Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On national greatness

There is an argument in a later chapter of Patrick Deneen's book, Why Liberalism Failed, that deserves wider notice.

In "The Degradation of Citizenship" Deneen spells out the specific ways that popular control has been deliberately stymied in the American liberal order. One aspect of this was a trend from the early 1900s to seek to base government policy not on the "whims" of the electorate but to implement "rational and objectively sound public policy" formulated by expert administrators. Deneen writes:
Major figures in the discipline like Woodrow Wilson sought to advance the scientific study of politics in the early years of the twentieth century, laying the groundwork for the rise of social scientific methodology as the necessary replacement of value-laden policy. Early figures in the institution of political science...called for the scientific study of politics as the prerequisite for objective public policy. "Nothing is more likely to lead astray," wrote A. Gordon Dewey of Columbia University, "than the injection of moral considerations into essentially non-moral, factual investigation." (p.160)

But what would be the measure of "objectively" good policy shorn of moral considerations? Deneen answers as follows:
Classical and progressive liberals shared not only the ambition of constraining democratic practice and active citizenship but a substantive vision of what constituted "good policy". Good policy for the Founders and progressive alike were those that promoted the economic and political strength of the American republic and the attendant expansion of power in its private and public forms. Liberalism sought not the taming and disciplining of power, along with the cultivation of attendant public and private virtues like frugality and temperance, but institutional forms of harnessing power toward the ends of national might, energy and dynamism. (pp.166-67)

Deneen rolls together the aims of liberal modernity in the following passage:
For all their differences, what is strikingly similar about the liberal thinkers of the Founding Era and leading thinkers of the Progressive Era were similar efforts to increase the "orbit" or scope of the national government concomitant with increases in the scale of the American economic order. Only in the backdrop of such assumptions about the basic aims of politics could there be any base presupposition in advance of the existence of "good policy" - and that policy tended to be whatever increased national wealth and power. In this sense - again, for all their differences - the Progressives were as much heirs as the Founders to the modern project of seeing politics as the means of mastering nature, expanding national power, and liberating the individual from interpersonal bonds and obligations, including those entailed by active democratic citizenship. (p.172)

Something along similar lines was happening in Australia at this time. If you look at the decision taken in the early 1940s to end Anglo-Australia, you find the same themes. First, the decision was kept from the general public - it was not subject to democratic choice. Instead, the key discussions took place within an "Inter-Departmental Committee" with much influence from the work of political scientists like W.D. Forsyth who used population data and labour force statistics to recommend policies that promoted "development". The politician most responsible for the shift in policy, Arthur Calwell, was determined to move toward an ethnically heterogeneous society (though not at this stage a racially heterogeneous one).

The key point to take away from this is that traditionalists need to take care with calls to national greatness. In the context of liberal politics, this may not advance the existence of an historic people, their culture and embedded way of life. This aim of conserving an existing people is not what has been understood by "national greatness" within the liberal order; instead, such greatness is measured by economic growth and the attainment of political power which then becomes the measure of good public policy. Immigration policy, for instance, is considered sound within this liberal order to the degree that it advances economic growth ("development") and political power (and liberates individuals from interpersonal bonds), rather than to the degree that it promotes the continuity of the life of a particular people.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Swedish theory of love

In 2016 a documentary about life in Sweden was released with the title "The Swedish theory of love". A preview of the documentary summarises it this way:
In February of 1972 a group of Swedish politicians gathered together to define a new idea for the future. Motivated by a strong need to challenge traditional social structures, they outlined a new goal. Their vision was to create "a society of autonomous individuals". A manifesto was written in which it was concluded that no "citizen should be dependent on another." Cut to present day, forty years later. Scandinavia is the loneliest region in the world. Sweden statistically has the highest number of people dying alone and tops the chart for single households with 47% of people living alone.

The 1972 manifesto referred to above was called "The Family of the Future". According to the documentary the manifesto called for a liberation of individuals from the traditional family with its dependent relationships. In the future there would only be "true" relationships, formed by wholly independent, autonomous individuals. As an academic explains in the documentary:
The Swedish theory of love. What does it say? It says that all authentic human relationships have to be based on the fundamental independence between people...The ideal family in Sweden is made up of adult individuals that are fundamentally independent, working for themselves.

But instead of authentic relationships, the plan led to a loss of human relationships, with large numbers of Swedes living a solitary existence. If you look at the following chart you will see that more than 50% of households in Sweden consist of a sole resident, well above most other countries:

The documentary presents some of the more dystopian aspects of the Swedish emphasis on autonomous relationships. It is now the case, for instance, that more than 50% of the clients of the region's largest sperm donor bank are single women. The manager of this bank has a futuristic vision in which women could have a virtual reality experience of being with a man whilst impregnating themselves without needing to have any physical contact with a man during the process.

And what of life for these single women? Here is one of the women featured in the documentary with her child (on a swing):

I think in comparison of the beautiful family homes built in Melbourne in the 1800s and early 1900s and cannot see much evidence of progress in the photo above. The Swedish state might provide for these single mothers but it does so along coldly functionalist lines.

It is also the case that 25% of Swedes die alone, having no contact with family members. We are shown in the documentary the work of agents of a specialist Swedish government agency tasked with investigating these deaths. These workers comb through the dead person's apartment, looking for clues for any family relationships. (As a point of comparison, when my first Australian ancestor died in the early 1900s she had over 80 surviving descendants.)

Why does the Swedish theory of love not work? It is true that when people depend on each other in marriage that they might stay from necessity rather than love - and that this is something not to be desired.

This does not mean, though, that if people have no need for each other, that there is a stronger and more pure emotional bond. The psychology of relationships tends not to work this way. Modern women, who have been "liberated" by the state from any need for masculine support, often talk about no longer needing a man. It tends to make such women feel less impelled toward serious relationships; to be less attracted to what ordinary men have to offer; and to feel less of a sense of gratitude toward men (toward individual men and men as a class). Some women end up confused; they have a nagging idea in their mind that they should be in a relationship, but nonetheless don't feel compelled to actually commit to one.

In contrast, when men and women do fulfil distinct roles within the family, and rely on each other for support, there is a more positive expectation of what a relationship might bring to one's own life, leading to a greater desire at an earlier age to make a serious commitment, as well as a stronger sense of gratitude (and the love that flows from this) towards one's spouse.

It's even the case that if the state steps back, so that the family is the key source of support for individuals in a society, that the family then also brings a greater measure of independence for its members. The family might then allow, for instance, a young woman to leave her parents' home to form a family of her own, or it might allow a more stable accumulation of wealth with the financial independence this creates, or it might give to the individual a degree of material and emotional security within which life goals might be more confidently pursued.

The emphasis on autonomy when it comes to relationships has also made it easier for individuals to treat relationships casually. If we don't need family relationships, because the state guarantees our independent existence, then we can more readily play the field.

But the experience of recent decades suggests that this leaves significant numbers of people jaded and more emotionally distant from others, rather than primed for pure and authentic relationships as the theory suggests. People left in this condition are, if anything, even more likely to feel that they are "settling" if and when they do eventually form a more longstanding relationship.

One final point. Sweden is the end point of most Western societies. As the narrator in the documentary puts it,
The idea that we should be able to manage our lives on our own autonomously, that's not a Swedish invention, it's part of a belief in individuality that has been defining life in the whole Western world for some time. But here in Sweden we've been unusually effective at turning words into reality.

I think that we can expect our own societies to develop along lines similar to Sweden - unless there is a change in the political philosophy (i.e. the state ideology) which currently dominates in the West.

Below is the best version of the documentary I could find. The sound falls away occasionally and there are only Croatian subtitles when Swedish is spoken. But much of the documentary is in English.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Zeitgeist girl

Young women today are encouraged to be "sexually empowered," meaning free to follow their own impulses and desires when it comes to relationships.

