Monday, February 28, 2011

Gittins: angel or ideologue?

Ross Gittins is one of the true believers - those Anglo-Australian intellectuals who came of age in the late 1960s and early 70s and who have an unwavering faith in left-liberal politics.

Thankfully, they're on the verge of retirement now. But Gittins is still serving up his true believer ideology in the pages of The Age newspaper. Gittins is a supporter of open borders, and as such has to explain the opposition that exists to the policy of mass immigration. He puts it down not to people wanting to preserve the particular national tradition or culture they love and identify with but to fear and resentment of outsiders.

He therefore frames opposition to open borders in the most negative of terms:

Our evolutionary history has left us with an instinctive fear of outsiders - people who are different, people who invade our territory to steal our food and our women or, in the contemporary context, to jump the queue and steal our jobs, overcrowd our schools (and win most of the prizes), overwhelm our culture, push up house prices and add to congestion on the roads.

You can call it racism or religious intolerance - the nation that invented the White Australia policy can hardly object to that charge, except to say we're no worse than most nationalities and better than some. But I think it's best thought of as xenophobia - a fear of foreigners, people who are different, who aren't one of us.

And it's so deeply ingrained, so visceral, that it's not susceptible to rational argument. It would be nice if a greater effort by the media to expose the many myths surrounding attitudes towards asylum seekers could dispel the fear and resentment, but it would make little difference.

To acknowledge we have an evolutionary predisposition to fear and resent outsiders is not to condone such attitudes. The process of civilisation involves gaining mastery over our base emotions.

But if such attitudes are instinctive and impervious to rational argument, what's to be done now the pollies have let their standards fall?

Our attitudes towards asylum seekers may be impervious to rational argument, but they're not to rival emotions - particularly the positive emotion of empathy.

Like all nationalities, Australians are neither good nor bad, they're both. Our leaders can play to our darker side, or appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Go back just 50 years or so and Gittins' argument would have gone down like a lead balloon. It seemed natural to people back then that it was a virtue to feel love and loyalty toward your own people and tradition. It was people who didn't feel loyalty who were considered to be somehow lacking in normal human feeling.

Consider the case of Elizabeth Fenton. Back in the 1820s she went on a journey on a ship crewed mostly by Muslim sailors, amongst whom were two European converts. She wrote of one of them:

He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab. He is the son of a Scotch clergyman, but for many years has been leading his present life, trading between Muscat and Mozambique ... Poor fellow!

Of the other she wrote:

Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.

But fast forward to 2011 and we have Ross Gittins, the true believer, trying to tell us that it's all the other way around and that there is something wrong with those like Elizabeth Fenton who identified positively with their own tradition. He believes that people like her are motivated by "base emotions," by "xenophobia," by "fear and resentment of outsiders" and so on.

How off base is his position? Well, let's do a little experiment. Let's try to make Gittins' argument consistent. A traditional national community was based, in part, on a shared ancestry. It was like a vast, extended family in which people were (compared to other societies) closely related to each other. Gittins is now telling us that it is wrong, it is a "base emotion," to want to maintain this particular kind of loyalty and identity.

But why should Gittins' argument not apply equally to the family itself? Why should I discriminate in my love and loyalty between those who are a part of my family and those who are not? Is the fact that I do discriminate a sign that I fear or resent those who aren't part of my family? If Ross Gittins prefers to share his house and his resources with members of his own family, then is he suffering from an irrational, base emotion?

If his answer is that the comparison is wrong because it's natural for people to prefer their own families, then he should understand that historically people thought the same thing about national communities - that it was natural for people to have a particular loyalty and allegiance toward these too.

Gittins has applied the same logic to the national family that the radical Bolsheviks applied to the individual family. Back in 1918, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik spokeswoman Alexandra Kollontai put forward a Gittins-like argument in favour of open borders for families:

a woman should know that in the new state there will be no more room for such petty divisions as were formerly understood: "These are my own children, to them I owe all my maternal solicitude, all my affection; those are your children ... Henceforth the worker-mother ... will rise to a point where she no longer differentiates between yours and mine ... The narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it embraces all the children of the great proletarian family.

So, Mr Gittins, was the Bolshevik Kollontai a great humanitarian for suggesting that there be no particular family loyalties? Was she motivated by the "better angels" of our nature as you believe the open borders crowd to be?

Or was she a modernist ideologue, who was willing to override healthy forms of human love and allegiance, in the name of a discredited and unsustainable ideology?

In terms of principle, Mr Gittins, just what separates you from the likes of Kollontai?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

So what did Georgiou the compassionate moderate think about Anglos?

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the so-called "moderates" within the Liberal Party (in Australia, the Liberal Party is the major right-wing party).

My argument was that the moderates should really be termed the "radicals" or the "purists" because they want a pure form of liberalism rather than one fused with anything conservative.

They reject pluralism. They do not want to balance a range of goods together within a coherent framework. Instead, they insist that there is one overriding good, that of individual autonomy.

This makes them the more ideological wing of the Liberal Party and it means that their social policy will have more radical effects on society, as it means that society has to be reshaped to fit just one primary good.

I quoted one of the leading "moderates" (i.e. purists) Senator George Brandis, in support of my argument. Brandis identifies the one goal as "individual freedom" but he makes it clear that he means "freedom as individual autonomy":

the sovereign idea which inspires our side of politics has always been the same: our belief that the paramount public value is the freedom of the individual ...

the most important single thing we must do is renew our commitment to the freedom of the individual, and restore that commitment to the very centre of our political value system: not one among several competing values, but the core value, from which our world view ultimately derives.

in qualifying the Liberal Party's commitment to the freedom of the individual as its core value, and weighing it against what he often called social cohesion, Howard made a profound departure from the tradition of Deakin and Menzies.

