Time for the Republicans to retire

I try not to pay attention to them, but I haven’t been able to completely avoid hearing about the aspiring Republican candidates.  Except for Gingrich, they’re not a bad lot personally, but all these primaries mean that we’re forced to look at the ugly reality that is “Republican ideas“.  I’m afraid I don’t think that anybody who is sympathetic to the idea of imposing a flat tax or of bombing Iran has any business being anywhere near political power–the first because I can’t imagine why a massive transfer of tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and a corresponding transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, would be a desirable thing, the second because I generally think wars are things to be avoided, at least when there is absolutely no reason for provoking one.  Then there’s the whole “The national debt is out of control!  We have to cut taxes!” think that just makes it hard to take them seriously.  Yes, among the Republican establishment, we social conservatives are morons for supporting normative gender roles, but holding as dogma that the U.S. economy is always on the right side of the Laffer curve–that’s the heart of conservatism, right?  It pains me to say it, but it is now the Republicans who are the class warfare party.  Revenue neutral tax change by definition means a burden is being taken off one group and put onto another.  Hence, neoconservative publications–even First Things, as I’ve noted before–have started making noises about how the bottom half aren’t pulling their tax weight, and republican virtue demands that those slackers pony up.  On the other hand, corporate income taxes and capital gains taxes must be reduced.  It was hard work, but the Republicans have succeeded in living down to image of them painted by their enemies.  They do make the Democrats’ accusation of being the rich man’s party hard to dismiss.

Sometimes they try to prove that they’re the “conservative” party, but this doesn’t impress me, since the Republicans don’t know what conservatism means.  I’m more reactionary than anyone registered with that party, and I see no reason why people shouldn’t be forced to buy health insurance–put an end to those free riders, I say!  I also don’t understand this stubborn refusal to consider the possibility that global warming is real and man-made.  What does any of this have to do with defending Christendom and the patriarchal family?

The Republicans simply can’t be trusted with power.  They would do no good on the issues we care about, but because we are unfairly associated with them in the public mind, their incompetence would tarnish us.  I can’t work up any desire to see them defeat even our unambiguous enemies–the baby-killing, sodomy-promoting anti-clerical Democrats.

Why, though?  Why can’t a national party even appear to be worthy of public trust?  The end of the Cold War has been very bad for the Republicans.  Back when communism ravaged half the world and promised to bring its hellish rule to the other half, the Republican positions kind of made sense.  It was good and necessary that the one nation capable of resisting the Reds should do so, making its own the interests of all mankind.  Today, the Red menace is gone, and American hegemony has become a fact in search of a purpose.  In the face of communist agitation, condemnations of “socialism” and defenses of the free market as by far the lesser evil were also good and necessary.  Today, nobody’s talking about nationalizing industries, and all this talk about “socialism” is meaningless.  The Cold War gave the Republicans a sensible stand on foreign policy and economics–the two areas in which they got a reputation for being “strong”.  The lack of a communist threat rendered all of that irrelevant.

Still, one would think that the collapse and discrediting of socialism would have been more disorienting for the parties of the Left.  Yet they got through it without a hitch, arguably stronger than before, now that they were no longer associated (fairly or not) with a brutal tyranny.  And the center-right parties went into ideological drift, no longer sure what their purpose was to be, and easy prey to every charismatic charlatan looking for followers.

I think the ultimate reason is the rout of conservatives from academia.  People on this blog–including, sometimes, me–attack the pretensions of experts, but one really can’t run a modern nation-state without them.  The Republicans have no experts that they can trust, so they’re running blind.  The physicists tell them that their missile defense plan will never work.  That’s something we should be able to speak on.  However, the Republicans knew that most physicists are commies and would rather America not be able to defend herself from Soviet or Chinese missile attack; therefore, the experts can’t be trusted.  So the Republicans insisted on throwing more and more money at this boondoggle.  The Republicans decide that we should put a manned base on the moon, and then put men on Mars.  Where did they get this hare-brained idea?  Certainly not from the astronomers; we would have told them what a waste of money this is and how it will cripple the valuable space exploration and science work that NASA has been and is doing.  But most of us are commies, so another boondoggle had to be carried along until a Democratic president thankfully killed it.  And those are just the two biggest partisan issues in my personal field.