The older cultural norms and social standards which once helped to govern the relationships between men and women are dismissed as being oppressive limitations on the self, imposed by an exploitative patriarchy (a mindset captured luridly in the TV series The Handmaid's Tale).

And so there is no encouragement for young women to follow rational self-restraint; reason gives way to the more impulsive, instinctual "animal" side of human nature.

I wrote a post earlier this year on how this message of sexual empowerment played out in the music of Cardi B, noting the primitivism of a music video featuring a dozen near naked women twerking together.

But Cardi B does not capture the Zeitgeist as well as another contemporary pop star, Taylor Swift. It's difficult to imagine Taylor Swift producing a twerking music video like Cardi B's. She is too "classy" for that.

Even so, if you read the lyrics of her songs you get a good sense of where the liberal principle is leading us when it comes to relationships (I'm indebted to a post by Fabius Maximus for alerting me to this.)

For instance, Taylor Swift has only just released a new song, titled Me. The video begins with an image of a snake making its way along a brightly coloured street (a nod perhaps to what is diabolical underneath the colourful surface of what we are to see). We then see Swift and a boyfriend arguing. Swift is being unreasonably dramatic. At one point she points to their "daughters" (a pair of cats - a nod to the fur baby phenomenon).

The lyrics then go:
I know that I'm a handful, baby, uh
I know I never think before I jump
And you're the kind of guy the ladies want
(And there's a lot of cool chicks out there)
I know that I went psycho on the phone
I never leave well enough alone
And trouble's gonna follow where I go
(And there's a lot of cool chicks out there)

I know I tend to make it about me
I know you never get just what you see
But I will never bore you, baby
(And there's a lot of lame guys out there)

She is no longer guided by reason (her own or that of society as a collective). Therefore she is impulsive, trouble and her emotions get out of hand ("psycho"). She is also self-centered ("I know I tend to make it about me").

So why then would a man fall in love with her and want to be with her? She offers just two reasons. First, she is not boring. Second, because of her individuality:
Me-e-e, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
I'm the only one of me
Baby, that's the fun of me
Eeh-eeh-eeh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
You're the only one of you

Neither of these is convincing. As much as men don't want someone who is boring, they also fear "psycho" women with uncontrolled emotions. And the fact that she is "the only one of me" is neither here nor there - is it a "one of me" that a man might love and trust enough to marry?

You have to remember that our liberal culture tells women that they are empowered when they freely follow impulse and feeling. They are not supposed to be prudent or reasonable - that is considered an exploitative imposition. What a woman wants as an impulse is what matters and it is not supposed to be constrained - not even by reason.

Taylor Swift's song expresses liberal culture. She is just being "her" in the moment. She is impulsive and emotionally out of control. She is centered on what she wants and feels. She is embodying an expressive individualism - and this is what a man is supposed to respect and like.

It's interesting also that Taylor Swift's song so openly acknowledges female hypergamy. In her mind, she is one of the many cool chicks competing for one of the few men out there who is not "lame" - for one of the few men that "the ladies want".

If it were up to Cardi B, women would compete for these few, desirable men through overt displays of female sexuality. Taylor Swift doesn't go down this path, but doesn't offer much of an alternative. She seems to think that a man with options would be attracted to a woman who demonstrates individuality via high maintenance, self-centered emotionalism.

If you're thinking that Taylor Swift is deluded, it should be said in her defence that for most of her life she has not been looking for stable, enduring relationships. One thing that happens when women are "liberated" to act on primitive desire, is that they tend to spend their formative years seeking sexual highs with player type men. They may not seek predictability or security in relationships. In her song "The Way I Loved You", Taylor Swift contrasts a relationship with a boring nice guy with a more dramatically intense relationship with a player. She sings of the nice guy:
He is sensible and so incredible
And all my single friends are jealous
He says everything I need to hear and it’s like
I couldn’t ask for anything better
He opens up my door and I get into his car
And he says you look beautiful tonight
And I feel perfectly fine
It's not what she wants. She prefers the "rush" that comes with "insane":
But I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
And it’s 2am and I’m cursing your name
You’re so in love that you act insane
And that’s the way I loved you
Breakin’ down and coming undone
It’s a roller coaster kinda rush
And I never knew I could feel that much
And that’s the way I loved you
She doesn't want comfort with the nice guy, she wants "wild and crazy":
He respects my space
And never makes me wait
And he calls exactly when he says he will
He’s close to my mother
Talks business with my father
He’s charming and endearing
And I’m comfortable
He can’t see the smile I’m faking
And my heart’s not breaking
Cause I’m not feeling anything at all
And you were wild and crazy
Just so frustrating intoxicating
Complicated, got away by some mistake and now
And that’s the way I loved you oh, oh
Never knew I could feel that much
And that’s the way I loved you

Taylor Swift is now twenty-nine. It's possible that she will decide at some point that she wants something more solid (there are rumours that she might be engaged to her current boyfriend).

But I hope that her song lyrics give fair warning to men that you can't expect a stable culture of marriage to develop in a liberal society. In particular, you can't expect a family guy ethos to survive in a culture in which women are "sexually empowered". In such a culture, young women in their sexual prime are not likely to select for reliable, "got together" men.

There was a reason why traditional societies once insisted on certain standards from young men and women. The standards did not exist to limit people for no reason or to exploit women. They existed to uphold a higher good - that of enduring marriage and timely family formation.

We should not underestimate what a difficult cultural achievement it is to arrive at this higher good. It requires a self-disciplining of the instincts of both men and women, but particularly of women.

It was achieved in the past and can be again, but not when the cultural institutions are sending the opposite message to what is needed.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Cardinal Sarah: the tragic error

Cardinal Sarah continues to lead the way. When asked in an interview with Nicolas Diat about the collapse of the West he replied:
The spiritual collapse thus has a very Western character. In particular, I would like to emphasize the rejection of fatherhood. Our contemporaries are convinced that, in order to be free, one must not depend on anybody. There is a tragic error in this. Western people are convinced that receiving is contrary to the dignity of human persons. But civilized man is fundamentally an heir, he receives a history, a culture, a language, a name, a family. This is what distinguishes him from the barbarian. To refuse to be inscribed within a network of dependence, heritage, and filiation condemns us to go back naked into the jungle of a competitive economy left to its own devices. Because he refuses to acknowledge himself as an heir, man is condemned to the hell of liberal globalization in which individual interests confront one another without any law to govern them besides profit at any price.

He is right in identifying the tragic error as being a false understanding of freedom. Liberals understand freedom as individual autonomy. If you want to maximise your autonomy you will downplay those aspects of life that you are born into rather than choosing for yourself. You will want to imagine yourself to be wholly self-created or self-authored. That's why those brought up in a liberal culture often reflexively reject the instinct to take pride in the achievements of their family, community or nation - they object because they didn't personally bring about the achievement as an individual.

Liberals imagine that they are being progressive in pushing forward such an individualistic view of man, but Cardinal Sarah rightly points out that higher civilisation is marked by complex forms of inheritance that the individual accepts as his patrimony but that he must then contribute to as his own legacy for future generations.

The following from Cardinal Sarah is also interesting:
I want to suggest to Western people that the real cause of this refusal to claim their inheritance and this refusal of fatherhood is the rejection of God. From Him we receive our nature as man and woman. This is intolerable to modern minds. Gender ideology is a Luciferian refusal to receive a sexual nature from God. Thus some rebel against God and pointlessly mutilate themselves in order to change their sex. But in reality they do not fundamentally change anything of their structure as man or woman. The West refuses to receive, and will accept only what it constructs for itself. Transhumanism is the ultimate avatar of this movement. Because it is a gift from God, human nature itself becomes unbearable for western man.

