Sunday, November 22, 2020

The failure of a leftist common good

I'd like to continue with the theme of the common good, this time giving some examples of how the leftist common good fails in practice.

But first a quick recap. This series (here and here) began with a leftist claiming that the right is individualist in contrast to the left which cares about community and the common good.

The problem with this way of seeing things is that the leftist view of the common good typically:

a) is built on an understanding of the human person as being autonomous. This "anthropology" assumes that unchosen forms of relatedness are limitations that restrict autonomous choice. Leftism is therefore dissolving of traditional forms of human community and connectedness.

b) assumes that the resulting atomised individuals can nonetheless commit to a common good by supporting state sponsored programmes which aim at inclusion or the provision of welfare or the levelling away of unchosen distinctions between people

The leftist view of the common good starts out with an individualism and ends up with a statism. 

Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible. They have the "hopeful" view that our nature has been corrupted by the existence of power structures in society. If these power structures are abolished, then our nature can be redeemed and we can live in the state of freedom and equality that is our promised land.

At first these power structures were mostly thought to be class distinctions. But the emphasis in more recent times has been on "gender", sexuality and race, with the aim being to abolish patriarchy and whiteness.

This undermines the idea of a common good existing between the members of a community. For instance, men will be thought to belong to a privileged class that exists to exploit the oppressed and victimised class of women. There is no historic complementary relationship in which the good of one sex depends on the achievement of the good of the other. There is no overarching good, such as that of family, which both men and women serve. Instead, there are competing goods set against each other. The good of men stands in a hostile relationship to that of women. 

This has two negative consequences. First, instead of there being a common good, it is thought that the good of men must give way to that of women. Men are there to be allies to women. Within a leftist intersectionalist politics, the good of women ranks above that of men and is therefore the ruling good. Second, men and women are set against each other, perhaps not in terms of individual relationships, but certainly as social classes. The relationship is at least a competitive, if not a hostile, one. There is a setting apart of men and women, rather than a cooperative and complementary relationship.

What does this look like in practice? If I look through my social media feed for the past fortnight, there is no shortage of news items that illustrate these negative outcomes. For instance, it was recently International Men's Day. This is how the United Nations chose to celebrate it:


According to the United Nations men do not pursue their own good, nor a common good, but instead that of women. We are "male allies" who "support women".

And what does standing up for equality mean? Not what you might think it means. The NSW Government, for instance, announced a programme to help those made unemployed by the covid lockdowns get back to work. The Government decided, however, that help would only go to women:
Unemployed women in New South Wales can get a $5,000 boost to their bank accounts from next week.

The state budget will allocate $10million for cash grants to help get women back to work after the coronavirus pandemic saw thousands lose their jobs.

To get the money, women will have to submit an application detailing how they plan to spend it. They can get $5,000 for training and support, $3,500 for childcare, $2,000 for technology and office equipment, $500 for textbooks and $500 for transport.


Consider also the story that ran in the Daily Mail, about a recently published book written by a Frenchwoman, Pauline Harmange, and titled simply I Hate Men. The reviewer, Flora Gill, explained that whilst she did not hate the individual men in her life she agreed with Pauline Harmange that women should hate men in general:

But saying ‘I hate men’ is not the same as saying ‘I hate all men’. Harmange admits this in a roundabout way when she talks about loving her husband.

Hating men means hating not individuals but the toxic traits taught to men and a system that is unfair to women.

So am I willing to say it now in print? To be misunderstood, misquoted and trolled for misandry? Here we go: I hate men.


This setting apart of men and women is evident enough to attract criticism, as in the following tweet:


The following tweet is particularly interesting as it recognises openly the failure of liberal modernity to preserve a common good between men and women:



Sunday, November 01, 2020

Leftism, human nature & the common good

In my last post I noted that leftists see themselves as being committed to a common good and view the right as being individualists.

I disagreed and argued that the leftist vision of a common good is built on top of an individualistic understanding of man (an individualistic anthropology). Leftists see man as an autonomous, self-defining individual, who makes his own meaning. The leftist common good consists of a commitment of these autonomous, self-creating individuals to an egalitarian welfare state. The end result is not community but extraordinary numbers of people living alone.

I'd like to extend this argument. It's easier to understand the leftist mindset if you consider the right liberal politics that leftism is reacting against. Right liberalism began with a view that politics should harness the "low" in human nature, e.g. man's selfishness and acquisitiveness, with people being left at liberty to pursue their own individual profit in the market. Does this mean that right liberals have no concept of the common good? Not entirely. Right liberals usually argue that their brand of individualism creates a spontaneous order in society; an economic and social progress; liberation from traditional "constraints"; and an uncoerced moral sphere. It's common for right liberals to point to data showing improvements in global living standards, health outcomes etc.

Again, this is not the way that traditionalists understand the common good, but you can see why leftists might feel it to be a point of difference with the "right". Left-liberals do not generally begin with the "low" as the basis of their politics. If anything, they swing too far the other way, toward the belief that human nature can be redeemed or regenerated through education or through the deconstructing of power structures in society. They have a "hopeful" (at times utopian) belief either in the innate goodness of man or in the technocratic manipulation of human nature to become whatever it needs to become.

What leftists miss is that this understanding of human nature, the assumption of perfectibility and malleability, undermines the achievement of a genuine common good, in a number of ways.

For example, if man is by nature good, but is made selfish by the existence of power structures in society, then leftists will set out to deconstruct those power structures. As we know, leftists assume that men are an oppressor group benefiting from systemic sexism in society ("patriarchy"); the same applies to white people and so on. To deconstruct these power relations, leftists claim that categories of class, race and sex are oppressive social constructs, without any legitimate basis in nature. 

From this two things follow, both of which harm the common good. First, aspects of our identity which tie us to others in distinct ways come under attack. It is difficult to uphold stable forms of family life or of national identity, if manhood and womanhood are oppressive categories to be overcome, or if our culture and ethny are defined negatively. We shift further toward the mass floating particle society, in which each particle is replaceable within the system.

Second, classes within society are set against each other. If the category "men" is an artificial oppressor class, benefiting from the exploitation of women, then what common good exists between men and women? The only thing men can do, in this understanding, is to relinquish their own good in favour of that of women, which is what you sometimes hear called for (the "be an ally but without imposing yourself" idea). There is a splintering effect on society, with an intersectional politics creating a hierarchy of whose "good" gets to be considered relative to others.

The leftist view of human nature also undermines the common good by placing man outside of nature and of natural limits. If we can change who we are as men, through education or social reform or through some other technocratic process, so that we are then free to choose for ourselves how we will live in harmonious relationships with others, then the virtues of self-knowledge, of prudence and of wisdom are no longer as significant as they once were held to be. We no longer exist within a given framework, with natural ends, purposes and roles that we ignore at our peril. The world can be made as we wish it to be, as we believe it ought to be, and it is only the perverse refusal of others to go along with what we want that prevents it from being so.

It is difficult to pursue a common good from within this mindset. If I can choose anything, at any time in life, without any ill-effect on my well-being, then how can a community be ordered toward securing a common good? What happens in practice is that people fail to secure the basic goods for their own long-term well-being (in the belief that life choices either are, or should be, entirely open), and when they become unhappy, they are counselled (or medicated). Some of the trends here are alarming:


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Left behind

I ventured into left-wing Twitter recently. A poster had asked how his fellow left-wingers would describe those on the right in a single word. The most interesting answer was this:


I don't think this is right at all and said so:


It led to an exchange which made it clear that what traditionalists believe to be the common good differs greatly from the leftist understanding. The leftists pointed me to an article on Sweden the gist of which was the idea that Sweden was oriented to the common good up to the 1980s when the Social Democrats began to privatise the economy; it then led to a period of growing inequality which all sides of politics are now attempting to overcome.

Here is the leftist ideal:

The centre-left has governed the country for 81 of the past 100 years, striving to be “the people’s home” – or folkhemmet – in which the social democratic state was like a family, caring for all and with no one left behind. Sweden became one of the most socially equal countries in the world.


