Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Strategy of Right, Number 3

[Part of a series, see also The Strategy of Right, Number 2]

So God created man in his own image, and in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it... (Genesis 1:28)

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. (Genesis 4:1)

Thus far in our reflections on the Biblical account of the law ordained by the Creator for human nature we have made out two primordial strands: the law of love and the law of retribution. We have referred to the latter as the first law of nature, to indicate that it corresponds to the rule usually referenced by that name in the works of other writers (Locke and Rousseau for example) who sought to develop an understanding of human right or justice grounded in the natural law. But in order to assure that our understanding is faithful to the original, we must respect the Bible's full account of God's creation of human nature as we experience it, which is to say in particular what it tells us about the human condition after human beings acquired knowledge of good and evil.

When God addresses humanity after the fall, He speaks of two different kinds of labor. He says to the woman that henceforth her labor in childbirth will cause her more intense pains; and that she will be inclined to crave male companionship and accept male domination. To the man He apportions a painful sustenance: the labor of procuring food from a cursed and reluctant soil until as dust he returns to that ground from which the Creator first withdrew him. Together these commands implant or constitute a law of labor governing the preservation of human life, in the individual and in the species as a whole. But that which preserves life reflects God's intention for man's good, the free determination of God's will for man's existence. So, despite their disregard for His warning not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, the Creator still sees the good in their continued existence. However, as a result of their mistake it can only be preserved through painful labor. The law of labor arises from the Creator's goodwill towards man. It is therefore an aspect of the law of love. However, our acquaintance with evil disrupts the appearance of freedom in our submission to this law. Since it is connected with the preservation of life, we submit willingly. But because of the pain involved, we do not submit without struggle.

From beginning to end, the whole spectacle of life, as it arises from the labor of procreation and is sustained by the labors of economic life, represents this ambiguity. Men and women wrestle in the throes of love. They desire union but resent surrender. They rejoice in their offspring, but chafe against the bonds imposed by their dependency. They take pleasure in the work of their own hands, yet inwardly dwell upon the sandy shores of paradise where work involves no more labor than the contemplation of lives effortlessly fashioned by their own imaginations. They take pride in the products of their labor, but are inwardly crestfallen as the perishable perfection of their material works calls to mind the ultimate fate of death that will complete their own material lives.

The ambiguous appearance of the natural law in this context necessarily affects our understanding of the human community to which it gives rise. Family life is at one and the same time the most comforting and the most distressing facet of human experience. On account of it we seem to know who we are, yet on that same account we seem unable to discover our true identity. In the curious search for self-knowledge we are driven from its midst into the world, yet time and again recalled from the world by the longing to journey home again. We may never feel as free as when we yield to the bonds of loving obligation that constitute its strength. We may never feel more confined than in the moments when its duties bar us from the pursuits and pleasures that would otherwise fulfill our longings and ambitions. What makes this ambiguity even more acute and inescapable is the fact that the compulsions of family life spring from the ground of love. They always express our freedom and therefore involve an element of choice, a crisis of will, a burden of responsibility.

Our present purpose does not allow us to explore the implications of this natural law for every aspect of human individual and social life. Indeed, those implications imply the rejection or reformation of almost every area of science (using that term in the broad sense of knowledge systematically developed and accounted for) that purports to study human affairs. But though our focus is on its implications for the understanding of human right and government, the way we proceed as we explore those implications may be a useful example to others as they seek to revise the basic concepts of their areas of study along lines that respect and build upon the Bible's account of the principles of human nature.

In the most widely read of his political works, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously proclaimed that "Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains." Real experience suggests, however, that everyone is born in bondage, but everywhere survives by human choice. The umbilical cord that connects every nascent infant to its mother perfectly represents this bondage, the precursor of that dependency which binds every new born child to its parent by needs that it is utterly helpless to satisfy on its own. Natural instinct moves the child's mother to provide for those needs, beginning of course with warmth and nourishment.

But humanity involves self-consciousness, so that in human beings, instinct does not guarantee action. In the context of this self-consciousness, the body is an object that we identify with ourselves by a complex process that requires that we also stand apart from it, experiencing its impulses and pains from a vantage point of observation that seems to allow us to take a stand with regard to them, one that is distinct from the mere fact of observation. We can assume an attitude of inclination or aversion; say yes or no; accept or deny what our experience sets in motion. Insofar as we follow it, our reaction determines the nature of the future (with respect to the moment of observation) we see unfolding from it. This we take to be our will (our present determination with respect to a future state or condition). By thus taking it for our own, we consent to the action that follows in order to produce it. We make a choice favoring such action.

