Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Devil and the Jews

Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism examines medieval Christian images of Jews and of “the Jew”. The book was first published in 1943, and the shadow of Hitler’s megacidal hate looms over the book, as the author makes clear in his preface.

Noting that use of stereotypes of Jews as figures of abuse was still part of the world-view of children (I can remember ‘Jew’ being a term of miserly abuse in the schoolyard), Rabbi Trachtenberg makes an observation that applies way beyond his subject:
… the lie is a more potent weapon, skillfully wielded, than the bare and simple truth … For the lie can be molded to match the “will to believe”; the truth is made of less malleable stuff (p.xiv).
One need only to consider the endless production of conspiracy theories—so easy to produce, rather more effort to debunk—to see the truth in this observation. Nor does it only apply to lies, in the sense of deliberate untruth. Plenty of myths and misconceptions are believed because they conform to what people want to believe.

Trachtenberg is firmly of the view that materialist explanations of Jew-hatred are inadequate, citing Maurice Samuel’s The Great Hatred as showing it as a psychological-cultural phenomenon.

The question Trachtenberg seeks to answer is stated in the first sentence of the Introduction:
Why are Jews so cordially hated—and feared? By what mysterious legerdemain can a weak, defenseless minority be invested in the public eye with the awesome attributes of omnipotence? How is it that men believe of Jews what common sense would forbid them to believe of anyone else? … No lie is too petty, or too silly, or too big to work its calculated effect. (p.1)
The answer lies in a particular, long, history.

Jew-hatred extends beyond Christianity, both predating it and occurring outside Christendom. It is a particular, demonological intensity of Jew-hatred that comes from medieval Christendom. Trachtenberg notes that there were effectively “two Churches”. The official hierarchy which:
… officially excoriated the Jews while extending them the promise of protection
and what the lesser clergy and laity did. Whatever the nuances:
… the practical consequences of Christian principle are justly attributable to “the Church” (p.7).
Not least because the framings with which Jews were conceived were most emphatically Christian.

The book is divided into three parts: The “Demonic” Jew, The Jew as Sorcerer, The Jew as Heretic. The first Part explores the association of Jews with Satan and the diabolic. For just as Satan was the enemy of God, so Jews were framed as the enemy of mankind (and of God): the association was thus “natural”.
While Christian polemics against Jews date back to the beginning of the Christian era, they became particularly intense from the period of the Crusades onwards: a period of a resurgence of Muslim aggression, the rise of mass heresies and social unrest; with a Church that saw itself as threatened from within and without as it strived to maintain the sacerdotal unity of God’s people (p.11). In this context of stress and urgent concern for Christian strength and unity, an intense hatred against “the Jew” was generated; a fantastic (yet clearly seriously believed) projection of ill-nature such that every charge was somehow plausible.

A ubiquitous, and projected, framing
One of the fundamental principles was:
Medieval Christendom was so firmly convinced of the incontestable truth of its own tradition and teaching that it could conceive of no rival truth … there is overwhelming evidence that the Catholic world believed that the Jew himself recognized the truth of Christian doctrine! (p.15)
That, of course, meant Jewish failure to embrace Christianity was a willful failure, which required maleficent explanation. (A notion by no means absent from our own time—see all the invective against “climate deniers”.)

Many of the accusations against the Jews rested on the belief that the Jews accepted the truth of Christian doctrine (for example, the significance of the host due to transubstantiation). While Church leaders from Jerome to Luther denounced the Jewish “refusal” to agree with the “obvious” Christian interpretations of the Scriptures they shared. The enemies of Jesus in the Gospels were the Jews and the devil: so it became natural to associate them in what became a staple construction of Christian thought about Jews (Pp20-1). Jews became associated with the Antichrist (it was often asserted that the Antichrist would be a Jew: just as in our time, it is alleged that the Antichrist will be homosexual). Jews became associated with physical features of diabolic significance—horns (either pictorially or as markers on their apparel), tails (carefully hidden), a distinctive odour.

Having delineated this diabolic association in Part One, Part Two explores the (therefore natural and reinforcing) association of Jews with occult power. Jews were frequently held to produce many sorcerers. The discovery by Christian Europe of the Kabbalah was then interpreted accordingly, reinforcing the prior conception. Jewish doctors were often held to owe their success to occult powers. Jews were also held to be poisoners.

Popular plays and literature relayed and reinforced these notions. So stories that previously had no Jewish character—or might even have Jewish victims—such as the usurer requiring a pound of flesh—became a stock instance of Jewish villainy (p.106).

How completely the accusations against Jews rested on Christian framings—and had nothing to do with what Jews actually believed—is particularly powerfully conveyed by accusations of desecration of the host (and its use for occult purposes):
The absurdity of attributing to Jews an acceptance and utilization of this most un-Jewish of dogmas never occurred to their accusers. Transubstantiation had been proclaimed a true belief by the Church, therefore it must be believed by all men; how they responded to that belief was something else (p.110).
Living in pervasively Christian societies, the Christian message proclaimed in stone, art and preaching, underpinning the laws and institutions of society (indeed, much law was Church law, via Church courts) the Jews stood exposed as the only “holdouts” to be understood in terms of this omnipresent Christian framing of just about everything.

The situation of climate sceptics in a contemporary society pervaded by a sense of climate catastrophism is vaguely analogous—including accusation of malefic motivation, since legitimate dissent from “obvious” truth is ruled out. But it does not really replicate the intensity of the isolation and anathematisation of Jews in medieval Christendom. (Islam had a set place within its framework—that of dhimmi—for Jews, a place Jews shared with Christians and so did not suffer the same benighted uniqueness: that Jews, and for that matter heretic and schismatic Christians, were better off under Muslim rule can be see by the migration flows—from Christendom to Islam, almost never in the other direction.)

One accusation that fitted naturally into the pattern of Christian projections onto the Jews, but actually predated Christianity, was that of ritual murder. It seems to have arisen during Jewish-Hellenic tensions under the Seleucids (p.126) and was also levied against peoples other than Jews. In medieval Christendom, it became a standard accusation against Jews and other “diabolic” forces. This was one set of accusations the Popes repeatedly refused to countenance, regularly denouncing it (Pp134ff). (A certain Papal scepticism was also apparent in various specific incidents of anti-Jewish frenzy.) But the accusations lived on, becoming folklore in parts of Germany and the Balkans into the C20th (p.139). One of the themes of the book is that accusations against the Jews never die, they just get recycled and recast.

A related, recurring, accusation, was the Jewish use (and even recommendation) of human blood for medicinal and other occult purposes. As with other accusations, converted Jews were often sources (they would be sure ways to ingratiate oneself with one’s new religious community) but follow a pattern that was old (dating back to the Hellenistic slanders mentioned above) and persisting to the C20th. Yet no set of accusation shows more strongly how it is the framings of the accusers—not any beliefs or practises of Jews—that matter, given it is hard to conceive of any group more careful and restrictive about blood than practicing Jews. But, as Rabbi Trachtenberg writes:
That such use of human parts, and especially of blood, was inherently abhorrent and inconceivable to the Jew, for magic or medicine or any other purpose, is of no significance here (p.143).
Quite. In understanding patterns of hate, it is the beliefs, framings and needs of the haters that matter, not the hated.

Having gone through so much calumny against the Jews, setting out its patterns, in Parts One and Two, at the beginning of Part Three, Jew as Heretic, Trachtenberg points out that Christian-Jewish relations from the fall of the Western Empire until about the C11th were generally quite good (Pp159ff). This was a Europe that was not yet fully Christianised.

So Jews and Christians shared a tradition and scriptures of monotheist revelation in contrast to surrounding paganism. With the vanquishing of paganism, that left the Jews alone as the only overt non-Christians. Suddenly, similarities were no longer salient, only differences. (The rise of non-religious and anti-religious philosophies in modern times has, of course, reversed this: hence the modern use of ‘Judaeo-Christian’. Indeed, some analyses of modern anti-Semitism see it as, in part, a covert or “first-stage” attack on Christianity—since if everything “Jewish” is tainted and wicked, that would include a religion wholly founded by Jews.)

The theological Jew
By the C11th, several trends coincided. The rise of a feudal structure worsened the legal situation of Jews (who had no natural “place” in it and were forbidden to bear arms), the rise of a Christian merchant class reduced their economic value and meant they had Christian competitors, the Crusading impulse encouraged violence against non-Christians (of whom Jews were the only locally-available targets) as well as other strictures against them. But this was all framed by a Church that was now the only source of religious authority and whose doctrines increasingly pervaded popular consciousness. Which meant insertion into popular culture the notion of
the theological Jew.

This strikes me as a key point: that official ideology put Jews in a very particular theological role. A role determined by the framings of Christian theory, not the actual beliefs and practise of Jews.

Not that Jews were or are the only group to which this has been done. One can equally talk of the notion of the theological queer, one that still resonates in our own time.

Sometimes, they even intersect. Jews were so far outside the realm of the “properly” human that having sex with a Jew was sometimes treated as form of bestiality and at least one Parisian man (and his Jewish de facto wife by whom he had several children) were burnt alive for “sodomy”: that is, sex outside its proper purpose and “natural” categories for, in the words of the chronicler who covered the case:
… since coition with a Jewess is precisely the same as if a man should copulate with a dog (p.187).
When one reads that Christian Jew-hatred was not “true” anti-Semitism since it was “only” against their beliefs, incidents such as this give the lie to such apologia. As does the way accusations, practices and beliefs were projected onto Jews that, not only had nothing to do with Judaism as a belief-system or practice, but actively contradicted both.

