Here is the first stanza of "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), a fitting epigraph to our entry into the twilight. But for the philosopher there is consolation: "The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk." (Hegel).
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
The Western elites have lost all conviction and are sitting ducks for the passionate intensity of radical Muslims.
Perhaps you have noticed that radicals are rather less interested in speaking truth to power after they get power than before. Their transgressive speech and behavior becomes curiously 'conservative.' Giving umbrage gives way to taking umbrage.
What happened to shrugging at an opinion with which you disagree and leaving it at that? That notion is history, as communications executives seem to have convinced themselves that they are not censoring dissenting opinions but rather protecting the innocent from crude speech.
Twitter took that phony stance, too, when it announced a "Trust and Safety Council" in February. "Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety," CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted.
This is a good example of the sort of Orwellian mendacity we have come to expect from contemporary 'liberals.' War is peace. Slavery is freedom. A defense of religious liberty is a violation of religious liberty. Those who protest being forced by the government to violate their consciences and religious beliefs are imposing their religious beliefs. Curtailment of speech is free speech. 'Inclusion' is the exclusion of dissent.
The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
The open forum is a 'safe space' in which no one's feelings are hurt.
Freedom of speech is freedom from 'micro-aggressions.'
And notice that at bottom it's about money. Twitter and ESPN toe the party line because it is profitable to do so. A curious development: significant numbers of once anti-capitalist leftists are now driven by the profit motive to spread Pee Cee drivel.
Because of what Europe has become, it now has few viable choices in dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. Its dilemma is a warning to Americans that we should turn away from a similar path of national suicide.
[. . .]
Europe’s perfect storm is upon us. A shrinking, statist, and agnostic society that does not believe in transcendence, either familial or religious, is now in a war with near neighbors of a very different sort. In the Middle East, the fundamentalists are growing in numbers, and they most certainly do believe that their own lives are nothing in comparison to the Phoenix-like resurrection of their Caliphate and the sensual pleasures in the hereafter that will reward their martial sacrifices in the here and now. Of all the many reasons why immigrants to Europe so often dislike their generous hosts, the simplest may be because they so easily can. Even H. G. Wells could not dream up any better harvest of Eloi by Morlocks, and it would take another St. Jerome (“All were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew. Who could believe this?”) to chronicle the Western tragedy. As a general rule, whatever Europe is now doing, we should do the opposite — for our very survival in an increasingly scary world.
Come on Victor, man up! Make a definite proposal. Say something plain and blunt. I understand: you are a highly esteemed historian and you are concerned with your professional standing and credibility. You enjoy the perquisites of your position among the established. But what is more important, your professional standing or the continuance of the great country and culture that made it possible for you to have a highly distinguished career and speak your mind freely?
How about this: Propose a moratorium on immigration from Muslim lands. Or this: Urge people to vote for Trump if he should garner the Republican nomination.
The following, which might be relevant to current events, is borrowed from here.
St. Jerome was born around the year 340. He came to Rome and was baptized there around 360. He devoted the rest of his life to scholarly pursuits and the translation of the Bible into Latin. He died in 420. He wrote the following observations describing the devastation of the Empire around 406:
"Nations innumerable and most savage have invaded all Gaul. The Whole region between the Alps and the Pyrenees, the ocean and the Rhine, has been devastated by the Quadi, the Vandals, the Sarmati, the Alani, the Gepidae, the hostile Heruli, the Saxons, the Burgundians, the Alemanni, and the Pahnonians.
Oh wretched Empire! Mayence [Mainz, Germany], formerly so noble a city, has been taken and ruined, and in the church many thousands of men have been massacred. Worms [Germany] has been destroyed after a long siege. Rheims, that powerful city, Amiens, Arras, Speyer [Germany], Strasburg, - all have seen their citizens led away captive into Germany. Aquitaine and the provinces of Lyons and Narbonne, all save a few towns, have been depopulated; and these the sword threatens without, while hunger ravages within.
I cannot speak without tears of Toulouse, which the merits of the holy Bishop Exuperius have prevailed so far to save from destruction. Spain, even, is in daily terror lest it perish, remembering the invasion of the Cimbri; and whatsoever the other provinces have suffered once, they continue to suffer in their fear.
I will keep silence concerning the rest, lest I seem to despair of the mercy of God. For a long time, from the Black Sea to the Julian Alps, those things which are ours have not been ours; and for thirty years, since the Danube boundary was broken, war has been waged in the very midst of the Roman Empire. Our tears are dried by old age. Except a few old men, all were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew.
Who could believe this? How could the whole tale be worthily told? How Rome has fought within her own bosom not for glory, but for preservation - nay, how she has not even fought, but with gold and all her precious things has ransomed her life...
Who could believe that Rome, built upon the conquest of the whole world, would fall to the ground? That the mother herself would become the tomb of her peoples? That all the regions of the East, of Africa and Egypt, once ruled by the queenly city, would be filled with troops of slaves and handmaidens? That to-day holy Bethlehem should shelter men and women of noble birth, who once abounded in wealth and are now beggars?"
References: This eyewitness account appears in Robinson, James Harvey, Readings in European History (1906); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome and of the Roman People, vol VIII (1883).
Here. What's the big deal? These things happen. As compared to the number of traffic fatalities in Muslim lands over the last ten years the number of crucifixions is vanishingly small. You are statistically illiterate if you are worried about being crucified as opposed to dying in a traffic accident.
Anyone acquainted with history knows that it’s happened before. Once robust Roman and Christian North Africa, the birthplace of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, Sts. Cyprian and Augustine, Felicity and Perpetua, lacking a strong secular state after the fall of the Western Empire, disappeared under Muslim assault. Except for their moral and intellectual achievements, in today’s North Africa those great figures might as well never have existed.
Something similar is occurring all over the Middle East. It would be foolish to think it cannot also happen, in the longer run, in Europe or the Americas, especially given the West’s demographic collapse.
Obama often says that ISIS isn’t an “existential” threat. By that, he may mean that terrorists and their armies are, for now, too small to conquer or destroy us. But there are many ways to be destroyed – and one of them is by undermining those very “values” the president thinks are “right.” Sometimes the undermining comes, unintentionally, from the very people who think they are defending them.
This from a regular reader, professional philosopher, and Trump supporter:
You're disturbed that so many Trump supporters "refuse to admit the man's negatives". Maybe they do refuse, but I think many of them feel as I do. He has many negative qualities, and maybe in some ways he's even worse than the average politician, but -- as you yourself have often emphasized -- we're no longer in a situation where politics is about people with shared loyalties and values coming together to engage in fair rational discussion with each other. We are in a war. The left simply hates us, wants to destroy us culturally and maybe personally to while they're at it. The real American people are facing an existential crisis.
So what really matters in this situation? Not the personal failings of any candidate, not even the likelihood that he's sincere or able to do what he says he'll do. What really matters for now is that he is taking the crucial necessary _first step_ toward organizing a real movement to defend America and the west. What if, when Muslims were poised to invade France, we found out that Charles Martel was actually a child molester? What if I knew, in 1939, that Churchill was a total fraud and psychopath? I'd say that in that kind of situation these considerations make no difference. If he [Trump] can speak a few basic truths that inspire people to fight back and stand up, for the first and possibly last time, that's all that matters. (My analogies are extreme, but not _that_ extreme.) I realize that we won't agree on this; Trumpites and mainstream conservatives are as badly polarized as Trumpites and leftists (which may have deep implications). But I offer these remarks as a way to understand why the valid criticisms you make of him just don't have much force for me, or for millions of others, I'm assuming.
This is a good response in part because I do reluctantly incline to the view that we are in a war with the Left. So why should I be concerned with the merely personal foibles and failings of the one man with the best chance of stopping the leftist juggernaut? Who cares that he is a low life, a vulgarian, a cultural polluter, a hypocrite, a narcissist, an egomaniac, and a serial liar and bullshitter? One of his most recent lies was the one about not knowing who David Duke is. But not only did he lie, he lied unnecessarily. There was no need for him to tell that particular lie since a disavowal of David Duke and the KKK would not have hurt him much, especially since he had already disavowed Duke. This speaks to Trump's lack of good judgment and also perhaps to a lack of seriousness. Would someone who is serious about winning the presidency lie unnecessarily? He also demonstrates contempt for his audience in telling a lie that is transparently a lie.
But why should we care about any of this? One reason is that these are not merely personal defects but defects that could bring down the conservative movement and lead to a victory, perhaps even a landslide victory, by Hillary come November. This is what lefties are counting on. They hope Trump will destroy the GOP. You say you don't care? But then what party will implement conservative ideas and policies? The Constitution Party?
Another reason is that it is not clear that Trump is better equipped to defeat Hillary. Is he better qualified than Cruz? It is not clear to me or to anyone. If it is clear to my reader, I should like him to tell me why Trump is a more effective culture warrior than Cruz. And let's not underestimate the opposition Trump will get in the general election. Women, minorities, leftists, and a sizeable number of conservatives will align against him. Among the conservatives, many will not vote at all, and some will vote for Hillary to punish Trump and the GOP for supporting him.
I appreciate the force of my reader's historical analogies. But let me try one of my own. Would you have supported the Austrian corporal back in '33 to stop the Communists? Now we know what happened after 1933. Abstract from the sequel and imagine yourself to be a German anti-communist who in '33 is trying to make up his mind about the incendiary outsider. Would you have rolled the dice?
Another spectacular column by Victor Davis Hanson. I will resist the temptation to quote the entire piece.
Today’s campuses have become as foreign to American traditions of tolerance and free expression as what followed the Weimar Republic. To appreciate cry-bully censorship, visit a campus “free-speech” area. To witness segregation, walk into a college “safe space.” To hear unapologetic anti-Semitism, attend a university lecture. To learn of the absence of due process, read of a campus hearing on alleged sexual assault. To see a brown shirt in action, watch faculty call for muscle at a campus demonstration. To relearn the mentality of a Chamberlain or Daladier, listen to the contextualizations of a college president. And to talk to an uneducated person, approach a recent college graduate.
