Saturday, March 20, 2010

What matters in the modern West?

Does our society have a ruling principle? A value by which all the Western nations are gradually being transformed? The answer is yes.

The ruling principle is not a Christian one, nor even a religious one in the traditional sense. It is an all embracing political principle.

The Western nations are being shaped by a political philosophy called liberalism and at the core of liberalism is the idea of autonomy.

What is autonomy?

Autonomy means that the individual is self-determining (or self-directing or self-creating).

Why should this be considered so important? In traditional societies, it was thought that there were qualities which were good or virtuous in themselves. For instance, courage, honesty and generosity. What mattered was for individuals to live according to such virtues.

Liberals don’t see it this way. It is not the existence of such virtues which impresses liberals. The big thing for liberals is the act of choosing for yourself, autonomously, your own good. What is actually chosen doesn’t matter so much.

Should we be worried?

Liberals take autonomy very, very seriously. Our dignity as humans is thought to rest on it. It is the basis of liberal campaigns for equality, freedom and social justice. It is a transforming belief as it requires the state to radically reform society to give everyone the same conditions of autonomy.

And, yes, we should be worried. When autonomy is made the organising principle of society, much is lost.

The nation

If the key thing is being unimpeded in creating my own individual self, then community is going to be a problem for liberals. It will appear as a possible threat to my freedom and individuality. Expressions of nationalism will be looked on suspiciously or even fearfully.

This is especially true of more traditional forms of nationalism based on ties of ethnicity. We don’t get to choose our ethnicity. It is predetermined rather than self-determined. Therefore, it is looked on negatively by liberals as an impediment to individual autonomy.

A liberal society will not be protective of the deeper forms of communal identity.

Is this really of benefit to the individual? A communal identity gives us a sense of connection to generations past and future; it helps give meaning to the work we do for our families and communities; it enriches our sense of personal identity; it gives us a special sense of attachment to a particular culture and place; and it helps to motivate our efforts to maintain the standards of the society we belong to.

Most people experience a traditional national identity positively. It is only when autonomy is made the single, overriding aim that such an identity is thought morally wrong.

So the question becomes this: do we accept the underlying assumptions of liberalism with the loss of communal identity that this involves? Or do we respond to the loss of communal identity by reconsidering the liberal idea that autonomy is always and everywhere the key good in life?


Gender creates all sorts of headaches for liberals.

The theory is clear enough. We are supposed to be autonomous, which means being self-determining. But our sex – the fact of being a man or a woman – is not self-determined but predetermined. Therefore, gender is seen as something hostile to the individual, a limitation or even a prison. It must be made not to matter.

How can liberals make it not matter? Well, they declare gender to be an artificial social construct. This then means that gender can be socially deconstructed. If boys and girls are raised the same, then gender distinctions can be made to go away.

English writer Penny Red is thoroughly liberal in her thoughts on gender. She has declared:

we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls … I have this dream … about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ...

Carolyn Heilbrun has the same kind of dream:

our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen.

Liberals do try to make gender not matter. But they run into a brick wall or two along the way. First, masculinity and femininity are not just social constructs. They are also a product of biology, as modern science has conclusively shown. So they can’t be entirely suppressed.

Nor do most men and women think of sex distinctions so negatively. If we are heterosexual, we’ll find at least some of these distinctions in behaviour highly attractive. And part of our personal identity will also be positively connected to our manhood or womanhood.


Family is supposed to involve people becoming important to each other. But autonomy requires us to maximise our independence. So there is a built in conflict in the liberal attitude to the family that’s difficult to resolve.

There are liberals who want both family and autonomy. But this might mean deferring indefinitely a commitment to family life; or making men and women less dependent on each other and therefore less necessary to each other within married life; or treating the traditional (and therefore “predetermined”) family of father, mother and children as a mere social construct, to be replaced by a variety of family types that can be self-determined.

A liberal establishment

In Australia we do not have a conservative establishment. We have a liberal one. The media, the universities and schools, the political parties and even the churches all follow a liberal orthodoxy. So we can’t look to the established powers to question the dominant belief in autonomy as the sole, overriding good. It’s something that has to be initiated at the local level. That's the task we hope to contribute to at Eltham Traditionalists.


  1. Very true for the most part -- personal autonomy is now God in the West.

    The key weakness, however, is that while the left indeed used the state to create the conditions which support radical personal autonomy, this resulting condition also, of necessity, erodes public trust in institutions, both state and non-state. This is the great weakness of this approach -- the endgame of it is a world in which there is low trust, low to no communitarian values and so on.

    This is where the ideology of the left struggles the most. It cannot provide a credible "moral" system to instill in people a sense of communitarian feeling (despite the fact that many leftists very much want this) while at the same time worshiping autonomy. Precisely because the worship of autonomy has, at its core, the rejection of any authority beyond the self and the personal freedom to self-determine as one sees fit. So far, the left has managed to slide by on such communitarian values as remain in the wake of the trashing of Christianity -- sort of trying to take some of Christianity's so-called "social values" and apply them in a secular context. But this, too, is running out of gas, precisely because a good level of trust in institutions is required to support that kind of social regime, and the relentless emphasis on personal autonomy undermines that trust quite substantially.

