To which of these two civilizations is temporal victory promised? I answer this question with no hesitation, with no heaviness of heart, that temporal victory will go inevitably to the philosophic [modernist] civilization. Has man desired to be free? He will be. Does he abhor bonds? They will fall to pieces at his feet. There was a day when, in order to experience liberty, man decided to kill God. Did he not do it? Did he not place Him on a cross between two thieves? Did the angels, perchance, come down from heaven to defend the Just One suffering agony on earth? Well, why would they descend now, when it is not a matter of the crucifixion of God, but of the crucifixion of man by man?…As for myself, I hold it proven and evident that evil will always triumph over good here below, and the triumph over evil is something reserved for God, if it can be said, personally…
It should not be said that if defeat is certain, the struggle is useless. In the first place, the struggle might delay the catastrophe; in the second place, the struggle is a duty, and not simply for those who consider themselves Catholics. We should give thanks to God for having granted us the struggle, and not ask, in addition to the grace of combat, the grace of triumph, for in His infinite goodness He reserves for those who fight well in His cause a reward greater than victory.
—Juan Donoso Cortes, in a letter to the Count de Montalembert, translated by Vincent McNamara and Michael Schwartz
I try not to pay attention to them, but I haven’t been able to completely avoid hearing about the aspiring Republican candidates. Except for Gingrich, they’re not a bad lot personally, but all these primaries mean that we’re forced to look at the ugly reality that is “Republican ideas“. I’m afraid I don’t think that anybody who is sympathetic to the idea of imposing a flat tax or of bombing Iran has any business being anywhere near political power–the first because I can’t imagine why a massive transfer of tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and a corresponding transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, would be a desirable thing, the second because I generally think wars are things to be avoided, at least when there is absolutely no reason for provoking one. Then there’s the whole “The national debt is out of control! We have to cut taxes!” think that just makes it hard to take them seriously. Yes, among the Republican establishment, we social conservatives are morons for supporting normative gender roles, but holding as dogma that the U.S. economy is always on the right side of the Laffer curve–that’s the heart of conservatism, right? It pains me to say it, but it is now the Republicans who are the class warfare party. Revenue neutral tax change by definition means a burden is being taken off one group and put onto another. Hence, neoconservative publications–even First Things, as I’ve noted before–have started making noises about how the bottom half aren’t pulling their tax weight, and republican virtue demands that those slackers pony up. On the other hand, corporate income taxes and capital gains taxes must be reduced. It was hard work, but the Republicans have succeeded in living down to image of them painted by their enemies. They do make the Democrats’ accusation of being the rich man’s party hard to dismiss.
Sometimes they try to prove that they’re the “conservative” party, but this doesn’t impress me, since the Republicans don’t know what conservatism means. I’m more reactionary than anyone registered with that party, and I see no reason why people shouldn’t be forced to buy health insurance–put an end to those free riders, I say! I also don’t understand this stubborn refusal to consider the possibility that global warming is real and man-made. What does any of this have to do with defending Christendom and the patriarchal family?
The Republicans simply can’t be trusted with power. They would do no good on the issues we care about, but because we are unfairly associated with them in the public mind, their incompetence would tarnish us. I can’t work up any desire to see them defeat even our unambiguous enemies–the baby-killing, sodomy-promoting anti-clerical Democrats.
Why, though? Why can’t a national party even appear to be worthy of public trust? The end of the Cold War has been very bad for the Republicans. Back when communism ravaged half the world and promised to bring its hellish rule to the other half, the Republican positions kind of made sense. It was good and necessary that the one nation capable of resisting the Reds should do so, making its own the interests of all mankind. Today, the Red menace is gone, and American hegemony has become a fact in search of a purpose. In the face of communist agitation, condemnations of “socialism” and defenses of the free market as by far the lesser evil were also good and necessary. Today, nobody’s talking about nationalizing industries, and all this talk about “socialism” is meaningless. The Cold War gave the Republicans a sensible stand on foreign policy and economics–the two areas in which they got a reputation for being “strong”. The lack of a communist threat rendered all of that irrelevant.
Still, one would think that the collapse and discrediting of socialism would have been more disorienting for the parties of the Left. Yet they got through it without a hitch, arguably stronger than before, now that they were no longer associated (fairly or not) with a brutal tyranny. And the center-right parties went into ideological drift, no longer sure what their purpose was to be, and easy prey to every charismatic charlatan looking for followers.
