Thursday, March 14, 2019

A tale of two women

This is a story of two young attractive women. Their lives have gone in very different directions because they have adopted such different life philosophies.

The first woman is Chidera Eggerue. She is of Nigerian descent and lives in the UK. Here is one of her recent tweets:

As you can see, Chidera has bought into a left liberal world view. She believes that the reason we don't have freedom and equality is that there is a power structure ("patriarchy") which only exists because one group of people, men, wanted to exploit another group, women.

This left-liberal belief goes back a long way. The power structure identified as being responsible for the world's ills changes over time. It was once thought to be the aristocratic order, then the bourgeois one, and is now a combination of whiteness and maleness. I've written about its earlier forms here.

What I'd briefly like to point out is one of the consequences of believing in "patriarchy theory". If you are a woman and you believe that throughout human history men have organised to exploit you, then what will you think about men, marriage and relationships? Inevitably, at least some of the women holding these ideas are going to lose a sense of warm, positive regard for men.

Chidera Eggerue

It's therefore not surprising that Chidera has become an advocate for the single life. She has written a book titled What A Time To Be Alone which has the following blurb:
In What A Time To Be Alone, The Slumflower [Chidera] will be your life guru, confidante and best friend. She’ll show you that being alone is not just okay: it’s just about the best freaking thing that’s ever happened to you.

Unsurprisingly the book also has the basic liberal message that what matters is our autonomy - our freedom to be self-determining individuals. A review of the book describes it as having:
a message of self-determination outlining that any woman can be who she wants to be

The second woman, Caitlin Huber, lives in the American Midwest. Her life philosophy is very different to Chidera's. She is a Christian with a more traditional outlook of cultivating feminine character.
Caitlin Huber

In her description of how she tries to live her faith she includes this:
4. Guarding My Mind & Spirit

I actively try to guard my mind and spirit from negative influences: this may sound a little "woo-woo" but hear me out. Scripture calls us to think about things that are "lovely and noble."

And in a post on cultivating feminine character:
A strong and beautiful character does not happen overnight however; it must be nurtured over a lifetime. As we nurture our character, we can lean into our naturally feminine traits and instincts to further cultivate femininity.

...We instinctively have the ability to nurture as women, but that does not mean a strong character will not help us nurture BETTER. In fact, a character rich in the virtues of discipline, kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty will allow us to nurture more effectively than one lacking in character altogether.

...The character is what we can fall back on when times are tough. Character helps us get through tough situations and moral conundrums. Good character built upon solid morals helps us make life-giving decisions so that we can live a stable, and positive life, fit and ready to nurture those around us and ourselves.

Character is different than your "Heart"

I see a ton of Women's ministries focused on our "hearts." We try to nurture our hearts, listen to our hearts, follow our hearts, and speak from the heart.

This advice has good intentions, but part of the problem is that hearts are wishy-washy. They are prone to emotional ups and downs, frivolous desires, constant confusion, and weakness. The heart should be relied upon sometimes in life, but I think that if you are going to put a ton of energy into nurturing anything in your life, let it be your character.

...Character can be created, nurtured, and forged through adversity, pain, and discipline. Through choosing the right way, the moral way, and the strong way, we will be able to forge strong character, and in turn, live effective, successful, and beautiful lives.

What can we say about this philosophy? First, it is not premised on a sense of being wronged by men. Therefore it is not surprising that Caitlin is married and looking forward to having children. Her tweets often describe the simple satisfactions of a happy domestic life:

Second, Caitlin's philosophy is a good example of what we might return to if we could only discard the influence of liberalism on our culture. Not being ruled by a liberal philosophy, Caitlin can freely accept that she has a distinct nature as a woman, one that has important virtues attached to it, that a woman will rightly seek to cultivate. She is also free to live by the standards that were once so much a part of the Western tradition, including orienting herself to the more noble aspects of character, as well as to what is lovely within womanhood.

Chidera's liberalism is a civilisational dead-end. It leads logically to solo development, rather than to family formation. It drives a wedge between men and women. It does not recognise the goods of personal character as this would limit choice - it emphasises instead that we be non-judgemental, even toward ourselves ("self-acceptance"). It preaches empowerment, but this only really means getting to follow any impulse or desire, no matter what it is.

Liberalism is unfortunately very deeply embedded in the minds of many Western men. It's not an easy thing to purge from our society. I would appeal, though, to any young men reading this to consider what is at stake, not just for the West, but for their own personal lives. If we were to jettison liberalism, and encourage women to cultivate feminine character, would we not have a better chance at living fulfilling personal lives, as husbands and fathers within a family?

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.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

We are playing by girl's rules

If you were to believe feminists we live in an oppressive patriarchy in which women lack equal rights.

And yet when it comes to relationships we are clearly playing not by men's rules, or even equal rules, but by women's rules.

Western culture once viewed individuals as having, like other creatures, an animal nature, but unlike other creatures, the faculty of reason. The idea was to use reason to guide our nature to higher ends or purposes. Human freedom was associated with self-restraint of baser impulses and desires, and with the cultivation of virtue and character.

But the formula has changed. To be liberated now means having an autonomous individual will, so that we are free to act on our desires or impulses, no matter what they might be (we are no longer even meant to judge these desires, we are supposed to be "non-judgemental").

And so a young woman will be told that she is being "empowered" by acting according to her desires or impulses, no matter what they are. It is her "right" to do so, a part of her autonomy. The culture of rational self-restraint has been overthrown (as described in my How Free is Cardi B? post).

There are three noticeable aspects of this experiment in liberating female impulse from a culture of prudential reason:

1. When women's primal nature is exercised unrestrained, there are observable patterns in their relationship choices at different stages of life.

2. Society is organised to enable these female choices.

3. Liberating and enabling these impulses has negative effects.

I'm going to make a foray into territory I usually avoid, by attempting to observe how women process relationships. I'll be drawing on the work of Rollo Tomassi in doing this. I can't endorse everything he has written (if for no other reason than I haven't read all that he has written). However, his way of describing the patterns in female behaviour fits closely with what I have experienced and observed. I therefore believe it to be useful knowledge that should be widely known (there is a useful graph illustrating his ideas embedded in this post.)

The underlying observation, on which the rest depends, is that there is a dual nature to women's sexual strategy. The kind of men that women are attracted to sexually are often different to the kind of men that women rely on for support in establishing a family. Rightly or wrongly, the first kind of men are usually termed "alpha" and the second "beta".

If a young women is "liberated" to do so (i.e. liberated to follow her impulses, no matter what they are), she will often choose to spend her younger years attempting to attract the alpha males who she responds to sexually. Rollo suggests that this "party years" phase is at its peak from roughly ages 20 to 26 (I have heard women of my own age refer to it as their "wild years").

Who are these alpha men? It varies a bit, but it will include men who are edgy in their looks and behaviour, who are self-confident in dealing with women, who have a reputation as "players", who are muscular, who have a visible level of drive and ambition, who have some kind of social status (e.g. play in a band) and who don't play by the rules.

Women don't necessarily expect that relationships with these "exciting" men will be more than sexual. In this phase, women are using the sexual power they find themselves with to compete to be chosen by such men. As long as the women still think of themselves as young and attractive enough to vie for the attention of such alpha males they may well prefer a "sex in the city" lifestyle in which they aren't tied down to any one man. They like the experience of exercising their sexual power; some don't want it to end.