So the "common good" means that the state ensures social equality, which apparently means a levelling out of all kinds of distinctions - of class, of ethnicity, of sex:
Karl Möller seems an unlikely poster child for a war on inequality. He is the lone male among a dozen women, each with a baby in her arms.

Möller, 45, is part of a city-wide programme in Gothenburg to mix social classes, genders and ethnicities to make Sweden’s second city a more equal place to live.

New integrated “family centres” such as this one, which opened in March, aim to target support at the families who need it most. “It is important for us to be in mixed areas to create more equality,” says manager Helen Antonson.

This concept of a common good hasn't worked on its own terms - Sweden has seen a growing inequality in income and health for some time. Worse, though, is that the concept itself is misconceived: it dissolves many of the connections between people through which stable forms of community are formed. It therefore tends to create anomie and social withdrawal - an excessive individualism rather than community and a common good.

Consider the following graph comparing the percentage of lone person households in Europe in 2016: 



In Sweden the percentage is double some other European countries. In other parts of the world the corresponding figure is often under 10%:


Why do so many Swedes live alone? One Swedish historian put it this way:
Why, then, does Sweden stand out when it comes to the high number of single households? Trägårdh says that Sweden is a "radically individualistic" country with a social structure that enables people to live independently - that is, to avoid having to rely on one another.

"It has something to do both with values and with the types of institutions we have created in Sweden in more recent decades," explains Trägårdh.

"Individual autonomy has been important for a long time here."


To try to make what is happening here clearer, think of it this way. The Swedes are starting out with an individualistic view of man, i.e. that we create meaning for ourselves as autonomous, self-defining individuals. The "common good" part only comes later and consists of a commitment to a state sponsored egalitarianism, in which distinctions between people are levelled.

A traditionalist common good looks very different because it begins with our view of man, namely that our own good is inextricably intertwined with the good of the larger natural forms of community we belong to, and through which we obtain aspects of our identity, our social commitments, our roles and purposes, our loves and attachments, our connection to a particular culture and tradition, and our connection to generations past, present and future.

The leftist "common good" emphasises independence over interdependence and it wants to level away the distinctions on which a traditional common good is formed. As an example of this mindset, consider the way that Monica Silvell, a Swedish bureaucrat, explains the change of ideas about men and women in Sweden:

The old view of men and women complementing one another was replaced by the notion that the sexes were basically similar.

There is a levelling of distinctions ("the sexes were basically similar) and a loss of interdependence ("the older view of men and women complementing one another"). There is no "common good" here anymore, in the sense of the sexes needing each other to fulfil aspects of their own selves. The "common good" becomes, instead, something very different: a commitment to the egalitarian liberal state. As we have seen, this leftist "common good" tends to create "aloneness" rather than stable forms of community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Selected Tales of Price Warung

This one is particularly for Australian readers. A new publishing house, Bonfire Books, specialising in Australian historic authors has released its first title, Selected Tales of Price Warung

Price Warung was the pen name of William Astley (1855 - 1911). He is considered to be one of the best writers of Australian short stories. Professor Edward Watts of Michigan State University thought that the themes he addressed were similar to those of his contemporaries, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hardy. 

You can read more about the book at the publisher's website (here), including purchase information (for yourself or maybe a Christmas present for any avid readers you know). 

Below is a promotional video from the publisher's YouTube channel:


Monday, September 28, 2020

On cosmology & politics

I have finished reading a book called The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard. It sets out clearly the cosmology of the Elizabethans - their understanding of the structure of the cosmos we inhabit - and argues that this was a continuation of the same understanding held in the Middle Ages and, in parts anyway, going right back to the Ancient Greeks.

This longstanding cosmology was already being challenged in Elizabethan times by developments in science and as the modern period developed it became untenable. I think it's important to consider how the loss of this older understanding affected the development of Western thought.

So what was this cosmology? First, the "vertical structure" was immensely emphasised. All created things existed in a rank from the most base to the most noble: there was an order to existence from lowest to highest, with an intricate order of "degrees" of existence. This was the "great chain of being" with every aspect of creation being linked to one above it and one below it, with no gaps in the chain. For the whole to function, the links could not be broken, therefore there was an abundance of life in which nothing was superfluous.

The vertical structure was reflected in the architecture of the universe. The sublunary sphere (i.e. below the moon) was the lowest sphere, in which things were mutable and subject to decay. Above the moon were the celestial spheres, a realm made up of pure aether, with a planet embedded in each revolving sphere. Beyond this was the firmament, the sphere of fixed stars, and then beyond this the primum mobile, the outermost moving sphere. Outside all this was the Empyrean, the dwelling place of God.

There was an ascending hierarchy of angels, each associated with one of the spheres. As for man, he had the dignity of bridging the chasm between spirit and matter - a key position in creation and one that gave man a mixed constitution. Man was separated from the beasts by the gift of reason, which was made up of understanding and will. These were corrupted by the Fall, but man nonetheless had the freedom to act according to his higher or lower qualities, i.e. nobly or basely.

When you read about the cosmology you have a sense that it must have been enchanting to have beheld the world this way. At the same time, its loss was necessarily disenchanting. The poet John Donne wrote in 1611 of the impact of the new sciences:

And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th’ earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

There is a direct link made here between changes in the cosmology, and a loss not only of coherence but of "relation", including that between people (prince & subject, father & son). 

I do not wish to blame the loss of the older cosmology for all that has gone wrong. As it happens, some aspects of the cosmology remained embedded in Western culture for generations afterwards. And there were aspects of the cosmology itself which arguably had the potential to have negative effects. Even so, I think Western culture has struggled to recover from the shock of its loss.

I have quoted these lines from Shelley often, but will do so again as they would not have been possible in the older cosmology:

The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains/ Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man/ Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,/ Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king/ Over himself

This was Shelley's ideal of the "New Man" in 1820. It is interesting that Shelley should describe the new man as being "exempt from degree" - directly opposing the vertical structure of the old cosmology. In line with Donne's observations, Shelley's new man is also to be "unclassed" - to not belong to any "kind" of thing which might give form or relation to it. Shelley, it should be remembered, fiercely rejected what he called "detestable distinctions" such as those between men and women.

We now have something remarkably different from the older understanding. Instead of a vertically oriented chain of being we now have a horizontally ordered floating particle society. Instead of an orientation to the noble over the base, we do not distinguish between Thomas Tallis and Cardi B. 

And reason has lost its moorings. I am not sure that the Elizabethan understanding of reason was without its flaws, but at least there were limits placed upon the idea of individual reason as an ordering principle of society. Not only were human will and understanding thought to be corrupted, man had a given form and place within the cosmos.

The loss of the older cosmology might have shaken Western culture, but it does not need to be fatal. There is still an argument for an "order of existence". It just needs to be made outside the conceptual framework of the older cosmology.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Angela Nagle: attacking globalism from the other side

It might surprise some people to learn that there are leftists who are against open borders. Angela Nagle, an Irish academic and writer, is one such person. It's interesting to read her criticisms of globalism, as they reinforce the arguments that we ourselves make.

In 2018 Nagel wrote a piece for American Affairs titled "The Leftist Case Against Open Borders". She observed of the modern left that,

Today’s well-intentioned activists have become the useful idiots of big business. With their adoption of “open borders” advocacy—and a fierce moral absolutism that regards any limit to migration as an unspeakable evil—any criticism of the exploitative system of mass migration is effectively dismissed as blasphemy. Even solidly leftist politicians, like Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, are accused of “nativism” by critics if they recognize the legitimacy of borders or migration restriction at any point. This open borders radicalism ultimately benefits the elites within the most powerful countries in the world, further disempowers organized labor, robs the developing world of desperately needed professionals, and turns workers against workers.

She points out that,

Developing countries are struggling to retain their skilled and professional citizens, often trained at great public cost, because the largest and wealthiest economies that dominate the global market have the wealth to snap them up...According to Foreign Policy magazine, “There are more Ethiopian physicians practicing in Chicago today than in all of Ethiopia, a country of 80 million.”

