Thursday, April 30, 2009

Melbourne not so marvellous?

Melbourne doesn't have a stunning natural feature like Sydney Harbour, nor do we have an iconic landmark like the Sydney Opera House. What we do have are quiet, leafy, uncrowded suburbs, the best of which have attractive historic architecture, extensive parks and fine public buildings. Melbourne has been ranked twice as the world's most liveable city.

But for how long? A population boom fuelled by mass migration is likely to send Melbourne falling down the list of liveable cities.

Here is the kind of thing we get to read now in our newspapers:

Bulldoze the 'burbs

Melbourne must destroy the bulk of its leafy eastern suburbs in order to thrive, a leading planning expert says.

Target suburbs include Brighton, Camberwell, Balwyn, Ormond and Preston.

Mr Black says spacious suburban blocks should be levelled and the homes replaced with three to six storey apartment buildings.

This is not a call to demolish slum housing to improve the urban environment. It's the reverse: Jason Black, state president of the Planning Institute of Australia, is calling here for the demolition of the very best suburbs to make way for crowded, high-rise urban living.

It brings to mind a poem I wrote some years ago in which a Melbourne boy of the future tries to make the best of things in his bed time prayer:

As I lay me down I pray
in thanks to those who took away
our house at No 22
its seven rooms and backyard too.

For now I live at 20/39
up here the weather's always fine
for grey clouds pass us far below
and if they rise then we get snow!

And yes I miss my dog it's true
and Dad pines for his BBQ
and Mum preferred the flowers and trees
the singing birds, the humming bees

But who were we to block the way
of progress, for politicians say
that it is best, it must be so
to live like those in Tokyo

Now I must go, it must be late
for next door at 20/38
the telly's off, it is so still
I hear the eagles at the window sill

But I give thanks I live so high
to wave as QANTAS passes by.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Would you like crime with that?

I was browsing through the Daily Mail and came across a story about Deptford in London:

The humble London community has been lauded in the New York Times as the latest trendy location to emerge from the capital's melting pot.

The New York Times writer believes that Deptford has "edge"; wikipedia tells us that Deptford is reputed to have;

the capital's most diverse and vibrant high street

But what do you get with the "edge"? I was astonished to read that in 2006 there were nearly 8,500 crimes of violence against the person in Deptford.

That's an extraordinary amount of crime. Deptford has 57,000 residents and 8,500 crimes of violence against the person. I live in a municipality in Melbourne (Nillumbik) with 62,000 residents. In 2007 there were 198 crimes of violence against the person. That means that the crime rate in Deptford is 43 times higher than in Nillumbik, even though the population of Nillumbik is higher.

Little wonder that Deptford resident David Ferndale questions the New York Times travel advice:

Have a look at the local paper - there are stabbings and shootings all the time. You might as well be done with it and book two weeks all-inclusive in Kabul.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Going it alone

I don't want this comment from Lawrence Auster on my post Hitchens and Conservative Rights to pass unnoticed, so I'm posting it below:

A terrific restatement by Mr. Richardson of the traditionalist versus the classic liberal position. As Mr. Richardson shows, not only is the classic liberal position of negative rights and restrictions on state power inadequate in itself to a proper understanding of the human, but it leads inevitably over time to a system of positive rights and unlimited state power directed at making everyone equal.

The basic flaw of classical liberalism is that it has no sense of the "larger wholes" which form us, of which we are a part, and in which, to a significant and indispensable degree, we find ourselves. Rights being the only operative principle of classical liberalism, the rights inevitably keep growing and demanding more and more, and instead of just wanting to be left alone want to be made equal.

While there are various self-described classical liberals in the U.S. today (two examples being S.T. Karnick and Ilana Mercer) who argue that classical liberalism is not anti-national but affirms national identity and national sovereignty, the fact is that classical liberalism does not contain within itself the means to stop its own tendency to move leftward. ONLY traditionalism can do that. ONLY traditionalism can contain the inherent ills of liberalism and thus assure that what is good about liberalism does not turn into its own opposite.

I would add this. The American Founding is often described as the quintessence of classical, Lockean liberalism. But this is not correct. Americans in the Founding period believed in a uniquely American amalgam of Lockean liberalism and traditionalism: in Protestant Christianity, in traditional morality, in distinctive English-American ways of life, in English-American ways of governance, in a powerful and jealous sense of nationhood, and in a powerful sense of identity with their respective individual states of the Union, which they guarded against the power of the national government.

They spoke and believed in the Lockean principles of the universal and natural rights of man, but they understood them and applied them within the context of a specific political and cultural order that was not universal but particular and contained many inequalities. Their liberalism was a part of a cultural order that was not itself liberal—which happens to be my formula for non-destructive liberalism. But, because they failed to produce a sufficient articulation of the non-liberal aspects of their political society, the liberal parts kept expanding and over time drove out the traditional parts.