And does our society support women acting on these impulses? Rollo would say that we live in a "feminine primary social order", i.e. one that enables women's sexual strategies rather than men's. And he appears to be right. What is it, after all, that feminists call for at this stage of life? Younger feminists call for free abortion on demand, free and affordable contraception and for an acceptance of female promiscuity (e.g. the "slutwalk" movement). These are clearly aimed at enabling the party years phase of a woman's life.

Feminists are not really advocating for equality here. What they are doing is supporting women to act freely on their impulses, whatever they are. They are being "liberationists" in the sense that they are liberating women from prudential reason, from the self-limitation of desire. They are supported by the liberal state in doing so, in part, because they are able to argue for this as an expression of a woman's individual autonomy ("my body, my choice"). It is likely, as well, that the liberal state is supportive of women's traditional commitments being dissolved via sexual revolution, as this brings women more completely under the rule of a liberal, technocratic ordering of society.

Traditional societies never permitted the party girl phase to be so unrestrained. They were correct in this as:

1. It delays family formation, so that women's most fertile years are wasted, contributing to below replacement fertility levels.

2. Women spend their formative years engaging promiscuously in sex, damaging their ability later on to successfully pair bond, hence a higher rate of divorce.

3. Family oriented men are likely to be rejected for an extended period of time, leading to resentments or demoralisation, with less incentive to commit to careers.

The party girl phase ends when women start pushing up to their later 20s and can no longer compete as easily with younger women. They go through what Tomassi calls an "epiphany" phase, in which they are ready to stop competing sexually and instead focus on forming a family. In this phase, they might start considering men they had previously rejected, men who are conscientious, loyal, hard working and family oriented - so-called beta males.

It's common for women in this situation to start to ask where "all the good men are". They might surprise themselves by giving a chance to a man "they wouldn't normally go for." They might find themselves telling such a man that he is "not like all those other men" and that "all she ever wanted was to get married and have children". Her previous experience with men will be downplayed as she adopts a different persona.

The men in this age bracket (say 30s) will in the meantime be told they have to start "manning up" and take on traditional family responsibilities. If they are men who have been previously overlooked, they might be surprised at their newfound popularity. They might even have the experience of fielding interest from several women, something very different from when they were younger. They are suddenly and unexpectedly in demand.

Things might go well for a period of time. A woman might genuinely in this phase of her life be looking forward to marriage and motherhood and so hold her beta male fiancee in high regard.

For some years the marriage might go reasonably well. Husband and wife will buy a house together and raise their young children. If there is a difficulty it might be in the wife's lack of genuine sexual interest in her husband. She might not say this openly, not when she is looking to secure things with him, but it will emerge in an unwillingness or an inability to either have sex or to connect with her husband in sex. This is part of that difficulty of women having a "dual nature" in finding some men sexually attractive, but others attractive for family formation.

The next phase Rollo calls alpha reinterest. He sees it as happening typically in a woman's late 30s, though in my observation it reaches a critical point when a woman's youngest child is semi-independent (e.g. old enough for school). For some women, this phase is very powerful. She might, despite being middle-aged with children, want to return to her clubbing days. She might become a devotee of the 50 Shades kind of literature. Importantly, she might not just want her husband to act a little differently, she might want him to be a completely different kind of man. What she wanted in a man a decade previously is not what she wants now. It is possible too that she doesn't want someone else to marry, she just doesn't want to be married - she wants to go back to the intoxicating party years phase.

Some of these women will start to prepare to divorce. They won't tell their husbands of any discontent, because they don't want to save their marriages. They want their husband to be someone else and they want to be single again (some women will choose to stay married, though, perhaps because they fear the loss of comfort or security, or they are worried about how family and friends will react, or they might be concerned about their children).

Once again, the "feminine primary social order" steps in and enables these women to divorce with as little fallout as possible. It will usually be women who retain the family home, who have most of the custody of the children, and who receive income transfers from their former spouse. Many divorced men find themselves shunted out of their families, but still expected to fulfil the provider role for their ex-wives. They are financially propping up the new lifestyle of their ex-wife, as she seeks out an "alpha" relationship dynamic, the one she is familiar with from her formative years.

Efforts to reform family law have often been vociferously opposed by feminists. There are feminists who strongly support equal parenting during the marital life phase, but who are strongly opposed to it in the divorce phase.

Is it good for society to allow a woman's alpha reinterest to lead to divorce? I would have thought the answer to be clearly no. The childhood of the children involved will be disrupted; some of them will lose contact with their fathers. Some will be exposed to temporary boyfriends of their mother who will be a risk to their well-being. Some ex-husbands don't recover from the sudden impact of so many stressors: loss of spouse, children, home, assets and income. The women themselves will often need to be supported financially by the state as single mothers. Nor do these women always think clearly about their real prospects in the dating world after divorce.

My intention in writing this is not to discourage anyone from marrying - a good marriage is still a blessing in life. It's more to help spread the message that liberation from rational self-restraint is not compatible with a stable culture of marriage, in part, because it liberates women to pursue certain predictable impulses, as Rollo has described them.

The best response would be to return to the social standards, the cultural norms, the economic policies, and the family laws which once reinforced "prudential reason" as against "immediate impulse/instinct". Until this happens it seems to me that men who want to marry might be advised to do the following:

1. Try to combine at least some "alpha" traits, at least those compatible with family life, along with the family guy "beta" ones. There's no reason, for instance, why a family man can't demonstrate masculine energy in being driven to reach life goals and to have ambitions (not necessarily career ones). Similarly, there is no reason why a family guy can't aim for muscularity and physical health.

2. Avoid choosing a woman who has neurotic personality traits. Women who rank high in neuroticism are "prone to having irrational ideas, being less able to control their impulses, and as coping more poorly than others with stress". These women will be least able to successfully regulate their baser impulses during the course of life. The problem for men is that it's not always easy to identify these women; in happy times, they may exhibit a lot of attractive traits. Some of the "gives" are that they will be more irritable than most people, as they do not handle even low levels of stress well and often overreact to low level setbacks; and they might have a poor history of maintaining all sorts of relationships (work, friendships, romantic) because they are prone to irrational thinking. Long engagements are wise with these kind of women: even if they are able to mask neurotic thoughts from their partner, over time these thoughts will sabotage the relationship. Two, or perhaps even three, year engagements are advisable.

3. Women who exhibit self-control and conscientiousness are more likely to succeed in relationships. In other words, what matters more than a woman's feelings in the moment toward you, are her settled personality traits. People with conscientious personality traits are more likely to "take obligations to others seriously".

4. Women who come from warm, intact, loving families and who have good relationships with their fathers do seem, in my observation, to be more likely to want a committed relationship with a man at an earlier age. These women often pair bond more readily, and at an earlier age, so a man might need to be ready at an early age to succeed with one of these women.

5. Men should not be too taken in by the sudden interest they might receive when women reach the epiphany phase. Much sober-minded screening needs to take place.

6. It's not wise for a man to invest everything in family. As important as it is, for himself and for society, a man's sacrifices are no guarantee of a lasting marital bond. Have other areas of life that also give a sense of purpose, achievement and identity.