In a piece about her own country, Will Ireland Survive the Woke Wave?, Nagle predicts that Ireland will follow the same path as other Western nations:

As a former colony, historically unsullied by the sins of slavery and imperialism, Ireland’s national identity has been largely free of the culture of pathological self-hatred found across most of the liberal West today...But all of that is about to change.
She believes that Ireland is too economically dependent on an international "progressive tech oligarchy" and that,
It will now be a second but no less bitter irony that the native Irish working class will soon find themselves in the same position as the British have — despised as reactionary by our own elites and morally and economically blackmailed into accepting their more enlightened values.

Like all doomed traditions, our banal ethno-nationalism has been passively held by the majority while the intellectual and moral foundations that once justified it have been slowly replaced and degraded while nobody was paying attention. When a full confrontation with the liberal internationalism we invited in during the Celtic Tiger years inevitably happens, those foundations will already be gone and we will no longer be able to explain why having any right to a national culture or national sovereignty is anything other than racist and exclusionary.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A line of descent

Man was made to be embedded in certain kinds of relationships. The obvious one is the family, in which we can fulfil aspects of our mission as men and as women; our drive to reproduce ourselves and the tradition we belong to; to pair bond with someone of the opposite sex; to uphold our lineage and the tradition of achievement it represents; and to be anchored by the stable loves and attachments which are possible within kin relationships. 

Much the same goes for the larger familial type community which we belong to, namely our membership of an "ethny". This gives us a connection to generations past, present and future; it connects us deeply to people and place; it makes us custodians of a particular cultural inheritance; it deepens our social commitments; and, again, it draws us into a set of relationships based on natural forms of loyalty and common identity. 

Little wonder that for our ancestors piety, understood to mean honouring those who sacrificed to create who we are, namely God, our parents and our nation, was such an important virtue. And little wonder too that fidelity, a proven loyalty to family and nation, was so important and that acts of infidelity or treachery were so fiercely condemned (traitors occupied the innermost circle of hell in Dante's Inferno.)

These relationships are foundational to human life. Without them the individual loses his footing, loses the stability necessary to hold together his psyche/soul, and will spend a life not aiming for the highest things, or oriented to what is good, or true or beautiful within existence, but trying to assuage his anxiety and to keep at bay, however he can, his unease.

What is so unusual about modern Western society is that an influential part of our intellectual class not only fails to defend these relationships, but with unerring instinct and with tremendous moral passion seeks to undermine them. In other words, they are actively oriented to an ethos of infidelity.

You can see this in the feminist women who claim that "men have been the greatest enemy of women" or who relentlessly promote the idea that the biggest threat to women is their own husbands, who are portrayed as tyrants and abusers. This represents an effort to break the ties between men and women, to adopt a mindset in which men and women are fundamentally set apart.

You can see it too in those white liberals who so readily accept atrocity stories designed to dehumanise their own ancestors and to encourage young people to turn against their own history and heritage.

How did it come to this? There is no single source for the descent of the West. Our inability to defend our communal foundations has multiple sources that span both the left and the mainstream right of politics. What I want to do is to attempt to describe just one of these strands, namely that of secular humanist leftism. This appeared amongst an avant-garde by the early 1800s, though humanism itself goes back well before this. Today it is the predominant worldview amongst the Anglo urban middle-class. It is the orthodox view of most teachers and academics, the ones responsible for instructing our children.

You can see the politics of infidelity very clearly in the works of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unlike most of his fellow Englishmen of the early 1800s, he stood fiercely opposed to God (and not on scientific grounds - he was happy to believe in ghosts). He identified with Satan not because he saw Satan as evil, but because he saw Satan as asserting a freedom against God (unsurprisingly, this identification with Satan persisted amongst avant-garde intellectuals for much of the nineteenth century). 

Shelley adopted the attitude of non-serviam: I will not serve. He did so perhaps for the usual reason of pride, but more so it seems because of his notion of human freedom. I am speculating here, but I suspect that Shelley had the attitude that our authority lies in our own reason and will; that therefore we should be subject only to our own reason and will; and that therefore a God who establishes an external law for us to follow, whether this be a natural law or revelation, is a tyrant exercising power over us.

(A brief detour: the notion that the existence of an external law, including God's law, makes us unfree is easy to challenge. If the laws were merely arbitrary, then, yes, they would represent subjection. But if they represent truths about how our lives are rightly ordered, then the more that we obey them, the closer we get to the truth of our being, and the less that they become external impositions.)

Much follows from this rejection of external authority. It means that we can no longer recognise the vertical structure of reality; if everyone is their own authority, then how can I recognise the authority of a bishop or a king or even a father? Relationships can only be horizontal - they can only exist "sideways", hence the emphasis on equality.

Similarly, if there is no natural order of being, and only individuals following the authority of their own will and reason, then many traditional distinctions become obsolete, such as those between men and women, or those of nation (Shelley termed such things "detestable distinctions"). In particular, the duties that flow from them will be rejected as external impositions on the sovereign self. 

Here is Shelley imagining the new man:
The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains/ Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man/ Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,/ Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king/ Over himself
It's very clearly expressed. You can see the absolute rejection of the vertical structure: no king, no social classes, no God, no awe. You can see the rejection of "distinctions", meaning the qualities that give people a supra-individual identity and belonging: no tribes or nations. There is only the free and uncircumscribed individual.

But that is only part of the story. Shelley was not committed to the classical liberal view that man has a low nature (selfish, acquisitive, greedy) that can be harnessed within society. One reason he hated Christianity is that he disliked the idea that man's nature was fallen. He chose to believe that you could have a society of self-sovereign individuals, not subject to external law or custom, who would choose, like himself, to live according to noble principles and, above all, according to selfless love. 

This was an expression of the "all you need is love" ethos that has been around in more recent times (Shelley and John Lennon would have got on like a house on fire - Lennon's "Imagine" is very much in the Shelleyan spirit). Given his belief that love, without moral law, was sufficient, Shelley logically adopted the free love idea: that men and women should remain in a relationship for as long as the love was there, but then move on without jealousy once it finished. It led to a trail of destruction in Shelley's life, including the suicide of his first wife whom he abandoned to run off with the teenage Mary Shelley. 

Many middle-class liberals have continued along much the same lines as Shelley. They see themselves as representing the forces of love and peace, despite acting with immense hostility against those they see as upholding traditional loyalties. We should not be surprised by this. If they reject law and custom as sources of authority, then like Shelley they are likely to see themselves as acting from some sort of inwardly generated universal benevolence or disinterested love instead. The intense virtue signalling perhaps reflects this anxiety to prove that they still have a moral foundation. 

Similarly we should not be surprised at the vehemence, the rage and despair, that they feel toward those who are not "enlightened" and who still have fidelity when it comes to supporting traditional family roles or national identities. For Shelleyan leftists, these are not part of the necessary foundations that support individual life, but aspects of tyranny and oppression over the self-sovereign individual, particularly if these foundations have some standing and authority within the mainstream of society (e.g. "whiteness" in Western countries or masculine leadership in the family or society). They are seen to be assertions of power by some over others, existing for the purposes of exploitation and hindering the progress toward the new free and equal individual.

The utopias imagined by Shelleyan type leftists have often involved a picture of individuals living free from necessity, without a government (why would you need one once human nature is redeemed and there is no need for law). The individual in these communities is free to wander around by themselves, with no personal property, forming voluntary friendships, sharing everything including the women.

In reality, the drift has been toward a mass floating particle society with an ever more centralised state, leading ultimately toward global governance. There are some traditionalists who have picked up on this aspect of leftism and who wish to combat it by emphasising instead smaller scale, localised community life with a return to more personalised relationships. I do think this is one legitimate response to liberal modernity, but with one caveat. 

Such communities won't survive the larger trends within society without clarity of principle, i.e. without firmly establishing an alternative ethos or "metanarrative" that can be embedded within its culture. Similarly, they won't survive without vigilance when it comes to guarding the institutions (the schools, the churches, the local media). There clearly exists a temptation for intellectual types to drift toward a Shelleyan worldview, and it is these types who are often the most motivated to work their way into positions of influence. The left understands how "formation" works - the deliberate approach to instilling a certain worldview, or set of presuppositions, in the young. We should not leave formation to chance, but must have a deliberate approach to it. Finally, we should keep challenging at the political level: the stronger a position that we build for a traditionalist politics within the mainstream of society, the more likely it is that local communities will be sustained into the future.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Does Emma Watson's formula really empower women?

