Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Sweden boys play with fluffy go walkies

Sweden has bought into autonomy theory in a big way. According to this theory, the aim of life is to maximise individual autonomy, i.e. the ability to self-determine who we are. Therefore whatever is predetermined rather than self-determined is a prison or straitjacket that impedes our freedom to be whoever we want to be. Our sex is something that is predetermined. Therefore, think the liberal autonomists, it must be made not to matter.

And so in Sweden it is now thought wrong to show boys playing with traditionally boy toys and girls with girl toys. Which means you get advertising catalogues like the one below, showing a boy playing with a toy called "Fluffy go walkies".

A Swedish toy catalogue

Does it matter if Sweden tries to abolish sex distinctions? Yes and no. Sex distinctions are so deeply embedded into us, that they will continue in some form regardless of the policy of the Swedish authorities. They can never be made not to matter.

It is odd, though, for Sweden to journey down this road. In a heterosexual culture, there ought to be a celebration of sex distinctions rather than a statist effort to suppress these differences. It can also be disappointing (and disorienting) to young men and women in their late teens and twenties to find the opposite sex not fully embracing their masculinity or femininity. It takes away some of the context in which young people orient themselves to committed relationships. And, finally, we tend to be most settled in ourselves when we have a deeper sense of our own masculinity and femininity. So it makes little sense to blur gender lines when we consider what is important to individual identity.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pope on fidelity

In a recent post I took aim at Giles Fraser, an Anglican minister, who claimed that we are always morally responsible to those most other to us. Giles Fraser wrote: know, constantly in Jesus' teaching there's stuff about the stranger, there's stuff about the other, there's stuff about the Good Samaritan, and our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us.

My response was that this can't be true as Christian morality recognises the importance of fidelity in relationships. In marriage, fidelity means that we remain turned toward our spouse, seeking to deepen a union with them, and that we accept the service we are called to in this relationship, a service that fulfils a significant aspect of who we are.

Much of our daily moral responsibility is oriented to our spouse and to our family, i.e. to those we are most close to and familiar with, rather than to persons who are most other to us.

This model of fidelity is to be found, in particular ways, in a series of relationships, e.g. between ourselves as individuals and God; between ourselves and our wider family or community (clan, tribe, ethny, nation); between God and church and so on.

Now, by one of those coincidences I published this argument on November 17th and the very next day Pope Francis was reported to have given a homily touching on the theme of fidelity. Unfortunately the Vatican hasn't published the full text of the homily, but various excerpts have been given in the press.

The theme of the homily was that we do not negotiate everything in a spirit of adolescent progressivism, in particular we do not negotiate fidelity. Pope Francis began with a reading from the Book of Maccabees in which many Jews agreed to abandon their traditions in order to curry favour with King Antiochus:
L’Osservatore Romano reported that the Pope preached:
“Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us; we cannot become isolated” or remain stuck in our old traditions. “Let us go and make a covenant with them, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.” The proposal so pleased them that some of the people eagerly went to see the king, to bargain with the king, to negotiate.
L’Osservatore Romano continued:
The Bishop of Rome likened their attitude to what he called the modern-day “spirit of adolescent progressivism” which seductively suggests that it is always right, when faced with any decision, to move on rather than remaining faithful to one's own traditions. “The people,” he said, “bargained with the king, they negotiated with the king. But they didn't negotiate habits … they negotiated fidelity to God, who is always faithful. And this is what we call apostasy; the prophets called it adultery. They were an adulterous people” who “negotiated something essential to their very being, i.e., their faithfulness to the Lord.”

Many people, he said, accepted the king's orders “which prescribed that all the people in his kingdom should be one: and every one should leave his own law.” However, he observed, it was not the “beautiful globalization” which is expressed in “the unity of all nations” who each preserve their own identity and traditions. No, he said, the passage describes the “globalization of hegemonic uniformity,” a uniformity of thought born of worldliness.

“Still today, the spirit of worldliness leads us to progressivism, to this uniformity of thought” … Negotiating one's fidelity to God is like negotiating one's identity, Pope Francis said.

In what ways does this support the argument I made against Giles Fraser?

The Pope's homily suggests the importance of fidelity as a moral concept within Christianity. For Pope Francis fidelity is important in upholding what is essential to our being and identity.

Fidelity has to do with our relationship to God, but it applies as well to our relationship with our larger ethnic or national communities. It is not always right, says Pope Francis, in a "spirit of adolescent progressivism" to "move on rather than remaining faithful to one's own traditions". It is important, in the Pope's view, that there be a "beautiful globalisation" in which there is a unity between nations who "each preserve their own identity and traditions" rather than a "globalization of hegemonic uniformity" in which we merge into sameness.

So is our moral responsibility always to the person more other to us, as Giles Fraser claims? Not according to this homily by Pope Francis, in which our moral responsibility is to practise fidelity - a faithfulness to God and to our own traditions and traditional communities, through which we uphold our identity and essential aspects of our being.