The Republicans thought they could do without the universities, because they would have think tanks instead.  This has obviously not worked out.  Academia’s peer review process is certainly imperfect, but the think tank system seems to be totally without merit.  Throw enough money at unaffiliated intellectuals, and you’ll find people to tell you want you want to hear.

I of course have a prejudice, given where I work, that universities are the center of the world.  There is some truth to it though.  I would rather that my beliefs were respectable among the intellectual elite than that they could win votes among the masses.  The masses have inertia but no initiative.  What the elite want them to believe, they will believe; it just takes a generation to make the shift.

New blog policies

Unfortunately, several recent discussions have been derailed by sophomoric mockery and personal insults.  I try to give commenters a wide latitude here, but this would seem to be an instance where an exercise of authority is needed.  It only takes one heckler to spoil the atmosphere for everyone.  (And it never stays just one, as human nature disposes others to respond in kind.)

So, from now on, I will delete any new comment I find that personally insults me or any other commenter.  Anyone may disagree with us, but you must express your disagreement respectfully.  I intend to enforce this policy evenhandedly against both people I agree and disagree with.  Since I’m enforcing a general rule, please don’t take my filtering your comment as a personal affront.

Personal insults against third party public figures (e.g. Christopher Hitchens, George W. Bush, Winston Churchill) are still allowed, but insults against their families (presuming these are not public figures) are not.  One exception is that no disrespect for Jesus Christ will be tolerated, because I would fear for my soul if I defended His honor less zealously than my own.

Another problem we’ve had is theological debates getting derailed by atheist hecklers.  Nonbelievers are certainly welcome at this blog (although they will no doubt find some subjects of discussion uninteresting), but they must appreciate that one of its purposes is for me and other Christian reactionaries to work out the implications of our worldview.  For these intra-Christian, or at least intra-theist, debates, it’s not reasonable for someone to put up an uninformed rant about how God is no different from the tooth fairy and then expect everyone else to drop everything and lay out three millenia of natural theology that he didn’t bother to learn himself.  Of course, issues of natural theology should be–and are–debated here, but a Christian can’t be expected to justify every aspect of his worldview every time he opens his mouth.  So, I’m going to discourage these sort of “all Christians are stupid” comments, except in posts where the truth of Christianity is the actual issue at hand.  I realize that it’s harder to respect a religion you disagree with than a person you disagree with, so someone who steps out of bounds on this will get a warning.  Further violations on that discussion will be removed.  Now, by nature, this rule is not even-handed–there’s no enforced restrictions on the insults that can be hurled at atheism, Marxism, etc.  We don’t believe in neutrality here.  However, I ask my Christian commenters to treat others as they would want to be treated, and I’ll try to give a good example.

Disapproving as I do of ex post facto laws, all existing comments will remain.

Why worship God?

All theists will agree that it is good to worship God.  But why, asks the atheist?  What and who is it good for?  Is it good for God?  Then He must be a very imperfect deity that His self-esteem needs such elaborate reinforcement.  “No, no!” we say.  “God is the plenitude of being (and, in the Trinity, the plenitude of love); He certainly has no need for our worship.”  Well then, if He is just as well off without it, why not just sleep in on Sunday?  One answer suggests itself, and has become quite popular:  “Worshiping God is good for us!  It’s what we were made to do, and what we find our completion in.”  And this is quite true.  On the other hand, it’s the secondary thing, not the primary thing.  No one who gives himself in adoration to God is thinking of a benefit to himself.  Not that wanting benefits from God is wrong–Christ Himself taught us to petition God.  Still, glorifying God is something different; one’s eyes are not on oneself.  It is what von Hildebrand called a “value response”.  We worship God because that is the proper response to His goodness.  It is good for us, but above all, it is good period, that is, it is just.  It is the correct and just relationship between creature and Creator.  Not every “good” has to mean “good for…”

Proph is one of the few people I’ve seen to get this exactly right.  Here he is critiquing an atheist internet video:

He declares there are “many problematic qualities” we’re asked to accept about this God that proves its falseness, but then provides perhaps the stupidest sample of what those “problematic qualities” are: “No being can be regarded as perfect,” he says, “if it needs to be worshipped.”

