Taparelli d’Azeglio: forgotten founding father of the Right

I’ve just discovered Dr. John Rao’s online book Theology of the Mystical Body, which examines the political writings of the nineteenth-century Jesuit periodical La Civilta Cattolica.  Having misused a fair amount of work time to read the whole thing, I am convinced that Dr. Rao has made an enormous contribution to the historiography of the Right.  Just about every history of the nineteenth (or any other) century that you or I have ever read has been written from a fundamentally liberal perspective, for whom people who criticize liberal principles are ipso facto unreasonable and stupid.  Dr. Rao doesn’t share this prejudice, so he actually bothered to read old copies of La Civilta and examine their arguments.  Rather than mindless intransigence, he discovered that the writers presented a profound and convincingly argued vision of the proper ordering of a society, and they presented an unsurpassed refutation of liberal errors.  Nor are Dr. Rao’s discoveries a mere curiosity, like the discovery of an isolated forerunner that nobody listened to (like Isaiah Berlin’s discovery of Vico).  La Civilta Cattolica was an widely-read magazine, and its writings influenced the papal statements on economic and political issues that formed the basis of Catholic social doctrine.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Rao’s book is that the conservative vision he relates doesn’t just predate many that we’re familiar with; it arguably surpasses them.  Not having read the primary sources myself, I can’t say whether or how Rao himself has deepened and clarified the materials he was given.  (Presumably some such systemization was necessary if he was to summarize decades-worth of articles by various writers in a single coherant statement.)  What he presents, though, is a really magnificent statement of corporatist conservative principles.

In some ways, it’s very similar to my Conservative Vision of Authority.  Rao emphasizes the role of corporate bodies in embodying truths, in making them visible, and in providing a context where the virtues make sense.  He points to the role of the Church in teaching each corporate body its true place: humbling it by teaching it to respect goods outside or above it, exalting it by giving it a role in leading souls to God.  A helpful distinction between patria and state is introduced to explain the Catholic opposition to nationalism.  All of this is tied to the doctrine of the Incarnation and a robust sense of the Church as the continuation of Christ’s presence on Earth.  It seems to me that the sociological points and the ecclesiological points could be treated separately, but La Civilta presumably didn’t do so, so Rao doesn’t either.

According to Rao, the “guiding light” behind La Civilta Cattolica‘s vision was the Italian Jesuit Luigi Prospero Taparelli d’Azeglio, whom he thinks has been shamefully neglected by historians.  This would make Taparelli a sort of forgotten founding father of the Right, perhaps someone in the same league as Burke, Bonald, de Maistre, and Hegel.

Two roads to Hell

Do you remember how we used to hear from center-Right intellectuals about the need to distinguish the English way from the Continental way?  The French Enlightenment was radical and anti-religious; the British Enlightenment was good and healthy.  Continental conservatives were dangerous reactionaries; English conservatives were freedom-loving advocates of prudence.  If only reactionaries like the pope would notice how wonderfully different English liberalism is from Contintental liberalism, he would embrace the former wholeheartedly.  Sometimes they still say crap like this on First Things.

This fed into a longstanding argument among conservatives about whether the intransigent Catholics or the moderate Protestants were better at holding off the liberal advance.  Sometimes the passage of time simplifies things.  Today, you can compare England to France, or any one part of Europe to any other, and it’s hard to say that any part of Europe has succeeded in resisting liberalism better than any other part.  Every European nation has surrendered to it completely.  I would argue that the United States is really no better.  We like to think it is, but if you look at our abortion laws, our school curricula, our marriage/divorce/cohabitation laws, or the stated beliefs of our elected representatives, there’s just no justification for saying that the USA is anything other than a hard-Left nation, as hard-Left as any in the world.  (I would argue that the US is more Left-wing than China.)

It seems that the question of whether the Catholic or Protestant strategy worked better can now be put to rest.  They both failed completely within about the same timeframe.  Future historians of the Right (assuming we are remembered at all) will see little evidence of Anglo-American exceptionalism.

Dalai Lama admits he’s a commie

Spengler noted, in his great Decline of the West, that Buddhism and socialism are morphologically equivalent.  They are both symptoms of a society that has lost its spiritual vitality.  Socialism is the materialist corruption of Christianity, just as Buddhism is the materialist corruption of Hinduism.

