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...

Friday, February 08, 2019

Lopsided liberation

I want to draw out a point I raised in my post on Cardi B. If you remember, Cardi B released a "twerking" music video and justified it on the grounds of female empowerment. She and many others defined female empowerment as women doing whatever they want or feel like doing, without judgement from others and without negative consequences.

It is an extraordinary social experiment to "liberate" female sexuality in this way. It used to be thought that a person was most at liberty when they were not under the control of their animal passions or appetites, but had instead, through their higher reason/moral sense, cultivated habits of virtue, through which the animal passions/appetites could be directed to their proper ends.

And here we are with this older principle turned on its head. It is now thought that women are liberated and empowered when they are driven instead by unrestrained sexual impulse, by what they feel in the moment in terms of sexual passion.

And what of men? Has society taken a similar gamble and encouraged men to follow their animal impulses when it comes to sex? The answer, of course, is a resounding no. Our society, if anything, is petrified of the idea. There is a suspicion applied in our society to male sexuality, a suspicion that men are potential rapists or harassers of women. Men are forever put on the defensive, feeling pressured to apologise to women for the sexual sins, real or potential, of their sex.

So what we have is a lopsided account of sexual liberation. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The remedy is not to encourage men to act on whatever sexual impulses they happen to have in order to even the score. It's unlikely that any society would really ever encourage this given the strength of male libido combined with the physical strength of young men.

Our society has been foolish, though, to imagine that "liberating" the female sexual impulse would have happy results. Earlier cultures were very much aware of the negative potential within female sexuality.

In 1613, for instance, Sir Thomas Overbury wrote a poem titled "The Wife". Overbury gives much thought in this poem as to how a woman might make a good wife. He does not deny the significance of beauty or passion, but he is clearly aware that for a wife to be loyal her love will have to derive not just from the animal passions (lust) but from her reason and her religious commitments.

In the following lines, Overbury observes that having a wife who is beautiful is not enough; unless she loves her husband, then her beauty is of little reward to him:
Without her love, her beauty should I take,
As that of pictures; dead; that gives it life:
Till then her beauty like the sun doth shine
Alike to all; that makes it, only mine.

And of that love, let reason father be,
And passion mother...

Overbury does not want his wife's love to be based on feelings alone. He wants the "father" (the governing/directing aspect) to be reason and passion the "mother".

He also makes the point that what matters most is not the birth, beauty or wealth of a wife but that she be "good":
Rather then these the object of my love,
Let it be good; when these with vertue go,
They (in themselves indifferent) vertues prove,
For good (like fire) turnes all things to be so.
Gods image in her soule, O let me place
My love upon! not Adams in her face.

Good, is a fairer attribute then white,
’Tis the minds beauty keeps the other sweete;

And what does he mean by the word "good"? He wants her to be "holy", i.e. to have a love of God that then commits her to a love of her husband:
By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,
The law requires our words and deeds be good,
Religion even the thoughts doth sanctifie:
As she is more a maid that ravisht is,
Then she which only doth but wish amisse.

Lust onely by religion is withstood,
Lusts object is alive, his strength within;
Morality resists but in cold blood;
Respect of credit feareth shame, not sin.
But no place darke enough for such offence
She findes, that’s watch’t, by her own conscience.

Then may I trust her body with her mind,
And, thereupon secure, need never know
The pangs of jealousie

If it's not clear, he is arguing that she won't be inwardly faithful if it is only a fear of being shamed for breaking a moral convention that stops her from cheating. But if her mind is turned toward the love of God, and through this a love of her husband, then it becomes a matter of deep conscience that she remains faithful and then he can "trust her body with her mind".

What this illustrates is that earlier generations were concerned to answer the question of how female sexuality, as an animal passion or appetite, might be directed, guided or restrained, to make possible a culture of marriage and family. The idea that you would deliberately aim to unleash female sexuality, and call it "liberation" or "empowerment", would have dumbfounded our ancestors. And the sexual chaos of our own times has proven our forebears to have had greater wisdom.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Is it Gough's fault?

Back in August Fraser Anning gave his maiden speech in the Australian Senate. It was a bold speech that ventured outside the liberal orthodoxy that dominates politics in this country.