Liberalism has not always attempted to go it alone as a ruling principle of society. We live in exceptionally radical times because our society is now being ordered along the lines of a single political theory. In the past, there was room for an aristocratic ideal, for the influence of religion, for a serious commitment to family, community and nation and for an ideal of manhood and womanhood. It was the continuing presence of these other goods which allowed the "liberal West" to hold together. By itself, liberalism undercuts the existence of that group of people holding to it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A new English anthem

A new English anthem to celebrate Englishness was performed for the first time on St George's Day. The chorus has the lines:

I am England, England is inside of me.

I am England, England is what I want her to be,

I am England, I am English, I am England to my core,

And wherever you may find me, you'll find England.

England Forever More!

The chorus wants to be patriotic ("I am England to my core"). Notice, though, that the composer sticks with liberal orthodoxy: we are to remain self-defining individuals, even in our national identity ("England is what I want her to be"). The emphasis is on England being subjective ("England is inside of me ... I am England") rather than something definite and objective, something external to my will which helps to shape who I am.

The problem is that no matter how patriotic sounding the lyrics are, the meaning of the words undercuts the significance of it all. If England is something I get to create myself, if England is little old me, if it's all just fleeting subjective preference, then what depth does it have? Does it really merit the rousing end line of "England forever more?" How can it be forever, if England is what I want it to be and I'm not going to be around forever? And how can Englishness unite people in any serious way if we all get to define our own England?

The rest of the anthem does suggest a few objective characteristics of being English, but again they aren't all that serious:

Hustle bustle, urban tussle, dancing through the crowds,

Or out in the country, a fresh place for me to breathe,

England my England is always home to me!

Fish and chips in paper, with mushy peas,

Balti chicken, naan bread and onion bhajis,

A cup of tea and toast, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding,

Tastes of our culture, tastes like England to me!

Swing low sweet chariot, God Save The Queen!

Land of hope and glory and of pleasant mountains green,

England's future, past and today live in our minds on St George's Day,

England, England, my country!

This part of the anthem has been described as banal. The focus on food doesn't sit well in what is supposed to be a rousing national anthem ("Fish and chips in paper, with mushy peas").

The one line I do think fitting is the second last: "England's future, past and today live in our minds on St George's Day".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hitchens & conservative rights

What makes us free? Peter Hitchens believes that the left has it wrong. The left has put its faith in abstract declarations of human rights. These declarations give judges the power to interpret what is right or wrong. Rather than everyone, including those holding state power, being held to a divinely sanctioned morality, it is now the officials of the state who wield this power. Hence a vast increase in state authority and a loss of liberty.

Hitchens prefers what he calls conservative rights. These are clearly defined legal rights which limit the power of what the state can do, as opposed to the "grandiose blether about rights" coming from the left, which leads the state to interfere in people's lives:

That is why left-wing rights increase the power of the state. Conservative rights, as expressed in the hard, cool, terse, language of the 1689 Bill of Rights ... concentrate on saying quite clearly what government cannot do. And in the space that is left, when the ruler is restrained by such things, free men can live, write, speak and think.

I don't think this goes far enough. If you really want to defend freedom, you have to take the contest to a deeper level.

What really counts are not the legal forms but the understanding of who man is and what his freedom is for.

For instance, the Lockean liberals, who Peter Hitchens seems to endorse, did not have a neutral view of the nature of man and what men might legitimately do in society. They had an excessively pessimistic view of men as being asocial, self-interested creatures who only pretended to act socially in order to impose their own partisan interests on others. Therefore, men were to be restricted to private pursuits, with the ideal activity being participation in the market.

The Lockeans left a lot out of man. They wanted us to be free as atomised, abstracted individuals, lacking natural ties to our community and oriented instead to a pursuit of private self-interest.

Think too of the modern liberals. They define man in terms of autonomy: we are human to the extent that we can self-determine our own lives and being.

This view of what man is has inevitable consequences. It is an autonomous self that is to be made free - one "liberated" from unchosen, inherited aspects of life such as manhood and womanhood, traditional forms of the family, ethnicity and objective forms of morality.

The realm of freedom then becomes those aspects of life that can be chosen at an individual level: career, entertainment, travel, shopping and so on. Society becomes good at developing these aspects of life; others are neglected or deemed illegitimate and repressed.

The rule is this: the concept of what man is will lead on to a view of what freedom is for. This is the deeper, driving force behind whether we have a true conservative liberty or not.

