Monday, September 28, 2009

Art critic violates the code

What are you not supposed to say in an arts review? Philip Hensher visited a display of Aztec art at the British Museum. In his review for the Daily Mail he made it clear that he thought Aztec art to be of little value. Not only did it express the cruelty and evil of Aztec culture, it wasn't beautifully made but was heavy and vulgar:

If there is a more revoltingly inhumane and despicable society known to history than the Aztecs, I really don't care to know about it. But, on top of the moral ugliness of the Aztecs, there is the undeniable fact that almost everything they made was aesthetically hideous, too.

The sculpture is brutal, square and blocky. The decorative styles are coarse, without any obvious expressive power.

The jewellery and mosaic styles are vulgar and showy ...


As I was reading Hensher's review, I thought to myself that he was going to provoke a reaction. He was violating two principles of modern liberalism. First, he was declaring a non-Western culture and civilisation to be inferior. Second, he was asserting an objective standard of good and of beauty.

There are certain reactions you could predict to Hensher's two violations of the "code". The first is the claim that the West is equally guilty of whatever the non-Western culture is alleged to have done. The second is the claim that standards of beauty and goodness are merely relative: that we cannot judge another culture by our own standards, which are only true for us.

Sure enough even the Daily Mail readership has internalised these predictable responses. Here's a little selection of hostile comments directed at Philip Hensher:

Sarah, USA: It doesn't matter if it's gruesome, our civilization is even more disgusting. At least they did those sacrifices with a greater outcome in mind. What do you leave for us? Let's kill whales to the extreme to feed sushi lovers? Let's kill seals just because they're paying me to do it? ... Please, for the sake of knowledge, don't let this person write anything else, ever.

AnnMae, USA: Frankly, I find it difficult to judge other civilizations from our moral judgment today. Today we live far differently than they did, and by this token we really cannot judge why they did what they did, or the morality of it ...
Now, how 'bout looking at the artefacts with an unbiased eye? Despite their uses, they are still SACRED objects, just as crosses, prayer mats, and certain head coverings are today. I don't see our author condemning every Christian or Muslim because some shed blood in a holy name . . . this no different.

David, North West: the greek and roman civilisations, upon which the enlightenment ideals were built in the 18th century and which have had an enormous impact on modern society, on democracy and also on art, were both pretty gruesome as well.

you cannot judge past societies on today's standards

using this man's 'logic' we'd have to condemn all modern art as having been produced by a society that could permit 30,000 children to die of preventable illnesses and starvation every day, while the affluent grow ever more obese

Dave, Torquay: How many artifacts [sic], artwork and buildings in Britain are the result of bloodshed. Mr Hencher [sic] comes across as bigotted [sic] and ignorant.

Miss Ann, Fife: What an amazingly ignorant article. It is exactly this kind of disrespect and fear of other cultures and civilisations, both past and present, which has got Britain into the kind of mess it is in today. This isn't journalism, it's propaganda and ignorance.

Sean, USA: Our contemporary North Atlantic culture has far more sanguinary cruelties rationalized, symbolized, idolized and accepted: wars, economics and social policies.

James, NY: What I'm waiting for is for the author to condemn and call for the demolition of the Tower of London and all its heinous artefacts... I'm sure that his righteous fury towards the savage race that built that den of torture is equal to his fervor over the ancient Aztecs.

Claire, London: What we find evil, repulsive and distasteful now, was perfectly normal and legal for the Aztecs at that time

David, London: your ignorance is unsurprising, secondly, i would imagine you have no problem with christian iconography which often depicts torture and murder ...

Basically, its all about context, and a basic tenent [sic] of intelligence is the ability to remove yourself from your own narrow minded worldview...


Nearly all of the 80 comments carry on along these lines. Think of what this means. It means that even the cruellest of ancient societies has to be defended furiously by modern Westerners - as being right for its time and no worse than the modern West.

Or think of it this way. An art critic states that he finds the cruel, brutal sacrificial art of the Aztecs unappealing. This is enough to unleash a barrage of criticism that he is ignorant, biased and unintelligent and shouldn't be allowed to write for a newspaper.

This is a losing mindset. The conditioned response that we are always worse in what we do or have done, even when compared to the cruel and bloody culture of the ancient Aztecs, is much too negative a view to take our own tradition forward.

(Lawrence Auster has discussed the issue of Aztecs in a post at VFR here.)

60 comments:

  1. Mr. Richardson,

    Thanks for linking my discussion about the terrifying Aztec god I saw at the Metropolitan Museum and what it says about the Aztec sense of the sacred.

    In connection with pre-Columbian notions of the sacred and how Western liberals must deny, rationalize, or relativize them, here is a section from an unpublished manuscript of mine on "The Spiritual Effects of Multiculturalism":

    _________-

    So compelling is the need to avoid negative stereotypes about nonwhites and non-Westerners (who are, in effect, the gods of our present culture), that in those instances where disturbing truths about non-Western cultures can no longer be denied, they are re-interpreted to make them acceptable to liberal and minority sensibilities.

    For example, it came to light some years ago that the ancient Mayans, who had long been thought of as an exemplary, peaceful civilization, engaged in horrifying practices. Before going to war, reported The New York Times, "the king would puncture his penis with a stingray spine, while his wife drew a thorn-barbed rope through her tongue." The Mayans waged war in order to capture aristocrats from neighboring peoples for torture and sacrifice; the captives would sometimes be forced to play a ball game, resembling soccer, in which the decapitated heads of the losers were used as balls. The Times noted that the evidence of these practices had been available for decades in stone reliefs and paintings, but that scholars had explained it all away in order to keep the Maya on a "mist-shrouded pedestal," where they could be idealized as an austere and enlightened people.

