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.

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.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Standards & the liberal formula

The current liberal understanding of liberty is that we are free when there are fewest constraints on individual choice. The one constraint that liberalism formally recognises is that we are not in our own choices to limit the choices of others (we are not to discriminate, or be intolerant, or judge, or lack openness toward what others choose to be or do).

I don't want to address in this post the lack of internal coherence of the liberal formula. I simply want to point out some of the ways that traditional societies believed that individual choice should rightly be constrained.

I am pointing out a conflict between the traditional view and the liberal one. A liberal society, in attempting to maximise the realm of individual choice, must eventually push against the traditional constraints on choice.

In other words, you cannot operate on the liberal formula and hope to preserve, in the longer run, those cultural standards within a traditional society that constrained individual choice.

Some of these standards held within traditional societies, in no particular order, included:

1. What might be thought of as aristocratic codes of behaviour, including standards of honour, nobility and dignity. These ruled out choices or actions that were thought to be base or dishonourable, including cowardice and dishonesty.

2. Loyalty. It was thought right to be loyal to family and to country (hence the motto "God, King and country"). If we are loyal, then we are constrained in our choices from putting our own immediate material self-interests above the well-being of our family or nation.

3. Manhood & womanhood. In traditional societies men were expected to act according to standards of courage, resilience, self-control, reliability, industry and strength; womanhood was measured by a loving heart, patience, tenderness, kindness, grace, modesty and beauty.

It is perhaps no coincidence that in eras that were focused on dissolving restraint that sex distinctions between men and women were deliberately flattened (e.g. the flappers of the 1920s or the hippies of the later 60s).

4. Duty. I remember as a young man having a serious talk with an older male who told me "there is no such thing as duty." He had been raised in a culture that had already rejected duty as a standard. That's not so surprising, as duty really does suggest a constraint on our choices.

Duty seems to arise, in part, from a sense of what we owe to those who have brought about our being, and nurtured and raised us, and made sacrifices for us. In many cultures, therefore, filial duty is prominent (a duty toward our parents). Similarly, it can be felt that we have a duty to past generations, to our country and its traditions, and to God. (Duty can run the other way as well, in that we have duties to those under our care, such as our children.)

In the ancient world, duty was connected as a concept with piety. Cicero, for instance, defined pietas as the virtue "which admonishes us to do our duty to our country or our parents or other blood relations." For the Ancient Greeks, eusebeia (the Greek counterpart to pietas) was represented by the demi-god of piety, loyalty, duty and filial respect.

5. Reverence/respect. This is a constraint on transgressing certain places or offices that are thought to hold a deeper meaning within a community. For instance, in some communities it might be thought irreverent to shout obscenities in a church, or to damage a flag that soldiers have fought for and died under, or to insult the monarch, or to blaspheme. In modern Australia, there is the example of the reverent way that ANZAC Day services are carried out.

Liberals still sometimes make appeals to an ideal of respect, as when they call for respect for women. But this works differently to the traditional concept. In a liberal society, women are encouraged to self-transgress (to act against moral ideals associated with their sex), as this then widens the realm of individual choice. Similarly, the very notion of womanhood is transgressed when liberals treat it as an oppressive social construct that is, at best, a merely subjective identity open to all.

So there is no deeply held meaning to the idea of womanhood in a liberal society that it might be thought wrong to transgress. We are told to respect women in a general sense, more as a way of upholding women's unconstrained choices, rather than as a response to something within womanhood itself that might naturally draw respect from men.

6. Integrity/self-respect. A desire to maintain moral integrity constrained choice in traditional societies. A person begins with moral foundations that provide a sense of "wholeness" (perhaps the term "wholesomeness" comes from this). If these foundations collapse, there is a loss of the sense of being an integrated, complete person. The feeling of integrity that is so valuable a part of our identity is damaged.

Similarly, a person who routinely yields to vice (to sloth, gluttony, avarice etc.) will eventually feel less respect for themselves (hence the reprimand "a self-respecting person would not do that"). We do not wish to lower ourselves in our own eyes; self-respect therefore places constraints on what we might choose to be or do.

