Catholicism and Libertarianism


If there is one thing that the 2016 Presidential election taught me, it’s that, as a Catholic, I feel politically homeless.  As our two party system continues to become more polar, Catholics often straddle the line between the two in a gray area where neither party truly represents them.  Personally, I’ve always leaned to the conservative side of the spectrum, but I found myself losing faith in supposedly conservative political entities.  It is a sinking feeling to come to all of these realizations, because it feels like the current political structure has de facto placed a sign on its door that says “Catholics Need Not Apply.”  Something started to go missing, and I needed to take some time to reflect in order to put my finger on it.

After gathering my thoughts, and with the political turmoil engulfing the country, I realized that my views weren’t necessarily “conservative.”  Conservative, by its very nature, is a nebulous term, since any major change in law or policy technically changes who is the conservative.  As Hannah Arendt once said, and I’ve probably quoted multiple times throughout the years, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

On this most recent journey of introspection, I found that my views were actually better defined as libertarian.  After that revelation, I also found that both major political parties have essentially abandoned most notions of libertarianism, despite it being the core of this nation’s founding.  As most libertarians would agree, I realized my political leanings were not so much about left and right, but rather state and individual.  What truly surprised me, though, is how much libertarian principles can be seen in the teachings of the Catholic Church.


I think most, when asked, would not associate the Catholic Church with libertarianism.  Catholicism often gets associated with some form of strict legalism or moralism.  However, nothing can be further from the truth, and there is a great deal of detailed thought under the misunderstood surface.  Catholicism actually has a great deal to say about the concept of freedom, and this is born from the very root of its understanding of the human person.

The United States of America, from the moment of the Declaration of Independence, prefaced everything on defining the core concept of freedom and rights being innate in human beings.  Everything flows from first laying down that foundation, which was so elegantly laid out centuries ago:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The truth, which is self-evident by virtue of our very nature, is that we are endowed with certain rights.  While the “CREATOR” part can be left out for other debates, it is still important in understanding that rights are innate in our being and, therefore, NOT defined or granted by others.  If they were, then they would not be unalienable and would be rendered meaningless through relativism, since they could be changed or redefined on a whim based upon the views of whoever held power at the time.  Human beings intrinsically have, therefore, a right to freedom in their lives, most notably to pursue the ever elusive idea of happiness.

This freedom provided to us by our unalienable rights is actually at the very heart of the Catholic understanding of the human person through how Catholicism views man’s creation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

“Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.” –St. Irenaeus

This is rooted in Biblical teaching in Sirach 15:14, which reads:

When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice.

Again, leaving aside any debate about the existence of God, the Catholic Church clearly teaches man is free and has control over his own actions.  After establishing that mankind has freedom, the Catechism elaborates on it further by defining it:

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

This was intended and desired, with man having the ability to freely choose his path in life.  There is, of course, the hope that we will seek the good with that freedom, in which the Catholic Church believes freedom can find its perfection, but if we were forced in that direction we could not then argue that we are free by nature.  Being free, then, leaves open the possibility of making right and wrong choices:

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

Although expressed by the notions of good/evil and perfection/sin, this is no different than pointing out that, even though we are free to act, we are not free from the consequences of our actions.  Freedom is a necessity, but the ability to act or not within our will can (and is) abused when used in a way contrary to what is good.

So, there is a great deal in common between what has been expressed in the Catechism about the nature of freedom and libertarianism: man is, by its very nature, a free entity, and man has the natural right to freely act according to his will.  In other words, man has personal autonomy.  It is true that Catholicism takes that and applies it to what we should do with our freedom, but it never abandons the fact that true freedom of action to shape one’s own life, as opposed to force, is the key to our very being.


The above notions of personal autonomy establish a fundamental understanding of the human person in terms of our innate rights to life and freedom, but the world contains more than just one of us.  We work together, have relationships, and, unfortunately, we sometimes butt heads.  Inevitably, then, the conversation will turn to what role our human institutions and governments have in relation to the freedom of the individual.  Libertarian ideals seek to maximize the amount of personal autonomy and limit government power over the individual, so chief among government’s roles is the protection of our freedoms.  Again, the Catholic Church agrees:

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect.  The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.

Even with acknowledging the right to exercise our freedom and the necessity of recognizing it and protecting it, Catholicism largely doesn’t give a blueprint on how government should do so.  Different Popes at different times have railed against the wrongs they see in different systems, whether it was St. Pope John Paul II speaking about socialism or Pope Francis warning of the materialism that can come with an idolization of money.  The criticisms are for different reasons, whether it be a lack of protecting the right to exercise our freedom or the abuse of the freedom we do have protected.  Still, some of the greatest Catholic thinkers have pondered the limits of human laws, and there are, again, libertarian overtones when these issues arise.  St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, had the following to say about law and morality:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like…

The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils: thus it is written (Proverbs 30:33): “He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood”; and (Matthew 9:17) that if “new wine,” i.e. precepts of a perfect life, “is put into old bottles,” i.e. into imperfect men, “the bottles break, and the wine runneth out,” i.e. the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still.

The natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law. Now Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5): “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence. Nor, if this law does not attempt to do everything, is this a reason why it should be blamed for what it does.” Wherefore, too, human law does not prohibit everything that is forbidden by the natural law.

Limiting the scope of law, particularly when it applies to “victimless crimes,” is an ideal that many libertarians share.  Aquinas pointed out, succinctly, that human law is not designed to make man perfect and that it is also not necessary to legislate all of morality.  In fact, in man’s flawed existence, you couldn’t possibly legislate man into a state of virtue.  So, the real focus of the law should be for the most serious offenses, and should also be further focused on those offenses that harm others.  This is reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s definition of rights and liberty:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

In essence, if each person is represented by a circle, we form a massive Venn diagram where the equal rights of others intersect.  In those intersecting areas is where you will find the most proper use of law to protect the public from, as Aquinas put it, the most grievous of vices or to adjudicate disputes.


Elaborating on the freedom of the individual and the importance of government to protect that freedom within a limited human law, it should be apparent that the Catholic Church views personal autonomy to be not only important, but integral to the very dignity of the human person.  Therefore, logically, any infringement upon man’s freedom robs him of his dignity, but there are many ways freedom can be attacked.  We often think of clear examples, such as slavery, but there are far more insidious ways freedom can be indirectly extinguished.  One such way is by usurping man’s activities and responsibilities.

Although not called by the name subsidiarity, Pope Leo XIII prepared the foundational principles of the concept in his 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.  Rerum is a direct commentary on socialism and its inevitable effects on man, where Leo XIII defends private property ownership and the importance of man’s labor.  Through that defense, he wrote the following:

The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop.

Forty years later, as the name literally states, the condemnation of a usurpation of man’s actions was expanded further by Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo anno:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of “subsidiary function,” the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.

All of Quadragesimo is a very detailed piece about man and government, written at a time that saw the rise of Nazism and Communism on one hand and the entrenching and expansion of capitalism on the other.  In it, Pope Pius XI also warns against the reduction of all things into the two spheres of the individual and the state, making the case for multiple social units between them.  This includes everything from the family to local governments, non-profit organizations, and corporations.  This hierarchy of social order, between individuals and the State through various social structures that promotes “Industries and Professions” for man to exercise his freedom with others, strikes a balance between statism and complete individualism.  In more clear terms, subsidiarity as a concept presents a strong case for limited government.

Between the two documents, a picture of limited government is painted that places as much focus as possible on the smallest units of social life.  Government’s limited role, then, is only to support smaller units in those functions that they cannot handle on their own.  To take away a smaller social unit’s function is to rob the individuals of their usefulness and dignity.

The commitment to the concept of subsidiarity didn’t end there, as St. Pope John Paul II wrote Centesimus annus on the 100th anniversary of Rerum.  The position remained the same, notably:

In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called “Welfare State”. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the “Social Assistance State”. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

The principle of subsidiarity has had a large effect on institutions outside of the Church as well.  The European Union uses subsidiarity as a core concept in its functionality as a governing body.  Also, the United Nations has even noted its usefulness, stating in its Development Programme’s 1999 report:

Decentralization, or decentralising governance, refers to the restructuring or reorganisation of authority so that there is a system of co-responsibility between institutions of governance at the central, regional and local levels according to the principle of subsidiarity, thus increasing the overall quality and effectiveness of the system of governance, while increasing the authority and capacities of sub-national levels.

Many libertarians hold that self-governance is an important principle, and subsidiarity is largely a parallel concept that guides how limited a government should be with its responsibilities.  It by no means ends with Papal encyclicals, either.  Many great Catholic writers and thinkers, from G.K. Chesterton to Dorothy Day, have added their thoughts on the matter.  Unfortunately, even amongst modern Catholics, the idea of subsidiarity is not discussed much, but hopefully that will change as we continue to live under an ever-expanding bureaucracy.


It is, of course, difficult to reduce 2,000 years of thought into a single essay on the subject of man’s nature and social interactions.  However, what should emerge, from examining specifics, is that the Catholic Church does share many core values and teachings with the principles of libertarianism.  Both see the individual as a free entity, both see the government’s chief responsibility as the protection of those individual freedoms, and both desire that the protection of that freedom arises from a limited government that leaves man able to best express and utilize his freedom.

Libertarianism is a large umbrella with a diverse people underneath it, and although there may be disagreement on moral principles in the end, Catholicism undeniably agrees on the value of freedom to pursue the truth through man’s own rational thought as a means.  Many issues today are best left to that realm, through discussions between human beings in a more broadly social context rather than by the force of law.  Evangelization, at the end of the day, is based on that principle.  No one is mandated to be a Catholic, but Catholics believe we are to help others seek truth.  Whether it is a religious issue or a broader social discussion, reaching out to people on a personal level about what you believe and finding the truth toegether can only be truly preserved in a society where men are free to search themselves in order to decide on their own.  Catholics and other libertarians may disagree on where ultimate truth resides, but both support the mechanisms of freedom that allow us to have that conversation.

As a Catholic, I have come to the conclusion that I need to follow my conscious on the principles of the condition of the human person, on the law, and on the concept of subsidiarity in the greater context of Catholic social teaching.  I’m not sure that the current two party system presents an option for those ideals, nor could a binary system ever accomplish that.  In the end it is, of course, up to the individual, but I think the time is right for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to stop being politically homeless and search for another option that fits them more closely.  Considering what Catholicism has taught, and seeing how it is written on the very heart of the United States in its founding principles, perhaps libertarianism can provide the roof Catholics have been missing for so long within our political system.  I think the time is right for many groups of people, including Catholics, to start building their own custom homes rather than accepting the two cookie-cutter models.


The Diversity Paradox

During this past Independence Day, the Ad Council posted a video featuring John Cena about “true” patriotism.  During the three and a half minute spot, John Cena gives a seemingly stirring speech about what makes America great.


I’m particularly amazed at how cameramen can walk backwards while filiming like that.

While obviously not the intention, this video accurately summarizes one of the more misunderstood concepts in modern American culture: diversity.  Diversity is pushed hard in virtually every avenue of life, and diversity is extolled around every turn.  This video is a perfect example of that.  We push diversity so much that it is essentially viewed as a virtue.  However, is diversity really a virtue?  Is it something we should strive for or want for its own sake?  Where is its true value?


John Cena, in that short three minutes or so, utters two sentences that perfectly show the confusion surrounding diversity:

“We know that labels don’t devalue us, they help define us.”

“Love has no labels.”

There is an incongruity between those statements.  On the one hand, labels are fantastic and keep us “dialed in” to who we are.  That’s a good thing, right?  Yet, on the other hand, labels are something that should be absolutely ignored or overlooked when it comes to love and acceptance.  How can a label be simultaneously important and forgotten about?  How are they a positive on one hand and a negative on the other?  How can we call attention to our differences as defining principles but then complain when we notice them?

“Diverse” is simply a descriptive adjective.  By saying that something is diverse, you are simply saying that there are many differences present.  It describes something much like noting color, size, or location by pointing out that there are, in fact, many colors, sizes, and locations present.  These descriptive adjectives are all effectively means to an end for us to get a grasp on the substance of a person, place, or concept.  Diverse is, at its core, a label that tells you that there are many labels, so diversity is merely a state of being where there are many differences in your midst.


We have, somehow, gotten to a point where merely being in a state of diversity is something we strive for.  However, just being in such a state does nothing on its own.

By extolling the virtues of diversity as a thing to be desired as a state of being, it creates an atmosphere where it is considered good to be different for its own sake.  It creates an environment where, to maintain the good, we have to remain in a state of division.  If being different is good, then isn’t being the same bad?  If diversity is good, then is lacking diversity, by definition, bad and something to be avoided?  This constant desire to maintain diversity for its own sake has led to two things: segregation and division.  We group ourselves and bar entry to outsiders.  We constantly point out differences and place labels, while simultaneously lamenting the tribalism that it (naturally) creates.

The ironic thing about diversity for its own sake is that it creates social enclaves and pockets of conformity.  It attempts to paradoxically prove inclusiveness by showing the maximum amount of exclusive compartmentalization possible.  We all stand in our own circles surrounded by people that share the same label, creating an echo chamber around ourselves.  We can’t ever let our circles intersect, because finding common ground means that you are eliminating difference, and the less difference there is then the less diversity there is.  Likewise, finding common ground is one less label you can use to differentiate yourself from others.  Diversity for its own sake seeks to keep things apart.

It should be no surprise, then, that there is animosity amongst our fellow countrymen in this kind of state.  Unfortunately, that makes people easy prey.  Anger has a tendency to be the strongest glue in a crowd and the easiest emotion to exploit, so keeping people focused on their separation is a never ending source of grievances that can be smothered in promises by the powers that be.  It inevitably leads to groupthink, where group identity trumps rational thought and analysis.  In terms of influence, collective thought allows one to address a multitude of people in the same time it would take to reach just a single person of independent thought.  It is, of course, on its fullest display in America’s two party system, where we are consistently presented this false dichotomy of a never-ending state of red/blue difference every time we vote.

So, if desiring diversity for its own sake is not the way to go about it, what should we make of diversity?


The confusion comes from desiring diversity as an end and not a means.  It’s actually an easy mistake to make, because using diversity as a means creates a counterintuitive result when used properly.  What we should be using diversity for, and where its place is in terms of our culture, is precisely in finding the common ground or arriving at a common answer.  In essence, we need to use diversity with an eye towards how it unifies.

In Latin, the root word for diverse is divertere, “to turn in opposite directions.”  It’s the same root word for divert, which is very apt for this discussion.  It’s easy to visualize this as a fork in the road, with each new path going someplace different.  Celebrating diversity as an end praises the fork in the road itself rather than recognizing where you came from or where you are going.  If you stood at a fork in the road, looking at the paths ahead, and did an about face, you would recognize that the diverging roads actually both stem from a common point.  The reality is that divergence and convergence simply depends on which direction you are looking.  Diversity is a useful tool, then, when looking for a convergence from multiple angles.  A diversity of thought and backgrounds provides an array of perspectives into a possible problem with an eye towards finding a common answer.

By means of analogy, diversity as a tool is like a room full of people that have each brought a different puzzle piece with them.  Individually, the puzzle piece is unique to them in terms of size, shape, color, and a variety of other reasons.  If we left it at that, and celebrated that state of being, nothing would get accomplished.  Everyone would hold onto their own puzzle piece and compare it to others.  Some would feel their piece is inadequate, others that their piece is better than the rest.  However, if everyone used their unique piece to build the puzzle together, everyone would be able to partake not only in the final product, but their own unique contribution to it.  Each person could then see how their own portion fits into the bigger picture and then, oddly enough, they would be sitting in a room where there is one large idea in common rather than a bunch of small ones that are different.

People aren’t the best problem solvers when everything fits the same role.  No football team has eleven quarterbacks on the field at once, a person cannot be healthy by eating bread alone, and a worker cannot fix a wide variety of issues with hammers only.  Indeed, when looking at diversity, we should strive to build the biggest toolbox possible and recognize that the problem to be solved is a shared one.