Monday, November 25, 2013

16 male victims don't count?

The Melbourne Herald Sun ran a feature on domestic violence today. The good thing about the report is that it includes statistics from Victoria Police showing not only violence of men against women, but violence of women against men (and also violence in same sex relationships).

According to Victoria Police records, in the last financial year there were 44 homicide offences "in a family violence context." These offences include murder, attempted murder and manslaughter.

So what is the breakdown by gender? Of the 44 homicide offences, 28 victims were women or girls and 16 were men or boys.

Now that does show that women were the victims in the majority of cases. However, 37% of the victims were male, i.e. a significant proportion.

It's therefore disappointing that, having given these statistics, the rest of the report assumes that domestic violence is something that men do to women. The reporter is stuck on the idea that men are to be always thought of as oppressors and women as victims. Here is the type of language used in the report:
[the data] is being revealed raise awareness of, and prevent, men's violence against women.

...CEO of the peak body Domestic Violence Victoria, Fiona McCormack, said it wasn't good enough that women were still not safe in their own homes.

...Det-Acting Supt Binyon said the statistics showed "women face a number of significant risks of violence from people that they know".

So the 16 male victims don't count? Why not, if you're against domestic violence, seek to tackle all domestic violence, rather than just a part of it? The answer, I'm afraid, is that there are people with an ideological view of domestic violence, who believe that men as an entire class benefit from domestic violence as a means to suppress women and that masculinity was created to enforce male privilege over women.

People who hold this view will then argue that violence against women by men is widespread and systemic; that it is supported within a traditional male culture; that it benefits all men; and that it is enacted by all social classes of men. What then becomes the solution to domestic violence? If all this is true, then the solution is to deconstruct masculinity and male "privilege" and to hold all men responsible for the problem.

That is currently the view of the people in charge. It ignores the fact that historically men have made considerable sacrifices to keep the women in their families safe from harm; that violence against women was always very strongly rejected within traditional masculine culture; and that domestic violence is not spread evenly throughout the community but is concentrated amongst those who are unemployed and who have drug, alcohol and mental health issues.

One final point. The report also included figures on the total number of domestic violence "attacks" (which include assaults, harassment, property damage and so on). It is true that a large majority of these attacks had a female victim (29,064 were male on female, 6,122 were female on male).

However, it's interesting to note the statistics for same sex assaults. There were 341 attacks within lesbian relationships. The percentage of lesbians as part of the population is usually given as below 1%, which would mean that there is a somewhat higher incidence of violence in these relationships. But how could that be if domestic violence is about upholding male "privilege"?

Similarly, there were 460 attacks within male homosexual relationships. Again, what would the point of these attacks be, if domestic violence is to be explained in terms of male oppression of women?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stuff you just couldn't make up

Anne O'Connor is an early years education consultant in the UK. She advises local authorities on the issues of equality and diversity.

If, having read that, you are already bracing for the worst, then brace some more. Anne O'Connor has written a guide for nursery (preschool) teachers, according to which teachers should not hand out white paper to students to draw on. Using white paper, it seems, runs against the spirit of equality and diversity.

Similarly, Anne O'Connor believes that teachers should lie when toddlers ask them what their favourite colour is and always answer either brown or black.

When it comes to dress ups, fairies should be dressed in a colour darker than pink, but witches should wear pink rather than black.

It's the paper thing that really strikes me. It takes some sort of bent out of shape mentality to connect the use of white paper to discrimination.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A hostile Susie Boniface

English feminist Susie Boniface seems very keen to maintain the image of feminists as man-haters. On International Men's Day she wrote a column that is stunning in its hostility to men (worse, a mainstream publication, the Daily Mirror, chose to publish it).

Here's just the end bit:
...we can and should support International Men’s Day in every way that we can.

We should support anything which might, one day, lead men who father children and shirk responsibility to shoulder half the moral and financial burden of their own behaviour.

We should throw ourselves behind a day that might prompt men into speaking out about rape, and perhaps taking a day off from it.

If it grows and is a success then maybe in the future International Men’s Day will be the one day a year when males campaign against sex trafficking, slut-shaming, domestic abuse and religious persecution...

Perhaps one or two of them might even urge others not to monster every woman over 30 with a wrinkle while expecting them to have the bikini body of a bulimic 12-year-old and the sexual skills of a wizened courtesan.

Think of that – one day when men urge one another to be better than they are, and insist that every person is treated equally regardless of their gender.

Wouldn’t it be lovely?

One day when all men talk to their children, refrain from telling anyone to cover their face or hair, and chant ‘I must not use the pronoun “the” when talking about my missus’.

So, men, knock yourselves out. Have your day, do your best, overcome what you can. I’ll cheer you on, in fact I’ll even make you a packed lunch and help you with your placards.