This revolt is spiritual at root. It is the revolt of Satan against the gift of grace. Fundamentally, I believe that Western man refuses to be saved by God’s mercy. He refuses to receive salvation, wanting to build it for himself. The “fundamental values” promoted by the UN are based on a rejection of God that I compare with the rich young man in the Gospel. God has looked upon the West and has loved it because it has done wonderful things. He invited it to go further, but the West turned back. It preferred the kind of riches that it owed only to itself.

Cardinal Sarah is suggesting here that the underlying source of the error plaguing Western societies is humanism in general and secular humanism in particular. I know the word "humanism" has nice connotations, sounding as if it means "being in support of humans". But as Cardinal Sarah argues, it is usually associated with ideas about humanity having a kind of telos (an ultimate end or purpose) that humans themselves bring about (sometimes in partnership with God, sometimes not). Cardinal Sarah is blaming a kind of hubris, by which some people are unable to accept what is given as part of a created nature or order, even if there is a goodness contained within it. Part of this hubris is an unwillingness to defer - a lack of "humility" in the best sense of this word.

Finally, Cardinal Sarah is right that the logical end point is transsexualism and transhumanism, as these represent the ultimate in asserting self-authorship. A case in point from my social media feed this morning:

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Every Eve knows and follows the best path?

A pastor at Charlotte Congregational Church in the U.S., Susan Cooke Kittredge, has come out in support of abortion. The reason she gives for supporting abortion is interesting, as it gets to a fundamental issue in politics:
"Sadly, our starting point seems to be that women aren’t trustworthy. We can go back to the Garden of Eden to see the church’s interpretation of Eve’s fallibility. In cultural, religious and state realms, women have been perceived as needing the restrictions of ruling authorities—that were historically male—to coerce their compliance in many areas. The underlying assumption has been that women cannot know what is best for their families, their children, their lives and their communities.

We need to question our entrenched cultural distrust of women and summon the courage to face the answers and commit to change. My hope is that everyone will hold the questions in one hand and God’s hand in the other."

Her assumption is that every individual should be trusted to know what the right thing is for themselves and their community. Furthermore, she assumes not only that individuals will know what the right thing to do is, but that they will choose to follow it.

She can push this confidently because it is an assumption that is woven into liberal culture.

It's an approach that ignores the fallibility of human nature. It ignores the fact that individuals may know what the right thing to do is, but still be tempted to act according to some baser desire. It ignores the fact too that the capacity for prudential reason differs between individuals.

Finally, the notion of what is right tends to be lost once the liberal principle is set in society. Once you tell people that the key thing is that nothing is to interfere with their own will in deciding what to do, and that there is no legitimate moral authority outside of this, then it quickly descends to the principle of "I chose it, it is my desire, I should not be judged, I should act for my own pleasure/interest".

What then tends to happen is that the lower, "animal" side of human nature is let loose of the moorings provided even by our own individual prudential reason - which itself is not strong enough to guide people to act according to what is best for themselves and their community.

This is why traditional societies upheld social standards and cultural norms, within institutions like the family, schools and churches, to transmit the inherited and collective wisdom of the past to influence the behaviour of individuals, as a necessary buttress to their own reason.

Edmund Burke put it well when he wrote in the eighteenth century:
We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.

One of the reasons that Susan Cooke Kittridge gets things wrong is that she believes that this effort of cultural transmission was not to help individuals to successfully regulate their own behaviour rationally, virtuously and prudentially, but to oppress women. She writes:
What I have found inescapable in the discussion about abortion is the inherent subjugation of women. The underlying assumption seems to be that women aren’t capable of making such deeply important decisions for themselves, that society must step in and direct women who, for whatever reason, are deemed unable to follow a morally acceptable path.

Because reproduction is tangled with sexuality, an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy bears shadows of unchained lust and desire. This, of course, has been true for millennia and though we may consider ourselves staunch supporters of equal rights for women, we are not, I think, aware of the insidious ways the view of women as less than men has pervaded our culture and understanding.

Traditional society "stepped in" to help guide the behaviour of both men and women. Both were thought of as having fallen natures. Both achieved their higher potential only through a difficult process of cultivating habits of virtue. Both required the assistance of a culture that was transmitted in the home, at school and by the church.

It's true that regulating the sexuality of young women was thought of as particularly important, but the chaos of the modern sexual landscape, and its negative effect on family formation, should make clear why this was the case - and why it was mothers within the family who did much of the work in transmitting the cultural norms to their daughters.

Susan Cooke Kettridge is, perhaps unwittingly, following a line of thought which goes back centuries and which claims that we can have a peaceful and harmonious society in which individuals can equally and freely choose what to do - and that the only thing hindering this is the existence of power structures through which one class of people exploits and oppresses another.

Initially, these power structures were thought to be economic class ones, led by the aristocracy and then by the bourgeoisie. Now it's racial and sexual classes, with whiteness and maleness being the stumbling blocks to freedom.

But it's all fundamentally misconceived. You are not going to get peace and harmony in a society in which individuals are perfectly free to act according to their own will and reason. The idea that individuals will choose to act according to the best interests of themselves and their community is just wishful thinking. Absent the restraining and guiding influence of embedded social standards and cultural norms, people will increasingly act to satisfy immediate wants and desires or in pursuit of self-interest or in addiction to the age old vices which are part of human nature.

We will just end up observing the decline of our culture and society.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Prager's troubling thought

Dennis Prager is an American classical liberal. He decided recently that he would read Betty Friedan's influential feminist work, The Feminine Mystique (1963).

In this book Friedan claimed that American women were unhappy with their lives as mothers and housewives. As you might expect of a classical liberal, Prager is sympathetic to Friedan's message. Most liberals base their politics around the idea of autonomy, in which individuals are supposed to be "liberated" from predetermined qualities and roles, like those relating to our sex. And so Prager likes the way that most women now put their primary focus on a "self-determining" career role rather than "predetermined" roles relating to motherhood and family.

So far, so predictable. However, I have to give some credit to Prager for what happens next. Prager notes that things have moved exactly the way that Friedan wanted them to:
But a big and troubling thought hit me while reading the book. In the 56 years since "The Feminine Mystique" was published, every complaint Friedan made regarding the situation of the American woman has been addressed.

So women should be happy now, right? Prager is honest enough to admit that they are not happy. Far from it:
Yet, if you were to listen to many American women today, you would think nothing has improved. Every women's group and millions of individual women say women are "oppressed" despite the fact that virtually nothing remains of the "feminine mystique" described by Friedan.

Prager is aware of the anxiety and depression epidemic among women:
In fact, women today, including young women, who lead lives the very opposite of those described in "The Feminine Mystique," are about twice as likely to be depressed as men. And that statistic is true for women across all economic, racial and ethnic groups.

So if society is progressing along liberal lines, but there is no improvement in happiness, what is a liberal to do? Again, I have to give Prager some credit for his response. Prager does something unusual for a liberal. He abandons blank slatism and wonders if there is not something within female nature that might cause women to be malcontent regardless of their social situation. If this is true, then women need to overcome an aspect of their own nature in order to develop into successful adulthood.

Here is how Prager defends his idea that women might more easily than men, as a part of their nature, fall into being malcontent:
This is no more an attack on women than describing men's nature as aggressive is an attack on men. Each sex has built-in issues that an individual has to overcome in order to develop into a mature and good person. Men have to deal with aggression and the sexual predatory aspect of male nature in order to develop into mature and good men. Women have to overcome the power of their emotions and their chronic malcontentedness in order to mature into good women. But in our disordered society — a society that has rejected wisdom — in raising their children, two generations of Americans have told only their sons, not their daughters, that they had to fight their nature. The feminization of society has brought with it the destructive notion that only males have to suppress their nature. Feminists really believe females are superior, so why would women have to fight any aspect of their inherently beautiful nature?

