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.

Our island of communism in the Middle East

Traditional Christianity linked to this news:

In the past months, a lot of debate has been going on in Israel about providing government-funded preschools from the age of 3. Recently, the Knesset approved compulsory education from age 3.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, welcomed the new law.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s full commitment to changing national priorities,” she said. “Education is one of the central obligations of any state to its citizens and it cannot be that so many families have to bow to the burden of educating their children while other families avoid proper education of their children for financial reasons. This is the essential first step in the revolution that would give free education already from the age of thee months.” (emphasis mine)
No doubt that free education at three months will only the be first step in a further revolution, in that it would soon be compulsory as well.  It must be, since any education that would allow one to escape incorporation in the Leftist hivemind wouldn’t be “proper”.  This in turn brings us closer to the liberal endgame:  complete state control of children, the eradication of parenthood, the replacement of personal dependency with impersonal dependency.
The day the State owns children from birth is the day that liberalism has definitively won.  The family would ipso facto cease to exist, meaning marriage would have no rationale and men and women would become practically interchangeable.  Every religion and regional tradition would disappear in precisely one generation, as would all memories of past generations that the liberal State does not explicitly choose to retain.  Equality and homogeneity would finally reign, but this wouldn’t even have the side benefit of removing liberalism’s reason for existing, since they’ll be able to keep themselves busy tormenting toddlers  by trying to force girls to act like boys and vice versa and by suppressing friendship.  Everything the Left does pushes at least indirectly toward the ultimate goal.

Career and the heart of modernity

Let us first realize how unprecedented our situation is.  The great Emile Durkheim identified the key new feature of modern society as its being built around “organic solidarity” as opposed to “mechanical solidarity”.  In premodern societies, each household performs similar economic functions and does so largely indepedently each other.  Thus, it makes sense to have a single standard and set of expectations for everyone (or, rather, one for men and another for women), because, except for small ruling and clerical classes, everybody does pretty much the same things.  In modern societies, we’ve replaced this with a system where everybody’s pooled into one tightly connected economic system, and we’ve pursued specialization and a division of labor so that people do very different things.  Each person has a single, tiny focus, and relies on everybody else to supply his other needs.  This destroys the “mechanical” solidarity of one standard for everybody, but it creates a new “organic” solidarity around our much tighter interconnection.  In the short run, modernity creates alienation:  specialization and individualism erode our sense of community.  But Durkheim was convinced that the cure was to go all out for modernity, and it will cure its own problems.  Once inheritance is gotten rid of (based as it was on the idea of household independence and thus no longer making sense) and wealth is based on merit, our economic system will no longer seem unfair.  Our sense of alienation will be cured by the specialization that caused it:  new profession-specific societies will provide us with the sense of belonging we have lost.  Individualism itself will serve as a common creed to replace all the other social creeds it destroyed.  (My understanding of Durkheim is based on these selections.)

Modernity’s true ideology, one shared by nearly everyone, is the “career”.  Every adult should have a career, and this career should be the main organizing principle in his life.  A career presumes organic solidarity:  a man’s career is supposed to take him away from home and family and set him to work producing something to be consumed by society at large, rather than by his own kin.  This, however, isn’t enough to make work a career; this just makes it a “job”.  A career is also supposed to be the prime outlet for a man’s creativity, intelligence, and initiative.  His bonds with his coworkers (with whom he spends more waking hours than he does with his spouse) provide him a sense of belonging and common purpose.  Career is the ultimate fulfillment of Durkheim’s vision.

Career has largely devoured older forms of belonging–home, tribe, religion–just as Durkheim hoped it would.  There are certainly economic factors in this:  the extreme division of labor certainly brings certain efficiencies with it.  It could well be–I will not speculate on it here–that a sufficiently dense population is stuck with organic solidarity.  What interests me, though, is the ideology, the fact that we have decided to regard this as a liberation rather than a curse.  What’s more, we have outpaced economic forces, deliberately attacking other ways of organizing one’s life.

The romantic conception of work–that it uniquely manifests the “species-life” of man as an intelligent, creative individual–arguably goes back to Locke’s defense of private property.  It is given full expression in Marx’s early writings (especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844).  Of course, for Marx, this vision was an indictment of the modern system, because it was obvious to him that the wage-employed hyper-specialized laborer of his day was not engaging in expressively creative work.  Similar criticisms came later from the Agrarians/Distributists.  For both Marxists and Distributists, employment and the division of labor are inherently alienating and must be abolished.

