Bad news

Via Western Confucian, I learn the terrible news that Malta has surrendered and legalized divorce (i.e. state approval of spouse abandonment and infidelity).  Expect abortion and gay marriage in less than five years.

Also, see Lydia and Anthony Esolen we hear examples from Canada and Sweden of how the state can take your children away if you’re not sufficiently compliant in letting it brainwash them.

The connection:  If marriage is not permanant, it is not reliable.  But children need someone they can rely on.  Therefore, children belong to the state.  Not just children of divorced parents, but all children.  Christian libertarians, who think they can ask to be left alone to observe gospel morality in private should consider this.  When the state legalized divorce, it changed your legal state from “married” to “not yet divorced, but may soon be”.  And it claimed your children.


Review: Beyond the Global Culture War

I’ve actually been promoting this book for a while, so it’s about time I gave it a formal review.

The name of this book is unfortunate.  Usually when someone says they want us to get “beyond” the culture wars, he really means he wants conservatives to surrender to liberalism.  That’s not what the author, Adam Webb, means.  He wants to fight the culture war more aggressively and win.  His key idea is that we antiliberals need to expand our horizons and realize that we are part of a global struggle; people are fighting the same fight in the Muslim, Hindu, Far Eastern, and Latin American worlds.  Our best, perhaps only, hope of victory is a trans-civilizational alliance of communitarians and traditionalists of various sorts.

This is a very important point.  Unfortunately, while conservatives in the West resist (albeit ineffectively) liberalism at home, we tend to uncritically accept the liberal perspective on the rest of the planet.  So we cheer for secular democracy in the Muslim world, for the Indian Congress Party, and for Chinese capitalism, not realizing that we’re promoting liberal hegemony and our own isolation.  Liberalism, secularism, and feminism are–we imagine–right about the rest of the world, but wrong about us.  This is a difficult position to defend; it grants far too much to our enemies.  If the rest of the world’s traditions were ignorance and oppression, it would be hard to believe ours are any different.

Webb retells the culture war of the last century from a global perspective.  In his telling, each society has four different ways, which he calls “ethoses”, of understanding itself, and the culture war is a battle between the adherents of each ethos.  Demoticism is the egalitarian communitarianism of the village peasant:  community is the supreme value, roles and duties are clear, but distinctions other than age and gender are frowned upon.  Perfectionism is the individualistic ethic of self-cultivation found in aristocrats and mystics.  Society is the arena in which virtue is developed and exercised, but most important is the society-transcending ideal of virtue or holiness to which individuals try to conform themselves.  Demots value embeddedness in a community at the expense of having a transcendent horizon, while perfectionists keep society-transcending standards at the cost of spiritually separating themselves–to some extent–from their communities.  Virtuocracy tries to combine the two:  there is a transcendent standard of goodness, but it can be embodied in the life of the community through the ministrations of a clerical class, such as the Catholic clergy, the Muslim ulama, the Hindu Bramins, and the Chinese mandarins.  Finally, there are is atomism, which combines the demot’s dislike of hierarchy and transcendent standards with the perfectionist’s dislike of community.  Historically, atomists like the Greek sophists and the Chinese legalists have rarely held power, but in the last century they have launched a worldwide coup, achieving global hegemony and marginalizing the other three ethoses.

The West succumbed early, but in most places the atomist insurgency really only got going a century ago, when atomist intellectuals started criticizing native traditions for holding their countries back and slowing down modernization.  In midcentury, the atomists made a sort of pact with demotic sensibilities; virtuocratic elites were attacked, marginalized, and largely destroyed, as enemies of the common folk.  By 1980, atomists were powerful enough to revoke this pact and turn their hostility on the common people, who were now denounced as bigots and fanatics who need to be controled by their enlightened (atomist) betters.  Antiliberal activism since then has been largely demotic (populist/fundamentalist) and has suffered from demots’ limited horizons and weak sense of group agency.  In only one case did a virtuocratic elite sieze power–in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  While Iran is certainly a most promising center of antiliberal resistance, it is compromised–according to Webb–by being limited to one nation-state.

According to Webb, the world’s cultural capital is being eroded quickly by atomist attacks.  In another few decades, the damage could be irreversible, and history really will end.  Therefore, he believes the whole world order must be overthrown and reconstituted before that time.  The rebellion should represent the other three ethoses but be led by the natural leaders, the virtuocrats.  Unfortunately, he’s not able to be more specific than that.  Many of the virtuocrats he mentions, like neo-Confucian intellectuals, are just a few isolated academics who probably aren’t going to be overthrowing anything.  One can’t help but think that Islam is going to have to provide most of the manpower if this fantasy is actually going to come true.

