: armed conflict). Thus, it must be that the longer a government lasts the more overlap there must have generally been between its spiritual and political orders.

    The longer a political government lasts the more like a projection of the Creator does it embody, for in His Kingdom spiritual order is itself political order and in such a case there is no disorder and therefore it lasts forever.

  • An absurd statement I imagine modern minds to proclaim!

    Quite, even if I agree that democracy is at best a tool rather than an intrinsic good in and of itself.

  • Rob Fisher

    William Newman: my practical, everyday usage of “civilized” currently has it defined as “having 4G network coverage and Uber”. I think it’s a word that invites misunderstanding and endless discussion of semantics.

  • PeterT

    “do not do to others which you would not have done to yourself” is a classic and I think quite a good guide to being civilised, and will encompass Perry M’s statement.

  • Cristina

    I suppose it depends on how you define submission. And how you define civilized.

    Not really. It depends on how you define society. Society is not its individual members, as many as they might be.

    Submission to political authority (by definition unjust to at least some – hence political) is the mark of a civilized society.

    [..] in His Kingdom spiritual order is itself political order[…]

    Are political authority and political order one and the same? I don’t think so. Nor I think His Kingdom political as per your definition.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The democratic cart keeps being put before the liberty horse.

  • Watchman

    Runcie,

    I think that’s because liberty is not likely with any other cart, as unlike the democratic one they don’t have wheels…

  • Watchman (March 31, 2017 at 11:52 am), liberty came first, democracy later. The thirteen American colonies experienced much mild English government before they became a democracy, and that liberty grew in an England that had much balance of power and a fair amount of constitutional (institutional) form, but not so much democracy (as the word is usually defined). Given the degree of progress it made over the centuries, the English cart certainly had wheels.

  • Mr Ed

    Our society is not civilized.

    True when, e.g.

    Your land may be taken from you by colour of law, eminent domain, compulsory purchase.

    An employer may be ruined by an employee claiming under a statutory tort designed to penalise preferences.

    Words unconnected with threats or violence are criminalised.

    There is no limit to what may be taken in taxation.

    Taxation is a tool to influence behaviour.

    Your property may be seized without trial.

    You have to prove your innocence, civil or criminal.

    The rules of evidence are altered in particular circumstances.

    You are liable to compensate injured trespassers.

    Laws may have retrospective effect. (Thank you Article 1, Section 9, clause 3)

  • Laird

    Mr Ed, that is an excellent list. I have questions about a couple of the items, though. (Perhaps these reflect differences between the UK and US legal systems, or perhaps merely my ignorance.)

    Under what circumstance does one have to prove innocence, especially in a criminal setting?

    When have you seen rules of evidence altered on the fly?

    As to compensating injured trespassers, I agree that has gotten out of hand lately. However, if you remember your torts class you know that it is an ancient rule of common law that property owners can be held liable, even to trespassers, for maintaining unreasonably dangerous conditions, or creating an attractive nuisance, or using deadly force in defense of property. In general I don’t really have a problem with those rules. Comment?

  • Mr Ed

    Laird,

    In terms of the rules of evidence, they are altered not for particular individuals (not yet anyway) but in terms of categories of cases and allowing witnesses to give evidence behind screens etc. all against open justice and the presumption of innocence.

    In terms of proving innocence, in civil cases, in some discrimination claims, the burden of proof is reversed, (I simplify) and under Section 40 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the criminal law provides:

    Onus of proving limits of what is practicable etc.

    In any proceedings for an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions consisting of a failure to comply with a duty or requirement to do something so far as is practicable or so far as is reasonably practicable, or to use the best practicable means to do something, it shall be for the accused to prove (as the case may be) that it was not practicable or not reasonably practicable to do more than was in fact done to satisfy the duty or requirement, or that there was no better practicable means than was in fact used to satisfy the duty or requirement.

  • Sigivald

    Indeed it is not.

    I blame us; we’re why we can’t have nice things.

    (The general us, not the Samizdata us or the libertarian/freedom-focused us.)

    Simply watching Facebook reveals that almost nobody I know is actually a civil libertarian, and they indeed fall over themselves, half of them, with the instinct and action of the Censor and the Kommisar, the moment the appropriate Other comes into the crosshairs.

    From the Best Of Motives, of course.