    While the new evidence had shattered that peaceful image, it had not ended the imperative always to portray nonwhite and non-Western cultures in a positive light. Anthropologists, the Times continued, now claimed that the Mayan practice of royal self-laceration indicates "a cooperative, sacred relationship between the elites and the commoners." In other words, as the late literary critic Peter Shaw remarked, "if the evidence shows a society's aristocrats obsessed with self-mutilation and torture, a bit of interpretation will help us see beneath the surface to the class solidarity so characteristic of pre-Columbian America and so lamentably missing from the modern world."

    A similar re-interpretation was needed in the case of the Moche, a pre-Inca people of Peru whose culture was unearthed several years ago in spectacularly well-preserved temple tombs. Even the most devoted egalitarian could not deny the specific nature of the Moche cult, since it is graphically depicted by a demonic grimacing figure—known as the "Decapitator"—who holds a severed human head in one hand and a curved blade in the other. This image of primal horror is displayed everywhere in the Moche tombs, even on the priests' garments.

    How were contemporary, compassionate Americans to come to terms with this awful revelation about a nonwhite, non-Christian people? Well, according to Stanford anthropologist John Rick, human sacrifice—far from being the sacred core of the Moche culture—was only a temporary expedient through which the Moche ruling class solidified their political power over a recalcitrant populace. Once the Moche elites were safely ensconced through the use of violence, Professor Rick told the NewsHour, they were "no more violent than ourselves." Thus Rick fit the indigestible facts about the Moche into a contemporary-sounding sneer at our own society, giving the public television audience the impression that there was no essential difference between this Pre-Columbian death cult and the "oppressions" of modern America. Instead of having to face the dark truth about a Native American culture, liberals watching the program could imagine that the Moche were—at the very worst—bad guys on the order of Nixon or Reagan.

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  2. Correction: a version of my text about the Maya and the Moche was in my article, "Multiculturalism and the Demotion of Man," published in Culture Wars.

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  3. I don't think it means either of those things Mark. It means that blog commenters are an argumentative bunch and will try and pick to pieces anything that is published on a major UK newspaper! Cheer up, there's hope for us yet.

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  4. Perhaps there is a dawning realization among the DM readers that they too worship a cult of human sacrifice, for what is the postmodern white guilt culture but one that positively needs a parade of victims, and one that will manufacture these to meed the demand, sometimes quite literally at the cost of a life, as most notably in the desire of much public opinion to sympathize with the Palestinian death cult and to encourage, via the media, its ongoing creation of "martyrs". People postively desire (though they would never recognize it, even to themselves) to be passionate about Jews inadvertantly killing victims, i.e. human shields; and so, people are forced to be shields.

    And in various ways we sacrifice the potential individuality of our young people today to an education system focussed on victimary group think and Green religion.

    In comparison, the Aztecs might seem a little more honest, and perhaps even more rational: there was a shortage of protein in pre-Columbian Mexico and a limit to population growth given the economic and technical resources. Sacralizing and eating victims was not an entirely irrational phenomenon for them. That said, I don't care much for their "art" either (one should be wary of the Western, secularizing, term, "art", for describing esthetic objects that could not have been distinguished from religious objects by their creators. Unlike us, the Aztecs did not have an art history differentiated from religious history.

    So taking all this into consideration, just what it is in the religious mindset of those who denounce Hensher may not be so readily resolved, not that I disagree with anything Mr. RIchardson writes...

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  5. We ARE like the Aztecs. We sacrifice unborn children every day for the "greater good" of freedom from responsibility and unfettered sexuality.

    Somehow though I don't think that is what the Daily Mail commenters had in mind......

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  6. Philip Hensher also did demolition job on Dan Brown's soporific "Last Symbol" in this week's Spectator.

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  7. Lawrence Auster,

    I just read the essay you linked to "Multiculturalism and the Demotion of Man".

    I found it striking, particulary the quotes of Rockefeller and Stephen Jay Gould. I'm glad you linked to it - it deserves to be highlighted in some way.

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  8. On the subject of PC and the Aztecs, modern historians try to deny that Cortes was mistaken for a god. I don’t believe them for a second.

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  9. This current runs deep: Form a Univ of New Mexico professor, Suzan Tweit. This what the Academy now thinks of Western Civ
    "Is this so different in our society? Certainly the forms of sacrifice differ. We no longer physically tear out their hearts, but we certainly break them. We do not behead them; we create the conditions that leave them killing and crippling each other in the ghettos and barrios because we have left them no way out.
    ...
    Growing up in this country in the 40s and 50s, I was daily reminded about how lucky I was to be growing up here, about how many children went to bed hungry every night, and other such clichés. Well, yes, I was lucky. But not every child who lived in this country was so lucky. I was white. "

    http://www.hanksville.org/yucatan/sacrifice.html

    Everything bad is always white peoples' fault and everything good is just luck or accidental.

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  10. If anyone was wondering what is this anti-Western relativism that conservatives are always complaining about, the comments of the Mail readers quoted by Mark Richardson give a good idea. It's a full-blown belief system, shared by perhaps a majority of college educated people in the West. And it's a belief system that is not only horribly wrong, but that spells our doom.

    What it says is very simple: "We of the West are morally tainted, and therefore we have no right to make moral and cultural judgments about other cultures." Which really means that we have no right to make moral and cultural judgments at all. But if we as a culture have no right to make moral and cultural judgments, then we have no right to exist as a culture, period.

    Clearly when we call this belief system relativism, that is not really correct. Relativism says that you have your ways, and I have mine, and—since there's no such thing as objective moral judgment—there's no way to choose between them. But the Mail correspondents do make moral judgments. Thus:

    "Sarah, USA: It doesn't matter if it's gruesome, our civilization is even more disgusting. At least they did those sacrifices with a greater outcome in mind. What do you leave for us? Let's kill whales to the extreme to feed sushi lovers? Let's kill seals just because they're paying me to do it? ... Please, for the sake of knowledge, don't let this person write anything else, ever."