7. It's not healthy for men to devote everything to winning female desire. If men were only to compete to prove their desirability to women, then masculine character would not fully develop. Women are not sexually attracted by character and virtue in men. The heroes in female romantic fiction are generally darkly natured cads, who have inherited high status and who act on impulse to take what they want. Masculine character develops when men work together in public life for the public good (polis life). That's when men have the opportunity to measure each other through criteria of loyalty, honour, probity, courage or service.

The larger lesson here is that men have to exercise their higher rational and moral natures without overly suppressing their primal, biological, instinctual natures. Men might find that their love of a wife is based in their higher nature, but for her to sexually desire him requires that he has retained something of his primal masculine nature.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Terf wars

Jonathan Liew is the chief sports writer for the left-wing Independent newspaper. In a recent column on the topic of transsexual athletes, he wrote that he would support biological males who identified as women competing in female sports even if they ended up winning everything:
Let’s say transgender athletes pour into women’s sport, and let’s say, despite the flimsy and poorly-understood relationship between testosterone and elite performance, they dominate everything they touch. They sweep up Grand Slam tennis titles and cycling world championships. They monopolise the Olympics. They fill our football and cricket and netball teams. Why would that be bad? Really? Imagine the power of a trans child or teenager seeing a trans athlete on the top step of the Olympic podium. In a way, it would be inspiring.

Why is he so excited at this thought? A clue to his outlook is when he writes of "the inviolable rights of trans women to live however they choose and call themselves whatever they want". That's in line with the state ideology we all live under, namely the liberal idea that individual autonomy - a freedom to be self-determined in every respect, so that the "good" is simply what we desire or will as individuals - should be the overriding principle.

Our sex is something that is predetermined rather than self-determined. Therefore, liberals will see it as a potential limitation on our freedom as autonomous individuals. They will also see "trans women" as asserting a freedom and a right, as Liew puts it, of living "however they choose".

If this means that women get defeated in sporting events, then that's a price that Liew is willing to pay.

You have to remember that to have someone who is biologically male choosing to override this predetermined fact of existence in order to choose to live as a female is a very strong manifestation of liberal morality. We shouldn't be surprised if this is thought to trump other considerations, such as women in sport.

There are some feminists who don't like the idea of biological men who identify as women taking over female spaces (sometimes called "Terfs"). But they are in a poor position to defend their position, given that feminists have also pushed the liberal line for many decades, arguing that individual autonomy is what matters most, and that therefore the sex we are born into should be made not to matter, and that any attempt to link our biological sex to masculine or feminine attributes is to be condemned as "gender essentialism".

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming years. There will have to be women who will resent biological males dominating female spaces. But on what grounds will they object?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On reason

There was a longstanding idea in Western thought that tyranny existed when a man was no longer governed by reason but by his baser animal appetites/passions or by his vices. The solution was to cultivate habits of virtue.

Understood the right way, this idea is likely to have positive effects. But I wonder if, understood the wrong way, it might have contributed to the constellation of ideas that led to modern day liberalism.

Here's how it could go wrong. Let's say I believe that the important thing is that it is my individual reason that holds sway and that this defines my personal liberty. You might then come to believe the following:

1. If I am to be free, then I must be governed by my reason.

2. If I am to be governed by my individual reason then my reason has ultimate authority.

3. Therefore I should resist the external authority of a power hierarchy (bishops, kings etc). To obey or to serve is suspect, perhaps servile. It should be possible to have a society without a power hierarchy or, at least, to "level" a society.

4. If individual reason has authority, then I should not be swayed by custom, feeling, affection, loyalty or mere "prejudice".

5. Tradition is especially bad as it might be merely "imitation" which would mean being governed by "other mind" rather than by my own reason.

6. Nor should I be governed or defined by "non-mind" aspects of self, such as sex or race, which I will come to think of as mere "accidental" attributes of self.

Remember that by the time of the French Revolution there was a deification of reason. This is why a critic of the revolution like Edmund Burke attacked the kind of logic I set out above. Burke argued that the stock of reason in each individual man was too small to be a reliable or practical guide to everyday behaviour and that there was often a collective wisdom to be found in inherited tradition or in "prejudice" (i.e. received social norms or standards).

It's not surprising that the "I am free when governed by individual reason" principle would appeal to secular intellectuals. These intellectuals were no longer employed in the service of an established theological tradition; they were not disciplined to a larger, accumulated body of thought. Nor is it surprising that a bureaucratic class, raised within the new scientific approach, would be supportive of such a principle, as it freely allows society to be governed along technocratic lines.

There's a second problem as well with the idea that we secure our own liberty, and that of our society, when we cultivate the virtues, so that we are governed by reason rather than gratifying impulsively our animal passions or our vices.

The problem is that it suggests that passion, feeling, instinct, emotion and the physical aspects of life are in a lower category than the mental or intellectual aspects. If understood this way, it can fail to integrate the human person and lead to a backlash in which the more primal, directly felt and forceful aspects of life are reasserted (e.g. aspects of the Romantic movement, or more recently writers like D. H. Lawrence). It might even lead to the original idea being turned upside down, with the claim that we are liberated when we throw off the "repression" placed on our sexual or animal natures.

In short, it's important that the original principle is understood clearly, in a way that doesn't drift toward a proto-liberal mindset based on individualism, rationalism or levelling.

To achieve clarity the following might help:

1. The guiding or directing or ordering faculty, commonly called "reason", is not just a logical, intellectual, analytical feature of the mind. Rather, it is the discerning faculty, able to experience, evaluate, order and rank the variety of human experiences and to judge prudentially.

2. Whilst it is true that the animal or biological impulses and appetites will often need to be overruled by higher order moral or spiritual factors, it is also the case that they (the animal/physical/biological impulses) can be the foundations of, or inspire, much that reason will find worthy and sustaining. Sometimes, therefore, it is more the case of guiding or channeling our animal/biological natures to their proper ends rather than suppressing them.

3. Our individual reason is not sufficient an authority for either our own behaviour or for the governance of society. Our prudential reason itself should know this. It is proper for there to be leadership structures in society. In normal circumstances, it is a virtue to be loyal to the natural, organic communities we belong to and to serve them, whether they be our family, our community, our ethny or our nation.

4. Given that our individual reason will be insufficient, it is important that a society establishes a healthy cultural framework for individual behaviour, one that will include social norms and standards. These will not be permanently fixed or unable to be challenged, but ideally will reflect an accumulated understanding of how a society is able to order itself successfully and orient itself toward a common good.

5. It will be helpful also for a society to establish a framework of education in which young people are exposed to the best minds from previous generations, to help them in the process of acquiring wisdom and insight and to benefit from the life experience of those who have gone before them.

One final thought. Liberal rationalism and individualism often go together with a commitment to an abstract, universal love or to a progress toward "higher unities". This makes sense once reason begins to be deified along proto-liberal lines. If I am not a man, but a reasoning mind, then the particular attributes belonging to me become less important in defining my self, my attachments, my loves and my duties. Nor am I placed in time, or connected in lineage in as significant a way. My attachments are more likely to be understood to be universal ones that a reasoning mind might abstractly think its way toward; nor are any distinctions between reasoning minds likely to be thought to hold, and so there will only be the individual mind existing alone and as part of a universal entity, either of humanity or of all things.

This, at least, is one possible path of thought that might be travelled by those who take the reasoning mind itself to be the human person.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hell's Prentice or Heaven's Free-woman?

