The Logos: A Brief History

There has been a surge in the use of the word, Logos, in recent years as enlightened circles of Western scholars are rediscovering their roots. Thankfully, thinkers like Jordan B. Peterson are popularizing the term once more.

Now more than ever, scholars must understand the meaning of this earth shattering word. Analyzing its history is the key to unlocking the indispensable philosophical tradition that accompanies it.

The Christian conception of the Logos is the climax resulting from the synthesis of Greco-Roman philosophy and Judaic belief. Hence, we must understand both to comprehend the Logos’ two-fold history.

The Greco-Roman Logos

To understand The Logos (logic, account, or language) of the Greek tradition we must start at the beginning with magic.

The ancient Greeks believed in magic. Among them, the Goēs (γόης) was a magician that would wander from town to town interpreting dreams, telling fortunes, practicing necromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and other acts of divination.  The suffix “-mancy” means “divination by specified means.”

To continue on this etymological dig, divination means, “the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” While magic was ultimately the practice of gathering information, not raising armies of the dead, summoning the titans, or any other Hollywood nonsense.

One of these practices of divination by the Goēs was speaking in tongues, that is, glossolalia. In this ritual, the Goēs would babble a series of syllables that poured out of the mouth as pure gibberish.

So, what? Why are we concerned about some ancient man babbling gibberish? Well, because the ritual reveals three revolutionary ancient concepts.

  1. The spirit world had a language, logic, or structure behind it as opposed to being pure chaos.
  2. Human beings have the ability to communicate and engage with the spirit world through language.
  3. Communicating with the world of the divine can be used to reveal truth.

To the ancient Greek Goēs, the world of the divine was not just shear chaos. The forces of the universe had a logic behind them that gave them shape. Their form could be accessed and interacted with using a special language. Hence, the reason for glossolalia.

Language needs a structure in order to exist. If the spirit-world had a language, it meant that it had a structure. The idea that the world of the divine had an order behind it was a revolutionary paradigm.

So, to understand and practice the magic of life, one had to speak the language of life, i.e. biology. The ancient Greeks did not know biology, rather they knew the language of life. This is what biology means: bios (Greek for “life”), and logos (-logy) , which is language or logic. To know biology was, and is, to know the words that relate to life and what those words mean, so that one can “converse” with life.

It’s like “talking car” with auto-mechanics today. When we say someone knows how to “talk car,” we don’t mean that they spend hours physically talking to their car about how the day went. What we mean is that they understand the words and concepts that facilitates their interactions with automobiles.

Every word in a language represents a concept or piece of knowledge. Thus, a science, as a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject,” is logos, is language.

Therefore, when the Goēs ascribes language to the spirit world, he starts to engage in building the science of the divine. The more magic words he creates, the more concepts he use to describe the divine.

Divination by the Goēs would start the association with language, with the divine, and with knowledge. These associations would eventually evolve into the Logos.

In addition, the Goēs would profess truths about the cosmos by speaking in tongues. This act assumes that one could draw useful knowledge from the unknowability of the divine.

Iambilichus (245 AD – 325 AD), a Neoplatonist philosopher, connected speaking in tongues with the act of prophecy. He believed that prophecy was the possession of a divine spirit which “emits words which are not understood by those that utter them; for they pronounce them, as it is said, with an insane mouth (mainomenό stomati) and are wholly subservient, and entirely yield themselves to the energy of the predominating God.”

But weren’t the Greeks a bunch of rationalists? Didn’t they move away from that mystical mumbo-jumbo? For a time, the pendulum of philosophy swung from the mystical Goēs to the rationalist Pre-Socratics.

Certainly, the Pre-Socratics (Sophists) were less concerned with the immaterial and more concerned with the material world around them. In their camp are the “physikoi,” a word that can be translated as the naturalists or physicists. To the Sophists, man was the measure of all things and that justice, truth, and love were simply meaningless social constructs. (This is why the postmodernists are simply “Neo-Pre-Socratics”).

But who was talking about the Logos? Heraclitus. Later known as, “the weeping philosopher,” he believed that the world was in a constant state of flux and that nothing truly lasted. In other words, everything was just dust in the wind. But he also believed that different forms of change had their own logos (logic, word, cause, or account) behind them.

It wasn’t long till the pendulum of philosophy swung away from the rationalists to a war veteran named, Socrates. He argued that the Greeks had to go back to looking within themselves for truth, not artificially constructing it.

He pointed to the inscription at the oracle of Delphi that read “Know thyself.” Socrates instructs his followers to see the world with their mind’s eye. A world perceived with the senses was a world of distorted and fickle shadows. This is the meaning of the allegory of the cave.

In the internal world of the forms was truth itself. In this way, we can understand the Socratics as going back to the ways of the Goēs.

Justice, virtue, and truth were immaterial forms existing in a separate reality from our perceptions. Humanity could access this realm using the mind’s eye and engaging in philosophic discourse. Divination from the inner realm of the incorporeal hearkens back to the magic of the Goēs.

Another key idea Socratic idea was that that there a was a form of forms called “The Good” which was the ultimate culmination of virtue. In texts like the Euthyphro he places “The Good” above kings and the gods themselves. He argues that Man worshipped the gods because they were Good, as opposed to worshiping Goodness because it came from the gods. To Socrates the Good transcended Zeus.

But what connects Athens to Jerusalem? In a word, Rome.

The Stoics took on the mantle of Greek thought and particularly Platonist ideas. The Stoics would also grapple with the Logos, sometimes translated as. “the Master-Reason.” They believed that the universe was ordered by this Master-Reason, so that human beings, as rational animals, had a mental connection to the Logos.

The Stoic praise of rationality and logic caused them to argue for the control of one’s emotions, employing reason over passion. With this self discipline, one could live in harmony with the Logos.

It is critical to note that they did not believe that the Logos was God! For example, Cicero claims that Chrysippus thought “the world itself” was “a god, and also the all-pervading world-soul.

This is closer to a rationalist pantheism than the mystic all-loving God of Christendom.

It is not until the synthesis of Judaic thought with Greco-Roman rationality that we arrive at the Western idea of a Christian God.

The God of Abraham and Moses

The God of the Jewish tradition, and the believers of that God, create the culture which allows for the emergence of Christian thought. Their scriptural stories would provide rich ideas that would be mobilized into the philosophy behind the Christ, the Logos made flesh.

The first idea that is central to understanding Judaism and Christianity is the association between language and structure.

In Genesis, the lord of all creation creates in a very specific way. He does not mold matter with his hands, rather he speaks. God said, “Let there be light” and then there was light (Genesis 1:3). From God’s spoken words, all creation comes about.

The connection between language and structure is reaffirmed in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

As many may know, humanity attempts to build a great structure, a tower that will rival even God. After disapproving the pointless venture, God halts mankind’s best-laid plans in very strange way. He does not crush the strcuture, or toss a lightning bolt at it to blow it to smithereens.

Rather, he causes all the people constructing it to speak a different language. In their scattered frustrations, they abandon the project in confusion.

The message is clear. With language comes structure. The two are cosmically connected. From God’s words comes forth creation. Interestingly, this connection between language and structure parallels the knowledge of the Goēs.

The most revolutionary idea contributed by the Jews is that of monotheism. Monotheism is more than the belief that there is one God (Exodus 20), for it caries with it the implications of that belief.

The polytheist sees a world of separate and chaotic forces. Each of these forces is represented by a god or goddess. For example, wisdom is manifest by Athena, and erotic love is represented by Aphrodite. These goddesses don’t always get along and their rivalry can lead to chaos. In fact, it is the quarrel between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite that leads to the Trojan War.