7. Love. If we genuinely love someone, we will wish to protect them from harm. More than this, we often seek to serve and defend that which we love. This could be our family, our nation, our friends, our church, or the larger tradition we belong to. We wish too to uphold the conditions in which such loves can flourish. All of this places constraints on individual choice. There have been some very radical moderns who have rejected love because of this; they have identified it as a brake on "liberation" movements or as a fetter on personal freedom.

8. Service. An impulse toward service is one aspect of our created nature. The use of our strengths and talents in service to others gives us a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Even though it makes claims on us, and therefore places limits on choice, service adds to the richness of our commitments, as when a man acts to protect his family, or a woman nurtures her children, or perhaps when there is a calling toward a higher service to God to uphold the good.

In a liberal society, the call to serve is most often heard from the churches. Some of these churches have accepted the fundamentals of a liberal philosophy and so service is interpreted through a social justice framework as meaning a commitment toward the "equal autonomy" of individuals.

This creates a negative loop. The churches, in response to a largely self-centered culture, preach service to others, but by keeping to a modern philosophy they support movements which further dissolve the traditional, common bonds of historic communities, leading to ever more withdrawn, self-centered forms of culture.

Service shouldn't be just tacked on to an otherwise socially dissolving ideology, but should flow from the commitments that grow naturally within settled, stable, traditional forms of community.

These are some of the key cultural standards that acted as restraints on individual choice in pre-modern societies. If the aim of a modern society is to maximise such choice, then there is going to be a problem in attempting to retain these standards - there is a danger that they will be lost.

Now, a liberal might reply to all this by saying that if choice is unconstrained that people could still choose as individuals to be honourable, or manly, or loyal. If I remember correctly, John Stuart Mill was confident that people who were "liberated" to unconstrained choice would, particularly if they were educated, choose to act like gentlemen.

But there's the problem of the logic at play. If the aim of society is to enlarge the realm of unconstrained choice, and these traditional standards constrain that choice, then they are likely ultimately to be seen as barriers to be taken down. The reality is that these standards will eventually come to be thought of as old-fashioned & out of date, or regressive, or quaint. And if the words themselves survive within a liberal culture ("service," "respect," "manhood"), it is likely that they will have been redefined to better suit liberal purposes.

They don't survive intact as cultural standards. The logic of the liberal formula works against this.

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Our first conference

Last weekend was the first ever Melbourne Traditionalists Conference. We had a very good turnout, with 25 in attendance. Mark Moncrieff, of the Upon Hope blog, planned the event well. We began with a meet and greet on Friday night, which was low key but very helpful in introducing newcomers to the group. Then on Saturday we had a series of presentations on varying topics ranging from Shakespeare and Aristotelian ethics; the way forward for traditionalism; distinctions in world view between Christianity and paganism; lessons from the anti-suffrage movement; and the keynote address by Dr Frank Salter on Anglo-Australian identity.

The highlight for me came next: an evening banquet at a local restaurant. This was more informal, a good chance for discussion, and it finished the conference with a high level of positive energy.

Special thanks to Mark Moncrieff for his efforts in organising the conference; to all the presenters, but particularly to Dr Salter; to those who made the long trip from Adelaide and Sydney; and to the newcomers who made the step to meeting up in real life.

If you missed out, I have no doubt there will be another conference at this time next year.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A warning unheeded

George Essex Evans was one of Australia's Federation poets. He was described by Alfred Deakin, Prime Minister in the early 1900s, as Australia's "national poet whose patriotic songs stirred her people profoundly."

He wrote a poem "Australia" (published 1906) which is notable for its prophetic warning about a false understanding of liberty - one which unfortunately went unheeded.

Liberalism pushes towards an expansion of the realm of individual autonomy. That means, logically, that liberalism pushes against traditional restraints on what I as an individual might choose to do or be.

Evan's poem doesn't look at freedom this way. He wants Australians to be free, not as atomised individuals, but as a people. And freedom does not mean throwing off traditional restraints, but being "proved" as a people in them.

