Sunday, July 30, 2017

A sixties feminist regrets

Before I leave behind Karley Sciortino, I'd like to make one final point. Sometimes societies forget the reasons why traditional moral rules exist. Why, for instance, did traditional societies frown upon young, unmarried people being promiscuous? Was it simply because the elders of these societies were "hung up"?

The lesson to be learnt from recent decades is that when promiscuity is accepted, the young women of a society experience a situation of "abundance" - no shortage of offers - and that large numbers will then spend their 20s trying to hook up with the "hottest" men available to them. But this damages the ability of these women to pair bond with just one man. Karley Sciortino calls this being jaded:
Now, being jaded doesn’t simply mean that you’re “over it.” It’s more that you’ve become sick and tired after overindulging in something. And I’m pretty sure that my current state is the result of binge-eating on sex and relationships for the past 15 years. Some of the telltale signs include: Being around cheery, optimistic people makes me nauseous...I often swipe through Tinder in front of my friends, sighing unnecessarily loudly and saying things like, “See, this is what I have to choose from!”...When I see engagement notifications on Facebook, I think, She must have settled. (Or, if I’m in a particularly bad mood: She just ruined her life.)

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve pretty much convinced myself that my options are either to be single forever or eventually be like, “Eh, you’ll do.”...But even if you know you’re jaded, that doesn’t mean you have the power to control it.

Young adults have an instinct to save themselves for the person they will ultimately commit to, but they also have an instinct to want to experience sexual pleasure and variety. The question then becomes: what is the highest good? Is it a lifelong, loving marriage in which two people successfully bond together? Or is it the pleasure of sexual variety?

What Karley is reminding us is that sexual variety loses its lustre over time and that it undermines the opportunity to experience love with a person of the opposite sex. Traditional societies chose the higher path.

Which brings me to the remarkable Daily Mail column by sixties feminist Jeannette Kupferman. She was one of those young women who initially embraced the feminist sexual revolution but who now wonders about its effect on relationships between the sexes:
It makes me wonder what happened to the Brave New World we’d envisaged for our daughters and granddaughters. A world of unlimited possibilities, choices and equality for girls to become or do anything?

A world I — like many women — fought for in the Sixties.

Has feminism made life worse, not better, for today’s generation of girls?

Certainly, women have never existed in such a bleak emotional landscape.

Note the orthodox liberalism here. She wanted unlimited choices for girls to become or do anything. But she didn't think through what this would logically lead to. If the important thing is not the quality of what you choose, but the fact that you can choose to do or to be anything, then the older moral rules will be thought to limit the individual and his choices. Those who transgress these rules will then be admired as cutting edge and liberated.

She now thinks it has all gone too far. She reminisces about what life was like before the sexual revolution, finding many positives. She writes,
I feel so sad for young girls who will never receive a beautiful love letter or go on a romantic date with no strings attached.

And she wishes the following for her recently born granddaughter:
...I want her to feel euphoria because of the rare richness and uniqueness of life, and because of pride in her own innate womanhood — not be sozzled with booze or worse, ending up destroying body and soul in some demeaning, meaningless sexual encounter.

And yet it was she, and her liberal values, which pushed society along this path. It has been pointed out many times that there is no stop button built into the liberal ideal. You can't push liberalism so far and then say "this is good, but we shouldn't take it any further". It is going to keep logically unravelling, to ever more radical and socially dissolving outcomes.

Monday, July 24, 2017

When women reject a higher nature, what takes over?

In my last post I drew a distinction between elevated and base aspects of womanhood. The elevated aspect is inspiring to men and is associated with feminine virtue:

Men who only see women spiritually as elevated creatures are at risk of becoming "white knights" who hold men alone as responsible for problems within the family. They aren't likely to understand the civilisational effort that is needed to keep women from falling down toward their baser nature.

