Monday, November 18, 2019

Gatekeepers of the failed right pt 2

In my last post I noted that the establishment right likes to call itself conservative but is, in reality, right-liberal (classical liberal/libertarian) and that this explains why there has been no effective opposition to the dominance of liberalism in Western politics.

A reader helpfully pointed me to the following tweet. It is from Jeremy Boreing, who founded The Daily Wire with Ben Shapiro. In the tweet he complains that the younger, independent right-wingers are "retrograde losers" (a slur that sounds similar to "deplorables"):



Think about this. If you are someone who wants to conserve liberalism, then what are you really in your politics? Clearly, you are a liberal. That's your belief system. The "conservatism" doesn't mean anything much in itself, except perhaps that you want to introduce liberal policies a little more cautiously to maintain the stability of the liberal order, or perhaps you prefer the classical liberal focus on the autonomous self-made man in the market rather than the left-liberal focus on state support for the autonomous individual.

This reality of the establishment right being "conservative" only in the sense that they wish to conserve liberalism goes back some way. An Australian PM, Malcolm Fraser, wrote back in 1980 that,
As its name implies, ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles ...

I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.

Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.

Even former PM Tony Abbott, with a reputation as being one of the most right-wing of the mainstream politicians here in Australia, has followed along with this idea. Not only has he endorsed the comments by Malcolm Fraser, he once defined conservatism as a kind of slow-burning liberalism:
The difference between a “liberal” and a “conservative” is not that one values freedom and the other doesn’t or even that one asserts and the other denies that freedom comes first. The difference between the ways liberals and conservatives value freedom is, perhaps, more the difference between love at first sight and the love which grows over time.

(It's interesting to note that the right wing liberal Abbott defined the animating principle of Australian politics in terms very similar to how the left wing liberal Barack Obama defined the animating principle of American politics. Abbott wrote: "The essential principle animating the Federation Fathers...was citizens’ greater freedom to pursue their individual destinies". For Obama it was "We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea—the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.")

The idea that a conservative is someone whose love for a liberal take on freedom "grows over time" rather than "at first sight" is lame. If you are going to pursue the liberal concept of freedom, then why would you want to be the one dragging your feet? Why not be part of the pioneering first wave and take the credit?

To finish on a positive note, it's encouraging that some of those reading James Boreing's tweet were less than impressed:






And there was this:



Saturday, November 16, 2019

The gatekeepers of the failed right

Back in 1998 the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote:
Contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals. There is little place in such political systems for the criticism of the system itself, that is, for putting liberalism in question.

This explains why society has drifted in an ever more liberal direction. Those who have called themselves "conservatives" have actually been right-wing liberals who believe in little more than individualism & the free market - a philosophy that is dissolving of tradition rather than supportive of it.

We are at an interesting moment in political history when this framework is beginning to be challenged. Some younger members of the right are no longer willing to go along with a philosophy they see as dissolving their identity; on the other hand there is a well-funded movement that aims to exclude from the right anyone who is not a right-liberal of some sort (i.e. classical liberal / libertarian).

I want to take a quick look in this post at some of the ideas that the right-liberal gatekeepers are promulgating - because I think it demonstrates clearly just how radically dissolving of society these ideas are.

Charlie Kirk, for instance, gave a speech in which he said he loved some of the places in America, like the Grand Canyon, but that,
...if all that disappeared and all I had was ideas and we were on an island...that's America...people have to remember that America is just a placeholder for timeless ideas and if you fall too much in love with the specific place, that's not what it is...

If this were true then anyone, anywhere could be just as "American," or perhaps more so, than actual Americans. Kirk, then, is not conserving a real entity, i.e. a people & place, but at most an idea - one which can be realised anywhere by anyone.

Moreover, this idea (or "proposition") is usually defined as something which is itself highly dissolving. Barack Obama expressed it during his 2011 State of the Union address as follows:
We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea—the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.

Sounds nice, but if that is it, then why not have open borders so that everyone who wants to can participate in shaping their own destiny? There is nothing to delineate a real historic people in this formulation - the nation is just a large conglomerate of people doing their own thing. There is nothing to connect them meaningfully, apart from a shared commitment to doing their own thing - and anyone from anywhere can do this.

Dan Crenshaw, a Texan Congressman, is another to reject the idea of a real community in favour of a radical individualism. He said,
Speaking to those reptilian brains, which go back for thousands of years of human history, where identity politics actually matters. But it doesn't. The Western Enlightenment told us it doesn't, individualism is what matters.

According to Crenshaw, having a communal identity is something which should be made not to matter. We should instead just see ourselves as individuals. Again, this is a radically dissolving philosophy rather than one which conserves real, historic communities.

Where do such ideas lead establishment "conservatives"? Here is what a writer for National Review (and a TV personality for Fox News) believes about immigration:





Now, here's the thing. If Kat Timpf is allowed to represent the side of politics that is supposed to conserve the nation, how is that going to turn out? Obviously, not much in the way of conserving an existing people or nation is going to take place.