In 1620, transvestism became an issue in England. There were complaints about women who had taken to wearing masculine clothes. One of the pamphlets written at this time, Haec-Vir, is particularly interesting, because it considers arguments both for and against the practice. It gives us some insight into the proto-liberal thought of the time.

The pamphlet sets out a debate between two characters. Hic Mulier is the mannish woman and Haec-Vir is the womanish man (but I will just refer to them as the man and the woman).

The man begins by criticising the woman for behaving in a base, unnatural, shameful and foolish manner. I won't focus on this part of the debate, except to note how important acting nobly was to moral thought of this time.

The woman then has a right of reply:
First, you say I am Base, in being a Slave to Novelty. What slavery can there be in
freedom of election, or what baseness to crown my delights with those pleasures which are most suitable to mine affections? Bondage or Slavery is a restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire, to perform the intents and purposes of another’s disposition, and that not by mansuetude [gentleness] or sweetness of entreaty, but by the force of authority and strength of compulsion. Now for me to follow change according to the limitation of mine own will and pleasure, there cannot be a greater freedom.

She is arguing that liberty exists when there is no "restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire". Freedom, in other words, is being able to choose to do whatever I autonomously have a mind or a will to do. Freedom is the pursuit of desires, as long as they are my desires ("which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire"). It is not that far removed from the modern liberal understanding of freedom.

She goes on to deny that she is behaving unnaturally. She argues that she was born free and she suggests that men and women are constituted in a similar way ("we are compounded of like parts"), and should operate in much the same way, namely along male lines. Sex distinctions, she argues, are often based on mere custom and that,
Custom is an Idiot, and whosoever dependeth wholly upon him without the discourse of Reason will take from him his pied coat and become a slave indeed

The woman has put her case forcibly and at length, but the man is having none of it. He does not submit to proto-liberal ideas about freedom but replies:
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.

He is pointing out that to seek no restraint in doing what "the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire" or to be limited only by "mine own will and pleasure" is to justify "unbridled appetite" and a "wilfull liberty to do evil". This, he says tellingly, will not lead her to be "Heaven's Free-woman", i.e. it is not a virtuous understanding of freedom.

His argument draws on an older pre-liberal understanding of freedom in which we are at liberty when we are not slaves to our animal passions or to our sins, but are directed instead by our reason. (This understanding of freedom has potential problems of its own which I'll discuss in a future post; it's enough for now to acknowledge that the older understanding was set against "unbridled appetite", i.e. it was set against the idea that "my desires are justified as long as they are authentically my desires".)

The man wins the argument in the end by appealing to the teaching of the church. There is a passage in Deuteronomy which clearly forbids transvestism and so the woman agrees to give it up, albeit on one condition - that the man himself gives up dressing in an effeminate, foppish way.

The woman then claims that she only did what she did as a strategy to force men to give up their effeminacy:
Now since according to your own Inference, even by the Laws of Nature, by the rules of Religion, and the Customs of all civil Nations, it is necessary there be a distinct and special difference between Man and Woman, both in their habit and behaviors, what could we poor weak women do less ... than to gather up those garments you have proudly cast away and therewith to clothe both our bodies and our minds?

She quotes a section of the poem Orlando Furioso, in which the knight Ruggiero has been beguiled by the sorceress Alcina and made effeminate:
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.

Again, this is very different to the proto-liberal view expressed earlier in the pamphlet. The proto-liberal view is that it is our inborn nature to be free, which means being subject only to our own reason, which means choosing whatever we authentically desire. The poem, however, suggests that we have fit ends or purposes, that reason holds us to, and that therefore in the loss of reason, we fail to hold to these purposes, and are no longer ourselves.

The woman ends her part by promising that all will be set right if men return to their masculine role:
Cast then from you our ornaments and put on your own armor; be men in shape, men in show, men in words, men in actions, men in counsel, men in example. Then will we love and serve you; then will we hear and obey you; then will we like rich Jewels hang at your ears to take our Instructions, like true friends follow you through all dangers, and like careful leeches [physicians] pour oil into your wounds. Then shall you find delight in our words, pleasure in our faces, faith in our hearts, chastity in our thoughts, and sweetness both in our inward and outward inclinations. Comeliness shall be then our study, fear our Armor, and modesty our practice.

The man decides to return to more masculine wear:
Away then from me these light vanities, the only Ensigns of a weak and soft nature, and come you grave and solid pieces which arm a man with Fortitude and Resolution...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, ever sober, ever discreet, ever worthy: true men and true women. We will be henceforth like well-coupled Doves, full of industry, full of love. I mean not of sensual and carnal love, but heavenly and divine love, which proceeds from God...

Friday, February 08, 2019

Lopsided liberation

I want to draw out a point I raised in my post on Cardi B. If you remember, Cardi B released a "twerking" music video and justified it on the grounds of female empowerment. She and many others defined female empowerment as women doing whatever they want or feel like doing, without judgement from others and without negative consequences.

It is an extraordinary social experiment to "liberate" female sexuality in this way. It used to be thought that a person was most at liberty when they were not under the control of their animal passions or appetites, but had instead, through their higher reason/moral sense, cultivated habits of virtue, through which the animal passions/appetites could be directed to their proper ends.

And here we are with this older principle turned on its head. It is now thought that women are liberated and empowered when they are driven instead by unrestrained sexual impulse, by what they feel in the moment in terms of sexual passion.

And what of men? Has society taken a similar gamble and encouraged men to follow their animal impulses when it comes to sex? The answer, of course, is a resounding no. Our society, if anything, is petrified of the idea. There is a suspicion applied in our society to male sexuality, a suspicion that men are potential rapists or harassers of women. Men are forever put on the defensive, feeling pressured to apologise to women for the sexual sins, real or potential, of their sex.

So what we have is a lopsided account of sexual liberation. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The remedy is not to encourage men to act on whatever sexual impulses they happen to have in order to even the score. It's unlikely that any society would really ever encourage this given the strength of male libido combined with the physical strength of young men.

Our society has been foolish, though, to imagine that "liberating" the female sexual impulse would have happy results. Earlier cultures were very much aware of the negative potential within female sexuality.

In 1613, for instance, Sir Thomas Overbury wrote a poem titled "The Wife". Overbury gives much thought in this poem as to how a woman might make a good wife. He does not deny the significance of beauty or passion, but he is clearly aware that for a wife to be loyal her love will have to derive not just from the animal passions (lust) but from her reason and her religious commitments.

In the following lines, Overbury observes that having a wife who is beautiful is not enough; unless she loves her husband, then her beauty is of little reward to him:
Without her love, her beauty should I take,
As that of pictures; dead; that gives it life:
Till then her beauty like the sun doth shine
Alike to all; that makes it, only mine.

And of that love, let reason father be,
And passion mother...

Overbury does not want his wife's love to be based on feelings alone. He wants the "father" (the governing/directing aspect) to be reason and passion the "mother".

He also makes the point that what matters most is not the birth, beauty or wealth of a wife but that she be "good":
Rather then these the object of my love,
Let it be good; when these with vertue go,
They (in themselves indifferent) vertues prove,
For good (like fire) turnes all things to be so.
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 does he mean by the word "good"? He wants her to be "holy", i.e. to have a love of God that then commits her to a love of her husband:
By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,
The law requires our words and deeds be good,
Religion even the thoughts doth sanctifie:
As she is more a maid that ravisht is,
Then she which only doth but wish amisse.

