What was the real story of the last hundred years?

From that article I was just talking about, a thought-provoking aside:

Definitions of the appropriate time span for “contemporary history” lack precision: surveying various writers, Kristina Spohr of the London School of Economics suggests that the term has generally been employed to signify the history of “one’s own time”. She quotes Geoffrey Barraclough, an exponent in the 1960s: “Contemporary history begins when the problems which are actual in the world today first take visible shape.” When exactly that was will vary from case to case and is a matter of judgement for individual historians, requiring them to construct narratives on the Neustadt-May model but over the longue durée.

To Eric Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist, his own time was naturally defined by the rise and fall of the Soviet state and he framed his Age of Extremes around the dates 1914 and 1991. Hobsbawm’s book has become a classic, but in the 20 years since it first appeared our sense of the “contemporary” has moved on from the cold war. In an era preoccupied by globalisation, historians, when trying to discern how today’s problems took visible shape, have looked back to moments and markers that differ from Hobsbawm’s.

Beefy Levinson recently mused

Sometimes I wonder why God called me into being at this point in time when everything is crumbling. Maybe it’s his way of asking us once again to not put our trust in princes.

I don’t know God’s intentions, but one advantage we do have over previous generations of moderns (before things got as bad as they now are) is historical perspective.  The owl of Minerva only flies at dusk.  In particular, with the core institution of the West, the Roman Catholic Church, having nearly completed Her process of suicide, we can for the first time look back and see the story of Christendom whole.  Much that seemed of fundamental importance even to our fathers’ generation we now recognize as ephemeral.  Ask yourself how the probable world of 2050 will most differ from the recorded world of 1750, and consider how little the things that seemed important at the time–two world wars, the coming and going of European nationalism, fascism, the contest between communism and capitalism–have to do with these really fundamental things.

  1. The destruction of patriarchy and its replacement by career as the center of life.  At the time, people made fun of feminists and social conservatives, loudmouth atheists and fundamentalist kooks for their culture war antics, saying that that sort of thing distracts from the “serious” issues of economics and foreign policy.  Now it is clear that the culture war was the really significant one.  The leaders of the sexual revolution will be larger figures in future history books than Lenin and Trotsky.  The formers’ changes were far more radical.  As the years go by, America’s and Europe’s obsession with Nazis and WWII will get harder and harder to justify–Fascists and Nazis don’t have much to do with the main changes of the past century, and communism had a much larger body count.  Already many of us who lived through the Cold War are coming to realize that whether the world is lorded over by Soviet Jacobinism, American Jacobinism, or some combination of the two wasn’t really that important.
  2. The eclipse of the white race.  If it does happen that whites become a minority (realistically:  a despised and legally disadvantaged minority) in the countries they once dominated, that will certainly affect how we read the past.  It doesn’t matter whether the leaders of the civil rights movement got together behind closed doors to plan how non-whites could take over the West; if non-whites do take over the West, everything having to do with race relations in the past century will have to be read as leading up to this.  The basic story is not white supremacy giving way to equality, but white supremacy giving way to colored supremacy.  Of course, the former will be be considered iniquitous, both intrinsically and in how it was maintained, while that latter will be thought glorious, but even so, the story feels very different when it isn’t stopped at 1965.
  3. Mass apostasy of the laity.  It’s ridiculous how clerico-centric most Catholic history is.  One would get the impression that since the time of Constantine the central drama in the life of the Church has been the corruption of clergy and efforts to reform them.  Of course, this has been one issue, although I doubt Christendom’s clergy were any less disciplined than any heathenish priesthood before the modern age of social control.  (Some of the manias over clerical morality are amusing in retrospect.  For centuries, and until rather recently, Catholic populations seem to have been preoccupied with the worry that priests would attempt to seduce women in the confessional.  I suppose this must have happened occasionally, but I can’t think of a worse venue for picking up girls, and it’s funny that more dangerous and plausible abuses like extortion through the confessional didn’t get the same attention.)  Preconciliar writings are obsessed with whether native clergy have been promoted often and early enough in mission territories.  Postconciliar writings until about 2000 focus on coming priest shortages.  None of that crap mattered.  Now that we’ve finally noticed that we’re hemorrhaging laity, we can step back and ask them what was it that kept them all those centuries from leaving before.  It obviously wasn’t perfect priests.

An outline of history: the contest between civilization and barbarism by a neutral observer

If Leftists like Wells and Condorcet can try their hands at it, why not me?  The essay below is kind of exploratory.  I’m not sure if it represents my ultimate conclusions, and more research needs to be done, but I think the major pieces are coming into place.

First, the key distinctions.

Dependency, personal and impersonal

That humans need and have claims on each other is the fundamental social fact.  The ties between men can be either personal or impersonal.  In the former case, duties are between particular persons.  In the latter case, one has fundamentally has duties toward and reliance on a group; the group will delegate its obligation to you to some particular member, but the ultimate responsible agent is the group itself.  Personal dependency can base itself either on kinship or on vows of loyalty.  The paradigmatic case, the family, obviously involves both.  In many societies, personal networks are the basis of the whole social order.  A society publicly organized around kinship we call “tribal”; one organized around binding personal oaths, we call “feudal”.  Once the network gets large enough, though, its higher levels take on an impersonal character.  We can still identify such societies as “personal”, because even its most distant and impersonal levels rely on the network of personal relations (kinship, vassalage) for their legitimacy.

