An Analogy of Community in an Orchestra

 

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that even in a state of innocence, some men would be charged with presiding over the common good.

Reflecting upon this statement, the analogy of an orchestra comes to mind as a concept for the community. In an orchestra we have many different players of instruments with varying levels of talent coming together as an organic unit. The conductor is entrusted with keeping the harmony of the orchestra as they seek the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The music is like the law, which though made by man is a reflection of the eternal law; a good piece reflects a concept of beauty. A good musician can play a piece that they like by heart, which I would say is an analogy of a person excelling in virtue. Further more, the music is often expressed as a document in order to instruct those that seek to excel in playing the piece just as one wishing to excel in doing good may consult a well written law for guidance. The conductor himself must be familiar with the law and must seek to interpret the music in a manner that brings out the qualities that allow for all to attain a sense of fulfillment from its expression. In short the conductor must be one who excels in virtue.

Also within the orchestra, there are those who lead sections of instruments (such as violins, clarinets, and percussions) that guide other players of the same instrument and model the ideals of a player of that instrument. In an orchestra, all musicians are brothers and sisters, they share a common sense of seeking what is good, true and beautiful in life. We can call these universal ideals. Each musician has an individual uniqueness and way of attaining and expressing these ideals, but one cannot obtain these without the support of those also seeking thee ideals. They must harmonize their particularities in mutual support of one another to bring out a fuller expression of these ideals. Otherwise, the music can lose its power to bring meaning to one’s life. None can obtain the highest form alone.

Thus, the highest good lay in our relationships with others. Some among us are called to guide others due to their wisdom and comprehension of these universal ideals. Every conductor once journeyed out with an instrument (or two) to seek out fulfillment; his understanding excelled as he opened himself up to understand the universal truth and goodness that music presents to those who allow it to speak to them. Thus music is like philosophy, which requires us to use of intellect, that part of our mind that takes in the world around us and reflects upon it in order to comprehend truth and meaning.

Yet even a conductor has been conducted; we all need an instruction from a guide to show us where to find these ideals. Even a conductor needs instruction and counsel in his capacity to conduct. There are no libertarians in an orchestra, no one can seek truth without friendship because we are social beings which by nature must find meaning in mutual depence upon others. From a Christian perspective: Is it not the ultimate end (and fulfillment) for man to be in relationship with God, who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? Do we not perfect our Love of God through being in community with others? Does this not perfect our joy and understanding if these ideals?

The notion that we do find fulfillment and depth in the positive affirmation of these questions is embodied in the great commandments given by Christ. Following these commandments not only helps us fulfill the particulars of the Law (as one participates in bringing about the fullness of a musical work through harmonious communion with other musicians) but also allows us to delve deeper into Truth, Beauty, and Goodness while excelling in the fulfillment of the Eternal Law.

The analogy of an orchestra may not accurately reflect a political body, but it does express an ideal that we can comprehend and captures a concept that we can conform our actions to. Original Sin means that no community is perfectly harmonious, but that does not mean ideals should be abandoned or deemed untenable.

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Peace, Order, and Good Government

Peace, Order and Good Government – this tripartite motto lays the ground-work and expresses the mind-set of the founders of the modern state of Canada. What is striking about this tripartite motto is that taken together, the vision of government formed is directly opposite that of the United States of America, which is – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Now the foundational principles of each respective country may not exactly line-up to negate the other nations’ principles, but taken into account each sides’ principles one may notice a historical dichotomy of what each nation held to be good for man and his political flourishing.

One may ask why this dichotomy exists, with the United States on one hand unabashedly advocating a concept of Man free from all constraint to pursue his whims without limitation. On the other hand, the principles of a more sober system, emphasizing a society that seems to be based on social responsibility and the positive role of government. This dichotomy, as any earnest student of American history can attest, is no accident. The roots of such an opposition stem from the aftermath of the American Revolution, in which thousands of colonial loyalists (Tories and conservative Whigs) fled persecution by the victorious dissenters and ended up founding the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick.  The effects of the American Revolution, such as the vicious rhetoric and actions of discontent radicals such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry frightened many loyalists who believed that mob rule would soon ensue within those former colonies now constituted as the United States of America.

Just as the French Revolution help create a new-found appreciation of the traditional social order, the same happened within the area of North America that was still loyally British. Were once it was derisive to call someone a ‘Tory’, it became a badge of honor and showed a strengthening attachment, during the 19th century, to an older social understanding that had embodied the old Traditions of the Tory faction in England, which was composed of High Church nobles and yeoman farmers who resisted the power of the commercial elites known as ‘Whigs’, to whom the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness belonged. Though many Canadians were by habit much closer to the Whigs than the Tories, there was still an underlying sentiment that seems to be embodied and that harkened back to a political order that had grown out of an Aristotelian and Scholastic world view. The rest of this essay will examine these values – Peace, Order, and Good Government – and seek to give a perspective of contrast between two ways of ordering politics, one more ancient, and one more modern.

The first pillar of this political order is Peace. Peace means that there is domestic tranquility so that a civic life may take place. Aristotle gives us a further insight into the importance of the human need for a civil society:

man is by nature a political animal. And therefore, men, even when they do not require one another’s help, desire to live together; not but that they are also brought together by their common interests in proportion as they severally attain to any measure of well-being. This is certainly the chief end, both of individuals and of states. And also for the sake of mere life (in which there is possibly some noble element so long as the evils of existence do not greatly overbalance the good) mankind meet together and maintain the political community. And we all see that men cling to life even at the cost of enduring great misfortune, seeming to find in life a natural sweetness and happiness. (Politics, Bk. 3, Ch. 6).[i]

It is interesting to note that this social cohesion is ordered towards, but also encompasses, the Whig principles of Life and Happiness. Unlike the Whig conceptions of Life and Happiness, however, Aristotle defines a clear means to which man can find happiness. It is within man’s participation in a social organism that opens up for man a level and mode of satisfaction that cannot be experienced by a lone individual. This specification of the condition needed for Man’s flourishing makes a world of difference in terms of how one interprets one’s end and the world around them. Hence, peace only makes sense as a value if man is seen to be naturally inclined towards a harmonious social existence.

The second principle is Order. Now, as a typical American I am personally inclined to interpret Order as an imposition of another’s will upon myself. However, this is a faulty concept of Order. What order really means is the recognition of one’s role and limits within nature. This concept is grounded within an understanding that man has a cosmic link to a greater end. He may have freedom, but his own freedom is seen to be tied to something beyond himself, which puts limits on his autonomy. This concept of Order is seen within the Thomistic tradition, as summarized by Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist. in his web-log Sancrucensis:

one of the most mis-understood principles in Thomistic philosophy is this: “The good is that which all things seek, insofar as they seek their own perfection.”… St Thomas teaches that there is an order of senses in which this can be taken. At the summit of this order is God Himself: that perfection in which my perfection is a participation (partem-capio). Since creatures have being by participation in God their own perfection is found more in Him than in their individual substantial existence. It is thus natural for creatures to love God more than themselves…

With this basis in mind, Waldstein goes on to note:

At the next level one’s own perfection is found in the common good of the whole universe, that good which most fully reflects the divine perfection. At yet another level it refers to the angels who are one’s universal causes. At another level it refers to the common good of the human species. At yet another level it refers of the common good of a “perfect” human community–that is the common good of “civil society.” As De Koninck shows at great length in his masterpiece On the Primacy of the Common Good my own perfection is found more in the common good of the city than in my individual substance. The common good of the city is more lovable than my particular good because of its place in the order final causality.[ii]

It is clear that within the concept of Order, there is a sense of being tied to some ‘Other’ and ‘Others’ to which we are bound, to which our own well being cannot be realized without. Since man is by nature a social being, as noted previously in Aristotle’s Politics it is fitting that he must know and accept his role within a society to truly flourish. In addition to this, one could note the diversity of talents, personalities, and insights of each individual.
Some may excel at carpentry or smithing, while others may be capable of applying the principles of Justice more thoroughly. Each takes up a role and fills a place in society, hence computer programmers do not fly airliners, and airline pilots do not program computers for a living, but each can complement the other within a civil order. This is simply because one cannot perfect their inclinations as a monadic individual, but must excel in a participatory role.

The final value within this trio is Good Government. Building on what had previously been said about the two other values; let us examine a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas in the Prima Pars of his Summa Theologica:

But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons.

First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the [Aristotle] says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them. (ST, Bk. 1, Q. 96, A. 4).[iii]

In these two paragraphs above, Aquinas answers the question “Whether in a State of Innocence Man would be Master over Man?”. Aquinas answers in the affirmative, and one should note that since one is ordered to a common life that allows us to attain a greater degree of perfection (as noted before), it makes sense that someone must lead. This leader is task with overseeing the whole life of a community, while a merchant or a chemist may be concerned with matters that concern their immediate work, such whether one may need to keep a cleaner shop, or whether certain chemicals make a better cleaning agent, they would not have the concentration to look over all the matters of a civil society: Do we need more arms to fend off an invasion?; Is our drainage system sufficient?; or, Are the least advantaged citizens able to provide for their needs? These questions are all questions that cannot be solved by self-interest, but need cooperation and direction from someone who can understand the whole needs of a community and has the foresight to take measures that bring harmony to the social life of a community.

