William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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How Will The Dictatorship Arise?

In his now not-often-read The Evolution of Political Thought, C. Northcote Parkinson was “considering the question of how long a democratic phase of government may be expected to last”, correctly noting, as did Hayek in The Road To Serfdom, that throughout history democracies tend to devolve, or perhaps dissolve is a better word, into dictatorships.

Tend to itself is the wrong modifier for the verb. Leaving it off gives a more accurate picture. Let’s hear first from Parkinson, then we’ll pose a question afterwords. (With my paragraphications to make blog reading easier; the excerpt is too long to stick into blockquotes, which on some browsers render in italics; instead, there are horizontal lines; pp 239–241.)

In considering the question of how long a democratic phase of government may be expected to last, we can appeal to reason, to history and to recent experience. Merely theoretical discussion would lead us to expect one of two things. Either the proletariat would establish a socialist state or it would fail as against middle-class opposition.

If it succeeded, the State would acquire such an accumulation of centralised power — political, economic, religious and cultural — that some of the former upper class would be goaded into revolt. Supposing the conspiracy or rising should attract any measure of support, in the name of freedom, the strongest personality in the government would make himself dictator during the emergency: thereafter, the rising crushed, he would remain dictator as a precaution against any future threat of the same kind.

In the opposite case, supposing that the socialist police state has not been firmly established, the middle classes might rally to protect their lives and property. In the struggle they will appoint a leader or more probably allow the leader to appoint himself. By the time the conflict ends in a middle-class victory, the leader will have become dictator; and he must remain dictator, this time in a capitalist police state, to prevent the proletariat rising again.

Civil War of this kind seems likely to produce dictatorship in any case; nor do dictatorships of different origin differ from each other as much as might be supposed. For the dictator, in the last resort, is not so much a master of intrigue and cruelty as a man with sufficient moral courage to open fire.

It is sometimes thought that the invention of automatic weapons has ended forever the effectiveness of the mob, putting all the trump cards in the hands of whatever government there is. But revolutions are not brought about, have never been brought about, by weapons; nor is it by weapons that a rising is suppressed.

Governments which collapse when mobbed are usually lacking not weapons but courage. At some point in a situation of growing disorder someone must give the order to fire or charge. In a capital city — with the certainty that half the casualties will be innocent bystanders — this requires a fair amount of courage, it is easiest for a foreigner, a Prince Rupert, a Napoleon, a General Dyer; and easier still if the troops are also foreign — Scottish mercenaries in Paris, Swiss mercenaries in Rome or German mercenaries in Algiers.

But the risk is considerable, for the man who takes the responsibility may never be forgiven by the people and may easily be disowned by his own side. That is why a feeble government will allow riot and bloodshed to go on for days while its leaders twitter among themselves about humanity. Some twenty cartridges will disperse the average crowd but a man like Napoleon does not stop at that; he cheerfully uses artillery. The smoke has hardly cleared before he finds himself dictator.

Once a man has become dictator he cannot, usually, abdicate. If he does, the enemies he has made will kill him. Sulla resigned, it is true, and lived for a year. But Julius Caesar could not have resigned — he was murdered even while still in office. Pompey could not have resigned, nor Cromwell, nor Napoleon. It is the knowledge of his own danger that drives the dictator on to eliminate his opponents. Nor does it very much matter whether he began, like Julius Caesar, as a democratic leader, or like Sulla as the saviour of the oligarchs.

Once in office he must rule as he can. That is why Gandhi was supremely right in maintaining, as he did, that an egalitarian democracy cannot be achieved by force but only by persuasion. Once violence has been used, the feelings aroused will make further violence unavoidable. And in a state of tension and fear the party led by one will always (given anything like equal chances) defeat the party led by a committee. There are therefore abstract reasons for doubting whether socialism, as a phase in the decline of democracy, can be expected to last for long. There are abstract reasons again for supposing that it will lead to dictatorship.

Parkinson goes on to ask, “Does history, generally, bear out this conclusion?” The answer is yes. For example, “In ancient Greece the examples of democracy turning into dictatorship after a phase of socialism were so numerous that the Greek thinkers felt justified in regarding that sequence as almost a law of nature.”

Why? “Gandhi…says plainly that democracy cannot work if the voter’s chief aim is to benefit himself. In his view (and he is obviously right) no good can come of the violence which a state confiscation of private wealth must involve.”

What struck and stays with me is Parkinson’s the courage to fire on the crowd. Given our innumerable riots and other violent disturbances, it is obvious this courage has been lacking. It won’t always be. When it comes, it will be instantly recognizable and it will be clear to all that our democracy has at long last come to its end.

Here is the basis of our question (of which it would be best to read the whole of the Chapter from which the quotations are drawn): “The democracy that does not fail through socialist violence fails through mere incompetence; and through an incompetence which has become notorious, public and measurable.”

