Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Queen's Gambit - review

One of the most popular TV shows this year was The Queen's Gambit. It is based on a 1983 novel by an American writer, Walter Tevis. In brief, it tells the story of an orphaned girl, Beth Harmon, who becomes a chess prodigy in the 1950s and 60s.

Like most other people I enjoyed watching the series (it has a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). One striking thing about the series, that soon becomes apparent, is the lack of rancour toward men and toward the era in which it is set. The men generally act as admirers of Harmon and become her willing mentors. Nor is there much heavy-handed criticism of the larger society; instead considerable attention is paid toward period detail. It is striking, too, that the character of Beth Harmon is allowed to be visibly feminine. She spends most of her time wearing beautiful outfits of the era - she is not the usual mannish type of heroine.

So that's the good part. There is, unfortunately, a more negative aspect of the series to report on. There is a tussle in the story between the forces of tradition (faith, love, service & family) and that of the new order (an independent, glamorous life based on money, consumerism, sex & career). The contest is not made one-sided, but ultimately the new order dominates.

Most disappointing is the way that family is treated. Some old tropes are wheeled out here. The girls who want to marry are portrayed as air-headed, mean girl types who get by, after marriage, with drink. And the only men who are portrayed negatively are fathers, who are coldly cynical and abusive.

I couldn't help but wonder, as I watched, how the new order would work for most ordinary people. We can't all be young chess prodigies feted for our extraordinary talent, achievements, beauty and desirability. The "goods" promised by the new order can only be enjoyed by a relatively small part of the population. And if we only live for ourselves, then how would a Beth Harmon ever survive the difficulties of her childhood? The people who gave themselves to her did so out of charitable love, motivated in part by religious conviction.

For all that, The Queen's Gambit is well-written, well-produced and visually stunning.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

What forms of identity do right-liberals permit?

We have for some decades been caught between two opposing political currents, namely a left-liberalism and a right-liberalism, neither of which is supportive of traditional national identity. Clearly, we won't get anywhere until we start to lead people away from both options.

The starting point for both currents is a belief in autonomy: the individual is to be free in the sense that he is self-determining or self-creating and therefore subject only to his own will or reason or desires. This means that whatever is pre-determined, rather than self-determined, is considered an oppressive limitation to be overcome.

For right-liberals, this means rejecting a traditional ethnic nationalism, since this is something we are born into rather than being voluntary and self-chosen. The types of identity right-liberals would allow us to have would be relatively inconsequential ones, such as membership of sporting clubs.

The left-liberal view has developed over time in a more complex direction. There is a major strand of thought on the left which believes that the regeneration of human nature will only take place when power structures have been abolished. At first, these power structures were thought to be mostly class based. But in recent decades the emphasis has been on race and sex (whiteness and patriarchy).

This means that leftists do not simply see "white identity" as a limitation on autonomy that the forces of progress will increasingly make redundant, but as a baked in power structure that violently oppresses others. The left does view race as an artificial social construct that will eventually be abolished, but at the same time it also frames politics around race (and sex), with "whiteness" being the evil element and "colour" being the positive liberationist one.

If you are a white person, the right-liberal position can seem comforting as it does not frame you as an evil oppressor. To illustrate, however, why it is a mistake to resort to right-liberalism, consider the article by Robert Lynch in Quillette titled "Kin, Tribes, and the Dark Side of Identity". The hostility of right-liberals to any substantial forms of communal identity are very clearly spelled out by Lynch in this piece.

Lynch begins by admitting that kin group preference is likely a hard-wired evolutionary trait. He admits too that it has a benefit of encouraging social cooperation. He sees it, though, as also involving animosity toward out-groups. Therefore, the task in his view is how to reap the benefits without triggering any negative consequences. His solution is, not surprisingly for a right-liberal, to only permit voluntary, self-chosen forms of group identity:

The key to balancing tradeoffs between cooperation and parochialism lies in understanding that not all groups are created equal. Groups with voluntary memberships that allow people to be part of multiple, transient, and overlapping communities—for example, sports fans, chess clubs, or single-issue political organizations—tend to generate widespread cooperation both within and between groups...In contrast, groups that are formed around fixed, unchanging and non-overlapping identities—for example, sex, race, or ethnicity—while fostering tight bonds between their members, will tend to sow division and cultivate hatred between groups. These groups are likely to breed resentment, foment animosity, and promote tribalism.

Note the degree of negativity that the unchosen forms of identity are associated with. The terms applied, even to something as basic as our sex, are condemnatory ones like animosity, resentment, division and hatred. Note too how shallow the alternative forms of identity are: we are not allowed to be, say, English or men, but we can safely be a member of a chess group. This is supposed to be the new basis of our social commitments and our willingness to make sacrifices for the larger society.

Lynch goes on, again unsurprisingly, to criticise the left for framing politics around categories like sex and race. The language he uses is predictable:

It isn’t hard to imagine what happens to bridging social capital when our stone age brains make contact with a culture that sanctifies the most visible, involuntary, and unalterable markers of our identity. Nor is it hard to guess the likely effect on social cohesion when our institutions echo the view that we are not individuals, but are rather embedded within a system of interlocking group identities

Even though he is criticising the left here, his comments reveal the depth of his opposition to any traditional national identity. A love of one's people is, in his view, merely an expression of "our stone age brains" rather than, as was traditionally thought, a nobler expression of a man's character. Again, he uses liberal terminology in opposing traditional identity, complaining that it is "involuntary" and "unalterable".

Lynch also worries that politics has become overly partisan, becoming another form of tribalism. He consoles himself with the thought that being Democrat or Republican is something that can be cast off:

At the end of the day, however, Republicans and Democrats are able to take a break from these suffocating identities and get to put on their dentist, mom, Patriots fan, or “I love birding” hats.
This too is interesting in revealing Lynch's permissible identities. Of the four listed, three are predictably "voluntarist": your profession, your sports team, your hobby. Again, it's difficult to see these as a basis for larger social commitments (are you really going to make sacrifices for the greater good because you identify as a bird watcher?). It's interesting, however, that he accepts the identity of "mom" as this rests on an unalterable sex characteristic - if he were entirely consistent in his politics he should probably include this as one of his "suffocating identities".

In the very next paragraph Lynch returns to his condemnation of identities that, unlike the political ones, are unalterable aspects of self:

Contrast this with how our tribal impulses are triggered by the outwardly visible markers of group membership that are branded to our skin or etched into our sexual characteristics. These identities are like inescapable castes into which we are born. Not only do we exercise no choice over our membership, our affiliation is stamped on our face and imprinted in DNA sequences. Unlike groups assembled around freely chosen common interests, we can identify these people on sight. We can start with the business of hating them without ever having to engage in the unpleasant task of actually talking to them, getting to know them a little, and possibly even recognizing their humanity.
I would like you to take note, once more, of just how intransigent this all is. There is a vast gulf here between traditionalism and right-liberalism - we do not share a common politics. For Lynch, any identity or form of commonality that is etched into us becomes a violation of the principle of "voluntarism" and is regarded as as aspect of hatred and inhumanity (is it not just as likely that qualities that are etched into us, such as our sex, are foundational to our self?).

I made the point previously that patriotism was once associated not with, as Lynch puts it, "the nastiest impulses natural selection has to offer" but with the higher, nobler faculties of man. In 1805, Sir Walter Scott made this point in verse form, asserting that a man with a living soul would love, and identify with, his own people and place:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Fury, protest & fatherhood

Mary Eberstadt has contributed an excellent piece on fatherhood at First Things. I say this despite her accepting aspects of liberal modernity (e.g. she is clearly a civic nationalist). What she does do, however, is to draw out an argument that I've made before at this site, namely that a father symbolically represents the larger social order, so that if the paternal relationship is absent or hostile, children are more likely to grow up to reject and act against that order.

