On the unusually low libidos of Leftists

This is just an impression I’ve got–no evidence–but what are blogs for but to throw out new ideas?

There’s a stereotype out there, created by we conservatives, that Leftists are a bunch of lechers who have decided to tear down the moral patrimony of our civilization just so they can more easily gratify their own carnal cravings.  Listening to them, though, I more often get the impression that Leftists are people with unusually weak sex drives.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m sure they get laid more often than conservatives, but that’s not for trying harder.  It’s because chicks dig Leftist radicals.

Here are some of the things that give me the impression that powerful lusts are more often absent in the Leftist constitution:

  • As I said in an earlier post, they seem to have a hard time imagining that immodestly dressed women and indecent pictures in public places might make it harder for young men to be chaste.  We always hear from them “Women have a right to dress however they want!  Men have a duty to not notice!”  A semi-dressed woman should be able to walk up to a man, basically throw her boobs in his face, and he must not only not look, he must treat her precisely the same way he would treat a woman in a nun’s habit.  They even think it silly to imagine that a man’s concentration on work might suffer in the presence of exposed female flesh.  I ask you, are these they expectations of ordinary men?
  • They’re always politicizing sex, as if that’s the only way they can make it interesting for themselves.  Feminist academics going on about their lesbianism are a particularly obvious case.  One gets the distinct impression that sticking it to the patriarchy, rather than any mere corporeal pleasure, is the main motive for lesbian activity.  Sexual radicals like Wilhelm Reich saw promiscuity as the easy rode to communism, and I expect that’s the main reason Leftists could be bothered engineering a sexual revolution.
  • Even among heterosexual progressives, and the culture that reflects their influence, they’re always pushing transgression as something needed to make sex exciting.  Anything sex-related is peppered with words like “naughty” or “forbidden” even when the act in question is morally licit (for married couples).  Again, it seems like, for our progressive brethren, the act of coitus itself is a dull affair.  It’s only interesting if it can be related to a revolutionary project:  flouting established moral norms and that sort of thing.  I myself have often enough wanted to indulge in sex acts that would have been immoral for one reason or another, but I’ve never wanted to do anything because it was forbidden.  I would have rather the act not been immoral, so that I could have licitly indulged myself.  For the transgressive crowd, that would take away all the fun.
  • Use of weirdly trivializing words to describe sex, like saying that it should be “fun”.
  • The urge to trivialize sex.  “It’s just sex.  It doesn’t mean anything”, or at least it doesn’t mean anything to those of us who are “grown up”.  Now, it shouldn’t take an active sex drive for one to appreciate the sublimity of the conjugal act.  However, it may be that having powerful urges that one has difficulty controlling helps one to appreciate that this is a sphere that one must take seriously.  This is especially the case if, as Burke imagined, the sublime is connected to danger and power.  The ordinary non-Leftist, learning to take sex seriously, is more likely to sense that the licit expression of this powerful force must be a holy thing.  When he sees how it channels the divine act of creation, he becomes sure of it.
  • The use of Satanic words to describe sex, like “empowering”.
  • The vices they project onto us vs. the vices we project onto them.  Conservatives imagine that liberals are promoting promiscuity and perversion because of their own lust, projecting our own horniness onto them.  Leftists accuse patriarchal conservatives of using sex as a weapon to establish domination, projecting their own obsessions with power, their own libido dominandi, onto us.  According to them, men have sex with their wives to maintain our power over them.  Why else would we do it, after all?
  • Their tendency to call consensual sex that they don’t like (e.g. marital intercourse) “rape”.
  • The way they make far-reaching policies on sexual harassment that basically prohibit any unwanted expression of romantic interest (and how can one know if it’s wanted until it’s been expressed?) without bothering to provide protocol whereby a gentleman may properly express interest in a lady.  They simply don’t care about his predicament.  “Why is he so interested in women anyway?  Doesn’t he know that there are more interesting things to spend his time on, like the Revolution?”
  • The tendency to turn sex (but not gender–heaven forbid!) into an identity-forming characteristic.  For example, gay men see it as their ticket out of the “white oppressor” category up the victimization hierarchy.  Here group membership is brought into the mix to make sex seem interesting.

Can a liberal be virtuous?

I’d like to revisit our discussion about whether, or in what sense, one who has wrong opinions about moral fundamentals be virtuous.  For the most part, I’ll be writing from a conservative point of view, the assumption being that liberalism (defined as autonomy for everyone acheived by tolerance in individuals and neutrality in the state) is a morally pernicious doctrine.  Liberals, of course, face an analogous question about whether illiberals can be virtuous.  While most liberals would tend to dismiss the idea that there are virtuous non-liberals living today, many of them face this issue in an acute form when studying history.  They ask themselves, for example, if they can rightly admire the Founding Fathers even though few of them embraced what we would think of as complete sexual or racial equality.

