A Rubicon moment for the Anglo-American Left?

On the European Continent–especially France, Spain, and Russia–there’s never been any doubt that the Left is anti-Christian; the quest to eradicate Christianity from public life has been practically its defining feature since the eighteenth century.  Liberalism in England and America, while acknowledged by friends and enemies as a Leftist movement, has always tried to understand its relationship to Christianity, and other religions and “comprehensive” philosophies, differently.  Supposedly, Anglo-American Leftism does not require historical Christian orthodoxy to be false, only controversial or irrelevant to governing.  Liberalism presents itself as a neutral position, an agreement to disagree and not throw the weight of government coercion one way or the other.  Thus, liberals are fond of saying that a policy of legal abortion is a way of not deciding whether the act in question is murder or harmless lifestyle enhancement.  I think this claim is untenable–and I especially don’t see how the neutrality line is consistent with liberals’ insistence that the government make sure that women have easy access to abortions, as if whether or not this is something that is good to have access to weren’t the very thing liberals claim to be neutral about–but that’s an argument for another time.  Sometimes the supposed neutrality of the liberal state is presented as a recognition of how little power government has to influence the private morals of its citizens:  “You can’t police bedrooms”, and all that.  Again, there are arguments for and against this view, but at least it’s not obviously absurd.  It seems perfectly possible for someone to say, for example, “I think prostitution is utterly wicked, but attempts by the government to suppress it would be futile and counterproductive”.

In the past few years, Anglo-American liberalism has basically abandoned this “neutrality” position.  It did this by embracing the homosexual agenda.  Now, one can imagine a sodomy-friendly liberal policy that plausibly respects the strictures of official neutrality, e.g. “We liberals don’t think the state should take any position on the morality or lack thereof of homosexual acts.  We won’t punish them, and we won’t bar sodomites from government positions.  If someone thinks that what these people are doing is wrong, they are free to argue it in the free marketplace of ideas.”  However, the Left–and I mean the entire Anglosphere Left–has gone far beyond this.  It insists that homosexual relationships are positively good.  It sets aside a whole month to officially celebrate them.  It seeks to award civil benefits to those who claim to be engaged in such relationships.  It demands that public schoolchildren be taught to hold a positive view of active homosexuals.  Furthermore, the Left–and I mean the entire Left–believes that disapproval of homosexuality is itself a social vice that must be eradicated by government action.  Schoolchildren holding gender essentialist views are now actively terrorized by euphemistically-named “anti-bullying” campaigns.  The state has broken off collaborations with the Catholic Church precisely because the Church refuses to endorse what the Left regards as the unquestionable good of homosexuality.  There is no way that a liberal can say that liberalism is neutral on the moral question of homosexuality–or the related ontological/teleological question of gender; it is actively campaigning for one view and using the power of the state to discourage other views.  Nor can liberals claim that they are simply keeping their noses out of other peoples’ business because they don’t think the state has any real power to affect public morals.  The whole point of their campaign is to alter the public’s moral perceptions.  This necessarily means redefining marriage in the minds of its participants into a genderless arrangement and impeding the ability of gender essentialist and/or religious parents from transmitting their moral beliefs to their children.

So liberalism isn’t even pretending to be neutral anymore.  Fine, you might say, what’s the big deal?  I mean, nobody but a few political science professors ever really imagined it was.  Most liberal voters hold the more forthright view that their moral opinions are objectively correct and should be reflected in law for that reason.  It’s best that they drop the whole “neutrality” smokescreen now, so we can get to the serious work of arguing over whether their beliefs (utilitarianism, tolerance, etc) really are true.

But there is something new and troubling.  Aside from idolatry and possibly adultery, no sin is condemned as clearly and forcefully by the Christian tradition as sodomy.  Whether one looks at the Bible, the Fathers, Popes, or Protestant Reformers, the witness is unanimous.  Nor is this a belief that the Church just absorbed from the surrounding culture; opposition to homosexuality was, like opposition to infanticide and polygamy, one of the defining features of Christian life in opposition to paganism, whose opinion of these practices was more ambiguous.  Now, liberalism claims that not only is homosexuality morally unproblematic, but that disapproval of it is itself a grave moral fault–the supreme liberal sin of intolerance.  Thus, liberalism now claims that one of Christianity’s clearest and strongest moral stands is itself wicked.  If true, this would mean that Christianity must be a false religion.  Liberals may admit that Christianity has a few correct teachings, but they are committed to eradicating the belief that it is a reliable guide to truth about morals and human nature.