What I particularly like about Mary Eberstadt's article is that she recognises the way that filial piety creates a tripartite loyalty, namely to one's father & family; to God & church; and to nation/patria. That is why it is unwise, say, for a church to ask for loyalty to itself whilst seeking to undermine a loyalty to patria, or for someone seeking to uphold national loyalties to attack the loyalties of individuals to their own fathers or to the churches. The three tend to stand or fall together because it is given to us, as a deeper part of our nature, to either honour the virtue of filial piety or to act against it. To put this another way, it is difficult for an individual to have a deeply developed sense of duty and fidelity in the absence of filial piety.

This is how Mary Eberstadt explains the outbreak of political violence in American cities earlier this year:

The explosive events of 2020 are but the latest eruption along a fault line running through our already unstable lives. That eruption exposes the threefold crisis of filial attachment that has beset the Western world for more than half a century. Deprived of father, Father, and patria, a critical mass of humanity has become socially dysfunctional on a scale not seen before.

I am particularly impressed by the next quote in which she directly connects the three loyalties that emanate from filial piety:

Plainly, weakened bonds in one phase are not an isolated phenomenon; they encourage weaker bonds elsewhere. Filial piety, perhaps, is like a muscle that is strengthened by different forms of exercise.

We are only beginning to understand how filial ­piety operates, such that loss of patriotism, loss of faith, and loss of family each seem to encourage breakdown in the other parts of the triad.

Mary Eberstadt sees the young people who lack the ordered existence that is brought into being via the father and what he represents as suffering from ressentiment. She makes a good case that this helps to explain the targets chosen by activists during the protests:

Like Edmund in King Lear, who despised his half-brother Edgar, these disinherited young are beyond furious. Like Edmund, too, they resent and envy their fellows born to an ordered paternity, those with secure attachments to family and faith and country.

That last point is critical. Their resentment is why the triply dispossessed tear down statues not only of Confederates, but of Founding Fathers and town fathers and city fathers and anything else that looks like a father, period...It is why bands of what might be called “chosen protest families” disrupt actual family meals. It is why BLM disrupts bedroom communities late at night, where real, non-chosen families are otherwise at peace.

Unsurprisingly she discovers that many of the key thinkers behind critical race theory lacked a father:

...the biographies of at least some of today’s race-minded trailblazers suggest a connection between fatherlessness and identity politics. The author of the bestseller White Fragility was a child of divorce at age two. The author of the bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race reports that her father left the family and broke off contact, also when she was two. The author of another bestseller, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, was raised by a single mother. The author of another hot race book, The Anti-Racist: How to Start the Conversation About Race and Take Action, was raised by his grandmother. Colin Kaepernick’s biological father left his mother before he was born, but he was then adopted and raised by a white family. James Baldwin, a major inspiration for today’s new racialist writers, grew up with an abusive stepfather; his mother left his biological father before he was born. The list could go on.

I noted the same thing about the leaders of second wave feminism:

Germaine Greer once wrote a book entitled Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. Gloria Steinem said of her father that he "was living in California. He didn't ring up but I would get letters from him and saw him maybe twice a year." Jill Johnston wrote frequently about her missing father who never tried to contact her. Kate Millett adored her father but when she was thirteen he abandoned the family to live with a nineteen-year-old. The father of Eva Cox left the family to pursue a relationship with a pianist "leaving an embittered wife and a bewildered and rebellious daughter".

It was the same with the earlier generation of feminists. For instance, Rebecca West's father left the family when she was a girl and all three of his daughters became radical feminists, as did Rebecca's feminist friend Dora Marsden:

Dora and Rebecca shared certain searing family experiences. Dora's father had left the family when she was eight...

Mary Eberstadt's argument about the significance of fathers when it comes to wider loyalties has been made before, for instance, by Lawrence Auster:

Symbolically, the father is the structuring source of our existence, whether we are speaking of male authority, of the law, of right and wrong, of our nation, of our heritage, of our civilization, of our biological nature, of our God. All these structuring principles of human life, in their different ways, are symbolically the father. The rebellion we've discussed is...a rebellion against the father. The belief that the universe is structured, intelligible, and fundamentally good, and that one can participate in this universe - this is the experience of having a father, which is the opposite of the experience of alienation that drives contemporary culture.

The Danish historian Henrik Jensen wrote a book on the issue, The Fatherless Society, which unfortunately has never been translated. His core argument has been described as follows:

The masculine — which Henrik calls the “father” — is not simply about men as individuals but is an essential aspect of culture.

He sees it as the vertical dimension, which includes everything that human beings have looked up to, from God on high to ideals and excellence as well as the father’s traditional moral authority.

That vertical dimension is the source of our higher aspirations. This upward reach needs a strong foundation of healthy human relationship — which the more horizontally inclusive world of mothering traditionally has provided. As Henrik said to me, there needs to be a balance between the two.
(If you're interested I wrote a post about Jensen describing his theory in greater detail here - it includes his ideas about the shift from a duty based culture to one based on rights and victimhood.)

I'll finish with a quote from a modern feminist, Sophie Lewis, whose desire to abolish the family is very clearly connected, as Mary Eberstadt would predict, to her terrible relationship with her own father. She does not feel filial piety but instead a fury that she has been unable to escape:

The anger and rage we might feel towards a not something we can expel, once and for all, and nor does it yield a clear solution. Rage has instead to be folded into everything else we may simultaneously feel; it does not simply burn itself out.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The failure of a leftist common good

I'd like to continue with the theme of the common good, this time giving some examples of how the leftist common good fails in practice.

But first a quick recap. This series (here and here) began with a leftist claiming that the right is individualist in contrast to the left which cares about community and the common good.

The problem with this way of seeing things is that the leftist view of the common good typically:

a) is built on an understanding of the human person as being autonomous. This "anthropology" assumes that unchosen forms of relatedness are limitations that restrict autonomous choice. Leftism is therefore dissolving of traditional forms of human community and connectedness.

b) assumes that the resulting atomised individuals can nonetheless commit to a common good by supporting state sponsored programmes which aim at inclusion or the provision of welfare or the levelling away of unchosen distinctions between people

The leftist view of the common good starts out with an individualism and ends up with a statism. 

Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible. They have the "hopeful" view that our nature has been corrupted by the existence of power structures in society. If these power structures are abolished, then our nature can be redeemed and we can live in the state of freedom and equality that is our promised land.

At first these power structures were mostly thought to be class distinctions. But the emphasis in more recent times has been on "gender", sexuality and race, with the aim being to abolish patriarchy and whiteness.

This undermines the idea of a common good existing between the members of a community. For instance, men will be thought to belong to a privileged class that exists to exploit the oppressed and victimised class of women. There is no historic complementary relationship in which the good of one sex depends on the achievement of the good of the other. There is no overarching good, such as that of family, which both men and women serve. Instead, there are competing goods set against each other. The good of men stands in a hostile relationship to that of women. 

This has two negative consequences. First, instead of there being a common good, it is thought that the good of men must give way to that of women. Men are there to be allies to women. Within a leftist intersectionalist politics, the good of women ranks above that of men and is therefore the ruling good. Second, men and women are set against each other, perhaps not in terms of individual relationships, but certainly as social classes. The relationship is at least a competitive, if not a hostile, one. There is a setting apart of men and women, rather than a cooperative and complementary relationship.

What does this look like in practice? If I look through my social media feed for the past fortnight, there is no shortage of news items that illustrate these negative outcomes. For instance, it was recently International Men's Day. This is how the United Nations chose to celebrate it:

According to the United Nations men do not pursue their own good, nor a common good, but instead that of women. We are "male allies" who "support women".

And what does standing up for equality mean? Not what you might think it means. The NSW Government, for instance, announced a programme to help those made unemployed by the covid lockdowns get back to work. The Government decided, however, that help would only go to women:
Unemployed women in New South Wales can get a $5,000 boost to their bank accounts from next week.