Lust onely by religion is withstood,
Lusts object is alive, his strength within;
Morality resists but in cold blood;
Respect of credit feareth shame, not sin.
But no place darke enough for such offence
She findes, that’s watch’t, by her own conscience.

Then may I trust her body with her mind,
And, thereupon secure, need never know
The pangs of jealousie

If it's not clear, he is arguing that she won't be inwardly faithful if it is only a fear of being shamed for breaking a moral convention that stops her from cheating. But if her mind is turned toward the love of God, and through this a love of her husband, then it becomes a matter of deep conscience that she remains faithful and then he can "trust her body with her mind".

What this illustrates is that earlier generations were concerned to answer the question of how female sexuality, as an animal passion or appetite, might be directed, guided or restrained, to make possible a culture of marriage and family. The idea that you would deliberately aim to unleash female sexuality, and call it "liberation" or "empowerment", would have dumbfounded our ancestors. And the sexual chaos of our own times has proven our forebears to have had greater wisdom.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Is it Gough's fault?

Back in August Fraser Anning gave his maiden speech in the Australian Senate. It was a bold speech that ventured outside the liberal orthodoxy that dominates politics in this country.

It's likely that Senator Anning's politics are the closest to my own within our parliament. Still, I'm going to make a criticism in this post of one aspect of his worldview.

Senator Anning has recently published an opinion piece on the topic of the Liberal Party & the Overton Window. The argument he makes is that Australian politics was good up to the election of Gough Whitlam in 1972. According to Anning:
...the political consensus on identity, values and so many other vital issues which existed between the major parties of the left and right up until 1972 was shifted radically to the left by the Whitlam government and has never recovered.

...The “acceptable” window of political discourse in the days of Sir Robert Menzies, Jack McEwan and Arthur Calwell, which was reflected by not only by the media of the day but also in the views of the vast majority of Australians, has been shifted radically to the left since that time.

The electorate rejected Whitlam in 1975, but the Liberals under Malcolm Fraser did not reverse Whitlam's policies and Anning sees this is as being the key to what has gone wrong:
Thus while the radical left in Labor may have conceived of the destruction of the wonderful, prosperous and cohesive nation Menzies bequeathed us, the only thing that made it possible and enduring was the collaboration of the very party that he founded.

It is in fact the Liberal Party, not Labor that has enabled ratchet socialism to gradually overtake our nation and has shifted the Overton window to the far left.

I don't think this adequately describes what has happened in Australia. Since the 1870s both the left and the right wing of Australian politics have claimed the mantle of being the "true liberals", leaving us with no party committed to conservatism. It is therefore not surprising at all that the Liberal Party has pushed our culture along ever more liberal lines.

That's why Anning's time frame for change is inaccurate. Take, for instance, the push toward diversity. That began in the 1930s with Arthur Calwell, one of the men Anning thinks of as supporting traditional Australia:
In newspaper articles, speeches made as president of the Victorian Labor Party during the 1930s, and later after election as federal member for Melbourne in 1940, Calwell's deep concern for social justice was invariably linked with the creation in Australia of an ethnically mixed society through large-scale immigration. a confidential note addressed to Chifley in 1944 he wrote of his determination to develop a heterogeneous society

Now, it's true that Calwell only wanted to take this principle "so far". He wanted a diverse European Australian country rather than a mono-ethnic British Australian one. The problem is that once the principle is in place the next generation will inevitably want to take it to the next step. And that's what happened - and it happened well before Gough Whitlam came to power.

In June 1965, the Labor Party platform changed to omit any mention of a white Australia policy, with immigration being decided instead primarily on economic grounds.

Prior to that, when Menzies was PM, the Liberals had (in 1958) changed immigration rules to allow non-European residents to become citizens. In 1966, the Holt Liberal Government announced that non-Europeans were to be admitted as permanent residents.

As for Malcolm Fraser, he complained in 1968 that one Australian University was teaching:
French, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Japanese...the list as a whole is one belonging to the last century except for one of the languages mentioned.

In other words, he asserted in 1968 that our links to Europe belonged to the 1800s and that only Japanese was relevant to Australia in the twentieth century. Is it any wonder, then, that Fraser in 1975 had no intention of pushing back against Gough Whitlam? There was not going to be any push-back, because Fraser was even more for the change than Whitlam was.

Fraser did not see himself as a principled conservative, but as a liberal. He wrote:
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.

Fraser is making it clear that he is only a "conservative" in the sense that he wants to conserve the already entrenched liberal institutions and values. So why then would Fraser try to reverse the liberal policies enacted by his Labor predecessor Whitlam?

(The other gruesome truth is that even in the early 1940s, important policy decisions were being driven by technocrats of various stripes, such as high ranking officials within the Federal Government, academic experts, diplomats etc. and that the rationale was often just "maximum development along modern industrial/economic lines" rather than anything resembling "the conservation of natural forms of human community".)

To understand how politics has developed in Australia it's important to recognise that the mainstream parties on the right have been "right liberal" in their politics rather than genuinely conservative. This includes the Liberal Party under Menzies.

Senator Anning, therefore, is going to get very little support from anyone in the political establishment. His best chance is to appeal over the heads of the political class to the rank and file, particularly those who don't identify as urban middle-class.

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.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Just how free is Cardi B?

Cardi B is a popular Caribbean-American singer. A recent song, "City Girls", currently has 32 million views on YouTube. The song not only has coarsely sexual lyrics, the video clip features more than a dozen women dressed in G-strings twerking, i.e. shaking their backsides suggestively.

It's supposed to be sexy, but I couldn't help but find it culturally alien. It just seems so odd - there are women standing on their heads twerking, others on their back, some of them squatting. It looks atavistic - a reversion to a primitive mating ritual.

I think there's a reason for my response to the video, which I'll explain later. But I'd like to begin with this:

Stephanie Hamill's complaint is that Cardi B's video does not empower women. That's a poor way of criticising what's on display. After all, in a liberal society "female empowerment" means women rejecting customary restraints on their behaviour in order to do whatever they feel like doing.

Cardi B is dutifully following the logic of female empowerment. She is expressing her sexuality as she wants to, without regard for any traditional standards or norms. She is taking empowerment to the next level.

And that's exactly what many of those commenting on Stephanie Hamill's tweet pointed out. A selection:

Cardi B herself replied to Stephanie Hamill along similar lines:

So saying the video is not "empowering" is ineffective. People will just respond by arguing that the video shows women asserting their power to act however they want, without judgement, and that there should be no negative consequences in doing so. This is precisely in line with what female empowerment is understood to mean.

So what is a better way of criticising the video? Liberals would have us believe that they are creating a society based on freedom and equality, by which they mean a society of equally autonomous individuals. However, the issue of female empowerment highlights that you cannot have an equality of autonomy - that this cannot, in practice, be realised, and therefore the attempt to achieve it is misconceived. Second, the issue of female empowerment demonstrates the falsity of the liberal understanding of freedom.

In other words, the liberal approach does not deliver in practice either true freedom or equality - and these are the very things that liberalism attempts to base itself on.

Let's start with equality. Some of the comments to Stephanie Hamill's tweet pointed out that there is a double standard when it comes to sexual expression. Women are "empowered" by twerking their naked backsides, but if men were to expose themselves in public in a similar way they would be condemned.

