Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Muslims, the British way of life, and advice for Bill Buckley

The British government has a new program in place--a kind of curriculum taught by "forward leaning imams"--that encourages Muslims to become better citizens (subjects?). The curriculum is based on the Koran. In other words, these Muslim teachers in Muslim schools use the Koran to justify British citizenship. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he means to show "the importance we attach to the dignity of each individual" and "the importance we attach to non-violence." I repeat, the curriculum is based on the Koran. Some Muslims are asking why Muslims should be singled out for civics lessons.

Bill Buckley considers the Muslim issue in Britain, and is concerned about saving "the British way of life." Do note Mr. Buckley’s musings in the last paragraph. He seems surprised that the Brits have this problem and we don’t. He implies that it should be easier for the Brits to handle this problem (after all, they do have an established religion) than it was for us to handle Mormon polygamy when they became "inconvenient" to us, who live in a regime of religious liberty. I suggest that Mr. Buckley glance at the Republican Platform of 1856which denounced the "twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery," and ask himself how the two are connected in principle.

Furthermore, I respectfully suggest that he reflect on the connection between a religion that allows polygamy and a territory (in which that religion predominates) forming itself into a state, and the constitutional provision (Art IV, Sect 4) that calls for each state to have a "Republican Form of Government." This makes for interesting musings (which both Douglas and Lincoln considered in the debates of 1858, of course; Lincoln using the polygamy issue to reveal Douglas’ inconsistency in using popular sovereignty). The Muslims, or the Mormons, or the Catholics, or the Baptists (but you get the point) can become citizens, but not on the same terms as Gordon Brown’s curriculum thinks Muslims may become citizens of Britain. And all that has to do with the American way of life, a much harder nut to crack than the British way of life. It would seem that Mr. Buckley doesn’t see why that is the case. What a shame.

Discussions - 18 Comments

I see nothing wrong with Mr. Buckley's column.

I agree with David, Buckley's column reads perfectly sensible to me. Peter, please explain again what it is you find objectionable.

Perhaps I shouldn’t make a federal case out of this. I merely wanted to point to an interesting articulation of Buckley’s, "British way of life" and the difference, let’s say, between that and the "American mind," and therefore, perhaps, an insufficient grounding in something fundamental on his part. There is a difference between letting folks into your country as "residents" from the empire and allowing them to become (made into, etc) citizens; perhaps the Brits did not think this through. And, it seems odd to me for the Brits to encourage (and fund) classes for Muslims that teaches them from the Koran why (and even how?) they should appreciate the "British way of life," (or, in American terms, freedom). Is the purpose of the "British way of life" nothing more than the "importance we attach to nonviolence"? So, eventually, let’s say, if the majority in Britain became Muslim, they can change the British way of life into something else, merely because they did it peacefully through the process? If you do not believe that the human mind is created free, you cannot be part of a regime that claims to be self-governing. And you cannot see limits to the governance.

Of course, in all other respects, I am with Buckley on this matter. I certainly share his concern. So how do Americans make citizens, and why are they not appealing to "forward leaning imams." That’s really all I wanted to say on the matter for now.

Now, if on the clear basis of the argument in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS, the Supreme Court declares a right to same-sex marriage, it's hard to say why the same autonomy right wouldn't apply to anything consenting adults might decide to do, including polygamy. I have some sympathy for Peter's point, but our idea of freedom isn't as stable as it used to be, to say the least.

I would like a clarification on what Peter Lawler meant by "our freedom isn't as stable as it used to be." Will you please give an example?

I would like to add a few thoughts on Britain's new program and on Buckley's conclusions but I need an example of instable freedoms first. My initial reaction was to reject Buckley's conclusions but Lawler's closing sentence has made my mind wander too much.

Consider the doctrine articulated by the Court in LAWRENCE V. TEXAS--what seems like necessary and proper restraints on liberty to one generation seems like despotism to the next. And it's the job of the Court to use the word liberty as a weapon to expand our understanding of the liberty or autonomy of the individual. So same-sex marriage can BECOME a const. right. Why not polygamy for those who consent to it?

Dr. Lawler I have always seen your points in terms of the consequences, but I have never believed that the court isn't right in saying that this is a fundamental reality. What seems like necessary and proper restraints on liberty to one generation can seem like despotism to the next. There is kind of a pendulum effect...you have your robber barrons and then your progressives...and then the Great Generation...and then the 60's and then the 80's...each generation views the various and sometimes altogether different questions in a slightly different way...and each generation composed of differing sets of moral values comes to an agreement or compromise that resembles closely what Rawls calls "Overlapping Consensus". I would suppose that Polygamy could become a right, but sadly I agree with Mark Twain who argues that a wife having many husbands would be more natural given her ability.