The state budget will allocate $10million for cash grants to help get women back to work after the coronavirus pandemic saw thousands lose their jobs.

To get the money, women will have to submit an application detailing how they plan to spend it. They can get $5,000 for training and support, $3,500 for childcare, $2,000 for technology and office equipment, $500 for textbooks and $500 for transport.

Consider also the story that ran in the Daily Mail, about a recently published book written by a Frenchwoman, Pauline Harmange, and titled simply I Hate Men. The reviewer, Flora Gill, explained that whilst she did not hate the individual men in her life she agreed with Pauline Harmange that women should hate men in general:

But saying ‘I hate men’ is not the same as saying ‘I hate all men’. Harmange admits this in a roundabout way when she talks about loving her husband.

Hating men means hating not individuals but the toxic traits taught to men and a system that is unfair to women.

So am I willing to say it now in print? To be misunderstood, misquoted and trolled for misandry? Here we go: I hate men.

This setting apart of men and women is evident enough to attract criticism, as in the following tweet:

The following tweet is particularly interesting as it recognises openly the failure of liberal modernity to preserve a common good between men and women:

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Leftism, human nature & the common good

In my last post I noted that leftists see themselves as being committed to a common good and view the right as being individualists.

I disagreed and argued that the leftist vision of a common good is built on top of an individualistic understanding of man (an individualistic anthropology). Leftists see man as an autonomous, self-defining individual, who makes his own meaning. The leftist common good consists of a commitment of these autonomous, self-creating individuals to an egalitarian welfare state. The end result is not community but extraordinary numbers of people living alone.

I'd like to extend this argument. It's easier to understand the leftist mindset if you consider the right liberal politics that leftism is reacting against. Right liberalism began with a view that politics should harness the "low" in human nature, e.g. man's selfishness and acquisitiveness, with people being left at liberty to pursue their own individual profit in the market. Does this mean that right liberals have no concept of the common good? Not entirely. Right liberals usually argue that their brand of individualism creates a spontaneous order in society; an economic and social progress; liberation from traditional "constraints"; and an uncoerced moral sphere. It's common for right liberals to point to data showing improvements in global living standards, health outcomes etc.

Again, this is not the way that traditionalists understand the common good, but you can see why leftists might feel it to be a point of difference with the "right". Left-liberals do not generally begin with the "low" as the basis of their politics. If anything, they swing too far the other way, toward the belief that human nature can be redeemed or regenerated through education or through the deconstructing of power structures in society. They have a "hopeful" (at times utopian) belief either in the innate goodness of man or in the technocratic manipulation of human nature to become whatever it needs to become.

What leftists miss is that this understanding of human nature, the assumption of perfectibility and malleability, undermines the achievement of a genuine common good, in a number of ways.

For example, if man is by nature good, but is made selfish by the existence of power structures in society, then leftists will set out to deconstruct those power structures. As we know, leftists assume that men are an oppressor group benefiting from systemic sexism in society ("patriarchy"); the same applies to white people and so on. To deconstruct these power relations, leftists claim that categories of class, race and sex are oppressive social constructs, without any legitimate basis in nature. 

From this two things follow, both of which harm the common good. First, aspects of our identity which tie us to others in distinct ways come under attack. It is difficult to uphold stable forms of family life or of national identity, if manhood and womanhood are oppressive categories to be overcome, or if our culture and ethny are defined negatively. We shift further toward the mass floating particle society, in which each particle is replaceable within the system.

Second, classes within society are set against each other. If the category "men" is an artificial oppressor class, benefiting from the exploitation of women, then what common good exists between men and women? The only thing men can do, in this understanding, is to relinquish their own good in favour of that of women, which is what you sometimes hear called for (the "be an ally but without imposing yourself" idea). There is a splintering effect on society, with an intersectional politics creating a hierarchy of whose "good" gets to be considered relative to others.

The leftist view of human nature also undermines the common good by placing man outside of nature and of natural limits. If we can change who we are as men, through education or social reform or through some other technocratic process, so that we are then free to choose for ourselves how we will live in harmonious relationships with others, then the virtues of self-knowledge, of prudence and of wisdom are no longer as significant as they once were held to be. We no longer exist within a given framework, with natural ends, purposes and roles that we ignore at our peril. The world can be made as we wish it to be, as we believe it ought to be, and it is only the perverse refusal of others to go along with what we want that prevents it from being so.

It is difficult to pursue a common good from within this mindset. If I can choose anything, at any time in life, without any ill-effect on my well-being, then how can a community be ordered toward securing a common good? What happens in practice is that people fail to secure the basic goods for their own long-term well-being (in the belief that life choices either are, or should be, entirely open), and when they become unhappy, they are counselled (or medicated). Some of the trends here are alarming:

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Left behind

I ventured into left-wing Twitter recently. A poster had asked how his fellow left-wingers would describe those on the right in a single word. The most interesting answer was this:

I don't think this is right at all and said so:

It led to an exchange which made it clear that what traditionalists believe to be the common good differs greatly from the leftist understanding. The leftists pointed me to an article on Sweden the gist of which was the idea that Sweden was oriented to the common good up to the 1980s when the Social Democrats began to privatise the economy; it then led to a period of growing inequality which all sides of politics are now attempting to overcome.

Here is the leftist ideal:

The centre-left has governed the country for 81 of the past 100 years, striving to be “the people’s home” – or folkhemmet – in which the social democratic state was like a family, caring for all and with no one left behind. Sweden became one of the most socially equal countries in the world.

So the "common good" means that the state ensures social equality, which apparently means a levelling out of all kinds of distinctions - of class, of ethnicity, of sex:
Karl Möller seems an unlikely poster child for a war on inequality. He is the lone male among a dozen women, each with a baby in her arms.

Möller, 45, is part of a city-wide programme in Gothenburg to mix social classes, genders and ethnicities to make Sweden’s second city a more equal place to live.

New integrated “family centres” such as this one, which opened in March, aim to target support at the families who need it most. “It is important for us to be in mixed areas to create more equality,” says manager Helen Antonson.

This concept of a common good hasn't worked on its own terms - Sweden has seen a growing inequality in income and health for some time. Worse, though, is that the concept itself is misconceived: it dissolves many of the connections between people through which stable forms of community are formed. It therefore tends to create anomie and social withdrawal - an excessive individualism rather than community and a common good.

Consider the following graph comparing the percentage of lone person households in Europe in 2016: 

In Sweden the percentage is double some other European countries. In other parts of the world the corresponding figure is often under 10%:

Why do so many Swedes live alone? One Swedish historian put it this way:
Why, then, does Sweden stand out when it comes to the high number of single households? Trägårdh says that Sweden is a "radically individualistic" country with a social structure that enables people to live independently - that is, to avoid having to rely on one another.

"It has something to do both with values and with the types of institutions we have created in Sweden in more recent decades," explains Trägårdh.

"Individual autonomy has been important for a long time here."

To try to make what is happening here clearer, think of it this way. The Swedes are starting out with an individualistic view of man, i.e. that we create meaning for ourselves as autonomous, self-defining individuals. The "common good" part only comes later and consists of a commitment to a state sponsored egalitarianism, in which distinctions between people are levelled.

A traditionalist common good looks very different because it begins with our view of man, namely that our own good is inextricably intertwined with the good of the larger natural forms of community we belong to, and through which we obtain aspects of our identity, our social commitments, our roles and purposes, our loves and attachments, our connection to a particular culture and tradition, and our connection to generations past, present and future.

The leftist "common good" emphasises independence over interdependence and it wants to level away the distinctions on which a traditional common good is formed. As an example of this mindset, consider the way that Monica Silvell, a Swedish bureaucrat, explains the change of ideas about men and women in Sweden:

The old view of men and women complementing one another was replaced by the notion that the sexes were basically similar.