I mentioned in my last post some of the characteristics that can make female behaviour petty, unstable and destructive. First, women's emotions can slide easily along several horizontal axes, one of which has "fun" at one end and "bored" at the other; another with "love" at one end and "hate" at the other. Women tend more than men to have an external locus of control, believing that what happens to them is the result of cosmic forces that have to be divined.

By chance, soon after writing this post I came across the columns of Karley Sciortino, who writes for Vogue. She is someone who has given herself over to these baser qualities of womanhood to an unusual degree, so she illustrates where the "liberated woman" (i.e. a woman "liberated" from traditionally feminine virtues) will finally arrive.

The purpose of writing this is twofold: first, to encourage women to cultivate virtue and, second, to persuade men that it can't just be left to chance that women will be formed successfully for marriage and motherhood - that this requires the culture to push in whatever way it can toward the virtues.

At first, it seems as if Karley does not prove my point about women externalising. In my first post I asserted:
...women tend to externalise. In their experience, they are acted upon by external forces, so that they don't "own" their personal emotional states. These states happen to them, in ways difficult to understand, perhaps brought about by cosmic forces they cannot control.

...most modern women still give some credence to various forms of fortune telling such as tarot cards. Even highly educated, professional women will use spells or magic to try to ward off "negative energies" that exert a baleful influence over them. Some women still go to fortune tellers to help them make major life decisions, such are those relating to marriage or divorce.

If you read Karley Sciortino's columns they are analytical and self-reflective and therefore disprove my point - until, that is, you read Karley's descriptions of her own female peers:
...even in notoriously skeptical New York, it’s increasingly difficult to find someone who doesn’t believe that some magical cosmic force is dictating everything from subway timing to whether or not they’re getting laid.

And I note too that she is not above dabbling in such matters herself: one of her columns is titled "Can a shaman cure my fear of normalcy?"

What really stands out in Karley Sciortino's writing is her fear of sliding along that axis from fun to boredom. It has been her ruin:
Last weekend, I found myself sitting in front of a shaman in a mansion in Berkeley, talking about my commitment problems. You know, cliché white people stuff. “I have this fear,” I told the shaman, “that I’m going to wake up one day with a husband, two kids, a house in the suburbs, and wonder how I got there, as if it’s my destiny. So to avoid it, I continually destroy my relationships at the first sign they’re headed in that direction.”

...In the past, once a relationship began to feel routine, I cheated...Basically, as soon as something feels stable, I sabotage it. I’ve often thought this impulse stems from my super-white-bread, middle-class upbringing: I grew up in a small town with married parents who loved each other. It felt safe but not interesting, and I’ve spent my life fighting that fate.

She is worried that she will be bored by marital love, motherhood and security and so sabotages her relationships. She also finds virtue in men boring. She explains that she goes for men who are sexually uninhibited because:
the goal is certainly to live a life full of intense and new experiences. And if you prioritize thrill and excitement over security, then a hedonist is the right choice.
And that,
Every time a relationship with a different sex maniac comes to a fiery end, I have the same thought: “This time I’m going to date someone nice, who’s never even once been accused of sexual harassment.” Every time I say it to myself in this really self-congratulatory way, like I’ve just discovered the cure for cancer. But then, without fail, when I start dating one of these nice, in-control people, within two weeks I want to kill myself. It’s hard to get off on virtue alone.

And what about pettiness? This is how Karley Sciortino filters men:
Essentially, we are far more discriminating in our 30s than we were in our 20s, which is both a blessing and a curse. We know more about what we want and what we won’t tolerate—but to a point where almost no one is good enough. I find myself having thoughts like, “I could never date him, he wears V-necks.” Or, “He was nice, but he sleeps in a mezzanine bed.” And this perpetual dissatisfaction is especially true in New York, where inflated egos are paired with incredibly high standards and the illusion of infinite choice. That cliché of thinking “someone better might be just around the corner” is real.