The concept of the theological Jew was first developed early in the Christian era and included a denial of Jewish “ownership” of the Church (as the body of believers) before Jesus (p.162). Trachtenberg expresses the tension of Church policy well:
… the paradox of Christian policy towards Jews. Bitterly condemned and excoriated, they were yet to be tolerated on humanitarian grounds, and indeed preserved on theological grounds, as living testimony to the truth of Christian teaching. Yet the impulse to punish the hated and to convert by all means the unregenerate constantly warred against the moral and dogmatic scruples which, at best, animated only a small minority of the more highly placed and responsible clergy (p.164).
The tension in Church thinking was nicely illustrated by Pope Innocent III in 1199:
Although the Jewish perfidy is in every way worthy of condemnation, nevertheless, they are not to be severely oppressed by the faithful (p.165)
“Non-severe” oppression is clearly fine: indeed, Innocent III sponsored highly oppressive legislation against Jews. That the Popes issued repeated statements against violence against Jews simply demonstrated the natural implication of the Churchly condemnation and denunciation of Jews. If one declares a group profoundly problematic—indeed, hateful to God—it is sheer hypocrisy to piously denounce the predictable consequences of that. The “charity” which one holds appropriate to those whose existence your own framing has made problematic is the sort of “charity” which should be shoved where the sun don’t shine: it certainly gives no moral credit, it merely limits the degree of moral failure.

The “restrained” attitude of the higher clergy and official doctrine was more than counterbalanced by that of the lesser clergy:
But popes, kings, nobility, bishops, all had little influence over the populace, which had at long last swallowed the theological conception of the Jew whole, and minus the accompanying theological sophistry. The greatest direct influence upon the people was exerted by the lesser clergy, both secular and monastic, who were, if anything, in advance of their flock in ignorance, fanatical piety and superstition. Nor was the clergy particularly responsive to the will of the hierarchy, even in more vital matters of doctrine and practice. The first massacres of Jews were directly inspired by clerical preaching, and the murderous bands were sometimes led by priests (p.166).
In other words, what really counted was the moral dynamics, not the niceties of doctrine. The moral dynamics were that Jews were declared by Church doctrine to be hateful to God, the populace were told to be servants of God and the lesser clergy were the “gatekeepers of righteousness”. That combination was all that was required.

Particularly as:
The Church employed the term Jew as all-inclusive, embracing the entire people, past, present and future (p.167).
An effect made particularly severe given that the principle of corporate responsibility was something of a medieval commonplace.

Trachtenberg holds the First Crusade to be the crucial turning point in the situation of the Jews. Its support of violence against non-Christians led the Jews particularly vulnerable, since they were the only non-Christians locally to hand: massacres of Jews followed. They were, after all, the “Christ-killers”, as centuries of Church doctrine and preaching had declared.

Not only did the vanquishing of paganism make Jewish-Christian differences salient (rather than their similarities), rising secular power threatened Church authority, rising literacy encouraged heresy, advancing Islam threatened Christendom from without and the restless energy of a rising commercial society added its destabilising influence to the mix—by spreading ideas, lay literacy, social tensions and increased funding of secular authority. The Jews—as they had during the Christianisation of the Empire and were to again during the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution—provided a splendid “useful enemy” to unite people against under the banner of the Church. One’s role as “gatekeepers of righteousness” is so much more effective if righteousness has a clear enemy.

It is hardly surprising that anti-heresy propaganda was redoubled, that the Inquisition was founded and the Jews would be early and continual victims of both. Heretics were inspired by the Devil and were the enemies of God, Church and Christian belief. Jews were inspired by the inspired by the Devil and were enemies of God, Church and Christian belief, so obviously Jews were heretics! A tradition of classing Jews as heretics began in this period and continued for centuries: Luther, for example, declared the baptism of Jews to be a “return to their natural religion” (p.175).

Church theory demurred, of course, since Jews were not, and never had been, Christians so could not be heretics. But, as per normal, the moral dynamics overrode the niceties of doctrine (p.176).

Sometimes, Jews made their own situation worse. In 1232, an orthodox Jewish group in Montpellier enlisted Dominican assistance in suppressing the ideas of Maimonedes, asking them to proceed against Jewish heretics in the same way that, as agents of the Inquisition, they proceeded against Christian heretics. Through this opened door came much more restrictive Church control of Jewish publication, leading to the burning of thousands of Jewish books: a campaign against the Talmud in particular was unleashed that continue to the modern era (Pp178-9).

Inquisitorial powers were used against Jews in response to the various standard anti-Jewish accusations, leading to burnings of Jews at the stake: the power and procedures of the Inquisition making guilty verdicts somewhat more likely. As part of the process of publicly identifying the enemies of the Church, this period also saw the introduction of compulsory “Jew badges” (p.180).

One of the marks of this campaign of hate was something that has been a staple of Jew-hatred—the claim that Jews are full of hate (Pp181ff). ‘Projection’ I believe psychologists call it. Jews were presumed to be the allies of any outside enemies of Christendom, since they hated Christian and Christianity so (p.183): another staple accusation of Jew-hatred.

Being cast as enemies of the Christian community, it was presumed that Jews were eager conspirators with enemies of Christendom, or merely of “Christians like us”. Such notions were not entirely baseless: Jews did assist the Zoroastrian Persians and later the Muslims against the Eastern Romans and the Muslims against the Visigothic kingdom. But since the Eastern Roman Empire and the Visigothic Kingdom had been highly persecutory in their treatment of Jews, this was hardly to be wondered at. But that the Jews might have legitimate complaints was ruled out of consideration and the accusations—following the logic of their underlying moral dynamic—operated way beyond actual evidence. Hence followers of Simon de Montfort despoiled the Jews of London on the grounds they were plotting with the royalists (p.184). Enemies were constantly put in the same category as Jews or labelled as Jews: thus, Lutherans were accused of being Jews (p.186).

This was particularly ludicrous as Luther’s reaction to the Jews was much the same as Muhammad’s and the early Church: confident (even arrogant) expectation that they would recognise his ideas as completing their own tradition followed by excoriation when they (clearly, entirely wilfully) failed to do so (p.217). (Though Luther did not go as far as Muhammad’s killing the men of two Jewish tribes and selling their women and children into slavery.) But, as ever, the accusations represented manifestations of the framings of the accusers: not the beliefs and practices of the hated.

The issue of usury displayed with particular force the way Christian framings got the Jews coming and going. Church doctrine banned Christian practice of usury. This, for a while, gave Jews a commercial advantage in moneylending: doing something that was both useful and condemned. With the rise of Christian competitors, Jews lost their utility, gained Christian competitors eager to squeeze them out but retained the damning association with the added burden of providing Christian rulers a quick way to liquidate debts by liquidating their creditors. Edward I’s expulsion of the Jews was a boon to the royal exchequer: a process not confined to Jews but which regularly included them (p.189).

For Jews suffered the particular taint of usury. Once usury was also associated with heresy by the Church (in a 1257 bull by Pope Alexander IV), it reinforced the taint of heresy on the Jews (p.191). Christian usury even became treated as a form of “Judaizing” (Pp191-2). Usury became diabolic, reinforcing the notion of Jews as the people of the Devil (Pp192ff).

Heresies came and went, crushed (until the Reformation) by the Inquisition and the efforts of the preaching orders (who typically also ran the Inquisition). The enduring Jew suffered the enduring taint of heresy (p.196). With the rise of the campaign against sorcery and witchcraft, Jews as people of the Devil gained further entrenchment. Heresy was regarded as the work of the Devil, since only such maleficent origins could explain turning away from the obvious truth of the Faith (p.199). Sorcery was also the work of the Devil. By natural association, witchcraft became a form of heresy. (Trachtenberg briefly wanders off into Margaret Murray’s fantasies [Pp201ff], but that still had some scholarly credence at the time.) With the Jews, as the people of the Devil, becoming heretics, sorcerers, usurers: the embodiment of all the negative qualities that the Church’s framings of rejection created. The result was that:
The mythical Jew, outlined by early Christian theology and ultimately puffed out to impossible proportions, supplanted the real Jew in the medieval mind, until the real Jew to all intents and purposes ceased to exist. The only Jew who the medieval Christian recognized was a figment of the imagination (p.216)
A framing that the Reformation gave no respite from: Luther being an enthusiastic proponent of Jew-hatred.

All of which, of course, prepared the ground for the fictitious Jew of more modern anti-Semitism. Trachtenberg concludes by briefly pointing out that the rise of anti-Christian anti-Semitism provided no relief, since it just recast the myth of the demonic Jew—motivated by a lust for power, gold and hate for Gentiles—in new language with a new “demonology” of international finance and international communism. Indeed, (though Trachtenberg does not make this point) it was made worse since its “scientific” basis meant that the Christian path for Jewish redemption (conversion) was no longer open.

Trachtenberg’s book is a study of hatred, with Jews figuring almost entirely as victims. But, in a sense, that is entirely fair enough since nothing actual Jews actually did or believed even remotely justified the level and forms of demonization that was heaped upon them. Indeed, the disconnect between the reality of Judaism and Jews from the hateful framings projected upon them is the heart of the phenomenon Trachtenberg analyses. Which means Trachtenberg’s study illuminates rather more than just the travails of the Jews.