The more common word for the above societies is “barbarian”, a derogatory term invented by those peoples who organized themselves on the other principle.  The most impersonal form of dependency is the market–we all rely on each other via the division of labor, but nobody has any actual duties toward anyone else, at least as far as the market goes.  The more important form of impersonal dependency is the territorial state, a corporate person regarded as the ultimate authority and caretaker of the common good over a particular stretch of territory.  Such entities were called “polis” or “city”, and their citizens claimed every virtue and refinement as theirs:  they the polite, the civil, the civilized.  Those who organized themselves differently were “barbarians”–little better than beasts.  Civil organization does tend to allow a more specialized division of labor, and it does a better job of inspiring men to die for non-relatives.  Having produced the best conquerers and historians, the city-dwellers have earned the right to decide on names.  On the other hand, we should admit that even citizens have historically been only half-civilized.  No matter how “polished” an Aristotle or a Sarmiento thought themselves to be, it was not a city but particular women who bore them.  Historical civilizations have built themselves not out of free and independent individuals, but out of the nuggets of “barbarism” we call families.

How did the city arise?  In all the most ancient cases, it was a theocracy.  The city belonged to a god who was present in that territory and maintained his temple there.  Why should that be?

Recognition, particular and universal

Loyalty to natural persons comes naturally to us; loyalty to corporate persons takes more ideological work.  The history of civilization is the history of ideology.  Hegel and Fukuyama have emphasized the importance of the desire for recognition as a driving force of history.  I rely on the social order to give me the tools to make sense of myself, and for that it must somehow acknowledge all the key dimensions of my existence as a personal being.

I am a person.  On the one hand, that means I am particular, a separate world of subjectivity, distinct from all others.  Usually, the social order recognizes this through distinct, personal roles.  My individuality is affirmed by being the only husband of my wife, for example.  On the other hand, I feel that, while I occupy various roles, I myself am larger than these roles.  I have an intellect ordered to the totality of truth and a free will ordered to the totality of goodness.  One might say that I am a “universal subject”, anything and everything being fit objects of my intellect and will.  I want the social order to acknowledge my transcendent horizon, my freedom.

Traditionally, this has been done through religion.  If the city represented only some particular good, then only if man were a piece of a machine would it be right to ask him to sacrifice everything for it.  But if the city belongs to a god, if it is brought into relation with Being itself, then man’s ultimate horizon is recognized and, indeed, invoked in asking him to give his life for the city.  God, the source and plenitude of being, acts like a sort of reflection of the transcendental ego–He is the universal object to match the universal subject.  Nothing else awakens one to a true sense of his subjectivity and freedom like the encounter with God.

Cities grew around temples.  The city relied far more on its public cult than any barbarian tribe had need to.  Sometimes, the sense of the city as sacred would erode, as in decadent Greece and Rome, but this usually led to frightful class antagonisms, and stability only resumed with the assertion of personal (“barbarous”) dependencies–charismatic rulers, patronage networks, and so forth.

The unfortunate triumph of civilization

So, one had one’s choice of tribalism or theocracy.  Ah, the good old days.  That’s obviously not the situation any more.  What happened?  The tribalism/theocracy days lasted thousands of years, so it must be a fairly stable arrangement.  There have always been some people with “atomic” personalities who presumably didn’t like it, but below a critical mass they don’t cause problems.  Today, the new system–modernity, liberalism–is powerful enough to be self-sustaining and expansive.  At some key point in history, circumstances had to be right to allow liberalism to grow from insignificance to the force it is now.  That circumstance was the contest, beginning with the Investiture Controversy, between the Church and the temporal powers in the West.  The liberal historian Lord Acton has pointed out

To that conflict of four hundred years we owe the rise of civil liberty. If the Church had continued to buttress the thrones of the king whom it anointed, or if the struggle had terminated speedily in an undivided victory, all Europe would have sunk down under a Byzantine or Muscovite despotism. For the aim of both contending parties was absolute authority. But although liberty was not the end for which they strove, it was the means by which the temporal and the spiritual power called the nations to their aid.

What Acton meant was that by checking each other, neither party was able to achieve ultimate power and establish an “oriental”-style theocracy.  This is a good point, although we’ll see that things go deeper than that.  The Church on the one hand and the incipient states (Emperor, kings, and free cities) on the other were main the agents of civilization.  For the most part, kings and priests worked together to squeeze out feudal barbarism, with some sort of theocracy–on the model of Christian Rome–as presumably the ultimate goal.  There was, unfortunately, the detail of who would end up on top of the finished product, disagreements on this point leading to some serious roughhousing between papal and imperial partisans.  These fights were, indeed, the precursors to the clerical-secular battles of modern times, but we must not read too much of the latter conflict into the former.  The Ghibellines were orthodox Catholics with many clerics in their ranks.  Both Guelphs and Ghibellines acccepted the Gelasian doctrine that Church and State both had some legitimate authority from God.