It would seem that the relationship between Buddhism and socialism–full, clenched-fisted communism, in fact–is even closer than that.  A couple of months ago, the Dalai Lama came out as a communist:

“Still I am a Marxist,” the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

Marxism has “moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits,” the Dalai Lama, 74, said.

Anti-war movements, huge international aid efforts after Haiti’s earthquake this year, and the election of Barack Obama as the first black president in a once deeply racist United States are “clear signs of human beings being more mature,” he said.

“Oh, but maybe he meant…”  Bull.  The dude’s country was conquered by Maoist China; he knows perfectly well what “Marxist” means, and he’s decided it’s just his cup of tea.  The spiritual sickness of Buddhism and the spiritual sickness of Marxism:  it’s a match made in…someplace, anyway.

Also, don’t you just love his fawning over President Obama like a Leftist little schoolgirl?

The metaphysical sickness of Joseph Campbell

I have an abiding interest in mythology, so whenever I find a new bookstore, I always stroll down to the “myths and folk tales” section.  Usually there’s only a few things there.  Half are anthologies (Bullfinch, etc.); the other half are Joseph Campbell.  Campbell never interested me; from what I’d heard, his explanations of myths were entirely individualistic–symbols of the journey each (self-absorbed) individual must take–ignoring myth’s crucial social function, as if the functionalist revolution in anthropology had never happened.  Still, while I was separated from my books and needed something to read, I thought I might as well see what it is that the general public has been feeding itself.  I bought a used copy of Cambell’s most famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Having read most of it, I can now say that the book isn’t as banal as I’d thought it would be.  In fact, it is deeply evil.

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Muslims most certainly do worship the same God

A few years ago, Lydia McGrew and Jim Kalb engaged in the same argument we’ve been having here:  which is the worse threat, liberalism or Islam?  You won’t be surprised that I think Kalb got the better of the exchange.  Here I’d like to focus on just one claim that I see from time to time on the blogosphere.  Mrs. McGrew says

In fact, the whole idea that Islam has something going for it “in the abstract” pretty much boils down to saying, “Well, at least they believe in God and try to love and obey Him.” Is that really either so obvious or, in any sense in which it might be true, so good? For one thing, it assumes without argument that we are talking about the same God, and that this sort of worship of God (through obeying the putative revelations of a false prophet) is a human good. Here I must express bafflement at the casual way in which this assumption is so often made.

Since I’m one who’s made exactly the claim she’s talking about, let me explain why it is true, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Muslims worshipping a different God is only conceivable if it is possible to imagine more than one “god”.  Of course, being monotheists themselves, McGrew and others of like mind don’t think there are two actually existing Gods.  However, for their claim to make any sense, they must suppose that “god” is an abstract type which has multiple possible instantiations, Ya*eh and Allah being two.  They do believe that only one possible God is instantiated.  They may even believe that two instantiations are not possible (i.e. Ya*eh or Allah may exist, but not both).

This is an incorrect idea of divinity.  According to classical theism, there is no distinction between essence and substance in God.  “God” is both a type and a proper name; it is necessarily singular.  One cannot speak of divinity belonging to two beings, because divinity is God.  (If you’re interested in why divine simplicity doesn’t mean that God is a property, see my review of Perfect Being Theology, by Katherin Rogers.)  The claim that Muslims worship a different God, a God that doesn’t happen to exist, is nonsense.  They worship the one true God–utterly simple, self-subsistent, infinite Being in Whom essence and existence are one–but they do so under a partly false revelation with a partly flawed idea of the One they worship.

But, couldn’t one say that the Muslims don’t worship a false God, but rather no God at all, that their God is actually an imaginary demon rather than an imaginary god?  Again, no.  The God of Muslim conception possesses distinctly divine attributes:  omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, power to create ex nihilo, etc.  These attributes are inseperable from divinity (identical to it, according to divine simplicity) and cannot exist except in divinity.  To attribute such qualities to a being is necessarily to identify that being with God.

