Against the Nietzschean conservatives

With some in the neoreactionary crowd toying with the idea of inventing a religion, Right Scholarship‘s very quotable warnings are quite timely.  Some excerpts:

A member of the neoreaction twittersphere suggested that I check out a transcript of a 2007 talk by Jonathan Bowden, which is available on Counter-Currents Publishing site as “Credo: A Nietzschean Testament.” It is a perfect example of Right Nietzscheanism.

Bowden says, “I believe that strength comes from belief, in things which are philosophically grounded and appear real to you.” In other words, belief functions as an expression of the will to power, as long as the things that you believe in “appear real to you” (italics mine)….

The problem is that these archaic ideas from the past, reconstituted through the will to power, will not be quite the same as they were before. Like the reanimated beings that rise from Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery, they will be a little different, and a little unstable, with a tendency to turn against their owners….

When an older moral regime is reconstructed, the reconstruction will be different from the original in that those living under the original regime viewed its structure as something ‘given’—something rooted in truth or nature or the will of God—while those living under the reconstruction can never achieve that same level of naiveté. The inhabitants of the reconstruction must always struggle to believe, even when they know, on some level, that the principles that guide them are rootless. Such is the difference between a Norse pagan of the ninth century and the twenty-first century neo-pagan. Does the latter really believe that Thor and Odin exist?

To provide an antidote to all this stifling Nietzscheanism, I will briefly introduce a thinker whose photo graces this site: the amateur philosopher T.E. Hulme (1883-1917)…

This passage is from Hulme’s seminal essay “A Tory Philosophy,” but I have quoted it from a review in the New Criterion by Roger Kimball, which incidentally serves as a decent introduction to Hulme. (If I can find my copy of “A Tory Philosophy” I will provide a proper citation.)

Here is Hulme describing his position regarding religion:

“I want to emphasize as clearly as I can, that I attach very little value indeed to the sentiments attaching to the religious attitude. I hold, quite coldly and intellectually as it were, that the way of thinking about the world and man, the conception of sin, and the categories which ultimately make up the religious attitude, are the true categories and the right way of thinking. . . . It is not, then, that I put up with the dogma for the sake of the sentiment, but that I may possibly swallow the sentiment for the sake of the dogma” (Hulme 70-71).

Dogma is superior to sentiment, and truth superior to tradition—this is the core of Hulme’s message.

Catholic integralism announces itself

It would seem a new school of internet antiliberals has become conscious of itself.  Gabriel Sanchez divides Catholic political thinkers into liberals, radicals, and integralists.  The liberals think some sort of reconciliation between liberalism and Catholicism is viable and desirable–First Things under Father Neuhaus would be a classic case of this.  Radicals and integralists reject liberalism as a philosophical error and heresy.  The difference between these two camps is less sharp (see here).  From my reading of Sanchez, integralists are those who base themselves on pre-conciliar theology and Magisterial teaching, while radicals work from the post-conciliar Communio school of theology and inherit its sense of distinction from pre-conciliar Thomism.  Reminiscent of what I have said about the Orthosphere, Sanchez observes that integralists identify themselves with 19th-century counter-revolutionaries, rather than (as is the case for most conservative movements today) defining themselves in distinction to them.  Integralists are also distinguished by the central place they give to the social kingship of Christ.  They have their own group blog.

Needless to say, I’m happy to see integralism self-consciously resurrecting itself and look forward to learning from it for years to come.

Teaching students to think

Via the indispensable Reaction Times, I came across this remarkable essay titled “Rote learning rocks, critical thinking sucks.”  It’s a polemic against the pedagogical dogma that teachers should teach critical thinking skills rather than bare facts.  The author points out 1) this means directing energy from what is easy to what is difficult to enhance, because critical thinking is related to innate intelligence, 2) memorization is not valueless, because it gives the intelligent a base of information to think critically about.  I admire the author to rejecting educationist cant and taking a genuinely fresh look at this issue.

As a teacher who generates a lot of student hostility by refusing to base my classes on memorization, I will offer a few thoughts.

