Tuesday, September 05, 2017

No good but self-interest?

My original post on white nationalism has led to a discussion of fundamentals. I made the point that white nationalists often see politics as an expression of racial self-interest. I suggested instead that traditional ethnic nationalism could be better upheld on the basis of arguments about the nature of man and the nature of the good.

I wrote a follow up post trying to clarify the point I was making, to which a reader responded as follows:
The notion that values can transcend people and be defended in a disembodied form sound pretentious to me, and Platonist. There is no dichotomy between self/collective interests and what is considered 'good'. i.e. throughout human history, the 'good' has been constantly redefined to advance self/collective interests. This is just reality stripped of all self-serving pretensions, such as 'transcendent values', 'the good', etc.

I found this thought provoking and replied to it in the comments thread. But I'd like to add some further thoughts. The first is that if there is no definable good in life, then how can there be a self-interest? The term "self-interest" implies that there is some good in life that it is in our interest to obtain for ourselves. But if we refuse to recognise that such a good exists, then how do we make sense of the idea of self-interest?

This is something of a problem for various versions of liberalism. Liberals want people to pursue rational ends, but what can they be if there are no objective goods in life? Sometimes liberals resort to vague, nice sounding formulations like "human flourishing" as an ultimate, rational end. Classical liberals usually go for more tangible, material and quantifiable ends, such as property and physical security. At the collective level, the rational ends are thought, similarly, to be GDP growth, infrastructure and diplomatic power. This, though, represents a radical narrowing of the "rational ends" of life.

Marxism has a similar issue. Marx too thought, like my reader, that "the good has been constantly redefined to advance self/collective interests." He claimed for instance that in a capitalist society there was a bourgeois morality which advanced the interests of the bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat. The idea then is that the proletariat revolts and asserts its own class interests under the dictatorship of the proletariat. But from there the point is to remove all possible sources of "other" morality. So there is a withering away of the state (no government). No more nations. No families. Just the individual no longer subject to any sort of "false morality" by which individuals might serve the interests of others.

But what then? How does the individual live rationally absent an objective good in life but without some other interest imposed upon him? It's perhaps no accident that Marx famously wrote little about this, though he did suggest that individuals would choose to engage in a variety of activities as they had a mind to do.

To get back to my original point, talking about self-interest usually presupposes some sort of good that it is in our interest to secure. So things become difficult if the idea of objective goods is denied. What then might the vision of "morality as self-interest" be?

Some might perhaps think it acceptable if the "good" was a basic, biological one, such as the instinct to self-preservation, i.e. to "life" whether of the individual or the race. Others might not name a specific good, but see things in terms of a contest of "who predominates," i.e. of who has the power to enact their will, whatever it might be (the left often seems to assume this kind of motivation, and it is embedded in leftist identity politics).

The traditionalist view is, in comparison, rich in goods. My reader is concerned, though, that "The notion that values can transcend people and be defended in a disembodied form sound pretentious to me, and Platonist".

I think it true of religious traditionalists that we do have a sense that the goods that we perceive have a meaningful, spiritual or sacred character - they are "transcendent" in this higher sense.

But I don't see why goods cannot be asserted in a more mundane way. If, for instance, you have ever observed the way a mother gazes on her newborn, and the response of the infant to her, then it is difficult to deny that this kind of mother love is a good in life. It can be asserted as a good strictly on its own terms, i.e. that it is inherently good as an act that has beauty and love embedded within it. It can also be asserted as a good in consequentialist terms, as being significant to the psychological development of the child.

And nations? You do not need Platonic forms to assert that traditional ethnic nations provide a deeper sense of belonging and identity for individuals, that they motivate social commitments, that they provide diverse and unique expressions of humanity, and that they connect people closely to a particular tradition, landscape, history and culture - to the point that they inspire the love and loyalty of those born into them.

