Physical analogies in the era of the no-limits Left

Politics is often understood by analogy to mechanical equilibrium.  The two sides are like opposing forces.  Their strength depends on the republic’s current policy set, which set can be roughly mapped to a one-dimensional line from “Right” to “Left”.  For one policy location, the forces balance and equilibrium can be maintained.  The equilibrium is assumed to be stable; making policy too intolerable for one side will energize that side and lead to a push back toward equilibrium.  Averaged over election cycles, policy remains close to equilibrium, while drift in the equilibrium point itself due to culture change is assumed to happen but on a timescale long compared to electoral timescales.  Even though equilibrium may drift one way or the other, neither side is able to push all the way to its ideal policy set (the Right or Left terminus).  It is understood in this model that it is as important for a candidate not to mobilize moderates leaning toward the other side as it is for him to mobilize his own side.  Hence, senatorial and presidential candidates will feign moderation before a general election.

This analogy is no longer valid.  I realized this when, defying the usual electoral logic, President Obama endorsed gay marriage while seeking re-election.  As I recall, the President made no feigns to the middle.  He correctly realized he didn’t have to anymore.  Energizing the Right is no longer a danger for a politician.  The age of the no-limits Left had begun.  Once the Left realized this, a host of previously unthinkable things happened overnight.  For a hundred years, “Southern pride” was a fact of life whether one liked it or not.  Then the Left snapped its fingers and removed the Confederate flag from the public.  In an America with a Right strong enough to seriously challenge the Left, liberals would themselves be the biggest proponents of “religious freedom” bills.  Allowing individuals and small businesses to abstain from endorsing gay marriage costs the Democrats’ gay clients very little, and it would be a cheap and effective way to de-energize the Right, to convince conservatives that while the public sphere is definitely lost to them, they will be allowed to retreat to private life unmolested.  In the age of the no-limits Left, such calculations do not arise.  It doesn’t matter how upset or angry one makes people who identify positively with orthodox Christianity or the white race.  These people are powerless, so there’s no need to make allowances so that life remains tolerable to them.

In the new age of the no-limits Left, physical analogies should be not mechanical but thermodynamical.  There is no serious organized resistance to the Left, but we will never achieve the state of total Leftist purity simply because of uncontrolled random variables at the microscopic (individual) scale.  Certain individuals may not be properly indoctrinated because they are stupid or crazy or because of local glitches in the educational system.  (In the late Roman Empire, there were Christians and there were pagans, but when organized paganism was sufficiently vanquished, the categories became educated Christian and uneducated Christian.)  Individuals or small groups might act out in politically incorrect ways simply because, for various psychological or group-dynamical reasons, they wish to violate social propriety.  (The Nazis were once a political party that attracted some of Germany’s finest minds; now they’re an American prison gang.)  A few will accidentally encounter fragments of prior ideological systems and pick them up for reasons good or bad.

A system immersed in a thermal bath will not find all particles in the ground state, even though it is the state of lowest energy.  For such a system, not the energy U but the free energy U – TS will be minimized.  We are no longer a rival force.  We are entropy in the system.

 

Do creative people usually accept the official beliefs of their society?

Yes.

Before the mid-eighteenth century, most notable Europeans claimed to be Christian and claimed that their art was consistent with their putative faith.  Today, these claims are not taken seriously.  After all, geniuses in the Middle Ages and Early Modern times had to pretend to accept the established faith, because there would have been big consequences if they had publicly denied it, and who needs that kind of grief?  What’s more, modern admirers of their works often find that the Christian veneer is rather thin, while the author or artist’s enthusiasm for pagan nobility, romantic adultery, or whatever seems deep and heartfelt.  Geniuses of every age were actually modern American atheists born in the wrong time.

On the other hand, we are not these people’s contemporaries, and we may not have a good sense for what was socially imaginable in the elite circles of their times.  It can be dangerous to assume that the thought patterns we have been conditioned to accept came naturally to them.  Let us instead start with our own time.  Nearly everybody of note says that they support social justice and democracy, that they oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like.  Then again, they would have to say that, wouldn’t they?  One invites quite a bit of grief publicly denying the official faith.  What do we find in their art?  I don’t watch too much television or movies, but I tend to assume that it’s all Leftist propaganda, so when I do watch something, I’m often pleasantly surprised.  I’ve written about this before regarding Disney movies (see here, here, here, and here), My Little Pony, and Batman.  The affirmation of official pieties, when present at all, seems perfunctory, while monarchist sentiments and premodern archetypes drive the story at the deeper levels.  Should we suspect that Christopher Nolan, Lauren Faust, and whoever’s running Disney these days are secretly plotting to soften up the American public for monarchy?  No, that would be absurd, absurd because socially unimaginable.  We live in this time, and we know what kind of beliefs it is possible for people to hold, even people of exceptional intelligence and creativity.  We’ve been under the hood.  We’ve talked to modern people in private, shared their school and media experiences, and we know the bounds of what is thinkable.