While you’re off dealing with that, we women will just get on with everything else.

Don’t hurry back.

Why such hostility? I don't know for sure. All that I know about her personal life is that she is a divorced and childless career woman. In her politics she is a "sex positive" feminist (i.e. she believes that "choice" is what matters including the choice for women to wear feminine clothes).

Susie Boniface

Her antagonism could be to do with her personal life. But I suspect that her political beliefs are also at least partly responsible.

Early in her column, Susie Boniface talks about 6,000 years of patriarchy and female inequality. So she believes that men as a class have, throughout history, acted to oppress women. If that is your day to day mindset, then little wonder that anti-male feelings are bubbling just under the surface.

It's normal, of course, for men and women to be occasionally exasperated by the opposite sex. But in our society sex hostility goes much further than this: it is written into a political script, in which men are cast as the oppressors of women.

In a traditionalist community, such a script would be torn up. We would return to the understanding that the role of men is, and has been, to protect and provide for the women of their community, with this role very much being to the benefit of women.

We would emphasise, too, the value of fidelity between the men and women of a community. By this I do not mean sexual fidelity, but instead the existence of a relationship between men as a group and women as a group, which calls each group to a sense of service to the other as an expression of a significant part of their own being.

In other words, we fulfil an important part of ourselves when we "do for" women in a masculine way as men (and vice versa). That is how we express our fidelity toward the opposite sex. It is a sign of a healthy community life when we are able to express this freely - just as it is a sign of a community gone wrong when women are encouraged toward infidelity.

Retire at 70?

The Australian Productivity Commission has recommended lifting the retirement age to 70.

There was once a time when the age of retirement was gradually lowered (some members of my profession were able to retire at 55). Now it's getting higher: it's officially 67 now with calls for it to go to 70.

There are a few political points to be drawn from this:

i) The idea of liberal progress contained within it the idea that material standards of living would always rise and that people would have increasing amounts of leisure time. I can even remember speculation that there might be too much leisure time and not enough work to keep people busy. It's going to be harder for liberals to sell the idea of progress when the numbers go the wrong way.

ii) The welfare state is a double edged sword. Yes, you might draw benefits from state welfare, but to fund it you might find yourself working well into your 70s. For instance, is it really just to make a poor person work well into his 70s so that Tony Abbott can fund his incredibly generous maternity scheme (in which a wealthy woman would be paid up to $75,000 over six months)? Similarly, would such a person want to work into his 70s to cover the costs of paying prostitutes to visit disabled people, as has been proposed as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

Someone has to pay for the welfare state and the answer of those in state power seems to be to make people work longer rather than to rein in spending.

iii) The welfare state is not such a reliable means of support. It would have been better if people had been told early in the piece that they would be better off looking to support themselves in retirement.

As an example of how unreliable state support can be, the Daily Mail ran a piece about British women who married Greek men and went to live in Greece. They had children, but then went through divorces. The Greek state wasn't able to afford the welfare to support them and so they returned to Britain, but they were no longer eligible for benefits there either and, without family support, became reliant on charity.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A few things

I've been a bit busy and haven't posted lately. So here are a few quick stories.

The first is that Roger Daltrey, frontman of The Who, has criticised the Labour Party in Britain for undermining the jobs of working-class Britons through a policy of open borders.

Mark Moncrieff at Upon Hope has written an interesting post on the Australian Liberal Party. He believes, rightly in my view, that the attempt at "fusionism" in the Liberal Party hasn't worked out well.

Some American research has shown that if men do traditionally masculine work around the home they're more likely to get lucky with the missus, but if they do traditionally feminine work they're less likely. That's predictable. It's my experience that my wife is always a lot more impressed when I can fix things or put things together or engage in father/child activities or do some of the yard work than if I do laundry or kitchen work. I don't think that means that men shouldn't help out as appropriate, but it's not wise for men to do so expecting that it will improve their chances in the bedroom.

Finally, here's another report, which suggests that the Swedish model isn't that kind to men. It seems that the work/life balance for men in Sweden is especially complicated. Because they are expected to do the traditional maternal work, they experience pressure from their family life intruding into their work life. But they are still expected at the same time to be the primary breadwinners and so their work commitments also interfere with their family time.

I hope to get back to some regular posting soon.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On fidelity

Giles Fraser is the Anglican minister who, in a recent BBC debate, claimed that Christianity means being always morally oriented to those who are most other to us: know, constantly in Jesus' teaching there's stuff about the stranger, there's stuff about the other, there's stuff about the Good Samaritan, and our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us.

I want to sketch out an argument as to why Christianity can't be understood this way.

But first let me concede that our moral responsibility in Christianity does extend to the stranger. That is on the basis that as man is made in God's image, that to love God is to love our fellow man. And this is not only derived from the Bible, but can be argued for from natural law. We do share a common humanity, so we should help out a stranger in dire need on this basis.