Liberalism ... has such a central guiding principle - respect for the freedom of the individual, his dignity and his autonomy; his right ... to be the architect of his own life [i.e. to be a self-determining, self-creating autonomous individual]

Every one of those reforms extended the bounds of human freedom, gave individual men and women greater autonomy ...

Brandis does not allow for competing values. He is not a fusionist but a liberal purist. As such he is not a moderate liberal but a radical one.

But they like to think of themselves as moderates, and as the "compassionate" liberals, and are treated as such in the media. For instance, when one of the leading "moderates" in the Liberal Party, Petro Georgiou, retired last year, we had letters of praise in the papers such as this:

Farewell Petro, your honesty and compassion to all humans will surely be missed. Here passes the last great 'liberal' leaving the party...

Compassion to all humans? Well, he didn't extend much compassion to the majority of the population when he wrote back in the 1970s:

We as Liberals are committed to encouraging and supporting diversity in our multicultural society. We reject the sterile Anglo-conformity of past days.

Sterile Anglo-conformity of past days? So we are to treat the culture that came before 1970s style multiculturalism as sterile?

That is not a moderate or a compassionate view. It is a radical recasting of society and one which is cold to the consequences for those belonging to the Anglo tradition.

The quote comes from an Andrew Bolt column in today's Herald Sun. Bolt does a good job attacking the claims that Australia was always multicultural, but he himself only puts forward assimilation as an alternative.

Neither option is appealing or coherent. The multiculturalists believe you can have open borders and that the immigrants can all live harmoniously in their own cultural groups. It doesn't work out well. If you put 140 ethnic groups into Melbourne and Sydney, it becomes difficult for a traditional culture to maintain itself. People tend to become deracinated and end up adopting a pop culture lifestyle based on entertainment and consumerism. 140 cultures stuck together effectively means no culture, just shopping malls. You need a bit of distance and continuity to maintain a real cultural tradition.

In Europe the outcome has been even more problematic. There you have Muslim immigrants in large numbers, some of whom express non-liberal values. So the liberals in power decide the solution is to pull the plug on multiculturalism in favour of assimilation.

But can assimilation work? Maybe if numbers were small. But the liberal commitment to open borders means that numbers are constantly growing. So how then is it assumed that there will always be a confident Anglo majority culture for the immigrants to assimilate into? The Anglo population will necessarily lose its confidence as its numbers and its sense of place recedes. As it declines, the newer immigrant groups will lose their desire to assimilate into a culture which is in retreat.

It hasn't been thought through. It's not enough for Bolt to call for assimilation. He needs to rethink the whole liberal framework which has brought about such unworkable options. In particular, he needs to consider why liberals are so ideologically committed to open borders.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hymowitz II: Why are men so angry?

Kay Hymowitz has now written a follow up to her article "Where have the good men gone?"

She has noticed that young men are angry:

Anyone glancing at the responses to my article “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” can easily understand one of the reasons I wanted to write “Manning Up,” the book from which the piece was excerpted: There are lots of very angry young men out there. No, they’re not just angry at me. They’re angry at the whole sex.

It seems that the liberal order hasn't created purer relationships between men and women but more hostile and confused ones.

Kay Hymowitz then addresses one of the issues I criticised her for:

My book grew out of my observation that relations between the sexes during this protracted period I call pre-adulthood are, at best, very confused. I have tried to figure out why so many young women today complain about men being thoughtless, immature and boorish. I also wanted to know why large numbers of men have become so profoundly hostile to women.

Many readers have objected that my answer to these questions is to “blame men”...

In fact, to me the whole question of blame makes no more sense than asking whether the Chileans were at fault for last year’s earthquake. My book describes sociological and economic tectonic shifts – primarily the shift to a knowledge economy and the rise of women – that are so huge and so impersonal as to render the question of blame meaningless.

The favoured "impersonal economic forces did it" line. I still hold that to be a dodge. Feminists aimed for a particular result, they used the power of the state over a period of decades to achieve it, until they got what they wanted. And then we're told that no-one was to blame, it was all a result of impersonal, economic shifts in society.

Nor does Kay Hymowitz hold to this line consistently:

As a number of commenters have correctly noted, feminism celebrated women’s independence sometimes to the point of making men seem an expendable part of family life. Throughout the 1990’s when many of today’s pre-adult men were growing up, the entire culture turned into a you-go-girl cheering section. Girls ruled, while boys drooled, or so the t-shirts and book bags said. Boys might have also observed their uncles or fathers, perhaps good men, being taken to the cleaners by wives who kept the family house and children.

That's well put. It was not merely a matter of blind, impersonal forces. There was an ideology at work, seeking to transform society. The followers of this ideology assumed that men would simply go along with their assigned role of propping up female individualism. How much effort was put into understanding the male psyche by the social transformers? None at all.

Kay Hymowitz has also been criticised in an interesting but not quite coherent way by Helen Smith. She asks Kay Hymowitz:

What do you have to offer these men you call child-men if they do man up? Are you going to ensure that they have fair access to their children should they divorce? Will you make sure that they aren’t hauled off to jail if the wife makes false accusations of domestic violence? Will you let them keep the earnings and property that they worked for over years rather than have them turned over to their wife, even if she cheated and was abusive? Will you shield the millions of men who live in fear of their significant other but have nowhere to turn for help? Will you make marriage, in other words, as valuable to men as you think it is for women?

I doubt it. What Hymowitz and other authors in this area ... seem to want is for these men to marry women and make them happy. Rather than recognize that they are autonomous beings who are living for themselves and fulfilling their own needs and not a woman’s obligations, these analyses of the “man problem” seem to be all about what women want.

Well, such are the fruits of half a century of organizing gender relations along the lines of women’s immediate desires. Long term, it has resulted in men bailing out, going “John Galt” in the gender economy. And I can understand the disappointment. But I don’t share it. As you sow, so shall you reap.