I would argue, too, that the human mind is able to grasp abstract moral qualities, such as honesty, or courage, or nobility. We can talk about these intelligently because we know the quality being referred to and we recognise these as moral qualities regardless of whether they serve our interests or not.


  1. rom my (still basically Classical Liberal) perspective, I think that acting as if a Transcendent Good exists, clearly has concrete Good in terms of - human flourishing, personal and group survival, all those things we Modernists reach for in search of meaning. The huge mistake of Darwinists is to think that the Universe somehow owes us a living, and that if we can understand it in purely Scientific terms, we will inevitably flourish. This is the error that HP Lovecraft understood and pointed to in his fiction - we are owed nothing. The religious man, the man who seeks out the Transcendent Good, is far more Evolutionarily Fit than we are. There is no question of us inheriting the Earth - in evolutionary terms we are diseased, unfit. The question is what kind of religious man will inherit the Earth - Traditionalist Catholic or Wahabbi Muslim, to posit a couple very different contenders - and which should we support. I know what my decision is there!

  2. "No good but self-interest"?
    Self-interest isn't good or bad, it just is. Indifference moves no one. Love and hate make the world go round. Stealing, lying, being a politician, suicide bombing,...any countless number of self-interested human activities are not good.
    "I would argue, too, that the human mind is able to grasp abstract moral qualities, such as honesty, or courage, or nobility. We can talk about these intelligently because we know the quality being referred to and we recognise these as moral qualities regardless of whether they serve our interests or not."
    That's obviously true. We chose our quality of life.
    People act only in self-interest, always as they have a "mind" to, good or bad. Begin with the fact that we are bio-mechanical sacks of meat and bone, with physical systems that translate data via our five senses. Nothing can't exist, but "nothing" exists without our senses. Shapes and color, sound, taste, smell and touch do not exist external to our brain.
    People chose or are otherwise inclined to faith, duty, honor,...the abstractions embraced as "good" as we generally agree; or, to martyrdom, hate, abuse, destruction and self-destruction, ...the bad or the notion of evil as we generally see it. Our physical senses don't deal with abstractions like altruism, for instance, which is by definition, nonsense. There can not be a self-less conscious human act. You're there, doing it. You do something because of how it makes you feel. "The self" does not act unconsciously like breathing or our beating heart. Indifference moves no one to action. Men are moved by love or hate. If you self-loath, you may self-flaggelate or otherwise self-destruct or destroy. I could go on. I get how repugnant that sounds.
    My mind clearly has one loci in my brain. Does it transcend my brain, joining others in an abstract realm, and go elsewhere when I die? It feels like it's behind my eyes, between my ears. It seems to wander away sometimes. God has yet to speak loud and clear to me. I have no doubt that everything is created. Nothing makes no sense. Nothing, no matter how you slice it, is just plain stupid. Being created is all good, and only good.
    Anyway, if objective goods have to be articulated and explained as if they are not objective and universal, it's because it is in the minds of men where good or bad, or evil resides.
    White nationalist or traditionalist conservative, who articulate a desire for white authority, for whites to set and to maintain their civilizational standard, their culture and society, to be remain unchallenged or separate, will be deemed haters and will be seen by a majority, as objectively bad. White nations are a pipe dream. We're toast.

    1. Based on current based on recent research, the self does not exist.

      Rather the observer of your thoughts, your consciousness, is an ever shifting series of thoughts that constructs a narrative of "me."

    2. Interesting. That seems to diminish us more than I would like. Could that be more about a person's concept of his or her self, their self-concept, rather than a larger, intact, whole self within which the concept is perceived? Either way, self-interest would seem unperturbed.

  3. I stand firmly in the traditionalist camp. An Alt Right or White Nationalist movement that rejects the transcendent is more of the same - it's secularism, materialism and the satisfaction of desire as the standard of goodness - a form of racial utilitarianism. It could be an improvement to current leftist insanity, but it isn't much of an alternative to modernity.