  1. I agree that teaching students “how to think” shouldn’t be the direct goal of a class.  Even if one believes such a thing is possible, it can surely be more effectively done by forcing students to apply their minds to some particular subject.  In any case, the dichotomy between teaching “how to think” vs. teaching “what to think” is often dishonestly made, in that there are often different ways of categorizing data and formulating problems, and which one is brought to bear on a given problem predisposes one to a certain answer.  So, for example, one can teach students to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion, of sniffing out power and privilege in any social phenomenon, and this will inevitably lead students to Marxist conclusions, even if Marxism isn’t laid down as dogma on day one.  Teaching “how to think” can often be a more insidious form of propaganda, because students imagine that the conclusions they are lead to are their own.
  2. It is not clear if one can be taught to think, but one can be given the opportunity to think, and ability to think does benefit from practice.  A good teacher will be mindful of this when dealing with his brighter pupils.
  3. In fact, the focus of my own classes is neither thinking skills in the abstract nor bare facts but concepts, which would seem to be a middle term between the other two.  Now, if one wants to understand a nontrivial concept, the way to do it is to be forced to use the concept and observe its manifestation in various limits.  One must go through this mental process oneself for cases not studied in class to make sure one is manipulating the concept itself rather than remembering examples from class.  One could say that this forces students to think, but thinking as a means to understanding.

A better discontent — cross-post

Maybe I just know better than I once did where to look, but it seems like the far Right is thinking and communicating more clearly than it once did.  The best of our side have gotten better at identifying the key issues and our key concerns on those issues.  They can speak directly about meaning, piety, and loyalty without having to first blather on about the Vision of the Founders or the genius of the price mechanism.

Here are some encouraging articles I’ve come across just recently.  Here‘s an excellent statement of the conservative sensibility from Front Porch Republic:

As I look at the way we are now, I see a people who wish to be light, free from the weightiness of responsibility, limits, duties. We want sex without fertility, food without calories, endless consumer goods without (observable) environmental degradation, religion without law, divorce without fault, mobility without loneliness, bodies without aging, entertainments without limits. We want our freedoms to be endless and without cost, allowing us to float free from now this to now that, casting off identities and  responsibilities like old clothes discarded.

Of course, to those who are unbearably light, nothing is more repugnant than weight, but we are in our very natures called to weightiness, for we are moral agents, responsible for all.

Whether you think of the text as Holy Writ or mere literature of the past, the early chapters of Genesis indicate to us with bracing clarity the choice before us now. The human emerges from the dirt and yet is somehow responsible for the dirt, capable of tending, keeping, filling, and ordering the very dirt from which he is. The human is told to build, till, improve, cultivate–to husband (in the old sense) the cosmos as its responsible priest. And yet he is to exercise this creativity within the limits of fidelity, for he is steward and not Creator, always dependent, and obligated to be responsible.

How will we make our world and ourselves? Will be we unbearably free, infinitely light, using our creative capacities to cast off our responsible nature and soar into the beyond? Or will we be heavy, using our skill to tie ourselves into the loam from which we came, hoping to be faithful to obligation, duty, and the task of responsibility? Will the tapestry we weave have substance, or just the play of newness, with the shuttle undoing all that has been created before?

I want to be heavy. I want my children to be heavy. I want my life to be one of creative fidelity, finding new ways to be obligated and woven into the fabric of the world and the lives of my lover, my children, my neighbors, and friends.

Also, if you’d like to know what those queers at Yale missed out on, I’ve just come a great article by the estimable Dr. Esolen on liberal totalitarianism, parental authority, and sexual revolution:

On June 25, 2009, a seven year old boy was abducted at gunpoint from his terrified parents. They had just boarded a plane to fly to the country where the boy’s mother had been born, and where her kin still lived. They were leaving their own country for good, because they had grown weary of the harassment they suffered there from a syndicate of well-placed thugs. They themselves had broken no law.

The boy’s name is Domenic Johansson. He is now going on ten years old, and he has seen his mother and father only very briefly since. The thugs, officials of the Swedish government, have allowed the parents very little opportunity to visit. Domenic’s mother has suffered a nervous breakdown, and is now quite incapacitated. The foster-woman into whose care Domenic was given has informed the boy that she will never let him return to his mother and father, no matter what any court might say. Domenic, once a cheerful little boy, looks haggard, crushed, dull, as if the heart had been ripped out of him.

What was the crime committed by Christer Johansson and his wife?  The crime was simply that the Johanssons, a devout Christian couple, had pulled Domenic out of the state school and were educating him at home. It was, we should note well, perfectly within their rights by the Swedish law then in force to do this. It was also within their rights as specified by the European Union.