    Sarah has an absolute—not a relative—position. Her absolute position is that our civilization is morally monstrous. It is so monstrous that the killing of seals and whales by some members of our society makes our civilization more disgusting than sending out armies to capture thousands of innocent people from neighboring socieities every year, dragging them to the top of a temple, and cutting out their beating heart. Relativism—"you must not judge"—is merely the cloak in which this absolutist hatred of the West is dressed. It's not everyone who must not judge. It's only people who speak in the name of the West who must not judge. Non-Westerners and Western leftist haters of the West have the full right to judge.

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  11. I was left with a somewhat different impression after reading the first page of comments (yesterday). It may be the case that in the comments there is no shortage of the sort of self-righteous condemnation outlined here, but more than a few others expressed their disappointment with Hensher's heavy-handed, unilateral criticism while not necessarily disagreeing with his personal viewpoint. Unapologetic criticism is one thing, unelaborated and crude bashing is another.

    Some commenters made the point that Hensher, by implication, was suggesting that this sort of "art" represented such disgusting cultures (and art) that it should never be on display so as to offend our sensibilities. Are museums de facto glorifying these primitive cultures by displaying their wares? Sometimes they do this but only when they make the effort through interpretation.

    In the same spirit, some comments alluded to the idea that such exhibits are important because they remind us of man's 'artful' barbarism and thus serve a useful educational purpose. No relativism or cultural self-deprecation need be employed or presumed.

    leadpb

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  12. It's a full-blown belief system

    -I'm not sure I would use that phrase. IN the linked essay on Multiculturalism and the Demolition of Man, Mr. Auster rightly points out that we are talking about a nihlism rooted in the rejection of the Judeo-Christian God and the "religion" that is unlike all the others in its open opposition to the religiosity of human sacrifice. (White Guilt nihilism grows from - or perhaps decays from - and is a parody of Western anti-sacrificial religion.) When Auster talks about the "absolute hatred of the West" he reiterates this point. My point being that without something to love in a serious, faithful, way, one doesn't really have a "belief" system. Resentment is ultimately a delusion, not a belief.

    And let's not pretend that today's white guilters actually like non-Western cultures when they ever have to live with them; they merely like the righteous idea of liking the Other. In practise they ever re-affirm their guilt, for while they may enjoy bits and pieces of non-Western culture, like cuisine or "art", their overall attitude towards the Other is one of patronizing condescension and "keeping them in their victim-status place". The vast majority of white liberals do not wish to live among or send their kids to school with large numbers of any non-white culture, and they know this well (one of the reasons for their low fertility, given the costs of living in their genteel ghettos). It seems to me they wish to destroy all cultures, ultimately, in the name of endlessly chasing some grater Gnostic Utopia, call it multiculturalism, and it is only the impossibility of this desire that leads them to some "pragmatic" acceptance of the violent sacrificial cultures in the West. The naivete of the white liberal is thinking that when our patriarchal religion/culture is destroyed that all the "multiculti" forces that have helped destroy it will then all sign on to the liberal Utopia, shedding their own archaic practises.

    But then I have to admit that the great conceit of the nihilist is that one cannot continue to live and really be a full-blown nihilist: one lives with the guilty pleasure of wanting others to share in one's nihilism, of wanting them to affirm that it is correct, given the nature of the world. Still is this really "belief"?

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  13. truepeers--

    If I interpret you correctly, that is an excellent insight about whites pricing themselves out of higher birthrates by living in more expensive areas, away from minority bastions. That is world-class irony.

    leadpb

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  14. My point being that without something to love in a serious, faithful, way, one doesn't really have a "belief" system. Resentment is ultimately a delusion, not a belief.

    They love the creation(Gaea) rather than the creator.

    They worship themselves as little deities. And they've repeated it in many societies over the years with mixed results. http://www.takimag.com/blogs/article/dawn_of_decadence/

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  15. Got here from Lawrence Auster's blog. I have long reviled the Aztecs, ever since I read Hugh Thomas' "Conquest of Mexico"

    These comments show there in no shame, no sense of proportion, no common sense in liberalism. People who are so understanding of monsters are capable of being monsters themselves. They aren't energetic enough to take the initiative but will perform so under the direction of others

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  16. That is world-class irony.

    -I live in a city, Vancouver, whose various zoning and taxation polices make family life, for most, affordable only in the more distant suburbs, unless one learns to live with little space and consumption. The most common exception in the central city are non-Western immigrant families who are happy to live in large, multi-generational homes on city lots that would often be too expensive if not for the contributions of several wage earners. White liberals, fixated on property prices from their ghettos, love to deride these tree and garden-destroying monster homes, and the non-nuclear living en famille that makes it possible. Still it is the libs' fondest desire to be considered inhabitants of a "world-class" city.

    They love the creation(Gaea) rather than the creator.

    -yes; one can't be a total nihilist and still make your way around the day. But loving Gaia, without a larger love for what is distinctively human/divine, cannot amount to any great love or belief, I'd argue. We love what we understand to be transcendent; and while no one can live without transcendence since language and all forms of representation are by their very "nature" transcendent, those who philosophically deny the transcendent, who presume to worship nature as a material or natural force (ignorant to how this worship is mediated), have limited their capacity for loving, it seems to me.

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  17. That funny, I agree with Mr. Richardson comments about the art critic and I also agree with many of OLD-HAT past comments, however OLD-HAT said this,

    "No, Anonymous, it isn't. What I'm saying is that I don't believe you should apply laws/morals from the present onto people in the past. It's like prosecuting someone for something they did ten years ago with a law enacted yesterday. And my reasoning certainly does not justify terrorism. I agree that it is interesting how people can believe they're right when they're so off-track, but it is unfair to extract my comment about people in the past and place it on people in the present."

    Interesting OLD-HAT, you sound like you are defending the code?

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  18. No, Anonymous, I think you have confused the culture with the moral agents. Just because someone shouldn't be judged on a present law for past actions doesn't mean that the past actions were right, just that our legal and moral framework, if to be fair, cannot change the rules retrospectively. It's not relativism, it just says that it is unjust to impose laws and morals developed after the fact. Our discussion about slavery, from which you quoted me, was about moral condemnation of a set of people who are moral agents, not their culture. (I did not defend slavery, just the slaveholders.)