Emma Watson, the actress best known for her childhood role in the Harry Potter films, is a feminist. She recently had this to say:

This might sound benign, but the moral formula she puts forward here has significant consequences. She is claiming that women are empowered when they can do whatever they want, no matter what it is that they want.

Of course, if this were just a case of wanting to wear different types of shoes, it would be harmless. But as a general principle of society, the liberal formula goes well beyond that. After all, if women are empowered when they can do exactly what they want, then the woman who wants to be a good mother by making personal sacrifices for her child is on exactly the same plane as the woman who sells herself on Only Fans to fund a drug habit. As James Kalb so often writes, all desires are equally desires. According to the formula, both women are empowered as long as they can follow their desires.

If you think my example is a bit extreme, consider the case of singer Cardi B who I wrote about last year. She and her fans responded to criticisms of her twerking videos by using the Emma Watson defence, namely that it is empowering for women to do whatever they want. Cardi B has just this month taken the principle even further by releasing a video that would have made prostitutes of yore blush. It is being marketed widely (with the lyrics, but not the video, partly censored) to girls, presumably in part because it fits in well with the ruling ideal of female empowerment.

The liberals who pushed the idea that we should do whatever we want as long as it did not interfere with the rights of others to do the same did not envisage Cardi B as the end product of their moral formula. They assumed that people would choose to act according to the middle-class standards for men and women of their era, i.e. as gentlemen and ladies. They thought that education would refine people, and reveal their inner high character.

It was not a realistic assessment of human nature. Nor did they account for the logic of their formula, i.e. for its failure to discriminate between the moral choices that we make. The message this formula sends is that there are no moral goods as part of the nature of things but only the satisfaction of individual wants. This alone would be enough to gradually erode a gentlemanly code of ethics, but in the longer run the subversion becomes more active. After all, if I am empowered when I can act to satisfy my desires, then it is moral for me to transgress and to break through restraints placed on my behaviour. The further I go in shocking sensibilities, the more liberated and empowered I am. Cardi B becomes the role model.

There was a time when acting exactly as you want would not have been thought empowering, but as lacking self-restraint. There was a range of moral terms to express this failure of self-discipline: dissolute, licentious, decadent, debauched, abandoned, incontinent, promiscuous, profligate, dissipated. The terminology suggests the moral concept: that in acting in an unrestrained way to gratify desires, we are no longer fully ourselves, but are lost in some way to our vices. Lost, not empowered.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Four types of female love

First a disclaimer. I'm always a bit hesitant in publishing these kinds of posts, because they are based on my own, necessarily limited, experiences and observations. I put them forward more as ideas for others to work with, rather than as cast iron, unassailable expressions of truth. 

It seems to me that there are at least four types of female love. The reason for trying to understand each type is that female love for men is not always as stable as that of men for women. Men's love has the advantage that it tends to trigger the male protector/provider instinct, and so men will feel that they are fulfilling a basic aspect of manhood in directing their strengths toward supporting their family. It is an anchor point. Men also seem better able than women to find a transcendent aspect in their love. The male mind is able to combine a love for an individual and flawed woman with an experience of what is transcendent in feminine beauty and goodness. And men experience this love for a woman as a higher expression of their own nature. All this can be powerful enough to motivate men to remain attached to the same woman throughout the course of a life. Yes, there are other factors that push the other way. Men do have an instinct for sexual variety. Nor are men wholly immune to becoming too emotionally damaged for stable attachments. Nonetheless, it is generally easier for a man to attach in a stable way to a woman than for a woman to a man.

So what are the four types of female love? 

1. Libidinal love

This is love that is based on sexual attraction. When women have this feeling, they often describe it in terms of a physical response, rather than an emotional one ("I had butterflies in my stomach"). It is a strongly visceral response in women, one that has little to do with higher, transcendent aspects of mind. 

What triggers this kind of love? Unsurprisingly, primal, visceral instinct. For this reason, it can seem baffling to high minded men. Women might, for instance, respond to men who trigger a sexual thrill, perhaps by being bold, or looking menacing, or breaking the rules, or having a certain arrogance. Libidinal love favours bad boy qualities.

You get a sense of this by reading female "romance" novels. These novels are designed to trigger this libidinal love feeling in women. They are extraordinarily primal. They evoke ancient "bride capture" customs: the hero will often simply force himself in some way onto the reluctant heroine. The hero himself is untamed and outside of polite society (but, in a nod to the next type of love, also someone who has inherited tremendous wealth and status).

Female libidinal love is problematic for society. Libidinal love often doesn't last. It leads women to engage in either one night stands or serial monogamy in their party years. Its impact on men is mixed at best. At its worst it encourages a player type culture amongst men, or perhaps even a "gangsta" one - or an imitation of it. It is not a basis for successful, lifelong marriage.

2. Opportunistic love

Women, more than men, have a capacity to love opportunistically. A woman might reach a certain age, want a wedding, a house, children and financial support, and set out to find a man on this basis. If she finds a man who can provide these things, she might then be willing to embark on a relationship, even if there is little genuine sexual attraction (libidinal love).

There have no doubt been countless marriages based on opportunistic love. But there are three problems with these marriages. First, the lack of sexual attraction is likely to be a cause of frustration on both sides, perhaps even eventually leading to the collapse of the marriage. Second, if the woman secures the things she wanted - the wedding, the house, the children, the financial support - the basis for her love diminishes and she may opt out of the marriage. Third, these marriages often have an unhealthy beta dynamic in which the husband must always qualify himself to his wife.

In the days before easy divorce, opportunistic love would not have broken up marriages, but it would have undermined the happiness of the relationship.

3. Altruistic love

This was the type of love most characteristic of my mother's generation of women (those who married in the early 1960s). It was described well by Marie Robinson in 1958:

Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it. It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrium, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life's continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.

I think this is exactly right. This distinctly feminine type of altruistic love was, for most of the women in my mother's social circle, able to hold at bay the resentment and self-pity that women can be prone to, and carry with it a warmth and joy of feminine personality well into old age. 

The damage done by the absence of this kind of love can be seen in an excerpt from a biography of Alice James, the sister of novelist Henry James. Alice, a spinster who lived alone, was visited by her two brothers in 1889:

As the three of them sat and talked, as they exchanged memories and opinions, the afternoon became for Alice a soul-quickening experience wherein the family itself seemed to come richly back into being, a revived and reintegrated presence. Her isolation was overcome for the moment by the sense of being once again a surrounded and nourished member of that family.
When her brothers left she was plunged again into solitude:
she confessed with bleak clarity that she could never allow it to be "anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and 'do for' daily is not only a sorrow but a sterilizing process."
This aspect of womanhood is not so evident today, perhaps because it stood in the way of the liberal aim of creating a society based on individual autonomy. But it remains a potential within female nature, one that provides a stronger basis for lifelong marriage.

(There does exist a masculine version of this, in which men act for others - but it has a different quality to the feminine version. It is more a case of men using their masculine strengths to create a protected and secure space for their family, and to provide for the material needs/wants of their family.)

4. Caritas love

This is a love (that both sexes can experience) that is more likely to be found among those with serious religious commitments. It could be described like this: my love of God, and my willingness to serve Him, leads me to love and to will the good of my spouse and my children. This is a love, therefore, that is settled in the will. As a matter of deep conscience, I will remain faithful to my spouse, as to God, and I will serve Him through service to my family. I do not need my spouse to be perfect to retain my commitments, and I will seek to overcome my own weaknesses and temptations that might undermine the promises that I have made. I might see marriage as a sacred commitment, a sacrament that it is not mine to break. I might see family as a sacred community, one in which I am charged with the deep mission of the spiritual welfare of my spouse and children. I will actively orient myself to the love of my spouse.