One of the enduring problems in Holocaust studies is that Jews were not the only victims of Nazi social purification-by-slaughter. Nor have the Nazis been the only regime to engage in such purification-by-slaughter. Nor was the Nazi policy as systematic as has often been implied or alleged.

And yet, the history of Jew-hatred in Christendom remains deeply revealing about the processes of demonization: of how people-as-they-are become submerged by framings of people-as-they-are-imagined-to-be. Of how such framings need to be understood in terms of the premises and situations of the framers, with those so framed being projected into those framings. How the will-to-believe trumps how the hated actually are. But beings of common humanity cannot fulfil the role such framings require, so of course they have to be re-imagined. If they are re-imagined enough, the reality of them can disappear entirely. And then, they can perform any role those wishing them to want: including demonic things in human form whose elimination is “necessary”.

The Holocaust was not inevitable: but the long history of massacres of Jews demonstrate just where the Christian framings of “the Jew” naturally led. Where all such demonizations risk ending up. The history of Christian demonization of Jews that Trachtenberg conveys with such scholarly passion in The Devil and the Jews remains a profoundly cautionary tale precisely because it is not even remotely the only such tale.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Property rights, self-ownership, enforcement and crime

This post derives from a comment I made on this post in relation to patterns of crime in the US.

There is something a bit odd about the notion of property rights in one’s own body. Ed Feser picks up some of that oddity here. Yet the notion of property rights in a human body is far from incoherent, since that is what slavery consists of. This matters in grappling with claims of self-ownership: John Kilcullen in The Origin Of Property: 
Ockham, Grotius, Pufendorf, And Some Others notes that Locke’s argument about property being based ultimately in one’s labour requires that such labour is (self-)owned and does establish property. Hardly an axiomatic matter, since slavery rests on the denial of both propositions.

So the notion of ownership applying to a living body is perfectly practical. And it seems a bit odd to imply that a slave-owner could own someone else but a person cannot own themselves. Unless, of course, it is applying the concept of ownership to a living human body which is problematic. Which then raises the question of what precisely is one’s relationship to one’s body?

The peculiarities with self-ownership rest, I suggest, in the way one’s body is not separable from one’s identity in this world as a being-with-agency. As always when trying to think about property, one needs to distinguish between property in an economic sense—the ability to control something—and how some set of normative rules (e.g. the law) recognises and allocates ownership. We clearly have (in the ordinary course of events) control over one’s own body. So, we have economic property rights in our own bodies.

But the persistence of one’s body is central to being able to control anything. It is, in the real sense, the locus of one’s control of anything. Which is why slavery is such a profound attack on human autonomy. That “normal” property is quite separable from one’s locus of control generates a conception of property that sits a little oddly when applied to one’s own body. Hence Feser’s problematic cases involve the tension between the person-as-decider and the person-in-themselves. That people can make decisions that are bad for them, particularly if they involve harm to their bodily self. 

Of course, without the right to fail, be mistaken, etc there can be no liberty: "error has no rights" is a very oppressive doctrine, not the least because of the issue of who has control over defining “error”. (As we see in the use of the cry of "racist!" to attempt to restrict debate.)

Still, a notion of self-ownership that leads to ownership counting more than the self is odd. As if the decision of a moment somehow counts more than all the moments to come. But it is not entirely odd, for the range of the ambit in which someone can decide is surely connected to respecting people-as-deciders. Self-ownership is a genuine conundrum and not one that asserting some "axiomatic" notion of self-ownership a la Murray Rothbard deals with other than to over-simplify, not satisfyingly resolve.

Not that any of this undermines concepts of self-dominion: far from it—the problem with conceptions of self-ownership which treat the body as if it was “just” property is that such concepts do not, in a sense, go far enough. They do not treat the centrality of the body seriously enough since they end up, as Feser’s examples play upon, using claims about the ambit of one’s human agency to permit actions that that undermine or extinguish that agency. If the function of morality is protect human agency (including people’s efforts to pursue the purposes that arise from them being agents), then notions of self-ownership that permit the undermining or extinguishing of such agency are more than merely odd.

Setting boundaries
There are some deep moral issues here. [Which I consider in more detail here.] Let us concern ourselves with a more practical one. How does one set boundaries on people’s economic property rights in their own body? One can, of course, engage in moral injunction and hope to have people internalise said injunctions. But if that is not enough, how does one go about enforcing such boundaries?
Central to what makes any norm a norm is that it can be violated. It can be departed from. Which is why we have norms—to have people act in certain ways and not in others. Norms seek to protect human agency and purposes from human agency and purposes. A reality of human agency is that incentives matter. So what sanctions, if any, exist to enforce a norm can affect profoundly whether, and to what extent, the norm is adhered to.

As noted above, there is a difference between legal property rights—what law or custom says who owns what—and effective or economic property rights—who actually controls something. A slave may not have had the legal standing to own property, but—given the impossibility of total control of a slave’s actions—in practice they could control items (including money) and so could accumulate enough wealth to purchase their freedom. Particularly as it was often in the slave-owner’s interest to allow a certain amount of private economic activity by his or her slaves.

If there were not such economic property rights, then there could be no theft, nor illegal provision of goods and services. The questions of what property rights are justified, and why, of what property rights are acknowledged, are different ones from which property rights exist in practice. It is the fact of control, of economic property rights, that creates the issues of licit and illicit control, and licit and illicit use.

Thinking seriously about property rights has a long history in the Western intellectual tradition. A very useful presentation of thinking on the nature of property by later Scholastics, Grotius, Locke and others is provided by John Kilcullen in the aforementioned The Origin Of Property: 
Ockham, Grotius, Pufendorf, And Some Others. That literature does suffer some distraction due to the intrusion of divine command thinking. Since is it basic to any command that it is communicated—otherwise it is not a command—divine command notions only make sense within some particular tradition of revelation: but, as property, and morality generally, exist much more broadly across space and time than any specific tradition of revelation, clearly property and morality are not grounded in divine command—even without the problem of the uncheckability of such revelations. Moreover—as John Stuart Mill pointed out—no tradition of revelation is sufficiently complete that one is not still stuck with having to have definitions of basic moral concepts (such “the good”).

The medieval and post-medieval debate also suffered from erratic grasp on the distinction between control-in-fact and what was licit or not. Even so, one can see strong prefigurings of modern notions of public domain (as in the work of Yoram Barzel,) and how property arises (see Harold Demsetz, Towards a Theory of Property Rights).

Black markets illustrate the division between economic and legal property rights, for black markets are economic property rights operating without (indeed, often against) legal sanction. If the state refuses to enforce ownership (by declaring something illegal) does not bother (as in Latin American slums) or does so sufficiently incompetently (due lack of clarity or poor adjudication of rights—such as in the Bangalore real estate market in India, see Scott Carney’s The Godfather of Bangalore) then the way is open for private enforcement of property rights. So black markets attract violence because—denied the use of publicly-provided coercion—ownership gets enforced in privately provided coercion. Organized crime thus exists on the difference between legal and economic property rights. Criminal gangs are replacements—even competitors—to the state in the provision of coercive services and flourish where the state does not provide such services sufficiently effectively. But such gangs have effective economic ownership of illegal items, whatever the law may say. Just as do thieves.

Enforcing boundaries
The issue of crime is, quite fundamentally, about setting and enforcing boundaries: boundaries against physical violation of others (murder, assault, rape, and so on); boundaries against violation of their property (theft, vandalism, and so on) boundaries against perversion of communication, contract and interaction (fraud, forgery, etc). Yet it is a curious feature of modern life that quite a lot of political, policy and academic thinking tends to avoid, obscure or deny this reality of crime being about the setting and enforcing of boundaries. So we have politics that is very keen on coercion—because it is very keen on state action, and coercion is at the essence of what makes the state, the state: including, indeed especially, its “commonality” of action. Yet the same politics is often very un-keen on the manifestations of ordinary physical coercion (police and military action) by the state. So its adherents tend to be very resistant to seeing crime as primarily an enforcement issue.

The reason for such resistance appears to be because such physical coercion are clearly forms of violence and the sense of moral identity of the adherents of such politics is, in part, about their separation from “ordinary” violence. Conversely, being “understanding” about certain sorts of political violence—or private violence that can be construed in a “social justice” way—tends to be a different matter, for that buttresses their framing of existing society as inherently problematic (and their own sense of moral identity and cognitive status). But that also encourages them to look at crime as other than an enforcement issue.

Yet crime is fundamentally an enforcement issue, an issue of the enforcement of boundaries. A (two-part) comment (which I have slightly edited) on the post that sparked these musings expresses the enforcement matters notion well:
The real factor affecting crime rates is the obvious one - how effective the criminal justice is at finding and convicting criminals. The United States has always had an incredibly ineffective justice system. In the 1910's Raymond Fosdick spent several years studying the police systems in the U.S and Europe. He wrote:
There is no part of its work in which American law fails so absolutely and so ludicrously as in the conviction and punishment of criminals. " It is not too much to say," said President Taft in 1909, " that the administration of criminal law in this country is a disgrace to our civilization, and that the prevalence of crime and fraud, which here is greatly in excess of that in European countries, is due largely to the failure of the law and its administration to bring criminals to justice."