More important than the physical battles was the propaganda war, the constant temptation for partisans of one authority to relativize the claims of the other.  The first major philosopher to seriously maintain a social contract view of the State may have been papal partisan Duns Scotus; he claimed that, while the family is a natural society and the Church supernatural, the State is artificial–a convenient instrument for upholding property rights, themselves another artifice.  However, the ideological fixtures of modernity–freedom, democracy, impersonality–were invented as weapons for the secular power to use against the Church.

The first great ideologue of modernity was Marsilius of Padua, who presented the theory of democratic totalitarianism nearly five centuries before Rousseau.  Marsilius broke with the medieval consensus to assert the absolute supremacy of the temporal power, with the Church reduced to being a creature and plaything of the State.  The State deserves its unlimited power, if it is democratic, because it represents the will of the people.  Government without consent is tyranny.  Here we see the beginning of a new conception of the city, one where religion is ultimately superfluous.  Civilized life is superior because it means freedom.  The power of the state just means the freedom of the collective will.  The theocratic state recognized man’s freedom by placing itself under a divine order.  The modern state does the opposite; it recognizes man’s freedom by refusing to subordinate his will–as represented by the democratic state–to any outside judgment, divine or natural.

In the fourteenth century, these ideas were too radical to gain much traction.  The leading philosopher of the day, William of Occham, was critical of Marsilius.  Then disaster struck the Church, first the disaster of the Great Schism, then the worse disaster of conciliarism, which together produced Vatican II levels of clerical anarchy.  By the eve of the Reformation, the State’s supremacy was secure, in practice if not yet in theory.  As Father Copleston writes

It is significant that the first printed edition of the Defensor pacis was published in 1517 and that the work was apparently utilized by Cranmer and Hooker.

The latter, as we know, worked to make the King’s ecclesiastic supremacy official.  They still, of course, wanted a Christian England where the king rules by God’s grace.  In pagan civilizations, it might work–in fact, it has worked–for the official cult to be a department of the State, and the priests government functionaries, but such a thing cannot be maintained in Christendom, where the Church was instituted directly by Christ and predates all modern states.  If the Church is subordinate to the State, then religion itself is subordinate to the nation.  One can’t maintain Marsilius’ Erastianism without eventually falling into his democratism as well.  Two revolutions, and Anglican England was reduced to a functional democracy.  A further revolution brought democracy to the continent; another brought down Russia, the “third Rome”.

Civilization had triumphed, but not the old, theocratic model of civilization, but the new model, based on the sovereignty of man rather than of God.  As in the old cities, the political sphere was–at least at first–supreme only at the top.  At the bottom, there was still the family as the nexus of personal dependency.  Religion, having been reduced to a private hobby, became socially irrelevant.

The future, if you can stomach it

The new city is less tolerant than the old.  A theocracy could accept that God had given the paterfamilias sovereignty in his own sphere.  There was still a place for personal organization.  For modernity, this is not possible.  Its ideology forces it to regard personal dependency of any form as servile, degrading, and iniquitous.  Why should wives obey their husbands, or children their parents?  The former didn’t vote for the latter in regular elections, and the latter don’t necessarily have any publicly verifiable expertise that would make them ideal family leaders.  Family life is no doubt unequal, not only in the difference of roles within each family, but also in that some children will, through no merit of their own, end up with better parents, which will give them an “unfair” advantage.  A family burdens children with familial, cultural, and ethnic legacies that the children never got to choose for themselves.  Surely this is nothing but slavery!  How different it is from the twin centers of impersonal dependency–the market and the State–that alone fully recognize men’s freedom, their priority to predetermined roles, by treating each person as an identical, unencumbered will.

In the end, the impersonal sphere can’t be content to see itself as the domain of freedom; it must extirpate the domain of slavery, of barbarism.  Children must be artificially conceived and must gestate ideally in government hatcheries, or at least in the wombs of women volunteers chosen by an unbiased, scientific selection procedure.  They must be raised identically by the State via certified child-care experts.  Future generations will no doubt be shocked that “amateurs” were once allowed to raise children, that the “accident” of filiation should have been allowed to choose who a child must obey.  For the liberal, the destruction of the family will have many additional benefits:  the end of tradition, of piety in all its forms, of organized religion, of inequalities of inherited wealth.

Remember, though, that there are two sides of the recognition man craves.  Liberal, egalitarian society may recognize man as free, but how can it recognize him as distinct?  How can it make up for that sense I have, when I see how my own wife and daughter rely on me, that I myself, as a distinct person, matter, that I am somehow irreplaceable?  It was, I think, Durkheim who first pointed to the answer, and every feminist has repeated it since:  the free persons of the liberal future find personal fulfillment through careers.  Instead of having family roles, they will have their own distinct place in a business or government.  There, we are assured, they will find work that is “fulfilling” and “creative”, unlike the drudgery of domestic life.  And most importantly, they will be “independent”.  (Durkheim, being more intelligent than the feminists, stated more accurately that they would rather be dependent on society in a different way.  Still, “organic solidarity” feels less constricting than “mechanical solidarity” because it’s more diffuse; hence the feminist talk of “independence”.)

