The bounds of civility

Via Mr. Sailer, I’ve read this excellent account of what the Left and Center mean by “civility”:

While the President’s words at the Tucson memorial rally were welcome, as they certainly seem to have defused – for now, at least – the unbridled anger on the left, there is nevertheless a discernible degree of disingenuousness in his message*. For nothing the President said contradicted the prevailing understanding that civility is defined for the left by how the message is delivered, but for the right it is the message itself. In other words, entire arguments on the right are out of bounds, but on the left only violent language can be uncivil.

And so this is the quandry the right finds itself in – it cannot communicate its message to voters since the message itself is verboten. And so it must rely on proxy arguments that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense. For example, proclaiming loudly and forcefully to be against illegal-immigration, but all for legal immigration. But when the left counters with “Then why not just declare them legal – problem solved” – the conservative is left sputtering about rule-of-law….

Taxation is about the only topic on which the right gets to argue with some passion – perhaps because everyone hates paying taxes. Republicans are routinely lambasted as the “party of greed” as a result, but again who isn’t greedy? Unfortunately, that results in the Republican party being essentially focused with near single-mindedness on cutting taxes, since that’s about the only issue they can really promote with gusto.

When is one entitled to an opinion?

Two commonly voiced claims:

  1. One is always entitled to an opinion.  Furthermore, it’s good to have an opinion on everything; it’s a way of expressing yourself, being engaged, etc.
  2. One is not entitled to an opinion unless one knows all the evidence, has mastered all the arguments, and is compelled by reason to come down on one side or another.

The first opinion is silly; the second is impractical.  It would condemn me to have no opinions except in the narrow range of my specialty.  On the other hand, the second view touches a valid point; surely there ought to be some prerequisites to taking a position on an issue.

I would say that opinions come in different weights, each with a different cost.  On the one hand, there are impressions, the less expensive but not free opinions.  A man may express an opinion at a party that life in the universe is common, that Christianity brought down the Roman Empire, that we should go back to the gold standard, or whatever.  I would expect such a man to be able to give me some reason why he holds this belief.  I would also expect him to be able to give me a reasonable account of the alternative views on the subject–what they are and why one might hold them.  If he couldn’t do that, I would consider that he had just made an ass of himself by mouthing off on a topic about which he obviously knows nothing.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t think less of him if he were unfamiliar with the specialized literature on the subject, or even if there were some major arguments on the subject with which he was unfamiliar.  Life is short; nobody has time to be an expert on everything.  If our man at the party can give some justification for his impressions, I think he’s entitled to them.

I have different expectations for the serious advocate–the man who writes books, gives lectures, or publicly debates on a certain topic.  I think it’s fair to expect such a man to know his stuff–all the major arguments both on his own side and on the others, the technicalities of his subject, its history, and so forth.  I think we’re entitled to expect advocates to have done their homework, and they should be embarrassed if it comes out that they haven’t.

This explains my respect for atheists and my contempt for today’s atheist polemicists.  I don’t think poorly of the average atheist who thinks religion is stupid but has no understanding (or gross misunderstandings) of the basic ideas of natural theology (divine simplicity, necessary vs. contingent being, eternity vs. perpetuity) or religious anthropology.  Life is short.  The atheist has done some little investigation that has led him to think that religion is nonsense and that further investigation would be a waste of time.  All of us do little calculations like that all the time.  I certainly haven’t epistemically earned my low opinions of alternative medicine, New Age religion, creationism, and Leo Strauss.  These things might have really top-notch arguments in their favor that I just haven’t bothered to find, because I’ve been assuming that they’re not there to find.  When somebody else puts my beliefs in that same box, I can only think “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  The professional atheist, on the other hand, should do better.  I share Ed Feser’s exasperation that an atheist can think himself qualified to write books against religion without bothering to really understand the most central arguments in favor of the thing he’s attacking.  I don’t think my atheist readers should feel obliged to go out and take a course in Thomist metaphysics–unless they’re planning on writing a book about how stupid Catholic theology is.  Then I might think it reasonable to expect them to know what they’re talking about.