    As for this case, I do not defend 'the code' - quite the opposite! We have every right to make judgements about culture, past or present, but I would maintain that it is wrong to condemn the people along with the culture. To the extent of my knowledge, which is quite limited in this particular field, I certainly consider Aztec culture to be inferior, but I'm not sure I could morally condemn the Aztecs themselves. Culpability requires awareness of wrongdoing, surely? It's one thing to say Aztec culture was horrid and that their actions were morally reprehensible, but quite another to say they should retrospectively rounded up and burnt at the stake! The first (which is my stance) merely denies moral relativism; the second is barbarous.

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  19. Its interesting how liberals are so quick to criticise conservatives for making critical comments about non-western art, while at the same time claiming there are no objective standards about art.

    If there are no objective standards, them how can they be so critical of something for expressing what is only a personal opinion. After all, by their own criteria there is no way to claim that one personal view (liberal or otherwise) is any better than any other.

    In terms of art, I tend to agree with the modern view that there are no absolute objective standards, although there are some objective standards in terms of particular criteria, such as realism, attention to detail, sophistication of the ideas conveyed in the art, quality of workmanship, etc so it is possible to make objective statements like 'Aztec sculpture is technically cruder than say, classical greek sculpture or Chinese ceramics'. It's also perfectly reasonable to ask ethnical questions about the artists intentions.

    Just because western society may have had its fair share of ethical shortcomings, doesn't necessarily mean, as left liberals seem to be arguing, that traditional western art celebrated these shortcomings -was Goya, for example, a practising satanist, just because he explored a lot of dark themes in his paintings?

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  20. Oops! I've just impulsively asked the cultural relativism question already dealt with by Mr Auster. I'll have to read more carefully now these Oz Conservative comment threads are getting longer.

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  21. Mark, I think you should be careful in becoming too close with someone who is "stunned" by the long arm of the law pursuing someone for the (apparently mere in his eyes) "32 year old offense of raping a 13 year old girl".

    Even though Auster was not motivated enough to research the facts before making his unequivocal denunciation of the American judicial system, what he did know was "that Polanski committed rape (or statutory rape) on a young girl at Jack Nicholson's house by plying her with drugs and drink, and that he then fled the country." That The Law pursued Polanski for this crime Auster finds "appalling".

    In fact Auster goes so far as to equate the American judicial system for its role in arresting the criminally perverted Polanski with that of Javert of Les Misérables. Victor Hugo describes the character of Javert as: "The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance. Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good."

    Do you, Mark, side with Auster's morality on this subject, that pursuing a pedophile rapist some 32 years after the date of the offence is the equivalent of doing evil in the guise of good? I think this episode shows that Auster's motivations aren't wholesome and his judgment is morally suspect, wouldn't you agree?

    Henry Burke

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  22. Henry Burke,

    Why are you so quick to condemn Lawrence Auster?

    I've read VFR for many years now. I would have to say that I've learnt most from Lawrence Auster and Jim Kalb. Auster has built up a significant readership, so there are obviously many others who find the site productive to read.

    I was a bit surprised when I read Auster's initial opinion on the Polanski matter, but Auster changed his mind after learning more about the initial charges. And anyway I wouldn't burn someone because of one post I disagreed with after being impressed by hundreds of other posts.

    Is it really true that you've just now turned against Lawrence Auster because of the Polanski post? It seems to me that your readiness to condemn Auster shows that your antipathy predates the post and has some other origin.

    Henry Burke, VFR has been a shot in the arm for traditionalism at a critical time when people have felt most isolated. I wouldn't lightly toss this aside. I know firsthand just how difficult it is to get something established, so that future traditionalists won't have to start entirely from scratch.

    Of course, I can't give a blanket endorsement of everything that appears at VFR, but for many years there has been a high level and principled discussion of traditionalist politics there, and on this basis I recommend the site to readers of Oz Conservative.

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  23. "They worship themselves as little deities. And they've repeated it in many societies over the years with mixed results."

    I was reading this exact point in Robert Elliot Fitch's "Odyssey of the Self Centred Self". He describes how the Judeo Christian god was replaced by the god of nature, then of humanity, then the nation state or society and then finally just ourselves.

    "People who are so understanding of monsters are capable of being monsters themselves."

    I believe this to be true. Which is odd because in our all embracing touchy feeling society we're supposed to be nicer.

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  24. Why am I so quick to condemn? I'm wondering why you weren't.

    You're right that for Auster I have "Great hatred, little room" though don't be fooled that it has maimed my faculties or casts my judgement in any doubt. I only condemn by utilising his own words, no where have I stated anything that Auster has not said himself. By his own words he is convicted, and if my hatred has exposed the Mephistopheles then that hatred is Great indeed!

    I don't think you really mean it, or have thoroughly thought it through when you say "...but Auster changed his mind after learning more about the initial charges. And anyway I wouldn't burn someone because of one post I disagreed with after being impressed by hundreds of other posts."

    Read him again, he has not retracted a jot. Quite the contrary he has confirmed his initial assessment. All he has said otherwise is that he wasn't aware of the full and gory further details, but he stands by his original statement that child "rape (or statutory rape)" should not be pursued over time and distance.

    This is his great clarification: "I just wanted to add this. Prior to today, if I had been given a multiple choice test on the Polanski case, this would have been the sum total of my knowledge about it: that Polanski committed rape (or statutory rape) on a young girl at Jack Nicholson's house by plying her with drugs and drink, and that he then fled the country."

    So Auster believed prior to his awakening that 1) Polanski had committed either rape (i.e. forceful) or statutory rape, 2) this involved Polanski plying the child with drugs and alcohol and 3) Polanski escaped the American state's jurisdiction. These are the facts of Auster's knowledge of the crime as described by Auster. His conclusion is that the American legal system is appalling, conniving, tricky, and the equivalent of a brutal Pharisaic justice system that punishes goodness and is in fact the epitome of evil. These are his words Mark.

