Monday, September 23, 2013

John Paul II on heritage

In my post on "The Elite Consensus" I argued that a core problem with liberalism is not so much materialism or even selfishness but a faulty concept of individuality:
From the liberal perspective, what we do in the family or as members of a tribe is simply conventional and doesn't therefore express individuality. They prefer the idea of an existence in which there is no entity larger than ourselves, in which there is a purely personal identity (i.e. I identify with myself) and in which relationships are incidental to our true purposes. In other words, they identify individuality (the creative unfolding of ourselves as persons) with a kind of detached self-making.

So the problem isn't at its heart one of materialism or selfishness. Instead, it's a concept of individuality which detaches the individual from particular forms of identity, belonging and connectedness, and also from those goods embedded within our own nature and reality which guide our development in a particular direction.

If the key problem is not selfishness then the churches are not going to change the course of liberal modernity by emphasising selflessness. If, instead, the key problem is a faulty concept of individuality, one which emphasises a detached self-making, then the churches need to put forward an alternative concept of individuality, one which emphasises the way that we fulfil our individuality as created beings.

The churches are mostly failing to do this, but there are exceptions. The example I'm going to post today is a long one, but well worth reading. It's from an apostolic letter, Dilecti Amici, written by Pope John Paul II in 1985. The letter was addressed to the youth of the world; the following section is on inheritance:

11. In the vast sphere in which the plan of life, drawn up in youth, comes into contact with "other people", we have touched upon the most sensitive point. Let us go on to consider that this central point, at which our personal "I" opens up to life "with others" and "for others" in the marriage covenant, finds in Sacred Scripture a very important passage: "Man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife".

This word "leaves" deserves special attention. From its very beginning the history of humanity passes-and will do so until the end- through the family. A man enters the family through the birth which he owes to his parents, his father and mother, and at the right moment he leaves this first environment of life and love in order to pass to a new one. By "leaving father and mother", each one of you at the same time, in a certain sense, bears them within you; you assume the manifold inheritance that has its direct beginning and source in them and in their family. In this way too, when you leave, each one of you remains: the inheritance that you receive links you permanently with those who passed it on to you and to whom you owe so much. And the individual-he and she-will continue to pass on the same inheritance. Thus also the fourth commandment of the Decalogue is of such great importance: "Honour your father and your mother".

It is a question here first of all of the heritage of being a human person, and then of being one in a more precisely defined personal and social situation. Here even the physical similarity to one's parents plays its part. Still more important is the whole heritage of culture, at the almost daily centre of which is language. Your parents have taught each one of you to speak the language which constitutes the essential expression of the social bond with other people. This bond is established by limits which are wider than the family itself or a given environment. These are the limits of at least a tribe and most often those of a people or a nation into which you were born.

In this way the family inheritance grows wider. Through your upbringing in your family you share in a specific culture; you also share in the history of your people or nation. The family bond means at the same time membership of a community wider than the family and a still further basis of personal identity. If the family is the first teacher of each one of you, at the same time-through the family-you are also taught by the tribe, people or nation with which you are linked through the unity of culture, language and history.

This inheritance likewise constitutes a call in the ethical sense. By receiving and inheriting faith and the values and elements that make up the culture of your society and the history of your nation, each one of you is spiritually endowed in your individual humanity. Here we come back to the parable of the talents, the talents which we receive from the Creator through our parents and families, and also through the national community to which we belong. In regard to this inheritance we cannot maintain a passive attitude, still less a defeatist one, as did the last of the servants described in the parable of the talents. We must do everything we can to accept this spiritual inheritance, to confirm it, maintain it and increase it. This is an important task for all societies, especially perhaps for those that find themselves at the beginning of their independent existence, or for those that must defend from the danger of destruction from outside or of decay from within the very existence and essential identity of the particular nation.