However, to limit Christianity to this one principle is a prime example of "intellectuals' disease," in which moral positions are derived from a single principle or formulation.

Giles Fraser's single principle cannot explain a great deal of Biblical morality. Take, for instance, the issue of infidelity. There is no doubt that Christian marriages are supposed to be faithful. But why?

It could be answered, simply, that this has to do with sexual purity or that it is a matter of justice to one's spouse. Even if we leave it at that, we can see that our moral responsibility is not just to the stranger, but to the person closest to us, the one with whom we have become, in Christian terms, "one flesh".

But we can take this a little further. There is a post on marriage that has gone viral called "Marriage isn't for you" by Seth Adam Smith. The message of the post, in a nutshell, is that marriage is about selfless love. By selfless isn't meant an absence of self. It means being focused on others, in this case on your spouse, your children and your wider family. As Seth's father put it to him:
You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. "Marriage is about the person you married.”

The truth of this is that marriage is not passively sitting back and getting things from your spouse. It is an active process of service to spouse and family and, as part of this orientation, to drawing together in a relationship with your spouse, physically and emotionally, i.e. to truly live as "one flesh".
Seth and his bride

Infidelity, it seems to me, is not just sexual. You could have infidelity when a spouse still performs the basic social role of husband or wife, and does not commit adultery, but has turned away from their spouse and no longer seeks actively to draw together into a marital relationship.

For those who are married, this effort to draw together within a relationship through what we gift to our spouse will be a significant part of our day to day orientation in life. It is not a commitment to the stranger but to the person with whom we are seeking the closest union, within a sacrament that has made us one flesh. And fidelity within this relationship matters a great deal.

It is a similar thing when it comes to fidelity in our relationship to God. Fidelity here means that we are turned toward the relationship, seeking out God and gifting ourselves in service. It is about a deepening union rather than a seeking out of the stranger (which is why, I think, I get so cranky when the mass is oriented toward secular politics- it is supposed to be time to stop from our busy schedules to turn toward God.)

One final point. If faithfulness in our relationships is morally significant, this applies as well to the particular relationships we have beyond family. Whether these are to clan, tribe or nation, they draw from individuals the same concern to give of themselves in the relationship, and to nurture and protect what is loved. This is particularly true of communities that we are deeply embedded in through ties of ethnicity (of shared descent, history, culture, language etc.), as these are the ties that call on us the most. The loss of these communities is felt deeply, in part, because it takes away one of the spheres of life in which we are set most closely in relationship with others and most challenged to give of ourselves.

Liberal moderns are not big on fidelity (in the sense I have described). They seem to seek out infidelity whenever they can. It is a pity that some Christians have followed them in this, on the basis, as Giles Fraser put it, that our moral responsibility is always towards those most other to us.

I don't see how that can fit into a Christian understanding of marriage, nor of fidelity in relationships in general.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The demonisation of boys

From Herald Sun columnist Wendy Tuohy:
But there are themes emerging from the latest debate about what is now known as "rape culture" that some parents of boys are finding very disturbing, with good reason. The subtext of some of the discussion is that teen boys are such forces of nature as to be potential sexual predators just waiting to happen.

The sense that inside every sweet-faced teenage boy there is a sex offender waiting to get out is real enough to be discussed among some parents.

I was recently asked the following by a parent of a little girl: "Do you feel it's a bigger responsibility to raise boys now than it is to raise a girl? I only ask because a friend of mine with three sons says when she tells people she has boys they pity her. She feels like boys are becoming second-class citizens.

"She said if she had a girl she would raise her to be strong, empowered and independent. But with boys you have to concentrate on ways to make sure they don't grow up as little rapists."

At which point I nearly spat out my coffee.

It's interesting to track the way that ideas permeate into society. I've been criticising for a long time now feminist theories which claim that men use violence to uphold a privilege over women. According to these theories, violence against women is systemic, it is embedded into the construction of masculinity and it is widespread amongst all classes of men.

You might say that such theories are just the product of a feminist fringe, but look how they spread over time. There are now suburban mums who are so worried about a "rape culture" that they feel pity for those mothers who have boys instead of girls and they are focused on making sure that their sons aren't raised to be rapists.

You can't rely on common sense to shield a society from the harm of such theories: they need to be actively criticised. I have to say that one of the good things the men's movement has done is to push back against the idea of a "rape culture" in which men (supposedly) have to be educated not to rape women.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Another step forward for Eltham Traditionalists

I'm pleased to report that we had another very successful get together of the Eltham Traditionalists. It was our best turnout yet with four new faces. We keep managing to hit growth targets which has been great to experience.

We're going to try to have one last dinner in mid December, so I'd encourage any readers who live within driving distance of the Melbourne suburb of Eltham to get in touch (contact details are on the website) and help us keep building on the ground.