This, more or less the dystopia of Huxley, is our future.  Every important social movement, every movement that manifestly has the winds of history on its back, points toward this end.  Conservatives will fight it every step of the way, and we will lose every step of the way, as we always do.  At the terminus of history is that most eminently civilized creature, the Last Man, and a vast spiritual night before the merciful extinction of the species.

Alternate history: suppose there were no WWII

In 1945, Leftism emerged victorious over the whole planet.  It can be hard to remember how different things were about a decade before, in the mid thirties.  The Western world then was undergoing a serious crisis of faith in the 19th century creed:  liberalism, democracy, capitalism.  It was a great time for communism, but it was also a surprisingly good time for the genuine Right.  The thirties witnessed the rise of conservative heroes like Franco, Salazar, and Dollfuss in Spain, Portugal, and Austria.  In Italy, Mussolini had swashed the Leftist republic and made peace with the Church.  One could have reasonably hoped that Italian Fascism was evolving into a form of conservatism.  Germany was ruled by a loon, but a loon who had crushed the German Left and given his country a respite from democracy.  The Catholic and Orthodox Churches were enduring savage persecution at the hands of Russian, Mexican, and Spanish Leftists, but they were withstanding it heroically.  The self-confidence of Christians was actually pretty high, as one sees in writers of that era like Chesterton and Thomas Merton.  They believed society was broke and the Church had the answers, not vice versa.

Was it inevitable that the Left would triumph?  No, at least it was not inevitable that it would triumph so quickly.  Drieu has, in one of my old comments, mused that an Axis victory was Western civilization’s last hope.  My opinion is somewhat different.  I think the non-Leftist West was doomed the moment WWII started.  But in 1938, we were not yet doomed.  I could potentially save the West if I could just go back in time and take over Hitler’s brain and tell him not to start a war.  It was so stupid anyway.  Germany and the Nazis were really riding high; why the hell did they risk and lose it all?

Suppose I did go back in time, and I replaced the real Hitler with Bonald-controlled zombie-Hitler.  Zombie-Hitler’s one imperative is to hold what he’s got and not start a war.  Zombie-Hitler decides Germany has sufficiently stuck it to the Treaty of Versailles, and he goes on to spend most of his time playing golf.  No big initiatives, no new world order.  Being top dog in continental Europe is enough.  Of course, zombie-Hitler keeps his dictatorial rule, censorship, beating the crap out of communists, and other such worthwhile activities.

Now, I really doubt that if Hitler hadn’t provoked a European war, anyone else would have.  So let’s say that the non-democratic parts of Europe–the majority of European countries, remember–just sit there for a couple of decades and rule their countries with minimal effectiveness.  The crisis of faith in democracy, which always needs to think of itself as the wave of the future, deepens.  My guess is that the French Right would grow in strength until, by the end of this period, France gets sick of being the odd man out in Europe and adjusts its constitution in an authoritarian direction.  Now democracy is a peculiarity of England and her progeny, making it much less internationally attractive.  What’s more, England rules a vast empire that it acquired undemocratically through conquest, so the great beacon of democracy can easily be painted as hypocritical.  Let us imagine that an anti-colonialist movement arises in this alternate history, as it did in ours.  The rebelling natives are really driven by nationalism, but they look for the anti-English ideology with the widest traction.  In our reality, this was communism.  In the alternate reality, it would have been fascism, which would have better suited their true motives anyway.  And in my alternate reality, zombie-Hitler has made fascists risk adverse, and they’re naturally gravitating toward conservatism.

In 1958, a new man ascends the throne of Saint Peter.  He thinks to himself that maybe it would be best if the Church were to “open its windows”, address modern man on his own terms, and initiate a more positive relationship with the world.  It is amusing to think what aggiornamento would have meant in such a world.


Principles of Catholic Morality X: the challenge of modernity and the contested legacy of Thomism

In the eighteenth century, the Church found itself faced with a new foe, which was to prove deadlier than paganism or Islam.  The destruction of the Catholic Church–first its social marginalization, and then its complete annihilation–has always been the first and overriding goal of the philosophes and their progeny, the liberals and socialists.  By definition, no peace is possible with people whose whole organizing purpose is your extermination.  Whenever the Church has foolishly offered concessions, she has been met by steepening demands and escalating attacks.  Although the philosophes were extremely second-rate as thinkers, they did form an ideology that powerfully appeals to mens’ baser instincts:  individualism, utilitarianism, libertinism.  Whoever wishes to cast off the holy bonds of community, tradition, and natural law finds in these a ready justification.