That’s the new thing.  Anglo-American liberalism has not admitted before that it wants to make it official policy that Christianity is a false religion.  The real reasons to oppose the androgynist agenda, of which the approval of homosexual perversion is only one part, are philosophical and anthropological; they don’t rely on any particular revelation.  However, it is certainly worth noting that Leftism now regards it a matter of basic justice that the religion of the majority of the American population be rejected as false.

Evangelization: how to do it?

I’d like to discuss something with my fellow Christians.  I’ll be writing from a Catholic perspective, but the Protestant position is basically the same, so I’ll be interested in everybody’s thoughts.

Jesus told us to bring the Good News to all people; evangelization is a serious duty for each of us.  My simple plan for converting the world is as follows:  there are about 1 billion Catholics in the world, and 6 billion non-Catholics.  Therefore, each of us should convert 6 people.  Done.  How hard could that be?  Just six people.  I must know dozens of non-Catholics and interact at least in small ways with hundreds.  I’ve probably got six decades of adult life, so if I wanted to, I could target one person for a whole decade (not that I think that would be a particularly effective strategy).

All right, let’s do it.  Let’s make converts.  But how?  How about the direct approach?  Preach at street corners; witness to our co-workers.  The trouble is that I can’t imagine one chance in a million of this actually working, or accomplishing anything but pissing people off.  How about the indirect approach?  “Preach” by example, by works of virtue and mercy.  This is what clergy usually tell us to do nowadays, and of course it’s a good thing, but it sounds like an excuse to not evangelize and pretend you did.  Faith can’t be spread entirely by spiritual osmosis.  At some point, we must bring up the subject of Christianity to the potential convert.  Besides, if the idea is to impress via good deeds, doesn’t that mean we have to make a point to show off to everyone how virtuous we are?  There are Biblical strictures against that.  The third strategy is prayer and fasting.  Again, those are definitely things to do, but is that really all we’re going to do to spread the faith?

To tell the truth, I have no idea how to make converts.  The correct answer, I know, is that we never really do.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not from us.  That can’t mean that we are to just sit back and wait for the Holy Ghost to start hitting people over the head; we have been told to spread the faith.  The effect (conversion) is always disproportionate to our contribution (witnessing, good example) to the cause.  Still, there must be an intelligible connection between what we do and what the Holy Spirit brings out of it.  Otherwise, why not just sit in your room and play marbles, saying that God may take your concentration on the game and, in His mysterious ways, use it for the salvation of souls?  Here’s where a theology of evangelization would be helpful; instead, theologians have spent the past century giving us arguments why we don’t need to bother with evangelizing (because, you know, everybody is already an “anonymous Christian”).

I can’t think of anything I could do to get through to these people.  I have had friends and family leave the Church, and there was nothing I could think to do to stop them.  I would always end up doing very little, thinking I should be careful to maintain a positive relationship, don’t let it turn into an argument, set myself up to “subtly” win them back later (although the opportunity for “subtle” action never does seem to arise.)  In retrospect, I half wish I had just made an ass of myself, and demanded they repent their heresies for reasons X, Y, and Z.  I can’t imagine it working, but at least when I face judgment I would have been able to say that I did something.

Right now, aside from trying to shelter the souls of my wife and daughter, this blog is my main evangelization effort.  That’s pretty puny, given that this isn’t even an apologetics blog, and I don’t give my readers reasons to convert–although if anybody wants to hear why I think he should be a Christian, I’d be happy to oblige.  However, my impression of the culture is that the main things that keep people away from and hostile to the Church are philosophical/moral/social beliefs rather than strictly theological ones.  To be a Christian, you must believe in stuff like the Incarnation, but most nonbelievers never even get as far as asking whether they believe this.  They know that the Church is hierarchical, patriarchal, and anti-democratic; they think these are damning faults, and so they never even consider the Church’s more distinct doctrines.  If I can knock down these false philosophical positions in some people, their main obstacle to the faith will be removed, and that seems like a major thing.