There is a levelling of distinctions ("the sexes were basically similar) and a loss of interdependence ("the older view of men and women complementing one another"). There is no "common good" here anymore, in the sense of the sexes needing each other to fulfil aspects of their own selves. The "common good" becomes, instead, something very different: a commitment to the egalitarian liberal state. As we have seen, this leftist "common good" tends to create "aloneness" rather than stable forms of community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Selected Tales of Price Warung

This one is particularly for Australian readers. A new publishing house, Bonfire Books, specialising in Australian historic authors has released its first title, Selected Tales of Price Warung

Price Warung was the pen name of William Astley (1855 - 1911). He is considered to be one of the best writers of Australian short stories. Professor Edward Watts of Michigan State University thought that the themes he addressed were similar to those of his contemporaries, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hardy. 

You can read more about the book at the publisher's website (here), including purchase information (for yourself or maybe a Christmas present for any avid readers you know). 

Below is a promotional video from the publisher's YouTube channel:

Monday, September 28, 2020

On cosmology & politics

I have finished reading a book called The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard. It sets out clearly the cosmology of the Elizabethans - their understanding of the structure of the cosmos we inhabit - and argues that this was a continuation of the same understanding held in the Middle Ages and, in parts anyway, going right back to the Ancient Greeks.

This longstanding cosmology was already being challenged in Elizabethan times by developments in science and as the modern period developed it became untenable. I think it's important to consider how the loss of this older understanding affected the development of Western thought.

So what was this cosmology? First, the "vertical structure" was immensely emphasised. All created things existed in a rank from the most base to the most noble: there was an order to existence from lowest to highest, with an intricate order of "degrees" of existence. This was the "great chain of being" with every aspect of creation being linked to one above it and one below it, with no gaps in the chain. For the whole to function, the links could not be broken, therefore there was an abundance of life in which nothing was superfluous.

The vertical structure was reflected in the architecture of the universe. The sublunary sphere (i.e. below the moon) was the lowest sphere, in which things were mutable and subject to decay. Above the moon were the celestial spheres, a realm made up of pure aether, with a planet embedded in each revolving sphere. Beyond this was the firmament, the sphere of fixed stars, and then beyond this the primum mobile, the outermost moving sphere. Outside all this was the Empyrean, the dwelling place of God.

There was an ascending hierarchy of angels, each associated with one of the spheres. As for man, he had the dignity of bridging the chasm between spirit and matter - a key position in creation and one that gave man a mixed constitution. Man was separated from the beasts by the gift of reason, which was made up of understanding and will. These were corrupted by the Fall, but man nonetheless had the freedom to act according to his higher or lower qualities, i.e. nobly or basely.

When you read about the cosmology you have a sense that it must have been enchanting to have beheld the world this way. At the same time, its loss was necessarily disenchanting. The poet John Donne wrote in 1611 of the impact of the new sciences:

And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th’ earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

There is a direct link made here between changes in the cosmology, and a loss not only of coherence but of "relation", including that between people (prince & subject, father & son). 

I do not wish to blame the loss of the older cosmology for all that has gone wrong. As it happens, some aspects of the cosmology remained embedded in Western culture for generations afterwards. And there were aspects of the cosmology itself which arguably had the potential to have negative effects. Even so, I think Western culture has struggled to recover from the shock of its loss.

I have quoted these lines from Shelley often, but will do so again as they would not have been possible in the older cosmology:

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

This was Shelley's ideal of the "New Man" in 1820. It is interesting that Shelley should describe the new man as being "exempt from degree" - directly opposing the vertical structure of the old cosmology. In line with Donne's observations, Shelley's new man is also to be "unclassed" - to not belong to any "kind" of thing which might give form or relation to it. Shelley, it should be remembered, fiercely rejected what he called "detestable distinctions" such as those between men and women.

We now have something remarkably different from the older understanding. Instead of a vertically oriented chain of being we now have a horizontally ordered floating particle society. Instead of an orientation to the noble over the base, we do not distinguish between Thomas Tallis and Cardi B. 

And reason has lost its moorings. I am not sure that the Elizabethan understanding of reason was without its flaws, but at least there were limits placed upon the idea of individual reason as an ordering principle of society. Not only were human will and understanding thought to be corrupted, man had a given form and place within the cosmos.

The loss of the older cosmology might have shaken Western culture, but it does not need to be fatal. There is still an argument for an "order of existence". It just needs to be made outside the conceptual framework of the older cosmology.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Angela Nagle: attacking globalism from the other side

It might surprise some people to learn that there are leftists who are against open borders. Angela Nagle, an Irish academic and writer, is one such person. It's interesting to read her criticisms of globalism, as they reinforce the arguments that we ourselves make.

In 2018 Nagel wrote a piece for American Affairs titled "The Leftist Case Against Open Borders". She observed of the modern left that,

Today’s well-intentioned activists have become the useful idiots of big business. With their adoption of “open borders” advocacy—and a fierce moral absolutism that regards any limit to migration as an unspeakable evil—any criticism of the exploitative system of mass migration is effectively dismissed as blasphemy. Even solidly leftist politicians, like Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, are accused of “nativism” by critics if they recognize the legitimacy of borders or migration restriction at any point. This open borders radicalism ultimately benefits the elites within the most powerful countries in the world, further disempowers organized labor, robs the developing world of desperately needed professionals, and turns workers against workers.

She points out that,

Developing countries are struggling to retain their skilled and professional citizens, often trained at great public cost, because the largest and wealthiest economies that dominate the global market have the wealth to snap them up...According to Foreign Policy magazine, “There are more Ethiopian physicians practicing in Chicago today than in all of Ethiopia, a country of 80 million.”

In a piece about her own country, Will Ireland Survive the Woke Wave?, Nagle predicts that Ireland will follow the same path as other Western nations:

As a former colony, historically unsullied by the sins of slavery and imperialism, Ireland’s national identity has been largely free of the culture of pathological self-hatred found across most of the liberal West today...But all of that is about to change.
She believes that Ireland is too economically dependent on an international "progressive tech oligarchy" and that,
It will now be a second but no less bitter irony that the native Irish working class will soon find themselves in the same position as the British have — despised as reactionary by our own elites and morally and economically blackmailed into accepting their more enlightened values.

Like all doomed traditions, our banal ethno-nationalism has been passively held by the majority while the intellectual and moral foundations that once justified it have been slowly replaced and degraded while nobody was paying attention. When a full confrontation with the liberal internationalism we invited in during the Celtic Tiger years inevitably happens, those foundations will already be gone and we will no longer be able to explain why having any right to a national culture or national sovereignty is anything other than racist and exclusionary.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A line of descent

Man was made to be embedded in certain kinds of relationships. The obvious one is the family, in which we can fulfil aspects of our mission as men and as women; our drive to reproduce ourselves and the tradition we belong to; to pair bond with someone of the opposite sex; to uphold our lineage and the tradition of achievement it represents; and to be anchored by the stable loves and attachments which are possible within kin relationships. 

Much the same goes for the larger familial type community which we belong to, namely our membership of an "ethny". This gives us a connection to generations past, present and future; it connects us deeply to people and place; it makes us custodians of a particular cultural inheritance; it deepens our social commitments; and, again, it draws us into a set of relationships based on natural forms of loyalty and common identity. 

Little wonder that for our ancestors piety, understood to mean honouring those who sacrificed to create who we are, namely God, our parents and our nation, was such an important virtue. And little wonder too that fidelity, a proven loyalty to family and nation, was so important and that acts of infidelity or treachery were so fiercely condemned (traitors occupied the innermost circle of hell in Dante's Inferno.)

These relationships are foundational to human life. Without them the individual loses his footing, loses the stability necessary to hold together his psyche/soul, and will spend a life not aiming for the highest things, or oriented to what is good, or true or beautiful within existence, but trying to assuage his anxiety and to keep at bay, however he can, his unease.