Agreed! Such would be a contradiction in terms. God, being perfect, has no imperfections in need of realization and therefore no “needs.” So we should not presume to worship God because we think He needs to be worshipped. We should worship Him because he deserves to be worshipped, and moreover, because it is good — that is, consistent with our natures as created beings who owe their creator a debt of gratitude and obedience — to worship Him. The argument as expressed by QS is stupid and he is right to call it such. But he is wrong to call it a “problem” for theism because no one, to my knowledge, has aksed anyone to accept that argument.

Of course, for rational creatures, there is a tight congruence between “good for us” and “good period” (i.e. just), since the telos of our rationality is to make appropriate judgments, above all value judgments about the highest things.

Another blow in the First Things / Front Porch Republic debate

Finally, here’s the reply to Joe Carter that I’ve been waiting for.  Excerpt:

Mr. Carter seems to contrast a democratic regime with a regime of coercion, such as when he writes in the comments: “There is not a hint that he (i.e., Mr. Salyer) prefers democratic means to advance his agenda. If he did he would not need to favor coercion to reach the goals he wants to achieve.” But of course, democracies do not differ from other regimes in the degree of coercion they might exercise; they only differ from other regimes in the mechanisms they employ to determine how and when that coercion is exercised. The extent of that coercion may be quite as broad and inhuman as any power wielded by a monarch…Why exactly should we believe that rule by fifty-one percent of such a population will result in the most just and peaceable regime?

Yet, rule they must. In any complex society, the opinion and principles of some portion of the public must be expressed in the laws, to the displeasure of some other portion of the public. Here is where I think Mr. Carter shows himself the most deceived. He writes, again in the comments, “So if someone has the right ‘vision for a proper life’ it’s okay for them to coerce other people into accepting that vision? And how is that not fascism?” It’s not fascism because it’s a description of every single political order that ever was, or ever will be. It’s certainly a description of our own democracy, where a “vision of a proper life” which includes a lack of etiquette, an all-pervasive trash culture, a deceitful public language known as “political correctness,” and the demolition of enormous swathes of our natural landscape for the erection of strip malls and tract housing are imposed on the rest of us which regard these things as horrifying. The reason Mr. Carter doesn’t consider these things to be forms of coercion is because they go forward with the consent of the majority of Americans, and he, like most Americans, is accustomed to thinking of coercion exercised by a majority of citizens as no coercion at all. For this reason, he is able to believe in that most fantastic of liberal chimeras — the neutral state, the state uncommitted to any discrete philosophical positions. James Fitzjames Stephen, the Victorian jurist and polemical foe of J.S. Mill, took especial aim at this fallacious notion in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity:

They found, as everyone who has to do with legislation must find, that laws must be based upon principles, and that it is impossible to lay down any principles of legislation at all unless you are prepared to say, I am right, and you are wrong, and your view shall give way to mine, quietly, gradually, and peaceably; but one of us two must rule and the other must obey, and I mean to rule.

In America, it is the majority that means to rule, and to their views the views of everyone else give way. It is not the case that in America, no one has a “vision of a proper life” imposed on them. It is simply the case that in America, a majority of the people generally gets to choose what that vision looks like. And the rest of us are coerced into accepting it.


Are men equal?

Some of you may be interested in this.  Justin has found and quoted an interesting argument from A Voice for Men attacking the masculine protector role because it implies that men are not equal to (i.e. inferior to) women.  In the comments, I defend the patriarchal position:  men and women are not “equal”; they have distinct roles.  Since two orthospheric writers responded so oppositely to the same article, it may be worth further discussion.  See The Truth Shall Set You Free for details.


