Sunday, July 21, 2019

New Podcast

My colleague at the Melbourne Traditionalists, Mark Moncrieff, has set up a podcast (here). He will be speaking regularly with David Hiscox of the XYZ media site (and possibly others). I congratulate him on his initiative and encourage you to have a listen.

On the topic of the Melbourne Traditionalists, we've had a good run of meetings this year and have consolidated our recent growth (we've doubled attendance since early last year). If readers living in the Melbourne area are interested in attending please get in touch (see here for details).

Monday, July 15, 2019

Nisbet's powerful chapter

A young Robert Nisbet
I've finished the first chapter of Robert Nisbet's The Quest for Community, published in 1953.

It was extraordinary to read. I had imagined that this would be a dry work of sociology, but it is powerfully written and almost impossible to extract "the good bits" because it is all so memorably expressed.

Nisbet's argument

In my last post I described the first part of Nisbet's argument, namely that in the nineteenth century there was an optimistic account of the growing "individuation" of society. It was assumed that the individual was self-sufficient and had all that was needed to fulfil his potential innate to himself. He simply needed to be liberated from tradition, including traditional social relationships and forms of community. Particular relationships were sentimental and outmoded, henceforth society would be organised on more impersonal and "rational" lines (e.g. via the market or general legislation). History, too, had a power of impersonal social organisation that guaranteed social order and progress.

Nisbet then describes a reaction to this nineteenth century view. Intellectuals became increasingly pessimistic about social changes, using terms such as disorganisation, disintegration, decline, insecurity, breakdown and instability. Some excerpts:
At the present time there is in numerous areas of thought a profound reaction to the rationalist point of view...There is a decided weakening of faith in the inherent stability of the individual and in the psychological and moral benefits of social impersonality...A concern with cultural disorganization underlies almost every major philosophy of history in our time...Toynbee's volumes...are directed to the feelings of men who live beneath the pall of insecurity that overhangs the present age.

...Is it not extraordinary how many of the major novelists and poets and playwrights of the present age have given imaginative expression to themes of dissolution and decay - of class, family, community and morality?

...Where the nineteenth century rationalist saw progressively higher forms of order and freedom emerging from the destruction of the old, the contemporary sociologist is not so sanguine. He is likely to see not creative emancipation but sterile insecurity, not the framework of the new but the shell of the old

The writing becomes even more trenchant in the third section of the chapter:
A further manifestation of the collapse of the rationalist view of man...is the conception of man's moral estrangement and spiritual isolation that pervades our age. Despite the influence and power of the contemporary State there is a true sense in which the present age is more individualistic than any other in European history. To examine the whole literature of lament of our time...and to observe the frantic efforts of millions of individuals to find some kind of security of mind is to open our eyes to the perplexities and frustrations that have emerged from the widening gulf between the individual and those social relationships within which goals and purposes take on meaning.

Nisbet makes a similar point here to that of Patrick Deneen in his recent book Why Liberalism Failed, namely that individualism and statism in practice grow together. The more individualistic a society, the greater the role of the state. Nisbet also observes that individualism is counterproductive as it harms the individual by undermining the "social relationships within which goals and purposes take on meaning".

Nisbet continues:
Frustration, anxiety, insecurity, as descriptive words, have achieved a degree of importance in present-day thought and writing that is astonishing..."The natural state of twentieth-century man," the protagonist of a recent novel declares, "is anxiety."

...Where in an earlier literature the release of the hero from society's folkways and moral injunctions and corporate protections was the basis of joyous, confident, assertive individualism, the same release in contemporary literature is more commonly the occasion for morbidity and obsession. Not the free individual but the lost individual; not independence but isolation; not self-discovery but self-obsession; not to conquer but to be conquered: these are the major states of mind in contemporary imaginative literature.

Nisbet then discusses how religious thought had turned against the idea of the "self-sufficiency of man before God":
...this faith in the spiritual integrity of the lone individual is perceptibly declining in much Protestant thought of the present time..."It is this autonomous individual who really ushers in modern civilization and who is completely annihilated in the final stages of that civilization," declares Reinhold Niebuhr...Buber, Maritain, Brunner, Niebuhr, and Demant are but the major names in the group that has come to recognise the atomizing effects of the long tradition of Western individualism upon man's relation to both society and God.

Nisbet gives further evidence from the fields of sociology and psychology and ends the chapter with a quote from the historian Toynbee, who described the "proletarian" as having a consciousness "of being disinherited from his ancestral place in society and being unwanted in a community which is his rightful home."

What can we conclude from Nisbet's work? First, we have to acknowledge that the problems that we see around us today have roots that go back a long way. It is particularly interesting that Nisbet describes his own time as an age of anxiety, given the anxiety epidemic among young people today. It seems as if we have gone through a cycle and ended up back in 1953, but in an even more difficult situation.

And this raises an important question. If Nisbet was right, and the intellectual climate of his own time was highly sensitive to the level of anxiety, insecurity, guilt and alienation existing within the culture, then why have we cycled back to it once more? Why didn't this intellectual climate lead to a lasting change of course?