What is so unusual about modern Western society is that an influential part of our intellectual class not only fails to defend these relationships, but with unerring instinct and with tremendous moral passion seeks to undermine them. In other words, they are actively oriented to an ethos of infidelity.

You can see this in the feminist women who claim that "men have been the greatest enemy of women" or who relentlessly promote the idea that the biggest threat to women is their own husbands, who are portrayed as tyrants and abusers. This represents an effort to break the ties between men and women, to adopt a mindset in which men and women are fundamentally set apart.

You can see it too in those white liberals who so readily accept atrocity stories designed to dehumanise their own ancestors and to encourage young people to turn against their own history and heritage.

How did it come to this? There is no single source for the descent of the West. Our inability to defend our communal foundations has multiple sources that span both the left and the mainstream right of politics. What I want to do is to attempt to describe just one of these strands, namely that of secular humanist leftism. This appeared amongst an avant-garde by the early 1800s, though humanism itself goes back well before this. Today it is the predominant worldview amongst the Anglo urban middle-class. It is the orthodox view of most teachers and academics, the ones responsible for instructing our children.

You can see the politics of infidelity very clearly in the works of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unlike most of his fellow Englishmen of the early 1800s, he stood fiercely opposed to God (and not on scientific grounds - he was happy to believe in ghosts). He identified with Satan not because he saw Satan as evil, but because he saw Satan as asserting a freedom against God (unsurprisingly, this identification with Satan persisted amongst avant-garde intellectuals for much of the nineteenth century). 

Shelley adopted the attitude of non-serviam: I will not serve. He did so perhaps for the usual reason of pride, but more so it seems because of his notion of human freedom. I am speculating here, but I suspect that Shelley had the attitude that our authority lies in our own reason and will; that therefore we should be subject only to our own reason and will; and that therefore a God who establishes an external law for us to follow, whether this be a natural law or revelation, is a tyrant exercising power over us.

(A brief detour: the notion that the existence of an external law, including God's law, makes us unfree is easy to challenge. If the laws were merely arbitrary, then, yes, they would represent subjection. But if they represent truths about how our lives are rightly ordered, then the more that we obey them, the closer we get to the truth of our being, and the less that they become external impositions.)

Much follows from this rejection of external authority. It means that we can no longer recognise the vertical structure of reality; if everyone is their own authority, then how can I recognise the authority of a bishop or a king or even a father? Relationships can only be horizontal - they can only exist "sideways", hence the emphasis on equality.

Similarly, if there is no natural order of being, and only individuals following the authority of their own will and reason, then many traditional distinctions become obsolete, such as those between men and women, or those of nation (Shelley termed such things "detestable distinctions"). In particular, the duties that flow from them will be rejected as external impositions on the sovereign self. 

Here is Shelley imagining the new man:
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
It's very clearly expressed. You can see the absolute rejection of the vertical structure: no king, no social classes, no God, no awe. You can see the rejection of "distinctions", meaning the qualities that give people a supra-individual identity and belonging: no tribes or nations. There is only the free and uncircumscribed individual.

But that is only part of the story. Shelley was not committed to the classical liberal view that man has a low nature (selfish, acquisitive, greedy) that can be harnessed within society. One reason he hated Christianity is that he disliked the idea that man's nature was fallen. He chose to believe that you could have a society of self-sovereign individuals, not subject to external law or custom, who would choose, like himself, to live according to noble principles and, above all, according to selfless love. 

This was an expression of the "all you need is love" ethos that has been around in more recent times (Shelley and John Lennon would have got on like a house on fire - Lennon's "Imagine" is very much in the Shelleyan spirit). Given his belief that love, without moral law, was sufficient, Shelley logically adopted the free love idea: that men and women should remain in a relationship for as long as the love was there, but then move on without jealousy once it finished. It led to a trail of destruction in Shelley's life, including the suicide of his first wife whom he abandoned to run off with the teenage Mary Shelley. 

Many middle-class liberals have continued along much the same lines as Shelley. They see themselves as representing the forces of love and peace, despite acting with immense hostility against those they see as upholding traditional loyalties. We should not be surprised by this. If they reject law and custom as sources of authority, then like Shelley they are likely to see themselves as acting from some sort of inwardly generated universal benevolence or disinterested love instead. The intense virtue signalling perhaps reflects this anxiety to prove that they still have a moral foundation. 

Similarly we should not be surprised at the vehemence, the rage and despair, that they feel toward those who are not "enlightened" and who still have fidelity when it comes to supporting traditional family roles or national identities. For Shelleyan leftists, these are not part of the necessary foundations that support individual life, but aspects of tyranny and oppression over the self-sovereign individual, particularly if these foundations have some standing and authority within the mainstream of society (e.g. "whiteness" in Western countries or masculine leadership in the family or society). They are seen to be assertions of power by some over others, existing for the purposes of exploitation and hindering the progress toward the new free and equal individual.

The utopias imagined by Shelleyan type leftists have often involved a picture of individuals living free from necessity, without a government (why would you need one once human nature is redeemed and there is no need for law). The individual in these communities is free to wander around by themselves, with no personal property, forming voluntary friendships, sharing everything including the women.

In reality, the drift has been toward a mass floating particle society with an ever more centralised state, leading ultimately toward global governance. There are some traditionalists who have picked up on this aspect of leftism and who wish to combat it by emphasising instead smaller scale, localised community life with a return to more personalised relationships. I do think this is one legitimate response to liberal modernity, but with one caveat. 

Such communities won't survive the larger trends within society without clarity of principle, i.e. without firmly establishing an alternative ethos or "metanarrative" that can be embedded within its culture. Similarly, they won't survive without vigilance when it comes to guarding the institutions (the schools, the churches, the local media). There clearly exists a temptation for intellectual types to drift toward a Shelleyan worldview, and it is these types who are often the most motivated to work their way into positions of influence. The left understands how "formation" works - the deliberate approach to instilling a certain worldview, or set of presuppositions, in the young. We should not leave formation to chance, but must have a deliberate approach to it. Finally, we should keep challenging at the political level: the stronger a position that we build for a traditionalist politics within the mainstream of society, the more likely it is that local communities will be sustained into the future.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Does Emma Watson's formula really empower women?

Emma Watson, the actress best known for her childhood role in the Harry Potter films, is a feminist. She recently had this to say:

This might sound benign, but the moral formula she puts forward here has significant consequences. She is claiming that women are empowered when they can do whatever they want, no matter what it is that they want.

Of course, if this were just a case of wanting to wear different types of shoes, it would be harmless. But as a general principle of society, the liberal formula goes well beyond that. After all, if women are empowered when they can do exactly what they want, then the woman who wants to be a good mother by making personal sacrifices for her child is on exactly the same plane as the woman who sells herself on Only Fans to fund a drug habit. As James Kalb so often writes, all desires are equally desires. According to the formula, both women are empowered as long as they can follow their desires.

If you think my example is a bit extreme, consider the case of singer Cardi B who I wrote about last year. She and her fans responded to criticisms of her twerking videos by using the Emma Watson defence, namely that it is empowering for women to do whatever they want. Cardi B has just this month taken the principle even further by releasing a video that would have made prostitutes of yore blush. It is being marketed widely (with the lyrics, but not the video, partly censored) to girls, presumably in part because it fits in well with the ruling ideal of female empowerment.

The liberals who pushed the idea that we should do whatever we want as long as it did not interfere with the rights of others to do the same did not envisage Cardi B as the end product of their moral formula. They assumed that people would choose to act according to the middle-class standards for men and women of their era, i.e. as gentlemen and ladies. They thought that education would refine people, and reveal their inner high character.