A while back, I claimed that our enemies, the liberals, are by-and-large decent men who deserve our respect as men.  In fact, my theories about human societies leads me to believe that most of the “best” men in every age support the status-quo.  Since liberalism in one form or another is the reigning ideology, we should expect the most intelligent and best-socialized to, on average, adhere to it more strongly.  Some commenters thought that when I called them “good men” (a phrase I generally object to for philosophical reasons–all men being ontologically good–but I used it here to refer to its conventional meaning), I just meant “nice”, and niceness is really cowardice, in which case these men are not really virtuous at all.  It’s just that their vices are of the convenient sort.  That didn’t seem right to me.  It’s not that my best friends are liberals; it’s that practically everyone I’ve ever met is a liberal, and I’m pretty sure that some of them had some real virtues.  They have real temperance.  (In fact, self-control seems to come unusually easily to liberals.  From the way they dismiss worries about the effects of immodest dress and pornographied-culture on the morals of young men, liberals strike me as oddly asexual men.  It’s as if they can’t imagine lust being a strong force.)  They make real efforts, even at their own expense, to be just in their dealings with neighbors and coworkers.  I expect most have or would make real sacrifices for their families.  While for most of them it’s just posturing, a few demonstrate real concern for the poor.  This is not just “niceness”.

JMSmith granted that liberals have these sorts of virtues, but he still said that, from an Aristotelian point of view, it is deceptive to call them “good men”.

The confusion is caused by the difference between the modern and Pagan definitions of a “good” man.  We moderns think a “good man” is a man who does no harm, is indeed benevolent.  In speaking of a “good man” Aristotle meant something much more like what we mean when we speak of a good horse, or a good knife.  He’s good at doing the things a man is supposed to do, forming just opinions being right at the top of the list.  So a man who has a cockeye view of the world is no more good than a knife that won’t hold an edge is good.  He’s not rotten, just normal.  If liberal atheists are correct, I’m even farther from being good than I think I am!

It is of course wrong to imagine that all liberals are vicious.  Vice takes effort, and like the rest of us the sin they are most addicted to is sloth.  (I sometimes wonder how much of my “virtue” is really sloth.)  The difference is this: when a liberal gets the itch and cranks up the energy, there’s not much standing in his way.  Certainly not his liberal friends.  Is a man who won’t condemn his friend’s sin a “good” man?

These are very good points, and they’ve got me thinking.  It would indeed seem that the ability to form just opinions is a prerequisite for flawlessly instantiating the essence “man”.  Of course, there are obvious qualifications here.  We presumably only mean opinions about moral essentials.  Past generations of men who believed geocentrism weren’t flawed; nor is the half of America who believe O. J. Simpson is guilty (or innocent, whichever the case isn’t).  Presumably JMSmith agrees so far.

I would like to split up the question into two pieces:  1) must a man be morally flawed to fail to acheive correct moral  opinions; 2) if a man has flawed moral opinions, will that necessarily keep him from being perfectly virtuous?

I answer “no” to the first question.  Coming to the truth no doubt involves virtues every man must have to be good, such as diligence, humility, honesty, and a concern for justice.  When a false doctrine is established dogma, though, coming to the truth also involves being able to evaluate and–only if necessary–reject the official opinion.  Is this an ability that a man must have to be virtuous?  It’s certainly a good skill to have, but not all good skills are necessary, i.e. some good skills can be lacking in a man without flaw.  For example, it’s a good skill, involving only essentially human ability, to be able to understand abstract algebra:  group theory, ring theory, and the like.  I can well believe, though, that there are men who can’t do abstract algebra, even if they really tried.  That doesn’t strike me as a flaw, the way an inability to grasp basic arithmetic would be.  Ability to do math at this level seems to be an optional excellence.  One sees the same thing in all sorts of activities:  to be healthy, one must be able to jog around the block, but being able to run a marathon is an optional excellence.  I wonder if ability to question one’s society’s fundamental assumptions is an optional excellence like this.  The average person, who simply takes society’s assumptions as given and carefully applies them to the issues of the day can reasonably claim to have discharged his civic and social duty.  It just doesn’t seem right to say that the average high-school dropout should be able to see what’s wrong with social contract theory.

I want to emphasize here that I don’t mean that we conservatives are conservative because our moral sense is so much more refined than a liberals’ that we in comparison to them are like math majors compared to people who can barely get their minds around long division.  Most often, we don’t deserve our (presumably) superior beliefs.  They came to us by some sort of accident.  Perhaps we belong to one of the groups (e.g. Catholics, evangelicals, Southerners) demonized by liberals; perhaps we were victimized by a group glorified by liberals (e.g. blacks, Mexicans, career women).  Or something else fortuitous happened that made the official positions lose their credibility for us.  We should regard our beliefs as a sort of unearned grace.