I can suggest several possible reasons but I'll leave this discussion to the next post.

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, July 08, 2019

Nisbet: the quest for community

Robert Nisbet
I'm reading The Quest for Community by the American sociologist Robert Nisbet. The book was published in 1953 which serves as a reminder that the problems besetting the West go back further than some are willing to acknowledge.

The first chapter is titled "The Loss of Community". It begins,
Surely the outstanding characteristic of contemporary thought on man and society is the preoccupation with personal alienation and cultural disintegration. The fears of the nineteenth-century conservatives in Western Europe, expressed against a background of increasing individualism, secularism and social dislocation, have become, to an extraordinary degree, the insights and hypotheses of present-day students of man in society.

This is put very clearly. Nisbet believed that the thought of his age was focused on the problems of personal alienation and cultural disintegration.

What had brought society to such a point? Nisbet continues by noting that in the nineteenth century, the age of individualism and rationalism, words such as individual, change, progress, reason and freedom carried great symbolic value:
All of these words reflected a temper of mind that found the essence of society to lie in the solid fact of the discrete individual - autonomous, self-sufficing, and stable - and the essence of history to lie in the progressive emancipation of the individual from the tyrannous and irrational statuses handed down from the past.

He is pointing here, in part, to the "anthropology" of liberal modernity, i.e. its framework for understanding man and society. Liberal moderns based their framework on the "discrete individual", i.e. man considered alone, separate and unrelated. It was then fitting, as a perfecting of society, that history would gradually liberate this self-sufficient and autonomous individual from a pre-modern past that emphasised instead a vision of man fulfilling his nature within a network of communal relationships.

Nisbet adds:
Competition, individuation, dislocation of status and custom, impersonality, and moral anonymity were hailed by the rationalist because these were the forces that would be most instrumental in liberating the individual from the dead hand of the past and because through them the naturally stable and rational individual would be given an environment in which he could develop illimitably his inherent potentialities. Man was the primary and solid fact; relationships were purely derivative. All that was necessary was a scene cleared of the debris of the past.

Again, it was assumed that man was to be understood as a discrete individual, not as someone whose nature was expressed and fulfilled in relationship to others. And so these traditional relationships were thought of negatively as limitations holding back the potential of individuals, rather than as the social framework allowing the individual to reach toward his better and fuller nature. (Nisbet seems to have thinkers like J.S. Mill in mind when describing nineteenth century thought.)

Those who pointed to the costs of "individuation" were met with the response that progress required periods of disorder (an argument still heard today):
If there were some, like Taine, Ruskin, and William Morris, who called attention to the cultural and moral costs involved - the uprooting of family ties, the disintegration of villages, the displacement of craftsmen, and the atomization of ancient securities - the apostles of rationalism could reply that these were the inevitable costs of Progress. After all, it was argued - argued by liberals and radicals alike - in all great ages of achievement there is a degree of disorder, a snapping of the ties of tradition and security.

Nisbet's next point is interesting. He argues that the nineteenth century had faith "in the harmonies of nature", in the sense that the "natural man" - freed from "artificial" constraints of traditional social relationships and conventional morality - would then release his true natural potential and forge more authentic relationships. Therefore, the individual was right to follow his natural interest, guided by reason:
This was the age of optimism, of faith in the abstract individual and in the harmonies of nature. In Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, what we are given...is the matchless picture of a child of nature revolting against the tyrannies of village, family, and conventional morality...In the felicities and equalities of nature Huck finds joyous release from the cloistering prejudices and conventions of old morality. Truth, justice and happiness lie in man alone.

In many areas of thought and imagination we find like perspectives. The eradication of old restraints, together with the prospect of new and more natural relationships in society, relationships arising directly from the innate resources of individuals, prompted a glowing vision of society in which there would be forever abolished the parochialisms and animosities of a world founded upon kinship, village, and church. Reason, founded upon natural interest, would replace the wisdom Burke and his fellow conservatives had claimed to find in historical processes of use and wont, of habit and prejudice.

Let's stop there for a moment. If Nisbet is correct, there already existed in the 1800s a framework of thought in which it was tremendously difficult to defend traditional society. What was inherited was thought to artificially restrict a self-sufficient, "natural" autonomous individual. Restraints on behaviour did not exist to secure a common good, but were irrational limitations on a pursuit of individual "natural interest". (I criticised this type of thinking in an earlier post Every Eve knows and follows the best path?)

And how was "reason" understood? Things get worse here: our particular loyalties and attachments were thought to be based not on reason but sentiment. Reason was connected instead to general principles which would govern abstract social groups, with these groups ever expanding in composition. Nisbet quotes the observations of the nineteenth century Russian sociologist Ostrogorski that,
Henceforth, man's social relations "were bound to be guided not so much by sentiment, which expressed the perception of the particular, as by general principles, less intense in their nature perhaps, but sufficiently comprehensive to take in the shifting multitudes of which the abstract social groups were henceforth composed, groups continually subject to expansion by reason of their continual motion."

