Wednesday, June 06, 2012

There will always be a good - but what will it be?

In a recent post I argued in favour of a masculine and a feminine ideal. A sympathetic reader, Tim T, raised the following objection:
To me one problem with this idea of clearly-defined gender roles is with authority - who gets to decide what those roles are? Why do they make those decisions? I'm not convinced anyone has sufficient authority to make that decision.

That's not an uncommon view. It was raised, for instance, in the debate between Lawrence Auster and Robert Spencer. Lawrence Auster argued that the guiding principle of society should be the good rather than freedom. Spencer countered with this:
Left unexplained, however, is how a commonly accepted understanding of “the good” is to be arrived at, and particularly how such an understanding could be restored in 21st-century America without imposing an authoritarian regime of some kind.

So there seem to be two objections to the idea that a society might follow some vision of the good:

a) It's not possible to know what the good is


b) It would be authoritarian to put forward a common good

So how do traditionalists respond? At this site, J.M. Smith replied to Tim T. by arguing that an ideal of masculinity or femininity wouldn't be decided by committee but by people seeking to emulate those men and women they most admired and who lived the best kind of lives. So the ideal wouldn't arise in an authoritarian way, but through social interaction over time.

Over at View from the Right Jim Kalb made a similar point:
Man is social, so leading a good life, like doing anything else well, is something we mostly learn from other people and carry on in cooperation with them.

Jim Kalb admitted that some societies have defective understandings of the good, usually because they are obsessed by some one thing and so the good is understood too reductively - it leaves too many things out.

Ed H. also made an argument that an understanding of the good is not merely asserted in an arbitrary way but arises over time in a society that is oriented to "finer levels of genuine feeling":
Such cultural “authority” was not arbitrary. It was the result of a living and truly “free” society actively searching out the finer levels of genuine feeling and manners and refusing to be intimidated by the vulgar and shallow. By definition, Culture meant self awareness, discrimination, broad understanding. It was the opposite of “arbitrary.” 

The one argument I'd like to add for now is that there is no society, not even liberal society, that doesn't have some ideal of what it means to be a good person. Liberals might claim that there are no such goods in a liberal society, but it doesn't work out that way.

First, liberals haven't let go entirely of the idea that there are standards that can be recognised in society. I can't, for instance, sell drugs, or practise polygamy, or walk around naked at the shops, or publish defamatory comments.

Second, even if liberals push the idea that we should just as individuals make up our own subjective goods, this then generates an ideal of what it means to be good anyway. It produces the idea that the good man is the one who doesn't discriminate, who is non-judgemental, who celebrates diversity, who is tolerant, who identifies with the other and so on.

Here in Melbourne, amongst the liberal Anglo middle-class, that has all boiled down to a very specific sense of what the primary good is. The primary good is what you might call "anti white racism". You are a good person, in this culture, if you demonstrate your commitment to anti white racism (i.e. that you are against white racism).

As I've mentioned before, this version of the good is no longer held just by highly political left-wingers. It is no longer held just by those suffering from nihilism or rancour. It's more at the level of "I'm a nice person and therefore I follow this good that society tells me defines the good".

Which suggests that there will always be embedded within a culture a moral ideal - i.e. an understanding of what defines you as a good person.

And here we get to the problem. It is inevitable that a society will have a moral ideal embedded within its culture. So the big issue isn't whether or not there should be such an ideal - there is going to be one regardless. The big issue is what the quality of the ideal is - is it, in Jim Kalb's words, defective or not.

Western societies once held that it was good for men to be masculine, to uphold the best within their traditions, to be loyal to family and compatriots etc. Now the good is defined in terms of how much you demonstrate an opposition to the racism of whites - which for white societies is a paralysing kind of good.

In short, we shouldn't hold back from asserting a positive good out of concern that we are being authoritarian or that we could possibly be wrong. That effectively allows the current defective understandings of the good to linger longer than they need to. We should at least be confident that we can do considerably better than what we have now.


  1. "we shouldn't hold back from asserting a positive good out of concern that we are being authoritarian "

    The Authoritarian Personality will deem you authoritarian anyway, so why bother?

  2. The problem of liberals is the truth.

    Liberals tell us that “there's no universal good because there's no truth”: “everything is relative” — they say.

    However, tolerance is held by liberals as an absolute value which cannot be questioned in any manner. The problem is that, for liberals, tolerance is the unique and single absolute value, and that's why liberal ethics are defective.

