Chesterton: “we have abolished their parents”

There was recently reported in the papers the meeting of certain eminent ladies, of a political and philanthropic sort, who discussed the great modern problem of what is to be done with The Child.  I need not say that The Child is always discussed as if he were a monster, of immense size, vast complexity, and strange and startling novelty.  Nor need I remind the reader that The Child is not a child; any child we comfortable people have ever seen.  The Child is not Jack or Joan or Peter; he is not Cousin Ethel’s child or one of Uncle William’s children.  He is a creature entirely solitary and sui generis, and he lives in the slums.

A great many remarks were made, most of them sincere, some of them sensible, and several of them highly comic…All of these other sayings, however, sink into a second place, in my opinion, compared with one simple remark, which will seem to most people as innocent as it is simple.  Nevertheless, in that one artless observation–I might almost say, in that one unconscious confession–was contained the whole complex of contradictions and falsehoods which have in our time ruined the relation of social classes and destroyed the common morals of the community.  A very famous political lady, who certainly believes that what she says represents the most lofty luminous idealism, uttered on this occasion the following words:  “We must take care of other people’s children as if they were our own.”

And when I read those words, I smote the table with my hand, like one who has suddenly located and smashed a wasp.  I said to myself:  “That’s it!  She’s got it!  She’s got exactly the correct formula for the worst and most poisonous of all the political wrongs that rot out the entrails of the world.  That is what has wrecked democracy; wrecked domesticity through the breadth and depth of democracy; wrecked dignity as the only prop and pillar of domesticity and democracy.  That is what has taken away from the poor man the pride and honor of the father of a household, so that he can no longer feel any pride or honor in being a citizen; still less in being merely a voter.  The Englishman’s house is no longer his castle, nor is he the king of the castle; the charbonnier is no longer maitre chez lui; his hut is not his hut; his children are not his children; and democracy is dead.  She means no harm.  She knows not what she does.  She does not even understand what she says.  She does not comprehend a word of the terrible sentence that she has spoken.  But it is spoken.”  And the sentence that is spoken is this:  “We, the rich, can take care of poor people’s children as if they were our own.  As we have abolished their parents, they are all orphans.”

The ideal is sufficiently familiar in fact, of course; and there is nothing very much against it, except that it is utterly and grossly immoral.  A man saying he will treat other people’s children as his own is exactly like a man saying he will treat other people’s wives as his own.  He may get a certain amount of poetic or sentimental pleasure out of the children, but so he may out of the wives.  The question is whether any human rights whatever remain to the other man…

The trouble with out society is that the ideal is more wrong than the real.  Old Tories used to insist on teaching to the poor the principles of respect for private property, lest they should revolt and despoil the rich.  As a fact, it is the rich who have to be taught about the existence of private property, and especially about the existence of private life.  No ragged mob is likely to storm the nurseries of Mayfair, or steal the perambulators from the French nurses, or the pupils from the German governesses, parading in Kensington Gardens.  But philanthropists, under various excuses, really do raid the playgrounds of the poor.  They regard such a raid as a reform; and, in truth, it is a revolution.  Modern writers are very ready to cover great historical events with sweeping denunciations of crime; to say that the Great War was murder on a large scale or that the Russian Revolution was theft on a large scale.  They hardly realize how much of educational and philanthropic reform has been kidnapping on a large scale.  That is, it has shown an increasing disregard for the privacy of the private citizen, considered as a parent.  I have called it a revolution; and at bottom it really is a Bolshevist revolution.  For what could be more purely and perfectly Communist than to say that you regard other people’s children as if they were your own?

—G. K. Chesterton, in The Illustrated London News, March 5, 1932, reprinted in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Volume 36

To the US bishops on “racism”; a plea for clarity

I missed the spat in the comments with Slumlord and his usual insults toward social conservatives; it was a very busy week for me.  I’m going to be completely unfair and take inspiration from the most recent comment (then maybe work my way back).  Aegis asks what I think of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism.  This ties in nicely with some other things I’ve been thinking about.