It was not a realistic assessment of human nature. Nor did they account for the logic of their formula, i.e. for its failure to discriminate between the moral choices that we make. The message this formula sends is that there are no moral goods as part of the nature of things but only the satisfaction of individual wants. This alone would be enough to gradually erode a gentlemanly code of ethics, but in the longer run the subversion becomes more active. After all, if I am empowered when I can act to satisfy my desires, then it is moral for me to transgress and to break through restraints placed on my behaviour. The further I go in shocking sensibilities, the more liberated and empowered I am. Cardi B becomes the role model.

There was a time when acting exactly as you want would not have been thought empowering, but as lacking self-restraint. There was a range of moral terms to express this failure of self-discipline: dissolute, licentious, decadent, debauched, abandoned, incontinent, promiscuous, profligate, dissipated. The terminology suggests the moral concept: that in acting in an unrestrained way to gratify desires, we are no longer fully ourselves, but are lost in some way to our vices. Lost, not empowered.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Four types of female love

First a disclaimer. I'm always a bit hesitant in publishing these kinds of posts, because they are based on my own, necessarily limited, experiences and observations. I put them forward more as ideas for others to work with, rather than as cast iron, unassailable expressions of truth. 

It seems to me that there are at least four types of female love. The reason for trying to understand each type is that female love for men is not always as stable as that of men for women. Men's love has the advantage that it tends to trigger the male protector/provider instinct, and so men will feel that they are fulfilling a basic aspect of manhood in directing their strengths toward supporting their family. It is an anchor point. Men also seem better able than women to find a transcendent aspect in their love. The male mind is able to combine a love for an individual and flawed woman with an experience of what is transcendent in feminine beauty and goodness. And men experience this love for a woman as a higher expression of their own nature. All this can be powerful enough to motivate men to remain attached to the same woman throughout the course of a life. Yes, there are other factors that push the other way. Men do have an instinct for sexual variety. Nor are men wholly immune to becoming too emotionally damaged for stable attachments. Nonetheless, it is generally easier for a man to attach in a stable way to a woman than for a woman to a man.

So what are the four types of female love? 

1. Libidinal love

This is love that is based on sexual attraction. When women have this feeling, they often describe it in terms of a physical response, rather than an emotional one ("I had butterflies in my stomach"). It is a strongly visceral response in women, one that has little to do with higher, transcendent aspects of mind. 

What triggers this kind of love? Unsurprisingly, primal, visceral instinct. For this reason, it can seem baffling to high minded men. Women might, for instance, respond to men who trigger a sexual thrill, perhaps by being bold, or looking menacing, or breaking the rules, or having a certain arrogance. Libidinal love favours bad boy qualities.

You get a sense of this by reading female "romance" novels. These novels are designed to trigger this libidinal love feeling in women. They are extraordinarily primal. They evoke ancient "bride capture" customs: the hero will often simply force himself in some way onto the reluctant heroine. The hero himself is untamed and outside of polite society (but, in a nod to the next type of love, also someone who has inherited tremendous wealth and status).

Female libidinal love is problematic for society. Libidinal love often doesn't last. It leads women to engage in either one night stands or serial monogamy in their party years. Its impact on men is mixed at best. At its worst it encourages a player type culture amongst men, or perhaps even a "gangsta" one - or an imitation of it. It is not a basis for successful, lifelong marriage.

2. Opportunistic love

Women, more than men, have a capacity to love opportunistically. A woman might reach a certain age, want a wedding, a house, children and financial support, and set out to find a man on this basis. If she finds a man who can provide these things, she might then be willing to embark on a relationship, even if there is little genuine sexual attraction (libidinal love).

There have no doubt been countless marriages based on opportunistic love. But there are three problems with these marriages. First, the lack of sexual attraction is likely to be a cause of frustration on both sides, perhaps even eventually leading to the collapse of the marriage. Second, if the woman secures the things she wanted - the wedding, the house, the children, the financial support - the basis for her love diminishes and she may opt out of the marriage. Third, these marriages often have an unhealthy beta dynamic in which the husband must always qualify himself to his wife.

In the days before easy divorce, opportunistic love would not have broken up marriages, but it would have undermined the happiness of the relationship.

3. Altruistic love

This was the type of love most characteristic of my mother's generation of women (those who married in the early 1960s). It was described well by Marie Robinson in 1958:

Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it. It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrium, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life's continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.

I think this is exactly right. This distinctly feminine type of altruistic love was, for most of the women in my mother's social circle, able to hold at bay the resentment and self-pity that women can be prone to, and carry with it a warmth and joy of feminine personality well into old age. 

The damage done by the absence of this kind of love can be seen in an excerpt from a biography of Alice James, the sister of novelist Henry James. Alice, a spinster who lived alone, was visited by her two brothers in 1889:

As the three of them sat and talked, as they exchanged memories and opinions, the afternoon became for Alice a soul-quickening experience wherein the family itself seemed to come richly back into being, a revived and reintegrated presence. Her isolation was overcome for the moment by the sense of being once again a surrounded and nourished member of that family.
When her brothers left she was plunged again into solitude:
she confessed with bleak clarity that she could never allow it to be "anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and 'do for' daily is not only a sorrow but a sterilizing process."
This aspect of womanhood is not so evident today, perhaps because it stood in the way of the liberal aim of creating a society based on individual autonomy. But it remains a potential within female nature, one that provides a stronger basis for lifelong marriage.

(There does exist a masculine version of this, in which men act for others - but it has a different quality to the feminine version. It is more a case of men using their masculine strengths to create a protected and secure space for their family, and to provide for the material needs/wants of their family.)

4. Caritas love

This is a love (that both sexes can experience) that is more likely to be found among those with serious religious commitments. It could be described like this: my love of God, and my willingness to serve Him, leads me to love and to will the good of my spouse and my children. This is a love, therefore, that is settled in the will. As a matter of deep conscience, I will remain faithful to my spouse, as to God, and I will serve Him through service to my family. I do not need my spouse to be perfect to retain my commitments, and I will seek to overcome my own weaknesses and temptations that might undermine the promises that I have made. I might see marriage as a sacred commitment, a sacrament that it is not mine to break. I might see family as a sacred community, one in which I am charged with the deep mission of the spiritual welfare of my spouse and children. I will actively orient myself to the love of my spouse.

This is the most profound basis for marital commitments, but realistically it won't ever be universally held within a society. It has declined as a serious orientation to Christianity has diminished. It works best, of course, if both the husband and wife hold to it; a marriage can still fail if only one spouse is motivated by caritas. 

It was the type of love that the poet Sir Thomas Overbury advocated as a true basis for marriage in his poem of 1613 titled "The Wife". Although he did want a passionate love, he recognised that this was no guarantee of a wife's loyalty. He thought, therefore, that even though beauty was an important quality, it was most important to look for "good" in a wife. He wrote:

Gods image in her soule, O let me place
My love upon! not Adams in her face.

Good, is a fairer attribute then white,
’Tis the minds beauty keeps the other sweete;

 And what did he mean by "good"? He explains:

By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,

He is recognising that the firmest ground for marital commitments is the one founded upon the caritas type of love.


You might think that the aim of a society should be to reject the first two types of female love, the libidinal and the opportunistic, and work instead with altruistic and caritas forms of love. That, though, would be a mistake. The first two are fundamental aspects of female nature that cannot be glossed over. 

For instance, it is much better if a man is sexually attractive to his wife. We know that if a man is too agreeable, or too nice, that he won't trigger this attraction. We don't want the attraction to be triggered by a race to see which man can cover himself with the most tattoos, or best imitate a bikie. But there are other ways a society can help men to be more sexually attractive to women.

How can a decent man trigger sexual attraction in a woman without going gangsta? Well, he can be physically fit and muscular. He can be self-confident. He can have ambition. He can be rough around the edges. He can show competence in things that women consider masculine (e.g. fixing things, building things, outdoorsy things). He can avoid fawning and simping, and have a sense of his own masculine attractiveness. He can be dedicated to a mission in life outside of marriage and family. He can lead adeptly.

