For years now, since moving away from Baton Rouge and LSU’s library, I’ve been trying to get my hands on the English translation of De Rege et Regis Institutione (The King and the Education of the King) by the Spanish Scholastic Juan de Mariana.

The book is available for free on Google Books in its original Latin, but my Latin is rather rusty. The English translation by George Albert Moore, however, is much harder to come by, being out of print due to copyright, the perverse academic publishing model of  limited print runs aimed at university libraries for outrageous prices, and lack of sufficient interest to reprint it. I do not see why Google would not have scanned it and put it online too were it not (I assume) still under copyright.

Availability of the Moore translation seems to be largely limited to some university libraries. As an online instructor, I don’t live anywhere near my university’s library. And with two young kids, it’s hard to get out  and hunt down a copy at a nearby university. Occasionally I’ve found it for sale online, but always for outrageous prices. I’ve waited and waited for the price of a copy to come down below $100, so I could talk myself into buying it, but it’s never happened. The cheapest copy on Amazon right now is priced at $275 used.

Why am I so interested in this book? Well, mainly for two reasons: one scholarly, the other pertaining to fiction research. De Rege contains an example of state-of-nature theorizing 50 years older than Hobbes’s Leviathan and a defense of limited, mixed, constitutional government before Locke and Montesquieu. I discuss this in my working paper “On the Origin and Poverty of State-of-Nature Theorizing,” which I’d like to finish it someday. De Rege also belongs to the “mirror for princes” literature.

They are best known in the form of textbooks which directly instruct kings or lesser rulers on certain aspects of rule and behaviour, but in a broader sense, the term is also used to cover histories or literary works aimed at creating images of kings for imitation or avoidance. They were often composed at the accession of a new king, when a young and inexperienced ruler was about to come to power. (Wikipedia)

Machiavelli’s The Prince is a perversion of the mirror-for-princes literature, intentionally turning the literature on its head by teaching a ruler how to acquire and maintain power rather than how to be a good ruler in the moral sense.

The first book of my planned epic science fantasy series will be titled A Mirror for Princes, will feature an example or two of the literature, and will itself be an addition to the literature in the broad sense quoted above. So naturally I want to get a better feel for how this literature is written, what subjects it covers, and so on.

Mariana also defends tyrannicide. So there’s that too. 🙂

I finally decided to get my hands on this book by requesting it through InterLibrary Loan (ILL) at my local public library. Now I have hours of slogging work ahead to free The King and the Education of the King from its mortal coil.

Part of my college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources. In this one, I threw my Voegelinian professor Ellis Sandoz a few bones. 🙂 I no longer have the original exam questions to which I responded below, so bear with me through the beginning of the essay.

Questions one and three seem strongly related but have a somewhat different focus. Both interest me but I will attempt to focus on the former while nevertheless attempting to answer the latter at least in part, owing to the last element of the first question having to do with the subject of poet philosophers. Hence, I will write a critical essay on the following quotation:

Euripides shows us that our self-creation as political beings is not irreversible. The political, existing by and in nomos, can also cease to hold us. The human being, as a social being, lives suspended between beast and god, defined against both of these self-sufficient creatures by its open and vulnerable nature, the relational character of its most basic concerns. But if being human is a matter of the character of one’s trust and commitment, rather than an immutable matter of natural fact, then the human being is also the being that can most easily cease to be itself — either by moving (Platonically) upwards towards the self-sufficiency of the divine, or by slipping downward towards the self-sufficiency of doggishness.

I will attempt to address this quotation in light of the questions raised and with regard to my own research interests in the possibility of transcending the liberal/communitarian debate with a form of Aristotelian liberalism.

Civilization is susceptible to rigidification and decay on the one hand and disintegration on the other, with the latter usually as a result of the former. The modern state-of-nature theorizing of the Enlightenment-liberal social-contract tradition provides an interesting case study of a philosophical anthropology built upon Enlightenment metaphysics and epistemology, particularly atomism, materialism, mechanism, and hypostatized rationalism and empiricism. In this worldview, man in the state of nature is a beast, the worst of them, Locke’s unrealistically benign version notwithstanding. Ethical and political philosophy built upon these foundations, particularly when ethical language and action is impoverished by a single-minded focus on the proliferation of rights (with the result of trivializing them), is bound to produce impoverished human beings, the sort of atomistic individuals communitarians have accused liberalism of necessarily producing. The heirs of the Enlightenment (even Nietzsche) have sometimes lapsed into holding up this beast as if he were a god to be universally emulated.

On the other hand, communitarians have been just as prone to confuse convention (nomos) with nature (kosmos) and dogmatize or hypostatize a particular set of cultural values and institutions as the Good from which they themselves and others have no natural or conventional right to deviate. Deviation is labeled atomistic individualism, immorality, the mark of the beast. It is overlooked or forgotten that while man’s telos  [end] is eudaimonia [well-being, flourishing] and his telos involves social and political life, this telos does not have one unitary and universal form for everyone and must be freely chosen. Moreover, and in any case, man is not a god possessed of omnipotence, omniscience, and infallibility. The communitarian impulse is always in danger of falling into paternalism and totalitarianism.

Both the atomistic god-beast and the communitarian god-automaton cease to be human. Indeed, are the two really so very different? Both are capable of the most inhuman atrocities.

Freedom or community is a false alternative — for there is another option: freedom in community — but, for the most part, neither side has yet to formulate an adequate conception of it in my estimation. I do not mean to suggest that there is any final solution or utopia that can be reached, however. Human existence in the metaxy — our open and vulnerable … our rational, individual and social nature — make this a tension and a struggle that each of us must face within ourselves and together every day of our lives, and every generation.

[continue reading…]

I just had an article published in Libertarian Papers:

Immanent Politics, Participatory Democracy, and the Pursuit of Eudaimonia,” Libertarian Papers 3, 16 (2011).

Here’s the abstract:

This paper builds on the burgeoning tradition of Aristotelian liberalism. It identifies and critiques a fundamental inequality inherent in the nature of the state and, in particular, the liberal representative-democratic state: namely, an institutionalized inequality in authority. The analysis draws on and synthesizes disparate philosophical and political traditions: Aristotle’s virtue ethics and politics, Locke’s natural rights and idea of equality in authority in the state of nature (sans state of nature), the New Left’s conception of participatory democracy (particularly as described in a number of under-utilized essays by Murray Rothbard and Don Lavoie), and philosophical anarchism. The deleterious consequences of this fundamental institutionalized inequality are explored, including on social justice and economic progress, on individual autonomy, on direct and meaningful civic and political participation, and the creation and maintenance of other artificial inequalities as well as the exacerbation of natural inequalities (economic and others). In the process, the paper briefly sketches a neo-Aristotelian theory of virtue ethics and natural individual rights, for which the principle of equal and total liberty for all is of fundamental political importance. And, finally, a non-statist conception of politics is developed, with politics defined as discourse and deliberation between equals (in authority) in joint pursuit of eudaimonia (flourishing, well-being).

Follow the link above for the pdf and MS Word files as well as discussion of the article on the Libertarian Papers website. You can also download the pdf from my Literature archive.

Older versions of this article were presented at the Austrian Scholars Conference 2008 and appeared in my doctoral dissertation (May 2009) as chapters six and seven.

[Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.]

Part of my college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources.

In this essay I will address how the American framers conceived of liberty as well as how the Constitution they designed was supposed to secure it and whether it has in fact done so. Stating my conclusions right out, which I will then seek to explain and justify as best I can in the space and time allotted, I think that though the Constitution was a grand and very admirable attempt at securing liberty it was at the outset doomed to failure in the long run in large part due to inner contradictions and inadequate safeguards.

By and large the framers, and the American people in general, conceived of liberty in Lockean and republican terms. Locke’s influence was particularly prevalent owing largely to the influence of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s Cato’s Letters, which popularized and enhanced the popularity of Lockean individual rights arguments. This is not to neglect the importance of republicanism and of Christianity; the framers in particular were steeped in republicanism, and Christianity was indeed a formative influence on the early Americans, particularly through the thousands of fiery political sermons of the day, many of which also employed Lockean rights language (such as Elisha Williams in particular, but also Jonathan Mayhew and John Allen).

However, liberalism and republicanism were in tension from the outset, and Christianity has been employed effectively in support of both sides. On the one hand, the sole justification and purpose of government is the protection of each and every individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property. Consistently applied this means that all morals legislation and economic regulation are unjust and invalid. On the other hand, republicans like Algernon Sidney and John Adams feared that liberty unrestrained will degenerate into license, that virtue ought to be promoted and/or required, and vice discouraged and/or prohibited, with the coercive and legal power of the state; and that republican or civic virtue is necessary and must be somehow enforced and inculcated in the people if liberty and the republic are to be sustained. While some liberals have and continue to deny the virtue of virtue, ethical neutrality or relativism is not an inherent feature of liberalism and many liberals do indeed hold and advocate firm moral convictions.

[continue reading…]

Part of my college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources.

Some scholars, particularly postmoderns, argue that hermeneutical interpretation is essential to “the so-called social sciences of human beings.” Hermeneutical interpretation originated, to my knowledge, in Biblical exegesis. It has since been extended beyond this sphere, but hermeneutical interpretation is still thought of in terms of the interpretation of texts, although no longer limited to written documents. Hermeneutical interpretation can be applied to our life stories and to oral narratives as well. In hermeneutics there is the tendency to view a text as not having a single fixed meaning. Furthermore, the meaning of a text is not determined solely by authorial intent.

Hermeneutics involves a tripartite or trilateral relationship between the author, the text, and the interpreter. The author and the interpreter each bring their own particular horizon of experience to the text. To be sure, the author presumably has a certain purpose in mind in writing or creating his text and intends for it to have a certain meaning. The author is operating within a particular historical context, however, in which words and sentence structure and such have particular meanings that can change with time. The author’s life has involved formative experiences enmeshed in particular ideas and events that have had at least some influence on him, much of which he may not be consciously aware. The same can be said of the interpreter, whose historical experience and language-use may be vastly different from those of the author. And, moreover, since one cannot have direct and complete access to the author’s mind, interpretation is necessary.

There exist a number of hermeneutical techniques. Perhaps the most general is simply that of the hermeneutical circle. When the interpreter engages the text, he brings with him his horizon of experience, his own world so to speak, and he will inevitably begin to engage the text from this standpoint. As he explores the text, he will gain an overall understanding of its meaning to him and what the author might have meant it to mean, but successive and more careful readings will likely lead to reevaluations and readjustments of that overall understanding which in turn will affect successive readings. Ideally there will be some sort of fusing or integration or broadening of horizons in this hermeneutical process. One must be open to different horizons, however, for interpretation to occur.

One particular type of hermeneutical technique was developed by Leo Strauss. This technique focuses on esoteric writing, or hidden meanings built into the text by the author, beneath the exoteric writing, or superficial meaning, of the text. Strauss argues that esoteric writing is likely to occur in times of great persecution, in which the author would likely be condemned, punished, and suppressed for expressing his views openly. In such cases, the interpreter must examine the text carefully for esoteric meaning. There appears to be some controversy as to whether and how much historical context matters in such interpretation. While there may be some usefulness to this technique — some thinkers may very well have been circumspect in their writing — I do see considerable danger in it (as highlighted by Pocock and others). The technique could be used carelessly, seems to presuppose infallibility, consistency, and genius where it might not be warranted, and could also be used for elitist, secretive purpose.

