Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The beginning of thought

Bonald threw down the gauntlet to liberals earlier this year in a post titled "Rejecting the Enlightenment is only the beginning of thought".

He began by noting that liberals tend to reduce possible alternatives to either the liberal position or something nasty:
One way that the Enlightenment controls the minds of billions, locking them into a degrading and absurd mental slavery, is by making people imagine they know what’s on the other side. “Without the social contract…tyranny! Without separation of Church and state...religious warfare! Without feminism...rape! Without capitalism...communism! Without cosmopolitanism...Nazis!"

Bonald hits liberals where it is likely to hurt most, by noting that this poverty of vision represents "a narrow, unimaginative, and parochial worldview."

Furthermore, liberals - in claiming to be neutral - evade the task of having to justify their particular conception of the Good as being objectively true:
The key to rejecting liberalism (the political expression of the Enlightenment project) is to realize that it’s a swindle. It claims to stand above every particular conception of the Good, granting freedom to all and favoritism to none, when in fact it imposes its own narrow vision on all of us. Its claims to neutrality just mean that it gets to impose itself without ever being forced to argue (or even assert) that its claims are objectively true, and that it never has to assume the responsibility that comes from being a recognized establishment.

But in rejecting liberalism it becomes possible to take a more sophisticated approach to issues of human flourishing. Bonald gives the example of relations between the sexes:
Now that you realize that gender roles are not inherently iniquitous, you can finally start thinking about the proper relationship between the sexes. Just because you notice that women are being treated differently than men in some context, you can no longer automatically conclude that the women are being treated unfairly, as you would have done when you were a liberal. On the other hand, it is possible that the women are being treated unfairly. What’s more, there is the new possibility–undreamed of by liberals–that the men are being treated unfairly. You must dig into the particulars of the case, the historical context and social functions; you must then apply general principles of natural law (none of which are as simplistic as “gender equality”). You must try to conceptualize the universal masculine and feminine virtues that society should foster, remembering that any given instantiation of masculine and feminine roles will be conditioned by culture and economic organization. Given this background, do the laws and culture provide a path for the achievement of masculine and feminine excellence? Or are the man’s protective instinct and the woman’s nurturing instinct being thwarted or deformed? These are subtle questions.

It's a long paragraph, but it gives a good picture of how traditionalists tend to think about such issues and why traditionalism can't be easily expressed through simple slogans.