Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cupitt II

How do you manage to become an atheist Buddhist Anglican priest? In Don Cupitt’s case, you first adopt a non-realist philosophy.

Cupitt believes that our ideas are products of language systems. The very categories of our thought, therefore, do not correspond to an objective truth or reality (hence the anti-realist tag).

This effectively places Cupitt’s philosophy within the broad category of nominalism: it means that he doesn’t recognise the real existence of universals. It means too that Cupitt won’t see words as pointing to some really existing entity that we might value for itself; there is nothing behind a word, except the meaning we, for the time being, have given to it.

It’s important to try to grasp all this, as there are important consequences to such anti-realism which you can’t help but recognise within liberal modernism.

For example, anyone holding to a Cupitt type nominalism is likely to favour a social constructionist view over an essentialist one. In other words, they are likely to believe that things which appear to be a natural part of reality are, in fact, mere inventions or constructs of a particular society at a particular time.

An example of this is the modernist attitude to gender difference. Liberal moderns often dismiss the idea that there are important natural differences between men and women as being essentialist. They prefer the idea that gender difference is an (oppressive) social construct.

Here is another example to consider. A writer criticising my views on nationalism recently wrote:

Mark Richardson wonders where liberalism stands on the nation state. The short answer, I think, is that classical liberals recognise the concept of “country” as an artificial construct that is not inherently something of value to be preserved ... To take the line that there is something inherently special about being Australian is to place undue emphasis on a word.

In this quote you get the idea of nominalism at work in the denial that the terms “country” and “Australian” point to any really existing entity. Instead, we are told that “country” is an artificial construct and that “Australian” is merely a word.

Conservatives need to know what we are up against. Some of our adversaries don’t even acknowledge, for philosophical reasons, the real existence of the entities we wish to conserve.


  1. The argument is circular:

    Australia is a proposition nation; it is defined by civic values; civic values are not exclusive to Australia; being Australian is therefore an artificial construct.

    Which translates to liberal Australia is not meaningful.

    Traditionalists don’t value the proposition nation to begin with. The “citizenship and values” debate is liberal vs liberal; the artifically constructed vs the intangible.

    That's why we're never invited to the redundant SBS Insight forums on "what it means to be Australian".

    As we're on the subject of globalism, I believe a few Spengler quotes are in order:

    “(in the world-cities)there arises another minority of timeless a-historic, literary men, men not of destiny, but of reasons and causes, men who are inwardly detached from the pulse of blood and being, wide-awake thinking consciousnesses, that can no longer find and “reasonable” connotation for the nation-idea. Cosmopolitanism is a mere waking-conscious association of intelligentsias. In it there is hatred of Destiny, and above all of history as the expression of Destiny. Everything national belongs to race – so much that it is incapable of finding language for itself, clumsy in all that demands thought, and shiftless to the point of fatalism. Cosmopolitanism is literature and remains literature, very strong in reasons, very weak in defending them otherwise than with more reasons, in defending them with blood.”

    “men at home in a world of truths, ideals, and Utopias; bookmen who believe that they can replace the actual by the logical, the might of facts by an abstract justice, Destiny by Reason.”

    “Every people has such (historically speaking) waste-products. Even their heads constitute physiognomically a group by themselves. In the “history of intellect” they stand high – and many illustrious names are numbered amongst them – but regarded from the point of view of actual history, they are inefficients”.

  2. You may be interested in something that Daniel Larison, a Paleconservative, wrote against the proposition nation idea at

    This is an excerpt:

    "Mr. Forsyth objects to Mr. Buchanan’s call for American identity to be rooted in “blood, soil, history and heroes.” I confess to being perplexed as to why this call should actually be controversial. Yes, I know why many people think it is controversial, but their position makes no sense. No real national identity of any kind, and certainly none that ever lasted, has ever endured without being solidly based in these things. Indeed, what else could our national identity plausibly be rooted in? Most Americans today do not hold to the political philosophy of the Founders in their attitudes towards consolidated government and their preference for the rule of law over the rule of men. This is unfortunate, but it will happen in the course of time that peoples adopt different and even diametrically opposed political creeds. The Loyalists did not accept the ideas of the Declaration, but they were real Americans whose fathers had helped to create our country in its colonial days. The Antifederalists did not accept the Constitution, but they were real Americans who helped win the War of Independence and forge the Confederation. The Confederates would not have accepted the Gettysburg Address and did not accept the so-called “new birth of freedom” to be realised at the expense of Union and Liberty, but they were real Americans who maintained their fidelity to the principles of ‘87 and sought to reenact the drama of independence to secure the liberties protected for them by their ancestors. In the same loyalty to the Constitution, much of the early modern conservative movement opposed the Civil Rights Act as the federal usurpation that it was (and is)–they, too, were real Americans. Indeed, the formulation that Mr. Forsyth has put forward retroactively must strip many of our most noble and admirable patriots of the name American. Any definition of American that could conceivably exclude Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee is a meaningless, ridiculous definition.

    As for myself, I have strong reservations about the “values” expressed in the Declaration, at least if we are to take the platitudes expressed therein as claims of truth about the real world; I respect and honour the Constitution, but recognise the serious consolidationist flaws in it; I cannot in good conscience accept anything in the Gettysburg Address, mendacious piece of revisionist propaganda that it was, nor can I accept the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act or the enthusiasm for egalitarianism that inspired it. According to Mr. Forsyth, I am not an American, though some part of my people have been here since 1634 and most of my family has been here since the early 1700s. I obviously cannot and will not accept such a definition of my nation that would put me–and a considerable number of my countrymen–outside its boundaries. I cannot countenance a definition of national identity that makes one’s loyalty to a political position the basis for belonging to the nation. I want no part of any “ideological,” “credal” or “proposition” nation–you cannot love a proposition.

    There is nothing more artificial, more insubstantial and more dangerous than categorising a nation according to ideology–this is to make honest disagreement over political principles a betrayal of the nation itself. It is to make dissent into a kind of treason; it is to make fidelity to older traditions that contradict the reigning ideology a mark of disloyalty to the nation. Fundamentally it is also to confuse ideas for concrete realities and to give them the loyalty we owe to real things. It is to ignore the concrete realities of kin and place and our memory of our kin and place down through the centuries for the sake of abstractions. This sort of thinking may very well make it easier for people to enter the country, but it makes it impossible to say any longer what kind of country it is, where it came from or who we are as a people."

  3. The last two comments are some of the most insightful I have read in a while. Very interesting.

  4. "Traditionalists don’t value the proposition nation to begin with. The “citizenship and values” debate is liberal vs liberal; the artifically constructed vs the intangible.

    That's why we're never invited to the redundant SBS Insight forums on "what it means to be Australian". "

    So what are 'Australians values' then? Just a subset of old British colonial culture? The collection of motives for historic events that shaped this land?