I notice that the Traditional Britain Group is doing much the same thing at the moment, though it's one step ahead of us, having moved to create a number of local groups, the most recent being established in Yorkshire.

That's our next step as well - once the Eltham group is consolidated, we'd like to set up others. Once people know what's possible, then we have a chance to create a movement with a positive, active focus.

For the time being, it is at least encouraging to be able to meet up with other like-minded people to enjoy a good meal and conversation.

Women for Men

A new website called Women for Men has been launched. If you read the mission statement you'll notice that some of its aims fit in well with traditionalism.

First, there is a recognition that equality doesn't have to mean sameness:
At WFM, we know there’s an alternative view of equality than the one our culture teaches. The word equal implies two things are interchangeable, which men and women are not. That doesn’t mean the sexes aren’t equally valuable...It just means that, generally speaking, men and women choose different life paths based on their inherent, biological differences.

Second, the website breaks with the portrayal of men as privileged oppressors of women:
The American male is tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with him. He’s tired of getting shafted in family courts, or even in college tribunals, where men are assumed guilty until proven innocent. Decades of feminist propaganda have landed us in a place where women are hailed as heroes, and men are viewed as perpetrators—or just losers.

That’s what WFM seeks to remedy. The battle of the sexes will begin to erode when America stops making men pay for women’s so-called oppression. If we do, marriages and relationships will improve—as will the health of the American family.

The founders of the site are well-known authors and commentators. I'll be following the future development of Women for Men with much interest.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Capriol Suite

Here's a fine piece of music, the pavane from Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite composed in 1926:

Monday, November 11, 2013

What comes next matters too

Which philosophy is currently dominant in the West? I've collected a few quotes from political philosophers in which the answer is clearly stated to be liberalism. Here is another, this time from Dr Phillip Cole, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of the West of England. According to Dr Cole:
normative political philosophy at present simply is predominantly liberal political philosophy

I doubt if liberalism will retain this orthodox status forever. However, it's important to keep in mind that the demise of liberalism won't necessarily mean a revival of traditionalism. Liberalism could be replaced by something else just as damaging.

I was reminded of this after reading a column by Giles Fraser, an Anglican minister. In this column, Fraser states clearly that he is not a liberal:
All of which presents an opportunity to clear the decks and say why I am not a liberal. No, I'm not a conservative either. I'm a communitarian. Blue labour, if you like. But certainly not a liberal.

His understanding of liberalism is pretty good:
What I take to be the essence of liberalism is a belief that individual freedom and personal autonomy are the fundamental moral goods.

Fraser is right that liberals put the moral goods of individual freedom and personal autonomy first. One of the problems with this, as I see it, is that it then leaves the good of the community undefended, and the good of the community is important for individual well-being, as we are social creatures who derive important aspects of our identity and our sense of belonging from the communities we belong to.

Fraser criticises liberalism from a different perspective, a socialist one. He wants the community to hold to a moral vision of equality and redistribution and this communal good is then to trump any individual ones:
So, do we think the state ought to have a substantial vision of shared values, perfectly at ease with the language of right and wrong, and at times not at all uncomfortable about imposing that vision through taxation and legislation? Or do we think that the state ought to butt out and let us all get on with living our lives as we see fit?

Just to be clear. I take it that socialists are happy with the former, using the levers of government to shape (impose, if you like) a fairer, more redistributive society.

Fraser observes correctly that individual choice often reduces itself to relatively trivial aims:
From the 80s onwards, popular culture morphed from an angry insistence on a fairer society (the Jam, the Specials etc) into a me-first relativism that is all about sex and shopping.

Fraser then discusses what community means for liberals (though his description seems to best fit classical or right-liberals):
For liberals the word community means little more than co-operation for mutual advantage. Here, individuals exist fundamentally prior to community. There is no such thing as society, and so forth. Liberals are doing it for themselves and rely on the invisible hand of self-interest to do the community work for them. This sort of philosophy has little to offer those who are trying to eke out a living in the tower blocks of south London. It is a philosophy that has demonstrably failed. For socialists, Christians and other religious denominations, the community precedes the individual in so far as the individual is shaped by and responsible to something wider than itself.

It's true to say that the individual is shaped by community and responsible to something wider than himself, but I'm not sure that I'd therefore claim that philosophically the community precedes the individual. The stronger the sense we have of the individual, then the stronger the sense we ought to have of the community which gives the individual the setting for his social commitments, for his self-fulfilment, for his identity, for his love of people and place, for his connection to culture and heritage and so on.

It is not as if you have to choose either individual or community: if you choose individual then you should also choose to defend community rather than seeing community as something the individual has to be liberated from.

It's likely that in coming years some of the attacks on liberalism will come from those who wish to replace it with a socialist view of the common good, which will boil down to the state replacing the functions of the family and also redistributing wealth in the name of equality.

It's important that we maintain our own traditionalist criticisms of liberalism, so that those who blanch at the socialist vision aren't forced back to liberalism as an alternative.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A painting best left hidden?