There was a time when certain things were considered holy. The family was holy: it was a realm of order and authority and love, not to be burst into by marauding benefactors. “A man’s home is his castle,” went the saying, meaning that the home, for father and mother and children, is as an independent dukedom, with its own traditions, its laws, its bonds of loyalty, its wisdom, and its hard-won wealth. So long as no crimes against God and man were committed, that castle was to be honored; for upon such families the whole social order was founded. One would no sooner set spies in the home to rat on mother and father, as the Soviets did, than one would burn down a church. It is not simply that one would refrain from abducting a child, as the Swedish government has done. One would not wish even to associate with someone who could conceive of so vile a thing.

Let us be clear here. The American Leviathan loathes everything that is not Itself. It does not want self-reliant people who can take care of themselves and their neighbors. It does not want people teaching their children in their own way. It does not want free associations, like the Boy Scouts, who actually do things like clean a park or build a bicycle path, things that benefit everyone, and for little or no cost to their towns and cities. It does not want private schools with their own curricula. It does not want private universities with their own ideas about what sports to sponsor, or what people they should hire. It will allow the shells of these things, so long as the “free” truckle to its will, and the “private” strip naked to its searching glare. Its pact with the little people is simple enough. The Leviathan will promote a false freedom, mere license, which helps to destroy every other social institution in existence, from the family to the neighborhood to the local school to the church. Then the Leviathan, having built a sufficient number of prisons, will come a-knocking on every door to help.

This is really the central meaning of the debate concerning whether the Catholic Church should provide for Fornication Protection Kits – for that is what we are talking about, though no one wishes to say so openly. The diktats from Levi come cloaked in the language of medicine, just as the diktats from Lotta and Lars come cloaked in the language of children’s welfare. But just as no one without a diseased mind can really explain why it is a benefit to children to be yanked out of their innocent mother’s lap and sent to live with strangers, just because mother and father wanted to teach them to read and write, so no one without a diseased mind can explain why it is a benefit to women’s health, or anybody’s health, to underwrite the sexual revolution.

Finally, Stephen lays out for us why American Catholics must be reactionaries, and what that means.

[W]hat is the smartest way to fight? What if none of these stances is effective in stopping or repealing Obama’s birth control mandate? What if engaging with the political system as it currently is actually creates more problems in the long run than it solves? For instance, civil disobedience may not work, because it will be hard for protesters to goad the federal government into using just enough violence to gain the support of the masses, but not too much violence so as not to suffer considerable loss of human life. Moreover, mustering mass support for her position may entangle the Church in dubious alliances that she may later come to regret. And, to go one step further, even considering armed resistance against the US military is just ludicrous.

Does that mean that American Catholics should abandon the fight? No! There remains open to them another option: the reactionary stance toward politics. For the reactionary, neither civil disobedience nor military resistance is capable of restoring a sane political order. Early on, some reactionaries, most notably the French reactionaries in the Vendée, took up arms against the revolution. But, by now there is now hope of restoring the old order. Indeed, it is not clear what the best one could hope for in the current situation is. The name of “reactionary” is an unfortunate relic of an earlier age, but at least it does connect the modern reactionary to his spiritual forbears.

Intellectual resistance is more demanding than military resistance. As the Colombian aphorist Nicolás Gómez Dávila said, “To think against is more difficult than to act against” (source). Armed resistance certainly requires courage, but the soldier has an immediate enemy who could destroy him at any moment, which helps him remain vigilant. Intellectual resistance, on the other hand, consists of transforming a culture, without the fear of death to spur us onward. Moreover, the reactionary does not wage an empty war of words in newspapers, on TV, or on blogs. It is a battle for souls. It is a war in which we must convert, ourselves first and then others.

American Catholics should by all means work within the ordinary political process and use civil disobedience to oppose President Obama’s contraception mandate. But, there is no guarantee that American Catholics will enjoy any success. Indeed, after Catholics are forced to pay for contraception, it is nearly certain that the federal government will impose a requirement to pay for abortions; this will play out in the same way that Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close down after they refuse to place children in homosexual households. We Catholics will be exiles in our own country. The task of a reactionary Catholic, then, will be to figure out how to hand on the faith in an age of persecution, how to prepare an underground spiritual and intellectual resistance, to convert hearts and minds. We will need to wait and be patient. Above all, we will need to take Cardinal von Galen’s words to heart: “Become hard! Remain firm!”