To the second question, I incline more toward “yes”, but only for the most extreme forms of liberalism.  One may hold them without fault, but holding them will impede one from acheiving perfect virtue.  To be perfectly virtuous, one must not only do the right thing; one must do it for the right reason.  A faulty conception of the Good can certainly impede the latter.  If one does the right thing for a wicked reason, what we have is a “splendid vice”.  If one does it for a good but imperfect reason, one has imperfect virtue.

It does seem that there are virtues–or at least what a conservative would regard as virtues–that a liberal can’t possess to perfection, because although he may always act properly, he cannot properly conceptualize the reason for so acting.  A liberal may never have an impure thought–in fact, they seem to be unusually free of impure thoughts–but he can’t be perfectly chaste as long as he believes that he must “tolerate” (i.e. approve) all non-coercive sexual acts.  He may, probably because of a genuine but nonconceptualized (and hence imperfect) chastity, find the idea of an “open marriage” revolting himself, but he must affirm his neighbors’ bold “experiment in living”.  If he can’t condemn them for it, logically he can’t believe that he has a duty to be faithful to his own wife.  He can only claim it as his preference–a “bad faith chastity”.  Because a liberal must believe that government holds power by consent, he cannot be perfectly obedient.  Although he may always obey the laws, he obeys them only as the will of the majority, not as the will of a magistrate with authority from God.  Because he may not “discriminate”, and he must fight “the dead hand of the past”, he cannot have perfect filial piety.  He may revere his father as a man, but he cannot see the duty to revere him as his father.  Of course, a liberal reading this will feel no guilt in not feeling such duties, because he believes they don’t exist, just as I feel no guilt for my “sexism” and “intolerance”, because I don’t recognize these as vices.

Fortunately, we may hope that the spiritual effects of liberalism are limited in actual human souls.  While I tend to think that hard-core autonomy-maximalization is the logical endpoint of the liberal tradition, there are many liberals who still occupy the intermediate positions, such as classical liberalism, that don’t vitiate the virtues to the same degree.  We are also lucky that most people give very little thought to the ideology they have been taught and claim to hold, and they fail to consider its more radical consequences for their own lives.  A liberal thinking about the effects of religion/authoritarianism/tradition on past generations might tell himself something similar.

So we see the extreme importance of having the truth established as the official ideology, rather than some falsehood.  If bad beliefs are established, the truth will only be held by the small minority who both hold some optional excellence and have had some unlikely life event that tipped them off.  The majority will hold bad beliefs through no fault of their own.  Yet, although they bear no fault for their beliefs, these beliefs will deform and imperil their souls.

Pope Benedict endorses my Muslim strategy

Wow, this blog must be getting influential.  The Thinking Housewife quotes the following from the successor of Saint Peter:

Dear friends, on the basis of what I have outlined here, it seems to me that there can be fruitful collaboration between Christians and Muslims. In the process, we help to build a society that differs in many respects from what we brought with us from the past. As believers, setting out from our respective convictions, we can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society. I am thinking, for example, of the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice.  I got this idea from the magnificent blogger “Bonald” at “Throne and Altar”.

Okay, I made up that last sentence.  Still, you’ll recall how we tossed around this very idea on this blog a while ago.  You’ll also recall that Bonifacius called me a heretic for even considering the idea.  My interlocutors eventually convinced me that the strategy probably wouldn’t work, not because it’s a bad idea for either party, but because the Muslims almost certainly wouldn’t go for it.

Laura Wood and Larry Auster are outraged.  They think the idea is not only impractical, but wicked and cowardly.  They seem to embrace the idea, which I’ve combatted here and here, that Muslims worship a false god, rather than worshipping the true God falsely.  Mrs. Wood takes it farther, denying any common ground between Catholics and Muslims, saying that the marriage covanant, fetal rights, and social justice defended by Muslims has nothing to do with that defended by Catholics.

