Thursday, November 29, 2018

Yet more feminist regret

Dennis Prager had this call from a woman on his radio show:
I’m 50 years old with four college degrees. I was raised by a feminist mother with no father in the home. My mother told me get an education to the maximum level so that you can get out in the world, make a lot of money. And that’s the path I followed...

I want to tell women in their 20s: Do not follow the path that I followed. You are leading yourself to a life of loneliness. All of your friends will be getting married and having children, and you’re working to compete in the world, and what you’re doing is competing with men. Men don’t like competitors. Men want a partner. It took me until my late 40s to realize this.

...It’s hard to find a partner in your late 40s to date because you also start losing self-confidence about your looks, your body. It’s not the same as it was in your 20s. You try to do what you can to make your life fulfilling. I have cats and dogs. But it’s lonely when you see your friends having children, going on vacations, planning the lives of their children, and you don’t do anything at night but come home to your cats and dogs. I don’t want other women to do what I have done.

...I’m stuck now because I go to work every day. I smile like I love it, but it’s very painful to not plan a vacation with someone. It’s painful to not have a Thanksgiving dinner with someone. You sit home alone and you do nothing.

Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Why did you stay single and never have kids?’ There’s answers: Because I was brainwashed by my mother into this. But it’s hard and it’s shameful to tell people, ‘I don’t know. I ran out of time.'”There’s not a good answer for it except ‘I was programmed to get into the workforce, compete with men and make money.’ Supposedly, that would be a fulfilling life. But I was told that by a feminist mother who was divorced, who hated her husband—my father.

She tried to steer me on what she thought was the right path, but feminism is a lie.

I didn’t realize this until late in life. I want to tell women: Find someone in your 20s. That’s when you’re still very cute. That’s when you’re still amiable to working out problems with someone. It’s harder in your 50s, when you’ve lived alone, to compromise with someone, to have someone in your home and every little thing about them annoys you because you’re so used to being alone. It’s hard to undo that, so don’t do what I did. Find someone in your 20s.

The reactions I read toward this were interesting. There were women in their 30s who were especially upset with the idea that women should focus on finding someone when in their 20s.

I've come to understand this response as follows. Liberal modernity began with the ideal of "voluntarist choice" - of individual choice being "liberated" from tradition, authority, social norms and so on.

Patrick Deneen, in his book Why Liberalism Failed, argues that there was a second major aspect to this project, namely a different attitude to nature. Humans now stood outside of nature, and sought to gain mastery over it, in order to better realise wants and desires. The earlier liberals still thought of human nature as relatively fixed and aimed to manipulate the natural world, but later liberals took things a step further by seeing human nature itself as something that could be transformed.

The point is that those women who react so sharply to the idea that it is preferable to find someone when in your 20s are not just suffering from a lack of inborn prudence. They are the products of a 300 year old experiment, the point of which is to overcome natural limitations rather than to prudently work within them. A modernist mind recoils at the idea that aspects of reality, i.e. of the nature of things, might limit our choices. It therefore becomes "offensive" to assert that there is a season to things and that we cannot simply choose as we wish, when we wish.

It is assumed by some women that there are no natural limitations and that claims that they do exist are attempts to assert an unnatural and oppressive external control (the patriarchy).

A person who believes that there are no natural limitations will not be as concerned with making prudent choices. And if there are negative life outcomes, they are more likely to blame an oppressive restriction on their liberty by some malevolent force.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Where to Libs?

Victoria was once known as "the jewel in the Liberal crown". The heartland of the Liberal Party was in the upper middle class areas of Melbourne, such as Hawthorn and Brighton. For decades, the leaders of the Liberal Party were drawn from suburbs like these.

But Saturday's election suggests that the Melbourne Anglo upper middle class has now switched to the Labor Party and the Greens. You can check the voting at the Australian Election Commission website not just by electorate but by individual polling booths, and this gives a good indication of the demographics of the results.

For instance, in the Camberwell booth the results were 646 for the Liberals, 562 for Labor and 338 for the Greens. So that's 646 vs 900. In the Hawthorn booth, the results were 655 for the Liberals, 682 for Labor and 392 for the Greens, which adds up to 655 vs 1074. In Ivanhoe, it was 599 for the Liberals, 921 for Labor and 354 for the Greens, which is 599 vs 1275.

The leafier parts of Melbourne are becoming increasingly left-wing, with both Labor and the Greens picking up much of the vote.

Should we be surprised by this political realignment? I don't think so. There are at least two reasons that would lead you to expect these wealthier areas to trend to the left.

