Friday, May 11, 2007

Ethical Government isn’t necessarily a Theocracy

Luke Landtroop, over at his weblog “Confederate Hobbit”, makes the claim all “true” governments are theocracies (ruled by god) or at least teleocracies (the only definition I could find is a government “dedicated to achieving a certain propositional end”, so I’ll ignore the phrase).

Landtroop starts off by noting that “theocracy” is commonly defined as a government ruled by clerics claiming to have authority granted to them from the divine. Landtroop claims this is undesirable. Landtroop proceeds to argue that if we look at theocracy’s “real” meaning, ruled by god, we’ll find out that all “true” governments are theocracies.

From the start, I see an epistemic problem. How do we distinguish between a government ruled by those claiming to have authority from the divine and government which is actually ruled by the divine?

Landtroop then goes on to say that government is based on the assumption of right and wrong, the right should be helped and the wrong punished.

From that, Landtroop goes on to make a bunch of unnecessary assumptions concerning ethical conventionalism (the claim ethics is the result of human convention). For one thing, he claims that “if men believe this, they wouldn't bother erecting government at all because it would have no legitimate claim to authority.”

How Landtroop deduces that I don’t know. From “there’s no absolute morality” it doesn’t follow that “men [I’d prefer the term ‘people’] wouldn’t bother erecting government because they have not legitimate claim to authority”. Many people “bother to erect governments” without a “legitimate claim to authority”.

Many people can establish liberal representative democracies based on their arational compassionate impulses, with no need for some platonic source of authority. The government, of course, can also derive its authority or power from the will of the consented. Contractualism or the ‘protectionist theory of the state’, as Popper calls it, explains where the “legitimate authority” of the state comes from without reference to the divine.

Landtroop, no doubt because of his own lack of imagination, adds that “revelation” or “ something which does not revolt against man's natural sense of what is right and good, but will extend and refine it” is needed for moral authority.

Tied in with Landtroop’s word play is the assumption a “transcendent” morality is needed to give the state authority and that “transcendent” morality can’t come from the human condition, because the human condition could only support an “arbitrary morality”.

Landtroop seems to think that this “transcendent” or ever-lasting morality can only come from god as divine command theory says. Landtroop doesn’t seem to realize many non-naturalist ethical theories posit some sort of platonic realm, where “transcendent morals” exist. One can be an atheist and ethical non-naturalist, hence defeating Landtroop’s claim that government with “legitimate”, “transcendent”, or “true” authority must be theocratic.

It seems that Landtroop’s whole argument rests on his own lack of imagination.

Wow, I am very flattered that any of my work merits a response! :) First of all, I admit that I somewhat misused the term 'teleocracy'. I do not believe that the purpose of government is to actively pursue some ultimate end of social justice or whatever, though I do goverment has a definitive end, that is, the maintainance of order and justice. What I really mean is that the structure and operation of the State should be informed by a proper understanding of the end of man. As far as my views on the source of morality go, I will post one of my recent compositions that somewhat satirically addresses that issue. Feel free to check it out.
I find it amusing, Dylon, that you use "lack of imagination" in place of "ignorant" in at least two instances. Does that count as a euphemism? If you want to say it Dylon, don't shy away; just say it.
Alongside other reasons, it’s less hostile nature was why I chose it. Also, personally I found it a more beautiful phrase to use.

It is a synonym for the “argument from ignorance” fallacy, so it carries the same meaning.
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