What this points to is that it is difficult to apply the principle of acting however you feel to both sexes. In general, if you want women to be able to choose whatever they feel like, without judgement or consequences, then men have to be the ones to enable these choices, to bear the brunt of the fallout of these choices, and to act responsibly to hold society together.

It's not surprising, then, that at a time when women are encouraged to be "empowered", men's behaviour is increasingly scrutinised, monitored and policed and that men are often held to traditional standards in a way that women no longer are.

Which brings me to the most important point to be made in all this. It was once thought that man was a "rational animal", meaning that man had both an animal nature but also a rational nature that could discern the good and that could direct the animal passions to their proper ends. Freedom was understood to mean the achievement, through disciplined habits of virtue, of a rational self-control over our own person.

It's not that the animal passions are necessarily bad or to be suppressed; the insight is that we are only free to act as we know we should when we are in our right mind, rather than under the control of our animal passions.

And that was embedded within Western culture for millennia. That's why there are so many derogatory terms in our language for a loss of rational self-control over our animal impulses: dissolute, dissipated, wanton, licentious, promiscuous, libertine, loose, profligate - even the term "liberal" was once sometimes used in a pejorative way in this sense.

And I think that's why Cardi B's video seems so culturally alien to me. There is no restraint on the animal passion side of human nature in it. It depicts humans as rutting animals; there is no influence of the rational nature that was once considered pivotal to human freedom.

Would someone under the direction of their rational nature favour sexual immodesty? I don't think so. The higher good is for men and women to achieve a deep and stable emotional and physical intimacy with a person of the opposite sex, one that will provide enduring support even into old age.

Someone who is oriented to this goal will act modestly when it comes to their sexuality. They will be oriented to spousal love, and will want to give of themselves to that end, not promiscuously.

The aim for women, just as for men, is not to be "empowered" in the liberal sense, but to order themselves to the good, including the common good of the communities they belong to.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Bible, nations & migration

Scott Greer makes a good point in this tweet:

As an example, when an American Catholic priest, Fr Frank Pavone, announced his support for border protection he was roundly condemned by people who assumed that this was unChristian:

It seems to me that there is an important issue to be resolved here when it comes to Christianity. I'm going to try to explain what the issue is and how it might be resolved, but I want to make it clear at the outset that I do so without claiming theological expertise, so I am very much open to listening to other points of view.

The issue is that there seem, at least on the surface, to be two principles in the Bible that run against each other. Those who think that the Bible is supportive of open borders can point to some passages in the New Testament. The most powerful one is Matthew 25:31. In this passage, Matthew writes of the second coming of Jesus and of Judgement Day. He writes that Jesus says "I was a stranger and you took me in" as one criterion of who will be judged righteous.

Another is the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke. In this parable, the "good neighbour" is a Samaritan who has mercy for an Israelite, despite the two groups being in opposition. The field of mercy, benevolence and compassion is here defined as extending even to our enemies (which fits with the "love thy enemy" principle).

Unsurprisingly, there are liberal Christians who, on the basis of such passages, argue for open borders or for large scale refugee programs. An example:

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office bases its support for immigration and refugee programs on the ground that:
In the Gospel, Jesus compels us to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35)

Is it, then, an open and shut case? Does Christianity compel us to accept a borderless, nationless, one world philosophy?

Well, no. There are other passages in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, which clearly indicate that it is part of God's design for people to live in nations. The aim is not to dissolve such distinctions.

Even the Matthew quote, about the second coming, begins with the natural division of mankind into distinct communities: "All the nations will be gathered before him." This suggests that Matthew himself thought that the "take in the stranger" message was not to be understood in a way that would undermine the existence of unique nations of people.

From Paul (Acts 17:26) "From one man he made every nation of humanity to live all over the earth, fixing the seasons of the year and the national boundaries within which they live."

From Deuteronomy 32:8 - "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples."

Remember, too, the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). This describes humanity attempting to defy God's plan for people to live in separate nations, with different languages, which then displeases God. God punishes those who seek to erase national distinctions.

There is more, which I will try to explain shortly. But I'd like to return to Matthew. How can you reconcile the principle of hospitality that Matthew sets out ("I was a stranger and you took me in") with the Biblical principle of a humanity divided into distinct nations with borders established by God?

I think it helps to consider how hospitality might have been understood within the existing Hebraic tradition and culture. Here is how one professor describes the background to New Testament hospitality:
The terrain surrounding Jerusalem is rugged and unforgiving: rocky hills with little water to the west, forbidding desert to the east, scorching temperatures most of the year. Travel could be dangerous, so hospitality to the traveller was an ongoing need and a sacred duty. The New Testament is full of images and stories of guests received, both those already known as friends and those strangers who are taken in and transformed into guests. Among nomadic tribes, the guest comes under the protection of the host, who guarantees inviolable safety. The important elements of hospitality include the opportunity for cleansing dusty feet, scented oil to soften dried skin and mask odors of the road, food, shelter, security, and companionship.

It should be noted too that there had been, historically, a custom of nomadic pastoralism among the Jews:
A nomadic camp consisted of about 25 to 50 members. Any less and it would be difficult to protect the family and any more would be difficult to feed. Usually the oldest member of the family was the head, or chief, of the tribe. The remainder of the clan would consist of his brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons as well as their wives and children. Each clan was an independent entity with the chief as judge and ruler. He had the ultimate authority in all manners including where they go, discipline, management of the flocks and herds and the daily tasks of the camp.

When a clan became too large to support, it was divided and separated with all of the clans belonging to one tribe. The name of the tribe was generally that of the original family patriarch and each clan of the tribe carried the name of its original patriarch.

...One of the major responsibilities of the clan is to provide hospitality to anyone who comes to them. This may be a member of a related clan or even an enemy of another tribe. In both cases it was the responsibility of the clan to provide food, shelter and protection as long as they were within their camp.

You can see from this:

1. Hospitality is especially important when conditions of travel are difficult. You have to imagine a time before modern transport and communications systems.

2. There was already a well-developed culture of hospitality existing at that time, in which protection was to be afforded the traveller.

You can see why Matthew would not have thought it a contradiction to accept hospitality as a test of benevolence whilst at the same time accepting nations as a divinely ordained plan for humanity.

Hospitality was embedded within the culture, to the point that it had rituals that were observed. There was likely to be a single guest who would be temporarily hosted before continuing his travels. The guest might be known already to the clan (lowest level of benevolence) or be a stranger (higher level) or even from a hostile tribe (highest). However, most guests would have been fellow Jews.

Given that a patriarch ruled the clan, that guests were mostly travellers, and that most guests were fellow Jews, it's not the case that the culture of hospitality would have ceded either political power or cultural dominance to a radically different population.

In other words, hospitality as a test of benevolence would not have led to many millions of permanent residents arriving suddenly from a different continent.

The problem is that there are some Christians today who want a form of hospitality that does have this outcome, i.e. one that would lead the host nation to be subsumed under the weight of mass immigration. For instance, the female pastor quoted above claims that there are no limits on immigration allowed by the Bible:

This seems to me to be taking the letter of the law rather than its underlying principle.

Earlier I wrote that there were other reasons for doubting that the Bible compels us to have open borders. One of them is that there are multiple defences of "storge" in the New Testament, the type of love that is generally associated with love of family and nation.