I disagree with Prager on most things, but this is exceptionally well put. The only thing he leaves out is the reason why generations of women have been told that they don't need to regulate aspects of their nature. It's not just that female nature has been held to be superior to male nature. It's also a consequence of liberalism itself. If what matters is that I am autonomous, then I should be free to self-determine who I am and what I do, which means that I should not be limited by any ideas about an inborn nature, and which also means that I should be free to act on my own desires, no matter what they are, unless this interferes directly with others doing the same. That has been the logic of Western culture for some time.

It's great that Prager, as a liberal, has stepped back from this. In a sense, Prager is now setting objective standards, standards that represent an ordered personhood, standards that demonstrate both goodness and maturity. A community needs to do this, and to get as close as possible to the truth of this, if it wants to flourish.

The next step for Prager would be to consider not only the flaws within female nature to be overcome, but also the positive aspects of female nature that connect a woman to a higher, meaningful good that she can embody in her life and that she might therefore seek to cultivate.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Monday, April 08, 2019

The tyranny of nature?

Patrick Deneen, in his excellent book Why Liberalism Failed, focuses on two strands within liberalism. The first is the one that I usually write about, namely the liberal belief in maximising individual autonomy. The second is one that was mostly new to me, but that deserves consideration. According to Deneen, Sir Francis Bacon, ushered in a new way of thinking about our relationship to nature and this is a core aspect of the liberal project.

Deneen set things out as follows:
The modern scientific project of human liberation from the tyranny of nature has been framed as an effort to "master" or "control" nature, or as a "war" against nature in which its study would provide the tools for its subjugation at the hands of humans. Francis Bacon - who rejected classical arguments that learning aimed at the virtues of wisdom, prudence and justice, arguing instead that "knowledge is power" - compared nature to a prisoner who, under torture, might be compelled to reveal her long-withheld secrets.

This post takes the form of notes that I wish to make in regard to this, rather than a final position. I need to think about this more, but it does strike me initially that Deneen is onto something important here, something that explains aspects of modern liberal politics.

Let's take the issue of the war on masculinity. Why would liberals feel so comfortable describing masculinity in negative terms, as something that is "toxic"?

Part of the answer is the one I have always set out. If liberals want to maximise autonomy, and autonomy means being self-determined, then individuals have to be "liberated" from predetermined qualities, like the sex they are born into. Simple - and this is how liberals themselves often frame things (with talk about autonomy, self-determination, choice etc.).

But the Baconian revolution in the way we think about nature also supports the liberal mindset. Think of it this way. If you are a traditionalist you will believe that we are a part of nature, i.e. that we stand within it and that therefore a purpose of life is to order ourselves and our communities harmoniously within the given framework of our created nature and of the nature of the world we inhabit. We will also seek for the beauty, truth and goodness of our being within this larger created order.

If, however, you adopt the Baconian mindset, then you will assume that we stand outside of nature, seeking control over it, wishing to subdue it. Value is no longer so much to be found within given nature, but in its use as a raw material to realise human purposes and desires that are separate to it. It is the realisation of human desires and purposes that now carries meaning, and this occurs through our sovereign rule over nature, our conquest of it.

Therefore, the "truth claims" of traditionalists and liberals when it comes to masculinity hardly even intersect. Traditionalists will be oriented to the value inherent within masculine nature; liberals will see value in "manipulating" men's behaviour (as you would a raw material) to suit the purposes set by society.

Liberals are likely to be focused on what purposes masculinity has been "socially constructed" for and to think it normal to debate how masculinity might be reconstructed to fit a more "progressive" social narrative - such as a feminist one (at the same time, the autonomy strand within liberalism will insist on there being "masculinities" as a sphere of choice).

The traditionalist attitude might run from a light traditionalism to a deeper one. Most traditionalists would hold that masculinity is hardwired into a man's nature and that this gives definite limits on how men might be "reconstituted" within a culture.

The deepest form of traditionalism would hold that masculinity exists as an "essence" within nature, i.e. that it exists not only as a characteristic of individual men but as a principle of reality, and that there is a quality of goodness within the higher expression of this essence. Therefore, an individual man has the opportunity to embody a "transcendent" good through his masculine nature. Our forebears therefore put much emphasis on pursuing what was noble within a man's nature, and rising above the base.

You can see why it's so frustrating when liberals and traditionalists argue on this issue. The frameworks are so different, so set apart, that it's not possible for the arguments to intersect, let alone for the two camps to come to any form of agreement or compromise.

There are a few additional points to be made when looking at the influence of Bacon on liberal thought. I find it interesting that the poet Shelley, writing in 1820, identified Bacon as one of the key early figures in liberal thought:
...the new epoch was marked by the commencement of deeper enquiries into the point of human nature...Lord Bacon, Spinoza, Hobbes, Boyle, Montaigne, regulated the reasoning powers, criticized the history, exposed the past errors by illustrating their causes and their connexion...

The Baconian aspect of liberalism has also possibly contributed to some of the features you find within modern political thought.

1. Blank slatism. If nature is thought of as raw material, that humans stand outside of and subjugate for our own purposes, then this supports the idea that we are dealing with a "blank canvas".

2. Humanism/universalism. If you think of politics in terms of a revolution in which humans stand outside of nature and conquer it to relieve the human condition, then the key protagonist is "humanity" rather than particular nations. Also, if we are not standing within nature, then we won't have the same focus on the need for identity and belonging as constituent parts of our nature and this too undermines support for particular forms of community.

3. Functionalism. If we are no longer seeking meaning within nature, including beauty/order/harmony, but see nature instead as raw material to be used for social purposes, then it makes sense that there would be an emphasis on functionalism, for instance, in the architecture of the middle decades of the twentieth century.

4. Progress. If the aim is a humanism in which humans stand outside of nature, using it for our own purposes, conquering and subduing it, then it stands to reason that some liberals might see progress in terms of a history of economic and technological development and growth. They might then see this as a good in its own right, so that development is not thought of as helping to preserve or enhance an existing community, but as being in itself the higher aim or measure of success that all else is to be subordinate to, even if this means radically undermining communities for the purposes of maximising economic growth. (Some left-liberals do see progress as a moral arc rather than an economic one.)

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Cardinal Robert Sarah: You must not sacrifice your national identities

Cardinal Robert Sarah is one of those outstanding men leading the resistance to liberal modernity. He gave an interview recently; the following excerpt focuses on the issue of identity.
You also write that the modern world destroys by attacking [national and religious] identities. You, on the contrary, defend this rootedness that Simone Weil described as the first need of the human soul. That makes you a somewhat isolated voice in a Church that sometimes seems to have become a mere auxiliary of the pro-immigration party.

When I went to Poland [in October 2017], a country that is often criticized, I encouraged the faithful to affirm their identity as they have done for centuries. My message was simple: you are first Poles, Catholics, and only then Europeans. You must not sacrifice these first two identities on the altar of a technocratic Europe that acknowledges no fatherland. The Brussels Commission thinks only of constructing a free market in the service of the major financial powers. The European Union no longer protects the peoples [within it]. It protects the banks. I wanted to restate for Poland its unique mission in God’s plan. She is free to tell Europe that everyone was created by God to be put in a precise place, with its culture, its traditions and its history. This current desire to globalize the world by getting rid of nations with their specific characteristics is sheer madness. The Jewish people had to go into exile, but God brought them back to their country. Christ had to flee from Herod into Egypt, but he returned to his country upon the death of Herod. Everyone must live in his country. Like a tree, each one has his soil, his milieu where he flourishes perfectly. It is better to help people to flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to a Europe that is completely decadent. It is false exegesis to use the Word of God to improve the image of migration. God never intended these rifts.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Liberalism & the body

Below is a tweet from Teen Vogue:

The logic of liberalism is continuing to unfold. There is a strong assertion in this video from Teen Vogue that there are no male and female bodies, i.e. nothing about the body that would reasonably qualify a person as male or female.

Chase Strangio, an attorney for the ACLU, claims in the video that,
We all have characteristics that are typically male and typically female and it is really about political choices, social factors, ideological choices that we assign meaning to different parts of our body.