The Orthosphere gets noticed

Fellow Orthospheric blogger Svein Sellanraa has a complimentary article about us in the Brussels Journal.  Svein is joining the movement just in time–Bruce was starting to worry that we’re going to peter out as one after another of us gets to busy to keep blogging.

Despair spreading

Not sure what’s brought it on just now.  Things seem to me to be falling apart at about the same rate they have been for quite a while.  Still, here are two powerful statements of loss of hope for the future from prominent reactionary bloggers.

Larry Auster

Laura Robins


The tragedy of our age


Self-immolation of endangered peoples is sadly common. Stone-age cultures often disintegrate upon contact with the outside world. Their culture breaks down, and suicides skyrocket. An Australian researcher writes about “suicide contagion or cluster deaths – the phenomenon of indigenous people, particularly men from the same community taking their own lives at an alarming rate”. [3] Canada’s Aboriginal Health Foundation reports, “The overall suicide rate among First Nation communities is about twice that of the total Canadian population; the rate among Inuit is still higher – 6 to 11 times higher than the general population.” [4] Suicide is epidemic among Amazon tribes. The London Telegraph reported on November 19, 2000,

The largest tribe of Amazonian Indians, the 27,000-strong Guarani, are being devastated by a wave of suicides among their children, triggered by their coming into contact with the modern world. Once unheard of among Amazonian Indians, suicide is ravaging the Guarani, who live in the southwest of Brazil, an area that now has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. More than 280 Guarani have taken their own lives in the past 10 years, including 26 children under the age of 14 who have poisoned or hanged themselves. Alcoholism has become widespread, as has the desire to own radios, television sets and denim jeans, bringing an awareness of their poverty. Community structures and family unity have broken down and sacred rituals come to a halt.

Of the more than 6,000 languages now spoken on the planet, two become extinct each week, and by most estimates half will fall silent by the end of the century. [5] A United Nations report claims that nine-tenths of the languages now spoken will become extinct in the next hundred years. [6] Most endangered languages have a very small number of speakers. Perhaps a thousand distinct languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, many by tribes of only a few hundred members. Several are disappearing tribal languages spoken in the Amazon rainforest, the Andes Mountains, or the Siberian taiga. Eighteen languages have only one surviving speaker. It is painful to imagine how the world must look to these individuals. They are orphaned in eternity, wiped clean of memory, their existence reduced to the exigency of the moment.

But are these dying remnants of primitive societies really so different from the rest of us? Mortality stalks most of the peoples of the world – not this year or next, but within the horizon of human reckoning. A good deal of the world seems to have lost the taste for life. Fertility has fallen so far in parts of the industrial world that languages such as Ukrainian and Estonian will be endangered within a century and German, Japanese, and Italian within two. The repudiation of life among advanced countries living in prosperity and peace has no historical precedent, except perhaps in the anomie of Greece in its post-Alexandrian decline and Rome during the first centuries of the Common Era. But Greece fell to Rome, and Rome to the barbarians. In the past, nations that foresaw their own demise fell to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Plague, Famine, and Death. Riding point for the old quartet in today’s more civilized world is a Fifth Horseman: loss of faith. Today’s cultures are dying of apathy, not by the swords of their enemies.

Nor is the Muslim world immune:

But Islamic society is even more fragile. As Muslim fertility shrinks at a rate demographers have never seen before, it is converging on Europe’s catastrophically low fertility as if in time-lapse photography. The average 30-year-old Iranian woman comes from a family of six children, but she will bear only one or two children during her lifetime. Turkey and Algeria are just behind Iran on the way down, and most of the other Muslim countries are catching up quickly. By the middle of this century, the belt of Muslim countries from Morocco to Iran will become as gray as depopulating Europe. The Islamic world will have the same proportion of dependent elderly as the industrial countries – but one-tenth the productivity. A time bomb that cannot be defused is ticking in the Muslim world.

Facing the death of one’s culture and religion is the characteristic anguish of our time.  How odd that this great human drama will be largely overlooked by our artists and storytellers because their own individualistic, universalist prejudices keep them from seeing it.

H/T:  E. Feser