Monday, November 18, 2019

Gatekeepers of the failed right pt 2

In my last post I noted that the establishment right likes to call itself conservative but is, in reality, right-liberal (classical liberal/libertarian) and that this explains why there has been no effective opposition to the dominance of liberalism in Western politics.

A reader helpfully pointed me to the following tweet. It is from Jeremy Boreing, who founded The Daily Wire with Ben Shapiro. In the tweet he complains that the younger, independent right-wingers are "retrograde losers" (a slur that sounds similar to "deplorables"):

Think about this. If you are someone who wants to conserve liberalism, then what are you really in your politics? Clearly, you are a liberal. That's your belief system. The "conservatism" doesn't mean anything much in itself, except perhaps that you want to introduce liberal policies a little more cautiously to maintain the stability of the liberal order, or perhaps you prefer the classical liberal focus on the autonomous self-made man in the market rather than the left-liberal focus on state support for the autonomous individual.

This reality of the establishment right being "conservative" only in the sense that they wish to conserve liberalism goes back some way. An Australian PM, Malcolm Fraser, wrote back in 1980 that,
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.

Even former PM Tony Abbott, with a reputation as being one of the most right-wing of the mainstream politicians here in Australia, has followed along with this idea. Not only has he endorsed the comments by Malcolm Fraser, he once defined conservatism as a kind of slow-burning liberalism:
The difference between a “liberal” and a “conservative” is not that one values freedom and the other doesn’t or even that one asserts and the other denies that freedom comes first. The difference between the ways liberals and conservatives value freedom is, perhaps, more the difference between love at first sight and the love which grows over time.

(It's interesting to note that the right wing liberal Abbott defined the animating principle of Australian politics in terms very similar to how the left wing liberal Barack Obama defined the animating principle of American politics. Abbott wrote: "The essential principle animating the Federation Fathers...was citizens’ greater freedom to pursue their individual destinies". For Obama it was "We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea—the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.")

The idea that a conservative is someone whose love for a liberal take on freedom "grows over time" rather than "at first sight" is lame. If you are going to pursue the liberal concept of freedom, then why would you want to be the one dragging your feet? Why not be part of the pioneering first wave and take the credit?

To finish on a positive note, it's encouraging that some of those reading James Boreing's tweet were less than impressed:

And there was this:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The gatekeepers of the failed right

Back in 1998 the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote:
Contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals. There is little place in such political systems for the criticism of the system itself, that is, for putting liberalism in question.

This explains why society has drifted in an ever more liberal direction. Those who have called themselves "conservatives" have actually been right-wing liberals who believe in little more than individualism & the free market - a philosophy that is dissolving of tradition rather than supportive of it.

We are at an interesting moment in political history when this framework is beginning to be challenged. Some younger members of the right are no longer willing to go along with a philosophy they see as dissolving their identity; on the other hand there is a well-funded movement that aims to exclude from the right anyone who is not a right-liberal of some sort (i.e. classical liberal / libertarian).

I want to take a quick look in this post at some of the ideas that the right-liberal gatekeepers are promulgating - because I think it demonstrates clearly just how radically dissolving of society these ideas are.

Charlie Kirk, for instance, gave a speech in which he said he loved some of the places in America, like the Grand Canyon, but that,
...if all that disappeared and all I had was ideas and we were on an island...that's America...people have to remember that America is just a placeholder for timeless ideas and if you fall too much in love with the specific place, that's not what it is...

If this were true then anyone, anywhere could be just as "American," or perhaps more so, than actual Americans. Kirk, then, is not conserving a real entity, i.e. a people & place, but at most an idea - one which can be realised anywhere by anyone.

Moreover, this idea (or "proposition") is usually defined as something which is itself highly dissolving. Barack Obama expressed it during his 2011 State of the Union address as follows:
We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea—the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.

Sounds nice, but if that is it, then why not have open borders so that everyone who wants to can participate in shaping their own destiny? There is nothing to delineate a real historic people in this formulation - the nation is just a large conglomerate of people doing their own thing. There is nothing to connect them meaningfully, apart from a shared commitment to doing their own thing - and anyone from anywhere can do this.

Dan Crenshaw, a Texan Congressman, is another to reject the idea of a real community in favour of a radical individualism. He said,
Speaking to those reptilian brains, which go back for thousands of years of human history, where identity politics actually matters. But it doesn't. The Western Enlightenment told us it doesn't, individualism is what matters.

According to Crenshaw, having a communal identity is something which should be made not to matter. We should instead just see ourselves as individuals. Again, this is a radically dissolving philosophy rather than one which conserves real, historic communities.

Where do such ideas lead establishment "conservatives"? Here is what a writer for National Review (and a TV personality for Fox News) believes about immigration:

Now, here's the thing. If Kat Timpf is allowed to represent the side of politics that is supposed to conserve the nation, how is that going to turn out? Obviously, not much in the way of conserving an existing people or nation is going to take place.