Katrina Karkazis says,
The body doesn't have just one place where we can sit there with a microscope or something else and say, hey wait a second, this is really who you are, this is your true sex. In fact, who you are is who you say you are.

There are people who are now claiming that their body parts are male or female depending on what they identify them to be. In other words, if someone has breasts then this is not objectively an aspect of female biology. They are a part of either male or female biology depending on what the person who has them identifies as.

One of the trans participants in the video asserts,
When I say I'm a woman I don't just mean that I identify as a woman, I mean that my biology is the biology of a woman regardless of whether or not doctors agree. 

It was almost inevitable we'd arrive at this point. In a liberal society what matters is maximising individual autonomy, which means that anything which limits our ability to determine who we are or what we do is seen as a limitation which the individual needs to be liberated from.

We do not get to determine our biological sex. Liberalism's first response to this "problem" was to say, well, we'll make a person's sex not matter in life. There will be no "sexism', meaning no sphere in life and no social role pertaining to one sex and not the other. To achieve this, it was claimed that traditional sex roles were based only on "gender" and that gender was an oppressive social construct that could be deconstructed.

But this was inevitably only a first step, as it still left people with a biological sex that they did not choose for themselves. Being a man or a woman no longer meant as much socially, but I still didn't get to choose for myself which one I would be.

And so the next step is to make the idea of biological sex itself something that is chosen by individuals. Hence the claim by Chase Strangio that there is no objective meaning to being born with certain body parts; the meanings are socially constructed, through political and ideological choices or through social forces.

Teen Vogue chose an interesting week to make all these claims as it coincided with the public release of research showing that differences between the brains of boys and girls begins in the womb, and therefore before any possible social influences. Science continues to suggest that at least some differences between the sexes are hardwired rather than being created by culture and socialisation.

Finally, it should be pointed out that Teen Vogue is not alone in pressing forward with these sorts of claims. The Tasmanian Government has just decided to put forward legislation that would make abortions legal for men:

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Dutch turn?

I always enjoy being able to post positive news. Last month provincial elections were held in the Netherlands. These elections are significant as they determine the seats held in the Dutch senate.

A new party called Forum for Democracy (in Dutch "Forum voor Democratie" or FvD), led by Thierry Baudet, made great gains, becoming the largest party in the senate with 13 seats (out of 75). The party led by Geert Wilders (Partij voor de Vrijheid or PVV) won 5 seats, giving the two nationalist parties 24% of the total.

I can't say how much the politics of either of the parties genuinely agrees with traditionalism, as I'm not familiar enough with Dutch politics. What I do know is that Geert Wilders tends to appeal more to working-class people and that he does not focus on building party membership but relies on his own media exposure. I do like the advert that he produced for the election:

This seems to me typical of Wilders, in the sense that there is an eloquent appeal to a national spirit, but also that there is still sometimes a liberal frame of reference (as in "we have the freedom to decide for ourselves how we want to live" which works in the context of the video by asserting national sovereignty, but which if taken individually can dissolve the cultural and social forms of a community on the grounds of individual autonomy).

And what of Thierry Baudet? His party is said to appeal to younger people and to the middle-classes. He is an intellectual, having written several books, including one titled "Oikophobia: Fear of one's own". He is a Eurosceptic who wishes to limit immigration. He told supporters in his victory speech:
We stand here in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilisation.

We won because the country needs us. We are being destroyed by the people who are supposed to be protecting us.

Successive Rutte governments have left our borders wide open, letting in hundreds of thousands of people with cultures completely different to ours.

He is said to be especially opposed to the cultural self-loathing of the Dutch establishment.

Thierry Baudet of the Forum for Democracy

One final point. It is particularly heartening that both parties are attempting to counteract what Patrick Deneen in his book Why Liberalism Failed calls "fractured time". It's a brilliant part of Deneen's book (pages 72 to 77 if you have the hardcover). Deneen argues that a core aspect of liberalism is its "presentism" - its dislocation of the individual from both the past and the future. It seems clear to me that this process has gone so far in the Netherlands that both Baudet and Wilders are making it central to their campaigns, by reconnecting people in a positive way to the past and by insisting that this can extend into the future as well.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A tale of two women

This is a story of two young attractive women. Their lives have gone in very different directions because they have adopted such different life philosophies.

The first woman is Chidera Eggerue. She is of Nigerian descent and lives in the UK. Here is one of her recent tweets:

As you can see, Chidera has bought into a left liberal world view. She believes that the reason we don't have freedom and equality is that there is a power structure ("patriarchy") which only exists because one group of people, men, wanted to exploit another group, women.

This left-liberal belief goes back a long way. The power structure identified as being responsible for the world's ills changes over time. It was once thought to be the aristocratic order, then the bourgeois one, and is now a combination of whiteness and maleness. I've written about its earlier forms here.

What I'd briefly like to point out is one of the consequences of believing in "patriarchy theory". If you are a woman and you believe that throughout human history men have organised to exploit you, then what will you think about men, marriage and relationships? Inevitably, at least some of the women holding these ideas are going to lose a sense of warm, positive regard for men.

Chidera Eggerue

It's therefore not surprising that Chidera has become an advocate for the single life. She has written a book titled What A Time To Be Alone which has the following blurb:
In What A Time To Be Alone, The Slumflower [Chidera] will be your life guru, confidante and best friend. She’ll show you that being alone is not just okay: it’s just about the best freaking thing that’s ever happened to you.

Unsurprisingly the book also has the basic liberal message that what matters is our autonomy - our freedom to be self-determining individuals. A review of the book describes it as having:
a message of self-determination outlining that any woman can be who she wants to be

The second woman, Caitlin Huber, lives in the American Midwest. Her life philosophy is very different to Chidera's. She is a Christian with a more traditional outlook of cultivating feminine character.
Caitlin Huber

In her description of how she tries to live her faith she includes this:
4. Guarding My Mind & Spirit

I actively try to guard my mind and spirit from negative influences: this may sound a little "woo-woo" but hear me out. Scripture calls us to think about things that are "lovely and noble."

And in a post on cultivating feminine character:
A strong and beautiful character does not happen overnight however; it must be nurtured over a lifetime. As we nurture our character, we can lean into our naturally feminine traits and instincts to further cultivate femininity.

...We instinctively have the ability to nurture as women, but that does not mean a strong character will not help us nurture BETTER. In fact, a character rich in the virtues of discipline, kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty will allow us to nurture more effectively than one lacking in character altogether.

...The character is what we can fall back on when times are tough. Character helps us get through tough situations and moral conundrums. Good character built upon solid morals helps us make life-giving decisions so that we can live a stable, and positive life, fit and ready to nurture those around us and ourselves.

Character is different than your "Heart"

I see a ton of Women's ministries focused on our "hearts." We try to nurture our hearts, listen to our hearts, follow our hearts, and speak from the heart.

This advice has good intentions, but part of the problem is that hearts are wishy-washy. They are prone to emotional ups and downs, frivolous desires, constant confusion, and weakness. The heart should be relied upon sometimes in life, but I think that if you are going to put a ton of energy into nurturing anything in your life, let it be your character.

...Character can be created, nurtured, and forged through adversity, pain, and discipline. Through choosing the right way, the moral way, and the strong way, we will be able to forge strong character, and in turn, live effective, successful, and beautiful lives.

What can we say about this philosophy? First, it is not premised on a sense of being wronged by men. Therefore it is not surprising that Caitlin is married and looking forward to having children. Her tweets often describe the simple satisfactions of a happy domestic life:

Second, Caitlin's philosophy is a good example of what we might return to if we could only discard the influence of liberalism on our culture. Not being ruled by a liberal philosophy, Caitlin can freely accept that she has a distinct nature as a woman, one that has important virtues attached to it, that a woman will rightly seek to cultivate. She is also free to live by the standards that were once so much a part of the Western tradition, including orienting herself to the more noble aspects of character, as well as to what is lovely within womanhood.