Readers will know how greatly I admire both Mrs. Wood and Mr. Auster.  Indeed, I look on them as leaders of our movement, and I’ve benefitted greatly from both of them.  Here, though, my must defend Pope Benedict–not because he is my spiritual father, although that would be reason enough–but because these attacks are more extreme than reason will allow.  They say that we may never ally ourselves with Muslims against a common, and vastly more dangerous, liberal foe, because the Mohammadans deny the divinity of Christ.  It is true, to the great sorrow of the world and especially to the souls of Muslims, that they do deny this truth.  But so do the liberals and so do the Jews.  Elsewhere, Mrs. Wood has stated that she would rather the western world commit suicide by multiculturalism than that we cease to be accomodating to the Jews.  Now, I agree that that the Jews are an admirable people, and it would impoverish us if we could not appreciate their many admirable traits.  I also would not want to see the Jews expelled from the West–despite their long history of hostility to Christendom and the certainty of their continued hostility–because a Jew who’s lived in the West his whole life has as much right to his home as I have.  I have no doubt that those few Jews who do believe in God believe in and worship the one true God.  However, we must conclude then that denying the divinity of Christ doesn’t automatically set one beyond the pale for any of us.  Indeed, while Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, many of the Jews think Him a false prophet now boiling in excrement in Hell.  The Jews do not support any kind of heteronormative marriage or any restrictions on abortion, and they and their pet organizations have done far more to secularize America than the Muslims have.  To be consistent, we must admit that a Muslim who’s lived in the West his whole life has rights we must respect.  Muslim civilization, too, is brilliant in many ways, and we should give it its due.  Of course, though we should admire the Muslims and the Jews, we should remember that they do not reciprocate our esteem.  They mean harm to our culture (although they don’t see it as harm; they sincerely believe that marginalizing our faith is for our own good), and we must respond to that prudently but proportionately.

A Christian-Muslim alliance against liberalism would be much less corrupting than a Christian-liberal alliance against Islam.  If the former marginalizes belief in the Incarnation, the latter marginalizes belief in God Himself.  I no longer recommend either coalition:  the latter because it is too monstrous to contemplate, the former because it wouldn’t work.  The fact of the matter is that we have a Muslim-liberal coalition, and it’s pretty stable.  Both sides see Christianity as the greatest evil, and both sides are contented enough that they’re gaining from their alliance.  It seems almost impossible to peel away either to our side.

How does one win a two-front war?  Generally speaking, one doesn’t.  It looks, though, like that’s what we’re stuck fighting.  Pope Benedict is right to be looking for ways to postpone hostilities with our less-dangerous enemy.  If it doesn’t work (and I expect it won’t), we’re none the worse off for trying.  Even if he doesn’t succeed in building an Adam Webb-style virtuocratic alliance, if he can at least create some friction between our two enemies, if he can put the thought into their heads that their interests might not be identical, this could really pay off.

Thoughts on academic freedom and crackpottery

Things academic freedom does not mean:

  1. Profs allowed to say whatever they want in class lectures.  They largely do have that freedom, but only because neither the department, nor the college, nor the university give a rat’s ass what goes in in classrooms.  Faculty exist to publish papers and bring in grant money.
  2. Profs allowed to write what they want, protected from having their careers hurt by tenure.  This is closer to the truth, but it’s not really what academics mean by their “freedom”.  It’s not too hard to put pressure on a tenured professor.  He still has to worry about funding, committee assignments, and promotions.  Being labeled a crackpot would be devastating to him.

Actually, it seems to me that “academic freedom” means something different in the natural sciences and in the humanities/social sciences.  For most of us natural scientists, it’s inconceivable that a department or funding agency would try to dictate our results to us.  Academic freedom for a scientist means the right to work on whatever problem he wants.  Not everybody has this freedom.  Postdocs (the one’s not on fellowships) don’t have academic freedom; they have to spend most of their time working on the problem the professor who pays their salary wants them to.  In theory, a tenured professor who was hired as a biophysicist can decide to start doing research in solid state physics, and he can’t be punished for that.  Of course, there are practical difficulties with such branching which makes it uncommon.

In the social sciences/humanities, there obviously are restrictions on what claims one can make.  Deviation from PC brings terrible retaliation–“hostile work environment” for minorities and perverts, and all that.  How do they square this with their purported commitment to academic freedom?  Perhaps JMSmith can help me out on this, but my impression is that, in the social sciences and humanities, “academic freedom” refers to the department, or perhaps the field, as a whole.  Society at large shall not retaliate against sociology as a discipline or against any particular sociology department because of sociologists’ work to delegitimize that society.  The discipline’s internal policing is an entirely separate matter.

We do have some such internal policing in the natural sciences:  the terrible assignation of someone as a crackpot.  This isn’t an official thing, of course.  Physics has no ceremony of excommunication.  Still, we all know if someone has a reputation as a loon.  How, you may ask, can a field that toys with ideas of extra dimensions and other universes ever decide that one of their number is a nut?  That, my friends, is an interesting sociological question.  In physics, there are no crackpot ideas; there are just crackpot ways of advocating them.