Karley also fits everything that the red pill sites say about the modern girl lifestyle. She rode the carousel during her 20s, but now that she is in her early 30s is worried that she has hit the wall. She has written a whole column explaining her change of heart, which includes this:’s not just that being single suddenly feels alienating in your 30s. It’s also that dating itself becomes more difficult. For one, the stakes are higher. You don’t want to waste your time on someone who doesn’t feel like they could be “the one.” But simultaneously, thinking “would he make a good dad?” after knowing someone for the duration of a martini makes you feel like an insane, rom-com cliché of a woman. Not ideal.

...The catch is, as we become increasingly picky, the pool of soul mates keeps getting smaller. Here’s another 30s development: Now, when I meet a cute guy, he’s often already married...

But after so long with so many men she is, by her own admission, very jaded. She writes that she has given up on meeting a hotter circle of men and is finally thinking of settling. She writes:
Now, being jaded doesn’t simply mean that you’re “over it.” It’s more that you’ve become sick and tired after overindulging in something. And I’m pretty sure that my current state is the result of binge-eating on sex and relationships for the past 15 years. Some of the telltale signs include: Being around cheery, optimistic people makes me nauseous...I often swipe through Tinder in front of my friends, sighing unnecessarily loudly and saying things like, “See, this is what I have to choose from!”...When I see engagement notifications on Facebook, I think, She must have settled. (Or, if I’m in a particularly bad mood: She just ruined her life.)

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve pretty much convinced myself that my options are either to be single forever or eventually be like, “Eh, you’ll do.”...But even if you know you’re jaded, that doesn’t mean you have the power to control it.

Would you really want your son to be the man who ends up marrying this woman? Is this woman likely to successfully pair bond? Is it not likely that she will see her future husband as a beta male she settled for and who will therefore always be on the back foot trying to please her? Is it not likely she will want to go back to the thrill of the low-virtue, uninhibited men she spent her formative years with?

It is true, no doubt, that Karley Sciortino has pushed the "liberated" girl lifestyle further than others, but her mindset illustrates what is possible, negatively, within the nature of women. Does anyone believe that you can form stable marriages from this kind of lifestyle? Or maintain a civilisation?

It is wrong to disregard the choices women make, or to think that it is only masculine virtue that counts. Women have to be drawn to a standard of virtue - this is something basic to family formation, to the possibility of marital love, to a society successfully reproducing itself, and to men being inspired to defend their own tradition.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Male dominion, magical women

I saw this on Twitter and had mixed feelings about it:

There is a sense in which women can claim to be a crowning achievement of divine creation. There is an aspect of womanhood which men perceive to be beautiful, pure, lovely and innocent and which inspires men to a higher form of love and protectiveness. This is women as they exist, potentially at least, on a spiritual level.

There are some alt-right women who are steering the ideal of womanhood back to this higher concept. Below, for instance, is a list of feminine virtues which fits in well with "spiritual womanhood":

The list is good, but a society has to be wise to other less elevated aspects of womanhood. Women can, in their emotions, be petty, unstable and destructive. You could think of a woman's emotions as sliding along a number of horizontal axes. For instance, one axis would have love at one end and hate at the other. Another would have fun at one end and bored at the other.

And, combined with this, women tend to externalise. In their experience, they are acted upon by external forces, so that they don't "own" their personal emotional states. These states happen to them, in ways difficult to understand, perhaps brought about by cosmic forces they cannot control.

This spells trouble for women's commitments, particularly their relationship commitments. Easily bored, easily feeling shifts from positive to negative emotion, sometimes prone to seek drama and excitement, sometimes unable to identify their own contribution to their emotional condition, and sometimes expecting an undefined "rescue" by or from some external agent.

It can lead to dissolved families or unhappy marriages. And it can be the most attractively feminine, emotionally vivacious and "nice" women who are most prone to these qualities.

The axis for men is different, as it does not involve as much sliding back and forth. Men seek to travel along a horizontal axis, the end point of which is a certain kind of mastery and control, e.g. to grasp the nature of reality, to penetrate to truth or knowledge, to exercise mastery of one's own will, to gain dominion in some sphere of life. The nature of this ambition means that men will try not to slide backward but to hold onto gains they have made, and it also means that men are pushed toward an "internal locus of control" - that the task is to use one's own concentrated powers to either succeed or fail in achieving mastery.