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On being a tribal Christian

Christianity is certainly a thing distinct from the traditional civilization of Europe.  While Christianity was integral to our now dead civilization, it is meant for the entire human race.  Our faith is ultimately in Christ, not in Christians, not even those Christians who are our ancestors and who built Christendom.  And yet I do find it unseemly how our modern Christians try to prove our faith in Christ through our faithlessness to each other.

Hence the constant apologies.  Apologies to the Muslims.  Apologies to the Third World heathen.  Endless abject groveling before the Jews.  One should, I suppose, admire the faith of a man like Pope John Paul II who, in order to carry the Gospel unto all nations unencumbered by the sins of past faithful, was so thoroughly merciless in throwing his fellow Catholics under the proverbial bus.  “Yes, we Catholics have all always been greedy sadistic bigots.  But the Gospel is about Jesus Christ, not us!  You don’t have to give up your contempt and hatred of us to embrace Him!”  I suppose it might be true that a particular religion holds the ultimate truth about God and morality even though all its followers have been complete scoundrels, but I doubt many hearers will find this plausible.  And yet even if it did work in winning converts, the whole thing would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

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The reactionary Great Filter

Michael Anissimov thinks other conservatives attack neoreactionaries often because we resent the fact that they’re smarter than we are.  Unremarkable neoreactionary bluster?  It would be a mistake to dismiss it as such, because he bases his case on two important and, I think, true facts:

  1. Conservatism/reaction/counter-revolution has been a failure for two centuries.
  2. Neoreaction has done pretty well building itself up in its first few years of existence.

On the other hand, reading Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern:  World Society 1815-1830, I was stunned to learn what a splash Legitimist intellectuals, especially Chateaubriand, made in their day.  For a short time, the Revolution seemed to have been defeated not only on the battlefield but on the plane of ideas and elite opinion, and anybody who was anybody had become a Catholic, an Anglican, or a German Romantic (whatever the counter-revolutionary thing to be was in one’s particular country).  Intellectually, the years of the Revolution and the decade thereafter were certainly the most creative for the Reactionary cause.  And yet, by 1825 or so, it was all over, and everybody who was anybody had moved on to being a democrat, a nationalist, and an anti-clerical.

The burst of conservative writing in the mid-20th century (Kirk, Nisbet, Voegelin, Weaver) also seemed impressive at the time.  We know how that turned out.

So, yes, the Neoreactionaries are doing a great job building up an intellectual movement.  This is something to be proud of–lots of groups never achieve anything like what Moldbug’s followers have already done.  On the other hand, it has happened several times already in the history of the Right that intellectual movements have gotten to this level.  Then they dissipated.  For whatever ultimate cause, they became corrupted and oversimplified; they lost the enthusiasm of their followers and the attention of everyone else.  These schools of thought all failed to impede the advance of liberalism.  Between its initial awakening and world historical influence there seems to be a Filter (perhaps several, but let’s keep things simple), and no antiliberal movement has yet survived it.  And this challenge is before the neoreactionaries, not behind them.

So good luck, guys!

On being a racist

I’ve argued before that there’s no such thing–that is, no such natural kind–as racism, but as the word is commonly used, I am clearly a racist.  It took me a while to find my peace with this.

It was the babies that first made me aware of it.  I generally find white babies cuter than black babies.  For a long time, I was ashamed of this.  Oh, I knew the reason for it.  I grew up in a nearly all-white region of the midwest, so it’s natural that I would grow accustomed to this racial look. But I was still ashamed.  The poor, innocent babies!  Don’t they all deserve to be found equally adorable?  Shouldn’t I make an equal fuss over each of them?  Actually, I’ve never been around any black babies, so my biased responses haven’t affected them one way or another.  But still…

I also as a general rule find white women more attractive than black women, but I don’t recall feeling guilty about that.  Probably because I was always given the impression that women find our desire for them insulting.  If I thought I owed anyone an apology, it would have been attractive white women.  Besides, everyone knows that there’s no fairness in sexual attraction.

What should our attitude be toward visceral preferences of this sort?

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