The Right vindicates common sense distinctions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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?!”)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

11 Responses

  1. One of my favorite college professors once remarked, on the first day of a class on Aristotle, that the great Philosopher sought to defend the mere “appearances of things.” The phrase has always stuck with me.

  2. Very interesting, Bonald. I don’t know if you ever stumbled across this particular post, but one major stimulus to writing “Memetic Lebensraum was the response I got to “Natives and Nationalism”:

    … basically, my position was that the the concept of nationalism needs to be retaken from the ground up, starting with the category “native”. But I was surprised that many right-wingers read it as endorsing the fuzzy/emotivist leftist reflex you mention (as though “native” was a more reliable concept because “nation” was sinful…) Anyway, I have a post on nationalism coming soon; I hope you find it a worthy contribution to the rehabilitation project.

    I gave a list of all the sorts of weird logical tics leftists succumb to here:

    As for “imperialism of moral”, I’m curious whether you would distinguish between a constructive approach (i.e. you have to build morally relevant concepts at the beginning if you want moral conclusions at the end) and a moralizing approach (where ever description is assumed to be about whether someone deserves good or ill, and evaluated in that light). A moralizing approach is more or less overlapping with your “emotivism” (I think?), but constructivism is something I’m drawn to myself.

  3. @quaslacrimas,

    Thanks for the links. I liked your whole two-part series very much. I quoted only that particular bit because it best set up my own tangent.

    Certainly, I’d agree that one can’t get moral conclusions out without invoking distinctly ethical axioms. Moral principles often do deal with amoral facts. For example, morality tells me what my duties to my wife are but not who my wife is. Piety and obedience impose duties toward one’s authoritative community, but whether this is a tribe or a nation, and which one, is an amoral given. This is where I’ve disagreed with my fellow Catholic reactionaries, who are often telling me that people should identify by language or region rather than race. I take identities as pre-moral sociological facts. A generation ago, whites didn’t think of themselves primarily as whites, but now race is a much more salient category. Things have changed even in my lifetime. When I was young, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think of myself as closer to European whites than American blacks, but decades of Leftist racial agitation have changed me and many others. Who is “us” and who is “them” is neither good nor evil. Morality just tells us our duty to other members of “us” and our duties to members of “them”.

  4. “people should identify by language or region rather than race”

    This is not even wrong; it’s non-sensical. Region and language, taken in an historical sense instead of just at the present, is inextricably tied with race, and vice versa.

    Unless they’re telling you that magic soil is a real thing, they’re confused in their notions.

  5. “For example, the sun is masculine while Luna is feminine, at least in how they present themselves to us”

    The sun is feminine and the moon masculine in all the Germanic languages, including Old English.

    Gender is a quality of words, not of the things they describe. A man is « La personne là-bas » (feminine noun); a woman schoolteacher is « mon professeur » (masculine noun), a new employee, regardless of sex is « la recrue » (feminine noun).

    Now, here is a curious fact: words that are feminine in Latin are almost always feminine in French, but a notable exception is the names of trees are feminine in Latin, but masculine in French – Fraxinus, le frêne, ulmus, un orme; rumbus, the briar (which is not really a tree, but a shrub) is feminine in both: rumbus, la ronce.

  6. Rhetocrates wrote, “Region and language, taken in an historical sense instead of just at the present, is inextricably tied with race.”

    Without any notable change in its ethnic composition, the Celtic population of Gaul and their Germanic invaders both adopted and still speak a Romance language. Similarly, the Celtic populations of the British Isles adopted the Low German dialect of their invaders, who always remained a small minority. The diffusion of Arabic through the Maghreb tells the same story. These changes occurred in historic times; we simply do not know how many similar instances occurred in pre-historic times.

  7. And you’re going to tell me that their adoption of Romance or German languages had absolutely no long-term effect on their ethnic composition or self-image?

    I didn’t claim that the concepts were identical, mind; just that they’re inextricable.

  8. I’m fairly certain that some objects, like the sun, are more commonly associated with gods than with goddesses, and I don’t think this is arbitrary. Even if it could be shown that as many traditional peoples believed in, for example, father earth as mother earth, this would probably indicate a profound difference in worldview between the two groups. Gender is not unimportant.

  9. Bonald wrote, “Gender is not unimportant”

    There are three commonly held views on gender:

    1. The Morphological view – Gender is a classification of nouns, according to the rules of agreement between nouns and pronouns and nouns and adjectives. In both Greek and Latin, this produces three classes and the ancient grammarians dubbed them masculine, feminine and neuter. There is no obvious reason why there should not have been four classes, or half-a-dozen, in which case they would simply have been numbered, like conjugations and declentions..This view is officially endorsed by the Académie française
    2. The Realist view – Masculine and feminine refer to a real duality in being, of which biological sex is only one instance. The leading modern proponent was Rudolf Steiner.
    3. The Analogical view – The gender of inanimate objects is based on perceived masculine or feminine qualities, which explains the difference between different, even closely related, languages

    I incline to the first, but all of them have able defenders.

  10. […] of moral concern already invoked by men but not yet recognized in political theory.  Hence our concern to validate the friend-enemy, native-foreigner, and masculine-feminine categories as both valid and […]

  11. […] Conservatives defend common sense distinctions against ideologically-driven over-simplification.  It is commonly thought that, by taking our stand on common sense, we are being intellectually lazy.  This is the reverse of the truth.  It’s the simplest thing in the world to take an established ideology with a clear established vocabulary–or even just an established slogan–and follow it to its insane conclusions.  It’s even easier to congratulate oneself on being more rational than those who notice the insanity.  Much more subtle is the process of understanding why one’s rational conclusions offend one’s more complete but less articulate general moral sense. […]

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