The first two stanzas run as follows:
Earth's mightiest isle. She stands alone.
The wide seas wash around Her throne.
Crowned by the red sun as his own.

The world's grey page lies bare today -
The rise of nations - the decay.
Will She, too, rise - and fall as they?

There is already a challenge here to liberal orthodoxy. Evans is acutely aware that history is not a story of linear progress toward a liberal utopia, but that civilisations rise and fall. He suggests that the old world is already experiencing decay.

He continues:
The trust is ours - to us alone.
We are the strong foundation-stone,
The seed from which the flower is grown.

Again, this focus on intergenerational trust is out of line with modern liberalism, which encourages the view that every generation must live for itself.

Evans then writes:
What shall it profit Her if we
Make gold our God, and strength our plea,
And call wild licence Liberty?

This is, first, a plea against materialism. Evans would not have been pleased to hear Liberal Party Prime Ministers talk about Australia as if we were just an economy, a kind of factory writ large, with political decisions being based mostly on economic considerations.

It is, second, a criticism of freedom being defined as "licence" - which means behaving however we wish, without restraint.
If, in our scorn of creed and king,
All reverence to the winds we fling,
And fall before a baser thing?

Evans identifies here two of the traditional restraints on the realm of individual choice. The first is reverence. A free people does not fling all reverence "to the winds". If it does so, it is likely to adopt something more base. And it is this rejection of the base that is a second traditional restraint on the realm of individual choice. A people is free when it is liberated from what is base, rather than when the distinction between what is base and what is honourable is no longer made.
What though her sword unconquered be,
Her armoured navies sweep the sea,
If still Her people are not free?

To be a people proved and strong -
True freemen of the Poet's song
For whom the world has waited long.

Evans wanted Australians to be "proved and strong" in terms of national character, and it was this that defined being "true freemen" rather than a freedom to be base.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Power without justice

I've written a lot on feminism at this site, mostly about the connection between feminism and the liberal project of maximising individual autonomy.

I happen to know a few high profile feminists and this has given me some insight into the way they think. I've come increasingly to believe that gender politics is used by these women not for the purposes of securing their vision of justice (maximum autonomy for women) but simply for competitive advantage against men in securing the markers of a successful upper middle-class lifestyle, such as professional status, income and cultural/political influence in society.

It's a dreary and demoralising vision of society, one in which men and women are divided into opposing social classes, competing eternally against each other for material things.

Which brings me to a review by Laura Kipnis in The Atlantic of a new feminist book. Laura Kipnis describes the vision of society outlined in this book in similar terms to what I set out above:
One of the unfunny witticisms going around during Hillary Clinton’s first presidential run was that she’d never get elected, because she reminded men of their first wife. When a male friend relayed the update during her second run—no, she didn’t remind men of their first wife; she reminded them of their first wife’s divorce lawyer—I recall barking with laughter. The joke distilled all the male anxieties of the moment: Something was being taken away from them, their balls were in a vise, pissed-off women wanted men’s stuff and were going to be ruthless about trying to get it.

I recalled this joke while reading Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, which shares what might be called a divorce-court view of the gender situation in America. Men and women are on opposing sides, and women will succeed only by quashing men and seizing the spoils: the big jobs, the political offices, and the moral high ground.

The rest of the review is by now very familiar. Social enemy no.1 is the white male:
The primary target for this accumulated rage is, of course, men—white men

But white women are also coming under attack:
83 percent of Democratic women were furious at the news at least once a day. But the oppositional fury isn’t exactly tidy, Traister acknowledges. For many of the women of color whom she quotes, the anger is equally directed at white women.

Rebecca Traister blames "white heterosexual marriage" for the continuing loyalty between white men and women:
the real culprit behind his election, as Traister sees it, is white heterosexual marriage. Analyses of 2016 voting patterns reveal a stark partisan divide between married and never-married white women

Imagine reaching a state of mind in which loyalty between a husband and wife is condemned as undermining the more perfect division of the sexes into hostile, competing social classes.

Patrick Deneen, in his book Why Liberalism Failed, writes about how liberalism, even in its earliest forms, preferred to base itself on "the low" (e.g. harnessing self-interest) rather than aspirations to the high (such as appeals to a common good). He notes of current social problems that,
These maladies include the corrosive social and civic effects of self-interest - a disease that arises from the cure of overcoming the ancient reliance upon virtue. Not only is this malady increasingly manifest in all social interactions and institutions, but it infiltrates liberal politics. Undermining any appeal to a common good, it induces a zero-sum mentality that becomes nationalized polarization for a citizenry that is increasingly driven by private and largely material concerns.

Instead of men and women working together selflessly for a common good (e.g. the family, the nation), and thereby creating stability, trust and improving social standards, the left is pushing a vision of a "nationalized polarization" with men and women standing against each other in competition for power and social resources.

It strikes me as being so bleak a vision of society that it is likely ultimately to bring about a collapse rather than an enduring social order.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Melbourne Traditionalists Conference 2018

The inaugural Melbourne Traditionalists Conference is coming up soon - Friday 19th and Saturday 20th October. It's open to anyone sympathetic to traditionalist politics. Keynote speaker is Dr Frank Salter.

Details, including how to register, can be found here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Thoughts on freedom

If you were to ask a liberal what freedom is the simplest answer you might get is that it means doing what you want to do. And, it's true, there is a sense in which this is a particular type of freedom.

But taking this as a first principle of society leads to some unusual outcomes. The highest circulation newspaper in the UK ran a story recently with the headline "Trans woman, 41, pretended to be a boy to groom a girl." Accompanying the story was a photo of the "trans woman":

If freedom means doing what you want, then logically this would include a man identifying as a woman, if this is what he wanted to do.

But there is another, and I believe more significant, way to define freedom. In one of Chesterton's books, a character is asked to define freedom and he answers "First and foremost, surely, it is the power of a thing to be itself".

If this is true, then freedom cannot mean being able to choose anything. To be free, we must necessarily limit the choices we make, so that they fit with, and help to develop, our personhood. The better we "self-limit" in this sense, the more freedom we have to be powerfully and admirably what we were created to be.

And this is what most people instinctively aim at. We ask what it means to live excellently, in a fully natured way, to best fulfil our created natures.

And this necessarily means that we are oriented to ordering our lives. We think of ourselves as living within a moral universe and we try to adhere to the natural law that we discover through reason, conscience and experience, so that we maintain the moral integrity that is important to our sense of ourselves, and so that we perfect, as best we can as fallible creatures, our moral nature.

We seek as men to fully develop our masculine qualities. We wish for ourselves a muscular frame and physical strength and athleticism; we attempt to fulfil, to a high degree, the roles and duties associated with being a husband and father; we cultivate the harder virtues of courage, endurance, self-discipline and resilience; and we seek to work effectively with other men to uphold the existence of our communities and traditions.

We wish also to live through our spiritual natures. We value experiences of transcendence or communion. We seek to remain open to deeper experiences of love and connectedness. We appreciate the higher experiences available to us through the arts, through an appreciation of female beauty and through a love of nature.

A mind that can govern itself to be oriented to this line of development is a mind that experiences itself as free. It is a mind that is able to self-consciously guide the person along the path that best fulfils our created nature. But our right minds are not always in charge. Sometimes fierce passions (e.g. anger) clouds our reason, or sometimes bad habits (sloth) prove too strong. Perhaps there is an addiction or a temptation that proves stronger than our right minds.

And so part of life is the effort to cultivate habits of virtue, so that we maintain the freedom to self-consciously and successfully pursue our better purposes - so that we, rather than bad habits or addictions or temptations - are in charge and we can develop freely toward our ultimate ends .

There is a lifelong effort to order ourselves; it stands alongside the effort to accumulate wisdom and self-knowledge.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Trump's homeland speech

There were some significant highlights in President Trump's recent speech to the United Nations. He went well beyond the usual right-liberal talking points in defending national sovereignty against those pushing for global governance.