Still, I suspect that what I just wrote is just rationalization, that I am substituting something difficult and frightening–actually outing myself as a Christian and preaching the Gospel to people who will hate me for it–with something easy and enjoyable–blabbing anonymously on the internet.  I haven’t significantly helped in the conversion of anybody, so I’m definitely not on track to make my quota.  Even in my extended family, where I have made some efforts–encouraging prayers before meals, arguing the Church’s positions against my modernizing elders and contemporaries–it’s not clear that I’m making anything but a superficial difference.  I really don’t know what to do.

So tell me, what do you do to spread the faith?

Keep your inner weird on a tight leash

There are men who can spin nightmares out of their heads.  What a gift!  I used to think to myself that if I had the talent to write fiction, I would like to write stories like Franz Kafka’s.  I loved it how, in stories like The Hunger Artist, The Penal Colony, or The Trial, he would take a single grotesque, insane idea but human being otherwise just as they are; then he would have all the characters act as if that one thing were completely normal and focus on little practical details of how to deal with it.  Then in grad school, I discovered the old 1960’s The Twilight Zone and thought it was the best television show ever.  Rod Serling had a real talent for the eerie, for creating the situation that starts out almost normal but just slightly “off”,  but off in the appropriately suggestive or dread-inducing way.  Take my favorite episode, Judgment Night, about an English ship in WWII separated from its convoy in a night fog, told from the point of view of a passenger who can remember nothing but his name and city of birth.  It perfectly captures the feel of being in a nightmare:  the missing details, the dread, the way you can feel events coming in the dream that haven’t happened yet.  The old Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie also does a good job with atmosphere and creepiness.

Making weirdness that is arresting and suggestive is a real gift, but to have great art, it needs to be disciplined and fitted into a coherent story with believable characters.  Coincidentally, Arts and Letters Daily has recently linked essays on two artists who show what happens when someone with the gift gets to let their inner weird loose.

Kurt Vonnegut was an entertaining science fiction writer.  That’s no small thing, and it’s too bad he didn’t seem to be satisfied with it.  Although he grew preachier with age, that’s not really what did him in artistically.  (The linked article makes the intriguing suggestion that Vonnegut lectured us on politics and culture because he thought that that’s what great authors were supposed to do, and that a “great author” image was needed to sell books.  I wonder if that’s true for many authors.)  Victor Hugo inserted a bunch of social policy essays into Les Miserables, but it’s still a damn readable story (just skip the essays).  The trouble, I think, was all the blasted playing around with the form of the novel that got to be a bigger and bigger part of his later works:  the doodles, the autobiographical asides, the inserting himself into his own novels (complete with his authorial God-like powers).  Sure, it’s entertaining at first, but you basically throw away any hope of making a dramatically compelling narrative.  I think Vonnegut’s best work was some of the earlier stuff, like The Sirens of Titan and Mother Night, where he tells pretty straight narratives.  The weirdness is still there, and it’s crucial for the novels’ success, but the weirdness is in the service of storytelling.  Slaughterhouse Five gave him, I think, the wrong signal.  Of course, that’s the book Vonnegut is most famous for, so he seems to have gotten the idea that letting his inner weird run free and undisciplined was what the readers wanted.  Still, I kept reading some of his weird books.  Breakfast of Champions, for example, had some amusing bits.  Galapagos was the last Vonnegut book I read, and it left me pretty well through with him.

Stephen Sondheim has a gift, no doubt.  Of course, nothing else he did was as popular–or as good–as West Side Story, which owes at least as much to composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins.  (About Robbins:  West Side Story is the only musical I can think of, except Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, where the dancing is a real highlight and not an annoying distraction.)  Just listen to the songs–almost any of them; there’s very little that isn’t top notch.  The music and lyrics come together perfectly.  And it’s in the service of a straightforward story, one that everyone was already basically familiar with.  Sondheim has had some other good stuff.  I own the soundtrack to Merrily We Roll Along, and I like it very much.  My parents got me the soundtrack to Passion one year for my birthday, and if I ever meet Stephen Sondheim, I’m going to ask for their money back.  Inside the tape cassette, it had an interview with him where he talked about how annoyed he was by the fact that ordinary people sing and hum to songs in West Side Story, and he didn’t want his new musical to “suffer” such a fate.  Mission accomplished, Steve.  In his later work, Sondheim has let his inner weird completely loose, tinkering with theater the way Vonnegut did with the novel, hardly bothering to engage his audience with anything that might interest them.  He’s suffered the fate of being allowed to focus on interesting ideas, while his reputation for genius saves him from having to tell compelling stories.  A musical about fairy tale characters and how “happily ever after” doesn’t really work out is a neat idea, but there’s more work to be done before it’s a good story.  (The linked article tells a damning anecdote about the audience reception of Into the Woods.)