Therefore, Muslims worship the true God.  QED

Why we should be obsessed with sex

Because sex is really important.  Duh.  Go up to any anthropologist and ask him about the tribe he’s studying.  Would he deny that kinship structures and gender roles are central parts of that tribe’s social structure?  Of course not.  Family is the most important part of the structure; it’s how people in the productive chunk of their lives are yoked to the support of those too young or too old to support themselves.  Family is where culture is passed on, and it’s a good fraction of a culture’s content.  Family structure belongs to the essence of a culture; change it, and you have a different culture.  This is why I have no use for any “conservatism” that doesn’t put the conservation of this one crucial thing up front and center.

Some of you might have wondered why I chose the pseudonym “Bonald”.  There were, after all, three commonly-acknowledged founders of conservatism:  Burke, Maistre, and Bonald.  Most historians of ideas, to the extent they mention conservatism at all, give praise only to Burke.  They give mild appreciation to de Maistre as a colorful repeater of Burke, and they dismiss Bonald altogether.  The latter does have one great virtue, though.  Burke and Maistre focus (at least in their distinctly conservative writings) on vague things like tradition and unwritten constitutions.  Indeed, it’s hard to extract any specific reactionary policy out of their core principles.  (Perhaps this is why liberals appreciate them.)  Pseudoconservative intellectuals love to point out that Burke spent little time talking about what are commonly thought of as conservative issues, particularly sexual morality.  To me, that’s a tremendous weakness of Burkean conservatism.

Louis de Bonald, on the other hand, concentrates on this crucial area.  There is a very specific social structure he wants to defend–the patriarchal family.  This structure has certain legal, economic, and cultural preconditions which he lays out and advocates doggedly.  It leads him to specific policies on divorce, usury, primogeniture, censorship, and the like.  The family is where the rubber hits the road for conservatism.  If you don’t take a stand there (I’m talking to you, Dr. Blond), you’re just spinning your wheels in the air and doing nothing.  Calls for “tradition” or “intermediary institutions” are empty on their own.  Some of Bonald’s arguments were strong; some of them were weak.  The most important point for me, though, was that of all the founding fathers of conservatism, he was the one who took his stand on this core issue.

Red Toryism: why intermediary institutions aren’t enough

Lately, some intelligent traditionalists, such as Patrick Deneen, have gotten all excited about Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism”.  Blond, it is claimed, is encouraging conservatives to reject their compromises with free-market classical liberalism and return to their authentic communitarian selves.  This, of course, sounds like something right up my alley, so why is it that I’m suspicious?  Probably I wouldn’t be if all of Blond’s fans were folks like Deneen or Rod Dreher.  As a matter of fact, though, Blond’s number one fan is David Cameron, and Red Toryism has, at least officially, been integrated into the new and improved British Conservative Party.  Now David Cameron, for those of you who don’t know, is a Leftist dirtbag who’s arguably killed off the remains of organized conservatism in England.  Peter Hitchens has compiled a useful collection of evidence of David Cameron’s hard Leftism here.  The indictment is long, but here’s a sample:  he has declared an end to the Tory’s (imaginary) “war on single motherhood” (meaning Tories can no longer believe that the lack of a father is in any way sub-optimal), and he wants to force all schools (even religious ones) to promote the homosexual agenda.  Here’s my point:  if Blond is the real conservative he’s been made out to be, he should be anathama to Cameron, as Cameron should be to Blond.  What’s going on here?

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Can liberalism last forever?

I’ve been engaged in a fascinating discussion with Alan Roebuck here.  The topic:  which is the greater long-term menace, liberalism or Islam?  My instinct has always been that liberalism is the one truly deadly enemy.  I pointed out that liberals hold hegemonic power and majority support throughout the West, while Muslims are, so far, a minority.  For me, it also matters that I find liberalism thoroughly repellent–intellectually, morally, and spiritually–while I have a lot of admiration for Islam.  (A good “Islam-for-conservatives” book is Islam and the Destiny of Man, which I review here.)  Mr. Roebuck made an intriguing rebuttal:  yes, he acknowledges, Islam is less spiritually sick than liberalism, but that actually makes it more dangerous.  Liberalism is so contrary to reality, so destructive of any society that embraces it, that it can’t survive in the long run.  As he puts it

Liberalism is a disease that weakens the body, but Islam is a sword that kills. Both are deadly threats, but the natures of the threats differ. In the absence of external threats like Islam, liberalism would lead to social disintegration that would eventually trigger the reassertion of traditional life, as we have seen repeatedly in the historic record. But if Islam gains the upper hand, permanent dhimmi status is our only future, unless an outside force defeats Islam.