[continue reading…]


2 tb EVOO (or canola oil)
2 tsp cumin
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
2-4 jalapenos, seeded and chopped coarsely
6 medium garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
2 lbs. 80/20 ground beef chuck
2 cups red wine (e.g., shiraz, merlot, malbec)
3 tb chili powder (preferably Penzey’s Hot Chili, Chili 3000, or Chili 9000 powder)
1/2 7oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
2 cups finely diced carrots
2 cups beef stock (preferably low-sodium or unsalted)
2 16oz cans of diced, unsalted tomatoes
3 16oz cans of red kidney beans (unseasoned or chili-seasoned)
1 8oz can of tomato sauce (optional, if you want more liquid)
1 6oz can of tomato paste
salt to taste
Fiesta-blend shredded cheese
Sour cream

[continue reading…]

This post is excerpted and adapted from the concluding chapter of my dissertation (so I suppose it might qualify as part of my college essays series), wherein I addressed two related objections to libertarianism in general and to my account of Aristotelian liberalism in particular: utopianism and gnosticism, the latter being sort of a theological version of the former. Does the theory of virtue ethics and natural rights described in my dissertation represent an impossibly high standard of ethical excellence? On a related note, is it foolishly impractical given the current shoddy state of the world? And is the ideal society suggested by my nonstatist conception of politics and severe critique of the state an impossible goal? Even if it is achieved, will it ring in a perfect world of peace, love, and happiness without violence, misfortune, and suffering? Naturally, my short answer to all of these questions is “No.”

First, I wish to answer the charge of gnosticism that might be leveled by followers of the political philosopher Eric Voegelin. Voegelin is very popular in certain conservative and communitarian circles, particularly those averse to philosophical systems and principled, as opposed to practical or pragmatic or “realist,” politics.1 I should know; I studied political science and philosophy at Louisiana State University where Voegelin had been a prominent professor. Indeed, LSU is home to the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies. I was introduced to the work of Voegelin by Professor Ellis Sandoz, a student of Voegelin himself and the director of the institute.

Gnosticism, as Voegelin uses the term, essentially means a “type of thinking that claims absolute cognitive mastery of reality. Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism. As a religious or quasi-religious movement, gnosticism may take transcendentalizing (as in the case of the Gnostic movement of late antiquity) or immanentizing forms (as in the case of Marxism).” Now, does that sound like it applies to libertarianism, much less Austro-libertarianism? Rather, it makes me think in particular of the constructivist rationalism, criticized incisively by Friedrich Hayek, that arose out of the Enlightenment and pervades various forms of modern statism.

In his political analysis, Voegelin uses the term to refer to a certain kind of mass movement, particularly mass political movements. As examples, he gives “progressivism, positivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism, fascism, and national socialism.”2 In his view, the consequences wrought by these movements have been disastrous. With few and only partial qualifications, I do not disagree. What makes them gnostic are certain similar characteristics they share with the original Gnostic religious movement of antiquity. Before listing the main characteristics, it first bears pointing out that even the broad libertarian movement as a whole might not yet qualify as a mass movement. However, as Voegelin points out, “none of the movements cited began as a mass movement; all derived from intellectuals and small groups,”3 so contemporary libertarianism and Aristotelian liberalism are not off the hook yet! With regard to the following list, Voegelin cautions that the six characteristics, “taken together, reveal the nature of the gnostic attitude.”4

[continue reading…]

  1. In Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Voegelin writes: “Gnosis desires dominion over being; in order to seize control of being the gnostic constructs his system. The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning, not a philosophical one” (p. 32). It can never be an attempt to understand being at it is? I think Voegelin makes a spurious generalization here. When one reads further, it becomes apparent that he makes this mistake at least in part because he believes in a Christian Beyond that is not amenable to (human) reason. 

  2. Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 1968 [2004]) p. 61. See also, Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1952 [1987]). 

  3. Ibid., p. 62 

  4. Ibid., p. 64; emphasis mine.