Here’s another of my opinions about opinions, one that might be less welcome to some of my readers.  It is said that the argument from authority is the weakest of arguments, but I say that the strength of this argument grows with one’s own ignorance.  If you don’t know anything about a subject, you’d better trust the experts.  “Because the experts say so” is a pretty strong reason, if the subject in question is one where there is real expertise (e.g. the hard sciences).  I hold people who doubt evolution, the big bang, or global warming to higher epistemic standards than I do people who accept the consensus opinion.  If you’re going to disagree with all the experts in a field, you’d better know your stuff, or you’re going to make a fool of yourself, and I don’t want to be standing next to you when it happens.

South Pacific

 

I love musicals, and I have a talent for remembering lyrics.  Unfortunately, my singing voice is atrocious, but now that my baby daughter Julie needs to be pacified every night, I have finally found my audience.  Last night, I was giving her my rendition of Younger than Springtime, and it got me thinking about that scene from South Pacific.

As you’ll recall, Lt. Joe Cable is serving on an island in the south Pacific during WWII.  He meets and falls in love with a local Tonkinese girl, but decides that he can’t imagine settling down with her.  Instead, he volunteers for a dangerous mission and gets himself killed.  Actually, the story is pretty forgettable, but the music is some of Rogers and Hammerstein’s best, and Some Enchanted Evening, Younger than Springtime, I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy, and Bali Ha’i seem to have acquired a life of their own.

Anyway, I first saw this musical as a kid, and to me it was obvious why Lt. Joe couldn’t marry the girl Liat.  Is she going to become American and abandon her tribe, or is he going to become Tonkinese and abandon his country?  One of them must abandon his/her whole society for a person he/she just met.  It’s madness.  What religion would the children be raised in?  Is Liat going to become Christian and abandon her ancestral cult, or is Cable going to take up idol worship and betray his Savior?  Or will they just not bring their children up in any religion, condemning them to functional atheism?

I was surprised to realize, when I got older, that the writers didn’t feel this way at all, that the behavior of their own character which seemed perfectly sensible to me seemed completely irrational to them.  The message I was supposed to get was that Lt. Cable was just held back by irrational prejudice.  I was quite disappointed to realize this, because I think it makes the story much less interesting.

Then there’s the hypocrisy of it:  a Jew, Oscar Hammerstein II, lecturing gentiles on the goodness of miscegenation.  His people, after all, think it reasonable to preserve themselves by forbidding out-marriage.  Oh, but that’s different, we hear.  When the Jews do it, it’s to preserve their heritage; when whites do it, it’s because of “hate”.  Nonsense–all peoples discourage out-marriage for the same group-evolutionary reason.  What’s really going on is that Jewish group preservation is regarded as legitimate, while white group preservation is not.  Now, I myself don’t care much about the white race, and I can’t imagine having a problem with marrying a non-white girl (if I weren’t already married).  The disparity of cult thing would bother me though.  I don’t think I could be happy marrying a heathen, and I’m sure it would cause serious concerns as far as children are concerned.

I hope nobody thinks I’m carrying a grudge against Rogers and Hammerstein.  They did, after all, also write a musical about Austrian Catholic aristocrats, and they gave me a good chunck of my repertoire.

P.S. The best South Pacific recording is the one with Jose Carreras, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Mandy Patinkin.

Two myths

Every people needs a myth, a story that explains who they are and how they are to live.  A myth is a fact that is more than a fact; it is an apocalyse, a revelation, an unmasking.  Liberal Europe, with the EU as its institutional embodiment, has the Holocaust as its founding myth.  The Holocaust is said to be the apocalypse of the West, the moment when its hateful inner essence was revealed for all the world to see.  Supposedly, it revealed that the West is built on a general principle of “excluding” the “Other”, of generating group solidarity by channeling hostility onto scapegoated minorities.  In the Holocaust, we find that the ultimate endpoint of this scapegoating is not just exclusion, but mass murder.  In the enormity of the crime, and the total lack of any provocation on the part of the victims, the West’s economy of hatred is exposed and dethroned.