First, the justification for wealth in a liberal society is the claim to be inclusive and egalitarian. A "progressive" leftism therefore fits the mindset of the "new aristocracy" much better than the Liberal Party's appeals to lower taxation or to law and order. Similarly, the aspiration now within the upper classes is to belong to the higher echelons (the analytical/managerial level) of a globalised workforce (this is what the literature of private schools, even Catholic ones, promises to parents). Liberal Party appeals to small business values and good economic management won't resonate much with people with global managerial/financial class aspirations.

Second, the schools (including the elite private schools) have been dominated for at least 20 years now by radically left-wing teachers. If you hand your children over to be educated by passionately left-wing women, then it's not surprising if political values move to the left, particularly among the more intellectually oriented social classes.

So what we have now is red Melbourne. The upper classes and those in the middle classes who aspire to upper class status vote left. The welfare classes, and various special interest groups, also vote left. That leaves the Liberal Party with the more socially conservative parts of the working and lower middle classes, as well as independent tradesmen and small business owners.

It's likely, if these blocs hold, that the Labor Party will be the natural party of government in Victoria. The question, then, is how the Liberal Party responds to this.

For decades, the Liberal Party strategy was successful. At election time, the Libs would make appeals to socially conservative voters, but when in office would run things mostly along big business, right-liberal lines.

One option for the Victorian Liberals would be to follow Labor in pitching their campaign rhetoric more to the left. In other words, they would no longer try to draw in socially conservative voters.

If they take this option, it will open up a large political space on the right. It could be an opportune moment for a genuinely non-liberal, right-wing party to build a voter base.

There are other scenarios. If there's an economic crash, then voters might turn to the Liberal Party as better economic managers. Possibly, too, as the Anglo upper class recedes demographically, other political configurations might emerge.

And for traditionalists? We are clearly on the outer of upper class culture right now. The important thing is that we make ourselves known as an alternative and that we continue to develop our organisation on the ground (part of the appeal of which is simply providing an alternative space for people who have to endure politically correct workplaces). Perhaps we could also think of ways that we could encourage the formation of a genuinely non-liberal electoral party, one with relatively broad appeal (i.e. not the full traditionalist program) but that would represent socially conservative voters on issues such as family, nation and culture.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Liberalism & Leviathan

In his book Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen hammers home the point that once you are committed to radical individualism (the political aim of ever expanding individual autonomy) that you are then also committing to statism. It is the state which has been used, from the beginning of the liberal project, to batter away the pre-liberal institutions that once formed the setting for social life.

What this means is that the right-liberal parties, despite being formally committed to limited government, will usually nonetheless choose to increase the domain of the state in order to further extend individual autonomy.

Individualism and statism grow together. Deneen points out that liberals end up creating something like the picture of society that Hobbes sketched out in the 1600s: the Leviathan state and a multitude of atomised individuals.

I was reminded of this by a small news item in the Australian media. The right-liberal Government here in Australia (which is supposedly committed to smaller government) has made changes to paid parental leave, with more women being eligible to claim it. What is notable is how this decision was framed:
Federal Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer will detail the initiatives while delivering Australia's first women's economic security statement at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.

She said Australia has taken great strides in improving women's economic independence and security in the past few decades, with more women in work than ever before and the gender pay gap narrowing.

...The coalition's plan is focused on increasing women's workforce participation, supporting their economic independence and improving their earning potential.

A Government website explains what a "women's economic security statement" is:
The Statement builds upon the Australian Government’s strong progress in supporting women’s economic security, with a focus on three key pillars:

Workforce participation
Earning potential
Economic independence

Here's the thing. The "technology" for creating women's economic security used to be, until quite recently, the family. Fathers, husbands, brothers, grandfathers and uncles were all charged with the responsibility of building the wealth that would keep families prosperous and secure.

But here we have a right-liberal government, not a leftist one, displacing the role of the family in creating economic security for women. It is a mindset in which there is a picture of an independent (i.e. autonomous) female careerist supported via government policies and tax money to be economically secure. The individual and the centralised state. The individual and Leviathan.

The "sideways" relationships are no longer as important. Family loses one of its longstanding functions. The provider role of men is downgraded. And one more step is taken toward a hollowing out of society.

The important thing is to understand the process. We are near the end point of a vast social experiment that has been going on for several hundred years. When you hear young women say "I feel like I don't need a man" it is not because they have been gripped by some sort of bad faith but because they are the end products of a social experiment that has been embedded into society for many generations. The end point of this experiment is exactly to create atomised individuals who don't need each other and who look instead to the state for support.