But to the Monotheist, there is only one cosmic force or God that reigns supreme above all things. All other forces are idols, false gods, that are ultimately powerless and yielding to the supreme authority of the one true God (Exodus 32).

In this way, all forces are really one thing. Any true dichotomy would destroy the monist nature of the one true God.

For example, one might believe that the world was divided into the combating spirits of pure good and pure evil. If so, one would believe in the duality of two ultimately irreconcilable “logics” behind the universe. This would prevent one from concluding that there is a single logic behind the universe, or Logos.

This monotheistic God is so ultimate that he transcends even the kings of the nations that believe in him. When King Obadiah calls the Prophet Elijah an enemy of Israel for critiquing the corruption of the nation, Elijah retorts that he serves a power that is higher than mortal kings (I Kings 18).

The transcendence of the Hebrew God bears a resemblance with The Good, for the authority of both go beyond the power of kings and other gods. Thus both God and the Good are the highest of all things – and therefore God is good (Psalm 100:5).

Another critical aspect here is the dialogue between God and his people. God is an active force who can converse with his people, such as, Abraham who is specifically called by God (Genesis 12). And God also sends messages though his angels (Genesis 18, and Daniel 9:21).

This dialogue between God and mankind reveals three things:

  1. People derive moral truths and righteous action by God alone.
  2. God and humanity are locked in an covenant, a sort of cosmic contract.
  3. If the contract is not followed, humanity risks downfall and possible annihilation.

God and his messengers reveal to his people the righteous course of action (Exodus 14), and moral truth (Exodus 21:12-14).

This process of divination once again parallels the Goēs who can communicate with the divine and reveal truths.

God becomes the logic behind the universe from which humanity can derive its morality. For example, Moses receives God’s Commandments from God himself. Only then does he share these laws to the people (Exodus 20).

What this shows is that God, the ultimate force behind the universe, demands something from us. If humans comply to the will of God, they will fulfil his covenant.

If humanity breaks his covenant, they risk annihilation, so that ). God reigns down fire and brimstone on the cites of the faithless (Genesis 19). Therefore, those who are in accordance with the logic of the universe shall continue their lineage or existence, while those who are not face death and destruction (Genesis 15).

Christ: The Incarnation of the Logos

Israel is where the hammer meets the anvil. The Christian idea of Logos is forged by the synthesis of Greco-Roman and Judaic thought.

The ancient thinkers like Philo had already started to merge these two great traditions. To Philo, the thoughts of the Creator were equated with Plato’s forms. The culmination of these two were the Logos in Philo’s philosophy.

Before jumping to conclusions, one must realize that this does not mean that Christ studied under Philo or anything like that. But, it does show that ideas from both traditions were circulating among Jewish scholars. More importantly, it shows that there were efforts to link these traditions.

The ultimate synthesis would come with Jesus who is the messiah, the Christ, and the logos (sometimes translated as the Word) incarnate (John 1:14).

Christ and his followers equated the Logos with love (I John 4:8). It is the claim that Love is the ultimate truth behind existence.

To the Christian, the chaos of this world is an illusion. Chaos is just undeciphered order. Because beyond the incalculable madness is the one singular force, ultimately one logic which is God (John 1).

The logos is the ultimate account behind a world of Heraclitan change. It is the single force, logic, explanation, cause, and goal behind veil of our perception. It is God

Nothing is exempt from the Logos, thus it knows all things. Nothing stands apart from the logic of the universe. It is the Master-Reason. Nothing is free from cause, from account, from being. On the contrary, all things are connected, trapped in a single dialectic, one cosmic dialogue (Ephesians 4:6).

The Logos is the ultimate language of languages, the structure of structures. Love is the harmony of being, the universal tongue from which all systems flow as mere dialects of it.

When we stray from love, we are mistranslated (I Corinthians 13). Though never cut off completely (Romans 14:7), we suffer from our inability to be understood. We are thwarted in our frustration from reaching our potential. Thus, we abandon the Tower of Babel.

The Logos is the logic behind Creation. That is to say Love is the Logic behind Creation: “In the beginning God Created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In parallel, the apostle John begins his gospel with “In the beginning there was the Logos” (John 1).

Thus, the Logos is the force and logic of creation and of being. The apostle Paul writes “If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13).

Thus, language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of love in this formula of existence.

From this passage we once again see how language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of Love in this formula of existence.

The Logos is characterized by the attributes that Socrates gave to Truth (AKA the Good). The logos is eternal, it is constant, everlasting, all-powerful, and knows all things. It is Truth.

This is mirrored by Paul when he states that “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always preserves” (I Corinthians 13).

Paul’s description of love mirrors Socrates understanding of The Good. Early Christians were very aware of this affinity. Thus, St. Justin Martyr calls the ancient Greek philosopher, “Saint Socrates.” and he also considered both him and Heraclitus as Christians!

Yet the Logos is much more active than The Good. Like the Master-Reason of the Stoics it possesses a demanding quality which engages the rational minds it reveals itself to.

To the Stoics, there wasn’t just a Master-Reason that minded its own business and could more or less go unaccounted for. Rather, the logic behind the universe seemed to demand something from the mankind. Through rationality, mankind could come to know its will.

The Hebrew God mirrors this. God demands something from his people. He is an active force in their lives. The Lord tests them, bears witness, and reveals himself through their history.

But what does the Mater-Reason and the Hebrew-Christian God want from us!? The same thing as the Logos – virtue, the highest of which is love (Colossians 3:14).

To believe in the Logos is to believe in love, to believe in truth, that the light conquers the darkness. Love is a power that transcends kings, nations and even other gods.

The Logos is not some bearded fellow throwing lighting bolts or physically reaching out for David. It is warmth of our hearts, the faith held in our fellow human beings, and the light of the mind. Though it is always testing us, we are ever vigilant. That is what it is to believe in God, the Logos.


The photo shows, “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Carl Bloch, painted in 1877.

Milk And The Milking Industry

I hate milk. I find many of the recipes in this book frankly loathsome, were I to try them, which I won’t. On the other hand, I like science and history (and ice cream). So despite my stomach churning at some of the recipes and descriptions, I actually enjoyed reading this book.

Milk begins with history—the history of milk and milk animals around the globe. Americans, of course, focus nearly exclusively on cows and cows’ milk, but Mendelson points out that on a global scale cows are a relatively recent and relatively uncommon source of milk and milk products.

She mixes this history with science—the very different composition of different types of milk, along with the difference in products that result both from different types of milk and from how that milk is treated, both with by culturing with microorganisms and by mechanical alteration. The result, of course, is a huge range of milk products, ranging from the simple (naturally cultured yogurt; simple cheeses) to the complex (modern milk as sold in the supermarket; aged cheeses; butter).

Milk then moves to recipes, grouped into those based on fresh milk (and cream); yogurt; cultured milk (and cream); butter and true buttermilk; and fresh cheeses (aged cheeses are beyond the scope of the book).

Mendelson offers various recipes in each grouping, interspersed with more history and science, typically woven around the recipe immediately at hand. This is a successful approach for engaging and educating the reader (even if, as I say, I find the most of these somewhere between not-appealing and nasty, with the exception of some sweetened items).

All of this is well written. Milk is an excellent book and I will be sure to use my additional knowledge to be even more of a bore and chore at cocktail parties. But for me Milk was primarily a thought-provoking book, and not really about milk, or food. Initially, my thought was sparked by Mendelson’s measured and even-handed approach to controversies such as “raw” (i.e., unpasteurized) milk, which is largely forbidden by regulation in the United States.