In the first place, our legal procedure " with its red tape and technicalities is fantastically employed to aid the criminal. When a verdict of murder is set aside because the word " aforethought" is omitted after the word " malice ";1 when a man convicted of assault with intent to kill is freed because the copying derk left out the letter I in the word malice; 2when an indictment for rape is held defective because it concluded " against the peace and dignity of State " instead of " against the peace and dignity of the State "; 3 ... briefly, when in a manner utterly unknown in Europe, such absurdities can be spun to defeat the ends of justice, it is not surprising that the police are slack and careless.... It's small satisfaction to catch the crooks," a chief of detectives told me, " when you know all the time that some sharp legal trick will be used to turn them free."

A member of the Alabama Bar, addressing the Bar Association of that State, said: " I have examined about 75 murder cases that found their way into the reports of Alabama. More than half of those cases were reversed and not a single one of them on any matter that went to the merits of the case; and very few of them upon any matter that could have influenced the jury in reaching a verdict." 1 This same story comes from all over the country.

In a single year in Oregon — to use an illustration that could be duplicated everywhere — there occurred 56 homicides. Forty-six of the offenders were arrested. Of these, ten committed suicide and 36 were held for trial. Of the 36, only three were convicted at all, and of these only one for murder in the first degree.
Fosdick then compares that to London:
In England the situation is far different. In the whole of England and Wales for 1916, 85 murders were committed and 59 people arrested in connection therewith were committed for trial. Fifty-three trials resulted during the year. Twelve of the accused were found insane on arraignment and were confined; sixteen were found guilty but were adjudged insane and confined; ten were acquitted, and fifteen were sentenced to death.
Read the whole thing, it's the single best thing on American crime you'll ever read, just as true in 1920 as it is today:
Modern Singapore is even more efficient. It solves and convicts in almost 100% of murder cases. Hence, very, very few murders (which in turn makes it easy to solve all of them, its a virtuous circle).
The American South was even worse. The going price for bribing a judge to letting you off from a murder conviction was $50. Landowners used to sometimes pay the bribes on behalf of their tenants, because they did not want to lose a laborer to a murder conviction. One of the reason lynch law took hold was because it was so hard to convict a criminal through normal courts.
The cycles of crime seem to me to be more political in nature. In the 1960's a series of court rulings (such as Miranda) made convictions much more difficult. Conviction rates fell, and crime rose. Plus there was movement towards more liberal mayors and police commissioners. For example, George Edwards in 1960's Detroit basically tied the hands of the police force in attempts to be "racially sensitive" and liberal in his policies. The results were disastrous.
The in the late 1980's and early 90's there was the backlash. Politicians enacted three strikes laws, mandatory minimums, "broken windows" policies, etc. Incarceration rates rose, crime fell.
It amazes me that people view crime as such a mystery. A basic reading of history backs up the obvious explanation: when the law is enforced, crime goes down. When the law is not enforced, crime rises.

A simple, powerful reality: unless, of course, one is sufficiently removed from said reality that preserving one’s sense of moral and cognitive identity, and congenial framings, are much more important than inconvenient truths.

As an aside, the above does make one wonder if such court systems can be taken as fit to hand out capital punishment. Mind you, that is a point that runs both ways, since there is evidence that capital punishment has a deterrence effect. Nor does there seem much doubt that rulings such as Miranda increased the level of crime, including murders, at least for a while.

Defining boundaries badly
There are two classic errors one can make in crime policy. One is failing to enforce boundaries: not enough police, not enough and/or badly operating courts, inadequate punishments, etc—all the ways that lead to not enough effective sanctions to deter criminal boundary crossing: a low level of effective deterrence thus leading to a relatively high level of crime.

The other is defining boundaries badly. For example, Bangalore suffers both from inadequate courts and poorly defined property rights. So private enforcement has stepped into to define property rights more effectively, including more effective adjudication of disputes over rights.

One way boundaries can be defined badly is by a lack of clarity—rules that simply do not clearly set who has what rights over what. Alternatively, the rules can set boundaries that are substantially beyond the capacity of the state to enforce.

If such is done, then—if there is any incentive to do so—the legally-declared boundaries will be defied or ignored. Which will create a demand for private enforcement of economic property rights.

Which is where the issue of self-ownership comes back. If people have economic property rights in their own body (which clearly they do—even, to some extent, under slavery; so they especially do in a free society) then setting boundaries which seek to restrict or deny such economic property rights against the wishes of a significant number of people will result in large-scale defiance of said legal boundaries.

But this is not a “passive, oh well” sort of problem. First, there is the issue of the rebound effect on the status of law and law enforcement of patent failure when it attempts to do what it substantially cannot. Then there is the effect on the capacity of law enforcement agencies—the more boundaries they have to police, the less effective they are likely to be in enforcing those boundaries, leading to more crimes for them to deal with, hence less risk of being caught, hence more crime, in a vicious downward spiral. Thirdly, such boundary-setting drives a lot of activity into an area of private enforcement and illegality, with all the problems that involves.

Attempting to ban same-sex activity, for example, makes the same-sex active very vulnerable to blackmail, and to not being able to trust law enforcement agencies in protection of their life and property, as famously happened to Alan Turing. Attempting to ban prostitution creates a black market in sex, with adverse consequences for sex workers and generates an income source for organised crime. As does attempting to ban gambling. Attempts to completely ban abortion similarly generate a dangerous black market in pregnancy termination since the state to a substantial degree cannot enforce such a thorough denial of women’s economic property rights over their own bodies.

Attempting to prohibit alcohol consumption was notoriously a crime enforcement disaster in the US, for it greatly increased the proportion of the US population who became sources of income for organised crime. It also meant that the products sold were not protected by ordinary law: so consumers were denied ordinary legal avenues for the protection of product quality. (They had no ability to sue, for example). It further encouraged use of higher potency products (more spirits, less beer or alcohol) since that reduced the time and bulk (and thus the legal risk) needed to get a given effect. By vastly increasing the range of official discretions (such as whether to enforce the law) that people had incentives to frustrate, it greatly increased the level of official corruption (corruption essentially being the market for purchase of official discretion).

It is clear that the "war on drugs" has and is having the same effects as the "war on alcohol". (Marihuana, for example, has been bred to become much more potent.) The state is attempting to enforce legal boundaries—specifically, what people chose to consume—substantially beyond its effective capacity to do so. What all these areas have in common—what makes them problematic—is that they represent the law attacking human agency, not protecting it.

Of course, the claim is that drugs themselves (as was previously claimed of “the demon drink”) represent such a profound attack on human agency that people must be stopped from consuming them. In reality, the attempt to block consumption represents a far more pervasive attack on human agency: not least because it encourages the shift to more powerful versions of such drugs, thereby increasing the potency of the chemical undermining of human agency which the policy seeks to stop. It also tends to make the drugs themselves more dangerous in other ways since the products are outside normal methods of enforcing product quality. Indeed, the notion of a “heroin drug overdose” may be misleading. It is conjunction with other drugs (and with added diluting chemicals, due to greatly lessened levers for quality control) which likely generates the fatal dangers: conjunctions with other drugs that evidence suggests prohibition makes more likely, given the way changes in heroin price appear to affect patterns of drug use. Furthermore, if such drugs are illegal, there is also no extra incentive not to sell to minors, since the legal risks are the same.

What such restrictions do is attempt to restrict human agency where none of the direct participants wish to accede to the declared boundary. Indeed, at some deeper level, may well regard such as restriction as an insult or lessening to assert themselves against. Adolescents smoking as a rebellion of self-assertion is but one manifestation of a wider phenomenon.

Much of this is a derivation of the “ought”-implies-“can” principle: that there is no moral obligation to do the impossible. The argument being that state action is not about moral absolutes. Rather, that considerations of what the state can do effectively are important constraints in considering what the state ought to do. Including consideration of such of the longer-term dynamics of state action as may be relevant: the tendency of regulations to be captured by economic incumbents; conflicts of interest if the regulator is also a provider; the tendency towards declining productivity in public production; the suppression and distortion of information; the creation of markets in official discretion (i.e. corruption); the other dynamics of centralised, bureaucratised coercion; and so on.

The centrality of enforcement
So the central public policy issue of crime is about enforcement. In effect, it is about enforcing boundaries to "property rights" (in the broadest sense). Where the state is effective at enforcing property rights in one's body and property, there are fewer transgressions. Where the state tries to deny people economic property rights in their own body (i.e. attempt to stop them consuming alcohol and drugs: or gambling or purchasing sex and so on) it attempts something it substantially does not have the power to do and thereby undermines its capacity to protect "ordinary" "property rights" in one's body and property, since it creates well-funded social domains where private violence will be used to defend property rights it refuses to acknowledge or protect while increasing the number of people with compromised or otherwise problematic relationships with “normal” law enforcement.

But politics is so much about the public display of intentions. The intention of a “drug free” society seems noble. Politics is also about public attention to fears. The notion of legal heroin seems a fearful one: not least for its sense of attack on basic human agency, and thus of people “under the influence” being disconnected from any rational sense of consequences. Facing the brute reality of what the state can and cannot do tends to frustrate consoling pictures of “noble” intentions or grand “calming” of fears. But if there is a cognitive disconnect between policy consequences and the said noble intentions or grand fears the policy is paraded to satisfy, then no amount of failure will be too much failure. A disconnect that is so easy to manage, for reasons ranging from a refusal to credit the causal processes, the difficulties in judging counterfactuals, to being completely unconcerned about any ill-effects on “people like that”.

