Quincy Latham notes the perils involved in trying to free one’s mind of Leftist-tainted concepts, concluding
On the whole I think it would be better for leftists to feel that they cannot use certain basic concepts comfortable without admitting unwanted implications, and for us to feel quite at home with our basic conceptual vocabulary
Leftists already read little because study and thought do little to advance their social status, but we should look forward to the day when they actively avoid Homer, Rousseau and Darwin because they “know” that these authors are somehow implicitly fascist.
In some ways, we’re already there. One of the core intellectual tasks of the Right has been, and will continue to be, the analysis and rehabilitation of categories found useful by pre-modern humanity but rejected by moderns in their fits of ideologically-driven oversimplification.
Consider these three:
- Friend vs. Enemy. Carl Schmitt famously put this distinction at the core of his political theory in explicit defiance of the liberal humanitarianism of his day that wanted to reduce all questions to abstract morality and economic efficiency. The friend vs. enemy distinction, Schmitt insisted, is independent of these. To identify a threatening nation as the enemy does not necessarily make any statement about its moral, aesthetic, or economic qualities. Schmitt observed that the liberal nations (for him, the victors of WWI) in fact do mobilize against threats and competitors; forbidding themselves the vocabulary of “friend” and “enemy” means they recast their hostilities in terms of moral absolutes. The nation they attack cannot be called their own enemy, so it must be demonized as the enemy of all humanity. This will be a reoccurring conservative argument. Eliminating a needed category doesn’t eliminate hostility between peoples; it only forces them to be incorrectly conceptualized along moral lines, which actually diminishes our ability to empathize with our opponent.
- Native vs. Foreigner. Much of what Schmitt said about the distinction between friend and enemy applies to the more basic categorization of people as belonging to “us” or as being alien. I argued recently in the Orthosphere, concerning the topic of Muslim immigration, that we can actually be more sympathetic to Muslims among us if we acknowledge that our concern is not that their ways are objectionable in some absolute (moral/philosophical) sense, but that they are alien to the culture we wish to preserve as dominant in our nation. Reflections about the “universal person” are also quite relevant to this.
- Masculine vs. feminine. Conservatives have found little to recommend the liberals’ distinction between biological “sex” and socially constructed “gender”. However, pre-modern peoples had intriguing intuitions of masculinity and femininity as essences or principles that can be considered beyond the strict context of sexual reproduction. Largely defined by relation to each other (so that, for example, a woman relates in a feminine way to other people more than to wild animals or inanimate objects), even things other than sexually reproducing animals can participate in these principles to some extent. For example, the sun is masculine while Luna is feminine, at least in how they present themselves to us. Masculinity and femininity seem to represent poles in the structure of relationality itself, and so even the more mythical attributions of these essences were not necessarily intended metaphorically.
The liberal critique of these categories, and others not accommodated by their ideology, comes down to the following
- Imperialism of the moral. The category in question is recognized as nonmoral, and the critic asserts that it is morally superior to use only moral categories. (“Wouldn’t it be better to judge someone based on whether he’s a good person than on where he was born?”) Alternatively, the critic presumes that other categories actually are reducible to moral categories, and other categories are condemned for being inaccurate in their presumed implicit moral evaluations. (“He’s a good person. How can you call him an ‘alien’ as if he were some kind of monster?!”)
- Appeal to boundary cases. Sometimes the boundaries of the criticized category are fuzzy. Perhaps a particular person is like “us” in some ways but unlike “us” in others. From this, conclude that the category is arbitrary and meaningless.
- Emotivism. Claim that the criticized category is actually a sub-rational emotional response. It must be because it has no place in liberal ideology, which the liberal presumes to be coextensive with reason itself. And in fact, when certain ways of thinking are made socially unacceptable, they will likely only pop out in emergencies and moments of distress. It would be no different with moral categories–if the concepts “evil” and “unfair” were socially disfavored, people would only resort to them when intolerably provoked and undoubtedly emotional.
- Imputation of sinister social motives. The critic points out that the categorization promotes some established social structure; therefore, it must be an illusion.
Ironically, Leftist categories are arguably far more vulnerable to these objections than traditional ones. Consider the core Leftist category of “privileged” vs. “oppressed”. It clearly assigns moral status based on what are actually amoral-in-themselves sociological facts. That the “privilege” is illegitimate is presumed rather than argued, and the moral imputations are often incorrect. Also, dividing the world into privileged and oppressors is a gross oversimplification of complicated reality. Many people are privileged in some way and disadvantaged in others, or privileged compared to some and disadvantaged compared to others, or privileged in some contexts while disadvantaged in others. To claim that all white men are “privileged” regardless of income, location of residence, family reputation, religion, disability, education, etc. is ridiculous. The boundaries of privilege are even fuzzier than those of race. Most people are in the fuzzy boundary of privilege, while most people have clear racial and national identities, and only an insignificant few lack a manifest sex. Needless to say, the accusation of privilege is often emotionally charged, an accusation borne of resentment and envy. And from the beginning it has been at the service of a distinct political agenda.
The Leftist is in no position to criticize other peoples’ categories. But I agree with Mr. Latham. By all means, let us be glad as we watch them mentally cripple themselves.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 9 Comments »