To illustrate the point further, think of the divergence that has opened up between men and women in the modern era when it comes to such things as auguries, divination and witchcraft. In pre-modern times, men used to seek control over events, in part, by such practices as reading the entrails of sacrificed animals. The scientific era pulled nearly all men away from all this (as being ineffective).

But most modern women still give some credence to various forms of fortune telling such as tarot cards. Even highly educated, professional women will use spells or magic to try to ward off "negative energies" that exert a baleful influence over them. Some women still go to fortune tellers to help them make major life decisions, such are those relating to marriage or divorce. Why? Presumably because they don't have the same mental focus as men on mastery or dominion but instead feel themselves, like the ancients, blindly and randomly subject to the Fates, or to Fortuna, or to cosmic energies that aren't rationally to be grasped but that can only be divined.

Most women, in their heart of hearts, are still ancients. Most men have moved on.

Which is not to say that the male axis is beyond criticism. At its best it is an attempt to grasp an order of existence that harmonises the spiritual, the social and the natural aspects of reality. But it often falls far below this. Some male moderns have tried to reproduce the success of the natural sciences in finding a single "law" by which society and/or self might be ordered. Some seem content to narrow life down to a sphere within which the individual might compete for dominion (e.g. man in the market). Some think only in terms of their own personal mastery within this sphere, the exercise of their own individual will, and so have little regard for the larger tradition they belong to, their communal identity, or for past and future generations. Those who do consider the larger society sometimes seek to achieve rational control via a soulless technocracy. And some have been reduced to a focus merely on the exercise of will itself, having lost faith in the possibility of a rational ordering of self or society.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Reply to a libertarian

My previous post on the Cato Institute attracted some interest, including a comment from a libertarian named Kurt who wrote:
The Cato Institute approves a model of society in which there are simply individuals in pursuit of their own self-interest (in particular their economic self-interest).

So do I. There is nothing in libertarianism that precludes people from living a more traditional lifestyle, if they so choose. In fact many libertarians do just that. It seems you have a beef with those who want to make choices differently than you.

They must band together, as a collective force. They must go on strike?

In a certain sense all human endeavors are collective. For example, a start-up company. You seek out others who share your commitment to a particular goal, then work together to accomplish that goal. So what? I work with all kinds of people in my daily life and in pursuit of my life goals. As long no coercion is involved, this is perfectly compatible with libertarianism.

One's body being the most private and precious of all property.

Of course. This is a tautology, especially with regards to bio-medicine and life extension.

I will say it again. There is no reason why like-minded individuals cannot live a "traditional" life in a libertarian society. It appears that your problem with libertarianism is not that it prevents you from living your own life, but that you can't force your choices onto others.

Kurt is suggesting that you can make society in general run along libertarian lines but within this society individuals could voluntarily associate to purse a traditional lifestyle together.

I want to point out a few of the problems with Kurt's suggestion. First, it does not allow for the preservation of real, historic nations of people. If the Poles, for instance, were to adopt Kurt's advice, they would not be able to say "we want to preserve our existing Polish identity at the state level, for instance, through immigration policy." You could not assert, at the public level, one thing over another as that would be "coercion" against individual preference. The best you could do would be for individual Poles to try to keep their tradition going by gathering together somewhere in Poland as part of a voluntary association.

In the meantime, you would have an influx of people into Poland not sharing the Polish identity or tradition and, most likely, being willing to use their resources and influence to make sure that the native tradition did not prosper. Would the little pockets, the little remnants, of Polish communities survive? Even if a few did, the effect of libertarianism would not be neutral - it would have forever impacted on the real existence of the Poles as a nation of people.

It's the same when it comes to family. A traditional society requires a stable form of family life. Libertarians, though, believe that family is whatever people choose it to be. Furthermore, libertarians see the family as a purely voluntarily association that people can choose to join or leave at any time and for any reason.