As politically incorrect as it is to say it, men can aim to demonstrate forms of masculine power and dominance and competence. And a society can help this along. For instance, it is normal and natural for mothers to instil in their infant sons some "caring and sharing" values. This is an important part of the socialisation of boys. But after about the age of seven it should be mostly complete, and it then becomes more important that boys are socialised in a masculine way within male spaces. A society should take care to give fathers time to spend with their sons in active masculine pursuits. And between the ages of about seven to sixteen, it is helpful for boys to be educated at boys' schools with a largely male staff. These male environments can be challenging for the more gently natured boys, and some might even come out worse for the experience (by never successfully adapting), but for most boys it will have the positive effect of instilling a more spirited and competitive masculine mindset (e.g. by learning to stand up for yourself, to learn better how to keep boundaries, to hold frame when under duress etc.).

As for opportunistic love, this too needs to be understood as a matter of policy making. Society once did this in a blunt way. Marriage allowed a young woman to leave her parents' house and form one of her own, i.e. to be independent. It gave her children and material security. If she divorced she had only a limited claim to these things. Our society has, with equal bluntness, gone the opposite way by associating independence with being single, and by rewarding women with the children, house and money on divorce. A society needs to get the balance of this right if it wants marital stability.

And how do we restore "essential female altruism"? That requires a rolling back of a number of things. Because liberalism wants to make our sex not matter (as being a predetermined quality), liberals aim at a gender role convergence in which men and women play the same role within the family. This undermines a woman's sense that she might give to her family in a unique way as a woman. Similarly, the liberal emphasis on autonomy means that women are raised to believe that an independent career is what matters and that work done for family is therefore to be thought of negatively as an oppressive limitation, a burden that must be shared equally between men and women or else outsourced.

Marie Robinson thought this to be the case, even back in 1958. She described one of her clients, who was cut off from this feminine altruistic love, as follows:

The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (a la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is. Such a definition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man.

Finally, there is the issue of caritas. In a secular society, with a materialistic world view, this understanding of love will not prosper. What I would urge men to understand, even those men without religious belief, is that this is not without negative consequences. The churches did once help to create a more secure setting for family life.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Why are we denatured?

At the very beginning, when I first became involved in traditionalist politics, I wrote about the need to uphold the fully natured person. This was a person who, for example, was still deeply connected to people and place, who felt a love for these things and a corresponding duty to defend them, who sensed the inherent good and meaning within them, who felt enriched by them. I was aware, even back then, of a denaturing process within political modernity through which these parts of our own selves were being lost.

I have come to see three reasons why we are being denatured. I'll briefly mention the first two, as it's the third one that needs drawing out.

1. Liberal autonomy theory

I've written about this at length previously. Liberals define freedom as maximising individual autonomy. This is understood to mean the ability of an individual to self-determine who he is and what he does. The terrible problem with this formula is that it consigns everything predetermined in life to a negative role as a fetter on our personal freedom that we need to be liberated from. This includes our sex and our ethny, which are not self-determined and which liberals therefore believe ought not to matter.

In other words, there are significant aspects of our nature that are rejected because they are predetermined and don't fit in with the liberal way of defining human freedom. They are not allowed to matter, and people who think they do are reviled with words like "sexist" or "bigoted". There is a suppression of what we are allowed to express about our own natures.

2. The levelling instinct

There are people who reject the vertical axis of reality. They do not see the benefit in an ordered hierarchy, nor do they wish to serve the higher, transcendent goods that exist outside and above them. They see distinctions negatively as an affront to a levelled, individual existence.

There are many reasons why people might go down this path. A more natural one is that civilisation often does involve artifices, such as people having to work hard to maintain status. There is a very longstanding counter impulse to wish for a more simple, pre-civilised life - an Arcadian life.

This evolved, however, into a more damaging ideological view within Western thought. The idea was that men were not to be redeemed in religious terms, but through a radical restructuring of society. Men, it was argued, were naturally good but corrupted by the power structures within civilisation. If you could abolish these power structures, man's nature would be redeemed and you could have an Edenic life of freedom and equality.

Originally, the power structure targeted was the Ancien Regime of kings, priests and aristocrats. Then later the power structure was capitalism and the bourgeoisie. In more recent times patriarchy (men) and whiteness.

Those who hold to this ideological view place their faith in a future utopia that will arise via the effort to level down human existence. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is a kind of anthem for those who follow this mindset: the ultimate aim is to have no nations, nothing above us, no distinctions but only a "oneness". But this is a denial of the fully natured person who is alive to transcendent goods, to partial loyalties and to natural distinctions.

People become levellers for other reasons too. Those who are in a state of father rebellion will often reject all that the father represents symbolically, including the vertical axis of reality. And throughout history there have been those who pridefully reject the authority of anything outside themselves, who declare "non serviam".

3. The technocratic mindset

On the right people often declare the levellers to be communists. It is true that Marxism is an example of a leveller movement, but levelling is something that predates Marxism. In the early 1800s, for instance, the first English group to call themselves liberals (a radical group which included the poet Shelley) held leveller views, as do many ordinary middle-class white leftists today.

The problem with the next reason for the denaturing of Western man is that it is not confined to the left. Whilst it is a feature of leftist thought (including communist thought) it is just as common on the right, even amongst those who consider themselves "Tory". It has so deeply infiltrated the Western mind that it covers the political spectrum.

Here is the problem. In the early modern era, Western man decided to place himself outside of nature. For this reason alone it was inevitable that Western man would become denatured.

Professor Patrick Deneen describes the premodern view of man's relationship to nature as follows:
Premodern political thought....understood the human creature as part of a comprehensive natural order. Humans were understood to have a telos, a fixed end, given by nature and unalterable. Human nature was continuous with the order of the natural world, and thus humanity was required to conform both to its own nature and, in a broader sense, to the natural order of which it was a part. Human beings could freely act against their own nature and the natural order, but such actions deformed them and harmed the good of human beings and the world. [Why Liberalism Failed, p. 35]

In this premodern view, we are necessarily embedded within nature - within our own nature and that of the reality we inhabit - with our purposes being found within the nature given to us. It was commonplace within Western thought for people to seek to live within the nobler aspects of their nature, particularly those that linked the individual to sources of meaning within the natural order.

This began to change in the early modern period. The new scientific outlook saw man as standing outside of nature, commanding it for his own purposes. In the longer run this led to a technocratic mindset in which the natural world was viewed as an inert resource to be organised efficiently for the purposes of quantitative growth.

This mindset spills over into attitudes toward people, who come to be seen in technocratic terms as resources or as forms of capital to be employed in the most effective way for growth or for strategic advantage. People are no longer seen as fully natured creatures embedded within distinct traditions, connected deeply to people and place, with particular ("partial") loyalties and with different roles in society.

This has been a significant problem since at least the 1940s. It was in that decade that academics and bureaucrats within the public service decided that Anglo-Australia was to be phased out, because statistical growth targets required human capital from other sources. One Australian MP even suggested, in the aftermath of WWII, that German children be removed from their parents en masse and brought to far off Australia because it would have strategic benefits.

The Australian right today is divided between those with this technocratic mindset and those with a more genuinely traditional outlook. It was announced yesterday, for instance, that the British PM, Boris Johnson, had decided to offer residence in the UK to 3 million Chinese living in Hong Kong. If you think of people as having a nature which includes a connection to ancestry, to history, to culture and tradition, as well as a love for and identity with a settled sense of peoplehood, you are unlikely to approve of the decision. It will seem to be a policy at odds with deeply rooted aspects of human nature.

But some people don't see things this way. They no longer recognise such aspects of human nature. They are more inclined to take a technocratic view that there is a utility in moving people around like this, perhaps for geopolitical advantage, perhaps for GDP growth. Such people have adopted the "modern" view of nature, that we stand outside of it, directing it for our own utilitarian purposes, which usually means advancing state power or seeking quantitative economic growth.

