Guest Post: Positively Wrong: Positivism, That Is

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The next in a continuing series (most recently The Natural Law of Civil Society)

Submitted by Free Radical

Positively Wrong: Positivism, That Is

Law is a negative concept. – Frederic Bastiat

As an element of nature, gold is what it is, no matter what form. The same cannot be said of the golden rule, however, for no matter how natural the social process out of which it evolved, the golden rule is a human construct and therefore its application can be decidedly different that of its elemental namesake.

After all, it is one thing to say, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and quite another to say, “What you want done to yourself, do to others.” For although both are reciprocal, the first rule merely requires restraint, while the second requires intervention. That is, the first says that if John doesn’t want Joe to hit him, then John must refrain from hitting Joe, while the second says that if John wants Joe to feed him, then John must feed Joe.

As religions have differed in this regard, we note, for example, that as with Confucianism,  Judaism holds to the negative rule, saying, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men,” adding an emphatic, “that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof.” Christianity, on the other hand, adopts the positive rule, saying, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them,”  while Islam adopts both, including, “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.”

Insofar as the positive golden rule is adopted on a purely voluntary basis, it is perfectly acceptable in society. When the positive rule is commanded, however, then insofar as that society would be free, it is not, and therefore insofar as that society would be civil, it is not. For when the members of society are prevented, beyond the constraints of the negative golden rule, from acting freely and of their own accord and are instead forced to obey this or that positive rule, they are being required to do unto others what they might not want to do and/or be done unto as they might not want to be done. 

To one degree or another, then, involuntary servitude must be the inevitable result of this form of positive rule. And as involuntary servitude is the very definition of slavery, it follows that the members of such a society are accordingly enslaved, the golden rule be-ing effectively turned into lead due to the fact that it is applied via “the substitution of coercion for voluntary actions.” To such coercion we therefore give the name positivism, this being the already established term as it relates to the so-called severability thesis, which posits that law is not derived from morality, asserting on the contrary that “law and morality are conceptually distinct.”

Furthermore, we use the term positivism regardless of whether it manifests itself on a religious or a secular basis. Thus is Marxist positivism – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – no different than the positivism of Christian the-ocracies of the past or Muslim theocracies of the present. And while it might be assumed that today’s presumably democratic societies are not positivistic, it will be seen upon ex-amination that they are, and thoroughly so, as we address next in “Money and the State,” followed by “Law and the State.”




1) John 13:3-14 and, in the same vein, Mathew 5:39-42.