Limits to Locke, or two cheers for Islam

>Our contemporary politics takes place within the parameters defined by liberalism.

–if liberalism is correct.   If not, then it may have those parameters wrong; it may have misunderstood the human situation.  It may not have understood the unchangeable savagery or irrationality or injustice of human needs (e.g., Locke in his work on education greatly underestimates the fundamental cruelty of boys), and the need for restraints and especially for extreme satisfactions, such as a divine ruler and access to absolute law or rightness or eternal glory. 

It’s not just a theoretical question, whether God has been disproven in the abstract, but a practical political question: it’s a question of what thing gives rise to God inside us and how tamable or reformable it is.   Liberalism may have made a grave mistake in believing there could be a beneficial separation of church from state: a mistake both from the point of view of the survival of the regime (can a tired, sterile non-Christian Europe maintain itself against a fertile Islam?  where the exhaustion arises from lack of self-righteousness and lack of confidence in or hope for the future, a future not blessed by eternal powers); and from the point of view of its desirability (don’t democracies become rotten without some check on popular self-indulgence, a law above them that is not their creation).

>The Bible falls short of what its own principles demands

It’s not what the Bible demands, but what we demand of the Bible—what in us forces us to obey the Bible, to believe—that same force may cause us to obey a bible that contradicts itself.  It may be that we could not tolerate what a non-contradictory, intelligible bible would be (i.e. it would not be a bible), any more than we would rest satisfied with a life in which we have no more than what our naked powers already provide us (–suppose that 99.9% of the value of things does not derive from “our labor,” but from our imagination of the place we earn from God by our labor).  It is not enough to be moderate and rational in a formal sense—one must be able to see the source of irrationality operating even in the desire to be rational and to understand (cf. Nietzsche’s masterful explanation of the will to truth as a piety, as a faith).  In subjecting the bible to the test of consistency, one is assuming that consistency is the demand, or really, that the dominion of the bible over us is only as fundamental as our false belief in its consistency—that could be solved by education.  But if the bible has to be inconsistent for it to be a bible, for it to have force, then can that force that inspires the making of bibles be controlled by education, especially an education that does not see the grounds of that force?  Is whatever is replacing the Bible really more consistent, on the fundamental issue, than the Bible? 

What is the genuine demand?  Is the demand for reason or consistency in fact the highest longing in human beings—is it even compatible with this longing?  If the part in us that gives rise to God is not reason, and if this part, which may drive our reasoning, is the true end or solace of life, and if this part is not compatible with reason or not simply compatible, then such a demand would not be resistible on the grounds of reason, even if it allows some scope for reason in life (and reason would at best confirm the grave insufficiency of reason).  In this view, liberalism would not be taking sufficient account that God is a tyrant, God is not just—that we are forced to be tyrants, that we are not just, that we cannot help insisting on what we cannot have and cannot help having a false relation with other beings, and that life, including what rationality and philosophy is possible, is possible only with proper awareness of and so submission to this imperious irrationality and savagery.  In this view, the beginning of wisdom is that we can never be wise, that we are born in darkness and must die in it, and such light or dignity as we are given is a small, frail, fleeting, partial awareness of this darkness, something that we are built in a thousand thousand ways to deny:  god is a terrible, relentless, jealous, watchful force that never gives us rest. 

I wonder whether the problem in Locke is not that he privately overestimates the divergence of reason from revelation; I mean, that reason is such a safe harbor for Locke, or that it has a clear ability to reform our relations, almost like the difference between heaven and hell (First Treatise, I.58). It seems to me that reason, when fully stripped of the hopes given by revelation (if that’s even possible!), is much weaker, much less comforting, and much more doubtful a political guide than he makes out.

From what I’ve read of Locke, I didn’t have the sense that he was aware of the full force of the demand that the world be good, or that there be a magistrate to take care of our souls.   For example, he seems to underestimate the need we have to be “our brother’s keeper” (letter on toleration); I mean our need to have the whole world be in accordance with justice or with the possibility of salvation.  Can life be good for most people without a very strong and very public assurance that such justice or salvation rules?  That might be why he, like Hobbes, does not have a cycle of regimes (or a non-progressive account): he tacitly makes the longing for justice satisfiable in a stable way, and I suspect someone who saw the force of this longing could not believe any political situation would satisfy it or make it stable.  In contrast, the political situations that explicitly provide for the transcendent longings in the form of a religious doctrine, are more aware of those longings, and are better able to provide what reasonable satisfaction there can be.   (A sign of this is that the most politically active or influential atheists, such as Dawkins and Hitchens, are unable to be atheists without a belief that someone who opposes the teaching of evolution is morally wrong and unjust, not just mistaken.  They don’t accept the world as it is, “survival of the fittest” (believing in evolution does not foster reproductive success), but want a world where one should be on the right side, where there is a “right” side, a holy side; they don’t see that they are striving for redemption. )

>I think everything hinges on the distinction between the few who do not need to believe in a bible and the many who do.

The source of the disagreement is this: is it possible to dispense with the “need to believe in a bible,” in the broad sense of a need for an eternal or transcendent good. In the case of “the few,” one sees a sharp awareness of this need and its effects, but does that awareness cure the need?  I agree reason is “the compass” in the sense that even a little of its light can turn one’s life upside down (not always felicitously); however, for Plato our reason provides less hope than for Locke, because reason does NOT cure our imperious need for something impossible for us to have, salvation.  (Plato does not shrink from either side, the need or the lack of a cure.)

(I also don’t believe that Locke guts only the “more [politically] noxious teachings” of Christianity, but also the best parts, but I admit that Christianity is not an easy problem.)

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