How do we explain the persistence of non-Leftist themes in the art of an era of Leftist cultural hegemony?  Most likely it’s a case of the best artists being non-ideological, of choosing whatever seems to pack the biggest dramatic punch, of whatever makes the characters feel most alive and real, rather than what fits with their sincerely held worldview.  Naturally, and without any conscious understanding of what they are doing, they will often be attracted to premodern and universal archetypes.

It is not likely that the Walt Disney company is run by a band of utterly ruthless cynics who combine a perfect understanding of real human nature with a perfect understanding of how to manipulate social justice signaling, even though I can’t think of how the company’s actions would be different if it were run by such super-intelligent cynics.  Modern people cannot allow themselves to understand their social world that clearly.  Such clarity would be dangerous to them.

Given what we know of our own times, it is natural to assume that artists in the age of Christendom really were, or really thought themselves to be, Christians.  Their enthusiasm for non-Christian themes and their clumsiness handling Christian themes are consistent with this.

Liberals would no doubt object that the two cases are entirely dissimilar.  They will say that Christianity is wrong and irrational so smart people would have always seen through it, while today’s beliefs are true, humane, and coterminous with reason itself, so all intelligent and independent-minded people naturally converge on them.  That is, they would say it’s not that smart and creative people tended to accept whatever the beliefs of their time were, but that they tended to accept the beliefs of our time, because ours are best.  Both theories explain the uniformity of today’s elite, and our claims about past elite’s private beliefs are admittedly speculation.  Liberals may also point to the liberalism of intellectual elites in the non-Western world, but this would not be a good counter-example, because most of these foreign elites were indoctrinated in Western universities.

What would help would be if we had examples where the smart set was wrong, and not only wrong but more wrong than the common people.  It would be particularly telling if elite opinion switched back and forth.  Such examples would prove that the smart and creative do not uniformly lead the way toward greater and greater liberal truth, that the uniformity of their beliefs has more to do with social mechanisms of consensus-establishment than evident rightness.  Are there such cases?  Perhaps eugenics and communism?

Christianity’s political form

Let us take encouragement where we can.  First Things has published a tepid defense of nationalism by Pierre Manent.

Islam was never able to abandon the imperial form that ­Christianity could never assume in a lasting way. Christianity instead found its form in the nation, or in the plurality of nations once called “Christendom,” then “Europe.”

“Nation” is not quite the correct word.  Christianity found its form in the plurality of kingdoms once called “Christendom”.  A kingdom is a type of nation, but not the only type.  The kingdom of France was a political expression of a Christian people; the Republic of France is founded on the public illegitimacy of Christianity.

Manent proceeds to lament France’s inability to muster a strong collective will, loss of a sense of the common good, and an anti-political European Union.  This is all encouraging for First Things, given its classical liberal beginnings.  What Manent says here about Muslims is certainly true.

Because only the individual and the human race are [deemed] legitimate, intermediate communities in which human beings actually live, such as nations and churches, have no legitimacy of their own and in fact bear the stigma of rupturing human unity. However, to be consistent, this delegitimation of communities should include or implicate the Islamic community. But this does not happen. European political elites speak of Islam and the Islamic community in a way they would never speak of Christianity and the church. In our public discourse, there are Muslims and there are Europeans. Why is it that only one form of living communal identity, the Muslim form, receives the unreserved recognition of ruling opinion?

The most decisive reason, I think, is the following. Those who decide what we have the right to say and do do not engage Islam as a social reality. It is not considered in itself. Instead, “Islam” becomes a test of our post-political resolve. It must be accepted without either reservation or question in order to verify that Europe is indeed empty of any national or religious substance that might get in the way of human universality. The refusal to treat Islam as a social or, more generally, a human reality therefore has nothing to do with Islam but instead with Europe’s self-image….

Precisely because it has been the enemy of Christianity over the centuries, and because its moral practices are now the furthest from those of the Europe of human rights, a post-political European sees Islam’s unhindered presence as demonstrating the triumph of European ideals. We have become so universally human that we have no enemies.

However, his understandable attachment to both his country and his Church makes him underestimate how radically antagonistic they are.