I think the ultimate reason is the rout of conservatives from academia. People on this blog–including, sometimes, me–attack the pretensions of experts, but one really can’t run a modern nation-state without them. The Republicans have no experts that they can trust, so they’re running blind. The physicists tell them that their missile defense plan will never work. That’s something we should be able to speak on. However, the Republicans knew that most physicists are commies and would rather America not be able to defend herself from Soviet or Chinese missile attack; therefore, the experts can’t be trusted. So the Republicans insisted on throwing more and more money at this boondoggle. The Republicans decide that we should put a manned base on the moon, and then put men on Mars. Where did they get this hare-brained idea? Certainly not from the astronomers; we would have told them what a waste of money this is and how it will cripple the valuable space exploration and science work that NASA has been and is doing. But most of us are commies, so another boondoggle had to be carried along until a Democratic president thankfully killed it. And those are just the two biggest partisan issues in my personal field.
The Republicans thought they could do without the universities, because they would have think tanks instead. This has obviously not worked out. Academia’s peer review process is certainly imperfect, but the think tank system seems to be totally without merit. Throw enough money at unaffiliated intellectuals, and you’ll find people to tell you want you want to hear.
I of course have a prejudice, given where I work, that universities are the center of the world. There is some truth to it though. I would rather that my beliefs were respectable among the intellectual elite than that they could win votes among the masses. The masses have inertia but no initiative. What the elite want them to believe, they will believe; it just takes a generation to make the shift.
Serendipitously I was musing this morning on how conservatives must be autodidacts because the educational-informational establishment won’t present their views fairly and engage in exactly the sort of exclusionary behavior Bonald describes (this before I read your post and followed the link to his). In schools and everywhere people are presented with the best of liberal-progressive theory, such as it is, and told conservatives just follow tradition; if they’re presented with any traditionalist arguments, they are weak and out of context. To learn what traditionalist views and reasons actually are, you have to be an autodidact, and since Sturgeon’s Law applies (“90 percent of everything is crud”), most people get a misrepresented sample (they learn the “best” progressive thought in schools, presented with varying degrees of dogmatism. Thus even when they encounter the shoddier reasons outside of school, they were informed of better ones. But they have to sift through everything to find the best traditional/conservative arguments on their own, and thus get the impression that on the whole liberals are more thoughtful than conservatives).
I think Bonald’s key observation is precisely the ironic one: that those who deny the validity of tradition are currently the only ones with any kind of intellectual tradition, while conservatives have to re-invent their position anew every generation since the institutions through which they would pass and build on their thought have been progressively (literally) demolished. (This is one area where, whatever your other disagreements with Moldbug might be, he has been quite good at analyzing the plight conservatives find themselves in, and why, as a result, they are in continual retreat regardless of the fact that their views are really no less reasoned than that of progressives, and progressives are no less dogmatic and, ultimately, unreasoned than they charge conservatives with being). The irony is that those who denied there is a (Western) “canon” are the only ones who really have a canon anymore, at least in the sense that matters (passed down through established intellectual institutions. As you’ve pointed out, even the churches are no longer reliable on this, and the less said about universities, the better).
I feel sometimes like we’re in Tigger’s position where everything is a key priority that must be fixed, but this one really is. To that end Moldbug, again, offers worthy suggestions: using technology we can now access old books that our progressive “friends” in the educational establishment have no interest in letting anyone know even exist (and which most of them, having passed through a progressive education establishment themselves, aren’t even aware exist). Major work should be done on creating a conservative/traditionalist intellectual repository, and finding a way to publicize its existence broadly so that people become aware of it, and thus can use it as a resource. Something along the lines of what has already been done for K-12ers for Homeschoolers (itself rather imperfect), but for advanced education.
We know we won’t get any help or sympathy from the establishment in doing this, even the supposed “conservative” establishment. Perhaps think upon it as a new Monastic movement for a new Dark Age.
By “Tigger” he means the Winnie the Pooh character, right? I’m afraid I missed the reference. Oh well, doesn’t matter.
This is an interesting, and more detailed, explanation of how having an intellectual tradition gives liberals a real edge. For maintaining such a tradition, institutions are key, institutions that are themselves intellectually active and operating relatively outside mundane politics, such as universities.