An Australian Prime Minister of the early 1900s, Alfred Deakin, was torn by this idea that the particular was to be rejected in favour of a constant expansion toward the universal (see Deakin's strange contradiction). On the one hand, he thought that the loss of the particular would lead to a flattening of identity; on the other hand, he associated the "expansion" to the universal with a vision of progress.

Nisbet explains the nineteenth century mindset further:
Between philosophers as far removed as Spencer and Marx there was a common faith in the organizational powers of history and in the self-sufficiency of the individual...Both freedom and order were envisaged generally in terms of the psychology and politics of individual release from the old.

We see this in the social sciences of the age. What was scientific psychology but the study of forces and states of mind within the natural individual, assumed always to be autonomous and stable? Political science and economics were, in their dominant forms, concerned with legal and economic atoms - abstract human beings - and with impersonal relationships supplied by the market or by limited general legislation.

Above everything towered the rationalist's monumental conviction of the organizational character of history - needing occasionally to be facilitated, perhaps, but never directed - and of the self-sufficing stability of the discrete individual.

It's important to grasp the importance of this view of history. If historical movement has a direction of its own, one with an organisational power that is a guarantor of social stability and progress, then it logically becomes wrong to uphold a traditional way of life - as this would then disrupt the proper organisational power of history.

So if Nisbet is right about all this, there were a number of features of nineteenth century thought which were dissolving of traditional society:

1. An anthropology based on the discrete individual, rather than man embedded in society.

2. A view that the individual was self-sufficient and that his potential was therefore restricted by traditional social relations and moral conventions.

3. The idea that relations flowing from the innate resources of the discrete individual were "natural" in opposition to the "artificial" relationships associated with traditional family and community life.

4. The notion that individuals should act according to "natural interest" rather than a common good.

5. The belief that particular loyalties and attachments were based on mere sentiment and that this was inferior to the "rational" formulation of general principles to regulate ever expanding abstract social groups.

6. The faith in the organisational power of history as a guarantor of progress.

If such ideas hold for too long they will inevitably have an effect - so we should not be surprised at the hollowing out of culture that afflicted most Western nations by the mid-twentieth century.

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.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Mary's moral dilemma

Mary has a moral dilemma. She wants to be a good liberal but she is concerned about the real world effects of liberal morality:



The first part of the moral dilemma is easy to explain. Liberalism says that the highest moral good is a freedom to act on our will unimpeded (as long as we don't impede others). Therefore, women should be "free to express themselves sexually" and in order to extend this freedom (to remove negative consequences) there should be easy access to abortion, contraceptives and an absence of judgement from others, hence no slut shaming.

The liberal approach to nature deepens this account of morality. Traditionally, humans were thought to stand within nature and therefore we attempted to discern our higher nature and to work within a natural order of being. But liberal modernity has tended to see nature instead as something that we stand outside of and have mastery over, so that we may then use nature to fulfil whatever our wants may be.

Therefore, it is often pointless to say to a liberal things like "open relationships will lead to jealousy" or "men will tend to have a stronger commitment to raising their own biological children". The instinctive liberal response will be that nature shouldn't get in the way of whatever people desire and that it is simply wrong to let jealousy or paternal instincts place limits on schemes to maximise individual choice. Some liberals will assume that objections do not really express aspects of nature, but are simply one group of people attempting to put their own wants ahead of others, i.e. that it is an attempt to assert power over others.

Mary wants to accept the liberal approach to morality. But she has noticed a problem. Women have been told that they should express themselves sexually without restraint. The real world effects of this message are considerable. It has led many women to treat their teens and twenties as party girl years in which they compete for relationships with a relatively small number of sexually attractive men. These men then have a wealth of options and can play the field. In the meantime, the family man culture takes a hit - many of the men left behind begin to take a more dismal view of relationships.

So how is Mary's moral dilemma resolved? I know a lot of men would like to resolve it by suggesting that women be free to express themselves sexually - with their husbands. But this too is inadequate. Our sexuality isn't meant to be freely expressed. It has its own proper ends, even within marriage. It can be a significant force for good, more deeply uniting a husband and wife in love, or it can make our relationships and our own being more base - it can disorder relationships and aspects of self.

Here's another complication in resolving the dilemma. Culture has a major effect in shaping how people behave. It is therefore difficult to resolve the issue at an individual level. For instance, the higher forms of relationships are not easily achieved. They require that both the husband and wife were raised as children within a stable, loving family setting so that they both grow up capable of secure attachments. They require that both the husband and wife grow up in a high trust culture, so that each is willing to make themselves vulnerable to the other (otherwise they will aim, in self-protection, at independence). They require that both are raised in a culture that encourages a sense of loyalty and mutuality between the sexes, rather than one that promotes the idea of men and women as competing sex classes. They require that both are raised in a culture that places love and spiritual goods above hedonistic or materialistic ones. They require that both are raised in a culture that promotes moral prudence - a capacity to discern higher moral goods and to act virtuously to attain them.