Here the Church must play a central role. Although Catholics seem to be pushed ever further toward the periphery of public life, even in our secularized present the Church is the spiritual domain at the center of the West. Her responsibility is proportional to this centrality, which in truth is inseparable from her identity. The universal Church alone is up to the task of holding together a European form of life that has the capacity to offer hospitality to Judaism, Islam, evangelical Protestantism, and the doctrine of human rights. And so, the Church in France—that is, French Catholics—have a special responsibility for the common good in which the other spiritual forces of my country participate.

No, the Church lost any “special responsibility” to the atheist-Jewish Republic in 1905.  Also, it’s not clear what this special responsibility entails.  There’s no hint it involves stopping the Muslim colonization.

It is my contention that France’s Muslims will find their place only if the French nation accepts them, not just as rights-bearing citizens, along with other bearers of the same rights, but as a distinctive community to which that nation, shaped by Christianity, grants a place. Our Muslim fellow citizens must obviously enjoy the rights of French citizens without any kind of discrimination, which is not always the case at present. They cannot, however, find a place in a vacuum. They find their place only within a nation that has the spiritual and intellectual resources to be generous without being complacent.

To find their place in a France alive to its Christian center, Muslims must want to participate actively in the life of a political body that does not and will not belong to the umma; they must therefore accept a degree of separation from the umma. For the nation to accept them as Muslims without reducing their religious mark to a private particularity with no relevance to the political body, it is necessary that they accept this particular nation, the French nation, as the site of their civic activity and, more generally, of their education. A certain “communitarianism” is inevitable. Muslims will inevitably form a visible and distinct community. This will lead to difficulties, on one side or the other. But this is desirable to the degree that it prevents the ideological lie of the new secularism, which obligates us to pretend to be nothing but citizen-individuals who are permitted common action only for the sake of “humanity.”

I’m a communitarian myself, especially by the standards of French civic totalitarianism, so I’m happy for the Muslims we unfortunately can’t get rid of to have their own spaces.  But fair is fair.  French Catholics should also get their own spaces dominated by their own ethos.  Except that can’t happen unless Muslim fellow citizens are subjected to “discrimination”, not in their “rights of French citizens” narrowly conceived but in a very publicly relevant way should they encroach on Catholic communities.  Would Manent allow this, or has he himself imagined Catholics as so universally human that we don’t have enemies?

The essay ends with an amusing (but reasonable) argument that we should preserve historically Christian nations because it’s good for Jews and Muslims.  Frenchmen are still not being encouraged to pursue their own collective interest for its own sake, but I suppose this is still a step in the right direction.

It is up to Christians to renew the meaning and the credibility of the political community ennobled by the Covenant. We will not do this by inviting Islam to join a vague fraternity of the children of Abraham. We will renew the meaning and credibility of the Covenant only by renewing the meaning and credibility of the distinctively European association that bore the Covenant until only recently—that is, the nation. Now that the Jewish people have taken the form of a nation in Israel, the nations of Christian Europe cannot break with the national form without fatally wounding the legitimacy of Israel. So long as the walls of the Arab-Muslim world are crumbling and Muslims seem to have more and more difficulty producing a political form from their own resources, to admit them into, or rather to abandon them in, a Europe without either political form or gathered collective action for the sake of the common good would be to take away their best chance for a civic life. It does not suffice to bring men together to declare or even to guarantee their rights. They need a form of common life. In France, a nation of the Christian mark is the only form that can bring us all together.

Book review: the Fourth Political Theory

The Fourth Political Theory
by Alexander Dugin, 2012

I’ve said that rejecting the Enlightenment is only the beginning of thought.  Everything modernity ruled out is back on the table.  Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin agrees, and he comes, not to deliver a political theory that escapes the confines of modernist thinking, but at least to herald the arrival of such a theory.  As such, this book reads more like a proposal or white paper than a dissertation or research report.  Nevertheless, the coming political paradigm already has some definite features in Dugin’s mind, and some of those features he is able to communicate clearly despite burdening himself with Heideggerian gobbledygook.

The previous three “political theories” in Dugin’s counting are liberalism, communism, and fascism.  Liberalism has defeated fascism and communism, so thoroughly that liberalism no longer functions as a consciously chosen ideology but as a social given.  Liberalism’s victory was not a matter of chance, but a logical outworking of Western civilization.  Nevertheless, because we are free, it can be fought, and it will be the task of the fourth theory to vanquish liberalism.