My hope, therefore, is that Charlie Kirk and the TPUSA, in spite of their funding, do not succeed as gatekeepers in limiting the right to forms of right-liberalism. I support the gatecrashers. I particularly support those who have correctly observed that the current establishment right does not actually conserve, but that all too often it is part of the process of dissolving peoples & identities.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Imlay, Wollstonecraft & Free Love

Mary Wollstonecraft
I recently wrote about the free love philosophy of the Englishman William Godwin. He believed that progress was achieved when people were perfectly free to follow the dictates of their mind (i.e. autonomy), and that marriage was therefore an artificial, prejudiced and tyrannical social institution.

In other words, the belief in free love was high-minded. It was supposed to lead to a moral progress in which people would follow pure reason and choose to act selflessly and benevolently for the good of others.

The theory was put into practice with damaging consequences spanning two generations. I want to look in this post at the case of Gilbert Imlay and Mary Wollstonecraft. Imlay was an American diplomat and businessman, Wollstonecraft a feminist author. They met in France at the height of the French Revolution. Both being advocates of free love, they began an affair and Mary fell pregnant. Imlay, true to the free love theory, quietly abandoned Mary - she gave birth to her daughter, Fanny, in 1794.

Mary wrote letters to Imlay during this period, criticising his behaviour. She drew on a more traditional understanding of morality to do so. The following is drawn heavily from a book by E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi.

Mary was critical of Imlay for following impulse (sensual passion/appetite), ungoverned by reason. She wrote, for instance,
Beware of the deceptions of passion! It will not always banish from your mind, that you have acted ignobly - and condescended to subterfuge to gloss over the conduct you could not excuse.

Along similar lines she wrote,
But is it not possible that passion clouds your reason, as much as it does mine? - and ought you not to doubt, whether those principles are so “exalted,” as you term them, which only lead to your own gratification?

Mary notes here that Imlay's "exalted" principles are really only being used to justify a pursuit of individual self-gratification.

She also attempts to describe a higher form of love than the sensual alone, one which requires self-denial, but which is held to more stably and which expresses a higher nature within man:
The common run of men, I know, with strong, healthy and gross appetites, must have variety to banish ennui, because the imagination never lends its magic wand, to convert appetite into love, cemented by according reason.

Ah! my friend, you know not the ineffable delight, the exquisite pleasure, which arises from a unison of affection and desire, when the whole soul and senses are abandoned to a lively imagination, that renders every emotion delicate and rapturous. Yes; these are emotions over which satiety has no power, and the recollection of which, even disappointment cannot disenchant: but they do not exist without self-denial. These emotions, more or less strong, appear to me to be the distinctive characteristic of genius, the foundation of taste, and of that exquisite relish for the beauties of nature, of which the common herd of eaters and drinkers and childbegetters, certainly have no idea

Finally, she notes the way that a life based on gratifying appetite can make someone jaded and less capable of love:
I shall always consider it as one of the most serious misfortunes of my life, that I did not meet you, before satiety had rendered your senses so fastidious, as almost to close up every tender avenue of sentiment and affection that leads to your sympathetic heart. You have a heart, my friend, yet, hurried away by the impetuosity of inferior feelings, you have sought in vulgar excesses, for that gratification which only the heart can bestow.

So what happened to Mary and her daughter? Mary returned to London in 1795, trying to rekindle the relationship with Imlay, but he rejected her. She then attempted suicide via an overdose of laudanum. In 1796, realising that Imlay was never going to accept her, she attempted to drown herself in the Thames but was rescued by a passer-by.

In 1797, in an odd twist to the story, Mary married William Godwin - the radical philosopher of free love. However, she died giving birth to a daughter, also called Mary, who would go on to write the novel Frankenstein.

And what of her first daughter, Fanny? She committed suicide as a young woman in 1816. There are different theories about what led her to do so, but one of them is that her two sisters had run off with another advocate of free love, Percy Bysshe Shelley, but she had been rejected by him.

Conclusions? Most obviously, in practice free love did not lead someone like Imlay to act selflessly toward others. Nor did it liberate individuals like Mary Wollstonecraft from tyranny. Nor did it crush prejudice so that individuals might follow pure reason. Nor did it usher in a new age of benevolent love.

As Mary's letters indicate, a free love philosophy had something like the opposite effect. It justified the pursuit of self-gratification. It harmed others grievously. It justified the pursuit of passion, ungoverned by reason. And it closed off the experience of a higher-natured love.

In a larger sense, the problem is that Enlightenment thinkers like Godwin were trying to find ways to justify assumptions about the individual as an autonomous actor in society. This individual was supposed to act according to his own unlimited will and reason, but whilst still advancing the common good. It was shaky ground to build a social philosophy on, as it relied on beliefs about human nature (man as a blank slate), about progress (that unfettered mind would advance knowledge and therefore moral culture), and about human goods (highly abstracted, indefinite forms of love and community as purposes in life).

The starting point is wrong. It is the wrong image of man. It is important that we ditch the Enlightenment project and describe man differently, not as an autonomous actor, but bound by his own nature to specific forms of human community and to specific roles within them - so that we fulfil our own selves, at least in part, through our commitments to particular forms of community.