Webb would like to see the antiliberal crusade commit itself to righting what he sees as the great injustice of capitalism, namely that the global South is so much poorer than the global North.  He thinks that, since we’re not so attached to economic freedom as the liberals, we will be able to offer the world a much more drastic wealth redistribution.  I think this is probably backwards.  Historically, atomists gave us socialism, after all, while in places like Iran the clerical faction has been more careful to guard property rights (considered an Islamic principle, as it is considered a Christian one) against atomist social engineering.  It is also not clear to me that justice demands nations’ wealths be equalized, or that it would be good for the global South to start essentially living on the dole.  Nonliberals might arrange an uptick in foreign aid, but I wouldn’t expect more of us than that.

Webb’s diagnosis is excellent, and I hope for that reason that conservatives will read this book and take it to heart.  While overthrowing the world order would be nice, I would like to start thinking about a more basic step.  How can we Christian conservatives make contact with our Muslim, Hindu, and Confucian counterparts?  How can we learn about them?  What sort of collaborations might be immediately fruitful?  What sort of structures might we put in place to foster regular contact and collaboration?

The irony of using paganism as a female-recruiting device

As we’ve been discussing, Alex Kurtagic at Alternative Right thinks that association with Christianity is driving women away from the far Right, and that the Right might do better with the fairer sex if it marginalized Christianity and emphasized its supposed pre-Christian pagan roots.  While a bit skeptical of the suggestion that patriarchy was entirely foreign to pre-Christian Europe, I was happy to conceed that Christianity is the patriarchal religion par excellence–the one in which patriarchy receives its surest footing.

Somebody should note, though, that it’s the pagan racialist Right, not the Christian patriarchist Right, that is complaining about not being able to attract women.  That hasn’t been a problem for the Christian far Right.  Not only are women well represented (perhaps even a majority) among the rank in file of traditionalists, homeschoolers, pro-life activists, and so forth; they’re among our intellectual leaders as well.  In the online Christian patriarchy community, some of the major hubs are blogs run by women.  Indeed, it may well be that there are more prominent female than male advocates of Christian patriarchy.  So the alternative Right’s association with Christianity doesn’t seem to be what’s keeping women from joining the ranks of these Thor-worshipping racialists.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend adopting either paganism or Christianity in order to attract women; we accept one or the other because it is true.  In this way, I show more respect for paganism than most on the alternative Right.  These faux-pagans don’t really believe in any of the gods, but take them to be manifestations of the genius of the white race.  What they’re really worshipping then is themselves.  This is the worst form of idolatry, and something no genuine pagan would countenance.

Render unto Caesar

 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.  And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?  But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?  Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.  And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?  They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.  When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Matthew 22:15-22

Many claim that in this passage Jesus lays down an important principle about the nature or limits of political authority, or about the proper relations between Church and state.  The Whig Lord Acton is not atypical:

But when Christ said: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” those words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of Freedom. For our Lord not only delivered the precept, but created the force to execute it. To maintain the necessary immunity in one supreme sphere, to reduce all political authority within defined limits, ceased to be an aspiration of patient reasoners, and was made the perpetual charge and care of the most energetic institution and the most universal association in the world. The new law, the new spirit, the new authority, gave to Liberty a meaning and a value it had not possessed in the philosophy or in the constitution of Greece or Rome, before the knowledge of the Truth that makes us free.

Acton and others claim that Christ has here imposed limits on the state, either through the conscience of individuals or the a separate corporation, the Church.  Of course, Acton exaggerates the newness of such limits.  That an individual may be bound in conscience by divine commands not to follow an order of the state was certainly known to Sophocles.  And the state was already as sacred as pagandom could make it.  However, my reservations about such an interpretation come from the biblical text itself.  It is simply not clear that Jesus’ injunction about God and Caesar necessarily means all that people take it to mean.

The “rendering” law supposedly puts clear limits on state authority, but Christians in all kinds of political arrangements will understand this law very differently.  Note first that Jesus didn’t even answer the question put to Him, since what is Caesar’s is precisely the point in dispute.  If some Zealot thought that Rome was an illigitimae occupying power, and the Israelites owe them nothing but rebellion, Jesus has said nothing to gainsay this.  All he said is that Caesar should be given his due, whatever that happens to be.