I’m not sure what most conservatives would think about traditionalism becoming somewhat self-referential. I, of course, am all for it; I would very much like us to stop reinventing the wheel every generation. If nothing else, it’s not conducive to a healthy respect for ancestors to believe liberals when they say past generations had no reasons for their beliefs. On the other hand, I think it’s important to many traditionalists that conservatism is not the tradition they’re defending. The political philosophical project is a lower, slightly unclean activity that must be done so that they and others can enjoy their real traditions–religious or regional–without having these contaminated by politics. I do appreciate the importance of not becoming so obsessively partisan that one lets, say, Christian orthodoxy or the spirit of the South, mean nothing but an opposition to the liberalism working to destroy it. On the other hand, I think the development of traditionalism really has added to the traditions. They have become self-conscious, in a way, through it. Their will to survive has been articulated through it. In the case of Roman Catholicism, the antimodernist writings of the popes have contributed to the Church’s settled doctrine. I think there is no corruption, no loss, in allowing it to become a part of a tradition that that tradition should be preserved, and that it is not made bad by offenses against freedom or equality.
The obituary for this blog was written before I typed its first line: “Here lies Throne and Altar. It’s author was a sexually repressed, closed-minded, hypocrite who never had any reasons for his beliefs except a blind faith in tradition.” Not one word I’ve ever written could be used as evidence for any of those assertions, but that hardly matters when the enemy has a louder speaker, and I can hardly complain, given that this has been the fate of so many men better than myself.
Here’s The Social Pathologist taking a first draft. We traditionalist conservatives, you see, see no need to think because we assume that tradition is infallible and want to precisely replicate the past. Now, it doesn’t matter that not one social conservative–not I, not Jim Kalb, not Allan Carlson, not Roger Scruton, not Laura Wood, not Gerry Neal, not Alte, not Jerry Sayler, not R. R. Reno, not Larry Auster, not Robert George, not Proph, not rkirk, not anyone he or I would call a traditionalist or social conservative–has ever espoused the absurd position he attributes to us. (Our rather more nuanced attitude toward tradition is explained here.) Why bother addressing–or even acknowledging the existence of–the reasons for our beliefs when SP can apparently just peer into our souls and know–without ever having met any of us or being able to adduce any evidence for it in our writings–that we’re really just motivated by a neutrotic refusal to acknowledge female sexual desire? I really wouldn’t mind if SP just said that he was unconvinced by our reasons for refusing to share his enthusiasm for game and female careerism, but it’s really impossible to carry out a dialogue with someone who simply refuses to admit that we have reasons but just goes on to make up discreditable motives to impugn us with. In fairness to SP, the temptation for one side (the “moderate” one) in an intraconservative dispute to use Leftist stereotypes to tar their opponents is always very strong. The stereotypes are part of the general pseudoknowledge, so they can generally be flung about without evidence for them demanded, and it’s an easy way to gain the sympathy of Leftist onlookers. What we’re seeing is a reoccuring feature in conservative history.
Paul Gottfried tells the story in Conservatism in America of how the neoconservatives took over the conservative movement, expelled their enemies, and then announced to the world that for the first time conservatism would now have intellectual substance and a strong grounding in reason. As Gottfried points out–and it should be obvious from the intellectual output of the two eras–this was egregiously false. The pre-takeover traditionalists maintained a level of culture and theoretical depth that the neoconservatives never matched, even before they descended into partisan hacks. (Gottfried sees this, even though he has disagreements with both camps of conservatives.) Note that the neocon victors didn’t say that their rivals’ reasoning was flawed or unclear; they simply denied its existence altogether and so didn’t have to bother responding to traditionalists’ criticisms. They were able to do this by playing on the Leftist stereotype of the unthinking traditionalist; they knew if they played that card, the Leftist media would back them up.
Of course, the idea that the continental European conservatives were blind partisans of tradition with no defensible reasons for their beliefs–“immoderate and inferior copies of Burke” as I’ve put it–has been repeated so many times with such assurance that no one seems to care anymore that there is no truth to it whatsoever. For example, Louis de Bonald’s most famous book, On Divorce, contains not one appeal to tradition. Neither did Le Play, La Tour du Pin, or Maurras ever make the ridiculous claim that because we used to do it that way, that’s how we have to keep doing it. They all grounded their positions in what they took to be the lessions of history, theology, and social science. Some of them had scientific pretentions themselves, and Robert Nisbet argues in The Sociological Tradition that the French Right laid the groundwork for the science of sociology. You may say that their reasons were wrong, or that circumstances have rendered them invalid, but you cannot say that they didn’t have them.