You are frustrated that some men have turned their backs on women and have decided to live for themselves and not for you. Perhaps you should have thought of that possibility earlier. And as for that American individualism that you seem to hold in disregard?

May it live long and prosper.

The argument is very good in parts, but isn't consistent. What comes through well is that women have to consider things from the male point of view. Men are less likely to commit to marriage if marriage laws are biased in favour in women. Nor do men exist merely for the purpose of sacrificing themselves for women's "immediate desires" - men have a character and an existence of their own which needs to be recognised within a culture of family life.

That's a tremendous advance over the kinds of assumptions that were made back in the 1990s.

The inconsistency is this. Helen Smith seems to recognise the damage done by female individualism: by the idea that you could organise "gender relations along the lines of women’s immediate desires". But she then seems to uncritically accept both a male individualism ("they are autonomous beings who are living for themselves and fulfilling their own needs," "[they] have decided to live for themselves") as well as a larger culture of American individualism.

I don't think that's going to work. Can you really get women to think in terms other than their own autonomy (their own immediate desires), if you are praising the same qualities in men and in American life in general?

And if a radical individualism for women has harmed relations between the sexes, then why wouldn't such an individualism for men do the same?

Somewhere along the line, the limits of such a radical individualism have to be asserted - for both men and women.

A marriage works well when the husband acts to make his wife's life easier and the wife acts to make the husband's life easier. That's very different to living for yourself. If you really intend to live for yourself, you aren't likely to make good husband/wife material.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finding equivalence at all costs

A democracy movement has been unleashed in the Middle East with the blessing of Western liberals. These liberals are taking one hell of a punt. They are obviously hoping that Middle Easterners deep down are just like themselves and will accept the primacy of liberal values. But it could just as easily turn out that the masses in the Middle East will use their vote to establish hardline Islamic governments.

Lawrence Auster has already reported on the takeover of the town of Derna in Libya by a group linked to Al Qaeda. This group has declared the establishment of an Islamic Emirate of Barqa. It may not last long, but the armed takeover of the town does reinforce the differences between Western and Middle Eastern politics.

Included in Auster's post was an interesting Wall Street Journal editorial on the issue. The editorial does recognise that there are significant differences between Western and Middle Eastern civilisations. But it still pushes for America to intervene to bring Western style government and secular liberal values to the region.

However, the WSJ position is a lot better than that coming from some on the American left. We learn from the editorial that:

Others question whether a fully Islamist Middle East is even a bad thing. PBS host Tavis Smiley argued Friday on "Real Time with Bill Maher" that Americans have no basis for criticizing the culture of the Middle East because "when we have these conversations about how they treat women, as if somehow we treat women better in this country, it demonizes Muslims."

So according to the left-liberal Tavis Smiley, we have to consider the treatment of women in the Middle East and the West equivalent, otherwise we are guilty of demonising Muslims. Nor is he alone in this view. Carol Muske-Dukes is a professor at USC and the Poet Laureate of California. She has first hand experience of how women can be treated in Middle Eastern countries:

Years ago, because of a flight delay, I spent a long and terrifying night alone in a hotel in Morocco -- male (Muslim) hotel employees repeatedly tried to break into my room.

But she still wrote a column in support of Tavis Smiley. Her argument was that although there are differences in degree, the misogyny of the Middle East is also the misogyny of the US:

It's the misogyny, stupid. And it cuts across all cultures: far worse in some, somewhat tolerable in others. And the "F" word is fundamentalism -- whether it is Islamic or Christian -- the symbol of battle for control becomes the female body.

I do not want to live in a country that forces me to smother myself in veils, a country that threatens me with violence for an inch of visible wrist, a country that does not allow me to vote or drive.

For the record, I also do not feel safe in a country with a House of Representatives that is capable of canceling all funding for Planned Parenthood...

The state legislature of Georgia would like to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking and domestic violence to "accuser" -- in effect, denying victims their right to accurate representation by description...

Programs for low-income women and children are being slashed left and right and MoveOn reports that there is a move to eliminate all funding for the only extant federal family planning program...

Misogyny keeps this country's brutality to women -- rape, murder and domestic violence -- at staggering levels, along with the pitched battle against a woman's right to control her own body, her right to choose.

I was terrified when I was nearly assaulted in that hotel room in North Africa long ago, but I have also been attacked by "Right to Life" crowds when entering an abortion clinic in my own country.

I know which country most women would feel safer in. Ms Poet Laureate is kidding herself. She thinks that there is no difference in kind between a lack of public funding for abortion and the sexual molestation of unaccompanied women - because both are violations of absolute female bodily autonomy.

Her desire to find an equivalence is so strong that she doesn't react to her terrifying experience in Morocco as a less ideologically driven woman might - by appreciating the relative security created for women within Western countries.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kay: what happened to the good men?

Kay Hymowitz has written a column for the Wall Street Journal titled "Where have the good men gone?"

It's a dressed up version of an old argument: that young men are not what their fathers were; that they aren't accepting adult responsibilities; and that they are forcing young women to give up in disgust on the idea of marriage and to turn to sperm banks.

What has brought this about? Part of her argument is that the modern knowledge economy forces young people to extend their educations and to travel around the country, thereby delaying the opportunity to settle down.

But she hints too that the modern ideal of self-defining autonomy leads people to favour solo career pursuits rather than family commitments:

They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. Sociologists use the term "life script" to describe a particular society's ordering of life's large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature ... For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise.

Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don't know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether...

Given the rigors of contemporary career-building, pre-adults who do marry and start families do so later than ever before in human history. Husbands, wives and children are a drag on the footloose life required for the early career track and identity search.

That's liberal culture for you: family roles are downgraded and delayed as being a "biological destiny" whilst priority is given to a self-authored identity connected to careers.