And so a traditionalist community would be radically countercultural within a libertarian society. It would require a massive undertaking by individuals without large-scale resources, to set up their own towns, schools, universities and mass media, where a traditionalist understanding of family could prosper in opposition to the libertarian one. In a sense, traditionalists would be creating their own society from scratch. It is a daunting prospect, that involves escaping libertarian norms, rather than one easily accomplished within a libertarian system.

And here's another issue. Libertarianism is not value neutral. Libertarianism rests upon a particular understanding of man and society that has evolved over time from a mishmash of intellectual influences. Kurt himself acknowledges that he agrees with "a model of society in which there are simply individuals in pursuit of their own self-interest (in particular their economic self-interest)".

So it is not possible for Kurt to claim that, in pushing for a libertarian model of society, he is not imposing his own world view on others. Libertarians are, in fact, imposing a very specific concept of man, his purposes, his relationship to others and the sources of meaning, value and human dignity. From these assumptions then flow the libertarian concept of how society should be organised politically.

Furthermore, once you accept the libertarian/classical liberal world view, then a particular kind of morality emerges, one that is inevitably held to seriously by the "thinkers" within such a society. For instance, if what matters is an untrammelled pursuit of individual self-interest by all, then it becomes critical that I do not in my own choices hinder or limit the choices of others. So the moral thing then becomes "non-interference" which leads to a moral system centred on attributes such as openness to the other, respect for diversity, non-discrimination, and tolerance. Particular loyalties, especially those based on inherited attributes such as race, sex, ethnicity - even culture - are thought of negatively as limitations, perhaps even "bigotry".

So a traditionalist community is once again going to be radically countercultural within a libertarian society. It is going to be countercultural at a deeper philosophical level, and, more immediately, in terms of the moral values of that society. The traditionalist community is going to be put in the position of having to resist the moral norms of the larger society, no easy task given the way that people generally conform to the leading ideas of the society they inhabit.

Finally, there is the issue of truth claims. If you set out to create a society with a multitude of religions and cultures, then it becomes difficult to hold to the deeper truth claims of any of them. To be part of one tends to become something like a "personal preference" or a "sentimental attachment" without a wider significance. The centre moves elsewhere, most likely to some sort of commercialised lifestyle and culture. In practice there is a hollowing out of the culture.

I remember the comment of one American classical liberal who forcefully insisted on cultures and religions being inconsequential:
Cultures and religions are either about weddings and music and fancy clothes or they're about to get their asses kicked...If all religions and cultures are equal then none is superior, and that is how we keep them in line.

Kurt, I hope you can understand from all this why I don't find the prospect of trying to maintain a traditionalist community within a libertarian system appealing. It is certainly not the ideal for traditionalists to aspire to. Nor does it make sense for traditionalists to accept the organisation of society according to a value system so much at odds with our own.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Libertarianism is not traditionalism 2

I published a post a few days ago on the Cato Institute, a leading libertarian organisation. I was therefore interested to find this in my Twitter feed:

Libertarians, like other right-liberals, look to the free market to regulate society. They believe that this is the engine of human progress. Hence the following quote:
"Capitalism reduces the oppression of traditional societies that impose hierarchies of gender and caste,” writes Cudd, because embedded within market exchange itself is the idea that each individual should be free to pursue her self-interest.

So there you go. The Cato Institute approves a model of society in which there are simply individuals in pursuit of their own self-interest (in particular their economic self-interest).

To a traditionalist this is a model of society that is not only ultimately unworkable, but that also has too limited a view of individual life. Are we really just atomised individuals in pursuit of our own individual profit? Is that what defines us as humans? Are men and women simply interchangeable units within a system of production and consumption?

Capitalism, as an economic system, should not define what humans are. Nor should it define our concept of society. Nor our understanding of the roles of men and women in society.

Does anyone really believe that if we tell young men and women that the highest good is to pursue their own individual self-interest that we will arrive at successful relationships between men and women? Stable families? High levels of trust between the sexes? A commitment to raise children successfully?