He said, for instance:
Each of us here today is the emissary of a distinct culture, a rich history, and a people bound together by ties of memory, tradition, and the values that make our homelands like nowhere else on Earth. That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions.

He also argued for a change in refugee policy:
As we see in Jordan, the most compassionate policy is to place refugees as close to their homes as possible, to ease their eventual return to be part of the rebuilding process. This approach also stretches finite resources to help far more people, increasing the impact of every dollar spent.

He firmly rejected ceding power to UN agencies:
...the United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from new forms of coercion and domination.

He spoke out against uncontrolled, illegal immigration:
The United States is also working with partners in Latin America to confront threats to sovereignty from uncontrolled migration. Tolerance for human struggling and human smuggling and trafficking is not humane. It is a horrible thing that is going on, at levels that nobody has ever seen before. It is very, very cruel. Illegal immigration funds criminal networks, ruthless gangs, and the flow of deadly drugs. Illegal immigration exploits vulnerable populations and hurts hardworking citizens and has produced a vicious cycle of crime, violence, and poverty. Only by upholding national borders, destroying criminal gangs can we break the cycle and establish a real foundation for prosperity.

We recognize the right of every nation in this room to set its own immigration policy in accordance with its national interests, just as we ask other countries to respect our own right to do the same, which we are doing. That is one reason the United States will not participate in the new Global Compact on Migration. Migration should not be governed by an international body, unaccountable to our own citizens. Ultimately, the only long-term solution to the migration crisis is to help people build more hopeful futures in their home countries. Make their countries great again.

There was support for Polish efforts to stand up to the EU:
In Poland, the great people are standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty.

There was a powerful endorsement of a humanity made up of distinct, unique nations:
Many countries are pursuing their own unique visions, building their own hopeful futures, and chasing their own wonderful dreams of destiny, of legacy, and of a home. The whole world is richer. Humanity is better because of this beautiful constellation of nations, each very special, each very unique, each shining brightly in its part of the world. In each one, we see also promise of a people bound together by a shared past and working toward a common future.

He spoke of his patriotic feeling as an American:
We celebrate our heroes, we treasure our traditions, and, above all, we love our country. Inside everyone in this great chamber today, and everyone listening all around the globe, there is the heart of a patriot that feels the same powerful love for your nation, the same intense loyalty to your homeland, the passion that burns in the hearts of patriots and the souls of nations has inspired reform and revolution, sacrifice and selflessness, scientific breakthroughs and magnificent works of art.

Our task is not to erase it, but to embrace it—to build with it, to draw on its ancient wisdom, and to find within it the will to make our nations greater, our regions safer, and the world better.

And he finished with this:
Together, let us choose a future of patriotism, prosperity, and pride. Let us choose peace and freedom over domination and defeat. Let us come here to this place to stand for our people and their nations. Forever strong, forever sovereign, forever just. Forever thankful for the grace and the goodness and the glory of God. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the nations of the world.

It's unusual to hear this from a mainstream politician. If you read through these quotes, President Trump recognises that:

1. It is the uniqueness of nations that truly enriches and embellishes the world, not open borders.

2. It is the souls of nations that have inspired great art and a willingness to act selflessly for the common good.

3. That loyalty matters.

4. That nations help to preserve our legacy and to create a sense of home.

5. That nations are made up of peoples united by memory and traditions.

6. That a genuine refugee policy would seek to return people to their own homelands once the conflict finishes.

7. That those attempting to migrate illegally should instead work towards making their own homelands better places to live.

This is not a blanket endorsement of President Trump (he has yet, for instance, to secure the southern border of the U.S.). But he is continuing to push the Overton window toward a more open discussion of significant issues.

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.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Living in fear in South Africa

An exceptionally well-spoken young South African woman has made a video describing the fear that white farming families live under in South Africa:

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Grown ups make a guess?

This is from a book being used at American kindergartens:

The text reads: When babies are born people ask "Is it a boy or a girl?"

The next page:

The idea here is that our bodies don't tell us whether we are male or female; our sex is something now cut off from our physical self, they are two different things. At best you can make a guess whether someone is male or female from looking at their body.