This is the most profound basis for marital commitments, but realistically it won't ever be universally held within a society. It has declined as a serious orientation to Christianity has diminished. It works best, of course, if both the husband and wife hold to it; a marriage can still fail if only one spouse is motivated by caritas. 

It was the type of love that the poet Sir Thomas Overbury advocated as a true basis for marriage in his poem of 1613 titled "The Wife". Although he did want a passionate love, he recognised that this was no guarantee of a wife's loyalty. He thought, therefore, that even though beauty was an important quality, it was most important to look for "good" in a wife. He wrote:

Gods image in her soule, O let me place
My love upon! not Adams in her face.

Good, is a fairer attribute then white,
’Tis the minds beauty keeps the other sweete;

 And what did he mean by "good"? He explains:

By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,

He is recognising that the firmest ground for marital commitments is the one founded upon the caritas type of love.

Conclusion

You might think that the aim of a society should be to reject the first two types of female love, the libidinal and the opportunistic, and work instead with altruistic and caritas forms of love. That, though, would be a mistake. The first two are fundamental aspects of female nature that cannot be glossed over. 

For instance, it is much better if a man is sexually attractive to his wife. We know that if a man is too agreeable, or too nice, that he won't trigger this attraction. We don't want the attraction to be triggered by a race to see which man can cover himself with the most tattoos, or best imitate a bikie. But there are other ways a society can help men to be more sexually attractive to women.

How can a decent man trigger sexual attraction in a woman without going gangsta? Well, he can be physically fit and muscular. He can be self-confident. He can have ambition. He can be rough around the edges. He can show competence in things that women consider masculine (e.g. fixing things, building things, outdoorsy things). He can avoid fawning and simping, and have a sense of his own masculine attractiveness. He can be dedicated to a mission in life outside of marriage and family. He can lead adeptly.

As politically incorrect as it is to say it, men can aim to demonstrate forms of masculine power and dominance and competence. And a society can help this along. For instance, it is normal and natural for mothers to instil in their infant sons some "caring and sharing" values. This is an important part of the socialisation of boys. But after about the age of seven it should be mostly complete, and it then becomes more important that boys are socialised in a masculine way within male spaces. A society should take care to give fathers time to spend with their sons in active masculine pursuits. And between the ages of about seven to sixteen, it is helpful for boys to be educated at boys' schools with a largely male staff. These male environments can be challenging for the more gently natured boys, and some might even come out worse for the experience (by never successfully adapting), but for most boys it will have the positive effect of instilling a more spirited and competitive masculine mindset (e.g. by learning to stand up for yourself, to learn better how to keep boundaries, to hold frame when under duress etc.).

As for opportunistic love, this too needs to be understood as a matter of policy making. Society once did this in a blunt way. Marriage allowed a young woman to leave her parents' house and form one of her own, i.e. to be independent. It gave her children and material security. If she divorced she had only a limited claim to these things. Our society has, with equal bluntness, gone the opposite way by associating independence with being single, and by rewarding women with the children, house and money on divorce. A society needs to get the balance of this right if it wants marital stability.

And how do we restore "essential female altruism"? That requires a rolling back of a number of things. Because liberalism wants to make our sex not matter (as being a predetermined quality), liberals aim at a gender role convergence in which men and women play the same role within the family. This undermines a woman's sense that she might give to her family in a unique way as a woman. Similarly, the liberal emphasis on autonomy means that women are raised to believe that an independent career is what matters and that work done for family is therefore to be thought of negatively as an oppressive limitation, a burden that must be shared equally between men and women or else outsourced.

Marie Robinson thought this to be the case, even back in 1958. She described one of her clients, who was cut off from this feminine altruistic love, as follows:

The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (a la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is. Such a definition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man.

Finally, there is the issue of caritas. In a secular society, with a materialistic world view, this understanding of love will not prosper. What I would urge men to understand, even those men without religious belief, is that this is not without negative consequences. The churches did once help to create a more secure setting for family life.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Why are we denatured?

At the very beginning, when I first became involved in traditionalist politics, I wrote about the need to uphold the fully natured person. This was a person who, for example, was still deeply connected to people and place, who felt a love for these things and a corresponding duty to defend them, who sensed the inherent good and meaning within them, who felt enriched by them. I was aware, even back then, of a denaturing process within political modernity through which these parts of our own selves were being lost.

I have come to see three reasons why we are being denatured. I'll briefly mention the first two, as it's the third one that needs drawing out.

1. Liberal autonomy theory

I've written about this at length previously. Liberals define freedom as maximising individual autonomy. This is understood to mean the ability of an individual to self-determine who he is and what he does. The terrible problem with this formula is that it consigns everything predetermined in life to a negative role as a fetter on our personal freedom that we need to be liberated from. This includes our sex and our ethny, which are not self-determined and which liberals therefore believe ought not to matter.

In other words, there are significant aspects of our nature that are rejected because they are predetermined and don't fit in with the liberal way of defining human freedom. They are not allowed to matter, and people who think they do are reviled with words like "sexist" or "bigoted". There is a suppression of what we are allowed to express about our own natures.

2. The levelling instinct

There are people who reject the vertical axis of reality. They do not see the benefit in an ordered hierarchy, nor do they wish to serve the higher, transcendent goods that exist outside and above them. They see distinctions negatively as an affront to a levelled, individual existence.

There are many reasons why people might go down this path. A more natural one is that civilisation often does involve artifices, such as people having to work hard to maintain status. There is a very longstanding counter impulse to wish for a more simple, pre-civilised life - an Arcadian life.

This evolved, however, into a more damaging ideological view within Western thought. The idea was that men were not to be redeemed in religious terms, but through a radical restructuring of society. Men, it was argued, were naturally good but corrupted by the power structures within civilisation. If you could abolish these power structures, man's nature would be redeemed and you could have an Edenic life of freedom and equality.

Originally, the power structure targeted was the Ancien Regime of kings, priests and aristocrats. Then later the power structure was capitalism and the bourgeoisie. In more recent times patriarchy (men) and whiteness.

Those who hold to this ideological view place their faith in a future utopia that will arise via the effort to level down human existence. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is a kind of anthem for those who follow this mindset: the ultimate aim is to have no nations, nothing above us, no distinctions but only a "oneness". But this is a denial of the fully natured person who is alive to transcendent goods, to partial loyalties and to natural distinctions.

People become levellers for other reasons too. Those who are in a state of father rebellion will often reject all that the father represents symbolically, including the vertical axis of reality. And throughout history there have been those who pridefully reject the authority of anything outside themselves, who declare "non serviam".

3. The technocratic mindset

On the right people often declare the levellers to be communists. It is true that Marxism is an example of a leveller movement, but levelling is something that predates Marxism. In the early 1800s, for instance, the first English group to call themselves liberals (a radical group which included the poet Shelley) held leveller views, as do many ordinary middle-class white leftists today.

The problem with the next reason for the denaturing of Western man is that it is not confined to the left. Whilst it is a feature of leftist thought (including communist thought) it is just as common on the right, even amongst those who consider themselves "Tory". It has so deeply infiltrated the Western mind that it covers the political spectrum.

Here is the problem. In the early modern era, Western man decided to place himself outside of nature. For this reason alone it was inevitable that Western man would become denatured.

Professor Patrick Deneen describes the premodern view of man's relationship to nature as follows:
Premodern political thought....understood the human creature as part of a comprehensive natural order. Humans were understood to have a telos, a fixed end, given by nature and unalterable. Human nature was continuous with the order of the natural world, and thus humanity was required to conform both to its own nature and, in a broader sense, to the natural order of which it was a part. Human beings could freely act against their own nature and the natural order, but such actions deformed them and harmed the good of human beings and the world. [Why Liberalism Failed, p. 35]

In this premodern view, we are necessarily embedded within nature - within our own nature and that of the reality we inhabit - with our purposes being found within the nature given to us. It was commonplace within Western thought for people to seek to live within the nobler aspects of their nature, particularly those that linked the individual to sources of meaning within the natural order.

This began to change in the early modern period. The new scientific outlook saw man as standing outside of nature, commanding it for his own purposes. In the longer run this led to a technocratic mindset in which the natural world was viewed as an inert resource to be organised efficiently for the purposes of quantitative growth.