If there’s a generally accepted explanation for some phenomenon, you can investigate alternative explanations.  Just don’t say you believe the alternate explanation.  You can say, if you like, that you’re helping to establish the accepted position beyond doubt, if it is true, by seeing if the data can validate this theory against its most plausible competitor.  For example, in astrophysics, we’ve got people who study boson stars and quark stars, objects for which we have no evidence, as the most reasonable alternate explanation for what we think are black holes and neutron stars.  That work is accepted as not crackpot (although many also accept it as not interesting).

When it comes to really far-out stuff–like time machines and wormholes–once again, knock yourself out, but be sure to obey the following rules.  First, make sure you’ve got some more “serious” work going on at the same time.  Second, play up the outreach or teaching potential.  Morris & Thorne’s famous wormhole paper billed itself as an instructive problem for general relativity students.  They didn’t write in the introduction that they had *really* found a way to build a wormhole, and we should totally do it now.  Third, it’s probably best to hold off on that stuff until after you’ve got tenure.  Same goes with philosophy of science, e.g. interpretations of quantum mechanics & measurement problem, type stuff.

One last thing:  no conspiracy theories.  Suggesting that the field is conspiring to suppress your findings is an instant one-way ticket to crackpotdom.  The scientific community is quite indulgent, in its way, but turn on it, and it will squash you like a bug.  There actually are reasons for the rules.  Science thrives on civil disagreement, but it simply shuts down when people start trading accusations of ill-will.  We must maintain the rules that make our discourse fruitful.

The people should not have been asked

Suppose there were a kingdom where divorce and blasphemy were illegal.  The king foolishly decides to reform the government in a democratic direction.  Radicals agitate for, and get, a popular vote on the divorce and blasphemy laws.  The public votes to abolish them, and the country sinks into an Americanized sewer.  Conservatives lament, “If only we had not voted on the divorce and blasphemy laws, we would still have a faithful and pious people.”  Liberals retort, “The fact that the public voted to abolish your laws proves that they were already unfaithful and impious, but were only prevented by force from acting on their vices.  What you miss was only an illusion.”

No doubt we’ve all heard arguments like this.  It sounds convincing, but it’s wrong.  First, it assumes that only freely-chosen good behavior is valuable, but that’s obviously not the case.  Often, bad actions have bad effects, and we make laws to avoid the bad consequences of others’ misbehavior, regardless of what’s going on in their souls.  We might wish to preserve a pious public space even when most of the public doesn’t appreciate it; we might wish to protect children from the effects of divorce that their parents are too selfish or stupid to see.  In addition to this, I would say that the public affirmation of the good, and condemnation of the bad, has moral value in itself.

But there’s another reason why these sorts of arguments are wrong.  We assume that, because people voted for X when they got a chance, they were in favor of X before it became a political issue.  I think, though, that the very act of putting something to public vote and making it a matter of public debate alters the perception of the populace.  A population that has a vote on whether to keep its monarchy has already abolished its monarchy, because a king who exists only by popular desire is no king.  If a people debates whether to embrace chastity or hedonism, it has already chosen hedonism.  The moment one steps outside the demands of chastity and considers, between the chaste and hedonistic ways of life, which one gives us the most benefits, that moment one has already adopted the hedonistic perspective.  We may not judge chastity; chastity judges us, or it is not chastity.  A nation may, to a man, be willing to lay down their lives to defend their king, because they see it as their God-given duty.  When revolutionary forces overthrow the monarch, revolutionary media agitate for a democracy, and the public is asked to vote, they may very well choose democracy.  The very act of being asked has made them democrats.  I would say, because I think being a democrat is a bad thing, that an injustice has been done to them.  The nation is left with a poorer sense of authority than it had before.  The people should not have been asked.  As de Maistre said, a people should be surrounded by dogmas, i.e. unquestioned truths.

Why does the public always vote for some branch of the revolutionary party?  Why is it unthinkable that a genuine conservatism could be electorally successful?  It’s because, when the public is asked to vote on things that should be independent of popular will, it has already adopted the liberal stance.  If tradition and natural law are not binding, they can only be justified as advantageous to our private preferences.  But a society designed to satisfy our private preferences is liberalism.

Does public opinion exist before polls and voting booths measure it?  I suspect in many cases that it doesn’t.  The media, and democracy–the means by which the media rules, creates opinions by framing them and prompting them.  Then they announce triumphantly that the majority of the population supports, say, sodomitical civil unions.  Even if the media did not themselves manufacture this opinion (and, of course, they did), the reporting of it creates a new social fact.  The sexual libertarians are thrilled to find their opinion ratified by the populace, and those who don’t think perversion should receive any positive recognition learn how marginalized they are.

The era of intellectual homogenization

Steve Sailor on Charles Mann and the homogenization of the world:

Strikingly, Mann defines globalization as bringing about the dawning of the “Homogenocene”—the era of cultural and even biological homogenization. Proponents of globalization like to congratulate themselves on fostering diversity—that great talisman word of our age—the reality is that the world is becoming, in many ways, more homogeneous. Diets, for example, became more similar around the world in the wake of Columbus.