Several paintings lost in the aftermath of WWII have been found hidden in an apartment in Munich. One of them is interesting for the wrong reasons. Painted by the German Otto Dix it is a reminder of how corrupt European high art was in the early 1900s. It is meant to be a portrait of a woman:

Portrait of a woman by Otto Dix

Otto Dix is one of the better known painters of the era, and the painting above is estimated to be worth about ten million dollars.

Dix was part of an art movement called the "Neue Sachlichkeit" or "New Objectivity." He belonged to the "verists" subgroup of this movement:
The verists' vehement form of realism emphasized the ugly and sordid. Their art was raw, provocative, and harshly satirical. George Grosz and Otto Dix are considered the most important of the verists.

The problem is that the other competing art movements, at least in Central Europe, were equally unappealing. You had the Dada movement, which took the nihilist line of destroying everything in the belief that something better would appear afterwards:
This dissolution was the ultimate in everything that Dada represented, philosophically and morally; everything must be pulled apart, not a screw left in it customary place, the screw-holes wrenched out of shape, the screw, like man himself, set on its way towards new functions which could only be known after the total negation of everything that had existed before. Until then: riot destruction, defiance, confusion. The role of chance, not as an extension of the scope of art, but as a principle of dissolution and anarchy. In art, anti-art.
Note the aim of "the total negation of everything that had existed before" - this I take to be an expression of nihilism.

And then you had futurism, which was also committed to destroying traditional Europe, particularly "closed and predetermined forms" (which suggests a belief in the autonomous, self-determining individual "liberated" from whatever is predetermined):
The Futurist programme was based on the refusal of all closed and predetermined forms, on the exigency of a constant renewal of the arts, and the affirmation of the individual’s creative mind above all social hierarchy.

In their manifestos of 1909 to 1913 the Futurists celebrated the dynamism of great cities, the energy and destructive force of modern inventions. The hectic, deafening chaos of a mechanized world would destroy the old morality, the old society, the outmoded human product. They saw the cycle of death and rebirth repeated in men's entanglement with the machine, with electric power and kinetic force.

I've written recently about how liberal modernity bases itself, in part, on a certain understanding of human individuality, namely a belief that the creative unfolding of self is best achieved when the individual is detached from natural forms of human community such as the family, ethny and nation. It is possible that this was part of the futurists' "affirmation of individual's creative mind above all social hierarchy."

There were Australian artists who looked on in dismay at what was happening in the Old World. Australian art was still in a golden age, particularly when it came to landscapes:

Hans Heysen, Droving into the light

Finally, back to Otto Dix. It is sometimes said that the paintings of Otto Dix were the product of his traumatic experiences in the First World War. But there is evidence that Dix was a certain kind of nihilist prior to this. His thought shows the influence of both realist and vitalist forms of nihilism. Eugene Rose described realist nihilism this way:
He is the believer, in a word, in the "nothing-but," in the reduction of everything men have considered "higher," the things of the mind and spirit, to the lower or "basic": matter, sensation, the physical...the Realist world-view seems perfectly place of vague "higher values" naked materialism and self-interest.

Dix claimed later in life that he volunteered for service in WWI because he wanted to experience violence and death close at hand, because "I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths of life for myself." We learn that:
Dix himself took a perverse pleasure in the events unfolding around him. Olaf Peter relates how Dix would often appal his friends by providing a “detailed description of the pleasurable sensation to be had when bayoneting an enemy to death.”

For a time, too, it seems that Dix was influenced by a vitalist nihilism:
Dix's worldview was deeply influenced by Nietzsche and the vitalism in life's 'will to power'. He, like the majority of his contemporaries, saw World War I as an opportunity to achieve both personal and national greatness through struggle and battle. In this spirit Dix intentionally signed-up with the German Army to fight, to experience life and action as it happened.

But the war was not transforming in the way that "struggle and battle" was supposed to achieve:
He was embittered and disappointed that the war, in which he and many others of his generation had placed such great hopes of vital change, had altered neither men nor their environment.

I've set all this out because when you look at the timing of European decline it becomes clear that a certain nihilism amongst the intelligentsia was prominent even before WWI (it may even have been part of the push toward war).

Have a look at the Otto Dix painting again. That is the disfigured soul of Otto Dix looking at you, a man charged with the cultural leadership of Europe in the early decades of the 1900s.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Christians A and Christians B

An idea has occurred to me which I want to lay out in a post just to see where it leads. It has to do with two different types of religious people and how they fit together within Christianity.

Christians A

I read a post over at the Orthosphere some weeks ago on the role of sacrifice within historic cultures. People felt a burden of sin and were motivated to make sacrifices in order to be purified or redeemed.

The core theology of Christianity fits within this framework: it is through the sacrifice of Christ - the lamb of God - that the sins of the world are taken away.

