because race is a social construction, of course! (Not that social constructs can’t also be biological realities.) While we aren’t obliged to defend intraracial cohesion per se, anyone who attempts to destroy intraracial cohesion will inevitably end up attacking things that we do care about.
Allow me to wrap this up.
Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back. The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans. Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline. In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost. The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it. They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome. In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective. Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?
What is the other solution? Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible. His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments. In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that. How can he live with such a spiritual wound? The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this: how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?
The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense. The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism. And here is the solution! His group is the one to have discovered universalism. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves. Quite the opposite! They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness. This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group: to spread universalism. A group dedicated to the abolition of groups. A universal, a propositional people. So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty. His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.
While taking Zippy’s warnings about the dangers of nominalism seriously, I’m going to mostly agree with the neo-reactionaries on this one. Being an essentialist doesn’t mean insisting every word refers to a real essence. A word may fail to refer to an essence if it
- contains a mischaracterization in its definition. For example, suppose I define “spousal exclusionism” to be the sinfully discriminating practice of not being willing to have sexual relations with anyone other than one’s spouse. Although I can easily cite cases of this behavior, the word is still nonsense because the behavior it describes is not sinful, and cramming moral disapproval into the definition cannot make it so.
- arbitrarily singles out some instances from others that are essentially the same. For example, suppose I discover the sin of “even-day arsonry”, the crime of committing arson on an even day of the month.
- arbitrarily joining distinct things. For example, making up a word to refer to either orange juice or peanut butter but no other kind of food.
Every use of the word “racism” is meaningless on at least one of these counts.
If by “racism”, one means “the sin of having a special loyalty and preference for one’s own group”, then it is guilty of #1 above: it is trying to define a natural and non-sinful attitude to be sinful. “Racism” as “the sinful belief that one race is superior in some way to another” is also guilty of this, because such a belief may be true or false, but there is nothing inherently wicked in entertaining it.
(By the way, the suggestion that we moderns have discovered a sin that the wise men of antiquity didn’t know about should automatically be greeted with suspicion. There is, after all, no other obvious evidence that we possess the refinement of moral sensibility to make such discoveries.)
If by “racism” one means “sinful acts perpetrated against members of other races”, then it is guilty of #2 above. For example, if a man sets out to kill the first ten people of other races he comes across, he will certainly be guilty of a grave sin. He will be guilty of the sin of murder. The fact that he sought out members of other races rather than seeking out his own or being indifferent to the race of his victims does not change the nature or gravity of his sin one iota. Thus, to prove that racism is a real sin, it is insufficient to show that some whites have treated some blacks unjustly. One must also show that there is something wicked about having done unjust things to blacks in particular, so that if the victims had been whites the act would in some aspect have been not as bad.
If by “racism” one means “the inclination that leads people to mistreat those of other races”, then one is guilty of #3 above, because there is no single such inclination. There are several, and they are very different in quality. For example,
- Mere selfishness. Slave traders didn’t have to hate blacks to be willing to make money off of them. In this case, the racial aspect just involves the lack of a restraint. The sinner’s bond with his own people would have deterred him from committing the sin against his own kind but not others for whom he has no such bond. The racially-dependent variable is, in itself, a morally positive thing; what it’s doing is keeping him from doing injustice to some people. It is just inadequate in itself for a fully moral outlook.
- A sense that the other race is a threat. E.g. tribal warfare.
- A belief that another race is an “oppressor”, that is, one of the evil forces of Leftist demonology. This phenomenon is quite different from the previous case of the natural instinct of loyalty to one’s tribe under threat in that this form of racial hostility is mediated by Leftist ideology. Much black-perpetrated violence against whites is probably of this kind, and I suspect the public school system has a great deal of culpability.
Surely more is obscured than revealed by having a single word for all of these phenomena.
I therefore propose that the word “racism”, which in practice really does serve no purpose other than to pathologize whites, should be retired and replaced with the following:
- a nonjudgmental name for preference for one’s own race
- a nonjudgmental name for belief in differences between races
- a name for the lack of moral restraint toward those outside one’s own nation or race, that is, an undeveloped sense of justice toward man qua man
- a name for hatred of the perceived enemies of one’s race. This name should include moral disapproval but with the recognition that it is a common deformation of a healthy feeling of protectiveness towards one’s own group under threat.
- a name for ideological hatred of Leftist scapegoat groups
Let me first say that I shall be discussing race as a social construct, rather than a biological fact. A person’s race shall refer to the group of people with whom he identifies, and, most importantly, the group of people he identifies as his ancestors. Does this mean that I regard biological race as an illusion? No more than I regard skin color as an illusion. Race certainly has some biological reality, but morally it’s not a very interesting one. For my purposes, a person is white if he or she thinks he is white, and everyone around him or her agrees. And similarly for every other race. For it is a fact that people–even and especially “anti-racists”–classify others and themselves by race.
Consider the following statements:
- It is intrinsically immoral to have sexual intercourse with someone who is not one’s spouse.
- Parents have a duty to raise their children, and children have a duty to obey and revere their parents. Unless extreme circumstances make it impossible, children should be raised by their biological parents.
- It is intrinsically immoral to deliberately cause a sexual act to be infertile.
- It is immoral to drink live blood.
- Suicide is intrinsically immoral.
- It is always wrong to kill an innocent person, even if he has low quality of life and wants to die.
Setting aside for the moment the all-important question of whether or not these statements are true, what they have in common is that they all belong to the natural law system of ethics. They all take a set of biological facts–coitus, filiation, death–and purport to read moral meanings out of them. The natural law presumes that the human body is charged with meaning, so that biological acts and relations have their significance built into them. The “natural meaning” of the act exists prior to and independent of what the actor understands or intends by that act, and yet he is morally bound by the natural meaning none the less.
I saw a nice example of natural law reasoning in the movie Vanilla Sky. (It’s not very good; don’t watch it.) I don’t remember the characters’ names, but in actors’ names here is the setup: Tom Cruise has been sleeping with coworker Cameron Diaz in an informal relationship, and then he decides to leave her for Penelope Cruz. (When you’re Tom Cruise, you can do those sorts of things.) Diaz’s character becomes distraught and pleads with Cruise that he can’t just leave her like that after they have coupled. ”Your body makes a promise even if you don’t.” This is a natural law way of thinking. We say that fornication is wrong because when you have sex with someone, you make her a promise–whether that’s what you and her want to communicate or not–and that promise is the same one a person makes at a wedding ceremony.
This way of seeing things is very different from the modern mentality (although, as we’ve seen, the old mentality pops up in unexpected places). Modern man is, whether he admits it or not, strongly shaped by Cartesian dualism to see the body as “brute matter”, as res extensa distinct from the res cogitans (the soul). Meaning, it is believed, is a distinctly mental phenomenon. Its origin, and indeed its whole being, is in the mind. What an act means is what the actor intended it to mean and what he knew his observers would take it to mean–no more, no less.
Modern ethics is usually consequentialist or deontological. Sin is identified either as harming someone else or instrumentalizing him (treating him as a “mere means”). Harm and instrumentalization are defined solely in terms of the person’s preferences and choices. Natural law agrees that harm and instrumentalization are wrong, but it defines them differently, in terms of man’s natural telos and natural meanings.
Modern man finds this idea of normative natural meanings foolish and arbitrary. Natural law advocates are said to be ignoring the person to focus on the body, of ignoring intention to focus on biological function. Natural law is accused of committing the “naturalistic fallacy” by hostile philosophers; Catholic heretics accuse it of “physicalism”. These accusations have the merit of getting at the essence of the disagreement. It it’s “physicalism” to believe that sex, parenthood, etc. don’t just mean what we decide for them to mean, then we natural lawyers are physicalists.
The modern critique of natural law has an undeniable plausibility. Biological facts can no doubt affect our and other people’s desires and thus indirectly become morally relevant on modernity’s terms, but it is not obvious how they can dictate duties to the res cogitans independent of these considerations. And yet, there are strong reasons why we should give the natural law account a careful hearing before we dismiss it.
First of all, one must be clear that to object to physicalism means having a quarrel not only with a few Catholic ethicists, but with the consensus of all mankind. Across ages and cultures, all peoples have believed in natural meanings. If nothing else, they have all agreed on the moral import of filiation and kinship. That one person emerged from the uterus of another is a biological fact. The social state of “motherhood” recognizes not only this fact, but also duties and rights that are supposed to flow necessarily from it. A man has no right to expect love from his neighbors or coworkers. His behavior may warrant their respect, but love can only be an unearned gift. He has no right to ask his secretary “Why don’t you love me?” nor would she probably have any answer. Love was never “on the table”. A man can expect his mother to love him; the very relationship gives him a rightful expectation. ”Mother, why didn’t you love me?” is a natural question for an unloved son to ask. There probably is a reason, although no reason could justify so grave a failure of duty. I have special duties to my children and my kin. Partly, this is because they happen to be the people who are closest to me, but this isn’t the whole story. I would fail morally if my brother on the other side of the country were homeless and I didn’t fly him to me and take him under my roof; yet there are homeless strangers in my very county to whom I am not obliged to make such an offer.
The consequentialist and deontologist can only agree with these intuitions by accident. They will often grant that having children raised by their biological parents is administratively convenient. As a practical matter, it would be hard for the State to find enough caretakers to replace all these parents. But the family is only a matter of practicality, and in fact its ultimate value is open to question. After all, it puts children at the mercy of people with no childcare training and next to no official supervision, all because of a “biological accident”; our bureaucratic age wouldn’t tolerate such feudal anarchy in any other area of life. Similarly, they may agree that a particular act of adultery was wrong because it hurt the other spouse’s feelings, but they must also admit that this is because that spouse is being irrational. A regime of universal promiscuity, where sex is “just like shaking hands”, might well be a happier world, and, consent assumed, wouldn’t obviously involve reducing any other person to a “mere means”.
Here is the second reason to consider carefully before rejecting the system of natural meanings. As the two examples above indicate, a world without them would be a nightmare. Unchecked by natural law, consent, efficiency, and happiness maximization would replace the love of parents with the expertise of childcare professionals; it would erase the bonds of family, ethnicity, and nation; it would reduce sex to a meaningless pastime. Our desires would be satisfied. We would all be happier. Or would we? For me, one of the most important aspects of happiness is the knowledge that I personally matter to some particular other people. Being a man of no great importance, these people are a half-dozen family members. What I do matters because they depend on me and they care about me. In the post-natural bureaucratic utopia, there will be nothing like this. What I do won’t matter much to anyone else–this will be true by construction. If anyone really depended on me, that would limit both our freedoms. It would make my dependent unequal, because if I failed that person would suffer, through no fault of his own, relative to those depending on someone else. There must be supervision, uniform rules, backups and failsafes, so that in the end I can’t be allowed to matter to anyone else.
As Hegel pointed out, there is a leap from abstract right and morality to the ethical life. We have no way to put abstract moral rules (e.g. utilitarian or Kantian) into effect–no way to know what they mean–until we are embodied in an “ethical society” where everybody has a specific place and duties. How, though, are we to assign these particular duties? Modern abstract ethical systems can only produce abstract organizations and can never provide this element. In the past, it has always come from relationships like marriage and filiation that rely on natural law for their normative character. After they are wiped out, a utilitarian calculus of the future may register the unhappiness that results, but it could not replace what it had destroyed. Natural law seems to be the only way to lock particular people in duties to each other. There is true happiness from the sense of meaning this provides, and the utilitarian rulers of the future might be forced to reinvent natural law as a “noble lie” to fill this void. Let us then see first if we can defend the theory honestly as truth.
A defense of natural law must establish several points. To fail on any one of them is to fail overall. First, it must defend the claim that there are natural meanings. It must establish that these are not merely projections of our subjective wishes or the mistaking of the customs and assumptions of our own culture for universals of nature. This will be part 2 of this series. Next, it must argue that these natural meanings are morally binding. This step is often skipped over, but I think it’s a crucial and underdeveloped part of the theory. Suppose we allow, with Cameron Diaz, that sex has a natural meaning that includes commitment. Why could not the man and woman simply agree that this natural meaning is not the one they intend to give it? That way, no false expectations would be generated; moving on would not be a betrayal. That natural meanings are binding I will argue in part 3 of this series. Finally, we must ask how the two meanings, what something naturally means and what we intend, are meant to relate to each other. We must show that natural law does not itself fall back into a different sort of dualism. This will be the subject of part 4.
Sometimes intra-liberal debates can be fun to watch. Remember that spat some years back between the evolutionary psychologists and the feminists over whether there is an evolutionary explanation for rape? The ev-psych guys were throwing out their usual “just so” stories, and feminists were outraged, saying that any natural explanation of rape would somehow justify it. To understand is to approve, so if something is bad, we must try not to understand it. Now there’s a similar argument going on in the halls of liberaldom about whether or not they should try to understand a phenomenon that most of them would put on a moral par with rape–political conservatism.
Jonathan Haidt is a Leftist psychologist who tries to plumb the reactionary mind. As always, the Chronicle of Higher Education is the place to go:
To Haidt, the evolution of morality can help make sense of modern political tribes like this one. And in that evolution, the big question is this: How did people come together to build cooperative societies beyond kinship?
Morality is the glue, he answers. Humans are 90-percent chimp, but also 10-percent bee—evolved to bind together for the good of the hive. A big part of Haidt’s moral narrative is faith. He lays out the case that religion is an evolutionary adaptation for binding people into groups and enabling those units to better compete against other groups. Through faith, humans developed the “psychology of sacredness,” the notion that “some people, objects, days, words, values, and ideas are special, set apart, untouchable, and pure.” If people revere the same sacred objects, he writes, they can trust one another and cooperate toward larger goals. But morality also blinds them to arguments from beyond their group.
How much of moral thinking is innate? Haidt sees morality as a “social construction” that varies by time and place. We all live in a “web of shared meanings and values” that become our moral matrix, he writes, and these matrices form what Haidt, quoting the science-fiction writer William Gibson, likens to “a consensual hallucination.” But all humans graft their moralities on psychological systems that evolved to serve various needs, like caring for families and punishing cheaters. Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder, Haidt and his colleagues synthesize anthropology, evolutionary theory, and psychology to propose six innate moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation….
And the six moral foundations are central to how Haidt explains politics. The moral mind, to him, resembles an audio equalizer with a series of slider switches that represent different parts of the moral spectrum. All political movements base appeals on different settings of the foundations—and the culture wars arise from what they choose to emphasize. Liberals jack up care, followed by fairness and liberty. They rarely value loyalty and authority. Conservatives dial up all six.
This is not bad. Note that he’s explained conservatism in a way that isn’t manifestly derogatory. Some attempt is being made to understand conservatives’ motivations, to understand us on our own terms, even if he doesn’t accept those terms himself. It’s better than Corey Robin version that we conservatives just want to rob our workers and rape our wives.
As I said, Haidt is a Lefty himself. His primary concern is to understanding these moral cues so that the liberals he approves of can more effectively manipulate the populace.
Now Haidt wants to change how people think about the culture wars. He first plunged into political research out of frustration with John Kerry’s failure to connect with voters in 2004. A partisan liberal, the University of Virginia professor hoped a better grasp of moral psychology could help Democrats sharpen their knives. But a funny thing happened. Haidt, now a visiting professor at New York University, emerged as a centrist who believes that “conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals.”
So far Haidt hasn’t had much luck interesting political types in his ideas. He reached out to Democratic politicians in his home state of Virginia, like Mark Warner and Tom Perriello, as well as to the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group tightly wired to the White House. But folks in Washington strike Haidt as too fixated on dodging daily bullets to think about the long-term future of liberalism. The few political people who gave him any time seemed more interested in tapping behavioral science for fund raising, or simply too busy to engage with his ideas.
Needless to say, the intelligentsia is outraged that someone is trying to understand conservatives–as opposed to simple condemning them–even if he’s doing it in the interests of liberalism. One must not admit that there are any moral arguments for conservatism, even invalid ones.
But even as Haidt shakes liberals, some thinkers argue that many of his own beliefs don’t withstand scrutiny. Haidt’s intuitionism overlooks the crucial role reasoning plays in our daily lives, says Bloom. Haidt’s map of innate moral values risks putting “a smiley face on authoritarianism,” says John T. Jost, a political psychologist at NYU. Haidt’s “relentlessly self-deceived” understanding of faith makes it seem as if God and revelation were somehow peripheral issues in religion, fumes Sam Harris, one of “the Four Horsemen“ of New Atheism and author of The End of Faith.…
The theory frustrates some. Patricia S. Churchland, a philosopher and neuroscientist, has called it a nice list with no basis in biology. Jost, the NYU psychologist, feels Haidt makes a weak case for defining morality so broadly. Philosophers have long considered whether it’s “morally good to favor members of your own group, to obey authority, or to enforce standards of purity,” Jost says. “And they have come largely to the conclusion that these things don’t have the same moral standing as being fair to people and trying to minimize harm.” Following leaders can lead to horrific consequences, he notes.
Haidt acknowledges that the same beelike qualities that foster altruism can also enable genocide. But as a psychologist, not a philosopher, he generally sees his job as describing moral judgments, not advising what is right and wrong for individuals.
So, court theologians of the liberal establishment insist that their’s is the one true faith. Imagine that. Given how incredibly flawed consequentialism is as an ethical system, I would say that philosophers who prioritize “being fair to people and trying to minimize harm” to the extent liberals do should have a reduced “standing” on our attention.
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.