This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
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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The rights of society and the rights of the individual

One cannot engage in any discussion of the social order without commenting on the place in that social order of what the modern world calls “individual rights.” This is not because these so-called “rights” deserve a place in every discussion, but because the mental range of our contemporaries is in a way defined by the concept of rights and these rights tend to set the limits of any discussion. If a social order makes no mention of rights, it is illegitimate, incomplete, or else downright evil.

Here the Hindu would reply that it is the modern conception of the political order which is incomplete since it bases itself almost entirely on this notion of right which it has never really gotten around to actually demonstrating. The conversations seem to begin and end by begging the question, or, to refer to the most famous way of putting it, by holding these rights to be “self-evident.” The Hindu would disagree, and the entirety of the traditional world with him.

In fact, even medieval Christendom would have been a bit confused as to why political notions so fundamental to law and the social order should not need to be demonstrated in any way. Being far from metaphysical, they should be demonstrable, so to choose not to demonstrate them or to at least derive them from something demonstrable is either laziness or deceit.

At any rate, perhaps the simplest way of putting it is that the traditional world would acknowledge that “rights,” as understood by moderns, play a role in the social order and in justice, primarily in terms of commutative justice and distributive justice, but that this importance is far from absolute, and far from being the end of the story. The social body has its own real unity and its own collective “good” which it has the right to protect, even if to protect these rights is to acts against the individual wills or relative goods of individuals. This is why St. Thomas and the Catholic Church with him, could claim that the common good is superior to the individual good, since men are “social” by nature and therefore depend on the common good in some degree if they are to realize their full human potential. The good is common because it is everyone’s good and necessary to them, and cannot be possessed by one to the exclusion of others.

Even within the context of individual rights as understood in modern liberal democracies, when an American claims that members of traditional societies lack human rights, we can easily respond in kind. Everyone fails because it is impossible to give each and every individual the absolute freedom they are told they deserve. In the end, what these regimes do is simply sacrifice the rights of some to those of others, so that the majority has their rights only at the expense of some other group. The American claims that Muslim women lack rights in Islamic society; the Muslim would claim, on the contrary, that American children lack rights to an equal degree. In other words, the ease with which husbands and wives dissolve their unions in America is an obvious injustice to the children involved, but the children cannot vote and so their rights as children are irrelevant. The American claims that an individual of the Hindu caste lacks the ability to choose the profession he wishes to pursue and is restricted by birth; the Hindu would claim that the American can choose but only between a myriad of un-meaningful and insignificant pseudo-vocations, none of them suitable to his nature and therefore destined to frustrate more than realize his desires, even if he is permitted to “choose freely.” And so on and so forth.

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