    I appreciate you admire the man Mark, there are many admirable things about him but even a self described Caesar should be reminded by his slaves that he is still human after all.

    With sincere respect to you, you'd do your own honour great service by rebuking Auster for his obvious failure in morality. Being the admirer that you are and the esteem with which he obviously holds you, your judgement may give him pause to reflect and perheps even humble himself a moment to change his thinking and repent.

    I hold no hope of that though, he'd turn on you as he does anyone who points out his flaws. As for me, I believe it is further evidence of his true character.

    Auster finds the Aztec god terrifying but Polanski worthy of vehement defence. Looks to me like your commenter was right, children are still sacrificed today to false gods.

    Henry Burke

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  25. You're right that for Auster I have "Great hatred, little room"

    Great hatred? For Lawrence Auster?

    We have hundreds of Western liberal intellectuals who are hammering away, attacking the family, attacking our national traditions and you choose one of the few intellectuals taking a principled stand against this to direct your hatred toward?

    I don't get this.

    I think you're falling toward sectarianism - you're not oriented toward what can be achieved in the larger world, but toward political infighting within your own movement.

    You write about "convicting" Auster and "exposing" him as a "Mephistopholes". This is way over the top, even for someone who didn't think much of Auster.

    I don't want this site to get drawn into sectarian controversy. I have no problem with readers taking issue with my own political argument or that of Lawrence Auster or any other traditionalist - but let's keep it to the political arguments at hand.

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  26. One opinion you disagree with, and all of a sudden Larry Auster is Satan? Geez, how about a little sense of proportion. I don't agree with every single word Auster says, but he has the highest quality conservative site on the web, period.

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  27. Mark, why are you diverting yourself down this ad hominem track against me and my personal motivations? This is a time worn tactical device often employed by Auster to dissemble when he's caught in the headlights.

    You asked me about my prior antipathy and I admitted it and elaborated upon it for your sake but didn't ask you to share it.

    All I have proposed here is that Auster needs rebuttal for his defence of a pedophile and his linked attack on the American judicial process.

    Mephistpholes is my characterisation of him and I don't ask you to share it.

    He convicts himself certainly by being a proponent of child rapists not being pursued by the Justice system. Better that a millstone be tied around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than to cause a little one to sin, let alone sin against a little one. Yet I am the one accused of secularism!


    My cause won't be tied to a man who creates schism and scandal, who is vindictive beyond rationality and who is intellectually disingenuous no matter how persistent he is in other matters I do agree with. My cause won't be sullied with loyalty to a man who talks of "Transcendence" and then wallows and glorifies in bile as he does here with Polanski.

    I think you are trying to convince yourself that what Auster stated doesn't truly represent his thinking even though he has actually affirmed it again. You don't have to throw him over because you disagree with him, just rebuke him for what he has actually stated about Polanski. The child victim of that rape is representative of all our children and demands defense by Good men.

    Further, perhaps it will cement your relationship with him even further, and draw him to goodness instead of the dark track he goes down. But like I said, my bet is he'd go you good and proper, do you slowly as the spiteful ex PM once said (he was a great man too who also caused much disharmony).

    Anyway, all the best to you. I know you are a good man.

    Henry Burke.

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  28. I think my sense of proportion is spot on Anon. For you child rape is a matter of opinion, for me it is a matter of principle to oppose it always.

    There are others at Austers who have opposed him like James P. but then there are others like Dimitri who expand upon the original Auster outrage and set in stone the ugliness at the core of this defense of Polanski and attack upon the police.

    It is one thing to theorise, debate, blog and engage in discussion and another to take action when it has been called for. This is that moment. That you have failed to take action because your loyalty to a a blog author supercedes your morality and loyalty to your fellow citizens is your problem not mine.

    And worse, or better, it defines who you are.

    Henry Burke

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  29. Henry Burke,

    While in no way diminishing Polanksi's crime, I must say that I find your comments an over-reaction, and I wholly support Lawrence Auster's right to his opinion on this matter. He does not need to be "rebuked". I have not read a great deal on the subject, but I am puzzled as to why Polanski is being pursued so vigorously after such a long time when surely there are other criminals, repeat offenders for example, who merit more attention. I also read somewhere that it is against the victim's wishes, which raises the question as to whether Polanksi would be hounded for this crime if he weren't famous. But, to get back to the point, I merely wish to state that Auster's opinion is a reasonable one and that I don't think it is necessary to agree with him on this matter or any other in order to value his opinion on the Aztecs and so forth. Even if I found his stance morally repugnant (which I do not), it would not undermine his credibility on this current topic. If we were to only associate with those with whom we agree one hundred percent, I think most of us would be hermits.

    The way you write about Auster, one would think you were writing about Polanksi. And why so vehement in either case? If the victim can forgive him (which is the healthy and moral thing to do), then why can't you?

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  30. Old Hat, the victim hasn't forgiven Polanski from what we know, she doesn't want the media attention. Your comment in this regard is a red herring in all cases.

    Auster's opinion is disgraceful and immoral and goes to his character. That you find his opinion "reasonable" goes to your character.

    I never said that his immorality nullifies his opinion on Aztec art, I contrasted his immorality as regards the sanctity of children with his shocked sensibility as regards the "Aztec sense of the sacred." In other words, by his own statements he can be identified as a hypocrite.

    Henry Burke

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  31. I think my sense of proportion is spot on Anon. For you child rape is a matter of opinion, for me it is a matter of principle to oppose it always.

    I oppose child rape always, as well. However, Auster being wrong on this issue still does not make him Satan. I am sure if I dug through Oz Conservative I could find something I disagreed with, too, but I doubt that would make me decide he was Satan and quit reading him.

    It is one thing to theorise, debate, blog and engage in discussion and another to take action when it has been called for. This is that moment. That you have failed to take action because your loyalty to a a blog author supercedes your morality and loyalty to your fellow citizens is your problem not mine.

