Features of conservative history II: enduring charisma

Max Weber identified three types of authority:  traditional, rational (bureaucratic), and charismatic.  Roughly speaking, conservatives defend the first, and liberals advocate the second.  Both will tend to distrust personal charisma, because it gives someone authority based on his personal qualities, rather than his social roles.  Conservatives would prefer that the relevant roles be traditional; liberals would prefer they be rational-bureaucratic.  Charismatic movements could disrupt either system.

Nevertheless, charismatic leaders can be extremely important at crucial moments in history, and so both liberals and conservatives have at times resorted to them.  The difference is that the charismatic figures that liberals have supported–Benito Juarez, FDR, Castro, Che Guevara, Mao Zedung, Martin Luther King Jr, etc.–have been genuine leftists.  They were really dedicated to socialism, and so leftists have seldom had cause to regret their alliances with such figures.  In fact, communism seems to only advance under the leadership of a “great leader”.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have generally been driven to supporting anti-socialist charismatic figures who were not conservative, but were just seen as being the only forces able to check the Left.  In other words, the embrace by the Right of charismatic figures is rarely a true marriage of wills, but an attempt by conservatives and the leader to manipulate each other.  There are many examples of this:  Napoleon III, Mussolini, de Gaulle, Ronald Reagan.  These alliances sometimes do accomplish their immediate goal of forestalling a Leftist takeover, but conservatives often live to regret, or at least be very ambivalent, about them.  Of the above, only Reagan still has any popularity on the Right, even though he was obviously a classical liberal and not a conservative at all.

Why can’t conservatives find any charismatic leaders who actually share their beliefs?  Perhaps it’s because the techniques of mass popularity are even more inimical to the conservative mentality–to whom they seem to be demogogy–than they are to the liberal mentality.  After all, to whip up an enormous chanting mob is already to erase social organization and hierarchy.  It is a fundamentally anti-conservative thing to do.  Thus, the conservative who refuses to encourage men to coalesce into a mass is at a distinct disadvantage in mass politics.  No one would say that a figure like Franco or Dolfuss or Adenauer had charisma, or that he was especially loved (as opposed to being respected).  Desperate conservatives may, however, feel driven to support someone who does possess this magic over the crowd, thinking they will be able to influence the Leader in their direction.  More often, though, the Leader accepts the support of conservatives and gives them nothing in return, except to share with them the hostility of the public when his popularity wanes.

Evolution and divine causality

Here’s the next-to-last chapter to my “Aristotle and Darwin” essay.  It’s about two pages.  In this installment, I address the claim that evolution has removed the need to invoke God’s creative action.

From time to time, I’ve seen newspaper articles reporting surveys on the relative popularity of “evolution” and “creationism”.  The survey will have questions which ask whether one believes that life or humanity A) was created by God or B) evolved from lower forms through natural processes.  These articles always end with reporters lamenting the “unscientific” attitudes of Americans, because some people checked “A”.  The real scandal, though, is the philosophical ignorance of reporters who think A and B are mutually exclusive.

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The Prodigal Marxist

This Sunday’s Catholic Mass in Carlisle, MA, I just heard one of the most reprehensible homilies I’ve ever had to endure.

The gospel reading was the story of the prodigal son.  For 2000 years, this story has had a special place in the hearts of Christians, especially those who have found ourselves deep in sin, realized God’s anger with us, but felt too trapped in sin to reform.  In this parable, we hear about how eager God is to forgive and how he rejoices at the return of any of His straying children.

The priest today had another take on the story.  He said, essentially, that the younger son was right to squander his inheritance on prostitutes, because it was a reasonable protest against the unjust practice of primogeniture.  Rather than encouraging us sinners to repent and avail ourselves of God’s unfailing mercy, he encouraged us to take on an attitude of suspicion towards our inherited traditions, because they may be keeping us from living in true “harmony”.