Hymowitz then argues that without a commitment to family, young men lack depth:

What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

She finishes on this note:

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.

They might as well just have another beer.

Some of this she gets right. She's right that 20-something women are increasingly doing better than men in jobs and education. She's right that the focus on self-defining autonomy leads to a delay in family formation. She's right that modern society has left men without the family responsibilities that might encourage a commitment to more adult concerns in life.

But she still gets it mostly wrong. I was there when the changes started to kick in. My generation of men still expected to go to uni and then soon after get a job and marry. That was still the "life script". So why did it change?

It wasn't significantly because the economy required us to spend extra time at university or to travel around. That wasn't the issue we faced. The problem was that women had changed. They had been raised to put careers and independence first. Marriage and children were a long way down the female checklist - there was a time when many university women might have answered that such matters were to be left to their late 30s.

So men weren't required as husbands and fathers until some impossibly late stage in life. Furthermore, if marriage were to be deferred that long, then women didn't have to select for family men. They could let rip a preference for bad boys or have flings with unsuitable men or reject decent men because they weren't ready for stable commitments yet.

The truth is that if women in the 1980s and 1990s had selected for traditionally masculine qualities, then that's what would have remained dominant within male culture.

It's probably the case, even today, that if the majority of women selected for depth of character in men then that's what men would be encouraged to adapt to.

My criticism of Kay Hymowitz, therefore, is that she prefers to explain the changes she discusses as being the result of impersonal economic forces rather than the deliberate efforts of feminists and liberals and that she overlooks the role of women, particularly in what women select for in men, in changing the male culture.

I'd also take exception to her claim that:

husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete

If husbands and fathers are optional to any degree at all it's because the state has stepped in to artificially create this situation. And, anyway, few middle-class women want to raise children alone through a sperm donation.

Nor are the masculine virtues obsolete. If a man wants to succeed in his career and in his family life, he will still need fortitude, stoicism, courage and fidelity.

These virtues are obsolete only in the sense that they aren't being selected for by young women. So a man shouldn't expect that by cultivating these qualities he's going to gain an advantage in the dating stakes. He should cultivate these qualities instead because he recognises them as virtues in their own right and because they are important qualities to draw on in other aspects of his life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Joel Northrup takes a stand

Cassy Herkelman awarded victory by default
Joel Northrup is a talented young wrestler in the US state of Iowa. He chose, however, to default at the state tournament. Why? He had been scheduled to compete against a girl, Cassy Herkelman.

He gave the following reason for giving up the chance to win the state tournament:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," said Northrup.

"As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."

In modern liberal societies our sex is not supposed to matter. It is a predetermined quality that is thought to violate the principle of autonomy.

But our sex does matter. Joel Northrup clearly felt that he stood in a different relationship to Cassy Herkelman than he would to a male. He did not want to have to go against his better instinct to be physically protective towards females rather than violent. Nor, perhaps, did he want to pretend that laying hands on the body of a young woman was as meaningless as doing so to a male in a contact sport.

I don't think he should have been placed in the position he was put in. If there are girls who really do want to wrestle, they should do so in a league of their own. Nor is wrestling a sport that it makes much sense to encourage girls to participate in. How does such a sport help to develop the feminine body or soul?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A step forward? Moving politics beyond Cameron

It's worthwhile, when we make small gains, to recognise the step forward.

Take British PM David Cameron's recent Munich speech. In this speech Cameron rejected a policy of multiculturalism in favour of a "muscular liberalism." According to Cameron, liberalism needs to be more strongly asserted as the basis of national identity and belonging. This, he claimed, would prevent alienated Muslim youth from turning to Islamic terror groups.

If you were to go back 25 years or so, there would have been little dissent on the right to Cameron's speech. The criticism of multiculturalism would have been thought sufficiently right-wing by the average conservative. Politics would not have moved beyond the limits of Cameron's speech.

And that's still largely the case. However, there are at least some voices on the right not falling into line but thinking through the repercussions of Cameron's position - and making principled criticisms of it.

Some examples? Well, there was my own effort. I pointed out that Cameron is advocating a civic nationalism in which a community is bound together by a common commitment to liberal political values. But civic nationalism has its problems:
  • It requires political conformity. If you don't accept a liberal political philosophy, then you're not part of the nation.
  • It is an indistinct form of identity. There are many Western nations claiming to be defined by the same liberal values. So why shouldn't they then merge together?
  • It is not a deep form of identity. A civic identity isn't likely to inspire a deep commitment to the nation or a willingness to make sacrifices on its behalf.
Elusive Wapiti also made some criticisms of Cameron's speech. According to Cameron, people in the UK will proudly declare themselves to be Muslim or Christian or Hindu whilst at the same time being bound together by liberal political values. Elusive Wapiti responded as follows:

Presumably said civic religion will permit these other competing faith systems so long as the citizens pay sufficient homage and don't oppose the state religion, viz his "freedom of worship" quote above.

But, as men cannot serve two masters, the tolerance of heterogenous faiths will ensure the cultural Balkanization he criticizes will remain firmly in place...for I am convinced that the thin Enlightenment 1.0 gruel proffered by the secularists cannot compete with the more robust value systems that compete for the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Moreover, because the secular humanist liberal faith does not provide much for the citizenry to internalize as a guide for behavior, except for the pursuit of individual autonomy, the State will inevitably have to resort to iron-fist-velvet-glove governance to keep all those individual wills-to-power and competing theories of governance in check if it wishes to remain in power.
Elusive Wapiti is sceptical that the civic creed will manage to hold things together so easily. First, because it doesn't offer the same depth of meaning as the other faiths and so won't be recognised as primary and, second, because it fails to provide a basis for the self-regulation of civil society.