Science fiction and fantasy writers have to be world-builders.  You need powerful weirdness to do this well.  But some writers get too wrapped up in the process, leaving art and audience behind.  Frank Herbert wrote the greatest science fiction novel of the last century.  Dune had an elaborate backdrop; Herbert worked out the history, politics, social forces, and even the religions of his galactic empire.  The sequel, Dune Messiah, was pretty good too.  I stopped with the series midway through Children of Dune, when Alia starts being visited by the ghost of Vladimir Harkonnen and cheating on her husband, or something like that.  It just wasn’t fun anymore.  My mother stuck it out for another couple of books.  Apparently Paul’s son turns into a giant worm and rules Arakkis, and then…and then…and then even the Amazon summaries become incomprehensible to me.

Reading the Lord of the Rings was one of the great experiences of my high school life.  Again, magnificent world creation.  A while later, I saw that my library had the Silmarillion; apparently Tolkien decided to abandon narrative and write some dense Middle Earth history.  I picked it up and looked at it, and then put it back on the shelf.  Maybe it’s good; I don’t know.  I would hate to have to learn that J. R. R. Tolkien let his inner weird loose.

Principles of Catholic Morality XI: Dietrich von Hildebrand

While the twentieth century was largely a rout, it did produce one outstanding expositor of Catholic moral theology.  Dietrich von Hildebrand was a student of Edmund Husserl (the most important twentieth century philosopher and a Lutheran Christian) and a convert to the Church.  Like many of the first generation of phenomenologists, von Hildebrand saw Husserl’s methods as a liberation from modern philosophy’s obsession with epistemic doubt to pursue philosophy as Plato had done it,  as an investigation of essences.  Von Hildebrand was unsatisfied with the Thomists’ teleological ethics; it seemed to miss the other-directed essence of morality.  He instead perfected the value ethics which had begun to be explored by Max Scheler (Catholic) and Adolf Reinach (Lutheran).  This gave him a way, using the tools of phenomenology, to recapture the Anselmian/Scotist insight that free beings can love justice for its own sake.  His basic position is layed out in his book Christian Ethics.  As I have written elsewhere

In that work, he identified three ways that a person may perceive something as important:  it can be merely subjectively satisfying, it can be an objective good for that person, or it can be a value—something objectively good and deserving of esteem.  Ethical behavior is a matter of appropriate value response to those values that von Hildebrand identifies as morally relevant.  Ethical behavior does promote one’s deepest objective good, but that can’t be why a morally good person does it; the value must be the main consideration.  One can respond to values both with one’s will and one’s emotions; veneration and enthusiasm would be examples of the latter.  Although our emotions are not totally under our control, we can be morally required to endorse or reject a feeling based on the objective value or disvalue of that feeling’s object.

What then is love?  Above all else, love is a value response to a person.  The lover recognizes and responds to the inner beauty and preciousness of the beloved…Love is an affective value response, i.e. a matter of emotion as well as will.  It is also a superactual value response, meaning that we maintain our love for the beloved even when we’re not consciously thinking of him.

As we see from the above, von Hildebrand’s notion of a value response is richer than just a decision of the will; it is a response of the whole soul:  intellect, will, emotion, habits, and desire.  Our thoughts and feelings as well as our acts can be true responses to objective value or disvalue.  This richness allowed von Hildebrand’s value response system to cover the whole of Christian life.  Before, wholism had been an undoubted advantage of the Thomist virtue ethics system over its Anselmian alternative.  The Thomist vision of human flourishing deals with the whole man, but so too does the vision of volitional/affective/contemplative/habitual value response.  Von Hildebrand applied this sensibility to all areas of Christian life, in the process providing a timely defense of Christian practices that were under heavy attack.  In In Defense of Purity and Man and Woman, he defended Catholic sexual ethics and the beauty of conjugal love.  In Liturgy and Personality, he brought to light the importance of formal prayer for giving an authentic response to the sacred.  In his best-loved book, Transformation in Christ, von Hildebrand attempts a more more complete picture of the spiritual attitudes of a soul allowing itself to be transformed by Christ, with wise and practical meditations on patience, humility, the willingness to change, simplicity, reflection, and contemplation.  Late in his life, he wrote The Nature of Love, which can be read as a belated response to Nygren’s severing of eros and agape, but also the most thorough and profound.  Von Hildebrand shows that, not only are the two loves compatible, but that eros can actually grow out of agape.