I am not saying I agree with Rawls...I am just saying he makes some very powerful arguments in Political Liberalism...he revisits Mill Hume and Kant and I don't think he solves anything but at least he sees the fundamental problem of "the assumption of pluralism". I think it is this general "intractable burden of judgement" that Hume grounded in his epistemology...that keeps resurfacing because it is a facet of reason itself that will always guarantee a tower of babel effect. Politically you are never going to have stable definitions and similar languages...and the more pluralism/diversity(howhever you want to look at it) you have in society the worse the problem will get, because reaching "Overlapping Consensus" gets harder. It is no wonder Putnam discovered that diversity decreased social capital. As Rawls says "That is because a series of intractable “burdens of judgment” all but preclude reasoned convergence on fundamental and comprehensive principles about how to live." Absolutely and Amen!

The default convergence for "overlapping consensus" is the big boy rule: Do whatever you want as long as you agree to be responsible for the consequences. Between consenting adults the big boy rule says consent is all that matters...

John, I enjoyed your comment--which leads to the conclusion that for big enough boys we can have no objection to consensual BIG LOVE.

John, and Peter:
It is hard to articulate "reason" in such a way that it does not produce an "intractable burden of judgment," i.e., nihilism -- but we cannot avoid trying, if we we want to be in any way reasonable beings. The "overlapping consensus" gambit gives away the game at the outset, since it pretends to adopt a neutral position above (or rather outside) the concrete moral-political stakes. Politics is not about the automatic or purely "historically" contingent or purely "neutrally" engineered coalescence of some "overlapping consensus," but rather about forging and reforging (however implicitly) a substantive consensus about what is authoritative and inviolable in a given political society. The "consenting adult" theory won't work (beyond a certain point, anyway), because it is not a true description of who human beings are: we do not create our own meaning by "consenting" to it. Moral-religious authority is an irreducible factor in politics because it is an irreducible factor in human existence -- eg., even those who are "doing their own thing" are following some convention about what makes human life meaningful. (See Tocqueville, DA, II.i.,2,5)
An understanding of reason that fully grasped the "burden of judgment" would have to take account of this dimension of human existence, and of both the difference and the community between those who grasp the burden and those who do not.

John Lewis

I agree with Mark Twain who argues that a wife having many husbands would be more natural given her ability.

What ability would that be? Not the procreative ability I assume, since that is more limited in women.


Peter Lawler

it's the job of the Court to use the word liberty as a weapon to expand our understanding of the liberty or autonomy of the individual.

I assume you are being derisive here, but the concept of "liberty" is oddly ill defined, considering how fundamental the word is to modern political thought. If it means "Everyone should be able to do what they want", which seems to be the case, then it does not logically preclude any outcome, including Musim domination.


Peter Schramm

that has to do with the American way of life, a much harder nut to crack than the British way of life. It would seem that Mr. Buckley doesn’t see why that is the case.

I don't see why that is the case myself. Why is the American way of life a harder nut than the British way?

Between consenting adults the big boy rule says consent is all that matters...

This sounds more like an adolescent rule to me. Consent plays a vanishingly small part in human existence. The fiction that it should be otherwise leads to a great deal of needless unhappiness.

Does anyone here know what happens to polygamous marriages when a Muslim man moves his family here? Poking around the Internet I find this about the UK, and this for the US which says that polygamy is grounds for exclusion from the country. This does not mean that it is not practiced, but that it is kept secret. Perhaps we have a "Do not ask, do not tell." policy on that, too. Of course, how are we not to be judgmental on topics like that, or this...

“Is it right for Ahmad to harm innocent Britons just because their government invaded a Muslim country?”

which will not be included in the British civics lessons because it is too "frontal". In other words, the creators of this curriculum are having a heck of a time reconciling the "British way of life" with the teachings of the Koran in some pretty essential ways. So would we, if such a thing were being done here. America is, or has been, big enough that enclaves could develop and sequester themselves (I live near the Amish, and used to live not far from the "Old Believers" in Oregon) as the Mormons tried to do in Utah, but as Peter Schramm points out above, there are, or were, unacceptable ways of life. Slavery was not just going to be all right in its place forever in America, given some basic American ideals. However, given the legal right to abortion, or the push for gay marriage, among other things, we are going to have a hard time maintaining any standards. Maybe there can be too much freedom and maybe issues of consent can be problematic.


