Monday, October 09, 2017

A photo for James Kalb

I saw the photo below and immediately thought of the American traditionalist James Kalb:

James Kalb could put this photo on the cover of his next book. It illustrates so well something that he often discusses, namely that liberalism reduces the good to desires or preferences but since "all desires are equally desires" they become equally valid. Hence this young woman not caring if her daughter is a princess, a doctor, a teacher or a slut - something that is absurd and yet to the liberal mind represents a moral position.

If you are interested in the ideas of James Kalb it is worth reading his essay "Out of the Antiworld" (see here). A relevant excerpt is his discussion of what follows from the rejection of an objective moral order:
The result is that nothing can be held to have a natural goal or reason for being, and the only meaning something can have for us is the meaning we give it. In such a setting, wanting to do something is what makes it worth doing, and the good can only be the satisfaction of preferences simply as such. Morality becomes an abstract system that has nothing substantive to say about how to live but only tells us to cooperate so we can all attain whatever our goals happen to be.

Given such a view, the uniquely rational approach to social order is to treat it as a soulless, technically rational arrangement for maximizing equal satisfaction of equally valid preferences. That principle claims to maximize effective freedom, but it narrowly limits what is permissible lest we interfere with the equal freedom of others or the efficient operation of the system. Private hobbies and indulgences are acceptable, since they leave other people alone. So are career, consumption, and expressions of support for the liberal order. What is not acceptable is any ideal of how people should understand their lives together that is at odds with the liberal one. Such ideals affect other people, if only by affecting the environment in which they live, and that makes them oppressive. If you praise the traditional family, you are creating an environment that disfavors some people and their goals, so you are acting as an oppressor.

The result is that the contemporary liberal state cannot allow people to take seriously the things they have always taken most seriously.

It is worth noting that the things this mother allows her daughter to be fit well into the limited framework suggested by James Kalb, namely career and private indulgences. The daughter is not really being liberated to all that our identity, our moral nature and our spiritual life have to offer. And even the relatively worthy aims of being a doctor or a teacher are sullied by being put on the same level as that of being a slut - one is thought to be as good as another.


  1. It is worth noting that the things this mother allows her daughter to be fit well into the limited framework suggested by James Kalb, namely career and private indulgences.

    A very important point. It's notable that her daughter is not offered the option of being a mother. Modern liberalism is not about choice; it's about conforming to orthodoxy.

    1. Nor is wife.

      Someone once said that women have three choices in life: wife & mother prostitute ( in modern times often with no payment) or nun( figuratively a spinster aunt who remains celebrate counts.)

      Feminists want women to try on these different roles at different stages of life but women really can't be all three. Once you go down one path it affects your identity deeply. Christianity allows for repentance but what a harsh lesson to have our girls learn that being a young mother provides benefitsthat being a slut doesn't.

    2. but women really can't be all three. Once you go down one path it affects your identity deeply.

      Yes, good point. I think previous generations understood this better than we do. The wife/mother role requires that something within the female psyche is both nurtured as a girl and then saved as a young adult woman - a capacity to love one person, to be open to the meaning and pleasures of life within the family circle, to attach womanhood and its identity to mother love and care - these can be lost through long years of independent spinsterhood or through a party girl lifestyle. A woman can become too jaded and too brittle in her experience of these things to respond deeply to them.

  2. There’s another element here: that you can be anything you want simply because you want it bad enough. So I guess her daughter is guaranteed entry into medical school, completing medical school etc. just because she wants it. You might say that’s not what they mean but something like this happened with my sister. With zero music background, one day as a teenager she just decided she was going to attend the Julliard School just because that’s what she decided she wanted. When my dad asked her (sincerely) what she was doing to make it happen she threw a fit and he was branded a mean, misogynist jerk.

    1. To be fair to your sister, young girls are bombarded with the message that "you can become anything you want to be" in the context that to think otherwise is part of a sexist restriction on girls. I'm a school teacher and I observe the same phenomenon you describe often. Girls who hardly show up to school will declare that they want to become lawyers or vets. The hard work and self-discipline and talent required gets lost along the way (this is true for some boys as well).

      I suppose it is part of the whole modernist idea that what matters is following our desires and preferences without any limiting restrictions - and that if there are restrictions these are social injustices to be overcome.