The conservative position should be this: we cannot be free as radically autonomous, self-created individuals. If we are to be free, it will be as men and women, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers and as members of distinct human communities and traditions.

One final, important point. If we do not do battle on these grounds, then it is likely that an older concept of rights, one focused on limiting state power, will give way to state interference and coercion.

Why? If it is accepted as true that we become human through the power to self-create our own autonomous lives, then it will be thought terribly unjust for there to be any inequalities in this power of autonomy. It would mean accepting that some people were more human than others - a serious breach in human equality.

For instance, if careers help our autonomy by making us financially independent, then how can we justify men spending more time in careers than women. If the liberal view of personhood is true, then this would mean that women were being relegated to a less human status than men.

This will seem so immoral and so unjust to liberals, that it's unlikely that the state would not interfere coercively to achieve "gender equity".

At the very least, we have to make sure that a new generation of conservatives is brought up to reject not only the particular forms of coercion enacted by the liberal state, but also the underlying principles justifying them.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two feminist confessions

Liz Jones is the feminist columnist for the UK Daily Mail. Just ten days ago she attacked women's magazines for focusing on fashion rather than items of substance:

This column is a Part Two of the one I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the paucity of articles in women’s magazines on self-defence, rape awareness – anything intelligent, really ...

As the recession kicks in, fear is our biggest enemy. Women will increasingly be infantalised by the very people supposed to be on our side because, let’s face it, you have to be pretty stupid to spend £2,000 on a Vuitton anything.

People will become even more afraid to stick their heads above the parapet.

Let's summarise this view:

a) You have to be pretty stupid to spend £2000 on fashion

b) Women should be thinking about matters of substance, namely the dangers of men, rather than fashion.

Fast forward to Liz Jones's most recent column. She makes a confession: she is a fashion addict, having spent not just £2000 but £400,000 on designer clothes. She tells us that,

yesterday, with my niece's smart London wedding only days away, I went on netaporter and ordered an Yves Saint Laurent draped jacket for £1,225 and a hand-painted Vera Wang dress for £2,750 - but it really is gorgeous. Ooh, and a Bottega Veneta clutch for £602.

Ten days ago she wrote scathingly that magazine articles about handbags "infantilised" women. Strange then that as she writes her latest piece,

I am stroking my Bottega bag now, like a pet.

The lesson? Don't take what feminists write at face value. Liz Jones is willing to recommend one policy to other women, whilst following another herself.

There is another story about a feminist in today's Daily Mail. Rosie Boycott was an influential feminist of the 1970s, having helped to found the magazine Spare Rib in 1971 and the publishing house Virago Press in 1973.

It turns out that at this very time in her life she was a heroin addict and an alcoholic. She gave up the heroin after spending time in a Thai prison in 1973 for drug smuggling.

It's not that I think you have to be faultless in order to take up a public role - if the bar is set too high then no-one would qualify. But how can you presume to tell other people how to live when your own life is so out of control that you're addicted to drugs?

(In more recent times Rosie Boycott has made criticisms of the feminism of the 1970s.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Deal? Maybe not, Andrew Bolt.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt is about as right-wing as it gets in the mainstream media here in Australia. And yet he is clearly a liberal rather than a conservative.

This is most obvious whenever he writes about race and ethnicity. In his most recent column, for instance, he complains that Aboriginal activists who attack whites are often considerably of European descent themselves.

It's a fair point and one that is likely to appeal to the conservative rank and file. However, Bolt also uses the column to push the idea that race is artificial, trivial and should be made irrelevant.

For instance, he writes of Tara Jane Winch, who is of mixed ancestry but identifies as Aboriginal, that:

She could call herself English, Afghan, Aboriginal, Australian or just a take-me-as-I-am human being called Tara June Winch. Race irrelevant.

His comment on the phenomenon of mixed race activists identifying as Aborigines is this:

It's also divisive, feeding a new movement to stress pointless or even invented racial differences we once swore to overcome. What happened to wanting all of us to become colour blind?

He finishes this way:

... let's go beyond racial pride. Beyond black and white. Let's be proud only of being human beings set on this land together, determined to find what unites us and not to invent such racist and trivial excuses to divide. Deal?

Sorry, Andrew Bolt, no deal.

It's important to understand where Andrew Bolt is coming from. Andrew Bolt once criticised a group of Aborigines for wanting to hold onto some historic artefacts. He told the Aborigines that by identifying with their own communal tradition they were forgetting,

The humanist idea that we are all individuals, free to make our own identities as equal members of the human race. In this New Racism, we're driven back into tribes.

This is standard liberal autonomy theory. According to this theory, we are made human by our ability to self-determine who we are. Therefore, we are supposed to reject as impediments to our individual autonomy anything significant to our identity that is inherited rather than self-created.

