Thursday, September 23, 2010

What does a liberal think unites us?

I like Theo Hobson for one reason only. He is a liberal who says what is usually left unsaid.

Some background info on Theo: he is an Englishman who writes a column on religion for the left-liberal Guardian newspaper. It's not surprising that he got the job. He has the vaguest kind of allegiance to the Anglican Church, but at the same time strongly supports the secular liberal order in the UK.

In a recent column, Theo imagined Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader, giving the following speech:

In the past decade, religion and secularism have been coming into conflict in a new way. On one side, some religious groups feel hard done by, as if their rights are denied by the secular state. And on the other side, many secularists feel that faith communities are given too much leeway.

There's a conflict between the churches feeling they are losing their rights to follow their beliefs in a public setting and secularists who think the churches are given too many exceptions to liberal principles. How does Theo want Clegg to answer the conundrum? The imagined Clegg speech continues:

I think that the Labour government has got the balance wrong: it has been over-respectful of the claims of religious institutions, and has allowed the principle of secular liberalism to get rather lost.

Well, that's a clear answer. The churches lose out. Why? Because the ruling ideology of the UK is liberalism. Clegg is imagined continuing his speech as follows:

many of us in the party, myself included, feel that the whole idea of an official national church is outdated. We as a nation are bound together not by Anglicanism, or any other form of religion, but by liberal values. Maybe it's time to be honest about that – even if it means a process of constitutional change.

Now of course our change of emphasis will be accused of being anti-religious, as if we want religious believers to be persecuted by the secular state. But this is wrong. All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology.

Isn't that just swell. According to a liberal like Theo, the one thing that is allowed to unite the residents of the UK is liberal ideology. That must make the 5% of the country committed to liberal ideology feel just great.

Theo goes on to describe the UK as a "liberal nation" and in another column he writes:

We need to clarify our national story. Liberalism is what unites us, and this must be made explicit. It is, in effect, our national creed...

We need a revolution that makes our latent national identity explicit. What unites us is not Anglicanism, or any form of Christianity; it is liberalism. That does not make us anti-religious, but it does make us suspicious of any form of religion that is at odds with liberalism.

We need to get a bit fundamentalist about the superiority of liberalism.

So religion is OK if it is not "at odds" with liberalism, liberalism being held to be the superior creed. Of course, any serious kind of religion will inevitably find itself at odds with liberalism, since modern liberalism holds that the source of morality is in the self and its desires and that the highest aim of man and society is to achieve an equal measure of individual autonomy.

(Nor is a political ideology like liberalism much of a basis for national unity. First, it's non-distinct. Liberalism is the orthodoxy in all the Western countries. So someone who is a liberal in England is not distinct in his identity from a Canadian, a Swede or a New Zealander. Second, it requires a level of group think that more traditional national identities don't require. Third, it's shallow, as it doesn't connect people as deeply as kinship, history, culture, language and religion. Fourth, the trajectory of liberalism is toward internationalism and open borders, making it even less suitable as a vehicle for maintaining a national entity.)

Once Theo has pronounced liberalism to be the superior creed, much else follows. For instance, Professor Robert Trigg has written a report which complains that when there is a clash between freedom of religion and other human rights, the freedom of religion is usually held to be secondary and sacrificed. Theo replies:

Trigg has a point: why should one human right trump another? If the right to religious freedom is real, then why should it have to bow to some other right as a matter of course? ... He is right that the current orthodoxy is to limit the right to religious expression: it must not interfere with other rights, so it is only fully operative in the private sphere.

What Trigg's argument proves is that, when it comes to pondering the place of religion in society, the language of rights is a mistake. There is no such thing as "human rights" in relation to religion. Some may say that there is no such thing as human rights at all, but the concept is generally benign: for example talk of the human right not to be tortured motivates opposition to the practice. In relation to religion, by contrast, the concept of human rights is simply not helpful...

... religious liberty is the creation of the liberal state, and it's a non-absolute condition: religious forms that are deemed reactionary, or illiberal, will necessarily be curbed. The classic example is the proscription of Roman Catholicism in early modern England. Was this illiberal, a denial of the Catholics' rights? Sort of, but to say so gets things the wrong way round. The old illiberal form of religion had to be banned, for relative liberty to be allowed to grow...

