It is some comfort to remember that ideological fixations and dumb slogans can grip the world in their mania for a time and then finally die. I’m neither particularly old nor particularly well-read, but even I know of a few.
It used to be that anyone who objected to something morally noxious (especially having to do with sex) had to fend off accusations that he was suffering from a “hang-up”. Relics of this remain in polemics from the sixties and seventies, but thankfully the fear of this insult has passed, and I only find this stupid word now in old books. Today we have phobias instead to serve the purpose of dismissing objections to liberalism as psychological maladies of dissidents.
Quality of life
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll repeat it because it’s such a marvel. Back when I was a kid, this used to be the pro-choice argument, that women aborting their children were doing the altruistic thing because those children would have a low quality of life. Today, fighting over abortion continues, but this argument has disappeared outside of euthanasia debates.
1960s-1980s intra-Catholic polemics was dominated by the accusation that scholasticism, and indeed every doctrinal form of Catholicism, suffers from a lack of historical consciousness. This was, for a long time, modernism’s main line of assault. They asserted it as established that communication between time periods is impossible, at least for those without special critical theory goggles. Thus, ordinary folk who read the Bible, the Fathers, or past Magisterial proclamations and think they’re finding rather clear doctrinal and moral statements are being naive. Read through the proper historical-critical scholarship, it turns out that the Christian tradition is actually fine with sodomy and goddess-worship. This sort of thing is almost enough to turn me into a Protestant. Today, modernists have moved on. We’re now told to abandon doctrine because doing so is merciful, pastoral, and shows we’re not afraid of uncertainty.
Loss of spontaneity
Back in the nineteenth century when the romantic movement was riding high, up through the early twentieth century, there was much anxiety that Western man had become too reflective and intellectual, that he had lost the ability for spontaneous action, for authenticity, for union with nature. We looked enviously at the simple vitality of third-world savages (at least as we imagined them). Lots of brilliant philosophers and poets devoted their genius to saving Western man from this affliction during what was, in retrospect, a century of tremendous energy and action. Then we stopped worrying about this. What happened? Was the problem fixed? No, what happened was the ascendancy of Jewish prejudices over intellectual life. The idea of enervated introspective Europeans has no place in the new mythology, according to which the world is made up of murderous white gentile barbarians, helpless colored gentile barbarians, and the prophetic liberal moral elite. The third group is charged with saving the second group from the first. It gets credited with whatever angst and doubt might exist in the world, although its members are in fact the most arrogant and least self-critical of all peoples. (I should point out that Larry Auster drew attention to this three-fold distinction in the liberal imagination long ago.)
Can you think of some others?
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