If people feel insulated from the failures of such policy (either because they do not suffer its consequences—support for capital punishment tends to be inversely connected to socio-economic status because vulnerability to crime tends to be inversely connected to socio-economic status—or because they refuse to connect one to another or simply do not care) then they can go almost indefinitely insisting on the pandering to their intentions, to their fears, to their congenial framings while denying or ignoring the unfortunate consequences of what they hold to so strongly. The Baptists and bootleggers nature of the politics of regulation remains a powerful analysis (pdf) for precisely such reasons. (And the tendencies for such cognitive disconnects is another reason to be sceptical about the efficacy of state action.)

But the brute realities remain. If criminal acts are not subject to effective sanction, there will be more of them. So the state should not set boundaries it substantially lacks the ability to effectively enforce (due to such beyond-competence boundary setting attacking human agency rather than defending it), for that will lead to more crime. But it should enforce the boundaries it needs to enforce (for they protect human agency), for the failure to do so will lead to more crime. Which means enough police, effective courts and effective punishments enforcing boundaries that can, and ought to be, enforced but not setting boundaries that substantially cannot be enforced and so should not be declared in the first place.

POSTSCRIPT: Writing this piece has brought home to me how much my politics is based on scepticism about the useful capacity of state action. I have never been happy to describe myself as a “libertarian” since I do not give liberty the absolute dominance as a value that those who call themselves ‘libertarian’ seem to nor am I as convinced of the negative nature of state action as they typically are. But my politics end up in a libertarian direction because I think liberty matters a great deal and because I am sceptical about the capacity of state action to perform as non-libertarians (whether conservative, progressivist or of other collectivist or communitarian varieties) typically claim it will. So I will continue to describe myself as a “classical liberal: roughly what Americans call ‘libertarian’”. But now I am clearer about why.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Question of Truth

Works of theology, particularly Catholic theology, are generally not my thing. And, despite having found a book of said theology engaging and informative, they are not likely to become my thing: far too much concern with unwarranted premises and leaning on obscure, gnomic texts.

Still, I greatly enjoyed reading A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality by the late Gareth Moore OP. It’s one of the few books I have read that made me feel that I particularly wanted to meet the author. The authorial voice is one of humility and careful truth seeking. Very much what being a Dominican is supposed to be about.

The book sums itself up very well in the final paragraph:
The conclusion of this book is, therefore, not that it is good to be gay, but that it is irrational for serious, reflective Christians … to accept church teaching on homosexuality. … This is not a matter of dissent or materialism; it is simply that the church at the moment produces no good arguments to assent to. Regrettably, in this area, the church teaches badly. (p.282)
The book is very Thomistic in its careful argument and its layered analytical approach (even if I am wrong on this, there is still the problem that … ). Containing careful analysis of key concepts (for example, the different types of authority; the importance of intensionality; that the key question being whether a tradition is true), followed by chapters on the relevant Old Testament and New Testament texts, claims about the ‘Biblical approach’ to sexuality, the natural law philosophy of Aquinas, current arguments in Vatican documents and the better modern arguments. Despite the modest claims of the author, the book provides very good coverage of the theological arguments within the Catholic tradition.
While Fr Moore brings out the difficulties of Biblical exegesis, I thought the discussion of the relevant Biblical texts (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Timothy 1:10) was the weakest part of the book, since there did seem to be an element of “straining at gnats” to avoid reading in condemnations of homosexual acts as such.

Reading the Sodom & Gomorrah story as being about rape and inhospitality is straightforward – as Fr Moore says, condemning homosexual rape no more condemns homosexuality than condemning heterosexual rape condemns heterosexuality. That Leviticus on sex is about maintaining distinct gender roles (and hierarchy) is clearly true. But the condemnation of guys having sex with each other is also fairly clear. That the Old Testament is equally against, for example, oyster-eating, is also true: using Leviticus as an authority against homosexual acts while ignoring its other strictures (and its insistence that all its rules be followed) does require such extreme selectivity as to be intellectually unconscionable.

Fr Moore’s discussion of the New Testament texts I found informative though what I was mainly left with was the problem of obscurity: particularly as Paul uses a term – arsenokoitai – which may be his own coinage.

Where Fr Moore really shines is requiring arguments to deal with gays as people, not projections (indeed, typically, belittling and ignorant projections: though Fr Moore is far too polite to say so in so many words). By simply treating homosexuals as real, and full, people he reveals quite starkly how blithely Vatican documents—and those who provide arguments to support them—make all sorts of claims about how things are without empirical warrant.

If you had any suspicion that the Vatican might have good arguments on homosexuality for its claims, this is an excellent book for showing it does not. But, then, we are talking about an institution which only allows those who don’t have families and officially don’t engage in sex to make definitive statements on the morality of families and sexuality: a bit like getting blind folk to design spectacles – they can intellectually grasp the issues, but their perspective is going to tend to be skewed in common, and reinforcing, ways.

(And, as an aside, a group of celibate males officially lacking the experience of being lovers or parents are probably going to be less than reliable in putting protecting children at the forefront of dealing with predatory fellow-priests rather than protecting the authority of the priesthood.)

The Catholic claim that the only proper purpose of sex is to produce babies is patent nonsense which almost no-one genuinely believes: just consider all the heterosexual activity that thereby becomes sinful. It certainly does not accord with the rather wider functions of sex in nature. Not even the Church consistently maintains it, as it does not ban infertile male-female married couples from having sex but instead engages in fairly heroic casuistry whereby it is alright if the right form is followed however inherently un-reproductive a particular act might be.

And getting blind folk who, deep down, aren’t interested in genuinely investigating the experience of people with particular needs in spectacles to design spectacles: that is a sure recipe for producing nonsense. Which Fr Moore very politely shows they do.

ADDENDA This post has been amended for clarity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I have a little (slightly dated) list

Talking to a friend a few years ago about getting across economics for her public policy Masters, I argued that a survey course in microeconomics was better value than one on macroeconomics (a less well developed and more ad hoc area of economics).

Which led on to the question of what books in my library would be useful introductory texts. Unfortunately my copy of Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt seems to have wandered off, though it is available on the web: for example here. But I have assembled a little collection, excluding books I have reviewed already on this blog.

David Friedman's (aka Cariadoc of the Bow in the SCA) Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life is informative, cheerful and engaging. He is particularly intelligent on the methodology of economics. (Perhaps not so surprising, since his Dad wrote the classic article on economic methodology.)

Ronald H. Coase's The Firm, the Market and the Law contains Coase's two classic articles (The Nature of the Firm and The Problem of Social Cost) which kicked off transaction costs analysis. It is also a highly readable and accessible collection of pieces. The Lighthouse in Economics is a great cautionary tale about historical evidence, for example.

Murray Horn's The Political Economy of Public Administration: Institutional Choice in the Public Sector I found very enlightening. Hopefully, the language is sufficiently accessible. (I found it so, but I have long experience with economic concepts.)

Arjo Klamer's The New Classical Macroeconomics: Conversations with New Classical Economists and Their Opponents is informative about the macroeconomic debates of the 1960s to early 1980s. It centres on the impact of rational expectations on macroeconomics. Since it is mainly interviews with prominent economists of various schools, it is a good way to see how (macro) economists view the world. A lay reader would probably find a dictionary of economic terms helpful when reading the introduction.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Season's greetings

Hope my readers had good That Time Of The Year. I certainly did. Just the right amounts of friends, family and solitude.


Dreams can be those things you have in your sleep, or they can be hopes for the future. Either way, they are works of imagination.

When folk write that man cannot live by bread alone, dreams for the future are one of those other things people need. To be entrusted with someone’s dreams is an act of profound trust, because of the capacity to enrich, or to devastate, their life that such trust means.

To help fulfil someone’s dreams can be a deeply binding thing. Just as tainting, frustrating or destroying their dreams can be a bitter, hateful and hating thing; for so much of what a person is, and hopes to be, can be wrapped in their dreams. How much of the bitterness of divorce comes from broken dreams? A lot, I suspect.

Not least because of the deep sense in which having one’s entrusted dreams devastated undermines any confidence in one’s own judgement. Those who habitually pretend (above all to themselves) to be something they are not can thereby be doubly devastating in breaking dreams and self-confidence: so are they serial killers of the soul.

It can be very hard to live a life of broken dreams. Too hard for some. Many a suicide is the fatal result of broken dreams, of not being able to face living a life of broken dreams. Or a life of dreams not allowed. The elevated risks of suicide among children whose parents reject their sexuality is surely deeply connected to the pain of dreams disallowed: though the sense of one’s parents rejecting one’s identity is no doubt even more important. But identity and dreams are hardly entirely separable in such matters. Indeed, that so much of one’s sense of self can be invested in one’s dreams does so much to give them power.

It can be surprisingly easy to break someone’s dreams. You do not always know what inner woundings those dreams cover, or seek to heal.

To face having broken someone’s dreams can be a hard thing. One of the reasons folk often cannot deal with what they have done: not only did they not understand, they cannot face the understanding. Which, of course, means that finding the strength and moral decency to face what you have done, and then act to try and heal the damage, is so commendable.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Multiple Identities of the Middle East

It is hard not to warm to a book with statements such as:
But the war-god of the terrorists knows neither mercy nor compassion, and projects an image that is both cruel and vindictive. He is also weak, needing to hire human hitmen to find and kill his enemies, and paying them with promises of carnal delights in paradise (p.24).
But there is much more to enjoy in Bernard Lewis’s The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, one of the short enlightening books Lewis is so good at producing, such as his discussion of the difference between patriotism and nationalism:
One defined identity and loyalty by country – patriotism; the other by language and presumed ethnic origin – nationalism (p.20)
But they were ideas introduced to the Middle East from Europe. For most of the history of the Middle East:
… two identities – the involuntary identity of birth and the compulsory identity of the state – were the only ones that existed (p.5)
I would say rulership, rather than the state (for reasons Lewis himself discusses later in the text) but he is surely correct that raising all sorts of new identity issues—including the possibility of freely chosen associations—is at the heart of the troubling impact of modernity.

