Friday, December 28, 2018

Shelley's detestable distinctions

Percy Bysshe Shelley
My last post was about the Austrian statesman Metternich and his far-sighted observation, way back in 1820, that liberals would seek to erase nationality because of their desire to base society on every individual being subject only to their own will (i.e. autonomy).

I found evidence for his claims in a play published in 1820, Prometheus Unbound, by the English poet Shelley, who, sure enough, thought that in a reformed society man would be "uncircumscribed", the "king over himself" and therefore "tribeless and nationless".

There is more evidence that the liberal "intellectual and philosophical brew" (as one of my readers put it in the comments) was already well and truly set in place by the 1820s and that is Shelley's attitude to sex distinctions (Shelley identified as a liberal, collaborating with Byron and Hunt in 1822 to produce a literary periodical titled the Liberal).

It was not only nationality that Shelley wanted erased, but also distinctions between men and women. That makes sense from the liberal point of view. If the idea is to be unconstrained in your will as an individual, then our inherited, biological sex will be thought of negatively as something unchosen and predetermined. It then makes sense for liberals to want to make it no longer matter.

In 1811 Shelley wrote a letter to Elizabeth Hitchener in which he regretted a character in a Southey poem being made a male, and then, in the context of this reference to biological sex, continued:
"these detestable distinctions will surely be abolished in a future state of being" [1]

Nor was Shelley alone in the literary and political current he belonged to in holding such a view. Shelley would later marry the daughter of the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1792 Wollstonecraft had written:
A wild wish has just flown from my heart to my head, and I will not stifle it, though it may excite a horse-laugh. I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society

You can find the same view in the writings of other early feminists. For instance, the American feminist Sarah Grimke wrote in 1837:
permit me to offer for your consideration, some views relative to the social intercourse of the sexes. Nearly the whole of this intercourse is...derogatory to man and woman...We approach each other, and mingle with each other, under the constant pressure of a feeling that we are of different sexes...the mind is fettered by the idea which is early and industriously infused into it, that we must never forget the distinction between male and female...Nothing, I believe, has tended more to destroy the true dignity of woman, than the fact that she is approached by man in the character of a female.

... Until our intercourse is purified by the forgetfulness of sex...we never can derive that benefit from each other's society...

Unsurprisingly, Shelley (despite marrying twice) was also in principle opposed to marriage. Again, if the aim is to be subject only to your own will, then it becomes difficult to accept the ideal of a commitment to a lifelong, exclusive union. In the same letter to Elizabeth Hitchener quoted above, Shelley writes:
Miss Weeke's marriage induces you to think marriage an evil. I think it an evil - an evil of immense and extensive magnitude...Marriage is monopolizing, exclusive, jealous.

(Interesting that Shelley makes some sort of appeal to an ideal of inclusiveness here.)

In the next post I intend to look a little deeper into the development of the words "liberal" and "liberalism" as I believe this sheds some light on how literary figures like Shelley and Byron ended up with their world view.

[1] Letter to Elizabeth Hitchener, 26th November 1811, p.119 here.

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.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Metternich the Seer

It is remarkable that the Austrian statesman Metternich was able to foresee as long ago as 1820 that liberalism would turn against nationalism, and would do so out of a belief in individual autonomy. This is from a letter he wrote to Tsar Alexander:
"Is it necessary to give a proof of this last fact? We think we have furnished it in remarking that one of the sentiments most natural to man, that of nationality, is erased from the Liberal catechism, and that where the word is still employed, it is used by the heads of the party as a pretext to enchain Governments, or as a lever to bring about destruction. The real aim of the idealists of the party is religious and political fusion, and this being analysed is nothing else but creating in favour of each individual an existence entirely independent of all authority, or of any other will than his own, an idea absurd and contrary to the nature of man, and incompatible with the needs of human society."

For Metternich nationality is "one of the sentiments most natural to man" but liberals wish to erase it so that the existence of each individual is "entirely independent of all authority, or of any other will than his own".

This is liberal autonomy theory articulated in 1820. Liberals see individual autonomy, i.e. a freedom to self-determine or self-define, as the highest good. Therefore, whatever is predetermined, and beyond the control of the individual will, has to be made not to matter. This includes whatever we are born to (our nationality, our biological sex etc.) as well as unchosen or inherited forms of authority.

Interestingly, it was in 1820 that the play Prometheus Unbound, by the Englishman Percy Bysshe Shelley was published. His wife, Mary Shelley (who wrote Frankenstein) penned a note to the play in which she explained:
The prominent feature of Shelley's theory of the destiny of the human species was that evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but an accident that might be expelled...

Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no evil, and there would be none. It is not my part in these Notes to notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the cardinal point of his system.

...He now took a more idealized image of the same subject. He followed certain classical authorities in figuring Saturn as the good principle, Jupiter the usurping evil one, and Prometheus as the regenerator, who, unable to bring mankind back to primitive innocence, used knowledge as a weapon to defeat evil, by leading mankind, beyond the state wherein they are sinless through ignorance, to that in which they are virtuous through wisdom.

So what does Shelley's vision of regenerated, virtuous man look like in the play Prometheus Unbound? Well, much like the very thing Metternich was critical of:
The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains/ Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man/ Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,/ Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king/ Over himself

Remember, Metternich accused the liberals of his age of rejecting the natural sentiment of nationality because they wanted an individual existence in which they were subject to no will but their own. And here is Shelley, in the same year, claiming that human perfection would mean that man would be "king over himself" and therefore "nationless" (and church-less and king-less and class-less and generally "uncircumscribed"). According to Shelley, this would leave man both free and equal.

It is John Lennon's Imagine given voice in a much earlier era. Metternich thought the vision "absurd and contrary to the nature of man, and incompatible with the needs of human society." Metternich was right, but it is the liberal view which, to our detriment, has so far prevailed.