The Church would, of course, reject individualism in all its forms, and doing so would lead to significant developments in her understanding of both herself and the temporal order.  This began with the counter-revolutionaries.  Although derided by progressive (and even Burkean) historians, they were original in some important respects.  The focus of Louis de Bonald was quite new.  Rather than basing his system on a view of individual human flourishing or even of collective national flourishing, his concern is above all to defend a set of relations (power/minister/subject; father/mother/child; king/ministers/subjects) understood to be willed by God as the way His authority is communicated to Earth.  Individuals are less important than the roles they fill.  Society itself is important only as the sum of these relations.  Bonald was also an early proponent of the Catholic view of tradition as enabling reason, rather than substituting for it.  We cannot reason, he says, without language, and language is something we receive from our culture, which received it in the beginning from God Himself.  However, the fact that we owe the means of our reasoning to tradition doesn’t imply any cultural relativism.  Once we have linguistic reason, we apprehend objective truth with it.  The counter-revolutionary attack on individualism would come to fruition in Rene de la Tour du Pin’s vision of a Christian corporate state.  Every profession is organized corporately; all of them participate in the political process and are directed by authority toward the common good.  The counter-revolutionaries were to have an important effect on Pope Leo XIII and his denunciation of economic liberalism.

At the same time, the Church’s newly explicit anti-individualism was having a profound effect on her understanding of herself.  In Germany, Johann Adam Moehler was to apply the communitarian understanding to the Church.  The Church is not a mass of individuals, but a single corporate body–the body of Christ–with a collective soul, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.  Corporatism allows us to see the Church as the continuation of the Incarnation across space and time, visually organized through the hierarchy.  Another German, Karl Adam, would take this idea of spiritual corporatism and present it as Catholicism’s very spirit.  He convincingly argued that this idea makes sense of many Catholic doctrines that Protestants find inexplicable:  the sacraments, the ordained priesthood, the communion of saints, and indulgences.  The culmination of this corporatist ecclesiology was Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, a definitive statement of the Church’s self-understanding.

Meanwhile, in England, John Henry Newman was to defend the Church against the liberals’ claim that the appearance of mutability in the Church’s doctrine over time disproves her claim to authority.  If the Church is infallible, shouldn’t she say precisely the same thing at all times?  If her teaching is apostolic, shouldn’t it all be found in first-century writings?  Newman agreed that the Church should not contradict herself with time, but he saw Christianity as more than a set of explicit beliefs expanding outward only by logical deduction.  The Church is an organic community.  Like an organism, she can mature and change while maintaining her distinct nature; like an organism, there is an objective distinction between corruption and maturation along the lines of one’s nature.  The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, was part of the Church from the beginning, implicit in her scriptures and rituals, but she had to “grow” intellectually before she could formulate it in an explicit dogma.  The “development of dogma” is really the process of the Church bringing to light the truths encoded in her rituals and other practices.  Christians prayed for the dead, for example, long before they had a dogma that made sense of that practice.  Here again, we see the Catholic view that obedience to tradition does not mean you ever have to shut off your brain.  If a traditionally established Christian practice doesn’t make sense given currently doctrines, this is an opportunity for deeper investigation of the Church’s hidden treasures, rather than to simply dismiss either the doctrines or the practice.

After World War II, the Church found herself confronted by a world dominated by two powers, both representing the Enlightenment, but different strands of it.  The United States represented the “moderate” tradition of Locke and the founding fathers:  deist and democratic, hostile to religious establishment put friendly to its private excercise, and with an idealism tempered by prudence.  The Soviet Union represented the fanatical, atheist, and totalitarian tradition of the Jacobins:  bloodthirsty, cruel, openly anti-religious and Satanic, unrestrained by humilty, tradition, or even basic human pity.  While the Church saw errors in both positions, she certainly could not be neutral between them.  An American world would be a challenge; a Soviet world certain death.  Thus the wise Pius XII through his entire weight behind the free world and against the godless communists.  Christian thinkers began to reevaluate the moderate Enlightenment with more sympathy.  Surely, if these Lockean liberals could be steadfast allies of Christianity against the Nazis and the communists, they can’t be all bad?

This brief sense of friendship between moderate liberalism and Christianity is the spirit of “the fifties”, which really lasted from 1945 to about 1965.  It was a time when people like Jacques Maritain, Arnold Toynbee, and Reinhold Niebuhr could find a large and receptive audience.  Maritain, the Catholic of this bunch, had been a Catholic communitarian during his days in Action Francaise.  He mistook the papal command to leave this organization as an order to help Catholicism get with the liberal program.  So Maritain spent the rest of his life trying to square the circle of imagining a spiritual community that is worldview-neutral.  Quite a waste, really.  The main statement of this incoherent vision is his Integral Humanism.  The key to Maritain’s new Christendom was community based on the natural law, which in the haze of the “fifties” Maritain imagined to be shared by Catholics, liberals, and even socialists.

Also during the fifties, an up-and-coming theologian named Has Urs von Balthasar wrote a spectacularly foolish book called Razing the Bastions:  On the Church in this Age.  Balthasar claimed that the Church’s separate organizations and her defenses against modernity were harmful and should be abandoned.  They just prevent fruitful “engagement” with the world and keep converts out.  Therefore, all the Church’s plausibility structures should be abandoned, and Catholics should immerse themselves in the hostile general culture.  Seriously, that’s the argument.  It’s as if a soldier were to say to his general that all their defenses against the invading army should be torn down, because they’re discouraging incoming defectors!  The Church, defended by the Holy Spirit from heresy but not from boneheaded stupidity, took Balthasar’s advice, and the results were what one would expect from unilateral disarmament.  Once the walls were breached, Maritain and Balthasar (when the latter wasn’t writing incomprehensible books on Christology) would both defend their city heroically, but it’s not clear that they ever realized their past errors.