Lewis is at pains to convey to the reader how different from Western assumptions notions of identity in the Middle East have been. Ottoman documents would identity European rulers as primarily leaders of Christians: it was a sign of increasing Ottoman weakness that European rulers would increasingly insist on being given the Ottoman ruler’s own title of padishah (p.13). Membership of a religious community was the central identity in the Islamic Middle East. The notion that other identities matter has typically been an importation from Western languages: often requiring coining of new words.

Turks and Persians (Iranians) have identities based on a sense of a common past intertwined with specific political history going back centuries. Other peoples of the region, not so much: Saladin was simply a Muslim hero, only recently has the fact that his family was Kurdish had any significance. There were peoples and places: they just did not matter for political identity—this was an introduced notion. Lewis notes that the introduced notions of patriotism and nationalism had particular appeal to Arab Christians (Pp21-22). Conversely, it is something that the salafi movement is, in effect, in revolt against.

Religious identity still matters—the Organisation of Islamic Conference is the only grouping of states on the basis of religion. What would seem absurd or comic (or even offensive or divisive) to Western leaders seems entirely natural to leaders of Islamic states.
Religious identity matters even more in internal politics. The reason goes to the specific nature of Islam:
A basic, distinguishing feature of Islam is the all-embracing character of religion in the perception of Muslims. The Prophet, unlike other founders of religion, founded and governed a polity. As ruler, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, commanded armies, made war, made peace, collected taxes, and did all the other things a ruler does. This is reflected in the Qur’an itself, in the biography of the Prophet and the traditions concerning his life and work. (Pp25-6).
As Lewis continues:
This distinctive quality of Islam is most vividly illustrated in the injunction which occurs not once but several times in the Qur’an (3:104, 110; 7:157; 22:41, etc.) by which Muslims are instructed as to their basic duty, which is to ‘command good and forbid evil’ – not just to do good and avoid evil, a personal duty imposed by all religions, but to command good and forbid evil, that is to say, to exercise authority to that end (p.26).
One of the traps in trying to understand Islam is that the Christian, rabbinical Judaist and Buddhist images (those Westerners are most likely to be familiar with) of a spiritual tradition and religious authority seriously mislead if used as some sort of template to understand Islam.

The Muhammad of the Meccan suras also, like Christ or Buddha, lived as a teacher. His message fitted somewhat more in with Jewish prophetic traditions than the Christian reworking of that, though still with some significant differences in its notion of God and His relationship with people, a relationship conceived in rather more absolute and dominating forms: the notion of having covenants with God does not fit in with the much more submissive message of the Prophet. The Muhammad of the Medinan suras generally had a rather different purpose than is manifested in the Mecccan suras and expresses a much more all-encompassing conception of what a spiritual tradition is or implies.

So the entire Church/State, lay/ecclesiastical etc dichotomy is not only lacking in Islamic thought, until recently there was not even the language to express such profoundly alien ideas (p.27). As Lewis notes, that Christianity grew up in a pagan Empire while Islam immediately became the basis of an imperial order just reinforced the dominance of religious identity. Though:
Defeat and repression gave the Shi’a an almost Christian-style conception of suffering, passion and martyrdom (p.28)
But it means that Islam and Islamic symbols and slogans have a resonance for social mobilisation that no political programs or slogans can match.

That ‘Islam’ can mean both the equivalent of ‘Christian’ and ‘Christendom’ has encouraged outside observers to attribute to the religion practices within the civilisation (p.29). (Dis)honour killings and female genital mutilation come to mind. Though it is fair to say that the extremely patriarchal nature of Islamic religious authority coupled with monotheism’s inherent difficulties with eros (particularly female sexuality) have not been helpful in dealing with either issue.

The advent of Islam saw the disappearance of the remaining elements of paganism and the dwindling of Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism: at varying rates and at varying paces. Other religions (apart from some permitted Christian visitors) have been forbidden in Arabia for many centuries. With the arrival of notions of patriotism and nationalism, Iraqi Jews hoped to participate in the Iraqi revival but the problems of Palestine and, even more, highly effective Nazi propaganda put an end to that (p.33).

A rare mis-step is when Lewis holds race to be fundamental:
The first, primal and indelible mark of identity is race (p.39).
The identity of “people who speak like me” is fairly primal, but conceiving identity in racial terms is a highly historical contingent matter—whether people do so, how they conceive said races, what they think such identity implies, have all varied hugely. Sitting on the fault line between those continent-wide groups we call “races”, the Arab world was a pioneer of racial identity: in particular of anti-black discourse. But Lewis wildly overstates the universality of conceiving identity in racial terms.

He goes on to note how little racial identity matters in the modern Middle East (with Arabia a partial exception). Gender, on the other hand, matters hugely. As Lewis points out, one of the effects of Islam has been that:
For a long time now identity in the Middle East has been overwhelmingly male. Rank, status, kinship, ethnic and even religious identity are determined by the male line (p.40).
This was not always true: pagan Arabia, like Christian Europe, noted both male and female lines of descent. Islam concerns itself only with male lines, a pattern solidified by the Abbasid takeover (p.41). Where Judaism holds identity flows from the mother, on the principle that Latin jurists enunciated as mater certa, pater incertus (mother certain, father uncertain):
Muslims, preferring patrilineal rather than matrilineal identity, tried to achieve the same certitude by increasingly elaborate seclusion and protection surrounding their women (p.41).
There were other consequences:
Polygamy, and more especially concubinage, served to prevent the emergence of well-defined racial groups and of a strong sense of racial identity (p.41).
Islam, as a system of layered submission, and thus layered domination, created its own dynamic:
In a society where conquerors lawfully and normally enslaved the conquered and where male owners enjoyed sexual rights over their female slaves, a significant proportion of mixed percentage soon emerged (Pp41-2).
Since identity, including status, was patrilineal, racial distinctions blurred (p.42). Early Islam (specifically the Umayyad Caliphate) worried about level of Arab descent, but that disappeared after the Abbasid takeover. Which strikes me as the logic of Islam working its way through. There is also, surely, a complex interaction with tribalism here in that its connections operate around kinship but Islamisation meant that only patrilineal kinship now mattered. The effect for the status of women was not good, creating (or at very least intensifying) the patterns of “honour” that (dis)honour killings exist to enforce.

Yet ‘nazi’ and ‘racist’ have become popular words of abuse in the Middle East: another sign of Western influences, however little connection they have to Middle Eastern realities.
The one exception is anti-Semitism, which has spread widely all over the Arab world, and beyond to other Islamic countries. This exception is more apparent than real. Arab anti-Semitism is not racist in the European sense, though it often uses racist images, stereotypes, and languages, all of them borrowed or adapted from Europe. This hostility is primarily religious, secondarily national, and is increasingly being expressed in Islamic rather than European terms. It is, however, noteworthy that in current political polemics in the Middle East, some prominent Christians of Jewish or part-Jewish background are routinely referred to as Jews. (p.42).
The patterns of bigotry are more basic than their specific manifestations.

Lewis points out that the notion of an identity as “Semites” is a European notion with little resonance in the Middle East. And even its most ardent proponents—the Nazis—shifted ground:
… but in practical application it was clear and well-understood that for German anti-Semites, Semites meant Jews. No other Semites were affected, and indeed the so-called Semitic Arabs were rather better treated than … Czechs, Poles, and Russians. This de facto redefinition of anti-Semitism later facilitated its acceptance, under other names, in some Arab and Islamic countries (p.43).
This is a nice rebuttal to a certain sort of tedious “clever-clever” pedantry which claims Arabs “cannot be” anti-Semites because they are Semites themselves. If there is no sense of common identity (as there is not) the point is utterly otiose.

It does, however, point to a basic problem with a great deal of ostentatious anti-racism: that it keeps alive racial categories. The true opposite of racism is genuine indifference to such categorisation: the ideological equivalent of the opposite of love being not hate, but indifference.

Lewis is surely correct when he writes:
Language is indeed in many ways a primary mark of identity.
The medieval concept of “race” in Latin Christendom basically meant “people who speak like me”: “tongue” and “race” were essentially synonymous.

The Middle East has been undergoing a long process of linguistic extinction. Of languages and scripts:
At the beginning of the Christian era there were only three areas in which indigenous languages were still in common use in both spoken and written forms; these were Persian, Coptic and Aramaic (p.47).
With Coptic using an adapted form of Greek script. Hebrew survived only as a ritual and scriptural language:
Hellenization, Romanization and above all Christianization had combined to obliterate much of the ancient languages, cultures and identities of the Middle East. Islamization and Arabization completed the process (p.48).
V. S. Naipaul’s point about how monotheism separates a society from its past, and that Islam does it with particular intensity. Indeed, religion was generally the only refuge of non-Arabic languages and scripts. Arabic became the language of scripture, of law, of government, of literature and of common speech, with Iran the only substantive holdout. Though religious minorities often wrote their Arabic in non-Arabic script. The Latinization of Europe was a much easier project given that it had so few competitors: Arabization obliterated far more established languages, literatures and scripts:
The total and final obliteration of these civilizations and their replacement by Arab Islam must rank as one of the most successful cultural revolutions in human history (p.51).
But not an entirely unchallenged linguistic triumph:
If Arabic was the languge of language and law, and Persian the language of love and polite letters, Turkish soon became the language of command and rule (p.53).
A language more able to develop varieties since it was “free from the constraints of sanctity” (p.53).