It's likely that Senator Anning's politics are the closest to my own within our parliament. Still, I'm going to make a criticism in this post of one aspect of his worldview.

Senator Anning has recently published an opinion piece on the topic of the Liberal Party & the Overton Window. The argument he makes is that Australian politics was good up to the election of Gough Whitlam in 1972. According to Anning:
...the political consensus on identity, values and so many other vital issues which existed between the major parties of the left and right up until 1972 was shifted radically to the left by the Whitlam government and has never recovered.

...The “acceptable” window of political discourse in the days of Sir Robert Menzies, Jack McEwan and Arthur Calwell, which was reflected by not only by the media of the day but also in the views of the vast majority of Australians, has been shifted radically to the left since that time.

The electorate rejected Whitlam in 1975, but the Liberals under Malcolm Fraser did not reverse Whitlam's policies and Anning sees this is as being the key to what has gone wrong:
Thus while the radical left in Labor may have conceived of the destruction of the wonderful, prosperous and cohesive nation Menzies bequeathed us, the only thing that made it possible and enduring was the collaboration of the very party that he founded.

It is in fact the Liberal Party, not Labor that has enabled ratchet socialism to gradually overtake our nation and has shifted the Overton window to the far left.

I don't think this adequately describes what has happened in Australia. Since the 1870s both the left and the right wing of Australian politics have claimed the mantle of being the "true liberals", leaving us with no party committed to conservatism. It is therefore not surprising at all that the Liberal Party has pushed our culture along ever more liberal lines.

That's why Anning's time frame for change is inaccurate. Take, for instance, the push toward diversity. That began in the 1930s with Arthur Calwell, one of the men Anning thinks of as supporting traditional Australia:
In newspaper articles, speeches made as president of the Victorian Labor Party during the 1930s, and later after election as federal member for Melbourne in 1940, Calwell's deep concern for social justice was invariably linked with the creation in Australia of an ethnically mixed society through large-scale immigration.

...in a confidential note addressed to Chifley in 1944 he wrote of his determination to develop a heterogeneous society

Now, it's true that Calwell only wanted to take this principle "so far". He wanted a diverse European Australian country rather than a mono-ethnic British Australian one. The problem is that once the principle is in place the next generation will inevitably want to take it to the next step. And that's what happened - and it happened well before Gough Whitlam came to power.

In June 1965, the Labor Party platform changed to omit any mention of a white Australia policy, with immigration being decided instead primarily on economic grounds.

Prior to that, when Menzies was PM, the Liberals had (in 1958) changed immigration rules to allow non-European residents to become citizens. In 1966, the Holt Liberal Government announced that non-Europeans were to be admitted as permanent residents.

As for Malcolm Fraser, he complained in 1968 that one Australian University was teaching:
French, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Japanese...the list as a whole is one belonging to the last century except for one of the languages mentioned.

In other words, he asserted in 1968 that our links to Europe belonged to the 1800s and that only Japanese was relevant to Australia in the twentieth century. Is it any wonder, then, that Fraser in 1975 had no intention of pushing back against Gough Whitlam? There was not going to be any push-back, because Fraser was even more for the change than Whitlam was.

Fraser did not see himself as a principled conservative, but as a liberal. He wrote:
As its name implies, ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles...I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.

Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.

Fraser is making it clear that he is only a "conservative" in the sense that he wants to conserve the already entrenched liberal institutions and values. So why then would Fraser try to reverse the liberal policies enacted by his Labor predecessor Whitlam?

(The other gruesome truth is that even in the early 1940s, important policy decisions were being driven by technocrats of various stripes, such as high ranking officials within the Federal Government, academic experts, diplomats etc. and that the rationale was often just "maximum development along modern industrial/economic lines" rather than anything resembling "the conservation of natural forms of human community".)

To understand how politics has developed in Australia it's important to recognise that the mainstream parties on the right have been "right liberal" in their politics rather than genuinely conservative. This includes the Liberal Party under Menzies.

Senator Anning, therefore, is going to get very little support from anyone in the political establishment. His best chance is to appeal over the heads of the political class to the rank and file, particularly those who don't identify as urban middle-class.

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.