There is one more post to come. Another generation was to be inspired by Godwin to adopt beliefs about free love - and they too were deeply affected by the real life consequences.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A comment on Godwin

Before I resume telling the ill-fated story of the free love advocates of the British enlightenment, I want to do something I don't often do and highlight a comment to my original post.

My first post sketched out the philosophy of William Godwin (1756-1836). I noted that Godwin's philososophy established a gulf between man's being in the world and the pursuit of a common good that was only uneasily bridged.

For Godwin, it was "natural" for man to follow the dictates of his own mind. In doing so, he would extend the sphere of knowledge and this would then improve moral standards - autonomous man would, via pure reason, choose to act selflessly and benevolently for the benefit of mankind as a whole.

This philosophy led Godwin to denounce marriage and the family as these placed controls over who we chose to establish relationships with. By the logic of Godwin's philosophy, to marry was to engage in an artificial, selfish and prejudiced act in which we treated others as property.

Godwin had not given up on a common good. He connected a radically individualistic mode of being (we act according to the dictates of our own mind without constraint) to a highly abstract common good (by acting so we come to choose, via pure reason, to act selflessly and benevolently for the good of our fellow man - i.e. for humankind).

A reader observed:
I am convinced that the "valid" realms of human pursuits are for liberals relegated to the individual or the global abstract, while the stations in between are dismissed or denounced.

With enough brainwashing, the individual can be convinced he is master of himself, and liberal elites (the brainwashers) can dictate universal values. It is family, community, church, ethnicity, etc., that represent a threat to this binary. They give people some measure of influence in managing their particular interests and connecting with others in meaningful ways. Liberals seem to believe, therefore, that those venues, in which their revolutionary ideas have little control or influence, must be made irrelevant or destroyed.

I have bolded the two thoughts that I think are particularly well put. I would only add to the first that the conceit of being a "master of oneself" might contribute to the liberals of today believing that they are anti-establishment free thinkers when in fact they are conforming to a state ideology that has been entrenched for generations.

As for the second observation, it rings true when you consider the rationalism of Enlightenment thinkers like Godwin. By rationalism I mean the belief that a society could be refounded (literally "re-formed") on the basis of rational principles formulated by intellectuals like Godwin himself.

If you have this mindset, you will instinctively dislike the "measure of influence" that institutions like the family give to ordinary people in "managing their particular interests and connecting with others in meaningful ways" because this then limits the "ground zero" approach to re-forming society along the "rational" and "unprejudiced" principles favoured by intellectuals.

In stark contrast, traditionalists instinctively admire the "little kingdom" aspect of family life, i.e. the way that family allows us to perform offices that express and fulfil our natures (even if they involve burdens) and, in so doing, create unique human communities based on very personal ties, loves and loyalties. Our instinct is that this is a better foundation on which to build the wider expressions of human community than any philosopher's abstract formula.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Love gone wrong

One of the more extraordinary stories in English political history was the failure of the free love movement across two generations.

The story begins with William Godwin, who published an influential book, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, in 1793. In this work he attacks marriage on the following grounds:
So long as two human beings are forbidden, by positive institution, to follow the dictates of their own mind, prejudice will be alive and vigorous. So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means, to maintain my possession of a woman, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness.

There is a political philosophy underpinning this argument. Godwin believed that we start out as blank slates and that it is therefore possible to improve human nature via the gradual extension of knowledge. Knowledge would advance only to the extent that people could follow their own individual judgement - the "dictates of their own mind".

I find it interesting that this is similar to the approach of what we now call classical liberals. They had attempted to resolve the problem of how to fit together the liberated individual and the common good by asserting that if individuals acted freely for their own profit that the hidden hand of the market would deliver a benefit to society as a whole.

Godwin resolves the same problem by claiming that if individuals act freely according to the dictates of their own mind, without the influence of social institutions, traditions or conventions, that knowledge would increase, and therefore there would be a progress in moral virtue, with people choosing to act selflessly and benevolently to maximise the happiness of the community.

The problem is that in both cases there is now a deep divide between the understanding of man and the common good that has to be bridged. In the older understanding, it was essential to our nature as men that we were fathers, sons, brothers, husbands and Englishmen. Our commitment to the common good was written into our natures. Yes, there could be a tension between the duties to family, community and nation springing from this aspect of our inborn natures and our more purely individual existence. But in general we expressed our own natures via our participation in stable forms of community.

In the newer Godwinian view, we do not have a given nature. And the emphasis is on ourselves as wholly independent minds, developing without the corrupting influence of "artificial" communal entities such as family. What is "natural" is to develop alone as a thinking, rational mind. Our "being" therefore is highly individualistic and atomised, so the leap to a common good is a difficult one. It relies on the assumption that as knowledge and education progressively develop, we will reason our way to a belief that the moral purpose in life is to maximise the happiness of the general population, leading individuals via "pure reason" to act selflessly and benevolently.

Note that this new common good is an abstract one. We are not acting selflessly to uphold particular forms of community, such as our own family, but a "general happiness of mankind".

For Godwin, the important thing was that we were free to follow the "dictates" of our own mind; it was therefore an irrational, selfish and despotic act to hold someone to a marriage vow. If we allowed individuals to follow their minds freely, the result would ultimately be an extension of knowledge, of moral virtue and of human happiness.

But things did not turn out happily for those who followed Godwin's philosophy of free love.

(In the next post I'll look at the story of Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist of the era, who became Godwin's wife.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Conference 2019 a great success!

The Melbourne Traditionalists Conference took place on the weekend, organised by Mark Moncrieff of the Upon Hope blog. It was another very enjoyable event with about 30 in attendance.

The conference once again gave things a good push along. There were plenty of new faces, lots of new friendships made and interesting talks on a range of subjects. The conference has given our movement a welcome boost - many thanks to all those who took part.

If any local readers are interested in getting involved, we do hold regular catch ups. More information at the Melbourne Traditionalists website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Is Charlie Kirk a conservative?

There is an organisation in America called Turning Point USA (TPUSA). It's active on campuses and it promotes itself as a conservative organisation, even selling T-shirts with the slogan "Keep it conservative".

As good as this might sound, the reality is different. To give you a sense of what TPUSA really stands for take a look at the exchange between its leader, Charlie Kirk, and an audience member at a recent campus talk. I'll provide a summary below, but you can watch it live from 40:40 onwards:

  

The gist of the exchange is as follows:

Audience member: I'm against mass immigration. I'm from California and things have declined there since mass immigration began in 1965. Its changed the voting trends. It's made cities like Los Angeles culturally divided.

Charlie Kirk: I think the growing anti-immigration part of the Republican movement is dangerous. There's a difference between coming here legally and border jumping. However, I do believe that what makes America different and what will continue to make America exceptional is that the best, the brightest and most aspirational from all over the planet earth should be able to get a shot to come here legally...this country was built by immigrants, this country is a shining city on a hill for immigrants.

Audience member: But is a million a year a sustainable number? Before I die more than 60 million foreigners will come in who will bring their culture with them. 80% of immigrants vote Democrat. And the trend holds through the generations.

Charlie Kirk: I don't think you can design immigration policy based on politics. I think that's very dangerous. If someone graduates from a US university and we send them back to Korea or to Japan that doesn't make any sense. They should be given a green card or a visa upon graduation...What makes this country so different is the embracing of coming from somewhere else to be able to achieve your dreams here. When an immigrant entrepreneur comes here with an idea and comes here to take a risk basic economics will tell you it's a net benefit for everybody. I want the best, smartest people here in America.

Kirk is obviously misguided in thinking that America is exceptional in having a large scale immigration programme - most Western countries do. The more significant thing to note, though, is that Kirk has a typically right liberal attitude to what matters in life. For him, what matters is success in the market, and he therefore idealises America on the basis that it offers people from around the world the opportunity to pursue such success.

This, however, is anything but a genuinely conservative world view. What, after all, does it end up conserving? If the aim is to have the fewest constraints to participation in the market, then you will end up radically dissolving the core, traditional aspects of a society rather than conserving them.

Think, for instance, of the family. If success in life is measured by material success in a free market, and if the core value of society is a "freedom" of having the least constraints on participation in the market, then why would people devote themselves to family? On what basis would women forego participation in the market to devote themselves to home and children? Why would people forego a consumerist lifestyle to direct their energies and resources instead to the raising of children? And why would people not begin to treat relationships themselves as a kind of commodity, i.e. as a lifestyle choice based on personal preference - rather than as a sacramental union, or as a commitment to an ongoing familial legacy spanning the generations.

It's the same when it comes to traditional national ties. If what matters is the absence of constraints on participation in the market, then it will be thought a positive development for people to arrive from around the world to join the national economy (the "shining city on a hill"). It will be thought wrong to limit who might come in order to conserve an existing identity. In some ways, the "aspirational immigrant" will be seen to be a better representative of the nation's values than the stay-put native born resident. And so the end result is an outlook that dissolves the existing identity and tradition, and replaces it not with anything new and stable, but with continual change as new waves of immigration roll onto the country's shores.

It is therefore misleading to associate right liberalism with the term conservatism. Right liberalism does not conserve, it dissolves. Nor does right liberalism succeed on its own terms. For instance, the slogan of right liberalism is usually something like "free markets, individual freedom and limited government". However, in the longer term the inner contradictions of right liberalism fail to secure these things. Government tends to grow larger and more intrusive under the philosophy of right liberalism, despite the call to limit its influence.

One reason for this is that it is the state that is used to break up the traditional structures of society that once placed limits on the market. If, for instance, you want women to participate in the market to an equal degree to men, then you have to use the power of the state to create affordable childcare; to enforce anti-discrimination laws; and to replace the social welfare functions once associated with the family. Similarly, if there are mass waves of immigration that gradually undermine social cohesion, there will be less social engagement and potentially issues of crime or social decay that then require state intervention (e.g. government agencies to undertake welfare work once managed by volunteer organisations, a greater presence of law enforcement etc.).