Sanders has little appreciation that he is an artifact of free-market capitalism, which alone has created enough bounty for such a demagogue to call for massive redistribution—in a way impossible for socialists any longer in exhausted Cuba, Greece, Venezuela, or any other command-economy paradise. Where does Sanders think his statism has worked—China, North Korea, Bolivia, Cuba, or the ossified European Union?
Mrs. Clinton is now like a tottering third-world caudillo—she can’t really continue on in politics and she can’t quit trying if she wants to stay out of jail. Her possible indictment depends entirely on her political viability and utility. She and the once disbarred Bill Clinton might appear like tired, tragic dinosaurs, bewildered that politics have left them behind in their late sixties—were it not for these aging egoists’ routine petulance and sense of entitlement.
Donald Trump is probably not a serious student of the European 1930s, but in brilliant fashion he has sized up the public’s worries over a Potemkin economy, exhaustion with wars, and namby-pamby leadership. His own remedy is 1930s to the core: nationalism, crude bombast, mytho-history, and sloganeering without much detail. Trump’s trajectory is predicated on the premise that a jaded public cares more about emotion than logic, and how a leader speaks rather than what he says.
In European 1930s street-brawling fashion, no one knows quite whether Trump is a 1990s Clinton Democrat, a 1980s Reagan Republican, or a Perotist misfit. He has thrown a ball and chain through the pretentious glass of American campaigning. Trump excites voters because he can profane, smear, interrupt, and fabricate—on the premise that as a performance artist he reifies what they think but don’t dare say about a corrupt political class and its warped, politically correct values. Trump reminds Americans what deterrence is: the supposedly courageous media, the so-called truth-to-power leftists, and the sober and judicious careerist politicians are all terrified how he might reply or react to their criticism. None of them want to spend 2-3 days trading smears with Donald Trump.
On Pope Francis:
Not since Pius XII has a pope proved as mysterious and exasperating as Francis. He seems not to have transcended the parochial time and space of Peronist Argentina. The well-meaning and kindly pope acts as if he is unworried about the historical wages of leftwing authoritarianism and government-mandated redistribution. Why would a pontiff, protected by medieval walls and Vatican territorial security, blast U.S. immigration policy toward Mexican illegal immigrants?
Since Obama’s reelection, the southern border has been wide open, in naked efforts to recalibrate American electoral demography. The U.S. has taken in more immigrants, legal and illegal, than has any other country—the only impediment for entry is being educated, skilled, with resources, and insisting on legality. The U.S. last year allowed nearly $80 billion to be sent in annual remittances to Mexico and Latin America, mostly from those here illegally. Certainly, Mexico, in a most un-Christian fashion, has built walls on its own southern border to prevent unlawful entry, published comic-book manuals to instruct its emigrants how to violate U.S. immigration law, and written into its own constitution repulsive racial prerequisites for emigrating to Mexico—all to the apparent ignorance of the otherwise intrusively editorializing pope. Mexico’s own obsession with exporting its indigenous people to the U.S. is predicated on historic Mexican racism, always emanating from grandees in Mexico City.
Segregation, not integration and assimilation, is the new trajectory of racial relations. “White privilege” is said to be such an insidious aid to career success that careerist whites like Elizabeth Warren, Ward Churchill, Shaun King, and Rachel Dolezal will do almost anything to insist that they are really non-white. The president of the United States invited a rapper for a White House visit. The rapper's latest album cover shows a dead white judge lying at the feet of celebratory African-American men, with fists of money and champagne held in triumph—in front of the White House. Reality imitates art. Could the president give another Cairo speech about such symbolism?
Is it perhaps time to give dictatorship a chance?
I would have liked to have read from Professor Hanson a comparison of the sexual decadence of Weimar Germany and that of Weimar America.
This weblog averages about 1,350 page views per day. But yesterday it snagged 10,695 views, and now at 6:20 AM local time it has already racked up 3,200 or so. What explains this? Reddit got hold of my Zappfe post, scroll down a bit, and that must be driving the surge.
Perhaps we philosophers need to pay more attention to anti-natalism as a cultural phenomenon and as a component in der Untergang des Abendlandes.
We are losing the will to perpetuate our civilization and its values. Christians in the Middle East are being slaughtered and their churches pulverized by Muslim savages. So what did Pope Francis say in response to Donald Trump's call for a wall along the southern U.S. border? We don't need to build walls, but bridges. Francis the fool is one dope of a pope.
Evangelicals understand this, though they are too polite and politic to put it the way I just did. This is why, mirabile dictu, so many of them support Trump, the nasty sybarite of Gotham who builds casinos to the greater glory of Lust, Greed, Gluttony, and Lady Luck.
Point of logic: 'Muslim savages' does not imply that all Muslims are savages. Or do you think that 'deciduous trees' implies that all trees are deciduous?
UPDATE 2/27: Traffic settled down a bit yesterday with a mere 4,509 page views. It should get back to normal over the next few days. As every conservative appreciates, the 'regard' of fellow mortals is a decidedly mixed blessing. I am quite happy to bump along at 1, 500 page views per day. Obscurity is bliss and he who craves fame is a fool. Fame is conferred by others and the quality of these others is a good measure of the value of fame.
Not a pretty sight: the representatives of a superior culture abasing themselves before the representatives of an inferior one.
Decadent Europe may already be lost. But we still have time to learn.
Do you think Italy might contain a few cultural treasures worth preserving? Then you may want to inform yourself of the fact that Muslims are not known for their preservation of antiquities. See The Destruction of the Middle East for starters.
There is a deep paradox here that would require a lot of writing to set forth properly. Roughly, it is the very superiority of our culture with its philosophy, science, free speech, open inquiry, toleration of dissent, freedom of religion, and the whole panoply of Enlightenment values together with the advanced technology and prosperity that they make possible that has led and is leading us into decadence. Our superiority is thus breeding inferiority so that we become easy marks for an inferior culture that believes in itself and its benighted values and is, insofar forth, superior to us in its will to dominate us by any and all methods.
UPDATE (2/1): Malcolm Pollack (HT: Bill Keezer) writes:
I meant to comment on this when it happened a few days ago:
In further concession to Iranian president, official dinner with Italian PM does not include wine on the menu
What a craven, flabby, neutered thing our civilization has become. This is what ACID syndrome does to its victims: it sickens and enervates them with doubt; it destroys and disables their confidence, potency, and virility; it paralyzes them in the face of peril; it turns their bones and sinews to jelly.
In contrast: Winston Churchill, who was to host a dinner attended by ibn Saud, was told by the Arabian king that those attending must not drink or smoke in his presence. His response?
I said that if it was his religion that made him say such things, my religion prescribed as an absolute sacred ritual smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, after and if need be during, all meals and the intervals between them. Complete surrender.
The Dead Smokers' Society hereby registers its opposition to this anti-tobacco Islamo-wackery. Carpe fumam!
The monastery, called Dair Mar Elia, is named for the Assyrian Christian monk — St. Elijah — who built it between 582 and 590 A.C. It was a holy site for Iraqi Christians for centuries, part of the Mideast's Chaldean Catholic community.
In 1743, tragedy struck when as many as 150 monks who refused to convert to Islam were massacred under orders of a Persian general, and the monastery was damaged. For the next two centuries it remained a place of pilgrimage, even after it was incorporated into an Iraqi military training base and later a U.S. base.
But of course, Islam is the religion of peace and no true Muslim would have been involved in such destruction.
"Popular exams in UK to be rescheduled to avoid Ramadan." The UK commits cultural suicide. Not all at once, but little by little, bit by bit, concession by concession. A culture is doomed when it no longer has the will to defend itself. (HT: London Karl)
In the West, Muslims are accommodated. In Muslim lands, Christians are persecuted and suppressed even unto beheading and crucifixion. And Barack Hussein Obama worries about global warming and the National Rifle Association? By the way, his presidency is a clear indicator of our decline: that a feckless fool, a know-nothing, could be elected and then re-elected. We may just be getting what we deserve. A foolish folk, fiscally irresponsible, addicted to panem et circenses, gets a POMO idiot who works to increase the dependency of the people on government while violating their liberties and undermining the rule of law.
Meanwhile, conservative inaction gives traction to the likes of Donald Trump.
"Here is Rhodes, jump here" (through the hoops of political correctness). A graduate of Oriel College, Oxford University, sent me this statement concerning the Rhodes Must Fall petition. A memorial to Cecil Rhodes, that is. Can you say Der Untergang des Abendlandes?
"Here is Rhodes, jump here." From Aesop's Fables #209, "The Boastful Athlete." A man who had been off in foreign lands returns home. He brags of his exploits. He claims that in Rhodes he made a long jump the likes of which had never been seen before. A skeptical bystander calls him on his boast: Here's your Rhodes, jump here!
The moral? Put your money where your mouth is. Don't talk about it, do it!
Perhaps an erudite classicist such as Mike Gilleland could say more on this topic. He would have to do at least the following: dig up all the ancient sources in Greek and Latin; trace the saying in Erasmus and Goethe; comment on Hegel's variation on the saying in the Vorrede zur Philosophie des Rechts, explaining why he has saltus for salta; find and comment on Marx's comment on Hegel's employment of the saying.
Finally, if Alan Rhoda were to rename his cleverly titled, but now defunct, weblog Alanyzer -- and I'm not saying he should -- he might consider Hic Rhoda, Hic Salta. He is a very tall man; I'm 6' 1'' and had to look up to see his face when I met him in Las Vegas some years back. To jump over him would be quite a feat.
UPDATE 12/19: Dave Lull, argonaut nonpareil of cyberspace and friend and facilitator of bloggers, informs me that Dr. Gilleland has taken note of my call for an erudite classicist. This bibliomaniac, antediluvian, and curmudgeon does not, however, consider himself "truly erudite." If his self-deprecatory consideration is just, then he had me fooled.
Laicity is the solution that modern Europe found in order to escape its religious civil wars. But contemporary Europe doesn’t take religion seriously enough to know how to stick to this solution. She has exiled faith to the fantastic world of human irreality that the Marxists called “superstructure”… thus, precisely through their failure to believe in religion, the representatives of secularism empty laicity of its substance, and swallow, for humanitarian reasons, the demands of its enemies.