The use of terms like "agape" and "storge" to describe different kinds of love is not always clear cut, but one scholar describes "storge" in the New Testament as denoting "a natural affection, a sentiment innate and peculiar to men as men...Hence of the natural love of kindred, of people and king (the relation being regarded as founded in nature)".

Paul, in Acts 1:31, says of the unrighteous that they are without storge, translated usually as "without natural affection". This is part of a longer text in which Paul states that God reveals himself to man in the creation, but that the unrighteous choose to act nonetheless in a series of naturally disordered ways, one piece of evidence for this is that they lack "storge".

Then there is Paul's second epistle to Timothy, in which he writes "But mark this: 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 [without storge], unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous."

That Paul regarded such natural kinship relations, and the duties flowing from them, as being part of a rightly ordered community is evident from other passages. Paul writes for instance, in 1 Timothy 5:8, that "if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." Similarly (1 Timothy 5:4) "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God."

This idea of love of kin and country as a naturally ordered affection survived into the culture of Christian countries. Metternich in 1820 wrote of "one of the sentiments most natural to man, that of nationality." And in 1828 Eliza Fenton, on a sea journey to Australia, was unsettled to find that one of the crew was an Englishman turned Arab. She observed that,
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?

The significant point in all this is that the loves that we have for family and people, i.e. the natural affections (and duties) that flow from kinship, are not alien to New Testament thought, and their absence is considered proof of unrighteousness and of the fall of society and social relationships in the end days.

Finally, I'd like to look at some of the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on the question of both patriotism and immigration.

The Catechism (2241) is supportive of secure borders: "The second duty is to secure one's border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good." As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it (in the entry on "justice"): "It is the function of the State to protect its subjects in their rights and to govern the whole body for the common good."

Also from the Catholic Encyclopedia (on "migration"): "The justification [for restriction] is to be found in the right of a nation to control the variations of its own population....Restrictive measures are also justified...on the general ground that a national family has a right to say who shall join it."

Patriotism is a great virtue. To be a patriot is to love one’s fatherland. This means that it is to love the land of the people that sired you. Patriotism is a natural overflow of the virtue of piety — that is, the virtue of the home. As piety would have us rendering what is due in justice to parents and other family members, patriotism would have us render the same to our nation, its government, and our fellow citizens. Both of these are a matter of justice, for the virtues of piety and patriotism are parts of that cardinal virtue. Over and above justice is the theological virtue of charity, which also enters into a consideration of Catholic piety and patriotism. After God, we love our neighbors, that is, those who are “nigh” to us, meaning near us. Those most near to us are our parents and our siblings.

Our charity, as well as the just demands of piety and patriotism, spread out in broadening concentric circles from the family home to the neighborhood, to the town or city, to the state, to the region, to the nation (or empire), of which we are a resident, citizen, or subject. If we see our country as “our people” — something much more possible in homogeneous, non-pluralistic societies — it is much easier to see how piety quite naturally becomes patriotism...Thus patriotism is a rootedness in the land and its people.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Shelley & the descent of the left

An American teacher gave her students a test and asked them to identify "obstacles that keep people from moving ahead". One student gave the simple answer "white people".

Now, you might ask what this has to do with the English poet Shelley. As it happens, Shelley is part of a chain of thought on the left side of politics that ultimately leads to this answer.

In my last post I tried to explain why Shelley's concept of freedom was inseparable from a concept of equality. Shelley's political philosophy went something like this:

1. Human nature is not "tainted" in the sense of being fallen or having a fixed potential to do evil.
2. The reason why people do the wrong thing is because of existing political institutions which are based on some people having power over others (i.e. power structures).
3. Man can be regenerated if these power structures are abolished.
4. Power structures were those of the ancien régime, i.e. kings, aristocrats and priests.
5. This power structure should be replaced by democratic rule.
6. If power structures were replaced, then people would live an "Edenic" existence, i.e. a return to an idyllic, untainted existence as before the Fall.
7. Shelley, as a poet, unsurprisingly conceived this to be a kind of poetic existence within nature, with people living in complete freedom and equality, doing as they wanted, motivated by pure, selfless love, without jealousy or acquisitiveness etc.

This was how Shelley saw things in 1820. A generation later Karl Marx came along and made a key observation. Marx realised that you could get rid of the ancien régime, but in its place you would still have a power structure. The bourgeoisie would still hold power over the proletariat within a democratic system. Marx, cleverly in a way, revised the Shelleyan system, by noting that if the working class were to take power, there would be no other class below them to exploit. In other words, there would no longer be a class based power structure.

In that case, thought Marx, the power structure of society would be abolished, and you would have the kind of Edenic existence that Marx briefly sketched in his writings. His Eden was less poetic than Shelley's, but was similarly based on the idea of abolishing nations and families, and having people wander round as "unencumbered" individuals, doing whatever productive work they felt like doing (fishing, writing etc.).

Marxism is clearly a tweaking of Shelleyism, or at least of political ideas that were already in vogue.

And what of the modern left? Well, there has been a further tweak to the system. Even though Shelley did want to abolish sex distinctions, nations and marriage, he believed the key power structure to be overthrown was the class one (aristocracy). The same for Marx (the bourgeoisie). The modern left, though, focuses more on race and biological sex as power structures to be deconstructed (whiteness and the patriarchy). Only then will humanity reach its final destination of true freedom and equality.

So you can see why that school student dutifully answered that it was "white people" who were an obstacle to people moving ahead. That student is the end product of a current of thought that has existed within the left since at least the 1820s (probably earlier).

There are a few other things I should point out. First, there are other currents of thought which have also shaped the modern left. For instance, there is still the influence of the Fabians, who believed that progress would be led by a class of neutral experts employed by the state, i.e. by a technocracy ruling along scientific lines.

Second, it's interesting that the modern left no longer envisages the end point of history as a return to Eden. Perhaps that's a result of Christianity no longer shaping the mental landscape, even of those rejecting it, as much as it used to. What we are left with is a belief that white men are the privileged class upholding a power structure and that freedom and equality will finally be achieved when this power structure is defeated.

Third, it is noticeable that some of those pushing the modern version of Shelleyism are doing so to gain power for themselves, rather than to achieve a vision of utopian freedom. Middle-class feminists are often most interested in using "gender politics" to gain a competitive advantage in high status professions. They want status, money and power for themselves, rather than a system in which such things no longer exist. Similarly, it is clear that if whites become a minority in Western countries, that power will simply be passed to a new non-white majority rather than there being no power structure.

The main conclusion to draw from all this, though, is that it is the initial assumptions of Shelley that have to be challenged. Where did these beliefs of Shelley come from? I can't be exactly sure, but it's possible they go back all the way to thinkers like Hobbes and Locke. Shelley himself traced the intellectual journey of his ideas about human nature as follows (from his 1820 political manifesto):
the new epoch was marked by the commencement of deeper enquiries into the point of human nature than are compatible with an unreserved belief in any of those popular mistakes upon which popular systems of faith with respect to the cause and agencies of the universe, with all their superstructure of political and religious tyranny, are built. Lord Bacon, Spinoza, Hobbes, Boyle, Montaigne, regulated the reasoning powers, criticized the history, exposed the past errors by illustrating their causes and their connexion, and anatomized the inmost nature of social man. Then, with a less interval of time than of genius, followed Locke and the philosophers of his exact and intelligible but superficial school. Their illustrations of some of the minor consequences of the doctrines established by the sublime genius of their predecessors were correct, popular, simple and energetic. Above all, they indicated inferences the most incompatible with the popular religions and the established governments of Europe.

