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.