Since Aeterni Patris, most orthodox Catholic intellectuals have been calling themselves Thomists, so the argument of how to respond to modernity has taken the form of a civil war between Thomists.  The Radical Orthodox theologian Tracey Rowland in the book Culture and the Thomist Tradition has characterized this conflict as a disagreement over how the Church is to understand culture.  The “Whig Thomists” see culture as a theologically neutral set of practices–such as speaking German vs. speaking French–and the Church must simply “translate” herself into the culture she finds herself immersed in.  Today, that culture is modernity, and the Church must reexpress herself in its idiom by chucking hellenistic philosophy and pre-democratic political sensibilities.  Third-world “inculturation” advocates certainly takes such opinions, but Rowland has in mind primarily American Catholic neoconservatives like Michael Novak, for whom the Church inculturing herself means specifically baptizing (i.e. capitulating to) democratic capitalism.

Neoconservatives are, of course, rather easy to dismiss, intellectually speaking.  A more serious set of “Whig Thomists” are the proponents of the New Natural Law, such as John Finnis and Robert George.  This group is convinced that Hume’s is/ought distinction is a serious blow to the original Thomist natural law theory, based on the Aristotelian notion of a normative human telos.  So they propose to replace human nature with a list of “goods of human flourishing”.  Of course, any such list could only be anchored in some normative human nature, so this move really buys them nothing.  What they do with it is worse.  Their fundamental principle is that these goods are effectively on a level and one may never act against any of them.  Thus trivial goods like “play” can impose moral obligations as weighty as serious goods like “religion” (this latter category being their only half-recognition that God may have something to do with human flourishing).  Saint Thomas himself never advocated such a moral system, which is not surprising, since it is absurd.  Despite their obviously flawed system, the new natural lawyers have been some of the ablest public defenders of Christian morality of late.

Against the Whig Thomists, Rowland points to the “postmodern Augustinian Thomists” who recognize that culture is not morally neutral, but always contains at least implied moral standards, and who identify liberal modernity as a culture/tradition at least partly antithetical to Christianity.  The best known proponent of this view is Alasdair MacIntyre.  A convert from Marxism, MacIntyre came to see that a tolerable ethics would need something like the Aristotelian sense of virtue and human excellence.  However, he thought Aristotle’s natural philosophy was obviously wrong (an opinion he later changed), so something other than an Aristotelian form would have to be found to supply this standard of virtue.  In his most famous book, After Virtue, MacIntyre suggests that virtues may be an emergent property of communities.  In modern bureaucratic organizations, only the final product, the output, matters.  Healthier communities have “practices” which are done for their own sake; it doesn’t just matter that such-and-such gets done, but that we do it.  To be able to excel at “practices”, a person must develop certain qualities, and these are the virtues.  Thus, someone can only really be virtuous in a certain type of community, and modernity/democratic capitalism isn’t it.  What’s more, we need narrative traditions to fully make sense of our lives and the virtues, a theme MacIntyre was to develop more fully in Whose Justice?  Which Rationality?  This book again identifies liberalism as a distinct tradition incompatible with Thomism.  The way to rejuvinate ethic life is not, MacIntyre believes, to replace the liberal state (he hasn’t seen that far, unfortunately), but to create small communities where the genuinely virtuous life can thrive.

Rowland, as I said, is a member of the Radical Orthodoxy movement.  Although largely an Anglican movement, a major inspiration of this group is the mid-century Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac.  Lubac is best known for his attack on “extrinsicalism”, the idea that grace and nature are completely unrelated, so that the natural human order can get along just fine without God.  Lubac attributed this belief to his scholastic enemies, and he blamed it for the rise of secularism.  The cure, he thought, is to emphasize man’s natural desire for God.  The Radical Orthodoxy application of this is to say that no human activity is autonomous.  All should be ordered to God.  The danger they often understate is that the distinction between nature and grace may be lost.

The conciliar document Gaudium et spes more or less assumed that culture can be changed with as little effort or consequence as changing a set of clothes.  The results of this false assumption have been ruinous.  We are now coming to understand that a certain cultural context is important for the fostering of the Christian virtuous life.  Morality is not a private matter.

The dogmatic spirit in Protestantism, lost and restored

Cardinal Newman claimed that the dogmatic spirit is a key feature of Christianity, and I have come to see that this is very true.  Some other relitions seem to get along fine without dogma, but Christianity without detailed doctrinal support quickly reduces to sentiment, and sentiment not even deeply felt.  In his latest essay, Alan Roebuck traces the decline of doctrinal precision in the Protestant churches and its ruinous effects.