Does this mean that the liberal state has the right to curb whatever forms of religious expression it wants? Quite simply, yes. It must protect the new space it has created, of relative religious freedom, from reactionary religion. It must decide what is tolerable and what is not – we must trust our elected representatives to draw these ever-shifting lines.

Some interesting admissions here. Theo doesn't really believe in the notion of human rights, though he supports the concept when it serves the liberal cause. He states bluntly that there are no human rights when it comes to religion.

As there are no rights when it comes to religion, other secular rights are to rule in society. Religion is to vacate the public square.

Catholicism is held by Theo to be an illiberal religious form.

The liberal state, according to Theo, has the right to curb whatever form of religious expression it wants. We are supposed to trust our elected representatives to draw the ever-shifting lines between what is to be permitted and what isn't.

(The lines shift not because church beliefs change but because liberalism continues to push its principles in more radical directions. So a church belief that is acceptable today might not be considered so in 20 years time. The churches are expected to keep adapting to the "superior" creed of liberalism.)

So Theo is an honest liberal. He doesn't try to hide liberal rule behind claims of neutrality. He wants liberals to be out and proud. He wants liberal ideology to be recognised as the state creed. Nor does he attempt to uphold a pretence of liberal toleration. He expects that liberals in power will curb, on principle, that which is illiberal.

But there is a lot in the life of man which is illiberal, not just in the realm of religion, but in our national identity, our family life, our relationships, our moral beliefs and our masculine and feminine identities.

We can reject these things or we can reject liberalism. Theo has made his decision, but I'd like to think as the failures of liberalism mount that many others will choose differently.


  1. An interesting and frank declaration of war on traditional religion. A kind of secular fascism, really, when it comes to religion, with religion only permitted to exist to the extent it serves the interests of the dominant "ideology".

    Well, at least some people are recognizing this, and are beginning to do something in response to it. Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate was recently in London and gave his hosts a respectful tongue-lashing about caving into liberalism and its values before announcing the following bit of news:

    "We are not alone in our concern for the preservation of Christian values. Liberal tendencies in Protestant and Anglican communities present a challenge to those Christians and churches that have remained faithful to Gospel principles in doctrine, church order and morality. Certainly, we seek and find allies in opposing the destruction of the very essence of Christianity. One of the major tasks in our inter-Christian work today is to unite the efforts of Christians for building a system of solidarity on the basis of Gospel morality in Europe and throughout the world. Our positions are shared by the Roman Catholic Church, with which we have held numerous meetings and conferences. Together we are considering the possibility of establishing an Orthodox-Catholic alliance in Europe for defending the traditional values of Christianity. The primary aim of this alliance would be to restore a Christian soul to Europe. We should be engaged in common defence of Christian values against secularism and relativism."

    So, not everyone is just rolling over on this.

  2. Don't forget the writer lives in the UK, where Islam and Sharia law are making big inroads. It is Muslims who are the real target of this article even though they cannot be named because liberal multiculturalism doesn't permit it.

    I find the author's claim that "All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology" amusing. When was "liberalism" ever the UK's common ideology, such that is can now be "reasserted"?

  3. Novaseeker, I think you're right that something of a tipping point has been reached and that the churches (or parts thereof) are becoming more critical of the liberal settlement that they are supposed to accept.

    Randian, yes, in one of his columns Theo Hobson does make it clear that he is including Islam in the religions that he wants to be kept strictly subordinate.

    So at least it's a consistent position that he holds. He's basically saying that liberalism is the ruling ideology and anything that doesn't fit into it the liberal state has the right to repress.

    That might make some people think that at least there's a defence against sharia here.

    But taking a stand against sharia via a defence of liberalism is a weak holding point.

    Theo himself constantly prattles on about inclusiveness and diversity, so his liberalism means that there is no way to stem the rising numbers of Muslims in Europe.

    It becomes impossible in principle to defend traditional national identities or to maintain a concept of Western countries as Christian rather than Muslim or to counter in a principled way the demands of big business for open borders.

    So Theo is setting up a very dangerous situation in which the current majority in the UK is crippled from defending its position, in which the Muslim population will continue to grow in numbers and in which it is left to an assertion of liberal supremacy to hold things together.

    Not smart.

  4. Yes this is unusually honest, the typical position is to just assert the superiority or inevitability of liberal values and criticise non-liberal ideas, especially Western non-liberal ideas.