I haven't read anything by Finkielkraut except the above and a few other excerpts translated and edited by Ann Sterzinger. But that won't stop me from explaining what I take to be the brilliant insight embedded in the above quotation.
Laicity is French secularity, the absence of religious influence and involvement in government affairs. It has had the salutary effect of preventing civil strife over religion. But to appreciate why laicity is important and salutary one must understand that the roots of religion lie deep in human nature. Religion is even less likely to wither away than the State. Leftists, however, are constitutionally incapable of understanding that man by nature is homo religiosus and that the roots of religion in human nature are ineradicable. The Radicals don't understand the radicality (deep-going rootedness) of religion. (Radix is Latin for 'root.') In their superficial way, leftists think that religion is merely "the sigh of the oppressed creature" (Marx) and will vanish when the oppression of man by man is eliminated, which of course will never happen by human effort alone, though they fancy that they can bring it about if only they throw enough people into enough gulags. Leftists cannot take religion seriously and they don't think anyone else really takes it seriously either, not even Muslims. They don't believe that most Muslims really do believe in Allah and divine origin of the Koran and the 72 black-eyed virgins and the obligation to make jihad. They project their failure to understand religion and its grip into others. See my Does Anyone Really Believe in the Muslim Paradise in which I report on the Sam Harris vs. Scott Atran debate.
The issue is not whether religion is true but whether it answers to deep human needs that cannot be met in any other way. My point is not that leftists think that religion is false or delusional, although they do think it to be such; my point that they don't appreciate the depth of the religious need even if it is a need that, in the nature of things, cannot be met.
Not understanding religion, leftists fail to understand how important laicity is to prevent civil strife over religion. And so they don't properly uphold it. They cave in to the Muslims who reject it. Why don't they understand the dire existential threat that radical Islam poses to European culture? I suspect that it is because they think that Muslims don't really believe in all their official claptrap and what Muslims really want are mundane things such as jobs and material security and panem et circenses.
In nuce: leftists, who are resolutely secular, fail to uphold the secularity that they must uphold if they are to preserve their loose and libertine way of life, and they fail to uphold it by failing to understand the dangers of religion, dangers they do not understand because they fail to take religion seriously and to appreciate the deep roots it has in human nature. Even pithier:
Leftists, whose shallow heads cannot grasp religion, are in danger of losing their heads to radical jihadi. Cause and effect of the lapse of laicity.
Two quibbles with Finkielkraut. First, it is not that leftists "do not believe in religion," but that they do not believe that religion is a powerful and ineradicable force in human affairs. You don't have to believe in religion to believe facts about it. Second, if I remember my Marx, the superstructure (Ueberbau) though a repository of fantastic ideas devoid of truth such as religious ideas and the ideas of bourgeois law and morality, also contains all ideology and therefore the 'liberating' Marxist ideology as well. It too is a reflection of the Unterbau, the social base and the means of production. So not everything in the superstructure is "fantastic." This conception leads to relativism, but that's not my problem.
. . . at deriving so much intellectual stimulation from the events of the day. It is fascinating to watch the country fall apart. What is a calamity for the citizen, however, is grist for the philosopher's mill. Before he is a citizen, the philosopher is a "spectator of all time and existence" in a marvellous phrase that comes down to us from Plato's Republic (486a). And if the philosopher is an old Platonist who has nearly had his fill of the Cave and its chiaroscuro, he is ever looking beyond this life, and while in no rush to bid it a bittersweet adieu, is not affrighted at the coming transition either. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk. The old Platonist owl lives by the hope that the dusk of death will lead to the Light, a light unmixed with darkness.
National decline is not just grist for the philosopher's mill, however; it is also perhaps a condition of understanding as Hegel suggests in the penultimate paragraph of the preface to The Philosophy of Right:
When philosophy paints its grey on grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey on grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at the falling of the dusk.
Daughter of Jupiter, Minerva in the mythology of the Greeks is the goddess of wisdom. And the nocturnal owl is one of its ancient symbols. The meaning of the Hegelian trope is that understanding, insight, wisdom arise when the object to be understood has played itself out, when it has actualized and thus exhausted its potentialities, and now faces only decline.
When a shape of life has grown old, philosophy paints its grey on grey. The allusion is to Goethe's Faust wherein Mephisto says
Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
Grey, dear friend, is all theory And green the golden tree of life.
Philosophy is grey, a "bloodless ballet of categories" (F. H. Bradley) and its object is grey -- no longer green and full of life. And so philosophy paints its grey concepts on the grey object, in this case America on the wane. The object must be either dead or moribund before it can be fully understood. Hegel in his famous saying re-animates and gives a new meaning to the Platonic "To philosophize is to learn how to die."
In these waning days of a great republic, the owl of Minerva takes flight. What we lose in vitality we gain in wisdom.
The consolations of philosophy are many.
On the other hand, it ain't over until it's over, and as citizens we must fight on, lest our spectatorship of all time and existence suffer a premature earthly termination. The joys if not the consolations of philosophy are possible only in certain political conditions. We are not made of the stern stuff of Boethius though we are inspired by his example.
To understand the Left you must understand that central to their worldview is the hermeneutics of suspicion which is essentially a diluted amalgam of themes from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Thus nothing has the plain meaning that it has; every meaning must be deconstructed so as to lay bare its 'real meaning.'
Suppose I say, sincerely, "The most qualified person should get the job." To a leftist that means: "People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race."
Or suppose I describe a black malefactor as a thug. What I have actually said, according to the hermeneutics of suspicion, is that the malefactor is a nigger. But 'thug' does not mean 'nigger.' 'Thug' means thug. There are thugs of all races.
Leftists often call for 'conversations' about this or that. Thus Eric Holder famously called for a 'conversation' about race. But how can one have a conversation -- no sneer quotes -- about anything with people who refuse to take what one sincerely says at face value?
Every day brings further evidence that contemporary liberals have lost their minds.
A yoga class has been cancelled at the University of Ottawa on the ground that participants are complicit in 'oppression' and 'cultural genocide.' By the way, we are talking about hatha yoga here which is essentially just stretching.
So you might think that re-labelling the course 'Stretching' would solve the problem. But no!
This is a good place to observe that stretching is an essential ingredient in a balanced physical fitness program along with aerobic exercise (walking, hiking, running, biking, etc.), anaerobic work (weight-lifting), and activities that maintain good hand-eye coordination (tennis, pickleball, etc.) The Maverick recommends a four-pronged approach.
Why is Canada such a Pee Cee place? I should think that with all that rugged country up there, those vast empty expanses, and the ass-freezing temperatures a tougher breed of cat would live there and not a bunch of pc-whipped pussies.
Another 'interesting' development is the assault on free speech. According to Pew Research, 40% of millennials think it acceptable to limit speech offensive to minorities.
Trouble is, almost anything will be found offensive by the members of some minority or other. Some blacks have shown themselves to be absurdly sensitive to the slights they imagine embedded in such words and phrases as 'niggardly,' 'denigrate,' 'black hole,' and 'watermelon.'
Some take offense at 'chink in the armor.' But if 'chink in the armor' is about Asians, then the Asians in question would have to be rather tiny to hang out interstitially in, say, a coat of mail.
Why not take offense at 'chunk'? Someone might get it into his Pee Cee head that a chunk is a fat chink.
There is no end to this madness once it gets going, which is why we sane and decent people need to mock and deride liberals every chance we get. Mockery and derision can achieve what calm reasoning cannot.
One cannot reason with those who are permanently in a state of self-colonoscopy.
Commenting on a recent post of mine, Malcolm Pollack takes issue with the notion that values are objective. While granting that there are objective truths, he denies that there are objective values because of a theory of value that he holds according to which values have their origin in valuing beings and merely reflect the needs and interests of these valuing beings.
The wider context of the debate is the assault upon Western values by those who would infiltrate our societies and foist Islamic values upon us. I had made the claim that in defending the values of the West we should insist that these are not just values for us in the West but are values for all. In this sense these values are universal and valid for all human beings even though not universally recognized as valid for all human beings, and even though they were first 'sighted' in the West. I pointed out that values could be universal without being universally recognized. That is indisputably true. What is not indisputably true, however, is the claim that there are objective values. If there are objective values, then these values are universal, i.e., valid for all. Does the converse also hold? Is it also true that if there are universal values, then they are objective? I don't think so. It may well be that some values are universal despite their being non-objective.
What I am going to argue is that, even if one were to concede what I don't concede, namely, that there are no objective values, it still would not follow that that there are no universal values. But first we need to discuss the question of the objectivity of values and give some examples of the values that we are concerned with.
I claim that there are some objective values. Malcolm claims that there are no objective values. He doesn't deny that are values, and I am confident that he and I agree on what some of the Western values are; what he denies is that these values are objective values. But first some examples of Western values.
Open inquiry I take to be an example of a Western value. Inquiry is open to the extent that it is not interfered with by religious or political authorities. The value of open inquiry presupposes the values of knowledge and truth. Inquiry is a value because knowledge is a value, and knowledge is a value because truth is a value. But the pursuit of truth via inquiry requires the free exchange of ideas. So freedom of expression is a value, whether in speech or in writing. Connected with this is the value of toleration. We tolerate other voices and opposing points of view because their consideration is truth-conducive. There are of course other values championed in the West such as equality of rights. But I will take as my central example the value of truth.
When I say that truth is a value I mean that truth is something that has value. I mean that truth is a valuable item. In general we ought to distinguish between an item that has value and its property of being valuable. And neither is to be confused with an act of valuation or with a disposition to evaluate.
The question, however, is whether truth is objectively valuable or else valuable only relative to beings having interests and needs.
In this discussion 'truth' is to be taken extensionally as referring to truths (the propositions, beliefs, judgments . . . that are true) and not intensionally as referring to that property in virtue of which truths are true. Now on to Malcolm's axiological theory.