Friend of the Orthosphere Svein Sellanraa/rkirk has some nice articles on the new Hungarian constitution, which, from our reactionary perspective, is like a dream come true.  See here and here and here.  Here’s a summary from an article he links:

The first issue that has provoked dismay among critics is that Hungary is no longer a republic. The words “Republic of” have been excised from the nation’s official title. According to left-wing commentators, this suggests democracy is in danger. Considering that Hungary was declared a republic on 1 February, 1946, by a Communist-controlled government that had gained power with 17 per cent of the vote, the term hardly seems redolent of civic liberties. By its immemorial constitutional tradition, Hungary is ruled by the Holy Crown of St Stephen, the ultimate symbol of authority. The royal seal of Hungarian kings did not bear the monarch’s name but the inscription: “The seal of the Holy Crown of Hungary.”

The removal of republican nomenclature was the culmination of a process begun under a new law, the Lex Millenaris, when the royal regalia were carried in procession to the Hungarian parliament on January 1, 2000, as the symbols of authority. Although the monarchy has not been restored in the person of an individual, if a Habsburg restoration were eventually thought politic the Archduke Georg, the Magyarised son of the late Crown Prince Otto, already resides in Budapest. Hungary’s post-Habsburg history has been tragic. At the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, Woodrow Wilson robbed Hungary of 71 per cent of its territory, 66 per cent of its population and its only seaport. That was a preliminary taste of American foreign policy initiatives.

The new constitution makes the classic statement of Burkean philosophy: “Our Basic Law is the foundation of our legal system; it is a contract between Hungarians past, present and future.” That recognition of the seamless continuum of history and the transience of generations stands head and shoulders above the trashy verbiage of EU treaties. Not only does it “recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”, it “professes that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence”. No wonder it is anathema to the Frankfurt Marxists of the EU.

It protects human life from the moment of conception and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It lists the crimes of Communism and lifts the statute of limitations that protected the criminals of the Soviet era who despatched 600,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.

The foolish apologist

Here are the 10 pitfalls of the foolish apologist.  (H/T Mere Comments)

That was painful to read–I must be guilty of at least 8 of these.  I need to just shut up and go on a year-long penance.  Anyway, those of you who are interested in spreading the Christian faith (which should be all of you who are Christians) might find it helpful.  These are very easy pitfalls to fall into.  Believe me.

Ways of knowing God

The title deliberately evokes Danielou’s classic God and the Ways of Knowing, but I wanted to change the title a little, so that people don’t come in expecting a book review.

How do people relate to God?

  1. The sense of the sacred.  This is the most “democratic” of ways in that most people in societies more advanced than the pygmies seem to experience it.  It is, in fact, the only socially relevant religious sense, and societies have been built around it.  It involves a sense that the world is divided into sacred and profane realms which must be kept separate, and a sense of one’s own ontological poverty before the sacred.  Ours is, I believe, the only advanced society to lose this sense.
  2. Personal, affective devotion; love of God as one person loves another.  This kind of devotion is especially marked in religions like Christianity and Hinduism, in which the god becomes human and can be related to as such.  This is the highest level of religious sense that most people are capable of, and perhaps it is only in Incarnational religions that a majority is capable of it.  It is not spontaneous, but can be developed through frequent Bible reading and meditation on the life of our Savior, and the like.  It can, in times of great enthusiasm, become a social force.  More importantly, it can transform individual souls.
  3. Mysticism, a direct, superconceptual apprehension of God.  This is generally agreed to be the highest religious sense, but it is reserved for a small spiritual elite, an Ibn Arabi or a Pseudo-Dionysius.  It is socially irrelevant, because it is given to so few and is by its nature incommunicable.  Nor does it save many souls, but it does contribute treasures to a religious tradition for those few able to profit by them.

Those wishing to know God should start low and build up.  Each stage of ascent must be tested against those below.  There is a false devotion to Christ, an easy “Jesus is my boyfriend” familiarity that can be known as false because it offends against our sense of the sacred.  The higher forms should never contradict the lower.  There is a false mysticism, that of charlatans like Joseph Campbell, that attacks all distinctions between good and evil, between holiness and profanity, and which attacks the (tri)personal God of Christians and Muslims.  A heretic may have a mystic vision and blasphemously proclaim his own divinity, while a sounder mystic like al-Ghazali will find in devotion to Allah a fresh zeal for obeying a holiness law.

Our island of communism in the Middle East

Traditional Christianity linked to this news:

In the past months, a lot of debate has been going on in Israel about providing government-funded preschools from the age of 3. Recently, the Knesset approved compulsory education from age 3.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, welcomed the new law.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s full commitment to changing national priorities,” she said. “Education is one of the central obligations of any state to its citizens and it cannot be that so many families have to bow to the burden of educating their children while other families avoid proper education of their children for financial reasons. This is the essential first step in the revolution that would give free education already from the age of thee months.” (emphasis mine)
No doubt that free education at three months will only the be first step in a further revolution, in that it would soon be compulsory as well.  It must be, since any education that would allow one to escape incorporation in the Leftist hivemind wouldn’t be “proper”.  This in turn brings us closer to the liberal endgame:  complete state control of children, the eradication of parenthood, the replacement of personal dependency with impersonal dependency.
The day the State owns children from birth is the day that liberalism has definitively won.  The family would ipso facto cease to exist, meaning marriage would have no rationale and men and women would become practically interchangeable.  Every religion and regional tradition would disappear in precisely one generation, as would all memories of past generations that the liberal State does not explicitly choose to retain.  Equality and homogeneity would finally reign, but this wouldn’t even have the side benefit of removing liberalism’s reason for existing, since they’ll be able to keep themselves busy tormenting toddlers  by trying to force girls to act like boys and vice versa and by suppressing friendship.  Everything the Left does pushes at least indirectly toward the ultimate goal.

Death at the movies: Zombies and Ghosts

Rudolf Otto suggested that people naturally associate dead people with the numinous realm, and that this sense of a holy aura surrounding the dead explains both ancestor worship and ghost stories.  The latter may seem like an odd claim, since holiness is good, but no one wants to encounter a ghost.  One must remember that, as Otto explains so well, a true encounter with the holy is awe-inspiring, disorienting, and terrifying.  The presence of the dead does bring a distinct discomfort, whether it be a body without a soul (a corpse) or a soul without a body (a ghost).  No doubt there are more obvious reasons for us to find corpses unpleasant, both distressing and disgusting.  They remind us of death; they are unsanitary.  Still, the more obvious points don’t capture the uncanniness of looking at a thing that a moment ago was a person.

Once, when I was in grade school, my family and I went shopping in a nearby city, and our dog died while we were gone.  The vet said that her stomach twisted, or something like that, that sometimes this happens to big dogs, and there’s nothing one can do about it.  Anyway, when we came home the dog was dead.  Now, I really loved that dog; she was sort of my dog.  My parents asked me if I wanted to see the body before it was disposed of.  I remember being frightened to look.  There would be this thing that looked just like my dog sleeping, but it wouldn’t be my dog, and that really disturbed me.  And there is the eeriness of it:  the appearance of the lost person (or even, in this case, animal), but not the soul.  As the corpse decomposes, it becomes more disgusting but less disturbing, because it is no longer masquerading as someone.

So we have an apprehension, but one whose cause doesn’t fit into any of our day-to-day categories.  We are possessed by an emotion like fear, but there’s no sense that the dead are an actual, physical threat.  When we have an emotion we can’t process, we represent it in fiction in a form that makes more sense to us.  In our time, movies are the preeminent form of fiction.  Thus, our modern, materialistic age presents us with the zombie movie.  These movies serve a sort of therapeutic function; they help us to eliminate our sense of the numinous in the dead.  Do we find corpses disturbing?  Well, let us take that unease and make it a simpler emotion–actual fear.  Let the corpse be an actual, physical threat, the crudest threat imaginable:  something that wants to eat us.  We bring to light what we take to be the underlying emotion (fear).  In directly facing it, we see that it is ridiculous, and we are cured.  That is, discomfort with corpses is rendered absurd, and we cease to feel it.  Although moviemakers are perhaps not conscious of this goal, what they have done is to cut off one of mankind’s avenues for experiencing the sacred.