Writing to you young people, I try to have before my mind's eye the complex and separate situations of the tribes, peoples and nations of our world. Your youth, and the plan of life which during your young years each one of you works out, are from the very beginning part of the history of these different societies, and this happens not "from without" but pre-eminently "from within". It becomes for you a question of family awareness and consequently of national awareness: a question of the heart, a question of conscience. The concept of "homeland" develops immediately after the concept of "family", and in a certain sense one within the other. And as you gradually experience this social bond which is wider than that of the family, you also begin to share in responsibility for the common good of that larger family which is the earthly "homeland" of each one of you. The prominent figures of a nation's history, ancient or modern, also guide your youth and foster the development of that social love which is more often called "love of country".

We are not abstracted, detached beings. Our individuality unfolds within the social bonds of family and our larger family - our tribe or nation. We are spiritually endowed in our individual humanity through the social love that is more often called "love of country".


  1. In the long history of a nation or tribe, the individual life is transient and almost insignificant and therefore the individual should humbly respect his position in the tribe and strive to obey the will of God and uphold the traditions of his tribe. Whether things brings to the individual great happiness is essentially irrelevant as the individual is just one small cog in a large wheel and over the course of history all that will be valued is the positive role he has played in the strengthening of his tribe.

    1. Anon, I think you give away too much when you formulate things this way. If you say 'well individual life isn't very significant anyway" then you'll only persuade liberals, for whom individuality and the dignity of human life are critical concepts, that they are correct in rejecting a traditional philosophy.

      We should be pointing out that our individuality can only unfold to the fullest degree when we have the opportunity to exist as members of tribes/ethnies/nations. Why? First, because we recognise the existence of this larger communal entity as being good and meaningful, which gives us the experience of what John Paul termed a "social love" (a love of people and place), which then gives us a sense of responsibility to use our talents to uphold this tradition, for instance, through our commitment to a family life, our work in society or our public service.

      If we reject this, and it is just us as individuals seeking to maximise hedonism, then are we really going to draw out what we were really made for as individuals?

      Second, our individual identity is closely connected to this larger communal tradition. It is an identity which connects us closely to culture, history, language and family, to both the past and the future, and to place and community. It is therefore experienced as a great loss to ourselves as individuals when we are no longer part of such a living tradition.

    2. Jonathan Bowden: "And this is the irony about these people who preach humanism, and preach universalism, and preach the universality of love: Pol Pot, Stalin [...] Lenin, Trotsky: all these people preached this sort of thing."

      "Trotsky said we will have after the people's revolution, we will have a Kant on every corner, we'll have a Goethe on every corner, we'll have a Tolstoy on every corner, we'll have a Shakespeare on every corner, we'll have a Milton on every corner."

      "Garbage! You won't have any of that. Because if you melt down to nothing, you'll create a civilization of ants."

      To rise above the ants we must be loyal to our particularities of race, ethnicity, nation and so on. These particularities give rise to great culture, that nourishes true individuality. Leveling everything produces only Soviet slave camps, Chinese slave factories and Pol Pot's killing fields.

      Also, Bruce Charlton points to this from time to time, and it ought to be sobering if what you want to do is simply walk in the ways of your fathers. We can't simply continue to walk down that road. We need to exhibit a lot of collective loyalty, more than is considered socially proper for white people and particularly Anglos, but we need to be creative as well.

  2. Mark I didn't say "'well individual life isn't very significant anyway" . I said in the historical context of the broad sweep of the thousands of years of history of nations and tribes that the individual life is almost insignificant and is always transient. That is not to deny human dignity or individuality during the course of the individual life but it is essential that these considerations, both adequately dealt with in the Bible, are not given undue or inflated importance in society and enshrined in human rights secular laws which inevitably destroy the dignity of all. Homosexual equality being an example of legislation which priorities the rights of the homosexual at the expense of the destruction of the rights of the religious citizen. Similarly the rights of convicted alien prisoners to a family life prevents their deportation and places the native population at risk of recidivist crime.

    In a traditional society individual rights are constrained in the interests of the common good. The development of gifts and talents (not individuality) is encouraged for the maximization of the human resources and assets of the nation and tribe. All traditional societies do to varying degrees suppress individuality in dress, thought and behaviour.