Where do values come from? In general values represent some interest of their owner, and such interests range from such hard-wired preferences as biological survival and the survival of our offspring, to whether one roots for the Yankees or the Red Sox. In particular, many of the most important valuations humans make have a social context; in addition to valuing such obvious things as food, pleasure, comfort, sex, and shelter, humans tend to value those things that elevate their status in their group, and that help their group compete with other groups. Indeed, for creatures like us, social values can often trump more personal interests — because if your group is wiped out, you are too. Humans will make tremendous personal sacrifices both for the well-being of the group, and to attain and signal high status in whatever way it is acquired and displayed.
[. . .]
Let me put this another way: for a fish, a pre-eminent “value” is to be, at all times, fully immersed in water. This is not the case for a cat. Human groups may not differ from each other as much as fishes and cats do — but they differ enough, I think, that one group’s cherished value can be another’s damnable sin.
Let's examine this admittedly plausible view. The idea is that nothing is valuable or the opposite, in itself or intrinsically. If a thing is valuable, it is valuable only relative to a being who wants, needs, or desires it. If a thing lacks value, it lacks value only relative to a being who shuns it or is averse to it. In a world in which there are no conative/desiderative beings, nothing has or lacks value. Such a world would be value-neutral. This is plausible, is it not? How could an object or state of affairs have value or disvalue apart from a valuer with specific needs and interests? (As Malcolm might rhetorically ask.)
Imagine a world in which there is nothing but inanimate objects and processes, a world in which nothing is alive, willing, striving, wanting, needing, desiring, competing for space or scarce resources. In such a world nothing would be either good or bad, valuable or the opposite. A sun in a lifeless world goes supernova incinerating a nearby planet. A disaster? Hardly. Just another value-neutral event. A re-arrangement of particles and fields. But if our sun went supernova, that would be a calamity beyond compare -- but only for us and any other caring observers hanging around. For we are averse to such an event -- to put it mildly -- and this aversion is the ground of the disvalue of our sun's going supernova, just as our need for light and a certain range of temperatures is what confers value upon our sun's doing its normal thing.
An axiological theory like this involves two steps. The first step relativizes value claims. The second step provides a naturalistic reduction of them.
First, sentences of the form 'X is good (evil)' are construed as elliptical for sentences of the form 'X is good (evil) for Y.' Accordingly, to say that X is good (evil) but X is not good (evil) for some Y would then be like saying that Tom is married but there is no one to whom Tom is married.
The second step is to cash out axiological predicates in naturalistic terms. Thus,
D1. X has value for Y =df X satisfies Y's actual wants (needs, desires)
D2. X has disvalue for Y =df X frustrates Y's actual wants (needs, desires).
It is clear that on this theory value and disvalue are not being made relative to what anyone says or opines, but to certain hard facts, objective facts, about the wants, needs, and desires of living beings. That we need water to live is an objective fact about us, a fact independent of what anyone says or believes. Water cannot have value except for beings who need or want it; but that it does have value for such beings is an objective fact.
The needs of fish and the needs of cats are objective facts about fish and cats respectively; but the value of being totally immersed in water at all times is a value only for fish, not for cats. It follows on the axiological theory we are considering that values are relative: they are relative to the needs and interests of evaluators.
Does it follow from this that no value is universal? No. (Recall that 'universal' in this discussion of Western values in the context of the civilizational struggle between the West and the Islamic world means 'valid for all human beings.' It does not mean 'universally recognized.') It doesn't follow because a value could be non-objective in that it is necessarily tied to the needs/interests of evaluating beings and thus relative to beings having these needs/interests while also being universal. This will be the case with respect to all values that originate from needs that all humans possess. Thus being fully immersed in water at all times (without special breathing apparatus) is a universal disvalue for all human beings. And ingesting a certain amount of protein per week is a universal value.
There are also universal values for all living things, or at least for all terrestrial living things. For they all need our sun's light and a certain range of temperatures. The corresponding value is a value for all terrestrial biota despite the fact that this value is not universally recognized by these organisms. So once again a value can be non-objective, universal, and not universally recognized. Indeed, not even universally recognizable. For there is no possibility that an amoeba recognize the value of what it needs to exist.
As for the fish and the cats, they both need oxygen and they both get oxygen, but in different ways via gills and lungs respectively. So getting oxygen is a universal value for the union of the set of fish and the set of cats, and this despite the fact that this value is not only not universally recognized by these critters, but not recognized by them at all. The point I have just made is of course consistent with the fact that being fully immersed in water at all times is a value for fish but not for cats on the axiological theory under examination. (Note that it is not only not a value for cats, but a disvalue for them.)
As for truth, we presumably agree as to the first-order claim that truth has value. And I hope we can agree also on the first-order claim that truth trumps human feelings, that truth is of higher value than that no injury to human feelings occur, though I cannot expect any contemporary liberal to perceive this. The dispute occurs at the meta level: given that X (e.g. truth) has value, what is it for X to have value?
Suppose that values are non-objective: they merely reflect the interests and needs of evaluators. Given that truth is a value, the ground of truth's being valuable is that we need truth. And we do need it, and not only for the life of the mind. We need it to live well as animals. Truth is conducive to human flourishing, indeed, to a human existence that is not nasty, brutish, and short. Since we all need truth, truth is a universal value. Thus it is a value even for those who do not value it: it is a value even for those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its value for us.
The values of the West areuniversal values. They are not Western values or Caucasian values except per accidens. They are universal, not in that they are recognized by all, but in that they are valid for all. If a proposition is true, it is true for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its truth. If a value is valid or binding or normative it is these things for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its validity.
What I didn't realize at the time I wrote this was that the quoted paragraph is consistent both with my view that values are objective and with those views according to which values reflect the interests and needs of evaluators.
On my view, the universality and intersubjective validity of values is secured by their objectivity. On a view like that of Malcolm's, the universality of (some) values is secured by the objective fact that all the members of a class of evaluators share the need that is 'father' to the value. Thus all human beings, and indeed all intelligent beings, need truth to flourish, whence it follows that this value is universal even if non-objective.
What is crucial here is the distinction between a value's being universal and a value's being universally recognized. This distinction 'cuts perpendicular' to the distinction between objective and non-objective values. The Islamic world, benighted and backward as it is, either will not or cannot recognize certain values that are conducive to human flourishing, all human flourishing, including the flourishing of Muslims.
The message we need to convey to the Muslims and to the leftists who will listen is not that Western values are superior because they are Western but that they are best conducive to everyone's flourishing even that of Muslims and leftists. We have to convince them that we are not out to foist 'our' values on them, but to get them to recognize values that are valid for all.
An important essay by Niall Ferguson. The meat of the article (emphases and parenthetical material added):
Let us be clear about what is happening. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.
The distant shock to this weakened edifice has been the Syrian civil war, though it has been a catalyst as much as a direct cause for the great Völkerwanderung [migration of the tribes/peoples] of 2015. As before, they have come from all over the imperial periphery — from North Africa, from the Levant, from South Asia — but this time they have come in their millions.
To be sure, most have come hoping only for a better life. Things in their own countries have become just good enough economically for them to afford to leave and just bad enough politically for them to risk leaving. But they cannot stream northward and westward without some of that political malaise coming along with them. As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.
It is conventional to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent, and that is doubtless true. But it is also true that the majority of Muslims in Europe hold views that are not easily reconciled with the principles of our modern liberal democracies, including those novel notions we have about equality between the sexes and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilization within these avowedly peace-loving communities.
I do not know enough about the fifth century to be able to quote Romans who described each new act of barbarism as unprecedented, even when it had happened multiple times before; or who issued pious calls for solidarity after the fall of Rome, even when standing together in fact meant falling together; or who issued empty threats of pitiless revenge, even when all they intended to do was to strike a melodramatic pose.
I do know that 21st-century Europe has only itself to blame for the mess it is now in. For surely nowhere in the world has devoted more resources to the study of history than modern Europe. When I went up to Oxford more than 30 years ago, it was taken for granted that in the first term of my first year I would study Gibbon. It did no good. We learned nothing that mattered. Indeed, we learned a lot of nonsense to the effect that nationalism was a bad thing, nation-states worse, and empires the worst things of all.
“Romans before the fall,” wrote Ward-Perkins in his “Fall of Rome,” “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
"Roughly 150 Black Lives Matter protesters reportedly stormed a library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, Thursday night to berate students studying there for their supposed racial privilege." Here.
The solution, of course, is to expel the BLM thugs. But that would be a 'racist' thing to do. So is it the leftist view that blacks are thuggish by nature and simply cannot be expected to behave in a civilized manner? So who are the real racists here?
TRIGGER WARNING! The above contains careful thought and big words and will upset and offend the 'safe space' crybullies, the BLM thugs, and the liberal- left scum who apologize for them.
Addendum (11/20): If the secular sphere has a 'sacred' space, that would be the university library, the repository of the best thoughts of humanity. The university is finished if such a space is allowed to be invaded and disrupted by thugs and savages.
A 'pastafarian' idiot was allowed to wear a colander in an official DMV photo in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Bring on the hoodies, the sombreros, the ski masks . . . . Story here.
Does this have anything to do with the decline of the West? Something. It is just another little indication of the abdication of those in positions of authority. A driver's license is an important document. The authorities should not allow its being mocked by a dumbass with a piece of kitchenware on her head. But Massachusetts is lousy with liberals, so what do you expect? A liberal will tolerate anything except common sense and good judgment.
A penne for her thoughts as she strains to find something to believe in. If only she would use her noodle.
Responding to a commenter who states that one exposes oneself to tremendous risk by speaking out against leftist insanity, Malcolm Pollack writes:
Most bloggers who write from a contrarian position about these things seem to use noms de plume. In fact, I do have another blog I’ve set up for this purpose, but I almost never post anything to it. I prefer to speak under my own name — not because I’m trying to be “brave”, which this really isn’t at all, but just because it feels more honest, and because I have a right to, and because I’m ornery. (Running into that theater in Paris to try to save the people inside, knowing you are overwhelmingly likely to be killed: that’s brave. Writing grumpy blog-posts from the comfort and safety of my home is not.)
I would underscore the First Amendment right to free speech under one's own name without fear of government reprisal. Use it or lose it. (Unfortunately, the disjunction is inclusive: you may use it and still lose it.) But use it responsibly, as Pollack does. The right to express an opinion does not absolve one of the obligation to do one's level best to form correct opinions. Note however that your legal (and moral) right to free speech remains even if you shirk your moral (but not legal) obligation to do your best to form correct opinions.