Even without the effects of conquest, the process of linguistic extinction is hardly surprising. A language is a network of communication, and it has more value the more people in the network. The wider the ambits of connection, the more selection in favour of a dominant language or languages is going to operate.

Cut off from any sense of identification with their pre-Islamic ancestors, the notion of a sense of place having some political significance was absent from the Islamic Middle East until Western ideas of patria seeped in during the C19th. Histories were of dynasties and empires, or cities and provinces. There being only one true legitimate ruler in Islam, all others must be rebels (in one sense or other), which is how the Ottoman Sultan and the Iranian Shah regarded each other (p.59).

We are dealing with a quite different history and set of presumptions than Europe’s:
Of the countries that appear on the map of the Middle East, only three conform to the European convergence of nation, country and language; the republic of Turkey, which is inhabited by Turks who speak Turkish; Arabia, inhabited by Arabs who speak Arabic; and Iran, which in the West use to be called Persia, inhabited by Persians who speak Persian (p.60).
Though, even then, the apparent convergence has peculiarities. The Middle East is full of states that lack continuous histories, even in the sense that previously disunited European states such as Italy and Germany have.

To extent that the longer histories have been recovered, it has been due to the interaction between the pertinacity of non-Muslim minorities and the interest of European visitors (Pp66-7). The first book by an Egyptian scholar covering the pre-Islamic history of Egypt was published in 1868, the beginning of a recovery of thousands of years of Egyptian history and sense of history (p.69).

A sense of nationhood requires a sense of a specific shared past. If “history” began with the arrival of Islam, then people’s pasts could only feed into a common religious identity, not a patriotic or nationalist one.

Egypt now had two identities, one Islamic and Arab-speaking, the other territorially specific and, in a sense, pharaonic. Modern Egyptian history revolves around this dichotomy (p.69).

In the case of Iran, a cultural identity persisted and eventually became (again) a political one: a cultural identity that, unlike the rest of the Islamic Middle East, continued to incorporate pre-Islamic heroes and identities. The Turks are different again, since modern day Turkey was Greek before the Turkish conquest of Anatolia from the C11th onwards. All over the Middle East, the past is a contested buttress of identity. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Battle of Qadisiyya was claimed by Iraqis as an Arab victory over Iranians and by the Iranians as a Muslim victory of the true faith over unbelief (p.78).

Lewis notes that, like South America, the Middle East experienced a post-imperial historical moment when some larger unit seemed possible but the moment past as post-imperial states have solidified into enduring forms (p.79).

Lewis traces the linguistic permutations that express concepts approximating the European notions of ‘nation’ (either purely ethnic or country). He notes the very mixed Arab attitudes to the Turks. Particularly early in Turkish rule, they were seen as defending and revitalising Islam as they pushed back the Romans, resisted and expelled the Crusaders and (most important of all) resisted and pushed back the Mongols. Their identity as fellow Muslims was much the most important thing. Later, they were more likely to be seen as oppressive rulers. The introduction of European ideas of nation disrupted this further, leading to the break up of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of a string of Arab states dividing the putative Arab nation.

Islam has a difficulty in that Shar’ia presumes a single Muslim state. The reality of independent rulerships was dealt with via a legal device (hila shar’iyya) whereby other rulers were treated as rebels, a legally recognised category. So both Ottoman Sultan and Iranian Shah would treat each other as rebels in their internal documents, including archived copies of treaties (p.95). It is surely not healthy for a civilisation to have to resort to this sort of fantasy to do deal with such a basic social reality.

The introduction of conscription connected the populace to the state far more than had previously been the case (p.96). The armies became major vectors of modernisation (and of social mobility). The state became involved in education and literacy became a concern—the first printing presses in the Middle East being Jewish and later Christian (p.97). Newspapers, and then radio and television became instruments of state power (Pp97-8). Before the modern era, the only two legitimate modes of succession where dynastic succession or force. Dynasticism is so powerful, we now have hereditary revolutionary leadership. Election remains hereditary succession’s only competitor for long-term legitimacy, but has a brief and chequered history in the Middle East apart from Israel and Turkey (p.99). Egypt’s monarchical presidency (where each President chooses his successor from the ruling officer elite) is something of a hybrid arrangement.

Lewis makes the key point that the process of modernisation in the Middle East has undermined the various intermediate powers that traditional rulers had to deal with, resulting in states whose rulers are far more (domestically) power than was the case in the past (p.101). It is to the primacy of statehood that Lewis ascribes the territorial stability of the post-imperial states. Thus the Shi’a of Iraq and the Arabs of Iran both supported their respective states during the Iran-Iraq war. While Palestinians remain stateless aliens outside Jordan (p.105).

The state is central to power and status.
P.J.Vatikiotas once remarked that the core of the Palestinian problem in its later phase was not so much a people in search of a country, as a political elite in search of a state.
As Adolphus Slade observed in a book published in 1862:
The State is the estate of the new nobility (p.105)
A pattern notable in Leninist states and not without some counterparts in the Western democracies.

Another way Western ideas have penetrated the Middle East is the adoption of flags, anthems and other symbols of identity. Rejecting the Western necktie has become a statement of Muslim identity. As for women:
… the revolution in dress was more dramatic and also more dangerous. … Two garments have acquired a special symbolic importance: the veil, hiding the face, and the scarf, hiding the hair. For women in the East, they are emblems; for the pious, of submission, for the emancipated, of repression. For Muslim women in the West they have sometimes become the blazons of a proud assertion of identity (p.112).
Lewis discusses with despatch and perspicacity the complex similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam and the shifting patterns of tolerance and intolerance (Pp116ff). As he points out, Westerners forget that Muslim states provided refuges for Jews, and for heretical and schismatic Christians, from Christian persecution (p.119). Yet, modern Muslim states have imposed aspects of Muslim law without previous exemptions for non-Muslims (p.122). Lewis paints a comparatively positive picture of dhimmi status (Pp122ff). And an enlightening discussion of why ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’ are not really applicable to Islam:
Islam is not so much a matter of orthodoxy as of orthopraxy. It is what you do, not what you believe, that matters. Only God, it was argued, can judge sincerity in belief. What you do is a social fact and of concern to constituted authority. What Islam has generally asked of its believers is not textual accuracy in belief, but loyalty to the community and its constituted leader (p.126)
It is when deviation becomes apostasy that it become an issue: but an issue for the law:
And apostasy, according to all schools of Muslim jurisprudence, is a capital offence (p.126)
The jurists were notably more lenient than theologians in determining what constituted being a takfir or unbeliever (p.127). The general Muslim attitude has tended to be no one who prays towards Mecca can be considered an unbeliever (p.128).

Lewis is at some pains to disentangle Western attempts to see the Sunni-Shi’a division in (inappropriate) Christian/Western terms. It is a dispute over Muslim headship: it is neither an analogue of the Reformation nor a proxy for ethnic dispute (P.128). He is also at pains to point out the different historical trajectories in Christendom-cum-Western civilisation and Islam about tolerance and religious persecution, being intelligent, perceptive and historically nuanced on the matter (Pp129ff).

Lewis points out that Islam has given the Middle East the only common identity that it has ever known (p.133). The Western ideas of nationalism and socialism intruded but have now passed: the latter due to its failure, the former due to its success and supercession once the anti-colonial struggles receded into the past (p.134).

Democracy has had much less impact, operating somewhat anomalously (for the region) successfully in Israel, a state founded by European immigrants. Turkey has the next best democratic record, in a state with a dominant national identity and whose Republican elite deliberately sought to secularise and Westernise. Iran, also a state with a dominant national identity, has had limited democratic elements, since subverted. Lebanon’s democracy is both framed and subverted by its fractious ethnic and religious identities. But democracy is clearly part of the aspirations (and thus the fears) in the region. (Indeed, the jihadi rejection of democracy as infringing the sovereignty of Allah is possibly their greatest point of division in aims, as distinct from means, from wider popular sentiment in the region.)

Lewis concludes things will tend to improve, but slowly:
… and meanwhile they are tormented by the interaction of multiple and often conflicting identities (p.144)
One of the many virtues of The Multiple Identities of the Middle East is Lewis’s gift for perceptive and nuanced clarity and brevity. Reading this slim volume expands one’s understanding of the Middle East but also one’s sense of how history operates.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth

Benjamin Friedman’s (no relation to Milton) The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth argues that economic growth is morally good for a society by reducing conflict and increasing openness, tolerance and concern for others. He also argues, implicitly or explicitly, for redistributive policies (though rather less for government regulation—he is a open-markets-and-competition-is-good guy). His two thesis do not sit entirely easily together.

Friedman engages in a wide-ranging historical survey, arguing that periods of economic growth see more open and tolerant politics and social attitudes while periods of economic stagnation or recession see more conflict-ridden, fearful and intolerant politics and social attitudes. While I found the thesis engaging, I could not quite rid myself of the feeling that he was engaging in an enormous exercise in "cherry-picking". Not least because he never provides much of a developed framework or theory to explain why this pattern he identifies is so.