Mendelson notes that raw milk probably isn’t the wonder food that some think, but neither is it impossible to safely produce and sell raw milk, despite what government functionaries and their allies in the food and health establishment, the “experts,” are always telling us.

Mendelson also covers the analogous controversy over fat in milk and butter—that is, “experts” told us that milkfat was to be avoided on peril of our health and our lives, and now we are told that is false.

We are told, instead, that those “experts” wholly misunderstood and grossly simplified the actual chemistry of milk and that they knew nothing at all, despite their claims to the contrary, about how it actually affects the human body. We are now told that milkfat is good for cardiovascular health and keeps us thin, after literally decades of being told the opposite, and anyone who disagreed being considered some combination of demon and fool. Again, the “experts” keep cropping up.

What drives their wholly incorrect conclusions, and the demand for universal submission to them?

We all have personal familiarity with the costs of these wrongheaded directives. Some costs are merely reductions in personal utility, which seem unimportant, but are not nothing, even if they are not easily captured in statistics. For example, my grandfather spent decades being forbidden by his wife, for his own good, to eat both butter and eggs, which he loved, and instead being required to eat “healthy” margarine, which he hated.

As Mendelson points out (and as has become even more clear since this book was published in 2008), it turns out that all this, also, is entirely false. But my grandfather died before the supposedly certain science of experts was discredited, so his utility remained lowered.

These examples, taken from the relatively narrow area of milk products, are just one set of many examples in all areas of life of how we are constantly told that we must do something because “experts” say to do it.

But as Milk shows, “experts” have a miserable track record in their attempts to direct the lives of Americans, whenever they go beyond common sense (e.g., don’t drink clearly contaminated milk) and presume to tell us what we must do, usually despite basing their Moses-from-the-mountaintop recommendations on contradictory, minimal or zero evidence.

As a result, millions of people have died or suffered—solely because of what “experts” told us, frequently with the cooperation of officious ministers of the state, who adopt these recommendations and penalize or criminalize failure to comply. But why does all this happen, over and over again? Why don’t the “experts” learn to advocate public policy with humility and caution?

Examples beyond milk are legion. Sticking with food examples, the “experts” told us all that a low-fat diet was the way to go, for good health and long life. Now that’s considered false, and the obesity epidemic largely due to the carbohydrates we were urged to eat while avoiding fat. And last week the “experts” performed a 180-degree about-face on the topic of feeding peanuts to infants.

I’ve had five children in the past nine years, and we were cautioned with the direst of warnings to never, ever feed them peanuts until the age of three. It was presented as the Gospel truth that we must do this, or we would be terrible parents endangering the lives of our children. During the twenty years of this recommendation, peanut allergies increased by 500%, and peanut allergies are now the leading cause of food-related anaphylaxis and death in the United States.

Now we are told to immediately do the opposite, and feed small infants peanuts, in order to avoid the very thing created by the thing we were told to do earlier.

Why, you may ask, do “experts” continually issue edicts that direct Americans what they must do, or face penalties, and why do they never show any shame, much less face any consequences, when they are proven wrong? It seems to me that to answer that question we have to ask why people, in any walk of life, whether “experts” or not, advocate any particular public policy.

(By “public policy” I mean a course of action that is either strongly recommended, in that failure to follow it is said to be certain to have material deleterious consequences to a specific individual or to some larger segment of society, or a policy that is enforced by state coercion).

Five possible non-exclusive reasons occur to me. I think that every person advocating a public policy is driven by one or more of these reasons, and by nothing else (unless they are insane or using a Magic 8-Ball to choose advocacy positions). Experts are merely people who supposedly have more knowledge; they are subject to the same analysis of their reasons. Those reasons are, in no particular rank:

1) A detached, purely objective analysis of alternatives has led to a conclusion the advocate has concluded is best for society. Let’s call this the “philosopher-king” reason for public policy advocacy.

(We can ignore for current purposes whether one can accurately determine what is “best for society,” as well as distortions to and failures of objectivity such as confirmation bias and tribalism, together with logical fallacies such as appeal to authority, to which “experts” are particularly prone, but which don’t change that the reason for choosing a position is objective analysis).

2) Money. This can mean direct payments, in the sense of corruption. But it more typically means that the advocate will economically benefit if a particular public policy position is adopted. What I mean here is not public policy effects that lift everyone; that falls under #1. Rather, I mean individualized benefit—for example, job promotions, grant money from the government to the advocate, or even things like luxury travel to conferences relating to a public policy.

This also includes simple economic security, such as job security—ensuring continued employment that might otherwise be at risk. It also includes third-party benefit, such as that resulting from nepotism.

If you asked a random person on the street, this is the only one of the drivers here that would likely be named. But it is probably the least important, despite what economic determinists and Marxists tell us. Sure, everyone wants money, but I think it’s rarely the most important driver of why someone desires a particular public policy.

3) The desire to feel superior to other people. This is a mostly overlooked driver of a huge amount of human action. Human nature being what it is, we all want to feel superior to others, and even better, to be recognized by others as superior, and even better, to be publicly so recognized. (See, for example, C.S. Lewis’s famous metaphor of the “The Inner Ring”).

One way to achieve feeling superior is advocate a public policy and attribute a moral component to it, which necessarily implies that the advocate is superior and those who oppose him are morally deficient and therefore inferior. (Fame is part of the feeling of superiority—technically, it’s not the exact same thing, but for these purposes I think the desire for fame and the desire to feel superior can be lumped together.)

The desire for superiority can be narrow – Professor X may want to feel superior to Professor Y in his same small department. Or it can be broad—Person X may want to feel superior to vast swathes of the deplorables in society as a whole. The refrain “we’re doing this for the children” is perhaps the best indicator that the real reason behind a policy position is the desire to feel superior.

4) The desire to control and have power over other people. Again, this is a mostly overlooked driver of human action. It is highly pleasurable to most people to push others around, whether they admit it or not.

Bullying is the most commonly remarked upon manifestation of this tendency, but it occurs everywhere in human relations, and in political systems—see, e.g., Orwell’s depiction of Communism in Animal Farm. Pushing others around is often justified by the pusher as doing something “for their own good,” when it is really the psychological good of the advocate that is being advanced.

5) The desire for transcendence—for meaning in one’s life. This is often the most important reason anyone does anything, and public policy advocacy is no exception. The advocacy itself may provide the meaning—“I am doing something.” But the advocacy itself may be a second-order effect. That is, the advocacy itself does not provide transcendence, but a particular person may find transcendence through a larger frame, of which the advocacy is merely a manifestation.

For example, religious belief may dictate a specific public policy, such that advocating the policy is implementing the framework that gives the advocate’s life its meaning. A pro-life activist is not given transcendence simply by fighting against abortion, but because that is part of a larger framework giving his life meaning.

Religious transcendence is easy to understand and identify; the two things necessarily go together. Thus, the innate nature of the human desire for transcendence is best seen not in religion, but in religion substitutes—notably Communism, but that was (and is) only the progenitor of a wide range of mostly left-wing religion substitutes, including environmental extremism and certain brands of feminism.

As Chesterton did not say, but should have, “When man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything.”

As can be seen from this, there is very rarely any such thing as purely disinterested advocacy of a public policy. If you listen to those who publicly and loudly advocate public policies, they would have you believe that #1 is the only possible reason they advocate any particular public policy.