It's a theory with radical consequences. It means that we can't identify as men and women as our sex is a "biological destiny" rather than something we select for ourselves. And it means that we can't identify with our own race or ethny or nation as we are born into these.

We are not allowed to belong to distinct, particular human communities. Only to a single human one.

This is just about the opposite of a true conservatism: if the term conservative has any meaning it refers to the aim of conserving a particular tradition against the onslaught of liberalism.

Andrew Bolt has not always been so dismissive of ancestral identity. He himself is a Dutch migrant to Australia. As such he did not feel as strongly connected to the mainstream Australian tradition. This changed when he married an Australian woman. He once thanked his two Anglo-Australian grandmothers in his column for granting him this gift of an ancestral connection to country:

I do now have a deep bond to this country, its history and its culture, and a sense of belonging for which I am intensely grateful. Even better, my children have roots that dig deep in this soil. I thank my two Nans for this - for helping to make me and mine feel at home. (Herald Sun 20/10/2000)

This is more the reality of things. No talk here of a single human identity or trivial, invented differences. Bolt here admits the importance of ancestry, history, culture, roots, home and belonging.

Bolt in his more recent columns asks us to give up too much - stable forms of identity and belonging and a deep connection to country - for the sake of a radical political idea, an ideology.

We have to think beyond the limits of Andrew Bolt's right liberalism if we are serious about conserving our own tradition.

Monday, April 13, 2009

An exchange on freedom

I recommend reading a post at View from the Right on What defines "left" and "right"?

A reader of the site wants to base his politics on individual liberty. He believes that the political goods favoured by conservatives will "emanate naturally" from the people if there is individual liberty and a small state.

Lawrence Auster replies that individual liberty was based on other, previously existing goods which need to be openly recognised and defended. Furthermore, the term freedom has taken on a distinct meaning, unhelpful to conservatives, in modern liberal societies.

The last point is an important one which I put this way in a post titled, In defence of what matters:

The effort to disentangle conservatism from right-liberalism also means exercising care when adopting "individual liberty" as a slogan.

Liberalism has been dominant for some time now, so when liberty is spoken of it is commonly understood in terms of liberal politics. This can mean that liberty is thought of, in right-liberal terms, as the freedom of an abstracted individual against the state or against any kind of collective. It can mean too that "liberty" is understood in more general liberal terms as a freedom from what matters: as a "liberation" from significant aspects of our own selves which aren't self-authored.

A conservative politics can't be based on liberty understood in these terms. If we are to be free, it must be as complete, non-abstracted men living as social beings within given communities.

Lawrence Auster puts the distinction between traditionalism and a liberal view of individual freedom succinctly as follows:

the key defining thing of traditionalism is the recognition of a natural, social, and spiritual order by which we are formed; we don't entirely create ourselves through our own will and choices, much of what we are, for example our sex, is not chosen by us, but comes from beyond us. Yet liberals today believe that people have the right to choose literally everything about themselves, even their sex.

Summarising Lawrence Auster's post like this is a bit disjointed, so I do encourage readers to follow the exchange at VFR.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


There is something special about a soprano in full voice. I found a YouTube clip of the American soprano Renee Fleming yesterday and even though it's the wrong time of year for a carol I'm posting it below.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nothing will change?

Tony Blair converted to Catholicism two years ago and is now offering advice to the Pope on doctrinal matters.

Asked if he agreed with the Pope's attitude to homosexuality, he told Attitude:

'There is a huge generational difference here.

'There's probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on [homosexuality], because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end?

'You'd start having to rethink many, many things. If you went and asked the congregation, I think you'd find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes.'

He added: 'Organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances.

'You can either A: Hold on to your core vote, basically, you know, say "look, let's not break out because if we break out we might lose what we've got, and at least we've got what we've got so let's keep it".

'Or B: You say "let's accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change and actually reach out".'

Blair seems to think that the Church should follow along with changing and evolving attitudes. People decide to think one way, so the Church should follow. I wouldn't want to belong to a church which operated this way. I would want a church to hold me to a standard of right, even if it went against the temper of the times.

In other words, if Blair wants to argue for an acceptance of homosexuality he should really be claiming that the Church was wrong in the past and should now admit its mistake - rather than blather on about evolving attitudes.

However, even if we accept Blair's approach to the issue, his claim that accepting homosexuality would extend the reach of the church is doubtful.

Blair is taking a very common position here - one that is worth criticising. There are many people, most of them non-radical and well-intentioned, who want to apply the non-discrimination principle and who genuinely believe that by doing so nothing significant will change.