This mindset spills over into attitudes toward people, who come to be seen in technocratic terms as resources or as forms of capital to be employed in the most effective way for growth or for strategic advantage. People are no longer seen as fully natured creatures embedded within distinct traditions, connected deeply to people and place, with particular ("partial") loyalties and with different roles in society.

This has been a significant problem since at least the 1940s. It was in that decade that academics and bureaucrats within the public service decided that Anglo-Australia was to be phased out, because statistical growth targets required human capital from other sources. One Australian MP even suggested, in the aftermath of WWII, that German children be removed from their parents en masse and brought to far off Australia because it would have strategic benefits.

The Australian right today is divided between those with this technocratic mindset and those with a more genuinely traditional outlook. It was announced yesterday, for instance, that the British PM, Boris Johnson, had decided to offer residence in the UK to 3 million Chinese living in Hong Kong. If you think of people as having a nature which includes a connection to ancestry, to history, to culture and tradition, as well as a love for and identity with a settled sense of peoplehood, you are unlikely to approve of the decision. It will seem to be a policy at odds with deeply rooted aspects of human nature.

But some people don't see things this way. They no longer recognise such aspects of human nature. They are more inclined to take a technocratic view that there is a utility in moving people around like this, perhaps for geopolitical advantage, perhaps for GDP growth. Such people have adopted the "modern" view of nature, that we stand outside of it, directing it for our own utilitarian purposes, which usually means advancing state power or seeking quantitative economic growth.

On my Australian social media feed about half applauded the move by Boris Johnson and suggested the same offer should be made by our own PM.

The problem is not with particular technological advances, such as a medical scientist developing a cure for a disease. The problem is with how we see the relationship between man and nature. We have to acknowledge that Western man has fallen into a mindset in which nature exists to serve the purposes we assign it but has no significance in itself. This then has consequences for the value we place on our own nature and of how we relate to the natural order we inhabit. The technocratic mindset denatures us and makes us fungible, i.e. it turns us into interchangeable resources to be deployed within an economic system of production and consumption. We are stripped down to those attributes that make sense within a technocratic understanding of life.

We have to recognise that this is a problem on the right, not just on the left. It is not even just a problem with right-liberals - it goes beyond this, because it is such an unchallenged aspect of modern thought.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

On fidelity

Traditional societies placed a great emphasis on fidelity, whether this meant being true to our word, faithful to our spouse, steadfast in our duties, or loyal to our country.

It used to be thought a grievous moral offence to betray those we should naturally be loyal to. Dante, in his fourteenth century work the Inferno, reserves the ninth and innermost circle of hell, the one where Satan resides, for those who have committed treachery, including to family and nation. Paul, in describing the end days of the world, an ultimate state of disorder, writes:
There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Tim 3)

When he says "without love" he uses the Greek term "astorgos" which means "without natural affection" or "hardhearted toward kindred". Society is breaking down when the natural bonds of love and affection wither and people become self-serving and more willing to commit acts of betrayal.

Our forebears understood how desolating it would be to allow a society to descend into infidelity. If we cannot see ourselves as connecting in a stable way to others, to those who will be loyal to us and not betray our trust, then we will imagine that we can only rely on our own self and withdraw deeply into a solitary existence. This is a bleak picture of the human condition, one that we do not want proven in society. It makes sense, then, that betrayal and treachery should be thought to be the worst of moral offences, as transgressions that should rightly shock us, or at least disturb us as a reminder of how we might be alienated from natural human ties of love and loyalty.

Elizabeth Fenton, who made a difficult journey to Tasmania in 1828, made this connection between infidelity and alienation. Her ship was manned by a Mohammedan crew, two of whom were European converts. She wrote of one:
He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab...His taste seems to lie in laying bare the unsightly movements of the human heart and crushing its better feelings, or dwelling on them with bitterness and ridicule...

Poor fellow! though it always makes me nervous to hear him speak, I pity him too; he may not always have been what he now is; has he been made this [way] by disappointment or alienation from the humanising relationships of life?

And of the other:
Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.

We get to a culture of infidelity by many thousands of cumulative transgressions. We gradually sap away the level of trust in society. In modern times this includes:

  • all the middle-class white women who work as English or history teachers but who rarely sway from portraying their own ancestors in negative terms as racists or oppressors. This normalises infidelity, it makes it seem as if it is alright to break faith with our own people.
  • the acknowledgement of country ceremonies. This is a healthy act of fidelity for Aborigines, but for others it means acknowledging the elders of another group rather than their own. It would be like honouring a stranger's mother and father rather than our own.
  • the acceptance of high levels of divorce. The idea that marriage is "just a bit of paper" and that vows made in a church are just romantic theatre but have no wider meaning.
  • promiscuity. Embarking on a lifestyle of promiscuity before marriage is a breaking of faith with our future spouse - it is a giving away of parts of our self that belong to our future spouse.
  • "conservative" politicians who treat their nations as economic zones, the purpose of which is to maximise GDP. As Paul wrote, this is an example of an end days mentality in which men will be "lovers of money" and therefore "treacherous".
  • feminism. The idea that men and women are hostile and competing social classes, with men having oppressed women throughout history. An ideology that undermines trust between the sexes.

There can also be infidelity in our relationship with God. If God is our creator, from whom we have the gift of life, and from whom we are invested with a soul and higher purposes, then when we act against God's purposes for ourselves there is a break in faith, an infidelity. It makes little sense though to practise fidelity at this level, but then to break with the very same virtue in our wider relationships. If fidelity is a virtue then not only should we reject infidelity in acting against God's purposes, we should reject it as well in the breaking of faith with a spouse, or with our parents, or with our people.

Fidelity is not some sort of boutique virtue. If we are not faithful in our relationships, if we do not honour our word, if we do not give due reverence to those who brought about our being, then we are creating a wasteland. There are too many middle-class Westerners, even those who consider themselves "moral", who are lacking in this very virtue. 

We need to re-establish fidelity as a core virtue, to the point that we once again respond viscerally with abhorrence to the vice of infidelity - to deception, to the breaking of oaths, to treachery. Fidelity should be considered a core aspect of character, particularly for men, whose relationships with each other are rightly ordered to loyalty and whose sense of moral integrity and reputation have fidelity as a key component. But for women, too, fidelity should be considered a marker of a mature, moral womanhood.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

On complementarity

From Twitter:



There is, of course, a corresponding instinct in men to want to protect and provide for a woman so that she can, as Rachel puts it, fall into her femininity. This is the instinct that is physically embodied in relationships when a man draws a woman toward him, inviting her to lean into him and feel supported. Or when at night in bed a man puts his arm around a woman and draws her into him, enveloping her.

It is one aspect of the relationship between men and women that can be genuinely complementary (not all aspects of relationships are). And it is a significant part of how men and women interact, as without it part of the bonding instinct is lost. It should, therefore, be defended within a culture, rather than taken for granted.

It seems to me that part of the dysfunction in modern relationships is because of interference with the provider/protector instinct in men. There is, first, the insistence in liberal societies that women be autonomous, and therefore independent, powerful and self-standing. Young men will grow up watching women kickboxing their way across TV and cinema screens. The softer qualities of women will be downplayed. Men will begin to feel that women are no longer a "complement" to their protector instincts.

Second, when a man sets out to protect and provide, there is always a risk that a woman will abuse his efforts. If a woman follows her lower nature, she might see an opportunity to exploit his willingness to work on her behalf. A lower natured woman might string him along and then at a certain time in the marriage reveal the deception. A man in this situation will lose his wife, his children, his house, and a considerable portion of his material assets and future income. Worse, he will be zeroed out existentially, as his efforts in life will have been revealed to have been chimerical. Some men never recover.

So defending complementarity between men and women, and the depth of connection that goes along with it, requires support within the culture. First, women need to balance being generally capable in life with a willingness to show their softer side to men. The image fed to men should not be the "tough warrior woman" but something more genuinely feminine. Nor is it really wise for a society to aim at women out earning men, particularly not via artificial means of quotas and so on - as this too undermines men's provider instincts.

As for the risk of exploitation, we need a better balance within family law that protects men from "divorce rape". Even more than this, it's important that men do not make it their entire life mission to protect and provide for a family. As much as a man might feel the truth of the complementary nature of his protector instinct and a woman's desire for a strong man to create a protected space for her, it is better for this to be the domestic side of a man's larger mission in life (rather than being the larger mission itself).

Women themselves don't really want a man to sacrifice his entire life for her. Women don't see relationships this way: they recognise their own sacrifices on behalf of family, but find it difficult to conceive of a man doing the same. They are attracted to men who go out and make their own way in the world rather than men who sacrifice their interests for women - to the point that it is difficult for them to register that a man might do this.

And if a man has a mission outside of his marriage, it leaves him far less exposed to deception by a lower natured woman (one who sees relationships in transactional terms and who cannot genuinely reciprocate a commitment to build a loving relationship within a marriage). If he still has his core mission, then as deep a blow as the deception might be, he will not have lost the existential ground to life as much as a man who puts everything into his role as a husband.

I'm not writing any of this to discourage men from being masculine enough to "allow a woman to fall into her femininity". It's to try to establish an understanding of how men might be encouraged to do this, rather than feeling demoralised and stepping back from this part of their nature.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The therapeutic turn

One book I would like to read is The Fatherless Society by the Danish academic Henrik Jensen. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available in English, so I'm limited to descriptions of it from other sources.

Take, for instance, the following from The Therapeutic Turn by Ole Madsen. In a discussion on how Western culture changed its emphasis from duties to rights, Madsen writes:
In 2006 the Danish historian Henrik Jensen's monumental work The Fatherless Society was published, a work that depicts the current culture of rights as a clear departure from former civilisations' authoritative patriarchal cultures of obligation. Jensen, like Rieff and Carroll before him, sees signs of a moral crisis in Denmark and in the West in general. Late modernity is characterised by what he calls 'mother rule' and which indicates that the citizen is apparently liberated from all forms of authorities and duties, and the only guidelines imposed on him or her is the welfare state's encouragement of its citizens to pursue self-centred, self-actualisation. The social hierarchy in the West up to the present day has been organised around a vertical cosmos, while today we live in a horizontal culture, Jensen maintains,.. (p.59)

This reminded me of a talk I had with my father when I was a young adult. I happened to mention the word "duty" as part of the conversation and my father stopped me and told me with concern "there is no such thing as duty". It seems that my father (a classical liberal in his values) had already accepted the cultural shift described above, the change in mindset in which there is no vertical dimension we look up to as being authoritative and from which is derived duty or obligation. Instead, there is only the striving toward our own individual "self-actualisation".

The discussion then turns to the downside of this shift to a "horizontal culture":
On the flipside lies the pitfall of the culture of rights, if it should become an overly unilateral, self-stimulating, mass individualised victim culture, Jensen argues...
Where the individual in the culture of guilt is indebted to God, the parents or society, the opposite is the case in the rights culture: the victim has an eternal claim to recompense...

The second main problem with 'the fatherless society' which Jensen identifies is the fatigue effect. This is a type of crisis of meaning which finds expression in the form of an increased feeling of emptiness, loss of direction and meaning, particularly among the younger, adolescent generation, in that the individualistic culture does not offer access to anything outside themselves...

Self-actualisation is hard work and fewer external reference points make this project confusing and potentially exhausting for many people...

The paradox is that the therapeutic ethos invites people to understand their lives in terms of suffering because pain provides a basis which enables psychologists to give their knowledge legitimacy and construct stories about individuality. The greater the number of causes for suffering that are situated in the self, the more the self is understood on the basis of its predicament. (pp. 59-61)

There is a lot in this quote. The first two paragraphs describe one of the shifts between traditional and modern cultures. In the former, the individual is indebted to those who formed him (God, parents, nation/ethny) - and therefore it was thought right that he should have the virtue of piety in honouring them. The individual might be subject to feelings of guilt if he did not live up to what was expected of him from these sources of authority in his life. In modern culture, when this vertical dimension is lost, and there is only the individual existing as part of a mass, there are no longer obligations to external sources of authority (duties), but individual rights to oneself that might not be adequately upheld, leaving the individual in the role of a victim. The focus shifts from what we owe to others to what is owed to ourselves - and therefore our focus is more likely to be not on our failure to adequately serve but on how we have been failed in what is owed to us as a right - on ourselves as victims.

The next two paragraphs are also very interesting. In traditional societies the individual was connected to transcendent goods that were a source of meaning, purpose and identity in his life. Some of these goods held inherent meaning and were a stable source of support in an individual's life. For instance, if there was an inherent meaning in masculinity, and I was a man, then my sense of self had something positive to rest on. Similarly, if I were English, and there were admirable qualities associated with this, and a collective memory of achievements, then this too might be a stable support for my sense of self - independently of what I achieved personally in life as an individual. Yes, there were ways in which these sources of meaning did require the individual to live up to a certain standard, so there was a possibility of having a sense of personal failure, but these standards were at least known to the individual.

The self-actualisation ethos can be harder on individuals, because everything comes down to finding some inner, unique, hidden aspect of the self to be "actualised" that then will then put things right, i.e. adequately provide meaning or that might justify our existence. Most people seem to interpret this in terms of career success bringing validation - I know a few people who when they made it in their careers suddenly became more settled in themselves. It does make things particularly difficult, though, on adolescents who haven't yet even chosen such a path, let alone travelled down it. Failure, too, is immense in this outlook as there aren't other given aspects of our nature that provide meaning or identity.

I found the final paragraph interesting simply because it does seem to describe some moderns, particularly those on the left. The phrase "the more the self is understood on the basis of its predicament" describes people I know for whom their "oppression" is inextricably linked to their sense of self. If you go on social media, and engage with some on the left, you get a sense that the greater part of the mindset is organised around this. I doubt if this is entirely to do with a turn to therapeutic culture but it could be part of the explanation.

Again, to make the contrast clear, it is more common for traditionalists to focus on aspects of the self that are connected to either pride or service, e.g. to manhood/womanhood, to national/ethnic identity, to fatherhood/motherhood, to membership of a church etc. But the more you head leftward, the more likely it is that people will organise their approach to life around coping with victimhood, e.g. from being a particular sex or ethnicity, or else they will speak about being "triggered" in their mental health from exposure to things they find difficult to cope with. For instance, if you go all the way leftward to the Democratic Socialists of America you get this:

Friday, April 10, 2020

Relying on the low?

I came across a speech by Boris Johnson that he gave back in 2013. It was on the topic of equality. The gist of it was that IQ is real and that people with an IQ under 85 are unlikely to succeed to the same extent as those with an IQ over 135. He also said:
I don't believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.

This reminded me of something Patrick Deneen wrote in his book Why Liberalism Failed. Deneen argues that in the early modern period there was a revolution in the understanding of politics:
First, politics would be based upon reliability of "the low" rather than aspiration to "the high." The classical and Christian effort to foster virtue was rejected...Machiavelli proposed grounding a political philosophy upon readily observable human behaviours of pride, selfishness, greed, and the quest for glory. He argued further that liberty and political security were better achieved by pitting different domestic classes against one another, encouraging each to limit the others through "ferocious conflict" in the protection of their particular interests rather than by lofty appeals to a "common good" and political concord. By acknowledging ineradicable human selfishness and the desire for material goods, one might conceive of ways to harness those motivations rather than seeking to moderate or limit those desires. (pp.24-25)

This view of politics was carried into classical liberal philosophy. This means that classical liberals accepted the existence of human nature but focused on qualities such as self-interest and greed:
Early-modern liberalism held the view that human nature was unchangeable - human beings were, by nature, self-interested creatures whose base impulses could be harnessed but not fundamentally altered. (p.36)

Progressive (or "left") liberals came to hold a different view. They felt that human nature itself could be conquered in the same way that classical liberals thought external nature could be. They emphasised the idea that human nature was perfectible, for instance, through education or through changes to social institutions.

You can see from this that Boris Johnson's outlook is more like the classical liberal one than that of left-liberalism. He accepts certain fixed aspects of human nature, including IQ, but is focused on "the low" - on harnessing greed and envy to spur economic activity.

And what of the traditionalist view of human nature? I've read a little bit about the "Tory" view on this (i.e. of the more traditionalist members of the UK Conservative Party). Kevin Hickson has written a book surveying the views of these members of the "conservative right" and states:
...traditional conservatism held to a much more pessimistic view of human nature. As John Hayes put it "we appreciate that man is fallen, frail and faulted".

That view has been vindicated by what has happened to Western culture in recent decades. When human nature is allowed free rein, unimpeded by social norms, you do not get a more elevated level of culture but a more degraded one. Even so, I think there were faults in the "Tory right" view of human nature. If you leave your understanding of human nature at the idea that we are fallen, then you can lose idealism and with it the strength of motivation to lead and direct society.

For example, the Prime Minister of the UK in the late 1800s was the Marquess of Salisbury. He was part of the "Tory right" but his mindset seems to me to have been defeatist. Here is how Kevin Hickson puts it:
Although he believed that certain forces at work at the time he was alive would lead to social disintegration there was nothing one could ultimately do to stop them. The wise statesman would delay. Government would need to be ever vigilant but ultimately was bound to fail. The frailties of human nature would ensure that all that was good in society would decay. (Britain's Conservative Right Since 1945, p.8)

If the leftist radicals were promising an idealistic utopia and the best that traditionalists could come up with was "we are holding the fort but will ultimately lose" then the initiative was going to be with the radicals.

So although traditionalists should continue to insist on a fallible human nature, we shouldn't slide into this kind of pessimism. Nor do we need to. After all, unlike the classical liberals we do not wish to base politics on the "low" - we are not seeking to harness greed and self-interest. We wish to uphold the higher goods in life that men will ordinarily seek to live within and to defend. This ought to draw forth the strongest and deepest political commitments, much more so than those motivating the utopians, because they involve issues of identity, of meaning and of the good.

If traditionalism is done right then it ought to attract those willing to serve, i.e. those who wish to be connected to and to place themselves at the service of the transcendent good in life (rather than the individual pursuit of happiness or the selfish pursuit of profit). The leftist mindset, in contrast, is often of the "non serviam" variety - a prideful desire to not submit to a higher good, to have no reverence and to remain bound up in self. Although that gives leftists an oppositional energy, and although leftists can also be motivated by utopian dreams, it does not draw on the same loyalties and loves that motivate traditionalists toward political commitments.

I'd like to illustrate some of this by discussing two issues. The first is family. It's possible for a traditionalist to understand the stresses placed on family life by fallible human nature but to still recognise the traditional family as a significant good to be defended. The modernist approach is to claim that people can be left to their own individual reason to pursue their own wants and ends and that whatever results is equally family and equally good. This hasn't worked out well in practice. If men and women are not oriented to serving the common good of the family unit, it becomes difficult to find a point of harmony in relationships between men and women. Nor do all people act presciently for their own longer term good (e.g. women who want children but who leave things too late). Nor is the capacity to lay down stable emotional attachments likely to survive the churn of relationships that the modernist approach enables.

But even if the modernist principles weren't so influential, there would still be a gap between the ideal of family life and the reality. There exist, for instance, relatively fixed personality traits and some of these do not make for loving or faithful spouses. And so some families will be unhappy. It's possible to recognise the reality of this whilst still seeing a larger truth about the family as a model of human community, as something that is rightly striven for but, given human nature, cannot be taken for granted.

The second issue is that of moral community. Liberals claim that they are neutral in respect to this, but that isn't really so. Even right-liberals, who look to the individual pursuit of profit or pleasure, are still led, by their ideological preference for a limited state, to envision a moral community of self-helping, free-standing, law-abiding, hard-working, self-reliant, responsible, adult individuals. In general, given the liberal preference for "doing as thou wilt as long as it doesn't interfere with others doing the same", the liberal vision of moral community is one that is open, non-judgemental, non-discriminatory, tolerant, respectful of diversity etc.

Traditionalists should not be shy, therefore, in having their own vision of moral community. In part, this means a return to a pre-liberal understanding of the core ordering moral concepts, such as freedom, justice, equality and dignity. It means as well a return to a moral vision that was centred on the ideal of living within and serving the higher good in life. For our forebears, this meant a moral language centred around the praise of the nobler qualities of character and an avoidance of the baser ones, and of the cultivation of virtue.

Which brings me to one final matter. Much of what I have been discussing is properly an aspect of polis life. It is part of the masculine role of upholding the vertical dimension, of a hierarchical ordering of things, of looking upward toward the higher good.

There is a crossover here with the role of the church, but the focus of polis life and of the church are not exactly the same. The church focus must be, at least in part, also horizontally planed, i.e. on the sideways relationships between people, so that there is an emphasis on qualities such as love, neighbourliness, forgiveness, acceptance and hospitality. The church should hold to this as well as to the vertical dimension, in which there is an emphasis on reverence, worship, obedience and virtue.

It would be a mistake for a church to focus on the horizontal dimension alone (as a wholly feminised church might do). After all, it is in looking upward to serve the higher good that we are often brought to the service of God. Through the vertical structure we create the protected, cultivated, social spaces in which people can best unfold their "telos" - their God given purposes. It is through the vertical structure that moral community is formed and safeguarded. It is through the vertical structure that we maintain the continuity and stability of our communities (country, people, family) which fosters our capacity for love (in contrast to social anomie).

St Paul made this connection, this link between the aims of the church and the upholding of the vertical dimension (the aspiration to the high), in writing the following to the Philippians:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Review: The Year of our Lord 1943

I've just finished reading a book by Alan Jacobs titled The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.

By 1943 it was becoming clear that the Allies were going to win the war. There was much interest in how the post-war world would be shaped. The book focuses on the work of five intellectuals of the period: T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil.

What is interesting is that these intellectuals were fearful that the West had lost its way and that without a change of course was likely to fail in the post-War world.

What did they identify as the problem? There are two main themes discussed in the book. The first concerns education. There was, for instance, a concern that education should promote moral and character formation, particularly for an elite who would be most influential in creating the culture of a society. As part of this aim, there was an idea that it was important to train or to educate a person in feeling or emotional response, not just in formal precepts.

This make sense to me. If someone doesn't feel or respond in a fully natured way to things, then it becomes difficult to enculturate them and to build human character.

The second theme is that of technocracy. Most of the writers seemed very aware that they were living in a time of transition, in which an older culture was giving way to a depersonalising, mass, technocratic one.

It's interesting, in this respect, that the year 1943 was chosen, as this was the year that the Australian Government made the formal decision to end Anglo-Australia and to have a more diverse population. The decision was made largely on technocratic grounds by planners and economists in obscure departmental committees, whose concern was with objective measures of growth above all else.

At the end of the book, Alan Jacobs praises the writers for the richness of their thought, but concludes that it came too late to make a difference, given that the technocrats had already consolidated their power, and the situation in Australia in 1943 seems to bear that out.

A thought of my own: perhaps the student revolt of the 1960s can be thought of, in part, as a kind of "revolt against the machine" - against the technocratic view of life favoured by the older elite (I'm thinking particularly of the hippy side of it, the drop out/commune with nature/alternative lifestyle side). The student revolt ultimately made things much worse by failing to appreciate and defend the good still existing within society (and there was much still worth defending in the 1960s).

That would be my criticism too of artwork like the following:



It's a very famous Australian painting titled Collins St., 5pm painted in 1955 by John Brack. It shows the mass of city workers in Melbourne leaving to go home. Brack painted the work after reading The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.

Again, it makes sense as a protest against the depersonalised, mass, industrial society. But there was much to love and defend in Melbourne in 1955. (I've often wished that much of the city centre of that time had been preserved, like the European "old city" centres.)

I did find the book interesting and thought provoking, but because it provided a snippet of the thought of each writer at a particular time it didn't really provide a depth of argument or insight. I've been left most curious about the essays written by Eliot and Lewis, which I will have to follow up and read when I can.