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, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A transforming moment

Stefan Molyneux experiences the national life of the Poles and realises how much has been lost in the West. Well worth watching:

As an added note to this video, it seems to me that we have lost the ability to conceive of ourselves as existing both on the individual plane (a single body) and also as part of a larger body of people, and that a complete life must encompass ourselves as a member of this larger body.

From this larger body we derive parts of our identity, our loves and attachments, our participation in a larger, transcendent tradition, our sense of pride and achievement, our social commitments, our attachments to place, whether to nature, landscape or urban environment, our connection to a particular cultural tradition, our commitments to maintaining moral and cultural standards, our sense of connectedness to both the history of our own people - to generations past - as well as our commitment to future generations.

So, yes, it is a grievous loss when we no longer have this membership of an historic people, an ethny. It is difficult to live a complete life as a person when this is the case. So I do understand why Stefan Molyneux gets emotional when he finally realises what has been taken from him by the globalising tendencies within the modern West.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Do women love the same way?

This is a tweet from a young woman hoping to guide other women toward more successful relationships:

The criteria she is suggesting for selecting a man to commit to is based on how he makes her feel. It is not based on a love for something intrinsic to him as a man.

Men don't approach relationships the same way. A man needs to think that there is something good or beautiful in the woman he loves. He might even have the sense that he is able to perceive in her feminine beauty or goodness something transcendent and meaningful that inspires love.

This is a powerfully masculine response to women that has inspired a great deal of art over the centuries. And it leads men to have a sense that their love for women is a finer quality in themselves. Little wonder then that a man will often focus on the better qualities of the woman he is with, suppressing and forgetting her flaws or the injuries he has received from her. In other words, men will often err toward idealising women in general and their wives in particular.

And so men experience love as being coloured with loyalty, particularly as it often triggers the masculine instinct to provide for and to protect a woman.

Men have a hope, or an assumption, that women experience love in the same way. That she will find something in him, and in his masculine virtues, that will inspire a stable love that mirrors his own. And so the more romantic minded men might well assume that liberating love as a force in life  - the "big love" - is likely to increase the good in life.

But, as the tweet above suggests, women process love and relationships differently. A woman's love is not grounded in the man himself, but in how the relationship makes her feel. And her thoughts and assessments are likely to follow on after her feelings, rather than guiding them.

As an example, when a woman is in the early infatuated stage of a relationship it is often the case that the man can do no wrong. Her feelings about being in the relationship are so positive that even if a man behaves very poorly she will find some mental excuse for it. But the opposite is true as well. If she is not feeling good in the relationship, then her mind will set her husband at fault, even for acts of God.

And the way a woman feels about the same kind of man can change at various stages of her life. At 20, she might ignore the family type man because of the way the "hot" boys make her feel. At 28, when she reaches her epiphany phase and her feelings change toward wanting marriage, children and home, the family man will be told that "he is not like all those other men" and that "all I ever wanted was to get married". At 40, when the alpha reinvestment phase hits, she will feel that the marriage, and her husband, are holding her back from pursuing someone hot, and the thoughts will change to "we were never happy together" and whatever loving bonds might once have existed quickly fall away.

The point of writing all this is to try to explain to men that whereas the "great love" might push us to hold steadily onto our love for a woman, because it holds us to a better part of ourselves, and because it focuses us on the feminine goodness and beauty to be found in women, the same does not hold true in the way that women love men.

What does this mean for relationships? It means that for men to have a stable loving relationship with a woman over the course of a lifetime, it makes sense to dial things down from a vision of a great romantic love. Men are more likely to experience this good of a lifelong relationship in a culture which does not encourage women to let loose with their emotions or their sexuality. The men who encouraged sexual liberation were not really doing themselves, or their sons, any favours. Traditional societies held up modesty as a prime virtue for women for a reason, as it was a self-constraint (a self-regulation of emotion and feeling) that made possible more stable relationships between men and women. Similarly, in more traditional cultures there was value placed on a "quiet, gentle" spirit in women, which may strike modern minds as overly subdued, but which ought to be seen as women ordering their own personalities toward the good.

It means too that the principle of stability cannot be found in the nature of a woman's love, but has to come from elsewhere. One possible source is a genuine and sincere religious outlook, in which a woman acts for the benefit of her family, in obedience to, and out of love for, God. If this reaches the point that feeling is not thought to be sanctified by God, but instead is disciplined toward a principle of love and service to others, then it might help to form a culture of marriage.

There do exist some statistics on the relationship between religious belief and marital stability. The statistics show that nominal membership of a church does not help marital stability much at all. However, active membership, whilst not preventing divorce, does significantly reduce its prevalence (by about 30%). One study found that active Catholics were 31% less likely to divorce than the non-religious and active conservative Protestants were 35% less likely to divorce (nominal Protestants were actually 20% more likely to divorce).

Women can be helped, too, by the culture they inhabit to think prudently about their actions. Our culture has spectacularly failed to help women do this. A generation of women grew up thinking they could defer marriage and family until the last dying gasps of their fertility; the same generation grew up thinking that they could divorce their husbands in their 40s as mothers of quite young children and still expect to find another man equally committed to her and equally willing to be her companion in older age.

Men have to lead in the sense of upholding a vision of the good that provides a stable framework of life for both men and women. Men need to clearly understand that a "liberated" female nature (i.e. one that recognises no good higher than itself and which therefore acts without restraint) is incompatible with a stable culture of family life. The female "mode of being" that is compatible with lifelong marriage will not be based on grand romantic feelings, as much as men might wish it to be so, because this is not how a woman comes to commit in a stable way to the good of her family.