The other reason why right liberalism fails was pointed out to Charlie Kirk by the man in the audience. By having such a glowing account of immigration, and refusing to think in practical political terms about the consequences of this immigration, right liberals are handing political power to the left. California is a very clear example of this: in 1988 52% of Californians voted for the Republican candidate for President, but by 2016, after large-scale demographic change, that percentage had fallen to 31%. California is now a stronghold of the left.

Those right-liberals who are willing to confront this issue often have a change of heart and rethink many of their political positions. But for the Charlie Kirks, who still centre their politics on the "shining city" philosophy, this isn't possible. They will hold fast to their philosophy, even as evidence mounts that the philosophy will ultimately hand power to those who stand openly for big government and government regulation of the economy.

Finally, we need to call out right liberals for having too "thin" an account of what matters in life. It's true that success in the marketplace can bring a sense of achievement, as it requires self-discipline, self-sacrifice, industry, judgement, perseverance and boldness. Material success can also give access to other goods in life, including success in relationships, financial freedom and so on.

The reality, though, is that participation in the market is not very glamorous for most people. It consumes time and energy, it separates us from our family, it prevents a more rounded development of our talents, it places us often in stressful conditions in which we are subject to a boss, and it leaves most people in a merely modest financial position.

Many people, therefore, do not live to work. They make the rational decision to base their life values elsewhere, often in family commitments, but also in friendships, in a church community, in sporting or artistic endeavours, or through identifying with the larger ethnic or civilisational tradition they belong to.

Most people won't succeed in any notable way as entrepreneurs in the market. In right liberal terms, they will be failures. And so right liberalism is, at best, an "apex" philosophy for a relatively small number of people - it cannot genuinely represent the values of the greater part of the population. If anything it undermines the sense of meaning, identity and belonging that most people once found in society.

It is therefore a pity that the opposition to the left still comes primarily from right liberals rather than from a more genuinely socially conservative political movement.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Two new podcasts

Australian readers in particular might be interested in two new discussions between myself and Mark Moncrieff:



And here:

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The skirmish line

The focus in liberalism is on freely determining for ourselves our identity, our purposes, our values and so on. Therefore, a liberal society cheers on those who reject received identities. It's considered a great thing for a young woman to play rugby and not so good for her to be oriented to motherhood.

On what basis do traditionalists reject this liberal focus? One serious way to do so is to emphasise that we should, as individuals, be focused on ordering ourselves to the good. In this view, our impulses are wayward and need to be directed, through the cultivation of virtue, and with the support of culture, toward higher ends.

How would a liberal react to this claim? Well, I don't think a liberal would easily think along these lines, but at the same time a liberal might attempt to incorporate it into the liberal view. A liberal might respond that, yes, an individual might order themselves toward the good, but that nobody else but the individual has the right to determine what that good is. We would then have a society in which each individual orients themselves toward the good that they have chosen, whilst respecting the right of everyone else to do the same.

So the idea of being oriented toward the good is only, at best, a skirmish line separating liberals and traditionalists - it is not the war line.

The liberal view can work if people choose a good that can be pursued at the individual level. For instance, if it is my chosen good to be successful in the career, status and money sense, then I can pursue this within the liberal framework. Similarly, if I choose to pursue personal pleasure, such as through travel, entertainment or dining out.

So what is the war line?

We get to the war line if we insist that the good that we orient ourselves to is given to us within the natural order rather than being subjectively chosen. The liberal view is that we can choose anything, and that as long as it does not limit the choice of anyone else, it is equally valid. The traditional view is that there is an objective good for us to order ourselves toward and that there are ends given to us that we properly seek to fulfil in life.

Professor Patrick Deneen, in his book Why Liberalism Failed, explains the distinction this way:
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. (p.35)

A secondary war line is when we see the individual good and the common good as being intertwined. For instance, let's say that I see my individual good as being tied in with the good of family life. I might take seriously a goal of marrying well, having a large family, playing a distinct sex role as a husband and father, expressing both marital and paternal love within the family, socialising my children into a familial, communal and civilisational heritage and so on.

I cannot easily do this within the liberal framework because I cannot do it alone through my own choices. It requires that I live within a culture that supports such a concept of the good. Imagine, for instance, that the women I live amongst have been socialised to be independent career women, who see family life as limiting their autonomy, and who see an unrestrained sexuality as empowering. Imagine, too, that it is assumed that family life is secondary to careerism and that I should spend all my time and energy at work. Or that I should not be paid a living wage, given the default assumption that there will be two full-time wage earners.

In other words, the assumptions that liberalism makes about the good - that it is based on the subjective preferences of autonomous individuals - limits the realm of what goods are practically available to us, in particular by undermining the possibility of a common good. And if you hold that the individual good rests upon the existence of a common good, then liberalism does clearly fail.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

UK judge: Christian belief incompatible with human dignity

The UK was once a very Christian nation. I've been reading a biography of the radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Shelley: The Pursuit), who, unusually for his time, was an atheist. In 1811 he met his future wife Harriet Westbrook. This is how she described her initial reaction to his beliefs:
You may conceive with what horror I first heard that Percy was an Atheist...at first I did not comprehend the meaning of the word; therefore when it was explained I was truly petrified. (p.67)

But how things have changed. A UK judge has recently declared Christian belief to be incompatible with human dignity. In a way, this is not surprising, as Christianity does not fit in with the ruling state ideology in the UK, namely liberalism.