Then there is the bracing challenge to Cameron made by Frank Ellis. Dr Ellis has written an open letter to David Cameron which is well worth reading. One of the arguments he makes is that there is a fundamental contradiction in wanting a national identity that is "open to everyone":

You have been reported as saying that multiculturalism has failed. I see no clear statement of that in your speech at all. In fact, you claim that it is the indigenous population that has driven Muslims into their parallel societies.

That you are still advocating some form of the cult is clear when you argue that ‘instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone’.

National identity by its very nature is exclusive, partial and narrow. A national identity that is ‘open to everyone’ is not a national identity. National identity is determined by a combination of genetic, racial, cultural, psychological, geographical, linguistic and mental factors, tempered by the blows of history, by shared suffering in war and peace, by humiliation and glory, by the memory of those gone before.

How can my English national identity be open to everyone? The answer is that it cannot. National identity that is open to everyone ceases to be a national identity; national identity that is open to everyone is just another way of promoting multiculturalism without using the m-word. In other words, it is a deceit, a ploy to disarm the critics of multiculturalism...
Dr Ellis also quotes the Turkish Prime Minister encouraging immigrants to resist assimilation as a "crime against humanity":

Nor do immigrants wish to share their identity with white Europeans. When, in 2008, he addressed a large Turkish audience in Cologne, the Turkish Prime Minister, Reccep Erdogan was quite clear by what he understood on the question of integration. He told his audience: ‘I understand the sensitivity you show towards the question of assimilation. Nobody can expect that you tolerate assimilation. Nobody can expect that you submit yourself to assimilation. Then assimilation is a crime against humanity.’ Erdogan’s vision of how he expects Turks to behave in Europe is just one of a number of reasons why a Muslim non-European state such as Turkey can have no place at all in the EU.

Finally, Lawrence Auster wrote a terrific post setting out the differences betweeen right and left liberals when it comes to issues of multiculturalism and assimilation. Again, if you haven't read it yet it would be profitable for you to do so. I'll quote the section most directly relevant to Cameron, in which Auster criticises the politics of right-liberals:

The second wing is right-liberalism, a.k.a. the "right." The "right" says that the West is good, but that it is good only insofar as it is defined as a universal society consisting of equal and interchangeable rights-bearing individuals. It is not good insofar as it consists of distinct historical nations, cultures, and peoples. The "right" believes in the West, but the only good the "right" recognizes in the West consists in those values and procedures that are the product of liberal individualism.

The "right" calls for non-discriminatory openness, not to alien cultures, but to the individuals who belong to those cultures. It says that people from other cultures must be admitted into the West, and that after they are admitted, they must "assimilate" and "integrate" into the Western culture. The "right" thinks this is possible, because it assumes that people from other cultures are entirely passive and have no cultures, cultural agendas, or cultural personalities of their own that they care about and seek to express. The "right" assumes that people from other cultures want nothing more than to earn a living, raise their children, and "enjoy our freedoms." In other words, the "right" sees people from other cultures not as moral actors in their own right, but as good little children whose only role in the world is to fit into "our" right-liberal program.

So, when the tens of millions of individuals from other cultures who have been admitted into the West turn out to be, not mere faceless ciphers wanting only to earn a living and "enjoy our freedoms," but carriers of alien cultural identities and of claims and grievances against our culture, i.e., actual human beings who are not like us and who want to make their own mark on the world, the right-liberals have no response except to dismiss such claims and grievances as irrational multiculturalism, and to say that we have not tried hard enough to assimilate the newcomers and must try harder. The call for "more assimilation"--meaning the assimilation of essentially unassimilable people--never has any practical program connected with it; it is the emptiest of rhetorical ploys, the only purpose of which is to defend from criticism and keep alive the right-liberal ideology.

As I said at the beginning, it's heartening to see such intelligent criticisms of right liberalism. It may not be enough right now to have a practical impact, but it's a step in the right direction. It's a model of what is needed on a larger scale in the years ahead.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A babe in the woods

Katie Piper is the Englishwoman who, as a beautiful 26-year-old, embarked on a relationship with a thuggish looking man named Daniel Lynch. When Lynch became possessive and angry, Katie Piper tried to break off the relationship. Lynch responded by raping her and then arranged for an accomplice to throw acid in her face, disfiguring her.

Why revisit this story? Katie Piper has now explained in more detail what happened in the relationship with Lynch. And I was struck by this brief description of her childhood:

Born in Hampshire in 1983, I had an idyllic childhood. My father David owned a barber shop and my mother Diane was a teacher.They doted on my brother Paul, sister Suzy, and me.

As a youngster I was independent and fearless. I never suspected there was any badness in the world. 'You can be anything you want to be,' Dad used to tell me.

There is a clash between the traditional and the modern here. Girls are not naturally independent and fearless. Traditionally they grew up in the protective warmth of the family. Katie Piper had a traditional childhood in this sense and seems to appreciate it.

But she was also raised with very modern expectations. Her father drummed into her that she could be anything she wanted to be, in other words, that the highest good to aim at was that of maximum autonomy.

If you aren't by nature independent and fearless, but need to become so to be fully autonomous, then you might well make a big deal about these qualities. You might see them as signature qualities that you identify with and cultivate.

And if you believe that anything is possible, that you can do anything or be anything you like, then you won't recognise the realities of fallen human nature which do restrict us, including the vices (the vicious behaviour) of others which bring danger to ourselves.

In brief, Katie Piper had been protected as a girl by her secure family life; she made a great deal of being independent and fearless; and she saw the world as perfectly open and unlimited and without the restricting presence of evil or malevolence.

Which left her like a babe in the woods. How could she learn prudence, a "caution or circumspection as to danger or risk," when she saw herself as a fearless woman in a world without evil?

There are Western women being left vulnerable by this lack of prudence. Another Englishwoman, Katie Cullen, lost her life in very similar circumstances to that of Katie Piper. Her mother told reporters that  "She saw only goodness in everyone."