This feeling - of the burden of sin - is obviously a powerful one, as it remained very strong in the West right up to the early modern period.

And today? It is still found powerfully within the churches. There is still a strong current of belief which emphasises how broken we are and how much in need of being saved.

This is the part of the church which sets itself amongst the moral outcasts, or those wounded or suffering - as Christ himself did.

There are secular liberals, too, who still seem to follow, in their own way, a similar framework. There are liberals who feel a burden of guilt and who seek atonement (sometimes through the sacrifice of their coethnics). In this way, liberalism does connect with a longstanding and significant part of the human experience, but it does so in a way that is unusually self-destructive.

Christians B

The second kind of Christian is the one who seeks communion, or who is oriented to the experience of God's presence in the world.

This kind of Christianity is not very theological, as what matters is the lived experience. It has been strongest in the Orthodox and the High Catholic and Anglican traditions. It is oriented to virtue, to the sacraments, to the dignity and solemnity of the mass, to the beauty of church architecture and music, and, more generally, to the experience of the transcendent in life, as for instance in the beauty of nature.

It is not a type of Christianity that is focused much on brokenness, as it is oriented to what is good, true and beautiful, so these Christians want to be held to high moral standards as part of a church culture.

A fusion?

So the question is whether the churches are to go with Christians A or Christians B. I should declare here that I fit much more readily in the B category. Even so, I don't think that the B category can ever fully represent Christianity. In its core theology, in the life of Christ, and in the powerful tendency for people to feel the burden of sin, there is much support for Christianity A.

The recent trend, anyway, has been for the Catholic church to try to divest itself of Christians B. If you go to a suburban Catholic parish, now, you will not find a beautiful church building, or a solemn and dignified mass, or a respect for the sacraments, or a focus on standards of personal morality.

It seems to me, too, that Pope Francis is attempting to steer the Catholic church in the direction of Christianity A. I get a sense of this when Pope Francis seeks to downplay church moral teachings in order to bring the church closer to those who are morally outcast.

Will the church be better off without Christians B? I don't think so. Christianity B is there in the Bible too and it has been in the church tradition from early on. Without it, Christianity would tend to drift in the direction (admittedly this is an extreme example) of the Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber. (hat tip: Laura Wood)

Nadia Bolz-Weber


She is one of those moral outcasts:
A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club. She is part of society’s outsiders, she writes in her memoir, its “underside dwellers . . . cynics, alcoholics and queers.”

She is almost celebrated for her moral brokenness rather than her virtue:
“You show us all your dirty laundry! It’s all out there!” the Rev. John Elford of the University United Methodist Church booms, as if he is introducing a rock star, leading the cheering crowd into an impassioned round of hymn-singing.

She's not too concerned about rules:
Her message: Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.

Christianity, Bolz-Weber preaches, has nothing to do with rules

She seems to deliberately set herself apart from Christians B here:
“I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset,” she says. God is present in these challenging interactions, she says.

“I never experience God in camping or trees or nature. I hate nature,” she told the Austin crowd as she paced the stage. “God invented takeout and duvets for a reason.”

Everything is broken, everything a mess:
Bolz-Weber says she abhors “spirituality,” which she sees as a limp kind of self-improvement plan. She prefers a cranky, troublemaking and real God who at times of loss and pain doesn’t have the answers either.

“God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing,” she writes about Jesus’s resurrection and the idea that the story is used as fodder for judgment. “God is not distant at the cross. . . . God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as [bad] as the rest of us.”

She is not oriented to what is excellent:
Four years and a seminary degree later, Bolz-Weber founded what today is casually called House. It’s a start-up of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with an “anti-excellence, pro-participation” policy.

She is a very pure (radical?) type of Christian A. Unsurprisingly, she has attracted something of a following - as I wrote earlier, Christianity A does connect to something significant. But could a pure type of Christianity A really hold the same kind of numbers as one that brings together both A and B?

I really don't think so. The Catholic church did it better in the past, I believe, when it managed to draw in both.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The BBC Debate 2

In my last post I discussed a debate on immigration that was held on BBC radio. John Derbyshire has a report on the debate at Vdare and has also provided a transcript.

If you read through the debate you understand why things are going wrong in the West. Both the secular and the Christian participants held views which made open borders the "moral" position to take. They did so by following what you might call the "intellectual disease" which is to reduce life to a single intellectual principle and then try to derive moral positions from this single principle.

The Christian view was represented primarily by Giles Fraser, an Anglican cleric. Fraser is unusual in that he has very clearly rejected liberalism as a philosophy, but he has done so in the name of socialism (which goes to show that rejecting liberalism is only the first step, what comes next is equally important).