What this means is that leaving the issue to people to determine as individuals will rule out, for most people, the opportunity to experience the higher expressions of sexuality. It requires a community to deliberately create and uphold a culture for these higher expressions of sexuality to become widely available.

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, June 30, 2019

Ginsburg on feminism

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, once defined feminism as follows:
"Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent."

This definition conjures up a feeling that feminism is an expansive movement, one that is opening up new vistas of human experience to people, more opportunities, new fields of endeavour.

Maybe this is what some feminists intended or hoped for. I would argue, though, that in practice things have moved the opposite way - that there has been a narrowing of life for most people, a "thinning" of human experience, especially of those aspects of life that once provided a sense of meaning, identity and emotional support to individuals.

Why have things moved the wrong way? It is important to understand that the principle set out by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a matter of logic, disallows as much as it permits. And what it disallows is, arguably, much more significant that what it grants.

What Ginsburg is arguing for is the autonomy principle, namely that what matters is a freedom to self-determine. Whatever is a barrier to us self-determining is thought of as a limitation, a cage, from which we have to be liberated.

We do not get to determine our sex. Therefore, according to the autonomy principle our sex should not influence what we might do or be in life. Ginsburg herself wrote:
The gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage

And the Marlo Thomas song that she believes defines feminism has the stanzas:
They're closing down 'Girl Land'
Some say it's a shame
It used to be busy
Then nobody came

... And soon in the park
That was 'Girl Land' before
You'll do as you like
And be who you are.

There is an unfortunate logic at play here in which a girl can only "do as you like / And be who you are" by denying her own girlhood, something that you would think would be at the core of who she is and how she identifies.

It is the same when it comes to family life. To be autonomous means being independent. But a stable, successful marriage requires that men and women cultivate those aspects of their given nature, and those social roles, that make them truly interdependent.

Similarly, successful relationships require that individuals discipline themselves to a higher concept of behaviour, one that promotes high trust and one that places relationships within a larger concept of the good (of service to family, community, nation, God). But autonomy emphasises that we be free to act as we please, to act, as the song puts it, "as you like" without limitations. And so there is a shift to a low trust society with an unstable culture of family life.

There is also an assumption made by those who push autonomy that what matters most as a measure of life is our career. Career success is thought to override other aspects of life that were once thought significant, such as family. We are supposed to live primarily for one thing alone, for our job and for the values associated with it - for work values.

This is more than acceptable to those who have the most power in society. First, because it represents their own value set, but also because it focuses human life on patterns of work and consumption that benefits the plutocracy at the top of society.

If you think back just a few generations, an individual might have felt deeply connected in terms of purpose, social role, belonging, pride, self-worth, commitment, love and identity to the communities they were a part of (town, city, state, nation etc.); to family life and the goods associated with this; to their manhood or womanhood and the identity/values/roles attached to this; to long established ideals of moral behaviour (including to honour); and to the experience of what was "transcendent" in life (not self-determined, but a given part of existence) that connected us to the good, the beautiful and the true (in nature, in art, in religion, in love).

Can we trade all of this for a working life within a corporation or institution and claim that our lives have been expanded? That we have a wider circle of life? Or even that we are freer to be ourselves?

In my own experience, the answer is no. It feels instead as if life is being directed, over time, into a singular and narrower channel. This channel begins with the idea that what matters most is that we are self-determined, moves on to the related idea that our lives are then measured by self-achievement within the market place, which then means that we ideally cultivate "executive focus" skills as a means to this success, which then means that our lives are increasingly regulated by the needs and demands of the corporations or institutions we work for.

I am not entirely against this aspect of life. The pressures of work can help us, for instance, to achieve a higher level of self-governance and therefore build character. My concern is that there is little to delimit it, to provide boundaries to prevent it entirely dominating the culture we inhabit.

Which brings me to a further problem with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's approach to expanding life. According to her, the aim is to remove limits or barriers, as this will then give greater opportunity. But limits or barriers are not always a bad thing. They can protect. They can provide a delineated space within which certain aspects of life can be safely cultivated. They can demarcate, i.e. mark out spaces within which the variety of life can be maintained.

If we really wanted to maximise "self-determination" the smart thing would be to establish, as a community, an understanding of a common good, i.e. of what matters most in our individual lives within a community and then to act to secure this common good. This would give us a much greater control over the course of our lives.

As things stand now, our lives are being radically shaped by forces that we feel are alien to us: by powerful interests in society, by distant government, by a media we have no control over, and by a political philosophy which promises freedom from limitation, but which fails to delimit or protect or uphold, and which therefore places no barriers to the ever expanding dominance of work and consumption as the major source of values in modern life.

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, June 24, 2019

Augustine on freedom

In my recent post on Senator Hawley, I found myself writing about Pelagius - a figure from the early church.