    When a guy asks: “Does the Truth exist ?”, he admits, by principle, the possibility of an answer — because otherwise he would not ask himself the question in the first place, and the question would be absurd. And therefore he feels or intuitively knows that Truth exists. The person who asked that question — usually a liberal — does not know the right and wrong answers for the question, which means that the fact that Truth exists is independent of a safe criteria which could clearly distinguish it.

    When a liberal say: “There is no Truth”, he wants to affirm something that he considers as true; and therefore he contradicts himself — because when somebody asserts something, he is then convinced that his assertion is correct and that everybody should corroborate his opinion. Therefore, that liberal presupposes that there are sentences or affirmations which possess an unconditional validity, i.e., unconditional truths; and that also means that truth and error exclude themselves from one another, and, in consequence, there is between truth and error a difference that cannot be relativized.

  3. Anonymous asks "Why bother?"

    Because sometimes you win. I'd like to share a quick story that illustrates the point.

    As I've mentioned here before, I go to a church in the inner-city. Our church operates a daycare on the premises. I stopped down this morning to get something and discovered that workmen had just put up a new ad on the billboard overlooking our property. It read "Take care down there" and then had an arrow leading down to the crotch of a half-naked black man. It then exhorted the public to wear condoms and get tested because "your stuff is important".

    It certainly had the daycare a buzz. I called the national company (CBS) that owned the billboard, read it aloud to the woman over the phone and then informed her that these were some if the first words and images our pre-school children and school age children (it's summer break here) were seeing upon arrival at the daycare, and this was "over the line", or in the parlance of this post, an infraction against "the good".

    Two hours later, the billboard had been stripped. I called again and thanked them for their promptness and professionalism, and do you know what they said? "We had no idea there was a daycare there".

    Perhaps there's a law against racy billboards next to churches and daycares, but I'm not aware of out, nor did I appeal to such a law. I appealed to their decency, which is another way of saying, their sense of "the good". And it worked because, occam's razor here, the good exists and these people have an idea if what it is.

    Now I suppose we could have wondered if we really had the right to demand they take it down--it is their property after all. We could have wondered if we had the right to impose our Christian values on a secular company operating in the public sphere, etc--promoting responsible use of sexual license is some people's idea if what's good, and maybe some if our inner-city kids are experimenting earlier than we think, blah blah blah. And had we hesitated, just as Mr. Richardson predicts at the end of his post, that obnoxious billboard would still be there, "allowing current defective understandings of the good to linger".

    I think Tim T. is unnecessarily cautious. We know we're right, and they're wrong. To Hell with everything else.

    Also, I'd like to say the only reason I had the confidence to act decisively is because I have become convinced by this blog, VFR and others that we are right. And I've been encouraged to read here and elsewhere about the Christian groups in New Zealand tearing down the blasphemous church billboard and the nationalist Swedes destroying degrading/homosexual "art". We won't win them all. But we can win and have already won some.

  4. Mark,
    As you know, liberals take a subjective view of the Good when they are attacking an established social convention, and an objective view of the Good when they are imposing a new social convention (or defending one they have already imposed). So when speaking of an institution such as marriage, the Liberal will blather about “different strokes for different folks,” but when speaking of an institution such as affirmative action, the Liberal blathers about “Justice.” As many others have noted, among Liberals the subjective view of the Good particularly prevails around the pelvic region, but when one moves up the human body and begins to consider what goes into and comes out of the human mouth, the objective view gains force. In not a few Liberals’ eyes, the act of a man munching on a bacon sandwich “cries out to heaven for vengeance.”

    So, as you say, Liberals do posit objective goods (such as those you mention), and if they have sufficient power they are more than willing to impose those goods on everyone else. What this means, I think, is that, ultimately, the battle between liberals and traditionalists is not a battle over the objective reality of the Good, but over placement of the line dividing moral duties from personal preferences. We traditionalists do not differ from Liberals in asserting that there is a Good, but rather in the specific acts, institutions and attitudes that, we assert, incarnate that Good.

    We traditionalists certainly believe in moral absolutes, but that is not what defines us. If we take it as our definition, we fall into the trap of becoming the negative image of the Liberals’ false conception of themselves. We are really defined by the specific absolutes (and relativities) that we believe in.

  5. Bartholomew said,

    "We won't win them all. But we can win and have already won some."

    Hear hear.

  6. Interesting article that quotes a male porn star who acknowledges that his job is "not normal" and that he actually yearns for a traditional feminine wife, and also acknowledges that the porn industry is unlikely to enable him to achieve such happiness:

    THankfully people's instincts are conservative. It's just a matter of making people feel free to express them.