Jim Kalb also makes claims like this from time to time–that liberalism will eventually erode the social order, leading to balkanization and the reassertion of illiberal forces.  Both Dr. Roebuck and Lawrence Auster have noted that liberalism seems incabable of recognizing any enemy outside the white Christian West; in the long run, liberalism may one day destroy (or, as Mr. Auster would say in his darker moods, fulfill) itself by submitting to Islam.

Auster, Kalb, and Roebuck are three of the traditionalist thinkers that I hold in the highest esteem, and their opinions should be given due weight.  Also, they advance arguments that no traditionalist can dismiss.  Liberalism certainly erodes community, family, public morality, etc, and it seems that should jeopardize a society.  If their argument is valid, and liberalism is necessarily transitory, this would relieve me of a great emotional burden.  I admit that I am often oppressed by the idea of a complete and lasting liberal victory, that the human race might go on for thousands of generations in complete spiritual darkness.  If liberalism can’t last, then this, the worst imaginable case, shall not come to pass.

I am not yet convinced, though, that liberalism necesarily destroys its host society.  Consider the following:

  1. Liberalism is not the same as decedance.  For example, during the Renaissance, sexual mores were loose among both laity and clergy.  A husband or priest could father illegitimate children without much social stigma.  It was a decadent society.  The rules themselves (monogamy and clerical celibacy) were, however, hardly challenged.  There was no organized force wishing that adultery should be not only common but celebrated, that the unenforced rule should be replaced by another rule that should be enforced (e.g. “tolerance”).  Ours is not a decadent society.  Social control is very strong; everyone knows they’d better not step an inch out of line, or there’ll be hell to pay.  It’s just that, instead of condemning adultery, we condemn housewives.  Instead of condemning sodomy, we condemn criticism of sodomy.  I would even say that both social control and public indoctrination are stronger today than for any previous society in history.  It was easier to be a heretic in the Middle Ages than it is to be a non-liberal now.  Not that the medieval Church was more tolerant, but it’s resources for coercion were far inferior to the modern media-state complex. Our situation is unprecedented, so we can get little guidance from history.
  2. It’s not clear that Islam will survive its contact with liberalism.  It’s not mere ideological blindness that leads liberals to seek alliance with Muslim immigrants.  The latter have been reliable wedge minorities and Leftist voters.  Nor have the liberals been reluctant to plan the dagger thrust at their current ally.  For example, Hillary Clinton has recently declared that the promotion of sodomy is the United States’ number one priority on the African continent.  No doubt Geert Wilders is pleased.  Unlike the Catholic Church, Islam has never had to face the brunt of the liberals’ wrath.  We’ll see how they hold up.
  3. The problems faced by the liberal West seem serious, but hardly insurmountable.  In some cases, further doses of liberalism will solve them, although in monstrous ways.  A growing aging population can be reduced by euthanasia.  More births may be encouraged by removing parental responsibilities and having children raised by the state.  Society may be falling apart in some ways, but only those ways that actually increase the power of the liberal state.  Divorce, illigitimacy, even the violent crimes that (as Mr. Auster often notes) the state makes little attempt to curb, all these serve the interests of the liberal state by eroding the bonds of solidarity needed for nonliberal attachments to grow.  (Muggings and murders discourage an attachment to one’s local community.)  When we say “things are falling apart”, we mostly mean compeditors of the liberal state.  The latter, of course, doesn’t see this as a problem.

I’m not saying that I disagree with the Roebuck/Kalb/Auster thesis.  It may well be true, and no one would be happier than I if I could be certain of it.  I just don’t think that the argument is airtight yet.  Let wiser traditionalists take this as a challenge.