In other words, they sincerely believe that in not discriminating they will keep all the traditional goods that they and society enjoy and will simply extend these goods to other groups who were previously excluded.

It seems a no-brainer to them: if we are inclusive we will allow others to share in goods which were previously irrationally denied to them.

Blair is not a radical who wants to smash the Catholic Church. He wants the Catholic Church to continue and to grow in influence. His approach, though, is much more dangerous to the Church than he realises.

We already have an example of a major, formerly mainstream Christian church which has taken the Blair road. The Episcopal Church in America is dedicated to non-discrimination and is accepting of homosexuality. Has this church stayed the same but with a more inclusive outlook and a wider audience?

In fact, it has changed radically and suffered upheaval and schism. I described some of these radical changes in my last post. The Episcopal Church has appointed as the new dean of one of its seminaries Dr Katherine Ragsdale. Her main activity has been to lead a political think tank called Political Research Associates (PRA). The papers published by this think tank, and endorsed by Dr Katherine Ragsdale, are aimed at attacking the heterosexual nuclear family, fathers and marriage.

Dr Ragsdale is a lesbian minister in the Episcopal Church. It makes sense for her as a lesbian to attack the traditional family and to press instead for alternative family types. If homosexuality is the equal of heterosexuality in the Episcopal Church, then why should she accept that fathers are a natural part of the family? Logically she can't accept such an idea - otherwise her lesbianism would be taking second place. Similarly, how can she accept that the heterosexual nuclear family is the natural form of the family - if she accepted this, she would be denying that homosexuality was equal to heterosexuality.

So in accepting homosexuality the Episcopal Church must, as a matter of logic, deny that fathers are a natural part of the family. The Episcopal Church must also deny that the heterosexual nuclear family is the natural form of the family. And if it isn't the natural form of the family, why has it been held to be so in the past? The answer given by many will be that it performed some sort of exploitative, oppressive role from which we are now being liberated by the modern, politically correct church.

If homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality then which culture should predominate? Should homosexuals aim to become more like heterosexuals? Or heterosexuals more like homosexuals? The Rev. Dr. Marvin Ellison, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was invited to give a keynote address to the Episcopal Divinity School last year. He argued that heterosexuals should assimilate to homosexual sexual norms:

Considerable evidence suggests that the majority heterosexual culture is coming to resemble gay culture with its gender flexibility, experimentation with family forms, and celebration of the pleasures of non-procreative sex ... This process may be thought of as reverse assimilation. The lesson, Bronski suggests, may be that "Only when those in the dominant culture realize that they are better off acting like gay people will the world change and be a better, safer, and more pleasurable place for everyone."

But, complains The Rev. Dr. Ellison, there is a stumbling block to this better future:

"The Religious Right with its notorious "straight agenda" is hardly enthusiastic about queering the church or world."

The Rev. Ellison wants to inspire us with these words:

Celebrating our common humanity requires making an odd, decisively queer turn toward radical equality and plunging in together to rebuild a vibrant, just and wildly inclusive social order.

The "inclusive social order" requires a "decisively queer turn" in which fathers are no longer considered a natural part of the family; the heterosexual nuclear family is no longer the social norm; gender identity is no longer fixed into the categories of male and female; and sexual morality changes to embrace a more promiscuous, homosexual style sexuality.

Can we really be surprised that the Episcopal Church is beginning to break up? The church lost 115,000 members in the years 2003-5; 800 out of 7000 parishes in North America are exploring future options; and four bishops have taken their diocese out of the church in recent years:

Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker argued for the split from the national church. He's repeatedly argued that the Episcopal Church has abandoned orthodox Christianity for a liberal social agenda.

"The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. It's been hijacked," Iker told the Dallas Morning News.

The Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists. Following a principle of non-discrimination did not mean keeping the church and extending its reach. It meant losing the church.

Tony Blair's advice to the Pope is not sound. Blair is not deliberately intending to harm the institution he supports. He is not motivated by radical malice. His fault is that he assumes too casually that non-discrimination cannot do harm, that it merely extends a good more widely, rather than undermining that good.

And Blair has this fault because it is so common, so assumed, within political debate and discussion at the moment. It is part of the reigning political mindset.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The perfect candidate?

The Episcopal Church is the American equivalent of our Anglican Church. It is, however, in a much deeper state of crisis.

How deep? Consider one of its latest appointments. The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), where church leaders are educated, has just appointed a new dean, The Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale.

This is how her appointment was announced:

From among the many gifted candidates we interviewed, Katherine Ragsdale overwhelmingly stands out as the one best equipped and called to lead EDS into this next exciting and promising chapter of our life and mission.