An example of this casual lying about the French Right, which I’ve already noted, is Philippe Beneton’s forward to Critics of the Enlightenment. He makes the argument that the counter-revolutionaries based their argument entirely on national traditions, and now their nations have taken another track, so they’re entirely without a leg to stand on. Beneton is apparently unembarrassed to make this argument even when none of the counterrevolutionaries in the book he is forwarding ever make the argument that he says was their only one. Another case is Isaiah Berlin, who liked to say that he found anti-Englightenment thinkers’ alleged rejection of reason interesting, when what he really found it was comforting. How nice if you can just pick a few quotes from de Maistre, Vico, and Herder that seem to confirm that you, the party of Enlightenment, hold a monopoly on rationality!
Carelessly denigrating the intelligence of social conservatives is particularly popular if said conservatives are evangelicals and the attacker is a Christian academic on the make. Consider this book review in Books and Culture of Darryl Hart’s From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. (The extremely positive review is also illustrates the bizarre fact that evangelicals like to be told that they’re stupid.) It’s the standard attack–evangelicals are theocrats; they’re obsessed with abortion and gay marriage; they don’t present reasoned arguments, but just invoke the Bible–with the Jeffrey Hart/Sam Tanenhaus twist of saying that getting all bent out of shape over social issues is a betrayal of true conservatism (the latter consisting of perpetual graceful surrender to the advancing Left). The evangelicals are utopians with no sense of prudence, no respect for custom or precedent.
… after thirty years of laboring with and supposedly listening to political conservatives, evangelicals have not expanded their intellectual repertoire significantly beyond the moral imperatives of the Bible….evangelicals are more likely to support political plans to improve society, grow the economy, and expand the United States’ global presence as long as doctors are not performing abortions and ministers are not presiding over the marriage of gay couples.
At least as the review presents it, the case is a hopelessly self-contradictory mess. Abortion is nowhere discussed in the Bible, so in becoming pro-life evangelicals prove that they aren’t limited by explicit Biblical commands. Pursuing economic growth and opposing seriously immoral acts is hardly utopian. If conservatives base themselves off of inherited tradition, what would be wrong with invoking our civilization’s holy book anyway? But one gets the impression that Hart’s personal holy book is the secularists’ separation of Church and State (i.e. State atheism), which he claims to have extracted from Luther’s Two Kingdom theology, and which is apparently the only bit of Christianity that it’s okay to invoke in the public square. Hart says that “the source of American greatness…lies with its political order more than its religious identity.” This is obviously false if Christianity is indeed the path of salvation and by what is “great” about America we mean what is most worth preserving. (And what other definition matters?)
I can now see that there was an element of unhealthy pride in my motives for starting this blog. I had spent quite a bit of time in isolation trying to explain to myself not just what was wrong with liberalism run amok, but what precisely was right about the things we’ve been taught to regard as self-evidently bad: patriarchy, monoculturalism, censorship, etc. As far as I knew, I was giving a more rigorous defense of these things than had yet been attempted. After all, “everybody knew” that “sexists” and censors have no arguments, right? While I knew that wasn’t really true, it did seem like the arguments existed but were scattered or not spelled out in previous works. Well, now I had the full exposition. Wait till I show the world! They may not agree, but if they notice me at all, they’ll have to take it seriously.
That was obviously vanity. In fact, I doubt there are any observations or arguments here that haven’t been written down by past generations of conservatives, many times before. Given French legitimism, Jesuit natural law communitarianism, Dutch Calvinist sphere sovereignty, German Right Hegelianism, Russian mysticism, American Agrarianism, and the metahistorical masterpieces of Spengler and Voegelin, one sees that conservatism is poor neither in arguments nor in genius. What it does lack is a tradition. The irony here is exquisite, isn’t it? Conservative thinkers do brilliant work, but it doesn’t get passed down. A T. S. Eliot, say, will produce a powerful defense of some aspect of conservatism. It will perhaps be noted, but then quickly forgotten, while the grand narrative–“conservatives are stupid; they have no ideas, just inherited prejudices”–remains untouched. The next generation of conservatives begins intellectually from scratch. We reproduce a small bit of what these earlier generations did, and we think ourselves very clever. “Wait till I tell the world!” And I do, and the world replies “conservatives are stupid; they have no ideas, just inherited prejudices”. Then I finally start to understand.