This naivety exists despite the fact that feminists bang on about all men being rapists and/or abusers. The feminist campaigns don't help women much, because they are based on the idea that men as a class use violence against women to uphold a privileged status. Therefore, the idea is pushed that all men are equally likely to attack women. The feminist ads often show middle-class white men as the perpetrators.

So there is little guidance to women in these feminist campaigns about how to evaluate the risk of a particular situation or relationship. And sometimes feminists go further in hindering a sense of prudence in women, by fiercely objecting to any discussion of the issue on the basis that it represents "blaming the victim".  Feminists want to focus on "changing men," in the belief that the cause of violence is a political one so that it's possible to eliminate violence against women through political reform.

I suppose, for the time being, it's up to fathers to try to cultivate the quality of prudence in their daughters (without going so far as to scare them from relationships with men).

Monday, February 07, 2011

Cameron: you must believe in liberalism to be a Briton

Boy, do I feel vindicated. I've argued for a long time now that the British Conservative Party is not a conservative but a right liberal party.

And now the leader of the party, David Cameron, has come out as the most strident of liberals. He has made his commitment to liberalism absolutely, unmistakeably, crystal clear.

In a recent speech in Germany, Cameron discussed the problem of Muslim radicalism in Western countries. He thought the problem was that some Muslims supported an "extremist ideology". And they supported this extremist ideology because they lacked a sense of belonging and identity.

Cameron's solution is as follows:

we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active muscular liberalism.

Cameron supports a muscular liberalism. But his endorsement of liberalism doesn't end there. He wants to impose liberalism as a state ideology which defines what it means to be British:

A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

This is not a new idea. It's a restatement of liberal civic nationalism, in which a community is bound together not by a shared history, kinship, religion or culture but by a common commitment to liberal political values.

Cameron isn't the only one wanting to ramp up the idea of liberal civic nationalism. I reported last year on a columnist from the Guardian newspaper, Theo Hobson, who insisted:

We as a nation are bound together ... by liberal values. Maybe it's time to be honest about that – even if it means a process of constitutional change.

... All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology.

We need to clarify our national story. Liberalism is what unites us, and this must be made explicit. It is, in effect, our national creed...

We need a revolution that makes our latent national identity explicit. What unites us is ... liberalism.

We need to get a bit fundamentalist about the superiority of liberalism.

Liberal civic nationalism has its obvious weaknesses. First, it requires political conformity to a degree that traditional communal identities never did. It is not only Muslim extremists who would fail to meet Cameron's test of national belonging. So too would anyone else who disagreed with liberal political philosophy. Englishmen with the deepest of historic roots in the country would be considered not to belong to the nation because they were not philosophically liberal.

Second, it's not a distinctive form of nationalism. Most Western nations follow some kind of liberal civic nationalism. Therefore, there is no official difference between having a British identity, or an Australian, American, Swedish or French one. Why not then simply merge all these non-distinct nations together? As the Oxford Companion to Philosophy put it:

One difficulty with this view is that it provides no guidance on how the boundaries of distinct political communities should be drawn. Indeed, it provides no explanation for why there should be distinct political communities at all. Why shouldn't all societies that share liberal values merge into a single state, aiming ultimately to create a single world state?

Third, it's a shallow form of identity. Again, the Oxford Companion recognises the problem:

Some liberals suggest that the tie that binds the citizens of a liberal society is simply a shared commitment to liberal principles of freedom and equality. It is debatable whether this is a 'thick' enough bond to keep a multicultural society together...

Conservative critics have argued that the stability of liberal societies is based on a pre-liberal sense of shared identity. Citizens of England, for example, do not see each other primarily as individual rights-holders, but as fellow members of the English nation, with a shared history and culture. This gives rise to a sense of solidarity which is prior to, and deeper than, a shared commitment to liberalism. It is this national solidarity which explains why the English work together, and make sacrifices for each other. Conservatives worry that this sense of being members of the same 'people' or culture or community is gradually being eroded by the individualism of liberal rights, which treats people in abstraction...

There are other issues raised by Cameron's speech, but I'll discuss these in a future post.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Can classical liberalism get what it needs?

In looking at the American right in my last post, I noted that many of its leading lights are classical liberals. They hold to the idea of negative liberty (of being left free to do as you will, of non-interference), of free markets, of low taxes and a small state.

I pointed out that such a politics isn't likely, by itself, to be conservative. Genuine conservatism is concerned to uphold, in Lawrence Auster's definition, "a substantive spiritual, cultural and social order". But a politics based on the idea of doing whatever we like, as long as we don't impede the negative liberty of others, effectively denies the existence of such an order. And so classical liberalism in countries like Australia tends to be strongly socially liberal rather than socially conservative.

As a case study, I looked at the politics of Sean Hannity. He holds to a classical liberal philosophy but is not as socially liberal as his Australian counterparts are, because he goes beyond the concepts of negative liberty and the free market and recognises that society won't work without some traditional moral virtues.

What was the response to my argument? We had an excellent discussion at this site and someone also linked the post to the American Free Republic website. One of the most interesting responses was from a commenter at Free Republic. He argued that classical liberals had recognised from the start that their philosophy wouldn't work unless the population was virtuous:

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other"

John Adams

What the writer fails to realize about classical liberalism and our founding fathers is that morality and our religion was the fabric that weaved this country together and helped to make our government work.

Many on here (myself included) enjoy the writings of Ayan Rand. Yet, for all her wisdom she never understood how or why the philosophy she espoused worked. It worked because a moral and religious people followed it...

A writer that few freepers ever allude to understood why this country was so great and why classical liberalism worked. If you read Alex DeToqueville's "Democracy in America", he marvelled at our religous people and understood why it flourished. Because it was not forced upon them as in the state run religions of Europe but because a free people willingly lived under a moral and religous code.