Until recently, at least in the United States, “Evangelical” basically meant “non-liberal Protestant.”…But in recent years much of Evangelicalism has gone off the rails. Although many Evangelicals still practice traditional Protestantism, and almost all Evangelicals still use the language of their theologically conservative ancestors, the movement is characterized overall by a refusal to adhere to, or even to identify, most of the body of traditional Protestant teaching. Crucial doctrines such as the Trinity of God, the Resurrection, the Atonement, justification by faith alone and the Second Coming are still generally taught. But the details of the systematic theology that makes Christianity a coherent system and makes sense of all the Bible says (and that builds the individual’s faith) are not taught, the excuse generally being that “doctrine is divisive.”
A personal example may help clarify. In the late 1990’s I began attending and eventually joined a large Presbyterian church in the Los Angeles area. Although the church was not known to be liberal, and was considerably more conservative than the liberal United Methodist Church I had recently left, I cannot recall the pastors or teachers ever teaching any of the distinctive Presbyterian
doctrines…And at no point during the six-week new members’ class were we instructed in Christian doctrine. The closest we came was when the senior pastor led us in the “Sinner’s Prayer,” a common Evangelical ritual which involves asking people to pray along with the leader as he recites a far-too-brief summary of the basic gospel message of our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves and our need to have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Although the Sinner’s Prayer does contain important Christian truths, it is practically worthless if not followed up with a regular parish life of proper instruction in Christianity. At this church, and the other three Evangelical churches with which I was seriously involved, the leaders acted as if Christian clichés were enough to save lost sinners.
…the basic problem with fundamentalism is not being too conservative. The problem, which is the same with Liberalism and Evangelicalism, is that many of these Christians have denied the faith and cut themselves off from the theological wisdom of the ages.
Indeed, the essence of theological liberalism is the desire to make Christianity agree with the spirit of the age. Classical theological liberalism changed Christianity to agree with Enlightenment-style rationalism. “Seeker-sensitive” Evangelicals make Christianity agree with contemporary marketing theory. And “Emergent”Evangelicals make Christianity agree with postmodern relativism. In this, they are all liberals.
The cure to watered-down Protestantism is, Roebuck believes, Confessional Protestantism, that is Protestantism that takes its statement of doctrine seriously.
What then is the antidote for Protestant infidelity? As mentioned above, there is a fourth type of Protestantism. This type is not widely known, but it is usually called“confessional” or “creedal.” A confessional Protestant church requires clergy and laity alike to know and affirm agreement with at least one of the comprehensive Protestant confessions or catechisms such as the Westminster Confession of Faith for Presbyterians, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordtfor the Reformed, the Augsburg Confession for Lutherans, the London Baptist Confession for Reformed Baptists or the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion for Anglicans/Episcopalians. Each of these creeds has authority only by virtue of being a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches, the Bible being the supreme (and only inerrant) authority on every subject about which it speaks.
If I were going to be a Protestant, I think I would be a Calvinist.  Calvinism is serious.  It’s not trying to be appealing; it’s trying to be true.

The Continental Catholic conspiracy

Peter Hitchens on the history of the EU:

After Suez had failed, largely but not wholly because the USA had wrecked it (it was a stupid plan anyway),  the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told Guy Mollet, Prime Minister of France, ‘France and England will never be powers comparable to the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor Germany, either. There remains to them only one way of playing a decisive role in the world, that is to unite to make Europe. England is not ripe for it but the affair of Suez will help to prepare her spirits for it. We have no time to waste. *Europe will be your revenge*.’
This is recorded in the memoirs of the then French Foreign Minister, Christian Pineau.
Adenauer and Mollet were meeting in Paris that day (Tuesday, 6th November 1956) to finalise the founding arrangements of the Common Market, which as we see here is, was and always will be an anti-American project, though the US State Department and the CIA have never, it seems, been able to work this out.

As for Britain not being ripe, I should hope we would never be ripe for such a thing. I doubt very much whether Konrad Adenauer had much understanding of Britain – few continental politicians do, Charles de Gaulle being a rare exception. The two men, for instance jointly attended Mass in Rheims Cathedral, their continental Roman Catholicism binding them together just as it excluded the Protestant British islanders from their world.

Breivik’s manifesto: what kind of a Rightist is he?

The whole thing sounded too “perfect” to be true, i.e. too in line with all the stereotypes of the Leftist Jewish media, right down to the blonde hair and blue eyes.  (Isn’t it bizarre, by the way, how much hostility they have toward blonde hair and blue eyes?  Where the hell does that come from?)  My first guess was that the guy was an intellectually isolated nut who just decided to call himself a “conservative” and a “fundamentalist” for the shock value, because those are the demon-figures in Norway’s popular culture.  (After all, orthodox/traditionalist/conservative Christians rarely call themselves “fundamentalists” anymore, that word having been successfully made toxic by the media.)  It would be rather like how the “neo-Nazis” in American prisons have no historical or intellectual connection to German National Socialism.  They’re whites who’ve banded together to form a rival gang against the black and hispanic gangs, and they’ve been told that whites banding together in an explicitly racial sense is a Nazi thing to do; hence the superficial existence of American Naziism.