The ideology of the modern age, which we may call “careerism”, has done a remarkable thing in accepting the Marxist/Distributist romanticized vision of work as the outlet for creativity and saying that the current system instantiates this ideal, at least for those with true careers.  Adherents of feminism, an aspect of careerism, would no doubt take offense at the idea that they are proponents of the capitalist system, but this is hardly credible, given that they preach that no woman can be fulfilled without being part of it.  Most people, of course, wouldn’t call themselves anything as radical (i.e. anything as explicit) as feminists, but they accept the careerist creed.  No one thinks it controversial to tell children to start dreaming about the careers that could “empower”/”fullfil”them and let them “change the world”.  When we tell these kids to study hard and get good careers so they can “make something of themselves”, it doesn’t strike us as insulting to those without careers–who are therefore presumably not “something”–although it should.  We never come out and say “your career should be the focal point of your life; everything else should be organized around it”, but this is implied in the way we live and the advice we give our children.

Well, what’s wrong with telling everyone to look for a rewarding and challenging career that will make them “something”?  The ideal of careerism is, after all, somewhat broad; it blesses a great variety of callings.  The trouble is that it’s still not broad enough.  One of the main criticisms leveled at medieval Christianity (and at medieval Buddhism, to the extent anyone but me criticizes Buddhism) is that it was a religion aimed at clergy.  Its vision of human excellence supposedly required one to be a priest, monk, or nun, and it had nothing to say to a layman who wanted to acheive holiness in his lay life.  In short, it valorized a far too small part of the human experience.  Now, whether or not this is a fair criticism of medieval Christianity is a topic for another time, but it is quite odd that the same people who level this charge don’t realize that their own ideology is obviously guilty of it.  Most people don’t have careers, not in the sense of careerist ideology.  This ideology is then forced to regard these people, or at least their way of life, as fundamentally defective.

Today’s world is an exact analogue of the popular image of the “theocratic” Middle Ages:  a society designed for clergy where a majority of the populace were not clergy.  Today, we offer career as the priviledged means of personal fulfillment, but most people don’t have careers.  Thus, careerism has shown great intolerance, or at least a stunning lack of sympathy for, those who don’t fit the careerist pattern:  religious contemplatives, unskilled workers (i.e. those with “jobs” rather than “careers”), and housewives.

The hostility of modernity to the consecrated religious life is so open and extreme that little needs to be said about it.  Closing monastaries and convents is a quintessentially modern thing to do (as is guillotining their former occupants).  What’s really striking is that the contempt for the contemplative life has seeped down even to Catholic apologists.  How often have we heard them tell us that the great thing about the Rule of Saint Benedict is that it forced the monks to work and so valorized labor as a path to holiness, or some such nonsense?  We are then unseemily eager to point out that the monks performed social services like distributing alms.  We seem positively embarrassed to admit that the primary purpose of these institutions was prayer and worship.  (Here modernity has been more gentle with the Buddhists.  Nobody asks how much of Buddhist monastaries’ resources goes to poor relief or reclaiming swamps.  People seem to accept that that’s not the purpose of these organizations.  Sometimes they even recognize that having an organization with explicitly spiritual aims might be a valuable thing.)

What about that majority of men (and now women) whose jobs involve no particular skill or creativity, who generally don’t see their job as a calling but mostly as a way to pay the bills, who work 9 to 5 and then return to their more cherished home life, who find their life’s meaning in family, hobbies, or something other than the job?  For rhetorical purposes (the purpose of posing as a voice of the majority), the careerist ideology will sometimes say that these people have careers, but if it says that, it must admit that they are inadequate careers.  They certainly don’t measure up to what a career should be.  Something is wrong with these people.  We may say it is their fault:  they’re just lazy or dumb.  We may be more generous and say it’s society’s fault for not educating them enough.  What we certainly won’t do is defend their way of life.  Our rulers rather work to destroy it through free trade and mass immigration.  There’s something very wrong that it is becoming harder and harder to support a family–or even maintain a job–without becoming some kind of college-credentialed specialist, but for our politicians (especially, I’m sad to say, our Republican politicians) the answer is always career retraining and more higher eduction so that everyone can become an engineer or entrepeneur.  This is how beholden to careerism they are.