There are, by nature, two kinds of diversity: micro and macro. Globalization drives the world toward micro-diversity, but away from macro-diversity. Practically every strip mall in Los Angeles, for example, features a Mexican taco restaurant, a Cambodian donut shop, and an East Asian nail salon. Each strip mall is therefore diverse within itself. Yet, even the most ardent diversiphile has to admit that every strip mall seems an awful lot like every other strip mall in L.A.

Eventually, if the prophets of globalization prove accurate, the entire Earth will resemble one gigantic L.A. strip mall. Will that make the world more diverse or more homogeneous?

More importantly, will that make the world better?

The Homogenocene has practical advantages and disadvantages, as the history of Ireland notoriously shows. Mann writes:

“The Irish, who ate more potatoes than anyone else, had the biggest boom: the nation grew from perhaps 1.5 million in the early 1600s to about 8.5 million two centuries later.”

But while the Peruvians had developed about 40 different species of potatoes, which provided them with a safety margin of genetic diversity against potato parasites, only one Peruvian species was taken to Ireland. That made things simple, standardized, and efficient. Then, in 1845, a potato blight began to devastate the crop. A million Irish starved to death.

I wish that Mann had developed further his theme of the benefits and dangers of the Homogenocene. For example, the global dominance of the English language in the 21st Century certainly makes life more convenient for English-speakers. Why bother learning a foreign language anymore?

But is the world in danger of entering an intellectual Homogenocene in which global discourse is restricted to merely that which is considered appropriate in the English-speaking media capitals of New York, Washington, London, and Los Angeles? For example, Alexander Solzhenitsyn couldn’t get his last two books published in New York because they, apparently, offended local prejudices.

Is the world putting too many eggs in too few intellectual baskets?

More importantly, is the globally enforced consensus true?

“He gave me Himself”

In the first creation, He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost.  Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself.  But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself?  Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

–Bernard of Clairvaux (from On Loving God)

Reading the French Right: a dual book review

The French Right:  from de Maistre to Maurras, edited and introduced by J.S. McClelland

Critics of the Enlightenment:  readings in the French counter-revolutionary tradition, edited and translated by Christopher Olaf Blum

These are two good anthologies of writings by leaders of the French counter-revolutionary movement.  They compliment each other very well; the editors of each volume had very different ideas about the significance of the French Right.  Critics of the Enlightenment (hereafter CotE) has a forward by Philippe Beneton, who takes the standard line that the French Right were immoderate and inferior copies of Burke.  He misrepresents the French reactionaries’ beliefs, saying they rejected reason and based themselves solely on French tradition, and then proceeds to critique those beliefs.  I seriously wonder if he even read the book he was forwarding, because none of the authors therein make such an argument, and Le Play at least claimed to derive his conclusions from systematic observation.  Blum in his introduction makes it clear that he sees the French Right’s critique of individualism as culminating in Catholic social teaching, and it is a fact that Pope Leo XIII was strongly influenced by them.  The writers Blum chose are all Catholics (although Le Play spend much of his adult like outside of the Church before returning to the faith) and they are very focused on economic issues, culminating in la Tour du Pin’s vision of a Catholic Corporate State.

McClelland is uninterested in Catholicism, and he seems to regard conservatism as a defunct ideology, interesting only because it was one of the currents of thought that coalesced into fascism.  The entire importance of the French Right, for him, as a cause of Vichy France.  Thus, his introduction to every speaker seems to end with “…which had strong echos in Vichy”.  (Incidentally, if the French Right is only interesting as a cause of Vichy, then it must be much less interesting than the German army.)  Like Beneton, he thinks the French Right rejected universal reason, and again this can be disproved by the very writings he’s collected.  Maurras says quite clearly that he rejects the philosophes not just because they used abstract principles and ignored French particularities, but that the abstract principles they used are wrong even on the abstract level.  The French Right (hereafter TFR) and CotE only overlap with one writer:  de Maistre.  Characteristically, Blum includes passages from On the Pope, and McClelland takes his musings on war from the Saint Petersburg Dialogues.  The writers in TFR are overwhelmingly nonCatholic.  It would seem that these books show two distinct counter-revolutionary traditions; let us call them the “Catholic” wing and the “positivist” wing of the counterrevolution, and let us recall that, before the Vatican’s foolish condemnation of Action Francaise, they were allied.