Capitalism alone cannot create a good society. It's necessary to keep to those traditional values and institutions that cohere or successfully order a society and which express deeper truths about man, community, belonging and identity.

The one good thing to draw from the Cato tweet is that it reminds us of what to look out for. Perhaps it is, in fact, true that a market system encourages the idea "that each individual should be free to pursue his or her self-interest." This idea goes back a long way in Western political theory - it brings to mind the view of man and society of John Locke in the late 1600s. It is likely that men made wealthy in the market will be attracted to the idea and give patronage to those holding it. But wherever and whenever it arises it needs to be vigorously opposed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Canadian baby must choose its own sex?

The essence [of liberalism] is that individuals are self-creating...
Professor Alan Ryan

Let's say that you believe that the highest good is for individuals to be self-creating. What would this logically lead to?

Well, it might lead you to think that people should get to choose their own sex. Hence this story about a Canadian parent who believes that their baby should not be assigned a biological sex because this would limit them:
A baby has been issued an ‘unknown’ gender identity health card in British Columbia, Canada, after the child’s parent fought to raise the infant with a neutral gender.

“I do not gender my child,” Doty said in a statement. “It is up to Searyl to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity.

“I am not going to foreclose their choices based on an arbitrary assignment of gender at birth."

Doty said that they are 'raising Searyl in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are'.

'I'm recognizing them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box,' Doty told the news site.

Note how something predetermined, like being a boy or girl, is portrayed negatively as a restriction, as something that boxes in the individual.

As outlandish as the Canadian baby case sounds now, it fits the state ideology and so is likely to become more accepted over time, unless that ideology is effectively challenged. As mentioned above, the Canadians state has already seen fit to issue the baby with a health card that lists its sex as unknown:

Cato libertarians take a step to the left

The Cato Institute is a leading libertarian organisation in the U.S. The Institute recently published a significant article about race. It's fascinating to read because it shows the logic of how left-liberalism developed out of classical/right-liberalism.

But I need to quickly set the scene for this. All forms of liberalism begin with the idea that what matters is a freedom of the individual to be autonomous: to have the liberty to choose to be or to do whatever, as long as it does not limit a similar liberty for others to choose to be or to do whatever.

But this raises the question of how a society of atomised, autonomous individuals each seeking their own subjective good can be successfully regulated. Although there is no single answer given by liberals, the dominant form of liberalism in the mid-1800s, classical liberalism, emphasised the idea that the market could best regulate society. Millions of individuals could participate in the free market, each seeking their own profit, but the hidden hand of the market would ensure that the larger outcome was a positive one for society.

So what went wrong? The classical liberals would say that as long as everyone had an equal opportunity to participate in the market, then everyone had an equal human dignity as an autonomous individual.

But in the later 1800s this was queried. If I am poor and uneducated do I really have the same opportunity in the market as someone who is born to private schools and so on? The new liberals thought that there needed to be a greater role for government intervention to overcome institutional disadvantage.

And so the modern left emerged. For decades there has been a right-liberal party which emphasises markets (Republicans, Tories etc.) and a left-liberal one which emphasises government programs to overcome inequality (Democrats, Labour etc.). Libertarians have mostly been purist right-liberal types, pushing for limited government, markets, and liberty understood as individual autonomy.

So it is no surprise that the Cato Institute piece on race begins as follows:
Libertarians tend to think of freedom as either a means to an end of maximum utility—e.g., free markets produce the most wealth—or, in a more philosophical sense, in opposition to arbitrary authority—e.g., “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Both views fuel good arguments for less government and more personal autonomy.

That's exactly what you would expect from someone on the liberal right. Autonomy, free markets, limited government, freedom. But look at what happens next:
Yet neither separately, nor both taken together, address the impediments to freedom that have plagued the United States since its founding. Many of the oppressions America has foisted upon its citizens, particularly its black citizens, indeed came from government actors and agents. But a large number of offenses, from petty indignities to incidents of unspeakable violence, have been perpetrated by private individuals, or by government with full approval of its white citizens.