So, we are still left with a paradox: unity through difference.  This concept, however, isn’t new.  It has a perfect representation in Christian thought through its depiction of the body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:12-27 presents this paradox poetically in how we stand with one another:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Despite a continuing confusion about how diversity should be treated and celebrated, and despite our current divisions, America provides great potential to act as one body through our diversity.  It is precisely the liberty America was founded upon that not only binds us together with common purpose, but also allows us the freedom to flourish in our differences.  So, in pursuing diversity, we should seek to emulate the example of the body of Christ.  We should not merely celebrate our differences or focus on them as an end, but rather recognize them as a means to see the bigger picture.  And, most importantly, we need to recognize that we’re all in this together, whether hand, foot, ear, or eye.

In the end, contrary to Mr. Cena’s take on things, love doesn’t necessarily ignore labels.  It does, however, recognize the importance of how our differences are necessary to the whole by seeing a body with parts, yet no divisions.

For My Wife on Our Sixteenth Anniversary


It was a year ago that my wife and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. For some reason, humanity collectively puts great importance on things that are multiples of five. They feel like milestones and we are inclined to celebrate them as such, even though we can’t quite put our finger on why they are more important than the numbers in between. So, it needed to be special and we needed to make it a time to remember.

Alas, fifteen went by without much fanfare. We both desperately wanted it to stand out, but it wasn’t what we had hoped. We weren’t angry with each other or anything like that, although disappointment did spill over. It just ended up like any other day. Work kept me busy, we couldn’t find babysitting, we had dinner, and we went to bed. I had trouble thinking of something to get her that would top the previous fourteen years. It came and went, and I remember a joint, communal sigh accompanied by oscillations between vocal and muted frustration.

Now, here we are at our sixteenth anniversary. Sixteen holds a special place in American society because it symbolizes our next step into adulthood behind the wheel of a car, but it doesn’t go much beyond that one instance. Personally, sixteen is a bit different for my wife and I as a number. If we trace our relationship back to when we first began dating between our junior and senior year of high school, and combine it with the time we’ve been married, we have now reached the time where we have been together for half of our lives. From this point forward, we will have been together for longer than we have not been together. Being a pair now occupies the majority of our existence, and it puts our last anniversary in more perspective than we had at the time.

Much is made about love in marriage. People will ask me how my wife and I have stayed in love over such a long period of time. You’ll hear platitudes like “I love you more with each passing day” on anniversary cards and internet glitter. You’ll see ads with smiling couples walking through the park exchanging jewelry for affection. It’s all relatively modern, of course. We aren’t barbarians anymore; we don’t go about exchanging hands in marriage for land and power. Marriage isn’t arranged. No, we’ve freed ourselves from such ancient practices. Now, we date and choose, we fall in love with the person of our dreams, we have our white picket fences. This is real, this is the truth of love. It is something you can find at first sight.

All of that is a misconception, of course.

“I love you more with each passing day” is a falsehood because it suggests that, on any given day, you fool yourself into thinking you understand the fullness of love, as if you’ve grasped its true meaning. You feel like you’ve got the jigsaw puzzle all put together in front of you. But, it also suggests that it is only good for that day, because tomorrow you will add another layer and put the lie to the love you experienced the day before. THAT wasn’t love, because THIS is love. Yesterday it was the size of a berry, today it is the size of an apple. Yesterday was a 250 piece puzzle, today it’s a 500 piece puzzle. Taken to its natural end, you will be left with a never-ending, concentrically ringed set of shells while constantly wondering if the most recent layer is the last. And, if it is a never-ending expansion of meaning, if there is always more layers, if there is always more pieces, than love has no meaning. Expansion moves away from the core and not towards it. Inevitably, when there are days with nothing extra, you feel stagnant.

In a superficial world, we may not have the same marriage practices as previous generations and think that progress means expansion, but we gloss over the ancient call to find substance in all things and to find their core. It’s a never-ending endeavor undertaken by humanity’s greatest minds, and a seemingly futile one since we can never truly comprehend the substance of any object. Words, senses, and thoughts only take us so far. Even attempting to define the simplest of objects can show difficulty.

A chair is something you can sit on. But so is the floor.

A chair is something you can sit on that has legs. But so is a horse. And a beanbag doesn’t have legs.

And sometimes a chair has wheels. Sometimes it’s made of plastic. Sometimes it’s made of wood. Sometimes it can fold up, sometimes it’s bolted to the floor. Sometimes it has no back, sometimes it rocks, sometimes it glides.

We can describe it and try to define it, and with each pass of additional clarity or description we get closer and closer to the substance of it. But we never quite touch it. We spiral around it endlessly, waiting to finally reach that singularity where we really, truly comprehend it. We don’t expand its meaning, but rather grow in a better comprehension of what’s already there. Even if it seems futile, even with our human limitations, we are better for it as it leads to a better understanding of the universe around us.

You’ll find plenty of examples of those trying to describe the substance of love. The most well-known is the passage in the Bible that virtually everyone uses at their wedding, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Although there are a lot of descriptions presented, there are two words that bookend that passage and puts the rest into perspective: patience and perseverance. In essence, true love waits.

We hear “true love waits” as a slogan on many occasions, usually in a positive, romantic light. Usually it is about saving yourself for marriage in a physical sense. The implication is there that you should have true love going into your marriage, and if your love is true then you will be patient in your journey towards marriage. That’s all well and good, but then, at some point, it suggests the waiting must be over. In reality, it isn’t always about patience before marriage. Rather, “true love waits” can also be a plea of desperation to wait out the storm. It can be a saddening call to not leave, to remember the small things, and to wait for cooler heads.

How can it be true love in both cases? What is love waiting for? Does the waiting ever end? The truth is, love is waiting forever to fully comprehend it. It’s not just waiting before you are married. It is also waiting during marriage. It is waiting every day. It is both waiting for the good to come and the bad to pass, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. It is patience. It is perseverance. You see, love isn’t something that is added to every day. It isn’t something we add layers to over and over again. It isn’t a jigsaw puzzle that continually expands in size. No, it is a point in space. It is a substantive center that we spiral around, trying to get closer with each passing moment. It is a jigsaw puzzle where we don’t constantly discover additional pieces to a finished set, but rather the right ones for an unfinished picture that slowly comes into focus.

Much like the falsehood of constantly adding layers of love, we actually start our relationships covered in layers of expectations, whether it is cultural, societal, or otherwise. We have a warped picture on the front of the puzzle box that is too small to make out all of the intricate details. True love is chipping away at those bloated expectations, trying to futilely reach the very center of its being, knowing we are getting closer but never quite fully getting there at any given moment. True love waits until the next piece is placed to get a better idea of what’s there. True love waits to reach the center. True love waits until we see the whole picture and take it in.

Attempting to reach an understanding of love’s substance is a paradox. It is at the heart of a relationship, but yet true love is impossible to fully comprehend. Each passing day brings the joy of getting a little closer, whether it be during an up or after a down, yet it also brings a touch of sadness in any moment when you realize that you didn’t have the clarity before that you have now. Unlike telling yourself the falsehood that each day is a fathomable true love, you need to understand that you are still running a race together towards a goal. And, in the end, when you lay down together completely vulnerable in your waning time on Earth, when “until death does us part” starts to enter into your mind and isn’t just a vow you say with blissful ignorance, you will look back and get it. You’ll understand in that moment how far you’ve come and how much you have touched. In that instant, you’ll occupy that same substantive point together in space regardless of distance, and the only thing you’ll care about is not leaving. There will be no more expectations to chip away, no more pieces to place. Just love. And there, you will fully grasp that your love was unconditional, because you will see that you have loved through all conditions.

Love isn’t for the impatient. There is no instant gratification in it, nor will you understand it immediately and revel in it forever. So, it’s truly hard for me to give anyone advice about love. It is really a lifelong journey to fully comprehend that requires the patience of waiting your entire lives to fully see. All that I know is, for my wife, I will keep spiraling towards the center with you in this journey not of loving more each day, but rather understanding it more each day. I will keep building the puzzle with you. I will keep waiting forever with you. In the end, it will be a joyous sight when we look back at the beautiful pattern in space we’ve made together to get there.