In fact, numerous people in this media-centric age have made a living out of casting themselves as impartial philosopher-kings, advocating public policies for supposedly purely rational, disinterested reasons. So, any time a Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye pushes a public policy (usually left-wing, although that’s not germane to this discussion, but may be indicative of something, as I discuss below), they claim to be driven by pure objective reason, but they are in fact driven by some combination of these factors.

The trick is finding out which factors are dominant, and using that to determine whether the advocacy has any merit for society at large, since factors #2 through #5 are in essence inapplicable to or antithetical to society at large, such that if any combination of those dominate, the advocacy is necessarily defective and should be ignored (and the advocate held in public contempt and, preferably, punished by society).

Let’s take Bill Nye’s position on global warming. He likes to call himself the “Science Guy,” and he got his start teaching children scientific facts through clever demonstrations of science experiments in educational programs. More recently, though, he’s taken aggressive public stands on public policy issues, of which global warming is only one (others include pushing for abortion rights and endorsing Barack Obama for political office). Why has he done this?

One possibility is that he has analyzed these policies and decided they’re objectively correct, and the world can benefit from his thoughts, without any benefit to him. Maybe.

He refuses to state his public policy advocacy rationales with any specificity, other than the usual vacuous and false “all the experts say global warming is an existential threat and we must pay any cost, immediately, to address that threat,” and he maintains the usual refusal to debate or even acknowledge competing viewpoints. So it’s hard to tell if he has done an objective, internally consistent analysis at all, though there is no indication he has.

But even if he has done so and that’s a reason for his advocacy of a global warming alarmist position, it’s only one reason. With respect to the other four possible reasons,

(a) Nye may or may not get more money as a result of his advocacy, but he definitely risks no financial penalty, since all the platforms on which he appears are controlled by those on the Left, who agree with him, and he gets job security because he can cry “persecution” if he is denied any job;

(b) he most definitely gets to feel superior, and to be repeatedly lauded as such on numerous public platforms, while making and being applauded for denigrating comments about those who disagree with him;

(c) he most definitely gets to control and have power over other people, by the nature of being a recognized Important Person whose advocacy is relevant, and by the declared intent of his preferred policies being massive direct control over billions, including by direct mandate and by limiting their life choices by making energy more expensive;

and (d) he probably achieves meaning in his life by his advocacy, although this is hard to tell without more evidence from Nye himself, being largely internal. But it is common for the successful (especially atheists like Nye) to, in the twilight of their careers, seek for larger meaning and a way to feel like they “made a difference,” and so transcendence is likely a reason for advocacy in his case—perhaps the overriding reason.

Therefore, based on this analysis, we can conclude that Bill Nye’s advocacy demanding public policy changes in response to global warming is largely or wholly worthless, since it is largely or wholly based on rationales that do not apply to society as a whole, but merely advance Bill Nye’s personal interests.

The same analysis applies, actually, to nearly all global warming alarmists, but even more strongly so. One frequently hears global warming alarmists jeer nervously at those who oppose their analysis and prescriptions, with some variation of “why would the experts claim it’s a problem if it’s not?”

These four reasons are why. Massive amounts of money all around the globe flow only to those pushing global warming alarmism; penury and obloquy are the lot of any scientist who dares to suggest not merely that global warming is a myth, but who makes any suggestion that cost-benefit analysis should apply or that it is possible we don’t actually understand climate at all (see, e.g., Roger Pielke).

(This is exacerbated by climate science being the short bus of science; the truly gifted go into areas like physics and have more options for making a living). The superiority that oozes off alarmists is so thick it nearly assumes physical form. All the solutions of global warming alarmists involve massively increasing power over ordinary citizens, by both government and by the advocates of political action based on global warming alarmism (see, the common demand that people who disagree with global warming alarmism be put in prison, or in some cases, the public demand they be killed).

And, most of all, global warming alarmism is very clearly a substitute religion, providing transcendence to its advocates, together with all the indicia of a religion, from sins to redemption to priests to indulgences.

So, while it appears plausible to a neutral observer (say, me) that modifying the atmosphere could have deleterious effects, and an objective analysis with that as a starting point would be nice, we can conclude that the alarmist industry as it exists is not primarily, or even to a significant degree, driven by objective analysis, and almost wholly, or wholly, driven by motives personal to the advocates, who should be held in contempt.

A very few advocates for public policies to address global warming escape this analysis, notably Bjørn Lomborg, but they are few indeed (and the treatment of them by the alarmist industry merely reinforces the above analysis).

Now, not all examples of “experts” pushing public policy are as baldly self-interested as global warming alarmists; they are probably at the extreme range of scientific unreliability due to the accrual of several factors other than rational objectivity. For a less extreme case, let’s take proponents of not feeding children peanuts before the age of three. Probably, the advocates of that public policy were mostly driven by factor #1, objective analysis.

They were just wrong, and most likely fell into various forms of bias and distorted thinking that made their conclusions false. Money was probably not overly important (unlike in the drive for fat-free foods, which was corrupted by money from the sweetener lobby). The other factors may have been important, overall or in certain cases; it is hard to tell.

Certainly, none of the advocates who were so wrong, and killed children with their erroneous advocacy, felt any need to express sorrow or shame, much less face any kind of punishment. This suggests that the desire to feel superior to other and control them is relevant, because a normal personal would feel compelled to abase himself for his error and the harm he caused—but that would undercut the feeling of superiority and control, so it is absent in practice, unless compelled, which it never is for “experts.”

Similarly, this is not to deny that it is possible to go too far the other way. Sometimes it is possible to base public policy on objective analysis. Cranks who reject all scientific evidence, from those who link vaccines to autism to those who think crystals have healing power, are just as subject to factors other than objectivity.

For example, someone who won’t vaccinate his children is subject to failures in #1 (in that the costs to children from not getting vaccinated is greater than even the claimed benefit), and is driven largely by #3 (superiority) and #5 (transcendence).

And there are probably quite a few public policy positions that don’t attract lots of public attention, and are therefore more likely to be based on objective analysis and less biased by other factors (though one can feel superior to, and desire to control, a small group as well as a large one).

Finally, this overall problem, of defective reasons being the real driver behind public policy advocacy, is less of a problem with the reality-based community, that is, with conservatives.

Liberals are more prone to derive their personal sense of meaning from politics, which is one of the reasons they try to politicize all areas of life. If you don’t advocate any public policy, or are neutral on what public policy will be chosen, you do not receive the positive reinforcement yielded by these drivers.

You have to get your personal utility, and your meaning, somewhere else. Conservatives are more likely to not focus on advocating public policies, and when they do are philosophically generally less subject to the temptations of control and transcendence (though, perhaps, not less subject to superiority).

Nonetheless, all people should be subject to the same analysis whenever they advocate for any public policy. And I conclude that trusting “experts,” unless a clear-eyed evaluation of their actual reasons for their positions is first made and the result is totally clear, is a fool’s errand.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The photo shows, “The Cigar” by Peter Baumgartner, painted in the latter half of the 19th-century.

The Idea Of Technology

Whenever people are trying to define the modern age, there’s an inevitable phrase that gets tossed around. We hear it all the time – “We are an age of technology.”

And when people are asked what this phrase means, they invariably generate a list – cars, televisions, space probes, computers, the microchip – all things that were mostly science fiction just a hundred years ago. How did we come so far, so quickly?

But are we technological because we have more gadgets than, say, the ancient Egyptians who, after all, did build the pyramids? But our culture is different from the ancient Egyptians. How so?