The question is this: from where will the dictatorship arise? Out of socialism and thus from displaced elites, or via middle class dissatisfaction? The Left is now screeching (and screaming) that Trump is a manifestation of the latter, though his mettle has not yet been tested: no crowds have been fired upon. Contrasted to those fears are the true observation that the State has been acquiring “such an accumulation of centralised power — political, economic, religious and cultural — that some of the former upper class would be goaded into revolt.” Trump does not fill that bill, though he is from the upper class; yet with the reins of power he is certainly not displaced.

My bet is on a reaction to socialism, since in the States the middle class is dispersed over too wide an area to conglomerate and because, as just said, the middle class can elect its leader who can hold power without direct violence. It’s not that Trump won’t fire on the rabble, but that doing so while he has the elected and Constitutional power to do so would not make him dictator.

Thus, a reaction to socialism. We have breathing space of at least four years, and more likely eight to ten. After that, the most natural thing is to look for a military coup to some outrage that comes too quickly after a string of power-grabbing outrages. Our friend John Zmirak suggests an outlawing of Christianity.

What do you say?

Why Is Popular Culture So Incredibly Vulgar?

Presented in partial expiation of my sins of contributing to the culture of vulgarity while young (and that is a relative word!), here is the link to the video we can chat about (not mine). Since YouTube displays a vulgar image as the splash (and I can’t figure how to change it), I put a link instead of embedding the video.


Speaking of the Oscar-winning Ass (mentioned in the video), we met the Tate’s giant buttocks earlier. Idiocracy was, of course, inspired by CM Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons“. An excerpt:

“TAKE IT AND STICK IT!” a voice roared in his ears.

He snatched off the helmet and gave the psychist an injured look. Tinny-Peete grinned and turned a dial associated with the pushbutton layout. The man from the past donned the helmet again and found the voice had lowered to normal.

“The show of shows! The supershow! The super-duper show! The quiz of quizzes! Take It and Stick It!”

There were shrieks of laughter in the background.

“Here we got the contes-tants all ready to go. You know how we work it. I hand a contes-tant a triangle-shaped cutout and like that down the line. Now we got these here boards, they got cutout places the same shape as the triangles and things, only they’re all different shapes, and the first contestant that sticks the cutouts into the boards, he wins.

“Now I’m gonna innaview the first contes-tant. Right here, honey. What’s your name?”

“Name? Uh-”

“Hoddaya like that, folks? She don’t remember her name! Hah? Would you buy that for a quarter?” The question was spoken with arch significance, and the audience shrieked, howled and whistled its appreciation.

It was dull listening when you didn’t know the punch lines and catch lines…

Tinny-Peete shook his head and pointed at his ears. The roar of air was deafening. Barlow frowned baffiedly and stared out of the window.

A glowing sign said:


He didn’t know what Moogs was or were; the illustration showed an incredibly proportioned girl, 99.9 percent naked, writhing passionately in animated full color.

Here, incidentally, is the solution Honest John Barlow, a man from the past, discovered.

Can You Find A Counterexample To Feser’s Defense Of The Perverted Faculty Argument?

Here in a succinct and lovely way is Feser’s distillation of the Perverted Faculty Argument (from his paper of the defense of the same) applied to matters sexual:

  1. Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.
  2. But our sexual faculties exist by nature for the sake of procreative and unitive ends, and exist in us precisely so that we might pursue those ends.
  3. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to use those faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive ends.
  4. But contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, and acts of bestiality involve the use of our sexual faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and/or unitive ends.
  5. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.
  6. But it can be rational to engage in an act only if it is in some way good for us and never when it frustrates the realization of the good.
  7. So it cannot be rational to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

Below, I am going to assume—please don’t laugh—that you have read Feser’s paper in full, so that terms such as unitive, agents, active frustration and so on are no mystery to you. I’ll pause here and wait for you to finish reading.

Done? His defense pertains, as you now know, more than just to sexual matters, but since sex looms large in the modern mind (understandably), it is these matters which provide most of the material. It is here that most attempts at counterexamples are given (or rather, counterexamples are given so as to defeat the arguments supporting traditional sexual morality). On that subject, Feser says:

A genuine counterexample to the perverted faculty argument’s key premise would have to involve an action that both involved the active frustration of the natural end of a faculty and yet which was in no way contrary to what is good for us, not even in a minor respect. I submit that there are no such counterexamples…

I think his argument (supplemented by writings in his other books) is sound: no counterexamples exist. But that does not imply that it not useful to search for them. Every time you think you’ve managed to slip a wedge into a crack, you realize it was not a flaw in the marble of the argument but was instead a fault in your mind. Every counterexample in which you find the flaw strengthens your understanding of the main argument.