You can tell what this is leading up to. It's leading up to the left-liberal idea that there are institutional, systemic barriers to equal participation. That disparities in outcomes are to be explained in terms of institutional oppression, racism and systemic discrimination. And that's exactly where the Cato writer goes:
Take, for example, the common libertarian/conservative trope: “We believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.” Most people, outside of the few and most ardent socialists, should believe that is a fair statement. But to say such a thing as a general defense of the status quo assumes that the current American system offers roughly equal opportunity just because Jim Crow is dead. Yet, that cannot possibly be true.

Think of the phrase “Don’t go there, it’s a bad neighborhood.” Now, sometimes that neighborhood is just a little run down, doesn’t have the best houses, doesn’t have the best shopping nearby, or feeds a mediocre school. But, more often, that neighborhood is very poor, lacks decent public infrastructure, suffers from high unemployment, has the worst schools, and is prone to gang or other violence. And, in many cities—in both North and South—that neighborhood is almost entirely populated by minorities.

There are only two conclusions possible when facing the very real prospect that thousands or millions of Americans live in areas you warn your friends not to go, even by accident: Either everyone in those areas is a criminal, or is content to live among and be victimized by criminals; or there is some number of people, and probably a large one, trapped in living conditions that cannot help but greatly inhibit their opportunities for success and advancement.

He goes on at length about racism and white supremacy and how the Federal Government has helped to overcome this more than markets have. He stops a short of endorsing big government solutions, but you can see how the logic of his argument prepares the ground for this.

The mainstream left and right are not so different from each other. They both exist within the same philosophical framework, sharing the same assumptions about what human life is for. Mainstream leftism is an attempt to perfect the liberalism that came before it, to realize it in a more equitable and consistent way.

The challenge for those who dislike what the modern West has become is to step outside of the liberal framework entirely - to be neither of the left nor of the classical liberal/libertarian right.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Liberalism, secular religion, vulnerability

There is a terrific review of a new book on liberalism over at First Things. The book is by a Polish philosopher named Ryszard Legutko, who was a dissident under the communist government and who believes that communism and liberalism share a similar secular religious framework.

The review, by Adrian Vermeule, is difficult to improve on, so I will limit myself to some commentary on one of the key points raised and then encourage you to go and read the whole thing yourselves.

What I found most interesting was the discussion of some contradictions within liberalism. For instance, liberalism emphasises both a materialist determinism (i.e. everything we do is predetermined by forces of history, genetics etc.) and a belief in the radically autonomous individual, including the idea that individuals, absent certain social conditions, will use this autonomous freedom to choose the good. How can you have a radically self-determining individual if you believe that everything is materially predetermined? One part of liberal philosophy insists that the individual is radically predetermined, the other that he only has dignity if he is radically self-determined.

The most interesting contradiction discussed, and one that is complained about all the time in alt-right discussions on social media, is why liberals seem uninterested in seriously illiberal policies in places like Saudi Arabia but come down heavily on mildly illiberal policies in places like Hungary. I think the answer given by Legutko, as summarised by Vermeule, is very interesting:
Why do Western liberal academics and EU technocrats object so stridently to the mild illiberalism of the Fidesz parliamentary party in Hungary, while saying little or nothing about Saudi Arabia and other monarchical or authoritarian nations, nominal allies of the West, who routinely control, punish, and dominate women, gays, and religious dissenters? Why are the EU technocrats, whose forte is supposed to be competence, so very bumbling, making policy mistake after policy mistake? How is it possible that while the sitting president of the United States squarely opposed same-sex marriage just a few years ago, the liberal intellectuals who supported him passionately also condemn any opposition to same-sex marriage as bigotry, rooted in cultural backwardness? Why was the triumph of same-sex marriage followed so rapidly by the opening of a new regulatory and juridical frontier, the recognition of transgender identity?