Chidera's liberalism is a civilisational dead-end. It leads logically to solo development, rather than to family formation. It drives a wedge between men and women. It does not recognise the goods of personal character as this would limit choice - it emphasises instead that we be non-judgemental, even toward ourselves ("self-acceptance"). It preaches empowerment, but this only really means getting to follow any impulse or desire, no matter what it is.

Liberalism is unfortunately very deeply embedded in the minds of many Western men. It's not an easy thing to purge from our society. I would appeal, though, to any young men reading this to consider what is at stake, not just for the West, but for their own personal lives. If we were to jettison liberalism, and encourage women to cultivate feminine character, would we not have a better chance at living fulfilling personal lives, as husbands and fathers within a family?

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

We are playing by girl's rules

If you were to believe feminists we live in an oppressive patriarchy in which women lack equal rights.

And yet when it comes to relationships we are clearly playing not by men's rules, or even equal rules, but by women's rules.

Western culture once viewed individuals as having, like other creatures, an animal nature, but unlike other creatures, the faculty of reason. The idea was to use reason to guide our nature to higher ends or purposes. Human freedom was associated with self-restraint of baser impulses and desires, and with the cultivation of virtue and character.

But the formula has changed. To be liberated now means having an autonomous individual will, so that we are free to act on our desires or impulses, no matter what they might be (we are no longer even meant to judge these desires, we are supposed to be "non-judgemental").

And so a young woman will be told that she is being "empowered" by acting according to her desires or impulses, no matter what they are. It is her "right" to do so, a part of her autonomy. The culture of rational self-restraint has been overthrown (as described in my How Free is Cardi B? post).

There are three noticeable aspects of this experiment in liberating female impulse from a culture of prudential reason:

1. When women's primal nature is exercised unrestrained, there are observable patterns in their relationship choices at different stages of life.

2. Society is organised to enable these female choices.

3. Liberating and enabling these impulses has negative effects.

I'm going to make a foray into territory I usually avoid, by attempting to observe how women process relationships. I'll be drawing on the work of Rollo Tomassi in doing this. I can't endorse everything he has written (if for no other reason than I haven't read all that he has written). However, his way of describing the patterns in female behaviour fits closely with what I have experienced and observed. I therefore believe it to be useful knowledge that should be widely known (there is a useful graph illustrating his ideas embedded in this post.)

The underlying observation, on which the rest depends, is that there is a dual nature to women's sexual strategy. The kind of men that women are attracted to sexually are often different to the kind of men that women rely on for support in establishing a family. Rightly or wrongly, the first kind of men are usually termed "alpha" and the second "beta".

If a young women is "liberated" to do so (i.e. liberated to follow her impulses, no matter what they are), she will often choose to spend her younger years attempting to attract the alpha males who she responds to sexually. Rollo suggests that this "party years" phase is at its peak from roughly ages 20 to 26 (I have heard women of my own age refer to it as their "wild years").

Who are these alpha men? It varies a bit, but it will include men who are edgy in their looks and behaviour, who are self-confident in dealing with women, who have a reputation as "players", who are muscular, who have a visible level of drive and ambition, who have some kind of social status (e.g. play in a band) and who don't play by the rules.

Women don't necessarily expect that relationships with these "exciting" men will be more than sexual. In this phase, women are using the sexual power they find themselves with to compete to be chosen by such men. As long as the women still think of themselves as young and attractive enough to vie for the attention of such alpha males they may well prefer a "sex in the city" lifestyle in which they aren't tied down to any one man. They like the experience of exercising their sexual power; some don't want it to end.

And does our society support women acting on these impulses? Rollo would say that we live in a "feminine primary social order", i.e. one that enables women's sexual strategies rather than men's. And he appears to be right. What is it, after all, that feminists call for at this stage of life? Younger feminists call for free abortion on demand, free and affordable contraception and for an acceptance of female promiscuity (e.g. the "slutwalk" movement). These are clearly aimed at enabling the party years phase of a woman's life.

Feminists are not really advocating for equality here. What they are doing is supporting women to act freely on their impulses, whatever they are. They are being "liberationists" in the sense that they are liberating women from prudential reason, from the self-limitation of desire. They are supported by the liberal state in doing so, in part, because they are able to argue for this as an expression of a woman's individual autonomy ("my body, my choice"). It is likely, as well, that the liberal state is supportive of women's traditional commitments being dissolved via sexual revolution, as this brings women more completely under the rule of a liberal, technocratic ordering of society.

Traditional societies never permitted the party girl phase to be so unrestrained. They were correct in this as:

1. It delays family formation, so that women's most fertile years are wasted, contributing to below replacement fertility levels.

2. Women spend their formative years engaging promiscuously in sex, damaging their ability later on to successfully pair bond, hence a higher rate of divorce.

3. Family oriented men are likely to be rejected for an extended period of time, leading to resentments or demoralisation, with less incentive to commit to careers.

The party girl phase ends when women start pushing up to their later 20s and can no longer compete as easily with younger women. They go through what Tomassi calls an "epiphany" phase, in which they are ready to stop competing sexually and instead focus on forming a family. In this phase, they might start considering men they had previously rejected, men who are conscientious, loyal, hard working and family oriented - so-called beta males.

It's common for women in this situation to start to ask where "all the good men are". They might surprise themselves by giving a chance to a man "they wouldn't normally go for." They might find themselves telling such a man that he is "not like all those other men" and that "all she ever wanted was to get married and have children". Her previous experience with men will be downplayed as she adopts a different persona.

The men in this age bracket (say 30s) will in the meantime be told they have to start "manning up" and take on traditional family responsibilities. If they are men who have been previously overlooked, they might be surprised at their newfound popularity. They might even have the experience of fielding interest from several women, something very different from when they were younger. They are suddenly and unexpectedly in demand.

Things might go well for a period of time. A woman might genuinely in this phase of her life be looking forward to marriage and motherhood and so hold her beta male fiancee in high regard.

For some years the marriage might go reasonably well. Husband and wife will buy a house together and raise their young children. If there is a difficulty it might be in the wife's lack of genuine sexual interest in her husband. She might not say this openly, not when she is looking to secure things with him, but it will emerge in an unwillingness or an inability to either have sex or to connect with her husband in sex. This is part of that difficulty of women having a "dual nature" in finding some men sexually attractive, but others attractive for family formation.

The next phase Rollo calls alpha reinterest. He sees it as happening typically in a woman's late 30s, though in my observation it reaches a critical point when a woman's youngest child is semi-independent (e.g. old enough for school). For some women, this phase is very powerful. She might, despite being middle-aged with children, want to return to her clubbing days. She might become a devotee of the 50 Shades kind of literature. Importantly, she might not just want her husband to act a little differently, she might want him to be a completely different kind of man. What she wanted in a man a decade previously is not what she wants now. It is possible too that she doesn't want someone else to marry, she just doesn't want to be married - she wants to go back to the intoxicating party years phase.

Some of these women will start to prepare to divorce. They won't tell their husbands of any discontent, because they don't want to save their marriages. They want their husband to be someone else and they want to be single again (some women will choose to stay married, though, perhaps because they fear the loss of comfort or security, or they are worried about how family and friends will react, or they might be concerned about their children).

Once again, the "feminine primary social order" steps in and enables these women to divorce with as little fallout as possible. It will usually be women who retain the family home, who have most of the custody of the children, and who receive income transfers from their former spouse. Many divorced men find themselves shunted out of their families, but still expected to fulfil the provider role for their ex-wives. They are financially propping up the new lifestyle of their ex-wife, as she seeks out an "alpha" relationship dynamic, the one she is familiar with from her formative years.

Efforts to reform family law have often been vociferously opposed by feminists. There are feminists who strongly support equal parenting during the marital life phase, but who are strongly opposed to it in the divorce phase.