The story runs as follows. Dr David Mackereth was employed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as a disability assessor. He was queried by a supervisor about whether he would, hypothetically, refer to a 6ft tall bearded man by female pronouns. He answered that he couldn't in conscience do this given his Christian belief that we are created male or female by God (Genesis 1:27) and that we cannot change our sex according to our own will.

There is some dispute about whether or not Dr Mackereth was then directly dismissed from his position or not, but regardless the case ended up at an employment tribunal hearing. Judge Perry found in favour of the DWP and it is the reasons he gave for his decision which are the most significant part of the story.

Judge Perry began by noting that according to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

So what's the catch? Well, another judge, J Burton, (in the case of Grainger v Nicholson) defined what constituted an acceptable "philosophical belief" or religion. And one of his criteria was the following:
(v) It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Judge Perry then ruled that:
belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.

And this:
We accept Dr Mackereth’s account that his beliefs are inherent to his wider faith. In so far as those beliefs form part of his wider faith, his wider faith also does not satisfy Grainger.

According to Judge Perry, the orthodox Christian view "does not satisfy" the criteria for acceptable belief in a society because it is incompatible with human dignity and conflicts with the fundamental rights of others. Therefore, orthodox Christianity is not protected under the convention of human rights.

The underlying problem is not that Christianity is incompatible with human dignity but that it is incompatible with liberalism. A Christian might argue that the belief that our male and female natures are God-given and a part of God's plan for us enhances the dignity of our persons. But for a liberal human dignity comes from the act of autonomous choice in which we self-determine our own personhood.

For a Christian, the moral thing is to fully develop our given natures as men and women, i.e. to order ourselves toward ideals or standards of masculine and feminine virtue. We discern what is best within our masculine and feminine natures and attempt to fully develop these qualities, as a way of completing ourselves and meeting one of our missions in life (our telos).

For a liberal, the moral thing is not only to author our own identity but to respect the right of others to do the same. Because liberals do not like the idea of a given nature, it will be held to be particularly moral to act against "stereotypes" when it comes to masculinity or femininity (hence the banning in the UK earlier this year of a car ad which briefly portrayed a mother sitting next to a pram, the image being ruled to be a harmful and offensive stereotype).

Given the logic of the situation, it seems naive to me to expect that orthodox Christianity will be well tolerated within a liberal system. Either it will change to fit in better with liberalism (which usually means becoming irrelevant, as it then loses its animating principles) or else it will have to more self-consciously recognise the difficulty of the situation and use whatever power it has to defend its own place in society.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

In conversation with Mark Moncrieff

Mark Moncrieff (of Upon Hope) and I sat down yesterday and recorded some conversations, the first of which is now up at YouTube. It can be either listened to directly or else extracted as an MP3 file. I hope you enjoy it (the photo, if you're wondering, is of the American traditionalist Lawrence Auster).

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Locke & the family

Dr Allan Carlson believes that the English philosopher John Locke set the template for the modern family back in the late 1600s. According to Carlson, Locke thought that the traditional role of fathers in the family was unnatural. All men wanted to do, by nature, was to survive as individuals and beget children (and then leave). Therefore, men were given power and authority over women and children as a way of luring them into family life.

And so, for Locke, the traditional paternal role was not only narrow in purpose, but politically damaging as it was used to justify the rule and authority of kings. Therefore, it had to be reformed:
"Since his overall project demanded an end to Patriarchy at the political level, so as to undermine the claims of kings, Locke deemed it necessary to bring an end to Patriarchy within the family as well. His alternative was the “liberal” marriage – of limited purpose and authority – where men might find compensatory satisfactions in friendships with a wife and children. Locke understood that, while it ran against his premise of gender equality, he still needed to cast the father as the presumed head of the family, which in industrial society evolved into the “breadwinner” role."

Being the "presumed head of the family" did not mean as much as it once did. As Dr Carlson points out, the paternal role was increasingly dominated by the demands of paid work. Even so, liberals eventually came to believe that even this "soft patriarchy" conflicted too much with liberal beliefs about gender equality. And so Locke's voluntary marital contract, in which women are tied to family by their natural connection to children, and men by their "artificial" role as head of the family, breaks down:
However, some in the liberal order eventually saw that as too great a price. To gain the promised equality, they said, women must instead overcome their maternal instincts and break their affective ties to children and to nature itself. At that point, the contract breaks down. As women renounce their innate purpose, men lose their artificially created one, and the liberal marriage system dissolves.

This overtly feminist step did not take place until the second half of the nineteenth century, but it had its origins in Locke:
While John Stuart Mill, writing in the mid-19th century, was among the first to describe this feminist imperative, its roots lay in Locke. Indeed, he readily acknowledged the validity, in certain societies, of the single-parent family, where “the children are left to the mother, follow her, and are wholly under her care and provision”.