    I'm really not sure what the Liberal thinks unites us though? If liberalism means a creed of individualism then we are united in our disunity. If liberalism means social communitarianism then a bit more meat on the bones of what is meant is needed. If "diversity" means racial diversity, different backgrounds same ideas, then it can be coherent, ie anyone can be a liberal. If diversity means a continual acceptance of non-western ideas as a means of attacking western establishments and orthodoxies, then its a practically disuniting rather than uniting concept. Unless that is we're all united in attacking the West. As stated by Mark on such a basis how can you expect non-Westerners to conform, or Westerners to enforce their views?

    The opinions of this fellow all seem very French. In the name of Republican Liberalism etc we will take your Burkha.

  5. The opinions of this fellow all seem very French.

    Good point. His views do seem to resemble the policy of laicity:

    Laïcité relies on the division between private life, where adherents believe religion belongs, and the public sphere, in which each individual, adherents believe, should appear as a simple citizen equal to all other citizens, devoid of ethnic, religious or other particularities.

  6. Excellent Excellent, Necessary and Illuminating Post.

    I have emails from an evil liberal friend that basically validate this idea.

    What does this mean for me though? It means for me as a pro-white, very traditional means simply...

    Take your gloves off (or put your boxing gloves on) and it's time to get down and dirty.

    Pro-White Traditional Christians must take control of society and ignore everything and everybody and put our values on society because if we don't do it They Will.

    Novaseeker I'm pasting your comment in a word document so I can use it when talking to some evil friends.

  7. One more thing, liberty has only ever flourished under Christian societies. And even when the churches did stupid stuff (like selling salvation) they were still 'free enough' to let the likes of Martin Luther and others reform them.

    Liberalism isn't like that. It's evil. It's communism where millions and millions were masacred. If you disagree you die. There is no reform.

    We've been brainwashed into thinking the opposite, that religion causes wars and that religion caused all these bad things. But that's just public education and the media talkin' it's not the truth.

  8. Novaseeker,

    Respectfully, I think many Trads in the West make the same mistake as social justice Christians: where social justice Christians fall for the covert Marxism of the liberalised Church, Western Trads see the illiberalism of Russian Orthodoxy as "authentic" and fail to realise that it is merely an arm of Putin's thugocracy. Both groups don't see the animating force behind the thing they subscribe to.

  9. "All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology."

    Reassertion? When did liberal ideology subside into passivity? As far as I can tell it has been ever more aggressively asserting itself since the 1960s.

  10. Anon wrote,

    "Reassertion? When did liberal ideology subside into passivity?"

    You're very right. Not to sound paranoid, but it's like he's warning us that the gloves are coming off and the crack-down is going to begin.

  11. Kilroy said,

    "Western Trads see the illiberalism of Russian Orthodoxy as "authentic" and fail to realise that it is merely an arm of Putin's thugocracy."

    Its interesting how far should conservatives be willing to go to put up with broadly conservative aims? I wouldn't have a bar of Putin, but I'm not Russian.

  12. Western Trads see the illiberalism of Russian Orthodoxy as "authentic" and fail to realise that it is merely an arm of Putin's thugocracy. Both groups don't see the animating force behind the thing they subscribe to.

    One would hope that the Patriarchate of Moscow is no longer under the thumb of the KGB (or the FSB). If the patriarchate is merely pretending to aim for a spiritual renewal of Russia and ROCOR decides to split away again, then maybe I'd be concerned.

  13. Interesting comments. I think we should be mindful of the fact that Traditionalism in is practical application will differ from culture (nation/state) to culture. Hence the impossibility of creating a right wing "international" to match the left's international cartels.

  14. I think we should be mindful of the fact that Traditionalism in is practical application will differ from culture (nation/state) to culture

    I'd like someone to explain to me what distinctive culture remains in thoroughly "post-modernized" ( or whatever the best term may be) places like the US and England.

  15. ...Western Trads see the illiberalism of Russian Orthodoxy as "authentic" and fail to realise that it is merely an arm of Putin's thugocracy

    And the Archbishop of Canterbury is at the very least *objectively* an arm of Mi5 and Mi6 since the permanent governments of all Western nations are hostile to the historic West and are busily engaged in replacing the historic peoples of the West.

  16. Re: "And the Archbishop of Canterbury is at the very least *objectively* an arm of Mi5 and Mi6 since the permanent governments of all Western nations are hostile to the historic West and are busily engaged in replacing the historic peoples of the West."