he breaks new ground by saying that love takes value response to a whole new level; it’s a “super value response”.  In love, I make the one I love a matter of my objective good, and not just a matter of disinterested value response.  I allow my happiness to become contingent on him returning my love and maintaining a relationship with me.  I concern myself with his objective good to such a degree that I come to relate to it in a way similar to how I respond to my own objective good.  Now, von Hildebrand insists that this new level of interest is not an intrusion of selfishness but an organic development of love.  The desire for union always bases itself on recognition of the beloved’s intrinsic value, and the value response and concern for the other’s good always take priority.  In fact, this “giving one’s heart away” so that one’s own happiness is tied to the beloved is the greatest tribute one could make to the other’s value.

Von Hildebrand’s writings are so beautiful, they really must be read to be appreciated.  Although he was a world-class philosopher, none of them (except perhaps What is Philosophy?) require any philosphical training in the reader.  Von Hildebrand’s lifelong goal was to bring souls to Christ, both in his writings and his personal life.  Those who knew him attest to his deep personal piety, his love for Jesus and the Mass, and his enthusiasm for the Church (e.g. this tribute from his widow), qualities which are already clear to his readers.

Needless to say, von Hildebrand found himself fighting the ideological currents of his day.  He even rendered some services to the reactionary cause.  When Hitler came to power, he left Germany for Austria, saying he would not live in a country run by a criminal.  In Austria, he became a main propagandist for Chancellor Dollfuss, writing an anti-Nazi, pro-Christian corporatism newsletter, and debating Catholics who thought the Church should seek an accomodation with the National Socialists.  With the Anschluss, and an order for his assassination, von Hildebrand fled to America, where he became a professor at Fordham University.  There he was forced to fight an evil zeitgeist again when a wave of heresy washed over the American Church after the unfortunate second Vatican Council.  Von Hildebrand responded vigorously, defending orthodoxy against its fashionable opponents, exposing the pantheist charlatan Teilhard de Chardin, and defending Humanae Vitae.  No doubt his oh-so-progressive students thought he was some kind of Nazi.

I myself am indebted to von Hildebrand. Intellectually, he provided me with an ethical system that made sense of my intuitions about duty, reverence, and marriage.  Personally, he was an inspiration for me.  Reading about him cured me of the idea I had inherited from the surrounding culture that it is somehow unmanly to be concerned about sexual morality and foolish to be upset by blasphemy.  Here was a man who was a fighting Christian and a serious intellect if ever there was one–there wasn’t anything the least bit sissy or hysterical about him–and he didn’t think it beneath him to defend the virtues of purity and reverence.

Pile up on social conservatives

I’ve said many times that any alliance between the MRM and genuine conservatives would be a one-sided affair; we would be expected to prioritize their goals, while they would continue attacking us with abandon.  This has been confirmed with abundance in the past week, during which numerous members of the “manosphere” have launched fresh attacks on traditionalism and social conservatism.  Dalrock accuses us of working hand-in-hand with the feminists to legitimize female promiscuity.  The Social Pathologist also accuses us of spawning feminism with our alleged lack of acknowledgment of female sexual desires.  CL has been attacking Christian arguments (or rather a caricature of Christian arguments) against masturbation and pornography, coming close to blaming all male unchastity on wives who won’t put out enough.  These are all writers whose works I admire, original and insightful thinkers who have provided important witness to forgotten truths, and the sudden attack from all of them is rather stunning.  At first I had hoped that an idiosyncratic definition of “social conservatism” and “traditionalism” were being used, but it is becoming grimly clear than by “social conservatism” they mean social conservatism.  The words “social conservative” or “SoCon” have begun to be used as a term of abuse.  If only we would just die, the assumption seems to be, the disciples of Roissy could step up and retake the culture.  “SoCons” are to blame for everything wrong in the world today.

Could it be that the reason men’s advocates think they could do such a better job protecting the culture from feminism is that they haven’t had to try yet?  What political or cultural movement in the past half-century has been motivated by their ideas?  The central fact that our slanderers will not mention is that the only resistance to feminism in the past century has been from religious, i.e. social, conservatives.  We’re the ones who’ve been in the trenches fighting feminism and depravity all this time.  Not many feminists bother attacking “Game”–most of them haven’t heard of it.  All their attacks our directed at us–the Catholic Church, the evangelicals, and the social conservatives.  In fact, I’ll go further:  without the Catholic Church and the Protestants who get called “puritan” or “fundamentalist”, there would be no Right, no opposition to feminism, anywhere in the West.  Might I suggest to the rear-line generals of the MRM that some of the reasons for the things we do is that we’re the ones who actually have to worry about feminist counterattacks and about swaying the public?  It’s all well and good for the MRM to say that SoCons emphasize male fault more than female fault.  It’s we Catholics who are getting attacked as “misogynist” for our opposition to abortion, divorce, and promiscuity.  Arguments that center on female perfidy play right into this image of the “women-hating old celibates” and go nowhere.  We downplay that side of things so that our critique of female impurity and selfishness will have a chance of being heard.  Similarly, it’s easy enough on Game websites to boldly proclaim that all women are whores who respond only to “gina tingles”.  If you were actually trying to convince women to be chaste and faithful, you would have to grant them some moral agency.  It might also strike you as unhelpful to shit on the great theologians and saints of the Church for being insufficiently “carnal” when these women have already been told their whole lives that the world revolves around their vaginas.  As for male sexual sins, biblical exegesis aside, the reasons for the grave wickedness of onanism are not hard to grasp.  I would ask readers to read those two posts before saying that there is no case against it.  Masturbation is the scrap the sexual revolution throws to unattractive or introverted men.  Having (unfortunately) commited my share of sexual sins during college and then talking to several men about their sexual sins, I find the solitary vice distinct among vices for the despair it brings to those in its clutches.  They really think that they can’t stop; that two weeks is the most a man can endure without some kind of sexual release.  Like many sins, it is far easier to not start than to stop, and we do men no favors to concealing the gravity of this vice.  This isn’t ideology.  This is what I’ve seen talking to men, and where I myself might be if it weren’t for Jesus Christ and the Blessed Sacrament.

I am also unimpressed that traditionalism does a better job promoting a male-friendly culture with healthy male-female relationships than “Game”.  It is the latter, after all, that joins feminism in blaming the victim when a wife cheats; they say it means her husband wasn’t “alpha” enough.  We Christians have no trouble admitting that women have sex drives; we just don’t obsess over it like our adolescent detractors.  We don’t give a fuck if the little princesses have lots of orgasms; what we care about is that their husbands know that their children are theirs.  If women have to “repress” themselves to meet this hardly lofty aim, so be it.  In our fallen condition, everyone has to repress a little.  Any society organized around female sexual fulfillment is going to be organized ass-backwards.  Nor is it true that Christianity has some sort of lopsided emphasis of agape over eros.  In fact, I’ve demonstrated in previous posts that the moral theology of Augustine and Aquinas is already excessively erotic.  We must, however, not reduce eros to its carnal dimension; that is a far worse error than ignoring the carnal dimension altogether.  Eros is a desire for a full interpersonal communion.  As Joseph Peiper said, eros is what connects agape and sex and humanizes the latter.  When we realize that true eros desires an I-Thou union, we see that Game is actually hostile to eros because it teaches the man to regard his partner as an It to be manipulated rather than a Thou to be communicated with.

So, where is all of this leading.  It seems that the antifeminist blogosphere wants SoCons out.  We’re about to be as welcome on their parts of the web as NeoCons are on the Alternative Right.  Of course, the expulsion of the SoCons won’t mean the expulsion of all Christians; the ones with a suitable inferiority complex can stay, the ones who say that two millenia of reflection on the human condition is useless, and that we must take lessons from a bunch of cads.  Well, no thank you.  If I wanted to chuck my tradition and suck up to some modern fad, I would become a Marxist like my academic peers.  They at least have a genuinely impressive intellectual edifice built up.