Abraham and Isaac

From my Human Sacrifice and the Eucharist (also called In Defense of Human Sacrifice):

Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac is a perfect instance of a sacrificial act. It clearly shows the basic truth that all sacrifice is ultimately human sacrifice. The ram that Abraham ultimately slaughters is offered “in place of his son” (Gen 22:13). Killing an animal would be meaningless without this identification. Liberals are typically scandalized by this story; it seems wrong to them that Abraham should be blessed because he was willing to commit murder. Yet the Jews have treasured this story for millennia. Why? Is it because it proves Abraham’s devotion to God? This is certainly true, and the Bible itself draws attention to it, but there is more than this. When Abraham offered his son to God, binding him upon an altar with the intention of slaughtering him, Isaac became God’s property, a sacred thing, a thing “set aside” for God. That God decided to leave Isaac alive does not change his consecration, and the people of Israel, who are the seed of Isaac, are also a thing set aside for God. So this episode is one of the many acts in the Old Testament in which the covenant between God and “His people” is affirmed and renewed. Only as a people set aside for God can Israel be a light to the nations, because a thing offered to God becomes a conduit to God. In this way also, Isaac is the prefigure of Christ—also sacrificed by his Father—who, as the supreme sacrifice to God, becomes the supreme conduit to the Father, the ultimate “sacred thing” which removes sin and renews communion with God.

What caused the sixties? Part III, the solution

In the last installment, I looked at the United States, focusing on its entertainment industry.  We found that, on the eve of the sixties, the thankless work of defending traditional morality and opposing communism had fallen disproportionately to the Catholic Church.  Catholics were the only opponents of divorce, birth control, and abortion.  They were the notorious prudes when it came to modesty and premarital sex.  Whether he was a McCarthy or a Kennedy, a Catholic was bound to be a fanatical anticommunist.  The Left tugged one way.  The Catholics tugged the other.  The respectable wing of the Protestants just stood in the middle and went with the flow.  Everyone loved them for it.  Have you ever seen an anticlerical mob or an anticlerical movie attacking Episcopal or Methodist ministers?  Of course not—why go after them?

All throughout the West, it was like this.  In Catholic countries like France and Italy, the Catholic Right and the Left were the only two forces.  In West Germany, the Christian Democrats were vaguely Catholic, and many Protestants felt more comfortable with the openly Marxist Social Democrats.  The great Protestant theologians (even the neo-orthodox Karl Barth) were communist sympathizers, while Pius XII thundered against the godless Soviets.  The Catholic Church was, in most of the West, the only major traditionalist force.  (This is, of course, a broad generalization.  There were some Protestant defenders of traditional morality, and even an occasional agnostic one.  There were also the “fundamentalists”, who understood better than the Catholics just how far gone the West really was.  For our purposes, though, I’m only interested in broad trends.)

Then a fool ascended the throne of Saint Peter.  “Look at how much more popular are the Protestants than the Catholics”, Pope John thought.  “It’s because we’re so combative, while they’re so understanding.   We attack, while they reach out to the enemy.  Perhaps we don’t have to worry so much about defending ourselves and defending our beliefs from Leftist attacks.  After all, when the Protestants stopped being defensive, the sky didn’t fall”.  What the pope, in his incredible naivety, failed to notice, was that when the Protestants had dropped the ball, the Catholics had picked it up.  When the Catholics dropped the ball, there was no one left to pick it up, so the sky did indeed fall.

The Pope declared a cease-fire and unilaterally disarmed his side.  The Left, ruthlessly aggressive as ever, saw weakness, and it struck hard.  The results have been devastating everywhere.  Every country that had come to rely on the Catholic Church as a moral buttress became a moral sewer.  That’s why Western Europe experienced “the sixties”, but not Eastern Europe or the Islamic Ummah.  That’s why it happened at that precise moment, right after the Council ended and its directives began to be executed in the West.

What caused the sixties?  Vatican II.

If this is true, then it refutes one common excuse made for the poor results of the Council.  Some Catholics, seeing the ruin produced in the wake of the Council, try to shift the blame, saying that it was only poor timing that makes VII seem like a bad idea.  The post-VII era happened right during the sixties, and this period, it is said, was bound to be bad for the Church regardless of whether VII had happened or not.  This claim assumes that the Catholic Church was only a marginal cultural influence in the West during the mid-twentieth century, so that its policies could have had no significant effect on the wider culture.  If my reading of the era is right, this is not true.  However large or small a creative force Catholicism was at the time, it was a crucial restrictive force.  Sometimes we forget how important restrictive forces are.