One final point about good government that should be emphasized is that government is Good. One can contrast the statement about Angels between St. Thomas Aquinas and James Madison:

Madison states Federalist Paper #51 that “If men were angels, there would be no need for government”.[iv] Yet, Aquinas notes that:

The condition of man in the state of innocence was not more exalted than the condition of the angels. But among the angels some rule over others; and so one order is called that of “Dominations.” Therefore it was not beneath the dignity of the state of innocence that one man should be subject to another (ST, Bk. 1, Q. 96, A. 4).

These two views could not be more far apart and have embodied in them not only two different anthropologies, but two different ontologies of nature. Madison asserts a very nominalist view of nature, in which the things of the universe do not have an intrinsic relationship with each other but each thing is autonomous and only bumps into a seemingly similar being by accident. Aquinas embodies a view that man is intrinsically ordered toward something. This makes a world of difference: in the United States we tend to take the view that we determine our own happiness, and even if what Aquinas had said was true, we naturally are inclined to doubt that it is something that is universally true. We would seek to point out exceptions and particulars, which is not far off from making ourselves ‘Exceptional’ as a body-politik. This is a problem that even the liberal de Tocqueville thought would be our downfall; our natural Cartesianism.

Canadians, up until the 1960s were considered as a whole a more traditional society than the United States, with Canadian political culture placing a strong emphasis on communities (British and French) and their cohesion. This explains why Canada still sees it as essential to be linked with a European Monarchy and even have a Governor-General to (in theory) represent the Queen and to act as an agent of political accountability. This could also explain why Canadians tend to look like they are listening, while Americans tend to look like they are asserting themselves in a conversation – one culture is based on social consensus and the other on socially detached and unlimited initiative.

One question may arise that can be summed up as such:

So if Peace, Order, and Good Government are to be valued as more sound as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, then why is Canadian society just as bad, if not worse, than American society?

This question can be addressed with an insight from George Parkin Grant, a philosopher who wrote a book in the 1960s about the roots of Canadian decline as a civil society in the truest sense. It was titled Lament for a Nation, and in it Grant laments that the influence of the more liberal, more populous, and economically powerful United States became more intrusive following the Second World War. Such an invasion of ideology could not be stopped by a nation enshrined in the doctrines of unlimited liberty of pursuit. Power, not limits, nor heritage, were seen to be the only thing this force recognized. Is it not ironic that the very protest against the abuse of power and authority itself, when embodied within a nation-state, becomes the very thing it had protested. Thus, the assertion that Liberty against the powerful became Liberty for power and to become powerful – it is the natural end of an idea of Liberty de-contextualized from a purpose.[v]

What inevitably happens when one society exerts its ideas on the world, as the United States did at the end of the Second World War and still today, is that other nations of people are either enticed or coerced into giving up their roots, usually in the name of economic and social progress. This is the universe of McWorld, which sees any appeal to life in a different way as regressivist, backwards – even as Jihad against its own sacred values of commerce and individualism. In the end, the forces of Liberalism made another acolyte for its values – perhaps Samuel Johnson was right to say that “The Devil was the first Whig”. Eve just could not resist the fruit of Whiggery, but to what cost – abortion, big business, big government, broken communities – all aimed at dissolving what even a less-radical Whig like Edmund Burke could appreciate – those little platoons of people who are bound to one another naturally – though Burke stopped short of forming companies and battalions.

It is necessary then for both societies to rediscover a certain social ontology embedded within an earlier way of seeing the world, that is to say without negating certain aspects of scientific and technological progress, but at the same time developing a course to which society can once again find coherence and rootedness while moving away from the cultural structures and forces that make man lonely, restless, even ostracized in the world. Perhaps delving deeper into the principles of Peace, Order, and Good Government can help us to re-evaluate our way of living in this post-modern age, where Whig-liberalism has declared victory, yet for some reason this sharing in this victory has brought about strange sense alienation.

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[i] Aristotle. “Aristotle: Politics, Book 3.” The Constitution.org. The Constitution Society. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.constitution.org/ari/polit_03.htm&gt;.

[ii] Waldstein, O. Cist., Edmund. “Integralism.” Sancrucensis. N.p., 16 Jan 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2014. <http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/integralism/

[iii] Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica, First Part: Question 96.” New Advent. New Advent. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1096.htm&gt;.