    What "action" am I supposed to take? I applaud Polanski's arrest, I hope he goes to jail, and I wrote a letter to the LA Times to that effect. I told Auster the same thing. What else do you think I am supposed to do? Endorse your ludicrous characterization of Auster as Mephistopheles?

    I am puzzled as to why Polanski is being pursued so vigorously after such a long time when surely there are other criminals, repeat offenders for example, who merit more attention.

    Frankly I think they SHOULD send a message in this case: rich and famous people are not above the law, and a rich and famous man cannot flee the country after pleading guilty, then eventually return home to forgiveness, praise and celebration.

    I also read somewhere that it is against the victim's wishes, which raises the question as to whether Polanksi would be hounded for this crime if he weren't famous.

    This is irrelevant. Polanski fled before he could pay the price he owed. And he owes the state of California, not the victim. The state of California brought the charges, not the victim. Paying off the victim as a result of a civil suit does not clear the books of a criminal charge.

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  32. Well said Anon of Thursday, 1 October 2009 10:43:00. I hope you blasted Auster when you "...told Auster the same thing." Good on you for speaking your righteous mind and not being cowed by the man's fame.

    Sadly, he hasn't retracted and apologised for his immoral stance as yet though.

    It is our job to hold him to his principles just as he sees his job as holding West, Hitchens, Gates of Vienna, Conservative Swede, Mangan, Spencer, Fitzgerald etc etc etc to his perception of what they should be saying and thinking. He is a rigorous examiner of others and this is but my quid pro quo.

    Henry Burke

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  33. As for my characterisation of Auster as like Mephistopheles you think I am equating him with the Devil. But my use of the character has more to do with Mephistopheles' deliberately deceptive language, his sophistry that leads one to false conclusions.

    What do you make of Auster's characterisation of your Justice system with Javert of Les Misérables.

    Do you know the story Anon? Do you know what Javert did to Jean Valjean? If you did then you would understand that my characterisation of Auster with Mephistopheles is, if not accurate, then at least justified given the monumental slur Auster has cast upon your Justice system. And all for pursuing a paltry offence like drugging a child, raping the child, and escaping Justice some 32 years ago. Surely the equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread!

    Henry Burke

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  34. While you're at it Anon, look up
    Jean Valjean and see what type of man he was. Then think about Auster comparing him to Polanski and your Justice system to Javert.

    You may then understand what a disgraceful post Auster has created, with full knowledge of the basic facts.

    Henry Burke

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  35. Henry Burke, I don't wish to prolong this tangent unduly, so all I'll say is that Auster has clarified his stance ably on VFR and if that doesn't temper your judgement then nothing I have to say will either. As to your attempted slur on my character, I would rather be associated with Auster than you, Burke.

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  36. Old Hat,

    This clarification of Auster's stance you talk about, I've already explained to you that Auster stated that prior to his emailer's pointing out the explicit details of the case Auster's understanding was that:

    "...Prior to today, if I had been given a multiple choice test on the Polanski case, this would have been the sum total of my knowledge about it: that Polanski committed rape (or statutory rape) on a young girl at Jack Nicholson's house by plying her with drugs and drink, and that he then fled the country."

    See, when he wrote the post he states he KNEW Polanski had committed child rape, either forcibly or statutory. He KNEW that Polanski had drugged her in order to rape her statutory or otherwise.

    With that knowledge he wrote the post describing the American police force involved in the most degenerate terms and equating Polanski with the hero of Les Misérables. Their has been NO clarification other than that he didn't know the specifics of the rape.

    I don't know if you are dazzled by the sun shining out of your master's arsehole to the point where you can't follow his own writing or whether you actually concur with Auster.

    But in either case I'm glad you won't associate yourself with me.

    Henry Burke

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  37. Henry Burke,

    Correction: Auster did not equate Polanksi to Valjean; he compared the American police to Javert. He did not portray Polanski in heroic terms whatsoever. His point, that there are usually statutes of limitations on crimes other than murder, remains valid.

    Secondly, my only human 'master' is my husband and I only read Auster's blog for the first time this week, so I would appreciate you not referring to him facetiously as my master. But, for what it's worth, I do largely concur with him.

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  38. Henry Burke,

    I've deleted your last comment as it was overly ad hominem. I'd also ask you (and other readers) to leave the issue alone now - there doesn't seem to be anything more to be usefully added.

    Further comments on the Aztec issue are welcome.

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  39. That's okay Mark, I knew you would. Abusing someones intelligence should never be allowed unlike raping a child where it's defendable in special circumstances.

    Here's the post again without the evil ad hominem:


    "This is appalling. What is America now--the Javert Nation? "

    OH , it is quite simple. To equate the police with Javert is likewise to equate Polanski with Jean Valjean otherwise the metaphor is incomplete. What Javert did to the great man Jean Valjean defined him.

    Mark, thanks for your time. A cause is lost when you have to compromise values in order to hunt with the hounds. When you are compromised it looks to outside observer's like you are actually running with the dogs.

    Fortunately for me I'm not compromised and have no compunction to defend the indefensible.

    Cheers,


    Henry Burke

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  40. Mr Richardson, I was going to leave this alone, but I think Henry Burke's flawed reasoning highlights the way in which liberals have reacted to Hensher and Aztec culture. Just as Burke is being selective in his assessment of Auster and Polanski, so too modern liberals are selective in what they see of Hensher and the Aztecs.

    To elaborate: Burke has decided that the metaphor is incomplete. I disagree and think that one can compare the American police to an obsessive policeman who pursues a criminal relentlessly for years without comparing the two criminals in question. But, even so, Burke himself is not completing the metaphor. He calls Valjean a "great man" and "hero" but neglects to call him a criminal, (a repeat offender, in fact).