Is it good for society to allow a woman's alpha reinterest to lead to divorce? I would have thought the answer to be clearly no. The childhood of the children involved will be disrupted; some of them will lose contact with their fathers. Some will be exposed to temporary boyfriends of their mother who will be a risk to their well-being. Some ex-husbands don't recover from the sudden impact of so many stressors: loss of spouse, children, home, assets and income. The women themselves will often need to be supported financially by the state as single mothers. Nor do these women always think clearly about their real prospects in the dating world after divorce.

My intention in writing this is not to discourage anyone from marrying - a good marriage is still a blessing in life. It's more to help spread the message that liberation from rational self-restraint is not compatible with a stable culture of marriage, in part, because it liberates women to pursue certain predictable impulses, as Rollo has described them.

The best response would be to return to the social standards, the cultural norms, the economic policies, and the family laws which once reinforced "prudential reason" as against "immediate impulse/instinct". Until this happens it seems to me that men who want to marry might be advised to do the following:

1. Try to combine at least some "alpha" traits, at least those compatible with family life, along with the family guy "beta" ones. There's no reason, for instance, why a family man can't demonstrate masculine energy in being driven to reach life goals and to have ambitions (not necessarily career ones). Similarly, there is no reason why a family guy can't aim for muscularity and physical health.

2. Avoid choosing a woman who has neurotic personality traits. Women who rank high in neuroticism are "prone to having irrational ideas, being less able to control their impulses, and as coping more poorly than others with stress". These women will be least able to successfully regulate their baser impulses during the course of life. The problem for men is that it's not always easy to identify these women; in happy times, they may exhibit a lot of attractive traits. Some of the "gives" are that they will be more irritable than most people, as they do not handle even low levels of stress well and often overreact to low level setbacks; and they might have a poor history of maintaining all sorts of relationships (work, friendships, romantic) because they are prone to irrational thinking. Long engagements are wise with these kind of women: even if they are able to mask neurotic thoughts from their partner, over time these thoughts will sabotage the relationship. Two, or perhaps even three, year engagements are advisable.

3. Women who exhibit self-control and conscientiousness are more likely to succeed in relationships. In other words, what matters more than a woman's feelings in the moment toward you, are her settled personality traits. People with conscientious personality traits are more likely to "take obligations to others seriously".

4. Women who come from warm, intact, loving families and who have good relationships with their fathers do seem, in my observation, to be more likely to want a committed relationship with a man at an earlier age. These women often pair bond more readily, and at an earlier age, so a man might need to be ready at an early age to succeed with one of these women.

5. Men should not be too taken in by the sudden interest they might receive when women reach the epiphany phase. Much sober-minded screening needs to take place.

6. It's not wise for a man to invest everything in family. As important as it is, for himself and for society, a man's sacrifices are no guarantee of a lasting marital bond. Have other areas of life that also give a sense of purpose, achievement and identity.

7. It's not healthy for men to devote everything to winning female desire. If men were only to compete to prove their desirability to women, then masculine character would not fully develop. Women are not sexually attracted by character and virtue in men. The heroes in female romantic fiction are generally darkly natured cads, who have inherited high status and who act on impulse to take what they want. Masculine character develops when men work together in public life for the public good (polis life). That's when men have the opportunity to measure each other through criteria of loyalty, honour, probity, courage or service.

One final point: men have to exercise their higher rational and moral natures without overly suppressing their primal, biological, instinctual natures. Men might find that their love of a wife is based in their higher nature, but for her to sexually desire him requires that he has retained something of his primal masculine nature.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Terf wars

Jonathan Liew is the chief sports writer for the left-wing Independent newspaper. In a recent column on the topic of transsexual athletes, he wrote that he would support biological males who identified as women competing in female sports even if they ended up winning everything:
Let’s say transgender athletes pour into women’s sport, and let’s say, despite the flimsy and poorly-understood relationship between testosterone and elite performance, they dominate everything they touch. They sweep up Grand Slam tennis titles and cycling world championships. They monopolise the Olympics. They fill our football and cricket and netball teams. Why would that be bad? Really? Imagine the power of a trans child or teenager seeing a trans athlete on the top step of the Olympic podium. In a way, it would be inspiring.

Why is he so excited at this thought? A clue to his outlook is when he writes of "the inviolable rights of trans women to live however they choose and call themselves whatever they want". That's in line with the state ideology we all live under, namely the liberal idea that individual autonomy - a freedom to be self-determined in every respect, so that the "good" is simply what we desire or will as individuals - should be the overriding principle.

Our sex is something that is predetermined rather than self-determined. Therefore, liberals will see it as a potential limitation on our freedom as autonomous individuals. They will also see "trans women" as asserting a freedom and a right, as Liew puts it, of living "however they choose".

If this means that women get defeated in sporting events, then that's a price that Liew is willing to pay.

You have to remember that to have someone who is biologically male choosing to override this predetermined fact of existence in order to choose to live as a female is a very strong manifestation of liberal morality. We shouldn't be surprised if this is thought to trump other considerations, such as women in sport.

There are some feminists who don't like the idea of biological men who identify as women taking over female spaces (sometimes called "Terfs"). But they are in a poor position to defend their position, given that feminists have also pushed the liberal line for many decades, arguing that individual autonomy is what matters most, and that therefore the sex we are born into should be made not to matter, and that any attempt to link our biological sex to masculine or feminine attributes is to be condemned as "gender essentialism".

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming years. There will have to be women who will resent biological males dominating female spaces. But on what grounds will they object?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On reason

There was a longstanding idea in Western thought that tyranny existed when a man was no longer governed by reason but by his baser animal appetites/passions or by his vices. The solution was to cultivate habits of virtue.

Understood the right way, this idea is likely to have positive effects. But I wonder if, understood the wrong way, it might have contributed to the constellation of ideas that led to modern day liberalism.

Here's how it could go wrong. Let's say I believe that the important thing is that it is my individual reason that holds sway and that this defines my personal liberty. You might then come to believe the following:

1. If I am to be free, then I must be governed by my reason.

2. If I am to be governed by my individual reason then my reason has ultimate authority.

3. Therefore I should resist the external authority of a power hierarchy (bishops, kings etc). To obey or to serve is suspect, perhaps servile. It should be possible to have a society without a power hierarchy or, at least, to "level" a society.

4. If individual reason has authority, then I should not be swayed by custom, feeling, affection, loyalty or mere "prejudice".

5. Tradition is especially bad as it might be merely "imitation" which would mean being governed by "other mind" rather than by my own reason.

6. Nor should I be governed or defined by "non-mind" aspects of self, such as sex or race, which I will come to think of as mere "accidental" attributes of self.

Remember that by the time of the French Revolution there was a deification of reason. This is why a critic of the revolution like Edmund Burke attacked the kind of logic I set out above. Burke argued that the stock of reason in each individual man was too small to be a reliable or practical guide to everyday behaviour and that there was often a collective wisdom to be found in inherited tradition or in "prejudice" (i.e. received social norms or standards).

It's not surprising that the "I am free when governed by individual reason" principle would appeal to secular intellectuals. These intellectuals were no longer employed in the service of an established theological tradition; they were not disciplined to a larger, accumulated body of thought. Nor is it surprising that a bureaucratic class, raised within the new scientific approach, would be supportive of such a principle, as it freely allows society to be governed along technocratic lines.

There's a second problem as well with the idea that we secure our own liberty, and that of our society, when we cultivate the virtues, so that we are governed by reason rather than gratifying impulsively our animal passions or our vices.

The problem is that it suggests that passion, feeling, instinct, emotion and the physical aspects of life are in a lower category than the mental or intellectual aspects. If understood this way, it can fail to integrate the human person and lead to a backlash in which the more primal, directly felt and forceful aspects of life are reasserted (e.g. aspects of the Romantic movement, or more recently writers like D. H. Lawrence). It might even lead to the original idea being turned upside down, with the claim that we are liberated when we throw off the "repression" placed on our sexual or animal natures.