War of All Against All


So it finally happened. The build-up of an entire season, the tension, and every drop of sweat that came with it, all pointed to the moment where we would meet him: Negan, the man, the legend. The one with a pentient for words, ascots, and bats wrapped in barbed wire who possibly share a name with your grandmother.

Of course some people hated the cliffhanger. Someone was going to die, and God forbid Americans get denied their vicarious bloodshed. But, that’s beside the point. When Negan pointed Lucille at the camera after his pee pee pants city version of eeny meeny miney moe, he did something more than pick which actor was not getting their contract renewed. He was going to murder your very idea of morality with a handful of Hobbesian swings to its head.


Ok, so it’s possible that the writers weren’t thinking about any deep moral implications when they wrote any of it, but they are certainly there at a base level. Negan’s character was, by Robert Kirkman’s admission, supposed to present a kind of moral ambiguity:

Negan is kind. Negan is respectful. Negan is psychotic. Negan is ruthless. This is a very nuanced character that has a lot of different shades to him.

As Rick and Co. were trying to get Maggie to the Hilltop to potentially save her unborn child, most people recoiled and watched in horror as Negan’s Saviors slowly showed their size, cunning, and as Kirkman put it, ruthlessness. These are really, really bad people. I mean sure, Rick murdered a bunch of people in their sleep, but Negan is awful.

Look at Negan’s Saviors, though. Look at how many of them there are. Never before have we seen a group of survivors so large. He has assembled a large group of people under the same flag, and he seems to be able to take care of them all. Isn’t that good and noble? Arguably, up to this point, no one person in the entire show has “saved” as many people as Negan obviously has. If the end goal of a zombie apocalypse is to restart the human race, Negan seems to be fairing much better than anyone else.

So therein lies the greater questions. Is Negan truly bad? How can you tell? How do you know? Really, ask yourself if Negan is bad or wrong. It’s important because the interaction between the Saviors and Rick’s group are not only putting social contract theory on full display, but also because it’s calling into question the very origins of morality.


So, I’ve written a lot about The Walking Dead for the past month or so, and arguably that’s because this season has done for us what it has done for the characters: given us time to think. The viewers were in survival mode as much as the survivors as we watched them being funneled into what seemed like a whole lot of forced choices. Recently, the story has focused on the characters being able to catch their breath for stretches (between Wolves, hordes, and other assorted things) and actually think about what’s going on, allowing us to ponder some of the same things.

In those other musings, I discussed the family being the building block of society and how our fledgling Ricktatorship made its first societal decision to go to war. Inevitably, we now have societies interacting and not just individuals, but how are these societies forming? What is the glue that keeps these societies together that are starting to spring up all over the countryside?

While not explicit, we have seen the manifestation of social contract theory. Social contract theory has been around for a long time in one form or another, but they generally share the idea that societies are created when individuals, upon interacting with other individuals, cede some of their freedom to an authority in exchange for protection of their other freedoms. In essence, theories generally start off with an individual in nature, by himself or herself, and then try to describe why they would enter into society with other individuals. There has to be an original state of man before we can figure out why one would want to join with others.

Even though the roots are deep, the Enlightenment really brought social contract theory into its own, particularly through the work of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.


Thomas Hobbes was influential on social contract theory through his book, Leviathan.

Dude needs an ascot and some barbed wire around that scepter-thing.

Dude needs an ascot and some barbed wire around that scepter-thing.

In the writing, Hobbes tried to imagine man in his original state, or “state of nature” for the individual, with no government or controlling entity over him. To Hobbes, a person in the state of nature had the right to everything and anything in the world. While that might sound fantastic, it truly isn’t for Hobbes, considering that you probably aren’t alone. If others are out there in the state of nature, they, too, have a right to everything in the world. This ultimately leads to, as Hobbes put it, bellum omnium contra omnes, or war of all against all. It led to his famous description of life in this state:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

An individual, by himself, has no one to answer to but himself, but he is driven by the constant fear of being killed by others who likewise don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves. At some point, to remove the most fundamental fear of the individual, two or more people are driven to decide that they will accept not being killed in exchange for their ability to kill others. Society starts off, then, as a form of cold war through mutually assured destruction. Joe gives up his right to kill others without consequence if John also gives up his right to do the same. So, no one kills anyone else not because it is inherently wrong, but rather because they don’t want to be killed. The only way to make sure this rule stays in place is to have some form of governing body to monitor it, and voila, society is born.

Of course it gets more complicated once we get past not murdering each other, but we have to start somewhere. This actually evolved into the theory of realism in international politics, where societies then become like individuals in the state of nature when interacting with other societies in the infinite struggle of maintaining oneself in exchange for not offing your neighbor.


John Locke’s work, although still social contract theory, differed pretty substantially from Hobbes. Whereas they both agreed that people are inclined to form societies out of the state of nature, Locke essentially argued that there was morality to human action prior to the social contract as opposed to evolving from the social contract. To Locke, there was the Law of Nature that dictated action, and what people lacked was the power to protect their own rights from others who violated the Law of Nature. The State, then, would be mutually agreed upon by individuals seeking to protect themselves from those that would seek to injure them.

Natural Law is central to much of Western thought, from the ancient Greeks to Catholic theology. In discussing Natural Law, Cicero put it succinctly (as quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church):

For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense… To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

In essence, there is an inherent order to nature that is universal and unbreakable. This law exists above and beyond man and, although we may violate the law (and hence why we would want protection from its violation by forming society), it can never be legislated away. As I’ve written before, the idea of Natural Law is actually central to the very foundation of the United States of America.


Why social contract theory is so interesting when held up to The Walking Dead is because we have been witnessing man in the state of nature throughout most of the series. Think about it, if you were a lone survivor wandering through the wilderness (a la Enid eating a turtle), what possibly guides your actions? How can any modern notion of action apply to a situation where there is no actor but yourself? How can modern moral relativism, where we define morality simply by whether or not it hurts others, matter at all when there are no others to hurt?

This is the state that most all survivors are found in, and whether they started as a small group or they were an individual found by others, at some point they gave up a little bit of their freedom of action in that state of being in exchange for greater protection as a member of the group. In Negan’s case, he brokered this exchange under his own authority, as opposed to Rick’s more organic form of coming into a leadership role. Still, each new cast member on the show had, at some point, their social contract moment.

We are seeing, then, the most basic functional society possible in terms of being ostensibly one step removed from individuals in a state of nature. However, now we have the Hobbesian realism where we are simply trading single celled organisms in a state of nature for multi-celled organisms in a state of nature. Conflict may be averted between individuals, but now we have conflicts with societies. So, in a state of nature such as this, how is Negan the “bad guy” of the story?

What the conflict between the Saviors and our survivors is doing is putting the very root of our morality to the test by laying it bare. If morality is relative, if morality has no basis other than being a result of mutually assured destruction via social contract, then you cannot possibly argue that Negan is, in fact, bad. His Saviors are the new collective individual in the state of nature, and with their size, he has no reason to enter into a social contract with Rick’s group. Rick tried, he asked to talk it out, but why should Negan talk anything out? Rick had no power. The tables had turned from when Rick had the upper hand and refused to talk it out while he killed a few Saviors in their sleep. What Negan is showing you is the ultimate end of moral relativity, as this is exactly what it looks like. There is no authority higher than mankind and its social contracts, and Negan has no one to answer to but himself because he controls all of the contracts.

Does that sit well with you? Or do you still feel like Negan is bad, evil, wrong, or all of the above? To argue that individuals in the state of nature still have guiding principles, you would have to acknowledge that there is some authority higher than man. There would have to be some law than man could not alter. Like Aristotle, Cicero, and Locke, you would have to acknowledge a universal constant above our control. In essence, is murder wrong because it violates someone else’s right to life, or is it wrong because we’ve collectively agreed to not murder each other for fear of punishment from our mutually established authority above us? Is there a greater authority above someone like Negan, or is Negan the authority because there is no one higher than him? This is the very internal struggle Carol is now going through on the show as she begins to view her own actions through a different lens. For so long, she killed because there was no higher authority than her own survival. Now, she’s not so sure, and perhaps there is a morality above her own power that she has been flaunting for so long.