In mother's case, the result of this inner process of self-determination appears to an observer in actions that respond to the child's needs as if they were her own, thus recognizing and claiming the child as belonging to her in much the same way that her own body belongs to the being that constitutes her consciousness. Given that the child emerges from her body, and has for some time functioned as a part of it, the extension of her self-consciousness to encompass the child is not hard to comprehend. In the broad sense of the term she claims the child as her property, that is, as something that fits or is properly a part of her being. Those familiar with Rousseau's work will notice that, because of the more accurate examination of the birth of man the Biblical account inspires, it is not so difficult for us to imagine the first assertion of human property as it was for Rousseau. In a sense though, like Rousseau and others, we see labor as the constitutive basis of this assertion, but it is labor that acknowledges an already extant proprietary relationship. It does not arbitrarily assert a new one. Property thus derived has a natural basis, since it is the direct consequence of physical reproduction. But it also originates in a determination of human will with respect to that consequence, as the mother consents to act upon her natural impulse to care for the child.

The first human society thus appears to have its origins in a relationship formed both by nature and by human will. To borrow a phrase from Aristotle, the family "is made by man, but by the sun as well." It arises in part from the free choice of the parents, and in part from the instinct implanted in them by the will of the Creator. Since he does not first experience the child as part of his own body, the element of self-conscious choice is especially important as the basis for the father's relationship with the child. In the Biblical account, the man first sees the woman as flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone. Then in the bond of love expressed in their physical relations, they become as it were one flesh, overcoming by their consensual consciousness the difference between their separate bodies. The man's identity with the child is an extension of this consensually conscious unity, which the woman at first represents to the man as subjective thought and feeling, but after the child's birth, also as an objective fact. The child belongs to the man, therefore, in a sense that corresponds almost exactly to the concept of property as we know it, which is to say as the assertion of identity between an agent and the object affected by it on account of the appearance of the mark, or evidence of substantive change, the agent's action produces. The child is that mark, and the woman the substance in which it is made, so that the appearance of the child is a token of the consensual unity of man and woman, the proof that they have come and belong together (that is, that they have formed and are part of a common whole, understood respectively as the family and the human race.)

The family brings together three distinct manifestations of humanity: man, woman and child. Like the three persons of God according to Christian theology, they are three separable aspects of the self-same being, human being. Like the drawstring devised to make a circle of cloth into a purse, humanity runs through them and draws them together, forming their unity. But in our human perception, this unity never completely erases their differences. Though the purse is one, we still perceived it front and back, bottom and top and sides, and so on. In our self-consciousness we assume a vantage point in relation to which these separable aspects emerge, upon any one of which we may choose to center our attention, thereby establishing the relative identity of the rest.

This is best imagined if we think of two people, stretched out in outer space, face two face but with their legs extending in opposite directions. Place an object between them, and what one would call its top, is its bottom for the other, and so on. Yet by agreement between them, they may choose to establish a common vocabulary, and with it a common understanding. From their common perspective, therefore, the top of the object is such only as a result of their mutual consent. Consent is therefore in one sense the basis of their community, though it is not what brings them together in the first place with a certain orientation with respect to one another.

In this same way, consent and pre-existing obligation are both of them at the origin of the family's existence. On that account, it is at one and the same time a product of the natural predisposition that reflects the will of the Creator, and of human consensus, which is the mutual agreement of human wills. In this respect it simply represents the ambiguity of humanity itself which consists partly in common physical characteristics (featherless and bipedal, for example) and partly in the mutual acknowledgement of an inner worth and meaning that transcends these characteristics. Insofar as its identity depends on natural predisposition, the family expresses and is subject to the law of nature, which obliges the will. Insofar as its existence depends on consensual acknowledgement, the family expresses and is subject to the law of love, which expresses the will's free self-determination. Yet in the nature of the family these two laws are so inextricably expressed that they operate almost as one. Like the persons of God whose way of being they reflect, there is between them a distinction that at once asserts and overcomes their difference. For what the natural law makes possible the law of love freely accepts and perpetuates. What the law of love freely acknowledges and respects, the natural law takes for granted as the product of pure self-determination. In this way natural right and freedom come together, with the family as the first paradigm of their substantive co-existence.

We will explore this in greater detail in our next essay. Already however, we begin to see why those who take the view that an understanding of politics that respects natural rights can do so without respect for the form and integrity of family life understand neither rights nor family. As their mistake is already destroying the fabric of our liberty, we have good reason to pay careful attention to the discussion ahead.

Worth considering? Then don't forget to DIGG IT!!!!


diegoengel said...

Alan...keep preaching...we have got to get through to these people at some point. I've added you to the blogs I follow at my own fledgling blog ... I'm not as eloquent as you by any means, but maybe my message will ring true to someone...

Mark said...

Simply amazing Alan. No one else can match your skill in forming sentences. I've always loved a Trinitarian take on families, as well!

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