The right wing forms of liberalism are not going to help in retrieving the situation, because once you accept the aim of creating an autonomous individual you are going to use the power of the state to dissolve the preliberal institutions and norms, including family relationships, through which individual life was previously supported and sustained.

It is not just one particular policy that needs to be re-examined, but the social experiment itself. It needs to be declared an aberration within the longer development of Western culture and society. We need to return to the understanding of the nature of man and his purposes that once made the West great - a healthy and prospering civilisation rather than one in visible decline.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Two kinds of globaliser

Paul Embery is a British trade union official. He describes himself as a socialist. You are probably thinking right now that he is some sort of SJW globalist type.

But he isn't. He is part of a "Blue Labour" movement (of which I know very little) and his analysis of globalisation is excellent. He writes of the resistance movements to globalisation that,
they are, for the most part, defensive crusades against rapid cultural and demographic change, against the rapacious and disruptive power of global finance, and the weakening of democracy and sovereignty at the hands of remote and unaccountable institutions.

For 40 years, the nation state found itself caught in a pincer movement, assailed by two kinds of globaliser: on one flank, the economic globalisers in the form of the multinationals and speculators, the totems of neoliberal ideology, with their demands for access-all-areas and reductions in regulations, including controls over capital and labour; and, on the other, the political globalisers in the form of a cultural elite whose brand of cosmopolitan liberalism and internationalism became so dominant within our modern establishment.

The first stood to benefit in the form of greater global clout and increased profits; the second from the advance to their desired destination of a borderless world, in which we all exist alongside each other in a diverse and liberal utopia under the benevolent patronage of assorted wise technocrats. Both groups had little more than the bare minimum of loyalty to the nation.

This seems right to me. You have right liberals who are the "economic globalisers". They are more than happy to reshape individuals into interchangeable (fungible) units of production and consumption within a global marketplace (with the assumption that it is right for these individuals to seek their rational self-interest within the market).

Then you have the left liberals who are "humanist" in the sense of rejecting real, historic communities in favour of a single global one, and who wish to govern this one permissible form of community via global institutions run by a class of benevolent experts. This belief in a class of bureaucratic experts running people's lives was expressed back in 1928 by the Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb who spoke of,
our common faith in a deliberately organised society – our belief in the application of science to human relations … the common people, served by an elite of unassuming experts

Paul Embery describes well the significance of national identity to most people and the hostility of those on the left toward it:
There was, however, a slight problem: the masses wouldn’t wear it. Their sense of attachment to nation was inviolable, born not from some sense of national or racial superiority, but simply passed down the generations through tradition, social mores, history, culture and language. Nationhood, for many, goes to the heart of what it means to feel a sense of place and belonging, to be part of something greater than oneself. Disrupt that with sudden and large-scale flows of population and money, while at the same time limiting the opportunity to do anything about it at the ballot box, and you’ll get blowback.

For globalisation means different things for different people. If you have power, wealth, and education and broad cultural horizons, you may ride its waves on to the golden sands. But what you won’t see is the little people whom those same waves have buffeted on to the rocks. For them, amid the tumult, the nation state represents a lifeboat.

Of course, for the modern Left, there is not mere indifference nor absence of loyalty to the nation state; there is a visceral hatred for it. Few understand how deeply this hatred runs. It is repelled by any demonstration of attachment to country, no matter how benign or understated. Such sentiments, especially if they relate to England, can, in their own minds, stem only from innate xenophobia or racism.

...In elevating the global over the local, and the cosmopolitan over the communitarian, the liberal and cultural elites stretched the democratic elastic beyond breaking point. They took the words of John Lennon’s Imagine and tried to apply them literally. But their promised land turned out, for millions, to be a desolate wilderness. In short, they forgot the politics of belonging, and they are now paying the price electorally throughout the West. Serves them right.

It's important not to skim over the observations made here by Paul Embery. If you were to try to answer the question "what is the nature of man and his purposes", then one part of the answer would be man's relational nature and that one part of who we are is derived from our membership of an ethny - a people with distinct forms of relatedness (biological, cultural, historic, linguistic and so on). An ethny is a "body of people" and we are a member of this body - we have an existence within it. To be cut away from this body of which we are a part is a radical type of alienation, with a loss of transcendence (of belonging to something larger than ourselves) and a loss of a deeper form of connectedness to a particular people, culture and place. One whole aspect of our existence is lost to us - and it is difficult not to link the maladies so prevalent in the West to this disordering of our lives.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

A trimmer Frum

In my last post, I made a distinction between two entirely different types of conservatives.