Pelagius is associated with the idea that we, as humans, are free to self-determine, in the sense that we have the power to choose freely between good and evil.

St Augustine was not so sure. He believed that what lay behind the choices we make was more complex and that a "freed will" required both knowledge and feeling to be integrated. This integration of the human will was made possible "by an inseparable connection between growing self-determination and dependence on a source of life that always escapes self-determination".

I'm not enough of a theologian to be fully aware of the implications of this concept of the role of grace. But it does seem to have led Augustine to a sophisticated concept of freedom in which our efforts to self-determine take place, inseparably, in relationship with something that we know is not ours to will. And so freedom is not to be understood in terms of choice:
Freedom, therefore, for Augustine, cannot be reduced to a sense of choice: it is a freedom to act fully. Such freedom must involve the transcendence of a sense of choice. For a sense of choice is a symptom of the disintegration of the will: the final union of knowledge and feeling would involve a man in the object of his choice in such a way that any other alternative would be inconceivable.

(Source: Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, p.376)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On middle class life

The middle class has proven resistant to traditionalism. I want to explain some of the reasons for this and suggest how we might identify and appeal to the more disaffected members of this class.

Middle class life today is based on two distinct value sets. The first set I would call elite status values. These are materialistic values such as money, power, social status and conspicuous consumption. The pursuit of career success is at the heart of this value set.

Elite status values aren't new. I remember reading about middle class life in the mid-1800s. It was supposedly the case that a young man wasn't thought to be in a position to marry until he had enough resources to afford to stable horses and have a carriage at his disposal. This meant that some men had to wait until their 30s before they had any prospects for marriage.

What is new is that status has become more narrowly materialistic. Middle-class men in the past were also judged on other criteria, such as their status within a family as husbands and fathers; their uprightness; their masculine character; their commitment to a church; their taste in the fine arts; their education and learning; their self-control and so on. It's an extraordinary thing today to read character portraits that were written in the early to mid-1800s as they are so detailed and perceptive regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the men being described.

The second middle class value set is that of liberal autonomy. The good here is not so much having money, power and status but a freedom to do what you have a mind to do - to freely pursue your aims whatever they might be. It is thought to be just for everyone to have an equal right to this value of individual autonomy.

In certain respects these two value sets are in harmony. If you achieve great success in obtaining money and social influence then you are likely to have more lifestyle choice. Also, by committing yourself to the second value set you can persuade yourself that your life is not narrowly about money but also about a cause (of justice, freedom, equality etc.).

However, there is also a sense in which the two value sets are incompatible. Someone who commits themselves to the corporate grind is not really living a life in which they can choose freely to do whatever they have a mind to do. Their life is closely regulated to meet the needs of the corporation or institution they work for. Also, not everyone has an "equal right" to actually achieve elite status - if they did, then the status would no longer be elite. Most people who commit to the values of elite status will never actually experience this status. They will do the hard work but not get the desired reward. So the egalitarian aspect of the liberal autonomy value set is not compatible with the elitist aspect of the elite values set.

Middle class values are, therefore, not entirely coherent. Nonetheless, people willingly or unwillingly conform to them. If we look at middle class men, I think they fall into two camps. There are some middle class men who are by nature materialistic and ambitious. They are unsettled in life until they achieve career success. There is an equally large group of men, however, who are not like this. These men commit to career not because they think material success is important in itself, but because it is a means to other goods in life, especially the opportunity to attract a wife and to form a family (but also to fulfil aspects of manhood, such as successfully providing for a family, and to raise up the next generation to perpetuate familial and national traditions etc.)

For this second group of men, long hours in an office will seem like a considerable sacrifice in life, and they will be hoping for some reward or recognition for their efforts in bearing this burden. In the past, these men had a good chance of an enduring marriage (admittedly there was no guarantee of a happy marriage); of raising children within their own tradition; and of gaining a level of respect and acknowledgement within society as husbands and fathers.

As for middle class women, they too are committed to achieving elite status. The question for women is whether they aim to do this independently via careers, through marriage or both.

I work among women at the lower end of the middle class pecking order. These are women who are strongly committed to elite status values but who have no prospect of anything other than stressful working lives. A high percentage are either divorced or childless. They are under constant pressure to meet work demands or else face the threat of being called into the boss's office to justify their failings. It is in the nature of our industry that the work consumes a lot of time at home as well.

These women are often discontent and disgruntled, but they are still strongly supportive of the middle class values system. The problem is that they have been raised to believe that men, just in virtue of being men, have complete access to both middle class value sets. In other words, they believe that men already have all the elite status rewards and all the autonomous power to act as they want.

It's a strange belief, perhaps based, in part, on the "apex fallacy" of looking only at those men at the very top of society. What it means, though, is that they think that the way to solve their problems is to force men to share the goods that men are supposedly hoarding for themselves and won't give up.

These women often complain that men have easy lives, can do what they want, that marriage only benefits men, that men have all the power in relationships and so on. It is a mindset destructive of loving relationships, which then further cements the position of these women at the bottom of the elite values pecking order.