In short, it's important that the original principle is understood clearly, in a way that doesn't drift toward a proto-liberal mindset based on individualism, rationalism or levelling.

To achieve clarity the following might help:

1. The guiding or directing or ordering faculty, commonly called "reason", is not just a logical, intellectual, analytical feature of the mind. Rather, it is the discerning faculty, able to experience, evaluate, order and rank the variety of human experiences and to judge prudentially.

2. Whilst it is true that the animal or biological impulses and appetites will often need to be overruled by higher order moral or spiritual factors, it is also the case that they (the animal/physical/biological impulses) can be the foundations of, or inspire, much that reason will find worthy and sustaining. Sometimes, therefore, it is more the case of guiding or channeling our animal/biological natures to their proper ends rather than suppressing them.

3. Our individual reason is not sufficient an authority for either our own behaviour or for the governance of society. Our prudential reason itself should know this. It is proper for there to be leadership structures in society. In normal circumstances, it is a virtue to be loyal to the natural, organic communities we belong to and to serve them, whether they be our family, our community, our ethny or our nation.

4. Given that our individual reason will be insufficient, it is important that a society establishes a healthy cultural framework for individual behaviour, one that will include social norms and standards. These will not be permanently fixed or unable to be challenged, but ideally will reflect an accumulated understanding of how a society is able to order itself successfully and orient itself toward a common good.

5. It will be helpful also for a society to establish a framework of education in which young people are exposed to the best minds from previous generations, to help them in the process of acquiring wisdom and insight and to benefit from the life experience of those who have gone before them.

One final thought. Liberal rationalism and individualism often go together with a commitment to an abstract, universal love or to a progress toward "higher unities". This makes sense once reason begins to be deified along proto-liberal lines. If I am not a man, but a reasoning mind, then the particular attributes belonging to me become less important in defining my self, my attachments, my loves and my duties. Nor am I placed in time, or connected in lineage in as significant a way. My attachments are more likely to be understood to be universal ones that a reasoning mind might abstractly think its way toward; nor are any distinctions between reasoning minds likely to be thought to hold, and so there will only be the individual mind existing alone and as part of a universal entity, either of humanity or of all things.

This, at least, is one possible path of thought that might be travelled by those who take the reasoning mind itself to be the human person.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hell's Prentice or Heaven's Free-woman?

In 1620, transvestism became an issue in England. There were complaints about women who had taken to wearing masculine clothes. One of the pamphlets written at this time, Haec-Vir, is particularly interesting, because it considers arguments both for and against the practice. It gives us some insight into the proto-liberal thought of the time.

The pamphlet sets out a debate between two characters. Hic Mulier is the mannish woman and Haec-Vir is the womanish man (but I will just refer to them as the man and the woman).

The man begins by criticising the woman for behaving in a base, unnatural, shameful and foolish manner. I won't focus on this part of the debate, except to note how important acting nobly was to moral thought of this time.

The woman then has a right of reply:
First, you say I am Base, in being a Slave to Novelty. What slavery can there be in
freedom of election, or what baseness to crown my delights with those pleasures which are most suitable to mine affections? Bondage or Slavery is a restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire, to perform the intents and purposes of another’s disposition, and that not by mansuetude [gentleness] or sweetness of entreaty, but by the force of authority and strength of compulsion. Now for me to follow change according to the limitation of mine own will and pleasure, there cannot be a greater freedom.

She is arguing that liberty exists when there is no "restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire". Freedom, in other words, is being able to choose to do whatever I autonomously have a mind or a will to do. Freedom is the pursuit of desires, as long as they are my desires ("which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire"). It is not that far removed from the modern liberal understanding of freedom.

She goes on to deny that she is behaving unnaturally. She argues that she was born free and she suggests that men and women are constituted in a similar way ("we are compounded of like parts"), and should operate in much the same way, namely along male lines. Sex distinctions, she argues, are often based on mere custom and that,
Custom is an Idiot, and whosoever dependeth wholly upon him without the discourse of Reason will take from him his pied coat and become a slave indeed

The woman has put her case forcibly and at length, but the man is having none of it. He does not submit to proto-liberal ideas about freedom but replies:
You have wrested out some wit, to wrangle forth no reason; since everything you would make for excuse, approves your guilt still more ugly: what basest bondage, or what more servile baseness, than for the flattering and soothing of an un-bridled appetite, or delight, to take a wilfull liberty to do evil, and to give evil example? This is to be Hells Prentice, not Heaven’s Free-woman.

He is pointing out that to seek no restraint in doing what "the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire" or to be limited only by "mine own will and pleasure" is to justify "unbridled appetite" and a "wilfull liberty to do evil". This, he says tellingly, will not lead her to be "Heaven's Free-woman", i.e. it is not a virtuous understanding of freedom.

His argument draws on an older pre-liberal understanding of freedom in which we are at liberty when we are not slaves to our animal passions or to our sins, but are directed instead by our reason. (This understanding of freedom has potential problems of its own which I'll discuss in a future post; it's enough for now to acknowledge that the older understanding was set against "unbridled appetite", i.e. it was set against the idea that "my desires are justified as long as they are authentically my desires".)

The man wins the argument in the end by appealing to the teaching of the church. There is a passage in Deuteronomy which clearly forbids transvestism and so the woman agrees to give it up, albeit on one condition - that the man himself gives up dressing in an effeminate, foppish way.

The woman then claims that she only did what she did as a strategy to force men to give up their effeminacy:
Now since according to your own Inference, even by the Laws of Nature, by the rules of Religion, and the Customs of all civil Nations, it is necessary there be a distinct and special difference between Man and Woman, both in their habit and behaviors, what could we poor weak women do less ... than to gather up those garments you have proudly cast away and therewith to clothe both our bodies and our minds?

She quotes a section of the poem Orlando Furioso, in which the knight Ruggiero has been beguiled by the sorceress Alcina and made effeminate:
His Locks bedewed with waters of sweet savour;
Stood curled round in order on his head;
He had such wanton womanish behaviour,
As though in Valor he had ne’re been bred:
So chang’d in speech, in manners and in favour,
So from himselfe beyond all reason led,
By these inchantments of this amorous Dame;
He was himselfe in nothing but in name.

Again, this is very different to the proto-liberal view expressed earlier in the pamphlet. The proto-liberal view is that it is our inborn nature to be free, which means being subject only to our own reason, which means choosing whatever we authentically desire. The poem, however, suggests that we have fit ends or purposes, that reason holds us to, and that therefore in the loss of reason, we fail to hold to these purposes, and are no longer ourselves.

The woman ends her part by promising that all will be set right if men return to their masculine role:
Cast then from you our ornaments and put on your own armor; be men in shape, men in show, men in words, men in actions, men in counsel, men in example. Then will we love and serve you; then will we hear and obey you; then will we like rich Jewels hang at your ears to take our Instructions, like true friends follow you through all dangers, and like careful leeches [physicians] pour oil into your wounds. Then shall you find delight in our words, pleasure in our faces, faith in our hearts, chastity in our thoughts, and sweetness both in our inward and outward inclinations. Comeliness shall be then our study, fear our Armor, and modesty our practice.

The man decides to return to more masculine wear:
Away then from me these light vanities, the only Ensigns of a weak and soft nature, and come you grave and solid pieces which arm a man with Fortitude and Resolution...From henceforth deformity shall pack to Hell, and if at any time he hide himself upon the earth, yet it shall be with contempt and disgrace...Henceforth we will live nobly like ourselves, ever sober, ever discreet, ever worthy: true men and true women. We will be henceforth like well-coupled Doves, full of industry, full of love. I mean not of sensual and carnal love, but heavenly and divine love, which proceeds from God...