This is the theology of the Holocaust myth, as elaborated by Rene Girard.  In fact, Girard thought he was describing a different myth–the Atonement wrought by Jesus Christ.  Girard imagined that the essence of sacrifice is scapegoating, and the essence of Christianity is the overthrow of the sacrificial system by revealing the innocence of the victim.  Of course, this is a gross misunderstanding of Christianity, which is a supremely sacrificial religion and sees self-offering, rather than redirected aggression, as the essence of sacrifice.  Still, no one could have misunderstood Christianity so profoundly except in the distorted atmosphere of post-Holocaust Europe.  Girard had unwittingly given expression to the myth of his own society and then superimposed this onto the myth of the previous society.

The Christian myth of the Atonement is quite different, although analogous.  The Atonement is the apocolypse of God Himself, the revelation both of His true nature and of His great love for us.  In the Holocaust myth, the emphasis is on the wickedness of the killers, rather than on the goodness of the victims.  The innocence of the victims is remembered solely to amplify the indictment of the killers.  It is the latter, not the former, who stand revealed.  In the Atonement myth, the emphasis is on the holiness of the victim and his deliberate choice to allow himself to be killed as a ransom for our sins.  The Romans, who carried out the execution, were never imagined to be a particularly wicked people.  The fact that we killed Christ doesn’t say much about us.  We already knew we were sinners.  It says a great deal about God the Son that he allowed himself to be killed.

Ethically, the Holocaust myth is purely negative.  Its only lesson is something to avoid.  Europe’s group identities must be destroyed so this can never happen again.  The Atonement myth is positive, an example to emulate.  So far from it being true that Christianity has an imperative to keep the Crucifixion from happening again, that it would be more true to say that Christianity would have the Crucifixion repeated all the time, both in the blessed sacrament and in acts of charity and self-giving in our daily lives.

Sociologically, the two myths are parallel.  The one legitimated the authorities of Christendom, Christ’s two swords of throne and altar.  The other legitimates EU bureaucratic despotism, mankind’s self-appointed defense against fascism.  In neither case could doubt be tolerated.  A man who doubts Christ’s divinity is a menace to Christendom, and a man who doubts the Holocaust is a menace to modern Europe.  Europe today prides itself on its open-mindedness, because it allows men to doubt Christ.  But, really, this is hardly impressive.  Christendom, too, was open-minded, in the sense that it allowed one to doubt the myths of other peoples.  One could speculate freely in medieval Europe that Mohommed was a madman.  One could have freely doubted the Holocaust, if it had happened yet.

P.S. Some of the points made here are also made by Gerry Neal in the comments of this post.  Be sure to check out his own blog “Throne, Altar, Liberty“, by the way.  It’s quite good, and has a great name!

In praise of authority

R. R. Reno at First Things has a good article on Yves Simon’s A General Theory of Authority.  I’ve always meant to review this book myself, which has long impressed me even though my general theory of authority is somewhat different.  Just a few points:

  1. I know there’s some neoconnery going on at First Things, but Reno and Hart are genuine conservatives–two of the wisest and most articulate on the web.  From time to time, you’ll see First Things publish an article questioning some central tenet of the liberal order:  that democracy is superior to monarchy, that newspapers make us informed, the Lockean individualism of the Founders, etc.  I’m not sure that any of this really sinks in with the organization and its readership as a whole.  The next day, they’re just as likely to publish something saying that we’ve gotta defend democracy by smacking up some “anti-semites” somewhere.
  2. Simon’s book was published in 1962, before the Vatican II bombshell really dropped.  It makes one wonder about the standard history of American Catholicism we’ve been told:  that before V II, we American Catholics were a bunch of idiots with nothing but poorly thought-out prejudices.  Then V II liberated us to “think for ourselves”, and all of the sudden we became so darned smart that we realized that conventional liberal wisdom was right about everything.  Even the orthodox lament that American Catholics weren’t intellectually prepared to meet the challenge of the sixties.  But really, anybody who had read Simon’s book should have had no problem brushing off the idiot slogans that ruled that decade and decimated the Church.  Intellectually speaking, the Church had more than enough firepower to defeat the moronic New Left and modernists.  And yet, look who won.
  3. I think this is a quirk about Catholics.  I think we’re the only ones who get a thrill out of saying that we want to defend “authority”.  I just love typing the words “authority is good”.  Protestants defend authority too, of course, but I get the feeling that they’re a little embarrassed about it, and they much prefer to defend freedom.  Well, to each his own.