  • Paul Marks

    The situation is actually worse than Perry M. suggests.

    Even if a majority of people SUPPORT the rights of an individual that does NOT mean that the individual is safe from the government attacking him or her.

    Take the situation is California (the largest population State in America – not some little joke example) – some people exposed the criminal activities of the far left group “Planned Parenthood”. As exposed by undercover film the vicious far left thugs of “Planned Parenthood” offered to sell the organs of babies and made it clear they regarded human beings as just spare parts to be sold for their profit.

    What did the State of California do?

    It did not prosecute the far left thugs of “Planned Parenthood” – it prosecuted the ordinary people who exposed them.

    According to the State of California the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech and of the Press) is for a special caste of people called “the mainstream media” (for example the LA Times newspaper – or ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS or the other leftist sources) the First Amendment does NOT (according to the State of California – or other leftists) apply to ordinary people. Say a conservative speaker on a university campus – being attacked by leftist thugs (backed by the State university authorities) or some people trying to expose a far left organisation such as “Planned Parenthood”.

    Only conservative organisations (not leftist ones) may be subject to undercover investigations – and only the “mainstream media” may conduct such investigations – even though the term “mainstream media” is not mentioned in either the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of California.

    The First Amendment is supposed to be ordinary people – but the left do not agree, and the left control the courts and the prosecutors.

    Human rights are about the basic nature of what a human being is – humans are not machines all of whose actions are pre determined by a series of causes-and-effects going back to the Big Bang. If that was so then humans would not be beings (Free Will subjects – rather than just predetermined objects) and tyranny would not matter as moral freedom would not exist.

    But moral freedom does exist, humans are beings, we can (sometimes) choose (really CHOOSE) to do other than we do. That is the fundamental principle that the First Amendment (and the rest of the Bill of Rights) rests upon – and the whole concept of “human rights” stands or falls with it. If Thomas Reid (the philosopher most cited by the Founders) and the other philosophical libertarians (both “Common Sense” school and Aristotelians) are wrong – then, yes, the First Amendment does not matter (indeed NOTHING matters) and one can regard with indifference the “Euthanasia of the Constitution” (David Hume’s indifferent little essay musing about the possible extermination of the unwritten British Constitution – an indifference quite consistent with his “philosophy” or rather his revolt against traditional philosophy in relation even to the nature of what a human being is).

    The modern left regard themselves as very “scientific” – “science has proved” that humans are not beings, so such things as the First Amendment (indeed all restrictions on government power) are silly – although the left do not say this. They say that they are about “the mainstream media” in relation to the First Amendment, or “a well regulated militia ONLY”, in relation to the Second Amendment (and the Ninth Amendment, natural rights – natural law, background is of course ignored).

    I suspect that the left believe that some humans are actually are beings – THEMSELVES (the “mainstream media” the “education system” and so on) it is just the rest of us who are human shaped flesh robots (after the “philosophy” of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume) who have no “negative” rights (only “positive” rights – benefits from the government) as we have no real choice – and therefore our agency is not violated by government action, because we (unlike the leftist elite) are not really moral agents at all.

  • Paul Marks

    “But most people do not support the charging of people for investigating Planned Parenthood”.

    If most people are not really people (if we are predetermined flesh robots – without a soul, in the religious or non religious sense) then our support or lack of it does not matter.

    The only real people (the left) will make all the decisions (as only they have agency – free will), the rest of us (who are not part of the “mainstream media” and the “education system” and so on) are, at best, just cattle – with needs (“positive rights”) which will the left elite will deal with, in order to reduce our suffering.

    As we can suffer – even though (according to the elite) we have no moral agency (free will), as we are not really human beings. But we do not have “negative rights” (such as Freedom of Speech) because we are not really moral agents (free will beings – subjects rather than just objects).

    Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham – it leads to modern California. Indeed it leads to much-much worse.

  • Slartibartfarst

    …The true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled.
    Indeed, in a truly civilized society, there would be no question but that you would defend the rights of people who disgust you provided they do no violence to others.
    Our society is not civilized.

    Then arguably – from my experience – neither is this blog, where remarkably narrow-minded bigots would sometimes seem to abound.
    Ahamkara.
    Allahu akbar.
    (((:~{> “Be there or be dhimmi” – Annual Everybody Draw Mohammed Day – since 20 May, 2010.