Our age is technological not because of gadgets, but because of the idea of technology. The gadgets are a mere by-product. The way we think is profoundly different from all previous human civilizations. We perceive things in a systematic way. We like to build conceptual structures. We like to investigate and get at the root causes of things.

We like to figure out how things work. We see nature, the earth, the universe, as a series of intersecting systems. And this difference is the result of technology.

Essentially, we are dealing with two Greek words: techne and logia. Techne means “art,” “craft,” or “handiwork.” But logia is more interesting. It means “account,” “word,” “description,” and even “story.” It is the root of other important words in English, such as “logistics” and “logical.” And it even reaches into the spiritual realm, where “Logos” is intimately connected with the mystery of God in Christianity, where God (Logos) is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, technology is not really about gadgets. The word actually means “a description of art,” or “a story of craft, handiwork.” Anything we create is technology. Be it the microchip, a film, a novel, an airplane, or a poem.

But this is only the first layer. We need to dig further. Why do we use a Greek word in the first place? This question lets us dig right down to the foundations.

The word is Greek because the idea is Greek. This is not to say that other cultures did not have technology; they certainly did; the Pyramids are certain proof of that, as are the Nascan lines in the desert. However, we have already established that technology is not about gadgets, or objects that we create. It is a particular mind-set.

Technology is visualizing the result, or perhaps uncovering that which lies hidden within our imagination. It really is still about giving an account of art, about what we can do with our minds.

But how is all this Greek?

The idea of technology was given to us by one specific person – the Greek philosopher, Aristotle(384-322 BC).

At the age of twenty, Aristotle found himself in Athens, listening to the already famous Plato (428 B.C. to 348 B.C.). But the pupil would become greater than the master. Interestingly enough, Aristotle too had a famous pupil – Alexander the Great. Aristotle certainly had the ability to transform the way people thought – down to the present.

It was Aristotle who stressed the need not only for science, but a conceptual understanding of science. It was not enough just to be able to do things, such as craftsmanship that was passed down from father-to-son in his own day, and in many parts of the world today.

It was important to understand how things were; how they functioned the way they did. It was Aristotle who taught us to break down an object into its smallest part so we can understand how it is built and how it operates. Where would science be today without this insight – which we now take as common sense.

But before Aristotle, it was not common sense. The common sense before his time was to accept things the way they were, because the gods had made them that way, and who were we to question the will of the gods. This was the pre-technological mindset.

Aristotle, like Plato before him, taught that nature and human beings behave according to systems that can be recorded and then classified, and understood and then applied. These categories provided mental frameworks within which we could house our ideas.

Therefore, if nature is a system (and not mysterious and unknowable), then it can be understood. And if it can be understood, it can be controlled. And if it can be controlled, then we can avoid being its victims.

Our ability to classify, categorize, and explain – in short, our technology – is the invention of Aristotle. Before he came along, we were only groping in the dark – if we dared grope, that is.



The photo shows, “Toronto Rolling Mills,” by William Armstrong, painted in 1864.

A Radically New Economy: The Dawn of the Caritas State

Caritas is the Christian love of humankind, whence our word, “charity.” This is rooted in that great treatise on love by St. Paul, in I Corinthians 13:4, which in Latin reads: “caritas patiens est benigna est caritas non aemulatur non agit perperam non inflatur.”

These words are further reflected in that great and ancient Christian hymn – “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est: – “Where there is charity and love, there is God.”

Here are some political and social consequences of caritas – in other words, a radically new economy.

We truly need a new economic system that doesn’t end in government stagnation, but still encourages the dispersal of wealth to the poor. The answer is a Charity Tax Credit Incentive System (CTCIS) or a Caritas economic system.

For those who don’t know, Charity Tax Credits are payments that you can deduct from your taxes after donating to registered charities. In English, when you give money to charities, you get a receipt. Give that receipt to the government and they will charge you less on your taxes.

For example, let us pretend the government charges you $100 in taxes. Because you show the government you gave $20 to charity, they will deduct $10 from your taxes so that you only pay $90.

Notice how its not dollar for dollar (i.e. even though you donated $20, they only deducted $10 from your taxes).

You might be thinking “Wait a minute, don’t we already have an economy that utilizes charity tax credits?” Yes, but not as an incentive system (It’s also poisoned with charity deductions, but that’s another story).

Charity tax Credits were started as a tax offset, not an incentive system. Before the government implemented the welfare state, many of the institutions affiliated with welfare were run by charities (hospitals, orphanages, schools).

When the government raised taxes to pay for welfare, people complained. Many argued that they wouldn’t be able to give as much to charities if they were paying more taxes. A compromise was reached.

What was the compromise? That you could show the government a receipt and they would lessen (or offset) your taxes. But it wasn’t dollar for dollar. That is to say, if you gave $100 to a charity, you wouldn’t get $100 off your taxes.

Why wasn’t it dollar for dollar?  Because the government believed that charities were more inefficient then the government at distributing capital and helping the poor.

Of course, as it turned out, the government was wrong. Charities are more efficient at redistributing – because they are more competitive, specialized, and tactile at solving economic problems relating to the poor. They demonstrate a vast arsenal of different techniques, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach of the government.

In the current political landscape, the two main approaches towards solving the problem of how to disperse wealth to the poor are that of socialist liberals and laissez faire conservatives.

The liberal-socialists argue for the redistribution of capital by the state, believing the state to be the most efficient and democratic mechanism for facilitating the dispersal of capital. Most importantly, they ague that their system is the best way to ensure the redistribution of capital, overcoming capitalist elites’ tendency to horde wealth.

There are insurmountable problems with neo-liberal socialism, because the government is not efficient at redistributing capital, since it engages in corruption, fails to adapt to new problems in a timely manner, and can poorly handle individual cases which deviate from the needs of the multitude.

The laissez faire conservatives are quick to point out these problems. Instead, they advocate for a completely “hands off” approach to the economy. They reason that individuals can be trusted to redistribute in a rational and efficient manner (if they argue for any redistribution at all, some reserving the cold-hearted position of forsaking the poor entirely).

Like their liberal adversaries, the economic system of laissez faire conservatives is lacking. They fail to recognize the tendencies of competing capitalist elites to horde their wealth. The reason for this is not necessarily from greed. Many company owners do care deeply about the workers who serve them but are caught in a prisoner’s dilemma.

Why should McDonald’s donate profits to charity if Burger King doesn’t? Companies are often locked into a fierce competition with one another. In this struggle they’re continuously reinvesting profits into innovation, research, educating their workforce, and anything else that might give them a competitive edge.

If two companies are competing for their very survival, why would one sacrifice its competitive edge for the poor in the face of its extinction? Of course, McDonald’s might truly wish to give money to the poor, but can it risk helping them at the coast of Burger King gaining an edge?

So, is there a system (other than liberal socialism) that evens the playing field?


The New Economic Solution

I propose that we adopt a system of charity tax credit incentives, or the Caritas State. The government should issue a tax to raise money for a social program. BUT if the tax payer donates to a registered charity that deals with that issue, then they should have a dollar per dollar tax exemption from the government.

Let me use an analogy. A liberal socialist says that we need to tax everyone $100 (or whatever amount we democratically decide) for a government program that helps orphans. The laissez faire conservative says that we should give the government $0 to deal with orphans and that private citizens would look after the orphans.

A Caritas economist (a believer in the Charity Tax Credit Incentive System) would say that we need to tax everyone $100 (or whatever amount we democratically decide) for a government program that helps orphans. BUT if you donate $100 to registered charities that deal with orphans, then you don’t owe the government a dime. You simply show them your charity receipt(s) and you are exempt from paying the tax.