I would add to Pollack's reasons for writing under his own name the credibility it gives him. You lose credibility when you hide behind a pseudonym. And when you take cover behind 'anonymous,' your credibility takes a further southward plunge, and shows a lack of imagination to boot.
Pollack is right: it doesn't take much civil courage to do what he and I do. I've made mine, and he is on the cusp of making his, if he hasn't already. (You could say we are 'made men.') We don't need jobs and we have no need to curry favor. And our obscurity provides some cover. Obscurity has its advantages, and fame is surely overrated. (Ask John Lennon.)
This is why I do not criticize the young and not-yet-established conservatives who employ pseudonyms. Given the ugly climate wrought by the fascists of the Left it would be highly imprudent to come forth as a conservative if you are seeking employment in academe, but not just there.
What is civil courage? The phrase translates the German Zivilcourage, a word first used by Otto von Bismarck in 1864 to refer to the courage displayed in civilian life as opposed to the military valor displayed on the battlefield. According to Bismarck, there is more of the latter than of the former, an observation that holds true today. (One example: there is no coward like a university administrator, as recent events at the university of Missouri and at Yale once again bear out.) Civil courage itself no doubt antedates by centuries the phrase.
Mark Steyn is a profile in civil courage unlike the 'safe space' administrative and professorial pussies who now infest the universities. Where have all the John Silbers gone, long time passing? Some delightful excerpts:
When the Allahu Akbar boys opened fire, Paris was talking about the climate-change conference due to start later this month, when the world's leaders will fly in to "solve" a "problem" that doesn't exist rather than to address the one that does. But don't worry: we already have a hashtag (#PrayForParis) and doubtless there'll be another candlelight vigil of weepy tilty-headed wankers. Because as long as we all advertise how sad and sorrowful we are, who needs to do anything?
With his usual killer comedy timing, the "leader of the free world" told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning, America" this very morning that he'd "contained" ISIS and that they're not "gaining strength". A few hours later, a cell whose members claim to have been recruited by ISIS slaughtered over 150 people in the heart of Paris and succeeded in getting two suicide bombers and a third bomb to within a few yards of the French president.
Visiting the Bataclan, M Hollande declared that "nous allons mener le combat, il sera impitoyable": We are going to wage a war that will be pitiless.
Does he mean it? Or is he just killing time until Obama and Cameron and Merkel and Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull fly in and they can all get back to talking about sea levels in the Maldives in the 22nd century? By which time France and Germany and Belgium and Austria and the Netherlands will have been long washed away.
Among his other coy evasions, President Obama described tonight's events as "an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share".
But that's not true, is it? He's right that it's an attack not just on Paris or France. What it is is an attack on the west, on the civilization that built the modern world - an attack on one portion of "humanity" by those who claim to speak for another portion of "humanity". And these are not "universal values" but values that spring from a relatively narrow segment of humanity. They were kinda sorta "universal" when the great powers were willing to enforce them around the world and the colonial subjects of ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province were at least obliged to pay lip service to them. But the European empires retreated from the world, and those "universal values" are utterly alien to large parts of the map today.
This is very good and needs to be said and endlessly repeated for the sake of self-enstupidated liberals, but I think Mr Steyn stumbles on one important point, and in a way that may give aid and comfort to relativism. The values of the West are universal values. They are not Western values or Caucasian values except per accidens. They are universal, not in that they are recognized by all, but in that they are valid for all. If a proposition is true, it is true for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its truth. If a value is valid or binding or normative it is these things for all including those who are unwilling or unable to recognize its validity.
This is very important. There is no such thing as Western physics; there is just physics. There is no such distinction as that between German physics and Jewish physics any more than there is a distinction between Protestant and Catholic mathematics. There are Muslim mathematicians, but no Islamic mathematics. There are Arabic numerals but no Arabic numbers. If a mathematically competent Arab and a mathematically competent Roman do a sum they will get the same result despite the difference in their notations. When a Palestinian terrorist makes a bomb he relies on the same underlying science as does the Israeli surgeon who re-attaches a severed limb. There is no such thing as Soviet philology or Soviet biology. If Judeo-Christian values are valid and life-enhancing then they are Judeo-Christian only per accidens.
There is no contradiction in saying that salvation came from the Jews and that this salvation is salvation for all. "How odd of God to choose the Jews." Odd, but possible.
The fact that the science of nature and the discernment of universal values "sprang from a relatively narrow segment of humanity" does not make them any less universal. In fairness to Steyn, however, he may be using using 'universal values' to mean 'universally recognized values.'
The rest of his piece earns the coveted MavPhilsigillum approbationis. (I just now made up that Latin off the top of my head. If it is wrong shoot me an e-mail.)
And then Europe decided to invite millions of Muslims to settle in their countries. Most of those people don't want to participate actively in bringing about the death of diners and concertgoers and soccer fans, but at a certain level most of them either wish or are indifferent to the death of the societies in which they live - modern, pluralist, western societies and those "universal values" of which Barack Obama bleats. So, if you are either an active ISIS recruit or just a guy who's been fired up by social media, you have a very large comfort zone in which to swim, and which the authorities find almost impossible to penetrate.
[. . .]
To repeat what I said a few days ago, I'm Islamed out. I'm tired of Islam 24/7, at Colorado colleges, Marseilles synagogues, Sydney coffee shops, day after day after day. The west cannot win this thing with a schizophrenic strategy of targeting things and people but not targeting the ideology, of intervening ineffectually overseas and not intervening at all when it comes to the remorseless Islamization and self-segregation of large segments of their own countries.
So I say again: What's the happy ending here? Because if M Hollande isn't prepared to end mass Muslim immigration to France and Europe, then his "pitiless war" isn't serious. And, if they're still willing to tolerate Mutti Merkel's mad plan to reverse Germany's demographic death spiral through fast-track Islamization, then Europeans aren't serious. In the end, the decadence of Merkel, Hollande, Cameron and the rest of the fin de civilisation western leadership will cost you your world and everything you love.
It began in the universities in the '60s. And now it is in full 'flower.' I recall Dennis Prager putting it this way: "There is no coward like a university administrator." Now hear David French:
Fortunately for the radicals, our universities are populated by the craven and the cowardly. Push a professor, even slightly, and it’s likely he’ll fold. Demand faculty support for your protest, and dozens will rush to join, self-righteously advancing their own false oppression narratives even as they enjoy lives billions of others would covet. There is nothing brave about these people. They are not “elite.” They don’t deserve a single dime of taxpayer money or one cent of student tuition. They dishonor their schools and their country.
Closeted campus conservatives are worse than useless. Indeed, their very timidity contributes to the narrative that there is something shameful about their beliefs. To read anonymous letters from professors who are afraid to “out” themselves in a hostile campus culture is to read the sad dispatches of people too pitiful for their profession. Do something else, anything else, than merely sit and watch while the revolutionaries shred the Constitution, reject our culture, and assert their own will to power.
The true shame is that it doesn’t even require actual courage to defeat the university Left, just a tiny bit of will — a small measure of staying power. No one is shooting at trustees. No one is beheading professors. There’s no guillotine in the quad. Instead, campus “leaders” tremble before hashtags and weep at the notion of losing a football team so inept that it couldn’t score a touchdown through most of the month of October. Let them strike. With an offense that inept, the SEC won’t even notice.
These are the times that try men’s souls? No. These are the times of men without chests. The Left has the will to power. University leaders have no will at all. They have earned nothing but contempt.
Many of my sons’ teachers were trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College or the nearby Bank Street College of Education. At these citadels of progressivism, future educators were inculcated in the “child-centered” approach to classroom instruction. All children, in this view, were “natural learners” who—with just a little guidance from teachers—could “construct their own knowledge.” By the same token, progressive-ed doctrine considered it a grave sin for teachers to engage in direct instruction of knowledge (dismissed as “mere facts”). The traditional, content-based instruction that had worked so well for my generation of immigrant children from poor and working-class families was now dismissed as “drill-and-kill” teaching that robbed kids of their imagination. Progressives also rejected the old-fashioned American idea, going back to the Founders, that the nation’s schools should follow a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum that not only included the three Rs but also introduced children to our civilizational inheritance.
I am tempted to explain just how wrong this is. But I will resist the temptation. If you are a regular reader of this weblog, then you don't need it explained to you. But if you are the sort of liberal who accepts the above claptrap, then you don't need explanations, you need treatment. Please seek it for your own good.
Arthur C. Brooks deplores the lack of ideological diversity and the prevalence of 'groupthink' in academia in an October 30th NYT editorial entitled "Academia's Rejection of Diversity." He is of course right to do so. But this is nothing new as any conservative will tell you. And we don't need studies to know about it, which is not to say that studies are not of some slight use in persuading doubters.
What I would take issue with, though, is Brooks' apparently unqualified belief that "being around people [ideologically] unlike ourselves makes us [intellectually] better people . . . ." I have added, charitably I should think, a couple of qualifiers in brackets.
Interaction with ideological opponents can be fruitful, and sometimes is. That goes without saying.
But I think it is very easy to overestimate the value of interactions with people with fundamentally different views. It is a mistake to think that more and more 'conversations' will lead to amicable agreements and mutual understanding. This mistake is based on the false assumption that there is still common ground on which to hold these 'conversations.'
I say we need fewer 'conversations' and more voluntary separation. In many situations we need the political equivalent of divorce. In marriage as in politics the bitter tensions born of irreconcilable differences are relieved by divorce, not by attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable. Let's consider some examples. In each of these cases it is difficult to see what common ground the parties to the dispute occupy.
1. Suppose you hold the utterly abhorrent view that it is a justifiable use of state power to force a florist or a caterer to violate his conscience by providing services at, say, a same-sex 'marriage' ceremony.
2. Or you hold the appalling and ridiculous view that demanding photo ID at polling places disenfranchises those would-be voters who lack such ID.
3. Or you refuse to admit a distinction between legal and illegal immigration.
4. Or you maintain the absurd thesis that global warming is the greatest threat to humanity at the present time. (Obama)
6. Or, showing utter contempt for facts, you insist that Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was an 'unarmed black teenager' shot down like a dog in cold blood without justification of any sort by the racist cop, Darren Wilson.
7. Or you compare Ferguson and Baltimore as if they are relevantly similar. (Hillary Clinton)
8. Or you mendaciously elide distinctions crucial in the gun debate such as that between semi-auto and full-auto. (Dianne Feinstein)
9. Or you systematically deploy double standards. President Obama, for example, refuses to use 'Islamic' in connection with the Islamic State or 'Muslim' in connection with Muslim terrorists. But he has no problem with pinning the deeds of crusaders and inquisitors on Christians.
10. Or you mendaciously engage in self-serving anachronism, for example, comparing current Muslim atrocities with Christian ones long in the past.
11. Or you routinely slander your opponents with such epithets as 'racist,' 'sexist,' etc.
12. Or you make up words whose sole purpose is to serve as semantic bludgeons and cast doubt on the sanity of your opponents. You know full well that a phobia is an irrational fear, but you insist on labeling those who oppose homosexual practices as 'phobic' when you know that their opposition is in most cases rationally grounded and not based in fear, let alone irrational fear.
13. Or you bandy the neologism 'Islamophobia' as a semantic bludgeon when it is plain that fear of radical Islam is entirely rational. In general, you engage in linguistic mischief whenever it serves your agenda thereby showing contempt for the languages you mutilate.
14. Or you take the side of underdogs qua underdogs without giving any thought as to whether or not these underdogs are in any measure responsible for their status or their misery by their crimes. You apparently think that weakness justifies.
15. Or you label abortion a 'reproductive right' or a 'women's health issue' thus begging the question of its moral acceptability.
On each of these points and many others I could write a book demolishing the hard Left position that underlies the points and that dominates the universities, the mainstream media, the courts, and our current government. So what's to discuss? What conceivable motive could a conservative have to enter into debates with people who, from a conservative point of view, are willfully wrongheaded and demonstrably mistaken? There are open questions that need discussing, but the above aren't among them.
VDH asks: "What has become of free speech, free markets, and the rule of law?"
Essential reading. I am tempted to quote big chunks of it. Maybe later. For now, this:
Do we really enjoy free speech in the West any more? If you think we do, try to use vocabulary that is precise and not pejorative, but does not serve the current engine of social advocacy — terms such as “Islamic terrorist,” “illegal alien,” or “transvestite.” I doubt that a writer for a major newspaper or a politician could use those terms, which were common currency just four or five years ago, without incurring, privately or publicly, the sort of censure that we might associate with the thought police of the former Soviet Union.
As I have asked more than once: Did the US defeat the SU only to become the SU?
Could Europe’s liberal political traditions, its religious and cultural heritage, long survive a massive influx of Muslim immigrants, in the order of tens of millions of people? No. Not given Europe’s frequently unhappy experience with much of its Muslim population. Not when you have immigrant groups that resist assimilation and host countries that make only tentative civic demands.
Assimilation is key. Are the Muslim immigrants willing to assimilate? Are they willing to adopt the values and culture of successful societies that promote human flourishing? Or is it their intention to enjoy the benefits of successful societies while retaining the values and culture that account for the unsuccess of the societies from which they flee?
Remove the question mark from the above caption and you have the title for a New York Timeseditorial for 16 October. Here are the first three paragraphs with my comments interspersed:
Lawmakers in Washington and around the country are in an uproar over what they derisively call “sanctuary cities.” These are jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, or try in other ways to protect unauthorized immigrants from unjust deportation.
"Derisively call"? Here is a well-known leftist tactic. Words and phrases that have long been in use, have clear meanings, are descriptive rather than emotive, and are therefore innocuous, are given such labels as 'derisive,' 'insulting,' demeaning,' 'racist,' and so on. 'Anchor baby,' 'illegal alien,' and 'Obamacare' are three examples that come immediately to mind. As for 'anchor baby,' Alan Colmes recently opined on The O'Reilly Factor that it is demeaning because it likens the babies of illegal border crossers to weights that place a burden on American society. I kid you not. That's what our boy said. But the term implies no such thing. Anchor babies are so-called because, if you will permit me to change the metaphor, they provide a foothold in the U.S. for their illegal alien parents. This is because, on current law, anyone born within the boundaries of the U. S. is automatically a citizen of the U. S. Now whether this is or ought to be an entailment of Section 1 of Amendment XIV of the U.S. Constitution is an important question, but not one for the present occasion.
Notice in the second sentence of the first paragraph the phrase "unjust deportation." If you will excuse the expression in this context, it takes cojones to call unjust the lawful deportation of illegal aliens. Cojones or chutzpah, one.
The Senate is voting Tuesday on a bill from David Vitter of Louisiana to punish these cities by denying them federal law-enforcement funds. The House passed its version [hyperlink suppressed] in July. North Carolina’s Legislature has passed a bill forbidding sanctuary policies. Lawmakers in Michigan and Texas are seeking similar laws.
This a distortion of Vitter's proposal. The truth: "Vitter’s legislation would withhold certain federal funding from sanctuary states or cities that fail to comply with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued detainer requests for illegal aliens." (Emphasis added)
These laws are a false fix for a concocted problem. They are based on the lie, now infecting the Republican presidential campaign, that all unauthorized immigrants are dangerous criminals who must be subdued by extraordinary means.
It takes unmitigated gall to claim that your opponents are lying, when you are lying. I'd like to know who among Republicans has claimed that ALL illegal aliens are dangerous criminals. So who is slandering whom here?
At this point I stopped reading. Three paragraphs, four howlers: first a trade-mark leftist act of linguistic obfuscation, then an outright lie, then a distortion of the truth, then another outright lie.
But of course few if any contemporary liberals will agree with what I have just written. This leads us beyond this particular issue to a strange, ominous, and yet fascinating development in American life which of course has been long in the making: we can't agree on much of anything any more. We are, unbelievably, arguing over what really are beneath discussion, over issues that ought to be non-issues. And every year it gets worse. Suing gun manufacturers? Aussie-style gun confiscation? No photo ID at polling places? Sanctuary cities? Social Security benefits for illegal aliens?
Now you can perhaps understand why I often refer to contemporary liberals as morally and intellectually obtuse. There is really nothing reasonably to debate on these and many other, not all, current hot topics. Those who think otherwise and are willing to use the power of the State to enforce their crazy and deleterious ideas are making a very strong argument, nolens volens, for Second Amendment rights.
Consider first a parallel question: Could I support a Christian for president? Yes, other things being equal, but not if he or she is a theocrat. Why not? Because theocracy is incompatible with the principles, values, and founding documents of the United States of America.
Similarly, I could easily support a Muslim such as Zuhdi Jasser for president (were he to run) because he is not a theocrat or a supporter of Sharia. To be precise: Jasser's being a Muslim would not count for me as a reason not to support him, even though I might have other reasons not to support him, for example, unelectability.
When Dr. Ben Carson said he could not support a Muslim for president what he meant was that he could not support a Muslim who advocated Sharia. That was clear to the charitable among us right from the outset. But he later clarified his remarks so that even the uncharitable could not fail to understand him.
Some dismissed this clarification as 'backtracking.' To 'backtrack,' however, is to say something different from what one originally said. Carson did not 'backtrack'; he clarified his original meaning.
Nevertheless, CAIR has absurdly demanded that Carson withdraw from the presidential race.
Is there anything here for reasonable people to discuss? No. Then why is this story still in the news? Because as a nation we are losing our collective mind.
It's like Ferguson. What's to discuss? Nothing. We know the facts of the case. Michael Brown was not gunned down by a racist cop seeking to commit murder under the cover of law. Brown brought about his own demise. On the night of his death he stole from a convenience store, assaulted the proprietor, refused to obey a legitimate command from police officer Darren Wilson, but instead tried to wrest the officer's weapon from him. He acted immorally, illegally, and very imprudently. He alone is responsible for his death.
So there is nothing here for reasonable and morally decent people to discuss. But we are forced to discuss it because of the lies told about Ferguson by the Left. The truth does not matter to leftists; what matters is the 'empowering' narrative. A narrative is a story, and a story needn't be true to be a good story, an 'empowering' story, a story useful for the promotion of the Left's destructive agenda.
Another pseudo-issue that deserves no discussion except to combat the lies and distortions of the Left: photo ID at polling places.
For years it’s been remarked that we no longer have one American culture but many, that we’ve become Balkanized into a dizzying array of interests and identity groups separated by race, ethnicity, religion, and much else.
But we’re also separated, increasingly, by the news and commentary we read and watch. To the extent that it informs us of what’s going on, and why, and what to expect, our fragmentation and insularity has reached a dangerous tipping point: we no longer agree on what’s real.
Davidson illustrates his point by analysis of three recent examples: Ahmed Mohamed the Clock Maker; Carly Fiorina vs. Planned Parenthood; the invasion of illegals from Central America.
But what makes Davidson's article especially good is that he provides historical context by suggesting that the current mess had its origin in 1968 in a rancorous exchange between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal.
Buckley and Vidal met ten times over the course of the two conventions and spent most of their time attacking one another. Much of the debate footage is online, but the documentary plumbs the motivations of each man and the profound consequences of their televised battle. Of Vidal, Heritage Foundation historian Lee Edwards said, “I don’t think he was really interested in conducting a debate about the issues, or about the parties, or about the policies, or about the platforms of the two parties. What he wanted to do was to expose Bill Buckley.” In this Vidal succeeded, but not quite in the way he’d hoped.
The infamous moment came while they were debating the Vietnam War. Buckley compared opponents of the war to Nazi appeasers. Vidal, an opponent of the war, responded: “The only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” Back then, calling someone a Nazi was taboo (unlike today, when it is mostly ridiculous). Buckley lost his temper. He leaned toward Vidal, shaking with anger, narrowed his eyes and said: “Now listen, you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”
That moment, together with all the rancor and ad hominem attacks that had led up to it, inaugurated a new era in American media: the end of the old, sober centrism and the beginning of open ideological warfare. It didn’t happen overnight, but ABC’s success—the Buckley-Vidal debates propelled them to No. 1—didn’t go unnoticed, and on-air political debates between liberal and conservative pundits gradually became a regular feature of TV news programming: “The McLaughlin Group,” “Capital Gang,” “Crossfire,” and all the rest. The personal, vituperative tone of the Buckley-Vidal debates became the now-familiar register of political punditry.