    It's in that way that the ideology of the left very much contains the seeds of its own undoing.

  2. Powerfully said, Mark.

    "It's in that way that the ideology of the left very much contains the seeds of its own undoing."

    Perhaps ultimately, but not before it's undone our society and civilisation.

    Normally, a societal crash would leave the survivors to rebuild. However, mass immigration means that the next civilisation to occupy what is currently the lands of the West may originate from outside the West. Much Western DNA may survive (especially female line - as with eg the native lines in post-Conquest Latin America), but the culture and civilisation will be gone.

  3. Excellent comments, thanks.

    By the way, Novaseeker, I very much enjoyed your recent post on Elizabeth Wurtzel.

  4. I have never witness a tail wag a dog; however I’m obsessed & confounded by the reality of a minority subduing a majority? Though Mr. Richardson is spot on in his observation, I can’t shun this rhetorical question from my mind, “Is it unbalanced autonomy we should be worried about, or the adept of a few to manipulate many?” I believe in the latter. If we focus on the skill of “how” one manipulates first then we can offset their objective; because in the end, does it really matter if one ideology is more virtuous than another when a virtuous majority is in bondage by a vice minority?

    In America socialism is channeled through the main stream media, however only a few own this industry. I’m perplexed by this fact. Hoover, FDR and Truman single handily helped weaken the integrity of the Constitution of the United States. We can start up a new blog that argues these points; however this does nothing to counter or change what has been done. Recently the majority of Americans did not want Universal Health Care; however a minority has the last word. Unfortunately history repeats a dystopia in that every nation sooner or latter implodes or explodes and starts anew. It’s not a matter of “if”…… it’s a matter of when.

    Have said that, even though we wake up every morning and we know for a fact that we will fall short of perfection we somehow have this idea in our minds that we can get closer to perfection the next day. Some people call it arrogance, but I call it faith.

  5. Some grist for your mill...

  6. The Man,

    Thanks for the link. I have to say, Eve Ensler's new work is a bit different to the usual feminist stuff. She's taken the line that girls are different in their natures and are powerful in being emotional like women rather than intellectual like men.

    I think she's going to cop some criticism from the sisterhood, despite the fact that she bangs on about how oppressed women are, not allowed to be themselves etc etc. I've already read one review where she is accused of being "essentialist".

    She is way over the top in what she claims for female emotions. She seems to believe the female emotions give women superheroic powers of knowing. Better if she'd just taken a more credible line that women being more emotional than men has some positives in terms of how women experience things and some negatives.

    One reviewer thought the exercise was aimed at boosting the self-esteem of women. That might explain the unusual emphasis for a feminist on the idea of women being both different and special.

  7. I've managed to find some more info on Eve Ensler's new stuff.

    It's worse than I put it in my last comment. Her argument seems to be that it was "the patriarchy" (rather than feminism) which suppressed what is distinctly female and that for the sake of the planet and our future everyone (male and female) needs to live by such distinctly female qualities (emotions, feelings, empathy etc).

    Yes, we men too are supposed to rediscover and live by our "girl cells" for the sake of social justice, harmony etc.

  8. Mark, I was reading a health-care discussion on another blog, and this part of a post by a proponent caught my eye:

    "Universal health-care not only promotes the economy, but individual autonomy, human flourishing — a life determined by free-choices rather than arbitrary circumstances."

  9. I should have added, that the Liberal reader's comment would have made no sense to before I started reading your blog. I would have just passed over it as meaningless fluff. But now, it makes perfect sense that he said that.

  10. It's odd that a traditionalist uses the word "gender" the way you do. The characteristic determined by XX vs XY chromosomes is called "sex" traditionally. "Gender" refers to whether you put "la" or "le" before a word in French or similar languages.

    Gender *is* an utterly arbitrary and largely pointless distinction. Lefties are telling the truth when they "declare gender to be an artificial social construct." The question is whether sex is like gender, utterly arbitrary and pointless. Whether it's OK to use gender where we should mean sex. What's up with this using the language of the enemy thing?

  11. Bill wrote,

    "it's OK to use gender where we should mean sex. What's up with this using the language of the enemy thing?"

    I've thought the same thing, Bill, but I still say "gender" many time and for a pretty banal reason. Sex can mean intercourse, and in our sex-obsessed world, some people will inevitably misunderstand me.

    I think the older meaning of "sex" is almost ruined, unfortunately.

  12. Bill,

    The same reason as Bartholomew.

    What if I had written, for instance:

    "Sex creates all sorts of headaches for liberals".

    What would the average reader think this meant? I'm guessing that most would think that I was referring to sexual intercourse being a headache for liberals, rather than the sex distinction between men and women.

    If I were writing a lengthy piece or an academic piece this wouldn't be such an issue. I could spend time defining terms before getting to the point.

    But I was attempting in this piece to write as briefly and non-academically as I could.