Monday, February 15, 2016

Emma Thompson, old white men and ancient virtues

British actress Emma Thompson suggested this week that the Oscars will become more diverse when the white men who are Oscar members either die or are killed off:
Let’s face it, the Oscar membership is mainly old, white men ... That’s the fact of it. Either you wait for them all to die, or kill them off slowly. There’s so many options, aren’t there?

There's an important point to be made here. Emma Thompson is one of those women who think in "sectional" terms. It is becoming common now to hear women like Emma Thompson boasting proudly of their commitment to a sectional politics, in which certain groups (women, ethnic minorities etc.) form into a hierarchy in order to make claims on society.

It is a mentality I find deeply alien. Instead of a "claim making sectional politics" I find it more natural to think in terms of loyalty to the larger tradition I belong to, and of what is required to carry this tradition into the future.

And perhaps this gulf between myself and Emma Thompson is to be expected. The ancient Romans held there to be a specifically masculine virtue called gravitas. A male was thought to have reached a point of adulthood (i.e. of a fully developed masculine nature) when he demonstrated this virtue. What was gravitas? It was a deep-rooted seriousness, and a sense of responsibility to go with this. Men were supposed to demonstrate gravitas alongside the complementary virtue of pietas. Here are some definitions of this virtue:
Aeneas ... represents "pietas" which to the Romans meant dutifulness, doing what was right for the family, the community, the civilization, and the gods.

Around the year 70 BC, Cicero defined pietas as the virtue "which admonishes us to do our duty to our country or our parents or other blood relations."

...a respectful and faithful attachment to gods, country, and relatives, especially parents

So my way of thinking was simply the normal one for an adult male - it was the normal expression of adult manhood.

This doesn't mean that women cannot know these virtues. Courage, for instance, is held even today to be a defining aspect of manhood, but this doesn't mean that women cannot be courageous.

The point I would make is that perhaps the real surprise is not that Emma Thompson thinks in sectional, claim making terms rather than in terms of a larger duty to family, nation and civilisation, but that so many men do not - given that this was held in the ancient world to be a defining feature of adult manhood.

I have been reading a book called "The New Liberalism". In the introduction, the editors, Avital Simhony and David Weinstein, admit that a dominant strand of liberalism has been based on a highly abstracted, ahistorical and individualistic view of the human person. For instance:
The analytic nature of much contemporary liberalism, by featuring solitary abstract individuals who find fulfilment in separation from each other, has probably contributed to its individualistic anthropology. (p.2)

This is how the editors describe the individualism that is characteristic of many variants of liberalism:
Individualism conceives individuals as competitive, self-centered, and independent, and social life simply as an arena for coordinating the competitive pursuit of private interests. (p.16)

Is this not as equally alien to the ancient understanding of masculine virtue as Emma Thompson's sectional, claim-based politics? Where is the sense of responsibility in an individualistic liberalism to the larger tradition? And yet it was a philosophy pushed on society mostly by men. That is the thing really to wonder at. How could grown men adopt a philosophy so much at odds with a fully-developed masculine nature? So much at odds with masculine virtue?


  1. Men abandoned masculinity and masculine values at the point when the older and younger generations split and young men were granted freedom from the control of their elders.

    Young men have always been naive and reckless, impulsive and lacking in wisdom, maturity and experience. Traditional societies, accordingly, never allowed young men freedom. Older men, the Patriarchs or Elders of societies and families, set down the traditions and values of societies and imposed these on all members. Young men were coerced initially into obedience to their Elders and society and then to focusing their energies and resources on the common good as defined by their Elders. Men who violated the standards were excluded from society.

    In this way men had values, traditions and standards of conduct imposed upon them with penalties for disobedience. Young men were effectively controlled by older men.

    The 20th century saw that system break down and older men failed to maintain standards and impose them on the younger generations. The younger men were given "freedom" and allowed to violate all standards of behaviour, "do their own thing" and run amok. The consequences are before us now. Weak, hedonistics, effeminate, degenerate men who lack the will to maintain their own countries' borders, religions, cultures and traditions.

    That of course is the aim of the elites because weak men are easy to control.

    1. Anon, the problem is that the older generations also held to the same liberal belief in a certain kind of freedom - a freedom to self-define or self-determine. It then becomes very difficult in a principled way to hold the younger generations to any kind of standard - not if your fundamental principle is a belief that the key value in life is choosing your own standards.

  2. That is the crucial issue. Why did most of the older generation abandon the traditional values and behaviours which their ancestors had maintained for centuries? What induced them to abdicate their responsibilities and allow civilisation to collapse?

    1. Yes, it is the crucial issue. It should be remembered that it was not just one generation which suddenly decided to abandon traditional values. One generation would take things so far, decide that things had "gone far enough" but then the next generation would seek to take things further. We've seen this in our own times. It was about two generations ago in Australia that a traditional national community was given up on. One generation ago no fault divorce came in. In our own generation we have the whole transsexual thing. The same principle gets pushed along bit by bit to an increasingly radical degree.

      The process started a long time ago. If you look at the case of the US, for instance, then there was a type of classical liberalism that was being held alongside more traditional values from at least the early to mid 1800s.

      For much of the 1900s, Anglo politics was contained within liberal parameters: people passionately supported either a left liberalism or a right liberalism. Hardly anyone stepped outside of these parameters. Even if people felt that things were going the wrong way they would blame "the other liberalism" rather than liberalism itself.

      People have struggled to articulate a non-liberal view - we are only just seeing now a real attempt to do this, very late in the piece.

    2. I don’t think western civilisation ever recovered from the shocks of the mid to late 18th century - the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. All these phenomena had a good deal in common - a rejection of tradition, a rejection of traditional social hierarchies, a rejection of religion. They ushered in the cult of the new - of progress.

      And the trouble with “progress” is that it’s a roller coaster and once you’re on the roller coaster you can’t get off. Progress must continue, forever. The old must be continually replaced by the new.

      There was still plenty of resistance to these pernicious ideas in the 19th century but those who opposed the trend were more and more on the defensive. The First World War was pretty much the end. The cult of social progress was firmly established. Hollywood was in the vanguard - the contribution of Hollywood to the destruction of civilisation from the 1920s onwards is hugely underestimated. Hollywood was aggressively liberal and “progressive” right from the start.

    3. Absolutely true. The First World War was the final end of the old traditional order and the collapse of European Christian Civilisation. The disintegration over the last 100 years has been rapid.