Ragsdale, a 1997 graduate of EDS, comes to the School from Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank, where she has served as president and executive director since 2005.

So her main qualification is her leadership of a progressive think tank. And what kinds of things has she endorsed as leader of this organisation?

She appears to have endorsed anti-family and anti-father social policy research, a curious position for a leader of a mainstream Christian church to adopt.

For instance, the director of Political Research Associates, Jean Hardisty, recently wrote two anti-family tracts titled "Pushed to the Altar: the Right Wing Roots of Marriage Promotion" and "Marriage as a Cure for Poverty?". Katherine Ragsdale wrote a glowing preface for Hardisty's work:

Political Research Associates owes ... Jean Hardisty a great debt ... for the work she continues to do for us ... This report and its companion piece ... continue that tradition.

These two reports demonstrate the Right's use of federal funds to exert social control and their use of agenda driven treatises, masquerading as science ... As always, liberty is at stake. We, at PRA, thank Jean for her vigilance.

So how exactly was the vigilant Jean upholding liberty? If you look at the blurb for the Pushed to the Altar report you find this:

This report is the result of a two-year investigation by political scientist Jean Hardisty into the George W. Bush Administration's marriage promotion and fatherhood initiatives. Dr. Hardisty locates these initiatives within the context of the Right's family values ideology ...

Ragsdale, it seems, is endorsing a report which criticises the promotion of marriage, fatherhood and family values.

The report takes aim at the Bush Administration for spending money promoting a stable family life as an alternative to welfare dependency. We are supposed to think it scandalous that money was used to promote marriage and responsible fatherhood:

Government-funded marriage promotion and fatherhood programs are varied and numerous.

Marriage promotion programs developed by the Bush Administration, with the assistance of The Heritage Foundation and other rightist think tanks, are now being implemented across the country, including:

* Public advertising campaigns and high school programs on the value of marriage;

* Marriage education for nonmarried pregnant women and nonmarried expectant fathers;

* Premarital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage;

* Marriage enhancement and marriage skills training programs for married couples;

* Divorce reduction programs that teach relationship skills;

* Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities; and

* Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.

It all seems fine to me, but to the women liberationists of the Political Research Associates it's evidence of an evil right-wing influence on society.

The report also damns the promotion of the heterosexual nuclear family as a social norm:

Central to the Right's identity is its crusade to restore the heterosexual nuclear family as the only approved social unit worthy of the name "family."

We would expect this from radical secular leftists. But would we really expect complaints about the heterosexual nuclear family to be endorsed by a church leader?

If we are not supposed to promote the traditional family, then what can we do? According to the report, it's admirable to support "profeminist" fatherhood organisations:

A small movement of profeminist fatherhood organizations works on issues such as: the problems that male supremacy causes within the family; how the politics of masculinity often appears to condone violence in U.S. culture; and their own privilege as men.

It is permissible, in other words, to associate fatherhood negatively with male supremacy, violence and privilege.

There is also the second PRA report, Marriage as a Cure for Poverty?, to consider. This report strongly criticises the idea that families need fathers:

The rightist fatherhood movement relies on biased scholarship to support its assertion that a family is not complete without the presence of a father.

The report wants low-income women to remain single and autonomous:

Rather than advocating for higher and more equitable wages and access to education for low-income women, these scholars argue for low-income women to marry and become dependent on a man.

Divorce isn't such a problem:

Those who promote marriage as a cure for poverty rely on questionable findings regarding the affects of divorce on children.

The report dismisses the family as a social construct which has only been around for a couple of hundred years:

... the love-based heterosexual nuclear family is not a long-standing model, but rather an invention of the late 18th century. (p.12)

It's only conservative white Americans who think a father is a natural part of the family:

In conservative, White American culture, it is the presence of a father as well as a mother that makes a family. This argument has gained visibility in recent years as a result of the increased political influence of Christian right voters and organisations that use the "natural family" as a counter-argument to the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage and single motherhood. (pp.12-13)

Marriage counseling is reactionary:

Offering marriage counseling that encourages marriage and discourages divorce to low-income women reasserts a traditional, patriarchal definition of what makes a family. (p.30)

Then there's the issue of abortion. Katherine Ragsdale, the new Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, believes that abortion is always and everywhere a blessing:

And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion - there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing ...

I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing - who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes -- in my eyes, you are saints) ... You're engaged in holy work.

Abortion as holy work; abortionists as saints. Who would have known?

She even believes that doctors have no right to opt out of performing abortions as a matter of conscience:

When doctors and pharmacists try to opt out of providing medical care, claiming it's an act of conscience, our work is not done.