Finally, there are the housewives, who endure as much hostility as the monks.  They are the last representatives of mechanical solidarity:  the home as a place of valuable and creative work, not just relaxation and consumption.  Feminism exists largely to eliminate this holdout.  According to careerism, one needs a career to have an outlet for one’s creativity and initiative and to be socially engaged.  I am fond of pointing out on this blog that most jobs (and even most careers) involve less, or at least no more, opportunity for creativity and initiative than organizing and keeping a household and educating children.  In fact, Chesterton’s argument against women having jobs basically comes down to the claim that it would dull them.  Men have already been narrowed by specialization; let us not lose the womans’ generalism too.  Of course, Chesterton’s goal wasn’t just to keep women in the home; he was more ambitious than that.  His goal was to bring the men back home too, as farmers and artisans.  Is it workable?  Or is it–like Marxism–an accurate diagnosis of the tendency of careerism to distort the soul tied to an unworkable cure?

I’m not sure.  I’m convinced that conservatives must fight careerism, explicit and implicit, when it erodes the morale of these other honorable ways of life.  We are the natural allies of the cleric, the unambitious family man, and the housewife.  Some people, men and women, indeed have callings to a career, and God speed to them.  I decided I wanted to be a physicist in third grade.  In fifth grade, my mother once punished me by forbidding me to read about the theory of relativity for a weekend.  By junior high, I had taught myself multivariable calculus.  (I used to sneak into my parents’ bedroom to read my father’s college calculus book–I needed it to follow an exposition I’d found on the Euler-Lagrange equations.  For some reason, I thought this was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.)  Most of the other kids I knew weren’t like that.  As seniors in high school, they didn’t know what they wanted to “do with their lives”, even as the pressures to find a career calling in their souls got ever stronger.  Most people don’t have a particular career calling–their passions lie elsewhere–and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It may be necessary in today’s world for the man to take on a career, and not just a job, anyway, to work as if he had a passion he doesn’t have.  I do not concede this, but I admit the possibility.  Let us put up a fight, though, before we let careerism devour home life as a whole.  We certainly should not push women, whom nature has particularly ordained to the care of young children, into the careerist path unless they have a genuine calling for it.  It may still be necessary (and given how the non-work related social world has been practically deserted, it may even sometimes be desireable) for noncareer women to have jobs, so long as their maternal duties come first.  Patriarchy gives no inflexible rules here.  It only demands that family duties come before work in our self-understanding.  In fact, family duties inform our understanding of work, i.e. seeing it primarily in terms of the father’s provider role rather than as a means to “self-actualization”.

Corruption and other dangers

Conservative partisans of democracy make it their special boast that they are alert to the dangers that power will corrupt anyone who wields it, and that power must therefore be divided, broadly shared, and accountable.  For the sake of argument, I will grant that democracy does a very good job of checking corruption.  I even think it’s possible that today’s democratic governments constitute the least corrupt ruling class in history.  I do find it odd, though, that democrats make such a big deal out of such a small problem.

Corruption is when a public official uses his office to pursue his own good rather than the public good:  taking bribes, embezzling public funds, having the police harass his private enemies, that sort of thing.  A free press and regular elections might help discourage that sort of thing.  The problem today, at least in the developed world, is not corruption.  The problem is purity.  Corruption is one of the things that make Leftist rule bearable.  If all the civil servants with an itch to save the world were to just take their salaries and do nothing, I would consider that public money well spent.  But these busybodies aren’t corrupt, and they can’t be bought off so easily.  They take their public moneys and use them to try to inflict social justice on the rest of us.  And so it is with our elected rulers too, who become more tolerable the more corrupt and hypocritical they become.  Unfortunately, they do have a strong accountability mechanism–the free press–that spurs them to be more pure, that is, more pitilessly fanatical.