    Likewise, modern liberals are choosing not to see the "moral ugliness" of the Aztecs; and, likewise, they are seizing on perceived sins of today's world to suggest that there is no superiority in our culture. Burke, in order to be consistent, should hail Javert as a hero, but maintains that Javert's actions are "evil" (even if they are in the guise of good) and can only characterise Polanski in terms of a single crime committed over three decades ago while not characterising Valjean as a criminal whatsoever. He too is focussing on a reprehensible aspect of a man/culture today and excusing/ignoring a crime of the past... as well as the reverse: calling Javert evil (in his past albeit fictional culture) but hailing the police today as good. The magnitude and setting of the wrongdoing is irrelevant here; the point is that Burke and modern liberals have something in common, a selective and inconsistent view across cultures and time. Perhaps the lesson in all this is that the modern liberal way of thinking is very pervasive and insidious, and we need to be very careful that we don't start thinking like them.

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  41. "We live in an age that is so thoroughly post-modern that you can find an obvious literary antecedent for nearly every seamy media storyline. The same goes for the Polanski case, which is full of echoes of "Les Miserables," the classic Victor Hugo novel about Jean Valjean, an ex-con trying to turn his life around who is being obsessively tracked and hunted down by the Parisian police inspector Javert.

    Hugo's story is a tragedy, as is the life story of Polanski, who was a fugitive as a boy and is now a fugitive as an old man. Whether the L.A. County district attorney office has its way or not, it is not a story that can have a happy ending. I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough."


    Source.

    Henry Burke

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  42. Interesting, Henry Burke, but Auster did not write that.

    What's also interesting is that you claimed earlier that I was wrong to suggest the victim had forgiven Polanski, and yet you now quote an article that states "Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, long ago announced that she had forgiven the filmmaker for his transgressions and supported various efforts to have the case against him dismissed".

    More selectivity, I see.

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  43. Burke said Thursday, 1 October 2009 7:56:00 AM EST "Old Hat, the victim hasn't forgiven Polanski from what we know, she doesn't want the media attention. Your comment in this regard is a red herring in all cases." (Bold added for instruction purposes)


    So, too, is it immaterial that Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, does not want to see him prosecuted. (Geimer only desisted in her calls for Polanski to face justice until after he settled a civil suit for an undisclosed sum of money.) Forgiveness is not interchangeable with justice. What distinguishes decent societies from authoritarian ones is the rule of law, the code to which all citizens must adhere. Fame and creative genius do not amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card, at least not in a democracy. Source


    But what of the now-45-year-old victim, who received a settlement from Polanski in a civil case, saying she'd like to see the charges dropped? Shouldn't we be honoring her wishes above all else?

    In a word, no. At least, not entirely. I happen to believe we should honor her desire not to be the subject of a media circus, which is why I haven't named her here, even though she chose to make her identity public long ago. But as for dropping the charges, Fecke said it quite well: "I understand the victim's feelings on this. And I sympathize, I do. But for good or ill, the justice system doesn't work on behalf of victims; it works on behalf of justice."

    It works on behalf of the people, in fact -- the people whose laws in every state make it clear that both child rape and fleeing prosecution are serious crimes. The point is not to keep 76-year-old Polanski off the streets or help his victim feel safe. The point is that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not -- and at least in theory, does not -- tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no matter how many really swell movies you've made.
    Source

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  44. Mr Auster,

    Speaking as an admirer of your work, I have to agree with Henry Burke that your approach to the Polanski affair is very disappointing. The Sultan Knish pretty much demolishes the threadbare Polanski defence.

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  45. Has anyone in this emotional pursuit of justice considered the wishes of the victim and the impact it is having on her, her family, and Polanski's family?

    Sometimes the right thing to do is forget about justice here on earth and leave it to our heavenly Judge....

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  46. I don't normally read this blog, but someone showed it to me and asked me to comment, seeing as I happen to like Aztec art. While I can see your point Mr Richardson, I think the ensuing discussion demonstrates the weakness of the conservative absolutist position. I don't have much time for people like Mr Burke who is so convinced of his righteousness and filled with hate. The opinion of someone who lacks the compassion to bow to the poor victim's wishes and who logically must condemn her for not wishing justice to be done here and now does not hold much value in my eyes. For me, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don't ask anyone to like what they don't like, but I don't like being told I shouldn't like what I like either. Your Mr Hensher has a right to his opinion on Aztec art, but some of your readers are just as narrow-minded as they are arrogant. Do they really want to live in a world where only their narrow concept of art and beauty and morality is allowed? I don't.

    As for the Polanski discussion, give it a break! The more you go on about it the more you confirm the stereotype of conservatives being self-righteous, bigoted, and devoid of compassion. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

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  47. Do they really want to live in a world where only their narrow concept of art and beauty and morality is allowed?

    Michael, I don't think it's a narrow concept of morality to believe that it's evil to tear out the beating hearts of many thousands of young children, as Aztec culture did.

    Given that much of Aztec art relates to these forms of human sacrifice, I think it's normal for people not to warm to it.

    What's not normal is the reaction of some Westerners - the rush to declare that the whatever the Aztecs did that the West was much worse.

    Some commenters on the Daily Mail site even tried to make the argument that Christianity was no better than the Aztec religion because both involved sacrifice (i.e. because Christ was sacrificed on the cross, this makes Christianity as bad as the human sacrificing Aztec religion).

    Again, if you want your own tradition and civilisation to endure, then such a response has to be of concern. If Westerners are so quick to declare their own tradition worse than the worse, as being no better than the cruel Aztec culture, then what are the prospects for the West?

    We will fall to some other civilisation which is more confident in itself, more positive in its sense of what it represents.

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  48. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

    No one trespassed against you did they Michael, they trespassed against a 13 year old girl.You are so self righteous to quote this in order to silence debate. Pure humbug. And how cowardly not to be able to serve and uphold the law that protects us all, 13 year old girls included.

    "The opinion of someone who lacks the compassion to bow to the poor victim's wishes and who logically must condemn her for not wishing justice to be done here and now does not hold much value in my eyes."