I do not see where Mr. Buckley was wrong in his article. "But it is time for the mother of parliaments to look unruly, unassimilable creeds in the face and say: No more." Well, yes. If the British have some grip on "the British way of life" so that even a Labour government can be something like conservative on that topic, isn't that nice? Isn't the problem with holding the line on American values and the "American way of life" that we are so wide open in our variety of expression of those things and seem to be no longer certain of what those things are? The problem in both their country and ours IS democracy and the political consent of the governed and how that changes as the population changes. We are arguing about issues of assimilation in relation to immigrants all the time. The problem is that our minds are allowed to be free in the U.S., and for some that means free to accept the teachings of the Koran, or anything else that equally restricts of freedom of thought or opens the door to the subjection of others, or is otherwise going to be awfully difficult for the neighbors to live with because they know "it is just not right".

Actually Mark Twain covers part of my jist in Letters from Earth. (of course this is the archangel Satan speaking)
I highly recommend reading it and think that Mark Twain was a true philosopher. Satan basically goes out of his way to argue that in just about every case: "every statute in the Bible and in the lawbooks is an attempt to defeat a law of God-in other words an unalterable and indestructable law of nature." "Now you have a sample of man's "reasoning powers," as he calls them. He observes certain facts. For instance, that in all his life he never sees the day that he can satisfy one woman; also, that no woman ever sees the day that she can't overwork, and defeat, and put out of commission any ten masculine plants that can be put to bed with her. He puts those strikingly suggestive and luminous facts together, and from them draws this astonishing conclusion: The creator intended the woman to be restricted to one man."(Letters from the Earth)

But anyways go buy life on the Mississippi and Letters from the Earth and enjoy. Also Interestingly enough Lincoln brings up similar points to the ones put foward by the Archangel Satan...in particular concerning individual constitutions and moral worth...but talking about Satan/Twain or Lincoln is not really my aim...of course my aim isn't to talk about Rawls either.

I think I agree with Ralph...in particular when he says: "Moral-religious authority is an irreducible factor in politics because it is an irreducible factor in human existence -- eg., even those who are "doing their own thing" are following some convention about what makes human life meaningful. (See Tocqueville, DA, II.i.,2,5) An understanding of reason that fully grasped the "burden of judgment" would have to take account of this dimension of human existence, and of both the difference and the community between those who grasp the burden and those who do not."

In reply to John consent may very well be an adolescent rule....but the only real fiction is that without the primacy of consent...you would be free to reason in the first place. For without consent the world would be like Scotland under the Kirk...or like Iran or Saudia Arabia today...or like the USSR. In other words via force everyone would be reduced to trumpeting the same Moral-religious authority. Interestingly enough I think that Rawls concedes that not even his Theory of Justice can come to be accepted without tyranny. He calls this the "fact of oppression".

This is why in his Original Position, he says that people know as a general fact about human beings, that the determinate persons on whose behalf they are choosing are likely to have firmly and deeply-held “religious, philosophical, and moral views.”(because Ralph is right) He supposes that human beings would therefore also have a higher-order interest in protecting these persons’ abilities to advance these conceptions. Accordingly, “they cannot take chances by permitting a lesser liberty of conscience to minority religions, say, on the possibility that those they represent espouse a majority or dominant religion.”

What I am in agreement with Rawls on is therefore that there is a higher-order interest in allowing reason to be free of a specific or narrow articulation. Even if you come to define this as Nihilism...or the dar al-harb/house of war.

Holy crap...I think I just recommended the views of Satan+insulted manhood by saying that females are constituted to have sex more often...and to top it off I advanced nihilism as a higher-order interest. I really need to work on my Rhetoric!

Permit me to rehab my argument(or dig myself deeper more likely).

Given that Ralph is correct...in particular "given that Moral-religious authority is an irreducible factor in politics because it is an irreducible factor in human existence -- eg., even those who are "doing their own thing" are following some convention about what makes human life meaningful." Given the depth of these beliefs, our capability to become impartial spectators is brought into serious doubt. Rather than try to cover up our subjectivity in objective clothes...we should acknoledge for example that we are rather similar to the muslim whose world is divided between dar-al Islam and dar-al harb. There is right and wrong, up and down, truth and beauty...and no matter how hard we try we cannot really agree with those who disagree fundamentally with us.

David Hume says of sceptical philosophy: "The knights errant, who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and giants, never entertained the least doubt with regard to the existence of these monsters.

The Sceptic is another enemy of religion, who naturally provokes the indignation of all divines and graver philosophers; though it is certain, that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or conversed with a man, who had no opinion or principle concerning any subject, either of action or speculation. This begets a very natural question; What is meant by a sceptic? And how far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty?"

The answer is in the end...not very far...the sceptic is not a true creature anymore than dragons or giants are true creatures...and the truth is that Nihilism or a completly non-ontological perspective is impossible.

