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: