Liberalism and its hosts

I tend to be suspicious of claims that liberalism is some big Jewish conspiracy.  The ideology of liberalism obviously has a life of its own.  Plus, liberalism is eating away Jewry just like all other particular groups.  True, Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, but that’s natural given that they’re a subculture that wants to, if not displace the majority culture, at least overthrow that culture’s prominence; Jews are also vastly overrepresented in revolutionary movements, but that also is natural given their Leftism, high IQ, and verbal aggressiveness.  It would seem natural for Jews in Israel–where the established culture to be preserved is theirs–to be more conservative, and that is more or less what we find.

Still, Daybreaker presented an intriguing theory which would mean a tighter connection between liberalism and the Jews.  It would be a shame for it to get lost in my comments:

The main problem liberalism would theoretically face is that man must have religion, sex roles and in-groups with some degree of genetic solidarity, and that liberalism, by deconstructing essential aspects of human life will erode any distinct, particular and thus potentially sustainable people that becomes the bearer of its message and the enforcer of its laws. This horse gallops fast, but it kills its rider, and so it doesn’t seem likely to win many races.

That problem could be overcome if the horse could be passed on to any rider with equal success. But Haiti, for example, shows that’s not the case. The sentiments of liberalism had knock-on effects that led to the utter destruction of the Whites there, but post-genocide Haiti did not become the new bearer and enforcer of the liberal message. Nor did Zimbabwe become a liberal Mecca, nor is South Africa becoming a liberal mecca.

The other solution would be an un-killable rider. An ethny with great resistance to the virulence of liberalism, and with great inner resources to regenerate the damage that liberalism imposes, could enjoy the kind of advantage over its ethnic rivals that disease-carrying Europeans had over the the natives of the Americas. And this is the situation that we have.

If it was not so, such a fierce plague would have burned itself out centuries ago.

Since it is so, the plague will not burn itself out, or not till everything that I for one care about has been exterminated from the world, and not till a new and much worse world will have been created.

Liberalism would be long-gone if it really created a world opposed to religion, but what it really creates is a part of the world called for by one supremely tough, survival prone religion, that is the profane, empty, demoralizing, deracializing and ultimately all-destroying world outside the boundaries of the only really holy people and the one true God’s special concern with that people.

It can even support healthy demographics through strong sex roles, ethnic solidarity and genetic segregation, by supporting a distinction between us the holy and them the vile. This is how the Amish get by.

But woe unto them that don’t have such a demographic hinterland to call on to refresh their numbers.

And woe unto those who don’t have within the same collective an elite able to dominate events in the corrupted world, for they have lost all control of their destiny in a world where the highly leveraged financial instrument, the all-media blitz and the predator drone dominate the piggy bank, the weekly sermon and the horse and buggy.

And woe, black woe, unto those who can’t set up the complicated kind of social arrangement needed for long-term collective survival in a world where public space is being flooded with social poison, because the authorities and institutions they look to will not do it, or because the first movers in this poisoned environment have marked them out as enemies and won’t let them segregate themselves and survive.

We conservatives are always telling ourselves that liberalism is unstable, it destroys its own basis, it’s on its last legs.  We always have pretty good arguments for these predictions, but they always end up being spectacularly wrong.  In fact, when a conservative announces the imminent demise of liberalism, that’s a pretty good sign that liberalism is about to have a great victory leading to several more decades of unquestioned hegemony, while its opponents disappear in a puff of smoke.  What gives?  My suspicion is that a lot of this “liberalism is social suicide” talk is just wishful thinking on our part.  We may not like liberal society, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to collapse on its own.  On the other hand, maybe liberalism really is as host-destroying as it seems it should be.  Then there needs to be an explanation of why it didn’t already fall apart long ago.  Hence Daybreaker’s theory:  a culture that bears liberalism but is immune to its host-destroying effects.  If I read him right, the Jews are the example par excellence.  If they were the only example, then liberalism would be in big trouble, because I think that nut has been cracked via increasing intermarriage.  Liberalism is pulling down the Jews.  However, the liberal elite itself might be thought of as another example.  They live fairly conservatively, taking care not to experiment with their own marriages.  While they proudly disdain loyalty to their countrymen, they are intensely loyal and chauvinistic regarding their true people–the international liberal elite itself.  They have a common creed from which they do not brook dissent.  They yield liberalism as a weapon to remove the resources of family, group solidarity, and religion from their rivals.  The ruin liberalism does to these groups actually makes the system more secure.

Which brings me back to my original belief.  Liberalism itself isn’t suicidal on a foreseeable timescale.  True, there may be an economic or environmental collapse on the horizon, but this may not discredit liberalism, and it may actually strengthen it.

Where does brainwashing occur today?

JMSmith, who is an actual sociologist (while I just sometimes pretend to be one) objects to my use of the term “brainwashing” to describe any influencing of peoples’ attitudes by conditioning.  On the other hand, he suggests a case where brainwashing proper is taking place today:

I would reserve the term “brainwashing” for one very specific means of inducing conviction, and not use it as an umbrella term denoting all non-rational noetic techniques. As developed in the USSR, brainwashing always aimed at political recantation and re-education, so that a brainwashed subject must undergo “conversion.” American children indoctrinated by years of television haven’t been brainwashed, since there never was a time that they consciously disbelieved what they now believe. The basic technique, as I recall, is to infantilize the subject, place him in circumstances of acute distress, and then introduce a “friend” whom the subject will wish to please. It basically plays on (a) fear of abandonment and (b) our disposition to “fit in” by believing what our friends believe.

I believe something like brainwashing can occur when young men and women go off to college. They are at first helpless, disoriented, and very much in the market for a friend. If “fitting in” with some new friends requires dramatic adjustments in their political, religious, and moral views, these adjustments will be made.

Conservatives and Jim Crow

What is a reactionary to make of pre-sixties segregation in the American South?  For Leftists, the answer is easy:  non-merit related discrimination, especially state-sponsored racial discrimination, is bad.  Leftists also have a ready explanation for how bad laws like this arose:  discrimination, and ethnic loyalty in general, are rooted in fear of the Other, which in turn comes from defective personality types and insufficient “education”.  Segregation is, in fact, Exhibit B for the liberals’ hatred-based understanding of ethnocultural solidarity.   (You all know what Exhibit A is.)

For reactionaries, discrimination is not necessarily bad, not even if it ends up dividing by races.  On the other hand, it’s not necessarily good either.  We certainly acknowledge that there can be invidious or stupid discrimination, just as there can be appropriate discrimination.  Once racial/cultural/sexual discrimination has been identified, the job of morally evaluation is done for the Leftist but only started for the Rightist.

Even if he ends up agreeing with the liberal that this particular instance of discrimination was bad, the reactionary will certainly reject the liberal’s explanation for it.  He denies that ethnocentrism–even when found in whites–is rooted in hatred.  But then he must explain how these laws did arise.

What then are the legitimate types of discriminatory arrangements?  They tend to fall into two types.

  1. The ghetto:  members of different cultures are separated so each culture will have space to instantiate itself
  2. The caste: society divides people according to function

Both the ghetto and caste systems, when properly arranged, provide some dignity and status to each party.  They do not tend, of course, to be egalitarian–some castes are higher than others, and ghetto walls have a definite “inside” and “outside”–but neither system should just be a matter of one party tormenting or exploiting the other.

The negroes were, of course, brought over as slaves.  Slave society is a kind of caste system, but only a morally legitimate one if slaves have definite rights and status.  Southern reformers hoped to push the slave society in this direction (i.e. to expunge the idea of slaves being property), but before that transformation could be completed, slavery was abolished.  Given post-13th Amendment American legal egalitarianism, an official caste system was now off the table.  Still, centuries of distinction had created two separate subcultures–white and black–and, understandably, neither was willing to annihilate itself by submersion in the other.  There was still the ghetto option of physical separation.  The fullest separation was the Liberia plan, which didn’t work.  Instead, America got segregation–laws and customs designed to keep whites and blacks separate, but not a system that really truly separated them.  The system, subsisting between the two models, had the coherence of neither.  The only part about it that was sensible for cultural preservation purposes was putting black and white children in separate schools.  The negro got neither the status of a caste nor the status of directing his own independent communities.  He got no positive status from segregation at all and experienced the system as pure humiliation.  This was indeed iniquitous.

The biggest difference between how liberals and conservatives see segregation is that liberals see it as a typical case of what ethnic/cultural loyalty leads to, while conservatives see it as an anomaly.  Of course, most real-world arrangements are imperfect and therefore “anomalous” to some extent, but Jim Crow was atypical in being such a muddle that it’s hard to see how any of it could have worked to maintain the two cultures of the South.  The conservative will, however, be sympathetic to this goal of cultural preservation.  There should be some way that whites and blacks can each venerate their separate ancestors (and thus continue being conscious of being two distinct subcultures) while getting along with each other.  Liberalism promised itself as the way to do this, but it hasn’t worked out, because it demands that whites revile their ancestors, which is cultural suicide.  Americans don’t like the ghetto or caste systems, but they’ve yet to find an alternative that accomplishes the same thing.

A new age

How odd that we’d just been noting the death of one Cold Warrior (the commie Christopher Hitchens), when now I’ve just read about the death of two much more important Cold War figures:  Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il.  Havel was, of course, a great hero of the anti-Communist resistance, while Kim was one of the last of the old-style communist dictators.  Both of them seem oddly out of place today.  The ultimate issue is the same now as it was forty years ago, but the forms are changed, and many of the old labels are no longer useful.  (How odd it sounds to me when I hear someone accused of being a “socialist”.)

Havel’s classical liberalism seems like something from another age; it doesn’t address the questions that vex us, now that the choices we face are no longer “communism” vs. “democracy”.  We certainly must honor him for fighting the great evil of communism, and for fighting it on the correct grounds:  not that it was inefficient, but that it was morally corrupting.  Still, I could imagine his anti-totalitarian writings inspiring either side of today’s great debate, since each side accuses the other of forcing the public to profess obvious falsehoods.

And how quaint is North Korean brutality!  It’s as if they’re the only ones to get the memo that that isn’t how the Left operates anymore.  Now that the society-altering visions of today’s Leftists are less ambitious than were those of Lenin and Mao, but they’ve learned how to work toward them without yielding a huge crop of martyrs.  People and organizations who openly oppose the Left will get broken, but they won’t be martyrs.  Can you imagine a professor losing his job for writing against a cherished Leftist belief?  Perish the thought!  Of course, sometimes people must be let go for creating hostile work environments, environments where gay and transgendered students feel insufficiently “affirmed”.  Can you imagine a Leftist government confiscating Church property because it disapproves of Catholic doctrines?  That’s so 1920s!  Now we look for some crime, like adolescent sexual abuse, that Catholic clergy engage in at the roughly same rate as the rest of the population, gather together every accusation–viable or not–over the entire globe over the course of 60 years (which inevitably creates a large absolute number sure to impress the mathematically illiterate), and use your pet media to create a moral panic.  Then bend statute of limitation laws only against the Church and award order-of-magnitude larger settlements than other organizations face for comparable offenses, and pretty soon you can eradicate the communal patrimony of an entire religious group (made largely of working-class ethnic whites and hispanics) while making sure that they get no sympathy in the process.  No, anyone who objects to this ongoing cultural genocide will be accused of not caring about “the chiiiillllddddrrren!!!!”  (Me:  “But how does it help children to obsess every few years over the same set of accusations from the 1970s?  Today, priests in most parishes aren’t even allowed to be alone with children anymore.  And why don’t we spare some attention for the much vaster problem of child sexual abuse in other institutions?”  Them:  “Don’t change the subject!  If you really loved your children, you wouldn’t ask those questions!”)  Don’t you see how stupid the communists were?  They allowed people to go to jail explicitly for their beliefs.  When the Left attack me, they’ll tell the world either that I don’t respect my students or that I don’t love my kids.  Today’s Kims have learned how to avoid making Havels.

In the city of the damned

Here’s a thought experiment.  Suppose you received a supernatural revelation telling you that you are, in fact, on of the reprobate.  No matter what you do, you’re headed for the pit.  This is very discouraging, no doubt, but what do you do about it?  Do you consider that you might as well go ahead and sin as much as you want, filling the hours between now and hellfire with cruelty, impiety, and lust?  Of course not.  Evil acts have an objective disvalue even apart from the harm they do to the soul.  They offend God–who, even if He damns us, deserves our fullest love–and disturb what Saint Anselm called “the order and beauty of the universe”.

Now suppose there were a city of reprobates, and that you ruled this city and knew the terrible destiny of all its inhabitants.  Or suppose you ruled a city of devils.  What kind of laws would you make?  Would you let them engage in every kind of wickedness, because no law could possibly help their salvation?  Would you have only a few laws to maintain basic civil peace, to make the temporal lot of these reprobates or devils as pleasant as possible?  Or would you enforce God’s laws?  I’m not going to argue with you about which is the correct thing to do.  To me, the answer is self-evident, and I expect it is equally self-evident to those who will disagree with me.  It seems to me that the social kingship of Christ can and should be established even over a city of the damned.  Every individual soul may opt for rebellion against God, but the collective will is distinct from the individual wills.  I think there’s some value in the public will being aligned with the Good.  It’s not as valuable as having immortal souls aligned with the Good, but it is still very important.  Besides, sins have objective disvalue, and preventing them from happening makes the cosmos a better place, even if it doesn’t reform the souls that are constrained from doing evil.  So I would make laws against theft, adultery, prostitution, euthanasia, and blasphemy and enforce them by the threat of harsh punishments if that was the only thing my wicked subjects would respond to.

Now, I still think this idea that having a depraved culture makes no difference to one’s chances of salvation is crazy, but even if it were true, you can see that it doesn’t change anything for me.  After all, as far as we know, we do live in the city of the damned.

Do we need intellectuals?

What do we mean by “intellectuals”?

The original meaning was “Dreyfusard”, more generally an ideologue of the Left, an anti-clerical working for the social marginalization of Christianity.  By that definition, we certainly don’t need intellectuals.  The world would be immeasurably better without them.

Of course, the common meaning for “intellectual” is broader.  It’s also rather vague, so let’s see if we can nail it down a bit.  How about this:  an intellectual is a person who does original intellectual work for a broad public audience.  This would distinguish intellectuals from specialists on the one hand, who write only for their particular community of scholars, and popularizers on the other, whose work for general audiences just presents the scholarly consensus rather than presenting new arguments.  By my definition, it’s possible to be both a specialist and a popularizer without being an intellectual, and this says nothing about that person’s intelligence or creativity.  Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking would be examples among physicists who, as far as I know, did their original work in exclusively in physics journals, but also wrote successful books for the general public.  (Feynman’s popular book on QED is really marvelous, by the way.  He builds up all the basic ideas behind the theory pictorially.)  Physicist intellectuals might include Arthur Eddington, Freeman Dyson, and Roger Penrose.  All of these did their “serious” specialized work first, but also presented first-rate new stuff to the public.  Eddington’s writings on the philosophy of science made a big impression got referred to by philosophers and theologians long after they were written.  Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind is a wonderfully broad and exciting book which amazingly brings together why he thinks artificial intelligence will never work, why time reversibility is a flaw in the laws of physics, how gravity might affect the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, …  Of course, if you’re going to attempt something ambitious like this, it helps to already have a solid reputation as a genius, as Penrose (and Eddington and Dyson) had.

The above examples are all scientists, where the specialist/general audience gap is hardest to bridge.  Where a subject is a matter of public interest–e.g. anything relating to politics–the gap can be leaped more easily.  Political scientists have it easy.  The End of History and The Clash of Civilizations were both big intellectual hits when I was younger.  Like The Bell Curve, everybody had a cartoon version of what was in these books and could tell you why they were wrong and were horrible, wicked ways of thinking.  To name just one philosopher intellectual,  Josef Peiper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture presented a new and important argument directly to the general public.  Intellectuals can even do their work entirely outside an academic community, e.g. Jane Jacobs.

By this definition, I think it is beneficial to have intellectuals.  Historically, they are more important than specialists, because the specialists can only exist after the intellectuals–the Galileos, for example–have established a field of inquiry and brought together a community of interest.  Intellectual conservatism only exists because of intellectuals like Roger Scruton; our voices are not welcome in academia, and they play little part in the debates of professional political philosophers.

A final definition:  an intellectual is a person who does intellectual work and is precisely not a specialist in any field.  In other words, people who mouth off about everything without knowing much about anything.  People who have never subjected their minds to the discipline of going deep into any subject and who deliberately abstain from learning the subtleties of any question they address.  Because they don’t really know anything, these intellectuals are valued for their rhetorical skills or their supposed moral passion.  (Note the large overlap with the Dreyfusard definition.)  Christopher Hitchens is an example that comes to mind, but in all fairness G. K. Chesterton would also fall into this category.  I doubt one man in a million has a similar opinion of these two men (I certainly don’t); what you think about them no doubt depends on whether you agree with them.  I am often surprised by the seriousness and depth I find in Chesterton hidden behind his glib style.  I’m sure some atheist and neoconservative readers would say they’ve found layers of profundity in Hitchens that are entirely invisible to me.  Still, even I would say that Chesterton’s tendency to mouth off prior to careful study marred his work.  One sees it in his sharing the fashionable prejudice against Calvinists, his overly rosy view of the French Revolution, and his anti-evolutionism.

I think it should be made more difficult rather than less for someone to win respect as an intellectual of this sort.  I would like there to be a social penalty if someone writes on a subject, and their work is then shown to be inexcusably ignorant.  People should make fun of them.  Publishers and readers should be wary of them in the future.  Instead, there seems to be an effort to make a place for these people.  Today, that place is the editorial columns of the newspapers.  There is, in fact, a strong prejudice I’ve found among the educated that one can’t really be an informed person without reading the editorials in the major newspapers.  This really baffles me.  Why should I care what journalists think about this or that issue?  What do they know that I don’t?  We shouldn’t be overly credulous to specialists either, but there is at least some sense in reading the opinion of an expert.  In the opinions of a journalist I see no value at all.  It’s especially odd given the things about which the educated class feel safe in boasting their ignorance.  The doctrines of religions they despise, for example.  As it gets easier to be an intellectual of this sort, they keep getting stupider and stupider.  Consider the line of devolution that runs from Erasmus (with his silly scholastic-baiting but serious translation work) to Voltaire (with his mindless anti-Catholic bigotry but respectable histories) to Hitchens (an all-around ignoramus).  The barriers to entry need to be raised.

Liberal-baiting and evangelization

I certainly agree with Reggie that most people don’t think that much about politics, which is fine, so when trying to save souls, we shouldn’t drag that sort of thing in unnecessarily.  If someone asked me why I believe in Jesus, it would probably not be a good idea to start with a defense of patriarchy.

On the other hand, it is not uncommon for a person to be attracted to Christianity but to have misgivings about joining the Church because he sees the Faith as being in conflict with what he thinks are indisputable liberal moral truths about tolerance, freedom, and whatnot.  I suspect that Reggie, a liberal Catholic, would handle such a case differently from how I, a reactionary Catholic, would.  We would both tell what we think is the truth.  He would say that the contradiction between the Faith and liberalism is only apparent, the appearance of incompatibility being an unfortunate historical accident, so the potential convert may set his mind at ease and accept both.  I would say that the contradiction is logically inescapable, that where they conflict Christianity is true and liberalism is false, and that the potential convert should realign his allegiances accordingly.

Who is right?  Of course, it’s easy to show that counter-Reformation Catholicism and Jacobinism contradict each other, but that doesn’t prove anything.  We need to know if, to find versions of Christianity and liberalism that don’t conflict, we have to bend one or the other so far that it loses its essence.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch; there’s a big intellectual industry dedicated to hammering out compatibility between Christianity and liberalism (although one finds that the vast majority of the hammer blows always end up being directed at the Christian side).  For example, there’s core-dogma-only Christianity, which I believe is basically the position of Garry Wills.  The idea is that Christianity means only its key doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity; it has no anthropological or ethical content whatsoever.  I can believe that God became man and that it’s okay to kill preborn babies without obvious contradiction, so there you go!  Everything we believe about what man is, how he should live, and how he should live in common shall be determined by liberalism.  Christianity is then tacked on as a couple of beliefs with no application to life whatsoever.  This position is obviously not credible.  Historically, Christianity has always been understood to have an ethic attached to it, and for good reason.  How man should behave depends on what man is, and what man is determines what it means for God to have become man.  So the Incarnation is affected after all.  If by “man” we mean a being without a normative essence defined solely by his automony, than, no, the Son did not become that.

A more interesting candidate is individualist Christianity.  The individualistic Christian might (indeed must, to be credibly Christian) say that he agrees with Christian moral stances.  He regards abortion, divorce, blasphemy, contraception, buggery, and usury as evil.  However he will say some combination of the following:

  1. Only individuals have opinions.  There is no communal consensus, and therefore no point in either government or private citizens trying to alter it.
  2. There is such a thing as a communal consensus, and it would be best if it were informed by Christian morals, but the government has essentially no power to influence it one way or another, or the attempt might actually backfire, so it shouldn’t try.
  3. Government also can’t influence individuals’ actions significantly, at least in the areas of Christian-utilitarian contention.  Since government cannot influence individuals or the group for the better, and its attempts may backfore, it shouldn’t even try.

Many people who say things like this are liars, but some are sincere.  It’s easy to spot the liars by their actions.  They will say that Christians can’t use the goverment to impose a consensus friendly to our morals, but then they will go and support efforts to reeducate children and the citizenry to be “accepting” toward sodomites, which is precisely an attempt to remake the communal consensus by government action.  Note also that someone who sincerely held 2 should support private efforts to reform society along Christian moral lines.  He should support books and movies that carry the message that homosexual conduct is evil, for example.  By their words and actions, many of the “personally opposed but…” crowd show that they do not regard Christianity as true but want to abstain from imposing it.  They regard it as false, and utilitarian morality as true, and they want to impose their true beliefs.

There are, however, quite a few people who sincerely believe some version of individualist Christianity.  Assuming we’re talking about “mere Christianity”, I don’t think I have reason to question their faith.  (If they are traditionalist Catholics, they must confront the fact that declarations of the antimodernist popes have arguably ruled individualism out of bounds.)  I think individualism is false, but it doesn’t necessarily contradict Christian beliefs (again, counting only what Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants would agree are Christian beliefs).  I believe it’s wrong for philosophical reasons, but something may be untrue without contradicting Christianity.  If a man thought that stars are powered by fairy dust rather than nuclear fusion, I would think him wrong, but I’d have no reason to think him a heretic.  Not every truth logically depends on every other.

But haven’t I already given an argument against this?  That men form moral communities is part of human nature, so it affects what it means for God to become man, etc.  In this case, though, I think the distortion is a lot smaller than the case where one chucks Christian morality altogether.  Of course, the individualist Christian must make an exception for the Church, the mystical body of Christ that must have a collective life in a more substantial way.  However, the communitarian understanding of temporal societies is a newer addition to the Christian mind.  I think it’s a good one, but there were Church Fathers who got by without it.  So I sometimes try to reason with individualist Christians, but I don’t question their faith.

Ugh.  After so much tolerance, I feel dirty.

Damn liberals.  Ahh, now I feel better.