Fraser justifies open borders, and the massive transformation of Europe that necessarily follows, on the basis of certain passages of scripture:
The bit that comes to mind in the Scriptures for me is that very moving bit in Matthew 25 where Jesus goes, you know, "You saw me in prison, you didn't do anything, you, you didn't give me any food, I was a stranger and you didn't welcome me," and they go, "When was that?" and they say, "Inasmuch as you didn't do it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me." I mean, there's a whole implication there that if you're not welcoming the stranger, you're not welcoming Christ. know, constantly in Jesus' teaching there's stuff about the stranger, there's stuff about the other, there's stuff about the Good Samaritan, and our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us.

The last line is the critical one. Fraser believes, from his reading of scripture, that our responsibility is always to those who are more "other" to us. If you believe this, then of course you're going to identify with the Muslim Africans seeking entry to Europe rather than with your fellow Europeans. Fraser, despite his repudiation of liberalism as a philosophy, has ended up with a very similar view of solidarity to liberals, namely that true solidarity is with those most other to us, rather than those we are most closely related to.

It should be said that you can see why Fraser might derive this idea from the New Testament. Jesus does emphasise in his teachings that benevolence is to be selfless (in the sense that we do not expect anything in return) and that it extends to strangers. Jesus says things like this:
But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

In context, Jesus is clearly emphasising that we are not to be benevolent to get something for ourselves - that is the intended message. But you can see how it might be taken to mean that the love we have for those we are related to, and who have reason to love us, is insignificant.

I don't think such a reading makes much sense. Jesus elsewhere says that in order to be saved we must honour our father and mother - why would that be so important if all that matters is our relationship to the stranger?

In practice, too, it is no small thing to love those who love us. To truly love our spouse over a lifetime, through all the stresses and hardships of life, and still to cherish them, to admire them and to find delight in our relationship with them is no small thing. To truly love our children, to have a continuing pride in our paternal relationship with our sons and to seek out an active companionship with them, to feel a loving protectiveness toward our daughters, and to be driven to provide the best start in life for our children, that is no small thing. And to love those we are related to as part of our ethny, to sense the life that we share with them and to seek to uphold the good within our common tradition - that is no small thing either.

It used to be the case that Western civilisation continued to respect these loves, but also took seriously the injunction to be benevolent to "the least among you." That gave rise to traditions of Christian charity, of noblesse oblige and of codes of chivalry.

The codes of chivalry are particularly interesting. They combined Christian benevolence (mercy, protection of the weak and the poor) with duties to countrymen and faithfulness to the church. This is a much more viable basis for a Christian civilisation than Giles Fraser's dissolving formulation that "our moral responsibility is always to this person who is more other than us, rather than same as us" - a formulation which would deliver Europe to an Islamic and African future rather than a Christian European one.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The BBC debate 1

It's no wonder that the Western countries are in such trouble when you consider the shallow ideas that dominate the minds of our intellectuals.

John Derbyshire has a report up at Vdare about a debate on immigration that took place on BBC radio. The positions taken by the participants were as disappointing as they were predictable.

Why predictable? There is a growing consensus amongst liberals of all stripes that the point of life is to be self-made, particularly in the market. If you believe this, then you will see economic migrants as the ideal sort of person, since they are the ones who take the most initiative to be self-made in this way.

One of the panellists on the BBC debate was Claire Fox, who is the director of the Institute of Ideas. This is what she had to say on immigration:
So I believe in freedom of movement and therefore open the borders, but I suppose morally my main thing is that, being human, one of the most inspiring things about it is that you can make yourself not accept your fate and create your own destiny. And in that sense the immigrant is an ideal moral figure, and could be seen to embody it. So that's what I find inspiring.

Isn't that a revealing statement? She is saying that what defines us as a human is that we are autonomous in the sense of being self-determining or self-defining. That's step one in the thought process. But how do we self-define? To be consistent, we can only self-define in some area of life that we can pursue as individuals, such as career, travel, lifestyle, hobbies and so on. Career is the weightiest of these, so liberals tend to put most of their eggs in this basket. So what it all boils down to in the end, for a liberal, is being self-made in your career and economic status.

An economic migrant goes to all the trouble to uproot himself in order to make himself in the market and so he becomes for the average liberal "an ideal moral figure."

The mistake made by liberals like Claire Fox is to think of human life in terms of a detached self-making. We are supposed to make our lives as abstracted individuals, as this abstraction is supposed to give us the greatest freedom to self-create.

But we are not detached or abstracted selves. When we make our lives we do so as created beings with given natures. Freedom means a liberty to unfold (or fulfil) the best within these given natures.

And we do that best within natural forms of community, such as family, tribe and nation. This is particularly true for men, as our masculine talents are especially directed toward our roles in upholding these forms of human community.

In arguing for a borderless world, liberals are not adding to but are taking away from our freedom to creatively unfold ourselves as individuals. They are dissolving the longstanding communities within which such creative self-expression best takes place.

There were also some arguments relating to Christianity mentioned in the BBC debate, but I'll leave these to the next post.