He's right. The classical liberals did recognise that their philosophy required certain attributes of character and moral virtue in a population to succeed. It's noticeable even when it comes to someone like J.S. Mill, who was not a Christian, but whose liberal individual was to be high-minded, cultivated and morally self-disciplined.

But here's the catch. How do classical liberals expect that virtue and character in a population will be maintained? What is there in the classical liberal philosophy that will uphold the moral standards that the philosophy requires for its success?

J.S. Mill pinned his hopes on education:

Nothing hinders us from so training a man that he will not, even for a disinterested purpose, violate the moral law, and also feeding and encouraging those high feelings, on which we mainly rely for lifting men above low and sordid objects ...

Well, higher education has expanded massively since Mill's time, but culture has become more, and not less, oriented to "low and sordid objects". Mill also seems to have fundamentally misunderstood human nature in his claim that people could simply be trained not to violate the moral law. That, surely, is an overly optimistic, utopian claim.

So higher education, in and of itself, is not sufficient. Another option has been put forward by a reader of this site, Alte. She argues that it is the growth of the state which is responsible for moral decline:

Furthermore, in our country we have seen over the years that the growth of the state leads to a decline in values. The state is inherently anti-tradition because it undermines patriarchy (which relies on strict subsidiarity to survive). We generally believe that if the state would just back off and let men handle things on their own, the social situation would improve.

That's a better suggestion. It's true that the state has intervened in society in ways which undermine the virtues. If you're a teenage girl, for instance, the state now makes it much easier to be promiscuous and to have a child out of wedlock (in the UK, as I understand it, such girls even get a council flat as well as an allowance, so single motherhood becomes a means to an "independent" lifestyle). And what happens to the young men whom these girls would once have looked to in order to form a household? They are no longer subject to the same pressures to act responsibly as fathers or providers.

So Alte's argument does have merit. Even so, I don't think it's sufficient. Is it really the case that if people were left to their own devices that people would then be virtuous and follow the good? Isn't it the case that human nature is fallen? Won't at least some people, if left alone, choose to act for their own selfish purposes rather than for the good?

And there are other problems. Classical liberalism encourages the idea that the goods we follow are private virtues rather than public ones. That's because the focus on negative liberty means that we see things in terms of individual choice and non-interference. So even if I have had a stable marriage and believe that to be an important good in my life, I'll be reluctant to assert it as a public good for others.

But people do need a sense of common principles or standards in society. So the void gets filled by the general principles of classical liberalism, such as negative liberty and a free market. These become the public goods of society, rather than the traditional virtues. So an action might be validated as "good" if it fits in with the free market or with individual choice (e.g. "I'm just an entrepreneur providing a service" or "This is what I freely choose to do".)

So the more conservative private virtues are subordinated to more liberal public ones, even in a society dominated by classical liberals. But, of course, we don't even have such a society. In Western societies, there is a large cohort of left-liberals. And they have a vision of positive liberty, in which the state acts to establish the conditions of life favoured by left-liberals.

And left-liberals are handed a tremendous advantage by classical (i.e. right) liberals. The classical liberal might be a terrific family man, living his life successfully according to socially conservative principles. But he is likely to treat this as a purely private good.

The left-liberal who opposes the traditional family, on the other hand, is more than happy to use the power of the state to force his own view on the whole of society. So left-liberals get to march through the institutions and to win the culture war over and over.

Which then means that right-liberals, living as they do in this culture, are always being dragged to the left. They might put up some resistance to the latest leftist cause, but once it's established they get influenced by the culture and come to accept it.

There is one final problem with the idea that cutting back the state will protect the virtue and character of the citizenry. Right liberal parties, even when they are in power for extended periods of time, rarely cut back on the social programmes of the state. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this. But I suspect that one reason is that right liberals quietly support the existence of many such programmes, even when they have been established by the left.

Classical liberals tend to share the view with the left that individual choice should not be limited by inherited group affiliations, such as our membership of a sex or ethny. What is supposed to matter is individual character, rather than unchosen characteristics such as being a man or a woman, a Chinese or a Swede. Classical liberals are therefore often sympathetic to the larger liberal aim of making such group affiliations not matter.

So what happens if they continue to matter? It's true that classical liberals formally don't approve of coercive, state action to suppress group differences. But if left-liberals have established some sort of affirmative action programme, for instance, or special funding for a "disadvantaged" ethnic group, then right liberals in power may not be unsympathetic to it.

In practice, right liberals have preferred to cut back the economic functions of the state (e.g. privatisation) rather than the social programmes.

To summarise:

a) Classical liberalism requires something external to it to succeed: the existence of standards of moral virtue.

b) The classical liberal aim of limited government might encourage such standards in certain areas. But it's not clear that classical liberals in power would actually limit government by cutting social programmes they philosophically approve of. And even if such programmes were radically cut, and people were left to themselves, there is still considerable scope for people to use this negative freedom to act immorally.

c) Classical liberalism tends to reduce traditional forms of morality to private or personal goods. This makes them difficult to defend. First, because negative liberty and the free market are recognised over time as higher ranking public goods. So the standard is no longer the traditional morality, but whether an action accords with the free market or individual choice. The traditional forms of morality lose their standing.

Second, left-liberals have a vision of positive liberty, in which the state is used to guarantee individual conditions of life. So left-liberals are highly motivated to seize control of the state to implement their more radical social programmes. This means that a small number of left-liberals can use the state to influence society in an effective way. In contrast, a very large number of more conservative-minded family men will have little influence, because they regard the goods they follow as private or personal values.

If the larger culture is drawn leftward, the mainstream right will adapt to it.