Weekly Standard regrets Jewish mind-control technique losing effectiveness

I’d never heard of Jennifer Peto before, but if one can get a degree for stating the obvious, maybe I should go back to school and stack up a few more degrees.  The point of her thesis–that Holocaust memorialization is a propaganda tool that Jewish communities use to assert their moral superiority and manipulate their host nations–is the sort of thing that might easily have been said here at Throne and Altar.

Neocon magazine The Weekly Standard is appalled.  I do admit to being impressed to think that someone could say this with a straight face:

Jennifer Peto is dead wrong: Far from being the creation of sinister Jews who wanted to be regarded as victims rather than “white,” Holocaust education was to be a gift from the Jewish community to the world at large. European Jewry was destroyed, but its legacy would be a redemptive technique that was intended to prevent future genocides of others.

BahHaHaHaHaHaHa….Excuse me.  Won’t happen again.

The article later goes on to mention evidence that directly disproves the claim that Holocaust memorialization is meant to prevent other genocides:  the fact that the memorializers express outrage at the thought of any other genocide being remembered at all–particularly if it relates to the 100 million victims of communism.  They insist that the Jewish Holocaust is an utterly unique event.  Whatever it is that they are worried about preventing, none of the mass murders of gentiles in the past century particularly excites them.

The article’s main point, though, is that Holocaust memory is not working properly, because people have turned it against the Jews themselves, and are now accusing Israel of behaving in a fascist way towards the Palestinians.  Now, the Palestinians are such expert whiners (rather like the Jews), not to mention such enthusiastic killers, that it’s hard for me to work up much sympathy for them.  Still, I think this misses Peto’s point, and I’m sure it misses mine.  We’re not saying that Holocaust ideology exists to legitimize Israel.  We’re saying it exists to delegitimize gentile Western nations, cultures, and religions.  It exists to recast the healthy and natural intragroup solidarity and collective identity found in all peoples as an illigitimate expression of “hate” and “intolerance” when the group in question is Western and Christian.  (…because the Holocaust has taught us all about where “excluding” the “Other” leads…You know the line.)  And at this Holocaust ideology has been a brilliant success.  Jews may have a Jewish country, but an offficially Christian country would be intolerant.  Jews may discourage marriage outside their ethnic group, but for whites to do such a thing would be an outrage.  Attacking Judaism is anti-semitism; attacking Christianity is artistic freedom.  And on it goes, so deep in the European and American psyche that most of us fail to notice even the most obvious double standards.

UPDATE:

To be clear, I suppose I should emphasize that Holocaustism is not exclusively, or even primarily, driven by Jews qua Jews.  It’s the Left’s favorite stick for beating Western civilization.

Best of the web lately

Lawrence Auster has a very nice review of Louis de Bonald’s “On Divorce”.

In effect, Bonald supplements the classic understanding of the soul and its virtues with the insight from the Western religious tradition that the constitution of man’s being consists of “natural relationships with his being’s author” and with his fellow men. As human beings we participate in three distinct societies–religious; public (the state); and domestic (the family)–which operate according to common principles. Just as there is a supreme Cause that willed the world and a universal Minister by whom the world was made and through whom it is saved, so in the state there are laws, ministers that carry out the laws, and subjects. In the family, it is the father who functions as power, the mother as minister, and the child as subject. Reading Bonald, we need to look beyond this hierarchical scheme, which appears so strange and forbidding to our eyes, to the inner core that animates it: the experience of religious truth as the ultimate source and paradigm of legitimate authority and community.