On my Australian social media feed about half applauded the move by Boris Johnson and suggested the same offer should be made by our own PM.

The problem is not with particular technological advances, such as a medical scientist developing a cure for a disease. The problem is with how we see the relationship between man and nature. We have to acknowledge that Western man has fallen into a mindset in which nature exists to serve the purposes we assign it but has no significance in itself. This then has consequences for the value we place on our own nature and of how we relate to the natural order we inhabit. The technocratic mindset denatures us and makes us fungible, i.e. it turns us into interchangeable resources to be deployed within an economic system of production and consumption. We are stripped down to those attributes that make sense within a technocratic understanding of life.

We have to recognise that this is a problem on the right, not just on the left. It is not even just a problem with right-liberals - it goes beyond this, because it is such an unchallenged aspect of modern thought.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

On fidelity

Traditional societies placed a great emphasis on fidelity, whether this meant being true to our word, faithful to our spouse, steadfast in our duties, or loyal to our country.

It used to be thought a grievous moral offence to betray those we should naturally be loyal to. Dante, in his fourteenth century work the Inferno, reserves the ninth and innermost circle of hell, the one where Satan resides, for those who have committed treachery, including to family and nation. Paul, in describing the end days of the world, an ultimate state of disorder, writes:
There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Tim 3)

When he says "without love" he uses the Greek term "astorgos" which means "without natural affection" or "hardhearted toward kindred". Society is breaking down when the natural bonds of love and affection wither and people become self-serving and more willing to commit acts of betrayal.

Our forebears understood how desolating it would be to allow a society to descend into infidelity. If we cannot see ourselves as connecting in a stable way to others, to those who will be loyal to us and not betray our trust, then we will imagine that we can only rely on our own self and withdraw deeply into a solitary existence. This is a bleak picture of the human condition, one that we do not want proven in society. It makes sense, then, that betrayal and treachery should be thought to be the worst of moral offences, as transgressions that should rightly shock us, or at least disturb us as a reminder of how we might be alienated from natural human ties of love and loyalty.

Elizabeth Fenton, who made a difficult journey to Tasmania in 1828, made this connection between infidelity and alienation. Her ship was manned by a Mohammedan crew, two of whom were European converts. She wrote of one:
He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab...His taste seems to lie in laying bare the unsightly movements of the human heart and crushing its better feelings, or dwelling on them with bitterness and ridicule...

Poor fellow! though it always makes me nervous to hear him speak, I pity him too; he may not always have been what he now is; has he been made this [way] by disappointment or alienation from the humanising relationships of life?

And of the other:
Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.

We get to a culture of infidelity by many thousands of cumulative transgressions. We gradually sap away the level of trust in society. In modern times this includes:

  • all the middle-class white women who work as English or history teachers but who rarely sway from portraying their own ancestors in negative terms as racists or oppressors. This normalises infidelity, it makes it seem as if it is alright to break faith with our own people.
  • the acknowledgement of country ceremonies. This is a healthy act of fidelity for Aborigines, but for others it means acknowledging the elders of another group rather than their own. It would be like honouring a stranger's mother and father rather than our own.
  • the acceptance of high levels of divorce. The idea that marriage is "just a bit of paper" and that vows made in a church are just romantic theatre but have no wider meaning.
  • promiscuity. Embarking on a lifestyle of promiscuity before marriage is a breaking of faith with our future spouse - it is a giving away of parts of our self that belong to our future spouse.
  • "conservative" politicians who treat their nations as economic zones, the purpose of which is to maximise GDP. As Paul wrote, this is an example of an end days mentality in which men will be "lovers of money" and therefore "treacherous".
  • feminism. The idea that men and women are hostile and competing social classes, with men having oppressed women throughout history. An ideology that undermines trust between the sexes.

There can also be infidelity in our relationship with God. If God is our creator, from whom we have the gift of life, and from whom we are invested with a soul and higher purposes, then when we act against God's purposes for ourselves there is a break in faith, an infidelity. It makes little sense though to practise fidelity at this level, but then to break with the very same virtue in our wider relationships. If fidelity is a virtue then not only should we reject infidelity in acting against God's purposes, we should reject it as well in the breaking of faith with a spouse, or with our parents, or with our people.

Fidelity is not some sort of boutique virtue. If we are not faithful in our relationships, if we do not honour our word, if we do not give due reverence to those who brought about our being, then we are creating a wasteland. There are too many middle-class Westerners, even those who consider themselves "moral", who are lacking in this very virtue. 

We need to re-establish fidelity as a core virtue, to the point that we once again respond viscerally with abhorrence to the vice of infidelity - to deception, to the breaking of oaths, to treachery. Fidelity should be considered a core aspect of character, particularly for men, whose relationships with each other are rightly ordered to loyalty and whose sense of moral integrity and reputation have fidelity as a key component. But for women, too, fidelity should be considered a marker of a mature, moral womanhood.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

On complementarity

From Twitter:

There is, of course, a corresponding instinct in men to want to protect and provide for a woman so that she can, as Rachel puts it, fall into her femininity. This is the instinct that is physically embodied in relationships when a man draws a woman toward him, inviting her to lean into him and feel supported. Or when at night in bed a man puts his arm around a woman and draws her into him, enveloping her.

It is one aspect of the relationship between men and women that can be genuinely complementary (not all aspects of relationships are). And it is a significant part of how men and women interact, as without it part of the bonding instinct is lost. It should, therefore, be defended within a culture, rather than taken for granted.

It seems to me that part of the dysfunction in modern relationships is because of interference with the provider/protector instinct in men. There is, first, the insistence in liberal societies that women be autonomous, and therefore independent, powerful and self-standing. Young men will grow up watching women kickboxing their way across TV and cinema screens. The softer qualities of women will be downplayed. Men will begin to feel that women are no longer a "complement" to their protector instincts.

Second, when a man sets out to protect and provide, there is always a risk that a woman will abuse his efforts. If a woman follows her lower nature, she might see an opportunity to exploit his willingness to work on her behalf. A lower natured woman might string him along and then at a certain time in the marriage reveal the deception. A man in this situation will lose his wife, his children, his house, and a considerable portion of his material assets and future income. Worse, he will be zeroed out existentially, as his efforts in life will have been revealed to have been chimerical. Some men never recover.

So defending complementarity between men and women, and the depth of connection that goes along with it, requires support within the culture. First, women need to balance being generally capable in life with a willingness to show their softer side to men. The image fed to men should not be the "tough warrior woman" but something more genuinely feminine. Nor is it really wise for a society to aim at women out earning men, particularly not via artificial means of quotas and so on - as this too undermines men's provider instincts.

As for the risk of exploitation, we need a better balance within family law that protects men from "divorce rape". Even more than this, it's important that men do not make it their entire life mission to protect and provide for a family. As much as a man might feel the truth of the complementary nature of his protector instinct and a woman's desire for a strong man to create a protected space for her, it is better for this to be the domestic side of a man's larger mission in life (rather than being the larger mission itself).

Women themselves don't really want a man to sacrifice his entire life for her. Women don't see relationships this way: they recognise their own sacrifices on behalf of family, but find it difficult to conceive of a man doing the same. They are attracted to men who go out and make their own way in the world rather than men who sacrifice their interests for women - to the point that it is difficult for them to register that a man might do this.

And if a man has a mission outside of his marriage, it leaves him far less exposed to deception by a lower natured woman (one who sees relationships in transactional terms and who cannot genuinely reciprocate a commitment to build a loving relationship within a marriage). If he still has his core mission, then as deep a blow as the deception might be, he will not have lost the existential ground to life as much as a man who puts everything into his role as a husband.

I'm not writing any of this to discourage men from being masculine enough to "allow a woman to fall into her femininity". It's to try to establish an understanding of how men might be encouraged to do this, rather than feeling demoralised and stepping back from this part of their nature.