The danger of corruption, as I have defined it, is much different from the danger of tyranny or hubris.  Robespierre was incorruptible, unfortunately.  Suppose we redefine “corruption” to take these other vices into account, so that we can say that a politician is “corrupted” by ideological recklessness or imprudence.  If we focus on these vices, though, it should be clear that it is not power that corrupts, but powerlessness that corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.  The ruling party is forced to confront practical realities, to distinguish between the ideal and the possible.  The party out of power tries to win favor with the multitude by ideological posturing, making demands of the state that are unattainable or counterproductive.  Then, after making their silly and pointless demands (“The ruling party should fix the economy, make sure all Americans have jobs, eliminate the national debt while increasing social spending and subjugating all our enemies worldwide”), the party out of power sits back and hopes bad things will happen to its country, so it can reap the benefits.  Throughout my adult life, this has been the pattern:  it’s always the party in power–whichever one it is–that acts the most responsibly.  Perhaps this is the advantage of different parties controlling different branches of government, not to keep any party from becoming absolutely powerful, but to prevent any party from becoming absolutely powerless and thus devoid of responsibility.

Is this an argument for democracy then, to give the people power so that they won’t be corrupted by powerlessness?  No, because the perverse incentives that make powerlessness so corrupting are created by elections and the press.  People certainly should be invested with responsibilities, since these are schools of the virtues, but this is not done through giving them power as a mass, but through our individualized responsibilities as parents, siblings, neighbors, and professionals.

The suffering of orphans is the health of families

Call it “Bonald’s maxim on family health”.  We don’t sugar-coat things around here.  Quite the opposite:  my guess is that you’re all so sick of a public discourse where everything is wrapped in a haze of euphemistic niceness that you’ll appreciate some deliberately brutal language.

Fathers are supposed to be protectors and providers.  The state has already more or less taken over the protector role via police and prisons.  There are no doubt still a few killers, kidnappers, rapists, and wild animals on the loose, and it is mostly from the rare chance of ever coming across one of those that a wife or child is able to see any sort of protective function for the father.  This is a good thing;  we don’t want there to be a large chance that our wives or children will come across violent criminals or wild animals.

What about the provider role?  Let’s restrict ourselves to those lucky men, such as myself, who aren’t on welfare and who don’t have working wives.  (What’s more, my wife really would be incapable of working for medical/psychiatric reasons.)  We are the sole breadwinner–surely we are providing for our families?  Yes and no.  What would happen to my family if I were to disappear?  Would they go homeless?  Would they starve?  Would their style of life even worsen significantly?  Probably not.  In my own case, I have a large life insurance package with the Knights of Columbus, but let’s pretend that I didn’t.  There are several homes in my extended family that I’m sure would take them in.  If all the breadwinners in my family disappeared, then there would still be the “social safety net” to kick in.  It is the goal, and it has come a long way toward realization, that government assistance should prevent widows, orphans, and bastards from lacking the necessities.  So, assuming welfare kicks in as designed, my wife and daughter would be poor rather than middle class, but they’d be okay.  As Dr. Charlton has said, what we call poverty in the developed world isn’t really poverty.

So, my family doesn’t really depend on me.  I bring home the bacon, but if I didn’t, it would just mean that someone else (or some other organization) would.  I am superfluous.  Again, this is a good thing.  We don’t want orphans freezing and starving to death.  We realize that the community has a duty to make some effort to help out.  The problem comes when we get too good at it.  If we do a very good job of taking care of orphans, then orphans won’t be deprived or suffering compared to children with fathers.  But if that’s the case, then we have just made fatherhood pointless.

We can’t blame the liberals here; we are victims of our own success.  If it were the Church or voluntary organizations taking care of widows, orphans, and bastards, the problem would be the same.  Is it any wonder that men in general and fatherhood in particular are held in such contempt in today’s world?  Our wives and children know that the only thing we provide that the government wouldn’t is company.  (Of course, we fathers also do feedings, changings, dressings, cleanings, etc–but these are traditionally maternal activities and can’t provide us with our own distinctive role.)  The moment we become disagreeable, having a father around begins to look less attractive than a monthly government check.

There is an inverse relationship between the welfare of orphans/bastards and the esteem of fatherhood.  I expect that the cultures with the strongest family ethics, where men are most earnestly prepared for the duties of fatherhood, and the role of father is held in the highest esteem, are the ones where orphans starve to death.  In those cultures, what we do really matters.  Of course, we don’t want to live in a culture like that, where one traffic accident on my way home from work means my daughter will starve.  On the other hand, we don’t want a meaningless existence for ourselves and our sons.

Dependency is the life essence of the family, but dependency must mean that when one family member fails in his role, the others must suffer for it.  Society at large has a duty to mitigate suffering, and it has a duty to promote healthy families, but these duties conflict with each other.  I’m not sure what the solution is.

Looking back on The End of History

Back in the nineties, Francis Fukuyama made a big stir with The End of History and the Last Man.  Fukuyama’s big claim, which was nothing more than the Whig view of history, is that if we view history, not as a meaningless sequence of events, but as the story of man struggling to find the best way to order his society, then history is over.  Liberalism is the definitive answer to this question.  All prior times were leading up to this discovery; all future times will be living with it.  By liberalism, Fukuyama basically means the Anglo-American way:  democracy, rule of law, individualism, and sensibly regulated capitalism.  Communism was supposedly liberalism’s one big rival, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, liberalism now held the ideological field to itself.  Not, of course, that every nation had adopted liberalism, but every nation will soon enough, because no other system has any legitimacy, even for its own subjects.  One recession or one lost war and any dictator will find himself booted out, while democracy has a reserve of legitimacy that can carry it through any amount of bungling.

All of this was pretty much conventional wisdom in the nineties, so it’s surprising that the reaction to Fukuyama’s thesis has been so hostile.  Pretty much everyone accepted the Whig view (including myself at the time), but nobody was supposed to actually state it.  By laying it out explicitly, Fukuyama made people realize what a radical view it is.  That history has a telos, and that we are it really are remarkable, and remarkably arrogant, claims.  They’re far easier to hold as prejudices than as beliefs.  The End of History made an ideology of common wisdom, which meant reasons now needed to be supplied.  Fukuyama’s argument went like this:  Men are motivated by material needs and by a desire for recognition from their fellows.  Capitalism satisfies the first set of desires and democracy the second, while no other system does either.  QED.  Having raised popular prejudice to an explicit ideology, many people found that they didn’t like it very much.  Fukuyama himself was worried that capitalism’s easy comfort and democracy’s easy recognition would yield a race of contemptible “last men”.

Since the book was published, essayists have enjoyed making themselves feel smart by ridiculing the claim that history has ended.  Events like 9/11 supposedly prove that fortune’s wheel is still turning for nations and ideologies alike.  Anyone who’s actually read the book would know how easy it would be for Fukuyama to brush aside these attempted disproofs.  I myself maintain a soft spot for this particular piece of Whig triumphalism.  It was one of the first serious non-science books I’d read, certainly the first to make me think about the meaning of history and the effect of government forms on men’s character.  Its very simplified versions of Plato, Hegel, and Nietzsche were just what I needed at the time.

And actually, twenty years on, The End of History is still looking pretty good.  Liberalism is still carrying all before it.  The great commie empire of China has continued to go capitalist.  In Europe and America, liberalism has imposed itself as official dogma–while Christianity, patriarchism, and particularism have been marginalized–to a greater extent that even conservative pessimists would have thought possible, most recently by the imposed normalization of sodomy throughout the Western world.  Even Islam seems to be in the process of capitulating to the Enlightenment.  Betting on the advance of liberalism always ends up being a safe bet.  There have been times before when liberalism had seemed to hit serious crises.  Before the over-hyped Muslim menace, there was the thirties and the Great Depression, when liberalism was being seriously challenged by communism, nationalism, and Catholic corporatism.  Reading some of Chesterton’s essays from this time, where he gloats that liberalism is a spent force while the Catholic Church has all the vigor of youth, is today a painful experience for Catholics.  Today, liberalism has completely overrun Chesterton’s beloved Church, and the modernism he despised is heard from our pulpits every Sunday.  No matter how much you despise liberalism, don’t fool yourself that it, or its followers, are weak.  Before you tell yourself that liberalism is on the verge of collapse, remember that conservatives and communists have been saying this for a long time, right before liberalism’s next spectacular advance.

Today, it still seems a live possibility that history has “ended”.  To me, this is a disturbing possibility, because I don’t like the endpoint.  There are still some loose ends, no doubt.  Islam is still liberalism’s main ideological challenger.  Its population is compromised, but its will to fight is still very real.  The exhaustion of the world’s fossil fuels will represent a serious challenge to the liberal economic system, and we have yet to see if the necessary adjustments will compromise the ideology itself.  The deleterious social effects of libertinism long predicted by conservatives–broken families, crime, ethnic tension, welfare dependency–have all come to pass, but Europeans and Americans have learned that we can live with them, and many presumably find the trade worthwhile.  Liberals don’t replace themselves naturally, but this can give conservatives little comfort, because the liberals have proven themselves very good and converting our own children.

Continued liberal advance well past the end of my own life seems like a good bet to me.

The effects of unemployment

We forget at our peril that the economy isn’t just about making stuff.  It’s also about integrating men into society and cementing their identities as productive citizens and providers.  Proph points out the great danger mass unemployment poses to those affected and to the social order as a whole:

People forget that (chronic) unemployment is a relatively recent phenomenon. For the vast majority of human history, productivity was so low that most people suffered through lives of back-breaking physical labor just to survive. Even well into the 19th century, recessions were generally not characterized by chronic mass unemployment. To the extent employment suffered at all, it was the last to do so and generally the first to recover.

Industrialization and mechanization, of course, changed all this. Part of what made the Great Depression so especially traumatic, despite the fact that it was tame in comparison to earlier depressions, was the fact of mass unemployment. The solution then was simply to conscript them all into public service through make-work jobs. In the long run, killing all the unemployed workers and blowing up all the excess productive capacity was the only thing that worked.

But as the pace of industrialization increases (aggravated by foolish free-trade policies that permit manufacturers to exploit Third World manual labor for pennies and ship their products back to the United States without consequence) and the number of chronic unemployed continues to rise, the resources to keep those people employed in makework jobs is being taxed beyond capacity. And, for obvious reasons, another world war is something to be avoided.

The libertarian claims that unemployment doesn’t matter because jobs only exist for the purposes of production. As I’ve argued before, his claim rests on a macro view of economic activity. In this sense, jobs don’t exist at all, only productivity; therefore the loss of jobs is meaningless if production remains the same. But it falls apart at the micro level, where the well-being and dignity of the individual man is of primary consideration — not statistics and aggregates.

Man yearns for rational order: for a rational society in which he has function and a rational community in which he has status. Employment is one means of integrating him into just such an order. Employment directs his energies toward the accomplishment of some good, and thus unites him and the community in a common purpose. Large-scale employment is insufficient, certainly, for a healthy society; but it is necessary.

This is why all the efforts in the world to mitigate the consequences of unemployment — through welfare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc. — have failed. They can feed a man, but they cannot integrate him into society or assign him status and function. Thus, unemployment, while perhaps not a problem from an economic standpoint, is certainly a problem from a sociological and psychological one….

Unemployed individuals exhibit marked increases in depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. Their sense of self-worth erodes. Their locus of control (the general attitude regarding control over the events of one’s life) shifts toward externality. They grow bitter and cynical.

A while back, I called for the adoption of a post-capitalist economic system. Much of that system involved creating the conditions right for employment: the revision of our tax system to make it business- and employment-friendlier; the erection of trade barriers; and the end of our turbulent debt-based money system.

Why liberal assumptions don’t do us justice

The Damned Old Man has provided us with an excellent illustration of the inability of the liberal mind when confronted with nonliberal thoughts to deal with them fairly.  I hate to pick on someone whose done me the courtesy of reading my material and sharing his thoughts; we should all be humbled to think of how difficult it is to intellectually navigate on unfamiliar territory (and how seldom we do it).  Still, I think we and our moral code are not quite so contemptible as TDOM imagines, and it would be useful to consider the source of his error.

With regard to my recent post on suicide, he writes:

Damned liberals. Leave it to them to ruin the good Christian enjoyment of the sins of others. It’s not like growing old, sickly, and burdensome on others could ever lead to despair or the wish to end one’s life. We’re human beings after all, not horses and should be spared the mercy of death and forced to suffer to the bitter end. It’s the Christian thing to do.

I think this was more meant as an expression of hostility rather than a reasoned attack on my post (which itself was not a reasoned defense of my opposition to suicide/euthanasia, but rather presupposed it).  It has more in common with the liberals’ instinctive bullying, self-righteous “HOW DAAARRRE YOU!!!!” pose.   TDOM can certainly reason well with those he thinks deserve it, a group that obviously doesn’t include me or other Christians.  (As we’ll see below, he does in a later comment get to the heart of the matter.)  Still, the assumptions and tropes that come out when liberals are in sputtering condemnation mode are revealing.  Let’s look at them:

  1. It’s impossible, or somehow inconsistent, to sympathize with someone and yet not endorse their behavior, to say that you don’t approve of something but that you understand what drove someone to it.  This means you don’t really sympathize.  The liberal reads life through a rigid ideological lens, so normal human empathy without an ideology of permissiveness is inexplicable to him.
  2. If you prevent someone from using an illicit means to avoid suffering, you are causing their suffering.  Consequentialism is simply assumed to be true, with no argument for it deemed necessary.
  3. If you disapprove of someone avoiding suffering through what you regard as evil means, that means you are cruel and have no compassion.
  4. Dependency is degrading.
  5. There’s something perverse in condemning an evil act and yet appreciating literature where such an act is used as a plot devise.  As if people of all ideological persuasions don’t do this, and entirely legitimately!  Even before liberalism, there wouldn’t have been much literature without imagined sin.
  6. Appreciating fiction that contains depictions of immoral acts is a perverse “enjoyment of the sins of others”.
  7. All appreciation of literature is “enjoyment”.  Note how the Benthamite flattening of human experience has reduced everything to pleasure vs. pain.  Was the excerpt from Ovid above “pleasant” as opposed to “painful”?  Wouldn’t it be better to describe it as sad or touching, either beautiful or sentimental as its merits warrant?
  8. Because I don’t approve of suicide, I must not see how someone could be tempted to it because of suffering or degradation–even though my whole fucking post was about how I can appreciate this.
  9. The word “Christian” functions vaguely as a curse among liberals, the way “Freemason”, “communist”, or “Jacobin” do for conservatives.

I don’t think TDOM or my other liberal commenters actually believe these statements in the form I’ve written them.  But without them, they have failed to prove that I’m a heartless monster.

Later, TDOM does outline his position:

I see no one forcing anyone to commit suicide. I do see it as an acceptable option for those who choose it. Your religious beliefs should have no bearing on my choice and should not be forced upon me. My life is my own.

First, two quibbles:  by definition, no one can force anyone to commit suicide.  What people are doing in hospices right now is murder.  And who’s talking about religion?  I’m making my stand on natural law.  I oppose suicide for purely Kantian reasons.  TDOM certainly didn’t invent the idea, but somehow it’s become common wisdom that any ethics other than Benthamite utilitarianism is “religion”, therefore irrational, therefore unsuitable as a public motive.  When the hell did utilitarianism become the State’s established religion, so that only it gets to decide what’s forced on people?

We must credit TDOM with coming to the real issue, the central issue, in the end.  “My life is my own.”  That’s precisely where we disagree.  I say that our lives are not our own, and everything follows from that.  I expect that over the next decade, starting soon, he and I and everybody else will be arguing till we’re blue in the face about whether we do or do not own our own lives.

Whether there should be a preferential option for the poor

Donald Scott has asked me if I accept the claim that public policy should show a “preferential option for the poor”.  To amuse myself, I will answer in disputation form.

Objection 1:

It would seem not, because favoring some people over others over legally irrelevant criteria like wealth is unjust.  We would certainly regard a preferential option for the rich as unjust.  In particular, taking more money in taxes from the rich while providing the same government services is unjust.

Objection 2:

It would seem not, because virtuous activity must be voluntary, but wealth redistribution is coercive charity, a contradiction.

Objection 3:

It would seem not, because such an option will inevitably lead to socialism, which is a godless tyranny.

Objection 4:

It would seem not, because God, Who is completely just, shows no such preference.

On the contrary, Pope Leo XIII says:

 37. Rights must be religiously respected wherever they exist, and it is the duty of the public authority to prevent and to punish injury, and to protect every one in the possession of his own. Still, when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.

, which is actually a stronger statement than the one I will defend.

I answer that

The duties of the state can be divided into two:  establishing justice, and promoting the good.

The first duty, establishing justice, means punishing wrongdoing, rewarding public service, and enforcing legal rights.  Pope Leo says there should be preference even here, but I think this preference should be small:  the rights of the rich should be defended with nearly the same vigilance as the rights of the poor.  Note, however, that property is not an absolute right; it is only inviolable to the extent that it is needed for a person’s social roles (a father’s provider role, an aristocrat’s public roles, etc).

With regard to the second role, the good may be divided as follows:  the particular goods of poor people, the particular goods of rich people, and the goods that are irreducibly common.  Irreducibly common goods are those things—like public order, communal consensus, or a healthy physical or spiritual environment—that necessarily belong to the community as a whole, rather than its individual members.  Among these goods, the state should first promote the common good, since it is the institution especially ordered to the promotion of these goods.  If forced to choose, common goods should be given preference over individual goods (but not individual justice, which itself is the supreme common good).  Next, the state should promote the particular good of the poor, if necessary at the expense of the rich.  This seems apparent, because the poor are in greater need, have less ability to secure their own interests, and will suffer more greatly from the lack of a public advocate.  Economic policies in particular should be designed primarily if not exclusively with the interests of the lower classes in mind.  For while to rise out of poverty is an undoubted good, rising from wealth to even greater wealth is not necessarily good at all.  In this sense, there should be a preferential option for the poor.

Reply to Objection 1:

With regard to the establishment of justice, no partiality should be shown.  However, with regard to assessing one’s financial duty toward the state, one’s ability to pay is not an irrelevant consideration.  Also, when assessing the state’s duty to promote one’s material interests, one’s current material situation is a relevant consideration.  This is not really a form of partiality, any more than the state sending a policeman to protect a home under attack from thieves while not sending the police to homes not suffering invasion with no need of defense shows partiality.  The state is impartial in providing a service to whichever of its citizens need it.  Poor relief can be considered similarly.

Reply to Objection 2:

The state’s goal in progressive taxation is not to coerce the virtue of charity, but only to secure a material effect.  Because the state should only relieve extreme need (and only when other social organs fail to meet these needs), there will always remain plenty of opportunity for the rich to practice charity.  In any event, alms to strangers is not the primary way this virtue is meant to be exercised.

Reply to Objection 3:

So long as the independent authority of the fathers over their families and clergy over the Church are recognized, and the property needed to discharge their duties is recognized as inviolable, there is no danger of socialism.  What is objectionable in socialism is not forcible wealth distribution, but the attack on nongovernmental authority.

Reply to Objection 4:

To God we are all poor, and He shows no wealth-based preferences.  Mortals, however, are often called to show partiality (e.g. toward our children) where God shows none.

Freedom = sterility?

I hate to keep picking on The Spearhead–those poor dears are so sensitive!–but they do show better than anywhere else why the singleminded pursuit of male autonomy is something to avoid.  My colleague Alan Roebuck reminds me of a recent article of theirs giving men advice on how to “empower men to define their own lives however they see fit”.  (Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven!)  First, get a vasectomy because it “gives a man a degree of reproductive self-determination that a woman cannot influence.”  Get that?  The way to have “reproductive self-determination” is to surgically render oneself sterile.  One might call it “planned parenthood”, but that name has been taken.  Both expressions are unintentionally funny for the same reason:  neither “reproduction” nor “parenthood” is involved, but rather their absence.  It takes a peculiar form of ideological blindness to see something iniquitous in a man’s reproductive activity being connected to a woman.  “Freedom” makes a poor ultimate value.  It is fundamentally negative; “freedom” always means “absence of” something, and perfect freedom would be an empty world, one without any meaningful interpersonal bonds.  The other idea is to replace marriage with temporary contracts for sex, what the Muslims call “sigheh”.  We Westerners have another word for it.

As Alan says

When the buildings of a great city are crumbling a citizen (as opposed to a vandal) has two options: Attempt, at some danger to himself, to repair the damage, or ransack the debris in order to construct for himself a temporary hovel. By ransacking he is, of course, hastening the destruction, but at least he may gain a temporary roof over his head.

So it is with the advice presented here. The man who chooses to associate with women in the way presented here is ransacking our Civilization in order to obtain a temporary spiritual hovel. Being a looter rather than a builder, he gains some temporary relief for himself even as he participates in demolishing the structure that is the foundation of society: the family.

(See also this article at Oz Conservative, which I have already discussed.)