There are principled conservatives who wish to conserve aspects of society, such as family and nation, that are threatened by the unfolding logic of liberalism.

Then there are the "trimmer" conservatives who wish to conserve liberalism and its institutions, particularly against too rigidly ideological an implementation of the liberal program ("The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel.")

A principled conservative opposes liberalism at its philosophical starting points, including its understanding of the nature of man and his purposes. A trimmer conservative supports liberalism, its institutions and values, and wishes to sustain it.

Mainstream conservatives are nearly always trimmers. They call themselves conservatives whilst still supporting liberalism (or libertarianism).

My colleague Mark Moncrieff, of the Upon Hope blog, alerted me in the comments to my last post of a good example of a trimmer conservative, namely David Frum.

Frum recently debated Steve Bannon and he described the event as follows:
The debate in Toronto focused on a prediction: whether the future belonged to populist politics...or to liberal politics, in the broadest sense of the word liberal. As I told the audience, I’ve spent my life as a conservative, but what I’ve sought to conserve is not the Spanish Inquisition or the powers of kings and barons. I’ve sought to conserve the free societies that began to be built in the 18th century and that have gradually developed and strengthened—with many imperfections and hypocrisies and backsliding—in the 250 years since. When I was young, the most important challenges to those free societies seemed to come from Communists and Marxists. When I was not so young, the most important of those challenges seemed to come from Islamists. Today, they seem to come from—again, speaking politely—populists. The vector of the challenge changes, but the thing to be cherished and protected remains the same.

This is trimmer talk. He describes himself as a lifelong conservative but it is liberalism that he cherishes and wishes to protect. His mindset is that people like himself must flexibly change position to meet the different challenges that beset liberal societies (he does not consider the issue raised in Patrick Deneen's book, Why liberalism failed, that liberalism will fall because of its own inner workings rather than any external threat).

The tragedy is that trimmers have been able, for so long, to lead the socially conservative rank and file by seeming to be what they actually are not. They present themselves to the rank and file as "conservatives" but they have no intention of halting the slide of Western societies into an ever more radical liberalism.

The trimmers dislike the emergence of populist leaders, who are willing to at least voice the concerns of the rank and file. What would be even better would be the emergence of a new leadership of principled conservatives, who would challenge liberalism at the level of core principles, so that there was a solid ground to the defence of traditional forms of family, culture and nation.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Are conservatives just trimmers?

It's common on social media to come across young people on the right dismissing conservatism with the question "What has it ever actually conserved?"

It's a good point. What I want to try and explain in this post is this very issue: just what is it that modern conservatism has actually tried to conserve? The answer is critical in understanding one aspect of what has gone wrong with the conservative movement.

But I'll begin with something else, namely what a principled conservatism would be trying to conserve. A principled conservatism would be trying to conserve those important aspects of society that a liberal ideology is committed to dissolving.

Liberals believe that the overriding good is to maximise individual autonomy, understood to mean that the individual is able to self-determine or self-define who they are and what they choose to do. Those aspects of life that are predetermined are therefore thought to be fetters on individual freedom. This includes anything we don't get to choose for ourselves, such as our sex, or our race, or our ethnicity, so these things must ultimately be made not to matter in a liberal society.

Liberalism has therefore sought to undo traditional forms of communal identity (based on ethny); distinctions between the sexes, including within the family; ideals of masculinity and femininity; and ideals of monogamous marriage.

Similarly, anything that is thought to restrain or limit individual choice is also likely ultimately to be attacked or quietly abandoned within a liberal society, and this includes notions of duty, of service, of loyalty, of honour and so on. The informal cultural standards that once regulated behaviour toward higher ends are gradually dissolved (and replaced by bureaucratic, statist forms of regulation).

A principled conservatism would challenge liberalism at its ideological roots, i.e. at the level of first principle, in its efforts to uphold nation, family, manhood & womanhood, as well as to defend a different concept of freedom, of man and his nature, and the purposes of life.

The important thing to understand is that twentieth century conservatism was not principled in the way I have set out above. It did not challenge liberalism at the level of first principle, but instead saw its purpose as upholding liberalism, as preventing liberalism from running too far ahead too quickly. The purpose of conservatism, in other words, was to conserve liberalism, the very thing that was dissolving traditional Western society. Which is why the following tweet, criticising the modern conservative outlook, is so well directed:

So the meaning of the word "conservatism" was colonised by liberalism (as were so many other terms, such as freedom, justice, dignity, flourishing etc.). It went from being a word that challenged liberalism, as a matter of principle, to one that supported it.