Nor does Christ say here that the rights of God trump the rights of the state, assuming the two can conflict–although I’m pretty sure that He believes this.  He hasn’t even necessarily said that the rights of God and the rights of the state are distinct.  In fact, we know they are sometimes not, because political authority comes from God (as St. Paul says), and so any legitimate act of rendering to Caesar is ipso facto an act of rendering to God.  Note that Jesus says “and”, not “but”, as if the two renderings are complementary, rather than conflicting things.

Suppose there were a Christian theocratic state, with ecclesiastical and political power completely fused, as people (wrongly) say about Byzantium.  Surely this at least would violate the limits that Acton sees in Christ’s words?  In fact, a citizen of this state wouldn’t necessarily see it so.  He would read the passage as follows:  “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, and in so doing you will render unto God the things that are God’s.”  I see no textual reason to regard this as a misreading.

The “rendering” law has seemed to mean different things in different historical contexts.  In the Middle Ages, after the papal revolution, it would naturally seem to mean something like “obey both temporal and ecclesiastical authorities in their respective zones of jurisdiction”.  In the totalitarian nightmares of the twentieth century, Christians probably thought it to mean “obey the state when what it asks is consistent with natural law, but stand firm on conscience when it asks you to violate God’s laws”.  In Anglo-Saxon liberal states, it tends to be interpreted as “I must obey the state as a public duty, but as a private person my conscience is also bound by the dictates of my religion.”

All of these readings seem reasonable to me (although I would quibble with the assumptions behind the last one), and I imagine there are saints who have ascended to heaven practicing each one.  What this means is that Jesus has not layed down any kind of blueprint for how Church and state are supposed to be related to each other, nor where the boundary of state authority should be.  It certainly is not a divine command for the Whiggish system.  Given a particular political context, though, it clarifies what justice demands of subjects and gives these demands divine sanction.

The Alternative What?

This is really extraordinary.  Alternative Right writers have been trying to figure out why they can’t attract more women.

For the movement that is.

Alex Kurtagic thinks we need to remind people how highly-regarded women were in pre-Christian Europe, as evidenced by the prominent role that goddesses played in their myths.  Our pagan ancestors were supposedly unique in this regard, although Mr. Kurtagic fails to demonstrate that women were more central to European pantheons than they were in non-Western (Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, etc) mythologies.  Anyway, patriarchy is supposedly an Eastern corruption, invented by Saint Paul, who forced the egalitarian Romans to start making their wives submit to them.  So the prescription for the Alternative Right?

Women both comprise half of the race and are indispensable for its continuity. Moreover, women are a measure of the health of any movement. Therefore, any movement that seeks to preserve the race cannot credibly ignore them. Even though it is up to women who care about the aims of the movement to organise themselves and contribute with activities suitable to their interests and strengths (no matter what they are), barriers to their participation must be eliminated. This begins by shedding the reactive misogyny engendered by feminism, reclaiming from the latter the high status and freedom accorded to women by traditional Western European culture and society, taking intelligent women’s advise seriously, ridiculing the war of the sexes, marginalising defectives, rejecting conservatism, and making a clear distinction between personal religious choices and racial preservation.

So, we are to reject conservatism, reject patriarchy, and work for the social marginalization of religion.  To sum up, we are to attack everything that conservatives have thought worth defending.  And what do we get in return for throwing Christianity “under the bus”?  According to Kurtagic and some others, the point of the Alternative Right is to defend something called “the white race”.  What is the white race?  Is it only the genetic inheritance of Europe.  It’s hard to see how it could mean anything more than that, given that these AR types claim to be following Spengler’s theories of the rise and fall of cultures.  If Western culture is about to fall, it will (if we follow Spengler) be replaced by something totally different, based on an entirely new conceptualization of space.  Any continuity with the West will be superficial, as Spengler thought Western contacts with our Hellenistic predecessors to be.  On the other hand, Kurtagic et al make a special point in boasting about their pseudo-feminist paganism, with its attack on male headship, and I can’t imagine that they’re not hoping for it to rise again among the lighter-skinned once the long night of Christian patriarchy has passed.

To sum up, Kurtagic would seem to agree with me that Christianity is the great patriarchal religion.  Let’s be proud of it.