My hope, therefore, is that Charlie Kirk and the TPUSA, in spite of their funding, do not succeed as gatekeepers in limiting the right to forms of right-liberalism. I support the gatecrashers. I particularly support those who have correctly observed that the current establishment right does not actually conserve, but that all too often it is part of the process of dissolving peoples & identities.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Imlay, Wollstonecraft & Free Love

Mary Wollstonecraft
I recently wrote about the free love philosophy of the Englishman William Godwin. He believed that progress was achieved when people were perfectly free to follow the dictates of their mind (i.e. autonomy), and that marriage was therefore an artificial, prejudiced and tyrannical social institution.

In other words, the belief in free love was high-minded. It was supposed to lead to a moral progress in which people would follow pure reason and choose to act selflessly and benevolently for the good of others.

The theory was put into practice with damaging consequences spanning two generations. I want to look in this post at the case of Gilbert Imlay and Mary Wollstonecraft. Imlay was an American diplomat and businessman, Wollstonecraft a feminist author. They met in France at the height of the French Revolution. Both being advocates of free love, they began an affair and Mary fell pregnant. Imlay, true to the free love theory, quietly abandoned Mary - she gave birth to her daughter, Fanny, in 1794.

Mary wrote letters to Imlay during this period, criticising his behaviour. She drew on a more traditional understanding of morality to do so. The following is drawn heavily from a book by E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi.

Mary was critical of Imlay for following impulse (sensual passion/appetite), ungoverned by reason. She wrote, for instance,
Beware of the deceptions of passion! It will not always banish from your mind, that you have acted ignobly - and condescended to subterfuge to gloss over the conduct you could not excuse.

Along similar lines she wrote,
But is it not possible that passion clouds your reason, as much as it does mine? - and ought you not to doubt, whether those principles are so “exalted,” as you term them, which only lead to your own gratification?

Mary notes here that Imlay's "exalted" principles are really only being used to justify a pursuit of individual self-gratification.

She also attempts to describe a higher form of love than the sensual alone, one which requires self-denial, but which is held to more stably and which expresses a higher nature within man:
The common run of men, I know, with strong, healthy and gross appetites, must have variety to banish ennui, because the imagination never lends its magic wand, to convert appetite into love, cemented by according reason.

Ah! my friend, you know not the ineffable delight, the exquisite pleasure, which arises from a unison of affection and desire, when the whole soul and senses are abandoned to a lively imagination, that renders every emotion delicate and rapturous. Yes; these are emotions over which satiety has no power, and the recollection of which, even disappointment cannot disenchant: but they do not exist without self-denial. These emotions, more or less strong, appear to me to be the distinctive characteristic of genius, the foundation of taste, and of that exquisite relish for the beauties of nature, of which the common herd of eaters and drinkers and childbegetters, certainly have no idea

Finally, she notes the way that a life based on gratifying appetite can make someone jaded and less capable of love:
I shall always consider it as one of the most serious misfortunes of my life, that I did not meet you, before satiety had rendered your senses so fastidious, as almost to close up every tender avenue of sentiment and affection that leads to your sympathetic heart. You have a heart, my friend, yet, hurried away by the impetuosity of inferior feelings, you have sought in vulgar excesses, for that gratification which only the heart can bestow.

So what happened to Mary and her daughter? Mary returned to London in 1795, trying to rekindle the relationship with Imlay, but he rejected her. She then attempted suicide via an overdose of laudanum. In 1796, realising that Imlay was never going to accept her, she attempted to drown herself in the Thames but was rescued by a passer-by.

In 1797, in an odd twist to the story, Mary married William Godwin - the radical philosopher of free love. However, she died giving birth to a daughter, also called Mary, who would go on to write the novel Frankenstein.

And what of her first daughter, Fanny? She committed suicide as a young woman in 1816. There are different theories about what led her to do so, but one of them is that her two sisters had run off with another advocate of free love, Percy Bysshe Shelley, but she had been rejected by him.

Conclusions? Most obviously, in practice free love did not lead someone like Imlay to act selflessly toward others. Nor did it liberate individuals like Mary Wollstonecraft from tyranny. Nor did it crush prejudice so that individuals might follow pure reason. Nor did it usher in a new age of benevolent love.

As Mary's letters indicate, a free love philosophy had something like the opposite effect. It justified the pursuit of self-gratification. It harmed others grievously. It justified the pursuit of passion, ungoverned by reason. And it closed off the experience of a higher-natured love.

In a larger sense, the problem is that Enlightenment thinkers like Godwin were trying to find ways to justify assumptions about the individual as an autonomous actor in society. This individual was supposed to act according to his own unlimited will and reason, but whilst still advancing the common good. It was shaky ground to build a social philosophy on, as it relied on beliefs about human nature (man as a blank slate), about progress (that unfettered mind would advance knowledge and therefore moral culture), and about human goods (highly abstracted, indefinite forms of love and community as purposes in life).

The starting point is wrong. It is the wrong image of man. It is important that we ditch the Enlightenment project and describe man differently, not as an autonomous actor, but bound by his own nature to specific forms of human community and to specific roles within them - so that we fulfil our own selves, at least in part, through our commitments to particular forms of community.

There is one more post to come. Another generation was to be inspired by Godwin to adopt beliefs about free love - and they too were deeply affected by the real life consequences.