... there's a world of difference between those who engage in such civil disobedience, and pay the price, and doctors and pharmacists who insist that the rest of the world reorder itself to protect their consciences - that others pay the price for their principles.

... if you're not prepared to provide the full range of reproductive health care (or prescriptions) to any woman who needs it then don't go into obstetrics and gynecology, or internal or emergency medicine, or pharmacology. Choose another field! We'll respect your consciences when you begin to take responsibility for them.

How are we to respond to the appointment of someone like Katherine Ragsdale to a leadership position in the Episcopal Church?

To me it shows how much a civilisation has to be fought for. Lawrence Auster recently described the basic contest in politics as follows:

Since the aim of the liberal project is to dismantle the natural, social, and spiritual order of being and construct in its place a society in which the only recognized basis of order is an equality of all human desires managed and pacified by a bureaucratic state, it follows that the only true opposite of liberal society is a traditional society, in which the order of being is recognized, nourished, and expressed, rather than disparaged, despised, and banished as it is by liberalism.

There are now individuals being appointed to leadership positions in the Episcopal Church who clearly identify with the liberal project. Hence they often work within secular political rather than church organisations and they identify evil not with sin but with conservative politics. Their orientation is toward disparaging and banishing the natural, social and spiritual order of being.

There is no reason why other churches won't arrive at a similar fate - if they are unwilling to recognise what is at stake, to clearly set out what they stand for, and to keep from positions of responsibility those who clearly transgress these standards.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The realm of freedom?

I have time now to get back to Liberalism & Community, a defence of classical liberalism by Steven Kautz.

Kautz supports the classical liberal view of human nature, namely that humans are by nature solitary, selfish and acquisitive. The natural condition of man is thought to be a war of all against all.

This dire understanding of human nature led to a radical world view: the human passions were held to be a dangerous source of division, peace was the only public good to be recognised, and men were to limit themselves to a private pursuit of happiness.

This is the "neutrality strand" of liberalism. To give you some idea of just how unreasonable and artificial it is, I'll comment on some passages from Kautz's book.

Our passions do not by themselves bring us together in political communities, other than by way of war for the sake of partisan or private advantage, and the liberation of the passions from the constraints of reason cannot bring peace to existing political communities ... (p.34)

What does this mean? Human motivation is divided here simplistically into "passions" and "reason". Because human nature is thought to be solitary, the passions can only bring about community in a coercive way: one group of individuals might get together to force their sectarian interests on others. Therefore, "reason" has to be used to promote a higher goal of peace for the benefit of all individuals.

This is a one-sided and limited understanding of reality. Humans are considerably social in their natures. Therefore, there are "non-rational" (non-intellectual) instincts, loyalties and identities through which communities are formed and held together. The "passions", therefore, do play a positive role in building stable forms of community.

It is wrong, therefore, to believe that humans are so much pushing toward sectarian self-interest, and so devoid of sociable instinct, that the only public good that can possibly be permitted to be expressed is that of peace.

Kautz goes on to discuss goods of the body versus goods of the soul. He criticises a communitarian writer, Michael Sandel, for asserting that a community might choose to pursue goods of the soul:

[Sandel's] book is more or less silent regarding the possibility of war, not only because Sandel denies that the body is the principle of individuation ... but also because of a remarkably optimistic view of the goods (or passions) of the soul. For Sandel, as for many recent advocates of community, it appears that the goods of the body are trivial and (besides) are easily satisfied, and that the goods of the soul are principally common goods, not private goods. (p.34)

So for the classical liberal Kautz, it is right that communities should focus on meeting bodily wants rather than goods of the soul. Kautz is surprised that Sandel doesn't treat the goods or passions of the soul in an entirely negative way as assertions of sectarian self-interest - Kautz believes that Sandel has a remarkably optimistic view of human nature, just as I believe that Kautz has a remarkably pessimistic view.

Note too that Kautz rejects the idea that the goods of the soul are common goods. Kautz believes that they are rightly private goods. This is a tremendously significant disagreement. If love of a nation is a good of the soul, can it really be limited to a private good? Isn't it a good which is formed, experienced and defended at a public, rather than a private, level? If you think, as Kautz does, that goods of the soul are private rather than common goods, then you change and limit what these goods can conceivably be.

Here is another snippet from Kautz:

Reason understands, says the classical liberal, what the (more warlike than sociable passions) do not feel, that there is a common good (p.35).

Again, here is the assumption that the passions are anti-social, so that community is formed through reason - through an intellectual rejection of warlike passion in favour of peace.

Creating this peace requires us to give up our naturally solitary condition - it requires common action and deliberation (i.e. setting up a police force, establishing forms of civility). Community, therefore, has shallow roots for classical liberals; it has little to do with significant forms of identity, of kinship, or of a shared history, culture or tradition. It only exists for a single pragmatic purpose: to secure the peace.