So also with polygamy: systems of one man with multiple wives or one woman with multiple husbands. These too, Locke said, could serve as household forms adequate to the tasks of rearing children as “free and rational creatures”. Such matters were subject solely to cultural acceptance, what Locke called “fashion”. 

It would be interesting to follow this observation further. If Locke's end goal really was simply to raise children as "free and rational" creatures, then you could do this in a variety of settings, including state institutions. The traditional family is then put on shaky ground. An alternative approach would be to think of the offices of husband/father and wife/mother as being part of the social context within which we best fulfil our given purposes as men and women. It would also see the traditional family as an aspect of society itself, as its own little commonwealth, with a distinct culture, and with a set of economic, educational, religious and leisure functions that are foundational to the larger society.

Carlson does discuss the problem of the family losing its larger functions in society. According to Carlson, this was something deliberately aimed at by Locke:
Locke’s “Conjugal Society” rested on a “voluntary compact between men and women” that was limited to the “things of their common interest and [common] property”. Under Patriarchy, the economic lives of men and women had been merged, wholly and completely. As expressions of pre-industrial life, such households were also characterised by a great array of productive activities. The sexual and the economic merged fully here.

Locke aimed at families stripped of most functions, economic or otherwise. Property could be held separately, by husband and wife. Since the purposes of marriage were only procreation and the socialisation of small children as rational creatures, and since marriage was always provisional, a strong home economy was neither necessary nor desirable.

I've been thinking about exactly this issue lately. Modern society is rendering men and women increasingly less necessary to each other - at least in terms of social function. Not only is there gender role convergence, in which men and women end up doing much the same thing in society, but so many aspects of life are being outsourced, that it's much more possible for people to survive without the support of family.

To the extent that we can, we need to "un-Locke" the family. The family will not rest well on the basis provided for it by Locke and his successors (which is increasingly limited to a provisional friendship between "partners" of any sex). It needs to widen once again its functions within society and the paternal role needs to be grounded on fundamental aspects of masculine nature, identity, social roles and telos/purposes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Melbourne Traditionalists Conference 2019

Last year we held our first ever conference. It was a great success both in terms of attendance and atmosphere. You don't need to be part of the group to attend, just interested in learning about traditionalist ideas and meeting a group of like minded people. The details are:

Dates: 

Friday 18th October, 7pm Meet and Greet

Saturday 19th October, 10am - 5pm Conference; 7pm Banquet

Presentations:

1. Shelley and the origins of Liberal thought

2. E.F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful

3. From ABC to XYZ: Alt Media in Australia

4. International Banking and You

5. Class Warfare and White Genocide: The origins of Cultural Marxism

Cost:

The cost includes both the lunch and the Saturday evening banquet. Concession $75, Full Price $110.

Venue:

An historic building in the inner suburbs, address to be confirmed to attendees prior to conference.

Booking:

Booking is online here.

Further information:

Mark Moncrieff, email: uponhopeblog(at)gmail.com

Monday, September 09, 2019

How a law came to pass

A new law has been passed here in the Australian state of Victoria to allow people to change whether they are listed as male or female on their birth certificates:
The bill was introduced a second time by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy, who celebrated its passing on Tuesday night.

"These important new laws are about ensuring everyone can live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity," she said.

As you can see from the quote, the Attorney-General justified the new law by emphasising the importance of a freedom to live as we choose, even to the point of choosing our sex. Supporters of the new law likewise held up placards reading "Autonomy & Freedom," connecting freedom with an autonomy to self-define.



None of this is surprising. Courts in the U.S., for instance, have made very explicit the idea that a right to self-define is fundamental to how moral issues are decided. One example of this was a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 which struck down a law requiring women to wait 72 hours before procuring an abortion on the grounds that:
Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one's own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty.

Liberty is being tied together here with an autonomous individual self-defining in whatever direction they choose.

This is not a new notion in the West. It was one of two approaches to freedom that seem to have contested for the Western soul from the early modern period onward.

I wrote a post earlier this year about a dispute in England in 1620 on the question of transvestism. Was it right for women to wear men's clothes? In one pamphlet the reasons given in favour were very similar to those still being made today. The transvestite woman defended herself with the argument that freedom existed when there was no "restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire". Therefore, she was free if she was able to follow her desire to dress as a man. Similarly, she claimed that "for me to follow change according to the limitation of mine own will and pleasure, there cannot be a greater freedom." She believed that she was free if she could act with nothing to limit her but her own will and pleasure.

But in 1620 there was another way of thinking about freedom. Her opponent in the debate reproaches her with these words:
You have wrested out some wit, to wrangle forth no reason; since everything you would make for excuse, approves your guilt still more ugly: what basest bondage, or what more servile baseness, than for the flattering and soothing of an un-bridled appetite, or delight, to take a wilfull liberty to do evil, and to give evil example? This is to be Hells Prentice, not Heaven’s Free-woman.