    So all law is subject to victim's wishes is it? So when the girl was 13 and had no one to speak for her wishes but her parents who were silly enough to let her be in this situation, who speaks on her behalf? You won't because you're looking for any excuse to absolve yourself from being a man and fulfilling your role in upholding law.

    The law was developed to serve and protect all, not to be subject to every whim. If we had your law any group of people bullied and cowed by aggressive gangs or local tyrants, too much in fear to speak out and have a police force protect them, those communities according to your law are left destitute, alone in their world of local violence, while you Pilate like wash your hands of it and worse, parade your proud highmindedness making a virtue of your vice, i.e. cowardice.

    Henry Burke

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  49. Henry Burke,

    I only very rarely do this, but I'm going to delete your comments, whatever they are, for the next month or two.

    You're pursuing your own campaign here, on an unrelated comments thread, and you are doing so in an aggressive ad hominem way (which is why I deleted your last comment and modified the one before that).

    Again, I'd ask other readers to drop the Polanski issue from this thread.

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  50. Mark, I thank you for your reply. I wish more conservatives were as rational and polite as you.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't subscribe to Aztec culture. But I do think there should be room for people to appreciate Aztec art. Don't you find it fascinating as well as horrible? Something can be awful but still beautiful. Anyway, I agree some people are over the top about this sort of thing and that there's no need to demean our own culture, but I wouldn't want to see Aztec art banned from exhibitions or anything like that. Some people like it, and that ought to be respected.

    Some of your readers, however, do live in a very narrow world it seems to me. Mr Burke's reaction, which I will not bother to respond to directly as he clearly has some problems and can't have a discussion without becoming abusive and illogical, just shows how too many of your colleagues think. They have no flexibility, cannot see the gray areas of life, and equate the application of hard and fast rules to justice. He can't even see his own hypocrisy in saying I should be upholding a law but suggesting that Javert should not have upheld the law against the criminal Valjean. Or that the victim is no longer a young girl but a forty-something mother with children of her own whom she wishes to protect. The narrowness of which I speak is this inability to see that the world is not black and white, the lack of respect for other people's points of view, and the refusal to accept that other people don't think like them. That sort of intolerant world was created by the Nazis not so long ago and I certainly don't want to live in that sort of world. And I don't think you'd want to either, and that is something I think we can agree on, that there are indeed some civilizations we would not want taking over our own, which is tolerant and respectful of difference.

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  51. [This is in reply to Henry Burke claiming he had a more positive impact than anything else at this site]

    Depends how you define "positive impact". I know of at least two people who now read VFR who didn't before....

    And what's passion and conviction without common sense or compassion?

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  52. Henry Burke chose to sign off with another abusive personal attack on me.

    He has chosen to burn his bridges and is therefore no longer welcome to comment at this site.

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  53. I wouldn't want to see Aztec art banned from exhibitions or anything like that.

    Nor would I.

    Mr Burke's reaction ... just shows how too many of your colleagues think.

    Mr Burke's reaction is not at all typical of comments left at this site.

    Generally speaking I'm proud of the quality of commentary here.

    The narrowness of which I speak is this inability to see that the world is not black and white, the lack of respect for other people's points of view, and the refusal to accept that other people don't think like them.

    OK, a few points in reply here.

    First, traditionalists have grown up in a world which is dominated politically by ideas different to our own. So we do not live in an intellectual comfort zone. Most of us are perfectly aware that other intellectuals do not think like us.

    Second, although liberals often speak of tolerance as a liberal value, the trend is toward the delegitimisation of non-liberal values and ways of life.

    Liberals, in other words, are increasingly using the state to squeeze out whatever doesn't fit into a liberal value system.

    This is made even worse by the fact that liberalism is so reductive to begin with - that it starts out with a single supreme good to which everything else is subordinate.

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  54. I'm waiting patiently for Michael to reply.

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  55. "I certainly consider Aztec culture to be inferior, but I'm not sure I could morally condemn the Aztecs themselves. Culpability requires awareness of wrongdoing, surely?"

    The Aztecs were a conquering people and most of their territory was made up of recently conquered peoples who hated the Aztecs. It was support from this quater that enabled Cortez and his small band of soldiers to be victorious.

    Its not true that people didn't know better then. Whilst most south american cultures practised human sacrifice to some degree nobody did it to the colossal extent of the Aztecs, for whom it played and absolutely essential part of their culture.

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  56. Jesse, you may note that I said "I'm not sure" and that I also stated my limited knowledge of Aztec culture. My question wasn't merely rhetorical, so thanks for your answer. I still don't feel I have a definite sense of their awareness of wrongdoing, but I think we probably agree for all intensive purposes.

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  57. I don't have regular access to the internet, so this will probably be my last comment.

    In reply to your statement about Mr Burke, I am glad, but must say that I have come across many like him.

    As for your comments about liberalism, I can say that I am saddened that it has been hijacked by those who are not true liberals, people who wish to enforce a point of view - that I concede. I am no happier about this than you, but it is a new generation that considers old liberals like me "stuck in the sixties".

    That liberalism is reductive, I respectfully disagree. I like to keep things simple.

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  58. You're off the hook old hat don't worry :).

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  59. What an amazingly ignorant article. It is exactly this kind of disrespect and fear of other cultures and civilisations, both past and present, which has got Britain into the kind of mess it is in today.

    No, it is the modern West's rose-tinted view of non-Western cultures and civilisations; its relativistic belief that it is wrong, inappropriate, chauvinistic, even 'racist' to judge or criticise other cultures and civilisations; its own cultural self-loathing that has got Britain and the rest of the Western world in the mess it is in today.

    Aztec culture was horrendously cruel and sadistic. The fact that Western liberals, as Mr. Auster put it, "deny, rationalize, or relativize" such grotesque and inhumane cultural practices makes them nothing more than apologists for vile brutality. What a bunch of repugnant, morally deficient, inhumane nihilists our 'progressive' liberals turn out to be!

    Out of interest, Mr. Auster, is there any chance of the full version of "The Spiritual Effects of Multiculturalism" seeing the light of day?

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