Legutko helps us understand these oddities. We have to start by understanding that liberalism has a sacramental character. “The liberal-democratic mind, just as the mind of any true communist, feels an inner compulsion to manifest its pious loyalty to the doctrine. Public life is full of mandatory rituals in which every politician, artist, writer, celebrity, teacher or any public figure is willing to participate, all to prove that their liberal-democratic creed springs spontaneously from the depths of their hearts.” The basic liturgy of liberalism is the Festival of Reason, which in 1793 placed a Goddess of Reason (who may or may not have been a prostitute conscripted for the occasion, in one of the mocking double entendres of Providence) on the holy altar in the Church of Our Lady in Paris. The more the Enlightenment rejects the sacramental, the more compulsively it re-enacts its founding Festival, the dawning of rationality.

Light is defined by contrast, however, so the Festival requires that the children of light spy out and crush the forces of darkness, who appear in ever-changing guises, before the celebration can be renewed. The essential components of the Festival are twofold: the irreversibility of Progress and the victory over the Enemy, the forces of reaction. Taken in combination, these commitments give liberalism its restless and aggressive dynamism, and help to make sense of the anomalies. Fidesz in Hungary is more threatening than the Saudi monarchy, even though the latter is far less liberal, because Fidesz represents a retrogression—a deliberate rejection of liberalism by a nation that was previously a member in good standing of the liberal order. The Hungarians, and for that matter the Poles, are apostates, unlike the benighted Saudis, who are simple heretics. What is absolutely essential is that the clock of Progress should never be turned back. The problem is not just that it might become a precedent and encourage reactionaries on other fronts. The deeper issue is that it would deny the fundamental eschatology of liberalism, in which the movement of History may only go in one direction. It follows that Brexit must be delayed or defeated at all costs, through litigation or the action of an unelected House of Lords if necessary, and that the Trump administration must be cast as a temporary anomaly, brought to power by voters whose minds were clouded by racism and economic pain. (It is therefore impossible to acknowledge that such voters might have legitimate cultural grievances or even philosophical objections to liberalism.)

The puzzle of the EU technocrats, on this account, is no puzzle at all. They are so error-prone, even from a technocratic point of view, at least in part because they are actually engaged in a non-technocratic enterprise that is pervasively ideological, in the same way that Soviet science was ideological. Their prime directive is to protect and expand the domain of liberalism, whether or not that makes for technical efficiency.

Liberalism needs an enemy to maintain its sacramental dynamism. It can never rest in calm waters, basking in the day of victory; it is essential that at any given moment there should be a new battle to be fought. The good liberal should always be able to say, “We have made progress, but there is still much to do.” This is why the triumph of same-sex marriage actually happened too suddenly and too completely. Something else was needed to animate liberalism, and transgenderism has quickly filled the gap, defining new forces of reaction and thus enabling new iterations and celebrations of the Festival. And if endorsement and approval of self-described “gender identity” becomes a widely shared legal and social norm, a new frontier will be opened, and some new issue will move to the top of the public agenda, something that now seems utterly outlandish and is guaranteed to provoke fresh opposition from the cruel forces of reaction—polygamy, perhaps, or mandatory vegetarianism.

If this is true, then it gives liberalism both a strength and a weakness. The strength is that people hold to liberal beliefs like a religion, and therefore as a source of meaning that is difficult to step away from. The weakness is that the force of the religious belief depends on an "eschatology" in which there is always a progress toward an ever more radical application of liberalism in society. Therefore, once liberalism is forced back it is vulnerable to collapse. In other words, if liberalism is seen to be obviously stopped, and some aspect of traditionalism restored, it is likely to trigger a psychological demoralisation amongst liberalism's adherents.

Liberalism needs opposition, it needs a force of reaction to battle against, but it needs to always win.

So we must not be content with being "house traditionalists" who exist merely to play a role within "the liturgy of liberalism." We need to be serious about building to the point that we are obviously regaining ground. At that point, liberals become vulnerable to psychological confusion and demoralisation. There may not be great depths of resistance once they lose a sense of inevitable progress.