We are lucky that most of us already live in a fully functioning society. We don’t have to necessarily worry ourselves with how or why it formed and we can simply enjoy the protection it offers. However, we should never be immune from having to think about any of our actions, and whatever moral code we ascribe to our actions should hold true from the beginning and beyond. Hobbes was often accused of being an atheist for his theories, which he denied, but one can see why that label would hold weight. In a state of nature with free action, there is no right or wrong, and right and wrong are simply societal constructs to protect ourselves from others. For Locke, though, right and wrong are inherent and universal in nature itself, and you can certainly imply divinity there if you felt so inclined.

I won’t guide anyone one way or another, but Negan and the Saviors certainly are the most perfect demonstration of social contract theory and the very foundation of morality. So, is Negan wrong in his actions because his actions are inherently wrong, or is Negan right because there is no one to tell him he’s wrong? In our base state, is it truly a war of all against all, or are we called to be defenders of all against some? Whatever the answer, kudos to Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead for providing us such a thought provoking character and story.

Thomas Aquinas and Zombies


Amazingly enough, The Walking Dead keeps spitting out those morals dilemmas faster than I can keep up with them.  For the second post in a row, I find myself pondering what the show is laying down.  And boy, is it laying it down hard.

In my last writing, I attempted to delve into The Walking Dead’s treatment of society by touching on both family and life as the building blocks of civilization.  So, now that we have civilization (or some proto-form of it), where do we go from there?  Of course it would be easy for everyone to kick back, start farming, and try to learn Latin, but you’d be a fool to think our favorite survivors would have an easy road.  Or you read the comics.  Either way, to quote our favorite mullet-coiffed character, we are now in “Phase 2” of society mode: how to deal with other societies.


Sweet hair not necessary, but helpful.


After Rick’s realization that he wants to truly build again through family, he and Daryl have an unexpected meeting with a “clean” gentleman on the road.  Through a bit of trickery, and quite a bit of slipperiness, the man who goes by the name of Jesus ends of getting away with the team’s large haul.  Not for long, though, as they chase him down, lose their supplies that they were trying to recover in the process, and (begrudgingly on Daryl’s part in a sort of role reversal) haul Jesus back to Alexandria.  Jesus, being part Houdini, breaks free and has some stunning news for our mostly clothed group, explaining that there are other groups of survivors out there.  The world got bigger instantaneously as Jesus explained that he is from the Hilltop community.

Now, not only is the world bigger, but it just got a whole lot more complicated.  Besides a misunderstanding and a long chase scene, Jesus committed no acts of violence, even though he could have on numerous occasions.  For the first time, Rick’s group can start a meeting with other human beings from a perspective of diplomacy instead of bullets.  Diplomacy offers some healthier options than blood, namely trade and possible mutual assistance.  For the first time in the show, a meeting can occur in relative peace.

That is, until blackmailed Hilltop members come back to kill Hilltop’s leader for another group of survivors with some issues.  Like the mob, the Saviors said they’d protect Hilltop if they gave them pretty much all of their stuff.  Hilltop of course agreed, albeit under a bit of duress and through the Saviors’ style of diplomacy via dead bodies.  Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha had their own meeting with a band of Saviors prior to meeting Hilltop, and it went poorly until a well-placed RPG hit some motorcycles.

So, Rick and the gang, who desperately need supplies, strike a deal.  Food for blood.  Peace and trade for war and death.  And make no bones about it, that’s what it is.  The survivors have had plenty of conflicts, but it’s different this time, because a conflict between two societies is war.


Rick holds a town meeting to finalize their trade arrangement.  Besides Morgan’s predictable disapproval, the Alexandrians are clearly in favor of defending themselves preemptively.  The plan is quick, decisive, and brutal.  Rick and the survivors find the Saviors’ compound and, in the middle of the night while most of them slept, pretty much slaughtered all of them like cattle.  It was gut-wrenching to watch as some of the characters take their first human life in such a cold manner, driving knives through the skulls of their unconscious enemies.

The big questions that I’m sure went through every viewer’s mind that night were simple.  Were they right?  Were they justified?  Again, whether they know it or not, the writers of The Walking Dead have now broached another philosophical concept in Just War Theory.

Like most philosophical topics, there are smart people throughout history that thought about this stuff long before we did.  Thomas Aquinas was just such a man, and he covered this very topic in his Summa Theologica.  In his writing, Aquinas stated that there are three things necessary for a war to be just, so let’s see how Alexandria stacks up.


Writing took an extra step back then.


First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged.

The first requirement for a just war derives from a sovereign authority.  Aquinas points this out because war must always be carried out for the common good of the people, so naturally those with authority over the common good need to be making the decision.  An individual cannot summon an army of the people to take care of his grievances, after all.

Does such a sovereign authority exist within our group of survivors?  Arguably, it does.  As funny as the “Ricktatorship” slogan is, there is a modicum of truth to it.  Prior to her death, Deanna was clearly running the show in Alexandria, and after bringing in Rick’s group, she also very clearly began the process of handing the reins over.  Even if he wasn’t clearly the leader, Rick called together all of Alexandria to essentially vote on whether or not war was the answer.  If Rick isn’t a sovereign authority over Alexandria, the entirety of Alexandria had a say in the matter.

So, this requirement seems to be met, although few likely had a problem with the actual decision to fight.

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.

Aquinas explains this point by simply quoting Augustine, who also opined on the subject.  “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Whereas the survivors had little interaction with the people that led the Saviors, it’s hard to say that their first encounter with them was anything but belligerent.  The motorcycle gang of Saviors clearly wanted to take everything the survivors had at the moment, and it looked as if they were seconds away from killing one of them.  Most would say that the aforementioned RPG was fired in self-defense.

Furthermore, Rick witnessed firsthand that the Survivors’ diplomacy tactics were questionable.  Well, I think most would agree that blackmailing someone to murder someone else is questionable.

It seems as if there are plenty of wrongs to be avenged, and the Hilltop’s supplies were unjustly seized for the Saviors’ “protection.”  However, at the time, there was little actual contact with the group by anyone from Alexandria.  Can we be sure that they refused to make amends?  Has it ever been discussed?  Are we sure that these aren’t rogue groups?  Although there was no contact, it seemed on each occasion that the Saviors were doing it on behalf of their leader, Negan.  It’s safe to say that these weren’t isolated incidents, and that the continued use of such tactics is a refusal to make amends for wrongs committed.

I would say this requirement is met as well.

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.

Augustine is again quoted by Aquinas to further describe what is meant, further discussing right intention.  “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

Being viewers of a TV show, we often have clear views into the motivations of some characters.  Rick, in particular, seemingly turned a new leaf in wanting a new world for his son and newfound family.  It would be hard to imagine that he would immediately destroy that with a dangerous war.  He is not out for power, for vengeance (at that point there was nothing really to even avenge), or some kind of masochistic desire to cause others harm.  The war comes into focus through desiring peace with Alexandria’s neighbors and, to probably a greater extent, pure survival.  Although not entirely altruistic, there is a desire to see Hilltop at peace just as much as Alexandria, and the Saviors seem to be a threat to that peace.

So, it would appear that the criteria are met for Alexandria’s war with the Saviors.  However, that’s only half of the analysis, and it is what followed that caused the most pause.


The above section was mainly in regards to jus ad bellum, or right to war.  However, even if there is a just cause, what about the conduct during a just war?  This is a separate philosophy know as jus in bello, or law in war.

First, it is clear that Rick and his group are, in essence, ambushing the enemy.  Aquinas states that the purpose of an ambush is to deceive the enemy, but he makes a distinction between two types of deception: lying and not declaring purpose.  To Aquinas, lying is always wrong, whether it be saying something false or breaking a promise.  However, not declaring your purpose is not the same:

[A] man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this… Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy by Frontinus. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.

Nor can these ambushes be properly called deceptions, nor are they contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him.