We are now one step further into the cultural sewer:
Instead of shouting each other down the way they did on “Crossfire,” the new pundits are more apt to sneer and mock in the style of Jon Stewart. There’s little to be gained in arguing with an opponent but much to be gained by mocking him. What this means in practice is that we tend to seek out news and commentary that more or less reflects our own opinions back to us. Reading the news becomes an exercise in confirmation bias.
Very few would have predicted on September 11, 2001 that the headlines 14 years later would feature an American president arming Iran; that there would be millions of Middle Eastern Arabs flooding into the heart of Europe. Or Saudi Arabia, while refusing to accept any refugees from an Islamic civil war in Syria, would instead offer to build 200 mosques in Germany, one for every hundred who has arrived to spare the Germans the trouble and expense of building the mosques themselves.
Hardly anyone would have foretold the return of the Russia to the Middle East, spearheaded by a legion of forces who had honed their skill at “hybrid warfare” — then an unknown term — in Ukraine. Not just anyone mind you, but as Michael Weiss in the Daily Beast notes, “the Kremlin isn’t sending just any troops to prop up the Assad regime. It’s dispatching units that spearheaded Russia’s slow-rolling invasion of Ukraine.”
Except one man: Osama bin Laden. Unlike the American public, which still expected its leaders to defend them against aggression on that fatal day, Bin Laden had come to the conclusion the American elite would run at the slightest difficulty. What convinced him was the precipitate withdrawal of American troops from Somalia in 1996 following the incident popularly known as Blackhawk Down.
The photos taken by Canadian photographer Paul Watson, of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu spelled the beginning of the end for U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force. Domestic opinion turned hostile as horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—-including this Pulitzer-prize winning footage of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed’s supporters dragging the body of U.S. Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering. President Clinton immediately abandoned the pursuit of Aideed, the mission that cost Cleveland his life and gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit.
When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. The battle deaths, and the harrowing images prompted lingering U.S. reluctance to get involved in Africa’s crises, including the following year’s genocide in Rwanda. In 1996, Osama bin Laden cited the incident as proof that the U.S. was unable to stomach casualties: when “one American was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Never before or since had a photo altered a nation’s political destinies so much so.
Bin Laden knew that the weakness of the West lay, not in it’s armed forces, technology or economy, but in the alienation of its own elites. Attempting to explain the complete capitulation of the Western decision makers to the refugee flood rushing at their borders Peggy Noonan notes in her Wall Street Journal article that the political and cultural elites no longer even regard territorial integrity as an existential issue. It was something well enough to have, but certainly nothing worth defending to the point of inconvenience; and most assuredly not unto the death.
Like the barons of yesteryear, they were secure in castles rising above the squalid countryside, safe from pestilence, hunger and even war. Noonan describes the modern aristocracy as a law unto themselves, living in a world unto itself, with more in common with foreign princes, other elite classes than with the commoners who surround them.
Rules on immigration and refugees are made by safe people. These are the people who help run countries, who have nice homes in nice neighborhoods and are protected by their status. Those who live with the effects of immigration and asylum law are those who are less safe, who see a less beautiful face in it because they are daily confronted with a less beautiful reality—normal human roughness, human tensions. Decision-makers fear things like harsh words from the writers of editorials; normal human beings fear things like street crime. Decision-makers have the luxury of seeing life in the abstract. Normal people feel the implications of their decisions in the particular.
The decision-makers feel disdain for the anxieties of normal people, and ascribe them to small-minded bigotries, often religious and racial, and ignorant antagonisms. But normal people prize order because they can’t buy their way out of disorder.
People in gated communities of the mind, who glide by in Ubers, have bought their way out and are safe. Not to mention those in government-maintained mansions who glide by in SUVs followed by security details. Rulers can afford to see national-security threats as an abstraction—yes, yes, we must better integrate our new populations. But the unprotected, the vulnerable, have a right and a reason to worry.
Economists describe this as the principal-agent problem. “The dilemma exists because sometimes the agent is motivated to act in his own best interests rather than those of the principal. … Common examples of this relationship include corporate management (agent) and shareholders (principal), or politicians (agent) and voters (principal).” In layman’s language, the principal-agent problem occurs when it is the interest of the agent to sell out the principal.
The problem arises where the two parties have different interests and asymmetric information (the agent having more information), such that the principal cannot directly ensure that the agent is always acting in its (the principal’s) best interests, particularly when activities that are useful to the principal are costly to the agent, and where elements of what the agent does are costly for the principal to observe. Moral hazard and conflict of interest may arise. … The deviation from the principal’s interest by the agent is called “agency costs”.
Almost everything former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated about her improper use of a private e-mail account and server has been proven false. A State Department staffer who worked on Clinton’s private server plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before a congressional committee about his role in privatizing Clinton’s email.
But like Lerner, Clinton has escaped an indictment or jailing.
Not so Kim Davis. She is a conservative Christian court clerk in Kentucky who apparently thought, given the lawless times, that she could ignore without consequence a Supreme Court decision making gay marriage legal.
Davis was jailed for not enforcing the law. That is a justifiable punishment — if it were applied equally to the progressive mayors of sanctuary cities and all officials who likewise ignore federal law.
. . . I predict things are going to get hot in the coming years. The summer of 2015 should prove to be positively 'toasty' in major urban centers as the destructive ideas of the Left lead to ever more violence.
But liberal fools such as the aptronymically appellated Charles Blow will be safe in their upper-class enclaves.
A Turkish proverb has it that "the fish stinks from the head." And indeed it does. From Obama on down, the vilification of law enforcement has lead to a nation-wide spike in violent crime. But while liberals caused the Ferguson effect, they won't suffer from it. Urban blacks will. Having seen how Officer Darren Wilson's career was destroyed, cops can be expected to hang back and avoid pro-active interventions. I predict a long, hot, violent summer. On the upside, Dunkin' Donuts will do better business and more cats will be rescued from trees.
Some of us are old enough to remember the Watts riots from the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles, 50 years ago. At the time a joke made the rounds. "How much power would it take to destroy Los Angeles?"
You keep talking about the Benedict Option, but you never say what it is. Give us the formula.
I keep telling you that there is no formula! We are going to have to be experimental, because we have never faced a post-Christian culture. The first point is for Christians to wake up and face reality. There will be no “take back our country” moment, because we have lost, and lost decisively. We are rapidly de-Christianizing. True, we have a long way to go before we get to European rates of secularization and religious indifference, but the trajectory is the same. Rather than change the world, the world is changing the churches. The power of popular culture is overwhelming, and in ways that many Christians scarcely grasp — and this, as MacIntyre says, is part of our predicament.
Granted, there is no formula: there are different ways of implementing the Benedict Option. But there ought to be discussion -- not provided by Dreher in the above-referenced piece -- of a potential problem with one form of the Option's implementation.
Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less 'off the grid,' home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe in Faust:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists of the Left. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and religious fanatics and won't be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.
Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one's various withdrawal options.
It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?
And then there is the vexed and vexing question of armed resistance. This is especially vexing for Christians. Should we meet violence with violence, or let ourselves and our culture be destroyed? On Christian metaphysics, this world is not an illusion. It is not a dream one can hope to wake up from. On the other hand, it is not ultimately real: it, and we who sojourn through it, are in statu viae. What then should be the measure and mode of our defense of it?
If you think violence is to be met with violence, then I advise you to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target.
We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?
This is the hopeful side of the culture wars—a call for engagement, not retreat. Religious believers weighing the option of withdrawing from a culture increasingly hostile to their values should redouble their efforts to cultivate their ideas within active subcultures that influence the nation and the next generation of Americans. Those who share a commitment to the freedom to think, speak, associate, publish, and express their beliefs may not have the American Civil Liberties Union in our corner any more—but that just means that we get to take up the noble cause, and the moral authority, they have abandoned.
Yes, this can be a dangerous time to be active in the culture. But it’s very hard to make speech codes, safe spaces, and other anti-thoughtcrime measures work in the long term. Sometimes all it takes for the whole apparatus to come crashing down is a handful of people brave enough to speak their minds without fear.
Should this trouble the philosopher? Before he is a citizen, the philosopher is a "spectator of all time and existence" in a marvellous phrase that comes down to us from Plato's Republic (486a). The rise and fall of great nations is just more grist for the philosopher's mill. His true homeland is nothing so paltry as a particular nation, even one as exceptional as the USA, and his fate as a truth-seeker cannot be tied to its fate. Like the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly Athens is not bound to a geographical location.
And if the philosopher should also aspire to the heavenly Jerusalem, he is all the more freed from an excess of anxiety over the inevitable passing away of what must pass away.
St. Augustine had to endure the twilight of a civilization. In 410 Alaric and his barbarian horde of Goths sacked Rome. There followed the invasion of North Africa and the siege of Hippo where Augustine was bishop and where he died in 430 while the city was under assault. But the owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk, and as the curtain fell on Rome, Augustine's thoughts took flight, the result being The City of God.
Am I succumbing to an excess of Kulturpessimismus? Perhaps. We shall see.
In the wake of recent events, Rod Dreher renews his call for the Benedict Option:
It is now clear that for this Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice. True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.
This is especially the case, as it seems to me, given the Left's relentless and characteristically dishonest assault on Second Amendment rights. The only real back up to the First Amendment is the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the Second. You will have noticed that the Left never misses an opportunity to limit law-abiding citizens' access to guns and ammunition. What motivates leftists is the drive to curtail and ultimately eliminate what could be called 'real' liberties such as the liberty to own property, to make money and keep it, to defend one's life, liberty and property, together with the liberty to acquire the means to the defense of life, liberty and property.
Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”
[. . .]
It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”
Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.
I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.
Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.
Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.
There is a potential problem with the Benedict Option, however. Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less 'off the grid,' home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one's own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of 'earn' or 'acquire' but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one's own.