The individual tax payer can choose how they would like to spend their money, embracing the idea of consumer sovereignty. If you prefer to pay the money to the government then, you simply pay the $100 tax. Whatever variance you choose also works – you can give $25 dollars to charity and $75 to the government, or vice versa as long as you end up giving $100.

There are six reasons why charity tax credits are preferable to either liberal socialism or laissez faire conservative economics.

FIRST, the Caritas economic system gives liberties to individuals by allowing the freedom of choice. Individuals would be able to chose where their tax dollars go. One of the hallmarks of Western society has been the trust we place in our citizenry to choose for themselves.

The freedom of the public to express their will as an instrument of shaping our society stands at the foundations of our democracy and economy.

In the Caritas state, the economy answers to the will of the people, not the other way around.  Charities answer to donors as well as those they give to. Donors vote with their dollars, determining which charity they feel helps the most.

SECOND, the government’s role shifts to regulating charities instead of being the sole charity. In the Caritas State, the role of the government would be to aid consumer sovereignty (or rather donor sovereignty).

If socialists got their wish, the government must micromanage every aspect of welfare – an exhausting task. It must not only watch over orphanages but run them. But who watches the watchmen? As you’d imagine, this leads to a lack of regulation of the government itself and a massive upkeep cost.

In a system based on charity tax credits, the government would direct funds to charities, but allow people to chose which charities they wanted to donate to.

These charities do the work and the governments job is to regulate them. The state would be responsible for regulating which charities would be able to issue receipts for tax deductions. In addition, the state would audit charities, release the data on those audits to the public, and regulate how much money people are required to donate.

The government is already responsible for determining which charities are legitimate and which are not. There’s nothing new here, but the initiation of the Caritas economy puts a central focus on legislation regarding charities. Luckily, we already have a legal framework that we can build on.

The state can regulate charities by auditing. Governments have armies of accountants which can be mobilized to regulate charities. The government can find out if charities are misusing their funds, falsely advertising their services, or breaking the law.

In an act of transparency, the state can publish its audits, just like the health department publishes its inspections of local restaurants and grocery stores. They’re not picking winners and losers, but they are allowing the consumers to make informed decisions as to where they should spend their money, thus ensuring consumer (or rather donor) sovereignty.

Because the government wouldn’t have to worry about doing all the work, it could focus on stamping out corruption from charities or developing mechanisms to show their efficiency.

If the government releases the information, say, that with Charity X only $10 out of $100 donated goes to help the poor, as opposed to Charity Y which gives $90 out of $100 to the poor; then donors would be inclined to give to Charity Y over Charity X.

The public could vote how much they would give to charities. The people could democratically choose how much the public donates to the Caritas state – whether it should be a gradual or fixed tax, or whether some charities should be admitted over others.

People have far more freedom in the Caritas state than in the welfare state as to how funds should be dispersed to the poor.

THIRD, because charities compete with one another, the Caritas state would avoid stagnation – unlike welfare.

In the welfare state, the government has a monopoly on the distribution of capital. Because monopolies don’t have to compete, they become inefficient, suffocating under the weight of their stagnation. On the other hand, because individual charities do not have a monopoly, they would be forced to compete with one another.

People are more inclined to donate to the charities that they feel are doing the most good. Therefore, if a charity is deemed inefficient by donors, then they will stop giving to it and fund a more efficient charity.

This will prevent charities from pocketing money for themselves, or taking up a banner of useless causes. Like any system that revolves around the will and freedom of the people, it is critical that the public has easy access to information so they can make educated decisions.

The Caritas state would utilize competition, allowing it to be more dynamic and innovated then the welfare state. After all, government is the problem, not the solution.

FOURTH, the Caritas state solves the capitalist prisoner’s dilemma – unlike laissez faire economics.

Conservatives generally champion charity and the free-market to solve problems related to poverty. Yet, many are not satisfied by it all. They argue that the laissez faire approach fails to coordinate distribution, tolerates greed, and casts the poor aside.

When it comes to giving to the poor, people are trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma. In free-market capitalism, we are all in a state of competition. Why should you give to the poor when your competitors don’t? It is an ancient question – Why should you be good when those around you aren’t?

Even if you wanted to be charitable, there is a fear that doing so might risk your own livelihood. The Caritas state can work through this conundrum.

People can give to the poor because they know that their competitors are giving, too. The minimum amount the public should give can be determined democratically and people can always give more if they please.

The beauty of the Caritas state is that it allows for the coordination of distribution when it is most needed. One of the problems of total laissez faire economics is that when a depression hits, and charity is most needed, people are the least willing to give.

During bad times, the state can coordinate giving by increasing taxes that can be reduced by charity tax credits. Thus, the state could coordinate a charity stimulus. In good times, they could reduce taxes, allowing the market to flourish. The only problem left to tackle is greed itself.

If you believe people are naturally greedy, then it is unrealistic to think that they will simply give without a system that encourages distribution. If you believe people are not naturally greedy and are already giving to charities, then we just need their receipts.

FIFTH, the Caritas state is the radical compromise between liberals and conservatives – in fact it transcends the right and the left.

The Caritas state not only solves many of the problems between the right and the left, but it fuses together many of their greatest strengths.

For the right, it allows individuals to chose how they want to spend their money. Donor sovereignty runs parallel with consumer sovereignty, valuing transparency and the government’s role as a stabilizing force instead of a player in the game.

The rise of the Caritas state will destroy the welfare state. It carries with it an emphasis on liberality as opposed to a forced obedience to government monopoly (the ultimate Neo-Con nightmare).

As we know, taxation can often be theft. This system allows individuals to hand over receipts to the government instead of money for the government to waste.

For the left, the Caritas state appeals to their mission to help the unfortunate and the marginalized. These concerns have been central to socialism, the New Left, and Neo-Liberals.

Although the government would no longer run everything, it still would play a role in guiding the efforts to help the poor, and in regulating charities by performing audits and demonstrating transparency.

Lastly, liberals can still choose to give their money to the government if they please. They are not required to give to charities, they’re just encouraged to do so. They can always just pay the tax and not use charity tax credits to opt out.

We need a bi-partisan system in the era of polar politics. The deadlock we have can’t be allowed to continue. We are already on the brink of collapse. The poor are struggling, and the middle class is being squeezed out by the minute.

SIXTH, most importantly, the Caritas state is the key to establishing a true Libertarian society.

The biggest obstacle to achieving a libertarian economy, a system where government is absent in the regulation and distribution of capital, is that our moral excellence is now at an all time low, as indicated in the sharp drop in  charitable donations.

How can we expect to get rid of the government with such rampant greed in our society? The stronger our culture of giving is, the more independence we gain from the tyranny of the economic authoritarians.

The Caritas state can be our ticket out of the government’s economic authority through its ability to raise society’s culture of giving!

There is an ideological shift that happens when someone gives their money directly to an organization, instead of having it be taken away by one. It is a gratifying feeling to help those around us, a sweetness that comforts the hearts of men when they help their fellow man.

Through the Caritas state we can expand that culture of brotherly love, casting away greed from our hearts. This system could be the tool we need to wean society from welfare.

The initial effect of the Caritas state would be a massive stimulus in the construction of charities, giving us the tools and logistics to be charitable. A culture of giving would follow, solidifying the practice of giving. The stronger a giving-culture we create, the more we can start lowering the number of citizens who need our help.

For example, let’s say we legislate that all citizens must give $100 to charities that help orphans. Because of the stimulus, a massive surge of non-government institutions emerges aimed to aid orphans. After a time, an ideological culture of giving to orphans follows.