It turns out that’s not what’s going on with Breivik.  Now that we have his manifesto, we know that he has put some serious thought into the relevant political and cultural questions.  What’s more, he seems to have a real intellectual connection to the anti-Muslim European Right, at least in the sense that he read some of the prominent blogs.  We see this not only by the references he drops, but even more by his concentrating on the same set of issues and talking points.  For example, most people didn’t think much when a Blair speech-writer admitted that Labour had deliberately set out to destroy Britain’s homogeneous culture by swamping it with immigrants, but for us conservatives it was a striking vindication of our worldview, and we talk about it a lot.  Sure enough, Breivik brings attention to it as well.

Kevin MacDonald has done excellent work going through the manifesto and highlighting the key parts.  Of multiculturalism, he says

Ideology of multiculturalism (cultural Marxism) is an anti-European hatideologi whose purpose is to destroy European culture, identity and Christianity in general. I equate making multiculturalism with the other hatideologiene: Nazism (anti-Jewish), communism (anti-individualism) and Islam (anti-Kafr).

This characterization of multiculturalism could have come from me (although I would quibble with his characterizations of Nazism, communism, and Islam).  His suggested strategy:

1. Have in place a cultural conservative newspaper with national distribution (which will be the only newspaper that will support the Progress Party in 4 years). For believe me, the Progress Party is going to be sabotaged and torpedoed.  Their voter base of 35% will be “scared” down to 20%.

2. Develop an alternative to the violent extreme Norwegian Marxist organizations Blitz / SOS Racism / Red Youth. This can for example be done by supporting the development of SIOE. Conservatives dare not currently air their views on the street when they know that extreme Marxists will club them down. We can not accept that Labour subsidize these violent “Stoltenberg Art” that systematically terrorize political conservatives.

3. Working to gain control of 10-15 NGOs (kulturmarxists controls currently 10-15 while we only have 2-3).

4. Initiate a partnership with the conservative forces within the Norwegian Church. I know that the liberal forces within the European anti-Jihad movement (Bruce Bawer, among others, and some other liberals) will have a problem with this but the conservative forces within the church are actually one of our best allies. Our main opponents are not the Jihadists but the facilitators—namely multiculturalists.

Excellent strategy, a lot better than the one he actually ended up going with.  I believe the last sentence has the key to why he targetted fellow Norwegians rather than Muslims.  To him, Labour Party youth activists are not “Norwegian children”; they’re more like members of the Janissary Corps in training.  The Janissary’s in the Ottoman Empire, you’ll recall, were Christian children taken from their parents, trained and indoctrinated to be the Sultan’s elite force, a key caste in the system that oppressed their parents.  Today’s European Marxist parties, as Paul Gottfried has shown, have little to do with classical socialist/Marxist concerns about economic nationalization or workers’ advocacy.  Their core concern is mass third-world immigration, something that must be continued at all costs until the host cultures are eradicated.  Epidemics of immigrant-driven violent crime don’t bother them, because to them the white natives are legitimate prey.  Breivik was probably right to think that the teenagers he was gunning down were fanatical enemies of our civilization.  Of course, this shouldn’t detract from our sympathy for them.  They were invincibly ignorant.  They were only following what all their elders had told them was the virtuous path.

MacDonald is probably right to characterize the manifesto as coming from a Geert Wilder’s type conservative, which would make him a “pseudoconservative” by our classification scheme.  In particular, it’s been pointed out that

  1. He’s not a racialist.  He rejects white solidarity and believes anti-jihadism should operate solely at the level of culture and ideology.
  2. He’s not an antisemite.  In fact, he seems strongly Zionist.
  3. He’s not a philosophically traditionalist conservative.  Mark Richardson has pointed out that his theoretical influences are classical or modern liberals (Hobbes, Mill, Kant, Rorty).
  4. He’s not a patriarchist conservative if the following from Arthur at Oz Conservative is accurate:

“The remark by ABB that the mass media won’t mention to you: “we have to ensure
that we influence other culturally [sic] conservatives to take our anti-racist
pro-homosexual, pro-Israeli line of thought.” He also condemned the VB (Belgium)
and the English Defence League for “extremism”.

Not, of course, that any of these distinctions are going to help us at all.  Metternich is right; this is a catastrophe for the European Right; it’s going to trigger (or, rather, be an excuse for) a massive persecution.  As one commenter at Alternative Right put it

Champagne/whores/orgies tonight at SPLC/ADL headquarters!

It’s not fair, you say?  What about Muslim and Leftist violence, you say?  I say, the only thing that matters in a democracy is who controls the media.  Given that the enemy controls it, all they have to do is wait for useable events and then publicize them.  And it’s inevitable that useable events will occur.  No movement can screen its members perfectly.  (Or, rather, we’ll be able to screen perfectly when there are only a half dozen of us left.)  To me, what’s most frightening is that one is now tarred as a dangerous extremist if someone who’s once made a comment on your blog goes out and commits a terrorist act.  (So behave, you all.)  So, yes, we’re completely screwed now.  But we were screwed last week too, because we were in a situation where sooner or later something would happen to give the enemy an excuse to round us up.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 133 other followers