Several reoccuring themes in CotE deserver note.  First, there is much effort on the Catholic side to construct a useable past, a good core of the Ancien Regime underneath the abuses that deserves to be preserved or resurrected.  I don’t mean that they falsify history, any more than the imposition of a single narrative on a nation’s history must be a falsification; I mean that they felt a need to counter the Enlightenment narrative of a past of nothing but ignorance and oppression brought to an end by the glorious rule of revolutionaries.  Authors identify what they see as key aspects of the ancient French constitution.  For Maistre, it is theocracy, and was even before the French became Christian.  For Bonald, it is familism:  the state regards families rather than individuals.  A familiy itself holds a title of nobility, and such titles are (or rather should have been) tied to duties.  Le Play also points to the family, but to its independence.  The norm is that each family has a separate house.  (He congratulates the West on not falling into the shame of rental apartment buildings.)  He also credits the West with hitting the sweet spot in family inheritance with the so-called “stem family”, in which family patrimonies are preserved by inheritance going to one brother, while other brothers make their own way, giving them a spur to innovation while leaving a family support mechanism they can come back to.  For Keller and la Tour du Pin, it is the medieval corporate structure, in which every way of life had a publicly and ecclesiastically sanctioned organization to give it voice and order, that should inspire us.

Eugene Genovese credited American Southern conservatives with giving due consideration to the kind of economic base they would need to support the traditional society they wanted.  In this, he says they were unlike modern conservatives.  The French Right certainly also deserves credit for its attention to such basic issues.  For Bonald and Le Play, the attention was on preserving France’s agrarian way of life, and primogeniture as part of that life.  By the time of Keller and la Tour du Pin, this was apparently a lost cause, and they decided that the pressing task was to rescue the urban prolitariate.  Their proposed associations/corporations would be more like medieval guilds than modern labor unions in that they would be mandatory across a trade, they would set quality and training standards, they would have social and mutual-help functions, and they would have a part in the government.

Most of the space in TFR is given over to Barres and Maurras.  Of all the writers included, Barres comes closest, in his writings on the Dreyfus Affair, to the anti-universalism that supposedly drives the French Right.  He does think that the intellectuals’ commitment to Kantian universalism leads them to ignore the need to protect the French nation’s interests and character.  I expect he was right that very few Dreyfusards gave a fig whether Dreyfus was innocent or guilty; they just saw in the case an opportunity to humiliate the nation, eviscerate the army, and persecute the Church.  Barres makes it clear that he himself doesn’t care.  He would rather Dreyfus had never been tried, or that the case had never been revisited; either would be better than letting the nation tear itself up about it.

The exerpts from Maurras in TFR are worth whatever you pay for the book in itself.  Especially good is “Dictator and King”, his royalist manifesto.  A healthy constitution, Maurras says, should have authority at the top and freedom at the bottom, but the Third Republic had reversed this, with a centralized bureaucratic despotism controling every aspect of a citizen’s life, while at the highest level of government is a parliamentary anarchy where no one thinks past the next election.  In his ideal order, citizens would govern most of their own affairs through local associations, while a strong king would revitalize the army, suppress usury, and look to the common good.

The selections are not of uniformly high quality.  In CotE, Chateaubriand’s contribution and half of Bonalds’, are rather forgettable.  In TFR, we have Drumont’s rant against the Jews, which combines some reasonable criticisms that Rightest still make against this people with bizarre claims, such as that Jew’s have a particular stink.  Georges Sorel is included, even though he was a far-Left wacko, presumably because his writings on violence and the social myth sounded fascist to the editor.

The counter-revolutionaries made some solid points, but they seem to have overstated their case.  Nearly to a man, they predicted that liberal rule would bring the French nation, and the other nations of the West, to total ruin.  France would be prey to foreign powers.  The middle class would disappear and the working class be immiserated to the point of destitution.  This obviously hasn’t happened (although Keller’s prediction that low-paid Chinese would become the world’s workforce has come disturbingly close).  Liberalism is obviously not as suicidal as the counter-revolution imagined.  It did prove able to counter foreign threats–indeed, rival Leftist powers, the USA and USSR, were able to divide the world between them in 1945–and it proved able to check capitalism’s worst excesses, partly by adopting some of the measures recommended in CotE.  Today, many reactionaries are still predicting liberalism’s imminant self-destruction.  We should learn a lesson from past generations and avoid predictions that will someday make us look foolish.

Every conservative should read these books.  It is important for us to reclaim our past, a past that the mainstream has forgotten and the Burkeans have deliberately sidelined.  Conservatives should know that it is not true that we have failed to critique liberal economic systems or to pose our alternatives.  We perhaps cannot adopt corporatism wholesale–economic policy must be reevaluated each generation because of changing circumstances–but we do have examples of how conservatives have reasoned about these issues in the past.  Conservatives should know how untrue is the picture painted by hostile historians (including Catholic ones) of Charles Maurras, who was neither an irrationalist, nor a lunatic, nor an aspiring tyrant.  One will not find here a complete exposition of the conservative philosophy, for the reason that no one (including Burke) has yet produced such a thing.  As I’ve said before, the Right has yet to produce its equivalent to John Rawls.  That can’t happen, though, until all the materials that must go into such a system have been gathered up, and the input of the French Right will be indispensible.