But you can see why traditionalism makes no headway among these women. The worse their lives get, the more they double down on the belief that men are to blame. They are held to the system as well by their belief that no matter how difficult their lives it is all for the cause of female liberation.

Unsurprisingly, traditionalism is strongest among middle class women who have commitments other than elite status or autonomy. These are usually religious women who view being a wife and mother as serious vocations.

If traditionalism is to make headway within the middle class, it's more likely to be among men (at first anyway). Not the naturally ambitious, materialistic men, but among those who sign onto careers as a means to achieve other, non-material goods in life.

These other goods are increasingly difficult to obtain - the expectation is growing that we are meant to find a materialistic justification for our lives to be sufficient (combined with some sort of superficial "wokeness" on social issues).

It is likely that numbers of these men will become disaffected. They won't find much joy in the prospect of becoming "bugmen" - corporate wage slaves whose only rewards are ethnic cuisine, new technology and shallow virtue signalling.

So one of our tasks is to find ways to appeal to the sensibilities and values of these men (ideally we would be in a position to concentrate numbers and provide real world, small scale communities, but we're not there yet).

One way to appeal to these men is to develop our own version of elite status. We don't have to reject career success as one aspect of this (industry and self-discipline are virtues after all) but it should go beyond this to include masculine leadership within the family and community.

We can encourage the link between elite status and "polis life" - the active contribution of men to the building and governance of community.

We can also appeal to the type of men I am speaking about by clearly affirming the non-material goods in life that traditionally motivated men. We can, for instance, promote the dignity of the roles of father and husband, connection to people and place, and the cultivation of masculine character.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Senator Hawley's Great Speech

Hawley with his wife and two sons being sworn in
Josh Hawley is currently the youngest American senator, aged only 39. He was invited to give the commencement address for King's College in New York City.

Early in his address, Senator Hawley spoke of a failure in America's public philosophy which he urged the graduates to rectify:
"Your work is only just beginning. For the wider world now beckons you and it is a world in need. And so this morning I remind you of the words of the Apostle Paul, "Fan into a flame the gift that God has given you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, and of love and of discipline" - and you will need all three to meet the challenges of our present age.

For we stand at one of the great turning points of our national history. When the failure of our public philosophy and the crisis of our public life can no longer be ignored, and what we do about these needs will define the era that is to come.

For decades now our politics and our culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition. Of escape from God and community. A philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice. It is a philosophy that has defined our age."

This is the philosophy of individual autonomy that is most commonly associated with political liberalism. But Senator Hawley does not name liberalism as the problem. Instead, he believes that we are living in an age of Pelagius, a British theologian who was condemned as a heretic in 418 AD.

Which raises the question of why Senator Hawley connects political liberalism with the theology of a heretical British monk. At first glance, the connection seems tenuous. Pelagius would not have endorsed a modern liberal morality. He belonged to the ascetic wing of the early church. He believed that through our free will we could achieve moral perfection and therefore salvation. His theology was morally demanding. He would have been aghast at the liberal idea that the highest good is a freedom to choose in any direction.

Nonetheless, Pelagius is looked on warmly by some liberals. Why? It seems that when it comes to the critical debate in the early church between Pelagius and Augustine some liberals instinctively prefer the Pelagian view.

The Pelagian view of salvation gives a greater role to individual self-determination. The stress is more on what we achieve through our own will, rather than through unmerited grace or through the sacraments of the church. It is claimed that Pelagius regarded Augustine's theology as giving man too supine a role in relation to God (which made me think of the liberal humanist intellectuals of the late 1800s and early 1900s who wanted man to be co-active with God in steering humanity to its ultimate destination).

The Pelagian view also gives greater emphasis to human perfectibility. The Augustine view was that man inherited sin via the fall and therefore all men, even the saints, were blemished and in need of grace. The Pelagians are said to have rejected this doctrine of original sin. This view would certainly have appealed to some of the early utopian liberals, such as the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He and his circle bristled at the idea that man's nature was tainted. They believed that we could live in this world as in the Garden of Eden, in an idyllic and perfect state of freedom and equality, doing whatever we had a mind to do, and that this was only prevented by the existence of power structures in society.

Charlotte Allen, writing in First Things, explains the appeal of Pelagius to liberal progressives as follows:
Augustine is at odds with our prevailing climate of opinion, which regards obedience to the will of God as servility, the idea of eternal damnation as unspeakably cruel, and mankind as essentially a race of good people held back only by reactionary political attitudes and unjust social structures. Such views have turned Pelagius into a modern hero, a progressive before his time. As Michael Axworthy wrote in the New Statesman last December, those living in the “liberal, humanist culture of western Europe today . . . believe in free will, in the perfectibility of mankind, in the ability of people to make the right choices, do good, and to make things better.” We are, in a word, Pelagians.