If I am right, then the purpose of a zombie movie is to be absurd.  First, we imagine what everyone knows is not true–that dead bodies want to eat us.  Then, just to make the fear of corpses seem even sillier, we don’t even imagine them as a credible threat.  Zombies are just stupid staggering automata, who can only be at all menacing in large groups.  This creates a dramatic problem, though.  The genre does such a good job of making fear of the dead seem silly that it risks making itself uninteresting.  Thus, the real drama in a zombie movie has to come from the living characters.  Usually, they’re trapped in some restricted area under siege from the outside zombies, and they start to fight among themselves, which livens the movie up in a way that the moaning bodies outside can’t.  Even in spite of this, these movies almost never work.  They have too little respect for the emotion that feeds them.  The only one I kind of liked, Shawn of the Dead, was a comedy.

On the other hand, most cultures have ghost stories.  Now, its worth noting that while ghost stories are supposed to be frightening, the ghost itself isn’t really much of a physical threat.  That the ghost itself will actually directly kill one of the characters is seldom presented as a possibility.  In order for ghosts to be frightening and not mere nuisances, the story must evoke the eeriness we associate with death, so it must respect the numinous sense, at least much more than zombie movies do.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ramble about ghost stories for a while.

It is odd, and yet it seems to be true, that while one would expect that adding fantastic elements to a story would enlarge the range dramatic possibilities, actually they seem to shrink it.  There seem to be fewer distinct storylines with preternatural, science fiction, or fantasy elements than there are without them.

Most of the ghost movies I’ve seen fall into two categories.  First, there is story, told from the ghost’s point of view, of the ghost who doesn’t know he’s a ghost and only finds out at the end.  Examples are easy to give, but I will refrain, lest I spoil a movie for someone.  It’s funny that this plot has become so popular, especially given that its popularity compromises its effectiveness–audiences are getting harder to surprise.  It does follow a nice trajectory where the uncanny elements start out small, in the background as it were, and then grow to engulf the protagonist’s whole world, including his self-conception–the classic Twilight Zone formula.  Still, I think the main reason moviemakers keep coming back to this story is that it’s so well suited to their medium.  We who have been watching movies our whole lives have been trained to ignore certain things.  For example, we don’t expect movies to show characters performing mundane tasks like eating, sleeping, or buying groceries; we assume they do these things in between scenes.  This class of ghost stories has gotten very good at using audience expectations against us, so that clues can be placed in plain sight.  In my example above, it might be obvious in retrospect that a character never slept but was doing things at all hours, or that the main characters never interacted with anyone but themselves.  I could also give examples where this same trick is used in movies told from the perspective of a living but mentally ill and hallucinating character, but again I will restrain myself.

Then there’s the ghost story about the wrong that must be avenged, told from the point of view of the living characters.  For example, a man commits murder and is not caught, and the ghost of the victim haunts a third party until he solves the mystery and exposes or avenges the crime.  This story appeals not only to our interest in death, but even more to our interest in justice.  We have a sense that a crime hidden and unpunished still happened, that it leaves some kind of mark on the cosmos that cries out for recognition and redress.  It isn’t even clear to me if the ghost is really the disembodied soul of the victim, or if it’s supposed to be some spiritual marker of guilt or the crime itself.  Ghosts are very vindictive; a sincere apology never seems to be enough to make them “at peace”.  Anyway, even though ghost stories start from a more humane appreciation of death, they generally veer off into exploring other issues.

Yes, I know, you and I have all read some stories or seen some movies with ghosts that didn’t fall into either of these categories, but I still think it’s notable how many of them do.  Tinkering with the formula is difficult.  For example, the movie Ghost is a justice/vengeance story told from the point of view of the ghost, and that didn’t work at all.  Yeah, I know the movie was popular, but it succeeded as an adventure story, not as a ghost story.  It really makes you admire someone like Charles Dickens, who took the ghost idea and did something very different with it that dramatically succeeded.