More on judging predictions

Another thing about judging conservative claims that society is going to collapse is that they’re hard to evaluate even after you wait and see.  How long is social collapse supposed to take?  Suppose one of us says “Gay marriage will destroy America.”  Then Congress legislates gay marriage, and the next day America is still there.  Is the prediction falsified?  Obviously not–even the most lethal policies take longer than a day to do their full damage.  Suppose then in one hundred years America is conquered by the Brazilian Empire.  Is our prediction confirmed then?  Obviously not–lots of things might have happened in one hundred years that bore more directly on America’s fall, and besides, every nation falls sooner or later.  It seems like there’s only two ways to be pretty sure that the prediction came true.

  1. If the causal series that destroyed America is so clear that we can see that gay marriage was (or wasn’t) an essential part of the chain.
  2. If America, before the legislation, had been extremely stable culturally, economically, politically, so that we could identify a sort of “natural evolution timescale” T on which the American polity changes significantly.  Then, after legalizing gay marriage–and doing nothing else, America is destroyed in a time <<T.

I doubt the case will ever be so clear.

By the way, while I doubt we could ever identify a gradual evolution timescale, I wonder if societies might not have a dynamical timescale:  roughly, the time it takes to collapse when the rug is completely pulled out.  Blow up the base of a building, and the building won’t collapse in a nanosecond.  It takes at least a free-fall time from the top to the bottom [T~sqrt(L/g), L=height, g=gravity].  We post-conciliar Catholics often imagine that because the Church hasn’t yet disappeared entirely after the disasters of Vatican II and its implementation, there must be some live resistance keeping it in place.  We imagine that there’s some hard core of the faithful, so that eventually the Church will bottom out and be left with these.  But what if there is no significant resistance (as there doesn’t appear to be)?  The Church is truly in free fall, but it just takes a little while for an organization that big to totally disappear.  Maybe it’s just taking a while for people to get the message that the show is over.  I certainly hope that’s not the case.

How good are conservatives at predicting the future?

Short answer:  not very, just like everyone else.

The track record is mixed.  On the one hand, de Maistre made some spectacularly wrong predictions about the inefficacy of secular governments:  that the city of Washington DC would never be constructed, that secular governments couldn’t succeed in creating new holidays.  On the other hand, Archbishop Lefebvre and others predicted that Vatican II would bring ruin to the Church, and this happened more quickly and completely than anyone could have thought.  Of course, what people mean when they ask about the conservative track record is how seriously anyone should take us when we say “if the liberals do X, it will result in ruin, RUIN!!!!”

Asking how well these predictions turn out is not as objective and value-free as it might first seem.  A liberal will often say things like, “You conservatives said that if we legalized divorce, the sky would fall.  But you were wrong–we’re richer and happier than ever!”  The conservative will of course respond that the sky did fall, that humanity has fallen into what any other generation would recognize as unimaginable depravity.  So we have not escaped value judgments at all.  Sometimes conservatives will try to bypass value-disagreements by predicting that liberal policies will have effects–complete social breakdown, or something like that–that even a liberal would recognize as worse than the effects of conservative policies.  If true, this would be a powerful argument against liberalism, which would be shown to be self-defeating.  I don’t think it’s true, though, and predictions that liberalism will cause effects that even liberals would regard as unacceptable usually prove false.  Liberal policies do promote liberal preferences, and there’s not point in denying it.  If one were to judge a society only by wealth, comfort, and personal liberties, it’s not clear that liberalism would come off so badly.

On the other hand, conservative predictions are usually quite good when we’re predicting how some liberal movement will progress into some other even more extreme liberal movement.  That’s because we’re not really talking about the future, but about how ideas relate to each other.  Feminism leads to gay-advocacy; liberal Catholicism leads to apostasy.  It’s not hard to guess that a movement that starts out with one of the former sets of goals will be led by the logic of their own premises to embrace the latter positions.  Unfortunately, these sorts of predictions do very little for conservatives rhetorically, simply because they are true.  A person who has embraced feminism isn’t going to recoil in horror when she is told that it will lead to her embracing homosexuality.  The androgynist premises of feminism have already cut off any basis for objecting to this conclusion.  Telling a liberal Catholic that “tolerance” and “inclusiveness” are incompatible with the historical Catholic faith will just make him hate the Church more and pursue his punitive “reforms” against her all the more mercilessly.

In the end, one can’t get around the question of what kind of society we want to exist.  If liberal society worked as perfectly as its partisans imagine it should, would that be where we’d want to live?  For most here, I think the answer is “no”, which shows how fundamental our disagreement with them is.