Aiding you in your futile search is this admonition:

First, it cannot be repeated too often…that the perverted faculty argument does not entail that there is anything wrong with the use of man-made devices, or the use of a faculty for something merely other than its natural function, or the interference with natural processes where plants, non-human animals, or inanimate objects and processes are concerned.

Remember! We’re after that which is contrary to E and not “different from E” or “other than E.” A counterexample that claims wearing shoes over rocky terrain as opposed to going “naturally” shoeless does not work. Wearing shoes does not frustrate the natural function of walking; they aid in it.

The most commonly thought of supposed counterexamples—such as “Why not watch porno?” or “Why not masturbate when away from home?”—you saw have responses from Feser, so that there is no need for me to repeat what you already read. How embarrassing would it be to give the same examples Feser did!

An example (and not counter) is: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Sin is easy. Overcoming it in this world hard. Constant thinking about purpose—ends, teleology—helps.

Watch the graphic language. I am not at the computer and the spam filter is brutal.

Antipope Claims: Substantial Error — Guest Post by Fr John Rickert, FSSP

Editor’s note. The sentiment, and even conviction, that Francis is an Antipope has been growing. Because these are tumultuous times and it is best not to be distracted, I asked Fr John Rickert to write a rebuttal of that notion. Ann Barnhardt, God bless her, has led the charges that Francis is an Antipope, which is why below she serves as the brief for the prosecution. Fr Rickert speaks for himself and not necessarily for his Fraternity. Permission is granted to copy this article, as long as this disclaimer accompanies copies. Please read Part I of Father Rickert’s article first.

Some readers, reluctant to accept the argument I made from the principle of Common Error, are still troubled by some arguments which they see as leading to the conclusion that Pope Benedict actually remains the real Pope and therefore Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Cdl. Bergoglio) is nothing more, in their view, than an Antipope.

In my earlier post, I explain why, from a standpoint of logic, I did not see a need to address these arguments, as focusing on this exclusively would commit the error of Denying the Antecedent. However, it may help for people to see that these arguments are faulty, so as not to be won over by them.

The Argument from Substantial Error

The argument from Substantial Error goes like this:

  1. Benedict did not fully abdicate the Papacy, but only did so partially, by expanding its role from a monarchy to a diarchy.

    Ann Barnhardt says, “Pope Benedict believed that he could fundamentally transform the office of the papacy into a collegial or synodal office by ‘partially resigning.'” Proponents of this view cite Abp. Gänswein’s speech. In that speech, the Abp. Gänswein said that Benedict, “has not abandoned the Petrine ministry.” Proponents of the position taken by Ann Barnhardt further note that Benedict has never denied this claim.

  2. As Pope, he believed he had the power to do this.
  3. But this view is erroneous, for there can be only one Pope.
  4. Given the substantial error on Pope Benedict’s part under assumptions 1 and 2 above, his resignation is invalid in virtue of Can. 188: “A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself.”
  5. Therefore, Benedict is still the Pope, and Jorge Mario Cdl. Bergoglio never was.

A response to each of these points will make it clear that this argument is flawed.

  1. There is simply no evidence for this up to and including Pope Benedict’s announcement in 2013. In fact, as will be seen below, there is strong evidence to the contrary.

    Note that Abp. Gänswein’s speech is from 2016, three years after Pope Benedict’s announcement. Whether Abp. G¨nswein’s view truly reflects that of Pope Emeritus Benedict in 2016 is actually irrelevant. Once the resignation went into effect, the Chair of St. Peter became vacant. If one reads Abp. G¨nswein’s speech all the way through, which I recommend doing, it becomes clear that he is offering his own personal thoughts and in no way claiming to speak on behalf of Pope Emeritus Benedict.

    Nothing should be inferred from Pope Emeritus Benedict’s silence. Every priest knows well that there are times when he must remain silent, even if what is said is not true. Very likely the same holds for lawyers, doctors, and counselors.

  2. Again, there is no evidence for this up to and including Pope Benedict’s announcement in 2013.

    Moreover, there are things a Pope cannot do: He cannot change the Natural Law, because he cannot change the definition of human nature. He cannot dissolve a marriage that is ratum et consummatum. And he cannot change the meaning of words. In 2013 he said: [U]t a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.” The See of St. Peter will be vacant…and a Conclave for electing a new Pope…must be called. (Emphases added.)

  3. This point is correct, and Pope Benedict was quite well aware of it. For example, in his Wednesday audience of March 5, 2008, about Pope St. Leo the Great he says: “From this intervention in particular, but also from others made during the Christological controversy in those years, it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter, whose role in the Church is unique since ‘to one Apostle alone was entrusted what was communicated to all the Apostles,’ as Leo said in one of his sermons for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (83, 2). And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ’s one Church.”
  4. The quotations given from Pope Benedict show that he did not have Substantial Error as claimed. He knew the the Pope is unique (as seen in his Wednesday address) and he intended to leave the Chair of St. Peter completely (as seen in his 2013 announcement).