You can see this in a recent column by Andrew Sullivan, a well-known American political commentator, whose wiki page tells us that he "describes himself as a conservative and is the author of The Conservative Soul."

But what does Sullivan mean by the term "conservatism"? These excerpts from his column make his position admirably clear:
The retirement of Anthony Kennedy is an obituary for conservatism in America.

...What he was able to do was to hold two ideas in his mind at the same time: that history moves forward and laws and institutions need to adjust to those changes or die; and that the core conception of individual liberty should remain the animating principle of America and the West.

...This, to my mind, is the conservative temperament, fully understood...I’m with David Brooks in his view that Republicanism has become conservatism’s worst enemy — worse even than the social-justice left. But I’d argue that this variety of conservatism is still essential to the project of liberal democracy...

The key to this conservatism is restraint, reform, and concern with the stability of the society as a whole. Conservatives see the modern liberal order as a fragile, precious, and rare historical human achievement...without its attachment to precedent, to gradual change, to evolution rather than revolution, chaos and convulsion would make any justice unsustainable.

It’s not an emotionally satisfying tradition. The point is merely to keep liberal democracy vibrant, to sustain its legitimacy, and to protect its institutions...And that’s why I loved Barack Obama. In his heart and mind, he is and was a moderate conservative, trying to blend new social realities with the long story of America, rescuing capitalism from itself...He desperately tried to keep this country in one piece, against foam-flecked racism and know-nothingism on one side and left-wing ideological purity and identity politics on the other. And he almost did.

And this is why I despise Donald Trump...And Republicanism — in its shameful embrace of this monster, its determined rape of the environment, destruction of our fiscal standing, evisceration of our allies, callousness toward the sick, and newfound contempt for free trade — has nary a conservative bone in its putrefying body.

A liberal society is always in need of this conservatism. The greatest recent philosopher in this tradition, Michael Oakeshott, described the kind of conservative politician he favored, and he used George Savile’s term for such a character: a “trimmer.” His account reads pretty much like Anthony Kennedy:
The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel. And our inspection of his conduct reveals certain general ideas at work … Being concerned to prevent politics from running to extremes, he believes that there is a time for everything and that everything has its time — not providentially, but empirically. He will be found facing in whatever direction the occasion seems to require if the boat is to go even.

No figure is more mocked or ridiculed in our contemporary culture than this kind of moderate. And yet no one right now is more integral to the survival of our way of life.

I'm grateful to Andrew Sullivan for bringing this type of "conservatism" so clearly into the light. The role of conservatives, in this view, is to be "trimmers" who keep the ship of liberalism on an even keel. As Sullivan puts it, the role of conservatives is to conserve liberal institutions against the ideological purity of the more radical liberals.

Is it any wonder, then, that society drifted in an ever more liberal direction during the course of the twentieth century? That there was never any pushback once liberal measures had been put in place? That the "conservative" parties never really represented the rank and file who wanted to conserve not liberalism but family, culture and nation?

This kind of "conservatism" has been prominent within the Liberal Party here in Australia. Sir Malcolm Fraser, a former PM, described the role of conservatism within his party this way:
As its name implies, ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles...

I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.

Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.

The last sentence deserves to be carefully read. Liberalism requires a conservative element "once liberal institutions are installed in a society". The aim is to conserve liberalism, not to challenge it. Unsurprisingly, Fraser himself instituted radically liberal policies whilst PM, including nullifying the older national identity (which he saw as belonging to the previous century) in order to proclaim the advent of multiculturalism.

Tony Abbott, another former PM and often considered to be the leader of the most right-wing faction of the Liberal Party, once gave a keynote address to the Young Liberals, in which he approvingly quoted Fraser's definition of conservatism and added to it that,
In a world where nothing exists in isolation and everything is connected, “liberalism” and “conservatism” turn out to be complementary values...The difference between the ways liberals and conservatives value freedom is, perhaps, more the difference between love at first sight and the love which grows over time.

Which makes conservatives sound more like laggers than trimmers.

But neither term describes a principled conservative. A principled conservative is not there to defend the liberal concept of freedom against a too radically purist and non-pragmatic attempt to impose it on society; nor is he simply slower to embrace the liberal understanding of freedom.

He rejects it. A principled conservative rejects the liberal understanding of freedom as false and harmful. He does not exist to conserve it but to conserve what it threatens.

As Sulla Felix suggested in his social media post, it cannot be our aim to conserve the principles that destroy us and so we cannot be liberalism's trimmers. The trimming version of conservatism is a colonised one in which it is possible for someone like Andrew Sullivan to identify Barack Obama as the true conservative. We should abandon it for something of our own.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.