Bonald is a tough-minded exponent of the classic and Christian view that our native penchant for disorder must be repressed for our true nature to be fulfilled; “Be thou perfect.” said the supreme lawgiver of our civilization. But the Rousseauian democratic notion that “man is perfect in his native state and is depraved by society” threw this natural order on its head, denying any authority in God, making all human customs seem arbitrary, and reducing parents and children to the merely biological status of “males,” females,” and “young” (or, in today’s unispeak, “moms.” “dads,” and “kids”). With this collapse of the human constitution, Bonald argues, “there were still fathers, mothers, and children in France, but there was no longer a power in the family, no longer a minister, no longer a subject, no longer a domestic society; and political society was shaken to its very foundations.”

Through Edward Feser, I’ve come across this entertaining re(de)valuation of the Renaissance:

Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo’s work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme’s physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme’s work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. Other intellectual fields have no more to offer. Histories of philosophy are naturally able to name philosophers between 1350 and 1600, but their inclusion seems to be on the same principle as world maps which include Wyndham, WA, but leave out Wollongong – big blank spaces must be filled. While it is almost impossible to find an English translation of any philosopher in the three hundred years between Scotus and Descartes, it is not a lack one feels acutely….

The literary end of intellectual life did not fare much better than science, except that the slump was not quite so long. Rather than protest, as is usual, about the difficulty of confining historical movements within definite dates, I am happy to name the fifteenth century as coinciding quite accurately with the decline of literature. Chaucer died in 1400; the next writers that anyone still reads are Erasmus, More, Rabelais and Machiavelli, just after 1500.

He [Petrarch] pulled off the century’s most amazing propaganda stunt by having himself crowned as poet on the Capitoline Hill, reviving a supposed classical tradition. This was to celebrate, he said, the rebirth of poetry after a thousand years. Even if the troubadour lyrics, the Eddas and the Roman de la Rose had never been written, the idea of someone announcing the rebirth of poetry thirty years after Dante’s death is just a disgrace.

Matt Parrott at Alternative Right on the empty promises of feminism:

The illusions they cling to are comfortable, while reality is anything but: They’re not sexually liberating themselves—they’re forfeiting the leverage nature gave them in the battle of the sexes to a subset of slick pick-up artists. Their barren wombs are not about “family planning”, they’re about not planning to have a family. Their careers are not making them independent, dependence is simply being transferred from husbands and fathers to Big Brother. That’s well and good for their personal interests as long as the economy is strong, the government is solvent, and the pensions are well-funded. But are those safe bets?

R. R. Reno on whether Shia Islam in Iran is about to have an Investiture Controversy moment.

What’s the problem with Muslims?

The European pseudo-Right never fails to disappoint.

According to German journalist Michael Mannheimer, the problem with Muslims is that they’re not feminist enough.  Through GalliaWatch, I have become aware of this:

Richter is an icon of the left wing and the Greens, a leading figure practically worshipped by a whole generation of peace-driven deniers of reality and Easter marchers. He exercises no criticism against the cutting off of hands, flogging for no reason, or the stoning of women who have committed no crime other than that they wanted to be free from their husbands. He exercises no criticism against the fact that in Islamic lands today critics of “the religion of peace” have their eyes put out without anaesthetic, that girls at just two years of age are forced to marry dirty old men, that women according to Islamic law (Shari’a) are condemned to be second-class people.

So, women have no duties toward their husbands (or, presumably, children)?  Husbands have no legitimate authority over their wives?  Female disregard for marriage vows is an unalloyed social good?  Traditional gender role distinctions are iniquitous?  It’s arguments like these that make me think more fondly of the coming Islamization of Europe.

But, not to worry, Mr. Mannheimer!  The Muslims may be spreading patriarchy to Europe by peaceful migration, but our brave men, women, and hermaphrodites in uniform are spreading feminism to the Muslim world by military force!  So it all evens out, in a worst-of-all-possible-worlds kind of way.

Our feminist crusade in Afghanistan, continued

The Elusive Wapiti and William Lind are also annoyed by the war to spread Western pathology.

The Republican apostasy continues

Lawrence Auster has been following it in gory detail.  Now, it seems that Jonah Goldberg and Sarah Palin have hopped aboard the Sodomy Express.