Each of the first three “theories” is composed of multiple parts interpreted in light of each other to form its own “hermeneutical circle”.  Break the circle, reject the evil, modernist pieces, and the remaining parts are morally neutral or good and can become ingredients in the fourth theory.  For instance, Marxism’s materialism was bad, but its social concern and its drawing on eschatological myth is good.  Fascism’s anti-individualism and ethnic consciousness were good, but its racism, the idea of one group being superior to another, was bad.

Dugin then points out that, in fact, liberalism is also racist, because it posits the superiority of Western culture to others, and progressivism is racist because it posits the superiority of the present to the past.  I think this stretches the definition of “racist” too far to be rhetorically convincing, but it illustrates Dugin’s key strategy:  taking criticisms of white Christendom invented by the post-modern Left and turning them against liberalism and the American globalist order.  Thus, he uncritically accepts the claims of structuralist anthropologists that non-civilized cultures are just as sophisticated, legitimate, etc as civilized ones.  At times, Dugin alludes to Traditionalist lines of thought, that pre-modern cultures share, at least esoterically, an apprehension of a common great spiritual truth.  Most of the time, though, the position seems to be straight cultural relativism.  Every culture is as good as every other–this asserted but not argued–so all the others must band together for a multipolar world or else succumb to American unipolar tyranny.  As a practical matter, I like this.  It’s at a theoretical level, the one at which Dugin works, that his cultural egalitarianism is too sweeping; it is subject to obvious philosophical objections.

There is also the danger that these postmodernist weapons he wishes to use against the West retain too much of their evil origins to serve the traditionalist cause.  Thus, in his discussion of gender, Dugin attacks liberalism for perpetuating patriarchy by maintaining the masculine gender role but forcing women to conform to it.  There is a valid insight there, but it’s bought at too high a price when Dugin first grants the premise that patriarchy is bad (what’s more, for very stupid post-modernist reasons:  that the male role is implicitly white hence racist; that even though patriarchy predates modernity, it is to be condemned for catching modernist cooties).  Thus, the fourth political theory must be based on adrogynism and endorse childishness and “voluntary insanity” because they constitute rebellion against the male role.  If that’s the best the fourth theory can do, we’re better off sticking with liberalism.

If I were to predict the features of an ideology to challenge and defeat liberalism, I wouldn’t base it on anti-white anthropology or continental philosophy.  At best, these work as rhetorical opening attacks, because it’s an attack not coming from the direction liberalism expects.  What follows must be based on something more truthful and rigorous.

Free speech cannot be given

Camille Paglia has an article on the the campus Left’s evolving attitude toward freedom of speech.  She tells a familiar story of a Left that started defending freedom of expression as a weapon against community moral norms and then decided that opposition to its own beliefs is intolerant and shouldn’t be allowed.  But she gives some interesting inside information.  For one thing, she doesn’t think it’s true that the radical students of the sixties went on to take over the university.  As she tells it, most of them thought that going to grad school would be selling out.  Of course, this doesn’t prove that the students who did go to grad school weren’t influenced by the radicals.  She does prefer to look for structural causes rather than Gramscian conspiracies, and I agree that this is the more fruitful path.  She suggests that university intolerance partly radiates from the new “studies” departments that were hastily constructed in the 70s largely as PR stunts to deflect criticism that elite universities were too WASP male.  The new thrown-together disciplines had low-quality faculty and no traditions of scholarly rigor, and they’ve been left on their own to stay that way.  She also gives some blame to the fashion of post-structuralism, which taught students to think that language manufactures reality, so that hate thoughts and their suppression are both imagined to have magical powers.

Other notes on the article:

  • “Their prevailing WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) style was not a hospitable climate for racial or ethnic minorities, including Jews and Italian-Americans.”  Sorry, Italians.  The official victims bus doesn’t have any empty seats, and you’re not going to be allowed on.
  • Yale in the sixties had women graduate students but not undergrads?  That’s weird.
  • Paglia admires Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, which was kicked off when Mario Salvo ran afoul of an official ban on political activity on campus for his Civil Rights work.  Later, she laments the politicization of campus life.  I think the WASPs might have had good reasons for that ban.
  • She lists stuff 50s censorship was keeping from us:  the Marquis de Sade, Lady Chatterly’s LoverTropic of Cancer.  It’s pretty striking to me that we weren’t missing out on all that much.
  • I heartily agree with the idea of forcing women’s studies majors to learn biology.

I was actually visiting UC Berkeley not long ago.  I spent most of my time in Campbell Hall with the astronomers, but I once stopped in the Free Speech Movement Cafe for breakfast.  Lots of pictures of the main characters and events of the Free Speech movement juxtaposed with inspirational student art about communist Cuba.  Once, that might have inspired me to write about Leftist hypocrisy, but now I find it charmingly unself-conscious.  Anyway, it inspired me to think about this same subject, the Free Speech Movement that turned censorious.  My usual thought on this matter is that such an evolution is not surprising given that communities require some level of censorship as a form of spiritual self-defense, and when Berkeley Leftists constituted their own community, they could have been no different.  Then an idea popped into my head, as if from outside.

Those radicals did right to fight for their own freedom of speech and theirs alone.  Did you expect them to do all the fighting and then hand the prize to everyone out of sheer generosity?  No matter how generous they might be, the thing cannot be done.  No one can give you freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is something that each belief must claim for itself.  The belief must prove that its adherents will endure and inflict suffering for its sake.  It must prove itself ineradicable, a fact of life that must be accommodated.  Only when it has thus proven itself worthy is it even possible for the wider world to grant it the freedom to express itself.

I was immediately taken aback by this idea.  It seemed clearly false.  Why couldn’t the social order grant tolerance to mildly offensive but cowardly dissenters purely out of its own forbearance?  Surely I could even think up some examples.

And yet, something also seemed profoundly right about it.  Consider social conservatism (my own beliefs).  It is striking how our resistance collapses as soon as people start losing their jobs or businesses and being targeted by the media or courts, how eager our movement (such as it is) is to distance itself from its martyrs.  How must our position look from the outside?  Something like

We are divided from you on issues of tremendous importance to the structure of families and the raising of children.  We insist on the right to preserve our own beliefs that are grossly immoral by your standards, and because we are embarrassed by our beliefs, we do not intend to give you reasons why we think they are not immoral but true.  We admit that if you apply the slightest pressure to us, we will abandon our beliefs and embrace yours, and we will never look back (just as we have never reconsidered any of our previous capitulations).  However, we insist that you not apply this pressure, because it would violate your principle of free expression.

An outsider must surely think

But this isn’t principled opposition at all!  It is pointless stubbornness, a mere game.  If you really disagreed, you’d be willing to defend your beliefs and willing to suffer for them.  If universal and permanent consensus can be achieved with a slight nudge, it’s silly to wait.  Let’s do it and have the whole matter settled.  Free speech is for real, principled beliefs.  It’s not for the likes of you.

Perhaps the Left is right, and people like me don’t have freedom of speech on campus because we’re not worthy.

The globalist error in adultery apologism

What does the Catholic Church have to say about my practice of stealing women’s purses and giving money to the homeless?  It is a difficult case, is it not?  Clearly not the Christian ideal, but there are certainly elements of sanctification in it.  It would be wrong to throw stones of the Law at me like Moses used to do while sitting in his chair (or whatever it was); better to take the way of gradualism and emphasize what I’m doing right.

Or you could just note that when I divide the “practice” into its separable acts, each one can be easily morally evaluated, and the situation isn’t complicated at all.

Half of Pope Francis’ adultery apologism amounts to a plea not to judge irregular relationships as entirely evil, to note all the good stuff adulterers, fornicators, and sodomites do for each other (love, “proven fidelity”, whatever).  But in fact the mean old Catholic Church was never in the business of judging relationships in toto at all.  It is particular acts that are sinful.  I suppose one might claim that one can’t separate sex acts, that they’re part of a seamless, unitary “lived experience” of a relationship, but I’m not a celibate so I’m not going to fall for that kind of obvious bullshit.

The other half of adultery apologism is to point out that adulterers’ motives aren’t all bad, which is again irrelevant to the traditional teaching, which is that sexual sins are wrong even if one’s motives are entirely good, e.g. the improbable “copulating for our kids’ sake” line.  About that “for the kids” line, I was intrigued by the Pope’s concern that adulterers sometimes can’t give up their sin without incurring “new guilt”.  What’s interesting is that the Catholic Church has effectively abandoned, if not actively renounced, the idea of a marriage debt.  You’ll remember how my fellow Catholics howl “rape” at the suggestion that a woman might ever choose to sleep with her husband for a reason other than her own personal inclination.  But now we find that a woman can feel morally compelled to sexually accommodate a man, just not her husband.  Welcome to the Catholic Church of Pope Francis.

Against “Shakespeare was Catholic” conspiracy theorizing

Remember, any “hidden meanings” in a play that you could catch at a four century cultural remove would have been completely obvious to the original audiences and to the Elizabethan police.  Don’t be like those people who think they can figure out how the Apostles misinterpreted Jesus.

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