[iv] Madison, James. “The Federalist No. 51.” The Constitution.org. The Constitution Society, 31 Oct 2013. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm&gt;.

[v] A good reference to George Grant’s thought  is the selection of his writing compiled by William Christian it The George Grant Reader, which contains excerpts from Lament for a Nation:

Christian, William, and Sheila Grant. The George Grant Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. 76-83. Print.

Why Optimism and Pessimism are opposed to Hope

The only difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the former is a happy idiot and the second is a sad idiot.

– Georges Bernanos

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

– Vaclav Havel

I find that Havel’s quote gives us a starting point into a deeper examination into the problem of optimism and pessimism. Optimism and Pessimism may seem as though they have nothing in common, the assumption being that the pessimist is always sad and has a defeatist, or cynical, outlook on life while the optimist is able is just one who believes something will turn out well. However, they share a commonality in that both entail an obscuring (or obscured grasp of) Meaning. A pessimist is sad because they see no meaning or purpose to life. Now this is obvious to most people, however explaining why optimism is based on this is a bit more elusive.

An optimist feels as though they have to ‘create’ value in a world that is seemingly meaningless or perhaps simply a tabula rasa. The optimist focuses on oneself and feeling good. They may even believe that there self-interest is benevolent and can only bring good. In short they have to dupe themselves into ignoring negative aspects of existing in the world. It is not so much that they understand deeply concepts such as suffering, pain, or other hardships, rather they have either looked with either a skimming or shallow view. Both optimism and pessimism entail one closing oneself off to thinking about being, to use intellection to reflect on the world and to think seriously about questions of meaning. Only through such questions can one find more lasting joy.

Now, one cannot do justice to the subject of pessimism and optimism, if one cannot elaborate on the alternative to this dialectical prison, namely Hope. When Vaclav Havel asserts that Hope is about the conviction that something (and event, an object, even existence itself) has meaning, one can see that Hope and Optimism are radically different. Hope itself is not an exersion by which we create meaning, but a virtue involving the ascent to Truth, a surety, not just an unjustified belief, but a deep and sober understanding of Being itself that derives from man’s natural inclination to know. Yet it may be derived from the habit of reflecting on the world, not solely of intellectual rigor, but of through true openness to the world.

To go further, Hope, derived from such intellection, is closely linked to the concept of Amor Fati (the Love/Acceptance of Fate), in which man ascents more fully to his own being and to the higher principles and Being. The Lover of Fate knows that they cannot always change the world through their own volition, and know that existence is much ‘wider’, so to speak, that what is immediately relevant to them. Now Fate itself carries a negative connotation that does not fit easily into our modern world. Fate is seen as synonymous with Doom, but also the loss of one’s own power-of-will to the forces of nature. To some degree, it is true that we are powerless against natural forces, such as death, but this does not mean that our Will is irrelevant. The Pessimist fails to see that the Will is meant to assent to Truth, which is part-and-parcel to meaning.

Indeed one of the most vivid examples of Will and Fate and their necessity to Hope are clearly depicted in the lives of the Christian Martyrs, especially those in our modern era who suffered the persecution of totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Many, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, and Bl. Guiseppe Girotti knew they were fated to suffer (and even to die!), any optimist would break down and become a pessimist without the Christian Hope of such brave  men and women. The optimist may delude oneself or the false hope of evading death or severe injury, but with such intense and systematic persecution, such optimism soon becomes shallow; one cannot ignore the suffering of those around them and is by nature disturbed by such cruelty – or driven insane. Those with Hope saw meaning in such suffering. This allowed them to endure even starvation and the gas chamber. To those who suffered, such suffering was turned into perfection of heart, to openness to something beyond their own selves.

I have given examples of how Hope allows one to endure the seemingly unendurable. However, one must also demonstrate that optimism is truly a brick wall. A friend of my grandparents was a firm believer in ‘positive thinking’, after all it allowed him to enjoy a life of leisure and to believe that good could be achieved in the world. He often credited it with allowing him to get past difficult times. Eventually, however, such optimism broke down when unexpectedly hard times came about. Positive thinking may have allowed him to get past minor discomforts in life, but when truly difficult times came, the man opted for suicide. His optimism was solely based on the creation of illusion.

-To conclude this reflection I would like to emphasize that Hope is not devoid of Joy, but the Hope-ful person in acknowlegdging meaning and Truth cannot help but find Joy, if Goodness (long with Beauty) are prt and parcel with Truth. Thus, Bl. Theresa of Calcutta could hae joy even in her darkest days – Hope sees Truth and Beauty even in the darkness and the human person in not grasping or manufacturing, but receiving Truth, can assent to Hope as such.