As the will and the means to help orphans solidifies, we can begin to lower the amount of money citizens are encouraged to donate to, say, $75. If people continue to be charitable and help solve the societal ills that accompany orphans, then we can lower it to $50, then $25, and so on, until charity itself many no longer be needed.

Eventually, welfare would be dissolved, and the government’s drastic involvement minimalized. The Caritas state is the most effective and sensible way libertarians can bring about their desired state.

The push to bring about a Charity Tax Credit Incentive System is not unheard of. A caucus of 30 congressmen called the Renewal Alliance, has already adopted the Coats-Kasich tax plan (a bill drawn up by Dan Coats and John Kasich advocating for Charity Tax Credit increases.

I’m not trying to support these politicians – I don’t trust politicians any further than I can throw them. But what the Renewal Alliance shows is that the idea has found its way into Congress.

It is also floating around in various think-tanks as well. For example, Cardus has been pushing for Charity Tax Credits Incentives for some time now. They argue that it may be a tool to re-establish Christian values in society.

The fight for charity tax credits and the establishment of the Caritas state has begun.

Its time to decide where we stand.

On Humanism And Its Importance

The essential idea, or philosophy, that defined the Renaissance was humanism, which placed great emphasis on human values and life. In this spirit, all those things that made the world beautiful and happy were actively pursued, such as language, art, music, science and ideas.

Humanism drew its models and its inspiration from ancient Rome and Greece, and emphasized the joys that were to be found in this life. This was contrary to the earlier (medieval) view that said that this world was to be ignored in order to gain life hereafter.

It was Pico della Mirandola, who best summarized humanism when he stated: “nothing is more wonderful than man.” He also emphasized the importance of the individual whom he defined as “the intermediary between creatures, the intimate of higher beings and the king of lower beings, the interpreter of nature by the sharpness of his senses, by the questing curiosity of his reason, and by the light of his intelligence.”

This new way of looking at things found its perfect vehicle in the discovery of the movable type, or the printing press, since books were suddenly available and helped in the spread of education and knowledge.

Therefore, some fifty years after Gutenberg published his Bible, there were more books printed than had been copied by hand a thousand years before.

Humanism also encouraged interest in the affairs of world, which gave confidence to men and women in themselves – since the individual was seen as a person able to do and achieve he or she desired.

As a result, it was humanism that allowed Renaissance poets, painters, architects, musicians, writers, thinkers, explorers and even politicians to thrive and prosper. For example, painters studied geometry, optics, and anatomy, which

allowed them to create paintings that were three-dimensional – just as our eyes see the world around us. And significantly they rendered the human body not as a thing to be ashamed of, but as an intimate part of nature – and therefore beautiful.

Humanism also gave women an active social and political role. For the first time, we see strong women emerging, such as Queen Elizabeth in England, Catherine de’ Medici who became a regent in France, Marguerite of Navarre the famous author from France, and in Italy there were Beatrice and Isabella d’Este and Caterina Sforza who were important patrons of culture.

There was also progress in science as a result of humanism. Previously, in medieval times, the stress was on understanding symbolism and heavenly visions.

Humanism demanded instead that the world be carefully studied and the laws of nature be minutely observed. This new way of looking at things is exemplified by Nicolas Copernicus, who revolutionized science when he stated that the sun was the center of a vast solar system and that the earth was merely one of the many planets that circled the sun. This was not new, as the Greeks knew this already, but it was restated.

The Church’s objection to Galileo was not because of his science, but because he wanted to say that science alone had all the answers. Here the Church was far better at humanism than Galileo.


It was humanism that allowed a close scrutiny of the Church as well, which had become a powerful political institution, and in which the clergy was busy gathering wealth and land, rather than looking after the spiritual well-being of people.

Consequently, this led to the Reformation, which was started by Martin Luther (1483-1546), who rejected the central authority of the Church and the mediation of the pope and the priests. Luther stressed that any individual, by reading the Bible for himself or herself, could interpret the word of God, without the help of a priest – and the individual could find the ways of God through his or her own efforts.

Lastly, it was humanism that made the Renaissance truly an age of discovery, since it taught that human beings could achieve all things. Thus, the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias (ca. 1450-1500) sailed to the Southern tip of Africa, and his fellow countryman Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469-1525) made the first trip by sea to India.

And in the same spirit, Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, and Ferdinand Magellan (ca. 1480-1521) circumnavigated the entire globe. Similarly, Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) explored and conquered Mexico, and Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1478-1541) conquered Peru. During this time, the English, the French, and the Dutch were settling along the Atlantic coast of North America.

Whenever we speak of the Renaissance, we are also speaking of a very powerful idea, which said that people were infinitely full of great potential, and it was this idea that fueled the achievements of this unique time in history. This is the core of humanism – and this also is the core of Christianity.


Externsteine: Germany’s Stonehenge

It was as if the gods of dim antiquity stood before us, brooding amidst the slowly dissipating mist of early morning.

High above ravens rasped a rough-throated song that was caught by the wind and tossed toward the rising summer sun.

We had finally arrived after a two-hour hike in the Teutoburger Forest. Before us stood in silence the Externsteine, Germany’s Stonehenge, a looming outcrop of five enormous, weathered, limestone pillars, rising nearly 30 meters above the forest.

They were formed during the Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago, almost before time itself. When I saw these rocks, like Frost-giants of myth, my mind began to wander.

his was once a holy site for the ancient Germanic people, the place where their sacred oak tree of life, Irminsul, grew as a living shrine to the old religion. But the old ways yielded to the new, and in 772 AD,

Charlemagne outlawed all pagan forms of worship, and cut down the ancient oak tree, thus forever severing the people from their pagan past. As if lost in a mist of dreams, my friends and I wandered about peering into man-made caves and clefts carved by hands now forgotten.

I found myself walking up steps that led nowhere, or suddenly coming upon a row of neatly drilled holes that now defied explanation. In the widest pillar stands a chamber of irregular shape, accessed by two entrances; the two windows that face me frame the midsummer sunrise.

The highest rock is accessed by carved steps and a dubious foot-bridge. It houses a roofless chamber, called the Chapel, where we find a round niche with a pillar altar, above which stands a perfectly circular window, some 35cm in diameter.

Much scholarly ink has been spilt on the various possible uses for this Chapel; but only one fact is certain: It is constructed according to astronomical orientations. The round window frames the moon at its most northerly rising, and during summer solstice, it catches the light of the sun.

When Charlemagne destroyed the Irminsul tree, he allowed monks to take over the sight so it could be put to Christian use. Their marks are everywhere. Chief among these is a carving from about 1120. It is a playful mixture of Christian and pagan beliefs – a mentality that is so hard to recuperate now.

The carving shows the Irminsul, the prime symbol of the old religion, bent to form a chair, upon which Nicodemus stands to lower the body of Christ from the cross. This is to show the subjection of the old religion to the new. But curiously the legs and feet of Nicodemus are missing.

Below the Irminsul is the World Serpent from Germanic myth who supports the earth. Here we have a snapshot of some ancient mind that we cannot know, other than what we assume. Geography and cosmology here is rooted in Christianity, even if it is supposedly pagan by the more romantic.

My friends and I spend several hours among the silence of the rocks — until the crowds begin to arrive — like all popular places it is difficult to be always alone with antiquity.

It is time for breakfast anyway, and we leave the creased faces of these hallowed rocks to the next batch of inquisitive visitors. In a clearing, we open our rucksacks and dig into our breakfast.