If we were to accept this, then the body would no longer hold the same depth of meaning as it does now. If a man looks at his body, at how he is built physically, he can read there some of his telos - of what he is supposed to develop toward in his whole person.

There is a French group, Vigi Gender, which seeks to uphold the more traditional view about our bodies being sexed. In their manifesto they write:

Become what you are

We are born male or female. Our whole being is gendered in its physical, psychological and spiritual dimension. Male and female cells are different: all male cells are XY and all cells of the woman XX. Sex hormones of men and women are different: testosterone in men; in women, estrogen, the hormone of femininity and progesterone, the hormone of motherhood...

Man is an incarnate being endowed with a mind capable of reason and will. Our body is a source of meaning; it expresses the person, "my body is me." To deny the body, to deny the influence of the sexed body on behaviour, interests, psychology, skills, not only contradicts numerous scientific studies, but is to deny that the human person is an embodied being and to make of it a pure spirit, a being which only defines itself.

We are born male or female and all our life we fulfil ourselves as man or woman, we become what we are in completing what we received at birth (nature), and by what we receive throughout our lives through culture (relationship to the father and the mother, education, history, language, customs ...)

If what we received from the culture was completely separated from our bodies, we would not be united, as we would be torn between the meaning carried by our body, and what we received

The next page of the kindergarten book has this:

This is the page that fits most readily into the beliefs of liberal modernity. It suggests that I am truly myself when I am no particular ready made sexual category. Being "just me" means being both a girl and a boy, or neither, or perhaps one of countless boutique sexes, making me a uniquely sexed creature.

Liberalism tends to see our sex negatively as a potential fetter on our autonomous self. Being born either male or female is something predetermined, and therefore potentially limiting to the liberal, autonomous self. These categories therefore have to be made not to matter.

And so the kindergarten book sets "being me" against being either male or female. The two things are set apart rather than being interwoven. The book also promotes the idea that there are any number of possible sexual identities, making this aspect of the self more amenable to a liberal "self-expressive individualism".

Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1997) observed this larger trend within liberal modernity, describing it this way:
The idea that 'nature' has something to say is no longer admissible; man is to have the liberty to remodel himself at will. He is to be free from all of the prior givens of his essence. He makes of himself what he wants, and only in this way is he really 'free and liberated'. Behind this approach is a rebellion on man's part against the limits that he has as a biological being. In the end, it is a revolt against our creatureliness. Man is to be his own creator - a modern, new edition of the immemorial attempt to be God, to be like God.

It is not a step up in our dignity as humans to be denatured in this way. The liberal understanding is that I am "just me" either as a desexed personality or as a uniquely sexed one. And so there is no essence that exists as part of the created order that I share in and that gives substance and signficance to who I am and that gives a coherent unity that integrates - gives integrity to -  mind, body and soul.

Our limits as a biological being are also how we are concretely "natured". It is within this given, created nature that the deeper aspects of our self are to be experienced, not within what we make up ourselves as an "expressive choice".

In other words, we will find more, and be more, if we fully develop the masculine essence given to us as men, than if we assert, as an act of choice, our independence from this, either as a desexed personality or as a personality with a self-created sex, one that fails to connect our physical being and sexual being, body and mind.

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, September 25, 2018

Debating morality in a liberal age

If liberalism is to be reduced to any single position it is the belief that autonomy is the overriding good in life.

I was reminded of this when reading a Twitter debate about abortion. The anti-abortionists were arguing that a woman should not take the life of the fetus in her womb. The pro-abortionist rejected this on the basis that the woman's autonomy trumped everything else.

He took this position to its logical conclusion in tweets like the following:

Something becomes moral, in this point of view, not because of its intrinsic nature, but if it is consensual. If a fetus fails to gain consent from its mother to live in her womb, its position becomes morally untenable. That is where the logic of making autonomy the ultimate test of morality - the ultimate good - takes us.

Update: A participant in the debate added what I think is a good insight into the possible mindset of liberals like "idahogie". It's worth considering: