This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Authority, ignorance, and the common good

 “…the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin. For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves…Nor is inequality among men excluded by the state of innocence.”

~ St. Thomas Aquinas[1]

One of the most important questions for democratic societies to answer is: “To what degree should ignorance be allowed to affect the common good?”

Now ignorance, as we’ve already suggested, is inevitable and is in no way a sin on the part of the ignorant. Or, from the point of view of metaphysics, we could say that it is a result of cosmic evil and not an aspect of personal sin. Ignorance is simply a reality we must live with, and most of us are ignorant of all but a few things, namely those things that we’ve experienced, studied, contemplated, and to which we’ve committed our lives. If we haven’t ever given time to a subject, we are probably ignorant of it, and this is okay.

But what occurs when those who are ignorant in a particular field begin to demand a say in it?—whether it is the science of medicine, technology, or politics, the answer ought to be the same: ignorance should not be allowed to short-circuit those pursuits necessary to the common good of society. Ignorance cannot be allowed to short-circuit political procedure and justice.

So where does this leave us? We return inevitably to one of the original sins of democratic regimes, which is the demand for imaginary equality, for equality despises the “exclusivity” aspect of knowledge. It cannot acknowledge that some men know what others do not. To say the same thing another way, we come again to the question of hierarchy. Hence, the reason we referred above to St. Thomas Aquinas, acknowledging that Liberal equality never existed in the created world.

So much for James Madison’s famous nonsense: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”[2] Angels in heaven, just as man in Eden and after, exist in a hierarchical reality. It cannot be explained, and it cannot be justified, it simply is, and to attempt to deny it is chasing after the wind.

Logically, we must assume that if there is a hierarchy to the social order, then the superior justly wields some sort of authority over the inferior, and more than this, that because the hierarchy is real and not, as in Liberalism, abstract or imaginary, it corresponds to a real difference in the aptitudes of the individuals. The man on the superior level is, if justice has been satisfied, really a superior man, in one way or another.

This is why it was common sense to all traditional peoples that, on difficult questions, the man whose superiority lay in judgment, discernment, and the study of law, ought to make the decisions, or at least have the most influence on them, and that the ignorant ought to remain within their spheres of competence.

Thus, St. Thomas continues elsewhere, quoting Aristotle: “we ought to pay as much attention to the undemonstrated sayings and opinions of persons who surpass us in experience, age and prudence, as to their demonstrations.”[3]

The implication here is that the inferior—the ignorant—individual will not understand the reasoning of the one who knows, just as the man who receives open heart surgery does not understand the procedure that is being carried out by the surgeon. And to demand that it be explained in its entirety would be death to the patient.

[1] Summa Theologica, I, q. 92, a. 1, ad. 2. See also: I, q. 96, a. 4.

[2] The Federalist no. 51.

[3] Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 95, a. 2; Arisitotle, Ethics, bk. 6, ch. 11.

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