There is no freedom, in this view, in asserting "unbridled appetite, or delight". If we choose to act basely, then we are not exercising freedom, but falling into a servile bondage.

The woman eventually reveals that she never really wanted to wear men's clothes but only did so to shame men into acting less foppishly themselves. She quotes some lines of a poem in which the hero has been beguiled by a witch and has lost his manliness:
His Locks bedewed with waters of sweet savour;
Stood curled round in order on his head;
He had such wanton womanish behaviour,
As though in Valor he had ne’re been bred:
So chang’d in speech, in manners and in favour,
So from himselfe beyond all reason led,
By these inchantments of this amorous Dame;
He was himselfe in nothing but in name.

The lines are significant because they suggest that we have fit ends within our nature as men and women that we know best when in a certain state of right mind/reason, but that we can be led beyond reason and therefore fail to inhabit what we are meant to be. Freedom, in other words, is more a capacity to act according to what is best within our given natures as men and women, rather than an autonomy to self-define.

The man is inspired to firmly reject his own effeminate dress and declares:
From henceforth deformity shall pack to Hell, and if at any time he hide himself upon the earth, yet it shall be with contempt and disgrace...Henceforth we will live nobly like ourselves

The writer of the 1620 pamphlet felt that the more he approached the nobler qualities of manhood the more he lived as himself.

The transvestite woman did not win the argument in the 1620 pamphlet but today she inhabits the benches of supreme courts throughout the Western world. It is her understanding of liberty, as a freedom to self-define, which is now the ruling principle, having vanquished the other, once influential, Western tradition that connected freedom, reason and nature.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Partial interest & the common good

I listened recently to a very interesting lecture by Professor Patrick Deneen on the topic of "Aristopopulism". In this lecture, Deneen mentions that a basic problem in politics going back all the way to the ancients was how to overcome the conflict between the few at the top and the many below. The solution was to look for a common good, particularly one that might restrain the behaviour of those with power.

It is clear that the commitment to a common good is weakening in Western societies. The elites no longer see their own fate bound together with that of their co-nationals. At the same time, there is an emerging unease within the majority about their appointed role in society. Below, for instance, is an image from a yellow vest demonstration in France. The placard reads "Work, consume and shut your mouth" - a complaint about what is expected of ordinary French people.



We seem to be replacing the traditional commitment to a common good, that all were duty bound to uphold, with an understanding of society as being made up of a whole series of partial interests, each set against each other, but each needing to be balanced to achieve a state of social justice.

Liberals often just assume this model of society, whilst traditionalists are more likely to still have in mind the notion of a common good. For instance, a liberal woman will assume that men have always acted out of a partial interest to press their own power in society against that of women. Therefore, if men express unease or discomfort about some feminist initiative, a liberal woman will understand it to represent a psychological difficulty of those men in giving up power for the sake of equality.

Similarly, imagine a situation in which a husband has worked for decades for the good of his family and ends up with a larger amount of superannuation than his wife, who perhaps stopped work for a period of time to be with her children. If you think in terms of people acting dutifully to uphold the common good of their family, then you will think of the husband and wife sharing a joint interest and benefiting together from their combined superannuation. A liberal woman, though, might be so used to thinking in terms of men and women having separate and distinct partial interests, and the notion of a common good might be so absent, that she will see the husband and wife as having separate financial interests, and therefore she will see the difference in superannuation as harming rather than benefiting the wife.

You can see all this playing out as well when it comes to race relations. In a traditional society, there was a common good represented by the continuing existence of a people, its culture and tradition. It would have been thought not only normal but also highly desirable for this culture and people to dominate within its own country.

But if there is no common good, but only competing partial interests needing to be balanced out, then the existence of a dominant majority people and culture becomes highly problematic. White nationalists sometimes claim a place within the field of modern politics by asserting the right to promote the partial interests of whites. As understandable as this is, it doesn't work well when the notion of a common good has been rejected in favour of partial interests. If the majority people and culture assert their rights, then this will be seen to be favouring an "unequal" situation, of the majority wanting to continue as a dominant majority and therefore favouring "supremacy" rather than being balanced out by everyone else.

Can a society that lacks the notion of a common good prosper? I don't think so. First, there will be a widening sense of incompatibility between those at the top and the rest of the population. The discontents that gave birth to the yellow vest movement in France are likely to build up in force elsewhere. Second, the absence of a common good will, over time, erode the conscientiousness and sense of duty that once helped motivate people to make and to keep their commitments to others. Third, it will be more difficult to persuade people to make lifelong commitments without the sense of meaning and purpose provided by a common good.

Finally, when people stop thinking about how interests can be harmonised within a common good, then even our own partial interests are likely to suffer. For instance, feminists often make the mistake of thinking that they can push the partial interests of women without thinking of the larger harmony of interests necessary for things to work out well. As an example, feminists have been very successful in enrolling women into higher education, sometimes with the help of quotas and the like. There is now something like a million more women than men in higher education in the U.S. But where then do these women find husbands with a similar or higher standard of education? Feminist successes in education lead to failures in family formation. So are women really any better off even looked at from the point of view of their own partial interests?