Climate change: do we have a dog in this fight?

The debate basically comes down to two questions:

  1. What is the Earth’s climate sensitivity?  Will doubling CO2 increase temperatures by 1 degree or 5 degrees?
  2. How do the costs of reducing carbon emissions compare with the costs of just adjusting to a new temperature?

Now, it seems clear to me that our ideology–whatever it was we decided to call it–doesn’t have a stake in the answers to these questions.  Of course, we do have such a stake, since we must live on the Earth and in the world economy, but we don’t have a stake as ideologues.  If the climate is very sensitive, that doesn’t in any way call into question our beliefs:  that monarchy is the best form of government, that patriarchy is the normative form of family life, etc.  The only way that our ideology might come into play is that the meaning of the word “costs” in the second question might be different for us.  I’ve argued before, though, that our priorities would actually make us more inclined to trade economic growth for climate stability than someone who didn’t value regional cultures the way we do.  That’s not to say that we wouldn’t ever decide that the price of this stability is too high, only that our commitments make us value it more rather than less.

I have heard one argument for why conservatives, as conservatives, should distrust the movement to prevent anthropogenic alterations to the climate.  It’s that this is going to end up being used as a justification to impose a socialist world-state on us, an idea that most liberals would like anyway, but something that would abhor us.  Right now, though, this is a hypothetical issue, because no measures that are really being considered to curb carbon emissions come anywhere near world socialism.  A carbon tax, for example, may or may not be a good idea, but I don’t see how it would turn the economy over to the government.

Similarly, it’s possible that global warming could serve as an excuse for the UN to push anti-natalism, contraception, and abortion on the third-world to get rid of future unwanted carbon-emitters.  Some nuts are already using it this way.  However, no one near positions of power, no matter how far on the Left, is pushing this.  If the UN decides to start forcefully sterilizing African women (which they may be doing already as far as I know–I wouldn’t put anything past those devils), we should certainly fight that.  But it would be crazy to base our case on a scientific claim about that atmosphere that might turn out to be wrong.

I realize, however, that many of my readers disagree with me on this.  You think that this is an issue on which we must take a stand.  I would like to hear your reasons for this, and I would be grateful if you would share them.

More on thought bubbles

Liberals are worried about them too.

I notice, here and in other writings by liberals on this subject, that their concern is with large-scale effects.  What will cognitive segregation do to the country?  How will democracy be able to operate?  Will democracy provide a corrective to this effect, as the above article hopes?  These are good questions, but I tend to be more focused on my own case.  I’ve seen how totally wrongheaded the majority is in its knowledge of conservatives and Roman Catholics.  How do I avoid misjudging other groups this grievously?

The most obvious way is to find the best writings of the other sides and give them a sympathetic reading.  My father-in-law, a liberal, sometimes encourages me to read newspaper editorials.  This is just too painful, though.  I don’t mind having my beliefs challenged, but that’s now what happens.  My beliefs just get insulted.  Okay, New York Times, I get it:  all Catholics are child molesters, and all conservatives are Nazis.  Fuck you.

It seems like listening to the other side shouldn’t have to be so painful.  I have read excellent noncombative books where I’ve seen others explain their belief systems:  Islam and the Destiny of Man by Gai Eton, The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, and even A Theory of Justice, for that matter.  These sorts of books are very valuable to sympathetically curious outsiders.  They’re also hard to find, particularly for me, being a Catholic.  It seems that just about every other religion and ideology puffs itself up by disparaging us.  I know I should be able to put that aside and just try to extract valuable information, but as I get older, my fuse gets shorter, the sensation of anger gets more unpleasant, and the temptation to avoid it gets stronger.  On the other hand, I don’t think that I can just trust people on “my side” to explain other belief systems to me.  That’s no substitute for a genuine encounter with other positions.

I have been toying with the idea of doing something for my opponents who may be in an analogous situation.  It might be useful to write a nonpolemical introduction to conservatism:  “Conservatism for Liberals”, if you will.  The idea is that I explain what we believe but don’t push it and don’t attack other beliefs.  Then a liberal could read this without any unpleasant rise in blood pressure and come out of it knowing a bit about what his enemies actually believe and what motivates us.  I’m probably not the person, though.  I’ve obviously staked out my position on the fringe, and no one not already on the far Right would think me a reasonable guide to anything.

What books have you read that managed to explain a rival belief system without pissing you off?