I did pick up one egregious error. Friedman claims (p.300) that Britain had a higher standard of living than Australia a century ago. Flatly untrue. Australian workers were notoriously better paid than British workers from the very early days of British settlement of Australia. Given average wages are determined by the ratio of labour to land+capital, hardly surprising.

In Part I, Friedman sets out what economic growth is and the Enlightenment context. In Part II, he engages in a survey of American history. In Part III he looks at the history of Britain, France and Germany. In Part IV he looks at the developing world and the global context of economic growth. He then concludes with a chapter on policy for the US.

Looking at his examples, it does rather seem that unemployment and fear of unemployment is the dominant factor in explaining political openness to change versus fearful closing inwards. Thus policies which impede the operation of labour markets—such as by raising transaction costs—are likely to be particularly unfortunate. (Contemporary France would be an example of this.)
As Friedman admits, the New Deal is a bit of a problem for his analysis, given he sees as a positive yet it came out of the Great Depression. Of course, an alternative view is that the New Deal is not a counter-example—either because it was not as much of a positive reform program as Friedman classes it as or because the upward shift in the real wages of those who remained employed was more important.

There is a lot of fascinating detail in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. Friedman has clearly read extremely widely and intelligently. Much of what he has to say (or cites) is sensible. Such as Amartrya Sen’s observation:
no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press (p.343).
And Friedman is dealing with complex phenomenon. For example, dramatic technological change tends to increase income inequality by creating a premium for scarce skills. As said skills become more common, the premium declines. (Now, about IT pay rates …)

At a broad level, Friedman’s thesis is deeply plausible. Western civilisation is the most dynamic of human civilizations, the only one to create mass prosperity and economic growth as a mass experience. It is also the only one to create democracy as a mass experience, is the most socially liberal of civilisations, and so on.

And, if Friedman is correct, it makes the attempt to use climate change to justify massive economic regression even more daft. Not only is it deeply stupid to adopt policies to make economies less adaptive in the face of allegedly dramatic climate change, the suggestion that declining resources will make people like each other more and get along better is – let us say – counter intuitive. And, Friedman would argue, counter-historical. On the contrary, it would surely lead to deeply illiberal politics. (This, of course, may be the point.)

Friedman never completely convinced me of his thesis, simply because of the abiding suspicion that his examples, even though he assembles many examples, involved a certain amount of “cherry picking”. Still, an enjoyable, informative (and plausible) read.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Church and the Homosexual

If one is defending traditional Christian sexual ethics—the position that has dominated Christian teaching over the last two millennia—then one is defending the position that consenting homosexual acts are worse than rape. St Thomas Aquinas, Justinian and medieval (and later) (pdf) legal codes are all quite clear on this. "Sodomy" was punishable by such penalties as burning alive, being buried alive, drowned and hanged. Rape was often treated as a civil matter—the theft of a woman’s maidenhead, an offence against whoever was the responsible male in her life. Indeed, some penitentials (pdf) regarded homosexual acts as a worse sin than witchcraft, attracting a stronger penance, being about about the same level as (or occasionally worse than) murder.

Holding homosexual acts to be worse that rape is based on a reading of the sin of Sodom as being primarily about homosexuality, given that God does not destroy folk for raping women (e.g. Judges 19). Such a reading of Genesis 19 does, however, contradict that of Jesus and of the Hebrew Prophets generally.

Plenty of folk do, of course, claim to supporters of traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality. Almost no one nowadays, apart from a few fringe nutcases such as the Rev. Fred Phelps, actually is such. They merely defend the position that homosexual acts are sinful and homosexuals should either have sex against their nature (i.e. with women) or be celibate: the tradition lite.

Of course, rating homosexual acts as worse than rape was a decision reached amongst male theologians. Women have a bit more say nowadays. Methinks it shows.

A similar process is occurring with the position of homosexuals. They are getting a bit more say also. And outlooks are therefore changing. John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual has become a minor classic in the issue of homosexuality and Christianity. Originally published with Catholic Church authorisation when John McNeill was Father John McNeill SJ, it is now in its fourth (no longer Church authorised) edition, John McNeill is no longer a Jesuit and has had his priesthood withdrawn. So the book includes appendices covering (1) how his views have changed, (2) thoughts on pastoral care of people with HIV/AID and (3) a history of the publication of the book. In the preface for the fourth edition, he expresses his anger at Vatican intransigence, bigotry and deceit.
McNeill writes in his Epilogue (pp 196ff), that three theses:
have traditionally dominated the thinking of moral theologians concerning homosexuality.
They are:
that the homosexual condition, and subsequently all homosexual activity, is contrary to the will of God;
the presence of the homosexual in the human community is a menace to that community;
the love that which unites two homosexuals in a sexual union is a sinful love which separates them from the love of God.
The book is an argument for a reappraisal of all three theses. McNeill notes the importance of development of homosexual community and organisations and cites a new era of scholarly work (pp 15-16).

Part I covers the grounds for reappraisal, Part II positive homosexual contributions, Part III implications for pastoral ministry.

Much of the first Part is taken up with Scriptural analysis. Citing Bailey, McNeill argues that perversion is a sexual act against one’s nature (p.41). In discussing the sin of Sodom, he notes that the word to know (yadha) is used 943 times in the Old Testament, only 10 times without qualification to mean coitus, other than Genesis 19 and Judges 19:22. The term normally used in the Old Testament to denote forbidden sexual acts is shakhabh. Hence so we can know them might mean no more than “check their intentions” (p.43). McNeill is not convinced of the non-sexual content of the demand “to know” the guest of the Lord, citing the clear use of yadha in Genesis 19:7 to mean coitus and that the crime otherwise becomes too minor to spark God’s wrath (p.47), though he admits the Yahwist author may be deliberately playing on the ambiguity in the term.

McNeill notes that the various Old Testament references refer to pride, inhospitality, lack of generosity as the sin of Sodom. New Testament references (2 Peter and Jude) are to sexual transgression, but he argues it is about having sex with angels (p.46). McNeil notes the irony of the sin of Sodom being changed from inhospitality to “sodomy” and then being brutally inhospitable to homosexuals (p.50).

Mc Neil notes that, regarding the famous passage in Romans, there are plenty of other terms Paul could have used than arsenokoitai to refer clearly to general homosexual behaviour (p.52). He examines Paul’s use of the word physin or nature, fusing together custom and essential characteristic. In Romans 11:24 (McNeill says Romans 4:18) God himself acts para physin (against nature) (Pp53ff).

Mc Neil argues that, in the famous passage in Romans, St Paul’s real concern is idolatry. Of the people St Paul refers to, their homosexuality flows from their idolatry, not the other way around (p.57).

McNeill’s discussion of Scripture covers the relevant texts, but does so in a more tentative way than more recent discussions. Or perhaps it is a bit of a Catholic thing. Jordan, for example is a Catholic theologian and medievalist writing very much in the Catholic tradition. Jordan’s and McNeill’s critique of traditional Christian theology on same-sex activity is echoed by books by two ordained Protestant ministers who (unsurprisingly) largely ignore medieval writings and concentrate much more directly on Scripture. They are much more straightforward in their arguments.

Looking at the antipathy to homosexuals McNeill cites studies suggesting that fear of passivity, fear of loss of control is often behind it and that these are a barrier to learning (p.126). Not only about homosexuals, but also generally.

McNeil looks at various way homosexuality has been treated, quoting a comment from one study that:
We assume that heterosexuality is the biologic norm, and that unless interfered with all individuals are heterosexual
(p.129). (A denial of biological variety that is not grounded in how nature actually is.) I found I recognised some of myself in Jung’s sympathetic description of common traits of homosexuals (p.136).

McNeil argues that driving homosexuals to pretend at being heterosexuals, the ultimate manifestation of which is marrying, actually undermines marriage (p137). A point various (married) minister scandals regularly demonstrate. In a sense, that is precisely what Brokeback Mountain was about—two men who should have married each other marrying women, thereby making four people unhappy: opression and lies leading to more lies.

McNeil generalises about concerns about “proper” masculinity as being proneness to violence (p.140) using cases (anti-war marches) that might be construed as attack on community. He quotes a NSDAP letter attacking legalisation of homosexuality as emasculating fighting spirit (p.141). (Obviously, no one told the Nazis about the Spartans.)

McNeill notes that homosexuals are often attracted to service roles (p.143). Could be the “good little boy” aspect to counteract their "shameful urges", or their cognitively cross-matched nature. McNeill also cites a study (p.145) that found homosexuals superior to their heterosexual counterparts in autonomy, spontaneity, orientation towards the present and increased sensitivity towards the value of the peron. He argues that pressure from being discriminated against provides more intense quest for identity, purpose and meaning. (But simply being cognitively other from most folk around one may also naturally have that effect.) He cites St Paul in Galatians 3:28 about the elimination of divisions and seeking to be totally ourselves (p.147).

McNeill notes that, in terms of Catholic pastoral care, it is deemed to be worse for a homosexual to be in a loving same-sex relationship than being single and sexually active. The latter is merely various individual sins, the former is “a state of sin”. (This is, of course, the same as for cohabiting heterosexual couples: except they can get married.)

McNeill is seeking to get the Catholic Church to look at Scripture differently, to look at homosexuals, their lives and contributions differently, and accord them—and their loves and relationships—a genuine place. As his own personal history shows, the Church has been very far indeed from responsive. But The Church and the Homosexual is certainly a very worthy effort.