  • Paul Marks

    Defending the rights of people does NOT mean not reviling them Slatibartfarst . I have often expressed contempt (indeed hatred) for people I have defended.

    The politicians and officials of California (and so on) can say “fuck you, you Christian scum – go back to your Sky Daddy” (or whatever) as much as they like. What I object to is them using the criminal law against their political (and theological) opponents.

    I am not shy of reviling people I disapprove of – but I am not going to steal their money, or put them in prison. And I am not happy with someone else doing this.

    What we have now is the opposite – the officials and politicians pretend to “respect” people they despise. They do not openly express their disgust with their opponents – as I would. Instead they seek to use FORCE (the criminal law) against those they dislike (dislike because of their political and theological opinions).

    Not the same as drawing a cartoon of Muhammed – showing him to be the rather nasty person he was. More like sending someone to prison for being a Muslim – whilst, at the same time, denying that one is doing that.

    “No it is nothing to do with you being a Muslim – the thing is you used pink tinted notepaper, and that is illegal. Not for other people of course (people working for, for example, the L.A. Times can use all the pink tinted notepaper they like) – but it is illegal for YOU to have used it”.

    The persecutors are not even open in their persecution.

    Asking for the criminal law not to be used as a weapon against people one likes is easy (I am sure the politicians and officials of California – and the mainstream media and education system – would agree to that) – but it is different matter to oppose such attacks on people whose opinions one hates.

    Express contempt (indeed hatred) – YES.

    Use force against others and their possessions – NO.

  • Slartibartfarst,

    @Paul Marks: Thanks for taking the trouble to respond. I didn’t really require one (a response) as I was just passing comment on a thought that occurred to me at the time, but it’s always nice to hear from you! 🙂

    Actually, I thought I had written that comment some time ago, but it says “April 1st”. Hmm. Someone playing a joke? Or are the dates on this blog somehow out of sync?
    Maybe my Mr. Hyde persona has been busy without my knowing…time to start worrying…

  • Slartibartfarst,

    Duh, no, I have just realised it’s the time differential to my timezone. I had forgotten to account for that. Apologies.

  • Paul Marks

    No problem Slartibartfarst.

    I think we both agree with the poster (Perry M.) that the real test of someone’s commitment to Freedom of Speech (indeed to freedom in general) is whether they are prepared to defend people they despise.

    I am just open about who I despise and why I despise them.

    The modern fashion is to pretend to “respect” or even “admire” people one despises – whilst using the criminal law to crush them. I do not agree with such a position.

    I believe that people should be allowed to express vile opinions – and I should be free (indeed I have a moral duty) to BOTH express my contempt for them, and to DEFEND their right to express their opinions.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I suppose it depends on how you define submission. And how you define civilized.

    Not really. It depends on how you define society. Society is not its individual members, as many as they might be.

    I’m not defining society as its individual members but when society’s mainstream accepts following behaviors, these actions are at times quite common, whole industries and service providers and non-profits have sprung up around them, and the media/elites even trumpets these actions at certain times, well, it’s ENTIRELY reasonable for me to ask if society is “submitting to political authority”:

    When soccer Moms declare that “Bush is not my President” are they submitting to political authority? What about when people protest the policies of the government? What about when individuals file “citizen suits” against government agencies? What about when people disagree with the outcomes of elections of our political leaders? What about when thugs engage in riots protesting government policies or protesting alleged/perceived legal rights of individuals (a Milo comes to mind) to engage in speech?

    Feel free to answer this question instead of dodging it. Because the truth that I have advanced previously in this thread will be made more clear as you concede that, well, the area is gray; there is a gradient.

    Submission to political authority (by definition unjust to at least some – hence political) is the mark of a civilized society.

    [..] in His Kingdom spiritual order is itself political order[…]

    Are political authority and political order one and the same? I don’t think so. Nor I think His Kingdom political as per your definition.

    No, you misunderstand. Spiritual order and political order are one and the same in His Kingdom. That is why (and also how) there is no degradation of social/political order in the Everlasting Kingdom at all.

    And you also misunderstand regarding political order/authority. I was not saying that political authority is political order; I was saying that political authority takes root only where there is a such thing as “politics” – hence why authority in the mortal world is, well, “political authority” because, as I said, not everyone accepts it.