Furthermore, whatever virtue exists derives from this aim of maintaining the peace. So virtue too has shallow roots in the classical liberal world view:

Peace is a good, to repeat, because it is the necessary condition of all private pursuits of happiness; and peace is a common good, even requiring common deliberation and common action, because it cannot be made secure in the absence of various forms of civility and self-mastery. Here is the origin of the liberal virtues. (p.35)

Which leads on to this:

And then, where peace is secure because rights are respected and habits of moderation observed, human beings are liberated to engage in their various private pursuits of happiness, privately defined.

Or not. What if humans really are social creatures, who live well in relationship to each other, and who therefore must be concerned with the forms and quality of public life, rather than a purely private existence? What if our personal identity is derived from communal forms of existence rather than a solitary life? What if we express ourselves as men and women within social institutions rather than in isolation? What if we recognise communal traditions as significant goods in themselves which we naturally wish to commit ourselves to?

Finally, look at how reductive the classical liberal view is:

The liberal view of the political community implies a radical diminution of the dignity of political life: liberalism has turned "the political order into an administrative agency" that seeks to provide a plentiful and secure world ... As Walzer says, in the liberal welfare state, "the policeman and the welfare administrator will be the only public persons" ...

In part this situation obtains because the very questions of politics have been greatly transformed: we quarrel endlessly about how to provide, efficiently and justly, the instruments that are necessary ... for every private pursuit of happiness ...

Thus, the manifestly instrumental questions of economic policy now dominate our political life: politics today is concerned primarily with the largely technical problem of how to ensure prosperity ... Indeed it is possible that liberalism implicitly favours commercial ways of life, and associated conceptions of the good, over other private ways of life, as well as over public life.

... politics is best understood as an arena in which individuals, or groups of individuals, pursue their (primarily economic) interests: liberal politics is interest-group politics.

So it is perhaps not surprising that we have turned many of these questions over to bureaucrats and experts, for these technical and instrumental problems are just the sort of necessary burdens that a free human being will ... leave to his public "servants". (pp.35-37)

What are we left with under the terms of classical liberalism? The bias is toward a pursuit of economic self-interest, with public life being left mostly to technocrats and economic administrators. This is the realm of the "free human being" as conceived by classical liberals.

Would we really be surprised if classical liberalism were to hollow out human culture rather than deliver individual freedom?

Looking ahead

Here's a YouTube video which was posted a couple of years ago and has already been viewed over three million times. It shows a presentation by Roy Beck on the long-term consequences of mass immigration into America.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Swedish future?

Sweden is the left-liberal society of the future, so it's always interesting to keep up with the latest news from that country.

The first news is that a Swedish university has begun an affirmative action programme for men. It has been struck down by the courts as unfairly disadvantaging female applicants.

Now this must surely be playing with the minds of Swedish feminists. It's all supposed to the other way around according to patriarchy theory: men are supposed to be the privileged ones and affirmative action is supposed to be a legitimate way to rectify injustice. But no, it seems that the future is otherwise; it's women who are privileged at Swedish universities and affirmative action is condemned by the authorities as unjust.

Other news from Sweden is that legislation has been passed to make homosexual marriage legal both in civil and church ceremonies. The lesson here is that once you make non-discrimination an absolute principle, then certain results will follow.

Back in 1995, Sweden set up civil unions which gave homosexuals the same legal rights as married couples. This arrangement didn't last because there was still a discrimination made between homosexual unions and heterosexual marriage. Nor will the new law survive the non-discrimination principle. The new law allows individual ministers of religion (not churches) the right to opt out of performing homosexual weddings. There are some who have already condemned the opt-out option as discriminatory:

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education said Wednesday that option gave "authorities a legal right to discriminate", and suggested that all religious communities' right to perform marriage ceremonies be withdrawn.

Again, if you accept non-discrimination as an absolute principle then logically it will become compulsory for all churches and all ministers to perform and bless homosexual marriages.

Finally, you would think that if Sweden were leading the way to human liberation, justice and fulfilment that it would be an increasingly happy place to live in. Maybe not:

Swedish health authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the mental health of the country’s young people, according to a new report.

In its latest report on Sweden’s public health, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) warns that psychological problems are increasing among young people and women.

The number of suicide attempts by young people in Sweden has risen dramatically, the agency reports, and more and more youths are being admitted to hospitals for treatment of depression and anxiety.

Isn't Sweden supposed to be the cool feminist country? And yet it is young people and women who are being hospitalised for depression and anxiety. Is modernity not working out as it's meant to up north?