Whether there should be a preferential option for the poor

Donald Scott has asked me if I accept the claim that public policy should show a “preferential option for the poor”.  To amuse myself, I will answer in disputation form.

Objection 1:

It would seem not, because favoring some people over others over legally irrelevant criteria like wealth is unjust.  We would certainly regard a preferential option for the rich as unjust.  In particular, taking more money in taxes from the rich while providing the same government services is unjust.

Objection 2:

It would seem not, because virtuous activity must be voluntary, but wealth redistribution is coercive charity, a contradiction.

Objection 3:

It would seem not, because such an option will inevitably lead to socialism, which is a godless tyranny.

Objection 4:

It would seem not, because God, Who is completely just, shows no such preference.

On the contrary, Pope Leo XIII says:

 37. Rights must be religiously respected wherever they exist, and it is the duty of the public authority to prevent and to punish injury, and to protect every one in the possession of his own. Still, when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.

, which is actually a stronger statement than the one I will defend.

I answer that

The duties of the state can be divided into two:  establishing justice, and promoting the good.

The first duty, establishing justice, means punishing wrongdoing, rewarding public service, and enforcing legal rights.  Pope Leo says there should be preference even here, but I think this preference should be small:  the rights of the rich should be defended with nearly the same vigilance as the rights of the poor.  Note, however, that property is not an absolute right; it is only inviolable to the extent that it is needed for a person’s social roles (a father’s provider role, an aristocrat’s public roles, etc).

With regard to the second role, the good may be divided as follows:  the particular goods of poor people, the particular goods of rich people, and the goods that are irreducibly common.  Irreducibly common goods are those things—like public order, communal consensus, or a healthy physical or spiritual environment—that necessarily belong to the community as a whole, rather than its individual members.  Among these goods, the state should first promote the common good, since it is the institution especially ordered to the promotion of these goods.  If forced to choose, common goods should be given preference over individual goods (but not individual justice, which itself is the supreme common good).  Next, the state should promote the particular good of the poor, if necessary at the expense of the rich.  This seems apparent, because the poor are in greater need, have less ability to secure their own interests, and will suffer more greatly from the lack of a public advocate.  Economic policies in particular should be designed primarily if not exclusively with the interests of the lower classes in mind.  For while to rise out of poverty is an undoubted good, rising from wealth to even greater wealth is not necessarily good at all.  In this sense, there should be a preferential option for the poor.

Reply to Objection 1:

With regard to the establishment of justice, no partiality should be shown.  However, with regard to assessing one’s financial duty toward the state, one’s ability to pay is not an irrelevant consideration.  Also, when assessing the state’s duty to promote one’s material interests, one’s current material situation is a relevant consideration.  This is not really a form of partiality, any more than the state sending a policeman to protect a home under attack from thieves while not sending the police to homes not suffering invasion with no need of defense shows partiality.  The state is impartial in providing a service to whichever of its citizens need it.  Poor relief can be considered similarly.

Reply to Objection 2:

The state’s goal in progressive taxation is not to coerce the virtue of charity, but only to secure a material effect.  Because the state should only relieve extreme need (and only when other social organs fail to meet these needs), there will always remain plenty of opportunity for the rich to practice charity.  In any event, alms to strangers is not the primary way this virtue is meant to be exercised.

Reply to Objection 3:

So long as the independent authority of the fathers over their families and clergy over the Church are recognized, and the property needed to discharge their duties is recognized as inviolable, there is no danger of socialism.  What is objectionable in socialism is not forcible wealth distribution, but the attack on nongovernmental authority.

Reply to Objection 4:

To God we are all poor, and He shows no wealth-based preferences.  Mortals, however, are often called to show partiality (e.g. toward our children) where God shows none.


Away at a workshop this weekend.  Little internet access.  Will respond to comments on Wednesday.

Just in case anybody thought the Republicans were conservatives

We have people like Newt Gingrich to remind everyone that they believe in hard-core antiauthoritarian, antisocial individualism.  See Auster’s summary:

Newly declared presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s speech to a Republican gathering in Georgia, broadcast on C-SPAN on Sunday, was impressive. He spoke about the American belief in the God-given sovereignty of the individual, which is then delegated in a limited fashion to representatives, as contrasted with the left’s belief in unlimited state power, and about how Obama’s presidency threatens to turn America into a European-style statist system.