In war, much of the conduct, whether it be troop movements or battle strategy, has to be concealed from the enemy.  What is the alternative?  If, during war, the enemy knew all of your plans, surely it would come at the loss of both troops and, most likely, the war itself.  Likewise, an enemy shouldn’t expect their opponents to divulge that information.  So, ambushes aren’t necessarily unjust as a tactic.

Aquinas, unfortunately, doesn’t go much beyond that for conduct during war, and that is also where it becomes the most grey for our survivors.  First, it goes without saying, that the Saviors were never even aware of Alexandria’s existence, let alone that they were in a war.  However, with the way they conducted themselves, it would be difficult to say that they shouldn’t have expected retaliation at some point.

The real difficulty, though, lies in more modern principles of jus in bello as it pertains to civilians.  Military action needs to be 1.) directed towards enemy combatants, 2.) conducted so as to not excessively harm civilians, and 3.) a legitimate military objective.  In the world of The Walking Dead, it is virtually impossible to say who is a civilian and who is an enemy combatant, and unfortunately you don’t necessarily have time to sit and ask.  Rick’s group had a clear military objective in reaching the armory first, but how would you classify a man sleeping in his bunk?  Are you sure they are fighters?  Would they have surrendered if given the opportunity?


Back in Alexandria, Morgan began the construction of a prison cell while the assault was underway to give Rick “options.”  And, perhaps, that is a meaningful addition to Alexandria’s society.  In the ancient world, corporal punishment and executions were often used not as deterrents, but rather because there was no other meaningful way to protect society from those who sought to harm it.

In a world where every person is a potential threat, and there is no distinction between civilian and soldier (much like ongoing issues surrounding terrorism), it can leave one wondering what is right and wrong in conflict.  Still, Morgan may be right.  It isn’t enough for society to be born, it needs to be maintained as well.  Without options, without the ability to show mercy and to always punish, society may not be able to move past its first steps.  That’s why the assault on the Saviors’ compound was so difficult, because for once Rick and the group could decide.  They weren’t forced to kill and they weren’t acting on instinct.  Rather, they were making a conscious, societal decision on how to conduct themselves along blurred lines.

Alexandria might have been right in their decision to go to war, but their conduct during war was inching towards the gray.  It can be argued that their action was justified, and maybe it was, but the trouble with acting in the gray is that it can inch towards black or white.  It can always potentially lead down the wrong path as easily as it can move towards the right one.  Either way, most fans want Rick and his group to do the right thing, and that’s why it hurts to see them venture into the morally ambiguous.  They may be good by comparison to a group like the Saviors, but there is no guarantee that there will always be good guys in the end.

The Walking Alive


There, got that part out of the way.  Anyway, The Walking Dead is, for the most part, not a happy show. Zombie apocalypses generally don’t lend themselves well to feel good stories, long walks in the park, and puppies. I mean, I’m sure there are still puppies out there, but it’s hard to cuddle with them when flesh-eating monsters are ambling towards you with teeth a-chomping.

We are more than halfway through the sixth season, and the characters have had their ups and downs. Some are permanently down, since it’s hard to recover from death. Still, even though it was hidden in plain sight, the past few episodes, particularly the most recent one entitled “Knots Untie” that aired this week, have given what might be the most basic and perfect glimpse into human society that has appeared on TV for some time.  And, it was done beautifully through something that seems contrary to the title of the show: life.


For those that watch the show, our hero, Rick Grimes, begins his adventure when he wakes up after things have already gone down the toilet. There are some moments where he has to learn the hard way about maneuvering in the new rotting flesh world, but uncertainty about the world at large keeps hope alive for a time. He finds other survivors, along with his wife and son (odds aside), and they try to find out just how bad things are. Sure, they are in survival mode, but they are still largely struggling to get a glimmer of hope that the world isn’t over. There is still a struggle to stay civilized.

That hope fades, though. Each turn becomes grimmer, even if they take steps forward for brief moments. The band of survivors finds a family farm and tries to coexist, only to be overrun by zombies.



They find an abandoned prison, only to be overrun by a sociopath along with his unwitting teammates.

And zombies.

And zombies.

They seek refuge in a mysterious settlement, only to be prepared as dinner for other people.

And then get overrun by zombies.

And then get overrun by zombies.

They head to DC because they think they have a scientist that has the answers, only to figure out it was a lie, and then arrive at a settlement anyway and get overrun by crazy people.

And zombies.

And zombies.

If you’ve watched the show, you know the drill.

Through the slow burn, Rick Grimes begins to not only lose hope for civilization, but he also begins to completely lose his humanity. As his beard grows and he becomes more disheveled, he soon almost becomes an animal and, in my opinion, it reaches its lowest point in the final episode of Season 4. Backed into a horrible situation by horrible people, Rick actually bites out the throat of his captor. It was the transformative moment in Rick Grimes’s downward spiral and, quite possibly, his lowest point when it came to cementing his loss of humanity. He looked like the walkers they were trying to avoid.


The interesting thing about Rick’s loss of humanity is that it follows an interesting linear progression. Sense of civilization is lost, then sense of family is lost, then sense of self is lost. It is a sort of funnel in regards to loss of purpose and identity, and at the other end is the most basic portions of existence in the form of pure survival. Eventually, when they are on the run, all that matters is making it to the next day. Nothing else is important, nor could it really be under the circumstances.

Of course the show would be pure misery if it stayed that way forever. A rebound does start to slowly build for Rick and his band of survivors once they reach Alexandria. The walled city that still lived in relative luxury was a shockingly stark contrast that was incredibly hard to deal with for the group (and Rick in particular). There was still an us vs. them mentality, and the weak Alexandrians were seen as soft and, possibly, a huge liability to survival. Rick was hell-bent on making them “understand” how the world now works.

Things slowly change as they spend more time there, and in a story arc that took half of the sixth season, Rick has his turning point. After the heartbreak of losing others he started to grow close to, as well as seemingly losing his son, Rick goes on a final suicide attack on the zombie horde that has at that point surrounded them. But he doesn’t die. The Alexandrians rally around him and, with luck and an RPG launched from a fuel tanker, the day is won. It is in those moments that Rick turns it around. And what realization does Rick have that makes him flip the switch?

Family. These people are family. And he needs to treat them that way instead of liabilities or just a few more people to watch his back. This is the “new world” that Rick now wants to show his children.


Even though it may seem obvious, it really isn’t. What The Walking Dead showed in that moment is something so basic and fundamental to humanity that it takes a complete loss of it to fully grasp it. If there is any hope to build (or rebuild) society, you absolutely need to have its most fundamental building block: the family. Without a sense of family, Rick lost his humanity. And, on the other hand, Rick could begin to regain his humanity through the formation of family. Without family, what are we but lone survivors in the wild? Likewise, if you were to build society from the ground up, like the survivors on the show, where should you start but family?

This realization of the importance of family was building through multiple angles and at different times. Glenn was probably the earliest one to, on some level, understand the need for family. Hershel, the owner of the farm that got overrun by zombies, didn’t accept Glenn at first. It was through his taking in Glenn as almost a son and giving his daughter’s hand to Glenn in marriage that planted those early seeds. Glenn’s respect for Hershel and family is readily apparent in his desire to marry Maggie in the first place. To think, in a time when the world is ending, that marriage is even a thought in his head. Glenn’s respect for Hershel and family guided his respect for a societal tradition that didn’t seem like it would be necessary anymore.

Michonne, another survivor that lost much during the apocalypse, spends a lot of time with Rick and his children, Carl and Judith. Michonne slowly begins treating Carl as if he was her own son during their journey, and she too has her own epiphany, stemming from a conversation with Deanna, the “mayor” of Alexandria. At one point, Deanna asks Michonne what she truly wants for her whole life. Michonne ends up helping Spencer deal with his eventually zombified mother, Deanna, after Carl led her to them in the woods, and when confronting Carl about his recklessness, they have this exchange:

Michonne: “Was that some sort of game out there? Did you think that…”

Carl: “No”

Michonne: “Then why?”

Carl: “Because it should be someone who loved her, someone who’s family, and I’d do it for you. I would.”

Michonne: “Come here. Me too.”