Regardless of how much blame we apportion to Pelagian theology, Senator Hawley does a great job in identifying troubling aspects of "our public philosophy". For instance, in commenting on a significant Supreme Court decision, Hawley observes:
It is the Pelagian vision. Liberty is the right to choose your own meaning, define your own values, emancipate yourself from God by creating your own self. Indeed this notion of freedom says you can emancipate yourself not just from God but also from society: from family, from tradition. The Pelagian view says the individual is most free when he or she is most alone, able to choose his or her own way without interference. Family and tradition, neighbourhood and church, these things get in the way of uninhibited free choice.

Senator Hawley makes a further important point. This view of freedom most suits the elite, who are in a better position to imagine themselves having significant choices in life:
The truth is the people at the top of our society have built a culture and an economy that work mainly for themselves. Our cultural elites look down on the plain virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice, things like humility and faithfulness. They celebrate self-promotion, self-discovery, self-aggrandisement...The elites assume that their interests are vital, while everyone else's can be done without, they assume that their value preferences should prevail, while denigrating the loves and loyalties of the great middle of America...Our Pelagian public philosophy says liberty is all about choosing your own ends - that turns out to be a philosophy for the privileged and for the few. For everybody else, for those who cannot build an identity based around what they buy, for those whose life is anchored in family and home and nation...today's Pelagianism robs them of the liberty that is rightfully theirs.

I'd like to draw this point out further. It is concerning to see the anxiety epidemic that is growing among young people. I think the following explanation for this epidemic is perceptive:
I’ve observed in myself and others a deep seated anxiety (which can manifest itself in depression, arrogance, self-loathing, or an affect of neurotic superiority, among other things) which seems to follow from the idea that our worth is ours to either prove or create. Under this idea, even if our worth is unconditional we must live a certain way to make sure that others know this — and if the value of our existence is in our own hands, then we need to make sure we live a certain way in order to justify our existence in this world.

There has been a significant change in how individuals derive self-worth even during the course of my own lifetime. Of course individual ambition and a desire for personal achievement existed when I was younger. But this was not the only source of people's sense of worth. There used to be a much stronger connection to larger social entities that individuals identified with, took pride in and derived a sense of meaning from.

Individual achievement was supplemented by membership of communities with a common fund of achievement that everyone could draw on. These communities were richly overlaid. I remember the civic pride in local suburbs, parochial attachments to city and to state, a sense of national family, as well as participation in a larger Anglo and then Western culture and civilisation. Most of all, there was a positive sense of belonging to a tradition of Australian manhood.

Senator Hawley is right to express concern at the logic of the reigning public philosophy. If it is all about my own self-determined achievement, measured in terms of status, money and social power, then there will be a severe hierarchy of winners and losers (and many of those who "win" will work themselves to the bone to do so).

I believe one of the reasons the philosophy will ultimately fail is because it does denigrate and undermine the loves and loyalties of the common man, expecting him instead to join a contest for elite status, with all the demands and sacrifices of this aim, but with little prospect of success.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Houellebecq & Liberal Modernity

Michel Houellebecq
There's an interesting review at American Affairs of Sérotonine, the latest novel by French author Michel Houellebecq.

The reviewer is none other than Thierry Baudet, leader of the Dutch party Forum for Democracy, which made significant gains in the elections in The Netherlands earlier this year.

Baudet notes that the characters in Houellebecq's novels are portrayed as grappling with the alienating effects of liberal modernity - of a society which is focused on maximising individual autonomy to a degree that dissolves traditional forms of identity and belonging and which also makes stable, enduring relationships difficult to maintain:
At some point in the course of their lives, all of Houellebecq’s characters are forced to acknowledge that their romantic ideals have be­come untenable in the modern age, since individualism has made profound, long-term relationships impossible. This simple idea forms the fundamental conviction of Houellebecq’s work. It echoes, in certain ways, Marxist Verelendungstheorie: as technological inno­vations have made jobs boring and interchangeable, and as free trade has destroyed traditional farm life and honest labor, we now pass through life as atomized wage slaves in the service of incomprehensible, unfathomable government organizations and overwhelmingly powerful multinational corporations. Erratic consumer preferences, capricious fashions, and an unpredictable herd instinct dictate the opinions (or the whims and fancies) of most of us who no longer have a family, a home, a church, and a nation to reinforce our sense of identity. Unable to chart a course for ourselves, we are floating around in an empty sea. Rudderless. All control of life—andof who we are—is lost.

The fault lies on both sides of the mainstream political spectrum. As a European, Baudet labels these the social democrats on the left and the liberals (classical liberals) on the right:
Now this fundamental point which Houellebecq makes time and again deserves further reflection, because it challenges the very fun­damentals of both the contemporary “Left” and the “Right.” It challenges modern anthropology as such. Both the social-dem­ocratic and the liberal wing of the modern political spectrum (re­spectively advocating the welfare state and the free market) wish to maximize individual autonomy. Liberalism and socialism differ when it comes to the most effective way to achieve that objective, but they do not differ in the objective itself. They are both liberation movements; they both want the complete emancipation of the indi­vidual.