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and won't be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.
Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one's various withdrawal options.
It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?
We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?
Dennis Prager was complaining one day about how the Left ridicules the Right. He sounded a bit indignant. He went on to say that he does not employ ridicule. But why doesn't he? He didn't say why, but I will for him: Because he is a gentleman who exemplifies the good old conservative virtue of civility. And because he is a bit naive.
Prager's behavior, in one way laudable, in another way is not, resting as it does on an assumption that I doubt is true at the present time. Prager assumes that political differences are more like intellectual differences among gentlemanly interlocutors than they are like the differences among warring parties. He assumes that there is a large measure of common ground and the real possibility of mutually beneficial compromise, the sort of compromise that serves the common good by mitigating the extremism of the differing factions, as opposed to that form of compromise, entered into merely to survive, whereby one side knuckles under to the extremism of the other.
But if we are now in the age of post-consensus politics, if politics is war by another name, then it is just foolish not to use the Left's tactics against them.
It is not enough to be right, or have the facts on your side, or to have the better arguments. That won't cut it in a war. Did the Allies prevail over the Axis Powers in virtue of having truth and right on their side? It was might that won the day, and, to be honest, the employing of morally dubious means (e.g., the firebombing of Dresden, the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the same sort of means that the Axis would have employed had they been able to. One hopes that the current civil war doesn't turn bloody. But no good purpose is served by failing to understand that what we have here is a war and not minor disagreements about means within the common horizon of agreed-upon assumptions, values, and goals.
Have we entered the age of post-consensus politics? I think so. We should catalog our irreconcilable differences. For now a quick incomplete list. We disagree radically about: the purpose of government; crime and punishment; race; marriage; abortion; drugs; pornography; gun rights; the interpretation of the Constitution; religion; economics.
Take religion. I have no common ground with you if you think every vestige of the Judeo-Christian heritage should be removed from the public square, or take the sort of extremist line represented by people like Dawkins and A. C. Grayling. If, however, you are an atheist who gives the Establishment Clause a reasonable interpretation, then we have some common ground.
Don't things seem to be coming apart faster and faster now? Or am I just getting old, and so the distance between this madding world and my reference frame for 'normal life' is just making it seem that way?
No, I don't think it's just geezerism. The more rotten something becomes, the faster it falls apart. We have crossed the event horizon, and are accelerating toward the singularity. The tidal forces are already doing their work.
Serious question for you: has this been inevitable since the Enlightenment? Here's what I'm getting at (from another recent post):
"Given that what gives a culture its form is essentially 'memetic' — an aggregation of ideas, lore, mythos, history, music, religion, duties, obligations, affinities, and aversions shared by a common people — an advanced civilization is subject to corrosion and decomposition by ideas. And the most corrosive of all such reagents in the modern world is one that our own culture bequeathed to itself in the Enlightenment: the elevation of skepsis to our highest intellectual principle.
Radical doubt, as it turns out, is a “universal acid”; given enough time, there is no container that can hold it. Once doubt is in control, there is no premise, no tradition, nor even any God that it cannot dissolve. Once it has burned its way through theism, telos, and the intrinsic holiness of the sacred, leaving behind a only a dessicated naturalism, its action on the foundations of culture accelerates briskly, as there is little left to resist it.
Because it is in the nature of doubt to dissolve axioms, the consequence of the Enlightenment is that all of a civilization’s theorems ultimately become unprovable. This is happening before our eyes. The result is chaos, and collapse."
This is a very large cluster of themes; I approach it and them with trepidation.
First, we do seem to be accelerating, or perhaps jerking, toward some sort of sociocultural collapse or break-up. And to point this out is not the mere grumbling of geezers or the wheezing of dinosaurs; we really are losing it as a culture, with the older among us simply better positioned to see what we are losing. The old have a temporal perspective the young lack. So if you owls of Minerva seek understanding, I recommend that you live as long as possible in possession of your faculties. As for the litany of what we have lost, there is no need to rehearse it. Malcolm and I are in broad agreement about the items on the list.
But is the Enlightenment the problem? Malcolm seems to be maintaining that our current woes are the inevitable consequence of Enlightened modes of thought that first arose in the 18th century.
The first two points I would make in response is that enlightenment did not begin with the Enlightenment, and that enlightenment is in many respects good even if in some respects bad.
Malcolm is a student of science and thinks it a high cultural value indeed. Now science brings enlightenment and the enlightenment it brings had its origin with the ancient nature philosophers of Ionia. Logical thinking, in a broad sense of 'logical,' began in the West with a break-away from mythical modes of thought. (Ernst Cassirer is worth reading on this.) Logical thinking began with doubts about the tales and legends that had been handed down. The cosmogonic myths were called into question. Doubt, as I like to say, is the engine of inquiry. Doubt is a driver, a motor. Inquiry aims to shed light on what is dark and hidden. Science aims to banish the occult and the mysterious. But it cannot do this without doubting the myths and lore and whatnot that had been handed down, a lot of which was obscurantist nonsense. In an obvious sense, inquiry is in the service of enlightenment. Doubt, its motor, is therefore good.
Skepsis need not be destructive or corrosive. The very word skepsis is translatable as inquiry, and Malcolm will allow that inquiry is good, ceteris paribus. But Malcolm seems to be using skepsis to mean doubt. If so, the Enlightenment did not elevate skepsis or doubt to our highest intellectual principle. I would suggest that the Enlightenment elevated Reason to our highest principle, the reason of the autonomous individual who "dares to be wise." (See Kant's essay, "What is Enlightenment?" with its slogan, sapere aude, dare to be wise.) I think it would be accurate to say that the Enlightenment involved a faith in Reason and in the power of Reason to get at the truth, banish superstition, purify religion (cf. Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone) and improve the human lot.*
Doubt is the engine of rational inquiry, where 'rational' does not exclude the empirical. (A reasonable person is not one who relies on reason alone but one who also consults the senses.) Doubt is good. But good things can be taken too far. So doubt can ramp up to what Malcolm calls radical doubt: an all-corrosive acid that cannot be contained. Using 'axiom' in the old-fashioned way, Malcolm tells us that it is the nature of doubt to dissolve all axioms, with the result that all theorems become unprovable. Malcolm's point is that doubt has the natural tendency to destroy the self-evidence or objective certainty of everything that hitherto counted as self-evident or objectively certain.
I think this is right. But it is one-sided. The power to doubt is in one way a god-like power, and as such good: it is the power spiritually to distance oneself from a thing or proposition and examine it critically. It is the salutary power to pose such questions as the following: is it real as people say? Is it truly valuable? Is it true? Is it worth doing? Does it even make sense? Is the explanation truly explanatory? Is a certain hypthesis necessary (e.g., the ether hypothesis)? Is there evidence for it? Does the earth really rest on a turtle? Is it turtles all the way down? Does it function merely to legitimate the power of the oppressor? Isn't this talk of 'structural racism' just obscurantist bullshit promulgated by losers and race-baiters who seek power by political means and intimidation because they are incapable of achieving it by making worthwhile contributions to human flourishing? Is it really the case that climate change skeptics are anti-science know-nothings?
So doubt is a god-like power. But is is also diabolical. Lucifer the light-bearer becomes drunk on his own power and blinded by his own light. He will not obey. He will not recognize any authority other than his own will. His mind is not for minding any antecedent reality. He will not submit in piety to a Power outside of himself. He would be auto-nomous and give the law to himself as opposed to accepting it, hetero-nomously, from Another. In the same vein, Goethe in Faust speaks of Mephistopheles as "the spirit that always negates." I am struck by the similarity of the German Zweifel (doubt) to the German Teufel (devil) -- not that that proves anything by itself. (Nor am I claiming a genuine etymological connection.) Zwei --> zwo --> two --> duplicity. Doubt as splitting in two of an antecedent wholeness or integrity.
Doubt is good insofar as it is in the service of cognition. How do we keep it in the service of cognition, and prevent it from becoming an all-corrosive end in itself and to that extent a disease of cognition and an underminer of all 'axioms,' especially those on which our civilization rests?
I don't know. I do know that Islam is not the answer. And I do know that barbaric, world-darkening systems such as Islam (or radical Islam, if that is different) can only be kept in check with the tools and attitudes of the Enlightenment.
The power to doubt and question and critically examine may lead some to become rudderless decadents, but it will prevent others from becoming Muhammad Attas. What the Muslim world needs is precisely a healthy dose of doubt-driven open inquiry. It needs skepticism. It needs philosophy. What we in the West need, perhaps, is less philosophy, more openness to the possibility of divine revelation, more prayerful Bible study.
There was no Enlightenment in the Muslim world. This is part of the explanation of its misery and inanition.
To answer Malcolm's question: the Enlightenment is not at the root of our current malaise, though I grant that elements of it, taken to extremes, are contributory to our present mess. Perhaps Kant's "Copernican revolution" 'paved the way for' conceptual relativism despite Kant's not being a conceptual relativist. That's one example.
*The greatest figure in the German Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He famously remarks in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason (1787, first ed. 1781), "I have found it necessary to deny reason in order to make room for faith." Now how does that jive with what I wrote in the preceding paragraph? I can't explain this now; it is just too complicated! This is what i call the invocation of blogospheric privilege. Brevity is the soul of blog. This being so, I am justified in this venue of just stopping.
Thanks to 'progressives,' our 'progress' toward social and cultural collapse seems not be proceeding at a constant speed, but to be accelerating. But perhaps a better metaphor from the lexicon of physics is jerking. After all, our 'progress' is jerkwad-driven. No need to name names. You know who they are.
From your college physics you may recall that the first derivative of position with respect to time is velocity, while the second derivative is acceleration. Lesser known is the third derivative: jerk. (I am not joking; look it up.) If acceleration is the rate of change of velocity, jerk, also known as jolt, is the rate of change of acceleration.
If you were studying something in college, and not majoring in, say, Grievance Studies, then you probably know that all three, velocity, acceleration, and jerk are vectors, not scalars. Each has a magnitude and a direction. This is why a satellite orbiting the earth is constantly changing its velocity despite its constant speed.
The 'progressive' jerk too has its direction: the end of civilization as we know it.