In that moment, Michonne realizes that what she wants for her whole life is family. Likewise, Carl finds his anchor point in family after the ordeal.

These are some of the biggest examples from the show, but the thread is the same. After losing civilization, after losing hope, and after simply surviving, they can only come back and start to regain hope for humanity by rediscovering family.


It doesn’t end there, though. This realization brings them together and gives them a common purpose other than survival. They have the beginning of civilization in their hands. But, is it enough to rebuild?

Deanna had grand plans for Alexandria. Expansion, farming, even a church. There were search parties to find survivors and bring them into the fold. Deanna wanted to rebuild society from the ground up. Still, we need to ask ourselves this: why? Why should any of them care to rebuild? By the time they expand and get things off the ground, will some of them even be alive to enjoy the fruits of their labors? What hope do they have for their efforts if they will all eventually die?

This, again, is the next obvious, yet forgotten, part of the equation. It is hinted at with Morgan’s return and philosophy, but the other characters themselves don’t quite get it yet.  Particularly Abraham. With Maggie being pregnant and Abraham dealing with his own struggles revolving around women and his future, he asks Glenn in his typical Abraham way: “When you were pouring the bisquick, were you trying to make pancakes?”

Glenn doesn’t know what he’s asking at first, but most of us with our minds in the gutter knew pretty quick what he was getting at. Glenn’s answer is stunning to Abraham when he acknowledges that they fully understood what they were doing, and they wanted to. Abraham is incredulous and follows up with another colorful piece of Abraham linguistics in the following exchange:

Abraham: “Well, given the precarious state of affairs on any given Sunday, I am damn near floored that you or anyone else would have the cojones to make a call like that.”

Glenn: “I mean, well… we’re trying to build something, me and her. All of us.”

Abraham: “For the record, I see rain coming, I’m wearing galoshes.”

Abraham’s reaction can’t be faulted. How could anyone possibly want to have and raise a child in this new world? Interestingly, how often do we ask ourselves that question even though we are in nowhere near the same dire straits as the characters on the show? Abraham’s not ready for it, and he can’t fathom how anyone would make that decision consciously.

It isn’t the first time that there was a pregnancy on the show. Rick’s wife Lori became pregnant much earlier in the show with Judith, along with the drama of not knowing who the father was. There was the same thought process that was driving Abraham’s questions. Is this really a world to bring a new life into? Can she deal with the uncertainty of who fathered the child? Should she even have the child? Perhaps Lori came to the same realization as Glenn and Maggie, but Glenn vocalized it in the above exchange. They are building something. Not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Subtly, and maybe not entirely unknowingly, The Walking Dead has shone the light on what is needed to make civilization. It isn’t just family on its own. They had that now. No, family is the building block, and what springs from that human relationship is life. Deanna wanted to build walls and farms, but what good are they without life to fill the walls, to till the soil, and to eat the food? You see, Deanna was building family and community. Glenn and Maggie consciously decided to take family and build civilization.

Glenn and Maggie, on their way to meeting another functioning colony, happened to rescue a doctor who was an obstetrician before the mayhem. As a part of a trade deal with their new semi-neighbors, Maggie ended up getting a sonogram and a checkup for her pregnancy. On the ride home they shared the picture. Words weren’t said, but the looks on both Darryl’s and Abraham’s faces said it all. They were no longer simply fighting for their own future. They were fighting for THE future.


In today’s world, it’s hard to see the simple with the multitude of distractions in front of us. Also, many of us live lives of relative ease, especially when compared to the doomsday that we see weekly on The Walking Dead, so the simple often escapes us. We frequently hear the phrase about not being able to see the forest for the trees to caution us about getting lost in the details. Why worry about the tree when there is a whole forest out there? But the tree is at the heart of the forest, and the seed is the beginning of the tree. Such is the, for a lack of a better phrase, simplicity of the complexity of the human relationship, where such a simple detail gets lost in the shuffle. We bond with each other, from that bond springs life, and the bonds of the future weave themselves into a beautiful web that forms our society.

Now, even with how basic of a concept it is regarding family, society, and life, it leads to arguments today. Some, unfortunately, can’t have children. Others choose not to have them. None of this is to say that having children is necessary for a life to have meaning. However, we are starting to collectively forget what gives birth to civilization. When we fail to realize the dignity of every life, or of life itself, we see the degradation of society through the rejection of its very core. Children are the future, and those without children, as they grow into their twilight years, will need to rely upon the children of others in order to keep society alive and moving into that future.   We need to return to a societal understanding that life is precious and in need of our protection for the good of all humanity, whether we have children, can’t have children, or don’t want children. Having children isn’t necessary to respect the dignity of all human life.

Looking back on The Walking Dead as it has progressed, it is truly amazing how they have brought the most basic parts of the human condition into the spotlight. In order to show us civilization, they tore it down to its very core. And now, through one sonogram picture in a sea of despair, we are being shown how to bring civilization back. It’s fascinating how a show about the dead can teach us so much about life.

An American’s Guide to America for Americans

With each Presidential election cycle, it seems like the United States is becoming more divided. The old adage of “two Americas” always seems to ring true as we squabble from our opposite poles. Along with the inevitable squabbles comes the inevitable platitudes and slogans from the candidates, and this time around it is much of the same. Much like Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra, we now have Trump’s “Make America Great Again” to echo across the hills and plains. Are we electing a president, or are we shopping for breakfast cereals?

Make America grrrRREAAT!

Make America grrrRREAAT!

Oddly enough, as we seemingly grow more distant from our fellow Americans, the slogans are converging into the same hollow meaninglessness: things are crap now and need to change.

As I’ve touched on before, discussions of change inherently have two pieces: what was it before, and what is it becoming? The United States finds itself in that odd place where its past is far enough away to become storybook tradition, but unlike other countries around the globe, there isn’t enough ingrained within the American psyche to provide some kind of unified experience as a foundation. This is a shame, because the United States truly holds a unique foundation that is slowly being forgotten.


When one thinks of revolution, it usually carries a certain political connotation because of the direction revolution has taken the globe in recent history. Marxist revolutions in China and Russia usually come to mind as historical reference points, particularly because of their temporal proximity and their philosophical roots. Revolutions can often take the form of fighting for political independence as well, which can be for any number of reasons, whether it is political, ethnic, or otherwise.

Even though it is called the Revolutionary War, the birth of the United States is rarely treated as a revolution anymore. We celebrate Independence Day every Fourth of July, we have a historical concept of the colonies fighting for independence from the British, and we have vague memories of mottos like “taxation without representation.” It is, however, a great disservice to only remember the Revolutionary War in terms of politics and independence. The truth is that the Revolutionary War was just as much a true philosophical revolution as its more modern counterparts, and its implications were the first of their kind.

Central to this philosophical revolution is, in a nutshell, the concept of the origination of rights. As basic as that concept may seem, it is one that people shed blood over and one that our Founding Fathers argued over centuries ago. And, strangely enough, it seems that we are reigniting that argument as we speak.


Essentially, the “old world” thinking of rights had them flowing directly from the monarchy, and that can be traced to concepts like the divine right of kings (when looking at England and France in particular). Rights and law were declared from the throne, by the will of God, and was something bestowed upon the masses. Kings could not be questioned because of this divine authority. The concept of centralized power certainly extends beyond that, but it usually shares the same top down approach.

The founding of the United States placed this whole way of thinking on its head. Starting with the Declaration of Independence, rights were something immutably granted to the masses directly by Natural Law, not through a king or government or other organization of mankind. This is enshrined in the language of the document:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This, in fact, was a direct repudiation of the ideology that all men derive their rights from their king or government, but rather received them directly from God.

Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence lists the following as a self-evident truth:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

All rights originate in the individual and flow upward, and they do not originate from a king and flow downward. The government does not exist by nature and bestow rights upon the people, but rather it exists as a creation of man to protect the rights inherent in the people. This very concept was later codified in the Constitution, where the main thrust of the document really can be summed up as “We the people allow the government to do x, y, and z on our behalf because we freely give it the authority to do so, not because the government has the inherent power to do so.”


During the creation of the Constitution, two distinct parties emerged: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. Generally speaking, the Federalists supported the Constitution as written, advocating for a stronger national government to handle national affairs. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists feared a strong national government and opposed the Constitution, seeing it as a threat to the states and, therefore, the individual.

When discussing the Constitution, inevitably one thinks about the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was not, however, included in the original Constitution and was later added as amendments. When the Constitution was being written, there was actually a lot of argument about incorporating a Bill of Rights. The reason for the debate wasn’t necessarily because any of the ideas presented were opposed, but more because of how the idea of a national government was viewed. One side (the Federalists) felt it was assumed that the rights mentioned were retained, as were all rights, by the people unless they expressly consented otherwise. The other side (the anti-Federalists) was afraid that a strong national government was a threat to individual rights, so rights therefore need to be more expressly stated.

The Federalists argument won the day in the end and a Bill of Rights was not originally incorporated. It was assumed that rights were retained by the people if not explicitly granted to government through the Constitution. Essentially, if the people say the government can only go straight, they don’t also have to say that the government can’t turn left or right. The issue continued, however, and shortly after a Bill of Rights was added via a series of amendments that James Madison famously noted as being “useful, not essential.” The compromise of adding them as amendments kept the Constitution in place and saved the new country from reopening the debate about its foundation.

The Bill of Rights was contentious because both arguments had merit. The reason for not including it centered on the fear that, if government is the source of defining or granting rights, then government ultimately can take them away or change them. Your rights are, therefore, nothing more than what the government wills under the control of their pen. Alexander Hamilton believed that the Constitution was inherently a Bill of Rights, arguing against a specific Bill of Rights by stating:

“Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was “Magna Charta,” obtained by the Barons, swords in hand, from King John.”

On the other hand, could there really be harm in protecting as much as possible? Thomas Jefferson believed a Bill of Rights was better than nothing, stating:

“Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can.”

No matter what side of the argument you look at, it is impossible to deny a common thread shared by both: the fear of government infringing the rights of the people. The idea of universal rights, or unalienable rights, can only exist if the source of those rights are above the control of man, and that philosophical idea from the revolution permeated the founding of the United States. You can infer divinity in the discussion of unalienable rights if you’d like, but in the very least they can only be unalienable if they are untouchable by the virtue of being granted by an authority higher than ourselves. The importance of the rights of the individual, endowed by their Creator, and the protection of them from tyranny define the very foundation of America. This American philosophy was perfectly summarized by Jefferson:

“Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”

Government should truly be limited to the intersection of our wills, and we should retain everything else.

So, with all of that on the table, how can we apply that to some of our modern debates?  It is vitally important to remember our philisophical history as we delve into recent topics, and there are a few poignant examples.


Unbeknownst to many, we are having some of the same debates on rights to this day. One presidential candidate in particular, Bernie Sanders, has made rights a central theme of his campaign, particularly when it comes to things like healthcare and housing. In a recent speech about his political philosophy, Sanders spoke candidly about his beliefs:

“In that remarkable speech this is what Roosevelt said, and I quote: ‘We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.’ In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time we did…The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care. What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later and what I believe today, is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.”

His statements resonate with many as we begin the election year, and he is pushing for much of his list as legal rights. But, how does it compare with the American philosophical idea of rights?

The issue with Bernie Sanders’s idea of rights is twofold: 1.) they are the very thing that the Federalists feared, which is the notion that the government legally enshrines rights much like a king grants them to his people from the throne, and 2.) the right to the service provided by another human being is something that should give us pause no matter the moral good we are trying to achieve. Thomas Jefferson explained the inherent problem in such declarations of positive rights:

“It is a principle that the right to a thing gives a right to the means without which it could not be used, that is to say, that the means follow their end.”

Healthcare, housing, college education, etc. are all ends, but it is unspoken that you must therefore have a right to the means as well, and those means are provided by others. The right to housing means you have the right to have someone build you a house. The right to education means you have the right to have someone teach you. The right to healthcare means you have the right to have a doctor treat you. You are going beyond just yourself with all of those and, by the Jeffersonian definition of liberty, you are crossing the limit of your rights that are drawn around you by the rights of others.

Anyone can sympathize with wanting our fellow man to be secure, but is returning to the idea that rights flow from the government, and are therefore things given to the people from the government, the proper route? Is this a return to America’s philosophical roots, or is this a fundamental change to them? Does true freedom depend on economic security given to us by government, or is true freedom our base state and economic insecurity exists because of roadblocks that possibly exist due to government? Whatever the answer, the base question is as old as the Revolutionary War.


Gun violence has been a hot topic recently, with widely reported stories of horrible violence occurring at what seems like a fantastic rate. Statistics are fired like bullets from the aforementioned guns, and there are passionate supporters on both sides of the argument. America’s “Gun Culture” is often referenced, but what is often lost in translation for both sides of the argument is the philosophical underpinnings to gun ownership that not only naturally flow from a discussion of rights, but are also protected in each of our founding documents.

Earlier, two self-evident truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence were referenced: the idea of unalienable rights and that government is instituted by man to secure them. There is, however, a third self-evident truth that naturally follows the first two in the Declaration of Independence:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

If a government no longer secures the right of the people, and becomes destructive in regards to its role to do so, then the people can change it or get rid of it. It is powerful and frightening language, particularly because “abolishing” in the historical context involved a war, but it is there for a reason. Ultimately, if our goal as civilized society is to protect the liberty of all, we have to be able to defend it, particularly from an institution that has become derelict in its duty to secure liberty.

So, hypothetically speaking, how can the people protect themselves from tyranny if they have no power to do so? This was the reason for the Second Amendment and the ability to abolish government when it becomes tyranny. Gun ownership is not about hunting or protecting oneself from criminals. It is about a collective necessary evil to protect our liberty and that of our fellow man from the very forces that led to the Revolutionary War in the first place: a government that infringes the unalienable rights of the people. A disarmed populace can never protect itself from an armed tyrant.

This should be kept in mind when discussing guns in America. Of course there will still be debate if the philosophy is outdated, but it is only outdated until there is a boot on your neck. Fortunately, the United States has not suffered the tyranny that Europe has faced, most notably in the 20th century. In fact, the United States government has been in existence for longer than many of the governments of modern Europe. Quite possibly, the reason may be because of a self-evident truth.


Even abortion can be framed within this same argument about American philosophy and rights. Throughout, the very base starts with the unalienable rights of the individual and, ultimately, protecting them. We focus a lot on trying to define when life begins, but inherent in a new life is also the vesting of those unalienable rights we are endowed with by our Creator. On both sides of the coin, there is a common ground in focusing on rights and protecting them.

So, do you believe in universal human rights? Are they important to you? Then, regardless of your views on abortion, should we all be striving to protect those human rights? If the answer is yes, then how can we possibly do so without being able to define when a person gains those rights? Perhaps we need to stop thinking about ourselves and our own rights and start thinking about the possibility that we may have, over and over, violated the unalienable rights of others. Simply put, if you are not comfortable defining the exact moment when a person gains their human rights, then it is negligent to leave it to chance and it is tyrannical to legislatively allow it to be left to chance.

We should all endeavor to protect the rights of all, particularly those of that are the most vulnerable. As Americans, protecting those rights should be our top priority.


American philosophy was revolutionary, but that isn’t the only reason that America is unique. Truly, what makes America stand out is that the country IS its philosophy. Ultimately, there is no true American culture or people. We are a melting pot, but the thing that binds us together is the mold we are poured into. Anyone, anywhere can be as American as a person born and raised in the United States if they agree with the philosophy that this country was founded upon and desire to be a part of the experience. On the other hand, an American cannot turn himself into a Russian, with shared cultural experiences and centuries of historical legacies, no matter how hard they try.

That is the incredible success that is the United States: creating a nation state of individuals, without the bonds of a shared cultural experience, and threading it together entirely based upon a philosophy of liberty and freedom. It is why Americans are so passionate about their world view, because it truly defines who we are as a people more than family trees and shared histories. The fact that this country is divided, though, shows that we are getting further and further away from a shared understanding of the American philosophy. Instead of arguing about where we are going, we should be discussing who we are in the first place.