This is such a noxious, arrogant, stupid, evil message, it’s hard to know where to begin in answering it.  Most importantly, of course, it turns Christ’s invitation to repentence completely on its head.  People listening to this homily will be fortified in their sins.  They will be encouraged to persist in a spirit of self-pity and self-righteousness, a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude of “society did me wrong, so I’m justified in doing whatever I want to get back.”  Second, there was the priest’s obnoxious way of treating “tradition” and “culture” as if these were dirty words.  It’s as if we were to regard our ancestors as criminals and our customs as guilty until proven innocent, rather than taking our traditions, with appropriate piety and gratitude, as communally-recognized paths to God.  I don’t need to explain to my fellow traditionalists how utterly wrong-headed is this contempt for the wisdom of past ages.  It would be bad enough for anyone to say this, but from a priest of a church that claims to be the bearer of a sacred tradition, it’s especially silly.  Plus, the taken-for-granted culture in Jesus’ time was not heathen culture, but Jewish culture, which Catholics believe was specially shaped by God to prepare the setting for the Messiah.  It seems that these “spirit of Vatican II” priests think Jesus came not to fulfill the Law, but to destroy it, after all.  Finally, there was the arrogant, ignorant attack on the practice of primogeniture, which is just one example of the tendency of these ignorant, closed-minded liberals to denounce other cultures without even bothering to try to understand them first.  “This is inequality; therefore it must be wrong.”  That’s the extent of these simpletons’ thought processes.  No need to understand that, in a trustee-family system, the oldest son doesn’t own the farm in the modern sense–the family owns it, and the patriarch is just the trustee charged with delivering the family estate entrusted to him intact to the next generation.  He has no more authority to split up or sell the estate than he does to exhaust the soil for short-term profit.  The position is one of responsibility to family members alive, dead, and unborn, as well as one of “privilege”.  Plus, in some cases, practical considerations make it unwise to split up modest estates into smaller units that might not be economically viable.  The liberal outsider doesn’t need to consider any of this.  He’s spotted inequality–that gives him the right to denounce it without further thought.  The United Nations is full of bullies who think this way.

Best of the Web, mid-March

Via Touchstone, I was led to two disturbing articles:  one on how the girl scouts is exposing its members to Planned Parenthood propaganda encouraging promiscuity and perversion, the other on the new U.N. international sex education guidelines encouraging five-year olds to masturbate and teenagers to take advantage of all the contraception and abortion services at their disposal.  The justification of all of this is to fight the spread of HIV.  Get that:  chastity causes AIDS; promiscuity will prevent it.  Where, oh where, do we conservatives get the idea that the liberals are out to corrupt our children?

Mark Richardson explains, to those for whom it’s not obvious, that government support for working mothers is a plot to supplant the role of the father.  The husband is made obsolete, and the state assumes his role for the mother and child.

Does evolution prove that love, patriotism, and religion are really illusions?

Here’s the next chapter in my Aristotle and Darwin essay.  It’s about two pages.  In this chapter, I address the debunking claims sometimes made (and often implied) by evolutionary psychologists.  Again, my argument is not with the science, or even with the speculation, but rather with  the interpretation. Continue reading

What about people who are stupider than animals?

I’ve just said that it’s the capacity for abstract reasoning that makes humanity special.  There would seem to be a big problem with this claim:  some people don’t have this capability.  Consider the following:

1)      Babies.  For at least the first year after birth, human cognitive ability is probably not greater than adult members of other primates.  Does this mean that infants should have no more “human” rights than gorillas?

2)      Severely brain damaged people.

3)      An unconscious person.  If he’s drugged, it might not even be possible to immediately wake him.  Such a person has less cognitive power than an insect.  A related case would be a person in a coma—temporary or permanent.

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Evolution and human distinctiveness

Here’s the next chapter of my “Darwin and Aristotle” essay.  In it, I address the claim that evolution have proven that human beings are really no different from other animals.  (This one is a few pages.)

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