    1. Anon, I think in your last paragraph you're still missing the intent of the argument I made in my post. If individuality is the creative unfolding of ourselves as persons, then there is going to be a debate about how this creative unfolding best takes place. Liberals associate the family, tribe and nation as merely conventional spheres of life which don't permit the creative unfolding of who we are - of our authentic selves. We best take ground from liberals by explaining how the expression of individuality requires a social context of family, tribe and nation - or, to put it the other way round, how the absence of such social entities makes impossible the full expression of our individuality.

  3. The problem with Anglos is their distaste for collective loyalty and tribalism. It is quite common to hear Anglo academics express their hatred of national flags and symbols, national dress, mottoes, coats of arms and tribal loyalties. They believe that these things are "primitive " and for "little people" and are quite unnecessary for a confident mature people who "do not need a collective identity". However this attitude refuses to acknowledge the human need to belong to an order higher than oneself. And this weakness has lead to the infiltration and colonization of Anglo societies by various ethnic groups who do have strong ethnic identities complete with the flags and symbols so despised by Anglos and who are now challenging Anglos on their own home soil rather than on the fields of Empire as in the past. The Anglos seem to have no strategy of resistance.

    1. Anon, thanks for the comment. I mostly agree with it, but I'd point out that it was the Anglo intelligentsia (more generally the left-liberal middle class) who rejected national loyalties, rather than rank and file Anglos. Ordinary Anglos have had a strong attachment to flags and symbols: think not only of the national flag, but the fighting kangaroo, the Southern Cross and so on. The problem is that if you want political leadership you need to have at least some of the intelligentsia on your side - that's what has been missing. We've been poorly served by our intellectuals.

  4. Another issue is the class divisions of Anglo societies. Most societies are hierarchical and have distinct classes and yet manage to function as a singular national collective. However in Anglo societies, these class distinctions create a state of mutual hostility,tension and antagonism (and sometimes outright hatred) which leads to a fragmented national identity with each class pursuing different goals and each trying to exploit the other, or the alternate state of hierarchical breakdown with rampant individualism.

    The Intellectual dislike of nationalistic symbolism may be connected with the desire of the elite classes to exploit and manipulate the lower classes. This is happening with the rapid destruction of social programmes and subsidised and free university education together with the destruction of decent paying jobs and their replacement with horrific situations such as "zero hours contracts" . I assume that a collective nationalistic sentiment may be a threat to the economic exploitative class whose loyalty is more to their own financial well being than to their fellow country men.

  5. --The Intellectual dislike of nationalistic symbolism may be connected with the desire of the elite classes to exploit and manipulate the lower classes.--

    Yes, very true, that. It's something people have a hard time understanding, though. Rights claims, human universalism, bureaucratic mechanisms: these provide not one iota of protection against exploitation. In fact, they are the very instruments by which such exploitation is carried out. The only genuine hedges against being made into a mere economic tool are those things starting from the notion that human beings are *more* than abstract rights bearers: family, community, and nation.

    1. Aaron, that's a good point. Much of the thrust of modern life is to treat people as interchangeable economic units. There is nothing within the liberal morality of non-discrimination to stand against this; if anything, the liberal morality contributes to the idea of an abstracted, stripped down individual whose only sphere for "self making" is in the market.

  6. Whites are strongly disadvantaged in the current job markets as they are less willing to work for below living cost wages and tolerate illegal and downright criminal practices which are going on in many businesses. Third world immigrants, out of desperation or sheer ignorance, will work for a pittance, tolerate widespread abuse of their rights, unpaid overtime, poor safety standards and fraud. Therefore immigrants are the preferred "model employees" not due to their "work ethic" as the media so frequently asserts but rather due to their lack of ethics and willingness to be complicit in exploitation and crime.

    There is nothing to protect the white worker now that the Unions have been rendered ineffective (and many employers will not hire union members) and the welfare state, which provided some support to some whilst letting them obtain higher qualifications, is being rapidly stripped away. People really need to wake up to this.