A delicious way to awaken from a dream. As I bite into my bread, I hear a flap of wings, and looking to my right, beneath a young oak tree, two ravens sit silently, watching me eat. Perhaps it was these ravens that I heard as we first came upon the Externsteine. They don’t seem frightened and are hardly shy.

Silently, quietly they sit, watching. In acquiescence to their presence, I break off two pieces of my bread and throw it to them. They eat in a very dignified manner, without rushing, without greed.

It is then I recall that in Germanic myth two ravens ever attended the god Odin. Perhaps the old gods are not dead; perhaps they come alive if we remember. I break off more bread and place it before the ravens, this time as offering.

Of Heroes and Heroism

Heroes in ancient Greek epic literature, namely Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, are figures that are not only legendary but also like gods. In effect, they are god-men, whose characteristics are best defined within the ideals of the heroic, Homeric society that values these men not only for their high births, but also for their strength, courage, resourcefulness and relentless pursuit of glory. We see these qualities best in Achilles, whose exploits Homer richly and grandly describes.

The fact that his mother is the sea nymph Thetis and his father, Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons, attests to the high birth of Achilles. As well, it also tells us that he is half immortal and half human.

This combination of the divine and the mortal is perfectly reflected in Achilles’ own body, in fact. His entire body is impervious to harm from any weapon – except for his right heel, which is his only vulnerable spot. Thus, he is very nearly entirely a god; but mortality also marks him.

Through most of The Iliad, we read about the exploits of Achilles, and how the Greeks are invincible because of his actions alone. He appears to the Trojans like a great, angry god, whose strength and courage none can rebuff.

In fact, his wrath is a manifestation of his courage and his strength, since he does stand up for what is rightfully his. Even the mighty Hector is incomparable to him – something we learn by the end of The Iliad, wherein Achilles slays Hector in single combat.

Further, we learn that he is resourceful, in that his mother hid him from the society of men, among girls, and even dressed him like a girl. But his heroic qualities were immediately discernible, and Achilles became the best of Greek warriors fighting on the plains of Troy.

The last quality of the Homeric hero is the relentless pursuit of glory. In fact, Achilles does not shy away from it, since he was offered a choice by the gods. He could either live to a ripe old age, and be entirely unknown and never win fame; or he could have a short life and win immortal fame.

Achilles chooses the latter. Although we do not learn in The Iliad about the death of Achilles from Paris’s arrow in his heel, The Odyssey does mention it. Achilles fights not for the good of others, for his own aims.

This “selfishness” is a perfectly acceptable Homeric trait, because heroes must act to a specific standard, which demands that they prove their high birth and god-like stature through valiant deeds.

All of Achilles actions have, therefore, one purpose: the acquisition of glory – for it is glory alone that guarantees immortality to the Homeric hero, who dies knowing that his deeds will not be forgotten and his name will last among the living.


In all this we find something conveniently forgotten in our age – the virtues of manliness, namely, courage, steadfastness, strength of mind, and daring.

These virtues may be recouped in the Greek classics, and in their recovery lies the next renaissance for the western male.

Émile Durkheim And Progress

Emile Durkheim’s sociological views depend upon the concept of progress, in that society evolves, or moves through, various phases; and this he readily sees when he begins to examine the idea of labor within society.

Thus, he finds that traditional division of labor evolved into a simple division of labor, and then into a more complex division of labor. This organic view of society implies that the various components that comprise any given society not only structure this society, but also have well defined functions.

Therefore, society is not merely a composite of individuals; it is in fact an entity unto itself which influences and determines individuals by way of social currents and social norms.

Although these influences are the result of human endeavor, nevertheless they are not linked with individual will. This, in short, is Durkheim’s sociological project.

Given this co-dependent, but not co-determined, relationship between society and the individual, Durkheim seeks to locate a sociological explanation for social structures as well as individual endeavor.

One of the structures that he seeks to explain is the economic life of a society. Within it, he locates the role and purpose of labor, which determines the specific functions of economic life. Thus, for him, the crucial point can be found in the division of labor, which he tells us determines new paradigms of social cohesion and correlations.

One of these correlations is structure of the regulation of contracts. He tells us “the contract is not sufficient by itself, but is only possible because of the regulation of contracts, which is of social origins.”

This is an important statement in that it houses Durkheim’s notion of what is actually meant by “regulation” of contracts. In order to understand this, we need to first examine Durkheim’s notion of the contract, and then its regulation.

Since society determines and is determined by the individual, Durkheim recognizes that it is equality that binds individuals to their functions within society, and consequently cohere these functions into a greater whole.

Thus, contracts are a necessary development of the division of labor, since they precisely articulate a consensus, or collective thought. And therefore, the division between rich and poor is the result of unjust contracts. However, as labor is divided, social doctrine weakens, and the gap between rich and poor becomes insupportable, and individuals begin to crate contracts that will make

relationships evenhanded. Certainly, there is a need for contracts in society, since they structure social life, and if no contracts existed, individuals would take abuse and misuse each other. Consequently, what Durkheim means by “regulation” of contracts is the implementation of liberty and equality within society.

Therefore, regulation is the establishment of social order, wherein economic and legal contracts become amenable and practical. In effect, regulation is the agreement between individuals within the context of society.

The idea of regulation stems, for Durkheim, from his notion of social systems, which are exemplified by mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Durkheim tells us: “This gives rise to a solidarity sui generis which, deriving from resemblances, binds the individual directly to society. … It does not consist merely in a general, indeterminate attachment of the individual to the group, but is also one that concerts their detailed action….They produce everywhere the same effects. Consequently, whenever they are brought into play all wills spontaneously move as one in the same direction.”

Thus, mechanical solidarity incorporates the collective consciousness, wherein collective ends are pursued, especially common responses to flaunting of regulations. Here, the individual is dependent on collective or common consciousness. The purpose of this solidarity, which comprises efforts that encompass common values, common beliefs, and those experiences that permit individuals to cooperate and function successfully.

While mechanical solidarity heavily regulates activities and social relationships within society, there is also the development of a great flexibility that guarantees individual freedom, development, change, and the growth of personality.

Durkheim observes: “Whereas other solidarity implies that individuals resemble one another, the latter assumes that they are different from one another. The former type is only possible in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collective personality; the latter is only possible if each one has a sphere of action that is peculiarly our own; and consequently a personality….Indeed, on the one hand, each one of us depends more intimately upon society the more the labor is divided up, and on the other, the activity of each one of us is correspondingly more specialized, the more personal it is….Society becomes more effective in moving in concert, at the same time as each of its elements has more movements that are peculiarly its own. This solidarity resembles that observed in the higher animals. In fact each organ has its own special characteristics and autonomy, yet the greater the unity of the organism, the more marked the individualization of the parts is more marked. Using this analogy, we propose to call ‘organic’ the solidarity that is due to the division of labor.”

Now, it is organic solidarity that shared principles and expectations are embodied, such as the law and the market.

The importance of regulation of contracts can be seen in various ways.

First, they restore the situation to where it was before the offense occurred, that it, to its original state.

Second, this process guarantees that society is present in the form of the law, and the legal system derives its authority from society. Thus, society intervenes and ensures that the dispute rises beyond the individual.

Third, rules and laws are set forth in a general manner, which are then regulated. Fourth, and most importantly, the individual is “condemned to submit” to the law, and is not punished as such.

Progress, then, determines the individual’s regulation in society. It s here that modern liberalism finds much of its impetus.


The photo shows, “The Assembly of the Six Counties,” by Charles Alexander Smith, painted in 1891.