If somebody wants to do a better job fighting feminism than the SoCons, I sincerely invite them to try.  If somebody wants to argue that I’m a dumb feminist patsy, bring it on, mother fucker.

Pascal on custom and authority

Micheal Paterson-Seymour passes on this quote from Pascal:

“On what shall man found the order of the world which he would govern? Shall it be on the caprice of each individual? What confusion! Shall it be on justice? Man is ignorant of it…

Nothing, according to reason alone, is just in itself; all changes with time. Custom creates the whole of equity, for the simple reason that it is accepted. It is the mystical foundation of its authority; whoever carries it back to first principles destroys it. Nothing is so faulty as those laws which correct faults. He who obeys them because they are just obeys a justice which is imaginary and not the essence of law; it is quite self-contained, it is law and nothing more. He who will examine its motive will find it so feeble and so trifling that, if he be not accustomed to contemplate the wonders of human imagination, he will marvel that one century has gained for it so much pomp and reverence. The art of opposition and of revolution is to unsettle established customs, sounding them even to their source, to point out their want of authority and justice. We must, it is said, get back to the natural and fundamental laws of the State, which an unjust custom has abolished. It is a game certain to result in the loss of all; nothing will be just on the balance. Yet people readily lend their ear to such arguments. They shake off the yoke as soon as they recognise it; and the great profit by their ruin and by that of these curious investigators of accepted customs.”

 

Corruption and other dangers

Conservative partisans of democracy make it their special boast that they are alert to the dangers that power will corrupt anyone who wields it, and that power must therefore be divided, broadly shared, and accountable.  For the sake of argument, I will grant that democracy does a very good job of checking corruption.  I even think it’s possible that today’s democratic governments constitute the least corrupt ruling class in history.  I do find it odd, though, that democrats make such a big deal out of such a small problem.

Corruption is when a public official uses his office to pursue his own good rather than the public good:  taking bribes, embezzling public funds, having the police harass his private enemies, that sort of thing.  A free press and regular elections might help discourage that sort of thing.  The problem today, at least in the developed world, is not corruption.  The problem is purity.  Corruption is one of the things that make Leftist rule bearable.  If all the civil servants with an itch to save the world were to just take their salaries and do nothing, I would consider that public money well spent.  But these busybodies aren’t corrupt, and they can’t be bought off so easily.  They take their public moneys and use them to try to inflict social justice on the rest of us.  And so it is with our elected rulers too, who become more tolerable the more corrupt and hypocritical they become.  Unfortunately, they do have a strong accountability mechanism–the free press–that spurs them to be more pure, that is, more pitilessly fanatical.

The danger of corruption, as I have defined it, is much different from the danger of tyranny or hubris.  Robespierre was incorruptible, unfortunately.  Suppose we redefine “corruption” to take these other vices into account, so that we can say that a politician is “corrupted” by ideological recklessness or imprudence.  If we focus on these vices, though, it should be clear that it is not power that corrupts, but powerlessness that corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.  The ruling party is forced to confront practical realities, to distinguish between the ideal and the possible.  The party out of power tries to win favor with the multitude by ideological posturing, making demands of the state that are unattainable or counterproductive.  Then, after making their silly and pointless demands (“The ruling party should fix the economy, make sure all Americans have jobs, eliminate the national debt while increasing social spending and subjugating all our enemies worldwide”), the party out of power sits back and hopes bad things will happen to its country, so it can reap the benefits.  Throughout my adult life, this has been the pattern:  it’s always the party in power–whichever one it is–that acts the most responsibly.  Perhaps this is the advantage of different parties controlling different branches of government, not to keep any party from becoming absolutely powerful, but to prevent any party from becoming absolutely powerless and thus devoid of responsibility.

Is this an argument for democracy then, to give the people power so that they won’t be corrupted by powerlessness?  No, because the perverse incentives that make powerlessness so corrupting are created by elections and the press.  People certainly should be invested with responsibilities, since these are schools of the virtues, but this is not done through giving them power as a mass, but through our individualized responsibilities as parents, siblings, neighbors, and professionals.