It is therefore not enough for classical/right liberals to affirm that their philosophy requires a standard of virtue in society. They have to make clear how they would assert traditional forms of morality as high ranking public rather than private goods; and how they would effectively establish these public goods in society given the existence of a left that is willing to use the state to enforce its own vision of society.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Hannity & the American right

My interest at the moment is to try to understand more closely the American right. I've delved a little into the politics of a few personalities on the US right. It's not enough to write with great confidence on the topic, and I'm happy for American readers to jump in with their thoughts, but I think it's worthwhile to report on some early findings.

If I had to briefly summarise I'd say:
  1. The professed political philosophy of leading personalities on the American right is often classical liberalism, i.e. it involves a belief in individual liberty, a small state, low taxes, and a free market.
  2. But the personalities don't seem to identify as classical liberals. They prefer the term libertarian or occasionally conservative. This reluctance to identify as liberal is understandable, given that the term liberal in America is often reserved for those on the left (what we would call in Australia "left-liberal").
  3. Classical liberals in Australia are usually very socially liberal, particularly those with an academic background. Commonly they will support the legalisation of drugs, gay marriage and even (I've had debates with them on this issue) polygamy. However, in the US those professing a classical liberal philosophy are more likely to take socially conservative positions on some issues, such as abortion or the family. It's possible, I think, that this is partly due to the influence of a Christian right in the US and partly due to the fact that there was an element of classical liberalism in the US founding and therefore classical liberals in the US are more likely to think of themselves as conserving traditional values.

Which brings me to the radio and television host Sean Hannity. He is described at one site as being "A conservative to the very core of his soul." But in one of his books he describes the kind of values he is trying to uphold as being "limited government, individual liberty, and the rule of law."

That's a typically classical liberal formulation. It's a vision of negative liberty, of being left free to do as you will (within the limits of the law and not impeding the negative liberty of others).

By itself, this classical liberal philosophy is anything but conservative. Genuine conservatives set out to defend what Lawrence Auster has termed "a substantive spiritual, cultural and social order". Telling people to do whatever, as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else, implicitly denies that there even is any significant substantive order to be concerned with.

And so the Australian classical liberals end up with the socially liberal positions I described above. If it's just negative liberty, then why not allow people to practise polygamy (or any other conceivable form of family arrangement) or to take any kind of drugs? As long as it doesn't impede on your own freedom to choose otherwise, then it fits the classical liberal principle.

But Hannity is not as socially liberal as this. For instance, he tore strips off the founder of a website for people wishing to commit adultery:

HANNITY: I'm looking at your Web site and looking it right here. And there's your motto, "Life is short, have an affair." You think it's good for people to have affairs? Do you think that's something that's good for people?

... I'm assuming that if the spouses find out that this is happening, that it's going to break up a lot of marriages. And you're facilitating that. You are assisting, you're helping, you're making money off the breakup of some marriages.

Now, granted they're going to make their own choices, they have their responsibility, but you're profiting from it. You're sort of like, you know, you remind me of a pimp. You know what? You remind me of a drug dealer.

You know what? Let's say selling crack was legal, I wouldn't sell crack because I know it would destroy people's lives.

Why would you not have a conscience bother you that this might hurt people's marriages?

BIDERMAN: You know, Sean, we're different people. I would build a service for same-sex couples. You probably wouldn't approve of that, but I did ... and I'm proud of it. Same way that entrepreneurs like me are needed all the time...

HANNITY: You have compartmentalized, you're rationalizing your contribution to the potential break up of marriages which, by the way, will not only affect the two people involved, but also the children that will no longer see their spouse.

Now maybe that's the way you want to make your money in life. But I think people that have a conscience and a soul don't want to make their money this way. In other words, you might make money selling drugs, but I wouldn't want to contribute to somebody's death and demise.

Where is your soul in this? Where is your conscience?

BIDERMAN: You are giving me too much credit, Sean. You're making — you're making it sound like I can persuade a happily married couple to go cheat on each other based on my TV commercial.

HANNITY: I'm saying, listen, people will make their choices. But if they're going to make bad choices, I'm not going to facilitate it, because I have a moral foundation that obviously you're lacking...

HANNITY: You're no different than a pimp.

BIDERMAN: That's not a crime in America, at least not that I'm aware of.

It's interesting that Biderman attempts to justify himself on classical liberal grounds. He points out that what he's doing isn't illegal, so he's not violating the rule of law. Furthermore, he is following the free market as an entrepreneur providing a service.

If Hannity held to classical liberalism by itself, he'd struggle to find a way to object. But Hannity adds in some other concepts: a moral foundation, a soul, a conscience. As I understand it, Hannity does talk explicitly of the need for Christian values as part of a functioning social order. And that, perhaps, is why he does come across as more socially conservative than his secular Australian counterparts, at least when it comes to certain issues.

Let me try to illustrate all this using one more example. On a Sean Hannity discussion board, someone asked the question "Over 50% of marriages end in divorce - where are you social conservatives?"

Leaving aside the exaggerated statistic, the question provoked some interesting responses. There were three types of answer. First, there were right liberal types (classical liberal/libertarians) who generally answered that although they personally had been happily married, it wasn't their business to concern themselves with what other people did. Then there were Christian conservatives who opposed the high divorce rate on biblical grounds. Third, there were traditionalist/conservative types who thought that a high divorce rate was cause for concern because of its effects on the social order.

So part of Hannity's audience are classical/right liberal types who believe in negative liberty alone. That's why they say things like this:

Can't speak for others but I've been married 24 years to the same woman. Have two kids, both born after we were married.

What others do and what values they follow is THEIR business, not mine.

There's no sense here of the existence of a social order to be defended. It's just whatever floats your boat. To put this another way, our classical/right liberals recognise a good for themselves (a stable marriage), but are paralysed by their philosophy from ever extending this recognition to others. So if the divorce rate hit 80%, or if all of their own children divorced, they would still not be able to act in defence of marriage as a general good in society.