Nevertheless the attempt to question our belief system, is carried out in the attempt to justify to ourselves the rightness of our foundations. And we presupose that other reasonable beings could follow our logic and get to where we are.

But what if they couldn't? What if some men are by constitution knights errant? What if once the reason that makes up their world is seperated logically into dar-al islam and dar-al harb these have no other function but to prosecute dar-al harb?

That could be the case in some instances, but I don't believe that it is universally. Following Hume I would say that just as Hume conceides that pure skepticism is impossible, so too is pure belief. In other words contra Ralph there is no human being that really follows absolutely a particular convention that absolutely structures that which makes human life meaningfull. Just as nature does not allow non-ontological skeptics/nihilist, so does it not allow monks. But there is within the nature of reason both a reason for structuring it and acting upon that structure but also a reasoning for questioning how it is structured.

So human beings are capable of brief moments of true skepticism, or of relegating skepticism to its proper place. There is not a suicide bomber with a pack full of explosives whose hands do not sweat at the thought that maybe just maybe there is no dar-al islam...no 72 virgins.

If within reason there is room for the skeptic as well as the monk, then the monk should come to realize that the reality of the plurality of different monasteries requires skepticism to rule over them. Not that skepticism itself could ever create a monastery...but that there is within the idea of true belief a need for a voice saying maybe not.

There is a need for a voice within reason that preaches it as an "intractable burden of judgement"...that preaches it as it would appear to the believer...as Nihilism.

Sincerly I say unto you, teach to the Muslim the need for nihilism as a higher order voice of conscience...

Ralph says:"An understanding of reason that fully grasped the "burden of judgment" would have to take account of this dimension of human existence, and of both the difference and the community between those who grasp the burden and those who do not." This is close to what David Hume was trying to do? Also clearly in regards to the original topic one reason there is such a difficulty with Muslims is that they do not tend to accept the "burden of judgement" concept, at least not those who divide everything into dar al-islam and dar al-harb.

On the other hand if muslims are still free to reason...the more liberal among them might decide that Great Britain is more dar-al islam than Saudi Arabia, if by dar-al islam one means a place where one is free to practice Islam(necessarily as one sees fit).

In other words on the bright side it may only be a matter of time before the question of consent asserts itself in a Lockeian way. Then maybe muslims will say that they are freer to worship Allah in Great Britain than they are to do so in Iran...then Iran and Saudi Arabia become dar al-harb. But this is rather wishfull thinking giving the rhetoric that surronds and frames the issue.

In other words there is no good way to really talk about the problem of Islam that doesn't sound just as bad to muslim ears as my trumpeting of Satan and Nihilism sounds bad to conservative ears. The guard is really up against the introduction any Lockeian or Humeian conceptions of Consent.

Thanks, John Lewis -- many sound points, well worth pondering. Still, I can't help entering this little correction, re this statement: "contra Ralph there is no human being that really follows absolutely a particular convention that absolutely structures that which makes human life meaningfull." I don't believe I implied this absolutism -- nor, incidentally, does Tocqueville, or else he wouldn't be able to make judgments (presumably in some sense free and reasonable) about better and worse conventions. So the good news is, we seem to agree: we are always oriented towards authoritative conventions that were not created by our consent, and yet we are somehow also free to reason about them and to conceive of other possibilities.

John Lewis

I had not realised that Twain had such problems in the sack. Regardless of his feelings of inadequacy, the reality is that men desire sex more frequently than do women, for better or for worse.


the only real fiction is that without the primacy of consent...you would be free to reason in the first place. For without consent the world would be like Scotland under the Kirk...or like Iran or Saudia Arabia today...or like the USSR.


In other words, the world would be like the world?

The implication that people in the US have a peculiar freedom to reason seems unwarranted. The people in Iraq believe that they have true freedom, for instance.

In other words via force everyone would be reduced to trumpeting the same Moral-religious authority.

Twas ever thus. Are not people here forced to do this? What is liberalism if not a moral-religious authority?

What I am in agreement with Rawls on is therefore that there is a higher-order interest in allowing reason to be free of a specific or narrow articulation.

The assumption here seems to be that reason precedes other forms of thinking and can in some way be detached from them. That doesn't seem to be the case. Reason is a dumb tool, capable of being employed by the other human faculties in the pursuit of all sorts of interests. It's not a thing which can exist on its own, like some sort of disembodied hand.

Just as nature does not allow non-ontological skeptics/nihilist, so does it not allow monks.


How then do you explain the widespread existence of monks, understood both literally and as religion driven people in general? I agree that ontological skeptics are unnatural and rare.

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