Shelley here praises Hobbes (and others) for having "anatomized the inmost nature of social man" and then praises Locke for having popularised the genius of thinkers like Hobbes.

So what was Hobbes' view of the nature of man? Hobbes began by imagining a state of nature in which men were free to do as they wanted. Hobbes then argued that in such a state of nature life would be short and brutish as individuals would attack each other and there would be no security of life or property. Therefore, argued Hobbes, individuals rationally made a social contract to give up part of their rights to government in return for such security. Hobbes used this argument in favour of the authority of kings.

The problem with this Hobbesian view is that it it undermines natural, uncontracted, prepolitical forms of human community, such as family and nation. The reality is that we don't begin as disconnected individuals, reluctantly combining via a social contract. We are by nature social creatures, and we express important aspects of our created natures within a social context.

It is possible that Shelley ran with the Hobbesian view, as it undermined the idea of a natural and/or divine order, but that he refigured it by challenging the idea that human nature was selfish and violent. In other words, Shelley built on some of the framework established by Hobbes (autonomous individuals in a state of nature) but made these individuals naturally good and therefore able to live a peaceful, free and equal coexistence, once the tainting influence of power structures was removed.

If we want to reject modern leftism in a principled way, it is possible that we have to go back all the way to the seventeenth century and reject the Hobbesian way of framing politics.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Shelley the Utopian

In my series of posts on the English poet Shelley (here, here and here), I've looked at his very liberal attitude to freedom, and how this made him want to abolish marriage, sex distinctions and nationality.

I'd like to end the series by considering why this liberal concept of freedom also committed Shelley to such an emphasis on equality.

I think the answer goes something like this:

1. Shelley rejected the idea that human nature was tainted, i.e. that man was a fallen creature.
2. He believed instead that man had power over his own nature. It was human institutions that had corrupted this nature, and these could be reformed.
3. Once man was perfected he would return to his intended, natural condition of being good, free and equal.
4. In this condition, a utopia would emerge, a heaven on earth, in which human existence would be regenerated, with everything being made beautiful, in body and mind, and subject only to a pure universal love, unmotivated by any base concerns.

Man was corrupted, in Shelley's view, and denied this wonderful utopian existence, by acts of tyranny - the exercise of power over others. It was this that threw a "mask" over the world, hiding man's true nature from himself. In Shelley's own words:
The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches

And this is where freedom and equality become such great and noble (and inseparable) objectives for Shelley. The aim was to reach a condition in which there was no exercise of power over others. Shelley was so serious about this that he even portrayed God as a tyrant and a modified version of Satan as the hero who rebelled against the authority of God.

So try then to imagine how Shelley saw things. For him, what mattered was a fight for liberty against "tyranny" (defined as any exercise of power of one person over another) which therefore was also a fight for equality (for abolishing "distinctions" that gave one person some sort of standing vis-a-vis another person). Hence the twinning of freedom and equality.

Freedom and equality were the keys to establishing humanity's true condition of heaven on earth and so were supercharged in their significance.

It would be easy to criticise Shelley's world view as being unworkable or impractical. But more than this it deserves to be condemned for being, mostly, undesirable - a dystopia rather than a utopia.

If we return once more to Shelley's vision of what man would be like once the "mask" had been removed, and true freedom and equality revealed, we see the problem:
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

What does it mean to be free in a Shelleyan sense? It means that nobody has power over me and that I am king over myself - an autonomous individual. My will is uncircumscribed. But to be free and equal in this sense also means that I am tribeless, nationless, Godless and churchless. Also abolished, as Shelley explains elsewhere, are biological sex and marriage.

Do I really want Shelleyan freedom? What about the meaning, identity and belonging that I derive from manhood, from membership of a communal tradition, and from stable family commitments?

Shelley wants us to move away from particular loves and loyalties, and the obligations and commitments that go with this, toward disinterested universal ones, which do not "encumber" us, but which also abstract, atomise and deracinate our own personhood, and which make human relationships shifting, uncertain and volatile.

The last point is evidenced in Shelley's own life. He wanted "pure" relationships, based not on exclusivity or jealousy, but this ended in the suicides of two women, including his first wife. Throughout his life, he "abandoned" quickly and frequently.

It is not that Shelley was wrong in just one respect, or that his system could be tweaked a little to make it viable and desirable. It is the larger approach that fails, the overall framework.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Shelley & the machine

I'd like to take you back to 1820 again, this time to a manifesto written by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley titled A Philosophical View of Reform.

In this manifesto, Shelley praises Sir Francis Bacon for increasing "the powers of man" by initiating the perfection of "the mechanical sciences" but complains that the existing "forms of society" prevent these newly acquired powers from being applied in a utilitarian way to increase the overall happiness of society.

Fortunately, continues Shelley, the "political philosophers" have laboured to overcome the problem by thinking up new forms of society based on liberty and equality. Shelley puts his liberal/technocratic vision as follows:
"Modern society is thus an engine assumed to be for useful purposes, whose force is by a system of subtle mechanism augmented to the highest pitch, but which, instead of grinding corn or raising water acts against itself and is perpetually wearing away or breaking to pieces the wheels of which it is composed. The result of the labours of the political philosophers has been the establishment of the principle of Utility as the substance, and liberty and equality as the forms according to which the concerns of human life ought to be administered." 

I think we need to pause and carefully consider what Shelley is arguing for. Shelley believes that human society is to be thought of like a machine, one made powerful by man's increase in power over nature, and that this machine is to be geared to whatever is thought to increase utility, which can only, in Shelley's mind, mean that human life is to be administered according to the forms of liberty and equality.

Note how society itself is assumed to exist to fulfil a kind of Baconian mission of increasing power via technological organisation. Shelley might have been a poet of the romantic era, but this is already that rationalist, technocratic view of society that James Kalb writes about ("Liberal modernity tries to turn the world into a machine for manufacturing satisfactions")

The traditionalist mind doesn't conceive society this way, as a technology to procure an end according to a formula. A human society is, for us, a body of people to which we belong, one that carries with it a tradition, a culture, and a history. It has a value in what it is and as the larger body within which we express our social being.

The forms exist, in part, to maintain the society, but they also express aspects of our social natures. The family, for instance, exists not only to produce the next generation, and to enculturate this generation to successfully carry on a tradition, but it also allows men to fulfil that part of their masculine nature which is expressed in being a husband and father, and a woman likewise to experience being a wife and a mother. Each family also has the potential to embody a good within its own existence: it has a value in being a unique expression of human community.

Therefore, if a Shelleyan liberal were to say "the family fails as a form of society because it does not administer human life according to the principles of liberty and equality" a traditionalist would not see this as failure, as family is supposed to allow us to express aspects of our natures as men and women; to secure a future for a lineage, a nation and a tradition; and to be a unique and meaningful community in itself, one that helps to form identity, attachments, loyalties, commitments and a connection to past and future generations.

Society is not a machine to administer human life according to a single level formula. It is not a technocratic system to give power to such a formula. The pity, again, is that Shelley's view was to become the modern one; to give Shelley credit, he picked up very early on where liberalism would, if followed in a principled way, take a society.

(I had intended this post to be focused on Shelley's understanding of equality but got sidetracked. Will return to this topic soon.)

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.