And both base their vision of society on the (unfounded but supposedly “self-evident”) principle that every individual enjoys certain “inalienable rights,” which by definition eclipse all other claims, and to which all other ties, loyalties, and connections must ultimately be subordinated. Over time, all such institutions that the individual requires to fully actualize a meaningful existence—such as a family and a connection to generations past and future, a nation, a tradition, perhaps a church—will weaken and eventually disappear. Today, even new life (in the womb) may be extinguished to avoid disturbing the individual’s freedom. In the Netherlands (where I live), suicide is facilitated to ensure that here, too, no constraints—such as the duty to care for your parents—are placed on the indi­vidual.

It is this fundamental assumption of the modern age—that individual autonomy (be it through free markets or welfarism) leads to happiness—which Michel Houellebecq challenges.

The weakness that Baudet identifies in Houellebecq's writing is defeatism. Houellebecq captures the descent skillfully but cannot see a way out.

There is much more in the review - I recommend clicking on the link and reading it in full.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

A woman asks: how did we go wrong?

You might have seen an article by Anna Hitchings, a 32-year-old Sydney Catholic woman, bemoaning the lack of her marital prospects.

Her article was limited in scope, being mostly a "where are all the good men?" treatment of the issue. However, there was a comment at Anna's website from a woman called Cynthia which was unusual in that it focused on women's contribution to modern day dating problems. Here it is in full:
Anna, as a fellow Catholic woman who’s been watching the social decay for decades now, I thought I would offer my thoughts on what you’ve written.

One of the reasons you’ve elicited such a strong negative response from a certain segment of the Internet (specifically, the manosphere), is that there appears to be a hole in your analysis of the current situation. 

The current state of things is not a mystery. It is the inevitable conclusion of feminism. It is, in reality, a state that women have brought on themselves. The failure of women to confront this is something that even the Christian end of the manosphere doesn’t typically like. They call our inability to see our own failings, mistakes, sins, and hubris the “rationalization hamster”. I see less of that in your post than a man might, but I do understand how hard it is to face.

Now that is not to say that you, not I, or any other individual woman, is solely responsible for the dire state of the sexual marketplace in the West. I do believe that we have all, as individuals, made decisions that have contributed to our own problems. Honest mistakes, perhaps, uninformed mistakes, sometime, but mistakes are still the result of decisions.

This isn’t intended to be a lecture. I’m 33 and only got married this year, so I know what you’re going through. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a fellow Catholic man who was single, who wants children and who attends church regularly. It is extremely hard to find these guys. But you have to have some awareness of why the dating waters have gotten so choppy if you want to have a hope of navigating them.

Again, this is a female problem. Putting careers and bosses ahead of finding a husband and starting a family. Rampant porn consumption (by this I mean literary erotica) in the female sphere that leads to warped expectations and unrealistic ideas about relationships. Widespread contraceptive use and promiscuity. Continual degradation of men, male spaces, masculinity, and so on. Not every woman has done/participated in all of these things, of course, but no one woman has to do all. It’s bigger than any one of us. It is something women as a group have done collectively.

The effect of the culture on most men in our generation has been profound. They’ve dropped out of dating, out of church, out of civic society. They’re demoralized, and many have concluded it no longer matters. What reason have we given them to stay interested in us?

It’s on us to call out what other women are doing. It’s time to start shaming unacceptable behavior. It’s time to set higher standards for ourselves. It’s time to teach girls that not being serious about marriage and family at 22 will leave you alone in your 30s.

But that’s the culture, and this is deeply personal. Reality hurts. You’re living it. I’ve lived it. It took me eight years to find my husband, and that wasn’t for lack of trying. I don’t know your story, but I do know mine and I know I made choices that contributed to where I am. I suspect you’re the same. But let me just say, nothing gets better until you take an honest accounting of yourself and make the changes that need to be made.

For me, that was getting out of the military and working hard on finding, developing, and keeping a relationship. I sacrificed a lot. It came at the cost of better paying jobs, of using my degree, of having all those cute things that the magazines want to sell us. I might not be able to have kids at my age. But I have the chance now, and that’s worth everything.

It might not be your fault, nor mine, but we’ve been saddled with the consequences nonetheless. We can’t control the culture, but we can stop being shocked by it. Other women have ruined the system that sustained our sex for thousands of years. Any one of us who wants a traditional life has to work extra hard. But how can you do it if you don’t realize you need to?

That’s the criticism you’re getting.

I thought a later comment from Cynthia was also of interest:
I don’t think most women would care much for what I have to say. The problem we seem to have is that we lack imagination in failure – we can’t conceive of it when we have a chance of correcting course, and then we can’t admit it later on when it’s too late. It hurts too much. The manosphere is successful because it offers men a path to fixing their problems. Does it help everyone? Lord no. But there is possibility there. There is no equivalent for women because it’s much harder for us to fix things for ourselves. Facing it can often bring nothing but the realization that you can’t undo your mistakes.

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.