    But is any of this even relevant? I discuss it because it is used as a basis for the argument. The answer to the question is “No.” The pertinent canon is this:

    Can. 332 &sec;2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

    Freely and properly manifested, that is it. Substantial Error does not even enter into the picture. The statement of resignation from Feb. 28, 2013, was obviously manifested, and Pope Benedict asserted his full and deliberate freedom in making this decision.

    He even had a window of opportunity to revoke this resignation:

    Can. 189 &sec;4. A resignation can be revoked by the one resigning as long as it has not taken effect; once it has taken effect it cannot be revoked, but the one who resigned can obtain the office by some other title.

    After his resignation took effect, the only way Pope Benedict could have become pope again would have been through re-election by the Roman College of Cardinals; but they chose Cdl. Bergoglio instead.

  5. Therefore, the argument is not sound.

The Argument from Title and Insignia

The Argument from Title and Insignia is more circumstantial in nature. Those who argue that Pope Benedict remains the Pope point out that he has retained the title of “Pope Emeritus,” he still wears white, and is still referred to as “Holy Father.”

First, we would have to ask who decided these things. Did Pope Francis himself insist on them? It is clear that he approves of them. If it could be shown from truly reliable evidence that Pope Benedict himself insisted on them, then the argument would carry much more weight. Otherwise, it could even be the case that the Pope Emeritus has accepted these things with humility even in spite of his own personal wishes.

As for the title of “Pope Emeritus,” and the related claim that St. John Paul II said such that a Pope Emeritus is impossible, we must note several things. One is that the statement attributed to St. John Paul II does not go beyond hearsay, and in any case has no mark whatsoever of definitiveness. Msgr. Philip Hughes, in his excellent book The Church in Crisis: A History of the Church Councils, points out that initially the term homoousios was initially regarded as suspect (he explains why), but eventually gained acceptance to the point of being officially defined.

New terms come into the Church from time to time. The New Testament speaks simply of bishops. Today we speak of auxiliary bishops, coadjutor bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs. There is an extensive nomenclature with regard to the College of Cardinals. These are all terms that have come into use over time.

In ordinary life, we understand that an emeritus is retired, e.g., a professor emeritus. Such a professor no longer holds the professorial chair, which is held by someone else. In contrast, a co-chair of a committee does share chairmanship.

Can. 185, from the 1983 Code of Canon Law says: “The title of emeritus can be conferred upon a person who loses an office by reason of age or of resignation which has been accepted.” I point out that the use of “emeritus” hereby implies that he has lost the office he held, because his resignation has been accepted.

Both in regard to the title and being referred to as “Holy Father,” it is highly significant to me that he is not commemorated in the Canon of the Mass. In the Mass, my fellow priests and I always say, “una cum Papa nostro Francisco,” though formerly we said “Benedicto” until his abdication. We all know that Francis is the Pope—and Donald Trump is the President—and our language reflects that knowledge. Whether we like the situation or not does not change the fact of the matter.

Finally, as to wearing white, I will appeal to my own experience. At tonsure, I received the cassock and have worn it ever since. While only a tonsuratus, and all the way through diaconate, I was often called “Father” because people are not accustomed to seeing anyone other than a priest in a cassock. But our use of the cassock is entirely legitimate. The point is that, obviously, we are not accustomed to having a “Pope Emeritus.” I believe that we might see more of this in the future, however, and that eventually it will be customary. It was the Dominican, Pope St. Pius V, who retained his white habit upon assuming the papacy—which was a novelty in its day. Now no one thinks anything about it.


The simplest way I can put it is this. If Pope Benedict were to die while Bergoglio continues to operate as he is now (and here I am not assuming that he is the Pope), would the cardinals have a conclave? Clearly not. If Bergoglio were to die before Benedict, would the cardinals have another conclave? Clearly yes.

If one regards these answers as in error, there are serious dangers of esotericism and skepticism. Esotericism, where one regards oneself as one of the few handful of people who “know the real truth”; skepticism, where one takes the opposite tack and says, “You can’t really believe anything you see or hear.” Neither of these views, to be sure, is Catholic.

If one regards these answers as only provisional, and that the situation could change, then one makes the mistake of thinking that the papacy is only determined retroactively, at the point of death. “Pope So-and-so clearly wasn’t a heretic, and the whole world thought he was pope, so he must have been after all.” This is completely out of line with Church history.

The question about who was pope four years ago at this date was already answered then. Speculation since cannot change that. Pope Benedict vacated the See of St. Peter, which Cardinal Bergoglio then assumed, taking the name Francis.

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